Hacker image by Christoph Scholz via Flickr.

Plus, COVID vaccine incentives in Lithuania, Russia’s carbon neutrality plans, and more. 

The Big Story: U.S. Leaves Russia Out of Cybersecurity Forum

What happened: Russia was not invited to an international, two-day cybersecurity virtual meeting of 30 countries that starts today, AP reports. The forum, led by the United States, features sessions chaired by India, Australia, Britain and Germany. Other participants include Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Kenya.

More context: According to a senior official from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, the meeting will address efforts to disrupt and prosecute ransomware networks similar to one that targeted a major pipeline system transporting fuel in the U.S. last May. The official added that the U.S. has used a “dedicated channel” to address cybersecurity issues with Russia. 

Worth noting: Microsoft said that Russia accounted for more than half of all cyberattacks it observed this year, Euronews reports. The tech company’s annual Digital Defense Report released last Thursday, covering the period between July 2020 to June 2021, said that attacks from Russian state actors represented 58% of all cyber intrusions Microsoft observed during that time period. The main targets of Russia’s attacks were the United States, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, the report said. 

News from the Regions

Central Europe and the Baltics

  • Pressure is mounting on Slovak Central Bank head Peter Kazimir, who is facing bribery charges, Bloomberg reports. Kazimir, who is a member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, said yesterday in a statement that he didn’t “feel guilty of any crime” and that the claims against him are unsubstantiated. According to Slovak media cited by Bloomberg, the allegations against Kazimir relate to his previous role as finance minister in the government of former Prime Minister Robert Fico. Kazimir is the highest-ranking member of Fico’s cabinet to be targeted by the current government’s anti-corruption drive. The EU doesn’t allow governments to dismiss central bankers unless serious misconduct is proven.
  • Lithuania will pay 100 euros to seniors who get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by December, Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reports via the Baltic News Network. The Lithuanian parliament yesterday approved a government proposal offering the financial incentive to unvaccinated people over the age of 75 who get fully vaccinated by 1 December. Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said the government isn’t considering another lockdown despite the rising number of cases, given that COVID vaccination certificates are mandatory to access certain services in Lithuania, which she said is “akin to a lockdown.”

Southeastern Europe

  • The president of the Serb-majority entity of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina reversed a ban criminalizing genocide denial that came into effect last summer, RFE/RL reports. Before leaving office as the UN High Representative for Bosnia, Valentin Inzko outlawed genocide denial or the glorification of war criminals, such as by naming streets or public institutions after them. The move was met with widespread resistance from ethnic Serbs, who deny that the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces was genocide. An edict from Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic on the “non-application of Inzko’s law” went into effect on 8 October. Another decree by Cvijanovic, also published on 8 October, bans “disparaging and mocking” the Republika Srpska. 
  • At least seven people were injured today in clashes between Kosovo police and ethnic Serbs during an investigation into the smuggling of goods, AP reports. According to a statement released by the Kosovo police, today’s raids were held in four areas including northern Mitrovica, a Serb-majority area. The police said “criminal groups gathered in an organized way to block roads with vehicles, used liquid gas tanks, stun bombs, shot with weapons and hand grenades to hamper and attack custom and police officials committing their duty.” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti called on ethnic Serbs in Kosovo “not to fall prey to some media in Serbia protecting crime, corruption and smuggling and want to politicize and turn it (the police raid) into an ethnic issue.”

Eastern Europe and Russia

  • An Ukrainian court ordered politician Viktor Medvedchuk to remain under house arrest until 7 December, Reuters reports. Known for his pro-Russian views, Medvedchuk is charged with treason and attempting to plunder national wealth in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The Ukrainian prosecutor general accuses Medvedchuk of transferring production licenses from a gas and oil field in Crimea to Russian authorities and disclosing secret information about the deployment of Ukrainian troops, according to AP. Last week, Ukrainian investigators said they had widened their investigation to include allegations that Medvedchuk conspired with top Ukrainian officials to buy coal from mines in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine. Medvedchuk, whose daughter is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goddaughter, has been under house arrest since May. 
  • Russia aims to be carbon neutral “no later than 2060,” President Vladimir Putin said today during a Moscow energy forum, AFP reports.“The role of oil and coal will decrease,” Putin added. The remarks show a clean break from the Russian president’s previous skepticism about man-made global warming. “The planet needs informed, responsible actions by all market participants — both producers and consumers — focused on the long-term, in the interests of the sustainable development of all our countries,” Putin said. Russia is the fourth-largest carbon emitter in the world, according to AFP. 

Central Asia

  • With only two weeks left until the election, the presidential campaign in Uzbekistan hasn’t featured any significant interactions between candidates, Eurasianet reports. “So far, there has been no direct or meaningful engagement between contestants,” says an interim report published last week by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, a division of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The campaign has mostly consisted of billboards on the streets and campaign materials published in the media, with no political rallies or TV debates so far. A ban on private campaign financing means that campaign materials are funded by state election authorities. The lackluster campaign could prove beneficial for incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is likely to win another term. 

Borderlands

  • Mongolia played a seminal role in the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II by providing Moscow with horses and wool for military overcoats, according to a new analysis by Russia Beyond the Headlines. Authorities in Ulaanbaatar bought almost 485,000 horses from local cattle breeders which it then supplied to its northern ally, while an additional 32,000 horses were donated by herdsmen. As a result, one in five horses used by the Red Army on the Soviet front came from Mongolia. Mongolia also made large donations of meat, wool, and sheepskin to the Soviet Union during the war. While the sheepskin was used to make winter coats for Red Army commanders, one in five wool overcoats worn by Soviet soldiers was made from Mongolian wool.