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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism


Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Polonium Smuggler?

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Theories about Alexandr Litvinenko’s death continue to swirl around the media. And while most suspect that the “fierce Kremlin critic” was assassinated by Putin or persons connected to him, another less highlighted theory is that Litvinenko might have been caught up in a polonium smuggling ring. This idea isn’t new. Russia Blog reported in December that the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung was “looking into the possibility that radiation poisoning victim Alexander Litvinenko and his associate Dimitry Kovtun were involved in smuggling polonium out of Russia.” “Alongside several other versions behind this crime,” a German police officer told the Berliner Zeitung at the time, “we are seriously considering the possibility that Litvinenko’s death could have been connected to the illegal trade in nuclear materials.” The officer then added that no clear evidence had been uncovered yet.

Now it seems that the polonium plot thickens. Reuters is reporting that Dmity Kovtun, who met with Litvinenko in London on 1 November with Andrei Lugovoy (who happens to be the former head of security for Boris Berezovsky), is going to Germany to talk to investigations about polonium smuggling. November 1 was the same day Litvinenko began complaining about feeling ill. Kovtun, of course, denies any connection to Litvinenko’s death. “Ach, wirklich?” say the Germans.

“Kovtun wants to come to Hamburg to meet with prosecutors, among other things,” attorney Wolfgang Vehlow told Reuters, adding that Kovtun has permanent residency in Germany and considers the northern port city of Hamburg a home.

Vehlow said it was unclear when the trip would happen. Kovtun developed symptoms of radiation poisoning, according to Russian prosecutors, and both he and Lugovoy spent several weeks in hospital after their return to Moscow from London.

There are conflicting reports about Kovtun’s health, but Vehlow said Kovtun was well enough to travel to Germany.

In other developments in the affair, it appears that the Russians and British have concluded a deal that would allow Russian investigators to question Boris Berezovsky. Or so said Deputy Prosecutor-General Alexander Zvyagintsev in an interview with Izvestia. The apparent deal with the Brits didn’t stop Zvyagintsev from rapping Britain for, of all things, bureaucratism. “Unfortunately, too much time is being taken up with technical and procedural questions and I hope they can be resolved faster,” Zvyagintsev complained. Adding, “When last year the English asked us to let them come here we did not insist on the observation of some of the formalities … Do we not have the right to expect similar cooperation?” Um, I don’t know, I distinctly remember the Russians unleashing their own “bureaucratic blitz” to stall the British investigation.

At some point you just have to sit back and appreciate the utter hilarity in all this.

Special thanks to Heribert Schindler from ?????????? ????????? for the German help. See comments section below.