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« Reply #345 on: Oct 28, 2014, 06:51 AM »

Russian Police Search Leading Activist's Home

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 October 2014, 13:44

Russian police have raided the home of opposition activist Maria Gaidar, daughter of a former prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, as part of a probe against another top Kremlin critic, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

"A search went on for several hours led by investigators and police officers on Monday," said spokeswoman Nataliya Malysheva of the Maria Gaidar Foundation.

Malysheva said the raid was connected to an investigation into money laundering allegations against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, that supporters claim is designed to muzzle the fierce Kremlin critic.

Investigators seized all Gaidar's electronic equipment and that of her family members, Malysheva said.

Navalny, a lawyer by training, became first an anti-corruption blogger then a charismatic speaker at opposition rallies against President Vladimir Putin and came second in elections for Moscow mayor last year.

Navalny was convicted of embezzlement in July 2013 and given a five-year suspended jail sentence. He is now being held under house arrest during the investigation into another legal case.

Among several legal investigations against him, Navalny is accused of embezzling campaign funds from the opposition party Union of Right Forces (SPS), which ceased to exist in 2008.

This probe centres on a company headed by Navalny at the time, where Gaidar worked in 2007 and she is being treated as a witness in the case.

Gaidar "believes that these searches are politically motivated," Malysheva said.

Gaidar served as a deputy governor from 2009 to 2011 in the northern Kirov region.

Her late father Yegor Gaidar was a liberal politician who became prime minister under Yeltsin, implementing harsh economic reforms to end the Soviet socialist planned economy.

Moscow police on Monday also held a search at the headquarters of The Other Russia left wing nationalist group headed by novelist Eduard Limonov that has held anti-Putin protests in central Moscow. Police arrested seven activists.

Limonov has lately been embraced by pro-Kremlin media after he voiced support for the annexation of Crimea.

Source: Agence France Presse

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« Reply #346 on: Oct 29, 2014, 05:08 AM »

EU Uphold Sanctions on Russia over Ukraine Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 October 2014, 22:31

Russia announced Tuesday it will recognize separatist polls in Ukraine next weekend, sparking an angry reaction from Washington and Kiev's newly elected pro-Western leaders.

The rebel elections on Sunday should "go ahead as agreed" and Russia will "recognize the results", Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Izvestia daily.

Lavrov's remarks were seen as one of Moscow's most overt acts of support for the separatists to date, and came as Agence France-Presse learned that the EU has decided to maintain its punishing sanctions on Russia.

Moscow rejects Western accusations that it is behind the armed uprising in Ukraine's east in which around 3,700 people have been died since April.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Moscow's recognition of the rebel votes would be "a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists" in the truce agreement signed in the Belorussian capital Minsk on September 5.

President Petro Poroshenko's spokesman also said the rebel polls "put the entire peace process under threat."

The row followed an increase in ceasefire violations in the wake of Sunday's parliamentary election, in which Poroshenko's allies won a convincing victory.

Ukraine's top leadership on Tuesday met visiting U.S. Senator James Inhofe, one of the leading proponents of sending Ukraine military aid.

Inhofe said that he received a list of weapons Ukraine needs from Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak and will take it back to his armed services senate committee.

"I don't want to be specific about what kind of weapons" were sought, he told a briefing, but expressed certainty that the aid could be approved within four or five days.

Artillery explosions and small arms fire could be heard in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk Tuesday as Ukraine's military lost two soldiers and was forced to abandon an checkpoint at the village of Smile near Lugansk, which has been encircled for nearly fortnight.

Ukraine's military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said 10 servicemen have died there since September.

"We are currently identifying bodies and searching for missing soldiers," he said.

European leaders meeting in Brussels Tuesday decided to uphold sanctions on Russia, AFP learned.

"Member states are quite united. There have been no developments on the ground or change of attitude by Russia to justify the rethinking of the sanctions," a diplomatic source said.

The EU sanctions, coupled with similar measures by the United States, are meant to pressure Russia for backing the rebels and annexing Ukraine's Black Sea province of Crimea in March.

The sanctions have already bitten deeply into the faltering Russian economy and spurred the kind of East-West tensions last seen during the Cold War.

With over 95 percent of ballots counted from Sunday's Ukraine parliamentary election, the shape of a future ruling alliance was becoming clearer.

The Petro Poroshenko Bloc remained marginally behind Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's People's Front, with about 22 percent of the vote each.

The third-placed Self-Reliance party, likewise nationalist and pro-Western, confirmed reports it was considering joining a three-way coalition.

Yatsenyuk is expected to retain the premier's post.

One of Poroshenko's main policies is to make peace with the separatists, granting them autonomy, though not independence. That task looked harder than ever with the rebel elections approaching and their boycott of Sunday's poll for the national parliament.

Poroshenko's government must also tackle corruption and massive debt, and resolve a near permanent crisis over Russian gas supplies.

But Western leaders, who hailed the election as a democratic milestone, have promised to stand by the embattled country.

The head of the EU executive, Jose Manuel Barroso, called the election a "victory of democracy and European reforms", and French President Francois Hollande telephoned Poroshenko to congratulate him on the manner it was held.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the election -- declared mostly fair by a European observer team -- an "important milestone in Ukraine's democratic development."

Sunday's election was billed as the final touch to a pro-Western revolution that began in February, when huge street protests ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych after he abruptly rejected a landmark Ukraine-EU pact.

Communists and other Yanukovych allies were routed, although a party made up of his former associates won a small share of seats.

Source: Agence France Presse

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« Reply #347 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:14 AM »

Nato jets intercept Russian warplanes following 'unusual level of air activity'

Bombers and fighters shadowed during unusual burst of flights over Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic and Black Sea, says alliance

Staff and agencies, Thursday 30 October 2014 07.27 GMT    

Nato aircraft have been scrambled to shadow Russian strategic bombers over the Atlantic and Black Sea and fighter planes over the Baltic in what the western alliance called an unusual burst of activity as tensions remain elevated because of the situation in Ukraine.

In all, Nato said, its jets intercepted four groups of Russian aircraft in about 24 hours since Tuesday and some were still on manoeuvres late on Wednesday afternoon.

“These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European air space,” the alliance said.

A spokesman stressed there had been no violation of Nato air space, unlike a week earlier when a Russian spy plane briefly crossed Estonia’s border. But so many sorties in one day was unusual compared with recent years.

In the biggest exercise four Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers, the 1950s equivalent of the US B-52, flew out over the Norwegian Sea in the early hours of Wednesday, accompanied by four refuelling tanker aircraft.

Norwegian F-16s tracked the formation, which eventually broke up, with six planes heading back toward Russia and two Tu-95s flying on south over the North Sea where they were intercepted by British Typhoons. Portuguese F-16s later tracked them in the Atlantic before they turned for home.

A Norwegian military spokesman said: “We see Russian aircraft near our air space on a regular basis but what was unusual is that it was a large number of aircraft and pushed further south than we normally see.”

In a second incident two Tu-95s accompanied by two fighter jets were being tracked by Turkish aircraft over the Black Sea on Wednesday afternoon, while flights of seven Russian warplanes were monitored on Tuesday and Wednesday over the Baltic Sea.

On Tuesday German and Danish planes were involved in tracking them as well as aircraft from non-Nato states Sweden and Finland. On Wednesday Portuguese F-16s posted in the Baltic intercepted a similar group of fighters and fighter-bombers.

Separately, British jets intercepted a Russian-built Antonov cargo plane that was carrying car parts from Latvia to Birmingham after air traffic controllers became concerned. The plane was diverted to Stansted airport and later cleared to continue its flight.

Nato said it had conducted more than 100 such intercepts of Russian aircraft this year so far, about three times as many as in 2013 before the confrontation with Moscow over separatist revolts in Ukraine soured relations.

President Vladimir Putin has committed to reinvigorating Russia’s armed forces, which had been undermined by the economic troubles that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tension over Ukraine has seen Nato step up its vigilance, especially on its eastern frontiers with Russia.

The spokesman said there was no particular reason for concern over Russian warplanes exercising their right to fly in international air space but that such sorties were shadowed by Nato aircraft as a precaution and to protect civil air traffic.

Material from Reuters was used in this report

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« Reply #348 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:26 AM »

Putin Spokesman Tells Press to 'Shut Trap' on Cancer Rumours

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 15:45

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman on Wednesday ridiculed U.S. media reports that the Russian strongman may be suffering from cancer, saying he was fine and that journalists should "shut their trap".

Dmitry Peskov blasted those behind speculation that the 62-year-old Putin -- who has long cultivated an action-man image -- was in ill health.

"They shouldn't bank on it. They should shut their trap. Everything's okay," he told journalists at Putin's country residence outside Moscow.

The New York Post on Friday cited "sources" as saying Putin was suffering from pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease.

It suggested the information came from an unnamed elderly German doctor who had been treating Putin until recently.

It also reported that "news outlets from Belarus to Poland" had been saying for months that Putin -- who has dominated Russia's political scene for almost 15 years -- had cancer of the spine.

Rumors of Putin's ill health have persisted over the past few years, with some observers saying he appeared to be in pain at times during public appearances.

His face also sometimes looks swollen, prompting rumours he could be on steroid medication, or trying anti-aging treatments.

In 2012, Putin cut down on foreign travel for a while and postponed a high-profile visit to Japan, with sources in Tokyo blaming health problems.

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said at the time that a "minor sports injury" was to blame.

For Putin, his image as a healthy, active man ready to ride bare-chested or track tigers is crucial in a country where he is already old enough to claim a state pension.

As he faces political isolation from the West and economic woes as the ruble plunges, Putin's sky-high approval rating has dipped for the first time since April.

The Levada independent polling agency found that 83 percent of those questioned in September would vote for Putin as president, down from 87 percent in August.

Source: Agence France Presse

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« Reply #349 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:42 AM »

The ‘Russification’ of Oil Exploration

OCT. 29, 2014

MOSCOW — The American and European sanctions against the Russian oil industry have dashed, at least for now, the Western oil majors’ ambitions to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

But drilling will continue all the same, Russian government and state oil company officials have been taking pains to point out, ever since the sanctions took effect over the summer.

“We will do it on our own,” Igor I. Sechin, the president of Russia’s state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, told journalists in October. “We’ll continue drilling here next year and the years after that.”

Rather than throw in the towel in the face of Western sanctions intended to halt Russia’s Arctic oil ambitions by stopping technology transfers, the Russians have responded with plans to “Russify” the technology to be deployed in the world’s largest effort to date to extract oil from the thawing Arctic Ocean.

The solution to tapping the Arctic, Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister, told a group of high officials in October, “is found first of all in our own industrial base.”

A major hurdle is already cleared: An Exxon-led joint venture discovered oil in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean in September, proving the region holds commercially viable volumes of oil.

Rosneft is already laying plans to drill without Western oil major cooperation. Along with Exxon, Eni of Italy and Statoil of Norway had joint ventures to work with Rosneft in the Kara, Laptev, and Chukchi seas above Russia.

After the September sanctions suspended those deals, Rosneft negotiated to rent from Gazprom four Russian ice-class drilling rigs for next season’s exploration work, should Exxon still be sanction-barred from doing the work next summer.

Rosneft has also booked six rigs from North Atlantic Drilling, a unit of Seadrill of Norway, under contracts signed in July and grandfathered in under the sanctions.

The Russians are in early talks with the Chinese over sailing rigs from the South China Sea to the Arctic Ocean, industry executives say.

This spring as the threat of sanctions loomed, Rosneft bought the Russian and Venezuelan well-drilling business of Weatherford, adding to its in-house capabilities.

A further “Russification” of the industry seems inevitable. In October, President Vladimir V. Putin approved the creation of a state-owned oil services company, RBC, a Russian business newspaper reported. The intention is to duplicate, as well as possible, the services purveyed now by Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger.

Certainly, some in the oil industry see the Russian official response as bluff, asserting Rosneft has neither the skills nor the capital to drill for oil in its 42 offshore licenses blocks. Under the joint ventures, the Western companies financed and managed the exploration work.

The three companies, Exxon, Eni and Statoil, were to invest $20 billion in exploration, and the company has been mute on how it will replace that. Just this summer, Exxon paid $700 million to drill the Universitetskaya-1 well in the Kara Sea.

Russia, meanwhile, does not even manufacture subsea hardware like well heads. Rosneft’s finances are restricted to 30-day loans under sanctions.

Yet the company and the Russian industry are already tooling up for just such an effort.

The sheer uncertainty of sanctions is pushing the Russian industry to turn inward. Russian companies, even those who prefer to work with U.S. oilfield equipment or services providers because the cost or quality is better, can never know when new sanctions might scuttle a deal.

“The client looks at you and says ‘I like you, I like your product, but you are not dependable,’ ” Alexis Rodzianko, the director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia said in an interview.

Russia now has a “hierarchy of procurement” placing domestic and Asian companies first, U.S. companies last.

“The consensus in Russia is this is not a one-off, short-term problem,” Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital in Moscow, said in an interview, of the Russian effort to pivot to domestic and Asian suppliers.

“Nobody will just sit and wait” for sanctions to be lifted, he said.

Whether Russian technology can fill the gap left by Western oil majors as the country prepares for the extraordinary engineering challenge of oil drilling under the Arctic ice remains an unsettled question within the industry.

Russia brings Soviet legacy technologies, including the world’s only fleet of nuclear icebreakers, awesome machines of immense power, with names like 50 Years of Victory and Yamal, which sail year-round in the Arctic Ocean.

“Let’s not underestimate them,” said one oil company executive who visited Exxon’s West Alpha rig this summer, but could not speak publicly because of company policy. Russians are no strangers to the north, and the cold. “They are determined to do it. They might do it on their own.”

The Russian intention to do just that became clear out on the Arctic Ocean at the end of the short drilling window this summer.

Ice floes were already creeping down from the polar ice cap in tongues when the U.S. government announced Sept. 12 that Exxon was to halt all assistance to Rosneft by Sept. 26, in response to Russian military assistance to a rebel counteroffensive against the Ukrainian Army in late August.

The Exxon crew stopped drilling, though the well was only about 75 percent complete.

In an early indication of the Russians’ intentions to go it alone after sanctions, Rosneft executives told Exxon they would not allow the West Alpha rig to leave Russian waters without finishing the well, according to the oil company executive familiar with events on the platform in September.

If Exxon withdrew American engineers, Rosneft would fly out a Russian replacement crew, putting the localization plan into immediate action, the executive said. Rosneft’s press service contested this characterization of the company’s position, calling it a “fiction.”

In the end, Exxon obtained an extension on its waiver to the sanction from the U.S. Treasury Department, stretching the window for work with Rosneft in the Arctic until Oct. 10.

The Arctic Ocean, Mr. Sechin said later that month in the interview with Bloomberg News at the drilling site in the Kara Sea, is Russia’s “Saudi Arabia” of oil, vast and pivotal to Russia’s national interests.

Rosneft’s website estimates the Kara Sea’s reservoirs hold about 87 billion barrels of oil and the equivalent in natural gas, calling this more than the deposits of the Gulf of Mexico, the Brazilian shelf or the offshore potential north of Alaska and Canada.

After a daylong pause on Sept. 12 to Sept. 13, the Russian brinkmanship worked: The American crew continued drilling and about a week later, in mid-September, discovered a vast oil deposit, holding about 750 million barrels of oil. Mr. Sechin thanked Western partners for the find, and named the field Pobeda, or Victory.

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