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Russia Sends Big Check to Kyrgyzstan, Estonia Probes Corruption in Security Agency

Plus, rare white lions find a home in Hungary and NATO’s chief tells Russia to accept Georgia’s membership hopes.

by Barbara Frye, Rebecca Johnson, and Madeleine Stern 5 June 2014

1. Kyrgyzstan gets $1.2 billion from Russia to help it join trade bloc

 

Russia will provide $1.2 billion to Kyrgyzstan to help it integrate into a post-Soviet free trade bloc, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The government of Kyrgyzstan intends to join the Eurasian Economic Union by next year, but first it must pour money into a long list of industries, including agriculture, textiles, mining, metals, transport, and housing, to get them up to the bloc’s standards.

 

Most of the money from Russia, $1 billion, will go to establish a joint development fund between Russia and Kyrgyzstan, according to Kyrgyzstan’s 24.kg news agency. The fund will decide on major investment projects deemed necessary for Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the customs union, the news agency reports.

 

The other $200 million has been described as helping Kyrgyzstan implement its “roadmap” to the union, with few specifics. The country’s economy minister told reporters in late May that Kyrgyzstan needed $377 million for this purpose, with $55 million alone going into preparing its borders, according to 24.kg.

 

RFE says Russia’s aid will be divided into a $1 billion long-term loan and $200 million grant, but 24.kg reports that $700 million will be a grant, the remainder a loan.

 

Kyrgyzstan’s embrace of the trading bloc has not been wholehearted. In December, the country’s president, Almazbek Atambaev, was tepid on the project, and soon afterward opposition politicians were demanding a referendum on whether the country should join.

 

Some in Kazakhstan, which belongs to a precursor to the Eurasian Economic Union along with Russia and Belarus, complain that the organization has not benefited the country’s economy. But for Kyrgyzstan, membership reportedly offers a real advantage, with the prospect of amnesty for the nearly 140,000 Kyrgyzstani migrants working illegally in Russia.

 

In late May, Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to launch the EEU officially in January.

 

2. Corruption probe in Estonian security leads to huge asset seizure

 

Investigators have seized hundreds of thousands of euros’ worth of assets from four members of Estonia’s security services who are charged with corruption, ERR, the country’s public broadcaster reports.

 

Two the men were arrested in late May. All four worked for the Information Board, one of the agencies that safeguards state secrets. They are charged with embezzlement and, according to an earlier report, two are accused of publishing state secrets.

 

Investigators confiscated “vehicles, cash, bank accounts and gold” from the men, who “had access to funds used to pay foreign agents and were responsible for state procurements for the protection of embassies, which were classified and far harder [for] authorities to detect corruption” according to ERR.

 

“[T]he four have probably pocketed hundreds of thousands of euros that may have been earmarked for secret procurements or, more likely, funds aimed at paying to foreign spies,” the Baltic Business Times wrote in late May, citing domestic media.

 

While a member of the Internal Security Service in 1997, one of the men, a lawyer, illegally sat a law exam for a colleague, reported ERR, again citing Estonian media. Both men left the service after being caught, it said.

 

3. Rare white lions find a home in Hungary zoo

 

Two 8-week-old white lion cubs have made Hungary’s Abony Zoo, near Budapest, their home after being rescued from their abusive mother, Global Post reports.

 

The cubs, Nala and Mombasa, were born in a zoo in northern Italy in April.

 

The zoo decided to sell them after their mother started to hide them and drag them around, causing the cubs to lose their body hair because of the muddy conditions, Abony Zoo owner Tibor Toth told Reuters last week.

 

White lions at a Dutch zoo in 2013. More of the animals live in captivity than in the wild, according to conservationists. Photo by Gip Gipukan/flickr.

 

White lions are native to the Timbavati region of South Africa but have been hunted almost to extinction. The Global White Lion Protection Trust estimates that there are fewer than 300 worldwide and fewer than 10 “surviving in their natural endemic habitat.”

 

White lions have fallen prey to poaching, habitat destruction, and commercial breeding for “canned hunting” and “harvesting” for unproven medical treatments. Only last year, Thai police recovered 14 held in captivity in Bangkok.

 

The WLT protects the only remaining white lions in Timbavati and has a semi-free enclosed area where three prides have been reintroduced.

 

The animals enjoy no legal protection as a species because they have not been classified as genetically distinct. The Trust is funding research to identify their genetic marker and therefore have white lions put on internationally recognized lists of endangered species.

 

4. NATO chief says Russia must accept Georgia’s NATO bid

 

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has sharply criticized Russia’s policy toward Georgia and reiterated that it would join the alliance, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Speaking at a 4 June summit in Brussels, Rasmussen said Russia was obligated to respect Georgia’s freedom to pursue membership in NATO and the EU, according to the news agency.

 

Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Condemning Russia’s “aggression” toward its neighbors and calling Russia’s annexation of Crimea illegal, Rasmussen reaffirmed NATO’s support for Georgia and pledged continued assistance for the country as it moves toward meeting the requirements for membership, Georgian News TV reports.

 

Russian-Georgian relations have been strained since Georgia gained independence in 1991, but tensions came to a head during a brief war between the two countries in August 2008.

 

Some members of NATO have been reluctant to offer Georgia full membership because they do not want to be obligated to go to war with Russia, as the alliance’s treaty would require, if NATO member Georgia were attacked by Russia.

 

But Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the threat of its interference elsewhere, have changed that picture somewhat.

 

“If Russia takes military action in southeast Ukraine, Georgian NATO membership would become a reality,” Martha Brill Olcott, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Bloomberg in April.

 

Critics say the United States has given Georgia mixed signals on the question of membership, but the alliance announced after its 2008 summit that Ukraine and Georgia were destined to join.

 

While Rasmussen has praised the progress Georgia has made in reforming its military and increasing governmental transparency, he declined to provide a concrete timeline for Georgia’s accession.

 

5. Walesa says Poland needs euro to be ‘safe’

 

Lech Walesa, a towering figure in Poland’s historic break from the Iron Curtain 25 years ago, has entered the renewed debate over how quickly the country should adopt the euro, Reuters reports.

 

Walesa told Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that he would do everything in his power to push his country into the euro zone as a further hedge against Russian expansionism, according to Reuters.

 

"And only then will Poland be safe and progressing. And I will be serene," he said.

 

Lech Walesa
A former leader of the Solidarity trade movement that challenged the communist regime in the 1980s, then president, Walesa has more moral standing than political influence, Reuters notes. But his comments echo those of the governor of Poland’s central bank, Marek Belka, who “said in March that what had happened to Ukraine meant there were political arguments in favor of euro adoption because members of currency unions are safer from outside aggression,” Reuters reports.

 

Even so, Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek said last week that Poland would not fast-track euro adoption, The Wall Street Journal reported.

 

Poland abandoned a 2012 deadline to enter the euro zone and has not adopted a new one. Its economy remained relatively robust during the economic collapse of the past several years, and policymakers want the continued freedom to manipulate the currency to regulate the economy instead of having to rely solely on austerity or stimulus spending, The Journal reports.

 

In a March opinion poll, 52 percent of respondents said adopting the euro “would be ‘bad’ for Poland,” Polskie Radio reported. That is an increase of 2 percent since December.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Rebecca Johnson and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns.
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