Lossi 36 Weekly #22: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read

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In this week’s newsletter: Kosovo considers redoing elections, Kadyrov entourage in Georgia, Lavrov in TajikistanLatvia elects a new President, Kakhovka Dam blown up, Putin comments on Ukrainian counteroffensiveand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Russia destroys Kakhovka HPP in Ukraine.Vira Kompaniiets

On 6 June at 2:50 a.m. local time, Russian forces (the 205th brigade) destroyed the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in the city of Nova Kakhovka, currently held under Russian occupation. The 30-metre-high, 2-kilometres-long dam held back the Kakhovka reservoir containing 18 cubic kilometres of water that sustained communities and agriculture, and provided cooling water to the nuclear power station at Zaporizhzhia, temporarily under Russian control. The 80 settlements near the Dnipro River are in danger of being flooded, while the river itself has been contaminated with 150 tons of industrial lubricant. While European leaders condemned the unprovoked “ecocide” caused by Russia, the latter denied its involvement. The Ukrainian government organized evacuations across the Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Kherson region and, as of 8 June, Ukrainian officials confirmed that 40,000 people – 17,000 in Ukraine-held territory west of the Dnipro River and 25,000 in the Russian-occupied east – need to leave. For two days after the dam’s destruction, Russia didn’t allow the evacuation of the citizens of occupied territories, only evacuating Russian passport holders with a high delay. The destruction of Kakhovka HPP caused a humanitarian, ecological, and economic catastrophe: so far, 300 animals at the Kazkova Dibrova Zoo have died, between 35 and 80 settlements are expected to be flooded (as of 7 June), and critical damage may have been done to valuable ecosystems downstream of the dam, including the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve and the Oleshky Sands National Nature Park, agriculture and energy sectors, and much more.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Kosovo President and PM open to repeat elections in the north following requests from the West. Kosovo’s President, Vjosa Osmani, and Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, have stated that they are open to redo elections in the four Serb-majority municipalities in the north of the country if 20% of voters sign a petition asking for them. Following two weeks of unrest and violent clashes after the election victory of four Albanian mayors, Josep Borrell, the representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, tweeted a request to hold new elections, ensuring the participation of Kosovo Serbs, and to “start the work to establish the Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities within EU-facilitated Dialogue.” Kosovo Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz stated that new elections can be held, but other steps need to be taken before then, including “a commitment from Serbia that they will no more threaten Serbian citizens of Kosovo not to participate in the election.”

Suspected smuggler network arrested in North Macedonia. A month since FRONTEX’s deployment to the country, 10 men were arrested last week in connection to people smuggling. The police raids took place in 11 different locations. An investigation took place over a period of two years, leading to the arrests. The police mentioned that the group they targeted are 17 people operating a smuggling network throughout the Balkans. After identifying three men who are already jailed, the remaining were still wanted at the time of the arrests. The recent increase in refugee border-crossing to North Macedonia is linked to the Evros River having lower water level, which is a natural border between Turkey and Greece. The Greek government is currently erecting a steel wall to prevent further crossing, but despite life-threatening circumstances, this does not entirely discourage those fleeing. The lucrative opportunity favours smuggling networks, who in this case charged refugees a fee ranging between 2,000 and 4,000 euros. If convicted, the minimum sanction for such activity would be a 5-year jail sentence.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Kadyrov Entourage Visits Georgia. Viral social media posts showed a column of black Mercedes SUVs in Georgia with Russian plates with the numbers “777-77” that are typical of FSB agents. It was later discovered that the cars were connected to Chechen businessman Aslambek Akhmetkhanov, an associate of Ramzan Kadyrov. The story sparked outrage amongst Georgian society, with many wondering how the country had become a “club for Lavrovs and Kadyrovites.” It is unclear if Akhmetkhanov himself or any of Kadyrov’s closer associates actually were among the entourage that visited Georgia, but their presence alone angered Georgians. This story came on the heels of the recent visit of Sergei Lavrov’s daughter to a wedding in Georgia, which triggered protests and ended up in her being escorted out of the country by security forces. This latest episode that illustrated the divide between Georgian society and the government’s increasingly close ties to Russia was punctuated by a Georgian Dream politician defending their presence, stating they were just businessmen.

Citizens of Azerbaijan advised not to travel to Iran. This message was announced earlier this month by the country’s ministry of foreign affairs. The ministry gives the lethal attack on its embassy in Teheran last January, in which one person died, and the “limited diplomatic representation in Iran” as reasons for issuing the warning. The statement came just a few days before it was made public that the Azeri student that had gone missing three months earlier is detained in an Iranian prison and is now facing charges on the accusation of espionage. Inciting numerous diplomatic incidents, Azeri-Iranian relations have been deteriorating since the attack on the embassy, while Baku has reacted with contempt over the way the Iranian regime had handled the incident. Moreover, Azerbaijan blames Iran for supporting Armenia in its border conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, while Iran fears the increasingly growing ties between Israel and the Baku government.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Sergei Lavrov visits Tajikistan. Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov was welcomed in Tajikistan this week by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon for a two-day official visit which highlighted the bilateral relations between both countries. The countries’ long-standing political, economic, and cultural relationship seems only to have been strengthened since the war in Ukraine began. Trade between the two nations has reached $1.6 billion USD in the past year, an increase of 24%. During his trip, Lavrov highlighted current and future areas of collaboration and investment opportunities between Russia and Tajikistan, such as in education, cultural exchange, and trade. However, Lavrov’s speech at the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University on 6 June quickly devolved into a diatribe against the ‘West’ trying to ‘penetrate Central Asia’ with development programs, NATO expansion as a security threat, and further justifications for Russia’s war in Ukraine. This visit suggests that the current regime in Russia will look to deepen ties within its ‘sphere of influence’, effectively doubling-down on its imperial designs.

Human Rights Watch condemns Kyrgyzstan’s intentions to introduce a Foreign Agents Law. Human Rights Watch (HRW), has called upon Kyrgyz lawmakers to abandon plans to introduce a Foreign Agents Law in which NGOs have to disclose their financials, if they are sponsored by foreign donors. Failure to comply will lead to a suspension of an NGO’s activities, including its banking operations, for up to 6 months or until it is registered. HRW stated that the introduction of a Foreign Agents Law would stigmatise foreign-funded associations and have a dangerous effect on civil society. Opposition activists in Kyrgyzstan fear that the law would be similar to the one introduced in Russia in 2012, which has been used to target political dissent, especially in the wake of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Georgian lawmakers also tried to pass a Foreign Agents Law in March 2023, however, large scale protests convinced the incumbent Georgian Dream party to drop the legislation. Ex-ombudsman of Kyrgyzstan, Tursunbai Bakir Uulu, confirmed HRW’s fears by stating that Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Agents Law should include opposition and independent media in Kyrgyzstan such as Azzatyk, Kloop, and Kaktus.media.

🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…

Edgars Rinkēvičs Elected as Latvia’s Next President. On 31 May, the Latvian Saeima elected Edgars Rinkēvičs, the popular and long-serving foreign minister representing New Unity (JV), as the next President of Latvia. Rinkēvičs secured 52 out of 100 votes from the MPs in the parliament. At 49 years old and with several previous governmental roles including state secretary for defence, Rinkēvičs will not only be Latvia’s but also the EU’s first openly gay president. In his acceptance speech, Rinkēvičs emphasised his commitment to ensuring the prosperity and security of Latvia. Rinkēvičs has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine, backing its efforts to counter Russian aggression and campaigning for its membership in the EU and NATO. Consequently, Rinkēvičs’ election as Latvia’s president holds significant implications, both in terms of advancing LGBTQ+ representation within Latvia, and signalling the country’s enduring dedication to supporting Ukraine. This outcome could potentially strengthen the collective support of the Baltic States for Ukraine in its ongoing struggle against Russian aggression.

Estonia Calls for Increased Defence Investments at B9 Meeting. On 6 June, the heads of state of the Bucharest Nine (B9) convened in Bratislava to establish shared priorities for the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius next month, including regional security, Ukraine, and defence on NATO’s eastern flank. During the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg strongly condemned the Russian army’s destruction of the Kakhovka dam near Kherson as an “outrageous act.” All leaders reaffirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine and agreed to keep providing aid as long as necessary. During discussions about the NATO summit’s main objectives, Estonian President Alar Karis emphasized the need for greater defence investments. He pointed out that the current target of 2 percent defence spending is inadequate: only nine out of the 30 member states currently meet this requirement. Estonia plans to reach 3 percent next year and encouraged other countries to follow suit, while expressing optimism about Sweden’s accession to NATO by the time of the summit.

Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) finds that Poland’s disciplinary system for judges violated European law. On 5 June, the Luxembourg-based CJEU issued its decision concerning the Polish justice reform of December 2019, whereby Poland amended the national rules relating to the organisation of the ordinary courts, the administrative courts and the Supreme Court. Following the adoption of this law the European Commission brought an action against Poland. The CJEU sided with the European Commission and stressed that while EU member states have the right to organise their own judiciaries, in doing so they “must comply with the obligations arising from EU law.” In October 2021, the CJEU decided to fine Poland €1 million per day for failing to comply with an order to suspend its controversial disciplinary mechanism for judges. In April 2023, the CJEU resolved for Poland’s fine to be halved to €500,000 per day following some reforms that partially addressed the judiciary problem. In response to the ruling, Poland’s justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro accused the court of being a “corrupt” institution and maintained his previous position that the CJEU does not have competences to rule on this matter.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka says that she does not support the war. Last Tuesday, Sabalenka said in a response to a question of a journalist after winning the quarter-final at the French Open, that she does not support the war. She said that “I don’t support the war, meaning I don’t support [Belarusian President] Alexander Lukashenko right now.” Sabalenka decided to not attend two previous press conferences because she did not feel safe after being interrogated about her views on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Earlier, Sabalenka played against the Ukrainian Svitolina who already insisted before the match that she would not shake hands because of her ambiguity regarding the war in Ukraine. Russia used Belarus to invade Ukraine from the north in an attempt to capture Kyiv in the beginning of the war.

🌲 In Russia…

President Vladimir Putin assesses Ukrainian counteroffensive as a failure. After the beginning of large scale “movements” on the front, in what some already call the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Russian President gave a brief comment on 9 June. According to Putin, all attempts have been repelled by the Russian defence system, while inflicting severe losses on Ukraine. However, it is not yet time to call for victory, since the Ukrainian capacities for counteroffensive are still intact. During the same speech, Putin acknowledged the lack of modern weapons within the Russian army’s arsenal and called for intensified production, in order to diminish the amount of outdated and Soviet weapons. As a whole, whether the Ukrainian counteroffensive has started or not, movements and heated clashes along the front are to be expected, particularly in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Ariadna Mane, Charles Fourmi, Nate Ostiller, Jordi Beckers, Teresa Reilly, Kirsty Dick, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Adriano Rodari, Vira Kompaniiets, Sam Appels, & Romain le Dily 💌

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