Thursday, October 23, 2014

Azerbaijan Hires Veteran U.S. Political Consultant

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at his 2013 swearing-in in Baku

Amid its muscular lobbying push in Washington, Azerbaijan has hired a veteran Republican Party adviser and political strategist to boost its public image in the United States.

Baku’s embassy in Washington has signed a contract with Liz Mair, whose public-relations firm will aim to generate news coverage to “impact various U.S. government officials, as well as the U.S. general public,” according to a U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) disclosure statement signed on October 9.

Under the terms of the six-month contract, Azerbaijan will pay Mair’s firm, Mair Strategies, $15,000 a month for public-relations services, according FARA documents.

Mair has served as an online communications strategist to senior Republican officials, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. She is also a former online communications director for the Republican National Committee.

The hiring was first reported by Politico Influence, a newsletter on Washington’s lobbying community, which cited a source familiar with the contract.

The move comes as Azerbaijan faces mounting criticism over its human rights record from Western officials, analysts, and rights groups.

Since Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers in May, it has undertaken “the most serious and brutal crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan ever,” according to the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative.

At the same time, Azerbaijani officials have sought to portray the country as a valuable U.S. and European ally, and as a crucial player in energy security amid an increasingly aggressive Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

Critics have accused Baku of using the Ukraine crisis and its lobbying push to deflect attention from its human rights record, including a sweeping crackdown in recent months against journalists, lawyers, and other government critics in Azerbaijan.

In 2013, Azerbaijan was the 10th-largest spender on lobbying efforts in the United States among foreign governments, shelling out almost $2.3 million, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. 

Azerbaijan has also signed a $50,000-per-month contract with The Podesta Group, a top Washington lobbying firm.

Baku’s contract with Mair states that her firm will “assist in communicating priority issues relevant to the Republic of Azerbaijan to relevant audiences in the United States, including through media outlets.”

Mair, who is the 100-percent owner of Mair Strategies, declined to comment when contacted by RFE/RL.

Mair Strategies describes itself as a “a boutique online communications firm focusing on state-level, national and international issues for an array of Fortune 500 clients and major trade associations.”

-- Luke Johnson

Roundtable: This Weekend's Ukrainian Elections


With Ukrainians set to go to the polls this weekend to elect a new national parliament against a backdrop of conflict and division, RFE/RL invited close observers of Ukraine to join us for a look at how the vote might affect the many security, economic, and political challenges facing Ukraine. 

Watch here or on YouTube or Google+.

Brian Whitmore, author of RFE/RL's "Power Vertical" blog, moderated the live panel discussion with guests:

Taras Kuzio is a leading international expert on contemporary Ukrainian and postcommunist politics, nationalism, and European integration who serves as a research associate at the University of Alberta and nonresident fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. His most recent article is "Ukraine’s new parliament will be more pro-European but will it be more reformist?"

Natalya Sedletska hosts "Schemes: Corruption in Detail," a television program jointly produced by RFE/RL and satellite channel "First Ukraine." Sedletska, a former Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow with RFE/RL who previously worked as an investigative TV journalist based in Kyiv, was one of the creators of the award-winning YanukovychLeaks website that recovered and published hundreds of documents from the former Ukrainian president's residence at Mezhihirya.

Iryna Shvets is a board member of the Civil Network OPORA, a watchdog group that has carried out election monitoring campaigns for three national and eight local elections in Ukraine since 2007. Shvets, a longtime activist with OPORA's Lviv office, has helped plan, conduct, and promote observation campaigns at the regional and national levels.

Video Zombie Nazi Invasion: Russian Video Warns That Racism Resurrects Fascism

​​Russia has the second largest number of immigrants in the world, many of them from Central Asia. (file photo)

The Russian rights group Civic Assistance has released a new video warning about the dangers of casual racism and xenophobia.

In the short clip, a father, mother, and their young daughter are relaxing by a bucolic lake when a few young Central Asians come and sit near them on the beach.

The father's mood changes and he starts start muttering disparaging comments laced with ethnic stereotypes.

"They turned the city into a Central Asian village."

"A nation of street-sweepers."

"They should go back to their village."

His wife then chimes in: "It's ok. Let them work. As long as they live behind a fence."

As they speak, armed zombies in Nazi uniforms rise from below the sand behind them.

The video's text reads: "By humiliating people of another nationality, you are resurrecting fascism."

WATCH: Fascist Zombies Video By The Civic Assistance NGO


Russia has the second largest number of immigrants in the world, after the United States, according to the United Nations. And public opinion polls show increasingly negative attitudes toward them.

A 2013 poll by the independent Levada Center found that 47 percent of Russians have negative attitudes towards immigrants. Some 71 percent said immigrants increased the crime rate and 77 percent said they took jobs from Russians.

The video, produced with the help of the Chicago-based advertising firm Leo Burnett, comes as Russia's state-run media has been regularly calling Ukraine's pro-Western leaders "fascists." It suggests that in fact, fascism starts at home with everyday racism.

Civic Assistance was established in 1990 to assist immigrants in Russia.

-- Luke Johnson

The Week Ahead: October 20-26

October 26: Ukraine holds parliamentary elections.

he Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

Follow Me on Pinterest

MONDAY, October 20:
Azerbaijan/EU: EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Herbert Salber visits Baku. 
EU: Luxembourg hosts a EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting
EUEuropean Parliament's Plenary Session opens in Strasbourg (to October 23).
EU/Ukraine: EU Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger visits Kyiv.
Germany: Berlin hosts the World Health Summit 2014 (to October 22).
Ukraine: Amnesty International releases its briefing on the killings during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.  
World: The 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum opens (to October 22).
TUESDAY, October 21:
Azerbaijan/Lithuania: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius visits Baku (to October 23).

EU: European Parliament is scheduled to discuss and vote on the prolongation of Ukraine’s duty-free access to the EU market (to October 22).
EU/Ukraine/Russia: Brussels hosts energy trilateral talks.

Georgia/Japan: Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili visits Tokyo (to October 25).
Russia/Belarus: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits Minsk.
WEDNESDAY, October 22:
Albania/SerbiaAlbanian Prime Minister Edi Rama postponed his visit to Belgrade scheduled for October 22 to November 10, 2014.
EU: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presents his team of 27 Commissioners-designate in Strasbourg.

Turkey/Latvia: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Riga (to October 23).
THURSDAY, October 23:
EUEuropean Council meeting begins in Brussels (to October 24).
FRIDAY, October 24:
UNDisarmament Week (to October 30).

UK/Russia: Chatham House in London hosts a discussion titled "Russian Influence Abroad: Non-state Actors and Propaganda."

SATURDAY, October 25:

UkraineInternational film festival Molodost starts in Kyiv (to November 2).
SUNDAY, October 26:
EuropeDaylight Saving Time ends.

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

In Luhansk, Death For A Cartoon?

Irina Filatova had posted this photo of herself on her now-deleted VKontakte profile.

If a Luhansk-based news portal is to be believed, defamation comes with a heavy price in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic.

Particularly if the aggrieved is the self-styled minister of culture, Irina Filatova. 

She is allegedly outraged about a satirical cartoon that mocks her past propensity to gallivant less than fully clothed in public places.

And according to the Luhansk Radar news site, Filatova has requested a trial and some very specific punishments for Ukrainian singer and writer Irena Karpa, the creator of the cartoon "Neo-Soviet Mutant": a 50,000 ruble fine ($1,230) and death by firing squad.

The cartoon -- a 3 1/2-minute video that at one point depicts Filatova topless in positions similar to those in pictures she had once posted to her now deleted VKontakte profile -- has "disrupted my sleep and weakened me," says the alleged complaint. 

Although news of the order has spread in Ukrainian and some Western media, the scanned document has only appeared on Luhansk Radar, a staunchly pro-Kyiv news site.

In its original publication, the site said a "police source" had handed the document over.

But the complaint's appendix may tilt slightly into the realm of political satire: It includes both photos taken from social media and the screenshots from the offending cartoon.

Filatova herself has not commented, but according to the Moscow-based, a press spokesperson for the "Luhansk People's Republic" denied that she has ever served as culture minister. 

Karpa, for her part, appears to be taking the alleged threat in stride. 

"Oy, I'm scared-scared-scared)))" the Kyiv-based artist wrote, with apparent sarcasm, on Facebook. 

She also promised a sequel. 


-- Glenn Kates

The Week Ahead: October 13-19

96235 01/01/1972 Reproduction of "Writer Lermontov" by Pavel Bunin. RIA Novosti / RIA Novosti

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

Follow Me on Pinterest

MONDAY, October 13:
Bosnia-Herzegovina: International election observers hold press conference on the results of the October 12 general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
China/Russia: Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visits Moscow (to October 14).
EU: European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights meet in Brussels to discuss Iraq, Syria, and other human rights issues.
Russia/Azerbaijan: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits Baku.
TUESDAY, October 14:
UK: The Man Booker Prize winner announced in London.
UK/GeorgiaChatham House in London hosts a discussion titled "Abkhazia: Developments in the Domestic and Regional Context."
WEDNESDAY, October 15:
Iran: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hold trilateral talks in Vienna over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.

Iran: London hosts the Europe-Iran Business Forum (to October 16).

China/Italy: Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visits Rome and Milan (to October 17).
Russia: Russian writer and poet Mikhail Lermontov's 200th birthday anniversary.
THURSDAY, October 16:
EU: European Parliament's 2014 Sakharov Prize winner announced in Brussels.
GlobalWorld Food Day.
Italy: Milan hosts the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (to October 17).

Russia/Serbia: Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Belgrade.
U.S./AfghanistanThe U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington hosts a discussion titled "The Influence of Social Media and New Technologies in Afghanistan's Democracy."
FRIDAY, October 17:
SATURDAY, October 18:
Azerbaijan: Independence Day.

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

Video Lukashenka Says 'We Can't Be Dicing Up' Europe's Borders Again

It seems Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) is not too happy with the policies of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (right) vis-a-vis Ukraine. (file photo)

Even after decades of making the most eccentric statements, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka can still impress.

In an interview with Kazakhstan's 16/12 Internet television channel posted on October 5, he flatly condemned Russia's bid to redraw international borders in Europe.

Lukashenka argued that, once the process of rearranging borders according to historical claims begins, there is no end to it -- and Russia might end up disappearing if the borders of the medieval Mongol-Tatar Yoke are revived.

"Then we would have to give to Mongolia and Kazakhstan and someone else practically all the territory of Russia and Western Europe and Eastern Europe -- except for Belarus," he said. "They [the Mongols] made it to us somehow but they didn't bother us. So what is the point of returning to what was in the past? We can't be dicing up the borders again. "

He added that Europe's current borders are reinforced by numerous international agreements, which cannot be ignored and should not be nullified. 

WATCH: Lukashenka's Slams Russia's Ukraine Policy (In Russian)


Although he was speaking mostly of the current conflict between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March, his comments are equally applicable to Russia's recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Russia's support of the separatist region of Transdniester in Moldova.

Lukashenka's outspoken position -- and his reference to Kazakhstan -- is all the more surprising because Belarus and Kazakhstan are pushing ahead with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project, which remains the centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy. 

The three presidents are expected to meet in Minsk on October 10 to exchange ratification documents for the EEU Treaty, which will come into effect on January 1, 2015.

But Russia's policies in Ukraine have clearly alarmed former Soviet countries, including staunch allies Belarus and Kazakhstan. 

During a question-and-answer session in August, Putin set off alarm bells in Astana by arguing that "the Kazakhs never had their own state" and that modern Kazakhstan was "created" by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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