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  • The Power Vertical Brianwitmore PODCAST Dec 28 2015
    The Briefing: Church And State
    Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin, one of the most visible and controversial figures in the Moscow Patriarchate, was fired last week.

    Chaplin then launched into a fierce attack on what he called Russia's "immoral elites" and predicted that Partiarch Kirill would soon be replaced.

    On this week's Power Vertical Briefing we look at what Chaplin's sacking means going forward. Joining me is RFE/RL Senior Editor Steve Gutterman.

    Enjoy...The Briefing: Church And State
    ====================================================

    The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Dec 29 2015
    The Daily Vertical: Putin's Willing Incarcerators
    The Daily Vertical: Putin's Willing Incarcerators
    ======================================

    The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Dec 30 2015
    Yearly Vertical: The Cost Of Going Rogue
    Yearly Vertical: The Cost Of Going Rogue

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    • Ukraine Ready for Court Fight With Russia Over $3 Billion Bond
      BLOOMBERG Natasha Doff January 4, 2016

      -Russia said last week it has begun procedures for legal action
      -Both sides say they are still open to out-of-court talks

      Ukraine says it’s ready to defend itself against any lawsuit initiated by Russia last week over a defaulted $3 billion debt.

      The government in Kiev is confident it can successfully defend itself against any claim after failing to repay the bond last month, the Finance Ministry said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. Russia said on Jan. 1 it had begun procedures to start legal action against Ukraine.

      The start of legal action deepened a standoff that has frozen political and economic ties between the two former-Soviet neighbors since Russia bought the bond more than two years ago. Still both sides said in their latest statements they remain open to out-of-court talks after attempts by Germany to mediate indirect negotiations over the debt fell through last month when Ukraine imposed a moratorium on payment.

      “A court battle looks inevitable now, although it is interesting that Russia left an opening in their statement for a settlement out of court,” said Simon Quijano-Evans, a London-based emerging-market strategist at Commerzbank AG. ”This is unfortunately a bad start to the year for Ukraine’s bonds.”

      Most Ukrainian bonds retreated on Monday, with the yield on dollar-denominated debt maturing in September 2019 climbing nine basis points to 10.21 percent.

      Ukraine is barred from paying Russia back in full under a debt-restructuring agreement reached with private creditors last year that was key to meeting conditions for a $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. Russia refused to take part in those negotiations.
      Official Debt

      The Finance Ministry in Moscow said in its statement last week that Ukraine has not attempted to negotiate in good faith over the debt because it treated Russia as a commercial-sector, rather than an official, creditor. While the note was structured as a tradeable Eurobond, the IMF ruled in December that it was official debt.

      President Vladimir Putin offered in November to allow Ukraine to settle the debt in three $1 billion installments from 2016 to 2018, but the proposal fell through after the U.S. refused to offer the financial guarantees that Russia requested.

      Any hearing in the case would be held in the U.K. as the bond is structured under English law.
      Ukraine Ready for Court Fight With Russia Over $3 Billion Bond - Bloomberg Business

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      • The power is changing. What about the caricature?
        Political satire is on display in a former crematorium in Germany
        DEN THE DAY Anna Sventakh 23 December, 2015


        Caricature by Sergey Yolkin

        Within the framework of the international project “Political Caricature in Eastern Europe,” which has united caricaturists from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Germany, an exhibit dedicated to the topic “Power. Political caricature in (Eastern) Europe” was held. The vernissage took place at a very exotic place, Silent green Kulturquartier, a former crematorium, which is now a popular culture center (Berlin, Wedding District). All the participants of the exhibit (Kostiantyn Kazanchev, Ihor Lukianchenko, Vyacheslav Shilov, Andrey Popov, Denis Lopatin, Sergey Yolkin, etc) were not just present at the opening ceremony, but also took part in the discussion held by well-known German journalist Gemma Poerzgen. Each of the participants presented 5 to 10 works dedicated to the topic “Power.” A great public response was stirred by the political satire by famous Russian artist Denis Lopatin, who presented caricatures of Putin. The works by Ukrainian caricaturists had a huge representation.


        Caricature by Denis LOPATIN

        “The topic of the exhibit was power, and the trend of all caricaturists and their sketches is a brightly expressed opposition,” the participant of the art project, caricaturist, and many-year contributor to Den/The Day, Ihor LUKIANCHENKO said, “Even the Russian authors – there was a group of strong caricaturists from Petersburg and Moscow. There were many caricatures of Putin. Naturally, Belarusians created works in the same direction. But if we compare the caricature of Eastern Europe and the caricature in Germany, our works are much sharper. There are many taboos in German caricature, they have a very careful approach to the choice of the plot, there are a lot of forbidden topics – they don’t touch upon gender, race, and some other questions. On the whole, in Germany, compared to France, for example, caricature is not well developed. The number of sketches used in the press is considerably lower, and they are mostly used for illustration – an event takes place, and a caricature is drawn to illustrate it. There are very few independent works.”

        Caricature by Vyacheslav SHILOV

        “The exhibit took place in quite an exotic place,” the caricaturist continues to share his impressions, “in the former crematorium, which is currently a culture center, to combine the incompatible things: humor and quite gloomy irony [this also can remind the heroes of caricatures how tyrants end. – Author]. One could see the niches for urns in the space of the exhibit. The effect was interesting. On the floor there were hundreds or thousands of newspapers, and the visitors of the exhibit walked on them. An ocean of information, which is knee-deep. I haven’t seen anything of this kind before. The exhibit was a success – there were many guests, the German press and several big newspapers highlighted the exhibit. Apart from the exhibit, several meetings were held, including the meetings with German caricaturists, and discussions. Today political satire is brought to the foreground, which was proved once again by the exhibit of the caricaturists from Germany.”


        Caricature by Ihor LUKIANCHENKO

        Apparently, the caricaturists from Eastern Europe were impressed in a more or less similar way by the traditions of German art satire. Russian caricaturist Vyacheslav Shilov wrote about the “civilization differences” on his Facebook page: “We are sitting at a conference preceding the opening of the exhibit, and a German caricaturist, invited to the opening, is saying that, from the point of view of Germans, Charlie Hebdo caricatures are too sharp for Germany. But you should understand that France is a different country, which has a mentality of its own, and caricature and satirical graphic have always been considerably more important for the French than for Germans. And the frames of the freedom of expression are much broader there, and this is normal for the French society. This is a stand without hysterics: we might not like what people in another country draw, but this is their own business, their own tradition.”

        The action was organized by German non-governmental organization iDecembrists e.V. with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, in cooperation with Cartoonlobby e.V., Association of Ukrainian Caricaturists, n-ost, Reporters Without Borders, colta.ru, and ARTGESCHOSS. It is planned to show the exhibit in Germany and also to bring it to the cities where the participants of the project came from. It is quite possible that it will be shown in Kyiv too.
        The power is changing. What about the caricature? | The Day newspaper

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        • Putin’s ‘International of Lies’ based on money, not ideas, Yakovenko says
          EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2016/01/05

          The International founded by Vladimir Putin is “unique,” Igor Yakovenko says. It differs from all its predecessors and counterparts in that it is not based on any ideology, instead it based on loyalty to Putin personally and his regime and founded on the use of vast amounts of money to promote itself.

          “Despite all the financial problems of Putin’s Russia,” the Moscow commentator points out, there is always enough money for Putin to promote himself domestically and abroad because he controls far more of Russia’s budget, which is much smaller than that of the US, than does Barack Obama of his much larger one.

          In an essay today entitled “The Putin International of Lies: Information War and the Schoederization of Elites,” Yakovenko cites as evidence of this the fact that Moscow currently spends 20 times more on its English-language channel Russia Today [marketed abroad as “RT” – Ed.] than all US media does on their broadcasting in Russian.

          Yakovenko argues that “it would not be a bad thing for the leaders of Western countries to at least become a little acquainted with this [Putin] instrument of influence and learn how to counter it.” To that end, he offers a brief description both of the International and of the views of the man behind it.

          “Lenin created the Comintern for the struggle against Western civilization,” he begins. After World War II, the USSR “broadened its arsenal” with a whole range of institutions. But now, despite the failure of many in the West to appreciate it, Putin has both expanded and transformed this tool.

          Everyone must understand, the Moscow commentator writes, that “Putin is an absolute moral idiot and his closest entourage has been chosen for the same quality. He is completely lacking in the ability to distinguish between good and evil. [And] he is convinced that all other people on the planet also do not distinguish between the two.”


          Putin's press secretary: "These soldiers are not ours! The military equipment is not ours! The watches are not ours! And the daughter is not ours either!" (Cartoon: Yolkin / Svoboda)

          Because that is the case, Yakovenko says, Putin “does not understand what is bad in the fact that he first completely denied the presence of Russian invasion forces in Crimea and then admitted they were there. He does not understand why his words about ‘certain Turkomans,’ of which he ‘didn’t suspect’ when he flattened their towns with bombs and cruise missiles, are not viewed as quite right.”

          “Deception is part of his professional preparation as a graduate of the KGB Higher School. Therefore Putin lies always and about everything. And namely on the total lie is built the Putin International.” But in contrast to other internationals, Yakovenko continues, Putin’s has an enormous portion that like an iceberg is not visible on the surface.

          The visible portion consists of “three main structures:”
          -The propagandistic (Russia Today and other propaganda broadcasts),
          -The intellectual-analytical (the Valdai Club above all), and
          -The Russian Foreign Ministry, which metastasizes throughout “all the state apparatus, political structures and civil society of practically all the countries of the international community.”

          The basic method the Putin International uses against the West recalls the way in which a spider kills something caught in its web, but instead of injecting poison as a spider does, the Putin International injects money, something that leads to “the Schroederization of elites” and transforms them into victims of Moscow.

          Russia Today gets more attention, but it doesn’t have nearly the impact many assume: its ratings are microscopically small both in Europe and in the US. “A much more effective structure,” Yakovenko says, “is the Valdai Club which now is focused much less on ‘telling the world about Russia with love’ than with setting the agenda Putin needs in other countries.

          Its top people are former heads of European countries, and its “second level” includes people like Nikolay Zlobin, Alexander Rahr, and Stephen Cohen “and such who seek to transfer the Putin cult to the West or at a minimum to create the impression in Russia that there is such a cult in the West.”

          “And the final element” of the Putin International are those “whom Lenin justly called ‘useful idiots.’ They don’t have to be bought. They simply need to be taken by the head, looked at in the eyes mysteriously, and then they will say RUS-SI-A” with the best of them.” There are many in this category, unfortunately.

          But “the useful idiot of the year 2015,” Yakovenko says, is “by a large margin,” US Secretary of State John Kerry” who has performed just as Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov would have him.

          Clearly, the Moscow commentator concludes, “the existence of such an instrument as the Putin International together with the possession of nuclear arms allows the owner of these two devices to be the greatest threat to world civilization.” It would indeed be well if Western leaders would wake up to this fact. Putin’s ‘International of Lies’ based on money, not ideas, Yakovenko says -- EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |
          =================
          Igor Yakovenko, Russian journalist, former member of the Russian parliament

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          • RADIO FREE EUROPE January 05, 2016
            Cyberattack In Ukraine Said To Be First To Cause Big Power Outage

            Highly destructive computer malware infected power authorities in Ukraine last week and caused a power failure that affected hundreds of thousands of homes, researchers say.

            The outage on December 23 left about half of the homes in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine without electricity. Researchers from security firm iSIGHT Partners, who studied samples of the malicious code that infected at least three regional operators, confirmed the malware led to "destructive events" that in turn caused the blackout.

            "It's a milestone," John Hultquist of iSIGHT told Arstechnica.com. "It's the major scenario we've all been concerned about for so long."

            "This is the first time we have proof and can tie malware to a particular outage," Trend Micro researcher Kyle Wilhoit told Reuters. "It is pretty scary."

            Antivirus provider ESET said multiple Ukrainian power authorities were infected by "BlackEnergy," a package discovered in 2007 that has been repeatedly updated to include new destructive functions.

            Until now, BlackEnergy has mainly been used to spy on news organizations, power companies, and other industrial groups. A Moscow-backed group, Sandworm, is suspected of using it for targeted attacks.
            Cyberattack In Ukraine Said To Be First To Cause Big Power Outage

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            • Transmission RADIO FREE EUROPE BLOG Tom Balmforth Jan 05, 2016
              Google Translate Makes Russia 'Mordor,' Lavrov 'Sad Little Horse'

              MOSCOW -- Google's hugely popular translation tool has taken to rendering certain Ukrainian words into Russian with a pronounced pro-Kyiv political spin.

              On January 5, for instance, "Russian Federation" in Ukrainian (Ӧ æ) was being translated as "Mordor," the fictional realm occupied and controlled by evil necromancer Sauron in J.R.R. Tolkien's epic, The Lord Of The Rings.

              It was unclear if the mistranslations were the result of a hack, or whether they were due to a malfunction in the algorithms used by Google to power its translation tool.

              Meanwhile, the surname of Sergei Lavrov, the long-serving Russian foreign minister who has been a prominent and outspoken figure since the crisis erupted between Ukraine and Russia nearly two years ago, was translated as "sad little horse."

              Ukrainian media reported that "Russians" (Ӧ) was being expressed as "occupiers," although a test on January 5 failed to produce such a result.

              Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of providing regular troops, heavy weapons, and other forms of support to pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine since the fighting began, and a United Nations vote confirmed Crimea's continued status as part of Ukraine despite Russia's invasion and annexation of that peninsula in March 2014.

              It is not the first time politically charged mistranslations have crept into the Google Translate service between Ukrainian and Russian. The misconstructions tend to cast Russia as a malevolent marauder and Ukraine as its victim in a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people. But that's not always the case.

              According to RBK Ukraine, in November Google Translate rendered "All-Ukrainian" () as "All-Russian."

              The news outlet Ukraine 112 reports that in mid-2015, the "Revolution of Dignity" -- one of the many nicknames given to the Euromaidan uprising that overthrew Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych -- was translated into Russian as "political crisis in Ukraine" in what appeared to be a dig at Russian state propaganda.

              The wonky translations appear to have lasted online for at least the better part of a day. Ukrainian media first reported on the political inflections on January 4. Google Translate Makes Russia 'Mordor,' Lavrov 'Sad Little Horse'

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              • Ukraine may set up intl group on Crimea return
                05.01.2016 | 09:30 UNIAN

                The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine may adopt in 2016 a strategy of Crimea’s de-occupation, as well as the group may be set up on the return of the peninsula under the Ukrainian control, the political strategist, chief of Free Crimea project, Taras Berezovets, has said in an interview with Krym.Realii.

                "I don’t rule out that there will be some kind of a contact group, even without the participation of the Russian Federation. It makes sense to involve, for example, the Baltic states, Turkey, as well as Georgia and Moldova – the countries that have suffered directly from Russia and the Russian aggression. This contact group is already starting to shape up. But I think that the most interested parties are Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia who suffered territorial losses, and it makes sense for them to unite," he said.

                Besides, the political analyst says some kind of a group may emerge which will be dealing with the Crimea issue under the aegis of the State.

                Answering the question, whether the 2016 will be the year of Crimea’s return, Berezovets said: "Unfortunately, this is a problem for years, if not decades to come: the question of the return of the Crimea is a medium and long term question."

                Earlier, the political scientist said that Poroshenko demanded the National Security Council to adopt a strategy of Crimea’s return within two or three months.
                Ukraine may set up intl group on Crimea return : UNIAN news

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                • Militants fire 20 times at Ukrainian positions overnight
                  05.01.2016 | 10:00 UNIAN

                  Pro-Russian illegal armed groups opened fire 20 times in the direction of Ukrainian forces, twice the amount of attacks recorded the previous day, as reported by the press center of the ATO.

                  From 18:00 yesterday until midnight, the militants were most active in the area of the Donetsk airport. "They opened chaotic fire from heavy machine guns seven times on the village of Pisky, and they used small arms once, shooting at Opytne," reads the statement.

                  On Horlivka-Svitlodarsk arc, the invaders opened fire from heavy machine guns twice in the direction of Luhanske, and twice from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades – in the direction of Zaitseve, the ATO HQ said.

                  "At the same sector of the front, after midnight, militants tried unsuccessfully to provoke the Ukrainian soldiers to violate the "total silence" ceasefire regime by using a bazooka near Zaitseve, small arms - near Novhorodske. They also opened chaotic fire from a heavy machine gun randomly in the direction of our strong point a few kilometers south of the village of Troitske," said the report. Militants fire 20 times at Ukrainian positions overnight : UNIAN news

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                  • REUTERS Eric Auchard & Jim FinkleJan 4, 2016 5:40pm EST
                    Ukraine utility cyber attack wider than reported: experts

                    A central European security software firm said on Monday that a cyber attack last month in Ukraine was broader than initially reported last week when the nation's secret police blamed a power outage on Russia.

                    Western Ukraine power company Prykarpattyaoblenergo reported an outage on Dec. 23, saying the area affected included regional capital Ivano-Frankivsk. Ukraine's SBU state security service responded by blaming Russia and the energy ministry in Kiev set up a commission to investigate the matter.

                    While Prykarpattyaoblenergo was the only Ukraine electric firm that reported an outage, similar malware was found in the networks of at least two other utilities, said Robert Lipovsky, senior malware researcher at Bratislava-based security company ESET. He said they were ESET customers, but declined to name them or elaborate.

                    "The reported case was not an isolated incident," he said.

                    Prykarpattyaoblenergo publicly blamed its outage on "interference" in the working of its system. The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment.

                    Researchers with computer security firms Trend Micro and iSight Partners said ESET's assessment that the attackers sought to infect other utilities appeared credible, shedding new light on evidence that this is the first power outage proven to have been caused by a cyber attack. Experts have warned for years, with growing urgency, that electric utilities are vulnerable to cyber attacks that could cut power.

                    "This is the first time we have proof and can tie malware to a particular outage," said Trend Micro senior researcher Kyle Wilhoit. "It is pretty scary."

                    Cyber firm iSight Partners said that ESET's report of multiple attacks is consistent with its own analysis.

                    "There is pretty strong consensus that there was a blackout caused by a computer network attack," said iSight's director of cyber espionage analysis, John Hultquist.

                    Experts with ESET, iSight and Trend Micro told Reuters the attackers used a malicious software platform known as "BlackEnergy" to access utility networks, planting a related piece of malware, "KillDisk," on targeted systems.

                    KillDisk can delete or overwrite data files.

                    Researchers say they have yet to determine whether KillDisk's job was to knock out power or simply conceal the attack.

                    Cyber criminals have been using versions of BlackEnergy since 2007. Over the past two years, there has been widespread reports that a Moscow-backed group, Sandworm, was using it for targeted attacks. Ukraine utility cyber attack wider than reported: experts | Reuters

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                    • The Ukrainians starting a new life – in Russia ---- About 1.5 million have fled the conflict in Donetsk, with their choice of destination largely set by their allegiance in the war
                      THE GUARDIAN Shaun Walker Kiev & Donetsk 5 Jan 2016

                      "It’s a scary feeling when you land at the end of the earth and you literally know nobody,” said Tatyana Kurlayeva while sipping a cappuccino in a cafe in Magadan, a bleak city in the far east of Russia.

                      Kurlayeva, 32, fled to Magadan in 2014 from her hometown of Komsomolsk, near Donetsk in east Ukraine. She was one of dozens of refugees from the conflict zone to make a new life in Russia’s former Gulag capital. Across Russia, hundreds of thousands of east Ukrainians have arrived since the conflict started.

                      Some want to return now the fighting has stopped but many more want to stay. Icy Magadan is more than 4,000 miles from east Ukraine, but Kurlayeva has chosen to make it her new home.

                      She decided to leave Komsomolsk in August 2014, after her brother was kidnapped by the far-right Azov volunteer battalion. Although he was later released, the experience had shaken up the family and made them unwilling to stay.

                      Her husband wanted to join the pro-Russia rebel militia, but she persuaded him that the pair of them should take their daughter and flee. She closed down the children’s clothing shop she ran and the three crossed the border, then spent a week in a refugee camp near the city of Rostov.

                      “It was horrible, I’m not used to living like that. I never thought I would be a refugee. We wanted to get out as soon as possible, and I had always read that Magadan was an interesting and friendly place, so we spent all our savings on tickets from Rostov via Moscow to Magadan. It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane.”

                      On arrival, Kurnayeva made a video appeal to ask locals for help, and the director of the local television station decided she was camera-friendly and offered her a job. “When people found out where we were from, they immediately helped us. Everyone here is so friendly,” she said.

                      Now, Kurnayeva reads the news on local television and never wants to return to Ukraine. The family is applying for Russian citizenship. She is thankful to Russia, and to Vladimir Putin personally. “Look at Putin: he’s strong, intelligent, manly. It’s impossible not to be overwhelmed with emotion when you look at him. He’s done so much for us,” she added.

                      Many other refugees in Magadan also never plan to return home. Alexander Burlakov, 37, Tatyana Spivak, 38, and their son Sergei, 12, left their home in rebel-held Gorlovka in August 2014, and flew to Magadan, leaving their parents behind.

                      “At the start it seemed cold, depressing and scary, but we soon realised how nice the people are here,” said Spivak, in the kitchen of the small apartment the family rents in Magadan. Working as a supermarket cashier in Gorlovka, she earned about £60 a month; doing the same job in Magadan she earns £300.

                      “It’s just like in the Soviet Union – everyone is so helpful and friendly. I miss home but I am delighted I am not part of Ukraine,” she added.

                      While some Donbass refugees feel at home in Magadan, those whose sympathies lie more with Kiev than with the pro-Russia separatists have generally gone the other way.

                      “I understood I didn’t feel comfortable in my own city,” said Evgeny Vasili, who ran a bar called Spletni in Donetsk. “For me, what was going on in Donetsk was wild, and I didn’t understand it, and was disgusted by the behaviour of rebels. I realised I couldn’t keep living there.”

                      Vasili moved to Kiev and took Spletni with him. The bar is now open in Kiev, with the same furniture, the same lighting and even the same weathered Soviet hardback books that propped up the bar in Donetsk. He rented a truck to take everything across the frontlines in late 2014 and reassembled the bar in central Kiev.

                      Many of the clients at the new Spletni are also from Donetsk – internally displaced persons (IDPs) who miss their home town.

                      “When you leave a place you have feelings of nostalgia, people come here and they feel freer, more at ease,” Vasili said. “It’s hard to rent a flat when you have a Donetsk registration. People are suspicious of you. We have had no help from the government or anyone else.”

                      Vasili said that even if peace came to eastern Ukraine, he did not see himself returning to Donetsk. “My house has been destroyed, I have nothing to go back for. We will stay here, and try to integrate as well as we can,” he said.

                      Because of the vagaries of the Ukrainian registration system, there are no reliable statistics on the number of IDPs but NGOs estimate there could be as many as 1.5 million. Around 300,000 are believed to have moved to Russia. Moscow has said it will begin deporting Ukrainians who are in Russia illegally, but will make an exception for those from the conflict zones. Some are able to apply for Russian citizenship if they do not want to return.

                      The huge number leaving for Russia and other parts of Ukraine has had a huge effect on the Donetsk region.

                      Enrique Menendez, a businessman in Donetsk, said: “The population profile has completely changed, the small middle class that had just started to appear has disappeared.”

                      Menendez used to manage an internet marketing company with 10 employees. The other nine have left, and the company has closed. Now, he works on distributing humanitarian aid. “There was a building across the street where 200 programmers work,” he said. “They’ve all gone now. Nobody will need this kind of business for three to five years at least.”
                      The Ukrainians starting a new life – in Russia | World news | The Guardian

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                      • ATLANTIC COUNCIL Anders Åslund January 4, 2016
                        New Russian Management of the Donbas Signifies Putin May Be Ready to Negotiate

                        On December 26, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed one of his close, trusted aides, Boris Gryzlov, Russia's representative in the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which concluded the two Minsk agreements on the Donbas in September 2014 and February 2015. This appointment suggests an important change in Russia's policy toward Ukraine. Gryzlov is a heavyweight in Putin's inner circle, a permanent member of its security council, former minister of interior, speaker of the State Duma, and a colleague of the President's from his St. Petersburg KGB days.

                        Gryzlov replaces lightweight ambassador Azamat Kul'mukhametov, who has held that post since April. His appointment was seen as an attempt to downplay Russia's role and to force Ukraine to negotiate with the leaders of the Russian-controlled Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR). Now, the Kremlin has taken direct control.

                        This year, three strong-minded rebel commanders (Pavel Dremov, Aleksei Mozgovoy, and Aleksei Bednov) were killed in a professional fashion, making observers presume the killers belonged to the Russian military intelligence. In the summer, it became evident that the troops of the DNR and LNR were directly subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian commanders were identified by the Ukrainian Defense and Security Council.

                        The political leaders of DNR and LNR have been the same since August 2014, when Aleksandr Zakharchenko replaced Alexander Borodai as prime minister of the DNR and Igor Plotnitskiy became head of the LNR. Their appointments marked the end of Russia's attempted Novorossiya project, the incorporation of eight Ukrainian regions into Russia. Both leaders are considered of limited capability with no political appeal but obedient to Moscow.

                        In the second half of 2014, the occupied Donbas went through terrible destruction. Russian engineering troops blew up bridges and factories were subject to extensive artillery fire. All banks and ATM machines were looted and banking ceased. Most shops closed, leaving little but grocery stores. Rebels plundered or seized small, medium-sized and state enterprises, while big private enterprises, largely owned by Rinat Akhmetov's DTEK and Metinvest, were protected by the Kremlin. They continue to operate according to Ukrainian law in Ukrainian currency and pay Ukrainian taxes. Their workers have to go to ATM machines in free Ukraine to collect their salaries. Roughly 2-2.5 million people have fled the Donbas and about as many remain; 1.4 million moved to free Ukraine. Within the DNR and LNR territories, the population has moved, from small towns close to the fighting to the main cities, Donetsk and Luhansk. The economy has been devastated. This territory that produced 10 percent of Ukraine's GDP now works at about 30 percent capacity. The border from Ukraine to the DNR is relatively open, while the LNR allows much less transborder traffic.

                        During the Minsk negotiations in February 2015, one of the main Russian demands was that the Ukrainian government provide public financing to the occupied Donbas, although the Ukrainian government was not able to control the territory or collect taxes there. Sensibly, Ukraine has insisted that it can only pay pensions to people who are registered in non-occupied Ukraine and collect their pensions there. In April 2015, Russia hesitantly started paying pensions in cash to residents in the occupied Donbas.

                        In October, the Kremlin changed its management of the occupied Donbas, though this has not been publicly announced. Several blogs mentioned the change on October 30, and businessmen operating in the area have confirmed the changes. The management passed from the Russian presidential administration to the Russian government. Putin's personal assistant Vladislav Surkov was replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Kozak. Both are Putin loyalists, reporting directly to the President, but Surkov is an aggressive troublemaker who was in charge of the Novorossiya project, while Kozak, a lawyer from St. Petersburg, is in charge of regional affairs, including Russia's management of its frozen conflicts.

                        The economic management of the occupied Donbas has changed as well. Under Kozak, Russia's Deputy Minister of Economic Development for regional development Sergey Nazarov is in charge of the region's economy. He chairs a Russian working group for humanitarian assistance for the occupied Donbas, involving all the relevant Russian agencies and commanding the governments of the DNR and LNR. Private Russian enterprises do not seem to play any role.

                        Thus, the Russian federal government swiftly changed from lawless destruction to financing the reconstruction and humanitarian aid in the occupied Donbas. As a consequence, the still-operating companies have inched up their production. DTEK has been allowed to repair the state-owned railways with its own means so that it can transport coal produced in its mines in the occupied Donbas by rail to its power stations in free Ukraine.

                        Needless to say, the Russian government operates only in rubles, but it is trying to restore the banking system. An excellent journalistic article reports that the "only bank open is the rebel-run Republican Central Bank, which has around 100 branches." There are other reports that a Russian state bank, the Russian National Commercial Bank, has entered this territory.

                        The transition to Kozak and Gryzlov is undoubtedly an important milestone. Kozak's appointment indicates that Russia has concluded its active military phase and moved on to long-term management of frozen conflicts. The appointment of Gryzlov is more curious. He represented Putin in the roundtable negotiation that led to the settlement of the Orange Revolution with repeat elections in December 2004. If Putin authorized Gryzlov to make substantial concessions to Ukraine then, he might be ready to do so again. The Russian war in the Donbas has been neither small nor victorious, so the best the Kremlin can do is to forget about it. In any case, unlike his predecessor, Gryzlov can negotiate with the authority of the Kremlin.
                        New Russian Management of the Donbas Signifies Putin May Be Ready to Negotiate

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                        • Ukrainian children's Christmas wish: Let the war end and father return home
                          UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan 5, 2015 VIDEO

                          For many this year in Ukraine, Christmas was be without fathers and husbands away on the frontline

                          This year as Ukraine marks Orthodox Christmas on January 7, many families find themselves missing one member. Such is the case here in the western city of Lviv, where Nadiya will mark the holiday without her husband. He is serving on the frontlines of the conflict with Russian-backed militants in east Ukraine, on the other side of the country.

                          For Denis, it's a similar situation. He knows just a few words but still writes a letter to his father, who is also serving in east Ukraine. For the young son, this is his first holiday without one of his parents. But he says he's proud of his dad, who he knows it serving his country.

                          He says, "My dad will become a commander – that's why I used to like cars but now I like tanks."

                          Meanwhile, four-year-old Myroslava is decorating her Christmas tree alongside her brother, who was born one year ago whilst their father was away on the frontline. He's still their now but they hope he will soon come home.

                          Their mother Natalya says, "We're waiting for him. And we send our greetings to his battalion. We really hope he'll be back by spring." For many Ukrainians this year's festive period is bittersweet. They'll celebrate, knowing that many husbands and fathers are serving their country far from home. Ukrainian children's Christmas wish: Let the war end and father return home - watch on - uatoday.tv

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                          • 15:46 05.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                            Avakov suggests pausing courts for three months for sweeping reform of judiciary

                            Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov suggests the sweeping reform of the judicial system when the existing courts stop working for three months while new judges are being selected on a competitive basis.

                            "I believe that it is necessary to return to the radical project that the People's Front [party] once insisted on, however, did not garner support of. It was about the full (!) replacement of the judiciary. Full rebooting with the recruitment of new members, professional competition, and a real EXTERNAL performance review of the current judiciary. It was proposed that new courts should have been created while the old ones continued working. I am in favor of even tougher measures," Avakov wrote on Facebook on Monday.

                            He says he is sure that everyone will understand and agree if the courts in the country don't work for three months while new courts are being formed. "If people know that it will be a real change and a purge, they will agree to wait! Adopt all the necessary legal acts for the period of transition ranging from the extension of procedural periods to the order of proceedings and that's it – you've got three months for rebooting. A brand-new judiciary will appear after all the contests have been held!"

                            The minister says he thinks both Ukrainians and investors will support such changes.

                            "I believe we need to decide in favor of the sweeping reform of the courts – and this is both a process and a task for all of us in 2016, along with the completion of the key stage of reform at the Interior Ministry, and real change rather than simulation at the prosecutor's office," Avakov said. Avakov suggests pausing courts for three months for sweeping reform of judiciary

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                            • 11:58 05.01.2016 INTERAX-UKRRAINE
                              Goods transportation between Ukraine and Russia halted

                              The Infrastructure Ministry of Ukraine has said that the thoughtless decision of Russia to restrict transit of Ukrainian goods and the uncoordinated quota for transportation permits for 2016 have resulted in the full stoppage of transportation by road between the two countries.

                              "The Infrastructure Ministry believes that the complication of transit via Russia is another attempt of Russian authorities to affect the economic situation in Ukraine. The thoughtless decision of Russia without the clear mechanism of its realization and the uncoordinated permits quota for 2016 today have resulted in the complete halt of transportation between the countries. Moreover, the sharp restriction of transit via Russia puts under threat the interests of third countries which would not be able to receive the goods," the press service of the ministry told Interfax-Ukraine.

                              The ministry said that now international transit cargo from Ukraine to Kazakhstan via Russia is transported via Belarus. This means that drivers have no rights to cross the Ukrainian-Russian border, but they can enter Russia via Belarus, if they have registration vouchers and special identification means (seals).

                              "At once after the publication of the document the Infrastructure Ministry asked representative of the Transport Ministry of Russia to settle the issue. However, Russia refused to give any explanations until the end of holidays," the press service said.

                              Until the situation is not resolved, Ukraine calls on haulers not to plan trips to Russia to avoid problems for drivers and additional expenses for business. The ministry will inform on any changes in the issue.

                              As reported, Russia has fully halted the transit of goods from Ukraine via its territory as of January 4, 2016, the Ukrainian Economic Development and Trade Ministry.

                              "This Russian ban is nontransparent, unjustified and discriminatory. Thus, the Russians have violated their commitments, which in particular had been assumed within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Free Trade Area Treaty as of October 18, 2011," the ministry said. Goods transportation between Ukraine and Russia halted

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                              • ATLANTIC COUNCIL Yuriy Yatsenko January 5, 2016
                                From Ordinary Business Trip to Russian Jail: Former Ukrainian Political Prisoner Exhorts West to Keep Pressure on Russia

                                Editor's Note: Yuriy Yatsenko testified before the US Helsinki Commission in Washington on December 11, 2015. His remarks have been shortened.
                                ----------------------------------------------

                                I am a Ukrainian citizen who was illegally arrested and detained by the Russian Federation for over a year for political reasons. Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, and others who are less known have suffered and continue to suffer the same fate.

                                In May 2014, I was in Russia's Kursk region with a friend on a business trip. During a routine document check that Russian police officers often practice, I was detained. At the police department, an FSB agent (Russian Federal Security Service) showed me a photograph of myself taken during the Euromaidan protests, which I suspect he had found on social media. The agent demanded that my friend and I provide false testimony; he wanted us to admit that we had been recruited by Right Sector or by the head of the Security Service of Ukraine to commit acts of terrorism in Russia. At the time, I was an ordinary student from western Ukraine and could not believe that such absurd accusations were being made against me. My western Ukrainian origin became an additional reason for Russian law enforcement personnel to harass me.

                                After we refused to incriminate ourselves, they began beating us at regular intervals. We were also offered an option of going on Russian TV and giving a predetermined speech about being sent to Russia from Ukraine to commit subversive acts, but instead we turned to the FSB for protection to save us from the Ukrainian authorities and their persecution. We refused, so the harassment continued and turned into physical and psychological abuse. One FSB official threatened to hand me over to the President of Chechnya.

                                At first, the abuse and the beatings were constant. I was regularly placed in punishment cells and solitary confinement.

                                I remember one particularly brutal instance. Some special forces soldiers, wearing masks and uniforms bearing no insignia other than the colors of the Russian flag, put a bag over my head, took me into the woods, and tortured me. They hanged me by my handcuffs for hours and beat me in the head, groin, and other parts of the body. They strangled me. They also simulated an execution, firing a gun next to my head.

                                The next morning, which was two weeks after my arrest, I used a shaving blade to cut my abdomen and the veins on my arms to stop this abuse. Only then was I taken to the hospital; there I finally managed to inform my family about my whereabouts.

                                Despite a court decision ordering our deportation, my friend and I were illegally kept at a special detention center for illegal immigrants for three months. During this period, beatings and torture were constant. Three months later, my friend was released and taken to the Ukrainian border, while I was suddenly charged with possessing explosives.

                                The court found me guilty in spite of the absurdity of these accusations and the absence of any evidence. At first, I was sentenced to two years in prison, but an appeals court reduced the sentence to nine months. By that time, I had already spent a year in detention, so I was released.

                                The fact that I'm free now is a testament to the publicity campaigns, international pressure, and coordinated work of human rights advocates and lawyers. When I was in detention, guards informed me from time to time that another article about my case appeared in the press, or that another press conference dedicated to my case was held. They seemed to be alarmed by this activism, and kept saying that it should be stopped, that everything should be "done quietly." That is why public events in support of prisoners are extremely important; they signal to the repressive regime that it is being watched closely and that none of the prisoners are forgotten.

                                At least thirteen Ukrainians are detained illegally somewhere in the Russian Federation, and at least eight prisoners are being held in occupied Crimea, both Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. The criminal cases against them are fabricated, most have been brutally tortured, and some have been deprived of their right to meet with an attorney or a Ukrainian consul for over a year. These are people of various ages, professions, and politics, but they share one thing—their lives have become an instrument of Russian state-sponsored propaganda that has created the image of Ukraine as a mortal enemy. Kremlin officials constantly look for ways to justify their hybrid war in Ukraine, which is why innocent Ukrainian citizens are proclaimed to be terrorists, spies, and fascists.

                                I appeal to you on behalf of the #LetMyPeopleGo campaign. There are no independent courts in Russia; this is why politically motivated cases have no chance of being decided fairly. Only international pressure can help achieve the release of those detained. We are waiting for the return of Savchenko, Olexandr Kolchenko, Sentsov, Gennadiy Afanasiev, Olexii Chirnii, Sergiy Lytvynov, Mykola Karpiuk, Stanislav Klyh, Olexandr Kostenko, Haiser Dzhemilev, Yurii Soloshenko, Valentyn Vyhyvskii, and Viktor Shur. We also demand that Russia stop occupying Crimea and that Akhtem Chyihoz, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermendzhy, Yuriy Ilchenko, Ruslan Zaytullaev, Nuri Primov, Rustam Vaytov, and Ferat Sayfullaev be freed. It is likely that this list is incomplete. Nevertheless, we demand that Russia release all of its prisoners who have been subject to politically motivated persecution. From Ordinary Business Trip to Russian Jail: Former Ukrainian Political Prisoner Exhorts West to Keep Pressure on Russia
                                ---------------------------
                                Yuriy Yatsenko is an activist of the Euromaidan who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released. Mr. Yatsenko was a guest speaker at the events organized by the VOLYA Institute for Contemporary Law and Society and Razom.

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