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




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.


Some EU states may no longer afford air forces-general

Many European Union countries will not be able to afford key parts of their armed forces, such as air forces, in a few years unless they spend more and cooperate more closely on defence, the top EU military officer said on 19 September. In a hard-hitting speech, Hakan Syren, a Swedish general who chairs the EU’s Military Committee, the bloc’s highest military body, said rising costs, inefficiencies and budget cuts had brought European defence to a critical point. “The military capabilities of the EU member states are on a steady downward slope,” Syren told a seminar in Brussels organised by Cyprus, which currently holds the EU presidency. “Looking a few years into the future, it is simple mathematics to predict that many member states will be unable to sustain essential parts of their national forces, air forces being the prime example,” said Syren. He said he was speaking out now because he is nearing the end of his three-year term as chairman of the Military Committee. Many EU states have slashed defence spending as part of deficit-cutting measures forced on them by the financial crisis, which has plunged the euro zone into turmoil. Only a handful of NATO’s European members meet the alliance’s goal of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defence. Syren said the defence cuts had only exacerbated other problems. EU member states spent their defence budgets inefficiently, creating overcapacity in some areas while failing to invest in “critical shortfalls” in others, he said, spelling out the risk that Europe could be marginalised militarily. (…) Defence experts accuse European governments of duplicating effort by ordering military equipment to national specifications rather than standardising on one European-wide system. Syren said the merger being discussed by Franco-German dominated EADS and Britain’s BAE Systems, which would create a global aerospace and defence giant with combined sales of $93 billion, would be “a very great step” towards reducing such duplication. Three years ago, the combined defence budgets of EU member states of around 200 billion euros ($260 billion) a year were equivalent to the defence spending of China, Russia, Japan, India and Saudi Arabia put together, he said. If present trends continued, he said, “we will soon see China as well as Russia on almost equal terms” with the EU. Syren urged EU governments to respond by raising defence spending and by deepening defence cooperation among themselves. EU governments have already reacted to the new age of austerity by pooling resources in some areas of defence but Syren said this needed to be taken to a “completely new level”. (Reuters)

Euro Firms Vie To Help Secure Libyan Borders

Libya’s new government is discussing a potentially multibillion-dollar program with at least three European governments to provide sensors and other equipment to secure its borders, industry executives said. Britain, France and Italy have all had discussions with the Libyans in the past few months about possible government-to-government arrangements. EADS Cassidian, Finmeccanica, Thales, BAE Systems, KBR, QinetiQ and General Dynamics are among an array of companies positioning to bid either as part of a consortium or alone once the Libyans firm up their requirements. Timing of the project remains uncertain even though securing the border against illegal immigrants, terrorists and others is a top priority for the new government in Tripoli, industry executives and others said. The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which left four people dead, including the ambassador, has focused attention on the inability of a still-fragile Libyan administration to provide security, including on its borders. Libya’s land borders run for more than 4,000 kilometers with neighbors Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt. It also has a long coastline. A security program aimed at sealing what has always been a highly porous border would target sub-Saharan immigrants transiting through Libya en route to Europe and extremist Islamist terrorists. European executives said the maritime security issues first identified by the Moammar Gadhafi regime remain unresolved but it is likely the new government will give it a lower priority than the land border. Although no tender document has been released, Italian sources said, the land deal could eventually cover radar, helicopters, UAVs, ground vehicles, command-and-control and other assets. Any program will likely be done in phases, in part because Libya remains subject to a U.N. arms embargo. (DefenseNews)



End in sight for regional transition

Countries in Southeastern Europe are well on their way to overcoming the long transition towards democracy and a market-oriented economy after the 1991 split of Yugoslavia. Will Bartlett, senior research fellow in the Political Economy of Southeast Europe, said that transition will end when the private sector share of each country’s economy approaches EU levels. “This has happened in most countries — apart perhaps from Serbia where there is still some way to go to complete the privatisation process, although the most important enterprises have been privatised there,” he said. But the transformation was not speedy. Following the break with the Soviet Union in 1948, Yugoslavia gradually abandoned central planning, and by 1965 had created a market economy. State owned enterprises were transformed into socially owned enterprises under the workers self-management system. Managers of firms had autonomy in decision making, and were accountable to the workforce. Transition is still ongoing, says Dragan Popovic, head of the Belgrade-based NGO Policy Centre. “Even now, in 2012, Serbia has more than 100,000 people working in non-privatised companies,” Popovic told SETimes. Serbia’s transition has been complicated “due to the fact that its start was during the Milosevic regime, and the new model was adopted after 2000. We are now in situation that there is no clear answer on how long transition will last,” Popovic said. However, private companies are now the most effective part of the Serbian economy, and create most of the domestic GDP. (…)The late reformers, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia and Montenegro began the privatisation process later on. In BiH after the end of the civil war, the socially owned firms were privatised on the basis of a distribution of vouchers to the population and the workers. In Serbia and Montenegro, starting in the early 2000s, the enterprises were sold outright to new private owners through public tender and auctions. Kosovo, under the UN administration, began privatisation in the mid-2000s. For each enterprise, a new enterprise was created to which all good assets were transferred, leaving the debts in the hands of the old enterprises. (…) The remaining issues now relate to the process of EU accession, organized crime and its role in holding back the economy and the ways to deal with the serious impact of the global economic crisis and the eurozone crisis in the region. (SETimes)

Balkan police co-operate to fight cybercrime

Police officials agree co-operation, as well as training, is needed to adequately address computer-conducted crime, which increasingly affects citizens’ property and safety. Cyber criminals are often felony offenders capable of operating locally as well as internationally, said Gojko Vasic, general director of police in Republika Srpska in BiH. Vasic noted a recent internet fraud case that his department participated in included police from more than 100 countries. “Our police now pay full attention to collaboration with colleagues from neighboring countries,” Vasic told SETimes. While some co-operation already exists, police officials have repeatedly called for more, given that cyber criminals co-operate regionally and have a growing means to defraud others. Regional ministers of internal affairs met in Sarajevo last month to discuss new developments, as well as ways to increase collaboration. They concluded that without joining forces, there is no effective way to combat cybercrime. (SETimes)

Programmes to help impoverished Roma

The Serbian government has initiated numerous projects to improve life for the estimated 500,000 Roma in Serbia, but critics said the results are far from satisfactory as many Roma continue to live in poverty and be disproportionately affected by unemployment. (…) While the deepening economic crisis and budget deficit have narrowed the government’s maneuvering room, officials said the EU pre-accession funds will provide much needed relief. “In 2012, Serbia has 5 million euros from the EU’s pre-accession funds at its disposal to enhance the position of the Roma, which will, in a way, secure funds for everything the state cannot provide due to the difficult economic situation,” Stefana Lukic, representative of Serbia’s European Integration Office, told SETimes. Lukic said the key problems to be addressed are developing local services, improving education and housing and registering Roma in the birth, death and marriage registries. “We will provide 4,000 scholarships for high school education, since preschool and higher level education are already included in this type of aid,” Lukic said. Elsewhere in the region, austerity measures continue to hit the poorest populations hardest, especially the Roma. The Roma in Bulgaria are nearly 10 percent of the population, but constitute almost half of the country’s poorest citizens. Similarly, half of the Roma in Montenegro live in poverty. In Romania, the Roma are 2.5 percent of the population but account for 12.5 percent of the extremely poor. Experts said the situation in Serbia is compounded by the fact most of the 30,000 citizens without personal documents are Roma, which prevents them from exercising their rights and claiming benefits. Sajn, however, argued the new amendments to the laws regulating issuance of personal IDs should enable those without personal documents to obtain them quickly and easily. He added that any funds earmarked for Roma integration should be monitored so that it is ensured they are properly assigned and spent. Dragan Jovanovic, a Roma who works at the Belgrade Sanitation company, said his family lives a decent life, but many of his compatriots face a hard struggle. (SETimes)


Jackal Stone 12 closes in Croatia

This year’s Jackal Stone exercise, a multinational special forces training exercise hosted by Croatia for the second time since 2009, closed on 25 September. A total of 2,000 special operations personnel from nine participating countries — Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the US — and observer nations Finland and France took part in the drills. The exercises were conducted in various locations throughout the Adriatic republic. The focus of the exercise was on the global fight against terrorism. Participants were given a scenario in which a criminal group stole nuclear, biological and chemical material from an industrial plant in the fictional country of Freedonia. The material was to be delivered to a terrorist organisation. Working together, participants hunted down the gangsters and recovered the material, only to find out that the group had tentacles extending deep into Freedonia and must be stopped. A coalition of NATO member nations is then formed to help Freedonia deal with its insurgency problem. The main objective of the exercise was to build special operations capabilities and improve interoperability among European partner nations, so they can better deal with common challenges and meet common goals. The special forces personnel conducted operations of special reconnaissance, including surveillance and direct operations at sea — such as the interception of boats and capturing bases — mostly at night. (SETimes)


A new chapter starts the end of international supervision

Kosovo entered a new phase after western powers decided on 10 September to end the international supervision that they established in 2008 after Kosovo declared its independence. International Civilian Representative Pieter Feith announced the decision by International Steering Group (ICG). The termination of supervised independence, which went into effect immediately, also ended the mandate of Dutch diplomat in Kosovo. Nevertheless, the International Civilian Office shall close by the end of 2012, following the completion of necessary internal administrative tasks. (SETimes)

Belgrade, Pristina to benefit from high-level dialogue

Both Serbia and Kosovo will benefit from high-level dialogue to solve the issues that have plagued the two countries since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, analysts said after Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told the UN General Assembly that Belgrade wants direct negotiations. “There will be no further progress in accession to the EU if Kosovo and Serbia do not normalise relations and resolve the problems in northern Kosovo. This is a more immediate issue for Serbia, since it is far ahead in the regatta for EU membership. But Kosovo now has a chance to be catching up. It should use the opportunity,” Daniel Serwer, a professor of conflict management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told SETimes. Although Belgrade would never recognise Kosovo’s independence, the country wants to achieve “a lasting peace between Serbs and Albanians” and supports talks at the “highest political level,” Nikolic told the UN General Assembly in New York on 25 September. “We strongly desire that the talks continue in good faith and with good intentions, taking into account, among other things, that it is important to keep the dynamics of the European integration of Serbia and of the Western Balkans as a whole in order to ensure progress and stability of the entire region in the long term,” Nikolic said. Hysni Fejza, executive director of the Kosovo Institute for Peace, says the future dialogue will be the last phase to solve the open issues between the two countries. “The dialogue will bring benefits for both Belgrade and Pristina in the economic field and the well-being of the two nations and also progress in the European integration processes. This dialogue will also facilitate the interethnic co-operation and the interethnic communication within Kosovo, between Albanians and Serbs,” Fejza told SETimes. Kosovo representatives should compile and define the plan for the talks with Serbia, define the topics for discussion and put the red lines for what cannot be discussed, he said. Some officials in Belgrade were critical of Nikolic’s speech. (SETimes)

Kosovo launches trade agreement talks with Turkey

The government of Kosovo has launched talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement, which would be Pristina’s first since Kosovo became independent in 2008. Kosovo Trade and Industry Minister Mimoza Kusari-Lila and Turkey Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan began negotiations on 3 September in Ankara. Kusari-Lila said that the Kosovo’s economy is smaller than the Turkish economy, so Pristina will need to protect some of its strategic sectors for a few years. “Since our economy about 70 percent is composed from services, we kindly ask that the services in particular be part of those negotiations,” Kusari-Lila said. Caglayan said that free trade agreement will benefit the economic development of both countries, and said that the Turkish government will take in considers Kosovo’s demands. (…) Experts say that while the agreement is an important step to liberalise trade, they say that Pristina should insist in protecting some products, which already can be produced in Kosovo. (SETimes)

Civil society engages citizens to make Kosovo officials transparent

In an effort to stem widespread corruption, the Kosovo government passed a law which requires public servants to file annual declarations of wealth, listing all their assets, to Kosovo’s anti-corruption agency, but some have long suspected many officials misrepresent their wealth. To address the situation, the FOL Movement (Speak up), an NGO which fosters transparent and accountable government, has launched an initiative most often referred to as the “platform,” which enables citizens to compare the officials’ yearly declarations of wealth and provide comments and information if these are misrepresented. “We thought it best to open a public debate on comparing officials’ property and actively involve the citizens through giving commentaries, information and facts about suspicious declarations,” Petrit Zogaj, executive director of the FOL Movement, told SETimes. Zogaj explained the platform covers 224 senior public officials. He justified launching the platform as a necessary supporting tool to ensure transparency and serve as a check to perpetuating corruption. (SETimes)


Serbia, NATO work to enhance co-operation, regional benefits

By fostering its relationship with NATO, Belgrade could benefit in more than a military sense, Brigadier General Ornello Baron, the chief of NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, told SETimes in an exclusive interview. “NATO is not only a military organisation. We are, for example, assisting the ministry of defense and the Serbian government to deal with anti-corruption, we are helping in hazard prevention and science, NATO members provide significant donations and grants to Serbia,” Baron told SETimes. Regional safety, financial support, effective military reform according to NATO standards and faster EU accession are also benefits the country could reap. He said that NATO is improving Serbia’s security, and is helping the country to develop a flexible, modern, and sustainable defense system, based on NATO countries’ experience. Although Serbia’s ongoing decision is to be military neutral, Serbia is an active member of the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme. Serbia troops are participating in UN and EU peacekeeping operations by using NATO mechanisms available to partnership countries. The general said that the current co-operation is in line with the agreed partnership goals, which range from defense planning and personnel management to air operation training, cyber defense and medical support. (SETimes)

Serbia EU accession talks still hinge on Kosovo

As the date for the release of the European Commission’s progress report on Kosovo approaches, many theories are making the rounds. All, however, said that Serbia needs to make further progress in its relations with Kosovo — a key condition outlined by the EC. A full report on Serbia’s progress toward EU accession will be published on 10 October. “The timing does not depend on the report on progress but on the progress made in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The moment the key priority is fulfilled, the Commission will be able to recommend the opening of the negotiations,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule’s Spokesman Peter Stano told Belgrade daily Večernje novosti. According to local media, the EU will likely postpone the opening of accession talks with Serbia until the end of 2013. The same report also indicated that the EC had described Serbia’s progress toward EU membership as “limited.” (SETimes)


Montenegrins debate political offer for October election

The campaign for Montenegro’s ninth parliamentary election began on 14 September amid a debate about whether the fractured opposition can muster the strength to unseat the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its coalition partners, who have ruled for 23 years. The latter, led by former, six-term Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, are confident of another victory. “We expect another electoral success as in previous years, a parliamentary majority, and will continue implementing the policy of Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic integration,” Zoran Bosnjak, MP of the Democratic Party of Socialists, told SETimes. Some bloggers are encouraged that the opposition Movement for Change (PzP) and New Serbian Democracy (NOVA) teamed up to form the Democratic Front. The largest opposition Socialists People’s Party (SNP), however, will participate independently. (SETimes)


Moldova rejects Russia’s gas ultimatum

Moscow’s warning to Moldova to give up its co-operation with the EU in return for cheaper Russian gas was met with reticence in Chisinau and drew alarm calls from economic analysts who ruled out any possibility that the former Soviet republic will yield to the ultimatum. During a visit to Russia earlier this month, Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat tried to negotiate lower gas prices with his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin. In 2011, Moldova imported 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia, for which it paid $1 billion. (…) The former Soviet republic, which has embarked upon a winding road toward the EU accession, is due to adhere to the Third Energy Package which forbids a company to both supply and transport gas at the same. This requirement would affect Russian gas giant Gazprom, which will be forced to sell part of its gas infrastructure in Moldova. Russia announced in January that it contested the package and was seeking juridical means to elude it. (SETimes)


North Caucasus

Internet Providers In Chechnya Instructed To Block YouTube Over Anti-Islam Film

Internet providers in Russia’s Chechen Republic in the majority Muslim-populated North Caucasus have been instructed to block YouTube to prevent access to a controversial amateur movie mocking the Prophet Muhammad. One Internet provider in Chechnya, Orange Company, has blocked the YouTube site already. Three remaining providers, MTS, Megafon and Vympelkom have been officially ordered by the republic’s prosecutor general to block the popular video-sharing online resource to prevent people viewing the film “Innocence of Muslims.” The film, which was privately made in the United States, sparked violent protests and attacks on U.S. embassies across the Islamic world. In the neighboring Russian republic of Daghestan, the private Summa Telekom firm had earlier blocked YouTube. (RFE/RL)

Suspected Militants Killed In Chechnya

Four police officers and four suspected militants have been killed in fighting in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya. Chechen security officials said the casualties occurred in a series of clashes between police and the rebels in the past two days in the southern Vedeno region. Chechen strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov confirmed the death toll on 23 September but denied reports that more than a dozen police officers were injured in the fighting. He said police were searching the mountainous area for other militants. After two separatist wars in Chechnya in the 1990s, the insurgency there has been largely suppressed, although security forces periodically clash with small groups of gunmen. But Islamic militancy has spilled into other North Caucasus republics. (RFE/RL)

Eight Suspected Militants Killed In Kabardino-Balkaria

Officials at the National Antiterrorist Committee in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria say eight suspected militants, including two women, have been killed by security forces in the republic’s capital, Nalchik. According to the officials, four leaders of the Islamic insurgency in Karbardino-Balkaria were among those killed. Security troops are searching the apartment building where the group was trapped after it refused to surrender. The area remains sealed by police. Violence between suspected Islamic militants and security forces in Russia’s North Caucasus region leaves dozens of people dead and injured each year. (RFE/RL)

Moldovan, N. Caucasus citizens On Trial In Prague For Alleged Support Of Terrorists

A Moldovan national and three Russian citizens from North Caucasus region have gone on trial in the Czech capital, Prague, for alleged links with a radical Islamist organization and forging documents. One more Daghestani and two Bulgarian citizens were also in the courtroom on charges of forging documents and illegal distribution of IDs. The defendants denied any links to the Jamaat Shariat organization, which has been reportedly involved in a number of terrorist attacks in Moscow and Russia’s republic of Daghestan. The seven were arrested last year. Investigators say the group was involved in forging IDs for individuals from Daghestan linked to terrorists based in Germany. The trial is the first Islamic extremism and terrorism-related hearing in the Czech Republic. (RFE/RL)

Chechnya, Ingushetia Prepare For Border Talks

The heads of the two commissions tasked with delimiting the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov and Republic of Ingushetia Prime Minister Musa Chiliyev met in Magas during September for preliminary talks on how to set about doing so. Both men expressed confidence that it will prove possible to reach a mutually acceptable agreement in bilateral talks without mediation by a third party. Such statements seem optimistic, even unrealistic, however, in light of the two sides’ conflicting claims and approaches. Republic of Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov says the border has already been defined by the legislation on municipalities passed by both republics, and all that remains to be done is to demarcate it. Yevkurov’s Chechen counterpart Ramzan Kadyrov for his part has accused Ingushetia of encroaching on Chechen territory. (RFE/RL)


CSTO Stages Military Exercises In Armenia

The Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) launched large-scale military exercises in the South Caucasus nation of Armenia on 16 September. Around 2,000 troops from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan conducted five days of war games. Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said the aim of the exercises was to create a “regional force that can neutralize potential threats.” The war games were suspected to unsettle two South Caucasus neighbors — Azerbaijan, which remains in a hostile dispute with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 and still views the Kremlin as a military threat. (RFE/RL)

Armenian Soldier Allegedly Killed By Azerbaijani Forces

Armenia’s Defense Ministry says Azerbaijani troops shot a 19-year-old Armenian soldier along the border with Azerbaijan. Armenian authorities have launched investigations into the incident that took place around noon on 25 September. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on September 26 that Armenian forces broke the cease-fire in at least three sections of the border overnight. Yerevan and Baku have been in conflict over the mainly ethnic Armenian-populated separatist Nagorno-Karabakh territory inside Azerbaijan for nearly three decades, with a fragile cease-fire in place since 1994. Several soldiers from both sides were reported killed in a series of incidents along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and the Nagorno-Karabakh border this summer. The self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has not been recognized by any other country. (RFE/RL)


Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey Hold Pipeline-Security Exercises

Azerbaijani, Georgian and Turkish troops have begun an exercise aimed at improving security for energy pipelines. The exercises near Ankara were scheduled to last until 28 September. Representatives of the three states’ armies and security forces responsible for guarding pipelines are taking part in the drills. In May, the flow of Azerbaijani natural gas to Turkey via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was halted after an unexplained explosion hit the line on Turkish territory. In June, Turkey, and Azerbaijan signed a deal to build a $7 billion Trans-Anatolian natural-gas pipeline (TANAP) — a project meant to carry Azerbaijani natural gas to European markets without passing through Russia or Iran. (RFE/RL)

Three Jailed In Azerbaijan For Jewish School Murder Plot

A court in Baku has sentenced three Azerbaijani men for plotting to kill teachers at a Jewish school in Azerbaijan. The leader of the group received 14 years in prison and the two other defendants got 13 and eight years in jail. Investigators said the group was hired to carry out the killings in Baku by an individual linked to Iranian security services. The group’s leader was shown by the state-run television channel confessing that the attack was planned as a reprisal against Israel for the assassination of an Iranian nuclear physicist. Tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran escalated this year. The Islamic regime in Tehran reportedly has been angered by friendlier links between Azerbaijan and Israel in recent months, while Azerbaijan has accused Iran of sponsoring Islamic radicals on its territory. (RFE/RL)

U.S. ‘Not Satisfied’ With Baku, Budapest Over Safarov Case

The United States is “not satisfied” with explanations from Baku and Budapest concerning the case of an Azerbaijani officer who brutally murdered an Armenian soldier at a NATO seminar in Hungary eight years ago. Philip Gordon, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, told RFE/RL at the Center for European Policy Analysis’ U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum on 20 September that Washington continues to express “dismay and disappointment” to Budapest about its decision to release Ramil Safarov to Baku. He said Washington is sending the same message to Azerbaijan’s government, which pardoned Safarov and then promoted him after his August 31 return to the country. (…) The European Union, the OSCE’s Minsk Group, Russia, and Hungary also expressed concern about Safarov’s pardon and promotion. (RFE/RL)


EU FMs To Monitor Preparations For Georgia Vote

Foreign ministers from five of the European Union’s newest member states have been tasked with monitoring preparations for Georgia’s parliamentary elections on 1 October. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov will join fellow ministers from Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Romania in traveling to Georgia on September 17 to observe preparations for the vote and show support for reforms “leading to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.” The ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili is expected to face its stiffest competition since coming to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, with support growing for the Georgian Dream opposition movement led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned last week the vote would be a “litmus test” for Georgian democracy. (RFE/RL)

Georgian Prison ‘Whistle-Blower’ Put On Interpol List

Georgian authorities have put a prison guard who filmed videos of inmates being tortured on Interpol’s wanted list. The release of the videos earlier this month sparked days of protests across Georgia in the run-up to the 1 October parliamentary elections. Authorities say former prison guard Vladimer Bedukadze is wanted for alleged involvement in the prison abuse. Bedukadze, who has fled to Belgium, says he made the videos in a bid to stop abuses. Prosecutors say 16 police officers have been detained so far and accused of torturing prisoners, including four police officers detained on 27 September. Two ministers have resigned and President Mikheil Saakashvili has promised a complete overhaul of the prison system. Saakashvili’s ruling party faces a major challenge in the October 1 elections from an opposition bloc led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. (RFE/RL)

Georgia, South Ossetia Both Claim Preparations For New Hostilities

Meeting earlier in the week [22 September] with the co-chairmen of the ongoing Geneva talks on the security and human rights repercussions of the August 2008 war, two senior South Ossetian politicians accused Georgia of engaging in a new military buildup that they fear presages a new attack on their breakaway region. The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) released a statement three days later saying it “has not observed any evidence to support those claims.” At the same time, the EUMM said it had registered, and conveyed to the Russian authorities its concern about, a concentration of Russian forces along the “administrative boundary line” separating South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia. Also on 21 September, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing concern at the deployment “in recent weeks” of Russian troops and armor along the administrative boundary line. It called on international organizations and Georgia’s foreign partners to convey to the Russian leadership that such an “aggressive posture” is unacceptable. Ambassador Philippe Lefort, who is the European Union’s special representative for Georgia, met on 18 September in Tskhinvali with South Ossetia’s de facto president, Leonid Tibilov. Tibilov said he had “very serious information about Georgia’s current intentions. Specifically, the Georgian Defense Ministry is building fortifications on the territory that borders on [South Ossetia’s] Leningori raion. (…) Under an agreement signed in April 2010, Russia maintains some 2,000 servicemen at its military base in South Ossetia. Among the weaponry at their disposal are Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems with a range of 70-90 kilometers, meaning they could target Tbilisi. The Georgian Foreign Ministry statement linked the Russian deployment in South Ossetia with the Kavkaz-2012 war games that began earlier this week at four locations in the steppes of southern Russia, several hundred kilometers to the north of the Georgian border. Chief of General Staff General Nikolai Makarov explained last month that these were simulation-based command-and-control exercises involving the deployment of forces on low-lying flat ground. (RFE/RL)


Russian Duma Speaker To Snub Council Of Europe

The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament says he will not attend the 1-5 October session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg. “We felt that my big strategic proposals were unlikely to be heard by some leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly and some Russophobic delegations,” Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin said. “It looks like they are more interested in something else.” European lawmakers are to vote on a resolution on Russia on October 2. A draft of it notes “serious concerns” over what it says are four “worrying” recent restrictive laws and says that “Russian society needs concrete reforms.” (…) Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chief Aleksei Pushkov on 27 September characterized the resolution as an attempt to make Russia “revise” its legislation. “[The report] says we should essentially revise our legislation,” Pushkov said, “revise the principles of permitting demonstrations and applying sanctions against their organizers, revise the recent verdict for the three members of Pussy Riot, revise the law on alternative military service, refrain from applying the law on extremism to religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and comply with Georgian-initiated resolutions on Abkhazia and Ossetia, which would be equivalent to Russia renouncing its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s sovereignty.” The Duma, dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, this summer passed laws hiking fines for political protests, criminalizing slander, introducing a mandatory label of “foreign agent” for foreign nongovernmental organizations, and creating a blacklist for undesirable Internet sites. (RFE/RL)

New Russian Bill Would Widen Definition Of Treason

Russia’s parliament has given tentative approval to legislation that, if passed, would expand the definition of high treason. Rights activists said it could be part of a widening crackdown on dissent. The current law equates high treason to espionage. Under the new bill, treason would include activities such as financial or consultative assistance to a foreign state or organization. The current law describes high treason as activities harming Russia’s external security. The new legislation would widen the definition to include moves against Russia’s constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The State Duma unanimously approved the bill on 21 September in the first of three required readings. Lyudmila Alekseyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group said it was aimed at “ending any independent public activism.” Veteran rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said it could be used to prosecute critics of the government. (RFE/RL)

U.S. Asks For More Time To Close Down Aid Operations In Russia

The United States says it has asked Russia for more time to end the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) work in the country. Russian authorities have given the United States until 1 October to close USAID’s operations in Russia, accusing the organization of seeking to influence Russian elections through its grants. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on September 20 that the United States promised Russia “there will be no new contracting, no new programming, as of 1 October. But Nuland added that Washington had also “asked for some time to wind down the mission, to conclude the programs that we have underway.” However, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Moscow stood by its position that “a decision has been taken and this decision of a sovereign state must be carried out.” Lukashevich said Moscow regretted the decision had caused a scandal, but added that Washington was informed well in advance of the move. “In principle,” he said, “everyone understood and knew about this problem.” (RFE/RL)

UN Security Council Split Over Children And Armed Conflict

The UN Security Council has backed the naming and shaming of governments and armed groups that recruit, kill, or sexually attack children in armed conflicts. Eleven members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, which called for continued annual reports by the UN secretary-general identifying countries and groups that victimize youngsters. It calls on member states to bring those responsible for such violations to justice. China, Russia, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan abstained from the vote, arguing the issue was beyond the scope of Security Council’s mandate. The UN’s latest report on children and armed conflict said children in Pakistan were being used by armed groups allied to Islamist extremists to carry out suicide attacks and were themselves victims of attacks. (RFE/RL)



OSCE Slams Belarus Vote As ‘Not Competitive From The Start’

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says it has “serious concerns” over weekend parliamentary elections in Belarus in which not a single opposition candidate won a seat in parliament. The OSCE said on 24 September that the poll was “not competitive from the start.” “Many democratic rights” were not respected, the group’s observers said in a statement. Most opposition parties had pulled their candidates and urged voters to stay away from the polls, the latest in a string of flawed Belarusian elections since President Alyaksandr Lukashenka took power in 1994. (…) Antonio Milososki, the head of the OSCE’s election observation mission, said the lack of neutrality and impartiality during the latest vote “severely undermines public confidence in the process.” “A free election depends on people being free to speak, organize, and run for office,” Matteo Mecacci*, who led the short-term OSCE observer mission, told a news conference in Minsk, “and we didn’t see that in this campaign.” Belarusian officials cited turnout of 74.3 percent, but the opposition claimed the actual turnout was much lower. The observers singled out a lack of access or beatings handed out to reporters trying to cover the campaign, imprisonment or “arbitrary administrative actions” targeting opposition candidates, and flaws in the administrative and legal framework for elections, among other problems, hampering the voting. (RFE/RL)


British Navy May Face 4-Year Gap in Airborne Early Warning Capability

The Royal Navy could be facing as much as a four-year gap in its airborne early warning capability after the current fleet of Sea King Mk7 helicopters is taken out of service in 2016, said sources familiar with the plan. It could be 2020 before the Merlin helicopters earmarked to take over the airborne surveillance and control role in a project known as Crowsnest are operational, the sources said. The move leaves the Royal Navy with a yawning gap in its maritime surveillance capabilities during the second half of this decade following the axing of the Nimrod MRA4 patrol aircraft as part of the cost-cutting strategic defense review of 2010. The radar-equipped Merlins will have a key role providing organic protection for the Royal Navy’s new F-35-equipped aircraft carrier force, scheduled to be operational around 2020. Concerns over a capability gap developing between introduction of the airborne early warning radar-equipped Merlins and the demise of the Sea Kings were voiced in a parliamentary defense committee report Sept. 19, looking at the future of U.K. maritime surveillance. “There is the potential for other capability gaps to occur, such as when the Sea King airborne surveillance and control helicopter is withdrawn in 2016 to be replaced by the Project Crowsnest operating from the Merlin Mk2,” the report said. A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman declined to comment on the in-service date. In a statement released with the report, James Arbuthnot, the committee chairman, said the “risk is likely to worsen in the medium term as further maritime surveillance capabilities are withdrawn or not yet filled.” (DefenseNews)

Britain Plays Down Reduction of Joint Patrols in Afghanistan

NATO’s reduction of joint patrols with Afghan troops will have a minimal impact on operations and are not a change in strategy, British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on 18 September. Hammond accused the media of overreacting to the decision, made after a spate of “insider attacks” in which Afghan recruits turned their weapons on Western troops preparing them for a security handover in 2014. The issue led to a stormy session in parliament, with a lawmaker from the opposition Labour party being banned from the House of Commons after calling Hammond a liar. “There has been no change of policy in Afghanistan,” Hammond told lawmakers after he was called to answer an urgent question on the issue. “The UK partnering and mentoring operations will continue substantially unchanged by this order.” Hammond denied that the move would affect the coalition’s war strategy, under which the planned withdrawal of Western troops hinges on training Afghan forces to take over security in just over two years’ time. “We have a strategic plan that takes us to the end of combat operations in 2014, while strengthening the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) to take over security responsibility from us.” (DefenseNews)

David Cameron hints at EU referendum after election

David Cameron has given his clearest hint yet that he will back a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU if the Tories win the next election. He said there will be opportunities for the British people to give “fresh consent” to the UK’s EU membership. Closer economic ties between eurozone countries “will give us opportunities for changing our relationship with Europe”, he said. However, he added he thought it was not in Britain’s interest to leave the EU. The prime minister has faced calls to back an in/out referendum from his own MPs, 81 of whom rebelled against the party line last year to vote for a referendum. Some Conservative MPs fear the UK Independence Party – which has long campaigned for the UK to leave the EU and for the public to have their say in a referendum – could lose the party seats at the next general election if Mr Cameron does not take a more Eurosceptic stance. (BBC News)


New German Corvette Heads to Mediterranean on First Mission

The German Navy has finally deployed its new corvette Class 130 warships, four years after the vessel was commissioned. The Magdeburg (F 261) left its homeport of Warnemünde at the Baltic Sea on 24 September for a two-month deployment with a U.N. maritime task force operating off the coast of Lebanon. Corvette F 261 is the second of five ships in a new class of warships purchased by the German Navy. The vessel was commissioned in 2008, but along with the earlier vessel has been plagued by technical problems, primarily relating to the transmission. In June, there were reports of toxic gas in the engine compartments of the ships. “I am pleased to prove the capability of the corvette with a well-trained crew for the first time on operation,” said the ship’s captain, Commander Torben Steinweller. He and his 58-member crew, and additional naval protection forces, will reach their deployment area in the eastern Mediterranean after a two-week transit. (DefenseNews)

Germany Says Couple Spied For Russia

German prosecutors have filed espionage charges against a married couple accused of spying for Russia. The federal prosecutor’s office said the pair worked in Germany for Russia’s foreign intelligence service for more than 20 years, gathering information on European Union and NATO strategy. According to prosecutors, the pair entered Germany in 1988 and 1990, claiming to be Austrian citizens of South American origin. Prosecutors say the couple, who called themselves Andreas and Heidrun A., received some $130,000 annually for their work in recent years. Prosecutors didn’t disclose any further information on the alleged spies’ identities. The couple was arrested in October 2011. German media said it is the first such case in Germany since the end of the Cold War. (RFE/RL)


Tear Gas, Rocks Fly At Anti-Austerity Protest In Athens

Riot police in Athens have fired tear gas at protesters who in turn have been lobbing stones and petrol bombs in one of the largest anti-austerity demonstrations to hit the Greek capital in months. (…) Reuters estimates there are at least “50,000 striking workers.” As the BBC says, “the trade union-led action is the first since Greece’s conservative-led coalition came to power in June. The protest is against planned spending cuts of 11.5bn euros ($15bn; £9bn). The savings are a pre-condition to Greece receiving its next tranche of bailout funds, without which the country could face bankruptcy in weeks.” Meanwhile, “violent protests in Madrid and growing talk of secession in wealthy Catalonia are piling pressure on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he moves closer to asking Europe for rescue money,” Reuters reports. (NPR)


Pentagon Stop-Work Order Adds to French Aircraft Cost

France is being asked to pay an extra $5 million on a $466 million contract after the Pentagon ordered Boeing to stop work to upgrade the French Air Force’s four airborne early warning aircraft, sources familiar with the situation said. Although relatively small, about 1 percent of the program budget, the added cost and negotiations are grating on the nerves of French defense officials. “There might be reduced capability because of the technical solution proposed,” a French official said. There may also be another technical change that would drive the cost higher, the official said. “Program protection issues” over technology deemed too sensitive for export led U.S. Defense Department officials to issue an order in the domain of stop-work on the upgrade of the four French E-3F airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, a source briefed on the subject said. DoD’s export procedure seems to have been slow on the program protection issues, but defense officials insist the client must pay. If the changes are accepted, the upgrade is expected to start in the first half of 2013, a year late, the French official said. France is the first export client for midlife upgrade to the Block 40/45 standard, also being installed in the U.S. Air Force’s 32-strong AWACS fleet. U.S. officials early this summer called for a due diligence study to see whether there was a technical risk on the export deal and asked Boeing to put a hold on the French upgrade, agreed to under a $466 million contract signed in 2010 under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) rules. (DefenseNews)

Vigilantes burn Roma camp in Marseille, France

A group of vigilantes have evicted a group of Roma (Gypsies) from a Marseille housing estate and burnt down their camp, French media report. There were no reports of violence when the 35 Roma people were forced out of the city’s Creneaux estate. Furniture and other items were set on fire at the camp, which was erected on wasteland at the beginning of the week. Residents had reportedly complained to their mayor, blaming the Roma for burglaries in the area. (…) It appears that residents went to the authorities on 27 September morning, before the vigilantes took the law into their own hands. Marseille has a recent history of tension between residents and Roma who have set up camps there, often just tents erected on patches of bare ground. (BBC News)


Spain budget imposes further austerity measures

Spain has set out its austerity budget for 2013, with new spending cuts but protection for pensions, amid a shrinking economy and 25% unemployment. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria called it “a crisis budget designed to exit the crisis”. The new programme of savings, tax rises and structural reforms will be overseen by a new budget authority. Expectations are growing that Spain will seek a financial bailout from its eurozone partners. (BBC News)



Russia Demands U.S. End Support of Democracy Groups

Russia has ordered the United States to end its financial support for a wide range of pro-democracy, public health and other civil society programs here, in an aggressive step by the Kremlin to halt what it views as American meddling in its internal affairs. The Kremlin’s provocative decision to end two decades of work in post-Soviet Russia by the United States Agency for International Development — with little warning ahead of a 1 October deadline — was announced on Tuesday by the State Department in Washington. The move stands to cut off aid that currently totals about $50 million a year, a relatively small sum but a potentially devastating blow for groups that came to rely on foreign money as domestic controls over politics tightened. American officials, who were informed of the decision earlier this month, quickly pledged to maneuver around the Kremlin. The Obama administration last October proposed the creation of a new $50 million fund — essentially an endowment for a private foundation established under Russian law — for Russian civil society groups, and one senior administration official said work on that project would speed up. The Kremlin has taken a number of actions in recent months to bring pressure on nongovernmental groups and clamp down on political dissent, including a new law requiring any organization receiving aid from abroad to register with the justice manager as “acting as a foreign agent.” Russia also increased the penalties for libel and slander — a step that seemed intended to intimidate critics of government officials. Russia is not alone in its resentment of United States-led democracy building efforts. Those have become a sore point for a number of countries in recent years, including allies like Egypt and Pakistan, which have objected to outside groups telling them how to run their affairs. The aid agency’s cold war history of providing a front for American intelligence agencies is still fresh in the memories of foreign officials, many of whom have never fully dropped their suspicions. The abruptness of Russia’s announcements represents a sour new turn in relations between the countries, which have been touch-and-go since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency in May. While Mr. Putin has rebuffed overtures from President Obama for international action on Syria, he has also praised him as “a very honest man” who could possibly conclude a missile defense deal in coming years. Mr. Putin also undoubtedly would prefer to deal with the devil he knows rather than the one he does not — the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, whom Mr. Putin has criticized for characterizing Russia as America’s greatest geopolitical foe. Reaction was swift in Washington to what was widely perceived as an affront, with Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, urging the White House to condemn the Kremlin. “The Russian government’s decision to end all U.S.A.I.D. activities in the country is an insult to the United States and a finger in the eye of the Obama administration, which has consistently trumpeted the alleged success of its so-called reset policy toward Moscow,” Mr. McCain said in a statement. (NY Times)


Romania, Bulgaria make trafficking cases a priority

At least 540 Bulgarians were victims of human trafficking in 2011, while Romania investigated nearly 900 similar cases last year. The increase, attributed to sexual exploitation, confirms that the two countries remain both source and transit areas in the region for such illegal activities, experts say. In Romania, the number of the cases in 2011 is up from 717 the previous year. At the same time, anti-human trafficking authorities indicted 480 persons in these cases, compared to 407 in 2010. More than 270 offenders were convicted, up from 203 two years ago. In Bulgaria, of the 112 offenders convicted last year, 95 received a court sentence for sex trafficking. (…) The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) concluded in June that Romania, despite having taken steps to combat the phenomenon, should pay more attention to several aspects. A reinforcement of the co-ordination and co-operation between all anti-trafficking actors needs to be organised, and there is a need for further measures to tackle the root causes of trafficking, especially through fostering access to education and jobs for vulnerable groups, the report said. GRETA also recommended better training for relevant professionals, especially border police staff who can ultimately recognize and identify victims of human trafficking, practical assistance and effective access to compensation and legal redress for the victims. In terms of investigation and prosecution, the Council of Europe urged Bucharest to step up proactive investigations into trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitations and into any alleged involvement of public officials in offences related to human trafficking. But, the phenomenon flourishes amid a precarious economic environment, GRETA’s experts warn. (SETimes)


Hundreds In Crimea Protest Anti-Islam Film

Hundreds of people have rallied in Simferopol — the capital of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea, to protest a U.S.-made video denigrating the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The protesters, mainly Crimean Tatars, chanted, “There is No God, but God and Muhammad is His Messenger!” They were holding placards, one of which read, “America, Muhammad is Clean, You Are Humiliated!” A similar protest was held by Tatar activists in the capital of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan, on 26 September. The privately produced film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked widespread protests, some of them deadly, in some predominantly Muslim countries this month. (RFE/RL)


Turkey leads regional effort against organised crime

The Black Sea region stands at the intersection of multiple transnational security challenges making regional co-operation necessary to combat criminal networks. Transnational organised crime is present in every country in the region, leaving none immune to the detrimental effects it has on the economic development and integration of the region. On 1 July, Turkey assumed the role of chairman of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Co-operation for a six-month term led by Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru. Under the theme, “From regional co-operation to a zone of prosperity,” one goal of the Turkish chairmanship is combating organised crime, illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons, terrorism, corruption and money laundering. Combating these transnational threats requires not just a national commitment but also the co-operation of other states. Antonia Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, highlighted that “since crime has gone global purely national responses are inadequate.” To address these issues, there is a need for regional and international responses, Costa said in a UN report on globalised crime. Koru said that organised crime and trafficking in the Black Sea region “have become major sources of concern.” “Due to the transnational nature of issues such as terrorism, illegal migration, and trafficking in human-beings, drugs and weapons,” Koru said that there is a need for greater co-operation between states. The strategic location of the organisation’s countries between Europe and Asia puts them at the centre of many of transnational crimes. According to the UN, 80 percent of heroin trafficked to Europe comes from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey where it enters the Balkan route. (SETimes)

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