Friday, December 28, 2012

Putin Signs Anti-Magnitsky Act into Force

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed into law controversial parliamentary legislation banning the adoption of Russian children by American families. The law also introduces visa and financial sanctions against foreigners "committing crimes against Russian citizens" and bans the activity of Russian NGOs financed from the US or headed by Americans. The law -- retaliation for a US law punishing Russian officials implicated in the 2009 prison death of the whistle-blowing attorney Sergei Magnitsky -- will come into force on January 1, the Kremlin said. The highly contentious law is widely regarded as the toughest piece of anti-US legislation during Putin's 13-year rule and has prompted objections not just from activists but even some cabinet ministers.

Russian Police Publishes Manga Comic

Japanese graphic arts are about the last thing that Russian police is associated with, but in a sudden bid to be hip, the force put out an instruction on how to avoid fires and pedophiles done manga-style. The instructional manual, available on the Interior Ministry’s website since Thursday, contains 24 pages of advice, as well as games for preschoolers. The book covers some pretty tense situations, including on how to spray an attacker with aerosol should a can be at hand and how to arrange clothes when walking down a dark alley (jewelry should be removed and the skirt hitched down). Emergency numbers and guidelines on how to cross the street are also included.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

US: Russian Anti-US-Adoption Bill "Misguided"

The State Department is criticizing an effort by Russian lawmakers to halt adoptions of Russian children by American parents. Russia’s Parliament has approved a bill to ban Americans from adopting Russian children, and President Vladimir Putin has indicated he will sign the measure. It’s seen as retaliation for U.S. sanctions against human rights violations in Russia, which were included in a wide-ranging trade bill recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell says the U.S. regrets that Parliament approved the adoption ban, instead of embracing an agreement the two countries reached last month.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Russia Slams US Opposition to UN Anti-Nazi Resolution

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday criticized the United States’ refusal to back the Russian-proposed UN resolution against the "glorification of Nazism." The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on Thursday. A total of 130 countries approved the document, while the US, Canada, and Palau voted against it and another 54 countries, including the Baltic States, abstained. "We are highly perplexed and regret the fact that the US, Canada and Palau voted against this document, while the delegations of EU member states abstained during the vote on the resolution, which was backed by the overwhelming majority of UN member states," the ministry said. The resolution condemns the construction of memorials in honor of former Nazis and Waffen-SS soldiers and the holding of public pro-Nazi demonstrations. This apparently refers to the practices of some post-Soviet countries, such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In fact, the UN adopts similar resolutions every year since 2006 – and every year, some countries refuse to support these resolutions. UN General Assembly resolutions are not obligatory for UN members.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Russian Duma Adopts Anti-Magnitsky Act

The Russian State Duma (parliament's lower chamber) approved in the final reading the law intended to be a response to the US Magnitsky Act. The bill introduces visa and financial sanctions against foreigners "committing crimes against Russian citizens." In addition, the bill bans the activity of Russian NGOs financed from the US. Finally, the bill bans the adoption of Russian children by US citizens. The latter measure has been subject to especially sharp criticism in Russia, not only by the general public but also by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov. President Vladimir Putin, however, supported the adoption ban during a recent press-conference. To enter into force, the law must be approved by the Federation Council (the upper chamber) and signed by President.

Navalny Charged with Fraud, Money Laundering

Investigators in Russia have formally charged leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg with fraud and money-laundering. The charges were published on Thursday on the website of the Investigative Committee. The brothers are accused of stealing 55 mln roubles ($1.8 mln) in 2008-11 while working in a postal business. The amount is the three year turnover of their mail delivery company. The investigators say that the delivery was "in fact carried out" by a subcontractor of the brothers' company, and  the "real price" of the services was 31 mln roubles. Reacting to news of the inquiry last week, Mr Navalny described the charges as "complete nonsense". Alexei Navalny, a lawyer known for his campaigning against corruption, spearheaded protests against the Kremlin a year ago after disputed parliamentary elections. In October, he came in first in a leadership ballot organised by Russia's opposition parties. The charges of fraud and money-laundering carry fines or prison sentences of two and three years respectively. 

Court Reduces Khodorkovsky Sentence by 2 Years

The Moscow City Court has announced a two-year reduction in the prison sentences for former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev. On December 20, the court cited changes in Russian laws on economic crimes. Both were convicted of evading taxes and for stealing oil from the Yukos oil company and laundering the proceeds. The decision means both could be released in 2014.

Putin Offers Depardieu Russian Citizenship

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that legendary French actor Gerard Depardieu, who recently renounced his French citizenship, can count on getting a Russian passport if he wants one. Le Monde quoted the actor, who has recently settled in the Belgian border town of Nechin, as saying on Wednesday that three countries have already offered him citizenship: Belgium, Montenegro and Russia. “Putin has already sent me a Russian passport,” Depardieu joked. “If Gerard really wants to have a Russian passport or a residence permit, then he can consider the matter settled,” Putin said on Thursday. Depardieu’s decision to settle in Belgium came ahead of the Socialist government’s planned implementation of a 75 percent tax rate on annual earnings above $1.30 million. By comparison, Russia has a fixed 13 percent income tax.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dead Russian Deputy Votes for Anti-Magnitsky Law

Vyacheslav K. Osipov, a governing party lawmaker, was absent on Wednesday but still cast 31 votes in the lower house of Parliament, all of them ayes. You might say he was in an agreeable mood, except that he was dead. While it was not known exactly when Mr. Osipov died, his colleagues in the Russian Parliament held a moment of silence in his memory at 5:39 p.m., a little more than an hour after he was recorded as voting in favor of banning American adoptions of Russian children (the law is intended to be one of counter-measures against the US Magnitsky Act). When Mr. Osipov’s ability to legislate from the beyond caught public attention, his allies explained that he had designated colleagues to vote on his behalf. “The Duma’s regulations allow it,” said Vyacheslav S. Timchenko, another lawmaker from United Russia.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Moscow Police Detain 20 People at Rally Against US Adoption Ban

Police detained about 20 people staging a picket Wednesday morning outside the State Duma, ahead of the second hearing of a bill that would ban US citizens from adopting Russian children. The law is meant to be a Russian “response” to the US of the Magnitsky Act – a US law introducing visa bans and asset freezes for Russian officials. Dozens of people gathered outside the Duma building near the Kremlin in downtown Moscow to protest against the adoption ban that critics say would leave Russian children stranded in outdated state care institutions. The police detained two dozen activists holding placards. Dozens more, not holding banners or placards, remain outside the building, despite requests from the police that they disperse.

Strasbourg Court Blasts Russia for Non-Investigation of Disappearances in Chechnya

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held Tuesday that Russia has systemically violated fundamental rights in connection with disappearances that have occurred in the Northern Caucuses since 1999. The case at hand, Aslakhanova and Others v. Russia, specifically involved the cases of eight men who disappeared from Chechnya between March 2002 and July 2004. All of these disappearances occurred after the men were arrested by groups of armed, masked men. In many cases, these groups were wearing camouflage and/or driving military vehicles. Having concluded that the claimants presented a prima facie case that state actors had been behind the victims’ abductions, the burden of proof shifted to the state to convince the court otherwise. Ultimately, however, the burden was not satisfied; no compelling alternative explanation was advanced. The court thus held that Russia violated the rights of its citizens to life (Article 2), liberty and security (Article 5), and effective remedy (Article 13), as well as the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3). Noting that it had dealt with 120 similar cases connected with disappearances that have occurred in the region since 1999, the ECHR asserted that at its core, this problem is based on the state’s failure to investigate these crimes. The ECHR thus supported the recommendation that Russia should establish a body charged with solving disappearances in the Northern Caucuses, and that body should have unfettered access toward that end. Finally, the court held that Russia should pay tens of thousands of Euros to each set of claimants in damages.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Burger King Sues Muscovite for Trademark Infringement

Burger King Corporation, a major US fast-food company, has filed a lawsuit with the Moscow Commercial Court against Muscovite Alexei Makoveyev, who registered the and domains in his own name, Izvestia daily reported on Monday. Burger King believes that he unlawfully infringed upon their trademarkrights. Izvestia reported that in addition to the ban on further use of the trademarks, Burger King is seeking 500,000 rubles ($16,292) in compensation from Makoveyev.

Ukrainian Judge Found Decapitated

The decapitated bodies of a judge and his family have been found at a flat in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. Investigators say the heads of the four people, including 58-year-old Vladimir Trofimov, are missing. Ukraine’s interior minister and general prosecutor have flown to the eastern city to investigate. (video)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Russian Supreme Court Authorizes Wiretapping of Oppositionists

The Russian Supreme Court recognized as lawful the wiretapping of a regional opposition member, Maxim Petlin, on Thursday, upholding earlier decisions made by a court in Yekaterinburg. The Supreme Court (in a decision by Judge Istomina) ruled that spying on Petlin, now Yekaterinburg head of the opposition party Yabloko, and hacking into his phone was lawful. A lower court in Yekaterinburg allowed “special investigative activities” due to signs of “public calls for extremist actions” detected in his words. The records from Petlin' s phone were among evidence in an extortion case opened against him in 2011 which he called trumped-up. Sergei Mitrokhin, Yabloko’s national leader, said the case would become a precedent for the whole judicial system and result in a new period of persecution of political activists. According to the Supreme Court, the "signs" of extremism, being the ground for wiretapping, were: (1) calls to change "the regime of Putin and Medvedev," (2) calls to eliminate the "monopolism in politics, economy, and information," (3) calls for the democratization of the country, (4) refusal to cooperate with the current authorities, (5) organizing protest actions, (6) criticizing the current authorities "against the background of financial and economic crisis", (7) distributing opposition newspapers and leaflets, (8) organizing economic and human rights consulting centers, (9) participating in actions in support of the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly), (10) sharp criticism of the current authorities in public meetings, (11) a negative appraisal of the expansion of the State Security Service (FSB) powers. (Supreme Court document)

Opposition Rallies in Moscow Despite Ban

A considerable crowd of opposition activists braved subzero temperatures and police cordons to attend a peaceful, unsanctioned rally in Moscow on Saturday, marking the first anniversary of mass protests in Russia. The event upped the ante for the leading opposition figures, who refused to compromise with the authorities in obtaining permission for the rally as they had done in the past, risking a crackdown. The police allowed people to gather in Moscow’s downtown Lubyanka Square, only cracking down on the staunch few who stayed on after the main crowd had dissipated. City police put the turnout at 700, about 300 of them bloggers and journalists. Reporters from Ekho Moskvy radio, Russian Reporter magazine and Ridus news website estimated the crowd at between 3,000 and 7,000. At least 69 people were detained at the event, according to OVD-Info, an independent website covering alleged police abuse. Police put the figure at “about 40.” Police also detained four opposition leaders in the early stages of the event, including whistleblowing lawyer Alexei Navalny, leftist opposition figure Sergei Udaltsov, liberal politician Ilya Yashin and socialite-turned-political activist Ksenia Sobchak. Most detainees, including Navalny, Udaltsov and Sobchak, were released the same evening. None of the protest leaders faced any charges. (video)

UPDATE: Lubyanka rally participant sentenced to 10 days in jail

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Criminal Case Launched against Navalny

Russian whistleblower and opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg were accused on Friday of defrauding an unspecified firm of 55 million rubles ($1.8 million) in phony shipping charges. The case against Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has accused state officials of embezzling billions of rubles, comes a day ahead of a banned opposition rally that Navalny endorsed. The Navalnys face up to 10 years if charged and convicted of large-scale fraud and money laundering, the Investigative Committee said on its website. “This is HELL. Complete nonsense. Complete!” Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter on Friday. “I see that I alone am not enough, so they’re cracking down on my family?” Navalny added.

Putin Vetoes Skolkovo Law

Russian President Vladimir Putin vetoed legislation passed by parliament on changes to the Skolkovo innovation hub, a project championed by Premier Dmitry Medvedev, threatening to widen a rift between the two men. The bill needs additional work to determine measures for evaluating the program’s effectiveness, the Kremlin said today in an e-mailed statement.  Skolkovo, unveiled in 2010 and based outside Moscow, was a hallmark of then President  Medvedev’s efforts to modernize the Russian economy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Moscow Slams US Recognition of Syria Opposition

The recognition by the United States of Syria’s opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people shows that Washington is gambling on a military victory by the coalition, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday. “I was somewhat surprised to learn that the US, through its president, has recognized the national coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” he said. “That is at odds with the agreements recorded in the Geneva communiqué calling for an all-Syria dialog between the country’s government representatives on the one hand and the opposition on the other.” US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday the United States has decided formally to recognize the Syrian opposition rebel coalition that is fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. "We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama said in an interview with the ABC television network. He described the move as a “big step.”

Moscow Bans Opposition Rally

The municipal authorities in Moscow refused on Wednesday to approve a planned opposition Freedom March, city security chief Alexei Mayorov said. “The negotiations are over. Regrettably, the event has not been approved,” he said. The negotiations started on Monday. The organizers insisted that the march route end at one of the city’s central squares, a demand that the Moscow government turned down. Firebrand leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the opposition Left Front movement, confirmed to RIA Novosti that the Freedom March will not go ahead because the organizers and city authorities failed to agree the route. The Opposition Coordination Council announced in late November the decision to hold the Freedom March in Moscow on December 15. About 50,000 marchers were expected to turn up.

Investigators: Georgian Politician Behind Moscow Protests

The Russian Investigative Committee has evidence that Georgian politician Givi Targamadze controlled Russian opposition leaders during mass protests in Moscow earlier in the year, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the committee, said. “Investigative materials have evidence that confirm[s] financing of the Russian opposition by Givi Targamadze as well as his definite role in the organization of mass disorders on the Bolotnaya Square, as well as direct management of actions of opposition leaders during the March of Millions in Moscow,” Markin said.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Skolkovo Partners with Russian Energy Companies

Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology signed an agreement with four energy  companies Wednesday, a move that could help speed up the modernization of Russia's power network and boost electricity exports to China.  The exact form of the agreement is undetermined, but it will likely involve an exchange of expertise and financial support for Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or Skoltech.  New technology is particularly important for Russia's aging power distribution system, said Edward Crawley, the president of Skoltech and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The introduction of sophisticated technologies, such as smart-grid systems that respond with more flexibility to the needs of consumers, could also help Russia ramp up its electricity exports to China, said Artyom Volynets, chief executive of billionaire Oleg Deripaska's En+ Group. "Thanks to the technology that we will develop with Skolkovo Tech," said Volynets, "we believe that in several years time you will be able to wake up in Beijing, turn on the kettle and drink wonderful Chinese tea made using electricity from [Russian] hydroelectric stations."

Belarus Asks Kyrkyzstan to Pay Pension to Ex-President

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in an interview suggested to the authorities of Kyrgyzstan that they transfer the pension of the ex-president of the country Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in 2010 and fled to Belarus. Lukashenko said that Bakiyev “of course, will not die of hunger, we will not allow it, but it is necessary to transfer a pension.” Lukashenko also explained how Bakiyev turned to be in Belarus after the 2010 coup (aka the "April Revolution"). “We were not friends with Bakiyev. He had such friends as Putin, Nazarbayev. But he called me crying and asked to save children. I said: come,” the leader of Belarus recollected.  However, the Kyrgyz authorities refused to transfer the pension to Bakiyev.  Presidential adviser Farid Niyazov stated that Bakiyev is "charged in Kyrgyzstan with serious crimes" and that "the question of granting a pension to him should be solved in accordance with the legislation of Kyrgyzstan, which is only possible if the fugitive returns or is extradited to the homeland."

ECHR: Russian Courtroom Cages Violate Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has upheld an application filed by two Russian citizens who believe that their placement in a metal cage during court proceedings violated their fundamental rights.  Alexander Svinarenko and Valentin Slyadnev, who live in the Magadan Region, filed a complaint with the court. The men were brought to criminal court for various crimes. Svinarenko was acquitted and Slyadnev was found guilty and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison. During the hearings, the applicants were forced to sit in a metal cell in the court room. They claimed that the authorities violated Article 3 on prohibiting torture or inhumane or degrading treatment, and Article 6 on the right to a fair trial of the European Convention on Human Rights. ECHR sided with the applicants and awarded 15,000 euros in compensation for moral harm from the authorities.

30,000 Moscow Debtors Face Travel Ban

More than 30,000 Muscovites will be unable to holiday abroad over the New Year holidays due to a travel ban imposed on debtors, the city bailiffs service said on Tuesday. Moscow has the highest number of court-imposed travel bans over unpaid debts in Russia, bailiffs service deputy chief Sergei Bogdanov said in an interview with RIA Novosti. “In the first 10 months of 2011, 22,600 travel bans were imposed [in Moscow], compared to 29,700 in the same period this year,” he said, adding the number of bans by the end of the year should exceed 30,000.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Russia Restricts US Meat Imports

Russian health regulators announced formidable new barriers to the import of meat from the United States late on Friday, in a move some analysts saw as retaliation for American legislation (the "Magnitsky Act") punishing Russian officials linked to human rights violations. The new Russian regulation requires imported meat to undergo testing for and be certified free of ractopamine, which is added to animal feed in the United States to make meat more lean. The United States Department of Agriculture considers ractopamine safe and does not test for it. The move would potentially make the United States, which exports more than $500 million a year worth of beef and pork to Russia, significantly less competitive, giving advantage to Chinese and European Union meat producers, where ractopamine is banned. Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief health inspector and head of the state consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor, denied the requirement of testing and certifying meat imports was retaliatory.

Kazakhstan Wants Russia to Hand Over Space Town

Kazakhstan and Russia are in talks over returning the city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan - home to Russia's main rocket launch center - from Russian to local jurisdiction, the head of Kazakhstan's space agency (Kazkosmos) said on Monday. "Today both nations' governments have decided to set up a new intergovernmental commission for the Baikonur complex to be headed up by first or other deputy prime ministers," Kazkosmos head Talgat Musabayev told Kazakhstan's parliament. Kazakhstan has demanded reestablishment of the commission which previously oversaw the main aspects of the intergovernmental agreement on Baikonur, the site of the first Soviet rocket launches and Russia's most important space launch center. The issue of control over Baikonur and the rent Russia pays Kazakhstan to use the facility have been the subject of an ongoing dispute between the two nations ever since Kazakhstan gained independence from the USSR.

British Artists Probed for ‘Extremism’ in Russia

A duo of renowned British contemporary artists offered “extreme apologies” for an antifascist exhibit in St. Petersburg that is being investigated for anti-Christian hatemongering, media reported on Sunday. Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman were disappointed to be accused of extremism by religious groups, and pledge to never again set foot in Russia, the BBC Russia reported. A Chapman exhibit titled End of Fun opened in the prestigious Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg in October. Among other things, End of Fun features a tiny crucified Ronald McDonald, which was seen as blasphemy by 117 Russian believers who wrote complaints to prosecutors asking to investigate the exhibit for extremism.

Russian Budget Theft Put at $250 Mln in 2012

The Russian state budget lost 7.9 billion rubles ($256 million) to graft between January and October of this year, the Investigative Committee said on Sunday, which is International Anti-Corruption Day. Only 1.3 billion rubles was returned to the state coffers so far, said the committee, a rough analogue of the FBI. Investigators opened about 20,700 corruption cases against various officials over the period, almost 7,000 more than in 2011, the committee said on its website. Two judges, 13 regional lawmakers and 19 prosecutors were among the people charged for graft this year, the report said.

Kremlin: Russia "Freer than US"

Political freedoms in Russia are unmatched by any country in the world, Kremlin official Vyacheslav Volodin, in charge of domestic policy, said on Sunday. “Our democracy was not just maximal – nothing like it was, and still is, to be found in other countries,” Volodin, first deputy chief of the Kremlin administration, said in Moscow. “Take countries that we see as blueprints for democracy – say, the United States – they don’t have such freedoms. They don’t have direct presidential elections or this multiparty system,” Volodin told a gathering of senior officials and aides to President Vladimir Putin.

Capital Outflow Forecast in Russia Down to $60 Bln

The Russian Finance Ministry slashed its annual capital outflow forecast to $60 billion, the ministry’s head Anton Siluanov said in Moscow on Sunday.  Siluanov predicted earlier that the capital drain would stand at $65 billion to $70 billion. The Russian Central Bank said capital outflow already reached $61 billion between January and October, and predicted the year-end figure to stand at $67 billion. The Economic Development Ministry’s capital outflow estimates for 2012 range from $60 billion to $70 billion.

Russia Vows to Retaliate against US Magnitsky Bill

Russia will take retaliatory measures in response to the US legislature's decision to adopt new laws imposing sanctions against certain Russian individuals believed to have been connected with the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian presidential aide said on Sunday. “The Magnitsky Act is an extremely unfriendly move. The most unpleasant thing is that we are forced to take retaliatory measures and we’ll certainly respond to this,” Yury Ushakov said. The US Senate repealed on Thursday the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik restrictions on trade with Russia and simultaneously passed the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian officials deemed by Washington to have violated human rights.

Medvedev Calls Investigators "Jerks"

Russian Prime Minister Dnmitry Medvedev let his guard down after an interview with five Russian television stations when he failed to realise the cameras were still rolling. When one of the five journalists who interviewed him complained about federal investigators in an anti-opposition case arriving to search the home of a witness in an inquiry early in the morning, Medvedev told the journalist not to worry before stepping out of shot. But his microphone was still switched on when he said casually: "They are just jerks [kozly], so they come at eight in the morning. It's just their set of habits. I know many people who work in the police. They think if they come at seven in the morning they will get everything in the world."  This comment resulted in a scandal. In response Investigation Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin stated: "It was very strange to hear the comments not only insulting Investigation Committee officers but also undermining the authority of all law-enforcing bodies of the country." Later both Medvedev's and Markin's statements were removed from official sites. (video)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Russian Court Bans Pussy Riot Video

A Moscow court has ruled that websites must remove video clips of the Pussy Riot female punk band, two of whose members are in jail. The clips include a crude anti-Kremlin song, which they performed in Moscow's main cathedral in February and for which they were convicted. The "punk prayer" has been viewed nearly 2.4m times on YouTube. In its ruling, the court called the clips "extremist". Websites that fail to remove the clips may be blocked. (video)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rusnano Partners with U.S. Pharma Company, Selecta Biosciences

On Monday, Rusnano chief Anatoly Chubays welcomed American pharmaceutical company Selecta Biosciences, which opened a research lab in Khimki and moved its global top management to Russia as a sign of confidence in the country's potential for nanotechnology research.  "When we made the decision about investing in Selecta, we made the right choice," Chubais said. "It seemed to us that the company has unique technological capacity and that with time, as it develops, this startup will show very strong results." Selecta Rus, a Russian-based subsidiary of Selecta Biosciences, develops vaccines that are based on nano particles, and hopes to develop the first anti-smoking vaccine as early as 2016, said Dmitry Ovchinnikov, deputy general director of Selecta Rus.  Rusnano plans to invest up to $25 million in Selecta Rus, and is also providing administrative assistance to the startup.  Under a deal, Selecta Rus and Rusnano signed a year ago, the pharmaceutical company gets to keep the intellectual property rights to the vaccines and choose where to produce them. Rusnano would then get a share of the company's revenues, although the company's managing director, Dmitry Lisenkov, declined to reveal more specifics.

Key Witness in Magnitsky Case Found Dead

A Russian supergrass, who was helping Swiss prosecutors uncover a multi-million pound money laundering scheme used by corrupt Russian officials, has died in mysterious circumstances outside his Surrey home, according  to media reports. Alexander Perepilichnyy, a wealthy businessman who sought sanctuary in Britain three years ago after falling out with a powerful crime syndicate, collapsed outside his mansion on a luxury private estate on the outskirts of Weybridge. He was 44-years-old and was in seemingly good health.   Perepilichnyy was a key witness against the “Klyuev Group”, an opaque network of corrupt Russian officials and underworld figures implicated in a series of multi-million pound tax frauds and the death in custody of the whistle-blowing Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. He is the fourth person to be linked to the scandal who has died suddenly. Surrey Police said that a post mortem examination of Mr Perepilichnyy had proved “inconclusive” and further tests were being carried out to try to establish a cause of death. The force said the sudden death was not being treated as suspicious but left open the possibility that it will have to carry out further investigations.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Russia Sends 200 Tons of Cash to Sirya

According to media reports, as the Syrian economy began to unravel and the military pressed hard against an armed rebellion, a Syrian government plane ferried what flight records describe as more than 200 tons of “bank notes” from Moscow. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is increasingly in need of cash to stay afloat and continue financing the military’s efforts to crush the uprising. U.S. and European sanctions, including a ban on minting Syrian currency, have damaged the country’s economy. As a result, Syria lost access to an Austrian bank that had printed its bank notes. According to the flight records, eight round-trip flights between Damascus International Airport and Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport each carried approximately 30 tons of bank notes back to Syria.

Cossacks to Patrol Central Moscow

Moscow's Cossacks plan to expand their law-and-order patrols to the central part of the capital starting on Tuesday. Until now, Cossack patrolmen have been active only in southeastern Moscow. During a trial run on Tuesday, they will help their colleagues in central Moscow patrol near the Belorusskaya metro station, the administration of the southeastern district said on its website on Monday. “In concert with law enforcement officials, the Cossacks will uphold law and order and prevent illegal parking and unlicensed business activity" on the streets of central Moscow, the statement said.

Prison Riot in Russia

A two-day riot by inmates at a prison in Russia's Chelyabinsk Region ended peacefully, officials reported on Monday, as human rights campaigners sought details of how the troubles ended. “The situation in Correctional Colony No. 6 is now stable and fully under control of its administration,” the region’s branch of the Federal Penal Service (FSIN) said in a statement on Monday. “No force was used against the prisoners,” the FSIN said. Around 250 prisoners at the colony near the Urals city of Chelyabinsk rioted on Saturday, demanding a more relaxed regime and release of several of their number from a special punishment isolation unit. The prisoners held up makeshift banners including one saying in red letters "We Have a Thousand on Hunger Strike" and another saying "People, Help." A group of prisoners' relatives waiting for a visit on Saturday saw the convicts rioting while standing outside the gate. They were barred from entering during the disorder, but were reluctant to leave, sparking arguments which later resulted in clashes with the OMON riot police. Eight OMON riot police officers received injuries, the police reported on Sunday night. A local television station released a YouTube video showing a car with a smashed windscreen next to a family with a small child. “We were yelling 'there is a child inside,' but to no avail,” a woman said while her husband wiped his bleeding face with snow. “The police didn’t give any warning of an attack,” Oksana Trufanova, a local activist with network, a rights group for prisoners and their relatives, told RIA Novosti on Monday. Trufanova claimed she and several other people were beaten by the police outside the prison. Speaking outside the prison, Trufanova said she was hit on the head and fell down on her knees. She has been trying to get into the jail since the riot started, she added. The police said at least 38 people were detained over the incident, and claimed some of them were drunk. (video)

Russia Unblacklists Google

Internet giant Google’s IP address was temporarily blacklisted for the second time over the weekend due to a computer glitch, Russian media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said on Monday. “There was a software failure. The system incorrectly identified the host provider’s address. So the notification went out to the wrong address,” Roskomnadzor press secretary Vladimir Pikov said, adding the mistake was promptly fixed. One of Google’s resources contained banned materials and the case will soon be reviewed again, he said. According to the watchdog’s register, IP address was put on the blacklist ( on Saturday and removed at 11 a.m. Moscow time on Monday. (The legal ground of the black list is the recently adopted law informally known as "the Internet Censorship Act.")

Russian Physicist Released on Parole after 8 Years in Jail

Russian physicist and convicted spy Valentin Danilov, who was released on parole on Saturday after serving eight years in prison, has arrived in Novosibirsk, west Siberia. “I had a wonderful trip, but the wind blew from the windows, as usual,” Danilov said on arriving in Novosibirsk, where he spent his youth studying at a university. The scientist told RIA Novosti he had no plans as yet to look for work and just wanted to rest and recover after serving his sentence. “I want to say that the place I was sent to was no way a health resort,” he said. The physicist, who headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University, was convicted of treason, related to transfer of classified information to China. The data allegedly came from his research conducted for Russia’s Defense Ministry. The scientist consistently maintained that the information he was accused of selling had been available in scientific journals and had been declassified for over 10 years.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Criminal Charges Denied Over Anti-Putin Activist Torture

Russian investigators refused on Thursday to open a criminal investigation into allegations by a leftist political activist that he was tortured into confessing to a plot to overthrow President Vladimir Putin. Leonid Razvozzhayev, a member of the Left Front political movement, made international headlines in mid-October when he said he had been abducted by "masked men" after applying for political asylum in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and spirited away to Moscow by his kidnappers. Razvozzhayev also told human rights workers who visited him in a Moscow pre-trial detention center that his abductors had threatened to kill him and his children if he did not sign a detailed confession. “A number of witnesses were questioned and their testimony indicated the unreliability of Razvozzhayev’s claims about his abduction and torture,” said Vladimir Markin, spokesperson for Russia’s Investigation Committee.

Moscow Police Close Underground Casino

An underground casino in downtown Moscow has been shut down in a special operation, the city's police said on Thursday. "Video surveillance was installed around the perimeter of the building and associated territory, entrance was gained through safe doors after a phone call to the manager, and on recommendation of trusted clients. The casino had special poker tables, four roulette tables, and 34 gaming machines," the police press statement said.

First Nonsmoking Cells in Russian Jails

The first jail cells for nonsmokers have appeared in Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic of Tatarstan, the republic’s penitentiary service reported on Wednesday. The project, which was launched in May, has received positive comments from inmates at the republic’s pretrial detention centers, so the decision was made to continue it. At present there are a total of 24 nonsmoking cells in Tatarstan’s five detention centers. Ivan Nikitin, head of a penitentiary service department, said remand prisoners have to meet certain requirements to be placed in a smoke-free cell that pertain to previous convictions, the severity of charges against them, psychological stability, etc.

YouTube Taken off Russian Blacklist

YouTube, the video-sharing website, has been take off the blacklist maintained by Russian media and communications watchdog Roscomnadzor. YouTube was put on the blacklist ( earlier on Wednesday and had three days to remove what Roscomnadzor said were “suicide promotion” materials. Failure to do that would have led to YouTube’s blocking across Russia. In early November Roscomnadzor blacklisted over 180 websites over offensive content.

Jailed Putin Foe Charged With Fur Hat Robbery

A Russian opposition activist, who is facing up to ten years over allegations that he conspired to organize mass disorder, was hit with additional charges on Wednesday when investigators accused him of an armed robbery dating from 1997. Leonid Razvozzhayev, an activist with the Left Front political movement, was charged with robbing a businessman of 500 fur hats and video cameras in the East Siberian city of Angarsk, Investigation Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said. Razvozzhayev was charged in October with plotting to destabilize Russia in a bid to overthrow President Vladimir Putin. The charges were based on grainy, low-quality footage aired by the pro-Kremlin television channel NTV. Razvozzhayev made international headlines in October when he said he had been abducted by “masked men” after applying for political asylum in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. “The new accusations show how weak the case on the NTV footage charges is,” a Left Front member told RIA Novosti.

Over $22 Mln Seized During Defense Contractor Fraud Inquiry

Cash and valuables worth about 700 million rubles (about $22.4 million) in total were confiscated during a fraud inquiry into a possible embezzlement of state funds by defense contractors, the Russian Interior Ministry said. The Russian Defense Ministry has found itself at the epicenter of a spiraling state property scandal in the past weeks. Several criminal cases are underway in connection with the Oboronservis scandal, which became public on October 25, when investigators raided the Defense Ministry property management company's offices and the homes of its senior employees over alleged real estate scams involving nearly $100 million. Some of the properties were in Moscow, which has some of Europe’s most expensive real estate.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lawyers for Two Imprisoned Pussy Riot Members Quit Case

The lawyers for two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,  announced Monday that they would no longer be representing the women, saying they believed that their continued participation in the case could have negative consequences for their former defendants.  Nikolai Polozov, one of the three lawyers formerly representing the women, said they had decided the publicity they had helped produce around the case had "irritated" authorities and that they had agreed with their clients to remove themselves from the case if the convicted punk rockers were pressured.  Mark Feigin, another of the outgoing lawyers, expressed hope that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina could be granted early release in late April after the change in legal representation.
The Pussy Riot case has become an international public relations headache for the Kremlin, the latest demonstrating coming on Friday, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested during a panel discussion with President Vladimir Putin that the sentences given to the women were too harsh.

Kazakh President Opposes Wearing of Hijabs

Wearing hijabs is not in line with Kazakh traditions, President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated.  “We shouldn’t let Kazakhstan’s people move backwards. We (the Kazakhs) are Sunni Muslims and we have a path of our own. Wearing Arabic hijabs and sending our women back to the Middle Ages is not our path. (…) Elderly ladies have their own well-established preferences in terms of clothes and head covers. Let them decide for themselves what to wear. However, young people wouldn’t turn to wearing hijabs out of their own choice if they weren’t instructed to (…)”, the President believes.

Israeli Rocket Hits 'Russia Today' Office in Gaza

An Israeli airstrike on a media compound has injured at least six journalists, Palestinian medical authorities say. Among the outlets damaged are local, Italian, German, Lebanese and Kuwaiti channels. RT's office in Gaza was affected too. (RT, also known as Russia Today, is an international multilingual Russian-based television network.) The journalists received minor to moderate injuries, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. One journalist had his leg amputated following the attack, he added. Two buildings of a media center in Gaza City were targeted by Israeli warplanes early on Sunday in a series of strikes. Witnesses reported that the journalists had evacuated after an initial attack, which was followed by at least two more hits. The buildings were heavily damaged. (video) (video)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gazprom Commits to Costly South Stream Pipeline Project

Gazprom and its partners in the South Stream gas pipeline that runs under the Black Sea to Europe have formally confirmed the launch of the 16 billion euro project, with a final deal with a Slovenian partner finalized on Tuesday. The direct supply of natural gas to Europe is expected to start in the first quarter of 2016, with up to 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas delivered to European consumers by 2018. The cost of South Stream, including the pipeline’s overland sections could reach as high as 24 billion euro billion taking into account the onshore sections, experts estimate. The South Stream pipeline was designed to diversify Russian gas routes to Europe and to compete with the rival EU-backed Nabucco pipeline project.

U.S. House Passes Russian Trade Bill, with Human Rights Link

Despite warnings from Russian officials, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to drop Cold War-era trade restrictions, while taking a jab at the policies of President Vladimir Putin by publishing the names of Russians believed to be involved in the abuse and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in 2009 in a Russian jail.  The bill, which still needs Senate approval, would establish "permanent normal trade relations", thus ensuring that U.S. companies get the full benefits of Russia's recent entry into the World Trade Organization.  The bill would also require the Obama administration to deny visas and freeze the assets of any individual on the list, as well as other human rights violators in Russia on an ongoing basis. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier on Friday that Russia has already prepared its next steps in response to the legislation, but gave no details. Other Russian officials have indicated that Moscow would retaliate by imposing sanctions on U.S. officials it accused of violating Russian citizens' rights.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Georgia Ex-Minister Faces Torture Charges

Georgia’s former defense and interior minister Bacho Akhalaya has been charged with false imprisonment and torture, Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili said on Tuesday. The prosecution alleged that in February 2010, on Akhalaya’s orders, 19 servicemen were locked up in a bathhouse for “indiscipline,” where they spent three nights without food or heating. Akhalaya was detained last Wednesday along with another two military officials over charges of abuse of office, degrading treatment, physical and verbal abuse of subordinates, false imprisonment and torture. On Friday a Tbilisi city court ordered that Akhalaya be taken into custody pending trial.

Russia's Audit Chamber: $500 Mln of APEC Summit Funds Stolen

15 billion rubles (some $500 million) of state funds were stolen during the preparations for the APEC summit near Russia’s Vladivostok, an investigation of Russia’s Accounts Chamber has revealed. Some of the embezzled money was also earmarked for developing the country’s Far East and Zabaykalye regions over the span of 2008-2012. An audit showed that only 23 of the planned 67 facilities have been open as of September 1. State tender holders failed to get a positive expert opinion on their documentation and construction quality and left two five-star hotels, an opera and many other APEC venues unfinished as the summit kicked off last summer. (document)

Head of Russia’s Perm region arrested over APEC scam

Russia Bans Online Encyclopedia, a popular Russian online encyclopedia (similar to the English-language humorous encyclopedia, was added to the register of websites containing banned information, after which its IP address was blocked. Lurkmore is a popular resource similar to Wikipedia, though, unlike the latter, it focuses on collecting information on various Internet memes, popular figures, Internet resources and subcultures. As with Wikipedia, users write and edit the articles themselves. According to the information on, the complaint against the site was submitted on November 4, and on November 11 the site was added to the register on the decision of the Federal Drug Control Service. "We do not know exactly why our site has been blocked. But of course we will do our best to find out," Lurkmore tweeted. The administration managed to restore the operation of the website by changing the IP address and moving from to (The ".to" domain belongs to the Kingdom of Tonga.) The law on Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development stipulates the development of the Unified Register of Domain and Indexes of Internet Websites and Web-resources.

Wikipedia stands up for Lurkmore
Lurkmore unblacklisted upon deleting questionnable artilces 

Moscow Court Sentences Protester to 4.5 Years in Jail

A Moscow court has ordered that a Russian protester receive a 4.5-year prison sentence. The activist was the first of 18 on trial for participating in clashes during May’s antigovernment demonstrations. Maksim Luzyanin, 36, cooperated with the investigation and pleaded guilty on all charges of mass unrest during his participation in a protest held on May 6 at Bolotnaya Square – the eve of the inauguration of Russian President Vladimir Putin's third term. Luzyanin was arrested in late May and charged with 'participating in the unrest' and 'using violence against a representative of power.' He admitted to beating a police officer and throwing rocks during the protest. The defendant confessed to all the charges against him and expressed regret, saying he was “emotional and under the influence of an angry mob.” Prominent Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny said on Saturday the jail sentence handed to a protester against President Vladimir Putin highlighted the government's harsh approach to dissent.

"Russian GPS" Designer Sacked Amid Corruption Scandal

The chief designer of Russia’s scandal-hit Glonass satellite navigation system, Yury Urlichich, was fired from his job, a spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Sunday. The decision was made by the government’s military-industrial commission, which is headed by Rogozin, the spokeswoman said. Russia’s rival to GPS was rocked by fraud allegations earlier this month, with the Interior Ministry accusing unnamed Glonass officers of embezzling 6.5 billion rubles ($200 million) of the program’s funds. The crackdown on Glonass was backed on Sunday by the head of the Kremlin administration, Sergei Ivanov, an ex-Defense Minister and alleged Rogozin ally who said that the investigation into the Glonass fraud had been ongoing since 2010. Ivanov came up with a surprise televised statement that he knew of the embezzlement for years but kept silent. Ivanov said he discussed the theft with police as early as 2010 but didn't speak publicly about it in order to prevent the culprits from covering up their actions.

Putin Sacks Defense Minister amid Scandal

President Vladimir Putin fired Russia's Defense Minister over corruption allegations on Tuesday, the latest twist in an unfolding saga of power, money and suspected adultery at the heart of the Kremlin. Putin announced on television that he had fired Anatoly Serdyukov, once seen as one of the President's most loyal courtiers, but lately a liability amid allegations that the military sold off assets cheaply to insiders. "Taking into consideration the situation around the Defense Ministry, in order to create conditions for an objective investigation into all matters, I have decided to remove Defense Minister Serdyukov from his post," Putin said. Serdyukov's replacement will be Sergei Shoigu, recently named governor of the Moscow region and known as a popular and loyal Putin ally during nearly two decades as head of the Emergencies Ministry. The Defense Minister wields immense power in Russia, channeling billions of dollars every year through the country's powerful defense industry, the second largest arms exporter in the world.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ukraine Ex-PM Detained Again

Ukrainian former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who was released from a California prison, is now in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities. Lazarenko's lawyer Daniel Horowitz told the "Kommersant-Ukraine" daily that the ex-prime minister was detained immediately after his release from the Terminal Island prison after serving an eight-year sentence for fraud. Lazarenko does not have a valid U.S. visa or political refugee status. U.S. officials must now decide whether to grant Lazarenko legal status or deport him to Ukraine. Prime minister from 1996 to 1997 under President Leonid Kuchma, Lazarenko amassed a personal fortune while advising on the privatization of the country's lucrative natural-gas sector. After falling out of favor with the president and amid a probe of his business dealings, Lazarenko fled to the United States in 1999. He was found guilty of money laundering through U.S. banks, wire fraud, and extortion in 2004. In the same year, he was ranked by the watchdog group Transparency International as the eighth most corrupt official in the world.

Clash over Pussy Riot Brand

A conflict has arisen between Pussy Riot band member Yekaterina Samutsevich and the group's trial attorney Mark Feygin over the commercial use of the Pussy Riot brand, Kommersant daily reports. On April 4, 2012, Kinokompaniya Veb-Bio (Veb-Bio film company) filed an application with the Federal Service for Intellectual Property, Patents and Trademarks to register the band's name as a trademark.  However, freed Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samtusevich believes that the commercial use of their name is contrary to the group's ideology, which was always intended to be a punk rock project. Samutsevich demands that Mark Feygin gives up his rights to the band's trademark. Feygin said that he has nothing to do with the Pussy Riot brand and acted only to protect the group name from third parties.

UPDATE: Rospatent Denies Pussy Riot Trademark Application

Pirates Challenge Russian Government

The Pirate Party of Russia said on Thursday it would take on the newly introduced governmental Internet blacklist by launching a web service providing access to the banned web resources. The service,, would provide access to blacklisted pages, as well as offer guidelines on how to circumvent blacklisting, the head of the unregistered party, Pavel Rassudov, said at a press conference in Moscow. Leaders of the Pirate Party, created in 2010 and still struggling to obtain registration with the Justice Ministry, said that they expect the blacklist to be abused for political gains. “The government’s resources are finite, but the Internet is endless,” party founder Stanislav Shakirov said. The Federal Mass Media Inspection Service has not commented on the initiative.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Russian Black List of Websites Goes Live

The unified register of Internet websites containing information, which is prohibited to distribute in Russia goes live on Thursday. The law on protecting children from information damaging to their health and development came into effect on September 1. The law stipulates a number of limitations for publishing certain materials in the media, and includes the creation of a list of websites, which display content that is potentially harmful to children. The register and the new website,, will be maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media. Internet resources will be included in the list by decision of the Interior Ministry, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare, the Federal Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, and the courts. The Internet community has reacted negatively to this bill, fearing government censorship.

Moscow Police Detains Oppositionists

Police detained 12 participants in an unsanctioned rally in Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square. Representatives of the opposition attempt to hold a rally in Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Constitution on the 31st day every month. The Moscow authorities almost invariably ban and disperse the rally. A police source said, “twelve participants in an unsanctioned rally in Triumfalnaya Square were detained on Wednesday for breach of public order.” They were taken by the police and may face administrative penalties. 30 journalists covered the unsanctioned rally. (video) (video)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Russian Lawmaker: Fire TV Journalist for Criticizing Courts

Russian ruling party's MP Ilya Kostunov sent a letter to state-run Channel One's head demanding the dismissal of prominent journalist Vladimir Pozner for criticizing the Russian judicial and law-enforcing systems in a TV show. Pozner voiced mistrust of the Investigative Committee following the controversial arrest and alleged torture of dissident Leonid Razvozzhayev. “How can the people believe you, when for the last ten years, it’s been strenuously shown – and proven – that there is no justice in the country?”  Pozner suggested that Razvozzhaeyev was forced to confess to organizing mass riots.  Pozner also criticized the recent jailing of two members of the feminist opposition group Pussy Riot.  Kostunov ironically remarked: "I know Pozner is U.S. citizen and I think a citizen of France, and when he says he would like Razvozzhaeyev case to be tried by a trustworthy court, he probably means a U.S. court.  Well, if the allegations against Razvozzhaeyev are true, a U.S. court would certainly award a prize to him."

Russian Highest Courts to Move to St. Petersbusrg

As government plans to relocate federal ministries to Moscow's newly adjoined territories are reportedly being reworked, officials are considering moving the Supreme Court and Supreme Arbitrazh (Commercial) Court to St. Petersburg. The decision to relocate both courts to St. Petersburg followed a meeting of the presidential administration last week. The move runs counter to plans by former President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2012 to place the courts within Moscow's new boundaries. The proposed location for the two courts is the site of a planned luxury residential complex and close to the Constitutional Court, which moved to St. Petersburg in 2008.  It is unclear when the move will take place, but it is expected to cost more than the relocation of the Constitutional Court, which ended up costing 5.3 billion rubles instead of the 221 million rubles originally projected.

Navalny Fined $1,000 for Unauthorized Rally

The Moscow Basmanny District Magistrate's Court fined oppositionist Alexei Navalny 30,000 rubles ($955) for organizing an "unauthorized rally", his attorney Vadim Kobzev said. A series of one-man pickets in support of political prisoners was held in central Moscow on Saturday. "On October 27 Navalny just stood by the building of the Federal Security Service. It was a one-man picket, which, as you know, is not forbidden by the law. Then he and Ilya Yashin just started walking, and a crowd of journalists walked by them, and it was taken for a rally," Kobzev said. The attorney said that he will appeal the ruling.

UK Court Refuses to Enforce Russian Judgment against Berezovsky

The London High Court’s Chancery Division refused to enforce judgments of two Russian courts against self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his business partner Nikolai Glushkov, finding that enforcement of the judgments would breach the principle of res judicata. The judge found that Russian courts tried the same case twice, in 1999 and in 2007. The total amount of the claim, based on fraud charges, is $23 mln.

Russian Election Chief Slams U.S. Electoral System

The head of the Russian Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, spoke of the imperfect American electoral system in an article published in "Rossiyskaya Gazeta". "U.S. presidential elections are neither direct, nor general, nor equal, and do not provide for secret voting," states Churov. In particular, at the beginning of 2012 only one in five American adults was registered to vote; however, on the lists there are the names of about 1.8 million "dead souls", says the official. "All 233 years of the history of organizing and conducting democratic elections in the U.S. . . . abound in examples of U.S. citizens' rights violations," concludes the official. Churov has repeatedly stated that he considers the organization of elections in the US as being one of the worst in world.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Russian Footballer Wins Slander Case against Sports Commentator

One of the most notorious slander cases in Russian football reached a conclusion on Tuesday, with the country's top sports commentator ordered to pay damages to Zenit St. Petersburg goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev. Dmitry Guberniev, who calls games for state broadcaster Rossiya-2, claimed that Malafeev's wife was pursued by the police before a fatal car crash in March 2011. He also implied Malafeev was a poor substitute when national team goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was injured. A court outside Moscow ordered Guberniev, 38, to pay $2,500 in total damages.

OSCE, EU, US: Ukraine Election is a Step Backwards

International observers say Ukraine's recent parliamentary elections were a backward step for democracy, marred by "the abuse of power and the excessive role of money". The statement from the regional security body OSCE came as early results pointed to a win for President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Opposition leader and ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko remains in prison. Mrs Tymoshenko has announced a hunger strike over alleged vote rigging and is only drinking water. "One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures," the OSCE said. EU diplomats are concerned about the worsening state of Ukraine’s democracy in the aftermath of Sunday’s parliamentary election, officials in Brussels said. The US State Department also expressed concern that the elections were a step backwards from progress made during previous parliamentary elections and the 2010 presidential election.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ruling Party MP Stomps on Russian Opposition’s Symbol

United Russia MP Aleksandr Sidyakin, author of a recent anti-protest bill, stomped on a white ribbon during Friday’s State Duma session. The ribbon is the symbol of the antigovernment protests that began in December last year. “I want to do with this ribbon the same thing that people who ordered provocations wanted to do with our country – I want to tread [on] it,” Sidyakin announced during the lower house’s plenary session. Sidyakin called the ribbon a symbol of capitulation, treachery and “exported revolution,” which foreign propagandists are attempting to impose on Russia. Sidyakin also criticized several deputies from the opposition A Just Russia party for wearing “that white cloth” on their chests. Sidyakin is known as the initiator of the recently passed "anti-rally" and "anti-NGO" laws. (video; see at 1:35)

Russian Oppositionists Released in Aftermath of Unsanctioned Rally

Oppositionists Sergei Udaltsov, Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, who were detained on Sunday for holding rallies in support of political prisoners have been released after administrative penalty charges were drafted. A series of rallies in support of political prisoners were held in central Moscow on Saturday. According to the organizers' plan, people were supposed to stand holding posters 50 meters away from each other from Lubyansky Passazh to Tekhnichesky Pereulok, where the Investigative Committee is located. On Friday, the Investigative Committee officially filed charges against Left Front movement coordinator Sergei Udaltsov for organizing mass unrest.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Russia Slams US Comments on Jailed Oppositionist

Russia's Foreign Ministry has slammed statements by U.S. officials expressing concern over the alleged abduction and torture of Russian opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhayev.  Earlier, the press attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Joseph Kruzich, told Interfax that the United States had officially expressed concern to the Russian Foreign Ministry's commissioner for human rights, democracy and rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, over the issue and asked for a careful examination. The ministry responded: "We are surprised, to say the least, at these hasty expressions of 'anxiety.' . . . It is a court of law that will issue the definitive decision on whether he [Razvozzhayev] is guilty or not. For this reason, we consider the American advice to 'examine the issue carefully' to be inappropriate. For our part, we would recommend that our counterparts pay attention to well-known instances of torture in special CIA jails and to the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo for an indefinite time without trial or investigation, something that tramples upon all standards of international law," the ministry concluded. (document)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Russian Defense Officials under Investigation over Property Scam

Some Russian Defense Ministry officials are under investigation for selling properties at below market value, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told journalists on Thursday. Defense Ministry officials are suspected of selecting attractive sites, investing public funds in them, and then selling them off at below market value. (document; video)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Turkmen President Pardons 2,000 Prisoners

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has reportedly signed an amnesty decree for 2,000 prisoners (including 11 foreigners). In a televised statement issued on October 24, Berdymukhammedov said the clemency was granted "in accordance with the noble tradition of our nation, based upon teachings of our great ancestors, and due to the 21st anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence." Before Berdymukhammedov’s presidency, his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov issued amnesty decrees once a year, in the holy month of Ramadan. Berdymukhammedov issues such decrees several times a year, usually ahead of state holidays. Turkmenistan's Independence Day is October 27.

Russia's Investigation Committee Seeks to Disbar Navalny

Russia's Investigation Committee demanded to disbar Alexey Navalny. Investigators say Navalny was illegally admitted to practice law. To obtain evidence, investigators seized documents and interrogated examiners of the Kirov Region Bar, where Navalny was admitted in 2009.

European Parliament Recommends Magnitsky Sanctions

The European Parliament recommended on Tuesday that the Council of the European Union impose sanctions against Russian officials involved in the incarceration of Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention in 2009.

Russian Oppositionist Alleges Abduction, Torture

Leonid Razvozzhayev, an oppsition State Duma deputy aide, who vanished in Ukraine when he attempted to obtain refugee status, is in a solitary confinment in a Moscow prison and is not allowed to see his attorney. However, members of a rights committee managed to meet Razvozzhayev. He told them he was kidnapped from Ukraine and brought to Russia by unidentified men who tortured him for two days to obtain his confession to plotting mass riots, then handed him over to investigators. Meanwhile Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s federal Investigative Committee, has said that Razvozzhayev turned himself in and was in his “right mind” when he signed a lengthy confession. Russian authorities have accused Razvozzhayev and other opposition leaders of plotting mass riots and of seeking financing from Georgia to help topple the government of President Vladimir Putin, based on a documentary that was shown on the pro-Kremlin NTV channel this month. (video)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Putin Wants Gas Exports to Focus on Asia

In light of falling demand in Europe, as well as the EU's recent anti-monopoly probe of Gazprom, President Vladimir Putin ordered a review of Russia's natural gas export policy to take advantage of rising Asian demand.  "The priorities should be supplies to the domestic market, our own economy and our enterprises, as well as diversification of markets to account for the prospective Asian segment and means of delivery," Putin told a Kremlin energy policy commission.  Russia, the world's second-largest producer of natural gas after the United States, has for years unsuccessfully tried to secure a deal to sell pipeline gas to China, the world's largest energy consumer. The two countries have failed so far to iron out differences over issues such as price and routes.  As part of a closer supervision of energy policy Putin has also warned Gazprom to begin developing Arctic oil and gas deposits, including its Bovanenkovo field in the Yamal peninsula.  Gazprom has delayed the commissioning of Bovanenkovo, discovered in the 1960s, several times due to weak gas demand and to an anticipated large capital outlay necessary to develop it ($10 billion over several years).

Medvedev Acknowledges Need for Copyright Enforcement

While calling for officials, retails and consumers to uphold copyright laws, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev nevertheless declined to back the idea of an oversight body for the government's anti-counterfeit efforts and predicted that the customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus would create additional problems with fake goods.  Medvedev acknowledged that Russia, known for counterfeit electronics, pirated software and illicit vodka, needs to find a balance between promoting innovation through the free exchange of ideas and protecting brands and artistic works, adding that "[t]he government and civil society must uphold the protection of intellectual property rights on the one hand while stimulating competition and eliminating unreasonable barriers in the market on the other." More than 900 billion rubles ($29 billion) of fake goods are distributed on the Russian market each year, said Alexei Popovichev, executive director of branded-goods manufacturers association RusBrand. Research commissioned by RusBrand and conducted by Moscow's Higher School of Economics has found that about 24 percent of the retail revenue of consumer goods comes from counterfeits. During the conference, Medvedev said the anti-counterfeit battle will be addressed by changes to the Civil Code, but he did not give specifics.

Strasbourg Court Rules Ex-Yukos Security Head Trial Unfair

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that there were procedural violations in the trial of former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin, who was sentenced to life in prison on murder charges in Russia. The panel of judges also awarded him 6,500 Euros (about $8,400) in compensation for moral damage and 3,000 Euros ($3,900) for costs and expenses. The court unanimously ruled that the criminal proceedings against Pichugin were unfair. It also upheld complaints about the unlawfulness and excessive length of Pichugin’s detention, the violation of his right to a speedy judicial decision over the legality of his detention and the lack of a public hearing.

Moscow Police Detains 100 Drunk Drivers Overnight

Moscow police officers detained over 100 drunk drivers in a raid early Saturday morning, the Moscow State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate Department has reported on Monday. Due to the increasing number of drunk driving accidents, the department decided to conduct the "Drunk Driver" preventive measure raid on October 20. "The total number of drunk drivers detained was 106," the department said. The question of whether the government should increase the punishment for drunk driving was raised after an accident in Moscow when a drunk driver rammed into a bus stop, killing seven people. A bill seeking to increase the punishment is pending in the State Duma.

UN Agency "Deeply Concerned" about Disappearance of Russian Oppositionist

The UN Refugee Agency said in a statement it is "deeply concerned" about the disappearance of Leonid Razvozzhaev from Kyiv on 19 October. "The individual approached UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] seeking international protection and was invited to be registered at the office of UNHCR’s partner organization, an NGO providing free legal assistance in Kyiv. The legal counselor at the organization conducted a registration interview and began to provide free legal counseling to the individual. During a break in the counseling session, the legal counselor contacted UNHCR in order to discuss the situation. Meanwhile Mr. Razvozzhaev said he would go to a nearby cafeteria for lunch and left his personal belongings in the office. When he did not return to the interview and the lawyer could not contact him on the phone, a missing person’s report was immediately filed with the Solomiansky division of the police," the UN agency statement reads. Two days later Razvozzhaev reappeared outside a Moscow courthouse, where he was recorded on video shouting that he had been kidnapped and tortured. The court ordered him detained for two months pendind trial. Razvozzhayev was on the run from Russian authorities after a televised documentary accused him of seeking funds from Georgia to help topple the government of President Vladimir Putin. On 22 October Russia’s Investigative Committee rejected claims that Razvozzhayev was beaten and tortured into confessing. Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Committee, said that Razvozzhayev had turned himself in and confessed to plotting riots. Supporters of Razvozzhayev say that any confession was coerced. (document)