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  • 10:51 16.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
    Ukrainian ATO forces report 40 attacks in Donbas in last day

    The press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) has reported about 40 instances of ceasefire violations by Donbas militants in the past 24 hours.

    The militants fired 82mm and 120mm mortars three times and actively used small arms and grenade launchers to shell Ukrainian ATO forces positions near the town of Maryinka, the press center wrote on Facebook on Saturday.

    In the Mariupol section, the village of Vodiane located in the so-called gray zone was shelled with 82mm and 120mm mortars.

    The Ukrainian positions near the village of Mayorsk, part of the militant-held town of Horlivka were also attacked with small arms and large-caliber machineguns, while areas near the village of Novhorodske were shelled with an anti-aircraft system.

    Attacks on areas around the Donetsk airport did not stop. Small arms and grenade launchers were also used to shell ATO positions near the villages of Opytne and Pisky, and south of the town of Avdiyivka.

    In the Luhansk region, the village of Tryokhizbenka was shelled with small arms, grenade launchers and large-caliber machineguns. The Ukrainian forces had to fire back, using allowed weapons, and the enemy ceased their attack, the press center said.

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    • Ukrainian interest. Stressor from Kremlin, mutual misunderstanding in Minsk and Obama’s gaffe
      16.01.2016 | 10:58 UNIAN Yevgeny Magda

      Vladimir Putin has started his political year with the interview with the German Bild, approved by the Kremlin censors and presenting most of his foreign policy objectives. The tripartite group has not progressed in the issue of Donbas settlement. Ukraine actually benefitted from Barack Obama's gaffe in the State of the Union address.

      Time is working against the master of the Kremlin. Plunging oil prices bolster Vladimir Putin's foreign political action, since the lifting of Western sanctions is increasingly important for the Russian economy. Therefore, Putin has used Bild, the popular German publication, to voice his own vision of the situation in Russia and around the world. At the same time the Kremlin could not resist the temptation to correct some of Putin's remarks. Moreover, the censors went as far as also modifying the questions of German journalists.

      The Russian president showed screaming resentment against NATO expansion and against the United States for influencing the European media. He went on to claim that Russia never violated international law in Crimea. Putin made it clear that a great number of today’s problems could have been avoided, had the West listened to him. The Russian president believes that it’s the Kyiv authorities who must be the first to implement Minsk agreements, so he chose not to mention Moscow’s own commitments under the deal signed in the Belarusian capital.

      To be more convincing, Putin sent Russia’s new envoy to the Tripartite Liaison Group, Boris Gryzlov, to Kyiv, shaking up noticeably the post-holiday atmosphere in the Ukrainian capital. The Kremlin is well aware that the Ukrainian authorities could not refuse to accept Putin's diplomatic courier, as in this case, it would have been perceived globally as an unconstructive party to the conflict. No matter the agenda of the talks, Gryzlov’s uninvited visit, itself, was quite a stressor for the Ukrainian public.

      Is it any wonder that the first Minsk meeting of the Contact Group in 2016 was no breakthrough, despite participation of Putin’s new entrusted intermediary. An agreement on the “25 for 36” prisoner exchange may be the only positive point as of today. Roman Bezsmertniy, whom the representatives of the pro-Russian militants wanted out of the Ukrainian delegation, along with Irina Gerashchenko, made it clear that there is not even a minimal progress in talks on political settlement

      Speaking on the occasion of the start of German presidency in the OSCE, the country’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for broader influence of the organization in Donbas. The announcement came amid following an incident with in Horlivka, where militants forced the OSCE monitors out of their vehicle and made them lay face down in the snow. However, in any case, the OSCE will continue its mission in Donbas as the situation in the region remains too tense. Meanwhile, Germany will try to intensify the peace talks on the eastern Ukrainian conflict settlement, to resolve one of the pan-European issues.

      Barack Obama mentioned Ukraine, along with Syria, in his last presidential State of the Union address to Congress. However, many overseas political experts saw an ad-libbed gaffe in Obama’s reference to Ukraine, but the following interpretation of the White House and the State Department made sure that in Washington had not forgotten about the Ukrainian problems. Another formal confirmation of this fact is a six-hour meeting of Victoria Nuland and Vladislav Surkov held behind closed doors in Kaliningrad.
      Ukrainian interest. Stressor from Kremlin, mutual misunderstanding in Minsk and Obama’s gaffe : UNIAN news

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      • European Space Agency dumps Russian Soyuz launchers
        15.01.2016 | 20:20 UNIAN

        In 2016, ESA will refuse from Soyuz launchers in favor of the Ariane-5 to deliver Galileo satellites to the orbit.

        The European Space Agency (ESA) renounces in 2016 the use of Russian a Russian Soyuz-ST carrier rocket in bearing the European Galileo satellite navigation system to the orbit, according to ESA chief Johann-Dietrich Werner, TASS reports.

        The preference will be given to Europe’s own heavy-lift Ariane-5 launcher, Werner said at a Friday’s press conference.

        The launch from the French Guiana Space Center is scheduled for October. The heavy class Ariane-5 can bring four satellites in one trip, while Soyuz was only able to deliver two satellites in a single launch.

        Europe's version of Russia's GLONASS positioning system and the American GPS satellite navigation system, Galileo is a project of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, TASS reported.

        If all goes according to plan, the Galileo satellite constellation is expected to be completed in 2020. According to Didier Faivre, Galileo program director with the European Space Agency (ESA), the full-scale operation of the system will begin after 24 satellites have been inserted into orbit. However, the agency has ordered 26 satellites already now, with the number to increase up to 30 in the future. "We want six backup satellites," Faivre said. A large-scale program like that certainly calls for substantial investment. To date, the European Union has spent over 5 billion euros on the Galileo program, with 7 billion euros more expected to be set aside for this purpose until 2020.
        European Space Agency dumps Russian Soyuz launchers : UNIAN news

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        • Kosovo war crimes court to try KLA suspects in The Hague
          BBC 15 January 2016

          A special court is being set up in The Hague to try war crimes committed during the 1999-2000 war in Kosovo, the Dutch government says.

          It will try serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic minorities and political opponents, a statement said.

          The court is set to begin operating later this year.

          The conflict pitted ethnic Albanian rebels against Serbian forces.

          Until 2008, Kosovo was a province of Serbia. Years of tensions turned into open conflict in 1998, when the Serbian government launched a crackdown.

          It eventually withdrew its troops from Kosovo after a two-month campaign of air strikes by Nato in 1999.

          Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, although Serbia has never recognised this.

          An estimated 10,000 people died in the conflict and about 1,700 remain missing.

          Tribunal could prove vital, by Guy Delauney, BBC News, BelgradeThe International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has tried and convicted many Serb officials over the past two decades, but it has generally failed to find justice for hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs who were themselves the victims of forced displacements or atrocities.

          This has damaged the ICTY's credibility, especially in Serbia, and hampered reconciliation efforts.

          Officially, the new tribunal will be a national court of Kosovo, despite its location in The Hague.

          But it should finally deal with the long-festering allegations that members of the KLA - many of whom have risen to high positions in the government - committed atrocities.

          Members of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority who view the KLA as heroes may resent the process. But the tribunal might prove vital, as Serbia and Kosovo continue efforts to normalise relations.

          The Dutch statement admits that trying war crimes "is a sensitive issue in Kosovo".

          "Possible suspects may be seen by sections of Kosovan society as freedom fighters, and witnesses may feel threatened in Kosovo," hence the reason for cases to be heard abroad.

          "It is important for justice to be done," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said.

          "So we are pleased to be able to offer the court a home."

          A 2011 report from the Council of Europe, which monitors human rights, accused KLA rebels of serious crimes, including the trafficking of prisoners' organs.

          Parliament in Kosovo approved the creation of the tribunal last year, despite protests and an opposition boycott of the vote.

          Kosovan Albanians make up about 90% of the population, and tensions remain with the Serb minority.

          Earlier this month anti-government protesters clashed with police in a demonstration against a deal giving more power to ethnic Serbs. Kosovo war crimes court to try KLA suspects in The Hague - BBC News

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          • REUTERS Marcin Goettig Jan 15, 2016 5:31pm EST
            Currencies, Bonds, Markets, Financials
            S&P shocks Poland with credit rating downgrade

            S&P cuts rating to BBB+ from A-, outlook negative

            * Says new government weakened independence of institutions

            * S&P says may cut rating further in next two years

            * Zloty immediately falls 1.5 pct to 4-year low vs euro

            * Ruling party MP chides "usury-banking lobby" for downgrade (Adds finance ministry reaction)
            ------------------------------------------------------
            WARSAW, Jan 15 Standard and Poor's (S&P) unexpectedly cut Poland's credit rating a notch on Friday, saying the new government has weakened the independence of key institutions and the rating could fall further.

            The cut, the agency's first for Poland's hard currency debt, deals a major blow to the nationalist-minded government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won an election in October promising more welfare and widely-shared prosperity.

            Poland, which joined the European Union in 2004, has gained a reputation as an exemplar of post-communist transformation in Europe, registering the highest economic growth in the bloc over the last decade as it attracted billions of dollars in foreign direct investment.

            But any rise in funding costs for central and eastern Europe's largest economy could now put pressure on the government's budget, already strained by promises of additional spending.

            S&P said it cut Poland's foreign currency rating to BBB+ with a negative outlook from A-. The A- rating had a positive outlook.

            The rating remains well within investment grade, but the agency said it could cut further in the next two years if the credibility of monetary policy is undermined.

            The cut immediately sent the zloty currency to a 4-year low versus the euro.

            "We expect a major Polish government bond sell-off next week," said Rafal Benecki, chief economist at ING Bank Slaski, predicting the zloty currency would weaken too.

            "The downgrade reflects our view that Poland's system of institutional checks and balances has been eroded significantly," S&P primary credit analyst for Poland, Felix Winnekens, said in a statement, criticising legislative changes to the constitutional court and public broadcasting under the new government.

            Earlier this week, the European Union began an unprecedented inquiry into whether Poland has breached the bloc's democratic standards by passing the new laws.

            The Polish finance ministry said the rating downgrade was "incomprehensible" in economic and financial terms.

            Fitch ratings agency confirmed its Polish A- rating on Friday with a stable outlook. Moody's rates Poland at A2 with a stable outlook, one notch above Fitch.

            But S&P said: "A law that moves the power to appoint the management ... of public broadcasters to the Treasury ... significantly weakens the independence of these institutions and has the potential to make them political instruments."

            "USURY-BANKING LOBBY"
            A PiS member of parliament and member of the lower chamber public finance committee, Janusz Szewczak, called the rating cut "a revenge of the usury-banking lobby."

            Government spokesman Rafal Bochenek said there were no economic grounds for the downgrade. "Nothing has changed in the economy and Poland is not experiencing any turbulence," he said.

            S&P has held Poland's rating at A- since 2007. It increased the outlook to positive last year based on Poland's declining deficits under the previous government and uninterrupted economic growth over the last two decades.

            Even after the cut, Poland's S&P rating remains three notches above 'junk' level. The agency cut Hungary's credit rating to junk in 2011, saying the policies of Prime Minister Victor Orban were unpredictable.

            PiS party representatives have long praised the policies of Orban, who was also accused by critics of undermining democratic checks and balances by advocating "illiberal democracy".

            Hungary's rating remains in 'junk' despite an upgrade last year.

            The Polish rating cut shocked economists who had put the odds of a simple cut in the outlook for the rating at 30 percent in a Reuters poll on Thursday. None of the 17 economists polled even mentioned a possibility of a cut in the rating itself.

            "The message to other sovereigns out there is very clear: don't touch the constitutional framework that has been built up over so many years, or else a downgrade and a subsequent increase in funding costs will ensue," Simon Quijano-Evans, strategist at Commerzbank said. UPDATE 3-S&P shocks Poland with credit rating downgrade | Reuters

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            • REUTERS Jan 15, 2016 MOSCOW/BEIJING Olesya Astakhova & Chen Aizhu
              Exclusive: Russia likely to scale down China gas supply plans

              Russia is likely to scale back volumes of gas it plans to ship to China later this decade, sources close to energy giant Gazprom say, due to the dive in global energy prices and uncertainty hanging over the Chinese economy.

              The sources insist the hugely expensive pipeline project - part of President Vladimir Putin's strategic shift eastwards - will go ahead on time. However, they acknowledge sales to China will initially be lower than envisaged when Moscow reached the $400 billion deal with Beijing in May 2014.

              "We will start fulfilling the deal in 2019, but the volumes could be less that initially expected," a source at Gazprom told Reuters.

              At the time of the deal, crude oil was trading above $100 a barrel but has since plunged to $30. In this period growth in the Chinese economy has also slowed sharply, with its currency falling and its stock market now in turmoil.

              Moscow is keen to "pivot to the East" to reduce its reliance on exporting energy to the West due to a series of rows, notably over Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

              China is in a buyer's market. Abundant energy supplies are now available from other sources, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar and Australia and pipeline gas from Central Asia, and this is undermining the Kremlin's plans.

              Gazprom's media relations team did not comment on emailed questions from Reuters although the state-controlled company, which has a monopoly on Russian pipeline gas exports, has said the project to ship gas from eastern Siberia to China is on track.

              Flows through the Power of Siberia pipeline, which starts in East Siberia, are due to start at 5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, rising to 38 bcm annually under the 30-year deal - just below what Gazprom's top gas buyer, Germany, now gets.

              The pricing mechanism for what China will pay has not been revealed. Sources and analysts say the oil breakeven price for the Russian gas exports to China is around $80 per barrel, a level that is unlikely to be reached in the foreseeable future.

              "In any case, the volumes will be lower (than announced)," said another source, who is close to Gazprom and familiar with the talks with China. "Gazprom has taken on an uphill task and failed."

              TURKMENISTAN BEATS RUSSIA TO MARKET

              Several industry sources have said Gazprom was hoping to sell gas to China for $10-$11 per mmBtu - an energy measure. By contrast, China is understood by analysts to be paying $9 per mmBtu to Turkmenistan, the former Soviet republic in Central Asia that beat Gazprom to the Chinese market.

              No one knows where energy prices will be at the end of this decade or what state the Chinese economy will be in. But all bets seem to be off for now after oil's 70 percent plunge in the past 18 months. Benchmark Asian spot LNG is trading at $6.50, down from over $13 in May 2014.

              Analysts see a delay as the likely outcome. "The parties are likely to postpone the project commissioning into the late 2020s," Mikhail Korchemkin, a director of U.S.-based consultancy East European Gas Analysis.

              He sees the breakeven price for Russian gas exports to China, as measured by the benchmark Brent crude price, at $75-$85 per barrel - but only if the pipeline construction is done by Chinese contractors, whose involvement promises to cut costs.

              It is not clear whether Moscow will accept foreign contractors or will insist on Russian firms doing the work on its territory.

              Gazprom had initially planned to invest $55 billion in exploration and pipeline construction to China's border. The costs may have since been cut due to a slide in the ruble's value which has pushed up the cost of imported equipment.

              The project includes building a huge gas processing plant needed to provide methane of the required quality and clear it of helium, which is abundant in the east Siberian gas fields.

              In a sign of increasing difficulties for the Kremlin's energy champion, sources have said Gazprom has asked other Russian gas producers to help it out to honor the deal.

              CHINESE TURMOIL

              Chen Zhu, Beijing-based managing director of consultancy SIA Energy, said the economic turmoil in China makes the project less attractive. "There is no doubt the project is strategic but on the China side, the demand outlook is not that rosy as the economy is slowing," she said.

              Chen said 2020 is a more realistic date for gas to start flowing. "Due to very high costs required to develop the large gas fields in Russia, China and Russia share the understanding that neither side is in urgent need," she said.

              The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies also said in research published in September that Beijing was in no rush to allow Russian gas into its market.

              "It would increasingly appear that Gazprom is at the mercy of its Chinese counterparts, who are operating in a buyers' market, have the lure of financing to offer, and have every incentive to adopt a wait and see policy in gas import negotiations," it said.

              ($1 = 76.4700 rubles)
              Exclusive: Russia likely to scale down China gas supply plans | Reuters

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              • The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Jan 15, 2016
                Podcast: Putin's Muddled Message



                When a Russian leader speaks to a foreign media outlet, it is usually aimed at sending a clear and specific message.

                But Vladimir Putin's lengthy, wide-ranging, and often contentious interview with the mass-circulation German tabloid Bild this week was a discombobulated mishmash of conciliatory, unyielding, and sometimes disturbingly over-the-top rhetoric.

                Putin apparently wants to reengage the West, but he wants to do so without making any concessions -- or even a change in tone.

                On the new Power Vertical Podcast, we unpack Putin's mixed and muddled message to the West and what it portends.

                Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov, president of the LEFF Group and a columnist for Slon.ru.

                Enjoy... Podcast: Putin's Muddled Message

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                • WINDOW ON EURASIA January 15, 2016 Paul Goble
                  Protests Especially Likely in Moscow, Kazan and Ufa, Sociologist Says

                  The economic crisis is likely to spark protests across Russia this year, but such actions are most likely in Moscow, Kazan and Ufa, three regions that have been doing relatively well and thus feel the contraction particularly intensely, according to VTsIOM sociologist Oleg Chernozub.

                  In a presentation to the panel “Russia in Crisis: Political Risks of 2016” at the Gaidar Forum, the pollster says that “if in the fall of 2014, 16 percent of [Russian] homemakers described their economic situation as unfavorable,” that figure has now risen to 60 percent (ura.ru/articles/1036266773).

                  The sociologist adds that if Russians reacted to the onset of crisis with panic, then they calmed down and assumed that the difficulties would be short-lived. But by the end of 2015, they again began to focus critically on the crisis – and that shift presents serious risks for the Russian authorities.

                  According to Chernozub, there is a genuine “threat of the regionalization of social tension and, what is especially dangerous for the authorities, a worsening of the situation in well-off regions like Moscow, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.” Because people there have been doing better, they are especially upset now about doing worse.

                  Even if Moscow takes measure in the spring, it is unlikely that these will have much of a positive impact on public opinion in the short period before the parliamentary elections. As a result, in some regions, he says, United Russia can expect to receive far fewer votes than it did in pre-crisis times.
                  Other speakers added to this picture. Vladimir Petukhov, another VTsIOM sociologist, says that the level of trust in governors is around 50 percent, although Putin continues to be trusted by “almost 80 percent of respondents. That reflects the fact that “the population considers the economic situation separately and the president separately.”
                  Aleksey Zubets, a sociologist at Moscow’s Financial University, points out that 15 percent of the Russian population say that they don’t have enough to eat. He says that “practice shows that local protests begin when that figure reaches 16 to 17 percent.”

                  Dmitry Orlov, the head of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, agrees that “protest regions” will emerge in Russia in the coming year. The only issue is whether these will remain separate or will link up and have serious consequences for the elections to the State Duma.

                  In his view, Orlov says, that won’t be the case. “More than that,” he adds, “the inertia of patriotic mobilization in 2018 will allow Vladimir Putin to again become president.”

                  But Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, says that there are risks for Putin because all the protests and demonstrations will end with appeals to him. Over time, their very number may create problems for him. Yevgeny Minchenko of the International Center of Political Expertise agrees, especially if there are conflicts “within the Politburo 2.0.”

                  And all the analysts agreed that there may be problems for Dmitry Medvedev because he wears two hats: he is not only the head of the United Russia party which is trying to win support but also of the government whose policies have angered many Russians.
                  Window on Eurasia -- New Series: Protests Especially Likely in Moscow, Kazan and Ufa, Sociologist Says

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                  • UKRAINE'S ORANGE BLUES (blog)

                    Putin is Steering Russia to Collapse
                    30 December 2015 Alexander J. Motyl

                    As the new year begins, both Ukraine and Russia are making steady progress. The difference is that, while Ukraine is slowly, and more or less surely, adopting a raft of systemic reforms that will make it a normal Western market democracy, Russia is becoming a failed state. If current trends continue, as they probably will, Russia may even disappear.

                    That’s not just my conclusion. It’s Dmitri Trenin’s, and Trenin is the director of the prestigious Carnegie Moscow Center and a distinguished Russian analyst who, unlike his former colleague, the anti-Putin firebrand Lilia Shevtsova, has often expressed a soft-line interpretation of the Putin regime and its intentions.

                    In a recently published commentary, however, Trenin takes off his gloves and compares Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the czarist regime on the eve of World War I. If, writes Trenin, Russia doesn’t develop a new foreign policy and embark on serious internal reform, “the Russian state could share the fate of the Romanov regime in World War I.”

                    That is, Russia could collapse. In effect, Trenin is comparing Putin to Romanov Russia’s last czar, the hapless Nicholas II, and arguing that he has failed—completely.

                    Here’s Trenin:

                    The political conflict between Russia and the United States is fundamental. There may be moments when tension eases and cooperation is possible, but there are no obvious options for strategic compromise. Moreover, Russia has entered a phase of mutual estrangement with a large part of Europe; and it has, for the foreseeable future, acquired a hostile Ukraine on its border, whose new foundation for nation-building is based on hostility to Russia. Finally, Russia has been sucked into the permanent theater of conflict that is the Middle East. …

                    In its recent history, Russia has sought to embrace one of two competing overarching foreign policy concepts—but both have shattered. … Both concepts—we can call them Plan A and Plan B—came into jeopardy in the first half of the 2010s, and were ultimately torpedoed by the Ukraine crisis.

                    So what should Russia do?

                    The key strategic objective must be to develop a new Russian foreign policy concept—a kind of Plan C. This concept should be based on a balanced understanding of both Russia’s need for self-sufficiency and its necessary engagement with the rest of the world.…

                    Yet all this is not the main thing.… Russians should turn their minds back to 1914, when amid a clash of world powers the old Russian regime came crashing down. If it wants to escape the fate the reform-averse Romanovs endured in World War I, the current ruling elite needs to prioritize domestic change and carry out a comprehensive overhaul of the country’s institutions….

                    Russia’s current political and economic order, if it persists, will sooner or later doom it to a tragic failure as a state.

                    And there you have it. Unless it changes fundamentally, Russia will fail as a state. Which is to say that Putin has, within a few short years, managed to transform a stable polity into a failing state. How? Above all, by means of an ill-advised, criminal invasion of Ukraine. What was supposed to be a quick, glorious, little war has become a disaster—for Russia. Give the man another year or two and his current grade of C will, as Russia collapses and chaos envelopes its unfortunate population, become an F.

                    Trenin is being coy when he says that “Russia” got itself into trouble. Although Russia may fail as a state, it’s Putin, the man Steven Lee Myers calls the “new tsar,” who has failed as a leader and pushed Russia to the brink of disaster.

                    It’s hard to imagine that anyone could be a worse leader than deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Yet Russia’s leader has done just that.

                    Fortunately, as Trenin implies, the new czar may soon be Russia’s final czar.
                    Putin is Steering Russia to Collapse | World Affairs Journal

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                    • Opinion: Hoping for Russia’s digital frontier How today’s middle class and intelligentsia are the runaway serfs of a virtual borderland
                      MEDUZA 15:57, 15 January 2016 Slon

                      Perpetually in the headlines because of new laws and regulations limiting its use and reach, but simultaneously a surviving bastion of freedom, the Russian Internet is one of Russia's most curious spaces. The RuNet also appears to be of renewed interest to the Kremlin, judging by one of Vladimir Putin's recent appointments and an approaching battle for data localization in Russia. In an opinion piece for the news site Slon, the chief editor of TvRain.ru, Ilya Klishin, argues that a “paradigmatic clash” is coming, and Russia's history with frontiers could be key to understanding what happens next. Meduza translates that text here.
                      --------------------------------------
                      The Russian Internet could have been destroyed on August 1, 2014. It was this date, anyway, that blogger Anton Nossik said would bring Russia's digital apocalypse, calling it “the last day of the Russian Internet” in an article for the New Republic. In an irony of fate, the RuNet still lives, while the New Republic, after a massive staff exodus in late 2014, was just put up for sale by its new owner.

                      When Nossik was writing, the concerns about Russia's Internet focused on a law equating popular bloggers with the mass media, which (we now know) didn't work out (though it's always there for future use, like a gun to the head). But the repressions didn't end there, and there are always ways things can get worse. The following year, in 2015, Freedom House removed Russia from its list of countries with free Internet access. Human rights activists pointed to new laws on personal data and the right to be forgotten, the efforts of the state censor, Roskomnadzor, the more frequent blocking of websites, and various criminal cases against people who merely “reposted” online content. Then, apparently, there were exercises to test a scenario where the Russian Internet is cut off from the World Wide Web.

                      Most recently, Vladimir Putin—who's previously showed little interest in Internet affairs—appointed himself as an advisor German Klimenko, the entrepreneur who created LiveInternet. In just the past few weeks, Klimenko has managed to terrify the liberal-minded public, savoring every chance to tell them how bad everything could get.

                      Klimenko's appointment has set off a new wave of gloomy predictions. For instance, Leonid Volkov, an ally of anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, wrote that 2016 awaits “a large-scale, unprecedented attack on the Internet in Russia.” Navalny himself expects the authorities to intensify their “fight against free speech online.”

                      Even if we assume that the opposition is deliberately exaggerating things, it's impossible not to notice how the Russian state has grown more hostile toward the Internet, following the 2011-2012 demonstrations for free elections and the results of reunification with Crimea. In the UK, researcher Gregory Asmolov rightly notes that, in recent years, “the Internet, like the US, has begun to play the role of Russia's external enemy.” (Recall Putin saying that the Internet “emerged as a special project of the CIA, and continues to develop this way.”)

                      At the same time, the Russian state has muscled its way into the online space, actively working to restructure it. According to Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, troll factories and fake accounts create the illusion that there is no truth, thereby paralyzing civic activism.

                      Movements like the 2011-2012 protests or some hypothetical Russian Maidan revolution (which the state TV channels love using to scare the public) are just a pretext for the crackdown on the Internet. The real reason for the Kremlin's attack on Internet freedom lies much deeper—in the very nature of the Russian state.

                      The theory of freedom's relativity
                      In Russian authoritarianism, whether it's tsarist, Soviet, or Putinist, the relativism of freedom is fundamental. There's not a single sphere of life that's completely protected from the state's tyranny, which is blind and often pointedly so. Even if you're one of the elite, endowed with certain freedoms, you can still be sentenced to death for the wrong gossip, just like young Dostoyevsky and his friends in the Petrashevsky Circle for reading works by Vissarion Belinsky. Or maybe you're a single mother and you're thrown in jail for reposting two pictures on Vkontakte. The point here isn't the process or even the cruelty, but—paradoxically—the absence of any sense at all.

                      Selective repressions like these remind everyone that nobody is safe. This is the entire logic of a continuing criminal investigation into a protest at Bolotnaya Square that took place almost four years ago, landing dozens of people in court and then prison. This perverted Themis won't punish everyone, but she can come down on anyone, so it's wise to keep your head down whenever possible. This applies to the new aristocrats, too: the Putinist elite and their children. Their freedom is exceedingly relative, and it all depends on the whims and will of one man.

                      For “traditional” Russia, the Internet is a fundamentally different environment—something that grew like the anarchy and self-regulation of the 1990s. Though the Russian Internet has endured several huge influxes of new people (the country's userbase has grown ten times, from 7 million in 2000 to 70 million today), and despite even the state's crackdown, the Web is still a functioning institution of personal freedom—perhaps the only one left in Russia today. Other institutions like it were crushed long ago by the authorities. And so now, following the very logic of Russia's still budding authoritarianism, the Kremlin turns to face this last holdout.

                      How will this new attack end?
                      To answer this question, we'll need another history lesson. In some ways, the RuNet is like the Cossack freemen: spirited people who bolted off, who didn't want to be serfs (let alone sent to the North Sea or Siberia). Have you ever wondered why the Americans love so much to glorify the frontier, the open road, and the Wild West, while Russians can only muster Pushkin's dubiously sympathetic sentiments in The Captain's Daughter and Sholokhov's ideas in Quietly Flows the Don? Maybe it's because the Russian state has so consistently crushed all fugitives, whether its military governors using riflemen or Bolsheviks using machine guns. The death squads found their way to no man's land and established their version of order. The Sobornoye Ulozheniye in 1649 (tying serfs to their landlords for eternity), the tax reforms of 1718, and the expansion of serfdom to eastern Ukraine in 1783—each event was preceded by successive waves of colonization: first in the Black Earth Belt (from Belgorod to Tambov, before and after the Time of Troubles), and then in Kuban, the Don, and out east of the Dnieper.

                      But there comes a point when there's nowhere left to run. Before, they ran out of physical space (except in the deep taiga, where a few families of Old Believers managed to stay hidden). Today, we're running out of virtual space. Today, it's entirely possible that the authorities could disconnect the Russian Internet from the World Wide Web. Given the mayhem of the past few years, dismissing such a scenario is no longer prudent.

                      And here we should put the question another way: after maturing in the RuNet greenhouse for 20 years, how resilient is Russia's psychology of personal freedom? The old Russian frontier's mindset was too weak when it came to social matters. Maybe that's why it fizzled out at the edges. But the digital “steppe borderlands” of our time are the hiding grounds of the middle class, the intelligentsia, and a large part of the elite. (It's as if nobles and merchants were the ones who escaped to the Don and the White Sea, instead of runaway serfs.)

                      And it's precisely this difference of social strata that gives hope—albeit a small one—that things could be different, this time. There are no guarantees, but one wants to believe that the victor in the final clash between two paradigms will be the idea of personal freedom, born again in our living memory, glowing on our computer screens.
                      https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/01...gital-frontier

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                      • Bellingcat: Russia's 200th motorized infantry brigade in the Donbass
                        UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 16, 2016

                        British investigative journalists provide extensive picture evidence of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine

                        In the fierce battles near Luhansk at the end of August 2014, Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers faced a group made up of various units of Russian military brigades. The 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade (military unit 08275, Pechenga) was one of them. This post will given direct evidence of of the participation of units of the this Russian brigade from Pechenga in the war in the Donbass.

                        Going into the warzone in the Donbass, Russian military units paint over the signs of their tactical units on military equipment in order to avoid detection. Some military units apply temporary identification signs. This is done in order to minimize the chance of accidentally opening fire on one's own combat vehicles in a situation in which the enemy has the same or visually similar military equipment. However, now it is possible to identify which Russian military units fought in Ukraine by the visible identification signs.

                        In the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, like before in the Soviet Army, so-called tactical signs and hull numbers are applied to military vehicles in each military unit. Before the outbreak of hostilities in the Donbass, there was not a single tactical mark used for the whole 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade. Instead, each unit used its own sign.
                        Bellingcat: Russia's 200th motorized infantry brigade in the Donbass - read on - uatoday.tv

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                        • 17:19 16.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                          Tax police reveals illegal wine production in Odesa region organized by foreigner

                          The tax police of the State Fiscal Service jointly with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) have revealed illegal wine production in Odesa region organized by a foreigner, Deputy Head of the State Fiscal Service Serhiy Bilan has said.

                          "During the Excise-2016 operation it was established that a foreigner organized production of alcohol using large-batch equipment without any permits," Bilan wrote on his Facebook page.

                          The foreigner used own wine materials, presses and reservoirs of 600 and 1,000 liters, bottled wine without excise labels. The person sold wine, including online.

                          Tax police and SBU officers seized 6,900 bottles of wine of over 4,800 liters, 20,000 liters of wine materials worth over UAH 9 million and equipment to produce alcohol worth UAH 300,000.

                          Journalist Pavel Sheremet wrote in his blog in the Ukrainska Pravda that the tax police conducted a search in the house of French Christophe Lacarin who resides in Shabo village with his family. The Frenchman has been living in Ukraine for 10 years, he is trying to grow grapes and make own wine.

                          The journalist wrote that a young couple came to Lacarin who is famous of his hospitality, they tasted wine and the young woman persuaded the Frenchman to sell four bottles to them.

                          "Cars with masked submachine gunners flew into the house – turmoil, screams. Lacarin and his wife were put against the wall with hands behinds their backs as they usually behave with criminals. "Epic" seizure of an extremely dangerous family!" the journalist wrote.

                          Sheremet said that Lacarin has been trying to receive a license for wine production for several years, but it was a failure – this business is monopolized by several large groups and it is not developed in the country: 17 or 19 Ukrainian plants have licenses for own wine production, around 50 companies officially sell all types of Ukrainian alcohol and the rest of the producers are outside the law.

                          "I can remind that only in France there are over 40,000 (!!!) wine producers, and there are even more of them in Spain," Sheremet said.

                          The journalist said that the case with Lacarin is the second in the recent period: in December the tax police officers came to Yevhen Shneideris, the owner and director of Beykush wine house and arrested his products and equipment.

                          "Now the tax police are conducting the Excise-2016 operation and they are to report on their success every day. They are afraid of attacking the vodka mafia and large wine players. They take out on enthusiasts and romantics," he wrote.

                          Sheremet said that several workshops that bottle counterfeit wine in large volumes are operating near Lacarin.

                          "However, we’ve never heard that the police closed at least one workshop in Shabo. It is dangerous to come to these "winemakers," the journalist said.

                          The chief department of the State Fiscal Service in Odesa region reported on Saturday that in the past 10 years Lacarin did not submit any application to receive the license. The State Fiscal Service said that the license is issued if the production certificate, the laboratory certificate, documents confirming ownership or leasing rights to premises and equipment and expert conclusions on the assigning of foreign trade codes of the Ukrainian classification are submitted.
                          Tax police reveals illegal wine production in Odesa region organized by foreigner

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                          • 15:51 16.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                            Crimea asks to postpone payment of debts on credits taken in Ukrainian banks

                            Members of the de-facto Federation Council of Crimea Sergei Tsekov and Olga Kovitidi on behalf of the de-facto parliament and government of Crimea have asked to postpone payment of debts on credits taken in Ukrainian banks by Crimea residents for 36 months, the press service of Kovitidi has reported.

                            "This term should be given that Crimea residents are living in the conditions of water, economic, transport and food blockade for two years and now the energy blockade. The conditions for doing business are every complicated due to these circumstances. Many people were left without jobs, with credits and property used as collateral," the press service said.

                            Tsekov believes that it is not only unrealistic, but it is also amoral to forward claims against Crimea residents until top-priority infrastructure issues are not resolved (the transport bridge, power supply, water supply and other things).

                            Senators presented the position of Crimea at a meeting of the working group that discussed proposals to amend the federal law setting the procedure for paying debts of residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to Ukrainian credit organizations. It was approved by the Federation Council in late December 2015.

                            The law applies to the debt of individuals and individual businessmen to banks which operations were terminated on the peninsula under the decisions of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). Payments will be settled in the Russian rubles.

                            Crimea's de-facto leader Sergei Aksyonov said that the law requires being amended.

                            Crimean de-facto Parliament Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov named it ill-timed and expressed discontent with the fact that the document was passed without agreeing it with Crimean residents.

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                            • 17:44 16.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                              Coalminers in Chervonohrad to continue strike demanding payment of wages – trade union

                              Coalminers in Chervonohrad (Lviv region) have decided to continue their strike demanding to pay wage arrears, and the leader of the trade union was questioned by police officers, Chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Coalminers of Ukraine Mykhailo Volynets has said.

                              "On January 15 and January 16, coalminers of Stepova Mine secretly voted. Miners have decided to continue the strike until the wage arrears are paid in full," Volynets wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday.

                              He also said that member of the trade union of coalminers (the old trade union, Volynets said) voted non-confidence to the chair of the trade union committee, as some coalminers become members of the Independent Trade Union of Coalminers.

                              Volynets said that on January 13, 2016 an investigator of the police in Chervonohrad questioned the chairman of the primary organization of the Independent Trade Union of Coalminers of the Stepova Mine, Vitaliy Onizhuk, regarding the blocking of the Lviv-Rava-Ruska highway by coalmines.

                              "This is evidence that the police in Lviv region presented untrue information to journalists saying that the criminal case against blocking roads by coalminers was not opened," Volynets said.

                              He said that the Independent Trade Union of Coalminers of Ukraine from time to time informs international organizations, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on the situation in the Ukrainian energy and fuel complex and the situation with workers of the sector.

                              As reported, on January 12 through January 15 coalminers of Lvivvuhillia blocked the Lviv-Zhovkva-Rava-Ruska highway to protest, as wages have not been paid for November 2015.

                              According to Volynets, the debt to the Lvivvuhillia's coalminers for November 2015 is UAH 58.2 million.

                              Acting Director of Lvivvuhillia Andriy Diachenko said that on January 13, 2016, Lvivvuhillia received UAH 20 million provided by the Cabinet of Ministers to pay wages to coalminers.

                              However, he said that around 20% of miners of the Stepova Mine continue the strike. The rest of the coalminers are working in line with the schedules. Lvivvuhillia incorporates six coalmines.

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                              • Mentality, Ukraine’s Past and Mr. Vakarchuk
                                VOXUKRAINE January 14, 2016

                                Bohdan Vitvitsky, Former Federal Prosecutor, U.S. Department of Justice (New Jersey, USA), served as Resident Legal Advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine (2007-2009), a member of Advisory Board of VoxUkraine Law

                                It is difficult to build social trust with such a legacy of deformities. But as with any other pathology, the first step requires publicly identifying the problem, grasping its historical roots, and then explicitly rejecting the past and honestly committing to a future. Thankfully, Ukraine is no longer isolated. Now comes the hard part: challenging moral degradation, challenging and rejecting virtuality, and rebuilding almost from scratch the Ukrainian legal system.
                                ===================================================

                                Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, Ukraine’s true Renaissance man, has recently delivered a series of talks at American Universities, and videos of his presentations at Columbia and Harvard, respectively, have been posted on this site.

                                I hope that he will deliver similar presentations before Ukrainian audiences when he returns home from his fellowship at Yale. They are both interesting and valuable insofar as they tackle so-called big picture issues as these relate to what ails Ukraine and what needs to happen to move the country towards greater prosperity and normalcy. He also offers a series of specific recommendations relating to decentralization, an approach to Ukraine’s oligarchs, the need to reduce political control over television and others, many of which, with the important exceptions addressed below, are well taken.

                                In Vakarchuk’s view, and following the Western literature that has emphasized the important role of social trust in developing mature political and economic systems, Ukraine’s greatest deficit is neither its past nor some defect in its people’s mentality but rather a lack of trust—in its leaders, in each other and in themselves. Actually, this analysis confuses causes with effects insofar as it is precisely the Russo-Soviet past that had been imposed upon Ukraine and the mentality produced in response to and as a result of that past that has both undermined the creation of social trust and has profoundly deformed Ukraine in numerous other respects. And failure to confront that past and the mentality it engendered only ensures ongoing deformation.

                                To avoid any confusion, by “mentality” I mean the internalized assumptions and beliefs about what is understood to be “normal” behavior or what constitute normal social, political and economic relations and conditions and, therefore, what is presumed acceptable and/or desirable and/or healthy.

                                Ukraine’s Russo-Soviet past has deformed it in innumerable ways. But perhaps four of the most important are the lingering impact of informational and physical isolation during the Soviet period; the total moral degradation of the public sphere during the Soviet period; the virtuality or Potemkin Village problem institutionalized during the Soviet era; and the complete destruction of rule of law by the Soviet state. Each of these has individually as well as collectively had a profound effect on the mentality of Ukrainians as well as on the paths in which Ukraine has struggled to develop politically and economically over the last quarter century since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

                                The isolation imposed by Soviet totalitarianism. The countries of the Warsaw Pact were isolated from the West. In addition, the Kremlin isolated the Soviet Union from the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries. Inexplicably, there were, for example, tall rows of barbed wire fences on the border between Ukraine and Hungary, two supposedly “brotherly” communist countries, when I crossed that border by train in 1989. That same year, Boryspil Airport, the main airport that then served a metropolis of over two million, only had rare flights, and all of them exclusively between Kyiv and some other Soviet destination. There weren’t even any flights to Warsaw or Prague. So, thus, a model worker from L’viv who in the 1970’s had finagled permission to visit relatives in Cleveland was so shocked by the complete divergence between what, based on Soviet information, he had expected to see in the U.S. and what he did in fact see, that he decided, after agonizing over the issue for weeks, not to report back on what he had seen in the U.S. to his wife and daughters back in the U.S.S.R. because he genuinely feared they would think him deranged.

                                The practical result of such isolation? To list but two examples, as he demonstrated at a 1992 meeting with Wall Street lawyers and investment bankers, newly independent Ukraine’s president was completely clueless about fundamental matters of economics. And, Ukraine’s ministers and senior civil servants had no familiarity whatsoever with the basics of corporate governance, something about which even high school students in the West have a rudimentary understanding: what is a board of directors or governors, how is it chosen, and what are its responsibilities; what is the relationship between a board and a CEO, what is the range of authorities and responsibilities of a CEO etc.? To be sure, there has been tremendous progress since the early 1990’s, but misperceptions and misunderstandings (recall all of those calls for Ukraine to follow some mythical “third way” of developing) about how things should work continue to this day.

                                Moral degradation. In 1985, Nokolai Ryzhkov, Gorbachev’s prime minister and one of the architects of perestroika, pronounced that the most terrifying aspect of Soviet society was it complete moral degradation: everyone bribed everyone and everyone lied to everyone, from the highest podiums, from the pages of every newspaper and so on. There are liars in every society, and politicians of every stripe on occasion dissemble, but the totalitarian Soviet Union was unique in the enforced institutionalization and systemic, official endorsement of untruths. Such moral degradation in the public sphere entrenched the systemic bribery and corruption that has proven to be so difficult to eradicate in all of the post-Soviet countries, including, of course, Ukraine.

                                Virtuality. When I traveled to Soviet Ukraine, there were two anecdotes told to me that have stuck in my mind. The first was that “they pretend that they pay us, and we pretend that we work.” The second was that: “in order to understand anything in the Soviet Union, you have to understand that people think one thing, say a second, and do a third.” This Russo-Soviet culture of endless Potemkin villages and make believe has to this day left a deep imprint upon the mentality of all people living in post-Soviet space, including Ukraine, as politicians routinely appear to think that it is normal to say one thing and do another.

                                Rule of law. A well functioning legal system whose purpose is the administration of justice, in the sense of fairness, is an absolutely necessary condition for the development of a normally functioning modern society. No economy that aspires to become a fully functioning market economy can exist without rule of law. Similarly, no fully functioning democracy can exist without rule of law. Catastrophically, Lenin, Trotsky and their collaborators simply destroyed the legal system that had existed prior to the Russian Revolution, and the substitute they created completely disassociated itself from administering justice, which has been the purpose and goal of every genuine legal system ever created, and instead served to help the regime control its population and punish its real or imagined enemies.

                                It is difficult to create and build social trust with such a legacy of deformities. But as with any other individual or social pathology, the first step requires publicly identifying the problem, grasping its historical roots, and then explicitly rejecting the past and honestly committing to a new future. Thankfully, Ukraine is no longer isolated. Now comes the hard part: challenging moral degradation in the public sphere; challenging and rejecting virtuality; and rebuilding almost from scratch the Ukrainian legal system so that it exists truly to administer justice. Mentality, Ukraine’s Past and Mr. Vakarchuk – VoxUkraine

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