Europe and Central Asia

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2022 will be remembered in Europe and Central Asia as the year Russia led a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, committing war crimes and potential crimes against humanity, and sparking the biggest movement of refugees in Europe since World War II. Russia’s use of unlawful siege tactics, attacks on energy infrastructure and civilian property left thousands of civilians killed, injured and suffering severe privation.

Almost 7 million people were displaced within Ukraine, 5 million fled to Europe and 2.8 million left for Russia and Belarus. The welcome shown to those arriving in the EU was striking, but discriminatory at times, as it did not include some categories of people fleeing Ukraine such as Black people, non-nationals with temporary residency permits, and some Roma people, who faced particular obstacles accessing protection. Generous reception of most people from Ukraine stood in sharp contrast to the often violent rejection and abuse of refugees and migrants at Europe’s external borders. This double standard revealed the racism inherent in EU external border policy and practice. Many European countries also introduced severe travel restrictions against Russian citizens, many of whom sought to flee mobilization.

The socio-economic impact of the war reverberated worldwide, with many in the Global South hit hard by disruption of grain and fertilizer exports. European countries saw huge spikes in energy prices. By the end of the year, many European countries had cost of living crises and record inflation, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. Moldova saw inflation rise above 30%, and Türkiye, above 64%. Moves to tackle the climate crisis were blunted by efforts to avoid dependence on Russia’s oil and gas.

The war fostered the reconfiguration of politics in the broader region. Belarus largely aligned its foreign and military policy with Moscow and shared responsibility for Russia’s act of aggression. There and in Russia, the war meant more repression, increasing hardship, and more international isolation, symbolized by Russia’s expulsion from the Council of Europe and suspension from the UN Human Rights Council. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flared up anew as Russia’s peacemaker role waned.

The war and Russia’s policy also destabilized the Western Balkans, as Serbia’s conflict with Kosovo threatened to escalate. An indirect consequence was a shift in EU enlargement policy, with the EU granting “conditional” candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite its failure to meet accession criteria. The EU also gave the nod to Ukraine and Moldova to begin accession negotiations, but not to Georgia, where reforms stalled or regressed.

With regard to international and regional human rights mechanisms, Russia’s veto powers often paralysed the OSCE and also the UN Security Council and relegated these organizations to the role of helpless observers of the conflict. The ICC however acted with unprecedented swiftness, announcing an investigation into the situation in Ukraine on 2 March.

Overall, Russia’s war in Ukraine exacerbated the negative human rights trends of previous years by fuelling insecurity and inequality; this in turn gave a fillip to authoritarian forces and provided a pretext for further clampdowns on basic freedoms. These same forces were emboldened to articulate and often implement racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic agendas. Vicious crackdowns on protesters in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan were emblematic of authorities’ continuing use of excessive force.

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