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Posts tagged ‘Pussy Riot’

Putin Sets Rival Billionaire Khodorkovsky Free.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, left prison on Friday after a pardon from President Vladimir Putin ended a decade in jail that many saw as the fallen oil tycoon’s punishment for daring to challenge the Kremlin.

Russia’s federal prison service said Khodorkovsky was heading for Germany following his release and that his mother, Marina, was undergoing medical treatment there. German officials confirmed he arrived there earlier today.

Khodorkovsky was freed a day after Putin unexpectedly announced he would release one of his most powerful critics. A government source said the move could deflect criticism over Putin’s human rights record as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February.

“He has left the camp. That’s all I can say,” Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told Reuters by telephone.

Putin surprised Russians and cheered the business community by announcing he would free the 50-year-old businessman because his mother was ill. Investors said it could ease entrepreneurs’ fears of the Kremlin exploiting the courts for political ends.

In a presidential decree signed on Friday, Putin said he was “guided by the principles of humanity.”

Putin had said after a four-hour, end-of-year news conference on Thursday that Khodorkovsky asked for clemency. This took his lawyers by surprise and they said they were checking with their client.

“PUTIN’S PRISONER”

He was scheduled for release next August but supporters had feared the sentence might be extended, as it was once before.

Reporters waiting outside Penal Colony No. 7 at Segezha, near the Finnish border, 300 km (200 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, did not see Khodorkovsky leave. He has spent the past few years working in the camp, in an area that was once a notorious part of Stalin’s Gulag system of labor camps.

In the eyes of critics at home and abroad, his jailing was a significant stain on the record of Putin, 60, who was first elected president in 2000 and has not ruled out seeking another six-year term in 2018.

Khodorkovsky came to represent what critics say is the Kremlin’s misuse of the judicial system, curbing the rule of law, and of its refusal to permit dissent.

The authorities deny this, saying judges are independent and that Putin has not cracked down on opponents. The president has, however, singled Khodorkovsky out for bitter personal attacks in the past and ignored many calls for his release.

Thursday’s surprise announcement underlined Putin’s confidence that he has reasserted his authority and is in full control of Russia after seeing off street protests and winning a third presidential term in March 2012.

Putin would not have allowed Khodorkovsky’s release if he saw him as a threat, political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio. “Khodorkovsky is Putin’s prisoner,” he said.

With reporters scrambling for scraps of information and a glimpse of Khodorkovsky, his release echoed the arrival in Russia last summer of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who was kept from the public eye for weeks in what appeared to be a tightly choreographed game of cat-and-mouse.

Putin said two members of the Pussy Riot protest group will also be freed, under an amnesty passed by parliament this week.

Khodorkovsky had been in jail since his arrest in October 2003 in what supporters say was part of a Kremlin campaign to punish him for political challenges to Putin, gain control of his oil assets and warn other tycoons to toe the line.

END OF EMPIRE

The oil baron fell out with Putin before his arrest as the president clipped the wings of wealthy “oligarchs” who had become powerful during the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin’s rule following the collapse of Soviet communism.

His company, Yukos, was broken up and sold off, mainly into state hands, following his arrest at gunpoint on an airport runway in Siberia on fraud and tax evasion charges.

Yukos’ prize production asset ended up in the hands of state oil company Rosneft, which is now headed by close Putin ally Igor Sechin. Sechin said on Friday that he saw no threat of legal action from Khodorkovsky, state-run news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Russian shares initially rose after Putin’s announcement on Thursday but later settled back.

A sustained rally would require “a consistent track record of implementation of market-friendly reforms – in particular, of steps to improve the judicial system, so that decisions are more predictable and property rights better protected,” a Moscow-based economist at an investment bank said.

Putin has staked a great deal of personal prestige on the Winter Games at Sochi on the Black Sea and is under fire abroad over a law banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors.

A government source said the pardons would deprive Western critics of a cause: “I think the decision to free Pussy Riot and Khodorkovsky was taken just before the Olympic Games so that they will not be able to wield this banner against Putin.”

President Barack Obama and the presidents of France and Germany will skip the Olympics, and the United States has named openly gay athletes as members of its delegation in an apparent message to Putin.

Putin’s amnesty is also expected to end the prosecution of 30 people arrested in Russia over a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic and allow the 26 foreigners among them to go home.

They faced up to seven years in prison if convicted in another case that has harmed Putin’s image in the West.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Putin Pardons Top Foe: Long-Jailed Oil Tycoon Khodorkovsky Released.


MOSCOWMikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, left prison on Friday after a pardon from President Vladimir Putin ended a decade in jail that many saw as the fallen oil tycoon’s punishment for daring to challenge the Kremlin.

Russia’s federal prison service said Khodorkovsky was heading for Germany following his release and that his mother, Marina, was undergoing medical treatment there. German officials confirmed he arrived there earlier today.

Editor’s Note: Outclassed Chinese Navy Defies Outnumbered 7th Fleet

Khodorkovsky was freed a day after Putin unexpectedly announced he would release one of his most powerful critics. A government source said the move could deflect criticism over Putin’s human rights record as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February.

“He has left the camp. That’s all I can say,” Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told Reuters by telephone.

Putin surprised Russians and cheered the business community by announcing he would free the 50-year-old businessman because his mother was ill. Investors said it could ease entrepreneurs’ fears of the Kremlin exploiting the courts for political ends.

In a presidential decree signed on Friday, Putin said he was “guided by the principles of humanity.”

Putin had said after a four-hour, end-of-year news conference on Thursday that Khodorkovsky asked for clemency. This took his lawyers by surprise and they said they were checking with their client.

“PUTIN’S PRISONER”

He was scheduled for release next August but supporters had feared the sentence might be extended, as it was once before.

Reporters waiting outside Penal Colony No. 7 at Segezha, near the Finnish border, 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, did not see Khodorkovsky leave. He has spent the past few years working in the camp, in an area that was once a notorious part of Stalin’s Gulag system of labor camps.

In the eyes of critics at home and abroad, his jailing was a significant stain on the record of Putin, 60, who was first elected president in 2000 and has not ruled out seeking another six-year term in 2018.

Khodorkovsky came to represent what critics say is the Kremlin’s misuse of the judicial system, curbing the rule of law, and of its refusal to permit dissent.

The authorities deny this, saying judges are independent and that Putin has not cracked down on opponents. The president has, however, singled Khodorkovsky out for bitter personal attacks in the past and ignored many calls for his release.

Thursday’s surprise announcement underlined Putin’s confidence that he has reasserted his authority and is in full control of Russia after seeing off street protests and winning a third presidential term in March 2012.

Putin would not have allowed Khodorkovsky’s release if he saw him as a threat, political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio. “Khodorkovsky is Putin’s prisoner,” he said.

With reporters scrambling for scraps of information and a glimpse of Khodorkovsky, his release echoed the arrival in Russia last summer of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who was kept from the public eye for weeks in what appeared to be a tightly choreographed game of cat-and-mouse.

Putin said two members of the Pussy Riot protest group will also be freed, under an amnesty passed by parliament this week.

Khodorkovsky had been in jail since his arrest in October 2003 in what supporters say was part of a Kremlin campaign to punish him for political challenges to Putin, gain control of his oil assets and warn other tycoons to toe the line.

END OF EMPIRE

The oil baron fell out with Putin before his arrest as the president clipped the wings of wealthy “oligarchs” who had become powerful during the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin’s rule following the collapse of Soviet communism.

His company, Yukos, was broken up and sold off, mainly into state hands, following his arrest at gunpoint on an airport runway in Siberia on fraud and tax evasion charges.

Yukos’ prize production asset ended up in the hands of state oil company Rosneft, which is now headed by close Putin ally Igor Sechin. Sechin said on Friday that he saw no threat of legal action from Khodorkovsky, state-run news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Russian shares initially rose after Putin’s announcement on Thursday but later settled back.

A sustained rally would require “a consistent track record of implementation of market-friendly reforms — in particular, of steps to improve the judicial system, so that decisions are more predictable and property rights better protected,” a Moscow-based economist at an investment bank said.

Putin has staked a great deal of personal prestige on the Winter Games at Sochi on the Black Sea and is under fire abroad over a law banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors.

A government source said the pardons would deprive Western critics of a cause: “I think the decision to free Pussy Riot and Khodorkovsky was taken just before the Olympic Games so that they will not be able to wield this banner against Putin.”

President Barack Obama and the presidents of France and Germany will skip the Olympics, and the United States has named openly gay athletes as members of its delegation in an apparent message to Putin.

Editor’s Note: Abe Transforming Japan’s Defense to Counter Chinese Threat 

Putin’s amnesty is also expected to end the prosecution of 30 people arrested in Russia over a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic and allow the 26 foreigners among them to go home.

They faced up to seven years in prison if convicted in another case that has harmed Putin’s image in the West.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Putin: Church Should Have More Control Over Family Life.


Vladmir Putin
Russian President Vladmir Putin tried to mix spirituality with his own brand of patriotism in order to unify the officially secular country where ethnic and political fault lines are beginning to show.

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday the Orthodox Church should be given more say over family life, education and the armed forces in Russia, as he celebrated the leadership of its head Patriarch Kirill.

Faith runs deep in Russia after the fall of the officially atheist Soviet Union and Putin has looked to the largest religion in Russia for support since he began his third term as president after a wave of protests against his rule.

He has also tried to mix spirituality with his own brand of patriotism in order to unify the officially secular country where ethnic and political fault lines are beginning to show.

“At the heart of all Russia’s victories and achievements are patriotism, faith and strength of spirit,” Putin said in the Kremlin’s gold encrusted Alexeyevsky hall, celebrating the fourth anniversary of Kirill’s accession as patriarch.

Putin’s relationship with the church has strengthened since band members of protest punk band Pussy Riot entered Russia’s Christ the Saviour Church last year and sang a vulgarity-laced song, urging the Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out”.

Without giving specifics, Putin said a “vulgar” understanding of secularism must be swept away to give the Church, and other religions, control over more aspects of Russian life.

“While preserving the secular nature of our state, and not allowing the over-involvement of the government in Church life, we need to get away from the vulgar, primitive understanding of secularism,” he said.

“The Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions should get every opportunity to fully serve in such important fields as the support of family and motherhood, the upbringing and education of children, youth, social development, and to strengthen the patriotic spirit of the armed forces.”

Ethnic Tension

Putin has praised the Church’s spiritual values in their own right but he has also turned to religious understanding to counteract ethnic tension in cities such as Moscow, which have large Muslim migrant populations from the Caucasus Mountain region and Central Asia.

The Church in turn has praised Putin’s leadership. Shortly before the Pussy Riot performance, Kirill likened Putin’s time in power to a “miracle of God”.

Putin was then prime minister and in the midst of a campaign for the March 4 presidential vote.

The Church has also given its priests freer rein in politics, establishing rules for the clergy seeking elected office despite restrictions on almost all political activity by religious authorities.

The Pussy Riot performance took place at the height of a protest movement sparked by allegations of voting fraud during 2011 parliamentary elections. Holding regular protests, tens of thousands of Russians aired grievances over problems in Putin’s tightly controlled top-down political system.

Many Russians however consider leaders of that movement as out of touch with everyday problems outside of Moscow, where faith is stronger and many were insulted by the Pussy Riot performance.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party has proposed a law introducing prison terms for offences against religious symbols and feelings of believers.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.


Editing by Alison Williams

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Moscow court to hear Pussy Riot appeal.


  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 file photo feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church on Sunday Sept. 30, 2012, asked for clemency for three jailed members of the rock band Pussy Riot if they repent for their "punk prayer" for deliverance from President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral, a statement that came a day before an appeal hearing and appeared to reflect a desire to put an end to the case that has caused an international outrage. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, file)

    Enlarge Photo

    Associated Press/Misha Japaridze, file – FILE – In this Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 file photo feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich …more 

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court is set to hear an appeal filed by three jailed members of the rock band Pussy Riot, who have been sentenced to two years for performing a “punk prayer” againstPresident Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s main cathedral.

A day before Monday’s hearing, the Russian Orthodox Church said the rockers would deserve mercy if they offer repentance for their stunt. The move followed a statement by the Russian premier, who said that keeping them in prison any longer would be “unproductive.”

The calls reflected an apparent desire by both the government and the church to put an end to the case, which has caused international outrage. It remained unclear whether the women would offer penitence sought by the church and how much leniency a court may show.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

Associated Press

Russian lawmakers call for jail for “blasphemous acts”.


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers are calling for jail sentences for people guilty of offendingreligious feelings, in a move that could tighten the bonds between President Vladimir Putin and the resurgent Orthodox Church.

The State Duma, the lower house of parliament, adopted a declaration on Tuesday saying the killing of spiritual leaders, vandalism against church property and “blasphemous acts of hooliganism” posed a threat to Russia and must be countered.

The vote came weeks after members of punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years’ jail for performing a protest song in a cathedral, and coincides with widespread anger in the Muslim world against an online video mocking the Prophet Mohammad.

“All these actions are aimed at destabilizing the centuries-old spiritual and moral foundations of Russia, discrediting traditional values and, in essence, serve to ignite civil strife and undermine the country’s sovereignty,” the Duma resolution said.

The declaration has no binding force but sets the tone for legislation that Yaroslav Nilov, head of the Duma committee on civic and religious groups, said would be presented to parliament as early as this week.

Nilov said a proposed amendment would introduce criminal responsibility for offences against religious beliefs and feelings and impose a jail term of up to three years.

Alternative punishments would be fines of up to 300,000 roubles ($9,700) or community service, the daily Vedomosti reported, citing unidentified pro-Kremlin lawmakers.

Critics said such laws would blur the line between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church and called the move part of a crackdown on dissent under Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May.

“A very alarming process is occurring now: our state is starting to incorporate the Russian Orthodox Church into itself as a part of the state,” said Ilya Ponomaryov, an opposition lawmaker who has taken part in street protests Putin’s foes say have prompted a Kremlin crackdown.

SECULAR STATE?

Putin, in recent comments on Pussy Riot, the global protests over the video “The Innocence of Muslims” and the killings of Islamic leaders in Russia, has said that extremists were trying to tear Russia apart and that the feelings of the faithful must be protected by the state.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed an influential Islamic cleric in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan on a day when Putin was warning against religious extremism in Tatarstan, a long peaceful majority-Muslim province where the chief mufti was wounded and a deputy killed in attacks in July.

Mark Feigin, a lawyer for the Pussy Riot band members, said criminal punishments for offending religious faith seemed to contradict the constitution, which says Russia is a secular state, and was motivated by a desire to suppress dissent and to protect those in power, not religious believers.

“The return to such archaic norms … is no more than a measure by the authorities in reaction to political events,” said Feigin, referring to protests against Putin.

Feigin said he believed the plans for stiff punishments for offending the feelings of the faithful were the product of a “traditionalistic, paternalistic union of the current authorities and the church to resist the influence of what they see as harmful democracy of Western make.”

Russia has dismissed Western criticism of the jailing of the women from Pussy Riot, with the Foreign Ministry saying the different views pointed to a “clash of civilizations”.

“We are facing the possibility of losing our own cultural face, our national cultural code and our moral linchpin,” Putin told his culture and arts council in the Kremlin on Tuesday.

Some religious leaders welcomed the Duma declaration, but Moscow rabbi Pinchas Goldshmidt told Ekho Moskvy radio that the threat of jail would not foster tolerance.

“People can be taught how to behave by their families or at school but not be making punishment harsher,” he was quoted as saying.

(Additional reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Andrew Roche)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Gabriela Baczynska | Reuters

Russian Orthodox Church head says foes want to destroy the faith.


MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of the Russian Orthodox Church used a packed Sunday prayer service and a state TV interview to press his case that the church he presides over is under attack from foes he said wanted to mock and destroy its places of worship.

Patriarch Kirill did not mention punk music group Pussy Riot by name but was clearly referring to the collective, three of whose members were sentenced to jail for performing a “punk prayer” at the altar of a Moscow cathedral during which they criticized President Vladimir Putin.

Since the verdict on August17, which drew sharp Western criticism that Moscow said was politically-motivated, vandals in Russia and Ukraine have cut down a handful of wooden crosses in support of Pussy Riot, but band members condemned the vandalism and said they had nothing to do with it.

Speaking in an interview with state TV and at a service at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral commemorating the 1812 Battle of Borodino, which helped Russia defeat Napoleon, Kirill used military imagery to make his point.

“I cannot shake the thought that this is an exploratory attack … to test the depth of faith and commitment to Orthodoxy in Russia,” Kirill told Rossiya TV, state news agency RIA said.

“And today, I think those who launched this provocation have seen that standing before them is not a faceless, quiet mass … but a people that is capable of protecting what it holds sacred,” he said.

At the service, where a crowd of thousands spilled onto the street outside, Kirill said the fight against Napoleon’s forces 200 years ago was a lesson for today’s Russia, which he suggested was threatened by “blasphemy and outrage”.

“Those who would invite us all to mock our shrines, reject our faith and, if possible, destroy our churches” are “testing the people’s ability to protect their holy places”, he added.

“A MIRACLE OF GOD”

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in jail for their stunt during which they beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

They were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred – a charge they have denied. They said they were protesting against Putin and the church’s political support for him in what the constitution says is a secular state.

Shortly before the Pussy Riot performance, Kirill likened Putin’s time in power to a “miracle of God”. Putin was prime minister at the time and in the midst of a campaign for the March 4 presidential vote.

Many Russians found the Pussy Riot protest offensive, but critics of the Russian Orthodox Church’s leadership say it has over reacted and risks fomenting violence by repeatedly calling for believers to protect holy places.

Russian Orthodox activists have formed vigilante groups to conduct patrols and protect churches and cemeteries, and there have been incidents of harassment by activists of people expressing support for Pussy Riot.

Putin’s opponents say the prosecution of Pussy Riot was part of a Kremlin crackdown on dissent. Their lawyers appealed the verdict and sentences late last month.

Some 70 percent of the country’s citizens describe themselves as Russian Orthodox Christians, but far fewer regularly attend church though all major faiths have enjoyed revivals since the 1991 collapse of the communist Soviet Union.

Putin, a former KGB officer in power since 2000, has tried to balance promoting the church – which is identified with the country’s ethnic Russian majority – with celebrating a secular state of many religions.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Steve Gutterman | Reuters

Russia’s fractured society deepens Putin’s woes.


RELATED CONTENT

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Supporters of the punk band Pussy Riotstand accused of being traitors and Satanists bent on destroyingRussia. Their ultra-religious foes are for their part depicted as extremists in the pay of corrupt politicians.

A debate over whether three of the group’s members should have been jailed for dancing to a profane “punk prayer” in a Russian Orthodox Church has deepened a split in society to a degree rarely seen since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

But there is one sentiment that is shared by people on all sides – disappointment with President Vladimir Putin.

Putin is not about to fall. But a recent poll showed his popularity had slipped 12 percentage points since he returned to the presidency in May.

The former KGB spy, whose appeal once embraced the vast majority, is showing signs of concern.

Ivan Ostrakovsky, the leader of a religious group called Svyataya Rus (Holy Russia), has started organizing vigilante patrols at night in Moscow because he fears the state cannot protect Russian Orthodox property or the values he stands for.

“Putin is a regular man holding the steering wheel of the presidency. There is no democracy in our country, just a wild satanism,” he said under the golden domes of Moscow’s Church of Christ the Saviour before going in to pray.

“When Putin first came to power, I will say it frankly, I had extremely high hopes. I thought he would come and lift up the country. But by 2008 I realized this had not happened. Maybe there were some positive elements, but very few. Things in the country were again basically going very, very badly.”

Ostrakovsky, a 37-year-old Chechnya war veteran, represents a constituency that has long been the backbone of Putin’s support – conservative, traditional and religious.

He is not alone in his disappointment. Polls show many more Russians opposed the Pussy Riot protest than backed it, but there has been no groundswell of support for Putin over his firm response to their action in allowing their trial to go ahead.

SOCIAL TENSIONS GROW

“Support for him is slowly falling and the number of dissatisfied people is growing,” said Lev Gudkov, head of the independent Levada polling group which said last month 48 percent of Russians had a positive view of Putin compared to 60 percent in May.

He said divisions were not new in Russian society. Putin’s position was safe if the economy did not suffer a new crisis and the opposition remained disunited.

Yet social tensions are much more in evidence now than a year ago, before Putin’s announcement last September 24 that he planned to return to the presidency after four years as premier in a job swap with ally Dmitry Medvedev.

That announcement, with its presumption of a right to power, flew in the face of democracy for many Russians, and prompted the creation of Pussy Riot as a radical protest group. Since the announcement, social tensions have been on the rise and the Pussy Riot case has helped stoke them.

Soon after the Pussy Riot trial ended, a group calling itself People’s Freedom took responsibility for the desecration of four wooden crosses that were chopped up in Russia, describing it as a protest against the two-year jail sentences handed down to the three band members on August 17.

In an incident shown on YouTube, Orthodox activists harassed a young man for wearing a Pussy Riot T-shirt in a Moscow subway station. Others raided a museum of erotic art in the capital at night and the museum director, who had backed Pussy Riot, accused the assailants of extremist violence.

A performance of a play about the Pussy Riot trial, attended by the band’s lawyers and supporters, was interrupted in Moscow by a group shouting “Repent!”, witnesses said.

When the words “Free Pussy Riot” were scrawled in blood at the scene of a double murder last month in the central city of Kazan, state television had initially aired suspicions the killer was inspired by the band’s action. Newspapers sympathetic to Putin had also published lurid headlines.

PUTIN’S RALLYING CRY

Levada’s Gudkov says Putin still has broad support in the provinces, but the populations of big cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg have largely turned against him since allegations of fraud in a parliamentary election last December touched off protests that have at times drawn tens of thousands of people.

Religious and ethnic tensions are also gnawing away at Russia’s southern edge, where an Islamic insurgency continues despite a second war in Chechnya that was launched by Putin when he was prime minister in 1999.

The 59-year-old Kremlin leader has shown his concern by delivering a series of patriotic speeches calling for unity and religious tolerance, and warning against nationalism.

Although he won almost two-thirds of the votes in the March 4 presidential election, the mood in Russia has changed since Putin’s first eight-year spell as president.

“In his first term, Putin had a policy that just about all society took up – and that was creating a stronger state,” said Sergei Markov, a former parliamentary deputy for Putin’s ruling United Russia party.

“Putin would like to seize the social agenda now but how can he when society is divided into two opposing parts?” Markov, vice-rector of the Plekhanov University of Economics, said. “Putin faces a very difficult problem. The split is serious.”

The Kremlin chief may have opened a Pandora’s box by allowing the Pussy Riot trial to go ahead.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor, says Putin hoped the trial would forge closer ties with the Orthodox Church – Russia’s dominant religion – but could as a result lose control of the forces it unleashed such as religious fervor and nationalism.

“He has risked encouraging hard line and nationalist forces that have no particular sense of loyalty to him. Putin does not understand that this could cost him the presidency,” he said.

STARK WARNINGS

Such predictions may sound far-fetched and look far ahead, but Putin himself has in the past two weeks issued the starkest warnings over the rifts in Russian society.

Visiting the central city of Kazan after a Muslim cleric was killed in an attack there last month, he said: “We will not allow anyone to tear our country apart by exploiting ethnic and religious differences.”

This was a reference to the risk of the Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus spreading to other mainly Muslim regions closer to Moscow such as Tatarstan.

It may have been intended to whip up nationalism to rally support behind him. But a flare-up of violence in the North Caucasus could also undermine his authority, which he built up initially by reining in separatists in the second Chechnya war.

Putin has in some ways adapted to the new mood in Russia on his return to the Kremlin. Gone are the macho antics that were once guaranteed to go down well with many Russians.

Back, however, is the haranguing of the West, a tactic which Kremlin sources estimate boosted his support by 12 percentage points in the presidential election.

He has also, as so often in the past, evoked the glories and lions of the past to rally support.

On Sunday, he gave a rousing speech calling for patriotism at an event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Russian army’s defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two days earlier, he said Russia needed a “leap forward” to rejuvenate its defense industry, harking back to the 1930s industrialization led by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin; a drive that established Russia as an economic power, but at the cost of many lives.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin went further, posting on his Facebook page a copy of a 1940 letter from Stalin to gun factory managers warning that workers could be shot for not starting production on time.

FACING THE OPPOSITION

Such comments suggest Putin is in no mood for compromise even though taking a tough line against the opposition could further polarize society.

He has already tightened the screws on his opponents by introducing new laws, increasing fines for protesters and toughening the law on defamation. Prosecutors have opened criminal investigations against some of the protest leaders.

In a sign of Putin’s concern about religious tensions, trusted former aide Vladislav Surkov has been named a point man for religious affairs.

At the back of his mind in all his actions will be the opinion polls that show that trust in him is receding after 12 years in power as president or prime minister. As yet, he has not come up with a “big idea” to unite the people.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which is more critical of Putin than most Russian dailies, wrote on Tuesday that the message coming from society was that a new leader – not Putin or Medvedev – will be needed when the president’s term ends in 2018.

“‘We need another person.’ This is already not the previous message that ‘There is no alternative to Putin’,” it wrote.

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Timothy Heritage | Reuters

Russia dismisses foreign critics of female punk rock band trial.


RELATED CONTENT

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia denounced foreign criticism of the trial of punk band Pussy Riot as politically motivated on Wednesday and said there were “elements of a clash of civilizations” in Western condemnation.

Three members of the band were sentenced to two years’ jail last week for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” when they performed a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main cathedral, calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

Western governments have said the sentences handed down toNadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, andYekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were disproportionate. Rights groups and musicians have called for their release.

Critics of Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term on May 7 after a four-year spell as prime minister, say the Pussy Riot case illustrated his lack of tolerance of dissent.

“The case … has served only as an occasion for the latest wave of rushed, biased and politically charged evaluations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

“It seems that what is important to certain human rights structures and media outlets is not so much the fate of these young women as the opportunity to create yet another scandal on anti-Russian grounds,” Lukashevich said.

He said the West must respect Russia’s need to protect the “millions of Orthodox Christian believers and people of other faiths adhering to traditional concepts of morality” that he said had been offended by the protest.

“This situation, without a doubt, has elements of a clash of civilizations,” the statement said.

“Many in the post-modern West forget about Europe’s Christian roots and also do not want to respect the feelings of the followers of other faiths, thinking that religion limits democracy,” Lukashevich said.

He said that international human rights conventions had established that “freedom of expression is not absolute” and stipulate that restrictions are needed to protect the security of nations and the well-being of their citizens.

(Writing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Robin Pomeroy)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

ReutersReuters

Russian judge finds punk rock band members guilty.


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  • Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" (R-L) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow, August 17, 2012. A Russian judge delivers a verdict on Friday against three members of the Pussy Riot punk band whose trial for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in a church has provoked an international outcry against President Vladimir Putin. REUTERS/Sergei KarpukhinMembers of the female punk band …
  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), a member of the female punk band "Pussy Riot", is escorted by police before a court hearing in Moscow August 17, 2012. REUTERS/Tatyana MakeyevaNadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), a member …

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Three members of a feminist punk band were found guilty on Friday of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in a church, in a case that supporters say put President Vladimir Putin‘s tolerance of dissent on trial.

State prosecutors want the women from the Pussy Riot group jailed for three years over the protest in February in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, but the judge did not immediately issue a sentence as she read out the long verdict.

The three young women, in handcuffs, stood in silence in a glass courtroom cage and at times smiled and laughed to each other as the judge, Marina Syrova, read out the verdict.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, andYekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stormed the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts and sang a “punk prayer” urging the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

“Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alyokhina committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society,” the judge said.

She said their brief protest was based on “motives of religious hatred and enmity”.

Though few Russians have much sympathy for the women, Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement. Foreign stars led by Madonna – who performed in Moscow with “PUSSY RIOT” painted on her back – have campaigned for the trio’s release, and Washington says the case is politically motivated.

“Our imprisonment is a clear and distinct sign that the whole country’s freedom is being taken away,” Tolokonnikova, 22, said in a letter written in jail and posted on the Internet before the verdict on Friday by defense lawyer Mark Feigin.

Police blocked off the street outside the brick courthouse in Moscow with metal barriers, and police buses stood by as a large crowd gathered. Four people were detained when they unfurled a banner reading: “Free Pussy Riot”.

The trial has divided Russia’s mainly Orthodox Christian society, with many backing the authorities’ demands for severe punishment over a protest the prosecution has described as sacrilege, but others asking for clemency for the women.

Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term in May and a four-year spell as prime minister, has said the women did “nothing good” but should not be judged too harshly.

“The girls went too far, but they should be fined and released,” said Alexei, a 30-year-old engineer on a Moscow street near the court. He declined to give his family name.

But Valentina Ivanova, 60, a retired doctor, could not hide her outrage, saying: “What they did showed disrespect towards everything, and towards believers first of all.

“Let them get three years in jail; they need to wise up.”

An opinion poll of Russians released by the independent Levada research group on Friday showed only 6 percent had sympathy with the women, 51 percent said they found nothing good about them or felt irritation or hostility, and the rest were unable to say or were indifferent.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich are educated, middle-class Russians who say their protest was intended to highlight close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin, not to offend believers.

The charges against Pussy Riot raised concern abroad about freedom of speech in Russia two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Protests in support of the group were planned on Friday in cities from Sydney to Paris, and New York to London, and a long list of international celebrities have backed their cause.

(Additional reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Alissa de Carbonnel, Maria Tsvetkova and Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Olzhas Auyezov in Kiev Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

ReutersBy Timothy Heritage | Reuters

Russia’s Pussy Riot face verdict; Putin’s tolerance on trial.


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MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian judge delivers a verdict on Friday against three members of a feminist punk band for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in a church, in a case their supporters say has putPresident Vladimir Putin’s tolerance of dissent on trial.

Prosecutors want a three-year jail sentence for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for the members of the band Pussy Riot, who stormed the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts to hold a “punk prayer” for Russia to get rid of Putin.

Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement. Pop stars led by Madonna – who performed in Moscow with “PUSSY RIOT” painted on her back – have campaigned for the women’s release. Washington says the case is politically motivated.

“Our imprisonment is a clear and distinct sign that the whole country’s freedom is being taken away,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, said in a letter written in jail and posted on the Internet by defense lawyer Mark Feigin.

In a sign of the tension over the trial in a small Moscow courtroom, Judge Marina Syrova was assigned bodyguards on Thursday following what authorities said were threats.

The trial has divided Russia’s Orthodox Christians, with many backing the authorities’ demands for severe punishment, but others saying the women should be granted clemency.

Putin, who returned to the presidency this year, has said the women’s punishment should not be too harsh.

Police blocked off the street outside the brick courthouse with metal barriers and at least seven police buses stood by.

Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, say their protest on February 21 was intended to highlight the close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and state, and not to offend believers.

Their feminist punk collective has about 10 members who appear in public in ski masks for anonymous impromptu performances they describe as a form of protest art.

The three members have been held in jail since shortly after the appearance in the cathedral, awaiting the trial, which saw a parade of state witnesses say they were traumatized by the church performance, which prosecutors called an abuse of God.

Their lawyers say the outcome will be dictated by the Kremlin. Putin’s supporters deny this and portray the women as blasphemers and self-publicists who should be punished for committing a premeditated outrage against the Church.

“It was a conscious deed. They understood quite clearly where they were going and why,” said Vladimir Burmatov, who represents Putin’s United Russia party in parliament.

Judge Syrova will start reading the verdict at 3 p.m. (1100 GMT) and could hand down a sentence by evening.

RADICAL PROTEST

Pussy Riot was formed last year in anger at Putin’s decision to return to the presidency in an election after four years as premier. The band’s public performances were popular on the Internet, but it is the trial that has brought them global fame.

The charges against them raised concern abroad about freedom of speech in Russia two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Protests in support of the group were planned on Friday in cities from Sydney to Paris, and New York to London. A long list of international celebrities have backed their cause.

The opposition says Putin saw the trial initially as a chance to strengthen his relationship with the influential Russian Orthodox Church – about 70 percent of Russians say they follow the faith – but his plans backfired.

Although believers were united in outrage that the band thrashed out a “punk prayer” deriding Putin in a place they consider sacrosanct, many were upset by the Church hierarchy‘s lack of forgiveness and calls for “divine retribution”.

Many Russians, including some of the Orthodox faithful, are concerned about ties between church and state under Patriarch Kirill, who has praised Putin’s rule as a “miracle of God”.

Aware that a long sentence could reinforce the picture Pussy Riot have painted of him as intolerant and repressive, Putin told reporters this month that although the women had done “nothing good”, they should not be judged too harshly.

But the damage to Putin’s image abroad has already been done, and divisions between his supporters and opponents have widened, risking polarizing society even more than when protests took off against his 12-year-rule during the winter.

Many Russians say the Pussy Riot three have served enough time in jail awaiting their sentence, and should be released immediately. However, Sergei Markov, a pro-Putin political analyst, said that would upset nationalists.

“If Pussy Riot are set free without punishment and without showing sincere repentance in public, it is highly likely that after their release and the radicalization of Russian nationalist groups, the people who took part in the ‘punk prayer’ will be lynched,” he wrote in the Vedomosti newspaper.

Even if the judge shows leniency, protest leaders say Putin will not relax pressure on opponents in his new six-year term.

In moves seen by the opposition as a crackdown, parliament has rushed through laws increasing fines for protesters, tightening controls on the Internet – which is used to arrange protests – and imposing stricter rules on defamation.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

ReutersBy Timothy Heritage | Reuters

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