Tag Archives: Russia

Hague court orders Russia to pay $50 billion in Yukos case


By Megan Davies and Vladimir Soldatkin.Derricks at Yuganskneftegaz oil processing facility at Mamontovskoye oilfield outside the Siberian town of Nefteyugansk.  CREDIT: REUTERS/SERGEI KARPUKHINDerricks at Yuganskneftegaz oil processing facility at Mamontovskoye oilfield outside the Siberian town of Nefteyugansk. Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

(Reuters) – The Hague’s arbitration court ruled on Monday that Russia must pay a group of shareholders in defunct oil giant Yukos around $50 billion (29.45 billion pounds) for expropriating its assets, a big hit for a country teetering on the brink of recession.

The Hague court said it had awarded shareholders in the GML group just under half of their $114 billion claim, going some way to covering the money they lost when the Kremlin seized Yukos, once controlled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Tim Osborne, director of GML, welcomed the award, which he said was the largest ever, as “very favourable”.

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would most likely appeal the decision, underlining that the shareholders, who have battled through the courts for a decade, will have to fight further to receive the compensation.

“The Russian side, those agencies which represent Russia in this process, will no doubt use all available legal possibilities to defend its position,” he said when news of the award leaked ahead of the official announcement.

The ruling hits Russia at a time when it faces international sanctions about its role in Ukraine and anger over the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed rebels are fighting a separatist campaign. The country is also grappling with slowing economic growth.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague announced that Russia must pay the compensation to subsidiaries of Gibraltar-based Group Menatep, a company through which Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, controlled Yukos.

Group Menatep now exists as holding company GML, and Khodorkovsky is no longer a shareholder in GML or Yukos.

Khodorkovsky, who is not a party to the action, was arrested at gunpoint in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005. His company, once worth $40 billion, was broken up and nationalised, with most assets handed to Rosneft, a company run by Igor Sechin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Rosneft was not immediately available for comment.

Its shares were down 0.6 percent at 0830 GMT (9.30 a.m. BST), while the RTS index of Russian shares was down 1.8 percent.

Separately, The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg is expected on Thursday to announce a decision on Yukos’s multi-billion-dollar claim against Russia, ruling on ‘just satisfaction’ or compensation, a Yukos spokeswoman said.

Yukos’s application in the ECHR, which is on behalf of all Yukos shareholders, argued that Yukos was unlawfully deprived of its possessions by the imposition of bogus taxes and a sham auction of its main asset.

KREMLIN JUSTICE

In a case that Kremlin critics said offered a stark example of Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005. Putin justified the move by saying: “A thief must be in jail,” quoting a popular Soviet blockbuster.

Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky in December after he had spent 10 years in jail. He now lives in Switzerland.

The newspaper Kommersant, which earlier reported the Hague ruling, said the court ruled that Russia had infringed an international energy charter, adopted in 1991, that envisaged legal issues for investments in energy sectors.

The court also ruled, according to the newspaper, that Russia had to start paying the compensation by Jan. 2 next year, or face growing interest on the fine.

It cited GML director Osborne as saying GML will force Russia to pay out the compensation “if it wouldn’t make payments within the court-defined timeframe”.

Any funds won will be shared amongst the shareholders. The biggest ultimate beneficial owner is Russian-born Leonid Nevzlin, a business partner who had fled to Israel to avoid prosecution. He has a stake of around 70 percent.

A spokesperson for Nevzlin declined to comment.

The other four ultimate beneficial owners, each of whom owns an equal stake, are Platon Lebedev, Mikhail Brudno, Vladimir Dubov and Vasilly Shaknovski.

After he was jailed, Khodorkovsky ceded his controlling interest in Menatep, which owned 60 to 70 percent of Yukos, to Nevzlin.

GML shareholders are not expecting to claim twice, so if they receive monies pursuant to one case it would reduce their claim under the other, Osborne has previously told Reuters.

(Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Vladimir Soldatkin and Megan Davies in Moscow, Tova Cohen in Tel Aviv, reporting by Thomas Escritt and Anthony Deutsche in Amsterdam, Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Will Waterman)


Reuters.

Lavrov Says Russia Not Planning Tit-for-Tat Sanctions Against West


Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov looks on during a news conference in Maribor, Slovenia.Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov looks on during a news conference in Maribor, Slovenia.

Russia will not impose like-for-like measures or act “hysterically” over Western economic sanctions, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday, trying to stake out the high ground amid growing tensions with the West.

Speaking at a news conference, Lavrov said he hoped that an investigation into a downed Malaysian jet liner, which Western leaders say was almost certainly shot down by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, would be objective.

He said sanctions could only make Russia more economically independent as Europe prepared new measures over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis, which has plunged Russia’s ties with the West to their lowest since the Cold War.

“I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength,” he said.

“We cannot ignore it. But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country.”

By far, oil major BP has the largest exposure to the Russian economy with its 19.75 percent holding in Russian top oil producer Rosneft.

The Kremlin-controlled oil producer also has agreements with ExxonMobil, Eni and Statoil to tap Russia’s Arctic offshore oil and gas.

Members of the European Union, angered by the MH17 downing on its way from Amsterdam, were expected to reach a final decision on Tuesday on measures including closing the bloc’s capital markets to Russian state banks, an embargo on arms sales and restrictions on dual-use and energy technologies.

The EU added new names on Friday to its list of individuals and companies facing travel bans and asset freezes over their alleged involvement in Ukraine and could agree to extend the list further as early as Monday.

The Moscow Times.

Russian TV helps prosecution in Nadya Savchenko case in a Russian kangaroo court


By Halya Coynash
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © CourtesyUkrainian pilot Nadya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © Courtesy

When a criminal trial involves a pilot taken captive by insurgents in one country and found imprisoned and facing serious criminal charges in another, questions are inevitable. Russia has thus far proven unable to credibly explain how Nadya Savchenko came to be in Russian detention and to be charged with involvement in the deaths of a Russian journalist and cameraman.  It is instead applying dubious tactics to ensure that the questions are either not asked, or not heard.  Not for the first time, Russian TV has been assigned a key role.

A Voronezh court on July 25 rejected Savchenko’s appeal against the court ruling remanding her in custody until August 31.  She is likely to soon be transferred to the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.  The judge was unmoved by the fact that the original court’s detention order, as well as the investigators documents, refer to the Donbas region of Ukraine as “the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”.  The latter are the Kremlin-backed militants’ self-proclaimed ‘republics’ which even Russia has not officially recognized.

It is likely that the fault for such a telling mistake lies with the Investigative Committee of Russia which has been initiating ‘criminal investigations’ with a distinctly political slant for many months now.  The documents in question refer to a number of cases opened from May 30, including occasions where Russian journalists were, according to Ukraine detained for unacceptable activities and deported or, according to Russia ‘abducted’.

The defence had insisted that Savchenko be brought to the court and that the hearing be open.  The latter application was allowed, however there was only video contact with Savchenko from her cell.  Her lawyers’ application for a change of interpreter was also rejected, although there are clear grounds for concern that Savchenko’s words are being distorted.  Savchenko, for example, said that she was abducted from Ukraine with this being translated as that she was caught in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian consul was only allowed to see Savchenko after numerous attempts, and is now being stopped from visiting her again.  This could well be because he passed on her account of how she was abducted into Russia with a bag over her head and in handcuffs.  The pretext, however, is that Savchenko has already had the second visit she is allowed each month.

The supposed ‘visit’ was from a LifeNews journalist who was permitted by the investigator to interview her.

The edited transcript remains on the channel’s website under the title: “The insurgents did not shoot down the Malaysian BoeingLIfeNews took an exclusive interview of a woman who took part in a punitive operation in Ukraine and is now in the Voronezh SIZO”.

As during her interrogation by the militants who captured her around June 18, Savchenko is not cowered and denies all claims that she could have been involved in any way in the killing of unarmed journalists. There is no point in analysing particular parts of the interview since it seems likely that the tape has been carefully edited.  There is a suspiciously short amount of time given to her abduction and how she ended up in Russia. Even Savchenko’s doubts about whether the militants could have shot down the plane should be treated with caution. They come after a month held captive first by the militants then in Russia. Any access to the news over recent weeks has therefore been via Russian TV channels whose distortion of information about the shooting-down of  MH17  has itself made world headlines.

Even with manipulative editing, Savchenko creates a very good impression. Perhaps for that reason, LifeNews  took another ‘exclusive’ interview, this time of Vladimir Markin from the Investigative Committee.  This is entitled “Savchenko lived in Russia for two weeks before being detained” and begins with the presenter claiming that Savchenko when detained, “beat her breast, admitting “yes, I killed them, I killed them” and has now changed her tune.  The interviewer’s very tone makes it clear that the audience should view all denials of guilt as an attempt now to wriggle out of trouble.  Markin joins in claiming that ‘as one can see’, Savchenko contradicts herself at each point.  In fact, one cannot see anything of the sort, and there is no evidence that Savchenko ever ‘confessed”

Markin first states that Savchenko did much more than simply point out the journalists’ whereabouts.  When asked for more detail, however, he backtracks saying that other charges ‘are still being confirmed’.  He asserts that Savchenko was in Russia for two weeks and doesn’t know ‘how she escaped’ from her militant captors.  She was then, he claims, detained after she took a taxi dressed in camouflage gear.  He can’t remember why the police patrol stopped the car, perhaps she didn’t have her seatbelt on, he suggests. He alleges she said that she was a refugee and had run away from Ukraine as she didn’t agree with the new authorities’ politics.  The story is almost comically implausible, with the details clearly seen as less important than the overall task of discrediting Savchenko and casting doubt on her words.

Nadya Savchenko

LifeNews is focused on here since it provided ‘exclusive’ interviews, however the  line taken is that presented by the Russian authorities and will be identical on all mainstream Russian media.  Russians, and Ukrainians in those parts of eastern Ukraine still under militant control, have little chance of understanding how grossly they are being misled.

None of this, unfortunately, is new. Two left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzaev were convicted by a Moscow court last week of ‘organizing mass riots’ on May 6 2012. In October that year the Russian authorities abducted Razvozzhaev from Kyiv where he was in the process of applying for asylum and took him to Moscow. The charges laid against both men stem from allegations made, without corroboration or identification of the person supposed to have ‘exposed them’ in a scandalous ‘documentary’ entitled “Anatomy of Protest” on NTV.

The abduction in 2012 took place under the former president Viktor Yanukovych and almost certainly with the connivance of the Ukrainian authorities. Those days have gone. Savchenko is Ukrainian, was captured by the militants and handed over to the Russians against her will and is now facing charges that bear no scrutiny. The questions Russia’s investigators cannot answer urgently need to be asked – publicly and loudly. They should not stop until Nadya Savchenko is released and back in Ukraine.

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG).

Editors Note: Nadiya Savchenko trial is a farce with trumped up charges and the russians have already decided that she is guilty. This is nothing short of a medieval witch hunt with no chance of defense!

#MH17: Troops Move on Crash Site in Ukraine, Foiling Deal


Dutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated PressDutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

ZUHRES, Ukraine — Just hours after the Malaysian government reached an agreement with Ukrainian separatists on Sunday over access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in rebel territory, the Ukrainian military launched an operation to recapture the debris fields, again stalling international efforts to secure the site.

The heavy fighting threatened to torpedo hopes of a breakthrough and cause yet more delays in collecting evidence and retrieving the remaining bodies from the crash. Ukrainian security officials said they needed control over the site to prevent the pro-Russia separatists from destroying clues to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

By Sunday evening, the Ukrainian advance had blocked a road leading from the provincial capital, Donetsk, to the airplane debris northeast of Shakhtyorsk, but it remained unclear whether government troops were in control of all or part of the approximately 14 square miles of debris fields.

Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian armored vehicles near the site, and reporters who visited earlier Sunday said insurgents were nowhere to be seen.

The combat spread out along the road in a fluid and chaotic scene, leaving it wholly unclear who controlled what. Fragments of rockets lay on the sunbaked macadam, and columns of black smoke rose along the horizon.

One separatist commander at a checkpoint outside Shakhtyorsk, about 10 miles from the crash site, said the Ukrainians had retaken the area, and a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that government troops were advancing.

“The attempts to clear militia from the crash site irrefutably show Kiev is trying to destroy evidence,” he told reporters in Donetsk. His claim was apparently intended to counter earlier allegations that the rebels had been tampering with evidence to hide their own role in the downing of the plane.

Separatists seemed to be in a state of alarm, driving in convoys of buses and armored vehicles out of Donetsk toward the fighting. They controlled the road as far as the town of Zuhres.


Area of rebel activity


The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777-200, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian and American officials say the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.

Ukraine and the United States have said repeatedly that Russia is providing military equipment to the separatists and claim to have evidence that Russia is firing artillery and rockets on Ukrainian military positions.

On Sunday, the Obama administration stepped up its public pressure on Moscow, as the State Department released intelligence images presented as evidence that Russian forces had fired across the border.

The images were said to show charred ground on the Russian side of the border, described as evidence of rocket launches into Ukraine. Another showed artillery pieces of a type found only in the Russian military, pointed toward Ukraine. Other images showed crater impacts inside Ukraine.

It was not possible to independently verify the images. They are from DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photos; they were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft. Small groups of foreign police officers and forensic experts have managed to reach the crash site, but efforts to secure it with larger contingents have repeatedly fallen through.

Part of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. Credit Digital Globe, via U.S. State DepartmentPart of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. CreditDigital Globe, via U.S. State Department.

Earlier Sunday, the prospects of a more robust foreign presence at the crash site seemed to have improved when the office of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia announced in an email that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Borodai “to allow a deployment of international police personnel” to enter.

After the announcement, about 30 unarmed Dutch police officers left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv intending to reach the debris fields. But fighting stopped the officers after they reached Donetsk, said a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Dutch police deployment on Sunday, ordered overnight by the Ministry of Security and Justice in The Hague, reversed an earlier decision by the head of a Dutch police mission in Kharkiv. He had intended to delay movement toward the crash site until a vote on Thursday by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev that he said would provide a “legal basis” for the deployment of foreign police officers.

The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.

Retrieving the Remains of Flight MH17: Russian Roulette

The area is tactically important for the Ukrainian military, which is trying to close access to Donetsk from the east, lest separatists in the city be resupplied and reinforced from the direction of the Russian border.

Clashes flared in half a dozen towns east of Donetsk on Sunday. There was also fighting to the north, with an artillery strike in the town of Horlivka reportedly killing at least 13 civilians.

The longer the crash site remains unguarded, the smaller the chances of recovering evidence. Responding to growing reports that the wreckage and passenger items had been tampered with, Australia said Sunday that it was sending unarmed police officers to the site to prevent any further meddling. Australia lost dozens of citizens on Flight 17.

“Our objective is to get in, to get cracking and to get out,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital. Australia had considered allowing some of its officers to carry weapons, but Mr. Abbott said he had decided against that.

“This is a risky mission, no doubt about that,” he said, “but all the professional advice I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”

Foreign access to the site has been hampered by problems from the start, with heavily armed rebels initially restricting the movements of foreign experts. In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian troops intended to “liberate” the crash site to secure evidence.

The Ukrainian government has been loath to see foreign governments negotiate with the separatist leaders based in Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared republic that no foreign state, including Russia, has recognized. Malaysia has been particularly active in reaching out to the rebel leadership. It brokered a deal last week under which the rebels handed over the plane’s data and voice recorders, which they had seized at the crash site.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Zuhres, and Andrew Higgins from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Michelle Innis from Sydney, Australia.


The New York Times.

Satellite images released by U.S. ‘show Russian rocket fire into Ukraine’


Pro-Russia rebels lead members of the OSCE mission at the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/APPro-Russia rebels lead members of the OSCE mission at the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP

The US on Sunday released satellite images it said backed up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.

A four-page document released by the State Department seemed to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images, which were sourced from the US director of national intelligence, showed heavy weapons fired between 21 July and 26 July, after the 17 July downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, over eastern Ukraine.

All 298 people onboard MH17 were killed.

The memo is part of the Obama administration’s push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighboring Ukraine and the release could help to persuade the US’ European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.

The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was “imminent”.

Russian officials have denied allegations of Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine (see here for contradictory evidence). Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Sunday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, but details about their discussion were not immediately released by the State Department.

The US images claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than seven miles.

The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have “fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine”.

Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows “ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units within Ukraine.”

“The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers,” the memo said.

Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it stated is evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units “on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine”.

Satellite images released by US 'show Russian rocket fire into Ukraine' #1

Tensions have run high in the region since Russia seized Crimea in March and Washington has been highly critical of the behaviour of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. More recently, US intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane.

Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social-media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on 17 July.

Satellite images released by US 'show Russian rocket fire into Ukraine' #2

Moscow angrily denies any involvement in the attack.

US officials said they still did not know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday they were unwilling to share proof that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.

The Guardian.