Russia’s Megafon In Talks To Start Bank

Ivan Tavrin, CEO of Russian mobile operator Megafon, poses for a photograph at the Reuters Investment Summit in Moscow September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

“The motives (for the suggestion) are understandable: switch on your brain when you’re getting married, otherwise there’s going to be material penalties,” the prime minister said. Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president between 2008 and 2012, was commenting on a proposal submitted by senators that would increase the state fees for divorce to almost 30,000 rubles (700 euros, $940), a huge rise from the current charge of 400 rubles (nine euros, $12.50). Costly divorce cases are relatively rare in Russia, which has one of the world’s most lenient divorce procedures, with couples able to annul their marriages out of court in a single procedure at a wedding office. In cases where the divorce is contested, relatively little justification is required. Karina Krasnova, a lawyer from the company Russian Divorce, told AFP: “In Russia the situation is very favourable for divorce. It’s much cheaper because you can do it independently, because you’d don’t need lawyers.” Some, including Medvedev, have suggested that this easy-going regime, a legacy of the Soviet Union, promotes a cavalier attitude towards matrimony, leading to high rates of divorce. According to a global UN survey, Russia has the 15th highest female divorce rate and the 28th highest for men. The Soviet Union was one of the first countries in the world to allow “no-fault” divorce requiring no justification for splitting, as the Communist state sought to destroy what it considered the bourgeois construct of the family. In the 1930s, 40% of Soviet marriages ended in divorce. Stalin later reversed this policy, but divorce remained relatively straightforward. The discussion on reducing family break-ups coincides with a campaign by the Russian government to encourage more conservative family values in keeping with those traditionally promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church. Monday’s proposal echoed a suggestion made earlier this year by controversial deputy Yelena Mizulina, an author of the “gay propaganda” law that made it legal to ban events that could be seen as promoting homosexuality to minors. str-sjw/gd

Hunger striking Russia’s punk band member moved to solitary cell

Kremlin critics say her sentencing along with other band members is part of a crackdown on dissent since Putin returned to the presidency for a third term in May 2012. The head of a public supervising committee in the remote region where she is confined, Gennady Morozov, denied the transfer was punishment. He described her cell as a “safe place” where she would be shielded from threats from fellow inmates. He said Tolokonnikova’s allegations that she had received death threats from a senior prison official and of deplorable conditions at Corrective Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow, would be investigated. She could face discipline for slander, if they were found to be false, he added. A spokeswoman for the Federal Prison Service said the member of the feminist punk rock group is now living a spacious single cell with a bed, a refrigerator, toilet and personal belongings. In a letter circulated by her husband, Tolokonnikova said inmates were forced to work up to 17 hours a day sewing police uniforms and were allowed no more than four hours sleep a night. She said camp officials used senior inmates to enforce order, describing a system of collective punishment and production quotas reminiscent of Soviet-era Gulag labor camps. When Tolokonnikova appealed for investigation of the conditions, she said a senior prison official told her: “You’ll surely never feel bad again because it’s never bad in the other world.” ‘VERY HARSH’ A former lawyer for jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s now defunct Yukos firm, who served time in the same Mordovia prison colony, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Tuesday that most of what Tolokonnikova had alleged was true. Svetlana Bakhmina, who received early parole in 2009 from a six and half year sentence, said she expected that collective punishment would be meted out on the inmates in response to Tolokonnikova’s letter.

Russia makes new threats over Ukraine’s pro-Europe policy

“The quality of credit (of our customers) and services we would give is an absolute priority for us,” Tavrin said. “We would not look to get the lion’s share of the (consumer credit) market. For us, the quality will be much more important than the quantity.” MTS, the first Russian telecoms operator to move into banking, expects financial services to account for up to 5 percent of its total net profit by 2017. MOST IMPORTANT Megafon already has an indirect exposure to financial services through a $1 billion deal last year to buy a 50 percent stake in handset retailer Euroset, which offers online payment services in its stores. However, Megafon could ultimately sell a part of its stake in Euroset, Tavrin said, when asked whether the retailer could at some point go public. There has been speculation in the Russian press that MTS is interested in buying a stake in Euroset, which Megafon owns equally with Russia’s No.3 mobile operator Vimpelcom. MTS said it was not considering such a move. Megafon is also trying to drive growth by increasing the number of smartphones which people buy and have linked to its network. It does not currently sell Apple Inc’s iPhones in its stores and Tavrin would not comment on whether that policy would change. “(Regarding) iPhones – the most important thing for us is not whether we sell them but whether we have the right penetration of iPhones on our networks, because iPhone users … consume more data,” said Tavrin. Fashionable iPhones are out of financial reach of most Russians, who earn an average of 29,020 roubles ($910) a month. “(Smartphones) are becoming more affordable. (There are models that we sell) for $60 but I can’t say that (any time soon) the Russian population will be using a $1,000 phone,” said Tavrin, who sports an iPhone himself, though not the latest model.

Saying 40 percent of Ukrainians had doubts over the agreements with the EU, Glazyev, who has made hawkish comments before about Ukraine’s pro-Europe policy, urged the Kiev government to ballot its people. “Let us … ask the Ukrainian people what choice they prefer,” he said. TYMOSHENKO RELEASE Azarov had sharp words for Russia over its refusal to cut the price of its gas, which hangs heavy on Ukraine’s cash-strapped economy. Ukraine pays what it sees as an exorbitant $400 per thousand cubic meters under a 2009 contract, which Russia has refused to redraw. In a bid to break away from reliance on Russia, Ukraine hopes to find alternative energy sources through shale gas exploration and imports from other sources. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday reiterated that Kiev was committed to signing the agreements with the EU at a November 28 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, marking a pivotal shift away from Russia. But he refused to say whether he would free his jailed political rival, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who the EU says is a victim of ‘selective justice’. Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2011 for abuse of office after a trial that she says was a vendetta by Yanukovich. Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is involved in mediation missions on behalf of the EU to get Tymoshenko released, urged Yanukovich to free her for medical treatment in Germany. “She is ill. She needs surgery. She needs therapy and rehabilitation,” he said at the conference. Freeing Tymoshenko now would mean “an absolutely open door” for the association agreement, he said.