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  • ‘They put us in the pot and slammed the lid’ What people in Crimea have to say about the peninsula’s mood
    MEDUZA Georgii Pereborshchikov 10:39, 29 January 2016 Pt 2

    Konstantin Felonenko, teacher with Artek
    I came to work in Crimea just last summer. Also, a significant part of my family lives here. The living standards remain roughly the same as they were two years ago, except for the fact that a number of products have disappeared and some others now cost more.

    The changes aren't the same everywhere, and things depend a lot on the location.

    At Artek, where I work, the pay level actually dropped, though they’re building actively and doing various upgrades.

    A sort of emotional upswing is noticeable on the whole, at least in the sense that many small private enterprises are opening in various places. For example, quite a few new alcohol distilleries have popped up. There wasn’t much stopping them from appearing earlier, under Ukraine, but they weren’t here on this scale.

    In terms of the electricity situation, you shouldn't underestimate how accustomed Crimeans are to problems with utilities. Today, people are recalling their experiences from years past, when they learned to stock up on water in advance, for instance.

    Popular discussions of the reasons for the blackout suggest that it's the work of either [Crimean] Tatars [deported under Soviet rule and generally opposed to Russia's annexation] trying to achieve some sort of justice, or [Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny] Yatseniuk, using agents in Right Sector [a Ukrainian nationalist group] to damage Crimea on orders from Washington, which wants revenge on the Kremlin because Syria.

    The most widely expressed feeling right now is Ukrainophobia. All the flaws of the current regime are attributed to previous administrations in Kiev. Past authorities are blamed for imposing the Ukrainian language, theft, and the intentional worsening of the Crimean standard of living in the service of certain selfish objectives. Some people are skeptical of manifestations of excessive enthusiasm about joining Russia. They don’t think that the change in power really changes anything.

    And it is worth identifying yet another social contingent: those who deliberately avoid commenting on political issues. Usually this goes unnoticed, but now it has become a definite civic stance.

    Also, some of my acquaintances, who usually drank their fresh-poured brandy with Coca-Cola, switched over to Pepsi. Doing so, they think they “aren’t helping the Americans.”
    Maria Pigulevskaya, Copywriter (Simferopol)

    Life has changed rather significantly, yet people get used to everything, especially when you're talking about someone's home. There are positive and, of course, negative aspects. There isn't really a whole lot that's positive: the roads got better, and free medicine appeared. But what I noticed most of all was that, throughout society, there emerged a strange belief in some grand future.

    Before, everyone understood that neither tomorrow nor the next day would be any different, knowing that literally anything could happen on a given day.

    On the other hand, people now fear the authorities and the bureaucracy. You hear about various complications, whether it's finding a job or trying to get service at a clinic. A while back, my head was aching badly and I decided to go see a doctor. Before, you could just go to the neurologist. Now, in order to get to him, you have to get a referral from a general practitioner. Only the wait to see the general practitioner was so long that I couldn’t even get in before the end of my workday.

    Generally, people who made an average living before are now finding it necessary to tighten their belts. But the strangest thing is that practically nobody is against it. In a conversation with colleagues, I said that life had clearly become worse. Not all of us can now satisfy even the basic needs (not to mention any higher, cultural ones). In response, I was told: it's no big deal if we have to buy imitation instead of real leather boots, soy instead of meat, or a one-room apartment at the outskirts of town instead of a two-room.

    Once, I witnessed a woman—a pensioner—yell at somebody in an argument, “I may have to eat dirt, but Crimea is Russia!”

    Everybody has already grown accustomed to the electricity outages.

    The situation has hit me rather hard since my work is tied to the Internet, and the pay is per piece. If I don’t write the texts, I don’t get paid. Nobody cares why I didn’t get something written.

    When I hear talk that we don’t need power from Ukraine, I’m shocked. I need it. And I don’t see anything bad about taking it. But people watching the television and listening to all the obviously propagandistic nonsense think otherwise.
    Stanislav Petrov, law firm partner (Simferopol)

    Before, there was an almost excessive feeling of freedom—a sense of the importance of the individual, opportunities, and prospects. There was a healthy tolerance. What you think and what you say, what you do or don’t believe in, are you a fervent patriot or not as much—it made no difference.

    What do we see after two years?
    There’s not even the hint of freedom in comparison with the past. It’s as if they put us in the pot and slammed the lid. What happened to civilization? You won't find it here, and you don't feel any connection to it, anymore. The borders are supposedly open, but you feel walls all around. There's a sickly tension in the air. Society is polarized, and there's this aggressive patriotism everywhere.

    You’re either with us or against us; everyone else is an enemy of the people. It's all black and white, and there is only one right answer.

    Corruption hasn't gone anywhere—it's adapted. All that happened was that one “office” was traded for another. But at least the old crooks observed some rules; they took from us, but they also gave back. Today, they take more, and they don’t always give back. Sure, “low-level” corruption may be down, but the higher-level stuff has ballooned several times and it all costs the state even more.

    The bureaucracy has also ballooned. There's a lot of motion, noise, papers, memos, and periodicals—for what, not everyone knows, and whoever does know can’t seem to remember. It's a sort of imposed, general passivity, and it's killing us. Everybody seems to be on the job, busy with something, but work efficiency is near zero.

    Before some Moscow friends invited me to join their legal firm, I worked in a leadership position in the Crimean prosecutor’s office, at the rank of Judicial Counselor. Back then, they demanded initiatives, innovations, and real impact on the status of the law. They generally encouraged us to seek out conflicts and stand up for our principles.

    Now it's more about the process than the results. Two workers from the prosecutor’s office are accompanied by three supervisors, just to monitor the price of bread. Before [the annexation], we'd have have been booted out for staging something like that. Now, these shows are what the job is all about. Nobody’s thinking about being effective, anymore.

    The referendum [on joining Russia] happened almost two years ago, and while many may not have voted, they also did not object. At first, it was just a fairytale—there was a sense of security. All payments of state benefits jumped up several fold. But, already within a year, the prices also jumped up many times. Good-tasting food products got crowded out by far less tasty ones. And then incomes sank to the Russian average.

    That and the cost of the Russian currency itself changed, which cancelled out the recent benefits.

    With the first jump in the exchange rate, a year ago, Crimeans bought up everything they could get their hands on, traveling to the Russian mainland, where prices were 25 percent lower, so they could get rid of their dollars. People were retelling each other what they heard in Krasnodar and other Russian regions:

    “Why are you keeping your prices in rubles? Haven't you seen how the exchange rate keeps jumping?”

    “It's the dollar that's jumping around. Everything's fine with the ruble. My salary is in rubles, and I pay for my groceries in rubles.”

    You can feel the sanctions in Crimea. They’ve set back development by a decade—even according to the all-powerful state electronic database for information and services. Where procedures had been automated, they’re now carried out on paper.

    I’d gotten used to paying by credit card, but now I pay for things with cash. I’d gotten used to the European-level wide variety of groceries, but the selection has collapsed. There isn’t a single Western brand in Crimea. All plane travel since the passport switch [from Ukrainian to Russian] is always through Moscow, which means you add at least four hours to any flight—and it costs more.

    In Ukraine, online stores have whatever you’d want with three-day delivery. In Russian Crimea, there is still no such thing.

    Meanwhile, Russian television reinforces the idea that the war, chaos, and impoverishment in Ukraine. The TV's claims that “they have it even worse” have a strong calming effect.

    But I'm not going anywhere. I am a native Crimean, and this peninsula's history, its complications, and its future—that’s my history, my complications, and my future.

    æ, !

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


    • New wave of ’arrests’ & attack on Ukrainian churches in militant-controlled Donetsk
      30.01.16 | Halya Coynash HUMAN RIGHTS IN UKRAINE

      Kremlin-backed militants in Donetsk are reported to have seized a number of local residents, including a volunteer Marina Cherenkova and religious specialist Ihor Kozlovsky and are holding them prisoner. The news coincides with an orchestrated demonstration in Donetsk against the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and what were termed “other sects” deemed to be Western-funded and supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

      Marina Cherenkova is a volunteer from the civic initiative ‘Responsible Citizens’. According to another member of the group, Enrique Menendez, militants turned up at her home in Donetsk on Friday evening. She had time to write a text message saying that she had been detained by the ‘MGB’, the ‘security ministry’ of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DNR’]. She has played a vital role throughout the military conflict in getting humanitarian aid to civilians. According to Yevhen Shibalov, Menendez has been warned he could be next, and told to leave or go into hiding.

      Ihor Kozlovsky, President of the Centre for Religious Studies and International Spiritual Relations, is well-known in Donetsk. He had remained in the city to care for his son who is paralyzed. Relatives and friends report that the militants burst into his flat and took Kozlovsky away, without giving any explanation. They left his son without any care, and relatives were only allowed access to him the following day. The militants also removed computer equipment, documents and a collection of antiques.

      Kozlovsky has now been held, probably in a basement, for the last 3 days. IV Vlada links his ‘arrest’ with the attempt to blow up the monument to Lenin in Donetsk a few days earlier. According to a well-known Donetsk blogger, “the Russian occupation administration has activated its repressive measures since New Year, making them more large-scale”. Those suspected of pro-Ukrainian views are classified as ‘spies’ and ‘terrorists’ which, according to what the ‘DNR’ refers to as its laws, can result in 30-year sentences or the death penalty.

      Kozlovsky has now been held, probably in a basement, for the last 3 days. IV Vlada links his ‘arrest’ with the attempt to blow up the monument to Lenin in Donetsk a few days earlier. According to a well-known Donetsk blogger, “the Russian occupation administration has activated its repressive measures since New Year, making them more large-scale”. Those suspected of pro-Ukrainian views are classified as ‘spies’ and ‘terrorists’ which, according to what the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DNR’] refers to as its laws, can result in 30-year sentences or the death penalty.

      Two well-known journalists – Alexei Matsuka and Denis Kazansky – have reported that the militants are carrying out a mass campaign seizing ‘dissidents’.

      Kazansky writes that he cannot give names at the moment, but that lies about peaceful life returning should be rejected. There is total lawlessness, he says, with militants bursting into people’s flats and taking them away without any explanation. He adds that these are not ‘pro-Ukrainian activists’ who have long left, but those whose neighbours or work colleagues ‘denounce them’, those who’ve recently travelled to areas under Ukrainian government control or believers from Protestant churches.

      The militants do appear to be also returning to attacks on other faiths. An organized demonstration was held on Jan 29 outside a Greek-Catholic church in Kremlin-backed militant-controlled Donetsk with the participants reported to have called on militant leader Alexander Zakharchenko “to drive out sectarians”, who are alleged to be Western-paid or even linked with the CIA. According to News of Donbas, the demonstrators were public sector workers brought in by buses, and the video certainly gives reason for suspecting that most people did not know why they were there.

      The event was clearly supported by the leaders of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ who reported it as a protest “against the propaganda of war and help by Greek-Catholics given to the Ukrainian Armed Forces”.

      The official website cited a couple of ‘residents’ who would appear to have been more capable of articulating official thoughts than those on the video. One accuses the Greek-Catholic Church of gathering humanitarian aid from believers and giving it to the Ukrainian Army and of “preaching war and foisting the idea of ‘Independent Ukraine’ on our residents, especially young people”. The other claims that everybody is “against these sects which are paid for from the West.”

      The meeting – described as ‘spontaneous’ – was announced the day before by Sergei Kondrykinsky, who calls himself a ‘DNR MP’ and head of the ‘Young Republic’ [Molodaya Respublika] organization. He asserted that they are closely studying how “such sects” work on young people, and where they get their money. “One clearly sees the work of the CIA” here.

      Most ominously, he claimed that these so-called ‘sects’ aim to undermined ‘DNR’. In a different text, reported in both Russian and English on the ‘DNR’ official website, he states that “European values are alien to us, we should support our Russian traditions”.

      Reports have suggested that the militants, together with those in Russia who pull their strings, are pushing certain pro-militant formations, like ‘Young Republic’ to create the appearance of elections in April. As reported, Zakharchenko stated recently that Ukrainian parties will not be allowed to take part.

      Kondrykinsky’s line is very much that taken from when Kremlin-backed militants, backed by Russian fighters, first gained control in parts of Donbas. The only Church which did not suffer repression was the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.

      In the report ‘When God becomes the weapon’ published in May 2015, rights activists detailed widespread and systematic persecution of all religious groups except those linked with the Moscow Patriarchate in militant-controlled parts of Donbas. It also pointed to the role of Russia and its armed criminal ‘crusaders’ in mounting crimes against humanity in the region. They identified widespread religious persecution from April 2014, and noted the major role played by unlawful armed groups who “under the banners of the Russian Orthodox Army and the Cossack Army, openly manifest their adherence to orthodoxy and have begun a ‘crusade’ across the Donbas region’.

      While conflicts have arisen between differing armed formations, especially in ‘LNR’, this adherence to a specific form of Orthodoxy and political ideas around this is largely shared by all pro-Russian militants.

      According to the ‘DNR’ ‘constitution’, issued on May 16, 2014 “the leading and dominant faith is the Orthodox faith ... as professed by the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The historical heritage and role of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) are recognized and respected, including as a main pillar of the Russian World doctrine ".

      This concept of a supposed ‘Russian World’ – encompassing Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, as well as Russia itself – has been repeatedly endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill. The latter stated in November 2009, that “if we consider the Russian Federation with its present boundaries, then we have sinned against the historical truth and artificially cut off millions of people who are aware of their role in the fate of the Russian World and consider its creation their main deed.”

      As reported here, there were numerous abductions of members of all other faiths in occupied areas, and four members of a Sloviansk Evangelical Church were murdered in June 2014.

      There had been less reports of problems over recent months, although this is doubtless largely due to the fact that very many people from faiths under fire have left. The degree of organization behind this ‘spontaneous demonstration’ and especially the claim that the Greek-Catholic Church and “other sects” are funded by the West and aimed at undermining the Kremlin-backed militants’ ‘republic’ may indicate that the relative lull is over.

      The escalation in anti-religious rhetoric, and in ‘arrests’ of dissidents come at a time when the West is continuing to negotiate ‘elections’ in militant-controlled Donbas, an amnesty and ‘special status’ for these Kremlin-controlled ‘republics’.
      New wave of arrests & attack on Ukrainian churches in militant-controlled Donetsk ::

      æ, !

      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


      • Russia shows off its military hardware during short-ballistic missile system test near Ukraine
        UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 30, 2016

        Display of hard power

        Special forces in Russia's Southern Military District are holding drills to rehearse combat readiness with the Iskander-M missile in the country's southern region of Krasnodar.

        As part of the exercises servicemen took up positions and prepared for combat launches, as well as carrying out electronic test runs of preparing the Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems for use against various ground targets at a distance of 500 kilometers.

        Russian military is undergoing a multi-billion dollar overhaul in 2016. It is currently carrying out air strikes in Syria after helping annex Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014. Russia shows off its military hardware during short-ballistic missile system test near Ukraine - watch on -

        æ, !

        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


        • Russian proxies attack ATO forces 38 times in last day
          30.01.2016 | 11:36 UNIAN

          The combined Russian-separatist forces attacked Ukrainian army positions in eastern Ukraine 38 times in the past 24 hours, the press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) wrote on Facebook early Saturday.

          In the Donetsk sector, the enemy fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades on the Ukrainian fortified positions in the villages of Pisky, Opytne, the town of Avdiyivka and Butivka coal mine.

          The militants fired 82mm and 120mm mortars on the Ukrainian fortified positions near the village of Zaitseve.

          "The situation was also tense near the village of Mayorsk, where the enemy used grenade launchers of different systems," the press center said.

          In addition, the enemy fired mortars on a fortified position near the village of Hnutove in the Mariupol sector.
          Russian proxies attack ATO forces 38 times in last day : UNIAN news

          æ, !

          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


          • Muscovites storm bank offices over mortgage borrowing terms - Run on Russian banks
            29.01.2016 | 22:10 UNIAN

            Citizens in Moscow have stormed bank offices, demanding reviews of their mortgage borrowing terms as Russia's ruble lost 60% value against the U.S. dollar since 2014, according to Ukraine Today.

            Russian holders of foreign currency denominated mortgages stormed various banks around in the capital city, demanding personal meetings with bank managers, Ukraine Today reported.

            Muscovites storm bank offices over mortgage borrowing terms : UNIAN news

            æ, !

            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


            • Ukrainian university know-how will save lives of hundreds of soldiers
              EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2016/01/30

              Two drones were recently presented to Ukrainian military personnel. They were prepared and developed by professors and students of Vinnytsa National Technical University.

              The drones will undergo state inspection at the Chernihiv training grounds and will then be delivered to the front lines.

              “We don’t see what’s really happening on the front lines…” say the soldiers “These drones will be our eyes and will save the lives of hundreds of our men.”

              The engineering systems were prepared and developed at Nebesna Dolyna (Sky Valley), the University’s educational centre for the development of radio and engineering systems and technical devices.

              “It was just an idea at first… and then we created a team of specialized developers.” says Oleksandr Pilhanchuk, a demobilized volunteer.

              The team received support and funding from the Regional State Administration and began working on the project…

              “The drone was just 20% of the work. The other 80% was devoted to training operators, building the control station and developing the aerial reconnaissance system. In short, it was a complex task.” says Professor Serhiy Pavlov, vice-rector of Vinnytsa National Technical University.

              He added that the drones had been certified, were very reliable and informative and met all modern requirements.

              “This model can also be used for research and mapping purposes.” stated Professor Pavlov.

              Experts estimate that one drone costs 200,000 UAH or about $ 7,000 US.

              “Rex”, chief sergeant of a reconnaissance brigade was briefed on drone operations.

              “A vehicle with the drone leaves for the defensive front line. There, the drone is launched from a catapult. It collects information on the location of enemy vehicles and enemy forces. When we receive information from the drone, we decide how to proceed. This device will help us survive in dangerous and difficult areas.”

              According to intelligence officers, the drone can travel 15 km. This is enough for the soldiers to obtain the necessary reconnaissance information.

              The study and development of reconnaissance drones were launched last spring.
              Ukrainian university know-how will save lives of hundreds of soldiers -Euromaidan Press |


              æ, !

              Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


              • UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 29, 2016 VIDEO
                Dozens of Ukrainians detained at illegal tobacco factory in Poland

                USD 1 million worth of smuggled goods are confiscated

                UPDATE: Ukraine's Foreign Ministry told Ukrainian news agency TSN that all the detained Ukrainians in Poland, except three, were released. Nine of them will soon return to Ukraine.

                STORY: Dozens of Ukrainian citizens were detained on suspicion of manufacturing illegal cigarettes, near Warsaw, Poland. Katarzyna Balzer, press-secretary of Poland's Central Investigative Police Bureau made the announcement on January 28, Radio Polsha says.

                "Three Ukrainians were the 'business' organizers. For manufacturing cigarettes, they used an assembly-line attended to by 10 people working in shifts. Several dozen others were engaged in goods packaging," Balzer said.

                During the search, police seized more than 5 million cigarettes and 2 tons of tobacco, 1.5 tons of shredded tobacco, several dozens of devices for packaging cigarettes. The seized goods are worth 5.5 million zlotys (1.375 million euros).

                The Kyiv-based news agency UNIAN reported earlier that the local court of Nyiregyhaza, Hungary sentenced 13 Ukrainians to prison terms from two to nine years for smuggling. Dozens of Ukrainians detained at illegal tobacco factory in Poland - read on -

                æ, !

                Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                • ‘Hardly befitting a great power’ Transparency International ranks the world’s corruption, and Russia rises to 119th place
                  MEDUZA 17:40, 28 January 2016

                  On Wednesday, January 27, the international anti-corruption movement Transparency International (TI) published its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. It is one of the leading barometers measuring corruption throughout the world. In the new rankings, Russia rose 17 spots to 119th place, where its neighbors are Azerbaijan, Guyana, and Sierra Leone. Meduza special correspondent Ilya Azar attended the presentation ceremony in Moscow, and spoke to the organization's vice president, Elena Panfilova, about what the study has to say about Russia. In Panfilova's opinion, Russia owes its improving situation to the country's financial crisis, which is “constricting the foundation for corruption.”

                  “Once in a blue moon, we actually have some news to share! For ten years, we didn't know what to tell you, because Russia was always stuck in the same place, sliding up and down just a tenth of a rating point,” Panfilova said, beginning her presentation. Then she explained that it only seems like good news at first glance. “We can hardly celebrate the fact that we're in 119th place. I maintain that being ranked anywhere in the bottom third on the index is still a national disgrace. This is hardly a result befitting a great power, and we all want Russia to be a great power,” Panfilova said.

                  Transparency International updates its Corruption Perceptions Index every year. The study is based on several ratings and surveys of experts in various countries, including representatives of the World Bank and the Asian and African Development Banks, and human rights activists. On a scale of 1 to 100, the more points a country scores, the lower its level of corruption. Russia scored 29 points last year, rising from 136th place to 119th place among a total of 168 nations. According to experts, the least corrupt countries in the world are Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. Those with the highest levels of corruption are Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia.

                  “I expect that, not far away, behind the [Kremlin's] red walls, they're cracking open the champagne and happily celebrating Russia jumping two whole points,” Panfilova joked. She says Azerbaijan, Guyana, and Sierra Leone make for “wonderful, but not mindblowing company.” “We've actually moved toward the countries we should be among. We'd be opening up the champagne, too, if Russia had managed to join the rest of the Eastern European countries, whose average score is 33 points. So far, there's nothing to celebrate,” Panfilova concluded.

                  She says there are two explanations for Russia's improved corruption rating. First, “in Russia there's now less corrupt money because the country has less money overall, thanks to the economic crisis.” Second, “legislation that requires civil servants to declare their property and limits their ability to own property abroad has started producing some results.”

                  According to Anton Pominov, who heads Transparency International's Russia branch, another reason to exercise especially cautious optimism about the country's higher ranking is that it's not an objective reflection of the reality on the ground, but merely an assortment of ratings and opinions by foreign experts. “Corruption can be latent, and we can't say for certain if it went up or not,” Pominov said. “Transparency International is criticized for the Corruption Index. They say it doesn't show anything, but in fact it reflects how well the environment is developing in a particular society.”

                  Panfilova says experts noticed that many advertisements for the sale of real estate in Prague, Budapest, Paris, and Nice contained phone numbers showing Russian mobile phone prefixes. Experts interpreted this to mean that Russian state officials are jettisoning their foreign property. “The ban on owning property abroad is beginning to squeeze these ghouls back within Russia's borders,” Panfilova explained, adding, “A law-abiding bureaucrat hurries to sell off his apartment in Prague, but entrenched corruption doesn’t give in, and goes looking for new feeding grounds.”

                  A day before TI's corruption report was revealed, the Kremlin held a meeting of its own Anti-Corruption Council, with Vladimir Putin in attendance. The president was feeling optimistic and said that more than 8,800 people were convicted of corruption in the first nine months of 2015. Nearly another 11,000 officials were disciplined, Putin said, for violating anti-corruption standards. Sergei Ivanov, who heads both Putin's administration and the presidium of the Anti-Corruption Council, submitted two new proposals: create new penalties for accepting bribes under 10,000 rubles ($130), and bring to justice civil servants who use third parties to receive bribes (a growing practice where the bribe goes not to the official himself, but to one of his proxies outside the state bureaucracy).

                  Panfilova is certain it's no coincidence the Kremlin timed its Anti-Corruption Council meeting to come a day before TI's event. “They know about our index; it was precisely when researching it that we learned what Moscow's plans were. The Anti-Corruption Council was supposed to meet in December, when Transparency International normally releases its corruption index. But this time we decided to push it to January, and—poof—they moved their meeting, too,” Panfilova told Meduza.

                  She says the Kremlin's council came to contradictory conclusions. “Figures about 8,000 and 11,000 [convictions] sound great, but don't insult my intelligence. The number of prosecutions in the fight against corruption says absolutely nothing about the effectiveness of law enforcement. This has about as much to do with battling corruption as Transparency International's work has in common with dog grooming.”

                  According to Panfilova, comments from the Kremlin's council meeting “plunged” her into “cognitive dissonance,” because Putin opened the event by saying that Russia “needs to tackle nepotism and conflicts of interest,” but moments later his chief of staff declared that state officials' relatives shouldn't be banned from running businesses. “I've found no facts whatsoever implicating the attorney general in any illegal actions—I stress that I'm talking specifically about the attorney general,” Ivanov said, answering a question about Yuri Chaika and his business-owning sons. “They would have been better off talking amongst themselves, because officials relatives running businesses is precisely what you call nepotism and conflicts of interest,” Panfilova fired back.

                  The Anti-Corruption Foundation's investigation into Yuri Chaika's family, incidentally, wasn't factored into Transparency International's corruption report. Research for the index was completed in August 2015, and the revelations about Chaika's family were published only in December.

                  At TI's presentation, Panfilova and Pominov explained that Russia's problems with corruption haven't gone anywhere, despite the positive developments last year. “The punishment for corruption is minimal. We're seeing ransacked state budgets for regional and oblast governments and for major federal projects, but when somebody is caught, the worst he faces is being fired for a loss of trust,” Panfilova warned. She also complained that internationally coordinated anti-corruption efforts have failed in Russia. “Just browsing through Facebook, we learned that [State Duma] Alexey Mitrofanov [who's suspected of corruption and has already been stripped of his parliamentary immunity] was hanging out in Zagreb [Croatia's capital]. So what now?” she asked in frustration.

                  Transparency International says Russia's authorities need to make the heads of state agencies and regional governments responsible for failing to fulfill the National Anti-Corruption Plan, if the country is serious about the campaign. Moscow also needs to introduce into the legal system effective measures instituting real punishments for illicit enrichment, creating and publishing a list of all public figures who violate the law, ensuring the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch, and avoiding discriminatory courts.

                  “We think that our levels of corruption are the worst,” Panfilova said of Russians and their country. “But in Southeast Asia, Africa, or Latin America—my goodness—it's really a nightmare. We in Russia have a great deal of corruption. It's systematic, comprehensive, and it's seriously entrenched. But that doesn't mean it's the world's absolute worst. [On the TI index], we used to be between Kenya and Cameroon because of hyper-corrupt consumption. We looked like that because our guys were jet setting all around the world like snow plows [buying up real estate]. Now, finally, we've started to look like we ought to, resembling Azerbaijan or Pakistan—countries with resources and potential, but weighed down by a failed political process and system of government.”

                  Before concluding, Panfilova and Pominov touched on TI's own problems with Russia's law on “foreign agents.” “They dragged us onto their list, and charged us 600,000 rubles [almost $8,000] for the trouble. So these officials are clawing at state funds and we're fighting them, but in the end they had to let at least a little bit of money [the "foreign agent" penalty] reach the government's coffers,” Panfilova joked.

                  Incidentally, she already has a plan, should Transparency International be forced to shut down in Russia. “Anton and I put our heads together and we've decided to start an anti-corruption Cossack choir, if they shut us down. Cultural organizations aren't subject to the law on ‘foreign agents,’ and I'd just like to see them try to close down something Cossack. So we've got a plan, is what I'm saying,” Panfilova said assuringly.

                  æ, !

                  Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                  • Russian pharmacists say shortages of foreign medicines are coming
                    07:29, 29 January 2016 Meduza

                    New certification requirements for foreign drugs may mean new medicines will not be allowed into Russia, says Association of International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Director Vladimir Shipkov.

                    Since January 1, new medicines are required to receive the Russian equivalent of the international Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certificate. This new regulation may lead to problems with supplies of new drugs, says Shipkov. Since this regulation came into force, not a single certificate has been awarded, and there is no legal basis supporting the issuance of certificates.

                    At present, the Russian GMP certification is only required for new medicines. Beginning in 2017, however, it will be necessary for all foreign drugs. For the moment, these certification rules have become an insurmountable barrier for foreign companies, says Shipkov.

                    Already, certification issues have affected vaccines for whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.
                    --According to accepted international practices, GMP certificate checks are required only for drugs from developing countries. Governments in Europe have agreed to the joint recognition of GMP certificates, and thereby save time and money on checks.
                    --The value of the Russian pharmaceutical market in 2015 was about $13.2 billion (1 trillion rubles). Foreign companies account for more than half of market value.
                    --In December 2015, the Russian government issued an order to limit government purchases of foreign drugs. According to this decision, the purchase of a foreign drug is prohibited if at least two Russian equivalents of the drug are available.
                    Last edited by Hannia; 30th January 2016, 20:42.

                    æ, !

                    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                    • The status of the Donbas “republics”
                      EUROMAIDAN PRESS Vitaliy Portnikov 2016/01/30

                      The proposals put forth by the representatives of the so-called “people’s republics” at the Minsk talks may be surprising at first glance. After all, there is no mention in the Minsk agreements of the quasi-official status of the DNR and LNR. On the contrary, the discussion is about the features of local self-government in each separate region. And these regions are not supposed to be linked to each other through one center. Then where did the idea about broad autonomy, parliaments, governments, and even presidents of the republics come from?

                      But this idea has never gone away. Both Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov voiced the concept of federalizing Ukraine even before the beginning of the war in the Donbas. Moreover, the Russian leaders explained quite clearly that they were not even talking about federalization according to the German example but about a confederation where each entity would have veto power over the most important decisions of the government. The goal is obvious — to block the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine one way or another. The rest you already know — the destruction of Ukrainian statehood ( as well as the statehoods of Belarus, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics), incorporation into another state — the Eurasian Union — whose president Putin want to be. And if you think that Moscow has abandoned this nonsense under the pressure of economic collapse you are mistaken. This nonsense is a kind of psychosis. Putin will never give up the idea of recreating the USSR.

                      ven after the start of the Minsk negotiations, the Russian puppets proposed constitutional changes that would enable individual regions to unite in associations — in effect, states — with their own parliaments, government and influence on Ukraine. And, by the way, the Kremlin is not inventing anything. This is exactly the same kind of status that the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), among others, received in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And, more recently, the Serb regions of Kosovo, who also received the right to create their own government, parliament, and to determine linguistic identity. Sometimes it seems the Russians are copying legal prescriptions from the West.

                      But there is one significant difference. Bosnia, the Serb Republic, and Kosovo and its Serbian regions — and most importantly Serbia itself — are focused on European integration. There is no dilemma there. But it exists in Ukraine. With the help of the Russian occupied areas of the Donbas, Russia is attempting to bind us to Mordor again (a bleak region in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional universe –Ed) .

                      This is precisely why Ukraine must insist on the temporary nature of the special status of government in the Donbas regions after their de-occupation. This special status regime is not due to the fact that the people who live in these regions are somehow different but because this territory has been occupied by the enemy. And Ukraine should create the conditions for the return of its inhabitants to civilized life. Life without Putin, without rubles, murders, cruelty and fear — everything that we associate today with the “Russian world.” This is the essence of the entire special status regime.

                      But what if Russia wants to turn the occupied territories into Transnistria and we are not prepared to liberate them by military means? Then so be it. But this transformation will have to take place as in the “real” Transnistria — in other words outside the jurisdiction of Ukrainian laws. And it is completely unnecessary to change the Ukrainian Constitution for the benefit of “Transnistria.”
                      The status of the Donbas "republics" -Euromaidan Press |

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                      • Pyatt: Ukraine's huge mistake - to create troll factory and 'Ministry of Truth'
                        30.01.2016 | 17:50 UNIAN

                        U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt has invited Ukraine to combat the influence of Russia's propaganda by economic development and a real fight against corruption.

                        "It's a huge mistake for the Ukrainian government, for the Ukrainian people, to create a troll factory like St. Petersburg, churning out counter-propaganda in social media. It's a huge mistake to create a "Ministry of Truth" that tries to generate alternative stories. That is not the way to defeat this information warfare," said Geoffrey Pyatt, according to the website of the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine.

                        "The biggest mistake that we could make, the biggest mistake that Ukraine could make, is to spend all of your time and all of your energy trying to counter those lies – to spend all of your breath saying: "There are no fascists! What are you talking about?" That's exactly what Russia wants," he said.

                        According to Pyatt, the single most powerful refutation to the Kremlin's hybrid war and information campaign against this country is a successful, modernizing, European, democratic Ukraine.

                        "In fact, Ukraine doesn't need more state-sponsored media. What Ukraine needs is a successful Ukraine," he said.

                        "Nobody will be surprised to hear me say that the number one priority for Ukraine and Ukrainian society in 2016 needs to be prevailing in the war against corruption. It is the key issue in demonstrating that Ukraine is moving forward," Pyatt said.

                        "In that regard, I would argue the best weapon against the Kiselyovs of the world is your anti-corruption prosecutor. It's deputy prosecutors general like David Sakvarelidze, who are trying to hold criminals accountable. It's your NABU [National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine]. All of which are institutions that the United States will strongly support," he said.
                        Pyatt: Ukraine's huge mistake - to create troll factory and 'Ministry of Truth' : UNIAN news

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                        • Russia’s economy - Phase two
                          Russia’s economic problems move from the acute to the chronic
                          Jan 23rd 2016 | MOSCOW THE ECONOMIST

                          DMITRY MALIKOV, a wavy-haired crooner, normally sings schmaltzy love tunes. But his latest clip, which he calls “A New Year’s Appeal to the Rouble”, captures the zeitgeist in Russia. “Sure, it’s a bit tough, but happiness is ahead,” he belts. “Just wait, just wait, don’t fall.” Despite his plea, the rouble is falling: on January 21st it dropped to more than 85 to the dollar, a record low. References to the economic “crisis” pepper daily conversation; news broadcasts lead with breathless coverage of the oil markets, and even the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church was asked his thoughts on the exchange rate during his annual Christmas interview.

                          Russia’s economy had a torrid 2015. As the oil price tumbled from its mid-2014 peak of over $100 a barrel, Russia’s exports and government revenues, heavily dependent on oil and gas, collapsed. GDP shrank by nearly 4%; inflation ran close to 13%. Having lost half its value against the dollar in the second half of 2014, the rouble dipped a further 20% in 2015. But in the autumn the contraction slowed. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, triumphantly declared that “the peak of crisis” had passed.

                          Recent turbulence in the oil market has put hopes of a speedy recovery to rest. The IMF reckons GDP will contract again this year, by 1%. Senior officials speak morosely of a “new reality”, acknowledging that their energy-driven growth model has exhausted itself. Yet Russia is unlikely to see a repeat of the acute problems that befell it in late 2014. For one thing, Russian businesses have much healthier finances. Their foreign debt has fallen by a third since 2014. From now until May, firms and banks are due to repay less than they did in December 2014 alone. The second half of the year will be about as easy.

                          The banking sector is looking better, thanks to a raft of measures from the central bank to recapitalise it and to allow greater forbearance on souring debts. The big oil companies, meanwhile, have coped with a weak currency. Their operating expenses are priced in roubles but most of their revenues come in dollars. Progressive oil and gas taxes have also helped: when prices fall, the state budget absorbs much of the pain. Total oil production grew by 1.4% in 2015, reaching record highs. The profitability of beasts like Rosneft, Lukoil and Bashneft is higher than it was in 2014, according to Moody’s, a rating agency.

                          The government’s finances, however, are shaky. The budget for 2016 assumes an average oil price of $50 a barrel, which was to have produced a deficit of 3% of GDP. However, the arithmetic of Russia’s public finances is unforgiving: the budget deficit rises by roughly 1% of GDP for every $5 drop in the oil price. At the current $30 a barrel (and assuming no change in spending plans or the exchange rate), the deficit would probably hit 7%.

                          Yet Mr Putin has decreed that the deficit should not exceed 3%. In response, the finance ministry has called for cuts of 10% (defence and social spending are largely exempt). Officials have also suggested privatising state assets. All this, though, is unlikely to yield enough to plug the growing deficit. Filling the gap by issuing bonds would be expensive: yields are high. Moreover, Russia’s default in 1998-99 left its elite with an aversion to debt.

                          The government can always tap its rainy-day fund, but it holds only $50 billion, down from $90 billion a year ago. If the budget deficit hits 6% of GDP the fund will be empty by the end of the year, says Timothy Ash of Nomura, a bank. A second fund, which is supposed to finance pensions, holds a further $70 billion, but many of its assets are illiquid.

                          If the government runs out of ready cash, Mr Putin may be tempted to repeat a well-worn trick—printing roubles. But that would boost inflation and hasten the rouble’s decline, further sapping the purchasing power of Russian firms and families. Deep cuts to government spending, on the other hand, will also add to the travails of the non-oil economy.

                          Russians face a fundamental degradation of their quality of life, says Natalia Zubarevich of the Independent Institute for Social Policy, a think-tank. Real wages fell by 9% in 2015 and 4% in 2014, the first dip since Mr Putin came to power in 2000 (see chart). GDP per person is down from a post-Soviet peak of close to $15,000 in 2013 to around $8,000 this year. While official unemployment is just 6%, wage arrears are up. More than 2m people fell into poverty in 2015, and the share of families that lack funds for food or clothes rose from 22% to 39%. Pensions are normally indexed to inflation, but in 2016 they will rise by just 4%.

                          In turn, consumer spending, once the engine of Russia’s economy, has withered. Retail sales dropped by 13%, year on year, in November. Foreign travel during the recent holiday season dipped by 30% compared with a year ago. Even those seeking darker escapes are finding them ever less affordable: the price of heroin (mainly smuggled from Afghanistan) has doubled in roubles over the past year.

                          In theory the 25% fall in the inflation-adjusted exchange rate in the past year provides a golden opportunity to diversify away from hydrocarbons. To a foreign buyer, labour is now cheaper in Russia than in China. However, foreign investment is wilting too. FDI inflows, which were sliding before the crisis, fell from a quarterly peak of $40 billion in early 2013 to $3 billion in the second quarter of 2015. Foreigners are likely to become net divestors soon. Small wonder that manufacturing production was down by 5% year on year in the first half of 2015; agricultural output is stagnant. The first, most dramatic phase of Russia’s crisis may indeed be behind it, as Mr Putin claimed. But for ordinary Russians, phase two will not seem much better. Phase two | The Economist

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                          • “Our Lisa” lied to Lavrov; Lavrov lied to the world
                            EUROMAIDAN PRESS Vitaliy Portnykov 2016/01/30

                            The situation has been cleared up: young Lisa lied, Russian Minister Lavrov lied, Russian television lied, Russia lied…

                            German police have reported that 13-year-old girl Lisa, who was publicly defended by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, made up the story of her abduction and rape. The young girl was, in fact, hiding from her parents and teachers at her 19-year-old boyfriend’s place. However, police are still investigating two of Lisa’s friends – ethnic Turks (one of them is a German national; the other is a Turkish national who lives in Germany). Investigators suspect that the men know her quite well and have had intimate relations with her. However, most importantly, there are no refugees involved in the disgusting scenario presented by racist Russian propagandists!

                            Lisa hit the front pages after Russia’s First Channel aired the story of her tragic fate. Then, Russians living in Germany together with neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant groups demonstrated all through the country. Lavrov spoke in defense of “our little Lisa”, while the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier countered the lies of his arrogant colleague. The situation has finally been cleared up: Lisa lied, Lavrov lied, Russian television lied, Russia lied.

                            But, “our Lisa’s story” is alarming in another sense. We saw that Germany – like Ukraine and other former Soviet republics – has a marginalized Russian-speaking community that blindly believes and follows everything that Moscow says. These people left their homeland, but remained its ideological slaves, exported “sovoks”. Many of them live in depressed neighbourhoods, are easy prey not only for Russian television, but also for various neo-Nazi and xenophobic groups.

                            If a conflict or situation deteriorates, the Kremlin can use these people to destabilize a country. In fact, in Germany we saw the same events as in Crimea and the Donbas, but on a smaller scale. Smaller because Moscow has no claim to any territory of Germany and there are fewer marginalized individuals in the country. But, it’s enough to influence society, remind people once again about “dangerous migrants” and worsen the position of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

                            Only this time the lie was too obvious. In future, Putin’s propagandists will act more cautiously in Germany.
                             “Our Lisa” lied to Lavrov; Lavrov lied to the world -Euromaidan Press |

                            Source: Radio Liberty

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                            • Strelkov co-founds “Committee of January 25th” to work against Ukraine, Belarus, and Russian liberals
                              EUROMAIDAN PRESS Alex Leonor 2016/01/31

                              Several well-known Russian nationalists and Stalinists have formed the “Committee of January 25th” a new “movement” to “prevent Russia’s collapse” and to “pursue a policy of reunification of the Russian people in a single state.” The ideologically varied group appears to be a new propaganda front against liberal reform in Russia and also against Belarusian and Ukrainian sovereignty. has already published an article pointing out the strange diversity of the group members, but they all have one thing in common. They believe there is a sinister Western conspiracy at work to destroy Russia and prevent the “in-gathering of Russian lands,” and they intend to stop it.

                              The headline member of the group is the infamous Igor Strelkov, the commander of the Russian irregulars in Donetsk in the early stages of the fighting there. Other notable members of the group are Igor Prosvirnin, the head of the rabidly nationalist Russian propaganda site “Sputnik I Pogrom,” and the formerly anti-Putin nationalist Eduard Limonov.

                              The initial manifesto of the movement claims that the Committee of January 25th is a political “third force.” They have an alarmist position about the state of Russian politics: “The situation (in Russia) is strongly reminiscent with of the eve of the Maidan (revolution) in Ukraine.”

                              But even as they are neutral to the current Russian government, they are overtly hostile to Russian liberals, accusing them of being the tool of a sinister western conspiracy to destroy Russia: “The ‘white ribbons’ (Russian liberals) are not are allies. Behind them are the resources and usury of pro-Western capital. This can really be the ruin of Russia.”

                              Alexei Yanukevich, the chairman of the best-known Belarusian opposition party the BPF, said that the Committee of January 25th was “very alarming and indicates the presence of a real threat from Russia.”

                              “…This danger comes not only from the Russian government, but also from part of Russian society which is under the influence of government-incited propaganda and has become increasingly chauvinistic and aggressive. I think that the creation of this organization is primarily PR… But this is an indication that imperialist ambitions exist not only in government but also in wider Russian society – and if such an idea takes hold of society, this country becomes extremely dangerous for its neighbors. We see this in the example of Ukraine and, unfortunately, this new information confirms that there is a great danger also for Belarus.

                              As is well known, Strelkov was in Crimea and in Donbas, I hope that he never gets to Belarus. However, he is among those who said this new initiative has on its agenda the absorption, the annexation of Belarus. This once again proves that Belarus is a target and a potential victim of these focused chauvinist, imperial, radical Russian groups. “As Alexei Yanukevich points out, the group is certainly under the influence of Russian propaganda, but knowing Putin’s past activities one suspects Strelkov and his friends are not acting with total spontaneity. If this group is even a remote threat to Putin and his vertical of power he will crush it like a bug. Few would strenuously object to the end of Strelkov and the dismemberment of radical Russian Nationalist organizations the way they protest the repression of the “non-systemic” political moments in Russia or the murder of pro-reform dissidents like Boris Nemtsov.

                              If, as many suspect, Putin is preparing to cut a deal to “end” the war in Ukraine, then he may hedge his bets by creating or cultivating other “radical” groups to spread propaganda and organize among activist Russian nationalists. These supposed groups of outsiders could create problems for Ukraine and Belarus while the Russian government can claim to be uninvolved, as well as build up a talent pool for the Russian state to recruit from for anti-Ukrainian, anti-Belarusian, and anti-liberal operatives.

                              Putin’s strategy in Ukraine has mirrored the Russian strategy in the wars in Moldova and Georgia in the early 90’s and in 2008: build proxies to do the dirty work while denying any involvement. Proxies can be used internally in Russia as well abroad in Belarus and Ukraine. The three obvious proxies produced so far by Russia during the war in Ukraine are the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and also the “Union of Donbas Volunteers” (SDD), a veteran’s association for pro-Russian fighters. This new Committee of January 25th group is ostensibly not associated with the Russian state. This stance is similar to the other, smaller, competing veterans association to the SDD, the “Fraternity of Veterans of the Donbas Militia” (SVOD). SVOD was founded by Strelkov’s friend and former comrade-in-arms Igor Borisovich Ivanov. Like the Committee of January 25th, SVOD is ostensibly totally unconnected to the Russian state, and supposedly “neutral” at most. However, both these groups are obviously heavily influenced by Russian state propaganda, and they could become elements of a “radical” Russian opposition that can kill Russian dissidents or conduct subversion in Belarus or Ukraine while the Russian government claims it has no involvement. Strelkov already did the Kremlin’s work in Donbas. He may one day be rehabilitated and entrusted to work there again, or elsewhere.

                              Either that, or Putin may have trouble brewing in Russia. Strelkov co-founds "Committee of January 25th" to work against Ukraine, Belarus, and Russian liberals -Euromaidan Press |
                              Malaysian Airlines flight MH17: Who is self-styled separatist leader Igor Strelkov?
                              18 Jul 2014

                              Self-styled pro-Russian separatist kingpin Igor Strelkov captured the attention of the world today when he appeared to claim responsibility for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
                              Malaysian Airlines flight MH17: Who is self-styled separatist leader Igor Strelkov? - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

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                              • Turkish Air Force declares 'orange alert'
                                31.01.2016 | 13:30 UNIAN

                                The Turkish Air Force has declared an 'orange alert' in key bases around the country, military sources have said, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.

                                Speaking to reporters at Istanbul Ataturk Airport before his departure for Chile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the violation of Turkish airspace, which he also described as NATO airspace, was a result of Russian attempts to escalate existing tension in the region, the Anadolu Agency reported.

                                "Russia will have to bear the consequences if the violations continue," he said.

                                An official statement released on Saturday said that the Russian aircraft – a SU-34 fighter-bomber – was repeatedly warned by Turkish air radar units in Russian and English.

                                "A Russian SU-34 fighter jet violated Turkish airspace yesterday (January 29, 2016) at 11.46 a.m. local time in Turkey [0946 GMT]," the statement read.

                                NATO has confirmed the airspace violation: "I call on Russia to act responsibly and to fully respect NATO airspace," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

                                "Russia must take all necessary measures to ensure that such violations do not happen again," he added.

                                Erdogan said the Turkish Foreign Ministry had made contact with Russia to arrange a meeting with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the incident, but added that Ankara had yet to receive a response.

                                Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry has claimed that their fighter jet did not violate Turkish airspace.

                                Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov dismissed Ankara's statement as "propaganda", arguing that Russian and Syrian air radar units did not detect any violations and that there has long been no radio contact between Turkish and Russian air forces.
                                Turkish Air Force declares 'orange alert' : UNIAN news

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