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Pilot Implicated In Russian Hockey Team Crash, EU Reassures Belgrade on Kosovo

Plus, Bulgaria's leader pledges economic progress, and NATO weighs in on a controversial pardon in Azerbaijan.

by S. Adam Cardais and Nino Tsintsadze 7 September 2012

1. Pilot documents forged in Russian hockey team tragedy


The pilot of a plane that crashed in the city of Yaroslavl a year ago today, killing the members of a top Russian ice hockey team, received flight permission based on forged documents, Russian authorities said 6 September, Reuters reports.


Then-President Dmitry Medvedev paid his repects to the dead shortly after the plane crash last year. Photo from


A spokesman for Russia's top investigative agency said the pilot and co-pilot of the Yak-42 plane "had not undergone the necessary training to fly this type of aircraft." The pilot was cleared to fly based on "falsified documents," Reuters reports the spokesman as saying.


The plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed into a river bank after takeoff on 7 September 2011, killing everyone on board but the flight engineer. Radio Free Europe has a multimedia feature commemorating the one-year anniversary of the crash.


Vadim Timofeyev, deputy head of the Yak-Service airline, has been charged with breaching air safety rules, according to Reuters.  If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.


Russia has among the world's worst air safety records.


2. Brussels: Serbia's EU future does not hinge on Kosovo recognition


Belgrade will not have to recognize Kosovo to join the European Union, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said, Balkan Insight reports.


"The heads of state of the EU in December adopted clear conclusions about sustainable development of relations with Kosovo, in other words, about normalization, not about the need for recognition," Fuele said, following a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic 4 September.


By "normalization," Fuele means that Belgrade must continue in negotiations with Pristina. Launched in March 2011, the EU-backed talks focus on resolving technical issues related to customs, for instance, and are a condition for Serbia's European integration.


Serbia, which won EU candidacy this year, fears that Kosovo's recognition is a de facto accession criterion. But Fuele said Brussels "has no plans beyond" the dialogue.


Belgrade rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence. This week Dacic reiterated Belgrade's position that it will never recognize Kosovo, B92 reports.


3. Bulgaria's days as poorest EU country are numbered, prime minister says


Boyko Borisov
Bulgaria will throw off the label of poorest EU country next year, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said 6 September at a celebration of the 127th anniversary of Bulgarian unification, the Sofia News Agency reports.


Speaking in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city, Borisov said the country is becoming more competitive. Across the board, he said, incomes are likely to rise next year, the news service reports.


Those remarks come days after Borisov announced that Bulgaria has shelved plans to join the euro zone until the currency union gets its shaky house in order. He told The Wall Street Journal that abandoning the lev doesn't make sense now, a time of great doubt about the euro's future.


Bulgaria has had among the lowest GDPs per capita in the EU since joining the bloc in 2007. Despite solid growth in the mid-2000s, its economy contracted sharply after the 2008 global financial crisis and grew only 1.7 percent last year, according to the World Bank.


Bulgaria declined two spots to 59th place in the World Bank's 2012 Doing Business report.


4. NATO ‘concerned’ over Azeri pardon


The leader of NATO has criticized Azerbaijan’s grant of a presidential pardon for a soldier who murdered an Armenian in Hungary in 2004, RIA Novosti reports.


NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told students at Yerevan State University that the pardon for Ramil Safarov, who killed Armenian military officer Gurgen Margarian during a NATO training course in Budapest, “damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process,” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.


The two countries have been locked in a fragile cease-fire since the early 1990s, when they fought over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave located within the territory of Azerbaijan. Peace talks led by the United States, Russia, and France have yielded little. Armenia and Azerbaijan participate in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, a cooperation and training program for countries that are not members of the alliance.


Safarov was imprisoned in Hungary in 2006 but extradited to Azerbaijan last week, where he was immediately pardoned and given other honors. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, the NATO chief said the killing was a “terrible crime and should not be glorified.”


Rasmussen visited Armenia on 6 September as part of a tour of the South Caucasus. He is scheduled to go to Baku today, where, he told RFE, he “intends to voice his concerns to Azerbaijani leaders.”


5. Teen attempts robbery to fund suicide


A teenage girl tried to rob a bank in the Russian republic of Udmurtia so she could flee the country and commit suicide, RIA Novosti reports.


Investigators said 6 September that the girl tried to rob a bank in Izhevsk, the capital, at knifepoint at the end of August. Bank guards thwarted the attempt, RIA Novosti reports.


The girl reportedly wanted the money so she could flee her overbearing parents and kill herself, according to RIA Novosti. She faces up to 15 years in prison.


By one count, Russia has the world’s sixth-highest suicide rate, and the rate for young people is among the world’s highest, according to the World Health Organization.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor.Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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