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Moldova Government Collapses, Ukraine Makes Cautious Approach to Russian Trade Bloc

Plus, Kazakh mosques feel the bite of a new religion law and the United States and Russia join together in bid to ban polar bear hunting.

by Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Richard Parrish, and Connor Zickgraf 6 March 2013

1. Moldova finds itself in political crisis, again

 

Moldova’s pro-Western government has been dissolved after months of political rivalries and infighting among partners in the country’s ruling coalition. Parliament voted 5 March to dismiss the current pro-EU coalition led by Prime Minister Vlad Filat, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

Vlad Filat

The no-confidence vote was called by the opposition Communist Party and was supported by members of the DemocraticParty, who are part of the governing alliance. The Democrats charged Filat and his Liberal-Democratic Party of nullifying the coalition agreement when they withdrew from it in February.

 

This political crisis crystallized around a fatal New Year’s hunting trip involving members of the country’s justice establishment as well as the subsequent investigation resulting in the firing of the country’s top prosecutor and finger-pointing among coalition members over charges of corruption.

 

President Nicolae Timofti now has 45 days to name a new prime minister charged with forming a cabinet. If this process fails, Timofti would have to call for new legislative elections, RFE reports.

 

Moldova is no stranger to political uncertainty. In 2009, the ruling Communist party was booted from power after three opposition parties formed a fragile pro-European alliance.  And even with a majority in parliament, it took the alliance more than two years and five attempts to select a president.

 

“The failure of the pro-EU government is no surprise. It shows the weakness of democracy in the country but also the weaknesses of political parties,” journalist Petru Clej told Balkan Insight. “Snap elections will most likely lead to better results for the Communists, who oppose European-style reforms.”

 

2. Ukraine considering cooperation with Eurasian Customs Union

 

Ukraine is in talks with Russia on some form of cooperation with the Moscow-led Customs Union, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said after meeting his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Russia on 4 March.

 

Ukraine remains opposed to full membership in the union, which includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, The Moscow Times writes, but Yanukovych noted that falling bilateral trade is likely a result of his country’s lack of integration into the economic bloc. Ukraine is “not amused by the economic losses in connection with that,” he said.

 

Yanukovych-Putin-350Viktor Yanukovych talking with Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Photo: Kremlin.ru

 

During the meeting, Putin cited Ukrainian estimates of a rise in the country’s GDP by from 1.5 to 6.5 percent if it joined the union, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Yanukovych’s admission, just a week after he met EU officials in Brussels to discuss closer trade ties, is not likely to be well received by EU officials. The EU opposes Ukrainian membership of the Customs Union as incompatible with Europe’s more open trade rules.

 

Ukraine hopes to sign an association agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership summit in November, The Moscow Times writes. Such a step would require Kyiv to begin a series of political and economic reforms that would draw it further away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

 

Former Ukrainian official Valery Chaly, now of the prominent Razumkov Center think tank, told The Moscow Times such reforms would work to the country’s long-term advantage, while integration into the Customs Union would only bring relief from current economic and trade problems.

 

3. Russia’s Rusal announces production cut, layoffs

 

After a dismal year in 2012, the world’s largest aluminum producer, Russia-based Rusal, says it will cut output by 300,000 metric tons this year in order to maintain its position in the global aluminum market.

 

The company’s 2012 financial report was released 4 March, showing a loss of $55 million and a drop in revenues to around $11 billion, down 11.4 percent from 2011, RT reports.

 

In a statement, Rusal said the cutbacks would be tailored to protect the “social environment” in areas where it operates. All employees working at smelters slated for production cuts will be offered alternative jobs at the site, retraining for new positions, or the opportunity to move to other company projects in Siberia.

 

Rusal_smelter_350A Rusal plant. Photo: Rusal Facebook page

 

Such promises may be hard to keep, warns the Financial Times, because the company is the biggest employer in most towns where it has plants and may encounter official resistance to its plans. In 2009, President Vladimir Putin notoriously ordered Rusal chief executive Oleg Deripaska to make good the wage arrears of workers at one company plant.

 

4. Kazakh mosque threatened with closure over use of minority languages

 

As the consequences of Kazakhstan’s restrictive religion law become clearer, worshippers at one mosque claim they are being singled out over the use of languages other than Kazakh for sermons, Forum 18 writes.

 

Since the law took effect at the beginning of 2012, all religious groups have been required to re-register with the authorities, and the minimum membership was raised to 50 from 10. There are now more than 3,000 officially registered religious organizations, down from 4,500 before the law took effect, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

The law has become a tool for officials to persecute smaller faith groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Islamic communities outside the main Hanafi Sunni school, critics charge. A representative of the supervisory board of Muslim communities told Forum 18 that all literature by non-Hanafi groups was prohibited.

 

Members of a Hanafi congregation in the city of Petropavl claim the state is trying to close their mosque for linguistic rather than theological reasons. Sermons at the mosque are delivered in Russian and Tatar as well as Kazakh, in the face of official insistence that only Kazakh be used, one worshipper said. The religion law does not regulate the languages used in places of worship, according to EurasiaNet.org. Forum 18 has covered earlier official attempts to clamp down on mosques catering to ethnic and linguistic minorities.

 

Members of the Petropavl mosque say they will resist a court ruling, delivered 20 February, upholding the regional religious affairs council’s request to close the congregation.

 

5. Proposed ban on polar bear hunting unites Moscow, Washington

 

Russia and the United States, in a rare instance of cooperation, have teamed up against Canada in a dispute over the trade in polar bear parts at this week’s conference on endangered species in Bangkok, The New York Times reports.

 

Canada permits several hundred polar bears to be culled annually by hunters or by indigenous Inuit communities, which then sell furs and other parts on the international market. Inuits oppose a U.S.-sponsored ban on the trade, saying it would deprive them of a valuable source of livelihood. Some Canadian conservation groups also oppose the ban on grounds that global warming rather than hunting is the real threat to the bears, Reuters reports.

 

More than half of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic live in Canada. The bears are also native to Denmark’s semi-autonomous territory of Greenland and Norway. Denmark is taking Canada’s side in the dispute, leaving Norway as the swing vote, The New York Times writes.

 

The deputy director of a polar bear preserve on Russia’s Chukchi Sea said the combination of shrinking sea ice in the Arctic and the increased trade in furs and other parts contributed to a disastrous situation for the bears.

 

The New York Times suggests that Russia’s stance might be connected with President Vladimir Putin’s self-professed love for the environment and highly publicized feats such as leading a flock of cranes on their migratory path or tagging a polar bear with a GPS collar. 

Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Richard Parrish and Connor Zickgraf are TOL editorial interns.
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