Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch – From November 26 to December 2, 2022

The Eastern Europe Weekly Geopolitical Watch Team: Olga Chekhurska, Matisse Grenier, Olivier Husson, Séverine Ly, supervised by Clelia Frouté.

11/26/2022: Meeting of the Prime Ministers of the Lublin Triangle countries. -Severine Ly-

On  November 26, Prime Ministers of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine met in Kyiv as part of the Lublin Triangle, according to official sources. Inspired by the Weimar Triangle, which helped Poland reintegrate into European politics, this new regional cooperation, created on June 28, 2020 by the foreign ministers of the three member countries, aims to support Ukraine in its integration into Europe and to strengthen ties between these Central European countries.

At the meeting on November 26, Holodomor Memorial Day, the Prime Ministers signed a joint declaration in which they reaffirmed the principles and objectives of the Lublin Triangle. They confirmed the importance of their cooperation in the fields of “military and defence using NATO and the EU potential“, “cyber security and fight against disinformation” and “energy (…) and institutional security“. They also insisted on their willingness to “intensify discussions within the Alliance” on Ukraine’s integration into NATO, in the run-up to the Vilnius summit scheduled for 2023, as well as on “the progress achieved by Ukraine in implementing the seven recommendations provided for in the European Commission’s Opinion” when Kyiv applied for EU membership. 

Finally, a large part of the discussion was devoted to the condemnation of Russian aggression and the actions needed “to restore the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders“. Thus, the importance of continuing “military, financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine” and the need to intensify the isolation of Russia “which should be excluded or suspended from the rights of members of international organisations” while strengthening “international sanctions against Belarus” were expressed.

The meeting was commented on by the prime ministers on Twitter. For Mateusz Morawiecki, three countries are guardians “of the security of the whole of Europe” and have a “common vision in terms of resistance to Russian aggression” according to Denys Shmyhal in which support for Ukraine “must and will continue until its victory  and ours” concluded Ingrida Simonyte

11/26/2022: Commemoration of the Holodomor and recognition of a genocide. – Clelia Frouté –

This November 26 was marked by the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, a famine in Ukraine caused by the Stalinist regime that resulted in up to 6 million deaths. This dark episode in Soviet history represented a far greater loss than the Nazi occupation regime in the Ukrainian Socialist Sovietic Republic, which resulted in the extermination of an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews.  

Zelensky presided over the ceremony in Kyiv, which was also attended by several European leaders, including the prime ministers of Poland and Lithuania, Mateusz Morawiecki and Ingrida Simonyte, and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. 

The Ukrainian president said in a Telegram video that “Ukrainians have experienced really terrible things. And despite everything, they have retained the ability not to submit and their love of freedom. In the past, they [(Russians)] wanted to destroy us with hunger, today with darkness and cold”. Zelensky is referring to the current situation in Ukraine, where the Russian army’s latest offensives have targeted key electricity infrastructure, causing power cuts across the country. 

Volodymyr Zelensky used the ceremony to refer to the Holodomor as “genocide“, which German MPs voted to recognise on November 30.

11/27/2022 : Sudden death of Belarusian Foreign Minister. -Olivier Husson-

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei died suddenly at the age of 64, the country’s Ministry of  Foreign Affairs announced on November 27, according to a press release, without giving further details on the circumstances of his death.

Makei had been scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday. The Russian foreign ministry said in an official statement that it “deeply mourns the untimely death” of an “exceptional statesman“, describing him as a “true friend” of Russia.

He was “an outstanding diplomat and statesman, a true patriot who devoted his life to serving his homeland and protecting its interests in the international arena“, according to the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry statement.

Arnaud Dubien, director of the Franco-Russian Observatory in Moscow and associate researcher at IFRIS, posted on Twitter that “Belarusian Foreign Minister V.Makei, who died today, was viewed with suspicion by the Kremlin, which saw him as an opponent of alignment with Moscow.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Mr Lavrov’s planned visit to Minsk on Monday had been postponed following Mr Makei’s death.

Makei was born in 1958 in the Belarusian region of Grodno, according to his official biography on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. In 1980, he graduated from the Minsk State Linguistic University. From 1980 to 1993, he served in the armed forces of the USSR and Belarus, before becoming an assistant to the President of Belarus. From 2008 to 2012, he was head of the administration of the President of Belarus.

In an interview with France24 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, he said that “We are absolutely against the use of nuclear weapons“, while Russia has committed itself to install nuclear warheads in Belarus.

11/29/2022 : Belarus political prisoner Maria Kolesnikova in intensive care. – Olivier Husson –

Imprisoned Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova has been hospitalised in an intensive care unit, according to her sister Viktor Babariko on Telegram.

Ms Kolesnikova, 40, is in a serious but stable condition in the eastern city of Gomel after undergoing surgery on November 28.

She was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2021 after protests following the disputed re-election of Alexander Lukashenko a year earlier.

But I don’t regret anything” she told the BBC in 2021, “and I’d do the same again“. She said the accusations had been fabricated.

Her allies said on Twitter that despite her condition “her lawyer has not been allowed to visit her“.

Her allies learned earlier that she had been placed in solitary confinement, but did not know why she had to undergo surgery. The doctors did not share her diagnosis or any other details with him about the surgery, Kolesnikov said on Telegram.

The Belarusian prison authorities did not comment.

In 2020, Belarusian security forces tried to deport Ms Kolesnikova to Ukraine after abducting her in Minsk. But she refused to leave the country, tearing her passport at the border.

11/30/2022 : EU moves towards visa-free travel for Kosovar nationals. – Matisse Grenier –

According to a press release issued on November 30 by the Council of the EU, the ambassadors of the EU member states have validated the end of the visa regime for Kosovar nationals wishing to travel to the Schengen area. The Czech Presidency now has a mandate to negotiate this measure in the European Parliament with a view to its final adoption.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavski justified the measure by pointing to “the efforts [Kosovo] has made to strengthen its border controls, migration management and security”. However, the Kosovar media outlet Prishtina Insight said that if adopted, the European Commission will continue to monitor the implementation of the requirements, including the alignment of visa policy, through the EU’s post-visa liberalization mechanism.

If the proposal is adopted by the European Parliament, the press release mentions a maximum implementation date of January 1, 2024, in parallel with the start of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). Kosovo would then join the visa-free regime already valid for all other Balkan countries.

11/29-30/2022: NATO Foreign Ministers ended two days of meetings in Bucharest, Romania. – Olga Chekhurska –

On November 29 and 30, the Foreign Ministers of NATO member countries met in Bucharest for a summit. The day before the summit, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that “the priority for Ukraine would be to strengthen the country’s air defences and electricity infrastructure“.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the meeting that NATO’s priority is to help Ukraine and its citizens survive. Throughout the meeting the members of the Alliance made it clear “that they are ready to continue supporting Ukraine, with state-of-the-art military equipment, with ammunition, with fuel, with everything the Ukrainians need to defend themselves, and this is the most urgent and immediate task for the allies.” He also said that the discussions to possibly supply Ukraine with the Patriot defence system are continuing, the counter-arguments which he named are the problem of maintenance and the fact that this material requires special training . On November 30, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that NATO member countries will provide Ukraine with artillery and armoured vehicles. “I cannot announce specific countries and specific types of weapons. But we are talking about the supply of artillery and armoured vehicles and new shells. This is the biggest thing that has been announced. And we don’t count the smallest things, like grenades, and everything else,” said Dmytro Kuleba.

In the summit’s final statement, NATO members pledged to “assist Ukraine as it repairs its energy infrastructure and protects its people from missile attacks”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $53 million in financial assistance, in addition to another $55 million already released. These sums will be used to purchase electrical equipment for Ukraine.

Regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership, this remains a long-term goal according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. According to the Bloomberg news agency there is no consensus among the countries of the Alliance on the question of Ukraine’s membership in NATO. NATO countries prefer to focus on material and financial aid for Ukraine.

12/01/2022: Ukrainian struggle for spiritual independence from Moscow hardens -Severine Ly-

On December 1, in his daily address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky argued that the country’s independence requires “spiritual independence“. The choice of date is not insignificant as December 1 marks the day of the 1991 referendum in Ukraine on its independence. Volodymyr Zelensky recalled this at the beginning of his speech by listing all the regions that voted in favour, i.e. the whole of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.

In order to “guarantee Ukraine’s spiritual independence“, the President presented five major decisions taken by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine during the day.  First, the Council “The National Security and Defense Council instructed the Government to submit to the Verkhovna Rada a draft law on making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation to operate in Ukraine.“.

In addition, he mandated the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience “to ensure the religious examination of the Management Statute of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” in order to analyse the presence or absence of “a church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate“, while announcing a reform of this state structure in order to give it more resources.

Finally, an intensification of measures aimed at identifying and countering subversive activities of the Russian special services in the religious environment of Ukraine is planned, including “personal sanctions“. Actions have already been carried out in November, notably in the famous monastery complex in Kyiv-Pechersk, which was searched by the Ukrainian security services and attached on December 2, to the Kyiv Patriarchate, according to Volodymyr Zelensky

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