Lossi 36 Weekly #38: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Montenegro to pay back part of Yugoslavia‘s deb to Libya; French Senate votes on Nagorno-Karabakh recognition; Presidential elections in Kazakhstan; structural changes in Hungarian government; IKEA’s forced labour in Belarus; women’s protests in Voronezh, Russia; and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Court’s verdict on the MH17 case.Vira Kompaniiets
On 17 November 2022, the District Court of The Hague, sitting in the MH17 criminal case, sentenced accused Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko to life imprisonment, considering their involvement in the crash of the MH17 flight and the murder of the 298 people on board. Defendant Oleg Pulatov was acquitted for lack of evidence, being the only defendant with lawyers to defend him and who had asked the Court for acquittal. It was revealed that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was hit by a Buk missile fired from a farm field near Pervomaiskyi in Ukraine (a separatist-controlled territory) with the involvement of the Russian Federation and the three individuals mentioned. While the court confirmed that the crash of the MH17 Flight was a deliberate act, the court ruled that the missile launch was not intended to hit the passenger plane. Girkin, Dubinskiy, and Kharchenko were also ordered to pay the victims’ families more than 16 million euros, however, the decision was carried out in their absentia, which shows none of them is likely to carry out their sentences in the near future.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Montenegro to pay back $4 million of Yugoslav debt to Libya. The Montenegrin Finance Ministry announced on November 17 that the country will pay back $4 million to Libya, corresponding to its share of the debt acquired by the former Republic of Yugoslavia in order to secure oil imports. The agreement was reached in October, when the African country agreed to reschedule debt repayments owed to it by the Seychelles, Nicaragua, and Montenegro. In July 1981, Yugoslavia took a loan for $150 million, which Libya granted for the import of its oil, which will be repaid back by Serbia and Montenegro according to an agreement signed in June 2006 between the two countries when their unitary state ended, with 94.12% going to Serbia and 5.88% to Montenegro. This is, however, a small part of the inherited debt: according to the latest government data from 2019, Montenegro has to repay $850 million from the Yugoslav era.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
French Senate votes for sanctions against Azerbaijan and calls for recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. On 15 November, the French Senate adopted a resolution (295 votes to one) calling for sanctions to be imposed against Azerbaijan and calling for France to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh. While not binding on the government to undertake any actions, it is further evidence of France’s growing support towards Armenia. Several French territorial administrations, such as Paris City Hall, have already recognized Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence. Azerbaijan has been swift to condemn the resolution. The Azerbaijani Parliament adopted a statement on 16 November calling for the assets of French officials in Azerbaijan to be frozen and for cooperation with French energy companies to be reconsidered. The French Ambassador to Baku was also given a letter of protest.
Mehriban Aliyeva resigns from UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador role. First Vice-President and first Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, has resigned from her position as Goodwill Ambassador to UNESCO. In her letter on Tuesday, Aliyeva cited her work on the large-scale restoration and revival of Nagorno-Karabakh as the reason why she could no longer fulfil her duties. There has long been tension between the organisation and Azerbaijan. President Aliyev blamed the organisation for failing to investigate the destruction of Azerbaijani cultural heritage following Armenians’ victory in the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s, while UNESCO accused Azerbaijan of dragging its feet in allowing a UNESCO mission to enter the captured territories after the 2020 war. Armenian media have suggested that the real reason for Aliyeva’s resignation is because the General-Director of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, is French, and on the day Aliyeva sent her letter, the French Senate also voted resoundingly in favour of a resolution calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan and expressing support for Armenia.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Waves of arrests ahead of presidential election in Kazakhstan. Dozens of opposition and human rights activists were detained across Kazakhstan ahead of the early presidential election on 20 November. According to RFE/RL, activists consider the pressure imposed on them recently to be directly related to the election, despite the country’s Constitution guaranteeing their right to freedom of expression and assembly. It is reported that the arrests are to prevent activists from holding rallies on the day of the polls. Moreover, the Kazakh authorities have warned citizens against demonstrations, alleging that “a banned group has been calling for illegal rallies and other illegal activities.” In the race for a newly introduced seven-year term, President Tokayev is facing five opponents that he is expected to beat easily. Nevertheless, the incumbent President is facing mounting pressure over the ‘Bloody January’ events and his decision to invite troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to quell the unrest, in which over 250 people lost their lives.
Uzbekistan suspends gas exports amidst fuel shortages. November has seen residents across Uzbekistan experiencing power cuts lasting hours to full days, interruptions in heating, and queues at petrol stations due to a low supply of automobile fuel. Reports suggest that businesses have been forced to close and hospitals have been turning away patients. Many residents of Tashkent have lost their electricity, but the situation is said to be worse outside the capital. There are two main issues contributing to these outages – firstly, gas production in Uzbekistan has declined by 1.6% in the first three quarters of 2022 compared to the same period last year. Secondly, demand has risen far earlier than usual during the winter months due to cold weather. Deputy Minister for Energy Sherzod Khodjaev announced that the country had ‘practically ceased’ exporting gas and had increased exports to meet demand.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Hungarian government reshuffles following energy policy. After many days of rumours, it was confirmed on 14 November that the Minister of Technology and Industry, László Palkovics, had resigned. Palkovics will not take any official position in the cabinet; he will only help in the affairs of higher education, vehicle innovation, and the defence industry. In parallel to that, Palkovics’ controversial legacy in the separation of the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from the Academy in 2019 was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Hungarian Constitutional Court. Consequently, the Ministry of Technology and Industry will be dissolved, and its tasks will be taken over by the Ministry for Economic Development, the Ministry of Construction and Investment, and other relevant ministries. Nevertheless, the Paks nuclear power plant expansion project has always been under the ambit of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A new Ministry of Energy will be established, led by Csaba Lantos, chairman of the board of energy company, MET Holding AG and former deputy CEO of OTP Bank. Under Lantos’ leadership, it is expected that wind energy will be of greater significance to Hungary’s energy supply, based on concerns over soaring energy prices.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Ikea was accused of indirectly taking advantage of Belarusian forced labour. According to an investigation from the French media outlet Disclose, the Swedish flagship furniture company has contracted suppliers in Belarus which had links with penal colonies run by the Belarusian regime. Ikea began to cooperate with the Lukashenko regime in 1999. During the following years, Belarus became Ikea’s second largest supplier of timber, second only to Poland. In June 2021, Ikea decided to stop all new business development due to the human rights challenges in Belarus, but the termination of contracts with Belarusian suppliers came to an anticipated end in June 2022 due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions. This is not the first time that Ikea is accused of relying on suppliers linked to forced labour in an authoritarian state. In 2012, the Swedish company admitted that it bought products produced by forced labour of political and criminal prisoners in East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.
🌲 In Russia…
Women’s protest in Voronezh Region. It is well documented that Russian conscripts are sent to the front ill-prepared. There is a lack of basic necessities such as arms, food, and clothing. Since the start of mobilisation, larger and smaller protests have been seen across Russia. In the past weeks, groups of women from the Voronezh Region, a region bordering Ukraine, have appealed to their governor. They claim their husbands were badly prepared for the war, and are in danger. This fits into a trend of criticism: criticism is directed not the war itself (or, ‘special military operation’), but against senior officers. Allegedly, a group of women is now even walking to the front line to get their men. As the war continues, the organisational capacity of the Russian army is put to the test. As such, as losses mount the current problems (and protests), will likely continue.
Kadyrov criticises UN Human Rights Committee. On 3 November, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released a report on observed human rights violations in Russia. The report never mentions Chechnya or its governor, but all of the incidents for the North Caucasus Federal District occurred in Chechnya. Kadyrov and his so-called human rights commissioner criticised the UN’s report, asserting that all of its claims were true and there were no violations in Chechnya. The report specifically cites the attacks on journalist Elena Milashina and lawyer Marina Dubrovina, the anti-LGBTQ persecution of Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev, and the murder of human rights protector Natalia Estemirova. These cases are just the high-profile ones. The European Court of Human Rights has heard 583 cases of violations in Chechnya. According to opposition movement “1ADAT,” Kadyrov’s regime has kidnapped 3283 people since April 2020, 906 of which were taken this year alone. Human rights do not exist in Chechnya.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Ariadna Mane, Kirsty Dick, Xandie Kuenning, Lucie Tafforin, Sarah Fairman, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Adriano Rodari, Bart Halting, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘