Lossi 36 Weekly #28: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: ​​Measures to end period poverty in Bosnia; deepening political crisis in GeorgiaPutin-Xi summit to be held in UzbekistanBaltic Countries and Poland to close borders to RussiansBulgaria and North Macedonia to deepen energy cooperation; Navalny stripped of attorney-client privilege; and much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Local elections in Russia: what to look out for.Bart Alting

On 11 September, 14 Russian regions held elections. As usual in Russia, these elections will be mired by voter fraud, and will not in any way but in form resemble elections in a democracy. For the regime, the elections are an exercise in demonstrating their power: showing the opposition they can easily rig elections without consequence. They do, however, offer some insight into what is happening in the country at a local level. Local elections are easier to compete in for (systemic) opposition candidates. Often, the connection between abuse of political power and personal enrichment is more obvious. As such, the ruling United Russia party is not always certain of winning local elections. The main issue right now in local politics for opposition figures (besides local issues), is the war. Local opposition candidates are divided on whether to openly oppose the war (as local lawmakers in St Petersburg did), or not mention it at all to not waste any gains. The space for political movement in Russia keeps shrinking, and for many people it feels like nothing will ever change. As such, opposition politics remains largely a fight against political apathy.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Bosnian schools take active measures to end period poverty. Starting this month, schools in Bosnia’s Sarajevo Canton will provide pupils with free sanitary pads and free education on menstrual health thanks to the UN-backed project ‘Za naše dane u mjesecu/For our days every month.’ According to media reports, women in Bosnia and Herzegovina spend close to 50 Bosnian marks (25 euros) each month on period-related supplies, roughly 5% of the average monthly income. According to a recent study by UN Women, Bosnian women face significant barriers with respect to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) representative John Kennedy Mosoti explained the reasoning behind the program, stating that ‘Menstruation is intrinsically linked to human rights – when girls cannot have safe access to menstrual hygiene products, they are unable to adequately manage their periods and this can create barriers to education.’

Montenegro’s PM shares his intel on tobacco smuggling. On 5 September, outgoing Montenegrin PM, Dritan Abazović, presented certain information concerning tobacco smuggling in the country to the Special State Prosecutor’s Office. ‘I was talking about specific names, but I cannot say what they are now. I was explaining the schemes,’ Abazović announced, adding that he had left ‘certain documentation’ and had given ‘directions’ to the Prosecutor’s Office. Montenegro has become a hub for global tobacco smuggling scam, exporting millions of counterfeit cigarettes into the EU. ‘I expect an avalanche to be triggered,’ Abazović told the media, urging the prosecution to use the information he had provided. The government has been concerned with illicit trade, announcing new measures in July and prohibiting the storage of tobacco in Bar. Since the 1990s, the port of Bar has been a major entrance of tobacco, as well as the outgoing point for cigarettes made in Montenegro. According to official data, 21 out of 26 companies in the coastal city store tobacco.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Georgia’s political crisis deepens. Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition group, held a press briefing on 5 September calling for early elections in Georgia in order to ‘alleviate the existing political crisis.’ During the briefing, Melia focused on calling out the ruling Georgian Dream party, referring to them as the Russian Dream party and claiming that they turned Georgia away from the Western path and towards a Russian orientation, defying the people. Melia’s remarks came on the same day that Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency added the founder of Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili, along with several of his associates, to a list of persons ‘awaiting sanctions,’ due to their alleged connections to Russia and its military campaign against Ukraine. The next parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2024.

Azerbaijan signs landmark energy deals with Uzbekistan and EU. The energy ministers of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan signed a roadmap outlining their plans to pursue joint projects in the oil and gas, petrochemical and renewable energy sectors, as the Uzbek Energy Ministry statement said. The two countries will combine forces to attract investment for energy projects, including in the electric power and natural gas sectors, and share best practice on constructing thermal power plants. This is pertinent to Uzbekistan as it seeks to overhaul its power sector and ageing infrastructure, which was a cause of the recent blackouts. Oil-rich Azerbaijan has also recently signed a deal with the EU to double its exports of natural gas to at least 20 billion cubic metres annually by 2027 as Europe tries to wean itself off Russian gas. President Aliyev noted that ‘we need investments, we need to expand the capacity because our pipeline, which brings our gas to Europe, has a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters.’

🛤 In Central Asia…

Putin-Xi summit to take place in Uzbekistan. Xi Jingping, Chinese president, will make his first visit abroad since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to Uzbekistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, where he will meet his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. The summit is to take place on 15-16 September in Samarkand. Prior to that, Xi will meet Kazakh President, Tokayev and decide upon certain bilateral documents. This trip symbolises several notions – first, that Beijing still stands with Moscow, even despite the threat of more Western sanctions. Secondly, it also shows Central Asia’s slow pivot towards China to possibly fill in the power vacuum left by Russia, in the future. Lastly, it points to Beijing’s solidarity with Kazakhstan which has previously been victim to Russia’s threats of invasion, calling it the next Ukraine.

Tajik Islamic Renaissance Party reacts to party’s designation as a terrorist organisation by Russia. Mukkhidin Kabiri, the current leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), wrote a letter to Putin requesting that Moscow not recognize the IRPT as a terrorist organisation within the territory of the Russian Federation. In his letter, sent on September 6, Kabiri stated that ‘tens and hundreds of thousands of former members of the party, as well as simple citizens of Tajikistan will, once again, become victims of repression, psychological and political pressure and persecution in Tajikistan and Russia.’ Kabiri’s letter stems from Dushanbe’s repeated requests to governments of the former Soviet Union to deem the IRPT a terrorist organisation; recently, these efforts have come to fruition, with Russia’s Supreme Court set to consider Dushanbe’s request on September 14. Currently, the IRPT remains banned in Tajikistan, having been so since 2015, with many of its members having either fled the country or been imprisoned.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Baltic countries and Poland to close borders to Russian citizens by 19 September. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland agreed on a common regional approach to further pressure Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. According to the prime ministers’ joint statement on 8 September, all four parties agreed to stop issuing tourist and business visas to Russian citizens, and not allowing Russians to enter their territories even with Schengen visas issued by other member states, except for cases based on humanitarian grounds. They supported the Council of the EU to fully suspend its short-stay visa facilitation agreement with Russia and called for stricter measures to limit the number of visa issuances and the flow of Russians into the EU in the future. Meanwhile, since the EU closed its airspace to Russia, many Russians have been seeking an exit from Russia via land routes to the Baltics, Finland and Poland.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Bulgaria and North Macedonia deepen energy cooperation. Following a meeting between Bulgarian Prime Minister Galab Donev and his Macedonian counterpart Dimitar Kovachevski in Sofia on 5 September, Bulgaria agreed to provide North Macedonia with 200 MWh of electricity per day from October to the end of March. This will make up approximately 10% of Bulgaria’s electricity exports to neighbouring countries, helping to stabilise the energy network in the region. The two leaders also discussed the possibility of North Macedonia storing gas in Bulgaria’s underground gas storage facility in Chiren, which is expected to be expanded with the LNG terminal project in Greece, helping further supplies.

🌲 In Russia…

Chechen units collaborate in Ukraine. The recently formed ‘Guards of Ichkeria’ (GI) battalion and the Sheikh Mansur Battalion (SMB) held a joint training session at an undisclosed location near the frontline in Ukraine. The GI is officially part of the Armed Forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, a.k.a., the military of the exiled government of independent Chechnya. The SMB previously worked with the multiethnic Islamic Battalion ‘Krym.’ The new cooperation between GI and SMB further demonstrates how the latter is building a cohesive network to fight in Chechnya, and the entire North Caucasus, in the future. This joint exercise, however, also comes amidst tensions within the Chechen opposition over the Ichkerian government-in-exile (see responses below this tweet) and within the larger North Caucasian diaspora because of SMB’s announced underground insurgency. While cooperation such as this demonstrates that different factions of pro-independence Chechens can overcome their historic fragmentation, it remains unclear whether doing so in the military sphere can be repeated in the political arena.

Navalny stripped of attorney-client privilege. The administration of the IK-6 prison in Melekhovo alleged that the opposition leader was ‘committing crimes directly from the prison facilities.’ However, the officials did not inform Navalny what crimes he was supposedly committing. The consequence of losing attorney-client privilege is that all documents to or from Navalny will now undergo a three-day check, meaning that any communication with his lawyers will be automatically delayed by almost a week. This takes away his final remaining communicative lifeline. As noted by Maria Pevchikh, the head of ‘Fight Against Corruption’’s investigations department, the prison’s decision heightens the threat to Navalny’s life. This move by authorities comes after Navalny was labelled a ‘persistent offender’ and sent to solitary confinement for fifteen days, having only just finished a stint in solitary. His fate remains bleak, as the Putin regime continues to tighten its grip on society.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mane, Marie Mach, Chaharika Uppal, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Bart Alting, Kirsty Dick, Xandie Kuenning, & Harold Chambers 💘

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