Regional Press Review (2-8 Iunie)
Russia takes further step toward exiting Open Skies Treaty.
- The Russian Parliament’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, has voted to withdraw the country from the Open Skies Treaty allowing surveillance flights over military facilities. (Radio Free Europe June 2)
Russia announces Arctic military drills in further sign of increasing presence.
- Russia wants to conduct strategic military drills in the Arctic this autumn to check the “readiness of the forces and troops” serving there and “ensure the safety” of the Northern Sea Route. At a meeting of Arctic Council foreign ministers on May 20, Washington gathered support to curb Moscow’s plans as it assumes the council’s rotating chairmanship with an eye toward setting maritime rules in the Northern Sea Route and resuming high-level military talks within the eight-nation bloc after they were suspended in 2014 over Russia’s seizure of Crimea. (Radio Free Europe June 1)
Russia to quit accord that eased Cold War travel curbs for U.S. diplomats.
- Russia will soon withdraw from a 1992 memorandum of understanding on “open lands” with the U.S. that allowed diplomats to travel freely as part of a retaliatory package against Washington’s expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats over alleged election interference and malign actions. The Russian MFA announced that it would send more “uncomfortable” signals to the U.S. in the coming days, leading up to the June 16 summit between the two countries’ presidents. (Reuters June 2)
Russia vows to defend Belarus if EU sanctions Minsk.
- Russia has declared that it will defend Belarus and help it if the EU imposes economic sanctions on Minsk over the grounding of a plane and arrest of a dissident blogger. (Reuters May 31)
Biden “looking” at Russia retaliation over cyberattack.
- President Biden declared on June 2 that he is “closely looking” at possible retaliation, after the White House linked Russia to a cyberattack against a U.S. subsidiary of Brazilian-owned meat processing company JBS. Biden is to bring up these concerns during the summit on June 16, as well as at earlier summits with allies in the G7 group, the EU and NATO. The White House has not blamed the Kremlin directly, but stated that “responsible states do not harbor” cybercriminals. For its part, Russia declared that it would be open to any U.S. request for help in investigating the cyberattack. (Euractiv June 3)
Russia claims hundreds of soldiers heading to C.A.R. are instructors.
- Russia has described the hundreds of Russian soldiers due to be sent to the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) this month as “unarmed instructors.” Numerous witnesses and NGOs claim the instructors are in fact paramilitaries who are actively participating in the fight against rebels trying to seize power, but Russia denies the claims. (Radio Free Europe May 29)
Putin signs law on Russia’s withdrawal from Open Skies treaty.
- President Putin has signed the law on Russia’s denunciation of the Open Skies Treaty on June 7. Moscow had signaled its readiness to reverse the withdrawal procedure if the U.S. returned to the agreement, but Putin’s signature now seals the withdrawal that would take effect in six months. (Defense News June 7)
NATO chief claims Belarus becoming “more and more dependent” on Russia.
- NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg expressed concern that Belarus is becoming “more and more dependent” on Russia following the nation’s isolation by the West, an issue that will be a key topic at the annual NATO summit in the U.K. that follows a G7 leaders’ meeting between June 11–13. Russia last week offered Belarus a $500 million loan, as well its backing in the country’s confrontation with the West over a plane that was diverted in order to arrest a journalist. (Radio Free Europe June 6)
EU’s Michel urges Putin to stop “disruptive behavior” to improve relations.
- European Council President Michel has spoken with President Putin, stressing that relations between the bloc and Russia are “at a low” and that “this situation or its further deterioration is in neither side’s interest.” Michel informed Putin that the European Council “condemned the illegal, provocative, and disruptive Russian activities against the EU, its Member States, and others.” Putin agreed that relations “cannot be considered satisfactory.” (Radio Free Europe June 7)
EU calls on Russia to immediately stop fueling conflict in Donbas.
- In connection with an informal meeting on the Arria-formula held by the Russia at the U.N. on June 2, the EU expressed regret at this “deliberate attempt to divert the attention of the international community from Russia’s destabilization efforts since 2014.” The EU pledged to keep enforcing a strong non-recognition policy of “the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.” (Interfax Ukraine June 4)
EU president talks to Armenian, Azeri leaders.
- European Council President Michel met with PM Pashinyan in Brussels and spoke with President Aliyev by phone on June 2 to discuss the continuing border dispute between their countries. The official asked both parties to cooperate on the return of detainees, full transparency with regard to mine fields, and other important humanitarian issues, and offered to provide expertise on border demarcation and support confidence building. Pashinyan’s proposal to deploy international observers along contested sections of the border was welcomed by the EU, but dismissed by Azerbaijan. (Azatutyun June 2)
Armenia, Azerbaijan resume talks on border dispute.
- Armenia and Azerbaijan have resumed direct talks with Russian mediation over a continuing military standoff at several portions of their border five days after Russian and Armenian defense ministers agreed on the “necessary steps.” Tensions on the border rose further after six Armenian soldiers were captured by Azerbaijani forces on May 27; on May 28, Azerbaijan accused Armenian forces of firing at its positions in Babek and wounding a serviceman and on June 1 of having 40 troops reportedly crossing into its territory—Armenia denies both allegations. A brawl between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers took place on June 2. (Azatutyun June 3; Reuters June 2; Radio Free Europe May 28)
Armenian parliamentary election campaign begins.
- Armenia’s election campaign officially started on June 7, ahead of snap parliamentary elections slated for June 20. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is expected to dominate the campaign. In addition to settling Pashinyan’s political fate, the outcome of the elections will determine how Armenia will approach bilateral relations with Azerbaijan; the My Step Alliance is expected to take a more conciliatory approach, whereas the opposition might call for a more diplomatically aggressive approach to Baku and Ankara. (Foreign Brief June 7)
Kocharian’s bloc opens hundreds of campaign offices.
- An opposition alliance led by former President Kocharian on Friday opened about 800 campaign offices for the upcoming elections. Kocharian and two opposition parties allied to him set up Hayastan on May 9, with the bloc expected to be one of the main challengers. (Azatutyun June 4)
Two men arrested in Armenia accused of spying for Azerbaijan.
- Armenia’s National Security Service claims it has arrested two men on suspicion of spying for Azerbaijan. The two men were allegedly recruited by Azerbaijani secret services while in Turkey and provided Azerbaijan with classified data related to military personnel in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. There was no immediate comment from Azerbaijani officials. (Radio Free Europe June 7)
France’s Macron calls for Azerbaijani troop pullout from “Armenian territory”.
- President Macron has urged Azerbaijan to withdraw its troops from “the sovereign territory of Armenia” and called on the two neighbors to demarcate their border through negotiations, after hosting caretaker PM Pashinyan for talks in Paris on June 1. Azerbaijan has accused France of “always taking a pro-Armenian position” and called the statement “unfounded and biased…[and] in support of the occupier.” (Radio Free Europe June 1; Today.az June 2)
USAID mission director attends online platform of public control launch.
- USAID Mission Director Singh attended the launch of the online platform of public control www.enezaret.az, noting that a similar platform has found great success in the U.S. and expressing support for such reforms. The goals of the platform are to connect citizens and the relevant state bodies, and provide the opportunity to assess the competent authorities’ reaction to the issues raised. (Today.az June 2)
Azerbaijan files complaint to ECHR over Armenia’s refusal to give mine maps.
- Azerbaijan has lodged a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over Armenia’s refusal to provide maps of mines in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, where 35,000 mines have been defused so far and over 120 Azerbaijanis have been killed or injured by mine explosions since November 2020. In February, FM Bayramov appealed to the U.N. Secretary-General to call on Armenia to provide information on mined areas. (Today.az June 4)
Two Azerbaijani journalists and one official die in landmine explosion in Kalbajar.
- Siraj Abishov, a camera operator for Az TV, Maharram Ibrahimov, a journalist working for Azertag, and Arif Aliyev, a local official, were killed when their car ran over an anti-tank mine near the border. Azerbaijani reporters abroad have called for more international reaction to the killing, demanding that Armenia “provide maps of minefields” and “stop mining the territories”—Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s Office has ruled out the allegations about the mine had been planted by Armenian troops after the 44-day war, however. (OC Media June 4; Today.az June 7; Today.az June 7)
Threats against Azerbaijani dissident intensify after Armenian media interview.
- Having survived being shot, stabbed, and severely beaten in Nantes, Azerbaijani vlogger Mahammad Mirzali stated that he is receiving new warnings and that his life is in danger. The threats have escalated since he gave an interview to the Armenian news outlet CivilNet on May 31 in he called for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. (Radio Free Europe June 4)
Spate of homophobic attacks in Azerbaijan.
- Three separate attacks against members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Azerbaijan were reported over the past week. The victims reported not going to the police, after other members of the community were told by police officers “If I could, I would burn homosexuals myself” when trying to report similar attacks. (OC Media June 7)
U.S. places sanctions on Bulgarian power broker, gambling tycoon, citing influence peddling.
- The U.S. has slapped economic sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on three Bulgarian individuals—former MP Delyan Peevski, prominent businessman Vassil Bozhkov, and ex-national-security official Ilko Zhelyazkov—and on 64 companies they allegedly own or control over their “extensive roles” in corruption in Bulgaria. The Global Magnitsky Act bans entry to the U.S. of any sanctioned individual, U.S.-based property and overseas USD accounts held by those sanctioned, and prevents U.S. entities from doing business with them. (Radio Free Europe June 3)
U.S. warns Bulgaria to clean up the “passport-for-cash” mess.
- The U.S. State Department has warned Bulgaria that if the country wants its citizens to benefit from visa-free travel to the U.S., it should get rid of the “passports for cash” scheme and issue passports only to good-faith citizens who do not represent a threat to the internal security of the U.S. Currently, Cyprus, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria are the only EU countries whose nationals still need a visa to enter the U.S. (Euractiv June 2)
European Commission: Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia should join Schengen.
- The European Commission unveiled a set of proposals on June 2 aimed at improving the functioning of the Schengen free travel area, including a demand that EU Member States expedite the admission of Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus. The Commission called on the Council to decide on lifting controls for Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia, as they successfully completed the required evaluation in 2010 and 2011, also requesting the same treatment for Cyprus once it has completed the required evaluation. (Balkan Insight June 3)
North Macedonia’s Zaev ready to beg Sofia, won’t sacrifice identity, language.
- North Macedonia’s PM Zaev stated that he is ready to beg for a solution in Sofia, but is not prepared to sacrifice the Macedonian identity and language. Zaev added that talks may be held as early as June 23 if the dialogue with Bulgaria is successful, and that he expects an invitation from caretaker PM Yanev and adherence to European manners and principles. (Euractiv June 4)
Bulgaria’s caretaker government sets up working group to respond to U.S. GloMag sanctions.
- Bulgaria’s caretaker government has decided to set up a working group to take action in response to the sanctions imposed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). As a matter of urgency, it will establish and maintain a list of individuals who fall or could potentially fall within the scope of the OFAC sanctions in order to facilitate executive bodies to take immediate measures to terminate relations with the persons on the list. (Novinite June 4)
EC expects to see convictions for public corruption in high echelon of Bulgaria.
- The European Commission has urged Bulgaria to make a serious attempt to issue final convictions for high-echelon corruption and finish implementing the reforms described in the 2019 Rule of Law Report, adding that it will continue to closely monitor work in this regard in the context of the annual reports on the rule of law. (Novinite June 3)
Georgia’s main opposition ends months-long boycott of Parliament.
- United National Movement (UNM) will enter Parliament after a nearly seven-month boycott, in what the EU and U.S. missions to Georgia called “another positive step” toward strengthening democracy in the country. In announcing the UNM’s return, Party Leader Melia did not commit to the EU-brokered April 19 agreement. (Radio Free Europe May 30)
PM Garibashvili meets Turkey’s Erdoğan.
- PM Garibashvili met with President Erdoğan in Ankara on June 1, later declaring that “Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, are interdependent, have very close cooperation, partnership, and, most importantly, friendship” as he discussed future projects in both bilateral and tripartite formats, including the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline, the Baku–Tbilisi–Akhalkalaki–Kars railway, and the South Caucasus Pipeline. Turkey has been Georgia’s largest trade partner over the last 14 years and the two countries are negotiating to expand their existing free trade deal. Turkey has also invested $214 million in Georgia, including in the energy field, though the subject of the controversial Namakhvani Hydropower Plant, chiefly invested in by a Turkish company, was not brought up during the meeting. (civil.ge June 2)
Warning shots fired as police detains Namakhvani protester, reportedly two injured.
- Police “fired warning shots” after one of the protesters against Namakhvani HPP was detained for physically assaulting an officer—the protester is facing four to seven years in prison. The initial police report did not mention the warning shots, but an amended report was issued following witness testimonies to the media. Protest leaders have accused the authorities of a “well-planned provocation” and attempting to discredit them. The following day, a police detective accused the Government of restricting the freedom of movement of protesters, expressed solidarity with its leaders, and announced his resignation. (civil.ge June 1; civil.ge June 2)
Georgian politics set for shake up as former PM launches new party.
- Georgian politics looks set for its biggest shake up in a decade after former PM Gakharia announces the launch of the For Georgia Party, which has already attracted defectors from the ruling Georgian Dream. Gakharia served as PM from September 2019 until February this year, when he resigned over the ruling party’s treatment of opposition politician Nika Melia. (Emerging Europe June 3)
U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary visits Tbilisi.
- Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Reeker is travelling to Tbilisi, Baku, and Yerevan on June 6–13, aiming to “advance bilateral and regional priorities and to express U.S. support for democratic and economic development across the region.” Reeker arrived in Tbilisi on June 7 and met with government, opposition, and civil society leaders to discuss the full implementation of the EU-brokered April 19 agreement, as well as “Russia’s ongoing aggression against and occupation of Georgia.” The Acting Assistant Secretary has stressed the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment “to putting human rights at the heart of U.S. foreign policy.” (civil.ge June 6; civil.ge June 7; civil.ge June 7; civil.ge June 8)
U.S. to Send COVID Vaccines to Georgia.
- The White House announced the proposed allocation plan to deliver the first 25 million doses of COVID vaccines globally. Six million doses will be targeted toward “regional priorities and partner recipients,” including Georgia, Mexico, Canada, and the Republic of Korea, West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, and U.N. frontlines workers. The remaining 19 million will be delivered through the COVAX platform to nations in South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. (civil.ge June 3)
Moldova aims to attract $1 billion in Chinese investments.
- Chinese interest in investing in Moldova is growing, partly because of the country’s favorable geographical location, with China Energy wanting to sign a cooperation deal with the Moldovan Economy and Infrastructure Ministry and China Sinopharm International Corporation expressing interest in cooperating with a Moldovan company to implement a project on radiotherapy and chemotherapy development. The Moldovan embassy in Beijing has proposed 20 investment projects worth $1 billion in total in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, industry, IT, e-commerce, baked goods manufacturing, transport, viticulture, agriculture and car repair services. (Balkan Insight June 2)
EU announces “unprecedented” Moldova recovery plan.
- The Republic of Moldova is set to receive an “unprecedented” 600 million euro ($733 million) economic recovery package from the EU between 2021–2024 to help the country recover economically from the pandemic and to promote investment. The plan is conditional on judicial and anti-corruption reforms. (AP News June 2)
Romania submits recovery plan to the European Commission.
- Romania has sent the final draft of its National Recovery and Resilience Plan for review on June 2, foreseeing investments in energy projects, reforming government social programs, and on upgrades to transportation infrastructure. Opponents the plan criticize the lackluster effort made to ween the country off of fossil fuels and to expand sustainable energy solutions, as the current plan allocates few resources to expanding wind or solar generation capacity, but requests $734 million for new natural gas infrastructure. (Foreign Brief June 2)
CPJ condemns “harassment” of Romanian journalists over corruption reporting.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is urging Romanian authorities to stop harassing journalists reporting on corruption and not to pursue criminal cases against them, after four journalists from two media outlets were questioned by prosecutors in the past weeks over their coverage of alleged corruption in Bucharest Sector 4 Mayor Băluță’s public works contracting. Băluță accused the journalists of establishing an “organized criminal group” to blackmail him into changing the contracting decision in favor of a company with the promise of “financial gain.” (Radio Free Europe June 3)
ECHR rules against Romania over LGBT complaint.
- The ECHR on June 1 condemned Romania for failing to prevent or prosecute the disruption by far-right protesters of an LGBT film screening, ruling that the country violated the rights of those people who attend the event as well as the group that organized it. In February 2013, 50 protesters burst into a Bucharest cinema where the Accept LGBT rights organization was screening a LGBT-themed movie, shouting homophobic insults and slogans; despite complaints filed by several attendants, the Romanian courts never prosecuted anyone for the incident. The ECHR found that in doing so, the authorities “failed to offer adequate protection” or to “effectively investigate the real nature of the homophobic abuse directed against them” and ordered them to pay damages of €7,500 to Accept and €9,750 to each individual complainant, as well as their legal costs. (Euractiv June 2)
“Anti-Huawei” 5G bill endorsed by expert committees in Romania’s Senate.
- The Senate’s legal, economic, defense and communications commissions issued on June 4 a positive opinion, with amendments, to the Government-initiated draft law that sets the procedures and guidelines for licensing providers used by the telecom operators in their 5G networks. All parties except for USR have backed the positive opinion, despite the latter arguing that the bill would trigger infringement procedures as it should have been notified to the European Commission. (Romania Insider June 7)
GRETA: Romania urged to effectively prosecute human traffickers and to ensure access to compensation for their victims.
- The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has urged Romania to ensure that human trafficking offenses lead to effective and dissuasive sanctions and compensate victims of trafficking. GRETA welcomed Romania’s continued development of the relevant legislative and policy framework, including a new national strategy against human trafficking for 2018–2022, but noted that a significant number of sentences are suspended or reduced and that compensation to victims awarded by the courts is rarely paid, among other shortcomings. (Actmedia June 4)
Erdoğan woos Egypt, Gulf states in push to repair ties.
- Turkey hopes to maximize its cooperation with Egypt and Gulf nations and is working to repair its strained ties with them after years of tensions. As part of the efforts, a Turkish delegation held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo last month in the first direct contact between them in years, and Ankara has toned down its criticism of the Khashoggi killing amid an informal Saudi boycott of Turkish exports. (Reuters June 2)
Erdoğan and Biden to discuss Turkey–U.S. tensions.
- President Erdoğan will discuss the recent tensions between the U.S. and Turkey with President Biden, with “preliminary preparations” having already been made. The meeting will take place on the sidelines of the June 14 NATO leaders’ summit in Brussels. (IBNA June 2)
Erdoğan wants a stake in Bulgaria’s politics.
- President Erdoğan received June 6 a delegation of the Turkish-Bulgarian Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). One month ago, the Bulgarian parliament lifted voting restrictions on citizens living in non-EU countries, making the votes of Bulgarians in Turkey an important factor in the upcoming elections. Erdoğan also met with North Macedonia’s PM Zaev—offering to donate 30,000 Chinese Sinovac vaccines to Skopje—and Albania’s PM Rama—offering support for the construction of a factory for seven types of vaccines and a control system with super-intelligent drones for the production of real-time data on roads, coasts, agricultural lands, forests, public order and other activities. (Euractiv June 7)
Turkish top diplomat in France for talks.
- FM Çavuşoğlu and French FM le Drian met on June 7 in Paris as part of their joint efforts to normalize relations after a stormy period that caused deep divergences on both bilateral issues and regional developments. The two officials discussed the bilateral relations between Turkey and France, Turkey–EU relations, as well as views on current regional issues and international developments. The Turkish FM expressed optimism regarding the future of the two countries’ relations. (Hurriyet Daily News June 6)
Visiting U.S. Senators pledge continued support for Ukraine amid “Russian aggression”.
- A U.S. bipartisan congressional delegation visiting Kyiv has encouraged Ukraine to continue reforms to solidify its democracy and expressed solidarity with the country in the face of Russian “aggression.” The visiting delegation, led by Senator Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire), discussed bilateral ties and providing more effective military assistance “so Ukraine can defend itself.” The senators traveled to Ukraine from Lithuania, where they met with exiled Belarusian opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya, and headed afterwards to Tbilisi. (Radio Free Europe June 2)
Human rights groups urge Ukraine to fix shortcomings in proposed reform of security service.
- 23 international civil society groups have asked Ukraine’s parliament to address shortcomings in a proposed law to reform its security service before passing it to ensure that the security service (SBU) transforms into an effective agency that upholds international human rights norms. The groups found that the draft provisions maintain or strengthen regulations that jeopardize human rights and fundamental freedoms and expand the SBU’s scope considerably while its powers of arrest, seizure, detention, interrogation, and surveillance without clear oversight. (Radio Free Europe June 4)
Ukraine’s leader moves to strip oligarchs of power with new bill.
- President Zelensky urged lawmakers on June 2 to pass a law that would strip oligarchs of power and political influence. Under the proposed law, persons meeting the definition of oligarch would be registered as such, are prohibited from financing political parties and taking part in privatizations, and are required to submit an annual declaration of income. The draft law would also require officials and top authorities to submit a declaration after any contact with oligarchs. (Reuters June 3)
Germany says Ukraine must remain gas transit country after new pipeline.
- Despite President Putin stating that it would depend on showing “goodwill” towards Moscow, Germany expects Russia to adhere to an existing inter-governmental agreement committing it to send gas via Ukraine—the treaty expires in 2024, but can be extended. Germany is discussing ways to compensate Ukraine for the financial loss it will suffer from the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. (Euractiv June 7; Radio Free Europe June 7)
Russia protests as Ukraine unveils Euro 2020 uniform.
- Ukraine provoked Moscow’s ire Sunday as its football federation unveiled Euro 2020 uniforms that feature Russian-annexed Crimea and nationalist slogans. Euro 2020 will be played from June 11 to July 11 across 11 cities including Saint Petersburg. Russia’s MFA derided the uniforms, but UEFA approved the new national team jersey. (The Moscow Times June 6; Radio Free Europe June 7)
Biden invites Ukrainian President to White House.
- President Biden has invited President Zelensky to visit the White House this summer in a show of support for the Eastern European country. Zelensky stated that he “looked forward” to the visit and discussing ways to “expand strategic cooperation” between the United States and Ukraine. Zelensky also called for a meeting with President Biden before his summit with President Putin to discuss the U.S. decision to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline—Putin announced on June 4 that Russia’s energy giant Gazprom “is ready to start filling Nord Stream 2 with gas.” (Radio Free Europe June 7; Radio Free Europe June 7)
Czech PM faces local and EU prosecutors despite surviving confidence motion.
- PM Babiš survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament on June 3, but remains facing both local and EU prosecutors over alleged conflicts of interest. Czech police have once again recommended that Babiš be charged with fraud following the conclusion of a six-year criminal investigation into whether he illegally acquired around two million euros in EU subsidies. Another case regarding Babiš’ company Agrofert unfairly receiving EU subsidies has been referred to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which launched its operation on June 1 to fight fraud in the EU and monitor the distribution of the €750 billion recovery plan. (Euronews June 4)
Dozens of Russian diplomats leave Czech Republic amid strained relations.
- 63 Russian diplomats and their families have left the Czech Republic after Prague ordered their expulsion in April. The Czech Republic was also forced to dismiss 79 Russian citizens who had been working for the its diplomatic mission in Russia after the Russian government declared it an “unfriendly” state. (Radio Free Europe May 29)
Million Moments for Democracy protest in Prague again.
- Supporters of the Million Moments for Democracy movement marched in Prague on June 2 against what it calls an unjust government, demanding Justice Minister Benešová (ANO)’s resignation and calling for a new chief prosecutor to be appointed by a new government. If their demands are not met, they plan to continue the protests for a week in the regions and will convene a large demonstration in Prague on June 20. Similar protests took place two weeks ago in several dozen cities. (Expats.cz June 1)
Belarussian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Prague for talks with top officials.
- Belarusian opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya arrived in Prague Sunday afternoon at the invitation of Czech Senate chairman Vystrčil, where she will stay until Thursday. Tsikhanouskaya’s talks with Czech politicians began on Monday and she will give a speech in the upper house of parliament on Wednesday. (Radio Prague International June 7)
Senate committee declares President Miloš Zeman unfit for office.
- The Security and Defense Committee of the Czech Senate has declared President Zeman unfit for office and has proposed that he be stripped of the post. The Committee claims that Zeman is often disoriented, incapable of distinguishing between classified and public information, and jeopardizes the country’s security by his words and actions. (Radio Prague International June 3)
Czech Republic to have government commissioner for Roma affairs in 2022.
- The post of a government commissioner for the Roma affairs should be introduced by the end of 2022″to strengthen the participation of Roma in the decision-making process on the national level”, according to a Roma integration strategy for the 2020s that the Czech government has recently approved. (Expats.cz June 6)
Budapest renames streets after Dalai Lama, Uyghurs amid Chinese campus row.
- Budapest’s mayor renamed streets after the Dalai Lama and other victims of alleged human rights abuses by China along streets surrounding the future site of a controversial new Chinese university campus. (Radio Free Europe June 2)
British PM Johnson meets Hungarian counterpart amid criticism.
- PM Johnson met PM Orbán on May 28 to discuss security, climate change, and a number of foreign policy issues, including Russia, Belarus, and China. Johnson also reportedly “raised his significant concerns about human rights in Hungary, including gender equality, LGBT rights, and media freedom.” (Radio Free Europe May 28)
Germany criticizes Hungary for blocking China statement, proposes abolishing veto power.
- Hungary’s decision to block a EU statement criticizing China’s Hong Kong policy was condemned on June 4 by Germany as “Hungary again block[ing] an EU statement.” Germany added that “common foreign and security policy cannot work on the basis of a blocking policy” as it called for “a serious debate on ways to manage dissent, including qualified majority voting.” FM Maas on Monday called on the EU to abolish individual member states’ veto power on foreign policy. (Euractiv June 4; Euronews June 8)
Hungary aims to develop strong, modern army.
- PM Orbán has criticized the “serious mistakes” made by the Government before 2010 to abolish conscription to military service without building up a modern and competent army, calling its absence “unworthy” of Hungary’s centuries-long military traditions and international obligations. Orbán has called on the Hungarian Armed Forces’ new commander to integrate the army into Hungarian society and “win over tens of thousands of young people” to “develop a strong and modern army that deters anyone from attacking the country.” (Hungary Today June 5)
Hungary appears to backtrack on controversial Chinese university plans.
- Hungary appears to have backed off from a controversial project to build a Chinese university in Budapest after thousands took to the streets over the weekend amid concerns it could help Beijing increase its influence in Europe. The Government declared that once the Fudan university plan took shape in early 2023, a referendum could be held in Budapest to decide whether locals want it. China is expected to lend Hungary $1.5 billion to cover the costs of the project, which would be built at a site where affordable housing for students had previously been planned. (Radio Free Europe June 7)
Polish trial begins in Huawei-linked China espionage case.
- An espionage trial involving a former Polish secret services agent and an ex-employee of Huawei began on June 1. Poland arrested the two men in January 2019 on suspicion of spying for China, alleging that the Huawei executive spent seven years spying for China trying to bolster the company’s ability to influence the Government and “enable it to… manage the state… technology infrastructure,” and that the Polish defendant “offered himself as a source of information” regarding public administration. Both men deny any wrongdoing. (Euractiv June 1)
Three members of Polish minority in Belarus released.
- Three members of the Polish minority in Belarus have been released by the authorities and have arrived in Poland on May 25 as a result of efforts by Polish diplomatic and consular services. The head of an association of Poles in Belarus and one of its senior members are still in detention. The European Commission has called on Belarus to free and drop all charges against leaders of the Polish ethnic minority. (Polskie Radio June 2)
Polish deputy FM slams “irregular behavior” as Russia detains ex-chief of opposition group.
- Warsaw is analyzing an incident in which a former director of opposition group Open Russia was detained after being removed from a plane in St. Petersburg that had been due to fly to Warsaw. Andrei Pivovarov was escorted off an aircraft belonging to Polish national carrier LOT on Monday evening; the plane was turned back at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport before it took off and finally departed an hour and a half late without him on board. (Polskie Radio June 1)
Warsaw wants to dispel concern over Baltic Pipe.
- Deputy FM Przydacz on Friday stated that a recent decision by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the construction of the Norway–Poland gas link due to concerns over wildlife pertained to only one section of the project, the Denmark–Poland section called Baltic Pipe, with the two other sections unaffected. Przydacz added that Warsaw was hoping for Copenhagen’s favorable response, and that the MFA will try to clarify the issue. (Polskie Radio June 6)
Government adopts EU presidency program.
- The Government has adopted the program of Slovenia’s EU presidency covering four priority areas: in the segment “resilience and recovery,” the key priority will be strengthening the Union’s resilience to crises; the “rule of law” priority area involves dialogue to connect Member States into a community of European values; in the segment “credible and safe EU”, it aims to strengthen Transatlantic relations and support Western Balkans countries; the “Conference on the Future of Europe” segment involves a debate that includes EU institutions as well as national parliaments and other stakeholders. (STA June 2)
Prosecutors to propose bringing action against Government.
- The Prosecution Council will propose a lawsuit against the Government for breach of law to the detriment of public interest after the Government annulled the procedure to appoint Slovenia’s two European delegated prosecutors (EDP). The Council reiterated that the procedure had been in line with regulations and the candidate picks had been based on expert assessment. (STA June 1)
Retrial in Janša journalists’ defamation case starts.
- The Celje District Court has begun a retrial in which PM Janša is accused of defaming two journalists whom he called “washed up prostitutes.” Previously, the court’s suspended prison sentence for Janša was annulled on appeal. Janša reiterated his original defense that the accusations against him were absurd, and that the tweet from March 2016 was seen only by about 100 people. The journalists, on the other hand, perceive it as an attack on their professional and personal integrity. (STA June 1)
CoE Human Rights Commissioner warns on media freedom in Slovenia.
- The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatović urged the Slovenian authorities in a memorandum to put a stop to the deterioration of the situation regarding media freedom and freedom of expression in the country, pointing to harassment, intimidation and criminal lawsuits against journalists, the “sexist harassment and misogynistic speech against female journalists” and the Government’s attitude to public media. PM Janša reproached Mijatović as being “part of #fakenews network. Well paid by our money.” (Balkans News June 4; The Slovenia Times June 7)
European chief prosecutor says her hands tied over Slovenia.
- European Chief Prosecutor Kövesi expressed concern about the deadlock in the appointment of European delegated prosecutors (EDP) from Slovenia, stating that it would affect the efficiency of the office and trust in oversight of EU funds. Kövesi added that her hands over “very delicate situation”were tied. (STA June 4)
MPs unanimously adopt changes redefining sexual violence.
- The National Assembly unanimously passed amendments to the penal code that redefine sexual consent in line with the concept that “only yes means yes.” The vote was hailed as historic by MPs, who said the credit should go to the March 8 Institute and other NGOs that mobilized the public to create a genuine social movement. (STA June 4)
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