Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch – From 10 December to 16 December 2022

Eastern Europe monitoring team: Matisse Grenier, Séverine Ly, Olga Chekhurska, Elisabeth Nagy, Olivier Husson 

10/12/2022: Nobel Peace Prize laureates receive award in Oslo -Olivier Husson-

On 10 December, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo (Norway). Among the laureates are the activist Ales Beliatski, an opponent of the Lukashenko regime, imprisoned in Belarus, as well as the Russian NGO Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties.

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007 in Kiev with the aim of promoting human rights and democracy in Ukraine. Oleksandra Matviichuk, President of the Center said that “the war in Ukraine is not a war between two states, but between two systems: authoritarianism and democracy” in her speech for award ceremony.

Ales Bialiatski, 60, is a political activist who has been imprisoned since July 2021. He headed Viasna, the country’s leading human rights organisation. He is accused of being involved in an alleged “tax fraud” case facing an additional 12 years in prison.
The brutal crackdown on Viasna is just one part of President Alexander Lukashenko’s purge of civil society” noted Human Rights Watch NGO. In the absence of Ales Beliatski, it was his wife, Natalia Pintchouk, who received the prize and she accused the Kremlin of establishing in Ukraine “a dictatorship dependent [on Moscow] as is currently the case in Belarus” in her speech for award ceremony.

Also present in Oslo was Oleg Orlov, co-winner and head of the Russian association Memorial, which fought against the violation of freedoms and rights in Russia. It was dismantled and dissolved by the Russian justice system at the end of 2021. For three decades, it shed light on the Stalinist purges, then on the repressions in President Vladimir Putin’s contemporary Russia, before becoming a victim of them.
Yan Rachinsky, who received the Nobel Prize on behalf of Memorial, has said Kremlin authorities told him to “
turn down the award”, according to the BBC.

11/12/2022: Escalating tensions on the Serbian-Kosovar border -Séverine Ly-

On 11 December, the Serbian National Security Council chaired by the President of the Republic and Head of the Armed Forces, Aleksandar Vucic, met to decide on the necessary measures in the context of an increase in tensions on its border with Kosovo, according to the official government website

Since 9 December, Serbs living in Kosovo have set up barricades in the border region of Metohija in protest at decisions taken in recent weeks by the government of and considered “anti-Serb“. The recent arrest of Serbian Dejan Pantic in Kosovo, whose accusation of involvement in terrorist actions by Pristina is denied by Belgrade, has exacerbated the conflict. 

After this session, the Serbian President gave an interview to local media RTS 1 on the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. Calling for appeasement, he said that he had “assurances from KFOR and EULEX that they will not take violent action against the protesters“, while recalling that KFOR must “guarantee the security of the Serbs” and warning that if any action was taken against them, “everything will be clear” to him. 

Joseph Borrell, High Representative of EU’s foreign affairs and security policy, reacted on Twitter by condemning “attacks on EULEX or the use of violent, criminal acts in the north” by Kosovar Serbs. He called for the immediate removal of their barricades. “Calm must be restored” he said. 

13/12/2022 : Ukrainian parliament liquidates Kyiv Regional Administrative Court – Séverine Ly-

In his daily address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on 13 December that he had signed the law adopted by the Verkhovna Rada concerning the liquidation of the Kyiv Regional Administrative Court. “This story is over” he said. 

This judicial institution was known to be one of the key institutions of corruption in Ukraine. It was headed by Pavlo Vovk, who was accused of usurpation of power, obstruction of justice, organised crime and abuse of authority, according to local media The Kyiv Independent. The court was therefore making pro-oligarch decisions or blocking reforms. 

In April 2021, Volodymyr Zelensky submitted a law marked “urgent” to put an end to Vlovk’s court activities. But its approval had since been blocked by members of his own party. On 9 December, the US State Department placed him under sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, aimed at people involved in corruption, harassment and human rights violations. On 12 September, the Ukrainian parliament’s legal policy committee recommended that the law be passed. On the 13th, it was approved.

Anti-corruption activists welcomed the decision, but qualified its effective power. According to an official court statement, “judges and employees continue to perform their duties” and “do not recognise the results” of the parliamentary vote. Thus, it will take more than a law to deal with this symbolic institution of corruption. 

13/12/2022: Agreement signed between Albania and the UK to combat illegal immigration. -Matisse Grenier-

On 13 December, in the context of an increase in attempts to cross the Channel illegally to the UK, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave a speech which was transcribed by the Prime Minister’s Office and published on official government websites. Rishi Sunak announced an agreement with Albania, whose nationals would make up “a third of the illegal arrivals through the Channel“.

The agreement reached firstly provides for British Border Force officers to be stationed at Tirana International Airport, in order to “disrupt organised crime and prevent people from coming [to the UK] illegally“. The agreement then provides for new guidance to be issued to UK social workers indicating that Albania is a “safe country“, making it easier to reject asylum claims from Albanian nationals. In addition, the threshold at which an asylum seeker is considered a victim of modern slavery will be raised. Finally, the agreement provides for the creation of a new unit dedicated to the processing of Albanian cases and the acceleration of procedures. 

The British Prime Minister said that the Albanian authorities have given formal assurances that they will protect victims of human trafficking who are returned to Albania on weekly flights. As a result of the agreement, Rishi Sunak says that “the vast majority of [asylum] claims from Albanians can simply be declared clearly unfounded“.

14/12/2022: An exchange of prisoners was carried out between Russia and Ukraine. – Olga Chekhurska-

On December 14, a new exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia took place. According to the Head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, 64 Ukrainian soldiers have been released. Among the released members of the military are those who fought in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in particular, participated in the defence of the city of Bakhmut. They are officers, soldiers and sergeants. Ukraine also managed to repatriate the bodies of four dead and free US citizen Suedi Murekezi, a US Air Force veteran. US National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, confirmed that a US citizen was released in the latest prisoner swap with Russian forces on December 14.

The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has confirmed that as part of the December 14 prisoner exchange, Ukraine handed over a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the Russian side. This was stated by the representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Andriy Yusov. Earlier, the fact that Ukraine handed over to the Russian Federation the priest Andrei Pavlenko, was reported by Russian media. The priest was imprisoned for 8 months and a week ago he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for treason (he was accused of transmitting information about the Ukrainian armed forces to the Russians).

Moreover, according to The Guardian, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljarich, declared that she did not exclude the possibility of a large-scale exchange of prisoners of war in the “all for all” between Russia and Ukraine in the future. She noted that there are precedents for such exchanges, and that they generally serve as “confidence-building measuresbetween the parties to the conflict. “Very often a large prisoner exchange is the first step towards a broader agreement,” said Mirjana Spoljarich. But she did not specify whether the ICRC was negotiating such an exchange with Russia or Ukraine.

15/12/2022: Kosovo’s formal application for EU membership follows Bosnia and Herzegovina’s formal EU candidate status. -Elisabeth Nagy-

On 15 December in Prague, Kosovo’s President Albin Kurti handed over his official application for EU membership to Mikulas Bel, the Czech Minister for European Affairs, whose country has held the rotating EU Presidency since July. “This is a historic day for the people of Kosovo and a great day for democracy in Europe,” said Kurti to the press. Kosovo is the last Balkan country to apply for EU membership. 

This is good news for the country despite ongoing tensions with Serbia, whose peace with its neighbours is a prerequisite for EU membership. This request follows the Tirana summit, during which the EU reiterated its commitment to the process of enlargement of its area to the Western Balkan countries.

This request follows the granting, last Thursday, of the official status of candidate for EU membership to Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

A candidate since the 2003 Thessaloniki summit, this application has been received with mixed reviews by the European media, which consider the country and its politics corrupt and in the hands of local cartels. It should be remembered that one of the major criteria for EU membership is the political criterion. Indeed, “the situation must be stable, guarantee democracy, the rule of law, respect for minorities and their protection. 

There is no doubt that the process will still be long before the final decision is taken by the 27.  

16/12/2022: New massive missile attack on Ukrainian territory -Séverine Ly-

On the morning of 16 December, a new Russian missile attack hit “energy and residential infrastructure” in the regions of Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence on Telegram. “70 cruise missiles and 4 guided air missiles” were reportedly fired, of which “60 were shot down by the air defense forces” of Ukraine.

The Kyiv region was reportedly targeted by 40 missiles, 37 of which were destroyed according to the local administration. The metro was stopped, as was that of Kharkiv, which was targeted by 7 attacks, and water and electricity were partially cut off.

In addition, electricity supply was suspended in the regions of Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Kryvyi Rih, Cherkassy, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Lviv, Rivne, Volyn, Sumy and Kherson following damage to many electricity substations and the need to unload the national grid.

In an official statement, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, denounced an “inhumane” attack that constituted a war crime. He pledged the EU’s support for the Ukrainian population “deprived of electricity, heating and water“.

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