Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The Power Vertical

Podcast -- Spy Vs. Spy: Russia's Espionage Games

This Soviet-era poster warns citizens to "beware of spies."
This Soviet-era poster warns citizens to "beware of spies."
An indictment in the United States this week of 11 alleged Russian agents on charges of illegally exporting sensitive microelectronics through a Texas-based company has refocused attention on the Kremlin's espionage activities, which some analysts say have risen to Cold War levels.
 
But this isn't your father's looking-glass war. In the age of the Internet and social media, international espionage has entered a whole new dimension.
 
In the latest edition of "The Power Vertical Podcast," I discuss the new spy games with my regular co-host, Kirill Kobrin, and special guest Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who is an expert on Russia's security services and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."
 
Also on the podcast, Kirill, Mark, and I talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin's upcoming birthday celebrations.

The Power Vertical -- Spy Vs. Spy: Russia's Espionage Games
The Power Vertical -- Spy Vs. Spy: Russia's Espionage Gamesi
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Listen to or download the podcast above, or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.
 
Enjoy...

Tags: espionage,Vladimir Putin,Power Vertical podcast,Russian intelligence services

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by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 06, 2012 17:54
When was the last time a big ring of American spies was apprehended in Russia? Is the explanation that Americans are that much better at spying than Russia? Or is it that Americans are simply friendlier? Or do they consider Russia so pathetic it's not worth spying on? Any way you look at it, it's pretty humiliating for Russia. But not quite as humiliating as being caught stealing such pedestrian computer materials, and being exposed as being so unable to make them yourself. Putin's Russia is as backwards and pathetic as it has always been, stealing instead of inventing. That is the price of totalitarian society, and highlights the fact that Russia does not have one college in the world's top 200.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 06, 2012 22:23
Meanwhile, the USA has three colleges just in the top five alone. And still, one-fifth of Americans surveyed believes the sun revolves around the earth, and Gallup gives Americans high marks for general knowledge because most know the event celebrated on the nation's most popular holiday, the 4th of July.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/3742/new-poll-gauges-americans-general-knowledge-levels.aspx

Surprisingly, 62.9 % of Republicans still believe Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction when the USA invaded in 2003, and 55.6% of Republicans have always believed President Obama was born in a country other than the United States.

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~benv/files/poll%20responses%20by%20party%20ID.pdf

How many Americans got their smarts from top colleges, and how many got them from talk radio anchored by blinding ignorance? You tell me.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 07, 2012 16:04
Mark, who rates the colleges? The West, the East or … Russia?
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
October 07, 2012 22:31
Thanks Mark - let those facts speak for themselves. Not to mention that Russia is now the only world power with a space "shuttle" capability, and has the fastest military jet-fighter in the world. "...it's not worth spying on", eh?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 08, 2012 04:37
The ratings list I used came from a multinational organization called QS. The Director is a Brit from Nottingham, but the others are from all over. QS is headquartered in London. Although the group reports they speak an impressive cross-section of languages among them, we have no way of knowing how well they speak them and you have to go down as far as #18 on the list before you hit a college in which you could expect the main language spoken to be other than English.

http://www.iu.qs.com/about/meet-the-team/

Categories used to compile the score that decides where you rate on the list are Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty-Student Ratio, International Faculty, International Students and Citations per Faculty.

One that's missing, and one in which Russia might do quite a bit better than many, would be "percentage of the total population which has a shot at a college education".

According to Wikipedia, over 50% of Americans claim to have had "some college", but it's difficult to say what good it did them because the percentage that obtained at least an Associate's Degree is less than 40%. That's still pretty good.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_United_States#General_attainment_of_degrees.2Fdiplomas

Over half of Russian adults, however, have completed university education, which is considerably higher than the USA and twice as high as the OECD average.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Russia#cite_note-unesco-15
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 08, 2012 22:00
"Not to mention that Russia is now the only world power with a space "shuttle" capability, and has the fastest military jet-fighter in the world. "...it's not worth spying on", eh? "

Testify, William! If you check out the link below on the Shkval torpedo, there is some delicious irony for you near the bottom; in 2000, an American "businessman" named Edmond Pope was arrested by the FSB for stealing state secrets - specifically, information on the Shkval torpedo - and consigned to the slammer for 20 years. He was pardoned later that same year by that soulless black hole of merciless evil, Vladimir Putin, on humanitarian grounds because he had been diagnosed with bone cancer.

Although he was posing as a businessman, Pope was a former Navy Captain who spent most of his U.S. Navy career in intelligence, and was the head of a private security firm. Some might not call him a spy, but those people would have sand in their ears. But wait, that's not the delicious part!

The original unguided straight-running Shkval was introduced in 1977. More than 20 years later, the United States government apparently thought it was still a secret worth stealing.
In Response

by: General Patton from: from grave
October 07, 2012 16:25
LaRuss this is my first and last warning. Russians hate Americans, and Americans are friendly to Russia. You will be sold for nothing when the time is right. Americans help Russia all their free time against Muslims countries occupied by Russia. They are so nice to Russia they even helped Russia to assassinate pro-independence Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudaev, they put Chechen/North Caucasus pro-independence movement into the terrorist list, and offered millions of dollars for their leaders' heads. Even before that they provided Studebaker lorries for Russians to commit genocide against Muslim North Caucasians via the land lease in 1944.
I call Russia and USA: Twix the sweet couple.
Oh! Wait! Take my words back, in 1993 the head of the Chechen intelligence Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev said that Russia is the center of the world government. I guess the USA is her working bee.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/target-patton-robert-wilcox/1105516155
In Response

by: Johnathan from: California
October 17, 2012 00:58
You people are idiots for comparing Russia and USA. These two superpowers has great people and you should show some respect for the people that work hard and try to do their best for a better world.

by: Konstantine from: Los Angeles
October 08, 2012 00:26
Thought it is a classic case of classic "movie" war,
Where legitimate secrets of some countries stolen,
It is a drop in a backet of barbarian Empires hore -
To plot torture, plagiarize, dissposses and kill all
That is not Cousins Emperors and their luers.

WW1 was not for national interests of nations,
But to murder at least 40 millions of the hated
By the Cousins scared by "Host of Revolution"
Innocent by standards men, as the moderated
Spy agencies and nations, conspire plagiarize.

It could be, wile sucking of me blood of Jesus,
The danceling on "Bundershaft" CIA and KGB
Relaxed a bit, and as a gift to Putin, the hoses
Of Russian sucking sent a gift as spying bees.
The gift before that was murder of my mother.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
October 08, 2012 01:07
Nice report and have to agree 100% on the folly and waste of most espionage work. The Russians aren’t alone in creating elaborate surveillance bureaucracies whose main function is to protect their turf and salaries (all under the guise of ‘protecting national security’). The Department of Homeland Security is a gross example of this government-sponsored scrutiny. From my pedestrian background in intelligence work, I would wager that 90% of all valuable information can be derived from open sources or merely making a couple of phone calls. The Russians suffer more from this mania, as many don’t appear to believe that access to open information helps to strengthen all fibers of society, and not just those wearing trench-coats and sunglasses.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 08, 2012 17:34
Well said, Ray, not to mention accurate. Astonishing things that would have made intelligence professionals drool as little as 20 years ago are now available in open source if you are patient and know how to search. The trick now is to sort the believable from the hedged or deliberately fabricated in open-source data, and that can often be achieved by comparing claimed performance figures with known capabilities, to use one example. However, there is the occasional breakthrough when a certain medium has hit a design wall and cannot be made to go further, or faster or smaller or whatever.

An example is the Shkval torpedo. When torpedo design had evolved about as far as was possible and improvements had become mainly those of incremental efficiency, it was Russian designers who thought of a torpedo driving through air rather than through water, and routed the exhaust so the Shkval drove through a continuous column of its own bubbles. This resulted in a torpedo of fearsome speeds, although it is a straight-runner and not guided. But you don't have an awful lot of time to get out of the way. All open-source information. This source

https://www.militaryperiscope.com/mdb-smpl/weapons/minetorp/torpedo/w0004768.shtml

suggests there is a homing version, which would be bad news indeed, but it must slow to the characteristics of a conventional torpedo to do so.

Sudden leaps of unconventional thought are certainly not limited to Russian engineers, and western and Asian designers can offer many examples of conceptual visualization that stagger the mind. It's a pity, in all those cases, that people could not bend their minds more to aiding one another than destroying one another or seizing a momentary advantage. But therein lies the true beauty of open source information.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
October 09, 2012 14:59
Well, the Shkval is fast, but its range is limited to about 5 miles/11km maximum, so its utility is doubtful at best under modern combat conditions, considering the Mk48 ADCAP has a range of 30 Nautical Miles or about 55km, well you get the idea.

Its very much like taking a knife to a gunfight.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 10, 2012 02:28
"... its utility is doubtful at best under modern combat conditions, considering the Mk48 ADCAP has a range of 30 Nautical Miles or about 55km, well you get the idea.

Its very much like taking a knife to a gunfight."

Is that so? Once a technology is established, evolving it is much easier, and the Shkval 2 is said to have a much longer range.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VA-111_Shkval

However, I question whether it needs it. Conventional torpedoes in the Russian inventory are quite capable, and the role of the Shkval is not employment as a conventional torpedo - it is a countermeasure that forces an enemy who has just launched a torpedo itself to maneuver violently and cut its guidance wires in an attempt to avoid. The ADCAP is just like any other torpedo once it begins pinging as it reaches its "enable" point.

http://rwhiston.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/9/

As a submariner I would want to know without a doubt that I was beyond range of the Shkval before I would ignore its release and concentrate on my own torpedo engagement. Could you be that cool, and that sure? The transmission of sound underwater is affected by a lot of anomalies, and the only way to be sure is to ping the target yourself (good luck from 30 miles) or have other antisubmarine assets establish its position for you by dropping active sonobuoys. If the submarine you are looking for is below the layer, again; good luck. All those techniques take time, and you have seconds to make up your mind - do you continue with the engagement, or cut your wire and maneuver to avoid?

And despite what the movies might have told you, submarine-on-submarine engagements that take place at 55 km separation are a dream which depends on an anomalous water environment that might come along once in a decade.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
October 11, 2012 11:32
Mark, it is easy to see you are FOS.
An increase in range from 11KM to 15KM is marginal.

Also the Shkval suffers from one little problem under the scenario envisaged. While the MK48 is bearing down on you from the close range you envisage, the captain of the Russian sub has to find range and bearing to the target, then turn and launch his super fast but short range "make the enemy evade" unguided torpedo. By which time he is probably dead, better to drop a countermeasure such as a noisemaker and take evading action.

And if there is a guided version that has to slow to the speed of a conventional torpedo that is a waste of time.

And BTW, I am not talking about submarine engagements from "movies" but those from exercises.

In addition, Russian submarines have been found time and again easy to sneak up on by western navies, hell even a Collins class (described by both the US & RN as hideously noisy) are able to manage it, so a LA class or the new RN Astute class should have no problems whatsoever sneaking up on them.

You do also realize that when torpedoes such as the Mk48 reach their enable point they are self guiding don't you? In fact they can be switched to active mode by cutting the cable, this means they are less resistant to countermeasures than when wire guided, but still deadly weapons.

As for sound underwater being affected by anomalies, of course, but the highly trained sonar operators not to mention the computer systems utilized in the sonar systems onboard modern submarines enable them to have a very very good idea of what is going on around the boat for some considerable distance around often to a greater distance than active sonar, also the fact that USN submarines operate as part of a C3 system involving a CBG air wing with Seahawks etc, so you will almost invariably have people dropping sonar buoys and trying to box in the target.

As for being beneath the layer, well you have been watching too many films good sir. The thermal layer causes a shadow zone at certain angles to the listening ship/submarine, but is most certainly not a blanket effect.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 11, 2012 23:14
You should call up the USN, Andrew; I'm sure they'd be very interested in your revelations on the propagation of sound in water.

The Shkval does not need to be matched for range and bearing. It only needs to be fired in the approximate right direction. It will be identified immediately by its speed as what it is. It is not intended to actually hit the enemy submarine, merely to present the possibilty that it could. I don't know where you're getting your figures, but no new range was given for the Shkval 2 - just that it would be significantly increased.

The thermal layer does not of course cover the entire ocean like a blanket, and nobody suggested it does. It is also most assuredly much bigger than just submarine-sized - what the hell do you think dipping sonars and towed arrays are for? To get under the layer - why bother if it's only 300 square yards?

It may surprise you to know U.S. submarines on patrol do not typically betray their presence by traveling with a road show of Seahawks flinging sonobuoys everywhere. Who goes along with these helicopters to refuel them? They must have incredible endurance. When they are traveling with a Task Group or squadron underway, indeed antisubmarine warfare is a group effort, but that is the exception for U.S. submarines rather than the rule, and they customarily operate independently - even when traveling with a task group they are frequently far ahead.

I remember a few years ago when a Russian submarine, likely a Victor II, briefly lost depth control while directly underneath the U.S. Carrier KITTY HAWK when it was in the center of its task group. The carrier had to go back to Yokusuka for repairs because the Victor had accidentally left a prop blade sticking in the hull. It somehow managed to get right into the centre of the destroyer and frigate screen and directly under the carrier close enough to touch it. Quite an achievement for something that is so noisy you can hear it from the front row of an Eminem concert. Either that, or all the sonar rates were asleep. Because nobody knew it was there, or ever would have if not for the accident.

The fact remains that the USA was caught trying to steal information on the Shkval more than 20 years after it was operational. If it's like taking a knife to a gunfight, why bother?
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
October 08, 2012 21:37
Good points, Ray - both sides have a well developed "security industry" with both sides dependent on "double-agents" (dating back to the Oleg Penkovsky days). Much of the intelligence information is coming from the same sources.

by: Anonymous
October 11, 2012 03:29
This Soviet-era poster warns citizens to "beware of spies."
The guy on the right: "Vanya, look at my finger"
The guy on the left: "Misha, my love, I want to hug and kiss you"
The American spy in the back: "Darn it, I knew Russia has a 'happy' army".
But honestly, too much subliminal messages on the picture.

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

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.

 

17:25 October 16, 2014

TARGET: VEDOMOSTI

According to a report in Bloomberg, Kremlin-connected oligarchs are plotting to take over "Vedomosti," one of Russia's few remaining independent newspapers -- one that has been a pathbreaker in the field of economic journalism and data-driven investigative reporting.

Businessmen close to President Vladimir Putin are preparing to acquire Vedomosti, the largest Russian newspaper outside the Kremlin’s control, three people familiar with the matter said.

Putin signed a law yesterday capping foreign holdings in media at 20 percent, meaning the owners of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, co-founders of the newspaper, must cut or sell their 33 percent stakes by the end of 2016. The third owner, Sanoma Oyj (SAA1V), is in talks to sell its Russian assets.

Under a plan backed by the presidential administration, an intermediary may be used to acquire all three stakes to make the deal more palatable politically before a group loyal to Putin buys the whole newspaper, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The eventual owner will probably be either Gazprom-Media, an affiliate of the state-run gas exporter, or companies linked to longtime Putin ally Yury Kovalchuk, they said.

“The Kremlin sees Vedomosti’s shareholders as foreign governments,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Tatiana Lysova, said in an interview. “The WSJ equals the U.S. and the FT the U.K. They want a Russian owner so they have someone to call.”

Read the whole piece here.

 

11:17 October 16, 2014

CRIMEA'S LGBT COMMUNITY FLEES IN FEAR

Simon Shuster has a dispatch in Time Magazine about the plight of the gay and lesbian community in Crimea after the Russian annexation.

For the gay community in Crimea, the most worrying piece of legislation was the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda,” which Putin signed in 2012. Although the law is billed as an effort to protect Russian children from learning about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” its critics say the law encourages homophobia, signaling to Russians that gays are somehow inferior and should not be allowed to insist on their equality in public.

Since March, the new leaders of Crimea have embraced these principles with gusto. 

Read it all here.

11:12 October 16, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

CRIMEA'S MOSCOW-BACKED LEADER ADMITS SOME TATARS MISSING

Crimea’s Moscow-backed leader Sergei Aksyonov has admitted that four Crimean Tatars are missing on the annexed peninsula.

Aksyonov said on October 16 that the missing Crimean Tatars had not been abducted, adding that some of them "had fought in Syria."

Aksyonov's statement comes amid media reports saying that several Crimean Tatars disappeared in recent days, some of them allegedly kidnapped by unknown men in military uniform.

At least three Crimean Tatar men have been found dead since Moscow's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in March.

Pressure on Crimean Tatars, the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority group that largely opposed the annexation, has increased in recent weeks.

In mid-September, Russian authorities seized the Crimean Tatar assembly, the Mejlis, and searched homes of leading members of the Tatar community.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

IN PERM, RUSSIA TRIES MEMBER OF BANNED ISLAMIC GROUP

Six suspected members of a banned Islamic movement went on trial in the Russian city of Perm on October 16.

Local authorities say the defendants are members of an organization called Nurcular. The seventh member of the group has received a suspended one-year term in June.

In May last year several alleged members of Nurcular were arrested in Perm, near the Ural mountains east of Moscow; St. Petersburg; and the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

Nurcular was founded by Turkish Islamic cleric Said Nursi, who died in 1960.

It has been banned in Russia since 2008.

Authorities say it propagates the idea of creating an Islamic state on lands where indigenous peoples speak Turkic languages.

(Based on reporting by rapsinews.ru and Interfax)

RUSSIA TO SPEND RECORD AMOUNT ON DEFENSE IN 2015

Russia will allot some 3.3 trillion rubles (about $80 billion) from the state budget for defense spending in 2015, according to the chairman of the defense committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Vladimir Komoyedov told Russian news agency Interfax on October 16 defense spending for next year would be some $20 billion more than this year, but he added that his committee foresees slight reductions in spending for 2016 and 2017.

Komoyedov said the amount to be spent on defense in 2015 was some 4.2% of Russia's GDP.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on October 7 that Russia's defense spending plans needed to be "more realistic" in light of international sanctions imposed on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

A three-year draft budget reportedly calls for a 5.3 percent cut in defence spending in 2016, the first reduction since 1998.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and FT)

PUTIN PRAISES SERBIA, LAMBASTES WEST AHEAD OF BELGRADE VISIT

By RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Moscow's "Serbian friends" and lashed out at the West in remarks published ahead of a state visit to Belgrade on October 16.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and that attempts to do so could severely damage 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 is to attend Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

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

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 did not mention the United States, but a speech in May in which President Barack Obama said he believes in "American exceptionalism" raised hackles in Russia.

The Belgrade visit is likely to shower Putin with positive attention before he faces Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan.

Soviet Army troops helped Yugoslav partisans liberate Belgrade and Serbian officials have welcomed Putin's decision to attend the parade.

More recently, Russia gave Serbia moral support by angrily criticizing the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and backed Belgrade's  opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, which has been recognized by the United States but not by Moscow and has been unable to get a seat at the United Nations.

The two mostly Slavic nations are linked by the Orthodox Christian faith and Russia has championed the rights of Serbs in ethnically mixed Bosnia.

"We have joint roots, language, faith, customs and culture," Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told Russian television before the visit. "In all wars we were always on the same side."

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.

Putin is due to meet with Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandr Vucic for talks on military cooperation and economic ties, including Serbia's participation in Russia's South Stream gas pipeline project, which the EU has suspended in member states.

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

In the "Politika" interview, Putin promoted the South Stream project, saying its implementation would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

"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."

Putin said the volume of trade between Russia and Serbia had risen by 15 percent last year, to nearly $2 billion, and that he expects it to reach that mark this year.

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.

Vucic pointed out that within the EU there are five countries that have not recognized the independence of Serbia's former republic of Kosovo.

However, he told reporters last week that "Putin will hear that Serbia is on the European path. We have other relations we are developing with the Russian Federation, but the 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 the Russian leader's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

People around the city pointed to the long friendship between Serbs and Russians as reason to welcome Russia's leader.

Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, welcomed Putin's visit.

"Nothing better could happen to us. Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

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

Construction engineer Predrag Markovic saw it as natural that Putin would attend a celebration marking the liberation of Belgrade.

"We wouldn't mind if other leaders came too, but I think that Russia and the former Soviet Union were the most important in the liberation of Belgrade."

Slobodan Knezevic said Putin's attendance at the anniversary was appropriate.

"It is really a good that they invited the Russians and Putin. Serbia should thank them for many things. They were always helping us, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stand only by their side. But it is great that they invited them."

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

NATO COMMANDER SEES NO 'MAJOR' RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL NEAR UKRAINE

NATO's top military commander says the alliance has not seen "major movement" so far of Russian troops from a region bordering eastern Ukraine.

On October 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered about 17,600 Russian troops to return to their bases after what Moscow described as training drills in the southern Rostov region.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told AP news agency on October 15, “Now we will watch to see if there is delivery on the promise."

NATO has refuted previous Russian claims of troop withdrawals from the regions bordering eastern Ukraine, where separatists have been battling government troops since April.

Moscow has consistently denied Ukrainian and Western allegations that it has deployed Russian troops and heavy military equipment in eastern Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists there.

(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NAVALNY ASSOCIATE'S HOUSE ARREST EXTENDED

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The house arrest of an associate of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has been extended.

A court in Moscow ruled on October 15 that Konstantin Yankauskas's house arrest must be prolonged until December 10.

Yankauskas was placed under house arrest on June 11.  The previous term was to expire on October 17.

Yankauskas and two other Navalny associates, Nikolai Lyaskin and Vladimir Ashurkov, are accused of election-law violations and fraud related to  funding of Navalny's campaign for Moscow mayor last year.

Yankauskas calls the case politically motivated.

Navalny and his brother Oleg have been accused of stealing and laundering $756,500 from the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.

Navalny, a leader of anti-government protests in 2011-2012, is also serving a five-year suspended sentence on a $500,000 theft conviction.

He calls all the cases against him politically motivated.

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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