Plus, Central Asian countries plan to ease visa regulations and Georgia lures residents of breakaway regions with offer of free education.by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Sofia Lotto Persio, and Ernad Halilovic 20 June 2012
A long-running dispute over oil and gas fields on the Caspian Sea bed has sparked back into life.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry on 19 June protested to Turkmenistan about the activities of a Turkmen vessel in the area of an oil field called Kyapaz by Azerbaijan and Serdar by Turkmenistan, Radio Free Europe reports.
In a note to Turkmen Ambassador Toyly Komekov, the ministry said, "Turkmenistan's illegal activities are unacceptable and Azerbaijan preserves the right to take appropriate measures to defend its sovereign rights in the Caspian,” Reuters writes.
In 2008, leaders of the two countries signed an agreement to stop any research or extraction in the field that is claimed by both sides until the dispute is resolved, according to RFE.
Turkmenistan responded with a statement stating that the disputed area “does not belong to Azerbaijan” and that “the Turkmen side will implement adequate measures, if such provocations continue,” Reuters reports.
Less than two years before the Winter Olympic Games begin in Sochi, Russia, residents of the Black Sea city have been told to spruce up their house facades and fences.
Gazeta.ru writes that fines for disobeying the government decree range from 1,000 to 5,000 rubles ($30 to $150) for private homeowners, 15,000 to 30,000 rubles for officials, and up to 200,000 rubles for companies.
The Sochi Olympic department’s website said nearly 8,000 properties “must be modernized into a single architectural style by 2014,” Gazeta.ru says.
Residents are eligible for low-interest loans from the city to help defray the expenses, according to RT, which also reports the city has begun displaying English words and phrases and their Russian equivalents all over town on billboards and plasma screens and in shop windows and public transport. The city wants locals to learn 662 English words before the games begin.
Many visitors to the games may spend only a short time in subtropical Sochi itself, however. Most events will be held in the mountains high above the city.
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee is reviewing the process of distributing tickets to the 2014 Games after British media reports that many Olympic officials were illegally reselling tickets to this summer’s London Olympics.
Three Central Asian countries may liberalize visa rules in an effort to simplify travel mainly for visitors from wealthy countries.
As The Moscow Times reports, the Kyrgyz parliament last week passed a bill to scrap visa requirements for visits of up to 90 days by citizens of 44 countries including most European countries and the United States.
Kazakhstan is planning to lift the visa requirement for citizens of the 34 OECD member countries, but only for visits of up to 15 days, Joanna Lillis writes on EurasiaNet’s Inside the Cocoon blog.
Citizens of the EU, United States, and some Southeast Asian countries will be able to visit Tajikistan without a visa according to a bill passed by parliament in May, The Moscow Times reports.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan already issue short-term visas to visitors arriving by air. The recent bills, if signed into law, will make travel even less onerous.
The authoritarian regimes in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have so far not indicated they will follow suit.
The Georgian Ministry of Education and Science plans to finance the university education of those residents of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia holding “status-neutral” documents, Radio Free Europe reports.
Tbilisi began issuing the special documents in 2011 to facilitate travel between territory it controls and the breakaway regions. Most residents of the two regions hold Russian passports and face difficulties in crossing the border with Georgia.
Abkhaz authorities criticized the decision to allow holders of the documents to visit the United States, as announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 5 June. Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister Irakli Khintba denounced the move as part of a strategy to “lure” Abkhazians back to Georgia proper.
An escalating battle between Romania’s new prime minister, Victor Ponta, and his bitter rival, President Traian Basescu, seems to be spilling over to other arenas of Romanian life. Earlier this week, Ponta was accused of having plagiarized a significant portion of his 2003 doctoral thesis. Ponta rejected the charges, saying they were part of a political plot by the president and his advisers, according to Reuters. Ponta came into power in April after the government of Basescu’s ally, Emil Boc, fell in a no-confidence vote in February following nationwide protests over proposed austerity measures.
Ponta denied any wrongdoing in his doctoral thesis, while saying he would be willing to give up his doctorate but would not resign as prime minister if an investigation found any misconduct, according to The Washington Post.
The political battle is also making its way into the arts. Last week Ponta’s center-left government issued an emergency ordinance to shift control of the Romanian Cultural Institute from the presidency to the Senate, according to Balkan Insight. Hundreds protested the ordinance in Bucharest 18 June. Protesters, including several of the country’s most prominent artists, authors, and film directors, argued that the move was done without any consultation and was a form of political purge, Balkan Insight reports.
Several other heads of Romanian organizations have been sacked since April’s shift in government. On 12 June Alexandru Lazescu, the head of public television TVR, was sacked without explanation, as was the director of the National Archives, Dorin Dobrincu, three days later.