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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1544

Journalists under fire -- again;
Russian poll: Putin popular but record mixed

Edited by Jonas Bernstein
March 24, 2008

March 20:

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has warned NATO countries not to appease Russia by rejecting his country’s hopes to join the alliance, the Associated Press reports. “Basically what it says is non-NATO members have veto rights over NATO decisions,” he told the Atlantic Council in Washington. President George W. Bush told reporters after meeting with Saakashvili that NATO would benefit by Georgian membership and promised to press the issue at NATO’s summit in Bucharest, Romania, on April 2nd-4th.

The Guardian reports that police have advised priests inside Russia’s Golden ring - the towns close to Moscow where orthodox Christianity first took root in the 10th century - to apply for firearms licenses and carry guns following a series of armed attacks on area churches in which icons were seized. “Given the atrocious state of the area’s roads, detectives say that weapons are the only way to deter marauding criminals,” the British newspaper writes. “The police concede that by the time they arrive the gangs have long gone.”

March 21:

A St. Petersburg court has ordered the release of Maxim Reznik, head of the regional chapter of the "Yabloko" party, from pre-trial detention, reports. Reznik was arrested on March 2nd for allegedly assaulting police officers – a charge he and his supporters say was fabricated and politically motivated. Meanwhile, The Other Russia opposition coalition’s website reports that law-enforcement personnel raided the offices of the Fund for the Support of Tolerance in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fourth largest city. The NGO’s director, Oksana Chelysheva, said all of the offices’ computers were seized and that the building was sealed until further notice.

Two Dagestani journalists have been killed in separate incidents in Moscow and Dagestan, Agence-France Presse reports. The body of Ilyas Shurpayev, a correspondent for Channel One state television, was found with multiple stab wounds in his Moscow apartment. Gadzhy Abashilov, who headed the Dagestani affiliate of the state-controlled Rossiya television channel, was killed by unidentified gunmen in his car in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital.

March 22:

A court order closing the European University at St. Petersburg has been lifted, the Washington Post reports. City fire inspectors visited the university in January, cited more than 50 safety violations and obtained a court order closing the university. The city’s science and education committee then suspended the university’s license, effectively preventing it from operating in temporary facilities while the violations were addressed.

“The closure was a warning that independent scholarship could be punished at any given moment, and this is the major concern not just for the European University but for my colleagues across the country,” Vladimir Gelman, a political science professor at the university, told the Post. “I believe that we were selected as a target to demonstrate to all others that they should be submissive and subordinate.”

March 24:

Asked by the independent Levada Center to name the areas in which Vladimir Putin failed during his eight years as president, 32 percent of those polled said fighting corruption and bribe-taking, 18 percent said limiting the influence of oligarchs and 17 percent said fighting crime. According to Vedomosti, 53 percent said that the gap between rich and poor grew under Putin while 27 percent said it remained the same as it was under Boris Yeltsin. Still, 70 percent of those polled said they liked Putin policies to raise living standards and 55 percent said they would like to see him run again for president.

[Editor’s Note: Given the effect of Russia’s increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.]

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance

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