• 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 – March 31, 2014

TODAY: Lavrov and Kerry talks deadlock; Russia promises no further incursions into Ukraine; Putin praises military actions in Crimea,  former adviser says expect more land grabs; Tatars opposed to annexation; FSB says sees more foreign threats; sanctions to affect London economy? Sochi renovations; Lukoil opens Iraqi field; Gorlatsky dies.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend to discuss the Crimea crisis, with the talks ending in deadlock, although Russia vowed that it will not send troops further into Ukraine.  (Video of Lavrov’s closing statements can be viewed here.) Lavrov says that Ukraine cannot function as a ‘unified state’ and should instead become a federation, with ethnic Russian regions granted autonomous powers; Kerry says that the 40,000-strong Russian troop build-up along the Ukrainian border is complicating matters and should be pulled back, and made it clear that the U.S. still considers Russia’s actions in Crimea to be illegal.  Lavrov says current sanctions are causing ‘no painful sensations for Russia.  President Vladimir Putin applauded Russia’s takeover of Crimea, saying that it demonstrates Russia’s military professionalism, and congratulated the military for preventing bloodshed.  The Moscow Times says the Crimea annexation amounts to an abandonment of the last 20 years of Russia’s foreign policy, and that it is unclear what Moscow hopes to gain.  A former advisor of Vladimir Putin says the President will not stop until he has taken control of Belarus, the Baltic states, and Finland.  Masha Gessen says Crimea is all about Russia’s plan to ‘remak[e] itself as the leader of the anti-Western world’.  Crimea’s Tatars, for their part, condemn the annexation, and are appealing to Western leaders for recognition as an autonomous group.

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

TODAY: Putin calls for defense against extremism, announces creation of payments system to replace Visa; U.N. rejects Crimea secession vote, region to get new constitution; U.S. bans military exports to Russia; Sberbank says it’s ready for zero growth; Rosatom says no change to Ukraine deliveries; Dozhd fighting for survival; Berezovsky death receives open verdict.

President Vladimir Putin called for an analysis of all of the colour revolutions and the recent Ukraine crisis as a means of defending Russia from the ‘tyranny’ of terrorism and extremism.  Putin also announced that Russia will create its own national payments system to limit reliance on U.S.-based payment networks Visa and MasterCard which have withdrawn their services as part of punitive sanctions over Crimea.  As the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution declaring Crimea’s secession vote invalid,  lawmakers in the region have begun drafting a new constitution that will incorporate it into the Russian system, and will turn its attention to the Crimean banking system next month.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called for the preparation of an initiative to make Crimea a special economic zone.  The U.S. has imposed a ban on licenses for military exports to Russia.  Sberbank says it has plans in place and will be able to cope if economic growth falls to zero due to sanctions. ‘[W]e don’t see anything coming at us from the horizon that can unseat us.’  The Kremlin may not be taking the sanctions seriously, but Russia’s oligarchs are; the Guardian reports that Russia’s richest are moving money out of Europe and into Singapore.

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John Key’s Dirty War Against Kim Dotcom

John Key Embarks On Pacific Islands Visit - Day 3In the best of circumstances, politics is not for the faint of heart. But in New Zealand, where a general election is planned for September 20, an ugly defamation war is taking place that would make Vladimir Putin blush.

Prime Minister John Key and his conservative National Party are gunning for a third consecutive parliamentary majority, apparently by any means necessary – including a smear campaign against my client, Kim Dotcom.

Interestingly, Key has developed a personal relationship with Cameron Slater of “Whale Oil,” a controversial blogger known most recently for insulting a grieving Maori family with a racial slur.

Last month, Key openly acknowledged that he holds regular private conversations with Slater. It was a surprising development. Why would Key associate with such a figure, and what is the nature of their relationship? It is not known what the arrangement may or may not exist between Key and/or National Party and Slater’s website, but there are numerous credible rumors surrounding Whale Oil’s pay-for-play policy, where ad nauseum attacks are available to the highest bidder. Kim Dotcom is hardly the first victim, and John Key appears the most natural one to benefit.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 27, 2014

TODAY: Economy will continue to suffer over Crimea crisis, World Bank predicts; Putin meets with Siemens chief, Egypt may join CIS customs union; Russian troops still amassing at Ukraine border; E.U. and U.S. united on sanctions against Russia, Obama outlines plan in Brussels; Crimea invasion a diversionary tactic? Berezovksy inquest.

The MICEX index is down 10% from before Russian troops entered Ukraine, and capital flight from Russia could hit $100 billion this year, according to a presidential aide - a relatively conservative estimate, by the World Bank’s account, which yesterday forecasted potentially record outflows of $150 billion in the event of a deepening Ukraine crisis.  Either way, the annexation of Crimea is only a temporary distraction from Russia’s struggling economy – Mikhail Dmitriev says that, without economic growth, the boost to Putin’s ratings will not last.  President Vladimir Putin met with the Chief Executive of Siemens in Moscow yesterday to discuss Russia’s ongoing (and 161-year-old) partnership with the company; Putin received assurance that Siemens wants to ‘maintain the conversation even in today’s politically difficult times’.  Potash producer Ukralkali has elected Sergei Chemezov – a ‘powerful ally’ of Putin – as its chairman.  Egypt has resumed talks (abandoned in 2011) to secure a trade agreement with the Russian-led CIS customs union, potentially expanding Moscow’s influence in a region where U.S. power is waning.  One Duma deputy says the suspension of broadcasts in Ukraine by four Russian television channels is ‘an infringement on democratic freedoms’; another wants Google investigated for labeling Crimea as part of Ukraine and not Russia.  Meanwhile Russia, despite assurances to the contrary, is continuing to build up its forces near the Ukrainian border.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 26, 2014

TODAY: Russia to spend emergency budget on Crimea, upgrade Black Sea fleet; Obama says Russia will not turn back on Crimea, warns against further action; U.S. seeks to boost energy output to hurt Russia; Duma wants to limit showings of American films; Tymoshenko urges violence in leaked audio; Kosenko verdict upheld; economist Mikhail Dmitriyev violently attacked.

Russia may need to use a minimum $2.8 billion of its emergency budget reserves to subsidise Crimea this year and avert an economic crisis, and a Moscow-based analyst is anticipating a renewal of the Black Sea naval fleet.  6,500 Crimeans have received Russian passports this past week.  U.S. President Barack Obama has made his first public acknowledgement that Russia is unlikely to cede control of Crimea, but said that the international community would never recognise the takeover.  Obama belittled Russia as a ‘regional power that invaded Crimea out of ‘weakness’, and warned President Vladimir Putin to stay out of Ukraine.  In addition to its current sanctions (shrugged off by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev yesterday), Congress is pushing to expand exports of natural gas in a bid to challenge Russia’s energy dominance.  Western business leaders are coming under pressure to send a message over Crimea by boycotting the upcoming St. Petersburg economic forum in May.  A new bill being drafted in the Duma seeks to limit the number of foreign films that can be shown in Russian cinemas, with a United Russia deputy arguing that American films ‘promote the stereotypes, national interests and values of the United States’.  At very least, diplomatic disagreements are not affecting space partnership: a team of astronauts and cosmonauts headed to the International Space Station yesterday.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 25, 2014

TODAY: Ukraine pulls out of Crimea; Lavrov shrugs off G8 exclusion; sanctions to cause $70bln in outflows; Sberbank may launch alternative payments system; professor sacked for opposing invasion; Afghan president voices support; Navalny loses house arrest appeal; arms exports to total $47bln.

As Ukraine acknowledged defeat and announced a military pull-out from Crimea, countries in the G8 group snubbed Russia for the first time in 16 years ‘to underline Russian isolation’ in the wake of the annexation; leaders promised to respond to any further Russian military action in the region with sweeping sanctions.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared relaxed about the exclusion, describing the G8 as ‘an informal club, with no formal membership, so no one can be expelled from it.’  U.S. President Barack Obama says Europe and America are united in support of Ukraine, and in ‘imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far’.  Moscow has banned over a dozen Canadian officials from entering Russia in retaliatory sanctions.  As investors respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is anticipating capital outflows of as much as $70 billion in the first quarter alone - more than total capital outflows for all of 2013.  German Gref, the head of Sberbank, says Russia soon will be capable of launching an alternative nationwide payments system to deal with the withdrawal of services by Visa and MasterCard from some Russian banks.  Bank Rossiya says transactions in rubles have not been affected by sanctions, but has warned customers not to make foreign currency payments into their accounts.  SMP Bank says roughly 9 billion rubles have been withdrawn since the announcement of U.S. sanctions last week.  A professor at the Moscow State Institution of International Relations has been fired after publishing an opinion piece for Vedomosti which criticised the annexation of Crimea.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 24, 2014

TODAY: Kiev, Nato and U.S. say Russia preparing to invade Ukraine; Kiev returns to E.U. deal; OSCE to send monitors to Ukraine; Belarus says annexation of Crimea a bad precedent; sanctions hit Russian economy, Kremlin retaliates; two killed at new Sochi resort.

Russia says it is in compliance with international troop limits on the border with Ukraine, but Nato’s top military commander claimed that Russia is massing troops on the Ukrainian border and that they are ‘very, very sizeable and very, very ready’; he suggested that Moldova’s Trans-Dniester region could be the next target.  Of the 18,000 troops initially stationed in Crimea, only 2,000 have left.  The White House yesterday warned of a full invasion of Ukraine, and said that troop buildup near the border ‘creates the potential for incidents’.  Ukraine’s foreign minister also says he sees the risk of war growing, and that Ukrainians are preparing to ‘defend their homeland’.  Local defence groups have formed in Ukraine’s Donetsk region to protect themselves as increasing tensions are felt.  A truce made between Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries last week has expired, leading to further Russian takeovers of Crimea’s remaining military bases, including the base in Feodosia this morning.  Ukraine, meanwhile, has taken up the remains of the abandoned E.U. deal that started the whole crisis.  World leaders are gathering in The Hague to discuss the situation.  President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel apparently agreed that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe will send monitors to Ukraine.  Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko accepts Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but said that it set a ‘bad precedent’.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 21, 2014

TODAY: Duma votes to annex Crimea; U.S. and E.U. both extend their original sanctions; Lavrov says Ukraine must become a federal state; Shoigu promises no further moves into Ukraine; Moscow looking towards Asia; Prosecutor General wants Navalny page banned.

Russia’s State Duma voted overwhelmingly in favour of a treaty to annex Crimea from Ukraine, and ratification will be completed later today. ‘From now on, and forever, the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol will be in the Russian Federation.’  Energy Minister Alexander Novak pledged to ensure Crimea’s power supply.  Having initially sanctioned an assortment of officials, and banned U.S. nationals from trading with Bank Rossiya, a Kremlin favourite (much to the delight of William Browder), the United States stepped up its economic sanctions against Russia.  One of the bigger names on the new list is Gennady Timchenko, a co-founder of oil-trading giant Gunvor, and one of the names previously suggested for an extended sanctions list by opposition favourite Alexei Navalny.  Russia denies the U.S. Treasury’s accusations that Vladimir Putin owns shares in the company.  The two are now engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, with Russia promptly sanctioning a group of nine U.S. officials in retaliation, most of whom have traded diplomatic insults with the Kremlin in recent years (and most of whom shrugged off or mocked the restrictions).  The E.U. also extended its original sanctions, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that there would be more to come if the situation in Ukraine were to escalate.  American business magnate George Soros says that Putin is ‘leading from a position of weakness’, and that he is persevering on a ‘self-defeating’ course.

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

TODAY: Russia takes control of Crimean naval bases; Ukraine alleges war crimes after soldier dies, plans withdrawal from Russia’s customs union; Navalny writes on how to punish Russia; Britain wants Europe to move away from Russian energy; E.U. and U.S. sanctions are widely criticised; Sechin buys up Rosneft shares.

Ukraine’s naval headquarters’ in both Sevastopol and also in Bakhchisaray were taken by Russian troops yesterday, with no casualties.  Click here for footage of the takeover.  Ukraine had already accused Russia of committing a war crime this week after a junior officer allegedly was killed by masked and unknown forces.  Ukraine has begun to dismantle its Russian ties, pulling troops from Crimea, planning to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and moving to implement entry visas for Russian visitors.  A letter to The Times unpacks the ‘myth’ of Crimea being a ‘gift’ to Ukraine in 1954: ‘In fact, Ukraine, at the request of the Kremlin, rescued Crimea, whose economy had been destroyed by war and whose native population had been deported by Stalin.’  Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has a piece in the New York Times, written from his current house arrest, advising that the most effective ways to punish Vladimir Putin would be to freeze oligarch assets and seize their property; and to crackdown on international corruption cases which implicate Russia.  A journalist for RFE/RL says he was kidnapped by unknown forces in Crimea earlier this week.

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

TODAY: Putin approves Crimea annexation, makes emotional speech to standing ovations; U.S., Japan, France, U.K. respond; Lavrov calls sanctions ‘unacceptable’, Surkov mocks them; Pamfilova given human rights post; Central Bank scrambles to prop up ruble; Usmanov takes controlling VKontakte stake.

President Vladimir Putin approved a draft bill to allow the annexation of Crimea yesterday and signed treaties with Crimean leaders to the same effect, sparking rumours of Russia’s suspension from the G8 (since denied by, among others, German Chancellor Angela Merkel).  Following the annexation, Putin was given a  number of standing ovations during his emotional and staunchly anti-Western Crimea speech (click here for link to video), in which he stated an ‘unshakeable conviction’ that Crimea ‘has always been an integral part of Russia’.  America responded with condemnation: the White House is preparing further sanctions; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the President’s comments ‘really just didn’t jibe with reality’; and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Russia’s annexation of Crimea ‘a land grab’ (as did the British Foreign Secretary).  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Kerry that Western sanctions imposed in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea are ‘unacceptable’.  Putin aide Vladislav Surkov mocked U.S. sanctions against him, quipping that he ‘doesn’t need a visa’ to listen to American rapper Tupac. ‘I lose nothing.’  The Japanese Prime Minister has also weighed in to condemn the annexation, and France is considering a punitive cancellation of a delivery of warships to Russia.  RFE/RL notes that just two days before Crimea’s parliament voted to secede and join Russia, Putin had offered an outline of his annexation plan at a press conference – and hinted that the same thing could happen in Kosovo.

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