Lossi 36 Weekly #36: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: USA denies involvement in electoral changes in Bosnia, rallies in Stepanakert, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan sign water reservoir agreement, coalition talks underway in Latvia, Moldova to probe into FSB financing of Șor Party, rumours of a second round of mobilization in Russia, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Western Balkans sign landmark regional integration agreements under Berlin process summit.Ariadna Mañé
On Thursday, 3 November, the Prime Ministers of six Western Balkan countries – North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, and Serbia – signed three landmark agreements designed to further regional integration, to recognize university degrees and professional qualifications, and to approve the mutual recognition of identity cards, which provides for free movement. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU top officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel joined the six leaders for the Berlin Process Summit, aimed at bringing the countries closer to their goal of joining the Union between fears about the rising influence of Russia and China in the region. In the context of ongoing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, these agreements are seen as a breakthrough in the relations. At the opening of the Summit, Scholz posited that “it is time to overcome regional conflicts, which have kept you divided for a long time, and the process of normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia must be accelerated.”
🌺 In the Balkans…
United States denies allegations of collusion with HDZ and High Representative Schmidt to impose new election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Human rights activist and Columbia University professor Tanya Domi has accused the United States of being the direct culprit behind High Representative Christian Schmidt’s recent decision to impose changes to Bosnia’s electoral law and constitution — a move Domi describes as ‘a shocking display of hubris and illiberalism.’ Tracing Schmidt’s decision back to a letter sent by U.S. Secretary of State Blinken to Bosnia’s tripartite presidency back in March 2021, Domi stated that Washington’s insistence on BiH electoral reform played into the hands of both the Croatian right-wing nationalist party HDZ and Zagreb. The U.S. State Department issued a formal response stating that ‘allegations that these (electoral reform) talks were aimed at fulfilling the aspirations of only one political party are absolutely incorrect.’
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Thousands rally in Nagorno-Karabakh over the region’s future. On 30 October, an estimated 40,000 people gathered in the main square of Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert to protest against the possibility of Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh. The demonstration was organized by the territory’s parliament, which adopted a lengthy statement rejecting any peace deal that would see Azerbaijani control. The rally took place the day before peace talks in Sochi between the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. While Baku and Yerevan “agreed not to use force,” and to “settle all disputes solely on the basis of recognition of mutual sovereignty and territorial integration,” little other progress was made in terms of a settled peace deal.
Tbilisi Court of Appeal upholds sentencing of Nika Gvaramia. On Tuesday, the Georgian Court of Appeal upheld the decision made by the Tbilisi City Court to sentence Nika Gvaramia, founder of Georgia’s main opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, to three and a half years in prison for abuse of power related to his activities while working at Rustavi-2 in 2019. Opposition politicians have called the sentencing politically motivated and have asked President Zurabishvili to pardon him. Georgia’s Public Defender’s office expressed “extreme concern” and stated that the court did not consider the fundamental principles of the separation of civil and criminal liabilities. The U.S. embassy released a statement after the judgement declaring that the imprisonment of Gvaramia “puts at risk the clear choice of the people of Georgia – and Georgian leaders’ stated goal – for a more secure, democratic European future.” Gvaramia has confirmed he will now take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan sign agreement on Kempirabad reservoir. On 3 November, the Kyrgyz and Uzbek foreign ministers signed documents relating to their respective borders, including the hotly contested agreement on the Kempirabad reservoir. The deal will see Kyrgyzstan exchange the reservoir for territory elsewhere in Uzbekistan. It also precedes Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Kyrgyzstan, the date of which is still unclear. Controversy over the border agreement has led to protests in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan, where more than 20 people have been arrested, including politicians, lawmakers, and activists. Protesters accused the government of downplaying the issues relating to the reservoir and failing to provide transparency on the agreement. Indeed, the deal’s wording remains unpublished, and action was taken against those reporting on it, including Radio Free Europe in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has claimed that Kyrgyz farmers will still be able to access the reservoir.
Kazakh President grants mass amnesty over Bloody January. On 2 November, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a decree granting amnesty to over 1500 individuals charged or imprisoned in connection with violence amid the January 2022 anti-government protests, which the authorities claim killed 238 people. Those found guilty of minor crimes will have their charges dropped, and those convicted of more serious crimes will have their prison terms cut by up to 75 percent. Despite these developments, many independent and human rights organisations have criticised the decree for not covering individuals charged and/or convicted of extremism, terrorism, treason, or organising mass disorder, and for requiring confessions as a condition for applying for amnesty. The government is also facing criticism for covering law enforcement officers in the amnesty, which makes human rights groups fear that the new law will allow those who opened fire against protesters to escape responsibility. The January violent unrest followed a peaceful demonstration in Western Kazakhstan over a fuel-price hike, which then turned into widespread anti-government protests across the country.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Protest calls for government resignation on Czech Independence Day. Thousands of “Czech Republic first” protesters, as they call themselves, gathered at Wenceslas Square on 28 October to mark the birth of Czechoslovakia after World War I. Although the Czech government’s has overwhelmingly supported Ukraine, with support ranging from military support and refugee solidarity, not everyone in Czechia unanimously supports Ukrainians today. Government leaders such as Interior Minister Vit Rakusan reacted to the demonstration mentioning on Twitter that “we know who’s our friend and who’s bleeding for our freedom,” indirectly responding to protesters who yelled earlier that “Russia’s not our enemy, the [pro-Western] government of warmongers is the enemy.” Despite being small in numbers, this is the third demonstration in a row including far-right political movements, fringe groups, and the Communist party. Under Czech’s current EU presidency, the Union has managed to impose sanctions to prevent Russia from funding its war against Ukraine with energy profits.
Poland is working with the USA and South Korea to build the first nuclear power plants. On 2 November, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki announced that a US company, Westinghouse Electric, had won the bid to build Poland’s first nuclear power plant (to facilitate its green energy transition) with three reactors on the Baltic Sea coast. Its estimated cost is around $20 billion. The construction will start in 2026. The first reactor is expected to operate by 2033. Moreover, a deal with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) was completed to build another private nuclear power station with three reactors in central Poland. With the EU Green Deal and other energy diversification efforts, such as the Baltic Power offshore wind farm, the Baltic Pipe Project, and the Three Seas Initiative, Poland’s endeavours to phase out fossil fuel consumption by 2049, become Central Europe’s energy hub, and to leverage its energy security, which is contested by Russia’s suspension of natural gas to Poland in spring, seem to be successful.
Talks to form a new Latvian coalition government are underway. The triumph of New Victory, the Latvian ruling centrist party, in Latvia’s parliamentary elections on 1 October with 19%, allows incumbent PM Krišjānis Kariņš’ to lead another coalition government. On 3 November, New Unity (JV), centre United List (AS), and right-wing National Alliance (NA) parties signed a memorandum of cooperation to form a majority coalition, with a combined 54 out of 100 seats in the Saeima. Last week, the first session of the newly elected parliament was held, where MP Edvards Smiltēns from AS was elected as the Speaker. Under the new ruling coalition, Latvia’s foreign policy direction is likely to remain pro-EU, pro-Atlantic, vocal of Russia’s aggression, and supportive of Ukraine. Regarding domestic politics, with the left-leaning pro-Russia Harmony (Saskaņa) not being represented in this parliament and Riga’s increasing pressure on the Kremlin, leading to the intensified language marginalisation policy, debates on the position of Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority (around 25% of Latvia’s population) may continue.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Iran admitted sending drones to Russia. On Saturday, 5 November, Iran acknowledged for the first time that it had supplied the Kremlin with drones, however, they were sent before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian denied that more drones had been delivered to Russia since the war and reassured that the country “wouldn’t remain indifferent” if the use of Iranian drones were to be proven. It is also believed that Tehran and Kyiv had agreed to discuss allegations about the use of Iranian drones two weeks ago, but the Ukrainian side did not show up for the arranged meeting. Shortly after Iran’s acknowledgement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Iran of “lying” and “terrorist cooperation” by supporting Russia’s terrorizing crimes. To hide the origin of the drones, they were renamed to Geranium-2, and it seems that Iran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including a surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missile and more drones to Russia.
Moldova to start investigations into Kremlin’s economic support for pro-Russian parties. The Moldovan General Prosecutor’s Office and the Intelligence and Security Service, SIS, will dig into the FSB’s alleged financial support for Ilan Șor, founder of Moldova’s populist “Șor Party.” The investigations by the Moldovan persecutor were announced after the US Department of Treasury announced sanctions against nine individuals and 12 entities, including Șor and his party, on 26 October. The announcement also followed the Washington Post’s investigation into the Kremlin’s funding of Moldova’s former president Igor Dodon and his Socialist Party to advance its interests. According to the newspaper, Moscow has now switched support from Dodon to Șor. The politician is accused of paying protesters to demonstrate against the pro-western government led by the MP Maia Sandu.
🌲 In Russia…
Ingush authorities conduct raids on Batalkhadzhintsy brotherhood. The region’s siloviki have been attempting to eliminate the group since the assassination of a senior security official in November 2019. The recent escalation followed an attack on 16 October by members of the brotherhood. Authorities have framed their current actions as a war. Most of the Batalkhadzhintsy’s leadership have now been arrested, but they were previously the main alternative power holders in the small republic. The group has clashed with authorities on numerous issues crucial to the Kremlin’s policy. Facing eradication at home, the brotherhood’s remaining leaders have sought refuge with Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who recently issued a video statement in support of the group, antagonising Ingush authorities. The current circumstances illustrate the precariousness of the Ingush government, which has been lacking public support since mass protests in 2018. These events all raise the question: can the North Caucasus authorities keep control if they are not at war?
Mobilisation returning? Rumours of an imminent second round of mobilisation in Russia come days after President Putin declared the first round completed. Following the announcement, Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov refused to halt his mobilisation efforts, even after the presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the conscription had ended. At least one village in Kabardino-Balkaria also continued issuing summonses. Commencing a second wave of conscription would be a risky move, however. The first mobilisation sparked countrywide protests, even in Chechnya, with some actions devolving into violent brawls. Partisans began to destroy rail lines and burn enlistment offices across Russia, but especially throughout Siberia and the Middle Volga, while two conscripts killed their compatriots at a training ground in Belgorod. Meanwhile, the Russian army continues to collapse in Ukraine, lacking manpower, kit, and equipment. Conscripts are already returning home in body bags, and, at the time of writing, the abandonment of Kherson is well underway. A renewed mobilisation effort would therefore likely cause more severe public unrest.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Ariadna Mane, Megan McCullough, Lucie Tafforin, Sarah Fairman, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Charles Fourmi, Adriano Rodari, Bart Alting, Xandie Kuenning, Kirsty Dick, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘