Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The Power Vertical

Russia's Pussy Riot Frenzy (Updated)

A scrawled message demanding freedom for jailed members of Pussy Riot in an apartment where two women were killed in Kazan.
A scrawled message demanding freedom for jailed members of Pussy Riot in an apartment where two women were killed in Kazan.
Earlier this week, Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Orthodox Church's social affairs department, issued a dire warning in response to vandals chopping down crosses in Arkhangelsk and in Chelyabinsk Oblast.
 
"People who are currently cutting down crosses in the future may turn to violence and murder," Chaplin said on August 26.

The vandalism took place shortly after three members of the feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Kremlin protest performance in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.
 
Despite the lack of any real evidence suggesting a connection, the state-controlled media quickly linked the incidents to the group's supporters.

Then, four days after Chaplin's comments, on August 30, the Investigative Committee announced that two women were brutally stabbed to death in their apartment in Kazan. Investigators said  the inscription "Free Pussy Riot," written "presumably" in blood, was found in the apartment.
 
It didn't take the pro-Kremlin Russian media long to run with the meme.
 
A headline on the website of the state-run "Vesti" television news program began: "They've Started To Kill For Pussy Riot."

Kristina Potupchik, the former spokeswoman for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, also wasted no time in drawing conclusions.
 
On her blog, she juxtaposed a photograph of the "Free Pussy Riot" inscription in Kazan with one from the 1969 murders committed by followers of Charles Manson in California, in which they wrote "Death To Pigs" on the walls of their victims' homes. Potupchik wrote that Pussy Riot's supporters "will not get away" with the crime.

And Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for Relations with the Police and Armed Forces, said that "blood is on the conscience" of those who supported Pussy Riot members during their trial. Smirnov also called on Paul McCartney, Amnesty International, and others to renounce the group.

It was a full-court press. But as the day progressed, holes began to appear in the initial version of events.
 
First, Andrei Sheptitsky, a Kazan-based spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said the evidence suggested the crime was committed by either a psychopath or a drug addict and that the inscription appeared to be an attempt to cover up the crime and mislead police.
 
Then, the online Dozhd TV noted that the initial reports of the crime in the Kazan media, which appeared in the evening on August 29 when the bodies were discovered, made no mention of the "Free Pussy Riot" inscription.

WATCH THE DOZHD TV REPORT HERE:
 

 
And Petr Verzilov, husband of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, later tweeted a link to a report on the killings in the daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" that said police worked on the crime scene "all night." The report also made no mention of the inscription.

The fact that reports of the inscription first appeared on LifeNews, a website with ties to the security services, also raised suspicions that the official story might not be entirely accurate.

Nikolai Polozov, an attorney for the three jailed members of the group, called the crime in Kazan "horrible," adding that either it was committed by a psychopath or was a "horrendous provocation."
 
In an interview with Dozhd TV,  Geidar Dzhemal, chairman of the Kazan-based Islamic Committee of Russia, said he had no doubt that the attempts to link the killings in Kazan -- and the vandalism against the crosses in Arkhangelsk and Chelyabinsk -- to Pussy Riot supporters was orchestrated by the authorities:
 
This is a blatant provocation by the cops. It's clear that it is anti-Pussy Riot, so it's security services that are behind it -- just as the cross-chopping epidemic (eds: recent cases of Orthodox wooden crosses chopped down in several Russian cities) was also ordered by security services. It seems someone tried too hard because it's not very convincing that it was done by Pussy Riot supporters. It's written in such big block letters, so it's clear it came from the cops.
 
This story is developing very quickly and I am reluctant to draw any firm conclusions just yet. But there is a lot here that raises serious questions. I'll leave it at that for now.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

UPDATE: Police in Kazan say they have detained a man who confessed to killing the two women. The man, identified as 38-year-old university professor Igro Danilevsky, knew one of the victims and denied any connection to Pussy Riot. Interfax reported that he also confessed to trying to "fake a ritual killing" and mislead police by writing "Free Pussy Riot" on the wall.

(A big thanks to my colleague Pavel Butorin of @RusPoliceWatch for help in compiling material for this post.)

Tags: Pussy Riot

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Comments
     
by: Mark from: Victoria
August 31, 2012 01:39
Let me help you - the police fabricated the inscription in order to implicate Pussy Riot supporters, or at a minimum to negatively influence their chances of being freed on appeal. That's where you're going, isn't it? Oh, wait, I know - first Putin killed the women, then called the police and directed them to paint the phony inscription!! Now we know he at least knows the lyrics to "Blueberry Hill" and "Free Pussy Riot" in English.

Here's a crazy idea - what if the pulled-out drawers and the overturned furniture were the deception, meant to point police in the direction of a robbery? There seems to be a concerted effort to push opinion in the direction that the "Free Pussy Riot" phrase was the red herring. Maybe it's not.

Quite possibly the reason early reports of the murder did not mention the phrase was because reporters were not given free run of the crime scene, and were told only that two victims had been murdered.

Or perhaps Andrey Sheptitsky is the murderer. He certainly seems to know a lot about the killer considering the investigation has only started, certain already that it was a psychotic or drug addict who is trying to avoid suspicion by pinning the crime on Pussy Riot supporters. Alternatively, he may have suggested these were possibilities, whereupon sites like this one quickly gave his speculation the weight of a conclusion. If the evidence suggested such clear deductions only hours after the crime was committed, Russians must be a great deal faster at processing crime scenes than their western counterparts.

But then, they already know Putin did it.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 01, 2012 23:34
No, let ME help you. The police didn't fabricate it -- the killer took advantage of the situation to throw attention away from him. The police may have swallowed it (till the culprit was arrested), but maybe they didn't; they didn't say. Now, the media and the Orthodox Church.... they did swallow it, bait, hook and line. And on they went, saying that, of course, Pussy Riot supporters are willing to kill anyone, anywhere, just to get attention.

True?

See, here's the point I think you're missing -- whatever the situation in the crime scene, both the media and the Orthodox Church ran away with claims that this is what they are now going to do. No 'let's wait and see', as you're asking for here: just a quick "yes, that's what it is".

Putin probably didn't do it. But I'm willing to bet he smiled when he heard of it. Or do you think he cried for the victim?...
In Response

by: Gregory from: UK
September 07, 2012 19:19
Amnesty UK on their Facebook were alleging fabrication (by Putin) of the VOINA sex orgy museum video and cat throwing film! Sadly, that background stuff is only too authentic. VOINA are not nice people, and they inspire other people who are not very safe.

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
August 31, 2012 02:02
Will this perhaps simply remain as one of those events in Russian political history -- like the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities -- that will remain unconclusively investigated, and will be cited by both sides as evidence that their opponents are evil?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 31, 2012 15:58
By now we all know the murderer has been found and confessed: a Kazan professor who had been an associate of the younger woman, and who ransacked the place in order to remove any evidence of the connection. He also confessed that he injected the "Free Pussy Riot" phrase in order to misdirect the police. Hopefully everyone can now have a good laugh at Geidar Dzehmal for his asinine suggestion that it obviously was "the authorities" who put the phrase there in order to discredit Pussy Riot, and his even-more-asinine suggestion that it had to have been the cops who did it because they printed in large block letters. My, yes, that's a giveaway, isn't it? Much like fool columnist Lucas Harding's assertion in his cliffhanger stories that you can always spot the FSB - it's comically easy, really - because they wear leather jackets.

What will be spun from this, I wonder? That "the cops" simply put the arm on some poor mentally-deficient citizen and forced him to confess? Otherwise we would have to face the acknowledgement that it was pretty fast police work - maybe some benefit was derived from working on the crime scene "all night" when they were implied to have been faking the Pussy Riot slogan which would have taken less than 5 minutes to write.

It's hard to stay out in front of cases like this one, since comments remain in moderation for something like 10-12 hours and I never see mine until next day after they were posted. I have no way of knowing how quickly others are put up.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 01, 2012 23:39
Yes -- and let's all also have a laugh for the speed with which the media and the Orthodox Church came to the conclusion that the criminal -- who turned out to be this Kazan professor -- had been Pussy Riot's knight in shining armor since early childhood.

I actually like the fact that there is a long wait before the comments are published. This makes it harder to have those long, aggressive threads with commenters yelling at each other that are so sadly frequent in the interwebs these days. Maybe the waiting period will make people more rational about their arguments and ideas, and less prone to emotionality.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
August 31, 2012 12:56
I listened to some of Viktor Shenderovich’s commentary on Echo Moscow yesterday, and he suggested that this murder was analogous to the Nazi’s Kristallnacht. According to VS, the Kremlin authorities were frightened this past winter and devised the plan to use/abuse the ROC to divide the protest movement. He might be correct. The Pussy Riot story has certainly deflected the anger and frustration that many Russians felt after the questionable Duma election results and Putin’s swap with Medvedev. I suspect that some Kremlin officials will be willing to spill more blood and sprinkle more holy water to protect the status quo.

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 02, 2012 16:51
"Yes -- and let's all also have a laugh for the speed with which the media and the Orthodox Church came to the conclusion that the criminal -- who turned out to be this Kazan professor -- had been Pussy Riot's knight in shining armor since early childhood."

I think we have to consider that this was precisely the murderer's intent, and that he deliberately adjusted the evidence to point to that conclusion. However, you are right that they did rush to the incorrect judgment.

Of course you are deliberately exaggerating with that "Pussy Riot's knight in shining armor since early childhood" stuff, and it's good - I like it. If English is your second language, your command of it is remarkable. But Pussy Riot is demonstrably a new phenomenon: why, it wasn't that long ago they were staging "art happenings" like the one featuring a make-believe Tajik with a noose around his neck and signs suggesting "the blacks" from the Caucasus should go home where they belonged.

http://www.austereinsomniac.info/blog/2012/8/31/the-hanging-of-a-tajik.html

Yes, that's today's "it girl", Nadya Tolokonnikova, in the photo. Since she's only, what, 21? , this couldn't have been too long ago.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 16, 2012 12:21
Indeed, English is my second (actually, third) language; I was born in Brazil, and my native language is Portuguese. But I use English every day for my work (the international language of science, etc.), so I really needed a good command of it.

One of the curious things about Russia is how things are confused there, and how people outside shouldn't think those who fight Putin are thereby in agreement with all the current "good" liberal opinions. Not only do I find it possible that Ms Tolokonnikova defended opininos I disagree with -- I find it inevitable. (I will bet that many a supporter of Putin, or perhaps even Putin himself, was happy to see that painting; they would certainly agree with its spirit.)

Just as Lincoln's opinions on Blacks would today strike us as quite racist, so would the opinions of many a Russian anti-Putin protester (you only have to look at Udaltsov's record...). This doesn't change the fact that Lincoln represented a step forward in racial equality in the US. Nor does this photo change the fact that Ms Tolokonnikova et al. were right in condemning and protesting against Putin. And their condemnation was politically, not religiously, motivated. That's the point here.

Solzhenitsyn was a great dissident--but he wrote wrong things on the topic of Ukraine. Gorbachov is a good guy, as far as I can tell--but he made a number of bad decisions during the fall of the Soviet Union. Mikhalkov is a great, talented director--but he decided to support Putin.

Such is life.

by: Don Ake from: United States - Canton,OH
September 03, 2012 13:04
Men everywhere should fear this movement - http://akespains.blogspot.com/2012/08/preventing-female-riots-and-sex-strikes.html

by: Gregory from: UK
September 07, 2012 19:14
The blood on the wall incident was predicted in advance. The entire VOINA thing was already being compared to the Spahn Movie Ranch. There is a perfectly valid legal connection between the killings and P*ssy Riot. It is perverse to suggest there is not. If the name was on the wall, then that is enough of a connection, to establish that Article 19 UDHR should not be allowed to subordinate Article 18 UDHR. The law prohibits X (Cathedral protests) to protect the moral order and to deter Spahn Movie Ranch style happenings. The blood on the wall, that is good enough to go to the ECHR as direct evidence of 'the harm' of the original protest. The writing didn't say 'Adolf Hitler' it said something else.

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