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Brussels Issues Report Cards, Tajik Fugitive Vanishes

Plus, trapped Polish miners are rescued and Slovenia gets a new, young government.

by Erik N. Nelson, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Connor Zickgraf 21 March 2013

1. EU cites Georgia, Moldova and Armenia for economic reform

 

The European Union’s annual European Neighborhood Package has named Georgia, Moldova, and Armenia the most reformed countries on Europe’s eastern edges and as such will continue to receive EU aid, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The neighborhood package is a function of the 2004 European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which seeks to build ties between the EU and nearby nations. Financial assistance is awarded to countries that follow strict conditions of political and economic reform set forth by Brussels.

 

“The Eastern Partnership countries need our continued support to deliver on their commitments, and it is my conviction that they deserve an ambitious future,” said Stefan Fuele, the EU’s enlargement commissioner. That future could include EU membership if these nations continue to reform under an evolution that the program was created to foster.

 

While Moldova and Georgia were mostly praised for acting on EU recommendations, Ukraine, in talks to sign a free trade agreement with the EU this year, has been told that “much needs to be done.” The report urges the Ukrainian government to develop a more reliable electoral system, establish clear rules for candidates’ access to media, and step up reform of the judiciary, the Ukrainian News Agency reports.

 

Azerbaijan also suffered demerits. Baku was pinged for not implementing EU recommendations involving human rights protection and free media, among other items. While recognizing Armenia’s efforts to minimize government corruption, the report urges the nation’s leaders to enact human rights legislation. 

 

2. Tajik opposition figure vanishes from Dubai jail

 

A Tajik national known for his opposition to President Imomali Rahmon has vanished from his jail cell in Dubai, his lawyer told RFE.

Umarali_Quvatov_100Umarali Quvatov

 

Businessman Umarali Quvatov is accused of participating in a $1.2 million fraud scheme in Tajikistan and was arrested in Dubai in December at the behest of the Tajik government, RFE reports. But officials of the United Arab Emirates, to which Dubai belongs, this month refused to repatriate Quvatov and postponed extradition proceedings until 10 April, his lawyer, Nikolay Nikolayev, told fergananews.com.

 

On 19 March, Quvatov was taken from his cell, said Nikolayev, who does know where his client ended up, RFE reports. The lawyer speculated that Tajik security officials could have taken Quvatov.

 

Nikolayev, who seems to be the only person who says anything to the media about Quvatov’s case, calls the charges against his client “groundless.” Quvatov left the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, last summer and started a group in Moscow to oppose Rahmon, despite a reportedly close relationship between the two men, RFE reports.

 

Quvatov’s lawyer also told fergananews.com that Tajikistan’s ambassador and a security official appeared in court this month to argue for Quvatov’s quick extradition to Dushanbe.

 

3. Trapped miners rescued in Poland

 

Nineteen miners trapped in a copper mine in southern Poland have been freed after a seven-hour rescue operation on 20 March. All miners are in good health, although one suffered minor head injuries, the BBC reports.

 

The miners “were very tired but very happy to see us. They knew they would return to their families,” Tomasz Szafirowicz, one of the rescuers, told the Associated Press.

 

The men became trapped at the Rudna mine after a magnitude 4.7 earthquake caused a tunnel to collapse 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet) below surface on 19 March. The earthquake also severed communication lines between the miners and the surface, so their fate was unknown as a team of rescuers worked through the night to free them.

 

The mine in the Silesia region is owned by state-controlled KGHM, Poland’s largest and Europe’s second-largest copper producer.

 

A company spokesman said the rescue operation was “difficult because huge amounts of rocks [had] to be removed,” the BBC reports.

 

KGHM Chief Executive Herbert Wirth told Reuters that it was the biggest accident in his firm’s history.

 

The 39-year-old Rudna mine in Silesia region is some 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Warsaw, close to the Czech and German borders. Poland has a large number of mines, many of them in the same industrialized region. In 2006, an explosion in a local coal mine claimed the lives of 23 miners, Reuters reports.

 

4. New government for Slovenia 

 

Slovenian lawmakers have approved a new government. The left-leaning cabinet selected on 20 March is led by Alenka Bratusek, the nation’s first woman premier and leader of the Positive Slovenia party. Her party was tasked to form a new government after the parliament voted to dismiss former Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s government in late February.

 

The previous government was ousted after an anti-graft body accused Jansa, head of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), of corruption.

 

Former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, right, has handed the reins to Alenka Bratusek. Photo from the Slovenian government's website.

 

Bratusek’s team will be Slovenia’s youngest cabinet so far, at the average age of 45, according to The Slovenia Times. Its first jobs will be restoring the banks to health and spurring growth, the website reports. The new government’s finance minister is a former banker.

 

The generally left-of-center ruling coalition will include the Positive Slovenia, Social Democratic, Civic List, and Pensioners' parties.

 

After the vote, the 42-year-old Bratusek reiterated her goal of ratcheting down austerity measures in favor of government spending to stimulate the economy. She also promised a confidence vote a year from now, even if that could lead to early elections.

 

The now-opposition parties were skeptical of the new cabinet’s prospects. SDS deputy leader Joze Tanko called it “a government with a low level of integrity, expertise, and efficiency," according to the Slovenia Times.

 

5. Cossacks ride into Moldovan geopolitics

 

A detachment of Russian Cossacks has been raising eyebrows in a southern region of Moldova. 

 

The fabled equestrians are seeking official recognition from the autonomous Gagauzia region’s Justice Ministry as a non-governmental organization, saying they will not be involved in politics. However, many see their emergence as a worrying development in Moldova’s precarious balancing act between East and West.

 

Paul Goble, writing for the Eurasia Daily Monitor, says their presence is linked to Moldova’s relationship with its other problem area, the breakaway region of Transdniester. Moscow, which maintains troops along the border between Transdniester and Moldova proper, is essentially the breakaway region’s sponsor. About 30 percent of Transdniester’s half-million population are ethnic Russians.

 

The Kremlin has been using various means to exert pull on Moldova while the country has paddled toward the EU since its communist government fell in 2009. Goble says the Cossacks could help destabilize the region, furthering Moscow’s policy while giving it plausible deniability.

 

People's Assembly member Ivan Mardari, who was recently given the rank of general by the Cossack Union of Russia, told journalists the group will focus on raising and caring for horses to be used in local patrols to maintain public order, Publika.md reports.

 

Cossack groups have been in the news in recent months. In August, a group began patrolling the streets of Moscow with police to enforce immigration laws. The New York Times recently reported on a Cossack revival, calling them a new mascot for conservatism and nationalism during President Vladimir Putin’s third term.

 

Last week, a group of veterans who fought for Moldova in the 1992 conflict over Transdniester condemned the emergence of the Cossacks and called on the government to block the registration of the group, given that the Cossacks fought against Moldova during the war, according to Infotag.

 

“It is obvious that the situation has grown very serious,” said General Anton Gamurari, a spokesman for the veterans. “If events keep on developing in such a way, they will become the first step toward a (new) war.”

 

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Connor Zickgraf is a TOL editorial intern.
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