- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bad news in Russia

The U.S. ambassador in Moscow yesterday urged the Russian government to protect journalists, even as reporters probe official corruption from the Kremlin to the local city council.

Ambassador William J. Burns told the Club of Regional Journalists: “Nowhere is your voice more necessary than in battling corruption.”

Russia remains one of the most deadly places for a journalist to work. More than 40 reporters and editors have died, some in obvious murders, since 1993, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The independent organization ranked only Iraq and Algeria as more dangerous than Russia.

Many journalists investigating corruption of officials close to Russian President Vladimir Putin have been killed with impunity. The latest death of a journalist occurred last month when Vyacheslav Ifanov, a cameraman for the independent NTA television station, was found dead in his car, which was still running in his garage. Local police ruled his death a suicide, but the CPJ noted that his friends are suspicious. Mr. Ifanov was beaten by unknown assailants in January.

Mr. Burns referred to one of the most famous murders of journalists when he cited the death of Anna Politkovskaya. An outspoken critic of the war in Chechnya, she was killed last year in a contract-style execution.

Her case “caught the attention of the whole country and, indeed, the whole world,” Mr. Burns said.

He appealed to Mr. Putin’s government, saying, “One of the essential ingredients for finding solutions to Russian problems is a Russian press protected from excessive state influence and ownership, in which proponents of change can air their ideas.”

Mr. Burns added that corruption is a “much bigger problem” than it was 10 years ago, when he served at the U.S. Embassy in Russia as minister-counselor for political affairs.

Corruption, he said, “has a corrosive effect on the rule of law, crippling law enforcement and judicial independence.”

“It poisons the legal system and undermines judicial independence,” Mr. Burns said. “President Putin and other senior Russian officials have vowed to fight corruption. But it is impossible to do so effectively without an independent media and independent judiciary.”

A free press guarantees democracy by reinforcing “basic human rights and transparency of the political and economic systems,” he added.

“Only an independent press can act as a government watchdog and strengthen civil society by ensuring that a diverse range of opinions enters the public marketplace of ideas,” Mr. Burns said.

“In other words, a free press is not a luxury, but a precondition for equitable development.”

Germans build plant

Germany and Alabama are fast becoming international business partners, as German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth explained in announcing the latest project in the “Heart of Dixie.”

The ThyssenKrupp Group, based in Dusseldorf, plans to build a $3.7-billion plant to manufacture carbon steel and stainless steel to be used in appliance, automotive and precision-machinery industries in North America.

The project, located near Mobile, will generate 29,000 construction jobs and employ 2,700 when it is completed in 2010.

“ThyssenKrupp’s investment is proof of the vibrant trans-Atlantic economic relationship, which benefits citizens and economic competitiveness on both sides of the Atlantic,” the ambassador said.

He added that German firms employ 8,400 Alabama residents, accounting for nearly 12 percent of the jobs created by foreign-owned affiliates in the state. German firms in Alabama include DaimlerChrysler, which announced the sale of its U.S. automaker affiliate yesterday.

Mr. Scharioth noted that German-owned firms in the United States employ about 750,000 people and are worth more than $203 billion.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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