Tag Archives: President Vladimir Putin

Russia may ask rich to help foot bill for Crimea with ‘solidarity tax’

People enjoy the sun by the seaside on a beach some 40 km of the Crimean capital Simferopol, on June 29, 2014.  © AFPPeople enjoy the sun by the seaside on a beach some 40 km of the Crimean capital Simferopol, on June 29, 2014. © AFP

(Reuters) – Russia could ask its richest citizens to help foot the bill for the annexation of Crimea by paying a “solidarity tax” proposed by a group of lawmakers.

Deputies from the State Duma lower house of parliament, which is dominated by backers of President Vladimir Putin, have drawn up a draft law that would increase income tax for people earning more than more than 1 million roubles ($28,700) a month.

It would affect less than 2 percent of the working population but the amounts could be huge for some individuals because the draft proposes they pay up to 30 percent of their earnings compared to the current flat rate of 13 percent.

“The main goal is to support regional budgets and that means also the budget of Russia’s new territories,” Andrei Krutov, the deputy leading the planned legislation, told Reuters.

His reference to the “new territories” made clear that a key intention was to help the government pay for Crimea’s absorption into Russia.

The Black Sea peninsula was annexed in March, an action seen by most Russians as righting what they considered a historical wrong by late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, long before the Soviet Union collapsed.

The need to help support Crimea’s economy and its 2.3 million population has put a new strain on Russia’s federal budget at a time when the country is sliding towards recession.

Some state employees say they have already been asked to donate a day’s pay to help Crimea – a demand some have balked at.

The Finance Ministry has also suggested personal income tax may have to be increased by 1-2 percent to help cover the costs and the government had already heard calls for Russia to introduce a progressive taxation mechanism.

Krutov said the draft law could be a step in that direction and played down the impact on society.

“The social burden would be minimal and the influx of cash to the budget would be significant,” Krutov said. “The economic reality and international experience increasingly show that progressive taxation is a step that Russia needs to make in the near future.”

He said the draft could go to a vote in the autumn and, if approved, could bring in 300 billion to 500 billion roubles ($8.6 billion to $14.30 billion) a year.

The small group of Russia’s rich accounts for more than a third of total personal income in the country, according to data from Federal Tax Service.

Criticism of the proposal has so far been muted – critics would risk sounding unpatriotic and uncharitable as the annexation of Crimea is widely supported and has boosted Putin’s ratings.

But an instant online poll by Snob magazine, which is aimed at the wealthy, showed 66 percent of respondents did not support the idea of a solidarity tax.


The Flight MH17 disaster creates a dilemma for Putin over backing of Ukraine’s rebels

Malaysia Airlines crash makes supplying arms to separatists a threat to the world but pulling the plug means defeat for Russia.

President Vladimir Putin. 'Russian public opinion is going off [separatism] and support inside Ukraine is less than thought,' said an analyst. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/GettyPresident Vladimir Putin. ‘Russian public opinion is going off [separatism] and support inside Ukraine is less than thought,’ said an analyst. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has confronted Vladimir Putin with a dilemma he had sought to avoid: to continue to support the separatist insurgency in Ukraine in the face of a storm of international outrage, or cut the rebels off and allow them to be defeated by the government in Kiev.

Until the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile on Thursday, killing nearly 300 people, the Russian president had tried to hedge his bets according to circumstances on the battlefield and western pressure. He moved troops and tanks away from the border after the Ukrainian presidential elections in May, but moved them back in recent weeks.

Similarly, he initially appeared to distance himself from the rebels until Ukrainian forces under the newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, made significant gains in the east, triggering a new supply of Russian equipment over the border, including anti-aircraft missiles.

The MH17 disaster forces his hand. Anything he does now will attract much more scrutiny. Arms shipments across the very porous Ukrainian border, which had until now been a threat to the Ukrainian armed forces, will henceforward be seen as a direct threat to the international community and a trigger for global outrage. But pulling the plug on the separatists would leave them vulnerable to Ukrainian forces, which can be expected to seize the opportunity to crush the revolt, handing a strategic defeat to Putin.

The early pointers suggest he is hesitating between the two options. While Russian media quickly accused Ukraine of shooting down the plane – even floating a theory that Kiev thought it was targeting Putin’s own plane – neither the president nor his top officials have followed that line explicitly.

In the fullest exposition of the Russian position so far, the country’s envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, blamed the tragedy on the Ukrainian conflict in general, and Kiev and its western backers for stoking of the conflict. Churkin also questioned why Ukrainian air traffic controllers had allowed the Malaysian plane to fly over eastern Ukrainian airspace, but did not address direct responsibility for the shooting down itself. With a wealth of details emerging from the region building a compelling case against the separatists, the Kremlin has kept its powder dry. The foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, followed suit, telling Rossiya 24 TV channel: “The tragedy may sober up those who give up obligations over the political process.” He also stopped short of assigning immediate blame. Putin himself called for a new peace initiative.

It is likely that this initial demurral is intended to buy time so the international response can be measured before Putin makes a strategic choice.

It is already clear from Friday’s UN security council meeting that if the rebels are found to have carried out the outrage with a Russian weapon, Moscow will find itself more isolated than at any time in its recent history. Nobody around the council table spoke up in support of Churkin.

The concerted western response is to build the circumstantial case against the Russian-backed separatists while awaiting an international inquiry. If that investigation confirms the early suspicions, one western option would be to declare the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) a terrorist organisation, said Ben Judah, the author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin.

“Putin’s greatest worry is that [the US] Congress will deem the DNR a terrorist organisation, responsible for the worst attack on a civilian airliner since 9/11, which would make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

“He will do anything possible to avoid that wrath, while not admitting anything,” Judah said.

“Meanwhile, this is a huge failure for GRU [Russian military intelligence], the FSB [the secret police] and the special forces. What kind of people are not capable of distinguishing a Malaysian airliner in the sky? It would not be surprising if the people involved were drunk. So heads will likely roll in the security forces.”

Stephen Sestanovich, a former US ambassador to Moscow now at Columbia University, said that Putin’s past behaviour made it difficult to predict which path he would take.

“This is the problem with Putin mind-reading,” he said, adding that Putin had alternated between prudent and reckless behaviour.

“Even before the shoot-down there were some signs of diminished Russian enthusiasm for the whole project. Russian public opinion is going off it and support for separatism inside Ukraine is less than originally thought. But Russia kept the supply of weapons going,” Sestanovich said.

“You would think that this disastrous result would wake up Russian officials and make them see this was even more of a loser than they thought. But Putin doesn’t like to be put in a corner. He’s very humiliation-conscious,”he said, “and doesn’t like to feel he’s backed down.”

The Guardian.

Ukraine: Battle intensifies in the east, six civilians reportedly killed

Vladimir Putin speaks at Russian Foreign Ministry on July 1Vladimir Putin speaks at Russian Foreign Ministry on July 1

Note: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed on July 1 to launch a military offensive against Kremlin-backed “terrorists” in eastern Ukraine, ending a 10-day declared truce that Ukrainian authorities said was violated more than 100 times by the separatists who killed 27 Ukrainian troops. Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to make an appearance before Russian parliament today to discuss protection of Russia’s national interests and the strengthening of international laws, according to Ria Novosti.

Putin addresses Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow

15.55 p.m. – Russian President Vladimir Putin has delivered a speech to Russian ambassadors, envoys and diplomats at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, discussing the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s foreign policy goals.

“President Petro Poroshenko has taken a decision to resume military activities, and we – by which I mean neither I nor my European partners – were able to convince him that the path to lasting peace does not lie through war,” he said.

Putin demanded an investigation into the death on June 30 of Russian journalist Anatoly Klyan, adding that he hopes Kyiv’s promises of conducting such an investigation are kept.

“Of course what is happening in Ukraine is an internal matter for the Ukrainian state. We regret the fact that people are dying, including civilians. The number of refugees coming to Russia is growing, and we will offer unconditional help to all those who require it. But what is absolutely unacceptable is the killing of journalists,” Putin said.

“In my opinion there is a deliberate campaign aimed at liquidating representatives of the press, which concerns both Russian and foreign journalists. Who fears objective information? Clearly only those who are committing a crime.”

A transcript of the speech is available here.- Matthew Luxmoore

Standoff in central Donetsk continues

2.30 p.m. – A major standoff is continuing outside Donetsk police headquarters. Traffic on surrounding roads has been stopped by gunmen wearing camouflage and wielding anti-tank weapons, apparently members of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, although they are not revealing their affiliation. The scene is confusing, with residents visibly shaken and scared. Many are running to their homes, according to Kyiv Post reporter Christopher Miller who is at the scene. — Matthew Luxmoore

Pro-Russian rebels gather near the police station in Donetsk, where a standoff continued late into the day on July 1.Pro-Russian rebels gather near the police station in Donetsk, where a standoff continued late into the day on July 1.

Gunfight breaks out in central Donetsk  Continue reading

Is Putin’s Ukraine Gambit Paying Off

Putin's Ukraine Gambit Paying Off

President Vladimir Putin’s request last week that the Federation Council revoke his right to use military force in Ukraine marks the end of the first phase of that country’s international crisis.

Russia has played a key role in those events, and so it makes sense to sum up the interim results: what was gained, what was lost and whether it was worth the effort.

The collapse of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime caught Moscow by surprise, although the steadily rising tensions in Kiev since the beginning of the year clearly pointed to such a possibility. All of the Kremlin’s subsequent actions were motivated by its deep-set fear that Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” fever might infect Russia.

The atmosphere reigning in post-Maidan Kiev and the initial decisions taken by the interim authorities confirmed fears that Ukraine was not only shifting its orientation toward a close partnership with the West, but that it was also willing to join Euro-Atlantic organizations, that Russia would lose Sevastopol as a place to base it Black Sea Fleet, that Ukraine would restructure the state along hard-line nationalist and anti-Russian principles and that a system of “soft” apartheid was forming that infringed on the rights of the Russian-speaking population.

According to realpolitik, the fact that Yanukovych was ousted despite Moscow’s strong support meant a painful defeat for Putin. What’s more, the Moscow leadership interpreted events in Ukraine as a battle for Russia’s place in the global hierarchy — the toughest and most important such struggle since the end of the Cold War.

Russia’s lightning-fast seizure of Crimea — first physically, then legally — served as partial compensation for its failure in Kiev. But more importantly, it secured the future of the Black Sea Fleet. The uncharacteristic professionalism shown by the Russian troops indicated to some observers that the whole operation had been planned in advance.  Continue reading

The threat of Russian expansionism is not over

Russia's President Vladimir Putin.Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. © Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

A Russian tank rolling over border lines has become a familiar sight. Nevertheless, that does not lessen the political significance of such an action – which appears to have occurred again in recent days. Russian meddling in the affairs of its neighbours, as documented by Michael Weiss, is hardly over. As predicted, it seems that the Russian bear is not satiated by simply swallowing Crimea.

Russia has attempted to dominate its neighbours since before the end of the Cold War. The ‘Union’ of Soviet Socialist Republics was anything but. The formation of the USSR in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War was not one which most member states entered willingly – with the myth of happy unification serving as a fig leaf for what amounted to the military re-conquest of former Russian imperial territories.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Russia has been its own nation, but one which sought to exert the same influence on nearby countries as it did in its previous incarnation. President Putin, a former official in the sinister KGB, well schooled in the police state methodology, seeks to replicate this today.

Hence the trauma and strife and resistance on the streets of Ukraine; when the Russian-speaking Eastern half of the country, backed by the Motherland herself, comes up against western, Europhile tendencies from the other Ukraine. Sparks were always going to fly.

I watched live footage of a demonstration gone bad during the original EuroMaiden protests, and, amid the garish lighting, setting the surroundings ablaze with a torrent of lurid orange fluorescents, the men and women of Ukraine (I hesitate, out of respect for their uncommon bravery, to use the word ‘ordinary’) were being corralled by the machinery of the state. That state, now since thankfully replaced, was a Russia proxy. More aggressive action from Moscow can hardly seem surprising.

That night was full of the sounds of wordless shouting, mingled with the occasional sharp scream of pain, and the infrequent pop of some minor explosion. Viewing this – sitting as I was in the relative prosperity of the Western world, watching the citizens of some far-off land fighting to attain the same dizzy heights of freedom that I enjoy – made me feel at once humble, afraid, exhilarated and proud.

I was frightened for democracy; once more under threat from some two-bit would-be despot in a foreign field. I was humbled by the courage, moral and physical, of those who defied the threats of brute force from the authorities to protest against kow-towing to Moscow. I was exhilarated, as I am whenever what I love comes up against what I hate, by this open defiance of Russian soft expansion, and their de facto puppet in ‘local’ government. Finally, I was proud – unaccountably so, as I don’t know anyone involved – but proud nevertheless.

It was also an education of sorts to observe the differences in coverage. It was very interesting to see that Putin mouthpiece Russia Today only focused on the violence apparently committed by demonstrators, who were called only “rioters”. Obviously the Kremlin-sponsored government is above reproach.

The protesters were not perfect, by any means, and the new government in Kiev is not a model of democratic perfection; and, accordingly, any attempt to marshal this complex event into a black-and-white narrative would be misguided.

And yet, there are still lessons to be extracted from the trauma in Ukraine, etched with the pain and bloodshed of the nation. Rebels in the East of the country are hardly nice people – certainly less so than the new leaders in the nation’s capital. There have been calls for the registration of Jews in Donetsk, where horror stories of the new order of things are emerging.

It is important to acknowledge that such threats to democracy still exist, even in nations as close geographically to Western democracy as Russia and Ukraine. Putin is a tyrant, who attempts to smash political opponents and undesirables with the weight of a compromised legal system. His many proxies and allies – in Ukraine, Belarus and the like – present the same challenge to liberty and democracy, and only make it worse.

While a fair amount of his political foes have been squabbling oligarchs, immoral billionaires rapidly enriched by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it has been difficult to empathise with the victims of his oppressive rule. Some people even seem to like the guy; Peter Hitchens went as far as to deliver a lecture – only partially tongue in cheek – about his admiration for this xenophobic, gay-bashing murderer.

But now he is doing it to ordinary people, and in another sovereign state, no less. Bands are arrested and imprisoned on archaic statute. Discontent is stirred up by Russian Agents provocateurs in order to destabilise a democratic transition. This is still happening. And, as long as it is, it must be opposed.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

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