Almost One-Quarter of Russians Ready to Sell their Votes, Says Poll

Almost one quarter of Russians are willing to sell their votes in upcoming parliamentary elections, according to a survey published Monday by the independent Levada Center pollster.

A total of 11 percent of Russians were prepared to give away their vote for 5,000 rubles ($78) while 7 percent would sell for 2,000 rubles or less, according to the Levada Center.

The ruling United Russia party is expected to win a majority in Sept. 18 elections to Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

Less than two thirds of Russians, 63 percent of respondents, said they would not sell their vote as a matter of principle, according to the poll conducted at the beginning of August.

The number of people ready to give away their votes is slightly higher than that recorded ahead of Russia’s last Duma elections in December 2011 when 19 percent of respondents said they would sell their vote. That election was marred by widespread fraud, including vote rigging and the casting of multiple ballot papers per person, and triggered a series of large anti-Kremlin street protests.

The poll was conducted among 1600 respondents in 48 Russian regions.

Smugglers Secretly Repairing Russian Roads To Boost Business

Gangs smuggling goods into Russia have secretly repaired a road on the Belarussian border in order to boost business, the TASS news agency reported Monday.

Smugglers have transformed the gravel track in the Smolensk region in order to help their heavy goods vehicles traveling on the route, said Alexander Laznenko from the Smolensk region border agency. The criminal groups have widened and raised the road and added additional turning points, he said.

The road, which connects Moscow to the Belarussian capital of Minsk, is known to be used by smugglers wishing to avoid official customs posts and is now under official surveillance.

A convoy of trucks was recently stopped on the road carrying 175 tons of sanctioned Polish fruit worth 13 million rubles ($200,000). The produce was subsequently destroyed, TASS reported.

Local border guards, customs and police officers have checked over 73,000 vehicles entering Russia from Belarus this year, Laznenko said, claiming that the number of heavy goods vehicles crossing the border from Belarus has increased dramatically in the last year, he said.

From –

There will be no ‘reset’ with Russia

The Question: What should the next president do about an increasingly authoritarian Russia?

Angela Stent directs the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and is the author of “The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century.”

It’s been a quarter-century since the Soviet Union collapsed. In the aftermath, the United States had two main goals: The first was integrating the new Russia into Euro-Atlantic and global institutions; the second, if that did not work out, was ensuring that Russia not thwart America’s commitment to create a peaceful, rules-based post-Cold War order. A quarter-century later, it is clear that the first goal was not achieved. That means the next occupant of the White House will have to redouble efforts to achieve the second.

The Russia challenge has radically changed since the 1990s. Today we read new allegations that Russia is interfering in the U.S. election, hacking into the Democratic National Committee and, through intermediaries, posting confidential and sometimes damaging information. Whatever the accuracy of these charges and scope of these disclosures, they seem clearly intended to sow doubts about the legitimacy of our democratic election process. From the Kremlin’s point of view, the more uncertainty and questioning the better.

How should the United States respond? First, we need to understand the domestic motivations for Russia’s actions. Recent shakeups in top leadership — most notably the firing of Vladimir Putin’s longtime aide Sergei Ivanov and the creation of Putin’s own Praetorian Guard to protect him both from a “color” revolution and a palace coup — suggest that the president remains focused on ensuring that the September elections to the Russian Duma and his own re-election in 2018 are carefully managed to prevent a repetition of 2011, when tens of thousands of Muscovites took to the streets to protest what people believed were falsified elections results. Putin blamed Hillary Clinton for the demonstrations.

Since then, Russia’s economic situation has deteriorated because of economic mismanagement, falling oil prices and Western sanctions imposed after the Crimean annexation. But the Kremlin has skillfully played a weak hand by appealing to patriotism. It blamed the United States for Russia’s economic problems and launched an air campaign in Syria last September that forced the United States to negotiate and recognize its enhanced international role.

Faced with a Kremlin that defines the United States as its main adversary, how should the next U.S. president approach Russia? She or he should not seek another “reset” but accept the fact that the Russia we are dealing with today requires a different approach. Engagement for engagement’s sake does not work.

The United States should continue negotiating with Russia over both Syria and Ukraine, but it should only open an intensified dialogue with the Kremlin if and when the Russian leadership is genuinely interested in offering constructive proposals. The gap between U.S. and Russian interests in both cases is significant.

As long as Russia supports the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has already claimed 10,000 lives, U.S. sanctions should remain in place. The United States should consider enhancing its own military presence in Europe and needs to deter any further attempts by Russia to destabilize its neighboring countries. The Russia challenge is long-term and will likely outlast both the next U.S. president’s term and Putin’s time in office.

From –

Playing With Fire in Ukraine

Two years after President Vladimir Putin of Russia annexed Crimea and began destabilizing eastern Ukraine, tensions are rising anew, with news reports suggesting that he may be preparing for yet another military confrontation with the pro-Western government in Kiev.

Given his endless capacity for intimidation and unpredictability, it’s possible that Mr. Putin is merely manufacturing the threat of a crisis to strengthen his diplomatic hand and extricate Russia from economic sanctions imposed by the West beginning in 2014. Yet regardless of his intentions, the provocations, real or feigned, could spin out of control. It is essential for Europe and the United States to keep the sanctions in place and remind Mr. Putin that they will not be lifted until he has helped bring peace to Ukraine.

The cease-fire agreed to 18 months ago between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has been steadily eroding. Mr. Putin’s recent comments have only added to the tension. Last week he accused Ukraine of planning terrorist attacks in Crimea and said that a confrontation with Ukrainian “saboteurs” had led to the deaths of two Russian servicemen in the town of Armyansk near the disputed border with Ukraine. “There is no doubt that we will not let these things pass,” Mr. Putin warned on a state media broadcast.

Adding to the worries about Mr. Putin’s intentions is a military buildup that began in May with the deployment of additional military forces and weapons near Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders. Between Aug. 7 and 12, Russia sent naval and air units, ground forces and military hardware to strengthen separatist forces, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which tracks the conflict. On Friday, a day after Russian land and naval forces conducted war games in Crimea, Mr. Putin further stirred the pot by visiting an air base near Sevastopol.

Hence the guessing game. Does Mr. Putin seriously intend to seize even more territory from a sovereign nation? He revels in unpredictability. He enjoys keeping his adversaries on edge. But it is also true that he went to war with Georgia in 2008 and sent aircraft and troops to intervene in the Syrian war on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. Even so, Mr. Putin’s economy is a mess, which by itself is reason to wonder whether he would entangle himself in a broader conflict in Ukraine and risk even tougher sanctions, when what he really wants is to get those sanctions lifted.

The smart diplomatic money, at least for the moment, is on the idea that what he’s really after is a better deal. With Europe focused on a refugee crisis and Britain’s exit from the European Union, and America riveted by a presidential election, this is plainly a time for ratcheting up tensions, keeping Ukraine off balance and even raising the threat of a wider war to achieve what are essentially economic and political goals.

Among these is amending the 2015 Minsk II agreement, which was supposed to result in a permanent cease-fire; a withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from key points in the conflict zone; and Ukrainian political reforms, including elections. Although there are violations on both sides, the deal has foundered largely because of Russia and its separatist allies. The Germans, the French and the Americans have been urging Russia to attend peace negotiations on the sidelines of next month’s G-20 summit meeting in China, but so far Mr. Putin has refused.

The European Union is expected to renew the sanctions this year, but some countries, like Italy, are eager to resume economic activity with Russia and not wait for the Minsk agreement to be fully implemented. Mr. Putin, who is counting on some caving, cannot be rewarded for his aggression.

From –

Time To Pick Sides? Why Military Escalation in Ukraine May Force Erdogan’s Hand

With tensions rising again between Russia and Ukraine, Turkey may well be forced to decide which side of the fence it wants to sit on. It is a decision that may mean falling out of love with Russia again.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan recently met in St. Petersburg to rebuild the bridges they had ceremoniously burned almost one year ago.

This was the third step toward a rapprochement since falling foul of each other over the downing of a Russian fighter jet in Turkish airspace in November last year. In the final days of June, Erdogan apologized to the family of the Russian pilot and expressed his desire for the restoration of “friendly ties” with Russia, while Putin was one of the first to offer his support to Erdogan following Turkey’s attempted armed coup in July.

But how sustainable is this new relationship? The character traits of both leaders and their governments — including projecting of strength at any cost, an uneasy relationship with immediate neighbors, and paranoia about a shrinking sphere of influence – suggest a volatile alliance. And, indeed, agitation around the Crimean peninsula just days after their meeting could force relations into dangerous waters again.

A thorny issue

During the nine-month hiatus in Russian-Turkish relations, worries began to surface in Russia over the possibility that Turkey and Ukraine might build closer relations in defense of the Crimean Tatars — a Turkic people indigenous to Crimea who have been the subject of heightened persecution since the annexation in March 2014. In 2015 Erdogan hosted Tatar leaders in Turkey, expressing his solidarity with the Tatar people and vowing never to recognize Moscow’s illegal annexation.

Ukraine has repeatedly attempted to engage Turkey to help protect the rights of Tatars and its territorial integrity, while Moscow has sought to reassure Ankara that Tatar rights were being respected. It is unclear how well Russia has done in this respect, given its decision in April this year to ban the Crimean Mejlis as an extremist organization and exile their leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev.

At the NATO Warsaw summit in July, Erdogan met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to express his “support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity” and condemn “the oppression of Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea.” But his support so far has been limited to intermittent rhetorical gestures, and the fact that this meeting took place just days after his apology over the Russian jet incident indicates his unwillingness to pick a side on the issue.

Coming to a head

But Erodgan’s hand may soon be forced. Last week Russia closed a number of key border checkpoints between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, prompting a large amount of confusion. In an all too familiar scenario, Crimea was locked down, with entry and exit barred to residents of the peninsula. Russia claimed that the Crimean checkpoints had been closed due to terrorist plots aimed at destabilizing Crimea. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko fired back, stating that such claims were a “fantasy” and a “provocation.”

Poroshenko subsequently put his troops on combat alert, while Russia shipped over new air defense missiles. Russia’s agitation in Crimea has probably been carefully calculated as a means of further bolstering public support for the war in the Donbass in advance of the forthcoming Duma elections, just as Putin used fear-mongering about the threat posed to ethnic Russians by Ukrainian fascists ahead of the Crimea referendum.

By constructing what is seen as a plausible threat against Crimea, Putin might be able to give his own popularity ratings another boost before Russia goes to the polls. But the unrest also provides Russia with an excuse to further beef up its military presence on the peninsula. This should worry both Europe and Turkey.

The Crimean Tatars are not the only source of tension between Putin and Erdogan. Also at play are Turkey’s security concerns in the Black Sea region, which are exacerbated by increased Russian presence, the proxy war over Nagorno-Karabakh, which flared up again just a few months ago, and the de facto Russian safe-zone that had been put in place for Kurds in Syria.

While both leaders were happy to kiss and make up, it is unclear how long the rapprochement will last. There are plenty of things bringing Putin and Erdogan together, but there are also plenty that have the potential to push them apart.

In particular, if any new conflict breaks out between Russian-controlled Crimea and mainland Ukraine, Turkey will have to do what it least desires – pick a side and stick with it.

Gorbachev: Ukraine Should Sign Neutrality Into Constitution

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has stated in an interview that Ukraine should become a neutral state and should enshrine its neutrality in its constitution.

The comments were made during an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, which was published Thursday.

When asked for his opinion on ending the conflict in Ukraine, Gorbachev stated that the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements was the key to peace in the short-term, before saying: “But further on? I am certain a democratic and unaligned Ukraine is in the interests of the Ukrainian people.”

Gorbachev said that Ukraine’s status outside of any international blocs should be enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution and guaranteed through international treaties, giving the example of the 1955 Austrian State Treaty as a template for a similar agreement for Ukraine.

The treaty, signed by the Soviet Union, the U.S., Britain and France, guaranteed the neutrality of Austria and the non-occupation of its territory by foreign powers.

Gorbachev also implied that the “Crimean question” was an issue solely concerning Ukraine and Russia.

“That is not an issue that needs to be discussed with the West,” he said.

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in February 2014, an event which was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. These events precipitated a protracted armed struggle in the east of the country between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces. The Minsk cease-fire agreements signed last year have failed to bring an end to the conflict which has claimed almost 10,000 lives.

From –

Ukraine says it REFUSES to fight against Russia in Crimea – despite heightened tension

UKRAINE’S ambassador to Britain has claimed the war-ravaged nation will not be tempted into a bloody war with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula.

Natalia Galibarenko declared that instead of a “fight” her country will win over people in the region creating a “success story”.

Ms Galibarenko’s comments come as security experts have warned Crimea could descend into a bloody war within a week amid rising tensions which could escalate during celebrations to mark Ukraine’s independence day on August 24.

Both Russia and Ukraine have been urged to reduce tensions in the region as fears grow that Vladimir Putin’s army could become involved in a bloody conflict with the West if they decide to wage war over the Black Sea peninsula, which was annexed in 2014.

However, Ukraine’s UK ambassador rebuked claims her country will enter into a war with Russia and instead aims to win over hearts and minds with positivity.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, she said: “We cannot be sure that people living on the Peninsula now are really happy with the Russian utilitarian regime.

“We are receiving information and confirmations that there is already a crackdown on human rights in Crimea.

“People are not that really happy about the restrictions of their right.

“So our idea is not that we’ll be fighting for Crimea as a battlefield, we will be trying to create a success story in Ukraine in order to show to people on the peninsula that you would be better with us in Ukraine.”

It has been reported Russian tanks have been spotted moving into occupied territory in Crimea.

Witnesses reported large amounts of Russian military equipment and troops gathering near the towns of Dzhankoy and Armyansk in northern Crimea, close to the border with Ukraine.

Information has been passed to the British Ministry of Defence detailing Putin’s war secrets obtained by Ukrainian special intelligence officers.

Highly experienced officers from Kiev visited Britain last month to give briefings on the way Russian sabotage missions and exploit social media.

Ms Galibarenko was confident that the West would intervene and support Ukraine in the event the situation is escalated by Russian forces.

She continued: “We expect the West won’t be tricked by the Russian federation.

“There is a strict sanction policy, there is also a policy of support to Ukraine and I think that our western should follow this way.

“I would expect from the West more military help, more military technical support, but on the other hand I do understand their arguments about, for example, not providing lethal weapons to Ukraine.”

“They are really afraid about the escalation of the conflict.

“London will be playing a major role in all of these international affairs and also European affairs.

“My idea and hope is that the UK will remain staunch supporters of Ukraine.”

claims Ukraine will not fight back against Russian forces seem hollow given the US State Department estimates that between 400-500 Russian Armed Forces died between April 2014 and March 2015 in the country.

The Ukraine Crisis was triggered after then-president Viktor Yanukovych terminated preparations for an association agreement with the EU – sparking protests in the capital Kiev.

Russian bear stealth attack for control of Ukraine nuclear power-generating company

Under cover of the aggressive radio noise and propaganda created by Russia’s sabre rattling in the Baltics, Crimea and eastern Ukraine this weekend, Russia is trying by stealth to take over control of Energoatom, the state-owned nuclear power generating company in Ukraine, writes James Wilson.

It is no secret that Russia has coveted this jewel in Ukraine’s industrial crown for many years. Control would give it not only strategic advantage in dictating energy policy to Ukraine, as Energoatom produces more than half of Ukraine’s electric power and is vital for Ukraine’s energy security during the winter. It would also enable Moscow to reverse the steps taken by the current management of the company to diversify supply of nuclear fuel, to build nuclear waste storage facilities in Ukraine, working with Western suppliers such as Holtec and Westinghouse to make Ukraine energy independent.

Nothing would suit Russia better than to return to the old soviet crony style of doing business with monopolistic supply of Russian materials and anti-competitive services from Russian contractors, rewarded with handsome commissions to the corrupt intermediaries in the Ukrainian State Administration that they like to do business with.

The stakes are big, because not only are these huge multi-billion dollar contracts in their own right, but Ukraine has successfully demonstrated to other EU countries which themselves have Russian built nuclear reactors that there is an alternative to relying 100% on the supply of nuclear fuel from Russia. By opening an industrial front in parallel to its military threats, Russia could win this commercial battle without firing a single shot.

According to reliable sources in Kyiv close to the Presidential Administration, this website has been informed that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has ordered the dismissal this week of the President of Energoatom, Mr Yuriy Nedashkovsky with a view to executing this order before the new US Ambassador Marie L. Jovanovich arrives in Kyiv. Both Congress and the European Parliament are in recess, and moves by Poroshenko now could blindside and wrongfoot Brussels and Washington.

The same sources indicate that the candidate chosen by Poroshenko’s Administration to replace Mr Nedashkovskiy as President of Energoatom is Igor Gramotkin, the current Director General of the Chernobyl Nuclear Site, who has informally consented to be compliant with the schemes of President Poroshenko’s associates to grovel, reverse the strategic direction of Energoatom to integrate with the West, and default to de facto Russian manipulation of the enterprise.

We have also received evidence that most unusually, Igor Gramotkin has boasted privately in Kyiv about his ability to speak directly to the newly appointed US Ambassador Marie L. Jovanovich, and to persuade her not to interfere in the process of his appointment.

But let there be no mistake, the threatened replacement of Yuriy Nedashkovskiy as the Head of Energoatom will mean that the US and the EU will lose a vital industry champion for independence of Ukraine’s nuclear industry, and there will be a steady erosion of the strategy that he has pioneered, resulting in a dangerous re-orientation of the company’s direction to the East as a compliant Kremlin vassal satellite.