Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, October 25

Police summons ex-mayor for questioning \ Russia hopes to bypass Georgia on its road to the WTO \ Turkish earthquake relief efforts complicated by Kurdish dispute

Police summons ex-mayor for questioning
Former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, currently residing abroad, has been summoned to the Interior Ministry’s investigative department to testify in a high-profile embezzlement case.

Investigators believe that a 12.7 billion ruble (over $400 million) loan Bank of Moscow provided to an obscure developer, Premier Estate, for a luxury residential project in western Moscow, ended up in one of the accounts of Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina.
Although the authorities plan to question Luzhkov on Friday, he is unlikely to turn up. An official summons was sent to his Moscow address last week; another was handed to one of his lawyers, Alexei Melnikov, who visited the investigative department on Monday. Although he confirmed his visit to reporters, he pointedly called it an “invitation” rather than a “summons,” adding that they have not yet received a “formal document.” He also could not give any date for the former mayor’s possible visit to the authority.

The criminal case was instituted in December 2010 and involved former Bank of Moscow heads, Andrei Borodin and Dmitry Akulinin. The authorities investigated a deal concluded in 2009 involving a 140 acre property in western Moscow where Baturina’s Inteco planned to build a luxury residential estate. One of Inteco’s subsidiaries sold the property to Premier Estate for 12.7 billion rubles. Investigators believe the money ended up in Baturina’s bank account after a series of transfers.

Luzhkov, who learned from the media that he was wanted for questioning in Moscow, believes the move to be politically motivated. “I have serious grounds to believe that this summons is politically motivated after my recent Radio Liberty interview,” he told reporters. In the interview, he harshly criticized the Russian president and the United Russia party.

At the same time, Luzhkov assured reporters by telephone that he would appear and testify “as a law-abiding citizen” once he is back in Moscow from the international conference he is currently attending.

Reports said on Monday that Luzhkov applied to Genri Reznik, president of the Moscow Bar Association, for assistance. Reznik confirmed that he has agreed to provide legal assistance to the former mayor but that he will not be able to meet with the investigators before the second half of November, due to his heavy teaching commitments.
“Once Mr Luzhkov and I are able to spare some time, we will certainly meet with the investigator,” he said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
Russia hopes to bypass Georgia on its road to the WTO
Russia hopes to join the World Trade Organization this year despite Georgia’s protests. The EU said it no longer has any issue with Russia joining and Moscow says Georgia’s opposition is politically motivated, while experts say a big country should not disregard the need for consensus.
“We have struck a deal on the final outstanding bilateral issues, leaving the way open for Russia to join the WTO by the end of this year. This understanding will help to protect EU jobs in the car and car components’ industry from moving to Russia,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said. “There is now very little time left to reach a bilateral agreement between Georgia and Russia.”

“I call on both parties to continue their efforts to find a solution in a spirit of compromise. The EU is ready to offer whatever help is necessary,” he said.

The latest round of Russian-Georgian talks was not successful. The next meeting is to be held in a few days’ time. Georgia is demanding that international observers act as customs officers on Russia’s border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that all issues related to WTO norms and regulations had been settled and that Russia now supports the Swiss proposals. Switzerland, which mediated at the talks in Geneva, proposed a compromise solution that provides for the stationing of permanent independent observers on the border.
Mr Lavrov also said “there are provisions in the WTO statutory documents according to which Russia’s obligations to WTO members may exclude Georgia.”

Georgian WTO negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kapanadze said on October 20, that the sides had failed to agree, but the talks would continue this week.

“Georgia cannot approve Russia’s entry until it changes its stand on the occupied territories,” Kapanadze said.
Experts are cautious in their comments. Alexei Portansky, a professor at the World Economy and International Affairs Faculty of the Higher School of Economics, said Mr Lavrov should have explained the essence of the Swiss proposals. “I fear Russia and Georgia interpret them differently,” he said.
Russia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent states, while Georgia and the bulk of the international community see it differently. Russia said it would accept international monitoring only for cargo entering Georgia via Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whereas Georgia insists on monitoring all transit cargo.

“As for Russia’s accession regardless of Georgia’s stance, there are precedents, but a big country should not neglect the principle of consensus,” Portansky said. “Georgia’s stance could be disregarded only if the formal working group comprising representatives of 60 WTO countries votes for Russia’s accession in a week or two.”
BCS analyst Bogdan Zykov said the customs control issue is unlikely to be resolved soon because it is a purely political matter. “Georgia’s Western allies are unlikely to be inclined to make an exception for Russia,” he said. “On the other hand, Moscow is accustomed to life outside the WTO.”

Turkish earthquake relief efforts complicated by Kurdish dispute
The Turkish government mounted an extraordinary earthquake relief effort on Sunday in the eastern province of Van. There were more than 200 deaths and 55 destroyed buildings by midday of October 24. The total number of victims could eventually reach a thousand, said officials at Turkey's Kandilli Seismic Institute.

The province of Van, where the disaster occurred, is mainly populated by Kurds. This demographic detail is an issue because tensions between Ankara and Kurdish organizations have flared again recently, further straining an already tenuous relationship.
“If the disaster relief efforts turn out to be ineffective or if abuses of power by security forces are revealed, the consequences could be severe,” said Sergei Demidenko, an expert on Asian studies at the Institute for Strategic Studies and Analysis. “A minor error could produce an explosive situation.”
The volatile atmosphere has persisted as government troops continue to battle Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey where many Anatolian Kurds sympathize with the insurgents. Some Van region residents are suspected to be among the Kurdish terrorists in an attack a week ago in the province of Hakkari. In the attack, 24 Turkish army soldiers were killed when some 200 Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants assaulted security posts in Cukurca and on the nearby border. Aside from recent events, Eastern Anatolia is among the most economically stagnant regions in the country which only contributes to its instability.

“This conflict has long been engrained in people’s minds,” said Demidenko. “Government assistance is seen here as a matter of course and is unlikely to increase the local population’s loyalty.”

“No number of victims can melt Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's heart,” said Ihsan Miro, chief editor of the Free Kurdistan newspaper. “Ankara deliberately keeps the Kurdish provinces in poverty, forcing us to leave and disperse among the Turkish population in other parts of the country.”
Nevertheless, in recent decades, Turkish authorities have implemented extensive social programs in Eastern Anatolia, such as the construction of new production facilities in cities like Gaziantep, which was subsequently transformed from a backwater into a major industrial cluster. The Turkish government also provides aid to the poor, such as free coal in the winter. But this has not been enough.

“The Kurds want autonomy, something which the Erdogan government cannot allow to happen,” said Alexander Sotnichenko, a leading analyst at the St. Petersburg Center for Middle East Studies. “Therefore, many Kurds believe that no good can come from the Turkish authorities.
 It will always be possible to find flaws in the earthquake relief effort and then accuse the government because of them. And every accusation has the potential to increase the number of government opponents in the region.”

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