Wednesday, April 30, 2014

EU Imposes New Sanctions on Russia

The European Union has imposed sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine on another 15 individuals, bringing the total number targeted to 48. The EU said these individuals are responsible for actions that "undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine." The targets include Dmitry Kozak, Russia's deputy prime minister; Russian military chief Valery Gerasimov; and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, including Denis Pushilin, the self-declared leader of the "Donetsk People's Republic." EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was alarmed by the worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine, and she called on Russia to take "concrete steps" in support of an international deal signed this month aimed at easing tensions.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Putin: Internet is a CIA Project

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called the Internet a CIA project and made comments about Russia's biggest search engine Yandex, sending the company's shares plummeting. The Kremlin has been anxious to exert greater control over the Internet, which opposition activists — barred from national television — have used to promote their ideas and organize protests. Russia's parliament this week passed a law requiring social media websites to keep their servers in Russia and save all information about their users for at least half a year. Also, businessmen close to Putin now control Russia's leading social media network, VKontakte. Speaking Thursday at a media forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said that the Internet originally was a "CIA project" and "is still developing as such." To resist that influence, Putin said, Russia needs to "fight for its interests" online. A Russian blogger complained to Putin that foreign websites and Yandex, the web search engine which is bigger in Russia than Google, are storing information on servers abroad, which could be undermining Russia's security. In his reply, Putin mentioned unspecified pressure that was exerted on Yandex in its early years and chided the company for its registration in the Netherlands "not only for tax reasons but for other considerations, too." Although Putin's comments didn't include any specific threats to Yandex, one of Russia's most successful tech companies, its shares plunged by 5 percent at the Nasdaq's opening on Thursday. In a statement Thursday, Yandex said the company got registered in the Netherlands "solely due to the specifics of corporate law," not because of the low taxes there and added that its core business is based in Russia and "practically all the taxes are paid in Russia."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Russian Facebook" Founder Flees Russia, Claims Persecution

Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia’s largest social networking website, fled the country on Tuesday, a day after he said he was forced out as the company’s CEO for refusing to share users’ personal data with Russian law enforcement agencies. Durov, who created Vkontakte seven years ago, first announced his intention to leave the company on April 1 but withdrew his resignation letter two days later. On Monday, he announced that he had been fired and that the social network would now fall under “full control” of Kremlin-linked Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Vkontakte billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov. The move to oust Durov is widely seen as part of a wider campaign by the Kremlin to tighten its grip on the Internet, and observers said the authorities aimed to “cleanse” the management of Russian Internet companies in the hopes of gaining control of their content. Last week, Durov said in an interview with the New Times that the Federal Security Service had turned up the pressure on Vkontakte employees dramatically in recent months, demanding that Durov release personal information about Euromaidan activists. He said the Prosecutor General's Office ordered him to shut down a group on the website dedicated to anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, though he refused to do so. “I am out of Russia and have no plans to go back,” Durov said Tuesday in an interview with Techcrunch, a news website focused on technology. He said he intended to launch a mobile social network outside Russia.

Navalny Convicted of Libel

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was found guilty Tuesday of libel and fined 300,000 rubles ($8,400), a decision his spokeswoman said is aimed at paving the way to move the ex-Moscow mayoral candidate from house arrest to a jail cell. A local court in Moscow found that the prominent blogger and critic of President Vladimir Putin called the head of a Moscow district a drug addict in a Twitter post earlier this month. Mr. Navalny, who has been under house arrest and barred from communicating with the outside world since late February, in court denied writing the tweet, saying he had no access to the Internet. His wife, Julia Navalnaya, and his supporters say they have continued posting on his Twitter and LiveJournal pages.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Putin: Alaska is Too Cold to Annex

Russian President Vladimir Putin quashed the possibility that Russia would annex Alaska while on a question-and-answer call-in show Thursday, adding that the former Russian colony is cold, too. Amid rising Russian nationalism after the president’s annexation of Crimea, Putin responded to an audience member’s suggestion of annexing Alaska during the televised national phone-in, asking, “Faina Ivanovna, my dear, why do you want Alaska?" Russia is a "northern country" and 70 percent of its territory lies in "Northern and extreme Northern regions," Putin said, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. "Is Alaska really in the Southern Hemisphere? It’s cold there, too. Let's not get hot-headed,” he added. Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867 for $7.2 million. “Who needs Alaska?” Putin added. (video)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Putin to Snowden: Russia Doesn't Carry out Mass Surveillance

President Vladimir Putin has told the National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden, that Russia is not carrying out mass surveillance programmes of the kind Snowden exposed in the US. Snowden made a video-link appearance during Putin's marathon televised question and answer session to ask the president about Russia's attitude to mass surveillance. Snowden asked: "Does Russia intercept or store or analyse the communication of millions of individuals?" He went on to ask whether increasing the effectiveness of internal security systems could ever justify such actions. To applause from the studio audience, Putin responded: "Mr Snowden you are a former agent, a spy, I used to work for a intelligence service, we are going to talk the same language." He said Russia did not have a comparable programme, stating: "Our agents are controlled by law. You have to get court permission to put an individual under surveillance. We don't have mass permission, and our law makes it impossible for that kind of mass permission to exist." He said he was aware that "criminals and terrorists" relied on this kind of interception, and that their actions demanded a response from the security services. "We have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of a terrorist nature, we do have some efforts like that. We don't have a mass control. I hope we don't do that," he said. "We don't have as much money as they do in the US," he added.

Geneva Talks Produce Agreement on Conflict in Ukraine

The US, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union have reached agreement on a series of immediate steps aimed at pulling eastern Ukraine back from the brink of war. The deal, clinched after a dramatic extended meeting in Geneva, calls for the disarming of all illegal groups. In the next few days they would have to vacate all the government buildings and public spaces they have occupied over the course of the crisis. In return, the protesters in eastern Ukraine would be offered amnesty for all but capital crimes and the government in Kiev would immediately start a process of public consultation aimed at devolving constitutional powers to the provinces. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will be given the job not only of making sure the agreement will be put into practice but also of helping to implement it. The US, Russia and European countries would provide monitors to beef up the OSCE's manpower, which would be given access across Ukraine. Barack Obama cautiously welcomed the talks, describing the agreement endorsed by the four parties as a "glimmer of hope". But he insisted Russia still needed to see through its commitment to calming tensions in Ukraine, adding: "We're not going to count on it until we see it."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ukraine Sends Force to Stem Unrest in East

The Ukrainian military landed airborne troops at an airport about 25 miles south of here on Tuesday, raising tensions with Russia in the opening phase of what the government in Kiev called a wider military operation to confront pro-Russian militants in the eastern part of the country. Later in the day, a column of armored personnel carriers flying Ukrainian flags approached Slovyansk from the north, parking for a time beside a highway and setting up a checkpoint. Of all the cities in the east, Slovyansk seemed to have fallen most completely under the control of pro-Russian separatists, who have erected massive defensive barricades outside the buildings they occupy. The Ukrainian authorities said the movements were the first in a campaign to drive separatists from government buildings in as many as 10 cities in eastern Ukraine. The initial steps suggested that the government in Kiev, which had been hesitant to do anything to play into Moscow’s narrative that Russian-language speakers are in need of protection, was now willing to use the military to try to restore order in some places.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Russian Education Ministry to Inquire About US Ban on Russian Physicists

The Russian Ministry of Education will appeal to its US colleagues for clarification about a reported working ban on Russian physicists at US national labs, the ministry told RIA Novosti on Friday. “We are surprised by this initiative, the Ministry of Education and Science has not yet received any official information. Soon we will send an inquiry letter to ask for an explanation,” a spokesperson for the ministry said. The Russian Kommersant newspaper reported Friday that the US Department of Energy had banned its scientists from traveling to Russia and blocked access for Russian scientists to its major physics research centers, citing a letter sent earlier this week to scientists collaborating with Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. “International scientific cooperation is always mutually beneficial, and both unilateral sanctions and the suspension of cooperation would have a negative impact on research groups in the United States,” the ministry added.

Ukraine Forces Storm a Town

The Ukrainian government on Sunday for the first time sent its security services to confront armed pro-Russian militants in the country’s east, defying warnings from Russia. Commandos engaged in gunfights with men who had set up roadblocks and stormed a Ukrainian police station in Slovyansk, and at least one officer was killed, Ukrainian officials said. Several officers were injured in the operation, as were four locals, the officials said. Russian news media and residents here disputed that account, saying the Ukrainian forces had only briefly engaged one checkpoint. In either case, the central government in Kiev has turned to force to try to restore its authority in the east, a course of action that the Russian government has repeatedly warned against. With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s eastern border near Donetsk, Western leaders have worried that Moscow might use unrest in Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking areas as a pretext for an invasion.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

US, NATO Warn Russia Against Further Intervention in Ukraine

As the government in Kiev moved to reassert control over pro-Russian protesters across eastern Ukraine, the United States and NATO issued stern warnings to Moscow about further intervention in the country’s affairs amid continuing fears of an eventual Russian incursion. Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Kremlin of fomenting the unrest, calling the protests the work of saboteurs whose machinations were as “ham-handed as they are transparent.” Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he added: “No one should be fooled — and believe me, no one is fooled — by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalysts behind the chaos of the last 24 hours.” The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russia would be making a “historic mistake” by going into Ukraine, and he urged the Kremlin to “step back.” At a news conference in Paris, he said any such actions “would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia” and “would further isolate Russia internationally.”

Kerry: Russian Agents Behind Crisis in Eastern Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia is fueling separatist unrest in Eastern Ukraine that could be a "contrived crisis" to justify military intervention and that Moscow faces tougher banking, mining, and energy sanctions if it does not stop undermining Ukraine. Kerry said President Barack Obama is preparing a far-tougher series of sanctions if Russia does not step back from what he calls its "clear and unmistakable involvement" in destabilizing Eastern Ukraine. "So Russia has a choice: to work with the international community to help build an independent Ukraine that could be a bridge between East and West not the object of a tug of war, that could meet the hopes and aspiration of all Ukrainians; or they could face greater isolation and pay the cost for their failure to see that the world is not a zero-sum game," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ukraine Says it Retakes Building Seized by Protesters

Ukrainian special forces moved against pro-Russian demonstrators in the eastern city of Donetsk late Monday after the country's acting President vowed to resist efforts to "dismember" his country, his office reported. The troops cleared armed protesters from the headquarters of Ukrainian security services in Donetsk, one of three cities where pro-Moscow uprisings took place over the weekend, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov's office announced Monday night. There were no casualties in the operation, Victoria Sumar, deputy secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, told reporters. Police battled protesters in one of the other two cities, while authorities set up a committee to negotiate with a self-declared "army" in the third. The reports came several hours after Turchynov blamed "separatist groups coordinated by Russian special services" for the revolts, which he said echoed events leading to the Russian annexation of Crimea three weeks ago. "Enemies of Ukraine are trying to play out the Crimean scenario, but we will not let this happen," Turchynov said in a televised message. Pro-Moscow protesters seized government buildings, raised Russian flags and declared new governments in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkov on Sunday. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the goal of the protesters was "to destabilize" Ukraine, allowing "foreign troops to cross the border and seize the territory of the country." "We will not allow it," Yatsenyuk said.

Pro-Russia Activists Declare East Ukraine Independent, Ask Putin to Send Troops

The seizure of government buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists is being orchestrated by Moscow to create an excuse for a military invasion like in Crimea, Ukraine's prime minister said Monday. "Russia's scenario is division and destruction of Ukraine," said Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at a Cabinet meeting. "They plan for foreign troops to cross the border and attack the country. We won't let it happen." Armed gunmen took over the headquarters of the security services in Luhansk, 15 miles from the border with Russia. Luhansk is one of several cities in eastern Ukraine where secessionists have held protests in recent weeks. People erected barriers overnight on Luhansk's thoroughfare, and police have blocked all entrances to the city. Local media reported that pro-Russian demonstrators stormed the building Sunday, pelting it with eggs, stones, a smoke grenade and finally a firebomb. In the eastern city of Donetsk, pro-Russian separatists who seized the main administration building on the weekend and raised a Russian flag over it proclaimed Monday the creation of a "people's republic" independent of Ukrainian rule, according to Ukrainian and Russian media. In footage uploaded to the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russia activist in the provincial government headquarters in Donetsk asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops to the region. "Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own," he said.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pro-Russians Storm Offices in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian protesters have stormed government buildings in three eastern Ukrainian cities. In Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv they clashed with police, hung Russian flags from the buildings and called for a referendum on independence. Ukraine's acting president called an emergency security meeting in response. The unrest comes amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine over the removal of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia's annexation of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow has the right to protect the Russian-speaking population there. Ukraine's leaders deny the country's Russian speakers are under threat and have said they will resist any intervention in their country.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Russian Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Parallel Importer

Russia’s Supreme Court declined to review the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Aqualife - a parallel importer of Krusovice (a registered trademark of global brewer Heineken Ceska Republica).  "Parallel" or "grey" imports are goods imported from another country without the permission of the official manufacturer, and Russia's Supreme Commercial Court confirmed in November that such parallel imports are illegal.  Heineken registered the Krusovice brand in Russia with Rospatent in 2004 in relation to just one commodity - beer.  A lawyer representing Aqualife said during the court hearing that the company is interested in the brand because its capacity to place the product on the market is limited without it. Earlier, the court dismissed another lawsuit filed by Aqualife against Diadgeo Ireland to terminate legal protection of the Guinness trademark. Currently, Heineken owns eight breweries in Russia.

Putin Signs Law Terminating Black Sea Fleet Agreements with Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law invalidating four bilateral agreements with Ukraine providing for the basing of the Black Sea Fleet, the Kremlin said Wednesday. The measures to be scrapped include a 1997 agreement on the conditions of the fleet's stay in Crimea, which was extended by 25 years in a 2010 deal by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as a result of a coup in February. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol, a city with a special status within Crimea. As part of the agreements on its basing rights, Russia paid the Ukrainian government $530 million annually for the base, and wrote off nearly $100 million of Kiev's debt for the right to use Ukrainian waters. The law also invalidates the fourth agreement between Moscow and Kiev, under which Russia granted Ukraine a $100 discount for Russian gas by lifting taxes levied for the Russian state budget. The price for Ukraine is expected to rise to $485.50 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas after the Russian government issues an official resolution. The Kremlin said last month that there were no legal grounds for the continuation of the discount premised on the continuation of a basing agreement for Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, which is no longer part of Ukraine.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Putin Orders "Partial Withdrawal" of Troops from Ukrainian Border

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a "partial withdrawal" of troops from the border with Ukraine, the German government has said. Mr Putin informed Chancellor Angela Merkel of the move in a telephone conversation, according to her office. Thousands of Russian soldiers are still said to be deployed along the border. Earlier, Ukraine condemned a visit to Crimea by Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a delegation of government ministers. A foreign ministry spokesman in Kiev said the highest-level trip to the Black Sea peninsula by officials from Moscow since its annexation by Russia was a "crude violation" of international rules. A note protesting against the presence of an official in "the territory of another state without preliminary agreement" had been sent, he added. Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine for Russia on 16 March, in a referendum condemned as illegal by the UN General Assembly.