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Expert: Russia Lacks Democracy, Rule of Law

(Washington, DC--November 7, 2003) Journalist and author Andrew Meier, during a briefing today at RFE/RL's Washington bureau, said that Western experts and governments are misinterpreting current developments in the Russian Federation. Meier, a former Moscow correspondent for Time magazine and the author of "Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall" (W.W.Norton, September 2003) said that the Russian state lacks democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and is making war on its own citizens.

Meier pointed to the continuing crisis in Chechnya as evidence that "peace" does not exist within the borders of the Russian Federation. He pointed to the recent presidential elections in Chechnya -- declared a "tragedy" by monitoring groups -- and the upcoming State Duma elections -- where Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov has been tasked "to deliver the Duma elections to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin" -- to dispute the democratic nature of the Russian system. Meier also claimed that freedom in Russia is being undermined, as indicated by the deterioration of independent media freedom and the constant obstacles faced by non-governmental organizations, human rights groups, and journalists.

Meier cited the recent arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a prime example of the lack of the rule of law in Russia, stating that "anyone shocked by [Khodorkovsky's arrest] has been asleep for the past four years." Meier said that Putin's recent interview in Italy, where he repeatedly mentioned that the oligarchs live by their own laws and that he plans "to break them," is evidence that "arbitrary persecution continues." The reemergence of a news story from 1998, regarding Putin's alleged creation of a "black list" containing economic intelligence information for future use against the so-called "oligarchs," indicates, according to Meier, that this was a long-planned policy -- "it is the hallmark of his [Putin's] years."

In response to questions, Meier discussed what the future may hold for Khodorkovsky and the oligarchs. Meier stated that the oligarchs "will fight back" against Putin, but did not speculate on the methods they might use. Meier also did not venture a guess as to whether Khodorkovsky might decide to run against Putin in the March 2004 presidential election. He did, however, acknowledge that the now-jailed oligarch might run for, and win, a seat in the State Duma or otherwise find his way into a seat of political power.