Thursday, 9 February 2017

Putin's Russia

The BBC reports on the news that a major critic of President Putin has been found guilty of embezzlement in the Russian courts. 

Alexei Navalny has proclaimed his innocence from the outset and his first trial verdict was set aside after the European Court of Human Rights intervened.

Navalny claims the charges against him are politically motivated after he described President Putin's party (United Russia) as "the party of crooks and thieves"

Now it is possible that this is a case of 'the pot calling the kettle black', but bear in mind that many of President Putin's critics meet an unfortunate end, often in mysterious and/or grisly circumstances.

"Is it possible that one person could be so fortunate or unfortunate?" - depending on how you look at the demise of President Putin's opponents.

Not only that, of course, take into account the fact that the Russian State has been found guilty of organised 'doping' in Olympic and international sport on an industrial scale, and you get an idea of the mighty that the Russian Government will go to in the pursuit of selfish or unscrupulous aims.


Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader found guilty

BBC Europe

Image copyright - APImage caption - Mr Navalny says the accusations are politically motivated

Putin's Russia
Propaganda fears as Putin replaces news agency
Profile: Alexei Navalny
Navalny jailed: Russia's Mandela moment?
The fates of Putin's enemies

Russia's main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been found guilty of embezzlement and handed a five-year suspended sentence.

It bars him from running for president next year against Vladimir Putin.

But Mr Navalny, who denies the charges, has vowed to take part in the race regardless. It was not immediately clear if this was legally possible.

His conviction came in a retrial after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the first trial to be unfair.

The court in the provincial city of Kirov found Mr Navalny guilty of embezzlement in relation to a timber company called Kirovles, for which he was also handed a 500,000-rouble ($8,500; £6,700) fine.

Russian media debate Navalny's fate 

Is he a threat to President Putin?

Mr Navalny, 40, is known for his anti-corruption campaign, which targeted senior officials close to the Kremlin. He says the case against him is an effort to keep him out of politics.

He had recently stepped up his political activity after announcing plans last year to run for the presidency in 2018. Mr Putin is allowed by the constitution to run for a second consecutive six-year term, but he has not said yet if he plans to do so.

Mr Putin has already served three terms as president in total but just two of those consecutively.

Mr Navalny's rise as a force in Russian politics began in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged malpractice and corruption at some of Russia's big state-controlled corporations.

He described the president's United Russia as "the party of crooks and thieves", a phrase that appeared to resonate with many in Russia.

He stood for Moscow mayor in 2013 and got more than a quarter of the vote, a surprise to many.

Russia's vociferous opposition leader

Navalny wins European human rights payout

How did Mr Navalny react to the verdict?

The outspoken critic of President Putin said the sentence in the case, which he claims was politically motivated, was a sign that the Kremlin considered him to be too dangerous to take part in the election campaign. He has vowed to appeal against the verdict.

"We don't recognise this ruling. I have every right to take part in the election according to the constitution and I will do so. I will continue to represent the interests of people who want to see Russia a normal, honest and non-corrupt country," he told reporters after the judge announced the sentence.

Image copyright - AFPImage caption  - The Kremlin has dismissed concerns about Mr Navalny's possible absence from the elections next year

But the legality of his candidacy is in question, as under Russian law anyone is banned from running for office for 10 years after being convicted of a serious crime. Separately, the constitution bans anyone from running who is physically in prison.

Mr Navalny was allowed to stand as a candidate for the mayor of Moscow despite his suspended sentence in 2013.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed concerns raised about Mr Navalny's absence undermining the legitimacy of the election.

"We believe any concerns about this are inappropriate," he said, speaking before the trial concluded.

Inside the court room - by Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, Kirov

It took the judge well over three hours to read his verdict to the stuffy courtroom - at a fast mumble and with the occasional deep sigh. Towards the end he knocked the microphone away, and from then on was barely audible at all. But his final, guilty decision - once confirmed - was no surprise.

Even before the hearing began, Alexei Navalny told me he wasn't expecting anything good to come of it. The activist insists that this whole case was meant to stop his corruption investigations and to ensure he had a serious criminal conviction to bar him from running for president. Mr Navalny plans to dispute that law, as a violation of Russia's constitution. 

What are the charges?

Mr Navalny has been convicted of embezzling timber worth 16m roubles ($500,000; £330,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov's governor, Nikita Belykh.

It was a retrial of the original 2013 case - and another five-year suspended sentence - that was quashed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which said he was not given a fair hearing.

The ECHR also said the original trial had failed to address allegations that it was politically motivated.

Image copyright - REUTERS Image caption - Mr Navalny was in court in Kirov for his verdict

At the time, the verdict was widely condemned by the European Union and the US, with opposition supporters clashing with police in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities.

And last week, the ECHR ordered Russia to pay the leading opposition figure more than €63,000 (£54,000; $67,000) in compensation, saying his right to peaceful protest had been violated multiple times, in cases dating back to 2012.

At the start of the verdict on Wednesday, judge Alexei Vtyurin said the court had established that Mr Navalny had "organised" the theft.

Putin's Russia (02/02/17)

The Telegraph reports on the mysterious death of yet another Russian citizen whose activities were making uncomfortable news headlines for President Vladimir Putin.

Mystery death of ex-KGB chief linked to MI6 spy's dossier on Donald Trump

Oleg Erovinkin

By Robert Mendick - The Telegraph

PhotoCredit - Robert Verkaik

An ex-KGB chief suspected of helping the former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to compile his dossier on Donald Trump may have been murdered by the Kremlin and his death covered up. it has been claimed.

Oleg Erovinkin, a former general in the KGB and its successor the FSB, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day in mysterious circumstances.

Erovinkin was a key aide to Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and now head of Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, who is repeatedly named in the dossier.

Christopher Steele

Putin's Russia (19/12/16)

The Independent reports on the unusual death of another of President Putin's critics - a well known journalist called Alexander Shchetinin who became a Ukranian national recently after giving up his Russian citizenship.

Now it could be entirely coincidental, course, as people do sadly decide to take they own lives, but at the same time the news comes on the back of a number of strange deaths - from Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned with radioactive Polonium to Borsi Nemtsov who was gunned won while walking across a Moscow bridge.

So either Vladimir's having a 'run of bad luck' (or good luck depending on your point off view) or some other force is at play.

Read the full article via the link below to The Independent.

Russian journalist critical of Vladimir Putin found dead on his birthday with gunshot wound to his head

Alexander Shchetinin found dead with a gun near his body after friends tried to visit him at home

By Rachael Pells - The Independent

Mr Shchetinin gave up his Russian citizenship before becoming a Ukrainian national and settling in Kiev Facebook

A well-known Russian journalist and critic of President Vladimir Putin has been found dead in his Kiev apartment with a gunshot wound to the head.

The body of Alexander Shchetinin, founder the Novy Region (New Region) press agency, was found at his flat after friends tried to visit him on his birthday.

A police spokesperson said Kiev forces were alerted of Ms Shchetinin’s death at around midnight on Saturday. He is believed to have died a few hours earlier, between 8 and 9.30pm.

More Strange Deaths (25/11/16)

I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but I think there are good grounds to make an exception in the case of any incidents connected to the terrible murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of President Putin and former Russian spy.

The manner of Alexander Litvinenko's reads like something out of a James Bond movie and there is not doubt that the Russian state, if not the Putin government, was involved in his macabre killing.

The Times reports that a radiation expert, Matthew Pulcher, who helped to investigate Litvinenko's poisoning by radioactive Polonium was found dead five months after a trip to Russia.

Apparently, Mr Puncher bled to death after stabbing himself multiple times (a highly unusual way of committing suicide) and while a pathologist concluded that his injuries were self-inflicted, the pathologist also said that he could not "entirely exclude" the possibility that someone else was involved.

Read the full story via the following link to The Times.


Russia in the Dock (23/07/14)

In November 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent, met with two former colleagues, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, in London.

A few days later he was admitted into hospital suffering from poisoning, but not just any old poisoning because somehow he had ingested radioactive Polonium 210 which finally killed him 22 days later - with the poison being traced back to a teapot in the London hotel where he had shared a cup of tea with his fellow countrymen from Russia.

Suspicious, damning even, or what?

Because it's not everyone, of course, who has ready access to a highly volatile, dangerous radioactive isotope and the ability to administer such a deadly substance to an 'enemy' they intended to kill, without being anywhere near the scene of the crime when their deadly deed finally came to light. 

So it's great news that Marina Litvinenko has been granted the public inquiry that her husband's terrible murder deserves, as explained in the following report from the BBC.  

Alexander Litvinenko death: UK announces public inquiry

A public inquiry will be held into the death of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

Mr Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who became a British citizen, died in 2006 in a London hospital after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium.

The investigation will examine whether the Russian state was behind his death.

Mr Litvinenko's widow, Marina, said she was "relieved and delighted", saying the "truth will win out in the end".

Announcing the inquiry - which will be chaired by senior judge Sir Robert Owen - Mrs May said she hoped it would be of "some comfort" to Mrs Litvinenko.

The former Russian spy, 43, died after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium while drinking tea with two Russian men, one a former KGB officer, at a London hotel.

His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time of his death and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

'For truth'

Speaking at a press conference, Mrs Litvinenko - who had legally challenged the government's earlier decision not to hold a public inquiry - said she had pursued the case "for justice", adding: "I did this for truth."

"I would like to be able to show people that you are able to get justice, in any difficult situation," she added.

But she added that she did not believe the suspects would face trial in the UK.

One of the suspects, Andrei Lugovoi, told the Russian Interfax news agency the decision to launch an inquiry was "the height of cynicism".

In May 2007, the UK said Mr Lugovoi - now a politician in Russia - should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. Russia refused to extradite Mr Lugovoi, who denies any involvement.

The inquiry will seek to establish how Mr Litvinenko died and where the responsibility for his death lies. It will also have powers to make recommendations.

The government had previously resisted calls for a public inquiry, saying it would first "wait and see" what a judge-led inquest found.

However, Sir Robert - who was the coroner overseeing Mr Litvinenko's inquest last year and will now chair the inquiry - called for a public inquiry to be set up.

In a written ruling, he said an inquest could not take sensitive evidence due to national security fears. As a result any verdict would be "potentially misleading and unfair", he said.

As the law stands, inquests cannot consider some material relating to national security because of rules preventing its public disclosure.

The inquiry will be able to be mostly held in public but have closed sessions to consider sensitive evidence.

In February - following a legal challenge by Mrs Litvinenko - the High Court said the Home Office had been wrong to rule out an inquiry before the outcome of an inquest.

Analysis from BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera

Until now, the government has steadfastly resisted holding a public inquiry.

That was because there are layers of secrets surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko. This is thought to include secret intelligence that may relate to whether the Russian state was responsible for his murder.

There are also secrets about Mr Litvinenko's own relationship with MI6. The government demanded all these secrets be kept out of an inquest.

But the former Russian security officer's widow has fought a long legal battle to get to the truth.

A public inquiry will now look at where responsibility lies for the death although it does not look as if it will look at whether his relationship with MI6 means that more should be done to have protected him.

Lawyers for Mrs Litvinenko had claimed that the issue of state responsibility was being closed down precisely to try to improve relations with Russia.

If so, then changing times may explain a government's change of heart. And so we may get one step closer to finding out who was behind a radioactive murder on the streets of London.

A Downing Street spokesman said Sir Robert would have the jurisdiction to demand the production of both witnesses - including security agents - and documents from the security and intelligence services.

However, the inquiry will have no such powers in relation to evidence from Russia, he added.

The inquiry is due to begin on 31 July and is expected to conclude by the end of 2015.

A government spokesman said Mr Litvinenko's death was "an appalling crime and we want to see those responsible prosecuted through the courts".

Safe Havens (16 July 2013)

While the former American spook, Eric Snowden, is thinking about seeking political asylum in Russia I wonder if he might like to raise the curious case of Alexander Litvinenko - with his new comrades and friends.

Now I'm sure that Alexander Litvinenko became a useful source of information to British intelligence handlers - a 'spy' in the very broadest sense of that word - but in no way could he have been regarded as an on-going threat to Russian security.

Yet he was murdered by consuming radioactive Polonium shortly after taking tea with two former Russian intelligence agents in a London hotel - an act which could only have been organised by a very sophisticated state machine with a motive to kill a Russian defector.

So Russia looks like a very unpromising place for an American spy to call his new home from home - although this is a very murky world where things are not necessarily as reliable or believable as they would first appear.

Andrew Lugovoi has since become a Russian MP, of course, which makes it unlawful for the Russian authorities even to consider extraditing him to the UK - where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a cowardly and vile murder plot.

Here's a little history of the Litvinenko case which I came across on the BBC web site - I can't say I'm surprised that the Government has decided not to proceed with a public inquiry.

Because what would that tell us other than it is almost certainly the case that Russia and its intelligence services - were responsible for Alexander Litvinenko's untimely and unnatural death. 

The Litvinenko case
  • 1 Nov 2006 - Alexander Litvinenko has tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in London
  • 4 Nov 2006 - After three days of vomiting he is admitted to hospital, and dies 22 days later. His death is attributed to radiation poisoning
  • May 2007 - The UK decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. He denies any involvement but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 - Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, prompting a diplomatic row
  • 20 Sept 2012 - Pre-inquest review hears that Russia's links to the death will be probed
  • May-June 2013 - Inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable