Russia

Russia: Putin's Place in the New World Order

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Upheavals in the former Soviet Empire have added to Vladimir Putin's headaches.

Vladimir Putin has many things to be grateful for but the situation along Russia's southern borders is not one of them. The so called 'rose revolution' in Georgia in November 2003, the 'orange revolution' in the Ukraine in 2004 and now the 'tulip revolution' in poverty-stricken Kyrgyzstan in 2005 have all complicated his life. When the USSR disintegrated into 15 parts in 1991 the new states around Russia's borders became known in Russia as its 'near abroad'.

Russia: Pensions Anger Marks Political Shift

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Mass protests by pensioners in Russia have forced major concessions from the Putin government.

From 1 January some 34 million pensioners and disabled people were stripped of state benefits such as free or subsidised transport and healthcare. Their benefits were replaced by a meagre cash sum with which they are now supposed to pay for services. Thousands of pensioners demonstrated in towns and cities the length and breadth of Russia, in places blocking traffic and taking on riot police. There were numerous fights between passengers and bus or tram conductors after pensioners were told to pay fares.

Neither Washington nor Moscow

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Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' is not all it seems.

The crisis that erupted in the Ukraine at the end of last month has had liberals of all sorts slathering at the mouth. Here, they declared, was a new people's uprising, a display of popular power inaugurating a 'velvet revolution' like that in eastern Europe in 1989.

In fact, what occurred was a fight between rival groups inside a corrupt ruling class, each side of which has been happy at various points to preside over a government given to muzzling opposition and fixing ballots.

Russia: Putin's War on Democracy

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Widely billed as 'Russia's 9/11', the Beslan hostage tragedy in September, and the downing of two passenger aircraft by Chechen suicide bombers the same month, have seen the Kremlin do its best to ape Bush and Blair's 'war on terror'.

President Vladimir Putin threatened 'pre-emptive action' against terrorist bases. His remarks raised new fears that Russia would lash out at Georgia, which it accuses of harbouring the Chechen resistance. Putin also clamped down on democracy, announcing that the elected leaders of Russia's 89 regions would now be appointed from Moscow. Local government elections will be restricted, making it almost impossible for independent candidates to stand.

Azerbaijan: Haydar and Farewell

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The death of Haydar Aliyev, the 80 year old president of Azerbaijan, was less than headline news in the west. Once a key figure in the 'evil empire' of the Soviet Union, Aliyev ended up as one of the US's favourite Muslim rulers.

The first 30 years of his career in the dreaded Soviet secret police included the worst periods of Stalinist terror, when there were nearly a million political executions and up to 10 million political prisoners. By 1967 Aliyev was the chief of the Azerbaijani secret police. From 1969 he ran the country on behalf of his Russian masters. However, like other agents of Soviet rule in republics outside Russia, he also built up a network of local bureaucrats who were beholden to him for their jobs, perks and privileges.

Russia: Oligarch Enemies

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On 25 October, Russian state security agents stormed a private plane and arrested at gunpoint the dapper 40 year old Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, worth £4.7 billion.

Khodorkovsky headed the recently merged YukosSibneft, Russia's biggest private company and the world's fourth-largest oil producer with half-year profits in 2003 of £1.3 billion. His arrest marked the climax of a four-month, high-profile investigation. Three of his associates were already facing charges, one with ordering a murder, and a fourth had gone into exile.

Georgia: Tipped by the Velvet

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In scenes not seen in the former Soviet states for a decade, tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets to topple a corrupt regime.

On live television Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, favoured by the west but detested by his people, was interrupted mid-speech addressing parliament. Thousands poured into the building as he looked on helplessly. Within hours he was gone.

On Russia With Love

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Review of 'Marx and Anglo-Russian Relations and Other Writings', D B Riazanov, Francis Boutle Publishers £10

During the 19th century, constitutional Britain and despotic Russia had one common and abiding interest--the defeat of revolution. In 1848, when the Tsar sent his army to crush the Hungarian Revolution, Lord Palmerston, Britain's foreign secretary, murmured to the Russian ambassador, 'Get it over quickly'. Although Britain and Russia clashed during the Crimean War of 1854-56, the war had a sham quality because Britain sought not to destroy but to contain Russia, so as to save Tsardom for the cause of counter-revolution.

Russia: The Theatre of War

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The brutal storming of a Moscow theatre by Russian forces last month led to the deaths of 117 hostages and all 50 hostage takers.

At least 113 of the hostages were killed, not by gunshot wounds, but by the deadly poison gas the Russian forces pumped into the theatre. The symptoms of the survivors led scientists such as Professor Steven Rose to conclude that the gas used was a variant of the nerve gas BZ developed by the US military in the 1970s. Some have since argued that the gas may have been a derivative of heroin. Whatever it was, the Russian authorities refused to disclose what gas was used, even to the doctors treating the victims, citing reasons of national security.

Even the Best Laid Plans Go Wrong

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Review of 'Russia: Class and Power 1917-2000', Mike Haynes, Bookmarks £12

For most of the 20th century anyone who described him or herself as a socialist would quickly be asked where they stood on Russia.

Today such questions are presented as being of historical interest, but as soon as we try to articulate a vision of a different world, the question of Russia reappears. Is any attempt at a radical transformation of society doomed to reproduce the horrors of Stalinist repression?

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