Thursday, January 31, 2013

Human Rights Watch: Russia Gets Authoritarian

Influential organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented its annual report on Russia concluding that the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin resulted in the level of authoritarianism unprecedented in the [modern] Russian history. According to the report, "after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, the Kremlin oversaw the swift reversal of former President Dmitry Medvedev’s few, timid advances on political freedoms and unleashed an unprecedented crackdown against civic activism. In 2012, new laws passed through the State Duma that require foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” recriminalize libel, place greater restrictions on freedom of assembly, increase internet censorship, and broaden the definition of treason to include many types of international advocacy. Charges of “hooliganism” and “inciting religious hatred” have been used to place restrictions on freedom of expression. New local laws discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Abuses continue in the counterinsurgency campaign in the North Caucasus," the HRW report reads. Russian officials say the report "has no relation to the reality." (document)

Russian Judge Wounded in Syria

Sergey Berezhnoy, Deputy Chairman of Belgorod Arbitrazh (Economic) Court, was wounded in Syria, apparently by an anti-government sniper, during fights in Daraya near Damascus. It appears that Berezhnoy was in Syria as a "volonteer" reporter for the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-NEWS). Berezhnoy was hit by bullets twice, in the jaw and arm. Surgery was successfully performed on him in a military hospital.  Berezhnoy participated in the Abkhazian-Georgian war, for 5 years serving there as a military intelligence officer. He is also an author of military prose. (video)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Aeroflot Agreement with Sheremetyevo Airport Faces Antitrust Challenge

Aeroflot will give up plans to become a global carrier if the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service makes it cease its strategic partnership with Sheremetyevo Airport, Vedomosti reported Thursday, citing two sources close to Aeroflot. FAS, who issued an order of violation "For the commission of acts that are contrary to the protection of competition, administrative responsibility in Article 1432 of the Russian Code" on Monday, believes that the contract, which gives Aeroflot priority service, may restrict other carriers from gaining access to the airport.  Penalties for the offense amount to administrative charges of .3%, and maximum sanctions of up to 15% -- both based on a percentage of the charged entity's revenue for  the preceding calendar year (in this case 2011). Michael Vasylenko, Sheremetyevo's CEO, said the airport is continuing to work on plans to improve its infrastructure, including construction of a new terminal by 2015 and of a third runaway, and hopes to voluntarily eliminate any antitrust violations within the one month deadline set by the FAS.

Ukrainian Police General Gets Life Sentence for Beheading Journalist

The Pechersky District Court in Kiev has sentenced the former Ukrainian Interior Ministry general Alexei (Olexey) Pukach to life imprisonment for strangling and decapitating opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze. Pukach was also stripped of his lieutenant general rank. Pukach, who previously headed the Interior Ministry's Surveillance Department, listened to the judge in silence, clasping a small prayerbook in his hands. "The gathered evidence proves Pukach's guilt," the sentence read. "He is guilty of abuse of power and murder." Pukach said in court he had hoped to scare Gongadze by choking him, but the belt around his neck accidentally tightened and he died. The journalist's decapitated body was found in November 2000 in a forest near Kiev. Soon after, a tape surfaced that was allegedly recorded by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko. On the tape, a voice that sounded like Kuchma's ordered someone to "deal with" Gongadze. The security services arrested Pukach in 2009 after several years of investigation. During his interrogation, Pukach admitted to strangling the journalist after receiving orders from former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko. Pukach also said in court that he believes the assassination was effectively ordered by Kuchma and former Parliamentary Speaker Vladimir Litvin. Kuchma and Litvin have both denied any involvement in journalist's murder. (video)

Rosneft to Invest $10 Bln in Venezuela

Rosneft’s investment in the current projects in Venezuela will total $10 billion, the Russian state-owned oil company’s president, Igor Sechin, said Wednesday. Sechin said Russia’s share in production will amount to 15 million metric tons annually, the Prime business news agency reported. Russian companies currently take part in five production projects in Venezuela, including the Junin-6 and Carabobo-2 oil blocks.

Russia Hires Goldman to Improve Investment Image

Russia has hired US banking giant Goldman Sachs in a $500,000 deal to polish the image of the country’s investment potential abroad and lure foreign cash, Deputy Economics Minister Sergei Belyakov said. “We, officials, don’t know how to communicate with investors,” Belyakov said, explaining the government’s decision. Under a memorandum signed with the Economic Development Ministry and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Goldman Sachs will promote Russia’s contacts with international rating agencies, help organize roadshows, and bring together Russian officials with investors to improve the perception abroad of Russia's investment climate.

US NGOs Evacuate Staff from Russia

Two US NGOs, National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republic Institute (IRI), closed their offices in Russia and moved the Russian employees (seven persons, including branch heads) together with their families to Lithuania. The employees explained the move by the fears of political persecution in Russia under the newly adopted state treason law. Under that law any person who provides consulting services to a foreign organization may be jailed for up to 20 years if the activity of the organization is found to be aimed "against the security of Russia." The employees hope to obtain in Lithuania either a working visa or else political asylum.

Russia Terminates Anti-Crime Agreement with US

Russia is terminating the agreement on cooperation with the United States in the spheres of law and drug enforcement, the Russian government reported Wednesday. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a relevant order to terminate the deal, the government said in a statement on its website. “The order was initiated by the Russian Foreign Ministry, as the above agreement is out of line with today’s realities and has exhausted its potential,” the statement said. The agreement was signed on September 25, 2002. As part of the deal, the United States provided financial assistance to relevant Russian bodies for anticrime projects. The Russian government's move comes amid deteriorating ties between the two countries over human rights.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Uzbekistan Reopens Rail Links with Kyrgyzstan

The Uzbekistan authorities have reopened rail links at border points with Kyrgyzstan, after several weeks of closure amid civil unrest in northern Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyzstan state border service said on Tuesday. Uzbekistan closed its railroad and other border crossings with Kyrgyzstan earlier this month, after a group of residents from Uzbekistan's enclave of Sokh (a predominantly ethnic Tajik area which lies fully within northern Kyrgyzstan) allegedly attacked Kyrgyzstan border guards in the neighboring Batken Region and took dozens of Kyrgyz prisoners. Several Uzbek citizens were reportedly injured by gunfire during the incident, while five Kyrgyz citizens were hospitalized. The closure left both Sokh residents and Kyrgyz villages that depend largely on rail and land links with the enclave virtually isolated. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are holding talks on opening up the remaining closed border crossings, Kyrgyzstan’s state border service added. Tensions have existed for years between the two Central Asian countries, in part because of disputes over water resources. More recently, in 2010, inter-ethnic riots erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan between the ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations.

Russian Police Search Kirov Governor's Office

Police searched the office of the Kirov regional governor on Tuesday in connection with alleged fraud that took place in 2010 and was linked to prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Investigators, anti-corruption police and Federal Security Service (FSB) forces carried out a search of Governor Nikita Belykh's office in connection with the 2010 privatization of the local Urzhumsky distillery, which allegedly involved fraud concerning 25.5 percent of its shares, the Investigative Committee said in a statement. The search was supposed to turn up papers linked to the distillery deal, in which, investigators said, the shares were underpriced by up to 90 million rubles ($3 million). Earlier official reports indicated that investigators are also considering targeting Navalny, the whistleblower and anti-corruption crusader who served as Belykh’s pro bono advisor in 2009, in connection with the case. Earlier this month, investigators brought final charges against Navalny for his alleged role in the embezzlement of 10,000 cubic meters of timber at the KirovLes state-run timber factory while he worked in the region.

Tank on Russian Highway "Broke No Traffic Rules"

The crew of a tank that traversed a busy street in the Urals city of Nizhny Tagil did not break any traffic rules, tank maker Uralvagonzavod said on Monday. A video recently posted on the Internet shows a tank crossing a busy road in front of a number of cars. “The car drivers who did not stop at the red traffic light were wrong,” an Uralvagonzavod spokeswoman said. “The tank drove through at green.” The street is intersected by a road leading to the tank plant and it has the appropriate road signs, she said. “The video clearly shows that there is a red light for the cars.” (video)

Kyrgyzstan Aims to Strip Canadian Gold Firm of Tax Status

Kyrgyzstan’s cash-strapped government wants to renegotiate its agreement with its largest foreign investor, Toronto-based Centerra Gold, and to end the company’s privileged tax regime, Economics Minister Temir Sariyev said Monday. His comments came after the Kyrgyz Cabinet of Ministers approved recommendations by a state commission on Friday to cancel Centerra’s existing contract for the high-altitude Kumtor gold mine and charge the company higher taxes. “Taxes must be paid on the basis of the country’s tax code rather than some other agreements. The existing agreement signed in 2009 stipulates special terms of operation and tax payments for Kumtor,” Sariyev said. Centerra currently pays a 13 percent tax on its gross revenue and another 1 percent into a special fund for the development of the Issyk Kul Region, where Kumtor is based. The minister said other enterprises pay 17-20 percent and are demanding comparable terms. Centerra’s management has said it may turn to international arbitration if the Kyrgyz government refuses to honor existing legal guarantees.

Helicopter Prison Escape Ends in 24-Year Sentence

A man who escaped from prison in the Vologda region in a helicopter has been sentenced to 24 years behind bars, the Prosecutor General's Office reported on Monday. Alexei Shestakov escaped from a prison for especially dangerous criminals on March 22 in a helicopter hijacked by his accomplices after serving half his sentence. Shestakov was sentenced to 24 years behind bars, including five years in a high-security prison and the remainder of the term in a specialized penal colony. According to the investigators, Shestakov hired the helicopter to fly to a camping site on the morning of March 22 and to pick up two passengers. Once in the air, the gang threatened the pilot into flying them to the prison where Shestakov was serving his sentence. The helicopter hovered above the prison while Shestakov climbed up a rope ladder, and then took off with the convict on board. Shestakov and his accomplices exited the helicopter in a Vologda suburb. He was recaptured a few hours later as he was trying to leave the area in a taxi. His accomplices were sentenced to 11 and 12 years behind bars.

Russia Prosecutes Magnitsky Posthumously

A Moscow court had to postpone a preliminary hearing in the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky on Monday, following a boycott from his relatives. The dead lawyer is charged with tax evasion.  The court had to appoint a defense attorney to represent Magnitsky, a lawyer with Hermitage Capital who died from a lack of medical care in custody in November 2009, after his mother and lawyers refused to take part in Monday’s hearing. “Today’s preliminary hearing was postponed till February 18, 11 a.m.,” because Magnitsky’s representatives didn’t show up, court spokeswoman Alexandra Berezina told journalists, the RAPSI news agency reported. In order to preserve the principle of equality in the trial, the judge appointed the defense, she said. Amnesty International criticized the trial as “Kafkaesque,” saying Russian prosecutors violated a fundamental right of a defendant to represent himself in person. Magnitsky was arrested in November 2008 on tax evasion charges, after he exposed what he believed was a $230 million tax fraud scheme implemented by Russian officials. Suffering from serious health problems, he died untreated of heart failure at Moscow’s prison hospital. He was 37 years old. An independent investigation ordered by the Kremlin’s human rights council unveiled that he had been beaten with batons shortly before his death. The only prison official who faced trial over his death was acquitted in December.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Navalny Sues Russia in Strasbourg

Opposition figure Alexei Navanly has filed a claim with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), seeking 4,500 in compensation from Russia for his detention in the aftermath of the riots that consumed Moscow last May, his lawyer Konstantin Terekhov told the Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI/ on Monday. According to Terekhov, Navalny was detained at the Siege of Plevna memorial on the morning of May 8 as he was taking a group photo. The Moscow City Magistrate's Court found him guilty of participating in an unsanctioned protest and he was fined. "In his complaint, Navalny has claimed his detention and fine did not have sufficient grounds," he said. "My client believes they also violated Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights." Moreover, the lawyer has asked the Strasbourg court to find the trial unfair, as the judges refused to summon witnesses or to watch the footage that was taken at the scene. Clashes with the police flared up on May 6 during an officially sanctioned opposition march in Moscow. Dozens of protesters and police officers were injured. The police detained over 400 rally participants.

Friday, January 25, 2013

U.S. Quits Russia Bilateral Civil-Society Group Over Crackdown

The U.S. is quitting a civil society working group with Russia after the Kremlin increased limitations for non-government organizations’ activities. The working group is no longer an appropriate or effective forum for promoting the expansion and strengthening of civil society because the Russian government has taken actions aimed against civil society, said Thomas O. Melia, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state who follows human-rights issues in Europe, Russia and the Middle East, according to the Interfax news service. The U.S. embassy in Moscow confirmed the report. The working group was created in 2009 as part of a policy of reset declared by then-President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama. It was part of a commission designed by the two leaders to improve relations after they reached a post- Cold War low under President George W. Bush. Relations have worsened since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency last year.

Prosecutors: Missile Forces Scam Cost Russia $3 Mln

A fraud in Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) has cost the state over 90 million rubles (about $3 million), the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) said on Friday. The Interior Ministry said on Thursday police had uncovered embezzlement of hundreds of millions of rubles of state funds from Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), with high-level Defense Ministry officials and commercial executives suspected of involvement. A criminal case has been opened on charges of graft, fraud and abuse of office. The case is part of a wider probe into alleged fraud involving Defense Ministry assets worth at least $130 million at the ministry's property management firm Oboronservis. The investigation, involving at least a dozen separate instances of fraud, led to the sacking of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in November.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Skolkovo Grad Hopes to Make Primorye Region a Recycling Hub

Vladimir Yermolayev, a 32-year-old Vladivostok native and one of the first group of students to graduate from the Skolkovo Startup Academy last June, announced a 7 billion ruble ($232 million) plan to turn the Primorye region into the country's most efficient recycler. Governor Vladimir Miklushevsky has backed the 17-year plan, which involves construction of technology parks for recycling centers to handle local domestic and industrial waste, creation of a legislative framework to make the business profitable and promotion of a green mentality among the public.  Yermolayev said he was inspired with the idea by a visit to San Francisco, where the municipal government recycles up to 80 percent of the city's waste using "zero waste" technology.  Yermolayev is currently looking for funding for the project, and credits the Skolkovo innovation hub for helping him start the project.  "They've been a great help," he said. "For example, [they put] us in contact with the governor. It's one of the drivers that has made this possible."

Russia Ratifies Eurasian Anti-Money-Laundering Agreement

The Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, ratified on Wednesday an agreement with the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG) in the presence of the EAG Secretariat in Russia. The EAG, established in October 2004, is a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body uniting Belarus, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Another 16 states and 17 international and regional organizations have observer status within the EAG.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tymoshenko Accused of Ordering Murder

The 1996 killing of Ukrainian businessman and lawmaker Yevhen Shcherban was caused by a conflict of interests in the country’s natural gas market, the Prosecutor General’s Office said on Tuesday. Shcherban, a Supreme Rada lawmaker who also headed Ukraine’s Aton financial corporation, was shot dead along with his wife at an airport in eastern Ukraine in November 1996. Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said the killing was ordered by jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and another former premier, Pavlo Lazarenko. According to the document, Shcherban stood in the way of a plan to make the Tymoshenko-led United Energy Systems of Ukraine the sole gas trader in the industrial Donetsk region. The Prosecutor General’s Office statement alleges Tymoshenko and Lazarenko paid a total of $2.82 million for Shcherban’s killing. Tymoshenko, who is currently serving a seven-year jail term for abusing her authority by signing a controversial gas deal with Russia in 2009, was officially notified by investigators on Friday that she is a suspect in the Shcherban case.

Russian Judge Falls Asleep in Courtroom

An internal investigation is being carried out in the Blagoveshchensk City Court after a video was published on YouTube showing a judge sleeping in a courtroom during court hearings. The judge is Deputy Chairman of the Court Evgeny Makhno. The video was posted by local blogger Vladislav Nikitenko who says he shot it during pleadings in a criminal case. According to Nikitenko, on waking up the judge convicted the defendant and sentenced him to five years in jail. "We need to check thoroughly when and how the record was made," Blagoveshchensk City Court Chairman Pavel Belousov commented. "This video revealed an important problem... : the colossal workload borne by judges," Belousov went on to add. (video)

UPDATE: "Sleeping judge" resigns

Russia Introduces Guantanamo List

Dozens of U.S. citizens are now barred from entering Russia under the “Guantanamo list,” a retaliatory measure for U.S. sanctions on Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of an anti-corruption lawyer, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. Some 71 U.S. nationals are now barred from entering Russia, an increase from 11 previously, Sergei Pushkov, a senior lawmaker, said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper. A former head of the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was denied entry, Ryabkov said, without elaborating. Russian media reported that entry was denied to Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, former commander at the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Base in Cuba who now oversees Europe, NATO and Russia affairs at the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Pro-Kremlin TV Channel Attacks Orthodox Church Critics

A pro-Kremlin TV channel, whose exposés of President Vladimir Putin’s critics led last year to the arrests of political activists, has aired a new documentary, this time attacking what it called the “godless” enemies of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Anti-church campaigns are an instrument of political warfare,” intoned Boris Korchevnikov, the presenter of “I Don’t Believe: The War Against the Church,” which aired Sunday evening on the NTV channel. The onset of street protests against Putin’s rule in December 2011 also saw a rise in public criticism of senior Orthodox Church officials over their alleged luxurious lifestyles and subservience to the Kremlin.

Russia Bans German Chilled Meat Imports

Russia will ban imports of chilled meat, including poultry, beef and pork, from Germany starting on February 4 due to latter’s nonobservance of veterinary and sanitary requirements, an official with Russia’s veterinary watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said. The watchdog said on Monday that although Germany guarantees to abide by Russia’s veterinary and sanitary requirements, it systematically violates them.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chassidic Sect won't Insist on Freeze of Russian Assets in U.S.

The US-based Chassidic movement known as Chabad Lubavitch will not insist that valuable Russian cultural objects in the US be confiscated in retaliation for Russia's refusal to give up the Schneerson Library collection. The Chassidic movement claims that Russian officials have distorted its position in their statements so as to set the American public against Chabad Lubavitch. The movement stresses that it is the largest Judaic organization in the world. The immunity of Russian works of art in the US is also guaranteed in the memorandum of the court that adjudicated the claim. The Schneerson Library collection includes 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents collected by a Hasidic rabbi who at the time was based in Russia's modern-day Smolensk region. In late July 2011, a US court ordered that  manuscripts from the collection of Lubavitcher Rabbi Schneersohn - which are currently in the possession of the Russian state library - be transferred to the Chabad Lubavitch religious movement. The US court subsequently imposed a daily fine of $50,000 on the Russian government until the collection is returned to the American Hasidic group. The Foreign Ministry earlier stressed that the Schneerson Collection "was amassed in this country and is therefore a national asset belonging to the Russian people. As state property of the Russian Federation, it has jurisdictional immunity." Moscow plans to issue a harsh response should any Russian state property be arrested. Schneerson was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1927. He took his collection first to Latvia and then to Poland, where he abandoned it after the Nazi invasion. The collection was then taken to Germany and reclaimed by the Red Army in 1945. According to a US court, the manuscripts are currently held in the Russian State Military Archives.

Bolshoi Theater Artistic Director Suffers Severe Burns in Acid Attack

Bolshoi Theater Artistic Director Sergei Filin suffered third degree burns to his face and eyes early Friday morning when an unknown assailant attacked him with what is believed to have been concentrated acid, according to Bolshoi Theater Press Secretary Yekaterina Novikova. Filin was attacked while entering his home around midnight in Moscow. The spokesperson said that Mr. Filin had received threats before and someone had "punctured his car tires and hacked his website." Sergei Filin has been admitted to the hospital with severe burns. The doctors say his current condition is satisfactory, but he will need a long time to recover. A motive for the attack has not yet been established.

Russian Lawmaker Blasts UK’s Denial of Convoy Medals

A senior Russian lawmaker blasted on Sunday the UK’s refusal to allow British World War II Arctic convoy veterans to be decorated with Russia's Ushakov medals. “The Government of Great Britain has prohibited its World War II veterans to receive medals for courage from Russia. This is a strange and unworthy decision,” State Duma international affairs committee head Alexei Pushkov wrote in his Twitter account. The Ushakov medal is a Russian state decoration first awarded by the USSR in 1944. The Ushakov medals were given to a group of veterans from several nations, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, in accordance with a presidential decree published in May 2012. Britain's wartime leader Winston Churchill called the Arctic Convoy routes "the worst journey in the world." Around 3,000 servicemen died while protecting the convoys.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Russian Oppositionist Commits Suicide in Netherlands

A Russian opposition activist who was seeking political asylum in the Netherlands has committed suicide while being held in a refugee centre, friends and associates said on Thursday. Alexander Dolmatov fled Russia after the authorities searched his home in June to determine his role in a violent rally held outside the Kremlin on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's May 7 swearing-in to a third term. However, the Netherlands rejected his application for political asylum.  Dolmatov was a designer at a Russian defense company (Tactical Rocket Missile Weapons Corporation) and a member of the Other Russia opposition party.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Russia Warns U.S. of Strong Response to Schneerson Library Ruling

Russia has condemned the US court ruling in the case of the so-called Schneerson library and threatened with a strong response if the US attempted to seize its properly abroad. According to the ruling, Russia is to pay Chabad-Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish movement, a fine of $50,000 a day until it releases the collection of books and manuscripts that Chabad has been claiming as its own. In its statement, Russia’s foreign ministry has decried the Washington court’s decision as “unprecedented,” warning it could lead to most grievous consequences, including Russia's retaliatory measures. Earlier, the Russian embasy in Washington stated: “Under the Russian law, the Schneersohn library is an integral part of Russian cultural heritage and can’t be alienated.” (document)

Kazakhstan May Join WTO in 2013

Kazakhstan may join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013, WTO Director-General Pascal Lami said on Thursday. Kazakhstan is currently at an advanced stage of WTO entry negotiations and could complete accession this year, Lami said on the sidelines of the Gaidar economic forum in Moscow. Belarus is at a less advanced stage of WTO negotiations, Lami said, adding he could not specify a timeframe for its entry into the WTO. The ex-Soviet states of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are members of the Customs Union and need to exist within a single trading regime. Russia has been a WTO member for several months now and Kazakhstan and Belarus are de facto forced to comply with many WTO norms, Lami said. Russia officially joined the WTO in August 2012 after 18 years of negotiations, becoming the global trade body’s 156th member.

Ukrainian Campaigner Asks Kremlin for Asylum

A Ukrainian children's rights activist says he is seeking political asylum in Russia following an assassination attempt against him at home. Mykola Kozhushko, head of the Dnepropetrovsk-based NGO Pomozhem Detyam, or Help Children, claims he has been targeted after blowing the whistle on criminals involved in fraud schemes with apartments allotted for orphans. “I’ve appealed to the Russian president with a letter asking for political asylum in Russia,” Kozhushko said in an interview with Radio Liberty. Kozhushko said he left Ukraine after he had been attacked by unknown people at a Dnepropetrovsk hospital earlier this month. As a Ukrainian citizen, he is eligible to stay in Russia for three months. The Kremlin hasn't responded to the appeal yet. Ukrainian prosecutors have opened a criminal case on attempted assassination charges.

Tajikistan Blocks Facebook – Again

Tajikistan has once again blocked access to the popular social networking site Facebook, prolonging a months-long ordeal that has earned the Central Asian country widespread criticism. The blocking order came from the chief of Tajikistan’s communications service, Beg Zukhurov, and also affects three other websites, including Radio Liberty's Tajik service, Internet provider Telekom Tekhnolodzhi told RIA Novosti late Wednesday night. This is the second time in nearly as many months the Tajik authorities have blocked Facebook access. Last November, access was cut off after officials found what they said was slanderous content that criticized the country’s leadership.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Boom Predicted for Russian e-Commerce

According to Morgan Stanley, Russian e-commerce will triple in volume over the next three years from $12 billion in 2012, to $36 billion by 2015.  As many as 48% of Russian internet shoppers started making online purchases in the last two years, and Internet purchases will make of 4.5% of all retail sales by 2015, estimates Morgan Stanley.  Meanwhile, Russia’s leading internet company Yandex considers the country’s online market has even more potential for growth than Morgan Stanley estimates. “Morgan Stanley only takes into account online sales; in reality the e-commerce market in Russia is much bigger. Retail is only the third most popular online purchase, there are also payments for internet, cell phone services, buying tickets online, games and social networks,” Evgeny Maleev Head of e-commerce, Yandex.Money, told RT. Yandex is set to benefit from this growing trend – as 87% of online consumers use this method to research their purchases, according to Morgan Stanley. According to the Morgan Stanley, however, online retailer is the absolute leader of the country’s online business. Its revenue jumped 91% in the first half of 2012 to $232 million and is expected to reach $1 billion in 2014. The report also named Avito (online classified ads), KupiVIP and Lamoda (clothes, shoes and accessories), Biglion (collective shopping), Game Insight (mobile games), Wikimart (online retailer) and AnywayAnyday (flight booking) among the major players in the Russian e-market.

Russian Railways Sues Apple for Copyright Infringement

Russian Railways (RZD) has sued Apple for copyright infringement, alleging illegal use of its logo in Apple's online shop. “RZD intends to protect its intellectual property, especially since the trademark is well known in the Russian Federation,” a Russian Railways representative noted.  Russian Railways alleges that its logo was used as part of a “Railway Tariff” app that allows its users to track cargo delivery costs and delivery times across Russia, and seeks approximately $65,000 in damages for the allegedly infringing use.

Russia Against Hague Trial for Syria

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday slammed the request by a few dozen countries that the Syria crisis be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). “We believe the initiative is untimely and counterproductive for the resolution of the priority task, which is to immediately stop bloodshed in Syria,” the ministry said, adding that the initiative would only “complicate the search for ways to politically and diplomatically settle the Syrian conflict.” In a letter on Monday, over 50 countries led by Switzerland called on the UN Security Council to refer the Syria conflict to the ICC – a body prosecuting people for genocide and war crimes. The letter said the Security Council “must ensure accountability for the crimes that seem to have been and continue to be committed in the Syrian Arab Republic and send a clear signal to the Syrian authorities.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Russia’s Pirate Party Banned as ‘Maritime Robbers’

Russia’s Justice Ministry denied registration to the country’s Pirate Party over gripes with its allegedly misleading title, the party said on Monday. Piracy is defined in Russia’s Criminal Code as maritime or riverside robbery, the ministry said in its refusal note. The title “Pirate Party” thus fails to match the party’s goals of promoting e-democracy, the freedom of information and the protection of personal privacy, the ministry said in a note dated Dec. 29, published on the unregistered party’s website. The ministry also cited 12 procedural violations in the party’s charter, though chief pirate Pavel Rassudov said the complaints were “unfounded, to put it mildly.” “If the decision is judicially flawed, it means it is politically motivated,” Rassudov told RIA Novosti. “They’re worried about us because we cannot be controlled,” said Rassudov, whose party reportedly operates on a monthly budget of 6,000 rubles ($200) and a dedicated grassroots effort. The party, founded in 2009 but still without registration that would allow it to go to the polls, said it would appeal the decision in Russian courts and in the European Court of Human Rights. The ministry reportedly cited the title’s maritime robbery connotations in 2011, when it threw out the first registration request by the party, one of 40-plus such political organizations worldwide.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Six Tons of Drugs Seized in Tajikistan in 2012

Tajik law-enforcers seized some six metric tons of drugs in the country in 2012, up 41.1 percent since 2011, a spokeswoman for the country’s drug control agency said on Monday. “Cannabis-based drugs – weighting 4.8 metric tons in total – accounted for the bulk of the seizures. A total of 630 kilograms of raw opium and 515 kilograms of heroin were also seized,” Drug Control Agency spokeswoman Umeda Yusupova said. A total of 895 drug-related crimes were registered in the country in 2012, and citizens of Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were detained. As of 2012, the country had more than 7,200 registered drug users, including 4,882 heroin addicts. About 90 percent of heroin consumed in Russia is smuggled from Afghanistan, the world’s largest heroin producer, via former Soviet republics, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Russians March Against US Adoption Ban

Thousands of people braved freezing temperatures in Moscow on Sunday afternoon to protest a government ban on adoptions of Russian children by US nationals, as well as to call for the dissolution of parliament, which initiated the legislation. “Hands off the children!” chanted protesters as they streamed through boulevards a short distance from the Kremlin, while a police helicopter hovered above. Some protesters carried placards, portraying lawmakers who voted for the ban, to a waiting dumpster. Protest organizers said some 50,000 people had attended the march, while police put the figure at just 9,500. Nine people were detained at the rally for “breaking laws governing participation in mass events,” police said.

Topless Ukrainian Feminists Arrested in Vatican

Four activists of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen staged a topless protest for gay rights at the Vatican on Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI was reciting his prayer, local media said. The activists with slogans "In Gay We Trust" painted on their backs, staged the protest by the Christmas tree in the center of St. Peter's Square. The women were briefly detained by Vatican police, Agi news agency said. Ukraine's radical feminist movement Femen was established in 2008 and devoted mainly to protests on women’s issues. Later the group made headlines for pro-democracy and anti-corruption protests in Russia, Ukraine and London. (video)

Russia Launches Case against Hacker for Blocking Putin's Website

Criminal proceedings have been launched against Siberian hacker on charges of having committed cyber attacks aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin's website, the local Federal Security Service (FSB, successor organization of the KGB) branch for the Krasnoyarsk Territory reported on Monday. The Federal Security Service reported that a 30-year-old Krasnoyarsk resident blocked the president's website to support the opposition rally "March of Millions" using computer programs specially designed for blocking computer data without authorization. "The defendant does not plead guilty. He told investigators that he did not know the program could be harmful and can block websites. But the investigators found that the defendant consciously used the program to unleash a cyber attack against the president's website," the service's report reads. The suspect faces up to four years in prison.

Russian Ex-Defense Minister Refuses to Give Testimony

Investigators might consider former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's refusal to testify as an attempt to hinder the investigation into the case on the embezzlement of the ministry's property, Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin told journalists on Friday. "It is every citizen's right to choose his line of defense in a criminal case," Markin said. "Serdyukov chose this path. It is legal, but it is bewildering to the investigators to say the least. In this situation, the former defense minister's position could be seen as an attempt to hinder the investigation." He added that he has not received answers to the questions asked of the minister. Investigators will seek to establish which crimes were committed, and to find evidence in this regard. A major corruption scandal occurred in the ministry last spring. Investigators are examining the criminal case on the embezzlement of the ministrys property in the so-called "Oboronservis" case. Serdyukov was questioned in the case at the Main Military Investigative Department on Friday. The former minister has now been interrogated twice as a witness. During the previous interrogation, he refused to communicate with investigators, stating that his attorney was unable to perform his duties due to illness. In October, investigators announced that five fraud cases had been launched on the sale of the property, land, and shares belonging to Oboronservis, a holding company under the ministry's control. The losses involved were thought to be in excess of 3 billion rubles ($97.3 million). Later, it was reported that the damages have exceeded 6.7 billion rubles ($217.3 million). President Vladimir Putin dismissed Serdyukov on November 6 to ensure impartiality in the criminal investigation.

Kazakh Jailed for Showing Finger to VIP Motorcade

A 22-year-old resident of Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, was arrested and sentenced to 5 days in jail for an insulting gesture towards a motorcade of a high-ranking official. The man showed a middle finger to the motorcade of the Chairman of the Senate of Kazakhstan. The police noticed the incident and arrested the offender. In court the defendant admitted guilt and declared his repentance. The court said that the defendant "offended, by his conduct, the human dignity of a public person, thereby showing disrespect to other people, disturbed public peace and tranquility of physical persons." As a result, the court found him guilty of "minor hooliganism" and sentenced to five days in prison.

Georgia Releases Political Prisoners

Georgia has released 190 inmates, recognised by the country’s new parliament as political prisoners. They were given amnesty on Saturday despite a veto by President Mikhail Saakashvili. Many had been detained during anti-government protests. Others were convicted of spying for Russia or trying to overthrow the government.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tajik Health Ministry Discourages Barbers from Shaving

The Ministry of Health of Tajikistan recommended that the country's barbers stop offering shaving services for men in order to prevent the spread of HIV. “This is one of the ways to prevent spread of HIV,” Health Minister Nusratullo Salimov told a press conference on Thursday in Dushanbe. The Health Minister expressed concern over an increase in new cases of HIV transmission. The total number of people with HIV in Tajikistan grew by 17% in 2012, having reached 4,500 by the beginning of 2013. The number of people with HIV in Tajikistan was 3,846 on January 1, 2012. Previously, intravenous drug users constituted 60% of HIV cases, but this figure has now dropped to 46%. The number of children with HIV is 275, including 97 children who contracted HIV from their mothers.

5,000 Crimes Concealed in Russia’s North Caucasus in 2012

Law enforcers in Russia’s North Caucasus republics concealed in 2012 over 5,000 crimes, including more than 20 murders, Ivan Sydoruk, a deputy prosecutor general of the North Caucasus Federal District, said. “Law enforcement officers continue concealing crimes from registering them… There were discovered over 5,000 crimes, including over two dozen murders. This is a real picture for you,” Sydoruk said in an interview with Kommersant daily, published on Friday. He said that although the number of crimes was on the decline in the region, over 136,000 violations of law were still registered in the North Caucasus last year. The Islamist insurgency, once confined largely to Chechnya, has spread in recent years across the North Caucasus. Attacks on security forces, police and civilians are reported regularly in the neighboring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia, as well as in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Russian Record Company Demands $131,000 over Song Copyright

SBA Music Publishing has filed a lawsuit with the Moscow Commercial Court against Rostelecom and NTV to recover 4 million rubles ($131,485) in compensation for the illegal use of Blur's "Song 2" in an advertisement, the court told the Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI/ on Wednesday. SBA Music Publishing is part of Gala Records holding. SBA Music Publishing has asked the court to force Rostelecom to publish the text of the ruling passed by the court, citing the real holder of the rights to the song. The plaintiff also seeks 3.5 million rubles ($115,100) from Rostelecom and 500,000 rubles ($16,435) from NTV. SBA Music Publishing told RAPSI that the company holds the rights to the group's song in the CIS. Earlier, Rostelecom used the song in an advertisement for its portal. Before filing the lawsuit, SBA Music Publishing held talks with Rostelecom to settle the dispute, but the two sides failed to resolve the issue. SBA Music Publishing has also stated that the lawsuit against NTV was filed because the advertisement was also shown on that company's television channel. Gala Records is the first privately owned music recording company in Russia, according to its website. It was established in 1988 and has also worked in musical publishing. Rostelecom is Russia's largest telecommunication provider. The state is its main shareholder, owning 53.23 percent of the company's shares. Konstantin Malofeyev's Marshall Capital foundation is its largest minority shareholder, with a 10 percent stake.

New Russian Judicial System Development Program Costs $2.96 Billion

The eight-year program to develop the Russian judicial system, costing 90 billion rubles ($2.96 billion), has been approved by the government, the government’s press service reports. The program proposes the construction of 92 federal general jurisdiction courts and divisions of the Supreme Court’s judicial departments, 11 commercial courts, eight Justice Ministry forensic institutions and 22 Federal Bailiffs Service regional department buildings. In addition to the 65 billion rubles ($2.13 billion) designated for construction, another nine billion rubles ($295.8 million) will be used for IT support, while around 7 billion rubles ($230.1 million) will go towards providing judges with housing, Minister of Economic Development Andrey Belousov said. The program was put together by the Ministry of Economic Development and was approved by the government on December 20.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Moldova's Prosecutor-General Accused Of Killing A Man While Hunting

The leader of a Moldovan anticorruption party has accused Prosecutor-General Valeriu Zubco of killing a man last month while hunting. The prosecutor's office issued a statement on January 6 calling the accusations against Zubco "aberrations" but acknowledged that a 34-year-old man was injured in a hunting incident and died two days later. Sergiu Mocanu, the head of the Anti-Mafia Movement, said Zubco killed Sorin Paciu, 34, during a hunting trip on December 23. Mocanu told a news conference that "Moldova's top leadership" prevented the information from being made public and alleged that the president and vice president of Moldova's Appeals Court were present during the incident.

Tajikistan Ratifies WTO Agreement

The lower house of Tajikistan’s parliament ratified an agreement on the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday, concluding Dushanbe's drive to join the trade body. Tajikistan was admitted to the WTO last December, becoming only the second Central Asian nation, after Kyrgyzstan, to gain admission. The country's Economic Development and Trade Minister Sharif Rakhimzod said on Wednesday his country’s accession “will certainly facilitate the appearance of Tajik goods in world markets and improve investment attractiveness.” Tajikistan first applied for WTO membership in 2001, promising to enact reforms to open up its economy. The poorest country in the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan's business climate has been mired by allegations of pervasive official corruption and the influence of a bustling drug trade from neighboring war-torn Afghanistan.

Russian Jury Finds Russian Guilty of Double Murder in US

A Russian man has been found guilty in a Russian jury trial of a double killing committed in the United States in 2002, a Moscow region court reported on Saturday. The jury found Yury Solovyov, 43, guilty of murdering and dismembering his two roommates in their rented flat in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in order to steal $19,000 in cash - the payroll for the business they were running. The victims, a Russian man and Uzbek woman, met Solovyov in 2001 and shared an apartment with him. According to the Russian investigators, Solovyov killed them with a Jennings handgun and then dismembered the bodies with a saw in the bathtub. He packed the remains in plastic bags and dumped them in a ravine near the Little Pigeon River. The crime only came to light a year later, after locals came across a skull fragment. Solovyov was put on a US wanted list, but remained at large until 2009, when he was finally arrested in Khimki outside Moscow, after which US investigators passed the case to Russia. Solovyov confessed to the thefts, but denied the murder charges. The judge will announce the sentence at a later hearing. Solovyov could get life in prison.

Russian Police Seize 1,000 Diamonds

Police in the Russian city of Volgograd have seized over 1,000 diamonds and other gemstones in a raid on traffickers, RIA Novosti reported on Friday. “It has been established that they [the suspects] were engaged in the manufacturing of jewelry involving precious stones in low grade gold and silver. Fake stamps were applied to the jewelry from brands and factories that make products from precious metals. These products were then sold to consumers,” the police statement read. The police seized diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones worth about 2.5 million rubles (about $82,000). Police were acting on a tip-off about illicit distribution channels for the black market gems through pawnbrokers and jewelry stores. Two locals, aged 27 and 37, are suspected of trafficking the gemstones and precious metals. They could face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Russian Millionaire Arrested in Cambodia

Cambodian authorities launched on Wednesday an investigation into allegations that Russian real estate magnate Sergei Polonsky, together with two other Russians, attacked a group of sailors off the Cambodian coast in late December, a Russian Embassy official in Cambodia told RIA Novosti. Polonsky, Konstantin Baglay and Alexander Karachinsky were arrested on December 30 for allegedly attacking six local sailors on a boat that ferried them from a resort island to the mainland, threatening the sailors with a knife and locking them in a cabin. The official, Pavel Seskanov, added that Cambodian police will question the three men as well as the victims of the alleged assault. According to Seskanov, the men have been charged with false imprisonment and inflicting or threatening injury. If convicted, Polonsky, Baglay and Karachinsky face up to three years in prison. All claim to be innocent.

Tymoshenko Declares Civil Disobedience

Ukraine’s jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Tuesday declared ‘civil disobedience’ at the prison hospital where she is undergoing treatment. “Today I am starting my personal civil disobedience action,” she said in an open letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a copy of which was posted on the website of her Batkyvshchyna party. Tymoshenko said she will no longer communicate with the prosecutors and investigators, will refuse to go to court of her own free will, is ready to physically resist any attempts to forcibly deliver her to the courtroom, and will not allow herself to be searched. Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office over a 2009 gas deal with Russia. Critics view the sentence as politically motivated.

French Actor Depardieu Gets Russian Passport

French film star Gerard Depardieu received a Russian passport at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The legendary French actor said he was glad to be granted Russian citizenship, adding that he loves Russia and promising to study the Russian language. Depardieu recently renounced his French citizenship and settled in the Belgian border town of Nechin. His decision to settle in Belgium came ahead of the Socialist government’s initially planned implementation of a 75 percent tax rate on annual earnings above $1.3 million. By comparison, Russia has a fixed 13 percent income tax. France’s highest court later rejected the controversial government proposal to impose a “super-tax” on the wealthy, deeming it discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. Meanwhile, French actress Brigitte Bardot has threatened to follow her colleague Gerard Depardieu and apply for Russian citizenship too. Renowned actress and animal rights campaigner, 77-year-old Bardot said that she will have to become Russian in case the French authorities do not drop their plan to put down two sick elephants at a zoo in Lyon. (video)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Moscow Police Disperse New Year Rally

On 31 December 2012 the Moscow police detained some 25 protesters, including writer and radical protest leader Eduard Limonov, the head of the unregistered Other Russia party, at a traditional Strategy-31 protest rally.  "About 50 people took part in the unsanctioned action on Triumfalnaya Square, which is just one-fourth the number that took part on December 31 last year," a police spokesman told RIA Novosti on Monday. Russian opposition groups rally on the last day of each month that has 31 days in defense of their right to freedom of assembly, as enshrined in Article 31 of the Russian Constitution. They had filed an application to hold a sanctioned meeting, but City Hall rejected their request, citing the legal violations committed by the applicants at previous unsanctioned rallies. By the next day the police had released all rally participants. (video)