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Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #30

Letter From the Editors: July 22-28, 2013

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Issue #30 Letter From the Editors
Issue #30 Table of Contents

There is a centuries-old Russian proverb that goes: Durakam zakon ne pisan. Literally, it means: “For fools, the law is not written.” But the way it’s used in Russian conversation is more to the effect of: “There’s no telling what a fool might do.” In summing up lessons learned from the Aleksei Navalny case – in which the anticorruption crusader was himself found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison – Semyon Novoprudsky changes the proverb’s beginning to dura lex (Latin for “harsh law”). In other words, there’s no telling what Russia’s Draconian justice system will do next. Granted, Navalny was greeted with a hero’s welcome in Moscow after he was unexpectedly released from prison (by petition of the prosecutors – go figure!), but expert opinions sharply differ on what’s in store for him next.

Another controversial figure still in limbo on Russian soil is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: After promising news that Russia’s Federal Migration Service would provide paperwork allowing Snowden to be released from the transit zone at Sheremetyevo airport, it turned out that his application for asylum is still being reviewed. In the meantime, however (says human rights expert Lilia Shevtsova), the whole situation is making the West look quite bad – the US for its across-the-board invasions of privacy, and several European countries for their apparent collusion. The only one who looks good right now is Russian President Vladimir Putin: He has the moral high ground, from which he can accuse the West of hypocrisy if it takes issue with his authoritarian policies.

Putin’s apparent indulgence of Snowden is likely a welcome distraction from the domestic economic situation: The latest cabinet meeting featured a report from the Federal Antimonopoly Service showing that internal competition in Russia’s economy is flagging. So is GDP growth, according to the Economic Development Ministry.

This grim news has not deterred the government from approving a targeted program to increase ethnic tolerance: 4.5 billion rubles is being allocated to improve the coexistence of nationalities within Russia by 2020. How will success be measured? Opinion polling. Experts are skeptical, needless to say. Andrei Kolesnikov and Nikolai Petrov lament (respectively) the lack of tolerance toward sexual minorities and the lack of a coherent strategy to integrate the North Caucasus into the fabric of Russian society. In contrast, Vedomosti editors cite “supercentralization” on the economic level: The federal center seems to step in whenever a regional problem arises (although Moscow often plays a role in creating those problems!). This view seems confirmed by a look ahead to the Sept. 8 “single day of voting,” where regional campaigns are being managed to create the look of fair competition.

The electoral arena in Georgia showed a potentially promising development for Moscow, as the overtly anti-Russian presidential candidate Shota Malashkhia lost ground in the United National Movement primary to the more moderate David Bakradze. Meanwhile, Russia gets some praise from defense expert Viktor Litovkin for finding clever, self-sufficient ways to circumvent Ukraine’s attempts to extort money for the use of its naval facilities in the Crimea.

A motif running through this week’s international commentary is coexistence. Aleksandr Zhebin envisions a day when North and South Korea will finally commemorate the Korean War with common understanding, while Veniamin Popov foresees continued swings of the pendulum in the Middle East between secularism and Islamism before balance is reached.

Meanwhile, the infamous case of the poisoning of former KGB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko took a new turn, as the British government rejected a coroner’s request for a public inquiry into the murder, which might have revealed whether Putin was behind it. To paraphrase a proverb, “There’s no telling what the law might do.”

Laurence Bogoslaw,

Copy Editor

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