MOSCOW, July 23 (RIA Novosti)
Police Admonished for Brutality on Bolotnaya Square, Ministry Admits Guilt
Yielding to pressure from human rights campaigners, Moscow police chiefs admitted that the police acted illegally in dispersing the protest rally on Bolotnaya Square. However, the punishment will not be severe.
Kommersant wrote on Monday that lawyers from the Agora human rights organization used photographs published in the press to prove that the police had covered their badges, in violation of the law. It can be seen from the photographs that the badges were placed in such a way so that the police officers were able to conceal their personal numbers and hence avoid possible charges. The Interior Ministry said that those guilty had been disciplined.
According to the Ministry, the members of the Special Mobile Department of the Special Purpose Center who concealed their personal numbers have been punished. Human rights advocates say no one knows what kind of punishment this was. “A police officer who is on good terms with his commander is unlikely to be fired for covering his badge. But police leaders could use this opportunity to lay off those who are in their bad books,” said Agora leader Pavel Chikov.
The Agora activists regard even a formal punishment as a victory. “The bosses at the Moscow Department of the Interior Ministry have shown their staff that the regulations on police badges need to be taken seriously,” Chikov said. “Those who cover their badges can expect an internal investigation at the least and possibly a black mark on their personal records.”
However, the police claim that their badges are not registered anywhere, so the same badge number could be used by different officers.
Finance Ministry Urges 20% Cut in Defense Spending
It is evident from the Budget Policy Guidelines for 2013 and the Plan Period of 2014 and 2015 which the Russian Ministry of Finance posted on its website last week, that the Ministry is planning cuts in the military budget and intends to propose reductions in the strength of the army and the Interior Ministry, accompanied by a 20 percent reduction in spending on the State Armament Program-2020.
This new proposal contradicts existing government documents and recent statements made by President Vladimir Putin, who assured the generals and defense industry leaders that military spending, particularly for weapons development, would not be reduced. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, however, claims that he and the Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov have been negotiating a rescheduling of certain spending commitments and the substitution of budget financing with credit schemes. He expects to come to an agreement with his government colleague.
There has been no official reaction from the Defense Ministry so far. It is common knowledge that the idea of reducing army numbers was turned down by Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov in early July. But the Guidelines nevertheless persist with these controversial initiatives in place, while at the same time the Finance Ministry is planning to have certain existing laws amended to enable them to be implemented.
Last week, the Guidelines were discussed and approved by the Government, thereby giving them legal status. But Defense Ministry sources claim that neither Anatoly Serdyukov nor Nikolai Makarov will put their signatures to the government-drafted presidential executive orders on reducing troop numbers.
Russia is the biggest country in the world and its present strength of one million troops is the minimum required to maintain its peacetime defense capability, said a Defense Ministry employee who wished to remain anonymous.
State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein said that cuts in spending would scuttle the current Interior Ministry reforms.
According to Colonel Eduard Rodyukov of the Academy of Military Sciences, the Finance Ministry’s fears which gave rise to the Guidelines are justified because there is a high likelihood that the global economic crisis will worsen. Cuts in defense spending for 2013-2015 are a reality. If oil prices fall, the country’s leadership will have to accept it. But no one aside from the Finance Ministry wants to acknowledge this right now. It is still unclear how the president views the situation. He is expected to implement the solutions proposed by the Finance Ministry, including unpopular ones. But for now he is stalling.
Parliamentary Parties Demonstrate Loyalty to Putin
Vladimir Putin’s first meeting with the leaders of the parliamentary parties since taking office as president lasted nearly three hours. Everyone ended up happy: despite their protests during the last political season, opposition leaders usually give in to Putin’s political charisma.
They made some highly unusual proposals, for example to revive the political enlightenment centers from Soviet times. A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov said: “Political centers should be created as venues for parties to hold meetings with voters.” LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky replied that everyone from Bolotnaya Square would congregate at these centers. He is afraid that people like Udaltsov would come to the political centers and later sweep away the traditional political forces in parliament. But Putin, who liked Mironov’s idea, suggested that the State Duma consider financing these centers. “We have no need to fear democracy,” he said.
Putin commented on the recent bills that provoked the wrath of some sections of society: on public assemblies, on classifying NGOs as “foreign agents,” on defamation and on the Internet blacklist. The president said that not all of these laws are fail-proof. The law classifying defamation as a criminal offense could be revoked, Putin said unexpectedly. “I think that as the principles of mutual relations in different spheres of operation develop in society, all this will be canceled,” he said. It was unclear if he was referring to the defamation law or to all the high-profile laws.
“I am one of the ‘specimens’ who has paid their fines,” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said. He said he had been fined 500,000 rubles ($15,650) and 450,000 rubles ($14,085) for saying on the Ekho Moskvy radio station that “crime is taking over” in Russia and some of its regions. “Oh no, you’re not a specimen, you’re our comrade,” Putin said.
Heartened, Zyuganov criticized the new system of gubernatorial elections. He said that it is virtually impossible for alternative candidates to collect the required number of signatures. And the law on parties could turn the Russian political system into a patchwork quilt. Putin said he shared his concerns, but they should give the law some time to see how it works out. “We must give people a chance not only to hold rallies, although they can do this within the legal framework, but also to create a legal political force and prove to voters that their programs are attractive and feasible,” the president stressed.
Since the parliament usually discusses the budget for next year in the fall, Putin said deputies should avoid inflating spending to pander to populism. However, the social commitments outlined in Putin’s election articles and his first executive orders since his inauguration must be implemented. United Russia’s leader in parliament Andrei Vorobyov said that deputies must work toward ensuring those 11 executive orders get implemented. Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak later told Moskovskiye Novosti that the deputies would amend the legislation to ensure they do.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).