Plus, Polish coal, the G7 ponder counterpropaganda tactics, and more.
The Big Story: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan Pick Up Pieces After Fighting
What happened: A cease-fire agreed by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after serious clashes in a disputed border region appears to be holding today. No incidents were reported overnight, Kyrgyz border guards said, according to 24.kg. The fighting was the most severe in 30 years of occasionally violent disputes over land use in the area, Al Jazeera reports. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan reported 34 deaths and Tajikistan said 12 of its citizens died. Dozens of schools, shops, homes, and other buildings were burned down in the Batken region of southern Kyrgyzstan after violence flared on 28 April, the BBC reports.
More context: As in previous border disputes, Tajikistan’s Vorukh exclave was at the center of this clash. There is no definitively agreed border here, and as Eurasianet comments, “villages, sometimes even neighborhoods and homesteads, are physically intermingled to a degree that wholly befuddles strangers.”
Worth noting: About 33,000 people were evacuated from the area during the fighting, 24.kg says. The dispute broke out at a water distribution point and army units on both sides soon became involved. Both sides have withdrawn troops and military equipment from the area.
News from the Regions
Central Europe and the Baltics
- Environmental groups are urging the European Commission to take action against the Polish government for its decision to extend the license for the Turow open-pit coal mine until 2044, Mining Technology reports. One of the EU’s most coal-dependent countries, Poland has signed on to the EU plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Last week the government, unions, and mining companies agreed to end coal production by 2049, Deutsche Welle reports.
- Hungary will pay the nearly $2 billion cost to build a Budapest campus of China’s Fudan University, Euronews reports. That sum is more than the country spent on higher education in 2019. Twenty percent will come from the central budget and the rest will be a loan from a Chinese bank. Officials crowed at the announcement that Hungary would host the first European campus of a Chinese university, saying it will boost ties with the country, but critics chafed at the huge cost and the plan to use mostly Chinese labor and materials, University World News reports.
- The Bulgarian Socialist Party’s refusal of an offer to lead a government in the wake of last month’s inconclusive elections means voters will have another go at electing a new parliament this summer. The Socialists said Saturday there was no way to form a working majority, Reuters reports, leaving President Rumen Radev little choice but to call snap elections in July. The ruling, center-right GERB party won just 26 percent of the votes, with the populist There Is Such a People in second place and the Socialists in third. GERB and the populist party have already given up trying to form a government.
- The legal odyssey of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is likely to reach its conclusion 8 June, when a tribunal in The Hague rules on his appeal of genocide charges. Mladic is serving a life sentence for his 2017 conviction on charges of genocide against Bosniaks and persecution of Bosniaks and Croats during the 1990s Yugoslav wars, Balkan Insight reports. He was found responsible for the massacre of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 and for attacks on civilians during the three-year Serb siege of Sarajevo. The defense appealed the verdict last year, while prosecutors called for a further genocide conviction for atrocities in five Bosnian towns in 1992.
Eastern Europe and Russia
- The Group of Seven countries will consider the U.K.’s proposal for a “rapid rebuttal mechanism” to counter Russian propaganda when their foreign ministers meet this week in London, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Reuters. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet Raab today as part of the first face-to-face G7 meeting in two years. Blinken last week warned Turkey and other U.S. allies against buying Russian arms and yesterday told CBS News Washington was “very carefully” monitoring the pullback of Russian forces from the Ukrainian border.
- The sacking of Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz oil and gas company CEO could complicate Kyiv’s talks on a $5 billion IMF bailout, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. The government announced Andriy Kobolyev’s departure last week citing “unsatisfactory” results. The Naftogaz board members then submitted their resignations. Even though the company racked up $700 million in losses last year, U.S. and European officials worried the sacking of reform-minded Kobolyev would hurt Ukraine’s efforts to clean up its corrupt energy sector, Aura Sabadus writes for the Atlantic Council think tank.
- Falling water levels and degradation of the Ural River are making life difficult for locals who rely on the river for fish, transport, and water, Kazakhstan’s Vlast reports. The 2,500-kilometer stream rises in Russia’s Ural mountains and flows across Kazakhstan into the Caspian Sea. Initiatives to protect the river began in the 1970s, writes The Third Pole, a website for river issues. Russia and Kazakhstan have signed several recent agreements to protect the Ural’s ecosystem, but the effects of environmental degradation – falling water levels, pollution, and declining fish stocks – keep getting worse. Russia’s oil industry pollutes the river, Third Pole says, and the series of large reservoirs built in Soviet times slow its flow, leading to channels becoming choked with vegetation.
- U.S. President Joe Biden’s labeling the Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians as genocide brings small solace for Turkey’s scant few remaining Armenians, Foreign Policy writes, saying, “Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, with its brand of populist nationalism, has mandated conversion of a number of churches and historical sites into mosques.” Only about 60,000 Armenians are left in Turkey, and once-crowded churches now attract just a few faithful. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Biden’s statement “baseless, unfair and untrue,” and a “wrong step” that would hinder relations, CBS News reports.