Regional Press Review (08-14 Apr)
U.S., NATO discuss need for Russia to cease military buildup near Ukraine.
- Secretary of State Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg have met to discuss “the immediate need for Russia to cease its aggressive military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea” on Monday. U.S., EU and U.K. leaders have
warned last week of “consequences” if Russia “acts recklessly or aggressively.” Fighting has escalated between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists in recent weeks, with Russia moving troops toward Ukraine’s borders and into Russian-occupied Crimea. The Kremlin has rejected Western calls to pull back its troops, calling military movements within Russia are an internal issue. (Radio Free Europe April 11; Reuters April 12)
Ukraine–Russia crisis must be resolved peacefully—Erdoğan.
Erdoğan called Saturday for a peaceful resolution of Ukraine’s tensions with Russia based on respect of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The following day, Russia announced that it will restrict flights to and from Turkey from April 15 to June 1, citing climbing COVID-19 cases in the country. (The Moscow Times April 12; Intellinews April 12)
Navalny’s treatment amounts to “targeted torture”—German lawmakers.
- Members of the German Bundestag have described Aleksei Navalny’s treatment as “targeted torture” and demanded the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to review the conditions of his detention, calling it “
incompatible” with the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture. (Radio Free Europe April 10)
EU claims Russia and China are thwarting international response to Myanmar crisis.
- As the death toll from a military crackdown climbed past 700, EU foreign policy chief Borrell expressed “no surprise” on April 11 that Russia and China were blocking efforts at the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo. Myanmar’s civilian government in exile on Friday called on other countries to halt arms sales and impose coordinated sanctions on the junta after it used SU-30 fighter jets supplied by Russia to conduct airstrikes that hit villages and schools. The U.S., Canada, U.K. and EU in March imposed sanctions on 11 military leaders, but Myanmar’s top sources of foreign investment, including China, Russia, Japan and neighboring Thailand, have declined to join the sanctions regime. (Nikkei Asia April 9; Euractiv April 12)
“Dark day” as Russian agents target prominent investigative journalist.
- The EU called on Russia to respect media freedom and uphold its international and domestic obligations after Russian security agents searched the home of prominent investigative journalist and Istories
editor-in-chief Roman Anin. (Radio Free Europe April 9; Delegation of the European Union to Russia April 11)
Government withdraws controversial bill on rights defender.
- The Government has withdrawn a bill that would allow it to cut state funding to Armenia’s office of the human rights ombudsman, declining to comment on its decision. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and Western human rights groups had criticized the bill before it was withdrawn. (Azatutyun April 9)
Armenian president objects to “unconstitutional” bill on
- President Sarkissian has refused to sign into law a Government-backed bill which Armenian opposition groups regard as a threat to judicial independence. Sarkissian also asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the package of amendments to several laws that would empower the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to intervene in trials by changing judges presiding over them, limit the number of petitions that can be filed by lawyers during court hearings, and allow citizens to file complaints against judges dealing with their cases. (Azatutyun April 12)
Armenian probe of “Syrian mercenaries” completed.
an law-enforcement has completed a criminal investigation into two Syrian men who were captured during last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh, allegedly as hired mercenaries. Armenia’s Investigative Committee reiterated on Monday they are mercenaries who were recruited to “terrorize civilians” in Karabakh and commit other war crimes, and has asked a prosecutor overseeing the probe to formally approve its findings and pave the way for their trial, where they are facing a string of criminal charges, including terrorism (Azatutyun April 12)
Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of breaking truce deal over prisoners’ release.
- Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of violating a key term of the Russian-brokered cease-fire deal by not freeing Armenian soldiers and civilians captured during the conflict, after a plane from Azerbaijan that was expected to bring 25 POWs on April 9 turned out to be empty when it landed in Yerevan. (Radio Free Europe April 9)
Watchdog calls on Russia to end information “black hole” in Nagorno-Karabakh.
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Russia to stop denying entry to foreign reporters in Nagorno-Karabakh, and is urging the United Nations and Council of Europe to ensure respect for the right to the freedom to inform and prevent the region from becoming a news and information “black hole.” Russian peacekeepers have denied entry to at least 10 foreign journalists since February. (Radio Free Europe April 9)
Bulgaria: Central Election Commission announced parties’ seats.
- The distribution of seats among the six political formations that have gained representation in the next National Assembly has been decided: GERB holds 75 seats, “There Is Such A People” 51 seats, the Socialist Party (BSP) 43 seats, the minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) 30 seats, the “Democratic Bulgaria” 27 seats and the coalition “Stand Up! Mafia, Get Out!” 14. 3,334,283 out of 6,789,605 registered voters went to the polls. The Central Election Commission withdrew six MRF and two GERB members from the list of elected MPs: Boyko Borissov and Pavlin Ganchev from GERB, and
Hasan Azis, Iskra Mihailova, Resmi Mehmed Murad, Desislava Dimitrova Todorova, Karolina Simeonov Koehler and Nikolay Tonev Kolev from MRF. (IBNA April 9)
Georgia in CoE annual penal statistics report.
- With 264 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants as of January 31, 2020, Georgia ranked third out of 47 Council of Europe (CoE) Member States regarding national incarceration rates, according to the CoE Annual Penal Statistics report. Georgia’s incarceration rate fell by a record 54.8% from 2010 to 2020, the highest reported drop among all surveyed countries. Drug offenses were the leading reason for convictions in Georgia comprising 26.2% of the total, followed by theft (19.6%), homicide and homicide attempts (11.9%), economic/financial offenses (11.0%), and robbery (10.6%). (civil.ge April 9)
President demands return of Georgian Ambassador to Ukraine.
- President Zurabishvili expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people and demanded the return of the Ambassador of Georgia to Ukraine on April 9, in a decision related to the appointment of former president Saakashvili as the Chairman of the Executive Committee for Reforms in Ukraine. It has been almost a year since Georgia recalled its ambassador from Ukraine for consultations. (Georgia Today April 9)
Villages under blockade after Government’s failed public outreach over energy project.
- After unsuccessful outreach to local opponents of the Namakhvani HPP project, the Government has erected police checkpoints blocking off the area and removing protest tents, with seven villages in the Rioni valley effectively under police blockade since April 3. On Monday, opponents of Namakhvani HPP tried to break through the police lines in the village of Gumati after their protest camp in Namakhvani was removed. The grassroots movement against the $800 million Namakhvani hydropower project gained national attention last year, finding support among a handful of rights groups and opposition political parties. (OC Media April 12)
Corneliu Furculiță: Maia Sandu sets a dangerous precedent.
- Given that two attempts to vote in a Government have failed, the Constitutional Court will examine President Sandu’s request to dissolve the Parliament on April 15. The Socialist Parliamentary Group stated that it will request international mediation should it be ruled that the Parliament be dissolved, despite there
being a PM candidate who is supported by a parliamentary majority. (IPN April 10)
Head-negotiator of Albania for accession to the EU received by the Romanian MFA.
- FM Aurescu
received on Friday the head-negotiator of the Republic of Albania for accession to the EU on his first foreign visit since taking up the position. Aurescu restated Romania’s firm support for the Albania’s accession and expressed full availability to offer expertise and assistance, as well as support for establishing the negotiation framework and organize the first intergovernmental conference between the EU and Albania and North Macedonia. (Actmedia April 12)
Economy Minister Năsui signs three agreements between Romania and Hungary.
- Minister of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism, Claudiu Năsui and his Hungarian counterpart signed three agreements between Budapest and Hungary on Friday. The first is a protocol for the operationalization of the Joint Committee, a structure through which to improve economic cooperation; the second is the agreement for the establishment of the Romania-Hungary Bilateral Chamber of Commerce, a structure through which the Romanian and Hungarian business environments can improve; the third is the agreement on the Satu Mare–Oar and Mateszalka–
Csenger express roads. (Actmedia April 12)
Von der Leyen, Michel seek way forward after “sofa-gate” tensions.
- On April 12, EU chiefs von der Leyen and Michel held their first talks since “sofa-gate”, a diplomatic gaffe in Turkey that saw von der Leyen left without a chair at talks with male counterparts Michel and President Erdoğan that snowballed into a scandal that has sparked allegations of sexism, intensified jockeying between EU institutions, and threatened to derail efforts to mend ties with Turkey. The two EU chiefs met on Tuesday with heads of the European Parliament’s political groupings to discuss the issue of the EU international standing. (Euractiv April 13)
Canada blocks defense exports to Turkey over transfer of drones to
- Canada has halted some military exports to Turkey on April 12, after a probe confirmed Canadian drone technology was used by Azerbaijan in last year’s fighting with Armenia. Canada had already suspended military export permits to Turkey last October, pending an investigation into allegations. Turkey has urged Canada to review the defense embargo. (Radio Free Europe April 12; Hurriyet Daily News April 12)
Turkey’s Halkbank urges end of U.S. prosecution alleging Iran sanctions violations.
- A lawyer for Halkbank told a U.S. appeals court on Monday that the state-owned Turkish lender was immune from U.S. prosecution, and that an indictment accusing it of helping Iran evade American sanctions should be dismissed as the bank was “synonymous” with Turkey for purposes of immunity. Halkbank has been accused of bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges over its alleged use of money servicers and front companies in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to evade sanctions. (Reuters April 13)
Blinken to return to Brussels for talks on Ukraine, Afghanistan.
- U.S. Secretary of State Blinken will return to Brussels this week, joined by Defense Secretary Austin, for discussions on Iran, Afghanistan, and Russian activities directed at Ukraine. Kyiv has raised the alarm over a buildup of Russian forces and a rise in violence along the line of contact separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Donbas. President Putin accused Ukraine on Friday of “dangerous provocative actions” in the region. (Euractiv April 12)
Ukraine’s leader requests a talk with Putin, gets no answer.
- President Zelensky has asked for a phone call with President Putin about the Russian troop buildup across his country’s border and the escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine, but the request has not been answered so far. The request was lodged on March 26, when four Ukrainian troops were killed in a mortar attack in the east of Ukraine. (AP News April 12)
European Broadcasting Union concerned about developments in Czech TV.
- The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has warned about increasing political pressure on public broadcaster Czech Television, after the shortlist for the next Council election on April 13 featured only candidates with political affiliations to the ruling party. The EBU urged the Parliament to ensure independence of the broadcaster. (Expats.cz April 11)
Foreign Minister Petříček dismissed from office.
- President Zeman dismissed FM Petříček from office on Monday at the request of the Social Democratic Party, with Deputy PM Hamáček temporarily taking over the portfolio until a successor is found. Petříček unsuccessfully challenged Hamáček for the top party post at the Social Democratic Party’s election conference last weekend. (Radi
o Prague International April 12)
German and Hungarian governments at odds over Petry dismissal.
- After a German soccer team dismissed coach Zsolt Petry for his comments on immigration and criticism of rainbow families, PM Orbán criticized the “suppressive politics” of liberal politics in Europe, with his Office describing the dismissal as an infringement on the rule of law and stating that Hungary does not want “another totalitarian regime in Germany after the Nazis.” The German MFA has criticized the statements as “in no way comprehensible” and rejected
the references to National Socialism. (Hungary Today April 9)
Orbán-friendly owner gets Hungary independent radio frequency.
- The Government-
critical Klubradio station attracted international attention when it was forced off the air in February, and has been broadcasted online since it lost a court appeal to keep its broadcasting license. On March 30, the NMHH media regulator awarded the disputed 92.9FM radio frequency to Spirit FM, whose owner is allied to PM Orbán, despite ongoing legal proceedings over it. (Euractiv April 12)
Warsaw court blocks takeover of Polish regional media by state-owned Orlen.
- A Warsaw district court sided with the Ombudsman and suspended the takeover of Polska Press by PKN Orlen, a company that acquired it last December and whose CEO is known to be close to the Law and Justice (PiS) leadership. (Balkan Insight April 12)
Government establishes strategic council for digitalization.
- The Slovenian government has established a strategic council for digitalization as an advisory body that will propose concrete measures and legal acts in the field of digitalization. The first task for the body, headed by Mark Boris Andrijanič of Uber, is to draft a framework proposal for the necessary systemic changes to facilitate digitalization of the economy, public sector, and state administration. (STA April 10)
CoE report puts Slovenia among countries with most crowded prisons.
- The latest Council of Europe (CoE) report on penal statistics found that Slovenia had 109 prisoners per 100 prison beds in 2020, making it one of the CoE Member States with the most crowded prisons; Turkey led the ranking with 127 prisoners per 100 beds. Slovenia fared much better in terms of the number of persons imprisoned per 100,000 residents and other indicators. (STA April 8)
Slovenian leaders deny calling for “dissolution” of Bosnia.
- Slovenian Ambassador Bukinac has been summoned to the Bosnian Foreign Ministry for consultations, after Bosnian media reported that PM Janša is sending the EU a non-paper on re-writing of borders in the Western Balkans. Janša has denied the claims, and the Slovenian Foreign Ministry stated that the only non-paper on the Western Balkans that Slovenia had joined was Croatia’s, last year. (Balkan Insight April 12; IBNA April 12)
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