Eurasia This Week: February 16, 2023

February 16, 2023

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in Eurasia, usually posted on Thursdays and occasionally updated throughout the week.

The Nativity Cathedral in Chisinau, Moldova. Moldova’s government fell last week but has been quickly replaced with a new one. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Petar Milošević (CC BY 2.5)

Upcoming Eurasia Elections

Kazakhstan Snap Parliamentary Elections: March 19, 2023

In January 2022, a series of violent protests broke out in Kazakhstan, and in the aftermath, something of a political realignment took place with the sidelining of former president Nursultan Nazerbayev, who had previously exercised a great deal of influence behind the scenes. 

The country held a constitutional referendum in June 2022 that President Kassym-Jomart claimed would make Kazakhstan more representative, although in reality, the changes were largely cosmetic. A series of snap elections (for president, senate, and now parliament) similarly probably will not produce real reform. 

Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and has historically been one of Russia’s closest allies, but has snubbed Moscow on several occasions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Joanna Lillis, Eurasianet (February 16, 2023): Kazakhstan seeks return of Nazarbayev-linked bank from London: It appears to be yet another salvo against the disgraced former president.

Reuters (February 16, 2023): Kazakhstan challenges large asset transfer by ex-president’s foundation

RFE/RL (February 15, 2023): Kazakh President Toqaev Signs Law On Stripping Nazarbaev Family Members Of Legal Immunity

Almaz Kumenov, Eurasianet (February 14, 2023): Kazakhstan again struggling with power outages

Russia, Gubernatorial and Local Elections in Some Regions (including Moscow mayor): September 10, 2023, followed by presidential election due in September 2024

Russia is not a democracy and elections are neither free nor fair. That said, public opinion is not entirely irrelevant to the political calculus, and Vladimir Putin technically faces voters in 2024. As a result, his regime has become increasingly oppressive at home and aggressive abroad.

IFEX notes: “In 2022, Russia saw more than 21,000 arrests and at least 370 defendants in criminal cases for anti-war speech; more than 200,000 internet resources blocked; and 11 sentences in cases of state treason.” 

Erin Burnett, CNN (February 16, 2023 – video): She met Putin when he was first elected. Hear how he’s changed

Chris Rickleton, RFE/RL (February 16, 2023): Can’t We Just Be Friends? Russian Think Tank Rates Neighbors’ Attitudes Toward Moscow

Francesca Ebel and  Mary Ilyushina, Washington Post (February 13, 2023): Russians abandon wartime Russia in historic exodus

Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Moldova is due to hold local elections in October 2023. After that, a presidential election is due in 2024 and parliamentary elections are due in 2025.

The last elections were snap parliamentary elections on July 11, 2021 which pro-Europe center-right president Maia Sandu had been trying to call for months because in Moldova’s parliamentary system, a legislative majority is necessary to execute on any policy agenda. Prior  to these elections, party had a clear majority in parliament (and Sandu’s allies were outnumbered by pro-Russian parties), leading to political instability. Sandu’s allies ended up winning in a landslide.

Sandu herself trounced pro-Kremlin leftist Igor Dodon, who had been the incumbent, in the November 2020 presidential election, after losing narrowly to him in 2016.

Russia has ramped up its harassment Moldova following the victories of Sandu and her allies. Moreover, Russia instigated and continues to perpetuate a frozen conflict in Transnistria, where 1,400 Russian troops are stationed – an obstacle to Moldova’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Additionally, Transnistria’s rampant organized crime and corruption threaten Moldova’s stability. Russia also stokes separatism in Gagauzia, a Turkic-speaking region of Moldova.

On February 10, the pro-West government collapsed, following a warning from Ukraine’s president that Russia had a plan to destroy Moldova. However, Sandu quickly appointed a new government. The country remains on high alert for violence or other destabilization efforts by pro-Russian forces.

Alexander Tanas, Reuters (February 16, 2023): Moldovan parliament approves new pro-Western government

AFP (February 16, 2023): Moldova Confirms New Govt, Says Debris Of Russian Missile Found

RFE/RL (February 14, 2023): Russia Denies It’s Seeking To Destabilize Moldova As Chisinau Calls For ‘Maximum Vigilance’

Madalin Necsutu, Balkan Insight (February 13, 2023): As Moldova Hikes Defence Spending, Rebel Region Follows Suit

AP (February 13, 2023): Moldova president outlines Russian ‘plan’ to topple government

DW (February 10, 2023): Moldova: Pro-Western government collapses amid crises

Georgia Parliamentary Elections: October 2024 (due – snap elections possible)

The United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s pro-West opposition, held a leadership election in January following a bitter campaign that has left it divided heading into parliamentary elections due in 2024 (Georgia transitioned to a parliamentary system starting in 2012, so these elections will determine who runs the government). 

The current government is led by Georgian Dream, a coalition founded by eccentric and Kremlin-connected oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili. It came to power during the 2012 parliamentary elections, ousting former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM. The opposition has been calling for new elections since October 2020’s parliamentary polls, due to claims of fraud. International observers noted significant flaws in the elections, and observed that there were issues with public confidence in the polls.

The most recent vote Georgia, the October 2021 local elections, took place in a tense political climate, exacerbated by the arrest of Saakashvili upon his return to the country on the eve of the vote. 

Despite Ivanishvili’s Kremlin ties, Georgian Dream has continued some of Georgia’s steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration, including applying for EU membership. This is because public opinion in Georgia overwhelmingly supports those things. However, it is unclear whether Georgian Dream has a genuine commitment to a Euro-Atlantic course, given its leaders’ ties to Russia. And some say that Saakashvili’s ongoing rough treatment and imprisonment are occurring on Russia’s orders.

Nini Gabritchidze, Eurasianet (February 16, 2023): Foreign agent bill threatens to kill Georgia’s EU hopes: The bill comes from a group that has been questioning Georgia’s EU integration, citing the banking troubles of ruling party founder Ivanishvili

Nicolas Camut, Politico (February 15, 2023): Ex-Georgian President Saakashvili’s mistreatment threatens country’s EU dreams, MEPs say

David Kirichenko, National Interest (February 10, 2023): Should We Expect a Georgian Maidan?

War in Ukraine

Nathalie Loiseau and Benjamin Haddad, Politico (February 16, 2023): It’s time for a European defense fund for Ukraine: EU leaders need to start thinking about their long-term support for Kyiv and, in parallel, propping up their own armed forces

Washington Post (February 16, 2023): Lukashenko blames Ukraine for war, warns Belarus will join fight if attacked

Karen Gilchrist and Amanda Macias, CNBC News (February 15, 2023): Ukraine’s allies promise more aid; Kyiv presses for fighter jets

Gillian Tett, Financial Times (February 15, 2023): The keyboard warriors on Ukraine’s digital front line

Hal Brands, Foreign Affairs (February 14, 2023): Ukraine and the Contingency of Global Order

Brent Peabody, Foreign Policy (February 13, 2023): Russia Has Already Lost in the Long Run: Even if Moscow holds onto territory, the war has wrecked its future

Eurasia Elections Coming Up in 2023

Kazakhstan Snap Parliamentary Elections: March 19, 2023

Turkmenistan Parliamentary and Local Elections: March 2023 (due)

Russia, Gubernatorial and Local Elections in Some Regions (including Moscow mayor): September 10, 2023

Armenia, Local Elections in Yerevan: September 2023 (due)

Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: October 29, 2023 (due)

Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Belarus Local Elections: Due in 2023 (delays possible)

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