WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is making a mockery of democracy by running for a third term as president, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday.
Having already been president from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister, Putin on September 24 unveiled plans to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev, allowing the duo to continue their joint rule.
"First of all, the way that the whole thing was done makes a bit of a mockery of the electoral process," Rice said in an interview to promote "No Higher Honor," her memoir of serving as Republican former President George W. Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state.
Asked if it was a good idea for Putin to run again, Rice said "no" and sighed. "It's unfortunate."
If Putin is elected in March as universally expected, Rice said, there is a chance, and perhaps a probability, that he may try to limit dissent and centralize power more than he had during his earlier incarnation as president.
However, Rice, a Stanford University Soviet specialist before entering government, said Russia's integration into the world economy may over time limit his ability to curb civil and political liberties.
"There will be certain constraints and realities even for Vladimir Putin," she added, saying Russians have a greater sense of the wider world through travel and the Internet and may not tolerate political repression.
Putin's presidency is widely seen abroad as a period in which civil liberties and the rule of law eroded, notably in the case oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed for fraud and tax evasion in 2005 and lost his $40 billion business empire after mounting a political challenge to Putin.
Khodorkovsky remains in jail.
RISK OF 'SIGNIFICANT TURMOIL'
Asked if Putin might seek to further limit dissent if he becomes president again, Rice said: "There is certainly that risk and, you know, if you were to give odds, you would probably say that that's the case."
"If he goes that route, I think he risks significant turmoil inside Russia," she said, noting the domestic criticism of the September decision for Putin and Medvedev to swap jobs.
"I am not suggesting that he can't crack down, but I am just saying that it comes at a greater cost than one might think," she added.
If he wins the maximum two consecutive six-year terms, Putin, 59, could be president until 2024.
Putin, who has remained Russia's paramount leader as prime minister, has likened himself to former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected to the White House four times.
During the interview, Rice also touched on the climate for foreign investment in Russia, argued it was time to sanction Iran's central bank and said U.S. President Barack Obama erred in demanding Israel halt all Jewish settlement construction.
- Asked whether Exxon Mobil Corp's was right to strike an agreement to extract oil and gas from the Russian Arctic with Russia's Rosneft, Rice, a former Chevron Corp director, replied:
"I don't know enough about the deal. I don't know what assurances they did or did not get. Obviously, there are risks, right? ... because contractual relations in Russia are subject to change with political winds and that, really, is the story of several of these cases."
- Rice said there was still time for diplomacy to try to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program but called for much tougher measures such as sanctioning its central bank.
The United States suspects that Iran may be using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.
"There is time for diplomacy but it better be pretty coercive diplomacy at this point," she said, adding there were steps that could be taken without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia or China could veto more sanctions.
"It's time to back them into a corner," she added. "I know that sanctioning the central bank ... will put them in very dire circumstances but maybe that's what it takes at this point."
- Rice said Obama, who has little to show for nearly three years of trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, had erred in seeking an absolute freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.
"I think it was a mistake," she said. "By calling for the settlement freeze instead of starting where we left off, you, I think, pretty much assured that you were going to back the Palestinians into a corner because they couldn't be less Palestinian than the Americans."
She added: "(At) no place on the political spectrum can an Israeli prime minster agree to a total settlement freeze. So you had the worst of both worlds, I think."
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
South Korean ship ablaze off Russia's Chukotka, one missing
PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, November 17 (RIA Novosti)
A South Korean bulk carrier, the Oriental Angel, caught fire off Russia's Far Eastern coast early on Thursday, a regional rescue official said.
The vessel reported fire while off the Russian Far Eastern Chukotka Autonomous District at 4:40 local time [16:40 GMT Wednesday]. Its crew did not issue the distress signal.
"Flour caught fire in the ship's holds while the vessel was in the Bering Sea, near the Beringovsky urban-type settlement," the source said.
A total of 89 crew members left the vessel on rafts and were rescued by other ships in the area. The chief mate remains unaccounted for.
The Oriental Angel is currently anchored near the Cape Navarin. The ship is still on fire and stormy weather seriously hampers firefighting efforts.
In a separate incident, two vessels have responded to a signal from a Hong Kong-registered ship's distress radiobeacon off Russia's largest island of Sakhalin. The ships have so far been unable to establish contact with the Hong Kong vessel.
1 dead in S.Korean ship fire off Russian coast: Reports
MOSCOW: A sailor died when a fire broke out on a South Korean fish carrier near Russia's Far Eastern coast, prompting evacuation of 89 people, reports said on Thursday.
The ship Oriental Angel was off the coast of Chukotka in the Bering Sea when the fire broke out overnight in a compartment holding flour, RIA Novosti quoted a local water rescue official as saying.
The ship's chief mate died as he tried to battle the flames, while 89 members of its crew, including Chinese, South Korean, and Indonesian nationals, were rescued by passing boats from their rafts, he said.
The vessel is still burning about 14 miles from the shore in the bay of Anadyr, he said.
11:24 17/11/2011Glavnye news
Attorney General of Tajikistan hopes that the revision "of the case of pilots," the court may determine the minimum sentence
Dushanbe, November 17. / Correspondent. Itar-Tass Galina Gridneva /. Prosecutor General of Tajikistan Sherkhon Salimzoda believes that the verdict airline pilots' Rolkan "" unduly harsh "and hopes that in view of the prosecutor of Khatlon region of the country, the superior court verdict" below the lower limit ", below the minimum period stipulated by articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic.
This opinion was expressed today Salimzoda in an exclusive interview with a correspondent. ITAR-TASS, however, stressed that "the court in Tajikistan independent and make decisions independently."
Russian Vladimir Sadovnichy and an Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko was sentenced November 8 court of Kurgan-Tube to 8.5 years imprisonment, but pleaded not guilty on any of the articles of accusation.
Sherkhon Salimzoda explained that the prosecutor requested "commute the sentence below the lower limit, taking into account the exceptional case in exceptional circumstances."
The Attorney General did not mention the date of the appeal committee meeting, noting that "the ten-day period for consideration from the date of sentencing - November 8."
Referring to the situation directly with the company "Rolkan," then, according to Salimzoda, the criminal case against the leader Sergei Poluyanova was instituted in May under the "business drivers". "At the moment it stopped, as all investigations have been completed, and the defendant fails to appear for interrogation," - said Salimzoda. Thus, he denied reports by some media about the declaration of Sergei Poluyanova an international arrest warrant.
MOSCOW, November 17 (Itar-Tass) — The State Duma lower house of Russia’s parliament on Thursday intends to consider a draft statement “in connection with the conviction in Tajikistan of Russian citizen Vladimir Sadovnichy and our compatriot citizen of the Estonia Republic Alexei Rudenko.” The final decision on putting this issue on the agenda will be made by the lower house Council at 10:00 MSK, but the relevant committee for the CIS affairs has already recommended to adopt the draft statement at Thursday’s plenary meeting.
In the statement the MPs are going to recognise the verdict to pilots, who were sentenced to 8.5 years in prison, “unduly harsh and politicized.” “This decision was contrary to the spirit of strategic partnership between Russia and Tajikistan, which suffered damage for the sake of not well thought-out opportunistic reasons,” the document says.
The house intends to express the hope “that Tajikistan will heed the voice of reason and react quickly to the negative attitude of the Russian society to the harsh sentence handed down to pilots Vladimir Sadovnichy and Alexei Rudenko.” In Russia this verdict was met with surprise and disappointment, it has caused many questions and a very negative reaction, the lawmakers recall.
The pilots of the Rolkan airline Vladimir Sadovnichy and Alexei Rudenko were sentenced by the court of Kurgan-Tube to 8.5 years in a tight regime penal colony on charges of illegal border crossing and smuggling. The pilots of two aircraft had been arrested in Tajikistan in March. They have pleaded not guilty.
Earlier, Chairman of the State Duma’s foreign policy committee Konstantin Kosachev asked his counterparts in the parliament of Tajikistan to take under parliamentary supervision the case of the two pilots working for a Russian airline.
Kosachev said he had sent a letter to Olim Salimzoda, the chairman of international affairs committee at Tajikistan’s Majlis, in which he had voiced concern over the sentence to the pilots -- the Russian citizen Vladimir Sadovnichy and the Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko.
He asked Salimzoda to take the pilots’ case under parliamentary control and expressed the hope that “an allied relationship, partnership and mutual respect will help our two countries eliminate the aftermath of this incident and attain an early return home of Vladimir Sadovnichy and his colleague.”
The pilots working for the airline Rolkan were arrested March 12, 2011, after a forced landing in the airport of the city of Kurgan Tube.
A Tajikistani court sentenced them to 10.5 years in a high security prison but after an amnesty signed by President Emomali Rakhmon the term was slashed by two years.
Sadovnichy and Rudenko were found guilty of all the three offenses the Tajikistani law enforcement agencies had charged them with initially – an encroachment on the regulations for international flights, an unauthorized border crossing, and contraband.
The Tajikistani government has also confiscated the two Antonov-72 (NATO reporting name Coaler) transport aircraft Sadovnichy and Rudenko had been flying.
On Monday, vice chancellor of the Estonian Foreign Ministry Lauri Bambus told Itar-Tass that Estonia closely follows the situation regarding the pilots of a Russian air company – Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko and Russian citizen Vladimir Sadovnichy - convicted in Tajikistan.
“The Estonian side closely follows the situation regarding the convicted pilots and hopes that the court will promptly discuss the petition over that case,” he said. In Tallinn’s opinion, the reasons for convicting Rudenko and Sadovnichy “are not quite clear, so their remaining in detention looks unjustified,” the vice chancellor said. Bambus said the Estonian Foreign Ministry had taken a number of steps in a quest for acceptable solution of “the pilots’ case” and planned further steps that, if needed, be taken after the petition was discussed by the court. He confirmed that, whatever turn the event can take, Estonia would do its utmost to bring its citizen home. For this purpose Tallinn and Dushanbe will have to sign an appropriate arrangement on the possibility of Estonian and Tajikistani citizens convicted by the court of one of the sides to serve the punishment in the home country. A meeting of the Estonian and Tajikistani Foreign ministers is also scheduled for early December.
Meanwhile, the Tajik Court of Appeals has allowed the convicted pilots’ appeal against their sentence. The two pilots’ lawyer, Gulam Boboyev, told reporters that the defendants had appealed against the unjust and unlawful guilty verdict. The Prosecutors’ Office has also appealed against the sentence which it deems to be biased.