Lossi 36 Weekly #8: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Bosnian Serbs in MoscowICJ orders Azerbaijan to unblock Lachin corridor, detentions for people laying flowers in KyrgyzstanSlovenia pushes for international treaty on war crimes in UkraineJoe Biden in Kyiv, new round of EU sanctions for Russiaand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Zelenskyy addresses the Ukrainian people on the one-year anniversary of the war. Jordi Beckers

Last Friday morning, exactly one year since Russia started its full scale invasion against Ukraine, the Ukrainian president released a nearly 15 minute video in which he stated that 24 February 2022 amounted to “the longest day of our lives.” He continued by reminding his people of defying all expectations in the early phase of the war, in which Ukraine against all odds was capable of withstanding an early Russian victory: “they threatened that in 72 hours we would not exist. But we survived the fourth day. And then the fifth.” Zelenskyy praised the courage and fighting spirit of the Ukrainians and called Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, among others, “capitals of invincibility.” After expressing his condolences for every Ukrainian who lost someone and touching upon Ukraine’s new image in the world, shown in the delivery of heavy weaponry by the West and receiving EU candidate Status, Zelenskyy expressed his support for all those who are still living under Russian occupation and stated that “we will do everything to gain victory this year.” 

🌺 In the Balkans…

Delegation from Bosnia’s Republika Srpska visits Moscow on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Over the past week, a delegation from RS’ legislative body, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska (NARS), travelled to Moscow to meet with the President of Russia’s Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, and to attend sessions of the Duma. The NARS delegation in Russia consisted of NARS President Nenad Stevandic, MPs Igor Zunic, Darko Banjac, Dragomir Vasic, and NARS General Secretary Boran Bosancic. Stevandic said that the RS remains neutral and will not join the “anti-Russian hysteria,” for which the delegation received applause from members of the Russian Duma. While in Moscow, People’s Party of Srpska (NPS) president Darko Banjac met with Aleksandr Zaldastanov, aka Surgeon, the leader of the infamous Kremlin-backed motorcycle group, the Night Wolves. The group has been banned from entering Bosnia since 2018 due to their destabilising political activities in the region on behalf of Moscow.

Reshuffle of North Macedonian Parliament stalled again by opposition. The Parliament reshuffle in North Macedonia has been delayed for the second week in a row by opposition party VMRO DPMNE. The process, consisting of the discussion over the resignations of ministers and deputy ministers, as well as the appointment of their replacements, was stopped by the opposition under allegations that it is being done “for personal and corrupt interests and not to advance the country’s EU agenda,” and saying the country needs snap elections, not a parliament reshuffle. The reorganisation of the body started following the entrance of the Alliance for Albanians party into the government, with the hopes of boosting the Social-Democrat-led majority. VMRO DPMNE also expressed suspicion over this new coalition and pointed at the possibility of bribery, although the Albanian party’s head, Arben Taravari, has denied the allegations. VMRO DPMNE’s nationalist stances have often appeared as anti-Albanian.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

International Court of Justice orders Azerbaijan to unblock Lachin corridor. On Thursday, 23 February, the International Court of Justice ruled that Azerbaijan should use all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of people, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions. Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said Yerevan welcomed the ruling. The Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, has been blocked since 12 December by eco activists backed by the Azerbaijani government, leaving 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh without food or medicine. Nagorno-Karabakh’s gas supply from Armenia has been cut off seven times leading to disruption at education institutions and to residents resorting to burning wood for heating and cooking. The only traffic that has been able to pass has been the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the occasional transfer of ill people accompanied by the Red Cross. Baku officials deny they are behind the blockade while the Armenian government has called it an attempt to ethnically cleanse the region.

Tensions Over GD Party Chair Comments on Ukraine. Former American diplomats criticised Georgian Dream party chair Irakli Kobakhidze over remarks he made about the War in Ukraine, where he repeated past claims that the West was trying to “[drag] Georgia into a war with Russia.” Although a recent study by the Russian think-tank NICRUS indicated that Georgia was still roughly considered to be a “friendly” country in Russia, there are clear tensions among Georgians about the government’s position towards the war. In 2022, a survey found that an overwhelming majority of Georgians supported Ukraine in the war, but also that 66% of respondents thought that a visa regime should be introduced for Russians. Also, there is concern about the ramifications that inward migration of Russians has had on Georgia, namely that rental prices have increased by up to 200%. Anti-Russian graffiti is commonplace around Tbilisi, and tens of thousands protested in Tbilisi on February 24 to mark the anniversary of the invasion.

🛤 In Central Asia…

People laying flowers in Bishkek arrestedOn 24 February, there were arrests in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, as people laid flowers in Dubovy Park to commemorate the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. According to human rights activist Gul’shair Abdirasulova, seven people were detained and their mobile phones were confiscated. The press service of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Pervomaisky district told Radio Azattyk that they would comment on the arrests later. Meanwhile, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, civil rights activists were denied permission to hold a rally, but laid flowers at a monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. There have been protests and peaceful demonstrations in Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of the war, but authorities have restricted them and arrests have been a common occurrence. The country has been aiming to portray itself as neutral, yet this has involved censorship, fines, and detentions for those participating in anti-war demonstrations.

One-year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine highlights Central Asia’s geopolitical dilemma. In addition to the protests and arrests in Kyrgyzstan mentioned above, in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, a local leader of the Bureau of Human Rights was detained for planning to protest in front of the Russian Embassy. Moreover, the Kazakhstani Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly supported China’s 12-point position paper on how to resolve the war in Ukraine, but was careful to reiterate that peace rested on the foundations of international law and the UN Charter. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on 28 February, whereupon he will meet bilaterally with all Central Asian foreign ministers, in addition to President Tokayev and President Mirziyoyev. It will be the Secretary’s first visit to the region, as he makes his way to India for the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…

The Baltics’ fierce reaction to Russian attendance at OSCE meeting. When the parliamentary delegations from the Nordics, Baltics, and Poland met in Vilnius in mid-February, they mutually agreed that Russia must be held accountable for its crimes in Ukraine, and that global criminal justice mechanisms should be implemented. In addition, a boycott of the winter conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, scheduled for 23-24 February in Vienna, was proposed, since Austria had granted visas to Russian MPs who had been subject to EU sanctions. However, when the parliamentary assembly meeting took place at the Hofburg Palace, with the Russian delegation present, only Lithuania and Ukraine did not show up. Other nations decided to “fight the Russians in the same hall,” including Rihards Kols, a Latvian MP who boldly lashed out at the Russian representatives on 24 February. The day before, many delegates protested by walking out en masse and showing Ukrainian flags before Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy head of the Russian delegation, addressed the meeting.

Poland and Sweden join Germany in delivering German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Germany’s long-awaited decision in late January to supply fourteen Leopard 2 A6 main battle tanks and tank recovery vehicles to Ukraine has paved the way for other nations to enhance Ukraine’s military capabilities. On 24 February, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed during his official visit to Kyiv that the first four Leopard 2 tanks supplied by Poland had been delivered to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Sweden will also donate up to ten Leopard 2 tanks and HAWK anti-aircraft systems to Kyiv. In light of the more than 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks being currently deployed in military arsenals across Europe, Germany faced both domestic pressures against arms support to Ukraine, and international criticism over its slow granting of re-export permissions for German-built tanks to other European countries, and high-technology weapon support to Ukraine.

Slovenia pushes for international treaty on war crimes in Ukraine. On 21 February, Slovenian foreign minister Tanja Fajon presented the treaty at the EU Foreign Affairs Council, stating that 77 countries had already signed on. Said treaty would be the first major international treaty conjoining law enforcement entities from both EU and non-EU states. The global agreement would allow for cooperation of nations to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide together. A diplomatic conference dedicated to discussing the treaty further will be held in Ljubljana in May, and Fajon is calling on ministers to come and bring their local domestic criminal law experts with them.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Joe Biden’s secret trip to Kyiv. On 20 February 2023, American President Joe Biden made his first trip to Ukraine as president just before the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mr Biden’s visit was intended to reaffirm America’s “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” The trip was highly secured and had been in the works for months, as just a few trusted officials at the White House, Pentagon, Secret Service, and intelligence agencies weighed the threat assessments. The visit of approximately five hours could not last without air-raid alarms. After the visit, a new package of security assistance for Ukraine valued at $450m (including ammunition for howitzers and the Himars rocket system, Javelin missiles, and air surveillance radars) was announced, as well as an extra $10m in emergency assistance to maintain Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and sanctions against Russian elites. To summarise Mr Biden’s visit, his own lines can be used: “one year later, Kyiv stands, and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands, Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you”.

Belarusian unelected leader Lukashenka to visit China next week. On Saturday 25 February, Chinese authorities announced the upcoming visit of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, causing concerns among Ukraine and its allies. The arrival in China of such a close partner of Russian President Putin will likely increase international attention on China’s position over the conflict. The announcement of the visit comes a day after Beijing presented a 12-point “position paper” aimed at ending the conflict, calling for a resumption of peace talks, an end to unilateral sanctions, and stressing its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons. Lukashenko has backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and allowed its territory to be used in the Russian assault and has recently claimed that, if attacked, Belarus was prepared to join Russia’s war against Ukraine.

🌲 In Russia…

EU adopts tenth sanctions package against Russia. On 25 February, one year and one day after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU adopted its tenth package of sanctions related to the invasion, with the first one having been adopted the day before the war started, on 23 February 2022. The subsequent packages (a helpful overview of which is provided on the Council of the EU’s website) have introduced a wide variety of restrictive measures, including the freezing of assets and travel bans concerning, inter alia, government officials, businessmen, state-media propagandists, and people involved in war crimes committed in Ukraine; restrictions on EU-Russia trade in different sectors of EU economy; restrictions on Russia’s access to capital and financial markets; SWIFT ban for several Russian banks; closure of EU airspace and ports to Russian aircrafts and vessels; suspension of licences of Russian state-owned outlets broadcasting in the EU; and a price cap for Russian petroleum products.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mane, Kirsty Dick, Nate Ostiller, Sarah Fairman, Teresa Reilly, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Autumn Mozeliak, Vira Kompaniiets, Adriano Rodari, and Agnieszka Widłaszewska 💘

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