Lossi 36 Weekly #2: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Bosnia’s Republika Srpska holds commemorative holiday in defiance of Bosnia’s Constitutional Court, Armenia refuses a CSTO military exercise, Karakalpakstan activists likely to be jailed, frozen EU funds jeopardize public education in Hungary, Russian missile strike in Dnipro, Dozhd receives a new broadcast license in the Netherlands, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Former Prime Minister and current Czech presidential candidate acquitted in fraud case.Autumn Mozeliak
On 9 January, Andrej Babiš was acquitted after a seven year judicial investigation into him and his former advisor Jana Nagyová of misusing €2 million in EU funds fifteen years ago. The funds were used to construct a leisure and conference centre outside of Prague, instead of the intended small and medium-sized businesses. Babiš had been accused of manipulating ownership rights for the Capi Hnizdo conference centre – part of Babiš’s Agrofert equity – which became subject of approval for the €2 million EU grant. The court deemed there was no evidence proving what Babiš did was technically a crime. “This is good news for the entire Czech Republic, all citizens, that we live in a rule of law country and have independent justice and a court that independently ruled that we are acquitted,” Babiš expressed. However, the prosecution can still appeal the case. The acquittal comes just before the first round of Czech elections, where Babiš is one of the front running presidential candidates. Although, the elections are running at the same time as another financial fraud case investigation into Babiš, involving property purchases in France.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Bosnia’s Republika Srpska holds commemorative holiday in defiance of Bosnia’s Constitutional Court ruling. The 9 January holiday marks the date in 1992 when the Bosnian Serbs declared the founding of Republika Srpska. However, many see this date as the start of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina that took an estimated 100,000 lives and left some 2.6 million people displaced. The country’s highest court has twice ruled the holiday as discriminatory against non-Serbs living in the Serb-dominated entity. This year’s parade took place in East Sarajevo, with armoured vehicles blocking the main road to Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, located in the Federation entity. Local members of the Kremlin-backed motorcycle club Night Wolves were in attendance and flags representing Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic were spotted. At an earlier ceremony, President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin with the highest medal of honour for his “patriotic concern and love” for Republika Srpska.
Montenegro’s outgoing PM names five tobacco smuggling gangs after lack of State investigation. During an interview for TV station Vijesti on 13 January, outgoing Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazović named five gangs related to tobacco smuggling after the lack of investigation by the Special State Prosecutor’s Office. Back on 5 September 2022, he shared intel and documentation with the Prosecutor’s Office, mostly regarding their ‘schemes,’ but after none have been prosecuted, he has decided to make names and locations public. “Smuggling is done through the washing of containers and several teams do it. Of those teams, there are five and no one has been prosecuted. These are the Grand, Mojkovci, Nikšići, Božaj and Rožaj clans,” Abazović stated. He also pointed at the Grand clan, led by Ranko Ubović and Aco Mijajlović and part of the Bemax construction company, as the original organisers of smuggling of tobacco products, cigarettes and other illegal activities in Montenegro.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Armenia refuses to host Russian-backed CSTO military exercises. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led alliance including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was planning for the “Indestructible Brotherhood-2023,” a military exercise that the Russians announced was going to take place in Armenia. However, on Tuesday, it was revealed that the Armenian defence minister informed his colleagues from the CSTO that the military exercises would not be taking place in Armenia this year. This refusal stems from the Russian peacekeeper’s failure to secure free transit along the Lachin corridor which links Armenia proper to Nagorno-Karabakh. Travel across the Lachin province has been blocked since 12 December by Azerbaijanis, posing as environmental activists claiming that Armenia has unlawful mining sites in the region. Armenia has called on Russian peacekeepers to unblock the corridor but they have been ineffective in their response. The Russian inaction has led Armenia to turn towards Europe and the United States. Rejecting the CSTO exercise is perhaps the strongest shot yet against Russia.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Prosecutors request hefty jail sentences for Karakalpakstan activists. During a court session on 11 January, prosecutors asked for prison terms of between 5 and 18 years for 20 defendants involved in protests in Karakalpakstan in early July. Amongst the 20 facing jail time are Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, a lawyer and blogger, and Lolagul Kallykhanova, a journalist and founder of the website makan.uz. Prosecutors asked for sentences of 18 and 11 years respectively. The two have been characterised as ‘ringleaders’ in the case, the investigations which Human Rights Watch has described as ‘shrouded in secrecy.’ Meanwhile, no riot police are on trial for their alleged participation in July’s violence during mass protests against Karakalpakstan’s changed status in Uzbekistan’s new constitution.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
EU fund freeze jeopardises Hungarian public education. In December 2022, the European Commission decided to withhold nearly €22 billion in cohesion funds allocated to Hungary during 2021–2027, on top of the previous suspensions of €5.8 billion in post-COVID recovery funding and €6.3 billion under the rule of law mechanism, until it could address concerns on rule of law, academic freedom, judicial independence, and human rights protection. The funding block leaves the issue of a teachers’ wage increase unresolved, leading to demonstrations and nationwide week-long strikes this month. Moreover, it also poses the risk of over 30 educational and cultural institutions, including 21 universities operating under public trust foundations, losing new grants from last month onward from the Erasmus+ exchange and Horizon Europe research and innovation programs. The funding exclusion intends to guarantee “the transparent use of EU support by public interest asset management foundations,” as many of the public trust foundations are chaired by high-ranking government officials with close links to the ruling Fidesz party. The Hungarian government ensured that current ongoing programs would be unaffected, called the European Commission’s move ‘unacceptable,’ and claimed that it would continue to coordinate with the Commission and comply with all necessary conditions. It also stated that if there is no agreement with the Commission, the Hungarian government would finance the exchange programs in 2024 and consider suing its counterpart.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Lukashenka regime detains another political opponent suspected of extremism. As reported by the news outlet Zerkalo, the Belarusian authorities detained the politician Andrei Dmitriev on 11 January. He was taken to the infamous Akrestsina Detention Centre in Minsk. Since the news emerged on private telegram channels, reports have been trying to contact the politician without positive results. Dmitriev was already detained in August 2021, though he was briefly released afterwards. In the 2020 elections, Andrei Dmitriev was one of four registered opponents of the current ruler of Belarus and was the co-chairman of the liquidated public association, ‘Tell the Truth’ (Говори Правду). According to the Central Election Commission, Dmitriev won the 1.21% of the vote during the fraud election of 9 August 2020. The Belarusian authorities have not yet communicated the reason for the arrest.
Russian missile strike in Dnipro. On 14 January, Ukraine was shaken by another massive wave of Russian attacks. They targeted power infrastructure in the Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zaporizhzhia, Vinnytsia, and Kyiv regions. Tragedy struck in Dnipro, where a Russian missile destroyed a section of a nine-story apartment building, with at least 20 people killed and 73 wounded (based on the information provided by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine on 15 January). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that “debris clearance is still ongoing” and that is why “it is not yet known how many people are under the rubble.” It was confirmed that the apartment building in Dnipro was hit by one of the five Kh-22 cruise missiles that were fired from five Tu-22m3 Russian long-range bombers on the same day. Since 24 February, Russian forces have launched more than 210 such missiles at Ukraine, and Ukraine has no weapons capable of shooting down the missiles (like Patriot PAC-3 or SAMP-T).
🌲 In Russia…
Dozhd receives a new broadcast licence. The major opposition media outlet is relocating its broadcast and editorial operations to the Netherlands, where it already had a smaller presence, from Latvia. Dozhd began broadcasting in the Baltic country, as well as Georgia, in July 2022, following its ban in Russia four months previously. The Latvian regulator rescinded the channel’s European broadcast licence in December following several violations of Latvian law, including depicting Crimea as belonging to Russia and referring to the Russian army occupying Ukraine as ‘our army.’ The decision to strip Dozhd of their ability to broadcast sparked international debate. Defending the liberal Russian channel were ‘free press’ advocates and those who recognize the channel’s value in reaching Russian audiences, while many others supported Latvia’s right to apply their own laws within their borders. Dozhd’s relocation will likely ease their job, as they will be further removed from the legacies of Russian imperialism.
Shuffle in Russian military command. Last Wednesday, 11 January, Putin ordered a reshuffle in military command as Valery Gerasimov was brought in to direct command of the war effort, replacing Sergei Surovikin. If the name sounds familiar, that could be because of the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’, a document that he was thought of to have written, and that was used to explain Russia’s ‘hybrid wars.’ Mark Galleotti, who coined the term, later admitted it was an oversimplification and was harmful to Western understanding of Russia’s military tactics. The replacement of Surovikin is however a significant step in the war. It shows a commitment to a long haul strategy, argues Galleotti, who is a prominent academic in the field of Russian military studies. Moreover, it could be an indication of a spring offensive being prepared, as Gerasimov needs military victories to save his army career.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mane, Sarah Fairman, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Adriano Rodari, Bart Alting, Autumn Mozeliak, Kirsty Dick, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘