Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Week Ahead: February 9-15

February 11: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are expected to meet in Minsk.

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.

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MONDAY, February 9:
EU: Foreign Affairs Council meeting opens in Brussels.

Russia/Egypt: Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Cairo  to discuss bilateral ties and regional issues in the Middle East (to February 10).

Sebia/Kosovo: Prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia, Isa Mustafa and Aleksandar Vucic, meet in Brussels.
TUESDAY, February 10: ​
UK/Eastern PartnershipThe Foreign Policy Center in London hosts a discussion titled Trouble in the Neighbourhood: The future of the EU's Eastern Partnership.
WEDNESDAY, February 11:

Russia: The Russian Supreme Court is expected to hear a petition from the parents of Muslim school students over the ban on wearing hijabs at schools in the region of Mordovia.
Russia: The Amsterdam District Court is set to rule on a lawsuit against Russian state-owned oil producer Rosneft.
U.S./RussiaWilson Center in Washington hosts a discussion titled Property Rights and Wrongs In Russia Today.
THURSDAY, February 12:
Global: Reporters Without Borders publishes its annual World Press Freedom Index report.
EU/Middle East: European Parliament in Strasbourg holds a vote on a resolution on the crisis in Syria and Iraq.
Moldova: Moldovan Parliament is scheduled to hold a vote on a new government led by Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca.
U.S./Ukraine: Wilson Center in Washington hosts a discussion titled Ukrainian Democracy After the Maidan: Threats and Opportunities.
FRIDAY, February 13:
UNESCO:  World Radio Day.
SATURDAY, February 14:
Kazakhstan: The Evaluation Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visits Almaty to review the readiness of the city to receive the 2022 Olympics (to February 18).
SUNDAY, February 15:
Serbia: National Day.

Russia's Lavrov Met With Hoots, Indignation At Testy Munich Talk

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the 51st Munich Security Conference in Munich on February 7.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sparked derisive laughter and indignation among the audience at a security conference in Munich by defending Moscow's actions in the Ukraine conflict and accusing the West of fomenting unrest in the crisis.

In a testy question-and-answer session following his February 7 speech at the conference, Lavrov elicited scattered howls from an audience that included Western officials by claiming that Ukraine's Crimea territory willingly joined Russia in line with the United Nations Charter.

"I guess it's funny. I also found many things [said here] funny as well, but I controlled myself," Lavrov, who spoke in Russian throughout, said in response to the laughter.

The United States and the European Union (EU) accuse Russia of illegally annexing Crimea in March following a self-styled "referendum" held on the peninsula after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally, fled the country amid antigovernment protests.

Shortly after Russia annexed Crimea in March, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to "affirm its commitment" to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling the vote held in Crimea "invalid."

Western governments and Kyiv also accuse the Kremlin of backing pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 5,350 people since April.

Canada's delegation to NATO wrote on its Twitter feed that Lavrov's comments were a "sad attempt to dress up Russia's grab of Crimea with UN language."

Lavrov was also subjected to scorn after expressing support for the principles of territorial integrity and nonintervention spelled out in the Helsinki Final Act, a treaty signed in 1975 by 35 states, including the Soviet Union.

The Helsinki principles "were long ago torn up by the actions of the United States and its allies in Yugoslavia, which they bombed, in Iraq, in Libya, and by expanding NATO eastward and creating new dividing lines," Lavrov said.

NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who was in the audience, accused the Russian foreign minister of hypocrisy.

"Russia violates all Helsinki principles, yet FM Lavrov calls for reaffirming them. Interesting logic," Vershbow tweeted.

In another February 7 tweet, Vershbow said Lavrov was engaging in "blame shifting" and perpetuating "mostly fabrications and half-truths."

Marketing 'Rubbish'

Lavrov also accused the United States and the EU of escalating the crisis in Ukraine "at every step" after street protests erupted in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities following Yanukovych's sudden decision in November 2013 to reject a trade and political deal with the EU.

"After that, there was direct support for a coup," Lavrov said, repeating Moscow's long-stated view of the events.

Western officials repeatedly note that Yanukovych fled Kyiv after signing an EU-brokered deal with then-Ukrainian opposition leaders that called for a unity government and early presidential election.

Ukrainian lawmakers then voted to remove Yanukovych, who later fled to Russia, from office on the grounds that he was unable to fulfill his duties as president. This cleared the way for a pro-Western government to assume power in Kyiv.

Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, criticized Lavrov's portrayal of the circumstances surrounding the transition of power in Ukraine as disingenuous.

"Lavrov accuses EU of 'supporting [a] coup d'etat' in [Kyiv]. I hope he feels somewhat ashamed of having to market such rubbish," Bildt wrote on Twitter.

'No Laughing Matter'

Arguably the most tense exchange during Lavrov's appearance was prompted by a question from Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, who told the Russian minister that his "description of the situation in Ukraine is not correct."

"It was not a coup," said Brok, who received applause from the audience.

Lavrov replied that the German official's question will "make for good television" and accused Brok of double standards.

"It's one thing if you want to give angry speeches that will bolster your position in politics and the European Parliament," Lavrov said. "If you want to talk, then let's sit down and reaffirm all of the Helsinki principles and see why you think they were violated in some cases and not in others."

It was in response to Brok that Lavrov sparked hoots of derision for his defense of Russia's annexation of Crimea as in accordance with the UN Charter.

The Russian Foreign Ministry's website published a transcript later on February 7 that excluded Lavrov's immediate response to the laughter in the auditorium but included his reference to the commotion in his concluding comments.

"We can discuss all of this if you truly want to know our position and our motivations," Lavrov said. "[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin has said this repeatedly. You can laugh at it, of course. But then someone just gets some satisfaction from this. They say laughter prolongs life."

The moderator, Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States and the chairman of the Munich conference, wrapped up the discussion by saying: "The issues we are discussing here, I think, are no laughing matter from any side."

-- Carl Schreck

The Week Ahead: February 2-8

February 4-11: The 70th anniversary of the 1945 Yalta conference attended by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

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.

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MONDAY, February 2
Azerbaijan: First parliamentary session in 2015 opens in Baku.
China: Beijing hosts a meeting of foreign ministers of China, India, and Russia.
German/Hungary: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Budapest.
UN: UN holds World Interfaith Harmony Week aimed to promote harmony among all people regardless of their faith (to February 8).
UN: UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances holds a session in Geneva (to February 13).
TUESDAY, February 3: ​
Armenia: UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances reviews Armenia during a session in Geneva (to February 4).
Croatia/Serbia: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague delivers its judgment in a case brought by Croatia against Serbia.
Russia/Turkmenistan: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visits Ashgabat.
Ukraine: A delegation of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, visits Kyiv to discuss cooperation on constitutional and judicial reforms.
WEDNESDAY, February 4
SerbiaUN Committee on Enforced Disappearances reviews Serbia during a session in Geneva.
UK/RussiaChatham House in London hosts a discussion titled The Politics of Lawmaking in Russia.
THURSDAY, February 5
Culture: Berlinale Film Festival (to February 15).
NATO: Brussels hosts a NATO defense ministers meeting.
Tajikistan: U.S. State Department officials Daniel Rosenblum and Steven Feldstein are scheduled to visit Dushanbe (to February 6).
U.S./Ukraine: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other senior Ukrainian leaders.
FRIDAY, February 6
Culture: The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony held in London.​
Germany: The 51st Munich Security Conference opens (to February 8).
RussiaMoscow hosts the first meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council attended by the heads of government of Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

UN: International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.

U.S./EUU.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits Brussels, meets with European Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and other European Union leaders.
SUNDAY, February 8
Germany/U.S./Canada: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Washington and Ottawa (to February 10).

Video New Pro-Putin Song Gets Panned Online

Dressed in the colors of the Russian flag, Mashani's musical ode to President Vladimir Putin has already garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube.

"My Putin, my darling Putin, take me away with you, I want to be with you."

So goes the refrain of the latest song waxing lyrical about Russia's president.

"My Putin," performed by a young Siberian singer known by her stage name Mashani, has already received tens of thousands of hits since being posted online on January 28.

Viewers, however, are not impressed.

The video has sparked of barrage of disparaging comments, with the vast majority of viewers "disliking" the clip and slamming both its political message and its tacky production.

In the clip, Mashani, who sings in a field wearing a dress evoking the Russian flag, praises Putin for "reclaiming" Crimea, entreats him to "revive" the Soviet Union, and calls on Russians to "run after him because he's Putin."

The video also shows her trapped amid the ruins of an abandoned home, dressed in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

"I would like to remind our dear Ukrainian citizens that the opinions of the singer may not reflect the opinions of all Russians" reads one comment.

"Excuse me for a moment, I'm feeling sick," another viewer wrote. 

WATCH: Mashani sings My Putin

Mashani has already been interviewed by Zvezda, a national television channel run by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Despite her apparent crush on the president -- the clip shows her poring over photos of Putin and drawing his portrait -- Mashani says that "singing only about love is boring." 

"The song supports the president and expresses my views as a citizen," she told Zvezda. "Our president is the only person who can help Ukraine."

She added that, apart from Russia, "no one in the world needs Ukraine."

Mashani is a latecomer to the pro-Putin pop scene.

One of the first songs idolizing the Russian leader was "I Want A Man Like Putin," a 2002 hit by the previously unknown girl band Singing Together. 

The lyrics described a woman who dreams of dumping her boorish boyfriend for a man "full of strength" like Putin. 

In 2012, just weeks before presidential elections, another music video heaping praise on Putin went viral. The song, performed by a Tajik immigrant, described Putin as a "godsend."

Two African rappers in Russia also gained notoriety last year with their ambiguously titled song "Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin."

Children are not exempt from the trend. This sugary ode to Putin sung by small children was released for his birthday in October 2014.

-- Claire Bigg

Photogallery Drive Any Car You Want, As Long As It's White

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has a penchant for white. (file photo)

You can have whatever color car you want in Turkmenistan, as long as it is white.

The government has suspended imports of black, dark blue, and red automobiles, and are telling exporters to ship white cars instead, according to a customs' official who spoke to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service on condition of anonymity.

Existing cars may also be in line for a whitening treatment. A police officer told RFE/RL that police been ordered not to grant required yearly inspection certificates to those who drive cars with the banned colors, although a second police officer denied this.

Repainting a car costs between $800 and $1,000 in Turkmenistan, while the average monthly income is about $200 a month.

The color white has long been a feature of the carefully constructed personality cult of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The former dentist has draped his capital Ashgabat in white marble, rides white stallions, and makes appearances dressed in white amid white carpets and white flower arrangements.

He likes white.

PHOTO GALLERY: Turkmenistan's 'White' Revolution

  • Keeping it clean: Berdymukhammedov gives presents to children during the opening ceremony of a new presidential palace in Ashgabat last year.
  • White is a highly respected color in traditionally nomadic countries like Turkmenistan, where the color is associated with milk, a key staple of the nomadic diet. Here, Berdymukhammedov, in the white shirt, visits a shepherd's yurt in Ruhabat.
  • Berdymukhammedov at a cabinet meeting. The Turkmen president is frequently shown against a foreground of white roses, and is even the subject of an adulatory poem entitled "White Roses."
  • Berdymukhammedov participating in a government video conference from his presidential office. Even the traditional Turkmen carpet, usually woven in a range of reds, has been adapted to reflect the president's predilection for white.

  • No Turkmen presidency is complete without a photo on a horse. Here, Berdymukhammedov is pictured astride a white Akhal-teke stallion. Other equestrian portraits up the ante by adding a white dove landing on the president's shoulder.
  • Turkmen newspapers published identical photographs of a white-suited Berdymukhammedov on the occasion of his birthday, June 29.
  • The first day of classes at School No. 55 in Ashgabat. Many parents in the Turkmen capital have received school requests asking to provide their children with all-white outfits for performances and other special occasions.
  • Berdymukhammedov's predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov (left), favored white himself, both in architecture and -- for a while -- his own hair, which prompted a poet to dub him a "white-haired angel." Niyazov dyed his hair black soon afterward.
  • Young people carrying white balloons attend a 2011 inauguration ceremony for a public building recently erected in the Turkmen capital. The color white is frequently associated with cleanliness and good fortune in Central Asia.
  • Berdymukhammedov serving as master of ceremonies during the unveiling of a new palace in Ashgabat last year. If white has become the dominant color in Turkmen celebrations, the emerald green of the Turkmen flag still serves as a close runner-up.
  • Even in leisure time, white is the color of choice for the Turkmen president, shown here bicycling with black-clad minders. Berdymukhammedov is frequently seen wearing white sweaters and fleece jackets during casual public appearances.
  • The Turkmen president on holiday in the western Caspian Sea city of Turkmenbashi. Berdymukhammedov began his government career as a Health Ministry dentist. But he's since sought to build his own power base and shrug off Niyazov's legacy.
  • Berdymukhammedov has even performed pop songs in an attempt to build his own personality cult. Here, he plays an all-white guitar for a performance backed by singers dressed in white and playing white instruments.

But authorities say the president's fondness for white is not necessarily the reason for the new rules -- it's that the country's subtropical desert climate wreaks havoc with dark paint, creating an eyesore unbecoming of the autocratic republic. 

Calling himself the "protector," Berdymukhammedov, who has ruled Turkmenistan since 2006, has in the past frequently rewarded loyal government officials with fancy new cars. And he recently began using a convoy of white limousines to travel to public events. 

But he also supports more energy-efficient means of transport. 

He has been filmed bike-riding to encourage cycling (his white pants contrasting with the black garb of his cycling partners). 

And his fondness for horses is well known -- although sometimes they (at least the golden, Akhal-Teke, variety don't take quite so well to him. 

WATCH: President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov Falls Off His Horse


​-- RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Glenn Kates

The Week Ahead: January 26 - February 1

Saved By A Mistake In The Paperwork - An Auschwitz Survivor's Storyi
January 23, 2015
Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. (Ahmad Wadiei, Farin Assemi, RFE/RL's Radio Farda)
Saved By A Mistake In The Paperwork - An Auschwitz Survivor's Story
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.

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MONDAY, January 26:
EU/Azerbaijan: EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn meets with Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company SOCAR Vice-President Elshad Nassirov in Brussels.​
Iran/Armeina: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visits Yerevan (to January 27).
Lithuania​/Georgia: Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius visits Tbilisi for talks, including on Georgia's efforts to integrate with NATO and the European Union. 
PACEParliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) winter session opens in Strasbourg (to January 30).​
Syria: Moscow hosts talks between Syrian opposition groups and a Syrian government delegation (to January 29).
Ukraine/Poland: Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council chief  Oleksandr Turchynov visits Warsaw to discuss comprehensive cooperation in the security and defense sector and energy-related issues.
TUESDAY, January 27:
World: The Heritage Foundation, in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal, launches the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom.
WEDNESDAY, January 28:
EU: European Parliament Plenary Session starts in Brussels.
Iran/Azerbaijan: Iranian Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia visits Baku.
Russia: Russia’s Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a lawsuit on the dissolution of Russia’s Memorial human rights organization.
Turkey/Turkmenistan: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits Ashgabat (to January 29).
U.S./UkraineU.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visits Kyiv to meet with senior government officials and discuss additional U.S. assistance.
U.S.: U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hosts a hearing with Henry Kissinger titled The National Interest: Articulating The Case For American Leadership In The World.
U.S./South CaucasusWilson Center in Washington hosts a discussion titled Security and Energy Implications for the South Caucasus after Ukraine.
WorldFreedom House releases its annual Freedom in the World report.
THURSDAY, January 29:
EU/Serbia: EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn meets with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in Vienna.
GlobalHuman Rights Watch releases its annual World Report.
IranBritish, German, French, and Iranian diplomats meet in Istanbul to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program.
U.S./EuropeWilson Center in Washington hosts a discussion titled Security Challenges in Europe in 2015.
FRIDAY, January 30:

Poisoned Family Pets, Strays Reported In Russia Amid Nationwide 'Dog Hunt'

Most Russian cities have a large population of stray dogs, which sometimes roam the streets in packs. (file photo)

Russian dog owners are on high alert. 

Internet-based vigilantes have announced a nationwide "dog hunt" starting January 20 to rid Russian cities of stray dogs. 

Reports of slain dogs are already flooding in, and family pets are among the victims.

"There are being poisoned," says Maria Zuyeva, who heads the Vita animal protection group in Chelyabinsk. "In one case, a pet died without even going outdoors, poison was thrown in through the gate of its home."

Most Russian cities have a large population of stray dogs, which sometimes roam the streets in packs.

Although "dog hunters" say they are acting to protect children from strays, they are also known to target family pets. 

In messages circulated on Vkontakte, Russia's largest social networking site, the vigilantes pledged to scatter poison in parks, squares, and playgrounds across Russia. 

The warning said their poison of choice this time would be an antituberculosis drug called Isoniazid, which is sold over-the-counter and is lethal to dogs. 

Animals can reportedly die from just sniffing the substance, and poisoned dogs are said to suffer agonizing convulsions before passing away.

Activists say pink traces left by the drug have been spotted in a more than a dozen cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.

"They've scattered rat poison and antituberculosis drugs everywhere, there are numerous pinks spots on the ground on playgrounds, around trash cans, and in parks where people walk their dogs," says Zuyeva in Chelyabinsk. 

In the Nizhny Novgorod region, witnesses in one town said vigilantes have been firing indiscriminately at all dogs, including family pets wearing collars, with pneumatic weapons loaded with ampoules containing poison.

Activists accuse authorities and police of turning a blind eye to such "dog hunts," which have spiked in recent years. 

They have launched an online petition calling on authorities to ban the sale of antituberculosis drugs without prescriptions.

It has already gathered over 7,700 signatures since being started on January 15. 

Russian law itself provides little protection for animals. 

Article 245 of the Criminal Code prohibits the "cruel treatment of animals," but activists say measures are taken only when the abuse is perpetrated in public and ends up drawing media attention.

"In other cases, it doesn't work," says animal rights advocate Irina Novozhilova. "The article itself has flaws. The definition of the term 'cruelty,' for instance, is very narrow -- only when injury of death ensues. It doesn't apply to a range of deprivations inflicted on animals, for example shutting them up in basements and depriving them of water and food for two weeks."

Novozhilova says the illegal culling of dogs won't stop until authorities start punishing abuses against animals. 

She also blames state television channels for regularly giving dog hunters airtime to promote their views.  

"This problem has long left the realm of the interaction between people and animals," she says. "This is about the degradation of our society. And backing the attitude that problems can be resolved through violence, through murder, only paves the way for further violence in society."

-- Svetlana Pavlova, Claire Bigg

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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