Russia’s Hunger Games
The real story from this week’s UN General Assembly is that Russia, not America, is now the dominant power at the Security Council for the first time in the history of the UN. This dramatic shift in the power balance at the UN seems to have been completely overlooked by many of those covering the meeting, who are more interested in wittering on about the proposed Security Council resolution on disarming Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (it won’t work)or Iran’s utterly transparent charm offensive (they are desperate to get the sanctions lifted) towards some of the world’s more gullible world leaders. But the key to this disturbing realignment in the global power structureis clearly visiblein the draft of the Security Council resolution on Syria, which entirely reflects Russia’s interests at the expense of those of the Western powers. America, Britain and France, the three Western members of the five permanent members of the Council, wanted the option to take punitive action against the Assad regime if, as most observers expect, Damascus does not fully comply with the U.N.’s requirements. (Nor has anyone considered how U.N. inspectors can be expected to examine and neutralise stockpiles of chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war.) But Russia is determined to prevent any form of military intervention in Syria, and to that end insisted that the resolution be watered down to the effect that, if Assad fails to comply, then the issue will be referred back to the U.N. where, as we know from history, it will be subsumed by the organisation’s bureaucratic complacency. In short, Russia has won the diplomatic battle, and the Western powers, after all their threats to bomb Assad into submission,have been made to look weak and impotent. Apply this paradigm to Iran and it is not hard to see why Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has decided to embark on a charm offensive with the West. Just like Syria, the Russians have no intention of allowing the Western powers and that includes Israel to take military action against Iran over its decade-long refusal to cooperate with the U.N. over its controversial nuclear programme, which most intelligence experts believe is designed to build atom bombs, rather than power stations. And with President Barack Obama desperate to avoid a confrontation with Iran, Syria or any of the regions other rogue states, the key to resolving the Iranian crisis lies in Moscow, not Washington or New York. And if that’s the case, then don’t expect Iran to give up enriching its uranium anytime soon.
Russia has come under scrutiny as the next host of the Olympics because of the law passed this summer outlawing “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” which many worry may apply to gay athletes and visitors to the games. Killy said the commission considered the issue carefully and in the end was fully convinced that Russia will respect the Olympic charter, which prohibits discrimination of any kind. He said the IOC had received written assurances from Russian officials there would be no discrimination. “The Olympic Charter states that all segregation is completely prohibited, whether it be on the grounds of race, religion, color or other, on the Olympic territory,” he said in French. “That will be the case, we are convinced. Another thing I must add: the IOC doesn’t really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organized. As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied, and that is the case.” Russian officials insist the law is designed to protect children and doesn’t infringe on the rights of gays. “Regarding this law, if people of traditional sexual orientation spread propaganda of non-traditional sex to children, then they will also be held accountable,” said Dmitry Kozak, a deputy prime minister in charge of overseeing preparations for the Sochi Olympics. “So there is simply no need to talk about discrimination.” The Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights organization in the U.S., condemned the IOC’s assessment of the Russian law. “If this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completely meaningless,” HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement. “The safety of millions of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Russians and international travelers is at risk, and by all accounts the IOC has completed neglected its responsibility to Olympic athletes, sponsors and fans from around the world.” He noted that Killy spoke a day after gay rights activists were arrested outside the Moscow headquarters of the Sochi Olympics organizing committee for protesting the law. In Strasbourg, France, a leading European human rights watchdog that counts Russia among its 47 member states said the law “raises serious issues” under its 60-year-old human rights convention. The Council of Europe’s committee of ministers released a statement Thursday that “invited” Russian authorities to take measures to raise awareness about the fundamental rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Russia was urged to submit a plan toward that end as soon as possible. President Vladimir Putin signed the ban on propaganda into law in late June.
The range of responses is extreme. Some bloggers think [ru] Tolokonnikova deserves the harsh life of a sinner and a convict, whereas others describe [ru] her as something closer to a saint. The single most common reaction, it seems, is to express reservations about her past involvement in Pussy Riot and the art group Voina (which included participating in a public orgy while pregnant), but support Tolokonnikovascurrent effort to draw attention to the mistreatment of prisoners. If we split the RuNet between opposition and pro-government bloggers, its possible to note some surprises. For instance, Maksim Kononenko, a generally pro-Kremlin columnist and popular blogger, celebrated [ru] Tolokonnikovas letter as a selfless attempt to rescue her fellow inmates. Kristina Potupchik, the former spokesperson of a prominent pro-Putin youth group, wrote [ru]on LiveJournal that cruelty to prisoners contravenes common sense. Both Kononenko and Potupchik criticized others who welcomed the news of Tolokonnikovas suffering. In what was likely a conscious misrepresentation, Potupchik and pro-Kremlin blogger Marina Yudenich mocked [ru] Tolokonnikovas former lawyers, Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov, for a crude joke seemingly made at her expense. (In fact, the two attorneys were ridiculing [ru] another Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, who is suing Feygin and Polozov for malpractice). Tolokonnikovas hunger strike, however, is not the only in Russia today. More than a week before that protest began, dozens of mothers of disabled children in Volgograd announced their own hunger strike [ru], demanding better state assistance for their kids and the local governors resignation. The demonstration follows allegations of mass fraud [ru]in Volgograds recent municipal elections, which went relatively unnoticed by Russias Moscow-dominated media (both traditional and netizen). Participants and supporters of the hunger strike, such as Yelena Grebeniuk and Yelena Samoshina, have tried to utilize the Internet in order to publicize their campaign. For example, Samoshinas Vkontakte page [ru] is full of links to local news coverage and appeals for help from the public (like a donations request [ru] on September 26 for mattresses and bedding for the women hunger striking), and Grebeniuks LiveJournal features a brief interview [ru] posted on YouTube of her explaining the strikes demands. Grebeniuk, left, and Tolokonnikova, right. Needless to say, the Volgograd mothers have not galvanized Russian bloggers to the extent that Pussy Riot does regularly.