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Putin Casts Russia as Moral Beacon, Romanian Lawmakers Slated Over Corruption Bill

Plus, Gazprom buys a Kyrgyz gas company for a song, and Croatia’s government seeks to reverse bad publicity over gay marriage ban.

by S. Adam Cardais and Karlo Marinovic 13 December 2013

1. In national address, Putin defends Russian values


President Vladimir Putin defended Russian conservative values in a 12 December speech seemingly aimed at burnishing his country's sullied image abroad, the Associated Press reports.


In his state-of-the-nation address, Putin stressed the need to uphold the traditional family values that undergird Russian greatness against "genderless and infertile" Western moral relativism. The AP and other media called the speech an oblique response to international criticism of a recent Russian law banning pro-gay lifestyle statements that might be seen by minors. The so-called gay propaganda law, which Putin did not mention specifically, is widely seen as discriminatory.


Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering the annual Presidential Address. Photo from Russian President's official websiteVladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly on 12 December. Photo by Russian Presidential Press and Information Office


Putin also said Russia did not aspire to be "some kind of superpower," The Telegraph reports. "We do not infringe on anyone's interests, we do not force our patronage on anyone, or try to teach anyone how to live."


Still, Putin used the occasion to take another stab at pressuring Ukraine away from the European Union, Reuters reports. He touted the economic benefits of the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union, which Putin wants Ukraine – with its mineral wealth and large market – to join instead of signing a free trade deal with Brussels.


"Our integration project is based on equal rights and real economic interests," Putin said of the trading bloc, which currently includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.


Putin's speech came a day after European and U.S. officials held talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv on the mass anti-government movement that erupted when Yanukovych decided against signing an agreement with the EU last month. Afterward, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said "Yanukovych made it clear to me he intends to sign the [EU] association agreement," Reuters reports. A day later, Serhiy Arbuzov, Ukraine's first deputy prime minister, said Kyiv would "soon sign" the deal but refused to offer a timeline.


Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was due to attend round-table talks today with Yanukovych on resolving the crisis, Reuters reports.


2. Romanian officials slate lawmakers for boosting own immunity


traian basescu 100Traian Basescu
Romanian President Traian Basescu says he will not sign a bill to increase politicians’ immunity from corruption charges. Basescu said the bill passed without debate by the lower house of parliament on 10 December signified “10 years of regress," EUobserver reports.


Under the proposed law, the president, members of parliament, and lawyers would no longer be classed as public officials, thus protecting them from charges of abuse of office, bribe-taking, conflict of interest, and other corruption crimes, according to EUobserver. Officials who have been convicted of such crimes may be exonerated if the bill becomes law.


The bill has not yet been sent for Basescu’s signature. According to EUobserver, he can return the bill for revision only once.


Prime Minister Victor Ponta said 12 December the law needs to discussed again, and if it is endorsed by legal experts, Romania should ask the European Commission to say whether it breaks any of the country’s international obligations. The leader of the second largest party in parliament also came out against the bill, Reuters reports.


Romanian officials have been dogged by allegations of corruption, and Romania’s legal system has been under EU monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007. The anti-corruption agency DNA says 28 parliamentarians are on trial or serving prison sentences for corruption, according to EUobserver, and more than 100 mayors and deputy mayors are on trial for financial crimes.


The bill sharply contradicts Romania’s obligations under European and UN anti-corruption agreements, the DNA said.


3. Gazprom pays $1 for Kyrgyzgaz


Kyrgyzstan is selling its debt-ridden national gas company to Russian energy giant Gazprom for $1, reports.


On 11 December, Kyrgyzstan's parliament approved the controversial deal, which hands Gazprom the company and its property in exchange for the Russian gas firm assuming Kyrgyzgaz's $38 million debt and upgrading Kyrgyzstan's dilapidated gas infrastructure. The $600 million infrastructure investment could help reduce Kyrgyzstan's annual winter power shortages.


While some legislators opposed selling the strategic national asset, Kyrgyzgaz chief executive Turgunbek Kulmurzayev said there was "no other choice" because the company is effectively bankrupt. The agreement protects Gazprom from Kyrgyzstan's uncertain investment climate because it includes a clause barring expropriation and nationalization, reports.


RIA Novosti reports that the deal gives Gazprom full control over Kyrgyzstan's gas sector. But it also stipulates that Gazprom can only transport gas through pipelines belonging to Kyrgyzgaz, and that Kyrgyzstan has the right to buy back the company in 25 years.


4. Zagreb moves to legalize gay partnerships


A draft law presented less than two weeks after voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage would give same-sex couples in Croatia the right to form civil partnerships, Tportal reports.


The bill sent by the government for parliamentary approval 12 December aims to remove many legal inequalities between homosexual and heterosexual couples.


The law would guarantee homosexuals “specific, practical rights necessary for normal everyday life,” Minister of Public Administration Arsen Bauk said, Hina reports.


Under the law, registered partners would be able to provide social insurance for an unemployed partner, inherit common property, and apply for custody of a deceased partner's child, according to They would not win the right to adopt children. Deputy Prime Minister Milanka Opacic said this was not included in the draft because such children could face discrimination from people such as those who backed the successful 1 December referendum which constitutionally defines marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman.


The move by the government of the EU’s youngest member is seen as marking another step toward adopting the union’s human rights standards.


“Now that we are in the EU, we should not be east of the West,” Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said, according to Hina.


On 12 December, the European Court of Justice further broadened EU protections for members of civil partnerships in a ruling that they are entitled to the same employment benefits as married couples.


5. Tehran releases Slovaks held for spying


Iran has released the last two of eight Slovak paragliders it arrested seven months ago for spying, Radio Free Europe reports.


The suspects were reportedly handed over to the Slovak embassy in Tehran 12 December. The six other Slovaks accused of photographing in restricted areas were released in September.


Reuters reports that Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico met the pair at the embassy in Tehran 12 December and held talks with Iranian officials in an effort to bring them home. The two men returned to Slovakia this morning, the Slovak government said.


Iranian authorities detained the eight paragliders in May after they flew and shot video above Isfahan, a central city where Iran has nuclear facilities.  The Slovaks deny wrongdoing, saying the video was to document their trip. The video and their use of  walkie-talkies reportedly banned in Iran made authorities suspicious, RFE writes.


The release comes on the heels of an international deal in November to curb Iran's nuclear development program in exchange for easing sanctions.


S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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