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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: July 9, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
With Growing 'Climate of Fear," Russian NGOs Cease Operations

Reuters has reported on a growing "climate of fear" in Russia after the application of the "foreign agents' law" and the new "undesirable organizations" law:


Dynasty, a charitable foundation which sponsors science and education, and the Committee Against Torture said they would stop operating after being branded "foreign agents" under a law that applies to groups that receive funding from abroad.

Twelve more non-governmental organizations were named on a "patriotic stop-list" approved by the Federation Council upper house on Wednesday and sent to the prosecutor general to consider whether they should be closed.

Opposition and human rights activists say the moves are part of a broader clampdown on civil society and Kremlin opponents since Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency in 2012.

The Kremlin denies launching a clampdown but Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said other lists of "undesirables" were likely to be presented soon by lawmakers.

"These lists have no legal power, but they do enjoy the very real power to intimidate and incite self-censorship. They have already become an important part of the witch hunt against critics of the government by creating a climate of hostility, fear, and suspicion," she said in a statement.

What she means by "no legal power" is that the Russian parliament can draw them up, but itself as a state body cannot enforce them -- it is a legislative body. For that, they must submit them to the prosecutor's office (part of the executive branch of government), and the prosecutor himself must investigate the group and determine if it has violated Russian law. After that determination, it goes to the Ministry of Justice, which is in charge of governing non-governmental organizations, foundations and other associations and maintaining the lists of the "foreign agents".

This is how the system is supposed to work under Russia's nominal separation of powers.

So far, while a prosecutor technically objected in a meeting with the Federation Council members last week that his office could not investigate foreign organizations outside of Russia (as this would be legal overreach), in reality, the activity of these foreign groups through affiliates or supporters in Russia is investigated, and a determination is made. There hasn't been a case yet of the prosecutor rejecting a proposal of the Duma, and the list of 8 foundations submitted now for review are more than likely to be declared "undesirable."

And that's because the Russian parliament itself is subordinated politically to the Kremlin, which often drafts and approves laws outside the actual parliamentary process, so that the parliament serves as part of the executive branch. The judiciary isn't independent, as numerous political trials indicate, so these nominally separate bodies also approve what is the Kremlin's desire.

In a post on Human Rights Watch's website, Moscow program director Tanya Lokshina wrote of her organization's own likely inclusion in this list:


Before the list was made public, Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office was flooded with calls from journalists asking, “Our sources said Human Rights Watch will be on the list. What are you doing to do?” The list hadn’t even been made public yet, but it was already having a toxic effect, wearing us out, keeping us on edge. One wonders if that is one of the aims of the law.

The law authorizes the prosecutor general to designate “undesirable organizations,” taking into account information received from different sources, such as members of parliament. It is unlikely that all 12 organizations on the senators’ list will be banned at once. The law on “undesirable organizations” appears to be designed for selective use, and its implementation will probably kick off on a smaller scale. Nor is the senators’ list unique. Various, eager members of parliament have drawn up multiple lists of would be “undesirables.” These lists have no legal power, but they do enjoy the very real power to intimidate and incite self-censorship. They have already become an important part of the witch hunt against critics of the government by creating a climate of hostility, fear, and suspicion.

In the Soviet era, the state media was notorious for the podval, or literally "the basement" -- scathing denunciations written by state flunkies about people or institutions in disfavor with the Kremlin. When someone saw such an editorial in the bottom half of a page of Pravda or Izvestiya, they knew that an arrest may be coming soon. The podval "had no legal power" but it was the first sign of trouble that often indicated a lock-step trip to the Gulag.

Inclusion in the "undesirables" list does have legal power, because the law provides for punishment of up to six years for any involvement with such organizations.

The suggestions by deputies and reviews by prosecutors are in process now, but there is nothing about this process that indicates it is merely an intimidation without ramifications of prosecution. To cite the most relevant analogous law: not a single organization declared a "foreign agent" has been able to challenge this status. When one organization that monitored elections, Golos, challenged it in court with the help of ombudsperson Yelena Pamfilova, it was declared a success, yet the organization remains on the Ministry of Justice's website as a "foreign agent" -- a status that forced the group to suspend for a time.

Dynasty Foundation originally discussed appealing the designation but instantly the Ministry of Justice said that the fact that its founder's own bank account abroad was used for support didn't take away the "foreign agent" status.

There's every indication that the list of eight Western foundations believed "guilty" of fostering the "color revolutions" the Kremlin abhors will wind up on the formal list of undesirables. Even if they are involved in neutral scientific or educational projects, the mere fact of their foreign affiliation or potential for "subversion" will put them on the list. Even long-time programs like the "innovation" department at a university in Nizhny Novgorod, where an American instructor taught, have now come under scrutiny as "subversives," leading to the firing and expulsion of two Americans.


The Committee Against Torture has withstood many attacks over the years, most recently the torching of their office in Grozny and the expulsion from Russia of foreign colleagues who came to a training for psychiatrists on torture. This committee has been one of the key sources of documented cases for the UN's own Committee on Torture which monitors implementation of the convention against torture. Now this voice is silenced, even though torture continues.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
BRICS and SCO Summits in Russia Provide Opportunity for Putin to Lead Anti-Western Bloc

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and Sudan) are meeting in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, an autonomous republic about 1,177 kilometers to the southeast from Moscow.

The BRICS' leaders summit is being combined with a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Chinese-led Eurasian multilateral organization which has been a vehicle both for aiding Central Asian countries and increasing Chinese involvement in their economies. Russia is a member of the SCO, and is currently chairing both the BRICS and SCO, so the double summit was put in Bashkortostan, sometimes described as the place "where Europe meets Asia" in the Ural mountains, where the Bashkirs, a Turkic people, are the predominant ethnic group.

In addition to the regular members of BRICS and SCO, there is an "expanded list" of members from among other Russian allies from the former Soviet republics.

Dmitry Smirnov, a state journalist and a member of the presidential press pool, has been tweeting the meetings, which started yesterday, July 9. Usually people in this pool don't tweet much; Smirnov seems to be the allowed exception, even though he injects some humor and political undertones to his tweets.

Translation: Igor Sechin signed a huuuuuge contract with the Indians! Rosneft will deliver to India 100 million tons of oil over 10 years.

Sechin is the head of Rosneft, the Russian state oil company. Both he and the company are under Western sanctions over Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Translation: the BRICS leaders went to have a bite. This is called: negotiations in the format of a working breakfast.

Translation: who did what at breakfast: Xi Jinping read the menu, Dilma took a close look at the fruits, Zima waited for the second course [hot food].

Then Putin invited the leaders to lunch:

Translation: [Kremlin spokesman] Peskov described what the BRICS leaders were fed: there was crab tail soup, Bashkirian duck, lamb and fish.

Translation: who did what at dinner: Putin took off his tie, Modi read the menu, Zuma waited for the second course, but Xi Jinping looks like he was actually asleep.

Iran is an observer and  prospective member of SCO, and Putin took the opportunity to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ufa:

Translation: Rouhani to Putin: I have difficult, packed days now, but I couldn't help but accept your invitation to come to Ufa.

Translation: Aleksandr Novak said something interesting to Dmitry Peskov before the meeting between Putin and Rouhani. Was it about Iranian oil?

Novak is Russia's energy minister.

The war in Ukraine was not a major item on the agenda, but was mentioned and included in the final document.

Translation: [Foreign Minister] Lavrov's deputy Ryabkov: we have not changed our position on Crimea. If the West will not recognize it, the sanctions may remain forever.

Translation: text of the Ufa declaration passed took up 50 pages. There is something about Ukraine in it as well: BRICS condemn the use of force.

This is a good example of the difference between BRICS and SCO and the OSCE, where the US and other leaders regularly condemn the Russian military presence in Ukraine.

Sudan voted with Russia against a UN General Assembly resolution that affirmed Ukraine's territorial integrity. But Brazil, India and China abstained, along with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan which was a factor in getting a majority vote.

Translation: Serzh Sargsyan also will participate a bit in the BRICS summit, but in the format which is called "outreach."

Sargsyan is the president of Armenia, scene of mass unrest recently about electricity rate hikes which Russian state media tried to portray as an incipient "Maidan." But Smirnov accentuated that Armenia is close to Russia and understands its culture, which involves presenting arriving guests with traditional karavay sweet bread with salt:

Translation: Sargsyan immediately figured out the karavay: he broke off the edge, dipped it in salt, and then ate it.

Translation: This year, the summit is expanded with Asian countries: the head of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov - one of the representatives of Asia.

Translation: Aleksandr Lukashenka is of course not Asia, but how can you get by without him?

Translation: Lukashenka's pun at yesterday's meeting went unnoticed: "The times we living in are complicated, but quite surviveable."

The pun hinges on a rare Russian homonym, perezhit' which means "to live through" and also "to suffer" or "survive."

Translation: BTW, Anton Siluanov, finance minister, reported: Belorussiya asked for a loan of $3 million.

Russians persist in using the old term "Belorussiya" which accentuates the "Russia" relationship, although "Belarus" is the name now used at the UN and most of the world's media now uses that name.

Translation: all the participants in the expanded BRICS meeting in one photo. But not all of them are smiling and waving.

Translation: where you can see a cartoon about the SCO, Putin and Xi? Here's where. Thanks to the Chinese for Russian subtitles.

The cartoon is a propaganda film meant to introduce mass Chinese audiences to the notion that China, traditionally wary and even hostile of Russia, is now building closer relations particularly since Western sanctions over Ukraine. The cartoon's female narrator says there are angry and fearful reactions to the news of a Chinese-Russian rapprochement:


The video shows "Uncle Xi" (Xi Jinping) as the leader of the region, reassuring the world that this does not mean a change in the world's power structures because China is ostensibly for "mutual development and prosperity" and not confrontation of blocs.


Yet a number of pictures show antagonism to the US, who is represented as "Superman." There are some who "flex their muscles" before others...."


...even though they are in tatters as a world power:


But the Chinese narrator punches this "Superman" out:


The Chinese cartoon notes that 1/3 third of the earth's land, 1/5th of the global economy and half the world's population are in the BRICS countries. It is this segment that Putin hopes to capture as an anti-Western bulwark.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
More than Half of All Books Published in Russia Now Issued in Fewer than 1,000 Copies
More than Half of All Books Published in Russia Now Issued in Fewer than 1,000 Copies

Staunton, July 8 - Fifty-three percent of all books published in Russia last year were issued in print runs of under 1,000 copies, with the average tirage of the 112,100 books published there now standing at 4,330 copies, continuing downward trends of the last six years and isolating many of these works from their audiences [...]

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Jul 09, 2015 20:11 (GMT)
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Will Russia's Ambitions To Regain Superpower Status Succeed?

Russia Can No Longer Afford to Be the Militarist and Expansionist Power It has Always Been, Shevtsova Says

Staunton, July 8 - After a brief attempt to escape from its past in the 1990s, Russia under Vladimir Putin is "again returning to militarism...the model of existence in which Russia had existed for centuries" in order to prepare for war. No other such civilization exists in the world now, but Russia "cannot militarize as [...]

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Jul 09, 2015 17:50 (GMT)
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Parliament Expands List of 'Undesirable Organizations' to 20; Adds Jamestown, Eurasia, Open Russia
The Russian parliament has a list of 20 organizations declared as "undesirable," Izvestiya reports. As we reported last week, after the law was passed barring organizations determined to be hostile to Russia.

Translation: the list of "non-desirable organizations has been expanded to 20.

As we reported last week, after the parliament passed the law barring organizations contrary to Russian interests, the Federation Council drew up a list and sent it to the prosecutor.

Now additions are being made to the list, and currently the following organizations are included:

Ford Foundation
Jamestown Foundation
Open Russia
Eurasia Foundation
Albert Einstein Institute

New organizations are placed by the Ministry of Justice in what deputies are calling "the patriotic stop list" after review by the Prosecutor General's Office, but State Duma members and Federation Council senators can propose organizations for inclusion.

Twelve other groups were previously announced yesterday at a meeting of the Federation Council. They will be sent to the Prosecutor General where they will be examined for compliance with the law on undesirable organizations. Currently the list includes:

Soros Foundation
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
International Republican Institute (IRI)
National Democratic Institue for International Affairs (NDI)
Macarthur Foundation
Freedom House
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Education for Democracy Fund (FED)
Center for East European Democracy.
World Congress of Ukrainians
Ukrainian World Coordinating Council
Crimean Field Mission for Human Rights

As Izvestiya noted, the new groups added are recipients of USAID funds. USAID itself was forced to suspend its programs in Russia in 2012 at the demand of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

A "high-ranking source" in the Federation Council told Izvestiya the following:

The Prosecutor General will examine the stop list, and then the Justice Ministry will include the NGO in the register of undesirables. But that won't be the end of it. The network of foundations which conduct State Department policy is very well developed and the list will be broadened. Ford Foundation, Khodorkovsky was also discussed by us in drawing up the patriotic stop list, which is limited to 12 so far, but in the future these organizatoins will go into the Ministry of Justice registry.

The deputies singled out Jamestown because is is "affiliated with the CIA, Freedom House and other USAID recipients" and "orients its activity to the North Caucasus, said Izvestiya Both former CIA director James Woolsey and Zbigniew Brzezinski are affiliated with Jamestown with discredits it for the Kremlin.

The Albert Einstein Institute is included because of its founder Gene Sharp, who book "From Dictatorship to Democracy (1993) is a classic textbook on revolution which was used in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Ukraine, says Izvestiya.

Eurasia, Ford, NED and NDI are included for actively supporting NGSOs, including Memorial and the Helsinki group.Open Russia, founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky and supports the Russian opposition, says Izvestiya.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Federation Council's committee on international affairs, said tihs was the "start of a public discussion, not the finish." He stressed that the amendments were not aided at Russian civil society and its contact with foreign partners but only "those forces that openly demand a change of power in Russia."

Andrei Klishas, the co-author of the bill, said he was glad to pass more regulation and said he was prepared to discuss with the government how effective it is.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick