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Gas Troubles in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, Macedonia Loses Torture Case

Plus, leading Russian activists launch a new rights body and Romania’s Basescu bows to necessity by reappointing rival Ponta as head of government.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 18 December 2012

1. Yanukovych postpones gas talks with Putin


Victor Yanukovych
Talks to resolve a longstanding gas pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine were postponed 18 December after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych canceled a trip to Russia hours before he was expected to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. A spokesman for Yanukovych said the president needed more time to prepare documents related to the agreement, according to Reuters.


The two were scheduled to discuss the price Ukraine pays to Russia for gas imports, which has been a thorny issue for the two countries and has the potential to disrupt gas flows to Europe. Russia has twice blocked the flow of gas to Ukraine, once in 2006 and again in 2009, when downstream Central and Western European customers of Russia’s Gazprom had to scramble for alternative heating sources in mid-winter.


Ukraine says that the $430-per-1,000-cubic-meter price tag it’s currently paying is draining its budget. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a prison sentence for abuse of office in connection with the deal. Kyiv wants to slash its gas purchases from Gazprom next year, and has grown so desperate for cheaper energy that it recently was fooled into signing a fake $1.1 billion gas deal. But, with a $9 billion debt to foreign creditors – including $6.4 billion to the International Monetary Fund – due next year, Ukraine is running out of alternatives to dealing with Moscow, Reuters writes.


Russia has said it would consider cutting the gas price if Ukraine agreed to certain concessions, including letting Russia buy into some Ukrainian pipelines, according to Radio Free Europe. Russia has also hinted that Ukraine would be able to get a more favorable deal if it were to join the customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.


2. Macedonia helped CIA torture innocent man: Strasbourg court


Macedonia violated the rights of a man it handed over to U.S. authorities as a suspected terrorist, the European Court of Human Rights ruled 13 December, the Associated Press reports.


Khaled El-Masri
Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, claimed he was kidnapped in Macedonia in 2003, held captive for 23 days, then delivered to U.S. authorities, who flew him to Afghanistan. He said he was submitted to torture and abuse until 2004, when CIA agents realized they had mistaken him for another man with a similar name. He was then flown to Albania and left on a road.


The court said El-Masri was beaten and sodomized by members of the CIA rendition team in the presence of Macedonian authorities, according to the AP.


"This ruling is historic. It recognizes that the CIA rendition and secret detention system involved torture and enforced disappearances," said Wilder Tayler, secretary general of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, said in a statement, which says Macedonia is the first European country to be held accountable for its part in the CIA’s rendition program for suspected terrorists.


The court ordered Macedonia to pay El-Masri 60,000 euros in damages, according to the AP.


3. Ponta reappointed Romanian prime minister


Victor Ponta
Romanian President Traian Basescu reappointed his chief political rival, Victor Ponta, to a second term as prime minister 17 December. Basescu’s office said in a statement that leaders of the center-left alliance that won parliamentary elections earlier this month put forward no other candidates for the post, Deutsche Welle reports.


The two political figures have had an uneasy relationship since Basescu first appointed Ponta, head of the Social Democratic Party, as premier in May. The Social Democrat-dominated parliament attempted to impeach Basescu in July, but he resumed office after the referendum to confirm his impeachment was invalidated due to low turnout.


Ponta announced that he will present his new cabinet 19 December in order to “offer Romanians a new government before Christmas,” according to Mediafax. He also announced changes in the structure of the economy and finance ministries and proposed to create a new ministry to coordinate infrastructure projects. The changes will not entail budget or staffing increases, he said.


4. Alexeyeva, others launch new Russian human-rights council


Saying “our dream” that Russian officials should be punished in Russian courts when they break the law “is not happening for now,” a small group of Russian human-rights activists announced the launch of a new, independent human rights council 17 December.


So far nine members have joined the new group, RIA Novosti reports. Its leader, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and until recently a member of President Vladimir Putin’s human-rights council, said it backed such initiatives as the U.S. “Magnitsky Act,” which penalizes Russian officials suspected of violating civil rights. The council would draw up a list of human rights violators to aid U.S. authorities in implementing the act, she said, according to Radio Free Europe.


Other members include the anti-corruption campaigner Kirill Kabanov and activist Irina Yasina. Another member, Zoya Svetova, said the new group was ready to cooperate both with the official presidential human rights council and opponents of Putin, according to RIA Novosti.


Kabanov and at least one other member continue to serve on the official Kremlin council, the agency reports.


Some activists rejected Putin’s move to enlarge the council last month on the basis of an online poll, saying the new members would be more vulnerable to political pressure.


5. Gas, electricity shortages bring misery to freezing Bishkek


The combination of aging infrastructure, an inefficient energy distribution system, and underfunded utilities can bring misery to cities such as Bishkek and Dushanbe when a cold snap sets in. This too-regular phenomenon hit Bishkek over the weekend, as gas and electricity supplies failed when the temperature dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius, RIA Novosti reports.


Most residences in the city were without natural gas, leading to a spike in electricity use and blackouts in parts of the city, the agency reports. Hot water and steam heat were reportedly restored after the city’s central heating and power plant switched to fuel oil, RIA Novosti says.


Kazakh gas pipeline company KazTransGaz’s decision to reduce deliveries to Kyrgyzstan was the immediate cause of the gas shortage, but the reasons for the move are not entirely clear. RIA Novosti says reduced supplies from Uzbekistan and shortages in southern Kazakhstan are to blame. However, Nikolay Kravtsov, a member of an energy council in the Kyrgyz Ministry of Energy and Industry, tells that the Kazakh company reduced the gas flow “because of our debt, and not because of frost. We are debtors. We should admit this.”


Kravtsov said officials admit the country owes money for gas supplies, but no one seems to know how much. “They announce different sums: $3 million, $26 million, $47 million. Nobody denies this information. But nobody proves it.”

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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