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  • 40% of Ukrainian companies mull entering EU markets - poll
    11.02.2016 | 18:30 UNIAN

    Almost 40% of Ukrainian companies consider the European market the main focus for the expansion of trade partnership, according a survey conducted by the International Centre of e-commerce Allbiz, Europeiska Pravda reports.

    According to the survey, over a third of respondents among the Ukrainian businessmen are already able to share their own experience with others, as they have successfully entered the foreign markets. At the same time, 65% of respondents cannot yet boast such results.

    Among those companies that had already exported their products in 2015 and before, one-third noted that the orders increased, another third said that the amount of orders declined, and the rest noted that no significant change took place.

    In addition, 64% of businesses stated the frequency of orders from abroad varied throughout 2015. These figures show that there is enough demand, and the Ukrainian exports have every chance to grow.
    40% of Ukrainian companies mull entering EU markets - poll : UNIAN news

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    • The Great Debate - A whiff of panic in the Kremlin as Russia’s economy sinks further
      REUTERS William E. Pomeranz February 4, 2016

      Only one month in and 2016 has already delivered a series of devastating economic blows to Russia. As the price of oil and the value of the ruble plummet, so, too, does the standard of living of the average Russian citizen. Russia’s central bank has been widely praised for not spending the country’s hard-currency reserves to support the ruble — an admittedly losing proposition — yet it has done so on the backs of the Russian people.

      The public has responded stoically and largely without panic, even as they see their middle-class aspirations crash. But a whiff of desperation can now be sensed, and it is the Kremlin that appears the most perplexed about what the next steps it should take.

      President Vladimir Putin has gone so far as to blame Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin for Russia’s current difficulties. Historical scapegoats, however, do not relieve Putin and his government of responsibility for Russia’s financial mess. As the economic temperature rises, Moscow will likely find itself under increased pressure to re-examine both its domestic policies and its foreign adventures.

      Signs of panic and dysfunction are everywhere. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has demanded yet another round of 10 percent budget cuts. (A similar reduction occurred in 2015). Otherwise, Siluanov warns, Russia faces a repeat of the 1998-99 financial crash and possible default — not exactly reassuring words from the man in charge of Russia’s economic policy.

      The 2016 budget, meanwhile, already included catastrophic reductions in education, health care and social spending. How will the Russian public react to additional cuts? No one knows. To raise revenues, the Kremlin is considering selling off shares in large state companies, including Rosneft, Sberbank and Aeroflot, while still maintaining majority control. Moscow has long vowed never to sell these shares in a depressed market, but that is exactly what would happen under current economic conditions.

      The relevant government ministries, however, do not appear to have cleared these privatizations with Putin. He just demanded that the purchasers of these assets must be subject to Russian law — not offshore entities. This sharply reduces an already limited pool of potential buyers.

      Putin also said there would be no fire sale of state assets. Therefore, not only has Putin and his government most likely lost a much-needed infusion of cash, they also have looked divided and unsure of themselves in the process.

      Several Russian government ministries are also busy preparing an anti-crisis plan to bolster certain national industries, which almost sounds encouraging until one considers the fate of the 2015 anti-crisis plan. Only 17 of the 60 programs were fully implemented last year, according to Russia’s Audit Chamber, leaving billions of rubles unspent.

      There is little reason to believe that the 2016 stimulus plan — with less money available — will fare any better than its predecessor in reviving the Russian economy.

      The private sector remains in no position to pick up the slack. At a recent forum, inauspiciously titled “Small Business: A National Idea?”, Putin answered the question with a resounding no. He provided small businesses no new tax breaks or any relief from crippling double-digit interest rates. He pointed them instead to regional governments for support, many of which are on the brink of default themselves, so in no position to lower taxes.

      The Russian government really has no good economic options other than hope. This prompted German Gref, Putin’s former minister for economic development who is now head of Sberbank, to announce that Russia will continue to fall behind its global economic competitors if the country does not introduce major structural reforms. Gref’s warning, and accompanying sound of alarm, was startling: “[W]e have found ourselves in the ranks of countries that are losing, downshifter countries.”

      What the Russian elite fears most is that the economic problems will spill over into politics. Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the Russian parliament, issued a less-than-subtle warning to Duma deputies who will be facing re-election in September 2016. He cautioned that the elections should not serve as a “detonator for a social explosion.” In other words, candidates should not compete by criticizing the state, and political debate cannot serve as a safety valve to lower social tensions.

      Whether panic leads to a change of government, growing protests, an economic meltdown or political crackdown remains unknown. So far, the Russian people have acted more calmly than their leaders. The elite’s growing anxiety, however, is beginning to move from the domestic to the international arena.

      Russia is now considering suspending its loans to foreign countries. Moreover, according to the Financial Times, in December Putin allegedly asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. This move was in contradiction to all his statements of public support.

      But perhaps most significantly, a January 2016 brainstorming session between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the Kremlin’s PR guru, Vladislav Surkov, discussed possible solutions in Ukraine. Surkov’s participation was particularly telling because he is the one who ultimately will have to spin any strategic retreat in Ukraine to Russia’s advantage.

      Both Secretary of State John Kerry and French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron have hinted that sanctions against Russia could be lifted in the next few months if the Minsk 2 agreements are fully implemented. Sanctions relief would be the first step in Moscow’s economic rehabilitation, though major growth would still remain a long way off.

      The negotiations over Ukraine are no sure thing. The United States, the European Union and Russia will have to do both hand-holding and arm-twisting to bring the respective parties to the table. If no deal is reached, however, and the economy continues to tank, Putin will have to stop the emergent signs of panic from spreading.

      If the government loses its head in this crisis, the Russian people are bound to follow. That is Putin’s worst-case scenario.
      A whiff of panic in the Kremlin as Russia’s economy sinks further

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      • REUTERS Alex Whiting Feb 11, 2016 8:40am EST
        Hundreds of schools attacked, destroyed in Ukraine war: rights activists

        LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of schools in eastern Ukraine have been attacked by both Ukrainian government forces and their Russian-backed militant opponents in the past two years, forcing many of them to close, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

        Schools on both sides of the line of contact which separates the combatants have been hit, and many, especially in rebel-controlled areas, remain too damaged to reopen, HRW said.

        Both sides have deployed forces in and near schools, turning them into military targets. Even schools that were not being occupied have been attacked, the rights organization said.

        "Civilians, including children, on both sides of the line of contact have been bearing the brunt of this protracted war," said Yulia Gorbunova, Ukraine researcher at HRW.

        "All parties to the conflict have a responsibility to protect children and to make sure that their hostilities don't cause further harm to their safety and education," Gorbunova added.

        More than 9,000 soldiers and civilians have been killed since the conflict broke out in April 2014, when pro-Russian separatists rose up following Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.

        Fighting continues despite a year-old ceasefire agreement.

        Last week the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors implementation of the ceasefire deal, voiced deep concern over escalating violence in eastern territories.

        When military forces occupied schools, they often destroyed school furniture and equipment and left behind heavy artillery or unused munitions, HRW said.

        In one case, HRW researchers found undetonated landmines in the school grounds, apparently thrown off a supply truck while it was parked in the schoolyard.

        Progress has been made in repairing and reopening damaged schools, particularly in government-controlled areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, thanks in large part to leadership by parents and teachers, HRW said.

        But local authorities and school administrators in many places told researchers the risk of renewed fighting made them reluctant to fund or carry out school renovations.

        Ukrainian authorities do not recognize school documents issued in rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, so some parents in rebel-held areas send their children to schools in areas under government control, HRW said.

        The journey across the line of control is slow because of travel restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian government, and can be dangerous, due to sporadic shelling and the presence of mines, HRW said.

        "Teachers and parents on both sides of the contact line have shown tremendous commitment to continue children's education despite the war," Gorbunova said.

        "The warring parties should also do a lot more to avoid irreparably harming children's safety and education," she added.

        The researchers visited 41 schools and kindergartens between September and November 2015, in both government-controlled areas and territory controlled by Russia-backed militants. Hundreds of schools attacked, destroyed in Ukraine war: rights activists | Reuters

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        • ‘They tore it all down, took everything away, and yes they even beat us’ A Moscow business owner describes how the city destroyed her stores
          MEDUZA 13:16, 11 February 2016

          On the night of February 9, by the order of the mayor of Moscow, dozens of shopping pavilions in the city's center and outskirts were demolished. Authorities maintain that these areas were all built in violation of municipal laws. The city argues this, despite the fact that many store owners had the relevant permits and permissions from the city itself. Meduza special correspondent Ilya Zhegulev spoke to business owner Maria Antonova, who, until a few days ago, co-owned several stores located near Sokol metro station in northwest Moscow. Her battle with city authorities over the stores began when Yuri Luzhkov was still the mayor. Not a single court victory helped, she says, to save her businesses from the bulldozers, which crushed all her stocks and goods along with her stores. This is her story.
          --------------------

          https://meduza.io/image/attachments/...0g1DChyclQ.jpg

          I'll tell you the whole love story. In the beginning, there was just an empty square outside the [Sokol] metro station. We began selling things here in 1993. At that time, we used the usual tents and kiosks. In 1995, we rented the land and installed small stalls that were easy to set-up and take down. By 1997—Moscow's 850th anniversary—the municipal council for the Sokol district charged us, that is us business owners, with developing the square. They instructed all the business owners to do the proper legal paperwork, because we all made an impact on the square. We weren't just talking about a single flower shop, or something. Also, we business owners took out the trash and generally kept tabs on the place.

          In 1997, we got our land lease renewed for another five years and began to prepare the legal documents for the construction of fixed structures. We managed to have everything together by 1999. We had to receive official permission for the construction and for everything else besides. If you took all the documents and stacked them on the floor, they'd be over a meter high. And believe me, we had everything there—even radiation level measurements for the Sokol district. It took us three years to do it all. We received permission to build, and got our land lease renewed. On the new permit, it said our stores were equal to a “stationary shopping complex.” We built the shops and assumed ownership over them.

          Yesterday, they demolished two of our retail spaces—the first was 85 square meters, and the second was 112. One serviced a small grocery store, and the other housed a Evroset [technology store], a flower shop, and a corner shop. We paid a lot for those retail spaces. The land was very expensive, not to mention the permits. Altogether, we invested around $500,000.

          They began pressuring us in 2007, when construction of the Halabyan-Baltic highway tunnel began in Moscow. During one heated moment, they demolished one of our stores. It was so barbaric, and they reimbursed us next to nothing. They just came and knocked it down illegally. Then they promised—only verbally—to give us the documentation that would allow us to rebuild the store ourselves, once the tunnel's construction was complete. To this they added that the land lease would remain ours, and therefore they didn't have to pay us for it. They said they'd “look after everything,” but to do so they'd have to knock our stores to the ground. But nothing's been built, they haven't given us the land, and they've been building that tunnel for years! For eight years, we were paying taxes on land that we later discovered doesn't belong to us. Can you imagine the cost? We have been to the land committee many times to try and sort it out, and what a fright it was. Each time they'd say, “Wait,” or “It has to be divided and surveyed”—in other words, nonsense.

          Don't think this whole demolition business began just now. For example, periodically they'd say they had to tear up our foundations, because of dangerous underground gas pipes. In actuality, there was no gas. It had been cut off back in 2005. MosGaz took us to court. They lost, but they didn't give up.

          One time, I passed by one of our stores on my way to the countryside. I look, and there's the whole MosGaz team with Oleg Mitvol, the Prefect for the entire Moscow northern district. In front of the store they'd already dug a hole, and before it stood the CEO of MosGaz himself, Hasan Gasangadzhiev. He says there's a gas leak, and now they're going to knock down our stores. And all the while he's standing there, smoking a cigarette over the hole. I tell him, “What's wrong with you, Mr. Gasangadzhiev? Standing there and smoking! You're going to blow this place all to hell!” He immediately put out the cigarette. Then I tell them they're all lying. What gas when there isn't even any close by? Then all hell breaks loose, with everyone yelling like crazy. They even roughed me up a bit. “We'll tear you down with tanks!” Mitvol said. Then they left.

          They kept up the pressure. Checks and verifications—if it wasn't one thing, it was another. They took us to court again. They wanted to remove us from the land, because of “public needs.” At one point, we won the case, but then the Court of Appeals overturned the decision. We're the only ones in Moscow, with our poor little stores, to reach the Supreme Arbitration Court.

          Over and over again, I was harassed by riot police and the security guards at the tunnel construction site. All told, litigation over our shopping complex lasted five years. We brought in piles of permits. Everyone was exhausted. Just as Sergei Sobyanin took his post as the new mayor of Moscow, they acknowledged the legality of our stores. We had proof that our stores and the ground beneath them were a fixed shopping complex. But we aren't idiots. In Moscow, we know, even if it's a federal highway, they'll try to build it like it's some kind of shanty development. Our land lease was extended for another twenty years.

          Then, a short time ago, one of the owners from a neighboring stores received this notice on an A4 sheet of paper. It read, “To the Owner: In connection to resolution such-and-such, your premises will be demolished. You have until January 23, 2016.” It said it was from the Moscow Real Estate Control Inspectorate. That's it. No official stamp, no signature. To whom could we go with this? Which court?

          On February 8, rumors reached me that somewhere, someone's store was going to be torn down. That morning, I began calling this real estate inspectorate and asked, “Are you or are you not going to knock down our stores? Do we need to take our stock out from the stores or can we leave it there? How is it that you don't know and I have your notice right here in my hand. It says ‘call us if you have any questions.’” They said they'd speak to management. The management knew nothing of it. So, I called the municipal prefecture, and they also knew nothing about it.

          In the end, they came during the night to demolish the place—with the goods and the employees still inside. The stores were fully stocked. It was like a punch in the kidneys. One of my tenants, Dmitry Kabanov, pleaded with them to give him at least 30 minutes to remove all his supplies. In the end, police twisted his arm behind his back and arrested him under article 319 (insulting a member of the authorities).

          In terms of any kind of compensation, I have no idea. So far, no one has given us anything. All I do know is that those buildings mortgaged for 330 million rubles [$4.14 million]. Sure, give me 330 million, and I'll demolish those buildings myself. I can even forget your name if you want, too. Give me at least 300, and okay, here, have 30, go grab yourself an ice cream.

          It's highway robbery! They're worse than criminals. I have worked at the Sokol station for 30 years, and not even in the 1990s did I see anything like this. They tore it all down, took everything away, and yes they even beat us.
          https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/02...y-even-beat-us

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          • No, Russia’s former prime minister wasn’t attacked with 9,000 eggs Meanwhile in Russia, on Thursday, February 11, 2016
            MEDUZA 10:37, 11 February 2016

            --Contrary to earlier reports, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is not the Egg Man, though some ultra-nationalists (including one dressed as a clown) did get up in his grill.
            ---Anti-Corruption activist Alexey Navalny is suing President Putin and demanding that Moscow's mayor prove the legality of demolishing roughly 100 small businesses throughout the city.
            ---The Kremlin supports the demolition of Moscow's “sleazy” makeshift mini-malls, but the guys who owned those shops aren't going gentle into that good night.
            ---President Putin has fired a top-ranking cop in Chechnya.
            ---Those hospitals in Aleppo that the Pentagon says Russia bombed? Moscow says the US did it.

            No, Russia's former prime minister wasn't attacked with 9,000 eggs

            There's confusion today about another scuffle involving former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who heads the opposition party Parnas. Earlier this week, a group of Chechen men attacked Kasyanov in a restaurant, throwing a cake at his head. Today, the news agency TASS reported that Kasyanov was hit with “several dozen eggs.”

            According to figures from Parnas, activists from the ultra-nationalist People's Liberation Movement picketed Kasyanov's press conference today, but he wasn't hit with any eggs. Video from the scene doesn't show him encountering any eggs, chickens, or dairy farmers, though one man dressed as a clown did try to get up close. (Security guards said nope.)

            There were no eggs in the latest Kasyanov assault, but Alexey Navalny's got huevos to spare

            Russia's anti-corruption crusader, Alexey Navalny, is in the news again today. His group, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, is suing President Putin for failing to report a conflict of interest when he allocated money from the National Wealth Fund to a company called “Sibur,” whose shareholders include Kirill Shamalov, who is reportedly the husband of Katerina Tikhonova, allegedly Putin's younger daughter. (Putin has refused to confirm or deny this information.) According to Navalny, Putin violated laws against corruption when he sent government funding to Shamalov's business. When Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman, was asked if Putin knows about the lawsuit, Peskov answered only, “No.”

            Navalny is also calling on Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to publish documents proving that the city got advance confirmation from law enforcement that roughly a hundred small businesses recently demolished outside metro stations were, in fact, constructed illegally. Sobyanin stated publicly that the businesses now in ruins were protected only by “papers obtained by clearly fraudulent means.” Navalny says police documentation must exist confirming this fraud, if it's what justified Sobyanin's decision to let loose the bulldozers. (The demolitions took place at multiple metro stations, including Kropotkinskaya, Chistye Prudy, Sokol, Taganskaya, and others.)

            Moscow's ‘sleazebags’ want compensation
            The Kremlin has already signaled its support for Sobyanin's decision to move against the “mini-malls” built around Moscow's metro stations. Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff, told reporters that the businesses were constructed with only temporary permits, saying they were an affront to good architecture and “aesthetics.” He also called the now-destroyed stores “sleazy.” Ivanov suggests building nothing in their place, saying open spaces will better suit the city.

            According to Alexey Petropolsky, a member of an organization representing small- and medium-sized business-owners, nearly all the recently expropriated shop owners are planning to sue the city for compensation. Petropolsky says the lawsuits will demand $10,000 for every square meter of demolished property.

            Putin fires a top-ranking police official in Chechnya

            Vladimir Putin fired the head of the Investigative Committee's Chechen branch today. The executive order didn't specify a reason. Sergei Devyatov had served in the role since 2014.

            In April 2015, Russia's Federal Investigative Committee began a probe of Chechen investigators for opening a criminal case against Stavropol law enforcement, following a police raid in Grozny that set off a jurisdictional feud between Chechen and federal authorities that nearly led to bloodshed between police. The Investigative Committee later dropped the probe.

            Russia blames the US for bombing hospitals in Aleppo

            Russia's Defense Ministry has accused the US military of bombing the Syrian city of Aleppo and blaming it on Moscow. Igor Konashenkov, the Defense Ministry's spokesman, says two American attack planes took off from air bases in Turkey and bombed targets in Aleppo on Wednesday, February 10. Afterwards, he says, the Pentagon attributed this attack (which hit two hospitals) to Russian planes.

            “Russian aircraft weren't operating over Aleppo yesterday,” Konashenkov claimed. “Our closest target was 20 kilometers [12.5 miles] from the city. The only planes active over the city yesterday were the aircraft of the so-called anti-ISIS coalition: warplanes and attack drones.” https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/02...ith-9-000-eggs
            ================
            Meduza - Every day we bring you the most important news and feature stories from hundreds of sources in Russia and across the former Soviet Union. Our team includes some of Russia’s top professionals in news and reporting. We value our independence and strive to be a reliable, trusted outlet for objective, verified, and unbiased information about Russia and the former Soviet Union, as well as a source for sharp insights about one of the world’s most enigmatic regions.






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            • Corruption in Ukraine - Dear friends
              Ukraine’s grace period for tackling cronyism may have run out
              Feb 13th 2016 | KIEV | THE ECONOMIST

              IN TSARSKOE SELO (“Tsar’s Village”), a smart district in Kiev, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, owns a swathe of desirable land. Across the street sits a sprawling compound belonging to Ihor Kononenko, the president’s friend and deputy head of his parliamentary faction. The two men met during their Soviet army service. After Ukraine gained independence they rose together in business and politics. Last week Ukraine’s economy minister, Aivaras Abromavicius, resigned, accusing Mr Kononenko of obstructing reform. Mr Abromavicius said he refused to cover for officials who, “very much like the old government, are trying to exercise control over the flow of public funds”.

              Ukraine’s Maidan revolution was supposed to roll back corruption and cronyism. Mr Abromavicius, a Lithuanian-born investment banker, was one of several foreigners invited into government to change the old ways. He ran up against vested interests in the circles of both the president and the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk (pictured, being uncomfortably hoisted during a brawl in parliament). Mr Abromavicius is the second economy minister since the revolution to quit for similar reasons, and the fifth minister to resign from the current government. Western ambassadors lamented his departure. In unusually blunt language, Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), threatened an end to Ukraine’s $18 billion bail-out programme “without a substantial new effort to invigorate governance reforms and fight corruption”. Following Ms Lagarde’s comments, Mr Poroshenko pledged to do more.

              Yuri Lutsenko, the head of Mr Poroshenko’s parliamentary bloc, says the country now faces a “full-blown political crisis”. A cabinet shake-up is inevitable. A collapse of the ruling coalition and early parliamentary elections look increasingly likely. Ukraine’s Western allies argue that elections would be destabilising and open the door to radicals and populists. Yet an exasperated public may demand them. At stake is Ukraine’s chance of moving past its history of post-Soviet misrule.

              Mr Abromavicius’s problems mounted last year after his ministry was given control over Naftogaz, the state gas firm, and the power to appoint chief executives at the 60 top state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Ukraine’s SOEs exemplify the crooked relationship between business and government: interest groups in parliament install “loyal” managers who funnel cash to oligarchs and political parties. Mr Abromavicius says he was pressured to let these appointments go through. His security detail was abruptly cut off for several weeks. The “tipping point” came when Mr Kononenko demanded that he appoint a crony as his deputy minister. (Mr Kononenko declined to comment.)

              Figures like Mr Kononenko abound in Ukraine’s parliament; locals call them “grey cardinals” or lyubi druzi (“dear friends”). The lines between friends, business partners, relatives and political allies are blurred, says Mr Abromavicius, and reforms have stalled. “It’s not a technical problem, it’s a political problem,” says one foreign adviser to the government.

              Dissatisfaction with the country’s direction is rising and trust in the authorities is falling (see chart). Not a single government institution has a positive trust rating, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. Investors are worried, says Tomas Fiala, the head of Dragon Capital, Ukraine’s largest investment bank. Bond yields have spiked in the past week.

              On February 16th Mr Yatsenyuk is set to present his yearly progress report to parliament. A vote of no confidence may follow. Political stakeholders have been scrambling to prepare. Mr Poroshenko summoned the ambassadors of the G7 nations for a meeting, hoping to regain their trust. Mr Yatsenyuk gathered his cabinet to push for a last-ditch attempt at unity. Young reform-minded deputies are holding cross-party strategy sessions. The central bank chief summoned the heads of the top 40 banks for a dour meeting earlier this week. Western diplomats have been urging calm, concerned that instability could derail both Ukraine’s reforms and the Minsk peace process. Sensing weakness in Kiev, the Kremlin may be rocking the boat: last week saw an uptick in ceasefire violations and snap drills by the Russian army along the border with Ukraine.

              The crucial question is the fate of Mr Yatsenyuk, who is reviled but controls a large faction in parliament. Although he and Mr Poroshenko are partners in public, insiders say the president wants the prime minister out. About 70% of Ukrainians also want Mr Yatsenyuk gone, but there is no consensus on who should take his place. The American-born finance minister, Natalie Yaresko, is favoured by some reformers, including Mr Abromavicius, yet she has expressed no interest. Two old hands, Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, and Mikheil Saakashvili, the ex-president of Georgia who is now governor of the Odessa region, do have designs on Mr Yatsenyuk’s seat.

              There is a circular quality to Ukraine’s reforms. Mr Poroshenko was among the lyubi druzi of a previous president, Viktor Yushschenko, after the 2004 Orange Revolution. This time, many had hoped that real work on reforms would begin after local elections last autumn. The opposite has proved true. Mr Yatsenyuk has focused on saving his job, despite approval ratings in single digits. Mr Poroshenko, facing a backlash over his support for an incompetent prosecutor general, has seen his credibility steadily eroded. For some activists his failure to demand Mr Kononenko’s resignation is the last straw. “R.I.P. Poroshenko,” says Daria Kaleniuk, the head of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre. “He’s digging a political grave for himself and for the country.”
              Dear friends | The Economist

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              • Paranoia and Purges: The Dark and Dirty Battle for Power in Rebel-Held Ukraine
                VICE Jack Losh 2016 February 10

                In exclusive interviews with commanders, VICE News reveals the extrajudicial killings and atmosphere of Soviet-style paranoia that have subsumed the rebel-held areas in Ukraine.
                ----------------------------------------
                The rebel commander had been married for less than 24 hours before the car bomb exploded. Pavel Dryomov, one of the most prominent, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, was celebrating his wedding in the rebel-held town of Stakhanov with his new wife and a colorful array of guests, including men drawn from the ranks of his own Cossack militia. A former bricklayer in his late 30s, the outspoken commander appeared to have finally made peace with his notional superiors in the rebel leadership; the nearby stretch of the front was relatively quiet and an upcoming Christmas truce promised to calm hostilities further. There seemed no better time for a celebration.

                On the morning of December 12, Dryomov and his driver left the all-night wedding party in Stakhanov to head northwes­t to the devastated frontline town of Pervomaisk. In a wintry corner of Ukraine's rebel heartland, the potholed highway carved through rolling, snow-covered steppe beneath a horizon stained by the occasional smokestack and a pair of industrial behemoths – a coke furnace and vast steel works. With frontline trenches invisible at this distance, any traveler would be forgiven for thinking that peace had finally returned to this swathe of Ukraine's eastern rustbelt.

                But Dryomov would never reach his destination. A bomb hidden in his vehicle was detonated as he approached the town's outer limits. The explosion killed him on the spot; his driver died on the way to hospital.

                The assassination was the latest in a string of bloody murders of maverick rebel commanders in Ukraine's restive east, fuelling fears among senior separatist ranks of further purges. Rival factions are jostling for power as two opposing camps in the rebels' self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) struggle to consolidate their rule. In exclusive interviews with VICE News, against a disturbing backdrop of Soviet-style paranoia, illegal detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings, rebel military chiefs and well-placed sources in the regime have spoken of their profound sense of unease — and their fears about who could be next.

                In many ways, Dryomov's demise was a death foretold. It was no secret that the outspoken field commander loathed LNR's Moscow-anointed leadership. The Soviet idealist — some would say warlord — took regular swipes at his superiors and had envisioned building his own neo-socialist "Cossack" republic centered in the depressed mining town of Stakhanov. His units of Don Cossacks — a martial tribe whose medieval forebears fled serfdom to live as free men on the frontiers of imperial Russia — were among the most outspoken militias in their opposition against the LNR's ruling authorities.

                n a coarse, rambling video posted on YouTube last winter, Dryomov claimed to possess digital files which allegedly proved corrupt links between organized crime networks and Igor Plotnitsky, the LNR's authoritarian leader. He had gambled on the hope that the contents of this flashcard would serve him as collateral. If he were targeted, he warned, the information would be sent "to every computer server in the world." In the words of a high-level source in the SBU (Ukraine's security service): "Dryomov was neither a comfortable figure for Plotnitsky nor Russian security forces."

                However in recent months Dryomov's barbed criticisms had softened after he made peace with Plotnitsky, at least publicly. This truce had no doubt been prompted, in part, by a suspicious pattern of events. He was well aware of the fate of other independent rebel warlords who had refused to submit to LNR's central leadership. They now lay six feet under, permanently silenced.

                'This is not the first murder in the LNR of commanders who have distinguished themselves by the independence of their views'

                There was Prapor, a pro-Russia, Cossack leader who was killed during an operation by the LNR authorities to disarm his independent militia. Alexander Bednov, a well-known field commander who went by the nom de guerre "Batman," died under suspicious circumstances on New Year's Day, 2015. That same month, Yevgeny Ishchenko — one of Dryomov's allies and the former "people's mayor" of Pervomaisk, the frontline town held by Cossack rebels — threatened to "turn his weapons in the opposite direction," a blatant declaration of his hostility to Plotnitsky's regime. A few weeks later, he was dead.

                Perhaps the most high-profile figure to be eliminated in this bloody process of streamlining was Aleksey Mozgovoy, the founder of the pro-Russia "Ghost Brigade." This ruthless commander, known for his love of poetry and distrust of Plotnitsky, showed a diehard devotion to the dream of building a pan-Slavic "Novorossiya" (a historical term, now denoting the loose confederation of rebel-held territory). He was building his own legend, his own fiefdom. And then, in May, he was dead. A roadside ambush of mines and machine-guns killed him, along with six others.

                Officially, the LNR authorities blamed subversive Ukrainian groups for the string of mysterious deaths. Privately, many here feel the enemy is closer to home. In the wake of Dryomov's murder, Plotnitsky reportedly outlawed all public meetings of the slain commander's Cossack militants.

                In an uncharacteristically provocative piece in December, Russia's official armed forces daily wrote: "Independent observers note this is not the first murder in the LNR of commanders who have distinguished themselves by the independence of their views."

                That same month, Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an influential, pro-separatist activist and blogger, alleged that responsibility lay even higher than the LNR. Senior separatists, he wrote, "cannot take that level of decision" — a thinly-veiled allegation of Moscow's involvement in Dryomov's death. Amid indications that the Kremlin is serious about de-escalation, rebel field commanders who resist any rapprochement with Ukraine are put out of commission.

                Plotnitsky is becoming paranoid.... I could be next'

                Now, senior paramilitary figures operating around Luhansk fear they will be next to slip into the crosshairs. Alexey Markov rose to the position of second-in-command in the Ghost Brigade after Mozgovoy's murder. He told VICE News that he was "confident" the LNR leadership had no hand in Dryomov's murder, instead blaming "criminal elements or Ukrainian saboteurs."

                "We are really sad to lose our friend and comrade but we try not make hasty assumptions," Markov said, adding: "Anyway, we are the last independent division, and we know who can be next."

                The leader of another paramilitary group, who spoke to VICE News on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, accused the LNR leadership of succumbing to increasing paranoia and said that his unit had come under pressure to disarm. "We are valued by the people but the situation can change at any moment," he said. "Plotnitsky is becoming paranoid and could label us an unofficial terrorist organization. I could be next after Dryomov."

                In the wake of December's hit on the Cossack rebel commander, the LNR said it would launch an investigation, understood to be a joint inquiry between the Luhansk prosecutor's office and the local police force in Stakhanov. The mysterious assassination of Mozgovoy had resulted in a similar probe, though many doubt that the investigation will ever be concluded, let alone have its sensitive findings made public. Similar reservations linger in the aftermath of Dryomov's death.

                'He will only pay tribute to their shadows'

                A source inside the LNR's internal affairs ministry dismissed the rebels' investigation as "bogus." "No one honestly expects to get an answer," said the source, who asked not to be named. "Officially, the suspects range from Ukrainian special ops personnel to criminal groups in Stakhanov. They could even be connected with an inner Cossack struggle. But make your own mind up: who is the most paranoid about losing his throne in LNR? Our leader will trot out all the right words but the investigation will be a whitewash."

                A second, mid-level source inside the LNR's security service gave an even more scathing appraisal. "Plotnitsky has no need for charismatic military leaders," the source told VICE News. "He will only pay tribute to their shadows."

                The LNR increasingly bears the hallmarks of an authoritarian surveillance-state. A purportedly official document circulating on Russian social media named suspected dissidents within the LNR. (Although it remains unsubstantiated, separate rebel sources later told VICE News that the internal report was genuine and said that two officials had been fired for leaking it.) Alongside each individual's name and job, were two notes: firstly, how they could undermine the regime, and secondly, how to "minimize" the threat they posed.

                The text simply read: 'Exceptional force''>>>>>>>>>

                continue read
                https://news.vice.com/article/parano...l-held-ukraine

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                • RADIO FREE EUROPE Steve Gutterman Feb 12, 2016
                  News Analysis: Putin Pulls Levers As Russian Patriarch, PM Head Abroad

                  With the Russian patriarch and prime minister both holding big meetings abroad, this weekend presents a chance for President Vladimir Putin to soothe a world still stunned by Moscow's aggression in Ukraine and dismayed by its bombing campaign in Syria.

                  Russian Orthodox Church chief Kirill holds historic talks with Pope Francis at the airport in Havana, Cuba, on February 12, the first such meeting since Christendom split in two more than 1,000 years ago.

                  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will speak at the annual Munich Security Conference on February 12-14 -- the same forum at which Putin ripped into Washington and the West in a 2007 address that set the tone for years of discord.

                  Facing deep economic troubles and persistent Western sanctions, Putin may be looking for ways to alleviate Russia's isolation.

                  But will he use the high-profile meetings of two top allies to build real bridges, or to execute tactical moves in a mounting confrontation with the United States and Europe?

                  Signs point to something far short of the first and closer to the second: an effort to improve Russia's global image and score points with the West without giving ground on the gritty issues of Syria and Ukraine -- or even the deep-rooted disputes between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.

                  The clearest of those signs, perhaps, is the fact that Putin is not attending the security conference.

                  "I will not come to Munich," he said bluntly in an interview with German tabloid Bild last month.

                  Why not?

                  It would seem like an opportune time for Putin to pitch for a thaw in ties with the West, or at least make a case for two things he wants: relief from sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union over Russia's role in the war that has killed more than 9,000 people in eastern Ukraine, and an end to criticism of its bombing campaign in Syria.

                  Putin Steers Clear

                  But there are at least two potential motives behinds the decision by Putin, who has not attended the Munich Security Conference since his jolting 2007 appearance, to give it a miss once again.

                  One is the apparent animus between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose opposition to Russia's interference in Ukraine was by all accounts tougher than the Kremlin expected and dashed Moscow's hopes for a muted Western response.

                  Merkel, whose position at home has been weakened by an influx of refugees now aggravated by Russian air strikes in Syria, said in February 8 that she was "not just appalled but horrified" by the suffering caused by the bombing in Syria, primarily by Russia.

                  For the time being, Germany is enemy territory for Putin.

                  But the main reason that Putin is not going to Munich may be that he just doesn't think he needs to.

                  He seems to have the upper hand in Syria at the moment, and may believe he'll get it soon in Ukraine.

                  Russia's stepped-up military campaign appears to have reshaped the five-year war in Syria,bringing President Bashar al-Assad's government back from the brink of battlefield defeat and increasing the chances that if a resolution is achieved, it will suit the Kremlin.

                  Russia is facing growing criticism over civilian casualties in Syria and risks becoming mired in a long and costly conflict with repercussions for its own large Muslim minority. But for now, Putin seems confident he is winning what many see as a proxy war with the United States.

                  In a bid to put pressure on Washington ahead of the conference and a February 11 meeting in Munich on Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had proposed a "concrete plan" to end the conflict and expressed hope the United States would not dawdle with a response.

                  In eastern Ukraine, a fragile cease-fire is turning the war between government forces and Russia-backed separatists into a frozen conflict that is a constant threat to the country's unity and economic health.

                  Medvedev In Munich

                  Russia has not achieved what many analysts believe is a chief goal: a say for the separatists in Ukrainian foreign policy decisions, which would in effect mean a Russian veto on NATO and EU membership for Kyiv.

                  But with cracks appearing in European unity and increasing frustration in the West over the slow pace of reforms in Ukraine, Putin has grounds to hope that this year will bring an end to many of the economic sanctions on Russia -- or even the collapse of the government in Kyiv.

                  Instead of going to the Munich Security Conference himself, Putin is sending both Lavrov and Medvedev, the pliant protege who helped mend ties with the West while keeping the presidential seat warm in 2008-12.

                  Putin could be hoping for a similar effect from Medvedev in Munich. Alternatively, he may use Medvedev as a mere messenger, tasked with delivering a version of Putin's own stern words and absorbing whatever criticism comes his way.

                  Whether the prime minister lays into the West or appeals for understanding, any message Putin wants to send is undermined if delivered by Medvedev because of his image as an underling with no real clout.

                  Ahead of the Munich meeting, Moscow set about playing down its significance. Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of Russia's upper parliament house, said she does not expect a "breakthrough" and blamed the West in advance.

                  "Regrettably, we do not see reasonable ideas coming from the West," she said on February 10.

                  Kirill The 'Courier'

                  The Munich Security Conference starts the same day that Patriarch Kirill is set to meet Pope Francis at the Havana airport.

                  It will be the first meeting since the Christian world split in the Great Schism of 1054 between the heads of the Catholic Church and what is now the largest church in Eastern Orthodoxy.

                  A meeting with the Moscow patriarch had eluded Francis's two most recent predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with the Russian church frequently saying longstanding disputes -- over property in Ukraine and Russian Orthodox accusations that the Catholic Church has poached members of its flock, among other issues -- must be resolved before it could happen.

                  Many Russians believe the decision to meet the pope now is not the result of a change of heart by Kirill, but of a pragmatic calculation by Putin.

                  "It's a good sign, but it's obvious that the Russian state is seeking lines of communication with the West, and the patriarch is a courier," Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, said on the air on February 6. Kirill's job, he said, is to tell the pope that "Western European leaders" can communicate with Russia through him.

                  Kirill has strongly supported Putin at home in Russia, even offering crystal-clear backing in the 2012 election that returned him to the Kremlin.

                  That record has led to suspicions that Putin may see the historic meeting as a chance to paint Russia in a positive light -- as a proponent of peace, moral rectitude, and global religious unity -- at a time when it is under fire over its actions from the takeover of Crimea to what critics say is an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has killed large numbers of Syrian civilians.
                  News Analysis: Putin Pulls Levers As Russian Patriarch, PM Head Abroad

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                  • RADIO FREE EUROPE February 12, 2016
                    Biden Urges Poroshenko To Quickly Establish Unified Government

                    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has urged Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to quickly reestablish a unified government and carry out reforms sought by the West.

                    The need to move quickly to quell a political crisis in the wake of the resignation last week of Ukrainian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, who cited corruption within the government, was discussed in a phone call between the two leaders on February 11, the White House said.

                    The conversation came one day after Poroshenko talked with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde and assured her that he remains committed to economic reform and rooting out corruption despite Abromavicius's charges.

                    Lagarde had warned that Ukraine's $17.5 billion loan program was at risk unless the government proceeds with reforms linked to the financial aid.

                    "The vice president urged the governing coalition to quickly establish unity to allow Ukraine
                    to move forward with reforms, in line with the commitments in its IMF program," the White House said.

                    Biden and Poroshenko also discussed an uptick in violence in eastern Urkaine and "expressed serious concern about the worsening security situation" there, it said. Biden Urges Poroshenko To Quickly Establish Unified Government

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                    • RADIO FREE EUROPE Tom Balmforth February 12, 2016
                      Russian Media See NATO 'Beachhead' Near Russia’s Borders

                      MOSCOW -- NATO’s insistence that it is a defensive alliance has always received short shrift in Russia. So when the alliance approved plans to deter Russian aggression by bolstering its eastern flank, the icy reaction of the Russian media came as no surprise.

                      The tone of the outrage varied greatly, but the opposition was largely uniform across mainstream TV, radio, and print media after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that a multinational NATO force will be rotated through the countries of Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression.

                      Pro-Kremlin news and commentary website Vzglyad cast the plans as the building blocks of a NATO “beachhead” on Russia’s doorstep that would “fracture the foundations” of European security.

                      Vzglyad characterized NATO’s announcement of rotations and regular exercises -- rather than a permanent base -- as a “sneaky” way to get around a promise, in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, to defend itself without “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” near Russia “in the current and foreseeable security environment.”

                      “The tactic of ‘getting around’ rather than once and for all tearing up [the Founding Act] is most likely being conducted because of pressure from a range of Western European countries, primarily Germany, which are not interested in unnecessarily provoking a Russian response,” Vzglyad wrote.

                      The tone on TV, radio, and social media was more vitriolic.

                      And state TV tried to turn NATO’s assurances that it poses no threat to Russia on their head, calling any notion of Russian aggression a "myth."

                      “The NATO secretary-general is in no hurry to ease relations,” watchers of the Vesti evening news program were told on February 10, not long after Stoltenberg spoke. “On the contrary, while frightening the world about the myth of Russian aggression, he intends to increase the military presence in Eastern Europe.”

                      The number of troops to be involved in the NATO exercises will be decided at an alliance summit in Warsaw in June. The plans may help allay fears, particularly among NATO's easternmost member states, sparked by Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea and its backing for separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies it has sent regular troops into eastern Ukraine, despite mounting evidence.

                      Aleksei Pushkov, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, took the idea of NATO promulgating the "myth" of a Russian threat to social media.

                      “The NATO secretary-general says that the alliance is not going to fight [Islamic State]. Understood. That’s not NATO’s role. Its main task is confrontation with Russia amid commotion over the Russian threat.”

                      Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova opined that Brussels had dreamed up the Russian threat to make itself feel better after proving unable to resist Islamist militants on the continent.

                      “Take a look at the terrorist attacks in Paris, for instance. Did NATO fall on the grenade to protect everyone from the terrorists? No, of course not, because it is not capable of this,” Zakharova said in comments carried by the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper on February 10.

                      Newspapers including the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda latched onto a comment from Ruslan Balbek, a member of the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, who said NATO's deployment plans were a blatant psychological test of Russia’s resilience.

                      “NATO has dropped its sheep’s clothing and intends to rattle the saber. But nobody has ever succeeded in scaring Russia, and nobody will ever succeed,” he said.

                      Igor Korotchenko, the pro-Kremlin editor in chief of National Defense magazine, hit the airwaves to accuse NATO of gearing up for war on Russia.

                      He told Vesti FM listeners that NATO is “working on real plans to conduct military action against Russia in the European theater of military activity.”

                      “This would seem completely unthinkable in the context of the 21st century, in the context of a global world. But unfortunately this is the reality. And we need to take these realities into account,” Korotchenko said.

                      He was clear on how the Kremlin should respond.

                      “We must understand that the only guarantee that the U.S. and NATO plans do not become reality is an increase in the readiness of the armed forces, the work of the military industrial complex, and of course the development of our strategic nuclear forces that are the guarantee against large-scale aggression against our country.” http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-...-/27545935.htm

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                      • The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore February 09, 2016
                        The Daily Vertical: Putin Smells Blood
                        The Daily Vertical: Putin Smells Blood

                        The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore February 11, 2016
                        The Daily Vertical: Time For A Little Reality Check
                        The Daily Vertical: Time For A Little Reality Check

                        The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore February 11, 2016
                        The Daily Vertical: It's More Than Just Cake
                        The Daily Vertical: It's More Than Just Cake

                        The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore February 12, 2016
                        The Daily Vertical: From Minsk To Munich: Here We Go Again
                        The Daily Vertical: From Minsk To Munich: Here We Go Again

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                        • Imitation Games
                          12.02.2016 | 20:30 UNIAN Tatiana Urbanskaya

                          It’s been several months since the politicians first considered the need to express no-confidence in the Ukrainian Cabinet and finally dismiss the "Kamikaze" Government. And every time when the D-Day approached, some new reasons emerged to postpone the move. Today, ahead of the government’s public annual report scheduled for February 16, Ukraine is a witness to another imitation of the expression of non-confidence in the current composition of the Cabinet.

                          Actually, the Rada could have dismissed Yatsenyuk and Co. back in December 2015, after the first year of the Cabinet’s work was over. That was the first time the government formally lost its immunity status, and the reason for dismissal could be the failure to implement the reforms stipulated in the coalition agreement and the government's action plan. However, given the unstable coalition and not enough votes for the dismissal of the Cabinet, the issue didn’t even make the agenda of the Verkhovna Rada.

                          At the beginning of 2016, the discussions on how to get rid of the Cabinet regained momentum. Three parliamentary factions – the Coalition’s Samopomich and the Batkivshchyna, as well as the Radical Party which had earlier quit the Rada’s majority, have all refused to support the Yatsenyuk-led Cabinet and the “kamikaze” premier in particular.

                          In turn, the prime minister himself last week has proposed the MPs "to submit to the parliament a resolution of non-confidence in the Cabinet." However, despite massive dissatisfaction with the government, the motion to register such draft resolution has only gained 100 votes of the needed 150.

                          Even if the draft is registered before February 16 and put on the agenda, there will still be no automatic dismissal of the Cabinet. The thing is that, upon the Rada’s request, the government has on time submitted to parliament its annual report, and the ministers have agreed to report publicly. Moreover, on February 10, the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Economic Policy, headed by "a premier’s friend” Andriy Ivanchuk, took note of this report. "Had a conclusion been negative, there would have been an automatic vote for the Cabinet’s dismissal next Tuesday... But things didn’t work as we hoped," one of the Samopomich MPs said.

                          Anyway, either it will be an “automatic vote,” or the result of the resolution of non-confidence, the Ukrainians can count on a new show in the Rada. Bidding for seats in the reformatted “kamikaze-3” government will certainly provoke, if not a red-herring fight, then a demarche of a larger part of the coalition majority. The inevitable result will be the lack of votes for the dismissal of Yatsenyuk and his team.

                          he statement by First Vice-Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy supports this opinion. The official noted that the parliament will not see 226 votes for the resignation of the government, and "there is no vision of who will be working next, and how to select a new government."

                          n other words, the most we can expect is the coalition members crossing swords on the issue of filling the vacant positions in the Cabinet, and nothing more than that.

                          The vote for the resignation, even if it’s held, will be a failure. Meanwhile, the renewed “kamikaze-3” government led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk will enjoy a new immunity status until the end of the current parliamentary session, as the motion of Cabinet dismissal cannot be put to a vote twice during the same session, according to the existing regulations...

                          Thus, until autumn, the renewed government will continue imitating unity and understanding, while the Verkhovna Rada will be imitating persistent work in the framework of the coalition, and, in principle, its existence thereof. And the president will be imitating control over these processes. And all of them in general will be imitating “bold reforms” in anticipation of the disastrous snap elections. Imitation Games : UNIAN news

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                          • Ukrainian activists launch blockade of Russian trucks, following Poland and Turkey
                            2016/02/12 EUROMAIDAN PRESS

                            An termless blockade of Russian trucks heading to the EU starts in Zakarpattia Oblast, Western Ukraine.

                            The action was organized by local war veterans, volunteers, and activists, the local portal Mukachevo.net reports. It comes following Poland and Turkey closing their borders to Russian trucks.

                            The freight transport with Russian car plate numbers has stopped at the entrance to the Nyzhni Vorota village. A part of the trucks turns around and heads back. Some drivers stay to see what happens next.

                            “We won’t give up our positions until Russia is acknowledged as an aggressor country, is banned from placing its business on Ukrainian land, and until our authorities won’t stop trade with Russia,” the activists claim.

                            Poland hasn’t prolonged its international agreements with Russia regarding transit of trucks. The talks have been ongoing since 1 February. Turkey’s agreements with Russia also expired on 1 February as well and haven’t been prolonged yet.

                            According to Ukrainian media that refer to the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine, this resulted in threefold increase of Russia’s freight traffic through Ukraine’s territory. Ukrainian activists launch blockade of Russian trucks, following Poland and Turkey -Euromaidan Press |

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                            • 12 months of Minsk-2. Examining a year of violations
                              2016/02/13 EUROMAIDAN PRESS

                              On 13 February 2016, the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia will once again meet to discuss the peace deal that was supposed to be a political resolution for an undeclared war in East Ukraine, but is now being considered as a “recipe for catastrophe” by Ukrainian analysts. We take a look at what 12 months of Minsk have brought Ukraine and what issues will be debated in Munich with the help of an independent report of Ukrainian experts produced by the International Renaissance Foundation.
                              --------------------------------------------------------------

                              A bit of history. Minsk-1 and Minsk-2

                              “Minsk agreements” is a common name for a package of documents adopted in September 2014 and February 2015.

                              There’s Minsk-1: the Protocol on the results of the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia, OSCE with participation of the separatist leaders) adopted on 5 September 2014 and the Memorandum dated 19 September 2014. provisions on establishing a cease-fire, withdrawal of the heavy weapons, withdrawal of the illegal combatants, prohibition for drones except those owned by the OSCE etc.

                              Then there’s Minsk-2. Since Minsk-1 was violated many times by the combined Russian-separatist forces, on 12 February 2015 the Minsk-2 agreements were signed by the Trilateral Group representatives (Ukraine, Russia, and OSCE) and leaders of the separatists. Minsk-2 was an extension of Minsk-1, its content was developed by the “Normandy Four”- leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. In a contradictory and complicated way, it outlined the ceasefire, exchange of prisoners, withdrawal of troops and illegal formations from Ukraine. It was supported by the US, EU, and UNSC.

                              Normandy format talks in Minsk (February 2015): Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko take part in the talks on a settlement to the situation in Ukraine. By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/inde...curid=38345346

                              Despite the few steps made forward, the main clauses were systematically violated over one year of the agreement in place.

                              Here is how the clauses of Minsk-2 were respected by both sides over the last year.

                              Ukrainian concerns and actions---------------Russian-separatist concerns and actions

                              1. A immediate and comprehensive ceasefire shall be established on 15 February 2015.

                              This clause of the Minsk agreement was violated by the Russian-backed separatists at the moment it was signed and remained to be the most violated over the year. Russia tried to postpone the date of the cease-fire initiation after the Minsk agreement of 11-12 February 2015, waiting for the final results of the battles near Debaltseve. But even though the date was agreed on 15 February, the fighting continued till 20 February. Ukrainian positions continued to be shelled with heavy weapons up to the end of August 2015; only when Russia started preparing for the military operation in Syria did the fighting decrease for a short period. It is increasing again in the first months of 2016.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> continue read: 12 months of Minsk-2. Examining a year of violations -Euromaidan Press |

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                              • When a Russian Orthodox diocese couldn’t pay back its debt, it settled in court to ‘pray it back’ MEDUZA 08:42, 12 February 2016Последние новости права *оссии, Санкт-Петербурга и Москвы за сегодня

                                The Nizhny Novgorod Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church has agreed to pray for the health of employees at a contractor company, in order to settle an outstanding debt. The settlement was formally concluded in a local arbitration court.

                                According to court documents, the diocese previously signed a contract with the “Era” company to complete certain design work, but the church only paid half of the bill. The company then brought the matter to court, demanding payment of the remaining 500,000 rubles ($6,300), but both sides were able to reach an amicable agreement before the trial began: the church would pay back another 200,000 rubles ($2,500), and it would pray for the health of the company's general director and sales manager.

                                According to the website Petersburg Legal Portal, this is the first time in Russian legal history that prayers have been made a condition of a court settlement. The site also points out that there's no way to supervise the offering of prayers, though the court is legally mandated to verify that both sides of the settlement meet their obligations.

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