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Regional Press Review (11 – 17 Feb)

RUSSIA

The company guilty of a massive arctic oil spill fined €1.6bn. 

  • Last May, 21,000 tons of diesel were spilled into the waters around Norilsk, one of the nation’s northernmost settlements. The aged tank at one of the company’s locations failed and the resulting spill affected 12 km of water. Its effect was visible from space, with intelligence cameras catching pictures of water passages stained red from contaminated soil. A court has ruled that the energy company responsible for Russia’s catastrophic 2020 oil spill should pay €1.6 billion for damages to the Arctic. (Euronews, February 10)

Germany defends Russia pipeline. 

  • Germany’s FM supported the completion of Russia’s proposed underwater gas pipeline, which faces intense resistance from the U.S. and Eastern Europe, claiming that it might have adverse diplomatic implications if it were to be dismantled. FM Maas’ remarks came as the German government sidelined concerns about a leaked letter suggesting that it offered to help promote the purchase of U.S. liquefied natural gas if Washington dropped the threat of sanctions over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. (Associated Press, February 10)

Pro-Navalny “flashlight” protests light up Russian cities. 

  • Supporters of imprisoned Russian opposition leader came to the suburban courtyards and lit their cellphone flashlights, on  Sunday,  in a display of unity despite attempts by the Russian authorities to extinguish the illuminated demonstrations. Navalny’s team submitted images of small groups of smartphones in cities from Siberia to the Moscow region. It was not clear how many people participated overall. (Politico, February 14)

French cyber agency reveals suspected Russian hacking campaign. 

  • France’s cyber security monitor appears to have uncovered a hack of French institutions that displayed links to other attacks by a Russian intelligence group. In a report dated February 15, the French National Agency for the Protection of Information Systems (ANSSI) confirmed that hackers had taken advantage of the insecurity of the surveillance program sold by Centreon, a company based in Paris. (Radio Free Europe, February 15)

Lavrov blames EU for demise of its Russia ties

  • Russia’s FM blamed the EU of weakening relations with Russia and accused the bloc of deliberately undermining cooperation processes. Relations between Russia and the West have come under increased tension over the fate of Alexei Navalny, whose jailing and prosecution by Moscow has increased the possibility of more sanctions against Russia. FM Lavrov declared that Moscow would be willing to cut ties with the EU if the bloc struck it with harsh economic sanctions, a comment that Germany characterized as disconcerting and incomprehensible. (Reuters, February 15)

ARMENIA

Armenia to implement new partnership agreement with EU. 

  • The ArmeniaEuropean Union Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) will come into force on March 1The CEPA outlines wide-ranging bilateral cooperation, including in economic, legal, and scientific spheres, and will regulate Armenia’s relationship with the EU, alongside the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed in 1996. The new agreement may open the road to a visa-free regime between Armenia and the EU. (OC Media February 12)

Armenian Government accused of trying to limit press freedom. 

  • Armenian media organizations have accused the Government of trying to restrict press freedom with bills that would sharply increase fines for libel and make it harder for journalists to use anonymous sources. One of the controversial bills calls for a fivefold increase in maximum legal fines set for defamation, which the National Assembly passed on ThursdayAnother proposed bill would ban broadcasters, newspapers, and online publications from quoting websites and social media accounts belonging to unknown individuals.  (Azatutyun February 12)

 AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan rejects appeal of jailed journalist convicted of treason. 

  • A court in Azerbaijan has rejected journalist Polad Aslanov’s appeal after he was imprisoned on charges of high treason—which he and rights groups have said were politically motivated—upholding a lower court’s decision to convict and sentence him to 16 years in prison on February 15. His wife declared that the ruling would be appealed in the Supreme Court. (Radio Free Europe February 15)

Rights group says jailed Azerbaijani Journalist in danger as hunger strike continues. 

  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Azerbaijan to provide urgent medical assistance to Polad Aslanov, a journalist who has been in prison for 19 months and on a hunger strike for more than a week, whose “already poor health is now failing after eight days on hunger strike to press his demand for a fair trial and transfer to house arrest.” Aslanov weighed only 44 kilograms when he began the hunger strike and he is now complaining of kidney and stomach pains. Aslanov’s wife claims that he is not receiving any medical care. Aslanov was working on a story allegedly implicating members of the State Security Service in extortion when he was arrested in June 2019. (Radio Free Europe February 10)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria’s President vetoed latest amendments to criminal procedure code over specialized prosecutor. 

  • President Radev vetoed the Law supplementing the Criminal Procedure Code (adopted by the National Assembly on January 29), stating that it does not offer a fair and sustainable solution to the lack of effective control over an incumbent prosecutor general or his deputy. Radev points out that the problem related to the lack of an effective investigation against a prosecutor general or his deputy, as well as against persons on top government positions in general, presents a fundamental challenge to the supremacy of law in Bulgaria. (Novinite February 10)

GEORGIA

Georgian politicians react to EU association implementation report. 

  • The recent Association Implementation Report on Georgia, issued by the European External Action Service, highlighted Georgia’s continuing contribution to the implementation, responsibilities and commitments of the Association Agreement, while highlighting deficiencies in terms of judicial independence and democratic consolidation. The study sparked a number of reactions between ruling party and opposition parties. “Not only the implementation of the Association Agreement but in general the current progress, the reforms that are being implemented in our country are positively assessed,” declared Deputy Parliament Speaker Kuchava. (Civil.ge, February 10)

Opposition announces rallies in Tbilisi & Regions. 

  • The Georgian opposition intends to organize a peaceful rally in Tbilisi and the provinces on February 25, according to Nika Melia, President of the United National Movement, who added that a related rally is also scheduled for March 31. (Georgia Today, February 15)

ROMANIA

Development Ministry signs three contracts of over 2 million euros for cooperation projects with Ukraine and Republic of Moldova. 

  • The Development Ministry signed on Tuesday three financing contracts with an overall value of 2 million euros. As part of the territorial cooperation programs between RomaniaUkraine and RomaniaMoldova, the contracts seek to modernize the emergency medical system in Ukraine, purchase equipment for emergency intervention in Moldova, and invest in Moldova’s labor market. (Actmedia February 10)

European Commission to check Romanian energy market regulator after problematic retail market liberalization. 

  • The European Commission will carry out an analysis on the Romanian energy market regulator ANRE’s activity to see how it complies with the legislation as an energy regulator. In a letter sent to the ANRE and the Ministry of Energy, the European Commission declared that energy consumers must be informed as clearly as possible that they can change their suppliers following market liberalization, and that the authorities must take action in this regard. About 90% of consumers did not know in December that the energy market would be liberalized from January 1, 2021. (Romania Insider February 16)

TURKEY

Turkey detains 39 for terrorist propaganda social media posts. 

  • The Turkish Interior Ministry has announced that security forces detained 39 social media users in the first week of February for allegedly posting propaganda for terrorist organizations online, with a total of 575 offenders detected and to be detained. The 39 detainees include several students who allegedly run social media accounts to organize the recent series of high-profile protests against the political appointment of a new rector at the prestigious Bogazici University in Istanbul. (Balkan Insight February 9)

Erdoğan accuses U.S. of siding with terrorists after Turks found dead in Iraq. 

  • President Erdoğan has accused the United States of supporting terrorists in the wake of the deaths of 13 kidnapped Turks in northern Iraq, calling a U.S. statement about the killings, which Ankara blamed on Kurdish militants, “a joke.” The diplomatic dispute between the NATO allies brings to fore simmering tension over Washington’s support of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia, in its war against Islamic State. (VoA News February 15)

Erdoğan sets sights on moon to mark Turkish Centenary. 

  • President Erdoğan on Tuesday announced the country’s surprise intention to send a mission to the moon in 2023, marking the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the modern Turkish republic. The space program includes ambitious plans to send astronauts to the moon, establish a spaceport and create a global brand in satellite technology over the next 10 years. (Balkan Insight February 10)

UKRAINE

Zelensky: Minsk agreements should be fulfilled by all parties. 

  • The Ukraine President stresses that the execution of the Minsk agreements should be followed by both sides within the timeframe and time limits laid down. When questioned by journalists if Ukraine should start a revision of the Minsk agreements with a view to restoring peace in Donbas, President Zelensky declared: “My attitude to ‘Minsk’ is very simple: we must split it into details, outline all the steps, link them to the dates and fulfill. We stand for such a format. That’s what we did.” (Ukrinform, February 12)

President’s Office calls Zelensky’s visit to UAE as one of most successful. 

  • President Zelensky’s official two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been one of Ukraine’s most successful international trips. The Ukrainian President got acquainted with the peculiarities of the implementation of the concept of the city with zero CO2 pollution and a full cycle of waste processing. “Innovation, technology is the future. This is a new commercial market for mutual cooperation, which is created to save the future. We are very interested in the experience of the United Arab Emirates, which has spread these technologies to other countries,” President Zelensky declared. (Ukrinform, February 16)

HUNGARY

Independent radio silenced in Hungary. 

  • Hungary’s last independent radio broadcaster Klubradio lost its battle to stay on the air, as the Metropolitan Court of Budapest confirmed the decision of the Government-controlled Media Council to not renew its license. The radio was forced to move online starting February 14. Due to its critical tone, the radio does not receive any state advertising and largely survives on donations from its listeners. Klubradio called the verdict political, not legal, and announced that said it would challenge the verdict at the Supreme Court or even at the Court of Justice of the EU. (Balkan Insight February 9)

FM Szijjártó: Hungary disagrees with ICC’s ruling on Gaza and West Bank. 

  • Hungary disagrees with the International Criminal Court’s ruling passed last Friday, which found that the court has jurisdiction over Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The Hungarian government had already indicated during the procedure that it believed Palestine had no jurisdiction to prosecute Israeli citizens. (Hungary Today February 10)

POLAND

Poland’s ruling nationalists go back to drawing board with media tax. 

  • The Law and Justice (PiS) on Tuesday announced that they would rewrite a proposal that would tax media advertising, after receiving widespread criticism from media firms, the opposition, and its own coalition partner. On Monday, PM Morawiecki stated that the tax would be “fair and progressive and designed so all of the biggest firms have the biggest input into our economic life.” (Reuters February 16)

SLOVAKIA

Slovak census to determine churches’ financing. 

  • Registration with the nationwide census will start on Tuesday in Slovakia. According to a new law that was amended in 2019, the number of people confirming their affiliation to a given religious society in the census will determine how much funding the church receives from the state. Until now, religious societies in Slovakia received a state subsidy according to the number of clergy. (Euractiv February 16)

SLOVENIA

Motion of nconfidence in Government fails by six votes. 

  • The Janša Government survived a motion of no confidence after only 40 MP voted in favor in a secret ballot on Monday, six too few. There were seven votes against and six invalid ballots, whereas the majority of the coalition MPs abstained. The motion was filed by five center-left opposition parties, which had nominated Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) leader Karl Erjavec for PM. (Total Slovenia News February 15)

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