Lossi 36 Weekly #23: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: ​​National political leaders meet Josep Borrell and Charles Michel in Bosnia, EU candidate status likely to be declined to GeorgiaKassymJomart Tokayev talks DPR LPR non-recognition in Saint Petersburg, another EU veto from Hungary, European Commission’s view on EU candidate status for Ukraine, 49 Brits on Russia’s ‘Stop List,’ and much more.

⭐️ This week’s special

Undercover Russian spy prevented from working at the ICC in The Netherlands. Sam Appels & Tijs van de Vijver

On Thursday, the Dutch intelligence service (AIVD) said that it unmasked a Russian spy who sought to intern at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Russian spy, named Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov in reality, works for the Russian military intelligence GRU, but according to his cover identity, he was a 33-year-old Brazilian citizen with the name Viktor Muller Ferreira. Cherkasov’s elaborate cover story went as far as describing a troubled family history and details from a club where he liked to listen to electronic music. 

According to the AIVD and Police Chief Erik Akerboom, Cherkasov was refused entry into the country because of the posed ‘threat to national security.’ Cherkasov wanted to gain access to the ICC, because it investigates Russian war crimes in Ukraine: his access into the ICC in The Hague and the acquisition of secret information would be highly valuable for the Russian intelligence services. Cherkasov has been sent back to Brazil, where he will be prosecuted for the use of false documents.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Bosnia’s political leaders pledge commitment to democracy and stability. During a meeting held between the European Council President, Charles Michel, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, and leaders of the main political (and thus ethnic) groups within Bosnia, an agreement was signed, committing the country to further strengthen its democratic principles, ensure peace across the nation, and continue its integration into the European community. The move comes as the EU is deciding on furthering European integration with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which have only recently applied for EU membership. Bosnia has been in the process since 2016, and the Slovenian President has urged the Union to provide the country with a candidate status without any further conditions. The security and stability of Bosnia has been under intense strain in recent months, with Russian interference in the country’s political system becoming an ever greater concern. An upcoming October election campaign (if the vote is even able to go ahead) will surely turn into a heated debate over the country’s future.

Eurozone ministers approve Croatia as the 20th member of the euro area. Having read the positive assessment by the European Commission and the European Central Bank, the Eurozone’s ministers of finance officially approved Croatia’s adoption of the euro by 2023. The next step in Croatia’s eurozone accession is the approval of the European Council, whose summit is scheduled for 23-24 June. Paschal Donohoe, the Eurogroup’s Irish President, praised the Croatian government’s efforts to ready the country for the adoption of the European common currency. According to Croatia’s Central Bank’s governor Boris Vujcic, Croatia’s adoption of the euro will make the country more attractive to investors and will lower interest rates, while its significant tourism sector is set to benefit from the switch as well. It currently seems that almost all Croatian political parties back the decision.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Georgia’s EU ambitions at a crossroads. On 17 June, the European Commission recommended that Georgia be denied EU candidate status later this month, as opposed to Ukraine and Moldova, which should be offered immediate candidacy. According to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the decision was based on a number of political and economic criteria, and ‘it is in the hands of Georgia to really speed up [the progress].’ The EU Commission’s announcement follows a resolution by the European Parliament in response to the deterioration of media freedom in Georgia, calling for the EU to consider imposing sanctions on the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party’s founder and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Members and supporters of the GD responded by questioning the country’s EU membership ambitions, while Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili held a rally to show support for Georgia’s EU bid. Another pro-EU gathering is planned by the liberal Shame Movement for 20 June. Polling has shown that the majority of Georgians support EU membership, putting the government at odds with its citizenry.

Nikol Pashinyan talks about Armenian foreign policy on Al Jazeera TV. In an interview broadcasted on 14 June, the Armenian Prime Minister reiterated the importance he attached to a foreign policy balanced between the West and Russia, before stressing the ‘very good relations’ Armenia had with Georgia and Iran. Two days later, on 16 June, speaking in the Armenian Parliament, Pashinyan reaffirmed the need to focus on a ‘comprehensive peace’ in the framework of the resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. In the same speech, he responded to criticisms from the opposition, saying that its current leaders, who had been at the head of the country between 1998 and 2008, had never, in his opinion, ruled out the possibility of transferring Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. These words come at a time when one of the opposition leaders, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, says that the anti-government demonstrations organised since April have borne fruit, and it is now a matter of ‘expanding areas of activity.’

🛤 In Central Asia…

Border guard killed in clash at Tajik-Kyrgyz border. According to Kyrgyz border officials, on 14 June at 6:00 am, a shot was fired from the Tajik border post of Kekh in the direction of the Kyrgyz border checkpoint in the Bulak-Bashy area of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region. The Kyrgyz military then returned fire, but an emergency ceasefire was quickly agreed to at 7:30 am. The Tajik Foreign Ministry stated that the Kyrgyz side ‘suddenly opened gunfire and shelled the village of Vorukh with mortars.’ They also reported that the commander of Tajikistan’s Kekh border-guard point was severely wounded in the border clash. The administration of the Dusti district confirmed to Asia Plus that as a result of the conflict, the commander, a 26-year-old Tajik, died from his injuries. There are frequent border clashes along the poorly demarcated Kyrgyz-Tajik border. In April 2021, a four-day border conflict ended with at least 50 people dead and over 40,000 civilians displaced.

Kazakhstan at odds with Russia over Ukraine. During the St-Petersburg International Economic Forum, and while on stage with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev once again declared that Kazakhstan did not recognise Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics as independent and added that Nur-Sultan supported the ‘territorial integrity of UN member states.’ This comes amid a series of moves by Tokayev to distance his country from Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine. In a recent interview with a Russian state-owned media, he downplayed the Collective Security Treaty Organisation’s (CSTO) involvement in the January 2022 protests in Kazakhstan. While some in Russia argue that the intervention ‘saved’ Nur-Sultan, Tokayev underlined that the CSTO had left within 10 days and had not fired any shots, arguing that such claims therefore misrepresented the facts. He also reiterated that his country would not violate the sanctions put in place against Russia, as Kazakhstan could not take the economic hit from the so-called ‘secondary sanctions’ from the West.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Poland asks to be compensated for its military aid to Ukraine. Polish president Andrzej Duda asks the country’s allies to make up for ‘the gaps’ left by Poland’s donations of military equipment, which he estimates would be around 1.7 billion dollars. President Duda did not ask for financial compensation, since the ordering and producing of new material would take ‘at least months.’ Rather, the president’s request was for the country’s allies to give some of their used equipment to Poland. According to the ‘Ukraine support tracker’ by the Kiel institute for the World Economy, Poland is in third place in terms of government support to Ukraine in terms of percentage points of GDP, around 0.45 percent. Next to this government support, Poland has recently made the biggest arms deal in the recent history of the country by selling 50 krab howitzers to Ukraine, worth around 3 billion Złoty (650,000 Euros).

Hungary vetoes EU agreement on global corporate tax rate. On 17 June, the EU ministers of finance met in Luxembourg to finalize an agreement on a measure aiming to set a minimum global corporate tax rate amounting to 15 percent, advanced by the French Minister of Finance Le Maire. In the end, the measure, already agreed upon in October 2021, did not however achieve the unanimity required for tax measures to pass at the EU level. Hungary put a last-minute veto on the initiative, via notice of the Hungarian Minister of Finance, Mihaly Varga. A common concern at the EU level is that Hungary is resorting to vetoes to community initiatives in an attempt to unblock the recovery fund money withheld by the Commission due to Budapest’s deteriorated rule of law standards. Justifying the Hungarian opposing position on the agreement, Varga stated that ‘the work is not ready. I think we have to continue the effort to find a solution.’

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU. On Friday, 17 June, the European Commission formally recommended the EU candidate status for Ukraine. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted that ‘[…] Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,’ and that EU member states want to grant the country a chance to live the European dream with them. The day before the decision was carried out, President Macron and Chancellor Scholz, together with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, visited Ukraine for the first time since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February. They all endorsed Ukraine’s candidate status, but warned of a long way to reforms on the path to membership. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy named the Commission’s decision as ‘the first step on the EU membership path that will certainly bring Victory closer,’ while Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of President Zelenskyy’s office, assured Ukraine would not accept deviations from this candidate status.

More Western assistance to Kyiv. On 15 June, President Joe Biden announced that the US is releasing an additional 1 billion dollars in weapons and aid for Ukraine. The package includes humanitarian help, but mostly artillery, anti-ship missile launchers, and more ammunition for howitzers and for advanced American rocket systems. After the meeting of the Contact Group on Defence Issues of Ukraine (also known as ‘Ramstein-3’), Slovakia, Germany, Canada, Poland, and The Netherlands also committed to sending more military aid to Kyiv. Zelenskyy’s requests can be seen in the intensification of the battle for the Donbas, while the Ukrainian army is running out of supplies. Moreover, Western aid, despite its promises, is arriving too slow, in small batches or not at all. Another problem is that much NATO-weaponry, such as grenades, is different from the Soviet standard used in Ukraine, meaning the West cannot very easily solve the munition shortages. The heavy fighting is costing Ukraine’s military up to 100 soldiers per day, with another 500 wounded, according to Ukrainian officials.

🌲 In Russia…

Almost 50 Brits added to Russia’s ‘stop list.’ The measure, effectively amounting to a ban on entering Russia, is a response to ‘the British government’s anti-Russia actions’ in the form of sanctions against Russian journalists and defence companies. 49 names were added to the so-called ‘stop list,’ which now includes over 200 UK citizens, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a number of cabinet members. The new sanctions target 28 journalists from major British media outlets, such as the BBC, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and the Times, as well as the well-known political scientist Mark Galeotti, who quipped that the Russian government did not know how to categorise him. Russia also banned entry to several members of the UK Armed Forces, representatives of BAE Systems and Thales UK, and three MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party. Not included on the list so far has been Steve Rosenberg, BBC’s Russia Editor, who in fact just managed to arrange an exclusive interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Zadig Tisserand, Tijs van de Vijver, Myriam Marino, Jordi Beckers, Merijn Hermens, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Sam Appels, Lucie Tafforin, Xandie Kuenning, Kirsty Dick, & Vira Kompaniiets 💘

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