Lossi 36 Weekly #14: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

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In this week’s newsletter: Local election spurs in Kosovo, tensions on the rise in Nagorno KarabakhZhanaozen workers once again take on Astana, supporting Russia now illegal in CzechiaPentagon leaks and Ukraine, the trial of Vladimir Kara-Murzaand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Lithuanian FM urges the West not to repeat mistakes with Russia while dealing with China following Macron’s meeting with Xi.Thapanee Tubnonghee

An Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis pointed out the threat of Chinese geopolitical aggression and stated that the West must avoid repeating their mistakes with Russia in dealing with China. He emphasised the importance of supporting Taiwan and expanding economic ties with the country, noting that Lithuania’s cooperation with Taiwan is not only political but also economic. Landsbergis’s tweets followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to China and meeting with Xi Jinping. Despite its previous diplomatic rows with China, Lithuania has recently strengthened its ties with Taiwan under its foreign policy diversification strategy. The move has been criticised by China, as it regards Taiwan as a breakaway province. Key events include Taiwan’s establishment of a representative office in Vilnius and Lithuania’s withdrawal from China’s “17+1” format. China imposed a customs block on Lithuanian exports as a response.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Serbia contests local elections in north Kosovo until implementation of Association of Serbian Municipalities. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that Serbia will contest the celebration of local elections in the four Serb-majority municipalities of northern Kosovo, set to happen on April 23, until the Association of Serbian Municipalities (ASM) is implemented. This demand follows the acceptance of the EU-led deal for the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia by both sides in March. The elections were postponed in December 2022 after Serbs blocked roads and border crossings and tensions increased. “We cannot be conditioned by Vucic, by Belgrade, by Serbia, that they decide when there can be elections or not in Kosovo,” Speaker of the Parliament of Kosovo, Glauk Konjfuca responded. However, representatives of the Serb population in Kosovo, including the Belgrade-backed Serbian List party (Srpska Lista), do not want to partake in the election until the ASM is established, which will give them more political representation and power in the Kosovar central government, as well as their own common statute.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh rise amidst deadliest fighting in months. On 11 April, violent clashes broke out on the borders of the contested territory, near the Lachin Corridor which Azeri forces have controversially been blockading for months. The respective defence ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan stated that seven had been killed in the fighting. Although there are frequent skirmishes between the opposing sides, the firefight on 11 April was the deadliest in at least six months, prompting the EU to call for “restraint.” Both sides accused the other of instigating the latest outbreak of violence, with independent sources stating that it was impossible to confirm either of the narratives. An investigative report by Jam-News provided background context to the specific location where the skirmish occurred, and offered video coverage of the incident. There have long been fears that the simmering conflict between the two sides could erupt into a new war, akin to the full-scale war that occurred in 2020 and left as many as 7,000 dead.

Pro-European rallies continue in Tbilisi. On 9 April, thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Georgian capital in a show of support for Ukraine and for Georgia’s bid to join the European Union. The event was organised under the slogan ‘Together in Europe.’ The chairman of the United National Movement opposition party, Levan Khabeishvili, said that the protesters’ demands included the liberation of political prisoners and the implementation of reforms needed for Georgia to be granted a formal EU candidate status. This pro-European rally comes after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Tbilisi last month after parliament gave initial backing to a draft law on so-called ‘foreign agents’, a measure similar to a law used by Russia to disrupt the work of media organisations and suppress dissent. The recent anti-government protests in Tbilisi have scared leaders in the breakaway region of Abkhazia and led them to ban one-way travel between Abkhazia and Georgia proper from 7-10 April, to discourage Georgians in Abkhazia from joining the protests.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Zhanaozen workers protest in Astana. In Kazakhstan’s north-western region of Mangystau, the industrial town of Zhanaozen has been the site of frequent and often bloody protests, as seen in 2011 and 2022. The root of the local distress seems to lie in the lack of financial security and support of oil workers, who are extremely poorly paid in Kazakhstan’s richest and most well-developed region. On 10 April, eighty former employees of the Berali Mangystau Company gathered around the Ministry of Energy in the capital, after their former employer lost its government tender around 2 weeks ago, leaving the workers unemployed. The protestors were detained on 11 April, after their demands for permanent employment at subsidiary plants were raised. This movement falls into line with a history of ill-treatment of oil workers by major corporations and the Kazakh Government, who have not only curtailed the freedom to protest but also the rights of labour unions and the freedom of association.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s appeal must be reviewed, Kyrgyz court rules. On 13 April, the Bishkek City Court ruled that the Bishkek Administrative Court must review RFE/RL’s previously filed appeal. In March, the Administrative Court had outright rejected RFE/RL’s appeal without explanation for the decision. The appeal had been filed when the media group’s Kyrgyz Service Radio Azattyk had its bank account frozen by authorities last year. After RFE/RL produced a video report on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border conflict that authorities found to be biassed, the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policies moved to block RFE/RL websites in Kyrgyzstan. Days later, Radio Azattyk’s bank accounts were frozen. Although the websites are now accessible, despite the 13 April court decision, its bank accounts remain frozen.

🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…

Supporting Russia is now illegal in the Czech Republic. As of this spring, the Czech government has officially made the open support for Russia in the war in Ukraine a punishable offence, with up to three-year-long sentences. Chief prosecutor Igor Stříž conflates any kind of support as a form of questioning, denying, or justifying of genocide. Slovakia, which usually follows closely behind Czechia’s legal developments, has threatened up to 25 years in prison for supporting Russia’s war. Although freedom of speech is taken very seriously in the Czech Republic, the speech is limited as a result of the Holocaust. To prevent Nazism, a now rather ambiguous law against spreading of ‘dangerous speech’ has resurfaced. So far, nine individuals have been convicted of this crime, most of which were fined; at least fifty-eight have been charged and ninety are under criminal investigation.

Hungary’s controversial child protection law sparks debate and EU legal action – again. Hungary has further strengthened the controversial anti-LGBTQ+ child protection law enacted in 2021. Last week, the Hungarian parliament passed a bill that enhances the existing regulations on complaints and public interest reports while complying with EU commitments and legal harmonisation obligations. The new legislation aims to protect the “Hungarian way of life,” including Christian culture, family values, and child welfare. Part of the bill allows people to report anyone who opposes, “the constitutionally recognized role of marriage and the family” and those who oppose children’s rights to “an identity appropriate to their sex at birth.” The Hungarian government claims that the law safeguards families and children and does not discriminate against any group. However, the bill has sparked widespread criticism, inciting fifteen EU member states to initiate legal action against Hungary. The controversy highlights the tensions between Hungary and the EU regarding democracy, human rights, and rule of law issues.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Pentagon leak reveals sensitive information about the war in Ukraine. According to research by Bellingcat, pictures of the documents containing information about U.S. intelligence on several of its allies, Ukraine, and Russia first started circulating on Discord in March. The content of the documents paint a bleaker picture for the country’s prospects in the war than was previously assumed. According to the leak, Ukraine has suffered from a far higher casualty rate than was revealed and is running out of air-defence rockets. U.S. intelligence has been led to believe that for the rest of 2023, Ukrainian territorial gains will be minimal. The leak also reveals that there are 97 NATO personnel currently present in Ukraine, which has led Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to claim that NATO’s “level of involvement is rising.” Ukraine’s minister of defence Oleksii Reznikov has reacted to the leaks by stating that they contain a “mix” of true, false, and outdated information. It is, however, too early to tell what consequences the apparent American pessimism about Ukraine’s prospects will have on the two countries’ relationship.

🌲 In Russia…

Yevgeny Prigozhin says too early to claim the surrounding of Bakhmut. Last Thursday, Moscow claimed that its troops were preventing Ukrainian forces from entering or leaving Bakhmut. The Russian Ministry of Defence stated that “Airborne troops are providing support to advancing assault troops, blocking the transfer of Ukrainian army reserves to the city and the possibility of retreat for enemy units.” The statement also mentioned that units of Wanger “were continuing high-intensity combat operations to oust the enemy from the central quarters.” Kyiv, however, has denied Russia’s claims. Moreover, Wagner Group’s head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, also mitigated Moscow’s claims by saying that it was still “too early” to say that the frontline city of Bakhmut was surrounded. Both the Ukrainian and Russian armed forces are believed to have suffered heavy losses in the battle of Bakhmut in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

State Duma adopts law on electronic notification regarding military service. After the departure of many Russian individuals and their families from the Russian Federation following the partial mobilisation announcement in September 2022, the Russian government decided to introduce measures preventing Russians from avoiding their military duties. According to a new law adopted last week, any failure to respond to military summons without a valid reason will be met with bans and restrictions regarding day-to-day life. For instance, the ability to register as a taxpayer with a special tax regime will be blocked, and the person concerned will be unable to conclude a loan agreement. More importantly, from now on an email will suffice to hold someone accountable for the summons received, while the former mechanism required the receiver’s handwritten signature. Before, an individual could simply refuse to meet with state workers, thus staying out of the army’s reach. The new message from the Russian Federation is clear: the government is now committed to preventing the Russian people from ignoring the Kremlin’s summons.

Judge presiding over Kara-Murza trial included in Magnitsky list. Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician detained for speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will almost certainly be sentenced to jail today, following a trial that has resembled the show trials of Soviet dissidents. Kara-Murza has been a leading figure in the Russian opposition, with one of his main goals being to get the right people onto the so-called ‘Magnitsky List,’ The list was established by the American treasury to punish those responsible for the trial and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax official who uncovered corruption among Russian officials. Sergey Podoprigorov, the judge presiding over the Magnitsky case is now presiding over the Kara-Murza case. What is more, he himself has been placed on the list, from which he then tried to remove himself in 2018.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Bart Alting, Romain le Dily, Sam Appels, Jordi Beckers, Autumn Mozeliak, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Chaharika Uppal, Teresa Reilly, Kirsty Dick, Nate Ostiller, & Ariadna Mañé 💌

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