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Ukrainian Nationalist Killed in Shootout, Leading Russian Banker Raises Sanctions Fears

Plus, Saakashvili will not go home to face questioning in Zhvania case, and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan look to resolve border clash.

by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Marketa Horazna, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 25 March 2014

1. Ukrainian radical chief killed in police operation


Oleksandr Muzychko, a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist organization Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), was killed in a nighttime shootout with security forces in western Ukraine 25 March.


Police in the city of Rivne said Muzychko was gunned down at midnight local time in the nearby village of Barmaky, Itar-Tass reports. He died at the scene from injuries to the chest and legs, according to Ukrinform.


Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Evdokimov said the shooting occured during a police raid on an organized crime group, RIA Novosti reports. Three other suspects were detained during the operation.




Muzychko had been under investigation in Ukraine in connection with organized crime and threats to public officials. Earlier this month a YouTube video showed him accusing the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office and police of plotting to kill him or capture and hand him over to Russian special services.


Another clip showed Muzychko assaulting an employee of the prosecutor's office in Rivne. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov later said Muzychko would be prosecuted for this action, RIA Novosti writes.


On 7 March Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation against Muzychko for suspected participation in combat against Russian forces during the Chechen conflict in the 1990s, the Kyiv Post writes.


Pravy Sektor members played a prominent part in clashes with police in Kyiv during the protests that helped topple former President Viktor Yanukovych. The controversial group’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, is a candidate in May’s presidential elections. 


2. Sberbank chief warns of economic slide as sanctions kick in


Restrictions on U.S.-based credit cards in Russia are unlikely to seriously hit the economy, but the Crimean crisis is bringing risks of increased capital flight and economic decline, the head of one of Russia’s biggest banks says.


German GrefGerman Gref
Sberbank Chairman German Gref said 24 March that a domestic card payment system could be in place “in a couple of months” if parliament passes enabling legislation, The Wall Street Journal reports.


Last week Visa and MasterCard suspended card services at several Russian banks linked to individuals on the U.S. list of Russians liable to face sanctions over the annexation of Crimea. Services had resumed at two of the banks on 24 March, CNNMoney reports. Sberbank, the country’s biggest lender, is not on either the U.S. or EU blacklists, The Journal writes.


Further sanctions would be a “serious hit for the country,” Gref said, adding that capital flight will likely exceed current estimates of $55 billion this year and economic growth could drop to zero with a “risk of recession” if capital outflows reach $100 billion.


Russian investors’ preference to park their money abroad has bedeviled the country’s economic policy makers for years. Earlier this month Goldman Sachs said the slowing economy and the threat of Western sanctions could push capital flight to $130 billion this year, double the 2013 level, Reuters reports.


“The Achilles heel of the Russian economy remains the flow abroad of Russian capital following any shock,” two Goldman analysts wrote in a note. The investment firm also cut its 2014 economic growth forecast for Russia to 1 percent.


3. Saakashvili rejects summons for questioning in Tbilisi


Mikheil SaakashviliMikheil Saakashvili
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says he will not return home for questioning about the 2005 death of then-Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and other cases. According to the Associated Press, Saakashvili, who left Georgia late last year after his term ended, said European politicians advised him to stay away because a criminal case against him could hamper Georgia’s European integration prospects.


Zhvania’s death is the most prominent of many investigations into former Saakashvili allies reopened by authorities since the Georgian Dream coalition swept Saakashvili’s party from power in 2012. When the bodies of Zhvania and a deputy regional governor, Raul Usupov, were found in a Tbilisi apartment in February 2005, the official cause of death was given as carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a malfunctioning heater, but questions have lingered.


Azerbaijan’s Trend news agency reports that two suspects were ordered into pre-trial detention 23 March in connection with the case: Levan Chachua, a former top official at Georgia’s National Forensics Board, and ex-Zhvania bodyguard Mikheil Dzadzamia.


According to prosecutors, Chachua “gave inadequate information on the damages to the victims’ bodies, while the wounds inflicted before their deaths were obvious,” Trend writes. Dzadzamia is accused of official negligence leading to Zhvania’s death and could face four years in prison if convicted.


U.S. and EU officials have voiced concern over Tbilisi’s summoning the former president for questioning, reports. Saakashvili is now living in the Netherlands, the homeland of his wife, Sandra Roelofs.


4. Ferghana Valley border dispute festers


Authorities in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are considering land swaps to settle an ongoing dispute over Ferghana Valley borders and enclaves, Radio Free Europe writes. Tensions escalated after at least five border guards were injured in a January shootout. RFE reports that the countries have set up a joint commission to discuss the possibility of relocating Kyrgyzstani villagers living close to the border in the Batken region.


The conflict between the two Central Asian countries erupted in Vorukh, an island of Tajikistani territory within Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Province. The source of tension was a new road allowing Kyrgyzstanis living on either side of Vorukh to drive to other parts of Batken without passing through Tajikistani territory, except for one stretch of disputed land. When roadworks began there, border guards from each country began shooting. The border between the two countries has been closed ever since.


Bilateral trade has suffered as a result of the dispute, the Times of Central Asia reports, falling to just $1.23 million in January, compared to $11 million in January 2013.


Local Kyrgyzstanis say smugglers continue to take goods such as rice and apples into Tajikistan. they residents have asked officials not to reopen crossing points until the border issues are ironed out.


5. End selective abortion of females, Montenegro urged


The Council of Europe is pressing Montenegro to prevent selective abortions of female fetuses after recent UN research showed a significant imbalance in favor of male infants, Balkan Insight reports.


The council’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, called 23 March on the country to implement stricter guidelines and improve education of health professionals to curb gender-selective abortions. The 2013 UN study estimated the ratio of male to female babies in Montenegro at 110 to 100, well above the world average of 102-104 births in favor of boys.


The imbalance “reflects the inequality of women in society,” Muiznieks said.


Montenegro made selective abortion and the abuse of prenatal sex determination crimes in 2009.


The country’s Health Ministry acknowledges the imbalance but says there is no evidence of prenatal determination of a fetus’ sex prior to the 12th week of pregnancy, which is prohibited by law, news agency Beta reported in December.


However, Olivera Miljanovic, a specialist in pediatric genetics and Montenegro’s representative on the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics, said the excess of male births could only be explained by the “abuse of the accomplishments of modern genetics.”


Montenegro’s male-to-female birth imbalance ranks with that of China, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Albania among the world’s highest, according to, an Italian news service.


Selective abortion appears to be common in the Caucasus and Western Balkans in strongly patriarchal societies, whether Christian or Muslim, and in Asian countries such as China and India.


A 2012 report by the UN Population Fund and the charity World Vision estimated that 15,000 female fetuses may have been aborted in Albania between 2000 and 2010, representing about 7 percent of female births. Health authorities said there was no evidence of selective abortions being performed in public health facilities.

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


Home page photo: Police surround a body reported to be that of Oleksandr Muzychko. Image from a video by rebroadcast on Euronews/YouTube

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