Regional Press Review (12-19 October)
Navalny urges associates who have fled Russia to continue anti-corruption work from abroad.
- Aleksei Navalny stated his supporters who have left Russia in the face of growing repression can continue their efforts to oppose the Russian government from abroad. “We have not emigrated but have been forced to temporarily change the location of our office,” Navalny wrote in a letter to his employees and associates published by the Latvia-based independent news site Meduza. (Radio Free Europe, October 14)
Kremlin opponents find refuge in Georgia.
- A sweeping crackdown launched by Russia’s Government since the January jailing of Navalny has prompted hundreds of opposition activists to flee the country seeking refuge in neighboring ex-Soviet states with Russian-speaking minorities and foreign policies critical of Moscow. About 300 activists, according to unofficial estimates, have arrived in Georgia, a country whose low cost of living and lenient immigration laws make it one of few easily accessible destinations in pandemic times. (Radio Free Europe, October 13)
The US is staging global conference to combat ransomware attacks, Russia not invited.
- U.S. officials are meeting on Zoom calls with their counterparts from at least 30 countries to discuss ways to combat the clandestine attacks. Russia, a key launchpad for many of the attacks, was left off the invitation list as Washington and Moscow officials engage directly on attacks coming from Russia. (Voice of America, October 13)
No breakthrough reported at U.S.-Russia talks over Embassies dispute.
- High-level talks between Russian officials and a senior visiting U.S. State Department official were useful, both sides said on October 12, but a dispute over Embassy staffing and other matters remain unresolved. Moscow and Washington have engaged in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomatic personnel and closures of consulates, and Russia earlier this year prohibited the U.S. Embassy from employing foreign nationals, designating it as an “unfriendly state.” (Radio Free Europe, October 12)
Russia suspends operations of its mission at NATO as relations with West deteriorate further.
- The Kremlin declared it will suspend the operations of its mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels in response to the Western security alliance’s move to expel eight members of Russia’s mission earlier this month. In a move marking another blow to East-West ties that are already near Cold War lows, Russian FM Lavrov stated on October 18 that the operations will be suspended as of November 1, and that the those at the NATO military mission in Moscow will have their accreditation stripped the same day as well. The FM added that the NATO Secretariat was notified of the steps taken by the Russian side. (Radio Free Europe, October 18)
U.S. rejects Moscow’s claim that its warship tried to enter Russian waters.
- The U.S. Navy has rejected a claim by Moscow that a U.S. warship tried to enter Russian territorial waters in the Sea of Japan during Russian-Chinese naval drills on October 15. The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet headquarters state that the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim “about the interaction between our two Navy ships is false.” It said in a statement that a U.S. destroyer, the USS Chafee, was “conducting routine operations in international water in the Sea of Japan” on October 15 when a Russian Udaloy-class destroyer came within about 60 meters of it. The U.S. statement described the movements of the USS Chafee as “safe and professional,” saying the ship was conducting operations “in accordance with international law and custom” at all times. (Radio Free Europe, October 15)
The ban on entry into the Russian Federation of close relatives of foreign citizens permanently residing in Russia has been lifted.
- The ban on entry into Russia of close relatives of foreign citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in the Russian Federation, introduced due to the pandemic, has been canceled. This was reported in the telegram channel of the consular department of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Close relatives include spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandfathers, grandmothers, grandchildren, adoptive parents, adopted children, guardians and trustees, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminds. (Meduza, October 18)
Visiting Pentagon Chief declared U.S. will continue to support Ukraine against Russian ‘aggression’.
- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has reiterated Washington’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity during a visit to Kyiv as Russia continues to be an “obstacle” to the peaceful resolution of the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Defense Secretary made the comments on October 19 on the second leg of his three-nation tour to the Black Sea region aimed at underlining the White House’s support for allies and partner states in the face of what he called Russia’s “aggression.” The visit comes amid continued fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in a conflict that has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014. (Radio Free Europe, October 19)
General Prosecutor’s Office of Armenia reports about the scale of violations at elections.
- The General Prosecutor’s Office received 31 reports about violations in the local elections in Armenia, and based on one of them, an investigation into a criminal case on giving a pre-election bribe was launched, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Armenia reported. Other 25 reports about violations are being checked. Observers reported the use of administrative resources in the elections and registered cases of organized transportation of voters to polling stations by supporters of the ruling party and violation of the requirements for visual campaigning.
Iran and Azerbaijan pledge to ease recent tensions ‘through dialogue’.
- Azerbaijan and Iran have agreed to resolve their diplomatic crisis through dialogue amid tensions that erupted last month over exercises near their shared border and a dispute over a possible Israeli military presence in Azerbaijan. Both sides announced the de-escalation effort on October 13 after they said Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had spoken by phone the previous evening. (Radio Free Europe, October 13)
Bulgaria’s 2021 elections: Exacta poll sees six-group National Assembly.
- A poll by the Exacta Research Group, the results of which were released a day before the October 15 start of the official campaign period ahead of Bulgaria’s November early parliamentary elections, indicates that were elections held now, six parties and coalitions would win seats. According to the poll, Boiko Borissov’s GERB-UDF coalition has the largest share of support among those intending to vote, at 23.5 per cent. (Sofia Globe, October 14)
Saakashvili’s opponents hold protest action in Rustavi.
- At a protest action staged near the Rustavi Prison, where Mikhail Saakashvili, a former Georgian President, is kept, several dozen of his opponents recalled the law violations committed during his presidency. Several hundred activists from among Saakashvili’s opponents protested near Prison No. 12 in Rustavi, where the politician is being kept. They demanded not to recognize Saakashvili as a political prisoner. (Caucasian Knot, October 18)
Three Saakashvili supporters detained during clashes with police.
- The police prevented the protesters from placing stickers in support of Mikhail Saakashvili near the Tbilisi residence of the creator of the “Georgian Dream” Party; three activists were detained (Caucasian Knot, October 17)
Moldovan President and the Ambassador of United Kingdom discuss anticorruption in meeting.
- President Maia Sandu on 13 October had a meeting with Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Moldova Steven Fisher, the Presidential press service has reported. The officials discussed the support of the anticorruption reforms and in the justice sector. The head of state thanked for the support provided by the UK during years to ensure responsible governance in Moldova. (Moldpress, October 14)
Alert announced in Moldova due to situation in energy sector.
- The Committee for Emergencies, chaired by Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița, which met today in a meeting, announced a state of alert regarding the country’s energy sector, especially gas supply. According to the official, the increase in gas prices is unprecedented in recent years and has affected several countries. (Moldpress, October 13)
Igor Dodon give up seat of MP.
- The leader of the Party of Socialists Igor Dodon decided to vacate his seat of MP. Also, in the party’s congress he will propose that PSRM should be managed not by a president, but by a collegial body. In the meeting of the party’s political executive, Igor Dodon announced his decision to step down as an MP. “I do not see any reason for sitting on this Parliament. I consider I can be much more efficient in other positions. Therefore, I decided to give up the seat of MP. I will submit my resignation to the Parliament’s Secretariat in several days,” stated Igor Dodon. (IPN, October 18)
President Maia Sandu to pay official visit to Austria.
- According to the presidential press service, on October 21 Sandu will have a meeting with the President of Austria Van der Bellen and the two will later give a joint news conference. Sandu will meet with a series of Austrian officials, such as Deputy Prime Minister Werner Kogler, Parliament Deputy Speaker Doris Bures, Federal Minister for European and International Affairs Michael Linhart, OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid. President Sandu will also have a discussion with representatives of the Moldovan diaspora in Austria. (IPN, October 18)
Romanian doctors issue ‘Cry Of Despair’ amid COVID-19 surge.
- Romanian doctors have issued an open letter titled A Cry Of Despair as the country’s overwhelmed health-care system copes with a surge of coronavirus infections and deaths. The College of Physicians of Bucharest, a nongovernmental organization representing doctors in Romania’s capital, declared in an October 13 letter that the medical system had “reached the limit” and that low vaccination rates revealed a “failure of trust.””We are desperate because every day we lose hundreds of patients who die in Romanian hospitals,” the letter reads. (Radio Free Europe, October 13)
The NATO General Secretary, Mircea Geoana, confirms the extension of his mandate to October 2023.
- Geoana confirmed on Saturday that his mandate in his position was extended with one year, until October 2023. He declared that, by the extension of the mandate, he will “be able to contribute to the negotiation, adoption and implementation of the new Strategic Concept and the 2030 NATO Agenda”. (Act Media, October 18)
Afghan refugees accuse Turkey of violent illegal pushbacks.
- Migrants, many fleeing the Taliban regime, claim they are being beaten, harassed and turned back by Turkish border forces. The International Organization for Migration said, in recent months, between 20,000 and 30,000 refugees were fleeing Afghanistan every week. A Turkish lawyer based in Van who specialises in refugee and asylum cases, claims that pushbacks, which are in breach of the UN’s 1951 refugee convention, are “systematically” taking place. “This is 100% happening,” said Kaçan. “What Turkish authorities are doing is illegal.” (The Guardian, October 14)
US consulting with Turkey on resolving F-35 row.
- The U.S. remains in active consultations with Turkey over resolving an ongoing row concerning Ankara’s expulsion from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the State Department has declared. Former President Donald Trump removed Turkey from the F-35 steal joint strike fighter program in 2019 over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-air system, which US officials maintain poses risks to the F-35s, including the possibility that Russia could covertly use the system to obtain classified details on the jet. Turkish President Erdoğan has on declared that the U.S. proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets as compensation for Turkey’s $1.4 billion payment for F-35s. (Hurriyet, October 19)
Kremlin’s allied Ukrainian lawmaker Medvedchuk to remain under house arrest.
- A Ukrainian court on October 12 ordered pro-Russian lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk to remain under house arrest until December after prosecutors broadened their criminal investigation into his activities. Medvedchuk, who has been held under house arrest since May, was initially targeted with allegations of treason in a case that has added to tensions between Moscow and Kyiv.
Prosecutors announced last week that he is also accused of colluding to finance Russia-backed separatist forces in the eastern Donbas region. (Radio Free Europe, October 12)
U.S and its allies seek way to combat online attacks as they proliferate.
- The U.S. is rallying dozens of allies and partners at a two-day virtual conference to discuss ways to combat ransomware as online attacks proliferate, hurting businesses and undermining national security. Representatives of 30 countries from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, and Asia will join Biden administration officials at the conference on October 13-14 to consider how to disrupt the ransomware ecosystem, including making it harder to use cryptocurrency as a means of payment. Russia will not be present at the discussions (Radio Free Europe, October 13)
Czechs defeat a populist, offering a road map for toppling strongmen.
- A wide range of parties in the Czech Republic banded together despite their differences to oppose Andrej Babis, the country’s populist Prime Minister. Opposition parties in Hungary are hoping to duplicate the feat. Their success could have major repercussions in the region and beyond. In Hungary and in Poland, where nationalist leaders have damaged democratic institutions and sought to undermine the European Union, opposition leaders are mobilizing, trying to forge unified fronts and oust populist leaders in upcoming elections. (The New York Times, October 13)
Czech president unable to fulfil his duties.
- President Zeman is not able to fulfil his presidential duties and the chances of an early recovery are highly uncertain, Senate Chair Vystrčil said at a press briefing on Monday, quoting the President’s chief physician. The Senators and Parliamentary party leaders would meet on Tuesday to debate activating Article 66 of the Czech Constitution which would transfer the President’s powers to other Constitutional officials. (Radio Prague International, October 19)
Babiš pledge smoothes way for transition to five-party coalition Government.
- Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said he plans to enter opposition and would not accept the task of trying to form a new Government from President Zeman. The ANO leader made the comment in a radio interview. Mr. Zeman had previously said he would charge the head of the biggest single party after general elections with trying to establish a Government. (Radio Prague International, October 16)
Hungarian-Russian gas supply contract complies with EU law, according to the European Commission.
- The agreement between Hungary and the Russian natural gas production company Gazprom complies with European Union law, stated Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Ukraine turned to the European Commission for review, as they believe that the gas supply contract was illegal. (Hungary Today, October 14)
Hungarian opposition alliance chooses conservative newcomer to challenge Orban.
- A six-party opposition coalition has chosen a provincial mayor with no party affiliation to take on Hungarian Prime Minister Orban in the 2022 Parliamentary elections, final results of a primary vote show. Peter Marki-Zay, the 49-year-old conservative mayor of Hodmezovasarhely, received 56.7 percent of the vote to beat social democrat Klara Dobrev with 43.3 percent. The primary was organized by a six-party opposition alliance formed last year in an effort to put forth a single candidate that could defeat Orban. Five candidates took part in the first round of the primary last month. (Radio Free Europe, October 18)
Number of migrants entering Germany via the “Belarusian Route” is increasing.
- German authorities say the number of migrants coming to their country via Poland and Belarus has increased in recent months, the Associated Press reported. According to federal police, more than 4,300 people have crossed the border with Poland illegally since the beginning of the year. Most of the migrants are from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Iran, the DPA said. For the period from January to July, only 26 people who came on the “Belarusian route” were reported; for August they were 474, for September 1914, and for the first 11 days of October they were 1934, the federal police said. (Novinite, October 13)
Poland and Turkey to deepen military cooperation.
- The signing of the framework agreement on cooperation between Turkey and Poland will add momentum to our cooperation, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar in Warsaw assessed after a meeting with his Polish counterpart Mariusz Błaszczak. The Polish Defence Minister underlined that there would be more joint military drills between the two states and that a Polish military mission would soon be sent to Turkey to strengthen cooperation in the armaments industry. (Polandin, October 15)
Polish Justice Ministry wants to take Germany to CJEU.
- Poland’s Ministry of Justice announced that it would request the government to refer a lawsuit to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) against Germany for violating EU treaties in connection with the politicisation of the local judiciary. The Ministry argues that Poland is wrongly accused of politicising its own judiciary, while in Germany only politicians decide about the selection of judges to the Polish equivalent of the Supreme Court. (Polandin, October 18)
European Parliament fact-finding mission visiting Slovenia.
- A fact-finding mission of the European Parliament will be in Slovenia from Wednesday to Friday to examine the state of the rule of law, media freedom and fight against corruption. The MEPs will meet representatives of the national authorities, civil society and the media, while a meeting with PM Janez Janša is not on the agenda. The mission will feature seven members of the LIBE committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, one from each political group in the European Parliament, and one member from the committee on budgetary control. (Slovenian Times, October 13)
Constitutional Court annuls portions of regulations on remote schooling.
- The Constitutional Court has found multiple provisions of regulations that formed the legal basis for remote schooling in primary schools and schools for special needs children incompatible with the law. Some have been annulled outright, for one major provision it has given the National Assembly two months to change the law. (Slovenia Times, October 18)
Slovenia to send sizeable delegation to Glasgow climate conference.
- PM Janša will lead a sizeable Slovenian delegation to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, to be held between 31 October and 12 November. The roadmap posted on the government website estimates the cost at EUR 1.2 million, most of which is to be spent on an EU pavilion. (STA, October 17)