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Military Shakeup in Ukraine, Transdniester and Moscow Ink Trade Deal

Plus, a Serbian journalist is brutally beaten, and a European court slams Russia for violating human rights.

by S. Adam Cardais, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 4 July 2014

1. Poroshenko appoints new military leaders as fighting continues


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has shaken up the military’s top brass amid renewed fighting with pro-Russia separatists in the country’s east, Reuters reports.


Valeriy.HeleteyValeriy Heletey
On 3 July, parliament approved the nomination of Colonel-General Valeriy Heletey, 46, as the new defense minister. Poroshenko said Heletey “will work day and night” to restore the military capability of the armed forces. Viktor Muzhenko, 52, was appointed chief of the general staff after years as a top anti-terrorism official, replacing Mykhailo Kutsyn, who Poroshenko said had been “shell-shocked” in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian public radio reports.


The appointments come amid renewed clashes with rebels in eastern Ukraine. Fighting re-erupted shortly after Poroshenko ended a 10-day ceasefire 30 June. Ukrainian forces claimed to have killed 150 rebels in fighting 3 July in Mykolayivka, near Slovyansk, Interfax-Ukraine reports.


Addressing parliament, Poroshenko emphasized the need to reform Ukraine’s army. He said Heletey would build a military to deter anybody “from planning aggression” against Ukraine.


He also pledged to “purge the army of thieves and grafters,” Radio Free Europe reports.


In his own parliamentary address, Heletey vowed to wrest the Crimea from Russia. “Believe me, there will be a victory parade – there will be for sure – in Ukraine’s Sevastopol.”


The appointments came a day after foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France agreed to launch fresh talks on another ceasefire no later than 5 July, RFE reports.


In a conference call 3 July, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to persuade the eastern separatists to reach a settlement with Kyiv. In a statement, the Kremlin said Putin was concerned about mounting civilian casualties and the number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Russia, RFE reports.


2. Moscow signs trade deal with Transdniester


shevchuk100Yevgeny Shevchuk
Agreements signed 2 July between Russia and the unrecognized state of Transdniester are meant to shift many of the Moldovan breakaway region’s exports away from the European Union, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin said.


“Up until now, the majority of goods produced on the territory of Transnistria was meant to go to the European Union countries. … Our task is to ... create conditions to redirect the production manufactured in Transnistria to the Russian markets,” Rogozin said, according to EurActiv, citing Interfax.


The agreements signed by Rogozin and Transdniestrian leader Yevgeny Shevchuk cover manufacturing, trade, agriculture, and transport, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Moldova, along with Ukraine and Georgia, signed agreements on closer trade and political ties with the EU a week ago after years of negotiations. Earlier this year Moldova won the coveted right of visa-free travel to the EU, a privilege that may soon be extended to the other two countries as all three push toward their ultimate goal of full union membership.


In June Shevchuk called the Moldovan-EU agreement largely “unfavorable.” In an interview with Euronews, he said, “Of course there are certain positive elements with this free trade deal but there are a lot more negative aspects.”


Russia’s agricultural inspection agency said it will restrict Moldovan meat imports starting 5 July, The Moscow Times reports, in a move an EU spokesman said smacked of retaliation for Moldova’s EU deal.


3. News agency editor attacked in Belgrade


Serbian press groups and authorities are expressing outrage over the brutal attack on a  journalist the night of 2-3 July.


Three men assaulted Davor Pasalic, editor of the FoNet news agency, near his Belgrade apartment, B92 reports. After Pasalic refused to give them money, they reportedly hit him 30 times and called him “Croat” and “Ustasha,” a supporter of the World War II fascist regime in Croatia. Pasalic suffered cuts, two broken teeth, and multiple bruises, according to B92.


FoNet called for an immediate investigation to bring the assailants to justice and, given the nationalist element, to establish motive. The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and the Association of Journalists of Serbia also demanded a swift investigation and severe punishment for the perpetrators.


Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic ordered an investigation 3 July.


“I condemn the attack on Mr. Pasalic in the strongest terms,” he said, B92 reports. “The police will take all measures to ensure that [the] perpetrators are promptly identified and punished according to the law.”


Balkan Insight points out that this is the second attack against a Serbian journalist recently. Andrija Igic, a reporter for the RTS public broadcaster, said he was beaten while in police custody in a Serbian enclave of Kosovo last month.


4. Strasbourg court condemns Russia over expulsion of Georgians


Russia violated human rights in expelling thousands of Georgians in 2006 and 2007, according to the European Court of Human Rights, RFE reports.


Tea Tsulukiani mug 100Tea Tsulukiani

On 3 July, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the “arbitrary” expulsions violated the European Convention on Human Rights. It thus upheld Georgia’s claim that Moscow implemented a coordinated campaign to arrest and expel Georgians from Russia.


“Georgia has won,” Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said after the ruling, reports. “I congratulate on this victory all those Georgians who were victims of humiliating treatment.”


From September 2006 to January 2007, Russia ordered the expulsion of 4,634 Georgians, The Moscow Times reports. Many left after being ordered to do so, but the Georgian government said 2,380 were arrested and forcibly expelled.


The expulsions came at a time of rising tension between the two countries, culminating two years later in the August 2008 war. Georgia claims Moscow was retaliating for the 2006 arrest of four Russian officers and 11 Georgians in Tbilisi on espionage charges. Russia insisted it was only trying to clamp down illegal immigration.


As evidence, Georgia presented an apparent order instructing Russian law enforcement officials to identify Georgians in a push to find illegal aliens, as well as letters by Moscow authorities asking schools to identify Georgian children. Russia said the order was faked and that the letters were the work of overreaching officials who were later disciplined, The Moscow Times reports.


5. Furor over controversial play puts Polish blasphemy law in spotlight


A graphic play about Jesus has sparked protests and counter-protests in Poland, Inside Poland reports.


The play, Golgota Picnic by the Argentinian dramatist Rodrigo Garcia, was scheduled to be performed at the Malta Theater Festival in Poznan, which ended 29 June, but was cancelled by the festival’s organizers amid fears of protests by Catholic and nationalist groups, Polskie Radio reports.


After a number of public readings of the play took place in different cities in protest against its cancellation, parliamentarians Andrzej Jaworski and Malgorzata Sadurska of the conservative Law and Justice Party called for those involved to be prosecuted under the Polish law on offenses against religious feeling, according to Inside Poland.


The play is “filled with profanity and pornography. It mocks Christ’s passion and death on the cross,” the deputies wrote in a formal complaint.


“It portrays the son of God as selfish and a deceiver. It undermines Christianity in a horrible way, accusing the religion of, amongst other things, the abuse of minors.”


Although “Garcia says his play is a critique of modern-day consumer society through a deconstruction of the message of Jesus,” Malta Festival organizers “feared protests against the play similar to those when it was staged in France in 2011,” Polskie Radio writes.


When a reading was staged in Krakow, police intervened to separate “far-right nationalists and hardline Catholics” from theatergoers, Inside Poland reports.


Several prominent cultural figures headed by film director Agnieszka Holland decried the play’s cancellation in a letter to President Bronislaw Komorowski, saying the decision “was caused by threats from numerous groups of radicals, who announced they would cause riots in [Poznan],” Polskie Radio reported 30 June.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Mane Grigoryan and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns. 


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