Putin Spoke and a University Got Shut Down

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In response to "European University in St. Pete Shut Down" by Alexander Osipovich on Feb. 12 and "Institute to Delve Into U.S. Democracy" by Alexander Osipovich on Jan. 14.

Editor,
The initial impulse for creating the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York and Paris came from President Vladimir Putin's comments at a Russia-EU summit in Portugal in 2007. In his comments, Putin said EU-funded support for democracy in Russia should be matched by Russia in Europe and elsewhere. In explaining these comments, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Putin was specifically referring to the European University at St. Petersburg, which received a EU grant to implement a project on election monitoring in Russia.

As a director of this project, the Inter-Regional Electoral Network of Assistance, or IRENA, I would like to draw attention to the following facts. Starting in June 2007, the IRENA project has experienced continuous harassment from the authorities. After a series of inspections that did not prove anything illegal in its project-related activities, the authorities attacked the recipient of the grant, the European University at St. Petersburg. Last month, the university was closed by the authorities on the ridiculous pretext of "fire safety violations." Soon after that, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation started to operate in Paris and New York.

Grigory Golosov
St. Petersburg



No War Over Visas

In response to "Visa Conflict May Backfire Against Elite," a column by Georgy Bovt on Feb. 28.

Editor,


Your readers will form their own views on this complex subject. But I would like to clarify two points.

First, as far as Britain is concerned, there is no "visa war." It is correct that Britain's visa regulations for Russian officials were adjusted in July 2007 to precisely mirror those already in place for British officials wanting to visit Russia. But the visa regime for ordinary Russians remains unaffected.

We would not normally comment on specific cases. But the suggestion that, as part of this "visa war," we refused visas for Russian officials to attend the Russian Winter Festival in London is not correct. Our visa staff worked long and hard to ensure that Russians traveling to the winter festival got their visas on time -- even in cases where applications were late, inaccurate or incomplete. In a few cases, incomplete applications were submitted that we could not process. We invited the officials concerned to reapply at their convenience and free of charge, but they chose not to do so. But by all accounts the Russian Winter Festival was a great success, and we welcome that.

Britain welcomes genuine visitors, students, businesspeople and other travelers. To make travel to Britain both easier and safer, we have recently brought two new worldwide initiatives -- online visa applications, and biometric data collection -- to Russia. These initiatives, which other countries are set to follow, will help to prevent form-filling errors and will enable us to provide a more secure, more efficient visa service for those wishing to visit Britain.

James Barbour
Press secretary British Embassy
Moscow



Assessing Elections

In response to "Complaints of Fraud, Bribery and Pressure" by Nabi Abdullaev on March 3.

Editor,


On election day last Sunday, I accompanied a couple of my friends to a voting station near their home. It was quiet and orderly. Some of my friends wanted to vote for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, others wanted to vote for other candidates. Nobody tried to force them. They made their decisions by themselves.

Dmitry Medvedev won merely because President Vladimir Putin's government has done a good job for most Russians. Even though some things can be criticized, many people have started to enjoy prosperity and hope for a good future, and they voted for stability.

I know what I am talking about. As a mathematics professor from China, I have lived in Russia for two to three months every year since 2000. I also have lived 15 years in the United States, teaching at Rutgers University and the University of Michigan.

Yi Zhang
St.Petersburg



Editor,

There is little or no choice in the presidential election in the United States. All of the candidates have been bought and paid for by lobbyists on K Street, where most of the powerful lobbying groups are located in Washington.

Washington is a revolving door in that those who are out of power bide their time on K Street, lobbying their former colleagues. This leads to the kind of corruption that the Western media like to claim is unique only to Russia.

So the next time you hear someone speak wistfully of U.S. democracy and competitive elections where the people have a real choice, just turn away and tell them they are crazy.

Robert Hatzakorzian
Cherry Hill, New Jersey



State's Strategic Rights

Editor,

I think Russia must keep control of its own resources, never allowing any multinational company to have a say in the development of its oil or gas. Any criticism of Russian policy in the Western newspapers is influenced by these multinational companies, which want control of Russia's vast resources to obtain a worldwide monopoly of the energy sector.

In the West, we are now seeing the unacceptable face of extreme capitalism, which is just as evil as communism. The world needs a strong and confident independent Russia.

Kenneth Smith
Belfast, Northern Ireland



Spinning an Assassination

In response to "Rossia Should Bite the Bullet and Apologize," an editorial on Feb. 28.

Editor,


Maybe Rossia television anchor Konstantin Syomin got the idea to praise the assassination of former Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on his nightly news program from U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson, who in August 2005 on his "700 Club" show called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Here in the United States, they thought it was a good idea.

Eugene Nasarewsky
New York