Lossi 36 Weekly #39: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Lethal flooding across the Balkans, protests against the CSTO summit in Yerevan, Tokayev wins re-election, Poland accepts German air defense, power cuts in Moldova, Russia looks for domestic social media alternatives, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Tokayev wins presidential election in Kazakhstan.Kirsty Dick
On Tuesday 22 November, Kazakhstan’s Central Election Committee (OSK), declared incumbent president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev the winner of the presidential election, having received 81.3% of the vote. This victory was expected, considering that his five opponents had small public profiles. Tokayev came to power in 2019 after being handpicked as a successor by Nursultan Nazarbayev, therefore many saw Tokayev as simply a continuation of Nazarbayev’s rule. After the violent riots in January, Tokayev was pushed to call a presidential election to legitimise his rule. A monitoring mission led by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that the election lacked competitiveness and underlined “the need for further reforms to bring related legislation and its implementation in line with OSCE commitments to ensure genuine pluralism.” Kazakhstan’s foreign offfice responded to the monitoring mission’s statement claiming they had “complete unwillingness to recognise the development of the internal situation in our country,” and that it contained “unsubstantiated and unconfirmed allegations.”
Previously, our Central Asia editor analyzed Tokayev’s motivations behind organizing the snap presidential elections on our website.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Kosovo backs down from controversial license plate law after US pressure. Following heavy pressure from Washington, Kosovo has announced its intention to delay the implementation of its controversial license plate law, which would force thousands of Serbs living in the country to finally switch their license plates to Kosovan registered ones. Earlier this week, crisis talks were held in Brussels between Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, but they failed to reach a conclusion. EU Foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borrell, who chaired the unsuccessful meeting between the two leaders, blamed the Kosovan side for failing to accept the proposed agreement, which would have asked Kosovo to halt the implementation of the new law, with Serbia agreeing to stop the processing of new Serbian license plates. The past few weeks have been tense in the Balkan nation, within which ethnic Serbs, mostly in the north of the country, resigned en-masse from government institutions, following Prishtina’s implementation of the first stage of the new law.
Lethal floods kill six across four Western Balkans countries. Severe weather conditions disrupted daily lives of Albanians, Kosovars, Serbians, and Montenegrans last week. In Kosovo, agricultural land was damaged and the city of Prishtina reported shortages in drinking water supplies. In Montenegro, flooding was caused by high water levels of river Lim, where barriers had to be set up to protect the populations. Despite this, casualties were unavoidable and a woman with two children in her car was swept away in the Zeta river, near Podgorica. Similarly, in Serbia, a two year-old accidentally drowned. In the Northern Shkodra region of Albania, a father and son traveling back home from the UK in a car were swept away by water. Over 240 Albanian servicemen were deployed to evacuate over 50 families, in what was considered to be the worst hit area across the Balkans last week. Floods such as this one are expected to illustrate the increased risk the region faces to climate change.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Yerevan meets the CSTO summit with protests. Several hundred protesters on Yerevan’s Freedom Square awaited the summit of the Russian-led military alliance of six post-Soviet states. Pictures of the protesters show them holding Armenian, Ukrainian, and European flags, as well as anti-war statements against Russia’s war in Ukraine. The protesters see no future for Armenia in the CSTO, as according to them the alliance failed to back Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. During the summit last Wednesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also uttered his dissatisfaction over the lack of CSTO backing of Armenia, stating that “the member states of the organization have not managed to make a decision regarding the CSTO response to Azerbaijan’s aggression.” This summit was the first CSTO summit since the latest major aggression over Karabakh in September, in which around 200 Armenians and 100 Azerbaijani’s lost their lives. Over the past few weeks, tensions over the disputed region have risen again, with both countries claiming that the other is violating the ceasefire.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Tajikistan and China sign new anti-terrorism agreement. According to information made available to the Radio Ozodi Tajik service on 21 November, the agreement states that the two countries will train their personnel together, in order to ward off the threat and fight against terrorism. The country hosting will ensure that adequate resources, like weapons, are available and will see to the facilitation of the transport of the equipment. While China and Tajikistan have had greater military involvement since 2015, the current situation in Afghanistan has only intensified that relationship. However, there have been some rather substantiated rumors about the presence of Chinese authorities and posts present in the Gorno-Badakhshan region, but this has been denied by the Tajik government. Moreover, last year, when the administration announced the establishment of a Chinese post in the Ishkashim district of GBAO, it was hidden under the guise of a rapid reaction team under the mandate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Poland accepts German air defense in wake of missile attack. On 20 November, the German defense ministry announced that it would offer Patriot air defense systems to secure Polish airspace. This offer comes only a week after a missile strike hit Polish territory, killing two, and opening a new vector of potential spillover from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On 21 November, Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak welcomed this move, tweeting that the systems will be deployed “close to the Ukrainian border.” The agreement appears as a much needed sign of good will between two countries whose relations have been strained in recent years. Disagreements over issues such as the construction of Nord Stream II and, more recently, Poland’s demand for reparations, have plagued the two EU members causing tension in the region. With this new demonstration of solidarity, Germany and Poland may look to ease relations and reaffirm cooperation.
The EU Parliament insists Hungary is not eligible for EU funds. On 24 November, a resolution was passed by the European Parliament aiming to freeze the EU cohesion funds allocated to Hungary. Despite an agreement reached between the Commission and Viktor Orbán’s government, on the basis of which Hungary is required to adopt seventeen required measures, the EU Parliament did perceive the initiative as an insufficient approach to solve the systemic rule of law violations in the V4 country. Thus, a suspension of the funds’ provision was pushed by the Parliament to the Commission. Moreover, MEPs stressed on how only three, among the 17 measures, have been set up by the Hungarian government, so far. Already on 23 November, the European Commission acknowledged how Hungary has been unable to adopt all the required measures. A further step will be the voting, by a qualified majority, of the Council in December, on the possibility to block or unblock EU funds for Orbán’s country.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Ukraine denies committing war crimes. Russia accused Ukrainian soldiers of executing a group of Russian prisoners of war (POWs) which, if proven true, would constitute a war crime. The accusation follows the emergence of a cell phone video showing the surrender of around 10 soldiers wearing red straps and blue markings. Russian soldiers are known to wear these tags to identify themselves, whereas Ukrainian soldiers wear yellow straps. The video ends abruptly when a person in a black uniform opens fire at the Ukrainian soldiers. A drone video then shows the Russian soldiers lying in the same position, all dead. The incident probably took place on Saturday, 12 November, in Makiyivka, Luhansk Oblast. Russia’s defence ministry has called it “deliberate and methodical murder” while the United Nations has said that the matter should be investigated. Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets denied that Kyiv’s forces killed Russian POWs, stating that Ukraine’s soldiers were defending themselves. Additionally, Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna said that Ukraine will investigate the footage.
Power cuts in Moldova. On 23 November, half of Moldova was left without electricity due to a Russian attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu announced. It was not the first time Moldova was experiencing blackouts. The previous power outage took place in mid-November when Moldova was “automatically disconnected as a safety measure” while Russia was shelling neighboring Ukraine. The two countries were connected to the European grid in March, and one of the connection points on the power line between Moldova and Romania automatically shuts down if Ukraine is hit, in order to protect the system. Earlier this month, Russia accused Ukraine of preventing the delivery of some 52.5 million cubic meters of gas to Chișinău and threatened to reduce gas deliveries to Moldova. Spinu denied the accusation and assured that over 200 million cubic meters from Russia remain in storage in Ukraine for further use. Following power outages and gas supply issues, Moldovan President Maia Sandu called on the EU members to support her country as a “hybrid war” is being waged against it.
🌲 In Russia…
Lone wolf attack in Grozny. On the morning of 21 November, 19-year-old Movsar Zakriev murdered traffic policeman Dzhabrail Dzhamalov with a knife. Zakriev was killed by other security officials who flocked to the scene near the local government buildings in Grozny. Witnesses report that the kadyrovtsy opened fire, killing Zakriev and at least one civilian. This contrasts with the official narrative, which does not mention any civilians being killed alongside Zakriev. Twenty of the attacker’s relatives were abducted from their homes in Novye Aldy, a few kilometers outside of Grozny. They are detained in a police station in Grozny. An audio clip purportedly recorded by Zakriev beforehand claims the attack was religiously motivated, and that he was a lone wolf, unaffiliated with any group. Some members of the Chechen opposition have already begun recognising him as a martyr.
Russian convicts recruited by Wagner PMC to fight in Ukraine. A recent study on the trend of convicts in Russian prisons has shown the largest decrease in Russia’s prison population since 2010, hitting an all-time low in November. According to Mediazona, an independent Russian news outlet, the number of convicts has decreased by 23,000 over the last months. This drop appears to be ascribed to an informal recruitment process by the Wagner Group, which has been granting convicts freedom in exchange for their enlistment. Indeed, since the beginning of July 2022, businessman and Wagner PMC founder Evgeny Prigozhin is reported to have been personally visiting prisons for the recruitment of convicts in order to send them to the Ukrainian front in support of the Russian army, where only 1% are estimated to survive.
Russia looks for domestic social media alternatives. Last Thursday, the Russian media website RBC reported that Russian software developers had submitted early versions of Russian-made alternatives to Instagram, TikTok, and Zoom. The alternative platforms are called Looky, Sunlight Play, and Dion, and are part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to ban the use of foreign software in critical Russian infrastructure by 2025. In March, Moscow already branded Meta as an “extremist” organization. The digital projects are competing for serious grants of up to 37.1 billion rubles ($164 million) over the next two years. The Kremlin’s decision to ban foreign software and its attempt to look for domestic alternatives is illustrative of Russia’s current isolated position in the world.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Charles Fourmi, Jordi Beckers, Chaharika Uppal, Myriam Marino, Nathan Alan-Lee, Merijn Hermens, Sam Appels, Rachele Colombo, Kirsty Dick, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘