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Plus, police in Moscow arrest those protesting the Bolotnaya verdict, and a blizzard knocks Kazakhstan on its keister.by Ioana Caloianu, Annabel Lau, Piers Lawson, Karlo Marinovic, and Lily Sieradzki 24 February 2014
The hasty exit of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from his presidential palace near Kyiv has left what the Kyiv Post says is “enough financial documents to keep criminal investigators and investigative journalists busy for months to come.”
Perhaps the most sought-after documents could explain how a company about which little is known came to own the country house after a controversial privatization more than 10 years ago. Journalists have probed the links between the company and Yanukovych, with their work hampered by opaque, offshore company registrations and transactions.
“Some of [the papers] were burned around the edges in a failed attempt to destroy them,” the newspaper reports. “Others were still packed tightly in files and folders.”
“Yanukovych … emerges as an ugly man who ran both his home and his nation like a medieval fiefdom,” the paper says.
The Guardian reports that the documents were dumped into the reservoir near the presidential compound. Some floated because they were in plastic containers, the paper says, while others were retrieved by specialist divers from the bottom of the lake.
Investigative journalists are now poring through the files “in an atmosphere of extreme secrecy,” the Guardian says.
While reporters sift through documents, Ukraine’s new rulers are working at “breakneck pace to dismantle [Yanukovych’s] coterie of ministers and cronies,” Reuters reports. Among the dismissals was Dmytro Tabachnyk, the country’s unpopular, pro-Russia education minister.
Meanwhile, Time magazine reports from Crimea, calling the region “the only chunk of Ukraine where the revolution has failed to take hold.” Some in the peninsula’s ethnic Russian majority are appealing to Moscow for protection, which Time writes presents Ukraine’s revolutionary leaders with “an urgent problem.”
The uprising has only served to provide Crimea’s Russians with their best opportunity to secede from the rest of Ukraine and rejoin Russia, Time says. Russia has a lease to dock its Black Sea fleet in Crimea for the next 30 years.
Trenin says the Kremlin’s role in recent events has been “far more modest” than portrayed by the international media and that it was wrong to see Yanukovych as a puppet of Moscow.
“There are virtually no Ukrainian politicians who can be called pro-Russian: This simply goes against the grain of Ukraine’s national idea,” Trenin writes.
Nearly half of all companies in the Czech Republic have been affected by economic crime in the last two years, the Czech Press Agency (CTK) reports.
That is up steeply from the 29 percent rate reported by companies in 2011, CTK reports, citing a global economic crime survey conducted by the PricewaterhouseCoopers auditing firm.
The hike in recorded crimes is due mostly to increasing cyber attacks and better detection, the accounting firm’s director of forensic services, Michal Kohoutek, said, according to CTK.
The latest figures for the Czech Republic mirror the worldwide trend, with economic crime hitting 37 percent of companies globally, up from 34 in 2011, according to CTK. The share of businesses damaged by economic crime in Eastern Europe has grown from 30 percent to 38 percent.
The most widespread fraud in the Czech Republic remains theft or embezzlement, which accounts for 80 percent of such crimes, followed by cyber crime, which experts say is particularly dangerous because it can do serious damage before being detected.
Half of the Czech companies affected suffered losses of at least 2 million crowns ($100,000), Kohoutek said.
The prevalence of corruption and graft in the Czech Republic prompted an entrepreneur in 2012 to launch the country’s first “corruption tour operator” offering trips to places in Prague that highlight notorious examples of graft and public misconduct.
Police in Moscow say more than 100 protesters were arrested outside a courthouse today during the trial of eight people accused of assaulting police at a 2012 rally against President Vladimir Putin, Reuters reports.
Riot police infiltrated the crowd gathered outside and detained protesters one-by-one, according to Reuters. “Opposition activists” said more than 230 people were detained, according to the news agency.
The demonstrators had gathered to support the defendants in the “Bolotnaya” case, in which seven men and one woman were found guilty 21 February of rioting and attacking police on 6 May 2012, the eve of Putin’s return to the presidency after a period as prime minister, according to Radio Free Europe.
In sentences read out today, seven defendants received 2 ½ to four years behind bars, while an eighth received a suspended sentence, according to Reuters. All had pleaded not guilty.
In decrying the verdict, John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia program director at Amnesty International, said in a statement, “The defendants in this trial were confronted by abusive use of force by police. Some of them sought to prevent violence, others to protect themselves. A few were just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. All are victims of a politically motivated show trial.”
The demonstrators outside the courthouse yelled “Maidan” in reference to the square in the Ukrainian capital where protesters recently ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
A cold front from Siberia has paralyzed much of Kazakhstan, closing roads in six regions, BNewsKZ reports.
Among the areas affected was the region that contains the country’s largest city, Almaty. Highways and markets in the capital, Astana, were also shut down, Al Jazeera reports.
A blizzard brought heavy snow and wind speeds of over 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour on 22 February, according to Al Jazeera, which reports that temperatures reached -26 Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit) degrees during the day and dropped to as low as -36 Celsius at night.
More than 480 people, including 12 children, were stranded in their cars on 22 February, Kazinform reports.
The bad weather is expected to continue through the end of February, with temperatures as low as -38 Celsius in eastern Kazakhstan and forecasts of frost, snow, blizzards, and fog, according to Zakon.kz.
Almaty is bidding for the chance to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, the Associated Press notes, against Ukraine, Poland, and Norway.
Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, faces significant cuts in its water supply as the country experiences a severe winter drought, Balkan Insight reports, even as other parts of Europe weather a soaking winter.
To cope with a drop in the water levels of two reservoirs near Pristina, the local water company in mid-February reduced the availability of running water from 14 hours a day to 10 hours a day, Reuters reported at the time. Balkan Insight says that is now down to seven or eight hours daily.
The cuts affect 400,000 people living in the Pristina area, or about a quarter of Kosovo’s population, according to Reuters.
If precipitation does not pick up, the reservoirs could dry up completely and endanger the capital’s water supply. However, the Kosovo Hydro-meteorological institute predicts rain soon, Balkan Insight reports.
Officials with the local water utility say Pristina’s two water treatment plants cannot keep up with its growing population. As a result the company plans a third water treatment plant in order to be able to provide 24-hour supplies by 2016 or 2017, Balkan Insight reports.
The new plant will cost around 35 million euros ($48 million). The German Development Bank has pledged 20 million euros to the project, with the European Commission and the national and local governments each contributing 5 million euros, according to Balkan Insight.
The fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region's media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting. From oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren't enough, the region's press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise. Get your copy here.