Lossi 36 Weekly #17: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read
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In this week’s newsletter: Serbia in mourning after mass shootings, Turkey closes airspace to Armenia, report on war crimes during Kyrgyz-Tajik border clashes, seizing of Russian embassy’s high school in Warsaw, European Commission strikes a deal to address grain bans, Wagner to withdraw from Bakhmut, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Serbia mourns after two mass shootings.Charles Fourmi
A boy and his parents were arrested last Wednesday after the boy killed nine others at the Vladislav Ribnikar primary school. He had used his father’s gun to commit the act. The reasons behind the 13-year-old boy’s act remain unknown. However, the police later found a list of pupils to be targeted, evidence of a premeditated act. Seven others were injured, including two in critical conditions. As the country was still in shock, a second mass shooting took place on Thursday evening, with a moving vehicle shooting and killing eight people and injuring a dozen others at various locations near Mladenovac, 50 km from Belgrade. A 21-year-old was arrested for the murders, also believed to be premeditated. Politicians reacted by quickly lowering the age of criminalization from 14 to 12 years old, a controversial response for child protection NGOs. President Vučić also promised that Serbia would be “disarmed” and that there would be a month-long amnesty to turn in illegal weapons without charges. Serbia has strong regulations for acquiring weapons, though most have been illegally acquired during the wartimes of the 1990s. Despite around 40% Serbians possessing weapons, the accidents that took place this week are a very rare occurrence.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Kosovo and Serbia begin to work together to find Yugoslav-era missing persons. On 2 May, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti made a deal to co-investigate the fates of missing individuals who disappeared during the 1990s war. The EU reports 1,621 people unaccounted for among more than 13,000 killed. The deal includes the use of satellite data and laser mapping to discover mass graves. The two have also agreed to share classified files and to create a joint commission for missing persons. EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, mediated the deal. The plan is a big step for the two nations, as the cases of these missing individuals have been an ongoing issue between Priština and Belgrade for many years. Further operational details will be determined at the next meeting on the normalisation of relations in Brussels.
New report shines light on Croatia’s abusive treatment of migrants. A new report published by the Human Rights Watch group has heavily criticised Croatia’s treatment of migrants seeking asylum at its borders. HRW criticised Croatia’s discriminatory behaviour towards migrants, often pushing them back into neighbouring Bosnia & Herzegovina, without first processing or documenting their asylum claim. Croatian border officials were also claimed to have stolen personal belongings of migrants such as mobile phones, money, or identity documents. Following the nation’s accession to the Schengen Zone at the start of the year, officials in Zagreb have attempted to make sure to show how seriously the common principle of European border control, even at the cost of human rights.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Arrest of Georgian model’s husband on beating charges highlights wider domestic violence issue. Georgian model Renata Begiashvili shared pictures of her bruised face, alleging her husband hit her, which then went viral amidst the larger prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence in Georgia. Begiashvili stated that she had been a victim of violence for years; her husband was later arrested for domestic violence. According to a UN based study, as many as one in seven Georgian women are victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes. In 2022 alone, at least 16 women were the victims of femicide, including several high profile incidents, such as a public murder on Tbilisi public transport. Caucasus-based Jam-News released a long-form report, accompanying short documentary on the situation in 2019, and also argued that the high prevalence of domestic violence and femicide has a variety of causes, some of which stem from cultural traditions, as well as from a legal system that doesn’t go far enough to protect women.
Turkey closes its airspace to Armenia in protest to new genocide monument. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, announced on Wednesday that it had closed its airspace to Armenian airlines flying to third countries. Flights from Yerevan to Istanbul continue as normal. This abrupt closure stems from anger over a new monument, which was inaugurated in Yerevan on 25 April, the day after Armenians traditionally commemorate the genocide. The monument is dedicated to Operation Nemesis, the code name for a covert operation that took place in the 1920s to assassinate the Turkish perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. Çavuşoğlu told Turkish television that the monument ‘glorifies terrorists.’ This setback in the relations of the two countries comes after a recent rapprochement process, boosted after Armenia sent a rescue crew to Turkey after the devastating earthquake in February. A US State department spokesperson noted Turkey’s decision with ‘disappointment’ emphasising the US’s continuation of support to normalise Turkish-Armenian relations to stabilise the region.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Family member of the Nazarbayev clan sentenced to seven years in prison. The ex-wife of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s nephew has been sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of ‘abduction and actions aiding the commission of a crime.’ Gulmira Satybaldy referred to the charges against her as politically motivated during her final statement in the Baiqongyr district court on 4 May. Her sentencing is the latest in a series of court cases against individuals who were close to the former president Nursultan Nazarbayev during his thirty-year rule in Kazakhstan. Current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has pledged to crack down on corruption and cronyism that plagued Nazarbayev’s regime. President Tokayev began attempts to hold the Nazarbayev clan to account after the events of Bloody January 2022. Gulmira Satybaldy’s husband — Nursultan Nazarbayev’s nephew Kairat Satybaldy — was sentenced to six years in jail on corruption charges last September.
HRW releases report on war crimes during Kyrgyz-Tajik border clashes. The fighting along the Kazakh-Tajik border took place in September 2022 and is said to have led to the death of over a 100 people. The report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), released on 2 May and titled “When we moved, They shot,” accuses both states of using arbitrary and unjustified force, targeting mostly civilians. The report mentions instances in which the Kyrgyz forces attacked ambulances and kindergartens, and even used laser-guided bombs to attack public squares, killing 10 civilians. On the other hand, Tajik soldiers have been accused of looting, burning civilian homes and even carrying out extrajudicial killings during the brief occupation of Kyrgyz regions. According to HRW’s witness testimonials and analysis of medical records, satellite images etc, the death toll could be around 51, with close to 134,000 individuals displaced on both sides. The report encourages the two governments to carry out their respective investigations at the national level, as well as provide their military personnel with training in humanitarian laws.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
Seizing of Russian embassy’s high school in Warsaw causes friction. On 29 April, Poland seized a building in Warsaw housing a high school for children of Russian diplomats. The employees were asked to leave the building by that evening. The reason behind the confiscation was explained by the Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Łukasz Jasina, who stated that the building belonged to the Warsaw City Hall and had been seized on bailiff’s orders. Jasina also mentioned that the Polish-owned premises did not hold diplomatic status and had been illegally used by the Russian embassy for several years. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the event as a “blatant violation” of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. Russian ex-President Dmitry Medvedev also commented on Twitter that after such a move, he saw no point in maintaining diplomatic relations with Poland.
Hungary Passes Conciliatory Judicial Reforms. On 3 May, the Hungarian parliament approved wide-reaching judicial reforms which, if passed, have the potential to unblock over €20 billion in EU funds. This reform would mark a turning point in the rocky relationship between Brussels and Viktor Orbán’s government, and would address a key dispute which led to funds being blocked last December. The proposed changes would guarantee the National Judicial Council’s independence and further curtail political influence in the Supreme and Constitutional courts. This reconciliation comes at a critical juncture for Hungary which has suffered poor economic growth and the highest EU inflation (over 25%) this year. The release of the EU funds would provide a much-needed boost to the Hungarian economy, and help contain the erosion of democratic institutions.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
European Commission strikes a deal to address Ukraine grain bans. The Commission reached an agreement with Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia regarding special measures on Ukrainian grain imports. Ukraine’s neighbours have been facing oversaturation of their crop markets, falling prices and mass protests of farmers in recent weeks, prompting some governments to take unilateral decisions to ban imports of different food products from Ukraine. This has had a significant negative impact on Ukraine, which has had to shift from transporting a major part of its exports via the sea to moving it via roads and railroads since the Russian invasion started. On 2 May, the Commission adopted “exceptional and temporary preventive measures” which concern wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed specifically, and stipulate that while these crops can continue to be released for free circulation in the European Union, the five countries in question can limit the circulation on their territories to transit only. The Commission also offered financial compensation for the affected farmers.
Situation around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia sparked panic by commanding people to leave 18 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region, including Enerhodar near Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts are deeply concerned “about the increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions for personnel – and their families” and shelling regularly around the plant area. ZNPP Director Yuri Chernichuk has publicly confirmed that no Ukrainian operating staff were being evacuated, and they are continuing to ensure nuclear security and safety at the plant, whose six reactors are in shutdown mode. Currently, Zaporizhzhia NPP does not generate electricity but continues using electricity from Ukraine’s energy system to meet its own needs. On 6 May, Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of Enerhodar, confirmed via Telegram that Russian forces were causing an atmosphere of “panic” with recent announcements of evacuations. Meanwhile, Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, stated that there were five-hour waits on the roads as thousands of cars left.
🌲 In Russia…
Prigozhin announces withdrawal of Wagner forces from Bakhmut. After an unsuccessful media campaign aimed at receiving ammunition and shells from the Russian regular army, the founder of the so-called Wagner PMC Yevgeny Prigozhin announced the planned withdrawal of its forces on 10 May. Using explicit language to address Russian military officials, Prigozhin stated that his private military organization went through exponential losses in recent days due to a lack of equipment and support from the Russian Ministry of Defence. It is not the first time the creator of Wagner blames Russian officials for the dreadful death toll in the last months of the war. Daring to use such words as “traitor,” Prigozhin keeps his status of impunity while attempting to pressure Russian institutions to go full-scale in the current war. If some argue that cases of corruption and embezzlements are at stake in Russian military funding of the Ukrainian war, many specialists also highlighted the systemic limits of the industrial support the Russian economy can leverage to the Russian military effort in its war in Ukraine. As a consequence, however huge the aura of Prigozhin might be in the Kremlin, his attempts to obtain more ammos may be over scaling what Russia can produce after 14 months of war.
Kremlin drone attack. On Wednesday morning, 3 May, two remotely operated drones flew towards the domed roof of the Kremlin and exploded, causing harm to no one. It is believed that the first drone approached the dome of the Senate Palace inside the Kremlin walls approximately at 2:27 am local time, while the second one flew from the east at 2:43 am. The first media coverage via TASS and RIA news channels of the incident arrived only 12 hours after the incident around 2:33 pm local time, followed by a video of the drone attack becoming viral on social media. The Russian government claimed Ukraine to be behind the attack (with American support) and a daring assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied the involvement of his country in it. It is still unclear which party is behind the drone attack, as some U.S.-based drone experts consider the strike was done from a location nearby Moscow. The other question arises on the security of the most guarded place in Russia: the Kremlin claims to use all the air defence systems protecting Moscow and the jamming systems, so how did the drones manage to come above the dome?
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Vira Kompaniiets, Romain le Dily, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Myriam Marino, Nathan Alan-Lee, Kirsty Dick, Teresa Reilly, Chaharika Uppal, Nate Ostiller, Cameron MacBride, Charles Fourmi, & Autumn Mozeliak 💌