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Also, Poland's foreign minister claims to have stayed the U.S.' hand in Syria and Albania names a Socialist leader as premier.by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, and Barbara Frye 12 September 2013
1. Most Russians react negatively to gays and Caucasians in poll
More than half of 1,600 people recently surveyed across Russia on their national identity showed discrimination toward homosexuals and some Russian ethnic minorities.
In the survey by the Russia Public Opinion Research Center, 51 percent of respondents said they would not want a gay neighbor or co-worker “under any circumstances,” RIA Novosti reports.
On the question of ethnicity, Russians would be more inclined to welcome Ukrainians – who come from another country entirely – for absorption into Russian society rather than members of ethnic groups from the North Caucasus, who are already Russian citizens.
Just 7 percent of Russians surveyed said that if a Chechen or Dagestani native lived for many years in Russian society, they would consider that person Russian. Ukrainians under the same circumstances would be accorded “Russian” identity by 44 percent of those surveyed.
The poll aimed to determine what binds Russians together and what divides them, RIA Novosti writes.
“The main dividing line is between residents of large cities and central Russia as a whole, and the residents of Russia’s Northern Caucasus,” said Valery Fedorov, who heads the research center.
The study’s look at hostility toward homosexuality is perhaps Russia’s biggest social issue today, coming to a head over a Russian law banning expressions seen as promoting non-traditional lifestyles including gay relationships, that might be seen by minors.
Western officials have expressed dismay at the law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, and have even worried that it could foster discrimination against gay athletes competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea city of Sochi.
2. EU criticizes Russian trade pact bullying
A top European Union official has hit out at Russia for pressuring Eastern European countries to eschew deeper ties with the bloc.
In an 11 September address to the European Parliament, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said tactics such as manipulating energy prices, blocking trade, and withdrawing security guarantees are "unacceptable," Radio Free Europe reports.
Fuele's remarks come two months before representatives of the EU and countries in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe meet at a summit in Vilnius to formalize links.
Among the agreements on the table are political association and trade deals that Russia has tried to scupper while wooing those countries to join its Eurasian customs union. In August, it held up imports from Ukraine at the border and banned the import of a brand of Ukrainian chocolate. Yesterday, Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine and spirits for the second time since 2006, interrupting a trade worth $135 million annually, according to Reuters.
Moscow has also threatened to cut gas deliveries to Moldova and Ukraine, Reuters reports.
"This is not how international relations should function on our continent in the 21st century. Such actions clearly breach the principles to which all European states have subscribed," Fuele said. He added that the EU would "stand by those who are subject to undue pressures" and said EU officials are looking into increasing Moldovan wine imports.
Last week President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia, one of the countries to participate in the November summit, announced Armenia would join the Russia-led trade bloc. EurasianNet.org links that decision to Russian energy giant Gazprom's move in April to raise the price of gas to Armenia by 50 percent. The website notes that other possible explanations don't add up, as Armenian exports to the EU dwarf those to all of the countries in the Eurasian Union – Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus – combined.
Among the theories about Russia's almost desperate attempts to keep its neighbors out of the EU's orbit are that the country's ruling clique does not want to see genuine democratic reforms on its doorstep and that tariff-free EU-made goods could start filtering into its market, putting domestic makers at a disadvantage.
Membership in both the Eurasian union and the EU free trade area are incompatible, Fuele explained, because "you cannot at the same time lower your customs tariffs as per the [European agreement] and increase them as a result of the [Russia-led] Customs Union membership."
3. Diplomatic breakthrough on Syria said to be Polish idea
Sikorski tweeted that he was “pleased that Russia has taken up Poland’s suggestion of her role in dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal” in spite of Russia's initial skepticism. Sikorski added that he first proposed the approach to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in August. Before that, the minister had received approval for the proposal from the European Parliament’s biggest contingent, the European People’s Party.
Sikorski's Twitter feed also included a link to a ministry website statement urging Syrian leaders to avoid a military strike by handing their chemical weapons to the international community for destruction.
“I’m pleased we now have a faint path that could help us solve the problem of Syria’s chemical weapon’s arsenal without the use of force,” Sikorski said in an interview with Polish television on 10 September, according to The Telegraph.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said he would not exclude the option of military intervention in Syria, provided that the chemical weapons use is proven and the United Nations Security Council – where Russia has a veto – agrees to the strike.
Retaliating against Syria was also a major topic at the G20 summit in St.Petersburg, where European Union officials urged that the issue be resolved diplomatically.
However, experts on Russia have voiced their doubts about Russia’s strategy concerning Syria, The Telegraph writes.
This week, an American conflict research center announced its finding that Russia had surreptitiously increased arms exports to the Syrian government.
4. New Albanian prime minister promises self-reliance
Rama outlined the policies of his new government on 11 September, when the Albanian parliament convened to consider the new leader’s cabinet nominations, the Associated Press reports.
According to the World Bank, Albanians received nearly $1.2 billion in remittances in 2011, more than one-third of the government's projected revenues for the current budget year. That figure is slightly higher than in 2010, but still down from the high of $1.5 billion in 2008, reflecting the return during the global slowdown of many Albanians who had been working abroad.
The elections pulled the Socialists out of a long period in opposition and ahead of the previous ruling Democratic Party.
Along with boosting employment, the new government is anxious to join the EU. Formerly communist Albania has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2009.
"Albania is our homeland while Europe is our future," the AP quoted Rama as saying.
To improve an economy with an official unemployment rate of 12.8 percent, Rama’s government has pledged to create 300,000 jobs and foster production, rather than rely on remittances, foreign aid, and selling off government property and services.
5. Kazakhstan hosts first international ‘goat polo’ tourney
Called the “world’s wildest sport,” few games fascinate or repel the way goat polo does.
A form of it was featured in last year’s Oscar-nominated short film, Buzkashi Boys, about the dreams of young Afghans. Photographers have risked their lives to immortalize the whip-chomping riders, their furry hats and seemingly furious horses.
Rudyard Kipling gave an apparent nod to the game in his 1888 novella, The Man Who Would be King, describing Central Asians on horseback engaged in a macabre competition with a human head in an animal skin.
Now Kazakhstan has decided to further raise the profile of the game – once banned by the Soviet Union – inviting players from four former Soviet republics, along with Afghanistan, Mongolia, Turkey, and China to this week’s first international goat polo championship tournament in Astana, RIA Novosti reports.
It’s played in different ways in different places. The tournament’s Kazakh version, called kokpar, involves teams, while the version in Afghanistan is every player for himself.
But all versions involve horses and riders and a dead animal, usually a goat. The goat must be placed in the opposing team’s goal, but to get there, a player must charge through a thundering, snorting defensive cavalry.
“During such games, the instinct of a steppe nomad awakens in participants,” said Dauren Abdykhamitov, vice president of Kazakhstan’s National Sports Association, in a report by Liter.kz, cited by RIA Novosti. “These feelings are part of us, like a genetic code that is almost dormant because of our daily slow-moving lifestyle.”
The plan is to hold the competition every two years, with Turkey possibly hosting the 2015 tourney.