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Abkhazia’s President Denies Flight Rumors, Ex-Bulgarian Minister Cleared in Embezzlement Case

Plus, the Baltics and Central Europe are the Continent's meth labs, and Russia sends more rocket launchers to Baku. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Marketa Horazna, and Rebecca Johnson 29 May 2014

1. Abkhazian leader says protests have not chased him from region


The de facto president of Abkhazia is denying rumors that he has fled the breakaway region of Georgia after protesters stormed his offices on 27 May, Reuters reports.


“I have not gone anywhere. I am in Abkhazia,” read a statement posted on the official website of Alexander Ankvab. The statement also noted that the police and the military “are taking all measures to stabilize the situation,” according to the news agency.


Protesters in Sukhumi this week. Image from a video by Ukraine News One.


Protesters angry over allegations of high-level corruption invaded the presidential administration building in the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi on 27 May and called for the dismissal of the government and reforms.


The action came after earlier peaceful protests and as Ankvab was negotiating with members of the opposition, according to The Wall Street Journal.


Speaking to a local TV channel on 28 May, Ankvab said the protesters asked that he, his cabinet, and Abkhazia’s prosecutor general resign, according to The Journal. Ankvab termed the storming of his office a coup attempt.


Abkhazia fought a separatist war with Georgia in the 1990s. Since then it has survived outside of Tbilisi’s grasp largely through the patronage of Russia. It declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized only by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru.


Moscow has sent Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to President Vladimir Putin, to talk with each side in the current conflict, according to Reuters, which reported that “Ankvab was with senior security officials at an undisclosed location in the lush Black Sea coastal region.”


The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern about the events in Sukhumi and urged that “the public and political process there progress solely along legal avenues.”


2. Ex-Bulgarian interior minister not guilty in first trial linked to organized crime probe


A Bulgarian court has acquitted the country’s former interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, of embezzlement, though he still faces charges relating to the use of wire-taps during his time in office, The Sofia Globe reports.


Tsvetan Tsvetanov
The embezzlement charges stemmed from a payment of 50,000 leva ($35,000) to Orlin Todorov, the former director of a local unit of the Interior Ministry’s organized crime division, at a time when Todorov was suspended from the post and under criminal investigation, The Globe reports. Tsvetanov was accused of ordering that Todorov receive his salary and other “monetary compensation” during his suspension, Focus News Agency writes.


The ex-minister faced five years’ imprisonment if found guilty. The prosecution has said it will appeal the 26 May verdict.


A second trial, now drawing to a close, focuses on charges that Tsvetanov obstructed the Todorov probe, refusing to authorize surveillance of the former unit chief. Tsvetanov has said he was trying to limit the use of such permits “in a time when the media often accused his then-ruling GERB party of creating a ‘police state,’ ” according to Novinite.


A former surveillance director told the court earlier this month that Tsvetanov’s predecessors had blocked “hundreds” of court-ordered surveillance permits, Novinite reported.


Prosecutors in the obstruction case have asked for three years’ probation and a three-year ban on Tsvetanov holding senior positions in the government.


Tsvetanov still faces yet one more set of charges, that he authorized illegal wiretapping. All the cases against him have been brought since the center-right GERB government in which he served fell last year, The Globe reports.


3. Report: Baltics, Czech Republic, Slovakia among Europe’s hotspots for manufacturing meth


Europe’s two main methamphetamine production areas are in the Baltic countries and a region encompassing the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany, according to this year’s report from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.


The center says most of the 350 reports of production sites being dismantled in 2011 were “small-scale sites reported by the Czech Republic,” where it notes evidence of increasing involvement in the trade by Vietnamese organized crime groups.


The methamphetamine made in the Baltics goes to Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, but the drugs manufactured in the Central European countries primarily go toward meeting domestic demand, according to the report.


Those findings are mirrored in wastewater monitoring that showed the highest level of methamphetamine in sewage produced by cities in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.


Heroin-related deaths are declining across Europe, the report says, while those related to the use of “synthetic opioids” are on the rise, accounting for “exceptionally high rates of drug overdose deaths reported by Estonia.”


Makers of illicit drugs are continuing to add products to the market, with 81 new “psychoactive substances” added to a European watch list in 2013, bringing the total to 350.


The newly listed drugs are mostly injected, increasing the risk for infectious disease, blood-borne infections like hepatitis C and HIV, and overdose.


Among other findings:


  • Amphetamine and methamphetamine production are on the rise.


  • There has been an overall decline in heroin seizures. Much of the heroin that does come into Europe arrives from Southeast Asia through Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania.


  • Cocaine seizures continue to decline from a peak in 2008, but reports of confiscations in Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic nations suggest a diversification of sources and trafficking routes. Bulgaria has seen an upward trend since 2005.


  • More than 80 million adult Europeans have used illicit drugs at some point, mostly cannabis, which is most likely to be used by all age groups.


The countries surveyed include the EU members, Norway and Turkey, and the report is based on 2012 statistics, the most recent data available.


4. Yerevan uneasy as Russia boosts arms sales to Azerbaijan


News that Russia is selling 12 more mobile rocket launchers to Azerbaijan has angered officials and analysts in Armenia, Radio Free Europe reported this week.


Moscow sold six of the tank-mounted weapons to Baku last year, but the new order brings the total to 18.


The purchase is creating consternation in Armenia, Azerbaijan’s arch-foe. The two countries went to war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region populated predominantly by ethnic Armenians but located within the territory of Azerbaijan. A cease-fire brokered in 1994 has been broken frequently.


The weapons on their way to Baku “can fire up to 24 incendiary or thermobaric rockets in a single salvo. With a 6-kilometer [3.7-mile] range, the rockets are designed to destroy enemy personnel, armored vehicles and transport,” according to RFE.


“I can’t be happy with that but I have no right to stop it,” Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told reporters 26 May, RFE reports.


The purchases are part of an explosive scaling up of Azerbaijan’s military, with defense spending more than 22 times what it was a decade ago.


The sale is particularly likely to stick in Yerevan’s craw coming now. Last fall Armenia pulled out of talks to form closer ties to the EU and instead opted to join the Russia-led Customs Union, and Yerevan has been a loyal ally to Moscow during the crisis in Ukraine.


Russia’s role as an arms supplier – to both Armenia and Azerbaijan – while it sits on an international team mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict raises questions about its sincerity in pushing for peace, Ruben Mehrabian, an Armenian analyst, told RFE.


5. Conservative outcry scuttles civil-partnership bill in Estonia


A conservative group in Estonia has managed to get a legislation that would allow same-sex civil unions withdrawn from parliament, the pro-life LifeSiteNews reports.

The Foundation for the Defense of Life and Family launched a petition drive and urged Estonians to send e-mails to their lawmakers “categorically” rejecting the Civil Partnership Act, according to the website.


By 27 May the effort had generated more than 44,000 signatures and more than 182,500 letters protesting the measure.

Supporters of the bill say it was not intended solely to introduce same-sex marriages, but opponents argue it would “undermine the concept of family and the meaning of the basic values of our society.”

“The homosexual movement knows that they have almost no chance whatsoever of succeeding in Poland, Lithuania, or Latvia, and therefore they are trying to break a hole by attacking the moral foundations of the society in Estonia,” Varro Vooglaid, the author of the petition and the head of the foundation, told LifeSiteNews.


This was the second time in two years a civil-partnership bill has been stopped by a grassroots effort in Estonia. The same organization led a petition drive that scuttled a civil union bill last year.


In a 2012 report the Estonian Human Rights Center noted that complaints about discrimination based on sexual orientation are on the rise in Estonia, owing to increasing awareness.


The report also cited a poll in which only 38 percent of respondents thought homosexuality was acceptable, but 46 percent said “same-sex partners should be able to officially register their cohabitation” and 34 percent favored “opening up the institution of marriage.”

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Marketa Horazna is a TOL editorial intern. Rebecca Johnson is a TOL editorial intern.
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