Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The Power Vertical

Preventative Measures

FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov is ready and waiting.
FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov is ready and waiting.

A few days ago, fellow Power Verticalist Brian Whitmore gave the rundown on a bill the government has submitted to the Duma that would give the Federal Security Service (FSB) the authority to take “preventative measures” against individuals and organizations whose activities they think might lead to the commission of a crime, particularly the promotion of “extremism.”


Today, former assistant to Boris Yeltsin and INDEM foundation head Georgy Satarov has an interesting analysis of what the government’s thinking might be in calling for such an, excuse the pun, extreme measure. Satarov’s analysis is particularly interesting because he has gotten a hold of the “explanatory note” that the government submitted together with the bill, in which it lays out its “reasoning.”(If you read Russian, it is worth going through the whole piece, because I’ll only hit a couple of highlights here. Also, you can read the text of the government's letter and the text of the bill itself on the Duma's website by following the links on this page.)


First, Satarov mentions that the bill is directed against “the actions of people that facilitate the appearance of reasons or the creation of circumstances for the commission of a crime.” Under the bill, Satarov speculates, the FSB could theoretically take “preventative measures” against the Duma for passing a law that creates opportunities for corruption. Or it could go after the president for signing such a law or the government for enforcing it…. By such logic, the FSB could act preemptively against minorities for creating the conditions under which some neo-Nazi skinheads might want to beat them up. Jews could be harassed for inciting anti-Semitism by being Jewish. Police officers could be arrested for provoking violent anarchists.


Even more interestingly, Satarov notes that the explanatory note for the law claims that “the activity of radical organizations is leading to the growth of social tension and a strengthening of negative processes in society, especially among youths.” Satarov adds that the theme of youths runs through the document “like a red thread,” perhaps giving a hint about the real purpose of the bill. His dissection of this bit of the FSB’s logic is worth quoting at length:
 

 

They are trying to persuade us that “the activization of the activity of radical organizations” is the cause of social instability and the strengthening of negative tendencies in society. Next they’ll be telling us that the wind is caused by the movement of tree branches. But the scariest thing is that they might really think this way themselves. When I was a presidential assistant, I systematically read the analyses of various agencies, and the most talentless and useless ones came from the FSB. It doesn’t seem to occur to them (and they definitely don’t want it to ever occur to us!) that social tension is rooted in the constantly increasing gap between rich and poor, in bureaucratic unaccountability from which there is no protection, and many other miracles produced by the practices of the authorities, of whom the author of the document is a member. We might also mention their efforts to inculcate xenophobia, chauvinism, and great-power arrogance. They are the ones who encourage the demonstrations of fascists and forbid the protests of democrats.


The government’s explanatory note also argues that the law is needed because “certain mass-media organs, both print and electronic, are openly facilitating the formation of negative processes in the spiritual sphere, reinforcing the cult of individualism and violence and doubt about the ability of the state to defend its citizens, de facto drawing youths into extremist activity.” That is, we can expect this conveniently vague measure to be used against mass media as the country approaches the next national elections (Duma deputies! Pass this law and save your seats!). As I noted in my last post here, this bill will work very nicely with another government initiative to bring blogs and other Internet publications under the umbrella of the mass-media law.


Next, Satarov takes note of the government’s admission in the explanatory document that “despite the organizational and legal measure that have been implemented in recent years…the number of crimes against lives and health committed on the basis of extremist-nationalistic convictions is not decreasing.”


Satarov then enumerates the “organizational and legal measures” the government has taken in recent years: cancelling gubernatorial elections; abolishing elections in general as an institution of honest political competition; the introduction of restrictive laws on the activity of public organizations; the expansion of the definition of extremism to include anything that the government doesn’t like; the restriction of the institution of jury trials; the unprecedented growth of corruption; and the unconvincing imitation of a war against corruption. And now, this new bill – or, to quote Monty Python, now for something completely different.


Satarov ends his analysis by noting that the FSB is one of the government agencies that is directly subordinate to the president. He therefore notes that it is more than passing strange that this bill to amend the law on the FSB came from the government and bears the prime minister’s signature. Hmmm.


-- Robert Coalson

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous from: USA
May 06, 2010 15:31
"cult of individualism" is an interesting phrase. As opposed to what? Reality of collectivism? Russia is looking more and more like the USSR with every passing year.

by: Jon from: Macao
May 10, 2010 03:38
Sounds like Tsar Putin preparing for his return. Also sounds remarkably like the kind of language used by the Chinese Communist Party.
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 11, 2010 06:17
For accuracy sake, you need to look at the situation in a more complete manner.

Russia Promises Poland to Declassify Katyn Documents
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100508/wl_afp/russiapolanddiplomacyhistorykatyn

Russian President Slams “Totalitarian” USSR
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100507/wl_afp/russiapoliticshistorywwii

In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 11, 2010 13:58
BS-
You also need to look at the situation, and ask more questions like: Why were the Katyn Documents classified in 2004 only to be declassified a few years later? Is there something the Russians didn't want the world to know about the Soviet role at Katyn? Also, why is there division in Russia regarding Stalin's role in history? Communist purges, famine in Ukraine, Katyn, Ribbentrop/Molotov pact (Pact of Steel, as it was known), post-war Jewish purges in USSR....Stalin was behind all of it! Putin and company have always lamented the collapse of Soviet power, not necessarily the USSR...I'm happy for the demise of both.
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 18, 2010 06:47
Anonymous

At last notice, I understand that the documents in question are in the process of getting declassified. A number of governments and institutions the world over aren't always so quick to release certain documents. For example, I understand that the Vatican hasn't fully come clean on documents pertaining to some of its manner during WW II and shortly thereafter.

Russia isn't completely monolithic. On M-R, why did PACE mention that without noting the earlier Western appeasement at Munich?

As a non-bigoted anti-Communist, I don't miss the USSR, while supporting a secure and strong Russia, which doesn't unnecessarily provoke, or get unnecessarily provoked.

In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 18, 2010 17:42
BS-
Russia is not coming clean, it is doing the opposite. The Katyn documents are an exception to what is otherwise harrassment of historians trying to document Stalin's crimes against humanity. When researchers suddenly get their computers confiscated by "the authorities", and then not returned afterward, it strongly suggests that the Russian FSB wants more control over historical information. The Vatican doesn't do that. When they release something, it stays released. As for Western appeasement before WWII, can anyone blame them for being that way less than 20 years after the "Great War of 1914-18". Most nations in the late '30's were more concerned with surviving the Great Depression, than starting yet another European war. I hope that Obama isn't taking an appeasing role with Russia in order to avoid another Cold War. If he is, it will probably backfire.
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 19, 2010 14:04
Anonymous

The proof is in the pudding. There're numerous examples to give which show how Russian government and non-government advocacy is becoming more open and critical on the discussed topic. The situation is by no means perfect, while appearing to be part of an ongoing process. I don't quite get one of your points concerning when a given document is released. Once it's made known, it can't suddenly be stricken from memory

The fact of the matter is that other governments as well as some institutions aren't so willing to quickly release certain documents.

On your last point, you explain the basis for the Munich appeasement. On M-R, the Soviets had a basis as well, which tends to get downplayed or distorted by some.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 19, 2010 17:16
"I don't quite get one of your points concerning when a given document is released. Once it's made known, it can't suddenly be stricken from memory"

Yes it can! After the US left Vietnam, those US collaberators left behind were sent to "re-education camps". It's called brainwashing my friend; it happened during the Soviet era and it continues today in Putin's Russia.

"On your last point, you explain the basis for the Munich appeasement. On M-R, the Soviets had a basis as well, which tends to get downplayed or distorted by some."

The Soviet basis didn't make any sense. It was nothing more than a land grab by Stalin. It wasn't as if the USSR allied itself to Poland like it was after the war. The Soviet Union SEIZED a large section of Poland as well as the Baltic countries and eliminated the sovereignty of those states. Saying it was justified because of Western appeasement of Hitler is just an excuse. Are you questioning the rights of those states to exist? If so, my response would be "YES!" they do have a right to exist!
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 20, 2010 10:22
Not at all. Just look at some of the Russian views in Russia getting regularly propped. They aren't being sent to re-education camps.

The Soviets did offer an alliance to defend Czech sovereignty. Instead, the West chose to keep the USSR out of Munich as the Nazis got their way.

The Soviets proceeded to make their own deal with the Nazis. Should the Soviets have let the Nazis take all of Poland, making the Nazi threat to the USSR a greater one?

FYI, the Poles and Hungarians took Czechoslovak territory along with the Nazis in 1938.


In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 20, 2010 15:56
BS-

"Not at all. Just look at some of the Russian views in Russia getting regularly propped. They aren't being sent to re-education camps."

Russian "re-education" is happening in their school system today with modified history books glorifying Stalin and minimizing his crimes against humanity. Russian television is also playing a role because it is controled by the Kremlin which modifies news content before broadcasting on a daily basis.

"The Soviets did offer an alliance to defend Czech sovereignty. Instead, the West chose to keep the USSR out of Munich as the Nazis got their way."

What's that got to do with the absorption of parts of Poland, Finland and the Baltic states into the USSR? If the Nazis do something, does that mean it is justified for the Soviets to do the same?

"The Soviets proceeded to make their own deal with the Nazis. Should the Soviets have let the Nazis take all of Poland, making the Nazi threat to the USSR a greater one?"

The Nazis took all of Poland anyway in 1941. From what I understand, the Nazis were not considered a threat by the USSR until the actual invasion started. If your neighbor and I decided to rob your home and split the loot, is only your neighbor a criminal, regardless of what events happen afterward? The Nazis double-crossed the Soviets, but before that, they both essentially divided East Europe amoungst themselves.

"FYI, the Poles and Hungarians took Czechoslovak territory along with the Nazis in 1938."

Once again, this has nothing to do with the Baltic states, or parts of Poland or Finland being absorbed into the USSR. Your argument has not basis, its just an excuse. It sounds like, "if Poland, Hungary, etc. does it, than the USSR should do it too."





In Response

by: BS Buster
May 20, 2010 21:34
Of late, Russian education, government and society at large are taking a more critical view of Stalin.

Reading back on the previous exchanges is the explaining away of Western appeasement without noting the Soviet desire at having their security interests better maintained.

Prior to M-R, the Soviets and Nazis were seen as being on a collision course. After Munich and before M-R, some in the West were hoping for a Nazi-Soviet war that would weaken the two while keeping others out of it.

Historically, the Baltics were used as a strategic asset of several powers near it. Hence, the USSR was by no means alone in having that attitude. This point doesn't excuse such manner, while providing a more complete overview.

FYI, the Finns were offered different land from the Soviets before the start of the Soviet-Finnish war. The Soviets wanted a land adjustment of the two countries borders on the premise that Finland favored the Nazis in a Nazi-Soviet war. It was well within Finland's right to refuse that offer. I make these points for providing a fuller view of the situation. I'm not into overly rhetorical propaganda.

by: F. Kazemzadeh from: Alta Loma, CA
May 12, 2010 22:12
Preventative? What does it prevenatate?

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

11:12

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF RUSSIA'S 'GAS WEAPON'

In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.

 

08:27

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-UKRAINE GAS DEAL REPORTEDLY CLOSER

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and Interfax)

PROSECUTORS TARGET EKHO MOSKVY

The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)

PUTIN, POROSHENKO DISCUSS CEASEFIRE AND GAS SUPPLIES

The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and kremlin.ru)

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS SAY 'CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE' BEHIND TOTAL AIR CRASH

Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

 

16:08 October 17, 2014

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.

 

13:25 October 17, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

GEORGIAN PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

(Based on reporting by Interfax, AFP, and TASS)

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:

PUTIN WARNS EUROPE OF GAS CRISIS THIS WINTER

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia Preident Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

U.S. HELSINKI COMMITTEE DECRIES RUSSIAN ATTEMPT TO CLOSE MEMORIAL RIGHTS GROUP

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.

PUTIN VOWS TO SUPPORT SERBS ON KOSOVO

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR AGAINST 'PUTIN PUB' IN BISHKEK

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014

UKRAINE CALLS ON ITS CITIZENS TO DITCH VKONTAKTE

VIa slon.ru:

Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.

 

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or