Lossi 36 Weekly #13: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read

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In this week’s newsletter: TV station attacked in Albania, protester’s arrest sparks frustration in GeorgiaTaliban in Gorno-BadakhshanEU combustion enginge ban controversial in Slovakia, religious leader sentenced to house arrest in Ukraine, new round of drafting in Russiaand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Taliban takes control of consulate in Tajikistan.Kirsty Dick

An anonymous source at the Afghan embassy in Dushanbe reported that the consulate in Khorog, the capital of Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region, is now under Taliban control. According to the source, the consulate has been issuing passports and staff have been receiving salaries from the Taliban for the past two months. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, the embassy in Dushanbe pledged allegiance to the former Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh. On 25 March, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Taliban announced that a delegation had visited the consulate in Khorog to review the reconstruction of the consulate compound, which had been destroyed by an avalanche in February. The Tajik government has not commented on this visit. Like other Central Asian nations, Tajikistan has refused to formally acknowledge the Taliban government, and refuses to engage the group. President Emomali Rahmon has been critical of the Taliban and the National Resistance Front, led by Ahmad Massoud, has found shelter in Tajikistan. Despite this, Tajikistan still continues to export electricity to its southern neighbour.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Croatia marks full entry in the Schengen Area with the dropping of its air border. Following Croatia’s removal of land and sea borders with other Schengen members at the start of the year, it has now marked its full entry into the border-free bloc with the dissolution of borders at airports. Now travellers flying from Schengen Area flights to locations across Croatia, or vice versa, will no longer have to go through passport control upon arrival. The move marks an important point in Croatia’s European integration, having also joined the Euro common currency at the turn of the year, 10 years after joining the political bloc. The move is seen as important for the upcoming summer season, with Croatia’s economy being heavily reliant on tourism. With easier access to the country from Western neighbours, alongside removing the need for currency conversions for Euro users, the country hopes to have its most successful summer season yet.

Attack against Albanian TV station. On Monday last week, a gun attack at the entrance of major Albanian TV channel ‘Top Channel’ killed a sixty-year-old man. The attack was carried from a passing SUV car that shot directly at the outside booth where the security guard was standing. ‘Top Channel’ is considered the most watched station from Albania, both at home and abroad: it is very popular for the diaspora living in the EU and US. There was no public announcement concerning the shooter’s motive. ‘Top Channel’ labelled the assault a terrorist attack against free speech and democracy. PM Edi Rama followed, saying that the “freedom of the media in Albania has never been in the situation it is today in the positive aspect,” a somewhat controversial statement after Reporters without Borders decreased Albania’s ranking in November last year. Another assault against Albanian journalists was already reported in February, while investigating illegal mining activities.

Kosovo’s former president and prime minister faces war crimes trials. On 3 April, Hashim Thaçi will face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague, 24 years overdue. Thaçi, a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, is charged for the murder, persecution, torture, and forced disappearance of individuals during the Kosovo conflict in 1998-1999 in Kosovo and North Albania. Alongside him, other senior politicians and former military leaders Kadri Veseli, Rexhep Selimi, and Jakup Krasniqi are being prosecuted for the same crimes. All four have pleaded not guilty. This trial is one out of several for the Kosovo conflict, as only a handful have made entrance to The Hague, most notably the trial of Serb leader and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević. The Kosovo conflict endured various war crimes, the majority committed by Serbian and Yugoslav military and political forces. The conflict is known for its brutality and the transfer of over 1,000 bodies that were dumped in a mass grave in Serbia.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s place in Russia’s new foreign policy concept. On Friday, 31 March, Vladimir Putin signed the ‘Conception on Foreign Policy of Russian Federation.’ The document directly mentions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two de facto independent entities, but de jure integral parts of Georgia, as part of Russia’s influence on the world’s politics and stability. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are mentioned to receive a ‘priority attention’ from Russia, which will provide ‘all-embracing aid’ to the two entities, basing it on the willingness of these nations to ‘enhance integration with Russia’. Both entities welcomed its special place in Russia’s foreign policy, and reciprocated their will to expand integration with Russia. With this declaration, the Kremlin pledges to continue to provide aid to the two regions, which survive mostly by maintaining strong economic and political dependence on Russia.

Arrest of young protester sparks new frustration in Tbilisi. Twenty-one-year-old Lazare Grigoriadis was arrested following the anti-government protests in early March about the proposed ‘foreign agents law’ in Georgia, a case which has drawn increased attention because of the lengthy potential sentence, seven to eleven years, that he may receive. He stands accused of throwing Molotov cocktails and burning a police car. Grigoriadis’s case has been commented on by leading Georgian government officials such as Georgian Dream Chair Khobakidze, who criticized him using personally charged language. After Grigoriadis was first identified, government media and officials spread a photo of Grigoriadis on which he had dyed hair and wears jewellery. In turn, this has led to accusations that Grigoriadis has been singled out and scapegoated, in part because of his appearance and alleged sexual orientation. Consecutive rallies in support of Grigoriadis have been held in front of the Georgian parliament building, with protestors that included the German MEP Viola von Kramon, who denounced the personal attack by Khobakidze.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Jailed Kazakh journalist goes on hunger strike. Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim was initially disqualified from running as a candidate in the parliamentary elections held on 19 March, but after successfully protesting his disqualification he was cleared to run as a candidate. In response to an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary vote going to the ruling party Amanat, Mukhammedkarim planned to organise a rally in protest of the official results, as many independent candidates have accused electoral officials of significant violations. The former candidate was arrested for his plans and is currently serving a 25-day jail sentence. In response, Mukhammedkarim, through his lawyer, announced a hunger strike in protest of the sentencing.

Kyrgyzstan to begin importing Russian electricity. On 30 March, Kyrgyzstan’s government planned to sign an electricity import deal with Russia for 875 million kiloWatt-hours, which amounts to around 5% of Kyrgyzstan’s annual consumption. Electricity consumption in Kyrgyzstan is increasingly outpacing the country’s ability to produce it. In order to meet demand, the government plans to import 2.2 billion kWh from neighbouring countries. This past January, Kyrgyzstan paid $4 million USD to import 138.6 million kWh of electricity from Kazakhstan; then in February, a deal to import 1.6 million kWh from Turkmenistan to Kyrgyzstan began to make deliveries. The International Energy Agency has highlighted that infrastructure updates could save up to 25% of electricity. But as residential electricity consumption skyrockets as living standards improve, the government must consider tariffs on electricity to offset the costs.

🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…

Slovak opposition finds Slovak vote on EU ban on combustion engines unconstitutional. On Tuesday, 28 March, the vote of Slovak Environment Minister for a ban on combustion engines in the context of the European Council’s approval of the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel engines starting from 2035 was deemed non-compliant with the constitution by the Slovak opposition in parliament. After all, the Slovak National Council’s European affairs committee had voted against the ban, which, according to the opposition, should have prompted the Ministry of Environment Ján Budaj to change his position. European positions on the ban were not unanimous, with previous dissent expressed by Germany, Italy, Poland, and Bulgaria. Germany asked for an exemption for synthetic fuels, eventually obtained it, and consequently approved the ban. On the occasion of the voting, in the end only Poland voted against the ban, with Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy abstaining. While the ministry stated that an exchange had occurred with parliament, the opposition stuck to its view on the unconstitutionality of the vote.

Poland acts to “limit” grain imports from Ukraine. On 29 March, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki demanded the “use of all regulatory instruments – quotas, tariffs, which will limit or block the import of Ukrainian grain into Poland.” This move comes as a response to depressed grain prices and growing discontent amongst rural farmers, a bastion of the conservative electorate in Poland. The governing Law and Justice party looks to shore up support in this key constituency, as the party still polls well below what will be required for a parliamentary majority. At the same time, the far-right party Konfederacja has gained ground in polls, breaking into third position on a platform critical of Poland’s supportive stance on Ukraine. As Law and Justice struggles to rein in the right-wing of its constituency, the party may be forced to further “limit” its unconditional support of Ukraine.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Bulgaria’s turbulent general elections. In the week leading up to yesterday’s general elections in Bulgaria, bomb threats caused the closure of schools set to act as polling stations in Sofia, Varna, Burgas, and Silven. The Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev and President Rumen Radev downplayed the threat, and ensured that the elections would continue safely. The ministry carried out physical inspections of each polling station on Saturday, and had continuous security on site until the electoral process would be completed. While the situation is being investigated, the City Prosecutor’s Office decided to open a case of terrorism. A recent survey indicated an unclear winner for the fifth general elections in Bulgaria in the past two years. Without a stable parliamentary majority, Bulgaria remains at risk of being ruled by the Russia-leaning President Rumen Radev, as well becoming incapable of carrying out reforms it has pledged itself and the EU to. At the time of writing, no conclusive election results had been published yet.

Metropolitan Pavel Lebed sentenced to house arrest. Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) confirmed on Saturday 1 April that Metropolitan Pavel Lebed, an Orthodox Church leader, is suspected of violating the country’s criminal code. According to the SBU, Pavel “repeatedly insulted the religious feelings of Ukrainians, humiliated the views of believers of other denominations and tried to form hostile sentiments towards them.” The former head of Ukraine’s most important monastery, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Metropolitan Pavel led the branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) which was previously loyal to Moscow and to Patriarch Kirill in particular. The latter remains a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A Kyiv court has sentenced the top religious leader to house arrest, inlcuding a monitoring ankle band, for two months. Lebed denies any accusations towards him, naming his charges as a “political case,” meanwhile cursing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and threatening him with damnation.

🌲 In Russia…

Russia’s annual spring draft kicks off this week, aiming for 147 thousand young men. From 1 April to 15 July, Russia’s military will seek 147 thousand men to fill its ranks, the highest number since 2016. Military service typically lasts a year, after which soldiers may join the reserves or the professional ranks. The two annual drafts – one in spring, one in fall – are different from the mobilisation of 300 thousand recruits in September last year. While many of these mobilised soldiers were sent to Ukraine, it is unclear whether the conscripts will be deployed to Ukraine as well. Although Russian law prevents the deployment of conscripts to foreign conflicts, conscripts have been involved in Ukraine, at least in the first months of the war. However, since Russia annexed Ukraine’s south-eastern regions, much of the frontline lies in what Russia now considers to be its own soil – making the war against Ukraine not a foreign conflict, but a domestic war for Russian legal purposes.

Putin wants to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. On 25 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he intends to station tactical weapons on Belarusian territory, the first time since the 1990s when Russia last deployed such weaponry, depleted uranium ammunition specifically, in a foreign territory. A special storage facility is said to be built by 1 July and technical training will start this week. This comes on top of the deployment of the Iskander missile launchers in Belarus. The date of moving the weapons, however, still remains unclear. Kyiv has urged the United Nation Security Council to hold a meeting over the issue, as it believes this move violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while the EU and the United States see it as a dangerous escalation, even though the US state department claims to not have any evidence signifying the use of such nuclear weapons in the near future. As usual, Minsk and Moscow brushed off any responsibility, blaming Western sanctions and international condemnation as the reason behind the move.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Daan Verkuil, Vira Kompaniiets, Patricia Raposo, Myriam Marino, Nathan Alan-Lee, Kirsty Dick, Teresa Reilly, Chaharika Uppal, Oskar Król, Nate Ostiller, Cameron MacBride, Charles Fourmi, & Autumn Mozeliak 💌

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