Lossi 36 Weekly #7: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
Subscribe to our Weekly here.
In this week’s newsletter 📮: Montenegrins and Serbians not welcome in Moldova, peace offer by Pashinyan, natural disaster in Gorno-Badakhshan, European Commission sues Poland, China proposes peace in Ukraine at Munich, new disappearances and imprisonments of Kremlin opponents in Russia, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Former Kyrgyz President Atambayev released from prison. Kirsty Dick
On 14 February 2022, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court overturned ex-President Almazbek Atambayev’s prison sentence for prematurely releasing Aziz Batukayev, a convicted murderer, back in 2013. Atambayev was the first Kyrgyz president to peacefully hand over power, which he did so in 2017 to Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who he continued to control behind the scenes. Once Jeenbekov was secure in his position as president he criticised Atambayev’s administration for its corruption and in August 2019 he ordered Atambayev’s arrest in a dramatic raid on his compound in which dozens of his supporters were injured and a soldier was killed. In October 2020 Jeenbekov was deposed and Atambayev was temporarily freed, however he was soon returned to jail when Sadyr Japarov became president. The Supreme Court authorised Atambayev’s release from prison on Tuesday in order to seek treatment in Spain for an unspecified heart and back condition. Atambayev states he will return to Kyrgyzstan, but four serious cases still await him, including charges of corruption, organising a riot, and attempted murder.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Serbian and Montenegrin sports fans blocked entry to Moldova from entry over an alleged coup plot. Government officials from Serbia and Montenegro have demanded an explanation following claims that a number of sports fans from both nations were barred entry into Moldova. Moldovan President, Maia Sandu, alleged that Chișinău believed that undercover citizens of Russia, Belarus, Serbia, and Montenegro were being sent into the country to oust her pro-EU government in a violent coup, under the guise of ordinary travellers. Serbian fans travelling to Moldova for an international football match, as well as a boxing team travelling from Budva for an international competition, were not allowed to enter the country early last week, under suspicion that they may have been part of the alleged plot. Moldova’s airspace was also briefly shut last week for security purposes. The news comes as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, alongside reports that Moscow may be looking for new ways to reinvigorate its lagging military conflict.
Kosovo celebrates its 15th year as an independent country. On Friday, 17 February, as each year, Kosovo celebrated the declaration of independence from Serbia, which is recognized as legal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The celebrations included a military parade with marching bands and public gatherings. Prime Minister Albin Kurti nuanced the past and future of the country in his speech, by stating that Kosovo’s “independence was achieved through struggle and sacrifice, but our independence will only grow through work.” The year could be a rewarding one for Kosovo, not only marking the important milestone, but also because a Western-backed deal is now coming into fruition with Serbia. This would potentially alleviate more than a decade of diplomatic blockade, and therefore, increase the chances of accession to more organisations in the global arena. Considering the pro-Western stand of Kosovo, integration in EU and NATO, no doubt constitutes a fundamental political objective.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
EU’s resolution on Saakashvili and backlash in Georgia. On 15 February, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the release of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and allowing him to receive treatment in Europe, under the assumption that the Georgian state intentionally mistreats him. The resolution ignited a heated debate in the Georgian parliament. The Georgian Dream party members and Speaker of Georgian parliament accused EP of spreading misinformation and attempting to discredit the Georgian state. The same day the resolution was passed, the penitentiary services of Georgia released video materials from surveillance cameras showing that the ex-president is in good health. The European body also called for imposing sanctions on oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is personally held responsible for Saakashvili’s detention. For a long time, Georgia was praised by the EU for introducing democratic reforms and was thought to be most likely an upcoming EU member state, however the ongoing turmoil has worsened relations and set back Georgia’s aspiration for European integration.
Armenian prime minister offers a peace treaty project to Azerbaijan. Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has stated in a meeting with his cabinet that, “a project of comprehensive agreement had been handed over to Azerbaijan.” This was reported last Friday by several international media outlets. The offer would involve a monitoring project that would seek to control military activity at the border and ensure that both parties adhere to the proposed agreement. Baku has not yet given any formal response. The statement comes amidst a blockade of the Lachin Corridor, as a result of which a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Yerevan accused the Azerbaijani regime of “ethnic cleansing.” The Armenian handout to Azerbaijan can be interpreted as a way of resolving the conflict beyond Moscow’s control. Yerevan has repeatedly criticised Russia’s involvement in the Karabakh conflict, as since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, its peacekeeping mission has been unable to prevent flare-ups at the border or create any changes in the Lachin Corridor blockade.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Natural Disaster strikes Gorno-Badakhshan. On Wednesday, 15 February, a series of deadly avalanches struck the GBAO region. The nature of the snowfall was so severe that several buildings were damaged in the capital city of Khorog, including the Afghan consulate and several residential homes. However, the human impact is way worse. The avalanches in the Vanj district killed 2 locals on Wednesday, but the death toll has risen to 17 since then. The authorities have claimed to relocate residents living in particularly dangerous areas elsewhere, however further details have not been provided. Response from the Tajik government has so far been slow, and even lesser so from the international community. Warnings of the sort had been issued earlier this year as well, which are unusual according to local residents. This shows a concerning shift in climatic patterns.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
EU Commission sues Poland over EU primacy. On 15 February, the European Commission stated its willingness to refer Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union as a consequence of two rulings of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal violating EU law primacy. A formal notice was sent in December 2021, following the rulings issued by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, according to which the Constitution of Poland had precedence over EU treaties. In July 2022, a further reasoned opinion was sent to Poland and was later rejected by the country in September of the same year. These developments prompted the Commission to launch legal action and question the status of the Polish Tribunal as far as independence and impartiality are concerned. According to the Commission, the purpose of these legal actions is to “ensure that the rights of Polish citizens are protected and that they can enjoy the benefits of the EU in the same way as all EU citizens.”
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Trial of journalist Raman Pratasyevich begins in Belarus. The trial of the journalist and opponent of Lukashenka’s regime in Belarus began on Thursday, 16 February. Pratasyevich stands accused of conspiring to seize power, insulting the President, and forming an “extremist group,” for which he faces 15 years in prison. During the 2020 presidential election, which saw the illegitimate sixth re-election of Alexander Lukashenka, Pratasyevich became an influential figure in the demonstrations against electoral fraud through his position as editor-in-chief of Telegram channel Nexta, one of the main sources of information about the protests. Already in 2019, Pratasyevich had fled the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists, but the Belarusian regime managed to arrest him and his partner Sofia Sapega by hijacking their flight from Greece to Lithuania in May 2021 – a Ryanair plane they were on was forced to land in Minsk because of a false bomb threat. Under high pressure from the authorities, Pratasyevich subsequently went on Belarusian state television, stating that he would confess to the charges held against him.
China to propose a peace plan for Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the centre of discussions during last week’s 59th Munich Security Conference. While the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on world leaders to consider a new NATO chapter to protect Ukraine from future Russian aggression, and Josep Borrell, the EU foreign affairs chief, urged EU Member States and allies to speed up the provision of ammunition to Ukraine, the proposal for a peace plan from China was a surprise to all. Despite the fact that Beijing has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has criticised Western sanctions against Moscow and arms sales to Kyiv, China’s President Xi Jinping is expected to deliver a ‘peace speech’ on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. A senior Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi, confirmed that the peace plan would underscore the need to uphold the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the UN Charter, while also respecting the “legitimate security interests” of Russia. It is still unclear how China would carry out such a peace plan, considering the rumours that it might provide lethal material support to Moscow.
🌲 In Russia…
European Parliament urges Russia to release Alexey Navalny. On 14 February, the European Parliament released a motion for a resolution tackling the “inhuman imprisonment conditions” of Alexey Navalny and other political prisoners in Russia, expressing concern following the recent health deterioration of the activist. In the document, the European Parliament demands that Navalny and other political prisoners are freed and that living conditions in detention facilities are improved to meet international standards in the meantime. Moreover, Russian authorities are asked to stop the “harassment, intimidations, or attacks” against Kremlin opponents, while EU member states are called to continue their monitoring activity of human rights violations in Russia, in order to support Russian civil society in the creation of a democratic country.
New disappearances and imprisonments of Kremlin opponents. On Wednesday, 15 February, journalist Maria Ponomarenko was sentenced to 6 years in prison for reporting on the bombing of the Mariupol theatre, in which hundreds sheltering civilians died. In April last year, Ponomarenko reported that Russia bombed the theatre, contradicting Russian claims that the bombing was carried out by the Ukrainian military. Political activist Andrei Pivovarov, already imprisoned since May 2021, has been missing for roughly a month. The former director of Open Russia had been transferred between various prisons and prison colonies across Russia, with his last known whereabouts being in Saint Petersburg. His defence and his relatives have not heard from him since. Idris Arsamikov, a gay Chechen man, was arrested in Moscow after returning to Russia to attend his father’s funeral. Arsamikov, who fled to The Netherlands, appeared in a video taken under duress in which he denies being homosexual and denounces gay rights’ activists attempts to help him.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Charles Fourmi, Oskar Krol, Jordi Beckers, Chaharika Uppal, Kirsty Dick, Myriam Marino, Vira Kompaniiets, Tijs van de Vijver, Rachele Colombo, & Daan Verkuil 💘