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ACLED Regional Overview: Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia (23 - 29 July 2022)

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Last week in Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia, the Russian military invasion of Ukraine continued, while over 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed during an explosion at a prison building in occupied Donetsk. Incidents of cross-border shelling and railway sabotage continued in Russia. In the Netherlands, farmers' protests resumed following a brief lull in activity. Demonstrations against the prison conditions for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) prisoners were staged in both France and Spain. Meanwhile, ceasefire violations increased on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Line of Contact.

In Ukraine, fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continued in the eastern and southern regions of the country last week. Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Donetsk region, where ACLED records almost half of all political violence last week. Territorial gains of Russian forces in the region were limited last week, with Russia gaining control over locations close to Svitlodarsk, including the Vuhlehirsk thermal power plant (Espresso TV, 27 July 2022).

Russian forces also continued to target civilian infrastructure with shelling, airstrikes, and missile attacks last week, killing dozens of civilians in the Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Sumy regions. Meanwhile, new reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian forces in July surfaced last week, including the rape and killing of nine women and girls in Luhansk and Melitopol (24 Channel, 27 July 2022; Unian, 27 July 2022). Additionally, a video of Russian soldiers castrating and then executing a captive Ukrainian soldier circulated online last week, revealing that male prisoners of war have also faced sexual violence during the conflict (Washington Post, 30 July 2022). The actual extent of Russian sexual violence in Ukraine is likely much higher than that which has been reported, but the details of these events remain difficult to verify (Democracy Now, 9 June 2022).1

Additionally, over 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and over 100 wounded in an explosion at a prison building in occupied Olenivka in the Donetsk region last week (ISW, 1 August 2022; Suspilne Media, 30 July 2022).2 The building housed around 2,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war, including soldiers of the Azov Battalion who surrendered to Russian forces in Mariupol in May (New York Times, 1 August 2022). Ukrainian and international sources have blamed Russian forces, potentially with the involvement of the government-linked militants from the Wagner Group, for the explosion either by a precision strike or an internally planted explosive (ISW, 1 August 2022). Ukraine alleges that the attack was meant to cover up the torture of prisoners, hide the embezzlement of funds from the Russian chain of command, and disrupt the supply of weapons to Ukraine by discrediting Ukrainian forces (ISW, 29 July 2022). While Russia claims that the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian rocket attack, international experts believe that the Russian version of events is inconsistent with the available visual evidence (ISW, 1 August 2022).

In Russia, authorities of border regions reported shelling by Ukrainian forces in Alekseevka, Kursk region and Mayskiy, Belgorod region, as well as an airstrike on a border checkpoint in the Bryansk region (Kommersant, 25 July 2022; Kommersant, 29 July 2022; Meduza, 26 July 2022). According to the governor of the Bryansk region, Russian and Ukrainian forces also exchanged cross-border fire near the village of Sachkovichi (Kommersant, 29 July 2022). Moreover, train derailments were reported in the Republic of Kalmykia and Bashkortostan after unidentified individuals damaged railway tracks in suspected acts of sabotage aimed at disrupting the movement of Russian military equipment to Ukraine (RFE/RL, 25 July 2022; Activatica, 29 July 2022). Violence associated with the war in Ukraine contributed to the 136% increase in violence in Russia in the past month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED's Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

Russian police broke up an anti-war demonstration in Moscow, while rallies in support of Ukraine and against the war were recorded in Armenia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Farmer protests against the government's plans to cut nitrogen emissions resurfaced in the Netherlands last week following a lull the week prior, mainly in the form of roadblock demonstrations across the country. Heaps of hay and garbage were erected and burned, causing traffic problems on several major highways. Moreover, around 3,000 people, including farmers, fishermen, truckers, and other sympathizers of the farmer protest, gathered at the call of the anti-government group Nederland In Verzet and staged a protest at the Dam in Amsterdam to denounce the Dutch cabinet's agricultural policy (De Telegraaf, 23 July 2022). Farmers also demonstrated in Flemish Belgium against the Flemish government's plans to cut nitrogen emissions in the agricultural sector. Farmers' working conditions also triggered protests in Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain last week.

In France, the Peacemakers (Artisans de la Paix) and Bake Bidea organizations led blockades in the Basque country after the public prosecutor's office in Paris refused to request the release on parole of two 70-year-old Basque prisoners, who have been incarcerated for 32 years (La Croix, 23 July 2022). Similarly, Sare Herritarra members staged a demonstration in Spain to demand the end of a special penitentiary policy applied to ETA prisoners and to celebrate the repatriation of 11 Basque prisoners from prisons outside the Basque country.

Along the Armenia-Artsakh-Azerbaijan Line of Contact, the number of ceasefire violations increased last week. Additionally, one Azerbaijani serviceman was injured in a landmine explosion in the Shahumyan (Kalbajar) region. These trends contribute to the 200% increase in violence in Azerbaijan over the past week relative to the past month that is flagged by ACLED's Conflict Change Map.