Moritz Pieper, The Independent
As Russian President Vladimir Putin climbed into a miniature submarine and descended to the seabed in the Gulf of Finland on Saturday, Russian authorities proceeded with a violent and coordinated crackdown on unsanctioned protests in Moscow ahead of the September elections to Moscow’s municipal parliament.
Police officers arrested a record number, some 1,300 Muscovites, who had gathered to protest over ballot restrictions which had disqualified dozens of opposition candidates to run for the Moscow city council elections.
According to OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group, the number of detentions had risen to 1,373 by Sunday. This was the largest crackdown on the non-systemic opposition since the 2011-2012 protests against rigged Duma elections and Putin’s announced return to the presidency.
These latest arrests were violent and arbitrary, at least in part. Police were seen beating protesters with truncheons, knocking on apartment doors at night to raid and search properties of disqualified candidates, and searching and arresting pedestrians without always making it clear what criminal charges were brought against them.
Opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who had called Saturday’s protests, was arrested outside his house, and then taken from jail to hospital after an alleged exposure to an “an unknown chemical substance”, according to his lawyer, Olga Mihailova. The protests were limited to Moscow, and the city council elections are not critical at a federal level.
But a localised structure of opposition protests was also characteristic of previous protests of national significance, from the 2011-12 “For Fair Elections” protests to the protests in 2017 and 2018 (over elite corruption, declining living standards and planned retirement age reforms).
The symbolic nature of any such anti-government protests (even if limited to the big cities) cannot be ignored by the Kremlin due to their inherent links to questions about Putin’s continued legitimacy.
The European Union has criticised the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, and European governments have called on Moscow to allow free and fair elections in line with Russia’s OSCE commitments. The Russian counter-reaction was indicative of the foreign policy implications of Russia’s latest protest wave: “Follow the Vienna Convention (on diplomatic relations)”, the Russian foreign ministry testily cautioned the German government, “and don’t meddle with internal affairs of sovereign governments.”
The arrests took place just a week after the latest Petersburg Dialogue between Russia and Germany, where the atmosphere at a working level was hailed as constructive. Russia and Europe have a lot of foreign policy issues on their plate where policy coordination is needed, from trying to salvage the Iran nuclear deal to discussing arms control and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The arrests also come only a few weeks after Russia’s readmission into the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The latter is potentially good news for civil rights in Russia, as Russian citizens can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if human rights violations have no more legal recourse domestically.
This (besides Russia’s significant financial contribution to the Council’s budget, which the organisation was loath to renounce) was the main argument for advocates of Russia’s return to PACE.
The cause for which Russia had its voting rights suspended in 2014 (the annexation of Crimea), however, remained entirely unchanged. Therefore, the restoration of its voting rights was hailed as a diplomatic victory by the Russian government: with strategic patience, according to such an interpretation, Russia can get away with breaking international law. That will be an alarming message for the protestors who were dragged away by the scruffs of their necks, and their theoretical access to the ECHR will be paltry consolation.
Clearly, Russian law enforcement agencies do not necessarily operate in compliance with provisions enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with Pope Francis on Thursday, a day before Ukraine’s Catholic leaders meet at the Vatican to discuss the crisis in their country,
A judo blackbelt, Putin has long been keen to show off his athletic prowess, including by working out with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, hitting the ski slopes in Sochi or diving to the bottom of the Black Sea.
President Donald Trump said he held “very positive” talks on Friday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the crisis in oil-rich Venezuela, where Washington is pushing to oust the Moscow-backed president.
The UAE and India enjoy strong and cordial relations across multiple fronts, backed by top-level political and people-to-people interactions.
The world’s lungs are on fire. The Amazon ablaze dominates front pages. Inaction from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is centre stage at this weekend’s G7 in Biarritz. Heart-breaking videos of indigenous peoples running from their homes and of animals fleeing for their lives have spread over social media.
As the fires in the Amazon rage into their third week, with smoke blanketing the city of Sao Paolo and even visible from space, the world’s attention has been belatedly sparked with the hashtag #AmazonFires trending globally. The INPE which tracks deforestation in Brazil found 1330 square miles of rainforest have been lost since January alone. An increase of 40 per cent on the previous year.