Europe & Central Asia
Posted: 3 March 2023
Ukraine: Russian shelling intensifies in border regions and Kherson
Russian forces continued striking civilian targets across the country in February, with particularly deadly consequences in the Donetsk and Kherson regions. In Donetsk, missile strikes on residential buildings in Kramatorsk on 1 and 2 February reportedly killed three people and injured over 20 others.1Ukrinform, ‘Kramatorsk shelling: three dead, 20 wounded as search and rescue operation continues,’ 2 February 2023 Meanwhile, Russian shelling of Bakhmut on 16 February reportedly claimed the lives of at least five civilians and injured nine. In the Kherson region, Russian shelling has been on the rise since the de-occupation of the western bank of Dnipro by Ukrainian forces, with the average daily rate of shelling increasing in February compared to January. On 21 February, Russian forces shelled a bus stop and residential buildings in the city of Kherson, reportedly killing six civilians.2Rod Nickel and Leonardo Benassatto, ‘Six killed in Russian rocket attack as Putin delivers speech, Ukraine says,’ 21 February 2023
Russian shelling also intensified in the northern border region of Sumy, with February marking the highest level of shelling events in the region since the start of the invasion. The shelling and strikes in the Chernihiv region remained at similar levels but reportedly killed at least six civilians in February – more than has been recorded in the months prior. Russian air and drone strikes also intensified in February, especially in the Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Zaporizhia regions.
Overall levels of armed violence in Ukraine remained at similar levels as in January, with fighting concentrated in the Svatove-Kreminna line in the Luhansk region and in the area of Bakhmut and Vuhledar in the Donetsk region. Russian forces secured marginal gains around Bakhmut, threatening Ukrainian supply lines.3Karolina Hird et al., ‘Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment,’ Institute for the Study of War, 13 February 2023; 19 February 2023; 21 February 2023; 28 February 2023 Attempts to break through Ukrainian defenses near Vuhledar failed.4Twitter @DefenceHQ, 25 February 2023 Meanwhile, armed clashes in the Kharkiv region, especially in the direction of Kupiansk, more than doubled compared with the past two months.
For more information, see ACLED’s Ukraine Conflict Monitor
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Ceasefire violations resume as the Lachin Corridor remains closed
After relative calm in January, ceasefire violations occurred on 21 February along the Line of Contact in the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, as well as on Armenia’s western border with Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave. The violations came amid the ongoing closure of the Lachin Corridor, which links Artsakh in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and is the sole supply route for Artsakh. On 22 February, the International Court of Justice ruled that Azerbaijan must reopen the Lachin Corridor and dismissed a rival case lodged by Azerbaijan alleging that Armenia had transferred landmines to the territory of Artsakh via the Lachin Corridor.5Joshua Kucera, ‘International court orders Azerbaijan to “ensure movement” on blockaded road,’ Eurasianet, 23 February 2023 While Azerbaijan has denied that they are responsible for the blockade, officials from Azerbaijan and Artsakh met to discuss the closure following the court’s decision.6Ani Avetisyan, ‘Stepanakert and Baku meet following Vardanyan’s dismissal,’ 27 February 2023 The talks came after Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan sacked Ruben Vardanyan from the post of state minister of Artsakh after less than four months on the job, citing differences in approaches to resolving the crisis.7Ani Avetisyan, ‘Ruben Vardanyan sacked as state minister of Nagorno-Karabakh,’ OC Media, 23 February 2023 The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has led to two wars: in 1988, won by Armenian-backed separatists, and in 2020, won by Azerbaijan.
Serbia-Kosovo: Demonstrations against normalization agreement
A European Union-proposed tentative agreement seeking to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia prompted backlash in both countries. The EU stepped up shuttle diplomacy in recent months due to increased tensions in Kosovo since mid-2022, with the European Council endorsing the draft agreement on 9 February.8Council of the European Union, ‘European Council conclusions, 9 February 2023,’ 9 February 2023 According to the proposed deal, Serbia would recognize documents and license plates issued in Kosovo and not hinder Kosovo’s accession to international organizations, while Kosovo would ensure self-governance for Serbian-majority communities.9European External Action Service, ‘Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue: EU Proposal – Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia,’ 27 February 2023 In Kosovo, hundreds of students marched in Prishtina against the proposed autonomy of Serbian majority municipalities on 15 February.10Giada Kuka, ‘With red and black flags, students in Kosovo protest against the Association,’ Euronews – Albania, 15 February 2023 In Serbia, on 16 February, far-right demonstrators attempted to storm the presidential building in Belgrade but were stopped by the riot police. Three people, including a leader of a nationalist organization, were arrested the following day and charged with the attempted violent overthrow of the government.11Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Balkan Service, ‘Serbian Far-Right Leader Arrested After Nationalists Try To Storm Presidency In Belgrade,’ 16 February 2023 Despite the backlash, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti expressed support for the agreement but did not sign it, with negotiations on the implementation roadmap pending.12European External Action Service, ‘Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after High-Level Meeting with President Vučić and Prime Minister Kurti,’ 27 February 2023 Tensions have persisted around Albanian-majority Kosovo due to its cessation from Serbia in 2008 in the wake of a civil war in 1998–99.
Europe and Central Asia: Demonstrations against Russian aggression in Ukraine mark the first anniversary of the invasion
Rallies marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were held across the region around 24 February. Peaceful demonstrations in support of Ukraine took place in over 30 countries in the region. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, police dispersed protesters attempting to demonstrate against the war. In Russia, police detained about 60 people in six cities attempting to hold lone pickets and lay flowers at spontaneous memorials. Demonstrations in support of Russia occurred in Hungary and Armenia, while demonstrators in Slovakia rallied against the country’s involvement in the war.