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Russia Reform Monitor - No . 1808
Kremlin targets “foreign agents” in the media;
Magnitsky whistleblower dies in London
Edited by Amanda Pitrof
December 3, 2012
A new bill introduced in Russia’s lower house of parliament will force media sources receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” Designed to complement the recently-instituted bill requiring foreign-funded NGOs to register with the same label, Reuters reports that the new rule will be mandatory for media who receive “money or property greater than fifty percent of revenues from foreign governments and their organs.” Critics maintain that the bill is the latest attempt by the Kremlin to delegitimize independent news sources that depend on foreign funding for survival. Kremlin officials insisted that the law will help prevent foreign-funded groups from “gathering intelligence for other governments,” a popular rhetoric in the Kremlin since last year’s election protests.
Valentin Danilov, a Russian scientist arrested in 2002 for selling state secrets to China, was released from a prison colony after serving eight years of his fourteen-year sentence. Human rights activists portray Danilov as a political prisoner, who was arrested while serving as the head of a scientists’ exchange program with China. At the time of his arrest in 2001, Danilov admitted to selling information about satellite technology to a Chinese company, but claimed the information was already available in public sources. On his release, Danilov likened Putin to a modern-day czar, Reuters reports, adding that he would appreciate it “if somebody finally told me what state secret I sold.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev voiced sharp criticism of France’s support for the Syrian rebels ahead of an official visit. France was the first among European nations to recognize the Syrian opposition as the sole representative of the country, and this month announced an interest in arming the group after it forms a government. Although Medvedev maintained Russia’s neutrality in the ongoing Syrian conflict, he added that “the desire to change a political regime in another state through recognition of some political force as the sole sovereign representative seems to me not entirely civilized.” Reuters reports that Medvedev further accused French officials of impeding Russian investors, who are skeptically viewed in the West because of the origins of their wealth in the controversial privatizations in the 1990s.
Riot police were forced to block off Russia’s Red Square after the murder trial of a martial arts champion from the Caucasus region sparked protests by Russian nationalists. Rasul Mirzayev, from the restive region of Dagestan, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of a former police academy student, whom he punched outside of a Moscow nightclub last year after the man offended Mirzayev’s girlfriend. The man, Ivan Agafonov, fell down and struck his head on a sewer grate, and died four days later. Nationalists accused Mirzayev of intentionally killing the Russian student, reports the Associated Press, while his supporters claimed Agafonov provoked the punch. Violent clashes erupted between the two sides earlier in the trial, leading to half a dozen arrests. Mirzayev was allowed to walk free after the court ruled he’d served his sentence while awaiting trial.
The Cossacks, once Russia’s most-feared paramilitary squad, may become the country’s newest auxiliary police force. In czarist Russia, the Cossacks spearheaded the empire’s expansion, and were renowned for their sword-fighting expertise. They were also notorious for their anti-Semitism, reports the Associated Press, and are part of the Kremlin’s new campaign to promote conservative values in an attempt to appeal to nationalist groups. Eight Cossacks are currently taking part in a test run in a Moscow train station, where they patrol for signs of minor public disturbances.
Alexander Perepilichny, a Russian businessman who turned whistleblower and provided evidence against those linked to the 2009 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was found dead under mysterious circumstances at his estate in London. According to Reuters, Perepilichny was helping Swiss prosecutors uncover a powerful Russian fraud syndicate at the time of his death, and previously served as a witness against the Klyuyev Group, a network of officials and others involved in tax fraud in Russia. He sought political refuge in Britain in 2009, before approaching authorities with evidence of the involvement of Russian government officials in the theft of the $230 million discovered missing by Sergei Magnitsky. The lawyer’s story became infamous after he was arrested by those he’d accused of stealing the money, and later died in prison, prompting retaliatory legislation from several Western countries including the United States. Perepilichny marks the fourth person connected with the Magnitsky case to die under unexplained circumstances.