United Russia Calls on Officials to Divest Foreign Property
United Russia’s Yevgeny Fyodorov introduced an amendment to the civil service code which would forbid government officials from owning property or keeping bank accounts abroad, in an unusual bid to spite the U.S. over the Magnitsky bill.
According to Fyodorov, by divesting foreign assets, Russian officials will thwart U.S. attempts to manipulate Russia.
If the amendment proposed by the majority party is adopted, Russian officials, and possibly Duma deputies as well, will have to give up their foreign villas.
“When appointed to a government post, an individual will be informed that he is not allowed to own any foreign property. So, if he had any prior to the appointment – for example, an inherited property – he will have time to sell it or resign from government service,” Fyodorov said, adding that the measure may later apply to Duma members as well.
The initiative is clearly planned to retaliate against the United States after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the so-called Magnitsky bill which would bar the Russian officials involved in the imprisonment and subsequent death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky from visiting the United States.
According to various real estate agents, government officials account for more than half of all Russian property acquisitions abroad. Based on last year’s income declarations, Alexander Khloponin, presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, owns a house with outbuildings in Italy, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov rents houses in the United Arab Emirates and Austria and an apartment in Britain. Open Government Minister Mikhail Abyzov also owns an apartment and a garage there. The wife of First Deputy Chief of Government Staff Sergei Prikhodko would have to part with her Ukrainian home.
In February 2012, Russia’s Federal Security Service adopted a similar ban for its employees. Current employees were ordered to divest any foreign assets before December 1.
According to analysts, Fyodorov’s initiative is unlikely to find support in the lower house. Moreover, the law will be absolutely ineffective in cases where foreign property is technically owned by an official’s family members or third parties rather than the official himself.
Gennady Gudkov from A Just Russia said the bill is likely to be blocked because too many officials prefer investing abroad.
Russian Army to be Put on Wheels
Tanks, air defense systems and other weapons used by the Russian army’s planned middle brigades will have a common wheeled chassis that can move three times faster than a tracked chassis.
Speed is the decisive factor in modern warfare. Units must move forward rapidly, launch fire strikes, and then withdraw prior to being exposed to enemy return fire. Wheeled vehicles are best suited for this tactic because they can hit and run before tracked equipment can even reach a fire position.
Developing heavy wheeled equipment for the middle brigades was discussed at a recent meeting of the Military Industrial Commission (MIC) headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Wheeled chassis will now be used for tank guns and artillery in addition to air defense, EW, and communications equipment.
The proposal to develop a line of heavy wheeled equipment was made by Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov, who declared that there would be three types of land-based brigades in the Russian Armed Forces – heavy, middle, and light.
During the MIC meeting, he said that equipment for the heavy brigades would still be based on a heavy tracked chassis, the Armata, which was developed by Uralvagonzavod.
For the middle brigades, the same weapons (artillery guns, short- and middle-range air defense systems, jamming equipment, radar, flame-throwers, multiple rocket launchers, etc.) would be mounted on wheeled chassis – Mustang (KAMAZ) or Boomerang (to be developed by Bryansk).
The light brigades will be mostly armed with small arms and antitank weapons mounted on Tiger, Rys and Boomerang chassis.
Viktor Murakhovsky, a tank expert and Editor-in-Chief of Arsenal Otechestva, warned that wheeled vehicles would be extremely vulnerable to enemy fire. “Tank armor that you cannot put on wheels will withstand gun shell fragments that can pierce 30-mm armor,” he said.
But speed remains the overriding consideration.
Russian Officials Reluctant to Remove Window Tinting
Motorists have been lining up outside service garages in Moscow to have the window tinting removed from their car windows after fines shot up five-fold. Predictably, drivers responsible for official’s cars have ignored the regulation.
Under an amendment to the Administrative Offence Code enforced from July 1, the traffic police can fine a car owner 500 rubles ($15.40) or seize the license plates for a tinted windshield or side windows which allow less than 70 percent of light to pass through. An MN correspondent visited government agency parking lots and found that officials have remained indifferent to the offence.
Most Duma deputies’ vehicles have only tinted rear glass, which is legal. However, some have all windows blacked out. One driver, Maxim, agreed that the car’s windshield had only 20 percent VLT. “I’ll remove it eventually. But it’ll make my passengers uncomfortable – it’ll be too hot and everybody will be able to see them,” he said, adding that on government officials’ cars, tinting is done for security, not fun.
Other drivers agreed that Duma deputies can get by with tinted windows because they have immunity and are unlikely to be bothered by the traffic police.
Driver Alexei Isayev willingly posed for the camera by his car with its factory (lightly) tinted windows.
The parking lot outside the Transport Ministry had even more tinted windows than the Duma. Boris, the driver of a deputy minister’s black BMW, said he has not had any police trouble over the windows so far, and plans to remove it “in about a week” during routine maintenance. He complained that it would be too hot to wait for his boss in the car during the summer. “We have only 10 percent above the VLT limit on the windshield and 15 percent on the side windows. Why can’t we just leave it?” he said.
The correspondent approached a driver of a totally blacked out BMW with a blue flasher on top in the centre of Moscow; the driver declined to comment.
The Moscow traffic police PR department could not provide the number of license plates already removed for tinted windows.
The reaction of government officials’ drivers has obviously been very different from that of the ordinary Russian. Moscow service garages saw an influx of customers needing to have their window tinting removed in the last days of June. Some gas stations also offer a light solvent that removes the tinting. Judging by motorist forums, very few drivers are willing to pay fines or negotiate the return of their license plates to keep darken windows.
Viktor Travin, President of the Motorist’s Legal Defense Board, said he does not expect government officials to be in any hurry to comply with the new rules. “The law applies to everyone, but I would pity a police officer who dares remove the plates from a Duma deputy’s car. We live in a country that is not governed by the rule of law,” he added.
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