Lossi 36 Weekly #32: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read
Originally published on 01.11.2021. Subscribe to our Weekly here.
In this week’s newsletter 📮: An upcoming gathering of European far-right leaders in Kosovo, local elections in Georgia, Turkmen activists face deportation after arrests in Turkey, a meeting between Orbán and Marine Le Pen, Amsterdam Court orders Crimean Gold to be returned to Ukraine, human rights abuses in Russian prison, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Moldova strives to balance Russia’s influence on gas supply amid ongoing gas crisis.Qianrui Hu
Following its declaration of the state of emergency over gas shortages last week, Moldova has been actively searching for alternative sources amid the Kremlin’s threat to turn off Moldova’s gas completely. Formally, the Moldovan government is not responsible for the failure of renewing the deal with Russia’s Gazprom: this is the pejorative of Moldovagaz, the Moldovan gas company with a majority 51 percent stake held by Gazprom. Transnistria, Moldova’s breakaway region with many Soviet-era heavy industries, has a high gas consumption as well, but it “has not paid for a cubic meter of gas it has consumed.” The current crisis hence demonstrates the risks of Moldova’s reliance on Russia as its sole gas supplier. In this context, Moldova completed its purchase of gas from Poland, the first alternative source in the history of independent Moldova, on October 25. On October 28, the EU declared that it would provide Moldova with €60 million to help mitigate the crisis. As a response, Gazprom offered Moldova a new deal with a lower price in exchange for weaker ties with the EU. Considering the high stakes – Moldova’s alternative sources would not be enough to cover the potential loss if Gazprom withdraws, while Russia does not intend to invoke tensions and a socio-economic crisis in Transnistria – the parties ultimately reached a new five-year deal last Friday.
🌺 In the Balkans…
European far-right leaders plan gathering in Kosovo in November. Srpska Desnica (Serbian Right), the ultra-radical movement of Miša Vacić, allegedly supported by the government in Belgrade, aims to organise a rally of other European far-right parties in Northern Kosovo. Seeking “international support” for the Serbs in Kosovo, Vacić has been a long-term denier of Kosovo’s independence, and counts on the Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF) for relaying his claims. Composed of the Italian Forza Nuova Party, the French National Front, the Greek neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn, the APF held a meeting in Belgrade in September, during which its members endorsed a Serbian Kosovo as part of defending European identity. If the rally were to take place, it could provoke additional tensions in light of current events in Kosovo. The rally would also show the growing transnational connections of far-right movements in Europe and the role these connections could play in European domestic politics.
Interethnic relations further deteriorate in Bosnia. The fragility of the Bosnian state has once again been brought into the spotlight due to one of the most severe breakdowns of relations in recent years between the ethnic Serb community in the autonomous region of Republika Srpska and the federal government in Sarajevo. Beginning in July, Bosnian Serb representatives boycotted central institutions in retaliation for moves by the then-high representative to ban the denial of genocide and established war crimes. Since, tensions within the state have continued to spiral. Milorad Dodik, the Serb-representative of Bosnia’s intricate tri-presidency system (and de-facto leader of the Serbian community in Bosnia), recently announced the autonomous region’s moves to fully remove the power of federal Bosnian state institutions within Republika Srpska, which Dodik aims to replace with “Serb-only” institutions, with the region specifically aiming to squash the role of the “unified armed forces, police and intelligence agencies, state tax administration, and state court.” As EU integration continues to falter within the region and realistic alternatives are not presented, it is expected that Dodik’s shift towards stronger pro-secessionist talk will only become more outspoken in the coming months.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Bzhania returns to Moscow. Abkhazia’s leader, Aslan Bzhania, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Dmitry Kozak, on 26 October. They reportedly discussed ways to improve Russian-Abkhaz cooperation in the context of Bzhania’s 2022-2025 socio-economic development plan. This comes barely a week after Bzhania concluded his last visit to Moscow, when he also attempted to secure funding for the 2022-2025 development plan. The meeting with Kozak implies that his previous meeting with Deputy PM Marat Khusnullin was unsuccessful, causing him to now turn to Putin’s inner circle — in late 1990s Kozak left St. Petersburg together with Putin, subsequently serving as Envoy to the Southern Federal District, Minister of Regional Development, and Deputy PM. It is doubtful Bzhania will have more success with Kozak, as the Abkhaz leader is unlikely to make concessions which would degrade the uniqueness of Abkhazia’s relationship with Russia.
Runoff election in Georgia. In the mayoral runoffs held on 30 October in Georgia, 19 out of 20 cities, including Tbilisi, were won by the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) candidates. According to the Central Election Commission’s preliminary results, GD candidates won by marginal 2-4% differences (1500-2000 votes in self-governing cities). The election was characterized by extreme polarisation, with the opposition accusing the governing party of hate speech, vote buying, voter intimidation, and various offences towards opposition observers and journalists. Opposition parties, united under a coalition umbrella, claim that the results are falsified in the process of counting, as thousands of opposition bulletins are annulled with the argumentation that the will of the voter is not expressed, while some evidence spread on the internet proves otherwise. Thousands of voter complaints have been registered; if they were to lead to a recalculation of votes, the results might change in favour of opposition candidates in several cities.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Turkmen activists face deportation after arrests in Turkey. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon Turkish authorities to release Kamil Abulov and Bayram Allaliyev, who were detained in mid-October amid increasing pressure on Turkmen activists, seeking refuge in Turkey. The human rights watchdog implored the Turkish government not to deport the detainees to Turkmenistan, where they would be “at grave risk of arbitrary arrest and torture.” Turkey has become one of the centres of dissent for the Turkmen diaspora, critical of the authoritarian rule of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and the policies of the government. While the Turkish authorities are said to possess a list of 25 activists residing in the country (putting them all at the risk of arrest and deportation), several others who had recently been arrested, including Akhmed Rakhmanov and Dursoltan Taganova, have been released, indicating that there is still hope for those in detention.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Czechia’s oldest university elects its first female rector. Milena Králíčková has become the first woman to be elected Rector of Charles University in Prague. She gained an absolute majority of votes in the academic senate and her term is set to last from 2022 until 2026. She studied general medicine and has been the university’s vice-rector for academic affairs since 2014. Moreover, she has been the leading person in the 4EU+ European alliance of universities, coordinated by the French Sorbonne University. Králíčková is set to replace the current rector Tomáš Zima, who has been embroiled in controversy after signing a partnership between the university and the Home Credit company in 2019. The contract was criticised because of financial ineffectiveness and the absence of academic senate’s approval. Hundreds of students signed petitions and called for an investigation or Zima’s dismissal. The new rector wants to, among other things, strengthen the discussion about inequality of men and women in research and academic fields.
Le Pen visits Orbán to seek support before next year’s presidential election. On 26 October, Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister and leader of the Fidesz party, received a visit from Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Rally (RN) party. Later that day, they held a joint press conference, criticising the EU’s migration policy, voicing their support for the Polish Constitutional Court’s ruling on the primacy of EU law, and demanding that the EU respects member states’ sovereignty. Just a month ago, Le Pen’s potential rival in next year’s French presidential election, Éric Zemmour, also visited Orbán in Budapest. Political critics viewed last week’s meeting as an attempt by Le Pen’s camp to seek alliances in the European Parliament and boost her international acceptance to become on par with like-minded right-wing European leaders. Both Hungary and France are holding national elections next year.
EU’s top court fines Poland €1m a day. On 27 October, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) imposed a penalty payment of one million euros per day on Poland, following the country’s failure to suspend national legislation on the jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court. The new financial penalty adds to the €500.000 daily fine imposed by the ECJ in September after Poland had refused to shut down the Turów coal mine near the Polish-Czech border, despite environmental concerns. The Polish opposition parties accuse the government of wasting Polish taxpayers’ money, while the government argues that some EU laws are not compatible with the Polish constitution and Poland should not pay the fine. However, not complying with the verdict may result in the suspension of EU funds for Poland. Earlier this month, Hungary issued a government resolution to support Poland, claiming that the Polish constitution should be prioritized over EU laws, and calling on Brussels to respect member states’ sovereignty.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Amsterdam Court orders Crimean Gold to be returned to Ukraine. The Allard Pierson museum in Amsterdam received priceless, Scythian gold artefacts from a Ukrainian museum, located in Crimea, in February 2014. A month later, ‘little green men’ from Russia seized control of the peninsula, organised a fraudulent referendum and annexed Crimea. Soon after the occupation, both the Ukrainian government and the Crimean museum each staked claim to the gold and demanded that it be returned. They did not, however, agree on who the rightful owner was – Kyiv or the four Crimean institutions that had lent the artefacts to the Dutch museum. The five year-long lawsuit has now been tried in Kyiv’s favour. Sergei Aksyonov, head of occupied Crimea, has called the decision, ‘a fig leaf covering the raider-like seizure’ of the artefacts. The irony of a Russian official making this statement in Crimea, was apparently lost on Aksyonov.
Belarusian authorities continue to ban independent media. Last week, Belarus’ Information Ministry announced on its website that it had restricted access to several news portals, including German news outlet, Deutsche Welle. The reason behind such a decision by the national government, was to apparently prevent the “spread of extremist content” by the targeted media organisations (Novy Chas (New Time), Current Time TV, Deutsche Welle and others). Not only were media outlets banned, but even Telegram channels such as NEXTA, NEXTA-Live and LUXTA were accused of extremism and their activities were prohibited. This implies that citizens could face up to seven years in prison for subscribing to such social media channels, which Belarus’ Internal Police consider as “extremist”. It is worth saying that currently, more than 800 people in Belarus have been imprisoned on political grounds, and more than 270 civil society organisations and independent media outlets have been or are being liquidated.
🌲 In Russia…
Former prisoner leaking videos of inmates being tortured put on Russia’s wanted list. On October 23, the Ministry of Internal Affairs put Sergei Savelyev, who previously served eight years in a state prison in Saratov, on Russia’s wanted list for leaking videos of the prison’s security cameras showing sexual assaults and torture perpetrated on inmates. Savelyev started coming across the videos while he was put on an administrative role in the prison working as an IT maintenance officer, and – shocked by what he saw – he collected the materials and finally leaked them to a human rights group called Gulagu.net, in February 2021. Last month, Savelyev was stopped and questioned by men in civilian clothing at Saint Petersburg airport, and was made to sign a document stating he would collaborate with the ongoing investigation on the case. Instead, he fled Russia and is now in France, where he is seeking asylum.
Russia to supplement Western Europe’s gas supplies. Russian president Vladimir Putin commissioned Aleksey Miller, the head of Gazprom, to supplement Western European gas supplies after Russia’s own gas supplies had been filled again on Wednesday, October 27. Putin stated that this will decrease European gas prices significantly. According to Russian media, Russia’s own supplies will be supplemented by November 8. Russian policy is not the cause of Europe’s gas deficit: technological difficulties in Russia’s gas fields and the worsening COVID-situation in Russia have caused a reduction of the gas production, while Europe’s demand for gas has been on the rise: after years of discussion within the EU on becoming less dependent, the EU seems to become more dependent on Russian gas.