Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Circassians Want to Move from Syria to Russia

A group of 115 Circassians (Adygs) who are citizens of Syria have written a letter to the Russian leadership and Circassian public organizations in Russia with a request to help them to return to their historical motherland. The legislative assembly of Adygei, a Russian constituency in the North Caucasus, welcomed the idea and asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian governmental bodies to assist the Syria’s Circassians. Syria’s Circassians are descendants of those who left Russia in the 19th century in the wake of the Great Caucasus War. Some 400,000 natives of North Caucasus had to flee then. Currently about 700,000 Circassians reside in Russia, while 5 to 7 mln are in Turkey. Syria hosts 100,000 to 200,000 Circassians.

Russia Accuses U.S. of Human Rights Violations

Russia's Foreign Ministry has attacked the U.S. human rights record in a report on injustice and violations around the globe. In its first-ever report on breaches of human rights abroad, Russia focused on EU nations, Canada and Georgia, but the longest section of the report highlights violations in the U.S. In particular, Moscow criticized President Barack Obama for "legalizing indefinite and extrajudicial custody and the return of court-martials." Moscow laments the ongoing operation of the "notorious" prison in Guantanomo Bay, prying into citizens' personal lives and judicial errors. Russia also slams the “extraterritorial application of American law” in the Bout and Yaroshenko cases. Russia's Foreign Ministry in the past has reacted angrily to the accusations of human rights breaches that the U.S. State Department has leveled at it in its annual reports. (document)

Russian Prosecutors Seek to Ban Hare Krishna Holy Scripture

Russian prosecutors are seeking a ban on a Hindu holy book, claiming it is extremist literature. In December, a court in Tomsk in Siberia should hold a final hearing on the book “Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is.” This is a Russian version of the ancient Hindu text translated from the annotated English edition by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Russian prosecutors say the book incites religious hatred and enmity and ask the court to ban it as extremist. If the court agrees, the book will become illegal in all of Russia. The trial has caused an uproar in India and has also sparked protests in Russia. Ahead of the final court hearing, India’s external affairs minister, S M Krishna, met with the Russian ambassador to express his concerns over the issue. The Indian ambassador to Russia, Ajai Malhotra, called the procedures in Tomsk “absurd” and “bordering on the bizarre.” The Russian Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, concurred: “Well, it seems that even the lovely city of Tomsk has its own neighborhood madmen.” Last week scores of Indian right-wing activists burnt the Russian flag in New Delhi in protest against a possible ban of the Gita. However, Russian authorities have rejected the complaints. “This is not about the book itself but about a poor translation and the preface written by the author," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich. (video)

UPDATE: Court Refuses to Hold Gita Extremist

Monday, December 26, 2011

Medvedev’s Rights Council Calls for New Elections

The Russian presidential council on human rights has called the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, to resign after considering complaints about alleged violations during the December 4 parliamentary elections. The council posted a statement on its website late night Friday, saying that its members “admit that the numerous reports of ballot box stuffing, rewriting of protocol on voting results, the removal of observers and journalists, the banning of photography and videos, and other violations of voting rights, as well as unexplained contraditions in election statistics, caused citizens to call the whole election process and results into question.” The council also said that it is necessary to ensure the speedy adoption of a new electoral law in order to conduct early parliamentary elections. However, the Central Election Commission seems to remain unimpressed. “There are no legal or judicial implications in the [Human Rights Council] decision,” said Central Election Commission member Elena Dubrovina. The council convened just hours before the start of a major rally against the results of the vote and the alleged vote-rigging in Moscow.

100,000 Muscovites Rally against Putin

Tens of thousands of demonstrators cheered opposition leaders and jeered the Kremlin in the biggest show of outrage yet against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule. The Moscow demonstration was even bigger than a similar rally two weeks ago, signaling that the protest movement ignited by the tainted Dec. 4 parliamentary election may be growing. Protest were also held in dozens of other cities and towns across Russia. Rally participants densely packed a broad avenue, which has room for nearly 100,000 people, about some 1.5 miles from the Kremlin, as the temperature dipped well below freezing. They chanted "Russia without Putin!" The police reported that 28,000 people participated in the demonstration, but rally organisers said the true number was around 120,000. The journalists of the Novaya Gazeta, who counted participants at the entrance to the demonstration site, estimate the number at 102,000. (video)

Russia Slams German Ombudsman for “Misguided” Comments

The Russian Foreign Ministry lashed out at criticism of the country’s human rights record and the state of its democracy leveled by a German government official. German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loening has lambasted the human rights situation in Russia and called for the introduction of sanctions against Russian politicians and security and law enforcement officials “responsible for human rights violations.” Loening said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been paying lip service to the rule of law throughout his presidency and called Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “the opposite of an irreproachable democrat.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Loening’s remarks were “inadmissible, overfree, and misguided.” “It is surprising that he has appropriated the right to speak on behalf of the German government and even of all Europeans, calling for direct pressure on Russia - in effect, for interference in our internal affairs,” Lukashevich said. "As Germany has officially informed us, nobody has authorized him for that," the Russian official went on to add. (document) (interview)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Medvedev Proposes Political Reform

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in his address to the newly elected State Duma (parliament) proposed a plan of political reforms. In particular, he proposed reinstating direct elections of regional governors (abolished by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, in 2004); simplifying the procedure for registering political parties; making the presidential elections next year “honest and transparent”; creating a “public” TV channel free from state influence; etc. Notably, Medvedev is coming forward with a far-reaching reform plan only months before the expiration of his presidential term, whereas in 2009, he stated, “I see no reason for us to [reinstate direct governor elections] neither now, nor in 100 years.” Newly elected State Duma speaker and former presidential administration head Sergey Naryshkin disclaimed any relation between Medvedev’s proposals and the demands for liberalization by the participants of the recent mass protests. (video)

Medvedev’s Rights Council: Khodorkovsky Verdict Must be Annulled

An advisory council to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for the second conviction against ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be overturned. The council said that there were "fundamental violations" during Khodorkovsky's second trial. “Taking into account effective means of legal support which are present in the national judicial system, it is necessary to raise with the Prosecutor General the issue of appealing the current verdict in order to annul it,” the president’s council on human rights and civil society said in a report. Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were convicted in a second trial in December 2010. The trial was widely condemned abroad as unfair. The council's decisions are non-binding, and the Russian authorities have rarely acted on the council's recommendations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Opposition Accuses Kremlin in Release of Nemtsov's Phone Conversations

Russian opposition activists are accusing the authorities of seeking to sow discord in their ranks after a pro-Kremlin website posted recordings of their telephone conversations just days before mass antigovernment protests. In the recordings, posted on the website, leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov refers to environmental campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova as "just a bitch, or else an idiot." In another recording, he disparaged protestors as "hamsters," "vegetables," and "penguins." In a statement posted on his blog, Nemtsov immediately apologized for his remarks and accused the Kremlin of masterminding their release in an effort to split the opposition ahead of antigovernment demonstrations scheduled for December 24. Chirikova quickly expressed support for Nemtsov. " Decent people do not listen to other people's conversations," she wrote on Twitter. "I hope that Boris sees those who organized and implemented this leak in the dock." Nemtsov applied to the Investigation Committee of Russia demanding the initiation of criminal procedures against those (so far unidentified) persons who tapped his phone and against LifeNews Editor-in-Chief Ashot Gabrelyanov. According to Nemtsov, their acts are punishable under the Criminal Code as a communication privacy violation.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Strasbourg Court Awards $1.6 Mln against Russia over Moscow Theater Terror Siege

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has awarded about 1.25 million Euros against the Russian government in favor of victims of the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis. On October 23, 2002 a group of terrorists belonging to the Chechen separatist movement took hostages in the “Dubrovka” theater in Moscow (also known as the “Nord-Ost” theater). For three days, 912 people were held at gunpoint in the theater’s auditorium. The terrorists refused to surrender, so in the early morning of October 26, 2002, the Russian security forces pumped an unknown gas into the main auditorium through the building’s ventilation system. When the terrorists lost consciousness under the influence of the gas, the special squad stormed the building. As a result of the operation the majority of the hostages were released (over 730 people). However, a large number of hostages were affected by the gas; 130 hostages died on the spot, in hospitals or on their way there, and some of those who survived continue to suffer serious health problems. The Court found that Russia violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“right to life”) because of the inadequate planning and conduct of the rescue operation and because of the authorities’ failure to conduct an effective investigation into the rescue operation. The Court ruled that the Russian government is to pay between 9,000 euros and 66,000 euros to each of the 64 applicants, who lost their relatives during the hostage crisis, or were themselves amongst the hostages. However, the decision by the authorities to resolve the hostage crisis by force and to use the gas was not in breach of the Convention, according to the Court. (link to document)

EU-Ukraine Pact Stalls over Tymoshenko

A Ukraine-EU summit in Kiev has focused on a possible political and trade agreement. But the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has become a spoke in the wheel. Hermann Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, says the signing of any deal depends on “political circumstances.” The European Union has strongly criticized the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko over a gas deal with Russia in 2009, calling the decision to imprison her politically motivated. “The perceived deterioration of the quality of democracy and rule of law in Ukraine has a direct impact in our Member-States, in our public at large, and in the European Parliament,” Rompuy said. Other issues, he said, include comprehensive justice reform, media freedom and freedom of assembly. In this context, the parliamentary elections to be held next year will be a litmus test, Rompuy said. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych responded to the criticism, saying Kiev would take into account all of the EU’s remarks over the “deteriorating quality of democracy in the country.” “I would like to confirm that the EU remarks will not be ignored,” he said.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Russia Gains WTO Membership

The World Trade Organization officially welcomed Russia as a member Friday, bringing the country's 18-year accession process to an end.  Russia now has 220 days to ratify official WTO documents, and will become a full-fledged member 30 days after ratification. Russia's final hurdle to membership was removed last month when it resolved its dispute with Georgia (which was blocking Russia's entry into the organization) over monitoring trade on the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Another major barrier that had long hampered Russia's accession to the WTO was intellectual property violations, with pirated software and DVDs being available in kiosks and marketplaces across the country and via the Internet.  With its accession to the WTO, Russia must combat web sites with domestically located servers that distribute content illegally and "investigate and prosecute companies that illegally distribute objects of copyright or related rights," the WTO said on its web site last month.  Medvedev promised cooperation on intellectual property and other trade issues, and lauded the country's accession to the WTO "[as] a result of long, difficult negotiations" that will be beneficial for Russia and other member states.  Among other things, Russia's entry into the WTO opens up the country's economy of almost $2 trillion to foreign companies and is widely expected to boost the country's economic growth and attract investment.

Protests Continue in Moscow

Thousands of Russians gathered in downtown Moscow at Bolotnaya Square to protest against alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary elections in Russia. The authorized rally was organized by opposition party Yabloko.

Mass Disorders in Kazakhstan Leave 15 Dead

At least 14 people have been killed in violent clashes between police and demonstrators in an oil town in western Kazakhstan on the 20th anniversary of the country's independence. Hundreds of workers who have been sacked from oilfields near Zhanaozen have been protesting since May over pay and conditions. They had occupied the main square in the town, and the trigger for the violence may have been when police moved in to clear it for the Independence Day celebrations. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared a state of emergency in the town. Later the disorders continued in the town of Shetpe, leaving one more dead. Dozens are reported wounded or arrested. The UN called on the Kazakh authorities to investigate the incident and to refrain from the excessive use of force. (video) (video)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Russian Advocates Keep Non-Commercial Status

Russian "advocates" (a small and the only regulated section of the country's lawyers) will retain their exemption from being treated as subjects of commercial activity and will therefore still be allowed rent municipal and other government property without participating in tenders.  Proposed new anti-monopoly legislation would have ended this exemption, but the Federal Chamber of Advocates convinced the drafters of the legislation to allow advocates to maintain their non-commercial status.

Proposal to End Mandatory Reading of Full Court Decisions

At a meeting of Russia's Council of Judges, the Chief Judge of the Higher Arbitrazh (Economic) Court, Anton Ivanov, expressed his support for a proposal to change the current practice of announcing court decisions by having judges read them aloud in full text in open court, which sometimes takes several days for a single decision. The proposed new procedure would reduce the burden on the courts by allowing judges to read the introduction and conclusion of a decision rather than the entire text.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Journalist Murdered in Russia’s Dagestan

Khadzhimurad Kamalov, a well-known investigative journalist and founder of political newspaper Chernovik (Rough Copy), was shot dead in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Kamalov was killed by an unknown suspect late on Thursday night in central Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. Over 70 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Dagestan is also the site of frequent militant attacks on police officers and officials. Around 50% of all terrorist attacks in Russia in 2010 occurred there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

European Parliament Calls for New Elections in Russia

The European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for new "free and fair" elections in Russia. The Parliament also called for an immediate and full investigation of all reports of fraud and intimidation in the elections held on 4 December, and characterized the recent demonstrations in Russia against election fraud as an expression of the will of the people.

Russian Journalists Protest against Intimidation

Dozens of journalists of the leading Russian media holding Kommersant published an open letter in support of their colleague Maxim Kovalsky, whom Kommersant's owner, tycoon Alisher Usmanov, fired from the position of editor-in-chief of the weekly Kommersant-Vlast' after it published an article on the recent parliamentary elections, including a photo of a ballot bearing an obscene message that the voter addressed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The journalists call the dismissal “an act of intimidation” intended to suppress criticism of Putin. (document)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Russian Media Holding Management Fired over Election Coverage

The owner of the most influential Russian media holding Kommersant, Alisher Usmanov, fired the CEO of the holding Andrey Galiev and the chief editor of the Kommerant-Vlast' weekly Maxim Kovalsky. According to Usmanov, some recently published materials violated journalism ethics and "border on hooliganism.” Although Usmanov did not specify the offending materials, apparently he referred to an article published in Kommersant-Vlast' on voting in the Russian embassy in London for the recent parliamentary elections. According to the article, the local electoral commission committed only several minor violations, including invaliding ballots for the Yabloko party because of “a message addressed personally to the Prime Minister of Russia” which one voter added to the ballot. The article carried a photo of the ballot bearing an obscene variation on “Putin, go to hell!” The caption said: "A correctly completed ballot that was found invalid." The CEO of another group entity, Kommersant Publishing House, Demian Kudriavtsev, admitted that the publication was in violation of “professional journalism standards and legislation of the Russian Federation” and submitted a voluntary resignation letter. (article; photo removed)

(photo edited)

Monday, December 12, 2011

South Ossetian President Resigns under Opposition Pressure

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, who has led the breakaway republic since 2001, announced his resignation under a deal reached with the opposition. "I am stepping down in order to fight for further consolidation of society and the strengthening of South Ossetian statehood," Kokoity announced at the government house in the capital, Tskhinvali. The resignation comes 13 days after presidential elections failed to produce a clear winner to replace Kokoity, who was not running for another term.

Putin: US Incites Russian Election Protests

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed the United States for encouraging protests over Russia's recent parliamentary election. He accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of giving "the signal" to opposition leaders, who gather thousands of people for protests. Clinton has repeatedly criticised the parliamentary vote in Russia that gave Putin's United Russia party nearly 50% of the vote amid widespread reports of fraud. Putin’s conclusions have been endorsed by Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin who stated in an article published in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta: “[D]espite the conclusions of the majority of international observers who were present at the elections and certified the democratic character of the election procedures, [Mrs. Clinton] incites a rally wave, putting in question the legitimacy of the election results.” (video)

Tens of Thousands of Russians Protest against Election Fraud

Tens of thousands of people streamed into central Moscow on Saturday to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent their anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place across the country. Some 7,000 people rallied in Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, police said. But by far the biggest show of dissent took place in Moscow, where police said around 25,000 people gathered peacefully in driving sleet at Bolotnaya Square, a short walk from the Kremlin. Organizers put the crowd at nearer to 40,000. There were no arrests, police said. Demonstrators shouted "Putin out!" and “Putin is a thief!” and also “Give us back our elections!” Unusually, all federal TV channels covered the opposition demonstration in their news. Reportedly, this was a result of a direct order of President Dmitry Medvedev (in derogation of the general prohibition on covering opposition activities). (video)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kremlin: Medvedev Did Not Publish Obscene Statement

An obscene comment slamming the Russian opposition was posted on President Dmitry Medvedev’s official Twitter account. The post was quickly deleted from the account, but not before screen shots of it were captured by Internet users and circulated widely through Russian social networks and media websites. The Presidential Press Office in a statement blamed the incident on “interference” by an administration technical employee. The post was a re-tweet from the blog of businessman and United Russia party member Konstantin Rykov posted late on Tuesday as Moscow saw a second day of protests against alleged electoral fraud by the United Russia party at last Sunday’s parliamentary polls. “If a person writes in his blog ‘The Party of Swindlers and Thieves,’ he’s just a c**ksucking moron,” Rykov said in the post that was reproduced on Medvedev’s blog. “The Party of Swindlers and Thieves” is ruling United Russia party’s nickname, popularized by well-known lawyer and political activist Alexei Navalny, who is currently serving a 15-day prison term over his role in a recent election protest. (document)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mass Protests and Mass Arrests Continue in Moscow

According to the latest police data, 569 people were detained on Tuesday in Moscow during a second evening of protests over alleged mass electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in this weekend's parliamentary polls. The demonstration, banned by the authorities, was attended by around 1,000 people and took place at the city's Triumfalnaya Square, a short distance from the Kremlin. Several well-known public figures (such as politicians Boris Nemtsov and Sergey Mitrokhin), who were arrested that night, have been released, but most other detainees remain under arrest some 12 hours after the demonstration. The rally came in the aftermath of a much larger protest on Monday, which drew up to 6,000 and saw some 300 arrested. (video)

Russia Slams US over Election Criticism

The Russian Foreign Ministry shot back at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her criticism that Russia’s elections were “neither free nor fair.” In a strongly-worded written statement, Moscow called Clinton’s words “inadmissible” and expressed its regret that “Washington is sticking to long-outdated stereotypes and continuing to pin labels, without even trying to look into what is actually happening on our electoral field.” The Ministry went on to state that US's own electoral system is “far from perfect” and “can not serve a standard of openness and fairness.” “The US executive power would better take care of analyzing the reasons of this situation [with US elections] and the ways to improve it,” recommends the anonymous “official representative of the Foreign Ministry of Russia” in the statement. (video) (document)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hundreds of Protesters Arrested in Moscow

The parliamentary election results have left opposition supporters in an angry mood. Moscow has seen crowds of up to 10,000 take to the streets; over 300 have been arrested. The demonstrators contend that the ruling United Russia party rigged the voting results. An angry crowd tried to march to the city center, but their passage was blocked by police. Some young men managed to break through the police cordon. But as the demonstrators moved deeper into the city, they were met with a heavy police presence intent on preventing the spontaneous march. Unlike earlier precedents, most of the arrested protesters have not been released after the end of the demonstration. Well-known politicians Ilya Yashin and Alexey Navalny are among the arrested. Some 12 hours after being arrested, their whereabouts are unknown and their attorneys have not been allowed to see them. (video) (video)

Yashin and Navalny sentenced to 15 days in jail each, most other detainees fined

Monday, December 5, 2011

Putin’s Party Suffers Election Blow Despite Alleged Foul Play

Russian voters dealt Vladimir Putin's ruling party a heavy blow by cutting its parliamentary majority in an election that showed growing unease with Putin's domination of the country as he prepares to reclaim the Presidency. The result marked the biggest electoral setback for Putin since he first emerged to national leadership in 1999. Putin's United Russia won about 50 percent of the vote, compared with more than 64 percent four years ago. Opposition parties say even that result is inflated by fraud. Numerous violations have been reported, including massive ballot throw-ins. Meanwhile, all major Russian independent media web sites were disabled during the whole election day because of a massive DDoS attack. (video, AFP) (violations) (video, ballot throw-in) (DDoS attack)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Russian Election Watchdog under Governmental Attack

The main independent Russian election observer group, Golos (Voice), said it has been coming under mounting government-orchestrated pressure aimed at discrediting it and its findings. Most recently, lawmakers from three major parties asked prosecutors to investigate the foreign funded body - just five days before Russians go to the polls in a crucial parliamentary vote. Deputies with the ruling United Russia party, the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), and the A Just Russia party made a formal request to the Prosecutor General’s Office to look into Golos’ payroll. Further, one of the central TV channels broadcasted a film, “Voice form Nowhere” alleging that Golos is an “agent of influence” of the U.S. and “falsifies election monitoring.” Nevertheless, Golos intends to deploy 3,000 observers during Sunday’s parliamentary elections. (video links)

NTV film

NTV reporters attack Golos' office

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Belarus Bombers Sentenced to Firing Squad

Two Belarusians convicted of carrying out a bomb attack that killed 15 people were sentenced to death with no option for appeal. Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov were found guilty of detonating an explosive device at a Minsk subway station on April 11. The blast also injured more than 200 people. The Supreme Court’s ruling is final and may not be appealed. Konovalov and Kovalyov are to be executed by firing squad. Persons sentenced to death may only appeal to the President for pardon.

Russia Backs South Ossetian Elections Annulment

Russia’s Foreign Ministry backed the annulment of presidential elections results in South Ossetia, a breakaway province of Georgia recognized by Russia as an independent state. According to the preliminary results announced by the Election Commission, former Education Minister Alla Dzhioyeva won the elections with a significant lead. However, the Moscow-backed candidate, Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, alleged “numerous violations” by Dzhioyeva’s supporters. The Supreme Court of South Ossetia promptly annulled the elections results and, in addition, banned Dzhioyeva from participating in new elections. Meanwhile, Dzhioyeva has declared herself President and has started issuing “presidential decrees.” The statement by Russia's Foreign Ministry urges “all political forces” of South Ossetia to respect “legitimate decisions of the highest authorities” (obviously meaning the Supreme Court decision rather than Dzhioyeva’s decrees).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hermitage Capital: Magnitsky Was Beaten to Death

New evidence released Monday added weight to suspicions that Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was beaten to death by prison guards in 2009 and did not die from health problems as previously claimed by the authorities. Hermitage Capital investment fund released an in-depth and documented report accusing Russian officials of false arrest, torture and pre-trial death of its auditor Sergei Magnitsky, and the subsequent cover-up by Russian officials. “Most shockingly, this report proves that nearly every high level Russian official in the law enforcement system publicly lied to cover up the fact that he was systematically denied medical care for a life threatening illness,” Hermitage Capital said in a press release. Magnitsky was arrested and jailed without trial in November 2008 and died in police custody a year later after being denied medical care. The 37-year-old lawyer had accused tax and police officials of carrying out a hefty $230-million tax scam. In November 2009, officials stated that Magnitsky had “acute pancreatitis, cholecystitis and gallstones” and should be transferred to Matrosskaya Tishina jail for “emergency hospitalization”. “Upon arrival to Matrosskaya Tishina, instead of hospitalizing him [Magnitsky], a team of 8 riot troopers placed him in an isolation cell, handcuffed him to a bed and beat him with rubber batons,” the Hermitage Capital report said. After an hour the lawyer died. (video)

Kremlin Favorite Refuses to Acknowledge Defeat in South Ossetia Elections

One day after the vote, the Supreme Court of South Ossetia has ordered the Central Election Commission to refrain from releasing official results of the second round of the presidential election. The court said results should not be announced until after it hears a complaint by Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, the Moscow-backed candidate in the runoff, about alleged electoral violations. Bibilov has charged his opponent, former Education Minister Alla Dzhioyeva, with bribing and intimidating voters. Despite the Supreme Court's order, Election Commission Chairwoman Bella Pliyeva announced preliminary results that indicate a significant lead for Dzhioyeva. With 74 of 85 polling stations counted, Dzhioyeva was reported as leading by 56.7 percent to 40 percent. The Election Commission said final results would be available in about five days. Dzhioyeva urged Bibilov to concede defeat. Georgia refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the vote, or of South Ossetia's split from Georgia -- with Russia's support -- following a conflict in the early 1990s.

South Ossetian Supreme Court Annuls Election Results

Monday, November 28, 2011

Putin Nominated for Presidency

At its recent congress, Russia’s ruling United Russia party nominated party leader, Vladimir Putin, as its presidential candidate in next year's election. The nomination seems to be only a formality because the plan to swap roles between now-President Dmitry Mededev and now-Prime Minister Putin was announced by them some two months ago. The voting bulletin for the nomination of a presidential candidate included only one name: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Although formally the voting was “secret,” in practice those party congress participants who wanted to vote against Putin would have had to openly strike his name off the bulletin. Nobody voted against Putin, though. (document)

Russia Denies Drug-Dealer-for-Pilot Swap Deal with Tajikistan

Russia’s Foreign Ministry official Maxim Peshkov refuted media reports that the Russian pilot, recently released by a Tajikistan court, was exchanged for a Tajik drug dealer, earlier convicted in Russia, who happened to be a relative of the Tajik President. Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy was sentenced by a Tajik court to 8 1/2 years in jail for smuggling, but weeks later was pardoned and released. Rustam Khukumov, a Tajik citizen, was sentenced by a Russian court to 9 1/2 years in jail for drug dealing (he was arrested with 10 kilos of heroin) in 2010. Peshkov said the Ministry has not received any requests concerning the exchange of Khukumov for Sadovnichy. Peshkov further said he did not know whether Khukumov had actually been released and called the reports that Khukumov is a relative [son-in-law’s brother] of Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon "rumours".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

YUKOS Manager Wants Parole without Guilty Plea

Platon Lebedev, jailed in the Yukos case along with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has filed a challenge in the Constitutional Court against a law that (as interpreted by courts) requires convicts to acknowledge their guilt to qualify for parole. Lebedev's parole request was thrown out this summer; the judge cited Lebedev's “lack of repentance” among the reasons for the verdict. The demand for a guilty plea goes against the constitutional right to not testify against oneself, Lebedev said in his complaint to the Constitutional Court. Lebedev and Khodorkovsky are jailed until 2016 on economic charges. Their supporters claim that the charges were fabricated for political reasons on the order of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Russia May Move Missiles to EU Borders

Russia may deploy offensive weaponry on its borders with Europe in response to a U.S.-backed European missile shield, President Dmitry Medvedev stated. Medvedev outlined a series of possible “appropriate measures” against the U.S. interceptor missiles and radars being deployed in Europe if missile defense talks between Moscow and Washington result in failure. “If the measures listed [in the statement] are not be sufficient, Russia will deploy in the west and the south of the country advanced offensive weapons systems which will target the European component of the [U.S.] missile defense network,” Medvedev said. (video)

Saakashvili Offers His Organs for Territories

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said he was ready to donate to Russian politicians any part of his body to restore Georgian integrity. “They [Russian leaders] want to hang us by some part of a body,” Saakashvili said. "I am ready to send any part of my body with great pleasure so that they return at least a part of our territories. Or, preferably, all territories.” Saakashvili obviously referred to the words of Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who in 2008 said to French President Nicolas Sarkozy “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls” (as quoted by Sarkozy’s chief adviser). The former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Georgian forces attempted to bring South Ossetia back under central control in August 2008, but were repelled by the Russian military in a 5-day Russia-Georgian war.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spokesman: Putin Not Booed

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov convened a special press conference to refute numerous media reports that Putin was “booed” during a recent mixed fight bout between Russia’s Fyodor Yemelyanenko and the US’s Jeff Monson. When the Prime Minister climbed into the ring at Moscow's Olympiisky Stadium to congratulate Yemelyanenko on his victory there was a chorus of boos and catcalls from the 20,000-strong crowd. Peskov opined that that it was a US boxer, not Putin, who had actually been booed by the audience, and Putin, in contrast, had been “cheered.” Notably, while the audience reaction was clearly heard in live broadcast, later state-controlled TV reports seem to be heavily edited to suppress the “boos.” (video links)

Tajikistan Releases Russian, Estonian Pilots

After two weeks of diplomatic and economic wrangling with Russian authorities, a court in Tajikistan freed Russian and Estonian pilots previously sentenced to eight and a half years in jail for smuggling and border violations. On November 8, Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian national, Alexei Rudenko, were arrested and jailed, after flying into southern Tajikistan last March.  Moscow said the charges were "politically motivated” and deported several hundred Tajik migrant workers, a move it denied was connected to the case. Prosecutor Azim Azimov, who earlier said the sentence was "too harsh," asked the court on Tuesday to reduce the term to two and a half years. He also suggested that the pilots be released in amnesty on December 1 because they had already spent six months in custody. The court granted the appeal.

Kalashnikov Accuses Communists of Improper Use of his Image

Famous Russian arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, 92, accused the Russian Communist Party of illegal use of his image in the electoral campaign. In the Samara Region, the communists displayed billboard posters of local State Duma communist candidate, named Leonid Kalashnikov, posing together with Mikhail Kalashnikov, and, in addition, a separate photo of Mikhail Kalashnikov holding his famous machine gun. The posters say: “Kalashnikov: The Choice of Millions” and “Vote for Kalashnikov!” It appears that Mikhail Kalashnikov indeed met Leonid Kalashnikov, but he did not agree that the communists could use his photo in their campaign. The arms designer, who is one of the founders of the ruling “United Russia” party, filed complaints to the Prosecutor Office and to the Central Electoral Commission. (poster)

Russia: US Anti-Iran Sanctions Unacceptable and Illegal

Russia’s Foreign Ministry slammed the US for new sanctions against Iran’s petrochemical and banking sectors. “The Russian Federation considers such extraterritorial measures as unacceptable and contrary to international law,” Ministry’s spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Medvedev: Russian-Georgian War Prevented NATO’s Expansion

By going to war with Georgia in 2008, Russia halted NATO's expansion eastward, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev explained on Monday. “If we had wavered in 2008, the geopolitical layout would have been different; a range of countries which the North Atlantic [Treaty Organization] tries to artificially ‘protect’ would have been within it,” Medvedev said at a meeting with military officers in Vladikavkaz in southern Russia. The former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Georgian forces attempted to bring South Ossetia back under central control in August 2008, but were repelled by the Russian military. Russia has since recognized the independence of both republics.

Friday, November 18, 2011

European Parliament Demands That Russia “End Occupation” of Georgian Territories

European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Union to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “occupied territories.” It also recommended that European institutions call on Russia “to reverse its recognition” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and “to end the occupation of those Georgian territories.” The resolution expresses concern over the terrorist attacks in Tbilisi that were said to be masterminded by a Russian military officer based in Abkhazia. The resolution calls on Georgia and Russia to cooperate in investigating those cases and also “to de-escalate rhetoric about bombings.” A day before the resolution was passed, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that the document was “very important” for Georgia. In contrast, Russia seems to remain unimpressed. “The less attention Russia pays to such hot air, the better,” commented Andrey Klimov, International Affairs Committee Chair of the Russian State Duma.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

21,000 Kosovo Serbs Seek Russian Citizenship

Citing Zlatibor Djordjevic, a spokesman for the Old Serbia movement, Serbian media reported that thousands of Kosovo Serbs have applied for Russian citizenship.  "We have handed over 21,733 Russian citizenship requests to the Russian embassy in Belgrade," Djordjevic stated. He said the requests, addressed to the Russian State Duma, will be delivered to the lower chamber of the Russian parliament via the Foreign Ministry. Djordjevic added that more Serbs may turn to Russia for protection. "By all possible means, we tried to get protection from our country [Serbia], but it pushes us back into the state which refuses to recognize [Kosovo]," Djordjevic said, adding that his supporters do not recognize any agreements reached during talks between Pristina and Belgrade, which began with an EU mediation this March in Brussels. Kosovo, a landlocked region with a population of mainly ethnic Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008. About 5 to 10 % of Kosovo's two-million residents are ethnic Serbs. Apparently, the applicants do not intend to move to Russia, but rather expect to obtain Russian protection in Kosovo where they reside. Russia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, believing, as many Serbs do, that it is legally a part of Serbia.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Increased Regulation of Russian Lawyers Proposed

Russia's Ministry of Justice has issued a draft program, "Justice," for the years 2012-2020, which calls for increasing regulation of the legal profession. The program notes that the lack of regulation of the legal profession allows lawyers to engage in corruption and other illegal activity with impunity. The program proposes that "advocates," the small portion of lawyers who are subject to a disciplinary code, be granted exclusivity or preferential status in the provision of "sigificant types" of legal services.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Judges Oppose Disciplinary Proposals

Draft legislation proposed by the Russian Ministry of Justice would allow the dismissal of judges for issuing an illegal decision reversed by a higher court. The Council of Judges has condemned the proposal as a violation of judicial independence.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Russian Government Teaches Constitutional Court a Law Lesson

In hearings in the Russian Constitutional Court in a sex discrimination case, Mikhail Barshchevksy an attorney for the government, sharply criticized the Court's “wrong practice” of closing legislative loopholes. “The presence of a loophole does not make a norm unconstitutional,” explained Barshchevksy to the Court. “The law [on the Constitutional Court] does not permit you to create new norms.” Barshchevsky believes that the Constitutional Court, upon finding a loophole, may only propose to the government and the legislature to rectify the norm. The same position was expressed in a previous case by Mikhail Krotov, the President's representative in the Court. “The Constitutional Court may not make up deficiencies in laws, substituting itself for the legislature.” Meanwhile the Constitutional Court, the highest authority in interpreting the Russian Constitution, seems to have a different opinion on the matter. “If the legislature created a loophole violating constitutional rights of citizens, then the Constitution applies directly, and the norm is to be found unconstitutional in that respect,” stated Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin. For example, in 2010 the Constitutional Court closed a loophole in civil procedure legislation authorizing courts to reconsider their judgments “on newly discovered circumstances” where the judgment is in contradiction with a new decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The outcome of the two cases under consideration will show whether the Court is ready to change its position as the government urges.

Russia to Expel 100 Tajiks over Jailed Pilot

Konstantin Romodanovsky, Russia’s top migration official, said: “The Federal Migration Service is ready to send back about 100 Tajiks who committed legal offences.” The official added that another 134 Tajiks could be deported as well for improper documents. A diplomatic source said this measure was “Russia’s asymmetric response” to a recent Tajik court decision sentencing Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy and his Estonian colleague Alexei Rudenko to eight and a half years in jail for smuggling and illegally crossing the border. Moscow called the sentence “politically motivated” and brought the Russian ambassador home for consultations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Khodorkovsky: Russia Heading towards Revolution

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former owner of oil major Yukos, answered (in writing) the questions of Echo of Moscow radio station. “We are on the verge of national suicide. We are paying a high price for the attempts to preserve the empire instead of building a constitutional state,” the disgraced tycoon said. “I’m afraid that the country could face lingering stagnation, political crisis and a revolutionary coup, hopefully bloodless,” Khodorkovsky said. “The liberal opposition's task is to protect the values of freedom and human rights in the years of stagnation and ease the consequences of revolution,” he said, adding that the opposition should become “an active and constructive part of the post-revolutionary coalition.” (full text in Russian)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Russian, Estonian Pilots Convicted in Tajikistan

A court in Tajikistan has sentenced Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian Alexei Rudenko to eight and a half years in prison each for smuggling and border violations. They had both denied the charges. The pair were detained by Tajikistan's security service in March after landing at Kurgan-Tyube airfield with two aircraft, one of which was carrying a spare engine, which the court described as a "smuggled engine." The aircraft was en route to Moscow from from Kabul, Afghanistan, where it was carrying out humanitarian relief work. After entering Tajikistan airspace, local air traffic controllers ordered the plane to return to Kabul. The pilots said they could not comply due to lack of fuel but landed at Kurgan-Tyube instead. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the sentences as "extremely severe" and "politically charged," and said the case would harm Russian-Tajik relations.

Russian Ruling Party Accused of Plagiarism

Journalists and bloggers noticed that the election campaign posters of the ruling “United Russia” party displayed in Moscow streets are almost completely copied from information posters of the Moscow Electoral Committee (a state body responsible for elections) inviting citizens to vote, but with the addition of “United Russia” party symbols. The development of the electoral information posters design was paid for from state funds. The Moscow committee has not objected to the use of its style by the ruling party. However, the Russian Communist Party, an opponent of “United Russia”, intends to complain to the Central Electoral Committee alleging a violation of the electoral laws. (photo)

United Russia poster

Electoral Committee poster

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Charges Filed Against Ukraine's Tymoshenko

A lawyer for former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said today that prosecutors have filed four new criminal charges against her. Lawyer Serhyi Vlasenko said all charges are tax-related and connected with her management of a natural gas import company in Ukraine during the 1990s. A Kyiv court in October found Tymoshenko, the most prominent leader of Ukraine's political opposition, guilty of illegally ordering the signing of a 2009 natural-gas import agreement with Russia, and sentenced her to seven years in prison. Western nations criticized Tymoshenko's jailing as politically motivated.

170,000 Muslims Pray in Moscow Streets

Tens of thousands of Muslim men knelt shoulder-to-shoulder in prayer in the freezing streets of Moscow on Sunday to celebrate the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha (known as Kurban-Bayram in Russia). Estimates of the number of Muslims living or working in the Russian capital run from 2 million to as high as 5 million, but the city only has a few mosques. Police said 170,000 people celebrated the holiday in Moscow, including 80,000 who gathered on the street outside what was once the main mosque. The 100-year-old pastel green Cathedral Mosque was torn down in September and a new mosque being built next to it is still under construction. Many of those who braved temperatures of minus 8 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) to pray on Sunday morning were migrant workers from countries in Central Asia that were once part of the Soviet Union. Russia’s Council of Muftis said that this year, for the first time, the ritual slaughter of sheep was performed at 10 slaughterhouses on the outskirts of Moscow. In past years, Muscovites have complained angrily about the killing of sheep in the courtyards of apartment buildings in the city center. (video)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Abramovich Explains “Krysha” Concept to London Court

Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich testified in London's High Court that he was not a partner of fugitive Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky in the 1990s (contrary to Berezovsky's assertion in his claim to a share in Abramovich’s assets). Rather, Abramovich testified that Berezovsky only provided krysha (criminal slang for "roof" or protection), for which Abramovich has already paid him at least hundreds of millions of dollars. Abramovich explained “krysha” in considerable detail: it was necessary to have physical protection as anyone with a business capable of generating strong cashflow was vulnerable to criminal interference, including potential violence. "My krysha relationship with Mr Berezovsky could be described as a relationship with someone who could use his political connections to solve certain problems and get compensated for his efforts. There was a lot of krysha activity in Russia at that time which was well outside the law and was little more than criminal extortion. That was how krysha worked: so long as one's protector provided the services necessary to maintain the particular business, you were expected to pay whatever he asked, whenever he asked”. Abramovich added that “the concept of krysha did not envisage the possibility to terminate the relation unilaterally.”

UPDATE (2012):
Russian Oligarch Roman Abromovich Prevails in London Lawsuit

Russia, Georgia Strike WTO Deal

A Russian negotiator announced that Russia has reached an agreement with Georgia that would clear the path for Russia to join the World Trade Organization after 18 years of delay. Maksim Medvedkov, Russia’s envoy to the talks in Geneva, said Moscow had agreed to a Swiss-mediated proposal that would allow for the monitoring of trade flow between Russia and Georgia. Medvedkov said the monitoring plan “does not depart from the framework of Russia’s principled position.” “We are pleased that Georgia supports the project, and that an agreement has finally been reached,” he said. Georgia, in turn, seems to be happy with the outcome of the negotiations. "We have always wanted to control [movement] of cargo either directly or by international monitoring. That's exactly what the World Trade Organization regulates and that's what our proposal to Russia has been. After launch of an open aggression it has of course become very complicated," Georgian Presdient Mikheil Saakashvili said a day earlier. "I want to thank you for a very difficult and thorough work you have done in this difficult negotiating process," Saakashvili told the Georgian negotiators.

Russia Slams US for Bout Verdict

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement sharply criticizing the recent guilty verdict in the case of Russian citizen Viktor Bout. Bout was convicted in a New York court of attempting to sell in Thailand heavy weapons to Columbian terror group members (who in fact appeared to be U.S. agents provocateurs). The ministry states that Bout was “illegally extradited from Thailand under unprecedented political pressure from U.S. authorities”; that “unlawful methods of physical and psychological influence” were applied to Bout “contrary to relevant rules of the international law and to the international obligations of the U.S.”; that U.S. governmental bodies “pumped up a negative background impeding the objective consideration of facts”; that Bout was subjected to “unnecessary harsh conditions of detainment clearly designed to force him to come to terms with the ‘justice’"; and that “all that calls into question the very foundations on which the charges are based and, accordingly, the validity of the judicial act.” “The Russian Foreign Ministry will continue to take all measures to ensure the legitimate rights and interests of Viktor Bout as a citizen of Russia. Our goal is to achieve his return to the Homeland,” the statement concludes. (video)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Anna Chapman Accused of Plagiarism

Russian journalists and bloggers accused ex-spy Anna Chapman of plagiarism when it was discovered that her column devoted to poet Alexander Pushkin and published by major Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda is almost entirely copied from former Presidential Administration official Oleg Matveychev’s book “Sovereignty of Spirit.” After her arrest in the US and deportation as a part of a prisoner swap in 2010, Anna Chapman has been attempting to start a career as a journalist and politician in Russia, with apparent assistance from governmental bodies. (photo)

FBI Publishes Russian Spy Videos

The FBI released the surveillance video of a decade-long FBI undercover operation that brought down Anna Chapman and the Russian spy ring operating in the United States. The videos depict Russian spies digging up payoff money in New Jersey, handing off a bag in a New York train station, passing information in furtive meetings and “brush-bys,” etc. The videos were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by journalists. (video)

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Freedom of Assembly Demonstration Dispersed in Moscow

On October 31, Moscow opposition activists held their traditional demonstration on the Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). As usual, the demonstration was banned by the authorities and dispersed by the police special forces. Several dozens of activists were arrested. (video)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Azerbaijan Airline Bans Entry for Passengers with Armenian Surnames

Sergey Gyurdzhian, a Russian citizen, was prohibited from boarding a flight of AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines) at the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow because of his Armenian ethnic origin. Gyurdzhian, the head of the export sales at AvtoVAZ, a major Russian car manufacturing company, intended to visit Azerbaijan to negotiate a contract for the supply of LADA cars. The airline employees prohibited him from boarding, explaining they have an order not to register passengers who have Armenian surnames. Gyurdzhian’s colleague, a citizen of Israel, attempted to object to what he believed was “racial discrimination;” as a result, he was denied entry, too. The incident is not unique: there are numerous reports of prohibiting Russian citizens of Armenian origin from boarding Azeri flights, entering the country upon arriving at an Azeri airport, and crossing the Azeri border on a train.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ex-Moscow Mayor Sues Kremlin Official in Libel

The former long-time mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, sued a top Kremlin official over accusations of presiding over “rampant corruption.” Presidential Administration head Sergei Naryshkin said “inefficient city management” was not the only reason behind Luzhkov’s dismissal by President Dmitry Medvedev last September. There was also an “appalling level” of bribery and corruption “fostered by Luzhkov and his aides,” Naryshkin said. “Responding to this claim, which appeared more than a year after my resignation, I am filing a lawsuit for defamation,” Luzhkov told the Izvestia newspaper. Luzhkov pointed out that “not a single Moscow government official” was prosecuted for corruption during his 18-year rule as Moscow mayor. Meanwhile, state prosecutors summoned Luzhkov for questioning over a corruption inquiry into the Bank of Moscow, Russia’s fifth largest bank, which the ex-mayor used to fund property projects. Luzhkov, who is currently abroad, believes the move is politically motivated. “We live in a sick state where the law enforcement system is itself mired in corruption and where an objective judicial system is absent,” Luzhkov said.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Russia Cancels Tallship US Visit over Legal Dispute with Hasidic Jews

The training frigate “Nadezhda” (“Hope”) refused to enter the port of San Francisco out of fear of sanctions related to the Schneerson Library case. The 12,000 books and several hundred manuscripts, collected by Belarusian rabbis, have been the subject of dispute between Russian authorities and the Hasidic movement, Chabad-Lubavitch, for two decades. In 2010, a court in Washington ruled in favor of the Hasidic movement and threatened Russia with a large fine and the seizure of property located on US territory. Russian authorities disagree with the verdict, citing the fact that the unique documents had never left the country, and the owner of the Schneerson collection did not leave any successors.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Russian “Spies” Arrested in Germany

Special police units in Germany have arrested two suspected spies who are believed to have been active for 20 years. The married couple are said to have worked for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. According to the reports, the two entered Germany via Mexico with false papers in 1990 and spent years sending coded messages to Russian Intelligence using a shortwave receiver. Russian officials greeted the reports with silence, but one foreign intelligence agent said the couple was probably a part of a retired network of spies Moscow has kept in Europe since Soviet times. "What we are talking about is not espionage activity," the unnamed Russian intelligence agent told the Izvestia daily. He added that such retirees were often used as "mailboxes" by Moscow for relaying sensitive information in special cases. "They are already retired, they have families -- and nevertheless, now and then, they transmit and receive information. Sort of like a 'mailbox' -- we do not leave them behind," the Russian agent said.,,15479857,00.html

EU Urges Georgia to Let Russia Join WTO

Announcing a deal with Russia on its bid to join the World Trade Organization, the EU trade commissioner called on Tbilisi and Moscow to resolve their WTO-related dispute soon.
"We have struck a deal on the final outstanding bilateral issues, leaving the way open for Russia to join the WTO by the end of this year," Karel De Gucht, the EU trade commissioner, said. "There is now very little time left to reach a bilateral agreement between Georgia and Russia. I call on both parties to continue their efforts to find a solution in a spirit of compromise. The EU is ready to offer whatever help is necessary to resolve the issue," he added. Georgia said the last round of the Swiss-mediated talks with Russia failed to bring any progress as Moscow was still resisting measures necessary for "full transparency of trade across the disputed borders in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia." The next round of talks are planned for early next week. Meanwhile in Moscow, Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, again suggested that there was a way for Russia to join the WTO without Georgia's green light. “Following strictly the WTO’s documents, Georgia’s position is not an obstacle. There are ways to act so that our trade obligations towards all the WTO members do not apply to Georgia,” Lavrov said in an interview with three Russian radio stations.

Russian Envoy Slams “Sadistic Triumphalism” over Gaddafi Death

Russia’s NATO envoy has written in his microblog that the Western elation over the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi could be sadistic in nature. “The faces of the leaders of ‘world democracies’ are so happy, as if they remembered how they hanged stray cats in basements in their childhoods,” Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, wrote in his twitter status. This statement apparently is a reply to the international reaction to the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed as the forces of the National Transitional Council stormed the town of Sirte.

Ukrainian President’s Visit to Brussels Cancelled over Tymoshenko Conviction

The European Union delegation in Kiev says that a trip to Brussels by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has been postponed. The delegation said that Yanukovych's visit planned for Thursday has been put off "until a later occasion when conditions would be more conducive to make progress on bilateral relations." That was a clear reference to last week's seven-year sentence handed down to former premier Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abuse of office. The EU and the United States have criticized the sentence as politically motivated.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Billionaire Media Tycoon Sued for Libel

Sergei Polonsky, a Russian property developer who was punched during a television talkshow by billionaire media tycoon Alexander Lebedev, is suing Lebedev for libel in Britain for saying that Polonsky deserved the beating.  Lebedev told Britain's BBC that Polonsky had insulted him for 90 minutes "which actually ended with direct aggression against me, with actually a threatening move." Russian prosecutors have already opened a criminal assault case against Lebedev, owner of Britain's Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers, over the incident in which Lebedev punched Polonsky in the face on prime time television.  Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the assault "hooliganism."  Lawyer Andrew Stephenson, representing Polonsky, said Lebedev had made the matter worse by giving interviews since the incident, including to British media, in which he defended his assault as a justified response to Polonsky's behavior. "Mr Lebedev seems to be saying in effect that Mr Polonsky got what he deserved. What Mr Polonsky is looking for is a full apology and compensation for the defamation," said Stephenson.

Unilever Buys Kalina for $700 M

Consumer goods giant Unilever said Friday that it had agreed to buy Russia's largest beauty products manufacturer — Yekaterinburg-based Kalina — for $700 million.  With the Kalina acquisition, Unilever, which has been operating in Russia since 1992, hopes to strengthen its local offering and enhance its presence in the promising Russian market, said the company's chief executive Paul Polman.  The Unilever deal is the latest among acquisitions by big foreign companies seeking to expand their business in the Russian domestic consumer goods market over the last couple of years.  Coca-Cola acquired local juice maker Nidan Soki in September 2010, then rival PepsiCo bought a controlling stake in Russia's biggest juice and dairy producer Wimm-Bill-Dann for $3.8 billion in December of the same year. According to a recent note from Rennaissance Capital, the trend is likely to continue in the future, with alcohol maker Synergy, sea food producer Russian Sea, drug maker Pharmstandard, as well as retailers M.Video, O'Key and X5 Retail Group being potentially interesting for foreign companies seeking to enhance local presence, the note said.

Russia may Ban Imports from Transnistria

On the heels of Kremlin statements against the extended rule of Igor Smirnov — leader of the breakaway Moldovan republic of Transnistria — Russia's consumer protection chief Gennady Onishchenko has announced a possible ban on imports of cognac from the region.  "In the near future, we will be taking a whole row of measures in regard to Transnistria. Questions have arisen in regard to the infamous KVINT cognac. We may be imposing limits on its importation," Onishchenko said Friday.  An executive at the plant, who also preferred not to be identified, told Reuters that KVINT cognac meets quality standards and that Onishchenko's allegations were "a disgrace." Onishchenko's comments came a day after Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin expressed a critical view of Smirnov's rule, and urged him not to run for a fifth term.

Moscow Ranks "Most Desirable" for Expansion in Survey of European Companies

For the second year in a row, a survey by property consultants Cushman and Wakefield has placed Moscow as the most desirable city for expansion by European companies. Tim Millard, Managing Director of Cushman & Wakefield in Russia, said the results of the survey reflect the strong growth prospects and rising consumer spending of Russia:  “Moscow remains the most attractive city for future corporate expansion in Europe and is considered more than twice as important as the second place city as a driver of future corporate growth. This is being accelerated by very strong expansion in consumer spending, with the potential for this to be leveraged up considerably due to the current low levels of penetration of consumer credit, strong growth in B2B sales and large potential in regional cities beyond the traditional powerhouses of Moscow and St Petersburg." Moscow's strong showing is likely underpinned by strong GDP growth in Russia, continued high oil and gas prices, and a strong level of foreign currency reserves as well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ukrainian Whistleblower Flees to US

Former Ukrainian security officer Major Mykola Melnichenko fled to the US because his life was in danger, his attorney stated.  From 1998-2000, during the time he served as bodyguard for former president Leonid Kuchma, Melnichenko secretly tape-recorded numerous conversations in Kuchma’s office; some of the records appeared to prove that Kuchma was involved in the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. Melnichenko was prosecuted for the disclosure of a state secret, and obtained a political asylum in the US. The prosecution was abandoned in 2005, after which Melnichenko returned to Ukraine. However, in 2011 the state secret disclosure prosecution was resumed. Ukraine’s General Prosecutor Viktor Pshonka stated that Melnichenko's escape to the US breached a written undertaking not to leave. Melnichenko denied signing any such undertaking, and vowed to sue Pshonka in libel.