Friday, March 28, 2014

UN Assembly Declares Crimean Referendum Invalid

The 193-nation UN General Assembly passed Thursday a resolution declaring invalid Crimea's referendum that led to the region's reunification with Russia. The non-binding resolution, titled “Territorial integrity of Ukraine," was approved with 100 votes in favor, 11 against, and 58 abstentions. The document says the March 16 referendum "has no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the City of Sevastopol." It also "calls upon all States to desist and refrain from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including any attempts to modify Ukraine's borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Moscow Slams Closure of Russian TV in Ukraine

A ruling by a Ukrainian court to suspend broadcasts of four Russian TV channels in Ukraine is an attack against human rights and media freedom, a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday. The District Administrative Court in Kiev ruled to suspend broadcasts of Russia's Rossiya 24, Channel One, RTR Planeta, and NTV-World in Ukraine pending hearings on a permanent ban. "Undoubtedly, this should be viewed only as an infringement on democratic freedoms and as a violation of Ukraine's international obligations. Certainly, millions of [Russian-speaking] residents of this country have the right to watch [Russian] TV and have access to [other] Russian-language media," said Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry's point man on human rights.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ukrainian Ultranationalist Killed in Special Operation

Ukrainian ultranationalist Olexander Muzychko, put on an international wanted list for committing war atrocities in Russia's Chechnya, was gunned down overnight in an operation by Ukrainian special forces, a senior official in the country said Tuesday. Muzychko, also known as Sashko Bilyi, was located Monday near a cafe in the western Ukrainian city of Rovno in an operation launched by special forces to neutralize a suspected militant group. Muzychko, an activist in Ukraine’s radical Right Sector party and an active participant in earlier riots (street protests) in Kiev, attempted to escape through a window and opened fire on law enforcement, injuring one of the officers before being killed by return fire, according to First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Yevdokimov. “Muzychko was shot in his leg, but he tried to return fire. Later when he was kicked down to the ground, he kept shooting and was injured. Doctors have confirmed Muzychko’s death,” Yevdokimov said, according to the Ukrainian UNIAN news agency. Three other suspected gunmen were detained during the operation. Earlier this month Muzychko accused the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office and police in a YouTube video of a plot to kill him or capture and hand him over to Russian special services. Muzychko was put on an international wanted list on suspicion of torturing and murdering at least 20 Russian servicemen in Chechnya in the early 2000s. He was arrested in absentia by a court in southern Russia earlier this month.

Opposition Activist Navalny Loses House Arrest Appeal

The Moscow City Court upheld a lower court’s ruling Monday to place anti-corruption crusader and opposition stalwart Alexei Navalny under house arrest, RAPSI reported from the court room. Prosecutors argued that Navalny, charged with embezzlement, should be isolated after he violated a pledge to remain in Moscow as well as having participated in an unsanctioned protest in central Moscow, inciting chaos and resisting arrest. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow granted the motion in late February, putting Navalny under house arrest in connection with the embezzlement case. Under the court order Navalny is prohibited from using communication devices, including the Internet.

G7 Warns Russia of Sanctions over Ukraine

Leaders of the Group of Seven economies have warned Moscow it faced damaging economic sanctions in the event of further escalation of the crisis in Ukraine following Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said holding talks with Russia while threatening with sanctions was inappropriate and counterproductive. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped the West was aware that such pressure would have no effect. "We remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation," G7 leaders said in a joint statement. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister criticized the US sanctions saying they reflect Washington’s reluctance to accept reality and its desire to impose on everyone its “one-sided, unbalanced and irrelevant approaches. “

Monday, March 24, 2014

Russia Denies Massing Troops on Ukrainian Border

Russia's deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov denied on Sunday it was massing troops on the Ukrainian border, saying it was observing international agreements. "The Russian defence ministry is observing all the international agreements on limiting the numbers of troops in regions bordering Ukraine," Antonov told journalists, cited by the Interfax news agency. "Russia's armed forces are not carrying out any unannounced military activity that could threaten the security of neighbouring states," Antonov added. Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy warned Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was ready to attack Ukraine with "troops massed at the border."

Ukraine Closes Border with Crimea

Ukrainian border guards closed the exit from the Republic of Crimea, local authorities said on Saturday. The office of the Crimean Federal District, which was established by President Vladimir Putin on Friday, said that even Ukrainian servicemen who wanted to leave Crimea could not cross the border. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, only 2,000 out of 18,000 Ukrainian troops serving in Crimea decided to leave the peninsula.

Friday, March 21, 2014

EU Broadens Sanctions Against Russia, Threatens Economic Measures

The EU has expanded its targeted sanctions against Russian officials blamed for destabilizing Ukraine, but has not yet agreed upon broader economic measures, European officials said Friday. The move was the latest escalation in the clash over Ukraine’s Crimea, the greatest geopolitical showdown between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. The EU expanded the number of Russian and Ukrainian officials under sanctions to 33 early Friday morning, just hours after the United States added 20 more officials to its own list.

Russia Announces Sanctions Against US Officials

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday imposed sanctions against nine senior US officials in retaliation to US visa bans and asset freezes. The White House authorized sanctions on Monday against Russian officials “who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine.” The US sanctions targeted seven top Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin, including presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The list was extended on Thursday and now includes presidential aide Andrei Fursenko, Presidential Executive Office Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov, head of Russia’s military intelligence service GRU Igor Sergun, head of Russia’s railway monopoly RZD Vladimir Yakunin and a number of senior lawmakers. “We have repeatedly warned that the use of sanctions is double-edged and has boomerang effect,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The list of US officials barred from Russia comprises deputy national security advisers Ben Rhodes and Caroline Atkinson, senators John McCain, Harry Reid, Robert Menendez, Daniel Coats and Mary Landrieu, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

Obama Announces New Sanctions Against Russia

US President Barack Obama on Thursday announced new sanctions against Russian officials and businessmen related to the government. Obama said more Russians were added to the blacklist of individuals, who are subject to travel restrictions and whose assets in the US will be frozen. "We're imposing sanctions on more senior officials of the Russian government,” Obama said. The US president also mentioned that sanctions will be imposed on The Rossiya Bank. “In addition, we are today sanctioning a number of other individuals with substantial resources and influence who provide material support to the Russian leadership, as well as a bank that provides material support to these individuals," he continued. The U.S. Department of the Treasury said on Thursday its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated sixteen Russian government officials and four individuals who provide “material support” to the Russian government. The list includes presidential aide Andrei Fursenko, Presidential Executive Office Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov, head of Russia’s military intelligence service GRU Igor Sergun, head of Russia’s railway monopoly RZD Vladimir Yakunin and a number of senior lawmakers.

Russian Duma Approves Crimea Annexation

The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, ratified the Crimea reunification treaty on Thursday. A total of 445 State Duma deputies supported the ratificiation and only one voted against. President Vladimir Putin signed the treaty with Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and other Crimean leaders on Tuesday following a referendum in which some 96.7 percent of voters backed joining Russia. The treaty, which sparked the most serious geopolitical showdown between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War, was unanimously approved by the Russian Constitutional Court on Wednesday.

Upper house approves Crimea annexation, too

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Navalny Proposes Punishing Putin

Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now under home detention, published an article in The New York Times, entitled "How to Punish Putin," proposing a system of sanctions against Russian officials and the businessmen (identified by names) linked to the government, whom Navalny calls "the Kremlin mafia." "Western nations could deliver a serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin’s cronies who shuttle between Russia and the West. This means freezing the oligarchs’ financial assets and seizing their property," Navalny says. "Second, Western authorities must investigate ill-gotten gains from Russia within their jurisdictions," he continues. Navalny also criticizes Russia's "invasion of Ukraine." "Mr. Putin has cynically raised nationalist fervor to a fever pitch; imperialist annexation is a strategic choice to bolster his regime’s survival," he comments. "There is a common delusion among the international community that although Mr. Putin is corrupt, his leadership is necessary because his regime subdues the dark, nationalist forces that otherwise would seize power in Russia. The West should admit that it, too, has underestimated Mr. Putin’s malign intent. It is time to end the dangerous delusion that enables him," Navalny concludes.

Ukraine to Quit CIS, Set Visa Regime with Russia

The interim government in Kiev says Ukraine will leave the commonwealth of post-Soviet states and force Russians to apply for entry visas, and plans to ask the United Nations to make Crimea a demilitarized zone. The raft of measures – a response to Russia’s incorporation of Crimea into its territory following Sunday’s referendum – was announced by National Security and Defense Council chief Andrey Parubiy during a press briefing in Kiev. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was founded to maintain economic and security links between former Soviet republics when they became independent states in 1991. It initially included the 12 non-Baltic countries, though Georgia quit after the Ossetian conflict in 2008. This year, Ukraine was assigned the rotating leadership of the CIS – which is more akin to the formal British Commonwealth than the fully-fledged economic partnership of the EU – but now says it will not carry out its duties. "We have decided not only to give up the presidency, but to launch the process of quitting the union altogether," Parubiy told journalists.

Russia to Build Bridge to Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Russian government on Wednesday to start preparations for the construction of a bridge linking the southern Russian Krasnodar Territory directly with Crimea. Crimea, previously an autonomous republic within Ukraine with a Russian ethnic majority, signed a reunification treaty with Moscow on Tuesday following a referendum Sunday in which some 96.7 percent of voters backed joining Russia after 60 years as part of Ukraine. Putin said the bridge over the Kerch Strait, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, should be suitable for both road and rail traffic. Transport minister Maxim Sokolov said several projects of the bridge to the Black Sea peninsula that would bypass mainland Ukraine will be ready by the end of this year. The minister said that a possibility of laying a tunnel under the Kerch Strait is being considered as a possible option.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Russian Constitutional Court Approves Crimea Reunification

Russia’s Constitutional Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that a treaty reunifying the Ukrainian breakaway region of Crimea with Russia is lawful. The court, based in Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, held an emergency session following a formal request by President Vladimir Putin to assess the constitutionality of the historic agreement signed on Tuesday. “The Constitutional Court recognized that this treaty complies with the Russian Constitution," court chairman Valery Zorkin told journalists after the session. The move paves the way for immediate submission of the treaty, as well as draft amendments to the Constitution, for ratification by the Russian parliament.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Russia, Crimea Sign Accession Treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Crimea signed a treaty Tuesday reunifying the Ukrainian breakaway region with Russia after 60 years as part of Ukraine. Putin signed the treaty with Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and other Crimean leaders after addressing both houses of parliament, as well as heads of Russian regions and representatives of public organizations at a special assembly in the Kremlin. The Russian parliament is expected to ratify the treaty imminently. Putin signed a decree Monday recognizing Crimea as an independent state, following a referendum Sunday that saw voters on the peninsula overwhelmingly support secession and reunification with Russia. In his address, punctuated by loud applause, the Russian leader justified Moscow’s decision to protect Crimea, saying Russia’s inaction would have been regarded as treason. “The residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia with a request to protect their rights and their lives. We could not have rejected their appeal and left them in trouble,” Putin said.

Russia's Intellectual Property Court Establishes Mediation Process

Lyudmila Novosyolova, Chair of the Intellectual Property Court, opened a mediation room that can be used to settle disputes out of court and through the use of mediators provided free of charge.
Novosyolova noted that “ . . . many disputes in our court can be settled amicably. The percentage of out of court settlements is much higher than for any other category of dispute. The mediators have a good chance for success in the intellectual rights area.” Also according to Novosyolova, starting on July 3, 2013, when the IP Court began hearing cases, as many as 20 amicable settlements have been reached and 50 suits ended without a full trial, which is 10% of the total number of cases.

Russia Recognizes Crimea’s Independence

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to recognize Ukraine’s breakaway region of Crimea as an independent state, paving the way for its reunification with Russia, the Kremlin press service said on Monday. Russia also said that it recognizes Sevastopol, a Crimean port that houses the Russian Black Sea fleet base, a city with a "special autonomous status" within the Republic of Crimea. The decree, which comes into force immediately after being signed, is “a step towards further procedures" to make Crimea a part of Russia, said the State Duma’s envoy to the Russian Constitutional Court, Dmitry Vyatkin. Once Crimea’s independence is recognized, its formal accession request should be considered and approved by the Russian parliament. After that, the sides sign an international treaty that needs to be approved by the Constitutional Court, which, in its turn, would forward it to the parliament for ratification. Then a law on establishing a new administrative entity should be drafted and passed by relevant state bodies.

Monday, March 17, 2014

EU, US Impose Sanctions against Russia

The EU and US have announced travel bans and asset freezes against a number of officials from Russia and Ukraine. The moves follow Sunday's referendum in Crimea, in which officials say 97% of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. The individuals targeted by the sanctions are seen as having played a key role in the referendum, which Kiev, the US and EU deem illegal. The list of names targeted by EU sanctions will not be made public until the measures go into effect, which is expected to be at the latest on Tuesday morning. The US said it had targeted seven top Russian government officials and lawmakers and four Crimea-based separatist leaders with financial sanctions for undermining "democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine". The officials include Sergei Aksyonov, the acting leader of Crimea; Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister; and Valentina Matviyenko, head of the upper house of the Russian parliament.

Crimeans Celebrate Landslide Vote to Join Russia

Thousands of Crimeans celebrated on Sunday the outcome of a referendum that confirmed overwhelming support for the southern Ukrainian region to join Russia. The latest results showed Monday some 96.6 percent of voters in Crimea backed reunion with Russia after 60 years as part of Ukraine. People cheered the historic vote in the regional capital Simferopol waving Russian flags and singing Soviet-era songs. "We're going home. Crimea is going to Russia," Crimean leader Serhiy Aksyonov said. Crimea’s regional assembly, which was dissolved by the Ukrainian parliament Saturday, plans to send a formal request to Moscow to join Russia after a session on Monday. The Russian parliament is expected announce its decision on Crimea’s fate in the short term, the deputy speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Monday. “The results of the Crimean referendum have clearly shown that Crimeans see their future only as part of Russia. People voted in favor of reunion with the nation that has always lived together with them,” Sergei Neverov said.

Russia Vetoes UN Resolution on Crimea

Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution that declared Sunday’s referendum in the autonomous republic of Crimea invalid. The draft resolution, drawn up by the United States, urged nations not to recognize the results of the vote, widely expected to back Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region with a narrow ethnic Russian majority, joining Russia. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow will respect the choice of people in the region that has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new central government in Kiev. China, a close ally of Russia, abstained from the vote. “This initiative had no grounds: events in Ukraine pose no threat to the international peace and security, the issues that the Security Council deals with under the UN Charter,” Churkin said.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Russia Blacklists Navalny's Blog

Russia’s telecoms watchdog said on Thursday it blacklisted the LiveJournal blog of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and several other independent websites. The anti-Kremlin activist, who is under house arrest, is forbidden from leaving his residence – an apartment in the Moscow suburbs – and from using the Internet, telephone or any other means of communication with the world outside of his family, lawyers and police investigators until April 28. “The functioning of this page violates a court ruling establishing terms of confinement for a citizen who is under criminal investigation,” telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor said in a statement. Navalny, who played a leading role in mass street protests against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the winter of 2011-2012, is under investigation together with his brother Oleg for allegedly embezzling money from cosmetics company Yves Rocher. He is also serving a five-year suspended sentence for an embezzlement conviction in a separate case that he claims was fabricated in retribution for his opposition activities.

OECD Freezes Russia’s Membership Bid

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Thursday it had put Russia’s accession process on hold amid the ongoing international standoff over Ukraine's autonomous republic of Crimea. Troops lacking official insignia but widely believed to be under Russian command have seized military bases in recent weeks in the Russian-speaking republic, which has scheduled a referendum on secession and annexation by Russia for Sunday. “The OECD has postponed activities related to the accession process of the Russian Federation to the OECD for the time being,” the organization said on its website. The OECD also said it would respond positively to a request by Ukraine to boost cooperation with Kiev.

Four Criminal Cases Launched Against Ukraine’s Fugitive Leader

Ukrainian prosecutors have opened more criminal against fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych, including on charges of unconstitutional seizure of power, extremism and money laundering. Acting prosecutor general and member of the nationalist Svoboda party, Oleh Makhnitsky, told reporters on Thursday that Yanukovych is wanted on power abuse and murder charges. Last month, Ukraine requested Interpol to issue Red Notice, or an international wanted persons alert, for Yanukovych as part of that criminal case. “Another criminal case concerns illegal acquisition of state property in especially large quantities… and money laundering,” Makhnitsky said.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Russia Blocks Independent News Sites

Russia's Internet monitoring agency Roskomnadzor blocked access to several opposition news sites, including,, Also blocked is the blog of prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny. At least some providers block access to the website of the "Ekho Moskvy" radio station. The editor-in-chief of web newes service has been fired. The above comprises virtually all independent Russian media remaining by this time. Also blocked are some privite blogs, such as the blog of prominent writer Boris Akunin, who reproduced a post from Navalny's blog.

UPDATE: Access to Ekho Moskvy and Akunin's sites is restored after they removed copies of Navalny's post

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Crimea Declares Independence Ahead of Popular Vote on Secession

The parliament of Crimea, a majority ethnic Russian region within Ukraine, declared independence Tuesday ahead of a popular vote on secession and annexation by Russia. The declaration appeared to be the latest attempt to shore up the legal basis of the upcoming referendum, which is scheduled for Sunday but has been declared unconstitutional by the country’s central leadership in Kiev. A representative of the regional parliament’s press office said that 78 of 100 deputies voted to declare independence. The text of the declaration, published on the parliament’s website, claims that the action is in accordance with international law, specifically citing a 2010 ruling by the International Court of Justice that affirmed Kosovo had the right to declare independence from Serbia.

Ukrainian Politician Detained for Inciting Secession

A Ukrainian politician who headed an eastern Russian-speaking region until earlier this month has been detained for inciting secession, prosecutors said. Mikhail Dobkin, who was removed from his post in the Kharkov Region on March 2 to run in the upcoming presidential election, could face up to five years in prison for “attacks on the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement. The Public Television channel reported on Tuesday evening that a court in Kiev ruled to place him under house arrest. Dobkin said he would appeal the ruling. The politician said that he still planned to run in the early presidential elections, scheduled for May 25, despite the legal proceedings.

US Congress Pushes for Imposing Sanctions against Russia

The US House of Representatives adopted a non-binding resolution in a 402-7 vote on Tuesday to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine and urge the White House to exclude Russia from the G8 and to impose sanctions on the country. The lawmakers who voted for the resolution also called for sending OSCE observers to Crimea and other Ukrainian regions and urged NATO to suspend military cooperation with Russia, including the supply of military equipment. The resolution urges the administration of US President Barack Obama to “work with our European allies and other countries to impose visa, financial, trade and other sanctions on senior Russian Federation officials, majority state-owned banks and commercial organizations, and other state agencies, as appropriate.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that potential sanctions over Ukraine would be a double-edged sword due to the interdependence of global trade.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Yanukovich: I Am Alive

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych warned on Tuesday that "dark forces" are working to foment civil war in the troubled former Soviet nation. During a short address in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovych insisted that he not only remains Ukraine’s president, but that he is also still the head of the armed forces. Yanukovych last month fled the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, leaving a power vacuum quickly filled by opposition groups that had for months been protesting a government decision to back away from a proposed deal to bolster economic and political relations with the European Union. The appearance follows persistent reports in Ukrainian media that Yanukovych had died of unspecified causes, speculation that he sought to stamp out in Tuesday’s statement. “I would like to say that I'm alive,” he said.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Russia Grants Amnesty to Former Defense Minister

Russia’s top federal law enforcement agency has closed a criminal case against the former defense chief, but the probe into a multi-million dollar embezzlement in the ministry continues. Anatoly Serdyukov was given amnesty by the Investigative Committee after a personal request from the former minister, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday quoting an unnamed source acquainted with the situation. According to the source military prosecutors had no objection and the amnesty request was agreed almost immediately. However, Serdyukov’s defense attorney Konstantin Rivkin has refused to confirm the report. The Investigative Committee has not commented on the report either. The amnesty that halted the probe into the former official was put in place in December last year to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the modern Russian Constitution. It applied to first-time offenders tried for crimes not connected with violence against representatives of authority and sentenced to terms of up to five years. The news of Serdyukov’s amnesty was first circulated by the Russian media in late February. Then the agencies quoted an anonymous source in the Investigative Committee and military police as saying that the ex-minister was seeking amnesty as a person with state decorations who took part in active combat. (This is a reference to the brief war with Georgia in August 2008 when Anatoly Serdyukov occupied the defense minister’s post). Anatoly Serdyukov served asdefense minister from February 2007 till November 2012 when he was sacked after investigators uncovered a huge embezzlement scheme run by his subordinates in the real estate and other branches of the ministry. According to law enforcers, the suspects managed to defraud the state of about $215 million.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kremlin TV Channel Anchor Resigns Over Crimean Crisis

A US anchor at the Kremlin-funded TV news channel RT has resigned on air, saying the network “whitewashes” the actions of President Vladimir Putin. Liz Wahl began the surprise announcement Wednesday by referring to Russia’s intervention in Crimea and saying that as a reporter on the RT network, she faced “many ethical and moral challenges.” “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin,” she said. “I believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning.” RT condemned her public resignation in a statement as “nothing more than a self-promotional stunt.”

Crimea to Hold Referendum on Joining Russia

Lawmakers in the embattled Crimean region of Ukraine have decided to hold a referendum March 16 on whether Crimea should become part of Russia. "This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kyiv," Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature, said Thursday. "We will decide our future ourselves." The parliament in Crimea, which enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78 with eight abstentions in favour of holding the referendum. Local voters will also be given the choice of deciding to remain part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.  The Crimean parliament has requested Russia "to start procedures for  Crimea's joining the Russian Federation  as a subject of the Russian Federation." Meanwhile Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that, despite reports to the contrary, are not in control of Crimea.

Russian Court Bans Wikipedia, Yandex

A regional court in Russia’s Far East ordered an Internet service provider to block 17 websites for extremist content on Wednesday, including a Wikipedia article on Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto “Mein Kampf.” A representative of Khabarovsk Central Court told RIA Novosti that the regional branch of the Rostelecom Internet company must restrict access by March 10 to the list of sites alleged to contain extremist content. The restrictions would apply to individual links on sites, including Wikipedia and the popular Russian search engine Yandex and the Kinopoisk film site. A copy of the court’s judgment dated February 10 was uploaded on the Wikimedia foundation’s website and listed the webpages, which included the Russian-language Wikipedia page on “Mein Kampf.” As of Wednesday afternoon, a notice in the text of the article said the court had restricted access to the page “due to the fact that this article earlier had a link to the text of ‘Mein Kampf.’” The court ordered Rostelecom to restrict access to the websites by means of an IP address filter, which could potentially block many other pages hosted by the same web server. A representative of Rostelecom told RIA Novosti that the company plans to appeal the decision, since all of the offending materials have since been removed.

EU to Freeze Assets of Ousted Ukrainian President and Allies

The Council of the European Union has adopted sanctions to freeze the financial assets within the EU of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and 17 other people identified as having misused state funds. The EU's 28 foreign ministers approved the list Wednesday and released their names early Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The former president and some of his closest allies are among those targeted by the sanctions. The list includes Yanukovych's son, the prosecutor general, the head of the security services, the justice minister and a former interior minister, AP reported. The sanctions also apply to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his son, the news agency reported. The measures will initially apply for 12 months starting Thursday.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Russia Mulls Confiscating Foreign Companies' Assets

The upper house of Russia’s parliament is mulling measures allowing property and assets of European and US companies to be confiscated in the event of sanctions being adopted against Russia over its threatened military intervention in Ukraine. The bill’s author, Federation Council constitutional legislation committee head Andrei Klishas, said Wednesday that lawyers are currently studying whether the proposed confiscations would be constitutional. “But we have no doubts that it clearly corresponds to European standards,” Klishas told RIA Novosti. “The recent events in Cyprus spring to mind, where the confiscation of assets was the main demand made by the European Union in return for economic aid.”

Russian Professor Faces Dismissal for Anti-War Article

A professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, or MGIMO, said Tuesday that he has been fired for writing an opinion piece comparing a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine with Nazi Germany's Anschluss with Austria in 1938. Professor Andrei Zubov's article titled "This Has Already Happened" was published by Vedomosti on Saturday, the day that the Federation Council voted to give President Vladimir Putin permission to send troops to Ukraine. Zubov wrote that such an operation would seriously damage Russian relations with Ukraine and the West and put the world on the brink of another cold war. "We need to come to our senses and stop," Zubov wrote. "Our policies will drag our people into a terrible, horrible venture. Historical experience tells us that nothing costs so much. We should not do what the Germans did in their time on the promises of Goebbels and Hitler." He implored readers to "say no to this insane and, most importantly, completely unnecessary aggression" before saying "we don't need any more blood or tears." Zubov told the internet news site that he had received an ultimatum from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO): “I was told that I either write my own resignation or wait to be fired.” MGIMO rector, however, told journalists that Zubov had not been dismissed. (article)

UPDATE: Zubov will not be fired

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Russia Says Yanukovich Asked for Intervention

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin says ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has sent a letter to Putin asking him to use military force in Ukraine to restore law and order. "Under the influence of Western countries, there are open acts of terror and violence," Churkin quoted the letter from Yanukovich to Putin in the third emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. "People are being persecuted for language and political reasons," Churkin read. ”So in this regard I would call on the President of Russia, Mr. Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine." After reading the letter, Churkin held up a copy of the original letter from Yanukovich to Putin for council members to look at. Churkin also told the UN Security Council that it is about protecting the rights of the Russian-speaking population there. (video)

EU Condemns Russian "Aggression" in Crimea

The European Union accused Russia of “acts of aggression” and a “clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty” in a strongly-worded statement Monday that condemned the movement of troops into Crimea. EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels demanded an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops to the areas of their bases in Crimea under international agreements reached with Ukraine. They also urged Moscow to agree to Kiev’s request for talks under a bilateral friendship treaty signed in 1997. The EU declaration also strongly condemned the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, for authorizing President Vladimir Putin to deploy troops in Ukraine. It said Russia’s actions were in breach of the United Nations Charter, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act, and Moscow’s own commitments to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

Russia Slams Kerry’s ‘Threats’ over Ukraine

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday condemned as “unacceptable threats” comments made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry over possible Russian military action in Ukraine. The Russian parliament granted a request from President Vladimir Putin to authorize deployment of military forces in Ukraine on Saturday. In a series of public remarks over the weekend, Kerry called the move a "brazen act of aggression" and threatened Moscow with devastating economic and political consequences. “We consider there are unacceptable threats against Russia in the series of public statements by Secretary of State John Kerry in connection with the recent events in Ukraine and Crimea,” the ministry said in a statement.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Russian Markets, Ruble Plummet on Ukraine Fears

Russia's markets have dropped about 10 percent and its currency has fallen to its lowest point ever against the dollar and the euro because of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine. Russia intervened over the weekend to take control of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula with strategic importance, and the new government in Kiev fears a wider invasion. The West responded by questioning Russia's membership in the Group of Eight leading industrialized democracies, and the U.S. threatened possible asset freezes and trade penalties. The Moscow Exchange fell about 10 percent in the first hour of trading Monday, although it later recovered slightly. The ruble, already down nearly 10 percent this year, fell below 50 to the euro for the first time. It was trading below 36.4 to the dollar, also a record.

G7 Condemns Russia Over Ukraine

Seven of the eight powerful governments that make up the G8 bloc denounced member nation Russia on Monday for its actions in Ukraine and froze preparations for a June summit due to be hosted by the Russian city of Sochi. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Council and the European Commission all signed a joint statement that criticized Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Russian troops in unmarked uniforms have been taking control of strategic sites across Ukraine’s southern peninsula of Crimea since Thursday, and the Russian parliament approved a request from President Vladimir Putin to move troops into Ukraine on Saturday. “We call on Russia to address any ongoing security or human rights concerns that it has with Ukraine through direct negotiations and/or via international observation or mediation,” the G7 statement said. “We note that Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G7 and the G8 operate.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thousands Participate in Pro-Putin Rally in Moscow, Hundreds of Anti-War Protesters Arrested

Moscow police Sunday arrested hundreds protesting against military intervention in Ukraine, a rights group said, after President Vladimir Putin won approval from senators to send troops into the crisis-hit country. Ovdinfo, a rights group that tracks arrests at demonstrations, said 352 were detained at two anti-war protests in central Moscow. Police gave a much lower figure of 50 people detained for "attempts to violate public order", the Interfax news agency said. Anti-war protesters gathered near the defence ministry in central Moscow and on Manezhnaya square close to the Kremlin. Demonstrators held up peace signs and posters saying "No to war", while some also held Ukrainian flags and ribbons in the national colours of yellow and light blue. Many people brought to police stations were accused of resisting police orders, which could carry up to 15 days in jail, Ovdinfo said. Dozens were also detained in Saint-Petersburg, after some 500 people staged a protest, an AFP correspondent said. Authorities meanwhile allowed rallies in several cities in support of Putin's policy on intervention, even closing central Moscow boulevards to traffic to allow a march. Moscow police said 20,000 people took part in a pro-war march as television footage showed people walking with Russian flags as well as yellow-and-black nationalist flags and posters with slogans such as "Bravo Putin!" The pro-Kremlin United Russia party posted an invitation to the demonstration on its website, saying Russian speakers were "faced with persecution and violence because they speak Russian and are friendly toward Russia." (video) (video)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Russia Ready to Invade Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin secured his parliament's authority on Saturday to invade Ukraine after troops seized control of the Crimea peninsula and pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisted flags above government buildings in two eastern cities. Putin's open assertion of the right to deploy troops in a country of 46 million people on the ramparts of central Europe creates the biggest direct confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War. It followed days of warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders that Russia must not intervene, and assurances from Moscow that it would not do so. Putin swiftly secured unanimous approval from Russia's senate for the use of armed force on the territory of his neighbour, citing the need to protect Russian citizens, the same reason he gave for invading tiny Georgia in 2008. Britain summoned the Russian ambassador. EU ministers were due to hold emergency talks. Czech President Milos Zeman recalled the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Troops widely believed to belong to Moscow have already seized Crimea, an isolated peninsula in the Black Sea where Moscow has a large military presence in the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet. The campaign there has been bloodless so far, with Kiev's new authorities powerless to intervene. Scores were also hurt on Saturday in clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and supporters of Kiev's new authorities in eastern cities - areas near the Russian frontier, where Moscow is staging war games on high alert. Putin asked parliament to approve force "in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots" and to protect the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. The authorisation to use force in Ukraine would last "until the normalisation of the socio-political situation in that country". The upper house swiftly delivered a unanimous yes vote, shown on live television.

Putin Suggests Using Russian Troops in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday submitted a request to the upper house of parliament asking approval for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine. "In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) ... I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalisation of the socio-political situation in the that country," the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying in the document.

Video: Unidentified armed men seize regional parliament building in Crimea, Ukraine

Obama Warns Russia Against Crimea Incursion

US President Barack Obama signaled his administration’s alarm Friday at indications of military movements by Russian troops inside Ukraine’s region of Crimea and warned Moscow that there would be costs for any armed intervention. International media earlier in the day reported Russian troops entering Crimea, and soldiers identified as being with the Russian armed forces stationed on the peninsula blockaded at least one airport, which nonetheless appeared to still be operating. Obama said he was “deeply concerned” by reports of Russian troop movements inside Crimea. “Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea,” Obama told reporters in Washington. “But any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.” Obama said the United States would stand with the international community “in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”