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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1765
Shoring up Kyrgyz security;
Mideast meddling as electoral tactic
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
February 22, 2012
Only two days into his new position as Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul is fending off attacks from the Russian media. According to the Washington Times, Only two days into his new position as Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul is fending off attacks from the Russian media.a report from state-run Channel One has questioned the new Ambassador’s credentials, and suggested that the new envoy aims to support and promote opposition causes. An analyst with Channel One noted the title of McFaul’s 2001 book, “An Unfinished Revolution in Russia: Political change from Gorbachev to Putin,” and asked whether he had “arrived in Russia to work in the specialty? That is, finish the revolution?” The report additionally criticized meetings the new ambassador held with opposition and civil society leaders, though McFaul also met with Kremlin officials.
Russia has increased its military aid to Kyrgyzstan in the hopes of stabilizing that country's troubled border with Tajikistan. According to London's Telegraph, officials in both Central Asian states worry that NATO's eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan will encourage the Taliban to move northward, placing the region’s security in jeopardy. In response, the Kremlin has offered an aid package of about $15 million to Kyrgyzstan, to be primarily spent on the country’s southern border with Tajikistan.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has warned the West that a military assault on Iran could provoke a “chain reaction” affecting not just the rest of the Middle East but the entire world. The Kremlin is “seriously worried” about the potential for military action against Iran, reports the Independent, prompting the Russian armed forces to focus this year’s training exercises on scenarios involving regional fallout of an armed conflict in Iran. “The consequences will be extremely grave,” Lavrov has said. The Foreign Minister used the same press conference to reiterate Russia’s opposition to interference in the ongoing unrest in Syria. Russia will block any UN Security Council Resolution dealing with armed intervention, Lavrov vowed, insisting that those intent on “force at all cost... won’t get any authorization from the UN Security Council.”
Some analysts believe that Moscow’s staunch support for the Syrian regime is based on more than a desire to support a key trading partner. According to the Los Angeles Times, Russia's efforts to bolster Syrian president Bashar al-Assad stem from an eagerness to “confront the West,” as well as a fear of its own internal political tensions. On analyst suggested that Putin is convinced “that any popular protest in any part of the world, and especially in the Middle East and Russia, is inspired by the U.S. White House and sponsored by the State Department... The closer to the March election, the more evidence the Kremlin will produce to indicate the U.S. involvement and it is becoming a key point on the agenda in Putin’s presidential campaign.” The two countries recently traded barbs over continued weapons deliveries by Russia to Damascus, which the Kremlin insists are not in violation of international law. “They will be locking the United States in a fight over Syria and the antiballistic defense in Europe only to prevent it from alleged involvement in Russian domestic affairs on the eve of the presidential vote,” another analyst concluded.
In a show of support for an independent Palestinian state, Russian Patriarch Kirill has awarded Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas with the “Orthodox People’s Unity Foundation prize.” Abbas, in turn, has hailed the prize as proof of the ties between Palestine and “the people of Russia,” the WAFA news agency reports, while Kirill lauded Abbas for “safeguarding religious peace” and maintaining Russian-Palestinian relations, and stated that “he looks forward for the time the Palestinians will have their own independent state.”
The accusations of fraud and manipulation against the Kremlin continue to mount. The latest charges come from Grigory Yavlinsky of Russia’s leading liberal party, "Yabloko." Officials refused to clear Yavlinsky's candidacy for president, reports the Associated Press, and contended that over 20 percent of the required signatures collected in support of his bid were "invalid." Yavlinsky has refuted the claims, and insisted that "They aren't letting me join the race, because they don't want to allow an alternative-political, economic and moral." So far, just four candidates have been cleared by the election commission: current premier Vladimir Putin, Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist activist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Just Russia head Sergei Mironov. All three parties - Putin's United Russia, the Communist Party and Just Russia - are currently represented in the Russian parliament, and Yavlinsky maintains that all four men represent a "different face of the government." A final decision on his candidacy will be made after the Centeral Election Commission reviews another two million signatures.