Europe & Central Asia
Posted: 5 May 2023
Ukraine: Russian air campaign intensifies
Russian strikes continued hitting civilian targets across Ukraine, killing over a hundred civilians in April. In the Donetsk region, missile strikes on Kostiantynivka and Sloviansk on 2 and 14 April, respectively, killed over 20 civilians. Meanwhile, massive Russian airstrikes occurred on 27 and 28 April targeting the Mykolaiv, Dnipro, Kyiv, and Cherkasy regions. In the latter region, a Russian missile hit a multi-story residential building in Uman, reportedly killing 23 people – the deadliest attack in the region since the start of the Russian invasion. Meanwhile, probable Ukrainian shelling led to 18 reported civilian fatalities in occupied Donetsk city on 6 and 28 April.
Overall, the levels of violence in Ukraine remained at similar levels compared to March, in line with the ACLED Conflict Alert System (CAST) assessment. While the number of recorded armed clashes decreased significantly, daily fighting continued, concentrating on the Kreminna-Svatove-Kupiansk in the Luhansk and Kharkiv regions as well as north and west of the occupied Donetsk city. The Wagner Group flanked by regular Russian units pressed Ukrainian forces toward high-rise western outskirts of Bakhmut in street battles, also leveling apartment blocks with airstrikes.1Meduza, ‘With Most Russian Positions Frozen in Expectation, Only Wagner Group Is Persistently Storming Bakhmut,’ 20 April 2023; Susannah George and Serhii Korolchuk, ‘In Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops Cling to Western Edge of a Destroyed City,’ Washington Post 23 April 2023 The decrease in direct clashes was offset by an overall increase in air and drone strikes recorded in April, particularly in the Donetsk region, but also in the Chernihiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhia regions. Additionally, Ukrainian forces increased offensive operations in the second half of the month, reportedly advancing positions in the Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions.
For more information, see ACLED’s Ukraine Conflict Monitor
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Baku seals off Lachin corridor
Azerbaijan continued to assert control over the Lachin corridor linking Artsakh to Armenia, which falls within the remit of the Russian peacekeepers under the 2020 ceasefire agreement.2Kremlin.ru, ‘Statement of President of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of Armenia, and President of the Russian Federation,’ 10 November 2020 On 23 April, Azerbaijan installed a checkpoint on a newly-built bridge over the Hakari river on the border with Armenia in the immediate vicinity of the Russian peacekeepers’ checkpoint, thus blocking the road meant to replace the previously used Goris-Stepanakert route.3Joshua Kucera, ‘Azerbaijan Sets up Checkpoint on Road Connecting Armenia and Karabakh,’ Eurasianet, 24 April 2023 Azerbaijan claimed it had installed the checkpoint in order to stop Armenian military supplies to the region, as well as in response to an alleged movement of checkpoint infrastructure by Armenia in the area on 22 April.4Lusine Balasyan, ‘Azerbaijan Informed about the Installation of a Checkpoint at the Entrance to the Lachin Corridor,’ Kommersant, 23 April 2023 The move was condemned by the United States, the European Union, and Russia, with the latter replacing the commander of its peacekeeping contingent in the region.5Vedant Patel, ‘Actions on the Lachin Corridor’, US Department of State, 23 April 2023; Twitter @JosepBorrellF, 25 April 2023; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, ‘Foreign Ministry Statement on the Situation Concerning the Armenian-Azerbaijani Normalisation Process,’ 24 April 2023; Olesya Pavlenko, ‘Defence Ministry Confirmed the Appointment of Alexander Lentsov as Commander of Russian Peacekeepers in Karabakh,’ Kommersant, 26 April 2023 Following the installation of the checkpoint, self-professed environmental activists, who had been blocking the Lachin corridor near Stepanakert/Khankendi since 12 December 2022, suspended their protest on 28 April.6Caucasus Watch, ‘Azerbaijani Activists Stop Protest Along Lachin Corridor,’ 30 April 2023 Earlier in the month, on 4 April, they denied passage to 23 of 27 civilians attempting to return to Artsakh.7JAMnews, ‘Azerbaijan Allowing Exit from NK, Prohibiting Entry”: Blockade Continues,’ 5 April 2023 Azerbaijan regained control of parts of the unrecognized ethnic Armenian-majority Artsakh Republic and adjacent areas after a 44-day war in 2020.
Amid Azerbaijan’s ongoing assertion of control along the Lachin corridor, the number of armed clashes on the line of contact between Azerbaijani forces and Artsakh as well as Armenian forces halved following a spike in the previous month. The deadliest incident occurred near the Armenian village of Tegh in the Syunik region on the border with Azerbaijan on 11 April. Azerbaijani troops advanced toward the village on 30 March after their takeover of a section of the Goris-Stepanakert highway in Azerbaijan’s Lachin region as part of rerouting traffic between Armenia and Artsakh.8Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Armenian Service, ‘Pashinian Clings To Caution After Fresh Azeri Territorial Gains,’ 6 April 2023; Tigran Grigoryan, ‘Lachin Corridor, Alternative and Bypass roads. Simplifying a Complicated Picture,’ Civilnet, 30 March 2023 The shootout over position engineering works performed by both sides reportedly left four Armenian and three Azerbaijani servicemen dead.9Arshaluis Mgdesyan, ‘Seven Killed in Armenia-Azerbaijan Border Clash,’ Eurasianet, 13 April 2023
Kazakhstan: Protests against unemployment turn violent
Socio-economic protests again increased in oil-rich western Kazakhstan, especially in the Mangystau region. In early April, laid-off extractive industry workers started protesting in Zhanaozen, demanding stable employment. After being assaulted by unidentified perpetrators, the protesters moved to the capital Astana on 10 April to press their demands. The following day, riot police detained about 80 protesters, injuring some of them in the process and triggering solidarity protests and strikes across western Kazakhstan, which led to the subsequent release of the protesters without charges. Demonstrations frequently erupt in Zhanaozen – where the Ozenmunaigaz oil company is the largest employer10Timur Ermashev, ‘Unemployment in Oil-Rich Region. Why the Kazakh Zhanaozen Is Protesting,’ Current Time, 15 April 2023 – over jobs and cost of living. In January 2022, demonstrations against a fuel price hike degenerated into nationwide unrest resulting in over 200 civilian fatalities.
Kosovo: Vehicles set ablaze and elections boycotted amid ongoing tensions in the north
Tensions persisted in northern Kosovo over the course of the month. Unidentified perpetrators set fire to at least eight vehicles at four locations in the Serb-majority Mitrovica region on 1 and 15 April, continuing the trend observed during the previous month when at least seven vehicles were torched across the region. On 2 April, unidentified individuals threw a shock bomb at the police registration office in North Mitrovica. The arson attacks may be linked to attempts to discourage local residents from transitioning to Kosovan license plates. This issue has been one of the sources of contention between Kosovan central authorities and areas populated by ethnic Serbs for over a decade and led to an escalation in tensions in late 2022. Under an emergency deal reached in November 2022, Kosovo law enforcement refrains from sanctioning the owners of vehicles with plates issued in Serbia, whereas the latter does not hand out new ones to Kosovo residents.11RFR/RL Balkan Service, ‘Kosovo License-Plate Issue Flares Up Again With Ban On Cars With Kosovar City Abbreviation,’ 19 January 2023
Ongoing tensions also saw ethnic Serbs boycotting en masse snap mayoral elections on 23 April in four municipalities in northern Kosovo that had seen ethnic Serbian incumbents resign in November 2022 amid the standoff over license plates. Despite a turnout of under 4%, the winners from ethnic Albanian parties will assume office as there is no threshold for the polls to pass.12RFE/RL Balkan Service, ‘Amid Boycott, Turnout Meager In Local Elections In Serbian Strongholds Of Northern Kosovo,’ 23 April 2023 Furthermore, about a thousand ethnic Serbs from Zerovnica protested on 12 April the shooting by the Kosovo police two days earlier of a fellow resident of the village who had allegedly attempted to smuggle goods from Serbia. One of the four suspended officers involved in the incident was charged with attempted murder.13KoSSev, ‘Serbs Protested the Shooting of Their Fellow Citizen at the Bistrica Bridge, Demand Special Forces Withdraw from the North,’ 12 April 2023 Police checks in northern Kosovo increased recently, especially near illegal crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. Recent EU-brokered rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo was met with protests in both countries. Albanian-majority Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008 after a civil war a decade earlier.
Eastern Europe: Farmers protest cheap Ukrainian grain
Farmers in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia took to the streets in April to protest falling revenues due to cheap Ukrainian grains flooding local markets rather than transiting to destinations outside the EU. The EU scrapped tariffs on Ukrainian exports in 2022 and has since facilitated their transit to other parts of the world in the wake of the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Coupled with Brussels’s refusal to reimpose tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural goods, the protests prompted the resignation of Polish Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk and subsequent temporary bans on imports of Ukrainian grains imposed by Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria. At the end of the month, the European Commission negotiated a deal offering financial support for affected farmers and enacting measures to ensure the transit of Ukrainian agricultural products through the five countries to preserve the tariff-free trade regime.