Lossi 36 Weekly #02: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: “Geneva,” a violent rift in Albanian opposition, Georgian general arrested in Germany, Tokayev‘s Parliament speech, Baltic response to “Geneva,” Bulgaria‘s hard-line towards North Macedonia, Chechens in Strasbourg, and much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Russia, NATO, and the U.S. hold security talks.Bart Alting 

This week, top diplomats from Russia, NATO, and the U.S. are in Geneva and Vienna for high-level talks on the security situation in Europe. With tensions rising as the Russian Federation keeps its military for drills near the Ukrainian border, there is much at stake. So far, it does not seem like both sides have moved closer to an understanding of what the security situation in Europe should look like in the future. Russia and the West seem to be standing far apart on the most important issues at stake: NATO expansion and the situation in Ukraine. Russia continues to see Ukraine as a part of its sphere of influence. NATO and the US insist that expansion of the alliance is not a threat to Russia. 

The elephant (not) in the room is Ukraine. Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed Ukrainian sentiment on Twitter: ‘No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine.’ With no firm security guarantees in place and the prospect of them growing thin, the Ukrainian government is in a state of high alert, which will likely continue into the foreseeable future. As long as Russia feels that the West is not taking its demands seriously, they are likely to escalate tensions in order to push through on their demands. 

🌺 In the Balkans…

Opposition rifts turn violent in Albania. A growing rift within Albania’s primary opposition, Democratic Party, took a violent turn on the weekend as supporters of the former President and Prime Minister Sali Berisha attacked the party’s headquarters, which led to the police using water cannons and tear gas against the protesters. Following corruption allegations against the nation’s former leader, he was removed as a member of the Democratic Party by the current leader, Lulzim Basha. Then, Berisha began the process of mounting a counter-leadership bid, which has now escalated into violent protests on the streets of Tirana. Berisha, who claims that Basha is a “hostage” of the current Socialist Prime Minister, has vowed to continue the struggle for the party’s leadership, with international representatives of the EU and US appealing for peace. The recent violence is symptomatic of Albania’s ongoing struggle against rampant corruption and lack of strong democratic institutions, which are holding Albania back from pursuing its dream of further integration into European institutions.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Former Georgian general arrested in Germany, faces extradition. Giorgi Kalandadze, former Chief of Joint Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces, was arrested in Berlin while visiting his daughter on 19 December, and was released on bail on 6 January. He was detained after Tbilisi had reissued an Interpol warrant for him, just two days after he had publicly criticized the extent of Russian influence in Georgia during a television interview. Kalandadze was hailed as a national hero in Georgia, as he commanded the 4th brigade, the only Georgian troops to engage Russian forces during the 2008 war. He later led Ukrainian troops fighting Russian forces in the separatist Donbas region. Since 2012, when the Georgian Dream party came to power, many officials appointed by former President Mikheil Saakashvili have faced criminal charges. Kalandadze was charged with illegal confinement, exceeding official authority, and torture, but he escaped to Ukraine before he could be arrested. If he loses his extradition case in Germany, he could be facing 12-17 years in a Georgian prison.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Tokayev takes aim at oligarchs in Parliament speech. During his speech at the Mazhilis (Kazakh Parliament) on 11 January, Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev addressed the nation in light of the protests that had taken place nationwide, with specific barbs aimed at oligarchs, who he claimed were hindering the country’s economic advancement, as well as at the former president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. With regards to the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, Tokayev commented that it had “turned into a personal bank for a chosen circle of people, representing financial-industrial and construction groups. We all know them by name.” The president further criticised Kazakhstan’s akims, or mayors, for not regularly meeting with residents of their respective cities. Moreover, Tokayev stated that “thanks to the First President” (Nazarbayev), a group of very rich people and businesses had been formed in the country, and their wealth should now be “returned” to the people of Kazakhstan. The president also decried the “terrorists” who had enacted violence during the protests, however, as pointed out during a discussion conducted by Radio Azattyq with political scientist Dosym Satpayev, Tokayev failed to specify who these terrorists were.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Greenpeace Hungary to sue over Lake Ferto environmental concerns. UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Fertő-Hanság National Park” is situated on the western border between Austria and Hungary. Government and investors are developing infrastructure that nature protection agencies have strongly condemned from the start. Having agreed to withdraw the original project last month, according to Greenpeace, the latest reports and documents revealed that the project could now include larger infrastructure that would heavily damage the lake’s flora and fauna. Environmental permits are required for any constructions by the lake. This is the reason why the organization is resorting to a lawsuit, and substantiating the original concern that this tourist project is ecologically oversized for the area. This aligns with other environmental concerns regarding other Hungarian lakes, like in Velence. Hungarian lake building projects will surely become a controversial topic for the 4 April election campaign, as both government and opposition parties could freeze onto positions that favour either laissez-faire economics or environmental rights.

The Baltic response to Geneva. Amid fears of more Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the three Baltic States, where it is feared by some that “military action may not be limited to just one country,” are lobbying with NATO allies to increase their military presence on the “NATO peninsula.” While NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg declared that more NATO deployments on the organization’s eastern flank will likely be on the table, should the situation on the border between Russia and Ukraine escalate again, politicians from the Baltic States rather not wait until it has to come to that point. Awaiting the increased commitment from their allies, Lithuania declared to have increased the readiness of its troops last week. From abroad, NATO ally Denmark already sent four additional F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania last week, while a Danish naval frigate with a crew of 160 people will patrol the Baltic Sea.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Bulgaria reconfirms its hard-line stance on North Macedonia. On 10 January, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev convened and chaired a National Security Advisory Council meeting on “Western Balkans’ EU integration”. For over five hours, heads of intelligence agencies, members of the cabinet, and representatives of the political parties talked about Bulgaria’s policy on the EU membership of North Macedonia and Albania. President Radev announced that the Council’s members had agreed that Albania was ready to start the negotiation process for EU accession, but North Macedonia “does not do what is necessary for the implementation” of the friendship treaty that it had signed with Bulgaria in 2017. Earlier in January, the newly appointed Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told Bloomberg that he wanted to shift the debate away from historical disputes, and focus on infrastructure and economic development.

Zelensky proposes to establish a trilateral meeting with Biden and Putin. According to a conversation held between the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, and a former ambassador of the United States to Ukraine, John Herbst, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has proposed to hold a trilateral summit with US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The talks would focus on the de-escalation of military tensions caused by the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. Zelensky’s administration announced that the US side had shown interest in the proposal, but Yermak noted that Ukraine was still waiting for the reaction from the Russian side, claiming that Russia had been deliberately delaying its response to the proposal. During the negotiations held earlier this month between Russia, the US and NATO, Russia demanded a written guarantee that Ukraine would not be admitted to NATO – none of these talks included Ukrainian delegations.

Moldova struggles with gas bills. The Republic of Moldova had asked Gazprom to postpone its January advance payment for gas due to shortage of funds, Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu said on 11 January. The financial struggle was caused by a rise in gas prices by 17.5% in January, up to $646 per 1,000 cubic metres, in line with a new contract signed between Gazprom and Moldova’s gas distribution company, Moldovagaz, which started on 1 November 2021. According to the contract, Moldovagaz needs to make a prepayment by the 20th day of each month. The country had already delayed the November payment, which nearly resulted in Gazprom halting the supply. Spinu asked Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller to consider the possibility of postponing the advance payment for January by 10-20 days, to allow Moldovagaz to accumulate more funds. Meanwhile, the company transferred the December payment to Gazprom in full, while asking citizens to pay their bills until 20 January.

🌲 In Russia…

Chechens picket in Strasbourg. On 8 January, members of the Chechen diaspora held a “Chechen Lives Matter” protest outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The picket, publicized by opposition figures in Sweden, Turkey, and Chechnya, was called to highlight the lack of response from Europeans to the recent mass kidnapping and torture of the relatives of Chechen dissidents. The protest further underscores the failure of Europe to understand the dangers faced by the large population of Chechen refugees within its borders, preferring only to give them attention during domestic tragedies, such as the beheading of Samuel Paty by a radicalized Chechen youth. Europe has done little to halt the decade-long spate of assassinations of Chechen dissidents within itsborders, even releasing captured assassins, back to Russia. Instead, Europe has responded with deportations, with many deportees reported dead or missing upon their forced return to Chechnya.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Bart Alting, Cameron MacBride, Kirsty Dick, Marie Mach, Charles Adrien Fourmi, Tijs van de Vijver, Qianrui Hu, Vira Kompaniiets, Harold Chambers, & Bozho Kolov💘
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