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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2121

The high cost of being a Kremlin critic;
Russia turns up the heat on Belarus

Edited by Amanda Azinheira and Kaitlyn Johnson
March 6, 2017

February 2: 

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, has been admitted to a Moscow hospital intensive-care unit after another suspected poisoning. 
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Kara-Murza is in critical condition, on life support, and has been placed in a medically-induced coma. His wife, Yevgenia Kara-Murza, says his symptoms mimic those he endured in 2015, which he believed at the time to be the result of a deliberate poisoning in response to his political activism. Mr. Kara-Murza is a coordinator for Open Russia, an NGO advocating for democracy in Russia, and has openly called for the U.S. to levy additional sanctions on the Kremlin in response for its human rights practices and foreign policy activism. 

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of prominent Russian opposition politician and blogger Alexei Navalny, 
the BBC reports. Navalny had accused the Russian government of violating his right to peaceful protest and a fair trial - charges which the ECHR has upheld, ordering the Kremlin to pay him approximately $67,000 in compensation. 

The decision is an important symbolic one for Navalny, who plans to run for president in the next Russian presidential election. However, impediments to his candidacy remain; Navalny is currently embroiled in the retrial of a contentious 2013 court case surrounding embezzlement charges which he claims were fabricated and politically motivated. If he is convicted on those counts, Navalny will be barred from running for president. 

Kommersant reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a new decree dismissing sixteen generals from their posts, and removing two others from active military service. The generals were dismissed from the Investigative Committee of Russia (TFR), the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), and the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS), respectively. President Putin simultaneously named two new Deputy Ministers of the MChS, and appointed a third official, Oleg Kamshilova, to be the Crimean prosecutor. The reason for the sudden reshuffle remains unclear. 

February 3:

Hostilities in eastern Ukraine have sharply increased, reaching fighting levels not seen in Ukraine since early 2015. 
The Washington Post writes that Adiivka, a small town outside of Donetsk, has been devastated by multiple-launch Grad missiles as well as 152mm and 122mm shells, all of which were banned two years ago under the Minsk II agreement. Yevhen Deydey, a Ukrainian commander, has predicted a continued escalation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine. 

Relations between Russia and Belarus have soured, with Russia taking new measures to secure the common border between the two countries and, according to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko, leverage its oil and natural gas to compel Belarusian cooperation. 
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that these Russian shows of strength come in response to a recent Belarusian policy change allowing for visa-free entry for citizens of some 80 countries, including the U.S. and EU, who remain in the country for 5 days or less. 

Belarusian officials are scrambling to defuse the tensions. President Lukashenko has denied that Belarus is considering withdrawing from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) or the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) - two critical, Russian-led arrangements among former Soviet states. However, the Belarusian president has confirmed that his country's membership in those organs has cost it dearly, with Belarus losing $15 billion to date as a direct result of its membership in the EES. 

February 5:

Amid a flurry of measures along the Russian-European Union border designed to strengthen and reinforce that boundary, Latvia has built the first 14 miles of what will become a 120 mile fence separating its territory from the Russian Federation. 
Sputnik reports that the fence will be, at its lowest points, approximately nine feet tall. The Latvian government has allocated the equivalent of $6.8 million for the construction of the next 37 miles of fence in 2017. Additionally, the country's 2017 budget provides for the construction of a similar fence along its shared border with Belarus. These new measures come amid Norway's recent construction of a gated fence at its border checkpoint with Russia, and the Estonian government's approval of a plan to fence off its portion of the border with the Russian Federation.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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