Russia set headlines ablaze in 2012 for a variety of reasons–drawing the attention of the world at intervals throughout the year, sparking cause for controversy, concern, debate and victory. Eastbook.eu takes a look at some of the major eye-catching events in Russia which will define 2012.
Russian Election Protests In March Vladimir Putin was elected as Russian president for a third term, sparking massive Anti-Putin protests in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities across the country, over a period of a few weeks following the elections. Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined together in peaceful protest, accusing the government of electoral irregularities, and Putin of fraudulently winning the election. Police were quick to squelch the protest, arresting participants and activists. In spite of demands for Putin to resign, he remains in power.
Pussy Riot sentencing and protest The actions of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, have arguably become the most notorious events of the last year. The feminist punk-group staged a performance in Moscow’s central Cathedral. Three members of the group were arrested and placed in custody after attempting to sing a mock prayer “Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away.” In August, a Moscow court sentenced Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich to two years in a medium-security prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and enmity. Samutsevich was released on probation after two months, while the two others are serving jail time. Controversy has surrounded the cases–dividing public opinion as some believe the case to be politically motivated, and others defending the courts decision as a religious attack.
Russia and strife in Syria Early in 2012, Russia stood in support of Syria’s government and vetoed an attempt at international intervention at the height of the Syrian conflict, an mitigation heavily promoted by Western and Arab countries. The intervention was aimed at punishing the government for its brutal crackdown on the Syrian uprising. As one of five veto-wielding members of UN Security Council, Russia promised to veto any sanctions against the Syrian government put before the Security Council and continued supplying large amounts of arms that Syria had earlier contracted from the Russian government. Russian authorities think that the West’s support for the Syrian rebels will not lead to the country’s democratization; rather, they believe it will merely destabilize the region, give terrorists a free hand and undermine the primacy of international law in resolving political conflicts.
The path to a Eurasian Union On 18 November 2011, the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed an agreement, setting a target of establishing the Eurasian Union by 2015. The agreement included the blueprint for future integration process and provided for the establishment of the Eurasian Commission (according to the EU Commission model), as well as specifically establishing the Eurasian Economic Space, which officially started work on 1 January 2012. Analysts have said that the Eurasian Union is Russia’s most ambitious project since the Soviet Union–a union which has left many experts in the West skeptical of its ultimate fruition. In the closing months of 2012, Russia has sought to bring more post-Soviet nations onboard the project. Whether it will benefit from any newcomers in 2013 remains to be seen.
Russia and Ukraine: A rock and a hard place The Ukraine’s relationship with Russia hinges strongly on the Ukraine’s reliance on Russian gas. The Ukraine’s economy cannot sustainably support Russian gas prices, a fact which Russia is willing to negotiate upon on the understanding that the Ukraine will join its Eurasian customs union. Many argue that this is too great a price to pay for cheaper gas–and would ultimately serve to alienate the Ukraine from the EU. A previously planned state meeting was cancelled immediately after Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych spoke with EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. The exact nature of their exchange is not known, but the scheduled state visit consequently collapsed–leaving many to believe it signals a crisis in Ukrainian-Russian relations. Russian daily newspaper, Kommersant, believes that the cancellation “indicates major differences between Kyiv and Moscow, and shows that neither side intends to make any concessions at this stage”. The pro-Russia newspaper accused the Ukraine of toying with Russia, wearing down Moscow’s patience, and demonstrating “an unwavering intention to… sit on two chairs – Russian and European – at once”.
Tensions increase between Russia and U.S.: A new cold war? The recent decision by the U.S. senate to deny US- entry to the Russian law enforcement officials believed to have been involved in the death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009, has sparked further tension with Russia. Russia has slammed the law, calling it ‘anti-Russian’, as senators have refused to consider an ‘expanded’ version of the bill that would have censured officials from other countries that abuse human rights. The act, known as the Magnitsky Act has resulted in a domino effect of retaliations from Russia. The Federation Council unanimously passed legislation on Wednesday to ban U.S. adoptions of Russian children. The bill only needs President Vladimir Putin’s signature to become law. The escalating tension has caused many to ask whether this is signalling a new sort of cold war between the two nations.
Healing the rift with Georgia? Russia held the first direct talks in four years with its southern neighbor, Georgia, at the end of 2012. The diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut after the military conflict of August 2008. The start of negotiations was facilitated by the victory of the opposition forces in the Georgian parliamentary elections and the weakening of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s position in the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian-Georgian relations must be normalized. “We see positive signals from the new Georgian authorities; we respond the same way,” Putin told reporters during his annual press conference here. He added that Russia “can’t retreat from the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” but conceded that, so far, didn’t know what could be done, he believed bilateral ties should be resumed.
Russia calls EU out on human rights At the beginning of December 2012, the Russian foreign ministry released a 66-page report detailing the many ways in which the EU has failed to live up to its own high standards on human rights. The report details, among other things:
A steady growth of xenophobia, racism, violent nationalism and neo-Nazism, violation of rights of minorities, prisoners, refugees, migrants, and persons with mental illnesses, lack of protection of children, gender inequality, violation of privacy, abuse of power by the police, a number of EU countries harbouring CIA black sites.
The report also expresses concern over “the situation as to the freedom of mass media, which is far from perfect, and the infringement of social rights of citizens”. The Russian Federation, according to the report, looks forward to having an increasingly cooperative relationship with the EU, saying: “This cooperation will gain a lot if our counterparts from the EU abandon their policy of imposing their priorities, stop looking down on the interests of other partners and creating an artificial systematization of international human rights obligations”.
Flooding in Krymsk According to a Russian poll, Russians consider the July floods in Krymsk to be the most significant event of 2012–with the majority of responders (30 percent) said the deadly flood in Krymsk that claimed the lives of over 170 people was what they remembered most about this year. Russia’s southern Krasnodar region was struck by flash floods in the summer and caused widespread destruction and loss of life.
Russia to chair G-20 in 2013 Russia this month took over the presidency of the G20, the group of the world’s biggest economies that accounts for 90 percent of global GDP and 80 percent of world trade. President Putin said of this: “The main task of the Russian presidency will be to concentrate the efforts of the G20 on developing measures to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.” Early observations suggest that Russia will use the G20 presidency to try to strengthen the Brics group’s position in the world financial order. Russia, which will hold the G-20 presidency until November 30 2013, is proposing two new themes: investment financing as the basis for economic growth and job creation; and modernisation of national systems for state borrowing and sovereign debt management.