Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Russia's Ban on Alcohol Advertisements Now Includes Internet and Print Media

President Vladimir Putin signed off on changes to Russia's advertising law that prohibit print media (as of January 1, 2013) and Internet portals (immediately) from publishing alcohol advertisements. The measures are meant to lower consumption of alcohol, but industry representatives complain that the new law will drastically reduce advertising revenues.  As reported by Kommersant, Russia's total advertising market for Internet and print media in 2011 was 42 billion RUB ($1.2 million) and 40.5 billion rubles, respectively, with alcohol accounting for about 2 percent of this budget. Experts estimate that total losses for media budgets from the new rules could add up to 8.5 billion rubles. Maxim magazine gets 18 percent of its advertising from alcohol producers, said the magazine's advertising director Alexei Stavrovsky, and alcohol producers are among the top five advertisers in Esquire.  In addition to this ban, as of Monday, alcohol ads, including ads for beer, will not be allowed on public transportation, in airports or in railroad and bus stations. There is also now a ban on ads for any type of alcohol on television, radio, and street billboards, although alcohol producers will still be able to advertise at retail points where their products are sold.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ukraine Wraps up Investigation of Putin Assassination Attempt

Ukraine has finished investigating the criminal case against Kazakhstan national Ilya Pyanzin and Chechen Adam Osmayev, the individuals suspected of planning the assassination of Russia's leading politicians, including then-Prime Minister and current President, Vladimir Putin.  Russia will most likely seek to extradite the suspects via the Prosecutor General's Office after the Ukrainian court has passed judgment on them. If the suspects are sentenced to prison, Russia will probably push for them to serve their terms first in Ukraine and to then serve further punishment in Russia. The media reports that the suspects planned to assassinate Putin after the March 4 presidential elections. Pyanzin and Osmayev were arrested in Ukraine, where they were charged with planning an act of terrorism and being members of a terrorist group.

Monday, July 23, 2012

According to FAS Chief, Antimonopoly Reforms Have Generated Macro-Economic Effects

According to FAS Head, Igor Artemyev, modernization of the antimonopoly laws and enforcement has already generated several macro-economic benefits.  “Under FAS influence, situations in some sectors of Russian economy started to change, for instance, on the markets of oil products, metallurgical market, in the field of trade, and on other markets”, commented Artyemev before a recent gathering of business representatives. Artyemev believes that the next logical step for FAS is to make procurement of holders of natural monopolies and state-run companies transparent and to ensure public control over them.  In particular, Artemyev stressed that “[i]ncreasing transparency in the field of state procurement by natural monopolies and state-run procurement would positively affect development of small and medium business and development competition in Russia in general."

First Skolkovo Resident Plans Public Stock Offering

VIST Mining, the first tenant of the Skolkovo Foundation technology park to go public, hopes to raise $50 million later this year, for further investment in software development for metals companies.  According to Skolokovo vice president Conor Lenihan, "This is a great blueprint for what Skolkovo can do." It's "within the pipeline of 500 startups, even though the park doesn't officially open till next year." The recent emergence of Skolkovo may coincide with a boom in venture capital investment in Russia-based companies, which jumped fourfold to a record $276 million this year as of July 20, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Since forming Skolkovo, the Russian government has allocated about $4.2 billion for the project and amended about 200 laws to encourage high-tech investment, according to the company's website. The campus, designed by France's AREP and scheduled for completion next year, will be able to accommodate 31,000 scientists, researchers, students and entrepreneurs, and has used tax breaks and other incentives to lure commitments from global companies such as Microsoft, Siemens, Cisco and Nokia.

Pussy Riot Jailed for Six More Months

A Moscow judge has ordered three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot to spend the next six months in jail, extending a pre-trial arrest in a case that has highlighted the crackdown on freedom of expression in Vladimir Putin's Russia. The three women – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina – were remanded in custody until January 2013. They have been in jail since their arrest in March after performing an anti-Putin "punk prayer" in Moscow's most important church, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Their supporters say the powerful Orthodox church, which has close links with Putin, is behind the drive to keep the women in jail. Top church officials have come out in favour of their incarceration. They face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism.

Russia Joins WTO

On Saturday Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a federal law that authorizes the protocol for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Kremlin said. The protocol on Russia's accession to the Marrakesh Agreement, the foundation document for the WTO, was signed in Geneva on December 16, 2011 after almost 18 years of negotiations. The document which has earlier been ratified by both houses of Russian parliament, stipulates that Russia, as a WTO member state, will undertake to comply with the obligations of the Marrakesh Agreement. The transition period to liberalization of access to Russia's markets is two to three years, but this is extended to five to seven years for markets requiring more protection such as the automobile industry and agriculture, agricultural machinery production and light industry. The Russian opposition, including communists and "A Just Russia" party, has claimed on many occasions that Russia’s accession to the WTO was detrimental to Russia’s national sovereignty and security and could ruin whole sectors of the domestic economy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Russia, China Veto UN SC Resolution on Syria

Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Thursday that threatened Syrian authorities with sanctions if they did not halt violence against an uprising, again thwarting Western hopes for tough action as the crisis in Syria escalates. It was the third time that Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, and China have used their veto power to block resolutions designed to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and halt the 16-month conflict that has killed thousands. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, called the Russian and Chinese moves "dangerous and deplorable" and said the Security Council had "failed utterly."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tatarstan Mufti Injured, Deputy Killed In Separate Attacks

The government-backed mufti in Russia's mainly Muslim republic of Tatarstan has been injured and his deputy killed in two separate attacks. Officials of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate said mufti Ildus Faizov sustained injuries when unknown individuals blew up his car in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, early on July 19. He has been hospitalized. Officials said that in a second incident, the mufti's deputy, Valilulla Yakupov, was shot dead near his home in the republican capital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks on the men, who are two of Tatarstan's most senior spiritual leaders. Yakupov was known for his opposition to radical Islam and religious extremism. (video)

UN Official: Russia’s New Laws Could Have Serious Negative Impacts on Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was concerned that a series of legislative amendments in the Russian Federation would have a seriously negative impact on human rights in the country. “In just two months, we have seen a worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information in the Russian Federation,” she said. “At least four new legal provisions have been made that will have a detrimental effect on human rights in the country.” Those provisions include the laws known as the "anti-rally law," the "foreign agents law," the "internet censorship law," and the "criminal defamation law." In response Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich called on Pillay to "refrain from politically motivated and incorrect statements".

Russia’s Senators Approve ‘Anti-Opposition’ Bills

Bills branding many NGOs “foreign agents,” criminalizing defamation of character and creating an internet blacklist were approved on Wednesday by the Russian Federation Council. All the bills will have to be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. No date for a signing was set on Wednesday. The bill on NGOs requires all politically active nongovernmental groups who receive foreign funding to publicly label themselves “foreign agents.” Failure to comply can result in jail terms of up to four years for NGO employees. Defamation, decriminalized by then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011, is now set to be punishable with fines of up to 5 million rubles ($150,000), but no jail terms. The government is also poised to obtain the right to create a blacklist of websites that can be banned over their content. Only websites promoting illegal drugs, child abuse or suicide will be eligible for extrajudicial bans. The three controversial bills were criticized by many rights activists, who insisted they were aimed to pressure the political opposition. The ruling United Russia party, which fast-tracked the bills through the parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, denied any political motivation to the laws.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Uzbek Gets 16 Years for Obama Murder Plot

A federal judge in Alabama sentenced an Uzbek man living illegally in the United States to nearly 16 years in prison on Friday on terrorism and weapons charges stemming from his plot to kill President Barack Obama. Ulugbek Kodirov, who arrived in the United States in 2009 to attend medical school but never enrolled, had plotted to shoot Obama while he campaigned for re-election this year, according to federal authorities in Alabama. They said the 22-year-old man became "radicalised" through internet research and was acting on behalf of an Islamist militant group in his homeland.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Russian Concern Over Corruption Rises

According to a recent survey released by The Levada Center, the percentage of Russians dissatisfied with corrupt authorities has reached its highest level in 13 years. Twenty-nine percent of respondents told pollsters that they were outraged by authorities' practice of thinking of themselves and their pockets before their official duties, up from twenty-two percent from a similar survey last year. Forty-five percent of Russians also expressed doubt in the government's ability to deal with falling incomes and the increased cost of living.  The annual survey was conducted in 43 Russian regions and had 1,600 respondents.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Russia's Duma Votes to Increase Fines for Defamation

In a vote of 231 to 91, Russia's Duma voted Friday for a drastic increase in fines for defamation, increasing the maximum penalty for defamation to 5 million rubles ($152,888) from the previous limit of 3,000 rubles.  The law puts defamation back into the criminal code, after it was taken out by former President Dmitry Medvedev last year. People found guilty under the new rules may also face a maximum of 480 hours' community service, although an earlier plan to introduce jail sentences was dropped. The bill must be passed by the Federation Council and signed by President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law.

Russia, Ukraine Settle Maritime Border Dispute

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych have signed a preliminary agreement on the delimitation of the maritime border between the two countries in the Kerch Strait. The Russian-Ukrainian maritime border in the Kerch Strait, which links the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea, has long been a bone of contention between the two countries. According to Soviet-era maps, the border between Russia and Ukraine was directly down the middle of the Kerch Strait. However, the man-made Kerch-Yenikal Channel, which is navigable for large ships, then falls into Ukrainian waters (which Russia has always been unhappy with). Up to 9,000 ships pass through the Kerch Strait each year. Ukraine charges Russian ships passing through the Kerch-Yenikal Channel for navigation and pilotage services. In the summer of 2003, a bitter dispute broke out between Russia and Ukraine over the Tuzla Island in the middle of the Kerch Strait, which came to a head when Russia tried to construct a dam on the island. Ukraine accused Russia of encroaching on its territory. In line with Thursday’s preliminary agreement, the Tuzla Island would be considered Ukraine’s territory.

Moldova Bans Communist Symbols

Moldova's parliament has banned the use of communist symbols and condemned crimes committed by the communist regime in the former Soviet republic of Moldova. The move means that the Communist Party will have to replace its Soviet-era hammer and sickle with a new emblem. The Communist Party -- which has 36 deputies in parliament -- did not take part in the vote and walked out as a sign of protest. Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin said his party would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court. The move could also complicate efforts to settle the long-running dispute with Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, which continues to use communist-era symbols.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Russian Senators: Magnitsky's Detention Was Lawful

The arrest of Hermitage Capital auditor Sergei Magnitsky and the decision to hold him in custody were lawful; however the circumstances surrounding his death and the reasons for which he was denied medical aid must be scrupulously investigated, according to a report on a preliminary parliamentary investigation presented in Washington by a group of Federation Council members. The materials used for the investigation, copies of interrogation records, the autopsy report and official correspondence of the penitentiary service were distributed to U.S. senators, members of Congress and State Department officials. Meanwhile, the report states that this investigation should have no bearing on the investigation into Hermitage Capital, which has been accused in Russia of tax evasion, misappropriation of public funds and cooperation with Magnitsky. Russian senators have also presented a detailed report on the Hermitage Capital case to their U.S. colleagues, which discusses the company’s alleged illegal activities.  Magnitsky was charged with masterminding large-scale corporate tax evasion for Hermitage. He died in a Moscow pretrial detention center on November 16, 2009 after spending a year behind bars. His death sparked a public outcry and triggered amendments to the Criminal Code and a reshuffling of officials in the penal system.

Russian State Duma Adopts Internet Censorship Law

The lower house (Duma) of Russia's parliament approved legislation to allow the government to block blacklisted websites, a move criticized by internet freedom activists who say the law could be used to crack down on dissent. The Duma committee that drafted the bill says it is necessary to combat websites that carry child pornography, drug promotion material and advice on suicide. The law provides for creation of a federal agency to decide which websites should be closed down. The head of the committee, Yelena Mizulina, said that critics of the bill were falsely accusing the authorities of censorship. “There is no censorship here,” she said. The bill will now go to the upper house and could enter into law on January 1, 2013.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

State Duma Ratifies Russia's WTO Accession

In a plenary session, the State Duma adopted a resolution ratifying Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. Only United Russia deputies supported the ratification during the individual voting. Representatives of all of the opposition factions objected. The protocol stipulates that Russia, as a WTO member state, undertakes all of the obligations under the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO. The transitional period for liberalizing market access is 2-3 years and 5-7 years for sensitive goods. The Duma's decision provoked a host of disputes in the business community and in parliament. An appeal was filed with the Constitutional Court, but the Court found no violation of the Constitution.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gazprom Tops List of World's Most Profitable Companies

According to the annual Global 500 list of corporate heavy hitters ranked by Fortune magazine, Russian energy company Gazprom is the most profitable company in the world, taking in $44.4 billion in profits in 2011. Seven Russian companies are on the list, of which six are in the oil and gas business.

Russian Wikipedia Goes on Strike Over Censorship Plans

The Russian-language segment of Wikipedia, the world’s largest free on-line encyclopedia, suspended operation for 24 hours in protest against a bill proposing a unified digital blacklist of all websites containing banned content. The draft legislation, supported by all four party factions in the State Duma, has been widely criticized by civil rights activists and internet providers as an attempt to introduce censorship of the Russian segment of the internet (RuNet). “The Wikipedia community protests against censorship, which threatens open, free knowledge for mankind,” Wikipedia says in a statement on its Russian-language website.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Russian Constitutional Court Backs WTO Membership

Russia's Constitutional Court cleared the path for lawmakers to approve membership of the WTO by ruling that joining the world free trade club was legal and in line with the country's basic law. "The protocol was signed and approved in accordance with a procedure that does not contradict the state's constitutional order," Interfax quoted the Constitutional Court judgement as saying. The ruling on a Communist Party bid to block World Trade Organisation membership enables the State Duma (lower house of parliament) to proceed with the legislation after 18 years of tense negotiations between Russia and the WTO. Russia became the world's largest economy outside the trade group upon China's accession in 2001.

Another Russian Tycoons' Legal Battle Starts in London

Today the High Court in London will begin hearing the lawyers' opening speeches in the high-profile litigation launched by Israeli resident Mikhail Cherney against Oleg Deripaska, owner of the Russian aluminum giant, RUSAL. Cherney is claiming 20 percent of RUSAL, alleging that he signed an agreement in 2001 on the transfer into a trust management of a block of company shares, the value of which Deripaska was to repay within three to five years. Deripaska denies having any business relations with Cherney, although he admits that Cherney provided him "krysha" ("protection") in the early 1990's, which was indispensible for doing business in Russia at the time. The concept of "krysha" has become a household term for UK lawyers and journalists after the recent trial between Berezovsky and Abramovich. Both trials stem from supposed agreements on business cooperation. Neither Abramovich nor Deripaska admit they had any partnership agreements. While Abramovich said Berezovsky provided him with political protection, Deripaska has acknowledged Cherney's criminal protection for his aluminum business in the 1990's. The two cases are closely interlinked, which explains in part why the trial between Cherney and Deripaska has been delayed. The Berezovsky-Abramovich trial finished several months ago and the court is due to deliver its verdict shortly.

Bout's Wife Submits Extradition Documents

Convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout's wife Alla has submitted to the Justice Ministry the documents required for filing an application for her husband's extradition. Bout may be extradited under the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. Russia must send an inquiry to the U.S. Justice Ministry. The Justice Ministry said the trilateral consent of all parties is needed to transfer Bout, particularly the transferring party, the receiving party and the individual serving the sentence. Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a federal court in New York for planning to sell arms to the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces. He has denied the charges.

Deadly Floods Hit Southern Russia

Russia’s worst floods in decades, triggered by heavy rainfalls, ravaged several cities and residential areas in the southern Krasnodar Region on Friday night, killing at least 170 people, mostly in the town of Krymsk. Over 5,000 homes were flooded in the region as a result of the disaster. Local residents are inclined to blame the authorities, especially after regional governor Alexander Tkachev admitted that the authorities were warned at least three hours before the flood but failed to properly warn residents. Tkachev said during the meeting with Krymsk residents that the first warnings of possible flooding came at 10 p.m. Friday, while the heaviest flood was from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday. "Do you think my dears ... that we could have warned each of you? With what forces? That's one. And two, would you have gotten up and left your homes?" Tkachev asked rhetorically. President Vladimir Putin declared a day of mourning and ordered a probe into flood deaths. (video; quotation at 2:25)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Medvedev: I Do Not Care about Japan's Reaction to Kurils Visit

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he is indifferent to Japan’s reaction over his trip to one of the Kuril Islands. On Tuesday, Medvedev arrived in Kunashir, just north of Japan's Hokkaido island, for his second trip to the disputed Kuril Islands, which the Soviet Union annexed after World War II. Japan claims Kunashir, Shikotan, the Habomai Islets and Iturup as its territory. Japan’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador in Tokyo and filed a protest over Medvedev’s trip to one of the disputed islands. "(This) is a territory inherent to Japan, therefore the visit of this kind is unacceptable for Japan and deeply regrettable," Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Kenichiro Sasae told Russian Ambassador Yevgenny Afanasiyev. Medvedev told journalists: “As for the reaction of our Japanese partners, I do not care about it. I do not care about it so much that I will not be wasting my time answering this question.” “What do we have to discuss with them? The issue of the Russian prime minister’s presence on the Russian territory? This all could go too far,” he added.

Ukraine Police Tackle Protests Over Russian Language Law

The Ukrainian parliament backed a controversial law giving higher status to the Russian language – a move that prompted fights inside the chamber and protests on the streets of the former Soviet republic. One MP suffered a broken rib from the mêlée in which police used tear gas against people demonstrating in the capital, Kiev. The law proposed by President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions now just needs his signature to come into force.