Lossi 36 Weekly #12: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
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📫 In this week’s newsletter: Republika Srpska cuts ties with UK, US embassies, German Foreign Minister visits Georgia, Radio Free Europe’s Kyrgyz Service under pressure, mixed signals to Brussels from Budapest, call for stricter sanctions on Belarus from Latvia, Xi and Putin meet in Moscow, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Kazakhstan’s ruling party dominates parliamentary election results.Teresa Reilly
On 19 March, Kazakhstani citizens voted for 29 seats in the lower house of parliament, called the Mäjilis, in addition to local elections for city council and regional officials. This election was the first opportunity for voters to elect representatives in single-mandate districts that could be self-nominated and independent; previously, the Mäjilis seats were decided by an official’s position on a closed list of party members, not by popular support. These elections were billed as an opportunity for citizens to gain more ‘direct’ representation in the lower house and add political diversity to the parliament, but the ruling party (previously called Nur Otan, now called Amanat) still won the vast majority of the vote, with nearly 54% of votes going to Amanat. The second most popular party, Auyl, won 10.9%, in comparison. Out of the single mandate districts, 23 of the 29 seats were won by Amanat party members. Although Kazakhstani President Tokayev praised the recent election as a ‘serious step in advancing all our reforms,’ observers remain doubtful that it was a genuine attempt at allowing citizens more control over the government.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Republika Srpska cuts ties with UK, US embassies in Bosnia. The Republic of Srpska, one of the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, announced on 24 March its decision to cut ties with the embassies of the United Kingdom and United States following the introduction of US sanctions on the director of the Administration for Geodetic and Property Affairs of Republika Srpska Dragan Stankovic. In its announcement, the Serb government accused both countries of “interfering in the internal affairs of [Bosnia and Herzegovina],” as well as of conducting “anti-Dayton activities and violations of international law, the Charter of the United Nations, and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” The US Embassy in Sarajevo condemned Srpska President Milorad Dodik’s decision, calling it “one more step down a path of isolation and authoritarian rule,” and accusing him of using “authoritarian tactics against his own people.”
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Aliyev lays out conditions for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh in public address. In an address in Talysh, in Nagorno-Karabakh, President Aliyev declared that Armenia must recognize Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction over the territory, if the Armenians wish to continue living there “comfortably.” The remarks, which Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan deemed as an “act of aggression,” add to the rising tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region. The Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which provides access to the Armenians, recently reached its 100th day, amidst concerns from Yerevan that it could spark a humanitarian disaster if left blockaded. At the same time, both the United States’ Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister have actively tried to resolve the dispute. Traditionally, Moscow has been the primary security guarantor in the region and the main mediator of conflicts, but the US and EU have increasingly become more involved amidst concerns that war in Ukraine has overshadowed the Caucasus.
German Foreign Minister visits Georgia after withdrawal of foreign agent’s law. Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock visited Georgia on 23 March, not long after the controversial foreign agent’s law was withdrawn. Opponents say the bill was reminiscent of a 2012 Russian law, which cracked down on civil society and independent media. Baerbock met her counterpart Ilia Darchiasvhili to discuss EU and NATO integration and regional security, including the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Last year, the EU announced that it was ready to grant Georgia EU candidacy status on the basis that it would pass 12 reforms, such as de-oligarchisation. This announcement came after Ukraine and Moldova were awarded candidacy status, but Georgia wasn’t. An EU diplomat assured that Brussels would deliver a “merit-based” assessment on Georgia’s candidacy by the end of 2023 after claims of unfair treatment from Tbilisi. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili stated in her meeting with Baerbock that Georgia wouldn’t accept a second refusal.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Kyrgyz court considers suspending Radio Free Europe’s Kyrgyz Service. Following a request by Kyrgyzstan’s Culture Information, Sports, and Youth Policies Ministry to halt RFE/RF operations, hearings began on 17 March in the Lenin district court of Bishkek. The ministry had filed an official request at the end of January, asking the court to seek permanent closure of the US government-funded broadcast network Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RF’s local Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, has been accused of promoting “conflict, violence and ethnic intolerance” when they published a video report on the deadly Kyrgyz-Tajik border clashes that erupted last summer. Bishkek remains adamant that the armed conflict was initiated by Tajiks, and suggesting otherwise is a criminal offence in Kyrgyzstan after the Law of Protection from False Information was enacted in August 2021. RFE/RF’s local websites have been blocked in Kyrgyzstan since October, and earlier this month, the Bishkek Administrative Court rejected the organisation’s appeal to remove the block.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
Hungary’s muddled messages to the EU and NATO. Hungary’s relationship with its partners and allies remains tense, with many mixed messages getting sent in recent weeks. While Hungary recently participated in the adoption of a new EU text to protect NGOs, the Hungarian Justice Minister did not sign a joint EU resolution regarding Vladimir Putin’s recent arrest warrant issued by the ICC. Additionally, Hungary faces a lawsuit from the European Parliament over its anti-LGBT legislation. Moreover, the country will hold a parliamentary vote on Finland’s NATO membership on 27 March, but it remains uncertain when it will vote on Sweden’s. Regarding Ukraine’s EU candidacy and NATO accession, the NATO-Ukraine Commission ministerial meeting is scheduled for April, despite Hungary’s objections. Furthermore, last week the Hungarian Foreign Minister emphasised his country’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, stating that supplying ammunition to Ukraine was not an option, however, at last week’s EU summit, the EU’s arms procurement for Ukraine was passed with constructive abstention from Budapest.
Townspeople work together to save Slovak UNESCO town from roaring fire. On 18 March, over 300 community members created a human chain to rescue priceless paintings and exhibits from the blaze within Banská Štiavnica’s historic Jozef Kollár Art Gallery. The gallery is positioned only a few metres away from the Love Bank (Banka Lásky), a popular tourist destination where the fire had ignited. The Love Bank is home to several thousands of love stories received from around the globe – the project was inspired by the world’s longest poem, “Marína,” written by Slovak poet Andrej Sládkovič. Volunteers also helped rescue artefacts from the nearby Slovak Mining Archives. According to Culture Minister Natália Milanová, “five roofs belonging to national cultural monuments” burned down. In response to the tragedy, the Donio Fundraising Site launched a fund to restore what was lost.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Russia conducts “large-scale redistribution of property” in occupied Ukrainian territories. As reported by Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta last week, around 1150 companies within the occupied territories are registered with the Russian state. They note, however, that 80 percent of these companies are also “registered in the register of legal entities in Ukraine.” This would imply that the Moscow-installed administrations of the occupied territories are actively working on Russifying pre-existing Ukrainian business. These businesses are now often under new ownership of Russian businessmen and are being retargeted towards the Russian market. Novaya Gazeta quotes Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov on his claim that Russia is illegally seizing businesses from their Ukrainian owners and nationalising “ownerless property.” According to the Mayor, any business can be deemed ownerless if it refuses to register with the Russian tax authority.
Latvian FM rallies EU for stricter sanctions on Belarus. On 21 March, during a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council in Brussels, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs called for a European alignment of sanctions against Belarus with those imposed on Russia, to reduce the risk of circumvention. Rinkēvičs emphasised the importance of the European Union working together to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus. The country has been heavily criticised for suppressing opposition and free speech, particularly since the 2020 presidential elections, which were widely regarded as fraudulent. Meanwhile, Latvia will continue to provide all possible assistance to Ukraine, and will strongly support further action to hold Russian officials accountable for war crimes. Belarus has already been sanctioned by the EU, but Latvia believes that tougher measures are crucial. Latvia’s move is part of a broader effort by EU member states to coordinate their policies towards Belarus and Russia.
🌲 In Russia…
“Dear friends” meet in Moscow. Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping went to Moscow on a three-day state visit, during which he met Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian state media were in raptures about the seemingly very warm and friendly atmosphere of the meeting – both Presidents called each other “dear friends” and did not shy away from praising one another’s leadership. They signed two agreements, on partnership and economic cooperation, and are planning to expand ties in multiple sectors, including energy and supply chains, and to increase the use of “local currencies” in trade as opposed to U.S. dollars. As analysts observed, however, the meeting seems to have strongly increased Russia’s dependence on China, without the latter having to make significant reciprocal concessions or offers. Notably, no strong declarations were made regarding Ukraine – Putin acknowledged China’s twelve-point “peace plan” and its potential for forming the “basis” of a future agreement between Russia and Ukraine, yet both Presidents seem to have agreed that it is up to Ukraine and the West to make the first step on the road to de-escalation.
Russia jails former presidential guard for 6 years for desertion. Last Friday, a Siberian court sentenced a Russian citizen for six years because of his attempt to flee Russia’s partial mobilisation. The former presidential guard officer, named Mikhail Zhilin (36), sought asylum in Kazakhstan after he had crossed the border illegally in the autumn of 2022. Zhilin was a federal employee and therefore did not have the legal right to leave Russia. Astana refused to grant Zhilin asylum and subsequently deported him to Russia in December. Consequently, he became the first known draft dodger returned to Russia by the Kazakh authorities. Astana has pledged to not extradite Russian draft dodgers unless they are under criminal investigation. According to the Kazakh authorities, more than 400,000 Russian citizens have arrived in the Central Asian country since the announced “partial” mobilisation of military reserves in September 2022.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Ariadna Mane, Kirsty Dick, Nate Ostiller, Teresa Reilly, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Autumn Mozeliak, Jordi Beckers, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, & Sam Appels 💌