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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2115
Still more power to the FSB;
A double-edged sanctions sword
Edited by Amanda Azinheira
February 7, 2017
January 1, 2017:
Russia's newest counterterrorism measure is about to make political protest much more dangerous. According to The Moscow Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin has just signed into law new legislation granting greater authority to the country's main security agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), to deal with crowds. Under the measure, which can be invoked when deemed necessary in order to prevent acts of terror, FSB agents will henceforth be permitted to open fire on crowds without warning.
Predictably, the legislation has met with heavy opposition from human rights groups. "Adopting this bill in its current form is absolutely unacceptable, because it violates the fundamental human rights to life and health," says an open letter signed by leading human rights campaigners and sent to the Federation Council, Russia's upper legislative chamber. But the opposition has not hindered the measure's passage - it “sailed through both houses of Russia's parliament and then the Kremlin,” the Times reports.
Radical right-wing militia groups in Russia are dipping their toes into a new - and lucrative - market. The Washington Post reports that training programs designed to teach interested individuals combat skills are cropping up in Russia. While some of these courses are apolitical in nature, some are known to be run by right-wing groups. The military-like training is seen by many as part of preparation for a supposedly impending war, stemming from Russia's conflict with Ukraine or its ongoing tensions with the West.
Conventional wisdom has it that the Kremlin is eager to see a lifting of Western sanctions against Russia - something that may be more likely when the Trump administration takes office. However, notes Russia expert Paul Goble, at least some Russian observers are sounding the alarm over what they see as potentially dangerous consequences of a more normalized relationship between Washington and Moscow. "The upsurge in popular support for Vladimir Putin in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss and the West's imposition of sanctions gave the Kremlin leader the opportunity to put off any serious reforms and to blame the West for all the difficulties that the Russian people have been facing," writes Goble in his Window on Eurasia blog. The removal of sanctions could thus paradoxically refocus Russian attention on the deficiencies of Putin's government, becoming a "catalyst" for growing domestic discontent.
More U.S. sanctions, meanwhile, could be in the offing, with U.S. legislators said to be drafting a bill to impose additional economic penalties on Russia. According to CNN, a bipartisan group of senators is preparing the legislation in response to Russia's purported interference in the U.S. elections. Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated that the bill is also intended in part as a response to Russia's actions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican, has indicated that the bill is still in its early stages, however.
The Kremlin is providing arms to the Philippines, as well as strengthening diplomatic relations with Manila. Reuters reports that the growing warmth in bilateral ties between the two countries is a reflection of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's eastward turn. Since taking office in June of 2016, the new Philippine head of state has distanced himself from the U.S. and sought to strengthen relationships with both Russia and China.