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EU Issues Tymoshenko Ultimatum, A New Era of Stagnation for Russia?

Plus, Kyrgyzstan’s president admits possibility of buying back the Kumtor mine, and Vukovar votes to ban Serbian-language signs.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Alexander Silady 8 November 2013

1. Reports: EU sets Tymoshenko release deadline


Brussels has given Kyiv a week to pass legislation allowing the release of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment in Germany, the Associated Press reports.


On 7 November, Ukrainian parliamentarians said the two high-level EU envoys –  former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox – had set the deadline of 13 November to pass the law. As leverage, Brussels appears to be using plans to sign a key integration agreement with Kyiv at a Vilnius summit later this month. It would establish a free trade zone, among other benefits to Ukraine.


Tymoshenko has long been an issue in Ukraine-EU relationsLithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite at Tymoshenko’s prison hospital bed in 2012. Tymoshenko has long been an issue in Ukraine-EU relations. Photo:


Ukrainian legislators are debating a law that would allow prisoners to receive medical treatment abroad, Radio Free Europe reports. But President Viktor Yanukovych and his parliamentary allies have thus far resisted pressures to free Tymoshenko, who is suffering from a back ailment.


A former Orange Revolution leader, Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office in relation to a gas deal she signed with Russia in 2009. She maintains innocence, saying Yanukovych orchestrated the case to block her potential presidential bid in 2015.


Western governments and international rights groups have decried the case as political.


2. In blow to Putin, economy minister downgrades Russian growth forecasts


For the first time, Russia has acknowledged that its economy will grow slower than the global average through 2030, undermining bold promises by President Vladimir Putin, Reuters reports.


On 7 November, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev downgraded Russia's economic growth forecast over the next 20 years from 4 percent to 2.5 percent. The ministry estimates average global economic growth of around 3.5 percent over the same period.


Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev Alexei Ulyukayev
The downgrade is a blow to Putin, who was credited with steering Russia's economic revival to robust growth during his first two terms, from 2000 to 2008, on the back of rising oil prices. The 2.5 percent outlook is not only well below forecasts for Brazil, China, and other major emerging markets, it flies in the face of Putin's own promises to make Russia a global economic juggernaut.


As Reuters puts it, "the outlook threatens to make a mockery of Putin's oft-repeated pledge to lift Russia into the world's top-five economies by the end of this decade."


Both Reuters and Bloomberg compare Putin, who has faced large-scale opposition protests since returning to the presidency last year, to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over an era of economic stagnation during his rule from 1964 to 1982.


The price of gas and oil is crucial for Russia’s energy-dependent economy. High oil prices fueled 4-percent growth from 2010 until 2012, but growth has slowed this year, Bloomberg writes. Russia’s economy ranked ninth in the world in dollar terms last year, according to the World Bank.


3. Vukovar Serbs angered over loss of Cyrillic signs


Croatian Serbs from Vukovar are asking for the restoration of their right to post official signs in their language, according to Balkan Insight's Balkan Transitional Justice.


The Vukovar city council voted 4 November to exempt the city from a recently adopted Croatian law mandating bilingual signs in a minority's language and alphabet in ethnically mixed towns where such minorities constitute more than 30 percent of the population. Serbs make up around 35 percent of the city’s 27,000 residents.


The council deemed Vukovar, which was heavily damaged by Serb forces in 1991 at the outset of the Yugoslav wars, a “city of special significance.”


The introduction of Serbian signs in Cyrillic script alongside Croat ones using the Latin alphabet on government buildings in Vukovar prompted protests from Croatian war veterans.


The president of the Serbian national minority council in Vukovar, Djordje Macut, said the new statute should be reversed as it could prove harmful to other Croatian minorities by setting a precedent, Balkan Insight reports.


“By changing the law, bilingualism can be stopped in Vukovar, but will it then happen in other towns with Italians, Hungarians … How to explain to them that they can no longer use that right?” Macut said.


The heads of the nationwide Serb National Council, Milorad Pupovac, and of Serbia’s Government Office for the Diaspora, Slavka Draskovic, also criticized the council vote. Draskovic called on the city and the national government to reverse the decision.


Pupovac suggested the vote was pushed through by right-wing council members.


“The Cyrillic script was never a problem, but now, after 20 years, it became one. This is not the product of emotions, but a product of politicians,” he said.


4. Imprisoned rocker asks Russian Supreme Court for release


Lawyers for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have appealedto Russia's Supreme Court for the release of the imprisoned Pussy Riot member, whose exact whereabouts within the Russian prison system have been unknown for weeks.


On 7 November, lawyer Irina Khrunova said she had filed an appeal to have her client's conviction and prison sentence thrown out, RFE reports. Tolokonnikova is serving two years for performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral in February 2012.

pussyriot_350Nadezhda Tolokonnikova


The appeal comes amid questions about Tolokonnikova's whereabouts. Following a hunger strike in September over prison conditions, Tolokonnikova was to be moved to a new facility last month. But her husband, Petya Verzilov, said 6 November that he had been unable to contact her for over two weeks, prompting Amnesty International to urge Russian officials to reveal the location of her prison.


The previous day Verzilov said he had received information that Tolokonnikova was being moved to a prison in Siberia. He didn't know the specific prison but said the transfer to a facility 2,000 miles from Moscow was retaliation for Tolokonnikova's public criticism of Russian prison conditions, the Guardian reports.


In September, Tolokonnikova published an open letter declaring a hunger strike over "slavery-like" conditions at her prison colony, including 17-hour work days. She also filed a complaint – ultimately dismissed – with Russia's powerful Investigative Committee alleging that a prison official had threatened to kill her.  


5. Kumtor mine could be nationalized: Atambaev


Kyrgyzstan’s controversy-plagued Kumtor gold mine, whose revenues account for more than a 10th of the country’s GDP, may soon be nationalized, President Almazbek Atambaev says in an interview with the BBC.


Atambaev said that nationalization might be necessary to calm the public’s fears on the mine’s uncertain future, despite the “hard and harmful” consequences of nationalization, which could make a sizable blow to Kyrgyzstan’s already fragile economy.


The Kumtor gold mine is presently owned by Canadian firm Centerra, with a third of the stake currently belonging to the Kyrgyz government. With a workforce of 3,000, the mine is Kyrgyzstan’s biggest employer. According to RIA Novosti, the mine has up to 700 tons of gold veins remaining, but its open-pit extraction methods have alarmed environmentalists.


In September, Centerra and the government renegotiated their agreement in the wake of protests and riots by workers, with the Kyrgyz government increasing its stake to 50 percent.


The Kyrgyz parliament, however, refused to ratify the new agreement, pushing instead for a 67 percent stake. Centerra’s shareholders are not likely to agree to such a deal; Centerra chief executive Ian Atkinson said his shareholders would accept a 50-50 split but would not give up any more ground, according to Reuters.


Parliament wants the government to report by 23 December on discussions on giving the government a majority stake in the mine.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Alexander Silady is an editorial intern at TOL.

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