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Central Europe Scrutinizes Russian Trade Ties, Taliban Denies Turkmenistan Border Attack

Plus, former allies of Kosovo’s leader turn opponents, and Kremlin gadfly Kasparov becomes an EU citizen.

by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 4 March 2014

1. Budapest, Prague chary of economic sanctions against Russia


Russia’s military action in Crimea appears unlikely to jeopardize major Russian investments in Hungary and the Czech Republic.


The leader of Hungary’s main opposition Socialist Party have suggested that Prime Minister Viktor Orban is “beholden to Putin” because of a Russian loan to expand the Paks nuclear power station, after Orban said this week that Hungary was “not part of the conflict” between Russia and Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal writes. The $13 billion loan from Moscow for the nuclear plant – which President Janos Ader signed into law 10 February – “was part of Mr. Orban’s policy of opening up to the East. ... Following the deal, a Hungarian official said Budapest [has] ‘an increasingly enjoyable’ business relationship with Moscow,” according to The Journal.


Russia’s Rusatom will build two new blocks at the plant. On 7 February, Orban got European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s assurance the commission had no objections to the agreement, reported.


Stability in Ukraine is a sensitive issue for Budapest because of the 150,000-strong Hungarian minority in western Ukraine. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi visited the area 1 March, and Orban later said he wanted the Ukrainian Hungarians to know “They can count on us,” The Journal writes. Reports of thousands of ethnic Hungarians crossing the border into Hungary were untrue, Zsolt Nemeth, a top Foreign Ministry official, said 3 March. He said, however, that several hundred young Hungarians were on the move over a false rumor that the Ukrainian army was mobilizing, reports, citing Hungarian public television.


A Russia-led consortium is also in the running to expand the Czech Republic’s Temelin nuclear plant, competing for the multibillion-dollar contract against the Japanese-U.S. Westinghouse group, although the announcement of the tender winner has been repeatedly delayed, in part because falling electricity prices are cooling Prague’s interest in what was seen as a major exporter of power. On 3 March the Czech ministers of defense and human rights said Russia should be barred from the project because of its incursion into Ukraine, Reuters reports. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the government could not exclude Russian firms from competing for the project, nor cut trade ties with a major economic partner like Russia.


2. Taliban denies killing Turkmenistani border guards


Taliban representatives in Afghanistan deny taking part in an attack on the Turkmenistan border last week that killed three border guards, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported 2 March.


At least three guards were killed as they patrolled the two countries’ border 26 February, a spokesman for the regional governor in Badghis, Afghanistan, said the day after the incident. The spokesman said the attack was led by Taliban commanders he named as Mullah Abdullah and Ahmad. Officials of Turkmenistan’s consulate in western Afghanistan confirmed the report, according to Khaama Press.


Turkmenistan and Afghanistan share a long border.


“The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns this harmful incident and categorically rejects its involvement in such detrimental and irresponsible actions while it also extends its condolences to Turkmenistan and the family members of the said police officers,” the Taliban said in a statement.


Turkmenistan has generally had better relations with the Afghan Taliban than other Central Asian states, Radio Free Europe wrote recently. While the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, “Ashgabat did not officially recognize the Taliban government but did allow a Taliban representative office to open in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan hosted Afghan peace talks in 1999. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar threatened the other four Central Asian states, particularly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, for what he claimed was meddling in Afghanistan’s affairs. No Taliban threats were ever made against Turkmenistan.”

3. Kosovo insiders unveil new opposition party


Krasniqi_100Jakup Krasniqi
Two former close allies of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci have laid down a challenge to his ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, Reuters writes.


Fatmir Limaj, a former government minister, and parliamentary speaker Jakup Krasniqi inaugurated their Initiative for Kosovo party in Pristina 28 February before a small crowd, Balkan Insight reports.


“Kosovo is not in a good way. The people of Kosovo are tired. They are tired of illusions, [demagoguery], false promises, endless waiting, and insecurity about the future,” Limaj said.


Krasniqi, who quit Thaci’s party a year ago, has slammed the “authoritarianism, despotism, tyranny, and all other non-democratic ways of functioning” prevailing in the country, according to Balkan Insight.


Analysts told Reuters the new party could attract Democratic Party voters fed up with endemic poverty, nepotism, and corruption. National elections will be held sometime between June and September. However, Limaj himself faces charges of corruption and organized crime brought by the EU’s legal mission, EULEX, Balkan Insight notes.


Limaj and Thaci came to politics after successfully leading guerrilla forces in the campaign that led to Serbia’s withdrawal from Kosovo under NATO bombardment in 1999. Three trials for war crimes against Serbs have all resulted in acquittals for Limaj.


4. Garry Kasparov becomes Croatian citizen


Kasparov_100Garry Kasparov
Former world chess champion and leading Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov has acquired Croatian citizenship, according to the Guardian. Kasparov, 50, speaks Croatian, owns a house there, and, according to Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, provided “great moral support to Croatia” during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. Croatian war veterans and several politicians supported his citizenship application, the Guardian writes.


Kasparov announced last year he would not return to Russia, fearing an escalation of the official harassment aimed at him since 2007 when he emerged as a potent opposition figure. RIA Novosti writes that his bid to obtain a Latvian passport was rejected by Latvian lawmakers in November in part because he wished to keep his Russian passport, something not permitted under the country’s citizenship law.


Kasparov said he may run for the presidency of FIDE, the world chess body, this year as a representative of Croatia, the Guardian writes. Kasparov was the world's youngest world chess champion at 22, a title he held for 20 years until he retired from chess and moved into politics.


5. Macedonia headed for early parliamentary elections


Macedonian political parties agreed over the weekend to hold legislative elections a year early following a clash in the country's ruling coalition, Balkan Insight reports.


Nikola Gruevski 100Nikola Gruevski
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, head of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, accepted the request for early elections by the junior coalition partner, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). The ethnic Albanian party earlier threatened to boycott the presidential elections when Gruevski’s party refused its proposal for a joint presidential candidate.


The government was expected to resign today, clearing the way for parliamentary elections on 27 April simultaneous with the second round of presidential voting. VMRO-DPMNE endorsed incumbent President Gjorje Ivanov for another five-year term.


The DUI also wanted a constitutional change to transfer the right to elect a president from voters to the parliament, Gruevski said, according to the Associated Press.


Polls suggest the conservative VMRO-DPMNE will again emerge as the strongest party, with the opposition Social Democrats in second place.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Sarah Fluck and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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