TODAY: Gazprom boosts its media assets; bloggers charged; Azarov says Ukraine decision made at Putin meeting; police end Italian journalist gay rights demonstration; Politkovskaya delays are due to perpetrator’s power, says journalist; ‘Angolagate’ arrest; Abramovich investing $1bn in Skolkovo; giant suitcase offends deputies.
State-run Gazprom’s media arm purchased the Profmedia bundle of media assets from Vladimir Potanin for an undisclosed sum. A Russian journalist commented that the deal, which gives the Kremlin control of seven television channels, makes it ‘look a lot like Mediaset [Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire]’, given that Gazprom already owns considerable media interests. An anti-Kremlin blogger, charged with promoting extremism for retweeting a call to destroy the property of corrupt officials, has been assigned a $1.3 million debt, supposedly in order to freeze his bank account. Another blogger was sentenced to one and a half years for writing insulting blog posts about a judge. Mykola Azarov, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, says his country made its decision to abandon plans to forge a trade agreement with the E.U. at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin who, Azarov says, demanded a say.
TODAY: Tymoshenko protests Ukraine decision with hunger strike; EU says won’t force Ukraine to take sides, denies Russian victory; Moldovan wine ban; Kremlin bans abortion adverts; Putin meets Pope, says will relax tax case bill; Mechel granted waiver; gay club attack; Semyon Ariya dies, aged 90.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is protesting Ukraine’s decision to re-open dialogue with Russia by commencing a hunger strike, whilst the European Union vowed not to pressure Ukraine to choose sides, and responded to news of continued anti-government protests in Kiev by denying that Russia had scored a geopolitical victory: ‘The vector for European integration is irreversible … and the current protests are cementing that vector.’ Newsweek says Ukraine is crucial for Putin ‘in establishing his dream alliance and restoring Russia to its former Soviet glory’. For Ukraine, it’s a question of numbers: ‘Exports to Russia in 2012 of $17.6 billion outstripped those to the whole of Europe including non-EU states.’ All eyes are on upcoming energy talks to see whether Ukraine’s expensive gas contracts with Gazprom will be revised. The spurious argument for banning imports of Moldovan wine is an ‘arm-twisting tactic’ driven by the upcoming Vilnius summit at which Moldova is expected to sign agreements with the European Union, says The Economist. Activists are unimpressed by a new law banning advertisements for abortion. The Russian Direct Investment Fund agreed a $1.35 billion investment deal with an Italian state fund. Rumour has it that Putin is going to give Silvio Berlusconi a diplomatic passport (as Russian ambassador to the Vatican) to rescue him from a tax fraud conviction. Putin sat down for a chat with the Pope yesterday to discuss Syria, but the two avoided the subject of relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Church.
TODAY: Kiev and Moscow to discuss gas contract as Ukrainians protest return to Russian influence; Serbian South Stream section underway; state giant price freezes; disappearing state funds; Greenpeace, Bolotnaya Square, Sochi.
‘Tens of thousands’ of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev yesterday to protest the government’s decision to re-open dialogue with Russia and abandon its planned trade agreement with the European Union: ‘We already were under Russian rule for hundreds of years.’ But the move is already proving effective – according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, Kiev has finally secured a meeting with Moscow to review their existing gas contract. President Vladimir Putin accused the E.U. of ‘pressure’ and ‘blackmail’ in the wake of Ukraine’s decision, but defended Russia’s stance, saying that Russia would have had no choice but to restrict Ukrainian exports if it had gone ahead with its E.U. deal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to speak to Putin about the Kremlin’s pressure on former Soviet Republics in response to their efforts to forge ties with Europe: ‘We’re going to have to speak with Russia so that there isn’t always this situation where it’s either/or.’ How will Europe cope with the high volume of Russian diesel that is due to flood its market once Russia’s new distillation units are ready for use? The Serbian section of the South Stream natural gas pipeline is underway, as the President praised the project: ‘Russian gas is the realization of Serbia’s energy dream’. Bloomberg discusses Vladimir Putin’s plan to freeze prices at powerful state companies like Gazprom, starting next year, in a widely unpopular bid to boost efficiency. The FT slams Russia’s ‘innocuous-sounding projects such as the “customs union” [which] have only one aim: pass sovereignty to Russia and destroy competitive industries in the neighbourhood.’ Read More
TODAY: Ukraine turns its back on Europe and resumes dialog with Russia; Moldova to follow? Sechin is Russia’s highest-paid executive; further financial organisations may lose licenses; Ikea under fire over ‘homosexual propaganda’ issue; A Just Russia deputy attacked.
In ‘a major victory for Russia’, Ukraine has abandoned its plans to forge closer ties with the European Union, with cabinet officials urging ministries to resume active dialog with the Russian government. A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said that Russia welcomed the news; the leader of Ukraine’s opposition said that failure to sign the planned deal with Europe would be ‘state treason and grounds for impeachment’ of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. The Swedish Foreign Minister blamed Russia’s tactics: ‘Ukraine government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin. Politics of brutal pressure evidently works’; and the U.S. State Department says it is ‘disappointed’ with the news. But the Deputy Prime Minister says good relations with Russia are crucial for production. Will Ukraine’s retreat from the E.U. make it harder for Moldova to resist the same pressure? The country, says the BBC, is ‘reeling’ from Russia’s wine import ban.
TODAY: Putin meets with non-parliamentary oppositions, speaks out against homophobia; Bolotnaya Square detentions extended, further Greenpeace activists released; Alyokhina to file appeal; FSB ‘practicing’ for Olympic terror screening; lawyers protest courts’ merge; Baumgertner to be extradited.
For the first time since coming to power, President Vladimir Putin met with his non-parliamentary opposition to discuss topics for his yearly state-of-the-nation speech next month – including the motion to announce a broad amnesty of ‘political prisoners’. Putin promised to study Vladimir Ryzhkov’s list of 70 such prisoners, cautioning, ‘[W]e cannot create a nervous atmosphere in society that tomorrow some criminals will be freed.’ Putin has called for an easing of the ‘torrid of hatred’ directed against Russia’s LGBT community (‘people of non-traditional sexual orientation’). Seven more Greenpeace activists were released on bail yesterday, bringing the total number of detainees down from 30 to eleven. (The Guardian says 20 have been granted bail thus far.) The Bolotnaya Square protesters’ detentions have been extended for a further three months by a Moscow judge. The FSB is using critics of the Sochi Olympics as ‘practice targets’ in its preparatory anti-terrorism drills, says the Moscow Times, after outspoken environmentalist Dmitry Shevchenko was questioned for four hours at Krasnodar airpot on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group. Read More
TODAY: Bail offered to six more Greenpeace activists; Bolotnaya Square case to be heard in ECHR; Gaga’s ‘gay promotion’; legal reform causes outrage. Billionaires discontented; suspicious dealings see bank license revoked. Lebedev launches investigations; documentary films.
Russian courts have now granted bail to six more Greenpeace activists incarcerated following a protest over Arctic drilling, meaning nine are now on bail, though the organisation’s head remains concerned about ’what conditions our friends will endure when they are released from jail’. An ambulance has been called to a Moscow court where the opposition Bolotnaya Square rally activists are on trial. The Russian government will be called to question on the case by the ECHR by January of next year over various rights abuses, a lawyer for the protesters has announced. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has lambasted the EU for placing ‘unforgivable pressure‘ on Ukraine to enter into a trade pact. A court has ruled that Lady Gaga fell foul of the gay propaganda law when she performed in St Petersburg last year. Amnesty International has released a statement arguing that the work of more than 1,000 NGOs is being endangered by the ‘foreign agents’ law. In an unusually public act of dissent, lawyers from over 80 law firms have published an open letter criticising a new Kremlin measure which would undermine the ‘most progressive branch of Russia’s judiciary’.
TODAY: Three Greenpeace activists granted bail, others may have detentions extended; court cages and Putin’s textbooks under fire; Navalny’s party will not be registered; Mutko says Kremlin should have waited to implement ‘gay propaganda’ law; Merkel warns Russia against further Ukraine pressure.
A St. Petersburg court granted bail to three of the 30 Greenpeace crew members detained since September (all of them Russians). Colin Russell, the Australian activist who remains in detention, says his human rights have been ‘violated very, very badly’. State prosecutors want the remaining detainees’ incarceration extended by three months. Six activists were detained on Red Square yesterday for protesting ‘in defense of political prisoners’. Lawyers say Russia’s use of court cages, which has recently come under new scrutiny, is an obstacle to ‘maintaining equal rights in the courtroom’. Masha Gessen unpicks the current popularity of the hooliganism charge. President Vladimir Putin’s whitewashed school textbooks are drawing criticism from those who see it as a ‘vanity project to boost Putin’s political standing’; Vladimir Rhyzhkov says the textbooks’ ‘common thread’ is ‘the intrinsic value of the state’. Amnesty International published a piece by Lev Ponomaryov on the law that requires internationally-funded NGOs to register as ‘foreign agents’.
TODAY: Plane crash in Kazan kills 50; Red Square protest artist charged with hooliganism; Pussy Riot’s philosophy. Onexim will purchase Kerimov’s stake in Uralkali; Mechel debt; Duma intervenes on gas exports; Navalny heads up People’s Alliance party.
A Boeing 737 has crashed on landing in the Tatarstan capital of Kazan, killing all 50 people on board. Pilot error, technical issues, difficult weather conditions and bad fuel are all possible causes. Irek Minnikhanov, the son of the Tatarstani President Rustam Minnikhanov, was among those who died, as was Alexander Antonov, the chief of the regional branch of Russia’s Federal Security Service. It has been reported that Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova may spend the rest of her two-year prison term in the Siberian prison hospital to which she was admitted following a hunger strike. The Guardian offers extracts from the activist’s correspondence with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, in which she expounds the theoretical basis for the group’s work. Petr Pavlensky, the artist who nailed his scrotum to Red Square in protest at the ‘police state’, has been charged with hooliganism and faces a prison term (of up to 5 years) or a fine. Journalist Masha Gessen describes her experiences as an openly gay woman in a Russia here. With stories like this one a not-unusual occurence, it is perhaps unsurprising that Gessen plans to emigrate. Read More
TODAY: Russia and Egypt poised to make military deal; Gazprom increases pressure on Ukraine; Khodorkosky appeal; Politkovskaya jury dismissed; Pavlensky investigated; Tolokonnikova in hospital; emotional Putin; Beatle demands freedom for Arctic 30.
Relations with Egypt are on the verge of a dramatic shift: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Cairo for high level and potentially ‘historic’ talks, aiming to develop military cooperation and a possible $2 billion arms deal. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy denied that his country is looking for an alternative to U.S. support and that Russia is too important to be a substitute, despite the talks following hot on the heels of America’s decision to suspend most of a billion-dollar military aid package. One analyst commented, ‘It is clear that Russia is trying to capitalize — politically, militarily and economically — on the United States’ disengagement with Egypt.’ Another suggested that any deals brokered will only be able to go so far: ‘The only thing Russia really has to offer Egypt […] will be weapons.’ The BBC looks at Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East, country-by-country. Gazprom says Ukraine will not have enough gas in its reservoirs to guarantee supplies to Europe this winter, calling the situation a ‘catastrophe’. The Times says Ukraine may be forced to cancel its planned trade deal with Europe and fall back under the Kremlin’s influence, partly because it has not been able to secure the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
TODAY: Ukraine says harmony with Russia a priority but gas price row continues, Finland getting a deal; military cooperation with Servia, arms deal with Egypt; U.S. cancels helicopter deal; newspaper may have broken ‘gay propaganda’ law; inaugural meeting of Magnitsky commission; Kashin files complaint; ballerina alleges Bolshoi extortion.
Ukraine’s Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky has confirmed that his country, still protesting the high price of Russian gas imports, intends to manage without any further purchases from Russia until 2014. But Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov says that fixing Ukraine’s relationship with Russia is his government’s top priority. Business leaders in Ukraine are reportedly getting cold feed about their country’s planned agreement with the E.U., a source of ongoing tension with Russia. Finland meanwhile has revealed the terms of its gas deal with Russia – at considerably lower rates than other those paid to Russia by other European countries; Finland’s import prices are 50% indexed to oil and other domestic energy prices. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed a military cooperation agreement with his Serbian counterpart. Egypt and Russia are poised to strike a $2 billion arms deal today, marking the disintegration of both Cairo and Moscow’s relations with the U.S., which has just canceled its plans to buy more helicopters from Rosoboronexport. ‘At last, Egypt will be somewhat liberated from American stupidity.’ Duma lawmaker Mikhail Degtyarev compared the U.S. dollar to a Ponzi scheme, and says he wants it banned.