Tag Archive | "Russia"

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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News Post: What Will Russia Look Like Under the Next Putin Regime?

By: Breden Desmond

Even with the foregone election of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to a third term as Russian President, questions remain about what path Russia will take under the next Putin regime.

Elected to his third term with 64 percent of the vote, it is unclear what path Putin will take for the next six years.  While there were hundreds of protestors arrested, Mr. Putin did admit to vote irregularities.  “There were, of course, violations.  We need to identify them all, weed them out and make everything clear to everyone,” the India Times quoted Mr. Putin as saying.

Vladimir Putin

International observers, however, have said that the irregularities here were less flagrant than occurred in the December parliamentary elections.  And while one polling station in Chechnya had 107 percent turnout with only one vote for someone other than Mr. Putin, no one disagrees that Mr. Putin did not get a majority of the vote due to the lack of real competition.

Some, however, doubt whether the openness about election fraud will lead to the same openness throughout the political system.  As the BBC notes, “[r]epeatedly Mr Putin has warned that some activists, fuelled by support from abroad, might be trying to fuel public disorder with the aim of sowing the seeds of chaos and bringing down the government.”  And the crackdown on Monday night of protestors may show how Mr. Putin will not accept internal dissent.  As the Washington Post notes, the defense of the police action as showing “a ‘high level of professionalism, legitimacy and effectiveness,’” signals “that the government would show no hesitation to use force again on protestors.” Additionally, while admitting to the voting irregularity, Mr. Putin “shrugged off opposition claims of rampant vote fraud as irrelevant,” stating “it’s an element of political struggle, it has no relation to the election.”

Yet, with the quick release of many of the protestors, as well Mr. Putin reaching out to the other presidential candidates, this may be a sign of new things to come.

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News Post: U.S., Russia try to Dissuade Israel from Preemptive Strike on Iran

In recent months, tensions between Israel and Iran have been on the rise and speculation has been growing that Israel may attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (The Inquisitr)

Although Iran says its nuclear program is meant to develop energy, it has refused to negotiate guarantees that the program is peaceful, giving rise to security concerns – particularly in Israel, where leaders think that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the continued existence of Israel.  Recently, discussion in both the U.S. and Israel has turned to the issue of whether an Israeli strike can do enough damage to the Iranian program to be worth the risks.

Military analysts at the Pentagon say that an Israeli attack meant to setback Iran’s nuclear program would be a highly complex operation.   Michael V. Hayden, prior CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said that “airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were ‘beyond the capacity’ of Israel’” However, military analysts have also said that if the United States decides to get involved, it has the military power to effectuate an attack of the scale desired by Israel.

Last week, America’s top intelligence official told a senate committee that a successful bombing of Israel may set Iran’s nuclear development program back by one or two years at most. Most experts agree that Iran now possesses so much technological information that no air campaign could destroy its ability to someday produce a nuclear weapon. Both the United States and Russia have advised against a preemptive attack on Iran, but Israeli’s foreign minister has said that the state will not give in to pressure in deciding whether to attack Iran.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged in a recent television interview that Israel and the U.S. have divergent views on the best course of action on Iran. “I’m confident that (Israel’s leaders) understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” Dempsey told CNN. However, Dempsey did not go so far as to say that the U.S. has persuaded the Israelis that it was best not to attack Iran.  The White House has said that it believes the intense punitive sanctions imposed on Iran have had some impact and that there is still time for a peaceful resolution to be reached.  Even so, many in the U.S. fear that Israel will act unilaterally, and that the United States will be sucked into finishing the job.  Others believe that increased U.S. involvement in the Middle-East will cause an increase in oil prices and endanger Obama’s reelection campaign.

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News Post: Russia passes anti-bribery law

On February 1, 2012, Russian President

Dmitry Medvedev

signed into law a ban on bribing foreign officials.  Russia has now joined the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (“the Anti-Bribery Convention”) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD created the Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997, which is comprised of 34 countries including many of the largest global economies, such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, and members of the European Union. Countries that signed the Anti-Bribery Convention formally prosecute citizens who pay bribes abroad.  The act was not considered criminal activity in Russia until May 2011. That is when Russia made changes to its legislation in preparation to sign the OECD convention. The lack of any threat that Russian businessmen may be prosecuted in Russia for such behavior gave them an unfair advantage over European and American competitors who are subject to domestic, criminal sanctions for making bribes abroad.

Russia’s signing into law a global convention to criminalize bribing of foreign officials is a major step in Russia’s effort to fight corruption. In 2011, Russia was rated the most “bribery-prone” country out of the world’s 28 biggest economies.  A recent economic crime survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found “Russia ranked 143rd out of 183 countries in the 2011 edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.”

Key to Russia’s effort to stamp out corruption, however, is the enforcement behind the laws.  This is where the Anti-Bribery Convention plays its role.  Under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, governments of the OECD countries are committed to banning bribe payments overseas.  After becoming a party to the Convention, Russia will be subject to peer reviews of its compliance with the Anti-Bribery Convention and, just as other signatory nations, Russia will be held accountable for enforcing the laws in order to meet the requirements of the OECD.

The Anti-Bribery Convention and appropriate enforcement thereof will hopefully result in lowering the risks of corruption, which is one of the major barriers for international companies attempting to do business in Russia. Corruption leads to weak enforcement of laws, non-transparent and inconsistent application of regulations, arbitrary licensing and permit inspections.

Russia’s joining the Anti-Bribery Convention promotes international cooperation on fighting bribery overseas, which hopefully will lead to eliminating unfair advantage over Russia’s European and American competitors as well as attract international investors.


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University of Denver Sturm College of Law

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