Lossi 36 Weekly #23: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia7 min read

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In this week’s newsletter: elections in MontenegroGeorgian Dream talks LGBTQ+ with McDonalds, wildfires in Kazakhstan, new abortion protests in Poland, new government in RomaniaSaint Petersburg International Economic Forumand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum sees upbeat tone from Putin, despite limited international presence.Daan Verkuil

The yearly event is a conference during which Russian and foreign business representatives meet, and Russian President Vladimir Putin typically makes a speech on the state of the country’s economy. This year, Putin painted a positive image, highlighting low unemployment, economic growth and expectations for further growth, in spite of sanctions. On the topic of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Putin noted that extra defence spending would be necessary. Besides repeating boilerplate rhetoric on Ukraine’s military capabilities, Western involvement, and President Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage, Putin claimed that Russian nuclear weapons were now in Belarus and would be ready to use by the end of summer. Although often called the ‘Russian Davos’, the Forum does not carry the same weight as it did before the full-scale invasion. This edition was visited by only 15 countries, down from 141 in 2021.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Pro-EU party wins Montenegro’s snap election. On 11 June, Montenegro’s Europe Now Movement (PES) won 25.6% of votes in the nation’s snap elections. The party, which maintains both pro-Serbian relations and pro-EU policies, will, however, need to seek partners in parliament to establish a full government, as they did not collect enough votes to govern on their own. This was the first election since former president Milo Đukanović stepped down, upon losing the presidential election after 30 years in power. Citizens hope to see the brand-new administration repair the nation’s economy, bring them closer to NATO allies, and improve infrastructure. Compared to previous elections, the voter turnout was significantly lower, with only 56.4% of Montenegrins having participated.

Three Kosovan police officers ‘kidnapped’ by Serbian forces. Kosovo Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, announced on Wednesday, that Serbian forces had allegedly ‘kidnapped’ three Kosovo border policemen, with Serbia saying the measure was taken as part of an ‘anti-terrorist effort.’ Belgrade insists the arrests were conducted on Serbian-controlled territory, although the Kosovo authorities have announced that the action was conducted in the town of Leposavic, 300 metres within Kosovo territory. Relations between Serbia and Kosovo have continued to flare as Priština refuses to create a proposed ‘Serb-Association’ within the ethnically-Serb dominated parts of the country, with Serbia continuing to interfere with Kosovo’s attempts at international recognition. The move comes as tensions continue to flare between the two adversaries, with international frustration growing and the EU now announcing sanction measures against Priština, in an attempt to sway them into coming to the negotiating table.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Georgian Dream spars with McDonald’s over accusations about the promotion of LGBTQ rights. After reports that a McDonald’s Happy Meal contained a book that referenced Elton John’s marriage to his partner, several Georgian Dream politicians expressed outrage that Georgian children were being exposed to “LGBT propaganda.” Other pro-government officials came out in support, arguing that it was an “abomination,” and that there is no reason for LGBTQ+ subjects to be shared with children. Recently, PM Garibashvili spoke alongside European and American conservatives at the CPAC conference in Budapest, where he attacked LGBTQ+, denouncing it as an enemy of Georgia’s traditional values. A controversial law banning “LGBT propaganda” failed to pass in Georgia’s parliament in May, but the subject remains highly contentious in Georgian society. A 2021 survey found that Georgia ranked as the most homophobic country in Europe. Concerns have been expressed that this stance would harm Georgia’s chances of joining the EU, labelled as an intentional move to “sabotage” future integration to the bloc.

Shooting at the Lachin corridor during Armenian-Azeri peace talks. Armenia and Azerbaijan both accuse one another of opening fire at the border control checkpoint in Lachin corridor on 15 June. The checkpoint was opened in late April by the Azeri side to allow the movement of people between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers. The Armenian side reports that it opened fire once Azeri soldiers tried to cross the border and raise an Azeri flag on Armenian territory, which the Azeri side called a provocation by the Armenians. Nikol Pashinyan says that the Azeri checkpoint is illegal and accuses Azerbaijan of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Nagorno-Karabakh. Afterwards, the checkpoint was closed for transportation. The mutual accusations occurred while Armenia and Azerbaijan are seemingly reaching a peace agreement, with both countries reassuring each other of its territorial integrity. The ministers of foreign affairs of both countries are expected to meet shortly in Washington for another round of peace talks.

🛤 In Central Asia…

Wildfires in northeastern Kazakhstan kill 15. Blazes which broke out in the Semei Ormany nature reserve in Kazakhstan’s Abai region claimed the lives of 14 firefighters and a tractor driver. The cause of the blaze, which raged for several days and affected around 60,000 hectares of land, is still unclear. Local authorities initially suggested lightning strikes were to blame, but security services also put forward theories of arson. Meanwhile, residents denounced local officials’ corruption, a lack of funding for roads, and insufficient firefighting equipment, which they believe led to the deaths of those fighting the fire. In response, several videos were posted on President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s Instagram account, showing him apparently listening to the concerns voiced by the local population. Tokayev also fired Emergencies Minister Yuri Ilyin and claimed that “criminal negligence” caused the tragedy.

🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…

Protests erupt in Polish cities against abortion laws. The latest death of a pregnant woman in Poland due to septic shock, at the end of May, triggered a new wave of anti-abortion law protests in several Polish towns and cities. On 24 May, a five-months-pregnant 33-year-old woman died in a hospital in Nowy Targ, where three days earlier she had been admitted after her waters broke. The Polish strict abortion law allows for it in case of a threat to women’s life or health. Thus, according to the Polish government, the hospital acted in violation of her right to abort legally. Activists argue that doctors avoid resorting to abortion not to incur legal consequences. The establishment of a team aimed at assuring proper medical and health care to pregnant women was announced by the Polish Minister of Health.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Romania’s new government. Last Thursday, the Romanian Parliament on a new government headed by Marcel Ciolacu, with 290 votes out of 385, 95 against, and no abstentions. The two major parties, the Social Democrats (PSD) and Liberals (PNL) together form a new coalition government, which previews a rotation of Prime Ministers. The coalition agreement was supposed to come into force in May, but was postponed due to the teachers’ strike. Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă eventually resigned after striking a deal with the teachers’ unions to increase their salaries. Several ministers retained the positions from Ciucă’s government such as the Ministers of Defence, Education, Health, Family, Youth, Equality of Chances, and Transport. While others switched to different Ministries, for example, the former Minister of Justice assumed the role of Minister of International Affairs, and the Minister of Finance and Minister of Investment and European Projects swapped their roles. PSD holds ten positions in the government, while the Liberals have secured nine ministers. The new government’s priority is the economy, aiming to promote the consumption of goods and services produced in Romania.

🌲 In Russia…

Russian voluntary groups sign contracts with Russian Defence Ministry, except for Wagner. On 12 June, the Akhmat detachment signed a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defence, in order to determine and frame the activities of the Chechen special detachment within the “special operation” zone. While getting access to official recognition and treatment of the Russian military, this contract is also expected to reinforce the control and coordination of the many military units and volunteer organisations with the Russian army. However, the leader of the notorious Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced that he would never sign such a contract, since he refuses to receive orders from the head of the Russian military hierarchy, the Minister of Defence, Sergei Shoigu. The conflict is currently at the epicentre of the Kremlin’s power dynamic and is yet to be solved.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Autumn Mozeliak, Nate Ostiller, Oskar Krol, Sarah Fairman, Myriam Marino, Patricia Raposo, Daan Verkuil, & Romain le Dily 💌

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