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Regional Press Review (07 – 13 Jan)

RUSSIA

Russia and Germany are considering the development of joint vaccines.

  • Russian President and German Chancellor discussed cooperation on vaccine development during a telephone conversation, according to the Russian Government’s report. According to the statement “issues of cooperation in combating the coronavirus pandemic were discussed, with an emphasis on possible prospects for joint production of vaccines”. It said that the representatives of the two states agreed to maintain consultations through their health ministries and government agencies. So far, Russia and the EU have been on parallel paths in the growth, acceptance and development of vaccines. Moscow has created its own Covid-19 vaccine called Sputnik V, however it has not been approved for use by EU authorities. (Politico, January 5)

U.S. officials believe Russia is likely to be behind a major cyber-attack. 

  • U.S. intelligence officials have said that Russia is most probably to be behind the huge cyber-espionage operation discovered late last year, contradicting previous claims by President Trump, who downplayed the likelihood of Moscow’s interference. In a joint statement, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Service and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence characterized the reason behind the attacks as “an effort to gather intelligence” rather than for the purpose of data manipulation or other more disruptive efforts. (Financial Times, January 5)

U.S.— Department of Justice, federal court system damaged by Russian attack. 

  • The Justice Department and the federal judiciary system revealed  that they were among the hundreds of U.S. government departments and private companies targeted by a huge, months-long cyber-espionage operation that U.S. investigators have traced to elite Russian hackers. The extent of the damage was not clear. (Associated Press, January 6)

In 2020 NATO diverted about 350 Russian aircrafts. 

  • NATO reports that Russian military activity in the area of the alliance’s airspace has risen significantly this year as its jets rushed across Europe more than 400 times to accompany or overshadow unknown planes. In a statement, NATO declared that almost 90% or about 350 of these missions were linked to Russian military aircraft. “This is a moderate increase from 2019,” NATO said. “Russian military aircraft often do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, do not file a flight plan, or do not communicate with air traffic controllers, posing a potential risk to civilian airliners.” (Associated Press, January 8)

Navalny defines Trump’s prohibition on Twitter as a worrying ‘precedent.’ 

  • Exiled Russian leader of the opposition has blamed Twitter of a “an unacceptable act of censorship” by protesting against a complete ban on the incumbent U.S. president of the private social network after violence in Washington. Navalny, stated that “this precedent will be exploited by enemies of freedom of speech around the world.” (Radio Free Europe, January 10)

U.S. President-elect to name diplomat William Burns as CIA Chief. 

  • Joe Biden is continuing to move forward in his attempt to restructure the country’s intelligence services, declaring that he will appoint career diplomat William Burns as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Burns, a U.S. State Department veteran, has served as ambassador to Russia under former U.S. President George W. Bush and as deputy secretary of state under former President Barack Obama. (Voice of America, January 11)

Putin recommends Armenia and Azerbaijan to move towards ‘next steps’ after settlement. 

  • President Putin welcomed the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders at their first encounter since the peace settelment ended six weeks of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian President, Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev addressed the agreement reached last November. President Putin declared that the peace agreement “created the necessary basis for a long-term and full-format settlement of the old conflict.” (Deutsche Welle, January 11)

ARMENIA

Yerevan rejects Azeri criticism of Karabakh trip. 

  • Armenia has rejected Azerbaijan’s strong criticism of FM Ayvazian’s latest visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, stating that it did not run counter to the Russian-brokered ceasefire, as the truce agreement “does not place any restrictions on contacts between Armenia and Karabakh at various levels.” Aivazian visited the region on January 5, where he met with separatist “government officials” and signed a program of consultations. (Azatutyun January 7)

French, Armenian leaders again discuss Karabakh. 

  • President Macron and PM Pashinyan have again discussed the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, after a transport plane chartered by the French Government delivered more humanitarian aid to Arenian victims of the conflict. Macron pledged to support the ongoing efforts to allow the release of all prisoners and to support the economic development of Armenia. (Azatutyun January 7)

Facing criticism from Armenian Church, Pashinyan skips Christmas mass.

  • Facing criticism from the country’s dominant church over their handling of the war, PM Pashinyan and other key political members have stayed away from a Christmas service they were expected to attend in Yerevan on January 6. During the service, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church spoke about the war’s “disastrous consequences” and criticized the “destructive mistakes” made by Yerevan. A day before the mass, a group of opposition supporters declared they would try to block Pashinyan from entering the cathedral. (Radio Free Europe January 6)

Pashinyan and Aliyev meet for first time since war. 

  • President Putin hosted a trilateral meeting with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan on January 11 to discuss outstanding issues and implementation of the ceasefire agreementA trilateral agreement on the development of Karabakh” was signed by all three leaders, including economic and infrastructure projects. Aliyev called the conflict now “in the past,” while Pashinyan mentioned that the status of the territory still controlled by Armenian forces and the issue of POWs has yet to be solved, as he expressed desire to continue negotiations in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.  (OC Media January 11)

 AZERBAIJAN

Baku condemns Yerevan’s attempts to justify Armenian officials’ “illegal” visits to Karabakh. 

  • Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has protested Armenian FM Aivazian’s visit on January 5 to Nagorno-Karabakh region, calling it a provocation, contradictory to the November 10 peace deal, and “an attempt to incite tension.” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has “strongly condemned” Armenia’s justification for its “illegal” visit and accused Armenian officials of “creat[ing] illusions for themselves and do not draw conclusions from the new reality that exists in the region.” “These visits should be stopped. We warn that if such provocative steps are taken, Armenia will regret even more,” President Aliyev declared. (Today.az January 8)

Azerbaijan, Hungary eye educational cooperation. 

  • The Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the framework of the “Stipendium Hungaricum” program for 2021–2023 has been signed between Azerbaijan and Hungary. As part of the agreement, Azerbaijani citizens will be able to get scholarships in Hungary, and Azerbaijani youth will have the opportunity to study in Hungarian higher educational institutions. Azerbaijan will also provide 10 scholarships for Hungarian citizens. (Today.az January 7)

Azerbaijani President orders construction of airport in Fuzuli district back under Baku’s control.

  • President Aliyev has ordered the Government to build an international airport in Fuzuli, a district adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh that was placed under Baku’s control as part of the truce agreement. Aliyev wants the airport to be constructed by the end of 2021. Aliyev also declared Susa Azerbaijan’s cultural capital and announced plans to rehabilitate its historical buildings and organize cultural events in the city. (Radio Free Europe January 6)

BULGARIA

North Macedonia: Negotiations with Bulgaria intensify, in anticipation of exchange of proposals for an Action Plan. 

  • The Foreign Ministers of North Macedonia and Bulgaria will in the coming days exchange proposals on the Action Plan for the implementation of the 2017 Friendship Agreement, expecting to restore confidence and improve the dialogue between the two countries. Special Representative Buckovski will monitor the Action Plan. A Bulgarian MP has confirmed that there was a 12-point annex to the agreement which had negative positions on the identity of North Macedonia, and Macedonian MP Andonovski has accused the Bulgarian Government of negotiating the Macedonian language and identity in secret. (IBNA January 11)

GEORGIA

Georgian politicians’ express outrage about the attack on Capitol Hill and show solidarity for US democracy. 

  • The PM and President of Georgia voiced their worry about the incidents that took place at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC, but expressed faith in American democracy to defuse tensions. (Agenda.ge, January 7)

The Georgian FM reflects on the first foreign policy decision of the new Parliament. 

  • Georgian FM Zalkaliani reacted to the first resolution adopted by the current Georgian Parliament concerning the country’s foreign policy goals, saying that the adoption of the resolution is a ‘strong warning to all our partners regarding Georgia’s main priorities and objectives.’ The first resolution of the new parliament concerning the country’s foreign relations is in the full line with Georgia’s foreign policy strategic course. The resolution is a very clear message to our partners on Georgia’s foreign policy goals and reaffirms that Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration is irreversible,” Zalkaliani has stated. (Agenda.ge, January 7)

Billionaire Ivanishvili quits his role as leader of Georgia’s ruling party. 

  • Ivanishvili, Georgia’s wealthiest man and the leader of Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, has decided to step down from politics.  In a statement he declared to leave political activities for good as “my mission has been accomplished” after the Georgian Dream party won parliamentary elections in October 2020. “I deem my mission to have been accomplished. I have decided to completely withdraw from politics and let go of the reins of power. I am leaving my position as party chairman, as well as the party itself,” Ivanishvili declared, adding that in several weeks he will turn 65 years old, another factor in his decision. (Radio Free Europe, January 11)

ROMANIA

MFA on protests in Washington: Capitol Hill violence disquieting and unacceptable. 

  • The Romanian MFA have declared that “Capitol Hill violence is disquieting and unacceptable.” Deputy PM Barna compared the situation with Romania in the 1990s and considers it proof that “democracy in a country must be permanently and continuously defended and guarded by involvement and participation. USR PLUS Co-chair Cioloș called images from the U.S. “reminiscent of the ‘Miners’ Rampage’ in Romania and are a painful warning that excess and lack of balance in behavior and speech are dangerous for any country. PSD Leader Ciolacu also expressed concern, adding that “this is what happens when one individual wants all power and divides society” and criticizing talks of electoral fraud as a source of public division and disconent(Actmedia January 8)

Former PM Tăriceanu probed for alleged bribe from Austrian company. 

  • Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) has asked the General Prosecutor to notify President Iohannis for approving criminal investigation against former PM Tăriceanu. A similar request that was sent to the Parliament in 2018 was rejected, leading to criminal proceedings being carried out against the facts and other personsThe former PM is suspected of receiving material benefits worth $800,000 from an Austrian company during his mandate. (Romania Insider January 12)

TURKEY

Turkey calls on all parties in U.S. to use “common sense”. 

  • Reacting to scenes of supporters of U.S. President Trump storming the Capitol building, Turkey urged all parties in the U.S. to use moderation and common sense. Parliament Speaker Şentop added that we believe that problems will always be solved within law and democracy. As Turkey, we have always been in favor of the law and democracy and we recommend it to everyone.” (Hurriyet Daily News January 7)

Turkey, Albania upgrade ties to strategic partnership. 

  • Turkey and Albania signed an agreement to upgrade bilateral ties to a strategic partnership level on January 6. President Erdoğan highlighted the ties between the two countries, citing common experiences and a shared “stance on fighting FETÖ,” and announced plans to increase investments in infrastructure and tourism in Albania. The two countries signed a series of agreements in various fields, including health and medicine, education, and economy. (Hurriyet Daily News January 7)

Turkey ready to normalize relations with France: Turkish FM. 

  • Turkey and France are working on a roadmap to normalize ties, and FM Çavuşoğlu declared that talks are going well after he had had a “very constructive phone conversation” with French counterpart Le Drian. Çavuşoğlu stated that current tensions between the NATO allies stemmed from Paris “categorically” opposing Turkey since Turkey’s 2019 offensive into northeast Syria against the YPG group. (Hurriyet Daily News January 8)

Biden team wants better ties: Turkish presidential spokesperson. 

  • Turkey’s presidential spokesman has declared that President-elect Biden’s transition team wants to develop a good relationship with Ankara, adding that “Biden, while he served as Obama’s vice president, came to Turkey four times and knows the region.” The spokesperson underlined three main outstanding issues between Ankara and Washingtonthe U.S.’ support for YPG/PKK, its complacency against FETÖ, and the F-35 embargo against Turkey. (Hurriyet Daily News January 11)

Turkey launches probe into Facebook, WhatsApp data collection. 

  • The Turkish Competition Board has launched an investigation into WhatsApp, after the messaging app asked users to let Facebook collect user data including phone numbers and locationsruling that the requirement to allow the collection of that data should be suspended until the probe is complete. Following WhatsApp’s forced update in its privacy policy this week, users in Turkey have started to object to it on Twitter with the hashtag #DeletingWhatsapp. The Turkish Presidency called for WhatsApp users to switch to BiP and Dedi, drawing attention to the fact that foreign applications involve significant risks to data security. (Hurriyet Daily News January 11)

UKRAINE

Russia-Ukrainian conflict over Crimea extends into the United Nations Climate Conference. 

  • Hostilities between Ukraine and Russia have crossed over to the United Nations Climate Summit, with competing territorial statements emerging in a routine carbon accounting report. Ukraine’s domestic greenhouse gas reserve study reported that “the occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea and armed aggression by the Russian Federation” had contributed to a loss of sovereignty over 7% of Ukraine’s territories. “This complicates, and sometimes makes impossible, the process of data collection and reporting needed for the annual National GHG Inventory.” The report then detailed why it views Russia as an occupying power, citing UN resolutions and reports. (Climate Change News, January 7)

Ukraine Examines Audio Claiming to Show Plot to Murdering Journalist. 

  • Ukrainian officials are reviewing records and audio tapes that seem to show the plan to assassinate Pavel Sheremet, an investigative journalist who was killed in a car bomb. Ukrainian police confirmed that they had received documents and recordings from 2012 in which anonymous people discuss a plot to kill Sheremet. The recordings have been passed to an expert for analysis. (Voice of America, January 7)

Ambassador Yelchenko to represent Ukraine at Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

  • Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Volodymyr Yelchenko will attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on behalf of Ukraine. Due to the pandemic, only ambassadors who are already in Washington will represent foreign countries during the inauguration, Yelchenko declared. (Kyiv Post, January 12)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech leaders condemn Trump mob Washington rampage. 

  • Officials in Prague have condemned the storming of the Capitol building in Washington by supporters of President Trump. PM Babiš called the incident an unprecedented attack on democracy. President Zemanone of the few Eleaders to support Trump when he ran for office in 2016—stated that election results could not be overturned by force. FM Petříček stated that the robbery and violence at the U.S. Senate were not a good example for countries where democracy had not been fully established, also questioning where the police and Senate security had been when the attack took place. (Radio Prague International January 7)

Czech PM ditches Trump-inspired social media profile after Capitol assault. 

  • PM Babiš removed his red “Strong Czechia” hat—inspired by President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” cap—from his social media accounts on Thursday. Babiš had professed support for Trump and told him on a 2019 White House visit that he had “a similar plan to make the Czech Republic great again.” After calling the assault on the U.S. Capitol unacceptable, however, Babiš declared that he “deemed it fit” to express his stance also by changing his profile photo. (Euractiv January 7)

Trump’s actions while leaving office have been cowardly: Czech President. 

  • President Zeman called President Trump’s actions during the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week “cowardly.” Zeman declared that “Donald Trump did not acknowledge his defeat, did not learn a lesson, but even worsehe incited thousands of people outside the Capitol and eventually inside the Capitol,” accusing Trump of “indirectly causing the death of five people who were among his supporters.” On the other hand, Zeman opposes online censorship and the blocking of Trump’s Twitter account, and also praised Trump’s support for Israel. (Expats.cz January 10)

Pro-Trump, anti-COVID-19 restrictions rally marches through central Prague. 

  • Dozens of people demonstrated in the center of Prague on Friday to challenge the results of the U.S. presidential election, also protesting against government measures against the COVID-19 epidemic and the circumstances surrounding the recent death of a former Slovak police chief. The protesters carried Czech and American flags and chanted “Vote for Trump!” Some of the demonstrators wore a Star of David with the slogan “Not Vaccinated.” (Expats.cz January 9)

HUNGARY

Justice Minister: “A well-targeted blow expected” from Biden against Hungary, Poland. 

  • Justice Minister Varga has stated that “a well-targeted blow is expected from the American leader [Biden] to defend liberal democracy. “We could even call it comical that the press is proposing the use of American force against European countries. But we also know that, unfortunately, most politicians dread the power of the international liberal media and would rather follow their expectations if they want to remain popular in international politics,” Varga added, assuring that “the Hungarian people” would always defend Hungarian democracy against foreign attacks. (Hungary Today January 6)

Budapest BLM statue: sculptor believes his work might be destroyed. 

  • The kneeling rainbow-colored Statue of Liberty, a winning sculpture of the Ferencváros public art competition, is receiving threats of destruction before it has even been exhibited from many on the right who believe that it not be put on display due to its support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The artist declared that he foresaw the backlash. PMO Leader Gulyás declared that Black Lives Matter is a racist movement, and that the racists are those who place statues in its support, not the ones who destroy them. (Hungary Today January 8)

Orbán expresses condolences to families of those killed in U.S. Capitol riot. 

  • Commenting on the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, PM Orbán expressed his condolences to the families of those who were killed in the riot. Orbán stated that “we don’t like it when others put labels on us, therefore we won’t label other countries, either… We’re not going to interfere in what’s going on in America right now, that’s their own business. We’re rooting for them and hoping that they’ll succeed in solving their own problems.” The official added, however, that the left wing had “resorted to the use of violence in Hungary as well,” that they had “besieged the Parliament building” together with opposition politicians and that the building had to be protected by a police cordon. (Hungary Today January 8)

Justice Minister Varga concerned about Twitter locking Trump’s user account. 

  • Justice Minister Varga called the locking of President Trump’s user account by Twitter a reason for concern, stating that “private censorship has reached a new level and has struck in an unprecedented way” in what she calls “digital imperialism.” Varga criticized “how vulnerable we really are to global control of liberal social media.” (Hungary Today January 12)

POLAND

Polish ex-minister charged by Ukrainian prosecutors. 

  • Ukrainian prosecutors have brought charges of obstruction of justice against Sławomir Nowak, Poland’s Transport Minister from 2011 to 2013, who is suspected of masterminding a massive corruption scheme. Nowak was detained in July last year by Poland’s Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and charged with “managing an organized criminal group that benefited from corruption.” Three more suspects were detained in connection with the wide-ranging inquiry in September. Nowak could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. (Polskie Radio January 5)

Poland will not engage in U.S. political debate: President’s aide. 

  • Presidential Aide Szczerski has assessed that it would be inappropriate for the Polish authorities to engage in the political debate in the U.S.. stating that “mutual lecturing, which has become a habit of some politicians, is not good practice.” Szczerski added that attempts to create a similar crisis have also appeared in Poland, but that Poland’s democracy, Parliament, president, and Constitutional Tribunal have always emerged victorious from it. (Poland.IN January 8)

Poland believes in strength of U.S. democracy, says President. 

  • President Duda has stated that “Poland believes in the strength of American democracy” after the U.S. was rocked by the storming of the country’s Capitol building by supporters of President Trump on Wednesday. “The events in Washington are an internal affair of the United States, which is a democratic and law-abiding country,” President Duda declared, adding that the “government is subject to the will of the voters, and state and public security are monitored by appropriately appointed services. Poland believes in the strength of American democracy.” (The First News January 7)

SLOVAKIA

Čaputová: Scenes from the Capitol show how dangerous the rhetoric of hatred is. 

  • Officials in Slovakia have expressed their concerns over the events in Washington. President Čaputová stated that the scenes from the U.S. Capitol show how dangerous the “rhetoric of hatred” is, and expressed trust that democratic and peaceful process will be restored soon. FM Korčok expressed concern, adding that “this is the moment when democratic process and rule of law must be respected.” PM Matovič called the Capitol the symbol of democracy,” whose constitutional role must be respected as “this is what the rule of law is about.” (Slovak Spectator January 7)

SLOVENIA

Slovenian Government condemns attack on U.S. Capitol Building by Trump mob.

  • Slovenian officials expressed concern over the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, with President Borut Pahor condemning what he called an “attack on the symbol of U.S. democracy,” adding that “politicians must be aware of the consequences of our actions with full responsibility. We must be unitive and not disruptive. We must encourage tolerance, not hatred.” PM Janša also condemned the attacks and expressed hope that U.S. democracy would overcome the crisis.  The Foreign Ministry described the developments “an unacceptable attack on the pillar of American democracy, institutions and rule of law.” (STA January 7)

STA management states that Government conduct defeat of rule of law. 

  • STA management and staff have called the Government’s failure to transfer overdue public service payments as a defeat of the rule of law, accusing a decision to seek European Commission input as a delaying tactic meant to financially exhaust the agency. After the Government Communication Office suspended the monthly public service payment, the National Assembly passed a special amendment to the economic stimulus law stipulating that any overdue payments to STA must be made by January 7. Though the deadline has passed, STA has not received any payments. (The Slovenia Times January 9)

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