Lossi 36 Weekly #37: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Serb mass resignation in Kosovo, intra-opposition turmoil in Georgia, American Assistant Secretary of State in Turkmenistan, Hungary to obscure additional EU funds to Ukraine, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Strasbourg, Putin to snub the G20, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
The liberation of Kherson.Vira Kompaniiets
After the Kremlin announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson, a key strategic city of the Kherson region, 11 November became a truly historic day for Ukraine: the liberation of Kherson. The beginning of November not only brought freedom to Kherson – Russian forces pulled out entirely from the western bank of the river Dnipro. Before the Ukrainian army was greeted and cheered by the those who survived the occupation and the humanitarian crisis, the Russian army looted the city shamelessly: ambulances, tractors, private cars, archives, and paintings and sculptures from the art and local lore museums. Ukrainian authorities cautiously approached Kherson, knowing that Russian troops could disguise as civilians: some Russians had previously taken over Ukrainian homes following a so-called “evacuation” of Ukrainians out of Kherson, leaving thousands of unexploded ordnances behind.
While Kyiv is working on stabilization measures and humanitarian aid for the people of Kherson, the Russian army named Henichesk as the new “capital” of the Russian-occupied Kherson region. After the retreat, it was reported that several bridges were damaged, especially the Antonivsky bridge in Kherson and the Nova Kakhovka dam further up the Dnipro. Although 70% of the region remains under the Russian control, Volodymyr Zelenskyy assured “a sea of Ukrainian flags” would be back in Henichesk, Mariupol, Donbas, and Crimea – everywhere.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Serbs resign en-masse from state institutions across Kosovo. Following Kosovo’s controversial decision to implement its new ruling on the use of Serbian licence plates in the country, ethnic Serbs have resigned en-masse from government institutions including political offices, police services, and the judiciary. The new law, which would have finally begun the process of forcing Serbian residents to gradually switch over from old Serbian registered licence plates, to new Kosovo-registered ones, took effect last Tuesday. From that point onwards, the police were required to provide warnings to drivers with the old plates for the next 3 weeks, following which fines would be levied. Serb officers, however, almost unanimously refused to implement the new law, and have taken to protesting instead. It has been reported that from 5 November onwards, over 300 Serbs have already resigned from government posts, and protests have been attended by thousands of Serbs in the northern town of Mitrovica, demanding the immediate reversal of the new law.
Election to key post in North Macedonia’s prosecutor’s office raises eyebrows. Four candidates competed in last week’s election for the head of the Organised Crime and Corruption Prosecution department. The winner turned out to be Islam Abazi, a little-known prosecutor from the town of Gostivar. Abazi’s lack of participation in the election campaign, which included candidates presenting their platforms and participating in televised debates, made some question how he managed to secure 66 out of 163 votes of fellow public prosecutors. It has also been noted that he comes from the same village as Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration. However, Abazi denies having any political links. In recent years, North Macedonia’s prosecution has suffered from a series of scandals, notably the so-called “Extortion scandal,” which saw the end of the country’s Special Prosecution. Time will tell if Mr Abazi’s career will shed a more positive light on the institution which he will now lead.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Georgia’s opposition party UNM in turmoil. On 9 November, regional party leaders of United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition party, demanded internal elections. In stating that elections for the post of party chair would be “most important,” this call signals a potential attempt to oust party leader Nika Melia. Melia, who has been chair of the party for more than two years, claimed that the internal elections were his own proposal, and that members are now discussing details regarding how the race will be organised. UNM has seen a number of its members leave the party in recent months, and a change in leadership is no guarantee to an end of its troubles.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Uzbekistan lobbies EU to drop sanctions on oligarch Usmanov. As the EU is seeking to build closer ties to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Uzbekistan is planning to use its new influence to lobby the EU to lift sanctions on Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek-born Russian oligarch. Uzbekistan has signalled its readiness to assist Usmanov in any legal action if the EU rejects Tashkent’s request to lift the sanctions. Usmanov previously argued that the sanctions imposed upon him were based on “unjust and unsubstantiated accusations”. In September, sanctions were lifted from Usmanov’s sister, Saodat Narzieva, after it was discovered that the shares her sanctions were based on had been given to her in 2014, long before Usmanov was sanctioned. Uzbekistan’s plans to lobby the EU came to light in the same week German officials searched UBS bank branches in Frankfurt and Munich as part of an investigation into suspected money-laundering by Usmanov. Last Wednesday, 30 paintings worth €5 million were confiscated from the oligarch’s yacht Dilbar.
US meets Turkmenistan. On 6 November, Donald Lu, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, paid a visit to Ashgabat as part of his tour of Central Asia. The point of the trip was quite clearly to strengthen America’s involvement and visual presence in Moscow’s backyard. As reported by Turkmen state media, Lu stressed the importance of multilateral and bilateral cooperation between the two states for reaching sustainable economic development. During Lu’s visit, the FLEX exchange programme, which facilitates exchange trips for Turkmen high school students to the US, was relaunched. Lu and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov also discussed the Trans-Caspian pipeline. Lu claimed that Washington would do its part to push the project forward, but would not buy oil from Turkmenistan, as apparently the US had sufficient supply already. The Turkmen accession to the WTO, which would also be contingent on American assistance, considering the closed nature of Turkmenistan’s economy, was also likely on the agenda.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Mural honouring Ryszard Siwiec is unveiled in Prague. The Polish citizen Ryszard Siwiec set himself on fire in 1968, almost three weeks after the brutal intervention of the Soviet army in the wake of the Prague Spring. The act was one of protest against communist rule in Poland and Soviet aggression. Before his act of protest, Siwiec recorded an aural manifesto where he spoke the words: “Hear my cry, the cry of a grey ordinary man, a son of the nation, who loves his own and other people’s freedom above all else. It is not too late!” Karol Nawroski, president of the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland, laid flowers at the monument next to the mural and stated that Siwiec’s legacy is his message that no price is too high in fighting communism. According to Kamil Nedvědický, deputy head of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Siwiec’s message of resisting totalitarian regimes and violent invasions “is still a topical issue today.”
Hungary threatens EU funds aimed to support Ukraine. On 9 November, on the occasion of the EU Ambassadors’ meeting, Viktor Orbán’s administration manifested its unwillingness to back a support loan to Ukraine. On the same day, the loan package, amounting to €18 billion, and aimed at supporting Ukraine financially, was proposed by the European Commission. Initiatives on budget cannot, however, be finalised without the unanimous approval of the 27 member states. Hungary’s reaction concerned a number of EU countries, which interpreted it as an attempt to blackmail the EU with the purpose of unblocking Hungary’s funds that could be denied to the country due to the rule of law non-compliance. A justification for the decision to not back aid funds to Ukraine was provided by Mihály Varga, Hungarian Ministry of Finance, who declared that the country wants to help Ukraine, perhaps bilaterally, but does “not wish to contribute to any new loan taken up by the EU.”
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Council of Europe organizes its first meeting with the Contact Group on Belarus. On 7 November, Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, launched the opening meeting of the Contact Group on Belarus in Strasbourg, together with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The meeting focused on establishing the priorities of the cooperation in more detail. The Contact Group was established a month prior, and its main goal is to “hold regular exchanges together with Tsikhanouskaya and other representatives of Belarusian democratic opposition forces.” The responsibilities of the Contact Group revolve around developing, organizing, and overseeing programs and projects that benefit the Belarusians. The Belarusian opposition leader in exile stated that “our strategic aim is to have Belarus join the Council as a full member, and this is the first step. Now Belarusians will be heard in the heart of Europe, loud and clear.’’
🌲 In Russia…
Minority rights trump corporate interests in Dagestan. The Nogai rights group “Sangishi” won lawsuits to cancel two contracts between the Kizlyar district government and agricultural corporations. This case is important for a few reasons. First, it is a defeat for local corruption, which permitted the contracts initially. Second, it demonstrated that the people can still assert their rights against big business in economically challenged Dagestan. Third, the Nogai regain control of valuable land. The Nogai are a Turkic steppe people, heavily reliant on local grasslands that are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. This last point is particularly important, as the North Caucasus has been increasingly feeling the effects of climate change. Dagestan is witnessing the Caspian Sea retreat while severe floods ravage the countryside and cities. The central and western parts of the region are also facing heavy floods and glaciers melting. Accelerating consequences will only make life more difficult throughout the region.
Putin snubs the G20 Summit. Last Thursday, Russian officials said that the Russian President – who is internationally isolated because of his country’s aggression in Ukraine – will not go to the G20 Summit in Indonesia on 15-16 November. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, will travel to Indonesia instead. If Putin travelled to the summit in Bali, he would end up in the same room with the US President Joe Biden, and the latter clearly stated he had no intentions of meeting with the Russian President. Joko Widodo, their Indonesian counterpart and host of the summit, insisted on inviting Putin, and emphasised his country’s official neutral foreign policy. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was also invited, but will attend the summit remotely.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Sam Appels, Merijn Hermens, Myriam Marino, Jordi Beckers, Chaharika Uppal, Cameron MacBride, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Xandie Kuenning, Kirsty Dick, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘