Tag Archives: Ukraine Crisis

Russian Serviceman Captured in Ukraine Wants to Sue Ministry of Defense

One of the two Russian soldiers detained in Ukraine’s Luhansk region last month has not ruled out taking suing the Russian Ministry of Defense, after it claimed he no longer worked for the military after he had been captured, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports.

Sergeant Alexander Alexandrov was captured along with his colleague Evgeny Eroveev by Kiev loyal fighters last month during a battle near the Luhansk town of Shastya. They have since been turned over to the Ukrainian authorities and have been recovering in hospital since. However, they both face allegations of terrorism—the charge levelled to anyone who fights alongside eastern separatists in Ukraine.

Russia maintained its party line that it has not sent to troops to Ukraine when Kiev announced the capture of the two servicemen, but as the case became more widely circulated, Russian state TV Rossiya24 interviewed Alexandrov’s wife who claimed he had indeed served in the army, although she said he had left in December.

Subsequently the Russian Ministry of Defence repeated this, as spokesman Igor Konashenkov told state news agency Itar-Tass that the two men had received military training but were not currently acting servicemen of Russia’s armed forces. Ukraine’s Security Services (SBU) denied reports that Alexandrov being dismissed before his capture.

In an interview published today in Novaya Gazeta, Alexandrov reiterated that he was an acting servicemen and that he considers himself a prisoner of war and not a terrorist. Asked if he would object to Russian lawyers filing a civil case against the Ministry of Defense for firing him illegally, Alexandrov said

“I would not object.”

“I do not think that it will be very laborious to prove that I am an active serviceman. You can send a request for them to deliver the documents that show that,” he added.

In the interview Alexandrov attacks Russian news coverage of the Ukraine crisis and the lack of focus on Russian soldiers’ sacrifices in the Russian state press.

“Now I am on the other side of the conflict and I understand that not all is how it is shown in the main [Russian] channels, it is not even close. There are no reprisals for Russian speakers, just normal people,” he said.

“The Ukrainian side treats its dead and it’s captured [officers] with dignity. Back home we are not even mentioned on the news. I don’t know, of course it is possible, that [in Russia] they consider me a traitor but I did not betrayed my country. I have committed no crimes, except for illegally crossing the border. “

Alexandrov noted that he wants his lawyer to persuade Ukraine’s prosecution to switch the allegations of terrorism which he is accused of, to a charge which acknowledges he is in Ukraine as military personnel.

“I did not act as a terrorist, I was following orders. I am an acting serviceman until my contract has not officially expired,” he added.

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Russians Quit London Luxury-Homes as Only Super Rich Stay

Wealthy Russian homebuyers are vanishing from London after driving a wave of foreign investment that lifted property prices to records. Only the oligarchs persist.

The number of Russians registered through Christie’s International Real Estate to buy homes in the city dropped by 70 percent in a year, said Giles Hannah, the broker’s senior vice president. That has led to a plunge in offers for properties priced at less than 10 million pounds ($16 million) as it becomes more difficult for all but the wealthiest to take money out of their home country.

“The banks are limiting what they can withdraw and we’re expecting further impact as sanctions kick in,” said Hannah, who advised Russian families on 180 million pounds of London property deals in the past two years. “The oligarchs are still spending. They already have banks or lawyers over here that allow them to make purchases.”

Russia is struggling to reverse a rout in the ruble with emergency measures including 7.5 percentage points of interest rate increases and more than $10 billion of ruble purchases as President Vladimir Putin confronts the country’s deepest financial crisis since 1998. A drop in Russian buyers is hitting a London luxury-property market already buffeted by economic uncertainty in the U.K. and taxes introduced by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government this month.

Buyers ‘Eliminated’

Russian buyers have been “eliminated virtually overnight,” Andrew Langton, chairman of luxury-property broker Aylesford International Estate Agents, said by phone. “Those that are still here have money out of Russia and won’t be taking it back in a hurry.”

Russians were the biggest buyers of London’s luxury homes between January and July 2013, according to Knight Frank LLP. They dropped to third during the first six months of this year, behind Italians and French purchasers, the broker said.

Russia has been hurt by sanctions against businesses run by allies of Putin imposed after the country’s March incursion into Crimea in Ukraine. The latest round of U.S. actions, on Sept. 12, targeted OAO Sberbank (SBER), the country’s largest lender, as well as energy firms and five state-owned defense and technology companies.

The ruble has sunk 16 percent against the dollar this month even after posting an 11 percent rebound yesterday, after the Finance Ministry pledged to use as much as $7 billion to support the currency and the central bank announced measures to help companies refinance looming foreign-currency debt.

Putin at a news conference today criticized the central bank for not acting faster to support the ruble, which is down 44 percent this year through yesterday.

Money Worries

“You’ll also see a reduction in those trying to buy yachts and smaller items because they’re nervous about their money,” Hannah said. “They’ve got to keep hold of their cash.”

Home prices in London’s wealthiest neighborhoods fell on a monthly basis for the first time in four years in November, according to Knight Frank. Annual price growth slowed to 6.1 percent.

Changes to the U.K.’s stamp-duty sales tax mean buyers of a 5-million-pound home would pay a levy of 513,750 pounds, an increase of almost 164,000 pounds, according to government data.

“The sanctions are really beginning to bite on expensive property in London, on top of all of the tax which the government introduced in the autumn budget,” Langton said. “It’s killed the golden goose.”

French Focus

The story is different for the oligarchs, a group of the richest Russians who have thrived since the fall of Communism. Russians accounted for 21 percent of home purchases worth more than 10 million pounds during the six months to October, up from 13 percent in the prior six months, Knight Frank LLP said in a report Nov. 25. Those that continue to shop for homes are targeting London, Paris and the French Riviera, according to Hannah at Christie’s.

“The heyday of the Russian buyer was probably two years ago and it’s been declining ever since, although there was a bit of buying as a result of the Ukraine crisis,” said Robert Bartlett, chief executive officer of broker Chestertons. “There’s now a broader influx of Indian and Middle Eastern money that is having a bigger impact on the London market.”

Ukraine crisis: Russia could hit EU with flight ban

Russia has warned that it could block international flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

The EU is expected to announce shortly whether further sanctions will take effect now or be put on hold.

Donetsk airport, 2 Sept

The EU has said this will depend on how the situation develops on the ground.

Pro-Russian separatists have recently made big gains, but a fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine appears to be holding despite some sporadic shooting.

Fighting in the east has killed some 2,600 people since April. The truce and roadmap to peace were agreed on Friday.

A building in Mariupol witnesses said was hit overnight, 7 Sept

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations by Ukraine and the West that it has been sending troops into Donetsk and Luhansk regions to help the rebels, who want to establish an independent state.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow would respond “asymmetrically” to further sanctions.

A Russian airspace ban “could drive many struggling airlines into bankruptcy”, he told a Russian daily.

“If there are sanctions related to the energy sector, or further restrictions on Russia’s financial sector, we will have to respond asymmetrically… For example, restrictions in the transport sector.

“We work on the basis of friendly relations with our partners, and that’s why Russia’s skies are open to flights. But if we are restricted then we’ll have to respond,” he told Vedomosti (in Russian).

Airlines would have to pay far more for fuel if Russia blocked their routes to Asian destinations, and flight times would be longer in many cases.

Last week an EU official told the BBC that further sanctions would deepen the existing measures, affecting Russia’s access to capital markets, dual-use goods which can be used for military purposes, defence equipment and some other sensitive technologies.

Richard Galpin in Donetsk: “We’ve heard the sound of quite a number of mortars being fired”

They would also expand the visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials and entities, including separatist leaders in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian authorities in Donetsk region say President Petro Poroshenko is expected to visit Mariupol on Monday.

It is the last city in Donetsk region still held by the Ukrainian government and some shelling was reported there at the weekend. It is a strategic port on the route to Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in March.

There was also some fresh shelling near Donetsk airport. The rebels are still holding the city, and have pushed back Ukrainian forces on the outskirts.

On Sunday, Ukrainian security official Volodymyr Poliovyi said 864 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the conflict began.

So far there have been no big prisoner exchanges since the ceasefire took effect.


 

12-point peace roadmap – key elements

  • Ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire
  • Carry out decentralisation of power, allowing temporary local self-government in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine under a “special status” law
  • Immediately free all hostages and illegally detained persons
  • Ensure monitoring on the Ukrainian-Russian border and a security zone
  • Ensure the holding of snap local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk
  • Remove illegal armed groups, military hardware, and all fighters and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory
  • Pass a law against the prosecution and punishment of people over certain events in Donetsk and Luhansk region

Posted by the OSCE on its website (in Russian).line

Map of rebel forces in Ukraine, 4 September 2014

PUTIN’S PEACE PLAN: Ukraine Retreats, While Russia Invades

Russian president Vladimir Putin laid out his conditions for a permanent end to the Ukraine crisis during a visit to Mongolia on September 3rd. 

The 7-point plan makes it clear: He wants Ukraine to retreat, and for “repair brigades” to come in and fix things up.

Screen Shot 2014 09 03 at 11.06.36 AM

The proposal would formalize the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine while requiring the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from their internationally recognized territory in the Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Kiev’s forces since February.

This proposal, which both Ukraine and the international community are unlikely to accept, amounts to s Russian annexation of eastern Ukraine — Putin would be able to secure and develop the region, and Ukraine would be forced to accept a new reality on the ground.

This follows Moscow’s longstanding game plan from other conflicts on the Russian periphery.

For instance, the Georgian separatists regions of South Ossetia and Abhkazia are secured with the help of “peacekeepers” from the Russian army, even though both areas are internationally recognized as part of Georgia. 

Journalist Sean Walker of the Guardian summed up Putin’s current strategy in Ukraine perfectly:

View image on Twitter
Putin’s Plan – Russia’s Victory

The map below shows where the front lines stood as of August 29th. With the Russian military rapidly reversing Kiev’s gains against pro-Moscow separatists,

Putin likely believes that he is a position to dictate terms to his Ukrainian counterparts — and that’s after deploying an invasion force that didn’t include a particularly active air or sea component.

Putin feels that he’s winning — which is why he’s proposing peace terms that he knows neither Ukraine nor the U.S.-led security alliance would ever accept.

Ukraine

Not Yet Buried: Polish-Russian Rapprochement

Polish Minister Marek Sawicki during the meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Poland Alexander Alexeev on June 18, 2014.

“Poland’s cabinet has decided to call off the Polish Year in Russia and the Russian Year in Poland, planned for 2015,” government spokesperson Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska announced on July 23.

The decision to scrap the joint initiative celebrating bilateral cultural ties came just a few days after pro-Russian rebels shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, the majority of whom were Dutch citizens.

“This is the decision of the government,” Kidawa-Błońska said. “Both the foreign and culture ministers, Radosław Sikorski and Małgorzata Omilanowska respectively, unequivocally came to the conclusion that in this situation, it is impossible to follow through with the organization of the Polish Year in Russia.”

It’s easy to understand why Poland made this announcement. Donald Tusk’s center-right government is under immense pressure from the conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party to cut off relations with Russia, especially in light of parliamentary elections due in Poland in 2015.

Yet surely, this would have been an important moment for Poles to reach out to Russian liberal intellectuals instead of isolating them—even though many liberals in Russia are biding their time rather than standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In response to Western sanctions against Russia, Putin has imposed a battery of countermeasures on Europe that include a ban on Polish apples and other produce. But Russia and Poland need each other for trade, exchanges, and services. If and when Russia’s relations with the EU are put back on an even keel, Moscow will need Warsaw’s goodwill.

So it’s good news that behind the scenes and on a different level, Russia and Poland have been cautiously pressing ahead with reconciliation.

For several months now, Polish and Russian academics have been meeting to debate the issues that divide them. The events are organized by the Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding.

Adam Daniel Rotfeld, a former Polish foreign minister, and Anatoly Torkunov, rector of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, chair the center. Together, they made sure to continue Russian-Polish youth exchanges and conferences for high-level academics.

Rotfeld is also co-chairman of the Polish-Russian Group for Difficult Matters (what a great name!). The group was set up in 2002 to deal with the issues that divide Russia and Poland, but it remained dormant under Poland’s previous nationalist-conservative government until Tusk’s center-right coalition was voted into power in 2007.

Thanks to Tusk’s persistent lobbying in Brussels, Moscow, and Berlin, the inhabitants of Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave that is sandwiched between EU and NATO members Lithuania and Poland, can now cross the border into Poland without visas. That’s an immense achievement, to say the least.

Such a step could not have happened if Poland had not reached out to Russia and, as a result, shown its EU partners that it wanted reconciliation with its archenemy.

“In 2007 we decided to deal with all the difficult issues in our relations,” Rotfeld explained in an interview with Carnegie Europe. “But the most difficult one is political psychology. There are two different narratives about the same facts and events.”

During our meeting, Rotfeld took a mighty tome down from his bookshelf. The recently published 1,000-page book is a fascinating set of essays on Polish-Russian relations dating back to 1918.

In the volume, Polish and Russian historians give their respective interpretation of events. There is little meeting of minds, whether about the treatment of Russians in Polish prisoner-of-war camps in 1920 or about the circumstances leading up to the murder of thousands of Polish officers by Stalin’s secret police in the woods near the Russian city of Smolensk in 1940.

It was near Smolensk that Lech Kaczyński’s plane crashed in April 2010. The then Polish president was on his way to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of those murders, known as the Katyn massacre.

 

The crash caused an outpouring of grief in Poland but also in Russia, particularly by Putin, who was prime minister at the time. That same week, Russian television even broadcast Katyń, a marvelous epic film by veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Out of the tragedy, there were huge hopes that reconciliation would deepen.

Four years on, Poles cannot understand why Putin will not return the downed Polish plane. “We are bewildered that four years after the accident, the plane has still not been handed over,” said Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, Poland’s new ambassador to Moscow and an expert in Polish-Russian relations.

“There is symbolic meaning for Poland and Polish citizens in getting the wreckage back,” she said in a very revealing interview with Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

The longer the delay in sending the aircraft back to Warsaw, the more the episode plays into the hands of the Law and Justice party, led by Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of Lech. With the Ukraine crisis, he opposes reconciliation with Russia more than ever.

The Tusk government has a difficult balancing act—both diplomatically and domestically. The pressure is on, all the more because of next year’s parliamentary elections in Poland.

Ukraine crisis: Russia ‘to send new aid convoy’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.(RIA Novosti)

Russia plans to send another humanitarian convoy into eastern Ukraine “in the next few days”, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

Mr Lavrov said the humanitarian situation there was “deteriorating”.

Ukraine did not authorise the first convoy, which returned to Russia at the weekend, fearing it carried military equipment for pro-Russia separatists.

More than 2,000 people have died in recent months in fighting between government forces and the separatists.

Some 330,00 people have been displaced.

The Russian and Ukrainian presidents are scheduled to meet in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday for talks on the crisis.

Mr Lavrov said he had sent a note to the Ukrainian foreign ministry on Sunday informing it of the new convoy.

He told a news conference on Monday: “The humanitarian situation is not improving but deteriorating.

“We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route… in the coming days.”

There were reports on Monday of a column of Russian armoured vehicles entering the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

Ukrainian media spoke of heavy clashes with Ukrainian forces.

When asked about a possible Russian incursion, Mr Lavrov said that “there is enough disinformation”.

Asked about Tuesday’s presidential meeting, Mr Lavrov said: “We are ready… for any format as long as there is a result,” adding that Russia wanted “to help Ukrainians agree among themselves”.

Germany Approves RWE’s Sale of DEA to Russian Entrepreneur

A view of the headquarters of German utility RWE in Essen November 14, 2013.  REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

FRANKFURT/BERLIN — Germany’s economy ministry will approve the sale of utility RWE’s oil and gas unit DEA to a Russian investor despite tensions over the Ukraine crisis, two people familiar with the matter said.

The economy ministry said in June it was investigating whether to block the 5.1 billion euro ($6.9 billion) sale of the DEA unit to the Letter One group of investors led by Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman, which was announced in March.

Representatives of the ministry, RWE and the Letter One consortium declined to comment.

Europe and the U.S. have imposed economic sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its backing of pro-Russian separatists, who are fighting against government forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia, in turn, has slapped bans on Western food imports.

Dmitrij Medvegyev miniszterelnök és Mihail Fridman találkozója 2013 decemberén (Fotó: Dmitry Astakhov / RIA Novosti)

As part of the deal, Fridman, Russia’s second-richest man, and his co-investors get stakes in about 190 oil and gas licenses or concessions in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The German government could theoretically have used a clause in its foreign trade law that allows it to block takeover deals that threaten “public safety and order,” but it would have been an unprecedented move.

RWE has previously said it expects the deal, which has already got antitrust approval from the EU, to be finalized this year.

The transaction came under criticism from senior German politicians in March as relations between Russia and the West deteriorated over Ukraine.

Germany currently receives more than a third of its gas and oil from Russia.

RWE, like other German utilities, is struggling to adjust to a power sector shake-up as Germany moves away from nuclear energy and encourages a shift to more renewables, while Europe’s energy demand is weak.

The shake-up has more than halved the debt-burdened firm’s market value in four years.

RWE has been looking for ways to reduce its debt of more than 30 billion euros, including cutting jobs and shedding assets.

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