Lossi 36 Weekly #12: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 5 April 2021. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.
This Week’s Special
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan announce deal to end border disputes. On 26 March, Head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev announced to the press that after talks with Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, a deal was signed to end all remaining territorial disputes between the two countries. The disputes primarily concern settlements in the Ferghana valley, where a patchwork of ethnicities and enclaves were left split between the two countries after the fall of the Soviet Union, making travel and trade very difficult for locals and existing as an enduring sense of tension between the two nations. Most of the disputed land has been relinquished to Kyrgyzstan, including 8,000 hectares in the Gavasai district. In return, the deal sees Uzbekistan retain irrigation rights in many of the areas handed over, including the crucial Orto-Tokoi Reservoir. Relations between the two countries have seen a marked improvement since the death of longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who maintained an often-hostile approach to his country’s eastern neighbour. This most recent deal is expected to be signed soon by Karimov’s replacement Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his Kyrgyz counterpart Sadyr Japarov.
In the Balkans…
Edi Rama’s party leads in Albania polls, but can he form a new government? With Albania’s 25 April parliamentary election campaign officially open, two different polls suggest leader Edi Rama and his Socialist Party have a significant lead, but will he be able to form a majority? A poll conducted by IPSOS ranks the Socialist Party (PS) at 48.7% of national votes, while the opposition Democratic Party (PD) and Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) received 40.6% and 4.6% respectively. However, “GeoCartography”, an Albanian-Israeli company that accurately predicted the results in the recent landslide victory for Albin Kurti in neighbouring Kosovo, has concluded that the opposition will be able to win a majority in Albania. The poll projects the Socialist Party vote at 44.54%, but the opposition parties, at projected rates of 42.18% and 9.3%, will have the majority of MPs to form a new government. Albania’s opposition, PD and LSI combined would get some 71-74 seats, while the current Prime Minister Edi Rama would be left with only 65-67 in the new 140-seat parliament.
Potential data leak in Montenegro of secret NATO member state operation. In the past week, a member of Montenegro’s parliament has accused the acting director of the National Security Agency (ANB), Dejan Vukšić, of having disclosed secret data of a NATO member state’s intelligence agency. Mr Vuksic has not issued any communication regarding the matter but he has been present at the several-hour session of the parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security. The breach of data relates to the identities and work priorities of representatives of the service. NATO officials have stated that they take this issue seriously and that it will be investigated. Meanwhile, on 23 March Foreign Minister Djordje Radulovic took part in a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. During the two-day meeting, special attention was to be paid to proposals for improving NATO’s political and military activities for the Alliance to be better prepared for future challenges.
Kosovo Prime Minister Abin Kurti sets terms for renewing dialogue with Belgrade. On 23 March, the Kosovo Foundation Open Society hosted a broadcast roundtable meeting in the presence of the newly appointed Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who has shown some positive signs of pursuing dialogue but not at any price. Kurti outlined four guiding principles the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue should be based on. Among those are full acceptance of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia, recognition of the crimes committed in Kosovo, equality of the parties and constructive dialogue driven by the citizens’ interest only. “It is better to be more modest and realistic than to offer big words and short deadlines, which are then spectacular failures”, he said. Although Kurti is ready to reopen discussions over missing persons, whatever their ethnicity might be, he has continued to oppose the establishment of the Association for Serb-Majority Municipalities, despite the EU repeated calls.
In the Caucasus…
Recently-resigned Georgian PM Gakharia announces return to politics. In an announcement on Twitter on 22 March, Gakharia declared that he will not leave politics and is planning to come back with a strategy that will return the country to its European trajectory. To what extent Gakharia will truly oppose the government he was once part of remains a question. Ongoing negotiations facilitated by the EU moreover have seen little to no progress and although the government has argued that it is still on the European path, after the resignation of the Georgian ambassador to the EU, this has also come under scrutiny. Ambassador Natali Sabanadze, who had served at the post for 8 years, gave the difference in rhetoric and government’s actions as the cause, given her strong support for the country’s European future. Economically and politically, Georgia is seen to be approaching a turning point, with severe consequences for the country without a prompt return to democratic principles.
Pashinyan promises to resign in April in lead-up to June elections. Embattled Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashnyan announced on 28 March that he would resign from his post in April in efforts to defuse the ongoing political crisis in the country that has followed defeat in war to Azerbaijan. In a video posted to his Facebook, Pashinyan said that he will “resign, but not in order to resign, but in order for early elections to take place.” In his video message, the prime minister also said that he will continue to serve as interim prime minister until the elections, which were announced for 20 June. The announcement comes after numerous demands for Pashinyan to resign from public figures, most notably, that of the Chairman of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan in late February, which had prompted the most recent tightening of political deadlock and a series of mass anti-government protests in Yerevan.
In Central Europe …
MEPs call for action on Polish rule of law (again). On 25 March, leaders of five of the European Parliament’s seven political groups sent a letter to the President of the European Commission, urging her to react to Poland’s continued violation of the principles of rule of law. The leaders highlighted Poland’s disregard for some of the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), notably those related to the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court. According to the CJEU’s ruling of 8 April 2020, the Chamber was to be suspended, however, it has continued to operate, as exemplified by its decision to remove the immunity of judge Igor Tuleya, who adjudicated in a sensitive case relating directly to the ruling Law and Justice party. The authors of the letter demanded “a quick and determined reaction of the European Commission” and warned that the destruction of the rule of law could “eventually end in the collapse of the Union”.
Slovak Prime Minister resigns over ongoing vaccine scandal. After a secret deal was revealed concerning the Slovak government’s purchase of two million doses of Russia’s Sputnik-V Covid vaccine, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on 28 March that he will step down from his post. The scandal had already resulted in the resignation of six cabinet ministers, and is threatening to break up the ruling coalition of four parties, two of which were not made aware of the plan to purchase the vaccines. Matovic is now searching for a way forward, telling the press hw will be consulting with president Zuzana Caputova on Monday. In the meantime, he has suggested swapping posts with Finance Minister Eduard Heger. Slovakia is only the second country after neighbouring Hungary to buy the vaccine, which has not received approval from the European Union.
In Eastern Europe…
Ukraine introduces new sanctions against Russia. On 23 March, President Volodymyr Zelensky approved new sanctions on a range of Russian officials and entities, freezing their assets in Ukraine and prohibiting them from entering the country. Among the sanctioned entities are Russian state-owned media, including RT, TASS,Gazeta.ru, and Lenta.ru, prohibiting them from using communication networks in the country. Earlier on 19 March, Ukrainian authorities also sanctioned former officials who played a role in “the Russian invasion of [Ukrainian] territory.” This includes former president Viktor Yanukovych, former prime minister Mykola Azarov, and the post-annexation leader of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov, among others. In addition, Ukraine also sanctioned three French members of the European Parliament for visiting Crimea without permission from Ukrainian authorities, which is illegal under Ukrainian law. Ukraine has significantly expanded its sanctions to counter Russian influence over recent weeks, targeting a range of individuals, companies, and media outlets with alleged ties to Russia.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spells out her strategy on Belarus. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of democratic Belarus, expressed her new strategy against a long-time authoritarian regime under Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus in her recent interviews. According to her, there should be peaceful negotiations with Lukashenko as “it should be in civilized society”. Tikhanovskaya accepted that people could have different positions, but argued that there is no place for bloodshed. The opposition leader called the Belarusian people to begin the “second wave of protests” on the 25th of March, a symbolic day for the Belarusian opposition known as Freedom Day. However, the protests were immediately shut down and the city centre was blocked by the armed forces. On the question about her return to Belarus from Lithuania, where she is currently based, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya replied that she doesn’t want the same fate for herself as it happened with a Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, where she would do nothing for her country. She will continue to gather support from international institutions and to call for sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime to stop a “human rights crisis”.
In Russia & Central Asia…
Roskomnadzor makes failed attempt to slow down Twitter. On Wednesday, March 10, Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor (RKN) attempted to slow down Twitter in Russia, officially as a response to the company’s failure to remove all content that RKN flagged for allegedly making reference to suicide, extremism, narcotics, and child pornography. Many believe that the ongoing wave of protests over the past few months added a sense of urgency to existing Russian plans to gain more control over social media. When Roskomnadzor executed its plans, however, several Russian government’s websites – including Kremlin.ru – stopped working, while important commercial websites started showing bugs as well. Soon it transpired that in its attempt to slow down Twitter and Twitter’s short link ‘t.co,’ Roskomnadzor had blocked all domain names containing ‘t.co,’ which affected RT.com, Reddit.com, Microsoft.com, as well as many other websites. Moscow Times’ Andrei Soldatov dubbed the attempt to slow down Twitter a “nationwide test of the sovereign internet” – one that failed miserably. As such, the failed operation bears similarity to Roskomnadzor’s failed attempt to block Telegram in 2018.
Kazakhstan holds first Women’s March. March 8, 2021 marked the first legally approved Women’s March in Almaty. Participants used this event as an opportunity to raise their concerns on gender equality in Kazakhstan and the current domestic violence laws of the country. Other concerns raised included the rights of transexual, lesbian and bisexual women. At the moment, despite an amelioration of the situation, gender inequality is still strong in Kazakhstan, especially in terms of women’s participation in the labor force and in gender wage difference. Furthermore, according to Human’s Right Watch, ‘Domestic violence remains deeply rooted in Kazakh society’.