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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1782
Hizb ut-Tahrir rising in Tatarstan;
New law raises the cost of protest
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
June 6, 2012
Kazan is rapidly becoming a favorite destination for supporters of the radical Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a leading Russian analyst has noted. According to Rais Suleimanov of the Volga Center for Ethno-Religious Research, Tahrir activists - who are unwelcome in the rest of Russia - feel comfortable on the streets of the Tatar capital, and even raise funds and public support in Kazan's Kolkhoz market. The Al-Ikhlas mosque in Kazan has become a key point of operation for hte dissemination of Hizb-ut Tahrir's ideas, Suleimanov has told the news website 116.ru.
For the first time, Russian troops have been invited to train on U.S. soil alongside the 10th Special Forces Group. According to the Associated Press, the training (which took place at Fort Carson in Colorado) included basic soldier skills - from firing a weapon to making parachute drops - as a first step toward more complicated joint exercises in anti- terrorism operations. “This is the shake-hands, get-to-know-you kind of thing,” one military official has explainted. “What this is not is a massive counterterrorism exercise.”
Dmitry Medvedev has made the trip to Camp David during the G-8 summit for an informal meeting with president Obama. According to the Moscow Times, the new Russian premier made it clear that his presence, following the uproar that accompanied Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cancellation of his appearance, was a sign of the Kremlin’s continued interest in pursuing its “reset” in relations with Washington, despite the recent power swap in Moscow. Syria and Iran were discussed by the G-8 leaders, with the Russian delegates emphasizing that the conflict in Syria in particular requires more than a “quick fix.”
Russia’s first deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, will retain his position in Vladimir Putin’s new cabinet, despite allegations of shady investments with Russia’s economic oligarchs. According to Reuters, there exists clear documentation of the deals, which include loans to mining tycoon Alisher Usmanov, whose returns doubled after the terms of the loan were amended to include profits from the stake. Shuvalov did not deny the reports, instead insisting that the deals were entirely legal. “You can be sure,” he said in a newspaper interview published earlier in May, “that in all my years of government service I have not allowed a conflict of interest to arise.” Shuvalov was one of the architects of Russia’s entry in the World Trade Organization late last year.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Vladimir Putin’s political appointments have included the return of a familiar face: Igor Sechin. Sechin, a close and long-time Putin confidante, was appointed to head of the state-owned oil company Rosneft, raising doubts about Kremlin plans to privatize a portion of the organization. Sechin was removed from the position last year as part of then-president Medvedev’s efforts to attract private investment. Sechin previously also served as Putin’s deputy prime minister, and in that capacity was responsible for energy policy.
Free speech has taken another hit in Russia. A bill recently passed through the country’s lower house of parliament will raise fines for the participants in unsanctioned rallies from a maximum of $160 to a staggering $32,250. Opposition activists accused the Kremlin of strategically timing the bill ahead of a series of reforms that will likely raise energy prices and cut social benefits. The Associated Press reports that parliament members of the Just Russia party plan to boycott hearings on the bill, which they claim is intended to “shut the people’s mouth.” “A direct signal is being made by those in power,” the head of the liberal Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, has said. “Sit down and keep quiet!”