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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1784
Russian Orthodox Church backs the Syrian status quo;
The Duma take a stand against new assembly law - albeit briefly
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
June 14, 2012
Russia's struggle to achieve a successful joint venture with Western oil companies continues, as executives of the TNK-BP venture continue to abandon ship. The board of the enterprise has lacked a quorum since the resignation of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder back in December, and now faces further vacancies with the resignation of the venture's top executive and one of Russia's economic oiligarchs, Mikhail Fridman. UPI reports that several analysts believe BP will be “a cleaner investment” without the involvement of the Russian oligarchs, who were blamed in 2008 for (current BP CEO) Bob Dudley’s departure from the board. The most recent joint venture between BP and Russian oil titan Rosneft failed in January 2011 after TNK-BP complained that the project violated the terms of its own shareholder agreement.
The Kremlin’s support for the Assad regime in Syria has received backing from Russia’s Orthodox Church.According to the New York Times, the Russian Orthodox Church frequently meets with the country’s foreign ministry to discuss shared interests outside Russian borders, which in this case includes Syria’s minority Christian population. The group comprises about 10 percent of Syria’s population, and has been reluctant to join the Sunni Muslim opposition for fear of persecution by the same group if it attains power. Although Church officials insist that a recent visit by the Patriarch to Damascus was not a demonstration of the church’s support for the Assad regime, photos of the Patriarch’s street procession showed onlookers carrying portraits of the Syrian president. Journalist and television host Maksim Shevchenko, a specialist in religious affairs, suggested that the visit was a game changer. “It strengthened the Russian position on Syria,” he said, because “he’s such an influential figure.”
Russian and Chinese officials have released statements encouraging the construction of a “fairer” global economic system ahead of a state visit to China by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both countries further announced their support for “the formation of a multipolar model of international relations,” and a strengthening of the UN’s role in solving international issues. RIA-Novosti reports that both Russia and China took a stance against the expansion of military alliances and – likely in reference to Russia’s ongoing conflict with NATO – contested the deployment of missile defense systems “on a bloc basis.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia and China intend to pursue stronger bilateral relations, and increase trade between their countries to $100 billion by 2015.
Vladimir Putin is trying to defend his country’s human rights record following criticism from the West at an EU summit in St. Petersburg. Reporters grilled President Putin over the recent bill introduced in the Duma that will drastically increase fines for participants in unsanctioned rallies. Putin insisted that the law is “democratic,” and “similar” to European legislation. He further claimed that he had no knowledge of political prisoners in Russia, despite a list of 40 such names currently being circulated by the opposition. Former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the most common example, according to the Associated Press, after an independent probe commissioned in 2010 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev found no grounds for his conviction. Putin countered that the European Court for Human Rights “found no political motives” in the charges brought against the former oil tycoon, although this ruling only applied to the first of two convictions.
The Russian Duma’s opposition members have refused to fall in line with the rubber-stamp tradition of the country's parliament. In an attempt to stall voting on the controversial bill that would drastically increase fines on unsanctioned protestors, members of the Just Russia and Communist parties filibustered - a tactic rarely seen in Russia. According to the Washington Post, deputies read, discussed, and voted on almost 400 amendments to the bill. Nearly 90,000 people logged onto the web broadcast of the attempt by the end of the night in question, and thousands more discussed the event on Twitter. Opposition members claim the bill will violate Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly. The Kremlin is eager to pass the bill ahead of a planned opposition rally on June 12th.
Parliamentary opposition to the Kremlin's proposed new restrictions on organized protests has turned out to be brief. The filibuster ended before midnight on June 5th, and the bill was voted subsequently approved by the Russian legislature. President Putin now is expected to sign the bill into law in the next few days, Reuters reports. Once in force, the law will officially raise fines for opposition organizers to a maximum of 600,000 rubles ($18,454). Opposition activists and human rights watchdogs alike - including the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch - have called the bill "draconian." "It is the path toward civil war," added a member of the opposition Just Russia party, "it is the path towards massive repression and we all know how that ends: in blood, poverty, and revolution."