Regional Press Review (15-21 Apr)
U.S. slaps sanctions on Russian officials, entities.
- The U.S. has announced sanctions targeting Russian officials and entities in response to the SolarWinds cybersecurity breach and 2020 alleged election interference. 10 Russian officials and diplomats are to be expelled from the country, and the U.S. Treasury placed additional limits on the Russian sovereign-debt market, in a step that is sure to spook investors. The measures come after President Biden warned President Putin in a call on April 13 that the U.S. would defend its interests; Biden explained that they “could have gone further” in the retaliation, but chose to avoid an escalation. (Radio Free Europe April 15)
Biden proposes summit with Putin, Russia says it’s too early.
- President Biden called on President Putin on April 13 to reduce tensions and proposed a summit to tackle a raft of disputes, after Russia called the U.S. its “adversary” when it advised them to keep warships away from the Crimea region. Russia called it premature to talk about a possible meeting, but will study the proposal. Defense Minister Shoigu explained the recent military build-up in the region as a large snap drill to test combat readiness and respond to “threatening military action by NATO,” claiming that NATO was deploying troops and military equipment near Russia’s borders; NATO has denied this information. (Euractiv April 14)
Ukraine mobilizes NATO’s diplomatic and political means over Russia troops build-up.
- Ukraine was able to mobilize its Western allies at political level, with several high-level meetings taking place this week and President Zelensky calling an extraordinary meeting of the NATO–Ukraine Commission. (Euractiv April 13)
Bipartisan U.S. task force highlights strategy to counter Russia, other “autocratic regimes”.
- The bipartisan Task Force on U.S. Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism has published a road map for a foreign policy and national-security strategy prioritizing the advancement of democracy and the fight against authoritarianism in China, Russia, and elsewhere. The task force recommended seven “interrelated strategies” to reverse “the rising tide against freedom” that would include making democracy and countering authoritarianism a priority for U.S. diplomatic engagement by “galvanizing an international coalition to push back against authoritarian threats and reinforce democratic governance.” (Radio Free Europe April 14)
Baltic countries ready to cut last ties to Soviet past.
- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all currently part of the Russian electricity network, are set to join the Continental Europe electricity network instead by early 2026, in a €1.65 billion operation financed by The Connecting Europe Facility for Transport. (Euractiv April 14)
Navalny’s team calls April 21 protests amid grave concern over his health.
- Washington has threatened “consequences” if hunger-striking jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny dies behind prison bars. Meanwhile, his allies have called for massive protests to pressure Russian officials to allow him to see an independent doctor, after a group of physicians warned over his rapidly deteriorating health and the possibility of him suffering cardiac arrest “any minute now.” (Radio Free Europe April 18)
Russia beefs up warship presence in Black Sea as Ukraine tensions simmer.
- Moscow beefed up its naval presence at a time of tense relations with the West and Ukraine, with two Russian warships and 15 smaller vessels transiting to the Black Sea on Saturday. Washington cancelled the deployment of two of its own warships last week, after Moscow temporarily restricted the movement of foreign warships “and other state ships” near Crimea and expelled 10 U.S. diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of the same number of Russian diplomats from the U.S. over alleged malign activity. Russia’s FSB security service briefly detained and later expelled a Ukrainian diplomat on Saturday for trying to obtain classified information, and Ukraine retaliated by also expelling a diplomat. (Reuters April 17)
Top U.S., Russian officials discuss possible Biden–Putin summit amid heightened tensions.
- U.S. National
Security Adviser Sullivan has met with Secretary of the Russian Security Council Patrushev to discuss bilateral issues, “regional and global matters of concern,” as well as “the prospect of a presidential summit” between the two countries’ presidents. President Biden has proposed to meet the Russian leader to discuss bilateral relations face-to-face, but has yet to receive a clear response to the invitation. Last month, President Biden invited President Putin and other world leaders to the virtual summit on climate change on April 22–23; Putin accepted the invitation on April 19. (Radio Free Europe April 19)
EU warns Russian military buildup could “spark” conflict as Ukraine talks yield few results.
- Talks between top advisers to the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany to cool tensions in eastern Ukraine yielded few tangible results, and the EU warned that a Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s borders could “spark” a larger conflagration. The EU’s foreign policy service announced that more than 100,000 Russian troops had gathered near Ukraine and in Crimea. A fragile cease-fire negotiated last summer in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has unraveled in recent weeks, leaving at least 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the start of the year. (Radio Free Europe April 19)
Shoigu reproaches UN for non-helping in demining Karabakh.
- Russia has called on the United Nations to take part in demining the territories involved in the Karabakh conflict, with Defense
Minister Shoigu stating that they received no response to that matter. Shoigu stated that Russian military engineers and local sappers have been working on their own, demining 2000 hectares of territory and 618 kilometers of roads and neutralizing more than 25,500 explosive objects as part of their peacemaking mission to Nagorno-Karabakh. (Caucasian Knot April 18)
President to kick off consultations for government formation on Monday.
- On April 19, President Radev held the first round of consultations with representatives of the 45th National Assembly parliamentary groups. Presently, Daniel Mitov (GERB) is the main prime ministerial candidate;
should the first two largest parliamentary groups fail to form a Cabinet, the mandate would be handed over to a third parliamentary group at the discretion of the President. On April 16, the National Assembly accepted the resignation of the third government with Borissov as PM. (IBNA April 16; Novinite April 19)
Bulgaria must allow baby of same-sex couple to travel: EU adviser.
- A legal adviser of EU’s top court called for Bulgaria to find a way to allow the stateless baby of a same-sex couple from Bulgaria and Gibraltar to travel. The baby was born in Spain and given a birth certificate listing her two mothers as parents, but could not receive Spanish citizenship as neither of the two women is Spanish, could not receive British citizenship from her Gibraltarian mother as she was born in a third country, and cannot receive Bulgarian citizenship as Bulgaria does not recognize same-sex marriages or birth certificates with two mothers. An EU court ruling is expected later this year, in a test case for thousands of same-sex parents whose children are at risk of citizenship limbo over legislative differences across EU Member States. (Euractiv April 16)
Will Bulgaria miss the deadline for presenting its Recovery Plan and lose millions in EU funds?
- Former PM Borissov is refusing to present the country’s recovery plan before lawmakers in Parliament, declaring “Why should I appear when they voted for my resignation?” and claiming that the recovery plan is a cover to denigrate him. The Parliament has accused GERB of not submitting the plan on purpose to cause Bulgaria to miss the deadline and lose €6 billion in funding. Outgoing Deputy PM Donchev explained that the newly elected MPs do not have the ability to draft a new plan despite the EC having agreed to a postponement. (Novinite April 19)
EU mediates deal to end Georgia’s political crisis.
- Georgia’s ruling party and part of the opposition signed an EU-mediated deal on April 19 to end months of political crisis in the country, with several opposition parties agreeing to enter Parliament under the condition that early parliamentary elections be held in 2022 should Georgian Dream get less than 43% in the upcoming local elections, that rules be set regarding power distribution in Parliament, and that reforms to the judicial and electoral system be performed. The United National Movement (UNM) has not signed the agreement; Salome Samadashvili, the only UNM leader to sign it, suggested the party would join when European Council President Michel arrives to Tbilisi on April 20, and when UNM Chairman Melia is released from jail. (Radio Free Europe April 19)
State Security Service reports on internal, external threats of 2020.
- The State Security Service has issued its annual report for 2020, outlining key challenges faced by the country and measures employed to protect it from threats. The agency calls the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia the main threat in 2020, with “activities by intelligence services of foreign countries to the detriment of Georgia’s national interests” being another key challenge. (civil.ge April 19)
Moldova’s top court rules President Sandu can dissolve Parliament.
- Moldova’s Constitutional Court has ruled that President Sandu can dissolve the current Parliament, paving the way for early elections. The opinion is final and cannot be appealed. The Socialist Party announced that it would use “all legal means” to prevent general elections from being held during the coronavirus pandemic, calling it a “coup” as they asked for Sandu’s resignation. (Radio Free Europe April 15)
Maia Sandu on official visit to CoE.
- President Sandu made an official visit to the Council of Europe (CoE) in Strasbourg on April 19. Sandu met with many high-ranking officials to raise subjects related to the justice sector reform, the fight against high-level corruption, an economic recovery program, and cooperation with local public authorities and regional security. (IPN April 19)
Government to gain new powers related to international treaties.
- The Parliament approved a draft law on April 16 for the Government to gain additional powers regarding international treaties. The document will contain two new components dealing with the enforcement of international treaties, introducing the Cabinet’s obligation to ensure adherence to international treaties and evaluate progress on an annual basis. (Moldpres April 16)
Romania approves bill to bar China, Huawei from 5G networks.
- Romania’s government on April 15 approved a bill that effectively bars China and Huawei from taking part in development of its 5G network, sealing a 2019 memorandum signed in Washington that calls for a “careful and complete evaluation of 5G vendors….as part of risk-based security approach.” The bill is a prerequisite to launching 5G tenders in the country in the second half of this year. (Euractiv April 16)
Germany to support Romania’s bid for OECD membership.
- Germany’s Finance Minister Scholz expressed his support for Romania being invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Romanian Finance Minister Nazare considers that Romania has made significant progress and is in an advanced stage of the accession process. (Actmedia April 19)
Tensions rose between Dendias, Çavuşoğlu at the joint press conference.
- An otherwise positive visit by Greek FM Dendias to Ankara ended in a row during the joint press conference of the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Greece. FM Çavuşoğlu raised the issue of the “Turkish” minority in Thrace, which Dendias reiterated as being “Muslim… as recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne.” Afterward, the two sides clashed over issues of immigration, the demilitarization of the islands, and the challenges in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean. (IBNA April 16)
United States provides $155 million to support Ukraine’s development.
- The United States announced that it will provide $155 million in additional development funding to Ukraine through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve the lives of the Ukrainian people. The additional resources will be used to address key development challenges in Ukraine, including: support economic growth and improve health of Ukrainians; enhance anti-corruption efforts; counter Russian aggression; and strengthen democracy and governance. (Interfax Ukraine April 20)
Merkel, Macron, Zelensky call for end of Russian military buildup near Ukraine.
- The leaders of Ukraine, France, and Germany have called on Russia to pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border amid rising tensions in the region, after discussions in preparation for Normandy Format talks involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany to try to resolve the Ukraine conflict. President Zelensky
announced that he was ready to hold four-way talks that included President Putin, adding that peace talks are possible and that a separate meeting between President Biden and Putin could help solve some issues. (Radio Free Europe April 16)
2014 explosion called “Russian terrorism in the Czech Republic”.
- The Czech Republic claims that Russian military agents linked to the 2018 Skripal nerve-agent poisoning in Britain were behind an earlier explosion at a Czech arms depot that killed two people. Czech opposition parties are calling the event “Russian terrorism in the Czech Republic,” and have called on PM Babiš to debate it within the EU and NATO. EU foreign ministers discussed the accusation on Monday and expressed “full support and solidarity” with the Czech Republic. (Expats.cz April 18; Radio Free Europe April 19)
Russia expels Czech diplomats over explosion row.
- The Czech Republic expelled of 18 Russian diplomats from the country on Saturday over allegations from local intelligence agents of the diplomats being Russian intelligence operatives suspected of involvement in an explosion at an arms depot in 2014. Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats in response, calling expulsion
an “unprecedented” and “hostile act” done to “please the United States… their masters from across the pond.” (BBC News April 18)
V4 FMs voice solidarity with Prague amid tensions with Moscow.
- In a joint statement, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary’s on Monday condemned “all activities aimed at threatening the security of sovereign states” and their citizens. The three countries declared that they were ready to “further strengthen” their “resilience against subversive actions” at both the national level and together with their NATO allies and within the EU. (Polskie Radio April 20)
Five Polish diplomats to be expelled from Moscow.
- Five Polish diplomats were expelled from Moscow in a tit-for-tat move after a similar decision by Warsaw. The Polish Foreign Ministry on Thursday had designated three Russian embassy staff members as personae non gratae in solidarity with a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Moscow. (Polskie Radio April 16)
Controversial Former PM Matovič to represent Slovakia in international financial institutions.
- Finance Minister Matovič (OĽaNO) has been appointed to represent Slovakia in international financial institutions, assuming the roles of the Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Governor of the World Bank Group, Governor of the International Investment Bank, and Governor of the European Investment Bank (EIB). Meanwhile, President Čaputová has criticized Matovič’s claims
during the scandal surrounding the Sputnik V vaccine, and is calling for the contract to be made public. (Euractiv April 16)
Police visited STA chief supervisor due to a number of reports.
- Ljubljana Police Department investigators visited STA chief supervisor Mladen Terčelj and is leading an investigation to determine whether there are elements of suspected criminal acts prosecutable ex officio based on allegations of irregularities regarding the STA. (STA April 17)
Slovenia to send recovery plan to EU Commission by end of month.
- Finance Minister Šircelj has announced that Slovenia will send its recovery plan to the European Commission by the end of April. Slovenia presented its plan at Friday’s EU’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council, and believes that it complies with all the requirements. (STA April 17)
Hojs talks EU presidency and illegal migration with Italian counterpart.
- Interior Minister Hojs discussed the priorities of Slovenia’s upcoming EU presidency with Italian counterpart Lamorgese on Friday. The two ministers also discussed the issue of illegal migration and agreed that a joint and comprehensive solution should be reached on EU level to tackle it. In terms of security, Slovenia’s EU presidency will focus on providing a high level of security in the EU, mostly through boosted police cooperation as well as on strengthening security in the Western Balkans. (STA April 17)
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