Friday, August 30, 2013

Ukrainian Comics Set Up Satirical Party

A popular Ukrainian comedy group has unveiled plans to set up a comic party, in an apparent bid to make fun of the country’s politicians, the UNIAN news agency reported Friday. “We thought that if professional politicians today look like clowns, why can’t professional clowns become politicians?” the Maski Show group’s artistic director and actor Georgy Deliyev said. The idea to set up the Satirical-Democratic Party (SDPU) came to him after he visited a local hospital, Deliyev said. The group first planned to name the party as The Most Foolish Party of Ukraine, but they later changed their mind, saying “other parties could have been offended.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Russian Communists Seek to Revoke "Anti-Piracy Law"

Ivan Melnikov and Oleg Smolin, State Duma lawmakers for the Russian Communist Party, have submitted a bill seeking to revoke the freshly enacted anti-piracy law, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday. The anti-piracy bill was passed by the Duma, Russia's lower parliamentary house, on June 21 and approved by the Federation Council, the upper house, on June 26. It was then signed into law and took effect on August 1 despite outcries from the Internet industry. The companies that oppose the law claim that it has numerous loopholes that would allow for abuse and unfair competition. The law allows copyright holders to request the court to block contested content before ruling on its legality, without requiring them to try to contact the up-loader before going to court. Issues of injunction and punishment are handled exclusively by the Moscow City Court, which is expected to accept complaints around the clock, including online.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bubonic Plague Hits Kyrgyzstan

An outbreak of the deadly bubonic plague has tormented the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan after the death of a 15-year-old boy. Three more people showed symptoms of the 'Black Death', and in total 131 came into contact with the victim. More than 800 people have been screened in the town of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The disease wiped out tens of millions in 14th century Europe. It was reported that 15-year-old Temirbek Isakunov died after eating a barbecued groundhog infected with the lethal virus, yet another account suggests he became infected after being bitten by an oriental flea carried by a marmot that he reportedly prepared for food. Eastern districts of the mountainous country were in 'lockdown' last night as officials sought to prevent the plague spreading. Neighbouring Kazakhstan urged its people not to travel to the country, and introduced 'special monitoring' of those crossing the border.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Police Seize Putin-in-Drag Portrait

Police confiscated a satirical portrait of Russia’s president and premier clad in women’s underwear – along with paintings depicting arch-conservative lawmakers and the Moscow Patriarch with prison tattoos – from a provocative museum in St. Petersburg, its owner and the police said Tuesday. The seized oil on canvas portrait by painter Konstantin Altunin depicts President Vladimir Putin in a pink-white nightgown touching the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, clad in nothing but a push-up bra and panties. The portrait was displayed at the Museum of Power’s “Rulers” exhibition that opened in Russia’s second-largest city less than two weeks ago, the museum’s owner Alexander Donskoy said. Police confiscated the canvas along with a portrait of local lawmaker Vitaly Milonov titled “Rainbow Milonov,” a painting named “Erotic Dreams of Lawmaker [Yelena] Mizulina” and a portrait of Moscow Patriarch Kirill wearing prison tattoos with skulls and profiles of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, Donskoy said. “Museum property was forcibly seized without any warrants,” Donskoy told RIA Novosti. “The rest [of the exhibition] has been sealed, we have no access to it.” St. Petersburg police said four paintings were “withdrawn” from the museum because they might “violate existing legislation,” according to a statement posted on the Internet on Tuesday. The police did not say which laws may have been broken, although Russia does have a law against “insulting representatives of authority.” (pictures)

UPDATE: Russian Museum Closed After Seizure of Satirical Paintings

Potash Dispute Escalates as Russian CEO Arrested in Belarus

The business dispute roiling the global potash market escalated after Belarus accused top executives at Russian producer OAO Uralkali (URKA) of a criminal scheme, threatening to embroil both governments in a conflict that could cause broader economic and political damage. Belarus officials detained Uralkali Chief Executive Officer Vladislav Baumgertner after inviting him to Minsk for talks. He’s still chairman of Belarusian Potash Co., the joint venture with state-owned Belaruskali that the Russian company said July 30 it was withdrawing from. Baumgertner was charged with abusing his office at the venture and could face as many as 10 years in prison if found guilty, Pavel Traulko, a spokesman for Belarus’s Investigative Committee, said yesterday by phone. Belarus officials have issued warrants for the arrest of four more Uralkali executives, accusing them along with Baumgertner of a scheme to cut Belaruskali out of decision-making at the venture, causing damages and losses of about $100 million. Uralkali, the world’s largest potash producer, quit BPC last month over a dispute about foreign sales. The Russian company is better positioned to go it alone outside the venture, which had controlled more than 40 percent of global exports, because it has the lowest costs of any major producer. Potash is used by farmers to help crops resist drought.

Security Chief Shot Dead in Russia's Republic of Ingushetia

A top security official involved in fighting Islamist militants in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia was shot dead Tuesday, local authorities said. Akhmed Kotiyev, the head of Ingushetia’s Security Council, died when an unidentified assailant sprayed his car with bullets at 7.40 a.m. in the village of Nizhniye Achaluki as he was traveling with his driver to the provincial town of Magas, a local Health Ministry spokesman said. Kotiyev’s driver was wounded in the attack and taken to a hospital, but later died of sustained injuries, the spokesman said. Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said the attack was related to Kotiyev’s “successful” crackdown on Islamist militants in the republic.

Russian Court Orders Opposition Lawmaker to Pay Back $83,000 to Skolkovo

A Moscow District Court ordered a State Duma lawmaker Tuesday to pay 2.728 million rubles ($82,776) to the Skolkovo Foundation, Russia's high-tech development center, over payments allegedly improperly made to him by one of its officials. Skolkovo had claimed 9 million rubles ($273,088) from deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, who Russian investigators claim was illegally paid from Skolkovo funds by the center’s senior vice president Alexei Beltyukov between February 2011 and February 2012 for a series of lectures and research projects. An investigation was launched into Beltyukov's actions to analyze the academic value of the lectures Ponomaryov was contracted to provide. Spokesman Vladimir Markin said previously the Investigative Committee planned to launch criminal proceedings against Ponomaryov as part of the Skolkovo Foundation's lawsuit and would be requesting he be stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Russia Warns US Again Against Syria Intervention

Moscow has once again urged Washington against possible military intervention in Syria, warning it would be fraught with unpredictable consequences for the Middle East region. Russia is especially concerned about remarks by some US administration officials alleging the Syrian government was behind “the purported use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta last week,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his US counterpart John Kerry in a telephone conversation, according to a Foreign Ministry website statement. The Syrian opposition has accused the government of killing hundreds of people in a massive nerve gas attack near Damascus on Wednesday, with death toll estimates varying from 100 to more than 1,000 people. The Syrian government promptly denied the reports as baseless and showed on state TV what it said was evidence of chemical weapons stocks held by rebel forces.

10 Russians Detained for Commemorating Czechoslovakian Invasion

Ten protesters were detained Sunday for rallying on Moscow’s iconic Red Square to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia — and replicate the 1968 protest rally that got its participants jailed, exiled or forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions. In August 1968, Soviet and Warsaw pact tanks and troops entered Czechoslovakia to quell the Prague Spring – the Czechoslovakian socialist government’s attempt to carry out liberal reforms and build “socialism with a human face.” Seventy-two people were killed and hundreds injured, and reformist leader Alexander Dubcek was eventually forced to resign.

Navalny Briefly Detained

The opposition Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny was briefly detained Sunday over alleged violations during a rally, police said. Navalny was “invited to a police precinct for a conversation in connection with violations” made during the rally he held for his supporters, a Moscow police representative told RIA Novosti. In a video posted by Navalny’s team, two dozen police officers are seen going through the crowd to the stage on which the anti-corruption crusader was standing. Navalny is heard telling the crowd to “go home” and following the policemen. About an hour later, Navalny said on Twitter that he had been taken to northeastern Moscow in a police van and released after a police officer told him that “nobody had detained him.” Police also told RIA Novosti that 10 people were detained at Navalny’s rally for “petty hooliganism,” public drunkenness, improper installation of a temporary stage and the unsanctioned use of audio recording equipment. (video)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Putin: Ukraine-EU Deal to Entail Protective Measures

The Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan may have to use protective measures should Ukraine sign an association agreement with the European Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. “If our neighbors [Ukraine] resort to a substantial liberalization of their customs regime with the EU, goods that are not bad in terms of quality and price would inevitably gush to the Ukrainian market, but they would be squeezing out Ukrainian-made goods from the Ukrainian market,” Putin said Thursday. “Then the Customs Union countries would have to think about protective measures,” he said at a meeting on the social and economic development of the southern Russian Rostov Region that borders on Ukraine.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Russia to End Customs War against Ukraine

Russia’s customs authorities have notified Ukraine that extra customs procedures for Ukrainian goods had been scrapped days after being introduced, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Ministry of Revenues and Duties said Tuesday. “We have this information; it is true,” the spokesperson said. The Ministry of Revenues and Duties said in a statement that the sides have reached “an agreement in principle” and that “the acuteness of the problem has been relieved.” The Russian Federal Customs Service declined to comment on the information. An anonymous source told the Prime news agency that Russian and Ukrainian officials had indeed addressed the matter. On July 14, Russia introduced rigorous checks of Ukrainian goods crossing its border. A number of Ukrainian manufacturers said the move de-facto blocked their exports to Russia. The restrictions have also been condemned by Ukrainian lawmakers from across the political spectrum, with some describing the move as part of a “trade war.”

Moscow Authorities Close Migrant Detention Camp

A tent camp in eastern Moscow where hundreds of labor migrants had been forcibly placed ahead of their deportation has been closed, a police spokesman said Tuesday. “Some foreign nationals have been deported; the remaining 234 people were transferred to a center for foreign nationals in the settlement of Severny,” the spokesman said. In early August, more than 600 people were placed in green tents with bunk beds in the camp after police detained some 1,400 migrants, mostly from Vietnam, over alleged violations of migration rules. Officials said the tent camp had to be set up as an emergency measure because the permanent centers for detained foreigners were full.

‘Statue War’ Rages in Ukraine

A nationalist statue and one of Communist state founder Vladimir Lenin were defaced in separate attacks in Ukraine this week, continuing a long-running local trend of settling ideological grievances through vandalism. The Lenin statue in the central Ukrainian town of Berdichev still points “the way to a brighter future,” as the Soviet leader would say, but now it does so without a head on his shoulders, regional television network VIK reported Tuesday. The head vanished in a vandal attack, but a local Communist organization has vowed to put up a new one, the report said. However, the mutilation sustained by the Communist ideologue was still less than what was delivered to a monument to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – which fought against the Soviets in World War II – in the western Lvov Region, a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism, said Tuesday. The monument, which features a statue of a woman breaking through chains, was ripped in half, with its head cut off. Unlike with the Lenin, though, the head was left at the scene. Police reported no incarcerations over either act of vandalism, which is far from the first in the East European country, torn between nostalgia for its Soviet past and a dream of integration into the European Union.

Russia: US Left 5 Extradition Requests Unanswered

Five of Russia’s extradition requests sent to the United States in the past few years have been left unanswered, a deputy Russian prosecutor general has said in an interview. “Since 2008, the United States has refused 16 times to extradite people to us citing the absence of a relevant treaty,” Deputy Russian Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily. “We have been insisting on concluding such a treaty but have been getting a refusal based on unconvincing arguments,” he said. “Another five of our requests sent to the United States in 2011-2012 have not been answered.” The United States has been unsuccessfully pushing Russia for extradition of fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pussy Riot Member Sues Ex-Lawyer for Libel

A member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot has sued her former lawyer for libel and is seeking 2 million rubles ($61,000) in damages, a Russian court said Tuesday. Yekaterina Samutsevich wants her former attorney Violetta Volkova to refute what she claims is a libelous statement that “negatively characterizes her personality, degrades her honor and dignity,” according to a statement by the Elektrostal city court in Moscow Region posted on the court’s website. Samutsevich and fellow band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in jail last August for their February 2012 “punk prayer” in Moscow’s largest cathedral after an internationally condemned trial. The band members, who were represented by Volkova and two other lawyers, rejected the hooliganism charges as “absurd” and “illegal.” Samutsevich later fired Volkova and hired a new attorney, who maintained her client did not actually participate in the prayer because security guards at the Christ the Savior cathedral had prevented her from joining the other two from “praying” near the altar. After an appeal hearing last October, Samutsevich had her jail term reduced to a suspended sentence and was released in the courtroom. Volkova has accused Samutsevich of “striking a deal” with prosecutors and betraying other band members by admitting that the “prayer” was a crime that she could not take part in. “First of all, this is a deal with [her] conscience,” Volkova wrote in January in her blog on the website of Ekho Moskvy radio. “This is the kind of deal that saved only one of the participants but drowned the others.” Samutsevich complained to the Moscow region bar association in April, saying Volkova should be penalized for “substandard service,” the Rapsi legal news agency reported. As part of her libel action, Samutsevich wants Volkova to refute her comments and remove them from the Internet, the Elektrostal court statement said. A preliminary court hearing is scheduled for September 18, it said.

Russian Officials Now Prohibited From Having Foreign Bank Accounts

Senior Russian officials, including lawmakers, judges and the heads of state corporations, as well as their spouses and underage children, are no longer allowed to keep their money in foreign bank accounts or financial instruments abroad as of Monday. The legislation, initiated by the Kremlin to “nationalize elites” and deter corruption, originally envisioned a ban on owning any assets abroad, but the bill was softened in parliament to allow ownership of foreign real estate. The law came into force in early May, but officials were given three months to get rid of the respective assets or resign. The only penalty for incompliance is relinquishing one’s post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Russian Billionaire's Ex-Wife Seeks to Invalidate Marriage Agreement

The ex-wife of Arkady Rotenberg, who is widely viewed as one of Russia’s most influential businessmen, challenged the validity of their prenuptial agreement in Moscow’s Tushinsky District Court, and may be entitled to a substantial portion of the businessman’s wealth, his lawyer Philipp Ryabchenko told RAPSI Friday. Rotenberg divorced his wife Natalia last April, and now she challenges the validity of a prenuptial agreement. If her claim were to be granted she may be entitled to half of the wealth Rotenberg has accrued since they got together, according to Ryabchenko. According to his profile on Forbes’ list of billionaires, Rotenberg’s net worth is valued at approximately $3.3 billion, as of March 2013.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Russia Launches Customs War against Ukraine

Russia’s Federal Customs Service has tightened control of freight traffic from Ukraine. Ukrainian businesses complain Russia effectively blocked all Ukrainian imports. Experts say the move is part of Russia’s strong-arm tactics to force Ukraine to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, and represents the start of a full-on trade war.

Rosneft Loses Case in Amsterdam over Yukos Loan

The District court of Amsterdam has ruled that Rosneft, Russia's largest state oil company, must pay 2,53 billion rubles ($76,6 million) to Glendale Group Ltd., the PRIME business news agency reported on Wednesday. Glendale Group Limited ("Glendale"), formerly one of Yukos affiliates, held promissory notes issued by former YUKOS subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz in 2003. After Rosneft bought control of Yuganskneftegaz in 2004, it had to pay the Promissory Notes. When Glendale requested Rosneft to pay its debt under the Promissory Notes, Rosneft refused. Gelndale sued and won.

US Court Refuses to Dismiss Sea Launch Case

KB Yuzhnoye and PO Yuzhnoye Mashinostroitelny Zavod (Yuzhnoye) have failed in their efforts to dismiss a claim filed against them in US federal court by Boeing and Boeing Commercial Space Company (BCSC) over the Sea Launch project, according to court documents obtained by RAPSI. Yuzhnoye had moved to stay or dismiss, alleging insufficient service of process, breach of an agreement under the Colorado River doctrine, and forum non conveniens. In February 1996, BCSC agreed to lend $183 million to Sea Launch based on the agreements by Yuzhnoye and Energia to guarantee repayment in the amount of their percentage of ownership if Sea Launch were to default on the loan, according to the order. Sea Launch filed for bankruptcy in 2009. At that point, Boeing paid the guarantees and billed Yuzhnoye and Energia for their shares, which they in turn allegedly refused to reimburse.

Navalny Supporters Fined, 1 Jailed After 5-Hour Police Siege

Tensions in the run-up to the Moscow mayoral election mounted this week as police raided four supporters of leading opposition candidate Alexei Navalny in a five-hour operation, sawing through a steel door and confiscating two tons of allegedly illegal campaign leaflets. One of the four members of the grassroots group, “Navalny’s Brothers,” was taken into custody for 10 days, and three others got away with 1,000 ruble fines ($30) Wednesday on charges of disobeying a police order. The group recorded the raid and broadcast it live online. The crackdown was launched overnight on a complaint by rival candidate Nikolai Levichev, who said he had received a tip that campaign leaflets were being produced illegally in a rented apartment near downtown Moscow’s Chistoprudny Boulevard. Confusion reigned about whether the officers – who had no search warrant – had the right to be in the apartment. Police said during the raid that they thought the apartment was on fire, which in Russia is a valid pretext for trespassing without legal authorization, but an officer later claimed in court that the apartment’s owner had allowed them to enter.

Moscow Irate Over Lithuania’s Extradition of Russian Man to US

Moscow is outraged by Lithuania’s decision to extradite a Russian national to the United States, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Lithuania fulfilled a US request to extradite alleged arms dealer Dmitry Ustinov. Ustinov, 46, was detained at Vilnius Airport in Lithuania on April 15 after he arrived from the US to purportedly negotiate a deal to sell night-vision equipment used by the US military. “[We are] outraged by the fact that American special services and law enforcement agencies are still trying to legitimize the practice of arresting and detaining Russian nationals in third countries on frivolous grounds,” Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry’s point man for human rights, said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website. Moscow will continue providing assistance to Ustinov to make sure his rights are upheld and help get him back to Russia as soon as possible, the statement said. On July 22, a Vilnius court ordered Dolgov to be extradited to the US, where he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on charges of money laundering and smuggling export-restricted military equipment. Ustinov, whose detention was based on an arrest warrant from the US state of Delaware, pleaded not guilty in court.

Henkel Pulls Toilet Freshener That Insulted Ukrainians

German consumer goods company Henkel has decided to pull a toilet freshener out of Ukraine after the country’s nationals said they were offended because the product resembled the Ukrainian national flag. The Bref Duo Stripes’ design included the blue and yellow colors. A TV ad showed the freshener placed under the toilet rim, but the company said the colors carried a totally different meaning. “We are sorry if people feel offended by the design of our new Bref Duo Stripes. The color blue, intended to stand for water and hygiene, and the yellow color for lemon scent are common for this type of products,” Henkel said on Facebook this week.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Moscow Police Storm Navalny Supporters' Apartment

Police in Moscow took by storm an apartment where several supporters of the Russian opposition’s mayoral candidate in Moscow, Alexey Navalny, were holed up. Apparently, the authorities suspected that the apartment was an “illegal campaign headquarter.” The police produced no search warrant. They used a sledgehammer and a chainsaw to break the door. The results of the search have not yet been officially announced. (video)

Navalny Wants Acting Moscow Mayor Checked for Corruption

Mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny has asked the Investigative Committee to check whether his main rival in the Sept. 8 election, acting Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, and his elder daughter Anna are involved in corruption, he wrote in his LiveJournal blog Tuesday. Navalny posted copies of documents showing that Anna Sobyanina owns a high-end apartment with an estimated value of $3.5 million in downtown St. Petersburg and Forus Group, which supplies luxury furniture to government agencies. The news comes days after City Hall confirmed that Sobyanin's younger daughter, Olga, owns an apartment with an estimated value of $5.3 million in Moscow. Navalny has accused Sobyanin of illegally privatizing the apartment. "It is an amazing coincidence," Navalny said in his blog. "The talented daughter of government official Sobyanin has skilfully supplied furniture to places where her father Sergei Sobyanin held official positions."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Court Orders Fugitive Russian Property Tycoon’s Arrest in Absentia

A Moscow court issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for fugitive Russian real estate tycoon Sergei Polonsky, who is currently living in Israel and has submitted an application for Israeli citizenship. Polonsky, the former head of the Mirax Group construction firm (now renamed Potok), is wanted in connection with the embezzlement of over 5.7 billion rubles ($176.2 million) from private investors in Moscow's Kutuzovskaya Milya residential construction project. Moscow's Tverskoi court also heard Tuesday that Polonsky has been officially put on an international wanted list, the RAPSI legal news service reported.

Russian Gunmaker Izhmash Renamed Kalashnikov

Russia's Izhmash arms factory, manufacturer of the legendary Kalashnikov assault rifle, has been renamed the Kalashnikov Concern and will soon integrate several other defense plants into the new holding, the enterprise said Tuesday. “Based on the decision by Rostech state corporation [the controlling shareholder in Izhmash], Izhmash has been renamed the Kalashnikov Concern. A relevant entry was made in the single state registry of corporate entities,” the enterprise said in a statement. The renaming of Izhmash into Kalashnikov Concern is another step towards creating a vertically integrated small arms holding company, a move championed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia’s arms industry.

Russian Surgeon Stole Heroin from Patient's Stomach

A surgeon who operated on a drug mule in an East Siberian town stole heroin from his stomach and was detained while high, regional police said Tuesday. Police found a bag containing 5 grams of heroin in the surgeon’s clothes after he had performed surgery on a drug mule in the Bogotol town hospital in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region, regional police said in a statement. A video posted on the police website shows the surgeon – a burly man dressed in a dark blue training suit – being locked in a small detention cell. A woman can be heard asking “what are you being detained for?” and the surgeon says he will not comment without his lawyer. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in jail, the police statement said. (video)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Prosecutors: Navalny Accepts Illegal Foreign Donations

Russian prosecutors said Monday that Moscow mayoral candidate and opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accepted illegal donations from abroad to fund his electoral campaign. The allegations were immediately denied by Navalny, while Yandex.Money, the online electronic payments system used by the Navalny campaign, said that it had not been contacted by prosecutors over the issue. “The information about foreign funding for Navalny’s electoral campaign was confirmed during checks,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in an online statement published Monday. “More than 300 foreign individuals and organizations, and anonymous donors from 46 countries (including the United States, Finland, Britain, Sweden and Canada) from 347 IP addresses have sent money to the electronic fund of Navalny and members of his campaign headquarters,” the statement said. Navalny ridiculed prosecutors in a subsequent blog post, pointing out that a foreign IP address does not mean that a donation was made by a foreign citizen and adding that all donations to his campaign were approved by Moscow’s Election Commission or were returned to the donors.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ex-Wife Sues Russian Billionaire over Hawaii Property

Elena Rybolovleva has sued her estranged husband, Russian billionaire Dmitri Rybolovlev, in Hawaii over allegations that he had used a “sham” company to purchase a $20 million Kauai property in contravention of a freeze order issued by the Supreme Court of Switzerland. Last year, Rybolovleva sued Rybolovlev over his $88 million purchase of a penthouse in New York City, maintaining that her husband had purchased the apartment through a shell company, despite the Geneva court’s imposition of a provisional freeze on his shares and assets pending the completion of divorce proceedings. According to a Forbes profile, which listed his net worth as of March 2013 at $9.1 billion, Rybolovlev amassed much of his fortune through his stake in Russian fertilizer producer Uralkali, which he sold in 2006 for $6.5 billion.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

US Court Rejects Stolichnaya Trademark Dispute

A US federal appeals court affirmed a lower court’s decision Monday dismissing a lawsuit disputing US-trademark rights to the Stolichnaya vodka brand for lack of standing. The appeal was filed by the government-chartered Russian entity Federal Treasury Enterprise Sojuzplodoimport (FTE) and its licensee OAO Moscow Distillery Cristall (Cristall) (appellants) against SPI Spirits Limited and a long list of “other related individuals and corporations” (appellees). The appellants claimed that the appellees had infringed certain Stolichnaya trademark rights in violation of US law. A lower federal district court dismissed the case for lack of standing to sue. On appeal, the court found that under US law, FTE is neither an assign nor a legal representative of the Russian Federation. In the words of the opinion, “Even accepting, based on the May 2011 letter… that the Russian Federation endorses FTE’s authority to bring this suit and is willing to be bound by this litigation – propositions that we have questioned – plaintiffs cannot… bypass the standing requirement… which permits only ‘registrants’ to bring actions for infringement of registered marks.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Obama Cancels Meeting with Putin

President Barack Obama is canceling plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month. The move is in retribution for Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. But it also reflects growing U.S. frustration with Russia on an array of other issues, including missile defense and human rights. The White House says Obama still attends to plan the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, but has no plans to meet with Putin there one-on-one.

Obama: Russia Slips Back into Cold War Thinking

President Obama said in an interview that he was frustrated by Russia’s decision to grant Edward Snowden asylum but said the two countries must work together. “I was disappointed,” he said of Russia’s decision. “Even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally, we have tried to respect if there’s a law breaker or alleged law breaker in their country, we evaluate it, and we try to work with them.” Despite this, Obama confirmed he would attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in September. “There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality,” Obama said on air Tuesday evening. “What I continually say to them and to President Putin, that’s the past.”

37 Business Leaders Back Navalny in Moscow Mayoral Race

A group of 37 CEOs and entrepreneurs from Russian internet companies and start-up businesses have announced their backing for opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s bid to become mayor of Moscow in a rare intervention in favor of opposition politics by Russian business. Their support for Navalny at the upcoming election, in which he is aiming to unseat incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, will be logistical, as well as financial, according to a “social contract” signed by the business leaders and published by Navalny on his blog. Russian business has largely avoided backing the opposition since billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2003 and his oil company, Yukos, was broken up. Khodorkovsky remains in prison.

Russia, Ukraine Prosecute US Musician for Flag Desecration

A US musician who apparently desecrated the Ukrainian flag has been banned from entering the country for five years, the Ukrainian Security Service reported. The ban followed an incident  in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, when US rock group Bloodhound Gang’s bassist Jared Hasselhoff allegedly urinated on a Ukrainian flag. The next day, the bass player also apparently desecrated a Russian flag. Ukrainian authorities have opened criminal cases over both incidents and are investigating them. Russian authorities subsequently canceled the band’s scheduled appearance at the Kubana rock festival. The band, who arrived in Russia by then, reportedly left the country soon afterward. Russia’s Interior Ministry said Monday it had opened a criminal case over the Russian flag desecration.

Lady Gaga: Russian Government Is Criminal

The American pop star known the world over as Lady Gaga is all but taunting Russian authorities in response to reports they may prosecute her for violating the terms of her visa by giving a performance in Russia last year. Gaga has been vocal in her support of gay Russians. Now Russian authorities – who recently enacted a law that forbids communicating anything about the homosexual lifestyle to a minor – say she did not have a proper visa to perform in Russia and may be prosecuted. “The Russian government is criminal. Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom,” Gaga wrote in a tweet.

Moscow Police Arrest Thousands in Market Raids

Moscow police carried out yet more raids targeting migrants and marketplaces Wednesday, detaining hundreds of people. A special sweep operation involving some 400 police officers took place at the Sadovod market, a sprawling area in southeastern Moscow trading a variety of goods that employs many migrants. Over 1,000 people have been held there as of Wednesday morning, the police reported, but they did not say on what grounds they were detained. The operation is part of the city’s recent drive to “decriminalize” Moscow with checks of market places and other sites which house and employ many migrant workers. The city’s law enforcement authorities detained thousands of people in a string of raids, launched last week, following an attack on a police officer who was seriously injured at a Moscow market when attacked by an angry mob as he was trying to arrest a rape suspect.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Russian Supreme Court Cuts Jail Term for Khodorkovsky by 2 Months

Russia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling reducing the jail terms of jailed former head of oil giant Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his former business partner to 10 years and 10 months at their Tuesday appeal. The decision means that they will be released two months early. Khodorkovsky's term will now end in August 2014 and his business partner Platon Lebedev's in May the same year. The case against the two businessmen became one of the decade’s most high-profile legal cases in Russia and was widely criticized by human rights groups as being politically motivated.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Russia Bans Ukrainian Confectionery

Russia on Tuesday barred confectionery imports from Ukrainian firm Roshen citing health concerns. This move is the latest in a string of trade restrictions on both sides. Russian consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said in a statement on Tuesday it had found a carcinogenic substance in Roshen's chocolate and was barring imports of all products made at four of Roshen's Ukrainian plants. Earlier this month, Russia said it planned to levy additional duties on imports of Ukrainian chocolate, coal and glass in retaliation for a Ukrainian emergency import tax on cars which is likely to hurt Russian producers, among others. Ukraine says it has imposed the emergency car tax in March under the World Trade Organisation's "safeguard" rules, which allow countries to protect a sector if there is a threat of serious damage to producers from a surge in imports. However, a number of WTO members, including the European Union, have accused Ukraine of breaking the global trade club's rules.

Russia's Anti-Internet Piracy Law Faces Backlash

President Putin signed the anti-piracy bill into law last month. It is championed by some as a new weapon to defend content-makers and decried by others as a blunt tool that could extend censorship of the net. One thing's for sure - Russia's new anti-piracy law is proving controversial. The law allows copyright holders to request the court to block contested content before ruling on its legality without requiring them to try to contact the uploader before going to court. "Access to online content should be free and global because it is people's right to freely receive and distribute information, as well as it is their right to consume art," says Natalia Malysheva, of the Russian Pirate Party. On Sunday, the party held a protest in central Moscow against the law, now in force, which allows sites to be blocked if they do not tackle complaints that they are aiding copyright infringement within three days of being notified. About 300 people, who were waving black pirate flags, attended the peaceful event.

Russia Gives Snowden Asylum, Obama-Putin Summit in Doubt

Russia rejected U.S. pleas and granted American fugitive Edward Snowden a year's asylum on Thursday, letting the former spy agency contractor slip out of a Moscow airport after more than five weeks in limbo while angering the United States and putting in doubt a planned summit between the two nations' presidents. The United States wanted Russia to send Snowden home to face criminal charges, including espionage, for disclosing in June secret American internet and telephone surveillance programs. The White House signaled that President Barack Obama may boycott a September summit with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Snowden, whose disclosures triggered an international furor over the reach of U.S. spy operations as part of its counterterrorism efforts, thanked Russia for his temporary asylum and declared that "the law is winning."

Russia Creates Immigrant Detention Camp

More than 1,000 suspected illegal immigrants detained in a wave of raids at Moscow markets this week will be placed at a specially organized tent camp until decisions on their deportations are made. Police arrested around 1,400 people, most of whom are allegedly Vietnamese citizens, Interfax reported Friday. Others are believed to be natives of Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Moscow police senior official Vyacheslav Kozlov told BBC Russia that the identification process of the migrants would take up to two days since most of them didn't speak Russian and either lacked documents or had false ones. "We have no places to keep foreign citizens. There are only 400 places for such people in Moscow police offices; that is why we asked the government to organize the tent camp," Kozlov said. He added that food, water, toilets and medical assistance will be provided for those in the camp's 20 tents. The migrants will also be under constant police surveillance.

Putin: Navalny Sentence 'Strange'

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he finds it "strange" that Kremlin and Putin critic Aleksei Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison while a co-defendant in the case who testified against Navalny received a suspended sentence. Putin, speaking at a Kremlin-organized camp for young activists in Seliger, in the Tver region north of Moscow, on August 2, made the comment without mentioning Navalny or the co-defendant, Vyacheslav Opalev, by name as he answered questions from youthful supporters. Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison last month partly due to Opalev’s testimony that Navalny had conspired to defraud the government of the northern Kirov region of more than $500,000 in a timber deal. Navalny and rights groups have accused Russian authorities of politically motivated persecution. Despite receiving a five-year prison sentence, Navalny was later released and will compete in the upcoming Moscow mayoral election in September.