Lossi 36 Weekly #33: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: ​​European Commission recommends candidate status for BosniaAzerbaijan and Armenia intent on peace, CSTO drill cancelled by Kyrgyzstan, anti-LGBT+ shooting in SlovakiaUkrainian cities shelled by RussiaChechen veterans join Ukrainian forces, and much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

A very memorable speech. Chaharika Uppal

The CICA summit on 13 October in Astana renewed Kazakhstan’s chairpersonship of the organisation. The summit also witnessed a trilateral meeting between Vladimir Putin, President Rahmon of Tajikistan and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, which discussed regional stability and security, in the context of the border clashes between the latter two, as well as the possibility of demarcation and delimitation of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. Yet just a day later, on 14 October, Rahmon addressed his concerns to Vladimir Putin during the CIS summit (a very public forum) in a long and definitely unscripted speech about Russia’s lack of respect towards the Central Asian states, and asks him to not treat them like they were treated during the final years of the Soviet Union. Rahmon argued that Russia’s economic interest in Tajikistan is largely self-interested, with little regard for the improvement of the local economy. While the speech may have been directed towards securing more Russian assistance, just that fact that Rahmon could say this is a sign of Russia’s waning power. Some analysts saw Rahmon’s outburst as a signal that Russian power in Central Asia is waning, while others considered his demands for more durable economic relations a reassertion of Rahmon’s political loyalty to Russia as its only “viable strategic partner.”

🌺 In the Balkans…

EU Commission recommends candidate status for Bosnia – with conditions. In its annual enlargement report, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood & Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, announced the Commission’s recommendation for Bosnia to finally be granted EU candidate status – with the requirement that further reforms be implemented alongside this. The Commission’s report stressed, however, that key reforms, mainly in the areas of the rule of law, securing an independent judiciary, and tougher action against organised crime, must all be undertaken if Sarajevo truly wished to pursue its goal of EU membership. The final decision to grant candidate status remains with the EU Council, and it is unclear when the 27 heads of state and government will discuss the matter. If Bosnia is able to attain candidate status in the coming months, it would join Ukraine and Moldova, who were granted EU candidacy in June of this year.

Another blow to Kosovo’s EU visa liberalisation. One of the priorities of Czechia’s six-month EU Presidency was to bring an end to EU visa requirements for citizens of Kosovo, four years after the European Commission had concluded that Kosovo had fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks. In its annual assessment of the reforms in the Western Balkans, which was published last week, the Commission reiterated this long-standing position. Despite the push from Prague and the positive assessment from Berlaymont, another roadblock to Kosovo’s visa-free status was presented by France, backed by several other EU members, during an EU Council Summit last Thursday. On top of Member States’ existing demands for additional security guarantees, France, for the first time, proposed that Kosovo’s visa-free status be coupled with the functioning of the European security system (ETIAS), despite it being offline until a currently unspecified date. Despite Czechia’s initial optimism, reaching a definitive solution to this issue before the end of its Presidency seems far from likely.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Armenia and Azerbaijan to sign a peace treaty by the end of the year. A quadrilateral meeting of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, mediated by France and the European Union and organised within the framework of the first summit of the European Political Community, which was held in Prague on 6 October, was marked by important results. Following several hours of talks, both Pashinyan and Aliyev reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of territorial integrity. Unexpectedly, as a result of the negotiations, it was also decided that an EU civilian mission would be sent to Armenia’s border regions for a two-month term. The main purpose of this mission, which will notably be located in a member country of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, is to help both sides define their undemarcated and undeliminated borders. As for fixing the results of the Prague negotiations, both Baku and Yerevan have declared that a peace agreement, which will end their interstate conflict, is expected to be signed by the end of this year.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Kyrgyzstan cancels CSTO exercise Indestructible Brotherhood. On Sunday 9 October, the CSTO military exercise ‘Indestructible Brotherhood’ was cancelled by Kyrgyzstan with less than 24 hours’ notice. The post-Soviet answer to NATO, whose members include Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Tajikistan, have found themselves in a state of disunion. Last month, Armenia skipped a CSTO military drill after criticising the bloc for not providing military assistance when non-member Azerbaijan began attacking their border, while the bloc have also failed to present a response to the recent Kyrgyz-Tajik bloody border disputes. Kyrgyzstan added insult to injury when President Japarov did not attend a CIS meeting which took place in Russia on Putin’s birthday. Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Edil Baisalov, told RIA Novosti that his country’s membership in the CSTO was “absolutely inviolable,” however in light of the recent outbreaks of violence on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, the government was unanimous in deciding that the drills would be cancelled as “the blood has not calmed down.” Russian lawmaker Konstantin Zatulin accused Kyrgyzstan of indulging in a “game” and wishing “not to fall under any spread of Western sanctions.”

🚃 In Central Europe…

“Latvia has to be on alert for Russian content making its way back to Latvian television.” This is what Ivars Āboliņš, chairman of National Electronic Mass Media Council in Latvia (NEPLP), warned for in a recent interview. Āboliņš cited the efforts of a not further specified businessman, who tried to register banned Russian channels in Latvia, as well as the inclusion of content from banned Russian channels on Latvian channels, as examples. In June this year, the NEPLP banned the remaining Russian channels available in Latvia, after already banning Russian state media accused of propaganda. This was achieved on the basis of the Electronic Mass Media law amendments, which outlined that “channels registered in a country threatening the territorial integrity and independence of another country should not be operational in Latvia.” The NEPLP justified these measures by pointing to the necessity to counter Russia’s information war throughout Europe in the light of the war in Ukraine. Āboliņš called for the NEPLP monitoring centre to be on alert and for legislation to be adapted to “the existing situation.”

Slovakia reels after anti-LGBT+ shooting, while Slovenia legalises same-sex marriages. Thousands marched in Bratislava last week to condemn homophobia, after two gay men had been shot dead on Wednesday outside one of the very few LGBT+ bars in Slovakia. The suspected gunman was found dead the following morning, with Slovak media reporting that his social media activity indicated that he held anti-LGBT and antisemitic views. During the protest on Friday, the Presidential Palace hung a rainbow flag next to the Slovak and EU flags, while President Zuzana Čaputová apologised to the LGBT+ community for the fact that they could not feel safe in the country, and called on Slovak politicians to stop spreading hate. Meanwhile, in early October, Slovenia became the first European post-communist country to fully legalise same-sex marriages and adoption. The vote in Slovenian parliament came after the country’s constitutional court had ruled in July that the law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman discriminated against gay and lesbian couples.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Belarus and Russia form a joint regional military command. At a meeting on security issues on 10 October with his top military command, Lukashenka stated that there is a clear threat to Belarus from Kyiv and the West. Therefore, Minsk and Moscow decided to form a joint regional group of Russian and Belarusian troops. The Belarusian dictator did not elaborate on any details of this task force. Lukashenka said that Ukraine is planning to attack Belarus and that he has received a warning “through unofficial channels that Ukraine planned “Crimean Bridge 2.”’’ However, his claims are not supported by any evidence. At a special G7 summit on 11 October, called for after Russia’s widespread bombing of Ukrainian cities, Zelenskyy asked for a mission of international observers on the border of Ukraine and Belarus, in order to “monitor the security situation.”

New wave of massive Russian attacks on Ukraine. On 10 October, Ukraine was shaken by attacks from Russia. As a result, at least 12 civilians were found dead and more than 100 were injured in Kyiv, Dnipro, and Zaporizhzhia, as well as in the Kyiv and Sumy regions. The Russian army targeted civilian national infrastructure across Ukraine (which caused multiple power blackouts and disruptions to water supplies and communication) and even the National Philharmonic. Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that the attacks were in retaliation to the bombing of the bridge linking Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea on 8 October. However, according to the Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, the Russian army received commands to prepare for massive attacks against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure from the Kremlin even before the Kerch Bridge blast. As of now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that air defence was the number one priority, while NATO allies are rushing to reinforce air defence shields for both Ukraine and Europe.

🌲 In Russia…

Chechen veterans join Ukrainian forces. On 10 October, the “Chechens in Ukraine” Telegram channel announced that “Abdul-Hakim together with his group arrived in Ukraine.” Their message was seemingly confirmed by the Separate Special Purpose Battalion (OBON) of the Ichkerian Armed Forces, which fights as part of Ukraine’s Foreign Legion. Abdul-Hakim al-Shishani is the nom de guerre of Rustam Azhiev, a veteran Chechen commander who defended Grozny as a part of the Ichkerian Armed Forces in the late 2000s. He then joined the Caucasus Emirate and eventually left to fight in Syria, where he headed the Ajnad al-Kavkaz (AK) unit until 2019. It is other former members of AK that have accompanied him to Ukraine. Azhiev’s decision to join with Ichkerian Armed Forces – which have declared loyalty to Akhmed Zakayev’s government-in-exile – has raised questions among more religious factions of the North Caucasus opposition, as the ideology that Azhiev has followed clashes directly with that of Zakayev.

Russia’s plans for the reconstruction of destroyed Mariupol leaked. Last Wednesday, the Russian website The Village published a copy of Moscow’s plan to reconstruct the occupied Ukrainian port city in Donetsk Oblast. The battle over Mariupol has been the most brutal conflict to date of the Russian war in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian authorities, more than 20,000 citizens of Mariupol died. The plan sets the restoration of housing as its top priority and spans over the period until 2035. The authors estimate Mariupol’s population currently to be at 212,000, but it stated that it expects the city to reach its pre-war population of 450,000 by 2030. There are plans for rebuilding the Mariupol Drama Theatre and the Azovstal steel plant – both symbols of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Tijs van de Vijver, Shujaat Ahmadzada, Chaharika Uppal, Kirsty Dick, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Chaharika Uppal, Jordi Beckers, Vira Kompaniiets, Sam Appels, & Harold Chambers 💘

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