Lossi 36 Weekly #18: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
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In this week’s newsletter: Bosnia seeks new gas pipelines, Russia to restart direct flights to Georgia, all five Central Asian leaders in Moscow, Slovak PM quits among deepening national political crisis, Zelenskyy in Germany, Russia to build a ‘Migrant Village’ for conservative foreigners, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Central Asian leaders visit Moscow for Victory Day celebrations.Teresa Reilly
All five presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan travelled to Moscow on 9 May to attend celebrations of ‘Victory Day’, or the end of the Second World War. The usually grand Victory Day parade on the Red Square was noticeably scaled down this year, as cracks in Russia’s military begin to show from the war in Ukraine. The Central Asian presidents were joined by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Armenian PM Nikol Pashinian. Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdymukhamedov came amid Gazprom’s reentry to Turkmenistan’s gas market, a welcome diversification from exporting solely to China. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s presence was unsurprising, considering that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the most economically dependent on Russia; however, bilateral relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are still fraught due to the ongoing border conflict. Uzbek President Miriziyoyev’s presence is seen as a desire to strengthen his support from Moscow, as he recently called a snap presidential election to prolong his reign after last week’s constitutional referendum would allow him to rule until 2037 — a move straight out of Putin’s toolbox. Finally, the attendance of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev seemed to underline Kazakhstan’s delicate dance of multilateralism, between China, the EU, the US, and Russia. Although Kazakhstan has been the most supportive of Ukraine among Central Asian countries, their geographic position bordering Russia makes ignoring Russia’s regional presence nearly impossible.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Bosnia approves negotiations for two new gas pipelines from Russia, Azerbaijan. On 11 May, the council of ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina approved the beginning of negotiations for the construction of two new gas pipelines: the New Eastern Interconnection from Russia through Serbia, and the Southern Interconnection, from Azerbaijan and Croatia. With the construction of the Southern Interconnection, Bosnia would end its complete dependency on Russian gas. However, worries have risen concerning the first project, as it will mean that Russia’s Gazprom, acting under the Serbian public company Srbijagas according to a 2021 agreement, will exclusively supply the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska. For some Bosnian political actors, this would provide ‘Srpska’ the opportunity to disconnect from the Bosnian networks and integrate into the Serbian one. Other concerns point to the control over gas prices this new pipeline would give to Milorad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Attempts to reach peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On 11 May, the Armenian Defence ministry stated that Azeri soldiers opened fire at Armenian positions. Azerbaijan, however, revealed Armenian actions of provocation the day before. On the diplomatic level, a marathon of high-ranking official meetings continues with the aim of reaching a peace agreement. In early May, both countries’ foreign ministers met with Anthony Blinken in Washington to work on the conditions for the agreement, but the main issues remained unresolved. A follow-up meeting of the foreign ministers together with their Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov is scheduled in Moscow for 17 May. In the meantime, the leaders of both countries, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev, met in Brussels on Sunday 14 May. Despite the intense efforts of solving the conflict around the Lachin corridor, Pashinyan is sceptical that a peace agreement would be signed soon. Simultaneously, Aliyev tours around Nagorno-Karabakh, where he boasts of the achievements in the region since the Azeri takeover.
Russia to restart direct flights to Georgia. President Putin announced that the ban on direct flights between Russia and Georgia, in place since anti-Russian protests broke out in Tbilisi in 2019, would be lifted, along with a decree establishing a visa-free regime for Georgians to visit Russia. Russian officials welcomed the move, emphasising that it would “facilitate conditions for communication,” a sentiment that was echoed by GD head Khobakidze. Perhaps more than a million Georgians live in Russia, which Khobakidze argued was the reason for this “pragmatic decision.” However, the decision and the government’s reaction to it, illustrated the widening gulf between Georgian society and those in power. President Zurabishvili dismissed Russia’s reversal of previous policies as a “provocation,” and protests broke out in Tbilisi. Recent polls conducted in Georgia indicate that much of Georgian society is in line with Zurabishvili’s position – 76% of those polled believed that Russian aggression towards Georgia continues, and 87% thought that Russia is a great political threat.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov: missing in action. The former president of Turkmenistan and self-titled ‘national leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been missing from public life in the past few weeks. Despite handing over the presidency to his son Serdar in February 2022, Gurbanguly has continued to dominate state media and has taken part in a number of high profile diplomatic meetings. The only recent appearance of the former president was on 29 April, where he appeared on state TV visiting a horse breeder in Germany with the Turkmen foreign minister Rashid Meredov. On 30 April, National Horse Day took place without Berdymukhamedov and Serdar represented Turkmenistan at King Charles III’s coronation and at the 9 May victory parade in Moscow. A government source speaking on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL that Berdymukhamedov and Meredov are currently still in Germany. Turkmens are now questioning the health of their ‘national leader,’ and are wondering who is really running the country.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
Slovak Prime Minister quits as country’s political crisis deepens. On 7 May, caretaker Prime Minister Eduard Heger stepped down from his position, months before an election was to take place. “Slovakia, traumatised by conflicts, doesn’t deserve the political crisis to continue for even one more day,” Heger noted. Heger led in a caretaker capacity after the opposition demanded he move aside, in addition to a wave of several senior resignations, the latest being the resignation of the agriculture minister last week. In response, President Zuzana Čaputová chose central bank Deputy Governor L’udovit Ódor, now the third prime minister since 2020 elections, to lead a technocratic government as of 15 May. Heger’s coalition has been dramatically crumbling as a result of the war in Ukraine, greatly lifting food and energy prices. Last December, the coalition lost a no-confidence vote in parliament, triggering early elections for September 2023.
Baltic leaders talk energy security and Ukraine. The Prime Ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania met in Tallinn on Friday, 12 May, to discuss energy security and aid for Ukraine. They addressed electricity system synchronisation with Central Europe and de-synchronization from the Russian and Belarusian grids. According to Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, the Baltics should strive to be entirely independent of fossil fuels and single-source suppliers. The Lithuanian Prime Minister, Ingrida Šimonyte, addressed the region’s security situation as well as sanctions on Russia and Belarus and support for Ukraine. Moreover, on the same day, the responsible ministries of Latvia and Estonia signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the combined use of the Paldiski liquefied natural gas terminal in crisis situations. This move represents an additional measure taken towards enhancing security in the Baltic region, reducing reliance on Russian energy imports, and securing a reliable natural gas supply in the region.
Poland to officially refer to Kaliningrad by a historical name. In a move against a ‘Russification’ of Poland, Minister of Development and Technology Waldemar Buda proclaimed that Kaliningrad would now officially be called Königsberg (“Królewiec” in Polish). According to the statement of the ‘Committee on the Standardization of Geographical Names Outside the Republic of Poland’ of Buda’s ministry, the current Russian name of the city is an artificial baptism unrelated to either the city or the region. Królewiec was the name used for the city when it was ruled by the Kingdom of Poland in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it will be now used in Polish to refer to the city and the surrounding region, instead of the Russian name Kaliningrad. In response, the Kremlin called Poland’s decision to rename Kaliningrad a ‘hostile act.’
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Rumours about Lukashenko’s health after public appearance. The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was a guest in Moscow during the celebration of “Victory Day” on 9 May, commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. However, his public appearance during the day’s military parade was a reason for online speculation over the state of the President’s health. Despite the fact that there were no direct signs of illness, Reuters noted that Lukashenko seemed “tired and a little unsteady on his feet, and a bandage was visible on his right hand.” He also had to be driven 300 metres to the Tomb of the Fallen Soldier to lay flowers there, and did not attend the lunch with other national leaders. The Kyiv Independent also noted that Lukashenko “broke with tradition” by not wearing a military uniform and not giving a speech during Victory Day. Lukashenko’s press secretary has denied all rumours.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Germany. On Sunday 15 May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Berlin to meet German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The day before, on Saturday, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius confirmed the latest military aid package worth 2.7 billion euros ($2.95 billion) to Ukraine, the country’s largest delivery of arms since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The package includes advanced German Leopard tanks and more anti-aircraft systems to defend Ukraine from almost daily deadly Russian missile and drone attacks. Germany once again restated its unwavering support for Ukraine in its recovery and reconstruction, while having already committed €17 billion ($18.5 billion) in military and humanitarian aid to the country. Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Germany and its Western supporters for their support in fighting against Russian aggression in Ukraine and reaffirmed that his country is preparing a counteroffensive intended to liberate Ukrainian territories temporarily occupied by Russia, and not to attack Russian territory. After the meeting with the German government, Zelenskyy received the International Charlemagne Prize awarded to him and the people of Ukraine in the city of Aachen.
🌲 In Russia…
Russia plans to build ‘Migrant Village’ for Conservative Americans and Canadians. Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency announced on Thursday that the Russian authorities will launch the construction of a village in Moscow’s vicinity for conservative-minded Canadian and American expats. One of the pillars of Putin’s world-view is that Russia is a bastion of “traditional” values in comparison to the liberal West. Timur Beslangurov, a migration lawyer at Moscow’s VISTA Foreign Business Support, explained the wish of American and Canadian families to migrate to Russia might be because “of radical values: today they have 70 genders, and who knows what will come next,” therewith parroting Putin’s comments on the gender policies of Western countries. Russia has ranked among the worst countries for expats to live in over recent years, and Moscow seeks to stimulate tourism and other foreign arrivals.
Russia wants to create “sanctions club” at the International Legal Forum. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, explained during the International Legal Forum that the rule of law should become the basis for a new, more just multipolar world order. As a matter of fact, and according to the Kremlin, international justice currently displays a lack of agreement between the world’s major powers. It is therefore necessary for the non-Western countries to develop their own framework of international law, with mainly the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Since international law cannot gain a worldwide recognition due to its “western monopoly,” Iranian Minister of Justice of Iran Amin Hossein Rahimi proposed the creation of a “sanctions club” in order to battle western restrictions, deemed illegal by non-western countries. Widely advertised by China, this new world order would get a greater legitimacy via this challenge of international law, which has recently issued a warrant against Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Oskar Krol, Ariadna Mañé, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Adriano Rodari, Jordi Beckers, Sam Appels, Vira Kompaniiets, Autumn Mozeliak, Romain le Dily, Kirsty Dick, Nate Ostiller, & Teresa Reilly 💌