Lossi 36 Weekly #20: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
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In this week’s newsletter: Kosovo Serbs clash with police, Serbia puts army on high alert; Armenia and Azerbaijan on their way to peace; Tokayev slams EAEU; European controversy around Hungary; Russian drone attack on Kyiv; United Russia to hold primaries; and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Belarusian opposition figure receives pardon from Lukashenko.Jordi Beckers
Belarusian state media channel Belta released a video in which Roman Protasevich, the well-known 28-year-old opposition blogger, expresses his gratitude for receiving this pardon. The news comes only a few weeks after a court in Minsk sentenced Protasevich to eight years in prison for being found guilty of “organising unrest and plotting to seize power.” Protasevich ran the popular oppositional telegram channel and media outlet Next, which has 1.4 million users on telegram and was widely used during the mass protests against the allegedly rigged presidential elections of 2020. It should be noted that Protasevich’s statement on his pardon might be staged by the Belarusian state. No opposition channel has yet reported on the opposition figure’s release, and Protasevich, who used to live in exile in Vilnius, has since his high-profile arrest in 2021 regularly made public statements against the opposition, which seemed to be done under pressure of the authorities. Protasevich’s arrest in 2021 sparked wide international upheaval, when the plane that Protasevich was flying on over Belarus was forced to land after air control gave the false warning that there would be a bomb on board.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Kosovo Serbs clash with police over elected Albanian officers, Serbia puts army on high alert. Serb citizens of the northern Kosovo municipalities violently clashed with police as they attempted to stop elected and sworn-in Albanian officers from accessing municipal buildings on May 26. Police fired tear gas and several cars were set on fire. Serbian language media report that dozens of citizens were injured, while the police confirmed five injured officers. Serbian Defence Minister Miloš Vučević announced that “an urgent movement [of troops] to the Kosovo border has been ordered,” adding that “it is clear that the terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening.” Blerim Vela, chief of staff of Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani, blamed Serbia and its “illegal and criminal structures” for the escalation of violence. The US issued a joint statement with France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom, in which it condemned “Kosovo’s decision to force access to municipal buildings in northern Kosovo” despite calls for restraint, asking the police to “immediately step back and de-escalate.
Alleged crypto fraudster Do Kwon to remain in jail in Montenegro. Last week, the Crypto world was buzzing with news out of Montenegro regarding the former Terra co-founder Do Kwon, a South Korean citizen. Do Kwon was due to be released with a bail of nearly 400,000 dollars and expected to flee to Dubai to escape extradition to either South Korea or the United States, where he is wanted for building a scheme that wiped $40 billion from the Terra ecosystem. He is currently being held in custody alongside the former CFO of Terra, Chong-Joon. According to a spokesperson from Montenegro’s High Court, the lower court which allowed for the release of the two men on bail now has to consider revoking its decision, which could lead to an endless back and forth of motions being filed between the two courts. The South Koreans are not charged for fraud in Montenegro, but rather for entering the country with false Puerto Rican passports. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Armenia and Azerbaijan on their way to peace. As a result of the streak of meetings between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and foreign ministers, Yerevan and Baku seem to finally found a common language in the process of signing a peace agreement. On 22 May, Nikol Pashinyan admitted publicly that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan for the first time. His statement caused resentment in Nagorno-Karabakh, with the local parliament calling it ‘unacceptable.’ On 25 September, Pashinyan met with Ilham Aliyev in Moscow, together with Vladimir Putin. The Armenian prime minister emphasised the need for peaceful negotiations between the Armenian-dominated region and Baku in terms of safety of the local population, and in return Aliyev retracted any claims on the Armenian territory. Both leaders are expected to meet again on 1 June in Chisinau together with other European leaders during the European Political Community Summit, where they might sign a peace agreement, according to Baku’s ambassador to France.
Celebration of Georgian Independence Day tinged with disputes over the nation’s future. The city centre of Tbilisi was packed and bustling with Georgians celebrating their independence from the USSR, and flags and banners decorated Rustaveli Avenue and other main streets. PM Garibashvili spoke and described Ukraine as a “brotherly nation” and Russia as an “aggressor,” which some believe was the first time he used such language. As is typical for Georgian Dream politicians, even as they are often seen as being close to Russia, Garibashvili also stated that Georgia was looking forward to joining the EU someday. However, observers noticed that the EU flag was not hung alongside the Georgian flag on the parliament building, as it had been in years past. Moreover, despite Garibashvili’s words, President Zurabishvili used her Independence Day speech as an opportunity to continue her increasingly forceful criticism of the government, and accused it of backsliding away from Georgia’s democratic path.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Wife of jailed opposition politician placed in pre-trial detention for corruption charge. Salkynai Alimbaeva, whose husband Ravshan Jeenbekov is an opposition politician in Kyrgyzstan, has been charged with corruption in connection to the alleged ‘illegal purchase of two parcels in Bishkek last year.’ Alimbaeva was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention for two months on 26 May. She will remain there until her trial regarding the corruption charges is held. Alimbaeva’s husband is currently in jail as well, having been arrested along with 20 other opposition politicians and activists who protested against a controversial border deal with Uzbekistan. Ravshan Jeenbekov has a history of being detained and jailed by the Kyrgyz government for protesting, and in the past has been recognised by Kyrgyzstan’s Committee for Civic Control as a political prisoner.
Uzbek airline stops Kazakh human rights activist from boarding Bishkek-Tashkent flight. Kazakh human rights activist Ghalym Agheleuov was attempting to board a flight from Bishkek to Tashkent when Uzbekistan Airways stopped him from boarding his flight. Agheleuov was on his way to attend appeal hearings of Karakalpak activists who have been sentenced for various crimes. The court cases have been ongoing since July 2022, when mass protests erupted over constitutional changes that threatened Karakalpakstan’s status as an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan. Agheleuov discovered at the airport that he had been banned from entering Uzbekistan.
Tokayev criticises EAEU partnership. Speaking at a plenary session of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Moscow on 25 May, Kazakh President Tokayev stated that Kazakhstan sees the union as an exclusively economic bloc and does not want the bloc to propose closer political integration. Tokayev voiced concern while on stage with President Putin, stating that the EAEU was split into two factions. One being Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia while the other half, Russia and Belarus, striving for closer integration through the creation of a union state, which Tokayev pointed out were now sharing nuclear weapons. On Friday, the press secretary of Tokayev stated that “Kazakhstan does not intend to create or join any allied state.” Despite the EAEU’s promise of barrier-free trade within the block, Kazakhstan has had trading problems with Russia in the past. In July 2022, Russia ordered a suspension of operations at the Caspian Pipeline Consortium used by Kazakhstan to export the bulk of its oil.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
Another WW2 era bomb discovered in Poland. On 26 May, at least 2,500 residents were quickly evacuated after an unexploded bomb was discovered in the city of Wrocław. The 250 kilogram explosive was found during construction work near a railway. According to the military, it is a German SC-250 aerial bomb. During the Second World War, Wrocław experienced heavy city-wide destruction and Soviet bombardment, leaving no surprise for stray bombs to be found in the future. Bomb experts have been called in to remove the device as the city organised a multitude of buses to safely and efficiently get residents out of the potential blast zone. Just three years ago, another bomb was found in Poland, at 5.4 tonnes, the largest to ever be discovered in the nation. However, the bomb exploded during the attempt to diffuse it.
Controversy surrounds Hungary: EU Presidency questioned, Paks II contract modified, EU funding eligibility challenged. Last week, the European Parliament was preparing to adopt a resolution that Hungary may be unfit to chair the EU Council presidency during July-December 2024, citing Hungary’s stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine and the unresolved case of teachers’ wage increase. In addition, an EU Commissioner has highlighted Hungary’s slow progress in utilising EU funds, suggesting that the country is far from meeting the requirements for financial assistance and unblocking EU funds. On another note, the European Commission has given its approval for a modification of the Paks II nuclear power plant contract, despite concerns over its financial and environmental implications, and the ties with Russia. The EU bodies’ criticism shed light on the growing tension between Hungary and the broader European community.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
The largest Russian drone attack on Kyiv. The night from 27 to 28 May witnessed the biggest Russian drone attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv since the start of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Ukraine’s air defence system shot down 52 out of 54 Russian drones – the maximum number of attacking missiles in the shortest time. Ukrainian government representatives noted that the pre-dawn attack was conducted the last Sunday of May, when Kyiv marked the anniversary of its official founding 1,541 years ago. As a result, one 41-year-old man was killed by falling debris, a 35-year-old woman was injured by falling drone wreckage in the Solomyanskyi district, and at least two high-rise buildings in different districts of the capital caught fire after being hit by falling drone fragments. Over the past few weeks, the number of Russian drone attacks increased, mostly in the regions on Ukraine’s bordering.
🌲 In Russia…
Land of Putin’s ex-son-in-law seized as part of Dutch criminal probe. Last Thursday, The Guardian reported that the Dutch authorities had seized land belonging to the former son-in-law of the Russian President Vladimir Putin because of a criminal investigation. The confiscated land in the vicinity of Amsterdam was owned by Jorrit Faassen, who married Putin’s daughter Maria Vorontsova in 2008 but reportedly divorced her in 2022. After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, protesters targeted the land and called on the Kremlin to release imprisoned oppositionist Alexei Navalny. So far, Faassen, who lives in Moscow, has been spared U.S. sanctions, however, Dutch authorities recently questioned him about circumventing sanctions when he visited the Amsterdam Airport. According to earlier reports, Faassen was “afraid” of visiting The Netherlands because of the fallout after Moscow’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.
United Russia conducts primaries ahead of September elections. From 22 to 28 May, Russian electors of the ruling political party, United Russia, had the occasion to give their favours to candidates ahead of the 10 September regional and local elections. The primaries mostly relied on electronic votes, with the exception of the illegally annexed Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. As a matter of fact, the public services portal of the Russian Federation, Gosuslugi, is involved in the process and has recorded 12% of all voters registering digitally for the September elections. It is to be highlighted that 56% of candidates participating in the primaries are male, while 36% of candidates are under 35 years old. As demonstrated by many studies and surveys from the Levada Center, Russian youth hardly gets involved or concerned by Russian politics. Such a significant representation of young people among the candidates may be a strategy by United Russia to engage a bit more this part of the population, which usually favours the opposition.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Sam Appels, Vira Kompaniiets, Jordi Beckers, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Oskar Krol, Ariadna Mañé; Charles Fourmi, Romain le Dily, Kirsty Dick, Nate Ostiller, Autumn Mozeliak, & Teresa Reilly 💌