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Putin Saves Kyiv’s Bacon, Belgrade Gets January Date for EU Entry Talks

Plus, Azerbaijan-EU gas corridor gets the go-ahead, and Bosnian students are bitter over exclusion from Erasmus exchange program.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 18 December 2013

1. Russian economic package lifts Ukraine’s government


azarov 100Mykola Azarov
Ukraine faced “bankruptcy and social collapse” if not for the deal agreed by the Ukrainian and Russian leaders 17 December, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov declared today, AFP reports.


The agreement between presidents Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin will see Russia buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian bonds and cut the price for natural gas by a third. AFP says the deal significantly reduces the odds of a Ukrainian default.


Some in the opposition groups that have occupied Kyiv’s main square for weeks in an attempt to force Yanukovych to take up the EU’s offer of closer ties wondered what he gave up in return for the generous deal.


Udar party leader and retired boxing champion Vitali Klitschko accused Yanukovych of using Ukrainian industries as collateral on the deal, AFP writes.


The agreement “appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU's trade-and-political accord,” The Wall Street Journal writes.


Kyiv wanted more money than Brussels was prepared to offer, and also chafed at the International Monetary Fund’s demand for higher consumer gas prices and budget cuts as a condition of a new loan, the Journal writes.


The agreement is “great news” for the Ukrainian government, analyst Lilit Gevorgyan of

 IHS Global Insight tells The Voice of Russia. It will ease pressure on the public finances and on the country’s shrinking foreign currency reserve, and allow the government to avoid cutting social benefits.


However, she said, “long-term Ukraine’s problems are not going away, they are serious economic issues that have to be addressed. The Russian aid is more of a bandage, rather than a serious attempt of reform.”


2. News from Brussels delivers smiles in Belgrade, gloom to Skopje


Serbia will begin accession negotiations with the European Union on 21 January, EUobserver reports.


The decision by EU foreign ministers is a reward for cooperation on improving relations with Kosovo, EUobserver writes.


Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, but the two countries reached an agreement in April to ease tensions between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority. Twenty-three of the 28 EU countries have recognized Kosovo since it broke away from Serbia in 2008.


One of the final obstacles to EU accession fell earlier this month when the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered a positive assessment of  Serbian cooperation with the court, SETimes reports.


Belgrade has delivered 46 suspects to the Hague tribunal and opened cases against over 150 more in domestic courts. However, War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said 300 war crime suspects remain at large.


Serbia looks likely to beat out Macedonia as the third former Yugoslav country to join the bloc, following Slovenia and Croatia.


In the face of the European Commission’s frequent recommendations to start membership talks, Macedonia will likely be refused a start date when EU heads of government meet on 19 and 20 December, Balkan Insight reports.


The delay is largely owing to the failure to reach agreement with Greece over the country’s right to the name Macedonia.


EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele would not say how long he thought Serbia’s accession talks would run, EUobserver writes. Croatia, the newest EU member, spent eight years in negotiations before joining the union last July.


Fuele did say the Kosovo issue would not be a "delaying factor."


3. BP-led group inks $45 billion deal for Azeri gas


A consortium of energy companies signed off on a project to supply Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe in Baku 17 December in a deal that could significantly reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian gas, BloombergBusinessweek reports.


Britain’s BP leads the Shah Deniz consortium, which also includes Azerbaijan’s state-run Socar and energy companies from Iran, Turkey, and, perhaps ironically, Russia. The project, worth $45 billion, will first expand production from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas field and build a pipeline to Turkey, which expects to open the pipe in 2018. From there, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will deliver gas across Greece and Albania to Italy by 2019.


The new gas corridor could eventually meet 20 percent of the EU’s gas needs, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement, Reuters reports.


The agreement appears to signal the end of the EU’s troubled Nabucco gas project, an outcome foreshadowed in June when the consortium picked TAP instead of the more northerly Nabucco pipeline.


The trans-Adriatic route would likely be more acceptable to Russia, Reuters wrote earlier this year, and choosing it could allow the consortium to stay in the running to take part in the Russian South Stream pipeline.


Shah Deniz project routeA series of pipelines will carry gas from the Shah Deniz field to Italy. Image from a video by euronews/YouTube


4. Bosnian bickering could deprive students of popular exchange program


Bosnian students may lose the chance to participate in the EU’s Erasmus scholarship and exchange program, according to the Associated Press.


The country’s Serbian entity is resisting the creation of a new statewide supervisory agency to coordinate with other participating countries in the program. This would represent an “unacceptable” transfer of decision-making power to the national level, the Education Ministry of Republika Srpska said 17 December, Balkan Insight reports.


Students are planning protests over the decision, which could see them excluded from the program until 2021.


The problem stems from the fact that the country has no federal education ministry, Balkan Insight writes. The Serbian and Croat-Muslim entities each have their own ministry, as do the 10 cantons within the Croat-Muslim region and the autonomous Brcko district.


Republika Srpska was concerned that “There are no guarantees of participation of pupils and students from Republika Srpska in this program,” the entity ministry said.


A spokesman for the EU delegation to Bosnia said that Bosnian students can still take part in some Erasmus activities.


Erasmus, now called Erasmus+, the EU’s program for education, training, youth and sports, will have a budget of 14.7 billion euros ($20 billion) over the 2014-2020 funding cycle, a 40 percent increase over the previous budget.


5. Monster fine for sticky-fingered Russian official


A court in Moscow has ordered the largest-ever fine handed a public servant for taking bribes, the Russian Legal Information Agency reports.


Lev Lvov, a former official in the Leninsky District administration in the Moscow region, was ordered to pay 950 million rubles ($29 million), the Interior Ministry announced 17 December.


Lvov was given a four-year suspended sentence in September after being convicted of demanding a $500,000 bribe and cut-price apartments from the builder of an apartment building in the town of Vidnoye, The Moscow Times reports.


Prosecutors appealed the verdict to the Moscow Regional Court, which instead decided to fine Lvov.


The higher court changed the punishment for Lvov’s accomplice Igor Komarov from a three-year suspended sentence to a 500 million ruble fine.


This is not the first time a court has ordered officials to pay huge fines, the newspaper writes: In May a St. Petersburg official was given a 320 million ruble fine and an official from Tatarstan was handed a 300 million ruble fine last year, in both cases after being found guilty of bribery.

The country’s top investigator, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, recently said that more than 1,600 Russian politicians and local government officials have been indicted for corruption in the past two years, the legal news agency writes.

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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