Lossi 36 Weekly #34: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Political controversy around Communist-era secret police files in Albania, OSCE & EU monitoring missions in Armenia, border tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, calls for a special tribunal on Russia’s crime of aggression from the Baltics, the risk of a Khakovka-dam catastrophe, Kadyrov’s children in Ukraine, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Poland’s cohesion funds at stake in the rule of law spat with the EU. Charles Adrien Fourmi
The Polish government and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have reacted to the European Commission announcing it was now considering withholding Poland’s cohesion funds, i.e. the money intended for Poland as part of efforts to mitigate economic differences among EU Member States. Polish President Andrzej Duda believes the decision to be politically motivated and an “obvious attempt to influence the freedom of elections in Poland” (the next parliamentary elections are due to take place next autumn). Duda compared the Commission’s reported plans to the “Soviet shackles that [once] imposed an unwanted government on us.” Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki played down the reports, saying he did not “think the funds from the EU are at risk”. Brussels has long supported tougher reactions to rule of law violations in EU member states, including blocking access to EU funds. The independence of the Polish judiciary following reforms by the PiS government has been repeatedly questioned in this regard. Local politicians, such as the Mayor of Łódź Hanna Zdanowska, are concerned financially about ‘key infrastructure investments’ for their cities, which will not be implemented if the EU funds are lost.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Petition against Bosnian-Serb historical film for engaging in genocide denial. More than 27,000 people have signed a petition organized by the Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada to prevent European premiers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands of Boris Malagurski’s film Republika Srpska: The Struggle for Freedom. Emir Ramić, director of IGC, claims that the film engages in historical revisionism that “denies the Bosnian genocide and the laws and verdicts of international courts and the United Nations.” Additionally, the petition cites concerns over the director’s previous role as an editor and journalist for Russian-state funded news networks Russia Today and Sputnik, especially at a time of growing awareness over Russia’s role in inciting conflict in the Western Balkans. The film, which promotes the independence of Republika Srpska and its unification with Serbia, does so at the expense of the destruction of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Albanian ruling Socialist Party blocks access to documents about Communist-era secret police. The Socialist Party MPs in Albania blocked on Friday the request made by the Democratic Party to declassify all documents related to the Sigurimi, the communist Albania secret police. The request was made after the Authority for Information on Former State Security Documents said in July that it received a request to verify information that a high-profile politician with the initials I.M. was named an informer in the Sigurimi files. Pro-government media pointed at former president Ilir Meta, who is now in the opposition, and who filed a lawsuit against the Authority, accusing them of politically motivated forgery, and denying any ties to the police organisation. The Socialist Party expressed its intention to remove all Sigurimi collaborators from politics, but still voted against the declassification, stirring the now reopened discussion on why scholars and the public cannot access the files.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
OSCE and EU send monitoring missions to Armenia. The recent flare-up of violence on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has made it apparent that there is a dire need for international observers to return to the region. Earlier this month, high-level talks between the Presidents of France, the EU, Armenia, and Azerbaijan resulted in Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev approving a 40-member EU-led monitoring mission to Armenia, which will be stationed there for two months. Despite this agreement, tension rose again when on 12 October the French President Emmanuel Macron claimed it was Azerbaijan that had launched the attacks that had escalated the violence in September. Macron’s comments triggered an avalanche of criticism which led to a song being performed by a children’s choir on Azerbaijan’s public television insulting him and accusing him of being dishonest and pro-Armenian. Despite this apparent setback, on 19 October the OSCE announced that it was responding to an invitation from the Armenian government to send a needs assessment team to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border between 21-27 October.
Protests against Tbilisi mayor following the death of a 13-year-old. Protestors have continued to call for the resignation of Tbilisi’s mayor Kakha Kaladze following the death of a teenager in the Georgian capital’s Vake Park. The 13-year-old and one of her friends were electrocuted in a newly renovated fountain on 13 October, the day after the park was officially reopened during a ceremony attended by Kaladze. Many of the protestors are accusing Kaladze’s administration of blatant corruption, leading to a lack of safety precautions and construction standards. There had been previous accusations of corruption against the company involved in the renovation, and nine people involved in the reconstruction of the fountain have been arrested so far. While the head of Tbilisi City Hall’s environmental protection department, Giga Gigashvili, resigned on 19 October, Kaladze remains intransigent
🛤 In Central Asia…
Border tensions continue between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Dushanbe has accused Bishkek of violating cease-fire agreements near the disputed segments of their common border after dozens of people were killed on both sides as a result of clashes in September. On 19 October, Tajik authorities claimed that Kyrgyzstan was undertaking “premeditated actions aimed at escalating the situation.” The Kyrgyz authorities have denied these allegations and have, in turn, accused Tajikistan of leaving deadly mines on the disputed territories. Kyrgyzstan has also pleaded with the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, of which both disputing parties are members, to station troops along the border to avoid renewed violence. As almost half of the 970-kilometre-long border remains to be demarcated, delimitation is key in the resolution of the conflict. To this end, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who mediated talks between his Kyrgyz and Tajik counterparts in Astana on 13 October, has reportedly agreed to provide Kyrgyzstan with archived Soviet-era maps. The particularly complicated situation near the numerous enclaves of the Ferghana Valley, where the Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek borders meet, is in part a result of the Soviet division of the region in the 1920s.
🚃 In Central Europe…
The Baltics call for a special tribunal to probe Russia’s crime of aggression. On 16 October, before the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania issued a joint statement calling on the EU to establish a special tribunal for the punishment of Russian leaders for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. The tribunal would complement the actions of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which will open an investigation to prosecute individuals for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. It would also add to the efforts of an international investigation team probing war crimes, composed of Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, and Romania. While these other formats can help hold Russia accountable for its war crimes and crimes against humanity, the special tribunal proposal focuses on the crime of aggression in itself, which does not fall under the jurisdiction of any of the existing judicial institutions.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
A catastrophe that cannot be ignored. In the past two weeks, Russia has increased its massive attacks on power stations, water supply systems and other key infrastructure of Ukraine. Having 30 to 40 percent of generation capacity damaged, the government introduced scheduled rolling blackouts in cities and towns across the country to conserve power. The attacks on critical infrastructure seemed not to be enough for the Kremlin, and the danger of the Kakhovka Hydro Power Plant being destroyed is currently incredibly high. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the Kakhovka HPP was mined by the Russian army and the last one would use it as a false flag attack to blame Ukraine for destruction and death cases. If the Kakhovka dam were destroyed, more than 80 settlements, including Kherson, would be in the zone of rapid flooding, hundreds of thousands of people would be killed, and Europe’s biggest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia would be left without cooling water. Meanwhile, Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, accused the Ukrainians of using U.S.-supplied HIMARS for a potential attack on the Kakhovka dam.
Ukraine recognizes occupied Chechnya. On the evening of 18 October, the Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution recognizing “the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation.” The legislative body also recognized the genocide of the Chechen people during the First and Second Wars. On the same evening, a petition to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, requesting recognition of Ichkeria, garnered 25.000 signatures. It will now be taken under consideration. Ukraine is the first to recognize Chechen sovereignty since the Taliban. Ichkeria’s victory here is the result of a months-long lobbying campaign by politicians and volunteer fighters. The resolution’s phrasing (‘temporarily occupied’ by Russia) is provocative: it will surely antagonise officials in Moscow and Grozny. It also suggests that Ukraine may help the Chechens take back their homeland, via state-level assistance rather than with volunteers. In reality, it remains to be seen whether Ukraine will do more than serve as an assembly ground for Ichkerian forces.
🌲 In Russia…
Kadyrov’s children tour occupied Ukraine. The head of Chechnya’s earlier announcement that his three eldest sons, all minors, would deploy to Ukraine shocked many. They have not been the centre of attention on their tour, however. Kadyrov’s eldest child, Minister for Culture Ayshat Kadyrova, is leading the delegation of Chechen officials in which the sons have been included. Ayshat received the Order of Friendship and Cooperation from Denis Pushilin, the head of Russia-occupied Donetsk. Her duties have evolved since the earlier months of war, as she now plays a larger role in the operations of the Akhmad Kadyrov Fund. The Fund, headed by Kadyrov’s mother, has financed his operations in Ukraine. Ayshat’s greater involvement in its activities is another step forward in the Kadyrov administration’s transition, as she is intended to replace her grandmother as the Fund’s manager.
Back to the USSR? Russian schools experiment with Military Training. Some schools in Russia are experimenting with the return of military training for students. During the Soviet Union, military training had been mandatory for students since 1968. As the partial mobilisation of Russian men turns more and more into a full mobilisation of the country, all sectors of society are expected to cooperate. For example, a kindergarten in the Moscow region recently made headlines because a father of one of the students did a lesson on how to operate an AK-47. Now, officials in St Petersburg have asked prime minister Mishustin to return military training as a normal school course for students.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mane, Kirsty Dick, Xandie Kuenning, Lucie Tafforin, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Charles Adrien Fourmi, Vira Kompaniiets, Bart Alting, & Harold Chambers 💘