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Reporters Accused of Spying in Ukraine, Azerbaijan

Plus, a Hitler-themed magazine raises eyebrows in Almaty, and a Russian social media magnate says the Kremlin backed his ouster.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Jeremy Druker, and Barbara Frye 22 April 2014

1. Pro-Russian forces holding journalists in eastern Ukraine

 

Chances for a de-escalation of tensions in eastern Ukraine took another blow over the weekend as news emerged that pro-Moscow separatists have been detaining a growing number of people they view as spies, The Independent reports.

 

“We have captured some spies, infiltrators. Right now, we’re working them over: they are being held in captivity,” separatist leader Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said in Slavyansk, one of the cities where the separatists are firmly in control. While the exact number of detainees is unclear, Ponomaryov said his forces were holding around 20 people, Voice of Russia reports.

 

One of the most prominent detainees is Irma Krat, a 29-year-old journalist and activist, whom the separatists have paraded out as their most successful “catch.” According to The Independent, Krat was a rare woman to serve with militia groups on Kyiv’s Independence Square, or Maidan, as they battled police during the recent uprising.

 

Irma.Krat.350Irma Krat, with a plastic bag tied around her face, is interviewed by a Russian website. Image from a video by Ukraine Investigation / YouTube

 

Krat was picked up by local forces soon after arriving in Slavyansk on 20 April. Tensions were already running high that day after an overnight attack on a checkpoint near the city that reportedly left three separatists dead, as well as two of the assailants, whom the separatists and Russia have claimed to be connected with the right-wing Pravy Sector.

 

Krat’s captors have accused her of links to the far right and of taking part in the alleged torture of a journalist, Sergiy Rulyov, whom Maidan protestors considered pro-regime; Rulyov has also named Krat as one of his attackers, according to The Independent. The allegations of ties to extremists have been buoyed by images on Krat’s Facebook page that apparently show her with men wearing extremist armbands.

 

Krat’s captors allowed her to speak with several journalists on 21 April, including a reporter from The Independent. She denied taking part in the torture of Rulyov.

Human rights groups have successfully lobbied for the release of some of the prisoners. Two Italian reporters and one Belarusian journalist were released on 21 April, according to The Independent.  

 

2. Azerbaijani journalist reportedly held on spying charge

 

Rauf MirkadyrovRauf Mirkadyrov
A prominent Azerbaijani journalist who was deported from Turkey is facing treason and espionage charges in his home country, according to Radio Free Europe. Turkish authorities arrested Rauf Mirkadyrov, a columnist for Baku-based, Russian-language newspaper Zerkalo, 18 April on claims that his residence and work permit were expired. He was taken into custody by Azerbaijani agents after flying into Baku the next day.

 

Before flying out of Ankara Mirkadyrov reportedly telephoned a colleague and said his problems with the Turkish authorities started immediately after the 7 April visit to Baku by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, RFE writes, citing Kavkazski Uzel (Caucasian Knot). Mirkadyrov is said to have published several critical pieces on Erdogan.


The Armenian news site Asbarez reports that the journalist’s frequent trips to Armenia might have raised suspicions in Baku, which remains in a state of war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

 

Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general claims Mirkadyrov began collaborating with Armenian intelligence in 2008 and regularly passed on information including state secrets, according to Azerbaijani media cited by Asbarez.

 

One of the most widely read newspapers in Azerbaijan, Zerkalo has come under pressure from the authorities to tone down critical coverage or lose vital revenue from ads placed by state bodies.

 

3. Hitler magazine cover kicks up storm in Kazakhstan

 

A magazine in Kazakhstan that “profiled” Adolf Hitler and compared him with Russian President Vladimir Putin has sparked protests by war veterans and a diplomatic tiff between Moscow and Astana, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

Anyz Adam (Legendary Person) plastered a photo of the Fuehrer on the cover and devoted 52 pages to him. In addition to the usual biographical information, RFE writes that at least one contributor had good things to say about the dictator.

 

 

“I accept that Hitler was a dictator but he fought for the future of his country,” writes civic activist Naghashybai Esmyrza, according to RFE. “He wanted to make people's lives better. ... Hitler was criticized for experimenting with people in concentration camps. It's true he did those experiments. But that was nothing compared with what the Bolsheviks did.”

 

At what EurasiaNet.org describes as a “stormy” press conference, the magazine’s editor, Zharylkap Kalybay, said he ran the issue to explore Hitler’s “evilness.”

 

As for comparisons with Putin, the editor noted a rise in skinhead and “neo-fascist” activity in Russia since Putin became president in 2000.

 

“They carry flags with swastikas in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other places. They beat up non-Slavic people at night and even kill them. These are facts, everyone knows it,” he said.

 

Veterans of World War II burned copies of the magazine at a park in Almaty 21 April, and at the urging of Russian officials, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry has denounced the publication.

 

Hitler-Putin comparisons have sprung up elsewhere since Russia annexed Crimea. EurasiaNet.org notes that “tensions over Ukraine have already sparked several diplomatic spats between Astana and Moscow over claims by Russian nationalist politicians to the territory of northern Kazakhstan.”

 

In the 2009 census, ethnic Russians accounted for almost 24 percent of Kazakhstan’s population. 

 

4. Ousted Durov says Kremlin allies now control VKontakte

 

VKontakte founder Pavel Durov wrote on his personal page on the Russian social network 21 April, “Today I was fired as general director of VKontakte,” BuzzFeed reports. Durov said the site, the most popular social network in Russia and several neighboring countries, was now “under the complete control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov,” respectively a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs.

 

Durov, 29, has kept the press and investors guessing recently, first announcing his resignation 1 April, then two days later backtracking from what he called an April Fool’s prank. Commentators variously interpreted his resignation as bowing to the inevitable takeover of the company by Usmanov’s Mail.ru group, others as giving way to Kremlin pressure on a site that has been used to rally support for the opposition. He now says the board of directors claims he had not properly rescinded his letter of resignation, which he reportedly submitted on 21 March, during the month-long period before it automatically took effect, according to BuzzFeed.

 

Durov’s opaque motives aside, it is clear that Usmanov now pulls a lot of weight at VKontakte, where Mail.ru now holds 52 percent of shares. In addition to boosting his share in VKontakte, Usmanov recently sold shares in Facebook and Apple as he increasingly turns his attention to Chinese Internet companies, an executive with Usmanov’s asset-management company said last month.

 

The executive, Ivan Streshinskiy, said Usmanov was also taking advantage of the fall in Russian share values in the wake of the Ukraine crisis to buy shares in domestic companies. “Crisis is always a good opportunity as valuations become cheap,” he said.

 

A VKontakte spokesman told BuzzFeed Durov’s replacement would be chosen at the next board of directors meeting. 

 

5. Stars, crescents appear in Polish culinary skies

 

A tourist attraction dedicated to Poznan’s celebrated St. Martin’s croissant opened last week in a historic house on the main square of the western Polish city, Polskie Radio reports.

 

The rogal swietomarcinki, a sweet crescent roll, appears in quantity every year as Poznan celebrates the feast of St. Martin on 11 November. Apparently invented in the mid-19th century, the pastry has become a local icon and is registered as a protected EU regional product, Polskie Radio writes.

 

According to one legend, the pastry’s shape recalls the time when bakers in town found a shoe that fell off St. Martin’s horse. Another story (also told of that other Central European delicacy, the bagel) goes that bakers picked up on the shape after seeing Turkish flags, with the now-familiar Islamic crescent moon, captured by Polish King Jan Sobieski during his heroic defense of Vienna in 1683.

 

Devotees of Polish traditional foods have more reason to cheer now that Michelin has awarded a coveted star to an eatery in Poland for the first time, The Warsaw Voice reported in March.

 

The cuisine at Atelier Amaro, the Warsaw restaurant honored by the Michelin guide, “draws inspiration from prewar [Polish] recipes while experimenting with innovative techniques, like using an intriguing combination of little-used herbs and flavors in one mouthful,” The Voice writes.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Jeremy Druker is TOL's executive director. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. 
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