Monday, June 17, 2013

US Spied on Medvedev at 2009 G20 Summit

American spies based in the UK intercepted the top-secret communications of the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during his visit to Britain for the G20 summit in London, leaked documents reveal. The details of the intercept were set out in a briefing prepared by the National Security Agency (NSA), America's biggest surveillance and eavesdropping organisation, and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The document, leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian, shows the agency believed it might have discovered "a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted". According to the leaked documents viewed by the British paper, the details of the intercept of Medvedev’s communications were set out in a briefing prepared by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The document entitled "Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London – Intercept at Menwith Hill station" was drafted in August 2009, four months after the Russian president attended the London G20 summit.

Putin Did Not Steal Super Bowl Ring after All

US businessman Robert Kraft's claim that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin pocketed Kraft's Super Bowl ring was a joke, according to his spokesperson James Stacy. "This is a funny, humorous story that Kraft likes to tell for fun,” said Stacy. “He likes that the ring is kept in the Kremlin and, as he said in 2005, he admires Russia and Putin's presidency. In particular, he respects Putin for the modernization of the Russian economy ". Earlier, Kraft claimed that Putin stole the ring eight years ago when they met in St. Petersburg. The New York Post reported that the ring has diamonds worth 25 thousand dollars (a bijou honoring the victory the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl), that  Kraft showed it to Putin, that he tried on the ring.  According to Kraft, Putin said something like “you can kill someone with this,” put the ring in his pocket and left with his bodyguards.  Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated:  "I saw him giving the ring to the president, so the words that someone had pressured him are more a matter of detailed conversation with a psychoanalyst.” (video)

Friday, June 14, 2013

YouTube Blocks Russian Foreign Ministry Channel

YouTube shut down the account of the Russian Foreign Ministry and posted a notice, "YouTube account 'midrftube' has been terminated because we received multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including Krasnyi Kvadrat and All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company RTR."  The Ministry called this a "technical mistake" and said the account will be active again soon. (channel)

EU Parliament Concerned About Repression in Russia

The European Parliament has questioned Russia's legal system in a resolution that criticizes the lack of freedom of expression and assembly in Russia. The resolution expresses concern about the "recent repressive laws and their arbitrary enforcement by the Russian authorities." It also criticizes targeted inspections, the confiscation of property, and administrative fines imposed on Russian nongovernmental organizations. EU lawmakers also said they are worried about the State Duma's passage of a law banning "homosexual propaganda. " The resolution urges the EU Commission to significantly increase EU financial support to Russian NGOs and civil society. A separate passage in the text reiterates a call for common EU visa restrictions and asset freezes against Russian officials involved in the Sergei Magnitsky case. The Parliament also said it “deplores the allegedly politically motivated nature” of prosecution of Russian opposition activists, including Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Despite previous pleas from the Parliament, EU member states have so far refrained from concerted actions.

US Extends Sanctions against Belarus

US President Barack Obama extended by one year sanctions imposed on Belarus in 2006, the White House press service said on Thursday. A notice to the Congress, signed by Obama, says that certain actions by the Belarusian government undermine the development of democratic institutions in the ex-Soviet country. “In 2012, the Government of Belarus continued its crackdown against political opposition, civil society, and independent media. The September 23 elections failed to meet international standards,” reads the document, posted on the White House website. According to the document, “the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” The sanctions freeze US property and assets of ten high-ranking Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko. (document)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Court Refuses to Order Navalny's Arrest

A Russian court refused to issue an arrest warrant for Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, which prosecutors requested after he failed to appear in court, because he was being questioned elsewhere. Prosecutors in Kirov, where Navalny is facing embezzlement charges, called for the warrant, saying he had “not provided any evidence of sufficient reason for his absence in court,” the RAPSI news agency reported. Defense lawyers argued that he could not appear in Kirov as he had been summoned for questioning at the same time by the Investigative Committee in Moscow and was fulfilling that legal obligation. Navalny himself said the same thing via Twitter, adding that the Investigative Committee called him in “in connection with a completely different case.” The Kirov judge, Sergei Blinov, adjourned the hearing for a little under an hour to make the determination.

Belarus Riot Police Crack Down on Beach Nudity

The Belarusian authorities have found a new target in their ongoing campaign against free-living citizens by persecuting nudists at an unofficial nude beach outside the capital Minsk, local media reported this week. Riot police demanded nude beach goers at Minskoye More reservoir must cover up, claiming going naked equates to "hooliganism," the Belarusian edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda said. Police officers also fined several people, including at least one woman who was made to pay 300,000 Belarusian rubles ($35) for sunbathing in the raw, the daily said on Tuesday. The police picked out offenders by filming the beach and then studying the footage in their van, the report added. Naturists have gathered at the beach at Minskoye More for more than a decade, but the site has never been formally authorized for it by the authorities. The police have taken action against nudists in previous years, but usually just gave verbal warnings until recently. “Are you a Belarusian citizen? Obey the law, put some trunks on,” officers at the beach shouted through a megaphone last summer, Komsomolskaya Pravda said in 2012. (photo)

Putin: US Backs Russian Opposition

Russian President Vladimir Putin said it is wrong for the US State Department to support opposition activists in Russia. “[Russia’s] diplomatic service doesn’t cooperate actively with the Occupy Wall Street activists, yet your diplomatic service actively cooperates [with Russia’s opposition] and supports them,” Putin complained in an interview with Russia Today. Putin said diplomatic services should mend ties between states and not get involved in domestic affairs. When protesters break the law, the government should use legal methods to “put everyone in the legislative field,” Putin said. “This is what's happening both in the United States and Russia,” he said. “But when we do that we are criticized, but when the United States does this, it is considered as a norm. These are the so-called double standards,” he added.

Thousands of Moscow Protestors Call For Release of Political Prisoners

Thousands of people joined a rally Wednesday in support of activists detained after last year’s violent clashes between police and protestors. Carrying placards with pictures of alleged political prisoners, including protestors accused of participating in mass riots, oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of punk band Pussy Riot, participants in the “For Your and Our Freedom” march walked through downtown Moscow in bright sunshine to Bolotnaya Square. The march passed mostly peacefully, but its route re-traced that of a demonstration on May 6, 2012, which ended in a bloody melee and 650 detentions. Twelve people are currently on trial, and another 16 under investigation, in relation to those skirmishes between riot police and protestors, which police say were instigated by radical activists. Opposition leaders maintain that the police provoked the violence. City police said about 6,000 protestors turned up to this year's rally, while activists put the figure nearer 30,000. Last year’s May 6 rally attracted 8,000 people, according to police, or up to 100,000, according to some independent estimates. (video)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Welcome! Sochi 2014 Exhibition Banned in Russia

The White Nights festival in Perm has come under pressure after four of its exhibitions have been closed, seemingly at the request of unhappy local politicians. In response, Marat Guelman, one of the festival's organisers, has accused critics of political game-playing. The cultural festival, which opened on 1 June, first encountered difficulties when Vasily Slonov’s exhibition of posters, Welcome! Sochi 2014, which satirised the forthcoming winter Olympics in Sochi, was criticised by Perm region senator Andrei Klimov for “Russophobic demonstrations” that were “not worthy of being in Perm region”. The exhibition was shut down on 4 June, and replaced with landscapes and still lives by the Israel-based collective New Barbizon, which conveyed a message of support for Slonov. The following day the New Barbizon show was also shut down, and the gallery locked and placed under guard. On 6 June a further exhibition — Sergei Kamenny’s series of protest photographs, Russian Baroque — was closed after being visited by a local minister of culture. Kamenny redrew pictures of Moscow street protests. Finally, free-format lecture and discussion project Occupy Perm was also rejected by local officials, largely, it is alleged, because of the opposition politics of its intended curator. Festival curator, Marat Guelman, who has also come under fire for the high cost of the event, has moved the prohibited works to his own PERMM gallery. “I don’t want to get involved in this war,” said Guelman. “But after the end of the festival I will meet with the governor and discuss these events with him. If there will be any more attempts at censorship in the future from the authorities, I’ll refuse to work with them.” (pictures)

Russian Police Detain Man Suspected of 65 Rapes

Police officers in the Russian republic of Tatarstan in the Volga Federal District have detained a man suspected of 65 sexual assaults on women, the local Interior Ministry reported Monday. The man, identified as Yevgeny Shutov, a businessman born in 1973 in the city of Kazan, was put on a wanted list a year ago after a series of rapes committed in the region in 2003-2012. The assaults were made on girls and young women aged 15-25. The attacker threatened them with a knife when they entered their apartment blocks, forcing them to go to the top floor. Investigators concluded that all such attacks were committed by one person. The arrest was made soon after a man called the authorities to report he saw the suspect.

Russia Would Consider US Spy Leaker’s Asylum Request

The Russian authorities will consider political asylum for Edward Snowden, who risks prosecution in the United States for his recent blockbuster spy leaks, if he sends a proper request, business daily Kommersant said Tuesday, citing the Kremlin spokesman. “If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” Kommersant quoted presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying. Snowden, a 29-year-old former employee of the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA), unmasked himself on Sunday as a source of recent disclosures about the US government’s secret surveillance programs.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Kiev Court Endorses Settlement between Vanco and Ukraine

The Pechersky District Court in Kiev has endorsed a settlement between Ukraine and Vanco, the license holder of the Prikerchensky offshore area, the UNIAN agency reported on Friday. The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce approved the settlement in December 2012. On October 19, 2007, Vanco International, a subsidiary of US-based Vanco Energy Company, signed a 30-year production sharing agreement (PSA) with Viktor Yanukovych's government with regard to the Prikerchensky license area in the Black Sea. Vanco International then transferred the license to its subsidiary Vanco Prykerchenska Ltd., which started hydrocarbon development in the area in 2007. When Yulia Tymoshenko took over as prime minister, her government considered the transfer of the license a violation of the contract terms and revoked the license. The PSA was also terminated. Vanсo sued Ukraine in the Stockholm arbitration court. The next Ukrainian government, led by Mykola Azarov, decided to resume cooperation with Vanco and drafted an amicable settlement. Azarov also canceled the previous government's decision to terminate the PSA.

Navalny to Run for Moscow Mayor

Russia’s opposition blogger Alexei Navalny is soon to be formally nominated as candidate for Moscow mayor by the Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party (RPR-PARNAS). “I have asked my colleagues to nominate me. They discussed everything and took the decision. I am thankful to them. This nomination will be soon legally formalized,” Navalny told the Ekho Moskvy radio. The party’s bureau “unanimously” decided to nominate Navalny for Moscow mayor, but the final decision will be taken by the party’s Moscow department, said party co-chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov. Navalny, a vocal Kremlin critic who led some of Moscow's massive 2011-2012 street protests against alleged electoral fraud and the rule of President Vladimir Putin, is on trial on charges of heading a criminal group that investigators say embezzled 16 million rubles’ ($500,000) worth of timber from state-run company Kirovles in central Russia’s Kirov Region in 2009. If convicted, Navalny will be banned from participation in elections.

Friday, June 7, 2013

ECHR: Russia Violated Jehovah’s Witnesses' Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held Thursday that the rights of two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were violated when their medical records were disclosed to prosecution authorities because they rejected blood transfusions. According to the website of the international Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization, adherents do not categorically reject all forms of medical treatment. According to the ECHR judgment, in light of a prosecutorial inquiry into the religious organization, a St. Petersburg Deputy City Prosecutor asked the local health authorities to instruct all of the city’s medical institutions to report each instance of the refusal by Jehovah’s Witnesses to accept the transfusion of blood or blood components.

ECHR: Russia Not Responsible for Killing Chechen Militant Maskhadov

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held Thursday that Russia was not responsible for the death of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, but that its refusal to return his body violated his family’s right to respect for private and family life, as guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Before Russian security forces found his corpse in 2005, Maskhadov was implicated in several terror cases.

MiG-29 Fraudster Gets Suspended Sentence

In a closed session, a Moscow court gave a four-year suspended sentence to Mikael Kazaryan, the last defendant in the criminal case over deliveries of low-quality equipment for MiG-29 fighters that Algeria rejected in 2007, Russia's business daily Kommersant reported. The suspended sentence is a result of a plea bargain between the defendant and the prosecutors. Criminal charges against Kazaryan, former general director of the Rezon company that sold the MiG Aircraft Corporation outdated equipment using forged certificates and tags, were brought in 2012 as part of a broader case involving several MiG officials and businessmen. Kazaryan, 58, initially fled to Armenia but later returned to Russia, surrendered to the authorities, and gave a detailed account of his criminal activities, the paper said, citing case materials.

Putin, Wife Announce Divorce

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, announced on national television that their marriage is over, ending years of media speculation about the couple’s relationship. “Yes, you could say this is a civilized divorce,” Lyudmila said in response to a journalist’s question after a ballet performance, the first time they were seen in public since the president’s inauguration in May 2012. Both Putins said the reason for their split was the president’s work, which consumes most of his time and requires a very public lifestyle. (video)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Russian Postal Service Breaks Record in Complaints

Over 27,000, 90% of the 30,500 complaints about the performance of communication operators sent to consumer rights regulator Rospotrebnadzor concern postal service Pochta Rossii, Izvestia newspaper wrote. The fines imposed by courts following the consideration of some of these complaints have exceeded 7.5 million rubles ($234,520), Rospotrebnadzor said. The regulator's press service told Izvestia that the courts had only heard about half of the complaints. Most of these concerned lost and delayed mail. The regulator believes that total fines imposed on Pochta Rossii may ultimately double to more than $500,000. Pochta Rossii has admitted to having problems. "In 2012, around 800,000 complaints about the company's performance were filed with communication and consumer rights regulators, as well as directly with Pochta Rossii," the company's press service said. Around half of these complaints concern delayed delivery, while 7,000 complaints were made over lost mail.

Kasparov Says He Will Not Return to Russia

Former chess grandmaster and political activist Garry Kasparov has said he will not come back to Russia because his freedom to leave the country could be curtailed. Kasparov’s announcement comes less than a week after prominent economist Sergei Guriev fled Russia, fearing arrest for his work on a report heavily criticizing the jailing of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “Right now I have serious doubts that if I return to Moscow I will be able to travel back,” Kasparov told a press conference in Geneva before he received a human rights award from the United Nations. “For the time being I refrain from returning to Russia.” Kasparov linked the risk of his detention with an investigation into the actions of protestors who clashed with police on the eve of Putin’s presidential inauguration last year, a case which the opposition insists is politically motivated.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Thousands Evacuated in Moscow Subway Fire

Thousands of passengers were evacuated, and dozens needed medical help after a fire broke out on the subway in downtown Moscow during morning rush hour, throwing the system into chaos, transport officials said. According to the Moscow emergencies service, the fire broke out in a tunnel between Biblioteka Imeni Lenina and Okhotny Ryad, two stations on the Moscow Metro’s oldest Sokolnicheskaya line, which runs through the city center close to the Kremlin. A total of six stations on the line have been closed. Thousands of people were evacuated from the stations because of dense smoke from the fire, which started in electrical cables. Some 47 people sought medical assistance. At least seven were hospitalized, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry.

South Russian Region to Stop Hiring Chinese Labor

Russia’s southern Krasnodar region plans to cancel quotas for hiring Chinese laborers in 2014 after numerous breaches of the law by Chinese migrant workers, the regional government said after a meeting of the regional security council. During the meeting, regional Federal Security Council chief Mikhail Vlasenko called the situation with Chinese citizens “outrageous.” “In the Krasnoarmeisky, Kalininsky, Seversky, Kurgansky, Mostovsky, Labinsky and Dinsky districts, we have exposed and brought to account 400 migrants who were engaged in growing fruit and vegetables for sale in central Russia. Analysis of these fruits and vegetables showed that the heavy metals content exceeded the norm by a thousand times,” Vlasenko was quoted as saying in a regional government statement. The Federal Migration Service's regional department head Igor Semenyakin said local law-enforcement agencies had caught 97 Chinese citizens illegally working in the region.

Kaspersky Lab Uncovers Global Cyberespionage Network

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian computer security company, said on Tuesday its experts have uncovered a global cyberespionage campaign, which may have been in existence for nearly a decade and compromised more than 350 computer systems in 40 countries. The malicious NetTraveler surveillance toolkit has been active since as early as 2004, but its activity peaked between 2010 and 2013. The initial attack begins with spear-phishing emails with malicious attachments that use vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office to compromise systems. “The NetTraveler group’s main domains of interest for cyberespionage activities include space exploration, nanotechnology, energy production, nuclear power, lasers, medicine and communications,” Kaspersky Lab said in a statement. Users and organizations in Mongolia and Russia were the hardest affected, followed by India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tajikistan, South Korea, Spain and Germany. Kaspersky Lab’s experts estimate the amount of stolen data stored on NetTraveler’s command and control servers at more than 22 gigabytes.

Timber Mafia Caught in Russian Far East

Eight members of an illegal logging gang have been detained in Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East, for cutting timber worth an estimated 30 million rubles ($939,000), local police said. “The organized criminal group, led by the founder and director general of a large company, were active for a year,” police said. The criminal group, consisting of Armenian and Azerbaijani nationals, supplied the illegally cut timber to China. A local forestry official is suspected of participating in the group’s activities and warning his accomplices about impending inspections. If convicted, the suspects face between 12 and 20 years in jail. Apart from lost revenue to the state, illegal logging destroys the habitat of endangered species like the Amur tiger and affects high-value trees, including the protected Korean cedar, World Wildlife Fund Russia said.

100 Russian NGOs to Be Labelled "Foreign Agents"

About 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia may be classed as foreign agents, Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said. "It is difficult to give an exact number... probably about 100. This is my own estimate," he told reporters on Wednesday. Under a controversial federal law approved by President Vladimir Putin last year, NGOs funded from abroad and engaged in political activities are required to register as 'foreign agents,' or face fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,000) for NGOs and up to 300,000 rubles ($10,000) for NGO directors. Inspections of NGOs began in late March 2013, when the Justice Ministry said its goal was to check that these organizations' activities corresponded with the objectives of their charters and Russian legislation.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Opposition-Backed Businessman Kozlov Released from Prison

Jailed businessman Alexei Kozlov, whose freedom was among the demands of the recent opposition rallies in the Russian capital, was released from a prison in Central Russia’s Ivanovo Region on Monday evening, his lawyer said. “Kozlov is about to be released. I’m waiting for him outside the penal colony,” lawyer Alkhas Abgadzhava said. The regional department of the Federal Penitentiary Service confirmed the release. Kozlov was given eight years in prison in 2009 for fraud and “legalization of stolen property,” or the use of illegally obtained property in otherwise legitimate business transactions. The investigators said he stole shares in a leather production company. His supporters, including his wife, a celebrity journalist-turned-prisoner rights campaigner Olga Romanova, claim the case was a fabrication by his business partner, ex-Russian Senator Vladimir Slutsker, who denied the allegations. The Supreme Court ordered Kozlov’s release and a retrial in 2011, but a district court in Moscow again found him guilty last year and sentenced him to five years in prison. However, the Supreme Court ruled last month that the legalization of stolen property charge was unfounded. The Moscow City Court complied, dropping the charge last Friday and slashing the businessman’s sentence to four years. Kozlov has already served four and a half years behind bars. Kozlov intends to sue for damages for wrongful prosecution and also for the extra six months that he had spent in detention.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Russia Blocks UN's Syrian Declaration

Russia has blocked British-drafted UN Security Council declaration that criticizes the Syrian regime’s offensive in the strategic town of Qusair in Syria. Russia called the draft text “unilateral” and “not reflecting the real situation in Syria, particularly in Qusair,” which is close to the border with Lebanon. A diplomat said Moscow blocked the document as the UN had failed to make a statement when the rebels seized the town. According to UN figures, some 1,500 wounded civilians have been trapped in the besieged Syrian town and are in need of emergency. The UK-drafted UN statement said the Syrian government must allow “immediate, full and unimpeded access” to UN humanitarian agencies to reach the civilians in Qusair. (video)

Russia's Makhachkala Mayor Arrested In Murder Investigation

Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov, whom a recent opinion poll showed would have beaten acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov in a direct election for republic head, has been arrested at his home. He was taken into custody on June 1 and transported by military helicopter to Moscow for questioning about his suspected involvement in the murder in December 2011 of Investigative Committee official Arsen Gadjibekov in Kaspiisk. That killing was one of several that the Federal Investigative Committee launched an investigation into a few months ago. Ten of Amirov’s subordinates have also been detained, as has Amirov’s nephew, deputy Kaspiisk mayor Yusup Djafarov. Amirov, 59, was first elected mayor in 1998. He has survived over a dozen assassination attempts, one of which, in 1993, left him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Amirov, 59, a long-term member of the ruling United Russia party, won the title of Russia’s best mayor at a contest in late April, Makhachkala’s administration’s site said.

Freedom of Assembly Demonstration Dispersed in Moscow

On May 31, Moscow opposition activists held their traditional demonstration in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). The demonstration is held on the 31st of each month having 31 day. As usual, the demonstration was banned by the authorities and dispersed by the police. Several demonstrators, including their leader Eduard Limonov were briefly detained. (video)