Friday, October 31, 2014


The Power Vertical

Ksenia And Vladimir

Ksenia Sobchak appears in a Moscow court on May 18.
Ksenia Sobchak appears in a Moscow court on May 18.
History often rhymes in very odd ways.
 
On June 12, 1999, Anatoly Sobchak returned home after 1 1/2 years in self-imposed exile in Paris.
 
The former St. Petersburg mayor, and principal author of the Russian Constitution, left the country in November 1997 in the midst of a corruption investigation that he and his allies insisted was -- and according to most impartial accounts appeared to be -- politically motivated.
 
Sobchak's return from exile coincided with the meteoric rise of his former deputy and close political ally, Vladimir Putin. A year earlier, Putin became director of the Federal Security Service (FSB). A few months before Sobchak's homecoming, his friend and former deputy was named secretary of the Security Council. Two months later, Putin would be named prime minister, serving for just several months before succeeding Boris Yeltsin as president.
 
The conventional wisdom at the time was that Sobchak, who died in February 2000, was able to safely return to Russia because he enjoyed the ascendant Putin's protection.
 
As a reporter in St. Petersburg at the time, I covered Sobchak's flamboyant and emotional arrival at the city's Pulkovo Airport. One of the enduring memories I have of that day was of Sobchak's 17-year-old daughter Ksenia impatiently pulling on his arm in a vain attempt to get her famously talkative father to stop engaging journalists and get in the car already.
 
Fast forward to June 12, 2012, exactly 13 years later.
 
That impatient 17-year-old girl is now a confident 30-year-old who has seamlessly transformed herself from a socialite reality-show star into one of Russia's most visible social activists. And she is being questioned by agents from the Investigative Committee over her opposition political activities.  A day earlier, her apartment was searched by Investigative Committee agents, who confiscated large sums of cash.
 
Due to her family's ties to Putin, it was always assumed that, unlike other opposition figures -- but like her father -- Ksenia Sobchak enjoyed a degree of protection. Now everybody is reassessing that assumption.
 
Writing in the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" last week, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky suggested it was Sobchak -- and not Aleksei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, or Sergei Udaltsov, whose flats were also searched -- who was the operation's real target:

The only person whom Putin truly punished, rather than hyped, on June 11 was Ksenia Sobchak. But it wasn't political. It was personal. In practice (and in theory) Putin doesn't really know the other protest leaders and therefore has no grounds for taking offense against them. But it appears that the president believes he has grounds for taking offense against Ksenia Sobchak.
 
And today, Putin upped the ante against his old friend's daughter (and make no mistake, none of this would be happening without Putin giving the green light).
 
A June 18 article in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia" quoted anonymous law enforcement sources as saying that Sobchak could be prosecuted for tax evasion over the estimated 1 million euros and $500,000 in cash agents seized from her apartment during last week's raid.

The report quoted unidentified Interior Ministry officials as saying that Sobchak's 2011 tax declaration reported 6.7 million rubles ($210,000) in income. Her 2010 declaration, according to the daily, reported 4.53 million rubles.
 
The authorities are clearly trying to drive a wedge between Sobchak and the rest of the opposition by stirring up resentment of her wealth. And there is some evidence it is working. On June 15, Ilya Ponomaryov, an opposition State Duma deputy from the center-left A Just Russia, asked her to distance herself from the protest movement.

Sobchak, however, is showing no signs of lowering her profile. Writing on her Twitter feed, Sobchak responded to the allegations. "For many years my tax returns have reported not less than $1 million in income," she wrote in one tweet, calling the report "lies and slander designed to provoke me."

In another, she wrote that after consulting her lawyer, Henry Reznik, she has decided to sue "Izvestia" over the article.
 
And in an article published later in the day on June 18 on "Komsomolskaya pravda's" website, she reiterated that she has paid taxes on all her income. She also noted that the smears against her were reminiscent of those against her father in the 1990s.

Sobchak also attacked the Kremlin's apparent strategy against her at its core:
 
The case about 'Sobchak's millions' is just another way of stirring up hatred in our country, which already has so much of it. Stories about big money always stir up jealousy and negativity. And stirring up class hatred in order to discredit a protester is irresponsible...After what happened in 1917, inciting class hatred is no joke in this country. It's like putting matches in the hands of a child. Please smear me in some other way. For the sake of peace in our country, I promise to give you a lot of other reasons.
 
Ksenia Sobchak has again passed into new territory. In the months after the disputed State Duma elections in December, she turned herself into a serious political player with the opposition -- albeit one who everybody assumed enjoyed protected status. Now she will need to play that role without a "krysha."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian opposition,Ksenia Sobchak,Anatoly Sobchak

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 18, 2012 21:58
How many battalions of OMON forces does this socialite command? Exactly. The writing is on the wall; pack your bags while you still can. I suspect that most Russians would applaud if she were sent to prison.

by: Frank
June 19, 2012 00:27
Boola, boola.

The Russian government is screwed up for making bratty and politically insignificant individuals appear more important than they actually are.

by: George from: USA
June 19, 2012 08:25
So typical of Russian "Justice/Law", from the time of the Czars, the Soviet, right on into the regime of Putin.
Russia is synonymous with Corruption.
What rule of law? Those in power make it up as they go, use it as a tool for their power and gain of wealth, nothing has changed in 200+ years.
In Response

by: Frank
June 19, 2012 13:17
She really appears persecuted George.

Plenty of "corruption" elsewhere, inclusive of the prevailing RFE/RL spin.


by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 19, 2012 11:00
In other news on VLADIMIR: while Ksenia is filing suits, Vladimir seems to have put together a support group that will help him overcome this most serious challenge to date to his power. Here is the picture of Vladimir and his support team: http://economia.elpais.com/economia/2012/06/19/actualidad/1340091617_531677.html

by: nirvichara from: Irving, TX
June 19, 2012 12:54
Kesenia Sobchak belongs to this type of loud, ignorant, arrogant and repulsive people who irritates everyone with their outrageous aggressive stupidity. My guess that if he jailed for a while nobody in Russia would miss her, but aggressive but weak and whiny anti-putin opposition will try to use it against Putin , of course. Don't think it will work, though

by: Mark from: Victoria
June 19, 2012 14:06
Hopefully while all this lawsuit talk is flying around, somebody will think to sue Belkovsky, who in a moment of high comedy, is elevated here to the status of "political analyst". When was the last time he was right about anything? I notice The Economist was forced to print a retraction after being threatened with a lawsuit by Gunvor for repeating Belkovsky's nonsense that Vladimir Putin is a "ghost majority shareholder" in the company, and you can be sure that if they had any proof, they would have brought it forward. They obviously have not.

http://www.economist.com/node/14140737?story_id=14140737


I invite anyone who seriously believes a committed modernist and plugged-in socialite like Sobchak keeps her savings in her flat because she does not trust Russian banks to give their head a good shake. In these days of online money transfers and internet financial management, Sobchak could keep the bulk of her funds in Israel or Barbados or Switzerland; anywhere she chose. It certainly bodes well for Russia's future that one of its hippest opposition icons believes the solution to Russian banking uncertainty is to keep your money in your mattress. How progressive! I can imagine what the federal tax plan is going to look like in an opposition government.

by: Jack from: US
June 19, 2012 14:32
who is Sobchak, what is Sobchak? Why is that person worth even usually less than worthless RFE/RL commentary? It seems the real objective of US propaganda is to denigrade the great leader Putin to the level of some sobchak
In Response

by: Matvei from: USA
June 20, 2012 09:44
Great Leader Putin??? Did you use that language back in the days of Brezhnev, too, Jack, you Putin shill?

by: john from: canada
June 19, 2012 21:06
Russian income taxes are so low, why would anybody even bother trying to avoid paying them?

However, pro-Putin media had great fun showing her closets, clothes, and money-piles. And noting of course that she shares the apartment with fellow activist and journalist Ilya Yashin - so he does have some stake in Sobchak's issues.

Smear job of course, but similar to rather mild Putinist harassment of US ambassador Michael McFaul, and not as bad (yet) as the incarceration of Pussy Riot mothers, the extreme harassment of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, nor the homicide of Sergei Magnitsky.

But if Putin really doesn't like you...Ksenia might be an exile abroad if she can escape his clutches...




by: La Russophobe from: USA
June 21, 2012 09:54
This report is rather bizarre in failing to even mention the main issue regarding the obscene pile of cash in Sobchak's apartment, which is not whether she paid taxes on it but what the hell it was doing there. Her claim that she "doesn't trust banks" simply does not pass the smell test. If this were a Kremlin figure, the "opposition" would now be screaming about payoffs of supporters, but for some reason this issue is to be ignored where Sobchak is concerned? Normal people don't keep over one million dollars in cash in their apartment (leaving aside the stupidity of doing so in a one of the most corrupt nations on the planet), and nobody has confronted Sobchak with the hard questions about this. It's simply ludicrous to suggest that she could be viewed as being a serious leadership figure, and let's not forget that her father was the mentor of Putin and one of the most corrupt figures in Russian history. Sobchak is analagous to Paris Hilton -- that is, if Hilton's father were Bernie Madoff.

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09:41

UKRAINIAN HOSPITALITY

Russian journalist Ivan Sukhov writing in "The Moscow Times" on working in Ukraine:

"Russian journalists encounter no personal aggression while working in Ukraine. Only the rare local politician refuses to speak to Russian reporters.

And in place of perfectly understandable aggression, Russian journalists encounter only gentle Ukrainian hospitality along with a sizable share of condescending sympathy.

It is as if they want to tell us, 'We will stay here, where we have taken the responsibility for our future into our own hands, whereas you will fly home to Russia's stifling political atmosphere, to a country that futilely reconsiders the outcome of the Cold War and the people are caught up in a mass euphoria over the bloodshed in the Donbass.'"

Read it all here.

08:56

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA, UKRAINE SIGN EU-BROKERED GAS DEAL

By RFE/RL

Moscow and Kyiv have signed a landmark agreement that will guarantee Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine throughout the winter despite tense relations over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The EU-brokered deal, which extends until March 2015, was signed at a ceremony in Brussels by the energy ministers of the two countries, Aleksandr Novak and Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Outgoing EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who oversaw the signing, hailed the agreement, saying, "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter."

The hard-fought deal followed months-long EU-mediated negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv amid a long and bitter dispute over payments.

The agreement was reached after two days of marathon talks that had stalled before dawn on October 30 when Russia demanded that the EU first agree with Ukraine how to pay Kyiv's outstanding bills and finance gas deliveries through to March.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars to around $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger. He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay off its debts to Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

He added that the deal "is perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine's Prodan said the "decisions taken today will provide energy security for Ukraine and the EU."

Moscow cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt and demanding that Ukraine settle its outstanding bills and pay up front for any future deliveries.

The dispute occurred amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in March and its subseqent military and political support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With Ukraine relying on Russia for around 50 percent of its gas, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the European Union's gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009 when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two very cold winters.

But Russia's Novak said after the signing that Moscow will remain a "reliable supplier" of energy to Europe and the deal struck with Ukraine will ensure stable gas deliveries over the winter.

In reaction to the deal, the French and German leaders said in a joint statement that the EU will "fully play its role" to implement the gas deal.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel said they had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko earlier October 30, and all four "have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the delivery of Russian gas to Ukraine, achieved thanks to the mediation of the European Union."

(Based on live broadcast, with additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

AIR ARMENIA BLAMES RUSSIA FOR FLIGHT SUSPENSIONS

By RFE/RL’s Armenian Service

YEREVAN -- Air Armenia, a passengar and cargo airline based in Yerevan, has suspended all passenger flights until at least December 20 over financial difficulties that the firm is blaming on Russia.

Air Armenia says it is unable continue regular passenger services because of a “panic” among investors and customers over a statement by Russia's federal air navigation service.

Russia's Rosaeronavigatsia announced on September 11 that it would ban Air Armenia from operating flights to Russian cities unless the company paid its outstanding debts by September 21.

Air Armenia said ihe statement damaged its business reputation and that, as a result, its fleet was reduced to one aircraft.

Other than Russian cities, the airline had been flying to Paris, Frankfurt, and Athens.

Air Armenia was founded as a cargo airline in 2003 and began operating commercial passenger flights in 2013 after the bankruptcy of Armavia.

COURT ORDERS NATIONALIZATION OF OLIGARCH'S BASHNEFT SHARES

A Moscow court has ordered the nationalization of a stake in an oil company owned by a detained tycoon.

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on October 30 the stake in Bashneft held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov's holding company Sistema would be returned to the state.

Prosecutors claimed the stake was illegally privatized by officials in Russia's Bashkortostan region.

The court said new claims could be filed after the worth of Sistema's stake in Bashneft was ascertained.

Yevtushenkov was arrested last month on charges of money laundering related to the acquisition of Bashneft.

His arrested sparked speculation that Russia's largest oil company, state-run Rosneft, would acquire Sistema's Bashneft shares.

Yevtushenkov is one of Russia's richest businessmen, with assets estimated to be worth some $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by AFP, rapsinews.ru, and Interfax)

LATVIA-BASED RUSSIAN NEWS PORTAL BLOCKED IN KAZAKHSTAN

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

An online Russian news portal based in Latvia has been blocked in Kazakhstan over an article described by Astana as "inflicting ethnic discord."

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Investments and Development said on October 30 that the Meduza.io website published an article "propagating ethnic discord and threatening the territorial integrity" of Kazakhstan.

The article about ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan's eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (aka Oskemen) is titled: "Ust-Kamenogorsk People's Republic. Are Locals Ready For Polite Green Men?"

‘Green Men’ refers to the deployment in foreign countries of Russian military forces wearing unmarked green uniforms – as Russia has done in the past in regions of Georgia and Ukraine.

The ministry also has filed a lawsuit against Meduza.io in connection with the article.

It says the website will remain blocked in Kazakhstan until a local court rules in the case.

(With reporting by Interfax)

KYRGYZ WILL NEED PASSPORTS TO ENTER RUSSIA

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Ministry says that as of January 1, 2015, Kyrgyz citizens will no longer be able to enter the Russian Federation using their national identification documents.

Since 2007, Kyrgyz labor migrants have been travelling between the two countries with internal identification documents. Now they will have to obtain travel passports.

The regulation, announced on October 29, will affect hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants who work in Russia and periodically travel between the two countries.

Moscow announced earlier this year that it wants to tighten by 2015 the regulations for entering Russia by nationals of former Soviet republics that are not members of the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union.

In May, Kyrgyzstan signed a road map under which it is to join the Customs Union, which currently comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, by the end of 2014.  

NATO REPORTS UNUSUAL RUSSIAN WARPLANE ACTIVITY AROUND EUROPE

NATO said on October 29 that it tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvers” in international airspace close to the borders of the European Union during the previous 24 hours.

NATO’s SHAPE military headquarters in Mons, Belgium said: “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

It said the planes included strategic bombers, fighters, and tanker aircraft.

They were detected over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea on October 28 and 29.

Russian bombers flew south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.

Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish, and Turkish fighters were scrambled to intercept and identify the Russian planes.

Planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden also responded.

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to the highest level since the Cold War.

(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

18:33 October 29, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KREMLIN MOVES TO QUASH PUTIN HEALTH RUMORS

Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

ROSNEFT THREATENS TO SUE NEWSPAPER OVER SANCTIONS REPORT

Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

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

WHITE HOUSE DETECTS SUSPICIOUS CYBER ACTIVITY, REPORT BLAMES RUSSIA

The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

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

VICTIMS OF STALIN TERROR REMEMBERED IN MOSCOW CEREMONY

By RFE/RL

Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by october29.ru)

SEPARATISTS SHELL UKRAINIAN TROOPS

Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

RUSSIAN AIRLINE PLANS YEREVAN-CRIMEA FLIGHTS OVER kYIV'S OBJECTIONS

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.

 

12:55 October 29, 2014

SANCTION THIS!

The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014

AND IN THE FALLOUT DEPARTMENT...

Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE TO RESUME GAS TALKS

Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

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

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)

KYIV CONDEMNS MOSCOW'S SUPPORT FOR SEPARATIST ELECTIONS

Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

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

GAZPROM NEFT CHALLENGES EU SANCTIONS IN EUROPEAN COURT

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

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

18:54 October 27, 2014

THE BIG CHILL

Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.

 

15:42 October 27, 2014

FROM THE YOU-CAN'T-MAKE-THIS-STUFF-UP DEPARTMENT

The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

15:24 October 27, 2014

UKRAINIAN ECHOES: RUSSIA AND THE NEIGHBORS

The Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta" has launched a new video series on its YouTube channel called Украинское эхо, or The Ukrainian Echo, that looks at Moscow's relations with former-Soviet states in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis.

The first installment, which was out on October 20, focused on Georgia:

And the latest, which went online today, looks at Kazakhstan:

15:04 October 27, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

AS EU PRAISES UKRAINE ELECTIONS, RUSSIA CRITICIZES 'DIRTY CAMPAIGN'

The European Union has hailed the parliamentary election in Ukraine as a victory for democracy and pro-European reforms in the ex-Soviet republic.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a tweet on October 27: "Congratulations to the people of #Ukraine! Victory of democracy and European reforms' agenda."

Pro-Europe parties won a sweeping victory in a parliamentary election that Ukrainians hope will strengthen the country after a year of political turmoil and months of warfare against Russian-supported separatists in the east.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said it was clear the election was valid "in spite of the rather harsh and dirty campaign," Interfax news agency reported.

He said the new Rada would have to "start an inclusive dialogue with entire society."

(Based on reporting by AFP and Interfax)

AEROFLOT RESUMES FLIGHTS TO GEORGIA

State-controlled Russian airline Aeroflot has resumed flights between Moscow and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, after a six-year hiatus caused by the war between the two former Soviet republics.

An Aeroflot Airbus 320 carried about 100 passengers from Moscow to Tbilisi on October 27.

It was the Russian flag-carrier's first direct flight since a five-day war in August 2008 over breakaway South Ossetia.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another Moscow-backed separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent states after the war, and it has troops stationed in both regions.

Diplomatic ties were severed over the war.

Direct flights between Russia and Georgia - operated by Russia's S7 and Ural Airlines as well as Georgian Airways - have been available in charter form only since August 2010.

(Based on reporting by apsny.ge and Interfax)

And via Reuters:

CZECH SECRET SERVICE SEES 'EXTREMELY HIGH' NUMBER OF RUSSIAN SPIES

PRAGUE, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Russia deployed an "extremely high" number of intelligence officers at its Czech embassy last year, the NATO member country's secret service said in an annual report released on Monday.

The reported increase in spying comes as relations between Russia and the West have worsened, culminating in the Ukraine crisis that began a year ago with street demonstrations against pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Czech spy-watchers have long warned about Russian intelligence services activities in the central European country, a member of the European Union, which is popular with Russians who often travel to and buy property in the country.

The Security Information Service (BIS) said Russian and Chinese spies in the Czech Republic work mostly to use politicians or journalists to extend their influence and secure their countries' economic interests.

"Both the Russian and the Chinese embassy employ intelligence officers serving under diplomatic cover. In 2013, the number of such officers at the Russian embassy was extremely high," the BIS report said.

Other intelligence officers travelled to the Czech Republic individually as tourists, experts, academics or businessmen.

"Russian intelligence services attempted to make use of both open and covert political, media and societal influence to promote Russian economic interests in the Czech Republic," the report said.

Russian intelligence activity previously jumped in 2007, when the Czech Republic and the United States held negotiations on building a missile defence radar in the country. The plan was eventually cancelled by President Barack Obama's administration after also running into opposition in the Czech parliament.

The current centre-left Czech government has taken a cautious approach as relations between Western countries and Russia have deteriorated this year over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

A number of Czech officials have spoken against sanctions imposed by Brussels -- for which Russia has retaliated by banning food imports from Europe -- although the government has backed the EU's actions.

Yanukovich's overthrow in February prompted Moscow to annexe the Crimea peninsula and back separatist rebellions in eastern Ukraine in which more than 3,700 people have died.

The BIS has in the past warned of Russian intelligence officers building networks in the country using Czech citizens as well as the local Russian community.

The Polish government said on Saturday it had withdrawn accreditation from a Russian journalist after arresting two Poles, including a military officer, earlier this month on suspicion of spying for Russia.

The BIS said rejecting Czech visas or accreditation for Russians with ties to the intelligence services had led to cases of retaliation against Czech career diplomats.

RUSSIAN FM SAYS UKRAINE VOTE MAY LEAD TO PEACE, WARNS OF NATIONALISTS

MOSCOW, Oct 27 (Reuters) - A parliamentary election in Ukraine offers a chance for peace in the country's east, a deputy Russian foreign minister said on Monday but warned that "nationalists" in the chamber could undermine the process, RIA news agency reported.

An initial vote count showed pro-European parties had secured a clear victory in the Ukrainian poll, the first to be held since street protests ousted the country's pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovich, earlier this year.

"Parties supporting a peaceful resolution of the internal Ukrainian crisis won a majority. This gives them a new chance to return to the agreements made, first and foremost, in Minsk," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, referring to agreements made by Kiev, Moscow and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko hailed the election result as a show of popular support for his plan to end a pro-Russian rebellion in the east and pursue reforms.

Kiev and the West blame Moscow for destabilising Ukraine by supporting and arming the rebels as well as reinforcing them with Russian troops. Moscow denies taking part in the armed conflict.

"The fact that openly nationalistic and chauvinistic forces won considerable support and will be represented in the Rada (parliament) creates an additional threat that again calls will sound ... for the use of force, for bloodshed," Karasin added.

"That is extremely dangerous."

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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