Europe & Central Asia
Posted: 8 November 2023
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Lull in fighting but no peace deal yet
The borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan and around the Artsakh enclave saw relative calm in October after Azerbaijan’s offensive in September. ACLED records only four armed clashes last month, all in early October. Three of the clashes occurred in the border areas in the direction of Sotk in Armenia’s Gegharkunik region, leaving one Armenian serviceman dead and two others wounded. Areas around Artsakh were quiet, with the exception of small arms fire in the direction of a joint Azerbaijani-Russian patrol in Stepanakert (known to Azerbaijanis as Khankendi) on 2 October. Russian peacekeepers dismantled their observation posts around Artsakh and assumed traffic police duties,1Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, ‘Informational bulletin of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation on the activities of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area,’ 18 October 2023 having also assisted the last departures of ethnic Armenians. While the Artsakh leadership installed in early September seemingly managed to cross into Armenia, at least eight former officials – including three former presidents – were detained by Azerbaijan and are facing “terrorism” charges.2Joshua Kucera, ‘Concerns About Victor’s Justice As Nagorno-Karabakh’s Leaders Are Behind Bars And Facing Trial In Azerbaijan,’ Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 11 October 2023
Attempts to kickstart peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan proved mostly futile. In the wake of Western criticism for the forceful takeover of Artsakh,3European Parliament, ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: MEPs demand review of EU relations with Azerbaijan,’ 5 October 2023; Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, ‘Humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh,’ 12 October 2023 Azerbaijan shunned the European Union-proposed fora in early and late October, opting for a foreign ministers’ meeting including Russia and Iran, while Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan skipped a Russian-sponsored event.4Ani Avetisyan, ‘Armenia says outline of a peace deal agreed with Azerbaijan,’ Eurasianet, 3 November 2023 Armenia’s ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court further strained its relations with Russia, as the Court is prosecuting Russian President Vladimir Putin for the abduction of children from Ukraine. Furthermore, while Armenia signaled a willingness to sign a peace treaty5European Council, ‘Statement by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia, President Michel of the European Council, President Macron of France and Chancellor Scholz of Germany,’ 5 October 2023 to reduce the military threat to its territory that is sandwiched between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan and Iran started to build a road and rail link to the exclave bypassing Armenia.6Ismi Aghayev, ‘Azerbaijan begins construction of corridor to Nakhchivan through Iran,’ Open Caucasus Media, 9 October 2023 Azerbaijan has also chafed at Armenia’s announced purchase of air defense equipment from France and demanded the return of Azerbaijani enclaves within Armenia.7President of the Republic of Azerbaijan,’President of the European Council Charles Michel made a phone call to Ilham Aliyev,’ 7 October 2023 It also staged drills with Turkish forces, including in Nakhchivan and areas formerly under Artsakh control.
Europe & Central Asia: Violence in the Middle East reverberates on streets
The Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent Israeli military operations in Gaza led to increased protest activity and sporadic cases of political violence in Europe, with demonstrations recorded in approximately 350 distinct locations. Outcry over claims of an Israeli missile strike on a hospital in Gaza City on 17 October exacerbated tensions. Demonstrators defied blanket bans on pro-Palestine protests in major German cities and across France, and police intervened in several events. A top administrative court later overturned the French ban, while some restrictions remained in Germany.8Layli Foroudi, ‘French court states that pro-Palestinian protests should be banned case by case,’ Reuters, 18 October 2023; Oliver Pieper, ‘Israel-Gaza demonstrations: What is allowed in Germany?’ Deutsche Welle, 3 November 2023 Some demonstrations in support of Palestine turned violent, mostly in Germany and particularly in Berlin, where clashes with police on 18 October lasted for several hours and led to the arrest of at least 174 participants.9Deutsche Welle, ‘Berlin: 174 arrested at unauthorized pro-Palestinian events,’ 19 October 2023 The same day, unidentified perpetrators attacked a synagogue in the German capital overnight using Molotov cocktails. Notable clashes between pro-Palestine demonstrations and police also occurred close to a pro-Israel event in Amsterdam on 15 October and near the Israeli embassy in Athens on 18 October. Suspected Syrian nationals set off a small explosive device near the Israeli embassy in Cyprus.
Lone-wolf incidents led to further security concerns as authorities drew connections between threats in Europe and developments in the Middle East. On 13 October, in the northern French town of Arras, a former pupil hailing from Russia’s North Caucasus stabbed a school teacher to death and wounded three others. On 16 October, in Brussels, a Tunisian man shot dead two Swedish soccer fans and wounded a cab driver in an apparent retribution for recent public Quran burnings in Sweden.10Associated Press, ‘How Quran burnings in Sweden have increased threats from Islamic militants,’ 17 October 2023 Both perpetrators pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.11Agence France Presse, ‘Killer of French school teacher claims attack for Islamic State group,’ 17 October 2023 On 31 October, police shot a veiled woman shouting death threats at a train and metro station in Paris. Authorities across France and Belgium repeatedly evacuated schools, airports, and tourist sites due to hoax bomb alerts. Tighter border controls were introduced across the passport-free Schengen zone.12Associated Press, ‘Slovenia to introduce border checks with Hungary and Croatia after Italy did the same with Slovenia,’ 20 October 2023
Pro-Palestine rallies became violent in Russia’s Muslim-majority North Caucasus. Gatherings were initially dispersed in Dagestan but were later allowed. On 28 October, amid online rumors of arriving Jewish refugees, a mob searched a hotel in Khasavyurt, while a rally in Makhachkala morphed the following day into the storming of the town’s airport where a plane from Israel landed.13Oliver Slow and Laurence Peter, ‘Dagestan: Mob storms Russian airport in search of Jews,’ 30 October 2023 A military helicopter evacuated passengers after a mob chased their bus on the tarmac. The events reportedly resulted in over 20 rioters and nine law enforcement officers injured in clashes; one of the injured law enforcement officers subsequently died in a hospital. Elsewhere in the North Caucasus, protesters in Karachaevo-Cherkessia called for the expulsion of Jews, while unidentified perpetrators set ablaze a Jewish center under construction in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria. Russian authorities, who had stepped up their antisemitic rhetoric in the past year,14Francesca Ebel, ‘Antisemitism charges swirl after Putin denigrates Zelensky’s Jewish roots,’ Washington Post, 25 September 2023 blamed Ukraine and the West for instigating violence.15Associated Press, ‘Putin claims without proof that airport riots targeting Israelis were staged from Ukraine,’ 30 October 2023
In Central Asia, authorities mostly suppressed demonstrations. On 29 October, Uzbek police detained almost all 100 participants in an attempted pro-Palestine demonstration in Tashkent. Meanwhile, pro-Palestine rallies went ahead with no police interference in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on 21 and 28 October.
Russia: Cross-border shelling and air war continue
Ukraine continued to execute large numbers of cross-border strikes into Russian territory in October, though at lower levels than in September. The number of cross-border shelling incidents into the three Russian regions nearest to northeastern Ukraine decreased by over 40% from the peak recorded in September, with the Belgorod region continuing to account for the overwhelming majority of incidents. Regional authorities in the Bryansk and Kursk regions reported power outages due to shelling and claimed that Ukraine used cluster munitions.16Reuters, ‘Ukraine shells Russian village with cluster munitions – Russian official,’ 3 October 2023; Agence France Presse, ‘Russia Claims Ukraine Hit Border Town With Cluster Munitions,’ 5 October 2023 Drone strikes slightly increased in the Belgorod region, while Russia’s interceptions of drones halved compared to September. The number of drone strikes in the Bryansk and Kursk regions stayed roughly the same, while the number of intercepted drones decreased. Repeated drone strikes in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant in the Kursk region on 26 and 27 October allegedly damaged a nuclear waste facility. Drones targeted fewer Russian regions overall, and no drones made it to Russia’s capital for the second month in a row, although authorities intercepted one drone in the surrounding Moscow region. Further afield, suspected Ukrainian drones hit a missile production site in the Smolensk region as well as a helicopter pad and a fuel processing plant in the Krasnodar region.
Ukraine: Russia goes on the offensive again
Having weathered the Ukrainian counter-offensive since the beginning of June, Russia resumed its assault on the Ukrainian semi-encircled stronghold around Avdiivka north of Donetsk city on 10 October. The assault comes after Russian forces seemingly abandoned the effort in spring. Despite heavy losses in personnel and equipment,17White House, ‘Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard, and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby,’ 26 October 2023; Twitter @DefenceHQ, 4 November 2023 Russian forces advanced in areas north of Avdiivka and captured a waste heap overlooking a coke plant and a nearby Ukrainian supply route. Russia reportedly committed about 40,000 troops to the offensive, reminiscent of the drawn-out battle for Bakhmut.18The New Voice of Ukraine, ‘Ukrainians troops inflict massive losses on Russian forces near front-line Avdiivka, spokesman says,’ 29 October 2023 Another Russian target appears to be Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, which Ukrainian forces liberated in September 2022; the number of clashes there more than doubled compared to September and surpassed the previous peak in August. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces stepped up efforts to expand their foothold on the southern bank of the Dnipro river in the Russian-occupied part of the Kherson region, possibly in order to draw away Russia’s reserves from hotspots in the east. Russia responded with increased aerial bombardment and shelling of the area.
Russian forces launched at least 10 drone and missile strikes on Ukraine’s port infrastructure in October, continuing at a similar pace as in the previous month. By the end of October, traffic along the alternative route close to Ukrainian and Romanian shores on the Black Sea ground to a halt due to Russia reportedly airdropping explosives in the area.19Ukrainska Pravda, ‘Russian aircraft becomes more active near Black Sea grain corridor,’ 25 October 2023 Russia appeared to be hoarding long-range missiles ahead of the cold season to again bomb Ukrainian energy infrastructure. It nevertheless continued sending mostly kamikaze drones to areas further away from the frontlines almost every night, with the Ukrainian air force and other military infrastructure in the Cherkasy, Poltava, and Khmelnytskyi regions repeatedly targeted. A nuclear power plant in the latter region sustained minor damage in a Russian drone strike on 25 October.20International Atomic Energy Agency, ‘Update 190 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine,’ 25 October 2023
For more information, see the ACLED Ukraine Conflict Monitor.