Communists seek property confiscation as punishment for serious crime

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Russian Communist Party MPs are seeking the reintroduction of Soviet-era laws under which personal property can be confiscated as a separate punishment and not as a way to compensate damages inflicted by convicts.

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For Social Justice protest rally in Moscow, arranged by the Communist Party and leftist movements © Kirill Kallinikov

In the explanatory note attached with the bill drafted by Communist MPs, the lawmakers said that confiscation of property was applied as a separate punishment under the Soviet Criminal Code and also under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation until late 2003. After this, confiscation was removed from the law and in 2006 it was brought back, not as a punishment, but as “another measure under criminal law” that can be applied on a limited scale, usually to seize the property acquired by convicts through illegal means and use it to compensate the damages to the aggrieved party.

The new bill allows the confiscation of any personal property of convicts, including items that are not related to crimes that caused the convictions. At the same time, the draft specifies that all norms ordering confiscation of property received through criminal methods must remain in place.

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© Alexey Kudenko

The bill was first brought to public attention in early 2016, when it received a negative review from the Russian government as several international treaties signed and ratified by Russia do not contain direct demands for property confiscation as criminal punishment. The draft also caused some protests from human rights activists, who likened it to “looting homes,” and speculated that the only purpose of the document was to give its sponsors media promotion.

Earlier this month, Communist Party MPs proposed to introduce nationalization, which they described as a forced but compensated confiscation of private property as a way to boost the national economy and security. The list of assets that would be subject to nationalization include land plots, mineral deposits, forests, natural bodies of water, and enterprises in strategically important branches of the economy, such as energy, transport and heavy industry.

At the same time, the bill’s sponsors emphasized that the nationalization of property should not become a form of punishment, or even a way to coerce businessmen into fulfilling certain obligations.

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Ken Livingstone tells RT he was ‘too left-wing for the KGB’ amid Corbyn spy allegations (VIDEO)

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone has mocked claims he was an informant for the Soviet Union, telling RT he was deemed “too left-wing” for even the KGB.

Talking to RT’s Bill Dod, Livingstone referred to a number of discussions he had with a communist spy who had posed as a journalist in the 1980s. He said the spy was not trying to extort information from him, but was just trying to pin down what sort of politician he was.

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© Peter Nicholls

“The funny thing is, he thought I was too left-wing. Here you have a KGB agent worried that I’m a bit too left-wing,” Livingstone told RT. “And I’d had that before, I remember it very clearly.

“Jeremy [Corbyn] and myself have been accused of being Trotskyites, Marxists,” he said, adding that the sole reason they entered politics was to “look after our local people.”

The former London mayor’s comments follow allegations made by a former Czechoslovakian spy that were originally printed in The Sun, that Corbyn was an asset for the Eastern-bloc country during the Cold War.

The Labour leader has dismissed the allegations as “nonsense,” while his deputy, Tom Watson, slammed The Sun and the Daily Mail for peddling “propaganda, not journalism.

The former spy, Jan Sarkocy, claimed that Corbyn, along with shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Livingstone, were among 15 senior Labour figures acting as informants for Eastern-bloc agents. He described them as “great sources” for himself and his KGB colleagues.

Livingstone said: “Most of the media haven’t paid much attention to it because it just takes a moment to realize the man is lying.”

He said the allegations were false on the basis that, at the time McDonnell was reported to have shared the information, he was working for a local government and did not become an MP until 10 years later.

He further defended McDonnell and Corbyn from the accusations saying: “The other thing most journalists would realize is that being a backbencher MP when your party is in opposition, you have no access to information at all. All you know as an MP is what you read in the papers or see on TV.”

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Trouble in paradise: Maldives crisis locks China & India in tug-of-war

By ethan / February 21, 2018

The Maldives is a tiny paradise nation, with a population of 400,000 and 10 times more sea than land. It’s also a focus in the rivalry between China and India, whose total populations comprise a third of all people in the world.

The Maldives has been divided by a political crisis, with each of the two sides calling on one of their big neighbors for help. Both India and China have a vested strategic interest in the archipelago.

Early in February, the Maldives Supreme Court dropped charges against opposition leader and pro-Indian former President Mohammed Nasheed, and ordered that 12 opposition parliamentarians who had been stripped of their seats be reinstated. The current president, pro-Chinese Abdulla Yameen, overruled the court’s decision and declared a state of emergency. Two Supreme Court judges and another former pro-Indian president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, were arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

In the chaos that ensued, both Yameen and Nasheed appealed to regional powerhouses for their support. Yameen sent envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in a bid to strengthen his position. Nasheed, who is currently outside the Maldives, took to Twitter to request a military-backed envoy from India and financial steps from the US.

Powers from farther away also took interest in the turmoil. A delegation from the EU was flown to the archipelago and held a meeting with the opposition, but was denied talks with the ruling government, which it accused of cracking down on democracy.

India has so far been reserved in its reactions. Statements from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top officials boil down to calls for “respect for democratic institutions” and “playing a constructive role in the Maldives.” A number of Indian media outlets, however, ran opinion pieces calling for action against Chinese influence in New Delhi’s“backyard”.

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Maldivian Police officers push back protesting opposition supporters near the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) headquarters. © Stringer

China appears poised for action, closely monitoring any potential Indian move. An editorial in the state-run Global Times, effectively a mouthpiece for Beijing, warns against any military power play in the archipelago.

“India should exercise restraint,” it reads. “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives, but that does not mean that Beijing will sit idly by as New Delhi breaks the principle. If India one-sidedly sends troops to the Maldives, China will take action to stop New Delhi.”

A report followed, saying China had dispatched a small fleet to the East Indian Ocean this month. It was quickly picked up by several media outlets, and some didn’t wait for confirmation before ruling that China was “muscling out” regional competition. There’s been no official statement from Beijing, but soon unnamed Indian sources refuted the rumor: apparently, there five ships, not 11 as reported initially, they were on a routine patrol mission and never came close to the Maldives, moving near Indonesia, thousands of miles to the east.

What puts the tiny atoll paradise at the center of a generations-long superpower rivalry, how many more nations will it pull in, and what are the chances it will end in bloodshed?

What has India worried is the rapid advance of Chinese influence in the Maldives in the past decade, says Sreeram Chaulia, professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs of O.P. Jindal Global University. This is evidenced by president Yameen’s support of the Belt and Road initiative, a net of Chinese trade routes aiming to span most of the Eurasian continent by both sea and land.

Apart from maritime trade deals, President Yameen has permitted Chinese warships to dock in the Maldives. This does not sit well with India, which has always seen these waters as its own area of influence, professor Chaulia says. 

Chinese expansion in terms of economic agreements, for example, the ‘One Belt One Road,’ in terms of its navy being able to send submarines and battleships all the way across the Indian Ocean and up to the Gulf of Aden. These moves have been perceived as competition with India…

Prof. Sreeram Chaulia, analyst

The situation slipping into actual military action, though, is unlikely “at the current juncture,” the professor believes. Things can still escalate if the political crisis deepens.

“If the incumbent president, Abdullah Yameen, tries to rig the elections that are due this year, or delay the elections, which could prolong the crisis, then you can expect a stronger reaction from India,” professor Chaulia told RT.

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Opposition supporters protest the government's delay in releasing jailed leaders in Male, Maldives, on February 4, 2018. © Reuters

India has a history of taking military action in the Maldives to preserve a ruler that favors ties with New Delhi. In 1988, its troops came to the rescue of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, one of the two recently arrested ex-presidents, as he was facing a coup. This time, the situation is too complicated for that kind of incursion.

“The Maldives is a divided society,” professor Chaulia explained. “Unfortunately, it is a bit like the Syria war between two factions that have roughly equal support. Half of the population of the Maldives still support the incumbent president. India views it as an internal social crisis and does not believe that it can use its military to solve the problem because military intervention cannot rectify domestic discord and social polarization.” 

It would take an “extraordinary” slip on part of the Maldives’ president for India to intervene militarily, believes Aleksey Kupriyanov, senior research fellow at Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

If President Abdulla Yameen were to suddenly agree to host a Chinese military base, or, say, disperse the parliament, or declare himself a dictator, then of course, the Indians will deploy troops.

Aleksey Kupriyanov, analyst

Should all sides play it cool, though, the crisis should be deescalated.

“Neither China nor India want it,” Kupriyanov said. “The two countries are in a period of détente… As you know India and China have a territorial dispute, where China claims a part of Indian territory and India says Beijing has occupied it,” the academic added, referring to the tensions over Doklam, a territory that is claimed by both China as well as India’s ally Bhutan. On August 28, India and China announced that they had withdrawn all their troops from the area.

Should push come to shove, the Maldives’ tiny military wouldn’t last a few days against India. “The Maldives’ army is not combat-worthy, compared to the Indians. Should India deploy its troops, the matter would be decided within several days, or even one day. Most [Maldivians] would lay down arms and the rest would switch over to the Indians.”

There are numerous peaceful options to resolve the crisis. The difficult part is to balance them against the major player’s agendas.

“If the current status quo is preserved, then of course India’s image as a major country, as a potential superpower, will take considerable damage,” Kupriyanov said. “Should India and China, and President Yameen, agree to roll the situation back to what it was before the state of emergency was declared, then India will be the bigger winner.”

The upcoming presidential election is an opportunity that both big powers seek to exploit.

“In the period between August and October, the Maldives are having presidential elections. India at this point would benefit the most if the opposition was to have the maximum possible access to the vote, its leaders were not in jail and had no problem taking part in the election,” Kupriyanov said. “China would benefit the most if Yameen were to stay in power, because he’s very pro-China. Or if that doesn’t work, it could secure its political and economic interests in the Maldives, perhaps with an agreement with India, in case a pro-Indian candidate wins.”

For now, the world’s two most populous nations are warily watching, each waiting for the other to pounce on a country of 1,200 tiny islands, barely visible on the map next to them.

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World records & medals: Russian athletes shine on day 15 in PyeongChang

By ethan / February 21, 2018

The 15th competitive day at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics saw remarkable performances from a number of Russian athletes, who claimed two medals in skiing events and set new records in figure skating.

The success for the Russians – competing as Olympic Athletes from Russia – was set by female figure skaters Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, who were unrivaled in the women’s short program.

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Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova © Vladimir Pesnya

Medvedeva opened the final group of skaters and displayed a brilliant routine to music by Chopin, flawlessly pulling off all her elements. Her touching theme about the soul leaving the body at the moment of death was awarded 81.61 points – the highest score ever achieved in the women’s competition.

However, Medvedeva’s world record stood for just several minutes, as her 15-year-old teammate Zagitova managed to beat the score by more than a full point after showing her stunning Swan Lake program.

Zagitova posted 82.92 points, leapfrogging all of her more experienced competitors, including, Medvedeva, whom she had already beaten at last month’s European championship in Moscow.

After the short program, the first two places in the women’s figure skating event are occupied by the Russian pair, who are the main contenders to win gold going into Thursday’s free skating.

Also on Wednesday, Russian freestyle racer Sergei Ridzik added yet another bronze to the team’s medal tally by finishing third in the ski cross event. Despite a serious collision with Canadian athlete Kevin Drury during the final race, Ridzik finished among the medalists. Gold in that event went to Canada’s Brady Leman, while silver was taken by Swiss skier Marc Bischofberger.

In cross-country skiing Denis Spitsov and Alexander Bolshunov settled for silver in the team sprint, losing only to the Norwegians, who have proved to be unbeatable in PyeongChang by winning all but one gold medal contested in the men’s Olympic cross-country program so far.

The Norwegians, however, have been less successful in ice hockey, and went down to a heavy 6-1 defeat against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the quarterfinal game.

READ MORE: Russian men’s hockey team proceeds to Olympic semi-final after beating Norway 6-1

The Russian squad progressed to the semifinal, where they will face off against Czech Republic, who took a shootout victory over the USA in their respective quarterfinal.

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‘Triumph of hope over reality’ – strategist bursts market recovery expectations

By ethan / February 21, 2018

The sharp pullback and volatility seen by global equity markets recently is far from finished with a “third wave” of market correction still ahead, says Chris Watling, chief executive at Longview Economics in London.

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© Aly Song

“The idea that it’s all done in one sell-off is, I think, probably a triumph of hope over reality,” the analyst said, as quoted by CNBC.

The warning comes as investors are still concerned over the recent sell-off that saw another significant drop in American stocks earlier this month with indexes around the world plummeting amid fears of rising interest rates and higher inflation.

Sell-offs tend to happen in three waves, according to Watling, who refers to market analysis and history.

“You get your vicious first wave sell-off that we had with the high on January 26 in the US, then you get your typical wave two relief rally which we had last week when the S&P was up 6 percent, the best weekly performance since 2011, then you tend to get a third wave to either new lows or testing the lows from the first wave of the sell-off,” the strategist told the media.

Watling stressed that prior to the first wave in late January, investors saw “two years when the market pretty much went up in a straight line and the complacency was huge.”

“There’s huge complacency. Everyone’s talking about a ‘healthy market correction’ but generally when you have proper pullbacks people are slightly fearful of the bottom – they’re not regarding it as wonderful. So, typically, that ‘third wave’ is key and I think there’s probably some more downside risk over the next few weeks,” the analyst said.

He added that while he believed equities were still in a cyclical bull market, declining liquidity was “dangerous.”

“This has been the most heavily, liquidity-fueled bull market ever. So sniffing taking it away, which was perhaps what the correction was about in January, is quite a dangerous environment,” Watling said. “I’d be very nervous, in the medium-term, about what happens when liquidity is withdrawn.”

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‘He likes Czechs’ — May joins right-wing press attack on Corbyn spy claims (VIDEO)

By ethan / February 21, 2018

UK Prime Minister Theresa May unleashed a zinger at Prime Minister’s Questions, making the mildly witty observation that Corbyn normally asks for the Government to spend money… adding “I know he likes Czechs.”

The Labour Leader responded with a mock yawn.

May’s attempt at humor was referencing recent accusations that Corbyn had provided intel to a Czechoslovakian spy in the 80s, on the day-to-day activities of Margaret Thatcher among other things.

The PM’s comments come as the news broke that Corbyn’s lawyers are demanding a donation to charity and an apology from Tory party vice-chairman Ben Bradley, relating to claims he tweeted that the Labour leader “sold British secrets to communist spies.”

The tweet has since been deleted after pressure from Corbyn’s legal team.

Czech out the rest of the PMQs below:

The Sun published claims by a former Czech agent — Jan Sarkocy — that Corbyn was an asset named ‘Agent Cobb’ during the Cold War. Sarkocy told the paper that he met Corbyn on several occasions, including in the House of Commons.

Sarkocy’s allegations came under increased scrutiny after he alleged Corbyn would keep him posted on Margaret Thatcher while he was a backbencher in the ‘80s.

Svetlana Ptacnikova, director of the Czech security service archive, denied that Corbyn was or had been a paid agent. Ptacnikova told the BBC that their files indicated that Corbyn was seen as a potential contact, but he was not catalogued as an informant.

Theresa May previously addressed the allegations, stating: “It’s for individual members of parliament to be accountable for their actions in the past,” she said.

“Where there are allegations of this sort, members of parliament should be prepared to be open and transparent.”

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Russian record-breaker Zagitova’s ice performance is thawing antidote to frosty media reaction

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Russian skating star Alina Zagitova’s record-breaking 82.92-point display in the ladies’ short program was met with widespread acclaim on Wednesday, thawing the frosty media reception she received in recent days.

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Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova © Vladimir Pesnya

The 15-year old became the first skater in history to break the 82-point barrier in the event with an elegant showing on the ice, which included a deft execution of her signature Lutz-triple loop combination, itself meriting 45.30 points.

In doing so, Zagitova broke a world record set just five minutes earlier by teammate and two-time world champion Elena Medvedeva. However, the teenager reacted with innocent ignorance upon learning about her world-beating feat.

“I’m pleased with my skating today, and with the score. I’m overwhelmed with emotion. Did I set a world record? I didn’t know, but I’m happy,”Zagitova told reporters in PyeongChang, TASS reported.

Skating fans were in rapture at Zagitova’s performance. Previous gold medalists, experts, journalists and fans were quick to heap praise on her performance.

Men’s singles figure skating double gold medalist Dick Button led the commendations, tweeting: “Zagitova Artistry, Technique, Theatre, strength, and every element one want to see in skating!”

However, the performance wasn’t without its detractors. Zagitova had come under fire from some sections of the US media upon first seeing her routine, which features all of her jumps in the second half of her performance. They described it as ‘unfair,’ despite being perfectly within the rules.

READ MORE: ‘Why is she not penalized?’: US columnist attacks ‘strategic’ Russian skater Zagitova

Previously, US figure skater Ashley Wagner, who failed to make the US Olympic team, said that Zagitova’s free-skate routine was “not a program;” while American author and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan suggested the skater should be penalized for her “composition of the program” in a piece that attacked her “strategic” routine.

Brennen even had time to take and tweet pictures of celebrating Russian fans waving their national tricolor in the Gangneung Ice Arena. 

Sochi team bronze medalist Wagner begrudgingly awarded the youngster modest praise, before cryptically announcing that she would not live-tweet the ladies’ event because “it doesn’t feel quite right.”

“Some phenomenal skates with the ladies today! [Canadian skater] Kaetlyn Osmond was the shining star of this event for me! Also a very impressive start for Zagitova, we will see what happens in the long…”

The winner of the women’s figure skating event will be crowned on Friday, after the ladies demonstrate their free programs. So far, the first two places are occupied by the two Russians, who are competing under the name of Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond currently sits in third place, more than four points behind Zagitova.

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Soros investing more money to fight Big Tech 'menace'

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Billionaire investor George Soros, who has denounced tech giants Facebook and Google as a “menace” and a threat to public health, is reportedly “examining new ways” to tackle their growing power.

A spokesman for his influential ‘Open Society Foundations’ told Axios it provided an $ 180,000, two-year grant to the Open Markets Institute last fall for work around web platforms.

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George Soros © Bernadett Szabo

“The Open Society Foundations has long worked on issues involving the free and democratic flow of information and the ways in which a concentration of power can affect knowledge and communication,” said Open Society Foundations acting Co-Director of US Programs Laleh Ispahani. 

He added that Soros’s recent speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) “reflected rising concern about the effects of a handful of giant internet platforms having so much influence. 

“We’re certainly examining new ways we might address those concerns in ongoing conversations not just in the US but among our foundation colleagues globally.”

Facebook and Google have become “obstacles to innovation” and are a “menace” to society whose “days are numbered,” said Soros at the WEF. He accused the web giants of deceiving users “by manipulating their attention” and “deliberately engineering addiction” to their services.

They have become too powerful and should be broken up, said Soros. He has warned of an “even more alarming prospect” on the horizon if data-rich internet companies paired their corporate surveillance systems with state-sponsored monitoring.

“This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined,” he said.

According to the billionaire, the companies which he described as “ever more powerful monopolies” are unlikely to change their behavior without regulation. “Their days are numbered,” Soros said.

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Boris Johnson tells German officials that Brexit is a 'mess' – reports

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Boris Johnson has found himself in hot water once more after reportedly telling German officials that Brexit was a “mess.” The comment is at odds with his consistently optimistic statements on the UK’s departure from the EU.

The gaffe-prone foreign secretary, who famously championed Brexit, has seemingly undermined the cause in a private meeting with German officials held in Berlin, according to The Telegraph. The meeting took place in November 2016 or in April last year, when Johnson reportedly urged officials to turn Brexit into an economic opportunity.

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 © Ik Aldama/ Global Look Press

The German representatives are understood to have declined his proposal, fearing that they could impede the mandate of chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

One of Johnson’s allies, however, has sternly denied the allegations, saying on Tuesday evening that the report was a smear. Johnson’s friend told The Telegraph: “These old claims will be rightly dismissed as nonsense by anyone sensible. Boris knows Brexit will be a great success and is committed to taking back control of our money, laws and borders.”

The report comes as Johnson was accused of being incoherent and having “double-standards” when he delivered his Brexit speech last week. During his address, he optimistically said that Britain would reap economic benefits from Brexit, while he dismissed any proposal for a second EU referendum on the final UK-EU deal.

Politicians and influential journalists branded the speech “a waste of time” and claimed the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is clueless about the internal workings of the EU, actor and writer David Schneider highlighted Johnson’s tendency to U-turn on his statements.

Meanwhile, the UK government is reportedly set to announce a major climbdown on the rights of EU citizens during the Brexit transition period. Prime Minister Theresa May is said to have refrained from entirely rejecting Brussels’ request that EU citizens arriving in Britain during the transition period would enjoy the same rights as those who arrived before it.

If the EU’s request is approved, the move would represent another capitulation to Brussels by May in the context of the ongoing negotiations.

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