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ACLED Regional Overview: Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia (17 - 23 September 2022)

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Last week in Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia, Russia announced a 'partial' mobilization ahead of 'referendums' in occupied territories of Ukraine amid the ongoing military invasion of Ukraine. News of the mobilization drove an increase in demonstration activity in Russia and other European countries. Fighting continued at lower levels along the Armenia-Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan borders compared to the week prior. Meanwhile, the death of an Iranian woman held in custody by Iran's 'morality police' sparked demonstration activity across Europe. Demonstrations against climate change and rising costs of living were also recorded across the region.

In Ukraine, fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continued in the eastern and southern regions of the country last week. Following the de-occupation of most of the Kharkiv region the week prior, Ukrainian forces advanced in the Luhansk region and in the area of Lyman in the Donetsk region (KyivPost, 22 September 2022; ISW, 23 September 2022). These trends contribute to the 160% increase in violent events in the Luhansk region last week relative to the weekly average for the preceding month flagged by ACLED's Subnational Surge Tracker; the tool also warned of increased violence in the region during the preceding four weeks. Ukrainian forces also destroyed several Russian command posts and ammunition warehouses in the Kherson region.

Russian forces continued to launch shelling and airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure along the frontline, killing over 40 civilians last week.1 At least three more civilians were killed and 13 were wounded in landmine explosions in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions.

Meanwhile, on 21 September, a prisoner exchange took place between Ukraine and Russia. Russia returned 215 prisoners of war to Ukraine, including soldiers of the Azov Battalion captured in Mariupol in May and foreign soldiers sentenced to death by Russian-led rebel forces in Donetsk (Government Portal of Ukraine, 22 September 2022; Suspilne Media, 22 September 2022). In exchange, Ukraine returned 55 Russian soldiers and the former parliamentary leader of a banned, pro-Russian party (Reuters, 22 September 2022).

Separately, Russia launched so-called 'referendums' on 23 September in four occupied regions to join Russia, namely Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia. The 'referendums' are widely seen as an illegitimate pretense to annex the regions, with many foreign leaders claiming they will not recognize the results (DW, 28 September 2022). According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces banned people from leaving occupied areas during the four-day vote, collected people's votes at their homes while armed, recorded the names of those who voted against joining, and threatened employees with losing their jobs if they did not participate (Reuters, 24 September 2022; BBC, 27 September 2022).

In Russia, nationwide demonstrations erupted on 21 September in response to the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin of a 'partial' mobilization to fill the ranks of Russian forces in Ukraine (TV Rain, 21 September 2022). While 'hidden mobilization' has been occurring for months, the Kremlin has announced its intent to draft 300,000 soldiers, with opposition outlets claiming it plans to conscript more than a million men (ISW, 23 September 2022). Anti-mobilization demonstrations announced by Russian opposition movement Vesna took place in dozens of towns, with police dispersing demonstrations and arresting demonstrators and journalists. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, police beat people with rubber batons and, in one instance, broke a protester's arm during their arrest (OVD Info, 21 September 2022; OVD Info, 22 September 2022). Some detained demonstrators received conscription notices upon arrival at police stations (TV Rain, 22 September 2022). In the two days following the mobilization announcement, six military recruitment offices and four administration buildings were set on fire by unidentified arsonists in different regions (Activatica, 22 September 2022; Activatica, 23 September 2022).

Meanwhile, pro-government rallies were organized across the country on 23 September in support of the Russian 'referendums' in occupied Ukrainian regions. In dozens of cities, students reported having been pressured to take part in the rallies by university administrations (Meduza, 23 September 2022).

Elsewhere, demonstrations against the mobilization in Russia were held in several European countries last week. The rallies, many organized by Russians living abroad, took place in Cyprus, Finland, Norway, Serbia, and Sweden. Demonstrations in solidarity with Ukraine also took place in Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy.

Along the Armenia-Azerbaijan Line of Contact, ceasefire violations continued almost daily, however, at a lower level than the week prior. At least one Armenian serviceman was wounded as a result of Azerbaijani fire in the Syunik region of Armenia.

Fighting also decreased along the disputed border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last week compared to the week prior. Despite a ceasefire agreement between the two countries (DW, 16 September 2022), shelling and battles took place in the Batken and Osh regions of Kyrgyzstan and the Lakhsh district of Tajikistan on 17 September. The violence contributed to the 33% increase in violent events in Kyrgyzstan last week relative to the weekly average for the preceding month. ACLED's Conflict Change Map warned of increased violence in the country during the preceding four weeks.

The death of Mahsa Amini in Iran sparked demonstration activity across Europe last week. The 22-year-old ethnic-Kurd-Iranian woman died on 16 September in custody, after being arrested by Iran's 'morality police' for not wearing her *hijab *according to the country's law (BBC, 16 September 2022). Members of the Iranian community and women gathered in Belgium, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom to protest against the Iranian government and express support for ongoing demonstrations in Iran following Amini's death.

Meanwhile, climate demonstrations were held in Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden to coincide with the Global Climate Strike organized on 23 September by the Fridays for Future movement.

Demonstration activity linked to rising living costs, inflation, and energy prices also continued to take place across the region last week, with protests recorded in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.