Around the Bloc – 17 March

Today’s regional roundup: U.S. threatens Kosovo aid cutoff; Crimea, six years on; human rights in Moldova; bloggers in Uzbekistan; and Russian hackers.

17 March 2020

Stalled Tariff Dispute Costs Pristina U.S. Aid


Kosovo’s failure to reach a deal with Serbia on the 100 percent tariffs it imposed on its neighbor could cost it $50 million in U.S. economic aid, Reuters reports. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government foreign assistance agency, said it will suspend implementation of an aid package until the tariff dispute is resolved. Under a previous government, Kosovo imposed 100 percent import tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods in November 2018, a measure that’s been detrimental to the economies of these Balkan countries. New Prime Minister Albin Kurti apologized in a Facebook post on Sunday for not being able to follow through with plans to lift tariffs, Prishtina Insight writes. “Today, on 15 March, the 100 per cent tariff on raw materials coming from Serbia should have been removed,” Kurti’s post read. “This will not happen, as my position expressed on 26 February has not become a [government] decision. I am sorry about this.”



Brussels Commits to Crimea, Six Years After Annexation


The European Union said it firmly backs “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” in a declaration by foreign policy chief Josep Borrell issued on the anniversary of the referendum to approve Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014. The statement condemned Russia’s “violation of international law,” which “remains a direct challenge to international security, with grave implications for the international legal order that protects the territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty of all States.” The statement also condemned the Kerch Bridge which now links Crimea with mainland Russia, and the recent inauguration of train service on the bridge, as “further steps towards a forced integration of the illegally annexed peninsula with Russia.” According to a report by the Latvia-based Russian news service Meduza, cited by The Moscow Times, Russian Orthodox priests and Cossacks followed orders from the Russian Interior Ministry to negotiate the Ukrainian army’s surrender as Moscow took control of Crimea. Russia rejects the term “annexation” to describe its merger with Crimea and denies the presence of its troops in the peninsula ahead of the 2014 vote.


Map of Crimea. Image by Maximilian Dorrbecker/Wikimedia Commons.


Rights Abuses Abound in Moldova, State Department Says


Moldovan prosecutors investigated only about one in 10 reported allegations of torture and mistreatment in the first half of 2019, according to a U.S. State Department report on the human rights situation. The anti-torture division of the Prosecutor General’s Office received 456 allegations of torture and mistreatment in that period, a “significant increase” from the previous year, the report states. Around 200 of the cases occurred in governmental institutions, such as the notorious Prison No. 13, the oldest and largest in Moldova. The report cites a finding by the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights (IDOM)  that in 2018, 7,000 people were placed in a psychiatric hospital in Chisinau against their will. Children with autism were also reportedly confined in psychiatric hospitals. The State Department document also cites allegations of “illegal wiretaps of the telephones of political leaders; surveillance; threats against family members; and intimidation against regional representatives of opposition parties” during the first half of 2019. According to a recent report from Moldova’s Legal Resources Center, cited by IWPR, Moldovans continue to seek redress from the European Court of Human Rights far more often than the European norm. The Moldovan state has paid damages worth in total 17.1 million euros ($18.6 million) for human rights violations – 537,000 euros in 2019 alone.



Citizen Journalism Gains Ground in Uzbekistan

Uzbeks armed with a camera and a Facebook or YouTube account are making headway into holding officials responsible for various abuses, Eurasianet writes. One citizen journalist, Timur Sattarov, who was attacked as he documented polling violations in Samarkand, received a public apology from his attacker after taking the case to court. Not coincidentally, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev had boosted bloggers during a visit to Samarkand, saying “bloggers had an important job in helping ensure the implementation of government reforms,” Eurasianet writes. In the three years since the death of longtime leader Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan has won praise for easing many aspects of his harsh rule, although journalists and bloggers still face arrest and harassment. Last fall, Nafosat Olloshukurova, who blogs on Facebook as Shabnam Olloshkurova, was placed in a psychiatric center by court order after serving 10 days in administrative detention.



Russian Hacker Trial Gives Insight Into Backroom Deals


A just-unsealed U.S. indictment against a Russian cybersecurity executive has exposed details of the Russian hacking underworld, RFE/RL writes. The prosecution’s case against Nikita Kislitsin was made public early this month, a week before the trial of a second accused high-level Russian hacker began in San Francisco. Kislitsin told the FBI that Yevgeny Nikulin, who was arrested in Prague in October 2016 and later extradited to the U.S., had worked with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to obtain “compromising information” on unnamed individuals. “The overall structure and relationship between the cyberhacker community and Russian government is very well documented,” Nikulin’s defense lawyer Valery Nechay said, RFE reports, citing Courthouse News Service. Kislitsin is head of network security at the Russia and Singapore-based cybersecurity company Group-IB, according to Cyberscoop.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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