Eurasia This Week: March 16, 2023

March 16, 2023

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

A mosque in Atyrau, Kazakhstan. Atyrau is a center of oil and gas production. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Sasha India (CC BY 2.0)

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.

Nariman Gizitdinov, Bloomberg (March 17, 2023): Kazakh Leader Seeks Reset After Riots With Parliament Ballot

Paolo Sorbello, The Diplomat (March 16, 2023): Joyful and Angry: A Feminist Demonstration in Kazakhstan: Pressured not to hold a march, feminist groups in Almaty gathered in their hundreds for a rally anyway.

Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL (March 12, 2023 – podcast): A Look At Kazakhstan’s Upcoming Parliamentary Elections

Turkmenistan Parliamentary and Local Elections: March 26, 2023

Turkmenistan – a highly repressive state that has never held free or fair elections and lacks a genuine political opposition – held a presidential election on March 12, 2022, nearly two yers early. The reason appears to be to cement dynastic succession, as the son of current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, ran and won in a landslide.

John C.K. Daly, Jamestown Foundation (March 14, 2023): What Is Behind Former Turkmenistani President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s New Title?

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.” 

Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, University of Notre Dame (March 14, 2023): The Puzzle of Putin’s Popularity

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.

Madalin Necsutu, Balkan Insight (March 16, 2023): Moldova Condemns ‘Russian Plan’ to Regain Control of Country

Thomas Escritt, Reuters (March 14, 2023): Fake bombs and failed coup: Moldova smolders on border of Russia’s war

Luke Coffey, Hudson Institute (March 10, 2023): The Kremlin Has Its Eyes on Gagauzia

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.

Laura Thornton, Foreign Policy (March 16, 2023): Russia Is Furious at Georgia’s Protesters

Stephen Jones and Natalie Sabanadze, Eurasianet (March 10, 2023): Elections are not enough: Georgia needs a new model of democracy

RFE/RL (March 9, 2023): Georgians Protest For Third Day In A Row Despite Government’s Pledge To Withdraw ‘Foreign Agent’ Bill

Dinara Khalilova, Kyiv Independent (March 9, 2023): Georgian opposition demands resignation of government, early elections

Sophie Tanno, CNN (March 9, 2023): Caught between the West and Russia, could Georgia be the next Ukraine?

Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: By October 29, 2023 and Presidential Election: March 2024 (due)

The term of Ukraine’s current parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, ends on October 29, 2023 and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s term ends in March 2024.  Due to Russia’s invasion and the ongoing war, some have proposed delaying the elections, and the Election Commission has effectively suspended its work, delaying several by-elections.

Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party currently holds a large majority in the Rada.

Elena Teslova, Anadolu Agency (March 11, 2023): Head of Wagner paramilitary group says he intends to run for president in Ukraine: Yevgeny Prigozhin says he will compete with former President Petro Poroshenko and incumbent Volodymyr Zelenskyy for presidential post in 2024

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

AP (March 16, 2023): Warsaw Plans To Grant Ukraine’s Request For Fighter Jets, Says Polish President

RFE/RL (March 16, 2023): UN Report: Russia Committed Torture, War Crimes, Possible Crimes Against Humanity In Ukraine

Reuters (March 13, 2023): China’s Xi to speak with Ukraine’s Zelenskiy -WSJ

Andrew Roth, The Guardian (March 11, 2023): ‘Russia has lost its soft power’: how war in Ukraine destabilises old Soviet allies

Eurasia Elections Coming Up in 2023

Kazakhstan Snap Parliamentary Elections: March 19, 2023

Turkmenistan Parliamentary and Local Elections: March 26, 2023

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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