Monday, September 30, 2013

Mongolian 'Eco-Terrorists' Attack Ulaanbaatar to Protest Looser Mining Laws

By Alicia Campi

On Monday, September 16, a coordinated series of violent protests and bomb scares occurred in in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, seemingly carried out by “eco-terrorists” affiliated with the domestic anti-mining movement. The target of the attacks was the Government House in the city’s central square where the parliament, called to a special session by Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, had just opened the debate on easing the nation’s stringent and confusing foreign investment law last modified in 2012. Several protesters (reports differ on the number from three to eleven) were arrested. These reportedly included the well-known environmental activist Tsetsegee Munkhbayar as well as his deputy. Munkhbayar, a former herder, won the international environmental “Goldman Prize” in 2007 (Xinhua, September 16). They were apparently arrested along with other members of the Gal Undesten (Fire Nation) non-governmental organization (NGO) coalition of various nationalist groups, after one Gal Undesten member fired a shot while attempting to enter the Government House.

Mongolian news sources claimed a Kalashnikov assault rifle and another gun were confiscated. A local police captain was quoted as saying the gun discharged accidently with no injuries (The Mongol Messenger, September 20). Undetonated bombs were discovered nearby in the Central Tower, a luxury shopping and office high-rise, and at the Ministry of Environment after being reported by an anonymous caller later that day. Both sites were evacuated, and afterwards police displayed the confiscated caches of grenades, ammunition and rifles (, September 17). The police and government officials also declared an emergency situation, blocking off the central square and other nearby government offices, which cause massive traffic delays.  Police officials advised authorities and agency guards to be vigilant and careful (The Mongol Messenger, September 20). Meanwhile, the website of the United States Embassy in Ulaanbaatar immediately advised all US citizens to avoid travel on streets that run adjacent to the parliamentary square, “Although there is no known indication of plotting efforts to target Americans in this incident” (

Although the government said the matter was being considered a criminal case, the protesters were turned over to the General Intelligence Agency (GIA) for questioning.  Moreover, a joint task force has been established by the GIA, Criminal Police Department and the State Investigation Office. To date, no further word has been released to the public since the incident. Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors have been circulating in Ulaanbaatar. For instance this author, who was in Mongolia at the time, heard allegations that the protesters must have been financially supported by foreign entities—perhaps from Russia (the firearms were Russian-made) because Moscow sees no benefit in changing the mining climate to encourage more Western investment.

This incident arose just after a two-day conference (September 14–15) on possible scenarios for Mongolia’s future economic development, organized by the Davos, Switzerland-based World Economic Forum.  At that conference and at other recent public events such as Mongolian Prime Minister Altankhuyag’s state visit to Japan (September 11–14), Mongolian leaders confidently promised that pro-mining regulations would soon be passed to ease foreign investors’ fears.

Protest demonstrators carrying firearms, hand grenades, and hand-made TNT bombs are a first for Mongolia, so the situation sent shockwaves throughout Mongolian society.  It is apparent that the attack influenced the parliament to slow down its deliberative process on changing the legal environment. The day after the incident, a task force was established to study the views of the various ministries on the controversial issues surrounding the mining amendments and to allow for additional public debate (, September 17). Although this incident was well covered by the Mongolian media, particularly on television, and on Chinese and French press websites, this terrorist event strangely has not been mentioned much in Western news outlets. This is probably good for the Mongolian government, which is trying to promote the country as a place of stability for investors. But the turn toward violence bears careful scrutiny.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vladislav Surkov to Oversee Russian Policies Toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia

By Valery Dzutsev

On September 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Vladislav Surkov as his aide ( Surkov replaced Tatyana Golikova and is expected to oversee “exactly” the same policy issues as his predecessor, according to the presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. As the president’s advisor, Golikova supervised the issues of socio-economic development in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Surkov is now taking over this policymaking direction in the Russian government (

Earlier, analysts suggested that Surkov was returning to oversee Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Georgian relations. Russia’s relations with Ukraine have recently been shaken, as Kyiv has strongly signaled its westward leaning by promising to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

Yet, for over a decade, under Putin’s leadership, Surkov has managed the domestic policies of the presidential administration. Following mass protests against fraudulent parliamentary elections in Russia in December 2011, Surkov was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. In May 2013, Surkov left the Russian government altogether (

Some analysts consider Surkov’s newest appointment of administering Russia’s policies toward the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are recognized by Russia as independent, as temporary. Nevertheless, this new role may be congenial to him. Vladislav Surkov is credited with the development and implementation of Moscow’s policies in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general (see, for example, Mairbek Vatchagaev, “Did Surkov Step Down, or Was He Forced to Step Down?” EDM, May 23). So, it is plausible to suggest that Surkov’s policies in the Georgian breakaway regions will be reminiscent of those in the North Caucasus. Moreover, since Surkov has returned to the Kremlin after falling out of favor, he is likely to double his efforts to appeal to his bosses.

This combination of Surkov’s experience and zeal is likely to result in an intensification of Russia’s efforts to establish tighter control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And under Surkov’s guidance, Moscow may attempt to use these breakaway territories more efficiently as foreign policy tools for putting pressure on Georgia itself.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ukraine Denies Helping Russia with Weapons Shipments to Syria

By Anna Babinets

On September 12, the Russian destroyer Smetlivy was stopped on its way to the Mediterranean Sea in the port of Sevastopol by Ukraine’s border guards, who spent more than three hours checking the vessel’s documents. Ukraine’s border guard service is allowed to check all Russian ships of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) leaving Ukrainian borders because of the BSF’s basing on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The procedure, codified via an agreement between the two countries, represents the only way by which Ukraine is able to create an obstacle for Russian warships leaving Sevastopol to head to regional hotspots. Yet, according to recent Western reports, rather than standing in the way of Russia’s assistance to the embattled Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine has been actively involved in arms and supply shipments to the Syrian government—a claim that Kyiv vociferously denies.

At the beginning of this month, a Washington, DC-based analytical firm, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), which investigates transnational crime, conflict and security, conflict resolution, as well as arms trafficking, released a report entitled, “The Odessa Network: Mapping Facilitators of Russian and Ukrainian Arms Transfers [link is a PDF],” written by its analysts Tom Wallace and Farley Mesko. The report asserts that over the past year and a half, a heavy volume of shipping traffic could be observed traveling from Oktyabrsk port (southern Ukraine) to Syria’s coast. Wallace and Mesko used data from the ships’ onboard transponders to track these vessels. They noticed that ships that had left the Ukrainian port sometimes suspiciously disappeared.

“By obtaining AIS transponder records for all ports in Syria, Ukraine, and Russia between 1 January 2012 and 30 June 2013 we constructed a near-complete log of commercial maritime traffic entering or exiting ports in these countries over the given timeframe, complete with exact date, time, and location,” the authors say.

At least two large Ukrainian companies—Kaalbye Shipping and Phoenix Trans-Servis—delivered Russian and Ukrainian weapons to Syria, the “Odessa Network” report notes. “This pattern of Kaalbye ships docking at Oktyabrsk, entering the Mediterranean, then disappearing from AIS coverage has been most prevalent during periods of heavy Russian military aid to Syria.”

According to Wallace and Mesko’s research, these companies were linked with Igor Urbansky, the former Ukrainian deputy minister of transportation, and Vadim Alperin, a well-known Ukrainian businessman. Oktyabrsk port is itself controlled by the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Vadim Novinsky. Furthermore, the C4ADS analysts suggest in their study that Ukrainian and Russian government officials cooperated with these companies on the arms shipments.

A September 7 article in the Washington Post publicized the “Odessa Network” report and caused particular controversy in Ukraine. Rejecting the accusations, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared on September 10 that there was no supply or transit of military goods from Russia through Ukraine to Syria in 2012–2013. Ukraine had stopped military and technical cooperation with Syria as of May 2011, according to the foreign ministry. A parallel announcement was published by Ukraine’s state service of export control, which regulates all Ukrainian export and international transfers—in particular, military goods and dual-use goods. The state export control service alleged that it had not given out any permits for the transit of military goods from Russia through Ukraine to Syria.

Similarly, in a live TV interview on September 13, Ukrainian Member of Parliament Viacheslav Kyrylenko called the arms shipments report a “provocation” aimed at derailing Kyiv’s planned signing of an Association Agreement with the European Union.

Oktyabrsk port manager Andriy Yegorov, whom the Wallace and Mesko report referred to as “a tool of the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Vadim Novinsky,” also repudiated the arms shipment study. According to Yegorov, the Oktyabrsk port had not provided military cargoes for Syria for the past two years.

Whether or not one believes the denials by Ukrainian authorities about the arms shipments through Ukraine to Syria, a careful reading of the C4ADS report nevertheless reveals a number of serious mistakes. For example, the authors say that one of the main individuals identified as a part of the “Odessa network,” Igor Urbansky, is still a member of the Ukrainian parliament. This is incorrect. He left the parliament in 2007, and he is extremely difficult to contact. It would be an enormous scandal if a member of the Ukrainian parliament were linked to illegal arms trading and Russian oligarchs, as outlined in the C4ADS report.

Furthermore, in their report, Wallace and Mesko identify Vasilii Tsushko as Ukraine’s minister of defense and allege that he assisted Urbansky with carrying out the weapons deals. This claim is false and improbable. Vasiliy Tsushko was never defense minister but instead was an interior minister in 2007. As chief of Ukrainian police, he would have been able to perhaps sell Syria police uniforms, but certainly not cruise missiles, as the authors of the report claim.

Ukrainian experts are also skeptical about Wallace and Mesko’s report. In an interview with the Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Crimean analyst and founder of the BlackSeaNews portal Andriy Klymenko called the claims extremely doubtful. He does not believe Ukraine would have helped Russia with arms shipments to Syria. Rather, Klymenko guesses that the article masks the real route Russian weapons take to Syria—from the Russian port of Novorossiysk to the Syrian port of Tartus.

The C4ADS report is probably largely based on true information. But it contains glaring errors that bring into question some of the report’s conclusions. The C4ADS organization is quite newly established, and may not have sufficient experience in researching Ukrainian political and security issues. However, the report’s analysts would have been well served by fact-checking their information with local experts.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Circassians Say Moscow Planning Terrorist Incident to Discredit Them

By Paul Goble

The Circassian Parliament, an organization that speaks on behalf of the more than 5 million Circassians living outside of the North Caucasus, says that it is “100 percent” certain that Moscow is preparing “a bloody crime” around the Sochi Olympics to distract attention from its own violation of the rights of Circassians and other nationalities and to “undermine the Circassian movement.” Circassian groups oppose the 2014 Winter Olympiad in Sochi and continues to seek international recognition for the “genocide” of the Circassians that Russians carried out there in 1864 (

According to the group, it is “completely possible” that the Russian security services are sending agents into Germany to infiltrate the Chechen diaspora there—there currently are more Chechens in that country than anywhere in Europe—and to establish “personal ‘friendly’ contacts with persons of Circassian nationality” as part of a broader plan to stage a terrorist attack and then “blame the Circassians.”

Valid reasons exist for thinking that this Circassian charge is not without foundation. On the one hand, it is completely consistent with past Russian practice and would serve Moscow’s ends effectively. Were there a terrorist attack that Moscow could plausibly blame on the Chechens, many in the West would quickly forget the Russian government’s sorry record on human rights in a variety of areas and announce their support for any Russian action, even the most brutal, taken in the name of “fighting terrorism.” Moreover, many of those who have spoken out in support of the rights of Circassians would quickly find themselves on the defensive, at least in much of the media.

And on the other hand, over the past several months, there has been an increasing drumbeat of articles in the German media about the possibility that there are “radical Islamists” among those from the North Caucasus seeking asylum. (See, among many recent examples, From Moscow’s point of view, such articles are extremely useful: they lead many Germans and Europeans to question the policy of the European Union up to now of granting asylum to victims of Russian oppression in the North Caucasus, and they lay the groundwork for the kind of charges that the scenario the Circassians are warning about will require.

Many of these articles, of course, reflect simple xenophobia among Europeans. But they are also a product of Moscow’s long-running and continuing campaign to portray Chechens and other North Caucasians as “Islamist terrorists.” The latest Circassian Parliament declaration is a reminder that such charges must be examined critically and that far more may be going on than many in Germany or elsewhere suspect. As such, Russian actions among the North Caucasian refugees in Germany and in the German media deserve the most careful scrutiny as the clock winds down to the Sochi Olympiad still scheduled to be held in February 2014.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ukraine’s Parliament Hurries to Pass Laws Needed for Integration into European Union

By Oleg Varfolomeyev

Ukraine is making strides toward signing an association and free trade agreement with the European Union. Chances are high that it will be signed in Vilnius in November as scheduled even if former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is not allowed to receive medical treatment in Germany, as she and the EU wants—let alone being freed from prison, where she has been kept for two years. The recent last-ditch efforts made by Russia to derail the Ukraine-EU deal have produced the opposite effect (see EDM, September 3, August 15). A blockade of Ukrainian imports by Russia in the middle of August pushed President Viktor Yanukovych to order his party in parliament to hurry and pass the bills needed for integration into the EU. Ukraine has, thus far, been behind schedule in this, raising doubts within the EU as to Ukraine’s determination to qualify for the association deal.

Around August 13–15, the Russian customs service nearly paralyzed Ukrainian exports to Russia with overzealous customs checks. Russia accounts for about a quarter of Ukrainian exports, so exporting companies immediately complained to the government, which protested to the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s advisor Sergei Glazyev explained the situation on August 18, saying that the checks were only “prophylactic,” to show what would happen if Ukraine signed the free trade agreement with the EU (Interfax, August 18). He elaborated in an interview later that Russia would step up customs, veterinary and sanitary controls, as well as revise joint projects in the defense, nuclear and aerospace industries, and possibly also terminate its own free trade agreement with Ukraine. If Ukraine opted out of integration with the EU, it would enjoy cheap gas and oil from Russia as well as billions in investment, he said (Vesti, August 21).

Putin, speaking in Rostov-on-Don on August 22, confirmed that protective measures against Ukraine would be stepped up if it proceeded with integration into the EU because, he said, Ukrainian goods would be squeezed from the Ukrainian market by cheap goods from Europe and flow to Russia (Interfax, August 22). The “prophylactic” checks by the Russian customs lasted for about a week. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov flew to Moscow on August 26 to try to persuade Russia to change its tone. He met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, but no compromise was apparently found. Medvedev’s deputy, Igor Shuvalov, insisted that Russia would have to protect its market if Ukraine signed the deal with the EU (UNIAN, August 27).

Russia’s threats must have scared and angered Yanukovych, but the effect was the opposite to that intended. Yanukovych told national TV on August 29 that Ukraine would meet all the EU conditions to sign the association agreement. The EU, for its part, visibly warmed to Ukraine after the customs spat. After a meeting between Ukraine’s opposition leaders and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, the business daily Kommersant-Ukraine reported on August 30 that the EU no longer insisted on the adoption of new election laws. The EU wants Ukraine to release Tymoshenko from prison, but this is not a must-do. Brussels also warned Moscow against threatening Ukraine (UNIAN, August 23).

On September 4, Yanukovych gathered lawmakers from his Party of Regions (PRU), who control a comfortable majority in Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, and instructed them to approve all the bills that the EU deemed necessary for the signing of the agreement in November. He reportedly made it clear that dissenters would be expelled (Ukrainska Pravda, September 5, 6; Zerkalo Nedeli, September 7). On September 5, parliament approved all five bills needed for EU integration that were on the agenda. These included amendments to laws on the enforcement of court decisions and to the criminal procedure code, bills to amend the customs tariff and increase the independence of judges, as well as the decision to hold on December 15 repeat elections in the five constituencies where parliamentary election results were invalidated last year due to violations. Several more bills need to be passed by November, yet the September 5 voting showed that there is consensus in the Ukrainian legislature on the need to comply with EU conditions despite the Russian threats. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Western Ukrainian Local Authorities Reject Shale Gas Project with Chevron

By Oleg Varfolomeyev

Two maverick regional councils, dominated by the far-right political party Freedom, are threatening to derail Chevron’s plans to drill for shale gas in Ukraine. This may discourage potential investors in the Ukrainian energy sector and make it harder for the government of President Viktor Yanukovych to attain energy security from Russia.

According to Ukrainian laws, potential investors in gas projects need to have their projects approved by not only the government in Kyiv, but also the local communities concerned. This has apparently become the main barrier for Chevron. Meanwhile, its rival Shell, which won a government tender to develop unconventional gas fields in eastern Ukraine simultaneously with Chevron in May 2012, has already started drilling—the local councils dominated by pro-government parties quickly approved their draft production sharing agreement (PSA). Chevron, on the other hand, ran into problems in the west of the country. On August 20, the council of Ivano-Frankivsk rejected a draft PSA with Chevron to drill in the Oleska field. Out of the 114 councilors, only 40 voted in favor of the draft. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov criticized the council on August 21, saying that it ignored Ukraine’s national interests (Ukrainski Novyny, August 21).

Oleska field stretches from Ivano-Frankivsk to Lviv. The Lviv Region council is also expected to reject the draft PSA later this fall as both councils are dominated by Freedom. This party, first, opposes the Party of Regions government and, second, is highly nativist in its orientation and does not trust foreigners. Speaking about shale gas, Freedom representatives usually cite environmental concerns. However, the head the Freedom caucus in the Ivano-Frankivsk council, Vasyl Popovych, said in a recent interview that the council also wanted Chevron and the central government to share more of their future profits with the local community. The councilors did not trust a promise contained in the draft PSA that Chevron could give $500 million for the region’s development each year, he said. “We will not be satisfied with such humanitarian aid,” said Popovych. He also argued that the central government ignored the amendments to the draft that his council proposed, signifying that Kyiv was not ready for dialogue (Den, August 28).

Despite the warning signals from Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky was upbeat on the country’s overall shale gas development prospects, commenting on the Oleska situation on August 28. He said that environmental requirements to the project would be toughened and that the councilors’ proposals were taken into account. Consequently, Stavytsky predicted, the two regional councils would approve a rewritten draft PSA within two weeks (UNIAN, August 28).

Stavytsky’s prediction has not come true. After two weeks, nothing has changed, judging by a recent interview with Yury Romanyuk, an opposition councilor from Ivano-Frankivsk who sits on the committee studying the draft PSA. He said the most recent draft sent to the council proposed “nothing more than a more exquisite method to steal property—land—from the people.” No guarantees yet exist that the local communities would be entitled to any share of profit, and there have been no official environmental guarantees from the government, said Romanyuk (Den, September 10). The Ivano-Frankivsk council is scheduled to vote on the draft PSA again this month. If it rejects the deal, the project may fall through despite the Ukrainian government’s proclaimed commitment to energy independence.