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Lithuanian Envoy Killed in Ukraine, Abkhazia Elects a Hawk

Plus, Kosovo could be headed for yet another election,and Bosnia keeps its fingers crossed for a big oil find. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Anders Ryehauge 25 August 2014

1. Missing Lithuanian diplomat’s body found in eastern Ukraine


Mykola Zelenec, Lithuania’s honorary consul to the battle-scarred Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, was found shot dead 22 August, 12 days after he had gone missing, Baltic News Service reports.


Mykola Zelenec
Zelenec had sought closer business and cultural ties between Lithuania and Ukraine and ignored warnings about working in the war zone, especially given his country’s vocal support for the government in Kyiv in its fight with pro-Russia separatists.


Petras Vaitiekunas, Lithuania’s ambassador to Ukraine, told Baltic News Service he had asked Zelenec whether he had “changed his mind about his activities” because of the war. Vaitiekunas said the consul replied, “Let them take me hostage, let them shower my door with Molotov cocktails. My diplomatic efforts are necessary to find a peaceful solution in Luhansk. People should not be killing each other.”


Lithuania's foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, said on Twitter that Zelenec had been “kidnapped and brutally killed by terrorists there,” the BBC reports. A 23 August statement from the U.S. State Department said Zelenec had been “abducted and murdered by separatist groups operating in Luhansk.”


There has been no claim of responsibility for Zelenec’s death.


Lithuanian officials have condemned Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and have embraced an expanded NATO presence in the Baltics.


For its part, Russia has blamed Lithuania, a temporary member of the UN Security Council, for scuttling negotiations over the conflict.


Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador, said 22 August that Lithuania’s delegation “is always torpedoing all productive, constructive initiatives we have had in the Security Council,” Reuters reports.


Also over the weekend, separatists chose Ukraine’s Independence Day holiday to parade captured members of Ukraine’s military through the streets of Donetsk, the Kyiv Post reports.


2. Hard-line candidate wins Abkhazia’s de facto election


Raul Khadzhimba has been declared the winner of the 25 August de facto presidential election in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, Radio Free Europe reports.


Khadzhimba, a former KGB officer, ran unsuccessfully for president three times before. He had Moscow's backing in the 2004 elections and has taken a hawkish line toward Georgia. In June 2008, he predicted Abkhazia would need to use force to gain control of part of the Kodori Gorge, a region near the de facto border with Georgia. Two months later, Russian and Abkhaz forces drove Georgia out of the area during the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia, another breakaway region.


Raul Khajimba addresses a meeting in the Gulripshi district of Abkhazia in July. Image from a video by Dima NAR/YouTube.


But Khadzhimba has also tried to prevent Abkhazia from being swallowed up by its huge patron to the north.


In 2009, he stepped down as de facto vice president in a disagreement with the government over its plan to offer Russia major economic concessions to compensate for Abkhazia’s efforts to improve ties with the West. These included allowing Russian companies to manage the region’s railways and airports and allowing foreigners to buy real estate in Abkhazia.


Recently, Khadzhimba called for “integration processes” with Russia, including open borders, security guarantees, and stepped-up economic relations, reports, citing Russia’s But he said, “Abkhazia cannot become any part of Russia.”


Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Its independence has been recognized by only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Micronesian island country of Nauru.


3. Court ruling throws another wrench into Kosovo politics


Kosovo could be looking at its second election in three months after the country’s Constitutional Court rejected the recent choice of a speaker for the divided parliament, Balkan Insight reports.


The court struck down Isa Mustafa’s nomination by a coalition of parties opposed to the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which had ruled Kosovo since 2007.


The PDK was the largest single vote-getter in the June elections but fell short of a majority and could not manage to form a governing coalition. More than a month of talks among opposition parties resulted in the nomination of Mustafa, a member of the Democratic League of Kosovo and a former mayor of the capital, Pristina.


The PDK argued to the court last week that as the largest parliamentary grouping, it had the right to choose the speaker. The debate rested on the technical question of whether the opposition coalition – formed during the first session of the new parliament – represented a legitimate parliamentary grouping, Balkan Insight reports.


If the stalemate continues over the selection of a speaker, the country will have to hold new elections, Riza Smaka, a constitutional law expert, told Balkan Insight.


4. Muslim-Croat federation prospecting for oil in Herzegovina


The Muslim-Croat half of Bosnia is close to choosing a company to prospect for oil near the northern city of Tuzla, meaning that digging could start as early as next year, Balkan Insight writes.


Relying on preliminary research conducted before the war in the mid-1990s, officials of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina awarded a contract for oil exploration in 2013 to Royal Dutch Shell for a stretch of territory along the western border with Croatia.


Erdal Trhulj, the federation’s energy minister, said deposits around Tuzla contain 200 to 300 million barrels of oil, and the region Shell is exploring likely has more.


Despite a lack of proof that oil lies under the surface, preliminary inquiries into geological structures indicate its presence “not over the whole territory of the country, but in Herzegovina, around Dinaridi, and around Tuzla, in the north,” Hazim Hrvatovic of Tuzla University’s department of mining geology and civil engineering told Balkan Insight.


In 2011, the Republika Srpska, the other half of a divided Bosnia, signed a contract for oil exploration with a joint Russian-Serbian venture.


Bosnia could use some good economic news as it deals with the social and economic costs of May floods that were the worst since record-keeping started in the region in the 19th century.


5. In smuggled message, Karimova pleas for medical care


Gulnara Karimova, the flamboyant elder daughter of Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, says she and her daughter are imprisoned in their house and have been denied needed medical attention, the BBC reports.


Gulnara Karimova
Karimova made the allegations in audio recordings apparently smuggled out of Uzbekistan on a USB stick. She had last been heard from in March, when a letter experts said was likely written by her made its way to a BBC correspondent as an attachment to an anonymous email. She said at the time she that was being beaten, threatened, and constantly watched. She also managed to put out a message to Uzbekistan’s press that she needed medical care.


This time, Karimova says her teenage daughter needs treatment for a heart condition.


Karimova used to have her fingers in many pies in Uzbekistan, an authoritarian country notorious for human rights abuses. She has been a pop star, a fashion designer, a businesswoman, and a philanthropist.


But she has a reputation as a shakedown artist, demanding her cut from companies that want to do business in Uzbekistan. She was described in a 2005 U.S. diplomatic cable as something of a robber baron. Karimova is a suspect in a massive corruption probe in Sweden, where prosecutors say she indirectly received a bribe from TeliaSonera, a Swedish-Finnish company, for a license to operate in Uzbekistan. She is also under investigation for alleged money laundering in Switzerland.


Karimova has been out of the public eye since last fall after apparently falling out of Islam Karimov’s favor. Her businesses, including radio and television stations, have been shut down and close associates jailed.


During her troubles, she has decried her country’s lawlessness and blamed her plight on its security chief. But Andrew Stroehlein, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, told the BBC that Karimova has likely known for years about “serious and systematic rights abuses in Uzbekistan, and she has had many opportunities to hand that information over to journalists and human rights groups. She hasn't.”


In March, Daniil Kislov, editor in chief of the independent news agency, told the BBC that Karimova’s father had likely run out of patience with her – particularly with her attempts to monopolize foreign investment.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Anders Ryehauge is a TOL editorial intern.
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