Russia’s Future In Central Asia: Mall Cop In A Chinese Shopping Center?

Russia is worried it will be flooded by European goods if Ukraine removes import duties with the EU under agreements likely to be signed in November, but also fears Kiev is making a pivotal shift away from Moscow. “This is Ukraine’s choice and we have to respect it, but at the same time money has to be taken into account,” First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told the Reuters Russia Investment Summit. “If they have a stronger economy, it will be a plus, but only if it is not achieved by making us weaker.” He denied Moscow was putting pressure on Kiev or drawing up plans to retaliate. But he also said Russia would have to act “if there is evidence of dumping or the use of hidden forms (of protectionism) such as support for exports, support for agricultural producers”. Shuvalov’s remarks made clear Moscow had not been appeased by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who tried on Saturday to soothe Russian fears over planned agreements with the EU on political association and free trade. Azarov says Ukraine, whose economy is dominated by exports such as steel, chemicals and agricultural produce, would benefit almost immediately from lower duties on Ukrainian exports. Russian officials, led by President Vladimir Putin, say Ukraine has more to gain from joining a Customs Union grouping Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Moscow is also holding out against Ukraine’s pleas for cheaper Russian gas to help its hard-pressed economy. Moscow’s efforts to persuade Kiev not to move closer to the EU form part of a broader drive by Russia to deter former Soviet allies from edging out of its orbit and moving their economy and future trade towards western Europe. But Ukraine, a vast country with a population of 45 million and psychologically tied closely to Russia by history and shared culture, is the sorest point of contention. Shuvalov has played an important role in this drive in his government role overseeing relations with the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). He said the Russia-led customs union would not suffer if Ukraine did not join, but its accession would create a trading bloc with a population of about 200 million. Reiterating that Kiev could not join the customs union if it signed the free trade pact, because the two were legally incompatible, he said: “It’s either one or the other.” The 28-nation EU, which includes eastern European countries that were for decades under Soviet control, has made clear it will not give in to what it called Russian attempts to limit the “sovereign choices” of Ukraine and other countries. Kiev still has one potential obstacle to overcome before any deals are signed with the EU – it has not bowed to pressure to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival of President Viktor Yanukovich who was jailed for abuse of office and is seen by the EU as a victim of “selective justice.” But EU governments agreed in Brussels on Monday that, if they sign a political association agreement with Ukraine, they will speed up procedures for its implementation. Such agreements can take years to be ratified by member states but could now take immediate effect once Ukraine ratifies it, EU officials said.

Assad disarmament held up by Russia-US wrangle

But as Russia prepares for plaudits over hosting the Paralympics, it is important to underscore the profound obstacles faced by the millions of people with disabilities living in the country today. In Sochi I visited some of the venues where several of the Paralympic competitions will take place. I toured buildings with gently sloping ramps and elevators to make entrances easily accessible; lowered shower knobs and clothing hooks in the athletes’ dressing rooms; contrasting paint lining doorways for people with low vision; and elevator buttons with Braille. All in all it felt like a lot of effort had gone into making sure Paralympic athletes and other visitors with disabilities would feel welcome in the Olympic Park. The government has also made efforts to extend this hospitality in the city of Sochi itself, promising hundreds of accessible buildings, buses and transportation hubs. In a February 2013 meeting with Human Rights Watch, one official told us that “Sochi can be a model city for Russia” in its efforts to promote social inclusion for people with disabilities. Seeing the Olympic venues and learning about Russia’s ambitious accessibility plans left strong impressions, but Maria’s experience is telling of how Russia treats people with disabilities removed from the public eye. The number of retrofitted buildings and accessible buses are not meaningful if people living with disabilities in Sochi cannot use these services, in the absence of basic rights such as accessible housing. Maria’s situation is unfortunately not unusual in Russia, which is home to at least 13 million people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities Human Rights Watch interviewed in Sochi and other cities said that they aren’t able to get out of their homes or use public transportation. As a result, they find themselves unable to do many or all of the most fundamental tasks of daily life that most people take for granted: getting an education, going to work, visiting the doctor, or socializing with friends. When people we met have sought assistance in being relocated or getting the physical accommodations they need for their homes, as mandated by their state medical documents, the government failed to act on their requests. Maria, for her part, has appealed to the Sochi administration several times to be relocated, but was told no apartments are available. Important progress has been made in Russia. When hosting the Summer Olympics in 1980, the Soviet Union refused to host a Paralympics, claiming at the time, “There are no disabled people in the USSR.” The Russian government’s decision to host the Paralympics builds on its national and international commitments to ensure the rights of people with disabilities.

Jailed member of Russia’s Pussy Riot band on hunger strike

Tolokonnikova is in Corrective Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow. She said inmates at the colony were forced to work up to 17 hours a day sewing police uniforms. She said workers received no more than four hours sleep a night and prison officials used senior inmates to enforce order in a system reminiscent of Soviet-era Gulag forced labour camps. Collective punishment, increasing production quotas and cases of violence against those who failed to deliver were common in the penal colony, where living conditions failed to meet human rights standards and Russian law, she said. “Your hands are pierced with needles and covered in scratches, your blood is all over the work table, but still you keep sewing,” she wrote. The Mordovia region’s prison authorities accused Verzilov and Tolokonnikova’s lawyer, Irina Khrunova, of blackmail and of trying to put pressure on the penal colony to give the musician special treatment. “The output quota is the same for all convicts working in the sewing unit. No extra requirements were put on Tolokonnikova specifically,” it said in a statement, adding that an inmate’s working day is eight hours, including a lunch break. Tolokonnikova said she had asked the regional arm of the federal Investigative Committee to investigate a senior prison official whom she quoted as saying after a complaint about conditions: “You will surely never feel bad again because it is never bad in the other world.” The committee’s regional unit said it was looking into the accusations. Kremlin critics say the sentencing of Tolokonnikova and two other band members is part of a crackdown on dissent since Putin returned to presidency for a third term in May 2012. The Pussy Riot protest offended many in the mostly Russian Orthodox country but their treatment has also won them high-profile support in the West, including from celebrities such as Madonna and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney.

Russia’s Hurdles for People with Disabilities

As China signed strategic partnerships with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, the Russian diplomat assured Russian reporters: Our Chinese friends recognize the traditional role our country continues to play in this region, so we do not see any regional rivalry problems. Central Asia is an important area of Russia-China relations, he said in the middle of the Chinese leaders 10-day tour. We are not competing with each other in Central Asia, but are adjusting our policies to reflect mutual interests. In Astana, Kazakhstans President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping applaud after launching on Sept. 7 yet another Chinese-financed pipeline that will bring more Central Asian gas to the Middle Kingdom. Photo: Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov As you know, the Russian and Chinese economies mutually supplement one another, Morgulov continued. China possesses sizable financial resources. Russia possesses experience, technologies, industrial skills and historical relations with the region. That sounded like wishful thinking. When the Chinese president was in St. Petersburg, Rosneft, the Russian state oil company confounded expectations and failed to announce a contract to build an oil refinery in Tianjin, China. The next day, Kazakhstan announced that China will build a refinery in Kazakhstan. (Russia has not built a new refinery from the ground up in Russia since the Soviet era). China had bargaining power. On Sept.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov takes part in the Reuters Investment Summit in Moscow September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The two governments have sent a blueprint of what would be one of the biggest disarmament missions ever staged to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), diplomats said. US Secretary of State John Kerry has demanded a “strong” Security Council resolution to enforce the plan. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accuses the West of using “blackmail” over the plan to get Security Council approval for possible military action. US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Septem “The details of how to destroy the weapons are basically agreed, but everything is held up by the enforcement — and that is between Russia and America at the Security Council,” a UN diplomat told AFP. Diplomats at the OPCW in The Hague confirmed that the chemical watchdog’s executive council could not meet to agree the plan until the Security Council decides how to make Assad stick to the measures. “An OPCW meeting this week now looks unlikely. This will have to be sorted out by their foreign ministers and presidents,” the UN diplomat said. Kerry and Lavrov are to meet in New York on Tuesday. Without an accord between the two, the OPCW executive cannot meet and that would push back any Security Council resolution to give legal enforcement to the plan. An opposition fighter runs in a street in Damascus’ northern neighbourhood of Ashrafiyeh on Septembe “The delays are holding up the start of disarmament and the deadline they have set for mid-2014 is already very tight,” added a second diplomat. Western diplomats say they want a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to Assad’s duties to declare and hand over all chemical weapons binding under international law. They deny that there is any approval for military action or any sanctions in the current draft being negotiated. Lavrov said when he agreed with Kerry earlier this month to disarm Assad that he wanted a Chapter VII resolution to back any plan. Russia has made a radical change in tone since, however. “Our American partners are beginning to blackmail us” by linking the disarmament plan with the Security Council resolution, Lavrov said in a Russian television interview Sunday.