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Moscow Deploys Missiles on NATO Border, Armenia Condemns Karabakh Shooting

Plus, a potential Eurasian Customs Union country gets cold feet and a Pussy Riot member wins a (small) reprieve.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Karlo Marinovic 17 December 2013

1. Russia defends Kaliningrad missiles as legitimate


Moscow has confirmed that it has deployed short-range missiles near its border with NATO in evident retaliation against U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Europe, RIA Novosti reports.


"The deployment of Iskander missile battalions on the territory of the Western Military District does not violate any respective international agreements," Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said 16 December.


The statement followed a weekend report in Germany's Bild that Russia had moved 10 tactical ballistic missiles into its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. RIA Novosti writes that Moscow is apparently making good on longstanding threats to respond to U.S. plans to build parts of an anti-missile shield in Central Europe, including an interceptor installation in Poland.


An unnamed military source told Izvestia the missiles have been deployed for 18 months, Reuters reports.


Juozas OlekasJuozas Olekas
Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas responded to the news by saying that more militarization of the NATO border "creates further anxiety," and that his country would be watching the situation closely, the Associated Press reports.


Iskander missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers (300 miles) and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads. They are difficult to intercept because they travel at hypersonic speeds. Russia first used them in its 2008 war with Georgia, according to the AP.



2. Yerevan vows "tough actions" over border shooting


Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of serious cease-fire violations along the border with the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and vowed to respond.


The most serious infringement, Yerevan says, came 14 December, when 26-year-old soldier Hrant Poghosyan was killed by a shot fired from the Azerbaijani side. In response, Armenia's Defense Ministry said 16 December that it would carry out "preventive and tough actions," reports.


During a 16 December meeting in Yerevan, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of international mediators that this and other incidents hinder the process of reaching a settlement over Nagorno-Karabakh, Radio Free Europe reports.


The negotiators from France, Russia, the United States, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were in Yerevan for talks on dampening the conflict over the ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.


While a delicate cease-fire has held in Nagorno-Karabakh since the end of the Armenian-Azeri war in the 1990s, this year has seen an increase in violent incidents. The 14 December shooting was the first border fatality since the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents met in Vienna in November, reports. 


3. Kyrgyzstan hesitates on threshold of Eurasian union


Almazbek AtambayevAlmazbek Atambaev
Kyrgyzstan will only join the Russia-led Customs Union on its own terms, President Almazbek Atambaev has said, The Moscow Times writes.


Implying that his country didn't have a say in a “road map” outlining its possible accession to the trading bloc, Atambaev compared its situation to that of Ukraine, which has also come under heavy pressure from Moscow to join the bloc. Although “unlike Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan does not have many choices, we will choose the path that is good for us," Atambaev told journalists 16 December, according to RFE.


The Kyrgyzstani government recently complained of being excluded from the road map process, The Moscow Times writes, citing Interfax.


Opponents of the Customs Union argue that, unlike its current members Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia, Kyrgyzstan is not highly industrialized, writes.


The Customs Union's high import tariffs could increase the costs of imported goods for entrepreneurs, argued Uluk Kydyrbaev, a former head of the Bishkek Business Club.


Re-imports mostly of Chinese goods make up around 15 percent of the country’s economy, EurasiaNet writes. While this trade helped Kyrgyzstan “survive through difficult times,” Atambaev said in August, the Customs Union would provide “time to think of the future” as well as incentives to develop domestic industries. 


4. Pussy Riot rocker to serve out term in hospital


Imprisoned feminist punk rocker Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will serve out the remaining three months of her sentence in a prison hospital, RFE reports.


On 16 December, a Russian penal official said Tolokonnikova will remain in a hospital in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where she was transferred last month after going on two hunger strikes to protest excessive working hours and other inhumane treatment at a prison colony in the Russian region of Mordovia.


Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, the other jailed member of the Pussy Riot feminist rock band, are due to be released in March after serving two-year terms for hooliganism. They and a third band member were arrested for performing a satirical song about President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral in February 2012.


Last week, Russia's Supreme Court sent the two prisoners’ cases back to the Moscow City Court for review, Bloomberg reports, because the lower court failed to take mitigating circumstances into account, such as the fact that both women have young children and the peaceful nature of the protest performance.


Tolokonnikova plans to give concerts at several prisons in the Krasnoyarsk region later this week together with a group of musicians she met in the prison hospital, RFE reports.


5. Forced sterilization rife in Uzbekistan: report


Women in Uzbekistan remain exposed to forced sterilization, according to a report released last week by the Open Society Foundations.


The report claims that clinics and hospitals around the country routinely perform sterilizations as a means to keep family sizes down, backed by the government.


“It’s very clear that there are certain quotas on the number of sterilizations that doctors perform,” report author Natalia Antelava said, RFE writes. Antelava added that it is difficult to trace the orders back to officials in Tashkent.


Poorer women and ethnic minorities are most likely to be sterilized, and the procedure is often carried out without their consent under anesthesia, she said.


Authorities denied the existence of a government-run forced sterilization program two years ago after a BBC investigation by Antelava alleged that thousands of women had undergone the procedure.


Forced sterilization and other human rights concerns were on the agenda of last week’s regular bilateral discussions between Uzbekistani and U.S. diplomats in Washington, Uznews reports. The annual meeting was expected to focus mostly on military cooperation and other less contentious issues, however.


Uzbekistan has faced frequent allegations of human rights abuses, from child labor to torture.


A report by the UN Committee Against Torture in November alleging widespread torture in prisons and police stations was rejected as “unfounded” by the chairman of the National Human Rights Center of Uzbekistan, The Moscow Times reported.


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


Home page photo by Asitimes/Flickr.

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