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  • Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News
    VOICE OF AMERICA Daniel Schearf December 01, 2015

    MOSCOW—

    Russian students, some wearing matching shirts and hats, gathered with a few celebrities in central Moscow Tuesday for what could have been mistaken for a commercial promotion. But they each slowly approached a nurse and had a needle jabbed into them to get tested for HIV.

    The event was organized by Russia's Ministry of Health for World AIDS Day as part of efforts to encourage HIV testing and create awareness. Unlike many other European countries, where HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined, Russia faces a rapidly growing number of infections, with over half of them transmitted through injection drug use.

    While even official estimates vary, Russia's Interfax news agency quotes the country's Federal Center on AIDS, saying 986,657 Russians were HIV-positive as of November 23. Of these, 73,777 are new infections acquired so far this year, an increase of 12 percent over the same period last year.

    At the current rate, Russia will declare 1 million HIV infections before the end of the year.

    Speaking at the HIV testing event Tuesday, Russia's Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said the significance of Russia's HIV problem is growing. She said over 750,000 HIV patients were officially registered, 92,500 of them in 2014 alone.

    "This happens because our public is uninformed about the infection," she said.

    Budget doubled

    In late October, Russia doubled its budget for HIV prevention and treatment to $600 million, with prevention focused on education and testing.

    More than half of HIV infections in Russia are spread through injecting drugs, but Russian officials refuse to support clean needle and opiate substitution programs, despite their proven effectiveness and endorsement by the World Health Organization.

    "Those seem to me two absolutely necessary measures that may reverse the trend among the drug addicts in Russia," said Maxim Malyshev with the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, a private group that works to stop the spread of HIV among injection drug addicts by handing out clean needles. "Without them,” he told VOA in May, “all the attempts will be futile."

    Although clean needle programs are not illegal, Russian authorities oppose supporting them out of concern they enable drug addiction. Substitution programs like methadone are outlawed.

    After Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March 2014, it ended methadone treatment there. As a result, dozens of drug addicts overdosed or committed suicide.

    "In Russia, specialists who treat drug addicts do not consider methadone therapy effective, because here one drug is replaced with another one," Vadim Pokrovsky, the head of Russia's AIDS Center, told VOA in May. "But they don't consider that we speak today about preventive measures of stopping HIV infection."

    Anti-retroviral drug access limited

    Russia's healthcare system provides treatment for most HIV sufferers, but about 30 percent of those who need of anti-retroviral drugs do not have access, partly because of a decline in international funding.

    Russian AIDS activists say many injection drug users, worried about being treated as criminals, also fail to register for treatment or maintain medication regimens.

    Russia's Federal AIDS Center says there were 205,538 HIV-related deaths since the country's first case in 1987, reports Interfax. Russia's federal body on consumer rights and well-being says 25,000 Russians are dying every year.

    While the majority have been drug addicts, Russia's HIV rate was considered a marginal problem. But as Russia's infections have spread, sexual transmission is becoming more of a concern.

    "Over the last years, the amount of infection through sexual contact has changed," said Skvortsova. "In heterosexual relations, from man to woman and vice versa, now this is more than 40 percent. This poses a giant threat to the population." Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

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    • Dark days on Crimea: Russia and Ukraine rattle sabers - Electricity cables cut, no trade between Ukraine proper and the Crimean Peninsula, no gas supply: Once again Ukraine and Russia seem headed for confrontation. The US and Europe fear for the future of the Minsk Protocol.
      DEUTSCHE WELLE Roman Goncharenko 01.12.2015

      Crimea has recently experienced its darkest hours in memory - literally. The peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, was left in a state of emergency, deprived since November 22 of electricity from the Ukrainian mainland after persons unknown blew up a number of electricity pylons in southern Ukraine. Several failed attempts had already been made in previous weeks. Russia is building an energy bridge to Crimea from its own mainland and laying electricity cables under the Black Sea. However, according to experts in the Russian media, these will only cover part of Crimea's energy needs.

      For the first time in the 21 months since Crimea was annexed, the region's 2.3 million people are finding out just how dependent their peninsula is on mainland Ukraine. The experience is a painful one. Electricity supply is probably the only leverage Ukraine has, but it is very powerful leverage, and until now Kyiv had refrained from using it. However, for over a year no fresh water has flowed from Ukraine's Dnipro river to Crimea, which has a dry climate, and there are no trains or buses traveling between the mainland and the peninsula.

      A week ago, the Ukrainian government also cut trade links with Crimea, making official something activists had been seeking to enforce for months. The "blockade" began in September, with activists stopping trucks delivering Ukrainian goods to the peninsula.

      Crimean Tatars are seen as the driving force behind the blockade. This is a pro-Ukrainian minority of around 250,000 people who live in annexed Crimea. The Crimean Tatars complain of persecution by Russian authorities: They say their countrymen have been arrested, abducted and murdered. Their leaders living in the Ukraine are not allowed to travel to Russian-controlled Crimea. Last Thursday, a group of Tatars obstructed repair work for the damaged electricity pylons and called for the release of their fellow activists in Crimea.

      The blockade is controversial in Ukraine. Some say the government should have imposed one much earlier. They criticize President Petro Poroshenko for failing to present a concrete plan for returning Crimea to Ukraine. Supporters of the blockade write on social media that activists must now wage a kind of "partisan war." Critics, however, warn that this is more likely to turn Crimeans against Ukraine.

      No gas, air traffic

      Russia responded to the emergency in Crimea with marked restraint. The problems would be resolved, Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday. He merely accused the Ukrainian leadership of tolerating the escalation of the situation and not speaking out. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak threatened to stop supplying coal to Ukraine in response to the energy blockade of Crimea. Ukraine's government has been buying coal from Russia ever since large areas of the country's eastern mining region, Donbass, fell under the control of separatists, who some believe are aided by the Kremlin.

      As November draws to a close, Crimea's lack of electricity is not the only example of fresh tension between Kyiv and Moscow . Russia turned off its gas supplies to Ukraine last week, for example. The reason: no prepayment from Kyiv. Ukrainian officials, however, say the country doesn't need Russian gas at the moment.

      Airspace is another field of conflict. Since last Thursday, Russian planes have been banned from crossing Ukraine. The reason given by the government in Kyiv was an "intensification of the military and political situation." Ukraine had already banned Russian airlines e a month ago, and Russia responded in kind, meaning that there is no air traffic whatsoever between the two countries.

      Minsk Protocol in danger?

      The latest aggravation to already tense relations follows a renewed escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine. The ceasefire agreed in September between separatists and Ukraine's army was violated on an almost daily basis in November, with each side blaming the other. Observers warn that this is threatening to scupper the Minsk Protocol.

      Given the electricity crisis in Crimea and the stoppage of gas deliveries, Gernot Erler, the German government's special coordinator for Russian policy, blames Ukraine. "We are very worried about this escalation, which was obviously brought about by Kyiv," the Social Democrat politician told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, warning that it could have a negative effect on the implementation of the Minsk agreement.

      Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, expressed astonishment at these remarks. Germany should respond so actively to "daily human rights abuses in Crimea and in the east of Ukraine," Melnyk told DW. "For many activists and representatives of the Crimean Tatars, it has become clear that the Crimean question is gradually disappearing from the world policy agenda," he said. The diplomat rejected the accusations leveled against Ukraine. According to Melnyk, it is this "sense of hopelessness" that is behind the latest events.
      Dark days on Crimea: Russia and Ukraine rattle sabers | Russia | DW.COM | 01.12.2015

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      • Well-wishing allies in Washington, DC send 'crappy' gear to Ukrainian army
        UT UKRAINE TODAY Dec. 1, 2015 (VIDEO)

        Make-believe military aid

        Today we take a look at 1,100-word article appearing in the Washington Post newspaper on November 30. It is written by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a staff writer, and a former Marine infantryman.

        In brief, the article says the US administration has provided Ukraine with a lot of useless military equipment since Russia invaded east Ukraine in early 2014.

        "The United States has delivered more than USD 260 million in non-lethal military equipment to help the government of Ukraine in its fight against a Russian-backed insurgency, but some of the U.S.-supplied gear meant to protect and transport Ukrainian military forces is little more than junk."

        Ukrainian soldiers have for months complained about crappy military gear received from well-wishing allies, including the United States, which, with much fanfare, donated about 100 outdated and unrepaired Humvees several months ago.

        "Another infantry unit of approximately 120 men received from the Pentagon a single bulletproof vest — a type that U.S. troops stopped using in combat during the mid-2000s."

        Thomas Gibbons-Neff said the obsolete equipment was identified on a tour near the front lines in eastern Ukraine with help from mechanics serving in the Ukrainian army and through interviews with front-line troops.

        "The decaying state of U.S.-supplied equipment on Ukraine's front lines has bred distrust and lowered morale among Ukrainian troops, soldiers said. Experts said the low quality of the gear also calls into question the U.S. government's commitment to a war that is entering its second year, with well-equipped Russian-backed separatists still firmly entrenched in Ukraine's eastern region."

        In recent weeks, attacks along Ukraine's front lines have spiked, with Ukrainian troops reporting casualties almost daily. Last month, five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in one day.

        "The [US] administration's "overriding concern here is to avoid aggravating Putin," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex) in a recent phone interview. "And it has a broader effect in limiting the Ukrainians' ability to defend their country."

        When asked about the administration's goals, a spokesperson for the National Security Council declined to comment on the record for Gibbons'-Neff article. Former and serving top US government and military officials say the White House has long resisted sending lethal aid with a belief that sending the weapons to Ukrainian troops would only escalate the conflict which has already lasted 21 months.
        Moscow cancels TurkStream gas pipeline project in wake of Turkey conflict. Well-wishing allies in Washington, DC send 'crappy' gear to Ukrainian army - watch on - uatoday.tv

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        • Russia moves to legislate impunity from international law
          02.12.15 | Halya Coynash HUMAN RIGHTS UN UKRAINE

          Russia’s parliament has moved closer to allowing the Constitutional Court to decide that international court rulings can be flouted if they are deemed to contradict Russia’s Constitution. Since the very law is in breach of this same Constitution, there seems every reason to suspect that the law will be invoked whenever Moscow does not wish to comply with international law.

          Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea demonstrated the Kremlin’s attitude to international norms, and this law would doubtless be used to try to avoid the legal suits and massive settlements likely to be awarded over that act of aggression.

          The bill on giving Russian Constitutional Court the right to declare it ‘impossible’ to implement international court rulings on Russian territory was passed in its first reading on Dec 1, with only 3 deputies voting against, and one abstaining.

          Most disturbingly, the bill purports to be implementing a judgement passed by the Constitutional Court on July 14 which stated that “Russia, as an exception, may derogate from execution of its obligations if such a derogation is the only possible means of avoiding infringement of fundamental constitutional principles”.

          The Court stated that the European Convention and the European Court of Human Rights judgements based on it are subject to implementation only on condition that they comply with the higher legal force, namely the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

          This judgement is seriously difficult to reconcile with the Constitution which states unequivocally in Article 15 § 4, that international norms and treaties are a component part of the Russian legal system, and “if an international treaty or agreement of the Russian Federation fixes other rules than those envisaged by law, the rules of the international agreement shall be applied.”

          The judgement was in response to a submission from MPs asking the court to determine the compliance with the Constitution of several provisions of the law ratifying the European Convention, and others. The court acknowledged that the law had not been in breach of the Constitution.

          Moscow undoubtedly does not like the 50 billion dollar bill it has to pay Yukos shareholders in accordance with a ruling from the Court of Arbitration or the nearly 2 billion according to an ECHR judgement. The Constitutional Court denied that this had anything to do with its judgement, and certainly the law is not retroactive. That said, Russia has still not paid any of the amounts owed.

          According to Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Russia “has not yet fully implemented nearly 1, 500 judgments, many of which concern particularly serious human rights violations and/or complex structural problems.” She stressed that implementation of ECHR judgements is a legal obligation binding on all parties to the Convention and that there cannot be any “selective implementation”.

          This is not the view of Russia’s parliamentarians. Their zeal in passing this bill through the relevant stages, as well as the reports on it in the Russian media leave no doubt that it is seen as a way of bypassing the European Court of Human Rights. Opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov writes that he tried to explain to the Duma why the bill will have disastrous consequences, why investors will run even further from Russia, but to no avail. This was the kind of remark he heard:

          “Surely nobody’s against our Constitution being the most sovereign ? There in ECHR they pass any rubbish, there’s legal erosion and politicization!”

          The MPs, who are not known for opposing any bills supported in the Kremlin and who probably feel safe enough, were impervious to Gudkov’s argument that rejection of the priority of international law could backfire on them. There is no justice to be expected from a Russian court, unlike from ECHR, Gudkov argued, but to deaf ears.

          In the Russian Federation and also in Russian-occupied Crimea, the bill would be a grave blow to any hopes of justice.

          Submissions regarding judgements ‘impossible to implement’ would come from Russia’s President, the government or the Justice Ministry. Perhaps the Constitutional Court would be sparing in how often it claimed that judgements from internationally recognized courts were ‘unconstitutional’, but the possibility would always be there.

          With respect to Crimea, and the fundamental violations committed through the armed seizure of power and forced annexation, as well as subsequently, rejection of international justice seems guaranteed. As well as a general application from Ukraine, there are numerous individual applications currently awaiting consideration by the Court in Strasbourg. They include those lodged by Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzhemiliev and Refat Chubarov over Russia having banned them from Crimea under Russian occupation. In those cases and others, Russia banned them as Ukrainian nationals. In the case of Ukrainian nationals from Crimea Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev, Oleksandr Kostenko and Mustafa Dzhemiliev’s son, Khaiser, Russia is claiming that they ‘automatically’ became Russian nationals in order to illegally hold them prisoner in Russia.

          Russia’s Supreme Court recently upheld a three-year sentence against Russian Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov who was convicted in part of having made “public calls to violate Russian territorial integrity”. This was how one of the two highest courts in the land interpreted Kashapov’s criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The other’s judgement on Russian priority over international law is an equally cynical blow to rule of law in Russia. Russia moves to legislate impunity from international law :: khpg.org

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          • Samopomich candidate scores victories in struggle for Kryvyi Rih vote cancellation
            KYIV POST Oleg Sukhov Dec. 01, 2015

            KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine - Supporters of Yury Milobog, a mayoral candidate in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast city of Kryvyi Rih, are celebrating several victories in their struggle to cancel the official results of the Nov. 15 mayoral run-off election.

            “A genuine popular revolution is taking place in Kryvyi Rih now,” Semen Semenchenko, a lawmaker from the pro-European Samopomich party, wrote on Facebook late on Nov. 30.

            Milobog, who represents Samopomich, argues that incumbent Mayor Yury Vilkul, a member of the Opposition Bloc and former ally of disgraced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, only won by rigging the vote.

            According to the official results, Vilkul won with 49.25 percent, while Milobog got 48.83 percent – a difference of just 752 votes.

            About 3,000 demonstrators protested against vote fraud in Kryvyi Rih on Nov. 29, and part of them seized the first floor of City Hall. Protesters remained in the building as of Dec. 1.

            Following the rally, the Dnipropetrovsk Administrative Court of Appeals on Nov. 30 ordered a recount of the vote at hospitals in six districts of Kryvyi Rih. Milobog supporters have claimed that much of the vote rigging was carried out at polling stations in hospitals.

            Later on the same day, Kryvyi Rih’s election commission disbanded district commissions in those districts. Vilkul supporters have lost their majority at the city commission due to several parties replacing their representatives there in recent weeks.

            Konstantin Pavlov, a lawmaker from the Opposition Bloc, told the Kyiv Post that he doubted the legitimacy of the commission’s decision since it did not have an official stamp and registration number.

            Victoria Shelevytska, a member of Kryvyi Rih’s election commission from Samopomich, told the Kyiv Post that the commission’s head, Pavlo Hivel, who represents the Opposition Bloc, had ignored the city commission meeting and had been hiding its official seal from it.

            Hivel eventually brought the seal and put a stamp on the document late on Dec. 1.

            He told the Kyiv Post he had not attended the commission meeting because he believed it was not necessary. Hivel claimed that commission members had had no legal right to hold it.

            The district commissions, which are controlled by Vilkul supporters, ignored the city commission’s decision and held meetings overnight in what Milobog says was an effort to pass decisions favorable to Vilkul. They were required by the court to consider Milobog’s complaints, and some of them rejected them, he told the Kyiv Post.

            “(Hivel) is calling former members of district election commissions and is urging them to commit crimes,” Semenchenko wrote. “It’s too late. (Yanukovych’s) Party of Regions members’ criminal power in Kryvyi Rih has fallen.”

            Samopomich lawmaker Yegor Sobolev, Semenchenko and activists of Kryvyi Rih’s AutoMaidan car-based protest group drove to district commission buildings, called the police and prevented some of them from holding what they said were illegal meetings.

            Some scuffles ensued, and Milobog supporters poured green paint on Hivel.

            Hivel argued in a conversation with the Kyiv Post that, under Ukrainian law, the district commissions still had a right to hold meetings until new members are appointed.

            Meanwhile, the Verkhovna Rada’s commission for investigating vote fraud in Kryvyi Rih held its first meeting on Nov. 30.

            Oleksandr Chernenko, a member of the commission and a lawmaker from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, told Kryvyi Rih’s First City Channel that the commission had found numerous violations during the election.

            One of the major violations is that the number of voters at hospitals drastically soared just before the run-off election, by about 200 per hospital, Milobog supporters argue.

            “They filled all the hospitals with patients,” Milobog told the Kyiv Post. “Everyone got sick suddenly.”

            Pavlov argued that the number of voters at hospitals was normal compared with previous statistics. He claimed that no evidence of a drastic increase in the number of voters before the run-off had been presented so far.

            Pavlov argued that the number of voters at hospitals was normal compared with previous statistics. He claimed that no evidence of a drastic increase in the number of voters before the run-off had been presented so far.

            At a psychiatric asylum, almost 100 percent of patients were recognized as mentally fit for voting and almost all of them voted for Vilkul, which is obvious evidence of violations, Milobog said.

            He also estimates that there were about 4,000 ballot stuffing incidents citywide. Pavlov claimed that there was no proof of ballot stuffing.

            Moreover, Kryvyi Rih’s city commission made an illegal decision to issue 12 additional ballots per polling station to commission members, despite the legal ban on increasing the number of ballots between a first round and a run-off, Milobog argues.

            “We have a feudal state,” he said. “Neither Ukrainian laws nor Ukrainian courts are valid here.” Samopomich candidate scores victories in struggle for Kryvyi Rih vote cancellation

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            • RADIO FREE EUROPE December 02, 2015
              Russia Warns Of Penalties On Kyiv After Failed Trade Talks

              Russia is likely to penalize Ukrainian imports starting in January after negotiators failed to agree on ways to address Moscow's objections to Kyiv's free-trade agreement with the European Union.

              "It is a very probable scenario that there will not be an agreement before January 1," when the EU trade pact goes into effect, and that will prompt Russia to end Ukraine's preferential trade status, Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said after unsuccessful trade talks between Russia, Ukraine, and the EU in Brussels on December 1.

              While the three parties agreed to keep talking, time is running out on the EU's yearlong bid to quell Russian opposition to the accord, which is at the root of the broader conflict between Kyiv and Moscow.

              "The clock is ticking very, very fast," said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom after hosting the meeting. She stressed that she expects the agreement to go into effect on January 1 as Ukraine and the EU are no longer willing to heed Russian calls for a delay after having already postponed the accord for a year in an effort to appease Moscow.

              Malmstrom said she was willing to continue trying to address Russian concerns next year, but only if Moscow does not take retaliatory measures.

              Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin criticized Russian negotiators for delivering new demands just before the negotiating session on December 1, some of which he said were "unacceptable."

              Malmstrom also said she was "a bit surprised" when "Russia came unexpectedly with a very, very long list of amendments that they presented at the table."

              Kyiv's sharp break with Moscow in the last two years was triggered by its move toward closer trade with the West.

              Ukrainian wavering over whether to sign the EU trade accord in late 2013 fuelled street protests that toppled pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, leading to Russia's annexation of Crimea and a revolt by pro-Russia separatists in the east.

              Now, after nearly two years of sharp conflict and a raft of tit-for-tat trade sanctions between Moscow and Kyiv, Ukrainian officials reckon they have little to lose from the end of favored trading status on January 1.

              Malmstrom said that technical teams from the three sides could meet again as early as next week, and they could reach "practical solutions" on such issues as veterinary standards and customs data-sharing.

              But she noted that the trade dispute has become part of the broader political confrontation between Moscow and Western powers, and it is not clear if either side has the political will to resolve it.

              Russia maintains that the Ukraine-EU deal could lead to a flood of European imports across its own borders and damage the competitiveness of Russian exports to Ukraine. Russia Warns Of Penalties On Kyiv After Failed Trade Talks

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              • The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore December 01, 2015
                Russia's (Not So) Splendid Isolation

                Activists in Moscow burn Turkish flags and pelt the embassy with eggs and rocks. In Crimea, they burn Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in effigy.

                Russian authorities detain dozens of Turkish citizens for allegedly violating visa regulations. And, of course, the Kremlin has suspended visa-free travel for Turks and suspended charter flights to Turkey.

                And to think it wasn't so long ago that Turkey was considered one of Russia's closest...friends? Just a year ago, Vladimir Putin praised Erdogan as "a man of strong character" who ignored Western pressure.

                The downing of an Su-24 warplane -- which came after Ankara says it repeatedly warned Moscow about violating its airspace -- may be the proximate cause of the current Russian-Turkish standoff.

                But the underlying cause goes deeper -- and has broader implications than Moscow's relations with Ankara.

                Once upon a time, the story of Fortress Russia facing a hostile world was a convenient fairy tale the Kremlin used to mobilize the public.

                Today, the fairy tale is quickly becoming a reality. As a result of the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine and Syria, this well-worn narrative of an isolated Russia staring down the world has come to life.

                "Putin's Russia is not exactly weak, it's just alone and unloved after alienating even potential friends," political commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote for Bloomberg.

                Likewise, Kremlin-watcher Tatyana Stanovaya noted in Politcom.ru that "Russia finds itself alone, humiliated on a worldwide scale."

                As a result of the Crimea annexation, the Donbas intervention, and the downing of MH17, Moscow has no true allies west of Smolensk.

                It has lost any vestiges of goodwill in Europe. Germany has been transformed from a close partner into a harsh critic. Traditionally neutral Sweden and Finland are considering joining NATO.

                Russia has turned Ukraine from an erstwhile friend into a bitter foe, perhaps for generations.

                And even autocratic Belarus is looking at Putin's regime with increasing trepidation.

                Meanwhile, Moscow's intervention in Syria's civil war, its attempts to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and its air strikes against Assad's opposition under the guise of fighting Islamic State have alienated powerful players to the south -- like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states.

                Moreover, the Kremlin has appeared to abandon its much-vaunted pivot to the east once it became apparent that this would turn a declining Russia into the junior partner of a rising China.

                "Russia has no powerful strategic partners; all of its alliances are temporary and can turn into enmity at any moment," Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote in a recent editorial.

                Moscow's descent into isolation has its roots in the domestic political dilemma Putin faced following his return to the Kremlin in 2012.

                Until that point, the regime's legitimacy was based on rising living standards and a loyal middle class. That social contract was destroyed by the protests of 2011-12 and collapsing oil prices.

                As a result, Putin had to forge a "a new type of legitimacy -- which can be found in a military chieftain type of leadership and permanent state of emergency," Kadri Liik, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote recently. "In order to preserve the image of vigorous leadership and deter the feelings of stagnation, bold action is helpful, if not irreplaceable."

                A key element of this "military chieftain" leadership was liberating Russia from the constraints of international rules and norms. According to Putin's "New Deal," Putin would return the country to superpower status by sheer force of will.

                It would annex Crimea and intervene in Donbas because it could. It would violate NATO airspace because it felt like it. It would kidnap foreign citizens like Nadia Savchenko, Oleh Sentsov, and Eston Kohver, hold them hostage, and dare the world to do something about it.

                In a recent article in Vedomosti, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov called it "the diplomacy of liberation," which abandons the goals and partnerships Moscow had forged for the previous two decades.

                "Russia's new course means it is free from any and all influences and restrictions," Frolov wrote. "This freedom means that Russia does not need to abide by international law...and that Russia's claims to a leading role in the world cannot be contained."

                The cost of this diplomacy of liberation, of course, is increasing international isolation and ostracism.

                For the time being, as Frolov notes, Moscow has been able to "divorce foreign policy from economic interests and capabilities." But in the long run, the current course is not sustainable.

                Nevertheless, isolated and resentful powers -- particularly isolated and resentful powers with nuclear weapons, large militaries, and vast natural resources -- can cause a lot of damage.

                Which means that, in the short term, we are in for what Ben Judah, author of the book Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin, calls "our violent new normal."

                "The unthinkable happens, is quickly accepted, and fades obscure into a darkening background," Judah wrote recently in Prospect. "Grey wars, is what we have now: creeping skirmishes, proxy clashes, hybrid assaults and dogfights with Russia." Russia's (Not So) Splendid Isolation

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                • The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Dec 1, 2015
                  The Daily Vertical: Putin's Fairy Tale Comes True

                  The Daily Vertical: Putin's Fairy Tale Comes True
                  =========================

                  The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Dec 2, 2015
                  The Daily Vertical: Putin's Choice -- Truckers Or Oligarchs

                  The Daily Vertical: Putin's Choice -- Truckers Or Oligarchs
                  ==========================

                  The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Nov 30, 2015
                  The Briefing: A Conflict, A Protest, And A Speech

                  The conflict between Moscow and Ankara escalates in the wake of the downing of a Russian fighter jet. Truckers protesting a new road tax descend on Moscow. And Vladimir Putin prepares for his annual state-of-the-nation speech.

                  On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we take a look ahead at the stories we expect to make news this week.

                  Joining me is Senior RFE/RL Editor Steve Gutterman.

                  Enjoy... The Briefing: A Conflict, A Protest, And A Speech

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                  • Yatsenyuk insists on retaliatory measures in response to Russian embargo
                    02.12.2015 | UNIAN

                    Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says that Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers proposes that the Ukrainian parliament allow the introduction of retaliatory measures in response to trade restrictions Russia is going to impose against Ukrainian goods.

                    "We are aware that Russia is going to introduce trade restrictions against Ukraine. We are ready for this," Yatsenyuk said at a government meeting on Wednesday, adding that the Russian market accounts only for 12.8% of Ukrainian exports. He also calculated Ukraine could lose up to $600 million in export revenue after Russia scales up trade barriers with the country once a free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU comes into effect.

                    "Today, the government is going to table a bill in parliament to amend the law on foreign economic activity with a view to provide the government with legal authority to introduce retaliatory measures against the Russian Federation, and any other country being an aggressor country or failing to fulfilling its bilateral obligations," Yatsenyuk said.

                    Such changes in the legislation will allow the government to respond immediately to any measures introduced vis-a-vis Ukraine. Yatsenyuk insists on retaliatory measures in response to Russian embargo : UNIAN news

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                    • Klimkin calls on EU to counteract Russian gas pipeline projects
                      02.12.2015 | UNIAN

                      Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin calls on the European Union to boost gas supplies to Ukraine and counteract the expansion of Russia's gas pipeline projects, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's press service.

                      While meeting with Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Energy Union Maros Sefcovic as part of a working visit to Brussels, Klimkin stressed the need to further increase reverse gas supplies to Ukraine from the territory of EU member states, and urged Brussels to take action for the early launch of large-scale reverse gas flows from Slovakia.

                      Klimkin also called on the EC to actively counteract the implementation of such "Russia's politically motivated projects as the Nord Stream 2," which runs contrary to the interests of Ukraine and the EU.

                      In turn, Sefcovic stressed the important role Ukraine plays in ensuring Europe's energy security and emphasized that Ukraine has proven itself as a reliable transit country for Russian gas.

                      Special attention was paid to EU investment in the upgrade of the Ukrainian gas transport system, which will enhance the energy security of the country, as well as the European Union, the press service reported. The parties have agreed to continue active cooperation to carry out deep structural reforms in Ukraine's gas sector and ensure its important transit role, according to the statement. Klimkin calls on EU to counteract Russian gas pipeline projects : UNIAN news

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                      • Belarus seeks $3 bln loan from IMF
                        02.12.2015 | UNIAN

                        Belarus has announced it is seeking a $3 billion loan over 10 years from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for some economic reforms, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty has reported.

                        Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a government meeting in Minsk on December 1 that an IMF loan was the best option for Belarus, including a loan deal from close ally Russia, according to the report.

                        The president noted the IMF loans have an interest rate which is even lower than under the loans offered by Russia.

                        Lukashenko said that while holding talks with IMF officials he indicated that Belarus was open to a range of reforms.

                        "I didn't say no to them on any point," the president said.

                        "Not on the tariffs, not on [raising] the pension age, not on wages," he said.

                        As UNIAN reported earlier, on November 12, 2015, Belarus changed the classification of bank deposits based on presidential decree as of November 11 No. 7 "On Raising Funds for Deposits." According to the document, term and conditional bank deposit agreements will be divided into irrevocable and revocable ones.
                        Belarus seeks $3 bln loan from IMF : UNIAN news

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                        • U.S. Intelligence to dig into political assassinations in Russia, export of "Russian Spring"
                          01.12.2015 | UNIAN

                          U.S. Congress to require from the National Intelligence data on “political assassinations as a form of statecraft” in Russia since 2000, according to the unclassified bill on authorization of appropriations for intelligence for fiscal year 2016.

                          The U.S. Congress will require from the director of National Intelligence within a 180-day term from the date of the enactment of the said Act the assessment of the intelligence community of the use of “political assassinations” by Russia since January 1, 2000.

                          The assessment shall include “a list of Russian politicians, businessmen, dissidents, journalists, current or former government officials, foreign heads-of-state, foreign political leaders, foreign journalists, members of nongovernmental organizations, and other relevant individuals that the intelligence community assesses were assassinated by Russian Security Services, or agents of such services.”

                          Over the past 15 years the Russian special service officials were openly indicted only once, according to RBC news agency. In 2004 Qatar sentenced to Russian nationals who were named by local officials as GRU (military intel) officers. According to the investigation, they set up an assassination of the Chechen separatist leaders, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev who had earlier emigrated to Qatar.

                          In case of the assassination of a former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the British authorities, who suspect Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, never spoke publically of any complicity of the Russian special services.

                          In cases of assassination of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and auditor Sergey Magnitsky the official claims of the West to the Russian authorities concern investigation procedures and/or court trial.

                          There are two other provisions regarding Russia.

                          One of them regards Club K container missile system. The lawmakers require the intelligence agencies to inform on the fact of deployment of such systems through the Russian military or transfer, sale (intention to transfer or sell) such systems by the Russian Federation to another state or non-state actor.

                          Another provision requires the National Intelligence to submit an “intelligence community assessment on the funding of political parties and nongovernmental organizations in former Soviet states and countries in Europe by the Russian Security Services since January 1, 2006.” The required data includes information on “the country involved, the entity funded, the security service involved and the intended effect of the funding.” The intelligence community shall evaluate the effects of the funding such as undermining the political cohesion of the country involved, undermining the missile defense of the U.S. and NATO, as well as “undermining energy projects that could provide an alternative to Russian energy.

                          The U.S. Congress also intends to request a study to determine appropriate standards of measuring and quantifying damage caused by cyberattacks; report on the use by Iran of funds made available through sanctions relief; and report every 60 days on the flow of foreign fighters to and from Syria and Iraq. U.S. Intelligence to dig into political assassinations in Russia, export of "Russian Spring" : UNIAN news

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                          • Crimean authorities threaten to fire in response to naval blockade
                            02.12.2015 | UNIAN

                            Russian-occupied Crimea's de facto First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Sheremet has warned against plans to stage a naval blockade of the peninsula and asked not to carry out ill-advised acts, Russian information agency RIA Novosti has reported.

                            In his words, all the strategic facilities of Crimea, including the Kerch Strait ferry line, are being guarded.

                            "Everything is under control, and heavily guarded, so they have no chance," Sheremet said.

                            In turn, the so-called Deputy Prime Minister of the Crimean government Ruslan Balbek claims that the naval blockade of Crimea will end with the first meeting with Russian ships.

                            "A naval blockade will end as soon as they first see the Russian border ships. [Crimea blockade coordinator Lenur] Islyamov's gang will not act as pirates in the Russian economic zone," he said.

                            Balbek said that the Russian border guards would not stand on ceremony with the offenders and, if necessary, would immediately open fire.

                            As UNIAN reported earlier, Lenur Islyamov, the main coordinator of the Crimea blockade, pledged to organize a "naval blockade" of the peninsula after the transport and energy ones. Crimean authorities threaten to fire in response to naval blockade : UNIAN news

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                            • Al Qaeda takes over two south Yemen towns – Reuters
                              02.12.2015 | UNIAN

                              Al Qaeda fighters retook on Wednesday two southern Yemeni towns they had briefly occupied four years ago, residents and local fighters said, according to Reuters.

                              Residents said the militants launched a surprise attack on Zinjibar and Jaar and overcame local forces, then set up checkpoints at the entries to the towns and announced their takeover over loudspeakers after dawn prayers, Reuters wrote.

                              The capture of the towns highlights how al Qaeda has taken advantage of the collapse of central authority in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been embroiled in an eight-month war against Shi'ite Houthis. The Houthis captured the capital, Sanaa, and large parts of the country over the past year.

                              Jaar and Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, are about 50 km (30 miles) east of the main port city of Aden. They had fallen previously to militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2011, who declared them as Islamic emirates.
                              Al Qaeda takes over two south Yemen towns – Reuters : UNIAN news

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                              • Ambassador: Canada issues multiple-entry visas for Ukrainians for 10 years
                                02.12.2015 | UNIAN

                                Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine Roman Waschuk says that his country has already started issuing multiple-entry visas for Ukrainian for 10 years.

                                "We have already introduced these multiple-entry visas for 10 years. We are also trying to increase the proportion of those who receive these long-term visas for a period of validity of their passport," Waschuk told an UNIAN correspondent.

                                He explained that when a travelling passport is valid for 10 years, it is possible to obtain a visa for this period.

                                "If the passport is valid for five years, one can get a visa for five years," he said.

                                "We has already been implementing these arrangements, and we hope that more applicants will be able to take this advantage," the diplomat said. Ambassador: Canada issues multiple-entry visas for Ukrainians for 10 years : UNIAN news

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