Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch – From October 29 to November 4, 2022

11/02/2022: Russia announces its return to the Black Sea Cereals Initiative a few days after its decision to suspend the agreement on grain exports. – Alicia Tintelin –

On October 30, the United Nations, Türkiye and Ukraine agreed on an agreement allowing the movement of supply ships in Turkish waters. 

This agreement comes on the very day after Moscow’s decision to suspend the agreement on cereals, concluded last July. The suspension of its participation in the agreement followed a drone attack on its fleet in Crimea. Russia accused Ukraine of using the secure grain corridor to move the drones: “The maritime drones were moving in the security zone ‘grain corridor’,” the Russian Defence Ministry said. 

The agreement which provided for the export of cereals from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, had been the only agreement between Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the war and had received mediation from the United Nations and Türkiye. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this agreement is essential in order to meet the basic food needs of 45 countries, including 33 in Africa.

The Moscow decision was strongly condemned by Western leaders. Biden called it “scandalous”, when his secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, warned about an act that led to “using food as a weapon again”, in a context where the world is already experiencing “serious humanitarian crises and food insecurity”. Volodymyr Zelensky, for his part, denounces “a pretext”, since the suspension took place under the pretext of the drone attack in the region of Crimea, hiding a Russian decision that “does not actually date today”.

The initiative foreseen by the agreement between Russia and Ukraine was previously headed by the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), based in Istanbul, which said that UN delegations, Türkiye and Ukraine had agreed to set up inspections on 40 boats leaving Ukrainian ports from Monday October 31. “No cargo ship should become a military target or be held hostage”, said Amir M. Abdulla, UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Moscow considered that such a continuation of exports to the Black Sea without its agreement could be “risky” or even “dangerous”. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, warned that: “Under conditions where Russia evokes the impossibility of guaranteeing safe navigation in these areas, such an agreement is hardly applicable”.

On November 2, Russia finally decided to “resume its participation in the implementation of the Black Sea Cereal Initiative”, reported Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General. “We are sparing no effort to secure the participation of all in the Centre, in cooperation and consultation with the Turkish delegation”,  the United Nations warned.

11/01/2022 : Türkiye pressures Albania to extradite Turkish fugitives. -Matisse Grenier-

According to the local media Balkan Insight, on November 1 a meeting took place in Ankara between the Turkish and Albanian foreign ministers. Turkish Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is said to have urged his Albanian counterpart Olta Xhacka to initiate extradition procedures for Turkish fugitives arrested or in exile in Albania.

On the occasion of the meeting, Mevlut Cavusoglu transmitted to Olta Xhacka a new list of persons wanted by Turkish justice. Among them, many “Gulenists”, supporters of the exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has classified the movement, named FETO, as terrorist since he suspects it of orchestrating the 2016 coup d’état.

Albania has extradited Turkish nationals to their country in the past, including a Gulenist in 2020, as did its Kosovar neighbour before. However, these measures have drawn criticism from the Albanian opposition, the European Union and rights organisations. This case also raises the question of Turkish influence in the Western Balkans, particularly in Muslim-majority countries.

11/02/2022 : Serbia upgrades its combat readiness, after sighting of incoming drones from Kosovo. -Matisse Grenier-

According to local media Balkan Insight, Serbian Defence Minister Milos Vucevic reported on November 2 that President Aleksandar Vucic had ordered an increase in combat readiness. 

The Serbian government justifies this measure by the observation of drones that have entered Serbian territory from Kosovo. Kosovo’s Minister of Defence, Armend Mehaj, has denied the Serbian accusations and prefers to speak of an «attempt at destabilisation» and «a pretext for increasing the Serbian military presence along the border»

According to Milos Vucevic, the drones tried to «observe the positions of Serbian armed forces units and certain installations». Indeed, these events occurred in the context of a large-scale Serbian military exercise called «Maneuver 22». While the Serbian authorities claim that the exercise concerns the whole country, the Kosovar authorities see it above all as a militarisation of their common border, at a time when they are trying to get the Kosovo Serbs to accept national unity laws, particularly the regularisation of their number plates.

11/01/2022 : Prosecutor’s office of Moldova launches a probe into Russian influence in domestic politics. -Olivier Husson-

According to Balkan Insight, Moldova’s prosecutor general announced Monday that they are launching an investigation into possible Russian interference in Moldovan domestic politics.

More precisely, it is about the alleged channelling of significant sums of money offered by the Russian FSB to support some Moldovan politicians and create a partnership to overthrow the pro-Western regime and reorient Moldova towards Russia”, said the General Prosecutor’s Office.

This comes after an investigation by the Washington Post last week, which provided evidence that former President Igor Dodon and his Socialist Party received funds from Russia.

Additional evidence was provided by the local newspaper RISE Moldova, published on October 31. Three FSB officials are pointed to Dmitry Milyutin, Valery Soloha and Ivan Koroli. According to the investigation, they used diplomatic cover for nearly ten years to finance the Socialist Party and provide technical expertise to win elections.

The United States added these three Russians to the sanctions list over interference in Moldova’s internal affairs.

11/01/2022 : Russia deploys Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to Belarus. -Olivier Husson-

According to The Telegraph, Russia has deployed air-launched Kinzhal hypersonic missiles at an airbase in Belarus. 

A satellite image taken Oct. 18 shows MIG-31K aircraft next to canisters large enough to carry Kinzhal missiles at Machulishchy Air Base near Minsk.

Russia fired Kinzhal missiles during the war in Ukraine, but the stockpiles are probably very limited“, the Defense Ministry of UK said.

Kinzhal missiles had already been deployed in Kaliningrad. This new deployment provides only a limited advantage, as European capitals were already within range of the missiles, according to the MoD.
These missiles are capable of reaching Mach 10, ten times the speed of sound. In addition, the missiles can dodge missile defense systems, which makes them more difficult to intercept. They can carry 500 kilograms of explosive charges, or a tactical nuclear warhead.

This is probably a message sent to the West to symbolically show that Belarus supports Russia in its war against Ukraine.”

It should be noted that some of the mobilised Russian soldiers are stationed in Belarus although the country does not want to join the war directly.

11/02/2022: Building of a temporary wall on the Polish border with the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad. -Séverine Ly-

On November 2, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced the construction of a wall on the border with the Kaliningrad Oblast. This follows the declaration of the opening of the international airport in the Russian enclave to flights from the Middle East and Africa. 

One year after the destabilization of its border with Belarus, Warsaw fears a new manipulation of migratory flows by Russia along the 180 kilometers that separate the two countries. 

Thus, “three rows of barbed wire (…) 2.5 meters high” should allow Poland to have “a leak-proof” border and prevent migratory pressures from Moscow. Polish soldiers have already been requisitioned to begin the construction, with “appropriate experience” in Belarus. 

Finally, Błaszczak asked the opposition not to hinder the construction of the wall “in order to ensure the security of Poland“. 

11/03/2022: Official opening of the new Cincu camp in Romania by the French Minister of the Armed Forces. -Séverine Ly-

On November 3, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, inaugurated the Cincu military camp in Romania. Established within the framework of the NATO AIGLE mission, the camp has “485 accommodation blocks” hosting part of the 900 Belgian, Dutch and French soldiers. 

Initially, the “Spearhead” battalion of 500 soldiers was deployed on February 28 in Romania near the Black Sea after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has the objective of “defending NATO’s eastern flank“. 

Moved to Cincu, many logistical challenges have slowed the installation of the camp and the delivery of “heavy equipment“. According to Le Monde, the water network is partly “deficient“, the terrain is “clayey” and “the poor condition of the two bridges to be crossed” to reach it causes its isolation. 

The inauguration ended with a meeting between the French minister, President Klaus Iohannis and his Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă on a strengthening of Franco-Romanian cooperation “in the field of ground-air defense.”

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