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Yatsenyuk Calls for ‘War Tax,’ Russia Puts Bite on McDonald’s

Plus, Central Asian neighbors seek to cool Ferghana Valley dispute and an Armenia court delivers a potentially devastating press freedom ruling.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Mane Grigoryan 29 July 2014

1. Ukraine premier demands more money to battle separatists

 

Ukraine’s lame-duck prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, urged parliament 28 July to find money for the escalating conflict with separatists in the country’s east.

 

Yatsenyuk_100Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Yatsenyuk asked lawmakers to pass budget amendments to raise an additional 9.1 billion hryvnyas ($775 million) for the military and 3.3 billion hryvnyas to repair damaged infrastructure, the Associated Press reports.

Part of the money could be raised through a 1.5 percent tax on wages until the end of the year, he said.

 

“The money will go directly to finance the army,” he said, according to the Kyiv Post.

 

Parliament will vote on the proposals at a special session 31 July and on whether to accept Yatsenyuk’s resignation. He announced his exit 24 July after the moderate Udar and nationalist Svoboda parties withdrew from the governing coalition.

 

Yatsenyuk’s urgent call for more money to feed the war effort comes as fighting intensified around rebel-held areas. Al Jazeera reports the deaths of 17 civilians 28 July in the town of Horlivka, northeast of Donetsk. Officials in Luhansk said five civilians died there when a retirement home was hit by artillery fire.

 

UN human-rights commissioner Navi Pillay spoke 28 July of “extremely alarming” reports about intensified fighting around Donetsk and Luhansk. She charged that both sides were using artillery, tanks, rockets, and missiles in built-up areas.

 

Fighting near the site where a Malaysian airliner was shot down prevented an international group of experts from reaching the area on 27 and 28 July and again today, Al Jazeera reports.

 

2. Dushanbe, Bishkek move to calm border tensions after latest clash

 

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to carry out joint patrols and pull out unneeded troops from a stretch of their border where troops from each side battled two weeks ago, according to Itar-TASS.

 

The two countries’ border guard commanders met 28 July and agreed to implement the measures to “avoid border incidents in the future,” the Kyrgyzstani border guard service said.

 

One border guard was killed and seven wounded in the 10 July incident when troops engaged each other for several hours in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken district.

 

Tajik Kyrgyz 350Soldiers patrol near the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan shortly after the 10 July clash. Image from a video by 1612TV/YouTube

 

The scene of the clashes is Vorukh, an island of Tajikistani territory within Kyrgyzstan. Tensions have been running high since a January shootout between border guards ended with several casualties.

 

Radio Free Europe notes that, in spite of Bishkek’s attempts to define its borders with its neighbors, half of its border with Tajikistan remains undefined.

 

The uneasy relations between the two Central Asian countries could affect China’s plans to run a pipeline carrying natural gas from Turkmenistan through their territory, analyst Michael Lelyveld writes for Radio Free Asia. China already taps Turkmen-sourced gas using three pipelines that cross Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and may decide the security risks of the proposed southern pipeline outweigh the potential benefits.

 

3. McDonald’s in double trouble with Russian regulators

 

Russia’s food regulator will monitor imported dairy products used in McDonald’s restaurants after detecting “falsified” products imported from Germany, the Czech Republic, and France, RIA Novosti reports.

 

According to RT, the regulator acted on 28 July after the consumer protection office, Rospotrebnadzor, inspected two McDonald’s outlets in Novgorod.

 

“The agency will be checking if pre-sliced cheese often contain[s] traces of antibiotics and other questionable ingredients. Under scrutiny are the cheeseburger, the Filet-o-Fish, chicken burgers, shakes, and ice cream products,” RT writes.

Russian Mcdonalds 350Photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose / Flickr

 

Last week the fast food company’s Russian operations came under scrutiny for misleading the public over the nutritional value of its products when Rospotrebnadzor said it had “identified violations that put the product quality and safety of the entire McDonald’s chain in doubt,” The Moscow Times reported, citing Interfax.

 

The consumer protection agency said it found inaccuracies in the claimed nutritional values of Royal Cheeseburgers, Filet-o-Fish, and other sandwiches, as well as some milkshakes and ice-cream products.

 

The new allegations concern the presence of tetracycline antibiotics in imported cheese, RT reports, citing Itar-TASS. Such antibiotics are used to prevent mold and yeast growth in packaged cheese products, and are permitted in the United States for that purpose, according to the report.

 

McDonald’s in Russia imports most of its cheese from Germany and the Czech Republic, although Russian franchises now source more than three-quarters of their raw ingredients locally, RT writes. The company runs more than 400 restaurants in Russia.

 

Russia slapped a ban on all Ukrainian dairy products starting last week, The Moscow Times reports.

 

4. Court’s confidentiality ruling has Armenian media worried

 

A court order to two media outlets to reveal their sources for a story about an allegedly drunk police chief has Armenian media defenders concerned it may set an unwelcome precedent.

 

At a discussion of the case in Yerevan on 15 July, the editor in chief of the daily Hraparak said pressure to reveal sources is growing. “During the recent months, notices, demands, visits to the newsroom have increased,” Armine Ohanyan said, according to ArmeniaNow.com.
“Every week our reporters are called to an interrogation, every day we receive a notice about revealing the source.”

 

In June a court in Yerevan made the ruling against Hraparak and the website Ilur.am on the basis of a lawsuit brought by investigators over their coverage of a traffic stop in the city of Gyumri in May made by a regional police chief.

 

“Citing unnamed, ‘reliable’ sources, the two publications claimed the chief, Vardan Nadarian, allegedly intoxicated at the time, had physically assaulted the driver and his passenger and threatened them with a gun,” EurasiaNet.com writes.

 

The court order is “unprecedented,” Ilur.am editor in chief Christine Khanumian said at the public discussion. “They [the authorities] have never forced media to disclose their sources,” she said, adding, “This is a direct threat to freedom of speech, aiming to intimidate media.”

 

The publications named the car’s driver and passenger as champion wrestler Artur Aleksanian and his brother, Rafael. Artur Aleksanian has not commented in the incident, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic also commented on the matter on 22 July, saying that she was concerned the ruling would have a chilling effect on the Armenian media and jeopardize  reporting on significant stories, Hetq reported.

 

5. Sugar drought hits Uzbekistan

 

Every summer people in Uzbekistan buy large quantities of sugar for use in making jams and preserves from the seasonal fruit crop, RFE’s Qishloq Ovozi blog writes. But this year, buyers are waiting long hours to buy scarce sugar at high prices, despite official claims that no shortage exists.

 

The state agency for privatization and competition released an official statement blaming the problem on “speculative activities aimed at creating artificial shortage on the product, including, possibly, through concerted actions and collusion between market participants as of resellers and retail outlets,” Azerbaijan’s Trend news agency reported in mid-July.

 

The agency said, “today there are no objective factors that could adversely affect the availability of sugar in the country,” claiming that sugar production rose by nearly 15 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2013.

 

This seems to contradict the situation on the ground. According to the independent news site Uznews.net, the government has capped the price of sugar at 3,200 soms ($1.38) per kilogram at neighborhood committee offices and limited supplies to a maximum of two kilograms (4.4 pounds) per apartment.

 

The official statement also contradicts reports by state media that, according to RFE, blame the shortage on a sharp fall in production at the country’s largest sugar producer, Khorezm-Shakar.

 

Earlier this month police said they seized 66.8 tons of sugar in raids on illegal sugar sellers.

 

Another sugar factory is planned for a special economic zone in the eastern city of Angren, but despite official and media reports that claim it is now running, locals say it is still under construction, Uznews.net writes.

 

“The government’s urgency to deliver the good news is perhaps understandable. It is supposed to alleviate fears of shortages and slow down the skyrocketing prices for sugar. That is why the new sugar manufacturer has been proclaimed ‘long-awaited and able to eliminate the [sugar] deficit in the country,’ ” Uznews comments.

 

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Mane Grigoryan is a  TOL editorial intern. 
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