Tag Archive | "Russia"

Critical Analysis: The Economic Impact of Russian Sanctions

 

Introduction

The US is ready to impose further sanctions on Russia for its continuing activities in Ukraine, and the markets are once more faced with uncertainty. This announcement is the latest development in US and EU exchanges with Russia over events in Ukraine and suspected Russian involvement. In November 2013, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych abandoned an agreement strengthening ties with the EU in favor of a closer relationship with Russia. That decision led to anti-Yanukovych protests in Ukraine, which became more violent as the unrest spread and intensified from November through February. On February 22, Yanukovych fled Ukraine after a political coup ousted him from power, and a new Ukrainian government took power. The new government’s Western leaning stance caused many in Crimea to seek support from Russia, which culminated in Crimea’s parliament voting to join Russia on March 6th. On March 16th, a referendum was held where 97% of Crimea’s voters decided to join Russia. Russia formally annexed Crimea on March 21.

 

The First Round of Sanctions

While the events in Ukraine were taking place, leaders in the US and the EU were determining how to respond to Russia’s involvement in the events. In response to the rising unrest in Crimea and Russia’s involvement, President Obama issued Executive Order 13660 on March 6th freezing the assets of any person “directly or indirectly” engaged in activities threatening the peace, disrupting the democratic processes, or misappropriating assets in Ukraine. The Executive Order set the legal authorization for further sanctions and allowed the US Department of Treasury to impose financial sanctions on individuals and entities meeting the Order’s definitions.

Similarly, the EU adopted Decision 2014/119/CFSP and Regulation 208/2014 on March 5th and 6th respectively. The two pieces of legislation directed EU member states to impose restrictions on the funds and economic resources “belonging to, owned, held or controlled by persons” involved in the misappropriation of Ukrainian state funds or who were responsible for human rights violations in Ukraine. The EU applied its sanctions against 18 named individuals, including former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, Yanukovych’s family, and his close allies.

The most immediate business effect of the first round of US and EU sanctions was uncertainty. Although the US is not among the top ten trading partners with Russia, Russia “remains a crucial market for American retail, construction and energy companies, as well as some of the biggest United States banks.” Europe’s economy is more tightly integrated with Russia than the American economy is, with Europeans engaging in $460 billion in business with the Russian economy. In economic terms, the largest impact of the sanctions was to increase demand for investment in safe commodities, such as gold. With uncertainty looming heavy on the minds of investors, traders also invested in options markets to offset any potential losses that future tensions might create.

 

Second Round of Sanctions

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In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, both the US and the EU have taken steps to enact economic sanctions against Russia. Image: Politico.com

Following the March 16th referendum where Crimean citizens overwhelmingly voted to join Russia, US President Obama passed Executive Order 13661. Order 13661 was a continuation of the sanctions already imposed, and it expanded the reach of sanctions by freezing assets of eleven named individuals, including former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and two aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Order also allowed for expanding the reach of the sanctions to Russian officials, those persons or entities who “operate in the arms or related materiel sector in the Russian Federation,” or those persons or entities who “have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services” to Russian officials.

The sanctions imposed by the EU in response to Crimea’s vote to join Russia went further than those from the US. On March 17th, the Council of the EU adopted Decision 2014/145/CFSP and Regulation 269/2014 that imposed travel restrictions and asset freezes on an additional 21 Ukrainian and Russian officials. The EU sanctions prohibit any direct or indirect sharing of financial or economic resources with the named individuals or persons responsible for action that threatens the sovereignty of Ukraine. In contrast to those individuals named in the American list, which appeared to target high-ranking Russian officials, the EU sanctions were directed toward mid-level officials who may have been more “directly involved on the ground.”

The second round of sanctions seemed to effect an easing of tensions, which created positive gains from an economic standpoint. The day following the imposition of sanctions by the US and the EU, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia did not seek any further division of Ukraine. This in turn eased fears among investors because it assuaged much of the concern that the crisis would deepen: “The probability that things could get worse in eastern Ukraine is reducing,” one market strategist was quoted as saying in response to the second round of sanctions. As a result, stocks in both the US and Russia experienced gains following the March 17th sanctions.

 

Third Round of Sanctions

In an attempt to put more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s decision to annex Crimea, US President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13662 on March 20th, which imposed another set of sanctions on Russia.  The Order continued the sanctions already in place while naming a further twenty Russian officials whose assets were frozen. In addition, Order 13662 included sanctions against Bank Rossiya, Russia’s seventeenth largest bank, which resulted in prohibitions on trading with the bank. Targeting the bank was significant because the bank not only serves as a personal bank for many senior officials in Russia, but it also provides services related to the oil, gas, and energy sectors.

In lockstep with the US, the Council of the EU adopted Decision 2014/151/CFSP and Regulation 284/2014 on March 21st. The EU’s sanctions added travel restrictions and froze the assets of an additional 12 Ukrainian and Russian officials.

Prior to the third set of sanctions, the direct impact from the previous sanctions had been minimal. The third round of sanctions changed that, with Russia’s sovereign rating being downgraded (sovereign ratings reflect an opinion on “the future ability and willingness of sovereign governments to service their debt obligations to the nonofficial sector in full and on time”). Russia’s stock indexes opened significantly lower following the sanctions, and Visa and MasterCard ceased operations with Bank Rossiya. The sanctions also had the effect of injecting uncertainty back into the markets as it was unclear how long these sanctions would be in place and how far reaching the sanctions’ impact will be.

 

Conclusion

Although there have been no further official sanctions against Russia since Russia formally annexed Crimea, the situation remains tense.[1] Pro-Russian forces have seized government buildings in Eastern Ukraine and armed men without insignias have been spotted in Eastern Russia, reminiscent of the unidentified armed soldiers present before Crimea declared independence from Ukraine. Continuing unrest in Eastern Ukraine has prompted officials in the EU and the US to consider the imposition of further sanctions on Russian officials. Based on the consequences of the previous sanctions, the only thing that can be certain is that markets will continue to face uncertainty until the situation is resolved.

 

Greg Henning is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a General Editor for the View From Above


[1] On April 11, the US Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on seven Crimean separatists and Crimean-based Chernomorneftegaz, a gas company. The impact of those sanctions remains to be seen at the time of writing this article.

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Critical Analysis: What does territory annexation and secession look like in the modern world?

Russia’s recent annexation of Ukraine raises an interesting question: What is required for legal territory annexation or secession under international law?

crimea-referendum_embed

The UN has declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea illegal under international law and the Ukrainian Constitution. Image: Allvoices.com

It is illegal under international law to annex territory by coercion or force, but the possibility remains that one country can annex the territory of another through “legal” means. Russia’s actions in annexing Crimea have been declared illegal by the United Nations. In its resolution, the UN General assembly noted that the annexation was not only against international law, but contravened the Ukrainian constitution. This implies that Russia may annex Crimea if Ukraine, as a nation, agrees to let Crimea go.

The illegality of Russia’s actions in Ukraine have led the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions against Russia. It remains to be seen whether these actions will have any effect on the Crimean situation.  Russia has responded to these sanctions by saying it has the right to respond “tit for tat.” Russian troops poised on the border with Ukraine are seen as indications that Russia intends to annex the rest of the country, which was formerly a part of the Soviet Union, while Ukraine is in the midst of political crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has stressed that no decision about Ukraine’s future can be made without the involvement of Kiev, which has also declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea to be illegal.

Exactly who has a say as to what territory belongs to which country is an interesting question. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev is clearly loath to permit Russia to take over Crimea.  However, Russia did not annex Crimea by force or arms. Instead, a referendum was held and a majority of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia. This referendum is controversial, and the presence of Russian troops in Crimea at the time do not aid its validity.

If armed forces had not been involved, would the Crimea referendum be viewed differently?  Later this year a referendum will be held in Scotland to determine whether Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom or depart from that union to become an independent country. As the debate heats up about the effects of an independent Scotland, many in England have voiced the opinion that Scotland’s independence should not be decided by the Scottish alone.  Although the referendum has the blessing of the U.K. Parliament and Prime Minister David Cameron, many English residents are concerned because they have not been given the chance to voice their own opinion on Scottish independence at the polls.

Is it essential to the legality of territory secession or annexation to have all countries agree to the new border?  Or is it simply enough that no force or coercion is used in the annexation of territory?  As is clear from the Crimea referendum, military presence casts doubt on the legality of a vote.  The international community has also expressed great concern about the lack of Ukraine’s involvement in the referendum. Scotland’s referendum may be a guiding example of peaceful secession and independence under international law, but this remains to be seen.

Laura Wood is Senior Managing Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: Putin Signals Change in Human Rights Policy… Every Time the Olympics are in Town

Famed Russian political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was released from prison last week in a surprise pardon by President Vladimir Putin.  Khodorkovsky, was an oil tycoon before incarceration as well as the richest man in Russia at one time.  Through a series of deals negotiated with the government, Khodorkovsky bought up many state oil companies following the collapse of the communist government in the early nineties.  Officially charged with tax evasion – many believed that he was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to Putin as well as using his immense wealth to back Putin’s opposition.

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

According to the Kremlin, after ten years Mikhail Khodorkovsky requested a pardon because of humanitarian reasons.  Although attorneys for Khodorkovsky had appealed many times, this was the first pardon requested.  Furthermore, the request apparently came directly from Khodorkovsky as initial reports stated his lawyers knew nothing about it.  Some surmise it was in response to rumors that Russian prosecutors were readying a third case against him, in spite of his scheduled release date this upcoming August.

This move from Putin has left many wondering what is to become of two other high profile cases – that of two members in the political rock group “Pussy Riot” and thirty Greenpeace activists.  Both cases have drawn tremendous publicity worldwide.  The incarcerated rock band members received two-year sentences for performing a song in a Russian Cathedral.  The song was received as being both raunchy as well as critical of Putin.  The Greenpeace activists are awaiting trial on their cases for protesting aboard an oil rig.

President Putin recently introduced legislation that will likely answer the question of their fates.  The legislation, often referred to as an “Amnesty Bill,” is being rushed through legislation.  Once signed, all of the cases in question will qualify for pardons – something most in and out of Russia believe will occur.   Given the current temperature of media inside the state, these pardons are no longer a surprise.  Weeks and months ago, however, Putin had promised that nothing of the sort would occur, stating, “This is a serious thing for us. And we do not plan to soften (our stance), we will only be toughening it.”

Two things have some questioning the sincerity of the Kremlin’s generosity.  First is the proximity of these moves to the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  With the spotlight on Russia’s human right’s record, the timing of these releases is peculiar to say the least.  Additionally, the releases are, so far, small in scale.  The prison doors are far from being flung open.  Secondly, is the way that the releases were carried out.  The releases – both past and impending – are centered around the executive rather than the judiciary.  That raises the question of whether these maneuvers are any actual departure from Putin’s measured democracy whatsoever.

Tom Dunlop is a 3L at Denver University and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: Russia Still Under International Scrutiny for Imprisonment of Greenpeace Activists

After two months of imprisonment in Russia, nine Greenpeace activists were released on Tuesday, November 19th, by a St. Petersburg court order. The activists, who were among 30 imprisoned since September, still face charges of “hooliganism” for protesting offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The detainment of these individuals, who hail from countries including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, and France, increased international criticism of Russia’s legal system and human rights violations.

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for "hooliganism" by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for “hooliganism” by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

On September 18th, two Greenpeace activists were captured while attempting to board the Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform to remove a banner in protest of the oil drilling. Initially traveling aboard the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise” with 28 other activists, the ship and its occupants waited in the international waters for the release of the two captured activists.  All of the activists were subsequently arrested at gunpoint by Russians stationed on the platform. Dubbed the “Arctic 30,” the Greenpeace activists were initially charged with piracy by Russian authorities. Later, the charges were reduced to “hooliganism,” which carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years, less than half of the maximum sentence a piracy charge carries.

Greenpeace continually pushed for the release of the Arctic 30 on bail, but Russian authorities were reluctant, claiming that they wanted to hold the prisoners for another three months for further investigations. Greenpeace released a statement in early November indicating that the imprisonment of the Arctic 30 “represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless business.” Greenpeace’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, remained staunch in his position that Russia was violating the Human Rights Act by detaining the Arctic 30.

Greenpeace is not without its critics though. The arrests came after the Arctic Sunrise asked for permission to enter the Northern Sea Route but was denied by Russian authorities. Nonetheless, the ship ignored this denial and entered the route. Some see Greenpeace’s efforts as attention tactics, characterizing the organization’s actions as ways to make as much of a spectacle as possible, which therefore detracts from the underlying objective of environmental awareness and improvement.

Originally held in the Arctic city of Murmansk, the Arctic 30 were moved to St. Petersburg where they were able to be visited by family and lawyers. As of now, nine of the prisoners are eligible for release if the bail of $61,000 is met for each of the activists. Greenpeace stated that the organization has raised enough money to meet the bail amounts. While this is an indication that Russia is relaxing their stance on this internationally criticized situation, it should be noted that the activists have not been released of the charges against them. Furthermore, this event coupled with Russia’s highly publicized anti-gay laws, has spiked international scrutiny over the country’s human rights record.

Lydia Rice is a 3L and is Candidacy Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy

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Critical Analysis: Another Olympics, Another Human Rights Situation

In 2008, the International Olympic Committee was widely criticized for allowing China to showcase Beijing while not adequately addressing human rights concerns.  Five years later, the IOC is now embroiled in another human rights situation, as Sochi, Russia, will host the 2014 winter Olympics.  The 2014 Sochi Olympics have been criticized for a number of human rights issues, including passing laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.  Have the IOC and its main sponsors learned anything from 2008 or are they repeating the same mistakes?

LGBT athletes face possible discrimination at the Russian Olympics.

Athletes will face possible discrimination at the Russian Olympics as new laws specifically target LGBT groups.

In 2013, Vladimir Putin has signed multiple bills into the law that discriminate against the LGBT community.  These include laws that prevent the adoption of Russian children by gay couples or individuals.  Another law allows police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals who are suspected of being gay or for being “pro-gay.”   Furthermore, a law has been passed that categorized any gay propaganda as pornography.   These discriminatory laws have created an international backlash.  There have been a number of protests, including bars not serving Russian vodka.

The second Fundamental Principle of Olympism includes “the preservation of human dignity.”  The IOC has tried responding to the outrage and protests over these laws.   After these laws were passed, the IOC reiterated their commitment to ensuring that the 2014 Olympics were free from discrimination.  In October, 2013, the IOC president received assurances from Putin that athletes and visitors to the games will not be affected by these laws.

In addition to dealing with the government of Russia, Human Rights Watch has also pressed Olympic sponsors about the human rights concerns within Russia.  Human Rights Watch wrote to the top sponsors of the Olympic games, including Coca-Cola, General Electric, and McDonald’s, to ask them to take steps to help alleviate these abuses.   While several of the corporations responded, none have been willing to actively speak out against the abuses.  Human Rights Watch highlights that these corporate sponsors have failed to take active steps to reverse the negative human rights situation in Russia.

It appears that the IOC and the major Olympic sponsors have failed to learn any lessons from the 2008 games.  Once again they have failed to live up to the Olympic Charter and continue to showcase a country that is violating its citizens’ human rights.  While the IOC has received assurances that surround the games, this does nothing to protect the individuals that have to live in Russia after the games.  Russia’s sports minister stated that the law was not a mistake, but the timing of the law was a mistake.  While individuals in and around the games may be free from anti-gay laws for three weeks in February, the IOC and its sponsors have again failed to take action to prevent human rights abuses in a country that it is willing to highlight for three weeks.

Wesley Fry is a 3L and Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: An Investigation into Russia’s “Foreign Agent” NGO Laws

Russian President Putin

Russian President Vladmir Putin listening to a report by Prosecutor General Chaika on July 9, 2013 (RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service/Associated Press)

In November of 2012, Russian Parliament passed a new law requiring Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that receive funding from foreign governments and participate in political activities to classify themselves as foreign agents.  Under the 2012 law, any NGO that fails to classify itself as a foreign agent would face fines. The election monitor Golos was the first organization to receive fines under the new law, facing a penalty of 300,000 rubles.  The law arose from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fear that foreign governments were misusing nonprofit organizations in Russia to weaken the country’s political system.  Putin has even openly accused the United States’ State Department of undermining the Russian government by providing funding for non-profit organizations in Russia.

The term “foreign agent” is often associated with the Cold War era and creates an undertone of espionage.  Critics of the law not only fear the negative connotations of the term “foreign agent,” but also have further concerns that the law too loosely defines “political activity,” making it possible for the Russian government to use the law against almost any NGO.  These fears have found validation as Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika accused 215 Russian NGOs of violating this law on July 09, 2013.

On June 27, 2013, an organization called Supporting Competition in the CIS, a non-profit partnership, was the first to register as a foreign agent under this new law.  By the end of June, Supporting Competition in the CIS remained the only organization officially to register itself under this classification.  Instead, NGOs are standing together, refusing to register as foreign agents with the Russian government. Over the past three years, the 215 NGOs in violation of the law have cumulatively received around 6 billion rubles.  The 215 NGOs found to be in violation of the law are no longer receiving such funds from foreign governments, but Prosecutors still believe they need to be registered as foreign agents.

Russian Prosecutors searched over 2,000 NGOs and found at least 500 violations of NGO law during the investigations, bringing legal actions against 36 groups.  The investigations further uncovered that 17 of the NGOs accused of breaking the law received funding from foreign embassies.  One NGO currently under attack for accepting funding from foreign embassies is Agora, a human rights group. The head of Agora, Pavel Chikov, stated, “this is an absolutely legal source of funding.”  Chikov, like many others, recognizes that embassies have played an active role in funding projects of Russian NGOs and fears a restriction on embassy resources.

Many hope that the Russian government will adopt changes to the NGO Laws. The presidential council for human rights has even suggested solutions as simple as re-defining “agent” to get away from the Cold War implications of the term “foreign agent.”  Although President Putin has agreed to reconsider changes to the NGO laws, there remains little guarantee that the Russian government will be amending the 2012 law.  The underlying intentions behind the 2012 law still remain, as President Putin stated to human rights campaigners in July, “If people are involved in domestic politics and receive cash from abroad, society has the right to know which organizations these are and who funds them.”

 

Stacy Harper is a rising 3L at Denver Law and Marketing Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Russia’s Potential Ban on U.S. Adoptions

A child at an orphanage in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. (Reuters)

A child at an orphanage in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. (Reuters)

Over the last few years, the relationship between the United States and Russia in regards to international adoption has been tenuous at best. After several isolated incidents of Russian children suffering abuse, or even death, at the hands of their American adoptive parents, the State Duma passed a bill in July to help regulate international adoptions. This bill continued to allow United States citizens to adopt Russian orphans—956 of whom were adopted by U.S. citizens in 2011 alone.

However, this legislation could change dramatically. In light of President Obama’s signing of the Magnitsky Law, designed to display the United States’ intolerance for Russian human rights violators, the State Duma has drafted legislation banning all international adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. The law still needs to pass through two upper levels of parliament before it is presented to President Vladimir Putin for signing and enactment. However, Alexander P. Torshin, the deputy speaker of the Federation Council, predicted the bill would go through.

Russian legislators claim that the bill, named after Dima Yakovlev a Russian child who died of heat stroke after being left in the car by his U.S. adoptive father in 2008, will protect Russian orphans against similar negligence perpetuated by U.S. adoptive parents. However, many critics of the bill believe that it is less about protecting Russian children than about retaliating against the Magnitsky Law passed in the United States. Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov stated, “The logic is to be ‘an eye for an eye,’ but the logic is incorrect because it could harm our children who cannot find adopters in Russia.”

The United States adopts a large number of Russian orphans. In fact, between 1999 and 2011, U.S. citizens adopted 45,112 children from Russia, according to the U.S. State Department. Critics of the bill fear that only the children will suffer by closing the opportunity for U.S. international adoption of Russian orphans. Child advocate Boris Altshuler, the head of Rights of the Child, estimated that approximately 83,000 orphans in Russia will “stay in Russian children’s institutions, with tragic consequences.”

Opponents of the bill cite several factors as to why a complete ban on U.S. adoptions would be devastating to Russian orphans. Many have observed the poor condition of Russian orphanages and their over-population. In addition, critics have stated that few Russian families adopt children themselves. Further, there is a high rate of deaths among those children who are adopted by Russian families. According to the state-run news agency RIA Novosti, 1,220 adopted children have died in Russia since the 1990s. This number is staggering in comparison to the 19 Russian children adopted by U.S. citizens who have died in the same in the same stretch of time.

Clearly, the Russian people recognize the tragedy of such a ban being enacted. A Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, collected 86,000 signatures in an open letter “to protect Russian children from the meanness of Russian lawmakers.” It seems many people believe Russian legislators have let politics get in the way of making the best decisions in the interest of Russian children. As Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “I am sure that the State Duma will make the right decision in the end. International adoption as an institution has a full right to exist.”

Stacy Harper is a 2L at Denver University Law School and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Syrian Passenger Plane Forced Down by Turkey

People speak on the aircraft steps of a Syrian passenger plane that was forced by Turkish jets to land in Ankara, Turkey. (USA Today)

Turkish fighter jets forced a Syrian passenger plane to land in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on October 10.  The plane was suspected of carrying weapons from Russia.  The airliner was traveling from Moscow to Damascus with only thirty-five passengers and two crew members, even though the plane’s maximum capacity is one hundred eighty passengers.  Turkish intelligence had reportedly received information that the Syrian plane could be carrying “non-civilian cargo.” The plane was forced to land and then held at Ankara’s Esenboga airport for several hours before authorities finally allowed it to take off again for Damascus.  In conjunction with the forced take down, Turkey declared Syria’s airspace unsafe and ordered its civilian planes to avoid it.

Turkish authorities have declined to announce what they found on the Syrian airliner.  However, reports have surfaced that parts of a missile were confiscated along with materials that should have been reported, but were not, before the flight.  Other reports have surfaced that the Turkish government seized ten containers on board that held radio receivers, antennas, and other equipment “thought to be missile parts.” The forced take-down comes amid growing tensions between the two neighboring countries as reports from the border reveal there has been Syrian mortar and machine-gun fire heard on the Turkish side of the border.  While it is unclear whether the firing from Syria was aimed at Turkey or errant Syrian rebel-government fire, the audible firing has heightened tensions on the border. Tensions have grown with Syria’s bordering neighbors since the Syrian civil war began nineteen months ago. Turkey, specifically, has been a safe haven for roughly 100,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom crossed the Orontes River, which separates Turkey from Syria.

In response to the forced take down, Syria has alleged its continued innocence, calling Turkey’s actions piracy and claiming that nothing illegal was onboard.  The general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency called Turkey’s actions “contrary to regulations and aviation norms.”  Russia has also been outspoken about its concern for the seventeen Russian passengers onboard. Reportedly, they were not allowed off the plane and denied medical treatment and food for eight hours, and Russia is demanding a reason for Turkey’s treatment of them.  The Moscow airport also denied that there was any prohibited cargo on the Syrian plane.  Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova stated that “[n]o objects whose transportation would have been forbidden under aviation regulations were on board.”  All documentation concerning that cargo was also in order and completed as necessary.

Turkey’s action plays a role in the much larger foreign relations with the Middle East and Russia.  Currently, Russia is one of Syria’s closest remaining allies and, along with China, has repeatedly blocked U.N. resolutions against the Syrian capital.  The Syrian civil war continues to grow as battles have spilled over into the neighboring counties of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  NATO has said that it would also get involved if Syria strikes because Turkey is a member of the organization.  NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that there are plans in place to defend Turkey militarily if such a situation arises.

As more countries begin to take actions against the Syrian government, it will be forced to acquiesce to global pressure and end its violence against the rebels.  The death toll in the Syrian civil war has reached upwards of 20,000 even as global sanctions continue to pour on Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.  Turkey is only the latest country to take action against Syria and, certainly, will not be the last.  If Syria continues to ignore global pressure to end its violence, then military action from outside its borders may be the only resolution to end the internal violence within Syria.

 Dan Warhola is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Executive Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: The Consequences of Artistic Expression in Putin’s Russia

Members of the group “Pussy Riot” waiting to stand trial.
(Amnesty International)

On August 17, 2012, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in a penal colony for their open protest of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The band argued that their political protest, which involved the balaclava-clad crew performing the anti-Putin song, “Virgin Mary, Cast Putin Out,” in Moscow’s Russian Orthodox Christ the Savior Cathedral, was merely a display of artistic expression. The courts clearly disagreed. Penalizing Pussy Riot exhibits the treatment of artistic expression as religious hate crimes in Putin’s Russia.

The Pussy Riot protest is not the first instance of artistic expression with religious subtext being penalized in Russia.  In 2005, an art exhibit entitled “Caution! Religion,” featuring 42 pieces of art meant to provoke discussion on the role of religion in society, was on display at the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow. Within days of opening, the exhibit suffered vandalism at the hands of a Russian nationalist group called Movement for the Renewal of the Fatherland. The vandals were charged with “hooliganism,” but these charges were dropped after the Russian Orthodox Church intervened.

Instead, museum director Yuri Samodurov and his assistant Lyudmila Vasilovskaya were charged with “inciting ethnic and religious hatred” for the artistic display, each being fined $100,000 rubles. This surprising contradiction is a perfect example of the powerful role the Russian Orthodox Church seems to play within the Russian political landscape.

Similarly, in 2006, the “Forbidden Art Exhibit” was also on display at the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow. The exhibit featured 20 artistic pieces all previously rejected by other exhibits.  One featured piece included a depiction of Mickey Mouse as Jesus Christ and another image depicted Lenin on a cross. This blending of religious and political imagery was not well received by the Church. The director of the museum, Yuri Samodurov, and the curator for the exhibit, Andrei Erofeev, were both found guilty of “incitement of religious and ethnic hatred” and were fined 200,000 and 150,000 rubles, respectively.

What is interesting about the “Forbidden Art Exhibit” case is the outpour of support from fellow artists that came about after the charges were raised. These positive endorsements demonstrated that Russian artists were fully aware of the hold that the Russian Orthodox Church has on Russia’s political arena, and the limits on creative expression within modern Russian art movements. Public outcry for the Pussy Riot incident mounted with similar fervor, perhaps on a larger scale, as the international community, including Amnesty International, became involved. The question, as it stands now, is whether the Russian government will take these protests as sign to strive for a less theocratic leaning.

Stacy Harper is a 2L at Denver University Law School and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Welcoming Russia to the WTO

Presidents Putin and Obama (CBS)

By the end of the summer, Russia will become the newest member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) after nearly twenty years of negotiations.  This presents tremendous opportunities for American businesses, exporters, and innovators. Russia is the 7th largest economy in the world and trade between the United States and Russia is far from realizing its full potential. U.S. exports to Russia totaled almost $9 billion last year, and some studies indicate this could double within 5 years of Russia joining the WTO. Furthermore, when it does become a member, Russia will “be required—for the first time ever—to establish predictable tariff rates, ensure transparency in the publication and enactment of laws, and adhere to an enforceable mechanism for resolving disputes.” This means added protections for American agricultural exports and intellectual property rights. Ever hear of pirated DVDs you can buy for a dollar on the streets of Moscow? This will, sadly, become a thing of the past.

This all sounds too easy. And it is. First, both countries, in order to take advantage of the WTO agreement, must grant each other Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR). Second, the U.S. Congress must lift trade restrictions contained in the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law. This targeted the former Soviet Union for blocking Jewish citizens from emigrating during the Cold War. Since this law prevents favorable trade relations with American businesses, the U.S. cannot grant Russia PNTR without also lifting Jackson-Vanik. In other words, unless the U.S. lifts Jackson-Vanik, the rules of the WTO will not apply between the two countries. If the rules of the WTO do not apply, American business will not benefit from the advantages that come with Russia’s WTO membership. IPR protections will not apply nor the lower tariff rates on U.S. products. And, to make matters worse, American business will have to sit and watch Chinese, Japanese, Canadian, and European businesses cash in on the freshly opened Russian market.

As if this could not become any more complicated, members of Congress are concerned that lifting Jackson-Vanik excuses Russia’s uninspiring human rights record. In Jackson-Vanik’s stead, many Congressmen on both sides of the aisle, including Senate top dogs John McCain and Joe Lieberman, support a new bill named after the late Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. Beaten to death while in prison, he was arrested after exposing massive tax fraud by officials within the Russia Interior Ministry. This bill would block individuals involved in human rights abuses in Russia from traveling to, studying in, or living in the United States. Congressmen want to make sure that if we grant PNTR to Russia (along with lifting Jackson-Vanik), we also communicate our disgust with how they treat their own citizens, their support of the Assad regime in Syria, and so on.

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reassured us that granting PNTR is not a gift to Russia, as some may feel. Instead, “it is a smart, strategic investment in one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods and services. It’s also an investment in the more open and prosperous Russia that we want to see develop.” The Obama Administration, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, share this view.

The situation is compelling: creating jobs through international trade on the one hand versus supporting human rights on the other. Congress, of course, wants to have their cake and eat it too. After all, why can’t we, after engaging in some hard-nosed politics, bring both hands together? Perhaps, in 2012, engaging in trade with a fast-growing and modernizing Russia is the best option to foster human rights protections. Or perhaps, that is just a convenient excuse to put our wallets before our values.

Michael Cox is a rising 3L, a Candidacy Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, and a Senior Staff Editor for The View From Above

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