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Russian Opposition Picks Leaders Online, Georgian Defense Minister Flees

Plus, BP deal could make Rosneft even bigger and Croatia’s impending EU entry unnerves Germany.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 23 October 2012

1. Putin opponents choose new leaders in Internet poll


A symbolic online poll to choose standard-bearers for Russia’s opposition saw anti-corruption activist and nationalist Alexei Navalny garner more than half of the nearly 82,000 votes cast, Agence France-Presse writes.


Familiar opposition figures such as former chess master Gary Kasparov and Yeltsin-era politician Boris Nemtsov were also selected from among more than 200 candidates to serve on a 45-member coordinating committee for forces aligned against President Vladimir Putin. The online contest was extended for a third day, until 22 October, after a hacker attack brought the site down for eight hours on 20 October.


According to AFP, the aim of the poll was to inject new life into an opposition movement that has weakened since the mass protests against alleged fraud at last winter’s parliamentary elections. Among those joining Navalny, Kasparov, and Nemtsov on the committee is leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov, whom the government accuses of organizing civil unrest and planning acts of terrorism.


Razvozzhayev Leonid Razvozzhayev
Another suspect in that case, Leonid Razvozzhayev, is in custody in Moscow after apparently being arrested in Kyiv on 19 October, where he sought advice from the UN refugee agency on requesting asylum, Reuters reports. Investigators said Razvozzhayev, an aide to opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, turned himself in and voluntarily wrote a 10-page confession admitting his participation in the plot led by Udaltsov.


However, a video posted on Ponomaryov’s blog showed Razvozzhayev being led into a police van in Moscow and saying he had been tortured by Russian police after being abducted in Ukraine.


2. Saakashvili loyalist flees Georgia; will others follow?


Georgian Defense Minister Dimitri Shashkin has confirmed earlier reports that he has left the country, writes. Shashkin’s admission is the first concrete sign that high officials close to President Mikheil Saakashvili are worried about possible criminal proceedings under the new government led by Saakashvili’s bitter rival, Bidzina Ivanishvili.


Dimitri Shashkin
In a statement posted 22 October on his Facebook page, Shashkin called on his friends to ignore “unbelievable stories” about him that he predicted would soon be made public. “I have always observed the law, I do not regret any of my decisions taken during the last four years, and I am ready to answer any question,” he said.


Shashkin previously headed the ministry in charge of prisons and the Education Ministry. Prior to joining Saakashvili’s government he was Georgia program director for the U.S. International Republican Institute.


It is clear from Shashkin’s statement that he fears prosecution for his official acts, said Gia Zhorzholiani, a newly elected member of parliament for Ivanishvili’s victorious Georgian Dream coalition, in an interview with Netgazeti.


Earlier this month, the Georgian newspaper Rezonansi published a list of senior officials alleged to have left the country since the elections, among them former Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, who is said to be on leave in an unspecified country, and Chief Prosecutor Murtaz Zodelava.


The incoming government plans to set up an investigative commission to examine the activities of former senior officials, Adjara TV reports.


3. Huge BP deal could help Rosneft become even more dominant


dudley_100Bob Dudley
British oil firm BP will sell off its 50 percent share of TNK-BP to Kremlin-controlled energy company Rosneft in a deal announced 22 October. Rosneft will pay $55 billion for BP’s share in the problematic TNK.


As part of the deal BP will get $12.3 billion and increase its share of Rosneft to almost 20 percent, Reuters reports.


The acquisition, which is still subject to Russian regulatory approval, puts Rosneft in a position to strengthen its grip on Russia’s oil economy. The firm said it plans to buy the other 50 percent of TNK-BP shares from BP’s former partner, a consortium of magnates called Alfa Access Renova (AAR).


Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the deal, saying, “This is a very good signal for the Russian market. It is a good, large deal. I would like to thank you for this work,” according to Reuters. Acquisition of TNK-BP would make Rosneft the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, with control of almost half of Russia’s energy sector, the BBC reports.


BP announced its plans to put its half of TNK-BP up for sale in June. The British firm has encountered increasing friction from both the Kremlin and AAR. Bob Dudley, now BP’s chief executive, was dogged by police raids and legal threats when he served as head of the TNK-BP joint venture and fled from Russia in 2008. Last year, AAR blocked BP from a deal with Rosneft to explore the Arctic.


4. Albanian ex-prisoners end hunger strike


A month-long hunger strike by former prisoners of Albania’s communist regime is over. The six remaining strikers ended their protest 22 October, saying they would keep fighting for full compensation for the time they spent in prison, Reuters reports.


Earlier this month, two of the original 20 strikers set themselves on fire to further dramatize their situation. The strikers say the government has failed to pay the full amount of compensation due to former political prisoners under a 2007 law. The two men survived, Reuters reports.


The government rejected negotiations with the strikers, saying the compensation payments were being made as planned. On 17 October a court gave police permission to disperse the strikers, who were camped out in a tent in a Tirana neighborhood, Balkan Insight reported.


According to Reuters, more than 20,000 compensation requests have been filed by former prisoners of the Enver Hoxha regime. Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who came to power in the early 1990s as the leader of the anti-communist Democratic Party, said ex-prisoners had received $100 million in cash and privatization vouchers.


5. Zagreb has work to do before EU entry, German politicians warn


Croatia’s expected smooth path to becoming a full member of the EU just over eight months from now may hit a major bump in the form of skeptical German politicians, recent analyses suggest.


The chairman of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee, Gunther Krichbaum, bluntly stated that Croatia is “not ready for accession” and that the German and other national parliaments might balk at ratifying Croatian membership unless “significant efforts and progress are made,” Business New Europe reported on 22 October.


Krichbaum’s remarks came a few days after the European Commission flagged 10 areas where Croatia needs to make improvements. One of them, judicial reform, has also dogged the most recent EU entrants, Bulgaria and Romania. Since joining the union in 2007, both countries have been repeatedly told to speed reform of their courts and do more to root out organized crime.


The online version of the mass-circulation newsweekly Der Spiegel quotes Norbert Lammert, president of the German parliament and a member of the governing Christian Democratic Union, as saying, “The examples of Romania and Bulgaria show that the expectation that problems are easier to solve once accession to the EU has been completed does not work in practice.”


Each of the 27 EU members must ratify Croatia’s entry. The German parliament does not plan to vote on the matter until the European Commission issues its final progress report on Croatia next spring, according to Business New Europe.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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