Lossi 36 Weekly #22: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia12 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Constitutional changes in Kazakhstan, Lavrov‘s cancelled trip to Serbia, Azerbaijan‘s first Pride event, Berdymukhamedov Jr. in Moscow, political crisis in Estonia, DPR court sentences foreign nationals to death, Russia‘s military exercises in the Baltic Sea, and much more.
⭐️ This week’s special
Kazakhstan’s constitutional changes.Lucie Tafforin
On 5 June, citizens of Kazakhstan voted in favour of the proposed constitutional amendments with 77.18% approval, in a referendum the Central Election commission claim 68.06% of voters took part in. The referendum comes in the wake of the deadly January unrest that ended former President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s 30 year-long grip on power. The 56 amendments include curtailing presidential clout by increasing the power of the parliament, as well as decentralisation policies to grant regional and local authorities more power. In the weeks preceding the referendum, opponents called on the government to postpone the voting day, or cancel it altogether, arguing that people had not had enough time to study the proposals. Despite a high turnout, on the day of the vote, many citizens reported being confused as to what they were voting for. Independent observers also reported irregularities, such as ballots being in the boxes before the start of voting. Such issues leave doubt as to the true nature of the proposed reforms and the democratisation process in Kazakhstan.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Bosnia’s High Representative orders state to fund elections. Nearly two weeks past Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state election law’s mandated deadline for allocating funds, its High Representative, Christian Schmidt, used his ‘Bonn powers’ to break a political deadlock to ensure that general elections will take place in October. Schmidt’s promise of 12.5 million Bosnian marks (around 6.5 million euros) to the Central Election Committee came after several failed attempts by Bosnia’s state-level Council of Ministers to finance the elections. Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian-Serb member of the country’s tri-presidency, rejected Schmidt’s authority and condemned his decision to use his special powers to compel the state to comply with constitutional law. This most recent threat to Bosnia’s electoral integrity follows months of failed negotiations over the country’s much needed electoral reform.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov cancels visit to Serbia after neighbours close airspace. After neighbouring countries Bulgaria, Montenegro, and North Macedonia closed their airspace to his plane as part of the sanctions against Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Serbia was cancelled. ‘An unthinkable thing has happened,’ Lavrov said during an online news conference on Monday: ‘a sovereign state has been deprived of its right to conduct foreign policies. The international activities of Serbia on the Russian track have been blocked.’ Serbian President Vucic also expressed ‘dissatisfaction’ over the ‘circumstances’ that prevented the visit, and added that ‘Serbia will preserve independence and autonomy in political decision-making.’ The meeting is now set to be replaced to Moscow. The reason is the continuation of diplomatic relations between both countries after Serbia struck a favourable deal for the continuation of the supply of Russian gas, on which it is fully dependant, as its last action in the refusal to sanction the country for its invasion of Ukraine.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Azerbaijan holds its first Pride event, while Georgia sees anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations. In a leap forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Azerbaijan, local queer rights activists held a press conference on 9 June to announce plans to hold events to mark Pride month for the first time in the state’s history. The exact form and dates of the events are still being decided, and it is unlikely there will be details released much in advance due to the precarious situation for queer activists. A few days prior (6 June), in Georgia, seven people were arrested during an anti-queer demonstration held outside the EU Delegation to Georgia’s office. The same day, two politicians from Georgia’s Republican Party told reporters they had been attacked in Tbilisi, with the assailants accusing them of being ‘defenders of the faggots,’ among other things. These homophobic events come only a few weeks before Tbilisi Pride plans to celebrate a week of Pride events.
Russian war forces BP to temporarily shut down Baku-Supsa pipeline. The Baku-Supsa pipeline, which runs from Azerbaijan’s capital to Georgia’s coast, has been temporarily suspended by BP for the month of June due to fears over the safety of oil tankers in the Black Sea, where 2700 kilometres of Ukrainian coastline is located. BP stated that Azerbaijani oil would be rerouted through the much longer Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which runs to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. At 1768 kilometres, BTC is more than double the length of the Baku-Supsa pipeline, meaning oil prices will continue to rise. Sanctions against Russian oil has put Azerbaijan under pressure to produce more. 11.1 million tons of oil was produced in the first four months of this year, 77% of this oil was produced by BP. This is not the first time this year that BP has closed the pipeline. It has been previously closed for extended periods between 15 March and the end of April, as well as for the entirety of May.
Lavrov’s visit to Armenia and his amendment regarding the delimitation of Azeri-Armenian Border. On 10 June, the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the CSTO member countries took place in Yerevan. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also attended and made a couple of amendments that stirred up wide discussions in Armenia. The first one is regarding the reconstruction of the communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the second one relates to the situation in a Nagorno-Karabakh village, Parukh. Notably, Lavrov underscored a ‘simplified regime’ of control during the resumption of road communication between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which ‘will be completely based on the sovereignty of the territory of Armenia,’ and said that the issue around Parukh would be resolved within the framework of the delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. However, it is not clear what the connotations of the above-mentioned ‘simplified regime’ are, and it is also not comprehensible why Parukh, an Azerbaijan-controlled village since March 2022 in Nagorno-Karabakh, is included in the framework of demarcating the Azerbaijani-Armenian border.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Serdar Berdymukhamedov and Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow. On 10 June, Turkmen president Serdar Berdymukhamedov made his first visit to Moscow. This visit occurred after the president’s first pilgrimage to Mecca – one of his first presidential visits abroad, that, according to the Eurasianet newsletter Akhal-Teke, may have been intended to bolster his support in the Muslim world and offset any suspicion that he is ‘throwing in his lot with Russia.’ In Moscow, Berdymukhamedov and Putin discussed the signing of an important document concerning the development of relations between Russia and Turkmenistan, although it was unclear what the specific details of this document were. Additionally, Berdymukhamedov, noting Turkmenistan’s active economic cooperation with Russia, offered Russia the chance to actively take part in the realization of economic projects on Turkmen territory.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Medical register capturing pregnancy creates concerns for Polish women. Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an ordinance to include medical data of pregnant women in the national database. The government argues that the data is required to help doctors decide based on individualised physiological and medical conditions of women, such as allergies and blood types. The data intends to help medical decisions to prescribe more efficient drugs and tests. If the medical data can be of good usage for countries who allow abortion procedures, as registers do exist in these countries, opposition and women right groups feel the alignment is to further implement no-abortion laws, which have already created tensions in the Polish society. Opposition leader Donald Tusk commented that the government instead seeks ‘to create a ‘registry of pregnancies’ that would ‘control women.’ Activists like Marta Lempart also expressed concerns that the data could illegally ‘be shared with the police’ in instances of tracking women individually. Concerns also addressed differentiation in economic status, as more privileged women will be able to escape this by pursuing abortion in private institutions outside Poland. Since 2021, Poland has the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
Hungary’s Capped and Dual Pricing of Petrol sparks conflict within the EU. In November, the Hungarian government introduced the capped retail price of benzine and diesel at 480 HUF (EUR 1.20) per litre to fight the soaring global fuel prices and high inflation rate. Due to fuel tourism in Hungarian border regions and the bankruptcy of small gas stations, more regulations were enforced later to restrict the access to capped prices from foreign-plate trucks, and later foreign-plate personal vehicles on 27 May. The measure prompted Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic to criticize Hungary’s decision as a breach of the EU law and discrimination against EU citizens. On 8 June, Thierry Breton, the European Union’s internal market commissioner called on Hungary to suspend the controversial dual pricing measures, otherwise it may face infringement proceedings. The Hungarian government will decide on the freezing of basic food items and fuel price, which will end on 1 July, by mid-June.
Estonian PM to form a new coalition government with opposition parties after a coalition breakup. Estonia is facing the biggest political and economic crisis in decades due to a security threat from Russia, the highest inflation rate in the Eurozone, and a dispute over the amendment of the Preschool Education Act within the coalition government between Reform Party and Centre Party that started in January 2021. On 3 June, Estonian Prime Minister and Reform Party leader, Kaja Kallas, dismissed seven ministers from the left-leaning Centre party (26 seats), including the Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets. On 11 June, the conservative Isamaa Party (12 seats) started coalition talks with the Social Democratic Party (10 seats) and the ruling centre-right Reform Party (34 seats). Despite limited possibilities to secure the majority in the 101-seat national assembly, the Reform Party will not build a coalition with the far-right opposition Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) Party (19 seats). If the negotiations are successful, the new government will last only until March due to the upcoming general elections. Until then, snap elections can be expected.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
British and Moroccan nationals sentenced to death by Russian proxy court. Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, two British nationals, and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun were sentenced to death by the Russian proxy court of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ in the east of Ukraine. Prosecutors from the self-proclaimed DPR charged all men with four separate offences: being a mercenary, committing a crime as a part of a criminal group, promotion of training in terrorist activities, and forcible seizure or retention of power. The three were not mercenaries: they had been living in Ukraine when the war broke out and were members of the Ukrainian armed forces, thus they should be treated as prisoners of war respectfully. Currently, both UK and Ukraine governments are trying to find a way to return the captured foreign nationals, potentially as a part of a prisoner swap. The death sentence to Aslin and Pinner is believed to be a manipulation from the DPR to frighten the West and a desperate step for the recognition of its independence, as the self-proclaimed state is only recognized by Russia.
Ursula von der Leyen finalizes assessment of Ukraine’s EU candidate status by the end of the next week. During a surprise trip to Kyiv on Saturday, 11 June, the President of the executive arm of the EU indicated that the Commission should be able to reach a decision on whether Ukraine should be granted the candidate status to join the EU. As she stressed during her statement delivered together with the president Zelenskyy, the Commission’s recommendation will only be a first step, as a final decision will be dependent on the unanimous decision of the 27 EU member states. Von der Leyen stressed that the Ukrainian authorities had ‘done a lot’ towards candidacy, but that there was ‘still need for reforms to be implemented, to fight corruption for example.’ During the previous week, Bloomberg, citing a diplomatic note, reported that Denmark had expressed concerns regarding Kyiv’s application, believing that ‘Ukraine does not sufficiently fulfil criteria related to the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities,’ and that an improvement of Ukraine’s legislative and institutional network would be necessary.
🌲 In Russia…
Russian-Turkish plan for ‘grain corridor’ unacceptable to Ukraine. As the invasion of Ukraine continues, a global food crisis looms. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are highly dependent on Ukrainian grain exports. Due to the war blocking the usual grain export ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk, there is a very real risk that both last year’s and this year’s harvest cannot be exported. Russian and Turkish foreign ministers discussed a UN initiated plan to open up a ‘grain corridor’. This would entail letting Ukrainian ships from Odesa traverse the Black Sea with a Turkish naval escort. Ukraine is, understandably, concerned Russia will use this grain corridor as a way to invade Ukraine’s Southern ports. Lavrov’s calls for demining the Odesa port in particular are seen as proof Russia wants to invade through this ostensibly humanitarian project.
Russia performs military exercises in the Baltic Sea. On 9 June, numerous Russian ships participated in a naval military exercise in the Baltic Sea. 60 ships and 40 aircraft are reported to have taken part in the action in the Baltic Sea, as well as in the Kaliningrad exclave. This drill comes after the announcement of the presentation of Sweden and Finland bids to join NATO. Last week, US Chief of Staff General Mark Milley was in Stockholm in order to show his support to Finland and Sweden’s possible NATO membership. His visit took place during the annual NATO naval exercises in the Baltic Sea, which are going to last until 17 June. Should Finland and Sweden bids be accepted also by Turkey – who is currently blocking their membership – Russia would be the only non-NATO country on the Baltic Sea.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mañé, Marie Mach, Charles Adrien Fourmi, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Adriano Rodari, Bart Alting, Rachele Colombo, Qianrui Hu, Lucie Tafforin, Xandie Kuenning, Kirsty Dick, & Vira Kompaniiets 💘