Vladislav Surkov, the architect of Putin’s “sovereign democracy” idea, and now the deputy prime minister for economic modernization, gave talk at the London School of Economics yesterday in which he said that the Kremlin “beat” the Russian opposition after the December 2011 Duma election protests:
Do you really think that the old system collapsed after the protests in December 2011? No, it beat the opposition. That’s a fact.
Surkov didn’t say how exactly the opposition was defeated, though he said he’d like to see a new political party emerge to rival United Russia (so would Putin). The Kremlin’s grey cardinal, speaking in a lecture hall that was only two-thirds full, seemed more interested in money than politics anyway. He was first asked about allegations of corruption related to the Skolkovo tech-sector project, which was designed to create counterpart to Silicon Valley near Moscow and drum up foreign direct investment in Russia. Although the questioner asked about the activities of the project’s vice president, Surkov dismissed the allegations that $750,000 was stolen as not worth the time or energy of the project’s president (whose net worth is over $15 billion, according to Forbes). The imputation here – that being mega-rich is a disincentive to steal – would be intriguing even if it hadn’t been delivered in the forum of the LSE.
Surkov went on to draw attention to his own sizable fortune, presumably to preempt any follow-up questions (or insinuations) as to whether or not he too is the beneficiary of shady deals:
“I am in the same position. I am not the poorest person after working in the business world for 10 years and I will, if necessary, work there again. I was successful in business before I joined the presidential administration. I was one of the most successful in my field.”
Meanwhile, the Irish parliament’s committee on foreign affairs watered-down the resolution on the Magnitsky case, which I blogged about at World Affairs last week. It passed unanimously today. An earlier version of the motion – modeled on the newly-passed U.S. Magnitsky Act – advocated that Ireland should adopt a law to sanction and deny visas to Russian officials credibly accused of gross human rights violations. It also called on the European Union, of which Ireland currently holds the presidency, to implement similar measures. The new motion is filled with pro forma calls for Russia to “investigate” a criminal conspiracy it has already said never existed or rather, was the brainchild of the man who uncovered it. Sergei Magnitsky, the whistleblower who exposed a $230 million tax fraud and identified the perpetrators as Russian state officials in bed with a transnational organized crime, was arrested, tortured and murdered in prison for his trouble. Now his corpse is being put on trial in Russia to prove his guilt posthumously.
The reason for the resolution’s watering-down was a not-so-subtle threat issued by Russia’s ambassador to Ireland Maxim Peshkov, who had been invited to give his government’s line on the Magnitsky affair before the committee but declined. Instead, he sent a doozy of a letter to all the committee members, which closed by stating that the first draft under consideration “certainly, will not enrich bilateral Russian-Irish relations, and can have negative influence on the negotiations on the Adoption Agreement between Russia and Ireland being proceeded.”
So orphans are to once again serve as bargaining chips in Russia’s response to complaints that it is covering up murderous state conspiracy.
According to the Irish Times:
Several members of the committee had been contacted by people trying to adopt Russian children who were fearful the applications could be jeopardised. The Russian government should be “thoroughly ashamed” for “ this use of children”, Independent Senator David Norris told the committee. He had been contacted by one couple who had already adopted a Russian child and wanted to adopt a second child from Russia but were were concerned after reading about the ambassador’s letter. The motion approved by the committee was about “realpolitik”, he said afterwards. “You have to be realistic if you want to get things done,” he added.
Even the drafter of the original resolution, Senator Jim Walsh, noted the necessity of “compromise” in rejigging his own motion, which is at least a concession that he was bullied not into changing his mind but to pretending as though he had.
Peshkov’s letter can be read in full here. Much of it is devoted to the alleged misdeeds of Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Investments and the driving force behind transforming the plight of his killed attorney into a global cause celebre (the only reason Irish parliament had this wrangle about a resolution in the first place is that Browder testified before the foreign affairs committee on Magnitsky back in February). You might expect that a public enemy of the Kremlin, now on trial in absentia for alleged financial crimes more than a decade old, would have his surname spelled correctly by Russian diplomat who asserts his guilt before any verdict has been delivered. But such is not the case for “William Brawder.”