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Ukrainian, Bulgarian Governments Fall

Plus, Europe’s top rights court slams Poland over CIA renditions and two more anti-Putin protesters receive long prison sentences.

by S. Adam Cardais, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 25 July 2014

1. Ukrainian premier Yatsenyuk steps down, setting up snap polls

 

Arseny Yatsenyuk
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned 24 July, after two coalition partners withdrew in a bid to spur early elections, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Yatsenyuk said that with the withdrawal of UDAR, led by former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, and the nationalist Svoboda party, he would not attempt to form a new coalition with either the Party of Regions or the Communists. He also slammed lawmakers for blocking legislation on energy and increased military funding as Ukraine battles an insurgency in the east.

 

The cabinet today named Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman to take over as acting prime minister. 

 

Early parliamentary elections have been expected since mass protests ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

 

Yatsenyuk became prime minister shortly thereafter, presiding over a coalition of pro-European partners.

 

Political analyst Balazs Jarabik said Yatsenyuk’s resignation was expected and not a sign of chaos, according to the AP. President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the coalition’s collapse, saying “all opinion polls, and direct conversations with people, show that society wants a complete rebooting of the government.”

 

If a new government isn’t formed in 30 days, the president can call snap polls.

 

2. Bulgarian parliament accepts beleaguered Oresharski’s resignation

 

Plamen Oresharski
Bulgaria’s parliament has approved the resignation of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, whose center-left government has been teetering for months.

 

On 24 July, legislators voted 180 to eight, with eight abstentions, to oust the Socialist-led government after just over a year in power, Bloomberg reports. Early elections will take place 5 October.

 

Oresharski’s coalition took power in May 2013 after the government led by the now-opposition center-right GERB resigned amid public protests over rising utility bills, corruption, and other issues. It faced strong opposition early, after a controversial personnel appointment sparked mass protests demanding the cabinet’s resignation.

 

The hits just kept on coming. In May, GERB defeated the Socialists in elections for the European Parliament. In early June, Oresharski came under fire for bowing to Western pressure in suspending construction on Bulgaria’s link of Russia’s South Stream pipeline, a key priority of his government. Then, in late June and early this month, runs on two banks forced Sofia to shut down one of the country’s largest lenders.

 

As a result, Bulgaria entered the EU’s so-called Single Supervisory Mechanism, a series of stress tests to evaluate the health of a country’s banks. Bulgaria is the first country outside the euro zone to undergo the tests.

 

Oresharski’s resignation on 23 July was met with cheers by protesters outside parliament, Balkan Insight reports. President Rosen Plevneliev is expected to announce a caretaker government within days.

 

GERB looks likely to win the October elections.

 

3. Bolotnaya protesters handed long prison terms

 

A court in Moscow sentenced two Russian opposition activists 24 July to 4.5 years each in prison for organizing mass disorder, the Guardian reports.

 

Udaltsov100Sergei Udaltsov
The trial of Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev was the climax of a series of legal cases against participants in the 2012 Bolotnaya Square demonstration against the re-election of President Vladimir Putin.

 

Udaltsov, the leader of the socialist Left Front movement, was accused of using the protest to foment unrest. Many protesters and police were injured when the permitted protest turned violent.

 

Razvozzhayev, a member of Left Front, was also fined 150,000 rubles ($4,300) for illegally crossing the border into Ukraine. He earlier claimed to have been seized by Russian agents in Kyiv in October 2012 and forcibly returned to Russia, and said he was tortured into making a false confession.

 

Both men pleaded not guilty during their trial in February.

 

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Udaltsov declared a hunger strike and condemned the verdict as a “political massacre,” RIA Novosti reports.

 

Razvozzhayev’s lawyer said his client planned to appeal the verdict, adding, “we are realists and we understand that the jail term could have been harsher.” The maximum sentence Razvozzhayev faced was 10 years, according to RIA.

 

The two men were among 28 people charged with riot-related offenses on 6 May 2012, the eve of Putin’s inauguration for a third term as president.

 

Twelve defendants were earlier sentenced to prison terms of from 30 months to 4.5 years, the Guardian writes, including one suspended sentence. Charges were dropped against another 11 defendants after Putin signed a sweeping amnesty law earlier this year.

 

The case against Udaltsov and Razvozzhayev was the most dramatic of all, as investigators claimed they planned violent protests with the aid of Georgian politician Givi Targamadze. Last year a Russian pro-government TV channel aired a documentary purporting to show Targamadze and Udaltsov discussing financing for a nationwide protest. 

 

Udaltsov testified that their conversation concerned setting up a liquor importing business, according to the Guardian.

 

4. With Poland ruling, Strasbourg court issues landmark verdict on CIA prisoner rendition

 

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to pay 230,000 euros ($307,000) in damages for violating the rights of two terror suspects secretly imprisoned and interrogated on its soil under the U.S. war on terror, the AP reports.

 

On 24 July, the Strasbourg-based court said Poland violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to stop the “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” of a Saudi national, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian. It ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri 100,000 euros and Zubaydah 130,000 euros in the first verdict by any court against the so-called U.S. “renditions program,” according to the AP.

 

Under the program set up after the 11 September 2001 attacks, terror suspects were abducted and sent abroad to secret prisons for questioning that often involved torture. Al-Qaida suspects both, Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were transported to a CIA-operated prison in northern Poland in 2002, the Guardian reports. In their lawsuit, they described ill treatment including beatings, waterboarding, and mock execution.  Both are currently held at Guantanamo Bay. 

 

The court ruled that the rendition program was illegal, and that Poland must have known that the U.S. government was landing planes and operating secret prisons on its territory, according to the Guardian. Lithuania and Romania also face allegations of participating in the program.

 

Through a spokesman, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski told Bloomberg the ruling was “embarrassing.” Poland has three months to appeal, though it’s unclear whether it will.

 

Former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who led Poland in 2002, condemned the ruling.

 

“It is unfair because it’s based on rumors, speculations, and allegations,” he told reporters in Warsaw, Bloomberg reports. “It’s immoral because it puts murderers’ rights above those of their victims. It’s absurd that Poland is to pay compensation to these murderers as this money will go into terrorists’ bank accounts.”

 

5. Bishkek and Astana at odds over water, fuel

 

Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are in dispute over water and fuel ahead of possible negotiations on Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Eurasian Customs Union, Tengri News reports.

 

Under an intergovernmental agreement, Kyrgyzstan normally supplies 35 cubic meters of water per second to Kazakhstan primarily for irrigation purposes. The rate is now 20 cubic meters per second, a drop Kyrgyzstani officials attribute to a water shortage. Other officials cited by the Kyrgyzstani news website Vesti.kg said that although water levels in Kyrgyzstan are indeed low, the country is by no means experiencing a water crisis.

 

The water decrease coincides with another resource dispute between the two countries: Kazakhstan is currently holding 1,000 rail cars full of fuel destined for Kyrgyzstan at its borders, pushing up fuel prices in Kyrgyzstan, the Times of Central Asia reports.

 

Although Kazakhstani authorities attribute the delay to Customs Union regulations, Kyrgyzstan’s Association of Oil Traders maintains that Astana is deliberately withholding fuel intended for Kyrgyzstan, Tengri News reports.

 

Water disputes between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are nothing new. They are part of a pattern of border and resource spats between Central Asian nations dating back to independence from the Soviet Union, often centering on the water resources of mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the heavy water usage of downstream countries.

 

Kazakhstan imports relatively small amounts of water, but Uzbekistan, which is a major cotton producer, receives a large proportion of its irrigation water from Kyrgyzstan and has opposed hydroelectric power projects in the country on those grounds, saying that they will jeopardize the flow of water to Uzbekistan.

 

The heightened tensions come as Kyrgyzstan is negotiating to enter the Russia-led Customs Union, Tengri News reports. Although Kyrgyzstan is heavily economically dependent on Kazakhstan, its control over much of Central Asia’s water supply may be a source of crucial political leverage.

 

Water supplies were one topic of conversation when the prime ministers of the two countries met in Bishkek 12 July for talks on Kyrgyzstan’s future accession to the trading bloc, the Trend news agency reports.

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