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Hitch in Ukraine-EU Deal, Tension on Azerbaijan-Iran Border

Plus, SpaceX will fly Turkmenistan’s first satellite and fit Muscovites get free subway rides.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 13 November 2013

1. New questions over Ukraine’s commitment to EU deal 


Serhiy VlasenkoSerhiy Vlasenko
Last-minute skittishness by Ukrainian lawmakers and businessmen is casting doubt on the country’s commitment to signing a crucial trade deal with the European Union, AFP writes


The Verkhovna Rada, or parliament, was scheduled to vote today on legislation that would allow former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in prison for abuse of office, to seek medical treatment in Germany for a back ailment, but the measure was put off until parliament meets again on 19 November, the Associated Press reports.


However, Radio Free Europe reports that few are optimistic about the outcome of the vote, especially after prosecutors launched a criminal proceeding against Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, on charges of beating his former wife.


A statement from Tymoshenko read on 12 November by her daughter, Yevhenia, said the case against Vlasenko was opened “deliberately and in cold blood as the last blow to the very hope of Ukrainians to sign the agreement.” 


Europe’s special envoys to Ukraine, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox, were to deliver a report on the progress of the Tymoshenko case within days but have agreed to wait until after the delayed vote, AP writes.


With just two weeks to go before the Vilnius summit of the EU and its Eastern European neighbors, there is another sign of Ukrainian reluctance, AFP reports. On 12 November, Ukraine's union of industrialists and businessmen asked President Viktor Yanukovych to delay the free-trade deal until next year, arguing it would harm trade with Russia and Kazakhstan.


Yanukovych reportedly instructed the government to discuss the issue today.


2. Shooting incident closes Azerbaijan-Iran border


Travel between Azerbaijan and Iran was still partially restricted today, days after shots were fired from Iran at a tractor on the Azerbaijani side, Trend reports.


Azerbaijan took action after a 5 November incident in which two men, reportedly wearing Iranian military uniforms, fired at a tractor on the opposite shore of the Araz River, which marks the border, reports. When Iran failed to provide an explanation, Azerbaijan closed the nearby Shahtakhti crossing point in its Nakhchivan exclave.


In return, Iran closed two checkpoints, at Bilasuvar and Julfa, the Trend news agency reported.


Iran closed the checkpoints over the Azerbaijani side’s refusal to negotiate over the shooting incident, Mohammad Ayatollahi, the press secretary at Iran’s embassy in Baku, said 8 November, according to Iran’s Press TV.


As of today, the Bilasuvar checkpoint has reopened for pedestrians but is still closed to vehicles, according to Trend.


The incident underlines recent bilateral tensions. In April two Azerbaijani citizens were arrested in Iran for unspecified “illegal activities” and released a month later. Two years ago, an Iranian border guard was killed by Azerbaijani security forces, Ayatollahi said.


Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mohsen Pak Ayeen, attempted to defuse the situation, saying 11 November that relations had not worsened and predicting the resumption of normal border traffic.


Arax River Iran-AzerbThe Araz River in the Poldasht region of northwestern Iran, along the border with Azerbaijan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


3. SpaceX rocket to launch Turkmenistan’s maiden satellite


A private U.S.-made SpaceX rocket will lift Turkmenistan’s first telecommunications satellite into orbit, U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Robert Patterson said 12 November.


According to RIA Novosti, Patterson made the announcement at a Turkmenistan-U.S. business forum in Ashgabat. The launch is set for late 2014.


A French-Italian company, Thales Alenia Space, is designing and building the satellite itself, which will serve television, Internet, and telephone operators.


As Space News reported in June, Thales Alenia was forced to alter its original plan to launch the satellite aboard a Chinese rocket because the satellite will contain some U.S.-built parts, and U.S. rules prevent the shipment of American space technology to China.  


That left SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 as the finalists contending to carry the satellite into orbit.


Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan is considering an offer from Kazakhstan to jointly use a telecommunications satellite planned to go into orbit next year, Tengri News reports.


4. Belarusians jailed for anti-Lukashenka T-shirts


For the second time in a week, a Belarusian protester has been jailed for wearing a T-shirt displaying slogans critical of the country’s president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.


A court in Minsk handed Leanid Smouzh a sentence of five days in jail 11 November, a day after he was arrested at a sanctioned event in honor of victims of Stalinist repression, Radio Free Europe reports.


At the event, organized by the Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, Smouzh wore a T-shirt reading “For Belarus Without Lukashenka” on the front and “For Belarus Without Dictatorship” on the back, reports.


Smouzh, described as middle-aged, was the only protester arrested at the rally, according to RFE. Witnesses told the court he did not shout slogans or resist arrest.


In a similar incident on 3 November, a pensioner was sentenced to three days in jail after he was arrested at an opposition rally wearing a T-shirt with a slogan referring to Lukashenka as an “impostor tsar.” The man, Yury Rubtsou, refused a request by police to take the shirt off, Euroradio reported.


Interviewed by RFE at the 10 November event, Smouzh said he opposed Lukashenka’s policies, including what he called a “tax on idleness.” Earlier this year Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich said the government was considering a “tax on the unemployed” to reduce the jobless rate. In October, Deputy Tax and Duties Minister Ella Selitskaya said the government was looking for ways to get payments from what the official Belta news agency called the “false unemployed” – those who earn but do not pay taxes.


5. Squat-to-ride inspires Muscovites to get into shape


Subway riders in Moscow can ride free this month for correctly performing 30 knee squats, CBS News reports.


Instead of feeding 30 rubles ($0.92) into a normal ticket machine, commuters at the Vystavochnaya metro station in western Moscow need only do 30 squats in front of a special machine.




The gimmick is part of the promotion campaign for the Winter Olympic Games starting 7 February in the southern city of Sochi but also serves to promote a healthy lifestyle.


“We wanted to show that each person is a part of the Olympic movement, of the Olympic Games, of the Olympic ideals,” synchronized swimming champion Maria Kiseleva told Euronews.


“If you try hard and set a goal you can come and do enough squats to earn a monthly or yearly pass, so why not?” one enthusiastic commuter said.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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