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Russia Restricts Foreign Adoptions, Russian Neighbors Mull Devaluations

Plus, Poland fires its roads czar amid a row over EU contracts and Moldovans reach for the holy grail of visa-free European travel.

by Ky Krauthamer, Karlo Marinovic, Sarah Fluck, and Aliona Kachkan 14 February 2014

1. Russia tightens law on adoptions to gay-friendly countries


Unmarried couples in countries where gay marriage is legal cannot adopt Russian children, according to a decree Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev signed 13 February, The Wall Street Journal writes.


medvedev_100Dmitri Medvedev
The decree amends a law passed in July that bans same-sex couples from adopting Russian children. The law applies to both heterosexual and same-sex unmarried couples, according to The Journal.


A note attached to the July law said it was intended “to protect children's psyche and consciousness from the potential undesirable effects of artificial exposure to unconventional sexual relationships, and also from forming the complexes, mental suffering, and stresses that research by psychologists suggests often affect children of same-sex parents,” The Telegraph writes.


Gay marriage is legal in 15 countries including France, Spain, Canada, and in parts of the United States and UK, according to the London paper.


Neither the July law nor the decree affects U.S. families, who are covered by a blanket ban on Russian adoptions passed in 2012. That ban was widely seen as retaliation for Washington’s harder line on relations with Russia, chiefly the “Magnitsky law” preventing Russian officials suspected of violating human rights from entering the United States.


2. Overly conscientious Polish road agency head sacked


Lech WiteckiLech Witecki
The head of Poland’s roads agency, Lech Witecki, was fired 13 February as complaints mounted over the agency’s performance, The Wall Street Journal reports.


"The gravest mistakes were many delays and [a] bad atmosphere in the agency's cooperation with contractors and the entire construction sector," Elzbieta Bienkowska, a deputy prime minister and the government’s EU funding and transport monitor, said in a statement, according to Reuters.


Six EU countries complained to Poland on behalf of their companies about problems with the agency, known by its Polish acronym GDDKiA, and the European Commission said it would look into the dispute, according to Reuters, which writes that Poland received 37.56 billion euros ($51 billion) in EU funding for roads and other infrastructure between 2007 and 2013 – the EU’s biggest development program in a single member country. Witecki took charge of the agency in 2008.


Contractors from other EU countries said the agency’s policies cost them heavily, even forcing some into bankruptcy, Reuters reports.


Ironically, Reuters noted in October, the problems with GDDKiA stemmed from its insistence on keeping costs low and on sticking to the rules in an industry where contracts are often tweaked after being signed.


“Poland stuck to its budget and the prices agreed in its contracts. That was the problem. In an industry where firms routinely bid as low as possible and costs routinely overrun, Poland frequently refused to budge on cost. In its drive to keep costs down, it also ignored warnings – including some from independent engineers hired by the state – that designs and plans needed to be changed,” Reuters wrote.


Witecki told Reuters he did approve modifications when they were justified, and boasted of overseeing the construction of thousands of kilometers of new roads.


3. In wake of Kazakhstani devaluation, are Belarus and Ukraine next?


Nursultan NazarbaevNursultan Nazarbaev
Other major Russian trading partners may be forced to let their currencies weaken in the wake of Kazakhstan’s 19 percent devaluation this week, Bloomberg writes.


Ukraine and Belarus may be next in a chain reaction that stems from the Russian ruble’s weakness against the dollar, itself pushed down by the Federal Reserve’s less active role in boosting the U.S. economy.


An analyst with the foreign-exchange brokers Alpari, Anna Bodrova, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta the Belarusian ruble may drop 10 percent to 15 percent.


An analyst in Minsk, Vadim Iosub, said 13 February the country should not follow the examples of Kazakhstan and Ukraine, whose currency recently fell to a five-year low, the official BelTA agency reports. A series of devaluations in 2010 and 2011 combined with high inflation to make life difficult for many Belarusians.


The Ukrainian hryvnya rebounded from its bottom last week thanks to currency controls imposed by the central bank, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.


Kazakhstan said the big devaluation 11 February was tied to the Russian ruble’s slide. The ruble’s 6.5 percent drop versus the dollar this year is one of the worst among emerging-market currencies, according to Bloomberg.


At a cabinet meeting today, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbaev ordered the government to allot the equivalent of $5.4 billion from the windfall oil fund to support economic growth, Radio Free Europe reports.


4. EU one step closer to easing travel for Moldovans


Moldovan citizens should be able to enter the Schengen area without visas by this summer, RFE reports. The European Parliament is expected to approve a visa liberalization measure on 25 February following approval by the Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs Committee 13 February.


After more than three years of negotiations on the issue, Moldova is now in line to become the first Eastern Partnership member to enjoy the privilege of travel in most of the EU visa-free, reports.


The new regime would enable Moldovan citizens carrying biometric passports to travel in most of the EU, plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Lichtenstein, for 90 days in a six-month period. They will not be granted work privileges.


The move followed the European Commission’s announcement of the measure ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit in November, when Moldova initialed an association and free-trade agreement with the EU.


Responding to recent remarks by Romanian President Traian Basescu about the possibility of uniting Romania and Moldova in a single state, European Parliament rapporteur for visa liberalization for Moldova Tanja Fajon said easing visa rules “in no way threatens the sovereignty of Moldova,” writes.


5. Kazakhstan slims down benefit package for diaspora


Since Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, a generous benefit package has attracted hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs back to their homeland. Now Astana is trimming the scheme in a cost-cutting measure that could have major implications for the country’s economy, IWPR reports.


A new immigration law extends from three months to four years the time it takes for members of the Kazakh diaspora, known as oralmans, to become eligible for citizenship. It also replaces government grants with loans. Officials say the measure will relieve pressure on a job market burdened with too many new workers, IWPR writes. Kazakhstan has the healthiest economy of the former Soviet Central Asian countries and is a magnet for labor migrants from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in addition to Kazakhs intending to settle permanently.


An Interior Ministry official in the Jambyl region, Kalijan Shongarbaev, rejected criticism that the law equates oralmans with labor migrants.


Shongarbaev said oralmans will still be able to obtain citizenship more easily than other migrants and they will not have to show proof of financial solvency when applying for permanent residence.


The government revised the oralman program to deal with rising numbers of returnees and issues with their distribution around the country, jobs, and housing, Central Asia Online wrote in 2011.


The program was instituted partly to offset the huge exodus of Russians shortly after independence, when the population fell from 17 million to 15 million. By 2011 the resettlement program had lured back 300,000 oralman families, around 1 million people, Central Asia Online wrote.


Another aim of the scheme was to fill the skilled jobs left vacant as the Russians departed. One-fifth of the returnees had a specialized secondary education and 10 percent held university degrees, a migration service official told Central Asia Online.


Political analyst Zamir Karajanov told IWPR other groups also faced mistrust among longtime residents in the competition for jobs and resources.


“In reality, there are a lot of similar social phobias. They don’t only apply to the oralmans. For example, city dwellers are known to dislike people who’ve moved into urban centers from the countryside,” he said.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo MarinovicSarah Fluck and Aliona Kachkan are TOL editorial interns.
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