Lossi 36 Weekly #20: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 16 November 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Russian-brokered peace deal ends fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on Azerbaijani terms. After 43 days of bitter state-on-state warfare over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, signed a ceasefire deal with Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin late in the evening of 9 November. The agreement came a day after Azerbaijan announced the capture of the city of Shusha/Shushi, a key strategic position in central Nagorno-Karabakh looking over the region’s capital, Stepanakert. Key elements of the peace plan, seen to be drafted largely on Azerbaijani terms, include the immediate cessation of hostilities at already-held military positions and the insertion of Russian peacekeeping forces along the line of contact. In addition to keeping territorial gains made during the war, such as Shusha/Shushi and most of the Armenian-majority Hadrut province, Azerbaijan is also to resume control of regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh that had been controlled by Armenian forces since the end of the previous war in 1994. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, whose future status is not mentioned in the document, is to retain control of the areas surrounding the key Armenian cities of Stepanakert, Martakert, and Martuni. Stepanakert itself is to be linked to Armenia proper by the Lachin Corridor, with security there also to be guaranteed by the Russian peacekeeping presence. In the days since the agreement, parts of the plan have already begun to be implemented, with Russian forces arriving the following day, while Armenians living in Kelbajar region west of Nagorno-Karabakh have begun to leave their homes as Azerbaijan prepares to take over. Concerns remain over the safety of the many Armenian cultural sites in these regions, including the working medieval monastery of Dadivank. Otherwise, the situation at the contact line has since been largely stable, with the sides exchanging the bodies of war dead.

🌺 In the Balkans…
Former Kosovo President Thaci makes first appearance at court in The Hague. Days after resigning as President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci made his first appearance at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) court in The Hague, Netherlands on 9 November. Thaci was indicted by the KSC in June on war crimes charges amounting to over 100 murders committed during and after the length of the Kosovo War in the late 1990s. In this first appearance, Thaci pleaded not guilty, telling the court that “the indictment is completely without basis”. A commander and high-ranking political figure in the Kosovo Liberation Army, Thaci has been joined in court in The Hague by fellow former KLA figures, Kadri Veseli, Rexhep Selimi, and Jakub Krasniqi, all of whom also played major roles in the politics of post-independence Kosovo. The court accuses the defendants of committing. “a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population”, including those believed to be collaborating with Serb forces. The defendants will remain in detention in The Hague while the trial continues.
Green Agenda discussed as Western Balkans leaders meet with EU officials. In the framework of the Berlin Process, leaders of the Balkans six and officials from the EU member states met online on Tuesday 10 November to discuss common regional market initiatives based on the EU’s four freedoms such as the endorsement of a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. Under the shared Bulgarian and North Macedonian chairmanship, representatives from the Balkans signed a joint declaration aiming at “unlocking the economic potential of the green, low-carbon, and circular economy and at addressing and curbing the main drivers of climate change”. The six leaders agreed on the EC guidelines for the implementation of the Green agenda and are now intended to align with the EU’s climate neutrality policy. In addition to the Green Agenda, the document mostly focuses on presenting political guidance and potential initiatives, which are to transform into concrete and tailor-made action plans for each Balkan state.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Unrest in Yerevan as Armenians infuriated by Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal. After signing the peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described it as “incredibly painful”, both for him and for his people. In reaction to the news, protests broke out in Yerevan. The Armenian parliament was stormed, its speaker, Ararat Mirzoyan, was reportedly beaten up, and several offices were vandalised. The protesters and the opposition are now calling for Pashinyan’s immediate resignation and withdrawal from the deal, which they consider a betrayal. On 12 November, the Prime Minister addressed the nation, aiming to provide answers and explanations for his actions. He defended his decision, noting that despite knowing that he “was facing the threat of [his] personal death, not only in a political but also in a physical sense”, he signed the deal to save the lives of soldiers who had no realistic chances of winning the war. On 14 November, Armenia’s National Security Service announced that it had foiled an alleged assassination attempt against Pashinyan, and that Artur Vanetsyan, a former leader of the opposition Republican Party was among those arrested.
Post-election political unrest continues in Georgia. Almost two weeks have passed since the parliamentary elections in Georgia, yet the results are still disputed. Officially, the governing party has won 48% of the seats; however, the opposition is continuing to argue that the elections have been rigged. As a result, protests and rallies have also continued, concentrated in the capital; last week, the government used water cannons to stop the protestors from entering the Central Election Commission building. All opposition parties which have surpassed the 1% benchmark have decided to dispute the results until elections are held again. The opposition, although united, has been voicing conflicting thoughts about moving forward, causing greater confusion within the society, though recent developments of negotiation facilitated by the US and EU ambassadors have made some progress.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Hungary brings back strict coronavirus lockdown measures. Following in Austria’s footsteps, Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán announced last Sunday that there would be new lockdown rules in place beginning on November 11. Residents are not allowed to leave their homes between 8pm and 5am, and every shop and store must close at 7pm. The pandemic, just like in many European countries, became more severe in recent months, with Hungarian daily Covid deaths frequently surpassing 100. Orbán’s new lockdown was criticized as a late, hurried measure. These sentiments were especially strong in light of the government’s amendments to the constitution and the electoral laws that came just days before and were perceived as being of a higher priority. The amendments are widely seen as being politically motivated, as they make the opposition’s job harder to prepare for the 2022 elections, and also tighten adoption laws characteristic of Orbán’s homophobic policies.

Czech Republic marks 400 years since defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain. The National Museum in Prague is organising a special exhibition in remembrance of the battle, which can also be visited online. What was supposed to be another small battle in the Thirty Years’ War ended up being one of the most important benchmarks in the history of Czech lands. On 8 November, 1620, the Bohemian Estates were defeated by the armies of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic League, ending the Bohemian political and religious revolt, and sealing the fate of the territory for 300 years to come. Followed by public executions, forced Germanisation and re-introduction of Catholicism, the defeat at the White Mountain has been remembered as the beginning of “deep national decline.”

🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Moldovan present Dodon accused of electoral corruption as second round nears. While Moldova was preparing to hold the second round of presidential elections, it came to light that pro-Russian candidate and sitting president Igor Dodon used administrative resources to print electoral newspapers in his own interest. This has resulted in outrage among politicians and representatives of civil society, as well as a fight between MPs supporting the two presidential candidates: pro-EU Maia Sandu and Dodon. Renato Usatii, the pro-Russian opposition leader and the candidate who came third in the first round of presidential elections, also voiced criticism against the president’s alleged corruption and forwarded written complaints to the Central Electoral Commission. Meanwhile, Dodon’s supporters organized a rally to protest the allegations, in spite of the ongoing pandemic. The electoral newspapers in question have been confiscated by the police and the investigation remains ongoing.
Thousands mourn Belarusian protester allegedly killed by security forces. Thousands gathered in Minsk to honor the memory of Raman Bandarenka, the 31-year-old anti-government protester who was brutally beaten by unknown assailants and later died in hospital on November 12. People carried flowers to Peremenov Square, where a mural was set up for Bandarenka, and chanted anti-government slogans, such as “Let’s not forget, we will not forgive”, “We will stop this fascism”, “Tribunal!”. On the early morning of 12 November, Raman Bandarenka was admitted to intensive care with severe cerebral edema, closed craniocerebral trauma, subdural hematomas, strokes, and cuts. During the previous night, masked assailants had started to stir trouble in the Minsk neighborhood, verbally and physically assaulting residents. Raman was found unconscious and an ambulance was called for him. One witness to the incident told Svaboda that the police came as soon as perpetrators first arrived, “but quickly left without doing anything”.
🛤 In Russia & Central Asia…

Russia imposes counter-sanctions against Germany and France. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated last Thursday that Russia will soon announce retaliatory measures aimed at German and French officials and that these sanctions have already been adopted. According to the Russian official, these sanctions will mirror those previously imposed by the EU in the context of opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s poisoning, consisting of asset freezes and travel bans against six senior Russian officials believed to have been involved in Navalny’s poisoning with Novichok. Lavrov further suggested that Navalny might have been poisoned in the plane that transported him to Germany or even at the Charite clinic. In reaction, a German spokesman has declared that the sanctions are unjustified and inappropriate, and that Navalny was poisoned on Russian territory.

Pandemic measures continue in Turkmenistan despite official denial of any cases. For months now, Turkmenistan has denied that there are any COVID-19 infections in the country. A World Health Organisation (WHO) fact finding mission in July, was designated to be followed up since August yet none has taken place. Yet, preventive measures continue, with Ashgabat insisting that they are following all WHO recommendations. Among others, travel within and beyond the country has become more difficult, as it now requires the explicit approval of the local council, RFE/RL reports. As Turkmen.news reports, these measures have been applied selectively, as many provinces continue to hold large-scale events. While the scale of the pandemic in Turkmenistan is not known, recent outbreaks indicate that the authorities do not control the virus as much as they do the narrative.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Lucie Janotová, Máté Mohos, Louise Guillon, Roxana Chiarac, Cătălina Ceban, Ana Robakidze, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Evguenia Roussel, Ivan Ulises Klyszcz, and Francis Farrell 💘

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