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  • World's Richest Down $305 Billion as Markets Extend Global Rout
    BLOOMBERG Tom Metcalf & Jack Witzig Jan 15, 2016

    --Jeff Bezos remains year's hardest hit, dropping $8.9 billion
    --The 10 biggest fortunes on Earth shed a combined $44.7 billion

    Plunging stock markets are exacting a toll on the world’s biggest fortunes.

    The 400 richest people have lost $305 billion from their combined net worth this month as global equities tumbled for the worst start to a year on record on mounting concern that worldwide growth is faltering.

    The billionaires lost more than $115 billion this week, with 76 taking hits of at least $1 billion in January, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Seven shed more than $1 billion on Friday alone as the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 391 points, European stocks fell into a bear market and the Shanghai Composite Index wiped out gains from an unprecedented state-rescue campaign.

    http://assets.bwbx.io/images/imZgonLanuVw/v2/-1x-1.png

    Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos led decliners on the Bloomberg index, losing $8.9 billion since Jan. 1 and $1.9 billion Friday when the Internet retailer declined 3.85 percent. Bill Gates, the world’s richest person, has lost $6.8 billion of his net worth this year and Wang Jianlin, China’s richest person, is down $6.4 billion.

    Only nine of the 400 billionaires have increased their net worth in 2016, led by Indian oil billionaire Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Mumbai-based Reliance Industries Ltd., who’s added $620 million.

    The combined net worth of the 400 billionaires is $3.6 trillion, a 16 percent decline from their peak of $4.3 billion on May 18, 2015.
    World's Richest Down $305 Billion as Markets Extend Global Rout - Bloomberg Business

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    • Remittances in Central Asia - From Russia with love
      Remittances are a good thing, except when they stop
      Jan 16th 2016 THE ECONOMIST

      http://cdn.static-economist.com/site...116_FNC741.png

      DEBT crises, capital flight and corruption are all familiar problems for poor countries trying to finance their development. A bulwark, say some, is remittances: money sent home by migrants, worth $580 billion in 2014. Unlike portfolio flows, which tend to flee at the first sign of trouble, remittances usually increase in tough times. And unlike aid, they go directly into the pockets of ordinary people, bypassing corrupt officials. All this is true, and important. But even remittances, alas, cannot always be relied upon. The experience in 2015 of Central Asia and the Caucasus, regions exceptionally dependent on remittances from Russia, shows why.

      Some countries there export oil or gas. Others export people. In Tajikistan four in ten working-age adults have sought jobs abroad; in 2014 they sent home remittances equivalent to 42% of GDP, proportionally more than any other country in the world received. Armenia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan also received remittances worth at least 10% of GDP—more than the Philippines, a country famous for its migrant workers.

      Most migrants go north, to Russia, finding work on building sites or in other low-income jobs. But Russia’s economy contracted last year, and remittances have plummeted. In dollar terms, money sent home from Russia by Tajik migrants was down by 44% in the first six months of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, according to the Russian Central Bank; remittances from Russia to Uzbekistan fell by half, and those to Kyrgyzstan fell by a third.

      These figures partly reflect the weakness of the rouble. Other currencies in the region have also fallen, but not as far: every rouble a Tajik migrant sends home buys 35% fewer somoni than in June 2014, for example. Migrants also have less money to spare. Real wages are falling in Russia: they were 9% lower in November than a year before. And migrant numbers are down too, because of job losses and tighter immigration laws (though not for migrants from Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, which this year joined the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russian-centred economic bloc).

      Lower remittances are contributing to lower growth. The IMF expected GDP to grow at 2.3% last year for oil and gas importers in the region, down from 4.7% in 2014 and 5.7% in 2013. Those numbers understate the real effects. Since GDP is a measure of domestic production, it only captures declines in remittances to the extent that recipients spend less on local goods or services. Purchasing power has dropped by more than 10%, says the World Bank, once the direct impacts of remittances and declining terms of trade are taken into account. Working longer hours or tapping into savings is helping some scrape by, but even so, 40% of households in Tajikistan say they cannot afford enough food.

      As people spend less, governments are spending more to support demand: in the main remittance-receiving countries, fiscal deficits are expected to have widened by about two percentage points of GDP last year. The falling price of regional exports such as aluminium, copper and cotton is adding to economic woes and putting further strain on government finances.

      The Central Asian experience is unusual. Elsewhere, remittances grew in 2015. In South Asia they were up by 6%, according to projections from the World Bank. The region’s remittances come mainly from America and the Middle East; a strong dollar and fiscal expansion in the Gulf have kept the money flowing.

      But small countries such as Nepal, where remittances were equivalent to 30% of GDP in 2014, look vulnerable to future shocks. Central America and some Pacific islands also depend on remittances: they suffered in 2009, the only year this century that global remittances have fallen.

      In the long run, the solution is to diversify. Central Asian countries are trying to improve their infrastructure, supported by Chinese investment; trade with China has increased tenfold in a decade. The lesson of a tough year is obvious: though remittances can finance development, they are not a substitute for it.From Russia with love | The Economist

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      • 10:01 18.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
        Militants conducted 48 attacks on Ukrainian army positions in Donbas over the past day, by use of small arms, mortars and grenade launches, the anti-terrorist operation press center said.

        The shelling incidents were most intense in the Horlivka area, the press center said in a report posted on Facebook in the morning. Militants used small arms and grenade launchers in provocative fire on Ukrainian army strongholds near Mayorsk, Zaytseve and Novhorodske.

        The enemy stepped up its activity near Starohnativka in the Mariupol sector. Ukrainian positions were attacked by infantry combat vehicles there.

        "Tensions persist in the ATO zone," the report said.
        Ukrainian army observes about 50 truce violations in Donbas over past day

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        • Trial of Ukrainian pilot Savchenko resumes in Russia
          UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 18, 2016 VIDEO

          Savchenko remains on hunger strike in protest of illegal detention

          The trial of Nadiya Savchenko resumes in Russia today. The court is to review video footage of the Ukrainian fighter pilot's capture by militants during the summer of 2014.

          Moscow accuses Savchenko of killing two Russian journalists and of crossing the Russian border illegally.

          Her lawyers argue she had already been detained when the reporters died.

          She remains on hunger strike in protest.

          After a month without food, the capitive has lost 15kg and is said to be in poor physical condition.

          Over the weekend, Ukraine's Foreign Minister urged EU leaders to support efforts for Savchenko's release.
          Trial of Ukrainian pilot Savchenko resumes in Russia - watch on - uatoday.tv

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          • Putin, demons, and goats mingle at Malanka New Year’s carnival in Ukraine
            EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2016/01/19 Alya Shandra

            Vladimir Putin was executed more than a dozen times by men from the forest in the Ukrainian town of Vashkivtsi. To make this happen, mask maker Mykola Marchuk slept for 3 hours a day for over a month. As a result, traffic movement was paralyzed all day.

            For 364 days of the year, this story would be a drunkard’s brawl. But on January 13-14, the date of celebrating the New Year’s eve by the Julian calendar, the New Year’s carnival comes to Vashkivtsi. Merry chaos fills the provincial small town as it is invaded by masked characters from the Netherworld, cartoons, and political figures. Any entity from the Ukrainian world of ideas is eligible to frolic and stir up mischief in the dimension of the Ordinary. This is the holiday of Malanka, a fest that manages to preserve pagan rituals, criticize the existing social order, and reverse social roles under the Christian guise of the feast of St.Melania the Younger. The essence of Ukrainian Malanka is similar to such well-known carnivals as the one in Rio-de-Janeiro and Venice, but differs by taking place not before Lent but at the New Year.

            For locals, it is the holiday of the year. On what other day of the year will you be able to shed your daily worries and become somebody totally else? On no other day can you mingle with goats, gypsies, and demons while drinking hot wine. Just watch your step, if you’re wearing a skirt – the old grandfather with the white beard doesn’t stop trying to lift its hem with his stick. If you have a hat, you need to also watch out – the masked demon will try to snitch it from your head. if you run into the crazy old man with the sombrero, be prepared for an exhibition of his stuffed genitals. after all, wishes of fertility were most valued on the New Year in an agricultural society. Today’s Malanka is imbued with sexual undertones. What is forbidden by societal norms during 364 days of the year is tolerated and even encouraged today. Moreover, it carries an educational role, serving as an anti-example of good behavior.

            The celebrations start on the evening of January 13, when a chosen village lad leads a team of Malanka-goers around the village. A boy dressed as Malanka and “her” fleet, her companion Vasyl, an old man and woman, Gypsies, Jews, demons, goats, and others. Doors are opened readily, as it is believed that Malanka will bring good luck to the house. Inside, the Malanka fleet will cause mischief and turmoil, for a reward of money or food. This ritual comes from the deepest layers of the Slavic pagan worldview, with the initial function being a magical incantatory one. Members of the village community attempted to bring health, good harvest, prosperity, growth of the livestock in the new year with the help of songs, words, and rituals. The masks that people wear on this day represent the evolution of people’s understanding of the world: masks of animals – goats, horses, bears, oxen; masks associated with the cult of the ancestors – the grandmother and grandfather; demonological characters – the demon and death; social and ethnic characters – the priest, landlord, policeman, Jew, Turk, Gypsy, Hutsul and others.

            Mykola Marchun, a veteran mask maker of Vashkivtsi, tells that most of his time before the holidays is taken up by making masks for carnival-goers in Chernivtsi Oblast and beyond. Malanka is an outlet of creativity and an inspiration for him. For over 30 years, he has not only created over a thousand masks out of Papier-mâché and textiles.

            “The more the festival was prohibited in Soviet times, the more it flourished,” he tells in the artistic space of his workshop. There were good reasons for the attempts to prohibit the carnival: from times of serfdom, it was the only place where the existing social order and masters of the village could be criticized behind the safety of a mask. Soviet times were no different. Nowadays, Mykola slams Ukraine’s modern leadership.

            Recently, he started leaving his favorite masks at home instead of giving them away.

            Today, the traditional characters of Malanka, animals, and demons mingle with contemporary figures from international politics, cartoons, and everyday life. Floats on trucks, tractors, and cars carry the macabre and hilarious under blasting music. While some villagers lament the loss of authenticity, it’s unmistakable that this carnival is a living tradition and not a museum exposition. Too bad that what could have been an international attraction lacks the basic infrastructure for receiving visitors.

            see photos
            Putin, demons, and goats mingle at Malanka New Year's carnival in Ukraine -Euromaidan Press |

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            • 09:04 19.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
              Heraschenko advises Gryzlov to read Minsk agreements rather than 'recite mantras after Putin'

              Ukrainian president's envoy for peaceful settlement of the situation in Donbas, humanitarian subgroup member of the Trilateral Contact Group Iryna Heraschenko has advised her Russian counterpart in the Contact Group to familiarize himself with the Minsk agreements and not "to repeat mantras."

              She made these comments following Gryzlov's interview.

              "I carefully read in fact the first interview of the new representative of the aggressor state Russia to the Trilateral Contact Group Gryzlov with Kremlin's Kommersant newspaper. Generally, he publicly recited all the public mantras of the Russian president [Vladimir] Putin regarding 'the two parties, Kyiv and Donetsk' (their favorite topic of 'civil war and a direct dialogue'), he recognized the violation of the ceasefire regime (however, for unknown reasons in the context of 'Ukraine's Armed Forces and volunteer battalions, though the OSCE daily records violations by militants and reflects them in their latest reports, including in Minsk," Heraschenko wrote on her Facebook account on Monday.

              She also noted that Gryzlov once again spouted a mantra that Kyiv "failed to coordinate" constitutional changes with militants.

              "Well, first of all, the Minsk agreements contain no provisions that oblige Kyiv to coordinate anything with anyone; the agreements actually say that the election dates have to be negotiated with Donbas (at the same time, for some reason Gryzlov 'forgot' that their puppets 'held' unrecognized elections" as early as in November, 2014, which were not endorsed even by Moscow, and which broke the Minsk agreements," she wrote.

              In this respect Ukraine's envoy recalled that militants had not yet cancelled those pseudo-elections, "that is why they called themselves 'speakers', 'premiers', and 'the friends of emperor'."

              "It would be good if Gryzlov at least read the text of the Minsk agreements and didn't repeat non-existent notions after Putin," Heraschenko summed up.

              Besides, she stressed that constitutional changes were solely the prerogative of the parliament of the independent country and Constitution clearly defined the subject of submission of amendments to the Main Law.

              "We will unconditionally follow Ukraine's Constitution, and not the vision of the aggressor state. As regards the two sides, indeed, there are two parties, namely: Ukraine that is sustaining aggression, and Russia which has despicably chopped a part of our territory. That is why we firmly request the compliance with Minsk agreements by Russia, specifically on the following provisions: withdrawal of the military and equipment, all of those lost officers of Russia's security services and of those Yakut and Pskov college students, closure of the border, and then we will resolve the situation at our home, without 'brothers'

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              • 16:36 18.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                European Commission confirms intention to recommend Council of EU to cancel visas for Ukrainians

                European Commission in first quarter of 2016 will recommend the Council of European Union to introduce a visa-free travel regime for Ukrainians, Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said.

                Speaking to the journalists in Brussels before the meeting of the Council of EU, Hahn has said he expects the European Commission to file a formal proposal on Ukraine and Georgia visa-free travel in the course of the first quarter of 2016.

                The EU Commissioner has said Ukraine still needs to meet certain commitments undertaken by president and prime minister.

                As reported, on December 18, 2016 he European Commission approved a positive report on the implementation by Ukraine of the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization (VLAP) with the EU.

                "Based on this assessment and the commitments taken, and given the outcome of the continuous monitoring and reporting carried out since the launch of EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization Dialogue in October 2008, the Commission considers that Ukraine meets all the benchmarks set in respect of the four blocks of the second phase of the VLAP. Taking into account overall relations between the EU and Ukraine, the Commission will present, early 2016, a legislative proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 539/2001," reads the report of the European Commission.

                Besides, the document describes Kyiv's progress achieved in document security, including biometrics, integrated border management, migration management and asylum, public order and security, external relations and fundamental rights.

                However, Kyiv leadership still committed to ensure that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and specialized anti-corruption prosecution are fully operational in the first quarter 2016; ensure independence and integrity of the specialized anti-corruption prosecution office; ensure that the National Agency for Corruption Prevention is fully operational in the first quarter 2016 and verification of assets and potential conflicts of interests of public officials in areas and positions most vulnerable to corruption will be launched immediately after; and to adopt legislation on procedures concerning seizure of assets and special confiscation with a view to make the Asset Recovery Office fully effective.

                Kyiv is also obliged to ensure in the state budget for 2016 and onwards the necessary financial resources for the well-functioning anti-corruption institutional framework, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

                According to the procedure, European Commission must submit a recommendation to European Council and European Parliament to take a decision over establishment of the visa free regime for the citizens of Ukraine.

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                • 11:21 19.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                  Ukraine's ambassador to Austria explains meaning of Austria's Schengen suspension for Ukrainians

                  Ambassador of Ukraine to Austria Oleksandr Scherba has said that Ukrainians will face no inconveniences due to suspension Schengen Agreement by Austria.

                  "Dear Ukrainians. Concerning the so-called suspension of Schengen in Austria: nothing new for Ukrainian citizens except for one thing," the ambassador wrote on his Facebook account.

                  According to him, Ukrainians, as a rest of Europeans, when crossing Austria through motorways, should be ready to stand in line and to present a passport with visa. "The rest [of the rules] remain the same," the diplomat added.

                  Media earlier reported that Austria had decided to withdraw from the Schengen area in connection with the migration situation.

                  "Having made a decision to bring in passport checks on highways, Austria has introduced a system which already exists in Germany and Sweden. Vienna has not left the Schengen Area," Scherba wrote on Twitter on Monday.

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                  • EU countries including Germany and Britain say Europe needs to show more support for Ukraine
                    UT UKRAINE TODAY VIDEO Jan. 19, 2016

                    EU ministers also say they want to see more reform progress in Ukraine

                    Ukraine is on the European agenda again. On Monday, EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels discussed the country's progress on reforms and path towards visa-liberalisation.

                    The fight against corruption, efforts towards decentralisation and the Minsk ceasefire deal were also addressed. Meanwhile, the Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn says a proposal to abolish visas for Ukrainians should be made to the EU Council by April.

                    Ukraine's Foreign Minister appeared to be confident about the months ahead.

                    Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine's Foreign Minister: "We spread our ideas among the Ministers and among the commissioners. They will also be used in the preparation of the Commission's proposals. There is clear support for what we are doing in preparation for visa-free regime."

                    Despite progress, the EU report says Kyiv must strengthen anti-corruption measures, including several new agencies by the end of March. http://uatoday.tv/politics/eu-countr...ine-573905.htm

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                    • Jan. 19, 2016 U UKRAINE TODAY
                      Poland: Death of democracy?

                      European diplomats launch probe into crackdown on the Polish media, courts and constitution

                      Election rallies before the democracy crackdown. Poland's state media, judiciary and constitutional court are within the ever tightening grip of the ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party. An ironic name, critics say - given Warsaw's recent veer right - away from democracy towards more authoritarian policies.

                      Poland, for the past decade, has been a beacon of democracy, shining across the European bloc after years within the Soviet shadows.

                      Now, with the country under the de-facto leadership of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, opponents suggest the clock is winding back -minus the relations with Russia. These recent street rallies near the presidential palace in Poland's capital set off alarm bells in Brussels.

                      EU officials recently began an unprecedented inquiry into whether democratic standards are being broken.

                      Frans Timmermans, European Commission First Vice-President: "Today we have decided that the Commission will carry out a preliminary assessment on this matter under the Rule of Law Framework"

                      That prompted a war of words among Polish and EU diplomats - including accusations alluding to Berlin's own record on media freedoms during the Nazi's occupation of Poland. But was it an over-reaction?

                      Lukasz Lipinski, an analyst for the Polish think tank Polityka Insight thinks so.

                      "Some comments by EU politicians over recent days were an overreaction, but I'm quite OK that we are the part of the European Union and, as Polish politicians can have a say on what's happening in other countries, we should also face criticism from fellow member countries of the European Union. We are part of the same political family or political organism."

                      In response, Polish ministers are dismissing the concerns the boundaries of EU law are being pushed.

                      Beata Szydlo, Polish Prime Minister: "Poland has a right to take sovereign decisions on actions within the state, how the media are to be organised, how growth politics should be run. This is a sovereign decision of every country, including Poland."

                      The recent developments in Poland are compared to those taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - a man who has based his model of governance on Vladimir Putin's regime in Russia.

                      It's a method of governance which critics of the Polish government say sends out the wrong message to the rest of Europe. Poland: Death of democracy? - read on - uatoday.tv

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                      • 5:22 Jan. 19, 2016 UT UKRAINE TODAY
                        Radio Liberty: Russian journalist gets asylum in Ukraine

                        Dmitry Shipilov says he is unlikely to return to Russia

                        Noted Russian journalist Dmitry Shipilov from Kemerovo region in Siberia has received asylum in Ukraine.

                        Shipilov told RFE/RL by phone that he entered Ukraine from Belarus on February 25 and asked for political asylum. On February 26 he was allowed to stay in Ukraine as his application for political asylum was taken for consideration.

                        Shipilov says it is unlkely that he would ever return to Russia. Radio Liberty: Russian journalist gets asylum in Ukraine - read on - uatoday.tv

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                        • National Guard comments on possibility of accepting Crimean Tatar Battalion into its structure
                          19.01.2016 | 15:20 UNIAN

                          The National Guard, which is part of the Interior Ministry, has said that the statements about the Crimean Tatar Battalion entering its structure still remain at the level of statements, while not being stipulated by law, the Crimean news agency Krym.Realii reported.

                          "These are insinuations of a person who takes responsibility for such statements. I can only say that the National Guard of Ukraine is acting within the current legislation," speaker of the National Guard Svitlana Pavlovska said, commenting on the statements of coordinator of the so-called Crimea blockade Lenur Islyamov to create such a battalion in the structure of the National Guard of Ukraine.

                          Pavlovska said that the initiative could take place, but it must be implemented under the Ukrainian legislation.

                          "There are clearly defined tasks, these are people with weapons. There is a relevant legislative framework, defined both by the current legislation of Ukraine and international law. We seek joining Europe. We are working to improve our existing legislation, including the judicial, and we must clearly understand that there is a framework in which we operate," she said.

                          Earlier, Islyamov said that the Crimean Tatar Battalion was likely to be included into the National Guard, because the functions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were more military, and the functions of the National Guard were more public.

                          Asked whether there was a formal decision on the battalion, he said: "I think it will be voiced by the guarantor of the Constitution or at least by Mustafa Dzhemilev in the short term."
                          National Guard comments on possibility of accepting Crimean Tatar Battalion into its structure : UNIAN news

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                          • Russian propaganda’s daisy chain
                            MEDUZA 11:32, 18 January 2016 noodleremover.news

                            Alexey Kovalev's website, NoodleRemover.news, which uncovers dirty dealings and dishonest reporting in the Kremlin-controlled Russian media, has uncovered new dirty dealing and dishonest reporting in the Kremlin-controlled Russian media.

                            Kovalev's latest report addresses a story titled “AgoraVox: Russian Sanctions Against the West Threaten a Severe Depression,” which appeared on Russian.rt.com, RT's InoTV project, which translates foreign media reports about Russia.

                            The original article was published on the French-language website AgoraVox, which is more a blog platform than a news media outlet. The text claims that Russian officials are considering defaulting on the country's foreign debt, which would supposedly “unleash an economic cyclone” against the West. Like many translations that appear on InoTV, the story depicts the Kremlin as master over the West, and Vladimir Putin as a leader who always manages the upperhand in dealings with foreign aggressors.

                            As Kovalev points out, presenting such content as representative of the Western press is the same as saying, “according to the distinguished American media outlet Facebook.” Anyone can write for AgoraVox, and so it is odd to treat the website like a source for expert analysis, let alone a respected one.

                            Kovalev discovered that the article InoTV chose to translate was itself a French translation of an English-language text that first appeared on the conspiracy-theorist website WhatDoesItMean.com, written by a woman named Sister Maria Theresa, who is described as “the 73rd Sorcha Faal of the Sorcha Faal Order, elected as mother superior on February 3, 2007.” According to her profile on the website, she has “traveled and lectured extensively throughout the world, with her primary focus being the systematic structure of languages serving as a link between thought and sound.” To make matters stranger, she “further expanded her own research on ‘linguistic ordering’ with knowledge gained while a visiting researcher with Russian biophysicist and molecular biologist Pjotr Garjajev on the esoteric structure of DNA and its uses in explaining physic phenomena.”

                            This is the “expert” source of commentary that RT deemed appropriate for translation and publication.

                            The embarrassment doesn't end there, however. Kovalev also discovered that the article on WhatDoesItMean cites and was largely based on a report that appeared on the pro-Kremlin website Russia Insider on September 19, 2015. Two days earlier, that text first appeared on RT itself, completing the daisy chain of conspiracy journalism, from RT, to Russia Insider, to WhatDoesItMean, to AgoraVox, back to RT's own InoTV.
                            https://meduza.io/en/lion/2016/01/18...-s-daisy-chain

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                            • ATLANTIC COUNCIL Josh Cohen January 19, 2016
                              How Ukraine’s Reformers Beat the Pharma Mafia

                              A little over a month after US Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainian legislators that graft was eating Ukraine "like a cancer," an order from Ukraine's cabinet of ministers struck a decisive blow against pharmaceutical corruption. This order outsources the purchasing of numerous medicines for seriously ill Ukrainians from the Ministry of Health to respected international organizations including UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and Crown Agents.

                              The saga of drug procurement nicely illustrates both the resistance reformers face, as well as the creative methods they have used to overcome entrenched interests. According to Olga Stefanyshyna, executive director of the NGO Patients of Ukraine, the Ministry of Health was previously in charge of a $250 million budget for purchasing medicine—$100 million of which was allegedly stolen by corrupt officials.

                              As a 2013 report from the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AnTAC) demonstrates, corrupt actors have employed a variety of creative strategies to enrich themselves. In one scheme, a small number of companies and government officials arranged staged tenders with the winner determined in advance. In another, several companies controlled by one owner "compete" in the tenders. Using this technique, the Bahriy Group won over $12 million in state contracts to supply HIV and tuberculosis drugs at inflated prices to the Ministry of Health in 2013.

                              Oleksandra Ustinova, an AnTAC board member, said reformers faced enormous challenges combatting Ukraine's "pharmaceutical mafia" and corrupt Ministry of Health officials. "Even when we closed one corrupt hole within the Ministry, corrupt officials would come up with another one. Given the amounts of money at stake, AnTAC and our allies realized we needed to find a way to bypass the Ministry entirely."

                              A few years ago, Ustinova and her colleagues discovered the Dutch IDA Foundation which oversees drug procurement for other countries, "so even before the Maidan, we dreamt of bringing a third party into the market and IDA provided an ideal model. After the Revolution, this became the number one priority."

                              After a month of lobbying, AnTAC and Patients of Ukraine succeeded in forcing a bill through parliament stripping drug procurement responsibilities from the Ministry of Health on March 19, 2015. It wasn't easy. According to Ustinova, the Ministry and its allies registered seven alternative bills in parliament hoping to confuse lawmakers and stymie reforms, requiring Ustinova and parliamentary allies to work overtime to ensure the right law was passed.

                              As is frequently the case in Ukraine, however, the law's passage was just the first step in the reform effort. "Despite the passage of the law, the Ministry of Health ignored it. They were supposed to develop and approve the procedural regulations and begin communications with international organizations to implement the law. Instead, they sat on their hands and did nothing," Stefanyshyna said in a January 18 interview.

                              Luckily, AnTAC and Patients of Ukraine had allies in parliament who shared their determination to break the back of drug procurement corruption. "Yegor Soboliev, head of the Anti-Corruption Parliamentary Committee, personally initiated meetings with international organization in his committee in July, forcing the Ministry of Health to outsource drug procurement," Stefanyshyna said. At this point, Deputy Minister of Health Ihor Perehinets became the chief sponsor and advocate for the law within the Ministry, meaning the reformers had a high-level ally.

                              The activists confronted one final challenge before the law could be implemented: the cabinet of ministers and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk needed to sign off on the five essential Ministry of Health regulations laying out the procedures for transferring procurement responsibilities to the UNDP, UNICEF, and Crown Agents. There was a long delay. AnTAC and Patients of Ukraine responded by delivering four barrels of ink to the cabinet of ministers, symbolizing the need to get the final regulations signed and exhorting the cabinet of ministers to approve the new regulations. Several weeks later, they finally did.

                              Drug procurement reform is already bearing fruit. Crown Agents and UNDP announced the first tenders on December 7, 2015. Critically, these drugs will be purchased directly through international manufacturers. In total, medicine for eighteen national drug programs ranging from tuberculosis, cancer, and HIV to a National Action Plan to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will now be sourced directly by international organizations rather than the Ministry of Health. It may sound simple, but this reform may save thousands of lives. Thousands of Ukrainians die each month, and Stefanyshyna estimates that at least 40 percent of them could be saved if drug procurement corruption were eliminated.

                              Drug procurement reform represents a significant victory for Ukrainian health sector reformers—but they are not stopping there. AnTAC and Patients of Ukraine have already launched a deregulation program to abolish complex duplicate drug licensing in Ukraine. Not surprisingly, graft drives this regulatory red tape, with each extra permit and license requiring a bribe. As a result, thousands of drugs commonly available in the West (including ones to treat renal failure and certain types of cancer) are not available in Ukraine.

                              Pharmaceutical deregulation will surely be another struggle against entrenched interests, but given their hard-fought drug procurement victory, Ukrainian reformers should not be underestimated.
                              How Ukraine’s Reformers Beat the Pharma Mafia
                              --------------------
                              Josh Cohen, an ex-USAID project officer who managed economic reform projects throughout the former Soviet Union, is a business development professional.

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                              • Row over Ukrainian city's new name
                                BBC Jan 19, 2016



                                A row has broken out in Ukraine over renaming the central city of Kirovohrad, pitting some local campaigners against parliament.

                                Since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, Ukraine has been removing all public vestiges of Soviet rule, from statues of Lenin to street names honouring other Communist luminaries. A parliamentary committee recently decided that Kirovohrad, which was named in honour of leading Bolshevik Sergei Kirov in the 1930s, is to be called Inhulsk after the local river.

                                That hasn't gone down well with some local campaigners, who have been lobbying the city council not to adopt the new name, the Ves Kirovohrad newspaper reports.

                                Inhulsk was one of seven options that received some support in a local referendum last year, and the city council forwarded all seven to parliament to make a decision. But the most popular choice among the public - backed by 76% of the nearly 46,000 locals who turned out to vote - was the pre-Soviet name Yelisavetgrad. The decision to choose a different name has led some government critics to accuse the authorities of ignoring local opinion in favour of a "total rejection of the past".

                                But despite its popularity at the polls, campaigners for Ukrainian culture complain that Yelisavetgrad refers to Russian Empress Elizabeth, during whose reign the city was founded, and see a pro-Moscow political agenda behind it. There were scuffles when the two sides encountered each other at a protest in late December.

                                While the Ukrainian parliament's mind appears to be made up, the anti-Inhulsk camp are still hoping to sway local representatives. By law, the city must change its name by next month. Row over Ukrainian city's new name - BBC News

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