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Posts tagged ‘Dmitry Medvedev’

US, France Warn Russia of ‘New Measures’ Over Ukraine.

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande warned Saturday of “new measures” against Russia if it fails to work toward defusing the crisis in Ukraine, the French presidency said.

In a phone call on Saturday, Obama and Hollande insisted on the “need for Russia to withdraw forces sent to Crimea since the end of February and to do everything to allow the deployment of international observers,” it said.
Obama’s conversation with Hollande was one of a half dozen telephone conversations he had with world leaders Saturday about Ukraine, the White House says.

He  also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and held a conference call with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The new warnings come in the wake of Russia’s insistence that any U.S. sanctions will have a boomerang effect on the United States and that Crimea has the right to self-determination as armed men tried to seize another Ukrainian military base on the peninsula.

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In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps” that could harm Russian-American relations, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

“Sanctions…would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang,” it added.

It was the second tense, high-level exchange between the former Cold War foes in 24 hours over the pro-Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after an hour-long call with U.S. President Barack Obama that their positions on the former Soviet republic were still far apart. Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia on Thursday.

Putin, who later opened the Paralympic Games in Sochi which have been boycotted by a string of Western dignitaries, said Ukraine’s new, pro-Western authorities had acted illegitimately over the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.

“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” he said.

Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the Ukrainian border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared to the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.

On Friday evening armed men drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile defence post in Sevastopol, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene. But no shots were fired and Crimea’s pro-Russian premier said later the standoff was over.

Putin denies the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed his assertion.

The most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War – resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after protests in Kiev that led to violence – escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia.

The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.


Turkey scrambled jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast and a U.S. warship passed through Turkey’s Bosphorus straits on its way to the Black Sea, although the U.S. military said it was a routine deployment.

European Union leaders and Obama said the referendum plan was illegitimate and would violate Ukraine’s constitution.

The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said after meeting visiting Crimean lawmakers on Friday that Crimea had a right to self-determination, and ruled out any risk of war between “the two brotherly nations”.

Obama ordered visa bans and asset freezes on Thursday against so far unidentified people deemed responsible for threatening European Union leaders Ukraine’s sovereignty. Earlier in the week, a Kremlin aide said Moscow might refuse to pay off any loans to U.S. banks, the top four of which have around $24 billion in exposure to Russia.

Japan endorsed the Western position that the actions of Russia constitute “a threat to international peace and security”, after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious, saying economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis and avoiding comment on the Crimean referendum.

The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily on Friday, calling the EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel and on a broad new pact governing Russia-EU ties “extremely unconstructive”. It pledged to retaliate.


Senior Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from prison after Yanukovich’s overthrow, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin and appealed for immediate EU sanctions against Russia, warning that Crimea might otherwise slide into a guerrilla war.

Brussels and Washington rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance. The regional director of the International Monetary Fund said talks with Kiev on a loan agreement were going well and praised the new government’s openness to economic reform and transparency.

The European Commission has said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the IMF, which requires painful economic reforms like ending gas subsidies.

Promises of billions of dollars in Western aid for the Kiev government, and the perception that Russian troops are not likely to go beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine, have helped reverse a rout in the local hryvnia currency.

In the past two days it has traded above 9.0 to the dollar for the first time since the Crimea crisis began last week. Local dealers said emergency currency restrictions imposed last week were also supporting the hryvnia.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said Ukraine had not paid its $440 million gas bill for February, bringing its arrears to $1.89 billion and hinted it could turn off the taps as it did in 2009, when a halt in Russian deliveries to Ukraine reduced supplies to Europe during a cold snap.

In Moscow, a huge crowd gathered near the Kremlin at a government-sanctioned rally and concert billed as being “in support of the Crimean people”. Pop stars took to the stage and demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “Crimea is Russian land”, and “We believe in Putin”.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said no one in the civilised world would recognise the result of the “so-called referendum” in Crimea.

He repeated Kiev’s willingness to negotiate with Russia if Moscow pulls its additional troops out of Crimea and said he had requested a telephone call with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov ridiculed calls for Russia to join an international “contact group” with Ukraine proposed by the West, saying they “make us smile”.

Demonstrators encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede.

Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure.

“I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.”

Unarmed military observers from the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were blocked from entering Crimea for a second day in a row on Friday, the OSCE said on Twitter.

The United Nations said it had sent its assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, to Kiev to conduct a preliminary humans rights assessment.

Ukrainian television has been replaced with Russian state channels in Crimea and the streets largely belong to people who support Moscow’s rule, some of whom have harassed journalists and occasional pro-Kiev protesters.

Part of the Crimea’s 2 million population opposes Moscow’s rule, including members of the region’s ethnic Russian majority. The last time Crimeans were asked, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.

“With all these soldiers here, it is like we are living in a zoo,” Tatyana, 41, an ethnic Russian. “Everyone fully understands this is an occupation.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Newsmax Wires

Truce Collapses in Ukraine, Violence Intensifies.

Image: Truce Collapses in Ukraine, Violence IntensifiesAnti-government protesters man a barricade on the outskirts of Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 20.

Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine’s embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 70 people dead and hundreds injured.

Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.

Protesters were also seen leading policemen with their hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev. Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. It was not clear how they were taken. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev’s occupied city hall.

President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country — mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych’s central government, while many in eastern Ukraine favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.

At least 99 people have died this week in the clashes in Kiev, a sharp reversal in three months of mostly peaceful protests. Now neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych’s resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.

Thursday was the deadliest day yet. An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.

The carnage appears to show that neither Yanukovych nor the opposition leaders appear to be in control of the chaos engulfing Ukraine.

Dr. Oleh Musiy, the top medical coordinator for the protesters told the AP that at least 70 protesters were killed Thursday and over 500 injured, and the death toll could well rise further.

There was no way to immediately verify his statement. Earlier in the day, an Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies of protesters laid out Thursday on the edge of the capital’s sprawling protest camp.

In addition, one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.

A truce announced late Wednesday appeared to have little credibility among hardcore protesters at Kiev’s Independence Square campsite. One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP even after the truce, protesters still threw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.

The Interior Ministry warned Kiev residents to stay indoors Thursday because of the “armed and aggressive mood of the people.”

Yanukovych claimed Thursday that police were not armed and “all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken.” But the Interior Ministry later contradicted that, saying law enforcers would get weapons as part of an “anti-terrorist” operation.

Some signs emerged that Yanukovych is losing loyalists. The chief of Kiev’s city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday he was leaving Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“We must be guided only by the interests of the people, this is our only chance to save people’s lives,” he said, adding he would continue to fulfill his duties as long as he had the people’s trust.

Another influential member of the ruling party, Serhiy Tyhipko, said both Yanukovych and opposition leaders had “completely lost control of the situation.”

“Their inaction is leading to the strengthening of opposition and human victims,” the Interfax news agency reported.

The parliament building was evacuated Thursday because of fears that protesters would storm it, and the government office and the Foreign Ministry buildings in Kiev were also evacuated. But a parliament session convened in the afternoon, with some pro-government lawmakers heeding the opposition’s call to work out a solution to the crisis.

As the violence exploded and heavy smoke from burning barricades at the encampment belched into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries — France, Germany and Poland — met with Yanukovych for five hours after speaking with the opposition leaders. The EU ministers then returned to speak again with opposition leaders.

The 28-nation European Union began an emergency meeting on Ukraine in Brussels to consider sanctions against those behind the violence.

The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would once again limit the president’s power.

Prior to the deaths Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized this week. Protesters who have set up a medical facility in a downtown cathedral so that wounded colleagues would not be snatched away by police say the number of injured are significantly higher — possibly double or triple that.

The Caritas Ukraine aid group praised the protest medics but said many of the wounded will need long-term care, including prosthetics.

The clashes this week have been the most deadly since protests kicked off in November after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.

The political jockeying for influence in Ukraine has continued. In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was sending former ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to Ukraine as a mediator.

President Barack Obama stepped in to condemn the violence, warning Wednesday “there will be consequences” for Ukraine if it keeps up. The U.S. has raised the prospect of joining with the EU to impose sanctions against Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will “try to do our best” to fulfill its financial obligations to Ukraine, but indicated Moscow would hold back on further installments of its bailout money until the crisis is resolved.

“We need partners that are in good shape and a Ukrainian government that is legitimate and effective,” he said.

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Ukrainian alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska, 24, said she will not take part in Friday’s women’s slalom due to the developments in Kiev.

“As a protest against lawless actions made toward protesters, the lack of responsibility from the side of the president and his lackey government, we refuse further performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games,” her father and coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, wrote in a Facebook post.

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© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


‘Putin in Underwear’ Artist Seeks Asylum in France.

A Russian artist said Thursday he has fled to France and is applying for asylum after police seized his painting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women’s underwear.

Police on Tuesday raided an exhibition in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, which next week hosts the G20 summit, and confiscated works including a painting of Putin in a strappy nightie and Medvedev in a bra and skimpy knickers.

The artist, Konstantin Altunin, 45, said by telephone from Paris that he had requested political asylum and was now gathering the necessary documents.

“Yesterday I went to the prefecture in Paris… and made this request. I now need to go through the procedure and bring written confirmation of where I am staying,” he said.

Altunin said he flew out of Russia as soon as he heard that the exhibition had been shut down on Tuesday evening and the organisers had been detained by police and questioned into the night.

He said that the police had described the exhibition at the newly opened Museum of the Authorities as extremist and he feared criminal charges.

“They have already said directly that my exhibition is extremist — that’s a very serious charge,” he said.

The exhibition also included paintings of Lenin and Stalin.

Altunin said he had expected the authorities would view the works with humour and was shocked by their reaction.

“They just said ‘We don’t like it’ and sealed up the doors and that was it. I don’t think there is such backwardness in any other country.”

Altunin said he had created the painting of Putin and Medvedev when they announced in 2011 a job swap with Putin returning to the Kremlin and Medvedev becoming prime minister.

“It is absolutely innocent irony,” he said.

Police also confiscated a painting of local lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, known for his backing of a controversial law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors that Putin signed into law this summer.

Altunin said the organisers of the exhibition had commissioned him to paint the portrait, which shows Milonov with the rainbow flag of the gay pride movement.

The director of the Museum of the Authorities, Alexander Donskoi, told AFP that Altunin had not yet been charged with any crime.

“He is not charged with anything, but if the authorities confiscated the paintings, they could do anything.”


© AFP 2013

Russian Warships Dock in Cuba on ‘Friendly Visit’.

Three Russian warships led by the missile cruiser “Moskva” arrived Saturday in Cuba on a “friendly visit” to the communist-run island, the first such trip in four years.

The ships were greeted by an artillery salute, a naval band and a few hundred onlookers as they arrived in the Bay of Havana.

Cuba’s government has said the ships are here on a “friendly visit” and that tourists will be able to visit the “Moskva” on Monday.

The two countries were close allies during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union largely propped up Cuba’s state-run economy as the United States maintained a trade embargo on the island.

But oil-rich Venezuela has more recently assumed the role of Cuba’s main benefactor, particularly during the 14-year reign of leftist leader Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev paid a three-day visit to Cuba in February in which he met with Cuban President Raul Castro and his aging brother, the revolutionary icon Fidel.

During his visit, the Russian leader signed 10 bilateral agreements, including a new accord governing Cuba’s outstanding debt to the former Soviet power, which is estimated to be $20-30 billion.

In August 2009 the salvage ship “Altai,” part of the Russian navy‘s Northern Fleet, paid a four-day “working visit” to Cuba.


© AFP 2013

New NSA Leak Reveals US, UK Spied on G20 Summit.

Britain, working with the United States’ National Security Agency, intercepted phone calls and monitored computers used by officials taking part in two high-level international finance meetings in London in 2009, a British newspaper said on Sunday.

The latest report, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reveals that the U.S. specifically targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev‘s communication signals, or “meta-data,” back to the Russian embassy in London.

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The effort, however, apparently didn’t apparently reveal much beyond “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted,” the Guardian reported.

According to the newspaper, the NSA documents stated that “this is an analysis of signal activity in support of President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to London. The report details a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted. The signal activity was found to be emanating from the Russian embassy in London and the communications are believed to be in support of the Russian president.”

Specifically, the details of the intercepts were in a briefing document prepared by the NSA and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The disclosure reveals the importance of “the U.S. spy hub at RAF Menwith Hill in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where hundreds of NSA analysts are based,” working alongside liaison officers from British intelligence, the paper concluded.

The Guardian said some delegates from countries in the Group of 20 – which comprises top economies around the world – used Internet cafes that had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their emails.

The report Sunday was published hours before leaders of the Group of Eight countries – all of which are in the G20 – start a two-day summit in Northern Ireland.

The Guardian said it had seen classified documents that detailed secret monitoring by British intelligence of officials at a G20 leaders summit and a finance ministers’ meeting in 2009 and suggested it had been sanctioned at a senior level by the government of former prime minister Gordon Brown.

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The aim of the monitoring, which included tracing who was calling who, appeared to have been to get an edge in the meetings and targets included South Africa and Turkey, the report said.

A spokesman for Britain’s foreign ministry declined to comment. The Labour party, which held power in 2009, was not immediately available for comment.

The Guardian this month reported details of surveillance by the NSA of phone records and Internet data in the United States.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Insight: Liberal governor engulfed by Putin’s Russia.


By Timothy Heritage

KIROV, Russia (Reuters) – Governor Nikita Belykh is the most powerful man in Russia’s remote Kirov region but that did not stop masked investigators searching his office.

Police linked the raid to a fraud investigation involving a local business, but many others say the men in body armor and balaclavas who rummaged through his files were a warning signal from Moscow, and possibly President Vladimir Putin himself.

The message? Toe the line or lose your job.

As a liberal regional governor in a country led by an increasingly hawkish president, Belykh is an odd man out and fighting for his political survival.

The 37-year old former opposition leader presents the inquiry as little more than a hazard of his job as a regional leader, not commenting on suggestions Putin or his allies were behind it and saying he had no idea of the real motive.

“In terms of political signals, there are less expensive or complicated ways (to get at me),” he said in an interview, looking relaxed in an open-neck shirt and jeans but choosing his words carefully.

“Many governors have faced such issues,” he said, referring to his role as a witness in the investigation into the sale of part of a local distillery and saying he had committed no crime.

In some ways Belykh is like Russia’s 82 other regional governors, relying on his nous, contacts and knowledge of the Byzantine political system to stay in power in the drab regional capital of Kirov, 900 km (560 miles) northeast of Moscow.

But he is one of only nine who are not members of Putin’s United Russia party and is unique in having led a moderate opposition party before Putin’s relatively liberal predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, brought him in from the cold in late 2008.

When Putin first took over from Boris Yeltsin at the turn of the century, the growing post-Soviet autonomy of the regions had threatened to tear apart a federation stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific.

Back in the presidency for a third time and with some Soviet-style order reinstated, it is not so much Russia’s future but Putin’s at the fore.

Having his own people in charge of the regions, some of them thousands of miles from Moscow, could be crucial to Putin’s ability to reassert his authority over the world’s biggest country after protests in the big cities against his rule.


Without Putin’s patronage, it is all but impossible to get on in Russia and Belykh’s choice is becoming clear: to pledge allegiance to the president and disassociate himself from his former opposition comrades.

“I’m a civil servant. I’m on the president’s team. I must, and will, support the course the president has chosen,” the burly, bearded governor said.

His is guarded during the interview, avoiding inflammatory comments that might endanger his relationship with the Kremlin, which faces little dissent for now from opposition leaders preoccupied by criminal charges against them.

Belykh needs no reminding of his dependence in Kirov, a city named after a Bolshevik whose assassination in 1934 was used by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as a pretext for his purges.

A display of photographs in the regional government headquarters shows Putin touring Kirov as prime minister in February 2011 with Belykh at his side.

The city of almost half a million people resembles many other towns across the country, with squat Soviet-era apartment blocks that have seen better days.

The region is down on its luck. Its timber trade is in decline, as are the military factories no longer needed for Moscow to keep up in the Cold War arms race.

Local officials put the average wage in its capital at only about 17,000 roubles ($550), considerably less than in Moscow, while the closure of arms producers, or sharp reductions in their workforce, has left some other towns with almost no jobs.

Belykh’s penchant for blogging – and the smartphone on which he keeps the packed schedule of his 14-hour work day – is somewhat out of kilter in the city, whose main square is dominated by a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin.

It also suggests a more natural link with iPad-carrying Medvedev than with Putin, who is a generation older and has embraced the digital age less enthusiastically than his protégé.

Medvedev installed Belykh in Kirov, which is bigger than Hungary but accounts for only 1.5 million of Russia’s 140 million people and is mostly covered by forests, to test whether liberals could be co-opted into local government.

Belykh, who had been deputy governor of the neighboring Perm region, set about tackling many problems, supporters say.

“At least you can say he’s put Kirov on the map. No one knew where it was before,” said Alexander Khalikov, a small businessman who praised Belykh for bringing new shops to the city and building schools, homes and sports centers.

The U.S. fast food chain McDonald’s is among newcomers to Kirov, which local people say has become more widely known across Russia because of the media glare around Belykh, although foreign investment is minimal.

But Belykh also quickly made enemies. Many local businessmen and politicians simply do not trust a man from outside the region who brought liberal aides such as Alexei Navalny, who later went on to become an opposition leader in Moscow.

“He’s just like the rest of them – out for himself. What has he really done? There are no jobs for youngsters here. Physics graduates can only find work as laborers,” said 77-year-old Roza Popova, carrying her shopping through a snowstorm.

She complained that more than a third of her 10,000-rouble ($320) monthly pension goes on her rent, and that energy prices were rising. Belykh, she said, had not done enough.


From day one in the job, Belykh has had to play rival business and political groups off against each other in Kirov, trying on a local level to emulate what Putin does on a national scale by maintaining a balance of forces.

With a seat in Russia’s upper house of parliament as a regional governor, he also travels Moscow once a week for meetings at government ministries and other federal bodies crucial to winning government subsidies.

Kirov’s annual subsidy is almost 13 billion roubles ($420 million), around a third of its budget, and its financial dependence increases Putin’s hold.

“The region is not self-sufficient. It’s not dependent on the quality of the governor, it’s dependent on the subsidies it gets,” said Ilya Ponomaryov, a moderate opposition member of Russia’s lower house of parliament in Moscow.

The departure from the Kremlin of his sponsor, Medvedev, and Putin’s return to the presidency last May has left Belykh more vulnerable and isolated than ever. Maria Gaidar, a former aide to Belykh, declared the “liberal experiment” over in Kirov.

Russian opposition leaders saw the raid on Belykh’s office as part of efforts by Putin to crack down on potential rivals that include pressing criminal charges against Navalny for alleged theft, which he denies, while working in Kirov.

The Kremlin denies launching a clampdown, saying it does not use the judiciary for political purposes.

Belykh’s loyalty had already been tested with a motion by local legislators to hold a no-confidence vote in him last month that was withdrawn at the last minute.

“It was a signal from the Moscow leadership of United Russia and the presidential administration that they can do this. It was meant to shake him up,” said Yevgeny Kokoulin, leader of the center-left Yabloko party in Kirov which opposes Belykh.

“If you have good relations with the state, you survive. Otherwise you do not. Those are the rules of the game.”

Putin scolded Belykh in public during a meeting in January 2011 over an excessive rise in water rates in Kirov, saying he should have returned from holiday to deal with it.

The governor later hit back, saying the matter had been dealt with and defending his vacation with his children.

Belykh says he and Putin cleared the air at a meeting a few months later and describes relations as businesslike. “We have a working relationship. It’s not antipathy or sympathy – we meet and discuss work. Everything is calm,” he said.

But they are certainly not close. “As a rule, the presidential administration doesn’t call to make any comments and Putin himself doesn’t call,” Belykh said.

His main contact is a Kremlin envoy responsible for liaison with 14 central Russian regions including Kirov, grouped into one of eight clusters of regions across the country.


Asked what he saw as his main achievements as governor, Belykh said: “Building roads, gasification (of communities) and work in the social sphere. A lot has been done.”

Mikhail Kurashin, a local deputy, endorsed his efforts. “There are problems … but Nikita Belykh has given the region new impetus,” said Kurashin, a deputy speaker in the Kirov parliament for the center-left Just Russia party.

But the communist deputy parliamentary speaker in Kirov, Marina Sozontova, said her party had been approached by many workers demanding the governor resign.

“We judge him on his actions, not his words,” she said in an office lined with portraits of Stalin and Lenin, and expressing disappointment with the lack of improvements in Kirov.

Key to Belykh’s survival as governor is United Russia, which has a simple majority in the regional parliament. Although rivals talk of divisions in the local party branch, including over the governor, its leader still backs him.

If he can cling to power until his term runs out at the start of next year, he must then secure approval to stay on until an election a few months later, before seeking a new term through a popular vote. It is a daunting prospect, and Belykh is realistic.

“I know how our political system works,” he says.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)


By Timothy Heritage | Reuters

Meteorite hits central Russia, 400 hurt.

  • The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, in this still image taken from video shot on February 15, 2013. REUTERS/OOO Spetszakaz

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, in this still image taken from video shot on February 15, 2013. REUTERS/OOO Spe …more 

YEKATERINBURG/CHELYABINSK, Russia (Reuters) – About 400 people were injured when ameteorite shot across the sky in central Russia on Friday sending fireballs crashing to Earth, smashing windows and setting off car alarms.

Residents on their way to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.

The meteorite raced across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phones worked only intermittently.

Chelyabinsk city authorities said about 400 people sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass.

“I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day,” said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.

“I felt like I was blinded by headlights,” he said.

No fatalities were reported but President Vladimir Putin, who was due to host Finance Ministry officials from the Group of 20 nations in Moscow, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were informed.

A local ministry official said the meteor shower may have been connected with an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool that was due to pass Earth at a distance of 27,520 km (17,100 miles) but this could not be confirmed.

Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk’s central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled.

A loud noise, resembling an explosion, rang out at around 9.20 a.m. (0520 GMT). The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the industrial city’s centre.

“I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend,” said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. “Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows.”

A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but there was no environmental threat, a plant spokeswoman said.

Such incidents are rare. A meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.

The Emergencies Ministry described Friday’s events as a “meteor shower in the form of fireballs” and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said a blast had been heard at an altitude of 10,000 meters (32,800 feet), apparently signaling it occurred when the meteorite entered Earth’s atmosphere.

The U.S. space agency NASA has said an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 meters in diameter, would have an encounter with Earth closer than any asteroid since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.

Television, weather and communications satellites fly about 500 miles higher. The moon is 14 times farther away.

(Writing by Alexei Anishchuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Janet Lawrence)


By Natalia Shurmina and Andrey Kuzmin | Reuters

Russia’s 2012 crackdown worst since Soviet era -rights group.

  • Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, speaks during a news conference in Moscow January 31, 2013. Human Rights Watch presented its annual report on Thursday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, speaks during a news conference in Moscow January 31, 2013. Human Rights Watch presented its annual …more 

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authoritarianism increased last year inRussia to levels unseen since the Soviet era with a raft of harsh laws curbing political freedoms and harassment of opposition activists and critics, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The crackdown coincided with the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin and the appointment of his predecessor and protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, as prime minister, according to the New York-based group.

“Since Putin’s return … not only has the tentative shift towards liberalization of the Medvedev era been totally reversed, but also authoritarianism in Russia has reached a level unknown in recent history,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the group’s Europe and Central Asia Division.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow accompanying the publication of its annual report onhuman rights worldwide, Denber also criticized the government’s stance toward the West.

Since Putin started a six-year term in May, he has signed laws restricting protests, demanding foreign-funded non-governmental organizations register as “foreign agents,” and setting new rules on treason that critics say could place almost anyone who associates with foreigners at risk of prosecution.

Several opposition leaders and activists face potential prison terms if convicted on charges Putin’s critics say are trumped up. The president’s spokesman has denied the Kremlin uses courts and police to pressure critics.

“Measures to intimidate critics and restrict Russia’s vibrant civil society have reached unprecedented levels,” Hugh Williamson, director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division, said in a statement.

“Pressure and reprisals against activists and non-governmental organizations need to stop.”

“This has been the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent history,” he said of 2012. The statement said the Kremlin “unleashed the worst political crackdown” since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On Thursday evening, Moscow police dispersed protesters and detained about 30 activists who tried to demonstrate for the right to free assembly, which they say is routinely violated by the government.


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said he had not read the report but that Russia would probably comment later and “show that the human rights situation in Russia is not the worst.”

He said the Russian ministry’s own annual reports have shown that “there are serious systemic problems in the sphere of human rights in the United States and many European Union countries.”

“Before you criticize others, you should look at yourself,” Lukashevich said at a weekly briefing.

The Human Rights Watch annual report also looked at developments in the Middle East and North Africa in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings. It raised concerns about a possible return to non-democratic rule in some countries.

“The uncertainties of freedom are no reason to revert to the enforced predictability of authoritarian rule,” said the group’s director, Kenneth Roth. “The path ahead may be treacherous, but the alternative is to consign entire countries to a grim future of oppression.”

The report criticized Egypt’s new constitution, saying vague provisions on speech, religion, and the family had dangerous implications for women’s rights and the exercise of social freedoms protected under international law.

The constitution also reflects a seeming abandonment of efforts to exercise civilian control over the military, it added.

Elsewhere in the region, it said, Libya has become a “weak state” and the situation in Syria, where over 60,000 people have been killed in a nearly 2-year-long civil war, has deteriorated. Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Security Council to overcome its impasse and refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Doina Chiacu)


By Alessandra Prentice | Reuters

Russia says Assad’s prospects fading.

  • A fighter from the Free Syrian Army's Tahrir al Sham holds tray of tea in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – A fighter from the Free Syrian Army‘s Tahrir al Sham holds tray of tea in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said the chances of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad staying in power were growing “smaller and smaller”, as fighting on Sunday in southwestern Damascus shut a main highway from the capital.

Assad has long counted Moscow as an ally and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev‘s remarks were the most vocal Russian statement yet that his days may now be numbered, although they come after predictions from France, an avowed enemy, and from neighboring Jordan that the Syrian president’s downfall is not imminent.

“I think that with every day, every week and every month, the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller,” Medvedev said, according to the transcript of an interview in Russian with CNN that was released by his office.

“But I repeat again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, nor any other country,” said Medvedev, whose administration has criticized Western, Turkish and Gulf Arab support for Syria’s rebels.

“The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers … is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak.”

After Egypt’s veteran president Hosni Mubarak was toppled, Russia withheld its veto on a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing Western and Arab powers to provide military help to the rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in neighboring Libya.

Moscow has since accused the West of breaching sovereign rights and has vetoed U.N. action against Assad. Medvedev warned that removing Assad by force would mean “decades” of civil war.

Russia has been Assad’s most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.

Moscow has blocked three Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing him out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed which has killed more than 60,000 people. But Russia has also distanced itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have seized territory in the north of the country, including several border crossings, and have challenged Assad’s control over Syria’s main cities.

But Assad’s air power and army, whose senior ranks are dominated by his Alawite minority, have stemmed rebel advances.

France said on Thursday there was no sign Assad was about to be overthrown, reversing previous statements that he could not hold out long, and Jordan’s King Abdullah said Assad would consolidate his grip for now.

“Anybody who is saying the regime of Bashar has got weeks to live really doesn’t know the reality on the ground,” Abdullah said in Davos on Friday. “They still have capability, so I give them a strong shot at least for the first half of 2013.”


Activists said rebels clashed with forces loyal to Assad in southwestern Damascus on Sunday, seizing a railway station and forcing the closure of the main highway to Deraa in the south.

Footage posted on the Internet showed what activists said was a rebel attack on the station in Qadam district. One clip showed gunmen taking cover as gunfire could be heard. Another showed gunmen inspecting buildings by the track after what the narrator describes as the “liberation” of the station.

Another video showed black smoke billowing above concrete buildings, the result of what activists said was an air strike by Assad’s air force near the railway terminal.

Syrian media did not comment on the fighting around Qadam and restrictions on independent media make it difficult to verify reports from activists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group which monitors the violence in Syria, said jets and artillery also struck targets in rebel strongholds to the east and south of the capital after fierce clashes there.

The fighting came as United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited Syria ahead of a U.N. aid conference in Kuwait which aims to raise $1.5 billion for millions of people made homeless, hungry and vulnerable by the conflict.

On Wednesday, Amos said Syrians were “paying a terrible price” for the failure of world powers to resolve the conflict, pointing to 650,000 refugees who have fled the country and the millions affected inside Syria.

“Four million people need help, two million are internally displaced and 400,000 out of 500,000 Palestinian refugees have been affected,” she told an economic forum in Switzerland.

The United Nations and aid groups inside Syria, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, could not keep pace with the rising number of people in need, she said.

“We must find ways to reach more people, especially in the areas we are still unable to get to, and where there is ongoing fighting,” she said.

Last month, the United Nations withdrew 25 of its 100 foreign aid workers from Syria as fighting intensified around Damascus, but Amos said it remained committed to maintaining aid work.

Most of the money from the Kuwait conference will go to support neighboring countries hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, while $519 million is earmarked for aid inside Syria.


The fighting has alarmed neighboring Israel, where Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said that any sign that Syria’s grip on its chemical weapons was slipping could trigger Israeli military strikes.

Should Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas or Syrian rebels obtain Syria’s chemical weapons, “it would dramatically change the capabilities of those organizations,” Shalom said.

Such a development would be “a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.

Assad has vowed to defeat rebels he describes as terrorists. In a speech three weeks ago he repeated his readiness for a national dialogue, but ruled out talking to “extremists who don’t believe in any language but killing and terrorism”.

State television said on Sunday that Syria’s highest judicial council had suspended legal cases against Syrian opposition members so they can take part in talks – a proposal roundly rejected by most of Assad’s opponents.

Medvedev said Assad did not appear to be ready for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

“He should have done everything much faster, attracting part of the moderate opposition, which was ready to sit at the table with him, to his side,” the Russian premier said. “This was his significant mistake, and possibly a fatal one.”

But he also warned of consequences if Assad is thrown out by force. He said: “Then the civil war will last for decades.”

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut, Alistair Lyon in Amman, Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)


By Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman | Reuters

Russia’s Medvedev laments relations with Europe.


  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev waves as he arrives to the Plenary Session at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)View PhotoRussian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev …
  • The Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev gestures during a panel session on the first day of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)View PhotoThe Prime Minister of the Russian …

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP)Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is criticizing European energy regulations and visa policies and insisting that his country isn’t a corrupt place to do business.

Medvedev is trying to defend Russia’s reputation in the face of a new report released at the World Economic Forum in Davos warning of risks ahead for his country’s economy.

Speaking in Davos on Wednesday, he said it is “very sad” that Europe and Russia are fighting over energy regulations. The European Union is pressuring Russia to apply EU rules to the European operations of gas giant Gazprom. Russia is struggling to maintain its dominance of Europe’s gas market.

He also criticized European leaders for “not hearing” Russia’s arguments for visa-free travel in Europe — obtaining visas is a big hurdle for Russians doing business.


Associated Press

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