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)