Lossi 36 Weekly #07: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

 In News

Subscribe to our Weekly here.

In this week’s newsletter 📮: Electoral surprise in Turkmenistan, Kosovo’s independence celebration, strengthened state control of religion in Azerbaijan, Czech President Zeman plays down Russian threat on Ukraine’s borders, Russian nuclear arms in Belarus, the Kadyrovtsy on the move, and much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Surprise elections announced in TurkmenistanKirsty Dick

The Turkmen parliament has declared a presidential election will take place on 12 March. This election was announced a day after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov stated in a speech that young leaders should be given the chance to rule the country. Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist who has held power in the hermit kingdom since 2006, won the previous election in 2017 with 97% of the vote. On 14 February, the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan nominated the president’s son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, as their candidate. Serdar Berdymukhamedov entered the political scene last year when he was appointed deputy prime minister, he is also a member of the State Security Council. There are only two other registered parties in Turkmenistan, the Agrarian Party and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. They are both loyal to the ruling party. Representatives of the Turkmen opposition abroad, including former political prisoner Geldy Kyarizov and Murad Kurbanov, head of the Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan, have announced their desire to participate in alternative presidential elections which will be voted for electronically on social media. Kurbanov said he would ‘add Serdar Berdymukhamedov to the list of candidates and show the world who will win the alternative election.’

🌺 In the Balkans…

Kosovo celebrates its 14th year of independence on 17 February. Last Thursday, it was exactly fourteen years ago that Hashim Thaçi – the former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UÇK) and the prime minister back then, read out the declaration of independence in Kosovo’s parliament. However, some leaders of the country face charges of war crimes by the Kosovo-court and are behind bars in The Hague, such as former president Thaçi and former MP Rexhep Selimi. Despite the current controversies surrounding the Kosovo leadership, US Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anthony Blinken, stated that: ‘We look forward to Kosovo rightfully taking its place alongside its neighbours in European and Euro-Atlantic institutions and reiterate our support for the EU-facilitated Dialogue as the way to achieve an agreement on normalized relations centred on mutual recognition.’

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

UNESCO to send ‘technical mission’ to Nagorno-Karabakh. According to its press service, UNESCO is negotiating to send a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh. This follows a controversial statement on 3 February by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture, which claimed that a working group ‘consisting of specialists who know [Caucasian] Albanian history and architecture has been set up to remove the so-called traces written by Armenians on [Caucasian] Albanian religious temples.’ However, such negotiations are not new. After the 44-Day War, the organisation had already offered its services to draw up an inventory of the local cultural heritage. No action was taken. Then, on 21 December 2021, UNESCO reiterated the need to send a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, stating in the same press release that the organisation was still awaiting a response from Azerbaijan, which had never followed up on the requests. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that, ‘from the first day,’ Azerbaijan was ready to send a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite this, it seems unlikely that it will be set up soon.

Azerbaijan to strengthen state control of religion. The Azerbaijani parliament passed, in the second reading, amendments to the country’s ‘Law on Freedom of Religious Beliefs’ on 15 February. The new rules, which are set to expand the state’s authority in religious affairs, will most probably be passed in a third reading, before being sent to President Ilham Aliyev for his signature. The amendments would give a state committee the mandate to appoint Muslim clerics and the authority to register new religious committees — taking control away from the nominally independent Caucasus Muslims’ Board — as well as giving the state more jurisdiction over how donations to religious organisations are made. The new regulations continue to fall into a trend of restricting religious influence within Azerbaijan, comparable to Erdoğan’s policies in Turkey. These latest regulations only address the country’s Muslim majority.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Eerie calm in Gorno-Badakhshan. In Khorog, the capital of GBAO in Tajikistan, residents have noted increased military presence. Locals speak of military barriers and checkpoints being set up all over the city, along with government officials forcefully collecting signatures to show support for the detention of Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, who has been accused of assaulting a representative of the region’s education department. Meanwhile, the regional government continues to deny any claims of a mounting operation and has said that the situation is ‘calm.’ The autonomous region with predominantly Pamiri population has been rocked by instability since November 2021 when Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a resident of the Roshtkalinsky district, was killed in a special encounter to detain him. The mysterious circumstances under which he was killed incited mass demonstrations in front of the local government headquarters ever since, after which the government cut off Internet access to the region’s internet access, barring a few banks and administrative offices.

🚃 In Central Europe…

ECJ ruling rejects challenges to rule-of-law conditionality. On 16 February, the Court of Justice of the European Union released a final and dismissive ruling regarding Hungary and Poland’s appeal to the rule of law conditionality mechanism. The decision reaffirms the link between the disbursement of EU funds and the necessity to uphold rule of law standards, allowing the ECJ to withhold or interrupt payments to Member States that breach them. The ruling reiterates the relevance of Articles 2 and 7 of the Treaty of the European Union on the EU’s fundamental values and potential violations, as well as the need to protect the EU budget in accordance with them. Since the ECJ gave a green light to the EU commission to react to Poland and Hungary in light of the new judgement, MEPs have urged the EU Commission to take action. Nevertheless, President von der Leyen pointed out that a deep assessment is taking place before further steps are taken.

Zeman dismisses claims of Russian attack on Ukraine. Czech president Miloš Zeman called the intelligence on a possible Russian attack on Ukraine just another fiasco of the US Secret Service on 16 February. Zeman, who rarely gives interviews to media which are critical of his views, gave an interview to a newspaper owned by former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. There, he addressed the current events, using several manipulative statements, as was explained by Deník N. For example, Zeman mentioned that he believes that Russia will not attack Ukraine, however, he cannot rule out an armed conflict at the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics, which is an entirely different event than Russian aggression, according to Zeman. As proof, he mentioned the withdrawal of the Russian troops, which had not been confirmed by a party other than Russia at the time of the interview. The interview has since been picked up by different Russian media outlets. 

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Belarus to host Russian nuclear weapons if threatened. On 18 February, Aleksandr Lukashenko confirmed that Belarus would host Russian nuclear weapons if it is needed to defend the country. Despite his affirmations on Belarus’ unwillingness to participate in a war, Aleksandr Lukashenko ‘will act appropriately, defending the safety of the people and the states’ considering the growing military activity of NATO countries on the external borders of the Union State. The situation with the presence of Russian troops in Belarus constantly changes: one day, Belarus’ foreign minister Vladimir Makei reassured that ‘no single soldier or a single unit of military equipment would stay on the territory of Belarus after the drills with Russia;’ the next day, Aleksandr Lukashenko highlighted that he would keep Russian troops in Belarus as long as necessary, if it makes sense to do so. It is worth mentioning that Belarus will hold a constitutional referendum on 27 February, which could result not only in the extension of a presidential term to 2035, but in the legalisation of a right to host nuclear weapons.

Soaring tension in East Ukraine. On 18 February, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Donet’sk (DNR) and Luhansk (LNR) respectively, announced their plans to evacuate all the civilians, first and foremost, children, women, and the elderly to southwest Russia region of Rostov amid growing concerns of a so-called imminent attack by Ukrainian forces – which was categorically denied by the Ukrainian government side. However, following the announcement of evacuation plans, the regional leader of Rostov said he was not aware of the evacuation plans, but then declared a state of emergency in the region. Russian President Putin ordered to give out ten thousand roubles (around 130 USD) to every evacuated resident from the DNR and LNR. Evidence from metadata showed the evacuation announcement videos were made on 16 February. On 19 February, the leaders of the LNR and DNR announced a general troop mobilisation and urged reservists to show up at military enlistments offices, and men between 18 and 55 will not be allowed to leave the region any more. Following these announcements, the OSCE mission in Donbas has witnessed a sharp increase in shelling, and the de-facto states and Russia media blamed all these ceasefire violations to the Ukrainian government forces. However, the Ukrainian government side flatly denied the accusation and suspects the violations were done by the Russia-supported separatists forces in the occupied regions to create a pretext for a further invasion by Russia.

🌲 In Russia…

Kadyrovtsy on the move. The formal and informal Chechen security services, better known as the ‘kadyrovtsy’ are particularly mobile at the moment. Around Ukraine, the 42nd Mechanised Division is present, along with two Rosgvardia units: the ‘Sever’ battalion and the Akhmat Kadyrov regiment (PiAK). The last group is the most concerning, as it is notorious for extrajudicial executions and is joined by other, unnamed kadyrovtsy. The Rosgvardia divisions’ participation in border activities should be concerning for Ukraine, but should also concern those in Russia. Both groups have domestic-facing operational foci, so when they withdraw from the border, they could likely have missions on their way home. With the current dissident war still picking up steam, with a recent assassination attempt in Ingushetia and abduction in Stavropol, this is a realistic expectation. With Putin’s attention elsewhere, the few operational constraints on the kadyrovtsy seem to have been lifted, seemingly allowing them absolute impunity.

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