Happy New Year to Old Russia

Posted on 30. December 2012

by Ivan Lavrentjev

ivan-lavrentjev-modifiedThere has always been a question: does the Russian nation belong to the bosom of the Western world in terms of culture? Most of the researchers find that it doesn’t. According to Huntington’s classification, Russia along with its satellite states presents an unique Orthodox civilization1.

Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime2 also helps us to classify Russia as an Asian, rather than a European state. Last year, thanks to the mass protests in Moscow and other Russian cities, little hope emerged that changes are about to happen. But they did, yet not in a way the liberal Kremlin opponents expected: the number of political prisoners reached to 38 individuals3, several laws limiting public demonstrations and activity by NGO have been successfully passed. Escaping motiveless prosecution, four people have moved to Estonia and gained political asylum in my home country.

But statistics show that people from Russia visit Europe and USA more actively than a couple of years before4. A rather ridiculous point in this is that most of the high Russian officials and state-related businessmen hold their savings in foreign banks, own real estate and have their children studying and living in the UK, Switzerland and USA etc.

This year several steps to help Russia’s integration to the modern world were taken. For instance, Russia joined the World Trade Organization on the 22nd of August 20125. The U.S. House of Representatives  repealed the famous Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which has been limiting the amount of bilateral trade relations between countries for 36 years6.

But a new bill was announced, which limits the ability for Russian officials to act in the U.S. and even travel there. It is called the Magnitsky Act7, named after the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison due to the violence from prison’s administration. Magnitsky was imprisoned because he exposed a common pattern by the state acquiring private businesses.

The reaction was not long in coming – State Duma came out with a so-called Dima Yakovlev Law8, banning the international adoption of Russian children by the U.S. families. Within the last two decades, about 60.000 orphans from Russia were adopted by their new American parents9. So it is easy to imagine how many of the children will lose their chance to normal life in the nearest future.

The most ironical thing about this law is that the act was signed by Putin on 28th of December 2012, which is supposed to be the day of Gregorian calendar, on which The Massacre of the Innocents conducted by Herod the Great took place.

What can we in the European Union do to support the democratisation of Russia? First, we’ve got to act more dedicatedly on the level of civil society, e.g. sharing knowledge or providing the floor for free discussions. In addition, I hope the Estonian MEP Kristiina Ojuland’s initiative10 will find wider support in the European Parliament and laws similar to Magnitsky Act will be passed at the EU level as well.

The 2013 will be rather different and not a joyful one for those who believe Russia is going to transform into a more democratic country.


1. Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations?, in “Foreign Affairs”, vol. 72, no. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 22–49.
2. Economist Intelligence Unit. Democracy Index 2011. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://www.eiu.com//public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=DemocracyIndex2011
3. Фонд помощи политзаключённым. Алфавитный список политзаключенных и преследуемых по политическим мотивам. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://www.politzeky.ru/politzeki/ves-spisok/22379.html
4. Официальный сайт Федерального агентства по туризму Министерства культуры Российской Федерации. Выезд российских граждан за рубеж. Retrieved on 30 December 2012.http://www.russiatourism.ru/rubriki/-1124140229/
5. BBC News. Russia joins World Trade Organization. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19346706
6. Embassy of the United States to Moscow, Russia. Jackson-Vanik Amendment Debate. Last section update on 16 December 2012. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://moscow.usembassy.gov/jackson-vanik.html
7. GovTrack.us. S. 1039: Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/s1039/text
8. Russia Today. Putin approves bill banning US adoptions of Russian kids. Broadcast from 28 December 2012. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://rt.com/news/putin-bill-usa-adoption-992/
9. U.S. Department of State. Statistics Intercountry Adoption. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php
10. Kristiina Ojulandi blogi. Euroopa Parlament võttis vastu Ojulandi raporti. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://www.kristiinaojuland.ee/est/uudisvoog/Euroopa-Parlament-vottis-vastu-Ojulandi-raporti