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Putin Talks Trade at Peace Summit, Hungary’s Orban Aims to End Immigration

Plus, Russia’s oil tsar wins another lawsuit and major Czech and Slovak utilities could merge.

by Piers Lawson, Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, and Anders Ryehauge 27 August 2014

1. Putin talks trade in first Ukraine-Russia peace confab


Talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Belarusian capital of Minsk – intended to stop fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian troops – ended early on 27 August without a breakthrough, The Wall Street Journal reports.


Proposals by Poroshenko to draft a roadmap toward a peace deal met with some support from Putin as well as “apparent scepticism,” according to The Journal, which writes that the Russian president focused instead on criticism of a free-trade deal between the EU and Ukraine. Putin repeated claims that the agreement could flood the Russian market with European goods moved via Ukraine and warned Moscow would put up protectionist barriers.


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, are flanked by the heads of state of the members of the Customs Union and representatives of the EU. Photo from the Kremlin website.


Important question marks still hang over the talks, Reuters reports, including when a cease-fire could be put in place and whether it would last, or even whether rebels in eastern Ukraine would abide by it.


Deflecting Ukraine's allegations that Moscow is sending arms and fighters to help the rebels, Putin insisted the details of peace plan were an internal matter for Kyiv, Reuters reports.


Putin’s shift from “emotional exhortations about restoring Russian control over Ukrainian territory conquered in the 18th century by Catherine the Great to humdrum economic themes” might signal a change in strategy toward Ukraine in an effort to limit the damage caused by U.S. and European sanctions, The New York Times comments.


In other developments:


  • NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will deploy forces at new bases in Eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis, according to the Guardian
  • A group of Russian paratroopers captured by Ukrainian forces on 26 August were on a “special mission,” Ukrainian officials quoted by Reuters said.
  • Ukrainian citizens living in Russia-held Crimea, as well as in the war-hit cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, will be given the opportunity to vote in parliamentary elections on 26 October, Ukrainian election commission head Mykhaylo Okhendovsky said, the Kyiv Post reports.
  • Russia is orchestrating a multipronged offensive against Ukrainian forces, Western experts quoted by The New York Times say, a tactic that includes efforts to break the government forces’ siege of Luhansk – one of the main rebel-held cities – and open lines of communication to Donetsk from the Russian border. 


2. Hungary PM calls for end to immigration


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has launched a scathing attack on his country’s immigration policies, the The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog reports.


At a meeting of Hungary’s ambassadors to foreign countries on 25 August, he repeated a call he made in June for immigration to be stopped altogether.


“I think the current liberal immigration policy, which is considered obvious and morally based, is hypocritical,” Orban said.


The controversial politician had made those remarks in Ypres, France, at the European Union prime ministers’ summit to commemorate the centenary of World War I in June.


He said he had tried to include an addendum in the leaders’ joint statement that immigration is wrong and that Europe’s aim should be to stop it.


“There were two types of reactions,” The Journal quoted him a saying.


“Some envied me because they mustn’t say things like that although they’d very much like to.


“The others disagreed because they’ve failed to turn around demographic trends with family politics; have kept social tension at bay by subsidizing the jobless; and aren’t fazed if the ethnic basis of a nation state is broken.”


Orban has offered Hungarian citizenship to members of Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries, which could be a way to square concerns about Hungary’s population decline with anti-immigration rhetoric.


The prime minister stressed that it was of “paramount importance” for Hungary to remain a nation state where everyone spoke the same language and had Christianity as its cornerstone.


In July Orban said Hungary should abandon “liberal methods” and become more like Russia, Singapore, and Turkey.


His comments were criticised in a Washington Post editorial as displaying “the same authoritarian nationalism practiced by thugs and charlatans throughout the 20th century – including Hungary’s pro-Nazi World War II regime.”


3. Rosneft CEO wins another defamation judgment


The chief executive of Russia’s largest oil company has won a lawsuit against the country’s top business newspaper over a report on the nature and extent of his influence, the Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI) reports.


Igor Sechin
Igor Sechin sued the Vedomosti business daily over an editorial (subscription) published in June that implied that as chief executive of Rosneft he is answerable to no one but Vladimir Putin. Sechin has known the Russian president since they worked together in the St. Petersburg City Hall in the 1990s.


Sechin argued that such an assertion implies he broke the law requiring executives of joint stock companies to be accountable to shareholders, Forbes Russia reported earlier this month.


Further, in discussing his ability to influence public policy, Sechin said the editorial implied he had “unlawfully interfered with civil servants.”


Sechin demanded that Vedomosti retract three passages from the editorial, but in its defense the newspaper said “public figures should be more tolerant of the criticism they face, especially when it is [a] matter of public interest,” according to RAPSI.


The Moscow court ruled that the editorial had damaged Sechin’s honor and reputation.


It is the second defamation lawsuit Sechin has won in two months. Last month he sued Forbes and Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper over a report that called him the highest paid executive in Russia and estimated his 2013 salary at $50 million.


Forbes and Vedomosti have said they will appeal.


Sechin and his company are among the targets of recent U.S. and EU sanctions.


4. Czech and Slovak electricity companies could merge


The way is being smoothed for a deal that would link the main electricity suppliers in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog reports.


CEZ, which is majority-owned by the Czech government, is planning to bid for a 66 percent share of Slovak utility Slovenske Elektrarne that its owner, Italian Enel SpA, has put up for sale.


Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, recently welcomed the news of CEZ’s interest. The Slovak government owns the other 34 percent of Slovenske Elektrarne. Fico has said in the past it might like to increase its stake, The Journal reports.


“CEZ is a solid company and the connection of the power systems of Slovakia and the Czech [Republic] is on a high

level,” he said.


The Journal does not say how much CEZ could be expected to offer.


The news of the possible sale comes days after Fico confirmed that police were investigating possible wrongdoing during Slovenske Elektrarne’s privatization and sale to Enel SpA in 2006, Bloomberg reported last week.


Fico said the company was valued at 32 billion crowns ($1.4 billion) for the 2006 sale – when the Italian company beat out CEZ – but another assessment several weeks after the sale put the value at 54 billion crowns, according to Bloomberg. The crown was Slovakia’s currency at the time.


 5. Proceedings start in Ivanovic Kosovo war crimes trial


Kosovo Serb political party leader Oliver Ivanovic has strenuously denied war crimes allegations in 1999 and 2000, inSerbia reports.


Oliver Ivanovic
Ivanovic is accused of murdering four ethnic Albanians in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica in 1999 during a NATO bombing campaign, when he was allegedly the leader of a Serb paramilitary police unit, Balkan Insight reports.


“I'm absolutely not guilty,” Ivanovic declared at the first hearing in the war crimes proceedings against him in Mitrovica on 25 August.


The former Serbian government official is also accused of inciting the killing of ethnic Albanians during unrest in 2000 - after the war had ended - when scores of Albanians were driven from their homes, according to Balkan Insight.


Four other Serbs are being prosecuted alongside him, accused of war crimes and murder. They also pleaded not guilty.


The case against Ivanovic has triggered demonstrations by his supporters and allegations from Belgrade that the charges against him are politically motivated.


Marko Djuric, director of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, attended the hearing and “insisted there was no ‘serious evidence’ against them and that a fair trial would prove their innocence,” Balkan Insight reports.


The first steps in the proceedings will be possible objections and motions for dismissal by the defense, InSerbia reports.

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