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Ukrainian Soldiers Killed in Rebel Attack, Bosnia’s Flood Victims Left Adrift

Plus, Russians get a look at the huge bill for Crimea and Czech makers of deadly bootleg booze get life in prison.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Rebecca Johnson 23 May 2014

1. Kyiv urges emergency UN meeting after deadly rebel assault

 

Seventeen Ukrainian soldiers were killed in overnight attacks 21-22 May in the deadliest violence since Kyiv launched a counteroffensive in two pro-Russia separatist regions of eastern Ukraine last month, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Sixteen soldiers were killed when insurgents attacked a government roadblock in the Donetsk region with grenades and mortars. In a separate overnight incident in neighboring Luhansk, one soldier was killed, RFE reports, citing the Defense Ministry.

 

Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of trying to escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine ahead of the 25 May presidential elections that Kyiv and the West hope will help ease tensions. He called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the crisis.

 

RFE reports that the attacks came as NATO noted a possible withdrawal of the tens of thousands of troops Russia has deployed near the Ukrainian border since March. While urging caution, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said small-scale troop movements “may suggest” preparations for a pull back.

 

On 19 May, President Vladimir Putin ordered the troops back to base for the third time since the buildup began. Kyiv and its Western allies fear the troops could invade Ukraine to support the pro-Russia rebels.

 

Responding to Kyiv’s accusations 22 May, Moscow said Ukraine was escalating military operations in the east, Reuters reports.

 

The separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence following referendums earlier this month. They have vowed to prevent Sunday’s election from going forward in eastern towns they control.

 

2. Many in Bosnia still without aid after floods

 

Despite an outpouring of donations following last week’s severe flooding, Bosnian officials are in hot water because many victims still have not received food and aid packages, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Authorities have sought aid from foreign sources, including the EU, and “most of the food and other donations reaching victims has come from ordinary people, not from government reserves, which only opened five days into the catastrophe,” according to the website.

 

Jerko Ivankovic Lijanovic, civil protection chief for the Bosnian-Muslim and Croat region of Bosnia, said delving into government stores was unnecessary because so much food had been donated, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Bosnia under water. Photo by EC/ECHO/EEAS/EU Delegation Bosnia/flickr.

 

Although aid is coming in from abroad, most of it is being distributed in major cities, according to Australia’s SBS news service. “That leaves many in the worst hit villages outside of the Bosnian capital to cope on their own,” SBS reports.

 

“We need water, food, and clothing. We have nothing,” Sanela Cosic, who lives in the central village of Topcic Polje, told SBS. “We've lost our house. We have nothing. We need help.”

 

Some businesses had upped prices, prompting the government to freeze prices at their 14 May level, when the floods began, Balkan Insight writes.

 

3. Russians face huge tab for Crimea

 

Moscow will pay for the annexation of Crimea by hiking utility rates, “borrowing” from pension funds, and cancelling planned infrastructure works elsewhere in Russia, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

Although initial estimates after the March referendum put annexation costs at $50 billion, the equivalent of the bill for the Sochi Winter Olympics, that is likely a low-ball figure, especially given the disastrous tourist season expected this year, according to the website.

 

Most of the money will come from Russians’ retirement contributions, which this year total 243 billion rubles ($7 billion), and which will be “borrowed” in exchange for “retirement points” given to contributors, according to Russian authorities.

 

Russians will also face a graduated hike in utility fees totaling 16.3 percent by 2017, which the Economic Development Ministry says is necessary to “finance activities to increase the capacity and ensure reliability of power systems in Crimea and Kaliningrad oblast,” according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

In addition, the Kremlin will divert to Crimea 112 billion rubles that had been intended to build a bridge in Siberia and a cargo terminal at a Krasnodar port.

 

EurasiaNet.org writes that Moscow will likely continue to pour money into its newest territory for additional infrastructure and administrative costs.

 

That could cause friction on the mainland, where protesters have criticized Moscow’s lavish spending on the North Caucasus republics in an attempt to develop the regional economy and stifle separatist movements. It remains to be seen if their battle cry – “Stop feeding the Caucasus” – is adapted for Crimea.

 

4. Life in prison in Czech alcohol-poisoning case

 

A Czech court has handed down stiff sentences to 10 men convicted of selling tainted alcohol that killed more than 30 people in 2012, the BBC reports.

 

Rudolf Fian
The producers – Thomas Krepela, 39, and Rudolf Fian, 43 – received life sentences. The other eight were given up to 21 years in prison.

 

The men were convicted of endangering public health. Judge Radomir Koudela said they must have known the liquor, diluted with methanol, could kill, the Associated Press reports.

 

In addition to the more-than-38 deaths since 2012, many people were permanently blinded in what Czech authorities called the worst case of fatal alcohol poising in 30 years, according to the BBC. The poisoning led the Czech Republic to temporarily ban the sale of hard liquor, and Slovakia and Poland blocked the import and sale of many Czech spirits.

 

Commonly used in windshield wiper fluid, methanol can cause blindness, coma, and respiratory failure even in small doses.

 

5. Kyrgyzstani activists decry vague new libel law

 

Almazbek Atambaev
Press freedom has taken a hit in Kyrgyzstan after President Almazbek Atambaev signed a new law recriminalizing libel, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

Under the False Accusation Law, intentional defamation is punishable by up to three years in prison. The law’s author, member of parliament Eristina Kochkarova, said it intends to stop false reporting on criminal activity: “Freedom of speech [does not include] making false reports about a crime.”

 

But activists and journalists say the law is so vague that it can be enforced selectively. While conceding that reporting in Kyrgyzstan is too often based on hearsay, newspaper editor Dina Maslova said the law could be used to target the media ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

The U.S. Embassy slammed the president’s decision as a “setback for freedom of speech.” It said the law could lead to self-censorship and be used to “intimidate or punish journalists reporting on matters of public interest.”

 

Kyrgyzstan decriminalized libel in 2011. Ombudsman Baktybek Amanbaev said the new law violates constitutional provisions on free speech and pledged to challenge it at the Supreme Court.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Rebecca Johnson is a TOL editorial intern.
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