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Kosovo Approves New War Crimes Court, Erdogan in Condolences for 1915 Armenian Killings

Plus, Gazprom sends Kyiv a massive bill, and Moscow tells foreign investors who’s boss.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Ky Krauthamer 25 April 2014

1. Little positive news as EU hopefuls meet in Prague

 

The European Union is partly to blame for the Ukrainian crisis, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said 24 April. Speaking on the sidelines of an EU meeting in Prague with the six Eastern Partnership countries, he told the Czech Press Agency that the EU has been putting too much pressure on Ukraine and other would-be union members to undertake expensive financial and political reforms as a condition of closer ties.

 

“If we are launching such fundamental changes in society, we must also calculate their social and economic impacts on these countries,” he said.

 

Zaoralek argues that the EU needs to apply less bureaucratic methods in relations with former Soviet countries, according to the agency. All Eastern Partnership countries are former Soviet republics.

 

“The Ukrainian crisis was caused by Russia, but Moscow used the mistakes we committed [to its advantage]. It deliberately interfered in the processes that we started and torpedoed them,” he said.

 

Under President Viktor Yanukovych, Kyiv pulled out of a trade and political deal with Brussels just before last November’s partnership summit, setting off a wave of protests that forced Yanukovych from power.

 

 Milos Zeman Milos Zeman
The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova were expected to attend the low-key event on 24-25 April hosted by Czech President Milos Zeman, with Ukraine represented by acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya. Belarus did not send a representative because President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was not invited, Radio Free Europe reports. The EU is being represented by the Czech commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, and the presidents of Austria, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia, as well as Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Jan Bjorklund.

 

The meeting is something of a rescue mission for a sick project, according to the Associated Press.

 

“The project of Eastern Partnership as it was created five years ago is, in fact, in ruins,” Petr Kratochvil, director of Prague’s Institute of International Relations, told the AP.

 

Kratochvil said the program was undercut by a lack of real support from the EU as a whole and the perception of corruption in the partnership countries. But Russia’s resistance was the main factor in its demise, he said.

 

2. Kosovo approves new court to try KLA war crimes

 

thaci_100Hashim Thaci
Kosovo’s parliament has approved creation of an international court to handle alleged war crimes by ethnic Albanians in the former Serbian province.

 

On 23 April, parliament voted 89-22 in favor of the bill following years of pressure by the European Union, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Before the vote, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called the court “the biggest injustice and insult which could be done to Kosovo and its people,” Balkan Insight reports.

 

However, Thaci urged legislators to vote yes, suggesting that the new court would help “cleanse” Kosovo from allegations of war crimes during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia. “Our war was just and in line with the international norms of war,” he said.

 

One contentious issue the court may address are allegations that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) ran an operation to harvest and sell organs from kidnapped Serbs within a wider organized crime network during the conflict. Those allegations were underscored in a 2010 Council of Europe report. Thaci, a former civilian leader of the KLA, was among those implicated in the report.

 

During parliamentary debate, several legislators rejected war crimes allegations against the KLA. Fatmir Limaj, a former KLA commander who was acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also had sharp words.

 

But the Associated Press writes that the EU push for the court – stepped up recently – “reflects the reality that many crimes from the rebel side of the Kosovo war have yet to be aired in court.” Human Rights Watch called the vote “a step for justice and the rule of law.”

 

Though based in Kosovo, the court will conduct most of its work in the Netherlands under a staff of international jurists, the AP reports. Many details are still being hammered out, but it will probably resemble the ICTY, which has stopped taking new cases.

 

Serbia welcomed the news. “This is important and good news for Serbs,” said Aleksandar Vulin, the head of the government’s Kosovo office, Balkan Insight reports. Using the name of Kosovo when still a province of Serbia, he said, “With this we will show that Serbian people were not guilty of everything that happened in Kosovo and Metohija.”

 

3. Moscow tightens screws on Ukraine with $11.4 billion gas bill

 

Russian energy giant Gazprom says Ukraine owes $11.4 billion for gas it was contracted to buy in 2013, Bloomberg reports.

 

Announced 24 April, the bill is for unused gas that Ukraine is nevertheless required to purchase under the “take-or-pay” clause in its 2009 contract. The move is widely seen as another attempt by Moscow to put economic pressure on Kyiv, which has accepted an international bailout to prop up its tottering economy.

 

In recent weeks, Russia has canceled a discount on gas prices negotiated with Ukraine in December, raised prices further, and threatened to cut supplies over an unrelated $2.2 billion debt to Gazprom.

 

The move comes just as Ukrainian leaders were meeting with EU officials to discuss buying more gas from European suppliers. Kyiv and Bratislava are set to sign a deal 28 April on reverse gas flow supplies, though Slovakia probably cannot offer as much gas as Ukraine wants.

 

“Russia is clearly whipping up tension before Ukraine’s talks with Europe, understanding that [Ukraine’s] Naftogaz won’t pay,” Bohdan Sokolovskyi, an energy adviser to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, told Bloomberg.

 

Gazprom has raised questions about the legality and technical feasibility of reversing the flow of Russian gas. But acting Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan said this method could allow Ukraine to import 7-10 billion cubic meters of European gas, now considerably cheaper than Russian supplies, ITAR-Tass reports.

 

Last year, Ukrainian state-owned Naftogaz imported 12.9 billion cubic meters of Russia gas, a spokesman told Bloomberg. But Gazprom says it was contracted for 41.6 billion cubic meters.

 

4. Minister: Investors better think twice about quitting Russia

 

Sergei Donskoy
Foreign investors in Russia’s oil and gas industry will pay a sharp price if they pull out over Western sanctions, according to Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoy, Reuters reports.

 

On 24 April, Donskoy said energy firms that quit Russia over Ukraine-related sanctions will not be coming back any time soon. His remarks came the same day as President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the sanctions were hurting Russia's economy, though not critically.

 

Donskoy pledged “consequences” for backing out of investment agreements, saying, “Russia is one of the most promising countries in terms of hydrocarbons production. If some contracts are severed here, then, colleagues, you lose a serious lump of your pie.”

 

The oil and gas industry is the bedrock of Russia’s economy and relies on foreign investment and know-how. To date, no international energy companies have withdrawn, and both BP and Shell have publicly committed to stay, Reuters reports.

 

But over $60 billion fled Russia in the first quarter, the total capital outflow for all of 2013. And the United States and European Union have threatened to step up the current, relatively mild sanctions against Russia in the coming days by targeting core industries if Moscow does not implement a recent international agreement aimed at resolving the Ukraine crisis, according to Reuters.

 

Russia has also signed deals with other energy majors like ExxonMobil. Any company that decides to “diversify” by walking away from agreements, Donskoy said, will be quickly replaced. “I am sure others wishing to take their places would be found.”

 

5. Armenians in lukewarm response to Erdogan’s statement on 1915 killings

 

In an unprecedented gesture, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 23 April presented formal condolences to the descendants of Armenians killed during the mass deportations in 1915, according to the BBC. While Armenia claims 1.5 million victims of Ottoman Turkish mistreatment and murder, Turkey puts the number at around 300,000.

 

Speaking on the eve of the day on which Armenians commemorate what they consider a genocide, Erdogan avoided using that word. Despite speaking about the “inhumane consequences” of the killings, he went on to say “millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War.” But the suffering on both sides makes it “inhumane” that Armenia should use the events as a political trump card and “an excuse for hostility against Turkey,” he said.

 

Although the two sides took a historic step toward mending their relationship in 2009, the border between the countries remains closed. Armenian has also refused Turkey’s offer to establish a joint commission to investigate the mass killings, the BBC notes.

 

Erdogan’s remarks inspired mixed feelings both in Armenia and among the diaspora, EurasiaNet.org writes. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan labeled the statement a continuation of Ankara’s “policy of utter denial” of responsibility for the killings, while the director of the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan, Hayk Demoyan, said the statement was an important step, but was “regretfully not in a direction of revealing the truth, facing the history and enabling reconciliation.”

 

Armenians flee Kars 1920-21The city of Kars changed hands several times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, finally coming under Turkish control in 1921. This photo shows Armenian civilians fleeing the city in 1920 or 1921. Image by Aivazovsky/Wikimedia Commons

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.

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