Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!

× Learn more
No, thanks Photo: Abbas Atilay
back  |  printBookmark and Share

Dissension in Ukraine’s Rebel Ranks, NATO Flexes Muscles in the Baltics

Plus, Minsk gets a Russian loan for its first nuke plant and three former Kosovo war-crimes suspects go on the lam.

by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, Rebecca Johnson, and Piers Lawson 22 May 2014

1. Splits appear among Ukrainian rebels


As Ukraine prepares for presidential elections this weekend, divisions are emerging within the rebel groups operating in the southeast, The New York Times reports.


Vyacheslav Ponomaryov
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-declared mayor of the city of Slavyansk, told the newspaper he refused to recognize the authority of the self-proclaimed government of the Donetsk region, where Slavyansk is located. Ponomaryov suggested he could order the city’s paramilitary groups to use force in order to “restore order.”


“We are here fighting, and they are sitting around stuffing themselves,” Ponomaryov told The Times. Slavyansk was among the cities seized by separatists in mid-April. The newspaper notes that it is surrounded by Ukrainian military checkpoints.


“It’s not a difference of opinion,” Ponomaryov said. “We have fundamentally opposing views.”


Rinat Akhmetov
Meanwhile, steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov organized a rally for Ukrainian unity in a stadium he owns in the city of Donetsk and has urged drivers there to blare their car horns every day at noon in solidarity, the BBC reports.


“This is the other side of eastern Ukraine to the one we've seen in the past few weeks: those angry at the separatism, at the attempted secession and at the masked gunmen roaming the streets,” BBC correspondent Mark Lowen reports.


And Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky are warning the West against imposing further sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukrainian unrest, although for different reasons.


Medvedev told Bloomberg his government “could do something unpleasant or offensive to those countries that are introducing these sanctions.” 


Medvedev’s comments “cast doubt on signs of an easing in tensions less than a week before Ukraine’s presidential elections,” Bloomberg writes.


For his part, Khodorkovsky told the BBC that ratcheting up sanctions could “[play] into the hands of nationalists trying to isolate Russia” and urged Brussels instead to focus on stabilizing Ukraine.


2. NATO does war games in Lithuania, Estonia


Thousands of NATO troops have been conducting war games in the Baltics this week.


Steadfast Javelin 1, a defense against a simulated attack on Estonia, began 16 May with around 6,000 troops from nine countries, Stars and Stripes reports. Units involved include cybersecurity and reconnaissance, infantry, engineers, fighter jets, and anti-aircraft.


In Lithuania, 19 NATO countries have 500 troops testing communications systems in wartime conditions, the Lithuanian Tribune reports.


Although long-planned, the exercises take on added significance as NATO seeks to demonstrate that it will defend its Baltic neighbors against possible Russian aggression.


The governments of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia are particularly nervous since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which Moscow said was in defense of ethnic Russians there. The Baltic countries have sometimes prickly relations with their significant Russian minorities.


NATO has stepped up air patrols in the Baltics and beefed up its presence in Poland since March.


3. Minsk gets Russian loan for nuke plant


Russia is lending Belarus $500 million to help finance the construction of that country’s first nuclear power plant, World Nuclear News reports.


Work on the plant, 10 miles from the Lithuanian border, began in November. The first unit is planned to start operating in 2018 and the second in 2020.


Belarus is the second country after the United Arab Emirates to start construction of its first nuclear power plant in three decades, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.


Officials in Lithuania oppose the plant. Last year an official with the country’s Foreign Ministry said Minsk had not addressed questions about how the reactors would be cooled and what precautions were in place against earthquakes.


In response, the government of Belarus argues that Lithuania, which wants to build its own nuclear plant, is simply trying to derail any competition in the regional electricity market.


The $10 billion project is being built by Russia’s Rosatom.


4. Kosovo war-crimes indictees escape custody


Three former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas accused of war crimes have escaped from custody, Balkan Insight reports.


Sami Lushtaku, Ismet Haxha, and Sahit Jashari were being treated at the University Clinic Center in Pristina on 20 May when they made a break for it, the website reports.


The men fought with the Drenica Group, named for a region that was a flashpoint at the beginning of the 1998-1999 war with Serbia. They are among 15 charged with torturing and mistreating prisoners at a KLA detention center in Likovac, central Kosovo, in 1998.


Some members of the Drenica Group are also being investigated for involvement in organ trafficking during the war, Balkan Insight reported in December, without naming names.


The three fugitives escaped before they could be transferred to a holding cell in the Serb-dominated part of northern Kosovo to await their trial. The EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo had wanted to move the men, over the objections of Kosovo’s prisons chief, who warned their safety would be at risk in a facility that also holds high-profile Serb suspects, Balkan Insight reports.


5. Inspectors close down dodgy kitchen feeding Bulgarian legislators


Lawmakers in Bulgaria might want to consider reviving the old custom of hiring professional food tasters as a hedge against poisoning.


A kitchen in the president’s office that prepares food for members of parliament was shut down 19 May after inspectors found “bad hygiene and other serious shortcomings,” The Sofia Globe reports.


Food safety inspectors went to the kitchen after an anonymous tip. In addition to hygiene problems, they found a lack of control mechanisms and equipment problems.


Some reports said the facility prepares food for President Rosen Plevneliev, but his press office denied that, saying the president’s food is prepared under the supervision of the National Security Service.


“At least this breaks the myth about the quality of the meatballs served to members of parliament,” parliament speaker Mihail Mikov quipped, according to The Sofia Globe.

Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Rebecca Johnson is a TOL editorial intern.

back  |  printBookmark and Share



© Transitions Online 2015. All rights reserved. ISSN 1214-1615
Published by Transitions o.s., Baranova 33, 130 00 Prague 3, Czech Republic.