We Still Need Ourselves a Russia Policy

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 3, 2011

And hopefully, when we get one, it will take into account the fact that Russia is backsliding towards dictatorship:

Russia launched an investigation on Thursday into the country’s chief independent election watchdog, in what the group described as the culmination of a state-sponsored campaign to silence the monitor just three days before parliamentary polls.

Moscow city prosecutors said in a statement the investigation followed a complaint filed by lawmakers objecting to watchdog Golos’s foreign financing and calling for it to end vote monitoring.

The complaint echoed Vladimir Putin’s speech on Sunday at his United Russia party congress, where he accused foreigners of funding his political opponents in what reminded some of the anti-Western rhetoric that marked his 2000-08 presidency.

Putin, now prime minister, is expected to easily recapture the presidency in March, but opinion polls show Sunday’s vote could weaken his party’s dominance in the lower house.

Golos employees told Reuters prosecutors had served the group with a “speedy” court order to hear its case on Friday.

“This a premeditated campaign, which started with attacks in the press, but is now making use of law enforcement agencies,” said Grigory Melkonyants, the deputy head of Golos.

“We are certain this is only the first summons and there will be other investigations, especially targeted at hampering us from observing (the vote) on Dec. 4.”

Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

And more:

The head of an independent Russian election watchdog was detained for 12 hours at a Moscow airport Saturday as part of attempts to stop it monitoring Sunday’s vote for a new parliament, the group’s lawyer said.

Golos leader Liliya Shibanova was held by customs officers at Sheremetyevo airport after returning from a trip abroad on the eve of the election, in which Vladimir Putin’s United Russia is likely to have its huge parliamentary majority reduced.

The Western-funded group’s lawyer, Ramid Akhmetgaliyev, told Reuters the customs officers copied contents of her laptop computer and Golos deputy head Grigory Melkonyants said her laptop had been confiscated.

Hours earlier, the United States had expressed concern about “what appears to be a pattern of harassment” of Golos, which has aired reports of alleged violations in Russian elections.

A Moscow court ruled late Friday that Golos had violated a ban on the publication of opinion poll results within five days of the election to the State Duma lower house.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Putin has accused foreign countries of meddling in the preparations for the election — and for a March presidential election he is expected to win — by funding organizations in Russia.

“The pressure on Golos and its leaders (is) an attempt to block their activities involving independent public monitoring of the election,” Akhmetgaliyev said.

Of course, a more dictatorial Russia is a less transparent Russia as well. And a less transparent Russia is one whose intentions are more difficult to discern by other countries–countries like the United States, for instance. And the more difficult it is to discern the intentions of another country, the more apt one is to make miscalculations. Bad miscalculations. The kind that can kill people.

I know that the economy is going to be the most important issue in the 2012 elections, but can we spare some time to discuss foreign policy? Lives may depend upon the attention that we pay to it, after all.

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