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« Reply #330 on: Oct 17, 2014, 05:43 AM »

Vladimir Putin moves to strengthen ties with Serbia at military parade

Russian president pledges never to recognise Kosovo’s independence during visit en route to ASEM summit in Milan

Julian Borger in Belgrade
The Guardian, Thursday 16 October 2014 19.50 BST   

Vladimir Putin set the seal on Russia’s closest alliance in central Europe on Thursday exchanging vows of support with Serbia and attending a military parade in Belgrade on a scale that has not been seen in the region since the Cold War.

The Russian president vowed never to recognise Kosovo’s independence, a priority for Serbia which refuses to accept the loss of the former province after a war in the late 1990s. In return, his Serbian counterpart, Tomislav Nikolić, pledged not to bow to European Union pressure to take part in sanctions against Russia, over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine conflict.

“Europe can count on it that we will not impose sanctions and that’s that,” Nikolic said at the Palace of Serbia, a huge socialist-era building on the banks of the River Sava. “Serbia will not endanger its morality by any hostility towards Russia.”

The reaffirmation of Russian-Serbian ties, at an event to celebrate the alliance in two world wars, was a boost for Putin on his way to the ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders in Milan, where he can expect a frosty reception from western and Ukrainian leaders. The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said she would raise the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, allegedly by Russian separatists in Ukraine, in which 298 people were killed, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

After arriving in Milan from Belgrade, Putin was due to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who said she would press him on observance of a September ceasefire agreement which remains tenuous.

“It is above all Russia’s task to say clearly that the Minsk plan is really respected,” Merkel said as she arrived for the summit. “Unfortunately, there are still very, very big shortcomings. But it is important to seek dialogue here.”

On Friday, Putin will meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko to attempt to strengthen the truce and also come to a deal over Russian gas supplies to Ukraine.

Much of the Russian gas supplied to the EU passes through pipelines crossing Ukraine, and Putin warned that Russia would cut supplies intended for Europe if Ukraine siphons off gas intended for Europe, as it did in 2008. “Russia always has been a reliable supplier. But there are big transit risks,” he said in Belgrade.

Putin enjoyed a brief respite from those pressures while in the Serbian capital for a military march-past commemorating the centenary of the first world war and the 70th year since the Soviet army and Yugoslav partisans liberated Belgrade. An enthusiastic crowd, estimated by the Serbian government as 100,000-strong, lined the parade route and chanted “Putin, Putin”, and “Serbia-Russia, we don’t need the [European] Union”.

Nikolic awarded him a large medal and chain of precious metals, named the Order of the Republic of Serbia, the country’s new highest honour, having been specially created for the occasion.

The march-past involved 300 military vehicles, including scores of tanks, as well as anti-aircraft missiles on trailers, and over 3000 troops marching in high-stepping unison under a sudden torrential downpour. At the same time, Serbian and Russian jet fighters roared overhead and paratroopers dropped from the sky. It was the biggest military parade in Serbia and the Balkan region since 1985, when it was the Yugoslav army marching past the country’s communist leaders.

Big screens over the crowd showed footage of the country military’s past, including the recapture of Belgrade, with Red Army help, from the Nazis in October 1944. The screens also showed military parades of the socialist era watched by the white-gloved, blue-uniformed Yugoslav dictator Tito.

What was missing from the visual history was Serbia’s role in the Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovo wars of the 1990s, all of which the country lost under Tito’s successor, Slobodan Milosevic. However, there were reminders that the territorial and ethnic issues fuelling those wars have not been resolved. The Russian and Serbian leaders made Kosovo a constant theme, and the Serb separatist leader in Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, fresh from a narrow election win, was given pride of place in the front row of the viewing platform, close to Putin. It was a clear show of support for Dodik who has vowed to weaken the Bosnian state and lead the country’s Serbs to independence.

************

Russia’s turbulent ties in Europe – the Guardian briefing

Relations between Russia and some of its traditional European allies have soured over its role in the Ukraine crisis. As a result, Moscow is attempting to forge new alliances in the region with smaller eastern and central European states, many of which have important trade ties with their more powerful neighbour. Now many face a tricky balancing act between their links to Russia and allegiance to Brussels
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic in Belgrade
Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Serbian counterpart, Tomislav Nikolić, in Belgrade. Photograph: AP

Alec Luhn in Moscow
Friday 17 October 2014 12.00 BST

What is the story?

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, popped up in Belgrade this week for a huge military parade celebrating the anniversary of liberation from the Nazis. Serbia is one of several central and eastern European countries to make overtures to Russia in recent months, and Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have notably opposed EU sanctions over Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Owing largely to their ties with Russia in the energy and arms industries, these countries are engaged in a balancing act between Moscow and Brussels, which Russia hopes to exploit to make new alliances in the region.

How has this happened?

As Russia squared up to the west over its antics in Ukraine, several central European states expressed opposition to the sanctions the EU slapped on its big eastern adversary. Slovakia’s president, Robert Fico, recently called the sanctions a “meaningless” gesture that would jeopardise the EU economy, and Slovak officials reportedly attempted to have Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, left off the sanctions list in March. The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said a trade war and “some new economic and political Iron Curtain” would be bad for Russia and the EU. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, went further to argue that the sanctions were like “shooting oneself in the foot” because they inflict more harm on Europe than Russia.

Even Poland, a historical foe of Russia that has lobbied for stricter sanctions and a greater Nato and US military presence in eastern Europe, recently struck a softer tone on Russia, with the new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, promising a more pragmatic, hands-off approach to the Ukraine crisis. The Serbian prime minister, Alexander Vučić, despite his continued insistence that Serbia wants to join the EU, said after Putin’s visit that Serbia will never adopt any sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, some of these countries have boosted economic cooperation with Russia. Hungary has signed a €10bn loan agreement with Russia, under which Russia’s state company Rosatom will build two additional reactor blocks at the Hungarian nuclear energy plant in Paks. Slovakia, whose Miroslav Lajčák was the only EU foreign minister besides Cyprus’s to visit Moscow since the annexation of Crimea, said it expected to sign an oil-supply treaty with Russia this month that would expire in 2029. Putin reportedly discussed military cooperation and participation in Russia’s South Stream gas project with Serbia during his visit. The Russian president said trade with Serbia reached $2bn last year and was expected to be about the same this year.
The issues

Germany’s role

Germany has played a key role in Russia’s evolving foreign policy in central and eastern Europe. As the largest buyer of Russian natural gas, which is vital to Russia’s economy and federal budget, Berlin has been Moscow’s most important trade partner.

But in 2012, German-Russian relations deteriorated after Berlin’s criticism of Russia’s presidential election and crackdown on the opposition, and ties have soured even further over the Ukraine crisis. As a result, Russia has started to look for new partners among the smaller countries of central and eastern Europe, which it did not pay much attention to before, said Alexei Fenenko, a professor of international relations at Moscow State University.

“There are two types of countries in central and eastern Europe: Those who are openly hostile, who we can’t hope to work with, and those that go back and forth,” Fenenko said. “There are forces in Hungrary, Slovakia, and most recently in the Czech Republic, with which Russia can have good dialogue. The pro-Russian party in Latvia helped with this as well.”

Gas

Energy exports have been and will remain Russia’s main trump card in Europe, and 12 eastern and central EU member states rely on Moscow for more than three-quarters of their gas supplies. Russia has started construction on its end of the South Stream gas pipeline, which is to run through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria, but Bulgaria twice suspended work on the project this summer. Although Bulgarians widely approve of the project, Boyko Borisov, whose Gerb party won the country’s snap national election this month, said he would resume work on the project only with the support of the EU, which has opposed the project on the basis of anti-monopoly regulations.
An employee attaches a Gazprom-labelled end cap to a steel pipe at the Vysota tube rolling plant in Chelyabinsk. The Russian state-owned oil compnay is turning to China for support as sanctions bite. A Gazprom employee attaches an end-cap to a steel pipe at the Vysota tube rolling plant in Chelyabinsk. The Russian state-owned oil company has been leaning on China for financial support as EU sanctions bite. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hungary, on the other hand, has eagerly promoted South Stream and would like to challenge Germany as a hub for Russian energy supplies, Fenenko said. In September, the country stopped reverse-flow gas supplies to Ukraine after Russia, the original supplier, warned that it could turn off the tap. The European commission upbraided Hungary, but Budapest was more concerned with its relationship with Russia, from which three-quarters of Hungary’s gas comes from.

Meanwhile, Hungary’s president has called Russia a model for political development and began mimicking Putin’s policies by instituting reforms that many call anti-democratic, imposing greater state involvement in key sectors of the economy, promoting government based on “Christian values” and claiming to be the protector of ethnic Hungarians in other countries.

Trade

Trade is one of the factors undoubtedly moving some countries closer to Russia. The Czech Republic’s exports of engineering equipment to Russia could be hampered by the sanctions on any technology able to be used for defence, as could Slovakia’s exports of steel tubes to Russia. Both countries’ apple industries have suffered from the embargo that Russia placed on dairy, meat and produce from countries that had adopted sanctions against it, with Czech apple prices reportedly falling by 20-30%. Poland’s fruit industry has also been heavily hit.

Nato bases in the east

Nato’s expansion eastward has long been cited by Russian leaders as a direct threat to their country’s security, and the possibility of Nato bases in central and eastern European countries has been a driving factor behind Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Moscow is trying to improve relations in regional capitals in the anticipation of negotiations over the placement of Nato forces, Fenenko said. The arrival of Nato, or even US troops, would not only reduce Russia’s influence over the region, but also threaten to heat up Russian-backed frozen conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.

Where can I find out more?

The Guardian’s New East network covers developments in former Soviet republics, while news outlets focused on EU policy, such as EurActiv, have covered Russia’s relations with member states in detail. Other continental news sources, such as the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, have also focused heavily on Russian-European relations. Industry publications such as Fresh Plaza for the produce industry have reported on the effects of western sanctions and the Russian food import embargo.


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« Last Edit: Oct 17, 2014, 05:53 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #331 on: Oct 17, 2014, 05:59 AM »

Russia to bolster military presence in former Soviet states

Air force chief announces plans for new air base in Belarus, as well as expansion of existing facilities in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The Moscow Times reports

The Moscow Times, part of the New East network
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 October 2014 17.50 BST 

The head of the Russian air force has announced Moscow’s plans to establish an airbase for fighter jets in eastern Belarus in 2016, according to state media.

Colonel General Viktor Bondarev also said Moscow planned to expand its airbases in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

The three nations are members of a loose Russia-dominated security alliance known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has accelerated efforts to create a unified air defence network as the Ukraine crisis re-energises the West’s military powerhouse, Nato.

The new airbase in the Belarusian city of Babruysk will expand Russia’s already strong air presence in Belarus. The base will be home to a wing of Russian Su-27 fighter jets, news agency TASS reported.

Even before the conflict in Ukraine, Russia under President Vladimir Putin had been making major efforts to re-establish its historical military presence in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Arctic and beyond. Negotiations with Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to establish bases for Russian strategic bombers are ongoing.

“By 2020... 47 airfields, including in Crimea in the Arctic, will be renovated under the state armaments programme,” Bondarev was quoted as saying by Interfax on Wednesday. By 2025, he added, the Russian air force will have restored and reopened over 100 military airbases.

Last year, a unit of Russian fighter jets were deployed to a Belarussian airbase in Baranovichi as part of the countries’ integrated regional air defense network. Russia also announced that it would station fighter jets at a Russian-built airbase in the Belarusian city of Lida, near the country’s border with Poland and Lithuania.

Russian defense officials have characterised these deployments as a response to Nato’s beefed-up air patrols in the Baltics and Poland.

Bondarev was also quoted by RIA Novosti on Wednesday saying that Moscow is negotiating with Bishkek to reconstruct the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan, which is a home for Russian fighter jets under CSTO auspices. While the base is usable, further construction is needed to support Russian strategic bombers, he said.

Bondarev said similar work will be done on an airbase in Armenia, the Soviet-era Erebuni base, which is already home to Russian MiG-29 fighter aircraft.


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« Reply #332 on: Oct 18, 2014, 05:51 AM »


‘Putin is destroying Russia. Why base his regime on corruption?’ asks Navalny

Russia’s opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, held under house arrest, says president is using war to stay in power

Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Guardian, Friday 17 October 2014 18.04 BST   
     
High in a dilapidated Soviet-era tower block miles from the centre of Moscow, the door opens to a small, tidy flat. It belongs to Alexei Navalny, once touted as the most potent threat to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to emerge in Russia in recent years.

Since February, the politician and activist has been under house arrest. A voracious social-media user with a talent for 140-character attacks on the Kremlin, the 38-year-old is banned from using the telephone or internet, though his wife can use them. He can only leave the confines of his flat when a police van drives him to hearings of his latest court case.

In a recent relaxation of the terms of his arrest, he is now allowed to speak to people other than his relatives, meaning that for the first time in six months, his colleagues and friends can visit him. He is also able to receive journalists, and the Guardian is the first of the international press to see him since his house arrest began.

Dressed in a blue T-shirt and jeans, he pads barefoot through the small flat into the kitchen, where his wife, Yulia, pours tea. A tagging bracelet around his ankle ensures that if he leaves the flat, the police will be alerted immediately.

“I’m really sick of sitting at home,” he says, with a wry smile. In the corner of the living room is a cross trainer, the only way he can get exercise. “But I’ve had experience of real arrest for up to 15 days several times, and it’s much easier to put up with house arrest when you understand what the alternative is.”

Navalny was the great hope of the wave of street protests that shook Moscow in 2011-2012, with many opposition-minded Russians confidently predicting he would become the next president of Russia.

Those protests petered out after a vicious crackdown saw court cases against its leaders and some ordinary protesters, but Navalny is still the most worrying opposition figure for the Kremlin. Some uneasy liberals point to his nationalist streak and see in him a charismatic but dangerous demagogue.

What is clear is that he is able to win support among voters: despite smears on state television and little access to any normal type of campaigning, he managed to win 27% of the vote in last autumn’s Moscow mayoral elections.

Since then, a lot has happened, notably the annexation of Crimea and the fighting in east Ukraine. A summit in Milan on Friday attended by Putin, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, and other European leaders including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, failed to reinforce the faltering ceasefire.

Despite the fact that many Russian nationalists support the separatists in east Ukraine, Navalny feels Putin has laid the groundwork for his regime’s eventual collapse.

“There’s a lot of commentary now that Putin has shown he’s not about money, and about enriching his businessmen buddies, but he has decided to build a great nation, a great Russia or to resurrect the Soviet Union,” says Navalny, who first became known for his anti-corruption investigations, unveiling the secret mansions and foreign accounts of Putin cronies and government officials. “I think in reality it’s all much more simple. Putin has resorted to the method that various leaders have used for centuries: using war or military actions to solve internal problems and boost ratings. That happens even in democratic countries – look at Bill Clinton in Yugoslavia.”

Unlike most of the liberal opposition, who have never found a common language with ordinary Russians, there was always a sense in the Kremlin that Navalny could be dangerous; a fear that his nationalism and charisma could appeal not only to the Moscow hipsters, but equally to the provincial masses, tired of seeing rampant corruption blight the country’s governance.

Those in power have long been split about how to deal with the troublesome campaigner; some believe he should be locked up, others think he should be free but closely monitored. For a while in 2013, it looked as if an allegation of embezzling funds from a timber company in the city of Kirov would put him in prison; but he was released after a surprise about-face, given a suspended sentence, and allowed to run in Moscow’s mayoral elections.

His good showing there clearly spooked some of those in power. A second court case, based on claims that Navalny and his brother defrauded a Russian subsidiary of the French chain Yves Rocher, began. In February he was put under house arrest, and the case has been rumbling on since.

The strategy for now seems to be to shut him up without causing too much of a scandal. To a large extent, it has worked. There has been little outcry over the fact that he is under house arrest – after all, he is not in jail – but at the same time, working on his anti-corruption investigations has become impossible and he has largely disappeared from public discourse.

With everything else happening in Russia, even the hearings of the second court case receive just a fraction of attention that the Kirov case received. Navalny says about 30 prosecution witnesses have been called so far, and “all of them ended up testifying in our favour – it’s stupid and completely absurd.”

He puts the strange zigzagging in the case down to the fact that nobody lower down in the system knows what to do with him.

“Obviously it will be a guilty verdict, but what the sentence will be can only be decided by one man, and that man has a lot of stuff on his plate besides me at the moment. He’s fighting a war against Obama, against the west, against God knows what else.”

The authorities continue to keep Navalny on his toes, and there is always the threat of new criminal cases. Sometimes the charges appear so flimsy they veer into the realm of the absurd. Over the summer, his flat was raided by investigators who seized a picture. The picture had been drawn by a street artist in the town of Vladimir, and been on display on a public wall. Someone pilfered it, and gave it to Navalny as a present.

“The artist has given interviews everywhere saying he never sells his art, that he doesn’t care that it was taken, that he doesn’t want there to be a court case, but they just ignore him – the case exists. From the case materials we can see that FSB [security services] generals are working on the case. They have six top investigators working on it!” Employees of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation have been questioned, searches carried out, computers and telephones seized.

Indeed, Navalny is such a toxic figure in Russia that any association with him can lead to trouble. In the Kirov court case, a former business partner was hauled into the dock alongside the politician; his brother Oleg is also on trial in the current case.

“That’s one of the most unpleasant parts of my work, because everything that happens around me is basically one giant court case, which spreads out to engulf the people that are close to me,” he says.

It was hinted at several times that he would be better off leaving the country, but he decided to stay. Is he really more use to the opposition cause under house arrest, or potentially in jail, than he would be from abroad?

“Why should I leave? I have not committed any crime. You can agree or disagree with my political position but it’s absolutely legal. And along with me, 90% of Russians think corruption is high, and 80% of Russians think we should bring criminal cases against corrupt officials. It’s also an important matter of trust. If I want people to trust me, then I have to share the risks with them and stay here. How can I call on them to take part in protests and so on if they are risking things and I am not?”

He says it is pointless to make predictions either about his own fate or about how much longer Putin will be in power. Navalny has set up a political party, although it is not able to contest elections, and says he still harbours ambitions that one day he will be actively involved in politics, “including fighting for the top job”.

As for how Putin will finally end up leaving the Kremlin – through a split in the elite, a violent revolution or a democratic transition – Navalny believes one thing is for certain: “In Russia, it will not be elections that provide a change of government.”
Navalny in his own words

On Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly owner of Yukos, Russia’s biggest oil company, who was jailed in 2003, released in 2013 and now lives abroad:

“Perhaps if he had stayed an oligarch, I would have had a lot of points of dispute with him, particularly on the rights of minority shareholders, which I worked on as a lawyer. Yukos was famous for various corporate battles. But that was 10 years ago, and discussing it is pointless. I don’t see any position that Khodorkovsky has now that I don’t share.”

On Putin’s reaction to Ukraine:

“Out of nowhere, without any warning, boom: suddenly a genuine, anti-criminal revolution. This was a terrible blow for Putin, a hundred times more painful that the Georgian events, than [former president Mikheil] Saakashvili and his anti-corruption reforms. He cannot allow this in Ukraine. So I think one of his strategic goals in the coming years will be to do absolutely everything to undermine the Ukrainian state, to ensure that no reforms work, so that everything ends in failure.”

On the consequences of Russian actions in Ukraine:

“Putin likes to speak about the ‘Russian world’ but he is actually making it smaller. In Belarus, they sing anti-Putin songs at football stadiums; in Ukraine they simply hate us. In Ukraine now, there are no politicians who don’t have extreme anti-Russian positions. Being anti-Russian is the key to success now in Ukraine, and that’s our fault.”

On what he would ask Putin

“I would be interested to understand his motivations, particularly on Ukraine. Because he is destroying our country. It will all collapse, and surely he can’t not understand that it’s all going to collapse.

“If he wants to be an authoritarian leader, then that’s one thing. But why doesn’t he want to be a Russian Lee Kuan Yew? Why does he want to base his authoritarian regime on corruption? There are other ways of doing it.”

On finding the ‘Putin account’:

“I think there are probably a number of numbered accounts in Swiss banks where money is kept that Putin considers his personal money. But in the main it is all kept by nominal holders, like [head of Russian Railways Vladimir] Yakunin or the Rotenbergs [two billionaire brothers, who are childhood friends of Putin]. The money is communal.

“If intelligence services really wanted to find Putin’s money there would be ways of doing so, but all we can do is work with open sources and the information we get from insiders. We can’t show up at a Swiss bank and seize documents or analyse transfers. Corruption in Russia is so open that even we can find a huge amount. But to find Putin’s accounts, that’s beyond our capabilities.”

On how he spends his time under house arrest

“I’m reading a huge number of books; basically doing what everyone dreams of doing but never has time for. I’m watching the ‘250 best films ever’ one by one. All this American nonsense like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and other old films.”


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« Reply #333 on: Oct 18, 2014, 06:19 AM »

Making Merkel Wait, Finding Time for Truffles

By JIM YARDLEY and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
OCT. 17, 2014
IHT

MILAN — He was at it again this week.

First, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia stopped in Belgrade for a military parade evocative of the Cold War. He questioned Kosovo’s sovereignty, took a swipe at President Obama in the Serbian news media and reached a summit meeting in Milan so far behind schedule that he was hours late for a private evening meeting with Europe’s most powerful leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Nor was Mr. Putin done. When he left Ms. Merkel at roughly 2 a.m. Friday, his entourage streaked through Milan to the home of his friend and Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The men talked and enjoyed truffles until about 4 a.m., whereupon Mr. Putin departed, leaving him barely four hours before he joined European leaders, including Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, for a pivotal breakfast meeting.

For Mr. Putin, the helter-skelter blitz through Milan was only the latest demonstration of an unpredictable, often theatrical, diplomatic style that he has employed during the Ukraine crisis to throw his rivals off balance. This time he kept Ms. Merkel waiting late at night. Last month he upstaged President Obama on the eve of a NATO summit meeting focused on Russian aggression when he unexpectedly announced a seven-point peace plan for Ukraine — written on the back of a napkin as he flew for a state visit in Mongolia.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said that he and President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine had agreed on the terms of natural gas supplies “at least for the winter period.”

“He loves you and me and everybody else looking at him and trying to figure him out,” said Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York and the great-granddaughter of Nikita S. Khrushchev. “He’s an exhibitionist.” She added, “He pushes the envelope all the time, and he gets away with it.”

This week, his presence in Western Europe for the first time in four months and the rare occasion of a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Poroshenko — coupled with the bite of Western economic sanctions and falling oil prices — raised expectations among some European leaders that the Russian president might be poised to deliver a major compromise in the Ukraine crisis.

But if progress was made on some issues, including a bitter and longstanding dispute between Ukraine and Russia on gas pricing, Mr. Putin showed little appetite to deliver any major breakthroughs. His entrance upstaged the array of global leaders who had gathered in Milan for an Asia-Europe summit meeting, and the Ukraine crisis dimmed attention on subjects like the Ebola outbreak or climate change.

If European leaders were expecting him to be humbled, they had another thing coming. Not only did he exude his usual confidence, but Mr. Putin even told an off-color joke about the anatomical difference between a grandpa and a grandma at a late afternoon news conference.

After the breakfast meeting, Ms. Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain expressed frustration, as Mr. Putin apparently rebuffed their entreaties that he pressure pro-Russian rebels to put off local elections they have scheduled for November in defiance of the Ukrainian government, which has set nationwide local elections for Dec. 7.

To Mr. Cameron, Mr. Putin had not yet budged, or budged enough, on any of the contested issues. “And if those things don’t happen, then clearly the European Union, Britain included, must keep in place the sanctions and the pressure so that we don’t have this kind of conflict in our continent,” Mr. Cameron said. (Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, countered by telling Russian reporters in Milan that some European leaders were obstinate and had refused to take an “objective approach.”)

“There’s a ‘Waiting for Godot’ quality to Western analysis,” said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Kennan Institute, a research organization in Washington. “It’s always waiting for Putin to blink, to be cowed or shamed or humbled.”

Mr. Rojansky continued: “He stands for Russian resurgence. Ask yourself: When was Peter the Great humble? When was Catherine humble? That’s not part of the role that they play.”

If Mr. Putin is easy to caricature, with his macho photo ops, posing shirtless in the Russian wilderness, for instance, his style underpins a method. Even with Russia’s economy steadily grinding downward, with a recession looming and the ruble hitting new lows almost daily, Mr. Putin is wildly popular at home, using the state press to stir up a nationalistic fervor that has sown unease in the West, but that has created broad public support for his Ukraine policies within Russia.

Just as he introduced his peace plan on a napkin last month, Mr. Putin set the stage for Milan with a visit on Sunday to Sochi, home of the recent Winter Olympics. There, he was watching the final laps of Russia’s first Formula One Grand Prix, the second of three major sporting events that Mr. Putin has personally helped organize, when his aides abruptly announced that he had ordered an end to “military exercises” in western Russia and was pulling back more than 17,000 troops from along the border with Ukraine.

The timing was impeccable, even if Western leaders remained skeptical that the realities on the Ukrainian border had really changed.

Mr. Putin has apparently calculated that European outrage over Ukraine has limits, given economic ties between Europe and Russia, as well as European dependence on Russian energy. He could, however, face a tougher reception when he travels next month to a Group of 20 summit meeting in Brisbane, Australia, a country that lost 28 citizens in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

On Friday, the area where Mr. Putin hinted at the most wiggle room was on the gas dispute, where he said Russia was prepared to compromise, to a degree, though he pointedly noted that Russia would no longer sell gas on credit to Ukraine.

Mr. Putin also understands that Europe is far from unified on sanctions and on how hard a line to take with the Kremlin. In Serbia, a country with aspirations of joining the European Union, Mr. Putin was greeted like a Roman proconsul, cheered by throngs during a military parade and awarded the Order of the Republic, Serbia’s highest honor.

Aware of Serbia’s own diplomatic balancing act, Mr. Putin said nothing during his visit that would embarrass Serbian leaders before their European partners, restricting himself to remarks about the historic role played by the Soviet Union in defeating fascism in World War II.

Yet Mr. Putin’s showmanship appears to be wearing thin with Europe’s leaders, particularly the most important one, Ms. Merkel. Early in the Ukraine crisis, she was seen potentially as a trusted broker, herself a child of Soviet East Germany, someone with a genuine understanding of the Russian perspective. But as Mr. Putin has repeatedly finessed or ignored commitments on Ukraine, Ms. Merkel has become increasingly antagonistic, supporting sanctions and saying recently that they could be left in place for a very long time.

Mr. Putin’s tardy arrival for their Thursday night meeting probably did not help. (“And this is a woman he likes; this is a woman he actually respects,” Ms. Khrushcheva said.) He came to her hotel about 11 p.m. on Thursday and remained for more than two hours. Photographs showed the two leaders seated across a table with aides. When he later arrived at Mr. Berlusconi’s apartment, it was apparent that his meeting with Ms. Merkel had not gone particularly well.

“He didn’t say that progress was made,” said Valentino Valentini, a longtime aide to Mr. Berlusconi who was present for their meeting. “The impression was that their positions were still far apart.”

That Mr. Putin would make time for Mr. Berlusconi — especially at 2 a.m. — might seem odd, though the two men do have a colorful history, vacationing together and becoming close friends. “Every time Putin comes through, he comes and visits,” Mr. Valentini noted.

For Mr. Berlusconi, who remains a political force in Italy, if a diminished one, the meeting with Mr. Putin is a political bonus. Il Giornale, a Milan-based newspaper owned by Mr. Berlusconi, wrote that the meeting proved “the true interlocutor with the Russian president is the Cavalier,” alluding to one of Mr. Berlusconi’s nicknames.

Mr. Valentini denied the two men had spent an evening in revelry, as has often been rumored of their past meetings. “At 2 in the morning,” he said, “I’m afraid it wasn’t too much of a wild party.”


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« Reply #334 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:20 AM »


Sweden searches for suspected Russian submarine off Stockholm

Helicopters, minesweepers and 200 service personnel mobilised in search after tipoff about ‘foreign underwater activity’

Peter Walker   
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 12.43 BST      

Swedish ships, helicopters and troops are scouring the waters off Stockholm for what was officially described as “foreign underwater activity”, amid reports that a Russian submarine might have had mechanical problems while on a secret mission in the archipelago.

In scenes reminiscent of the cold war when neutral Sweden regularly swept the island-strewn Baltic Sea coastline around the capital for Soviet spy submarines, more than 200 service personnel were mobilised along with helicopters, minesweepers and an anti-submarine corvette fitted with stealth-type anti-radar masking.

The operation began late on Friday following what Sweden’s ministry said was a reliable tipoff about “foreign underwater activity” in the archipelago. The officer leading the operation declined to give more details, saying only that there had been no armed contact.

“We still consider the information we received as very trustworthy,” Captain Jonas Wikstrom told reporters. “I, as head of operations, have therefore decided to increase the number of units in the area.”

The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper said it was believed the intruder was a Russian submarine or mini-submarine that may be damaged. It said the operation was launched on Friday after a visual sighting of a “human-made object” in the waters. The day before, Swedish intelligence operators intercepted a radio conversation in Russian on a frequency usually reserved for emergencies, the paper said.

Another signal was intercepted on Friday night, but this time the content was encrypted. However, the report said, Swedish intelligence was able to pinpoint the locations of the participants. One was in the waters off Stockholm, while the other could be traced to Kaliningrad, the port that is the home of Russia’s Baltic Sea fleet.

The military sources would not confirm that a Russian craft was in distress, Svenska Dagbladet reported, but Russia does have mini-submarines based at Kaliningrad, it added.

Defence analysts cited in other reports speculated that a submarine might be have been replacing old spy equipment or monitoring a Swedish naval exercise.

Sweden is among a series of Nordic and Baltic nations on increased alert over growing tensions with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. In September two Russian Su-24 attack jets reportedly violated Swedish airspace over the Baltic, prompting Sweden’s air force to scramble its own fighters.

Last week Finland complained that the Russian navy had twice harassed one of its environmental research ships in international waters, ordering it to change course and later sending a helicopter and submarine to pass close by.

The submarine hunt is an early political test for Stefan Lofven, the new prime minister, whose centre-left minority government took office this month. Peter Hultqvist, the defence minister, told Svenska Dagbladet that the government hoped to be more open than its predecessor about military activity.

“What’s been happening in the Baltic Sea, including airspace incursions, shows that we have a new, changed situation,” he said. “Russia has made enormous military investments … with their increased strength they are training more, and that influences the security environment.”

Alerts were not uncommon during the cold war. The most famous incident took place in 1981 when a Soviet submarine hit rocks near Karlskrona, the main Swedish naval base, in the south of the country. The Russian captain claimed that the submarine had strayed off course and got lost.

After a tense standoff in which a Russian recovery convoy turned back after Swedish coastal artillery and warships trained their guns on it, Sweden interrogated the captain and inspected the submarine, before towing the craft off the rocks into international waters.


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« Reply #335 on: Oct 21, 2014, 05:04 AM »

Polish ex-minister: Putin offered to divide Ukraine with Poland in 2008

Newsweek
21 Oct 2014 at 06:43 ET   

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's parliamentary speaker, Radoslaw Sikorski, has been quoted as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to Poland's then leader in 2008 that they divide Ukraine between themselves.

Sikorski, who until September served as Poland's foreign minister, was quoted telling U.S. website Politico that Putin made the proposal during Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's visit to Moscow in 2008 - although he later said some of the interview had been "overinterpreted".

"He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine ... This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, when he visited Moscow," he was quoted as saying in the interview dated Oct. 19.

"He (Putin) went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don't we just sort it out together," Sikorski was quoted as saying.

Before World War Two, Poland's territory included parts of today's western Ukraine, including some major cities such as Lwow, known as Lviv in Ukraine.

Sikorski, who accompanied Tusk on his trip to Moscow, was quoted as saying Tusk did not reply to Putin's suggestion, because he knew he was being recorded, but Poland never expressed any interest in joining the Russian operation.

"We made it very, very clear to them - we wanted nothing to do with this," Sikorski was quoted as saying.

After publication of the interview, Sikorski said it was not entirely accurate.

"Some of the words have been overinterpreted," Sikorski wrote on his Twitter account late on Monday, adding that Poland does not take part in annexations.

The interview could further aggravate tension between Poland and Russia, already at odds over the Ukrainian crisis and Poland's arrest of two men suspected of spying for Moscow.

Neither Poland's Foreign Ministry nor Russian officials were immediately available to comment.

"If such a proposal was made by Putin then that's scandalous," Ewa Kopacz, who replaced Tusk as prime minister after his departure for a top job in Brussels, said late on Monday in an interview with public broadcaster TVP.

"No Polish prime minister will participate in such a disgraceful activity like partitioning another country", she said, adding she had not heard about such a proposal before.

Sikorski's account is not the first suggestion that Russia was seeking Poland's support in partitioning Ukraine.

Following the annexation of Crimea, Russian parliamentary speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky sent a letter to the governments of Poland, Romania and Hungary, proposing a joint division of the country.


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« Reply #336 on: Oct 21, 2014, 05:07 AM »

Russians investigating more than 200 McDonald’s

Newsweek
21 Oct 2014 at 06:37 ET         

Russian officials are investigating more than 200 McDonald’s restaurants—nearly half of the fast-food chain’s locations in the country—in what many analysts see as retaliation against Western-backed sanctions.

The probes into the chain’s hygiene and finance practices by the Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian government’s consumer rights surveillance group, began in August and have since resulted in the temporary closure of nine locations, include one McDonald’s in Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and several restaurants in Moscow, according to a translation of a statement on the McDonald’s Russian website published Saturday.

Analysts believed the move is part of a tit-for-tat response to Western sanctions over Russian aggression in Ukraine and the country’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year. Using health and safety violations as a reason to shut down businesses in Russia “‘is an instrument that’s often used’ by the Kremlin to gain leverage in political disputes," Nonna Crane, a lawyer specializing in Russian business issues told Bloomberg Businessweek.

McDonald Russia said in its statement that it disagrees with the court’s decision to shut those restaurants and will appeal to a higher court. More than 100 McDonald’s restaurants are in the capital of Moscow and the surrounding area, according to CNBC.

The closed locations include the Moscow’s Pushkin Square McDonald’s, which was the first to be opened in the country in 1990, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. After four locations were shut in August over alleged health violations, a further five restaurants were added to the list. McDonald’s sales in Russia were around 8 percent of the company’s global total of $28 billion, according to Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

“An attack on McDonald’s is a very populist act right now, when there is clear tension between Russia and the West—this is the main idea,” human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov told The Washington Post after Russian authorities launched an investigation into the operations of Ronald McDonald House Charities in the country.

The U.S. and European Union have imposed strict sanctions on Russia since March, including visa and travel bans and restrictions on Russia’s economic sector. The Kremlin denies involvement with fighting in Ukraine and consider the sanctions a “hostile step,” Reuters reports.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning to the West over sanctions and reminded them of “the threat of a fallout between the largest nuclear powers,” Reuters reports.

“Our partners should be well aware that attempts to put pressure on Russia with unilateral and illegitimate restrictive measures will not bring about a settlement, but rather impede the dialogue,” Putin said in an interview with Serbian newspaper Politika. He did not make reference to the McDonald’s investigations in his interview.

Russian food safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor announced Monday that it will include more foods on list of Western products banned from importation, including cattle and pig by-products like lard and offal, The Moscow Times reports. On August 6, Russia enacted a one-year ban on fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products from European, including Polish apples.   

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« Reply #337 on: Oct 21, 2014, 05:18 AM »


Russia prepares for ice-cold war with show of military force in the Arctic

Vladimir Putin sends troops and jets to oil- and gas-rich region also coveted by Canada, United States, Norway and Denmark

Isabelle Mandraud   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 21 October 2014 10.00 BST      

Yaya is a very small Arctic island, barely one metre above sea level and covering only 500 square metres. Russian pilots discovered it at the beginning of October. With the Admiral Vladimirsky research ship having confirmed its presence in the Laptev Sea, Yaya will soon be added to the map of the Arctic Ocean and will become part of Russian territory, the RIA Novosti state news agency announced. In its determination to defend its interests in this icy waste, Russia is no longer content to leave its mark, as it did in 2007 when it planted a Russian flag, in a titanium capsule, 4,200 metres below the north pole. Now it is engaging in large-scale militarisation of the Arctic, a vast area coveted by itself and its four neighbours: Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark.

RIA Novosti says that former Soviet bases are being reactivated in response to renewed Nato interest in the region. According to the Russian authorities, the airstrip on Novaya Zemlya can now accommodate fighters and part of the North Fleet is establishing quarters there. A new military group will be formed in the far north consisting of two brigades, totalling 6,000 soldiers, deployed in the Murmansk area and then the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region. Radar and ground guidance systems are also planned for Franz Josef Land (part of Novaya Zemlya), Wrangel Island and at Cape Schmidt. The federal security service plans to increase the number of border guards on Russia’s northern perimeter.

During the recent Vostok 2014 full-scale military exercises – the biggest since the end of the Soviet Union – Russian troops carried out combat missions in the Arctic, using the Pantsir-S and Iskander-M weapon systems. Such moves may bring back the atmosphere of the cold war, when the region was the focus of US and Nato attention, as they were convinced that it would be a launchpad for nuclear strikes.

“In those days of acute paranoia, when it seemed vital to keep track of enemy submarines and protect your own, this maybe made sense. But the current military buildup is pointless,” says Alexander Golts, military analyst and deputy editor of the Yezhenedelny Zhurnal (Weekly Journal), a news site that was censored hours after Crimea was annexed. “It is consistent with the stance of the Russian state, which only understands the word ‘force’ in military terms,” he adds. “But you must keep it in proportion; it is still only a symbolic battle. Take a look at the map and you will soon see that 6,000 men spread over such a huge area is not much.”

“It makes no sense,” says Vladimir Chuprov at Greenpeace Russia. “The only justification can be the will, yet again, to unite the Russian people in the face of an enemy on the outside who is supposedly trying to take ‘our’ Arctic, despite there being no threat. It’s a drill ground on which Russia can flex its muscles, and more a matter of world politics than economics.”

The Arctic’s hydrocarbon resources nevertheless exert a powerful pull. It has been compared to “a second Middle East”, with oil and gas reserves thought to represent 17% and 30%, respectively, of the global total. But the extreme climatic conditions and recent international sanctions against Russia have put many projects on hold. At present Russia is extracting no more than 6.6m tonnes of oil a year in this area, compared with “4.5m tonnes lost in the whole country due to leaking pipelines”, according to Greenpeace.

And then there is the North-east Passage, a sea lane between Asia and the US, which will ultimately open as the ice melts, providing an alternative to the Suez canal. But here again there is considerable uncertainty, due to the exorbitant cost of using nuclear ice-breakers to keep it open. Russia owns four of these ships. But “one of them costs $120,000 a day to operate”, Chuprov says. He is also concerned about the environmental impact of a military buildup in the Arctic. “During the recent military exercises the missiles were launched on Wrangel Island, with no observers, in an area which is a breeding ground for polar bears and walruses.”

On 11 October, in an attempt to forestall such criticism, the Russian defence ministry announced plans to build “a regional environmental centre [...] to prevent pollution in areas where Russian forces are deployed”. Russian troops systematically receive “training and briefings on environmental safety and compliance with legislation”, deputy minister Dmitry Bulgakov added. But it will take more than this to reassure the western powers.

The Arctic, which is governed by international maritime law, is also the focus of other disputes. Canada regularly carries out military exercises in its Arctic territory. Relations between Ottawa and Moscow have cooled significantly since the start of the Ukraine crisis.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde


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« Reply #338 on: Oct 21, 2014, 05:59 AM »

Russian artist cuts off earlobe in protest at use of forced psychiatry on dissidents

Pyotr Pavlensky, who once nailed his scrotum to Red Square’s cobblestones, says protest is over return to Soviet-era methods

Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 16.26 BST      

A controversial Russian artist who once nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square has been taken to hospital after cutting off his earlobe to protest at the forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents.

Pyotr Pavlensky, a St Petersburg-based performance artist, climbed naked on to the roof of the Serbsky psychiatric centre in Moscow on Sunday and cut off his right earlobe with a large kitchen knife.

Covered in blood, he was removed from the roof by police and taken to a Moscow hospital. Doctors thought he might also have contracted pneumonia, his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, said on Monday.

But later on Monday, Dinze told the Guardian that Pavlensky did not have pneumonia or lasting problems from the severed earlobe and would probably be discharged from the hospital soon.

In a statement on his wife’s Facebook page on Sunday, Pavlensky said that cutting off his earlobe was meant to represent the damage resulting from police “returning to the use of psychiatry for political goals”.

Pavlensky wrote: “Armed with psychiatric diagnoses, the bureaucrat in a white lab coat cuts off from society those pieces that prevent him from establishing a monolithic dictate of a single, mandatory norm for everyone.”

The Serbsky centre is infamous for giving questionable diagnoses to many of the dissidents who were confined to psychiatric wards in the USSR. In April, a protester in a demonstration in Bolotnaya Square, Mikhail Kosenko, was sentenced to indefinite psychiatric treatment after the Serbsky centre declared him insane, a decision that Amnesty International condemned as a return to that Soviet-era practice.

Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who was captured by pro-Russia separatists, is being tried for complicity in the deaths of two Russian war correspondents on charges that human rights groups have called politically motivated. She has been undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at the centre since last week.

Prosecutors have been seeking to have Pavlensky undergo a psychiatric evaluation as part of a vandalism case brought against him after he burned tyres on a St Petersburg bridge in February in support of the Kiev protests that toppled the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich.

Last week, a St Petersburg district court turned down for a second time a request to have Pavlensky committed to a psychiatric institution. However, on Monday the artist underwent a psychiatric evaluation at the Moscow hospital and was declared sane, Dinze said.

Pavlensky, who has a long history of self-mutilating protests in Russia, gained international attention in November 2013 when he undressed and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square as “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society”.

He has also wrapped himself naked in barbed wire in front of the St Petersburg legislative assembly and sewn his lips shut to protest at the prosecution of the punk-rock activists Pussy Riot.

************

Petr Pavlensky: why I nailed my scrotum to Red Square

He has wrapped himself in barbed wire, sewn his lips shut and caused the world to wince with his now-infamous stunt in Moscow. As the Russian authorities circle around Petr Pavlensky, the protest artist explains why he's not afraid

Shaun Walker   
The Guardian, Wednesday 5 February 2014 15.58 GMT     

On a snowless but chilly afternoon early in the Moscow winter, a 29-year-old man with a gaunt, emaciated face stepped on to the vast expanse of Red Square. He made his way to a spot on the cobblestones not far from the marble mausoleum housing the waxy corpse of Vladimir Lenin, and began to undress. In less than a minute, he was naked.

A video taken using a handheld camera and posted online moments later shows tourists gawping as he sits on the ground. A police car arrives, and an officer orders the man to get up. But the man cannot get up – because he is attached to the icy cobbles with a single, long nail that is driven through his scrotum and into the stones below.

This was only the third piece of protest art in the oeuvre of St Petersburg native Petr Pavlensky, but he has already made a name for himself as one of the most intriguing figures on the contemporary Russian art scene. Tapping into the instincts that drove Pussy Riot, and their progenitors, the Voina art collective, Pavlensky fuses risque performance with a deep disdain for the current political environment in Russia. Having previously wrapped himself naked in a coil of barbed wire, and sewn his lips together, this third wince-inducing stunt attracted international attention.

In a statement released to coincide with the performance, Pavlensky said his action, titled Fixation and timed to coincide with Russia's annual Police Day, was "a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society". Pavlensky had a blanket thrown over him by the confused police officers and was eventually detached from the stones and taken to hospital. He was discharged that evening, and released by the police without charge – only for them to open a case of "hooliganism motivated by hatred of a particular social, ethnic or religious group" a few days later. It is the same article of the law that was used against Pussy Riot and can carry a jail sentence of several years.

A fortnight later, Pavlensky is at the railway station in St Petersburg, about to take the night train back to the capital, where he has been summoned by police for questioning the next day. There are rumours in the media that he may be arrested. We meet just before midnight, before he boards his train, and it is hard not to notice the rather forlorn canvas rucksack slung over his shoulder. He appears to have surprisingly few possessions with him for someone who could end up spending months behind bars.

"What do you mean?" he says, matter-of-factly. "I've got socks, pants, everything. I'm ready for anything."

He sounds relaxed and confident, although there is a nervous intensity in his eyes. Escaping the long arm of Russian justice by going on the run was never an option for Pavlensky. "I think that would have discredited everything I'd done before, if at the first sign of danger I'd gone into hiding. So I decided to take a position of strength, because there is nothing to be afraid of. You can be afraid if you feel you are guilty of something and I don't. Anything the authorities do against me means discrediting themselves. The more they do with me, the worse they make it for themselves."

He says the same impulse informs his art: "Whenever I do a performance like this, I never leave the place. It's important for me that I stay there. The authorities are in a dead-end situation and don't know what to do. They can't ask the person to leave a square, because he's nailed to the square. And they can't do anything with a man inside barbed wire."

The influential gallery owner and critic Marat Guelman called Pavlensky's act "the artistic equivalent of setting yourself on fire" and said it was a gesture of hopelessness and desperation. "It was a message to society," he told the Calvert Journal. "We all more or less share his position. People have been forced into a corner – the choice is between leaving, going to prison, or joining up with those in power."

But, in Pavlensky's mind, his action was less a helpless cry of anguish than an aggressive statement of defiance. His performances are not only a protest against the system, but also a protest against people's apathy. "When I did the Carcass piece with the barbed wire, I was not just saying how wonderful our legal system is – people are inside this wire, which torments them, stops them from moving, and they feel pain from every movement. I was also saying people themselves are this barbed wire and create the wire for themselves."

Pavlensky was born in St Petersburg and studied at art college, which he describes as a "disciplinary institution that aims to make servants out of artists". He left in 2012, without completing the course. He says he has a broad range of artistic influences. "I am very interested in Caravaggio, even though he worked with canvas and oils. He had a very serious life project, though: he made works with the theme of self-harm, where he translates real events on to the bodies of his subjects. He isn't a decorative artist. I am very critical of any decorative art as an idea, the idea of ornamentalism and concealment. Everything that does the opposite, that brings things out and reveals how things actually are, this is what interests me."

Pavlensky takes inspiration from a long line of Russian protests, particularly the "Moscow activism" school of the 1990s, and most recently the protest group Voina, who were noted for their outrageous activist art. Voina's performances included staging a mass orgy inside Moscow's biological museum the day before the election of Dmitry Medvedev as president in 2008, under a banner that read: "Fuck for the teddy bear heir."

Later, they painted a giant penis on a St Petersburg bridge, just before it was raised at night for ships to pass, causing the penis to "erect" and point at the FSB security services building on the embankment. The group won a major art prize for the stunt (the Innovatzia, the equivalent of the Turner prize), though they were also pursued by Russian authorities on criminal charges.

Two of the original Voina artists went on to form the punk collective Pussy Riot, who with their mix of music, art and activism also chose Red Square for one of the first performances, in 2011. Later, they would stage their fateful action in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which would see three of them stand trial for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Pavlensky says it was during the Pussy Riot trial that he first began to understand the need for a more radical approach to art. "Their trial affected me more than many things in my own life. I started looking at other people and wondering why they were not doing anything. And that is when I had the important realisation that you should not wait for things from other people. You need to do things yourself."
Link to video: Russian artist nails scrotum to Red Square cobbles

The idea for his most recent performance came when he was briefly held in a cell after the Carcass stunt. A fellow prisoner regaled him with stories of the Gulag, where prisoners had sometimes nailed their scrotums to trees in an act of protest at the inhumane conditions and miserable existence. "I didn't think much of it at first but then, when I began thinking that the whole country is becoming a prison system, that Russia is turning into a big prison and a police state, it seemed perfect."

Some suggested that the act may not have been as gruesome as it seemed, with a piercing having been made prior to the event and the nail simply pushed through, but as we walk along the freezing platform for him to board the Moscow train, Pavlensky insists that he actually drove the nail through that afternoon. "I have the medical report to prove it," he says. "I was careful not to rupture a vein but it was very bloody and sore. They wanted to give me antibiotics and other medications, but I refused."

In the end, Pavlensky was not arrested at his questioning the following day in Moscow, but the charges against him still stand, and he remains under investigation. In late January, officers arrived at the cable channel TV Rain and demanded to be given a recording of an interview Pavlensky had given them, saying they needed to examine it as part of a "psychological-linguistic expert analysis" that was being carried out as part of the case against him.

Despite the real threat of a jail term, Pavlensky does not plan to stop, and says his unusually painful brand of art comes from an imperative impulse towards radicalism: "It was a very important step for me – to understand what happens when a person becomes an artist, when a person becomes stronger than their indifference and overcomes their inertia. I don't think an artist can exist without this and just be isolated and contemplative. An artist has no right not to take a stand."


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« Reply #339 on: Oct 21, 2014, 08:05 AM »


Submarine hunt sends Cold War chill across Baltic

Sweden's biggest submarine hunt since the dying days of the Soviet Union has put countries around the Baltic Sea on edge.

By KARL RITTER and MATTI HUUHTANEN
Associated Press

STOCKHOLM —

Sweden's biggest submarine hunt since the dying days of the Soviet Union has put countries around the Baltic Sea on edge.

In a scene reminiscent of the Cold War, Swedish naval ships, helicopters and ground troops combed the Stockholm archipelago for a fourth day Monday for signs of a foreign submarine or smaller underwater craft that officials suspect entered Swedish waters illegally.

While Sweden hasn't linked any country to the suspected intrusion -- and Moscow suggested it was a Dutch sub -- the incident sent a chill through the Baltic Sea region, where Russian forces have been accused of a series of border violations on land, sea and air in recent months.

"Closely following events in the Swedish territorial waters, may become a game changer of the security in the whole Baltic Sea region," Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter.

Swedish military officials say there have been three sightings of the elusive craft since Friday, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Stockholm amid the myriad of islands and skerries that stretch from the capital into the Baltic Sea.

On Sunday they released a photograph taken at a distance of what they said could be the mystery vessel -- a dark speck surrounded by foaming water.

Military spokesman Jesper Tengroth said more than 200 personnel were involved in the operation, but stressed that unlike Sweden's submarine hunts in the 1980s, the military wasn't using depth charges or other anti-submarine weapons.

Speculating on whether the suspected underwater intruder was linked to a mother ship, Swedish media zeroed in on an oil tanker owned by Russian company Novoship, which had been circling near Swedish waters. In a statement Monday, Novoship President Yuri Tsvetkov said he was "flattered" by the attention but said the ship was charted for transporting oil from Russia to the U.S. and was drifting on standby awaiting loading orders.

Daily Svenska Dagbladet has reported that Swedish intelligence picked up distress signals suggesting a Russian mini-submarine had run into trouble in Swedish waters and could be damaged.

Countering such claims, a Russian Defense Ministry official quoted by the Tass news agency suggested that the search was triggered by a Dutch submarine that participated in an exercise with the Swedish navy last week. The unidentified official suggested Sweden should save "taxpayers' money" and ask the Netherlands for an explanation.

The Dutch navy, in turn, said that submarine left Sweden on Thursday and had been in Estonia since early Friday. In Sweden, Armed Forces spokesman Philip Simon said the Dutch submarine was not what triggered the Swedish search.

In the final decade of the Cold War, Sweden launched a series of unsuccessful submarine hunts after a Soviet sub carrying nuclear weapons was stranded off its southeastern coast in 1981.

The events in the past days have sparked alarm across the Baltic Sea in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- three small former Soviet republics already spooked by Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

Estonia stepped up surveillance of its territorial waters, with the border guard looking out for "potential anomalies," spokesman Priit Parkna said.

Lithuanians were concerned over the safety of a floating natural gas import terminal currently being transported on the Baltic Sea to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda. The terminal will be key to Lithuania's plans to reduce its reliance on Russian energy.

Meanwhile, Russian media suggested the Swedes were overreacting. The Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper even speculated that the submarine hunt could be a ploy by the Swedish military to boost its defense budget, which has undergone a series of cuts since the Cold War.

The official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta questioned whether there was any submarine at all, noting the Swedes hadn't found anything.

"Either Sweden's echo location equipment is working badly or, as the old saying goes, the eyes of fear see danger everywhere," the paper said.

The submarine scare in Sweden comes after a string of border incidents involving Russian forces that Western analysts say signal Moscow's growing assertiveness in the Baltic Sea region.

Finland's Environment Institute said last week that Russian military ships had twice intercepted one of its research vessels in international waters.

On Sept. 5 an Estonian security service officer was detained on the Russian border -- Estonia and Russia disagree on which side of it -- and is still in custody in Moscow.

Both Sweden and Finland, which are not NATO members, have reported airspace violations by Russian military aircraft in the past two months. Even when they stay in international airspace, Russian aircraft are conducting more ambitious maneuvers than at any point since the end of the Cold War, Western analysts say. During Easter last year, Russian warplanes exercising over the Baltic Sea appeared to simulate attacks on targets in Sweden, embarrassing the Swedish Air Force which didn't have any jets on standby.

"These are aggressive attack drills where they make a clear statement to their neighbors," said strategic analyst Magnus Christiansson of the Swedish National Defense College.

NATO says Russian airborne military activity in the Baltic region so far this year is two-and-a-half times higher than last year, and the alliance has boosted its own air patrols over tiny members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

However, a submarine sneaking into another country's territorial waters would be much more serious than muscle-flexing maneuvers in the air, Christiansson said. "To have military forces operating secretly on another country's territory, that's something different," he said. "It is a hostile act."

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