MOSCOW, August 17 (RIA Novosti)
Forty-Four Percent of Russians Support Pussy Riot Trial
According to opinion polls, most Russians support the “fair and unbiased” case against Pussy Riot. Analysts believe this trial, backed by the Russian government, is welcomed by the most conservative and uneducated groups.
In February, members of the punk rock band stormed the restricted altar area in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow, where they performed a “punk prayer,” dancing and chanting, “Virgin Mary, cast Putin out.” Three young women have been in jail since March. The Khamovniki Court will deliver its verdict on Friday afternoon. The prosecutor has asked for them to be sentenced to three years for “premeditated group hooliganism.” Few Russians are likely to doubt the ruling, according to the Levada Public Opinion Center.
As many as 44% of respondents said the trial was “fair and unbiased,” while only 17% said they did not believe the hearing was fair. Some 18% believe the verdict will be “ordered from the top,” while 36% said the court will deliver a “fair verdict based on the evidence of their guilt.”
According to the recent survey, Russians generally support the authorities rather than the defendants, with 41% confident that the legal process was initiated by the “outraged Orthodox Christian community.” Only 25% ticked “Patriarch Kirill’s personal revenge” or “attempt by the authorities to intimidate the opposition” as reasons for putting the female punk group through their high-profile trial. One-third of respondents said they did not know. Only a few mentioned the Kremlin, Putin or the patriarch as the initiators of this case. The most popular responses were “general Orthodox Christian public” or “the church.”
“Most people get their information from TV, which means they either know nothing or judge of events from an official perspective – that is as blasphemy and sacrilege,” said Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center. He said the survey results are only to be expected in a society which is “aggressive and immoral, and requires clear behavioral codes imposed by an authoritarian dogmatic authority.”
“The conservative majority constitutes 60% of the Russian population,” explained Leonty Byzov from the Institute of Sociology at the Russian Academy of Sciences. “These people live in a world of clichés and decorative values, where the Orthodox Church is seen as an all-encompassing good, while everything else that stems from the ‘hateful liberal minority’ or ‘the West’ is viewed as evil,” he added. It is extremely difficult to get any new message across to this majority.
The Pussy Riot case shows that the church and the government are inexorably drifting toward the “most conservative and uneducated groups,” said human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. “The educated part of Russian society, which condemns this trial outright, is up against a brainwashed majority,” he said. All this may lead to Russia turning into an “Orthodox Christian version of Iran,” he concluded.
Ukraine Could Have Supplied Arms to Armenia
Ukrainian officials have denied reports that Ukraine secretly sold arms to Armenia via Moldova, the Ukrainian media reported recently. But experts in Azerbaijan believe an attempt to make such a deal could have taken place.
“A letter describing Ukraine’s sale of arms to Armenia could be true. But Azerbaijan managed to prevent this operation,” Rasim Musabekov, Azeri MP, told reporters. “I do not doubt Ukraine sells weapons to other countries,” he said.
It was recently reported that in 2011 Ukraine secretly sold arms to Armenia. The report quoted a secret letter from Ukraine’s intelligence chief, Sergei Gmyza, to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The letter listed a Smerch rocket launch system with 12 rockets and 50 Igla surface-to-air launchers supplied by the agency Ukrspetsexport to Armenia’s DG Arms Corporation. The letter also said Armenia paid 50% of the contracted price.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry is vehemently denying the covert export of military equipment to Armenia. “The news carried by some online sources are of uncertain origin and provocative in nature,” Alexander Dikusarov, the Ministry’s press secretary, said. He was adamant that Ukraine is strictly observing its international commitments to the UN and the OSCE.
This is not the first scandal involving arms sales to Armenia. In September 2011, there was, reportedly, an aircraft from Libya that touched down in Moldova and then left with a cargo of missile systems and ammunition for Armenia. This story also mentioned Ukraine. Yerevan and Chisinau at first denied there was any military cargo or a buyer. But it all ended with apologies from Moldova’s Prime Minister Vladimir Filat to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Baku does not want arms being supplied to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area.
On the other hand, some analysts believe Russia could have fueled this scandal to drive a wedge between traditionally friendly Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
According to Ildrym Mamedly, a military expert, Russia is the leading arms exporter in the CIS, followed by Ukraine and Belarus. The other CIS countries are mainly buyers. In recent years relations between Ukraine and Russia have been unstable, and it may well be that Moscow can profit from discrediting Kiev. “But I believe that Ukraine did sell weapons to Armenia. Ukraine finds profit from buying outdated Eastern European and Soviet arms, rebuilding and then selling them to other countries,” Mamedly said.
Officials in Baku are not commenting on the reports. This is probably due to a sudden visit by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin headed for a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev straight from the airport.
No one knows what they discussed, but an official statement says: “It was emphasized that bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Russia are developing successfully in many areas, including the munitions industry.”
Political analyst Fikret Sadykhov, commenting on the visit, said: “Rogozin oversees the defense industry in the Russian government and naturally the visit will be used to discuss military and technical cooperation between the two countries.”
Smoking in restaurants, on beaches and in trains may be prohibited in Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Healthcare has proposed a tough anti-smoking bill which would ban smoking in public places and shut down smoking rooms in offices, hospitals and cafes.
The bill will be discussed around the 11th anniversary of the introduction of the law on smoking restrictions. Four years ago, Russia joined the World Health Organization's anti-smoking convention. Two years ago, Vladimir Putin signed a government strategy to promote a smoke-free society.
However, Russia remains one of the highest ranked countries in terms of smokers per capita, with 60% of men and 22% of women regular smokers (85% developed the habit before the age of 20), though according to Public Opinion Foundation data only 38%-40% of Russians smoke.
Russia is the second largest tobacco market after China (taking their population sizes into account), so it comes as no surprise that cigarette producers are opposed to the new bill to protect public health from the effects of smoking.
The bill was published for discussion on the official website of the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry last year. After being submitted to the government, the bill was rejected as incomplete. The ministries responsible for economic development, trade, industry and agriculture are concerned about negative consequences for tobacco producers. Major market players – such as Philip Morris and British American Tobacco – warn that a million small retailers could be forced to close down.
Supporters of the anti-smoking initiative point to the positive aspects for businesses of having a non-smoking workforce. The average employee spends one month smoking every year. Moreover, smoking causes long and painful health problems that can eventually be fatal, and treatment costs have to be met, often by the employer.
Introducing smoking restrictions before a total ban is currently a global trend. Last Monday, a total smoking ban in public places was put to a referendum in Switzerland. Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova promised a similar ban would be proposed to the government in October and, if successful, considered by parliament.
In its latest version, the bill will ban smoking in the following places immediately after its adoption:
- on public transport and suburban trains;
- at railway stations, bus stations, airports, ports, metro stations – essentially all transport infrastructure;
- in universities, museums, theaters and sports facilities;
- in public and government offices where smoking rooms will be removed;
- at children’s playgrounds, on beaches.
Additionally, from July 1, 2013, smoking will be banned:
- in medical facilities (outpatient clinics, hospitals etc.)
- on long-distance trains.
A total smoking ban in hospitals, restaurants, cafes and bars will be imposed from January 1, 2015.
It will also be prohibited to:
- display cigarettes in stores and at sales counters. Cigarettes for sale must be stored in opaque boxes.
- sell cigarettes in “small shops.”
The position of the Healthcare Ministry is that cigarettes should be classified as “socially dangerous goods,” along with vodka and beer.
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