March 23 – March 29
The Caucasus Headlines
Georgian Ruling and Opposition Parties Prepare for EU-Mediated Talks
Leading up to the EU-mediated talks between Georgian Dream and its rival political parties, Georgian Dream stated that it is willing to continue talks with even the most ‘destructive’ parts of the opposition. A party representative stated that Georgian Dream has already enacted compromising steps to help resolve the political crisis, and the party expects the opposition members to negotiate an agreement that benefits the entire country.
Azerbaijani, Armenian, Russian Foreign Ministers to Meet in Moscow
On March 26, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova stated that Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov will meet with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov is also scheduled to meet with Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan. The parties will meet on April 2 as part of a CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. A meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia has not yet been confirmed.
Armenian Lawmakers Lift Martial Law Ahead of Elections
Armenian lawmakers have voted to lift martial law, imposed at the beginning of a 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, as it prepares for early parliamentary elections in June. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said his parliamentary bloc plans to pass amendments that would switch the electoral system to a fully proportional one before snap parliamentary elections scheduled for June.
Sources: Agenda.ge, Report.az, RFE/RL
Eastern Europe Headlines
Kremlin Arrests Father of Navalny Ally on Corruption Charges
Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny associate and director of the Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, has reported that his father has been detained by state authorities on March 29. Mr. Zhdanov has said that the arrest was meant to put pressure on him. His father, Yury Zhdanov, was arrested for recommending that the town of Rostov-on-Don help subsidize an apartment for a local woman, who apparently had previously received housing allocations. Ivan Zhdanov himself was arrested and served a 15-day jail term in 2019 for joining an unsanctioned rally to protest the Moscow municipal elections.
Kremlin Spokesperson Says Talks Between Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin are not Scheduled
Kremlin Spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told the Russian TASS news agency on Monday that there are no plans for a phone call between Presidents Putin and Zelensky, though it could be arranged. This announcement was made shortly after Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of the President’s Office, said that such a conversation was being planned. President Zelensky himself said he was looking to set up a conversation with President Putin to complement the ongoing Normandy Format negotiations. The Normandy Format, comprising France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, was set up to bring a negotiated end to the Donbas Conflict.
Belarusian Authorities Arrest 200, Cordon Belarusian Capital
Belarusian police arrested 200 people on March 27, and cordoned off streets in Minsk, the country’s capital. This came after calls for renewed mass protests against the results of the latest Belarusian presidential election which resulted in Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko winning a sixth term. The election was seen by many as fraudulent, which has resulted in on-and-off mass protests throughout the country.
Sources: RFE/RL, Unian.info
UNHRC Adopts New Resolution on Georgia’s Occupied Territories
On March 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution highlighting the deteriorating human rights situation in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The resolution — titled Cooperation with Georgia — stresses the concern of the UNHRC in the continued process of borderization and use of artificial barriers to create division between Georgia and its own territories. The UNHRC also expressed concern over the continued discrimination against ethnic Georgians.
Abkhazia, Russia Strengthen Ties Through Cultural Cooperation Plan
Ministers of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia Olga Lyubimova and Gudisa Agrba signed an agreement on March 25 to increase cooperation in the field of culture during 2021. The two parties discussed the limitations in the promotion of cultural activities in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but Russia will assist Abkhazia in holding in-person and online events through educational institutes this year with the purpose of ‘further strengthening cultural and humanitarian interaction.’
Sources: Civil.ge, Apsynpress.info
Ukrainian Journalist Confesses to Spying Charges, Torture Suspected
On a March 18 televised interview, the Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Yesypenko publicly confessed to spying on behalf of Ukraine. Mr. Yespyenko is a freelance contributor to the website Crimea.Realities, which is a regional news outlet for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian service. The head of the organization Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk, Jeanne Cavelier, said on March 26 that he was concerned that Mr. Yesypenko was subjected to ‘psychological and physical pressure.’ Mr. Yesypenko has also been charged with ‘making firearms,’ a sentence punishable by up to six years in prison.
Ceasefire Broken Again Over Weekend, Casualties Reported
On March 26, rebel forces in the Donbas broke the ceasefire, with six casualties (four Ukrainian soldiers killed, two injured) from shelling. An additional ten ceasefire violations, which included shelling, mining, and one skirmish, occurred on March 28, although no Ukrainian casualties were reported.
Ukrainian Minister Estimates 25-30 Years to Demine the Donbas
Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukrainian Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Deputy Prime Minister, announced on the TV Channel Dom that landmine clearance in the Donbas will take an estimated 25-30 years. The minister based this estimate on the nature of the war and the experience of Croatia following its secession from Yugoslavia. The minister refrained from estimating the amount of money required to demine the territory, as such estimates could only be made after returning the rebel territory to Kyiv’s oversight.
Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh Gives Russian Official Status
The parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh approved a proposal to make Russian the ethnic Armenian-populated region’s second official language, along with Armenian. The bill says that giving the Russian language an official status would deepen Nagorno-Karabakh’s history of “cultural, military, and economic links” with Russia. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, where Azerbaijani is the only official language of the country.
Azerbaijan’s President Signs Decree on Urban Development in Liberated Territories
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the topic of governance and urban planning in the recently liberated territories of Azerbaijan. Under the new decree, the State Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture will be responsible for determining land use, the issuance of construction permits, and transferring any category of land from one category to another.
Sources: Armenpress.am, Report.az
Transnistrian Authorities Appeal Russia for Vaccine Shipment
On March 24, the Supreme Council of the de facto Transnistrian government sent a resolution to Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide Covid-19 relief. The resolution asked the Russian president to send COVID-19 vaccines to save the lives of Russian citizens and Russian compatriots living in the rebel region. This request comes as Transnistria, like most of Europe, is being hit by a third wave of the virus.
Sources: MFA of Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic