RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 20, 2014

Shukhov tower. Image shot 2006. Exact date unknown.TODAY: Deportation ruling upheld for U.S. NGO worker; Udaltsov ends hunger strike; activists unmask owners of fake diplomas; Foreign Ministry makes most of U.S. problems in Ferguson.  Putin to meet with Poroshenko next week; military exercises in Astrakhan; Shukhov Tower reprieve.

U.S. citizen and NGO consultant Jennifer Gaspar faces deportation after a St. Petersburg court upheld a verdict from the migration authorities which labelled her a threat to national security; the case, critics say, is motivated by her husband’s work as a human rights lawyer.  Imprisoned opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov has ended his nearly one-month hunger-strike, amid growing concerns for his health.  The Moscow Times reports on the work of Dissernet, an organisation which exposes high-ranking degree holders who bought their dissertations on the black market.  Migrant laborers in Moscow are gearing up for a mega rally this fall to call for an end to their ‘slavery‘.   The Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights, democracy and rule of law commissioner, Konstantin Dolgov, has used the troubles in Ferguson, Missouri to indicate that the U.S. should tend to its own affairs rather than intervening in the ‘internal affairs of other countries‘.   Read More »

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Historical Memory in Thailand and Guatemala

red-shirts-thailand-victims-iccMy latest op/ed in Foreign Policy Journal explores some of the similarities between Thailand and Guatemala’s experience with coups, and the subsequent struggle to achieve historical memory.

The topic of historical memory has long been a core theme among many Red Shirt groups, and it’s a issue of vital importance to many countries which have experienced tragedy and civil war. But specifically, the comparative case with Guatemala that has struck my attention for its similarity to Thailand in recent days while reading the excellent book “Paper Cadavers” by the Canadian academic Kirsten Weld.

On the surface, there is very little that connects the tiny Central American republic of 15 million to the Southeast Asian juggernaut of 67 million people, with completely different societies, economies, and political systems. But what Guatemala and Thailand share is fascinating: a common history of repeated, violent military coups and heavy U.S. involvement as a result of the Cold War, creating a lingering distortion in each nation’s political culture.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 19, 2014

Russia says no ceasefire but Kiev’s objections to relief convoy droppedTODAY: Dozens killed as Ukrainian refugees hit by rocket attack; responsibility lies with rebels, says Kiev; talks do not yield ceasefire; rock star riles Kremlin with Ukraine stance. Russia Today launches searing poster campaign; Statoil-Rosneft cooperation continues despite sanctions.

Dozens of civilians, including children, were killed yesterday when a convoy carrying refugees was hit by rocket fire near the eastern city of Luhansk.  Pro-Russian rebels and government forces blamed each other for the attack, which occurred between the towns of Svitlivka and Khrashchuvate.  Fifteen bodies have so far been recovered from the wreckage.  Talks in Berlin between the two countries’ foreign minsters have failed to yield a ceasefire.  Nonetheless, ‘behind the rattling sabres, the Russians appear to have stepped up their efforts to reach some diplomatic resolution‘, says analyst Mark Galeotti.  Could a resolution depend on military advances for leverage?  Rock star Andrei Makarevich of Time Machine has been branded an enemy of Russia after performing for IDP children in Donetsk Oblast and openly criticising the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine.  Crimea’s political integration into Russia should be sealed with local and parliamentary elections taking place in September, says the Crimean Ministers’ Council.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 18, 2014

Russian mechanics work on an Arctic Trucks all-terrain vehicle, based on the Lexus LX570 car, at an assembly shop of the Arctic Trucks Russia plant in KrasnoyarskTODAY: Ukraine peace talks underway in Berlin; agreement apparently reached on aid convoy; Ukrainian jet shot down.  More Bolotnaya suspects found guilty; Siberian independence rallies thwarted by police; Kremlin to consider ban on import of Western cars. 

Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers are currently in Berlin along with German counterpart Frank-Walter-Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius for talks over ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.  ‘Some progress‘ was noted by the German Foreign Minister.  ‘Five hours of most difficult talks. But we’d need several five-hour [talks] to see any progress‘, tweeted Ukraine’s top diplomat Pavlo Klimkin.  Significantly, the foreign ministers did reach an agreement on the delivery of humanitarian aid, approved by the Red Cross, to southeastern Ukraine.  This comes after a turbulent weekend; on Sunday pro-Russia rebels shot down a Ukrainian MiG-29  fighter jet and at least ten civilians were killed and another eight wounded in the Ukrainian army’s shelling of Donetsk.  On Friday, Ukraine claimed to have destroyed a column of Russian military vehicles in the east.  In a Youtube video Alexander Zakharchenko, Prime Minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, announced he had 1,200 fighters ‘trained in Russia‘ under his command as well as 30 tanks.  These claims have been denied by the Kremlin.  Ideas propagated by a leading Russian nationalist, ‘have become to an extent practically the principal line of Russian foreign policy‘. Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 15, 2014

TODAY: Kremlin cancels live feed of Putin’s ‘peace-minded’ Crimea speech; disputed convoys heading for eastern Ukraine as violence intensifies in Donetsk; Rosneft seeks loan, struggles with sanctions; Ukraine restricts Russian airlines; import ban to be made official in October.

The Kremlin unexpectedly canceled the live feed of President Vladimir Putin’s much-hyped speech in Crimea yesterday; and the video of the speech released afterwards contained no audio.  The speech saw Putin adopting a softer tone than usual, vowing to halt violence in eastern Ukraine and generally demonstrating ‘a more peace-minded stance’.  The Moscow Times says the speech had a ‘reconciliatory’ tone, and that it argued against excessive confrontation with the West.  Russia’s disputed humanitarian convoy is now ‘heading straight for rebel held areas’ in Ukraine, after apparently pausing last night to let a number of military vehicles across the border into Ukraine. Donetsk ‘is starting to resemble a war zone’; gas and electricity infrastructures have been devastated, and the U.N. says the region’s death toll has nearly doubled in the past two weeks to over 2,000.  The hacking of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Twitter account is under investigation, after a series of satirical tweets were posted, including one announcing his resignation due to embarrassment. Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 14, 2014

TODAY: Impasse over ‘humanitarian’ convoy; Moscow authorities plan raids to monitor import ban; Putin begins Crimea visit amidst support for Crimea and Ukraine policies; Japan protests Kuril military exercises; Usmanov is top donor.

It is still unclear how Ukraine will deal with the 280 repainted military trucks attempting to bring Russian humanitarian aid across its borders, though as of last night the convoy had not turned back and was thought to be halted at a military base in Voronezh.  This report says it is still on its way to Rostov, with a further group rumored to be heading for Kharkiv. It is expected that Russia’s suspension of alcoholic drinks from Ukraine will not affect domestic prices.  Naftogaz says planned Ukrainian sanctions will not necessarily be targeted at Gazprom.  Moscow authorities will test the new produce import ban with target raids on supermarkets.  The ban was not followed by other CIS customs union countries, notes the Moscow Times – proof that the union is far from being ‘a genuine economic alliance’.  Vera Kichanova writes about the new, harsher laws threatening ordinary citizens who protest against the government.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 13, 2014

Putin_phoneTODAY: Ukraine refuses entry to Russian aid; Red Cross states it has not certified the vehicles; missing Russian photographer found, under arrest; Egyptian President lands in Sochi; Japan outcry over war games on Kurils; Usmanov sells stake in USM; Putin phone.

Amid fears of a Russian presence in separatist-held territory, Ukraine has said it will not allow the 280 Russian trucks reportedly carrying aid for the war-torn east to enter its territory, arguing that any such cargo should be handed over on the border.  Despite the aid mission supposedly being a joint effort with the International Red Cross, the organisation has said it has not certified the convoy and has no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going.  ‘Russian bloggers quickly pointed out that the automobiles appeared to be repainted versions of green Russian military trucks’.  Moscow’s previous humanitarian missions do not set a hopeful precedent.  Ukraine’s Interior Ministry has announced that Andrei Stenin, the Russian photographer who has been missing in Ukraine since August 5, has been arrested on suspicion of aiding terrorists‘, prompting outcry from Russia’s human rights council.  Could the Kremlin and the West reconcile their differences over Ukraine in the fight against radical Islam?  Read More »

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Robert Amsterdam in Forbes: When Anti-Corruption Becomes Corrupted

What is the quickest way to put an end to a bribery prosecution? By paying a bribe, of course.

Although it may seem like something out of a satire, this is precisely what happened in Germany this week, when a Munich Court agreed to a staggering $100 million settlement to discontinue a prosecution against Formula One owner Bernie Ecclestone over the alleged bribery of a banker.

We will never know whether or not Mr. Ecclestone was guilty or innocent of the charge, but the incident has done much to highlight some of the fundamental conflicts existing in current anti-corruption enforcement worldwide, where the accused are almost always presumed guilty, and the defense counsel are getting used to settling instead of fighting.

Like many laws born out of politics, anti-corruption has become alarmingly mired in ambiguity, abuse, and misapplication.

In the United Kingdom, the introduction of the Bribery Act, in conjunction with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), means that now essentially the globe is covered with a bundle of vague principles and unfettered prosecutorial discretions that leaves multinational businesses dangerously exposed.

Continue reading the full article by Robert Amsterdam in Forbes.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 12, 2014

_76887631_76883635TODAY: Russia and Red Cross aid mission to Ukraine agreed with Kiev; some powers remain dubious about implications of Russian presence; Kasparov thwarted in chess bid; one in nine Russians hope to emigrate; Night Wolves dance for Putin.

A Russian convoy of up to 280 trucks carrying humanitarian aid is reportedly heading for Ukraine, after Ukrainian authorities agreed to allow Russia and the Red Cross to deliver humanitarian cargo.  This comes after concerns from the West that delivering aid may serve as a pretext for military intervention; these fears are, it would seem, still alive at the European Commission and at NATO.  Moldova’s foreign ministry has urged Russia to withdraw its 1,500 troops and weapons from the separatist pro-Russian enclave of Trans-Dniester.  According to preliminary data, Russia’s GDP rose by 0.8% year-on-year in the second quarter.  Given that the average Russian spends a considerable 32% of their budget on food, the likely impact of the ban on Western agricultural imports is making life for the country’s own citizens harder, argues this op-ed. Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast, August 11, 2014

5430-03-Filonov-Pushka-relax-07TODAY: Russia looks to prevent food price hikes following import restrictions; new law bans anonymous wifi access in public; dacha activism; Garry Kasparov fights Kremlin for FIDE role.  Donetsk on verge of being recaptured by Ukraine, reports say; Putin-hosted Karabakh talks yield little; Russia-West energy cooperation stays strong.

Having introduced a year long ban on half its agricultural imports from the West, Russia may negotiate a price control agreement with domestic food producers to stop speculative price increases that might have an impact on inflation.  Moscow’s fine-dining elite and its zoo animals are likely to suffer from the restrictions which will benefit alternative suppliers Belarus, Turkey and Brazil.  A threat that Australia will ban supplies of uranium have been rebuffed by Rosatom, which claims Russia has enough of the element for 100 years.  Russia has banned anonymous access to the Internet in public places; Bloomberg notes the irony in how Putin chose to introduce this measure.  The Moscow Times reports on a new kind of activism drawing attention to the nexus of wealth and power: ‘daching‘.  Chess master-turned-Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov has found himself up against the regime in his bid to win the presidency of FIDE.

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