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Ukraine Clashes Claim Their First Lives, Kremlin Accused of Backing Cyber Attacks

Plus, Russian police kill an alleged Islamist militant and the Czech crime rate rises a year after prison doors flew open.

by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, Aliona Kachkan, Karlo Marinovic, and Aleksandra Zivkovic 22 January 2014

1. Three dead in Kyiv violence

 

At least three people were killed in clashes on the streets of Kyiv as police tried to dismantle protesters’ barricades early today, Al Jazeera reports.

 

Two of the deceased were killed by bullet wounds, the BBC reports. One of them was 21-year-old EuroMaidan activist Serhiy Nihoyan, Ukrainska Pravda writes, citing unnamed sources. The other was identified by Radio Free Europe’s Belarusian service as Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a Belarusian citizen.

 

A third person died after falling from atop a nearby football stadium, according to Al Jazeera. His name has not been released.

 

The government has blamed protesters for the violence, with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov referring to some as “terrorists.”

 

“I am officially stating that these are criminals who must answer for their action,” he told a cabinet meeting today, the Financial Times reports. President Viktor Yanukovych’s office announced today that he would meet with opposition leaders, including Vitali Klitschko.

 

In the meantime, the United States has revoked visas for some Ukrainians “linked to the violence,” without naming names, NBC News reports, and some Western diplomats are angry after being summoned to a meeting today in which Ukraine’s foreign minister lectured them on why a far-reaching anti-protest law passed last week was in keeping with Western norms, the Kyiv Post reports.

 

Euronews reports that some of those wounded in the clashes have been disappearing from hospitals, with their loved ones unable to find them. Vitali Portnikov, a journalist who helped organize the protests, has fled Ukraine after receiving information from Russian sources that Ukrainian authorities intended to kill him, RFE reports.

 

2. Report: Kremlin backs cyber attacks on foreign companies, agencies


The Russian government spied on companies and government agencies in the United States, Europe, and Asia in 2013, according to a report just released by a U.S. cyber security firm, Reuters reports. The company, CrowdStrike, says it is the first time Moscow “has been linked to cyber attacks for alleged economic – rather than political – gains,” the news agency writes.

 

According to CrowdStrike, a hacker group from Russia dubbed “Energetic Bear” has been stealing valuable information from hundreds of companies and agencies for two years. The firm points the finger at the Russian government “because of technical indicators, as well as analysis of the targets chosen and the data stolen,” according to Reuters.

 

Alleged targets included energy and tech firms, defense contractors, manufacturers, and construction firms in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

 

“These attacks appear to have been motivated by the Russian government’s interest in helping its industry maintain competitiveness in key areas of national importance,” Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, told Reuters. “They’re copying the Chinese playbook.”

 

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused China of stealing intellectual property from American firms as well as infiltrating American military and defense computer systems.

 

Russians hackers have been placing malware at websites they expect will be frequented by employees of a targeted company. When such visits occur, the employee’s computer is compromised and hackers gain access to the information stored on it, according to The Washington Post.

 

3. Suspected militant killed in Dagestan, police seek possible ‘black widow’ attacker

 

Russian police say they have killed the alleged leader of an Islamist militant group in Dagestan, Reuters reports. Russia’s anti-terrorism committee said Eldar Magatov died in a shootout 21 January.

 

 

Magatov was behind bombings, “attempts on the lives of police officers,” and extortion of businesses in the violence-plagued North Caucasus republic, according to the security agency, The Moscow Times reports.

 

The committee said Magatov had operated in neighboring Chechnya until 2006 as part of “Batayev’s group,” which The Moscow Times called an apparent allusion to convicted militant Islam Batayev, though it could also refer to Tahir Batayev, a separatist commander killed by security forces in March 2007.

 

Meanwhile, police are looking for four women who they fear are planning terrorist attacks “in or near the Sochi Olympics,” Radio Free Europe reports.

 

They were named as Ruzanna Ibragimova, Zaira Allieva, and Dzannet Tshakhaeva from Dagestan and Oksana Aslanova from Turkmenistan. RFE says their husbands have been killed by security forces as suspected militants. Authorities are circulating photos of the women and warning “they may be dressed in Western clothing to distract attention from their conservative Islamist beliefs.”

 

Of especial concern is Ibragimova, who “is thought by Russian authorities to have reached the city of Sochi in recent days after slipping through Russian security checkpoints in the region,” according to RFE.


4. Uptick in Czech crime rate blamed in part on controversial amnesty

The Czech Republic’s crime rate rose by 7 percent in 2013, an increase police pinned in part to a controversial amnesty granted by former President Vaclav Klaus as he left office, the Czech Press Agency (CTK) reports.

 

Vaclav Kucera
Deputy police chief Vaclav Kucera said authorities had registered more than 325,000 crimes in 2013. Despite the yearly uptick, the figure was the fourth-lowest in the past two decades.

 

“The amnesty is the main factor raising the crime rate but not the only one," Kucera said.

 

Approved by Klaus to take effect 1 January 2013, the amnesty freed more than 6,000 prisoners. Police said 40 percent of them have faced criminal charges since they were released.

 

About one-third of the Czech prison population was eligible for the amnesty, which freed those serving short sentences and some elderly prisoners. It also halted criminal proceedings that had lasted for more than eight years and had not yet resulted in a valid verdict. Most notoriously, it ended some corruption and organized-crime cases. The move was among the reasons the Czech Senate voted to impeach Klaus on charges of treason and violating the constitution in March 2013.

 

Czech police in the city of Ostrava. Photo by BadSoull/flickr.

 

Kucera said the biggest increase was in property crimes, which rose by more than 60 percent, due to a housing boom and properties left inadequately protected.

 

The number of drug-related offenses increased by 25 percent as police focused more closely on the issue, CTK reports.

 

Kucera said that thanks to a 50 million crown ($2.5 million) investment in technology, police will make stopping cyber crime a priority in 2014.

 

5. Trial starts in long-running Czech contract corruption scandal

 

A former Czech defense minister is on trial after being accused of soliciting a bribe to grease a deal between Czech truck company Tatra and the country's military, The Associated Press reports.

 

Martin Bartak
In a trial that began 20 January, Martin Bartak, who served as defense minister in 2009 and 2010, pleaded not guilty to charges that he demanded about $5 million from the chairman of Tatra’s supervisory board “to settle the firm’s business dispute with Prague that threatened Tatra’s lucrative order,” according to CTK.

 

He faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

 

The alleged target of the bribe was William Cabaniss, a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. In 2010 he accused Bartak of making the demand two years earlier, when Bartak was deputy defense minister and Cabaniss headed Tatra’s board.

 

“I have never committed the acts for which I am blamed in the presented charges, and they have never occurred either. I firmly believe that this fact will be fully proved during the trial,” Bartak said, according to CTK.

 

Also charged in the case is businessman Michal Smrz, accused of offering to use his influence to promote a deal between the Defense Ministry and Tatra in exchange for $5 million in 2008, CTK reports. Smrz has pleaded not guilty. He faces up to 10 years in the prison if convicted.

 

The case comes after Bartak accused the chief witness against Smrz, a former Tatra executive, of offering him a bribe “for securing further Czech public orders for Tatra,” according to CTK. That case went to trial and the defendant was acquitted.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo MarinovicAliona Kachkan and Aleksandra Zivkovic are TOL editorial interns.
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