Thursday, March 31, 2011

Russian-Abkhazian Border Dispute

Abkhazian parliament’s deputy speaker, Irina Agrba, stated that Abkhazia disagrees with Russian proposals on the border delimitation between the two countries. Abkhazia wants to use as its state border the administrative border that existed in the Soviet times, while Russia reportedly claims an extra 160 square kilometers. Abkhazia is a breakaway Georgian province, recognized by Russia and several other countries as an independent state in the wake of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

Medvedev Announces Measures to Improve Investment Climate in Russia

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev unveiled a plan that is supposed to eliminate the main threats for business in Russia. According to Medvedev, the measures should put an end to three main “nightmares” for business: the growing tax burden, corruption, and administrative barriers. In particular, Medvedev proposed to decrease the rate of social payroll charges, which are currently 34%. Medvedev also ordered that the practice of appointing ministers to the boards of directors of commercial companies be ceased. “The government is trying to be a better entrepreneur than businessmen, but this will never be so,” the President said. (video)

Uzbekistan Closes Down Religious Bookstores

Uzbek security services have closed down twenty bookstores specializing in religious literature. The bookstores were located in the Kitoblar dunyosi (World of Books) book trading center in Tashkent, which was the only place allowed to sell books on religion, primarily on Islam and mainly published in Uzbekistan. Human rights groups say many people have been labeled "extremists" and jailed for peacefully practicing their religion. The government is also getting tougher on importing and disseminating religious literature. In particular, officials have confirmed around 15,000 Bibles have been confiscated in the past year.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Russian General Prosecutor’s Son Accused of Covering Illegal Casinos

According to a witness statement read out in a Serpukhov court, Artem Chaika, the son of Russia’s General prosecutor, Yuri Chaika, was involved in protecting the business of illegal casinos in the Moscow Region. Earlier, Russia’s Investigation Committee instituted criminal proceedings against the illegal casino owner and launched a probe into the activities of the regional police and prosecutors who allegedly protected the casinos. However, the Prosecutor's Office closed the criminal proceedings instituted by the Investigation Committee; the Serpukhov court found that the proceedings were closed illegally. Meanwhile, a General Prosecutor Office’s spokesperson asserted that the witness statements concerning Artem Chaika constituted “ravings” and declined further comment. (video)

Russian Ex-Judge Convicted of Organizing Murder

A court in Kazan sentenced former judge Islam Galiullin to 10 years of imprisonment after he was found guilty by a jury of organizing an assassination. In 2008, local businessman Farkhat Gimadeev approached retired federal judge Galiullin asking him to eliminate Gimadeev’s business partner, Rafail Nizamov, with whom Gimadeev had a conflict. The former judge hired two former policemen to kill Nizamov, which they did for some $13,000. Gimadeev and the two killers were also convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 9 to 13 years. (video)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oppositionists Accuse Putin of Corruption

Russian liberal opposition leaders, including ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former deputy premier Boris Nemtsov, former lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov and former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov, presented a report they called “Putin. Corruption.” The report alleges that corruption has been booming in Russia since Putin’s first presidential term (starting in 2000). Among other things, the report says that a handful of Putin's friends and relatives — all relatively obscure until the 2000s — have accumulated fortunes with the help of state companies. The opposition leaders also decried high spending on maintaining 26 state residences which, according to the report, are at the President's and the Prime Minister's disposal. (report)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Russian Major Wanted by Interpol

Interpol placed a Russian military officer, Major Yevgeny Borisov, on its wanted list for terrorism charges. The Georgian police accuse Borisov of organizing terrorist bombing attacks in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Six Georgian residents, allegedly recruited by Borisov to commit the attacks, were arrested.  Georgian authorities subsequently broadcasted one of their confessions on TV. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied involvement.

Russian Courtroom Whistleblower Resigns

Natalia Vasilieva, a judicial assistant in the Khamovnichesky Court, known as a whistleblower in the Khodorkovsky trial, resigned. Earlier Vasilieva stated in an interview that the sentencing decision in the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev case was written by someone outside the court and imposed on Judge Viktor Danilkin against his will. Danilkin categorically denied Vasilieva’s allegations. Now, according to Vasilieva, she was “given to understand” that her further work in the court is undesirable.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baltic Sea Pirates Convicted in Russia

A court in Arkhangelsk convicted six defendants, including citizens of Russia, Latvia, Estonia, and others with no known citizenship, of piracy and sentenced them to prison terms from seven to twelve years. The Maltese-flagged, Finnish-owned, Russian-crewed bulker known as “Arctic Sea” was captured in 2009 in the Baltic Sea and was later freed by the Russian Navy near Cape Verde.   All alleged pirates were detained and brought to Russia. The defendants pleaded not guilty insisting they were peaceful ecologists. Earlier two other pirates had pleaded guilty and were sentenced to five and seven years of imprisonment, respectively. (video)

Russian Hacker Sentenced for Big-Screen Porn Show

Igor Blinnikov, a resident of Novorossiysk, was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison for demonstrating a hard-core pornography film on a giant video screen installed on a central Moscow highway in January of 2010. Blinnikov managed to get access to the screen from his home computer in Novorossiysk. The surprise porn show caused a midnight traffic jam on the Moscow highway. Blinnikov was detected and charged with “illegal access to computer information” and “illegal distribution of pornographic materials.” He pleaded guilty and explained his actions were a “joke.” In February of 2010 Blinnikov was sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for possessing 13 grams of marijuana, so he should spend approximately 6 years in prison. (video, January 2010)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ukrainian Ex-President Charged over Murder

Ukraine’s General Prosecutor Office instituted criminal proceedings against former President Leonid Kuchma. “Kuchma is charged with making illegal orders resulting in murder of a journalist,” Deputy General Prosecutor Renat Kuzmin stated. In 2000, Georgi Gongadze, a journalist who sharply criticized the Ukrainian leaders in power at that time, including President Leonid Kuchma, was abducted, murdered, and decapitated. Later in 2000, Kuchma’s former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko published the audio records he secretly had made in Kuchma’s office. The records appeared to establish that Kuchma ordered the kidnap of Gongadze. The active investigation started in 2005 in the wake of the so-called “Orange Revolution.” In 2008, three police officers were convicted of Gongadze's murder. In 2010 charges were also brought against police general Alexey Pukach whose trial is pending. According to investigators, Pukach organized Gongadze's murder following orders of then Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko (who himself was found dead in 2005). Now the prosecutors have finally recognized “Melnychenko tapes” to be material evidence and have brought charges against Kuchma. (video)

UPDATE: Alan Dershowitz to represent Kuchma

Monday, March 21, 2011

Medvedev: Putin’s Statement on Libya “Inadmissible”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that it is "inadmissible" to compare the UN resolution on Libya with a medieval crusade call. Medvedev's statement obviously refers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s claim (made hours earlier) that the UN Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and measures to protect civilians was "deficient and flawed" and "reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade." Medvedev, in contrast, believes the resolution generally reflects the Russian understanding of the events. Notably, Medvedev made his statement having on a fur-trimmed leather jacket decorated with a golden double-headed eagle and the title "Supreme Commander in Chief of the Russian Armed Forces". (video; see at 5:00)

Putin Slams “Crusade” against Libya

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the recent UN resolution on Libya (Russia abstained from voting on the resolution), and also U.S. foreign policy. "The resolution is defective and flawed," Putin told workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory. "It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades." "This U.S. policy is becoming a stable trend," Putin said, recalling the U.S. air strikes on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. "Now it's Libya's turn - under the pretext of protecting civilians," the Premier said. "Where is the logic and conscience? There is neither." Putin went on to add that "the ongoing events in Libya confirm that Russia is right to strengthen her defense capabilities." (video)

Russia Refuses to Register Pirate Party

Russia’s Ministry of Justice refused to register the Pirate Party of Russia on the grounds that piracy is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code, article 272. That article defines piracy as an attack on a sea craft or a river boat. Meanwhile, the unregistered Pirate Party has the purpose of promoting free access to information and reforming the copyright and patent laws. Unregistered parties can not participate in elections or otherwise promote themselves. The “pirates” intend to challenge the Ministry decision in court. Pirate Parties are registered in some 40 countries of the world, including many EU countries.

Russian Foreign Ministry Opposes Air Strikes on Libya

“Moscow regrets the armed action taken with reference to the hastily passed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich stated. Lukashevich later went on to add that Russia calls on the international coalition “to stop non-selective use of force” in Libya. The position of the Foreign Ministry seems to be somewhat in conflict with that of the Russian presidential administration. According to unnamed sources cited by the Kommersant newspaper, the Foreign Ministry suggested a veto of the 1973 resolution, while President Dmitry Medvedev was inclined to vote for the resolution. As a result, Russia abstained. Meanwhile, President Medvedev’s spokesperson Natalia Timakova denied any inconsistency in Russia’s approach. “Our position has been consistent from the very beginning and is consistent now. We have been condemning and are condemning what Gaddafi does with civilians. We do not have differences with the West in this respect,” said Timakova. (video)

Обстрел Триполи лишил Каддафи системы ПРО

Friday, March 18, 2011

Russia Extradites Crime Boss to Georgia

Russia has extradited Gayoz Zviadadze, allegedly a mafia boss (or “thief-in-law”) known as Gia Kutaissky, to Georgia. Zviadadze had been sentenced in absentia in Georgia to ten years in prison. Zviadadze's extradition is the first example of cooperation between law enforcement bodies of the two countries since the 2008 Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia.

Russia Abstains on UN’s Libyan Resolution

Russia, together with Brazil, China, India, and Germany, abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya and approving a no-fly zone over the country.  Rather than using their veto power, Russia and China abstained, and the resolution was adopted by ten votes out of a possible fifteen. Air strikes on Libyan troops by foreign armed forces, such as French, UK, and US forces, are expected soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ukrainian Ex-Premier Investigated for Suspected Treason

Ukraine’s Supreme Rada (Parliament) created a special commission to investigate former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for possible “high treason” committed during the negotiation and signing of the natural gas supply agreement with Russia in 2009. Critics, including current Prime Miniser Mykola Azarov, call the 10-year contract “unconscionable” and accuse Tymoshenko of having a "personal interest" in concluding it. In 2010 Russia agreed to decrease the contractual gas price. Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing.

Azerbaijan Indicates Willingness to Shoot Down Aircraft Bound for Nagorno-Karabakh

Azerbaijani authorities made it clear they are prepared to shoot down civilian aircraft bound for Nagorno-Karabakh's soon to be reopened Stepanakert airport. “According to the law on aviation, it is even possible to physically destroy airplanes which are heading there,” said Arif Mammadov, director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Administration.  Nagorno-Karabakh (with its capital city of Stepanakert) is a breakaway province of Azerbaijan, de facto independent since 1991 and populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakh President’s spokesman David Babayan commented on Mammadov's comments, noting: “The international community must adequately respond to criminal statements of the kind.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Russian TV Company Loses Copyright Infringement Suit against Social Network

Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court refused to reconsider the decision of a lower court dismissing the claim of the major TV company VGTRK against the biggest Russian social network VKontakte. The claim was related to digital copies of a film uploaded to the social network site by its users. The TV company argued that the social network is obliged to take general measures to prevent such infringing uploads for which the network has all necessary technical facilities. The social network argued it is only obliged to remove the infringing content upon receiving a specific request from the copyright owner stating the address where the content is located. VKontakte won the case that may now become precedential for Russia.

Russian Municipal Official Charged with Organizing Murder Attempt

Investigators formally charged Andrey Chernyshev, a department head in the administration of Khimki, a town near Moscow, with organizing an attempt to murder Konstantin Fetisov, a local ecology activist and journalist. Allegedly, Chernyshev hired several persons to beat Fetisov who had sharply criticized the Khimki authorities. As a result of an attack by two assailants with baseball bats, Fetisov had his skull fractured and is still unable to speak or write. Chernyshev denies wrongdoing, but his alleged accomplices were arrested and have confessed. Numerous other journalists and political activists (the most well-known of whom are Mikhail Beketov and Oleg Kashin) have also ended up brutally beaten after criticizing Khimki authorities.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ex-Presidential Candidate Flees Belarus

Ales Michalevic, a candidate in recent Belarus presidential elections, fled from the country. Earlier Michalevic was arrested by the Belarus State Security (KGB) on mass riot organization charges and was released on a written undertaking not to leave. While in prison, Michalevic signed a letter asking for mercy from President Alexander Lukashenko, which the KGB published on its site. When he was released, he publicly explained the letter was penned as a result of “tortures” he was subjected to in prison. When he was called to the KGB again, Michalevic chose to flee. “I have grounds to believe that I will never go out from the KGB building again,” explained the politician in his blog.

Opposition Demonstration Dispersed in Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani opposition held two demonstrations in favor of “democratic changes” on March 11th and 12th in Baku. Both demonstrations were dispersed by the police. About 100 demonstrators were arrested, and about 20 remain jailed on disobedience charges. (video)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Controversial Charity Denies Ties to Putin

Vladimir Kiselyov, the head of the controversial “Federation” charity and formerly the head of the Federal State Enterprise “Kremlin” (responsible for organizing cultural and entertainment events in the Moscow Kremlin), stated that he did not recall ever meeting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "We lived in the same city, so maybe we took the same tram sometime," Kiselyov said. Meanwhile Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated earlier that the Prime Minister "has never hidden the fact that he knows Kiselyov." Kiselyov is under fire after it emerged that his charity failed to donate, as it was promised, any funds or equipment to assist ill children three months after a high-profile charitable concert. Putin played the piano and sang a song in English at the event, which was also attended by movie stars Gerard Depardieu, Sharon Stone and Kevin Costner. Although seats near stars' tables were reportedly offered at 1 million rubles ($35,000) each, a charity spokesperson declared no money was collected during the event. (video)

Russia Introduces Sanctions against Libya

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree implementing UN Security Council sanctions against Libya. The decree prohibits the supply of all kinds of weapons to Libya. It has been estimated that the sanctions may cost Russia up to $4 billion in lost weapons supply contracts.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Russian Ex-Judge to Sue Bloggers for Ruining Her Career

Irina Levandovskaya, a dismissed Russian federal judge in Ulan-Ude, intends to sue bloggers and web sites for distributing her private photographs on the Internet. Levandovskaya published the photos, which showed her kissing a bottle of vodka, on her personal page on the social network Vkontakte, apparently believing the page was accessible only to friends. Bloggers and mass media republished the photos with mocking comments. Levandovskaya was fired for violating professional ethics and is demanding some $7,000 in compensation for moral harm and injury to her personal and professional life. (photo) (video)

Moscow Court Bans Ministry of Justice Journal

A third-instance economic court in Moscow prohibited the publication and distribution of the journal “Chelovek i Zakon” (Man and Law), which is published by the Ministry of Justice, because of an intellectual property dispute with a TV program bearing the same name. The journal has been published uninterruptedly since 1971. The program has been broadcasted since 1998. In 2002, the program owners registered the trademark “Chelovek i Zakon,” and in 2009, they sued the journal for trademark infringement. After protracted proceedings, courts in three instances have held for the plaintiff.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Convicted Belarusian Customs Inspectors Appeal to UN Human Rights Committee

Twenty-two former Belarusian customs inspectors have filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. They claim that they were denied a fair trial when they were convicted in 2004 -2005 for corruption and that they were unable to obtain relief in the Belarus higher courts.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Musicians, Actors, Writers Supporting Opposition Banned from Mass Media in Belarus

Major radio stations, newspapers, and other mass media in Belarus have received an informal list of musicians, actors, and writers who should be banned from mass media. All those who were listed have supposedly expressed their support for the Belarusian political opposition. Although the list is unsigned, it is generally understood that the list came from the Government of Belarusian authoritarian leader Lukashenko. Primarily Belarusian and Russian names are on the list, but some world-renowned rock groups, such as “Pet Shop Boys,” have also been included.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Citizen's Guide to Russia's New Police Law

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has issued a citizens' guide to the new police law, which came into effect March 1, 2011. This professionally-produced and illustrated document appears to be designed for citizens and police officers alike and explains in plain language the rights and duties in an encounter with law enforcement. The document manages to be highly informative while being easy to understand and is a highly recommended read. (English summary from (Original document in Russian)

London Tribunal Seizes Bank of Moscow Shares

A London arbitration tribunal has seized a minority stake in the Bank of Moscow, creating a potential obstacle to Russian's No.2 bank, VTB, as it attempts to buy the company. VTB wants to increase its Bank of Moscow stake to 100 percent despite strong resistance from its management, and it has also agreed to buy 3.88 percent from Goldman Sachs to gain control. A commercial arbitration court in London, however, seized Goldman Sachs' stake after a company tied to Bank of Moscow's president and major shareholder, Andrei Borodin, filed a complaint. The apparent basis for the complaint is that Goldman Sachs had to offer its stake to Bank of Moscow first.

“Putin’s Palace” Sold

Russian businessman, Alexander Ponomarenko, announced that he had bought from another Russian businessman, Nikolay Shamalov, the property near Gelendzhik known as “Putin’s Palace.” Recently, Sergey Kolesnikov, who is a former business partner of Shamalov and is living abroad, published an open letter stating that the property, estimated to be worth $1 bln, is beneficially owned by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and that Shamalov was only a nominal owner. Putin’s spokesperson categorically denied that Putin has any connection to the palace. In an interview with Kommersant newspaper, Kolesnikov commented that the change of title holder does not address the questions related to the beneficiary of the property or the use of government funds for construction of the palace.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prosecutors Invoke Privilege against Self-Incrimination

Russia’s Investigation Committee, which is investigating illegal casinos in the Moscow Region, as well as the local police and prosecutors who had jurisdiction over the illegal casinos, called for interrogations of the officers of the Moscow Region Prosecutor's Office, whose vacations abroad have been paid for by the casino ring owner. The Deputy Prosecutor of the Moscow Region failed to appear for questioning, and the other prosecutors refused to testify, invoking the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. Meanwhile, the Moscow Region Court denied requests by regional prosecutors to release the alleged casino owner, Ivan Nazarov, on bail.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Russian Police Rebranded

A new Russian law “On the Police” went into effect on March 1, 2011. Among other things, the law changes the Russian word for the police from “militsia” to “politsia,” which was used before 1917. After the Bolshevik revolution, the new law enforcement bodies were named “militsia” to emphasize their (supposedly) popular nature and the difference from the Czarist police. Critics say that the police reform, initiated by President Dmitry Medvedev, is insufficiently far-reaching, and that the new name has negative connotations in Russian.