Lossi 36 Weekly #30: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: ​​Milorad Dodik in Moscow; foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia meet in New York; Turkmens in Kazakhstan; European Commission to suspend funds to Hungary; the German observer to Russia’s sham referendum in Ukraine; nationalists unhappy with prisoner swap in Russiaand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Mobilising protest in Chechnya.Harold Chambers

Ramzan Kadyrov has been building toward a full mobilisation in his republic over the past week. As the actual mobilisation drew near, Chechnya’s mothers began to note their protest on social media, pleading that their sons not be sent to die in Ukraine. On 20 September, a protest was announced for the following day. All the women who attended were immediately arrested, with most released by the end of the day. These women’s sons have now been forced into military service. After the protest, a woman publicly sang the national anthem of independent Chechnya; the police later found her and forced her relatives to declare her mentally unsound on television. On the same day, several flyers were posted in Kadyrov’s native village. These posters threatened the Chechen warlord and called on the people – specifically naming the “Sons of Ichkeria,” a newly created underground resistance group – to prepare. It is clear that the will to resist Kadyrov is stronger than perhaps at any other time during his rule. Yet, it is doubtful that protest sentiments are sustainable in the long-term. On the other hand, shipping Chechnya’s male population to the front may not neutralise the threat Kadyrov perceives against himself.

🌺 In the Balkans…

FBI-CISA investigation reveals Iranian hackers accessed Albanian networks 14 months ago. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published an investigation, which revealed that “Iranian state cyber actors acquired initial access to [Albania’s] network approximately 14 months before launching the destructive cyberattack.” However, Albania reported the first attack on government infrastructure in July, for which an Iranian group called “HomeLand Justice” claimed credit. Since the Iranians gained access through Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft also conducted an investigation, reporting that the attackers are associated with the team EUROPIUM, which has been publicly linked to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. At the beginning of September, Albania severed diplomatic ties with Iran. Their relations have been tense since 2014, when Albania offered asylum to 3,000 exiled Iranians belonging to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an opposition to the current regime supported by the US.

Bosnian-Serb president meets with Putin on eve of mobilisation. On 20 September, Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, flew to Moscow to voice his support of Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, calling it “justified.” Hoping to shore up support at home ahead of Bosnia’s upcoming elections, Dodik equated Putin’s claims of genocide of Russian-speakers in Ukraine with the situation in Republika Srpska, stating that “it’s the same [situation] here. We cannot share the same schools, same textbooks with the Muslims.” The rare visit of a European leader to Moscow occurred on the eve of Putin’s announcement of a partial military mobilisation to bolster his operation in Ukraine. The address also called for referendums to be held in Russian controlled areas of the country. Such referendums have implications for the continued peace and security in the Western Balkans as politicians, such as Dodik, will no doubt use them as precedent for secession.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia meet in New York. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov on 19 September within the framework of the UN General Assembly. These talks mark the first formal direct discussion between the two states since the recent military escalation on their shared border, which saw the deaths of over 200 people. According to an official statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Mirzoyan underscored that “the use of force or the threat of force is unacceptable, and international mechanisms must be introduced to prevent further escalations,” while also highlighting “the importance of immediate resolution of humanitarian issues, including the repatriation of prisoners of war.” In turn, Bayramov drew attention to “Azerbaijan’s position on ensuring peace in the region” and emphasised his readiness for “urgent negotiations” in accordance with the tripartite declarations between the countries’ leaders and the result of the Brussels meeting.

Second wave of Russians enter Georgia after mobilisation announcement. As several EU countries bordering Russia tighten travel restrictions or abolish tourist visas to Russian citizens altogether, Georgia, where Russians can reside for one year without a visa, remains one of the easiest alternative exit routes for those fleeing the ‘partial’ mobilisation ordered by President Putin on Wednesday. A video published by RFE/RL showed long lines of vehicles on the Russian-Georgian border. A Russian man in the video claimed the queue at the border was 5-6 km long and that people had waited for 24 hours to get through. Kakhaber Kemoklidze, political secretary of the ‘For Georgia’ party, suggested that immigration should record more information about Russians entering the country and that this information should be passed on to the State Security Service. Georgia’s revenue service rejected reports of a drastic increase in the number of individuals crossing the country’s northern border from Russia, stating that there was “no sharp difference” observed over the past 10 days.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Kazakh government faces influx of Russians fleeing conscription. Just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced “partial military mobilisation,” as a move to halt a string of Ukrainian military successes, the number of Russians escaping the draft by crossing the border into Kazakhstan has sharply risen. Traffic between the Russian and Kazakh border has swelled to kilometres-long jams, and Kazakhstan’s government has been scrambling to control the new arrivals. On 23 September, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that “foreign citizens of any country do not have the right to reside on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan indefinitely, they must comply with the requirements of the migration legislation of our country.” Writing for Eurasianet, Daniyar Moldabekov notes that unlike the previous wave of Russian émigrés to Kazakhstan, consisting mostly of “craft beer-swilling hipster consultants, IT workers and objectors to Putin’s war, now it is literally anybody who doesn’t want to be at the front.” 

Displacement of Turkmen migrants in Kazakhstan. Of around 800 migrants who arrived in Kazakhstan from Turkmenistan this summer, only a handful were allowed to stay in the Mangistau region (where many hope to settle in what is their “historical homeland”), even despite others having homes in the area. The rest are forced to move to other “labour-deficient” regions. If they refuse to move, they are threatened with deportation. Several testimonials seem to claim that the displacement leaves some migrants without any shelter or jobs, as the authorities do not provide adequate support upon resettlement. The C10 visa issued to most Turkmen migrants does mention a region of entry, but does not specify that it is mandatory to stay there. Some migrants sell their properties and belongings to make the trip out of Turkmenistan and are subsequently left in a limbo due to this situation. Both the Mangistau regional authorities and the Foreign Ministry point fingers at each other, trying to pass the blame.

🚃 In Central Europe…

The Baltics and Russia’s mobilisation. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of Russia’s partial mobilisation did not go unnoticed in the Baltic States. More specifically, while a discussion on whether to offer refuge to Russians fleeing their country to avoid mobilisation has swept across European capitals, the Baltic States did not hesitate. Already on Wednesday, several Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian ministers stated that their countries would not offer refuge to any Russians fleeing Moscow’s mobilisation of troops. Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs cited “security concerns” as the reason for his country’s refusal, he also condemned those fleeing Russia because of mobilisation as before they “were fine with killing Ukrainians, they did not protest then.” At the same time, Lithuania, home to scores of Russians who left their country for political reasons earlier on, witnessed several anti-mobilisation protests by said Russians, with the protestors stating their hope that “this move by Putin only brings his end closer.”

The ball is back in Hungary’s court after EC proposes funding cuts. On 18 September, the European Commission (EC) recommended the suspension of €7.5 billion in European Union (EU) funding for Hungary (around 65% for three operational programs – environmental protection, transport, and regional development, under the EU cohesion funds) over corruption and structural rule of law violations. The Hungarian government was given two months grace period, until 19 November, to address all concerns, meet all 17 commitments made to the EC earlier and implement the key anti-corruption measures. This is the first time the EC imposed a conditionality mechanism aiming at protecting the rule of law in the EU. After the deadline, the decision to suspend EU funding at the Council level will only require a qualified majority, which amounts to 55% of the 27 member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population. The loss of EU income would put the economic growth and fiscal balance of Hungary at risk and would add to the inflationary pressures.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

German and Dutch “election observers” in Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories. Having received an invitation from Russia, Stefan Schaller went from Germany to Zaporizhzhia Oblast to work as an “election observer” during the sham referendum on joining Russia. Schaller, managing director at Energie Waldeck-Frankenberg, a local German energy company, stated that “it is not the case that people have been forced to vote at gunpoint,” despite evidence pointing to the contrary. After an international media controversy, Schaller has decided to leave Ukraine. For his career at EWF, however, this might come too late: after the German district called for Schaller’s resignation, EWF has stated that it will decide on the fate of its managing director by 26 September. Meanwhile, Dutch national Sonja van den Ende – who accompanied the Russian army in Ukraine on a press tour during which she refuted any Russian responsibility for the atrocities committed at Bucha and Mariupol earlier this year – currently remains in Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories as an “election observer.”

🌲 In Russia…

Prisoner Exchange Angers Russian Nationalists. On the evening of Wednesday 21 September, Ukraine announced that a prisoner swap had taken place with Russia. Around 200 Ukrainian soldiers, among them defenders of the Azovstal factory, were swapped for a small number of Russian soldiers and “Putin’s brother-in-law” Viktor Medvedchuk. Medvedchuk, often called Putin’s ally in Ukraine, was under arrest since April 2022 for treason after he escaped his house arrest on 27 February. His releasing means, according to RT propaganda chief Maria Simonyan, that Russia lost the information war of prisoner exchanges. This exchange struck a nerve with Russian nationalists like Igor Girkin, as the defenders of the Azovstal factory were members of the vilified Azov battalion, and were supposed to be tried for war crimes. An increasing trend in Russian nationalist circles is to critique how the Kremlin is handling the war. It is to be seen how unpopular measures such as the recent mobilisation will strengthen this nationalist critique of the Kremlin.

Putin’s announcement on a partial mobilization. On Wednesday, 21 September, Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization in Russia, claiming the Western countries pose a threat to Russia’s territorial integrity. To respond to that threat, the Kremlin is ready to deploy “all weapons resources at their disposal,” implicitly hinting at nuclear weapons as well), highlighting that these words are “not a bluff.” Right after Putin’s announcement, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu elaborated that 300,000 reservists will be called up to serve in the military campaign in Ukraine. It is not a coincidence that Russia introduced a new law that would provide Russian citizenship to foreigners who fight for Russia in Ukraine some hours after the speech. The announcement sparked protests in 38 Russian cities: security forces detained more than 1,300 people (1386 according to monitoring website OVD-Info), denouncing mobilization in Russia on Wednesday. The remarkable number of Google searches coming from Russian servers for “where can you go from Russia without a passport” or “how to break a hand,” as well as the images of thousands of cars at the borders and people waiting at the airports, show the desperation of Russian citizens trying to avoid mobilization.

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

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