Journalist shot dead in Russia’s Dagestan

Khadzhimurad Kamalov, a journalist and founder of political newspaper Chernovik (Rough Copy), was shot dead in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, a spokesman for the local investigation committee said on Friday.

Kamalov was killed by an unknown suspect late on Thursday night in central Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.

“According to information we obtained, the crime took place on the Magomed Gadzhiyev street at 23:30 Moscow time [19:30 GMT] near the office of the newspaper that was run by Kamalov,” the spokesman said.

He added that a group of investigators continue working at the scene of the crime establishing details of the murder.

Over 70 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, according to the U.S.-based journalists’ welfare group Committee to Protect Journalists. It says 52 of those were murdered in direct reprisal for their work.

Dagestan sees frequent militant attacks on police officers and officials. The restive republic saw around 50% of all terrorist attacks in Russia in 2010.


Russian fishing vessel damaged and stranded near Antarctica

A Russian fishing vessel, the Sparta, is trapped in heavy ice after it received a hole in the hull near the shores of Antarctica, Alexander Savelyev, a spokesman for the Russian Agency for Fisheries, said on Friday.

“The vessel received a hole in the hull below the waterline… The captain of the vessel made a distress call,” Savelyev said.

There are 32 people on board of the vessel, including 16 citizens of Indonesia and one scientific observer from Ukraine. The ship is stranded in the southeastern part of the Ross Sea.

He said, a Norwegian fishing vessel was some 20 nautical miles from the Sparta after it received a call of distress, but failed to approach the Russian ship due to heavy ice floe.


Russian convoy with aid for Kosovo resumes its way

A Russian Emergencies Ministry convoy carrying humanitarian aid, blocked earlier on the border between Serbia and Kosovo, has resumed its way, a spokesman for the ministry said on Friday.

A total of 25 trucks carrying electric generators, blankets, clothes, food and cooking gear were blocked by the European Union Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) after rejecting an escort. The proposed escort included customs and police officers representing Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by Russia.

“The convoy resumed its way on the territory of Kosovo at 4:00 Moscow time [0:00 GMT],” the spokesman said.

An agreement to unblock the situation around the convoy was reached last night at the Russia-EU summit.

The humanitarian cargo weighing a total of 284 metric tons is to be taken to the Red Cross department in Kosovska Mitrovica, the largest city in the predominantly Serb-populated northern Kosovo.

Kosovo, a landlocked region with a population of mainly ethnic Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008. Ethnic Serbs account as much as 10 percent of Kosovo’s two-million population.

Both Serbia and Russia do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.


Some 70 people remain in jail following Russia vote protests

Some 70 people remain in custody following last week’s protests in Moscow against the allegedly fraudulent December 4 parliamentary elections, a police spokesman said on Monday.

Some 620 people were detained during the protests near Moscow’s central Chistiye Prudy subway station and downtown Triumfalnaya Square early last week.

More than 300 protesters were detained during Monday’s demonstration at Chistiye Prudy, which gathered some 2,000 people, according to police estimates. The unofficial number of participants had been put at 5,000.

The protest against what many view as widespread vote rigging in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party during the December 4 polls was authorized by the authorities. Police dispersed the demonstration, however, when a crowd began marching towards downtown Moscow, which had not been permitted.

Another 300 people were detained during Tuesday’s protest at Triumfalnaya Square, which also gathered some 2,000 people, according to official figures, and up to 6,000 people, according to unofficial estimates.

On Wednesday, some 30 people staged a protest at Triumfalnaya Square. Around 20 participants in the unsanctioned demonstration were detained. A major protest on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on Saturday, which gathered between an officially estimated 25,000 and 40,000 participants, ended peacefully.

The police spokesman said “no more than 70 people are currently being held in detention centers following court decisions on their administrative arrest.” The majority of those in custody were detained during the protests, he said.

The remainder of those detained have been released after receiving a warning, the spokesman said. The cases of those detained over disobeying police orders are to be considered by magistrate courts, while the others guilty of participating in illegal demonstrations face fines, he added, without elaborating on the number of such cases.

Among those detained during the protest at Triumfalnaya Square were controversial anti-corruption activist and blogger Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, leader of the opposition Solidarity movement. Both men have been sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying police orders during the protests.


Russian warship to join anti-piracy mission off Somali coast

The Russian Pacific Fleet anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs is heading to the Gulf of Aden to join an international anti-piracy mission there, the Russian Pacific Fleet spokesman said.

The warship, accompanied by the Pechenega tank ship and a rescue tug, left its home port of Vladivostok at about 11:00 local time (00:00 GMT).

The Admiral Tributs, which has two helicopters on board, will replace another Udaloy class destroyer, the Admiral Panteleyev, on the mission off the Horn of Africa.

Russian warships have escorted a total of 120 commercial ships through pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast since 2008, when Russia joined the international anti-piracy mission.

Task forces from the Russian Pacific Fleet, usually led by Udaloy class destroyers, operate in the area on a rotating basis.

The Admiral Tributs previously took part in the mission in 2009.


Russian regions say vote protests largely peaceful

Authorized and unauthorized protests in dozens of Russian cities, in which at least 60,000 people across the country are estimated to take part, were largely peaceful.

“According to the Interior Ministry’s emergency response center, unauthorized protests were held in a number of Russian regions. During most of them, protestors left the area after warnings by police that their actions were against the law,” an interior ministry spokesman said.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place across the country, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Organizers say they the protests may continue next weekend and probably on December 24-25.

United Russia saw its share of the vote fall sharply in the December 4 polls, although it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority. But opposition activists claim the party’s real figures were much lower.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election was marked by a “lack of fairness” and “slanted” in favor of United Russia. The Russian electoral commission has said the vote was fair and valid, though President Dmitry Medvedev has said accusations of cheating must be investigated.

The largest rallies to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party were held in Moscow (at least 20,000 participants), St. Petersburg (7,000) and Novosibirsk (3,000).

A spokesman for St. Petersburg police department said the rally “ended without serious incidents”. About 10 people were detained during the sanctioned rally at the Pionerskaya Square. Later, police detained 20 out of some 50 protestors who gathered for an unauthorized event at the Senatskaya Square.

No arrests were reported in Russia’s third largest city, Novosibirsk, although the event gathered three times more than it was previously expected.

From 1,000 to 1,500 people are estimated to take part in protests in four major regional centers. In the Siberian city of Tomsk and Chelyabinsk in the Urals the rallies were authorized and no detentions or violence took place. No detentions were also made during an unsanctioned rally in southwest Siberia’s Omsk. In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, where 100 people attended a sanctioned rally and ten times more gathered for an unauthorized event, 20 people were detained but released shortly after, according to the city’s police sources.

Protestors organized themselves via social networking sites, and, according to them, protests all across Russia were to gather about 150,000 people, including 12,000 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, 11,000 in St. Petersburg and 6,000 in Siberia’s Novosibirsk.

In the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk police detained 38 people from about six dozens who gathered for an unauthorized rally.

Some 15 people were detained in the Urals city of Perm and about 35 during an unsanctioned rally in Syktyvkar west of Urals. Detentions were also made at an unauthorized rally in South Russia’s Pyatigorsk.

In Kazan, the capital of the Volga Republic of Tatarstan, police surrounded people who gathered for an unsanctioned protest and asked them to leave the place. They started to disperse the rally only 2.5 hours later and a dozen of protestors were detained.

Regional media say protests in other cities went on rather peacefully, and in Central Russia’s Voronezh police and protestors even shook hands with each other after the rally was over.

Russian social network rebuffs FSB request to close ‘opposition’ accounts

Russia’s most popular social network was asked by the country’s domestic security agency to deactivate accounts of groups that contained posts calling for street protests, but the company rejected the request, a spokesman said Thursday.

“We received a request from the FSB to stop the activity of Vkontakte groups calling for riots and a revolution,” Vladislav Tsyplukhin, spokesman for social network VKontakte, wrote on his corporate web page.

“We explained in response that we have been following those groups and cannot block them as a whole just because some individual users have called for violence,” Tsyplukhin wrote.

The accounts of specific users who have explicitly called for public disorder however are being blocked by the company, he said, adding that there had not been any excessive “pressure, threats or rudeness” from the Federal Security Service (FSB) in its requests.

Contacted by RIA Novosti, the FSB declined to provide comment on the reported request.

Tsyplukhin’s comments came after the administrator of popular Russian anti-corruption website RosPil published a report on Thursday in which he quoted Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov as saying that the FSB had asked him to shut down “opposition” accounts.

The report, which came amid ongoing protests against the results of Sunday’s parliamentary vote, went viral over Russian internet blogs and online media.

“Over the past few days, the FSB has been asking us to block opposition groups, including yours,” Durov was quoted as informing the administrator of the RosPil website, which is operated by controversial Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

“We don’t do this on principle. I don’t know how it can affect us, but we are sticking to our position,” Durov wrote in his message to the administrator, adding: “Vkontakte is a 100-percent apolitical company. We support neither the authorities nor the opposition, and no particular political party.”

Representatives of other Russian social networks said they had not been contacted by the FSB.

As of Thursday, more than10 accounts have been registered on Vkontakte where users discuss the alleged fraud during Sunday’s elections, in which the pro-Kremlin United Russia party gained around 50 percent of the vote, and preparations for a protests rally to be held in Moscow on Saturday.

Similar rallies have already taken place in Moscow and St. Petersburg earlier this week, including protests on Monday and Tuesday in central Moscow, in which several thousand people took part.

The Russian authorities have declared the elections fair and democratic, while the OSCE pointed to “flagrant procedural violations” during the polls, including cases of ballot-stuffing, “a convergence of the state and the governing party,” limited political competition and a lack of fairness.

Russian task force goes on mission in Atlantic, Mediterranean

A Russian naval task force from the Northern Fleet has left its base in Severomorsk on a training mission in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, a fleet’s spokesman Capt. 1st Rank Vadim Serga said.

The task force, led by Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, also includes Udaloy II class destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, rescue tugboat Nikolai Chiker, and three tankers.

“The goal of the mission is to maintain Russia’s naval presence in vital maritime zones around the world,” Serga told reporters on Tuesday.

The mission is part of the Russian Navy’s annual training plan and will most likely involve a comprehensive program of naval pilot training to further develop the skills acquired by pilots at the Nitka Naval Pilot Training Center in Ukraine.

The task force will be joined in the Atlantic by the Baltic Fleet’s Neustrashimy class frigate Yaroslav Mudry and a tanker for the rest of the mission.

Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, said in November that the mission had been scheduled long time ago and is not connected to the current political crisis in Syria.


One percent of election protocols in Russian parliamentary vote declared invalid

Some 1 percent of election protocols from polling places following Sunday’s parliamentary vote in Russia have been declared invalid, the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Monday.

“About 1 percent of protocols are invalid,” a CEC spokesman said.

With more than 85 percent of the election protocols from local polling places counted, United Russia garnered 50.16 percent, and their closest rival, the Communist Party (KPRF), 19.13 percent.

United Russia has cleared the psychologically important 50-percent mark several times during the night, hovering around it as ballots were being counted. At some points it had about 49.9%, going above the mark and back again.

The moderate A Just Russia party got 12.99 percent and the nationalist Liberal Democrats (LDPR), 11.66 percent, according to preliminary results. Voter turnout was about 60 percent.

This time the ruling party seems unlikely to get a constitutional majority of over two-thirds. Earlier United Russia was able to impose its will on the national legislature with or without the support of other political parties. Now, in order to change the Constitution, it will have to seek coalition agreements with other parties.

The three other parties failed to clear the 7-percent election threshold. Parties gaining 5 percent would get one seat and those that have six to seven percent are entitled for two seats in the State Duma.

But the closest candidate, the Yabloko party, gained 3.01 percent, way less than required to get at least one seat, so it will have no representation in the lower house of parliament.

Patriots of Russia and Right Cause are even further behind, with 0.96 and 0.58 percent respectively.


Moscow police release election protesters

Police in Moscow have released all of the protesters who were detained on Sunday for attempting to stage unsanctioned demonstrations against parliamentary elections, a police spokesman told RIA Novosti on Monday.

Riot police detained about 100 would-be protesters at Moscow’s central Triumfalnaya Square, a trademark venue for opposition rallies, and about a dozen more people at other sites.

The demonstrators face court appearances where they may receive fines or other administrative penalties, the spokesman said.

Dozens of opposition activists were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Sunday evening for attempting to stage rallies against parliamentary elections .

Seventy protesters were detained in St. Petersburg, according to the local police.

Russians voted Sunday to elect the State Duma, the lower chamber of the parliament, in what was widely regarded as a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. The party has nominated him as the presidential candidate for the March, 2012 vote.

Major squares in downtown Moscow were sealed off by police Sunday afternoon and dozens of police buses and paddy wagons were parked around the Kremlin.

There were more than 50,000 police on duty in the Russian capital on election day, more than double the number in Moscow during the previous Duma vote in 2007.


Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces to go on duty on Thursday

Russia’s newly created Aerospace Defense Forces (VKO) will officially go on duty on Thursday, VKO spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin said.

“At 10:00 am Moscow time (06:00 GMT) on December 1, the first shift of the Aerospace Defense Forces command will go on duty,” Zolotukhin told journalists in Moscow on Wednesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed the creation of the VKO, an analog of the European missile defense system, to replace the Russian Space Forces, in 2010. The VKO brings together the air defense and missile defense systems, as well as the early missile warning and space control systems, under a unified command.

“The VKO system is capable of destroying enemy ballistic missiles attacking important state objects, observe space objects, detect threats to Russia from space, and respond to such threats if needed, as well as launch spacecraft and fulfill other tasks,” Zolotukhin said.

More than 3,000 military and civil personnel will be joining VKO units on a daily basis, he added.


Russian Navy to take part in several joint drills in 2012

The Russian Navy will take part in several international drills, including those involving the United States, Britain and France, in the new training year which begins on Thursday, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Russian warship will take part in the Frukus 2012 international drills, Baltops 2012 naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and Ionex 2012 drills in the Ionian Sea, as well as in joint exercises Bold Monarch 2012, Pomor 2012, Northern Eagle 2012 and Rimpac 2012, the spokesman said.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet will take part in Black Sea Naval Force (Blackseafor) drills, he said.

Later in December, a group of Russian Northern Fleet warships led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier will leave their home ports for a new deep-sea journey, he added.

Russian warships are expected to visit more than 40 foreign ports in 2012. Russia will also continue participating in anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa.


Kosovo Serbs denied Russian citizenship

Moscow is unable to approve thousands of Kosovo Serbs’ applications for Russian citizenship, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Thursday.

By the start of November, more than 20,000 Kosovo Serbs, unhappy with their status in the province, had applied for Russian citizenship.

“We will continue working to ensure Kosovo Serbs their legitimate rights and interests using political and diplomatic means,” Lukashevich said, adding that citizenship could not be granted under Russian laws.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had ordered humanitarian supplies to be sent to Serbs in northern Kosovo, he said.

A convoy of 26 trucks with diesel power stations, ovens, sets of folding furniture, blankets, bed linen, foodstuffs and other items, will shortly be sent to the region, an emergencies ministry spokeswoman said.

Kosovo Serbs seeking Russian citizenship say they are not planning to move to Russia, but simply want political protection from Moscow.

Kosovo, a landlocked region with a population of mainly ethnic Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008. Ethnic Serbs account for up to 10 percent of Kosovo’s two-million population.

Both Serbia and Russia have refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence.


Russian Air Force to get 60 air defense systems in 2012

The Russian Air Force is planning to acquire about 60 new and modernized air defense systems in 2012, Air Force spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik said on Thursday.

“The new acquisitions include S-400 long-range air defense missile systems, Nebo-U radars and Pantsir-S1 short range missile/gun systems,” Drik said.

The Air Force will receive up to 10 Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers, about 10 Su-25SM Frogfoot attack fighters, and an unspecified number of Su-35S Flanker-E multirole fighters.

The Su-35S is Russia’s advanced “Generation 4++” fighter.

New acquisitions will also include over 20 attack helicopters, such as the Mi-28N Night Hunter and the Ka-52 Alligator, as well as “highly modernized” Mi-35 Hind helicopters.

The Air Force will also receive about 30 Mi-8 transport and five Mi-26T heavy lift helicopters.


Luzhkov’s brother-in-law charged with fraud

Russian businessman Viktor Baturin, the brother-in-law of former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, was charged with attempted fraud on Tuesday, a police spokesman said.

Baturin was detained in Moscow on Monday. Investigators said he demanded payment of 10.8 million rubles ($344,000) from his billionaire sister’s company Inteko under a fake promissory note.

“The suspect said he was aware that the note was forged and said he received the document from his sister. He also had two similar notes at home,” the Moscow Police Department’s press office said. “Baturin was charged with attempted fraud.”

The investigators said they would request to put Baturin into a pre-trial detention facility as he currently serves a suspended sentence.

In early June this year, Baturin, the brother of property construction tycoon Yelena Baturina, received a suspended three-year jail term for fraud. He was found guilty of selling one property in downtown Moscow to two men for $857,000 and $1.5 million within the space of one month in 2008.

The Presnensky district court also fined Baturin $10,800 in damages.

U.S. officials bar Chechen leader’s horse from racing

Racing officials in two U.S. states have refused to grant a license to Ramzan Kadyrov over what his spokesman claimed were fears that the Chechen leader’s horse was “too good.”

However, it is more likely that allegations of human rights abuses repeatedly made against Kadyrov were what really stopped his horse, Sweet Ducky, from taking part in any of the races.

The horse was scheduled to race last month in Lexington, Kentucky, but the State Department had the state’s horse racing commission turn down an application for a racing license for Kadyrov, the New York Times reported.

Two months earlier New York State’s racing board also received a request from the Chechen leader but then delayed its processing after consultations with the State Department.

An unnamed New York official told the NY Times that the State Department is unlikely to “change its tune on Mr. Kadyrov,” and it was now “safe to assume he will not be racing horses in New York.”

Chechnya’s authoritarian leader, who enjoys a massive personality cult in the North Caucasus republic, attracted condemnation last month after allegedly paying Hollywood stars including Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank to attend a lavish event in the capital Grozny.

Swank later said she “deeply regretted” going to the party and sacked her manager, following criticism from human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch said it was “inappropriate” for stars to get paid to party with Kadyrov.

Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, British violinist Vanessa Mae and singer Seal also attended.

Kadyrov, known also as an avid horse fan, started stocking up on thoroughbreds in 2008. He is now believed to have about 10 international horses, most of whom race at the Group One level, the highest in the world.

A spokesman for Kadyrov, Alvi Karimov, said the New York and Kentucky officials did not grant the license because the horse had “all the qualities necessary to win the race.”

He also said that the move was “ideological sabotage against the Chechen authorities.”

Russia’s Glonass-M satellite put into orbit

Russia sent another Glonass-M navigation satellite into orbit on Monday, said Alexei Zolotukhin, spokesman of Russian Space Forces.

The Soyuz carrier rocket with the satellite on board was launched from the Plesetsk space center earlier in the day.

Mission control specialists have been holding a steady connection with the satellite, Zolotukhin said. The satellite’s onboard systems are operating normally.

The Glonass-M will augment a group of 30 Glonass satellites already in orbit. This was the last launch of a Glonass satellite this year.

Glonass is Russia’s answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, and is designed for both military and civilian uses. Both systems allow users to determine their positions to within a few meters.

Russia’s Glonass system currently has 23 operational satellites, while a total of 24 is needed to provide global coverage.

On November 4, three reserve Glonass-M satellites were launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan after three Glonass-Ms were destroyed in a failed launch last year.

Five dead in fire near Moscow

Five people, all members of a priest’s family, were killed in a house fire in the Moscow region on Friday, police say.

“Seven others were saved during efforts to extinguish the fire,” a police spokesman told RIA Novosti.

The blaze broke out in a two-storey private house near Sergiyev Posad early on Friday.

Firefighters are still battling the fire.

Russia has an extremely poor fire safety record. Some 20,000 people die in fires across the country annually. In the United States, with more than twice the population, the figure is around 3,400 deaths a year.


White House unruffled by Russia missile threat

The White House insisted on Wednesday that Washington would not alter its plans for a European missile defense project, despite increasingly tough rhetoric from Moscow.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier in the day that Russia would move “advanced offensive weapon systems” to its borders with Europe in response to the planned shield, if talks on the project fail. Moscow is seeking written, legal guarantees that the shield will not be directed against it, but Washington has refused to put its verbal assurances in writing.

“The United States will not alter its plans to deploy a NATO missile defense system and Russia should not be threatened by the shield,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement. “The implementation of the missile system is going well and we see no basis for threats to withdraw from it.”

Vietor said the United States had explained to Russian officials through “multiple channels” that the missile defense systems planned for deployment in Europe do not threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.

Pentagon spokesman, Capt. John Kirby also reiterated on Wednesday that the U.S. missile defense system “is focused on addressing the growing missile threat from Iran.”

“We have been addressing Russia’s concerns through an intensive dialogue and detailed briefings at senior levels. The U.S. and NATO have welcomed Russia to participate in missile defense cooperation. This is the best way for Russia to receive transparency and assurances that missile defense is not a threat,” Kirby told Fox News.

The U.S. Department of State also said it would continue talks with Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement he was “very disappointed” with Medvedev’s comments and suggested such a move would be “reminiscent of the past.”

“Cooperation, not confrontation, is the way ahead,” Rasmussen added.

Russia and NATO tentatively agreed to cooperate on the European missile defense network at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, but differences in approaches toward the project led to a deadlock in negotiations.


Another fire on river boat in Moscow put out

The second fire in ten days broke out at the ill-fated Sergei Abramov river boat moored in Moscow, and was put out shortly after midnight Tuesday Moscow time, an emergencies service spokesman said.

Another fire broke out late on Wednesday during post-fire works, presumably when flammable isolation materials caught fire during welding. It spread to an area of about 20 square meters.

“At 00:15 the fire was extinguished, no casualties reported,” a spokesman for the Moscow rescue service, Yevgeny Bobylyov, said.

The three-deck river boat Sergei Abramov caught fire early on November 14. Four people on board were injured and one crewmember is still missing.

According to a preliminary investigation, the fire might have been caused by defective electric wiring or fire-safety violations.

The incident is one of a string of serious accidents involving Russian riverboats in recent months. The worst incident was the sinking of the cruise ship Bulgaria, which went down in a storm in the Volga River in the Republic of Tatarstan on July 10, killing 122 people.