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Shevardnadze Remembered, Ukraine Awaits Slovak Gas Bounty

Plus, a new twist in Poland’s abortion debate, and Crimea’s finny commandos caught up in a hostage crisis.

by Piers Lawson, Ioana Caloianu, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 8 July 2014

1. Eduard Shevardnadze’s complex legacy under scrutiny


Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister and president of the independent Georgian republic, leaves behind a “complicated political legacy,” says.


Shevardnadze, 86, died 7 July at his home in Tbilisi. While in the West he is “celebrated for bringing the Cold War to an end,” in Russia he is despised by nationalists “who believe that he, along with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, bear most of the responsibility for the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.”


In his native Georgia, says, “he is mainly associated with the wars and chaos that marked his 1992-2003 tenure in power.” 


Describing him as “the foreign minister who changed the world,” The Washington Post editorializes that he and Gorbachev “abandoned the view of inexorable confrontation between [Eastern and Western] blocs and, despite fierce internal opposition, began to work with the West toward common goals.”


EduardShevardnadze350Eduard Shevardnadze at the Pentagon in 2001. U.S. Defense Department photo


“They agreed that the Soviet Union could no longer rule by threat of force,” the paper says, “and that they must find a way to ease the burden of the nuclear arms race, dramatically reversing decades of Cold War thinking.”


The Post also praises his role in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion of April 1986, when he refused to cover up the scale of the disaster and thus gave impetus to Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness. 


The Financial Times writes that his life spanned “borders and eras alike.” He played a key role in the decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Moscow’s acceptance of German reunification, and Soviet nuclear cuts.


But in Georgia, the paper writes, his legacy is more mixed. “He will be regarded as a former communist leader who returned to a country riven by ethnic conflict and restored relative political and economic stability. But in the later years of his presidency, Georgia would slide into cronyism and stagnation,” culminating in his being driven from office in the 2003 “Rose Revolution.”


2. Slovakia-Ukraine pipeline to hit full capacity by September


A gas pipeline providing crucial energy to Ukraine through the European Union is scheduled to run at full capacity by September, Bloomberg reports.


Slovakia and Ukraine signed a deal at the end of April that allowed the EU member to pump a limited amount of Russian-sourced gas supply into Ukraine. Much of Russia’s westbound gas exports enters the EU at the Ukraine-Slovakia border.


The arrangement calls for the currently disused Vojany pipeline to transport 10 billion cubic meters a year until 2019 – about 20 percent of Ukraine’s demand – the chairman of the Slovak gas pipeline operator Eustream Tomas Marecek said.


Vojany will be important to Ukraine this winter after Russia stopped exporting gas to Ukraine on 16 June following a dispute over an outstanding debt.


“The route is part of an EU-backed plan to alleviate Russian pressure on cash-strapped Kyiv by supplying cheaper gas from other EU states,” The Financial Times writes.


Gazprom recently increased its price to $485 per 1,000 cubic meters for Ukraine.


Together with gas from pipelines to Hungary and Poland, Ukraine will be able to import 16.5 billion cubic meters a year from the EU, Marecek said, according to Bloomberg. That amount is equal to about two-thirds of what the country has typically bought from Russia annually, and by reducing consumption and tapping stored gas, Ukraine should be able to get through next winter, he said.


3. Polish archbishop intervenes in controversial abortion debate


The abortion issue has hit the headlines again in Poland, following Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s intervention into the debate last month.


In the latest development reported by Polskie Radio, Lodz Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski has called on his parishioners to support financially a hospital which was fined for turning away a woman who sought a legal abortion.


Polandabortionprotests350Anti-abortion protesters at a rally in Krakow in March. Photo by Piotr Drabik / Flickr


Poland's abortion law is among the strictest in Europe. Terminations are only allowed until the 25th week of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the fetus or mother is in jeopardy.


Jedraszewski spoke out after the director of the Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, Dr. Bogdan Chazan, was fined 70,000 zlotys ($23,000) when he refused to carry out an abortion and also refused to help the woman obtain an abortion elsewhere, even though doctors believed the child would be brain-damaged, Polskie Radio writes.


In June Tusk was reported by the Christian Post as saying Chazan, an obstetrician known for opposing abortion, must choose the law over his faith.


"Regardless of what his conscience is telling him, [a doctor] must carry out the law," Tusk said.


Under Polish law, a doctor may refuse to perform an abortion on moral grounds but must help the patient find another practitioner willing to do the procedure, according to Polskie Radio.


Chazan and some 3,000 other medical workers recently put their names to a petition asking for greater leeway to practice according to their religious convictions.


In a poll by the CBOS research agency earlier this year, 65 percent of respondents said abortion was “completely” or “rather” unacceptable, while only 27 percent were in favor.


4. Russian real estate reeling in wake of Crimea crisis


Real estate investment in Russia fell almost 60 percent in the first half of 2014 amid significant financial uncertainty in the country, The St. Petersburg Times writes, citing a report by property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle.


The report says that property investment plummeted 73 percent to $545 million in the first quarter, and although it saw a modest recovery in the second quarter, it remains far below investor forecasts at the beginning of the year.


Jones Lang LaSalle’s earlier forecast of $7 billion in real-estate investment this year has now been cut to barely above $3 billion.


The drop is being attributed to a climate of uncertainty caused by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the resulting economic sanctions from the United States and European Union.


The sanctions sent the ruble into a sharp decline this spring, which alarmed  investors in Russia’s retail sector, the St. Petersburg paper reports.


Nevertheless, the market is expected to rebound somewhat in 2015, Jones Lang LaSalle believes, according to Property Magazine International.


5. Ukraine demands return of its famous military dolphins


The celebrated trained military dolphins of Crimea are now the subject of a new dispute between Ukraine and Russia.


Ukraine is reportedly demanding their return after the Russian seizure of Crimea in February. The Guardian writes that the dolphins, unlike Ukrainian naval officers serving on the peninsula, “were not given the choice of ‘defecting’ to Russia or traveling to mainland Ukraine to continue serving Kyiv” after the March referendum in favor of annexation.


The dolphins are still being held at an aquarium near the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, the Guardian reports.


But the paper says that Ukrainian authorities claim they have a facility where the animals could stay for the summer until a new permanent home is found.


The only similar program in the world to that of Crimea is in San Diego, where dolphins and sea lions are trained to work for the U.S. Navy, according to the Guardian.


Russia is reported to be less than enthusiastic about handing the dolphins over.


“The country wants to train the finned soldiers to search for sunken military equipment and detect enemy divers, a program that is beyond Ukraine’s financial capabilities,” UPI reports.


The military dolphin program dates back to the 1960s, when the Soviet navy began training them “to locate mines, mark underwater and obstacles and detect – and if necessary kill – enemy frogmen,” The Telegraph reports.


Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Mane Grigoryan and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns. 


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