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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1615
Kremlin targets "enemies of the state";
An energy crisis in the making
Edited by Ilan Berman
February 5, 2009
The New York Times reports that Russia has cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine following weeks of wrangling over steep price increases and accusations from Moscow that Kyiv has been siphoning off gas intended for Europe. The crisis, which has been brewing for weeks over Russia’s demands for higher payments and a full accounting of Ukraine's outstanding debt to Moscow, escalated in recent days, after Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly, nearly doubled the price per 1,000 cubic meter of natural gas (from $250 to $418) – a cost that the Ukrainian government has said it could not afford. "The message is very simple," the executive director of Gazprom’s export arm, Ilya Kochevrin, told the Times in a telephone interview. "If you receive a product, you have to pay for it. If you don't pay, you don’t receive it."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed into law a controversial new bill that eliminates jury trials for offenders accused of "crimes against the state," a broad category of offenses encompassing treason, revolt, espionage or terrorism. According to the Los Angeles Times, the new law provides for the alleged perpetrators of such crimes to be sentenced by a trio of judges, and paves the way for stronger police and intelligence measures against such perceived "enemies." "It's a preparation for terror, although not the grand terror of the 1930s," says Andrei Illarionov, a former economic advisor to Putin who is now an outspoken Kremlin critic. "They are much smarter now. They are preparing some kind of selective terror against those who are courageous enough to speak up."
Although the dawning of a new year is celebrated the world over, the festivities in Russia have proven to be more deadly than most. Russia's Regnum news agency reports that revelry relating to the New Year’s holiday in Russia's second city, St. Petersburg, resulted in more than thirty fires, and at least one fatality.
Russian premier Vladimir Putin's United Russia party may be the most powerful political faction in Russian politics, but that has not stopped it from attempting to expand its influence still further. The latest target is the Arkhanglesk Oblast, where Regnum, a Russian news agency, reports United Russia has fielded 131 candidates in municipal elections, vastly outpacing rivals Righteous Russia, the Communist Party and LDPR, which trailed with 27, 9 and 3 candidates respectively.
The idea of a union between Russia and Belarus appears to have taken a back seat to more pressing economic and geopolitical concerns in Moscow in recent months, but it is still very much a hot topic in Minsk. "The matters on construction of the Union State, the fulfillment of the Belarusian-Russian agreements were discussed on January 4 by Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko and members of the government," the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in an official statement the same day. Russian President Alexandr Lukashenko, moreover, appears to be among the most ardent champions of the idea. According to the release, Lukashenko has urged his government that "measures should be taken to speed up the formation of the common economic area on the territory of the Belarus-Russia Union State, to avoid delays in transition to the single tax policy, equal conditions for business entities and the single structural industrial policy."