19 October 2009, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of October 12-18

Scandalous post-election events in southern regions of Russia; a new figurant in journalist Anna Politkovskaya's murder case; continuation of Chechen President's litigation against human rights defenders; a mess around statements of Michael McFaul, President Obama's senior adviser for democracy and Russia on development of Russian-American relations, - look up these and other events in the review of the week of October 12-18 in the Caucasian regions prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Scandals after elections in SFD

Monday, October 12, started with summing up the elections to municipal power bodies held in many regions of the Russian Federation. Among most contradictory in the Southern Federal District (SFD) were elections of Mayors of Astrakhan and Derbent (a city in Dagestan).

On October 12, the official website of the central electoral commission (CEC) of the Astrakhan Region reported that according to the CEC of Astrakhan the incumbent city Mayor, member of the "Edinaya Rossiya", Sergey Bozhenov was the winner with 65.6 percent of votes; while his main competitor, deputy of the Russian State Duma from the "Spravedlivaya Rossiya" Party Oleg Shein, gathered 26 percent. Other runners for the position strongly lagged behind: communist Rostislav Alekseev - with 4.4 percent, self-promoted worker Dmitri Strokin - 0.96 percent, and candidate from the LDPR Alexander Starovoitov - 0.74 percent. The voter turnout made about 47 percent.

The voting process was accompanied by messages about numerous violations, which was recognized also by the official bodies. Rough violations of the laws on elections and mass media were registered.

The main violation was a ban to journalists to work at polling stations: make videos and interview members of local electoral commission, observers and voters. The ban originated directly from chairs of local (precinct) electoral commissions, who were supported by militiamen.

Moreover, in the yard of Gymnasium No. 4 a deputy of the regional duma and his helpers beat the journalists of the Internet medium "Caucasian Knot" Vyacheslav Yaschenko and of the Astrakhan newspaper "Zhitel" (Resident) Oleg Teplischev, who tried to film the work of local electoral commissions Nos. 524 and 527. During the beating, the video and photo cameras were not damaged; only a dictaphone was broken with a fist blow; however, the device had fulfilled its function and recorded the noise of the attack. Oleg Teplischev has informed the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent that the deputy who had organized the attack on journalists was certain Shabanov, a member of the "Edinaya Rossiya" Party.

Igor Korovin, the chair of the Astrakhan Regional CEC, told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent that no instructions on non-admission of journalists to polling stations had been ever issued.

Violations during voting were complained of by the staff of candidate Oleg Shein. In particular, his people draw attention to the fact that about 6 percent of voters had taken part in early voting.

On October 13, Mr Shein's supporters tried to protest against the election totals in Astrakhan, but militiamen removed the tent camp that activists of the youth organization "Reference Point" tried to set up in the Chernyshevskogo Street, opposite the office of the "Spravedlivaya Rossiya".

As a whole, as stated by Nikolai Levichev, head of the faction of "Spravedlivaya Rossiya" in the Russian State Duma, his party refused to recognize the election of Astrakhan Mayor to be fair.

Since October 16, the regional branch of the LDPR (Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia) joined the protests.

In his turn, Boris Gryzlov, chairman of the supreme council of the "Edinaya Rossiya" Party, said that his party members and supporters fixed 443 violations made by the opponents of the party's nominees at the elections.

The regional prosecutor's office also marked numerous violations in the course of pre-election campaign. According to Oleg Dupak, Public Prosecutor of the Astrakhan Region, the supervising department received 65 complaints and applications on violations of the electoral legislation. Most of them had to do with alleged people's enforcement to early voting. The employees of the prosecutor's office reacted by having interrogated about one thousand voters, but they failed to find any confirmations of the facts of compulsion. As a whole, in the opinion of the head of the prosecutor's office of the Astrakhan Region, there were no rough violations in the course of the election campaign.

The election in the Dagestan city of Derbent was no less scandalous. As reported by Gennady Raikov, a member of the Russian CEC, on the day of voting 14 polling stations of the city failed to start working for lack of quorum of respective local electoral commissions. In total, on October 11, only 23 out of 36 polling stations were open.

Under the data, received by the CEC, the  winner was the current Mayor of the city Felix Kaziakhmedov with about 63 percent of votes. The remaining votes were cast for his main opponent - former public prosecutor of Dagestan Imamali Yaraliev, currently the head of the Suleiman-Stalskiy District.

The latter was not happy with the outcomes, and on October 12 a rally of Yaraliev's supporters was held in Derbent. Some 500 persons took part in the event. The speakers told about violations at the election and demanded to cancel its outcomes.

Mr Yaraliev and two other to the post of the Mayor of Derbent addressed the court with a demand to nullify the voting because of closed polling stations. Their claims also listed other violations. For example, two cases of stealing ballot papers from the premises of local commissions were reported, and also the fact of kidnapping of the head of the local electoral commission No. 30 Murad Muradov.

On October 13, Khanakhmed Khanakhmedov, head of Yaraliev's support staff, said that the federal judge of the city Dzhambulat Gadjiev found reasonable the claims of separate voters asking to recognize the election of the head of Derbent null and void. Contrary to this decision, the territorial CEC announced that Felix Kaziakhmedov became the Mayor of Derbent.

On the results of the public prosecutor's check, the bodies of preliminary investigation initiated eight criminal cases for violations of the electoral legislation at the election of Derbent Mayor.

Violations during elections were also fixed in the Gunib District of Dagestan, where the district head was elected. As reported by Ali Kamalov, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Dagestan, a native of the Gunib District, the administrative resources had been broadly used.

Nevertheless, in two out of three districts, where district heads were elected, the incumbent district bosses lost to their opponents by the vote count - this was the case in the Levashin and Khunzakh Districts. In the former, the boss was surpassed by his deputy - Magomedgadji Magomedov with 65.35 percent of votes. A similar situation was observed in the Khunzakh District, where the winner was self-nominee Gadjiyav Darbishev, chair of the district assembly of deputies, with 55.31 percent of votes.

In the city of Volzhskiy, Volgograd Region, the incumbent Mayor Igor Voronin from the "Edinaya Rossiya", who had worked in the "city of chemists and power engineers" since 2000, lost the election to Marina Afanasieva, the nominee of the "Spravedlivaya Rossiya".

In Karachai-Circassia, at election of the Mayor of Karachaevsk, self-nominee Soltan Semyonov was the winner, having surpassed Umar Uzdenov, nominated by the "Edinaya Rossiya".

In the city of Azov, Rostov Region, the case of falsification at election of the Mayor is investigated.

New figurants appear in Politkovskaya's murder case

On October 12, it became known that Oleg Shoshin, a suspect in the murder case of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist of the "Novaya Gazeta", a former employee of the Operative Division of the Moscow GUVD (City Interior Department), told about secret links between Dmitri Pavlyuchenkov, the main witness of the prosecution, with the defendant - Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, an ex-employee of the Moscow UBOP (Department for Fighting Organized Crime).

Oleg Shoshin, 35, who confessed that he had shadowed Politkovskaya before her murder together with a certain Chervonya Ogly, had already been interrogated by inspectors. By the moment of his detention for murdering a Baku businessman in Lyubertsy, Shoshin had already figured as a witness in Politkovskaya's case.

People in the "Novaya Gazeta" know nothing about Oleg Shoshin's involvement in Anna Politkovskaya's murder, as asserted by Sergey Sokolov, a chief editor of the newspaper.

Attempt on Evkurov: organizers either "dead" or "hide"

On October 13, at the sitting of the National Antiterrorist Committee, its chairman, director of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov reported that the organizers of the attempt on President of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Evkurov, leaders of the Ingush Jama'at Dzortov and Aliev had been killed, and the crime as such had been solved.

At the same time, Vladimir Markin, official spokesman of the ICPO, said that suspected organizer of the failed attempt Alexander Tikhomirov, also known as Said Buryatskiy, and another accomplice Magomed Tsokiev are hiding in the Caucasus and were declared into federal search.

Kadyrov vs. HRC "Memorial" - second round

On October 14, the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial" appealed against the decision of the Tver Court of Moscow, which had partially satisfied the claim of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov to the head of the Centre Oleg Orlov.

Earlier, the Court had satisfied Kadyrov's claim to human rights activists on defence of his honour and dignity and ruled to collect 50,000 roubles from the HRC "Memorial" and 20,000 roubles personally from Orlov in favour of the President of Chechnya. The pretext of the trial had been Orlov's statement about Kadyrov's responsibility for the murder of human rights defender Natalia Estemirova.

On the following day it became known that the ruling of the Tver Court of Moscow was also appealed against by Chechen President's advocate.

Finally, all the materials of case in relation to Oleg Orlov under the article of "slander" went to the Moscow Prosecutor's Office.

Armenian-Turkish "football diplomacy"

On October 14, Armenian leader Serzh Sargsyan arrived in Turkey under invitation of his Turkish counterpart Abdullah G?l for joint for joint watching of the match of their national football teams under qualification tournament to 2010 World Cup.

During their meeting in the Turkish city of Bursa, Presidents of Armenia and Turkey discussed the prospects of their relations in the light of recently signed Protocols.

After the meeting with his Armenian colleague, Mr G?l treated the process of normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations as an "extremely important" development. He also used an expression "we don't write the history, we create it" in relation to Armenia and Turkey.

Before the match, the authorities of Bursa prohibited selling Azerbaijani flags, because the Armenian-Turkish Protocols recently signed in Zurich on the start of diplomatic relations had been agreed without any preconditions, including the pro-Azerbaijani position of Turkey in relation to the Karabakh conflict. However, several flags of Azerbaijan were noticed in the stalls. Also, during the match aggressively tuned fans undertook attempts to destabilize the situation at the stadium.

Outside the arena, activists of the youth group of the Turkish-Azerbaijani football friendship "Match" disseminated over 2500 stickers, presenting Serzh Sargsyan behind bars and demand to set justice in the issue of the Khodzhaly tragedy.

States promise "not to wag finger at" but criticize human rights violations in Russia

On October 12, a meeting took place of Michael McFaul, US President's senior adviser for Russia, with Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the administration of the President of the Russian Federation. Both officials are co-heads of the subcommittee for development of civil society institutes, founded in July in Moscow within the framework of the Medvedev-Obama Presidential Commission.

After the meeting in his interview to the "Kommersant" and "Interfax" Mr McFaul said that "lecturing democracy to Russia and wagging finger at it is not Barack Obama's style."

The essence of the new approach of the Obama's administration to the problems of democracy and human rights were formulated by McFaul literally as follows: "We don't want to act as accusers. US President's style is not to lecture and wag finger at. His approach is different; and I think that we, as the government, and this working group, will reflect this new strategy."

The senior adviser to President Obama expressed his opinion that "if we have a more constructive and substantive relationship with the Russian government and not just a confrontational relationship, an accusatory relationship, that will create permissive conditions for more interaction between our societies."

On October 13, based on this interview, an article appeared in the newspaper "Kommersant" with a conclusion: "As a matter of fact, it means rejection of the policy of previous US administrations, which had always publicly criticized the situation with human rights in Russia."

On October 13, human rights activists demanded explanations in this occasion from Michael McFaul and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On the outcomes of the meeting, the Reuters reported, referring to "American officials" that the "Kommersant" had incorrectly interpreted McFaul's words, and Washington would continue raising issues of democracy and human rights in its relations with Russian officials on a regular basis."

On October 15, the "Kommersant" published another article, emphasizing that the edition saw no distortion, in its previous material that had caused such a mess, of the words of the White House official. As evidence, the paper published the full text of McFaul's interview.

In the interview, Mr McFaul himself explained the words, the interpretation of which had led to misunderstanding. In particular, the Obama's advisor said: "If we see violation of democratic principles and human rights, we'll speak about them openly. In this aspect, there're no changes in our approach."

This particular idea was emphasized also by Ms Clinton at her meeting with the activists of the Russian human rights movement.

Already on October 16, the UN Committee on Human Rights subjected Russia to tough criticism for murders of journalists and human rights activists, dependence (bias) of its judicial system, and also for kidnappings in the course of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya.

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