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13 years ago
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Putan: Strategic balance of forces in the world

"Putan" sounds good >:-)
12 years ago
Putin taps into a growing anti-minority fervor
By Fred Weir

MOSCOW - Alexander Belov is leader and chief ideologist of the unabashedly racist, street-based Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). But he's no fringe character. In fact, his group is Russia's fastest-growing political sensation.

Critics have long alleged that DPNI is a Kremlin creation, designed to redirect popular dissatisfaction toward ethnic scapegoats.

Still, many Russians were surprised last week when President Vladimir Putin took a page straight out of Mr. Belov's book.

In the midst of a political standoff with the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Mr. Putin authorized a crackdown on Georgian-owned businesses, called for tougher curbs on immigration, and said non-ethnic Russians should be prevented from operating in the marketplaces.

"What Putin said is exactly what Belov has been saying; the main theme is Russia for the Russians," says Alla Gerber, president of the Russian Holocaust Foundation, a human rights group.

Experts warn that the Kremlin is moving into a political minefield that has been primed and put on hair trigger by Belov and his rapidly-growing DPNI.

In late August, six days of rioting in the northern town of Kondopoga left at least three people dead and forced hundreds of Caucasians - dark-skinned people from the former Soviet Caucasus region - to flee.

Similar upheavals have been reported over the past six months hitting far-flung Russian towns in Saratov, Chita, Rostov, Astrakhan, and Irkutsk regions.

And a survey conducted last month by the state-run VTsIOM agency found that 57 percent of Russians believe that Kondopoga-like riots could break out in their town. In a poll by the independent Levada Center last week, 52 percent said they favor declaring Russia "the Russian people's state," with restrictions on non-ethnic Russians.

"There is a social explosion waiting to happen in Russia, with many potential Kondopogas," says Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy head of the Sova Center in Moscow, which monitors hate crimes. "Over and over again lately you have tensions in some town, then Belov shows up and tells people they're being terrorized by Caucasians, and the violence begins."

"Our authorities have been manipulating this movement, thinking they can channel peoples' resentments against ethnic minorities instead of the powers that be," says Ms. Kozhevnikova. "They think they can control it. But it's too big, too dangerous to be managed."

But Belov insists that the Kremlin has finally understood "the real situation" in the country. "The president has made the right conclusions and is taking the right steps," he says in an interview. "Russians are the most discriminated-against group in Russia. We help them to find their voice."

Last week Putin echoed Belov's mantra that Russians are being "terrorized" by gangs of "criminals" from formerly Soviet Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia's own southern republics.

"[We must] protect the interests of Russian manufacturers and Russia's native population," he said. "The indignation of citizens is right," Putin added, lashing out at criminal gangs, some with an "ethnic hue," that allegedly control Russia's local farmers' markets.

The actions of Moscow police last week underscored that point by swooping down on casinos, restaurants, and other businesses owned by ethnic Georgians (many of them Russian citizens) and shut down dozens, citing tax, sanitary, and alcohol violations.

A planeload of 132 "illegal immigrants" was dispatched to Georgia last Friday, but a second plane carrying 150 deportees was turned back by Georgian authorities on Monday.

"We really hope that these outrageous violations of human rights of individuals, based on their ethnicity, will cease," said Georgia's President Mikhael Saakashvili. "This is totally unacceptable in the 21st century."

Russia's relations with Georgia have been deteriorating since the pro-democracy "Rose Revolution" three years ago brought the West-leaning Mr. Saakashvili, pledging to bring his little country into NATO by 2009, to power.

Last week, Georgia released four Russian military personnel it had accused of spying, but Moscow has responded by escalating the pressure on Georgia and Georgians.

About a million Georgian expatriates live in Russia, and authorities claim 300,000 of them are working in the country illegally. Last week, Russia stopped issuing visas, and cut off all transport and postal connections between the two countries. Russian authorities have begun gathering lists of schoolchildren with Georgian-sounding names, triggering a wave of fear.

"Many parents are afraid to send their children to school, or even let them go outside," says Anna Kerezalidze, director of School No. 1331 in Moscow, which has many Caucasian pupils.

"Even some who are Russian citizens are asking to withdraw their kids from school, and talk of leaving the country."

Several prominent intellectuals with Georgian roots, such as famous detective novelist Grigory Chkhartishvili, have found themselves facing sudden tax audits and other kinds of official harassment.

"It is no longer safe to be a dark-haired person in Russia," says Mr. Chkhartishvili, better known by his pen name, Boris Akunin. "What's happening to Georgians today is ethnic cleansing. The Russian state is sick with the virus of xenophobia."

Note this news
Anna Politkovskaya murdered
12 years ago
Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist known as a fierce critic of the Kremlin's actions in Chechnya, has been found dead in Moscow.

The 48-year-old mother of two was found shot dead in a lift at her apartment block in the capital.

A pistol and four bullets were found near her body and a murder investigation has been launched.

Ms Politkovskaya's murder has all the hallmarks of a contract killing, says the BBC's Emma Simpson in Moscow.

The award-winning journalist became ill with food poisoning on her way to report on the Beslan school siege in 2004, which some believed to be an attempt on her life.

'Brave defender'

Ms Politkovskaya, who worked for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was known for exposing rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya.

She also acted as a negotiator with the Chechen rebels who held a siege in a Moscow theatre in 2002.

The head of Russia's journalism union described her as the conscience of the country's journalism.

She was one of the few remaining high-profile, independent journalists in Russia - and her death will cause widespread anger and shock, says our Moscow correspondent.

"Russia has lost a brave and dedicated human rights defender," said Nicola Duckworth from the rights group Amnesty International.

Ms Politkovskaya "spoke out fearlessly against violence and injustice, and campaigned tirelessly to see justice done".

Amnesty International has called for a thorough investigation into the killing but Russian political analyst Anna Zelkina is doubtful there will be results.

"There is this series of politically motivated murders like hers," she told the BBC.

"I'm afraid that there will be less and less people who would be taking the risk to report... [she's] a very difficult person to replace."

'Honest journalism'

Ms Politkovskaya was killed at around 1630 local time (1330 GMT), Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Novaya Gazeta said.

Vitaly Yaroshevsky, deputy editor of the newspaper, believes she was killed because of her work.

"The first thing that comes to mind is that Anna was killed for her professional activities. We don't see any other motive for this terrible crime," he told the Reuters news agency.

Moscow deputy prosecutor Vyacheslav Rosinsky has said investigators are considering the link between the journalist's death and her work.

"We think that one of the leads of Politkovskaya's intentional homicide is her public duty," he told Russian agency Itar-Tass.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said Ms Politkovskaya had frequently received threats.

"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Russian police at the site of journalist Anna Politkovskaya's murder
A murder investigation is under way

"Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya," he added.

In 2001, she fled to Vienna, Austria, after receiving e-mail threats claiming a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians wanted to take his revenge.

In an interview two years ago with the BBC, Ms Politkovskaya said she believed it was her duty to continue reporting, despite receiving such death threats.

"I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannot stop because it's my duty," she said.

"I think the duty of doctors is to give health to their patients, the duty of the singer to sing. The duty of [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees in the reality. It's only one duty." 
Such a tragedy
12 years ago

for this respected and courageous journalists voice to be silenced.


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