Five key takeaways on Russia’s relations with the West

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

After months of fraught relations between Russia and the West which have seen a flurry of tit-for-tat sanctions triggered by the growing unrest in Ukraine, the final straw seemed to come with the suspected downing on 17 July of flight MH17 over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists.

Under growing international pressure to act, on 29 July the EU finally confirmed it was imposing ‘stage three’ sanctions against Russia. Here are the five key takeaways on Russian relations with the West in recent weeks:

1. Press reaction to MH17 disaster – differing views

Many of the European, American and Asian newspapers led with the story:

Guardian front pageAlthough as UK broadsheet The Guardian was quick to point out, many Russian newspapers relegated news of the accident to the bottom of the page:

Rossiskaya GazetaAlthough pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid Tvoi Den did lead with a more dramatic image, the caption told a startlingly different story: Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by a Ukrainian Buk Missile:

Tvoi Den front pageReflecting the shockwaves felt across the Netherlands, which suffered the most losses, Dutch daily nrc•next was noticeably more reserved: Last night in eastern Ukraine, a plane crashed. On board were 300 people, 154 of them were Dutch:

nrc.nextPublished on 01-08-14. Read on here

Could Sochi provide the thaw that Anglo-Russian relations need?

Sochi Olympics

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

It’s already been over a week of sun, sea and well, some snow in Sochi, but yet more naysayers continue to join the chorus of disapproval over the Russian city’s choice as host for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

This time, however, the criticism is not directed at President Vladimir Putin, Sochi or its subtropical climate, but at UK prime minister David Cameron, whose decision to forego the Games has been labelled a “missed opportunity” by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

As with many other world leaders – Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, to name but a few – Cameron opted to shun Sochi and sent culture secretary Maria Miller along to enjoy the action instead.

Although Downing Street has gone to great lengths to deny that Cameron is staging any kind of boycott, Bach clearly is far from convinced. “I always think if you don’t have a dialogue, it’s a missed opportunity,” he told the BBC in an exclusive interview. “A dialogue is always better than talking about each other. It’s always better to talk with each other.”

Published on 16-02-14. Read on here

Russian amnesty law is no substitute for genuine legal reform

Mitya Aleshkovskiy http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mikhail_Khodorkovsky_2013-12-22_2.jpgHere is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

Although Russian Orthodox Christmas was still over two weeks away, the news that the country’s parliament had passed a wide-ranging amnesty bill on 18 December must have had many prisoners thinking Christmas had come early.

The law, which has already prompted the release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 and members of punk band Pussy Riot, coincides with celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the country’s constitution, which proclaims the rule of law and guarantees fundamental human rights to Russian people.

Since the amnesty law mainly applies to first-time offenders, minors and women with young children, the greatest shock came when it was announced that Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had already spent just over a decade behind bars for convictions of tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, was also due to be released.

With mounting criticism of the crackdown on protests in the country, particularly in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, this development has left many questioning the motive of the amnesty law and what significance it may hold for the rule of law in Russia today.

Published on 28-01-14. Read on here

Human Rights Commissioner slams Magnitsky trial as Europe continues to moot law

Sergei_Magnitsky_(grave)Here is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks has condemned the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, just four months after a Russian court found the deceased lawyer and his former boss, Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder, guilty of tax evasion in the country’s first modern-day posthumous trial.

In the report published last week, Muižnieks highlights a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which states that posthumous trials violate Article 6 – the right to a fair trial – since the deceased is not able to testify at his trial.

He added that the trial’s proceedings are also contrary to a July 2011 ruling by Russia’s Constitutional Court, which stated that prosecutors cannot continue to prosecute people after their death. Instead, he adds the ruling said that ‘…posthumous trials are only allowed with a view to rehabilitating a person who was accused or convicted of a particular crime at the request of his family.’

The damning report comes just weeks after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee approved a report calling for the Russian authorities to put an end to the posthumous trial once and for all.

Published on 18-11-13. Read on here

Chile and Wales lead renewed drive for opt-out organ donation scheme

Organ Donation Community

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

While World Cup qualification is arguably the most prominent thing in most Chilean and Welsh people’s minds right now, the two countries have another topic of conversation in common: organ donation.

Chile and Wales are the two latest countries to vote in favour of introducing the controversial opt-out organ donation system, where individuals are presumed to have given consent for their organs to be donated unless they choose to opt out.

Wales made history in July this year when it became the first country in the UK to adopt the system in a bid to counteract a shortage of organ donors. The new law, which is due to come into force in 2015, aims to increase the number of organs available in Wales by around 25%.

Just the previous month Chilean President Sebastián Piñera signed into law an amendment to convert the country’s existing opt-in system – la Ley de Donante Universal, which was first adopted in 2010 – into an opt-out system.

Published on 07-09-13. Read on here