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IOC: Russians can compete at Olympics, but without flag

December 06, 2017

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russian athletes will be allowed to stand on the medal podium at the Winter Olympics — just not with their anthem playing or their nation’s flag rising above them. The International Olympic Committee barred Russia and its sports leaders from the upcoming games in South Korea after its lead investigator concluded members of the Russian government concocted a doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games that “caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports.”

Not welcome in Pyeongchang next year will be any sign of the Russian Olympic Committee or any member of its sports ministry, which was responsible for what investigators concluded was a top-to-bottom scheme of “manipulation and cheating” to ensure Russians could dope at the Olympics on their home turf and not get caught.

The IOC punishment did leave room for many Russians to compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” or OAR. They would have to pass drug tests to prove they were clean and also did not benefit from the Sochi scheme.

If they win, the Olympic flag would be raised and the Olympic anthem played to honor their victories. That is, if Russian President Vladimir Putin allows them to go to the Feb. 9-25 games. He previously has said it would be humiliating for Russia to compete without its national symbols.

“An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a news conference. “Secondly, I don’t see any reason for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allow the clean athletes there to participate.”

Alexander Zhukov, the Russian Olympic Committee president who also was suspended from his IOC membership, told TV reporters in Lausanne that one key was preserving the name “Russia” in the team name. “They’ll be called Russian athletes and not some kind of neutrals … that’s very important,” Zhukov said.

If it was a victory to have the word “Russia” in the team name and invite some Russian athletes to compete, it came at a cost. The IOC also suspended the Russian Olympic Committee until at least the start of the closing ceremony in South Korea.

In an embarrassment for Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, the IOC also banned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko from the Olympics for life. Mutko heads the organizing committee of soccer’s next World Cup. As sports minister in 2014, he was deeply implicated in the Sochi doping plot by two IOC commissions and a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation.

“The IOC executive board has made its positon to the responsibility of Mr. Mutko very clear,” said Bach, who would not comment if it was appropriate for soccer’s governing body FIFA to continue working with an official who is also president of Russia’s soccer federation.

At the State Kremlin Palace on Dec. 1, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at a joint news conference with Mutko that the IOC’s decision would not affect the World Cup. That message was repeated Tuesday by FIFA in a statement which noted that its ethics and disciplinary committees could still open cases against Mutko and Russian soccer players implicated in doping cover-ups.

The IOC also imposed a fine of $15 million on the Russian Olympic Committee to pay for its two investigations into the case and toward future anti-doping work. The sanctions could be challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Any Russian athlete hoping to earn invitations to Pyeongchang will have to come through a stricter-than-usual testing regime and not have a doping violation on their record. Invitations will be decided by an IOC panel chaired by former France Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron.

The IOC also will bar Russian officials who were team leaders at Sochi, and coaches or medial staff who have been linked to doping athletes. The CEO of the Sochi Olympics, Dmitry Chernyshenko, also had his place on an Olympic panel overseeing the 2022 Beijing Winter Games withdrawn by the IOC.

Russia has repeatedly refused to accept that a state-sponsored doping program existed. Such denials helped ensure bans on its track federation and anti-doping agency have not been lifted. Instead, Russia blames Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow and Sochi testing laboratories, as a rogue employee. It wants the scientist extradited from the United States, where he is a protected witness.

The executive board reached its decision Tuesday after a scheduled 4½-hour debate when it heard from a Russian delegation that included world figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva. The delegation was led by Zhukov, who was later suspended.

Two IOC commission leaders — appointed after WADA investigator Richard McLaren upheld Rodchenkov’s doping claims in July 2016 — also reported to the Olympic board. The report by IOC-appointed investigator Samuel Schmid, the former president of Switzerland who was asked to verify an “institutional conspiracy,” included a 50-page sworn affidavit from Rodchenkov, who was also a key witness for McLaren and an IOC disciplinary commission.

The chairman of that disciplinary panel, Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald, reported about prosecuting Russian athletes implicated in cheating at Sochi. By Monday, 25 Russians had been disqualified from the Sochi Games and banned from the Olympics for life, and 11 medals were stripped. One Russian was cleared.

Russia no longer leads the Sochi medals table. Even before the IOC reallocates the stripped medals, the United States has the most total medals and Norway has the most golds. The banned Russian athletes have said they will appeal the Oswald judgments at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Any sanctions imposed by the IOC can also be challenged at CAS, and later at Switzerland’s supreme court, which can intervene if the legal process has been abused.

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Russian probe asks if czar’s 1918 killing was ritual murder

November 28, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of a Russian Orthodox Church panel looking into the 1918 killing of Russia’s last czar and his family said it is investigating whether it was a ritual murder — a statement that has angered Jewish groups.

Father Tikhon Shevkunov, the Orthodox bishop heading the panel, said after Monday’s session that “a large share of the church commission members have no doubts that the murder was ritual.” A representative of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s top state investigative agency, also said that it will conduct its own probe into the theory.

Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities, Russia’s largest Jewish group, expressed a strong concern Tuesday about the claims that he described as a “throwback to the darkest ages.”

Some Christians in medieval Europe believed that Jews murdered Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes, something which historians say has no basis in Jewish religious law or historical fact and instead reflected anti-Jewish hostility in Christian Europe.

Nicholas II, his wife and their five children were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad on July 17, 1918, in a basement room of a merchant’s house where they were held in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. The Russian Orthodox Church made them saints in 2000.

The speculation that the czar and his family were killed by the Jews for ritual purposes long has been promoted by fringe anti-Semitic groups. Gorin said his group was shocked and angered by the statements from both the bishop and the Investigative Committee, which he said sounded like a revival of the century-old “anti-Semitic myth” about the killing of the imperial family.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill attended Monday’s meeting of the church panel investigating the killing of the czar and his family. He didn’t address the issue of whether the killing was ritual, but emphasized that the church needs to find answers to all outstanding questions and “doesn’t have the right for mistakes.”

Bishop Tikhon’s words carried particular weight given his reported close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and influence within the church. The bishop elaborated on his statement Tuesday, telling the state RIA Novosti news agency that the “Bolsheviks and their allies engaged in the most unexpected and diverse ritual symbolism.” He claimed that “quite a few people involved in the execution — in Moscow or Yekaterinburg — saw the killing of the deposed Russian emperor as a special ritual of revenge” and added that Yakov Yurovsky, the organizer of the execution who was Jewish, later boasted about his “sacral historic mission.”

The conspiracy theories blaming the Jews for spearheading the Bolshevik revolution were popular among the post-revolution Russian emigres and the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, and were later picked up by some hard-line nationalists after the Soviet collapse.

While Tikhon steered clear of singling out Jews as those responsible for the killing, Gorin said that the use of the term coined by anti-Semites of all stripes was “extremely alarming.” “Bishop Tikhon’s invectives undoubtedly cast a shadow over the Russian Orthodox Church,” he said. “And a representative of the Investigative Committee talking about the same theory yesterday casts a shadow on the government as a whole.”

Gorin said he expects both the church leadership and Russian government officials to provide explanation. Lyudmila Narusova, a member of the Russian upper house of parliament and the widow of St. Petersburg’s mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, also criticized the panel’s talk about the ritual murder of the czar’s family, saying that it was fomenting ethnic strife, according to the Interfax news agency.

Putin, who served as Sobchak’s deputy in the 1990s and maintained contacts with his family, is set to attend a meeting of top Russian Orthodox Church’s hierarchs later this week. Under Putin’s rule, Russia’s Jewish community has enjoyed a revival after a wave of emigration to Israel and other countries before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Erdogan swipes at Russia, U.S. missions in Syria

NOVEMBER 13, 2017

ANKARA/SOCHI (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took swipes at U.S. and Russian interventions in Syria on Monday and said if countries truly believed a military solution was impossible, they should withdraw their troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump said in a joint statement on Saturday they would continue to fight against Islamic State in Syria, while agreeing that there was no military solution to the country’s wider, six-year-old conflict.

”I am having trouble understanding these comments,“ Erdogan told reporters before flying to Russia for talks with Putin. ”If a military solution is out of the question, then those who say this should pull their troops out.

“Then a political method should be sought in Syria, ways to head into elections should be examined… We will discuss these with Putin,” he said.

After more than four hours of talks with Putin in the southern Russian resort of Sochi, Erdogan said the two leaders had agreed to focus on a political solution to the conflict.

“We agreed that the grounds to focus on a political solution (in Syria) have been formed,” he said.

Putin said Russia would continue to work on Syria with Turkey and their efforts were yielding results: “The level of violence has definitely been reduced, favorable conditions are being created for the progression of a inter-Syrian dialogue.”

Neither leader went into more specific detail. Asked if the two discussed Erdogan’s earlier comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks were about more complex issues which could not be made public, according to RIA news agency.

Turkey has been annoyed by both Russian and U.S. missions in Syria. Before his trip to Russia, Erdogan said both Moscow, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, and Washington, which armed Syrian YPG Kurdish forces Ankara sees as allied to separatists fighting in southeastern Turkey, had set up bases.

“The United States said it would completely leave Iraq, but it didn‘t. The world is not stupid, some realities are being told differently and practiced differently,” he said.

He said the United States had 13 bases in Syria and Russia had five. The YPG has said Washington has established seven military bases in areas of northern Syria. The U.S.-led coalition says it does not discuss the location of its forces.

Russia has been a strong supporter of Assad, whose removal Erdogan has demanded, and Moscow’s military intervention two years ago helped turn the conflict in the Syrian president’s favor.

Turkish troops have also fought in Syria to halt the advance of Kurdish YPG forces along its frontier.

“We attach great importance to the joint steps Turkey and Russia will take on (the) defense industry,” Erdogan said.

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-turkey-russia/erdogan-swipes-at-russia-u-s-missions-in-syria-idUSKBN1DD1F2.

Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky dies at 55

November 23, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) — Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone known for his velvety voice, dashing looks and shock of flowing white hair, died Wednesday at a hospice near his home in London, a few years after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was 55.

Called “the Elvis of opera” and the “Siberian Express” by some, Hvorostovsky announced in June 2015 that he had been diagnosed with the tumor. He returned to New York’s Metropolitan Opera three months later to sing the Count di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and was greeted with a loud and lengthy ovation that caused him to break character. Musicians in the orchestra threw white roses during the curtain calls.

Despite his illness, he sang in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at London’s Royal Opera that December, in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” and “Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)” at the Vienna State Opera the following spring and gave his final four staged opera performances as Giorgio Germont in Verdi’s “La Traviata” in Vienna, the last on Nov. 29 last year. He announced the following month that balance issues had caused him to cancel future opera appearances.

“Dima was a truly exceptional artist — a great recitalist as well as a great opera singer, which is rare,” said soprano Renee Fleming, who teamed with Hvorostovsky for a memorable run of “Onegin” among their many performances. “His timbre, musicality, musicianship, technique, and especially his capacity for endless phrases, were second to none. I have no doubt that he would have sung beautifully for another 20 years or more, had he not been taken from us. I can’t hear Eugene Onegin, Valentin in Faust or Simon Boccanegra without longing to hear Dmitri. He brought an innate nobility and intense commitment to every role.”

Hvorostovsky made a dramatic unscheduled appearance at the Met last May for a gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company’s move to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Walking stiffly, looking thin and with his cheekbones more pronounced, Hvorostovsky received a standing ovation and lit into Rigoletto’s second-act aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata (Courtiers, vile cursed kind).” Some in the audience had tears in their eyes, and many pulled cellphones from their glittering handbags to snap photos as he walked through the lobby during intermission.

His last public concerts were on June 22 and June 23 at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria. In September, he was awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland by Russia President Vladimir Putin for contributions to the nation’s art and culture.

“Words cannot express my anguish that one of the greatest voices of our time has been silenced,” tenor Placido Domingo said. “Dmitri’s incomparably beautiful voice and peerless artistry touched the souls of millions of music lovers. His passing will be mourned by his countless admirers around the world and by those of us who were fortunate to know him.”

The Met dedicated Friday’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem to Hvorostovsky. “One of opera’s all-time greats, truly an artist for the ages,” Met General Manager Peter Gelb said. “In addition to his astounding vocal gifts, he had an electrifying stage presence and a charisma that won over both his adoring audiences and his devoted colleagues.”

The Vienna State Opera scheduled a minute of silence before Wednesday’s performance of Strauss’ “Salome.” “I especially admire the wonderful way in which he carried himself during this terrible illness,” Vienna State Opera Director Dominique Meyer said. “Dima leaves a great void behind. He will stay in our memories as an exceptional artist who always gave a hundred percent.”

Hvorostovsky was born on Oct. 16, 1962, and grew up in Krasnoyarsk, in central Siberia. He started piano lessons when he was 7, only for his first piano teacher to tell him he was untalented. At Krasnoyarsk Pedagogical School and Krasnoyarsk High School of Arts, he thrived in music, boxing and soccer. “Apart from this, I was the worst pupil in school,” he said with a straight face.

He became a soloist at the Krasnoyarsk Opera in 1986, won the Russian Glinka National Competition, then attracted attention by winning vocal contests at Toulouse, France, in 1988 and then Cardiff in 1989 — where he beat out Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel for the top prize.

With long hair that turned prematurely silver before he was 35 and then polar bear white, he was instantly recognizable. Hvorostovky’s public musical persona started with a rock ‘n’ roll band, when he was a teen-age rebel under communism.

“Ah! Freedom! So what could I do?” he remembered in a 1998 interview with The Associated Press. “I had a few options — to become a street fighter, or I could become a hero in front of my girlfriends.”

He made his Royal Opera debut in 1992 as Riccardo in Bellini’s “I Puritani” and his Met debut in 1995 as Prince Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky’s “Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades).” He was lauded around the world for definitive performances as Onegin and also celebrated for the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Valentin in Gounod’s “Faust” and Belcore in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love).”

“The sheer beauty of his voice and his matinee-idol good looks made him a favorite with any audience,” Royal Opera music director Antonio Pappano said. “The joy with which he approached performing was unique.”

Hvorostovsky is survived by his wife Florence Hvorostovsky, their son, Maxim, and daughter, Nina, and twins Alexandra and Daniel from his first marriage, to Svetlana Hvorostovsky.

Associated Press Writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Rival US and Russian resolutions defeated on Syria weapons

November 17, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Rival U.S. and Russian resolutions to extend the mandate of experts trying to determine who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria were defeated Thursday at a heated Security Council meeting that reflected the deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow.

The result of the two votes means that the expert body — the Joint Investigative Mechanism known as the JIM — will cease operations when its current mandate expires at midnight Thursday. The U.S., its allies and human rights groups called it a serious blow to efforts to hold accountable those responsible for carrying out chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

During a three-hour drama, Russia first vetoed the U.S. draft resolution which was supported by 11 of the 15 Security Council members. Bolivia joined Russia in voting “no” and China and Egypt abstained.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia withdrew the Russian resolution over Moscow’s insistence that it be voted on second not first as required under council rules. But using another council rule, Bolivia then resubmitted and called for a vote on that resolution.

It failed to receive the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption. Only Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted in favor while seven council members voted against and four abstained. Japan late Thursday proposed a 30-day extension of the JIM and the Security Council was expected to discuss it on Friday.

At the heart of the dispute was the demand by Russia, Syria’s most important ally, for major changes in the way the JIM operates and the U.S. insistence that the JIM’s current mandate and independence be preserved.

After the votes, the United States and Russia blamed each other for ending the JIM’s operations, both insisting they wanted it to continue. “To my Russian friends, the next chemical weapons attack is on your head,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said. “By not having a JIM, you are basically telling the entire world that chemical weapons are OK to use. That’s what we should be embarrassed about today.”

Russia’s Nebenzia shot back saying: “Today it became absolutely clear we need a robust professional mechanism that will help to prevent the threat of chemical terrorism in the region, and you need a puppet-like structure to manipulate public opinion — which on the basis of false information will time after time accuse the Syrian government of violating international norms.”

Those who voted against the Russian resolution put forward by Bolivia “bear the full brunt of responsibility for the cessation of the operations of the JIM,” Nebenzia said. Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015, and used sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others who survived the nerve agent.

Syria repeated its denial of using chemical weapons. The JIM has also accused the Islamic State extremist group of using mustard gas in 2015 adsnd again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo. Nebenzia accused the JIM of “fundamental flaws” in blaming President Bashar Assad’s government for the attacks.

He cited its use of “remote working methods” and failure to visit Khan Sheikhoun, “focusing solely on dubious testimony from opposition and even terrorist groups, the disregard for the whole range of rules and methods provided for under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Haley countered that Russia and its allies “want a JIM that doesn’t have independence.” “They want a JIM that doesn’t have reporting,” she said. “They want a JIM that they can micromanage, or that any member can micromanage.”

Haley noted that this was the 10th veto by Russia to support Syria. “You have to realize when a country is playing games with people’s lives,” she said. “That’s exactly what is happening here. And it’s been happening for 10 times.”

The vote took place against the backdrop of the military and political situation in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand. A new round of U.N.-hosted Syrian peace talks is scheduled to start in Geneva on Nov. 28.

Haley said: “The only thing that today has proved is that Russia cannot be trusted in the political process with Syria.” “Russia will not be a good and trusted actor because they want to control who’s at fault,” she said. “They want to control what happens. They want to control that area because they want to work with Iran and Syria to make sure that they have it all under control.”

Nebenia said Haley “betrayed what was trying to be hidden all the time, but in fact the whole thing was envisaged and invented to show that Russia should not be trusted in the Syrian political process.”

“It’s not coincidental,” he said, “because the political process in Syria is … slowly gaining momentum and Russia is very instrumental in it. And so this is the very opportune moment to tell that Russia should not play the role here.”

Nebenzia said he didn’t think Thursday’s votes would affect the Geneva talks which Russia supports.

Russia drafts legislation targeting foreign media

November 14, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers submitted legal amendments Tuesday that would allow the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents, a retaliatory move to a demand the U.S. made to a Russian TV channel.

The amendments, which are set to be voted on Wednesday, came after the Russian state-funded RT registered with the U.S. Justice Department as a foreign agent following pressure from the U.S. government.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged that RT served as a tool for the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied any interference. The amendments under consideration in Russia were proposed by lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature. Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said the revisions would give the Justice Ministry authority to register foreign media outlets as foreign agents.

Following the registration, the news outlets would be subject to requirements that already apply to foreign-funded non-governmental organization under a 2012 law on foreign agents. The law requests all groups that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activities to register as foreign agents. Critics of the law have said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against almost any non-governmental organization.

The law was approved after a slew of massive anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012. President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of instigating them. At the same time, Putin has harshly criticized the U.S. demand regarding the RT channel as an attack on freedom of speech. He said Russia would retaliate.

The amendments to cover non-Russian media outlets are on a rapid course. The State Duma is set to approve them on Wednesday. They would then go pass quickly to the upper house and then to Putin for signing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the proposed amendments would be applied. They are broadly phrased to allow the government to declare practically any foreign media outlet as a foreign agent. But Russian officials and lawmakers emphasized Tuesday that they would take a measured approach, one strictly proportionate to the U.S. action.

Leonid Levin, head of the Duma’s committee for information, emphasized that the amendments were a framework intended to provide a legal basis for government action. “It will up to the Justice Ministry to decide whom to list as foreign agents,” Levin said. “I expect the amendments to be applied strictly quid pro quo in response to the moves against Russian media.”

Andrei Klimov, the head of a panel established by the upper house of the Russian parliament to investigate alleged foreign interference in Russian affairs, also said the Russian government’s application of the foreign media rules would be selective and mirror actions by the United States.

At the same time, Klimov kept the door open for broader restrictions in the future, saying lawmakers will ponder prospective legislation to restrict foreign nationals’ involvement in Russia’s affairs.

Legislation to be drafted next year could define the status of foreigners involved in “undesirable activities” in Russia, as well as Russians engaging in “undesirable cooperation” with them, Klimov said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based independent press freedom watchdog, criticized the U.S. Department of Justice order for the RT to register as a foreign agent as a “bad idea.” “This is a shift in how the law has been applied in recent decades, so we have little information about how its reporting requirements might affect individual journalists,” CPJ North America Program Coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck said. “We’re uncomfortable with governments deciding what constitutes journalism or propaganda.”

At the same time, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Russia not to take retaliatory steps. “It’s outrageous that the Russian government, which has attacked, undermined, and stifled independent media, and failed to properly investigate the murders of leading independent journalists in the country, is now threatening measures to curtail the work of international media organizations,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

Ognianova added that while the U.S. move on RT was “ill-advised,” Russia also would be amiss “to use it as a pretext to justify punitive action.”

Communist supporters mark Bolshevik Revolution centennial

November 07, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Unlike the grand celebrations of the Soviet past, the Kremlin skirted Tuesday’s centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution — an anniversary that drew only a routine demonstration by Communist devotees.

The government’s attitude reflects both a wide split in public perception of the revolution and the Kremlin’s uneasiness about the events in 1917 that heralded more than seven decades of the Communist Party rule.

President Vladimir Putin has bemoaned the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” but he also has deplored the revolution that destroyed the Russian empire and triggered a devastating civil war that killed millions.

“Let us ask ourselves: Was it not possible to follow an evolutionary path rather than go through a revolution?” Putin said in a speech last month. “Could we not have evolved by way of gradual and consistent forward movement rather than at a cost of destroying our statehood and the ruthless fracturing of millions of human lives?”

Putin made no mention of the revolution while attending official meetings on Tuesday, a regular working day, unlike in Soviet times when it was marked as the nation’s main holiday. Putin’s ambivalence is rooted in his desire to claim the heritage of both the czarist and the Soviet empires. While he can’t denounce an event that is still revered by many of his supporters, the Russian leader disdains any uprisings and tends to see them as work of foreign spy agencies.

While the Kremlin has avoided any celebrations of the centennial, Russian state television marked the event with a slew of documentaries about the revolution and lavish biopics about revolutionary leaders.

All those productions made a particular emphasis of the alleged role by Germany in triggering the revolution by funding the Bolsheviks — the line that echoes the Kremlin’s allegations of the U.S. meddling in Russian affairs today.

Alexander Baunov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, noted that Putin appears to see a parallel between his tight controls over the Russian political scene and the czarist government’s efforts to rein in the revolutionary movement.

“He sees his punitive measure as the continuation of the inconsequent and luckless struggle of law enforcement agencies of the Russian empire against the looming collapse of the state, and hopes to do better,” Baunov wrote in a commentary.

Putin has accused the U.S. of encouraging massive demonstrations against him in Moscow in 2011-2012, and he also has blamed Washington for masterminding a series of uprisings in Middle East, North Africa and ex-Soviet republics.

“The government has a fantastic, paranoid fear of revolution, and the memory of what happened 100 years ago still hurts,” liberal politician Leonid Gozman said in his blog. The Kremlin’s reluctance to commemorate the still-polarizing event reflects deep divisions over the revolution in Russian society. A recent nationwide poll showed public opinion on whether the revolution was positive or negative for Russia was split almost evenly.

Even as the Kremlin ignored the centennial, thousands of Communist Party members and supporters marched along Moscow’s downtown Tverskaya Street carrying portraits of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

During Soviet times, Nov. 7 was a major state holiday, with huge military parades and demonstrations on Red Square. Russia stopped celebrating it after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The Communists have continued to honor the date, and the authorities allowed them to march close to the Kremlin to mark the anniversary, but kept them off Red Square.

Such marches reflect the Communists’ role as part of the token opposition in parliament that obediently toes the Kremlin line and limits itself to pro forma criticism of the government without challenging Putin’s rule.

Many Russians still see Nov. 7 as a major holiday and feel nostalgic about the Soviet past. “I feel like congratulating myself with the 100 years of my motherland,” said Lyudmila Krasitskaya. “I think that this was the time when we dreamed and the dreams came true. And we all are absolutely grateful to our Soviet motherland for a happy life that it gave to us.”

Another Moscow resident, Nina Galkina, said she’s missing the holiday on Nov. 7. “We lived this life, we took part in manifestations, we had a feeling of a holiday,” she said. In a bid to switch attention from the revolution anniversary, the authorities in recent years marked the date with a re-enactment of the Nov. 7 1941, Red Square parade that saw Red Army soldiers march directly to the front line during the Battle of Moscow in World War II.

The re-enactment featured troops in period uniforms, vintage tanks and other military gear. While Putin spoke critically about the revolution and Lenin, he has ignored demands to remove the Soviet founder’s embalmed body from its Red Square tomb for burial. Such calls have become more frequent recently, with Ramzan Kadyrov, Moscow-backed strongman leader of the province of Chechnya, joining those who called for Lenin’s burial.

Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov criticized Kadyrov for raising the issue, and Kadyrov angrily dismissed Zyuganov’s statement as a “sign of senility.”

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