Posts Tagged ‘Putin’
Thousands of Russians chanted “Russia will be free” in a march through Moscow on Tuesday to protest against President Vladimir Putin, shrugging off his tough new tactics intended to quash any challenge to his rule.
Protesters streamed down a leafy central boulevard in the first major rally since Putin was sworn in on May 7, saying they would not be deterred by police raids on opposition leaders’ homes and a new law stiffening fines for public order offences.
“Those who fought are beyond being scared,” said Valery Zagovny, a 50-year-old who served for the Soviet army in Afghanistan and was wearing the medals to prove it. “Let those behind the red-toothed walls of the Kremlinbe scared.”
Welcomed by a heavy downpour some joked had been orchestrated by the president himself, protesters waved flags and shouted “Russia without Putin” despite the absence of leaders who had been summoned to appear before investigators.
Leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov ignored his summons for questioning about violence at a rally on the eve of Putin’s inauguration, and led a group of marchers carrying red flags and chanting “Putin to jail!” and “All power to the people!”.
Helmeted riot police manned metal barriers along parts of the route, but the police presence was lighter compared with some earlier protests. Ilya Ponomaryov, an opposition lawmaker, said about 60,000 to 70,000 people had turned out, much higher than the police estimate of 18,000.
After tolerating the biggest protests of his 12-year rule while seeking election, Putin has signaled a harsher approach to dissent since the start of his new term as president.
In power since 2000, Putin easily won a six-year term on March 4 after four years serving as prime minister.
His mantra of ensuring stability finds deep support among the elderly and many outside the cities, as have his strong measures against the protesters, accused by some of his backers of being spoilt urbanites financed by foreign powers.
But opposition leaders say Putin’s heavy-handed tactics show that the former KGB spy is deeply worried by the protests that have undermined his once iron-clad authority.
On Friday, he signed a law increasing fines, in some cases more than 100-fold, for violations of public order at demonstrations, despite warnings from his human rights council that it was an unconstitutional infringement on free assembly.
Police and investigators raided the apartments of Udaltsov, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and socialite Ksenia Sobchak on Monday, seizing computer drives and discs, photographs and other belongings as armed guards stood outside.
“The authorities are in a panic,” Udaltsov told reporters.
“They are trying to conduct primitive, repressive actions, but I am sure they’ll only achieve the opposite effect. These sorts of searches annoy and outrage people, and people in even greater numbers take to the streets.”
Many protesters are middle-class city dwellers who have benefitted from the oil-fuelled boom Russia has experienced during Putin’s years in power but want more of a say in politics and fear his prolonged rule will bring economic stagnation.
They have turned to an opposition which is still in its infancy, lacks a clear leader and looks unlikely to topple Putin, still Russia’s most popular politician, any time soon.
Mikhail, 34, an athlete from Moscow, barely contained his anger while he watched the march.
“These people here are idiots. All those who think these protests can change something and bring something better than Putin to power are idiots,” he said.
“I don’t know of anyone more adequate and better equipped to rule our nation and take it out of the crisis if necessary.”
Pro-Kremlin rallies were planned later on Tuesday, and Putin looked calm as he presided over an awards ceremony in an ornate Kremlin hall.
Police largely left big winter protests alone but began to crack down after Putin’s election, beating protesters at the rally on May 6 and repeatedly dispersing groups trying to set up Occupy-style camps since then, briefly detaining hundreds.
They have detained 12 people over violence at that protest on charges punishable by more than a year in jail, and the latest summonses seemed to carry the implicit threat that opposition leaders could potentially face similar charges.Share on Facebook
Of all the signals and symbols that shapeRussian foreign policy, this one seemed particularly blunt: Vladimir Putin, in one of the first decisions of his new presidency, will shun a Group of Eight summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The May 18-19 visit was to have been Putin’s first foreign trip since he returned to the Kremlin on Monday, a chance to begin putting U.S. ties back on track after a growth in tension over missile defence, Syria and Russia’s presidential campaign.
Instead, Putin is sending his junior partner, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and a message that as long as he is in charge, Russia will not bend to Washington’s will when its interests are at stake.
“I think the signal he wants to send to America … is that agreements with America will be built on a balance of the strategic interests of America and Russia,” said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank. “Russia will not make any unilateral concessions.”
It is a message Putin has repeated, from an inauguration-day decree on Monday in which he said Russia would demand U.S. respect to a warning on Wednesday against modern-day violations of sovereignty, delivered before tanks and missiles trundled across Red Square to mark the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.
More starkly, the military chief of staff said last week that Russia could launch pre-emptive strikes against future NATO missile defence facilities in Europe if sufficiently threatened.
The warning indicated Putin will hold out U.S. plans for an anti-missile shield as a big barrier to better relations and, specifically, to Kremlin approval of deeper nuclear arms cuts.
Washington says the shield is meant to counter a potential threat from Iran and poses no risk to Russia. Moscow maintains that it could give the West the capability to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, upsetting the strategic equilibrium between the former Cold War foes.
Putin has made clear Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, will seek to undercut U.S. global might and oppose what he says is unjustified, destabilising U.S.-orchestrated interference in the affairs of sovereign states, including Syria and Russia itself.
The public reason for Putin’s decision to skip the G8 summit was the need to focus on appointing a new cabinet.
With liberal and conservatives close to the Kremlin wrangling over cabinet posts and policy direction, Putin – by staying home – may be eager to pose for a domestic audiences and show he is not weakened by the biggest protests of his 12 years as Russia’s paramount political leader.
“Foreign policy … will play the role of a servant to Putin’s domestic agenda,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an author and expert on Putin. “And his main goal domestically is to preserve the status quo and survive.”
After the anti-American atmosphere that prevailed during his presidential campaign, in which Putin accused the United States of stirring up protests, it might look strange to his supporters to make Washington his first foreign destination.
Relations have been strained by the treatment of U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, architect of Obama’s “reset” of Russian ties, who has been portrayed by Russian media as a troublemaker out to incite revolution.
Instead, Putin’s first trip abroad could be to China in early June, symbolising that he is looking eastward – to the former Soviet states of Central Asia and beyond.
His first meeting with Obama as president is likely to come on neutral territory in Mexico, where the Group of 20 nations gathers in June.
For reasons both political and personal, Putin will be far more comfortable at the broader G20 than the mostly Western G8, where he feels out of place, like “a white crow”, Trenin said.
His big-power friends from his previous presidency from 2000 to 2008 – France‘s Jacques Chirac, Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian leader who attended his inauguration on Monday – are gone.
Obama and the rest will instead once again meet Medvedev, who presented a warmer face to the West in his 2008-12 presidency and clicked with Obama, from their signing of the 2010 nuclear arms limitation treaty known as New START to chummy talk at a “cheeseburger summit” that same year.
By contrast, Obama’s breakfast meeting with Putin at his residence outside Moscow in 2009 featured a monologue in which the then-Russian prime minister listed his complaints about the United States at length.
While it seems like a serious snub, the last-minute substitution of Medvedev for the G8 meeting could have an upside for Obama, whose likely Republican opponent in the November election has said he is nowhere near tough enough on Russia.
The United States has criticised the Kremlin over the detentions and violence against Russians protesting at Putin’s return to the presidency, and two prominent opposition leaders will still be in jail when the G8 meets.
Obama “has no need to be photographed with Putin right now – as it is, the Republicans criticise him as a Russian puppet. So in this case it happens to suit everybody,” Fyodor Lukyanov, edit of Russia in Global Affairs, said of Putin’s decision.
“It is a strange, unusual step (to avoid the G8 summit), however – but Putin is a master of such steps. We’ll get used to it.” (Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Mark Heinrich)Share on Facebook
In a sign that Russia’s ruling party will face greater challenges as President-elect Vladimir Putin begins his third term in the post, an independent candidate supported by the opposition won a landslide victory in a weekend mayoral election.
The preliminary results announced Monday in the runoff election gave Yevgeny Urlashov, a charismatic 44-year-old lawyer, about 70 percent of the vote in the city of Yaroslavl, about 150 miles north of Moscow. He defeated a local tycoon from Putin’s United Russia party.
“My victory proves beyond any doubt that people are tired of rule by the corrupt bureaucracy and that they want changes,” Urlashov said in a phone interview Monday. “They are fed up with the imitation of democracy imposed from the above.”
Urlashov’s victory was overseen by several hundred election observers from Moscow, representing independent agencies and opposition parties.
Observers noted that it was a tough campaign for the winner. Urlashov was largely denied time on local television. Threats made by phone, email and other sources were a constant feature of the campaign. In late February, shortly before the first-round vote, the car of a key campaign aide was torched.
Shortly after the first round, in which Urlashov beat the runner-up by a significant margin but fell short of the required over 50 percent mark, a lawsuit was filed seeking to disqualify the front-runner on a technicality.
Two weeks before Sunday’s vote, ruling party candidate Yakov Yakushev was appointed deputy mayor. The next day the mayor went on leave, making Yakushev the city’s acting chief.
“Yakushev’s men went on house-to-house canvassing compelling residents to cast their ballots in favor of the United Russia candidate, offering people 200 rubles (the equivalent of $7) per vote,” said Andrei Chekanov, regional coordinator of the opposition Solidarity movement.
“There are so many scoundrels in power here and we trust Urlashov to purge them out,” Lyubov Bogova, a 42-year-old cook at a downtown Yaroslavl kindergarten, said in a telephone interview. “It should come as a lesson to the Kremlin that Putin has his last chance to set things straight in the country.”
Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008 and has been prime minister over the past four years, received 54 percent of the vote in Yaroslavl during last month’s presidential vote, 10 percentage points less than he got nationwide.
Urlashov’s election suggests that Putin and his team may have increasing difficulty controlling elections in the provinces outside of Moscow, a pro-Kremlin political expert said.
“The Kremlin remains the biggest player in the market of provincial elections, but to preserve its leadership it needs to make its policy more efficient as the threat of opposition and independent figures coming to power in the provinces is growing,” said Dmitry Orlov, general director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communication, a Moscow-based think tank. “As the predictability of these processes continues to dwindle, Putin will face a tougher time in office than before.”
For his part, Urlashov said there are signs that Putin is distancing himself from the ruling party, which appears to be losing popularity.
“I am grateful to the Kremlin for not interfering in the Yaroslavl mayoral vote,” Urlashov said. “As the United Russia is sinking deeper and deeper into oblivion, it is time for Putin to become the president of the entire people rather than of a large group of corrupt officials.”
Following a series of protests that have rocked the country in recent months, parliament last month passed a law making it easier for political parties to register.
In February, a measure allowing direct elections of regional governors was passed in the first reading. The Kremlin decided not to wait for that bill to become a law and in recent weeks replaced several governors in key provinces.
“The recent opposition rallies scared Putin, though not enough,” said Gennady Gudkov, an opposition leader and deputy chairman of the Security Committee in the lower house of parliament. He promised that the opposition’s struggle for change would intensify after Putin’s inauguration.
Putin’s reaction to the results in Yaroslavl was not known Monday. However, his spokesman discounted suggests from Urlashov and others that Putin should become a president for all Russians.
“With the 64 percent of the national vote in his favor, Vladimir Vladimirovich is already the president of the entire people,” press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.
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MOSCOW — Tens of thousands of Russians jammed a Moscow avenue Saturday to demand free elections and an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin‘s 12-year rule, in the largest show of public outrage since the protests 20 years ago that brought down the Soviet Union. Gone was the political apathy of recent years as many shouted “We are the Power!”
The demonstration, bigger and better organized than a similar one two weeks ago, and smaller rallies across the country encouraged opposition leaders hoping to sustain a protest movement ignited by a fraud-tainted parliamentary election on Dec. 4.
The enthusiasm also cheered Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who closed down the Soviet Union on Dec. 25, 1991.
“I’m happy that I have lived to see the people waking up. This raises big hopes,” the 80-year-old Gorbachev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
He urged Putin to follow his example and give up power peacefully, saying Putin would be remembered for the positive things he did if he stepped down now. The former Soviet leader, who has grown increasingly critical of Putin, has little influence in Russia today.
But the protesters have no central leader and no candidate capable of posing a serious challenge to Putin, who intends to return to the presidency in a March vote.
Even at Saturday’s rally, some of the speakers were jeered by the crowd. The various liberal, nationalist and leftist groups that took part appear united only by their desire to see “Russia without Putin,” a popular chant.
Putin, who gave no public response to the protest Saturday, initially derided the demonstrators as paid agents of the West. He also said sarcastically that he thought the white ribbons they wore as an emblem were condoms. Putin has since come to take their protests more seriously, and in an effort to stem the anger he has offered a set of reforms to allow more political competition in future elections.
Kremlin-controlled television covered Saturday’s rally, but gave no air time to Putin’s harshest critics.
Estimates of the number of demonstrators ranged from the police figure of 30,000 to 120,000 offered by the organizers. Demonstrators packed much of a broad avenue, which has room for nearly 100,000 people, about 2.5 kilometers (some 1.5 miles) from the Kremlin, as the temperature dipped well below freezing.
A stage at the end of the avenue featured banners reading “Russia will be free” and “This election Is a farce.” Heavy police cordons encircled the participants, who stood within metal barriers, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Alexei Navalny, a corruption-fighting lawyer and popular blogger, electrified the crowd when he took the stage. He soon had the protesters chanting “We are the power!”
Navalny spent 15 days in jail for leading a protest on Dec. 5 that unexpectedly drew more than 5,000 people and set off the chain of demonstrations.
Putin’s United Russia party lost 25 percent of its seats in the election, but hung onto a majority in parliament through what independent observers said was widespread fraud. United Russia, seen as representing a corrupt bureaucracy, has become known as the party of crooks and thieves, a phrase coined by Navalny.
“We have enough people here to take the Kremlin,” Navalny shouted to the crowd. “But we are peaceful people and we won’t do that — yet. But if these crooks and thieves keep cheating us, we will take what is ours.”
Protest leaders expressed skepticism about Putin’s promised political reforms.
“We don’t trust him,” opposition leader Boris Nemtsov told the rally, urging protesters to gather again after the long New Year’s holidays to make sure the proposed changes are put into law.
He and other speakers called on the demonstrators to go to the polls in March to unseat Putin. “A thief must not sit in the Kremlin,” Nemtsov said.
The protest leaders said they would keep up their push for a rerun of the parliamentary vote and punishment for election officials accused of fraud, while stressing the need to prevent fraud in the March presidential election.
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was among those who sought to give the protesters a sense of empowerment.
“There are so many of us here, and they (the government) are few,” Kasparov said from the stage. “They are huddled up in fear behind police cordons.”
The crowd was largely young, but included a sizable number of middle-aged and elderly people, some of whom limped slowly to the site on walkers and canes.
“We want to back those who are fighting for our rights,” said 16-year-old Darya Andryukhina, who said she had also attended the previous rally.
“People have come here because they want respect,” said Tamara Voronina, 54, who said she was proud that her three sons also had joined the protest.
Putin’s comment about protesters wearing condoms only further infuriated them and inspired some creative responses. One protester Saturday held a picture montage of Putin with his head wrapped in a condom like a grandmother’s headscarf. Many inflated condoms along with balloons.
The protests reflect a growing weariness with Putin, who was first elected president in 2000 and remained in charge after moving into the prime minister’s seat in 2008. Brazen fraud in the parliamentary vote unexpectedly energized the middle class, which for years had been politically apathetic.
“No one has done more to bring so many people here than Putin, who managed to insult the whole country,” said Viktor Shenderovich, a columnist and satirical writer.
Two rallies in St. Petersburg on Saturday drew a total of 4,000 people.
“I’m here because I’m tired of the government’s lies,” said Dmitry Dervenev, 47, a designer. “The prime minister insulted me personally when he said that people came to the rallies because they were paid by the U.S. State Department. I’m here because I’m a citizen of my country.”
Putin accused the United States of encouraging and funding the protests to weaken Russia.
Putin’s former finance minister surprised the protesters by saying the current parliament should approve the proposed electoral changes and then step down to allow new parliamentary elections to be held. Alexei Kudrin, who remains close to Putin, warned that the wave of protests could lead to violence and called for establishing a dialogue between the opposition and the government.
“Otherwise we will lose the chance for peaceful transformation,” Kudrin said.
Kudrin also joined calls for the ouster of Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov.
Putin has promised to liberalize registration rules for opposition parties and restore the direct election of governors he abolished in 2004. Putin’s stand-in as president, Dmitry Medvedev, spelled out those and other proposed changes in Thursday’s state-of-the nation address.
Gorbachev, however, said the government appears confused.
“They don’t know what to do,” he said. “They are making attempts to get out of the trap they drove themselves into.”Share on Facebook