WTO = Waiting Time Over for Russia

Friday sees Russia finally get to join the World Trade Organization, after nearly two decades of talks. The long-anticipated accession will be a boon for some industries, but is likely to hit tough on others, so Russians greet it with mixed feelings.

The signing of the package of documents on Russia’s joining the WTO is scheduled for Friday evening. Members of the ministerial meeting of the organization’s members will ink the papers in Geneva after the working group unilaterally approved Russia to become part of the 153-strong trade club. After that, ratification by the Russian parliament will be the only necessary step before receiving the membership.

“Russia is the world’s 12th largest trading nation ($400 billion in exports and $250 billion in imports) and until we have this important country among our members, we cannot truly be the World Trade Organization,” pointed out Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the WTO, in an article published by ITAR TASS news agency.

Russia’s 18-year path to the WTO was almost record-slow, with only Algeria’s negotiations taking longer at the moment. It was also the world’s largest non-member economy. The hurdle was caused by the principle of consensus the organization uses, which means each member can veto its enlargement.

Georgia, which engaged in a war with Russia in 2008 after attacking a then-breakaway province which Moscow pledged to keep peace in, was the last country to block Russia’s accession to the WTO. Overcoming Georgian resistance took great effort from the mediators, reports RT’s Daniel Bushell.

As the newest member of the WTO, Russia will have access to larger markets, but will have to drop trade barriers of its own too. This means that the less-competitive industries have to brace for tough times and most likely layoffs. The two particularity worried sectors are agriculture and car industry, which both enjoy governmental subsidies.

Russian farmers received $9 billion annually in the previous few years. In roughly just five years after joining the WTO, that aid is expected to decrease by half to just $4.4 billion, reports RT’s Maria Finoshina. Currently 30 per cent of arable land in Russia is not in use, and there are fears that the cut of farming subsidies the accession will bring will only make things dramatically worse.

Russia, though, will hardly be starving, as lower import taxes will help fill the gap with foreign goods. Previously banned items like Georgian wine and mineral water, American and Polish meat and Lithuanian milk are also likely to make a return to Russia’s supermarket shelves. For customers it means greater choice and lower prices, while local producers may suffer.

“Russia is currently importing 45 per cent of all food products. I predict it will increase and may become 50, 60, 70 per cent. Local producers who are unable to compete will go down,” says Konstantin Babkin, CEO of the Rosagromash.

Similar sentiments come from the machine-building and car industries, which are far from thrilled about running head-to-head with world’s most modern producers with the Soviet-era equipment many of the Russian plants still use. It is no wonder that domestic car producers have been among the ardent anti-WTO lobbyists.

Ukraine’s 2008 entry into the organization led to a 50 per cent loss of employment in its auto industry. In Russia, however, the effect should be more gradual due to securing a certain privilege. Russian negotiators negotiated terms for a transition period – from two to three years for well-to-do industries to five to six years for the less efficient – over which the now-protected businesses will have a chance to build up some muscle before playing against foreigners on equal terms.

“Russian manufacturers have to invest more in order to increase their efficiency and productivity. This is one of the instruments in order to promote the modernization of the Russian economy,”
explains Frank Shauff from the Association of European Businesses.

There will be sectors of the economy, though, where the benefits will be immense. Once trade barriers tumble, common rules will make the path for the Russian steel and chemical industries to the international market much smoother. It will also make large investments into Russia less risky and more profitable.

“The key amount of gains we believe are roughly 3.3 per cent of Russian GDP in early years after accession, and after more like 10 years, I think Russia will gain about 11 per cent of GDP,” predicts David Tarr from the World Bank.

But apart from economic achievements, the country’s political image should benefit – and maybe what is more important: Russia will no longer be an outsider, but a part of the prestigious club.

Brussels Raises Election Concerns At Russia Summit

BRUSSELS — The European Union used a summit with Russia today to highlight concerns over claims of massive fraud during this month’s Russian parliamentary elections.

Russia’s December 4 State Duma elections and their aftermath — including the detention of demonstrators — were not officially on the agenda of the summit, which otherwise focused on economic and visa liberalization issues.

But the EU made clear in the run-up that it would raise its worries with Dmitry Medvedev during his last summit with the bloc as Russia’s president.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference after the summit that the EU had been perturbed by election monitors’ reports of irregularities and lack of fairness in the December 4 vote, and about the detention of protesters.

On the other hand, Van Rompuy did note that “the recent large demonstrations were peaceful and the authorities, in my view, handled it very well.”

Medvedev Defiant

Tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow on December 10 and on previous days calling for the election to be rerun after widespread allegations the vote was rigged to favor the ruling United Russia party.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (second from left) before the start of the EU-Russia summit
​​Van Rompuy stopped short of asking for a re-run of the elections, which a European Parliament resolution had called for this week.

At a press conference on December 15 after the summit, Medvedev roundly criticized that call by the EU assembly.

“This is our election and the European Parliament has nothing to do with it,” he said. “[European Parliament members] may comment on anything they want, but I’m not going to comment on their decisions. They mean nothing to me.”

Medvedev also added the European Union had problems with human rights, especially when it comes to Russian-speaking minorities in EU member states.

“We have our own problems in Russia, but there are problems in the European Union, too,” he said. “There are problems with the rights of Russian-speaking citizens in several [EU] countries, the well-known facts of xenophobia, extremism, and neo-Nazism in a number of countries of the European Union.”

Lifting Visa Requirements

One of the few concrete results of the meeting was an agreement on conditions for the lifting of European Union visa requirements for Russian citizens.

The common steps, as the agreement is called, will mainly push Russia to upgrade its standards in areas such as the introduction of biometric passports, data protection, and the re-admission of illegal migrants — changes that together can take up to five years.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso maintained that the ultimate goal is to achieve complete visa liberalization.

“We have launched the common steps towards visa-free travel,” he said. “This decision has clear potential benefits for our citizens and for people-to-people contacts. In order to achieve real progress, the task ahead of us is to fully implement the agreed common steps, which can lead to the opening of visa-waiver negotiations.”

Russia has insisted that negotiations for visa liberalization should be initiated automatically once it has met the conditions, but several EU member states have refused to guarantee such a move.

Possible Eurozone Investment

Meanwhile, Medvedev said at the December 15 news conference that Russia would look into possible investment in the International Monetary Fund to shore up the eurozone, but made no reference to any specific Russian contribution.

“We will abide by the commitments we have as a participant in the International Monetary Fund and we are ready to invest the necessary financial means in order to support the European economy and the eurozone,” he said.
Earlier, on the sidelines of the summit, Kremlin economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich reiterated a promise by Russia to provide at least $10 billion in funds for the eurozone via the IMF.

The EU is Moscow’s biggest trade partner, with trade totaling $286 billion between January and September of this year. The 27-member bloc is also the largest consumer of Russian gas.

With agency reports

‘Two-speed Europe’ is a fair solution

If the Eurozone countries agree to more centralization of economic power, they might quite easily be able to impose that on the whole EU at some stage in the near future, believes Philip Booth from the Institue of Economic Affairs.

­“Not surprisingly, the French and Germans in – slightly different ways – are trying to use this Euro-crisis as a means to centralize even more power within the EU institutions,” Booth told RT.

Non-eurozone EU countries, such as Britain, are posed in a very dangerous situation, where a refusal to sign a “fiscal union” treaty might create a two-speed Europe. But Booth believes that a multispeed European Union is, in many senses, a good outcome.

“I hope that a two-speed Europe is the outcome of this, and I hope that a more decentralized Europe is the outcome of this,” he said. “David Cameron has got to negotiate very hard, but from a position where he outside the main negotiations, to try to reclaim other powers that are currently centrally held by the EU.”

One of the powers Brussels could get is to impose austerity measures on countries it bails out. When individual governments did this to their own people, it was met with large-scale protests – but, Booth says, that there is no easy and centralized way out of this mess “that does not involve individual member governments facing up to their own problems.”

“The only real sanction that the Eurozone countries can impose on an offending member is some kind of fine, which actually makes the situation worse,” he explained. “That was rejected when the European Stability Pact was first drafted. It is up for discussion now, but it is no more obvious how this would work in the future.”

­‘First-class passengers in a Titanic’

­EU politicians are somewhat oblivious to the consequences of the current economic situation, believes economic analyst Michael Mross.

“They behave like first-class passengers in a Titanic that is already sinking,” he said. “And what politicians are saying right now, is, ‘OK, we have time. Everything is alright.’ But this ship is sinking and there is no solution to keep it alive.”

Mross is pessimistic on the prospects of finding a solution at the upcoming EU summit.

“I cannot hear anything which comes close to a solution. The only thing they are producing there in Brussels is catastrophe, a catastrophe of rescue efforts. And this will lead next week more or less to chaos, catastrophe – and collapse of the whole system, possibly.”

NATO Ministers To Discuss Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia

Foreign ministers from NATO member states are gathered for two days of meetings at the alliance’s headquarters in Belgium that are expected to focus on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as relations with Russia.

The meetings come amid heightened tensions with Pakistan after an air strike by NATO planes near the Afghan border last month killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The ministers are also expected to discuss the aftermath of this week’s international meeting in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan, including the progress of moves to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2014 and the alliance’s mission in Kosovo following recent violence with minority Serbs that left 50 NATO troops injured.

On December 8, the NATO ministers will be joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. That meeting is expected to focus on Russian concerns about the planned deployment of a NATO missile-defense system in Europe.

‘New Arms Race’ Warning

The chief of staff of the Russian armed forces meanwhile said as NATO ministers were preparing to gather that Russia was being pushed into a new arms race by the planned deployment of a NATO European missile-defense system.

General Nikolai Makarov, speaking at a meeting with foreign military attaches warned of a possible “sharp deterioration” of relations.

“The very idea of creating a missile-defense system can definitely bring about a sharp deterioration in our relations,” Makarov said.

The NATO meeting also comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Russia’s parliamentary elections, citing allegations of fraud.

Protests in many Russian cities are continuing.

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports

EU summit: Last-chance saloon for eurozone project

This week’s EU summit is being seen as the last chance for the eurozone. But as European leaders make a final bid to save the single currency, critics say the two-day talking shop is about as useful as rearranging chairs on a sinking ship.

­The summit, which will take place on Thursday and Friday in Brussels, will bring together the leaders of EU countries for emergency talks aimed at pulling the region out of its financial nose-dive.

Top of the agenda on the second day will be the French and German leaders’ blueprint for revising the Lisbon Treaty – the 2009 agreement which reorganized the workings of the entire EU.

President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel want tighter eurozone controls and the power to impose cuts on bailed-out member states.

Meanwhile Greece, the epicenter of the crisis, has just approved next year’s austerity measures.

Now analysts say core EU members like France and Germany are also in the sickroom.

“There has to be a quick and solid fix of the instability and political conflict on some kind of a common basis especially between France and Germany in the next days or weeks or we are going to see a systematic crisis which will be in no one’s interest,” says political analyst William Engdahl.

Yet more problems are emerging, with US ratings agency Standard Poor’s threat to downgrade the credit rating of eurozone member states.

Why the markets are now so alarmed is that the markdown may also include the EU’s two economic powerhouses, Germany and France.

It has warned investors and eurozone governments that it will carry out mass downgrades of eurozone countries if EU leaders fail to agree on how to solve the region’s debt crisis by Friday.

Paris and Berlin see the cure to the eurozone’s ills as fiscal union – centralizing economic control over sovereign budgets. They blame the crisis on a lack of discipline, with some member states breaking budget rules and running up huge deficits.

But some critics say this is precisely the wrong approach.

“The members that have become part of the eurozone project are very much different from each other and cannot provide for a common homogeneous currency space,” says German Free Democratic Party MP Frank Schaeffler. “That is what has become so obvious under the present situation. Now they want to resolve the problem by introducing more centralization while centralization is the root cause of the problem,” explains Schaeffler.  

Up to now, the EU’s rescue strategy has been based on patching up the weakest economies with bailouts  – which some say is merely a band-aid solution and the wrong medicine for a terminally-ill patient.

The fiscal union cure is no quick-fix – and could also open up a new minefield as it needs domestic political approval across the EU to revise the Lisbon Treaty, the bloc’s effective constitution and rule-book.

London has already warned of a veto if its interests are threatened.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that he would accept a new EU treaty only if British interests are met. The new document was designed to try and save the euro – the unified currency which Britain does not use. Cameron is quoted by the Times as saying that to meet their goals, the eurozone countries would have to support a number of British safeguards in return, and that the treaty can only be reformed with the agreement of all bloc members.  

Hostility towards eurocrats among EU citizens suffering austerity measures to bail out banks and reckless governments could mean stiff opposition, as well as anger at losing domestic control over national budgets – yet another obstacle for France and Germany.

“They already know they have lost the battle,” says Professor Marcus Kerher of the Technical University of Berlin. “We are in a prisoner dilemma. People have taken the wrong decisions from the very start. Merkel and Sarkozy will never admit it to the public because it would mean they would have to step down from power,” he affirms.  

The fate of the euro has occupied the headlines for most of the year. However, the bloc’s signal failure to stem the mounting difficulties puts Friday’s summit in a different light. The end is nigh – for good or for bad – with most observers saying this crisis is nearing its day of reckoning.

Latin America unites in new bloc, US not invited

Thirty-three Latin American leaders have come together and formed a new regional bloc, pledging closer economic and political ties. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) pointedly excludes the US and Canada.

­On the second day of a summit in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, all Latin American leaders, both right and left, officially signed into effect the formation of the CELAC bloc. The foundation of the bloc has been praised as the realization of the two-centuries-old idea of Latin American “independence” envisioned by Simon Bolivar.

Analysts view CELAC as an alternative to the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) and as an attempt by Latin American countries to reduce US influence in the region.

“As the years go by, CELAC is going to leave behind the old and worn-out OAS,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said at the inauguration of the bloc on Friday.

“It’s the death sentence for the Monroe Doctrine,” said Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said.

However Washington does not see CELAC as a replacement to OAS. US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said the US will continue “to work through the OAS as the pre-eminent multilateral organization, speaking for the hemisphere.”

Political analyst Omar Jose Hassan Farinas told RT’s Spanish channel the US views CELAC as a potential threat to its hegemony in the region.

Chavez also read out statement opposing the US trade embargo on Cuba. Havana, which is not a member of the OAS, has joined the new regional bloc.

“No more interference. Enough is enough! We have to take shape as a center of the world power and demand respect for all of us as community and for each one of our countries,” Venezuelan leader said.

The 33 leaders pledged to withstand the financial crisis that has struck Europe and other developed countries.

Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff stressed that the Latin American countries would need to rely more on their neighbors amid the global economic turmoil.

“The economic, financial crisis should be at the center of our concerns,” Rousseff said Friday night. She said Latin America should “realize that to guarantee its current cycle of development despite the international economic turbulence, it means that every politician must be aware that each one needs the others.” 

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who assumed the initial rotating presidency at CELAC, expressed hopes that the bloc would help build regional cooperation despite the differences between some of the 33 member states.

The leaders also discussed cooperation in the field of drug trafficking and climate change.

CELAC should be a “political union to build a large power center of the 21st century,” the Venezuelan president said, stressing strong regional growth as many countries in the region develop closer ties with Asia or Europe and reduce their traditional reliance on the US.

The formation of CELAC was warmly welcomed by rising global power, China. Chavez read aloud a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao congratulating the leaders on forming the new bloc.

Hu pledged to deepen cooperation with the CELAC and underlined that in the 21st century the relations between China and Latin America have seen all-round and fast development with expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation, according to Xinhua news agency. 

The countries of CELAC have a combined population of nearly 600 million people, and a combined GDP of about US$6 trillion – about a third of the combined output of the US and Canada.

­Timur Zolotoev, RT

Bachmann wants to close imaginary embassy

In case you haven’t noticed yet, Michele Bachmann kind of does this thing where, when she speaks, Americans respond with a shake of the head, a palm to the face or a shudder in fear that she might actually capture the presidency.

Many are doing all of the above after her latest gaffe.

Speaking from Iowa on Wednesday, Bachmann said that, if she were president, “we wouldn’t have an American embassy in Iran.”

Now, if Michele Bachmann were president, America wouldn’t have a lot of things — namely, any future whatsoever. But for a high-ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, one might expect Bachmann to be keen to some certain details — like how America broke ties with Iran after this only-kind-of-a-little-thing that happened with some hostages 30 years ago. It’s no big deal — it only lasted 444 days, but the kicker, I guess, is that the US hasn’t had an embassy there since.

At best, Bachmann was drawing some sort of abstract comparison between herself and then-President Ronald Reagan — who was in office for less than an hour before Tehran released its American prisoners back in ’81 — in hopes of capturing the vote from a GOP crowd still grasping for a resurgence in Gipper-era right-wing ideologies that have largely since disintegrated.

At worst, she knows nothing about the foreign policy of the country she wants to be in charge of.

Given her tendency to regularly raise questions from the press because of her super power of continuously making hilarious mistakes, those at Bachmann HQ have gotten pretty good at racing to nip these kinds of things in the bud. Here’s the latest explanation, courtesy of the Bachmann camp:

“Congresswoman Bachmann is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and is fully aware that we do not have an embassy in Iran and have not had one since 1980 . . . She was agreeing with the actions taken by the British to secure their embassy personnel and was speaking in the hypothetical, that if she was President of the United States and if we had an embassy in Iran, she would have taken the same actions as the British.

“Her remarks are being taken out of context, given that she has spoken on this subject several times in the past 24 hours and made it clear that she knew we did not have an Iranian embassy. As she has previously stated, President Obama has taken his eye off of Iran, the most significant security threat in the region, and allowed them the luxury of time to move toward obtaining nuclear weapons. She will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons that would threaten our ally Israel and the United States.”

Well, sure. Let’s give her this one. If this wasn’t the nail in the coffin, she still has some time to deliver.

Court rejects MI5 spy claims over Lib Dem MP’s Russian lover

MI5‘s claims, backed by the home secretary, Theresa May, that the Russian lover of a Liberal Democrat MP spied for Moscow has been dramatically rejected by a national security court convened to hear the case.

The court — the special immigration appeals commission (Siac)— has dismissed MI5’s assertion that Ekaterina Zatuliveter, lover and former aide to Mike Hancock, a member of the Commons defence committee, was recruited by Russian intelligence.

The decision is all the more humiliating for the security services since the panel judging the case included Sir Stephen Lander, a former head of MI5. On MI5’s advice, May agreed to deport the Russian woman on national security grounds, saying her presence in the UK was not “conducive to the public good”.

The Home Office said it was disappointed with the ruling.

A spokeswoman said: “National security is the primary duty of government and we will take all necessary steps to protect the public from individuals we believe pose a threat and remove them from the UK.

“The court ruled that there were ample grounds for suspicion. We are therefore very disappointed by the court’s judgment and stand by our decision to pursue deportation on national security grounds.”

With evidence by unidentified MI5 officers heard partly in secret, the Siac panel was told that Zatuliveter, 26, was a long-term agent recruited by the SVR, Russia‘s foreign intelligence agency. Zatuliveter began working for Hancock as an intern in November 2006, soon after she arrived in Britain to study for a master’s degree at Bradford University, a course Hancock helped to pay for.

In evidence devoted more to her personal life than espionage, the commission heard how Zatuliveter had a series of lovers whom she met when acting as a chaperone at international conferences in St Petersburg, where she had been a student.

During the hearing, Jonathan Glasson, counsel for May and MI5, accused Zatuliveter of lying and said she had spied for Russia “from the heart of British democracy in parliament”. Zatuliveter described MI5’s claims as “laughable”.

Her counsel, Tim Owen QC, described MI5’s investigation in the affair as “more akin to Inspector Clouseau than George Smiley”, referring to the Pink Panther inspector played by Peter Sellers and the spymaster in John Le Carré’s books.

“It is a pretty odd person who chooses to stay and fight knowing they are a spy,” Owen added.

An MI5 witness cited Zatuliveter’s visit to the Tricycle Theatre in north London to see The Great Game, a series of plays on Britain and Russia’s historical relationship with Afghanistan, as evidence of her spying activities. The witness apologised when it was put to her that The Great Game had “nothing to do with spying”, explaining that she had heard the phrase was coined by Rudyard Kipling in his book, Kim.

The Siac panel also questioned MI5’s suggestion that entries in one of Zatuliveter’s diaries, with a Gustav Klimt painting on its cover, were fake.

She said she started a diary in 2004 because she “felt lonely”. Zatuliveter had a “crush” on a Dutch diplomat identified as L. After flirting with a member of a Serbian-Montenegrin delegation she struck up a relationship with Hancock that lasted from June 2006 to March 2010.

When that finished, she started a relationship with Y, a European official who worked in Nato.

She told the panel, chaired by Mr Justice Mitting, she had six meetings in London with MI5 officers — named as Stephen and Louise – in 2009 and 2010. They asked her about contacts she had had with two people from the Russian embassy, including one identified as “Boris”, whom she first met at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in central London.

Zatuliveter was stopped at Gatwick airport in August last year, two months after Anna Chapman, a Russian woman with British citizenship from her marriage to Alex Chapman, a Briton, was arrested in the US with nine others on suspicion that they were operating a spy ring.

Zatuliveter was arrested in December.

Hancock defended his decision to employ her. “There were no dodgy deals, no favours and no shortcuts. I’m not naive,” he said when she was arrested. He said she was security checked and it took two months before she was given a House of Commons pass.

Reacting to the ruling, Hancock told the Guardian: “I’m delighted at the news. I think it shows the security services to be a pretty inept bunch. I’m amazed that the judgment came out in the way it did. I couldn’t believe the establishment would allow her to win. But I’m delighted she has.”

United Russia’s ex-member Aladin to sell membership card at auction

A member of the United Russia party in the southern Russian city of Samara, Alexander Aladin, left the party with a scandal and put his membership card up for an auction in the internet for one ruble (three cents), Russian news agency Novy Region reported on Monday.

In this fashion the former member of the party has expressed his protest against it. “You will lose Russia if you vote for United Russia,” Aladin said.

Aladin left the party and wanted to hand over his membership card, but it was not accepted, so Alexander decided to sell it at an auction.

“This party has ruined industry, agriculture, education, health, military service during its existence,” Aladin said. “Its members are mired in corruption and theft. It has lost the trust and respect in society and the phrase ‘United Russia’ became a dirty word among the people,” Aladin added.

Russia will hold a crucial parliamentary vote on December 4, followed by presidential elections in March next year. The ruling United Russia party nominated Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as its presidential candidate in the presidential elections on Sunday.


Russian opposition activist to spend 1 year in colony for attacking police

A Russian opposition activist was sentenced on Monday to one and half years in a penal colony for attacking a police officer during an unsanctioned rally in central Moscow last year.

Grigory Torbeyev, member of the Left Front opposition movement, hit the officer in the face with a burning flare as police dispersed the Day of Wrath rally on Moscow’s downtown Tverksaya Square in November 2010.

Torbeyev was detained at the scene and a criminal case was launched against him. The officer, Yevgeny Kovalev, was taken to hospital and treated for eye injuries and concussion.

After spending six months in a pretrial detention center, Torbeyev will now have to spend another year in the penal colony. Prosecutors initially demanded him to be sentenced to two years in the colony.

Torbeyev supporters who were present in the courtroom protested angrily against the Tverskoy Court’s verdict. His defense is preparing to file an appeal.


New York prosecutors see no reason to review Bout verdict

New York prosecutors see no reason to doubt the jury verdict in the case of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, defense team member Viktor Garkusha said on Monday.

On November 12 the defense team led by lawyer Albert Dayan said it appealed the verdict citing ‘prejudice’ on the part of at least one juror.

As a prospective juror in the trial of Viktor Bout, Heather Hobson, 42, told defense lawyers and prosecutors that she knew nothing of Bout’s reputed exploits as an international arms dealer. Later, she unanimously agreed that Bout was guilty of conspiracy to kill Americans, to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and to provide material support to terrorists.

However, it turned out that the juror’s knowledge of Bout was more expansive than she had realized. Hobson admitted in a post-verdict interview with the New York Times that she had seen the “terrible” film “Lord of War,” which is believed to have been inspired by Bout, but had no idea it was about the defendant.

“In their response prosecutors said a single newspaper publication is not enough for retrial and cites precedents when trials were held with at least three of 12 jurors having grounds for a biased verdict,” Garkusha said.

Bout’s sentence is expected to be announced on February 8. He could receive a life behind bars.

UK halts military data sharing with Russia

Britain will stop sharing military information with Russia over Moscow’s decision to freeze compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), a government minister said on Friday.

The treaty imposes ceilings on the build-up of troops and forces from the Atlantic to the Urals.

“For as long as the Russian Federation fails to fulfill its obligations towards the United Kingdom under the CFE Treaty, we will cease fulfillment of our key obligations towards the Russian Federation,” Europe Minister David Lidington said in a written statement to parliament.

“Since December 2007, we have continued to fulfill our CFE Treaty obligations, and attempted to exercise our Treaty rights,” the statement said.

“We, our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and other States Parties to the Treaty have also made considerable efforts to engage the Russian Federation in negotiations aimed at finding a mutually acceptable resolution, but without success.”

The statement follows the U.S. decision to halt CFE cooperation with Russia, announced on Tuesday.

The original CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 by 16 NATO countries and six Warsaw Pact members and came into force in 1992. The treaty set ceilings on five key categories of conventional armaments, including tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, assault helicopters and warplanes.

The CFE Treaty played a crucial stabilizing role during the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. However, later the document became outdated and irrelevant amid large-scale changes in the military and political environment.

The treaty was modified in 1999, but NATO member states refused to ratify it citing Russia’s military presence in Georgia and the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdnestr.

Russia imposed a unilateral moratorium on the CFE treaty in December 2007 over NATO’s eastward expansion, U.S. missile defense plans for Europe, and the refusal by alliance members to ratify the adapted treaty. Moscow has repeatedly said it will resume its participation in the CFE if NATO member states ratify the adapted treaty.

Customs Union Aims At Forming Closer Bonds

Customs Union Aims At Forming Closer Bonds

Published: November 23, 2011 (Issue # 1684)

MOSCOW — Russia and its customs union partners, Belarus and Kazakhstan, on Friday signed a declaration seeking to reinstate even more of the bonds — possibly even a common currency — that snapped with the Soviet collapse.

In a separate agreement, President Dmitry Medvedev and his counterparts from Kazakhstan and Belarus created an agency that will run the integration effort by regulating the economies and trade of the three states.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev rejected the idea that the decision for the former Soviet republics to come closer together looks like a return to their Communist past. If and when created, the new, capitalist union will have none of the ideology or full state control over the economy that its would-be members ended 20 years ago, he said.

In the Declaration of Eurasian Economic Integration, the three customs union members reconfirmed the transition to a Common Economic Space as of Jan. 1 — resulting in a free flow of capital, services and work force within its boundaries. It will conform to the rules and principles of the World Trade Organization, which Russia is almost certain to join next year.

Ultimately, the members pledge to upgrade the group to a Eurasian economic union that will have more unified rules for their economies, trade, currency and foreign migration policies — and possibly introduce a single currency.

The declaration stated that the signatories would seek to create the union by 2015.

“We won’t make a fuss or waste our efforts,” Medvedev said at the news conference. “But if opportunities arise, we will move faster.”

Nazarbayev proposed that the three countries should replace the dollar with their own currencies in their mutual trade, and eventually come to a common currency.

Russian Industry and Trade Minister Viktor Khristenko, who will likely play a leading role in the integration, said Friday that the presidents hadn’t yet put the single-currency issue on the table.

Khristenko is the top candidate to lead the executive board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the agency that — under the other agreement the presidents signed Friday — will oversee the operation of the Common Economic Space and any further amalgamation of the countries, all three presidents said.

Medvedev expressed his consideration for the legislative branches in the member countries, saying the commission agreement first needs to gain their endorsement.

Khristenko would have to leave his ministerial post to serve as chairman of the executive board. The chairman’s term lasts four years. A member country delegates three people to the board that will start work Jan. 1 and for now sit in Moscow.

The commission will have an upper tier, called the council, which will consist of deputy prime ministers of member countries and the chairman of the executive board. It is expected that First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov will represent Russia on the council.

The ultimate ruling body for the Common Economic Space will be the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council.

Russia’s Khristenko to head Eurasian economic commission board

Russian Trade and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko will head the Eurasian Economic Commission board over the next four years, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Friday.

“I think we can say that we have unanimously supported Khristenko for this post,” Nazarbayev said during a news conference after the meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.

“We can even say we have already appointed him (Khristenko),” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko added.

According to Nazarbayev, executive bodies of the commission will be located in Moscow for the first four years.

“It will be probably right to locate the executive bodies in Moscow for these years, due to the intellectual and economic potential for the solution of many complicated issues,” Nazarbayev said.

Nazarbayev also added that it would be better for the equality if the term of office amounted to two years with a possible two-year extension in the future.

The economic commission, a supranational body, is expected to replace the commission of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which will be dissolved on July 1, 2012.

It will consist of the council, represented by one deputy prime minister from each of the member states, and the board, consisting of three representatives of each member state. The commission will also have the power to establish consultative bodies and departments responsible for decision-making and monitoring of the subordinate branches. The commission will be extended to 1,200 individuals from the current 150.


Russia hopes India will ‘soon’ join SCO

Russia hopes that India will soon become a full member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday after talks with his Indian counterpart Shri S.M. Krishna.

“Russia supports the resolution of the issue of India’s transfer from observer status to full membership in the SCO as soon as possible. We have expounded on this position repeatedly and expect to achieve progress in the issue soon,” Lavrov said.

The SCO – an intergovernmental security body – comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan hold observer status.


Confirmation Of New U.S. Envoy To Moscow Blocked By Partisan Politics

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has postponed a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Moscow after a Republican congressman held up the decision over an unrelated funding issue.

While Michael McFaul, a member of Obama’s National Security Committee and his top Russia adviser, has previously enjoyed the backing of both Democrats and Republicans, his nomination was expected to become an avenue for Republicans to express general opposition to the White House’s Russia policy.

Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington think tank, says that the delay comes down to partisan politics — which is not surprising, as the 2012 presidential election season approaches.

“I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not about [McFaul]. Comments from both sides of the aisle — not just now, around the hold, but when he was first nominated and even before he was nominated, when the indication that he would be nominated leaked out — have been broadly positive about him,” Rojansky says.

“Where they’re negative is about the ‘reset’ and about the Obama administration. It gets political. We’re going into political silly season and it’s not surprising that this, too, will be held hostage.”

Foreign Relations Committee member Senator Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) raised the objection ahead of the planned November 15 vote on McFaul’s nomination, insisting that the Obama administration provide assurances on funding for nuclear modernization.

A spokesperson for the senator said in an e-mailed comment to RFE/RL, “Senator Corker is working to ensure that the U.S. funds the necessary modernization of our nuclear weapons and complex as outlined by the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] to ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent.”

The spokesperson did not specifically mention McFaul.

Questioning The ‘Reset’

In late 2010, the Obama administration persuaded a number of Republican lawmakers, including Corker, to support the new START nuclear nonproliferation treaty with Russia by pledging $85 billion over the next decade for maintaining and updating the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The administration considers the treaty to be the centerpiece of its policy of “resetting” relations with Moscow, which hit a low point under former President George W. Bush.

However, an unprecedented budget shortfall and the need for cost-cutting in Washington have since raised doubts that the pledged nuclear-modernization money will be allotted.

Corker’s home state of Tennessee is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which works on isotope production.

The senator’s objection, which is likely not the only one among Republican committee members, was enough to convince the committee to cancel the meeting where the vote was scheduled to be held.

Committee Chairman John Kerry (Democrat-Massachusetts) told Reuters he expected to resolve the problem and reschedule the vote soon.

But if McFaul’s nomination does pass a committee vote, it may run into more roadblocks on the floor of the Senate, where Republicans might take the opportunity to voice their criticism of the “reset” — of which McFaul is considered the primary architect.

“What I’ve heard and read indicates that these guys [Republican congressmen] are willing to go to the mat,” Rojansky says. “They’re willing to use all the leverage they have, and that might mean either delaying the confirmation to the point that it becomes impracticable and gets withdrawn and puts it to the president to either invest more political capital in this than he wants to, or give up, or they simply vote it down. They potentially have the numbers to do that.”

Keeping Pressure On Moscow

A number of Republican senators have accused the Obama administration of ignoring Russia’s actions in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, undermining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, bending missile-defense plans, and downplaying Russia’s disturbing human rights record for the sake of improved bilateral relations.

The Obama administration has maintained that the “reset” seeks cooperation with Russia on certain areas — such as nuclear nonproliferation, Iran sanctions, and support for NATO troops in Afghanistan — without diminishing U.S. concerns about Russia’s behavior in others.

In testimony last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McFaul said that as ambassador, he would look to continue that approach, as well as boost U.S. support for Russia’s beleaguered civil society.

“I think we stick to our policy, which is to say we’re going to engage with the Russian government on mutual interests and in parallel and at the same time we’re going to engage — and I hope, if confirmed, to be a part of this as ambassador — to deepen our engagement with Russian civil society,” McFaul said.

“And we’re not going to allow some false trade that says, ‘Because you’re dealing with us on issue X in the government channel, you can’t do this with Russian civil society.'”

The Obama administration has also supported Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. A number of senators, however, see graduating Russia from Soviet-era trade restrictions would amount to rewarding Moscow as it continues to violate its citizens’ rights.

The website of “Foreign Policy” magazine reported that a number of Republican senators also wanted the November 16 meeting to include a vote on the pending Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act of 2011, which would ban visas for and freeze the assets of some 60 Russian officials connected to the lawyer’s torture and death in jail.

Magnitsky died two years ago today.

In July, the U.S. State Department imposed visa bans on a number of the officials named in the legislation in a move that some analysts say was meant to appease lawmakers and prevent damage to the “reset” caused by the bill’s passage.

Zyuganov To Watch Elections

Zyuganov To Watch Elections

Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)

The Communist Party intends to take control over upcoming parliamentary elections by placing their representatives at polling stations and installing video cameras throughout the Leningrad Oblast to ensure the close monitoring of ballot boxes and vote counting, the party’s leader Gennady Zyuganov said at a press conference in St. Petersburg last week.

“Everyone understands that the elections are falsified,” said Svyatoslav Sokol, a State Duma deputy for the Communist Party. “The question as to whether Russia will have international authority or fully discredit itself is of primal and urgent importance for our state and society,” he said.

“Illegitimate power leads to anarchy: Libya and Egypt put together,” said Zyuganov.

The Communist Party is also opposed to a legislative draft proposed by the United Russia Party that would allow citizens to vote by post. “We have information that every election constituency is supposed to gather a certain number of votes [for United Russia] in such a way,” Sokol said.

Zyuganov said that the Communist Party was going to fight against the passing of the law, even if it had to organize mass street protests to do so. Sokol said that Russia had never had fair elections, and wouldn’t have in the foreseeable future.

According to Communist Party members, the party has a good chance of winning elections in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast. Sokol voiced a figure of 51 percent of votes in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, and Regina Illarionova, secretary of the regional committee, said that according to their estimate, the Communist Party should win in the Leningrad Oblast.

Film director and member of the St. Petersburg Communist Party’s city committee Vladimir Bortko said that it was not possible to predict the outcome of the elections. “Only one thing is clear: We want to win,” he said.

“Our party already has higher figures than United Russia in many regions of Russia. In this sense, there is some kind of pressure [from United Russia] on us. But we won’t let them steal our votes,” Zyuganov said.

Communist Party members said that the party’s pre-election program concentrated on the country’s recovery from the economic crisis, reform in the housing and utility sector and development of all production branches, as well as supporting young people and introducing a graduated tax for the rich. Alexei Vorontsov, a member of the party, said that the party aimed to resurrect the idea of St. Petersburg as a cultural, scientific and industrial center.

“The main problem for Russia nowadays is the absence of any unifying power or idea,” said Bortko.

“The only way to save the country is to build socialism.”

Islamic Clergy Member Shot Dead In Southern Russia

KHASAVYURT, Russia — An assistant to the imam of a local mosque has been shot dead in western Daghestan near the border with Chechnya, RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service reports.

Akhmed Osmanov was reportedly an advocate of dialogue with Muslim radicals.

He was returning home from the mosque in the village of Matsal-Aul, in the Khasavyurt district, late on November 12 when he was killed.

Osmanov was the seventh member of the Muslim clergy to be gunned down in the Caucasus this year.

Some clergymen have suggested that they be issued with weapons to protect themselves, but the chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan, Abdulla-hadji Magomedov, says doing so would only exacerbate tensions.

Magomedov told RFE/RL that the ongoing killings play into the hands of those who are out to fuel tensions in the region.

Seven killed in terrorist attack in Kazakhstan

Seven people were killed and three wounded in an assault by a member of a radical movement in Kazakhstan. The Prosecution has officially classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The suicide blast and shootout happened in Kazakhstan’s southern city of Taraz on Saturday. Seven people, including five policemen were killed. Officials said a robber raided a weapons store, killing a security guard in the process, before trying to make an escape in a car.

Several policemen were shot dead in the subsequent pursuit. When police eventually tried to arrest him the man blew himself up.That blast claimed more victims.

It comes just two weeks after twin explosions in another Kazakh city,  Atyrau, for which an Islamic militant group claimed responsibility. Minutes after a bomb planted in a refuse bin on a street  went off, a  man  killed  himself  in an apparent  suicide  bombing  near  an apartment building. Both incidents have been qualified as acts of terrorism.

The same  day  the Jund  al-Khilafah  (Soldiers of  the  Caliphate) militant  group  posted  a  statement  on  the  Internet  claiming responsibility for  both  attacks,  and on  November  9th  the  Prosecutor General’s Office  announced  that investigators  had  obtained  evidence confirming that the group had been behind the two bombings.

Poland’s new breed of optimists | Remi Adekoya

There’s an old joke about a Polish optimist meeting a Polish pessimist: “Things are so bad, so terribly bad, that they couldn’t possibly get any worse”, says the pessimist, to which the optimist replies: “Don’t worry my friend, they could, they really could.”

The Polish national character might be famous for its glum outlook on life, but as the country celebrates its Independence Day this 11 November, there is little cause for pessimism. The country has never been richer, safer or better organised than it is today. As the Polish-born former US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, put it recently: “Poland is enjoying the best period in its history.” According to World Bank figures, the former communist country is now the sixth-largest economy in the EU. When I moved to the country’s capital Warsaw in 1995, my neighbour, a school teacher, earned about $200 a month. Right now, the average national wage is over five times that, and growing steadily. Importantly, for a nation where painful memories of past Russian and German aggression remain strong, Poland is now a full member of Nato with all the security guarantees the western military alliance provides.

So has this turnabout in the fortunes of a country, once partitioned and erased from Europe’s map for 123 years, changed the psyche of its people often accused of revelling in their pessimism and victim mentality? The stereotype goes that if you ask a Pole the simple “How are you?”, he’ll launch right into a long list of his numerous problems and misfortunes. While this remains true for some, especially older citizens who haven’t all benefitted from the changes since communism collapsed, most Poles have grown decidedly more optimistic over the years.

A 2011 survey revealed that 80% of Poles are now “very” or “quite” happy with their lives. In 1992, at the beginning of the economic transformation, only 58% replied likewise. Indeed, when I recall the mid-90s in Poland, happy isn’t the best expression to describe the popular mood then. Poles were not only pessmistic, they were also frustrated and easily ticked-off, as people tend to be when they’re broke. These days, Poles are much more mellow. They smile more often and are far less prone to aggression. Nothing civilizes a society quite as effectively as prosperity.

This newfound Polish optimism was also evident in the reaction to the financial crisis, which erupted in 2008. With catastrophic news flooding in from all corners of the globe, what did Poles do? They went shopping. This helped keep domestic consumption strong during that period, one of the main reasons Poland ended up as the only country in the EU to register GDP growth for 2009. Indeed, Poles have become quite the capitalists.

Today the average Joe is convinced that, summa summarum, everybody is in it to make a buck. Thus, they tend to view their rich neighbours Germany not as an enemy but as someone they can do business with. Poles are still quite apprehensive about the big bad Russian bear but see him as also having become more pragmatic and business-minded and in effect, less scary.

But don’t get me wrong, there are still Poles who remain good, old-fashioned fatalists. To paraphrase a famous quote, one could say that today we have the “new Pole” and the “old Pole”. The distinction is defined not by age but by attitude.

The new Poles are generally optimistic and open-minded, believing their destiny to be in their own hands, that Poland shouldn’t be prisoner to its past and that the future waxes bright for their country. The old Poles remains defiantly proud of their pessimism, which they genuinely consider the only “realistic” stance possible in contrast with the naive optimism of some of their countrymen who have forgotten the past. “Nato guarantees? We had such guarantees from France and England before Hitler attacked us and what were they worth?” they’ll scoff.

Nations, like individuals, possess mindsets shaped to a large extent by their past experiences. In the last 200 years, Poland has disappeared from the map, experienced Nazi occupation with its concentration camps and lived under Soviet-dictated communism. That’s enough to get anyone depressed.

It would be ridiculous to imagine a mere decade of increasing prosperity could completely change the character of such a nation. On the contrary, what is surprising is that so many Poles have changed so fast and are now viewing the world in a more positive light.

In a recent interview I did with former Polish prime minister, Leszek Miller, he told me that for years Poland’s geographical location between Germany and Russia had been considered a “curse”, but that in his opinion today it could be turned into a “blessing”, as there was no reason Poland couldn’t act as an economic and political bridge between countries in Europe’s west and countries to its east.

Miller is 65 and a former member of the Communist party, but his thinking perfectly encapsulates the mindset of the new Poland: rather than spend a life lamenting the cards one has been dealt, Poland is turning liabilities into assets.