Russia’s Roads, Trains, Planes Frustrate Business

Andrey Filatov, co-owner and chief executive of N-Trans, speaks during the Reuters Investment Summit in Moscow September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

“Our peaceful activists are in prison tonight for shining a light on Gazprom’s recklessness.” Of the 30 people jailed by the court, 22 were put in custody for two months pending an investigation and the other eight were detained for three days pending a new hearing, now scheduled for Sunday. No charges have been brought against any of the activists. Russian authorities are considering whether to charge them with piracy, among other offenses. The Russian Coast Guard disrupted an attempt by two of the activists to scale the oil platform on Sept. 18. The next day, they seized Greenpeace’s ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and towed it with the crew aboard to Murmansk. Greenpeace Russia campaign director Ivan Blokov described the arrest as “the most aggressive and hostile act against Greenpeace since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior ship.” Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior was bombed by French government agents in New Zealand in 1985, killing one man. The detained activists are from 18 countries, including Russia, and a long detention or series of trials could draw unwelcome international attention to Russia’s tough policy against protests. Greenpeace Russia’s lawyer, Anton Beneslavsky, rejected Gazprom’s claims that the activists could have caused damage to the platform. “If one activist hanging on the rope from the platform could have damaged it, then such a platform should not operate on the Arctic shelf,” he told a news conference Friday. Beneslavsky also referred to Greenpeace’s protest at the same site last August when six activists spent several hours hanging off the side of the platform attached to the rig’s mooring. Back then, the coast guards “did not react at all to what happened,” he said. The activists were not detained and faced no charges. The platform, which belongs to Gazprom’s oil subsidiary, is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges.

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Milonov says he believes Fry is a ???bringer of evil???, thinks homosexuality is a perversion.Interpress/AFP/File British actor Stephen Fry speaks outside the city parliament in Saint Petersburg, on March 14, 2013.Interpress/AFP/File Police detain a gay rights activist during an unauthorized protest against Russian laws banning the promotion or display of homosexuality outside the headquarters of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee in Moscow on September 25, 2013.AFP Next Slide Previous Slide Moscow (AFP) Vitaly Milonov believes that British actor Stephen Fry is a ???bringer of evil???, thinks homosexuality is a perversion and thanks God for giving Russia Vladimir Putin to defend its values. Milonov, a lawmaker in the local parliament of Russia???s second city of Saint Petersburg, has become a hate figure for gay rights activists and not just for his inflammatory rhetoric. He has also had a concrete effect on modern Russian society by introducing a hugely controversial law into the local parliament outlawing ???gay propaganda???. Once passed by the former imperial capital, the law was picked up by deputies in the federal lower house of parliament the State Duma and passed nationwide and was signed into law by President Putin in June. But activists say the law can be used for a broad crackdown against gays in Russia and the controversy has created a huge headache for the Kremlin which has faced calls for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. But Milonov remains defiant in the face of the furore and makes no secret of his views about Fry who has called for Russia to be stripped of its right to host the Games and led an increasingly visible Internet campaign. ???For me Stephen Fry is a bringer of evil, as he expresses ideas which are evil,??? Milonov told AFP in an interview in Saint Petersburg. Milonov and Fry became arch enemies after the two men held a face-to-face meeting in Saint Petersburg in March and have traded insults through the media ever since. Fry is an implacable critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he once memorably said looked like the Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter books. ‘We don’t have to apologise’ Despite the outcry sparked by the adoption of the law both in Saint Petersburg and nationwide, Milonov sees no harm in what he describes as ???preventative??? legislation.

Greenpeace to appeal Russia detention of activists

The group has denied committing piracy and accuses Russia of illegally boarding its ship in international waters. In protest at the detention of photographer Sinyakov, several Russian news websites, including that of NTV national television channel and Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper blacked out all their photographs on Friday. “Denis Sinyakov’s being accused of piracy and his preliminary detention for two months will probably become a precedent in the history of Russian journalism,” Vedomosti business daily warned in an editorial. Greenpeace said that a British videographer, Kieron Bryan, was also among those detained for two months, as well as support staff including the ship’s doctor and cook, who are both Russian. British second engineer Iain Rogers was also detained for two months, while logistics co-ordinator Frank Hewetson and activist Anthony Perrett, both also Britons, were held for three days pending another hearing. The court’s decision came despite President Vladimir Putin saying on Wednesday that the activists “are not pirates.” Putin added, however, that the activists had broken international law by getting dangerously close to the oil rig. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that the president was not involved in the case. “He gave his point of view but from now on the Investigative Committee does its work,” Peskov told the Interfax news agency. Investigators in court said that the activists had committed piracy by trying to seize property with threats of violence. The spokesman for the Investigative Committee, which probes major cases in Russia, said Thursday that the charge against the group could be reduced in the course of the investigation. International reaction was muted, with only the Netherlands government on Wednesday calling on Russia to immediately release the detained activists and saying it was considering legal action.

Russia’s state-owned Rosneft to buy out minority shareholders in oil firm TNK-BP

Yet Russia carries less freight by rail today than it did in the Soviet era. “Russia is a global treasure trove of natural resources,” said Andrey Filatov, a co-owner of infrastructure group N-Trans who has interests in rail freight, ports and construction. “The world’s population is growing, and it will need raw materials… But the materials can’t be shipped out. Why? Ports are closed and railway yards haven’t been built,” Filatov told the Reuters Russia Investment Summit this week. Outside the main cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, roads are often rutted, airports dilapidated and trains jammed up in bottlenecks. The Ministry of Transport estimates that poor roads mean Russia’s economic output is 7-9 percent lower than it could be. Freight trains traveled at an average speed of less than 10 kilometers per hour last year, a 15-year low. “The two biggest cities in the country aren’t even joined by a decent road… You don’t need to discuss this, you need to get on with it,” Filatov said.

TNK-BP, Russia’s No. 3 oil company, was taken over by Rosneft last year. Since the deal, international minority investors holding around 5 percent in TNK-BP have been left in limbo and unable to find other buyers for their stakes. The value of the investors’ shares has halved since Rosneft agreed to buy the company from a group of Russian billionaires and British company BP. Foreign investors have been citing the case of the TNK-BP investors as an example of bad corporate governance in Russia. Speaking at an investment conference in Sochi on Friday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev floated the idea of a buy-out, saying in televised remarks that it “would improve the investment climate in the case of this company.” Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, who was on stage one seat away from Medvedev, agreed with the suggestion, although he noted that Rosneft “had no legal obligations” to buy out the minority shareholders. It is not uncommon in Russia for top officials including President Vladimir Putin to make “suggestions” to state-controlled and private companies on key investment decisions. Rosneft’s board of directors convened later Friday and approved the buy-out, Sechin told Russian news agencies. He said earlier that the company would buy the shares at the 18-month average price. Rosneft previously approved plans to pull out billions of dollars from TNK-BP subsidiaries as loans and indicated that it would not be paying a dividend for the previous fiscal year to TNK-BP shareholders.