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Russia Leans Harder on Moldova, New Georgian Leader Heads to Brussels

Plus, an investigative reporter in Kazakhstan faces another crippling court judgment and Baku turns an ugly face to EU officials.

by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 12 November 2012

1. Russia plans consulates for Moldova’s breakaway region


Russia is turning up the rhetoric on Transdniester, the breakaway region of Moldova that is home to large communities of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.


Dmitry Rogozin
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin “insisted” that Russia will open two consulates in the region, according to Agence France Presse. Since it broke away from Moldova in 1992, Transdniester’s independence has not been recognized by any country. The government of Moldova objects to the establishment of consulates, Rogozin told reporters, because this would be tantamount to recognition.


But, he said, "A consulate is not an embassy – we have an embassy in [the Moldovan capital] Chisinau," according to the news agency.


Moscow may be turning up the pressure on Chisinau amid reports that Moldova will allow a NATO presence on its soil and in reaction to a vocal movement that aims to unite Romania and Moldova. Moldova, then known as Bessarabia, was peeled off from Romania by the Russian Empire 200 years ago. The countries were reunited during the interwar period. Moldova became part of the Soviet Union when World War II ended.


Protesters decry the Russian presence on the border between Moldova proper and Transdniester at a 3 January demonstration after soldiers there fatally shot a Moldovan man. The soldiers said the man was drunk and driving erratically, putting them in danger. Image from a video by Moldova's Pro TV.


These days, the country is working to become part of the European Union.


Russia has hinted it would recognize Transdniester if “Moldova loses its state sovereignty and neutral status,” according to the Focus News Agency, citing a Moldovan newspaper. Transdniester sees Moscow as its guarantor and actively seeks investment from Russia.


In addition to the threatened consulates, Russia’s leverage over Moldova includes the presence of Russian soldiers and thousands of tons of Soviet-era munitions in Transdniester, which Chisinau has repeatedly asked Moscow to remove. Further, Russian energy giant Gazprom has been pressing Moldova to take responsibility for Transdniester’s debt to it, as Chisinau insists on regaining sovereignty over the region. That debt amounts to about $3.5 billion.


"If [Transdniester] is part of Moldova, the debts must be common. They say no," Rogozin said, according to AFP.


2. New Georgian leader uses first trip to send pro-West signal


The newly appointed Georgian prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has chosen Brussels for his first official trip. Starting today, he will hold talks there with NATO and EU officials, reports.


Bidzina Ivanishvili meets with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels 12 November. Photo from Ivanishvili's Facebook page.


The prime minister had earlier announced that he would first travel to Washington, but his trip was postponed due to the U.S. presidential election, reports Democracy and Freedom Watch.


Ivanishvili’s choice of Brussels for his first official trip abroad “is a clear sign of our government's orientation to the West," Georgia's foreign minister told Reuters.


During Georgia’s parliamentary election campaign, in which Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition bested President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, Ivanishvili’s opponents painted him as a stooge of Russia, where he made his billions before returning to Georgia. Last week, Saakashvili aides denounced the new government’s detention of high-ranking Georgian military officials as groundless and particularly damaging ahead of an upcoming NATO summit, at which Georgia hopes to receive the alliance’s Membership Action Plan.


In response, Ivanishvili and his coalition have continually declared their determination to seek membership in NATO and the EU.


During an October meeting with a NATO envoy, Ivanishvili said that by democratically transferring power, Georgia had passed its test for NATO, which requires members to be functioning democracies. He said he in turn looked for the alliance to take “practical steps” to facilitate Georgia’s membership, writes.


Daniel Keohane, an analyst in Brussels for the FRIDE think tank, told Reuters that Georgia’s progress toward NATO membership would likely be stalled as long as the status of its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, remains unresolved.


Saakashvili also will visit Brussels after participating in a NATO conclave in Prague on 12 November.


3. Respected Kazakh reporter faces another crippling defamation fine


A reporter for a weekly newspaper in Kazakhstan who was the target of an assassination attempt earlier this year has been ordered to pay 1.5 million tenge ($10,000) to a local financial police officer whom the court says he insulted in an article, Radio Free Europe reports.


Lukpan Akhmedyarov frequently covers cases of corruption for Uralskaya Nedelya in western Kazakhstan. The recent verdict was the second in four months against the journalist for damaging the “honor, dignity, or business reputation” of a local official. In the previous case, he and his newspaper were ordered to pay 5 million tenge to a local official.


In April, Akhmedyarov was shot with an air pistol and stabbed repeatedly by two men.


Akhmedyarov received the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, given out by Reporters Without Borders and the Global Media Forum, in October. In an interview with Reporters Without Borders, he said, “It is clear to me that the authorities want to get rid of Uralskaya Nedelya and get rid of a journalist who annoys them. At the same time, they are trying to make it look legal.”


The reporter and the newspaper are appealing the cases.


4. EU official blasts Azerbaijan after troubling Baku visit


European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes had particularly tough criticism for Azerbaijan following an eventful trip to Baku for the U.N.-sponsored Internet Governance Forum, where she said she was barred from visiting a prison hospital and her staff’s computers were hacked into.


Kroes said in a 10 November blog post that she was disappointed by the country’s attitude to freedom and democracy. “The reality in Azerbaijan is harsh,” she said. “We see many arbitrary restrictions on the media. We see the exercise of free speech effectively criminalized. We see violent attacks on journalists.”


In her post, Kroes, who spoke at the forum 7 November, said two of her staff’s computers were hacked into while they were attending the conference. Ryan Heath, her spokesman, told the Associated Press that he and another member received warnings from Apple that an unauthorized party had accessed their computers. He said he didn’t know who broke into the computers but believed it was some kind of surveillance.


Kroes also said in her post she met with President Ilham Aliev on 6 November and that he promised she could visit a penitentiary hospital to see the conditions of the prisoners. Upon her arrival at the prison, however, Azerbaijan officials wouldn’t let her in, citing "protocol issues," according to Radio Free Europe.


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also had harsh words about the country’s free-speech record following the Internet forum. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, called the country’s continued crackdown on protesters and the media an “embarrassing trend” and said she brought the issue up with Aliev, RFE reports.


5. Polish independence day celebrations degenerate into violence


Violent clashes broke out as Polish police tried to disperse a crowd gathered at an Independence Day right-wing march in Warsaw, according to the Guardian. On 11 November, Poland celebrated the 94th anniversary of its independence after more than a century of being divided among Russia, Prussia, and the Austrian Empire. The violence started when police on the streets of the Polish capital fired teargas and rubber bullets in response to firecrackers and bricks hurled by marchers.



This is the second year in a row that Independence Day marches have been disrupted by extremists and conservatives who oppose the growing influence of the European Union. "Poland is going in … the direction of dependency, energy dependency, economic dependency," one protester told the Guardian. Speaking at the official independence parade with military veterans, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski lamented that "public life is poisoned by excessive rows," but said "criticism should not mean mutual destruction."


The Polish conservative opposition headed by the Law and Justice party leader and former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski organized a similar march in December 2011 against further European integration. 

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editorJoshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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