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Brussels Raises Stakes in Gas Pipeline Game, Combative Kyrgyz Mayor Sacked

Plus, tension rises in Ukraine’s capital as protests continue into a third week and Russia launches an investigation into online child trafficking.

by S. Adam Cardais, Karlo Marinovic, and Alexander Silady 6 December 2013

1. Police issue ultimatum to Kyiv protesters


As pro-EU demonstrations in Kyiv stretch into their third week, the Ukrainian capital’s police forces are taking a harder line.


If protestors do not vacate government property within five days, law enforcement will take unspecified steps to remove them, Kyiv’s acting police chief said 5 December, according to RIA Novosti. Protesters have been camping out in city hall and blockading other government buildings.


Prime Minister Mykola Azarov promised 5 December that cabinet ministers who made “mistakes” would be removed, Bloomberg writes. The government survived a no-confidence vote two days earlier.


Kyiv protests dec. 2013Demonstrators clash with Kyiv police in this screen shot from a Euronews broadcast. Photo from a video by AmazingVideo/YouTube


First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov appeared to retreat from his 4 December remark that the government was prepared to discuss the protesters’ demand for early elections, according to Bloomberg.


Though Azarov called protests a normal event in a democracy, he also accused the crowd of using “non-European” measures and having “extremist” elements. RIA quotes him as saying, “Nazis, extremists, and criminals cannot be partners in European integration talks.”


Some protesters have resorted to unusual tactics. RIA reports that a 25th birthday cake was left on the Interior Ministry’s doorstep in a sardonic tribute to the founding of an elite police unit that helped break up demonstrations over the weekend, and Bloomberg writes that two people were detained 5 December while driving a bulldozer toward the presidential administration building.


2. EU urges members to renegotiate South Stream deals


The European Commission is asking EU states participating in Russia's South Stream natural gas pipeline to renegotiate their intergovernmental agreements because they violate European law, Radio Free Europe reports.


On 5 December, Marlene Holzner, a spokesman for EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, said the agreements signed by Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia, and Austria violate EU policy regarding competition in energy markets. One concern, she said, is that South Stream would only pump Russian gas, while the EU insists pipelines be open to other providers.


Klaus-Dieter BorchardtKlaus-Dieter Borchardt
In remarks at an event at the European Parliament the same day, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, director of energy markets at the European Commission, echoed Holzner.


"The Commission has looked into these intergovernmental agreements and came to the conclusion that none of the agreements is in compliance with EU law," he said, reports.


After Borchardt's remarks, Russian Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky said Russia rejects the proposition that EU rules apply to trans-boundary projects like pipelines that are not based solely on EU soil.


A pet project of Russian President Vladimir Putin, South Stream is designed to pump up to 63 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas a year to Europe via the Black Sea and the Balkans. Gazprom broke ground on the project last year and aims to launch operations by 2015.


The EU and many analysts have long questioned South Stream's viability, largely because of its whopping $50 billion-plus price tag. Brussels also wants to reduce reliance on Russian energy imports and backed its own pipeline, Nabucco, to diversify supplies, but its prospects remain grim after more than a decade of development.


Holzner suggested that while the EU probably cannot block South Stream's construction, if Gazprom plays hardball Brussels will instruct member states to drop the agreements or face "infringement procedures," RFE reports.


Gazprom is prepared to settle antitrust claims brought by the EU last year, UPI reports today.


3. Bishkek dismisses outspoken Osh mayor


Melis MyrzakmatovMelis Myrzakmatov
Melis Myrzakmatov, the controversial mayor of Kyrgyzstan's second city Osh, has been sacked after publicly denouncing the government, reports.


Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev offered no explanation for the 5 December dismissal, which came three days after Myrzakmatov participated in a mass demonstration in Osh to demand the release of his ally, opposition politician Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who was arrested in November on corruption charges. In a speech, Myrzakmatov called the charges a political sham.


After meeting with Satybaldiyev, Myrzakmatov said only that their discussion concerned the protest rally, reports, citing local media. RIA Novosti writes that Myrzakmatov was the last Kyrgyzstani official with ties to former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev – ousted by violent protests in April 2010 – to retain high office.


Critics say Myrzakmatov didn't do enough to prevent the wave of clashes in June 2010 between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh that left more than 400 dead, RIA writes. Two months later, he survived an attempt by the central government to oust him as thousands of supporters rallied to his cause.


4. Moscow opens case into reported online trade in adopted children


Reuters reports that its investigation into the illegal online re-adoption of children has evidently spurred Moscow to investigate suspected child trafficking in the United States.


On 5 December, Russia's powerful Investigative Committee said it opened a criminal case after the reports claimed that Russian children were being unlawfully transferred between families. In September, Reuters reported that

parents in the United States were bypassing government oversight by using online forums to find new families for Russian and other adoptees they no longer wanted for reasons including emotional and behavioral problems.


The Investigative Committee said 26 Russian children may have been illegally re-adopted. Several may have been sexually abused, it said.


Russian investigators believe Internet services such as Yahoo and Facebook were used to arrange the trades, a committee spokesman said, according to the Voice of Russia.


Russia recently banned adoptions to the United States, citing cases of abuse, though the move was widely seen as retaliation for a U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russian officials suspected of human rights violations.


5. Moldovan court ruling brings country closer to Romania

A decision by Moldova’s Constitutional Court has enshrined Romanian as the country’s official language, Radio Free Europe reports.


The 5 December decision resolves a contradiction between the country’s 1991 declaration of independence and the constitution of 1994, which replaced “Romanian” with “Moldovan” as the name of the official language. The court ruled that the earlier document takes precedence over the constitution.


The court ruling cites President Nicolae Timofti’s argument that the “Romanian nation is composed of two Romanian states: Romania and Moldova.”


“We [Moldovans and Romanians] speak the same language, we have the same feeling and we lived the same tumultuous history,” Timofti said in a speech in Bucharest on Romania’s 1 December national holiday.


The ruling came a week after Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU and will likely further the government's goal of following in Romania's footsteps to eventually become a full union member.


The Communist opposition criticized the court decision, RFE writes. Ahead of the EU summit where Moldova, along with Georgia, signed the association agreement, leading Moldovan Communist Party members took part in a rally calling for closer ties with Russia rather than the EU.


More than 20 years after Moldova broke away from the Soviet Union, its language  differs only slightly from Romanian, according to the AP. Most of modern Moldova belonged to Romania prior to World War II. When the region was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 the alphabet became Cyrillic and the name “Moldovan” was coined for its language to  emphasize its separation from Romania. 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Karlo Marinovic and Alexander Silady are TOL editorial interns.
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