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Yanukovych Raises Stakes in Standoff With Protesters, Shell Makes Play for Siberian Shale Bounty

Plus, Georgia extends a hand to the breakaway territories and Baltic partners squabble over the route of a high speed rail line.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 21 January 2014

1. Yanukovych warns of nationwide threat as Kyiv protests escalate

 

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych told the nation 20 January he was losing patience with mass protests that have escalated into full-scale riots in Kyiv. In a televised address he said, "I am convinced that such phenomena are a threat not only to the public in Kyiv but all of Ukraine," AFP reports.

 

"I treated your participation in mass rallies with understanding, I expressed readiness to find ways to solve the existing contradictions," he said.

 

Fighting continued into the early hours of 21 January in clashes that saw protesters throw Molotov cocktails, stones, and fireworks at police and vehicles set alight, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Early this morning police dismantled a wooden catapult protesters were using to lob Molotov cocktails, according to RIA Novosti, which said 32 people have been detained on suspicion of causing mass disturbances.

 

Also today, wide bans on public protests and restrictions on speech and assembly took effect on the official publication of laws Yanukovych signed last week, arousing vocal criticism from domestic and Western critics.

 

Yanukovych used his website 20 January to call for “dialogue and compromise,” Reuters reports, although he did not mention talks with the opposition that apparently did not begin 20 January as planned.

 

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko has demanded that Yanukovych personally take part in the talks.

 

2. Another oil major prospects for Siberian shale bonanza

 

A pilot venture by Shell and Gazprom’s oil subsidiary could lead to full-scale development of possibly one of the world’s biggest shale oil deposits, the joint venture’s chief executive said 20 January, UPI reports.

 

The joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Gazprom Neft will use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, techniques to sink five wells in the next two years in the Bazhenov formation in western Siberia, Reuters reports. The shale layer lies beneath the conventional oil fields that have helped make Russia one of the world’s largest exporters in recent years.

 

ExxonMobil and another Kremlin-controlled company, Rosneft, are also due to begin exploring another part of the Bazhenov formation this year.

 

The western Siberian shale deposits have the potential to dwarf the huge Bakken field in the United States, Forbes wrote in 2012. One oil analyst said the area covers 2.3 million square kilometers (890,000 square miles), equivalent to the combined areas of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. ExxonMobil and Norway’s Statoil each inked deals with Russian Rosneft partly with the aim of getting in on western Siberia’s shale deposits.

 

The Bazhenov formation could produce 1 million barrels per day by the end of the decade, twice the current output of the Bakken field, Forbes wrote two years ago. More recently, Britain’s BP forecast Russia to become the second largest producer of shale oil globally within 20 years with an output of 800,000 barrels a day, Russia Beyond the Headlines writes.

 

3. Union gripes force Belgrade into rethink of labor reforms

 

The Serbian government will reconsider its labor reforms after heavy criticism from unions, Al Jazeera reports.

 

The government said a working group of union, business, and government representatives will meet in early February to start drafting a new law.

 

Unions threatened a mass strike in Belgrade 23 January unless the current draft labor law were withdrawn, Tanjug reports

 

Ljubislav Orbovic, head of the Association of Independent Unions of Serbia, said the law would force 50,000 to 100,000 layoffs in the next year or two, Vesti Online reports.

 

The bill is part of deep reforms aimed to boost the country's economy at the start of negotiations for EU accession. The government sees easing labor rules as necessary to encourage growth in an economy hindered by a bloated public sector and numerous money-losing state firms.

 

The bill’s chief backer, Economy Minister Sasa Radulovic, said in December, “I would like us all to live better without comprehensive reforms, and that no one loses a job, but that is not feasible, unfortunately,” Tanjug reported. 

 

4. Tbilisi ditches ‘reintegration’ of separatist regions for ‘reconciliation’

 

Paata ZakareishviliPaata Zakareishvili
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are skeptical of Tbilisi’s renaming of the ministry in charge of relations with the breakaway territories, EurasiaNet.org writes.

 

On 1 January the Office of State Minister for Reintegration of Georgia was renamed State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality of Georgia.

 

"The term ‘reintegration’ within the title held back communication with Abkhazian and Ossetian communities. The new title is both neutral and inclusive,” Minister Paata Zakareishvili explained the name change.

 

Zakareishvili said former President Mikheil Saakashvili had blocked his recommendations to change the name since shortly after he took over the ministry in 2012.

 

South Ossetian official Boris Chochiev dismissed the change as little more than cosmetic, according to a BBC report quoted by EurasiaNet.org.

 

“If Georgia wants to regulate relations with South Ossetia I would advise [Zakareishvili] to think about recognizing South Ossetia and restoring diplomatic relations rather than changing the name of the ministry,” he said.

 

In December the EU delegation to Georgia commended Tbilisi’s efforts to mend ties with its breakaway territories and encouraged it to “continue steps toward pragmatic engagement with Abkhazians and South Ossetians,” Civil.ge writes.

 

As the delegation statement noted, the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, recently suggested easing the sanctions for those entering the breakaway territories from the Georgian side. Russian troops have erected barbed-wire fences have appeared at the administrative line between Georgia and South Ossetia, in some cases cutting off access to pastures, water sources, and even village cemeteries.

 

5. Baltic states squabble over route of high speed rail line

 

Disputes over the route of a Baltic high-speed rail project could slow the EU-funded scheme, officials are saying after remarks by an Estonian cabinet minister angered his Lithuanian colleagues.

 

Juhan PartsJuhan Parts
A Wall Street Journal blog quoted Transport Minister Juhan Parts as saying, “There are fools in the Lithuanian government” after his Lithuanian counterpart, Rimantas Sinkevicius, said the Rail Baltic project could collapse unless the route were redrawn to include the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

 

In September, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia began work on a 4 billion euro ($6.4 billion) rail line that will eventually stretch from Tallinn to Berlin. The high speed, European-gauge line is meant to ease passenger and freight links to Western Europe and boost regional economies.

 

As originally planned, the line runs from Riga almost due south to Kaunas, Lithuania, rather than taking a longer route through Vilnius. The project may not survive unless Estonia and Latvia agree to include Vilnius in it, Sinkevicius said a week ago, according to Baltic Business News.

 

Parts apologized to Sinkevicius after his “fools” comment hit the news, saying the outcome of his conversation with the Journal “was a blog entry whose maliciousness I found disappointing,” Balkan Business News reports.

 

The Journal made things worse in the initial blog post by mistranslating the word jobud as “idiots,” Parts suggested. The paper changed the word to “fools” in a later blog.

 

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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