Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Republic of Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Belarus: Background and U.S. Policy Concerns



Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko snuffed out Belarus’s modest progress toward democracy and a free market economy in the early 1990s and created an authoritarian, Sovietstyle regime. Belarus has close historical and cultural ties to Russia. Russian policy toward Belarus appears to be focused on gaining control of Belarus’s key economic assets while reducing the costs of subsidizing the Lukashenko regime.

For many years, the United States has limited ties to the regime while providing modest support to pro-democracy organizations in Belarus. The United States and the European Union also imposed sanctions on Belarusian leaders. In March 2008, Belarus withdrew its ambassador from Washington and forced the United States to recall its ambassador from Minsk, in response to what Belarus perceived as a tightening of U.S. sanctions against Belneftekhim, the state-owned petrochemicals firm. Belarus also limited the number of U.S. diplomats in Belarus to five persons.

From 2008 to 2010, the United States and European Union suspended some sanctions in exchange for very modest improvements on human rights issues. This policy suffered a setback in December 2010, when Belarus held presidential elections that observers from the OSCE viewed as falling far short of international standards. Moreover, in response to an election-night demonstration against electoral fraud in a square in central Minsk, the Lukashenko regime arrested over 700 persons, including most of his opponents in the election, as well as activists, journalists, and civil society representatives. Some of them were viciously beaten by police.

In January 2011, the EU and the United States imposed enhanced visa and financial sanctions against top Belarusian officials. The United States re-imposed sanctions against two key subsidiaries of Belneftekhim. They also pledged enhanced support for Belarusian pro-democracy and civil society groups. Although Lukashenko has released most of the political prisoners, about a dozen remain imprisoned. In response, the United States and the EU have imposed sanctions against additional prominent Belarusian officials, and businessmen and firms associated with them.

Congress has responded to the situation in Belarus with legislation. In January 2012, President Obama signed the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act. The legislation reauthorized the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004. It updated the provisions of the legislation to include the fraudulent December 2010 election and the ensuing crackdown. It also updated the report the Administration is required to file to include assistance provided by other governments or organizations to assist the Belarusian government’s efforts to control the Internet. The legislation stated that it is the policy of the United States to call on the International Ice Hockey Federation to not hold the 2014 International World Ice Hockey championship in Minsk unless the government of Belarus releases all political prisoners. The move would be a serious blow to Lukashenko personally, as he is known to be an avid hockey fan.



Date of Report: February 12, 2013
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Moldova: Background and U.S. Policy



Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

Although a small country, Moldova has been of interest to U.S. policymakers due to its position between NATO and EU member Romania and strategic Ukraine. In addition, some experts have expressed concern about Russian efforts to extend its hegemony over Moldova through various methods, including a troop presence, manipulation of Moldova’s relationship with its breakaway Transnistria region, and energy supplies and other economic links. Moldova’s political and economic weakness has made it a source of organized criminal activity of concern to U.S. policymakers, including trafficking in persons.

Moldova is governed by the Alliance for European Integration, a center-right coalition of three parties. Prime Minister Vlad Filat has said he is focused on dismantling the country’s Communist legacy and building a state ruled by law. However, conflicts with the Communist opposition and tensions within the coalition appear to have slowed reform efforts. Moldova is Europe’s poorest country, according to the World Bank. Remittances from Moldovans working abroad amounted to 22% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2010. The global financial crisis has had a negative impact on Moldova. Moldova’s currency weakened and remittances dropped, as Moldovan emigrants lost jobs in other hard-hit countries. Moldova’s GDP dropped by 7.3% in 2009, rebounded by 6.9% in 2010 and 6.5% in 2011, only to stall in 2012.

As a self-declared neutral country, Moldova does not seek NATO membership, but participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) program. Moldova is currently negotiating an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), which provides for cooperation in a wide variety of spheres, including a free trade agreement. Moldova hopes to become a candidate for EU membership, although the EU is unlikely to accept Moldova in the foreseeable future, due to Moldova’s poverty, the EU’s own internal challenges, and possibly also due to concerns that it would set a precedent for the candidacy of other former Soviet states, such as Ukraine.

The United States and Moldova have enjoyed good relations since the country’s independence in 1991. In a visit to Moldova in 2011, Vice President Joseph Biden outlined U.S. policy toward the country. Biden praised Moldova for its commitment to reform and democratic values, including the holding of free and fair elections. He called on Moldova to continue its efforts to create a transparent legal system, to fight corruption, and to end human trafficking. He said that the United States would continue to support a settlement for Transnistria that preserves Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. He said U.S. aid would help the Moldovan government create policies to spur economic growth and attract foreign investment, train civil society to become more effective advocates, and help improve Moldova's schools.

The 112
th Congress addressed a longstanding Moldovan concern by adopting legislation to grant the country Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the United States (P.L. 112-208).


Date of Report: February 1, 2013
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Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy



Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

Since Viktor Yanukovych defeated Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko to win Ukraine’s presidency in 2010, many observers have expressed concern about Ukraine’s democratic development, including the government’s use of the courts to neutralize opposition leaders, including Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to a seven-year prison term in 2011. International observers criticized Ukraine’s October 2012 parliamentary elections as falling short of international standards.

The global economic crisis hit Ukraine hard. Ukraine’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by an estimated 15% in 2009. The economy began to recover in 2010, and GDP increased by 4.7% in 2011. However, living standards for many Ukrainians remain low, leading to a rapid drop in Yanukovych’s popularity when compared to the period soon after his inauguration. Slow growth in Western Europe resulted in slower growth in 2012 for Ukraine as well.

President Yanukovych has pursued closer ties with Russia, especially in the economic sphere. A major focus of his policy has been to seek reduced prices for natural gas supplies from Moscow, or failing that, to diversify Ukraine’s sources of supply. Ukraine has so far fended off Russian pressure to sell it control of its gas pipeline system and join Russia-led political and economic integration structures.

Yanukovych has said that EU integration is a key priority for Ukraine, but EU criticism of what it views as the politically motivated conviction and imprisonment of Tymoshenko and others has delayed the signature of a long-awaited association agreement with the EU, which includes a free trade agreement. Yanukovych has made clear that his country is not seeking NATO membership, but will continue cooperation with NATO, including the holding of joint military exercises.

The Obama Administration has worked to “reset” relations with Russia, but has warned that it will not accept any country’s assertion of a sphere of influence, a reminder of U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. The Administration has focused on helping Ukraine rid itself of its supplies of highly enriched uranium, assisting Ukraine with the clean-up of the Chernobyl nuclear site, and diversifying Ukraine’s sources of energy, including advice on developing Ukraine’s shale gas reserves. Administration officials have expressed serious concerns about regression in Ukraine’s democratic development since Yanukovych took power, including in such areas as media freedoms and selective prosecution of the government’s political opponents.

Legislation was introduced in the 112
th Congress and 113th Congress calling for Tymoshenko and other victims of politically motivated prosecutions to be released from prison. One of them, a modified version of S.Res. 466, was passed by the Senate on September 21, 2012. Among other provisions, it called for sanctions against Ukrainian leaders responsible for selective prosecutions.


Date of Report: January 31, 2013
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests



Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

The United States recognized the independence of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia when the former Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. The United States has fostered these states’ ties with the West in part to end their dependence on Russia for trade, security, and other relations. The United States has pursued close ties with Armenia to encourage its democratization and because of concerns by Armenian Americans and others over its fate. Close ties with Georgia have evolved from U.S. contacts with its pro-Western leadership. Successive Administrations have supported U.S. private investment in Azerbaijan’s energy sector as a means of increasing the diversity of world energy suppliers. The United States has been active in diplomatic efforts to resolve regional conflicts in the region. As part of U.S. global counter-terrorism efforts, the U.S. military in 2002 began providing equipment and training for Georgia’s military and security forces. Troops from all three regional states have participated in stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The regional states also have granted transit privileges for U.S. military personnel and equipment bound to and from Afghanistan.

Beginning on August 7, 2008, Russia and Georgia warred over Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops quickly swept into Georgia, destroyed infrastructure, and tightened their de facto control over the breakaway regions before a ceasefire was concluded on August 15. The conflict has had long-term effects on security dynamics in the region and beyond. Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the United States and nearly all other nations have refused to follow suit. Russia established bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia—in violation of the ceasefire accords—that buttress its long-time military presence in Armenia. Although there were some concerns that the South Caucasus had become less stable as a source and transit area for oil and gas, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are barging oil across the Caspian Sea for transit westward. Also, the United States and the European Union still support building more east-west pipelines through Turkey to bring Azerbaijani and other gas to European markets.

Issues of concern in the 113
th Congress regarding the South Caucasus may include Armenia’s independence and economic development; Azerbaijan’s energy development; and Georgia’s recovery from Russia’s August 2008 military incursion. At the same time, concerns have been raised about the status of human rights and democratization in the countries; the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region; and ongoing threats posed to Georgia and the international order by Russia’s 2008 incursion and its diplomatic recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Congress has continued to oversee the region’s role as part of the Northern Distribution Network for the transit of U.S. and NATO military supplies to and from Afghanistan. Some Members of Congress and other policymakers believe that the United States should provide greater support for the region’s increasing role as an east-west trade and security corridor linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions, and for Armenia’s inclusion in such links. They urge greater U.S. aid and conflict resolution efforts to contain warfare, crime, smuggling, and terrorism, and to bolster the independence of the states. Others urge caution in adopting policies that will increase U.S. involvement in a region beset by ethnic and civil conflicts.


Date of Report: January 24, 2013
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Kosovo: Current Issues and U.S. Policy



Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The United States and 22 of the 27 EU countries (including key countries such as Germany, France, Britain, and Italy) have recognized Kosovo’s independence. The Kosovo government claims that 98 countries in all have extended diplomatic recognition to it. When it declared independence, Kosovo pledged to implement the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The document contains provisions aimed at safeguarding the rights of ethnic Serbs and other minorities. EULEX, a European Union-led law-and-order mission, is tasked with improving the rule of law in Kosovo. KFOR, a NATO-led peacekeeping force that includes hundreds of U.S. soldiers, has the mission of providing a secure environment.

Serbia strongly objects to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It has used diplomatic means to try to persuade countries to not recognize Kosovo. It has retained parallel governing institutions in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo. Since March 2011, the EU has mediated negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. The agreements reached include ones on free movement of persons, customs stamps, recognition of university diplomas, cadastre (real estate) records, civil registries (which record births, deaths, marriages, etc. for legal purposes), integrated border/boundary management (IBM), and on regional cooperation. However, the accords have not been implemented or only partly implemented.

Kosovo faces other daunting challenges, aside from those posed by its struggle for international recognition and the status of its ethnic minorities. According to reports by the European Commission, the country suffers from weak institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement. Kosovo has high levels of government corruption and powerful organized crime networks. Many Kosovars are poor and reported unemployment is very high.

The United States has supported the EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo, but has stressed that it is an observer, not a participant in them. On September 10, 2012, the White House issued a statement by President Obama hailing the end of international supervision of Kosovo. He said Kosovo has made “significant progress” in “building the building the institutions of a modern, multi-ethnic, inclusive and democratic state.” He added Kosovo had more work to do in ensuring that the rights enshrined in the country’s constitution are realized for every citizen. President Obama also called on Kosovo to continue to work to resolve outstanding issues with its neighbors, especially Serbia.

Since U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s independence in 2008, congressional action on Kosovo has focused largely on foreign aid appropriations legislation. Aid to Kosovo has declined significantly in recent years. In FY2012, Kosovo received an estimated $67.45 million. For FY2013, the Administration requested a total of $57.669 million for Kosovo. Of this amount, $42.544 million is aid for political and economic reforms from the Economic Support Fund, $10.674 million from the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement account, $0.7 million in IMET military training aid, $3 million in Foreign Military Financing, and $0.75 million in NADR aid to assist non-proliferation and anti-terrorism efforts.



Date of Report: January 23, 2013
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