📨 Lossi 36 Weekly #24: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 14 December 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Europe’s own ‘Magnitsky Act’ approved. On December 7, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council approved a new global human rights sanctions regime. The framework allows the EU to impose sanctions including asset freezing and travel restrictions on individuals and organizations involved in human rights violations, whereas earlier legislation only allowed for states to be sanctioned. Discussions about such an instrument had been ongoing since Sergei Magnitsky’s death in a Russian prison in 2009. Magnitsky had exposed a corruption scheme involving $230 million, after which he was jailed for eleven months without trial, later dying in custody as a result of beatings and the denial of medical aid. Despite similarity to the 2012  Magnitsky Act passed in the US, the European Commission insisted not to name the new framework after Magnitsky, hoping to avoid antagonizing Russia. Nonetheless, an EC representative considered the case of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, which our newsletter covered two weeks ago, as an example for the EU to act on. In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced his criticism towards the European Union’s new agreement, arguing that the sanctions regime shows the European Union’s continued alignment with the United States and failure to function as a counterweight to American unipolar global dominance. Lavrov labelled the new regime an ‘intellectual justification’ of EU policy objectives, designed to discredit universal UN bodies and ‘imposing on others convenient decisions as the ultimate truth.’

🌺 In the Balkans…

Montenegro’s Parliament approves Kirokapic cabinet of experts by just one vote. After thirty years in power, the Democratic Party of Socialists has officially been replaced by a brand new cabinet promising tangible changes in the country. The twelve Ministers were appointed on Friday 4 December by 41 out of 81 Members of Parliament. Most of them are political neophytes, who have spent the last couple of years working as experts in their fields in universities or well-known international companies. The fight against corruption, the review of privatization contracts, the revival of the EU accession process and the end of the dispute on the Orthodox Church’s property are very high on the agenda. However, the newly appointed government enjoys a very short majority and should not underestimate the countermeasures of Alexander Vucic. The Serbian President sees Montenegro’s promise of renewal as a potential threat to its own power both domestically and regionally.

Albanians take to the streets after police shoot dead 25-year-old for breaking curfew. On the night 10 December, 25-year-old Klodian Rasha was shot dead by police as he tried to escape being checked during curfew hours in Tirana. The following evening, hundreds of Albanians took to the streets in Tirana, Durres, Korce, and Elbasan demanding the resignation of the Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj. The protests quickly turned violent, with police responding with tear gas and water cannons. Over five continuous days of protest since then, dozens of protestors have been arrested, and 16 police officers injured. Lleshaj handed in his resignation the day after the protests, but demonstrations have continued, with many calling further for the resignation of police chief Ardi Veliu. Among the arrested, two journalists were also detained during the protests. President Ilir Meta has condemned the violence and the arrests of the journalists in particular, saying that he will do everything in his power to avoid the “Lukashenko situation” in Albania.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Ultimatum for Armenian PM Pashinyan to step back expires. On 8 December, the ultimatum set by Armenia’s opposition for Pashinyan to resign after defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh expired. Sixteen of Armenia’s various opposition forces, united under the name “National Movement for the Salvation of the Homeland”, had declared the ultimatum after which they would call for nation-wide protests and civil disobedience if Pashinyan had not stepped down.  The opposition factions in the National Assembly, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Bright Armenia Party also called for the resignation of Pashinyan. Last week the three former Presidents of Armenia as well as the two Catholicoi of the Armenian Apostolic Church joined the growing list of public figures who had called upon the Prime Minister to resign. Following the expiring of the ultimatum, smaller groups of protesters blocked intersections and the metro system. Some dozen participants in the demonstrations were detained.

Azerbaijan publishes casualties and holds a victory parade. On 3 December, three weeks after the end of hostilities around Nagorno Karabakh, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry finally published the count of casualties suffered during the war. The 44 days of fighting saw 2,783 soldiers killed, 100 still missing and 1,245 wounded. Civilian casualties on Azerbaijani  side amounted to 94 dead and more than 400 injured. The government also announced compensation schemes for the families of those deceased with monthly benefits averaging around 195€, as well as financial and other benefits for those injured. Similar figures are reported on the Armenian side, with the health ministry listing the death of 2,718 soldiers and 55 civilians. To celebrate the victory, a military parade was held in Baku on December 10, which was also attended by Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Czech President’s pressure on counter-intelligence service mounts. President Miloš Zeman has called upon Michal Koudelka, the director of the Czech counter-intelligence service BIS, to give him detailed information on Russian operations in the country, including names of individual spies and their Czech collaborators. Requesting such highly classified information is unprecedented and was met with caution by the opposition and security experts. Zeman’s relationship with Koudelka and BIS has long been openly adverse, a direct result of the service’s annual reports of Russian and Chinese influence on the territory. There is also a growing concern of the Castle’s links to the Kremlin, with two of the president’s closest advisers lacking an official security clearance. For these reasons, many worry that if the requested information were revealed, the country’s internal security and reputation with foreign allies could be in danger.

EU budget: We have an accord! EU leaders managed to break the deadlock over the budget-and-recovery package during a meeting on December 10. A compromise was reached with Poland and Hungary which have been blocking the deal due to plans of linking a rule of law mechanism to budget disbursements. As the two vetoers will challenge the legality of the mechanism, it was agreed that it will not be used until the Court of Justice of the EU delivers its ruling. Moreover, European Council conclusions provide additional assurances to those who might be subject to the mechanism’s provisions. The compromise caused major internal frictions within the Polish ruling coalition. While Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki celebrated it as a major success, Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro claimed that the conclusions had no legal value and the future regulation of the mechanism would limit Poland’s sovereignty and violate EU treaties. Ziobro’s United Poland party is now set to discuss its next steps, putting the ruling coalition’s majority at risk.

Hungarian politician gets caught smuggling cigarettes from Ukraine. Zsolt Legény, a member of the opposition party MSZP, has resigned after Ukranian police found numerous boxes of cigarettes in the trunk of his car, all without excise stamps on 10 December. Legény tried to appeal to his diplomatic immunity, but that didn’t help his case: his diplomat passport was revoked by his party. Legény was a member of the Hungarian Parliament from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018. He is the second Hungarian politician to appeal to his immunity after being caught breaking regulations abroad: recently Fidesz MEP József Szájer also tried this after having caught breaking Belgian coronavirus regulations while attending an orgy.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Belarus to Close all Land Borders over COVID-19. Belarus will close all of its land borders to both Belarusian citizens and foreigners residing in the country. The ban is scheduled to come into effect on 20 December. The ban, which as of now has no clear end-date, comes at a time where the country is experiencing its largest political unrest in memory. Most western countries do not recognise Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has led the country since 1994, as the legitimate president of Belarus. The ensuing protests were met with brutal crackdowns by security forces, with allegations of mass human rights abuses. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who herself fled from the country several months ago, criticised the border closure: “He didn’t care about COVID before. Now repressed Belarusians cannot flee and seek asylum abroad.” Belarus continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 150,000 total cases as of December 10.
Moldovan MP requests recalling of Ambassador to Russia. Lilian Carp, An MP of Moldova’s Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) faction, has solicited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration to request the revocation of Andrei Neguța from the position of Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to Russia. The request comes after, on 5 December, the officers of the Intelligence and Security Service together with the employees of the Customs Service found a large number of anabolics in a minibus with diplomatic numbers sent by the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Moscow at the request of the embassy. The parliamentarian claims that it is about a quantity of about 360 kg of anabolic steroids with a value of over 100 thousand euros. These were stored in the cargo compartment of the vehicle. Lilian Carp stated that, for a year, the cargo in question crossed the border of the Republic of Moldova 17 times. The MP has also accused the authorities of intending to cover up the case.
🛤 In Russia & Central Asia…

Uzbekistan set to join Chinese vaccine trials. On 10 December the Uzbek government announced that the country will join the trials of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine. Up to 5,000 volunteers will participate in the trials, Reuters reports. Uzbekistan is currently also in the Sputnik V vaccine scheme, meaning that the country is now set to receive vaccines from both China and Russia. According to The Diplomat, staff from the Chinese pharmaceutical company Anhui Zhifei already visited Tashkent for planning the trials. Uzbekistan will likely introduce the vaccines in the country by bringing them from abroad, although the Tashkent also plans to host the manufacturing of vaccines in the future. Which specific vaccine would be produced domestically is yet to be determined.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls out Tajikistan on human rights abuse. On 4 December, HRW released an article exposing the abuse that a dissident and his family underwent. Tajik activist Fatkhuddin Saidmukhidinov is currently living in Europe and is an online based activist. However, as claimed by HRW, the family of Saidmukhidinov still living in Tajikistan has been, on multiple occasions, threatened and interrogated by Tajik authorities. This new case of abuse by Tajik authorities is a reflection of the continued policies of repression that are carried out by the national government

Thank you to this week’s contributors:  Lucie Janotová, Máté Mohos, Louise Guillon, Cătălina Ceban, Ryan Patterson, Kristin Aldag, Ricardo Bergmann, Evguenia Roussel, Ivan Ulises Klyszcz, Tijs van de Vijver, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, and Francis Farrell 💘

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