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Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch – From May 14 to May 20, 2022

Watch Team of the Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch: Clelia Frouté, Victor Martin, Alicia Tintelin.

05/15-16/2022: A joint statement by the CSTO Collective Security Council in Moscow. – Clelia Frouté-

On the occasion of its 20th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of the Treaty, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) gathered in Moscow on May 16,  for a summit, including the presence of the leaders of its six Member States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

This summit was an opportunity for Vladimir Putin to declare his opposition to NATO and to justify the Russian military invasion in Ukraine. He briefed on the progress he is making in naming the « special military operation» in Ukraine and announced a series of «joint military exercises» by the bloc countries in the fall. It emerged from the statement that priority would be given to the «importance of reducing tensions» on the Eurasian continent, and that the CSTO was prepared «to establish practical cooperation with NATO». The «fight against the various threats» was also highlighted, especially those emanating from Afghan territory. The Declaration affirms the expansion of its activities and its improvement, in areas such as the «fight against international terrorism and extremism», «information and biological security», and still others related to collective security.

Belarus is the only member country to officially support the Russian-led war in Ukraine, which during the summit openly stressed the need for a united front against NATO, Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, The Commission therefore criticised the continued neutrality of the other Member States. The day before, on May 15, Belarusian Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said that within a few years the CSTO would «reach dozens of countries», in his view, this is in response to the prevailing instability in the world to which the CSTO has already demonstrated its readiness for combat and peace.

However, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, preferred to remain silent about the peacekeeping operation carried out by the Organization in January 2022 on its territory, although it was set as an example of operational success by the Joint Declaration. Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, thinks that the issues raised by Alexander Lukashenko are problematic, and has emerged that Armenia feels itself robbed of its place in the Organisation, In particular, because of the OSTC’s position considered too neutral in the face of the conflict in Upper Karabakh.

Thus, the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Russian-Ukrainian conflicts were not explicitly mentioned in this declaration, testifying to the persistent disagreements of Member States on these issues, and Belarus seems to remain the only member of the CSTO to really go in the direction of Russia.However, a whole paragraph was devoted to the Russian orientation and discourse of the struggle against «nazism», thus referring to the official discourse of the Kremlin to partly justify its act of aggression towards Ukraine.

Following the signing of this declaration, a meeting of the CSTO Council of Defence Ministers will be held on May 24,  to discuss the challenges and threats to military security in the current geopolitical situation.

05/18/2022: Legalisation of the death penalty for “attempted terrorism” in Belarus. – Clelia Frouté-

On May 18, the law amending the Belarusian Penal Code and providing for the death penalty for attempted terrorist attacks was signed by President Alexander Lukashenko and published on the national legal web portal. It will come into force in about 10 days.

Previously, the death penalty was applicable only in the case of a terrorist act committed and proven. The amendments provide that any attempt to assassinate a representative of a foreign State or an international organisation, or a public official or a State for the purpose of influencing the authorities and for the purpose of destabilisation, will therefore be punished under this law. However, capital punishment cannot be applied to women, children and men over the age of 65.

The bill was previously approved by the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic of the Belarusian National Assembly.

This law was signed in a context where many Belarusians are being detained as political opponents, charged or arrested for attempted or prepared act of terrorism, having participated in the movement of opposition to the regime of President Lukashenko in 2020. Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya reacted on Twitter on Wednesday by calling this law a «direct threat against the militants who oppose the dictator and the war» .

The death penalty was the subject of a referendum in 1996, during which a majority of Belarusian citizens voted in favour of its withdrawal.

05/18/2022: The first war crime trial opens in Kyiv. – Alicia Tintelin

On May 18, the first war crime trial opened in a district court in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. A 21-year-old Russian army soldier, Vadim Chichimarine, is accused of shooting and killing a civilian in north-eastern Ukraine. The latter was a merchant and was not armed in front of the Russian sergeant who then fired a burst of AK-74. The facts date back to February 28, 2022, the fourth day of the war. The Russian soldier, who pleads guilty, is accused of having violated the law of war and of having committed a premeditated murder.

«By this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility» , Iryna Venediktova, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, said on her Twitter account on May 16. The Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office now lists 12,000 alleged war crimes and says it is prepared to conduct a trial against 41 other Russian soldiers. As such, Iryna Venediktova asserts that this trial is just «a beginning in the long and complex process of bringing perpetrators before the courts and restoring justice to victims» . The US State Department had already announced two months earlier that their intelligence community had knowledge of war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin’s army. The Biden administration therefore supports Ukraine’s efforts to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

05/19/2022: Moldova limits parliamentary immunity. -Victor Martin-

On May 19, the Moldovan Parliament voted to amend Article 70 of the Constitution, which governs parliamentary immunity. From now on, deputies will no longer be able to benefit from this immunity in cases of «corruption, influence peddling, excess or abuse of power, illicit enrichment or money laundering» . In practical terms, this means that parliamentary approval «for the detention, arrest, search or prosecution» of a person who is guilty of one of these crimes is no longer required.

This bill was carried by the currently majority PAS (Action and Solidarity Party) (64 seats out of 101) but also by the pro-Russian right-wing party Șor. On the other hand, deputies from the socialist-communist bloc are totally opposed to it, arguing that it would set a precedent and in particular «you can’t change the Constitution like a game».

The text must now be voted on at second reading, but the Constitutional Court has already approved it.

The bill, which would improve the fight against corruption, is being presented at a time when Moldova is applying to the European Union for candidate status and some EU countries are reluctant because of the level of economic development and corruption in Moldova.

05/18-19/2022: Moldovan President visits Brussels. -Victor Martin-

On May 18, Maia Sandu, Moldova’s President, met with Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, Alexander De Croo, the Belgian Prime Minister, and Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament. At each of these meetings, Moldova’s application to join the European Union was discussed. Maia Sandu emphasised that the granting of the status of candidate country to Moldova would be «a signal of encouragement and support for the reform program of our republic according to the European model» . Roberta Metsola said that «the Republic of Moldova has its place in the European family» and that the European Parliament «will do everything possible» to support Moldova in its reform efforts.

The Moldovan President also addressed the European Parliament. She reiterated her request for Moldova to obtain the status of candidate country for accession while recognizing that accession is a long process, which «must be based on meritocracy and results, not on geographical sequencing». The speech sparked a reaction from Moscow, and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia wondered whether Moldova’s actions were challenging its neutral status. Maria Zakharova added that she knows «that Chisinau is very sensitive to our statements. We are also very sensitive to its actions.

After her trip to Brussels, Maia Sandu went to Paris on May 19 where she met with Emmanuel Macron, the French President. The two heads of state mainly discussed the strengthening of bilateral relations and French aid in the fields of energy, reforestation and the long-awaited modernization of the Chisinau-Ungheni railway line, linking Moldova to the European rail network.

The Moldovan President then met with Rémy Rioux, the Director General of the French Development Agency (AFD), whom she thanked for all the projects supported by his agency that are being developed in Moldova. AFD should open its first office in the country in the coming months. 

20/05/2022: Ukrainian soldiers ordered to stop defending Mariupol -Victor Martin-

On May 20, in a video posted on the Azov Regiment’s Telegram, Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the same regiment, announced that Ukrainian soldiers were ordered to «save their lives and stop the defence of Mariupol».

In the same video, Denys Prokopenko points out that Ukrainians had three conditions for their surrender: the evacuation of civilians, wounded and the bodies of fallen soldiers. All civilians were evacuated and wounded soldiers were taken prisoner during this week. Some of them should be exchanged for Russian soldiers captured by the Ukrainian army, but the Kremlin informed Kiev that some of them were considered neo-Nazi fighters, including the Azov regiment. On the other hand, the bodies of the dead soldiers were not all repatriated to Ukrainian-controlled territory, but «the process is underway».

Volodymyr Zelensky refuses to describe the situation as surrender, and defines it as «the rescue of our heroes».

The Russian troops took possession of the Azovstal steel factory, which had been the object of a long siege and a strong resistance and in the basements from which the Ukrainian fighters were entrenched.

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