Lossi 36 Weekly #27: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: EuroPride 2022 in Belgrade at risk; Azerbaijan regains control of Lachin; Uzbekistan releases participants of Karakalpakstan events; Morawiecki calls for full visa suspension for Russians; IAEA’s mission to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant; Gorbachev‘s passing in Moscow; and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Snap election called in Kazakhstan.Kirsty Dick
During his annual address to the nation on Thursday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for a snap presidential election in Kazakhstan. He also announced plans to limit the president’s tenure to a single seven-year term and that, as a result, parliamentary elections would be brought forward to next year. ‘For me, the interests of the state are above all. Therefore, I am ready to shorten my term of office and go to early presidential elections,’ Tokayev said in his address, claiming that seven years was sufficient to implement an ambitious reform agenda with the aim of strengthening Kazakhstan’s statehood and to significantly lower the risks of power monopolisation. Tokayev’s statement is timely as human rights groups and political activists have been calling upon the government to begin a full investigation into last January’s violent protests, which claimed the lives of more than 200 people. In the aftermath, many of ex-President Nazarbayev’s allies were arrested. These political changes have taken place with the intent to strengthen Tokayev’s mandate as an independent leader.
🌺 In the Balkans…
EuroPride 2022 in Belgrade at risk. On 27 August, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that the EuroPride parade in Belgrade, scheduled to take place on 17 September among a week of events, would be cancelled or postponed. Citing the recent tensions with Kosovo and the energy and food crises, Vučić claimed the timing was simply not right. The move came after thousands of people, led by clergy from the Serbian Orthodox Church, marched in Belgrade to defend ‘family values.’ The parade organisers have stated the parade will go ahead, claiming that any ban should be considered ‘illegal,’ as ruled by the European Court of Human Rights. Organisers expect at least 15,000 participants.
Chancellor Scholz backs Schengen expansion across Southeastern Europe. In a recent keynote speech made by the German chancellor to an audience at Charles University in Prague, he shared his support for the inclusion of Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania into the open border Schengen area. The three most recent entries to the EU have long coveted membership of the border free zone, but have been constantly held up by migration crises, political disputes, worries regarding cross-border criminal and drug trafficking activity, as well as expansion fatigue from Western European member states. Fortunately, now however, after years of reform, a decline in illegal immigration through the Balkans, and in Croatia’s case, Slovenia finally backing its neighbours’ membership of the zone, membership may finally be on the cards. The Croatian and Bulgarian governments are aiming to join within the next 6 months, with Bucharest aiming to join at some point in the next year, however, it remains to be seen if the EU shall agree with the proposed timelines.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Azerbaijan regains control of Lachin. President Ilham Aliyev announced on 26 August that Azerbaijani troops had regained control of the strategic city of Lachin (Berdzor), replacing the Russian peacekeepers stationed there as part of a peace deal signed with Armenia in November 2020. While the handover of Lachin, along with Aghavno (Zabukh) and Nerkin Sus (Sus), was part of the 2020 agreement, a new route for the Lachin corridor – the only remaining connection between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh – was also planned, and was meant to be completed before the transfer of authority. According to the Interior Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh, the current route is still open for transit to and from Nagorno-Karabakh, with the new road set to open by the end of August in Azerbaijan, and in a further eight months’ time in Armenia.
Appointment of Iranian consul in Kapan, Syunik. Following an announcement about the opening of an Iranian consulate in the city of Kapan, Armenia, Abedin Varamin was appointed as the Iranian consul general on 11 August. This event has been expected since January 2022, when the Iranian government approved the decision. The opening of the Iranian Consulate General in the Syunik region, which has repeatedly been claimed by Azerbaijan, is seen by some observers as an attempt by Iran to maintain its border with Armenia, in a context where negotiations around the Persian Gulf-Black Sea Corridor are progressing, but also where tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have only partially eased. The Iranian authorities, for their part, affirmed that, much like the Iranian consulate in Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan, the creation of the Kapan consulate was not directed against any particular state, and its objective was only to guarantee more stability in the region and strengthen economic and cultural cooperation.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Uzbek regime releases participants of Karakalpakstan events. Twenty-four people detained following the July riots in the autonomous republic were released from custody on 29 August and placed under house arrest. This decision comes as a response to requests by a parliamentary commission investigating the unrest in the regional capital Nukus, which left over 18 people dead and 300 injured. Government officials stated that detainees were chosen based on their family and economic situations, as well as demonstrations of remorse in their actions. In fact, allusions to repentant participants imply that detainees have confessed to criminal acts ahead of eventual trials. Although most of the 500 individuals detained by law enforcement in early July have been released, there is little information as to how many remain in custody and are facing prosecution. Protests in Karakalpakstan erupted after the Uzbek government proposed amendments to the Constitution that would have deprived the region of its autonomous status.
🚃 In Central Europe…
A new deal with Russia’s Gazprom increases gas supply to Hungary. Following the conclusion of a deal between Hungary and the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a maximum of 5.8 million cubic metres of natural gas per day will be delivered to Budapest via Serbia from 1 September. The news was made public by the Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, specifying how the new agreement replaces the existing arrangements in terms of quantity, namely the delivery of up to 2.6 million additional cubic metres per day. An increase in Russia’s gas supply to Hungary coincided with a stop in supply, for maintenance purposes, in the last days of August, to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. The Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, declared that additional requests for gas shipments from Russia will be necessary in order to avoid the introduction of restrictions, due to possible gas shortages in the country.
Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki calls for full visa suspension for Russian citizens. Morawiecki says that Russian citizens should ‘bear the consequences’ of their country’s aggression towards Ukraine, and should, therefore, be banned from receiving a Schengen Area visa. The Prime Minister does state that an exception should be made for Russians who oppose Putin’s regime and apply for a Schengen visa on humanitarian grounds. The Prime Minister’s statements come after the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague, on 31 August, which decided that the application process for Schengen visa for Russian citizens will be made more complicated and more expensive, but will refrain from a full visa ban. Before the outcome of the meeting was revealed, Poland, along with the three Baltic States, already stated that they would try to ban Russians from their territories if the EU would not guarantee a full entry ban from the Schengen Area.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Another book by Alexievich adapted into TV series. Svetlana Alexievich, Belarusian writer, confirmed on 25 August that The Unwomanly Face of War will be made into a TV series. The book came out in 1985, as her debut, and tells the experiences of the Soviet women who fought in the Second World War. It was repeatedly reprinted and sold more than two million copies. Publisher Boris Pasternak announced on Facebook that the production contract had already been signed, but more details couldn’t be revealed yet. It will be her second book that’s been adapted into a TV show, after the success of HBO’s show Chernobyl, based on Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl. According to Alexievich, the timeline of the new series is unclear, as the project was put on hold after Russia’s war on Ukraine broke out. The writer, living in exile in Berlin, stressed that the project will not be cancelled. Especially since ‘the story of women in the war is now gaining new relevance.’
IAEA’s mission to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. On 1 September, the International Atomic Energy Agency finally reached the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was heavily bombed in recent days. IAEA’s head, Rafael Grossi, asserted that ‘the plant and physical integrity of the plant has been violated several times,’ while Ukrainian workers are in a difficult situation, but are ‘calm and moving.’ A part of the IAEA mission will remain at the nuclear power plant to continue their inspection, however the number of workers staying on is under dispute – Russia’s Interfax indicated 8 to 12 inspectors, while Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom estimated 5. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was disappointed in the IAEA’s mission to the nuclear plant, as he saw its goal as ‘the demilitarisation of the power plant and its surrounding area.’ Not only was it unreachable, but Ukrainian or foreign independent media were not allowed to accompany IAEA.
🌲 In Russia…
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, 1931-2022. The last leader of the Soviet Union died on 30 August. Commemorative statements and discussions of his legacy began immediately, highlighting the stark, predominantly geographic division over his image. Most in Western Europe and the U.S. treat Gorbachev as the reformer who opened up the USSR and ended the Cold War. Many Russian liberals remember him similarly. Meanwhile, many along the Soviet periphery recall his string of violent crackdowns in Kazakhstan (1986), Georgia (1989), Tajikistan (1989), Azerbaijan (1990), Lithuania (1991), and Latvia (1991). This attitudinal gap mirrors how states treat Russia policy-wise: either as a slumbering potential democracy or a forever predator. Despite the current trendiness in the West of ‘decolonising’ Russian history, centring voices silenced in historiographical imperialism, it is unclear whether these same actors will heed the lessons about Gorbachev from their partners and allies.
A tale of two siloviki trials in North Caucasus. On 30 August, twelve Ingush police officers were given suspended sentences in a case against them. The next day, three officers from Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkarian Republic) faced the same judgement. However, these two cases illustrate a dramatic contrast in policy between the western and eastern halves of the North Caucasus. The Ingush officers prevented a crackdown on mass protests against a land deal with Chechnya in 2019. The Nalchik siloviki tortured detained residents. Yet both groups are treated in the same way. Because of rife anti-government sentiments in Ingushetia, any defence of the people must be punished. While torture is widely used against natives of the Northeast Caucasus in Chechnya and Ingushetia, and in prisons, in Kabardino-Balkaria violating Russian laws against torture actually bears consequences. This is because of the Northwest Caucasus’ more proximate inclusion in the idea of ‘Russia,’ while Ingushetia has always been considered an ostracised, expendable ‘other.’
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Zadig Tisserand, Lucie Tafforin, Myriam Marino, Jordi Beckers, Merijn Hermens, Vira Kompaniiets, Kirsty Dick, Xandie Kuenning, & Harold Chambers 💘