Lossi 36 Weekly #5: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Parliamentary brawl in SerbiaRussian capital finds its way to ArmeniaAfghan women enter universities in Central Asia, call for an Olympic ban on Russia and Belarus from the Baltic States, power outages in OdesaMeduza declared undesirable in Russiaand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Turbulence in Georgian opposition. Oskar Król

On 30 January, Levan Khabeishvili was chosen as the leader of Georgia’s biggest opposition party – the United National Movement (UNM). UNM was formed by Mikheil Saakashvili and was the ruling party after the 2004 Rose Revolution, up until 2012. Since then, it has been the leading opposition party in Georgian parliament, tightly collaborating with smaller parties. This election has caused many self-dismissions within the party, as well as discontent both in UNM and among other opposition parties. They accuse Khabeishvili of “returning to the past” and doubt if they would cooperate with UNM in the future. It is believed that Khabeishvili had received strong financial and political support from former ministers of Saakashvili’s government and that they would control Khabeishvili’s agenda. After winning the elections, Khabeishvili stated that his main goal is to rescue Saakashvili from persecution and medical maltreatment.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Croatian president creates uproar with Crimea comments. Croatian president Zoran Milanović was widely berated for his recent comments on the future status of Crimea when he stated that the peninsula would “never again be part of Ukraine.” Milanovic also recently strongly came out against Croatia sending any further military aid to Ukraine, and has been criticised by many NATO allies of being too soft on Russia since the invasion of Ukraine started last February. Furthermore, Milanovic’s comments also questioned the sovereignty of Kosovo, stating that the international community “snatched” the territory from Serbia. Through this analogy he suggested that therefore Russia had such a legal precedent to conduct a similar operation in Crimea back in 2014. The president’s comments have created a growing rift between not only the president and parliament in Zagreb, but also between Zagreb and its European allies which have sought to enhance aid shipments to Ukraine in recent months as part of a united international effort.

Environmental protest against the construction of Albania’s biggest airport. A hundred Albanians gathered near the construction site of the new Vlore airport, hoping to gain more attention to pressure the government. The future airport is situated near a lagoon serving as one of Europe’s biggest ornithological reserves for over 200 bird species, including an endangered animal recently saved from extinction, the Dalmatian Pelican. Both the authorities and the construction firm reassured that the “flight plan, predicted take-off, and landing do not affect the birds’ pathway.” Tirana is also convinced that the airport will bring additional tourists to the Adriatic coast, and refuses to renegotiate the project. Despite the touristic opportunities it may bring, the project is controversial, as legal experts identified it being against several international wildlife treaties ratified by Albania. Additionally, the deal brought ethical concerns regarding the links between the government and the selected companies. Mostly, the issue represents an environmental threat with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) directly calling for its suspension. The airport is on track to be finished by the end of 2024. 

Physical altercation in Serbian parliament during heated Kosovo debate. On 2 February, members of parliament confronted each other during president Vučić’s response to a parliamentarian’s speech. The ring-wing opposition, which told Vučić that their procedural rights had been violated, and the Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, began shouting and nearing physical conflicts while the president was speaking. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the negotiation process of provisional institutions of self-government in Prishtina, Kosovo, which Serbia does not currently recognise. Tensions rose when the Franco-German plan was discussed, a proposal Vučić already accepted, without authorisation. Vučić stressed that if the proposal is not accepted, Serbia’s EU integration process will stagnate further. The opposition persisted that the parliament must reject this plan, whilst calling Vučić a traitor to Serbia.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Armenian central bank reports a record influx of Russian capital in 2022. The country’s central bank reported 3.5 billion dollars being transferred from Russia to Armenian banks. Sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the massive influx of capital is a result of the mass emigration of Russian individuals and businesses to Armenia as a reaction to Western sanctions, government repression, and the mobilisation in the fall of last year. Armenia also served as a transit country for Western goods to Russia, benefitting from the import and export bans imposed by mostly the USA and Europe. Despite the record-high amount, the increased influx of Russian capital has not necessarily benefited the Armenian economy. Even though 2022 saw Armenian banks make massive profits, investments in the domestic economy are lacking. Armenian citizens mostly saw their costs of living increase, with for example prices for an apartment in the country’s capital Yerevan rising to over 30 percent.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Changes in the Turkmen Security Council. On 3 February, during a Security Council meeting in Ashgabat, a purge was carried out, consisting of the removal of the head of the National Security Ministry, the head of the Migration Service, as well as the Supreme Judge, along with his deputies. The deposed have officially been transferred to other posts, however, no details have been revealed about their new positions. The new national security head, Colonel Nazar Atagarayev, previously led the migration service. It is also widely believed that there were several changes made to the president’s security detail. These developments come at a time of flux in power in Turkmenistan, where only last week former president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s power was once again strengthened through a reform of the country’s institutional structure; he was also given the title of “National Leader of the Turkmen People.” The move is regarded by some as a particular type of a coup, especially since Berdimuhamedov senior’s position is in competition with that of his own son – the current president.

Afghan women enter Central Asian universities despite ban at home. A UN- and EU-backed programme to educate Afghan women in Kazakhstan is being expanded this year to include Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. These efforts to bring Afghan women to Central Asian universities date back to 2009, when the governments of Kazakhstan and Afghanistan signed an agreement on cooperation in education. The Kazakh government allocated $50 million to a project aiming to empower Afghan women, which was launched in 2019, when a Western-backed government was still in power in Kabul. Participants for the second phase of the programme were selected just months before the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, throwing the future of both the project and the students into disarray. Despite the Taliban’s hard-line approach to women’s education, which led to the introduction of a law prohibiting women from enrolling and studying in universities, the Kazakh foreign ministry managed to arrange scholarships for 105 Afghan women. This year, Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz universities will host 50, 30 and 25 students respectively.

🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…

Baltic States and Poland call for a ban against Russia and Belarus from the Olympics. On 2 February, the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania along with Poland called for Russia to be banned from participating in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. This proposal was further backed-up on 3 February when Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced that Estonia would boycott the Olympics if the Russians were allowed to take part. Russia had already been banned from the Olympics in 2022, for non-compliance with anti-doping measures; however, individual athletes were able to compete. This new boycott would extend the ban to all Russian athletes, with the rationale that “many of them are soldiers,” according to PM Kallas. A meeting is planned for 10 February to consolidate the proposed ban and is expected to receive approval from between 30 and 40 countries, including the US and Canada, this proposal would also look to ban Belarus from participation.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Changes to the Moldovan Penal Code aim to ensure state security and integrity. The Moldovan Parliament voted this Thursday on an amendment to the Criminal Code to improve the regulatory framework in the field of state security by penalising acts related to espionage and treason. The criminal code will have a new crime component, namely in regards to actions of separatism and distribution of information that would incite such actions. At the same time, people who instigate others to commit actions against state security would be held criminally liable. Ruling party PAS (Partidul Acțiune și Solidaritate), which advanced the initiative, defends the necessity of a legal framework to protect the integrity of the state in the current context. Since the first reading at the end of last year, the authorities in Tiraspol (Transnistria), Comrat (Gagauzia), and Moscow have criticised the amendments. Tiraspol and Moscow emphasised the challenges it poses for the negotiation process and mutual understanding of both sides.

Massive power outage in Odesa. On Saturday, 4 February, nearly 500,000 people in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa were left without electricity due to a fire that broke out at an overloaded substation. Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the CEO of the state grid operator Ukrenergo, confirmed that the critical equipment had been already severely damaged by Russian missile strikes and could no longer “withstand the load.” Officials claimed the repairs could take a few weeks due to the severity of the accident. The incident in Odesa wasn’t the only one – DTEK Odesa Power Grids stated it was the second “large-scale accident” to take place in the last 24 hours. The Ukrainian government said it would ask Turkey for help with power ships and ordered the energy ministry’s stocks of high-power generators to be sent to the Black Sea city. Thankfully, power to all critical infrastructure has been restored, and about a third of the city’s residents have electricity now.

🌲 In Russia…

Russian news outlet Meduza declared “unwanted.” On 26 January 2023, Meduza – one of the most popular independent media outlets in Russia – was declared an “undesirable organisation” by the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office. Officially, the decision was motivated by the fear that Meduza might “constitute a threat to the foundation of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation.” Therefore, both Meduza and its followers might now have to face serious consequences: from this moment on, all Meduza operations in Russia must cease immediately, and its funds and assets could be subject to confiscation. At the same time, it is forbidden for Russian people to participate, support, and distribute materials created by “undesirable” organisations, including sharing them via group chats or social media, as this might lead to legal ramifications. Meduza had already been declared a “foreign agent” in 2021; nevertheless, both then and now its journalists have expressed their commitment to continue their work.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Rachele Colombo, Vira Kompaniiets, Patricia Raposo, Nathan Alan-Lee, Chaharika Uppal, Kirsty Dick, Oskar Krol, Jordi Beckers, Cameron MacBride, Charles Fourmi, and Autumn Mozeliak 💘

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