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Stranded Arctic Scientists Rescued, Former Kosovo Fighters Convicted

Plus, Russia’s anti-corruption crusader eyes the Moscow mayor’s office and Georgia’s president sees domestic politics in ‘Taliban’ video.

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 10 June 2013

1. Russian icebreaker rescues researchers from melting Arctic ice floe


Russian scientists stranded on an ice floe near the North Pole will soon be evacuated by an icebreaker that has reached their research station, according to RIA Novosti. A spokesman from icebreaker Yamal's operator, Atomflot, said 10 June that some researchers and equipment from the North Pole 40 (SP-40) station are to be evacuated to Murmansk, while other members will move to the Baranov Cape on Bolshevik Island on the northern coast of Russia in order to continue their work.


The scientists had been at the station for only a month when the ice began to melt, The Christian Science Monitor reported in late May. The rescue mission was dispatched on 1 June. Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry had previously said the breakup threatened not only the safety of the 16 scientists at the station but also posed a pollution hazard in the area near Canada where it was drifting. 



The icebreaker Sibir arrives at a Russian research station at the North Pole in 1987, when the ice could support such missions. Photo from the RIA Novosti archive/Wikimedia Commons.


RIA Novosti, citing Norwegian environmental news website, writes that climate change has made it difficult to find a suitable ice floe for the research station, as Arctic ice now covers half the surface it did in the late 1970s when satellite tracking started.


Kremlin officials have stated their interest in the Arctic Sea as a shipping route between Europe and Asia as the Arctic ice continues to thin.


2. Three former Kosovo fighters convicted of beating and torture


A court in Pristina has convicted the “Llapi Group” of former Kosovo Liberation Army members of war crimes against civilians during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbian forces, Balkan Insight reports.


Latif Gashi, former head of KLA intelligence and now a member of parliament from the ruling Kosovo Democratic Party, was sentenced to six years in prison. Rrustem Mustafa and Nazif Mehmeti, also former KLA commanders, were sentenced to four and three years respectively.


Latif Gashi

The court found them guilty of “order[ing] and participat[ing] in the beating and torture of Kosovo Albanian civilians detained in the detention center located at Llapashtica/Lapastica, in an attempt to force those detainees to confess to acts of disloyalty to the KLA from October of 1998 until late April 1999,” Balkan Insight reports.


In April, three anonymous witnesses gave testimony about the abuse of their relatives by the three men.


Witness C said Mehmeti and Gashi threatened her when she met her husband at their office in February 1999, two months after he had been taken to the detention center. She said her husband was unable to walk without support.


“Nazif Mehmeti and Latif Gashi pointed the finger at me, saying: ‘We have the right to liquidate you,” the witness said, according to an April Balkan Insight account.


The UN mission in Kosovo began investigations into the Llapi Group case in 2001 and 2002. The guilty verdicts from a 2005 trial were overturned due to a failure to prove the three men’s complicity “beyond all doubt,” Balkan Insight reports. The men also appealed the guilty verdicts from a 2009 trial, and the Supreme Court ordered a partial retrial in 2011.


The three men plan to appeal this guilty verdict as well. Gashi said, “The criminals are the ones we put in detention and not us,” Balkan Insight reports.


3. Navalny to run for mayor of Moscow


The Russian opposition is preparing to nominate a high-profile foe of President Vladimir Putin, protest blogger Alexei Navalny, as a candidate in the forthcoming Moscow mayoral election, RIA Novosti reports.


The Republican Party of Russia-People’s Freedom Party (RPR-PARNAS) will put forward Navalny for the post, RIA Novosti reports, citing the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Vladimir Ryzhkov, the party’s co-chairman, told the station the decision was made “unanimously” by the party’s bureau but the final call is up to its Moscow department, which is expected to agree.

Aleksei Navalny

RPR-PARNAS leader Boris Nemtsov has said he agrees with Navalny’s reform ideas for Moscow.


Since making his name by uncovering corruption and building an interactive website where people can report instances of corruption and governmental inefficiency, Navalny has become a key figure in the Russian protest movement. He is on trial for allegedly embezzling $500,000 from a timber company he advised, charges Navalny has called Putin’s “political revenge” for his anti-corruption activity. If convicted he faces up to 10 years in prison.


Incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a member of the ruling United Russia party, announced his resignation 4 June, two years before the end of his term, in order to call for an early election in September. According to Russia Beyond the Headlines, some analysts believe the move is designed to secure Sobyanin a new five-year term now, when Navalny is tied up with the trial and another likely challenger, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, has not yet had time to move his foreign assets back to Russia to comply with a new law that bans office-holders and top officials from owning assets abroad.


The 8 September vote will be Moscow’s first mayoral election in 10 years. For Navalny, who is active on social networks with 73,000 ‘friends’ on LiveJournal – Russia’s most popular blogging platform – and 344,000 followers on Twitter, it will be his biggest popularity test.


4. Georgia’s president sees domestic politics in ‘jihad’ video


Despite the deaths of seven Georgian soldiers in a truck bombing in Afghanistan last week, the country’s president sees Georgia’s bare-knuckled politics behind a video threatening jihad against the country, reports.


The video was posted on YouTube, above the heading “Taliban Jihad Against Georgian Troops in Afghanistan,” on 5 June, a day before the soldiers were killed in an attack for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. President Mikheil Saakashvili said on television last week that the video was likely created inside Georgia and not by members of the Taliban.


The recent bombing brought Georgia’s fatality count in Afghanistan to 29, according to The Washington Post, which notes that the country’s forces, unlike those of other NATO countries, have “taken on tough missions.” The Post reports that Georgia has sent the highest number of troops per capita to fight in Afghanistan.


Still, Saakashvili asserted that the video threat to Georgian troops was produced not by foreign terrorists but by a domestic political opponent.


Georgia’s politics is bitter and personal, and Saakashvili’s long-ruling United National Movement party lost an ugly parliamentary election to the rival Georgian Dream coalition in October. Since then, the government has been prosecuting members of the previous administration on various charges.


The president suggested investigators were dragging their feet in locating the source of the video, a task he said could be accomplished easily and quickly.


“There is a high probability that these videos are produced neither in Afghanistan nor by the Taliban and this is confirmed by the experts, including from the NATO structures,” Saakashvili said, according to “There is a high probability that these videos have been commissioned and produced in Georgia, by Georgians for concrete political purposes, which are beyond my understanding.”


5. EU puts cyber security on front burner


Cyber security is moving up the EU’s agenda and will be among the priorities when Lithuania takes the bloc’s rotating presidency next month, according to Interior Minister Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas told reporters on 7 June that Vilnius will host a discussion of the topic at a meeting of the EU’s justice and interior ministers in mid-July.


Since the beginning of the year, European Union officials have developed a strategy to fight online crime and the EU has opened a cyber crime center in the Netherlands. The center, operated by EU police agency Europol, will “develop detection and forensic tools for cyber crime investigators; … provide specialized threat assessments; and … offer more focused training for law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors,” Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, said last month.


Parts of the cyber crime strategy will need the approval by the European Parliament, including a requirement that authorities report incidents to law enforcement agencies. Malmstroem said that “the current level of illegal activity that is simply not reported to the police” has been a major hurdle in the fight against online crime.


She cited a Eurobarometer survey in which 20 percent of respondents who use the Internet said they are less likely to shop online for fear of falling victim to cyber crime.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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