Friday, July 26, 2013

Magnitsky's Boss Wanted in Russia

Russia has officially asked Interpol to put Hermitage Capital equity fund head William Browder on an international wanted list, following his earlier sentencing in absentia. “On orders by the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Russian branch of Interpol has sent a request to the Interpol General Secretariat to issue an international search warrant for British citizen William Felix Browder, born in 1964,” the interior ministry said in a statement. The statement said Browder had been sought on charges of grand fraud and tax evasion involving illegal purchase of Gazprom shares. Browder and Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant for Hermitage Capital, was tried in absentia by a Moscow court in July and was sentenced to nine years in jail and banned from doing business in Russia for three years. Moscow requested Interpol to issue a “blue notice” for Browder, requiring all 190 member states to “collect additional information about a person’s identity, location or activities in relation to a crime.” However, the Interpol General Secretariat rejected the request, citing “a predominantly political nature” of the case against Browder.

Interpol Turns Down Russia's Warrant Request for Browder

Stolichnaya Slams Russia Over Gay Rights

Stolichnaya, one of the most popular vodkas in the United States, came out swinging at the Russian government Thursday with a message of support for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community worldwide. “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government,” the US company said on its Facebook page. President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law last month banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move critics says is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community. Noteworthy, the Stolichnaya vodka distributed in the US has no relation with the Stolichnaya vodka distributed in Russia. US courts have held that the Stolichnaya brand belongs to SPI Group (that apparently issued the above statement).  Russian courts have held that the Stolichnaya brand is held by SPI illegally and in fact belongs to a Russian state-run company. The Stolichnaya vodka distributed in Russia is distilled in Russia, while the vodka distributed by SPI in the US is distilled in Latvia.

US Charges 4 Russians, 1 Ukrainian in Massive Hacking Scheme

US authorities on Thursday charged four Russian nationals and a Ukrainian man in connection with the theft of more than 100 million credit card numbers breaching the computer networks of major US and international corporations in what is being called the largest hacking scheme ever to be prosecuted in the United States. “The losses in this case are staggering,” Paul Fishman, the US attorney for the district of New Jersey, told a news conference Thursday, The New York Times reported. “This type of crime is really the cutting edge of financial fraud.” The five men stand accused of conspiring in a worldwide scheme that targeted major corporate networks, stole more than 160 million credit card numbers and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, Fishman’s office said in a statement Thursday.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Strasbourg Court: Yukos Trial Nether Political Nor Fair

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday that the 2005 conviction against Russian businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev was based on legitimate charges, dismissing their complaint that their prosecution was politically motivated, but found that the hearing of their case was unfair. Thursday’s ruling by the ECHR stated almost eight years after the trial ended that the charges had been brought on "a sound basis," but that numerous violations had been committed during the trial. The charges launched in 2003 against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are commonly known in Russia as “the first Yukos case,” and led to a crackdown on the company and its eventual liquidation. The trial, which was one of that decade’s most high-profile legal cases in Russia, was widely criticized by human rights groups. The ECHR found that the Russian authorities had violated a range of the defendants’ rights during and after the legal proceedings, including by sending both to remote penal colonies in Siberia and Russia’s far north – thousands of kilometers away from their families – and by breaching lawyer-client confidentiality.

Russian Ministry of Justice: Khodorkovsky sentence may be annuled (video)

Constitutional Court OKs Russia's WTO Entry

Russia's Constitutional Court has rejected an official inquiry submitted by Duma lawmakers questioning the constitutionality of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organisation. The lawmakers that submitted the inquiry say that State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament) did not receive a copy of the Marrakesh Agreement with an official translation, and that the draft bill on the accession was not approved by the federal subjects of Russia. The MPs also claimed that the draft law presented to them had an incorrect economic basis. The Constitutional Court refused the probe, stating that overturning a presently active international treaty under the pretense of domestic law is reserved for extreme cases with proven violations of the Constitution.

US Presses Russia on Snowden Airport Status

The United States would be “deeply” disappointed if Edward Snowden were allowed to depart the Moscow airport where he has reportedly been living for the last month, the US State Department said Wednesday amid a flurry of contradictory reports about the fugitive former intelligence contractor’s plans to leave the airport’s transit zone. “We have seen, of course, the press reports and are seeking clarification from the Russian government,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing Wednesday. “Obviously any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

US Couple Pleads Guilty in Russian Adoptee Abuse Case

A couple from Virginia pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges in connection with the abuse of a young boy they adopted from Russia. Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Sweeney, an officer in the US Navy, pleaded guilty to a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and received a suspended sentence of 60 days behind bars. His wife, Amy Sweeney, pleaded guilty to felony abuse and neglect, and will be sentenced in December. The couple adopted Daniil Kruchin from Russia in 2006 and renamed him Daniel Alexander. (video)

Russia Slams Suspended Sentence in US Child Abuse Case

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Uzbek Border Guards Killed in Shootout on Kyrgyz Border

An Uzbek border guard was killed and another seriously injured in an exchange of fire across the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border on Tuesday. According to Kyrgyzstan’s border service, the incident occurred around 10:25 a.m. local time when a border guard detail comprised of three servicemen detected two Uzbek border guards who “illegally intruded into Kyrgyzstan’s territory.” In response to a demand to leave the republic’s territory, the Uzbek border guards started a “verbal argument that subsequently developed into a clash,” a representative of the Kyrgyz border service told RIA Novosti. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s State Border Protection Committee said the incident happened on Uzbek soil and demanded an explanation from Kyrgyzstan over the shooting, according to a statement by the State Border Protection Committee, a copy of which was obtained by RIA Novosti. It said four Kyrgyz border guards intruded into Uzbek territory and opened fire without any provocation, which is “the grossest possible violation” of the rules of conduct on the border. The committee’s press service said empty shells from the rounds fired by Kyrgyz border guards were found on Uzbekistan’s territory about 100 meters from the state border. A source in the committee later told RIA Novosti that the second border guard, who was seriously injured in the attack, died in the hospital without regaining consciousness. There are currently about 50 disputed sections on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border between the two Central Asian countries, with 354 kilometers of the border yet to be delimitated.

World Musicians: Free Pussy Riot

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International says more than 100 prominent musicians have signed an open letter calling for the release of jailed members of the Russian feminist punk performance art collective Pussy Riot. Amnesty said on July 22 that Adele, U2, Madonna, Yoko Ono, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and Sting were among those who signed the letter. The musicians urged Russian authorities to free 23-year old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and 25-year-old Maria Alyokhina, who received two-year sentences last August for protesting against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral. Their parole appeal hearings are scheduled later this week. The letter, organized by Amnesty International, says the impact of Pussy Riot's "shockingly unjust trial and imprisonment has spread far and wide, especially among your fellow artists, musicians, and citizens around the world." (document)

Russian Policeman Refuses to Testify Against Opposition Activist

A trial over riots at a large anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow last year witnessed an unusual and rare twist Monday as a riot policeman declined to testify against a protester accused of attacking him. Riot police officer Alexander Kazmin, who is the only victim in the case, said he did not remember defendant Mikhail Kosenko, who allegedly attacked him during the May 2012 rally that ended with clashes between protesters and police. Moscow authorities said several policemen were injured by the demonstrators in those clashes, and said the officers would be awarded with free apartments. Soon after the rally, investigators launched a series of criminal cases against activists and opposition leaders accusing them of organizing and taking part in “mass riots” that erupted during the protest, on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.

Kalashnikov Gun Maker Lands $400 Mln Missile Contract

Russia's Izhmash arms factory, manufacturer of the legendary Kalashnikov assault rifle, has won a 13 billion ruble (about $400 million) Defense Ministry tender for antitank missiles, the company said Monday, in one of its “largest state orders in recent years.” Izhmash is to deliver Vikhr-1 long-range, supersonic antiarmor missiles by the end of 2015, company CEO Konstantin Busygin said. The Vikhr-1 contract will enable Izhmash to tackle almost all of its financial problems, he said in late May, adding its current debt stands at 3 billion rubles.

Kremlin Denies That Putin Played Role in Navalny's Release

The Kremlin's spokesman on Monday said President Vladimir Putin had played no role in opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s sudden release from jail last week. Navalny, who is running for mayor of Moscow, was taken into custody Thursday upon being sentenced to five years in prison for masterminding a 2009 embezzlement scheme that allegedly cost the Russian city of Kirov half a million dollars. However, the opposition leader was unexpectedly released a day after his sentencing upon a request by the federal Prosecutor General’s Office, raising eyebrows around the country and prompting speculation about who might have been behind the decision. Russia’s Vedomosti business daily reported Monday, citing anonymous sources, that acting mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, had personally asked for Navalny to be let out of jail so that he could run for mayor. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied that report in an interview with the Business FM radio station, saying he had “no information on this subject.” He also said it was wrong to consider that Putin was involved. “The court’s decision to put him [Navalny] in custody in the courtroom was protested according to a legal procedure, and it is absolutely illogical and wrong to involve the president in this respect,” Peskov said.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Russian Ex-Governor Found Guilty of Taking $1.2 Mln Bribe

A court in central Russia's Tula Region found its former governor guilty Monday of taking a 40 million ruble ($1.2 million) bribe. The court also found former governor Vyacheslav Dudka's co-defendant, Viktor Volkov, guilty on the same counts. According to investigators, in November 2010, then governor Dudka and Volkov, who headed the regional property and land management department, took a 40 million ruble kickback from the GRINN corporation, in return for leasing it a plot of land in Tula for three years for the corporation to build a supermarket there. The prosecution had previously called for Dudka, who served as Tula Region governor between 2005 and 2011, to be sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison and Volkov to four years.

Dudka sentenced to 9 1/2 years in jail

Friday, July 19, 2013

US: Navalny Conviction Politically Motivated

The White House said on Thursday that it is “deeply disappointed” by the conviction and prison sentence handed down by a Russian court against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which it called a politically motivated act aimed at silencing opponents of the regime in the Kremlin. “Navalny’s harsh prison sentence is the latest example of a disturbing trend of government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and civil society in Russia,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing. “We call on the Russian government to cease its campaign of pressure against individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption and to ensure that the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of all of its citizens including the freedoms of speech and assembly are protected and respected,” he said.

Navalny Released Pending Appeal

A Russian court released opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny from custody Friday, as the five-year prison sentence handed down to him the day before will only come in force in ten days, after his appeal is heard. Navalny was taken into custody Thursday after being sentenced by a court in the city of Kirov for masterminding a 2009 embezzlement scheme involving a state-owned timber supply company in the Kirov region. Navalny has denied the charges, claiming the trial was politically motivated and orchestrated by the Kremlin in response to his role in organizing a series of massive public protests against President Vladimir Putin. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office requested Navalny be released from custody until his sentence comes into legal force. If Navalny does not appeal the verdict, he will have to go to prison in 10 days, it said. Navalny, 37, was released in the courtroom Friday along with his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov, who was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the crime. They will be required to sign a pledge not to leave Moscow, their city of residence. Thousands rallied in central Moscow Thursday night protesting Navalny’s conviction. Police said they briefly detained more than 200 protesters.

Thousands Rally for Navalny Freedom, Hundreds Arrested

Thousands of supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny gathered around a central square in Moscow on Thursday evening to protest his sentencing that day to five years in prison. As a trickle of civilians began flowing into Manezh Square in the early evening, police muscled some of them away from the area, cordoned off with metal barricades. Within an hour the crowd – sometimes clapping as Belarusian protesters famously did in 2011, sometimes chanting, “Shame!” “Freedom!” “Navalny!” and “Russia without Putin!” – had grown much larger and spilled into surrounding streets. Several hours later the police disprsed the demonstration. More than 200 people were arrested, some of them later released. (video)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Russian Stock Market Nosedives on Navalny Verdict

Russia's stock market fell sharply on Thursday according to Moscow Exchange data, after investors took in the news that opposition blogger Alexei Navalny had been found guilty in a controversial fraud trial and sentenced to five years in jail. The court in the city of Kirov, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of Moscow, found the vocal Kremlin critic guilty of organizing the embezzlement of about $500,000 worth of lumber from state-owned company KirovLes. As of 1:21 p.m. Moscow time (9:21 a.m. GMT), the ruble-denominated MICEX index plunged by 1.51 percent on Wednesday’s close to 1,410.22 points while the dollar-denominated RTS index plummeted 1.50 percent to 1,372.15 points.

Navalny Jailed for 5 Years

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a Moscow mayoral candidate and vocal Kremlin critic, to five years' jail time on embezzlement charges. His co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov is sentenced to 4 years in jail.

Navalny tops Twitter trends
Moscow authorities vow to suppress manifistation in support of Navalny

Navalny Convicted

A Russian court handed down a guilty verdict Thursday morning for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a Moscow mayoral candidate and vocal Kremlin critic, on embezzlement charges. The court, in the city of Kirov, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of Moscow, found Navalny guilty of organizing the embezzlement of about $500,000 worth of lumber from state-owned company KirovLes. It is not yet clear whether Navalny will receive a jail term or a suspended sentence. But the conviction, unless overturned upon appeal, will prevent him from running for public office. Navalny, a whistle-blowing blogger well-known for leading mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, has denounced the charges as politically motivated.  The judge is continuing to pronounce the sentence; the process is broadcast online. (online video)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Navalny Registered as Moscow Mayor Candidate

Moscow electoral commission has registered whistleblower Aleksey Navalny as a candidate in the mayoral race, just one day before his sentencing in an old graft case. Navalny runs on the liberal party RPR-PARNAS ticket – it is a relatively young project uniting the Republican Party of Russia and the Party of People’s Freedom, or PARNAS. However, the situation with Navalny’s participation in the polls can still change, as on the day after registration a court in the provincial city of Kirov must pronounce its verdict in the so called Kirovles case. Navalny is on trial over large-scale embezzlement of state property for which he faces up to 6 years in prison. The whistleblower has repeatedly attacked the process as fabricated ,and claimed that it was the revenge of the Russian authorities for his opposition activities – the most well known is running a blog and a web-site disclosing suspected cases of corruption and other felonies by top civil servants and executives of state corporations. Convicted criminals cannot take part in elections but the sentence will not come into force until the defense runs out of appeals, which can take longer than there is left until the election date which is September 8. At the same time, if Navalny is sentenced to prison he could be immediately taken into custody.

Russian Driver Beaten to Death at Road Crash Scene

A car driver involved in a traffic accident in which a motorcyclist died was himself killed at the scene by the biker's friends, local police in Russia’s eastern Primorye Region said Tuesday. A car being driven by a man and his son – a transport police officer – hit a motorcycle carrying two passengers when the car turned across the road into oncoming traffic. The motorbike rider died on the spot, while his female passenger died in hospital. Their friends arrived at the scene of the accident and attacked the car’s driver and passenger, killing the driver. His son was hospitalized with head and face injuries, a local police spokesperson said. Three people have been detained over the incident, and police are searching for a fourth. “After the beating, he [the passenger] managed to call the police. His father was killed,” the spokesperson said, adding that the suspects were severely drunk when they were detained.

3,000 People Rally in Support of Arrested Mayor in Yaroslavl

About 3,000 people took part in a rally in Yaroslavl on Tuesday to show their support for Mayor Yevgeny Urlashov, arrested on corruption charges last Friday. The event was organized by Yaroslavl political activists, most of them from the Civil Platform party, which supported Urlashov during last year’s mayoral election. Urlashov, who won the mayorship in a rare landslide victory against the ruling United Russia party last year, was charged along with four of his colleagues last Thursday with extorting a 45 million ruble ($1.4 million) bribe, investigators said. The following day, a court ruled to arrest him.

Russia Blocks Proposal for Antarctic Wildlife Reserve

Russia and Ukraine have blocked a proposal for creating an expansive marine wildlife reserve in the Antarctic because they contest the authority of the organizing commission, a US foundation said Tuesday. The proposal, initiated by the United States and New Zealand, envisioned a 1.6 million square kilometer (600,000 square mile) reserve in the Ross Sea, a deep Antarctic bay south of the Pacific Ocean. Such a conservation area would equal about 70 percent of the amount of global ocean that is currently fully protected, The Pew Charitable Trusts foundation, which has backed the marine wildlife reserve effort, said in a press release. However, at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, of which Russia is a founding member, the country’s delegation said further clarification was needed to determine whether the body was legally able to establish marine protected areas in the Ross Sea.

Mother of Russian Jailed in US Requests Swapping Snowden

The mother of a Russian pilot who was jailed in the United States for drug trafficking asked Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday to swap her son for US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden. The pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, was arrested in Liberia in an undercover operation in May 2010 and brought to the United States shortly after. In April 2011, he was sentenced to 20 years for colluding to smuggle cocaine into the United States. “I asked [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov to swap Kostya for Snowden. … What do we need this Snowden for?” the mother, Lyubov Yaroshenko, told RIA Novosti, using a diminutive form of her son's first name.

Pussy Riot Releases First Song Since Members Imprisoned

Pussy Riot’s first song since two band members were imprisoned last year is, perhaps unsurprisingly, titled “Like a Red Prison.” In the track, a music video for which was posted on YouTube on Tuesday (watch it, below), Russia’s most outspoken feminist band of a dozen balaclava-wearing activists makes but a fleeting reference to members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who were sentenced to two years in jail for hooliganism after their “punk prayer” against then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

US-Russia Relations Bigger Than Snowden Affair Says Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised relations between Russia and the United States Wednesday, saying they are more important than any intelligence scandal. “International relations, in my opinion, are more important than the special services' hassles,” Putin said Wednesday, referring to the saga of former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by the US authorities on espionage charges and seeking currently asylum in Russia. Snowden submitted a request for asylum in Russia Wednesday, after being holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport transit zone since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23. Snowden faces prosecution in the US for leaking highly sensitive classified data about the US National Security Agency's surveillance activities.

Snowden to Be Granted Stay in Russia

Former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who has been living in the transit zone of Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport, will be issued a special document which will allow him to stay in Russia while his asylum request is considered, a law enforcement source told RIA Novosti. He said that if Snowden files a request for refugee status with the Federal Migration Service, the request will be considered, even though Snowden's passport was recently cancelled by the US and he is currently not in possession of any valid documents. The source said the prehearing of Snowden's request would take up to five days and the examination proper up to three months. The Federal Migration Service can extend the period of consideration by another three months in special cases. "If a decision is made to examine a request, the applicant is issued a document to this effect. This document will also serve as his or her ID and will give the applicant the right to stay in Russia for the duration of the procedure," the source said.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Russia Seeks to Swap Spies Jailed in Germany

Moscow is holding talks with Berlin over the possible exchange of a married couple convicted in Germany earlier this month of being Russian intelligence agents, a newspaper report said on Monday. A German court found the couple, known by their aliases Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag, guilty of spying for Russia and sentenced them to prison terms of 6 1/2 and 5 1/2 years on July 2. Neither of the two admitted the charges, and Russia has not officially confirmed that they worked as its agents. Kommersant business daily reported Monday, citing the couple's defense lawyer Horst-Dieter Petschke and anonymous sources in the Russian special services, that the couple could be returned to Russia, and that their exchange has been under discussion since the verdict was delivered on July 2. According to the trial documents, the Anschlags were planted by the Soviet Union's KGB secret service in the former West Germany from 1988, and later worked for its foreign intelligence successor.

US Urges Russia to Protect Reporters, Human Rights Activists

The US Department of State issued a statement on Monday in memory of journalists Natalya Estemirova and Paul Klebnikov, whose killers have never been brought to justice in Russia. “We honor the memories of Ms. Estemirova and Mr. Klebnikov by calling for an end to the impunity for abuses in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in Russia,” the statement by Spokesperson Jen Psaki said. “We urge the Russian Government to protect journalists and human rights defenders, in accordance with the international agreements to which Russia is a party,” the statement said. Estemirova, an outspoken critic of the Chechen authorities, was abducted in the regional capital Grozny on July 15, 2009, and was later found shot dead in neighboring Ingushetia. Klebnikov, the first editor-in-chief of the Forbes Russia magazine, was killed leaving his office in central Moscow on July 9, 2004. Both murders, which remain unsolved, have caused an international and domestic outcry and highlighted the dangers faced by journalists and rights workers in Russia.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Strauss-Kahn Joins Rosneft Bank

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who headed the International Monetary Fund for four years and was France’s finance minister for two, has been appointed to the supervisory board of Russian Regional Development Bank, owned by Russian state oil giant Rosneft, Bloomberg reported. Strauss-Kahn left the IMF in 2011 amid allegations that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York. Prosecutors later dropped the case on grounds that physical and character evidence was inconclusive. Russian Regional Development Bank had 83 billion rubles ($2.5 billion) in assets at the start of this year, according to its website. The lender has reportedly ramped up a focus on corporate and consumer banking, and three top hires from investment bank Morgan Stanley have recently left after less than a year on the job, Bloomberg said Friday. Rosneft chief Igor Sechin, a reputed ally of President Vladimir Putin, had reportedly hired the Morgan Stanley executives to help hedge against oil risk.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Russian Aerobatics Chief Found Guilty of Bribery

The former commander of Russia’s acclaimed Swifts aerobatics team was fined $25,000 (775,000 rubles) on Thursday for attempting to accept a $1,000 bribe to let a subordinate skip duty. The accused, Lt. Col. Valery Morozov, had been detained as he accepted the 31,000 ruble bribe in a sting operation in August, the RAPSI legal news agency reported from the Moscow Region military courtroom. Morozov, who had previously been accused of illegally selling team badges, maintained that he was framed in the bribery sting. He was dismissed from the Air Force in October for “failure to comply with his contract.”

US Slams Posthumous Magnitsky Conviction

The United States on Thursday condemned Russia’s conviction of deceased whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on tax evasion charges, calling the case a “discredit” to efforts to bring Russian officials he accused of a $230 million tax fraud to justice. “We are disappointed by the unprecedented posthumous criminal conviction against Sergei Magnitsky,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. “The trial was a discredit to the effort of those who continue to seek justice in his case.” A Moscow court on Thursday found Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion, a conviction that came more than three years after he died in disputed circumstances while in pretrial custody. His former boss, Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder, was convicted in absentia of tax evasion and handed a nine-year sentence Thursday.

Rich Lawmakers Exit Russia’s Senate After Foreign-Asset Ban

The spring session of Russia’s upper house of parliament came to an end this week, but that may not signal an end to the steady stream of wealthy senators who have stepped down as the Kremlin put forward new restrictions on officials owning assets abroad. The nine members of the 166-seat Federation Council who have left since President Vladimir Putin first floated the asset ban in December do not openly attribute their decision to the tighter rules. But at least five of them figure in Forbes magazine’s rating of richest Russians, and their fellow senators, as well as experts, speak openly of moneyed officials’ new dilemma: wealth based overseas versus political power at home. The most recent defector was Dmitry Ananiev, whose resignation was approved Wednesday, the last day of the senate’s spring session. Ananiev jointly controls Russia’s second largest privately owned bank, Promsvyazbank, with his brother Alexei Ananiev. As of this year, the two men were together worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes. Ananiev is not the richest senator to have stepped down since Putin called for the asset restrictions. Other departures from the Federation Council in 2013 include majority owner of fertilizer company Phosagro, Andrei Guriev, valued at $4 billion; private investor Nikolai Olshansky, worth $750,000; portfolio investor Vitaly Malkin, valued at $850,000; and construction company owner Andrei Molchanov, who has $1.65 billion, by Forbes’s estimates.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Navalny Briefly Detained

Opposition figure and Moscow mayoral candidate Aleksei Navalny has been detained by police and then released shortly afterward. After leaving the Moscow City Election Commission office on July 10, where he registered to run for mayor, Navalny addressed his supporters. "For 15 long years there haven't been elections in our city. We are changing that today," Navalny said. "Finally, there's a candidate who represents you, who represents your family, who represents citizens. I want to represent you. I say thank you for putting your trust in me to represent you." But police officers approached him and took him away to a nearby vehicle. Chanting "shame," "Navalny is our mayor," and "release him," a crowd of his supporters surrounded the bus. The police apologized and released Navalny several minutes later. He credited the presence of his supporters outside the election commission for his quick release.

Navalny Submits Application to Run for Moscow Mayor

Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny on Wednesday submitted a complete package of documents necessary to be registered as a candidate for the post of Moscow mayor, the election authorities said. Navalny was nominated in June by the Moscow branch of the opposition party RPR-Parnas, short for “Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party,” led by a number of former government officials who have vocally criticized President Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia party. He needed the signatures of at least 110 municipal lawmakers to be able to pass what is called the "municipal filter" and run in the September 8 mayoral election. “The candidate nominee from RPR-Parnas, Alexei Navalny, has submitted the signatures of municipal lawmakers and an application for registration,” a spokesman for the Moscow City Election Commission said.

Navalny's Bill Gets Online Support

A bill proposed by Russian opposition blogger Alexei Navalny to ban officials from buying cars worth more than 1.5 million rubles ($45,500) has gained the required 100,000 votes online to send it to the government for discussion, reported on Wednesday. Navalny’s bill was the first to win popular support among several draft laws proposed by Russian citizens on the Russian Popular Initiatives (ROI) web portal. Navalny’s bill gained 100,291 votes by the time the web portal posted statistics for the opposition blogger’s initiative. The bill was put to the vote on April 5.

Russia Allows Minor Debtors to Travel

The Federation Council on Wednesday approved a bill allowing debtors to travel abroad if their unsettled fines, taxes and other obligatory payments do not exceed 10,000 rubles ($304) in total. Previously, the legislation did not specify the sum of debt which could prevent people from traveling abroad. People could be stopped on the border even if their aggregate debts only amounted to a few hundred rubles. One of the bill's authors, Nadezhda Shkolkina (United Russia), said many debtors cannot travel abroad because of non-existent tax arrears and other payments. She also expressed hope that the Federal Bailiff Service would work fast to computerize the payment of debts exceeding 10,000 rubles.

Russian Court Convicts Magnitsky

The Tverskoy District Court in Moscow has convicted the late British Hermitage Capital Fund auditor Sergei Magnitsky of tax evasion, RAPSI reports from the courtroom on Thursday. During Wednesday's hearing, the state prosecutor asked the court to convict Magnitsky of tax evasion but to dismiss the case against him due to his death. Magnitsky died in a Moscow remand center in 2009. Hermitage Capital maintains that it paid 5.4 billion rubles ($180 million) in taxes, but the money was stolen by corporate raiders with the help of law enforcement officials. Magnitsky, who died in pretrial detention in Moscow in 2009, was prosecuted for this theft. The case was closed after his death, only to be reopened later. Under Russian law, a person can be prosecuted after his death.

Tsarnaev Pleads Not Guilty

Suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, including murder and using a weapon of mass destruction in connection with the deadly April 15 attack that left three people dead and more than 260 injured. In his first public appearance since he was detained days after the twin bombing, Tsarnaev rubbed his neck and adjusted his collar as he repeated “not guilty” to each of the 30 charges against him read by the clerk in a fifth-floor courtroom overflowing with media, police, victims and supporters of the suspect, the RAPSI legal news agency reported from the courtroom. Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler required Tsarnaev to answer each of the charges for himself, refusing to allow his attorney to respond to the charges for him. At the end of the hearing, which lasted around 10 minutes, Bowler remanded Tsarnaev to the custody of US Marshals.

Russia’s Supreme Court Upholds School Hijab Ban

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a ban on wearing Muslim headscarves to school in southern Russia, the RAPSI legal news agency reported. The court ruled that the ban did not violate freedom of faith or the right to education with regard to Muslim schoolgirls. It said that every school has the right to decide what its students may or may not wear. The ban on hijabs for schoolchildren in the southern Stavropol Region came into effect last September after local authorities issued a ruling requiring schoolchildren to wear uniforms. In late April, parents challenged the ban in the Supreme Court after a regional court rejected their lawsuit in March. A representative of the Prosecutor General's Office told the court that the Stavropol administration's decision to introduce school uniforms was “not a local whim” but was in line with federal legislation, “which stipulates the secular nature of education in Russia.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Russia's Prosecutor General Lashes out at NGOs

Russia's prosecutor general on Tuesday accused 215 NGOs of bypassing a recent law on foreign funding by refusing to register themselves as foreign agents. Parliament passed a controversial law in November requiring all such groups that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activities to register as foreign agents, a term that carries Cold War connotations of spying. Critics said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against almost any non-governmental organization. Prosecutors have searched the offices of as many as 2,000 NGOs across the country, while 36 groups have had legal action brought against them, according to Agora, an NGO that provides legal assistance to other NGOs and is itself one of the 36. At a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika defended the sweeping searches, saying they have uncovered 215 NGOs that "in our opinion" should register as foreign agents, even though most of them stopped receiving foreign funding after the bill was passed. Chaika also decried attempts by some NGOs, including Agora and election monitor Golos, to "dodge the law" and urged the groups to comply. Golos was fined 300,000 rubles (about $10,000) in April in the first penalty imposed under the law. In a statement that made top news in Russia on Tuesday, Chaika told Putin that prosecutors have uncovered 17 Russian NGOs that have received funding through embassies.

Russian Lawmaker Attacked in Road Rage Row in Moscow

Two unknown suspects attacked and beat a member of the Russian parliament in central Moscow, allegedly after a road rage incident, a spokesman for the Moscow police said on Wednesday. According to the spokesman, the lawmaker is Roman Khudyakov from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and he was beaten on the Berezhkovskaya embankment at around 7:30 p.m. Moscow time. The two suspects fled the scene after the attack and policemen are currently searching for them, the spokesman added. The LDPR party confirmed the attack on its website saying that after a road rage dispute a couple of unknown assailants punched Khudyakov several times in the face. The lawmaker was unconscious, when he was taken to a hospital apparently with a brain concussion, LDPR added on its website.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

EU to Sue Russia in First WTO Dispute

In September, the World Trade Organization may start hearing the first dispute between Russia and the European Union since Moscow joined the organization, if the two sides fail to settle the issue of Russia's vehicle recycling levy out of court, the Economic Development Ministry reported on Tuesday. The EU will launch its claim against Russia at the WTO later on Tuesday, challenging Moscow's recycling levy on imported cars, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing EU diplomatic sources. "We gave Russia until July 1 to lift these recycling fees and it failed to do so, so that is why we are taking this to the WTO. Hopefully this can be resolved quickly. It is important that Russia, as a WTO member, plays by global trade rules," Reuters quoted an EU diplomat as saying. The EU has criticized Moscow’s recent introduction of a disposal fee on car imports, arguing that the charge is actually a protectionist move under the guise of an environmental measure, levied to shield domestic car producers from increasing competition since Russia joined the WTO.

Bolshoi Theater Director Dismissed Amid Acid Attack Scandals

The Bolshoi Theater’s director was dismissed Tuesday seven months after an acid attack on his artistic director and a series of scandals that tarnished the reputation of Russia’s most renowned ballet company. Anatoly Iksanov headed Russia’s trademark cultural institution for almost 13 years. His time at the helm saw scandals, corruption allegations and internal squabbles, many of which only became public after the January acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin that left Filin's face and eyesight badly damaged. Despite this, the imposing, balding manager was credited with carrying out a radical makeover of the theater that had long been considered a bastion of traditionalism. He invited controversial choreographers and composers, started online broadcasts of the theater’s performances and introduced workshops for young performers with little or no background in classical ballet. Russia’s Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky announced Iksanov’s dismissal Tuesday, noting that the decision was “not spontaneous.”

France Grants Asylum to Ukrainian FEMEN Activist

FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko has been given political asylum in France, the press service of the women's rights group reported on Monday. Shevchenko came to the attention of the law-enforcement authorities after the group sawed down a memorial cross dedicated to victims of political repressions in central Kyiv in 2012. Later, the 23-year-old activist moved to Paris where she trained more women for the groups political stunts. "Yes, I recently received official documents which grant me refugee status in France," Shevchenko told RIA Novosti on Monday. "This was a strategically important decision for Femen in France because that is where our headquarters has moved to, and we have opened the first training camp for feminist activists." The Femen group, which originated in Ukraine, has expanded its activities to other countries as well. Their stunts always feature the same signature piece - they show up topless in any circumstances and in any weather.

Fatal Street Fight Sparks Ethnic Conflict in Russian Town

A deadly street fight in a small town in central Russia has exposed smoldering ethnic tensions, with hundreds of locals shouting for resident Chechens to be evicted, and the government reportedly sending in armored personnel carriers filled with police troops to quell the unrest. According to a statement issued on Monday by the regional prosecutor’s office, a 16-year-old ethnic Chechen fatally stabbed a “local man” with a scalpel outside the Golden Barrel restaurant in the early hours of Sunday morning in Pugachyov, whose population is estimated at 40,000. The fight was apparently over a girl, a senior investigator told RIA Novosti. The suspected killer was detained later Sunday, the same day that residents marched through the streets calling for all ethnic Chechens to be “evicted” from the town, the prosecutor’s statement said. A funeral service for the deceased local, a 20-year-old former paratrooper, also took place on Sunday. Russia fought two bloody civil wars in Chechnya in the mid to late 1990s, and many natives of that region fled to other parts of the country. Lingering ethnic tensions, however, occasionally flare up between North Caucasus natives and Slavic Russians.

Journalist Gunned Down in Russia's Dagestan

A journalist killed Tuesday in the volatile North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan was likely to have been assassinated because of his work, according to investigators. Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev, an editor at local newspaper "Novoe Delo," died in his car outside his house in Makhachkala, the regional capital, after it was fired on at about 7:00 a.m. by unknown assailants, the Investigative Committee said in a statement. Various motives for the crime are being considered, but the “most likely version is that Akhmednabiev’s murder is linked to his professional activities,” according to the Investigative Committee. A criminal case has been opened into the murder. Akhmednabiev was a deputy editor at Novoe Delo, a weekly newspaper founded in 1991, where he wrote about Dagestani politics, according to the publication's website. The journalist had been the intended target of at least one other assassination attempt: he escaped unscathed from a January attack when his car was shot up, the Investigative Committee said.

UK Adopts Magnitsky List

The UK Home Office has banned 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in the 2009 prison death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering the UK, the Daily Telegraph said. The Home Office issued the bans after the US Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe (the US Helsinki Commission), led by Senator Benjamin Cardin, published the so-called Magnitsky List of the 60 officials in June last year, the paper reported on Monday. According to the Daily Telegraph, the bar of the Russians was contained in a previously unreported parliamentary response in April to a written inquiry from the Conservative MP Dominic Raab. Meanwhile, the Home Office declined to comment on the matter when asked by RIA Novosti on Monday.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fugitive Moscow Region Minister Arrested in France

The fugitive former finance minister of the Moscow region, Alexey Kuznetsov, has been detained by police in the town of Toulon in southern France, according to police sources. Agence France Press reports that the Russian ex-official has been on Interpol’s wanted list since November 2012. Earlier, Russian law enforcement offcials told Itar-Tass that Kuzentsov, 50, had been detained in southern France and was pending extradition. In Russia he is suspected of committing offenses in the housing and utilities sector of the Moscow region, and causing damage worth over 3.5 billion rubles to the regional budget.

Russian Police Catch Criminals Who Sent $1.1 Bln Abroad

Russian police have uncovered a Moscow-based criminal gang of more than 400 people that illegally transferred 36 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) out of Russia, the Interior Ministry said Monday. Several commercial banks and about 100 Russian and foreign companies – which police did not name – were used to launder the money abroad via "one-day companies" and real estate purchases in Cyprus and the Baltic states, according to a statement. In over five years of operations, the criminals charged clients a 2 percent commission, earning themselves a total profit of about 575 million rubles ($17.3 million), police said. Even Russian officials acknowledge that illegal money transfers are a significant drain on the Russian economy. Then head of the Central Bank, Sergei Ignatyev, said during a candid interview in February that $49 billion was sent out of the country illegally last year – about 2.5 percent of Russia’s GDP.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Prosecutors Request 6-Year Jail Term for Navalny

Prosecutors called for six years in prison and a fine of one million rubles ($30,000) for anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny on Friday in an ongoing embezzlement trial that his supporters say is designed to silence Russia's opposition. Navalny, a whistle-blowing blogger who has led large-scale street protests in Moscow against Russian President Vladimir Putin, is accused of having been involved in a criminal group that allegedly stole $500,000 worth of timber from state-run lumber company Kirovles. His trial, which began in April and is now entering its final stages, is being held in the provincial city of Kirov – some 800 km (500 miles) from Moscow – where Navalny was working as an advisor to the Kirov region governor when the alleged embezzlement took place. Navalny, who denies the charges and claims they are politically motivated, is expected to make his closing arguments Friday.

Russia: No Civil War in Syria

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu suggested Friday that there is no civil war in Syria, but rather an ongoing battle against “roving” international forces. “It is more of a fight against forces that, one way or another, are roving between different kinds of conflicts within various states,” Shoigu said at the start of negotiations in Moscow with a Swedish military delegation led by Defense Minister Karin Enstrom. At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since fighting broke out in March 2011 between government forces and rebels, according to the latest UN figures.

Amnesty International Condemns Abductions, Torture in Ex-Soviet Asian States

The security agencies in Russia and other former Soviet republics have been involved in abductions, illegal extradition and the torture of thousands of citizens of Central Asian states falsely accused of Islamic radicalism, international human rights watchdog Amnesty International said this week. Amnesty said the governments of Central Asian states can easily extradite their nationals from Russia and other former Soviet republics under regional cooperation deals designed to combat terrorism and jihadist groups. With a common institutional culture dating back to the Soviet times, the security forces of the former Soviet republics have a shared perception of Islamist radicalism and extradite wanted individuals “with a regularity that amounts to a region-wide renditions program,” Amnesty said in a report published Wednesday. When human rights groups and the European Court of Human Rights intervene to prevent such handovers, “cynical subversions of international law” such as disappearances and abductions are employed to secure transfers, it said.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Strasbourg Court Strikes Down Russian Constitution Provision

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)  found a provision of the Russian Constitution to violate the European Convention on Human Rights to which Russia is a party. Specifically, the Constitution imposes a total ban for all convicted prisoner, prohibiting their vote in any elections. In the case of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia, the Court concluded that the Russian authorities had gone too far in applying an automatic and indiscriminate ban on the electoral rights of convicted prisoners. Therefore, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections).  One problem with the decision is that the questionable provision is among those that can not be amended without adopting a new Constitution.  Accordingly, it is unlikely Russia will change the provision in the foreseeable future.  The ECHR, however, seems to suggest  the Russian Constitutional Court should interpret the constitutional provision in a way opposite to its literal meaning: "In the present case, it is open to the respondent Government to explore all possible ways in that respect and to decide whether their compliance with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 can be achieved through some form of political process or by interpreting the Russian Constitution by the competent authorities – the Russian Constitutional Court in the first place – in harmony with the Convention in such a way as to coordinate their effects and avoid any conflict between them."{"itemid":["003-4425069-5319054"]}{"fulltext":["11157/04"],"itemid":["001-122260"]}

Chapman to Snowden: Will You Marry Me?

Anna Chapman, the red-haired Russian secret agent expelled from the United States in 2010, seized the moment and proposed marriage to the 30-year-old former NSA contractor, who is on the run after disclosing details of a top-secret surveillance program that allegedly targeted millions of Americans. “Snowden, will you marry me?” the 31-year-old former sleeper agent, dubbed a “femme fatale” by international media, wrote in a tweet posted Wednesday. Snowden, who faces the death penalty on espionage charges in the United States, and is believed to have been holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23, has yet to reply. The American has sent asylum requests to almost two dozen countries. Several have rejected his application outright, while many others have said he must be on the territory of their country to complete his request. Chapman was arrested in New York in June 2010 and then deported to Moscow with other Russian agents in exchange for Russians serving jail sentences for spying for the West, who were released and sent abroad. (photo)

Kazakhstan Blocks ConocoPhillips Oil Deal

Kazakhstan will spend $5 billion to buy US energy major ConocoPhillips’ stake in the offshore Kashagan oil field, one of largest oil deposits discovered in recent decades, Reuters reported. Houston-based ConocoPhillips announced last year its plans to sell its stake in the much-delayed project to the state-owned Indian company Oil and Natural Gas Corp. But Kazakhstan’s Oil and Gas Ministry officially blocked the deal Tuesday by announcing that it was exercising the government’s right to preemptively purchase an 8.4-percent stake in the Kashagan development consortium. Lyazzat Kiinov, head of the state-controlled KazMunaiGas energy company, said Chinese state-owned energy company CNPC would now purchase a stake in Kashagan instead, Reuters reported. The Kashagan oil field, located in Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea, is widely described as the largest field discovered in the past 30 years and the largest outside the Middle East.

USTR Issues Report on Russia's WTO Compliance

According to a recent report by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), annual U.S. exports to Russia increased 29% in 2012 and are up another 10.5% through the first quarter of 2013 as compared with Q1 2012. Russia is the world’s sixth largest economy, and there continues to be an enormous opportunity for U.S. manufacturers to increase exports into this sizeable market. On August 22, 2012, Russia became a formal member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) after 18 long years of negotiations. In December, Congress extended Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Russia, terminating the Jackson-Vanick amendment. The full scope of the WTO rules, with an established system of enforceable multilateral trade rules, now apply to the United States and Russia. The report, published in June, was required by the PNTR legislation passed by Congress in December 2012. Russia still has much to do, though, to fully comply with its WTO accession agreement. One of the concerns specifically addressed in the report is Russia’s discriminatory motor vehicle “recycling fee” on the sale of imported vehicles. USTR has been working with Russia on this issue, and the Russian legislature has since published a proposed amendment to revise the program to apply the fee to domestically produced vehicles.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Russian Rocket Crashes Seconds After Launch, Toxic Fuel Alight

A Russian Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass satellites veered off course seconds after its launch from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur space center early Tuesday, crashing in a large fireball. “There was an accident during the Proton-M launch. The rocket fell and exploded on the territory of the launch site,” a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said. There were no reported casualties, but officials said a cloud of poisonous smoke was generated by the rocket’s burning fuel and could spread across the local area. An emergency evacuation of personnel at the site was underway, according to Russian media reports. The reasons for the crash were not immediately clear, but Kazakhstan’s Emergencies Ministry said a near instantaneous failure of the rocket’s first-stage engine was to blame. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a governmental commission to be formed to look into the causes of the crash and present a list of officials responsible for the accident, said his press secretary, Natalya Timakova. (video)

Putin 'Wanted Leaders To Go Half-Naked At G8' Jokes David Cameron

British PM David Cameron has joked that Russian president Vladimir Putin wanted a "bare-chested dress-code" at last month's G8 summit. Referring to the famous photo of the Russian statesman bare-chested in the snow, Mr Cameron also mocked his own dress-code at the G8 summit in which he was pictured without a tie. Speaking at the Business in the Community Responsible Business Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, Mr Cameron said: "I know some of you think I was dressed a little bit scruffily - should've worn a tie. "But you didn't know what was going on behind the scenes. Vladimir Putin wanted the dress-code to be bare-chested on horseback. "I just had to haggle him down to smart-casual." (photo)

Yarolsavl Mayor Arrested

Investigators have launched a criminal case against Yevgeny Urlashov, the mayor of the central Russian city of Yaroslavl, and three of his subordinates on suspicion of extortion, the Investigative Committee’s regional department reported Wednesday. “According to investigation data, in the period from December 2012 to July 2, 2013, the mayor of the city of Yaroslavl and his subordinates extorted from the director of a commercial company a bribe worth 14 million rubles [$422,600] from a sum transferred to the company for performed work,” the department said. Urlashov, a member of the ruling United Russia party in 2008-2011, who later became a candidate from the opposition, achieved a landslide victory in the city’s April 2012 mayoral elections over a United Russia candidate. A member of billionaire and politician Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform party, he planned to head the party’s list at the September 8, 2013 elections to the regional parliament. Earlier on Wednesday, police said the official had been detained. Urlashov’s spokeswoman Svetlana Yefimova told the news portal that officers from the Interior Ministry’s economic security department stopped the mayor’s car early on Wednesday. “These were masked people in camouflage and plain clothes,” Yefimova said, adding that she was inside the mayor’s car at the moment. “Without explanations, they pushed him into their car and took him away.” An Investigative Committee spokeswoman said searches were underway in the houses of Urlashov and his subordinates. (video)

Russia, Georgia Unlikely to Restore Ties by Sochi Games

Russia and Georgia are unlikely to restore their diplomatic ties by the time Russia holds the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in its southern Black Sea resort of Sochi, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said. “Probably not. For this you need time and the right conditions,” Ivanishvili told Deutsche Welle in an interview when the German broadcaster asked him if that was possible.  “We are working on resuming regular flights between Moscow and Tbilisi. There are ongoing negotiations on visa facilitation and even the abolition of visas. But one thing is problematic, for example, the construction of barriers at the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Ivanishvili, Georgia’s premier since October 2012, said. Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic ties in 2008 after Moscow recognized de-facto independent Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states following a brief military conflict over South Ossetia. Georgia’s new government, elected in the October 1, 2012 polls, said normalizing ties with Russia was among its top priorities.

Bolivian President’s Plane Diverted Over Snowden

Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane has been forced to land in Austria after France and Portugal refused to let the jet cross their airspace amid false rumors that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board, media cited the Bolivian foreign minister as saying. Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency, is wanted by the United States for disclosing a top-secret surveillance program that allegedly targeted millions of Americans. He is believed to be in Moscow. “We are told that there were some unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on the plane,” Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told journalists as quoted by the CNN. Snowden had asked for asylum in Russia, but a Kremlin spokesman said Tuesday that the American withdrew his request after Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly stated Monday that Snowden must stop “harming our US partners” with the leaks.

Russia sues US over Schneerson collection

Russia's Ministry of Culture and the State Library have filed a lawsuit with the Moscow Commercial Court against the US and its Congressional Library over the disputed Rebbe Schneerson book collection, a lawyer said on Tuesday. They are suing not only the library but also the United States as a country, Yury Pilipenko, managing partner of the YUST law firm, who is representing the Ministry of Culture in court, told RAPSI. The plaintiffs have asked the court to order the Congressional Library to return seven books from the collection of rare Judaist books, also known as the Schneerson Collection. The books, now part of the Russian State Library's Oriental Literature Center, have been on loan to Washington since 1994 as an international interlibrary loan. Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson was forced to leave the Soviet Union in 1927. He took his collection with him to Latvia and Poland, where he left the books after Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany. The collection was taken to Germany and confiscated by the Red Army in 1945. Schneerson died in 1950 without leaving instructions regarding the collection. On January 16, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Russia to pay fines of $50,000 per day until it returns the books and manuscripts to America's Hasidic community. Russia's Foreign Ministry described the ruling as unlawful provocation.