From Russia, With Fear!

You will probably be amazed when I tell you that the second highest source of refugee arrivals into the EU is not from some war-torn country in Africa or the Middle East, but it’s actually from Russia!

According to Eurostat, 18,000 Russians sought asylum in the EU in 2011, making Russian second after war-torn Afghanistan. For a country that insists that their beloved leader, Mr. Vladimir Vladimirovich LiliPutin, is the freely elected leader and whose aura is akin to a God, with which the punishment for insulting said aura is imprisonment – potentially for life as more trumped-up charges will appear as you reach your initial release date – I find it absolutely amazing that such a Utopian world would result in such a huge number of people fleeing, fearing for their lives, their safety and their well-being. All because of the ego, power plays and maniacal whims of one man. That spells “dictatorship” to me.

The latest additions to the long list of refugees are a couple from Moscow who were accused of protesting on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on May 6 earlier this year. Alexei Devyatkin and his wife, journalist Jenny Kurpen. They applied for refugee status in Ukraine fearing prosecution in the wake of the protests.

And it seems that Ukraine is the preferred launch pad for most Russian asylum seekers. Ukraine is an obvious choice. Russians don’t need a visa to enter and there’s no language barrier.

So you’d think that they’d feel safe, right? Sadly not so. Because the powers that be in the Kremlin tighten the screws on the Ukrainian government, often resulting in the Ukrainian government breaking international law – which forbids Ukraine from sending them back – and deporting these asylum seekers back to Russia.

The recent event of two northern Caucasus refugees highlights the current problems. One, named Magomet, has disappeared from a Kiev detention center while the other, an ethnic Chechen Umar Abuyev, was so severely beaten in custody he slipped into a coma.

Abuyev’s lawyer is worried he could be sent back to Russia, despite a ruling by the European Human Rights Court banning Ukraine from extraditing him.

Unrest in the Northern Caucasus has forced thousands to flee. Although Russia claims most are bandits and terrorists, some 100,000 people have been recognized as refugees in European Union member states. Many settled in Turkey and other Muslim countries.

Magomet, a former taxi driver from Ingushetia in Russia’s North Caucasus region, spent 14 months in the Lukyanivske pre-trial detention center. Wanted in Russia, he is not accused of any crime in Ukraine and has been recognized as a refugee by Finland.

However he disappeared almost two weeks ago and, according to diplomatic sources, is now in Kharkiv, a usual stop for detainees being extradited to Russia.

Magomet’s application was turned down by Ukraine. In July, however, he was recognized as a refugee by one of the EU member states and was to be sent there.

But he may already be back in Russia, as neither his lawyer nor representatives of human rights organizations have heard from him since his disappearance from custody.

Like many others Abuyev was refused asylum in Ukraine, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he is not to be removed to Russia until the court of appeal hears his case.

Appeals from human rights organizations appear to be moving Abuyev’s case forward. Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Valeria Lutkovska started an investigation and reported the matter to the general prosecutor. The Kiev city prosecutor has also launched an investigation.

Ukraine joined the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention in 2002 and thus is obliged to grant refugee status to a foreigner with “reasonable apprehensions” of being persecuted in his native country because of race, faith, nationality, citizenship, social status or political views.

The last story by the late Anna Politkovskaya, a renowned Russian journalist murdered in 2006, was dedicated to Beslan Gadayev, who was extradited from Ukraine to Russia in 2006.

Politkovskaya wrote that in Chechnya Gadayev was tortured into confessing to several crimes, and registered as one of many terrorists caught by the authorities in a sham anti-terrorist campaign.

But what of the crackdown in Russia on freedom of speech and the Peoples rights to dissent and voice their objections to their governments actions?

Well, LiliPutin has enacted several laws over the course of the summer since his “re-election” varying from large fines of up to one million roubles (approximately $31,000) being levied on anyone organising, attending or even TWEETING about unauthorised rallies, as well as administrative authorities now having more powers to refuse permits for mass gatherings, through to laws which tightened controls on civil rights groups funded from abroad – a move to placate LiliPutin’s usual paranoid belief that all NGO’s are engaged in espionage….because that’s what HE would’ve done.

Hilariously though, RT reported that Russia is calling on international organisations to respond to attacks against journalists in Syria. How LiliPutin and the Kremlin can be openly two-faced about journalistic privilege and openness in one dictatorial regime, but readily silence the media and murder journalists to retain control and power over their own dictatorship is laughable.

Maria Zakharova, deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press office said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website on Tuesday.

“All media personnel should receive equal treatment; arbitrariness and double standards are unacceptable on this issue,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, in Moscow courts, Alexey Navalny and the band members of Pussy Riot are experiencing first hand the farcical and corrupt ways of Russian justice and their own flavour of arbitrariness whilst they are being tried in separate cases. Navalny is accused of fraud on trumped-up charges made in late July. Pussy Riot meanwhile are looking at seven years behind bars, for what would have been dealt with in the West as a simple case of “disturbance of the peace” and dealt with in the form of a fine and/or community service. The Pussy Riot performance in Christ the Saviour Cathedral was neither a hate crime nor “hooliganism.” It was a political protest that went way past the limits of moral good taste.

But this same iron-fist method is reminiscent of the same tactics LiliPutin adopted when he wanted to frighten the Oligarchs into understanding who the real boss is by way of making an example of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky famously said Putin was more liberal than 70% of Russians, but that was before the remaining 30% had turned against him. Only time will tell if Putin is now doing a “full Soviet” or will ease up once the Kremlin’s dominance has been re-established.

In either case, people opposed to the Putin regime have three main choices. One, proceed with voluntary actions, such as bringing aid to the flood victims in Krymsk, which do genuine good while showing up the government’s ineffectiveness at providing basic services. Some see spontaneous responses to specific social needs as the way to create a genuine Russian civil society from the bottom up.

Two, build an opposition party slowly and patiently that has a real chance of winning power, using demonstrations and strikes when the government tries to cripple the growth of that party.

Three, join the brain drain and the capital flight — that is, leave the country. This is the subject of serious discussion around many kitchen tables.

In the end, Navalny’s case is more important than Pussy Riot’s. If he becomes the Khodorkovsky of his generation, it’s time to pack.

The period between the State Duma elections in December and LililPutin’s inauguration on May 7 belonged to the opposition. The streets and the headlines were theirs. But the counterattack began as soon as LiliPutin took the oath of office. Now there are only two questions: How severe and persevering will that counterattack be, and what should be the opposition’s response?

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