Lossi 36 Weekly #25: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: ​​Monuments to be taken down in Latvia; ruling coalition crisis in Montenegro; society reflects on EU accession plans in Georgia; Putin visits Tajikistan; Czechia takes over the EU Presidency; the battle for Lysychansk in UkraineRussia in a diplomatic spat with Bulgaria; and much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Latvian expert committee advises to demolish 69 Soviet monuments.Jordi Beckers

The committee’s list follows a Latvian law prohibiting ‘the display of objects praising the Soviet and Nazi regimes and their dismantling in the territory of the Republic of Latvia,’ a law which passed through the Saeima (Latvian parliament) on 16 June 2022. An appointed committee of experts examined 162 monuments to see whether these met the criteria stated in the aforementioned law, which entails that memorials are not allowed to represent a glorification of Latvia’s Soviet and Nazi occupations or their respective ideologies. It is now up to the municipalities to have the monuments removed in the coming period of time. Already in May, amendments were made to the law that lifted the legal barriers that protected Latvia’s Soviet heritage as a consequence of a 1994 agreement between Latvia and the Russian Federation. These developments are part of a wider public discussion around the legacies and heritage of Soviet history throughout the Baltics, which flared up again after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Montenegro’s ruling coalition in crisis over religious agreement. On 29 June, Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic pledged that his government would sign a ‘fundamental agreement’ with the Serbian Orthodox Church, despite vocal criticisms from other members of the ruling coalition. According to the draft agreement, the government, among other things, is required to register all Orthodox churches and monasteries as belonging to the Serbian Church and start the restitution process of Church property confiscated by Communist authorities after WWII. Both the Democratic Party of Socialists, the largest ruling party, and the Social Democratic Party have criticised the draft as being too favourable to the Church, accusing the Serbian Church of promoting Serbian nationalism and thereby undermining Montenegrin statehood. In addition, both parties have warned Abazovic that if he signs the agreement without a wide consensus in parliament, the government could collapse. No date has been set for the signing of the agreement.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

EU demands further stir up debates in Georgian society. On June 23, the European Union offered a roadmap for Georgia to be qualified as an EU candidate as long as the country makes progress on key democratic reforms. Two of the most important demands in the list of conditions are ‘addressing the issue of political polarisation’ and ‘deoligarchisation of the country.’ The above-mentioned two key demands, once published, immediately stirred up a blame game between the ruling party, Georgian Dream, and the opposition. In a press conference, Georgian prime minister Garibashvili claimed that it is also the opposition’s responsibility to stop the endless fighting in Georgian politics, whereas the opposition urges the resignation of the prime minister for failing the nation to get an EU candidate status. The opposition also points out that the deoligarchisation means removing Bidzina Ivanishvili and his circle from Georgian politics, as Ivanishvili, Georgia’s sole oligarch, is widely regarded as the informal leader of the Georgian Dream party.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Putin’s first foreign public visit since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. On 28 June, it was announced that the Russian President would travel to Tajikistan to meet with President Emomali Rahmon. The official announcement left a lot unsaid in regards to what exactly would be discussed during this visit, mentioning solely developmental ties and regional issues, especially Afghanistan. However, Putin’s aide has given statements to state media suggesting that military matters, Tajik migrant workers, Tajikistan’s border security as well as integration into the Eurasian Economic Union would be covered. Moreover, several experts have provided hypotheses on the possible subjects of discussion, including the recent resurgence in conflicts in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast region and helping Moscow bear the pressure of Western sanctions. On 29 June, Putin left for Ashgabat, to attend another summit.

Tensions in Karakalpakstan over proposed constitutional amendments. The autonomous region of Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan is set to lose its right to hold an independence referendum in new amendments to Uzbekistan’s constitution, which are due to be decided upon this year. Karakalpakstan has a population of 2 million mostly Turkic-speaking people and until 1930 was an autonomous area within Kazakhstan. Not long after the proposed amendment was published online on 25 June, protests broke out in at least two towns in the region, with Tashkent responding with an increased National Guard presence. Although the amendments to the constitution are subject to public discussion through a dedicated hotline, residents in Karakalpakstan reported problems with internet and phone signals. On 30 June, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is hoping to extend presidential terms from five to seven years in the new constitution, made a speech in Tashkent stating ‘I respect the Karakalpak people with all my heart and can say that I am a son not only of the Uzbek people but the Karakalpak people!’ 

🚃 In Central Europe…

Czechia takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. On 1 July, Czechia replaced France in the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. The programme of the upcoming presidency was outlined already over the course of the month of June by the Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala. The main priority for the Czechs is Ukraine, in terms of the war and the related humanitarian crisis and material repercussions, as well as in regards to Ukraine’s application to join the EU. Additionally, further priorities set by the Czech Republic include energy security and independence from Russian supplies, defence capabilities, democratic values and institutions, and the economic resilience of the EU. The slogan of the Czech presidency is ‘Europe as a task: rethink, rebuild, repower.’

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Putin prepared to send Belarus nuclear-capable missiles. At a meeting between Lukashenka and Putin on 25 June in Saint Petersburg, the two leaders discussed defence-related issues of their respective countries. Talks between the two are not unusual; Putin and Lukashenka have met every month in 2022. However, this sixth meeting was originally scheduled in Hrodna, Belarus, on 30 June, but took place 5 days earlier. The most logical explanation for the preponement of the talks is that they are linked to the current Russia-Lithuania crisis. Lukashenka compared the restriction of transit to the Kaliningrad region to a ‘declaration of war’ and said it was ‘vitally important’ for him to discuss safety issues with Putin. After the talks, the President of the Russian Federation stated that, over the upcoming months, he will provide Belarus with Iskander M systems, nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missile systems. Putin also offered to deliver Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft, which are able to carry nuclear weapons.

Battle for the last stronghold in the Luhansk region. On Saturday, 7 July, the Russian forces claimed to have taken Lysychansk, ‘completely’ encircling the last Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk region. Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow unrecognised Luhansk People’s Republic, reported on Russian television: ‘Lysychansk has been brought under control. Unfortunately, it is not yet liberated.’ The so-called ‘Russian liberation’ goes with significant human and infrastructure losses: ‘Russians are using every weapon available to them…and without distinguishing whether targets are military or not – schools, kindergartens, cultural institutions,’ Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk’s regional administration described the situation there. Despite fierce battles near Lysychansk, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army. Meanwhile, deadly blasts were overseen in the Russian city of Belgorod, near the Ukrainian border, with at least three people killed, 11 apartment buildings and 39 houses damaged, including five that were destroyed.

🌲 In Russia…

Russian troops withdraw from symbolic Snake Island. On 30 June, the Russian Armed Forces on Snake Island withdrew as a result of repeated Ukrainian attacks. Snake Island is a small island just 48 kilometres from the Ukrainian coast, near the city of Odesa. Despite the small size of the island, the Russian withdrawal is significantly symbolic. On the second day of the war, Ukrainian soldiers told the sailors on the Russian ship ‘Moskva’ to ‘go **** themselves.’ The Ukrainian victory became symbolic for brave Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression. Kyiv launched stamps commemorating the event. Nevertheless, Snake Island was occupied – only until last Thursday. This is of strategic importance too, as Snake Island provided the Russians with a means of controlling the Black Sea and to potentially invade Odesa. 

Moscow and Sofia locked in a diplomatic dispute. Russia is a step away from cutting diplomatic relations with Bulgaria after the latter expelled 70 Russian diplomats last Tuesday over espionage concerns. The Russian embassy issued an ultimatum to Sofia, threatening that if the decision was not reversed by midday on Friday, Moscow could terminate its diplomatic presence in the country altogether. The fact that out of all the EU countries, it is Bulgaria that finds itself in such a serious diplomatic crisis with Russia is interesting in the context of the country’s comparatively high susceptibility to Russian war-related propaganda and disinformation. Moreover, the spat comes amid (yet another) governmental crisis in Sofia, with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov recently losing a no-confidence vote. Despite being set to lose his job, Petkov took the chance on Friday to reject the Russian ultimatum, which in turn angered one of his coalition partners, the Socialists, who traditionally have a more pro-Russian stance.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Sam Appels, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Chaharika Uppal, Merijn Hermens, Myriam Marino, Jordi Beckers, Qianrui Hu, Xandie Kuenning, Kirsty Dick, & Vira Kompaniiets 💘

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