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#Newsletter Exclusive / True Story Project

Regional Press Review (18 – 24 Mar)

RUSSIA

U.S. Intelligence reports Iran, Russia carried out influence operations during 2020 Election. 

  • The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported on March 16 that Russia and Iran have both conducted misinformation operations to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The report assesses that the Russian government and its proxies tried to impact U.S. public perceptions by denigrating Biden and encouraging Trump during the election. Meanwhile, Iran was found to have carried out “covert influence campaign” to damage Trump’s campaign, without actively promote Biden. Russia has described the allegations as “baseless.” (Radio Free Europe March 16Reuters March 17)

U.S. to expand Russia sanctionover Navalny poisoning. 

  • The United States will expand its export restrictions to Russia as part of sanctions over the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The Bureau of Industry and Security is currently reviewing Russia-bound national security items “under a presumption of denial for exports and re-exports.” (The Moscow Times March 17)

EU to sanction two Chechens over repression of dissent, LGBT people. 

  • EU ambassadors have given the green light to sanctions against two Chechen officials accused of involvement in the repression of LGBT people and other individuals suspected of being opponents of Chechenyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Abuzayed Vismuradov and Ayub Katayev were targeted with asset freezes and visa bans under the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime that came into effect in December. The move is set to enter into force during a meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 22. (Radio Free Europe March 17)

Tensions with Russia flare as Biden says Putin will “pay a price” for election meddling. 

  • U.S. President Biden stated that he believes President Putin is “a killer who has no soul” and suggested that he will soon “pay a price” for alleged meddling in U.S. elections. Russia has summoned its ambassador to Washington to Moscow for consultations, and President Putin suggested that he and President Biden should hold talks in upcoming days. (Radio Free Europe March 17Euractiv March 19)

Russia’s envoy to U.S. back in Moscow after spat over Biden’s comment about Putin being a killer. 

  • Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. returned to Moscow on March 21 for emergency consultations amid rising tensions with Washington following President Biden’s comments on believing President Putin to be “a killer.” Ambassador Anatoly stated that he would stay in Moscow “as long as needed” and that several meetings were scheduled. We are interested in the development of RussianAmerican relations to the same extent as our American colleagues are,” Anatoly added. (Radio Free Europe March 21)

Washington declined Putin–Biden discussion—Russian Foreign Ministry. 

  • The Russian Foreign Ministry has announced that the U.S. has declined President Putin’s offer to hold an “open discussion” with President Biden, commenting that “one more opportunity has been missed to find a way out of the deadlock in Russian–U.S. relations created through the fault of Washington.” Kremlin spokesman Peskov also declared that “the American side wasn’t ready” and the discussion was not held. (Meduza March 22)

NATO dismisses Russian warning to Bosnia against “hostile step”. 

  • The Russian Embassy in Bosnia declared that Russia will react should Bosnia takes steps towards joining NATO, perceiving it a “hostile act” as the purpose of NATO was a “fight against Russia” and joining the Alliance would mean taking sides in the “military-political confrontation.” NATO has assured that each country has the sovereign right to choose its security arrangements, adding that “no third party has the right to intervene or veto such a process, and that “all threats in this regard are unacceptable. The time of spheres of influence has passed.”(Balkan Insight March 19)

European Council President tells Putin EURussian relations at “low point”. 

  • European Council President Michel has told President Putin that relations between the EU and Russia are “at a low point.” The Russian leader blamed the situation on the bloc’s “unconstructive, often confrontational policies” and stressed that Russia was ready to “resume normal depoliticized” ties with the EU if there’s a will to do so in Brussels. Meanwhile, the bloc’s Foreign Policy Chief Borrell declared that Russia “is drifting towards an authoritarian state and away from Europe.” (Radio Free Europe March 22)

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to begin two-day China visit. 

  • FM Lavrov began a two-day visit to Beijing on March 22 at the invitation of his Chinese FM WangThe visit comes immediately after the conclusion of talks between FM Wang and U.S. Secretary of State Blinken in Alaska. On the agenda for Lavrov’s visit are bolstering Chinese–Russian bilateral ties and addressing international and regional issues. (Foreign Brief March 22)

ARMENIA

Embattled Armenian PM announces early parliamentary elections in June. 

  • PM Pashinyan has agreed to hold early general elections on June 20. The announcement was made following talks with opposition parties, President Sakisian, and his own coalition, in which all parties agreed on snap elections being “the best way out of the current internal political situation.” (Radio Free Europe March 18)

Interpol said to have rejected Armenia’s bid to put former chief prosecutor on wanted list. 

  • Armenian authorities have assured that the search for Gevork Kostanian continues even after the Interpol called the case an instance of political persecution and refused to put him on the international wanted list. Kostanian is a former prosecutor-general who has been wanted by Armenian authorities since late 2019 on criminal charges related to a 2008 post-election crackdown on the opposition, charges that he denies and claims are politically motivated. (Radio Free Europe March 17)

Armenian opposition set to continue street protests despite announced early elections. 

  • The Homeland Salvation Movement will continue its street protests calling for PM Pashinyan’s resignation despite the announcement of early parliamentary elections in June. Ishkhan Saghatelian, a coordinator of the alliance, explained that they had “sufficient reasons” to doubt that Pashinyan genuinely intends to resign and hold elections on June 20. (Azatutyun March 19)

Armenian PM Advocates “mutually beneficial” infrastructure projects for both Yerevan, Baku. 

  • Armenian PM Pashinyan stated on March 20 attempted to ease concerns about the development of railroads and roads to Azerbaijan as “mutually beneficial” for both countriesPashinyan noted that one of the provisions of the trilateral statement signed to end last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh calls for the unblocking of “all economic and transport links” in the region, including the construction of new roads and railroads linking the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan to mainland Azerbaijan via Armenian territory. (Radio Free Europe March 20)

 AZERBAIJAN

Political prisoners among individuals pardoned by Azerbaijani President. 

  • President Aliyev has issued pardons for 625 people on March 18, including 38 people who had been identified by rights groups as being behind bars for political reasons. The clemency decree released 475 inmates from penitentiaries, cut the prison terms of 98 convicts by half and shortened three life terms to 25 years. Among the released were four members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, 28 imprisoned in the high-profile case of deadly clashes with police in Nardaran in 2015, one Islamic Party member sentenced for protesting against the banning of hijabs in schools, and one relative of a political activist living abroad. (Radio Free Europe March 18)

Azerbaijan urged to investigate torture, other abuses against Armenian POWs. 

  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Azerbaijan to investigate all allegations of ill-treatment against Armenian prisoners of war, to hold those responsible to account, and to immediately release all remaining POWs and civilian detainees and provide information on those who were last seen in Azerbaijani custody. The number of POWs still in custody is unclear: Armenia claims its neighbor had returned 69 of 240 POWs and civilians, whereas Azerbaijan claimed it had returned all the POWs, but was still holding 60 people suspected of terrorism. The Armenian MFA insists that dozens of prisoners of war continue to be held in Azerbaijan, undermining the implementation of the Russian-brokered ceasefire deal from last November. (Radio Free Europe March 19) 

Azerbaijani video blogger in serious condition in France after being stabbed 16 times.  

  • Mahammad Mirzali, who runs the Made In Azerbaijan YouTube channel, was beaten and stabbed at least 16 times on March 14 by a group of men in France, and is currently in hospital with severe injuries. Mirzali—whose YouTube channel has 265,000 subscribers and covers opposition to President Aliyev, corruption, and other issues—fled his homeland in 2016 due to his political activism. (Radio Free Europe March 16)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister to Charles Michel: we don’t want dole, we want fair vaccine distribution in EU. 

  • PM Borissov met with President of the European Council Michel, alongside Austrian Chancellor Kurz, Slovenia’s PM Janša, Croatia’s PM Plenković, Latvia’s PM Kariņš, and Czech PM Babiš. The group proposed a mechanism for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the EU on a per capita basis to compensate countries that have received fewer vaccine doses, insisting that the issue should be resolved before the next European Council meeting. (Novinite March 17)

Bulgaria’s powerful “Potbelly” vanishes from political scene ahead of elections. 

  • Delyan Peevski—a controversial oligarch and media mogul in Bulgaria’s Parliament known by the nickname of “Potbelly”was removed from the list of party candidates from his Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), and has been selling off his vast media holdings. Peevski reportedly retired for personal reasons. (Radio Free Europe March 18)

Several people suspected of spying for Russia detained in Bulgaria. 

  • Several people who are suspected of espionage for Russia have been allegedly arrested in Sofia in an operation carried out by the state security agency, according to the Bulgarian state TV. Neither the prosecution, nor the Interior Ministry have so far confirmed that the detention took place. (Novinite March 19)

Bulgaria tells Russia to stop spying, threatens to expel diplomats. 

  • PM Borissov has called on Russia to stop spying on his country, a day after prosecutors charged six people, including former and current military intelligence officers, of passing classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and the EU to the Russian Embassy in Sofia. Russia’s Embassy on March 19 denied the spying allegations, calling them part of “incessant attempts to drive a wedge in the Russian–Bulgarian dialogue and once again demonize our country.” (Radio Free Europe March 21)

Bulgarian PM Challenged by former right-hand man backed by U.S. trucking tycoon. 

  • Tsvetan Tsvetanov, PM Borissov’s former right-hand man who stepped down two years ago amid accusations of corruption, is trying to make a comeback in upcoming parliamentary elections with the help of a U.S.-based trucking tycoon Pavel Valnev. The duo have formed the Republicans for Bulgaria Party, with a party platform that calls for closer relations with the U.S., full integration of the Balkans into Western institutions, and fighting corruption at home. (Radio Free Europe March 22)

Moscow to reciprocally respond to expulsion of diplomats from Bulgaria. 

  • Russia will respond to Bulgaria’s expulsion of diplomats in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, Federation Council Deputy Speaker Kosachev declared on Monday. The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria demanded all speculations over this case to stop until the court hearing takes place. (TASS March 22)

GEORGIA

EU Mediation, day 6: Georgian Dream, opposition hold meeting. 

  • Extended talks between European Council Envoy Christian Danielsson continued throughout the week; the parties failed to reach an agreement, but noted making some progress. The Georgian Dream and a few opposition parties stated that the negotiations “are going in the right direction,” adding that “certain positions have already been reconciled.” The European Georgia Party, however, stated that “there can be no talk of results at this point,” and that the boycotting opposition would only enter the current “transitional” Parliament to work toward setting up snap elections. The Labor Party leader stormed out mid-meeting and announced that his party is leaving the EU mediation-based framework. (civil.ge March 17)

PM Garibashvili concludes Brussels visit. 

  • PM Garibashvili has concluded his March 15–17 visit to Brussels, during which he held a wide range of meetings with top representatives of the European Council, Commission and Parliament, as well as NATO. PM Garibashvili assured that “absolutely everyone” he met advised Georgian parties to find a common ground so that political activities can continue in the Parliament, adding that EU officials “ruled out any questions” about the legitimacy of the October 2020 general elections. During the meetings, Garibashvili reaffirmed the Government’s ambitious plans of officially applying for full EU membership in 2024 and taking all necessary steps to that end, and assured that EU and NATO officials support Georgia in all aspects. (civil.ge March 18)

Third CoE report on trafficking in Georgia. 

  • The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), the Council of Europe’s (CoE) anti-human trafficking monitoring body, in its third report took note of Georgia’s progress, but stressed the need for “improved victim identification and strengthened criminal justice response.” The report evaluates the implementation of the CoE’s Convention on Action against TraffickingGRETA reported a total of 66 trafficking victims between 2015 and 2019. (civil.ge March 17)

EU mediator returns from Georgia empty-handed. 

  • After a week of negotiations, the special envoy of European Council President Michel returned to Brussels empty-handed, after unsuccessful attempts to find solutions for the Georgian political stalemate. Envoy Danielsson declared that there was agreement between the parties on certain issues, but that there were issues on which consensus had not been reached and that “it is up to the leaders to find a way out of the political crisis.” The ruling and opposition parties subsequently traded accusations of responsibility for the failure of the talks. (Euractiv March 19)

Georgia’s Envoy to EU Steps Down. 

  • Ambassador to Belgium and Luxemburg and Head of Georgian Mission to the EU Sabanadze has stepped down from her position. The resignation of Ambassador Sabanadze, one of Georgia’s longest-serving envoys, coincides with the failed attempt by the special envoy of the EU Council President to broker a solution to the protracted political crisis. (civil.ge March 21)

Opposition warns disobedience, large-scale rally on May 15. 

  • On March 20, Georgian opposition leaders announced their plans to organize a large-scale rally on May 15 in Tbilisi. The United National Movement declared that the opposition will work in emergency mode for the next two months and tour the country to convince citizens that “the truth is behind us” before the rally. Noting that “there will be an all-embracing protest and disobedience,” the European Georgia Party added that “no West can help us if we do not move [forward] ourselves.”  (civil.ge March 20)

MOLDOVA

PAS president Igor Grosu proposed for PM by Maia Sandu. 

  • President Sandu has proposed the president of the Party of Action and Solidary (PAS) Igor Grosu for Prime Minister. On February 11, the previous PM candidate designated by President Sandu didn’t obtain any votes in Parliament; if Grosu fails to gather enough votes to be endorsed, the Parliament will be dissolved and snap parliamentary elections will be called. (IPN March 16)

New majority announced in Parliament, President invited to consultations. 

  • The Socialist Parliamentary Group has announced the formation of a parliamentary majority and proposed current Ambassador of Moldova to Russia Vladimir Golovatiuc for Prime Minister. The Party of Socialists requested the Constitutional Court to suspend the presidential nomination Igor Grosu for Prime Minister, but the Court rejected the request on March 19. (IPN March 19) 

Moldovan President meets with EBRD Head. 

  • The current situation in Moldova regarding political, economic, health and justice issues was discussed on Wednesday afternoon by President Sandu and President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Renaud-Basso. President Sandu assured that independent justice is a priority of her presidential term, and expressed desire to expand cooperation for infrastructure projects, energy efficiency, and the development of SMEs and start-ups for young people. (Moldpres March 18)

French experts to consider opportunities of support for Moldova’s economic, social development. 

  • President Sandu and her advisers met on March 22 with the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Expertise France Agency to discuss their upcoming mission to Moldova. The French experts will examine opportunities of support for social and economic developmentimplementation of reforms, and combating corruption in the country. AFD will then decide on a comprehensive support program that would represent ‘’a long-term investment in the Moldovan–French bilateral relations.’’  (Moldpres March 22)

ROMANIA

PM Cîţu: EC supports the lifting of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania. 

  • PM Cîţu announced on March 18 that the European Commission (EC) supports the elimination of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) at the end of 2021The CVM was established at the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU in 2007 as a transitional measure to facilitate the two countries’ continued efforts to reform their judiciary and step up the fight against corruption, Romania could join the Schengen area this year if their report was favorable. (Romania Insider March 19)

President Iohannis: We agreed on the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. 

  • President Klaus Iohannis announced on Wednesday that the National Recovery and Resilience Plan was agreed upon, stressing that the 30 billion euros represent a chance for Romania’s development and the implementation of delayed reforms. The Plan will focus on improving access to health services, developing the motorway network, the “Educated Romania” program, digitalization, improving access to drinking water and sanitation services, and environmental projects(Actmedia March 18)

TURKEY

Talks stall in GreeceTurkey maritime dispute. 

  • Diplomats from Greece and Turkey failed to reach a breakthrough on March 16 during the latest round of talks on their standoff over eastern Mediterranean borders and energy rights. Though Greek FM Dendias assured that his country was “participating in these talks in good faith,” the two sides seemed far apart both on the scope and details of the talks. President Erdoğan stated that it was “out of the question for us to make any concessions.” Tuesday’s talks began after a diplomatic note from Ankara told Israel, Greece, and the EU to seek its permission for a proposed undersea power cable in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters. A future meeting is scheduled in Istanbul on April 14. (Euractiv March 17)

Turkish prosecutor files indictment for dissolution of HDP. 

  • Turkey’s state prosecutor filed a case with the Constitutional Court demanding the closure of the Peoples‘ Democratic Party (HDP) party on March 17. The indictment accuses HDP leaders and members of flouting the democratic and universal rules of law, colluding with the terrorist” PKK and affiliated groups, and aiming to destroy the indivisible integrity of the state. The move follows calls by Turkish political leaders for the HDP to be closed down. In recent years, more and more HDP executives and elected officials have been charged with terrorism-related offenses; most recently, HDP MP Gergerlioğlu’s seat was revoked after he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for similar charges. (Hurriyet Daily News March 17)

Turkey: State Department appeals for HDP and MP Gergerlioğlu. 

  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has denounced a judicial and political “coup” and accused President Erdoğan of an attempt to silence it ahead of the next election. The U.S. Department of State has stated that it “is closely following the events in Turkey, including the worrying moves made on March 17 to oust Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu from his parliamentary seat. We are also watching the start of efforts to disband the People’s Democratic Party, a decision that would unduly undermine the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey and deny millions of Turkish citizens their elected representation. We urge the Turkish government to respect the freedom of expression in accordance with the protections of the Turkish constitution and Turkey’s international obligations.” (IBNA March 18)

Turkey condemned for quitting Istanbul treaty. 

  • Turkey sparked both domestic and international fury on Saturday after it withdrew from the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women, accusing the LGBTQ+ community of using the convention to promote an agenda incompatible with the social and family values of Turkish DemocracyTurkish women’s rights groups, opposition parties, and human rights organizations quickly organized protests across the country athey called the decision “unacceptable.” U.S. President Biden and other international leaders have called Turkey’s abandonment of the agreement “deeply disappointing.” (Balkan Insight March 20)

Turkey’s Erdoğan criticizes Biden over “killer” Putin remark. 

  • President Erdoğan has criticized President Biden’s remarks describing President Putin as a “killer,” stating that the comment “does not suit a head of state” and praising Putin for his “very, very smart, very classy response after Putin mocked Biden’s comments by saying “it takes one to know one” and wishing the 78-year-old “good health.” (The Moscow Times March 19)

LEAK: Borrell report suggests new carrot-and-stick approach for Turkey. 

  • Turkey will be invited to follow a path of dialogue and reap economic benefits, or move further away from Europe and face consequences, the EU’s chief diplomat Borrell wrote in his Turkey report. Borrell suggests adopting a “carrot-and-stick” approach towards Ankara, by putting offering mostly economic incentives such as the EU–Turkey Customs Union, the Visa Liberalisation Roadmap, and participation in the next Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe, as well as “smart, scalable yet reversible” sectoral sanctions should Turkey return to “renewed unilateral actions or provocations.” (Euractiv March 22)

UKRAINE

NATO committed to open door policy, support for Ukraine, GeorgiaStoltenberg’s annual report. 

  • NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has assured that NATO’s open-door policy remains unchanged, as does its support for Ukraine and Georgia’s future membership in the alliance. The Secretary General called North Macedonia’s becoming the 30th member of the North Atlantic Alliance in March 2020 one of the greatest and most tangible successes of the Alliance over the years. (Interfax March 16)

Journalist arrested on espionage charge in Russia-Controlled Crimea. 

  • The authorities in Crimea have arrested Vladislav Yesypenkoa Russian-Ukrainian freelance contributor to Krym.Realii (a RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service regional news outlet) for allegedly spying on behalf of Ukraine. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claim that an object “looking like an explosive device” was found in Yesypenko’s automobile during his apprehension, and that he confessed to collecting data for the Ukrainian Security Service. If convicted on firearms charges, Yesypenko could face up to six years in prison; if convicted of espionage, he could face up to 20 years. The Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service accused the FSB of trying to create the atmosphere the Kremlin needs to “celebrate the anniversary of the occupation of Crimea.” (Radio Free Europe March 16)

Ukraine slaps sanctions on ex-President Yanukovych, ex-PM Azarov, and others. 

  • Ukrainian security and defense officials have imposed sanctions against exiled former president Yanukovych, ex-PM Azarov, and nearly two dozen other individuals active under the administration that fell when Yanukovych fled to Russia under pressure from street protests in 2014. All are accused of aiding Russia’s control of Crimea and of the Donbas region. (Radio Free Europe March 20)

Ukrainian MFA: Plans to open representative office of Just Russia in Donetsk, Luhansk prove escalation of situation in ORDLO by Russia. 

  • Alexei Zhigulin has been appointed as the plenipotentiary representative of the chairman of the Russian Just Russia-Patriots-For the Truth Party in the territories of the so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” and was instructed to create a representative center of the party in Donetsk and organize a consultation reception for citizens living in the territories. The MFA of Ukraine has accused the initiative of disregarding the Minsk Agreements and escalating the situation in the region. (Interfax Ukraine March 23)

Zelensky invites EBRD to join development of infrastructure projects, privatization in Ukraine. 

  • President Zelensky invited the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to join the development of infrastructure projects and privatization in Ukraine, which he called “one of the priorities today.” The EBRD President welcomed the reforms that are being implemented in various sectors of the Ukrainian economy after being briefed by Zelensky on their progress. (Interfax Ukraine March 22)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Friends of Free Russia formed to support Russian democracy. 

  • Over 20 members of the Czech Chamber of Deputies and Senate have created Friends of Free Russia, a group in support of Russian civil society that will cooperate with NGOs and similar groups abroad. The group was formed in response to “Russia’s growing aggressiveness under the rule of President Putin” and has been joined by over 10 members of the lower house and eight senators.  (Expats.cz March 17)

Five Prime Ministers urge EU summit on vaccines. 

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia, and Bulgaria have addressed a letter to European Council President Michel and European Commission President von der Leyen on Friday calling for a summit on Covid-19 vaccines. The letter claims that the deliveries of vaccine doses are not being implemented on an equal basis following the pro rata population key agreed by EU leaders, potentially creating huge disparities among members, “contrary not only to our agreement but also to the spirit of European solidarity.” (The Slovenia Times March 15 )

Russian diplomat’s Czech arrest resulted in embassy purges.

  • The case of a Russian diplomat Czech police arrested last June for illegally buying ammunition has resulted in mutual purges at the two countries’ embassies. The tense Czech—Russian relations were supposed to be settled by bilateral consultations that have yet to commence. Since last summer, Russia has gradually expelled or rejected half of the military section at the Czech Embassy in Moscow, and the Czech side reacted based on the principle of reciprocity. (Expats.cz March 22)

Young Czechs and Slovaks have differing views of LGBT rights, immigration, and drugs. 

  • Young Czechs and Slovaks differ in their attitudes towards sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities, according to a survey conducted by the Czech Council of Children and YouthCzech Council for Children and Youth, and the Slovak Youth CouncilCzechs are more tolerant of the LGBT community, whereas Slovaks have fewer reservations about immigrants and Muslims. Young people in Slovakia were twice as likely (23%) to be bothered by the idea of having a gay or lesbian as a neighbor than their Czech counterparts (11%). Trans people were less popular in both countries, with 16% of Czechs and 30% of Slovaks not wanting to have them as neighbors. Respondents between the ages of 15 to 19 were by up to 15% more tolerant of Roma, Muslims, and migrants than respondents between 24 to 29. (Expats.cz March 22)

HUNGARY

FM Szijjártó slams EU sanctions against Myanmar, China as “pointless and harmful”. 

  • FM Szijjártó has called the EU’s sanctions against persons and institutions in Myanmar and China as “pointless, self-aggrandizing and harmful” at a time when international cooperation is “a tool to save lives rather than [introducing] austerity measures.” The sanctions against 11 Myanmar citizens and four legal entities were tied to their role in the February 1 coup in the country, and four Chinese citizens were sanctioned for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. Szijjártó criticized the EU for focusing on “alleged human rights abuses a thousand kilometers away” and ignoring the persecution of minorities such as Hungarians living in Ukraine and Christians worldwide. (Hungary Today March 22)

Hungary pushes Commission to publish all jab contracts. 

  • Hungary is asking the European Commission to publish all vaccine contracts jointly procured by the EU, as it has so far only published redacted versions of its contracts with CureVac, AstraZeneca and Sanofi. Hungary published its own contracts for Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm jabs on March 11, with the goal of “maintaining public confidence…. an essential condition to overcome the pandemic.” (Euractiv March 12)

A small victory for transgender rights in Hungary. 

  • Hungary’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the legal ban on changing gender that was introduced last year does not apply retroactively, meaning that people who began changing their gender markers on official documents before March 2020 can complete the process. Háttér Society, the country’s largest LGBTQI organization, plans to pursue legal action challenging the constitutionality of the ban as a whole and restore the rights of all people in Hungary to change their gender markers. (Human Rights Watch March 16)

POLAND

Statement to U.N.: States must urge Poland to end assault on media freedom. 

  • The International Press Institute and ARTICLE 19 have issued statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council about concerted efforts by the Polish government to weaken independent media and erode press freedom, calling on all States to help end its assault on media freedom and the safety of journalists. The organizations accuse the ruling Law and Justice Party of attempting to “repolonise” and “deconcentrate” the media market to bring it under its control. (International Press Institute March 15)

European Parliament debates rule of law in Poland. 

  • The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has held a debate on the situation of Polish judges and prosecutors. During the discussion, MEPs called on the European Commission to step up pressure on Warsaw over alleged rule-of-law breaches. (Polskie Radio March 16)

Polish writer Jakub Zulczyk charged for calling President Duda a “moron”. 

  • A popular Polish writer and journalist could face up to three years in prison for calling President Duda a “moron” in a November Facebook post that was deemed “offensive” and “unacceptable” by prosecutors. It a crime to insult state leaders and religion in Poland, where nine different insult laws carry potential prison terms. Zulczyk first learned of the charges against him from the media. (BBC March 23)

Polish FM stresses need for EU’s response to Russia’s repression against civic society. 

  • During the meeting of heads of EU diplomacy regarding ongoing international matters, FM Rau stressed the necessity for the EU to respond to growing repression on the part of Russia against its civic society, stressing that that human rights should be the main part of the EU’s political dialogue with Russia. The main points of the discussion held by the EU Council for Foreign Affairs in Brussels were relations with Turkey, southern EU partnership matters and talks with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The head of Polish diplomacy expressed his hope for a lasting improvement in Turkey’s relations with Greece and Cyprus, and called on the EU to support its southern neighbors. (Poland.IN March 22)

SLOVAKIA

Slovak PM silent over solving government crisis. 

  • When President Čaputová met with PM Matovič on Tuesday to ask what steps he intends to take towards ending Slovakia’s ongoing coalition crisis, the PM offered little insightLast week, two junior coalition parties asked Matovič to step down, with seven out of 16 ministers threatening to leave the Government otherwise. While Matovič has not yet commented on these demands, Labour Minister Krajniak resigned from his post on Monday in a “political gesture to end the coalition crisis.” (Euractiv March 17)

FM Korčok visits Ankara and Baku

  • On March 16, FM Korčok visited Turkey and met with Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu to discuss bilateral cooperation, EU–Turkey relationsthe pandemic, new security challenges to NATO, the eastern Mediterranean, and current developments in the Near and Middle East. Korčok expressed appreciation Turkey’s efforts to take care of more than 4 million refugees, and supported the amendment of the joint EUTurkey statement on that matterKorčok then left Turkey for Azerbaijan, where he discussed bilateral relations with an emphasis on trade and economics, and highlighted the necessity of a lasting peaceful solution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic March 16)

Matovič to quit as prime minister if partners fulfill conditions. 

  • Igor Matovič is ready to resign as prime minister if coalition partners fulfill conditions listed in a joint statement from his movement. The statement calls for the Economy Minister, the Chair of the Parliamentary Health Care Committee, the Justice Minister and deputy Parliament Speaker to step down, and for one ministerial chair led by SaS to go to the ruling party. After his resignation, Matovič would stay on as a Cabinet member. (Slovak Spectator March 21)

SLOVENIA

Press freedom groups raise increasing concerns over situation in Slovenia. 

  • ARTICLE 19, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, OBC Transeuropa, and Reporters Without Borders wrote to European Commission and to the European Parliament Media Working Group to express concerns over the situation for press freedom in Slovenia and urge them to closely monitor and respond to the situation. The organizations accuse the Slovenian Government of denigrating journalists and attempting to exert greater control over public service media.  (International Press Institute March 16)

Plans for Parliamentary Friendship Group with Taiwan paused due to concerns over China. 

  • The parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee was to set up a friendship group with Taiwan on March 17, but postponed the move until “a comparative study” would be commissionedThe Parliament’s legal service drew to its attention that Slovenia recognizes the Chinese government as the only legitimate government in China, while Taiwan is its unalienable part. The proposal to set up this group raises the important question of Slovenia’s attitude towards both Taiwan and China.  (STA March 17)

Alarming 2020 domestic homicide trend continues in 2021. 

  • Murder or attempted murder charges more than doubled in Slovenia in 2020 compared to 2019, all of them domestic homicides. The trend appears to be continuing this year. In 2021, seven murders or murder attempts were recorded by March 15, alongside three cases for which charges have not yet been brought and cases where the perpetrator committed suicide afterwards.  Most of these cases are domestic homicides, including intimate partner murders. The Ljubljana Social Work Centre has recorded 680 reports of domestic violence so far this year, but claims that the actual prevalence of domestic violence is much greater. (The Slovenia Times March 18)

Logar condemns retaliatory sanctions by China. 

  • FM Logar has condemned sanctions imposed by China in retaliation for the EU’s sanctions for its treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. China introduced sanctions against EU individuals including a member of Slovenia’s permanent representation to the EU. Logar declared that “we find this action completely unacceptable and not favorable for future relations between the EU and China.” (The Slovenia Times March 23)

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