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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1768
A nuclear disaster, narrowly avoided;
Russia still backing Syrian repression
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
March 13, 2012
Kommersant, a Russian newspaper critical of the government, has filed a complaint against the Kremlin-funded youth group "Nashi." According to the Wall Street Journal, Kommersant, a Russian newspaper critical of the government, has filed a complaint against the Kremlin-funded youth group "Nashi."the complaint accuses the organization of launching an illegal 2008 cyberattack which caused the paper’s website to crash. The claim isn’t entirely unbelievable, as the group’s leader called on his organization’s members last year to “smother” critics of the Kremlin with spam and negative commentary. One of the group’s leaders even admitted responsibility for the 2007 cyberattack on websites of Estonian government and businesses. Cited in the complaint are "Nashi" emails released by the hacker group Anonymous, which detail the required length and intensity of the cyberattack to “psychologically and physically wipe out” Kommersant.
Russian officials have called for a complete halt of adoptions of Russian children by American families. Until a 2011 agreement signed with the United States is strengthened, reports the Voice of America, Russia’s Foreign Ministry seeks to freeze adoptions, citing an “unending” string of crimes against the adopted children. The process was suspended for a short time in 2010, after a Tennessee mother sent her Moscow-born son back to Russia alone, with a note saying she “could no longer cope with his violent behavior.” The incident sparked renewed work on the issue between Washington and Moscow, but in the last year-and-a-half there have been several more cases of child abuse and even manslaughter of Russian-born children, and the relatively light sentences given to the parents responsible have outraged the Russian government. Officials in Moscow have said adoptions will only resume when the United States allows Russian monitors to visit the homes of adopted children.
A French journalist is crying foul after being expelled from Russia for violating visa regulations. The Wall Street Journal reports that Anne Nivat, a French journalist and author, was detained in Vladimir by immigration officials, who confiscated her one year, multiple-entry visa and gave her three days to leave the country. Nivat maintains that as a freelance journalist, she was unable to acquire the required press visa, and so obtained a business visa as she had during past trips. According to her, immigration officials made it clear that her meetings with opposition members were to blame for her expulsion. “It clearly didn’t please them that I was having conversations with people from the opposition,” she said. “They clearly said it many times.” She additionally claimed that the officials had information about her meetings, as if they’d been following her for days. Nivat was awarded a French literary prize for her recent book on the war in Chechnya, and was in Russia to investigate the current political situation.
Russia might have come much closer to nuclear disaster in recent times than officials led the public to believe. Sources in the Russian navy told the weekly magazine Vlast that a submarine which caught fire in December 2011 was in fact carrying nuclear weapons, although officials insisted at the time of the fire that all nuclear materials had been removed. Vlast’s article suggested that the ship was in fact carrying sixteen R-29 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which each carried four nuclear warheads. Welding sparks set fire to the wooden scaffolding surrounding the sub at the Roslyakobo docks, about 900 miles north of Moscow. The sub eventually had to be partially sunk to douse the flames, after the submarine’s rubber covering also caught fire. If the fire had ignited the ship’s torpedoes, the nuclear warheads could have easily ignited as well, risking radiation leaks on a level not seen since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
In a symbolic vote in the UN General Assembly, Russia and China were outvoted 137 to 12 on a non-binding call for an end to the violence in Syria. Joined only by diplomatic pariahs like North Korea, Venezuela, and Syria itself, Russian officials insisted that they couldn’t back the motion because it didn’t also require opposition forces to cease violence. According to London's Telegraph newspaper, British officials lauded the vote, stating, “President Assad and the Syrian regime must heed the call of the international community and allow a peaceful political transition to resolve the crisis.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon echoed the diplomats’ sentiments, and added that “Lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government licence to continue its assault on its own people. The longer we debate the more people will die.”
Latvian voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to make Russian an official state language. Over 70 percent of the country’s registered voters turned out to participate, the Guardian reports – markedly more than in recent elections and referendums. Nearly 75 percent voted against the proposal, which ethnic Latvians viewed as a threat to the country’s independence. Russian is the first language of nearly a third of the country’s 2.1 million people, and the ethnic Russians who championed the referendum said that they hoped the 25 percent total in favor of the motion would push the government to open a dialogue with minority groups in Latvia.