Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
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–âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Reuters reports that Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara to protest “physical attacks” on Turkish missions and companies operating in Russia.
Turkish missions and firms have been singled out for attacks under the auspices of protests, the foreign ministry said.
Yesterday the Turkish embassy in Moscow was pelted with stones and eggs as police, in an extremely unusual turn of events, stood aside and allowed protesters to continue without intervening or conducting any arrests.
Earlier today the Russian agricultural regulator announced tough inspections regimes on all Turkish food and agricultural produce entering Russia. Traders and hauliers report that checks and outright bars on imports began at Russian ports last night.
Yesterday, a group of 39 Turkish businessmen, attending an agricultural trade fair in Krasnodar, were arrested by the Russian authorities.
Yugopolis.ru reported that the businessmen were all to be deported from Russia. According to the authorities, the men had not obtained the correct business visas.
Barish Halkan, chairman of a Turkish company, told reporters that the group had told the Russian authorities on arrival that they were headed for the trade fair.
The Interpreter translates:
“When we got to the customs control we were asked the purpose of our visit to Russia. We said that we had come for the trade fair. We asked where to place a tick and were told to put it down as if we were tourists. Our firm is taking part in the trade fair for the first time. We came to find partners on the Russian side.”
Turkey’s Today’s Zaman reports that the men spent the rest of today in cells before being brought into court today.
The detained Turks were to be sent to a camp in Sochi, after which they will be deported to Turkey. Cenk Baykara, one of the businessmen in the group, told CNN Türk that Turkish businessmen were able to attend business fairs with tourist visas because of the visa agreements between the two countries, and that this was the first time they were given such treatment in Russia.
“We don’t know what will happen to us. We have remained hostage here,” Baykara reportedly said, and claimed in his remarks to CNN Türk that, while being taken to prison, officers told them: “You downed the plane, here you are.”
Speaking to the Cihan news agency, Çorum Chamber of Trade and Industry chair Çetin Başaranhıncal said he spoke with one of the detainees by phone and official initiatives have been launched to help the group.
“I spoke with Halil Erkan, one of the businessmen detained in Russia by phone about a hour ago. He told me that they are at the courthouse and will be taken to a camp in Sochi. Official initiatives have been launched by the Turkish side on the issue. We will also follow developments [in the matter],” Başaranhıncal said, and expressed his hope for the businessmen’s return.
Başaranhıncal confirmed that the reason for the detentions was the businessmen entering Russia on tourist visas.
“They [Russians] cited the reason for them being detained as a ‘commercial entrance’ with a tourist visa. Businessmen always attend fairs with this visa. The firm which organizes the fair gets the visa. It is nothing to do with the attendees,” Başaranhıncal continued.
Relations show little sign of improving with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling CNN that Russia must apologise for violating Turkish airspace.
“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” he said from the Turkish capital. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”
In a meeting with community leaders in Ankara, Erdogan said, “If the same violation occurs today, Turkey has to react the same way.”
— Pierre Vaux
Russia has introduced full customs checks on all cargo arriving from Turkey in the latest response to the downing of a Russian bomber by Turkish jets on Tuesday.
Interfax reports that several logistics companies have informed the agency that full controls have been introduced not only imports but exports to Turkey.
Restrictions on imports began yesterday evening, with customs officials at the port of Novorossiysk giving no explanation to importers.
Some cargoes of goods, such as shoes, are being subjected to full inspections, while others, notably food, NovoTransLine director Grigoriy Pelipenko told RBC, are not being allowed through at all.
Despite this, the state-owned TASS news agency reported later last night, citing a source in the Russian cabinet, that there was no discussion in the government of imposing a food embargo on Turkey.
But today Interfax reports that Russia is now screening all Turkish food and agricultural imports.
Yuliya Melano, press secretary for Russian agricultural regulator Rosselkhoznadzor, told Interfax that the regime had already come into effect today.
According to Melano, all imported produce will be subjected to laboratory examination.
A statement from the Russian agriculture minister, Aleksandr Tkachev, claimed that Turkish produce had repeatedly violated Russian standards.
“The Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation and I have analysed the situation and I have informed the Russian government that, unfortunately, and average of 15% of Turkish agricultural produce fails to comply with Russian standards.
I must put it on record that since the beginning of 2015 there have been around 40 recorded incidents in which residues of banned or harmful substances have been found in Turkish products of animal origin.”
— Pierre Vaux
A Moscow prosecutor has asked for 3 years’ suspended sentence for Vladimir Ionov, a 75-year-old “repeat offender” who has demonstrated multiple times in the last year, either as a solo picketer or in a group, and has been arrested each time.
Ionov has taken part in a number of protests in the past, such as at an action where protesters held up invisible posters, as we reported last year.
Last month as he stood with a poster saying “Putin Exists, You Don’t Have To Think,” he was attacked by ultranationalists who threw zelyonka (indelible green disinfectant) into his face, burning his eyes.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported on the trial:
The Russian prosecutor has, strictly speaking, asked ‘only’ that 75-year-old civic activist Vladimir Ionov receive a 3-year suspended sentence for his totally peaceful protests. Over this three-year probation period, however, Ionov would be severely hampered in his movements and prohibited from visiting any place where people meet in large numbers. He has already stated unequivocally that, if so sentenced, he will “of course’ not comply with the restrictions.
If the court goes along with the prosecutor, and it seldom dares to do otherwise, Russia could soon reach a new low by imprisoning a dignified 75-year-old pensioner as first victim of a draconian law overtly aimed at crushing peaceful protest.
Ionov is the first of four people to be tried under a new “three strikes and you’re out” rule whereby defendants who have already committed three administrative offenders face a stiffer punishment of imprisonment up to 5 years.
Ionov is accused of standing near the Kremlin with a “Je Suis Charlie” poster after the massacre of the French cartoonists, and protests about the trial of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko. In his speech before the court, he mentioned protesting the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Earlier he was sentenced to administrative fines he was unable to pay, so the authorities blocked his pension card.
The sentencing will take place December 8.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick