Press review Critical Eastern

‘If you don’t like Russia, leave!’

Paulina Siegien’s monthly review, in partnership with Display Europe and Krytyka Polityczna, looks at the death of a Belarusian exile in Poland, Georgia's rapprochement with the EU, and Russia’s preparations for winter in Ukraine.

Published on 23 November 2023 at 10:20

A Belarusian refugee found hanging in a Polish prison

Kiryl Kieturka was 16 in 2020, when he took part in the post-election demonstrations in Belarus. In 2022, when he was 18, the authorities knocked on his door. After spending three months in detention in Grodno, the young man was sentenced to two and a half years' house arrest under close police surveillance, including electronic monitoring.

When he was due to be sent to prison after serving a year of his sentence, Kiryl fled to Poland. In the spring of 2023, he told the Belarusian media outlet Most – which specialises in migration – about his participation in the protests, his experience in prison and his escape. In October, Kiryl was reported missing. He was later found hanged in a prison in Warsaw.

Kiryl's death has shocked the entire Belarusian diaspora living in Poland, and has also aroused many suspicions. Kiryl was allegedly arrested for taking part in a telephone fraud aimed at obtaining bank details. However, no further information about his alleged involvement is available. Following the strong reaction from Belarusians living in Poland, the courts have decided to open an investigation into this apparent suicide.

The story is a reminder of the difficult situation faced by refugees and migrants in Poland. Even older people with capital, savings or a good job struggle to cope with the hardships that emigration can entail. The lack of a migration policy in Poland is becoming an increasingly pressing problem, but the new government does not seem determined to make it a priority. The coalition agreement, in which nobody even bothers to touch on the topic, is proof of this.

Georgia : Russian government, pro-European society

Georgian society is now dominated by pro-European sentiment. The country could have found itself in the same situation as Ukraine and Moldova (with its application for European Union membership validated, editor's note), were it not for the ruling Georgian Dream (KO-DS) – a party with pronounced pro-Russian overtones, founded by the Kremlin-linked oligarch Bidzina Ivanichvili.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, pointed out that the country still had to complete a number of reforms necessary for European integration. The Georgians are delighted, but as the Georgian media outlet Sova points out, the European Commission's decision is above all geopolitical, and based on a calculation of profit and loss.

If Georgia had not been granted candidate country status, it would have lagged behind Ukraine and Moldova not by one but by two stages in the accession process. It is therefore better to encourage the country rather than sideline it. Otherwise, Georgian society will be cruelly disillusioned, and Georgia will be driven even deeper into the arms of Putin.

Moldova : escaping the Russian whip

Moldova has done a monumental job of reforming the country and cleansing its political system of Russian influence, embodied by the oligarch Ilan Shor and former president Igor Dodon.

The latter has expressed scepticism towards the decision of the European Commission, claiming that Moldova had so far seen no benefit from drawing closer to the EU. Fortunately, the determination of pro-European Moldovan society and Moldovan authorities, represented on the international stage by President Maia Sandu,  provides good reason to hope that the country will not let this opportunity go to waste. Sandu has announced that Moldova will become an EU member by 2030.

Russia domesticates the war

In the spring of 2022, Sasha Skotchilenko, a Russian artist living in Saint Petersburg, wanted to tell Russians the truth about the war in Ukraine. Or at least, to try.

In a Perekrestok supermarket (a Russian supermarket chain, editor's note), the artist replaced the prices of products with labels revealing information about the situation in Ukraine. Behind transparent plastic, we could read, for example, "The Russian army bombed an art school in Mariupol. Around 400 people were sheltering there to escape bombardment".

A pensioner noticed these "new prices" and contacted the police. The authorities took action on the basis of a law against spreading "false information" about the Russian army. The artist was found and arrested, and has been in custody since 11 April 2022. The prosecutor requested eight years' imprisonment for Skotchilenko. On 16 November the court announced a sentence of seven years.

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In her closing statement – probably the only type of uncensored speech in Russia today – Skotchilenko says that despite the pressure she has faced over the past year, she does not recognise her guilt.

Independent Russian media outlet Bumaga interviewed the 76-year-old woman who reported Skotchilenko. She claims to be proud of her actions. Her message for critics of the regime and the war is simple: "If you don't like Russia, leave!" Russia has domesticated the war and settled down with it. Putin's next elections will take place in early spring and his campaign – which has not yet officially begun – is expected to keep its distance from the topic of war.

Another winter of war for Ukraine: Russia is preparing to inflict hell on the country... as is Hungary

This year, Russia will be targeting Ukrainian electric and thermal power stations in order to deprive the population of heating and electricity. At the same time, political tensions are emerging between President Zelensky's office and the military command over the the question of whether elections be held in wartime. The possibility of Hungary blocking Ukraine's accession to the European Union is also a cause for concern, explains Serhii Sydorenko in European Pravda. Before the European Council summit due to take place in mid-December which should give the green light for the start of accession talks, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wants to organise new "national consultations" on Ukraine's entry into the EU.

Viktor Orbán aims to present the results of these consultations to the summit. According to rumours, the question put to the population could be formulated in such a way as to suggest that Ukraine's accession to the EU would lead to an extension of the war to the continent, and therefore to Hungarian homes.

The real question concerns Orbán's real intentions behind this move. Does he want to blackmail the other EU members and come out of negotiations with some kind of advantage? Is this part of his campaign ahead of the next European Parliament elections? Or perhaps Orbán simply has no choice but to pursue - by way of gratitude - the interests of the Kremlin?

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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