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Floods Rage Unabated on Russia-China Border, Armenia Joins Eurasian Bloc

Plus, Russia bars the door to a Kosovan soccer player and Bosnian miners stage an underground strike.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Vladimir Matan 4 September 2013

1. Thousands more face evacuation along Russia-China border


Tens of thousands more people face the prospect of evacuation in the Russian Far East as the floods sweeping the China-Russia border region continue into a second month.


On 2 September Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev predicted that 36,000 people would have to leave their homes as the level of the Amur River in Khabarovsk neared what he called “an absolute historical record,” RIA Novosti reports.


Flooding in Khabarovsk is expected to peak between 6 September and 9 September, Trutnev said.


The situation is if anything worse on the more densely populated Chinese side of the Amur, which is called the Heilongjiang in China.


More than 5 million people have been affected by the severe weather in Heilongjiang province, Chinese officials said today. More than 300,000 people living in 900 towns and settlements have been relocated, Xinhua reports. The Heilongjiang is at record high levels in some stretches.


Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang last week discussed joint flood-control efforts in a phone call to his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev.


2. Armenia to join Russian-led economic bloc


Armenia will join the Eurasian customs union, President Serzh Sargsyan said 3 September after talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The decision marks a victory for Russia in a tussle with the EU for influence over former Soviet countries that is gaining strength ahead of a November summit of officials from the EU and Eastern Europe.


“It is a rational decision stemming from the national interests of Armenia,” Sargsyan said, Radio Free Europe reports. Russia is Armenia’s largest trading partner and major foreign investor.


Sargsyan_PutinBoth leaders were satisfied with the outcome of their talks in Moscow. Photo: Armenian president’s office


Armenia would become the fourth member of the customs union, which was set up under Moscow’s direction in 2010. The three founding members – Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus – last year said they aimed to create a more inclusive Eurasian economic union along the lines of the EU.


Russian officials are ramping up efforts to dissuade the Ukrainian government from signing an association agreement at the November Eastern Partnership summit. Armenia was also expected to sign an agreement, after completing technical negotiations on a free-trade agreement with the bloc, but Sargsyan’s surprise announcement has put that in doubt, European Voice writes.


“The EU has repeatedly stated publicly and privately that membership of the Eurasian Customs Union … is ‘incompatible’ ” with a free-trade agreement with Brussels, European Voice notes.


Sargsyan tried to muffle talk of a break with the EU. He said the decision to join the customs union “is not a rejection of our dialogue with the European institutions,” adding that Yerevan intends to continue economic steps taken under EU guidance that have strengthened its economy.


3. Ohrid neighbors step up drive against illegal fishing


Macedonia and Albania have joined forces to tackle illegal fishing in lakes Ohrid and Prespa on their common border, according to Southeast European Times.


Last month, Lake Ohrid police based in Macedonia detained a group of six Albanians and Macedonians on suspicion of smuggling a large quantity of fish across the Albanian border, the website reports.


So far this year Macedonian police have charged six Macedonian citizens and four Albanians in connection with the illegal fish trade.


Smugglers typically land their catch, usually carp or bleak, in Albania, enter neighboring Macedonia on foot and hide the catch, then return by car to pick it up, police say.


Lake OhridLake Ohrid. Photo by Jason Rogers/Flickr


One of the oldest lakes in the world, Lake Ohrid straddles the two countries' border. One of its main symbols, also pictured on Macedonian coins, is the Ohrid trout, whose once plentiful population has plummeted owing to poor fishery management and illegal fishing. In 2005, Macedonia introduced a 10-year ban on trout fishing, but Albania prohibits fishing only during spawning periods. As a result, a large part of the trout caught in Albanian waters is sold illegally in Macedonia.


Overfishing has driven the Ohrid trout to the verge of extinction. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fish sells for as much as 30 euros ($40), SETimes wrote in December, when Lake Ohrid Police Commander Dario Kleckaroski and other officers were arrested for running an illegal fishing business.


Speaking about the recent arrests, Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said Macedonian police have been cooperating with their Albanian counterparts and conducting joint patrols on the lake. The head of the fisherman’s association in Pogradec on the Albanian side of the lake was skeptical about their efforts.


“The illegal fishermen keep working unbothered. Police and the fishing inspectorate are almost non-existent in the Ohrid Lake area,” he said.


4. Bosnian coal miners stage underground strike


About 140 Bosnian miners began an underground work stoppage 2 September in a dispute with management of the Djurdjevik coal mine near the northern town of Tuzla.


The dispute is over pay and the hiring of a mine manager, the BBC reports. A miners’ union leader said the men were threatening to go on hunger strike.


The hiring of the manager violated an agreement between miners and the regional government, which holds a majority stake in the mine through the EPBiH utility, Reuters writes. Union leader Said Muhic said the government had agreed not to hire non-production staff until miners’ wages went up, according to the BBC.


The union has long had grievances over pay and working conditions at the mine, which produces brown coal for a nearby power plant.


The utility agreed with the government in May on measures to boost production and wages, reports, citing the Serbian news site eNovine. On 23 August miners demanded the agreement be implemented after the company missed a deadline to do so.


5. Russia denies visa to Kosovan footballer


The Kosovo soccer federation has complained to the sport’s international control body, FIFA, over Russia’s refusal to issue a visa to a Kosovan player for a club match last week, Reuters reports.


Kristian Nushi 100Kristian Nushi
Kristian Nushi, who holds a Kosovo passport, plays for the Swiss team St. Gallen. He was forced to stay behind when the team traveled to play Spartak Moscow in a Europa League match, the second-tier competition for European clubs. St. Gallen won, 4-2, to knock the Russian side out of the competition, Inside World Football writes.


A letter from the FFK addressed to FIFA President Sepp Blatter asked for his mediation to “ensure the right for Kosovo football in spite of political obstruction,” Reuters reports.


Russia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.


An agreement to allow teams from Kosovo to play friendly matches against teams from other FIFA member countries has been held up because of a protest from the Serbian football association, Inside World Football writes. FIFA then decided that the Kosovo flag could not be flown at matches nor the national anthem played, and allowed Serbia to pre-approve international friendlies held in Kosovo.


Serbia concluded a political agreement in April with Kosovo under EU pressure, clearing the way for Serbia's closer EU integration and membership negotiations.




Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Vladimir Matan is a TOL editorial intern.
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