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  • ATLANTIC COUNCIL Vladislav Davidzon September 14, 2016
    Culture Under Threat: Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra as Case Study

    In the last two years, it has become routine to acknowledge that the Maidan revolution unleashed torrents of creative energy in Ukraine. Myriad articles have been written about the ferment of cultural activity taking place across every discipline. Yet classic cultural institutions and performing arts groups continue to face many of the same problems they have faced over the past twenty-five years. Overwhelming political and economic constraints aside, Ukraine has not systematically prioritized the promotion of its culture outside the borders of the nation as other advanced countries do.

    It is critical to remember that the Ukrainian state is constrained by budget shortfalls and an austerity plan mandated by the IMF. Eliminating corruption, reforming the judicial system, securing the border, and raising living standards for millions of people are certainly the highest priorities in the short term. But the human spirit cannot survive on security alone. In the long term, the transmission and reproduction of high culture is of utter importance and should be counted among the nation's highest priorities.

    The Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra is a fine institution and serves as a microcosm of the problems plaguing all of Ukraine’s elite performing arts institutions. While Ukraine’s cinema and modern art worlds face unique issues, all Ukrainian cultural institutions are constrained by similar problems: lack of capital, management issues, and systematic corruption.

    Led by American conductor Hobart Earle for the entirety of its twenty-five years of post-Soviet existence, the orchestra routinely functions at the highest levels on exceedingly limited resources. The first Ukrainian orchestra to cross the Atlantic and the Equator, it continues to tour the world and perform upwards of sixty-five concerts a year at home, continually producing original programming. Discerning observers of the Ukrainian cultural scene often judge the OPO to be among the premiere if not the singular performing arts institution in the whole country. No other orchestra in Ukraine routinely fields ten double basses on stage, as they did this past weekend for a virtuoso rendition of Alexander Scriabin’s third symphony.

    To Ukraine’s great credit, despite systematic financing issues, no national-level government-backed performing arts institution has folded since Ukraine’s independence day. However, Earle’s stewardship of a perennially underfunded orchestra is largely a testament to his administrative powers: it has survived this long without having been forced to make personnel cuts or having hemorrhaged staff. Ukraine’s federal budget does not provide for anything other than payroll, and like other cultural institutions, it is expected to make do and fend for itself. There are the occasional scares about budget cuts emanating from Kyiv; these are usually couched in the language of patriotism, calling for sacrifices in the name of defense.

    Like many other concert halls and museums in the country, Odesa’s Philharmonic Hall is in dire need of restoration and repair. In the 90s, Earle invited the renowned American acoustician Russell Johnson to appraise its quality. Johnson reported that “with full scale restoration, this hall can rival the major concert halls of Europe.” A remarkable building in a prime location, it has been the target of repeated instances of rent-seeking by those who have access to the authorities. A historical monument under the jurisdiction of the Oblast, half of the building has been appropriated and has served as a casino since 1993, with the revenues passing to parties shielded by officials at the highest levels of the Oblast administration.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union wrought catastrophic effects on cultural and performing arts institutions, whose work requires the mobilization of significant resources. A command economy was fairly apt at distributing costs and mobilizing economies of scale; during Soviet times, provincial orchestras could call on their colleagues in Moscow and receive precious sheet music free of charge. Needless to say, there is no one in Moscow who will do that today. Other Ukrainian orchestras will only waive the customarily hefty photocopy fees in exchange for notes they need themselves.

    Another loss from Soviet times is the sharing of solo performers. Talented soloists would be circulated all around the Soviet Union as due process, making sure that even far flung orchestras in the periphery of the Soviet bloc had relatively equal access to the world-famous stars of the Soviet musical scene.

    Like all of its Ukrainian contemporaries, the OPO’s touring of Europe and North America has always been funded by private money: cultural sponsors, private sponsorships, scattershot philanthropy, and concert presenters in the various countries. The Ukrainian government has no dedicated funding in its cultural budget for touring, and sending an entire orchestra abroad is a significant expenditure.

    “We probably have more guest artists on an annual basis than any of the other national performing arts organizations,” Earle said in an interview, “but there is no funding for that from the federal budget. I use my reserve of good will and friendship in order to persuade people to come here and perform as guests. There is a natural limit to how far that goes, however.”

    At the same time, an organic tradition of connoisseurship by the aristocracy and educated elites was quashed by the Russian Revolution, and the generation that was born since the dissolution of the Soviet Union has not had enough time to replicate centuries of lost cultural capital. A much debated “Law on Philanthropy,” which would allow for Western-style contributions to cultural institutions, remains to be tabled for a vote in parliament. Nor does the tax code yet permit the sorts of deductions that American cultural institutions depend on.

    The OPO, like every other performing institution in the country, also has no endowment and no reserves for a rainy day, which Earle describes as a “revolutionary idea” for a Ukrainian cultural institution. However, if these were established, they would need to be created separately for individual organizations, as creating a single multi-purpose endowment fund for multiple cultural institutions would be an inefficient bureaucratic mess. It would also create many opportunities for gross misappropriation of funds.

    Despite the nation’s constraints and penurious situation, a great deal remains to be done in order to ensure the continuation of Ukraine's high culture. It is also axiomatic to admit that any wish list of needs for cultural reform in Ukraine is entirely aspirational in the midst of the current situation. So while acknowledging these factors, we should never give up hope for the future possibility of reconstituting the cultural sphere. A society is represented by its cultural institutions and a great country unabashedly deserves at least one great philharmonic orchestra.

    Vladislav Davidzon is chief editor of The Odessa Review and Tablet Magazine’s European culture critic. He has reported widely from Eastern Europe, France, and Ukraine, and was previously Ukraine Today’s Paris correspondent.
    Culture Under Threat: Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra as Case Study

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    • Russia’s elections - Duma-day machine
      Vladimir Putin has the country’s ballot under control
      Sep 17th 2016 ECONOMIST

      SINCE Russia’s last parliamentary election in 2011, when widespread fraud triggered mass protests, millions of Russians have fallen into penury. Wages have plunged, and labour protests are on the rise. Vladimir Putin’s forces are fighting openly in Syria and secretly in Ukraine. Polls show that 33% of Russians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, though 82% approve of Mr Putin. With so much at stake, why are so many ignoring the parliamentary election due on September 18th? Golos, an election monitoring group, calls the campaign the “most sluggish and inactive” of the past decade.

      This sterility is the Kremlin’s strategy. The election will be seen as a success if it is uneventful. The vote was moved forward from December to September, a move that critics contend was designed to keep turnout low, as summer holidays and the new school year keep people preoccupied. While some dissidents have been allowed to run, the strongest opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been convicted on trumped-up charges to keep him out of the race. As Mr Navalny points out, many of those running have been around since 1993. Russian voters are bored: 43% say they are not paying attention to the campaign, compared with 31% in 2011.

      Nonetheless, the Kremlin needs the elections to retain a veneer of legitimacy. Keen to avoid accusations of vote-rigging, the government replaced the odious head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov (nicknamed “The Magician” for his ability to make results come out just right), with Ella Pamfilova, a respected former human-rights ombudsman. The ratings of United Russia, Mr Putin’s ruling party, have been falling. Mr Putin calls this a sign of “an active election campaign”.

      It will not threaten his grip on the Duma. While half the seats will be elected by proportional representation, half will be head-to-head contests in individual districts, most of which will go to United Russia candidates. The nominal “opposition” parties that are gaining ground—the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia—are largely under the thumb of the Kremlin.

      The real drama lies not in the election’s results, but in the jockeying around it. The campaign has served as a testing ground for a more important vote: the presidential elections in 2018. Mr Putin has been shaking up his team following the dismissal of his powerful chief of staff last month. More changes are expected after the elections. Bigwigs are attempting to secure their roles in the new political season, argues Tatiana Stanovaya of the Centre for Political Technologies, a think-tank: the Duma contest is “turning into elections for the future elite of Putin’s fourth term”.

      So far, the more conservative forces within the regime seem to have the advantage. In recent weeks, Mr Putin has replaced his education minister and children’s rights ombudsman with figures close to the Russian Orthodox church. The Levada Centre, Russia’s last independent polling agency, was declared a “foreign agent”, a ploy the government uses to harass organisations it dislikes with red tape. Lev Gudkov, the centre’s director, says the designation makes it “impossible to work”. There have been 31 such rulings this year.

      Despite mounting budgetary pressure, painful but necessary economic reforms are unlikely to be taken up before the presidential elections. Facing no pressure from the Potemkin electoral system, Mr Putin has little reason to rush.
      Duma-day machine | The Economist

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      • UKRINFORM Yuriy Sandul, Kyiv 8.09.2016
        Without noise or dust, or how Putin is being stiffled

        The “Master of many moves” turned out to be impotent in the face of the simple logic of force

        In the first two days after the G20 summit several messages appeared that support the conclusion that in China there were no solid or concrete agreements reached on Ukraine or Syria by Western leaders at bilateral meetings.


        US President Barack Obama told reporters in China about his conversation with Putin. Key points: "prior to implementation of the Minsk Agreements Washington has no intention to weaken sanctions", "the conversation was constructive, but did not become decisive," "reminded Putin of the need to fulfill the Minsk Agreements as soon as possible" and, finally, most importantly - "it is important for both sides to try and seize the opportunity in the coming weeks to agree on a final agreement and develop a timetable according to which the document will be realized."

        The French president also talked about "a few weeks" during which agreement will be agreed on a summit in the "Normandy Format" (such a meeting and would mean that agreed on a "priority"), and the German Chancellor also noted the same "soon."

        Thus, we can confidently say that at G20 an ultimatum of sorts was to put to Russia, namely: Russia must accept the fact a clear common solution should be developed soon on the specific implementation of the Minsk Agreements, with the unequivocal implementation of priorities named in its points. Otherwise - the continuation and stepping up of sanctions. As regards how to understand the time frame ( "shortly", "in a few weeks"), it is obvious that it should be completed by January 2017, when the European Union will consider whether to continue or cancel its sanctions against Russia.

        Putin, of course, said nothing at meetings in China in response to the ultimatum. After all, nobody tried to get an immediate response from him. For the time being Russia, through the words of the president's press secretary is fending off journalists with general and evasive words, They say that Putin has not plans yet to meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, but if this is necessary for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements he will be ready for such contact, certain necessary conditions must appear. And the like.

        For the Kremlin to think clearer, the day after G20 the United States announced the expansion of another 11-point list of Russian companies on which the US has imposed sanctions. Today, September 7, the Committee of Permanent Representatives of member states of under the Council of the European Union agreed to extend personal sanctions imposed against Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean persons involved in attacks on the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The issue here is part of anti-Russian sanctions imposed immediately after the annexation of Crimea and whose term expires on September 15. Official confirmation of the extension of sanctions till March 15, 2017 will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Such speed of decision-making, despite the fact that in Europe there are strong supporters of sanctions being lifted shows that there is strong agreement between the US and the EU (more precisely - France and Germany) on joint pressure on Russia.


        President Erdogan agreed to a US proposal for a joint operation in the Syrian city of Rakka. Speaking in an interview in the publication Hurriyet: "Obama told me he wanted something to do with us about Rakka. We said that our side will have no problems. We proposed that our military meet and discuss how to do this." It is about meeting Obama and Erdogan at the G20 summit and the liberation of Rakka, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIL. Erdogan also said that Obama had previously proposed a joint attack on Rakka subject to suspension of cooperation by the United States with the Kurds, but the Americans refused all the same.

        The conclusion is clear: in the fight against the ISIL the United States is refusing to be part of an alliance with the Kurds and Russia in the fight against IDIL but is creating one with Turkey. The USA, which does not want to involve their troops in a bloody war against ISIL were so keen to reach an agreement with Russia, so that Russian aircraft and anti-Assad rebels overcome ISIL, are now choosing a different strategy. That of Turkey (instead of Russia) pounding ISIL with the help of the USA. Without noise or dust, or how Putin is being stifled - 08.09.2016 16:30 — Ukrinform News

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        • Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation reveals Medvedev’s secret dacha
          MEDUZA Alexey Navalny 10:38, 16 september 2016

          Oppositionist leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published the results of its investigation concerning Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s secret dacha on Thursday. The cottage is the estate of Milowka, located one kilometer from the center of Ples in the Ivanovo region.

          Though it was previously known that Medvedev and his family regularly visit Milowka, photographs of the residence, which is surrounded by a six-meter wall, had never been published before.

          In his blog, Navalny published aerial images of the residence. The oppositionist maintains that the estate occupies not two hectares as claimed by the media previously, but 80. The territory includes a private marina (land adjacent to the Volga River), a ski slope, three helipads, a few houses, a hotel and other buildings, and park-like facilities, including a giant chessboard and a house for ducks.

          The historic manor of Milowka itself is enclosed by an additional internal wall. The Foundation estimates that the cost of restorating the estate and of building the rest of the complex at 25-30 billion rubles (approximately $385.73 to $462.87 billion).

          According to Navalny, the territory was acquired by a foundation called Dar, using money provided by the shareholders of the company Novatek. The charitable contribution is estimated at 33 billion rubles (approxi,ately $509.16 million). These funds were also used to fund the restoration. Dar, says Navalny, is closely associated with the Prime Minister’s wife Svetlana Medvedeva. The head of it board of advisors is also Medvedev’s former classmate Ilya Eliseev.

          After 2011, the complex was transferred to Russia's Foundation for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage. The dacha is, therefore, not owned by Medvedev, but the Prime Minister vacations there on a regular basis, as evidenced by the geotags of his photographs on Instagram.
          Navalny sees the fact that the territory was acquired by a foundation affiliated with Medvedev as a sign of corruption.

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          • Moscow seeks to discredit Russian protests by suggesting Ukraine is behind them
            EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul A. Goble 2016/09/12

            Farmers from the Kuban region in southern Russia protesting against illegal takeover of their lands by large agricultural holding companies in cooperation with courts and law enforcement agencies organized a tractor march to Moscow with an objective to bring to Putin their complaints. Signs say: "Return our land!", "President, we entrusted you with power, so why do government officials and judges rob us?", "Who are the judges? A band of robbers for hire!" (Image: social media)

            The FSB is spreading stories claiming that Ukrainian nationalists are behind the protests of Kuban farmers and may soon do the same with the tractor drivers’ march as well, an obvious effort to discredit these popular movements as well as an indication of Moscow’s concern about them.

            The tractor drivers said on Friday that if they will expand their protest throughout Russia if the demands of the Kuban farmers are not met. Apparently to forestall that possibility, the FSB has come up with this story, reports.

            But there is another possible explanation as well, one that doesn’t mention and it is even more worrisome: any suggestion that Ukrainians are trying to influence domestic Russian affairs could spark an upsurge in anti-Ukrainian feelings among Russians and be used by the Kremlin to justify a new wave of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

            One tractor driver, who was detained for ten days said that FSB officers told him that he was “a traitor to the motherland” because “Ukrainian nationalists had given” the drivers money. Such statements are not true, the driver said, but undoubtedly some Russians are prepared to believe them.

            Another farmer said that the FSB and other enforcement agencies had been putting pressure on the farmers and tractor drivers and that “FSB officers were searching for foreign citizens,” clearly in the hopes of coming up with evidence for the links between the Russian protesters and Ukraine that they claim exist.

            And a third activist said that the Russian police who had detained him charged him with having links to “’the fifth column’” and having “’sold out’” to the enemies of Russia. He said that such charges are untrue noting that “we have never gotten involved in politics,” despite official pressure on the movement.
            Moscow seeks to discredit Russian protests by suggesting Ukraine is behind them | EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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            • American Politics Will Drown in a Sea of Dark Money
              Actually, that's already happened.
              ESQUIRE MAGAZINE Charles P. Pierce Sep 16, 2016

              The other day, we took a look at how some recently leaked e-mails exposed how the judicial elections in Wisconsin were opened up to bid. Now, our good friends at the Brennan Center at NYU bring us one of their now-regular studies of how an elected judiciary is The Second-Worst Idea In American Politics

              Seventy percent of outside television spending came from so-called "dark money" sources, which do not disclose their donors. This dynamic raises particular concerns in judicial races, where dark money can obscure conflicts of interest in cases involving major spenders. Although data is limited, there are indications this reflects a much higher proportion of completely-undisclosed money than is seen in other state races. A recent Brennan Center study of state and local elections in six states found that 12 percent of outside spending in 2014 came from dark money sources. (The study further found that an additional 59 percent of outside spending came from "gray money" sources, entities that disclose donors in a way that makes the original sources of money difficult or impossible to discern. No gray money sources have been identified in any of the 2016 supreme court races.)

              There used to be something of a legitimate argument over the merits of an appointed, as opposed to an elected, judiciary. That argument became moot the day that Anthony Kennedy and the lads legitimized influence peddling in Citizens United. The American political process is so utterly corrupted by the money power these days that keeping one branch of government out of the rigged casino has become imperative. For example, at the end of the last Gilded Age, Montana, which had long experience having its politics sublet to the timber, mining, and railroad interests, completely banned corporate money from its campaigns. That was one of the first state laws against which CU was used as binding precedent. Now, as the report informs us, there's a red-hot judicial campaign going on there.

              Outside interests appear to be marshaling around a Montana supreme court race for an open seat, between law professor Kristen Juras and district court judge Dirk Sandefur. Juras was endorsed by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and Montana GOP officials and the head of the Montana Petroleum Association hosted a fundraiser for her. On the other side, the Montana Trial Lawyers Association has reportedly amassed more than $110,000 in contributions to its spending arm the Montana Law PAC, although it has not yet endorsed a candidate. Sandefur has booked $121,385 in airtime on broadcast TV, and as of Aug. 27, had raised $414,000. Juras has raised over $140,000, and has not yet booked airtime. In 2014, Montana's supreme court election set a state record, with $1.5 million in spending, 75 percent of which came from outside groups.

              It may be, as Lenny Bruce said, that in the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls. But it's for sale in either place, these days.
              American Politics Will Drown in a Sea of Dark Money

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              • Russia Promises Competitive Elections Within Its 'Managed Democracy'
                VOICE OF AMERICA Charles Maynes Sept 17, 2016

                MOSCOW —

                Russian lawmakers under President Vladimir Putin have proven themselves nothing if not efficient.

                This last session alone, the lower legislative chamber, the Duma, and the upper chamber, the Federation Council, passed nearly 2,000 laws, including a record 160 pieces of legislation by the upper house in one day last June. Despite the presence of three blocs in nominal opposition to Putin's ruling United Russia party, most of the measures passed nearly unanimously.

                Welcome to what the Kremlin calls “managed democracy,” a system that simulates democratic institutions, to some extent. Analysts say the tradition is likely to continue when Russians head to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament.

                In 2011, opposition parties were banned from participating, and the results, election observers argued, were marked by widespread fraud. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the results, and Putin’s rule. Analysts say the Kremlin learned from its mistakes.

                “It looked like there was no need for competitive elections [five years ago, but] ... now it's changing,” said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst based in Moscow. “The Kremlin is not eager to practice large-scale fraud. It’s eager to avoid any scandals, to avoid any threat of mass protest.”

                Russian spring redux?
                With that in mind, the Kremlin insists these elections will be different. Raucous televised debates have become the norm.

                So, too, have Western-style political ads on television and street canvassing by party volunteers. Most noticeably, more political parties are campaigning; a few are led by some of the opposition leaders who rallied against the Kremlin in 2011.

                Yet even the opposition argues a shake-up in Russia’s pliant Duma remains unlikely.

                Mikhail Kasyanov, a onetime prime minister under Putin who has since joined the opposition, will lead the liberal PARNAS party in Sunday’s vote. But despite appearing in televised debates, Kasyanov calls these elections a sham. He says he and other party members have faced routine harassment at rallies and a relentless smear campaign on state television.

                “They're letting us participate to show you — the West — that we're a free country,” Kasyanov said. “Putin loves imitations of everything — of separation of powers, of independent courts and a free press. And of course, he loves imitations of fair elections.”

                The limits of these elections have also been on display.

                Consider problems the Levada Center has faced as election day approached. Russia's sole independent polling organization, Levada, was labeled a "foreign agent" by authorities under a law that bans foreign funding of Russian nongovernmental organizations involved in loosely defined “political activities.” Levada representatives say their troubles began only after opinion polls showed support for Putin's United Russia party ebbing. The “foreign agent" label prevents it from conducting research into Sunday’s vote.

                Still, most analysts expect United Russia to retain its grip on power. Despite an economy struggling with Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and low world oil prices, the party is buoyed by Putin’s continued popularity.

                Also aiding United Russia’s showing: low voter turnout amid repressive measures introduced in the wake of the 2011 protests. There were arrests and sentencing of opposition figures and supporters — an effort that stoked fear in the movement, opposition leaders acknowledge. There was also the conviction of Alexei Navalny, the nominal leader of the opposition movement, preventing his participation in further elections.

                And then there was the slaying last year of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Although several arrests have been made, Nemtsov’s supporters say police have little interest in finding out who ordered the killing.

                With the opposition demoralized and the Kremlin riding high from its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, political analyst Petrov says the government can simply afford more nuanced election results than in 2011.

                “I think this is a little more sophisticated approach, to demonstrate that this kind of opposition will get very tiny popular support,” he said, “to demonstrate how unpopular they are.”

                Soapbox politics
                On a recent evening in downtown Moscow, Dmitriy Gudkov spoke to a smattering of voters and railed against the powers that be.

                Gudkov is the only opposition member of the Duma fighting to retain his seat in parliament. To do so, he’s been forced to switch parties and crowdfund his campaign through soapbox meetings with his electorate.

                Yet Gudkov rejects the idea that the opposition is weak; it’s just deprived of resources to get its message across, he says.

                “If you take a champion swimmer like Michael Phelps and you fill up the pool with acid, he won't able to swim,” Gudkov said. “But it doesn't mean he's a weak swimmer.”

                Whatever the results of this election, Gudkov is taking the long view.

                “Politics is a marathon,” he said.

                Yet watching Russia's beleaguered opposition come in last place may be the real point of these elections.

                Barring the unforeseen, it's a Kremlin plan most expect to work beautifully.
                Russia Promises Competitive Elections Within Its 'Managed Democracy'

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                • NATO jets scramble to intercept Russian warplane over Baltics NATO fighter jets that patrol the skies over the Baltics escorted the Russian military aircraft Il-20, as reported by the National Armed Forces of Latvia on Twitter.
                  UNIAN 17 Sept 2016

                  "On September 17, the air patrol jets scrambled to intercept an Il-20 aircraft belonging to the Russian Air Force over the Baltic Sea not far from the border of Latvia," the statement reads.

                  Earlier, Ukraine's Ambassador to Latvia Yevgeny Perebiynis said that after what had happened in Crimea and Donbas, a scenario of a possible Russian aggression against the Baltic States today was not totally implausible. And that is why Latvia pays great attention to security issues and the strengthening of its army. Read also Latvia spots another Russian warship near its territorial waters

                  "Russian aircraft regularly fly near the borders of Latvia, the ships are constantly roaming in the exclusive economic zone. And this can not but worry Latvia. They take it very seriously," he said.

                  NATO jets scramble to intercept Russian warplane over Baltics

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                  • Commission says black boxes from Smolensk plane crash were 'rigged'
                    UAWIRE ORG September 17, 2016 4:13:00 PM

                    The black box recordings from the Tu-154M that crashed near Smolensk in 2010 were rigged and many of the documents that are relevant to the case were hidden, as stated by experts of the sub-Commission on Investigation of the Smolensk disaster, Polish Radio reported.

                    A segment of the Polish registrars was deleted and a segment from a Russian registrar was inserted into its place. The withdrawn piece contained information about engine problems, as well as issues with generators and radio altimeters, which malfunctioned when the presidential plane flew at a height of 15 meters.

                    The team, which was appointed by the Minister of National Defense for Poland, Antoni Macierewicz, examined the causes of the Smolensk disaster within six months of the accident. "We should not expect that the Commission will release the names of the perpetrators. Its task is different – to specify the factors and events that led to the tragedy," he said.

                    Recently, the sub-Commission on Investigation of the Smolensk disaster reported that it has evidence that Russia manipulated reports related to the tragedy.

                    As was previously reported, on the 10th of April 2010, 96 people were killed in the crash of flight Tu-154M in Smolensk, including the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, the leaders of the Armed Forces, the Chief of the General Staff, the representatives of the Sejm and Senate, the Office of the President, the last President of Poland in exile Ryszard Kacharovsky, representatives of the military high command, political parties, and public and religious figures.
                    UAWire - Commission says black boxes from Smolensk plane crash were 'rigged'

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                    • Week's balance: IMF tranche, slap in Russia's face, and "honest budget" Executive Directors of the International Monetary Fund decided to disburse the third tranche of the loan for Ukraine, the National Bank eased forex restrictions and lowered the discount rate, while the Government has tabled in Parliament a draft budget for 2017- these are the main economic news of the past week.
                      UNIAN Ksenia Obukhovska 17 Sept 2016

                      The main news of the past week was the long-awaited decision of the IMF to continue cooperation with Ukraine and allocate the third tranche of the loan amounting to $1 billion. The IMF kept even the outstanding optimists anxious, having reported on its positive decision late at night Kyiv time.

                      Anticipating a positive decision of the IMF for Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko even crossed himself in a rare religious move during one of his public appearances, thus evidencing the fact that the Ukrainian authorities were not 100% confident in the IMF loan approval.

                      And immediately after the IMF Executive Board, the President did not even wait for the official announcement of the Fund, being the first to deliver the good news on Twitter. "Just now, the IMF Executive Board adopted a positive decision to extend the program of cooperation with Ukraine and to disburse financial assistance," Poroshenko tweeted.

                      The importance of the tranche allocation for the country and the fact of continued cooperation with the Fund can hardly be overestimated. The decision on the allocation of funds was made after more than a year-long break in relations between Ukraine and the IMF, provoked mostly by the political events in the autumn of 2015 and winter-spring of 2016. In these periods, the government was changed in Ukraine and a number of unpopular social reforms were implemented, while the IMF continued to negotiate, delaying their decision.

                      One of the reasons for the suspension of a cooperation program was a problem with the launch of the system of electronic declaration, which started its work on September 1. This actually influenced the positive decision of the IMF and the disbursement of the tranche. The Fund also noted the first signs of the recovery of Ukraine's economy.

                      The IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, has pointed to the pickup of activity in Ukraine, and the decrease of inflation. The country has seen its gross international reserves and bank deposits rising. "This progress owes much to the authorities' program implementation, including sound macroeconomic policies, bold steps to bring energy tariffs to cost-recovery levels, and measures to rehabilitate the banking system'' Lagarde said in her comments following the meeting of the Executive Board.

                      In addition, the Fund announced that it could consider before year-end the allocation of the fourth tranche for Ukraine. But, according to Lagarde, the main targets for Ukraine should be fiscal sustainability in the medium term and pension reform, the task of which shall be the reduction of the pension fund deficit and stabilization of its operation without increasing the risks of debt in public finance system.

                      The IMF's "green light" offers Ukraine access to financing from other official creditors. Before the end of September, Ukraine expects to receive $1 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. Government and a $500 million loan from the World Bank for gas purchases by Naftogaz. And if the Rada passes the bills required, particularly the bill on the independent energy market regulator, the European Union before the end of the year will allocate EUR 600 million of public funding.

                      Sticks in wheels
                      Only Russia did not share Ukraine's joy from the allocation of funds. On the eve of the fateful decision of the IMF, head of the Russian Ministry of Finance Anton Siluanov said that Ukraine had not fulfilled all the necessary conditions for obtaining the next tranche, so the Russian side would vote against the allocation of money for Ukraine, although Moscow was aware that it was unable to block the Fund's decision.

                      "A conclusion, published by the IMF, says that Ukraine has met all conditions for obtaining the next tranche. In our view, this statement is unreasonable and creates conditions for similar precedents in the future," said Siluanov.

                      The main argument of the Russian minister remains Ukraine's $3 billion debt to the Russian Federation on Eurobonds issued by the Yanukovych regime. Siluanov recalled that Russia had set a condition that Ukraine had to acknowledge the debt to the Russian Federation as an official one.

                      "The IMF took this decision. Ukraine has not yet considered this decision," said the Russian minister. According to him, Ukraine should submit proposals to the Russian side on more favorable terms than those put forward before and agreed with commercial lenders.

                      In response, Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk said, according to the current program of cooperation with the IMF, Ukraine was ready to enter into “good faith” talks with the Russian Federation on the loan settlement.

                      "Despite the fact that Ukraine in general remains open to the possibility of a peaceful settlement of the dispute, if acceptable grounds are found, Ukraine is confident in its legal position and focuses on preparing for the hearing, scheduled for January 2017," said Danylyuk.

                      The IMF has backed Ukraine's position, saying Kyiv's negotiation tactics met the IMF policies. At this, the Fund reiterated that it supported peaceful resolution of the debt issue, calling on the parties to reach a consensus within a constructive dialogue.

                      In particular, the NBU increased the limit of cash currency withdrawal at the cash desks and ATMs to the equivalent of UAH 250,000 per customer per day (against an earlier introduced level of UAH 100,000) Meanwhile, the regulator extended the number of restrictions on the foreign exchange market for another three months, including the previously set limit for cash currency purchases by individuals within the equivalent of UAH 12,000 per day.

                      At the same time the National Bank allowed the companies to buy foreign currency to repay loans to non-residents in the presence of their own foreign exchange funds in their accounts. The NBU also kept in force the mandatory sale of 65% of foreign currency proceeds and a 120-day monitoring of payments under foreign trade contracts.

                      The central bank moved toward easing its monetary policy by reducing its interest rate by 0.5 percentage points, to 15% per annum from September 16. The regulator has been lowering the interest rate for the fifth consecutive month.

                      The NBU said that if the risks to price stability continued to reduce, it would continue to soften its monetary and exchange rate policies to support the recovery of economic growth.

                      "Honest budget"
                      The Ukrainian Government last week approved and submitted to Parliament a draft state budget for 2017. It was probably the first time the Cabinet has actually made it within the terms set out by the country's Budget Code. The finance ministry will officially present the document in the Verkhovna Rada during the next plenary week.

                      Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who personally led the presentation of the draft budget, dubbed the document as the most honest and transparent one in the history of Ukraine's independence.

                      According to him, the lay-out of the state coffers for 2017 should be as realistic as possible, based on forecasts of real income and the actual deficit, in order not to destroy the achieved macroeconomic stability in Ukraine.

                      In particular, the Cabinet laid a 16.7% revenue growth, up to UAH 876.9 billion, and a 3% GDP growth. The state budget deficit in 2017 should not exceed 3% of GDP.

                      According to the prime minister, the 2017 budget is based on the revitalization of economic growth, while the rate of the main budget-forming taxes will not be increased.

                      In 2017, the government intends to make active use of its excise income article and to allocate UAH 14.2 billion from this revenue for the repair and construction of roads. Another $1 billion is planned to be attracted from cooperation with international financial organizations.

                      The defense budget for 2017 will amount to UAH 129 billion, which is UAH 14.5 billion more than last year.

                      The living wage and minimum wage in Ukraine by December 1, 2017 will increase by UAH 162, to UAH 1,762. Besides, in the near future, the Cabinet plans to introduce the basics of labor pay and pension reforms, to provide for fairer wages and pensions.

                      The Government is planning to support the Ukrainian agrarians with the introduction of a UAH 5.5 billion program of direct financial support for small and medium farmers. At the same time, Groysman believes that the big agricultural players have sufficient resources and are able to "take care of themselves".

                      On the restructuring of mines and miners support, the Cabinet intends to allocate UAH 1.8 billion in 2017. It also plans to increase Ukraine's own gas production and develop energy efficiency programs in order to achieve full energy independence in four to five years.

                      The government is counting on a professional, high-quality, and non-politicized debate with the MPs on the draft state budget for 2017.

                      Groysman said that the budget is honest: the figures it contains are backed up with the revenue and expenditure parts. In this context, the prime minister emphasized the importance of not breaking the balance, achieved in this budget.
                      Week’s balance: IMF tranche, slap in Russia’s face, and "honest budget"

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                      • Russia is seriously running out of cash
                        CNN Ivana Kottasova Sept 16, 2016: 12:03 PM ET

                        Russia is bleeding cash at an alarming rate.

                        After almost two years in recession, the country's rainy day fund has shrunk to just $32.2 billion this month, according to the Russian Finance Ministry. It was $91.7 billion in September 2014, just before oil prices started to collapse.

                        And it's getting worse. Analysts expect the fund will shrink to just $15 billion by the end of this year and dry up completely soon after that.

                        "At the current rate, the fund would be depleted in mid-2017, perhaps a few months later," Ondrej Schneider, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, wrote in a note this week.

                        The government's reserve fund is designed to cover shortfalls in the national budget at times of low oil and gas revenues.

                        Russia's 2016 budget is based on the assumption the country would be able to sell its oil for $50 per barrel.

                        But the average oil price in the first eight months of the year was less than $43 per barrel. Oil now makes up just 37% of all government revenues, compared to roughly 50% just two years ago.

                        The government will reveal next year's budget after a parliamentary election this weekend.

                        This slump means the government is having to tap the rainy day fund again and again. The government indicated that once the reserves are depleted, it may have to turn to its welfare fund. Kremlin says the welfare fund has over $70 billion in it. The fund is not intended to cover budget shortfalls, but rather to finance future pensions and large-scale investment projects.

                        Schneider said the assets in the fund are less liquid, so it might even be technically impossible for the government to withdraw from it aggressively.

                        Russia's central bank cut interest rates on Friday, to 10% from 10.50%, in a further attempt to kick start the economy.

                        The central bank still has $395 billion in international reserves, down from $524 billion in October 2013. The bank burned through more than $140 billion in foreign currency reserves between 2014 and 2015, trying to defend the ruble from collapsing.

                        The strategy didn't work and the bank slowly abandoned it. The ruble dropped to the lowest ever in January, when it was trading at 82 rubles per U.S. dollar. It is now trading at 65 rubles per dollar.

                        The slump in oil prices has hit Russia at the time it was already suffering because of economic sanctions imposed by Western countries over its role in the crisis in Ukraine.

                        They've cut off Russia's most important companies from European financing, banned imports of certain products and froze funds of key officials.

                        Russia retaliated by imposing import restrictions on European food products. That caused a headache to European farmers, but also pushed Russian inflation to double digit levels.
                        Russia is seriously running out of cash - Sep. 16, 2016

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                        • RADIO FREE EUROPE September 18, 2016
                          Poroshenko: Russia Has Made Crimea 'Concentration Camp'

                          KYIV -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has accused Russia of transforming Crimea in to a "concentration camp" and urged Western states to impose new sanctions on Moscow.

                          Speaking at the annual Yalta European Strategy (YES) forum in Kyiv, Poroshenko said Russia had pursued a "repressive policy" against Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, including Crimean Tatars, since it seized control of the peninsula in March 2014.

                          He said the United States, European Union, and others should maintain existing sanctions on Russia over its interference in Ukraine and impose new sanctions targeting specific industries.

                          "It is necessary to introduce new sectoral sanctions, we won't achieve anything without sanctions," Poroshenko said.

                          Poroshenko has long sought lethal weapons for the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, but he said "unity and solidarity" are more important than Western arms.

                          He suggested implementation of the Minsk peace accord hinges on Russia, saying, "Not a single step forward will be taken until Russia withdraws its troops to a safe distance and carries out measures in the sphere of security."

                          Addressing reforms, Poroshenko promised 200 new judges would be appointed, calling Ukraine's judiciary "the last bastion of corruption."
                          Poroshenko: Russia Has Made Crimea 'Concentration Camp'

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                          • Panetta: The time has come for the US to send weapons to Ukraine
                            UAWIRE ORG September 18, 2016 2:02:25 PM

                            The former U.S. Secretary of Defense from Obama’s administration (2011-2013) and the former head of the CIA (2009-2011), Leon Panetta, said that the U.S. should provide weapons to Ukraine to deter Russia. He made this statement in his speech at the plenary session of the annual Yalta European Strategy meeting.

                            In his opinion, the provision of arms to Ukraine would be a symbolic step, and would be a sign to Russia that its continued pressure on Ukraine is not acceptable. "I consider it necessary to take the next step and to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons," the official said.

                            "This must be done in order to make Russia understand that if they take the next step, they will pay the price for it," he explained.

                            Panetta also emphasized that the West should continue supporting the political reforms in Ukraine. UAWire - Panetta: The time has come for the US to send weapons to Ukraine

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                            • Peskov: The Kremlin has begun using Katyusha system to monitor media and social networks
                              UAWIRE ORG September 18, 2016 10:18:17 AM

                              The Kremlin has begun using the Katyusha system to monitor media and social networks, Vedomosti daily reported.

                              The system, which is owned by a company called M 13, was brought in to manage the government’s press service. The contract amount for the remainder of the year to use the Katyusha system is 79 million rubles.

                              "It allows you to monitor the status of the information field in a wide range of topics in real-time, to assess the nature and extent of dissemination of information with high precision, and to respond quickly to emerging information threats," the General Director of M 13, Alexander Badikov, stated.

                              Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin press service has begun to use the system. Moreover, the system is used by administration leaders, government staff and other senior management members.

                              "We are satisfied with the system, it is constantly being upgraded," Peskov said.

                              The Kremlin previously used a system developed by Medialogia for information monitoring. Vedmosti’s source said that the FSB didn't approve the extension of the contract due to the fact that some of the company's shares were held by offshore companies. UAWire - Peskov: The Kremlin has begun using Katyusha system to monitor media and social networks

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                              • UK to provide Ukraine with 2 million pounds for demining in the Donbas
                                UAWIRE ORG September 18, 2016 9:15:41 AM

                                During a visit to Kyiv, Boris Johnson said that Britain would support further sanctions against Russia and help Ukraine to carry out reforms.

                                Britain intends to allocate two million pounds sterling for demining in the Donbas, as was announced by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, in Kyiv on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. As specified on the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the project is being implemented by the British Humanitarian Organization, HALO Trust, with financial support from the British government. The funds will be provided to Ukraine through 2018.

                                According to Klimkin, the parties also agreed to assist in a number of reforms, in particular, the Ukrainian customs system. Johnson added that the officials discussed the question of fighting corruption and improving the judicial system. "We will also help in reforming the tax system, several of our outstanding specialists, including tax lawyers, will work in Ukraine," Johnson said, as quoted by the Ukrainian News Agency Ukrayins'ki Novyny.

                                The British Minister stressed that London will continue to support the sovereignty of Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, despite fears about a possible policy change due to the future UK exit from the EU. "Brexit or no, for us it does not change anything," Johnson said to the Reuters News Agency. "We continue to be a great player."

                                In addition, Johnson congratulated Ukraine on its victory on "Eurovision" and wished to hold a high level competition in 2017 in Kyiv. UAWire - UK to provide Ukraine with 2 million pounds for demining in the Donbas

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