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Vladimir Putin Defends Russia’s Stance on Syria

At a conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the U.S. for its intervention in Libya and cited it as the reason for causing further chaos that ultimately led to the attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead.

During the conference, Putin also dismissed notions that Russia was making a mistake and losing influence in the Middle East by deciding not to intervene in Syria. He further added that his nation is only concerned for Syria’s stability and has no concern for the fate of President Assad and his regime.

Putin’s comments came just as human rights investigators sent by the United Nations concluded that what originally began as a fight to oust Assad and his government has evolved into a sectarian battle, which has pitted communities against one another. Fighters from as far as North Africa are getting involved and contributing to the endless blood bath.

Russia has been a long-time ally of Syria and has used its position in the United Nations Security Council to oppose intervention by the U.S. and it allies and has long defended the sovereignty of Assad’ s government. However, Russia’s tone has changed in recent days and acknowledged that Assad remaining in power may not be such a good thing. It has even urged Russians staying in Syria to evacuate the country immediately.

Russia has been a major arms supplier for Syria and even regularly uses Syria’s port of Tartus as a refueling point. Even so, Putin made it clear during the conference that the two nations merely shared a business relationship and nothing beyond that.

Human right investigations reveal that the situation in Syria has gone from bad to worse. Civilians are being driven out of their communities. Staying behind means they are at risk of becoming collateral damage.

Putin’s Approval Rating Slipping

Although international observers have called the Russian election manipulated and a victim of ballet stuffing, the United Russia party, the governing party of the country, has seen a drop of 14% in voter approval. Vladimir Putin who is running in the parliamentary election leads the United Russia party. On Sunday’s election, the communists won by about a 20% lead. The socially democratic Just Russia party took 13% and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party followed with 12%.

Although the United Russia party is not likely to collapse in the near future, this is a step back for Putin and his party. If the United Russia party fails to reach a 7% threshold, he will still have around 53% control over the legislature’s seats. Over the last couple of elections, the United Russia party increased their percentage and held 70% of the seats during the last election. This gave them the power to change Russia’s constitution whenever they wanted. However, these days are over.

Putin still holds a 67% approval rating from Russians, but his ratings have been slipping. The highest that he has attained was 87% during December of 2007. This was the month of his last parliamentary election. His disapproval is rising though. It is estimated that about 1 out of 3 Russian disapprove of the way that he runs the government.

This disapproval has sprung over the falling of the oil boom. During the years of 2000-2008, Russian was given disposable income of 10% more than the previous year. Since the global financial crisis, Russia’s economy has suffered. One of the primary concern for Russians is overspending on government pensions and wage boosts for public sector jobs.

Although it is not official, Putin’s win in next March’s election is fairly certain. When he ran before -2000 and 2004- his approval ratings were at 79% and 81%. Even though these approval ratings have slipped for the moment, there is no telling how he will fair against his competitors.

From Russia With Love

Gee-Wiz – what’s happening in Russia these days? Corruption, lies, murder, and it all seems to get suspiciously brushed under the carpet away from the public eye – it is really beginning to look like the last days of the Soviet empire.
Sergey Magnitsky was mysteriously laid to rest on Monday November 24th in a pre-detention center in Moscow. The 37-year-old lawyer was a key witness in a fierce battle of alleged tax fraud between the Russian government and Hermitage Capital Management – once the country’s top investment fund.

From Russia with LoveLast November a case was filed by the government against the company’s co-founder William Browder. Browder had accused Russian officials of using Hermitage and like companies to fake tax refunds, there by duping Russian taxpayers out of millions.

The young Magnitsky was arrested in connection to his involvement with Hermitage Capital Management. He was being kept for the better part of a year in Matrosskaya Tishina jail; and this is where it starts getting weird…

A 40-page affidavit sent to Russia’s general prosecutor Yuri Chaika explained that Magnitsky who suffered from acute pancreatitis, was denied numerous requests to see a doctor. The attorney’s eventual death was ascribed to a ruptured abdominal membrane. The affidavit went on to describe the unsanitary conditions of the prison. “At night you can hear them squeaking,” wrote

Magnitsky of the rats who ran up and down the halls of the jail. He was held in a cramped 8.2 square meter cell with two others; and he claimed that he was starved during court outings. He was also refused the right to see his wife and two young children.

Sergey Magnitsky’s lawyer Dmitry Karitnov had called for a criminal investigation into the officials in charge of the pre-detention facility – but get this – he was shot down. Russia’s procurator said there would be no criminal investigation until a complete review of the death has been completed.

Now that the story is all over the media, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is calling for an investigation into Magnitsky’s death.

Browder who has been barred from Russia since 2005 because of similar matters, denies committing tax fraud. There is little chance that he could be extradited, but the Londoner was however put on the Interpol wanted list.

Olmert Target of Assassination Plot

Israeli government plans to attend the upcoming Middle East conference in Annapolis Maryland next month have been complicated considerably by release reports that Palestinian Fatah gunmen had plotted to attack Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s convoy during his meeting with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas (photo) in Jericho last August. The disclosure, only released now, stated that members on the Palestinian Police force had planned to attack Olmert’s convoy when it approached the historic West Bank City for the first visit by an Israeli Prime Minister to a Palestinian controlled city.

The report, given by Shin Bet security head Yuval Diskin, contained information that several Palestinian gunmen belonging to Fatah, the Palestinian political organization, had made intensive plans to carry out the operation, and had conducted extensive surveillance operations on the route that the motorcade was going to take, once it entered Palestinian controlled territory. Although several suspects had been detained by P.A. police authorities, most have been released, further dampening relations between Israel and the P.A. The release of prime suspects in this affair, which was alleged to have been cancelled at the last moment, makes government officials wondering about the sincerity of Abbas’s government in entering into any kind of agreement with Israel.

“Israel will not ignore this attempt and look the other way” Olmert was reported to have said. Members of Olmert’s cabinet as well as numerous officials are new saying that with this in mind, the Israeli government should call off it’s participation in the meeting, scheduled to take place in only two week’s time. Israel Foreign Minister Zippy Livni was quoted as saying that the Palestinians had returned to a “revolving door policy in which they say something and do something entirely different altogether.

In addition, many Knesset members have told the Prime Minister that not only should Israel not sent a delegation to the conference, but should seriously reassess Israel’s relationship with Mahmoud Abbas and his government. Members of Olmert’s Kadima political party, including MK Zvi Elkin should halt all meetings with Abbas, and cease any cooperation with P.A. police and other government authorities until those suspects who were released from custody are re-arrested.

Olmert, who had only returned before the weekend from his brief meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and who is currently under police investigation for a number of “legal issues”, must now come to grips with an assassination attempt by members of Mahmoud Abbas’ own civil administration. Right winged Knesset members, especially those like National Union Chairman Effie Etam and National Religious Party Chairman Zvulun Orlev are demanding that Olmert sever relations with the P.A. altogether. Both men also said that Olmert should recite a special prayer of thanksgiving for being saved from possible assassination. National Union party member Ariyeh Eldad even went one step further by suggesting a prayer be said to rid the country of Ehud Olmert’s leadership as a result of his dealings with the Palestinians.

Whether the Prime Minister will heed this advice is anyone’s guess. But in any event, these disclosures have cooled the “atmosphere” considerably between Israeli and Palestinian officials. And down in Hamas controlled Gaza, Hamas leader and former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, must be enjoying these sudden turn in events.

Olmert’s Russian Quickie

Olmert and PutinIt seems that we writers can’t get enough about writing on Israeli political tête-à-têtes. And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s “quickie” visit to see Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin last Thursday is just one of those episodes in Israel’s continuing problem with Iran’s ongoing nuclear program – and Russia’s latest involvement with the Iranian Republic. That this short, three hour visit, followed on the heels of Putin’s own state visit to see Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must have sent alarm bells ringing in Jerusalem. Olmert, who barely had time for a quick dinner meeting with the Russian leader before flying back to Israel, must have expressed his country’s concern for Putin’s remarks that Iran (in Putin’s opinion) does not appear to have plans to build a nuclear weapon.

That “assurance” was not enough to satisfy Olmert who only last year, on October 18 2006 (see photo), spent a longer period in Moscow to warn Russia that Israel will not stand idly by and allow Iran to become a nuclear military power. Putin even made his own comments then that his country would not allow this to happen.

So, why Putin’s seemingly ambivalence to what appears to be a very serous situation regarding the Islamic Republic? Was it serious enough for Olmert to ‘commute’ to Moscow in the time that he would do to drive to Haifa in heavy traffic; and in addition, to make this quick trip known to the press? Indeed it was, as Russia seems to be charting its own foreign policy course, which is definitely one that favors its own self interest, and is bringing Russia into a confrontation position with the United States that hasn’t been around since the end of the Cold War. There are many reasons for the Kremlin’s friendliness with Teheran. For one thing, Russia’s foreign trade with Iran is considerably larger than its trade with Israel (except for possibly diamonds that is).

Besides agreeing to supply the Iranians with a lot of updated military hardware, including several types of missile systems, Russia has also agreed to help Iran with its nuclear reactors, which are supposed to be for the manufacture of electricity and other “peaceful purposes”. What isn’t being divulged is to what extent Putin is actually committing his country to helping Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Ali Kahmanei, the chief reigning Mullah, to complete Iran’s nuclear facilities and have them “on-line” as soon as possible.

Olmert warned the Kremlin last year that Israel would do what it has to do to prevent Iran from reaching the “point of no return” regarding Iranian reactors producing weapons grade enriched uranium and plutonium. That “point” is apparently nearer than most of us would like to believe, and this has prompted Olmert to pop in to see Putin at what apparently was a “spur of the moment” arranged visit (something like out of an “Ice Station Zebra” or “Fail Safe” movie scenario, perhaps?).

More on this visit will undoubtedly be divulged, as what exactly Olmert did discuss with Mr. Putin is still classified information – and rightfully so. Too much detail of these kind of events often get leaked out and the consequences are not helpful to any of us, especially here in Israel.

Most of us living in this country, myself in particular, would like to go bed at night without wondering what might be store for us – and perhaps sooner than we think!

Putin The Dictator

Vladimir Putin
This idea of a “managed democracy” in Russia reeks of a one man dictatorship and old fashioned soviet corruption. Looks like Putin found the formula for staying an iron fist dictator while enjoying the status of an International member of the Western political arena. Showing us all that nothing changes after all. With a history of murder, corruption and abuse we now see that Russia is enjoying more of the same.

Anna PolitkovskayaAnna Politkovskaya’s assassination October 7th was an obvious Red flag. Despite the brutal contract killing, the video tape of the killer and the lame attempts by Russian authorities in solving the crime (surprise, surprise) – no leads were found. Imagine for a second this happened today in a Western country. A leading civil rights, established journalist is gunned down outside her apartment building and no one is held accountable.

On Saturday, Movladi Baisarov, a man described by every news publication on the planet as “former head of Chechnya’s shadowy security forces”, was shot outside his apartment block in Moscow. The Russian authorities claimed that he was killed while resisting arrest and after he attempted to detonate a hand grenade. Local reports claim that Baisarov, a leading critic and rival of Ramzan Kadyrov, the 30 year old Chechen Prime Minister backed by Kremlin, was riddled with bullets fired by the Chechen special forces and Russian intelligence officers (FSB) who had ambushed him. The same Kadyrov is also linked to the murder of the journalist.

And now, Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident mysteriously poisoned in London early this month is now in hospital under armed guard. I am sure that Russian authorities are going to blame some bad sushi for that one.

The Federal Security Bureau (FSB) is being used by Siloviki, a faction in the Kremlin made up of ex KGB officers, who are now more powerful then ever. These members are now holding top positions in the energy sector that is being again taken over by the government. The FSB has received a fivefold increase in “intelligence” funding in the past 6 years, all courtesy of the Russian President Vladimir Putin – A KGB alumnus.

And the people? They are shit scared. And Putin? He will need to step down in 2008 but until then – hey the sky’s the limit !

Hat Tip: The Age

Going from First Lady to the Eleventh Lady

Gila Katsav in the White House (Hat Tip: The White House)

I don’t like the way the whole country meddles in celebrities personal life, especially politicians. I don’t wish to know them personally, and sure as hell don’t want to hear about their sexual habits. And haven’t we had enough of this issue already? Sure.
But have we really come to a conclusion about the First lady’s role and codes of behavior? In other words, a question for the men in the audience: let’s say you support Hillary Clinton. Would you have voted for her if she had not stayed and defended her unfaithful husband (who eventually just managed to maintain his rock-star image)?

These days, in the small Israeli world, it’s not just about an influential man betraying his wife’s trust and telling a lie. It turns out to be (still alleged, alleged) criminal misconduct and abuse of power. And of so many all of a sudden: President Katsav, MK Ramon, businessman Ofer…

Police and legal investigations are still being held, and none of us knows the Truth, but we all have a lot to say about it, from reporters, through local and international fellow politicians, to the sellers at the Shuk. And what do we usually get out of it? Something like Russian President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-record remark to Olmert: Hat-tip to Katsav, being able to please 10 women! Is this the message we want to deliver in the 21st century?

Olmert answered: I don’t envy him. I say, I don’t envy his poor wife. Really, my heart goes out to Gila Katsav. After 37 years of quiet, married life with her husband Moshe and she must have found something in him, he who happens to be also the president of the state of Israel (so other people saw something in him as well…), Mrs. Katsav has to deal with several “other women” – in public.
Hey, Gila, can I offer you some personal advice…?

Putin Hamas The Quartet and the reasoning

Israel is buzzing with Putin’s announcement this past week in Madrid, where he invited Hamas to Moscow despite the unified front displayed by the Quartet. The Hamas, shocked like the rest of us, quickly responded with glee. Come to think about it, it’s the first 100% positive response to anything said by a non Islamic country since the elections of Hamas.

“President Putin is spitting in the face of Israel” said senior voices in the Israeli foreign ministry. “It’s hypocrisy in its most blatant form” they added. “As far as the Russians are concerned when a Metro station is blown up in Moscow its terror, and when a bus is blown up by Hamas in Tel Aviv its not terror ?”

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