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Internationals Loosen Kosovo’s Leash, Small Russian Island Gets Very Big Bridge

Plus, a family surprise for a Hungarian extremist, and Uzbekistan jilts its allies, again.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Ernad Halilovic, and Sofia Lotto Persio 3 July 2012

1. Kosovo to gain full independence in September


Kosovo will enjoy full sovereignty from September, the international body that oversees the former Serbian province’s independence said 2 July, but Reuters reports that NATO troops and EU police will still monitor the country, particularly the Serb-majority area in the north.


Pieter_FeithPieter Feith
Meeting in Vienna, the 25-nation International Steering Group for Kosovo determined that the country has successfully met the conditions the body set for full independence, B92 reports. In September the group will shut down the International Civilian Office in Kosovo headed by Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith.


Some concerns remain about the status of the country’s Serb minority. Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party, and Oliver Ivanovic, the outgoing state secretary in the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo, both said Pristina has not done enough to guarantee the Serbs’ security, Balkan Insight writes.


Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Resistance to the Pristina government remains alive in the north, but Serbs in much of the country now work with local authorities. Reuters quotes Feith as saying that Serbs are increasingly asking for services from the Kosovo government, showing their growing engagement.


2. Vladivostok’s billion-dollar baby opens


Vladivostok inaugurated a record-breaking bridge 2 July in a ceremony at which Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dubbed it “a beautiful structure, embodying the genius of engineering,” according to the Guardian.


The span connecting the Pacific coast city to Russky (Russian) Island, whose 5,000 residents had been cut off from the mainland until now, is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, with a 1,104-meter section suspended by cables midway along its 3.1-kilometer total length.


The bridge, which cost about $1.1 billion to build, opens to the public 1 August, a month before the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit Russia will host on the island. Asahi Shimbun reports that the structure is part of Moscow’s strategy to open a gateway to East Asia, China in particular.


The recent collapse of a road to the bridge from Vladivostok’s airport added to the litany of complaints of shoddy construction and cost overruns on the many construction projects under way to get the city ready for the summit, the Guardian writes.


Medvedev shrugged off the criticism, saying, "I am confident the quality is there. Where things may be a bit poor, we will adjust it, carefully – we can also do this, you know."


Vladivostok_bridgeVladivostok's new bridge at an earlier stage of construction.


3. Uzbekistan withdraws from regional security grouping


Uzbekistan last week revoked its membership in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for the second time.


The move comes as no surprise to Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation. a security think tank. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, he says the CSTO is “irrelevant” and merely a modern-day version of the Warsaw Pact, putting Russia at the center of power through its bilateral relationships with individual alliance members. Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are the other members.


Factors beyond the alliance’s supposed impotence may lay behind Uzbekistan’s departure.


“Uzbekistan is clearly counting on being the key transit route out of Afghanistan” after the United States and other NATO partners complete their withdrawal by the end of 2014, Russian analyst Andrei Grozin tells the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.


However, Grozin anticipates Uzbekistan will return to CSTO after “having extracted the benefits from partnership with the West” because of the shaky security situation in the region.


An original signer of the CSTO treaty in 1992, Uzbekistan quit the organization in 1999 when the United States expressed interest in the Caspian region’s energy resources. Uzbekistan rejoined in 2006, Asia Times Online reports. Western countries leveled a barrage of criticism at the regime following the killings of hundreds of protesters in Andijan in 2005.


CSTO_summit2010CSTO leaders at their December 2010 summit. Photo: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office


4. Jobbik leader adjusting to revelation of Jewish roots


A member of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party says it will “probably take some time for me to come to terms” with the discovery that he has Jewish roots, the Budapest Times writes.


SzegediCsanad Szegedi
Csanad Szegedi, 29, a member of the European Parliament and a regional Jobbik leader, told the right-wing magazine Barikad in late June that he first learned of his Jewish ancestry in December. His Jewish maternal grandmother survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.


Jobbik entered parliament for the first time in 2010 with a surprisingly strong 12 percent result in national elections. The party is closely linked to the banned paramilitary Hungarian Guard and has been accused of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiments. Another Jobbik politician recently offered to submit to a test to prove he did not have Romani or Jewish genes, JTA writes.


5. Final bids received for huge Czech nuclear job


Three bidders submitted their final offers 2 July on a project to add two reactors at the Temelin nuclear plant, further moving the Czech Republic toward being a major exporter of nuclear-generated electricity, according to Business New Europe.


Westinghouse Electric, France’s Areva, and the Russian-Czech MIR.1200 consortium each submitted thousands of pages of documentation in hopes of winning a contract estimated at $10 billion.


Temelin’s owner, the energy utility CEZ, said it would choose the winner by the end of 2013 and planned to start construction by 2016, Bloomberg reports.


CEZ also owns the country’s second nuclear plant at Dukovany. The company hopes to gradually begin closing down its aging coal plants as more nuclear capacity comes on line, Bloomberg writes. State-controlled CEZ, one of Central Europe’s most profitable companies, has invested widely in electricity generation and distribution in several other countries, most in the Balkans.


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ernad Halilovic and Sofia Lotto Persio are TOL editorial interns.
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