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#Newsletter Exclusive / True Story Project

Regional Press Review (01 – 06 Jan)

RUSSIA

The Russian authorities are conducting a new criminal investigation against Navalny. 

  • Russian officials have raised pressure on Navalny, raising new allegations of bribery and jail threats. Russia’s largest investigating agency announced that it has opened a new court prosecution to Navalny on grounds of bribery relating to the suspected mishandling of $5 million in contributions to the Anti-Corruption Foundation and other organizations. (CNN, December 29)

Russia detains an ex-energy director for spy for Moldova. 

  • Russian authorities sentenced the former president of state energy holding firm Inter RAO to 15 years in prison. Tsurkan was convicted for spy for the former Soviet Republic of Moldova in a closed-door courtroom. In addition, the decision of the Moscow City Court ordered $8.9 million recovered from Turcan to be turned over to the state revenue. “Discs and laptops confiscated from the convicted woman should be transferred to the [Russian security and intelligence service] FSB for safekeeping,” reported TASS. (Deutsche Welle, December29)

President Putin struggles to sell Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine.

  • Russia accuses the West of ridiculing its successes in the global race to beat Covid-19 as efforts to gain crucial markets for the Sputnik V vaccine run contrary to the requests of regulators. “We understand the game,” Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed Sputnik V’s development and negotiates its international roll-out, declared in an interview. “It’s a combination of some misunderstanding, some strong bias and, really, some very strong efforts to undermine the Russian vaccine.” (Bloomberg, December 31)

Russia’s ‘Info Warrior’ allow the Kremlin play Inexpensive World affairs. 

  • Moscow, with its increasing cyber capability, continues to be undeterred by Western sanctions and other countermeasures.  The sprawling SolarWinds hack by alleged Russian state-sponsored attackers is the most recent indication of Moscow’s rising determination and strengthened technological potential to cause chaos and global espionage in cyberspace. The hack, which exposed portions of the U.S. government, as well as tech firms, hospitals and universities, contributes to a series of highly complex and increasingly frantic internet interferences, showing how cyber operations have become a central element in Russia’s conflict with the West, experts and officials claim. (The Wall Street Journal, January 2)

Biden Intends Renewed Nuclear Negotiations With Russia.

  • President-elect Biden, incoming national security advisor, reported that the incoming government would act swiftly to negotiate the last remaining major nuclear weapons deal with Russia, while trying to get President Putin to pay for what seemed to be the biggest hacking of US government networks. (The New York Times, January 3)

ARMENIA

Armenian PM calls for new elections in 2021. 

  • PM Pashinyan announced that extraordinary parliamentary elections will be held in 2021, with the date to be decided following consultations with opposition forces. Acts of civil disobedience continue in the capital calling for snap elections and for Pashinyan’s resignation, including roadblocks, public sit-ins, and protests. (OC Media December 26)

Armenian PM prioritizes closer ties with Russia. 

  • PM Pashinyan has announced plans to further deepen Armenia’s relations with Russia, stating that the country needs “new security guarantees” after the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The vast majority of Armenian opposition forces, including the formerly pro-Western Bright Armenia Party (LHK), also support closer ties with Russia as the only realistic way to counter Azerbaijan’s military alliance with Turkey: last week, LHK leader Marukian called for the opening of a second Russian military base in Armenia. Former President Kocharian also stated that in 2020, Moscow and Yerevan “became fully convinced of the significance of friendly, allied relations between our countries.” (Azatutyun January 1)

Russia allocates $12 million for Karabakh refugees. 

  • Russia has allocated €10 million in financial assistance to the thousands of ethnic Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh who fled to Armenia during the recent war. Russia’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergencies announced that it has sent more than 1,500 tons of construction materials, household appliances and other relief supplies so far. (Azatutyun January 1)

 AZERBAIJAN

Armenian, Azeri security chiefs meet in Moscow. 

  • The heads of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), Azerbaijan’s State Security Service, and Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have met in Moscow to discuss the implementation of the Russian-brokered agreement to stop the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The three men discussed “a number of pressing issues, including the exchange of prisoners and the search for missing persons.” (Azatutyun December 30)

Azerbaijan kicks off gas exports to Russia-dominated European market. 

  • On December 31, Azerbaijan started pumping commercial natural gas supplies to Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria via the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), a segment of the Southern Gas Corridor that took more than $30 billion and seven years to build. Azerbaijan already supplies gas to Turkey, and aims to supply European gas markets with 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Azerbaijan state energy company SOCAR has also signed a long-term contract with the Belarus Oil Company. (Radio Free Europe December 31)

Leaders obreakaway Nagorno-Karabakh reject Azerbaijani claims of deadly attack. 

  • Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto authorities have rejected Azerbaijan’s claims regarding one of its servicemen being killed and another wounded in a December 28 attack by six members of “an illegal Armenian armed group” in Agdam. The ethnic Armenian military in Nagorno-Karabakh rejected the report as a “propaganda provocation,” declaring that it was “strictly observing” the cease-fire. (Radio Free Europe December 28)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria: Manolova and Poisonous Trio will run for election together. 

  • Maya Manolova and Nikolay Hadzhigenov have signed an agreement to run together for the parliamentary elections next year, securing the partnership between the Stand up.BG platform and the Poisonous Trio. The new union has not yet specified the name of the party they will register underManolova listed ensuring fair parliamentary elections as a main goal of the union. (Novinite December 29)

Russia orders Bulgarian diplomat to leave in tit-for-tat move. 

  • The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the assistant to Bulgaria’s military attaché had been declared “persona non-grata” in response to the “unjustified” removal of a Russian diplomat on December 18 after prosecutors alleged that he had been involved in espionage since 2017in the sixth case of a Russian Embassy official in Sofia being expelled for suspected espionage since October 2019. (Radio Free Europe December 28)

Bulgaria’s President sets the election date28 March. 

  • President Radev has begun consultations on holding fair, transparent, and safe parliamentary elections with the Minister of Health and other medics this weekThe elections will take place on March 28. (Novinite January 5)

GEORGIA

The Supreme Council of Adjara recognizes the new old Government of the region. 

  • On 25 December, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, confirmed the new old Government led by Tornike Rizhvadze, consisting of four officials, all of whom maintained their seats. All 14 ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party legislators voted in support of Rizhvadze’s government, while a sole opposition representative, Irakli Chavleishvili, voted against. Lately, he quit the boycotting Republican Party, part of the Unified National Movement-led Unity Strength bloc, to join the Supreme Council. Just 11 votes were required by the Government to pass the vote of confidence. (Civil.geDecember 25)

Deoccupation, EU, NATO cooperation are the main priorities in the settlement of parliamentary foreign policy. 

  • Occupation ‘by diplomatic means and with the assistance of the global community,’ the preservation of national sovereignty and the graceful resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons are main foreign policy priorities of Georgia according to the resolution adopted by the Georgian Parliament. “Georgia will continue its pragmatic and principled policy with the Russian Federation, based on state interests and fundamental norms of international law” the resolution reads. It also states that ‘the aim of this policy’ is to terminate the Russian occupation, fully restore Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to reinforce peace, security and stability in the region. (Agenda.ge, December 27)

President Putin nominates a novel border demarcation representative to Georgia and its Russian-occupied areas.

  • Russian President has named Mikhail Petrakov as special representative for border delimitation and demarcation with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members, as well as Georgia and its Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia)In response, the Georgian FM declared that no border delimitation and demarcation between Georgia and Russia can be raised on the agenda as long as Russia occupies Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia. (Agenda.ge, January 3)

MOLDOVA

Romania’s President is offering more support to Moldova. 

  • Romania will expand a new assistance program to the Republic of Moldova, including 200,000 doses of anti-COVID vaccine, President Iohannis reported during his latest official visit to the neighboring region. Romanian President is the first head of state to visit Moldova since Maia Sandu, a pro-European, was elected president of the country in November. “I am pleased to be the first guest received by president Maia Sandu, after taking office. It is a confirmation of the special relationship between Romania and the Republic of Moldova, based on the community of language, culture, and history and based on the Strategic Partnership for European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, from whose signing we celebrated ten years in April 2020,” President Iohannis declared in his joint press conference with Moldovan President. (Romanian Insider, December 29)

Moldova’s Maia Sandu: ‘I want to be the president of European integration’

  • In an exclusive conversation with Deutsche Welle, the current president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, speaks about battling corruption and striving to get closer to Europe. When I said that I wanted to be President of European integration, I was speaking about the normality that people desire. People in Moldova aspire to live in a multicultural state where no one is punished for their political views, Moldovan President declared. (Deutsche Welle, December 30)

ROMANIA

Members of Cîţu Government take oath of office. 

  • The members of the Government led by PM Cîţu have taken the oath of office on December 23. President Iohannis spoke briefly at the ceremony: “The Romanian citizens were promised a restructuring of the state, important reforms in domains such as healthcare, education, important reforms in the large public systems, reduction of bureaucracy, but also short-term objectives—the efficient combating of the pandemic.” Iohannis finished his remarks by prompting the Government to “Get to work!” (Actmedia December 24) 

Romania’s President promises more help for Moldova, including 200,000 doses of anti-COVID vaccine.

  • Romania will extend a new support package to the Republic of Moldova, including a €100 million non-reimbursable grant, 200,000 doses of COVID vaccines, 6,000 tons of diesel fuel, and Romanian State support of over €250,000 for Moldovan NGOs and independent media. Romania’s support also includes cooperation in the anti-corruption and justice area, and in education. The two countries will also continue the joint interconnection projects in energy, road and rail infrastructure, and communications. (Romania Insider December 29)

TURKEY

Turkey: Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov meet in Sochi. 

  • Russian FM Lavrov and Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu met on December 29 to prepare for the RussiaTurkey Cooperation Council summit. FM Çavuşoğlu called for the restoration of Russian visa requirements for Turkish citizens and for increased exports of Turkish goods to Russia. FM Lavrov praised Turkey’s determination to continue military co-operation despite sanctions that he described as “promot[ing] the interests of American industry through unfair methods.” The two officials announced that the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and the TurkStream gas pipeline will be completed on time, agreed to jointly produce the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, and also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh agreement and joint monitoring center. (IBNA December 29)

Serbia opens RussianTurkish gas project portion. 

  • Serbian President Vučić opened a portion of a Russian gas project running through his country on January 1 and hailed it as key for the security of its energy supply. The 250-mile-long stretch from eastern Serbia to Hungary’s border is part of the TurkStream pipeline, which supplies Russian natural gas to Turkey and Central Europe. Though the Balkan section of TurkStream was built across Bulgarian territory, Bulgarian PM Borissov shunned the ceremony in Serbia and instead attended the construction of the GreeceBulgaria interconnector (IGB), which is expected to deliver Azeri gas from the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). (Euractiv January 1)

UKRAINE

Energy Ministry appreciated the US Congress for rejecting the development of Nord Stream 2. 

  • Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy is thankful to the U.S. Government and its agencies for their continued support of Ukraine’s energy sector and for their clear stance to encourage Ukraine in maintaining its own energy independence and the region as a whole, as reflected in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The U.S. House of Representatives authorized the Defense Reform Bill offering financial aid to Ukraine and penalties for engaging in the building of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream gas pipelines. Sanctions will still occur if these pipeline companies change their name or are replaced by another. (Ukrinform, January 4)

Commerce between Ukraine and China is expected to set a new record.

  • The Embassy of Ukraine in China expects that bilateral trade will hit a new record according to the 2020 results. The press service of the embassy announced this on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the foundation of diplomatic relations between the two states. “Over the years, relations between Ukraine and China have reached a level of strategic partnership. China confidently ranks first among Ukraine’s largest trading partners. In 2019, trade between our countries amounted to USD 13 billion. According to the results of 2020, its volume should set a new record,” the report reads. (Ukrinform, January 4)

HUNGARY

Hungary cools on Russian COVID jab, scolds EU on vaccines. 

  • PM Orbán has announced that Hungary is unlikely to use Russia’s coronavirus vaccine due to its limited production capacity, calling the Chinese vaccine “more promising.” Hungary was the first European country to receive test samples of the Russian vaccine in November. Orbán has criticized the EU’s “slow” vaccine acquisition pace, and stated that Hungary will “look after the eastern relations contact network, as Brussels is not doing that…, that is why it is better to stand on two legs.” Hungary sidestepped the EU’s coordinated approach to vaccinations, administering the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine a day before the EU’s joint start. (Euractiv January 4)

POLAND

Fifth Polish shop in the Netherlands rocked by explosion. 

  • A Polish supermarket in Tilburg was hit by an explosion on January 4, with no reported injuries. This is the fifth in a spate of blasts in Polish shops run by Kurdish entrepreneurs in the Netherlands that began on December 8, when two shops in Aalsmeer and in Heeswijk-Dinther were targetedThree of the stores are owned by the same family, and the police have declared that the explosions are probably related. (Poland.IN January 4)

EU conditionality mechanism should be checked by Constitutional Court.

  • Zbigniew Ziobro, the Polish Justice Minister, General Prosecutor, and leader of the junior coalition Solidarity Poland (SP) Party, announced that he will apply to check whether the mechanism linking EU funds with the rule of law is in line with the Polish constitution. The SP Party has been opposing the ordinance from the beginning. (Poland.IN January 5)

Russia strengthens its military forces near Polish border.

  • Moscow has been strengthening its military forces in the region of the Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea coast. In 2019, Smerch rocket artillery was deployed to replace the older Grad systems as a “response to the strengthening of NATO forces in the Baltic States.” Moscow modernized its mechanized troops in the region in 2020, with the army corps of the Baltic Fleet receiving 30 T-72B3M upgraded tanks, an assault vessel, and Su-30SM new multi-task fightersIn September 2020, the Russians started modernizing the base of the Baltic Fleet in Baltiysk on the Vistula Spit. In 2021, Moscow will deploy supersonic Bastion systems in the area. (Poland.IN January 5)

SLOVENIA

Stimulus bill amendment secures STA funding. 

  • The National Assembly has voted in favor of a last-minute amendment to the latest economic stimulus bill that the Modern Center Party (SMC) coalition tabled to reinstate the public financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), stipulating that the STA must receive all due financing for its provision of public service. The amendment was endorsed by the center-left opposition and by seven of the eight SMC MPs. PM Janša expressed opposition to the move on Twitter, using the hashtag #Zimbabwe and labeling the amendment as “a pinnacle of the rule of law.” (STA December 30)

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