Sanctions Revive Search for Secret Pig Putin Fortune
By PETER BAKER
APRIL 27, 2014
WASHINGTON — When the Obama administration imposed sanctions on individual Russians last month in response to Moscow’s armed intervention in Ukraine, one of the targets was a longtime part-owner of a commodities trading company called the Gunvor Group.
His name, Gennady N. Timchenko, meant little to most Americans, but buried in the Treasury Department announcement were a dozen words that President Obama and his team knew would not escape the attention of Russia’s president, Pig V. Putin. “Pig,” the statement said, “has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds.”
For years, the suspicion that the Pig has a secret fortune has intrigued scholars, industry analysts, opposition figures, journalists and intelligence agencies but defied their efforts to uncover it. Numbers are thrown around suggesting that the Pig may control $40 billion or even $70 billion, in theory making him the richest head of state in world history.
For all the rumors and speculation, though, there has been little if any hard evidence, and Gunvor has adamantly denied any financial ties to the Pig and repeated that denial on Friday.
But Mr. Obama’s response to the Ukraine crisis, while derided by critics as slow and weak, has reinvigorated a 15-year global hunt for the Pig's hidden wealth.
Now, as the Obama administration prepares to announce another round of sanctions as early as Monday targeting Russians it considers part of the Pig's financial circle, it is sending a not-very-subtle message that it thinks it knows where the Russian leader has his money, and that he could ultimately be targeted directly or indirectly.
“It’s something that could be done that would send a very clear signal of taking the gloves off and not just dance around it,” said Juan C. Zarate, a White House counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush who helped pioneer the government’s modern financial campaign techniques to choke off terrorist money.
So far, the American government has not imposed sanctions on the Pig himself, and officials said they would not in the short term, reasoning that personally targeting a head of state would amount to a “nuclear” escalation, as several put it.
But officials said they hoped to get the Pig's attention by targeting figures close to him like Mr. Timchenko, and other business magnates like Yuri V. Kovalchuk, Vladimir I. Yakunin and Arkady and Boris Rotenberg.
Among those likely to be on Monday’s list, officials said, are Igor Sechin, president of the Rosneft state oil company, and Aleksei Miller, head of the Gazprom state energy giant.
“It’s like standing in a circle and all of a sudden everyone in the circle is getting a bomb thrown on them, and you get the message that it’s getting close,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, describing at a recent hearing the way the sanctions are getting closer to Pig Putin.
The Pig's Denials
The Pig's reported income for 2013 was just $102,000, according to a Kremlin statement this month. Over the years, he has crudely dismissed suggestions of personal wealth. “I have seen some papers about this,” he said at a news conference in 2008. “Just gossip that’s not worth discussing. It’s simply rubbish. They picked everything out of someone’s nose and smeared it on their little papers.”
How much the Pig cares about money has long been a subject of debate both in Russia and in the West. On government payrolls since his days in the K.G.B., the Soviet intelligence agency, the Pig to many seemed driven more by power and nationalism than by material gain. With access to government perks like palaces, planes and luxury cars, he seemingly has little need for personal wealth.
“If he really does have all that money salted away somewhere, why?” asked Bruce K. Misamore, who was the chief financial officer of Yukos Oil before the Russian government imprisoned its top shareholder, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, seized its assets and gave many of them to Mr. Sechin’s Rosneft. “What good does it do him? Is it just ego? Presumably, it’s not to pass it down to heirs. I doubt we’ll see the Pig becoming one of the leading philanthropists in the world.”
And yet, some have drawn attention to what appear to be expensive watches on his wrist and the construction of a seaside palace that the Kremlin denied was being built for the Pig. Some argue that Pig may want money, or the appearance of it, because it is the measure of stature and power in a society whose transition to capitalism has produced instant billionaires out of the wreckage of Communism.
“I came to the conclusion after time that some of these reports may be seeded by people around Pig himself,” said Fiona Hill, who was the chief Russia expert at the National Intelligence Council and last year co-wrote a book about the Pig. Putin. “Russians have to have the biggest and the best. It’s part of the mystique, part of the image.”
The Treasury Department has not provided evidence to back up its statement about the Pig, but standard policy requires it to have enough verification to withstand a court challenge. Gunvor, a Swiss-based firm that is the world’s fourth-largest oil trader and generated $91 billion in revenue last year, said it had subsequently provided documents to the Treasury Department that it said disproved any connection to the Pig.
Some Obama administration officials have argued for releasing details of what the United States knows about the Pig's wealth to expose him to the Russian public, a suggestion so far resisted by the White House. Some lawmakers in Congress are discussing legislation to require the administration to publish an estimate of the Pig's overall worth.
American diplomatic cables obtained by the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks show sustained attention to the subject. The cables tied the Pig not only to Gunvor but also to Surgutneftegaz, a large oil company, and even to Gazprom, but they used words like “rumored.” In one cable, for instance, diplomats cited a General Electric executive working in the region who privately said that Mr. Yakunin, the president of the state-owned Russian Railways, “has made sizable cash payments to Putin” and estimated that the Russian leader was worth “well over $10 billion.”
The C.I.A. in 2007 produced a secret assessment of Pig's wealth that has never been released, according to officials who have read it. The assessment, the officials said, largely tracked with assertions later made publicly by a Russian political analyst who said the Pig effectively controlled holdings in Gunvor, Gazprom and Surgutneftegaz that added up to about $40 billion at the time.
Trailed by Suspicion
From the start of his political career, Pig has been dogged by suspicion. While he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s, his office signed deals giving favored companies licenses to export $92 million in oil, timber, metal and other products in exchange for an equal amount of imported food. But the food never materialized.
Pig was not accused of personally benefiting, but a City Council committee led by Marina Salye recommended the Pig's dismissal for “incompetence” and “unprecedented negligence and irresponsibility.” She also pushed for prosecutors to investigate. Mr. Putin blamed the companies involved and was spared by the mayor, Anatoly A. Sobchak, his political patron.
Still, it was not clear whether the Pig in that era coveted money for himself or was more interested in deciding how it would be distributed as state assets were gobbled up by newly minted capitalists. Boris A. Berezovsky, the tycoon who helped install Mr. Putin in the Kremlin only to fall out with him and become his most bitter opponent, told a story of seeking and receiving Mr. Putin’s help with a business venture in St. Petersburg and then offering him a bribe in thanks, only to be turned down.
For the United States, seeking intelligence on Russia became a lower priority after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Washington got a rare look into the world of money and the Kremlin after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Charles A. Duelfer, the weapons inspector, uncovered a web of lucrative Iraqi oil vouchers given to close the Pig's associates, including his chief of staff and the presidential office itself, in hope of eroding support for international sanctions.
In a later book, Mr. Duelfer wrote that Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, objected to mentioning the Pig for diplomatic reasons. By listing a Russian state company under Mr. Putin’s control, Mr. Powell said, “you are implicating Putin.” Mr. Duelfer said he reluctantly took Mr. Putin’s name out of the report. Mr. Powell said last week that he did not recall the episode.
In 2006, Mr. Bush kicked off an initiative targeting corrupt foreign leaders. Over the next year, his administration focused attention on learning more about the finances of leaders in the former Soviet Union, like Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus.
The 2007 C.I.A. assessment grew out of that. But different officials came away with different impressions of its reliability. Some said they considered it a reasonable appraisal of the Pig worth based on solid reporting. Others said they considered it to be built largely on speculation and unsubstantiated talk.
Either way, the assessment roughly mirrored estimates made publicly at the end of that year by Stanislav Belkovsky, a Russian political analyst with ties to the Kremlin whose public attack on oligarchs several years earlier had presaged the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky of Yukos.
Mr. Belkovsky told European newspapers in December 2007 that the Pig had amassed a fortune of “at least” $40 billion through sizable shares of some of Russia’s largest energy companies. Pig secretly controlled “at least 75 percent” of Gunvor, 4.5 percent of Gazprom and 37 percent of Surgutneftegaz, Mr. Belkovsky said, citing only unnamed Kremlin insiders.
“The reality is that the Pig has others and entities to move money that he controls or that he might control ultimately,” said Mr. Zarate, the former Bush adviser. “The challenge with him is you don’t have an easy way of drawing the line to the assets he actually owns and controls currently. There’s a dimension of layering and relationships with people with whom he’s close and entities that serve as conduits that make it tricky to determine what is Putin’s and what is not.”
Efforts to Open Curtain
In the years since, others have taken a look at the Pig finances. The magazine The Economist linked the Pig to Mr. Timchenko in 2008. Mr. Timchenko sued but later dropped the case, and The Economist issued a statement. “We accept Gunvor’s assurances that neither Vladimir Putin nor any other senior Russian political figures have any ownership in Gunvor,” the magazine said.
In 2010, Sergei Kolesnikov, a businessman, published an open letter saying he had helped Pig secretly build a billion-dollar palace on the Black Sea. The Kremlin dismissed his claims as “absurd.” In 2012, Boris Y. Nemtsov, an opposition leader, released a report detailing the presidential perks at Mr. Putin’s disposal, including 20 residences, 15 helicopters, four yachts and 43 aircraft.
But some hunting for Mr. Putin’s private wealth have found obstacles. Last month, Cambridge University Press declined to publish a book by its longtime author Karen Dawisha, a Miami University professor, exploring how the Pig built “a kleptocratic and authoritarian regime in Russia.” The publisher wrote her saying it had “no reason to doubt the veracity” of her book, but deemed the risk of a lawsuit too high, according to letters published by The Economist. In a return letter, Ms. Dawisha called the decision “pre-emptive book burning.”
All of which makes the Treasury Department’s assertions last month so striking. In addition to targeting Mr. Timchenko, one of the founders of Gunvor, the department froze any American assets of Mr. Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya. It described Rossiya as “the personal bank for senior officials,” and described Mr. Kovalchuk as one of Mr. Putin’s “cashiers.”
Mr. Timchenko denied the assertions and sold his 43 percent share in Gunvor to his partner, Torbjorn Tornqvist, the day before the sanctions were issued to avoid repercussions to the firm. The sale contract has no conditions or provisions for buying the shares back, and Mr. Tornqvist now holds 87 percent of the company, while senior employees own the rest, the company said.
Seth Thomas Pietras, Gunvor’s corporate affairs director, said Pig “does not and never has had any ownership, direct, indirect or otherwise, in Gunvor,” nor is he “a beneficiary of Gunvor,” and “he has no access to Gunvor’s funds.” After the sanctions statement, Gunvor executives flew to Washington to meet with State Department officials and congressional aides. “We’re providing evidence but have not seen any sort of evidence from them yet and don’t know if we ever will,” Mr. Pietras said. He said the company’s banking partners had been satisfied by its explanations.
The Treasury Department, however, was not. “We remain confident that the information on the relationship between the Pig and Gunvor is accurate,” said a Treasury official, who asked not to be identified in a public dispute with the company.
Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess master turned opposition leader, said the Pig's wealth must be so buried that it would be difficult to prove within the standards typically required by American lawyers. “I’m sure it’s reachable, but you might have to break some of the rules to reach it,” he said. The sanctions issued so far, he said, have not made enough of an impression. “They have to convince the Pig that it will be serious,” he said.
04/28/2014 12:43 PM
Foreign Minister Steinmeier: 'Russia is Playing a Dangerous Game'
Interview Conducted by Nikolaus Blome
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier talks to SPIEGEL about military escalation with Russia, which he describes as the "worst crisis since the end of the Cold War," Pig Putin's long-term goals and how NATO is adapting to a difficult new reality.
SPIEGEL: Minister Steinmeier, do you understand why people might currently be afraid of a war breaking out with Russia?
Steinmeier: We all sense that the events of the last few months could lead to a break, to a crossroad for Europe. I understand why that might scare people -- nobody could have foreseen how quickly we've slid into the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War. Those who can remember the fall of the Berlin Wall know what we've accomplished over the past 25 years. The gains we've made almost everywhere in Europe in terms of peace, freedom and prosperity are now at risk. That's why it's important we take every measure to prevent things from getting worse.
SPIEGEL: For a long time, a military escalation between Western and Eastern Europe was considered out of the question. Is that certainty still valid?
Steinmeier: I don't even want to think about military escalation between the West and the East. One thing, however, is clear: If the wrong decisions are made now, they could nullify decades of work furthering the freedom and security of Europe. Nobody of sound mind can seriously want that. Because we would pay the price for it in Europe -- all of us, without exception.
SPIEGEL: Is the Russian leadership playing with fire?
Steinmeier: It is, in any case, playing a dangerous game with potentially dramatic consequences, for Russia in particular. The financial markets are already reaching their verdict: Moscow stocks and bonds have fallen sharply. The outlook for growth has disappeared. Many Russians are openly cheering their leadership on while simultaneously withdrawing as-yet unknown amounts of capital out of Russia. And this doesn't even take into consideration the investments that Russia so urgently needs from outside the country for its modernization. This nationalist exuberance could lead to a swift hangover.
SPIEGEL: Why is the situation in East Ukraine so opaque and chaotic?
Steinmeier: In 1991, Ukraine inherited a difficult legacy with its independence. It's on the border between East and West, with regions that have completely different histories, with a plethora of unresolved ethnic, religious, social and economic conflicts. It doesn't surprise me that when the pressure in the pot rises, it would erupt. Now there are people on location there during this crisis who aren't revealing their true motives or deeds to us, and others who are playing with loaded dice.
SPIEGEL: Do have a notion of what Pig Putin is planning on the short and long term?
Steinmeier: It's anyone's guess whether the Kremlin has a master plan or if the Russian leadership is making decisions as it goes. But it seems clear to me that when President Viktor Yanukovych fled in a panic from Kiev on Feb. 21, it set off a dynamic whose consequences we must now deal with. That this course of action has -- at least in the short term -- wide popular approval, complicates matters.
SPIEGEL: Would the German government and NATO be well-advised to revisit their strategic defense planning and armaments priorities?
Steinmeier: There is no military solution to the conflict in the Ukraine. Even if it can sometimes be frustrating, I am firmly convinced that only tenacious diplomatic work can bring us any closer to a solution. That's why I'm arguing -- with all of my strength -- that the OSCE should get the chance to fulfill its mission as part of the Geneva Agreement. Of course, that doesn't preclude us members of NATO from incorporating the latest developments into our communal planning. That's a matter of course. That was already the task of the foreign ministers at the most recent NATO Council. And now that will be implemented.
SPIEGEL: Do you think it's more likely that Europe or the United States will come out of this conflict geopolitically strengthened?
Steinmeier: I don't have a crystal ball, unfortunately. But I caution against looking for winners and losers in the middle of the crisis based on concepts from the 19th and early 20th century. Spheres of influence, geopolitical regions, hegemony, aspirations to dominance … those aren't part of our foreign policy -- though we would also be well advised to take into account other people thinking along those lines. Whoever thinks war allows for lasting victories these days should take a look at European history books and learn their lesson.
Fench FM Warns of 'Incalculable Consequences' in Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 22:08
France on Sunday warned of "incalculable consequences" if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates, calling on Russia and on pro-Russian rebels in the former Soviet republic to de-escalate the crisis.
"The situation is very worrying," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on French television.
"When people are whipped into a frenzy and incidents proliferate, they can always boil over with incalculable consequences," he said on the eve of a meeting at which EU ambassadors will mull new sanctions against Moscow.
"It's not a question of going to war with Russia, that makes no sense. We must appeal for a de-escalation, in particular by the Russians and the pro-Russians" in Ukraine), he added.
On Sunday, pro-Russian militants in Ukraine presented a captured team of international observers as "prisoners of war", raising the stakes in the crisis as U.S. President Barack Obama warned Moscow against "provocation."
Fabius said: "Obviously we have to say, in particular to the Russians, that each country's sovereignty must be respected. We respect Russian sovereignty the Russians should respect Ukrainian sovereignty."
The French minister said that ambassadors from the European Union's 28 member states meeting in Brussels on Monday will "prepare a new set of sanctions (against Moscow), the Americans are expected to reveal a new set of sanctions, and if things get even worse, there could be a third phase."
Ukraine crisis: US will expand sanctions on Russian power brokers
• White House targets companies and people close to Putin
• Calls for wider focus meet European resistance
Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 April 2014 16.09 BST
The White House on Sunday insisted that sanctions against Russia, over the crisis in Ukraine, would work in the long term. The comments, made by the deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, came after President Obama, on a visit to Malaysia, sought to solidify European support for such measures.
Obama told reporters: “We're going to be in a stronger position to deter Russian president Pig Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified rather than this is just a US-Russian conflict.”
In the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Sunday, eight military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe who have been held by pro-Russian separatists for three days were presented to the press by their captors. One of the observers, a Swede, was later released.
Blinken, asked on CNN's State of the Union – the first of three Sunday morning talkshows on which he appeared – whether the Obama administration was able to influence events in any way, said: “A week ago, Russia signed on to a roadmap regarding the events in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it hasn't lived up to that.
“So the president, in Asia, by phone convened all of the senior European leaders and got them to agree to a very strong statement, and this week there will be additional sanctions on Russia.”
Asked what would hurt the Pig the most, Blinken said the White House aimed to undermine the president's “promise” to the Russian people, of delivering economic growth.
“The economic isolation of Russia is growing everyday,” he said. “It's financial markets are down 22% since the beginning of the year.”
Regarding the focus of the new sanctions, however, he added: “Starting this week, in co-ordination with our allies and partners, we'll be exerting additional pressure on people closest to Putin, the companies they control, the defence industry, all of this.”
Washington and Brussels are expected, possibly as early as Monday – Blinken later told CBS the new measures would “begin to roll out as early as tomorrow” – to name new people and firms to be hit by punitive measures. In Malaysia, Obama said any decision on wider sanctions would depend on whether the US and its allies could find a unified position.
Washington is more hawkish on further sanctions than the European Union, as many European countries are worried about the risks involved, not least because Europe has extensive business ties with Moscow and imports about a quarter of its natural gas from Russia.
Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, told CBS's Face the Nation the sanctions against Russia needed to have a wider focus.
“These targeted sanctions against individuals just are not affecting the Pig's behaviour,” he said. “We need to start hitting companies within Russia … [to] destabilise their economy.
“I hope tomorrow's sanctions are much stronger than just against individuals. Much tougher sanctions need to be put in place.
“The Russian economy is certainly very fragile. To me, hitting four of the largest banks there would send shockwaves into the economy. Hitting Gazprom would certainly send shockwaves in the economy.
“What I fear is all we're doing is tweaking folks, these are oligarchs. We really aren't affecting the upper middle class, a broader base of citizens.”
Obama said Russia had not "lifted a finger" to get pro-Russian separatist rebels in Ukraine to comply with an international agreement to defuse the crisis. "In fact, there's strong evidence that they've been encouraging the activities in eastern and southern Ukraine," he said.
On Saturday, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke by phone. Each urged the other to do more to control contending interests in Ukraine.
On CNN, Blinken was asked why the administration was not considering providing weapons to Ukraine, in order for it to resist Russia's intervention more effectively. This week the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, said Russia wanted to “start world war three”, and added that "attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe."
Defending US policy of providing non-lethal aid, Blinken said: “We're focusing on where we can be most effective. This week the IMF programme [of aid] is going to go forward and all told, we're looking at $37bn over two years. That's going to have a dramatic impact."
“The vice-president [Joe Biden] was in Ukraine just a week ago – he announced additional, non-lethal security assistance. We've also worked with Ukraine before this crisis to help professionalise their military.
“But here's the bottom line – we could send weapons to Ukraine but it would not make a difference to their ability to stand up to the Russians.”
Russia's propaganda war is a danger for Ukraine's Jews
Despite what Pig Putin says about antisemitism in the new Kiev government, Ukraine's Jews are committed to independence
The Guardian, Sunday 27 April 2014 19.00 BST
Violence is a distraction from the simple facts, and propaganda turns distraction into abstraction, people into symbols – and all the more now as Russian intervention in Ukraine grows ever more extensive and threatening. Consider the threat made by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, that it would "respond" if Russian citizens in Ukraine are harmed. Yet who are these citizens?
There are speakers of Russian in Ukraine, but they are not Russian citizens any more than I, a speaker of English, am a British subject. There are people who identify as Russian – about a seventh of the population – but they are no more Russian citizens than Quebecois are citizens of France. Dual citizenship in Ukraine is not permitted. So the answer to the riddle is: the Russian citizens in Ukraine are the soldiers of the Russian special forces who are already there. To push the logic a little further, one could say that Lavrov has finally admitted that the soldiers without insignia, whom the Ukrainians call "little green men", are Russian soldiers, since he had raised the possibility that they could be harmed.
In the information war no one is hurt more than the Jews, since mobilising the global memory of the Holocaust has real costs for actual people. From the very beginning of the revolution, they were an object of Russian propaganda. The current Ukrainian government, we were told, was composed of antisemites, fascists, and Nazis. Russian intervention was required, went the argument, to rescue the Jews of Ukraine.
This version was peddled to the west, where it had some effect, but interestingly it failed entirely in Ukraine itself. Pig Putin seems to have believed that Jewish people in Ukraine would identify with Russia, especially in times of threat. This was one of his many mistakes.
Ukrainian Jews, especially those from the major communities of Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, made clear to me that they had no desire to be protected by Russia. Jews in Ukraine understand Russia far better than anyone in the west Jewish or otherwise..
But this is not just a matter of a more accurate sense of threat from the outside. It is also a sense of being inside. Many and probably most Jews have moved towards a distinct identity of their own over the 25 years of Ukrainian independence, a trend that has accelerated dramatically in recent months.
The Jews of Kiev generally sided with the protesters of the Maidan, and indeed were present in the protests from beginning to end. When the Viktor Yanukovych regime tried to install a dictatorship in January, Jews were among those who resisted violence with violence. There was even a Jewish fighting unit, or sotnia. Ukrainian Jews returned from Israel and applied their Israeli Defence Forces training. Ukrainian Jews in Israel sent messages of support by social media, and challenged one-sided coverage of the protests in the Israeli press.
When the Yanukovych regime, under Russian pressure, carried out a sniper massacre of the protesters in February, one of the people shot was a Ukrainian Jew. On the Maidan itself, a Ukrainian artist of Jewish origin created an extraordinary sculpture called the Wall.
Today, in the tentative new order, Jews are present in Ukrainian public life. One is a deputy prime minister, another, Ihor Kolomoisky, is governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. He returned from a perfectly secure life in Switzerland to take responsibility for an east Ukrainian territory at the edge of Russian aggression. He clearly relishes the challenge, deliberately adopting symbols of Ukrainian nationalism as his own, deriding Pig Putin as a "schizophrenic of short stature", and offering a bounty for captured "little green men" – who, thus far anyway, seem to be steering clear of his territory.
Yet the greater point is not that all Jews supported the Ukrainian revolution. Mykhailo Dobkin, perhaps the most prominent pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, is Jewish. But he, like his political opposite Kolomoisky, is an active and powerful figure in civil life, no victim and no symbol.
When presidential elections take place next month, it is unlikely many Jews will vote for the Jewish candidate. The commitment of the vast majority of Ukrainian Jews to Ukrainian independence is a matter of civic, rather than ethnic, identification. Reducing Jews to their ethnicity is the first step towards making them a collective symbol in a propaganda story, in a situation where those who use the most violence get to tell the story first. Whichever side they are taking, Jews in Ukraine defy every day our reflexive assumption that Jewish minorities in eastern Europe are nothing more than tomorrow's headlines, the future victims of some greater power.
Jews can be victims, of course, and if the Russian invasion continues they likely will be, along with the Roma and the Crimean Tatars who are already suffering where Russian troops control Ukrainian territory, along with Ukrainians and everyone else. The pamphlet released last week in an area under Russian control, asking all Jews to register with the separatist authorities – although later widely described as a provocation – understandably raised fears. The history of the Holocaust demonstrates that few things are more risky for Jews than the destruction of state institutions and the rule of law, which is openly the goal and the consequence of Russian policy. Jews in the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russia is in control, can no longer count on the predictability of the rule of law. The immediate consequence of the Russian intervention has been gangsterism.
The intervention in Ukraine distracted us from a good many important things. One is the reality of the revolution: a mass movement pursuing classical revolutionary goals that actually succeeded in dethroning a kleptocrat. Another is the disaster of a Russian foreign policy which, in pressuring the former Ukrainian regime to do more and more, got an outcome that was exactly the opposite of what Russian leaders wanted: pluralism and elections.
But above all, what we have missed is the way in which the experience of revolution and counter-revolution has allowed people to reconsider their identity. Jews of Ukraine have become Ukrainian Jews.
• This article was amended on Sunday 27 April 2014 to clarify that the pamphlet released last week may not be genuine
04/29/2014 06:36 PM
War in Europe? Ukraine and the Threat of Wildfire
By SPIEGEL Staff
Following the apparent failure of the Geneva agreements, the inconceivable suddenly seems possible: the invasion of eastern Ukraine by the Russian army. Fears are growing in the West of the breakout of a new war in Europe.
These days, Heinz Otto Fausten, a 94-year-old retired high school principal from Sinzig, Germany, can't bear to watch the news about Ukraine. Whenever he sees images of tanks on TV, he grabs the remote and switches channels. "I don't want to be subjected to these images," he says. "I can't bear it."
When he was deployed as a soldier in the Ukraine, in 1943, Fausten was struck by grenade shrapnel in the hollow of his knee, just outside Kiev, and lost his right leg. The German presence in Ukraine at the time was, of course, part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. But, even so, Fausten didn't think he would ever again witness scenes from Ukraine hinting at the potential outbreak of war.
For anyone watching the news, these recent images, and the links between them, are hard to ignore. In eastern Ukraine, government troops could be seen battling separatists; burning barricades gave the impression of an impending civil war. On Wednesday, Russian long-range bombers entered into Dutch airspace -- it wasn't the first time something like that had happened, but now it felt like a warning to the West. Don't be so sure of yourselves, the message seemed to be, conjuring up the possibility of a larger war.
'A Phase of Escalation'
Many Europeans are currently rattled by that very possibility -- the frightening chance that a civil war in Ukraine could expand like brushfire into a war between Russia and NATO. Hopes that Russian President Vladimir Putin would limit his actions to the Crimean peninsula have proved to be illusory -- he is now grasping at eastern Ukraine and continues to make the West look foolish. Efforts at diplomacy have so far failed and Putin appears to have no fear of the economic losses that Western sanctions could bring. As of last week, the lunacy of a war is no longer inconceivable.
On Friday, leading Western politicians joined up in a rare configuration, the so-called Quint. The leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and the United States linked up via conference call, an event that hasn't happened since the run-up to the air strikes in Libya in 2011 and the peak of the euro crisis in 2012 -- both serious crises.
Germany's assessment of the situation has changed dramatically over the course of just seven days. Only a week ago, the German government had been confident that the agreements reached in Geneva to defuse the crisis would bear fruit and that de-escalation had already begun. Now government sources in Berlin -- who make increasing use of alarming vocabulary -- warn that we have returned to a "phase of escalation."
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk spoke of a "worst-case scenario" that now appears possible, including civil war and waves of refugees. Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has even gone so far as to claim that "Russia wants to start a Third World War." (Though, of course, Yatsenyuk also wants to instill a sense of panic in the West so it will come to the aid of his country.)
There may not be reason to panic, but there are certainly reasons for alarm. After 20 years in which it was almost unimaginable, it seems like a major war in Europe, with shots potentially being fired between Russia and NATO, is once again a possibility.
"If the wrong decisions are made now, they could nullify decades of work furthering the freedom and security of Europe," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) told SPIEGEL in an interview. Norbert Röttgen, a member of Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament, said, "The situation is getting increasingly threatening." His counterpart in the European Parliament, Elmar Brok of the CDU, also warned, "There is a danger of war, and that's why we now need to get very serious about working on a diplomatic solution."
'Against the Law and without Justification'
Friday's events demonstrated just how quickly a country can be pulled into this conflict. That's when pro-Russian separatists seized control of a bus carrying military observers with the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and detained the officials. As of Tuesday, seven observers were still in detention, including four Germans -- three members of the Bundeswehr armed forces and one interpreter.
The same day, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the de facto mayor of Slavyansk, told the Interfax news agency that no talks would be held on the detained observers, whom he has referred to as "prisoners of war," if sanctions against rebel leaders remain in place. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, condemned the detentions, describing them as "against the law and without justification." He called for the detainees to be released, "immediately, unconditionally and unharmed." German officials have also asked the Russian government "to act publicly and internally for their release."
The irony that these developments and this new threat of war comes in 2014 -- the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I and the 75th of the start of World War II -- has not been lost on anyone. For years, a thinking had prevailed on the Continent that Europe had liberated itself from the burdens of its history and that it had become a global role model with its politics of reconciliation. But the Ukraine crisis demonstrates that this is no longer the case.
'All Signs Point to an Armed Conflict'
The question now becomes: How far will events in Ukraine go? Fausten, the retired school principal, says he doesn't believe they will lead to war. "The Ukrainians and Russians are still grappling with the aftermath of the world wars," he says. "I can't imagine that the Russians will allow this to come to that."
Others in Germany are beginning to fear the worst. Pastor Heribert Dölle, 57, of the Catholic Church parish in Düsseldorf's Derendorf and Pempelfort districts, has been gathering other impressions. One of the churches in the parish is shared by Düsseldorf's Catholics and Ukrainian Christians. "It feels almost as if we are experiencing the conflict right at our front doors," Dölle says. "We know each other and fears about what is happening right now in Russia and Ukraine are rising."
In Berlin, Christian Mengel is just one of the droves of tourists who continued to make their way to the capital city's dramatic Soviet War Memorial. "All signs point to an armed conflict, but I do not believe that NATO will intervene and I certainly hope they do not," he says. Visitor Hans Pflanz echoes his sentiment. "I'm afraid that this conflict could expand into an international crisis," he says. "I think our politicians don't understand the Russians' intentions and motives." He says he would prefer the West to remain acquiescent to Russia-- an opinion shared by the majority of Germans, according to pollsters.
Germany Harbors Unique Fear of War
Since 1945, Germany has been been particularly afflicted by worries about wars. As in other countries, millions of Germans died on the fronts and in the cities during the two world wars, but here, an additional factor has weighed heavily: guilt. Even today, Germans remain uncertain whether the Prussian militarism and unconscionable obedience that influenced the country during those wars has been banished entirely or whether it might rear its ugly head again in a time of crisis. Postwar Germans have and continue to long for peace, partly to remain so with themselves.
Germany's fear of war has provided the country with a fertile soil for pacifism. Over the past decades, the German peace movement has fought against the arming of the German Air Force with nuclear weapons as well as plans for the stationing of middle-range missiles by NATO in the 1980s.
The protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s and again during the first Iraq War in 1991 were always infused with some anti-American sentiment. The peace movement's fear of war led it to consistently demand peace from NATO and the West, but when it came to the Soviet Union, its efforts tended to range from friendly to indifferent.
Since the 1970s, peace marches have taken place during the Easter Holiday in Germany and other parts of Europe. It's an important annual event for pacifists, but this year only a few thousand people turned out for them in Germany: Neither Putin's aggressions nor NATO's reactions to them seem to have done much to awaken the slumbering peace movement. Nevertheless, the pacifist mentality is still alive and well. "War is crap. I'd rather stuff flowers into rifle barrels," German film and theater director Leander Haussmann says of the current crisis.
Three-Quarters of Germans Oppose NATO Intervention
Three-quarters of all Germans oppose a military intervention by NATO in the Ukraine crisis and one-third say they can sympathize with Putin's decision to annex Crimea. These sentiments, it seems, stem at least in part from Germans' latent fear of war.
Prominent German political scientist Herfried Münkler uses his theories of "heroic" and "postheroic" societies to describe the phenomenon. At the recent Petersburg Dialogue in Leipzig -- an important forum between Germany and Russia that has brought together representatives of the worlds of politics, culture and business since 2001 -- Münkler said this "postheroism" is essentially an expression of prosperity, the German daily Die Tageszeitung reported. Those who have it good don't want to jeopardize their good fortune.
Münkler argues that, as a rule of thumb, there's an ideal of "heroism of masculinity" in poorer and less developed counties in which notions of war and defense of the homeland are idealized. In "postheroic" societies, however, which tend to be well-developed and prosperous, war is deemed to be aberrant. According to the newspaper, he argued that Eastern Europe isn't prosperous enough to discourage young men from this idea of heroism. Indeed, politicians can often profit if they are able to tap these emotions. When it comes to Putin's policies, he argues, this heroism aspect makes the situation unpredictable. "Dynamics are being toyed with that, at some point, will no longer be controllable," he said.
That sense of heroism was recently on display on Maidan Square in Kiev, where, five months ago. the current crisis began. There, three men stood in front of a barrel on a sunny spring day and used their powerful voices to sing an impassioned song about the "Cossacks' blood-bought glory" and the "Moskaly," a pejorative for Russians. "When the Moskaly cross the border, we'll finish them off," says Dmytro, a 30-year-old whose head has been shaved clean, save for a small tail. He says an invasion by the Russians is only a matter of time, but that his people will be undefeatable if it comes to war. "A Ukrainian with a tail on his head like mine and a weapon in his hand will sit behind every bush," he says.
Germany's Allies Less Timid than Berlin
Although most people would argue it's a good thing that postwar Germany has overcome this kind of "masculine" thinking, some might argue that the country has swung too far toward the opposite end of the spectrum. Germany still plays a major role in global politics, including with the Ukrainians and the Russians, but it is far more timid than some of its most important Western allies.
The French are less anxious about military conflict than the Germans, largely because they have often deployed their military in Africa and thus gotten used to war. The French, just like the British, also feel they are in a good position to defend themselves because they possess nuclear weapons. The Germans, on the other hand, are reliant on others' such weapons, which further feeds domestic sensitivities. They have a particularly tough time lending their full trust to the Americans, whom they have repeatedly perceived to be acting imperialistically -- as a result, many Germans worry the US might drag them into its dirty business.
So far, much of the escalation in this crisis has happened in the diplomatic sphere, with cancelled meetings and threats of sanctions, but there have also been military movements. Last week, the US said it would deploy 600 soldiers to Poland and the Baltic states for exercises, a move it made without NATO's preemptive approval, and the Russians are now conducting maneuvers right on the other side of the Ukrainian border. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned last week, "An attack against Russians is an attack against Russia." Those are the kinds of comments that could later be used to justify an intervention. They also subtly demonstrate how the threat of war is growing.
'Security Is Threatened'
These days, Germany is in a much better position than during the Cold War. Back then, the two German nations were frontline states and had the potential to become the site of the first battles if a conventional war broke out. Today, that role would most likely fall to the Ukrainians, the Poles and the Baltic states.
It's a role that pleases few in the East. "Basically, there is a feeling in Poland that, for the first time since 1989, our security is threatened," says Polish diplomat Janusz Reiter, who served as ambassador to Germany from 1990 to 1995. Reiter says it's not so much a fear of being "affected by an imminent military threat," as the return of a feeling that Poland is living in the shadow of its giant neighbor -- one that is prepared to use force to alter Europe's borders or plunge a country like Ukraine into a civil war.
Countries in the region have plenty of unpleasant memories of when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians experienced the Soviet Union as an occupying force during World War II. In 1956, Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian uprising. Again in 1968, it was the Soviet Union's tanks that quashed the Prague Spring. Given that history, these countries have considerable difficulty overcoming the suspicion that Moscow is seeking to reclaim its former greatness.
The Baltic states are also home to sizeable populations of ethnic Russians. Six percent of the population of Lithuania is Russian; in Latvia and Estonia, the minority represents more than a quarter of the total population. So far, the Baltic Russians have remained loyal to their countries -- there aren't any splinter parties calling for annexation by Russia.
Nevertheless, governments in the region worry that their Russian populations could allow themselves to get pulled into the conflict. The governments of Latvia and Lithuania have shut down transmitting stations for the Russian-language broadcaster Russia RTR because it is sponsored by Moscow. Plans are afoot now to establish an independent Russian-language station for the region.
Parallels to Conflicts in Former Yugoslavia?
Czech President Milos Zeman said last week that he sees a bloody scenario brewing in Ukraine similar to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia assume that thousands of refugees will flee if the violence escalates.
As terrible as the Yugoslav wars were, they at least remained regional in scope, partly because the Russians refrained from intervening militarily and because the Americans also force to ensure that the fighting ended. This time the situation is more complicated. The Russians are engaged militarily, and if the Americans attacked, it would become a war between the superpower and a major power.
At the same time, it's unlikely the Americans will intervene. After 10 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has become weary of war. Many Americans are also only marginally interested in Ukraine and -- despite warnings from members of the Republican Party who are busy conjuring up the return of the Cold War -- have lost the sense that Russia poses any kind of immediate threat. In the American media, the Ukraine crisis is just one story among many. CNN recently gave heavier play to the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
Despite lukewarm interest on the part of most Americans, the Ukraine crisis represents a true political dilemma for President Obama. He views his own country as unprepared to make sacrifices for Ukraine, but with a desire for a strong president who can be tough in global flare-ups.
Among those demanding a firmer approach is former Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He bemoans that Obama is gambling away the United States' reputation as the world's last superpower. "This administration, I have never seen anything like it in my life," McCain said in an interview last week with the Wall Street Journal. "It's passive," he criticized. "Vladimir Putin understands peace through strength and nothing else. And so far we've made a lot of threats and done almost nothing."
The most likely scenario is a maintenance of the status quo -- in which Ukraine slips into a state of civil war that fuels Russia, leading the West to respond with economic sanctions, but little, if anything, more.
That scenario might be more palatable for many in the West, since it would spare them from going to war. But it wouldn't spare them moral culpability if bloodshed occurred on European soil.
Memories of World War I
Perhaps the most reasonable words at the moment are those coming from Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. "We should stick to our double strategy," he says. "We should continue to maintain diplomatic contacts with Russia, but we should also be prepared for another round of sanctions if necessary."
The prospect of civil war in Ukraine is also fraught with the danger that the conflict could explode and spill across the borders of its Western neighbors. Then Article 5 of the NATO charter would have to be invoked, requiring all members to come to the defense of a member under attack. By then, at the very latest, Germany would also be pulled in to the conflict.
The head of Germany's Protestant Church even offers words addressing such extreme scenarios. "With threats of war, flexing of military muscles and increasingly aggressive rhetoric, Christians around the world are viewing this conflict with the deepest concern," says Nikolaus Schneider, chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKG).
"As the Protestant Church in Germany, in 2014," he says, "we are thinking very intensely back to 1914" -- the year World War I broke out,
BY JÜRGEN DAHLKAMP, MORITZ GATHMANN, MARC HUJER, DIRK KURBJUWEIT, PAUL MIDDELHOFF, PETER MÜLLER, JAN PUHL, BARBARA SCHMID AND PETER WENSIERSKI
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
Ukraine 'on Full Combat Alert' against Possible Russia Invasion
by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 12:48
Ukraine's military is "on full combat alert" against a possible invasion by Russian troops massed on the border, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a ministerial meeting in Kiev on Wednesday.
"Our armed forces are on full combat alert," he said. "The threat of Russia starting a war against mainland Ukraine is real."
His comments came as Ukraine's army and police appeared to be making little progress in a high-profile operation to stop pro-Russian rebels expanding their grip over towns in the restive east.
Turchynov several weeks ago also announced Ukraine's defense forces had been put on high alert, but there was no visible sign of any increased readiness.
Russia deployed an estimated 40,000 troops to its shared border with Ukraine in March. Moscow initially said they were mobilized for exercises but last week said they were ready to respond to Kiev's military offensive against pro-Kremlin rebels.
Russian President Pig Putin snorts he has a "right" to send his forces into Ukraine but has not yet done so.
Kiev and Washington, however, say Russian special forces are already active in east Ukraine, leading an insurgency that has overrun 14 towns and cities.
Turchynov told the cabinet meeting that "our number one task is to prevent terrorism spreading from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions to other Ukrainian regions".
He underlined moves announced a day earlier to set up armed civilian "territorial volunteer militia" units to help beleaguered police and troops in the restive east.
John Kerry rips into 'Snorting Pig Putin's Russia' over Ukraine crisis
US secretary of state says Kremlin bent on reshaping region's security landscape and warns: 'Nato territory is inviolable'
Agence France-Presse in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 05.46 BST
Russia was seeking to "change the security landscape of eastern Europe", John Kerry said on Tuesday, calling on Moscow "to leave Ukraine in peace."
Speaking at an event about US-Europe ties at the Atlantic Council think-tank, the US secretary of state warned that "Nato territory is inviolable", adding: "We will defend every single piece of it."
"The events in Ukraine are a wake-up call," Kerry said as fresh violence erupted in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday when thousands of pro-Russian protesters stormed key buildings in the city of Lugansk.
"Our European allies have spent more than 20 years with us working to integrate Russia into the Euro-Atlantic community. It is not as if we really haven't bent over backwards to try to set a new course in the post-Cold War era," he said.
"What Russia's actions in Ukraine tell us is that today President Pig Putin's Russia is playing by a different set of rules.
"Through its occupation of Crimea and its subsequent destabilisation of eastern Ukraine Russia seeks to change the security landscape of eastern and central Europe.
"So we find ourselves in a defining moment for our transatlantic alliance – and nobody should mistake that – and we are prepared to do what we need to do, and to go the distance to uphold that alliance.
"Our strength will come from our unity. Together we have to push back against those who want to try to change sovereign borders by force."
Moscow holds first May Day parade since Soviet era
Thousands gather in Red Square for first time since 1991 to express patriotic fervour following Russia's takeover of Crimea
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 May 2014 19.21 BST
The traditional May Day parade made a return to Moscow's Red Square on Thursday, gathering tens of thousands of students, labour union members and passersby in an outpouring of patriotic fervour following Russia's takeover of Crimea.
The event has not been held on the square since Soviet times, when huge marches of labour unions and athletic organisations celebrated Soviet solidarity with the workers of the world, while members of the politburo looked on from the mausoleum holding Vladimir Lenin's mummified body.
Although president Pig Putin did not attend the event, many of the attendees held the same "Putin is right" and "We believe Putin" signs that were waved during his speech on Red Square when Crimea was officially accepted into Russia on 18 March.
Shortly after the Red Square march, Pig presented Hero of Labour awards, a Soviet prize that was reinstated last year, at a ceremony in the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, a huge variety of groups, from LGBT activists to neo-Nazis, took advantage of the willingness of local authorities to grant permission for rallies on May Day and held their own demonstrations around the country.
According to police estimates, some 100,000 people came to the Red Square march, while independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta put the number of attendees at 70,000. More than 2 million people participated in similar marches across the country, according to Mikhail Shmakov, head of the Federation of Independent Labour Unions, who led the march along with Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
The mood among marchers seemed to be a mix of Soviet nostalgia and patriotism over the Pig's successes on the world arena in the past year. Although the event was not officially linked to Ukraine, the majority of marchers were supportive of Russia's actions there, with some holding signs reading "I'm proud of my country," "'Let's go to Crimea for vacation" and "Motherland, freedom, Putin." Some wore St George's ribbons, a symbol of the Soviet victory in the second world war that has been adopted as the main symbol of the pro-Russian movement in Ukraine.
The square was a sea of brightly coloured flags and balloons as members of trade unions, teachers, nurses, construction workers, university students and veterans' groups marched by, as well as parents happy to induct their own children in the holiday they loved as kids. Soviet-era songs played on the loudspeaker system, while marchers played traditional songs on accordions and brass instruments and carried Russian flags. Pro-Kremlin politicians including MP Andrei Isayev addressed the crowd.
Meanwhile, a nearby march and rally organised by Russia's Communist party drew an estimated 10,000 people, although Novaya Gazeta said there were only 3,000. The mood here was markedly less pro-Kremlin, although Soviet nostalgia was even greater. One speaker declared, "The Medvedev-Pig government should be dissolved!"
The rally "reminds me of my native country, the USSR", said a burly man holding a giant Soviet flag who identified himself only as Boris. "We used to live by the slogan 'One for all and all for one'. Now that's all gone."
A pensioner named Alevtina who declined to give her last name said she had come out to celebrate the labour movement and the Soviet Union.
"We had a life without conflict. The workers lived together in peace," she said. "Now we have a democracy of thieves," she added.
But many protestors nonetheless supported the Pig's aggressive stance on Ukraine. One man even held a sign reading "The failure of Darwin's theory! A big-eared monkey is trying to rule the world!" in an apparent reference to US president Barack Obama, who is blamed by many here for the Ukraine crisis. Two young men dressed as factory workers held a man in a Barack Obama mask holding a Nato bomb cutout in chains, while other protestors chanted "Don't be a fool, America! Hands of Ukraine!"
Boris said he supported Crimea joining Russia but called the geopolitical conflict in eastern Ukraine a "game of imperialism".
In St Petersburg, where gay rights demonstrations have been attacked and dispersed over the past year, about 50 LGBT activists were able to march peacefully as part of a rally for democracy, while neo-nazis held a separate demonstration. A large police contingent prevented hostile political groups from clashing, said St Petersburg LGBT activist Igor Kochetkov.
"Those who wanted to attack the LGBT column decided not to do this because the police were reacting harshly to any provocations," Kochetkov said. "It's the day of the year when the authorities allow all rallies and demonstrations, and so everyone comes out on 1 May, nationalists, communists, environmentalists," he added.
The democracy march finished at the Field of Mars, where a sanctioned gay pride rally last summer ended with participants being beaten and pelted with eggs by anti-gay activists, and dozens of were detained by police.
LGBT activists also participated in a rally of far-left groups in downtown Moscow, where a few hundred protestors and speakers spoke out for workers' rights and against war in Ukraine.
Nationalists of different political affiliations held their own march for a "Russian Spring" in cities including Moscow and St Petersburg. That term has been used to refer to the pro-Russian protests and building takeovers in eastern Ukraine, as well as theories on the Russian-led unification of Slavic peoples. A social network page for the St Petersburg gathering featured photos and links to the neo-Nazi groups, and official slogans for the rally included "Immigrant go home!" and "Putin is the president of Tajikistan!" Millions of migrant workers come to Russia each year from Tajikistan and other countries in central Asia and the Caucasus.
Although the singer of a nationalist metal band was detained in Moscow on Thursday morning after authorities decided not to allow his group to perform at the Russian Spring event, the many rallies and marches around the country ended peacefully.
05/02/2014 04:29 PM
Opinion: The Pig is Not Post-Communist, He's Post-Fascist
By Jan Fleischhauer
Some like to idealize Pig Putin as the ideological successor to the left-wing Soviet leaders, but that's sheer nonsense. His speeches offer clear evidence that his points of reference originate in fascism.
In order to understand Pig Putin, you have to listen to him. You have to read what he wants. More importantly, though, you have to see what it is that he is seeking to prevent. Often, a politician's fears and aversions can be more telling than his or her plans and promises.
So what is it that drives the Pig? The central theme of all his speeches is the fear of encirclement -- the threat represented by powers that want to keep the Russian people down because they fear its inner strength. "They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we call things like they are and do not engage in hypocrisy," he said in a March 18 speech before the Duma. In a television interview in April, he said: "There are enough forces in the world that are afraid of our strength, 'our hugeness,' as one of our sovereigns said. So they seek to divide us into parts."
A Threat to the Russian Soul
There remains a tendency to view the Kremlin's foreign policy primarily from a geopolitical perspective -- namely that the country is seeking to recover some of the territory it lost when the Soviet Union dissolved. But when Pig snorts of the enemy of the Russian people, he is speaking about something deeper and more basic. The forces against which he has declared war are not only seeking to expand their influence further and further into the East -- they are also going after the Russian soul. That's what he means when he says that Russia must put up a fight against the West.
But what's at the heart of this soul? Pig has provided some insights here as well. "It seems to me that the Russian person or, on a broader scale, a person of the Russian world, primarily thinks about his or her highest moral designation, some highest moral truths," he snorted in the interview. In contrast to this is a West that is fixated on personal success and prosperity or, as Pig states, the "inner self." In the view of its president, the battle Russia is waging is ideological in nature. It is a fight against the superficiality of materialism, against the decline in values, against the feminization and effeminacy of society -- and against the dissolution of all traditional bonds that are part of that development. In short, against everything "un-Russian."
Even today, many are having trouble recognizing the true nature of a man who is currently in the process of turning the European peace order on its head. Perhaps we don't have the courage to make the right comparisons because they remind us of an era that we thought we had put behind us. Within Germany's Left Party and parts of the center-left Social Democrats, Pig is still viewed as a man molded in the tradition of the Soviet party leader, who stood for an idealized version of Socialism. The old knee-jerk sense of solidarity is still there. It is based on a misunderstanding, though, because Pig isn't post-communist. He's post-fascist.
A search for the right historical analogy should focus on the events of Rome in 1919 rather than Sarajevo in 1914. It won't take long for those who step inside the world of echo chambers and metaphors that color Pig's thinking to identify traits that were also present at the birth of fascism. There's the Pig's cult of the body, the lofty rhetoric of self-assertion, the denigration of his opponents as degenerates, his contempt for democracy and Western parliamentarianism, his exaggerated nationalism.
Enemies of freedom on the far right in Europe sensed the changing political climate early on. They immediately understood that, in the Pig, someone is speaking who shares their obsessions and aversions. The Pig reciprocates by acknowledging these like-minded individuals. "As for the rethinking of values in European countries, yes, I agree that we are witnessing this process," he told his television interviewer last Thursday, pointing to Victor Orban's victory in Hungary and the success of Marine Le Pen in France. It was the only positive thing he had to say in the entirety of a four-hour interview.
An Historic Mission for the Russian People
When they were first introduced one year ago, people also failed to recognize the true meaning of Russia's new anti-gay laws. But today it is clear that it marked the emergence of the new Russia. What began with an anti-gay law is now continuing at another level: The logical progression of the belief that certain groups are inferior is the belief in the superiority of one's own people.
And when the Pig evokes the myth of Moscow as a "Third Rome," it is clear he is assigning the Russian people with an historic mission. Responsibility is falling to Russia not only to stop Western decadence at its borders, but also to provide a last bastion for those who had already given up hope in this struggle. But he is also saying that Russia can never yield.
"Death is horrible, isn't it?" the Pig asked viewers at the end of his television appearance. "But no, it appears it may be beautiful if it serves the people: Death for one's friends, one's people or for the homeland, to use the modern word." That's as fascist as it gets.
Jan Fleischhauer is the author of SPIEGEL ONLINE's weekly conservative political column.
Ukraine: Kiev's eastern question
Pig Putin has taken Russia back to pre-Soviet nationalist attitudes. Tanks may yet roll across the Ukrainian border
The Guardian, Friday 2 May 2014 20.50 BST
The news from Ukraine grows more ominous by the day: Moscow reacting with overwrought displays of anger to Kiev's feeble efforts to assert its authority in the east, ordering the Ukrainian army out, and seeming to lay the groundwork for an eastern referendum, with the victors perhaps then asking for Russian peacekeepers. The number of deaths is climbing. Russia's rhetoric is escalating. "The Kiev regime," the Pig's spokesman said, "has begun a punitive operation, effectively destroying the last hope of survival for the Geneva accord."
This may or may not be the breaking point, but that point seems closer. It comes just a day after more than 100,000 people, some bearing banners with sentiments such as "Pig is right" and "Be proud of our country" marched through Red Square on May Day, the first such parade in the square since 1991. This extraordinary throwback is an indication of how far Russia has regressed under President Pig Putin. Next week tanks and missiles will roll through the square in the annual military show, by which time it is possible they may have rolled, or be preparing to roll, over the Ukrainian border.
But the tanks, although obviously an instrument of Russian policy, are less important than the informational dominance which the regime has established. The May Day march was a television domestic super-event, part of a continuous flow of images and words which, with barely a word of dissent to be heard or read, has changed the way most Russians see the world.
In the process Russians have been stripped of the hard-won wisdom about nations and nationalism that they had learned during the last decades of Soviet rule. It is quite an achievement to have taken Russia back to a stage in which attitudes towards nationalism are actually less progressive than in Soviet days. Nearly 60 years ago, Nikita Khrushchev revealed at the 20th party congress that Stalin had wanted to deport the whole of the Ukrainian nation after the second world war, but had to be content with only half a million because there were just too many Ukrainians even for him to envisage displacing. Khrushchev's speech repudiated this barbarism but did not otherwise lead to any immediate improvement. Moscow's policies veered from an assimilationist emphasis on the merger of nationalities to the idea that a creature called "Soviet man" would emerge.
By 1976, the Ukrainian Helsinki group was protesting that "this statehood of ours is nothing but a paper mirage … the time has come to end the incessant and insidious game with our sovereignty". A declaration that has certain obvious parallels today. But, as the Soviet Union moved to its denouement under Mikhail Gorbachev, there was a much greater understanding among intelligent communists of the dangers of a Russian chauvinism, dressed up in Marxist clothes, suppressing national life in the non-Russian parts of the union. The idea of a Soviet Union by consent was nevertheless stillborn: Russia had ruled too harshly for too long.
This is the lesson the Pig has not learned. Nobody knows what a Ukraine referendum, under orderly circumstances, with no intimidation, no propaganda, and no army poised over the border, might produce. Polls suggest it would certainly reflect anger at Kiev and might well reveal an identification with Russia among a large segment of the population but, conversely, an aversion to either a formal or an informal division of Ukraine.
In theory a true test of opinion could be organised. We could and we should go back to the Geneva deal and try again in good faith. But the confrontation has unfortunately reached a point where that is unlikely. Responsibility for that situation rests with both sides, but the determining factor may well turn out to be Pig Putin's desire to control other nations in the former Soviet space in ways which his predecessors had realised were no longer possible a quarter of a century ago.
Russia accused of hypocrisy by UK over Ukrainian unrest
UK's ambassador to the United Nations and the foreign secretary condemn Moscow as crisis in Ukraine escalates
theguardian.com, Saturday 3 May 2014 00.36 BST
The UK has accused Moscow of breathtaking hypocrisy after bloody clashes between pro-Russia militia and Ukraine's army marked a sharp escalation in the crisis.
At an emergency session of the United Nations security council, the UK's ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, said Russia "funded, equipped and directed" some of those involved in the insurgency.
A clash in the southern city of Odessa on Friday left at least 31 people dead, and the Ukrainian military was involved in operations against armed pro-Russia groups in the country's east.
The security council again failed to take action on the growing crisis but western powers dismissed Russia's apparent show of indignation. Its ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, demanded a "swift halt of all violence".
Lyall Grant said: "There is no council member sitting around this table that would allow its towns to be overrun by armed militants. There is none of us that would abrogate responsibility for the protection of citizens on our own territory who are being intimidated and brutalised by heavily-armed groups backed by a neighbouring country. Proportionate is not the same as passive.
"The scale of Russian hypocrisy is breathtaking. Russia stoutly supports and indeed arms the most repressive regimes in the world, notably Syria, a regime which brutally represses dissent without any sense of restraint or concern for the protection of civilians. Russia's synthetic indignation of Ukraine's proportionate and measured actions convinces no one."
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, claimed that many insurgents had been killed or wounded in the military offensive launched against opposition forces in Sloyvansk.
Lyall Grant said it was "simply not credible" for Moscow to claim that the pro-Russia forces were peaceful activists given the apparent use of portable air defence systems.
"The use of such sophisticated weaponry against Ukrainian forces reaffirms our assessment that the armed groups in east Ukraine include professionals funded, equipped and directed by Russia," the ambassador said.
The Kremlin said the move by Kiev's interim government effectively killed the Geneva pact reached last month in a bid to cool the unrest, but pledged to continue efforts to try to calm the tensions.
Lyall Grant said: "We urge Russia to throw its full weight behind the 17 April agreement and to rein in the militant armed groups which it supports and which are responsible for the current crisis."
The foreign secretary, William Hague, who will visit Ukraine next week, said: "I am extremely concerned by reports of the activities of armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, including the detention of hostages, intimidation of the media and the reported shooting down of Ukrainian military helicopters this morning.
"There can be no doubt that these incidents, perpetrated by well-trained groups using sophisticated military technology, are intended to provoke further instability. These provocations are destroying all efforts to reduce tensions and are a serious threat to the country.
"Ukraine has shown admirable restraint since the beginning of this crisis in the face of extreme provocation on its own national territory. Now more than ever it is important that all parties, including the Russian Federation, abide by the commitments they made in Geneva on 17 April.
"I urge the Russian authorities to act to reduce tensions and to call upon separatist groups to lay down their arms."
Unlike eastern Ukraine, Odessa had remained largely untroubled since the February toppling of president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia.
However, a clash erupted between pro-Russia militia and government supporters in the key port on the Black Sea coast resulting in a deadly fire in a trade union building.
Pro-Kremlin journalists win medals for 'objective' coverage of Crimea
Pig Putin gave 'Order of Service to the Fatherland' medals to 300 journalists known for Kremlin-friendly coverage
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 2014 18.06 BST
The Russian president, Pig V. Putin, secretly gave prestigious awards to pro-Kremlin journalists for their "objective coverage" of the events leading up to the March annexation of Crimea, it has emerged.
Pig awarded medals of the "Order of Service to the Fatherland" to 300 journalists including several editors, directors and television hosts known for their Kremlin-friendly coverage in an executive order signed on 22 April that was not made public. After the well respected newspaper Vedomosti first published details of the awards on Monday, presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the order had been signed but declined to provide details.
Boris Korchevnikov, a host on the state-owned television channel Rossiya 1, told the Guardian that he had received the award but refused to discuss it further.
The awards indicated the Kremlin's approval of Russian media outlets that have told a dramatically different version of the Ukraine crisis than that shown by western media, regularly referring to the new Kiev government as a junta led by ultranationalists and fascists.
State-controlled television widely ignored the mysterious unmarked troops popularly known as "little green men" who swiftly took over Crimea in February and set the stage for a referendum vote to join Russia, instead focusing on local self-defence groups. The Pig snorted later that the unmarked troops were Russian soldiers.
Among those decorated by the president were executives of Russia's major television channels, all of which are controlled by the state, including Channel One, Rossiya-1 and NTV. Also recognised were Margarita Simonyan, editor of the stridently pro-Kremlin English-language channel RT, and popular television personalities like Vladimir Solovyov, who hosted talkshows on Rossiya 1 during the Crimean referendum in which pro-Kremlin politicians and pundits praised Putin's actions and condemned western hypocrisy over the government in Kiev.
Notably, no journalists from the independent television channel Dozhd or the radio station Ekho Moskvy – which take a more critical view of Kremlin policy – received awards. The Dozhd owner, Alexander Vinokurov, called those awarded the heroes of the information war between western and Russian media over Ukraine.
"What we see is what we cover," he said of his own channel's editorial policy. "We're not trying to take any one side, besides our own side and that of our viewers."
According to a March survey by the independent Levada Centre, 63% of Russians believe that national media outlets "cover the events in Ukraine and Crimea objectively".
In a post mockingly titled: "The brave 300", media analyst and popular blogger Oleg Kozyrev sarcastically praised the award winners for helping incriminate opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, who are under house arrest on criminal charges in what many have called political trials.
"And when the hordes of Banderites seized Ukraine, you, like the 300 Spartans, came to the frontline and, not allowing any other point of view on air, shuffling the facts whenever it suited you, won a victory over those Banderites and seized Crimea from them," Kozyrev wrote, referring to the moniker for Ukrainian nationalists taken from the name of the controversial second world war leader Stepan Bandera, whose forces at some points collaborated with the Nazis.
Pig's administration has cracked down on independent media in recent months, and new pro-Kremlin executives have appointed at Ekho Moskvy and the independent news site Lenta.ru. Dozhd has been struggling to survive after major broadcasters dropped the channel.
A report released by the foreign ministry on Monday detailed what it called "mass-scale" rights violations by Ukrainian ultranationalists against Ukraine's Russian speakers, including torture and "inhumane treatment".
"Joint efforts by the Ukrainian people and the international community should as soon as possible put an end to racism, xenophobia, ethnic intolerance, the glorification of the Nazis and their Bandera accomplices," said the report, which also contains second world war-era pictures including a photo depicting Ukrainian civilians, greeting the Nazis.
Crimean Tatar Activists Face 'Extremism' Warning
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 May 2014, 20:50
A leader of the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority group on the Moscow-controlled peninsula, said Monday that the new Russian authorities had threatened to prosecute them for "extremism".
The leader of the ethnic minority's assembly, known as the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, said the chief regional prosecutor had on Sunday read him an official warning to stop "extremist activities".
The warning came after hundreds of pro-Kiev Tatars clashed with the region's authorities at the weekend because of a ban on their spiritual leader visiting Crimea.
Chubarov said he feared that the authorities planned to prosecute him.
"I know that a criminal case will be opened against me today," he told Agence France Presse, expressing fears that the authorities were gearing up to launch "repressions" against Tatar activists.
"There will also be attempts to declare the Mejlis an extremist organisation," he said.
In March, Crimea's 300,000 Tatars, who make up around 12 percent of the peninsula's population largely boycotted a disputed referendum in which the majority voted to join Russia.
Crimea's regional prosecutor, Natalia Poklonskaya, has warned the community that its assembly will be banned if the Tatars continue with "extremist activities," according to the Mejlis.
Regional prosecutors declined to comment on Monday.
A Turkish-speaking Muslim group, the Tatars were accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II and deported to Central Asia under Stalin.
Nearly half of them died of starvation and disease.
They began returning to Crimea under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and became Ukrainian citizens after the country's independence in 1991.
Clashes broke out Saturday after the local authorities banned the spiritual leader of the Tatar community, Mustafa Dzhemilev, from visiting the peninsula.
Dzhemilev's supporters scuffled with police and broke through a border check point in a failed attempt to help him cross into Crimea.
Dzhemilev, who is also a Ukrainian lawmaker, is a Soviet-era dissident who dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of his people and commands huge respect among the Tatars.
He became a persona non grata for Crimea's authorities after he told a session of the U.N. Security Council in March that his people were afraid for their lives and that 5,000 had already fled the peninsula.
Dzhemilev on Monday dismissed the growing pressure against the community, saying if the authorities banned the assembly it would go underground.
"We already saw this under the Soviets when the whole of the powerful KGB machine worked against the Crimean Tatars," he told AFP from Kiev.
"Despite the repressions, we functioned then and we will find a way to function now."
Russian President Pig V. Putin last month signed a formal decree officially rehabilitating the Crimean Tatars minority of Soviet-era charges in a major overture to the ethnic minority.
Russia Quietly Tightens Reins on Web With ‘Bloggers Law’
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
MAY 6, 2014
MOSCOW — Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Pig V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.
The Pig's action on Monday, just weeks after he disparaged the Internet as “a special C.I.A. project,” borrowed a page from the restrictive Internet playbooks of many governments around the world that have been steadily smothering online freedoms they once tolerated.
The idea that the Internet was at best controlled anarchy and beyond any one nation’s control is fading globally amid determined attempts by more and more governments to tame the web. If innovations like Twitter were hailed as recently as the Arab uprisings as the new public square, governments like those in China, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and now Russia are making it clear that they can deploy their tanks on virtual squares, too.
China, long a pioneer in using sophisticated technology to filter the Internet, has continually tightened censorship. It has banned all major Western online social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google, though it seems not to be bothered by Alibaba, its homegrown e-commerce site, which has filed the paperwork for what could be the biggest public stock offering ever.
Nevertheless, even Beijing’s own social media champion, Weibo, valued at $3.6 billion in a public stock offering this year, has come under mounting censorship pressure as the government fine-tunes its policing of expression.
Under the pressure of a corruption scandal, Turkey recently imposed bans on Twitter and YouTube over tapes alleging corruption by the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although the YouTube ban remains, Twitter service was restored in April only after the Constitutional Court overturned the ban.
During protests against the government in Venezuela in February, there were reports that the government there was blocking online images from users. In recent years, Pakistan has banned 20,000 to 40,000 websites, including YouTube, saying they offend Muslims. Facebook was blocked for a while in 2010, but is now accessible.
The level of challenge is rising, but “we also see the amount of resources going into censorship increasing greatly,” Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School who specializes in Internet law, said in a telephone interview.
Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.
Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.
“This law will cut the number of critical voices and opposition voices on the Internet,” said Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defense Center and an expert on Russian media law. “The whole package seems quite restrictive and might affect harshly those who disseminate critical information about the state, about authorities, about public figures.”
Pig has already used the pliable Russian Parliament to pass laws that scattered the opposition, hobbled nongovernmental organizations and shut down public protests. Now, riding a wave of popular support after hosting the Winter Olympics and annexing Crimea, he has turned his attention to regulating the Internet, as well as burnishing his credentials as the worldwide champion of conservative values.
Aside from the Internet law signed Monday, the Russian leader signed a new profanity law that levies heavy fines for using four common vulgarities in the arts, including literature, movies, plays and television.
Speaking in St. Petersburg in late April, Pig snorted his suspicions about the Internet, even while noting that it had become a public market of huge proportions.
“You know that it all began initially, when the Internet first appeared, as a special C.I.A. project,” he said in remarks broadcast live nationally, before adding that “special services are still at the center of things.” He specifically thanked Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor granted asylum in Russia, for revealing to the world how efficient the N.S.A. was at collecting information.
The Pig snorted that someone writing online whose opinion affects thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people should be considered a media outlet. He continued to snort that he was not talking about a ban, only acting “the way it is done all over the world.”
Russian Internet pioneers despaired that Pig was really talking about the Chinese model of curtailing any political discussion online.
“It is part of the general campaign to shut down the Internet in Russia,” said Anton Nossik, an early online media figure here. “They have not been able to control it until now, and they think they should implement the Chinese model. But they don’t understand how it works. The Chinese model also stimulates the development of local platforms, while the Russian laws are killing the local platform.”
Russia is among a growing list of countries that have sought to shut down Internet voices circumventing a subservient national news media. Many leaders see the Internet as the key tool behind antigovernment demonstrations and are determined to render it ineffective.
Yet polls conducted in 24 countries last spring by Pew Research found that most people are against government censorship of the Internet, including 63 percent in Russia and 58 percent in Turkey.
Another Russian Internet law, one that went into effect on Feb. 1, gave the government the power to block websites. It immediately used the law against its most vocal critics, like Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, as well as online news sites that reported on demonstrations and other political activity.
In April, Pavel Durov, the 29-year-old founder of Vkontakte, Russia’s popular version of Facebook, said he had fled the country because he feared the consequences of refusing to turn over information the government requested about activists in Russia and Ukraine. Critics said he had fled after cashing out, and United Capital Partners, the owner of a 48 percent stake in the company, posted a lengthy statement online saying he was trying to divert attention from legal issues surrounding his running of the company.
Aleksandr Zharov, who runs Roskomnadzor, the government agency that supervises the Internet, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency last month that the law was necessary because people need to be held responsible for what they say on the web. “What he would never say face to face, he often allows himself online,” Mr. Zharov was quoted as saying.
The lack of transparency in Russia creates a kind of fog around countless issues, and the Internet is no different. Many critics and even some supporters of the new law said it was too vague to understand.
The Internet needs to be regulated by law just like publishing, said Robert A. Shlegel, among the youngest members of Parliament from United Russia, the Pig's party. But Internet savvy among legislators is weak, he added. “The law, as it is, is so raw,” he said. “It is clear that the person who wrote it just doesn’t understand.”
The law does not specify how the government will count the 3,000 daily visitors, for example. Even before Pig signed it, two of the largest blogging platforms, Yandex and LiveJournal, announced that henceforth their publicly visible counters would stop below 3,000.
Ms. Arapova said other murky issues included who would be considered a provider. For instance, will large international social media or search sites like Google, Twitter and Facebook have to keep their data in Russia or face fines and possible closing?
In California, both Twitter and Facebook said they were studying the law but would not comment further.
Ms. Arapova said the law would undoubtedly have a chilling effect in terms of who would go online. Whistle-blowers who work for corrupt government agencies, for example, would theoretically no longer be able to post anonymously.
The actual impact of the law will not be measurable until after it goes into effect on Aug. 1, Ms. Arapova said. Punishments start at fines that can reach up to $142,000 or the temporary closing of the blog, if the law is actively enforced.
Like the Internet law, the ban on four vulgar words was met with a combination of dismay and derision among artists. (The words, not mentioned in the law either, are crude terms for male and female genitalia, sex and a prostitute.) Many people thought it would be widely ignored, but the very idea that the Kremlin was trying to censor the arts rankled.
“We feel like we are back in kindergarten again when they said, ‘Don’t pee in your bed and don’t eat with your hands and don’t use that word,’ ” said Viktor V. Yerofeyev, a popular writer. “On the one hand, the Russian government says the Russian people are the best. On the other hand, it doesn’t trust the people.”
Russia demands $3.8bn security deposit from Visa and Mastercard
Kremlin imposes unprecedented requirements on global payment systems operating in Russia in response to US sanctions
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 May 2014 20.02 BST
International credit card companies face a "severe impact" on their operations in Russia following a strict new law Moscow has adopted in response to Visa and Mastercard freezing service to banks under US sanctions.
Visa described the regulations as "unprecedented" and Mastercard said it could experience difficulties, the Russian magazine Snob reported, after Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday to create a rival national payment system.
The law stipulates the creation of a homegrown system to facilitate cashless transactions by 1 July, but also imposes stiff new requirements on international payment systems operating in Russia.
The legislation was spurred on by Visa and Mastercard's decision on 21 March to stop servicing payments for clients of Rossiya Bank, as well as its daughter company Sobinbank. Rossiya Bank was included in the first round of US sanctions over the Ukraine crisis because it is owned by Pig's associate Yury Kovalchuk and is the "personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation," the US Treasury said when announcing the sanctions.
Visa and Mastercard also blocked operations for cards issued by SMP Bank, which is owned by the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who are old judo buddies of Putin's.
The new law forbids international payment systems from cutting off services to Russian clients and obliges them to base their processing centre in Russia. To ensure their good behaviour, international operators will have to place a security deposit in Russia's central bank equal to the average value of two days' worth of transactions.
Visa and Mastercard together processed $1.9bn (£1.12bn) in transactions per day last year – 90% of all cashless payments in Russia – equal to a $3.8bn security deposit, the Moscow Times reported.
The security deposit will be due in eight quarterly payments starting on 1 July. The law states that if a payment system unilaterally freezes operations for a Russian client, it is liable for a fee totalling 10% of its security deposit for each day without service.
Snob reported that Visa's representatives believed the security deposit to be too large. Visa did not comment on the report but said in a later statement that it was prepared to cooperate with Russia to solve issues related to the new law.
"Several provisions in the law are unprecedented and will have a severe impact on the payments market in Russia – particularly cardholders, financial institutions and merchants," the statement said. "We intend to work closely with the government in order to resolve these issues."
Vladimir Tikhonov, an analyst at Otkritie investment bank, said the creation of an internal payment system has been undertaken in Australia and will make Russia's financial system "more stable from outside threat" – not only sanctions, but also cyber-attacks. But even if Russia also creates its own replacement payment cards, agreements would need to be signed with foreign payment systems for these cards to work abroad, he added.
"The creation of a national payment system is not a replacement for Visa and Mastercard," Tikhonov said. "If Visa and Mastercard leave Russia, it will of course be a serious blow for both citizens and for businesses."
Russia is fomenting disorder in Ukraine to disrupt election, says William Hague
UK foreign secretary accuses Moscow of failing to take action on Geneva accord and denies extremists are dominating Ukraine
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 09.51 BST
Russia is deliberately fomenting disorder in Ukraine to disrupt the presidential elections in the former Soviet republic later this month, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, has said.
As the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said pro-Russia rebels in the east of the country should be included in talks on an equal basis to the government in Kiev, Hague accused Moscow of failing to take action to implement the Geneva accord.
Hague, who has been meeting civic and political leaders in Ukraine before elections on 25 May, denied that extremists were dominating the country. "The idea that some extremists have taken over here is far, far wide of the mark," he said, pointing out that he had met Mykhailo Dobkin, the presidential candidate of the former governing Party of the Regions. The foreign secretary said Dobkin wanted the elections to take place on 25 May and was opposed to any further annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia.
The foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "They [Ukrainians] cannot be bullied out of having their elections by disorder that is deliberately fomented and co-ordinated from another country – in this case from Russia. They are entitled to have their democratic choice, to choose their own president. Hopefully that new president will be a unifying figure who can clear out corruption, who can set a good economic programme and who can bring about this de-escalation."
Hague was speaking after his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned that "we are not far from a military confrontation" amid an intensification of fighting in the south and east of Ukraine. Moscow called for rebels in control of much of the south and east to be included in talks on an equal basis.
The foreign secretary accused Moscow of disruptive behaviour amid fears that Russia is going out of its way to block the elections or to ensure they have little credibility in a disjointed country. He said of the Geneva accord agreed on 17 April: "Russia took not a single action, not one action we can identify to implement that agreement.
The foreign secretary added that the possibility of the permanent presence of larger numbers of Nato forces in eastern Europe should worry Russia. "It is moving forward in a way that should worry Russia in the long term … There will be Nato countries that increase their defence expenditure, that see a revitalised role for Nato. Yes, we will reduce our energy dependence on Russia in western European countries. We will exclude Russia from the G8 and the OECD. Taken over the next decade these events will have a major effect on Russia."
Pig Putin SNORTS 'All-Conquering' Russian Patriotism at Victory Parade
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 May 2014, 10:41
Thousands of Russian troops marched through Red Square on Friday as Moscow put on a powerful show of patriotism and military might following its annexation of Crimea.
As Ukraine's crisis rumbled on with pro-Moscow rebels pushing ahead with independence votes, President Pig V. Putin snorted praise on the Russian patriotism and loyalty to the state.
"This is a holiday when all-conquering patriotic force triumphs, when we all feel especially strongly what it means to be true to the Motherland and how important it is to be able to stand up for its interests," Pig snorted to the massed troops to shouts of "Hurrah! Hurrah!"
Russia's annual parade celebrating victory over the Nazis held special resonance this year amid the crisis in Ukraine, which has seen Russia annex Crimea and fighting in pro-Moscow areas in the east where separatists are threatening to break away.
Similar Victory Day celebrations were planned for later Friday in Sevastopol, with Russian media reporting that Pig could make a triumphant appearance at the Crimean port.
As dozens of helicopters and planes soared in the bright blue sky over Moscow, thousands of troops marched alongside tanks, mobile missile systems and armoured vehicles to the sound of a brass band.
In contrast to the display of military hardware on Red Square, Ukraine planned muted Victory Day celebrations in a bid to avoid violence.
The head of Kiev's city council banned large-scale public gatherings or parades in the capital, fearing that the veterans could be attacked by "Russian provocateurs".
Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he fears recent softer snorts from Pig are a prelude to provocation.
"I am concerned about Pig Putin's snort. It caused a bad feeling. They say one thing and do another. After this statement, I asked law enforcement officers to strengthen security measures on May 9," Yatsenyuk told Ukrainian television.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin strongman stunned the world with an abrupt U-turn on Ukraine, calling on pro-Russian separatists in the east to delay independence referendums planned for this weekend and welcoming a May 25 presidential election.
But the rebels holed up in more than a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine defied his plea and vowed to press ahead with referendums this Sunday that are bound to stoke tensions.
If Pig does head to Sevastopol, it will be his first visit to Crimea since the Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Moscow in March.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday warned Pig against making the visit, saying it would be a "pity" if he went to the region.
The crisis in Ukraine, which kicked off after the ouster of the country's pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych in February, has sunk Russia's relations with the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
The United States and European Union have imposed a series of sanctions on Pig and his inner circle and EU ministers are to meet on Monday to consider further measures.
Fears of war on Europe's doorstep have been fired by fighting pitting Ukrainian troops against pro-Moscow gunmen in the east of the country, mainly around the town of Slavyansk.
Ukraine has lost 14 troops and three helicopter gunships with 66 servicemen injured in assaults on the rebels. The fighting has also claimed the lives of more than 30 insurgents.
Clashes that resulted in a horrific inferno in the southern port city of Odessa last week claimed another 42 lives, most of them pro-Russian activists, pushing the death toll over the past week to nearly 90.
The violence has prompted many Western politicians to warn that the country of 46 million people is slipping towards a civil war that would imperil peace in Europe.
The Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany has long been a source of great pride throughout the ex-USSR, which lost some 30 million citizens during World War II.
But this year's celebrations have exposed the deep divisions between Russia and Ukraine.
Ahead of the events, Kiev has cast Russia as an aggressor bent on sowing chaos in Ukraine, while the Kremlin has accused its neighbor’s pro-Western authorities of siding with "fascists" and ultra-right groups.
Fueling tensions is the hugely controversial legacy of the nationalist movement in western Ukraine, which was occupied by the Soviet Union and whose Ukrainian Insurgent Army collaborated with Nazi Germany.
Animosity between the two Slavic nations has reached such levels that Ukraine decided to drop the black-and-orange Saint George ribbon, which Russians cherish as a symbol of Victory Day, instead adopting the red poppy as its symbol of remembrance.