Friday, February 28, 2014

Russian Billionaire Arrested over Bank Fraud

Russian billionaire environmentalist Gleb Fetisov, who owned a bank that lost its license last month, has been detained in Moscow on suspicion of grand fraud. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said Friday that his agency requested the arrest of former senator Fetisov, who was listed as Russia’s 55th wealthiest businessmen in a Forbes rich list last year. Markin said Fetisov was suspected of siphoning out more than 6 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) from Moi Bank’s coffers and failing to pay off insurance compensation to clients following the bank’s closure. A criminal investigation has been launched against Fetisov and his suspected accomplices in connection with the alleged large-scale embezzlement, the spokesman said. Markin added that investigators were looking into Fetisov’s possible involvement in similar criminal activities.

Yanukovych Condemns Interim Ukraine Govt as Violent Usurpers

Viktor Yanukovych said Friday in his first public address since being ousted as president of Ukraine that he will continue to fight for the future of his country and condemned the interim government in Kiev as violent usurpers. Looking nervous while addressing reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovych rejected suggestions that he had been overthrown and insisted that he had been forced to leave the country because of threats made to him and his family. “Power in Ukraine was seized by nationalists, neo-Fascist youths that represent an absolute minority of the people,” he said. Yanukovych was making his first appearance in public since fleeing the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, over the weekend. On Saturday, the erstwhile opposition took control over parliament and together with disaffected deputies from the ex-ruling Party of Regions voted to impeach Yanukovych.

Ukraine Asks Russia to Extradite Yanukovych

Ukraine’s chief prosecutor asked Russia to extradite deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Friday, as the fugitive leader prepared in Russia to give his first press conference since his disappearance in Ukraine earlier this week. The statement, posted on the Prosecutor’s Office website, said Ukraine “intends to raise the issue of extradition of Viktor Yanukovych, an internationally wanted citizen of Ukraine, in the event of official confirmation of his stay” in Russia.

Court Puts Navalny Under House Arrest, Bans Him From Internet

A court in Moscow on Friday ruled to place outspoken government opponent Alexei Navalny under house arrest and forbid him from using the Internet. The Basmanny city court made its ruling in connection with an ongoing embezzlement case involving the Russian representative office of French cosmetics giant Yves Rocher. Barring Navalny from using the Internet will ostensibly stop him from accessing his widely followed Twitter account and blog page, both of which he has used to rally supporters and publish accounts of alleged malfeasance by government officials. The house arrest is effective up to April 28. Judge Artur Karpov made his ruling in response to an investigator complaint about Navalny allegedly violating bail terms issued as part of an ongoing corruption probe into the politician’s dealings with Yves Rocher.

Ukraine Accuses Russian Soldiers in Crimea of 'Invasion'

The interior minister of Ukraine accused Russian troops Friday of blockading an airport in the Crimean city of Sevastopol in what he has described as an armed invasion. While stressing that no direct violent confrontations had taken place, Arsen Avakov said the matter should be dealt with on a diplomatic level before armed clashes broke out. Avakov said on his Facebook account that troops from the Black Sea Fleet, which is stationed in the city, could be seen outside Belbek airport, although the inside of the terminal was controlled by Ukrainian troops. “The airport is not operating. At the external perimeter there are Ukrainian Interior Ministry checkpoints. There have been not been armed clashes,” Avakov said. The alleged presence of Black Sea Fleet troops at the airport, if confirmed, would be in direct defiance of a demand by Ukrainian interim authorities Thursday for Russian troops to refrain from leaving their quarters. That appeal apparently echoed international concern that Moscow may choose to throw its weight behind pro-Russian groups in Crimea seeking to defy interim authorities in Kiev. “Any movement, particularly with weapons, outside official residences regulated by our agreement will be interpreted by us as military aggression,” interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said. Already frayed nerves on the Crimena Peninsula were tested Thursday when a group of apparently pro-Russian gunmen occupied the parliament in the Crimean regional capital of Simferopol, only one day after fistfights erupted outside the building between supporters and opponents of the country’s incoming leadership.

Russia to Lift Ban on US Pork

Russia is planning to lift a ban on the importation of US-produced pork beginning March 10, a federal sanitation regulator said Thursday. The import of US pork, beef and turkey was halted last February over concerns about the safety of human consumption of the growth-stimulant ractopamine, a common additive in animal feed in the United States. The US government and the food industry lobby insist that ractopamine has been shown to be safe for human consumption, but meat from animals fed the chemical is prohibited for sale in Russia and more than 150 countries, including all EU member states. The ban on turkey was lifted earlier this week, and so far poultry from three US companies has been certified as ractopamine-free, according to Russian sanitation authority Rosselkhoznadzor. The number of US pork producers that would meet that requirement has yet to be determined, the agency said. US meat producers exported $589 million of beef and pork to Russia in 2012, a spokesman for the US Meat Export Federation told RIA Novosti last year.

Dagestan Lawmaker Accused of Laundering $2.7 Bln

A lawmaker in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan has been accused of laundering 100 billion rubles ($2.7 billion) in a banking scheme involving fly-by-night firms, police said Thursday. The municipal assembly deputy, who has not been named, is believed to be part of a criminal group of bankers that was exposed in a major operation in March. The cash laundered in the scheme was disguised as printed materials and flown to Moscow from the capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala, and later distributed among clients, which included major finance and credit organizations. Four people were arrested when they received over 500 million rubles ($14 million), police said. Authorities believe the deputy under investigation headed a group that recruited legal entities to use their accounts for illicit banking operations.

Armed Standoff in Crimea, Ukraine

With the Russian flag planted atop the regional Parliament, Crimea raised the specter of secession from Ukraine on Thursday, threatening renewed civil conflict and a showdown between Ukraine’s fledgling government and the Kremlin. Across the region’s capital, Simferopol, a well-orchestrated power grab by pro-Russian forces played out: Armed militants took control of government buildings; crowds filled the streets chanting “Russia, Russia,” and legislators called for a vote to redefine relations with Ukraine. The region is currently autonomous, meaning it has greater local control over its affairs. Police officers, nominally under the control of the Ministry of Interior in Kiev, made little or no effort to control the crowds and, in some cases, even applauded their pro-Russia zeal. The police stood aside as the armed militants who seized government buildings overnight on Thursday built a barricade outside the regional legislature. The authorities ordered an emergency holiday, leaving streets mostly empty except for the protesters chanting for Russia, and many shops closed.

Russian Ex-Official Pays Steward, Airline Over Drunken Brawl

A former Russian deputy governor who forced a plane to make an emergency landing after drunkenly attacking a flight attendant has had charges against him dropped Thursday after paying compensation to the offended parties. Former Chelyabinsk deputy governor Andrei Tretyakov hit the headlines in December after being arrested for assaulting a steward who refused to let him to use a business class toilet. Tretyakov was traveling economy on a Krasnoyarsk-Moscow flight, which was forced to land midway in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk as a result of the incident. Flight attendant Anton Chernyshov, who police said was hospitalized with bruising and a head injury after the sustained attack, says the former deputy governor paid him 1.25 million rubles ($34,700) in damages. Chernyshov said he asked a court in the Siberian city of Ob to drop the case after receiving compensation. Tretyakov told the court Thursday that he had also paid the airline, Globus, “about 300,000 rubles” ($8,300) for the aborted flight. He had been facing up to two years in prison for causing bodily harm to the flight attendant.

Yanukovych Escorted to Russia By Fighter Jets

Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych landed at a military airport in southern Russia late on Thursday escorted by fighter jets, a local news agency has reported. Yanukovych, whose whereabouts have since his ouster been subject of feverish speculation, is scheduled to hold a news conference in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don at 5 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) on Friday. “The plane with the embattled president onboard was escorted by several fighter jets. The boom of supersonic engines was heard for half an hour in the northwestern part of the city, where the airport is located,” local news agency DonInformBuro reported. Yanukovych is staying at private premises in Rostov-on-Don, instead of a government residence for top officials, and no additional security forces have been deployed, the agency reported citing its own sources. Yanukovych, whom Ukraine put on an international wanted list on mass murder charges, said in a statement Thursday he was still the legitimate president of his country and that he had been forced to ask Russia to ensure his personal security from “extremists.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Polish FM: Phone call from Putin Ended Maidan Bloodshed

The voice on the phone that persuaded President Yanukovych to give ground and end the bloodshed in Kiev last week belonged to an unexpected peacemaker: Vladimir Putin. Russia’s involvement in Ukraine’s three-month political crisis has often been depicted as a spoiling role, but, according to Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister, it was President Putin’s intervention that proved decisive when the tension was at its height. intervention that proved decisive when the tension was at its height. At the time President Yanukovych was still stubbornly “fighting hard to preserve whatever he could and yield the least” in ­negotiations with opposition leaders and European diplomats.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tajik Journalist Made to Pay $6K for Insulting 'Intellectuals'

A journalist in Tajikistan who used a profanity to describe the Central Asian nation’s intellectual class has been ordered to pay a group a self-described cultural leaders $6,000 in damages, her newspaper reported Tuesday. Olga Tutubalina, who is chief editor of the local Asia-Plus newspaper, quoted Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in remarking in an opinion column about the return of a previously opposition-minded poet to the former Soviet nation that “intellectuals are not the brains of a nation but its [expletive].” A court in the capital, Dushanbe, ordered Tutubalina and her newspaper to publish an apology and pay 30,000 somoni to three plaintiffs, who represent the interests of the Academy of Sciences, the Writers’ Union and the Artists’ Union. The plaintiffs had argued that the profanity was used in an “untrue” manner to “defame their honor, dignity and business reputation,” Asia-Plus reported. The newspaper noted, however, that the court did not rule that the word in question was an unprintable vulgarity or that the plaintiffs are “intellectuals.” The US Embassy in Tajikistan condemned the ruling, stating that the judgment would have a chilling effect on press freedoms.

Moscow Slams Ukraine’s Bill on Curtailing Russian

A Ukrainian bill that would see Russian dropped as an official language in a number of regions is a “blatant violation” of ethnic minorities’ rights, a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday. “The attack on the Russian language in Ukraine is a blatant violation of the rights of the ethnic minority. It is against the principle of the rule of law,” said Konstantin Dolgov, a human rights official at the Foreign Ministry. The legislative proposal follows the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych over the weekend and has already aroused concerns that a surge of nationalism in the former Soviet nation could unfairly marginalize the substantial ethnic Russian community. The bill, passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Sunday, repeals the 2012 law, under which Russian is recognized as a second official language in regions where at least 10 percent of the population is Russian-speaking. Just under half of Ukrainian regions meet that standard.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Navalny Jailed for 7 Days, 420 Protestors Arrested in Moscow

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been jailed for seven days for disobeying a police officer while protesting against the sentences handed down to those found guilty of participating in riots at a May 2012 rally. "7 days for Alexei Navalny," Anna Veduta, press secretary of Navalny's Fund for the Fight Against Corruption, wrote on her Twitter account on Tuesday. Navalny was detained twice on Monday and spent the night in custody after attending a protest in support of the so-called Bolotnaya defendants, seven of whom were sentenced to between 2 ½ and four years in prison for their roles in an opposition demonstration on Moscow's Bolotnaya Ploshchad that ended in clashes with police. More than 420 people were detained at the protest on Monday evening, police said. A police colonel questioned by the court said that Navalny shouted slogans and resisted detention, a claim that Navalny said was disputable with video evidence, reported. Another police officer told the court that Navalny had been conducting an interview that impeded passing pedestrians and was warned of his violations before being detained.

Parliament in Ukraine Votes to Give Yanukovych ICC Trial

Ukraine’s parliament approved a resolution Tuesday to have deposed President Viktor Yanukovych tried at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Under the motion, approved by 324 deputies in the 450-seat chamber, top officials who have been linked to the killing of protesters in the period from late November through to last week should face prosecution at the tribunal. “The main purpose of this resolution is to ensure an independent investigation and punishment of those responsible of crimes against humanity in Ukraine,” according to a note attached to the motion. The group of politicians that has been running the country since Yanukovych was ousted Saturday by parliamentary decree accuses the former president of direct responsibility in the death of dozens of protesters during clashes with police last week.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Moscow Court Convicts Eight Oppositionists of Rioting

A court in Moscow on Friday convicted eight defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya trial of rioting and assaulting police at a protest on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration to a third term as Russian president in 2012. Russian prosecutors have asked for up to six-year prison terms for the protesters, but the judge postponed sentencing until Monday, the day after the Winter Olympics close in Sochi. The Bolotnaya trial, named after Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square, where the protest took place, has dragged on since the summer of 2012 and has become symbolic of a crackdown on dissent in Mr Putin’s third term. Tens of hundreds of protesters gathered outside the court chanting “Freedom” and “Russia without Putin”. Riot police waded into the crowd, conducting multiple and apparently random arrests. On Monday the process continued and the defendants were sentenced to various terms, from a suspended sentence to 4 years. More than 100 demonstrators were arrested in from of the court, including opposition leader Alexey Navalny. (video)

Warrant Issued for Deposed Ukraine Leader for Mass Murder

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant Monday for the deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, on charges of mass murder. Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Yanukovych was being sought in connection with the killings of “innocent citizens,” a reference to protesters killed during clashes last week between anti-government protesters and police. “Yanukovych and other officials have been declared wanted,” Avakov said in a statement on his Facebook account. Yanukovych fled the Ukrainian capital Saturday, one day after tentative deal mediated by the EU and Russia was reached to call early elections and form an interim government. As that deal quickly fell apart and members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions resigned en masse, parliament voted to impeach the president and installed a new acting head of state in his place. Acting president and parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov said Yanukovych tried to board a charter plane in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk over the weekend, but was prevented from doing so by customs officers.

Obama Official Warns Russia on Military Action in Ukraine

A senior US official on Sunday warned Moscow not to send troops into Ukraine amid the political crisis gripping Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor, saying such a move would constitute a “grave mistake.” “It’s not in the interests of Ukrainian or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see the country split. It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence returned and the situation escalate,” White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press." Rice’s comments followed a report by the Financial Times last week quoting an unidentified senior Russian official as saying that Moscow could intervene to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s Crimea territory, home to a Russian naval base. “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war. They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia,” the official was quoted as saying in a reference to Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Rice said in Sunday’s interview that the situation in Ukraine “is not about the US and Russia” and that closer Ukrainian ties with Europe would not come at the expense of the country’s historical links with Russia.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Acting President: EU Integration Now Ukraine’s Priority

Ukraine’s newly appointed acting president reaffirmed his commitment to closer ties with Europe on Sunday, saying that Russia will have to “acknowledge and respect” Kiev’s choice. “The return to the European integration course, the rejection of which had sparked the uprising, is our priority. We must return into the family of European states,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in a statement, posted on the website of his Fatherland party. He said Ukraine’s new leadership would build its ties with Russia “on a new basis – truly equal and neighborly – that would acknowledge and respect Ukraine’s European choice.” Ukraine’s parliament voted Saturday to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on May 25. The impeachment vote marked a dramatic development for the leader, whose rule had seemed in little doubt in late November, when a wave of protests was ignited by the government surprise decision to back away from closer ties with the EU in favor of greater economic cooperation with Russia. On Saturday, the Ukrainian parliament voted to transfer presidential duties to the speaker, Turchinov, who ordered a national unity government be formed by Tuesday.

Ukraine Says Economy in ‘Critical State,’ Russia Uncertain Over Aid

Ukraine’s parliament speaker and interim president said on Sunday the national economy was in a “critical state” hours after Russia made it clear that it was yet undecided on planned financial aid to its neighbor. "The situation in Ukraine, first of all in its economy, is disastrous. The rule of [Viktor] Yanukovych has driven the economy to the brink of a catastrophe,” Oleksandr Turchynov said, calling for a soonest formation of a new cabinet. The acting president said the account of the country’s treasury was “absolutely empty” and the country’s pension fund, national currency and banking system were facing “immense problems.” Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov warned earlier in the day that Moscow would put on hold the planned purchase of Ukrainian eurobonds as part of its financial aid to Kiev until Ukraine formed a new government. The purchase of $2 billion Ukrainian eurobonds was to be the second tranche of Russia's $15 billion aid package to its neighbor, agreed between President Vladimir Putin and Yanukovych in December. “We indeed discussed the purchase of eurobonds last week. But since the situation in Ukraine has changed dramatically, we should understand with what government we will cooperate. We plan to wait until a new government is formed to understand its economic policy,” Siluanov told journalists at the G20 meeting in Sydney.

Former Ukrainian Opposition Leader Named Interim President

Parliament in Ukraine has named its speaker as interim president. Oleksandr Turchynov takes charge following the dismissal of President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday. Mr Turchynov told MPs they had until Tuesday to form a new unity government. Later, in a TV address, Mr Turchynov suggested Ukraine would re-open talks with the EU about closer links. Mr Yanukovych's rejection of an EU-Ukraine trade pact triggered the protests that toppled him. In his address, Mr Turchynov said he was "open to dialogue with Russia" as long as Moscow respected "Ukraine's European choice", according to translated remarks carried by the AFP news agency. Meanwhile, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed from jail on Saturday, has ruled out becoming prime minister again. Her release was one of the conditions of the EU-Ukraine trade pact that Mr Yanukovych rejected last year.

Embattled President Reportedly Blocked from Fleeing Ukraine

Ukraine's embattled president was blocked from taking a plane to Russia, hours after Ukrainian MPs voted to remove him from office, new parliamentary speaker said Sunday. President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned his lavish estate Saturday and tried to board a charter plane in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk, but was prevented from doing so by Ukraine’s customs officers, Oleksandr Turchynov said. “He [Yanukovych] is now hiding in the Donetsk region,” Russian media reports quoted Turchynov as saying. He gave no details on Yanukovych’s destination, as the flight did not undergo the registration procedure. Yanukovych insisted Saturday that he would neither resign nor sign any agreement with what he called “bandits terrorizing the country.” He described the events in Kiev as a "coup". A report by Donetskie Vesti claimed Yanukovych could be now outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv at a dacha, belonging to an unnamed official. The presidential plane reportedly landed at the airport of the United Arab Emirates Saturday to distract attention. Ukraine’s new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, confirmed the report saying Yanukovych tried to flee the country late on Saturday, but his attempt was stopped by Ukraine's border control service. “After Yanukovych failed to fly out of the country, he left the plane, got into a car and headed in unknown direction,” Avakov told the Unian news agency. Ukraine’s ex-prosecutor general, Viktor Pshonka, and Oleksandr Klymenko, the former minister of revenue and duties, also failed to leave the airport in Donetsk Saturday. “There was a shooting, during which Pshonka and Klymenko left the airport,” Avakov said.

Yanukovich's Opulent Residence Opens to Public as President Leaves Kiev

The public received an inside view of the never-before-seen private, lavish residence of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after he left Kiev for Kharkov on Friday and parliament voted to strip him of his powers. Pictures show a luxurious estate with a private zoo, exotic gardens, ships, and a garage full of Rolls Royces. The luxurious home is located in Mezhyhirya, Kiev region. The 140-hectare property had previously never been seen by the public; only family members and a small number of others have ever had the privilege of being invited inside. The compound has always been heavily secured with high walls and security personnel. Yanukovich has called the latest developments in Kiev a coup d'etat, and has denied speculations of his resignation. He also accused international mediators of not fulfilling their obligations. “I'm always threatened with ultimatums. I'm not going to leave the country,” Yanukovich said in an interview with local UBR TV channel. “I'm not going to resign. I'm a legitimately elected president.” (video)

Ukrainian Parliament Votes To Oust President, Tymoshenko Released From Jail

Ukraine's parliament has voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from jail. Lawmakers voted on February 22 to hold early presidential elections on May 25, stating that Yanukovych had failed to properly fulfil his duties as president. The vote came after Yanukovych said in an interview with a Ukrainian TV station that he does not plan to resign, and that all decisions taken by parliament are illegal. He described recent events in Ukraine as "vandalism, banditry, and a coup," adding that he does not plan to resign. Yanukovych's comments come after antigovernment protesters in Kyiv seized the presidential administration office. Meanwhile, Tymoshenko has arrived in Kyiv after being released from a prison hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv A few hours previously, parliamentary lawmakers had voted to release the jailed former prime minister. Altogether, 322 of the 331 deputies present in the 450-seat chamber voted in favor of the resolution.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Polish PM: Ukrainian President Willing to Hold Early Vote

The president of Ukraine told European foreign ministers Thursday that he is willing to hold early elections this year, the prime minister of Poland has told reporters. If confirmed, the concession could point to a possible exit from the violent crisis gripping the former Soviet nation, although it is likely the hardened opposition will settle for nothing short of President Viktor Yanukovych’s resignation. Foreign ministers from Poland, France and Germany are currently in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, to hold talks with Yanukovych and opposition leaders to assist in negotiating an end to unrest that has claimed dozens of lives. "The three ministers are in Kiev discussing a certain document, which gives a chance to bring an end to violence and achieve an agreement. A willingness for early elections, already this year, parliamentary as well as presidential, was agreed," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was cited as saying by the Reuters news agency in Warsaw. Officials in Kiev say 67 people were killed in fighting over three days, although international media have reported higher figures. The Associated Press cited a doctor working with the opposition as saying at least 70 protesters had been killed and another 500 wounded. Interior Ministry says at least 13 police officers have been killed, many of them from gunfire. The violence in Ukraine is the worst the nation has seen since it gained independence in 1991.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

EU Envoys Meet Ukrainian President as Violence Rocks Capital

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met with a group of EU foreign ministers on Thursday afternoon as renewed violence gripping the capital reportedly claimed at least 10 deaths. A presidential administration spokesman said envoys from France, Germany and Poland were attending the meeting. The talks took place against the backdrop of increasing talk in Western capitals of imposing sanctions against Kiev over the unrest. US President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged the Ukrainian government to stem the surge of violence in the ex-Soviet country and warned that there would be “consequences” if the deadly clashes continued. “We are going to be watching very carefully, and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters,” Obama said during an official visit to Mexico. Ukrainian authorities have defended themselves against accusations of undertaking excess force, arguing that rioters have been attempting to violently seize power. The increasingly intransigent standoff between the government and the opposition took a bloody turn Tuesday after a crowd marching on parliament was confronted by law enforcement officers. Pictures from the front lines showed rioters ripping up cobblestones to hurl at police. Riot police pushed the crowd back to barricades surrounding Independence Square. A section of the square had until Thursday morning been occupied by police. As of Thursday morning, authorities said 28 people, including at least 10 police officers, had been killed in clashes that lasted into Wednesday morning. Most of the officers killed reportedly bore gunshot wounds. More than 800 people have been injured in the unrest. Authorities and opposition representatives have traded accusations over who was responsible for escalating the violence. Police say radical protesters have secured hundreds of firearms. (video) (video)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Protesters, Police Clash in Kiev, Deaths Reported

Anti-government protesters and police engaged in violent street battles in Ukraine’s capital Tuesday that left hundreds injured and reportedly at least three demonstrators dead. Fighting escalated in Kiev as a standoff played out inside the parliament, where deputies faced off over changes to the constitution that the opposition has said could be a way out of the political paralysis gripping the country. Thousands of radical demonstrators – many of them wielding shields and sticks and wearing masks – moving toward the parliament building around midday were confronted by police, who deployed rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. Pictures from the front lines showed people among the rioters ripping up cobblestones to hurl at riot police. Lesya Orobets, a deputy with the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said on her Facebook page that at least three protesters had been killed. (video)

Pussy Riot Members Arrested in Sochi

Police in the Russian Olympic host city of Sochi detained three members of the anti-Kremlin feminist punk group Pussy Riot and several journalists for questioning Tuesday about a theft in a local hotel. Human rights organizations said at least 10 people, including Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were detained Tuesday afternoon. Sochi rights activists Semyon Simonov and David Khakim and photojournalist Yevgeny Feldman were also detained, SochiWatch said. Police confirmed in a statement that they had taken a group of people to a police station in the nearby mountain resort town of Adler and were “interviewing everyone staying at this hotel” in connection with the theft. Tolokonnikova said on her Twitter account that she, Alyokhina and another female Pussy Riot activist were arrested while walking around Sochi after arriving in the city to record a protest video. “We’re in Sochi to carry out a Pussy Riot protest. The song is called ‘Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland,’” she wrote. She said officers had used force to detain them and that they had been forced to give statements without a lawyer.

Moscow Alarmed by Reports of New Syrian Opposition Leadership

Russia is alarmed by reports that the Syrian opposition is being reorganized around a new leadership opposed to further peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. “New details are emerging – and we are verifying them – that some backers of the opposition are beginning to form a new structure made up of those who have left the national coalition, out of those who do not believe in negotiations,” Lavrov said. The foreign minister warned that the reorganization of the Syrian opposition could threaten a diplomatic solution to the civil war and signals that rebels might be returning to hopes of a military victory over the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally. The second round of multiparty peace talks in Geneva that were aimed at a cessation of the hostilities in Syria concluded on Saturday with no deal reached between the entrenched sides of the ongoing civil war.

Russia Accuses US of Meddling in Ukraine’s Domestic Affairs

A recent statement by a US Department of State official shows that the United States is trying to dictate its own solutions to the Ukrainian government, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday. “Once again, we note that the United States is trying to impose the ‘Western vector’ of development on the Ukrainian government under the guise of calls to stop interference into the Ukrainian people’s freedom of choice, and tells the authorities of a sovereign state what they should do next and how they should do it,” spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement. He said a recent statement by a US State Department spokeswoman “offers numerous instructions for what the Ukrainian government should do next.” The US State Department’s Marie Harf on Friday welcomed the release of protesters detained during mass anti-government protests under a previously announced amnesty deal. Harf urged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his government to halt “all investigations, arrests, detentions and prosecutions against demonstrators and civil society activists,” and said the United States is “gravely concerned” over intimidation of the media and organizations advocating “fundamental democratic principles and good governance” in Ukraine. “The next step in this process should be the formation of a multiparty technical government, with genuine power-sharing and responsibility, which can earn the confidence of the Ukrainian people and restore political and economic stability to Ukraine,” Harf said.

Ukraine Amnesty Law to Take Effect

An amnesty law to drop criminal cases against hundreds of pro-EU protesters in Ukraine will enter into force on Monday, authorities said Sunday. Charges will be dropped against demonstrators who were detained or charged with crimes during mass anti-government rallies in Ukraine between December 27 and February 2, a statement on the general prosecutor’s website said. The statement did not specify how many protesters would be amnestied. Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said in early February that a total of 259 demonstrators would receive clemency under the agreement. The announcement appears to signal that the Ukrainian opposition has satisfied government demands to unblock streets and release City Hall in Kiev, which has been occupied by protesters for over two months, as a condition of the amnesty. Demonstrators withdrew from the building on Sunday afternoon, but threatened to take it back if authorities did not immediately make good on promises to drop charges against political activists. Protesters also left Gruskevsky Street in Kiev, the scene of the most violent clashes that injured over 200 people on both sides and left three protesters dead last month, as part of the deal to relieve tensions in the capital. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, welcomed the evacuation of City Hall on Sunday as a de-escalation of the standoff between the government and opposition that has seized the country since November.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Russia Limits Adoptions to Countries Allowing Same-Sex Unions

Russia introduced measures Thursday to restrict adoptions of children to people in countries that recognize same-sex marriages. A decree published on the government’s website states that a ban on adoptions will apply to married gay couples and unmarried couples. Restrictions will affect countries that traditionally adopt large quantities of Russian orphans, including Spain, France and Canada. Same-sex marriage is set to become law in the United Kingdom later this year. “Adoptions can be carried out by members of either sex with the exception of… people in a union of two people of the same sex that has been registered as a married according to the legislation of their country... and also unmarried people in such countries,” reads the decree, which has been signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Putin Against Turning Sochi Into Gambling Zone

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he was against turning Sochi into a gambling resort after the Olympics, because the Black Sea city would then lose its traditional holidaymakers – middle-class families with children. The Kommersant newspaper reported in December that the proposal had been voiced by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as the government sought ways to offset losses expected to be made by businesses that invested in the development of Sochi ahead of the Olympics. “We already have a gambling zone on the border between the Rostov Region and the Krasnodar Territory, and we even allowed them to access the Black Sea coast. In my opinion, it would be impractical to set up another zone in the region, although it would certainly make things better for investors,” Putin said at a meeting with members of the Sochi Olympic public council. The Kremlin banned gambling in Russia in 2009, except for four designated zones across the country. These zones are located in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, the country’s Far East, the southern Krasnodar territory and Siberia’s Altai region.

Russian State TV Journalist Plagiarizes Nationalist Website

A reporter for Russia’s leading television channel admitted lifting huge chunks of a nationalist report about the Sochi Olympics’ opening ceremony for use in her own report, which aired over the weekend. Irada Zeinalova said she quoted a report by Kremlin-bashing web resource Sputnik & Pogrom without attribution for a broadcast on Channel One. The report “found such true and subtle words about the Olympics that you could wish for nothing better,” Zeinalova said in a Facebook post that later was deleted. She apologized for unattributed quoting and said she “faced the music” with channel management, which has not commented publicly about the scandal. Sputnik & Pogrom’s report, published Saturday, praised the ceremony for a pro-Western slant and avoidance of rampant conservatism that is at the core of the Kremlin’s current domestic policy. Both the website and the presenter touted the event, in particular, for presenting “aristocratic Russians” to the world, as opposed to kitschy stereotypes about balalaikas and “aggressive drunken soldiers.” Sputnik & Pogrom directly accused Channel One of plagiarism on Monday, but said no legal action was planned because the channel de-facto helped spread their ideas.

Russia's Top Satellite Company Drops Liberal Dozhd TV Channel

Russia’s major satellite provider stopped broadcasting Dozhd independent television channel Monday after the network became embroiled into a controversy over an opinion poll about World War II. Tricolor TV, Russia’s biggest satellite TV provider, said a week ago that its board of directors had unanimously decided to exclude the liberal Dozhd channel from all its packages because of its editorial policy. “9:47 a.m., Dozhd channel disappeared from Tricolor,” the station’s owner Alexander Vinokurov wrote on his Twitter account Monday. Dozhd, which translates as “rain” in Russian, sparked outrage among officials by briefly publishing a poll last month that asked whether the Soviet Union should have surrendered the besieged city of Leningrad – now St. Petersburg – to the Nazis in an attempt to avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths. The poll was published on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the devastating 900-day Siege of Leningrad in 1944. The resulting debate prompted some other major satellite providers to drop the station from its packages. Dozhd apologized for the poll, but said it was being used as a pretext to shut down the channel, known for its whistleblowing reports and criticism of the Kremlin. Last week, the station’s management said that the satellite providers’ decision to stop broadcasting Dozhd would mean significant losses, cutting down its audience by about 80-85 percent.

Friday, February 7, 2014

US Accuses Russia of Leaking Diplomat Conversation on Ukraine

Washington has accused Russia of being behind the leak of an intercepted telephone call between top US diplomats discussing the unfolding political crisis in Ukraine and using foul language to disparage the EU. In the recording, figures identified as US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discuss political developments inside the former Soviet nation and coordinate on contact with opposition figures. In a passage that has already caused embarrassment to Washington, Nuland can at one stage be heard to dismiss European partners with the phrase “f—k the EU.” While the conversation, which was reproduced on YouTube, is scant on operational details, it will likely be used to fuel Russian allegations of direct Western support for Ukraine’s opposition. (video)

CNN Pulls List of Ugliest Monuments With Soviet Hero Statue

CNN withdrew an article from its website Friday featuring a list of the world’s ugliest monuments, following outrage over the inclusion of a World War II monument to the defenders of a Soviet military fortress. “CNN apologizes for the unintended offense caused by an article from a contributor that was intended to be a humorous look at monumental architecture worldwide,” the agency said in a statement. “We recognize that the Courage Monument carries deep and significant symbolism in honoring the soldiers who gave their lives defending their nation.” The monument, depicting an enormous Soviet soldier emerging from a mountain of stone, was built in Belarus to honor the defenders of the Brest Fortress who held out for weeks after being encircled by Nazi German troops during the first days of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that it had summoned the senior US diplomat in the country to discuss the matter Friday.

Pussy Riot Group Severs Ties With Freed Activists

Two Russian women who served jail time for performing an anti-Kremlin song in a Moscow cathedral are “on the other side of the barricades” from their ex-group Pussy Riot, the feminist punk collective said. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have abandoned radical feminist art actionism to campaign for prisoners’ rights, the group said in an online statement, available in English and Russian. “They completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group – feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult,” the group said on Thursday. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova’s change of career has produced “two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders,” the statement said. But “they are no longer Pussy Riot,” which is an anonymous, feminist, leftist radical art collective, the group said.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Toilet Trouble at the Sochi Olympics

The bathrooms at the Sochi Olympic venues are the gift that just keeps on giving. First, a reporter discovered a Olympic bathroom stall with two toilets. Now, a Canadian snowboarder has shown everyone just what is — and isn’t — allowed in the bathrooms. Sebastien Toutant tweeted a photo on Saturday of a sign he saw in an Olympic bathroom. The sign basically points out that no, the Olympic bathrooms are not the place for your tomfoolery or shenanigans. Perhaps most notable among the frowned-upon actions: fishing. (photo) (video)

Theater Director From Lithuania Readmitted to Russia After Ban

An artistic director of a prominent Moscow theater, who is a Lithuanian passport holder, was eventually allowed to re-enter Russia on Tuesday after being banned, the theater’s director said. Mindaugas Karbauskis, the artistic director of Moscow’s Mayakovsky Theater since 2011, had to spend Saturday night at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport after being refused to enter Russia over alleged law violations. “Karbauskis flew to Moscow and passed border checks. So everything’s fine. He is due to come to the theater tomorrow. Everyone is looking forward to see him,” Mayakovsky Theater director Leonid Osharin said. Border control officials said earlier this week that Karbauskis had been barred from Russia till November 23, 2015, for unspecified minor violations that he had committed in Moscow. But he was eventually allowed to enter the country on guarantees provided by the theater’s management.

Ex-Director of EBRD Pleads Not Guilty to Extortion Charges

Yelena Kotova, Russia’s former top representative at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) who has been charged with seeking a bribe of $1.4 million, pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday, the RAPSI legal news agency reports from the Moscow courtroom. Igor Lebedev, a former top manager of a leading Russian bank, also denied charges against him. The court will examine evidence and question some foreign witnesses on February 12. The Interior Ministry announced last January that Kotova and Lebedev had been charged with abuse of office and using their ties in the business community to solicit funds from a Canadian oil company. The investigation discovered that Kotova allegedly solicited $1.425 million from representatives of a Canadian oil company in exchange for helping it get a $95 million loan from the EBRD.

Statue of Soviet Secret Police Chief May Reappear in Moscow

A statue of the first leader of the Soviet secret police, who remains notorious for unleashing mass terror against opponents of the Bolshevik regime, may soon return to its place of pride in front of the former KGB headquarters. Lev Lavranov, head of the Moscow’s monuments commission, told RIA Novosti Wednesday that the decision is under consideration at the city council. “The applicants have applied for the restoration of the monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky on Lubyanka Square. The matter will be taken up at a meeting of the commission on February 11,” Lavranov said. He said approval from the city council would not be sufficient to restore the monument, however. As a matter of national importance, the measure would also need approval from the federal government. The statue was removed in 1991 following a coup attempt to seize control of the Soviet Union orchestrated in part by senior officers in the KGB, the descendant of Dzerzhnisky’s Cheka secret police, which was founded just months after the Russian Revolution. Dzerzhinsky, who remains indelibly associated with the violent subjugation of the class enemies of communism, is both reviled and celebrated in modern Russia.

Russian Oligarch Files $2Bln TNK-BP Lawsuit in New York

A Russian oligarch and senator is seeking $2 billion in New York from the sale of TNK-BP, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by RAPSI legal news service. Leonid Lebedev claims he was owed money from the sale of the British-Russian oil company via a stake he held in its Russian part. According to the document filed Tuesday in New York’s Supreme Court, Lebedev acquired a 15-percent stake in the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) during Russia’s privatization process in the 1990s. A consortium of four Russian oligarchs known as AAR, which had a controlling stake in the company, struck a deal in 2003 to merge their assets with British oil major BP’s operations in Russia, resulting in the formation of TNK-BP. TNK-BP was bought by state-controlled Russian oil giant Rosneft last year after being plagued by a high-profile shareholder dispute between the Russian and British sides. The AAR consortium received $27.73 billion from the deal, of which Lebedev claims he received nothing. The businessman, who is also a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament, is now seeking damages of not less than $2 billion.