Regional Press Review (12-18 Mai)
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman expelled from Russia.
- The spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is among the 10 diplomats to be expelled from Russia in response to sanctions from Washington. The Russian Foreign Ministry assured that “It’s not a Russian initiative,” as the U.S. has for the past six months not allowed Russia to fill its vacancy of a Russian Embassy spokesperson in Washington. (The Moscow Times May 12)
Putin submits bill to Russian parliament on withdrawing from Open Skies treaty.
- President Putin has submitted a bill to the Russian State Duma on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty. The Russian authorities began preparations for exiting the treaty in early 2021 in response to the United States exiting the agreement in November 2020 “under an artificial pretext.” (Meduza May 11)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell dismisses Czech call to expel further Russian diplomats.
- Head of the European External Action Service Borrell declared that the EU does not want to further escalate tensions with Moscow through the expulsions of diplomats. Czech FM Kulhánek had earlier called on Member States to expel Russian diplomats in retaliation for the involvement of Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) in the 2014 Vrbětice explosions. (Radio Prague International May 11)
Blinken tells Lavrov that U.S. won’t hesitate to respond to Russian aggression.
- Secretary of State Blinken has told Russian FM Lavrov that the Biden Administration won’t waver in responding to aggression from Moscow in the United States or elsewhere. Blinken and Lavrov are set to meet in person for the first time next week on the sidelines of the Arctic summit in Reykjavik to discuss “key issues of mutual relations and the international agenda.” (Radio Free Europe May 12)
Russia’s Lavrov calls for urgent Middle East Quartet meeting.
- FM Lavrov on Wednesday called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet—Russia, the U.S., the U.N. and the E.U.—in order to halt violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Russia relies on U.N. Secretary-General Guterres to organize it in the near future. President Putin has urged both Israel and the Palestinians to halt fighting. (The Moscow Times May 12)
Tensions rise at Armenian-Azerbaijani border section.
- Armenia accused Azerbaijan of resorting to border “provocations” after Azerbaijani troops reportedly crossed into its Syunik province early on May 12 and breached two other sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on May 13. The Security Council held an emergency session of to discuss what it described as a security crisis, during which caretaker PM Pashinyan instructed his defense and foreign ministers to ask the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to invoke Article 2, which commits the bloc to discussing a collective response to grave security threats facing its member states. Azerbaijan insists that its troops did not cross into Armenia and simply took up positions on the Azerbaijani side of the frontier which were not accessible in winter months. Armenian and Azerbaijani military officials met on the border to try to resolve the dispute, alongside Russian troops representatives, but announced no concrete agreements afterward. (Azatutyun May 12; Radio Free Europe May 13; Today.az May 14)
Armenian officer accused of high treason.
- A top-ranking Armenian officer has been arrested for collecting information about the armies of Armenia and of separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh and passing it on to Azerbaijan through the Embassy in Georgia. On May 6, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Armenia reported that in total, 1580 criminal cases were instituted with involvement of 628 defendants accused of crimes related to the autumn war for Nagorno-Karabakh, including a case on high treason. (Caucasian Knot May 12)
Amnesty International condemns gender-based reprisals against women in Azerbaijan.
- Amnesty International called on the Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to a campaign of gender-based violence against women human rights defenders and activists and bring to account those responsible for it. Amnesty documents a systematic attempt to defame and silence women activists or their activist partners, being subjected to smear campaigns, accused of being “bad wives” or “bad mothers,” and blackmailed by the hacking of their social network accounts and the publication of private conversations, personal data and materials of a sexual nature. There have been at least 15 such cases in the last two years. (Amnesty International May 12)
Aliev reports return of about 1600 bodies of perished militaries to Yerevan.
- At his meeting with Russian FM Lavrov, President Aliev stated that Baku had returned to Armenia all the prisoners of war (POWs) captured during the last autumn aggravation of the Karabakh conflict, as well as about 1600 bodies of dead Armenian military servicemen. (Caucasian Knot May 11)
ECtHR to consider mutual claims of Armenia and Azerbaijan on human rights violations during the war.
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will consider two complaints filed by Armenia and Azerbaijan on human rights violations during the Karabakh War, after receiving complaints about violations of the rights of 228 captured residents of Armenia, and of 13 captured citizens of Azerbaijan. Complaints lodged by Armenia tell about executions and ill-treatment, including of civilians, capture of POWs and the forced displacement of the population in the areas affected by the hostilities, whereas the complaints lodged by Azerbaijan claim that Armenia destroyed cultural and religious values as it forced hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis to leave their homes. (Caucasian Knot May 13)
President appoints caretaker PM ahead of snap polls.
- President Radev appointed Security and Defense Secretary Yanev as caretaker prime minister until the upcoming elections on July 11. The main priority of the caretaker government will be to uphold the rule of law and ensure the fairness of the upcoming elections. Yanev previously served as a deputy prime minister and defense minister in a caretaker government appointed in 2017. (Radio Free Europe May 11)
Caretaker Government will not change Bulgaria’s policy towards North Macedonia.
- Bulgaria has declared that it will not change its opposition to North Macedonia’s accession to the EU. “We are not authorized to change [the Bulgarian position],” declared the interim FM, adding that “everything is in the hands of the officials of North Macedonia, who are aware of the Bulgarian position. They should not speculate that there will be any change in the next two to three months, as long as this caretaker government lasts.” (Euractiv May 13)
Georgian PM Visits Armenia.
- PM Pashinyan and PM Gharibashvili met in Yerevan on Wednesday for talks that focused on regional security and Georgian–Armenian commercial ties, in the first Georgian-Armenian summit held after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The two parties agreed to put greater emphasis on the development of trade and economic ties between their countries, and more effectively using regional transport routes and developing the region’s transport potential. Both sides are specifically interested in the creation of a new transport corridor that would connect not only Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Bulgaria, and Greece. (Azatutyun May 12)
Senior MP Samadashvili quits UNM.
- Senior MP Samadashvili is quitting the United National Movement (UNM) Party, after individually signing the EU-brokered deal on April 19 and entering Parliament despite fierce backlash from her party colleagues. MP Samadashvili noted she will continue to work towards the full implementation of the April 19 agreement alongside those “who had the political courage” to sign it. (civil.ge May 12)
EU, U.S. lawmakers urge UNM to enter Parliament.
- Following the release of United National Movement (UNM) Chairperson Melia from pretrial detention, U.S. and European lawmakers have called on Georgia’s largest opposition party to sign the EU-brokered April 19 deal and enter Parliament. (civil.ge May 12)
Russia expels Romanian diplomat in tit-for-tat move.
- Russia has announced the expulsion of the Romanian Embassy’s deputy military attaché in response to Bucharest’s decision to expel a Russian diplomat last month. (Radio Free Europe May 11)
World Bank approves $90 million loan for Ukraine’s COVID-19 vaccination.
- The World Bank has approved a $90 million project to help Ukraine purchase and deploy vaccines, including through the COVAX global initiative. The World Bank has already provided $57 million in lending to support Ukraine’s COVID-19 response. (Radio Free Europe May 11)
Ukraine charges Viktor Medvedchuk with treason.
- Ukraine has indicted Viktor Medvedchuk with treason and attempts to steal natural resources from Russia-annexed Crimea, and placed him under house arrest. Charges under several articles were also brought against Medvedchuk’ business partner Taras Kozak, carrying potential sentences of up to 15 years. (Ukrainian Journal May 11; Radio Free Europe May 13)
Zelensky instructs Government to approve annual national program under auspices of Ukraine–NATO Commission for 2021.
- President Zelensky instructed the Cabinet to approve the annual national program under the auspices of the Ukraine-NATO Commission for 2021 in order to ensure the implementation of the priority tasks of Ukraine’s NATO integration. The Government was also instructed to approve within 20 days measures to implement the said annual national program and inform the public about it. The document contains a description of reforms, defines strategic goals and objectives necessary to ensure the implementation of the state’s strategic course for the acquisition of full NATO membership. (Interfax Ukraine May 11)
Babiš Government could face no-confidence vote in June.
- The two opposition coalitions in the Parliament’s lower house want to initiate a vote of no-confidence in the Babiš Government, with a possible date at the beginning of June, due to its poor handling of the pandemic, management of public funds, and other issues. The minority government consisting of Babiš’ ANO party and the Social Democrats do not currently have the needed 101 of 200 votes in the lower house, ever since the Communist party withdrew its support in April. (Euractiv May 13)
Central European project for disinformation research to be based in Prague.
- A Central European project focused on researching disinformation will be seated in Prague as one of eight centers in the EU that the European Commission has chosen. The program will be led by experts from Czech Technical University (ČVUT) and Charles University. The project’s regional centers will seek ways of revealing and spreading disinformation, their influence on the population, and developing methods for public institutions. The aim is to find distorted information using artificial intelligence or strengthening digital and media literacy. (Expats.cz May 13)
Government submits Hungary plan for tapping EU Recovery Fund.
- The Government on Tuesday submitted Hungary’s plan for utilizing the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The development of the health system was the plan’s most significant element, utilizing 34.1% of available resources. Other highlighted areas are environmentally friendly transport development and comprehensive development of education systems. Additional development plans include promoting the switchover to a circular economy, closing the gap between underdeveloped and better-developed areas, and environmental protection. (Hungary Today May 12)
Impasse deepens in Poland over new ombudsman.
- Poland’s Senate on May 13 rejected the latest candidate for national ombudsman, deepening an impasse that has pitted the ruling conservative party against opponents who say it is eroding democratic rights. The vote marked the fourth time the Parliament has failed to fill the position. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner has expressed concern over “a worrying gap” for protecting human rights in Poland following a ruling forbidding the current government-critical ombudsman from extending his mandate last month. (Euractiv May 14)
Human rights suffered as a result of Covid in Slovakia.
- In her 2020 annual report, Ombudswoman Patakyová stated that the public defender of rights had never before dealt with as many complaints from the people of Slovakia as in 2020, concluding that “it is evident that measures against the spread of the coronavirus interfered with human rights, but in some cases, they were beyond necessary and proportional.” Just like one year ago, MPs failed to acknowledge the report—out of the 117 MPs present, only 58 voted to acknowledge it, one did not register for voting, nine were against and 49 MPs abstained from the vote. (Slovak Spectator May 12)
President turns to the Constitutional Court with referendum on snap election.
- President Čaputová will turn to the Constitutional Court to check whether the referendum on the snap election is in compliance with the Constitution. The court has 60 days to decide—should the referendum be found to be constitutional, Čaputová plans to announce it straight away so that it can be held in September. (Slovak Spectator May 12)
EUSAIR strategy forum marks end of Slovenia’s AII presidency.
- As Slovenia is concluding its third presidency of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative (AII), the Izola Declaration underlining the European perspective of the Western Balkans was adopted at the EUSAIR strategy forum in Portorož. At the annual EU Strategy Forum for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR), FM Logar also hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of the nine AII member countries. Slovenia passed the presidency of the AII to Albania on May 12. (The Slovenia Times May 11)
Janša does not want to receive court mail.
- The Ljubljana District Court has resorted to hiring a detective to try to deliver court mail to PM Janša, who is not picking up mail related to the land in Trenta valley case. Until Janša receives the mail, the court cannot continue to decide on the defense’s request to exclude members of the judging panel. The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against Janša over abuse of office last October, following a five-year investigation. (IBNA May 12)
Condemnation as Bosniak association leader comes under attack.
- A group of NGOs and research institutions has condemned incitement of “racist and ethnic hatred” after Jasminka Dedić, the head of the Slovenian Bosniak Cultural Association, came under attack from Slovenian right-wing media for comments she made for the Sarajevo-based newspaper STAV regarding the lack of acceptance of Slovene Bosniaks in the country. (STA May 13)
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