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.

Kremlin Demands that Transnistrian President Go

Russia’s Presidential Administration head Sergey Naryshkin was publicly critical of the presidential election process in the unrecognized state of Transnistria. Naryshkin criticized the intention of incumbent Transnistrian President Igor Smirnov to run for the office for the fifth time. “I think this is a mistake on his part. . . . . We recommended Smirnov to unblock the way for new political forces,” Naryshkin said. The Kremlin openly backs another presidential candidate, parliament speaker Anatoly Kaminsky. Transnistria is a breakaway province of Moldova not recognized by any UN member state. Russia has not formally recognized Transnistria either, but has a military contingent there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Putin "Puzzled" by Tymoshenko Verdict

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that he does not understand why former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was found guilty and handed a seven-year prison sentence for forcing through a gas deal with Russia. He said Tymoshenko had not signed anything herself and that the agreements were concluded by the national companies in full compliance with Russian and Ukrainian laws. Putin also warned that it was “dangerous” and “counterproductive” to question existing gas agreements between Russia and Ukraine. (video)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ukraine’s Ex-Prime Minister Gets 7 Years in Jail

A Ukrainian court has found former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko guilty of abuse of office and sentenced her to seven years in prison. She was found guilty Tuesday of violating legal procedures during the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. Tymoshenko dismisses the trial as a government attempt to bar her from upcoming elections and as persecution by her arch-foe President Viltor Yanukovych.

Monday, October 10, 2011

France Demands that Turkey Recognize Armenian Genocide

If Turkey fails to recognize the Armenian Genocide, France will adopt a law criminalizing its denial, President of France Nicolas Sarkozy said while visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. (The French Parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2001, but the Senate has not yet approved the law criminalizing its denial.) In response, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated: "Those who will not be able to face their own history for having carried out colonialism for centuries, for treating foreigners as second-class people, do not have the right to teach Turkey a history lesson or call for Turkey to face its history." Armenia, supported by many historians and foreign parliaments, says 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the upheaval that accompanied World War One and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It says the events amounted to genocide. Turkey denies that the deaths of Armenians in 1915 was genocide. It says both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in large numbers as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated.

Friday, October 7, 2011

German Researcher Banned from Entering Russia

Germany's foreign ministry summoned the Russian deputy ambassador to Berlin to discuss the detention of German political scientist Hans-Henning Schröder who was ultimately refused entry to the country at a Moscow airport. "The envoy was presented with the German government's formal protest over the fact that a renowned German academic was unable to enter Russia yesterday despite the fact he had been issued a visa," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. "This is unacceptable." Schröder, 62, is the head of the research group on Russia at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. He had been invited to a conference in Moscow organised by Russia's Higher School of Economics. According to Schröder, Russian border guards detained him at the Domodedovo airport on the grounds that he poses a “security risk” for Russia. He spent a night in a cell with illegal immigrants after which had to return to Germany. Although Schröder has the reputation of “moderate” and “balanced”, he is also known for his critical comments about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Journalist Sentenced to 5 Years in Jail in Turkmenistan

A Turkmen court sentenced a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent to five years in jail. Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev went on trial for allegedly urging a relative to attempt suicide, in a case that his family says was brought in retaliation for his journalistic activities. Yazkuliyev was one of the first journalists in Turkmenistan to cover July's deadly explosions at a weapons depot at Abadan near Ashgabat. Official media initially downplayed the explosions as a minor incident. RFE/RL President Steven Korn called the case against Yazkuliyev "an outrage," noting: "This was a bogus trial and a predatory sentence that shows that Turkmenistan authorities respect no law and no standards when it comes to their treatment of the media. RFE/RL protests the sentence vigorously and calls on others in the international community to condemn it as well."

“Magnitsky List” Investigator Arrested on Bribery Charges

A police investigator implicated in the prosecution of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky has been charged with extorting a $3 million bribe. Nelli Dmitriyeva, a senior investigator with the Interior Ministry's Moscow branch, is suspected of extorting the bribe while holding an inquiry into contraband medical equipment, the Investigative Committee said in a statement. Her arrest was sanctioned by a Moscow court on a request of the investigators and over a protest of the prosecutor's office. Dmitriyeva is one of 60 officials linked to the 2009 death of Magnitsky, 37, who died in detention after being badly beaten by guards and being refused treatment for existing health problems. In court Dmitrieva has denied guilt but offered to testify against other “high-ranking officials.” (video)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Russia, China Veto UN Resolution on Syria

China and Russia have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria over its crackdown on anti-government protesters. Moscow and Beijing said the draft contained no provision against outside military intervention in Syria. US envoy to the UN Susan Rice said Washington was "outraged" by the vote. Rice, who walked out after the vote, said opposition to the resolution was a "cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people". (video)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Russian Oligarchs Clash in London Court

Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich and ex-oligarch Boris Berezovsky, now an émigré wanted in Russia on various charges, met in person in London's High Court. Berezovsky has sued Abramovich for some $5 billion, claiming that his former friend and partner "intimidated" him into selling his shares in the Russian oil company Sibneft at a fraction of their true value after Berezovsky lost his political influence. Abramovich denies that Berezovsky was ever his business partner. He says he merely "hired" Berezovsky, a key figure in President Boris Yeltsin's entourage, to provide political cover – known by the Russian word krysha (roof) – essential to any businessman wishing to survive in the 1990s. The case promises to shed light on Russia's murky privatisation program of the 1990s, during which a small group of well-connected businessmen became fantastically rich.

Monday, October 3, 2011

UK Introduces Secret Visa Sanctions against Russian Officials

According to media reports, at least 60 Russian officials implicated in the controversial death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky have been secretly banned from entering the UK by the British government. Magnitsky was working for Hermitage Capital Management, a British-based investment fund, when he exposed a tax fraud allegedly committed by police officials and worth some $200 mln (perhaps being the biggest in Russian history). After making accusations against Interior Ministry officials, Magnitsky was arrested and then died in police custody after being denied medical care. The UK visa ban, which has not been publicised for fear of doing damage to Anglo-Russian relations, follows the lead of the US, which introduced visa bans for individuals accused of involvement.

UPDATE: UK denies existence of secret visa bans