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)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rosneft to Buy TNK-BP

State-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft has struck a two-part deal worth about $55 billion to buy privately-owned TNK-BP and make British oil company BP a near-20 percent Rosneft shareholder with two seats on the board. The first part of the Kremlin-backed agreement announced by Rosneft on Monday folds BP's half of TNK-BP, Russia's third-largest oil company, into Rosneft, in exchange for cash and Rosneft stock in an agreement worth about $27 billion, including $12.3 billion of cash and the rest in stock. In stage two, AAR would get $28 billion in cash, but the two deals are independent of each other and the AAR deal is still subject to negotiations, Rosneft said. With the whole of TNK-BP on board, Rosneft, which is already Russia's top oil producer, will control nearly half of Russia's oil output and pump more oil and gas than Exxon Mobil, the world's top international oil company.

Skolkovo Goes in for Perpetuum Mobile

The Skolkovo Foundation, the principal Russian agency responsible for the Skolkovo Innovation Center, announced that it "prepares a scientific revolution." The agency invited to its "Global Energy Prize Summit" world leading scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, to discuss "real projects and technologies that may blow up the scientific society of the planet." One of the projects is a perpetual motion machine. "Until recently, the classic science denied the possibility of the creation of the perpetuum mobile," the agency states in the announcement. "But young innovators, authoring a number of projects of energetic machines with the coefficient of efficiency of more than 100%, say this is possible by means of biotechnologies." (document)

Russian Opposition Primaries Hit by Cyber Attack

An online election to choose a "shadow parliament" opposed to Russia's President Vladimir Putin was disrupted on Saturday by a cyber attack, activists said. "Today we already know that there are some problems with the server, there are some attacks," Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent protest leader, said at rally on Saturday. Opponents of Putin say elections in Russia are rigged in favor of his ruling party and are instead holding their own internet contest, which they hope will reinvigorate the flagging opposition movement. Information on their website,, told visitors there could be problems casting their votes and to try again later. Organizers and activists did not suggest who was behind the attacks. The Kremlin has said it will ignore the opposition vote.

Russian Oppositionist Caught in Ukraine, Brought to Moscow

Leonid Razvozzhayev, an aide to the A Just Russia parliamentary deputy, Ilya Ponomaryov, has been brought to Moscow from Kyiv after being apprehended in Ukraine. Razvozzhayev was seized by unidentified men in black and put into a car near the office for refugees' affairs in Kyiv while he was making inquiries about the possibility of receiving political asylum. The Kyiv police say they do not know who arrested Razvozzhayev. According to Razvozzhayev's attorney Violetta Volkova, no extradition trial in Ukraine took place. Accordingly, Razvozzhayev was brought to Moscow illegally. A Moscow court, in the absence of a defense attorney, authorized a pre-trial arrest of Razvozzhayev for two months.  The attorney is not allowed to see the defendant since no charges has been formally brought (he has the status of a "suspect").  Razvozzhayev had a chance to tell journalists that he had been "tortured."  Razvozzhayev and several other oppositionists are being prosecuted on allegations of "plotting mass riots," which were made in a TV film recently aired by NTV company. (video) (document)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Putin Backs Ban on Muslim Headscarves at Schools

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he was against allowing students to wear Muslim headscarves at schools, but welcomed the idea of returning to school uniforms. Several Muslim families in the city of Stavropol in southern Russia have recently complained to the muftiat saying that their daughters were not allowed to attend school wearing headscarves. “We should always respect people's religious feelings but we must proceed from the fact that we live in a secular state,” Putin said at a meeting with activists.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Abbott Labs May Soon Enter Russian Pharma Market

According to a source in Russia's antimonopoly service (FAS), Abbott Laboratories has filed paperwork to acquire Russian pharmaceutical company, NPO Petrovax Pharm.  The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but experts speculate it would be among the top three deals in the history of the Russian pharmaceutical market (in the range of $200 to $250 M), and would make Abbott Labs the first American pharmaceutical company with production facilities in Russia. Petrovax Pharm, created in 1996 by Russian scientists, has been active in creation of drugs including Grippol (influenza vaccine) and polyoxidonium (immunomodulator).  Julia Nechayeva, director of Strategic Research at DSM Group, believes the deal would not only give Abbott access to at least 20 worldwide patents, but would also provide Abbott with local access to the growing Russian market.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TNK-BP Loses Injunction against Exposure for "Corrupt Practices"

London’s High Court of Justice overturned an injunction granted to TNK-BP in its unauthorized disclosure case against former senior executive Igor Lazurenko, who allegedly threatened to expose company's involvement in corruption in Russia. Lazurenko had been serving in senior positions at TNK-BP since 2003 when he submitted his resignation this past April. His departure from the TNK-BP came in the wake of the company’s decision to probe the alleged receipt by Lazurenko of substantial sums of money. This past August, TNK-BP launched fraud proceedings against Lazurenko in London, seeking recovery of his allegedly illicit receipt of funds. In June, Lazaurenko met with two of TNK-BP Management’s highest-ranking legal officers in London. He showed them two documents containing information that, as understood by all parties, “would be damaging to TNK-BP if disclosed because they purport to reveal high-level personnel engaging in corrupt behavior.” The documents at issue are said to contain commercially damaging information that would specifically impact Transneft and certain government officials. Lazurenko asserts, “The Documents contain the details of wrongdoing between TNK-BP and companies beneficially owned and controlled by the most senior officers of Transneft and officials of the Ministry of Energy responsible for regulating and monitoring the oil industry in Russia.” TNK-BP sought and in July 2012 obtained from an English court an injunction to prevent Lazurenko from disclosing the documents on the grounds of Russian trade secret law. Now the High Court found that Russian trade secret law does not cover the particular documents and in any case does not provide for injunctive relief.

Russian Region Seeks London Attorney to Sue Berezovsky

The government of the Samara region invited bids for representing it in the London High Court in its suit against fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky. The government is ready to spend in legal expenses not more than £400,000 (which is not much by London standards). Earlier the regional government has filed a lawsuit with London's High Court seeking the recovery of 989 million rubles in debts from Berezovsky. "This sum is part of the 1.063 billion ruble debt owed to the regional authorities by Boris Berezovsky and his business partner Yuly Dubov," the press service said. Moscow's Simonovsky Court ruled in April 2012 that a 1995 deal between AvtoVAZ and LogoVAZ (controlled by Berezovsky)  led to the Samara regional government's losing 997 million rubles (some $30 mln) in profit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ballot Stuffing in Russia Caught on Video

As elections for governors, mayors and regional legislatures took place across Russia this weekend — and President Vladimir Putin's loyalists swept almost all the posts — independent observers registered an array of suspected violations, including ballot stuffing. After widespread reports of fraud in a December parliamentary election, all polling stations were equipped with web cameras. Even so, observers say some election officials still manage to slip in wads of ballots. A video from a polling station in the southern Krasnodar region shows an election official taking a pile of ballots from a desk and putting them into the ballot box. (video; see at 2:10)

Lukashenko: Russians Offered $5 Bln Bribe

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed on Tuesday that Russian big business had offered a $5 billion bribe for selling the national potash producer Belaruskali below its real value. “They proposed we sell Belaruskali for $15 billion: $10 billion to the treasury and $5 billion for me at an account I’ll designate,” Lukashenko said. Lukashenko said Moscow oligarchs had sent a Russian friend to him with the offer, but did not name those involved. Leading Russian fertilizer producer Uralkali, whose core shareholder is Suleiman Kerimov, wanted to buy Belaruskali for $14 billion, but the Belarusian government set the price at $30 billion and the deal fell apart.

St. Petersburg Governor Accuses Local Drivers of Boorishness

St. Petersburg Governor Georgi Poltavchenko in a televised interview accused local drivers of boorishness because they showed disrespect to him and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev when the drivers were forced to stay still to give way for the officials' motorcade. "Perhaps only a lazy one did not blow his horn. People showed us fingers!" Poltavchenko complained. "I have never seen such outright jerks!" the governor went on to add. When the interviewer asked whether the show of disrespect was a mass one, Poltavchenko confirmed: "It was mass! That is what surprised me. The people have completely lost their St. Petersburg cultural mentality!" (transcript) (video; see at 32:30) (video)

Russia Accuses U.S. Courts of Double Standards

The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the U.S. of double standards with regard to the US courts and the sentencing of adults for child abuse. This was said in a statement posted on the official foreign ministry website. According to the official representative of the Foreign Ministry, Alexander Lukashevich, "the U.S. Justice system can exercise the utmost severity in cases of ill-treatment of juveniles when it comes to American children. But when the objects of violence are Russian children adopted by Americans," the courts often exhibit incomprehensible and unacceptable leniency on the foster parents. Lukashevich compared two sentences received by an American woman Elizabeth Escalona, she was sentenced to 99 years in prison for abusing her daughter. Another sentence worth noting was handed down to the Craver couple who were given 16 months in prison for the death of their adopted son from Russia Vanya Skorobogatov.

Credit Suisse: 100 Russian Billionaires Own 30% of National Wealth

According to the Global Wealth Report published by Credit Suisse, Russia's wealth inequality is the highest in the world (excluding some small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires). Worldwide, billionaires collectively account for less than 2% of total household wealth; in Russia today, around 100 billionaires own 30% of all personal assets.  The total Russian national wealth is USD 1.3 trillion. (document; see at p. 53)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Anti-Putin Protest Leader Loses Elections in Khimki

Key mayoral polls were dubbed “illegitimate” on Sunday by an anti-Putin protest leader seeking election in the sizeable Moscow suburb of Khimki. “I’m going to tell the world just how dirty these elections are,” raged protest leader Yevgeniya Chirikova, 35, as she left a polling station. “We are seeing a massive falsification of the vote.” The acting mayor, Oleg Shakhov, who is backed by the ruling United Russia party, blamed the allegations of vote-rigging on “dirty tricks” by “one of my rival candidates.” “All of this is a provocation,” he told journalists. “It’s all a show. They are playing a game, but they are going to lose.” According to official results, Shakhov took 48 percent of the vote, with Chirikova coming second with 21 percent. (video) (video)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

US: Russia 'Morally Bankrupt' on Syria

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States has had a "comprehensive accounting" from the Turkish government about the contents of the Syrian Airlines flight intercepted by Turkish fighter jets late Wednesday. Nuland acknowledged that Russia had not violated any embargo on the Syrian government but said Moscow's policy's of supporting President Bashar al-Assad was "still morally bankrupt." "We are saying, as we have been saying for almost a year now, that no responsible country ought to be aiding and abetting the war machine of the Assad regime... and particularly those with responsibilities for global peace and security as UN Security Council members have," she said. Russia disagrees. "We have no secrets," Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said. "There were, of course, no weapons on the plane and could not have been any. This cargo is electrical technical equipment for radar stations, this is dual-purpose equipment but is not forbidden by any international conventions," Lavrov said. He emphasized that the cargo was sent "by a lawful Russian supplier in a lawful way to a lawful purchaser."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Canadian Intelligence Officer Pleads Guilty to Spying for Russia

A former Canadian naval intelligence officer has pleaded guilty to spying for Russia for several years. Sub Lt Jeffrey Delisle admitted selling Canadian and Nato intelligence to Russia for $3,000 (£1,875) a month. He worked at top secret Canadian naval military facilities and had clearance to intelligence-sharing systems linked to countries such as the US and UK. For nearly four years he copied secret information onto memory sticks to share with his handlers in Moscow. He apparently walked into the Russian embassy in Ottawa in 2007 to volunteer his services, and was arrested in January, 2012.

U.S. Businessman to Stand Trial in Siberia

A repeat trial of U.S. businessman Eric Shogren, who has been charged with large-scale fraud, is expected to begin in Novosibirsk in 2013. In 1996, Shogren started the New York Pizza restaurant chain in Novosibirsk. In April 2009, he was detained for allegedly committing 17 counts of criminal fraud worth 15 million rubles ($482,300). Later, the court released him on a 1 million ruble ($32,150) bail bond. The businessman used credit cards to borrow money and allegedly defaulted on his credit card debt. Shogren does not admit his guilt in full, blaming the financial crisis for his financial difficulties. The trial began in October 2010. However, the judge who presided over the trial was reappointed elsewhere as a regional court judge. The case was transferred to another judge and now the trial will have start anew.

Turkish Jets Force down Syrian Passenger Flight from Moscow

After confiscating it cargo, Turkish officials have allowed a Syrian passenger jet, which had earlier been forced to land in Ankara, to resume its flights. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the decision in televised comments on Wednesday. Local media earlier spoke about spare parts for military radio stations allegedly found on the board the Syrian jet. Turkish F-16s forced down the Airbus A320, which was flying from Moscow to Damascus with 35 passengers on board, over suspicions that it was carrying a prohibited type of cargo on board. Davutoglu said that Ankara had received intelligence that the Syrian plane was carrying "certain equipment in breach of civil aviation rules," but refused to comment on what that equipment might be. The head of Syrian civil aviation agency said that the interception of the civilian plane and the search of its cargo compartment were a breach of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. (video)

Syria accuses Turkey of "piracy"
Russia demands Turkey to explain Syrian flight incident

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pussy Riot Member Released, Two Others Remain in Jail

A Moscow appeals court has freed one of the jailed Pussy Riot members but upheld the two-year prison sentence for the two others. All three women were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after an irreverent protest against President Vladimir Putin. They argued in court on Wednesday that their impromptu performance inside Moscow’s main cathedral in February was political in nature and not an attack on religion. The judge ruled that Yekaterina Samutsevich’s sentence should be suspended because she was thrown out of the cathedral by guards before she could take part in the performance. (video)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Russian Antimonopoly Service and Investigation Committee Sign Cooperation Agreement

On 3rd October 2012, the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation and the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) signed a Cooperation Agreement.  The Agreement provides for exchanging information on issues of mutual interest (including in the field of criminal proceedings and antimonopoly law); organizing joint conferences, seminars, working meeting and other events, mutual consultations, and establishing inter-agency working (expert) groups. “The Agreement will enable our agencies to promptly exchange information, examine criminal cases, particularly under the framework of FAS investigations of cartels and misconduct in public offices. On top of everything else, our joint efforts will make a considerable anti-corruption contribution, which, in its turn, will have a positive effect upon the general economic situation in Russia”, pointed out FAS chair Igor Artemyev.

HRW Supports Jailed Kazakh Opposition Leader

Influential international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a statement in support of Vladimir Kozlov, a leader of the Kazakhstan opposition who was sentenced to 7.5 years of imprisonment on "inciting social discord" charges. The sentence strikes a blow to freedom of expression and pluralism of political voices in Kazakhstan, HRW said. On October 8, 2012, the Aktau City Court in western Kazakhstan found Kozlov, 52, head of the unregistered opposition political party Alga!, guilty of “inciting social discord,” “calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order,” and “creating and leading an organized group with the aim of committing one or more crimes.” The conviction followed an investigation shrouded in secrecy and an unfair trial, according to HRW. The charges relate to Kozlov’s alleged role in violent clashes that took place in western Kazakhstan in December 2011 following extended labor strikes. Kozlov maintains his innocence and intends to appeal the verdict.

Russian Foreign Ministry Asks St. Petersburg to Rename Subway Station

Russia's Foreign Ministry sent a letter to St. Petersburg authorities expressing its discontent with their intention to name a new subway station "Bukharestskaya" (Bucharest). The station is situated on a street with this name. The ministry states that Romania cannot be called friendly; due to Romanian support for NATO; and the "regime of Mikheil Saakashvili" in Georgia. St. Petersburg's Vice Governor of St. Petersburg, Vassili Kichedzhi stated that the local authorities should take into account the opinion of the Foreign Ministry.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Economists Say Navalny's Blog Influences Russian Stock Market

A group of Russian economists published an article analyzing the influence of Russian anti-corruption blogger and shareholder activist Alexey Navalny's blog on Russian stock market. Specifically, they studied the consequences of his critical blog postings (often alleging corruption) about state-controlled companies on the stock prices of those companies. The economists discovered that critical postings result in a decrease of the relevant stock price. According to the study, the immediate effect is 0.5-0.9% of the stock price, and the negative effect lasts for about a month. The economists also noticed that on the days when Navalny's blog was down because of DDoS attacks, the market of relevant stocks showed signs of recovery. (article)

Russian Opposition Faces Probe over Coup Concerns

Russian Federal Investigative Bureau, has launched a probe into certain claims made by the documentary film "Anatomy of a Protest II," which was recently broadcasted on the state-owned NTV television network. One of the claims is that opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov is planning a coup aided by foreign funds and foreign militants, committee spokesman Vladimir Markin, told journalists Saturday. Earlier, a decision to audit the claims made by the film was made by the Prosecutor General's Office. The opposition figures have denied that they planned to use any force in their actions, but do say that they will be increasing their efforts in organizing peaceful protests. The film's creators claim that members of the opposition were using money from abroad to finance preparations for a seizure of power. Also the film showed footage of a meeting, apparently recorded on a hidden camera, between Udaltsov and Givi Targamadze, then chairman of Georgia’s parliamentary committee for defense and security, who is described as an individual with experience organizing “color revolutions.”

Russia's Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Gay Law

Russia's Supreme Court rejected a complaint from a human rights organization in St. Petersburg over the recently passed city law prohibiting "propaganda of homosexuality among minors." According to the activists, the law uses the terms "propaganda", "bisexuality", "transgender", "traditional and non-traditional marriage," all of which have no legal definitions. The controversial law passed in St. Petersburg gathered a large number of both supporters and opponents. It came into force on March 30. Now, any citizen who violates this law can be fined for an "administrative offence." According to the text of the law, "public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender towards minors includes an administrative fine for citizens in the amount of 5000 rubles; for officials 50 thousand rubles; and for legal entities from 250 thousand to 500 thousand rubles." The activists argued that the law does not comply with current federal laws as "any public mention of homosexuality can be regarded as an administrative offence."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

US Alleges Russian Spy Ring

Eleven members of an alleged secret Russian military procurement network have been charged in the United States with illegally shipping sophisticated microelectronics to Russian military and intelligence agencies, according to a federal indictment unsealed in US District Court on Wednesday. The FBI arrested the alleged leader of the ring, 46-year-old Alexander Fishenko, and seven others on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. They also executed search warrants at seven residences and business locations and seized assets from five bank accounts. The US Department of Justice says it believes three other suspects are back in Russia, and that since 2008, Fishenko has been running an elaborate scheme that tricked US customs agents into believing that his company – Houston-based Arc Electronics, Inc. -- was manufacturing and shipping routine products to Russia. Instead, they were providing the Russian military with “controlled, sensitive technologies” that could be used for radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems or detonation triggers. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Russian spy agencies were not involved in an alleged smuggling network uncovered by the United States. "The charges are of a criminal nature and have nothing to do with the work of the secret services," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Russia Warns PACE over Critical Resolution

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has approved a highly critical resolution on Russian policies, despite protests from Russian MPs who slammed the document as biased and warned of repercussions. In its report, PACE expressed concern over some recent decision taken by the Russian authorities and the general situation with democracy in Russia. Thus, PACE said it was worried over “the law on the criminalisation of defamation, on the Internet, amendments to the law on assemblies (the so-called “protest law”) and on NGOs (the so-called “law on foreign agents”).” Apart from that, the resolution has a section criticizing Russia’s judiciary system. According to the resolution, sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in December 2010, to six more years in prison and the conviction of the Punk artists Pussy Riots in August 2012 were largely perceived as signs that the judiciary in Russia remains subject to political pressure and the influence of the executive. PACE drew attention to the fact that “the murders of Ms Anna Politkovskaya and Ms Natalia Estemirova still remain unpunished.” PACE also stressed that “torture and death in detention are unacceptable in a Council of Europe member State by any means.  Before the vote, the Russian delegation said it was upset by the stubbornness of the rapporteurs, who wanted to push the critical amendments allowing such a move. “Russia has found itself in a position of an outcast. This is inadmissible. If the recommendations are passed this will have the most negative consequences,” Aleksey Pushkov, the head of Russian Duma's International Relations committee, warned the assembly. (document)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Saakashvili Admits Election Loss

President Mikheil Saakashvili has admitted his party has lost Georgia's parliamentary election, in a live TV announcement. He said the Georgian Dream bloc of his main rival, billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, had won Monday's election. Victory for Mr Ivanishvili means the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia's post-Soviet history. Mr Saakashvili, who has led the country since 2003, will remain in power until presidential elections next year. However, under agreed reforms the parliament and prime minister will acquire greater powers than the president after that election. In his TV address Mr Saakashvili said "it's clear from the preliminary results that the opposition has the lead and it should form the government - and I as president should help them with this". His United National Movement would become "an opposition force" and would "fight for the future of our country", he said, acknowledging big differences between it and Georgian Dream. "Democracy works and the Georgian people take the decision and this is what we deeply respect," he added.

Goldman Sachs Estimates: Russian Bond Plan May Yield $30 Bln

Investors are buying record amounts of notes paying returns based on ruble bonds as Russia prepares to open the market to foreigners. Russia plans to expand the investor base for its 3.1 trillion-ruble ($96 billion) treasuries market by allowing foreign investors to buy and sell through Euroclear Bank SA, the world’s biggest bond settlement system, after five years of discussion. The move will attract $20 to $30 billion by mid-2013, Clemens Grafe, chief economist for Goldman Sachs in Russia, said in a Moscow interview.

Moscow Court Bans 'Innocence of Muslims'

Moscow's Tverskoi Court declared the American anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims extremist on Monday, the latest in a series of legal moves against the film in Russia. Google, which owns YouTube, where the film was originally posted, announced shortly after the ruling that it would block access to the film in Russia as soon as it receives a formal court order. Last Friday, a court in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya,  also ruled to ban the film.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Moscow Region Town Declares Independence

Residents of Domodedovo, a city south of Moscow near the country's biggest international airport, have announced the establishment of a Russian Democratic Republic and asked the EU for official recognition, the Russian Lawyers Association for Human Rights said on Monday. In their letter to the EU, the Russian Democratic Republic action group claims the Russian authorities have grossly violated the principles of democratic society by ignoring the results of a 2007 referendum when almost 100 percent of Domodedovo residents voted against the building of a toll motorway within city limits. The group says the Russian Democratic Republic should be integrated into the EU and recognized by other countries with special status as part of the Russian Federation and the right to self-determination.

Zuckerberg Meets Medvedev

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Monday to discuss the social media giant’s potential cooperation with Russia’s burgeoning innovation sector. Also on the agenda for the meeting between Medvedev and Zuckerberg was the issue of copyright protection in Russia, a question for which, according to Medvedev, “there is not yet a solution.” After their meeting, Zuckerberg reportedly presented Medvedev with a T-shirt featuring the URL address of the prime minister’s Facebook page. Some have speculated that Zuckerberg traveled to Moscow to coax Russian top developers into joining Facebook.

Russia Terminates Case against Sharia Law Advocate

Investigators have not found anything criminal in attorney Dagir Khasavov's statements on legalizing Sharia law courts, Khasavov's lawyer Sergei Belyak said. In an interview with the Ren-TV channel on April 24, Khasavov proposed establishing a Sharia law court in Russia. Khasavov said Muslim society would enforce its own rules and any attempt to prevent them from doing so could lead to bloodshed. The statements provoked a public uproar. The prosecutor's office declared that Khasavov sought to incite national hatred and offend people of other religions. The prosecutor's office concluded that his statements could be considered a call for extremism. Meanwhile, Khasavov has left Russia. His lawyer has continually maintained that the statements were misunderstood and that an organized smear campaign was launched against him. (video)


"Jesus Christ Superstar" Production Dropped in Rostov

A theater in the southern Russian city of Rostov dropped a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, an Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera, after protests by Orthodox Christians. Protesters had complained that the opera projected the "wrong" image of Christ. Citing a "new law protecting the rights of believers", protesters  described the musical as a "profanation" and said any such production should be submitted to the Russian Orthodox Church for approval. The award-winning rock opera made its Broadway debut in 1971 and has since been performed across the world, with several film versions produced. Russian theatres have been staging it for more than two decades.