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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1636

Reinforcing Russia's take on history;
Second thoughts in Abkhazia

Edited by Ilan Berman
June 24, 2009


May 21:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has established a new commission tasked with combating "anti-Russian propaganda in the former Soviet Union," the Wall Street Journal reports. Per Medvedev's mandate, the commission will be made up of senior military, intelligence and government officials, and will have the power to carry out investigations, review historical documents, and hear testimony from witnesses in its efforts to combat "attempts to rewrite history to Russia's disadvantage." "There's an information war going on," Russian lawmaker Sergei Markov explains. "This is about defining who the Russians were historically."

May 22:

The political opposition in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia has called for new constraints on the ability of its president "to make individual decisions that significantly affect the country and its population." According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the move is aimed at curbing the power of Abkhaz president Sergey Bagapsh amid fears that the pro-Moscow leader is orchestrating the region's growing assimilation into the Russian Federation. It follows Bagapsh's recent decision to allow Russian troops and the its chief intelligence service, the FSB, to completely control the Abkhaz-Georgian border, and for RZhD (Russian Railways) to take charge of the railroad network within Abkhazia.

The European Court of Human Rights will hear the case of imprisoned Yukos tycoon Mikhael Khodorkovsky. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the Strasbourg-based tribunal has agreed to hear Khodorkovsky's 2004 petition against the Russian government, agreeing with the former oil mogul that the complaint touches upon international human rights issues and ordering an investigation. Khodorkovsky claims that Articles 3, 5 and 18 of the Human Rights Convention were violated by the Russian government, allegation which the Kremlin denies. The Court has demanded an official response from the Russian government by July 10, 2009, following which it will render an official verdict.

May 24:

Russia is shooting for the stars - again. Glasgow's Sunday Herald reports that the Russian government is eyeing a raft of new projects aimed at recapturing its once-dominant position in the global space race. They include a new planned cosmodrome, a refurbished space museum and industrial inquiries into the creation of a new generation of spacecraft. The developments fallow comments by President Dmitry Medvedev in April that the country should give its space program greater attention "for the good of Russia."

May 27:

Russia and Cuba are taking steps to strengthen their strategic partnership by resuscitating a Cold War-era area of cooperation: nuclear research. RIA Novosti reports that the two countries have agreed to renew cooperation between Russia's Atomic Energy ministry, ROSATOM, and the Cuban Nuclear Energy Agency. The step revives a strategic dialogue between Moscow and Havana that has been moribund since 1992, when Cuban leader Fidel Castro halted construction on a nuclear plant his regime had been building.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is working to reassure Russian businesses amid ongoing economic instability. "It is clear that without successful entrepreneurship our state will not have a future," Medvedev has told a gathering of Russian business leaders in comments carried by the Agence France Presse. Among the remedial measures offered by the President was a pledge that businesses hit hard by the global economic downturn will not face undue tampering with loan rates, which will remain "more or less normal... For the foreseeable future." Medvedev also took pains to stress that his government does not see lenders as "enemies of the people. The pep talk comes on the heels of a grim new economic forecast that projected the budget deficit to equal fully nine percent of GDP this year.

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Space Policy; Caucasus; Russia and Eurasia Program

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