Ukrainian riot police used batons and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of pro-Europe protesters early on Saturday after President Viktor Yanukovich opted not to sign a pact with the European Union.
Helmeted police bearing white shields, stormed an encampment of protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square, as they sang songs and warmed themselves by campfires, the opposition said.
Tension had been building since Friday, when Yanukovich declined to sign the pact with EU leaders at a summit in Lithuania, going back on a pledge to work toward integrating his ex-Soviet republic into the European mainstream.
Kerry was a major proponent of the New START treaty with Russia, which the Senate ratified after a long debate in December 2010. As secretary of state, he has supported negotiating a follow-on treaty with Russia that could place further limits on the two countries’ stockpiles of strategic and tactical deployed nuclear weapons.
But Kerry knew last year that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty. That pact, signed by President Reagan, bars development, testing, or deployment of missiles or delivery systems with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
[...] The exact manner of the Russian cheating remains unclear and highly classified, although there have been several reports that Russia has tested and plans to continue testing two missiles in ways that could violate the terms of the treaty: the SS-25 road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and the newer RS-26 ICBM, which Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has called “the missile defense killer,” a reference to U.S. plans to expand ballistic missile defense in Europe.
The State Department declined to confirm or deny that it believes Russia is in violation of the treaty and declined to comment on the 2012 briefing with Kerry.
Citizens of three former Soviet countries — Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan — can work legally on the territory of one another’s countries.
And in a glass-and-steel skyscraper in Moscow, hundreds of officials at a new international organization have quietly taken over trade policy for these three governments.
After years of fits and starts, a Russian-backed idea to form a free-trade zone on the territory of much of the former Soviet Union is closer to fruition today than ever before.
Adding to the momentum was the decision last week by the Ukrainian government to hold talks on aligning with this group, called the Customs Union, rather than with the European Union. Two other former Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, have also committed to joining this group, a sort of Nafta of Eurasia.
- EU summit shows no sign of reviving Ukraine deal
- More Than 100,000 March In Protest In Ukraine
- Ukraine’s Yanukovich defends policy, Tymoshenko declares hunger strike
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the EU of “blackmail” in its efforts to get Ukraine to sign a major trade deal at a summit next week, hours after Kiev dramatically suspended talks on the pact.
Mr Putin accused the EU of helping to organise demonstrations that broke out in Kiev against the Ukrainian government’s move on Thursday to freeze the European deal and instead reopen talks on closer ties with Russia. More protests are planned this weekend, including by Ukrainians in foreign capitals.
The Russian leader’s comments prompted bitter mirth from EU officials – who believe it was “blackmail” from Moscow, including blocks on Ukrainian products and other threats, that persuaded Kiev to freeze the EU deal.
[...] Ukraine’s apparent U-turn… was a stinging blow for European officials after six years of talks. They saw the EU deal as a way of “anchoring” 46m-strong Ukraine in the west and implanting European democratic values.
Instead, Ukraine may be set to receive financial help from Moscow, which could ultimately lure it into a Russian-led “Eurasian Economic Union” of ex-Soviet states that some western officials call a “club” of authoritarian leaders.
Russian courts granted bail to nine jailed foreign Greenpeace activists on Tuesday, a turnaround in Russia’s treatment of 30 people facing trial over a protest against Arctic oil drilling.
Activists from New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Italy, France, Finland and Poland were each granted a 2 million rouble ($61,300) bail in hearings over their dentention since the September protest at an offshore Russian oil rig.
But Greenpeace said it remains unclear whether they will be allowed to go back home.
One other activist has been ordered held in further pre-trial detention. All 30 face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
But the rulings signaled a shift in Russia’s handling of the case, which has fueled Western criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s third term. Courts had repeatedly refused to free them on bail in previous hearings.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed a crucial detail Thursday about last week’s nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva that explains much more clearly than previous reports why the meeting broke up without agreement.
Lavrov said the United States circulated a draft that had been amended in response to French demands to other members of the six-power P5+1 for approval “literally at the last moment, when we were about to leave Geneva.”
Lavrov’s revelation, which has thus far been ignored by major news outlets, came in a news conference in Cairo Thursday that was largely devoted to Egypt and Syria. Lavrov provided the first real details about the circumstances under which Iran left Geneva without agreeing to the draft presented by the P5+1.
- US Official: ’Quite possible’ Iran, powers can reach nuclear deal next week
- IAEA: Iran Halting Nuclear Expansion Under Rouhani
- Netanyahu ‘unimpressed’ by IAEA nuclear report on Iran
- Iranian FM: Talks doomed if ‘nuclear rights’ not recognized
- Iran tells West wants oil, banking sanctions considered up front
Jailed Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is on her way to a new penal colony in Siberia, her husband said Tuesday, following fears after two weeks without information about her whereabouts.
Tolokonnikova, 23, who alleged major prison abuses in her previous colony in central Russia, is on her way to a new prison colony deep in the Krasnoyarsk region, her husband Pyotr Verzilov wrote on Twitter, saying the information comes from a reliable source.
The penal colony number 50 in the town of Nizhny Ingash lies about 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the regional centre Krasnoyarsk, four time zones away from Moscow and sitting on Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway.
Poland and the Baltic states are hosting the largest strategic war games the defense alliance has held in ten years. The NATO Response Force will practice defending the Baltics from an unidentified foreign invader.
The ‘Steadfast Jazz’ exercise, launching on Saturday, gathers some 6,000 troops from all NATO members as well as non-member states – Finland, Sweden and Ukraine. Around half of them will participate in live exercise training, which will involve dozens of armor, aircraft and naval vehicles. The other half of the personnel are headquarters staff, who will take part in command and control drills.
The week-long war games are designed “to make sure that our rapid-reaction force, the NATO Response Force (NRF), is ready to defend any ally, deploy anywhere and deal with any threat,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Eastern European members of NATO have been seeking to host large-scale alliance drills for years, and ‘Steadfast Jazz’ is the largest since 2006. The scenario of the games involve an unidentified foreign nation invading Estonia over a territorial dispute, and the alliance deploying its rapid-response force to fend off the aggressor.
- JFCBS conducts Main Planning Conference for Exercise Steadfast Jazz 2013 (NATO)
- U.S. Offers Dialogue But No Legal Pledge to Russia on Missile Defense (NTI)
- General Breedlove: Europe a proxy for projecting US force (Voice of Russia)
- Russia Slams ‘Cold War’ Spirit NATO Exercise (RIA Novosti)
- Russian Missile Forces Holding Snap-Check Drills (RIA Novosti)
- Putin inspects biggest post-Soviet war games (BBC)
- Russia builds up, U.S. down (Washington Times)
- Russia test-fires range of nuclear-capable missiles (Space Daily)
- Russia threatens Nato with military strikes over missile defence system (Telegraph)
- U.S.-NATO Missile System: First-Strike Potential Aimed At Russia (Moscow Times and Stop NATO)
Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg are charged with money laundering.
Earlier this month Navalny’s five-year jail term for embezzlement was reduced to a suspended sentence on appeal.
Alexei Navalny became the leader of a street protest movement and came second in the Moscow mayoral election. He dismisses the criminal investigations against him as politically motivated.
Russian investigators accuse Alexei and Oleg Navalny of defrauding a Russian subsidiary of the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher out of about 26m roubles (about $811,000; £505,000). They said the Navalny brothers also defrauded a Russian company, MPK, out of 4m roubles (about $125,000, £77,700).
In a further charge, the Navalny brothers are charged with laundering 21m roubles (about $656,000, £408,000) in funds.
The charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Jailed Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova has disappeared after being moved from a prison in Mordovia 10 days ago, her family said on Friday.
Tolokonnikova’s father and husband said they last knew her precise whereabouts on Oct. 21, when she was suddenly taken from her prison colony in the Russian republic of Mordovia and moved without explanation from Russian officials. “No one knows anything,” her father, Andrei Tolokonnikov, said by telephone from Moscow. “There’s no proof she’s alive, we don’t know the state of her health. Is she sick? Has she been beaten?”
Tolokonnikova, 23, was moved after launching a hunger strike to protest horrific prison conditions. She had also written an open letter denouncing “slave-like” work conditions at the labor colony that recalled the worst traditions of Soviet-era imprisonment.
Her husband, Petya Verzilov, and a group of supporters regularly protested near the prison colony and prison hospital, raising the ire of local officials. “We think they moved her to a big city to hide her,” Tolokonnikov said. “It seems they got sick of these protests.”
Verzilov told BuzzFeed he believed the decision to move his wife came from the authorities in Moscow: “They want to cut her off from the outside world.”
President Vladimir Putin has signed off on tougher anti-terrorism laws ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The laws could oblige relatives to pay for any damage caused by militants fighting a separatist campaign in southern Russia.
The February games will take place around the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a few hundred kilometres from the mountainous North Caucasus region where rebels are fighting to carve out an Islamic state.
Moscow has cracked down on the Islamist insurgency in Dagestan, the epicentre of North Caucasus violence. But a suicide attack on a bus – staged outside the region in Volgograd but blamed on a woman from Dagestan – highlighted the threat to security. The new law, which Putin signed on Saturday, according to documents published yesterday on the Russian authorities’ legal website, introduces prison terms of up to 10 years for undergoing training “aimed at carrying out terrorist activity”.
Activists accuse the authorities of grave human rights violations in the North Caucasus.
Georgia’s prime minister named Interior Minister Irakly Garibashvili as his successor on Saturday, handing a close ally the task of treading a political tightrope between Russia and the West.
Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has said he will quit as premier after Georgy Margvelashvili is sworn in as president on November 17.
Margvelashvili was elected last month to take over from Mikheil Saakashvili, who spent a decade in power pursuing friendly relations with the West – often at the expense of Russia.
Ivanishvili, who entered politics two years ago following a business career in which he made a fortune estimated at $5.3 billion, made efforts to maintain good ties with the West while improving them with Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has nullified a 2011 order that created an interagency working group inside the Kremlin that focused on fostering missile defense collaboration with NATO, the Voice of Russia reported on Thursday.
The Russian leader also revoked a April 2012 presidential degree that created a special envoy for missile shield discussions with NATO — a position formerly held by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who also led the Kremlin working group. The elimination of the interdepartmental group and the special envoy position signal that Moscow is moving further away from resolving its longstanding concerns with the implications of NATO’s plan for European ballistic missile defense.
Moscow, meanwhile, this week moved forward agreements to deepen air defense cooperation with two former Soviet republics in accordance with efforts to develop countermeasures to the evolving NATO missile shield.
[...] The bugging devices were included in gift bags given to all delegates who attended the Sept. 5-6 summit at the palace in Stelna, outside of St. Petersburg, the newspapers said.
Suspicions about the drives and rechargers were first raised by Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, Il Corriere della Sera [link in Italian] said in its front-page story.
Van Rompuy. from Belgium, ordered technical analysis of the devices by intelligence experts in Brussels and Bonn, the newspapers said. Initial investigation found “the USB sticks and the recharge cables are suitable for undercover detection of computer data and mobile phones,” the Italian newspapers said Van Rompuy reported to G20 members in a confidential memo.
Further tests are underway on the devices, and any official response to the Russian government’s alleged espionage attempts would depend on those findings, the articles said, quoting an unnamed European Union official.
Russian authorities have uncovered a shipment of Chinese home appliances that contain microchips designed for spying.
According to Russian news agency Rosbalt, the spy chips are implanted in irons, electric kettles, phones and car dashboard cameras, which isn’t surprising considering that Russians are big fans of dashboard cameras.
Some of them are capable of stealing data from computers within a 200-meter radius via unsecure Wi-Fi networks. The rogue iPhones can connect to networks within a 50-70 meter range.
The devices steal information and upload it to remote servers.
After the rogue devices were discovered, several shipments from China were rejected. However, some items have already been distributed to retailers.
Russian authorities found the spy chips after noticing that the net and gross weight of the goods didn’t match.
Construction has begun on a U.S. base in Romania that will form part of a ballistic missile defense system that has angered Russia.
The Deveselu base in southern Romania is expected to be operational in 2015. It will house SM-3 interceptor missiles and radar equipment.
James Miller, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, attended a ceremony Monday at the base.
He said that “as the (NATO) Alliance has entered new times, it has also addressed new threats. One of these is the threat of ballistic missile attack.”
The U.S. government says the missiles will have no offensive capability and will only target incoming ballistic missiles launched by a hostile country.
Russia considers the interceptors a threat and has cited them in blocking cooperation on nuclear arms reductions and other issues.
Russia is denying fresh allegations that its government-run cultural exchange program in Washington is recruiting unsuspecting young Americans as intelligence assets.
On Wednesday, the magazine Mother Jones reported that the FBI is investigating whether Yury Zaytsev, head of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in D.C., used a spate of all-expense trips to Russia to cultivate promising young Americans as intelligence resources. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed to the Associated Press the existence of the investigation.
The Russian Embassy in Washington dismissed the accusations as scare tactics that “very much resembles Cold War era,” in a statement to The Cable.
[...] These latest allegations offer a new bullet hole in the unusually public tit-for-tat spy wars between the United States and Russia.
Russia on Wednesday dropped piracy charges against 30 people involved in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling, replacing them with lesser offences and cutting the maximum jail sentence they face to seven years from 15.
The charges against activists who protested at a Gazprom oil platform off Russia’s northern coast last month have been changed from piracy to hooliganism, the federal Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Greenpeace said the new charges were still “wildly disproportionate” and promised to contest them.
All 30 people who were aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise during the September 18 protest, in which activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya platform, are being held in detention in the northern Murmansk region until at least late November.
Ukraine and Georgia will not join NATO next year, the trans-Atlantic alliance’s top official said Tuesday.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Ukraine decided to end its long-standing bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization while Georgia remained interested but would not become a member in 2014, Russia’s RIA Novosti news service reported.
Both countries will still have partnership action plans with the alliance and will still work together, Rasmussen said before a two-day NATO defense ministers’ meeting began in Brussels.
Ukraine and Georgia, lobbying to become NATO members for years, both enjoy full support for their bids from the United States, but alliance members rejected a proposal to offer them membership in 2008, RIA Novosti said.
Russia has opposed eastward expansion by NATO, particularly when it involves former Soviet Union republics.
Rasmussen also said the alliance does not plan to create any new formal coalitions with the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a loose Eurasian military alliance based in Russia.
Russia plans to spend 2 trillion rubles ($63 billion) by 2020 on a strategic program to develop the Arctic, a senior government official said Friday.
Regional Development Minister Igor Slyunyayev said the draft program for economic and social projects in the Arctic could be submitted to the Cabinet by November 1.
The government expects more than half the costs to be met by major Russian companies, he said.
One-third of funding is expected to come out of the federal budget, Slyunyayev said at the general assembly in Moscow of the Northern Forum, an international association devoted to supporting sustainable development in areas economically dependent on natural resources.
Arctic territories hold huge untapped natural resources and have been the subject of conflicting claims from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States in recent years. Rising temperatures have caused a reduction in sea ice, allowing easier access to lucrative offshore oil and gas deposits.
Vladimir Putin is inching closer to his goal of turning Russia into a major transit route for trade between eastern Asia and Europe by prying open North Korea, a nuclear-capable dictatorship isolated for half a century.
Russia last month completed the first land link that North Korea’s Stalinist regime has allowed to the outside world since 2003. Running between Khasan in Russia’s southeastern corner and North Korea’s rebuilt port of Rajin, the 54-kilometer rail link is part of a project President Putin is pushing that would reunite the railway systems of the two Koreas and tie them to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
That would give Putin partial control over links to European train networks 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away. The route is as much as three times faster than shipping via Egypt’s Suez Canal, which handles 17,000 ships a year, accounts for about 8 percent of maritime trade — and is increasingly beset by pirates and political instability in Egypt and Syria.
[...] Shipments to and from western Europe and Rajin will be delivered in just 14 days, compared with 45 days by ship, OAO Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer Vladimir Yakunin told reporters in North Korea Sept. 22.
Getting the two Koreas to work together on the railway and a long-stalled plan to build a pipeline to supply both Koreas with Russian natural gas is fraught with financial and political hurdles, said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy research group in Moscow.
European Union trade ministers are warning Russia to stop pressuring neighborhood countries that seek closer ties with the EU.
The 28 nations hope to sign or initial closer cooperation agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia at a special summit next month, but Moscow has urged them to instead align themselves closer to Russia.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius chaired the meeting and said that “pressure exerted by Russia against eastern partnership partners is unacceptable.”
Russia has told Ukraine a price cut in gas would only be possible if Ukraine doesn’t sign up to an EU association agreement at a Nov. 28-29 summit. Last month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, arguing it did not meet quality standards.
The ministers also criticized Moscow for banning Lithuanian dairy products.
Moscow saw its worst racially-motivated violence in years Sunday when thousands of rioters, many chanting racist slogans, stormed a suburban shopping mall to protest an ethnically-charged murder.
Police arrested at least 380 of the rioters, many of whom were drunk, and sent in the entire Moscow reserve force to quell the rest in the suburb of Western Biryulevo, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. Another 60 people were arrested when foreigners started a mass brawl in northwestern Moscow, police said.
The rioting broke out after nationalists called for a “people’s meeting” to protest the Wednesday night murder of 25-year-old Egor Shcherbakov. Shcherbakov had been returning home with his girlfriend when he got into an altercation with a man allegedly from Russia’s troubled, mostly Muslim provinces in the North Caucasus. The man, whom police have not yet identified, argued with Shcherbakov about his girlfriend, stabbed him with a knife, and ran away. Police said that the suspect is a shawarma vendor and not a Russian citizen.
Russian authorities have charged 16 more Greenpeace activists with piracy over a protest on an Arctic oil rig.
The entire crew of 30 on board the Arctic Sunrise, from which the protest was launched, have now been charged, including six from the UK.
The group was arrested last month after two of the protesters tried to board an oil platform owned by the Russian state-controlled firm Gazprom.
Greenpeace has called the charges “irrational, absurd and an outrage”.
The last 16 activists were taken in police vans to the Murmansk offices of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, on Thursday, the BBC’s Daniel Sandford reports from Moscow.
They were formally charged with “piracy of an organised group”, an offence that carries a 15-year prison sentence.
The U.S. is overtaking Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, a startling shift that is reshaping markets and eroding the clout of traditional energy-rich nations.
U.S. energy output has been surging in recent years, a comeback fueled by shale-rock formations of oil and natural gas that was unimaginable a decade ago. A Wall Street Journal analysis of global data shows that the U.S. is on track to pass Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas combined this year—if it hasn’t already.
The U.S. ascendance comes as Russia has struggled to maintain its energy output and has yet to embrace technologies such as hydraulic fracturing that have boosted American reserves.
Vladimir Putin has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite Russia’s role as the main supplier of weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, an advocacy group has put the president’s name forward because the former KGB agent “actively promotes settlement of all conflicts arising on the planet.”
The International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World made no mention of Putin’s ruthless and violent campaign against the separatists in Chechnya or the war he waged on Georgia, but instead points to his efforts to prevent a US air strike on the Syrian regime following a chemical gas attack in August.
Despite being called Russia’s space troops, they are not ready to deal with invasions by aliens from outer space, according to a statement by a Russian defense official.
In a surprising move, an apparently serious journalist raised this question of extraterrestrial security during a media conference at the Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Center near Moscow, Russia’s main satellite control center.
The United States and Russia reached an agreement Thursday on a plan to seize Syria’s chemical weapons in a move the Obama administration deemed a diplomatic breakthrough, even though the resolution stops short of triggering military action should Syria fail to comply.
The draft U.S.-Russian resolution received support from fellow permanent members France, China and Britain, and it was put before the full 15-member U.N. Security Council on Thursday night. The draft also was to be submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is expected to add its own text to the resolution, Russian officials said.
U.S. officials said the resolution deems Syria’s chemical arsenal a threat to international peace and security and makes it legally binding for President Bashar Assad’s government to comply with an expedited plan to hand over the weapons to international authorities for destruction.
The tricky part, however, is in language about what happens should Syria fail to fulfill its end of the deal, which includes refraining from the use or transport of chemical weapons, and allowing international authorities unfettered access to related facilities.
U.S. negotiators gave up the demand of military force, authorized under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, as a consequence for noncompliance, compromising with the Russians on softer wording that says the Security Council would be “authorized to impose measures under Chapter 7,” according to diplomats and news reports.
That means no punitive measures would kick in automatically. Instead, chemical weapons authorities would have to report any alleged violations to the Security Council, which would have to determine whether Syria had in fact failed to comply with the resolution. And even after that, the Security Council would have to agree on the appropriate punishment under Chapter 7, which allows for measures other than military action.
Translation: The mechanism for responding to alleged noncompliance gives Assad’s chief ally, Russia, at least two opportunities to block punitive consequences at the Security Council.
- Pussy Riot punk on hunger strike over prison ‘death threats’ (AFP)
- Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Moved to Isolation (BBC)
- Russian parents’ group demand ban on Elton John for ‘supporting sodomites’ (Independent)
- Russia Says It Will Arrest Openly Gay Tourists (Travel + Escape)
- Russia sells 49-per-cent stake in maker of AK-47s (Globe and Mail)