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Plus, Georgia plans talks with Moscow on trade ties, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict rears its head in Strasbourg.by Ky Krauthamer, Barbara Frye, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 25 June 2014
Austria’s agreement to build its part of the controversial South Stream gas pipeline places it at odds with the EU’s policy of sanctioning Russia for its role in the Ukrainian crisis, Deutsche Welle reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin underlined the significance of the deal signed 24 June between Russia’s Gazprom and Austrian OMV by traveling to Vienna for a meeting with his Austrian counterpart, Heinz Fischer.
The deal is surprising, coming two weeks after Bulgaria said it would suspend construction on its leg of the pipeline until the EU lifted its objections to the project, which is planned to cross Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, and Slovenia before entering Austria.
Fischer defended the project, saying, “no one can tell me why ... a gas pipeline that crosses NATO and EU states can’t touch 50 kilometers [31 miles] of Austrian territory.”
Putin and Fischer spoke of the close economic ties between their countries. Russia has been supplying Austria with gas since 1968, when Austria became the first country in Western Europe to sign a long-term gas deal with the then-Soviet Union, according to DW.
The EU has applied some sanctions to Moscow, although less severe than the visa bans and asset freezes imposed by Washington. Fischer said he opposed sanctions against Russia, although he criticized Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Austria is one of a group of EU members including Germany, Italy, and Spain opposed to tougher sanctions, EUObserver writes.
Georgia and Russia are set to hold talks soon to discuss the repercussions of two agreements that Georgia is expected to sign with the European Union on 27 June, Civil.ge reports.
The agreements on closer political ties and a free-trade pact will allow Georgia greater economic access to Europe and open the door to possible visa-free travel to the EU within the next few years, the Financial Times reports.
The talks with Russia will primarily address technical and practical considerations arising from the agreements, Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said, according to Civil.ge.
Georgian-Russian relations have been strained since the two countries fought a five-day war in 2008. Georgia’s current government has overseen a qualified reset of the relationship, which includes regular bilateral meetings on a variety of issues, Democracy and Freedom Watch reports. The next regular meeting is due to take place in Prague in early July.
Moldova and Ukraine will also sign EU political and trade agreements during the 27 June EU session in Brussels.
Azerbaijan is using its chairmanship of the Council of Europe to raise the issue of Armenian control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and to snipe at critics of its record on human rights.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev fended off harsh questioning after his 24 June speech to the body’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg, reports Asbarez.com, a website serving the Armenian diaspora in the United States.
Questioned by assembly member Michael McNamara of Ireland about the status of political prisoners in the country and allegations his re-election last year was fraudulent, Aliev said McNamara was “biased” and accused him of previously trying to insult Azerbaijan. Aliev accused another deputy, Paul Flynn of the UK, of lying when Flynn asked about what the Armenian site calls “state attacks against journalists” in Azerbaijan.
PACE President Anne Brasseur “chided certain deputies for vocally agreeing or disagreeing with Aliev’s pronouncements,” reports Hetq, another Armenian website, while also telling the president that questions remained over the state of democracy, human rights, and other issues in his country.
Before Aliev’s visit Brasseur reiterated PACE’s determination to defend Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, according to APA, an Azerbaijani news agency. Although controlled by Armenia for more than 20 years, Nagorno-Karabakh is still formally part of Azerbaijan.
A draft resolution submitted by the Azerbaijani delegation with the signatures of 58 deputies demanded that Armenian deputies be stripped of their voting rights and lose other privileges because of Armenia’s occupation of the territory, the “displacement of 1 million Azerbaijanis,” and “great material and moral damages” inflicted on Azerbaijan, ArmeniaNow.com reports.
Brasseur said the resolution violated certain procedures and would be discussed by assembly leaders 27 June.
The Council of Europe is the region’s chief human rights body. Azerbaijan’s six-month term in the chairmanship ends in November. The Committee to Protect Journalists counts at least nine journalists in prison in Azerbaijan. In mid-May, Parviz Hashimli, an editor and reporter who worked for muckraking newspapers critical of Aliev, was sentenced to eight years in prison on firearms charges that a local press advocacy group says were fabricated.
The once-powerful and seemingly ubiquitous daughter of Uzbekistani strongman Islam Karimov is under unofficial house arrest, according to her son, while EurasiaNet.org reports her business empire is being dismantled.
Gulnara Karimova, a one-time pop star, fashion designer, businesswoman, and philanthropist, is forbidden to leave her house, her son – also named Islam Karimov – recently told a Russian television channel, according to uznews.net.
Karimova has been in the doghouse since late last year. She had earlier come under investigation in Sweden for allegedly arranging to accept bribes from a telecoms company there, and subsequently in France and Switzerland for money-laundering.
Then in fall 2013, Uzbekistani television channels and radio stations linked to her went off the air, her younger sister took swipes at her in a BBC interview, and her charity network was audited. Afterward, her former guards were allegedly arrested and beaten by domestic security forces.
Now her son, who is a university student in the UK, says he last saw his mother in Tashkent in late January and has had “limited communication” with her, according to uznews.net. He said his grandfather likely does not know about his mother’s predicament and that he was kept from his grandfather’s most recent birthday celebration in December.
“We were not let in. We were just told that there is an order and no details were given. I believe that he has no idea that we have been trying to get a hold of him all this time,” said the younger Karimov.
He said he does not know who has arranged to sideline his mother but said, “We have been able to conclude that the person who is doing all this has an important position in the country. I think this is done on purpose in order to destabilize the country before next year’s election.”
Meanwhile, EurasiaNet.org reports that on the streets of Tashkent, signs of Karimova’s downfall are clear. A cinema, DVD and CD store, and perfumery are among her shuttered businesses, and even Coca-Cola, whose local division Karimova had controlled, has disappeared from store shelves, according to the website.
The next European Parliament’s sole Pirate Party member will probably not be a Czech although the Czech Pirates won a greater share of the vote than any other national party organization.
As it stands Germany’s Julia Reda will be the only Pirate deputy in the Brussels assembly although she polled just 1.4 percent of the national vote, Wired writes.
The Czech Pirate Party emerged from obscurity to become a serious challenger in the May elections with its calls for digital freedom and copyright reform. But the party fell afoul of a Czech law that requires a party to win at least 5 percent of the vote to enter the EU parliament, just as for the national parliament. The Pirates just missed the cutoff, winning 4.78 percent of the vote, and went on to challenge the law along with the Greens, who won 3.77 percent.
On 24 June the Czech Supreme Administrative Court upheld the complaint, judge rapporteur Tomas Langasek said, according to the Czech Press Agency. The court found that parts of the Czech law on participation in European elections “limit the free competition of political forces in democratic society, the equality of the right to vote of all voters, and the citizens’ right to elected posts in even conditions,” Langasek said.
The court will recommend to the Constitutional Court that it eliminate the 5 percent threshold for European elections.
“The EP election results clearly showed that some people’s votes weighed more than the votes of others,” said Jana Drapalova, the Greens’ acting chairwoman.
Pirate Party leader Ivan Bartos – the party’s only recognized national figure – and his Green counterpart, Ondrej Liska, both resigned after the election failures.