Lossi 36 Weekly #05: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Czech-Polish Turów mine dispute resolved, Albania‘s former PM Berisha denied participation in elections, parliamentary boycott ended in Georgia, violence on Kyrgyz-Tajik borderPoland in support of Ukraine, Johnson and Zelensky in Kyiv, the Russian rouble and the ‘Big Mac Index,’ and much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Czech Republic and Poland reach agreement on Turów mine dispute. Zuzana Krulichova

On 3 February, prime ministers Fiala and Morawiecki met in Prague and signed a deal resolving the long-standing dispute over environmental damage caused by mining in the Polish town of Turów. The new agreement rules that Poland will pay a fine of 45 million euros to the Czech Republic. Poland will also build barriers that will enhance environmental security, and there will be a five-year period of judicial monitoring of the situation. The Czech Republic will, in turn, not pursue legal action against Poland. The talks between Warsaw and Prague restarted after the new Czech government came into power. The Czech Republic, for a long time unable to reach an agreement with its Polish counterparts, took the dispute to the EU courts. As the Polish government refused to follow the courts’ decision to halt mining, a penalty of 500,000 euros per month was imposed, which Poland refused to pay. This agreement thus ends this dispute between the two countries and between Poland and the EU institutions.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Albanian CEC denies registration to new party led by former PM Berisha. In a decision on 4 February, Albania’s Central Election Commission has registered all but one of the new members of the House of Freedom coalition, refusing to register the Democratic Party Reformation Group run by former Prime Minister and Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha. ‘The House of Freedom’ intends to run as a breakaway opposition group against both Prime Minister Edi Rama’s ruling Socialist Party and the dominant opposition bloc ‘Democratic Party,’ which is still controlled by Lulzim Basha. Basha now accuses Rama and Berisha of colluding to ruin the DP. Berisha’s supporters formed the party and coalition alongside President Ilir Meta’s Movement for Socialist Integration and the Demochristian Party, after a bitter grapple for power between Basha and Berisha over the DP leadership had left the latter expelled.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Opposition ends boycott of Georgian parliament. Georgia’s largest opposition party, United National Movement (UNM), has ended their on-and-off boycott of parliament. Citing the release of the former president and party founder Mikheil Saakashvili as their priority, UNM Chairwoman Khatia Dekanoidze announced the decision on 31 January. The UNM first began their boycott following the October 2020 parliamentary elections which saw Georgian Dream win a third term in power. While most other opposition parties agreed to rejoin parliament following an EU-brokered deal providing for institutional reforms, the UNM refused to sign it. It only ended its boycott in June 2021 after the release of party chair Nika Melia, which was one of the conditions of the agreement. However, another boycott started only a month later, following mass violence against journalists and civil activists during homophobic riots in Tbilisi. In early September, the UNM agreed to sign the EU agreement, but announced yet another parliamentary boycott on 2 November during Saakashvili’s hunger strike, demanding adequate protection of his life and health in prison.

Armenia’s ruling party nominates its presidential candidate. Following the resignation of President Armen Sarkissian on 23 January, the ruling Civil Contract party has reportedly chosen the current Minister of High-Tech Industry, Vahagn Khachatryan, to run for the post, with presidential elections scheduled for March. According to the Armenian Constitution, a presidential candidate must receive the votes of three quarters of the Parliament, i.e. 80, to be elected. However, the ‘I have Honour’ and ‘Hayastan’ factions have already announced that they will boycott the election. With the ruling faction holding 71 seats out of 107, the election could therefore go into a second round, in which only three-fifths of the votes are needed to win. Khachatryan, a native of the town of Sisian in the Syunik region, was mayor of Yerevan between 1992 and 1996, an advisor to President Levon Ter-Petrossyan from 1996 to 1998 and, until 2017, a member of his party, the Armenian National Congress. He is currently not affiliated with any political party.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Ceasefire halts violence on Kyrgyz-Tajik border, but tensions persist. On 27 January, violence broke out after Tajik citizens had blocked a road between Batken and the Kyrgyz village of Isfana located along the poorly demarcated border. Tajikistan’s border guard said its servicemen had defended Tajik civilians, and it had been the Kyrgyz side that had opened fire first. Two Tajik civilians were killed, while Kyrgyzstan reported that at least 11 of its citizens were being treated for serious injuries. On 28 January, a complete ceasefire was agreed during a meeting between provincial governors and border service representatives. The head of Kyrgyz security services, Kamchybek Tashiyev, visited the affected area and promised military equipment deliveries to the region. Kyrgyz citizens living in the village of Aksai, which lies between the Tajik mainland and the prosperous Tajik enclave of Vorukh, fear that the Tajiks are planning to build their own road to Vorukh, which would obviate their need to use Kyrgyz roads.

Nazarbayev loses chairmanship of Security Council. Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was formally stripped of his position as lifelong chairman of the country’s Security Council and the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan. The Lower House of Parliament also decided to strip Nazarbayev of his veto powers on home affairs and international issues. The move comes after the incumbent Nur Otan party voted unanimously on 28 January to replace Nazarbayev as party chairman, with current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev taking over the role instead. However, Nazarbayev is still allowed to sit in on government meetings and address the Parliament. Moreover, the Parliament has not yet repealed the presidential immunity granted to Nazarbayev and his family after he stepped down as president in 2019. The new changes significantly decrease Nazarbayev’s control over the security machinery of the nation and his role in constitutional bodies. They follow mass protests which seemed to be primarily fuelled by discontent towards the regime built up by Nazarbayev ever since he ascended to the presidency back in 1990. 

🚃 In Central Europe…

Poland offers defensive weapons in support of Ukraine. On 1 February, during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Polish President Andrzej Duda touched upon Poland’s intentions to supply Ukraine with supporting defensive ammunitions. The information was reported and confirmed to the media by the head of the Polish National Security Bureau Paweł Soloch, who emphasized that the weapons are intended to be used for the purpose of defence solely, not attack. Moreover, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki took to social media to warn the public of ‘Russian neo-imperialism’ attempting to destabilize the EU. On the same day, in the context of the visit to Kyiv, he reaffirmed his intention to assist Ukraine. On this occasion, PM Morawiecki specified that the military support package for Ukraine would include ‘thousands of rounds and artillery shells, anti-aircraft missile sets, as well as light mortars and reconnaissance drones, and other defensive weapons.’

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelensky talk in Kyiv. On 1 February, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson met President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv to discuss the Russia’s growing military activities near Ukraine’s borders. The Prime Minister highlighted the UK’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and promised to allocate additional £88 million of funding to support the stability and energy independence of Ukraine. President Zelensky warned that 35,000 to 50,000 Russian troops in Crimea, 35,000 in occupied Donbas, and 100,000 at the Ukrainian border with Russia shouldn’t be ignored by the international community. In return, Johnson named a future escalation of the Russian aggression against Ukraine ‘a political, humanitarian, and military catastrophe for Russia and the world,’ while mentioning that Ukraine’s resistance would be ‘bloody.’ It is worth mentioning that not just Boris Johnson came to Kyiv that week, but also Dutch PM Rutte, Turkish President Erdoğan, and the Polish PM Morawiecki.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry claims illegal Ukrainian reconnaissance drone crossed into Belarus. According to the report of Belarusian Foreign Ministry, a reconnaissance drone that ‘was purposefully launched’ was detected on 24 January in Belarus’ airspace, after specialists of the Belarusian Armed Forces forced it to land. According to the MFA’s report, said to be based on the analysis of the equipment and data on board, it was clear that the drone was sent from Ukraine with the aim of conducting illegal reconnaissance activities above the Brestsky military training ground. However, the spokesman of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Oleg Nikolenko categorically denied the accusation, claiming that this was yet another deliberate provocation of Belarus amid the tension around Ukrainian borders. Moreover, Nikolenko asserted that the over-coverage of this incident in Russian media should be regarded as a ‘crystal clear example’ of Russian disinformation that makes up of a core part of the hybrid war against Ukraine.

🌲 In Russia…

Sultygov survives assassination attempt. Sirazhdin Sultygov, the co-chair of Ingush civil society organization ‘Mekhk-Qel’ (Мехк Кхел), reportedly survived an attempt on his life in his flat in Nazran. His two attackers are natives of neighbouring Chechnya, with one being a former riot police (OMON) officer. Sultygov accuses Ramzan Kadyrov of orchestrating the hit. The significance is twofold. First, Kadyrov is, as Sultygov notes, trying to seize additional land from Ingushetia. Sultygov is one of the most vocal opponents of this scheme, so silencing him would help progress Kadyrov’s plan. Second, Sultygov and ‘Mekhk-Qel’ are amongst the few voices in civil society left in Ingushetia, with other major players having been silenced last year. Another opposition figure, Adam Khamchiev, has been put under house arrest, following a raid on his flat. These cases also underscore the continued power of the Center for Countering Extremism (ЦПЭ), whose leader Ibragim Eldzharkiev was assassinated in 2019.

The Russian rouble is the world’s most undervalued currency, according to The Big Mac Index. The notorious Big Mac Index from British newspaper The Economist has calculated that the Russian rouble should be worth 70% more against the US dollar: 23 roubles per $1, compared to its current worth at 76,7 to the dollar. The measurement is called ‘Burgernomics,’ and compares the prices of the famous burger of McDonald’s across the globe. The newspaper does so by looking at living standards measured by GDP per capita. The Russian rouble came out as the world’s most undervalued of the 55 currencies that had been analysed: ‘A Big Mac costs 135 roubles in Russia and $5.81 in the United States. The implied exchange rate is 23,2. The difference between this and the actual exchange rate, 77,4, suggests the Russian rouble is 70% undervalued,’ the Economists stated on Wednesday.

Novaya Gazeta journalist flees Russia following Kadyrov’s threats. On 3 February, independent Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta announced that its journalist Yelena Milashina left Russia and will be working from abroad. Milashina’s departure comes after she received threats from Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leader, who called her and anti-torture activist Igor Kalyapin ‘terrorists.’ Milashina had been covering Chechnya for years, including Kadyrov’s latest scandal, concerning the human rights lawyer Abubakar Yangulbaev, who also fled Russia after his mother was kidnapped by Chechen law enforcement and after one of Kadyrov’s allies Adam Delimkhanov had threatened to ‘cut their heads off.’ The Kremlin said it had received reports on the threats, but did not react further.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Francis Farrell, Zadig Tisserand, Chaharika Uppal, Myriam Marino, Zuzana Krulichova, Martina Bergamaschi, Sam Appels, Xandie Kuenning, Kirsty Dick, Qianrui Hu, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘
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