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Ukraine Opposition Flexes Muscles, Putin Unveils Friendly Human Rights Council

Plus, Moscow police charge six with recruiting Islamic extremists and Romania will again try to sell off state companies.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 13 November 2012

1. Ukrainian opposition calls for Yanukovych’s ouster

 

Ukraine’s three parliamentary opposition parties outpolled the ruling Party of Regions and its Communist allies in the 28 October parliamentary elections, but Regions looks set to hang on to its majority in the legislature, final election results indicate.

 

Vitali_KlitschkoVitaly Klitschko
The opposition trio of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), the new, centrist UDAR party headed by boxer Vitaly Klitschko, and the nationalist Svoboda, together won 49.9 percent of the vote, Ukrinform writes today, citing the official parliament and government newspapers.

 

The Party of Regions polled 30 percent, giving it 185 seats in the 450-member parliament, while the Communist Party, which typically backs Regions on major issues, came in at 13.2 percent, taking 32 seats. Most of the independent candidates who won 43 districts are expected to side with Regions, handing President Viktor Yanukovych’s party and its allies a comfortable edge.

 

New elections are likely to be held in five districts in which the Central Election Commission said it could not establish a winner.

 

Opposition leaders addressed supporters in Kyiv 12 November, vowing to fight for Yanukovych’s impeachment and the release of the jailed Tymoshenko, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

They also urged Tymoshenko to abandon the hunger strike she began two weeks ago to protest the conduct of the election.

 

The opposition’s show of unity may not last, however, according to RFE, if reports of enmity between Klitschko and Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok prove well-founded.

 

2. Detained Muslim extremists recruited in Moscow mosques, police say

 

Six suspected members of a banned Islamic group were arrested in Russia 12 November on suspicion of recruiting volunteers in Moscow mosques, distributing extremist literature, and possessing weapons, Reuters reports, citing the Russian Interior Ministry’s press release.

 

Police reportedly found grenades and other weapons, ammunition, and extremist literature in the suspects’ homes.

 

The Interior Ministry said the detainees are members of the banned Islamic Revival Party, which is classified as a terrorist group. The ministry did not comment on possible links to the legal opposition party in Tajikistan with the same name. The Tajik party calls for an Islamic republic and is popular among Central Asian migrant workers in Russia, RIA Novosti writes.  

 

According to Reuters, Russian officials are concerned about the possible spread of extremist Islamists from the volatile North Caucasus region across the country.

 

The arrests came a day after the report of the killing of an imam in Dagestan, the latest in a string of attacks on both moderate and fundamentalist Muslim leaders in the North Caucasus republic, Radio Free Europe writes.  

 

3. Putin OKs bigger human rights council

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin met 12 November with a new, supersized version of his human-rights council and officially approved 39 new members to join the ranks of the 23 previous members, according to a Kremlin press release. The advisory panel has been known as critical of the Kremlin. But because it has no legal authority, many of its recommendations are ignored, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Human Rights Council in RussiaThe first meeting of the enlarged council. Source: YouTube

 

The 39 new council members were selected based on an online poll in September netting some 100,000 votes. Previously, new members to the council were proposed by the council chairman and approved by the president, but the new online process drew fierce criticism that it helped undercut any autonomy the council had and made it more dependent on the government. New additions to the council include Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the prominent Sova Center extremism watchdog, journalist Leonid Parfyonov, and former presidential candidate Irina Khakamada, according to RIA Novosti.

 

At the meeting, Putin also officially ended the council membership of more than a dozen members who walked out earlier this year in protest at the conduct of December’s parliamentary elections. Lyudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a leading voice on Russian human rights issues, was  one of those absent from the new  roster, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Putin told the council he was willing to compromise on some of the more controversial legal measures implemented over the last few months, according to Reuters. He said he was willing to revisit the wording of laws on high treason and defamation as well as the law requiring foreign-funded organizations to register as foreign agents.

 

4. Armenia’s days of cheap gas are ending, reports indicate

 

Armenia has long benefited from cheap prices for natural gas supplied by Russia’s Gazprom monopoly. Now, like Belarus and Ukraine, Armenia may be forced to accept huge price rises as Moscow wearies of subsidizing the economies of neighbors who do not always toe the Kremlin line.

 

The price of Russian gas appears already to be going up, IWPR reports. Figures recently released by the Committee for State Revenues gave the price of Russian gas in July as $245 per 1,000 cubic meters, a rise of $65 from a year ago. Gas imports from Iran, Armenia’s other main supplier, remained unchanged at $180. Gazprom also owns 80 percent of the ArmRosgazprom gas distributor.

 

The committee insisted its figures were correct even when Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan and Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan said in late October that no final deal with Gazprom had been reached, according to IWPR.

 

Moscow may use its dominant position in the Armenian energy market as a bargaining chip in its efforts to bring Armenia into an even closer economic orbit, ArmeniaNow wrote last month.

 

Russian statements following the October meeting of an Armenian-Russian intergovernmental commission indicate a strong linkage between a low gas price and Armenian membership in a customs union that now includes Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.

 

Russia is also the main investor in the Metsamor nuclear power plant, which supplies 46 percent to 50 percent of the country’s electricity, Power Engineering reports.

A joint venture between Russia’s Atomstroyexport and Metsamor to build a new unit at the plant is looking for investors, according to Power Engineering. Movsisyan said in February the plant could be built in 2019-2020.

 

5. Botched privatizations may damage Romania’s credibility with the IMF

 

The hurdles that delayed the privatization of large state-owned Romanian companies may affect the next round of loan funding from the IMF, AFP writes. A team led by the IMF mission chief to Romania, Erik de Vrijer, is in Bucharest this week reviewing the economic progress made by the country, with the slow privatization of several transport and energy companies likely to be under scrutiny.

 

Romania obtained an IMF loan in 2011 on the condition that it sell companies in the areas of nuclear power, hydro power, and electricity and gas distribution, as well as the national airline, Tarom, and the Oltchim chemical plant, but only one has been partially sold off so far. Ziare.com writes that privatization of six of the seven companies on the list is due to begin in the first half of 2013. The deals were originally expected to total around $4.5 billion.

 

Romania will continue to rely on IMF loans for the next one or two years, President Traian Basescu said after meeting the delegation of international lenders on 8 November.

 

Grzegorz Konieczny, Romania director for Franklin Templeton Investment Management, told AFP the political turmoil this year had helped slow down the deals, but lack of initiative and know-how on the part of local officials and company managers were most to blame for the lack of tangible results.

 

The privatization of the giant Oltchim chemical works was stalled in September when the buyer, a controversial media owner and politician, refused to sign the contract.

 

In late October, the European Commission announced that it would block development aid to Romania for fear the money might not be used for its intended purpose.

 

Oltchim Privatization in Romania-350Oltchim chemical plant

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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