RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 29, 2014

TODAY: Hague tribunal orders $50bn Yukos payout, Lavrov hints at appeal; U.S. accuses Russia of violating Cold War nuclear arms treaty; Pussy Riot seek compensation; West expected to issue further sanctions in wake of MH17 crash; British lawyers preparing to sue Putin; geckos found in space.

As expected, a tribunal in the Hague ordered Russia to make a $50 billion payout to former shareholders of oil company Yukos, having ruled that the state had purposefully sought to bankrupt it. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the company’s former CEO, welcomed the ruling as ‘fantastic, but said he hoped the money would come from the state, and not from ‘the pockets of mafiosi linked to the powers that be’.  The ruling saw a decline in Russia’s RTS index; oil major Rosneft says the case will not affect it or its assets.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow may launch an appeal of the decision.  A legal academic in the UK told RFE/RL that there is no appeal mechanism for the decision, only a possibility to challenge the final sum; he also said that ruling could take at least ten years to enforce.  The U.S. has accused Russia of violating a 1988 Cold War treaty regulating nuclear weapons, and is calling for Russia to ‘eliminate any prohibited items’ and engage in immediate bilateral talks. It remains unclear which terms of the treaty have been violated.  Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are seeking damages from Russia in their case before the European Court of Human Rights – in the sum of €120,000 each, plus legal fees – in compensation for their two year imprisonment.

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$50 Billion Yukos Ruling Could Change Russian History

The ruling handed down today by the Arbitration Tribunal of The Hague awarding $50 billion in damages to Yukos shareholders for the expropriation of company represents one of the most important judicial events in recent history.

The tribunal’s ruling not only represents one of the largest ever against a sovereign, but the decision also cuts to the core of the corrupt structure of the current administration in the Kremlin, where the instruments of state power were manipulated as part of a “devious and calculated expropriation,” featuring not only a merciless persecution of the shareholders but also a rigged auction to place the prized assets of Russia’s most successful company in the hands of Rosneft.

At the very center of President Vladimir Putin’s state the Tribunal has found a terrible criminal act upon which much of the state’s power and influence was corruptly built.  This ruling has the potential to serve as precedent for many other cases of abuses of state power by Russia (from unlawful arrests to corporate raids to shutting off gas supply, etc.). I would say that the ruling resembles the beginning of the end of Russian impunity.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 28, 2014

TODAY: Hague court expected to announce $50 billion Yukos payout; rumours circulating of a Kremlin split; U.S. releases images of alleged bombing of Ukraine by Russia; Germany calls for freeze of ex-pat oligarch assets; British MP wants World Cup hosting taken away from Russia; Interior Ministry wants information on anonymous web surfers; non-violent pride protest in St. Petersburg.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will announce today that Russia must pay $50 billion to former shareholders of Yukos, having ruled that Russia has infringed an international Energy Charter covering legal issues for energy investments, according to a Kommersant report.  A German article says it has evidence of a Kremlin power struggle that has emerged in response to Western sanctions, with a number of officials reportedly wanting to withdraw support for President Vladimir Putin over business concerns.  Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin estimated that Russia’s economy ‘would collapse within six weeks’ if sanctions were to be imposed against Russia’s entire finance sector.  The Foreign Ministry says it interprets expanded E.U. sanctions as a sign of scaled down cooperation over issues of international security.  The U.S. State Department has released satellite images of blast marks that, it says, prove that rockets were fired from Russian into Ukraine in the last seven days.  Over 40,000 refugees from Ukraine have fled to Russia’s Rostov region since conflict with Ukraine began.  The food safety watchdog has imposed a ban on all imports of Ukrainian dairy products and products containing dairy; cheese is Ukraine’s 10th largest export to Russia.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 25, 2014

Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov waits to attend a court hearing in MoscowTODAY: Sergei Udaltsov found guilty in Bolotnaya Square protests; Putin’s approval ratings reach a high; IMF forecasts weaker growth.  Russia denies missiles launched on its territory against Ukrainian fighter jets; Kremlin disapproves of U.S. South Korea plans; Canada announces sanctions. 

Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and activist Leonid Razvozzhayev have been found guilty of organising mass riots at the anti-Putin Bolotnaya Square protests in a trial human rights groups have labelled a ‘mockery of justice‘.  Udaltsov has now gone on hunger strike in protest against the 4 and a half year prison sentence.  Reuters examines the phenomenon of middle class emigration from Russia, which is reportedly rapidly increasing.  Despite the MH17 disaster dealing a blow to Putin’s international image, his approval ratings have reportedly risen to a six-year high, to 86%, according to a state-run poll.  Pundits like broadcaster Dmitry Kiselyev of Channel One, the subject of this report, are helping to keep the President’s image polished.  The IMF has slashed Russia’s economic growth forecast for 2014-2015 to 0.2% from 1.3% for 2014 and to 1% from 2.3% for 2015.

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‘Oligarchs’ Are Not a Unitary Class

Allow me a moment to register shock and disdain for the front page of today’s Times of London, which broadly declares, “Cameron Under Pressure to Punish Putin Oligarchs,” lending to other misleading coverage ramping up unchecked Russophobia in Britain in response to the horror of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

We have seen before the dangers of labeling ‘oligarchs’ as a class unto itself, when in fact we are speaking about a diverse group of individuals of varying political orientations and values. In fact, it was Mr Putin himself who began the attack on oligarchs in much the same manner when he took power, seeing many of these individuals as an unwanted counterweight to his ability to rule Russia as an authoritarian state with no competing pillars of influence.

With articles like these, the Times does little service to itself or its readers by labeling many of Russia’s best and brightest as “Putin’s men.” Not every wealthy Russian is an appendage of Putin’s murderous machine, nor is every so-called ‘oligarch’ as intimately involved in state affairs as Igor Sechin, for example (who, by the way, receives the most polite reverence by British Petroleum).

Firstly, there are several generations of oligarchs who made their wealth during different periods in Russia’s development. There are those who have funded opposition parties and publications, and have worked hard to provide Russia with the smallest breath of oxygen in her civil society, for whatever that’s worth.

The indignation over what has happened in Ukraine is legitimate, and a serious coordinated response is necessary. Let’s be clear – this is an unspeakable horror that has changed the course of European history. But lumping together all Russians for punishment – even those who have done absolutely nothing wrong – will only help the hawks in the Kremlin consolidate their position as the “besieged fortress” requiring protection from the outside world.

At such an important moment, the Times could do better to distinguish between those responsible and related to the actual events.

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MH17 and the Legal Theory of Control

Writing on Opinio Juris, Jens David Ohlin raises the important issue of the theory of control in international law given the possibility of Russia’s involvement (or the “creating of conditions,” as phrased by Washington) and what level of responsibility there can be for the activity of the rebels.

If this story is true, it reveals how important the debate is, in international jurisprudence, between competing theories of control. This might seem like an obvious point, but the current situation in the Ukraine (vis-à-vis Russian influence) may stand at precisely the fault line between “effective control” and “overall control” – the two competing doctrines of attribution in international law.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 24, 2014

Coffin carried, MH17 victim at Eindhoven, NetherlandsTODAY: Rebels admit owning Buk missile system; still lay the blame on Ukraine; two fighter jets shot down in eastern Ukraine; Russia asserts sanction impact negligeable; EU mulls measures against Russia, rifts likely to thwart sanctions drive. Concerns over climate for media workers in Ukraine; NGO foreign agent law claims new victims.  In an interview with Reuters, Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander Khodakovsky has acknowledged that separatists have in their possession the Buk anti-aircraft system suspected to have shot down MH17, but blamed Kiev for the incident on the basis that it knew that the missile was in separatist-held territory and ‘did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians.’  Two Ukrainian Sukhoi fighter jets have reportedly been shot down in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russia rebels, just 16 miles from the MH17 crash site.  The White House sees this latest move as evidence of a systematic campaign by separatists using Russian weapons against aircraft.  Ukraine’s Security Council believes the military jets were hit by missiles launched from Russia itself.  The volume of weapons Russia is channelling to Ukraine’s East suggests it is ‘trying to create a proper military force‘, says an analyst in the FT.  A group of U.S. senators have proposed designating the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic a ‘foreign terrorist organization‘.  Alexander Borodai, the head of the aforementioned Republic has said that bodies of victims of the MH17 disaster were not kept in refrigerated conditions because the OSCE representatives failed to arrive at the crash site promptly.  The blackboxes from the flight have reached the International Civil Aviation Organization in good condition.     Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 23, 2014

TODAY: Putin blocks ad income for independent television channels, ends Gazprom pipeline monopoly; MH17 an accident, but U.S. still blames Russia; Litvinenko snub canceled out by British exports and oligarch party donations; Kudrin advises against military intervention in Ukraine; Russia to rebuild Crimean military; Moscow metro head fired.

President Vladimir Putin signed so many bills into law yesterday that it called for a list; one of the new measures will cut off income to independent television channels by banning advertising on subscription channels – excluding ‘compulsory’ state channels.  Another of Putin’s orders could reduce the dominance of Gazprom over the country’s exports by ending its monopoly over access to pipelines in Siberia and the Far East.  It is thought that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down accidentally, but the U.S. nonetheless blames Russia for ‘creating the conditions that allowed the crash to happen.  Western powers are sending mixed messages regarding their position with Russia: Britain’s plan to hold a public inquiry into the death of former FSB official Alexander Litvinenko amounts to ‘an open snub’ to Russia, says the Moscow Times.  But despite this, and Britain’s fears about violence by pro-separatist rebels in Ukraine, the U.K. is still exporting millions of dollars worth of arms to Russia, and its prime minister is under fire to return hefty party donations from Russian oligarchs.  France is defying the wishes of its U.K. and U.S. allies by confirming its plans to deliver a warship to Russia.  The European Union has decided it will expand sanctions against Russia to target Putin’s inner circle, but as yet has taken no concrete steps.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 22, 2014

TODAY: Putin fails to apologise for airplane tragedy; Obama calls for Putin intervention as rebels hand over MH17 black box; unpredictability of Ukraine crisis scares investors; new sanctions threatened as officials say existing restrictions may affect Rosneft privatisation plans; Germany says sanctions affect its companies; Severstal pulls out of U.S. market.

President Vladimir Putin came somewhat close to apologising for the Malaysian Airlines plane crash in his conciliatory video statement yesterday, making vague statements about how the tragedy should bring people closer together, and that the event should not be used as a platform for political spectacle.  But not close enough, says The Times: ‘The “s” word is difficult for Russians, as it implies for them a loss of face.’  The downing of the plane ‘gives the lie to the idea that Mr. Putin is some kind of strategic genius,says the Financial Times, listing a series of what it sees as the President’s ‘blunders’ regarding Ukraine.  Mary Dejevsky says the crash must have been ‘an acute political embarrassment’ for Putin.  U.S. President Barack Obama is urging Putin to intervene directly with rebels to ensure cooperation with the investigation, promising Russia’s further isolation if a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis is not found.  Following 12 hours of negotiations, the black box recorders from flight MH17 were handed over to Malaysia by the leader of the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, who again blamed the Kiev government for the crash.  Russian print media have continued also to make similar allegations.  The unpredictability of Russia’s situation – and fear of an open war with Ukraine – is spooking investors, says Reuters.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 21, 2014

TODAY: Separatists deny access to crash site; Kerry blames Russia, Russia blames Ukraine, Ukraine blames Russia; oligarchs want Putin to back off on Ukraine; Russia to retaliate against U.S.; Putin enjoys growing approval ratings; Moldovan fruit ban comes into effect.

Armed separatists in eastern Ukraine are continuing to deny access to international observers attempting to reach the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.  US Secretary of State John Kerry has increased pressure on Russia, accusing it of being responsible for supplying and training the separatists who caused the crash. Kerry said that major supplies moving into Ukraine from Russia over the past month included rocket launchers, and that it is ‘pretty clear’ that the system that downed the plane ‘was transferred from Russia’.  All of Russia’s pro-Kremlin media sources insisted, with varying angles, that Ukraine’s government was responsible for the crash – and some reports, apparently are trying to implicate the US.  Ukraine’s Security Council says Russia is continuing to send ‘heavy weaponry into eastern Ukraine to supply separatists.  Russia Today slammed the Western media for ‘unleashing a post-crash factless blame game against Russia’ in the immediate aftermath of the crash.  The New York Times says that separatists fighting in Ukraine ‘have always had the vocal support of high-ranking Kremlin officials’.  Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has thus far remained silent regarding the crash.

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