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Dagestani Rebels Target Police, Moldova Joins the Chemical Castration Crowd

Plus, a Belarusian Christian activist’s long hunger strike and a new power to reckon with in Russian opposition circles.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Joshua Boissevain, and Stephen Underwood 7 March 2012

1. Belarusian activist vows to continue hunger strike


Syarhey KavalenkaSyarhey Kavalenka
A jailed Belarusian activist has said he will continue his two-month hunger strike until he is released, reports. Syarhey Kavalenka, 37, a member of the Belarusian Conservative Christian Party, was given a suspended three-year sentence in 2010 for displaying the banned historical Belarusian flag on a public Christmas tree in the city of Vitsebsk. In December he began a hunger strike after being jailed on a parole violation charge. On 24 February a Vitsebsk court sentenced him to 25 months; he was transferred to a prison hospital in Minsk several days later. He has been force-fed at times since beginning the hunger strike, writes.


Kavalenka appears unwell and his weight has dropped from 83 kilograms to 56 kilograms since his arrest, the activist’s brother, Vital, told 6 March.


Also yesterday, a Protestant pastor was denied permission to visit Kavalenka and try to persuade him to end the hunger strike, Radio Free Europe reports.


2. Suicide bombing caps string of attacks on Dagestani police


A female suicide bomber who killed five police officers in Dagestan has been identified as the widow of rebel fighter Zaur Zagidov, reports by Vestnik Kavkaza and Caucasian Knot say today.


Russian sources identified the bomber as Aminat Ibrahimova. The attack took place late on 6 March at a police station in the village of Karabudakhent. It is the latest in a string of terror attacks to hit the violence-prone Russian republic in recent days. In a separate incident yesterday, a police officer and a civilian were reportedly killed in the town of Kaspiisk, and three police were shot dead when masked men opened fire at a polling station during the 4 March presidential vote.


Zagidov was reported killed during a three-day operation by Russian security forces three weeks ago.


Armed conflicts reportedly killed more than 300 people in Dagestan in the first nine months of 2011, more than half the total for the North Caucasus.


Dagestan_special.forces_raidRussian forces assault a house in Kaspiisk, Dagestan, in November. Two suspected rebel fighters were killed in the raid. Source: YouTube/shturmBlog


3. Moldova approves chemical castration for pedophiles


Moldovan lawmakers passed legislation 6 March that would make chemical castration compulsory for those found guilty of pedophilia and in some cases of rape. The new amendments to the criminal code will go into effect on 1 July and will apply to both Moldovan citizens and foreigners, according to the Associated Press.


Lawmakers said sexual abuse of minors was on the rise in the country and that in the past five years, there have been 15 cases of recidivism among abusers. Valeriu Munteanu, the Liberal party member who introduced the bill, said in an interview with Radio Free Europe that he was also worried that Moldova was increasingly becoming a magnet for foreign sex tourists. “In recent years, Moldova has unfortunately – and to our shame – become a more common tourist destination for rapists from all over Europe who come to satisfy their carnal appetites,” he said. “The animals are here in Moldova, and we must protect children.”


Moldova is not the only Eastern European country to start using chemical castration. In Poland the procedure is mandatory in some cases, and in the Czech Republic, surgical castration is voluntary for sex offenders, according to the BBC. Last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev approved a bill that allows pedophiles to be chemically castrated.


Amnesty International Moldova condemned the new law in a statement as incompatible with human rights and said the amendments “undermine the basic right to physical and mental integrity.” 


4. Ukraine to further cut Russian gas buys, Yanukovych says


Saying Ukraine has no choice but to gradually reduce its purchases of Russian gas, President Viktor Yanukovych said 6 March the volume of imports for 2012 would fall by about one-third, from 41 billion cubic meters (bcm) last year to 27 bcm.


The price charged by Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom distributor has become “unbearable,” Yanukovych said, in the latest complaint about the gas deal inked in 2009 by Gazprom and his opponent in the 2010 presidential election, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office in connection with the gas agreement.


The 2009 deal sets the gas price according to oil prices, which have since risen sharply.


Ukraine currently pays about $416 per cubic meter of Russian gas, which Yanukovych called “the world’s highest gas price,” at the Davos Forum in January, according to RIA Novosti.


Last week, Gazprom offered a 10 percent price cut in a bid to maintain the contracted volume of 52 bcm for 2012. Ukrainian officials have not made a decision on this offer.

In February, Gazprom said Ukraine could be completely cut out of the Russian gas transport system when the proposed South Stream trans-Black Sea pipeline comes into service.

5. Could Putin’s next challenger be a woman?


Irina ProkhorovaIrina Prokhorova
An unexpected side effect of Mikhail Prokhorov’s Russian presidential campaign has been the emergence of his older sister, Irina, as a skilled debater free of the jet-setter image surrounding her billionaire brother. The New York Times notes how, in a televised debate where the filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov stood in for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Irina Prokhorova, present there on behalf of her brother, managed to win the admiration of the usually composed Oscar-winning director. “If you were running for president together with your brother, I would vote for you,” Mikhalkov said. 


Better known in literary circles before her involvement in her brother's campaign, Prokhorova has a doctorate in philology and founded the New Literary Observer, one of the first intellectual journals and publishing houses to appear after the fall of the Soviet Union, to “raise a new generation of proud intellectuals.” These efforts brought her a State Prize of the Russian Federation in 2003. She also co-founded with her brother the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation, a charity supporting culture and civil society.


In an interview with Radio Free Europe after the 4 March election, in which Prokhorov finished third, Prokhorova noted, “the positive feature of this election was the determination of many voters and observers, the involvement of a huge army of young people” who have been “incomparably more active” than for the December parliamentary elections. She also said that her involvement in the election campaign made her more aware of the “incredible rift between Russia's dynamic, modern society and its archaic government.”

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants. Stephen Underwood is a TOL editorial intern.
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