- An apartment complex owned by the Russian government in Stockholm has been sold in a foreclosure auction. What does this mean for foreign investors fighting expropriation?
- The latest Snowden leak shows that the NSA, via it's partner in Australia, has violated attorney-client privilege of a U.S. law firm. Is the "Five Eyes" alliance being used to circumvent constitutional protections against U.S. surveillance against its own citizens?
TODAY: Medvedev signs ban on gay marriage adoptions; Putin backs Egyptian military chief for president; Lavrov to meet with German counterpart; Pamfilova new rights ombudsman; IOC wants clarification on activist sentence; Plushchenko retires from figure skating; golden parachutes limitation does not go far enough; Lenta prices IPO.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a government resolution that will impose restrictions on the adoption of Russian children by citizens of countries that have legalised same-sex marriage. President Vladimir Putin publicly wished victory to Egypt’s military chief, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, with his bid at the presidency – even though al-Sisi has yet to announce that he is even running. The chief’s visit to Russia was an opportunity for Putin to indirectly criticise American influence in the foreign policies of other countries, and gives a broad indication of increased cooperation between the two in defence and arms cooperation. A U.S. analyst dryly noted that Russian assistance would spare Egypt any ‘lectures on human rights’. A survey by a U.S. pollster indicates that Americans’ opinions of Russia are at their lowest in twenty years. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with his German counterpart in Moscow today. Russia is ‘counting on Ukraine’s return to the integration process’ with its customs union, according to a Kremlin official. Putin has nominated Ella Pamfilova – an outspoken Kremlin critic – as his new human rights ombudsman.
TODAY: Embassy slams gay hate crime documentary and denies homophobia, despite evidence; Egypt close to sealing arms deal; Sochi activist jailed for three years; Dozhd lawsuit dropped; Lukoil pulls out of Vietnam project; Yukos lawsuits continue.
A British documentary about attacks on homosexuals in Russia carried out by neo-Nazi group ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ has been slammed as ‘well-timed and cynical propaganda’ by the Russian embassy, which also denied the existence of a hate crime epidemic. But the attacks have been well-documented, as explained in this piece, which calls on the authorities to investigate those who have been filmed baiting and victimising gay Russians. A European NGO says requests for asylum from Russia’s LGBT community have increased eightfold in recent months. Environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko is to be jailed for three years in a case that is widely seen as political, a punishment for Vitishko’s outspoken criticism of and campaigning against the Sochi Olympics. Vitishko’s sentence follows an earlier vandalism charge, after he spray-painted the fence of a lavish property that he said was built illegally on national park land. But Vitishko’s supporters say he was harassed by the authorities – the act which finally led prosecutors to decide that he had violated his parole was swearing in public.
TODAY: Dozhd’s closure is due to ‘censorship’, says head; Sochi construction workers granted back wages compensation; Deripaska puts positive spin on stray dogs story; cancer suicide patient blames incompetent administration; Pussy Riot row continues, released pair plan to run for office; Otkritie fraud ruling.
A Russian media expert says the closure of independent television channel Dozhd has nothing to do with its incendiary Leningrad poll and everything to do with the channel’s support, since its inception, of various oppositional causes, and that the final decision on Dozhd’s closure will depend entirely ‘upon the will of one person’ (i.e., Vladimir Putin). At present, Dozhd has lost 80% of its television audience, and its general director says the channel is the victim of ‘censorship and pressure’. Following an investigation by the International Olympic Committee, the Moscow Times is reporting that over 6,000 workers from 500 different construction companies building Olympic facilities in Sochi have received compensation for unpaid wages. A separate source says only 200 workers had been owed back wages. One of the more negative P.R. stories coming out of Sochi – that hundreds of stray dogs in the area are being exterminated – will have a happy ending, after billionaire Oleg Deripaska pledged to build an animal shelter. Residents of Timokhovo, a small down east of Moscow, are complaining that their local river has turned black from pollution. Read More
TODAY: Suspected Sochi terrorist arrested in Turkey; Putin watches figure skaters take first gold; opening ceremony lauded as ‘gayest’ ever; Bitcoin crackdown; forty detained in Dozhd support rally; Galina Shirshina interview; new diplomatic row with U.S.
A Ukrainian man was arrested in Turkey over the weekend after allegedly trying to hijack a flight that he thought was bound for Sochi, as President Vladimir Putin watched his country’s figure skating team win Russia’s first gold medal of the Olympics. Of the opening ceremony, which included a historical segment portraying the period of Stalinist industrialisation as ‘relentless progress’, gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev commented that ‘it was the gayest [Olympics] opening in history!’ The Guardian called it ‘elegant, mesmerising and occasionally surreal’. The ceremony passed with only a minor hitch, when one of the five Olympic logo rings failed to open. Producer Konstantin Ernst advises, however, that ‘It would be ridiculous to focus on this ring that never opened.’ Pictures of unfinished facilities and ramshackle hotels are doing the rounds, after the hashtag ‘#sochiproblems’ appeared on Twitter, but this piece attempts to break through some of the hysteria and discuss the deeper issues at play.
TODAY: Putin legalises unpopular court merger, opens Olympics will call for world peace; Ban Ki-moon condemns Russian homophobia; Pussy Riot distance themselves from Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina; yogurt row with U.S.; VTB and Rostelecom merge.
What better time to push through an unpopular piece of legislation than the first day of the Olympic games in Sochi? President Vladimir Putin signed into law yesterday the merger of Russia’s top two courts, the Supreme Arbitration Court and the Supreme Court. The planned merger has been unpopular with business and legal experts alike, who see the Arbitration Court as one of Russia’s few remaining uncorrupt institutions. Putin marked the opening of the Games yesterday by calling for world peace, invoking the ‘Olympic truce’ for ‘participants in all of the armed conflicts’. Olympic Organizing Committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko praised Russia for setting a ‘wonderful example’ for future organisers. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, condemned Russia’s persecution of gay people in his speech to the International Olympics Committee yesterday. Yelena Klimova, whose website defends the rights of LGBT teenagers, will not be investigated for spreading ‘gay propaganda’, after the extremely unpopular decision was reversed. RFE/RL looks at the Western media’s response to the Games, in pictures. Google has changed its logo to a rainbow-coloured Olympics tableau.
TODAY: Sochi events begin, but is Russia ready? Second Sochi ecology activist jailed; authors pen open letter against homophobia; Dozhd, nationalism, Pussy Riot.
The first events of the Sochi Winter Olympics are due to take place today (the slopestyle competitions precede tomorrow’s opening ceremony) but Russia still shows signs of not being quite ready. A few notable world leaders are giving the Games a miss, notes this piece, which argues that ‘many in the west have been put off by controversy’. Igor Kharchenko is the second ecology activist to be jailed in Sochi this week. A number of foreign athletes say they plan to protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws during the Games, following protests staged yesterday in various cities around the world in solidarity with Russia’s LGBT community. An open letter signed by over 200 of the world’s leading authors (including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Jonathan Franzen) demands that Russia repeal its anti-free speech measures. Prosecutors in the Volga region are investigating a children’s book in their local library for potentially breaking the ‘homosexual propaganda’ law by discussing same-sex marriage. American organization Human Rights Campaign is urging U.S. President Barack Obama to name an openly gay replacement for his outgoing Russian ambassador Michael McFaul.
TODAY: Putin begins Sochi visit with snuggles, insists that Sochi ecology has improved as a result of construction; activists denied Olympic access; Nemtsov whistleblowing on Gazprom; cases against bloggers double; U.S. ambassador steps down; Syria opposition calls on Kremlin to restrain Assad; TNK lawsuit.
President Vladimir Putin began his visit to Sochi by cuddling a baby leopard. ‘We liked each other,’ he said (of the leopard). Ironically (given extensive damage to the local environment carried out during building preparations), Putin said that Russia ‘ha[s] restored parts of destroyed nature’ by restoring the population of the Persian leopard in honour of the Games. Indeed, he denied that construction works had caused any local damage or pollution, asserting that ‘the ecological situation in the area has improved [...] by some indicators, four times’. The New York Times reports that several political activists have already been denied the Olympic passports that grant access to the Games. Boris Nemtsov, in a Parnas exposé, is accusing Gazprom of wasting billions of dollars on useless transportation infrastructure – the South Stream pipeline in particular. The human rights organisation, Agora, says the number of criminal proceedings against bloggers in Russia more than doubled last year. St. Petersburg NGO the Freedom of Information Foundation has filed a complaint against official calls for it to register as a ‘foreign agent’.
TODAY: Naftogaz unlikely to pay its Gazprom bill on time as Kremlin slams Ukrainian opposition; Putin had vision of Sochi over a decade ago; environmental activist detained near Sochi; Lenta plans London listing; Dozhd satellite drop amounts to closure; school siege in Moscow; homophobia murder, LGBT teenager found guilty.
Politically-embattled Ukraine currently owes Gazprom $3.3 billion in unpaid natural gas bills, and Naftogaz says that unpaid bills from its own customers mean that it will likely fail to pay its neighbour on time. Russia is urging Ukraine’s opposition, who are calling for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, to end their ‘ultimatums and threats’. The New York Times points out that ‘the current crisis in Ukraine began because of Russian foreign policy’, and offers some predictions of potential signs of escalating tensions between the two once the Olympics commence. President Vladimir Putin ‘personally chose’ the exact location for the Sochi Games during a vision twelve years ago, he says. Much of Sochi still looks like a work in progress, observers say. Journalists who have already arrived in the region say their hotels are not ready for guests. Anti-Olympics environmental campaigner Yevgeny Vitishko, a member of the regional group Environmental Watch, was detained by police in a town near Sochi yesterday. Read More
TODAY: ‘Homosexual propaganda’ law leads to new charges; anti-gay gangs on patrol; Chernyshenko backs off on gay protest warning; Navalny seeks permission to visit Sochi; Russia and E.U. in ‘deadlock’; thousands protest for Bolotnaya Square detainees.
The creator of an online support group for Russia’s LGBT teens has been charged under the new ‘homosexual propaganda’ law, following a complaint by a St. Petersburg lawmaker, who also wants her website to be shut down. Footage shot for U.K. documentary show Dispatches portrays the activities of anti-gay gangs such as ‘Occupy Pedophilia’, who lure their victims online, arrange meetings, and then attack or humiliate them. ‘They all believe they are doing the right thing.’ The Observer urges athletes to stage anti-homophobia protests at the Sochi Olympic Games, which begin this Friday. Olympics organising head Dmitry Chernyshenko backtracked on earlier comments about press conference protests after International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, issued a reminder that the IOC, and not the Russians, makes the rules. Anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been unable to leave Moscow since his July conviction, is requesting permission to visit Sochi during Games. A WSJ piece on Olympics investors say that Sochi is a special case in that ‘[t]he main investment criterion is not return on investment. It’s political loyalty.’ The Washington Post places the Games amidst a series of foreign and domestic failures, the latest among them being a reported mass slaughter of stray dogs.