Lossi 36 Weekly #25: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
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In the last newsletter before our Summer break: Kosovo labels two Serb groups as ‘terrorist organisations’, Ukraine sanctions Georgian Airways, Russia uses Central Asia as a backdoor to evade sanctions, Baltic States anticipate Wagner Group’s presence in Belarus, Bulgaria approves aid for Ukraine, Kremlin deals with Wagner’s mess, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Budapest and Warsaw sour migration success in European Council.Myriam Marino
During the last European Council summit before the Summer, which took place on 29 and 30 June, Hungary and Poland opposed a revision of the migration and asylum policies of the European Union. The two countries reiterated their positions which had already been made manifest in the beginning of June in the context of a meeting of ministers of home affairs in Luxembourg, during which Poland and Hungary were outvoted on the matter. Due to a lack of consensus, the European Council’s conclusions did not mention migration, while the President of the European Council Charles Michel published his own communiqué, which reported the Hungarian and Polish view that “in the context of solidarity measures, relocation and resettlement should be on a voluntary basis and that all forms of solidarity should be considered equally valid.” In fact, the proposed reforms encompass a framework of so-called “mandatory solidarity” with flexibility for Member States in terms of the kinds of contributions they want to make.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Kosovo labels two Serb groups as ‘terrorist organisations.’ As tensions between bitter rivals Serbia and Kosovo continue to grow, Priština has announced it will officially label two Serb groups as terrorist organisations.’ Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced on Thursday that the groups ‘Civilna Zastita’ (Civil Protection) and ‘Severna Brigada’ (North Brigade) would officially be labelled as terrorist organisations as they posed a high level of “threat and danger” to the wellbeing of the country. The US says it was not consulted on the new labelling before it was implemented. However, in a move aimed at appeasing its Western partners and the Serbian community living in Kosovo, Priština has offered to hold fresh local elections in the four municipalities in the north of the country. This follows violent clashes last month as Serbs widely boycotted the initially planned vote, before the eventual ethnic-Albanian mayors were violently halted from taking up their positions across the region due to protests from local communities.
Bosnia’s Republika Srpska deems Constitutional Court’s authority invalid. On 23 June, president of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik successfully requested that the state’s National Assembly pass a law rendering rulings of the constitutional court of Bosnia non-applicable in Republika Srpska. Members of Parliament claim that this new law is only temporary, stating, “until a new law on a state-level Constitutional Court, without foreign judges, is created by the state parliament.” The new law was pushed after regulation changes within the court had altered- establishing a new rule allowing court decisions to be made even if a judge from Republika Srpska is not present. However, the same rule applies for Bosniak and Croat judges, but Dodik considers this as unconstitutional. Experts say this is a “legal secession” that will deepen political challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Deadly clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh as talks continue. The Nagorno-Karabakh government reported that four of its defence forces had been killed in a skirmish with Azerbaijan on 28 June, the result of what Baku deemed an “anti-terrorist operation” code-named “fury.” The latest round of fighting occurred as the foreign ministers of both Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Washington to discuss peace plans. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken opened the talks, and some were hopeful of a breakthrough after Armenian PM Pashinyan agreed to recognize the disputed territory as part of Azerbaijan last month. Within Nagorno-Karabakh, there were growing fears that the territory would be wholly subsumed by Azerbaijan, and its defence forces made to surrender their weapons. After Pashinyan’s statement, there are signs that Armenia proper is beginning to withdraw its support of the de-facto government, potentially laying the groundwork for future conflict between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which have been closely aligned militarily and politically for decades.
Ukraine sanctions Georgian Airways. On July 1, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree sanctioning flag carrier Georgian Airways. This development comes shortly after the airline resumed direct flights between Georgia and Russia. The decree also sanctioned Tamaz Gaiashvili, chairman of the board of directors, and the measures are in place for ten years. Other companies mentioned include companies from Belarus and Kazakhstan. Despite the renewal of direct flights, and Russia cancelling visa restrictions for Georgian citizens, it seems that passenger numbers are low. The EU and United States have both criticised the resumption, and the decision has led to protests in Georgia. Meanwhile, in other transport news, a ferry service between Poti in Georgia and Constanța in Romania has launched, replacing the UkrFerry service which was discontinued due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
🛤 In Central Asia…
IT expert wanted in US and Russia detained in Almaty. An IT expert from Russia, Nikita Kislitsin, has been detained in Kazakhstan, Kazakh Deputy Prosecutor-General confirmed last week. According to the official, both Russia and the United States have requested that the detainee be extradited to their respective countries. Kislitsin, who is a senior executive at one of the top cybersecurity firms in Russia, was arrested after arriving in Almaty on 22 June. Russia has specifically requested that Kazakhstan not comply with the US government’s extradition request, putting the Kazakh government in a difficult position as it faces choosing between the US’ and Russia’s claims. Kislitsin has been connected to a number of hacks of US-based internet companies, and was charged by the US for being involved in a hack of the social media website Formspring in 2012. It remains unclear to which country the Kazakh government will send Kislitsin.
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan acting as backdoor entries for Russian markets. Both countries have become backdoors for goods reaching Russian markets, and are facing increasing scrutiny as a result. This week, a senior Kazakh official admitted that in spite of sanctions and efforts by the government to prevent their circumvention, ‘dual-use goods’ are arriving in Russia through Kazakhstan. The US government is particularly worried about goods such as microchips, which can be used in missile guidance systems, or for manufacturing other weapons, and it is promising greater investigation and oversight into these goods making it to Russia. Although manufactured in Uzbekistan, the Chevrolet minivan is also selling strongly in Russia. The boom in demand is part of ‘parallel importing’ which Russia has begun practising, wherein products are purchased by Russian companies in a friendly, foreign market, and then imported into Russia. However, last week, the EU announced a new set of sanctions, and two Uzbek companies made the list for attempting to evade export controls.
Central Asian quietude on Prigozhin’s uprising. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the waning silence of Central Asian states has become commonplace, however the countries have also refrained from making any strong statements on Wagner’s uprising in Russia last week. As was already covered last week, Kazakh president Tokayev simply stated that the uprising was an internal and domestic concern, while vaguely stating the importance of law and order. On the other hand, Uzbek head of state Mirziyoyev evaded any discussion on the incident, simply saying that he’d had a phone call with Putin, making no further comments of the events, which eventually was rolled back by Prigozhin. Finally, China also justified its lack of commentary by stating that it was a Russian domestic matter, whilst government-owned news channels ran a narrative supporting Putin, complimenting his wisdom and patience in dealing with the matter. All other Central Asian states haven’t commented at all.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
The arrival of Wagner in Belarus makes Baltic countries bolster their defences. On 27 June, representatives of both Latvia and Lithuania petitioned NATO for additional support as the Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, relocated to Belarus. Both countries expressed concern about the mercenary group “creating a more volatile and more unpredictable environment,” especially after it had demonstrated the speed of its attacks in Prigozhin’s recent mutiny. Responses to this petition have been forthcoming; Germany has already pledged to station an additional 4,000 soldiers in Lithuania, while Poland, which also borders Belarus, has supported the push for stronger defences on the border. The arrival of the Wagner Group in Belarus has added a new dimension of uncertainty to the region, and has lent credence to the notion that the Baltic countries need more support to protect NATO’s eastern flank.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Bulgaria approves new aid package to Ukraine. On 23 June, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers adopted a package of military aid and technical assistance for Ukraine, following the implementation of the decision of the National Assembly of 9 December 2022. The caretaker cabinet of Galab Donev and President Rumen Radev halted the assistance to Ukraine forces, but this changed with the new government headed by Nikolai Denkov. Former Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov claimed that the country couldn’t send aid since it would harm the defence capacity of the country. However, the current Defence Minister Tagarev recognized that Bulgaria is already exporting military production to Ukraine through intermediaries. Denkov’s cabinet announced that the approved package is comparable in volume with the first package sent at the end of 2022, but its content remains classified. Moreover, the Council of Ministers affirmed that it will not violate the norms of stocks for the action of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria and their training and combat exercises. Later in the week, Tagarev announced that the package will not include aviation and heavy armoured equipment.
🌲 In Russia…
The Kremlin deals with the hangover from Prigozhin’s march on Moscow. Although the Wagner convoy turned around before reaching Moscow, Prigozhin’s mutiny left a mark on President Putin’s authority. Prigozhin and his troops have left for Belarus, after a deal brokered by Belarusian President Lukashenka prevented bloodshed between Wagner and Russian security forces. Although those security forces did not join Prigozhin’s march, questions on their loyalty to Putin’s regime remain. Not only were they unable to prevent the uprising, General Surovikin’s arrest shows that high-ranking officers likely knew what was about to happen. For now, the independence of private military companies such as Wagner seems done for. Prigozhin and his mercenaries are moving to Belarus for now, although the mercenaries remain active in Africa. Meanwhile, the Kremlin tries to reassert its authority and show normalcy. Media are shifting focus to the struggling Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Autumn Mozeliak, Nate Ostiller, Sarah Fairman, Chaharika Uppal, Teresa Reilly, Myriam Marino, Nathan Alan-Lee, Patricia Raposo, Daan Verkuil, & Romain le Dily 💌