Plus, Latvia’s residency market irks Europeans and Medvedev wants to make divorce expensive.by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Alexander Silady, and Martha Tesema 26 September 2013
As the rest of the world agonizes over what to do about the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war, the Russian navy has sent the landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov to visit Syria's port of Latakia, RIA Novosti reports.
The ship was expected to visit Syria's Mediterranean coast with a destroyer called the Smeltlivy, the Guardian reported earlier in September.
The two ships left their base in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on 10 September. Also expected in the area were the missile cruiser Moskva, the Black Sea fleet's flagship. It is fitted with missiles designed to attack other large ships.
A military expert cited by the Guardian said the naval presence puts Russia in position to evacuate its citizens and possibly deter intervention by other foreign military forces.
This mission is billed as a friendly visit, according to RIA Novosti, and crew of the Nikolai Filchenkov is scheduled to play a soccer match against a Syrian navy team.
The gesture appears to be meant as a show of support to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, to which Russia has long been an ally. Russia agreed to partner with the United States in dismantling the Syrian chemical weapons program earlier this month.
Nevertheless, President Vladimir Putin has spoken out against Syrian rebels and suggested they launched chemical attacks and then blamed the Assad regime to compel Western intervention.
To mitigate the hardship of another Russian ban on Moldovan wine, the European Commission is considering an open market for the impoverished country’s largest export.
On 10 September, Russia banned wine coming from Moldova because it did “not meet the safety requirements on the content of dibutyl phthalate and diphthalate,” chemicals used in plastic manufacture, according to a press release from Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s sanitary inspection agency.
The ban was instituted as Moldova gears up to initial a political association and free-trade agreement with the EU, over Russian objections, at a November summit in Vilnius. Moldova sells about $135 million worth of wine and spirits to Russia every year, Reuters reports.
Moldova is under an existing EU trade quota of 240,000 hectoliters per year. Although those restrictions could be lifted soon after the trade agreement is initialed, the European Commission is seeking to speed up the process.
Dacian Ciolos, the EU’s agriculture and rural development commissioner, said Europe has room on its shelves for more Moldovan wine.
“A fully opened EU market for Moldovan wines in a time when Moldovan farmers are in difficulty reflects that, beyond being a very successful economic integration project, the EU is also a space of solidarity," Ciolos said in a statement.
The commission will ask the European Parliament and leaders of the EU countries to approve the change, which he told Radio Free Europe could take “from several weeks to several months.”
While the world’s huddled masses yearning to breathe the free air of Europe would risk drowning, arrest, and deportation, well-to-do Russians and other post-Soviet republic citizens have merely to risk $96,000 on a house in Latvia to gain a coveted five-year EU residency.
Latvia, which is already in the passport-free Schengen Zone and about to adopt the euro as its currency, is getting flak from critics who believe that the Baltic nation’s investment-attracting policy amounts to selling off EU residency, AFP reports.
Roberts Zile, a member of Latvia's right-wing National Alliance who was elected to the European Parliament, explained it this way: "They are not buying houses, they are buying access to the Schengen area."
He cited the example of Alma Shalabaeva, whose husband is Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker wanted in Kazakhstan in a multibillion-dollar fraud case.
In May, Italian police controversially arrested Shalabaeva and sent her and her daughter back to Kazakhstan. They had been living in Italy on a Latvian visa, he said.
At least one website advertising assistance in obtaining EU visas (for a 2,000-euro fee and no guarantee of anything in return) seems to indicate that Latvia may have a competitor in the gateway-to-Europe competition.
While the site, “Latvia Immigration/Easy Immigration to Europe,” claims that “The Latvia real estate option,” is “the cheapest way to get residence permit in Europe,” it also has an update in red: “We no longer offer Latvia program.”
Why? Because “instead we offer Hungary Immigration, which is much cheaper and easier to process. Please visit our Hungary immigration website.”
Born in the Slovak half of Czechoslovakia, Babis made his fortune in agriculture and chemicals. He founded the ANO movement, an acronym that means “yes” in Czech and originally stood for Association of Dissatisfied Citizens.
"I am not a politician, I am a businessman," he told Reuters recently. "I would not go into politics if the country functioned normally. I pay huge taxes here and the state is not giving back."
And now he has a chance to exert political, as well as economic, influence on the next government. According to Reuters, the opposition Social Democrats are expected to win the plurality, but not the majority in elections set for 25 and 26 October.
That means the top party will need coalition partners, which is just the sort of thing small up-and-coming parties are known for.
If the Social Democrats do prevail, they will be replacing the disgraced center-right Civic Democratic Party, whose prime Minister, Petr Necas, resigned in June amid a bribery and spying scandal involving his paramour and chief-of-staff, whom he married this week.
In what appears to be another attempt to force traditional mores on the Russian public, the country’s prime minister has decided to make divorce more difficult while adding a bit of revenue to the state treasury.
Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has proposed hiking the country’s divorce tax by nearly 100 times, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog. The proposal would bring the price tag for a divorce to 30,000 rubles (almost $1,000) – 3,000 more rubles than the average Russian’s monthly salary, The Journal writes.
On 23 September, Medvedev said the idea is to get Russians to “switch on your brain when registering a marriage; otherwise you’d have to pay more for ending it.” Russians registered 642,000 divorces and 1.2 million marriages in 2012.
The new fee would raise an additional 19 billion rubles ($593 million) in government revenue, which could cover around 4 percent of the projected budget deficit for 2013, The Journal writes.
In June, President Vladimir Putin announced on public television that he has decided to divorce his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila. The split didn’t stop him from criticizing the erosion of religious values and moral norms in “Euro-Atlantic countries” during a 19 September conference, RIA Novosti writes.
“There is a policy equating families with many children with same-sex families, belief in God with belief in Satan,” Putin said in an apparent dig at American and European critics of a June law that criminalizes public pro-gay expressions as "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors."