📨 Lossi 36 Weekly #21: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 23 November 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Pro-EU Maia Sandu becomes the first female president of Moldova. Following the presidential elections in Moldova taking place on 15 November, pro-European Maia Sandu, the leader of the Action and Solidarity Political Party (PAS), became the first female president of the country. Following the announcement of the election results, Maia Sandu was congratulated by Western leaders including EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Russian President Vladimir Putin also congratulated Maia Sandu soon after the election results came out. This came as a surprise to many within the country, given the fact that the elections were run against the incumbent president Igor Dodon, well-known for his pro-Russian stance and advocacy for stronger ties with Russia and for Moldovan integration within the Eurasian Economic Union. Throughout the week preceding the elections, the populist president Igor Dodon intensified his aggressive rhetoric against Maia Sandu, with false allegations anti-LGBT propaganda employed against his counterpart. Rhetorical attacks were also launched against the Moldovan diaspora in Europe, both prior to and following the elections, despite the fact that the Moldovan economy is heavily reliant on remittances from Moldovans working abroad. The election winner Maia Sandu joined the political environment in 2012 as a Minister of Education, with a professional background which included studies at Harvard University and previous employment as adviser to the World Bank Executive Director in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, she held the Prime-Minister role in 2019, advocating for reforms and a fight against the rampant corruption within the country. The election outcome is regarded by many as a new optimistic start in Moldovan politics; the country’s political environment went through several periods of turmoil, most notably in 2009 and in 2015, when $1bn vanished from Moldovan banks, in an enormous corruption scandal which threw what was already Europe’s poorest country into a deep recession.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Montenegrin ‘non-party’ government jeopardized by fear of nationalism. Since the narrow victory of the opposition parties at the last parliamentary elections in August 2020, the final composition of the government remains unclear. Earlier in November, Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapić expressed his willingness to form a non-partisan ‘expert government’ whose ministers should primarily be chosen on the basis of their skills. However, many candidates, including Krivokapić himself, have been accused since then of being biased and too close to the Serbian Orthodox Church or the United Reform Action Civic Movement. As a result, the prospective candidate for the Ministry of Interior withdrew his candidacy, while the designated Minister for Culture and Education, Vesna Bratić, is under fire for similar reasons. Furthermore, ethnic parties – namely the Albanian ethnic coalition and the Bosniak party – recently announced, for the very first time, their refusal to join the winning coalition in fear of pro-Serb nationalism coming from the Democratic front.

New mass grave found in Serbia, over 1,640 Kosovar bodies still missing. A mass grave with ethnic Albanian victims killed during ethnic cleansing committed by Serbian forces in the 1998-9 war was discovered in southern Serbia, at an open-cast mine near Kizevak. To date, the remains of over 900 Kosovo Albanian war victims have been found in four different locations in Serbia. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted only one Serbian official for the mass graves and cover-up, but no one has been held responsible by the Serbian judiciary. The fate of more than 1640 bodies of Kosovar Albanians is still unknown. The US Congress noted that Serbia has not been pressed seriously by the international community to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes in Kosovo. The EU has also failed to condition Serbia’s EU accession on bringing war criminals to justice.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Uncertainty in Armenia as ceasefire agreements implemented in Nagorno-Karabakh. As protests continue to be organized in Yerevan to demand the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, he has confirmed that he is not planning to step down. Some of Pashinyan’s Facebook posts have caused anger in Armenia, especially the one addressed to the soldiers supporting him and in which many saw the threat of a civil war. In response, Pashinyan drew up a list of 15 points for the revival of the country after the bloody war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 17 November, in which Putin said that a peace agreement could have been signed in mid-October and that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was still undecided, uncertainty is rife in Armenia. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians’ deadline to leave Kelbajar region has been extended to 25 November for technical reasons. The question of the preservation of the Dadivank Monastery was also raised, and some voices claimed that Russian peacekeepers would be responsible for its protection. Photo and video documents already report damages to Armenian historical monuments in Shushi (Shusha) and elsewhere, as well acts of violence directed against Armenians who have chosen to stay at home in territories now occupied by Azerbaijan.

Pompeo visits Georgia. On the 18th of November, the US State Secretary Michael Pompeo made a visit to Georgia, much-anticipated for the governing and opposition parties alike. Many in Georgia expected that he would declare the US position on the recent parliamentary elections and contribute to the shift in government’s position, but his visit proved to be more security-motivated, rather than focused on the domestic political domain. The Secretary met with the President, the Government, the civil sector, and the religious leader of the country, but not with members of opposition parties. This was stated as a mistake by Georgian, as well as American counterparts. Beyond the ongoing post-election confusion, the regional context has been heavily strained in recent months and has seen increased Russian militarization, but still, the focus on the security issues was not as striking as some have claimed.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Slovenian Prime Minister writes letter to EU on pandemic policy. On 17 November Janez Janša wrote a letter addressed to EU leaders that has left both the entire Slovenian government concerned for the international reputation of Slovenia. In it, Janša called for the return to the July financial framework to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. According to Janša, this decision would not be political, as is, according to him, too often the case with the EU with its biased agreements under the guise of the interests of the rule of law. He also admonished the EU for not intervening in the Slovenian governmental elections of 2014 that were, according to him, stolen, and for how Brussels is addressing the democratic question in Hungary and Poland, countries which, contrary to the EU, “do not abuse the law for political gains”.

Hungarian PM announces veto on EU budget. Prime minister Viktor Orbán announced on November 16 that Hungary would veto the proposed 7-year budget for the European Union along with Polish president Andrzej Duda. Their problem with the budget agreement is that it includes rule-of-law clausessized as conditions for countries to receive EU-funding. Orbán’s regime, which is widely seen as being detrimental to the rule of law in the country, reasons that the move to include the clause was an “attempted blackmail” on the side of the EU. Due to the veto, the enactment of the budget of more than 1800 billion Euros could be delayed, and EU countries that have been struck by the coronavirus crisis could face even more severe economical hardships.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Ukraine requests seizure of Russian aircraft flying to Crimea. On 16 November 2020, the Ukrainian authorities announced the symbolic seizure of 44 new Russian passenger aircraft, in addition to the 65 already recorded, accused of illegally flying into Crimea. Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, Ukraine decided to close the airspace over the peninsula on the ground of air traffic safety concerns. According to the Ukrainian state security service, 37 Russian companies continue to serve the supposedly closed Simferopol airport. Alexander Molokhov, part of the permanent Mission of Crimea to the President of Russia, then described this first decision as a “political bluff” that “exists only in the sick imagination of Ukrainian leaders”. Indeed, the criminal proceedings initiated by Ukraine seem at the moment to be largely an advocacy tool to obstruct the aircraft access to European countries.

Seven non-EU countries join in EU sanctions against Lukashenko. Ukraine, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro have all aligned themselves with the 2 October decision by the Council of the European Union regarding personal sanctions upon associates of sitting Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. The sanctions pertain to 40 Belarusian officials (though not to Lukashenko himself) accused of electoral fraud and political repression, and amount to travel bans and asset freezes in the signatory countries. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmitry Kuleba commented that the decision to join the EU was one of “policy consistency”, but ruled out any economic or trade measures from Ukraine to its northern neighbour. This Sunday in Minsk, over 350 protestors were detained in regular mass anti-government demonstrations that have been ongoing since the controversial presidential elections in August.

🛤 In Russia & Central Asia…

Russia to set up naval base in… Sudan. On Monday, 16 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a governmental proposal to build a naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, near Port Sudan. The base will be Russia’s first naval facility in Africa and only the second outside the territory of the former Soviet Union (after Tartus in Syria). It will reportedly accommodate up to 300 military and civilian personnel and up to four ships, including nuclear-powered vessels. The move comes as Russia seeks to establish stronger relations with African countries, counterbalancing similar efforts of other major global players, notably China and the U.S. Last year the first edition of a Russia-Africa Summit took place in Sochi. The Summit’s declaration called for the establishment of a Russia-Africa Partnership Forum and covered cooperation areas ranging from politics and security to science and the environment.

Turkmenistan reinforces despotic clichés with golden dog statue. In early November, Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov went a step further into unhinged despotic leadership with his latest construction; a golden statue of the Alabai dog. The 6m-tall statue was commissioned by Berdymukhamedov with the intention of honoring the famous Turkmen dog breed, so symbolic of the nation that it was once gifted to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The decision has been widely criticized as it contrasts greatly with the conditions faced by the Turkmen people including a poor economic situation and food shortages.

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

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