• John Key’s Dirty War Against Kim Dotcom

    John Key’s Dirty War Against Kim Dotcom

    Why would the Prime Minister of New Zealand develop a relationship with a hate-speech prone blogger? Inside the ugly defamation campaign against Kim Dotcom.

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  • Thailand: The Plot Against Democracy

    Thailand: The Plot Against Democracy

    The purpose of the document is alert the international community to the grave risks faced by Thai citizens who may be subjected to an unlawful coup and removal of the elected prime minister. There are serious concerns of a repeat - or worse - of the 2010 massacres of protesters ...

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  • Putin’s War Driven by Domestic Motives

    Putin's War Driven by Domestic Motives

    Is this a new Cold War? Is this a rational decision on behalf of Putin to reinforce Russia's security? Or is it more a matter of domestic political survival as the driving motivation behind the seizure of Crimea?

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  • The Unlawful Persecution of Nigeria’s Central Banker

    The Unlawful Persecution of Nigeria's Central Banker

    The Nigerian government's attempt to pin a criminal case against its former Central Banker Lamido Sanusi after he exposed a multi-billion dollar corruption scheme reeks of political motivations.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 10, 2014

TODAY: Russia says West is overreacting regarding fears of a Ukraine invasion; Kiev halts gas imports from Russia, E.U. aims to diversify supply by 2020; Russia and China approaching energy deal; Putin ups economic pressure on Ukraine; companies concerned that Ukraine crisis will damage business; Vnesheconombank under investigation; VoA blocked.

Russia says Western concerns over its military presence on its shared border with Ukraine are ‘groundless, and insists that it poses no threat: ‘Russia has said several times that it is not conducting any unusual or unplanned military activity on its territory near the Ukrainian border.’  Political analysts and Kremlin allies agree, saying that Russia’s plans for Ukraine are more subtle than invasion, and constitute a long-term aim to keep the country under its economic and military influence. ‘A federal structure will ensure that Ukraine will not be anti-Russian.’  Kiev has promised to expel pro-Russian protesters from its government buildings today if they will not leave voluntarily.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s suggestion that Gazprom shift to an advance payments system for Ukraine’s gas supplies was blocked by Vladimir Putin; Ukraine has halted its natural gas imports from Russia, citing Gazprom’s ‘aggression and saying that it will not resume receipt of deliveries until a price agreement is reached.  Europe says it is beginning to put together new measures to reduce by $18 billion its natural gas imports from Russia by 2020.  The crisis in Ukraine is forcing Russia to look eastwards, says Bloomberg, as Gazprom and China come closer to reaching a ‘landmark’ 30-year gas deal that is expected to be signed in May once prices have been agreed.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 9, 2014

TODAY: U.S. says Russia planting agents in Ukraine as pro-Russian protests hit more cities; South Stream pipeline could fall victim to sanctions; ministers to meet on Ukraine crisis next week; Sweden says it fears Russian aggression; Novosibirsk fines cinemas; ‘foreign agents’ law upheld; Clinton meets Pussy Riot; urgent means required to rescue economy. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the Russia-Ukraine situation as ‘more than deeply disturbing’, alleging that Russia is making ‘ham-handed’ and ‘transparent’ efforts to stir dissent by planting agents in Ukraine.  Tensions in Ukraine have spread beyond Crimea to Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk (also known as Lugansk), and Kiev is sending tanks to Luhansk to defend against a possible armed attack after protesters allegedly stormed a regional security department and seized weapons there. Kiev still blames Russia for fomenting dissent, and Nato is warning Russia that further intervention in Ukraine would be a ‘historic mistake, reiterating its call for the pulling back of troops from the border.  Kazakhstan is seeking alternative routes for its oil exports in the event of harsher sanctions against its Russian ally; the South Stream pipeline may be another victim of Europe’s wrath.  Estonia says more economic sanctions would hurt European countries, but might be a necessary way of getting the message across: ‘We should not accept, by any means, invading other countries.’  A meeting of Russian, U.S., E.U. and Ukrainian ministers will be held next week to address the crisis.  Swedish security services say they are fearful of a war with Russia after intelligence communications indicated more attempts to recruit spies: ‘You don’t carry out these kinds of things unless you can actually conceive carrying out an attack in the future.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 8, 2014

TODAY: Donetsk declares itself a republic, sets date for referendum on joining Russia; U.S. and Russia accuse each other of fomenting dissent; Kerry threatens Lavrov; VKontakte founder retracts resignation, says share sale was illegal; Medvedev turns against GMOs; Novosibirsk elects Communist mayor; Ukraine misses Gazprom debt deadline; Sochi committee congratulates itself.

A referendum on joining Russia will be held in Donetsk, Ukraine on May 11, where anti-government protesters are calling in the meantime for the protection of Russian ‘peacekeepers and, according to some reports, have declared the city a people’s republic.  The State Duma says it is considering sending a delegation.  The White House says it has ‘strong evidence’ that pro-Russian demonstrators in Ukraine are being paid; President Vladimir Putin in turn made his own accusations about the West using NGOs to fuel dissent in Russia, and alleged that security forces foiled hundreds of foreign spies in 2013.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with ‘further costs’ in the event of further actions in Ukraine.  This is a prime moment for Putin with Ukraine, says the WSJ: ‘Never again will the administration in Washington be so inept, its threats so hollow.’  Any further sanctions imposed on Russia by the E.U. could actually damage the German engineering sector, says trade body VDMA.  Six activists were detained near the Kremlin yesterday for holding ‘invisible posters’.

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Video: Speech to Red Shirt Rally in Thailand

This weekend I spoke via Skype to a rally of hundreds of thousands of Red Shirt activists in Bangkok, who had come out to show support for the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra against the pending threat of her removal by a judicial coup. The video of the speech is below, with my part starting around 9:20.

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QOTD

Referring to a public rally last month in which Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke in front of a banner reading “Crimea is in my heart,” [Swedish Foreign Minister Carl] Bildt said, “You have to ask yourself, what else is in his heart?”

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 7, 2014

TODAY: Pro-Russia protesters storm Ukraine government buildings, Kiev blames Putin; Nato urges members to boost armed forces, Georgia and Azerbaijan worried; Merkel says E.U. ready with sanctions; Yatsenyuk rejects new Gazprom prices; Bush paints Putin.

Ukraine’s acting president, Olexander Turchynov, called an emergency meeting after pro-Russian rallies in the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Lugansk ended with protesters storming regional government buildings, and reportedly demanding a referendum on joining Russia.  (Some footage is available here.) Ukraine accused President Vladimir Putin of ‘order[ing] and pa[ying] for the latest wave of separatist disorder.’ The Times called the protests ‘an echo of the demonstrations that preceded last month’s annexation of Crimea’.  The Secretary-General of Nato says its members countries must boost their armed forces to protect against the threat of Russian aggression.  Both Georgia and Azerbaijan are reportedly worried about Russia’s next moves: ‘Azerbaijan’s position is complicated by the fact that it […] has pursued an independent foreign policy.’  Surrounding regions need U.S. support, says this piece.  Europe’s foreign ministers met in Athens to discuss the crisis, concluding that Russia needs to defuse tensions, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the E.U. would make good on its promise to introduce tougher sanctions if Russia makes any further moves into Ukrainian territory.  U.S. intelligence is apparently unable to predict Putin’s next moves, with further action widely expected but difficult to foresee.

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DOJ Continues to Obstruct Access to Megaupload Data

Interesting post over on Tech Dirt about the case against Kim Dotcom’s former company, Megaupload. The U.S. Department of Justice continues to have no answer for the millions of users whose data was seized on Megaupload’s Virginia servers. This conduct of course raises many questions about the motivations behind the government’s case, and who exactly they are serving.

The whole situation is bizarre. Individuals who had legitimate content stored on Megaupload are still asking for access to get back their content, but the DOJ doesn’t seem to care at all. In fact, it’s coming up with increasingly bizarre excuses to justify shutting down an entire business based on the entertainment industry’s say so, and seems to have no qualms about how many people this has created massive problems for.

As the Aereo case is about to be heard, and various concerns about its impact on cloud computing are being raised, people should look over at what’s happening with Megaupload’s servers and be even more concerned. If the broadcasters succeed in redefining what is a “public performance,” it’s entirely conceivable that the DOJ could choose to do the same to other cloud services you rely on — and there seems to be no recourse whatsoever.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 4, 2014

TODAY: Russia raises Ukraine gas price for the second time this week; Ukraine vows to respond to and defend against Russian aggression, blames Russia for protester deaths in February; Ryabkov tells U.S. to chill out over Crimea; recession looms, economy contracted in 2014; music labels suing Vkontakte for piracy; JPMorgan to process disputed payment.

In a move widely seen in the West as politically motivated, Russia has hiked the price that Ukraine pays for its gas for the second time this week, creating an overall price rise of 80%, or $100 more per 1,000 cubic meters.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev justified the action by saying it was in line with Russia’s termination of agreements with Ukraine on the Black Sea Fleet.  Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk says the price rise is ‘absolutely unacceptable’, but anticipates that Russia will only continue to raise energy pressures for Ukraine, and eventually begin to limit gas supplies.  Yatseniuk also vowed that Ukraine would retaliate against any Russian aggression: ‘If Russia wages war, we will defend our country’.  A billboard in Ukraine’s Donetsk bids ‘goodbye’ to Russia, in advance of a planned anti-Russian action on April 12.  The head of Ukraine’s security service partially blames Russia for the killing of more than 100 protesters in Kiev in February.  Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested that the U.S. should ‘come to terms with the new situation’ in Crimea by replacing its ‘childish tantrums’ with ‘yoga.  Russia is on the brink of recession; its economy contracted during the first three months of this year, according to a new survey of purchasing managers, indicating that Russia was experiencing economic troubles before Crimea, and that the current international backlash will only prolong stagnation.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 3, 2014

TODAY: Nato commander warns of imminent and swift Ukraine invasion; Foreign Ministry accuses alliance of reviving Cold War; NASA bans contact with Kremlin reps; capital flight continues; Moscow ups arms deliveries to Syria; Lavrov wants international recognition for Russia’s aid donations; Russian Railways corruption scandal brewing; Putins finalise divorce.

Nato military commander Philip Breedlove has warned of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling Russia’s troops a ‘very capable and very ready force’, and suggesting that large areas of Ukrainian territory could be taken in a matter of days.  The New York Times says the ‘sleek, new’ troops lining Ukraine’s border exhibit various signs of having recently undergone an upgrade.  The Foreign Ministry described Nato’s decision to suspend cooperation with Russia as reminiscent of ‘Cold War sword-swinging.  One Nato official suggested that the alliance ‘may have had an overly optimistic view of Russia for many years’.  Repercussions of the Crimea annexation continue: NASA members have been banned from contacting Kremlin representatives; Western banks are tightening payment procedures for steel and grain deals; the U.S. has suspended a number of bilateral projects with Russia and plans to transfer its funding to Ukraine; and a new app to help Android users identify and boycott Russian goods is apparently gaining popularity in Ukraine.  Investors and capital in general are ‘fleeing’ from Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, says the WSJ.  Sergei Guriev laments the death of Russia’s economic growth, blaming the current situation on years of corruption and arguing that, in turn, the annexation of Crimea is a logical outcome: ‘[O]nce economic growth is gone, territorial expansion is an authoritarian regime’s tool of choice for […] holding on to power.’  A representative of Vladimir Putin tried to reassure young Siberian scientists that new housing incentives and high wages will put an end to the brain drain.  But what about the politically-driven outflows?  Pavel Durov’s exit from VKontakte, the social networking website that he founded, is raising questions about internet freedom.

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Guriev on Russia’s Corruption and Territorial Expansion

Sergei Guriev, the respected economist from Moscow’s New Economic School who was forced into exile last year, has published a new article in the Financial Times examining the relationship between Russia’s pervasive corruption and President Vladimir Putin’s recent interest in expanding and swallowing up neighboring territories.

In Russia, the social compact of the 2000s was based on economic growth of 7 per cent a year. Citizens were happy with a government that provided substantial material benefits, even if it curtailed democratic freedoms. This was supposed to last. When Vladimir Putin took up the presidency for the second time in 2012, he promised to increase government spending – pledges that were premised on projected growth of between 5 and 6 per cent a year.

But this social compact is no longer feasible. Last year growth slowed to 1.3 per cent. Independent forecasters expect the economy to shrink in the first two quarters of 2014, as does the World Bank. (…)

Recession means Russia’s government can no longer use money to buy public acceptance. Repression and propaganda have to take up the slack. In these circumstances, nothing could be more helpful than a small and victorious military adventure. Tangible victories – no matter how small or how costly – boost the ruler’s popularity. It is not surprising that Mr Putin’s approval ratings now stand at 80 per cent.

Scary stuff. A small group of corrupt elites willing to risk the lives of millions to protect what they have stolen. Welcome to modern Russia.

 

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