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

TODAY: Fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, despite truce; new war doctrine could establish NATO as main threat; Ukrainian clergyman says Putin under devil’s spell, accusations of clergy helping rebels; Novatek granted export licence; Medvedev calls for tighter energy security; Estonia a new front?

In defiance of Friday’s OSCE-negotiated truce, fighting continued in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, at first on a smaller scale than previously, and then on a larger scale in Mariupol and Donetsk on Saturday night, with one death, and both sides blaming each other.  Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko expressed mutual satisfaction with the ceasefire on Saturday.  Mary Dejevsky is holding out hope for the truce: ‘A central question is whether the latest shelling signifies bad faith on the part of Russia or actually demonstrates, as Moscow has insisted, that its control over the separatist fighters is less than western governments believe.’  Russia’s new war doctrine, currently under renovation, could re-establish NATO as Russia’s primary threat.  Patriarch Filaret, a top Ukrainian clergyman, likened Putin to Cain, and said he has fallen under the spell of Satan.  The New York Times looks at evidence that the Orthodox Clergy has been assisting rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine; and quotes Filaret as saying that Russian Orthodox head Patriarch Kirill is too close to the Kremlin.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 5, 2014

A Ukrainian army vehicle is seen against smoke from separatist artillery fire near MariupolTODAY: Situation in Ukraine volatile ahead of ceasefire; Mariupol battered by shelling; journalist awarded posthumous medal; France says Mistral deal could go ahead on certain conditions; Ukraine candy ban. Pussy Riot’s Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina launch news agency; gay rights activist seeks asylum abroad.  

Heavy shelling has been witnessed in the area of the Mariupol port in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian forces attempt to push back an attempt by rebels to take the strategic port on the sea of Azov.  The port is crucial for steel exports and would leave Russia in control of the coastline.  This is just hours before a ceasefire, long in the making, is to come into effect. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has expressed cautious optimism about the truce, though he has reportedly surprised NATO officials by revealing that, while NATO was not furnishing Ukraine with weapons, at least one country, whose name he did not reveal, was providing Kiev with armaments.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in comments made at the September 4-5 NATO summit in Wales, asserted that there is a consensus among NATO members that there cannot be a military solution to the crisis in Ukraine.  A Russian TV crew from REN-TV television channel has reportedly come under fire in Donetsk.  President Putin has signed a decree to posthumously award the late Rossiya Segodnya photographer Andrei Stenin with an Order of Bravery.  Is Russia trolling NATO on Twitter with toy tanks?  The MICEX continue to show signs of recovery thanks to reports of the truce.

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Amsterdam & Partners Takes on Holocaust Restitution Case in Austria

imVdkNTNGLTYThe following press release was distributed to media today:

Amsterdam & Partners LLP Acting for Mr Stephan Templ in Kafkaesque Austrian Criminal Case

London, 4 September 2014

The firm of Amsterdam & Partners has been retained by Stephan Templ after his conviction by an Austrian court.

Mr Templ, an Austrian citizen, has been sentenced to three years in prison for “defrauding the Austrian Republic” following a restitution claim for a share of a 19th-century hospital in Vienna that was seized by the Nazis in 1938.

Mr Templ has been an outspoken critic of Austria’s poor post-war record of returning art and property confiscated from Viennese Jews during World War II.

A 2000 treaty between the U.S. and Austria pledged the return of Nazi-looted property to owners and their heirs. Mr Templ was found guilty based on his failure to name his aunt in his application for restitution.

“This is a case that cries out for justice. For an Austrian court to convict and sentence to jail a Jewish citizen under these circumstances echoes back to a very dark period of history. The importance of addressing institutional discrimination cannot be stressed enough.” Robert Amsterdam said.

Amsterdam & Partners considers that the entire logic behind Mr Templ’s conviction to be flawed. It is unclear how the Republic can lay claim to property that is acknowledged to have once been stolen and has since given back to the heirs of the rightful owners.

In light of the multiple factual and legal errors in the prosecution of Mr Templ, he is appealing to the Austrian Procurator General with a request to reopen his case and seeking redress at the European Court for Human Rights.

Amsterdam & Partners is representing Mr Templ on a pro bono basis.

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

TODAY: Putin drafts Ukraine peace plan – not ‘ceasefire’; allegations of Russian military on the ground in Ukraine; France pulls first Mistral delivery, Australia bans uranium exports to Russia; Putin forges ties in Mongolia; Medvedev says renewal of Kiev energy talks depends on debt repayment.

Early formulations of a new seven-point peace plan with Ukraine, drafted by President Vladimir Putin ‘on an aircraft’ on the way to Mongolia, have emerged, immediately boosting Russian stocks and the rouble.  The Times says one such plan was quickly deemed unsatisfactory by the government in Kiev and met with suspicion and scepticism elsewhere.  Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk believes the proposal was part of an effort to conceal Moscow’s true intentions and sabotage negotiations at this week’s NATO summit in Wales.  But there are conflicting reports about whether such an agreement exists, and in what form. The Kremlin says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko agreed with Putin on a peace plan, but that it could not be factually termed a ‘ceasefire, as it was by Poroshenko’s press office, because Russia ‘is not a party to the conflict’.  According to The Guardian, members of the Russian military have been involved in fighting over the past two weeks, explaining Ukrainian fighters’ latest change of fortune in battle: ‘the[y] have suddenly found themselves fighting the regular Russian army’.  France says it will not complete its planned delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia because of Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine, and added that it would be ‘intolerable and unacceptable’ if it were true that Russian forces are on Ukrainian territory - though Russia says it has yet to receive notification of such news.  Australia has also announced punitive measures, saying it is banning exports of uranium to Russia as a punitive measure; it is thought the move will not actually have any impact, as Russia satisfies its own demand for the fuel with domestic production.

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

TODAY: Russia to upgrade military doctrine in response to NATO expansion; Estonia supports expansion, hosts pointed Obama visit; Czech Republic objects to proposed EU sanctions; Gazprombank hires U.S. senators; Putin gives cosmodrome another $1.3 billion; Crimea shuns gay population. Rosinter supply chain damaged by import ban.

In response to NATO’s plans to build new bases and increase its European clout this year, Russia will update its military doctrine, not updated since 2010 (the last time it perceived NATO enlargement as a threat).  Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of wanting to ‘strengthen the position of the party of war in Kiev’.  Estonia wants NATO to develop a visible presence in eastern Europe in order to create a deterrence ‘strong enough so it will become unthinkable for Russia to go beyond [Ukraine]’.  U.S. President Barack Obama has stopped in Estonia on his way to this week’s NATO summit in Wales, ‘to send a message to the Russians that their behavior is unacceptable’.  Continued fighting in the region into 2015 could cost Ukraine another $19 billion, says the IMF.  Georgy Bovt states the obvious: ‘The cloud of misinformation has reached such proportions that now very few people have a clear understanding of what is really happening in Ukraine.‘  Reuters evaluates the possible outcomes of Europe’s plan to bar investors from buying new Russian sovereign debt, giving the latter roughly a year to ‘run on empty.  The Czech Republic has expressed objections to the European Commission’s draft of new sanctions against Russia.  Gazprombank has hired two former U.S. senators to lobby against the sanctions currently hampering it.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 2, 2014

TODAY: Lavrov denies military intervention as Ukraine accuses Russia of launching a great war; Putin says he could take Kiev in two weeks; ruble hits record low, tourism suffers; Russia turns to China in face of soured relations with West; McDonald’s charity in Russia may come under fire; Kremlin witch hunts.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has again denied that Russia would even entertain the possibility of military intervention in Ukraine, defying reports and accusations by sources all over the world, including Kiev itself. The latest comes from President Petro Poroshenko, who yesterday accused Russia of ‘direct and undisguised aggression; and his Defence Minister, who accused Russia of launching ‘a great war that, he predicts, will end in tens of thousands of deaths.  Lavrov says the main priority at this point is a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the crisis.  President Vladimir Putin said direct negotiations’ are the next key step, but he also boasted to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper that he ‘could take Kiev in two weeks […] if I want’.  The ruble hit a new record low following allegations of Russia’s direct military involvement in Ukraine; and tourism in St. Petersburg is also suffering.  Is Kazakhstan next on Putin’s hit list?

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 1, 2014

TODAY: Putin calls for talks about eastern Ukraine’s ‘statehood’, and political organisation; U.S. calls for arming of Ukraine; E.U. to expand sanctions further; NATO announces new base locations;  Yabloko lawmanker beaten unconscious in Pskov; Ketchum still holds Russia account; Rosneft Arctic investment plans; Beslan ten years on.

In a new interview broadcast on Russian state television, President Vladimir Putin said he wants Kiev to enter talks with Moscow on ‘statehood’ and ‘political organisation for south-east regions of Ukraine, sparking fears that such a ‘vague and provocative turn of phrase’ heralds new, aggressive territorial moves; although his spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quick to deny that Putin was calling for a separate state or sovereignty: ‘The president was talking about inclusive talks’; Peskov also emphasised the official view of the crisis as ‘a domestic Ukrainian conflict’.  Putin also said that Moscow would not stand aside whilst people are ‘being shot at almost at point blank’ in eastern Ukraine.  Attending an event at a youth camp last week, Putin painted Ukraine as the unequivocal enemy, comparing its military’s actions in eastern regions to the Nazi siege of Leningrad during WWII.  Putin is now in Yakutsk, waiting to take part in a ceremony marking the beginning of construction on a gas pipeline to China.  U.S. officials at this point are in favour of arming the Ukrainian government, a bid to help it fight what it is now calling ‘a Russian invasion.  The E.U. says it will expand its current Russia sanctions by the end of the week.  NATO has announced the locations of its five new bases aimed at protecting against the threat from Russia.

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

TODAY: Kiev, NATO say Russian troops have begun direct invasion; soldiers in eastern Ukraine are on ‘patriotic holidays’, says state television; Obama considers response, rules out military action; world leaders to hold emergency meetings; FBI investigation shows Russian hackers behind JPMorgan attack; Putin’s approval rating drops slightly; Rosneft privatisation plans unchanged.

NATO says Russia now has over 1,000 troops in Ukraine, calling the current situation ‘a severe escalation’.  Kiev says Russia has begun a ‘direct invasion’, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko citing deliveries of ‘huge loads of arms; and the Prime Minister called on Europe and the United States to freeze Russian assets in punishment until troops are pulled out. The Defense Ministry continues to deny the presence of Russian military units in Ukraine; viewers of state television in Russia were told that some Russian soldiers are fighting with rebels in eastern Ukraine – but that they were only there on ‘patriotic holidays.  The U.S. responded to the news by openly accusing Russia of sending combat forces into Ukraine, but fell short of using the word ‘invasion; President Barack Obama has ruled out military action, and is considering imposing further punitive economic measures.  In the mean time, Bloomberg wants to know why no anti-Russia sanctions as yet have targeted Gazprom.  The U.S. national security council, U.N. security council, NATO, and E.U. leaders are all holding emergency meetings this week.

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Kim Dotcom, Glenn Greenwald, and Robert Amsterdam

The flyer for the upcoming event in New Zealand on 15 September featuring Kim Dotcom, Glenn Greenwald, and Robert Amsterdam:

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

TODAY: Russia accused of launching new military offensive in Ukraine just days after optimistic meeting; troops may have been paid to join military operations in Donetsk, says Kremlin rights council; more McDonald’s restaurants closed in Moscow; Moldova celebrates new gas pipeline to independence; journalist Krutov beaten – again.

Ukraine accused Russia of launching a new ‘stealth’ military offensive in its eastern territory yesterday, importing more arms and seizing several villages.  This move comes in spite of conciliatory remarks made by President Vladimir Putin after his meeting with Petro Poroshenko earlier this week, leading the Obama administration to accuse Russia of lying about its intentions.  ‘The pattern has become a familiar one: Putin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea after saying he had no intension of doing so.’  German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded an explanation from President Putin by telephone, emphasising Russia’s responsibility for de-escalation.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia is not interested in ‘confrontation with the West.  Kremlin human rights council member Ella Polyakova speculates that Russian troops may have been paid $7,000 each to take part in military operations in Ukraine.  Russian courts are backing Rospotrebnadzor’s order to temporarily close three McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow for breaking sanitary rules, with Russian businessmen linking the crackdown to the Ukraine crisis and deteriorating relations with the U.S.; eight of the chain’s outlets have been closed across Russia in recent weeks.

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