Friday, September 28, 2012

Rosneft to Invest $16 Bln in Venezuela

Russia’s largest state-owned oil company Rosneft and Corporation Venezolana del Petroleo (CVP), a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil and gas company PDVSA, have signed an agreement to establish a joint venture to develop the Carabobo 2 bloc in the southern Orinoco extra-heavy crude belt in Venezuela. The Russian company’s share will be 40 percent. The two companies also signed a memorandum of understanding, an agreement on Rosneft paying a bonus of $1.1 billion and a deal to issue a $1.5 billion loan to CVP for five years. The total amount of Rosneft's investments is expected to be $16 bln.

Chechen Court Bans "Innocence of Muslims"

A district court in Chechnya, acting upon a petition from the Chechen Ministry for ethnic policy and mass media, found the film Innocence of Muslims "extremist." This means the film is automatically banned throughout Russia. It is not immediately clear whether the judgment will result in blocking all of YouTube (which hosts the video) in Russia. In Chechnya and some other Russian regions YouTube has already been blocked.

Prosecutor: Chechen court decision is not final

Deripaska, Cherney Settle £1 Bln Lawsuit

Russian tycoons Oleg Deripaska and Michael Cherney have settled their £1bn legal dispute just days before the case was due to restart at London's High Court. After six years and millions of pounds in legal fees, the case has been dropped.  Mr Cherney first started proceedings against Mr Deripaska, a man he claims was his former business partner. No details of the settlement have been released. Mr Cherney had been due to testify via a video feed from Israel. He was unable to appear in person in the UK as he is wanted for questioning by Interpol. The case promised to shed a light on business practices in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s. Mr Deripaska had claimed he was the victim of “krysha”, or protection money, extorted by Mr Cherney. This was rejected by Mr Cherney, who claimed the pair had a legitimate business relationship.

Supreme Court: Russians Cannot Hit Back at Police

Russian citizens have no right to use force to defend themselves against illegal acts by the police, the country’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. The court rejected a proposed new instruction to lower courts that asserted the citizen's right to self-defense, citing the Russian Criminal Code. "Defense against the known illegal use of force by law enforcement agents is allowable; legitimate self-defense is the right of everyone, regardless of their professional or other preparation or their position," the draft instruction said. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that any action by a law enforcement officer on duty, even if it causes or threatens harm to a person, does not provide legal grounds for self-defense. (video)

Germany Charges "Russian Spies"

German prosecutors say they have filed espionage charges against two alleged Russian agents whom they accuse of spying for information on European Union and NATO. The federal prosecutors' office alleged Thursday that the pair, who were arrested last October, worked in Germany for Russia's foreign intelligence service, or SVR, for more than 20 years. Prosecutors said they entered Germany in 1988 and 1990 claiming to be Austrian citizens of South American origin. Between 2008 and 2011, they allegedly handled another agent in the Dutch Foreign Ministry who gave them official documents on EU and NATO matters. Prosecutors say they were paid nearly €100,000 ($130,000) annually for their work in recent years.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Head of FAS Aims for Improved Enforcement and Efficiency in Antimonopoly Laws

On the 24th of September 2012, the Head of Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS), Igor Artemyev, speaking at the Third Russian-American Conference on “The Modern Antimonopoly Law and Judicial Practice in Russia and the U.S", announced that the third antimonopoly package had largely achieved the goal of improving enforcement and efficiency by the FAS.  “In the first six months of 2012 FAS and its regional bodies issued 603 warnings on violating the antimonopoly law. The companies executed 74% of the total number of the issued warnings on schedule”, said Artemyev. Urging reform of the system for procurement by natural monopolies and state-run companies, Artemyev added: “At the moment the system of state preferences is not regularized. It must be reformed because companies that are granted state preferences are in a more advantageous position in comparison with their competitors that were not granted such subsidies or other privileges.”

President Urges Tajiks to Store Food Reserves

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon urged his countrymen to store two years' worth of food reserves (flour and grain) ahead of what is expected to be a harsh winter. Rakhmon said in a statement Wednesday that rising global commodity prices have made effective use of agricultural resources imperative. The World Bank estimates that three-quarters of Tajikistan's population is engaged in farming, but food scarcity still remains an acute problem. Hundreds of thousands of working-aged men have left the country for work, mainly in Russia, leaving behind a largely female rural workforce.

Russia May Boycott PACE Session

The speaker of Russia’s State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, has decided not to travel to next week’s session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he was supposed to address PACE and answer questions from delegates. “We feel my strategic proposals are unlikely to receive a fair hearing from some PACE leaders and from some leaders of Russo-phobic delegations,” Naryshkin explained.  According to Russian media, the whole Russian delegation may boycott the session over the resolution on Russia which PACE is intending to adopt. The assembly is scheduled to examine the new report on Russia’s honoring of its PACE commitments. The report calls for continued monitoring of Russia’s commitments, citing the harsh sentences handed down to the all-female punk collective Pussy Riot and the slow pace of reform of the judicial system.  Welcoming some “very positive” steps by Russia, such as amendments to the law on political parties, changes in the electoral law and the re-introduction of direct elections of governors, the draft resolution says some other measures raise “serious concerns”. The de-legalisation of the Republican Party, the refusal to register some political parties, the systematic non-authorisation of peaceful demonstrations and the use of disproportionate force to disperse them, the creation of restrictive conditions for freedom of the media, especially the large and influential media, and harassment of the opposition, have all had negative effects on the state of democracy in Russia, according to the report.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Russian Billionaire Charged with Hooliganism

Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire and outspoken Kremlin critic, has been charged with hooliganism in connection with his on-air brawl with businessman Sergei Polonsky a little over a year ago.  The charge, which carries up to a five-year prison sentence, is for "hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity" - the same charge that led to prison terms for three members of Pussy Riot last month.  In connection with the indictment, Lebedev was asked to give a written assurance that he would not leave the country, something that he refused to do in the past. Lebedev agreed that he would not go into hiding and would remain available to investigators. Lebedev's lawyer, Genri Reznik, criticized the charges against his client, saying that the Kremlin is truing to punish Lebedev for his exposure of government corruption, and publishing Novaya Gazeta, which supports the opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. In addition to Novaya Gazeta, which Lebedev co-owns with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, his other high-profile assets include Britain's The Independent and London's Evening Standard.  The next hearing of Lebedev's case is tentatively scheduled for October 2nd. (video)

Russia on Pace to become Europe's Largest Auto Market

According to experts at the Sochi Investment Forum, the Russian auto market is set to become No.1 in Europe over the next two years. “The growth figures in 2011 and the first 8 months of 2012 make a target of becoming No.1 market in Europe possible,” Evgeniy Kudryashov, the head of the auto industry department at the Russian Ministry of Trade and Industry, told RT. He added that the Russian car market is expected to grow 12.4% this year; currently it is in second place in Europe after Germany. Meanwhile, Russia's ascension to the WTO might create a challenge for domestic car production. “Customs tariffs are going to be lowered year after year now, so the incentive for suppliers to localize is going lower every year, because they can just import the parts,” Marcus Osegowitsh, general director of Volkswagen Russia told RT. “We need another push from government to make it attractive for suppliers to localize, which helps us fulfill requirements we signed with the government,” he added. VW expects to reach 60% localization by 2016. The company already reached the figure for a number of models.

Russia Slams Pussy Riot Nomination for Sakharov Award

A plan by European Union legislators to nominate three jailed members of the punk group Pussy Riot for the Andrei Sakharov human rights award represents interference in Russia's judicial affairs, the Russian Foreign Ministry's plenipotentiary for human rights and democracy Konstantin Dolgov said on Tuesday. "The  initiative cannot be assessed as anything other than a crude attempt at interference in the activities of independent arms of the Russian state and as an attempt to cast doubt on the decision of the judge, who delivered her verdict in accordance with the due process of law," Dolgov said in a statement. The European Union deputies confirmed the nomination on Tuesday afternoon. The winner will be chosen in December in Strasbourg. The Sakharov Prize, which comes with a 50,000 Euro award, is given for special contributions to the protection of human rights.

Romney Invests in Russia, Loses Money

U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is known in Russia for calling it America's "number one geopolitical foe," last year acquired and sold shares in the politically powerful Russian gas giant Gazprom. Ann and Mitt Romney's family tax return, released Friday, shows Romney sold his Gazprom stock at a loss last September in advance of election season. Romney's 2011 tax return also shows hundreds of dropped shares of Russian internet firm, Yandex, sold at a loss in August of 2011. Romney's financials for 2011 show dropped investments in over 1000 shares of Gazprom and Yandex combined. (document)

BP Appeals against Russian $3 Bln Award

Russia's Eighth Commercial Court of Appeals has set October 25 as the date to hear BP Russian Investment Limited's (BPRI) appeal against a court decision in a case filed by TNK-BP minority shareholder Andrei Prokhorov, awarding 100.4 billion rubles ($3.21 billion) to TNK-BP, the court spokesperson said. The Tyumen Regional Commercial Court partially upheld Prokhorov's claims on August 6. Prokhorov had filed a suit for 288 billion rubles ($9.23 billion) in damages against BPRI and BP plc. The legal action stems from the allegation that BP PLC (parent company of BP Russian Investments Limited) and BP Russian Investments Limited, acting as TNK-BP Limited shareholders, forced their boards to turn down a proposal by TNK-BP Holding for a strategic partnership with Rosneft and a purchase of its shares. This lost opportunity allegedly inflicted losses on TNK-BP Holding. According to BP attorney Konstantin Lukoyanov, the lawsuits against the BP companies are absurd and frivolous.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Russia Plans IPO of Largest Oil Shipper

The Russian Government has announced plans to sell controlling share of the country’s largest shipping company, Sovcomflot, in a public offering, provided it receives a suitable offer says Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.  Half of the money from the IPO will go to Sovcomflot, which specializes in petroleum and LNG shipping, for maintenance and further development of its 156 vessel fleet.  Shuvalov stressed the government didn’t set any deadline for Sovcomflot’s initial offering. The stock will be listed as market conditions become suitable, with a two stage plan anticipated. “At first we plan to sell 25% minus one share stock, then 25% plus one share stock. I hope the deals would follow each other,” Shuvalov explained.

Austrian Researchers Prove Ballot Stuffing in Russian Elections

A group of Austrian researchers published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading U.S. scientific journal, proposing certain statistical methods for identifying "election irregularities." By applying this method, they show that reported irregularities in recent Russian elections are attributed to systematic ballot stuffing. One of the authors, Stefan Thurner, stated in an interview: "If not for manipulations, the United Russia party backing Vladimir Putin would have hardly obtained 40 percent of votes instead of the official 50 percent.",,16257892,00.html (video: ballot stuffing in Russia, 2012)

U.S. Senate Calls for Sanctions against Ukrainian Officials

The U.S. Senate approved a resolution co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (Republican) and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Democrat) calling for the unconditional release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The U.S. Senate also urged the State Department to adopt sanctions against Ukrainian officials who were involved in her conviction, according to Tymoshenko's official website. Additionally, the Senate has called on the Ukrainian government to provide Tymoshenko with adequate medical care. The Senate also urged the Ukrainian government to hold the October 28 parliamentarian elections in a fair and transparent manner, conforming to the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Ukraine will preside over in 2013. Senators have also stressed that keeping Tymoshenko imprisoned threatens U.S.- Ukrainian relations.

Chechnya Blocks YouTube

A number of internet service providers in Chechnya have blocked access to the video sharing site YouTube over an anti-Islamic film that has sparked riots across the Middle East and North Africa. The Chechen prosecutor’s office earlier instructed all providers operating in the North Caucasus republic to block access to YouTube. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov warned that if “companies ignore the ruling they will be held liable.” Last week prosecutors in several Russian regions asked internet service providers to block sites offering access to the video. The Russian prosecutor general’s office has declared it extremist and is now seeking a court ruling to ban the video in Russia. A Moscow court will consider the case on October 1.

Radio Liberty Ceases Broadcasting in Russia

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is set to stop medium-wave broadcasting in Moscow on November 10, and will switch over to the multimedia internet broadcasting format, Yelena Glushkova, the head of the radio station’s Russian office, announced on Friday. She said that the decision was made in compliance with the Russian law on mass media that prohibits radio broadcasting in Russia by companies that are majority owned by foreign individuals or legal entities. “We are working on a multimedia strategy, which means we will use the internet as the key radio broadcasting site,” she said. Glushkova said that the radio station reduced staff due to the switchover to multimedia broadcasting. Radio Liberty is a broadcaster funded by U.S. Congress and is headquartered in Prague.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Experts at International Investment Forum Urge Russia to Boost Competitiveness

According to experts at the 11th International Investment Forum in Sochi, Russia's economic potential is being lost by poor management, with absolute government dominance at the root of many of the country’s key problems. “If you have too strong government dominance, then you have problems with things like corruption, inefficiency, no clear targets and things like that,” noted Ilkka Salonen, chairman at Uralsib bank.  Russia ranks 67th on the global competitiveness scale, and lags behind in efficiency as well. Under the TP-Index that shows a company's turnover to workforce ratio, each worker at Russia’s largest private energy company Integrated Energy Systems produces an average of $175,550 in annual revenue, while by comparison, workers at US Energy Future Holdings produce an average of $895,650 in annual revenue. Overall, 244 agreements were made at the 2012 Sochi Forum, worth $11.1 billion. The figure compares with 295 deals worth $13.85 billion done in 2011.

Warehouse Space at a Premium in Moscow

Demand for warehouse space in Moscow is breaking records as the increasing number of malls and chain stores ups the need for high-tech storage, shipping and product assembly facilities.  By the end of this quarter, about 500,000 square meters of high-quality warehouse space will be leased or sold in the Moscow region, the most for any Russian region. With the warehouse vacancy rate hovering at just 2 percent since the end of last year, "we're selling and leasing space that hasn't even been built yet," said Lance Pilant, director of industrial and logistics agency services for CBRE. This is the first year that he has brokered sales and rentals of yet-to-be-completed warehouse space, he said by telephone. Pilant estimated that more than 800,000 square meters of additional space could be opened in the next 12 months with five major warehouses under construction in Moscow's northern suburbs, including a 228,000 square meter site owned by Belgian developer, Ghelamco Group, and two multi-million dollar projects sponsored by PNK Group.

Russian Deputy Agriculture Minister Surprised by Talk of Grain Export

Russian Deputy Agriculture Minister, Ilya Shestakov, said he was surprised by Economy Minister Andrei Belousov's recent statement that Russia could limit its grain exports. "In all the meetings that have happened, the issue of a ban has never been raised and the Economy Ministry has not promoted that idea this year," added Shestakov.  He said export tariffs were not under discussion and the Agriculture Ministry was keeping to its plan to regulate the domestic market through intervention sales. "We are in a globalized market and there is nothing bad in that because there will be logistic redirection of flows," he said.

OSCE Slams Belarus Election

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has denounced the recent parliamentary elections in Belarus as neither democratic nor competitive. "This election was not competitive from the start," OSCE special coordinator Matteo Mecacci said in his statement. Last Sunday, Belarus elected its lower house of representatrives. A total of 109 out of 110 of parliament members were elected by a majority vote. One district will have a run-off election, as it didn’t have a clear-cut winner. The overall turnout amounted to 74.3% of the Belarusian population.

European Parliament Chairman: Belarus elections are "a mockery of a democratic ballot"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Nature" Stands for Jailed Russian Chemist

World leading scientific journal "Nature" published an article about the criminal prosecution of chemist Olga Zelenina, which the journal calls "a Kafkaesque nightmare." The Russian chemist is accused of participating in organized drug trafficking, and is currently behind bars a in Moscow detention center, where she shares a cell with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the prominent activist punk band Pussy Riot. Zelenina’s supporters say that she is the victim of a monstrous miscarriage of justice, and has done nothing more than provide an expert opinion on the opiate content of a consignment of poppy seeds. They are pessimistic that a court hearing scheduled for 24 September will result in her immediate release.

Zelenina released pending trial

Friday, September 21, 2012

Georgia Prison Torture Prompts Mass Protests

Since Tuesday, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in several Georgian cities after national TV channels broadcasted video footage of prisoners being abused by guards in a Tbilisi prison. As a result, the prison minister of Georgia has resigned. Masses of Georgians joined spontaneous rallies in Tbilisi, Batumi, Poti, Gori and other cities after Maestro TV and TV-9 showed guards in the Gldan detention facility beating and raping prisoners them with rubber truncheons.  Hundreds of protesters shut down traffic in central Tbilisi as they marched to the Interior Ministry building. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has suspended the country's entire prison staff. (video)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sberbank's SPO Order Book Fully Subscribed

The order book for a 7.6 percent stake in Sberbank, being sold by the Russian state in a $5 billion-plus secondary offering, is fully subscribed. Russia launched the long-awaited stake sale to reduce its stake to 50 percent plus one voting share, setting a minimum price for the 1.7 billion shares on offer at 91 roubles - a 6 percent discount to Friday's close of 97.05 roubles.

Russia Bans USAID

The United States is ending its efforts to promote democracy and civil society in Russia under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department said Tuesday. According to the State Department, the move comes in response to the Russian government’s decision to halt the USAID’s programs in the country. Senior Russian officials have portrayed some of these programs - such as those funding election monitoring and human rights groups critical of the Kremlin - as attempts by a foreign nation to undermine Russia’s sovereignty. USAID, which operates in more than 100 countries, has been active in Russia over the past two decades. Its array of social programs have targeted issues such as at-risk youth and pressing public health issues like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. But the agency has also funded civic organizations that have rankled Russian officials, including the election watchdog Golos, whose monitors have catalogued violations in local and federal elections in recent years. The United States has repeatedly denied that these programs are aimed at interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Russia May Ban YouTube over "Innocence of Muslims"

Russian authorities are moving to have the film “Innocence of Muslims” banned for extremism after it set off a wave of violence in the Middle East that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. “The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office will appeal to court for the acknowledgement of this film as extremist in order to prevent its online distribution in Russia,” spokeswoman Marina Gridneva told Interfax. Authorities also have filed paperwork with the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, which said it was already contacting Internet service providers to warn them that the film may violate the law. Nikolay Nikiforov, the Minister of Communications and Mass Media, stated in his Twitter feed that under a newly adopted law (informally known as the "Internet censorship law") YouTube may be blocked in Russia for hosting the film.

Russia Declassifies "Trillions of Carats" in Extraterrestrial Diamonds

Russia has shocked the international gem industry by revealing the existence of huge diamond fields in eastern Siberia resulting from a prehistoric asteroid collision. Russia has just declassified the discovery of a vast new diamond field containing "trillions of carats," enough to supply global markets for another 3,000 years. The Soviets discovered the bonanza back in the 1970s beneath a 35-million-year-old, 62-mile diameter asteroid crater in eastern Siberia known as Popigai Astroblem. They decided to keep it secret, and not to exploit it. The veil of secrecy was finally lifted over the weekend, and Moscow permitted scientists from the nearby Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Mineralogy to talk about it with Russian journalists. Director of the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Academician Nikolai Pokhilenko said, "The first results of research were sufficient to talk about a possible overturn of the entire world market of diamonds." "The resources of super-hard diamonds contained in rocks of the Popigai crypto-explosion structure, are by a factor of ten bigger than all the world's known reserves. We are speaking about trillions of carats, for comparison – present-day known reserves in Yakutia are estimated at one billion carats," he said.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Uzbek Court Confiscates Russian Mobile Operator Assets

The Tashkent Criminal Court in Uzbekistan has imposed suspended sentences or fines on four managers of LLC Uzdunrobita, the Uzbekistan-based subsidiary of leading Russian cellular provider Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), and confiscated the subsidiary's property in favor of the state. The defendants were accused of "organizing a criminal group with the purpose of extracting uncontrolled profits." Earlier the Uzbek tax authorities claimed some $900 mln of back taxes from the MTS subsidiary and cancelled its licenses. Michael Hecker, MTS's vice president for strategy, called the license-related court session a "20-minute show" that represented a "clear violation of the basic rights to a fair trial and due process." "We invested over $1 billion into the company. We believe somewhere in this area is also the equity value of the company. And it becomes very clear that all the fabricated amounts that we are due to pay according to those statements of the Uzbek authorities -- that they equal, more or less, the equity value, because then [the government] will just simply expropriate the company," Hecker said. "They will basically say, 'We'll take the company and that's it.'"

Rosneft Not to Sell Oil to Timchenko

Trading house Gunvor - dubbed by dealers the king of Kremlin oil - has been left with no Russian crude to sell. That was the surprise outcome of the latest big Russian crude oil sales tender, long routinely won by Gunvor. The result has sparked an intense debate in the industry about whether Gunvor's co-owner Gennady Timchenko is out of favour with the Kremlin or whether the firm is merely fine-tuning its strategy before embarking on yet another phase of spectacular growth. Geneva-based Gunvor, which at one point handled as much as 40 percent of Russia's seaborne exports and was a regular in term deals with companies such as Rosneft, Surgut and TNK-BP, insists the latest development is consistent with its long-term strategy. There has been media speculation in Russia that Timchenko has fallen out with Putin's main energy aide Igor Sechin, deputy prime minister until May and currently chief executive at Rosneft. According to the sources of leading Russian business daily Vedomosti, Sechin have showed irritation about Timchenko's being a "lawful billionaire" while Sechin himself have to "work like a beaver day and night."  Timchenko has denied any conflicts with Rosneft, though.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Russian Parliament Expels Anti-Putin Deputy

The Russian parliament expelled an opponent of President Vladimir Putin on Friday in a vote which he said intensified a Kremlin crackdown on dissent and likened to a Stalinist show trial. A vote in the lower house, the State Duma, deprived opposition deputy Gennady Gudkov of his parliamentary immunity over allegations he denied of operating a business while in the assembly, a charge that carries a two-year jail sentence (but no trial took place as yet). Opposition leaders said his expulsion, one day before a protest rally in Moscow sent a clear signal that Putin was determined to smother dissent in his new-six year term. "It is a political vendetta and extrajudicial punishment," Gudkov, 56, told the Duma before it voted 291-150 to oust him. Three deputies abstained. "I received my mandate from the people, from hundreds of thousands of voters who voted for me, and only they can judge what kind of deputy I am," Gudkov said.

Azeri Appeal Court Refuses to Release Human Rights Activist

An appeal court in Baku refused to change the pre-trial imprisonment of human rights activist Hilal Mamedov to home arrest. Hilal Mamedovthe, the chief editor of the Baku-based "Tolisi sado" (The Voice of Talysh) independent newspaper, was arrested on June 21 and accused of possession of illegal drugs. Mamedov's relatives say he has never used drugs and that they believe the arrest is politically motivated. Later he was also charged with high treason (spying for Iran) and inciting ethnic hatred. For that he may receive up to a life sentence. Mamedov's newspaper is printed in the Talysh language, a branch of Persian. The Talysh minority's leader in Azerbaijan, Novruzali Mamedov, who edited the newspaper before Mamedov, died in prison in 2009 after he was found guilty of spying for Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In Russia Mamedov is famous for a video where he performs a parody song "Who are you? Good bye, go away!" (video)

Medvedev: Free Pussy Riot

Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that he disapproved of the protests staged by punk band Pussy Riot but that it was "unproductive" for them to serve time in prison. Three band members were sentenced in August to two-year jail terms for singing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral. Medvedev said he was "sickened" by the actions of  Pussy Riot but still wanted the women freed on parole. "It seems to me unproductive in this case to prolong their time in prison conditions," Medvedev said at a meeting with members of the ruling United Russia party.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

European Parliament: Pussy Riot Sentence Is Political Intimidation

The human rights situation in Russia has deteriorated drastically in the last few months, with the adoption of a series of laws that could be used to further restrict opposition and hinder freedom of expression, says the European Parliament in a resolution adopted on Thursday. MEPs cite the cases of the punk band Pussy Riot and the opposition party member Gennady Gudkov as examples. They are gravely concerned about "the deteriorating climate" for the development of civil society in Russia, pointing to the recent legislation on demonstrations, NGOs, defamation and the Internet. In particular, the Parliament is "deeply disappointed with the verdict and the disproportionate sentence" against the punk band Pussy Riot, describing it as "politically motivated intimidation of opposition activists".

Russian Foreign Ministry: European Parliament's resolution is intervention in Russian internal affairs or an attempt to step in for Russian justice

Lukoil U.S. Franchisees Publicize $9 Gas in Protest

Drivers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania may be in for a shock if they pull into a Lukoil gas station. About 57 franchise owners are protesting on Wednesday against the price of gas charged by Lukoil North America, a subsidiary of the Russian corporation, OAO Lukoil. The owners have posted gas prices over $8 at their stations to draw attention to what they claim are the high prices charged to them that they must pass on to consumers. "We are doing this because we are dying," said Khaled Kezbari, owner of three Lukoil gas stations in New Jersey. "Lukoil is charging us costs higher than the retail market. How can you compete? You cannot compete in the market like that." Outside Kezbari's gas station in Mount Laurel, N.J., the price of gas is posted as $9.99 a gallon.

Russian Ships Displayed at DNC Tribute to Vets

On the last night of the Democratic National Convention, Adm. John Nathman, a former commander of Fleet Forces Command, took the stage to pay tribute to veterans. Behind him, on a giant screen, the image of four hulking warships reinforced his patriotic message. However, those were Russian warships. Experts recognized them as the Kara-class cruiser Kerch, the guided missile destroyer Smetlivyy, and a patrol ship Ladny or Pytlivy, all from the Russian Black Sea Fleet. One of the ships bore a clearly visible St. Andrew's flag (white flag with a blue ‘X’), the symbol of the Russian Navy. The fourth ship was Ukrainian frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy. Democratic officials apologized, blaming a "vendor error." (video)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Russian Patriarch Questions New Civil Code

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin asking him to guarantee the church’s right to acquire public land free of charge. The letter is a reaction to the pending second reading of numerous amendments to the civil code scheduled for this fall. Certain amendments, which the legislature approved in a first reading last spring, have met with the clergy’s disapproval. According to the letter, the draft “affects the legitimate interests of religious organizations,” including the right to own the land under churches, mosques and synagogues. In most cases, these lands are government- or city-owned, and as of 2010, can be transferred into the ownership or long-term lease of religious organizations free of charge. The drafted bill, says the letter, could deprive them of this opportunity.

Putin Signs Decree on Russian Companies Sued Abroad

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on measures to protect Russia's interests through legal entities conducting foreign economic activity. "Strategic companies" will now have to agree their actions with the government when claims are brought against them by foreign states. Under these circumstances, stock companies included in the list of strategic companies approved by the president will have to provide information about their activity, and to amend contracts with foreign contractors and other documents dealing with commercial price policy in foreign states only after having received a government-authorized agency's preliminary consent.  This apparently means that companies, e.g., Gazprom, before complying with a judgement of a European court, will have to obtain permission from the Russian government.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Microsoft Recalls Suit against Russian Suspected of Creating Botnet

Microsoft recalled the lawsuit against Russian programmer Andrei Sabelnikov, who was accused of creating a major botnet, a source close to the proceedings told the Russian Legal Information Agency on Monday. The parties have managed to reach an agreement on the settlement of the conflict, he said. Sabelnikov stands accused of having created the Kelihos botnet code. A botnet is a network of computers whose security has been compromised by malware and which can thus be collectively controlled by an external source. The Kelihos network was comprised of over 40,000 computers, which were infected by way of spam, malware, and child pornography. Thanks to Microsoft, Kaspersky Lab and Kyrus Inc., Kelihos' activity was successfully shut down in September 2011. Sabelnikov previously published an open letter in his blog denouncing all of Microsoft's accusations against him.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Russia and China Pledge Work on Global Recovery at APEC Summit

At the APEC summit on Saturday Chinese and Russian leaders urged Asian-Pacific countries to protect themselves by forging deeper regional economic ties.  Spelling out plans to pump $157 billion into infrastructure investments in agriculture, energy, railways and roads, China's Hu said Beijing would do all it could to boost prospects of a global recovery by rebalancing its economy. Putin added that trade barriers must be smashed down. "The global economic recovery is faltering," he said.  Pledging that Russia would be a stable energy supplier and a gateway to Europe for Asian countries, he suggested that "[w]e can overcome the negative trends only by increasing the volume of trade in goods and services and enhancing the flow of capital." General discussions at the two-day APEC summit focused on food security and trade liberalization, and an agreement was reached before the summit to slash import duties on technologies that can promote economic growth without endangering the environment.

Russia-US Visa Liberalization Agreement Takes Effect

The Russia-US visa liberalization agreement took effect as of September 9. Russians and Americans will now be able to obtain three-year multiple-entry business and tourist visas in order to visit each other's countries. Previously, visas were granted for a maximum of two years. The visas will also allow an uninterrupted stay of up to six months in the country. The visa costs for Russians will be reduced to between $160 and $180 in consular fees, plus a $20 visa issuance fee. A two-year visa previously cost $260. The US Embassy in Moscow said that American applicants will no longer need to submit a letter of invitation when applying for a business or tourist visa, although US citizens applying for tourist visas to Russia will still need to have confirmation of hotel booking and travel agency arrangements.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama: Russia Is Not No. 1 Enemy

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking at the Democratic Convention, dismissed presidential candidate Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia "is without question our number one geopolitical foe." "My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy. After all you don't call Russia our number one enemy - not Al Qaeda - Russia unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp," commented Obama.

Russian TV Censors Mireille Mathieu

Prominent French singer Mireille Mathieu complained that her interview given to Russian TV channel "TV Center" was heavily edited. According to Mathieu, answering a question on Pussy Riot, she said in French: "Je pense que ces jeunes filles sont inconscientes. S'elles veulent chanter en eglise -- ce n'est pas un lieu pour manifester. Manifester on peut autrement. Eglise est un lieu de recueillement, de respect с'est un sacrilege parce que chez vous il y a une telle ferveur dans les eglises." The TV channel provided the following simultaneous translation of that into Russian: "I think they are insane, I condemn their actions. A church is no place for such actions. A church has always been and is a place where people come to have light, to clean their souls. This is a holy place, it should be respected, especially Russian churches, one feels such fervor and zeal in them." Mathieu further said: "Mais en tant que femme, artiste et chrétienne je souhaite la clémence. [But as a woman, an artist and a Christian, I am calling for forgiveness.]" Those words were completely cut off from the aired interview. In a statement issued on Thursday, the singer said that her "interview had been partly censored". The TV channel originally denied editing, but then admitted it and blamed a "young journalist" who "will be dismissed" for that. The three members of Pussy Riot were handed two-year jail sentences last month for mounting a protest against president Vladimir Putin inside Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral. (video, Russian) (video, French original (low volume record))

Thursday, September 6, 2012

UK Law Firms Profit from Feuding Russian Oligarchs

Russian oligarchs' taste for British justice helped London lawyers rake in a record-breaking £5bn of profits last year, the Guardian daily reports. Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich may have won his battle against $6.5bn of claims by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, but the legal fees associated with the case are expected to top £100m. And Abramovich vs. Berezovsky is just one of a slew of oligarch battles making their way through London's legal system, and turning the lawyers involved into multi-millionaires. Mark McAteer, national editor of Legal Business magazine, said the Russian legal battles have helped push the profits at top 100 law firms in the capital to more than £5bn for the first time ever. "Litigation for Russian clients has been a massive source of revenue for a number of firms – both big firms and boutique firms," he said. McAteer said seven or eight of London's big law firms paid their partners more than £1m each last year.

US Stewardess to be Tried in Russia for Smuggling

The case against a U.S. stewardess who attempted to bring jewelry and watches to Russia without paying customs duties has been submitted to the Khimki City Court, Department of Investigation representative Tatyana Morozova said. According to investigators, Susanna Dikker, 50, a stewardess on a "well-known airline," arrived at the Sheremetyevo airport from New York. She crossed the border through the "nothing to declare" green corridor, but was then stopped for customs control. "A personal customs inspection revealed that the woman had jewelry on her person and an expensive watch worth over 8 million rubles ($250,000). Dikker thus attempted to evade 3 million rubles ($94,000) in customs duty payments," Morozova said. A criminal case was initiated for large-scale customs duty evasion. The maximum punishment is five years in prison. "The defendant has pleaded guilty to the offence in full," Morozova said. "Dikker was placed under house arrest. The criminal case has been referred to the Khimki City Court to be considered on its merits."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Editor-in-Chief Fired for Ignoring Putin Disguised as Crane

Masha Gessen, the former chief editor of Russia's oldest magazine, was fired for snubbing an event attended by President Vladimir Putin. The Vokrug Sveta (Around the World) travel monthly terminated its contract with Gessen seven months after she got the job because, she said, she refused to send a reporter to cover an expedition where Putin would release some Siberian cranes. Gessen said in the interview that she did want to write about Siberian cranes — but without Putin. Disguised as a crane and steering a glider, President Vladimir Putin is going to guide a joint of highly endangered birds to their winter habitation. To be recognized by the young birds as the leader of their joint, Putin will have to wear a beak, a white robe and a helmet.

Putin successfully guides migrating cranes (video)
Putin Invites Gessen to Kremlin to Help Her Get Her Job Back

Moscow Bailiffs Execute 1/4 of Warrants

As it was announced at the meeting of the Moscow Council of Judges, the Federal Bailiff Service managed to actually execute only about a quarter of all warrants of execution they received from courts (3,000 of 14,000) in the first half of 2012.  With regard to "administrative fines," i.e. penalties for smaller offences, like traffic violations, only 51 mln rubles of the total 1 bln rubles was actually collected during the period. In 2011, only 10% of judgments were actually executed. As Chairperson of the Moscow Council of Judges, Galina Agafonova, opined, this undermines the trust in the judicial system as a whole.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Multimedia Journal Aims to Attract Moscow Investment

Beginning in October, Moscow's Department for External Economic Relations will publish a multimedia journal -- available in English, Russian and German -- aimed at attracting small to medium-sized investors to Moscow.  The free journal will be available via download on iPhone, iPad and Android devices, and will also be accessible via a PDF download from the department's website. Among other things, the journal will provide an overview of economic and legal issues facing foreign investors, with particular emphasis on taxation issues and documentation required to register a company in Moscow. Alexei Sitnikov, head of the International "Skolkovo" Development Fund, believes that using this type of progressive, electronic communication (the type actively used by the younger generation of entrepreneurs and investors) will be a key to attracting foreign investment to Moscow, and to Russia in general.

EU Announces Antitrust Probe into Gazprom Market Practices

The European Commission has opened an investigation into suspected anti-competitive market practices by Russia's Gazprom. The Commission said it was concerned the natural gas producer was abusing its dominant market position, and would specifically investigate suspicions that Gazprom was (1) hindering the free flow of gas across the EU's 27 countries, (2) preventing supply diversification, and (3) imposing unfair prices on its customers by linking the price of gas to oil prices. "Such behaviour, if established, may constitute a restriction of competition and lead to higher prices and deterioration of security of supply," the Commission said in a statement. "Ultimately, such behavior would harm EU consumers." Several EU states rely on Gazprom for a majority of their consumption and are locked into long-term contracts.  Under EU antitrust regulations that bar suppliers from controlling the transport infrastructure used to deliver their gas, Gazprom may be forced to sell its EU pipeline network and/or to dismantle existing market-sharing deals.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Russian Ambassador to UK will Request Magnistky List Explanation

Russian Ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, will demand an explanation from the Foreign Office in London regarding entry visa restrictions associated with the "Magnitsky list," the Russian Embassy in the UK reported on Sunday. "Ambassador Yakovenko will demand a formal response regarding a story in the Sunday Times on September 2 on visa restrictions related to the so-called "Magnitsky list", said the embassy. The Sunday Times reported that the British Home Secretary had sent a list of 60 Russians suspected of involvement in the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky to the UK Embassy in Moscow and that they could be banned from entering the country. Magnitsky, 37, who was accused of corporate tax evasion while employed with the investment fund, died in an investigative isolation ward in November 2009. According to the Prosecutor General's Office, his death was caused by cardiovascular complications.

Armenia, Hungary in Diplomatic Fallout

Armenia has severed diplomatic ties with Hungary after that country released the killer of an Armenian military officer. Street protests have erupted in Yerevan. Armenia’s armed forces are on heightened alert. In 2004, the Armenian officer, Gurgen Markaryan, was axed to death by an Azeri colleague, Ramil Safarov, as both were attending NATO English language courses in Budapest. In 2006, a Hungarian court sentenced the killer to life imprisonment without a possibility of parole. This Friday, however, Hungary turned him over to Azerbaijan, where he was immediately granted a presidential pardon. The Azeri authorities' spokesman Novruz Mamedov stated that Safarov "protected the honor of the country and the dignity of the nation." In Azerbaijan Safarov was promoted from lieutenant to major and paid the salary for the eight years he spent in  Hungarian prison.

Opposition Demonstration Dispersed in Moscow

On August 31 Moscow oppositionists held their traditional rally in support of the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). As usual, the demonstration was banned by the authorities and dispersed by the police. Some 30 demonstrators were detained. (video)