The Russian invasion and takeover of Crimea has proven to be extremely popular for Vladimir Putin, and has given rise to a new–and somewhat frightening–level of Russian nationalism. While the popularity boost may be temporary: further Russian aggression, exactly the kind that began over the weekend in eastern Ukraine with armed soldiers in identical uniforms without insignia taking over government buildings in a number of cities and towns, is likely to both ultimately fail (recent polls show that even in eastern Ukraine, only about 4% of the public wants to be annexed by Russia) and cause serious damage to Russia’s economy.
Even though apparently popular, support for Putin’s policies has hardly been unanimous. Few realize that 50,000 people protested in Moscow last month against the Crimea takeover, and yesterday 10,000 joined a new protest against both Russia’s actions toward Ukraine and the country’s shutdown of most independent media outlets.
Still, Putin is taking advantage of the situation by cracking down on civil society in Russia. That’s a process that began well before the Ukrainian situation, but one that Putin appears to be accelerating as he transforms Russia closer toward dictatorship. And he has anti-nuclear and environmental groups squarely in his aim.
Here is a report from Vladimir Sliviak, an ex-officio board member of NIRS and head of Ecodefense in Russia, part of the NIRS-WISE international network:
This was a very special Friday for us today in Russia, and I want to share with you some news, just to give you a little taste of what’s going on in our absurd country right now. Really, all this came in today:
1. Ecodefense (http://ecodefense.ru/, website in Russian) was notified today by the bank serving our account that all operations with foreign currency have been stopped. Now the bank will work only with national currency. It’s part of the consequence of western economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict with Ukraine. I’ve heard that some other banks announced the same. It means we can not receive foreign grants or donations to our bank account anymore. (And it is not clear if we can find an acceptable Russian bank anymore either.)
2. We also just got information on the next inspection of Ecodefense in Kaliningrad by the state prosecutor, which will happen next month. Prosecutors will come and check out where we got our money, how we spent money, what exactly we did, etc. But they know it all very well already because we have to submit quarterly reports to the justice ministry about all of it. Actually, we think that they will look for reasons to force us to register ourselves as a “foreign agent,” which we have resisted until now. They did an inspection last year for the first time and warned us about staying away from political actions. We never had any inspections before 2013.
3. The lower house of the Russian parliament approved a first reading of an amendment to a law regulating demonstrations, rallies, street actions etc. The maximum fine for being arrested at a protest will be close to $10,000 (instead of $600); short term sentences for those arrested will be up to 30 days (from 15 days now). If you are arrested once and within 180 days you are caught at a protest for the second time, you will go to jail for years. There is no doubt this will be approved in second and third readings of the bill soon. Parliamentarians also introduced a new kind of charge–for mass staying or mass moving around governmental buildings and “dangerous” places (that would likely be nuclear or chemical or other industrial plants). This is a purely criminal thing now, just like railroad blockades in Russia.
4. This one happened Wednesday, not Friday, but it’s important: the Constitutional Court ruled that the “foreign agent” law does not violate the constitution, and it also said that any street activitity is definitely a political act. That means that all groups which obtain foreign money and do street actions should be registered as “foreign agents.” Before that, many civil groups argued that political actions must be identified as targeted at obtaining political power, and so environmental and human rights protests should not be identified as political action. Since many civil groups resisted “foreign agent” registration, we can expect now that many will be fined and closed down.
Also, a couple of months ago, there was a new law passed that allowed inspections of civil organizations that are not announced at all. Previously, the government had to announce an inspection before it started.
PS. And some nuke news: Last week, the Russian government held a special meeting on Kaliningrad energy system development. On the eve of it, Rosatom said the future of the proposed new nuclear plant near Kaliningrad may be decided there. But the meeting focused on other energy options and did not even insert the nuke plant in its agenda. The very good news is that nuclear is not treated anymore as politically important for Kaliningrad, and the future of this frozen nuke plant is left in the dark. Bad news is that now they focus on coal.
Michael Mariotte/Vladimir Sliviak
April 14, 2014
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