Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP USEUCOM News Update – July 2012


Disclaimer: The purpose of the LDESP news brief is to increase your situational awareness concerning events that may impact your mission. Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles/commentaries do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.

Note: Click on the link below for a full text version of each news story.

Start Of UN Negotiations On Global Arms-Trade Treaty Delayed
Negotiations scheduled to begin at the United Nations aimed at crafting the first binding treaty for the global weapons market were delayed because of a dispute over the observer status of the Palestinian delegation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called off his opening speech and the official start of talks was now postponed until July 3 in the morning. Israel has reportedly said it would not take part in the talks if the Palestinians did get conference recognition. The negotiations were originally scheduled to run until July 27. The majority of UN member states back a strong treaty to regulate the $60 billion world trade in weapons, but there are sharp divisions among some countries over how tough it should be. Jeff Abramson, the director of the Control Arms Campaign, a U.S.-based umbrella organization of international arms-control campaigners, said that the goal is to improve upon what he called “a patchwork quilt at best [of regulation] that is easily abused.” “At the core of [the treaty] would be a set of criteria that states would use when they’re engaged in the arms trade — so these are things like human rights, international humanitarian law, and socioeconomic development — and there would be an assessment made about whether a particular arms transfer would have a substantial risk of violating those norms,” Abramson said. “And if so, then the trade would not occur.” (…) Arms-control advocates say international conflicts exacerbated by unethical arms trading are casting a shadow over the conference. Syria — where the Bashar al-Assad regime’s crackdown has been fueled by weapons from Russia and Iran — is one example they cite. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has acknowledged that Russia’s actions are legal under previous arms contracts with Syria, even as she condemned the continuing shipments and called for an arms embargo. (…) A UN compilation of views on the elements of the treaty included statements from Pakistan, Ukraine, Macedonia, and Armenia. Pakistan highlighted in its document the need for clarity over what types of weapons will be covered under the treaty, noting that there had been no consensus over this question during the preparatory meetings. Ukraine stressed that the parameters of the treaty “must not impede legal trade” and that “the treaty should not constrain the right of states to self-defense, nor be seen as an international discriminatory instrument.” Armenia also emphasized that each state’s right to self-defense should be “unconditional and fully respected.” Macedonia said that due to the region’s recent bloody history, it strongly supported a treaty with as broad a scope as possible and the inclusion of a provision requiring states to regularly report on their adherence. (RFE/RL)

Region builds strategy for a common future

The host country of Croatia was the centre of attention at the 7th Croatia Summit, a regional event held in Dubrovnik with state presidents, prime ministers, foreign affairs ministers and other high-level officials from Southeast Europe, NATO, the US, and the EU. Since EU membership is a common aim for all countries in the region, Croatia, which will officially join next year, elaborated on the process for the neighbouring country aspirants during the conference, which was 7th and 8th July. “We signed or will sign the co-operation agreement for Euro-Atlantic integration with the countries in the region. It’s already known that we provided them with the translation of the European acquis. We will work with countries in the region on joint cross border projects,” Vesna Pusic, Croatian foreign affairs minister, told SETimes. The main topics at the summit were the EU perspective as the driving force for social and political changes, state-building in post-conflict societies, political and security challenges, partnership and institution-building. According to Dubrovnik summit attendees from several countries, informal conversations on the common EU perspective as the basis for solid regional relations were the highlights of the summit. Montenegro representatives at the summit played an important role since the country received a candidate status a few weeks ago. Montenegro Prime Minister Igor Luksic said the summit is a great opportunity for bilateral talks on his country’s EU accession, which he said is a regionally important decision. Aleksandar Dzombic, prime minister of Republika Srpska (RS), also took part in the summit. He said that continuous contacts among regional leaders are important, and that unhindered dialogue alone can affect eventual past errors and create common future goals. One of these goals is certainly EU accession and exchange of experience for the common regional good. (SETimes)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

BiH delays elections in the ‘divided city’  

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s central electoral commission postponed October’s elections in Mostar until the ruling Bosniak Party of Democratic Action and the Croatian Democratic Union reform electoral law to ensure proportional representation. BiH’s constitutional court ruled last June that electing three delegates each from the city’s six electoral districts to the city council is unconstitutional. According to the statute in force, the same number of delegates can be elected from an area with 30,000 residents as from one with 7,000 residents. The court reasoned the number of deputies from the districts is not proportionate to the number of voters and ordered electoral changes within six months. Croat voters outnumber Bosniaks by 12,000 in Mostar. Seventeen years after the end of the 1992-95 war, the city is ethnically divided into a Croat-dominated western and a Bosniak-dominated eastern part. Mostar has two electricity companies, two telephone networks, two postal services, two gas utility services and two universities. Croat and Bosniak pupils attend separate classes, learn from different textbooks and often engage in violence at sporting events. The ethnic divide has translated into an institutional one, causing a political dead end in which neither of the two ruling parties is willing to compromise because they would risk losing the nationalist-based vote. (…) Polls indicate two-thirds of citizens agree and want their city unified. Many say Mostar is held hostage by two political parties that have managed to rule the city continuously for two decades to benefit from double administration largesse. (SETimes)

Srebrenica’s victims still a target of political manipulation

One month after new Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic enraged many by denying the genocide in Srebrenica, observers on 11 July buried another 520 victims whose bodies had been exhumed from mass graves and identified. More than 80 bodies of boys younger than 15 were identified among the victims and buried on the 17th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where the Republika Srpska army led by General Ratko Mladic killed about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995. (…) The killings were declared genocide by the International Court of Justice and the UN. Several Bosnian Serbs were convicted at the war crimes court for the crimes committed in Srebrenica. Nikolic, just days after being elected president of Serbia last month, dismissed the deaths as being committed by some Serbs who he said, “should be found, prosecuted and punished.” The victims’ families and organisers of the commemoration were also upset that Serbs from nearby town of Bratunac organised Petrovdanski Days, when the RS marks the death of Serb soldiers in BiH’s conflict, in conflict with the Srebrenica memorial. (SETimes)

Kosovo seeks to join international organisations 

Kosovo is seeking to expand its international profile as it seeks to join the EU, NATO and gain more recognition on the global stage. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci submitted a request for Kosovo to join Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in Pristina on 11 July, which would establish a formal partnership between Kosovo and NATO. Thaci also requested that Kosovo join the US-Adriatic Charter, and other regional security structures, in which the country presently serves as an observer. Still another request is for participation of Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and Kosovo police within NATO or EU-led operations abroad. “Kosovo is dedicated to become an important factor of peace, stability, and security in the region, having already proven it through excellent co-operation with KFOR,” Thaci told NATO. A NATO spokesman told SETimes that Kosovo’s request to join PfP was not yet discussed, and said the US-Adriatic Charter members should decide who joins their grouping. KSF said it is prepared for a membership in regional and international security mechanisms, claiming it has fulfilled all NATO criteria, with a capacity to react in emergency situations in Kosovo and abroad. (SETimes)

Kosovo government beset by corruption

Despite Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s promise to have a zero-tolerance policy for corruption, the government headed by his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) continues to be beset by allegations of wrongdoing. In the most recent case, the EULEX prosecutor charged Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi and ten other officials with corruption on 6 July, accusing Bukoshi of abusing his authority, duty performance, tax evasion, and obstructing evidence while serving as health minister in 2010. The other suspects are either current or former health ministry officials. Bukoshi claimed innocence, but resigned two days later. Thaci publicly thanked him “for undertaking this act [resignation] in respecting the law…and allowing justice to be done.” Thaci has declared a willingness to fight corruption. “We have committed ourselves to the motto, ‘zero tolerance on corruption and organised crime,'” he said in a televised interview in March. “I am convinced we will achieve success and win this battle over evil.” But the results have been slow in coming, even reaching this year the head of the Anti-Corruption task force, Nazmi Mustafi, who was arrested this year on corruption charges. (…) Merita Mustafa, manager at the Kosovo Democratic Institute, said that the real fight against corruption is lacking mainly because of political will, and that only “sporadically government gets involved in corruption,” she told SETimes. She said a lack of judicial independence, a lack of appropriate anti-corruption laws and political party finances contribute to corruption in the state. “For the stall on all of this there is, unfortunately, only one institution to blame – the government,” Mustafa said. (SETimes)

Kosovo’s financial support for Syrian rebels unclear

Resistance against the oppressive regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad has prompted numerous comparisons to Kosovo, even as officials from the young Balkan nation hosted some Syrian opposition leaders in Pristina to share their experiences. But Pristina has not yet determined how much, financially, that Kosovo will support the Syrian opposition or how its money would be earmarked. Kosovo has denied allegations from Russia that it has provided training to Syrian rebels, who have been fighting Assad’s government for 16 months. The UN says more than 10,000 have died in the conflict, although opposition groups put the figure at 17,000. Another 30,000 people have fled across the border into Turkey to escape the violence. Media reports said at least 150 people – mostly civilians – were killed by government forces with helicopters and tanks Thursday (July 12th) in the village of Treimsa in Hama province. On 10 July, Nawaf al-Fares, the Syrian ambassador to Iraq, defected from the government, according to Syrian opposition leaders. He would be the highest-ranking diplomat to abandon the Assad regime. Pristina readily admits that its officials met with Ammar Abduhamid, a liberal and pro-democracy Syrian activist; Djengizkhan Hasson a Kurdish activist, and Molham Aldrobi, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Syria, for three days in April. The visit was arranged by the Foreign Policy Club, a Kosovo think-tank that has also arranged meetings in Pristina with delegations from other countries that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence. (SETimes)

EU accession is priority of new Serbian government

A coalition agreement signed on 10 July by the Serbian Progressive Party, the coalition around the Socialist Party of Serbia and United Regions of Serbia, defines the common political goals of the future coalition. The text of the agreement is unusually detailed for the Serbian environment — it has as many as 13 pages. The agreement in nine sections explains the objectives of the future cabinet. The first listed priority is the acceleration of European integration, with maximum efforts towards getting a date to begin EU membership talks. Other important issues mentioned in the text are Kosovo and regional policy matters. The other eight goals are: the economic and social policy, rule of law, the fight against corruption and crime, reform of the state administration, professionalisation of management of public enterprises, decentralisation and regional development, healthcare, education and science. In ninth place is freedom of the media. Forming the coalition will lead to a government after elections that brought nationalist President Tomislav Nikolic to power in early June. The former president, Boris Tadic, sought to form a government with himself as prime minister, but failed. After the signing of the agreement, Prime Minister-designate Ivica Dacic said this was not only “an agreement on a new government, but rather an agreement for a strong and economically developed Serbia that will protect its national interests and be a state of social justice.” (SETimes)

Business: Turkey gets an IMF board seat

Turkey will get an IMF board seat for the first time, media reported on 12 July citing sources familiar with the matter. According to a statement by the Undersecretariat of the Treasury, the country will serve as deputy executive director of its group of countries in the executive board in 2012, before assuming the executive director seat in 2014. (SETimes)

Gas deposits may result in co-operative efforts

The discovery of offshore natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean has Turkey, Israel and Cyprus scrambling in geopolitical competition over the resource. But according to some energy and political analysts, the gas discoveries and converging interests between the regional rivals could provide an opportunity for political reconciliation. Of the estimated 2.8 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean — equivalent to the world’s annual total consumption of natural gas — only small portion would be slated for domestic demand in Israel and Cyprus. To develop export pipelines to European markets, however, Israel and Cyprus are likely to run into Turkish political obstacles so long as a permanent political solution between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots remains elusive. Sohbet Karbuz, director of hydrocarbons at the Observatoire Mediterraneen de l’Energie, told SETimes a pipeline from Cyprus to Greece through Crete would “definitely create political problems with Turkey’s [unclaimed] exclusive economic zones.” The shortest and cheapest way to bring the gas to European markets is through Turkey, but Karbuz said that would depend on reunification talks in Cyprus. Turkey has not claimed its exclusive economic zone, which according to international law would give it jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of marine resource extending 200 miles from its shore. Turkey could therefore block any pipeline from Cyprus by claiming it passes through its exclusive economic zone and conduct its own exploration. However, Turkey could also trade this right for a solution to the Cyprus issue or an agreement that would benefit northern Cyprus in terms of money or gas supplies. In response to Greek Cypriot gas drilling, Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus signed their own agreements for joint exploration. Turkey argues that the divided island’s resources should be shared by both communities, which would require a political solution on the island. (SETimes)

US, EU in WMD field training exercises with Armenia, Georgia

The U.S. Departments of State, Defense, and Energy and the European Commission participated in a series of field training exercises with the Republics of Armenia and Georgia from 9-13 July 2012. The exercises, said the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) used realistic scenarios to demonstrate and strengthen internal, bilateral and international notification and response procedures activated in the event of illegal trans-border movement of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related materials. The governments of Armenia and Georgia collaborate with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Second Line of Defense Program, the U.S. Department of Defense’s International Counterproliferation Program and Proliferation Prevention Program, the U.S. Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security Program and the European Commission Joint Research Centre to prevent the illicit trafficking of WMD, WMD-related items, and advanced conventional weapons. The exercises, said NNSA, strengthen the collaboration and build on existing protocols of the Georgian and Armenian governments for cross border communication and coordination procedures in response to the detection of the movement of nuclear and other radioactive materials. “The field training exercises represent a significant milestone in the U.S., EU, Armenia, and Georgia’s shared efforts to combat nuclear terrorism,” said Anne Harrington, NNSA’s deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. “The radiation detection efforts in Georgia and Armenia demonstrate the need to work with our partners in the international community to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, President Obama’s key nuclear security objective,” she said. The exercises follow the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, in March, where world leaders, including representatives from both Georgia and Armenia, reaffirmed commitments to international nuclear security. U.S. and EU cooperation with Armenia and Georgia, said NNSA, reflects a shared commitment to preventing nuclear and other WMD-related materials from falling into the hands of terrorists, smugglers and proliferators. (Government Security News)

Syrian-Armenians in Search of New Homes in the Caucasus 

Armenia is just not big enough to accommodate all the ethnic Armenian refugees from Syria, say some concerned Armenian observers. Almost 5,200 Syrians, mostly of Armenian descent, have requested Armenian citizenship since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the influx is touching off concerns in the small, cash-strapped Caucasus country. Syrians with Caucasian roots continue to flee to their distant ancestral lands across the Caucasus. Even troubled spots like the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and, in Russia’s North Caucasus, the regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea, seem safe and welcoming places to be. But it is Armenia that is facing the biggest Diaspora homecoming. An Aleppo-Yerevan flight keeps bringing in more and more Syrians. Some say they are moving temporarily to weather out the storm at home, while others are ready to call Armenia home. “My ancestors moved to Syria, escaping the genocide [of Armenians] in Ottoman Turkey. Now we have fled that once peaceful country,” one Syrian migrant told Kavkazsky Uzel news service. He hopes to make it in Armenia with his family or try to move Los Angeles, home to his brother and a large ethnic Armenian community. Armenian authorities say they are eager to take in refugees, but concerns are growing over their ability to do so. And over the dwindling ethnic Armenian presence in the Middle East. Ethnic Armenians have lived in Syria for centuries and the Armenian government should not let that community disappear, Yerevan State University’s Arab studies expert Ayk Kocharian told Kavkazsky Uzel. Meanwhile, an Armenian Diaspora group in Russia has petitioned the Georgian government to allow Syrian-Armenians to settle in southern Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti, a region with a high concentration of ethnic Armenians, and where ethnic tensions are not unknown. Georgia, which has hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, has not officially responded to the request. (Eurasianet)

Paris To Resubmit Bill On Armenian Genocide Denial

France plans to vote on a new bill that would criminalize denying that the 1915-16 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks was genocide, a local Armenian-lobbying group has said. French President Francois Hollande said on 7 July that he would support another attempt to pass such a law. A similar bill passed the National Assembly in December 2011, under Hollande’s presidential predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, but the country’s constitutional court struck down the measure as a violation of freedom of speech. The debate in France has angered Ankara, which suspended political and military cooperation in retaliation for the original bill’s passage. (RFE/RL)

Armenian President and Iranian official discussed issues of cooperation

On 17 July Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan received the Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President of the Environmental Protection Organization Mohammad-Javad Mohammadizadeh. Press service of Armenian President informs about this. The parties underscored that cooperation between Armenia and Iran continues to develop in the atmosphere of mutual trust and today the implementation of the major projects on the bilateral agenda is imperative and stems from the interests of the two states. At the meeting, the interlocutors stressed the importance of cooperation between the Environmental Protection Organization of Iran and the corresponding agency in Armenia, considering the necessity of deepening cooperation on identifying, studying and addressing environmental problems. According to the parties, the resolution of the environmental problems is important for all the countries of the region which are obligated to use efficiently the water resources in the border areas, fight against the water and environmental pollution and abide by the environment protection rules. The President of Armenia and Vice President of Iran spoke about the joint monitoring and use of the waters of Arax River, implementation of the idea of creation the Park of Peace refuge in the Armenian-Iranian border area which will be preserved jointly. Discussed were also other issues of mutual interest. (Times.am)

Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs to meet in late September

Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers will hold a meeting in late September, Azerbaijani FM Elmar Mammadyarov told reporters on 18 July. The meeting of Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov will take place on the margins of the UN General Assembly session in New York. Prior to the meeting Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs will hold separate talks with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. The date and place of the meetings is being determined. Mammadyarov said they will take place in European cities, Azerbaijani media reported. (News.am)

Azerbaijan Warns Over Presidential Election In Nagorno-Karabakh Separatist Region

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry says it will declare all foreign citizens who travel to the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh territory to observe a presidential poll in the breakaway region on 19 July to be personae non gratae. Speaking to journalists in Baku on 18 July, Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev said the staging of elections in the separatist region of Azerbaijan undermines the internationally-mediated negotiating process between Azerbaijan and Armenia aimed at settling the conflict. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for around three decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, with a fragile cease-fire in place since 1994. Last month, at least nine soldiers from both sides were reported killed in a series of incidents along the Azeri-Armenian border and the Nagorno-Karabakh border. (RFE/RL)

Azerbaijani Newspaper Editor Charged With Treason

Authorities in Azerbaijan have charged a journalist and rights activist with treason in a case widely seen as politically motivated. A lawyer for Hilal Mamedov said his client was facing charges of high treason and incitement of ethnic, religious, and racial hatred. Mamedov, the editor of the Baku-based independent newspaper “Tolisi sado” (The Voice of Talysh), is currently in pretrial detention following his June 21 detention on suspicion of heroin possession. The newspaper is printed in the Talysh language, a branch of Persian. The Talysh minority’s leader in Azerbaijan who edited the newspaper before Mamedov, , Novruzali Mamedov, died in prison in 2009 after being found guilty of spying for Iran and sentenced to 10 years in jail. (RFE/RL)


U.S. Army’s Europe Commander Holds Talks With Saakashvili

The commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, Mark Hertling, has met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi for talks on defense cooperation and Georgia’s role in Afghanistan. Hertling thanked Saakashvili for maintaining an 800-troop contingent in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Hertling also held talks on European security concerns and military cooperation with a range of Georgian defense officials, including Deputy Defense Minister Maia Siprashvili-Lee and Chief of Joint Staff Devi Chankotadze. Saakashvili has repeatedly expressed hope that Georgia’s troop contributions in Afghanistan will bolster his country’s bid to join NATO. Russia, which engaged in a brief war with Georgia in 2008, staunchly opposes any NATO enlargement that would include Georgia or other former Soviet states. (RFE/RL)

Georgia Complains Of Russian ‘Militarization’ In Abkhazia, South Ossetia

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has released a statement claiming that Russia is engaged in “intensive militarization” in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The statement mentioned the recent visit of the head of Russian ground forces General Vladimir Chirkin to both regions and Russian plans to hold military exercises in those regions in September as creating a threat to the peace and stability of Georgia. The statement said Russia “has nothing to offer the Caucasus except criminal, mafia-style rule and militarization.” In Moscow, General Chirkin said there was no chance of a repeat of the brief 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia. The 2008 military conflict between Georgia and Russia ended with Abkhazia and South Ossetia declaring independence from Georgia, a move quickly recognized by Russia. (RFE/RL)

Caucasus Report: Georgia’s Ruling Party Proposes Joint Pledge On Conduct Of Elections

Georgian opposition parties have reacted with caution to a call by the ruling United National Movement (EEM) to sign a four-point declaration aimed at ensuring that campaigning for the parliamentary election due in October is peaceful, free, and fair. The previous parliamentary election in May 2008 was described by international monitors as failing “to instill broad confidence amongst election stakeholders and the public.” (…) President Mikheil Saakashvili declared last month that all Georgian officials have an obligation to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are “truly exemplary.” He vowed that he “will ensure that all political forces have equal opportunities and that the entire electoral process is carried out in open, public debates” and that “any attempts at ballot-rigging and bribery will be punished with the full force of the law.” Saakashvili’s spokeswoman, Manana Manjgaladze, described the EEM proposal on July 17 as “important” and offering “equal conditions for all the political parties during the entire electoral period.” The U.S. ambassador and European Union delegation head in Tbilisi had expressed concern that the new Georgian election law passed in late December 2011 after 14 months of sometimes acrimonious negotiations failed “to address perceptions of inequality within the electoral system.” Two opposition parties represented in the outgoing parliament, the New Rightists and the Christian-Democratic Movement, have indicated that they will sign the EEM’s declaration, as has the National Democratic Party. But no party has yet done so. This Affects You Too, a coalition of NGOs and media organizations established in February to lobby for amendments to the controversial Law on Political Parties, has expressed reservations. The first point of the EEM declaration underscores the importance for Georgia’s further democratic development of ensuring that the electoral process is free, fair, and peaceful. It abjures violence, aggression, and the recourse to hate speech. The second point abjures vote-buying. The third point pledges to abide by recommendations by the Central Election Commission and the governmental Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections aimed at “restricting” (but not banning completely) the use of administrative resources. Successive international election monitors’ detailed assessments of previous elections in Georgia have criticized the abuse of administrative resources by the ruling party… (RFE/RL)

Georgia Complains Of Russian ‘Militarization’ In Abkhazia, South Ossetia

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has released a statement claiming that Russia is engaged in “intensive militarization” in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The statement mentioned the recent visit of the head of Russian ground forces General Vladimir Chirkin to both regions and Russian plans to hold military exercises in those regions in September as creating a threat to the peace and stability of Georgia. The statement said Russia “has nothing to offer the Caucasus except criminal, mafia-style rule and militarization.” In Moscow, General Chirkin said there was no chance of a repeat of the brief 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia. The 2008 military conflict between Georgia and Russia ended with Abkhazia and South Ossetia declaring independence from Georgia, a move quickly recognized by Russia. (RFE/RL)

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

Note: Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) or Artsakh Republic is a de facto independent republic located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia.

The Caucasus Report: Karabakh Voters Faced With Choice Between Stagnation And Change

Elections for the de facto president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will take place on 19 July. The vote, which Azerbaijan and other members of the international community regard as lacking legitimacy, is widely seen as a choice between the status quo, as exemplified by incumbent Bako Sahakian, and the political, economic, and defense-sector reforms advocated by his closest challenger, former Deputy Defense Minister and respected war hero Vitaly Balasanian. A total of four candidates, all of them nonpartisan and all self-nominated, registered for the vote. The other two are Arkady Soghomonian, deputy rector of the Stepanakert branch of the State Agrarian University of Armenia and a former parliament deputy and Audit Chamber head; and Valery Khachatrian, an unemployed former high school teacher and parliament official. Khachatrian withdrew his candidacy on 9 July, acknowledging that his chances of winning were minimal, and affirmed his support for Sahakian. An opinion poll conducted by the website karabakh-open.info before Khachatrian quit the race reportedly found Balasanian the clear favorite, with over 45 percent support compared with 33.2 percent for Sahakian, 12 percent for Khachatrian, and 5 percent for Soghomonian. (…) Even before campaigning began on June 20, Balasanian formally complained to the Central Election Commission that local officials were agitating on Sahakian’s behalf. The Central Election Commission denied this. The four candidates then concluded an agreement to work together to ensure the vote is just and transparent. Sahakian’s spokesman David Babayan told the Armenian daily “Hayots ashkhar” in late June that “a level playing field has been ensured 100 percent.” But Balasanian’s campaign staff have since alleged that the authorities are intimidating voters and warning them not to vote for him. How effective that official pressure will prove to be is impossible to predict. But it seems unlikely that this election will duplicate the results of the four previous presidential ballots (in 1996, 1997, 2002, and 2007) since the region unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Azerbaijani in 1991. On every occasion, the winner has garnered between 85 and 90 percent of the vote. (RFE/RL)

Imam Killed, Mosque Set Ablaze In Daghestan

Officials in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus republic of Daghestan say an imam and another person have been shot dead in an attack on a mosque. Officials said the attackers also set the mosque on fire in the attack shortly before midnight on 28 June in the settlement of Karamakhi, in the Buinaksk district. According to a spokesman for the Daghestani Interior Ministry, several masked men broke into the mosque and opened fire at imam Magomedkamil Gamzatov and a visitor. The spokesman said the attackers then set the mosque on fire and fled in a “stolen car.” The fire was reportedly extinguished by local residents. There was no immediate indication of who may have been responsible. (RFE/RL)

Amnesty Calls For Justice In Murders Of Rights Activists

Amnesty International says that Russia must show political will and end impunity for the murder of human rights activists and journalists in the North Caucasus. John Dalhuisen, the director of Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia program, said the failure of authorities to bring to justice the killers of Natalya Estemirova and other rights activists “can only be explained by a complete lack of political will” to end impunity for such crimes. Dalhuisen was speaking on the eve of the third anniversary of Estemirova’s abduction in Grozny and her subsequent murder. He said the apparent lack of progress in investigating Estemirova’s murder leads Amnesty to conclude that pledges by Russian authorities to find the killers were “hollow promises which they never meant to fulfill.” (RFE/RL)

Germany sees rising threat from militant Islamists

Germany faces a growing threat from militant Islamists and far-right fringe groups, including small extremist cells and lone wolf operators, top security officials said on 18 July. A report by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency puts the number of Salafi Muslims in the country at 3,800 last year, with a small number of those prepared to use violence to achieve their aims. It is the first time the agency has counted the number of German-based Salafists, a religious movement that adheres to a strict interpretation of Islam and which has attracted young Muslims as well as recent converts. The wider number of Muslims with extremist views is estimated at more than 38,000, according to the report. “Our focus remains on Islamist terrorism,” Heinz Fromm, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told reporters in Berlin. “This is where the main threat currently comes from.” (…) “In the coming years the intelligence work of the security agencies will continue to be dominated to a large degree by the problem of individual jihadists,” Fromm said. His agency’s annual report also noted an increasing number of members of militant far-right groups. Authorities were deeply embarrassed last year by the revelation that a small group of neo-Nazis apparently managed to commit as many as 10 murders over a seven-year period while remaining largely off the radar of the intelligence services. The existence of the National Socialist Underground only came to light last November, when two of its three core members were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide after a failed bank robbery. The third alleged core member, Beate Zschaepe, is in custody pending trial. (…) Officials estimate that the wider membership of neo-Nazi groups in Germany fell to 22,400 from 25,000 in 2010, but the number of far-right extremists prepared to use violence grew last year to 9,800 from 9,500. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said authorities were on alert for possible attacks by neo-Nazis inspired by the NSU killings. “I see that the potential, in particular for copycat acts, is present,” Friedrich said. Federal police say at least seven wanted neo-Nazis are currently on the run in Germany. Recent left-wing extremism in Germany has been largely restricted to outbursts of violence during street protests, and acts of sabotage. The number of left-wing extremists in Germany fell by 400 to 31,800 last year, according to the report. It counted 7,100 violent left-wing extremists, up from 6,800 in 2010. (Fox News)

New ruling on asylum seekers in Germany

Asylum seekers in Germany have been receiving too little money for far too long. That’s the essence of a landmark ruling by the German constitutional court. The German constitutional court has ruled that the law covering financial support for asylum seekers must be changed. This is a result of a lawsuit filed by an Iraqi asylum seeker and a young woman originally from Nigeria who has now acquired German citizenship. The court concluded that the monthly allowance that asylum seekers currently receive is not enough to enable them to live “a dignified life”. Not least because the cost of living in Germany has steadily increased whereas asylum seekers’ allowances have remained the same for almost 20 years. Asylum seekers are currently paid 220 euros ($270) per month. This will be increased to 330 euros.The court said that before a new law is drafted the 130,000 asylum seekers living in the country should receive benefits in the interim period calculated along the same lines as those for German welfare recipients. The new payments will be backdated to 1 January 2011.The case will have been followed closely in Leipzig where senior local official Thomas Fabian has been trying to drum up support for a new accommodation concept for asylum seekers. He recently held a meeting with the local council in Leipzig’s south-east district where there are plans to rent accommodation for 115 asylum seekers in a large house. This would be the biggest new housing project in Leipzig for asylum seekers – but it only found its way on to the agenda after a similar project planned for another district was rejected by local residents. Here too, doubts and scepticism are evident.A landlord told the meeting attended by Thomas Fabian that two of his tenants were considering moving out if the new, foreign neighbors really do arrive. For some residents of Leipzig, asylum seekers are synonymous with crime and social problems. Fear of the unknown is widespread. (Deutsche Welle)


Italy banks need to shed bad debt-IMF

The International Monetary Fund advised Italian banks to seek ways to reduce the mounting burden of bad loans weighing down their balance sheets and suggested stress-tests should be run on all lenders. The IMF said on 18 July in a report on the euro area that banks in the bloc’s third-largest economy should improve capital and liquidity by raising equity or selling non-core assets – not an easy task while investors shun Italian assets. Only Italy’s top five lenders UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Banco Popolare and UBI Banca underwent stress tests run by the European Banking Authority (EBA). They represent about 50 percent of Italian banks’ total assets. Bank of Italy’s governor Ignazio Visco said last week the core tier 1 capital — a leading measure of a bank’s financial strength — of the top five lenders had risen to 10 percent of their risk-weighted assets (RWA), above a 9 percent target required by the EBA. For 66 mid-sized Italian banking groups the capital ratio was 8.7 percent, while 472 smaller individual banks had total capital worth 13.7 percent of their RWA, he said. (…) UniCredit Chief Executive Federico Ghizzoni said earlier this month bad loans at his bank, Italy’s biggest by assets, were rising, confirming a wider domestic trend. He said European countries had different rules with regards to bank loan coverage, with the Bank of Italy requiring a more stringent coverage of doubtful loans than in other EU nations.Italy should “encourage banks to devise strategies for selling, restructuring or writing down impaired loans”, the IMF said in a set of recommendations. (Reuters)

Italy Raises Scrutiny of Sicily

Prime Minister Mario Monti said he would meet on 24 July with the governor of Sicily to discuss the region’s finances as business leaders raised questions about the Italian island’s solvency. Mr. Monti’s office said the premier had written to Sicilian Gov. Raffaele Lombardo regarding the “grave concerns over the possibility that Sicily could default” and to seek clarification over the governor’s plans to resign. Later on Tuesday, Mr. Lombardo confirmed his resignation in a statement and said he would meet with Mr. Monti and furnish the premier with “all the elements useful to demonstrate the sustainability of the region’s finances.” The specter of a Sicilian insolvency casts a shadow over the premier’s efforts to restore confidence in Italy’s finances and pull the country out of the euro-zone crisis. Investors are scrutinizing any public spending that might add to Rome’s debt pile after regional spending in Spain sapped Madrid’s public accounts. “[What] we need is to impose at a regional level that same [fiscal] rigor that we have had at a national level,” said Fabrizio Barca, minister for regional development. Sicily’s debt has grown in recent years as Rome has cut funding to the region in order to rein in the national government’s debt, which stands at €1.95 trillion ($2.4 trillion). Italy’s independent Court of Auditors certified that the territory’s 2011 debts stood at more than €5 billion. Sicily is one of Italy’s few autonomous regions, giving the island more independence in the handling of its finances and potentially limiting the government’s hand in reining it in. Local business leaders have warned that Sicily faces deepening losses if the island fails to collect credits owed to the region by the Italian government. (…) The scrutiny of Sicilian debt, which is ultimately guaranteed by Italy, comes as Rome is under pressure to diffuse concerns that the country risks losing access to capital markets as the euro zone’s third-biggest economy gets sucked deeper into the region’s debt crisis. (…) Italian banks are large holders of Italy’s sovereign debt, and investors and economists are worried that the banks could become trapped in a vicious cycle of propping up Italy’s finances and vice versa. (WSJ)

Greece’s Coalition Agrees on Basics of Austerity Plan – Fin-Min

Greece’s three coalition partners, on 18 July, agreed on a basic outline of a plan regarding 11.5 billion euros ($14.1 billion) of spending cuts to be implemented over the next two years but have pushed back final decisions on the belt-tightening measures, pending discussions with international creditors. After a three-hour meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the two other party leaders in Greece’s coalition government, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said talks on determining the cutbacks for the 2013 to 2014 period went well but added that specific policy decisions will be made “down the road.” (…) Greece is scrambling to put together the savings plan ahead of a visit to Athens by representatives from its “troika” of lenders–the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank–on 24 July. The flurry of meetings is a race against the clock: the government’s cash reserves could run out by the middle of next month and revenue collections in the first half of the year fell short of the required target. The next EUR31 billion tranche of aid from Greece’s euro-zone partners and the IMF–if it is approved–is not expected to be disbursed until September. An austerity plan for Greece was scheduled to have been approved by lawmakers by the end of June, according to commitments made in exchange for the country’s second EUR173 billion bailout, but was delayed when elections in May and June threw the country into political uncertainty. The leader of the socialist Pasok party, Evangelos Venizelos, said the measures “will be finalized in the coming days after the first discussions we will have with the troika on these issues.” The three party heads–from the conservative New Democracy, socialist Pasok and small Democratic Left parties–have renewed their appointment to discuss the cutbacks for next week. In a bid to cover an upcoming EUR3.1 billion bond redemption in late August, Greece is seeking a bridge loan from international creditors, according to government officials. The coalition party leaders decided Wednesday against the introduction of any additional measures for 2012 despite the country looking likely to miss this year’s budget deficit reduction target and coming under pressure for some euro-zone peers to take corrective steps. (…) In a report on 16 July, the IMF said that Greece’s budget deficit will trend towards 1.5% to 2% of GDP–versus the 1% planned in the latest revised emergency loan program–if Greece does not adopt any further policy changes. (WSJ)


UK border staff vote for strike, visitors face chaos 

Passengers arriving for the London Olympic Games could face long queues at airports after a union representing passport officials said on 18 July that its members had voted to back a strike in a dispute over pay and job cuts. Airport passport desks around London have struggled to cope in recent months and some passengers have had to queue for several hours to get through immigration checks at Heathrow Airport because of the shortage of staff. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) – one of Britain’s most militant – said its members, including border agency and immigration personnel, had backed strike action as part of a row with the interior ministry over job cuts and pay. The Olympic Games begin on 27 July, and hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected in London every day while the Games are under way, with 13 August predicted to be the busiest day ever at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport. Union chiefs said they would announce on 19 July the dates and type of action they would take, but the government said the low 20 percent turnout in the ballot meant the union would have little public backing. One PCS source said union leaders were actively considering strikes on some of the Games’ busiest days of the Games. “We will be looking at key dates,” the source told Reuters. The union says the long delays at Heathrow, caused by a shortage of passport staff, are due to a 22 percent cut in the number of border staff, part of a government cost-cutting exercise to shrink the record budget deficit. Some passengers arriving at the airport’s Terminal 4 on April 30 had to queue for three hours to reach passport control. “Ministers have known about these issues for a very long time but have chosen not to act,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said in a statement. “We believe they have acted recklessly and irresponsibly in cutting so many jobs and, in the case of UKBA (UK Border Agency), they have simply tried to paper over the cracks by deploying severely undertrained staff at our borders.” The union said 20 percent of its members had taken part in the ballot, 57 percent of these backing a strike and 75 percent supporting other forms of industrial action. The government, which has drafted in extra border staff to help cope with the Olympic rush, said these figures showed the union had no authority to call any strike. (Chicago Tribune)

Spy Vs. Spy: Wiretapping On The Increase In Russia

Vladimir Ryzhkov has no doubt that he fell victim to a smear operation by Russia’s security services. At the height of the anti-Kremlin protests in January, he and fellow opposition figure Gennady Gudkov, a State Duma deputy, arranged by telephone to meet privately in a downtown cafe. They needed to have an uncomfortable talk about distancing themselves from certain controversial opposition figures. As it turned out, their little chat wasn’t private enough. A mystery third man got to the cafe before them, bugged their table, and clandestinely filmed their conversation. The embarrassing footage soon appeared on the website Life News, a vociferous pro-Kremlin tabloid with alleged ties to the security services. Ryzhkov says there is only one plausible explanation for how this happened. “Gudkov and I arranged our meeting over the phone, but we did not specify a place; we just said, ‘Let’s meet at the same place as last time,'” Ryzhkov says. “Nonetheless, a bugging device was placed there. This is evidence that we are constantly being listened to.” The Ryzhkov-Gudkov footage was just one in a series of grainy videos and audio recordings recently leaked to Kremlin-friendly tabloids by security and law-enforcement agencies. The recordings, analysts say, were part of a concerted Kremlin effort to discredit and divide their opponents. Opposition figures Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin have also been targets. Such incidents are a sign of the times, with official statistics showing that wiretapping has nearly doubled in Russia over the past five years. But the bugging of opposition figures accounts for only a portion of the increase. The main driver of the rise, analysts say, involves Russia’s myriad rival security services spying on each other — something that has been made easier by advances in bugging technology and the easing of bureaucratic hurdles to obtain wiretap permits. (RFE/RL)

U.S. Congressmen Unmoved By Russian Visit To Protest Magnitsky Bill

U.S. congressmen appear to be unmoved following the visit of a Russian delegation to Washington this week aimed at protesting pending U.S. sanctions over the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Describing the Russian initiative as “too late,” the congressmen told RFE/RL that they expected the legislation to be signed into law. The move would deny visas to dozens of Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s death and also freeze any U.S. assets they may hold. Senator Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi) is a member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, where the Magnitsky legislation was first initiated. “The reports about this tragedy are not isolated,” he said. “There have been two independent reports inside Russia that indicated this was a violation of Mr. Magnitsky’s rights and an abusive process. “So it’s going to be very difficult, I think, for one packet of information provided by a group of Russian [lawmakers] to overcome the huge body of information.” Wicker was one of several U.S. lawmakers who met with Aleksei Chernyshev, Vitaly Malkin, Aleksandr Savenkov, and Valery Shnyakin — all members of Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. The delegation was in the U.S. capital to present the findings of a “preliminary parliamentary investigation” into the case of the deceased lawyer. (RFE/RL)

US Senate panel approves Russia trade, rights bill

The Senate Finance Committee on 18 July unanimously approved a bill to ensure U.S. exporters share in the benefits of Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization but also to punish Russian officials for human rights violations. The legislation still faces an uphill battle to be passed before U.S. elections in November because of concern over Russia’s ties to Syria and Iran that make it a politically difficult vote for some lawmakers. But supporters hoped the committee’s strong bipartisan vote improved chances the full Senate and House of Representatives will consider the bill before U.S. lawmakers leave in two weeks for their month-long recess and Russia joins the WTO in August. “If we miss that deadline, American farmers, ranchers and businesses will lose out to the other 154 members of the WTO,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, said. In addition, including new human rights legislation in the trade bill makes it unsavory to Moscow, which views those provisions as an intrusion in its affairs. The Obama administration welcomed the committee’s vote on a combined trade and human rights bill, but it said its main priority was establishing “permanent normal trade relations,” or PNTR, by terminating a Cold War-era provision known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment. That measure is at odds with WTO rules requiring members to give equal treatment to exports from all other members on an unconditional basis and is the reason that Congress is under pressure to pass the trade legislation. (Reuters)

Bulgaria arrests lawmaker for taking bribes

A lawmaker from Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party has been arrested for taking bribes of more than 100,000 levs ($62,400), officials said on 18 July, as the Balkan country tries to show it is addressing EU concerns over graft. The European Union’s newest and poorest member has been repeatedly criticised by Brussels for doing too little to cut widespread corruption and organised crime. A failure to put senior officials and crime bosses behind bars is expected to lead to the European Commission extending its monitoring of the country’s respect for the rule of law and fight against corruption when it issues a report on Bulgaria and Romania on 18 July. The lawmaker, Dimitar Avramov, and two other men were arrested after 50,000 levs changed hands in the north-western town of Montana late on 17 July, police said. (Chicago Tribune)

Romaina and Bulgaria continue to flout rule of law

Contract killings in Bulgaria and a direct affront to the rule of law in Romania are some of the major concerns underlined by the European Commission in its progress reports adopted on 18 July. The Commission said overall both countries have made some progress but neither have fully met their respective benchmarks nor entirely produced convincing results in areas of judicial reform, fight against corruption and organised crime. “The control verification mechanism will continue in both countries until they meet the objectives, the European Commission is satisfied, and the benchmarks fulfilled,” EU commission spokesman Mark Gray told reporters in Brussels. The reports are the tenth in a series that started when the two nations joined the Union in 2007. Unlike previously, the most recent reports take an overall look at the progress and deficiencies made in the past five years. (EUobserver)

Bus blast in Bulgaria kills 4, Israel blames Iran

Six Israeli tourists were killed in a bomb attack on a bus at a Bulgarian airport on Wednesday and Israel accused Tehran of carrying out the attack, promising a strong response to “Iranian terror”. (…) Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov told Reuters by telephone after visiting the scene: “The explosion was caused by a bomb in the bus.” The Interior Ministry declined to comment on whether it might have been a suicide attack, as some witnesses had speculated, and said it was questioning people who had been close to the blast to get a clearer idea of what happened. The blast comes on the 18th anniversary of a 1994 bomb attack on the headquarters of Argentina’s main Jewish organization by an Iranian-backed Hezbollah suicide bomber, which killed 85 people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran and said Israel would respond. (Chicago Tribune)

EU Chides Romanian Prime Minister Over Rule Of Law

European Union leaders have reprimanded Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta in unusually harsh terms for his government’s drive to oust the president and curtail the powers of the judiciary. Ponta was summoned to Brussels after the leftist-controlled parliament last week suspended center-right President Traian Basescu, replaced the ombudsman, and overruled the Constitutional Court by issuing emergency decrees. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s office said on 12 July that he “expressed his serious concerns about recent political events in Romania” during his meeting with Ponta. Basescu’s suspension must be confirmed by a referendum, scheduled for July 29, and the Constitutional Court has warned Ponta that the law says a majority of registered voters must vote for the poll to be validated. The government, however, has attempted to circumvent the constitution, issuing an emergency decree stating that a majority of those turning out to vote is enough to remove Basescu. Barroso told Ponta in unequivocal terms to “restore the powers of the Constitutional Court and ensure that its decisions are observed.” The terse message was reiterated by EU President Herman Van Rompuy, who urged Ponta “to address the issues identified by the commission as problematic.” In what was seen as a strong rebuke, neither Barroso nor Van Rompuy joined Ponta — who is also facing accusations of plagiarism — at his news briefing. (RFE/RL)

Romania President: We Won’t Enter Schengen Anytime Soon

Romania will not enter the Schengen Agreement anytime soon, the country’s interim President Crin Antonescu believes. However, he believes Romania’s blocked Schengen entry will not be the result of the difficult political situation in the country. “It is well known that Romania’s Schengen accession was blocked despite the fulfillment of all requirements. That happened before the new Romanian government came to power and is in no way connected to the impeachment of President Traian Basescu,” Antonescu has told local media, according to the Bulgarian Focus news agency. (…) The European Commission’s new Co-operation and Verification Mechanism report will be used by the opponents of Romania’s Schengen entry, he has stated, perhaps referring to the Netherlands that insists to see two consecutive positive reports on Romania and Bulgaria before letting them join the European border-free zone. The two EU newcomers are expected to fail their biggest test since their EU accession in 2007 with the upcoming publication of crucial progress reports on the reform of law enforcement on 18 July. Romania faces unprecedented criticism because of suspected attempts by its new government to ease democratic checks and balances, while Bulgaria faces more heat over alleged close ties between government officials and organized crime. (Journal of Turkish Weekly)

Romania president likely to be impeached

Romanian president Traian Basescu is likely to be impeached by voters in a referendum on 29 July, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday, providing turnout is high enough to make the vote valid. Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s ruling Social Liberal Union (USL) alliance also remains clear favorite to win a parliamentary election late in the year, the survey showed. The leftist USL, backed by parliament, suspended Basescu earlier this month, saying he had overstepped his powers. European Union leaders have criticized Ponta for his campaign to oust his political rival. Sixty-six percent of the 1,104 people polled said they wanted Basescu to be impeached, with 34 percent against. The president is unpopular for backing austerity measures, including salary cuts and a rise in sales tax. Sixty-one percent said they would vote in the referendum, the survey by pollster CURS for local newspaper Jurnalul National found. Romania’s Constitutional Court has ruled that more than half the electorate must turn out for the referendum to be valid, a decision which improved Basescu’s chances of surviving. Voter support for the USL has risen to 63 percent, according to the poll conducted on 11-16 July, despite the international criticism Ponta has received this month. That indicates Ponta is likely to stay in power in the election due in November. A March opinion poll had put support for the USL at 48.4 percent. The political turmoil and policy paralysis caused by the dispute between Ponta and Basescu have raised concerns over a 5 billion euro ($6.11 billion) International Monetary Fund-led aid deal. Markets have also been rattled, sending the Romanian leu to all-time lows against the euro. (Chicago Tribune)

International Military Maneuvers Start In Ukraine

Military exercises called Rapid Trident 2012 have officially started in Ukraine. The ceremony of the maneuvers’ opening was held on the territory of the Ground Forces Academy’s international peacekeeping center. Almost 900 Ukrainian troops and almost 170 U.S. soldiers along with military personnel from 16 countries, including Austria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Sweden are taking part in the maneuvers on the Yavoriv military field in the western Lviv region. The troops from 16 countries will practice joint efforts in peacekeeping operations. The exercises are expected to last two weeks. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine’s biggest opposition group launches campaign to impeach President Yanukovych

Ukraine’s biggest opposition group launched a campaign on 16 July to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych for what it called suspected constitutional violations, the stifling of democracy and the persecution of opposition leaders.Yanukovych is under fire from the West over the politically tainted jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the country’s top opposition leader who he beat in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election. European Union leaders boycotted Euro 2012 soccer games in Ukraine last month over her imprisonment. With the Oct. 28 parliamentary election only three months away, Tymoshenko’s party announced a campaign to sue Yanukovych for his alleged crimes and then impeach him. And while Ukrainian courts, which usually toe the government line, were unlikely to rule against Yanukovych, experts said the project could help mobilize support for the opposition ahead of the crucial vote. The “Ukraine against Yanukovych” campaign, which has the crossed-out profile of Yanukovych wearing a royal crown as a logo, will collect signatures in support of a lawsuit against the president, and then try to launch the impeachment process in parliament. “The aim of this campaign is to end the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych,” Tymoshenko’s top aide Oleksandr Turchynov told a news conference on 16 July. “Yes, this will not happen right away, but this task will be fulfilled.” Democracy has suffered a major setback in Ukraine since Yanukovych came to power in 2010. The 62-year-old pro-Russia leader has tinkered with the constitution to boost his powers, sought to limit media freedom and curbed anti-government protests. (Washington Post)

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