Regional Press Review (18-24 August)
Moscow Court fines Google for failing to delete banned content.
- The magistrate Court of Moscow’s Taganka district found Google “guilty of committing five administrative offenses” and sentenced it to pay $190.398 USD in total. Many critics believe the authorities are trying to quell dissent ahead of Parliamentary elections in September. Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram have also been fined last month for failing to delete content that Moscow deems illegal. (Radio Free Europe, August 17).
Navalny’s flight risk status remains in force after Moscow City Court rejects appeal.
- The Moscow City Court upheld a ruling in favor of deeming Navalny as a flight risk. The Prison Commission allegedly listed Navalny as a flight risk because he publicly spoke “about his intentions to escape” on two separate occasions. Navalny maintains that these statements were jokes. (Meduza, August 17)
Moscow Police use leaked personal data to investigate Navalny supporters.
- Moscow Police are using leaked online personal data from projects linked to jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to investigate his supporters, demanding to know as to how their names were included in the leaked data. This comes after a Court in Moscow labeled FBK and Navalny’s other projects extremist and banned them. Under Russian law, cooperation with such groups is considered illegal and may lead to criminal prosecution. Police have not said how they obtained the data from Navalny’s websites. (Radio Free Europe, August 18).
Russia labels independent election monitor as “foreign agent” ahead of September elections.
- The Russian Ministry of Justice has designated the independent election monitoring group Golos as a “foreign agent”. This move is likely to hamper the monitor’s work during next month’s elections. Golos has documented allegations and evidence of fraud in past elections, including the 2011 Parliamentary vote, in which suspicions of widespread rigging on behalf of the ruling United Russia party fueled large protests. (Radio Free Europe, August 18)
Saudi Arabia and Russia have signed a military cooperation agreement at an arms expo outside Moscow.
- Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman announced on August 24 that he signed the agreement with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Fomin, “aimed at developing joint military cooperation between the two countries”. Traditionally, the U.S. has been the top arms supplier to Saudi Arabia. (Radio Free Europe, August 24)
Russia imposed sanctions against the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
- Russia has expanded the list of Ukrainian citizens against whom sanctions have been imposed. The resolution was signed by Russian PM Mishustin. The updated sanctions list included 73 people. (Meduza, August 21)
Russia won’t intervene in the conflict between the Taliban and resistance fighters.
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared in a press summit that Russia has no intentions of getting involved either militarily or diplomatically in Afghanistan. Asked if Moscow would act as a “go-between” Peskov replied, “No, this is not on the agenda.”(Meduza, August 23)
Kremlin accuses Germany of carrying out a provocation against Russia.
- The German Chancellor arrived in Moscow on August 20 for talks with President Putin. The meeting is taking place during the first anniversary of Alexey Navalny’s poisoning. Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a lengthy statement denying accusations of the Russian authority’s involvement in the attempt on the opposition politician’s life. The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that Berlin was “having a laugh” at Moscow’s expense and accused Germany of carrying out a provocation against Russia. (Meduza, August 20)
Norway and Russia sharpen transparency pact on the movement of warships and aircraft.
- Norway has finalized an updated security agreement with Russia that adds strengthened protocols for avoiding high-risk encounters between aircraft and naval vessels in the High North region. The agreement comes at a time when Norway and Russia have increased military activities in the region. The updated pact covers the operations of naval ships and military aircraft outside the 12 nautical miles territorial water limit. It has also updated protocols to “prohibited actions” involving private and commercial marine vessels and civilian planes. (Defense News, August 21)
Russian Ambassador to Armenia visited the Yeraskh border posts.
- Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergey Kopirkin visited several border outposts of the Yeraskh settlement in Ararat Province. The Embassy stated in a news release that the Ambassador met with the Armenian and Russian border guards of the Ararat Border Guard Detachment of the Russian FSS Border Guard Division. (Armenpress, August 17)
Prime Minister Pashinian advocates opening up transport links, rejects ‘corridor’ for Azerbaijan.
- The unblocking of transport links in the region should be one of the priorities of Armenia’s foreign policy, but should not come at the expense of the security and vital interests of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, PM Pashinian declared on Tuesday. In presenting his Government’s action plan for 2021-2026 in the National Assembly, Pashinian spoke about opportunities of ending Armenia’s transport blockade that has lasted for three decades due to a protracted conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Radio Free Europe, August 24)
The U.S. calls for a negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
- The United States has again called for a negotiated settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, this time raising the issue of the region’s status. According to the state-run Armenpress news agency, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy stated while visiting the country’s Syunik region that the consequences of the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh have not been overcome and that the conflict remains unresolved because the status of the region remains to be decided. (Radio Free Europe, August 23)
Azerbaijani activists in Georgia want family names ‘liberated from occupation’.
- Members of Salam, an activist group of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia, are collecting signatures to have the Russian endings stripped off their surnames. Salam members have a month left to collect at least 25,000 signatures for the lawmakers to consider their draft law. The initiative envisages amending Articles 64 and 65 of Georgian Law on Civil Status Acts to let Georgian citizens ‘whose surnames end with inauthentic/non-traditional suffixes’ have those endings removed entirely or have them replaced with ‘traditional/authentic’ suffixes that ‘already exist’. (OC-Media, August 18)
Constitutional change does not dampen Azerbaijan’s Ashura commemorations.
- Despite new amendments to Azerbaijan’s Constitution that bar ‘forcing’ children to practice a religion, Ashura commemorations went on largely without incident and included children’s participation. On 19 August, Muslims in Azerbaijan marked Ashura, one of the most important days in the Islamic calendar. In Baku, Sumgait, Ganja, and other cities, crowds gathered to hold public ceremonies. Even though a new Constitutional Amendment appears to ban children’s participation in such religious events, videos from around the country show minors participating without incident. (OC Media, August 20)
South-Ossetia oppositionists call for a no-confidence vote to Government.
- Fourteen South-Ossetian MPs have demanded to discuss the no confidence in the Government at the Parliament session. Authorities have failed with their promises to index salaries and are hiding the results of the audit of budget spending, the oppositionists assert. (Caucasian Knot, August 22)
President Radev opens additional consultations with Parliamentary Groups on formation of Government.
- President Radev will hold further consultations with the parties represented in the 46th National Assembly within the constitutional procedure for handing an exploratory mandate for the formation of a Government. (Novinite, August 17)
Bulgaria’s Parliament condemned police violence against protesters in 2020.
- At a special sitting on August 17, Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved a declaration condemning police violence against protesting citizens in 2020. The special sitting was called by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Iva Miteva, after an ad hoc committee investigating the police violence viewed video it had acquired showing police, in July 2020, dragging protesters behind the columns of a Government building, forcing them to the ground and severely assaulting them. (Sofia Globe, August 17)
Bulgaria’s Caretaker Foreign Minister takes part in Crimean Platform Summit in Kyiv.
- Foreign Minister Svetlan Stoev started a three-day visit to Ukraine. On the first day of his visit, Minister Stoev represented Bulgaria at the Crimean Platform, which was attended by over 40 foreign delegations. (Novinite, August 23)
New Deputy Finance Minister appointed.
- Mamuka Baratashvili, , has been appointed as Deputy Finance Minister of Georgia, the Finance Ministry reported on August 16. It also noted that after one Deputy Finance Minister, Nikoloz Gagua moved to the National Bank of Georgia and another, Zurab Dznelashvili became the Finance Minister’s adviser, the positions of two deputy ministers became vacant. (Georgia Today, August 17)
Georgia turns its back on the West, while strengthening ties with Russia.
- The ruling party Georgian Dream appears to be strengthening its ties to Russia and even Belarus, reads the article published at Foreign Policy, written by Ian Kelly, ex U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, and David J. Kramer. The article notes that for decades, Georgia has been the most pro-Western and pro-American country in the region. Its top foreign-policy priority is to join the European Union and NATO, and it has answered nearly every call from both organizations to serve in peacekeeping and combat missions. (Georgia Today, August 21)
Georgian Prime Minister met with the President of Ukraine.
- Georgian PM Garibashvili met with Ukrainian Presiden Zelensky. They discussed the two countries’ strategic partnership, political-economic cooperation, and international aspirations at the meeting. It was noted that along with the great partnership, Georgia and Ukraine have a common aspiration to establish an honorable place in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. (Georgia Today, August 23)
Moldova’s Prime Minister had a meeting with the Governor of the National Bank of Moldova.
- PM Gavrilița had a working meeting with NBM Governor, Octavian Armașu, the Government’s Communication and Protocol Department has reported. During the discussion, the PM informed the Governor about the policies of the Cabinet of Ministers to be implemented and which may have an impact on monetary policies, especially the intention to increase the minimum pension and social allowances and how they can influence the power of buying and inflationary pressure. (Moldpres, August 18)
Ukrainian Prime Minister to visit Chisinau.
- Prospects of the Moldovan-Ukrainian political dialogue were examined at a today’s meeting between PM Gavrilița and Shevchenko, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Chisinau, the Government’s Communication and Protocol Department has reported. The official will participate in the events on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Moldova. (Moldpres, August 17)
Moldovan President seeks a ‘pragmatic relationship’ with Russia in the future.
- President Sandu declared that Moldova wants its relations with Russia to be based on pragmatism and will work to prevent a destabilization of the situation concerning the frozen conflict between Chisinau and its Moscow-backed breakaway region, Transnistria. President Sandu, who defeated Russia-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in November on a ticket of closer relations with the West, called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria. (Radio Free Europe, August 23)
Moldova will benefit from 236 million dollars on behalf of the IMF.
- Moldova will benefit from 165.3 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR), which is equivalent to about 236 million euros, on behalf of the International Monetary Fund, the Government’s communication and protocol department has reported. The decision was discussed at a meeting between PM Gavrilita and IMF Resident Representative in Moldova Rodgers Chawani. (Moldpres, August 24)
Dan Vilceanu appointed as Finance Minister.
- Vilceanu, a 42-year old economist who is at his second mandate in Romania’s Parliament was sworn in on Wednesday, August 18, in a brief ceremony attended by President Klaus Iohannis in which nobody held any speech. The new Finance Minister’s appointment marks a significant victory by Prime Minister Florin Citu over his party leader Ludovic Orban. The PM was the one who proposed Vilceanu for this position and managed to get his Liberal colleagues to support this nomination in a meeting of the party’s leadership on Tuesday evening. (Romania Insider, August 19)
U.S. fund invested €21 mln in Romanian energy and gas supplier.
- Restart Energy One (REO), which presents itself as the fastest-growing independent Romanian integrated energy and gas supplier, will get equity investments of up to €21 mln from U.S.-based Tejas Capital Group. The deal was closed at a valuation of €87.5 mln for the Romanian company. (Romania Insider, August 17)
Romania’s newly appointed Finance Minister questions rising inflation.
- Romania’s new Finance Minister Dan Vilceanu started his mandate with two controversial statements that raise doubts about his training for this job. In his first meeting with the journalists on Thursday, August 19, Minister Vilceanu stated that there is “no economic growth without inflation,” trying to pin the current inflation spike on the strong economic growth Romania recorded in the first half of this year. (Romania Insider, August 20)
Romanian Liberal leader officially enrolls in the race for a new mandate.
- The leader of Romania’s ruling party – the National Liberal Party (PNL), Ludovic Orban, officially announced his candidacy for a new mandate at the party’s helm on Thursday. PNL must reaffirm and promote the founding values of the modern Romanian nation, such as individual rights and freedoms, family, and Christian faith, Orban stated in his motion. (Romania Insider, August 20)
Turkey states that is ready for any kind of cooperation with Afghanistan.
- Turkey is ready for any kind of cooperation for the comfort of the Afghan people, well-being of its Turkish kin and protection of its interests in Afghanistan, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hasdeclared, stressing the continued military presence of the Turkish troops at Kabul airport will be to the benefit of the new Afghan administration. (Hurriyet, August 19)
U.S. denies deal between Turkey and the U.S. on Afghan refugees.
- The United States Embassy in Ankara has denied allegations regarding a secret agreement between President Erdoğan and U.S. President Joe Biden over Afghan refugees. (Hurriyet, August 18)
Turkey criticizes the U.S. administration for its continued support of the YPG.
- Turkey’s Defense Minister has criticized the U.S. for continuing its support to the YPG in Northern Syria, recalling no success can be attained in the Middle East by ignoring Turkey’s role and place. The U.S. has long been lending political and military support to the YPG in the fight against ISIL despite Turkey’s strong criticisms. Turkey designated the YPG as the Syrian wing of the PKK, therefore as a terrorist organization. (Hurriyet, August 22)
The Turkish Government denied the claim of a plan to establish a migrant center.
- Turkey’s Foreign Ministry denied claims made by British media concerning the establishment of an asylum processing center in Turkey for Afghan asylum-seekers. (Hurriyet, August 23)
Five Crimean Tatars detained in Russia-annexed Crimea.
- Russian authorities have detained five Crimean Tatars after their homes were searched in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Crimea region. The Crimean Solidarity stated that the searches were conducted at the homes of Raif Fevziyev, Dzhebbar Bekirov, Zaur Abdullayev, Rustem Murasov, and Rustem Tairov. All five men were detained later. (Radio Free Europe, August 17)
Ukrainian leader tries to put spotlight back on Russian-occupied Crimea.
- President Zelenskiy has lamented that the crisis in Crimea has fallen from global attention, and he pledged to “raise from the knees” the fate of the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia seven years ago. In an interview with Ukrainian media, including RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, President Zelenskiy declared that he also wants to raise awareness of residents, including Crimean Tatars and others, who have been detained or prosecuted by the region’s Russian-backed administration. (Radio Free Europe, August 19)
Ukraine bans website accused of ‘pro-Russian propaganda’.
- An influential opposition news website has been banned in Ukraine in connection with sanctions against its editor, who faces sanctions in Kyiv for publishing “pro-Russia propaganda” and is living in exile in Austria. The ban against the strana.ua website was issued as a decree signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. (Radio Free Europe, August 21)
President Zelenskiy looks to International Forum to return Russia-annexed Crimea.
- Ukrainian President Zelenskiy has vowed to do “everything possible” to return Russia-annexed Crimea to Ukraine as an international forum on the issue looked to rally international support. In his opening remarks to the forum on August 23, President Zelenskiy declared to the Government delegations from 45 countries, including the United States, all member-states of the European Union, and Great Britain, that Crimea, together with Ukraine, should become part of Europe. (Radio Free Europe, August 23)
Czech evacuation mission in Afghanistan has ended.
- PM Babiš has announced that the country’s mission to evacuate Czech officials and service members, Afghan translators and their families from Kabul has now ended, with the arrival on Wednesday evening of a third plane carrying 62 people. In total, the three Czech planes have brought 195 people to Prague. Among them were also four Afghans whose transport had been requested by Slovakia. (Radio Prague International, August 19)
Former MP Jaroslav Škárka has received a suspended one-year prison sentence for hate speech about premature babies with disabilities.
- Škárka wrote on his Facebook page last year that premature babies with low birth weights were “undeveloped monsters with IQs of around 50” who “must be gotten rid of” and were useless to society apart from certain NGOs. (Radio Prague International, August 19)
Lower House committee to debate President’s claim that the intelligence agency spied on people close to him.
- The Committee for the Control of the Security Information Service (BIS) in the Lower House will meet on Thursday to debate President Zeman‘s claim that the counterintelligence service had spied on people close to him. The chairman of the commission, Bělobrádek, stated that the head of the BIS, Koudelka, would also be present at the meeting. (Radio Prague International, August 23).
The Czech Republic suspends payment of 40 million crowns as development aid to Afghanistan.
- In view of the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan, the Czech Republic has suspended the payment of 40 million crowns intended for development aid to the country, the Czech Foreign Ministry announced. (Radio Prague International, August 20)
Hungary to send evacuation team to Afghanistan.
- A Hungarian evacuation operation is being initiated to bring the remaining Hungarians and Afghans who aided Hungary out of Kabul. Despite previous announcements that there are no Hungarians in Afghanistan, It has now been revealed that there are more than 26 Hungarians awaiting evacuation at Kabul airport. (Hungary Today, August 18)
Cooperation between Russia and Hungary has reached an “unprecedented level”. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated that such cooperation between the countries is unprecedented.
- Lavrov is scheduled to pay a working visit to Budapest, on invitation from Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó, on Tuesday. The Minister declared that relations between the two countries were “based on healthy pragmatism, respecting each other’s interests and both sides focusing on work”. (Hungary Today, August 24)
Polish President to visit Ukraine and Moldova.
- Polish President Duda will visit Ukraine and Moldova next week to offer encouragement to these two countries as they step up their pro-Western course. The visit comes as both Ukraine and Moldova prepare to celebrate 30 years of independence from the Soviet Union. (Polskie Radio, August 19)
EU Ministers back Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in the Belarusian migration crisis.
- The EU interior Ministers have expressed their solidarity with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia which have been hit by a wave of migrants illegally crossing the Belarusian border. According to the three countries, the Belarusian Government has encouraged migrants to cross into their territories in retaliation for their support of EU sanctions on the Belarusian regime. (PolandIn, August 18)
Right-wing MP demands a fence at the Polish-Belarussian border.
- The Belarussian security forces have been preventing the migrants from returning to Belarus, while the Polish counterparts have been making sure to debar the migrants from entering Poland. MP Winnicki expressed his belief that the border was not protected well as “there are no natural obstacles”. (Polandin, August 20)
Poland offers humanitarian aid to migrants in Belarus.
- Poland has offered humanitarian aid to migrants in Belarus amid a crisis on that country’s border with the European Union, the Foreign Ministry in Warsaw has stated. (Radio Poland, August 23)
Two dozen people evacuated from Afghanistan.
- Slovakia’s special army plane Spartan landed in Slovakia on Wednesday night, bringing both Slovak citizens and citizens of Afghanistan onboard. There were altogether 20 people onboard the Slovak plane, including a 10-month-old baby. Sixteen were Slovak citizens and their families, and the remaining four were citizens of Afghanistan who had been cooperating with the Slovak armed forces. Another four Afghans were onboard the special Czech plane, arriving in Slovakia in the meantime. (Slovak Spectator, August 19)
Opposition announces vote of no confidence in Education Minister.
- Four center-left parties are planning to file a motion to vote Education Minister Kustec out of office, arguing that two weeks before the start of the new school year, it is still not clear how primary and secondary schools will organize the education process while the epidemiological situation in the country is deteriorating. (Slovenian Times, August 17)
Slovenia donates firefighting equipment to North Macedonia.
- Slovenia dispatched 76.000 EUR worth of firefighting equipment to North Macedonia on Friday. The shipment includes special firefighting backpacks, chainsaws and fire brooms, the Foreign Ministry said. Slovenian firefighters recently helped their Macedonian colleagues fight wildfires and saw first-hand that the latter do not have enough equipment. (Slovenia Times, August 20)
Slovenian Foreign Minister promises Austria full transparency about nuclear plans.
- Slovenian Foreign Minister Logar assured his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg on Friday that Slovenia would be completely transparent about its plans to build a second unit at the Krško nuclear power station. This comes as Austria has always emphasized the downsides of nuclear, the potential for nuclear accidents and the cost of technology. Austrian press agency APA reported that an agreement had been reached to draw up a joint study on the earthquake study of the planned unit two in Krško. (Slovenia Times, August 20)
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