Regional Press Review (16-22 Iunie)
Biden, Putin conclude Geneva summit.
- President Biden and President Putin held a summit in Geneva on June 16. The two leaders agreed to return their ambassadors to Moscow and Washington, respectively, in a bid to lower tensions and open channels of communication. The leaders also agreed to resume a U.S.–Russian dialogue on strategic stability, signing a statement that reaffirmed the key principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” and agreed to have their governments enter a dialogue on cyber security. Both sides have been underscoring opportunities for cooperation but are downplaying expectations for any improvement in tense relations between Moscow and Washington. (Radio Free Europe June 22; VOANews June 16)
Grmany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow.
- German police have arrested a Russian scientist in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions. German investigators believe the scientist met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence since October 2020, and that on two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain.” (The Moscow Times June 21)
Russia, Myanmar agree to bolster ties.
- Myanmar and Russia on June 21 committed to improving ties between their two countries, after Junta Leader Min Aung Hlaing traveled to Moscow for an international security conference that brought together defense officials from across the globe. The U.N. General Assembly on June 18 called on Member States to “prevent the flow of arms” into Myanmar. (The Moscow Times June 21)
Borrell says EU should prepare for “further downturn” of relations with Moscow.
- EU chief diplomat Borrell declared on June 16 that the EU should prepare for a further deterioration of relations with Moscow while presenting the Commission’s proposal for a new strategy on EU–Russia relations. An EU summit to be held on 24–25 June will see a comprehensive approach towards Moscow presented, though leaders claim it will be difficult to agree on a joint EU27 position. (Euractiv June 16)
European Union extends Crimea sanctions by one more year.
- The European Union has endorsed a decision to renew sanctions introduced in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation for a further year until June 23, 2022. (Interfax Ukraine June 21)
Pashinyan’s surprising landslide victory defies Armenian opinion polls.
- Nikol Pashinyan’s party has defied opinion polls ahead of Armenia’s June 20 snap elections in a landslide victory that gives it a parliamentary majority. The Civil Contract Party won about 54% of the vote, compared to about 21% for former President Kocharian’s Armenia Alliance. None of the other 20 parties and three alliances in the elections cleared the minimum threshold needed to win parliamentary seats, but since Armenia’s constitution requires at least three parties or alliances in the unicameral parliament, former President Sarkisian’s Republican Party will take seats as the third-place finisher with almost 5% of the vote. (Radio Free Europe June 21)
Russia warns of response to Turkish military base in Azerbaijan.
- The Kremlin declared on Friday that Russia will take steps to ensure its national security if Turkey opens a military base near its borders, after President Erdoğan did not rule out Turkey’s permanent military presence in Azerbaijan during his visit to Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Russia called on regional players to not take actions containing “any elements that could cause a rise in tensions.” Meanwhile, FM Lavrov dismissed talk of the possible military base as “rumors.” (Azatutyun June 18)
Bulgarian leaders look to end history dispute with North Macedonia, back EU accession efforts.
- Bulgaria’s caretaker government has expressed its strong support for North Macedonia’s road to joining the EU, a departure from Sofia’s earlier objections. President Radev called the improvement of bilateral relations “of extraordinary importance,” and declared that “it is our duty to arrange things in a way so that our peoples are given a joint European future and the possibility to engage in mutual contact much more freely.” (Radio Free Europe June 17)
47 judges appointed amid criticism.
- The High Council of Justice (HCoJ) filled 47 vacant positions at Georgia’s lower instance courts on June 17, amid widespread criticism from the civil society and the opposition and claims that the appointments would “postpone” the perspective of strengthening the judiciary as envisaged in the April 19 EU-brokered deal. U.S. Ambassador Degnan declared the appointments “extremely disappointing” and “not in the spirit of the April 19 agreement.” (civil.ge June 18; civil.ge June 19)
Georgian CEC refuses to register referendum on Namakhvan HPP.
- The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia has denied the initiative of a group of activists to hold a referendum on the construction of a cascade of hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) in Namakhvani. (Caucasian Knot June 21)
Venice Commission, ODIHR issue second joint opinion on draft electoral amendments.
- The Venice Commission and ODIHR on June 18 issued a second joint urgent opinion on the revised draft amendments to the Georgian Election Code, noting that some elements of key recommendations from the first opinion still remain to be addressed. (civil.ge June 21)
Moldova intelligence denies role in abduction of Ukrainian judge.
- Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service (SIS) has dismissed claims that 29 of its operatives were involved in the illegal rendition to Ukraine of wanted judge Mykola Chaus, who had fled to Chișinău after being accused of taking bribes. Chaus was abducted from Chișinău on April 3 by Ukrainian special services across the border to Ukraine. (Balkan Insight June 18)
Poll: most Moldovans would vote for PAS and EBCS in parliamentary elections.
- According to the second pre-electoral opinion poll carried out by Watchdog.md and the Institute for Public Policy, if parliamentary elections were held next Sunday, 38.1% of Moldovans would vote for the PAS, while 21.4% for the EBCS; 13.7% would attend the polls, but do not know who to vote for. The poll also shows that if they had to choose between Moldova’s entry into the EU or into the Eurasian Union, 59% would pick the EU, while 23.5% the Eurasian Union. (IPN June 21)
Romanian parliament could hold special session for justice law changes.
- The Parliament could hold a special summer session to abolish a section to investigate offences within the judicial system (SIIJ). Romania is waiting for an opinion from the Venice Commission. (Euractiv June 21)
Turkish court accepts indictment on outlawing pro-Kurdish party.
- The Constitutional Court on Monday accepted an indictment seeking the closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), declaring that the HDP had committed crimes against the state and the unity of the country and its people. On June 17 in Izmir, an armed attacker entered the party’s headquarters despite police presence and killed a party staffer; The HDP accused the Government of instigating such attacks. 23 Kurdish parties have been closed on allegations such as terrorism and ethnic separatism so far. (Balkan Insight June 21)
Turkish women rally in defense of Istanbul Convention.
- Over 1,000 women rallied in Istanbul on June 19, urging President Erdoğan to reverse his decision to withdraw from a Council of Europe anti-violence treaty ahead of a formal exit on July 1. 300 women were murdered in Turkey in 2020, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, with 177 killed so far this year. (Euractiv June 21)
Turkey hosts 15% of world’s refugees, U.N. report finds.
- Turkey continues to be the largest refugee hosting country in the world, accounting for nearly 3.7 million refugees—15% of all people displaced across borders globally, according to a new UNHCR report. Germany was the largest hosting country in the EU, with 1.2 million refugees. 82.4 million people fled wars, violence, persecution, and human rights violations in 2020. (Euractiv June 18)
Zelensky imposes sanctions against men who fought for Ukraine in Donbas.
- At least seven Chechenian and Dagestani men who defended Ukraine against Russia and its proxies in Donbas have been placed under Ukrainian sanctions and now face deportation, although they are all citizens of the Russian Federation and would certainly face persecution and torture in Russia for their support of Ukraine. (Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group June 21)
Ukrainian tycoon’s lawyer claims allegations against his client are “wrong”.
- Controversial tycoon Dmytro Firtash has denied the allegations behind Kyiv’s move last week to impose sanctions on him for selling titanium products that allegedly ended up being used by Russian military enterprises. Firtash is currently living in Vienna while fighting extradition to the U.S., where he is wanted for bribery and racketeering charges. (Radio Free Europe June 21)
Confusion over the Biden Administration’s commitment to military support for Ukraine.
- Reports appeared over the weekend that a $100 million military aid package that included lethal weapons had been suspended days after President Biden met with President Putin in Geneva. The White House dismissed the reports as “nonsense” and pointed to a separate $150 million military aid program that had been approved a few days before the summit. (Intellinews June 20)
Right to use a weapon in self-defense to be enshrined in Czech constitution.
- Czech lawmakers approved an amendment that will enshrine the right to use a weapon in self-defense in the constitution. The amendment was approved in reaction to the EU’s Firearms Directive that was revised in 2018 to set stricter rules regarding the possession and acquisition of firearms and banned certain types of semi-automatic weapons. (Euractiv June 21)
Video shows Czech police kneeling on the neck of a Romani man who later died.
- Video footage from Teplice of a police intervention against a young Romani man who died after having a police officer kneel on his neck for several minutes is being widely shared through social media, with Romani community members comparing it to the death of George Floyd. Police claim the cause of death was not their intervention, but the drugs the man is said to have used. (expats.cz June 21)
Five thousand join Million Moment’s protest against Babiš Government.
- 5,000 people attended an anti-government demonstration staged by the Million Moments for Democracy group in Prague on Sunday. The organizers also launched a campaign in support of democratic alliances in the forthcoming general election. Similar to previous Million Moments rallies, people carried banners calling for Justice Minister Benešová’s resignation. (expats.cz June 21)
Hungary bans “gay” content—and that includes rainbow flags.
- The EU, the U.S. and major international human rights groups have condemned Hungary after its parliament approved a controversial bill that bans content deemed by the authorities to “promote” homosexuality on June 15. European Commissioner for Equality Dalli warned that the EU could withhold funding over Hungary’s move. The legislation outlaws sharing information with minors that “promote homosexuality or gender change,” including adverts in solidarity with gay people and TV shows and films shown during daytime. The proposal also requires education courses in schools to respect Hungary’s “constitutional identity” and its Christian culture and not propagate consensual same-sex conduct or the affirming of one’s gender. (Emerging Europe June 16)
Orbán’s European vision: Dismantle EU Parliament.
- Striking the provision of European treaties that requires the bloc to strive for “an ever-closer Union” and transforming the directly-elected European Parliament into a representative body of national parliamentary delegates were some of the Hungarian government’s positions in the debate during the Conference on the Future of Europe. (Euractiv June 21)
Warsaw pride parade returns amid backlash.
- The largest gay pride parade in central Europe took place on June 19 in Warsaw for the first time in two years amid a backlash in Poland and Hungary against LGBT rights. This weekend’s Equality Parade comes 20 years since the event was first held in the Polish capital. Warsaw Mayor Trzaskowski walked at the head of the parade. (Euractiv June 21)
Cyber sanctions should be the answer to cyber-attacks: FM Rau.
- FM Rau has declared that “cyber sanctions should be the answer to cyber-attacks.” On Friday, Poland sent a document on the details of cyber-attacks carried out in recent days to the EU countries, the European Commission, the Council and the ambassadors of the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Rau noted that the purpose of the attack was undermining trust towards NATO, creating the impression that Poland is taking hostile actions against Belarus, and trying to divide Poland and Lithuania. (Poland.IN June 22)
Support for ousted former Slovak PM Fico starting to grow.
- Three-time Slovak PM Fico, who was forced to resign in 2018, has begun gaining once again in popularity polls. President Čaputová remains the most trusted politician in Slovakia, with 54% of the population trusting her—the only political leader who is more trusted than not. Former PM and current Finance Minister Matovič is experiencing a slump in popularity, with 87% of Slovaks saying they do not trust him. (Euractiv June 21)
European Commission approves Slovakia’s recovery plan.
- Slovakia’s recovery plan has received the green light from the European Commission. EC President von der Leyen appreciated the fact that Slovakia was among the first countries to submit the plans and emphasized a great collaboration with the country. Slovakia should receive altogether €6.3 billion to be spent on investments and reforms, with its main priorities being education, health care, environment, innovations, digitalization, infrastructure, and effective public administration. (Slovak Spectator June 21)
PM Janša says freedom-loving countries started taking China seriously.
- PM Janša criticized the EU for not having done enough to limit the “growing threat” from China and putting its economic interests before its values. Janša welcomed the conclusions on China adopted at the recent G7 and NATO summits, stating that “the freedom loving countries have started taking China seriously for the first time.” Janša called China a bigger challenge than Russia or other countries and called on the EU, the U.S., and India to cooperate in their approach to it. (STA June 21)
Pride Parade highlights epidemic-related setbacks for LGBTIQ+ community.
- The Pride Parade in Ljubljana was held on Saturday following a week-long festival. The parade was for the first time accompanied by the Balkan Trans Intersex March, which pointed to issues faced by members of the transgender, intersex and non-normative sexuality communities. Mayor Janković addressed the parade, calling Ljubljana “a city that has always been and will remain open.” (STA June 20)
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