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Navalny Charges Fraud in Moscow Vote, Balkan Trade Skirmish Heats Up

Plus, Bulgaria closes the books on Markov assassination and a new lake appears in the Turkmen desert.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Alexander Silady 10 September 2013

1. Combative Navalny claims moral victory in Moscow election


Despite losing the Moscow mayoral election, opposition candidate Aleksei Navalny hailed the final result as a victory for the Russian opposition at a post-election rally 9 September.


“We got really tired of continuously losing for the last 13 to 15 years. I am happy to speak here today in front of you at a rally of victory,” Navalny said hours after the final vote count confirmed the victory of incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin with 51.4 percent of the vote, compared with his 27 percent.  The victory, Navalny explained, was the birth of “a great opposition” in Moscow.


Eugene  Roizman-100 Yevgeny Roizman
The narrow margin by which Sobyanin cleared the 50 percent mark and thus was able to avoid a run-off sparked accusations from Navalny about possible vote fraud, especially with respect to votes cast by housebound or hospitalized residents. “About 100,000 people voted at home, and somehow their votes went to Sobyanin,” said Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s campaign manager.


Navalny's unexpectedly strong showing came as a surprise given his significantly lower ratings prior to the elections as well as the short campaign time and the legal battles he faced over the summer.


Municipal elections outside Moscow also yielded a rare victory for the opposition, with Yevgeny Roizman, a controversial polymath and activist, winning the mayoral race in Russia's fourth largest city, Yekaterinburg, according to Radio Free Europe. Known mostly as an outspoken anti-drug crusader, Roizman, an ally of billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, might have won by playing the “regional patriotism” card in a city where outsiders dominate politics, political scientist Nikolai Petrov said.


2. Kosovo slaps embargo on Macedonian imports as trade spat escalates


The government of Kosovo has imposed an embargo on all imports from neighboring Macedonia, Reuters reports. The move, announced 9 September, is the latest in an escalating series of trade and travel restrictions the two nations have been imposing on each other in what regional media are calling a "trade war,” with Serbia also affected.


Officials in Pristina say the import ban is a proportional response to protectionist moves in July by Macedonia's government. Skopje began requiring importers to buy three kilograms of local wheat for every kilogram of imported wheat, and four kilograms of local flour for every kilogram of flour imported from members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, including Kosovo.


Then, on 6 September, Kosovo banned all food imports from Macedonia. Three days later, Macedonia began imposing fees on citizens of Kosovo entering Macedonia: 2 euros ($2.65) per individual, 5 euros per car, and 20 euros per truck. The most recent move was the total import ban from Macedonia into Kosovo announced 9 September.


In 2012, the value of Macedonian exports to Kosovo totaled about $392 million, while about $28 million worth of goods moved from Kosovo to Macedonia, according to Balkan Insight.


Macedonia's farm sector is expected to take the brunt of the damage if the embargo continues.


“Kosovo is an important market for us because we export our fruits and vegetables there. We appeal to both governments to find a solution to this problem fast,” said Risto Velkov, president of a Macedonian agriculture association, according to Reuters.


Skopje’s protectionist moves in July also angered Serbia, a major exporter of wheat and flour to Macedonia. Belgrade accused Skopje of violating the Central European Free Trade Agreement and local media reported increased inspections of Macedonian food imports at border crossings, Balkan Insight reports.


3. Notorious Cold War killing now a cold case


Georgi MarkovGeorgi Markov
Bulgarian authorities will close the files on the unsolved assassination of dissident Georgi Markov when the statute of limitations expires 11 September, AFP reports.


The 1978 murder of Markov, a journalist and writer who fled Bulgaria in 1969, caused international outrage. It occurred on a busy London street and used an umbrella to inject a poisoned metal pellet into the victim.


For 35 years the killing has speculatively been pinned on Bulgarian or Russian KGB agents ordered to liquidate a prominent critic of the communist regime in Sofia. The file has remained open, but according to Bulgarian prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Rumyana Arnaudova, "No action has been undertaken against a concrete person – such as detention, indictment, arrest warrant – that could serve as a reason to extend the usual 35-year period of prescription, and its expiry is an absolute ground for discontinuing the probe.”


Markov broadcast critical reports on Bulgaria from London for the BBC and Radio Free Europe, AFP recalls. On 7 September 1978, as he waited for a bus on Waterloo Bridge, he felt a sting in his leg and, looking around, saw a man picking up an umbrella from the ground. Markov developed a high fever and died five days after the attack.


The same method was tried on fellow Bulgarian dissident Vladimir Kostov in the Paris metro a month previously, although he survived the attempted murder, AFP writes.


In March The Telegraph wrote that a Danish national known to have worked for Bulgarian intelligence, Francesco Gullino, was named by a Bulgarian journalist as an important suspect in the Markov killing. Tracked by filmmaker Klaus Drexel to his home in Austria, Gullino refused to say whether he was involved in the plot.


In Drexel’s documentary Silenced: Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Murder, Markov’s widow, Annabel, comments, “I wish that, when people talk about it in the West, they wouldn't say ‘Oh the guy that got stuck by an umbrella,’ they'd say ‘oh the great writer,’ you know. The writer was so brave, that he risked his life to tell the truth, this would be fantastic.”


4. Three injured as Ukrainian, English soccer fans brawl in Kyiv


The 2,000 or so England soccer fans who traveled to Kyiv for an important World Cup qualifying match were on alert after a fight with Ukrainian fans the night of 8-9 September sent three England supporters to a hospital.


The three were released 9 September. The head of the U.K. police team in Ukraine for the match, Rachel Barber, said police would be circulating in popular bars to try and stem further incidents.


Kyiv_football_brawlKyiv emergency services on the scene of the brawl between Ukrainian and English soccer fans. From a video by TCH/YouTube.

The Independent described the brawl as “reportedly unprovoked” and said up to 30 men wearing hoods “ambushed” the fans outside a Kyiv bar.


The three men, who were hospitalized with head and hand injuries, declined to file charges against the attackers, according to Interfax-Ukraine.


About 3,000 local police and Interior Ministry personnel are on hand to keep order ahead of tonight’s match at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv.


5. Turkmenistan begins filling big artificial lake


Three weeks after Turkmen authorities began diverting water to fill a man-made lake, there are varying reports on how big it will be and how many billions of dollars it will cost. Nor is there consensus on what the lake is supposed to do, beyond ticking another box on the long list of grandiose projects launched by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.


When completed, Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) Lake will fill a more-than-100-kilometer- (62-mile) long depression in the Karakum Desert in northern Turkmenistan, Central Asia Online reports. It will cover an area of 3,500 square kilometers (1,350 square miles), according to


Turkmen scientists say the lake will help solve the problem of salinization of the Amu Darya River – a critical source of water for the region – caused by agricultural waste water.


The lake will also be used for irrigation, mitigation of salinized soils, and other uses, Azernews reports. The first stage of the project involved the construction of  two collectors, 380 kilometers and 720 kilometers in length, to channel water to the Karashor Depression in the Karakum. Reported spending estimates for the project range from $4.5 billion to $6 billion.


One problem is there may not be enough water in this arid country to fill the lake, Tashkent-based hydrologist Elena Vedeneyeva told The scheme initially struck her as “maniacal,” she said.


“They have [no water] to collect and I don’t know what they are counting on.”


Commenting on reports Turkmenistan would use the Karakum Canal, which diverts large amounts of water from the Amu Darya, to fill the new lake, Vedeneyeva said this could leave the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, without water.


“Ashgabat survives thanks to the Karakum Canal,” she said. The project could also exacerbate existing tensions between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan over use of the Amu Darya, she said.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Alexander Silady is a TOL editorial intern.
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