Russia: Protests against involvement in Ukraine rock Moscow

Opposition activists in Russia have organized peace marches in Moscow and other Russian cities this week, specifically to protest involvement in the Ukrainian civil war. Numbers of protesters were inexact, but BBC reports them to be at “tens of thousands,” and human rights organizations list approximately 50,000. Moscow police, however, report that only 5,000 protesters were present and AP news sources said that protesters numbered about 20,000. This marks the first mass public protest against the intervention in six months.

Protesters in Moscow marched form Pushkin Square to Sakharov Avenue, waving flags and shouting slogans. Fighting has been stalled in eastern Ukraine since September 5, when a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine was signed. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Security Council, said that violations of the ceasefire continue in sporadic engagements across the eastern half of the country.

While it unclear yet how supported these domestic protests are, it should be noted that Putin maintains a huge approval rating from the majority of the Russian population. Despite this, the Russian opposition has latched on to these protests as a symbol of the movement. Notable opposition leaders such as Khodorkovsky have also made their announcements against Putin’s regime –relaunching his opposition organization, Open Russia, which he said will be used to support opposition candidates in parliamentary elections in 2016.

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News Briefs

  • US Private Equity firm Blackstone announced they are giving up on Russia, citing difficulty in finding deals since its co-founder Stephen Schwarzman joined the advisory board of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (a government-backed fund designed specifically to allow government assistance in foreign direct investment). This is only the latest in a series of financial withdrawals from Russia – DMC Partners, another private equity firm, shut down its Moscow office earlier in the month.
  • India is set to obtain full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which will allow it access to all the energy-producing nations of Central Asia, including Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (and by proxy, Russia). With greater access to projects by those three nations, this is another replacement market for the currently strained relations between Russia and EEU associated nations and the West, particularly major end markets in Europe. The SCO legal platform will also boost the implementation of the TAPI gas pipeline project, according to the statement.
  • On the heels of a deal worth nearly $400b in Russian gas, Moscow has again entered into talks with Beijing concerning a potential second pipeline that could bring Russian gas into China. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom President Alexei Miller both declared their desire to break ground on a line that would simultaneously abate energy concerns in China and allow Moscow to diversify its own gas and oil clientele and lessen the impact of sanctions on its energy sector. The new pipeline, which would supply the country’s west, would cross Mongolia and bypass the Altai corridor, which measures 31 miles in length and is notoriously difficult to traverse.
  • The Azerbaijani government has come under increased scrutiny for its crack down on NGOs operating in the country. Many non-profits targeting corruption and freedom of speech have found themselves under increased surveillance by the government in Baku, in many cases having their assets frozen and some of their employees jailed. Allegations of torture, meanwhile, have drawn the attention of the UN, although recent attempts to investigate these allegations were rebuffed by Azerbaijani authorities.
  • Turkish oil construction firm Tekfen picked up a $2b contract to begin construction of oil platforms in the Caspian Sea. The Caspian is home to some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves in Central Asia, and is bordered by Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia. Turkey currently holds the second largest share of the eagerly awaited South Caucasus Pipeline project, which will carry gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Turkey.
  • A series of explosions in China turbulent Xinjiang province killed two and injured several others in what authorities are decrying as a terrorist attack. The attacks, which took place in Luntai county, represent yet another in a series of increasingly violent attacks that typify strained relations between the Uyghurs, a Turkic minority, and ethnic Han Chinese. No arrests have yet been made, and no suspects have been named.
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