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Kremlin critic Navalny looks thin and drained after hunger strike

Reuters

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Yulia Navalnaya, wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, is seen in a courtroom before a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision that found Navalny guilty of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, in Moscow, Russia April 29, 2021. Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS A
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on screens via video link before a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision that found him guilty of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, in Moscow, Russia April 29, 2021. Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS
Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, lawyers of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, are seen in a courtroom before a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision that found Navalny guilty of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, in Moscow, Russia April 29, 2021. Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny (pictured), looking gaunt and drained after a hunger strike, denounced Russia's justice system on Thursday (29 April) as his team said he faced new criminal charges and that it was disbanding a network of regional campaign offices, write Polina Nikolskaya and Anton Zverev.

In his first appearance since declaring an end to the three-week hunger strike last week, Navalny, his head shaven, remained defiant, though a blurry video link from jail during a legal hearing in a separate case showed he had lost weight.

Rejecting accusations in the separate case of defaming a World War Two veteran, Navalny said: "I demand that people who signed signatures (against him), (and) the prosecutors be brought to criminal justice."

But after weeks of mounting pressure, his allies announced they were disbanding his network of campaign offices across Russia as a court considers whether to declare them and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) "extremist".

If the network is declared extremist, authorities will gain the legal power to hand down jail terms to activists and freeze bank accounts. The court said on Thursday it would hold its next hearing in the case on 17 May.

"Maintaining the work of Navalny's network of headquarters in its current form is impossible: it would immediately ... lead to criminal sentences for those who work in the headquarters, who collaborate with them and for those who help them," Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny's close allies, said in a YouTube video.

He said many of the offices would try to function as entirely independent regional structures led by their own leaders.

The FBK has already been partially barred from accessing its bank accounts and from organising protests and publishing media articles.

Navalny's allies also said a new criminal case had been opened against him for allegedly setting up a non-profit organisation that infringed on the rights of citizens.

Navalny, 44, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations on an earlier conviction that he says was politically motivated.

He declared his hunger strike in prison on March 31 to demand proper medical care for leg and back pain, but said on April 23 that he would start gradually ending it after getting medical care. Read more

Pressure has been mounting on him and his campaigning against political and business corruption for months.

Last year, Navalny accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind an attack on him with a nerve agent that he survived.

Russian authorities denied any involvement and questioned whether he was even poisoned but Western countries have imposed sanctions on Moscow over its treatment of Navalny.

Navalny recovered in Germany from the nerve agent attack, but was arrested on his return to Russia in January and sentenced the following month.

He has also been convicted of defamation in the separate case against him, which he denies.

EU

Putin reviews Russian military might as tensions with West soar

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin waves as he leaves after the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia June 24, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

President Vladimir Putin (pictured) reviewed Russia's traditional World War Two victory parade on Sunday (9 May), a patriotic display of raw military power that this year coincides with soaring tensions with the West.

The parade on Moscow's Red Square commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two featured over 12,000 troops andmore than 190 pieces of military hardware, including intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, and a fly-past by nearly 80 military aircraft under cloudy skies.

Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999, stood beside Soviet war veterans on a review platform set up on Red Square.

"Unfortunately there are once again attempts to deploy many things from the ideology of the Nazis, those who were obsessed with a delusional theory on their exclusiveness. And not only (by) all sorts of radicals and international terrorist groups," Putin said in what appeared to be a common denunciation of the West but what the Kremlin said was aimed at the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe.

"Russia will again and again uphold international law, but at the same time we will firmly protect national interests (and) ensure the security of our people."

This year's parade precedes parliamentary elections in September and comes at a time when Moscow's relations with the West are acutely strained over issues ranging from the conflict in Ukraine to the fate of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The United States and Russia have expelled each other's diplomats in recent months in a series of retaliatory moves and Moscow and EU member states have been involved in a similar tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute.

Sunday's parade follows a massive show of Russian military force near the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Kyiv in 2014, and an uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow said the build-up, which alarmed the West, was a training exercise in response to activity by the NATO military alliance and Ukraine. It has since ordered a withdrawal of some troops. Read more

Smaller military parades took place on Sunday in cities across Russia and in annexed Crimea, and at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria.

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Stalinism or a feat of the people?

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The Second World War ended almost 76 years ago, but the debate around this topic has not finished to this day. And, if for Russians the Great Patriotic War is a sacred and untouchable page of history, in the Western community a revisionist approach flourishes among different circles, bordering on a deliberate distortion of historical facts and real events – write Evgeny Dumalkin and Alexander Arifov.

The most “fashionable" trend in the last few years has been attempts to lay the blame for the outbreak of the 2nd World War equally on Germany and the Soviet Union, led by Stalin, who is put on a par with Hitler. 

Despite the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal, politicians from different countries publicly make statements that not only Nazi Germany, but also the leadership of the USSR was behind the outbreak of war in 1939. Stalin is accused of a "criminal collusion" with Hitler, implying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and in particular, its secret protocol.

Europe on the eve of the 2nd World War: geopolitical chaos

Another memorable date associated with the defeat of Nazism in Europe, makes us going back to the 1930s of the 20th century and once again analyzing the events that led to the most terrible war.

The regime of the Weimar Republic established in 1919, as well as the disunity of the political elite in Europe, became the fertile ground that nurtured Hitler and the national socialist regime in Germany. 

On one side was the vast and growing Soviet Union with its communist ideology. On the other hand, capitalist Europe, which tried its best to contain the USSR. 

The rise to power of the Nazis in Germany in 1933 further fueled the flames of ideological competition on the continent. The rapidly gaining strength of the political, economic and, of course, the military machine of Hitler gave a chance to establish a kind of «ram" against Moscow.

In the 1930s, the ideology of national socialism was rapidly gaining popularity in Europe - it was seen as the opposite and powerful force to communist ideas.

Such trends in politics, as well as the weakness of international institutions of cooperation - the League of Nations was almost obsolete, gradually losing any practical meaning - characterized the chaos that reigned in international relations at that time.

Hitler actively strengthened the position of Germany, including abandoning any deterrent mechanisms in military development. Britain and France actually condoned Hitler's expansionism by giving the green light to his aggressive policies. The partition of Czechoslovakia, and then its transformation into a protectorate, the Anschluss of Austria, the annexation of Danzig, and finally the Munich Treaty  - all these and many other actions of the German leadership, with the tacit consent of Europe, almost brought the continent to the brink of war. 

On this background, Stalin had his own "giveaway game" with Hitler, which resulted in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the protocol on the Europe's division.

Both sides had stroke many agreements with Hitler and were sure that he was in their hands, and would go to war wherever he was told. They acted completely synchronously. The Munich Agreement and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are two identical documents in their meaning, so it would be much wiser and more effective to admit that the Second World War was caused by the monstrously inept and short-sighted actions of both sides, but this is hardly possible to acknowledge outside of a narrow community of historians, who already understand everything.

Attempts to make adjustments to the nature and results of the 2nd World War pursue, in our opinion, quite specific political goals of an anti-Russian nature, and not the search for historical truth. It is more relevant and fair to speak out about the USSR people's feat which we are keen to depict on own families' examples.

Feat of the Soviet people

For the Soviet Union, the war with Nazi Germany was an extremely difficult, bloody test. The country has lost, according to some sources, up to 30 million people, including military and civilian casualties. More than 30% of the national heritage has been destroyed. Such damage is not comparable to what other countries, including Germany, have lost.

To this day, historians and researchers, both in Russia and abroad, argue about the tactics of the Soviet leadership, the military command and Stalin personally on the eve and during the war. Different opinions often heard that the losses were excessive. It is claimed that Stalin did not want to provoke Hitler, so there were such high losses in manpower and equipment in the first stage of the war. Other points of view are also expressed, for example, about the notorious "barrage detachments" and the famous order "no step back". 

In any case, even taking into account the miscalculations of the country's leadership and Stalin personally, the Soviet people showed incredible heroism, endurance and perseverance in the fight against German aggression. 

The words "unprecedented feat of the people" conceal incredible strength of spirit, will and devotion to the Homeland. Soviet propaganda added that soldiers used the call "For the Homeland, For Stalin". However, numerous testimonies show that people, first of all, fought for their land, homes and families. It is enough to recall the unprecedented scale of the partisan movement, which was not the case in Europe. 

One would't find a single family in the Soviet Union that has not been affected by the war. Moreover, people cherish the memory of their dead ancestors, pass this memory to their children. 

Our grandfathers told us: "War is a daily and hourly hard work. life in conditions of constant restrictions and deprivations: physical, material, moral, spiritual. There are some examples from the memories of our families' veterans:

  • To be with two children in German-occupied territory, one of whom died in his arms after picking up a child's toy, specially mined by the retreating Germans. To see how the invaders treated the Soviet people — it was not a struggle against the state of the USSR, it was a war with the people, children, women...
  • Once surrounded in the autumn, to sit for almost three days in the swamp, waiting for the Germans to remove the cordon on its banks to then reach Russian troops. Do not give up and pay for a lifetime of chronic kidney disease.
  • Fighting on the other part of the country, to come home in 1943 and personally evacuate the family from the Crimea raging in battles to Orenburg (1500 km).

There was a deep belief in victory, there was an understanding of something higher among those deaths, battles, the horrors of war, our grandfathers told us. It was a war of people who did not lose their human qualities.

A vivid confirmation of this family memory is the holding of the so-called "immortal regiments" processions in the cities of Russia and all over the world, where our compatriots live.

The war marked a sharp difference between the Nazis and the Soviet soldiers. The Nazis, driven by racial hatred and propaganda, brutally destroyed people in the occupied territories, millions of people were driven to work in Germany, were sent to concentration camps. 

The Soviet people, when the liberation of Europe from the fascists began, especially when the Red Army troops came to Germany, did not take revenge and did no evil towards the Germans.  It is enough to recall that Stalin emphasised: "The Hitlers come and go but the German people, and the German state remains."

The Soviet soldiers suffered the main hardships of the war. Of course, someone, especially in the West, can claim that the army was following Stalin's orders and the soldier was driven by fear. But the facts prove that a huge numbers of superhuman achievements and the mass scale of heroism both at the front line and in the rear, both from adults and  teenagers, were the result of the fact that the Soviet people understood and realized that they were defending not only the Homeland, but also the very fact of the future existence of themselves, their children and grandchildren.

Evgeny Dumalkin is the partner of Amaltheya Capital Partners, Moscow

Alexander Arifov is the CEO of Runa Bank, Moscow

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EU

Russia: Summoning of the Russian Ambassador to the EU

EU Reporter Correspondent

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European Commission Secretary General Ilze Juhansone and External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino jointly summoned the Ambassador of Russian Federation to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov (pictured) to condemn the decision of the Russian authorities from last Friday (30 April) to ban eight European Union nationals from entering the territory of the Russian Federation. 

Ambassador Chizhov was informed of the strong rejection and firm condemnation by the EU institutions and EU member states of this decision, which was purely politically motivated and lacks any legal justification.

Secretaries-General I. Juhansone and S. Sannino also recalled Russia's expulsion of Czech diplomats and the executive order of the Russian Federation of so called “unfriendly states”, expressing their grave concern for the cumulative impact of all these decisions on the relations between the EU and the government of the Russian Federation.

They also noted that the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response.

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