Russia Update: Kremlin Does Not Confirm Claim that Putin and Obama Will Meet at UNGA

September 23, 2015
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov did not confirm the news reported by some Russian media earlier today that President Vladimir Putin will meet with US President Barack Obama

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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Pushkov, on US Sanctions List, To Be Given Visa to Attend UNGA

Aleksei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s Committee on International Fairs, will be given a US visa to accompany President Vladimir Putin’s delegation to the UN General Assembly, a source told

Pushkov was placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list last year in connection with his support of the Russian annexation of Crimea.

His visa will be restricted to travel to a 25-mile radius around New York City, as has been done in the past with persons banned from US entry but attending UN events, such as  Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The US policy has not always been uniform in application of this policy, as Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir was barred completely from the US in 2013, even to the UN area.

If Pushkov is given a visa, he will be the only one in the Russian delegation to UNGA who has been placed under sanctions. The others in the delegation, aside from Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, are Yury Ushakov, a presidential aide for international affairs; Gennady Gatilov, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry; Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US; and Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs.

In August, Valentina Matvienko, former speaker of the Russian Duma or lower house of parliament, also placed under sanctions, applied to attend a meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU), a UN-related event that was not strictly organized by UN headquarters. Faced with restrictions that included the inability to travel to the IPU’s venue itself and only allowed to attend meetings at the UN compound, she and the rest of the Russian delegation announced that they were cancelling their trip to the US.

Pushkov was from 1993-2000 a member of the editorial board of Foreign Policy magazine.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Shlosberg, Critic of War in Ukraine, Faces Loss of Parliamentary Mandate

Lev Shlosberg, a Pskov Region legislator is in danger of being stripped of his parliamentary mandate for his defense of an NGO dubbed a “foreign agent,” reports.

Shlosberg is noted for his criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine and corruption and mismanagement in his home region, led by Acting Governor Andrei Turchak whose security operatives in a family-owned firm have recently been implicated in the beating of journalist Oleg Kashin.

Shlosberg, a member of the opposition Yabloko party, was the first to sound the alarm about the Pskov 76th Guards Air Assault Division missing from their barracks as they were deployed in the invasion of Crimea in February 2014. Later, he reported on the deaths of the 76th’s soldiers in the August 2014 invasion of the Donbass, after which he was beaten severely by unnamed assailants.

His latest effort to help a local NGO he founded to fight a court case against their “foreign agent” status has now pushed the Pskov regional authorities to threaten him with reprisals for his “unlawful court representation.” The regional prosecutor sent a letter September 15 to the Pskov Regional Assembly saying that Shlosberg’s defense of the NGO was grounds for removal of his mandate as such defense is allegedly a violation of the law.

Shlosberg has replied that he appeared in court as a founder of the group, not as a deputy (translation by The Interpreter):

“The political contractor of the stripping of me of my mandate [as deputy] is Andrei Turchak, governor of Pskov Region, and his group. These people have really gotten fed up with me — with my work at the assembly, deputy’s inquiries, the battle against corruption, oversight of the spending of budget funds, interference in situations which they wish would never be brought up in public.”

Tomorrow, September 24, the Pskov parliament will review in a secret ballot “not the legal, but the political issue” of the removal of his mandate.

Shlosberg vowed to continue his political activity even if he is
removed from the parliament and expressed his vision that someday Russia
will be free.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Former Political Prisoner Statkevich Holds Rally of 1,000 in Minsk

Former political prisoner Mykola Statkevich held a meeting with about 1,000 supporters today on Svoboda [Freedom] Square in Minsk which turned into a protest rally against Lukashenka, the independent news site reported.

Statkevich was released in August along with 5 other political prisoners who had served many years in Lukashenka’s prisons as part of a growing rapprochement between the European Union and Belarus.

Statkevich was the last of 10 opposition presidential candidates jailed in 2010 amid numerous reports of fraud that led Lukashenka’s stealing of the elections. Statkevich said today that the goal of the rally was to “return Belarusians the right to protest.”

Any type of gathering or rally, such as the annual Chernobyl procession in April, has been harshly discouraged particularly in the last decade by Lukashenka since he came to power in 1996.

Translation: Minsk now. Svoboda Square.

Translation: This time in Minsk, a lot more people came out to protest against Lukashenka.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Egypt to Buy Mistrals Built for Russia
Both Mistrals built by France for Russia, but withdrawn due to sanctions over the war in Ukraine, will be purchased by Egypt, the French government has reported, according to AP.

The price of the warships in the deal has not been officially disclosed.

Even so, France must pay Russia 950 million euros in damages, and cannot re-sell the ships until the damages are paid, says Russia’s main state TV channel

Translation: Mistrals built for Russia will be purchased by Egypt

Says AP:

The assault ships, which can each carry 16
helicopter gunships, 700 troops and up to 50 armored vehicles, were
originally intended for Russia. France continued building to Russia’s
specifications — including stenciling Cyrillic writing throughout the
vessels — until the deal finally fell apart because of the Ukrainian
crisis. It was originally supposed to be the biggest arms sale ever by a
NATO country to Russia.

France agreed to refund 950 million euros ($1 billion) already paid by
Russia. France didn’t say how much Egypt has agreed to pay, but denied
losing money. A military official who was not authorized to speak
publicly about the deal said Egypt would pay 950 million euros ($1
billion) for both ships, which will be delivered next March.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Kremlin Does Not Confirm Claim that Putin and Obama Will Meet at UNGA

Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov did not confirm the news reported by some Russian media earlier today that President Vladimir Putin will meet with US President Barack Obama, reported, citing RIA Novosti.

“For now I am not confirming this. We’re working [on it],” said Peskov.

TASS reported at 17:42 Moscow time today that “an informed source” had told them the meeting would take place.

A US source was cited by TASS saying he could not confirm the meeting.

Putin is currently scheduled to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick