Friday, May 30, 2014

Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia Establish Eurasian Union

With the milestone agreement to create a Eurasian economic union clinched in Kazakhstan on Thursday, Russia put cheap energy resources at the head of its drive to pull former Soviet states away from European integration and into its orbit. The Eurasian Economic Union agreement, signed by the leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in the Kazakh capital of Astana, will come into force on Jan. 1, 2015. It anticipates the gradual integration of the three former Soviet countries' economies, establishing free trade, unbarred financial interaction and unhindered labor migration. The pact combines the previous agreements reached between the three countries under the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space, which were formed in 2010 and 2011, and have been generally considered a success. At the signing ceremony, President Vladimir Putin said "Today we are creating a powerful center of gravity for economic development, a large regional market that unites more than 170 million people," according to an official transcript. He also stressed that the union's combined territory is a hydrocarbon treasury, possessing one-fifth of all global natural gas resources and 15 percent of all oil reserves. Russia's gain in entering the Eurasian union is more political than economic — particularly as Russia is still smarting from the recent failure of its attempts to draw Ukraine into the Customs Union. As for Kazakhstan and Belarus, they are pursuing their own economic interests rather than any dream of forming super-state between Europe and Asia, both their leaders and analysts said.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Russian Judges' Foreign Contacts Scrutinized

Some candidates for the new unified Russian Supreme Court have reported that the commission reviewing the candidacy of potential judges on the court is asking candidates whether they have relatives who live abroad, in particular outside the CIS.  Similarly, current High Economic Court judge Alexandra Makovskaia said that the commission asked her why she often travels abroad.  Such questions are not included in the formal criteria for nominating judges to the unified court.

Survey Shows "Middleman" Role of Russian Advocates

Vedomosti newspaper reported on a survey by the New Economic School of advocates (members of the regulated bar that dates to the Soviet period) regarding their attitudes to their profession, their role in the legal system, professional ethics, and the ongoing controversy over whether and how the entire legal profession in Russia should be regulated.  NES conducted the survey in cooperation with the Association of Lawyers of the Russian Federation, a voluntary organization.  372 advocates responded to the survey by completing a questionnaire and being interviewed.

About 22% of the respondents agreed that advocates "often" act as "middlemen" between their clients and the court system by "helping their clients reach a particular result in the case."  60% said that this happens "from time to time."  Vedomosti notes that these findings contradict an argument often made by the regulated advocates bar:  that regulating the entire legal profession under its umbrella would raise the level of professional ethics by subjecting all lawyers to the mandatory professional ethics rules that apply to registered advocates.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Putin: US Imposes Sanctions Against Russia to Gain Business Advantage in Europe

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested on Friday that the United States planned to receive competitive advantages in trade and economic ties with Europe by insisting on sanctions against Russia. “I have the suspicion that by insisting on imposing sanctions against Russia, our American friends, and they’re pretty sophisticated guys, they, perhaps, even want to get certain competitive advantages in their trade and economic ties in Europe?  I simply don’t see, don’t understand any other motives that are that serious or deep, but I hope that common sense prevails,” Putin said. The US and EU have imposed sanctions against Russia in connection with its policy in Ukraine and the reunification of Crimea. The sanctions have so far remained targeted and consist of government-approved lists of individuals and companies facing visa bans and asset freezes.

Russia "Open to Dialogue" with New Ukraine Leader

Russia says it is "open to dialogue" with the new president of Ukraine, as initial results suggested Petro Poroshenko would win its election. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said military action must end against separatists in the east. Mr Poroshenko said he would meet Russian leaders soon but vowed to take a tough line on any armed separatists. Unrest continues in the east, with pro-Russia militiamen halting flights at Donetsk airport.

Billionaire Poroshenko declares victory in Ukraine

Billionaire Petro Poroshenko declared victory Sunday in Ukraine's presidential election, following preliminary exit polls that suggested he received 56% of the vote. His closest challenger, former Ukrainian prime minister and leader of the Batkivshchyna party Yulia Tymoshenko, conceded the election after exit polls showed her with 13% of the vote. Poroshenko, a candy tycoon known as the "Chocolate King," is also a seasoned politician. The election took place Sunday despite a recent wave of deadly violence in the east and threats by pro-Russia separatists to prevent citizens from casting their ballots. Voters were picking a successor to ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych in a country torn apart by Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and by bloody conflict with pro-Russia factions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Russia, China Sign $400 Billion Gas Deal

After more than a decade of negotiations, Russia’s $400 billion deal to supply natural gas to China is tilting the world’s largest energy exporter toward Asia, as its ties worsen with the U.S. and Europe. Russian President Putin is turning eastward as sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union batter the Russian economy.  Russia's increasing alienation from the U.S. and the E.U. makes its trade with China, the country’s largest trading partner (after the two-way trade volume surged sevenfold in the past decade to about $94 billion last year), even more important.

Russia Says Troops Pulling Back From Ukraine Border

Russia said on Wednesday that troops deployed for exercises near the Ukrainian border had dismantled their equipment and were moving to train stations and airfields for return to their permanent bases.   However, the United States and NATO said they saw no clear signs of a pullout. The Kremlin said on Monday that President Vladimir Putin had told his defense chief to order troops to pull back from the border with Ukraine, where eastern regions have fallen largely under the control of pro-Russian rebels. According to the statement issued by the Defense Ministry, after spending a day dismantling field camps, packing and preparing military vehicles, military forces in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk provinces "have begun to move toward train stations and airfields."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Court Dismisses Russian Railways' Copyright Suit Against Apple

On Tuesday, the Ninth Commercial Court of Appeals rejected an appeal filed by Russian Railways challenging the dismissal of the copyright lawsuit against Apple Inc.  Russian Railways initially sought 2 million rubles ($55,807) in compensation from Apple for unauthorized use of the Railway's logo in an application sold at the Apple App Store, but that lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by Moscow's Commercial Court.  After the lawsuit was filed, Apple deleted the program from its store, but the app later resurfaced without the contested logo. The program calculates the cost of transporting goods with Russian Railways, and is being sold for 199 rubles.  Apple argued that it should not be held responsible for infringement, as the agreement between Apple and its app developers states that the developers are obligated to secure the use of third party copyrights.

Putin Secretly Honors 300 Journalists For 'Objective' Crimea Coverage

Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly gave out awards and medals to more than 300 media workers for their "objective" coverage of events in Crimea, reported "Vedomosti," one of the few relatively independent newspapers left in Russia in its May 5 edition. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the decision to "The Moscow Times," adding, however, that the Kremlin did "not plan to [provide] any details about it." Putin quietly signed the decree on April 22, one month after formally sealing an internationally unrecognized annexation of Crimea. Quoting a source familiar with the document, "Vedomosti" reported that the journalists were honored for their "high-level professionalism" and "objective coverage of events in Crimea" as Russian forces took control of the Ukrainian peninsula. The newspaper noted that the decree was not published on the presidential website.

NATO: Russia Won't Invade Ukraine

NATO's top military commander, General Philip Breedlove, said he does not think Russia will invade Ukraine, adding that the Kremlin has other ways to achieve its goals. Breedlove told an audience in Ottawa, Canada on Monday that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin will keep doing what he is doing - creating unrest, discrediting the Ukrainian government and stirring up a separatist movement. He predicted that Moscow will keep a hold on eastern Ukraine without sending regular troops across the border. The NATO commander said he is that certain Russian special forces are in Ukraine. But he said that it is not known if they were the ones who shot down three Ukrainian helicopters with missiles last week. Earlier Monday, Ukrainian government forces fought gun battles with pro-Russian militants in the separatist-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, a day after pro-Russian protesters stormed the police station in the southern city of Odessa. Six people have been killed and around 100 wounded, said a Ukraine Security Service spokeswoman. Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a separatist source in Slovyansk as saying that 20 or more pro-Russian militants had been killed in the fighting. Also, a Ukrainian military helicopter was shot down near Slovyansk on Monday, but the pilots survived, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Odessa Detainees Freed as Police HQ Attacked

More than 60 people arrested over Friday's violence in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa have been freed by police after protesters attacked the main police station. Several hundred pro-Russian protesters besieged the police headquarters, breaking through windows and doors. The clashes on Friday left more than 40 dead, mostly pro-Russian separatists killed in a building fire. Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has accused the police of failing to prevent Friday's unrest. He has ordered a full investigation, saying that the violence was "part of a plan fomented by Russia to destroy Ukraine" and that Russia's aim is  “repeat in Odessa what is happening in the east of the country." Ukrainian troops are carrying out operations in the east to wrest control of government buildings from pro-Russia separatists.

Dozens Killed in Odessa Fire amid Clashes

At least 31 people have been killed in a fire in an official building amid violence in Odessa in south-west Ukraine, the interior ministry says. The deaths came as pro-Russian protesters clashed with Ukrainian government supporters in the city. Officials said some people were overwhelmed by smoke and others died after they jumped from the building. Earlier President Oleksandr Turchynov said many separatists had been killed in a government offensive in Sloviansk. Activists have seized scores of government buildings and detained observers in eastern Ukraine. The fire broke out in Odessa's Trade Unions House, the regional office of Ukraine's interior ministry said. It did not give details of how the blaze started. The exact sequence of events is still unclear, but reports suggest the separatists had barricaded themselves inside the building and both sides were throwing petrol bombs. The interior ministry gave a toll of at least 31 dead, revising down an earlier tally of 38 killed.