Regional Press Review (14-20 Jan)
Navalny says member of anti-corruption foundation detained on extremism charge.
- Pavel Zelensky, a member of Russian opposition politician Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), has been detained on a charge of inciting extremism. Zelensky was allegedly detained over a tweet he sent last year following the self-immolation of journalist Irina Slavina, in which he condemned the Russian authorities and called them responsible for the journalist’s death. (Radio Free Europe January 15)
Journalism watchdog says Russia should repeal “foreign agents“ law.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked the Russian authorities to repeal the controversial “foreign agents” law, and ensure that national telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor is not used to threaten and harass media organizations and journalists. The law requires foreign organizations to report their activities and face financial audits. Amendments to the law in December oblige the media to note the designation whenever they mention these individuals or groups, and expanded the law to include outlets that receive foreign funding. Fines for breaking the law can be as high as $6,800 for companies and $679 for individuals, and individuals can face up to five years in prison. (Radio Free Europe January 15)
Russian watchdog takes first step toward punishing RFE/RL under “foreign agents“ law.
- Russia’s telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor has drawn up its first eight administrative protocols—all against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—for violating the country’s controversial foreign agents law. The offenses are “for noncompliance by the media performing the functions of a foreign agent with the requirements of the law on labeling information disseminated by them.” The protocols target four of RFE/RL’s Russian-language projects—its main service for Russia, Radio Liberty; the Current Time TV, Siberia.Reality and Idel.Reality. Radio Free Europe called the move “a dramatic escalation” and reaffirmed its determination to continue its mission. (Current Time January 13)
Russia withdraws from Open Skies Treaty after U.S. departure.
- Russia will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, stating that the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in November “significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states.” The treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities. The E.U. has urged the U.S. to reconsider and called on Russia to stay in the pact. (Associated Press January 15)
Council of Europe urges Russia to explain NGO designation as “undesirable”.
- The head of the Council of Europe has expressed “great concern” after the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe was added to the list of “undesirable” organizations in Russia. “I cannot stress enough how problematic is the notion that an organization such as the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe, closely linked to our organization and uniting schools of political studies, aiming to organize civic education activities based on the Council of Europe values and principles, would represent a threat,” the official declared in a letter addressed to Russian Justice Minister Chuychenko. (Radio Free Europe, January 16)
Alexei Navalny returns to meet arrest and imprisonment in Russia.
- The detention of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny upon arrival in Moscow from Germany has drawn a wave of international criticism. As soon as the airport had been cleared of his supporters, he was moved in secret to a police detention center. His lawyers were denied access to him and he was not allowed even a telephone call. Incoming National Security Adviser Sullivan tweeted: “Mr Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable.” Amnesty International has declared Navalny a “prisoner of conscience”. Russian FM Lavrov declared that the West was simply trying to “divert attention from the crisis of the liberal model.” (The Economist, January 18)
Biden team asks Trump-picked Russian Ambassador to stay in post.
- President-elect Biden’s transition staff has requested the U.S. representative to Russia, John Sullivan, as well as a relatively limited number of other Trump political appointees to momentarily continue their diplomatic duties. (Bloomberg, January 18)
Russia ready for quick extension of last arms pact with U.S.
- Russia is prepared to negotiate with the upcoming U.S. Administration as soon as possible to renew the last remaining arms control deal, which expires in about two weeks. Months of meetings on the potential expansion of the New START Deal between Russia and the administration of President Trump have failed to narrow their differences. (ABC News, January 18)
U.S. hits Russian ship with sanctions.
- On Monday, the U.S. informed German authorities of its intentions to place sanctions on the Russian pipe-laying vessel “Fortuna” over its role in the development of the Russian-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. “We’re taking note of the announcement with regret,” a spokesperson for Germany’s Economy Ministry declared in Berlin. (Deutsche Welle, January 18)
Moscow denies Pashinyan’s clai
ms on Karabakh peace plan.
- Russian diplomat Popov has denied PM P
ashinyan’s claims that Russia, the U.S., and France pressured the Armenian side to give seven districts around Karabakh back to Azerbaijan and “offered it nothing in return,” leaving the status of Karabakh uncertain. Popov stated that, under the Minsk Group plan, Karabakh’s population would be able to determine the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status in a future legally–binding referendum. Pashinyan has decl ined to comment on Popov’s remarks. (Azatutyun January 14)
Government wants new judges for arrests, corruption cases.
- The Armenian Government formally approved on Thursday a proposal to hire up to 24 new judges to deal only with corruption cases or pre-trial arrests of criminal suspects. In recent months, Armenian judges have refused to allow law-enforcement bodies to arrest opposition leaders and anti-government activists, leading Pashinyan to charge that Armenia’s judicial system has become part of a “pseudo-elite” which is trying to topple him. Government critics have expressed concern over its plans to install magistrates tasked with allowing or blocking pre-trial arrests. (Azatutyun January 14)
Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan issue joint declaration.
- Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan issued a joint declaration on January 13, following the Second Round of Trilateral Dialogue of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. In the Islamabad Declaration, the countries agree to enhance joint efforts on combating Islamophobia and discriminatio
n of Muslim minorities, terrorism, organized crime, trafficking, money laundering, crimes against cultural and historical heritage, cybercrime, and call for a peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, as well as of the Cyprus and eastern Mediterranean issues. The declaration underlines the need to intensify cooperation for food and energy security, environment, and sustainable development. (Hurriyet Daily News January 14)
Amnesty calls for probe into civilian casualties in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
esty International is urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately investigate the use of “inaccurate and indiscriminate weapons” in heavily populated civilian areas during the recent war, in violation of international law. Both sides have denied targeting civilians during the conflict. However, Amnesty International has found “incontrovertible evidence that they have both done so,” using internationally banned cluster munitions and other explosive weapons “with wide area effects” in 17 strikes, eight by Armenian forces and nine by Azerbaijani forces. (Radio Free Europe January 14)
Bulgarian President calls general elections for April 4.
- President Radev has announced April 4 as the date for the country’s next general election. A recent opinion poll by Alpha Research indicated that the vote is unlikely to result in a strong majority government, but a hung Parliament with six parties, which will have difficulties forming a working coalition. (Radio Free Europe January 14)
Ambassador Angelov takes note of the burning of the Bulgarian flag in a village of North Macedonia.
- Bulgaria’s Ambassad
or to North Macedonia has sent a note verbale to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia after carnival–goers at the celebration of the feast of St. Basil burned a Bulgarian flag in the village of Vevchani. The participants were expelled by the authorities after burning the flag. FM Zaharieva has also cr iticized the event and stated that she will discuss the matter with North Macedonian officials. (IBNA January 15)
Georgia releases 1,500 in prisoner amnesty.
- The Georgian Parliament has unanimously adopted an amnesty law which will see 1,500 people released from prison, over 6,000 prisoners have their sentences reduced, and around 4,000 outstanding fines from prior to October 2012 pardoned. The amnesty covers those convicted of less serious crimes. In addition, women with children under the age of 18 who were convicted of minor offences will serve the remainder of their sentences under house arrest, as will those who began studying while in prison. (OC Media January 13)
Reports: skirmish leaves three worshippers injured in Guria region.
- Three locals were injured during a skirmish between Christian and Muslim residents of Buknari village. Police have arrested one person and have launched an investigation. CSOs have called on Georgian authorities to “prevent violence, deescalate the conflict, and ensure a timely and effective investigation into the incident,” adding that relevant measures must be taken for the Muslim community to conduct worship in a safe and peaceful environment. (civil.ge January 13)
Georgia in HRW’s 2020 Human Rights Report.
- The Human Rights Watch has issued its annual World Report, raising several concerns in Georgia, including raised political tensions following elections, police brutality incidents and a lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses, threats to media freedom and independence, disproportionately harsh drug policies, improved but still lacking workplace safety and security laws, and discrimination against LGBT people. (civil.ge January 14)
2021 EaP Summit can open up new perspectives for extending political dialogue with EU.
- The Foreign Ministers of Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia met to discuss the upcoming Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit, which they hope would lead to new perspectives for extending EU cooperation with the three countries. The officials considered possibilities of strengthening cooperation between the states to prepare for the summit, which is set to analyze results achieved since the 2017 summit, to approve long-term objectives, and to strengthen cooperation. (IPN January 15)
Ukrainian leader and new Moldovan President develop strategic ties with one eye on Russia.
- The leaders of Moldova and Ukraine have called for rebooting ties, as the two neighbors pursue a pro-EU agenda and fend off territorial disputes with Russia-backed forces. President Sandu was in Kyiv on January 12 to meet President Zelenskiy for her first official visit abroad, and spoke of “resumption of friendship” with Ukraine, which had been largely frozen under former President Dodon. The two countries will set up a presidential-level council to advance and coordinate bilateral cooperation, and will work on developing better transport links. Zelenskiy also called on the EU to help Ukraine and Moldova obtain Western-produced coronavirus vaccines. (Radio Free Europe January 13)
Romania to settle imbalances before scheduling Euro adoption.
- Romania’s Government deferred the adoption of the single European currency, arguing that the country must first meet the convergence criteria. Romania is facing multiple macroeconomic imbalances: the budget deficit exceeds 3% of GDP, the inflation rate exceeds the average of the three lowest national rates, and the convergence of the long-term interest rate is not met. Bringing the public deficit under 3% of GDP will take three to four years. (Romania Insider January 13)
Romania rejects “divisive” Greek proposal for vaccine certificate.
- President Iohannis has rejected a proposal by Greek PM Mitsotakis for an EU-wide COVID-19 vaccination certificate for travel, stating that they should “be used for medical reasons, not for travel.” The proposal for a vaccination certificate was described in the EU Vaccination Strategy as a way to monitor vaccination rates across the EU. (Euractiv January 14)
President Iohannis called last week’s violence against the Capitol as a “sad” event.
- President Iohannis stated that he is determined take the Romania–U.S. strategic partnership further as he called last week’s violence against the Capitol a “sad” event. “American democracy is a very solid one and it will outlive this stage, but it is sad what happened at the Capitol. We all saw the images there, but the new Administration will effectively take over its responsibilities and I am determined to get involved in leading the partnership further, to strengthen it and make it more functional, efficient and visible to all,” Iohannis declared. (Actmedia January 13)
Ankara, U.N. ink pact to help women, children.
- Turkey’s capital and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have inked a cooperation protocol to support health and protection services for women, children, and young adults with special needs. The Support Center for Women and Young Adults will provide career consultancy, psycho-social support, economical reinforcement support, information regarding social cohesion, and will organize language courses for refugees, choirs, and trips. The Project for Supporting Social Cohesion and Participation in Employment for Women and Young Adults will be run with financial support from the U.K. Embassy. (Hurriyet Daily News January 15)
EU: Stano confirms Borrell-Cavusoglu meeting in Brussels on 21 January.
- There will be a meeting on 21 January between High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell and FM Çavuşoğlu in Brussels. “We have been expecting … to see concrete actions that will lead to the de-escalation of the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, but also in the EU–Turkey relations. [The meeting] will lead to a return to a climate of dialogue and cooperation and a mutually beneficial and constructive commitment without challenging individual EU Member States,” Borrell declared in anticipation of the event. (IBNA January 15)
Çavuşoğlu and Maas discuss Euro–Turkish relations, exploratory talks, Eastern Mediterranean and Ozil.
- Amid a renewed commitment by Turkey and Germany to improve bilateral ties, German FM Maas visited Ankara to meet with FM Çavuşoğlu. “If I were to say that new chapters in [Turkish-EU] negotiations could open immediately, that would be a lie; let us be realistic… Not because we do not want it, but because the EU does not want it; because it is facing problems with enlargement policies,” FM Çavuşoğlu stated after the meeting, though he thanked Germany’s support for enabling talks between Greece and Turkey to begin on January 25th. Both officials expressed hope for improvement in EU–Turkey r
elations, noting that they are now on a more positive course. (IBNA January 18)
Some 300,000 people applied to Top Court for violation of rights in 8 years.
- 300,000 people have applied to the Top Court for violation of their rights since the “right to individual applications” was granted to Turkish citizens in 2012 to reduce the number of cases in the European Court of Human Rights. 257,000 cases were determined and nearly 38,000 applications are in the final decision-making stage. Among the reasons for filing applications, 63.3% applications concerned “violation of the right to a fair trial,” 19.4% claimed “violation of proprietary rights,” and 4.2% claimed “violation of right to free speech. ”Violation of the “right to privacy,” “right to assembly and demonstration,” “presumption of innocence,” and “freedom of religion and conscience,” were other reasons for which people have filed applications. (Hurriyet Daily News January 18)
European Human Rights Court accepts Ukraine complaint against Russia in Crimea.
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a complaint brought by Ukraine against Russia alleging human rights violations in the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 is “partly admissible.” Kyiv insists that Moscow controlled the peninsula since February 27, 2014, and that Russian forces tortured and killed police as well as civilians, and harassed and intimidated priests and journalists—allegations that Moscow denies. The ECHR decision is not ruling on whether the annexation of Crimea itself is illegal, but claims that there is “coherent and consistent” evidence to prove that Russian troops were involved in violations. (Radio Free Europe January 14)
Kyiv vows to “hold responsible
‘ Ukrainians Sanctioned for U.S. election meddling.
ent Zelenskiy’s office stated that it will do “everything in its power to hold…responsible” the Ukrain ians who meddled in the November U.S. election, after Washington imposed sanctions on nearly a dozen Ukrainian nationals and entities over a Russian-linked foreign-influence network associated with Ukrainian MP Derkach, including MP Dubinskiy from Ze lenskiy’s ruling Servant of the People Party. (Radio Free Europe January 13)
Servers seized in Ukraine, Moldova as Germany takes down “world’s largest” illegal darknet marketplace.
- German authorities have shut down DarkMarket, “the world’s largest” illegal online marketplace, and seized more than 20 servers in Ukraine and Moldova. An Australian citizen alleged to have been the operator of DarkMarket was arrested. Half a million users and more than 2,000 sellers used the website to sell illegal drugs, counterfeit money, stolen or falsified credit cards, anonymous SIM cards, and malware. German investigators led the international operation involving authorities from Australia, Denmark, Moldova, Ukraine, the U.K., the U.S., and Europol. (Radio Free Europe January 13)
Ukrainian-owned cargo ship sinks in Black Sea.
- At least two of the ships’ staff members died and six are still unaccounted for after a Ukrainian-owned frigate sunk in the Black Sea off Turkey due to bad weather. The vessel was sailing out of Georgia towards Bulgaria when it sunk, officials reported. In recent days, the Black Sea area has been struck by heavy rain, snow and strong winds. (Radio Free Europe, January 17)
Zelensky welcomes decision to reduce gas price for population.
- The Ukrainian President has welcomed the Government’s decision to reduce natural gas tariffs for the population and stressed that utility tariffs should be socially fair and that the gas market should operate according to the standards of transparent trade and fair competition. “According to the decision, gas prices for the population will fall by more than 30%. We worked together to find mechanisms for this. This decision will also encourage market players to work honestly and transparently and, above all, to take care of their clients, i.e. ordinary Ukrainians,” President Zelensky declared. (Ukrinform, January 18)
Czech Foreign Minister condemns Navalny arrest in Moscow.
- FM Petříček has condemned the detention of Alexey Navalny as a “politically motivated act” and will bring up the matter at the next EU Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. President of the European Council Michel also sharply condemned Navalny’s arrest as “unacceptable,” calling for his immediate release. The Russian opposition leader was arrested upon his return to Moscow from Berlin, where he recovered from an assassination attempt with a weapons-grade nerve agent. (Radio Prague International January 18)
Hungary’s Government in reality controls more than half of leading media.
- There are currently 88 media outlets that are able to influence public life in Hungary, either by reaching millions or by publishing regular, exclusive content. 44 of these TV and radio channels, dailies, weeklies, and news portals are now owned by PM Orbán’s closest circle. The other 44 operate independently, not necessarily having “opposition
ism” as a primary mission. Nine outlets have “uncertain status,” cooperating with Government officials or receiving state funding, but keeping an oppositional tone—at least for now. Among national TV channels, only the RTL Group is independent from the Government. As for daily newspapers, the tabloid Blikk is Hungary’s only financially independent publication. Over the past few years, the sole left-leaning national daily, Nepszava, has had a series of owners who have all enjoyed significant financing from the current Government. (Balkan Insight January 14)
Justice Minister: Government calls on EU Portuguese Presidency to reject migrant quota.
ce Minister Varga has reiterated Hungary’s standpoint on mandatory migrant quota as “the same as ever” as she called on the Portuguese EU Presidency to reject the quotas during a meeting between European Affairs Ministers on Monday. Varga added that Hungary expects the Portuguese Presidency to implement the agreement on the rule of law, making clear that funding could not be tied to “ideological expectations.” (Hungary Today January 19)
Newly Elected CDU Leader Laschet unlikely to seal EPP-Fate of Fidesz.
- On Saturday, Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) elected Armin Laschet as their new leader. Although many voiced hope that the change of leadership would finally help seal Fidesz’s fate in the EPP, Laschet, whose political approach is similar to that of Chancellor Merkel, is expected to be extremely cautious and permissive when it comes to the dilemma presented by the Hungarian ruling party. Fidesz’s EPP membership has been suspended since 2019. (Hungary Today January 18)
Poland pushes law to limit “censorship” by internet giants.
- The Polish Government has prepared a draft law on the protection of freedom of speech online, which states that social media companies cannot remove posts or block accounts unless they breach Polish law. Users will have the right to file a complaint with the social media company, and can appeal the decision before the newly–created Court Defending the Freedom of Speech. (Balkan Insight January 13)
Paweł Adamowicz: Polish officials call for trial over killing of Gdansk mayor.
- Two years have passed since Paweł Adamowicz, then-mayor of Gdansk and a vocal critic of the ruling conservative party’s anti-immigrant policies, was stabbed to death on 13 January 2019; though the suspect was immediately arrested, his criminal trial has not yet taken place. 200 Polish officials and public figures have signed a public appeal calling for the suspect to finally face the courts. Poland’s Human Rights Commissioner Bodnar has stated that the court’s verdict could be a “symbolic act of justice and a warning” against hate speech and expressed concern that, despite calls for a calming of political tensions after Adamowicz’s death, “political and social mechanisms have not changed [and] continue to produce hatred.” (Euronews January 13)
Polish PM calls for release of Kremlin critic Navalny.
- PM Morawiecki has called for the immediate release of Alexei Navalny after he was arrested on his return to Moscow, calling it “another attempt to intimidate the democratic opposition in Russia” and requesting a “quick and unequivocal response at the EU level.” (Polskie Radio January 18)
Poland authoritarian, NATO useless: Former German Chancellor’s controversial statement.
- A former German chancellor has controversially stated that Poland and Hungary are “authoritarian states” when making his case for dissolving or fundamentally reforming NATIO
and called sanctions against Russia unnecessary. Gerhard Schroeder was the Chancellor of Germany between 1998–2005; he later became involved in the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline and has been the head of the supervisory board of the Russian oil company Rosneft since 2017. The statements have been heavily criticized by Polish media and officials. (Poland.IN January 17)
Death behind bars triggers conspiracies, politicians carry some blame too.
- Baseless claims have been floating on social networks after the death of the former Police Corps president, Milan Lučanský in December, spreading on disinformation websites and regular media and supported by an #AllforMilan hashtag. While Justice Minister Kolíková, the prison management, and the police took numerous efforts to answer the questions that emerged on the internet after Lučanský death, opposition parties were quick to bring up more questions, some not refraining from supporting conspiracy narratives. Lučanský committed suicide in pretrial custody, where he was placed on charges of corruption. By adopting the All for Milan hashtag, the opposition and conspiracy scene may try to imitate the scenario from 2018, when protests forced major government reshuffles and resignations. The All for Milan group, counting nearly 50,000 members, was started by two profiles that do not appear to belong to real persons. (Slovak Spectator January 12)
Kočner sentenced to 19 years in prison.
- The Supreme Court confirmed the verdict delivered by the Specialised Criminal Court in February 2020, which ruled that Marian Kočner and Pavol Rusko are guilty of forging promissory notes and sentenced them to 19 years in prison. Prosecutors called it is the largest economic case in the history of the Slovak judiciary and criminalistics, as the extent of the crime is almost €70 million. (Slovak Spectator January 12)
Students ask the PM to relinquish his degree.
- Students want PM Matovič to forswear his Master’s degree, now that a law amended in November 2020 makes it possible. The new law allows universities to strip graduates of academic titles if their graduation thesis “cannot be proven to have been written by the graduate” and makes it possible to relinquish one’s degree. PM Matovič was one of multiple Slovak officials found to have plagiarized his degree, and stated last year that he would relinquish his title once it was legally possible. (Slovak Spectator January 12)
Slovenia resumes funding news agency after EU warning.
- The Slovenian Government has resto
red the financing of national news agency STA after Brussels warned against any attempt to pressure public media outlets. The European Commission insisted on Monday that the nature of the funding meant it did not have to approve the payments, and warned all member states against attempts to pressure the media, stating that public media “plays a special role in the European Union.” (Euractiv January 14)
NGOs lambast planned environmental law changes.
- Environmental NGOs warn that Environment Ministry-proposed changes to the environmental protection and spatial planning acts would further exclude them from key relevant administrative proced
ures and scrap legislative safeguards. Changes made last year to the construction legislation and to the Environmental Protection Act have already made it more difficult for NGOs to participate in administrative procedures. The provisions in force at the moment are being challenged at the Constitutional Court. (The Slovenia Times January 13)
EU Court of Justice fines Slovenia for non-compliance.
- The EU Court of Justice has ordered Slovenia to pay €750,000 for failing to timely implement changes in its legal order from the European Directive on the Market of Financial Instruments adopted in 2016. The Commission had filed a lawsuit against Slovenia in 2018, and had partially withdrawn it after Slovenia introduced the mentioned directive in December 2018. (IBNA January 13)
Slovenia: Opposition submits no-confidence motion to Government.
- The Coalition of the Constitutional Arc (KUL) has submitted a proposal for a vote of constructive no confidence against the Janša Government. Self-proposed Prime Minister-designate Erjavec expressed confidence that the motion will pass. A secret voting on the constructive no-confidence motion is expected to be held at an extraordinary session of the National Assembly next week. The new Prime Minister must be elected by an absolute majority. (IBNA January 15)
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