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Plus, fears of a new ‘gas war’ as Gazprom pressures Ukraine to pay its bills, and a Polish archbishop may face trial for abusing boys in the Dominican Republic.by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, and Ky Krauthamer 30 October 2013
The powerful St. Jude storm that swept through northern Europe in recent days caused widespread power outages in the three Baltic countries, according to The Baltic Times. The hardest hit was Latvia, where 100,000 people had no electricity 29 October and a building under construction in the Baltic Sea port city of Liepaja collapsed. Fire and rescue services received about 100 emergency calls in eight hours, most of them from the capital, Riga.
Reports from regional news agencies also indicate that 60,000 Estonian households were left without power and that railway traffic was hampered by fallen trees on railway tracks.
The storm caused at least 15 deaths in northern Europe before moving into the Baltic states and Russia on 29 October. About 13,000 people around the St. Petersburg area were left without electricity, and officials ordered the closing of dam gates on the Neva River when the water level reached 75 centimeters (30 inches) above normal, Russia Beyond the Headlines reports. The low-lying city has been flooded 300 times in the 310 years since its founding by Peter the Great.
Russia is stepping up the pressure on Ukraine to pay its overdue debt to Gazprom, Reuters reports. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev addressed the issue in a 29 October government meeting where he told Gazprom’s chief executive, Aleksei Miller, that Ukraine was not taking the payments seriously enough.
“The [problems] exist and they are absolutely critical,” he said.
According to Miller, Ukraine missed a 1 October deadline to pay for gas delivered in August. He also said Gazprom had fronted Ukraine $1 billion to transport Russian gas to Europe.
“The situation with Ukraine's gas payments is coming to the boil,” Miller said.
Miller said the situation was “dire” and "has to be addressed and settled quickly,” reports the Guardian, which puts the debt at $882 million.
Reuters notes that Ukraine pays more than the European average for Russian gas despite the huge volumes it imports. The price of gas has been used as a bargaining chip by Moscow, which suggested that Ukraine could get a discount if it joined the Russia-led Customs Union instead of signing a key agreement with the EU. Otherwise, analyst Sergei Vakhrameyev of the Ankorinvest brokerage in Moscow suggests, Russia might cut its gas supplies to Ukraine and replicate the gas crisis of January 2009, when several other European countries in addition to Ukraine were left without winter energy supplies.
The deputy director of a pro-Kremlin think tank denies any political motivation behind the payment notice, telling the Guardian Russia had no intention of sabotaging Ukraine’s relationship with the EU.
“They want the EU to feel sorry for them, and to prove what a bad neighbor Russia is and how much pressure they are putting on poor Ukraine,” Vladimir Zharikhin said.
One of the main issues standing in the way of a Ukraine-EU agreement is the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abuse of office over the expensive gas deal she arranged with Gazprom in 2009. EU mediators this week resumed efforts to persuade Kyiv to release her ahead of a late-November summit in which the EU-Ukraine pact will be up for signature.
Dominican police and the Vatican are continuing separate investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse against Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former Vatican envoy to the Dominican Republic.
Wesolowski and another Polish priest suspected of child abuse, Wojciech Gil, could be tried in Poland, the Dominican Republic’s attorney general said earlier this month.
Gil, 36, told Polish media the allegations were false and said Dominican drug gangs might have been trying to frame him, AFP reported.
Gil headed a Dominican parish for almost a decade and had taken local children for a holiday in Poland earlier this year, Polish Radio says. He remained in Poland when the allegations emerged.
The scandal broke in July when a Dominican TV channel broadcast film purporting to show Wesolowski in a part of Santo Domingo known for child prostitution, Polish Radio reported in September, citing Italy’s Vatican Insider.
Tajikistani journalist Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov was sentenced to 11 years in prison 28 October on charges of extortion and fraud, Asia-Plus reports.
Ismoilov covered events in Sughd province for the Dushanbe-based independent weekly Nouri Zindagi (Light of Life) and worked as a distributor for another Dushanbe paper in Sughd, according to Asia-Plus. He was detained 24 June on a complaint by two women who accused him of demanding a bribe for not defaming them in Nouri Zindagi, EurasiaNet.org reported.
The journalist says the case was fabricated by local authorities he has criticized in print, and a national journalists association has condemned the sentence, Radio Free Europe reports.
In November 2010 Ismoilov faced up to 16 years in prison on charges of defamation, insult, and incitement to hatred over an article in Nouri Zindagi linking Sughd officials to corruption and other misdeeds, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote. The charges were eventually dropped after he spent 11 months in jail, according to EurasiaNet.org.
“Although Tajikistan decriminalized libel last year, state officials regularly file defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing critical stories,” the CPJ wrote in February, after a court ordered the weekly Imruz News to pay damages in a libel case filed by the son of a high official who had been jailed on drugs charges in Russia.
Among the souvenirs received by at least some attendees at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg were memory sticks and phone chargers capable of surreptitiously harvesting data from computers and phones, according to Italy’s Corriere della Sera.
The newspaper reports that upon his return to Brussels from the September summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy handed the devices over to EU and German security analysts for checks, which came back positive. Those findings prompted a warning about the devices that was “transmitted through intelligence channels to all participating states,” according to the newspaper.
Corriere della Sera recounts the episode as the latest chapter in the scandal over revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency monitored the phone calls of some foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But a Kremlin spokesman told Britain’s Telegraph the G20 summit report was laughable.
“First of all they have no sources,” Dmitri Peskov said. “It is a bold attempt to switch attention from very real problems existing between European capitals and Washington. It is a classic example of that."
Even if the account is true, it’s not clear how much damage the devices might have done, or even who received them. The Telegraph reports that “Brussels sources said they were baffled by the allegations and expressed total confidence in the security of devices used by EU delegates, including at the St. Petersburg summit.”
“A diplomat said it would be a ‘schoolboy error’ to put a free memory stick into a computer at such a summit because of obvious security concerns,” according to the British newspaper.
Now available! A new TOL e-book: "Crimea: The Anatomy of a Crisis" is a compilation of articles from TOL’s past coverage about Russia's annexation of Crimea, placed in the context of long-running disputes over the region. Find out also what's happened to Crimea and its people nearly a year after Russia's move shocked the international community.