Lossi 36 Weekly #19: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 9 November 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh escalates around strategic town of Shushi (Shusha). In the sixth week of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Azerbaijani troops approached the strategic town of Shushi (Shusha) and the road to Berdzor (Lachin) –  a vital land corridor to Armenia, closed by the Armenian authorities on November 4. On 8 November, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced the capture of the city. The announcement was met with jubilation in Azerbaijan, with thousands taking to the streets of Azerbaijani cities to celebrate. Aliyev’s claim remains to be verified independently; no accurately geolocated photos or videos have yet been posted confirming Azerbaijani control over the city, though some attempts at fakes have been made. According to multiple media sources, the Armenian authorities are in contact with the Russian authorities to discuss possible assistance. So far, Russia has not engaged with either side, calling on both sides to negotiate. Besides, it reaffirmed that it would only assist Armenia if Armenian territory was attacked, which is not the case for the moment as the fighting is limited to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. While the nature of the war has changed since the previous conflict in the 1990s, the forests and heights of the Shushi region still make the use of drones by Azerbaijan more difficult and could give an advantage to the defenders, who are familiar with the terrain. In the same way, the approaching winter also has the potential to affect the continuation of the engagements.

🌺 In the Balkans…
Progress blocked for North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations at ambassadorial meeting. Bulgaria has blocked the first phase of adoption of the negotiating framework with North Macedonia at the EU ambassador-level meeting (COREPER II). North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told journalists that Bulgaria violated the landmark Bilateral Friendship Agreement, signed by the countries in 2017 to overcome bilateral disputes, by blocking the negotiating framework at the EU ambassadorial level meeting. However, according to Zaev, this does not mean that all hope is lost, as there are two more meetings at the ambassadorial level before the planned EU-North Macedonia inter-governmental meeting in December. The next EU ministerial GAC meeting will be held on 17 November, but the long-awaited start of Skopje’s EU accession talks looks more less likely.

Former Chairman of the Assembly of Kosovo sent to the Hague. On 4 November, the Hague-based Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, with the joint support of the Kosovo police and the police units from the EU Rule of Law mission EULEX Kosovo, carried out a raid in Prishtina to arrest former Chairman of the Assembly, Jakup Krasniqi. Even though the charges against the former Kosovo Liberation Army secretary and spokesman have not yet been disclosed, there is reason to suspect Krasniqi’s indictment for war crimes. In response, Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, heard by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) earlier this month for similar crimes, expressed on social media his profound disagreement and accused EULEX of overstepping democratic standards and appropriate use of force. Such statements reflect the significant levels of already-existing mistrust among the population towards the KSC and the international community operating in the country.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Opposition parties contest Georgian elections. Citing unfair practices, several Georgian opposition parties have announced their plan to boycott the parliament after the October 31 vote. The majority of votes in the poll were received by the ruling Georgian Dream party (48.15%), while the bloc of the main opposition party, the United National Movement (ENM), gained 27.14%. Former president Mikhail Saakashvii, who is now involved with the ENM, accused the Georgian dream party of attempting to steal the elections through unfair practices. The opposition’s main concern is not the victory of the Georgian Dream, but whether or not it’ll be able to form a government on its own. Some violations were observed by local and international watch dogs, yet the elections were overall considered fair and the outcome legitimate. Since the vote, regular protests have been held in Tbilisi, often suppressed by government riot police.
🚃 In Central Europe…

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulates Donald Trump with election “victory”. Despite the lack of conclusive results, Donald Trump is the righteous winner of the American presidential elections, according to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša. He has been expressing support for the president on Twitter since mid-October, in this way demonstrating his own populist political agenda in Slovenia. Janša believes that the world cannot do without a powerful USA and that if Joe Biden wins, he would be the weakest president in American history. His most recent declaration came on 4 November, when he claimed that Trump is a definite winner of the elections. Janša has been criticised by Slovenian and foreign media for his remarks, especially after Brussels expressed a wish not to comment on the results before the official outcome is announced.

Hungary launches state of emergency due to coronavirus as Russian vaccine to be adopted. On 4 November, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a new state of emergency due to the coronavirus situation in Hungary, with a host of new restrictions including a general midnight curfew and the closure of restaurants, bars and clubs. The announcement comes at a time when the record for new cases is being toppled on a daily basis, with over 4,500 cases and over 100 deaths on 7 November. Simultaneously though, Orban is desperately trying to avoid the economic pain that came as a result of the first lockdown, even though numbers are far higher in Hungary this time around. Many have called for stricter measures, criticising the PM for putting popularity above saving lives. Meanwhile, foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has announced that Hungary will receive small supplies of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for clinical trials by December, though hope also remains for a home-developed virus vaccine.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Pro-European party surprises Moldova by winning the first round of the presidential elections. Moldova’s pro-European party, represented by the former Prime Minister Maia Sandu, has won the first round of the presidential elections held on 1 November. Sandu received 36.16% of the votes against President Igor Dodon, who only received 32.61%. Due to recent post-election uprisings in nearby Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia, Moldovan elections are being closely monitored by the international community. Russia supports the incumbent President Igor Dodon, and has accused the US of instigating a “revolutionary scenario” in the country. However, he has not challenged the final results. The surprise pro-European victory is seen as a result of a strong mobilization of expatriate voters: more than 70% of the Moldovan diaspora voted for Sandu. The second round will be held on 15 November, with the West-East competition tipped to be stronger than ever.

Bulgaria threatens to block North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations over language. Bulgaria cannot approve the EU’s negotiating framework for North Macedonia in its current form, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said on 28 October. During the General Affairs Council scheduled for 10 November, European Foreign Ministers are set to discuss the framework regarding the membership of North Macedonia and Albania. The Bulgarian government insists on the inclusion of various clauses in the document, to ensure that they proceed from the 2017 Treaty of Friendship, Good-neighbourliness, and Cooperation between Skopje and Sofia. Bulgaruan demands include “the usage of the term official language of the Republic of North Macedonia in the EU documents” instead of “Macedonian language”.  In November 2019, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences declared the Macedonian language “a written regional form of the Bulgarian language”.
🛤 In Russia & Central Asia…
Inflation in Tajikistan exacerbates poor economic position as food affordability crisis looms. Only a month after the holding of presidential elections, the Tajik population is in an increasingly precarious position as inflation strikes in the country, further reinforcing its status as the poorest country of Central Asia. The situation is complicated as price rise is coupled with a spike in unemployment caused by the pandemic. According to the country’s National Bank, remittances from Russia, which make up a sizable portion of Tajik GDP, also fell 14% in the past half year. For instance, the price of sugar recently rose from $1.16 to $1.55. The situation is especially worrying  due to the geographic characteristics of the country; 93% of the country is mountainous which prevents agriculture and pushes the population to buy in bulk, thus resulting in a higher rise in price.

State Duma immunity laws point to Putin preparing retirement insurance. Two members of the Russian Duma submitted a set of amendments to the current law determining the guarantees enjoyed by former presidents. The changes would effectively grant President Vladimir Putin, former president Dmitry Medvedev, and subsequent presidents, lifetime immunity with regards to all deeds committed prior, during and after their presidency. The previous version of the law, introduced in 2001, concerned only actions taken while holding the presidential post. The proposed amendments also equal the procedure for potential prosecution with that of an impeachment of a sitting president, thus rendering the removal of immunity much more difficult. The Guardian has suggested that perhaps the Russian president was preparing for his retirement. It noted that only last week Putin submitted to the Duma a legislative proposal allowing former presidents to become lifetime senators in Russia’s Federation Council, which would also grant him immunity from prosecution.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Masa Sebek, Francis Farrell, Louise Guillon, Naser Bislimi, Ilinka Leger, Roxana Chiriac, Kristin Aldag, Zadig Tisserand, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, and Evguenia Roussel 💘

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