Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rosneft Subsidiary Fights Order to Pay $186M to Yukos Company

A subsidiary of Russia’s giant Rosneft energy company has appealed a US court judgment ordering payment of $186 million to Yukos Capital, according to court documents obtained by the RAPSI legal news service. Samaraneftegaz argued that the judgment ignored Russian law in granting recognition and enforcement of the arbitration award to the subsidiary of the now defunct Yukos oil company once owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was released after 10 years in prison in December. The dispute revolves around two July 2004 loan agreements, which provided for the arbitration of disputes in Russia and under Russian law, as well as a November 2005 addenda to the agreements that provided for arbitration in New York’s International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) under New York law, according to a recent order. In August, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a request by Yukos Capital for summary judgment in its efforts to seek enforcement of an arbitration award it had earlier won in the ICC against Samaraneftegaz. A supplemental judgment in early October, linked to the August judgment, ordered Rosneft to pay $185,907,785.41 plus interest to Yukos Capital. Yukos Capital filed a memo in late October requesting that a US federal court order Samaraneftegaz to satisfy the judgment. On January 9, the district court ordered Samaraneftegaz to turn over assets in order to satisfy the judgment, and to refrain from paying dividends, making loans, or providing other such payments to shareholders or corporate affiliates until either the judgment was satisfied or a bond posted pending appeal. Samaraneftegaz raised several issues on appeal in a brief filed Friday with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. It argued that the district court had found that the relevant factors weighed in favor of dismissal based on forum non conveniens, but had declined to dismiss on this basis.


Tajikistan Claims Detention of 118 Extremists

Security services in Tajikistan detained 118 members of alleged terrorist and extremist groups last year, deputy interior minister said Monday. Those held allegedly contributed to 91 serious crimes, including the organization of militant groups and criminal gangs on the territory of the Central Asian state, Deputy Interior Minister Abdurakhmon Buzmakov said. He said that they included members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Jamaat Ansarullah militant groups as well as followers of the insurgent commander Mullo Abdullo, who was killed during a clash with government forces in 2011. The deputy minister said that the number of registered crimes in Tajikistan increased by 10.5 percent in 2013 compared to the year before, to more than 18,300, including 3,100 serious offences. Trials against people suspected of belonging to extremist religious groups in Tajikistan are generally held behind closed doors, making it almost impossible to verify the legitimacy of the charges against them. The country's highly authoritarian government has pursued broad crackdowns against devout Muslims over fears they pose a risk to stability. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2013 report that Tajikistan is characterized by "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion."


Billionaire Ivanishvili Gets Back His Georgian Citizenship

Georgia’s top court has ruled to restore the citizenship of former prime minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili more than two years after it was revoked by presidential decree. The Supreme Court of the former Soviet state said in a statement late Monday that it had decided to cancel a 2011 decree issued by then-President Mikheil Saakashvili that stripped his political rival Ivanishvili of Georgian citizenship. Ivanishvili, 57, who founded and formerly headed the Georgian Dream coalition, was originally granted Georgian citizenship in 2004 – in addition to his existing Russian citizenship – but it was revoked after he received a French passport in 2010. Georgia allows dual citizenship, but Ivanishvili was stripped of his Georgian citizenship on the grounds that he could not have citizenship in three countries. The tycoon gave up his Russian citizenship in the run-up to the 2012 parliamentary election. He also tried to renounce his French citizenship, but the French authorities said he had to become a Georgian citizen first in order to avoid ending up stateless. After the court's ruling, he now holds dual Georgian-French citizenship.


Russian Changes Gender to Dodge Debts

Police in southern Russia are searching for a man who was previously a woman and is believed to have changed gender to avoid paying thousands of rubles in debts and unpaid fines, local bailiffs said Monday. The bailiff service of the southern Astrakhan region said the 38-year-old, identified only as Natalya, had changed her sex and assumed the name of Andrian after accumulating debts of about 130,000 rubles ($3,800), including an unpaid court fine of 70,000 rubles for assaulting a police officer. As a man, the suspect has accumulated six new debts in the form of unpaid taxes, said the bailiff service, which is responsible for making sure that Russian citizens pay their bills. A spokesperson for the service told the Agence-France Presse news agency that changing gender and identification papers “would not cancel the debts Andrian acquired as a woman.” “If a debtor thinks he can escape that way, he’s very much mistaken,” the AFP quoted the official as saying. The suspect’s last name has not been disclosed.


Ukraine PM Resigns in Bid to Defuse Crisis

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced his resignation Tuesday in what he said was a bid to quell the deepening political crisis created by protests in the former Soviet nation. The announcement came as lawmakers gathered for a special session of parliament to seek an end to the standoff that has paralyzed the political system since authorities took a surprise decision in November to back away from closer ties with the European Union. But it was unclear early Tuesday afternoon whether Azarov’s decision to step aside would lead to a softening in the position of the emboldened opposition, which is demanding fresh elections. “The acute and dangerous conflict for our people, for the fate of Ukraine, demands further responsible steps,” Azarov said in a statement posted on the Cabinet website. His resignation should also lead to dissolution of the government.


Ukraine’s Parliament Repeals Anti-Protest Laws

Ukraine’s parliament is expected Tuesday to repeal legislation passed earlier this month that sparked the violent escalation of largely peaceful protests. Officials in the former Soviet country said last night that an agreement had been reached with opposition leaders to review a bundle of anti-protest laws in an extraordinary session of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. The unpopular legislation limiting the rights of protesters was pushed through the Rada on January 16 by the ruling Party of the Regions without any formal debate amid scenes of chaos.


UPDATE: Ukraine’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to overturn draconian anti-protest laws it approved only days earlier amid much international criticism.


Radical Protesters Abandon Justice Ministry Building in Kiev

Anti-government demonstrators on Monday left the Justice Ministry building in Kiev occupied on Sunday night, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said. “The [opposition] activists, including members of the Common Cause movement led by Alexander Danilyuk, have abandoned the building of the Ukrainian Justice Ministry,” the ministry said in a statement. “A group of investigators is working inside the building,” the statement said. The Justice Ministry's storming was part of a new wave of unrest that swelled over the weekend after the opposition rejected President Viktor Yanukovych's offer to hand over the premiership and deputy premiership to protest leaders.


Navalny Report Details Sochi Corruption Claims

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny published an analysis of Russia’s spending for the 2014 Winter Olympics on Monday alleging that billions of dollars have been stolen and siphoned off for the benefit of top state officials. President Vladimir Putin is linked to the corruption through a $64.2 million road built to an exclusive ski resort, and lucrative contracts for businessmen with whom he reportedly enjoys close ties, according to the Navalny report. Allegations of large-scale corruption have dogged preparations for the Sochi Games, which are due to begin on February 7. Russian officials initially estimated that the Games would cost over $50 billion, making them the most expensive Olympics in the history of the event. However, Putin said earlier this month that only $6.5 billion had been spent on staging the competition, while the remainder was invested in local infrastructure development. Putin also denied that there was any large-scale corruption in the preparations for Sochi, and has challenged critics to produce evidence of graft.


Russia’s Central Bank: Bitcoin Users Can Face Jail Time

Russia’s top monetary authority slammed digital currencies Monday, warning that Bitcoin use can lead to criminal charges in the country. The anonymously produced “virtual currencies” can be intended by its producers for money laundering and terrorism funding purposes, the Central Bank said in a statement. This means that Russian digital currency users can become involved in criminal activity simply by using the Bitcoin and its analogues, the regulator said. Digital currencies also lack any backing and are used for financial speculation, which increases risks for users, the Central Bank said. Moreover, Russian legislation directly prohibits the issuance of surrogate currency, the statement said. Money laundering is punishable with up to seven years in prison in Russia; funding terrorism – with up to 15 years. Russia’s legislation does not state a punishment for issuing surrogate currency.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Russian Businessman Sues Russian Bank for $600 Million in London

A Russian businessman has filed a $600 million lawsuit against Russia's second largest bank, VTB, with London’s High Court, a newspaper reported Monday. Russia’s Vedomosti business daily quoted a source as saying Konstantin Malofeyev, head of Marshall Capital, was claiming $600 million in lost earnings from an injunction previously imposed on a Rostelecom stake as part of a lawsuit by VTB. The injunction prevented Malofeyev from participating in the formation of the Garsdale telecom holding led by tycoon Alisher Usmanov. Malofeyev confirmed the report and said he had filed the lawsuit back in June 2013. Marshall Capital's assets, including a 10-percent stake in the Rostelecom state fixed-line operator, were frozen in August 2011 as part of a fraud case involving a $225 million loan that a VTB subsidiary issued to Rusagroprom in 2007 to finance the acquisition of assets from the Nutritek International Corp., a baby food producer registered in the British Virgin Islands. Rusagroprom defaulted on the loan. VTB then claimed that Malofeyev was the actual owner of Russagroprom and Nutritek. The businessman has denied the claims.


Ukraine Justice Minister: State of Emergency May Be Introduced

Ukraine's justice minister has warned anti-government protesters occupying her ministry that she will call for a state of emergency if they do not leave. Olena Lukash told local media she would ask the National Security and Defence Council to introduce the measures. Protesters seized the building in Kiev late on Sunday and set up barricades outside with bags of snow. Unrest is spreading across Ukraine, with activists taking over municipal buildings in up to 10 cities. Buildings have come under attack even in eastern areas which have traditionally had closer ties with Russia and where President Viktor Yanukovych has enjoyed strong support. The crisis was sparked by the president's decision not to sign an EU deal, and has escalated with the deaths of four activists in recent days. Correspondents say protesters entered the justice ministry building in the capital without resistance. "The seizure of the Ministry of Justice is a symbolic act of the people of the uprising. Now, these authorities are stripped of justice," one protester told reporters.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

'Russian Facebook' Founder Quits, Sells Stake

Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, said on Friday he had sold his stake in the immensely popular social-networking website that has often been dubbed “Russia’s Facebook.” Durov wrote on his VKontakte page that he had sold 12 percent of the company to Ivan Tavrin, a member of the Mail.Ru Group Board of Directors and general director of Russian telecoms giant Megafon. He said that the deal would not affect VKontakte management and he, as a founder, would continue to oversee its functioning. Russian business daily Vedomosti said earlier in the day, citing sources close to VKontakte partners and shareholders, that the deal was signed in December 2013. The contract value is unknown, but one of Vedomosti’s sources said it was probably based on the company’s value of $3-4 billion.


Kerry: We Will Stand With the People of Ukraine

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday reiterated the United States’ support for Ukrainian protesters and said Washington is working with its allies and top officials in Kiev to halt the violence between security forces and government opponents. “We will stand with the people of Ukraine,” Kerry said in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Kerry added that the United States is coordinating with its allies in efforts to resolve the situation peacefully. “We are working with our partners to press the government of Ukraine to forego violence, to address the concerns of peaceful protesters, to foster dialogue, promote the freedom of assembly and expression,” he said. Dozens of protesters and riot police have been injured in the surge of violence that has enveloped the capital Kiev this week after Ukraine’s government enacted laws severely restricting protests. Authorities have confirmed that two protesters have been killed in the unrest, while the Ukrainian opposition claims at least five protesters have been killed.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Apple Sues Russian Customs Agency Over Import Duties

Apple’s Russian distribution arm, Apple Rus, is suing the customs agency over import duties on the iMac.  Apple Rus's claim stems from a customs' decision to introduce a 6% duty on the iMac.  Prior to fall of 2013, Apple had declared the iMac under customs code 8471 49, which denotes industrial equipment necessary for knowledge-based economic development (and does not require import duties).  Several months ago, however, Apple reregistered the iMac under the category of all-in-one computers and laptops (which stipulates a 6% customs duty).  According to Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, in mid-2013 Apple held 3% of the shrinking Russian PC market, which is dominated by HP (12%) and Lenovo (10%).

DHL, FedEx Suspend Shipments to Russian Customers

The express delivery services DHL and FedEx have suspended shipments of parcels to private individuals in Russia, blaming stricter customs rules. The suspension affects goods ordered on the internet by Russian customers. Extra documents are now required for Russians to receive parcels from abroad, including passport details. Business customers are not affected, Russian media report. Russians ordered about 30m parcels from abroad last year. President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign late last year to "put into order" a booming e-commerce sector. One of the proposed measures was lowering a value threshold for purchases in foreign online stores that are subject to customs duty.


Russian Supreme Court Orders Release of Khodorkovski's Partner Lebedev

The Russian Supreme Court has ordered the release of Platon Lebedev, the former business partner of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The court ruled on January 23 that Lebedev's prison term must be shortened to a length equal to what he has already served. Lebedev has been in jail since 2003. Former Yukos head Khodorkovsky was unexpectedly pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, eight months ahead of his scheduled release, after more than a decade behind bars. Lebedev, 57, has been serving his sentence in the Far Northern Arkhangelsk region. He had been due to be released in May. His defense had repeatedly complained that Lebedev had been denied adequate medical care for his health problems. Lebedev is now expected to be released on January 23 or 24. Lebedev's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, praised the court's decision but added that his client was "unlawfully deprived of more than 10 years" of his life.


UPDATE: Lebedev released

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Russia Hopes New Economic Package Will Stimulate Small, Medium Business Growth

In an effort to stimulate small and medium enterprises (SME) in manufacturing, services and research, a new government stimulus package includes a two-year tax holiday, and a five-year tax holiday for SMEs operating in the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia.   Another major innovation to be implemented in 2014 is the establishment of the Federal Guarantee Fund, which is designed to make it easier for businesses to gain access to credit financing. Natalya Larionova, the head of the SME and competition department at the Economic Development Ministry, told RBTH that the fund will support new investment projects worth a minimum of 300 million rubles (about $9 million).  Foreign investors will also qualify for all the stimulus measures announced by the government, but only if they meet several conditions. Under Russian law, small companies set up by foreign citizens acting as individual entrepreneurs enjoy the same rights as Russian small and medium businesses.  If, however, the company was founded by a foreign legal entity or firm, it will have to seek a large Russian partner or several smaller partners (who control at least a 75% stake in the company) if it wants to be treated in the same way as any other Russian company.

Legislators Planning to Toughen Russia's "Foreign Agent" Law

A federal law passed last November requires that all NGOs engaged in political activity and receiving finance from abroad register as “foreign agents” or face fines of up to 500,000 rubles (over $15,300). A new bill proposing amendment to this law has been withdrawn, and will be resubmitted to the State Duma after having some tougher restrictions added to it, said one of the bill’s sponsors and United Russia member Yevgeny Fyodorov.  “We are just making the phrasing of what is considered a foreign agent more stringent. Initially, the requirement was 50% of foreign funding. However, after the recent events in Ukraine – where the media in fact triggered a civil war of sorts, we decided to change the figure. In effect, there is a similar situation going on in Russia,” Fyodorov said.  In February of 2013, 11 Russian NGOs, including Moscow Helsinki Group, lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) protesting the law.

Jaguar Challenges Russia's Approval of "Funny Jaguar" Trademark

UK company Jaguar Land Rover has filed a suit against the Russian Federal Service for Intellectual Property (Rospatent) seeking to invalidate their decision to provide legal protection for the Funny Jaguar trademark. The trademark, including the brand name "Funny Jaguar", was registered in 2012 at the request of businessman Alexander Petrov under three classes Goods and Services -- vehicles, advertising, and games and playthings -- and is used for children’s bicycles.  According to a 2013 complaint filed by Jaguar, the new trademark is confusingly similar to the Jaguar trademark.
Rospatent’s Chamber for Patent Disputes concluded that there is no similarity between the trademarks Funny Jaguar, Jaguar Racing and Jaguar Selected, which denote different items, even though they all include the word “Jaguar.”  The hearing on Jaguar's claim filed against Rospatent has been scheduled for February.

Street Battles in Ukraine, Casualties Reported

Authorities in Ukraine deployed an armored personnel carrier and masses of riot police Wednesday in their latest push to sweep the center of the capital of anti-government protesters. Unrest in Kiev took a turn for the worse in the morning with news that at least three people were killed in clashes with police as the violence that erupted this week showed little immediate sign of abating. Ukraine has seen increasingly ugly scenes in recent days with demonstrators intensifying their anti-government campaign in response to draconian legislation that came into force Wednesday which has severely curbed the freedom to protest. Demonstrators in helmets, many of them wielding sticks and shields, some of them throwing Molotov cocktails, engaged in pitched battles with lines of advancing lines of riot police for much of the day on Ulitsa Grushevskogo, a street flanking the Cabinet office and parliament. Riot police fired what appeared to be rubber bullets and stun grenades at the crowd. The United States said Wednesday that it “strongly condemns” the escalation of violence in Ukraine that has left at least two people dead amid a wave of anti-government protests. “We urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation and refrain from violence,” US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.

http://youtu.be/w8KeUOBKfgQ (video)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Russian Start-Up Claims It Can Trump Google Glass With Motohelmet

At the inaugural Hardware Battlefield competition, LiveMap, a Russian start-up, presented a navigation helmet for motorcyclists, called Motohelmet.  According LiveMap CEO Andrei Artishchev, the helmet which uses an Android operating system, a NAVTEQ map database, and a Nuance voice control platform, allows the user to see the information on the navigation display without taking one's eye off the road. Artishchev says that none of its competitors offer a navigation kit inside the helmet, and unlike Google Glass, the Motohelmet will offer a better-quality display that does not make users look in the top right-hand corner.  With grants, loans and Artishchev's own money, LiveMap has raised $1 million and is planning to raise a further $10 million.  LiveMap has already signed deals with key production partners and is planning to start selling its helmets in the United States and Canada as soon as the end of 2014 for $2,000 a piece.


Russia's Duma Toughens Law on Extremism

In a third and final reading on Wednesday, Russia's State Duma adopted a bill aimed at toughening the consequences for the crimes of extremism and inciting hatred or enmity.  The law stipulates tougher criminal punishment for public incitement of extremism (Article 280 of the Criminal Code), with fines reaching 300,000 rubles (approximately $9,000), and increased prison sentences – from three to four years.  Tougher consequences are also stipulated for organizing extremist groups and for being a part of secular or religious organizations banned for extremism.  The Prosecutor General's Office reported in July 2013 that extremism cases have increased by 20% in the first half of 2013.  Human rights advocates have criticized the law on combating extremism, arguing that it has been used since its inception in 2002 to clamp down on dissent, and that the definition of extremism is subject to the interpretation of government prosecutors and investigators.  Beginning on February 1st, at the request of the Prosecutor General or his deputies, communication watchdog Roskomnadzor will start blocking websites deemed to incite extremism.

Russia Approves Coca-Cola's Bottle Trademark Request

The Chamber for Patent Related Disputes has approved an application from Coca-Cola to register its signature bottle as a three-dimensional trademark.  The ruling overturned Rospatent's prior refusal to register the trademark because, according to Rospatent, the bottle's shape was functional rather than distinctive.  Coca-Cola insisted that it's bottle has an original design that includes a dome-shaped top section decorated with two rows of embossed drops of different sizes, and a traditional cylinder-shaped body with symmetrical elliptical indents, features unique and distinctive enough to enjoy trademark protection.  The Chamber for Patent Related Disputes agreed, noting that Coca-Cola's bottle distinguishes it from other similar products.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gainsborough's "Lady in Blue" Painting at the Center of Copyright Dispute

Thomas Gainsborough's painting, "Lady in Blue", is at the heart of a dispute between the State Hermitage museum and Petersburg fashion designer, Ии Йоц (Iya Yots).  Last year, the Hermitage museum (home to "Lady in Blue") filed suit against Yots, claiming that her reproduction of "Lady in Blue" on her website and in images at her Petersbug clothing store was a copyright violation.  Yots countered that the painting was in the public domain and could, therefore, be used by any person without permission from the Hermitage.  Initially, the Arbitration Court and the Sixteenth Appellate Court ruled in favor of the Hermitage.  In September of last year, however, the newly formed Court of Intellectual Property granted a cassation appeal in favor of Yots, setting up the pending hearing.  According to the website, the Supreme Arbitration Court is expected to consider the dispute at a January 21st hearing.


Rambler Found Guilty of Failing to Disclose Users' Email Addresses

A Moscow arbitration court has found Rambler, one of Russia's largest web portals, guilty of failing to disclose email addresses of users.  The court rejected Rambler's appeal of an earlier ruling that fined the company 500,000 rubles (over $15,000).  In July 2013 the Federal Financial Markets Service (FFMS) requested Rambler to provide information in connection with a probe into the Proyektnyye Investitsii company. The FFMS, and later the Bank of Russia, which had taken on its functions, was conducting an office audit of the company, which was being investigated for insider trading.  Rambler complied with all of the FFMS's requests and requirements with the exception of the request to supply email addresses of individuals linked to Proyektnyye Investitsii. Citing Paragraph 2 of Article 23 of the Russian Constitution (which provides that "[e]veryone shall have the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone communications, mail, cables and other communications. Any restriction of this right shall be allowed only under an order of a court of law"), Rambler claimed that compliance with the FFMS request would have required Rambler to violate the constitution by opening specific emails.


Violence Rages in Ukrainian Capital for Second Night

Fighting between protesters and riot police in the center of the Ukrainian capital continued Tuesday as the worst street violence the former Soviet country has seen since anti-government demonstrations began in November stretched into a second night. Rioters threw Molotov cocktails, stones and fireworks at police lines, and law enforcement officers responded with plastic bullets, stun grenades and arrests. Vehicles were also set alight during the clashes, which took place in temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius. A wooden catapult built to bombard police lines was destroyed by riot police in an operation early Tuesday morning during which officers hurled stones at protesters to temporarily force them back. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said over a hundred law enforcement officers have been injured in the fighting, while city officials said 104 protesters have been hurt and 44 hospitalized. Opposition activists have kept the heart of Kiev at a standstill since late November when they occupied the central Independence Square in response to a government decision to pull back from economic integration with the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. While initially focused on the EU decision, discontent in Ukraine has steadily taken on a more general anti-government character.

http://rt.com/news/ukraine-clashes-kiev-molotov-907/ (video)

120 policemen and 100 protesters are injured in clashes

Monday, January 20, 2014

Russian Prisoner in Guantanamo Wants Books, TV

Ravil Mingazov, the only Russian national in the notorious US Guantanamo prison, asked Moscow officials who visited him for Russian-language books, papers and TV. Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s point man for human rights and a member of the delegation, said Mingazov strongly denied that he was subject to any form of violence. “He said he is interested in getting more Russian-language literature and would like to read more books, newspapers and magazines. Naturally, we promised to deliver it. Mingazov also wants to get access to Russian-language TV. We told the prison administration about it,” Dolgov said. He said the Russian prisoner was satisfied with the jail’s food, medical help and other facilities. Mingazov was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, but no charges have been filed against him to date. The Russian diplomat described the prison as “a shameful page in the US history, where justice and human rights were trampled upon” and urged the US government to close it as soon as possible.


Protesters Clash With Police in Kiev

Anti-government protests in Ukraine's capital escalated into fiery street battles with police Sunday as thousands of demonstrators hurled rocks and firebombs to set police vehicles ablaze. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured. Police responded with stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons, but were outnumbered by the protesters. Many of the riot police held their shields over their heads to protect themselves from the projectiles thrown by demonstrators on the other side of a cordon of buses. The violence was a sharp escalation of Ukraine's two-month political crisis, which has brought round-the-clock protest gatherings, but had been largely peaceful. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade demonstrators to stop their unrest, but failed and was sprayed by a fire extinguisher in the process. Klitschko later traveled to President Viktor Yanukovych's suburban residence and said the president has agreed to negotiate.
The United States has slammed Ukrainian authorities over violent clashes between police and demonstrators in the capital Sunday and threatened to impose sanctions if force is used against protesters.

http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1241210-echo/ (video)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Minister: 20% of Russians Work in Shadow Economy

Up to a fifth of Russians work in a shadow economy that does not generate adequate tax payments, the country’s labor minister said Friday. “Fifteen to 20 percent of citizens” work jobs that do not provide proper tax and social security payments to the government, Maxim Topilin told an economic forum in Moscow. “I believe that it is simply unfair for those who work legally and pay all their taxes to support those who shirk such responsibility,” the minister said. He called for stricter legislation as well as economic incentives to promote transparency among Russian businesses.


Ukraine Cracks Down on Dissent

Ukraine's parliament rushed through wide-ranging powers Thursday to suppress opposition protests and label non-governmental organizations as "foreign agents" if they receive money from abroad. The measures threaten jail terms for protesters who block entrances to government buildings and 15 days in detention for those who take part in demonstrations not sanctioned by the police, even if peaceful. Protesters also face up to 15 days in detention for covering their faces with masks or helmets. People will also be detained for 15 days if they set up tents, stages or other makeshift structures without approval from city authorities. The move is apparently aimed at the thousands of people who have joined anti-government protests on Kiev's Independence Square, known as Maidan. The United States on Thursday condemned the parliament of Ukraine's decision to pass wide-ranging laws severely restricting the right to protest as undemocratic. “Both the process and the substance of the Rada's actions today cast serious doubt on Ukraine’s commitment to democratic norms,” the US State Department said in a statement.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Russian Company Mixes Software with Politics in new E-voting Platform

A Russian software design company, Project Ventures, plans to sell its new e-voting platform service to European municipalities at a cost of 1 euro ($1.36) per voter, per year. "We have developed and will soon start selling a DDaaS (digital democracy as a service) solution," said Leonid Volkov, the founder of Projector Ventures and co-author of "Cloud Democracy," a foundation book on the use of IT in politics.  DDaaS was first used during the election to the Opposition Coordination Council in Russia, an “alternative government” created by opposition leaders in October 2012, and was used later in small elections in Yekaterinburg, Voronezh and Zhukovsky, and in the alternative online voting in the presidential election in Iran in June 2013.  According to Volkov,  a typical European municipality (with a population of 5,000 to 10,000) is Project Venture's target customer.  He adds that "[a] general election makes it easy to decide on important matters — where to put a new bus stop, or build a new nursery school or a new bypass. For other issues, there are local councils, 10 to12 councilors, each representing 200 to 300 voters. Every councilor needs feedback, it is the so-called principle of delegation, which our system supports, too."


Russia Mandates Bonuses for "Service Inventions"

Amendments to Part 4 of Russia's Civil Code require monetary payments for "service inventions" (those created by an employee in connection with their employment duties or specific tasks of the employer).  The reward system, which previously had been left to the discretion of the employer, now requires the bonus to be at least 30% of the average wage of the worker, and for industrial designs not less than 20% of the worker's salary.  The right to patent any invention remains in the employer.   Although some believe the new incentives may stimulate inventive activity, Irina Abankina, director of the Higher School of Economics, does not consider the minor measures particularly useful.  According to Abankina, the gap between activities of developers or universities and business needs remains a big problem, and the need to identify the practical value of future inventions remains critical.


Kerry Gives Lavrov Two Potatoes

US Secretary of State John Kerry presented his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov with two Idaho potatoes as a gift during a meeting in Paris to negotiate details of a peace conference for Syria scheduled to begin on January 22.   Mr Kerry said that at their last meeting, Mr Lavrov mentioned the state of Idaho's most famous export. The Russian foreign minister seemed to appreciate the gift, commenting that they were "impressive." They have discussed the possibility of "localised ceasefires" in Syria ahead of the peace conference. At a later press conference Lavrov, speaking in English, suggested the potatoes may have symbolic use as the Syria negotiations approach: "The specific potato which John handed to me has the shape which makes it possible to insert potato in the carrot-and-stick expression. So it could be used differently."   Kerry said that there was "no hidden meaning" or "metaphor" behind the gift. In return the Russian side presented Mr Kerry with a pink fur hat for State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1237060-echo/ (video)
http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1237058-echo/ (video; see at 5:25)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Russia's Patent Service Makes Online Trademark Search Tool Available

As of 18 December 2013, Rospatent has made its trademark data available to the TMview search tool, (in both English and Russian).  This integration is a result of a 3-year international cooperation program managed by OHIM (Office for Harmoninzation in Internal Markets) aimed at modernizing IPR in the Russian Federation.  TMview is the online multilingual consultation tool allowing users to search trademarks of all the participating trademark Offices free of charge. Since its introduction on 13 April 2010, the tool has served more than 5 million searches from 205 different countries, with users from Spain, Germany and Italy among the most frequent visitors.  Besides Rospatent, as of December 18, 2013, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has also integrated into TMview.  This last extension brings the total number of offices participating in TMview to 34 and with the addition of more than 400.000 Russian trademarks, as well as about 6.5 million US trade marks. TMview now provides information and access to almost than 20 million trade marks in total.


Amendments to Russia's Competion Law Take Effect January 30th

On 28th December 2013, Vladimir Putin signed No. 423-FZ Federal Law “On Introducing Amendments to the Federal Law On Protection of Competition”, which will come into force on January 30, 2014. The amended package excludes notification control over some transactions (actions) of economic concentration.  In addition, the package considerably reduces administrative burden upon small and medium business by allowing the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service and other antimonopoly bodies to focus on the largest transactions with a goal of increasing efficiency of the antimonopoly regulation in the Russian Federation.


Russian IT Sector Continues to Grow, Albeit a Little Slower

Russoft, an association of Russian software companies, says exports of Russian software products and software development tools reached 5.2 billion dollars in 2013, a 15 percent increase over 2012. That growth, however, is down from the 20 percent increase from three years ago, with demand for Russian software now coming primarily from Russia itself and the other CIS states.  According to a "Strategy" document released by the Ministry of Communications, development in the Russian IT sector will focus on small and medium enterprises, with an expected expansion to 11 billion dollars in exports by 2020.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ukraine Opposition Leader Lutsenko Injured in Police Clash

Yuri Lutsenko, a top organiser of the mass protests that have gripped Kiev for weeks, was injured shortly after midnight when he tried to intervene in a confrontation between riot police and opposition activists. The ex-interior minister "was hit several times over the head with a club before he fell,” his spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times, who said he was taken to hospital where he received treatment. The clashes erupted outside a Kiev court when three activists were sentenced to six years in jail after being found guilty of planning to blow up a statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in the nearby town of Borispol in 2011. The opposition argued the verdicts were politically motivated. Ukraine's top human rights official said 11 people were taken to hospital after the clashes when police used tear gas and and clubs against demonstrators. The demonstration is the latest in a series of protests after President Victor Yanukovich decided against signing a free trade and association agreement with the European Union in November, choosing instead to increase ties with Russia.

http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1192981 (video)

IOC Member: Corruption Took 1/3 of Sochi Spending

Senior International Olympic Committee member Gian Franco Kasper told Swiss journalists that one-third of the spending on the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi has disappeared because of corruption. He said contracts were given to a "construction mafia" of businessmen closely linked to the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin. "The contracts were given to people who already had a foot in the door. We know it," Kasper said in an interview. The games are estimated to cost a record $51 billion in sports and infrastructure projects. Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister-turned-Kremlin critic, alleged in a report released in May 2013 that up to $30 billion has been stolen in the run-up to the games.