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Ukraine Counts Cost of Kyiv Battles, Azerbaijani Reporter in Spy Row

Plus, Turkmenistan may derail a Central Asian transport scheme and the EU’s Fuele slams Bosnia’s failure to address the Sejdic-Finci ruling.

by Ky Krauthamer, Sarah Fluck, Aliona Kachkan, Karlo Marinovic, and Lily Sieradzki 19 February 2014

1. Yanukovych unrepentant in aftermath of Kyiv bloodshed

 

Ukraine’s leadership took a hard line against compromise with the opposition today following bloody clashes that left at least 16 civilians and 10 police dead in Kyiv 18-19 February.

 

President Viktor Yanukovych today blamed the overnight unrest on “radical elements who seek bloodshed and conflict.” Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov called the violence “an attempt to seize power by force,” and the Security Service opened a probe into a possible attempt by unnamed politicians to violently change the constitutional system or seize power, Interfax-Ukraine reports.

 

Kyiv.19.2.14Independence Square, 19 February. Image from a video by Craig Stoddard / YouTube

 

It remains unclear how most of the victims died. One eyewitness partly confirmed earlier anecdotal reports of armed civilians cooperating with regular security forces. TOL contributor Ivan Lozowy watched as armed men blocked an important intersection near the uprising’s nerve center on Independence Square for several hours overnight. Some of the men fired shotguns and pistols at protesters as traffic police stood by, he said.

 

Yesterday’s protests turned violent when riot police launched a massive crackdown in central Kyiv after demonstrators set fire to trucks that had been parked to impede their path, Lozowy said.

 

Yanukovych declared a day of mourning 20 February for the victims of the clashes, Interfax reports.

 

A sociology professor who supports the protests, Mychailo Wynnyckyj, wrote on his Facebook page, “Tomorrow we'll regroup. There will be no more false beliefs. There will be no more negotiations. There is nothing to talk about. … Academic impartiality be damned. Evil must be stopped.”

 

EU foreign ministers will discuss their response to the crisis 20 February, with sanctions now a real possibility after weeks of indecision.

 

French President Francois Hollande spoke of “unspeakable, unacceptable, intolerable acts” in Ukraine after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Euronews reports.

 

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Paytt also raised the possibility of sanctions today as he placed the burden of blame for the crisis squarely on Yanukovych’s shoulders. "From this moment on, the United States holds Yanukovych responsible for everything that happens in Ukraine,” Paytt said after meeting Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, Interfax-Ukraine reports.

 

2. Azerbaijani prosecutors question RFE journalist over release of secrets

 

Khadija IsmayilovaKhadija Ismayilova
Official and unofficial threats against two Radio Free Europe journalists in Azerbaijan mark “an escalation of longstanding campaigns to silence them,” the U.S.-funded agency writes.

 

Journalist Khadija Ismayilova was summoned by prosecutors 18 February as a witness in a case involving dissemination of state secrets, RFE reports. Ismayilova works for RFE’s Azerbaijan Service.

 

According to the Azerbaijani news agency APA, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said authorities were investigating reports that Ismayilova had posted secret National Security Ministry documents on her Facebook page.

 

The summons came five days after a pro-government website, Haqqani.az, said the journalist had given information on opposition politicians to two U.S. congressional staffers who were in the country to gather intelligence. Members of parliament demanded an investigation of Ismayilova, RFE reports.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Baku called the allegations she had helped the congressional staffers gather intelligence “absurd.”

 

Death threats and accusations of being a foreign agent were leveled against a second RFE correspondent, Yafez Hasanov, this week on Facebook, RFE writes.

 

Ismayilova has investigated the holdings and considerable wealth of the family of Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliev. She received widespread attention in 2012 when a sexually explicit video of her and her boyfriend appeared online. She also received a threatening letter and compromising photos by mail, she said, blaming the government for what she called a smear campaign in an attempt to discredit her in a religious and conservative society. The government denied involvement.

 

3. Turkmenistan gets cold feet over planned regional railway

 

Less than nine months after the presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan inaugurated a railway meant to better link up their economies, Ashgabat is holding the project back, EurasiaNet.org writes.

 

The problems began 31 January when Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted with “extreme concern and lack of understanding” to the announcement that Dushanbe and Kabul had agreed on an alternative route for the 400-kilometer (250 miles) TAT railway, Business New Europe reported.

 

The shorter route through Afghanistan was meant to save Tajikistan transit fees, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

“The Afghan delegation agreed to compromise after we explained how important the new railway is to Tajikistan, which is currently experiencing great difficulties due to the blockade of goods by Uzbekistan,” then-Tajik Railways chief Amonullo Hukumatullo told journalists 28 January, according to Business New Europe.

 

Landlocked Tajikistan and Afghanistan, two of Asia’s poorest countries, are expected to benefit from the railway’s ability to ship goods faster than the present route across Uzbekistan. The line is often blocked by Uzbekistan, which has tense relations with Tajikistan over Tajikistan’s planned Rogun hydropower project. The government of Uzbekistan fears the dam will drastically cut the flow of water to its cotton crops downstream.

 

The rail line is “of regional importance,” the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst commented in June when the three leaders ceremonially opened the line in Turkmenistan. It would boost mutual investment and trade and would “connect Central Asian countries, via Afghanistan, to South Asian markets, like Pakistan and India.”

 

Ashgabat may be rethinking its involvement owing to wider geopolitical issues, including the security situation in Afghanistan as NATO forces withdraw this year and its natural isolationist bent, Central Asian expert Luca Anceschi told EurasiaNet.org.

 

Anceschi said Ashgabat’s noncommittal attitude toward big regional schemes was contributing to slowdowns on a planned Kazakhstan-Iran railway and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

 

The latest Tajik-Afghan route proposal was well-covered by regional media, casting doubt on Ashgabat’s claim it was taken unaware by the plan, Dushanbe-based analyst Rashid Gani Abdullo told EurasiaNet.org.

 

 

4. EU’s Fuele slams Bosnian leaders after fruitless meeting 

 

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele blamed Bosnian leaders for blocking implementation of a European Court of Human Rights ruling vital to the country’s EU integration prospects, AFP reports.

 

Fuele held a 10-hour meeting in Sarajevo 18 February with leaders of seven political parties, the first high-ranking EU official to visit the country since the outbreak of mass protests against poverty and endless political wrangling, B92 reports. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Asia Hoyt Yee also attended the meeting.

 

In a statement, Fuele said the party leaders failed yet again to move ahead with implementing the court’s ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case. The court ruled in favor of minority groups who complained that the constitution – designed to bring the warring sides together at the 1995 Dayton peace talks – violated their rights by reserving high political posts only for members of the Serb, Croat, and Bosniak communities.

 

“I have therefore concluded my efforts on this issue,” Fuele said.

 

The main obstacles to a constitutional amendment continue to be the ethnic Croat parties and the party headed by the president of the country’s Serb-dominated administrative entity, Milorad Dodik, B92 writes, citing local media.

 

5. Aral Sea region has more water than thought, say U.S. scientists

 

The Aral Sea continues to lose huge amounts of water every year, but the short-term prospects for the huge watershed that feeds the sea are less dire than previously thought, Space Daily writes.

 

Researchers used NASA satellites to measure the pace of water loss in the region from 2003 to 2012. The lake itself is still losing a staggering 24 cubic kilometers (5.8 cubic miles) of water every year, but the rate of loss is less in parts of the watershed where the region’s agriculture is concentrated, the study found.

 

The Aral watershed includes most of Uzbekistan and parts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

 

aral seaThe Aral Sea in August 2013. The black line marks the approximate shoreline in the 1960s. Photo from NASA's Earth Observatory website.

 

Some of the water previously thought to have evaporated or used for agriculture is actually stored in the watershed, the research led by University of Toledo, Ohio, assistant professor Richard Becker concluded.

 

Some of that water savings is attributed to better conservation, while inefficient irrigation also allows some water to escape into aquifers.

 

Northern parts of the lake, once the world’s fourth-largest, have begun to recover since Kazakhstan built a dike to form the so-called Small Aral in 2005.

 

The lake has lost 90 percent of its water volume since the 1960s, when Soviet irrigation projects began diverting huge amounts of river water to cotton plantations.

 

In the long run, the Aral’s prospects remain bleak, Space Daily writes.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Sarah Fluck, Aliona Kachkan, Karlo Marinovic, and Lily Sieradzki are TOL editorial interns.

 

Central Asia map by Cacahuate/Wikimedia Commons

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