• 2002-05-16
KILLER SEIZED: Polish border guards have detained a Russian suspected of murdering four people in Estonia and a Latvian police officer. Polish border guard spokesman Miroslaw Szacillo said that a Russian national with a gun had been arrested on May 8. Estonian and Latvian media have named him as Yuri Ustimenko, 21, who has been on the run since deserting from a naval college in St. Petersburg last October. Ustimenko was detained with a loaded gun at a bus station in the northern Polish city of Suwalki after having illegally crossed the border from Lithuania during the night. He told border guards he was heading to France to join the French Foreign Legion. A local court sanctioned Ustimenko's detention for a period of three months. In the meantime, Estonian officials are considering extradition proceedings. Ustimenko is alleged to have killed a police officer in the northeastern Latvian city of Valka last week. His partner, Dmitry Medvedyev, was also killed in the skirmish. After the incident, Ustimenko allegedly returned to Estonia, but Estonian police failed to find him despite a nationwide manhunt. Police suspect the two of killing four people and exploding a bomb outside a Tallinn firearms store. (Agence France-Presse)

EQUAL DRIVERS: Lithuania on May 14 scrapped a Soviet-era regulation that forced women to have a gynecological exam before getting a driving license. The Health Ministry made the decision under pressure from the nation's gender ombudswoman, Ausra Burneikiene, whose office had received a complaint from a 24-year-old would-be driver. The woman had said the law was unfair because men were not required to have a similar exam to get their licenses. "We are happy the Health Ministry finally did what it had to do," Burneikiene said. Some medical officials opposed changing the law, saying that certain gynecological disorders could cause enough pain for a woman to pass out behind the wheel. (AFP)

ONE ENGINE: A Saab-2000 turboprop aircraft belonging to the Lietuvos Avialinijos airline safely made an emergency landing in Vilnius May 14 after one of its two engines shut down, company officials said. None of the Helsinki-bound plane's 25 passengers or five crew was injured. "We received information about technical problems when the plane was in Latvian airspace some 30 minutes before landing" at 10:30 a.m., the airline's acting director, Vidas Zvinys, said. The cause of the technical failure was not immediately known, and an investigation has been launched. This was the second incident with the company's aircraft in the last three days. On May 12, a flight to Stockholm was forced to return when another Saab-2000 experienced a malfunction in a hydraulic pump shortly after take-off. Lietuvos Avialinijos currently operates three Saab-2000 planes rented from Saab Aircraft Leasing Group. (AFP)

FLEET CUT: Russia plans to cut 8,600 personnel from its Baltic fleet this year as part of a far-reaching military reform package, Interfax reported May 8, quoting fleet chief Vladimir Baluev. The reduction will halve staffing on the fleet, which currently employs some 19,000 sailors. The sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in August 2000 illustrated the difficulties of a navy that already saw its budget cut and activities reduced after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991. The current cut is part of a reform package that aims to cut costs and size and end mandatory conscription. The navy recently closed a base in Cam Ranh, Vietnam, which it had operated since 1979. The Baltic fleet is one of four held by the Russian navy, along with the Pacific, North, and Black Sea fleets. (AFP)

NAVAL FUN: Seven nations began naval war games in Lithuanian waters on May 13, practicing joint operations and demining skills as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program. Under Cooperative Ocean 2002, 10 ships from Britain, Estonia, Finland, France, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden are to test their ability to conduct joint operations until May 16. They will be joined by another eight ships from Germany, the Netherlands and Norway for mine-searching exercises from May 16 to 30. Some 650 square kilometers are to be cleared of explosives left in the Baltic Sea from the two world wars. "This will be one more opportunity to test our ability to operate hand-in-hand with NATO," Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevcius said. Four Lithuanian ships will take part in the war games. (AFP)

BATTLE-WEARY: Leader of the opposition Pro Patria Union party Mart Laar, who resigned as prime minister in January, will have three books about Estonia's reforms and one about battles in Estonia in 1944 in print soon, a newspaper reported on May 11. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has ordered from Laar a manuscript in German about the Financially Independent Estonia project, an initiative begun in the early stages of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union seeking to make Estonia an economically self-managing part of the Soviet Union. The Estonian version of the book is due out this summer. The manuscript of a book about battles between retreating German forces and advancing Red Army troops in Estonia in 1944 has been delivered to the publisher Avita. (Baltic News Service)

VULNERABLE: The Estonian Embassy in Moscow, which fell victim to an extremist attack on May 13, is reproaching the Russian authorities for their inability to guarantee security of the building. Ambassador Karin Jaani also expects the Estonian government to take action to protect the diplomats. "The facade, flag, and windows are stained with a dark, stinking liquid and one window is broken," said embassy spokesman Vahur Soosaar. Bottles filled with an inflammable liquid were thrown at the embassy. The extremist National Bolshevik Party assumed responsibility. (BNS)