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More Violence Hits South Russia, Beating Victim Accuses Ukrainian President

Plus, a U.K. company plans to run trains on Czech tracks, and Kyrgyzstan debates how to control the massive marijuana trade.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 9 January 2014

1. Killings, bombs put Russian police on high alert


Authorities in southern Russia announced a counter-terrorism alert in two districts of the Stavropol region in response to a series of killings and a bomb blast, the Moscow Times reports.


The incidents have heightened concerns over possible attacks during next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, some 250 kilometers away.



A bomb exploded 8 January as police were investigating a crime scene, and another explosive device was defused by a bomb disposal robot, the FSB security service said. No one was injured in the bomb blast, which occurred 20 meters from where police found a dead body in one of four cars at the scene. Four other bodies, all killed by gunshot wounds, were found in the seats or trunks of the cars.


A website which has sources in the security services claimed that three men from the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria are suspects in the killings, RIA Novosti reports.


Also 8 January, Russia enforced a total ban on liquids in airline passengers’ carry-on luggage throughout the country as part of extensive security measures ahead of the Winter Games. Officials said liquid medicines and other liquids essential to health could be taken on board after being inspected, The Washington Post reported.


2. Yanukovych denies involvement in beating of government gadfly


Tetyana Chornovol
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych denies that he ordered an attack on journalist and activist Tetyana Chornovol, known for her work exposing high-level corruption. The Kyiv Post writes that the president’s press service has deemed the accusations “groundless” and urged prosecutors to step up their investigation of the attack.


According to Radio Free Europe, Chornovol, 34, who writes for Ukrainian opposition website Ukrainska Pravda, was severely beaten by several men who forced her car to stop in the early hours of 25 December while she was driving near Kyiv. Currently recovering in a hospital from a broken nose, concussion, and other injuries, Chornovol said in a television interview that she is convinced the attack came in retaliation for her articles on assets of senior officials.


In another interview quoted by Interfax-Ukraine, she directly accused Yanukovych of ordering the attack.


“For the last three years I have worked against one person – this is Viktor Fedorovych [Yanukovych],” Chornovol said, adding that she was “on his blacklist.”


Police have detained five suspects in the attack, Interfax reports.




3. Skopje, Belgrade may share embassies in cost-cutting move


Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski says saving money – not politics – explains his country’s interest in sharing embassies with other countries, Tanjug reports.


Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said Macedonia has held talks about sharing diplomatic missions with Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey.


Sharing embassies could also allow Macedonia to have a diplomatic presence in countries where it is not currently represented, Gruevski said 5 January.


Skopje is not the only Balkan country looking into this idea, which was pioneered by Scandinavian countries, which sometimes even share diplomatic personnel in smaller embassies. The Serbian Foreign Ministry has spoken with Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, as well as Macedonia about sharing missions in Asia, Africa, and South America.


Belgrade is closest to an agreement with Macedonia and Montenegro, Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic told Tanjug 4 January.


A similar Serbian overture to Slovenia in 2010 was rejected by then Slovenian prime minister, now president, Borut Pahor. Pahor and then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor also talked it over the same year, with no concrete results so far.


Meanwhile, the Albanian Foreign Ministry on 6 January rejected press reports that it would close its missions in Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro to save money, Xinhua reports. 


4. Britain’s National Express looks to crack Czech rail market


A major British private transport operator plans to enter the Czech rail market, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes reports. The entry of National Express will add a new player to a once-monolithic system that is being transformed by the entry of private rail services.


National Express, Europe’s second-largest private ground transport provider according to the paper, says it will compete for tenders for subsidized services expected to be opened soon by national and regional authorities. Jan Paroubek, an executive with experience at two Czech-owned private rail operators, will head the company’s Czech branch.


National Express CZ’s Tobias Richter said the company plans only train services at this time, and is interested in publicly subsidized routes.


The key to profitability in the Czech rail transport market, so far, is to persuade authorities to subsidize your services, Mlada fronta suggests. Czech-owned Leo Express and RegioJet have been operating on the busy Prague-Ostrava route for several years, with ticket prices that can be well below those of state-owned Czech Railways, although RegioJet is losing money, the newspaper writes.


Deutsche Bahn-owned Arriva recently shut down provisional services on a Prague suburban line after only three months after failing to attract either sufficient passengers or financial support from the Prague regional transport authority, International Railway Journal reported. 


5. Legalize pot growing to stem crime, says Kyrgyz drug expert


A provocative idea by a Kyrgyz addiction specialist has reignited a debate on marijuana control in a country where harvesting the plant is an important income earner for many families.


Radio Free Europe reports that former presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev proposes a pilot program to legalize cannabis production near Lake Issyk-Kul, an area where the plant grows wild in abundance.


Nazaraliev’s idea echoes a similar proposal in the 1990s by prominent politician Felix Kulov, RFE writes, although both then and now the authorities have rejected the notion.


Nazaraliev, whose treatment center specializes in non-traditional methods of addiction control, said partially legalizing the pot industry would help the authorities gain control over a trade that is now "fully controlled by the black economy.”


The State Drug Control Service  (GSKN) counters that legalization will be ineffective against criminal gangs because the country sits in the middle of an international drug-smuggling route that reaches from Afghanistan to the West, RFE writes.


The U.S. Defense Department-supported Central Asia Online recently quoted GSKN official Timur Isakov as saying the agency’s strategy focuses on arresting major drug dealers and destroying the fields of cannabis and opium.


Wild hemp grows on more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) across the country, Isakov said.


The Interior Ministry’s annual drug-destruction campaign mapped more than 4,000 hectares of wild hemp fields and destroyed 800 hectares of the plant, Central Asia Online reports.


But police in the area around Lake Issyk-Kul told RFE/RL there is no way to wipe out a business that so many people rely on to earn a livelihood.


“Kyrgyz villagers who harvest cannabis every August make no secret about paying bribes to police who turn a blind eye,” RFE/RL 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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