The chief executive of French oil major Total, Christophe de Margerie, was killed when his private jet collided with a snow plow as it was taking off from Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Monday night. De Margerie's death leaves a void at the top of one of the world's biggest listed oil firms at a difficult time for the industry as oil prices fall and state-backed competitors keep them out of some of the best oil exploration territory. The collision occurred minutes before midnight Moscow time as de Margerie's Dassault Falcon jet was taking off for Paris. Russia's Investigative Committee said the driver of the snow plow had been drunk and that a criminal investigation had been launched. The plane's three crew also died, said Total. The airport said visibility was 350 meters (1,150 feet) at the time of the crash.
A former close associate of Vladimir Putin has said Russian businessmen were all now "serfs" who belonged to the president, with none of the country's companies beyond his reach. Sergei Pugachev, who was once so close to Mr Putin that he was known as the "Kremlin's banker", made the comments in his first interview since the state seized his multibillion-dollar ship building empire in 2012. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Pugachev warned that there were no longer any "untouchables" in a Russian business landscape increasingly dominated by Mr Putin. The Russian economy, he argued, had been transformed into a feudal system where businessmen were only nominal owners of their assets. "Today in Russia there is no private property. There are only serfs who belong to Putin," he said.
Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, speaking at an intenational congress in Seoul, called liberalism one of the major problems of the modern world. Accrding to Zorkin, liberalism impede development of people and countries and promotes "aggressive struggle of sexual minorities for equal self-realization opportunities within the frames of the permissiveness ideology". Days earlier Zorkin published an article in Rossiyskaya gazeta in which he characterized the serfdom as a "staple" of the Russian nation, suggesting that it abolishing in 1861 may have been a mistake. Despite all its drawbacks, serfdom was the brace holding together the nation's internal unity," Zorkin wrote. "It was no accident that, according to historians, the peasants told their former masters after the reform: 'We were yours and you were ours.'"
Billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov, the richest Russian to face criminal charges since Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was placed under house arrest yesterday on suspicion of money laundering. The accusations stem from a probe into the alleged theft of shares in oil assets in Russia's Bashkortostan region in which Evtushenkov's AFK Sistema acquired full control in 2009, according to the Investigative Committee. Sistema said the accusations were "completely groundless" and vowed to use all possible legal means to make their case. Khodorkovsky, released in December after a decade in prison, said OAO Rosneft Chief Executive Officer Igor Sechin, a long-time ally of President Vladimir Putin, may have engineered the arrest to pressure Evtushenkov into selling his oil company, OAO Bashneft, Vedomosti newspaper reported. Rosneft isn't interested in Bashneft, and Khodorkovsky's comments aren't true, Mikhail Leontyev, a spokesman for the state-run company, said by phone today. Khodorkovsky has accused Sechin of orchestrating his own arrest and the dismantling of his Yukos Oil Co., most of which Rosneft later acquired, a claim Rosneft has denied. Evtushenkov has a fortune estimated at $6.9 billion, making him the 19th richest Russian on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, largely from oil producer Bashneft and OAO Mobile TeleSystems, the biggest mobile operator in Russia. Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man at the time of his arrest in 2003.
Ukraine and the EU parliaments simultaneously ratified the economic and political parts of the Association Agreement that will strengthen ties between Kiev and Brussels. Economic integration is postponed until the end of 2015. The document was approved at 1:00pm in Kiev and there was a synchronous signing session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Ukraine's Rada voted 355 votes in favor out of 381 total, and the European Parliament supported the ratification with 535 'yes' votes and 127 against, with 26 abstaining. What is the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU? - Establishes a gradual deepening of economic and political ties between Ukraine and the EU - A free trade zone will be established on December 31, 2015 to integrate Ukraine into Europe's $17 trillion economy with 500+ million consumers - This means Ukraine will lose preferential treatment and access to Russia's $2.5 trillion and 146 million consumer market - Ukraine will have to meet EU requirements on food safety and product quality - Cooperate on several other issues: energy, industry, taxes, tourism, justice system, law, etc. - It will make it easier for Ukraine to seek financial assistance from the EU "From tomorrow I task the government with approving the implementation of the agreement and immediately implementing it into the force of law," President Petro Poroshenko said at the ratification in Kiev. Poroshenko said he hopes the agreement will help Ukraine reform its economy and fight corruption, and that someday Ukraine hopes to apply for EU membership. Ukraine "has embarked on the European path and nobody will are to shut the door to the EU membership for Ukraine," the President said, as quoted by ITAR-ITASS. Free trade with Europe's $13 trillion economy will be postponed until January 2016, due to the weak state of Ukraine's economy which would make it vulnerable to a sudden influx of European goods. Ukraine will continue duty-free trade with Russia and other CIS states until December 31, 2015, and on January 1, 2016 will begin economic integration with the EU.
The European Union tightened economic sanctions against Russia on Friday in response to the country's role in the Ukraine crisis, imposing additional restrictions on oil companies and extending asset freezes and travel bans to 24 more individuals. The measures, aimed at Russia's financial, energy and defense sectors, will be reviewed by diplomats before the end of the month and could be revised swiftly if a cease-fire holds, European Union officials said on Thursday in announcing the broader action. The new round of sanctions significantly ratchets up restrictions on the Russian financial sector and prohibits European entities from buying debt with a maturity of more than 30 days, from issuing loans or from providing financial services to five banks, three oil companies and three defense firms.
European Union governments tomorrow will reopen discussions about the viability of a cease-fire in Ukraine as the bloc weighs whether to pull the trigger on tougher sanctions against Russia. The scheduled talks in Brussels among diplomats from the 28 member nations follow the EU's abrupt decision yesterday to put on hold for at least a "few days" a second package of economic penalities against Russia over its encroachment in Ukraine. The delay offered more time to assess the effectiveness of the cease-fire without risking further trade retaliation by the Kremlin. The planned sanctions -- originally due to be published in the Official Journal today -- include barring some Russian state-owned defense and energy companies from raising capital in the EU.
Speaking in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, US President Barack Obama said Russian aggression in Ukraine that threatens a Europe dedicated to peace will not be without consequences and Moscow is feeling the pinch: "Make no mistake, Russia is paying a price. Capital is fleeing, foreign investment is plummeting because investors know that today's Russia is a bad bet," said the president. He criticised Russia's control of energy supply to manipulate Kyiv. Obama wants a change: "Diversify its energy sources, no country should be held hostage to another nation that wields energy like a weapon." The US president then turned to NATO allies to show support to Ukraine at the upcoming summit: "So in Wales we will meet as an alliance with President Petro Poroshenko. It will show that our 28 nations are united in support of Ukraine's sovereignty with the right to defend its territory."
Confronted by a Kremlin-backed military offensive in Ukraine, President Barack Obama and Western allies will approve plans this week to position at least 4,000 troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe, bolstering NATO's security commitments to nervous member states near the Russian border. In a speech in Tallinn, Obama said the vision of a Europe dedicated to peace and freedom is "threatened by Russia's aggression against Ukraine," but said NATO will not allow that aggression to go unchecked. "We will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally," he said. "We will be here for Estonia. ... You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again."
At a time when concerns about inflation in Russia are mounting, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to personally check the price of goods in supermarkets on a regular basis, his spokeswoman told Interfax on Monday. Following his visit to a school in the town of Korenovsk in the southern Krasnodar region on the first day of the academic year, Medvedev popped into a branch of supermarket chain Magnit and discussed the price of goods with shoppers, the report said. Spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted as saying that Medvedev's price checks will be unscheduled, so shop owners will receive no prior warning of his arrival.
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