Regional Press Review (22 – 28 Oct.)
Russia states it is ready to suspend its nuclear weapons program to prolong the weapons deal with the U.S.
- Russia has indicated that it is keen to start suspending its nuclear programs in order to expand the New START key arms limitation pact provided the U.S. does not have any other conditions, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported. “Russia is proposing to expand the Fresh START Deal by one year and is willing, along with the United States, to make a diplomatic promise to ‘freeze’ the amount of nuclear warheads kept by the parties for this time.” (CNN, October 20)
Russian Polyus reports that Siberian gold mine is the largest in the world.
- Russian gold miner Polyus stated its undeveloped Siberian mine Sukhoi Log is the world’s largest with 40m ounces of proven reserves. The mine, which accounts for around a quarter of Russia’s overall unmined gold, makes Polyus the world’s second-largest gold producer with proven reserves, the firm stated. “We are pleased with the results . . . The publication of the maiden ore reserve estimate represents a significant milestone for Polyus’ long-term development strategy, and confirms Sukhoi Log’s position as one of the world’s highest-caliber gold deposits,” stated Pavel Grachev (Financial Times, October 22)
Putin: Russia–China military alliance can’t be ruled out.
- The Russian President declared on Thursday there is no need for a Russian–China defense treaty currently, but stated it might be established in the future. Putin’s declaration signaled closer ties amongst Moscow and Beijing in the midst of increasing strains in their relations with the U.S. The Russian leader has made a firm call to expand the last outstanding weapons control agreement between Moscow and Washington. (Associated Press, October 22)
Alexei Navalny: the Russian President “intervened” to allow critic’s move to Germany.
- President Putin declared on Thursday that he had directly acted to facilitate the relocation of opponent Alexei Navalny to Germany after he had been poisoned with nerve agent Novichok. “As soon as this citizen’s wife approached me, I immediately ordered the prosecutor to check whether it was possible for him to leave the country for treatment,” President Putin declared via video conference at a discussion forum in Moscow. (Euronews, October 22)
EU restrictions against Russian military personnel for cyberattacks against the German Parliament.
- The EU placed restrictions on two Russian military officials for the 2015 cyber-attack against the German Parliament, in which an “important quantity of information was compromised.” The bloc reported that it had placed travel bans and asset freezes on Igor Kostyukov, the director of the Russian Military Intelligence Agency (GRU) and Dmitry Badin, a 29-year-old military intelligence officer for GRU’s 85th Main Centre for Special Services also being sought by U.S. authorities, (Euronews, October 22)
Edward Snowden received permanent residence in Russia.
- Former U.S. NSA contractor Edward Snowden has been granted permanent residence in Russia. Snowden had sought a three-year expansion of the permit this spring. The 37-year-old is convicted of espionage and misuse of Government property in the U.S. for leaking data about the U.S. security and mass surveillance system to the media. (CNN, October 22)
U.S. claims Russian hackers targeted State, local governments ahead of election.
- Russian state-sponsored hackers have attacked hundreds of U.S. national and local government facilities in past weeks, capturing data from at least two servers. In an alert issued on 22 October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) identified a series of activities of Russian-backed hackers since at least September. (Radio Free Europe, October 23)
Navalny’s poisoning spooked Russia.
- Navalny’s poisoning triggered shock waves across Russia’s opponents, increasing the soul-searching that had already started against the backdrop of intensified state repression and a Kremlin-controlled political atmosphere that might seem unbreakable. But for Fateyev and other Navalny advocates in Tomsk, it helped to energize their determination to crack the Kremlin’s grip on power in Russia. (Radio Free Europe, October 24)
Russia ties unlikely to get better, irrespective of U.S. election result.
- Whether President Trump or Joe Biden win the presidency on November 3, the chances for a significant change in ties with the Kremlin are low. Analysts claim that the chances for better links are weak and that relations—which plunged to the post-Cold War lowest after Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 and might have deteriorated further since then — could worsen, no regardless of the elections outcome. (Radio Free Europe, October 25)
With the completion of the weapons embargo, will Russia expand to the Iranian weapons market?
- The UN weapons embargo on Iran, which lasted ten years, expired on October 18, after unsuccessful efforts by Washington to maintain the prohibition in place. With the termination of the ban, Tehran will now begin to purchase and sell weaponry, including offensive ones. There has been widespread talk that Russia and China might provide Iran with new forms of military technology, as the Islamic Republic’s armed forces face severe arms shortages. (Al-Monitor, October 26)
Russia is offering missiles in an attempt to resume weapons control negotiations.
- Russia has promised to postpone the introduction of a disputed missile system in an effort to resume weapons control negotiations within Europe after the breakdown of the Cold War moratorium, in the Kremlin’s latest outreach that might de-escalate military tensions. (Financial Times, October 26)
Moscow to maintain its collaboration with Turkey.
- Russian FM Lavrov claims that his country will continue working with Turkey on foreign matters. After talking to his Greek counterpart, FM Lavrov declared that although in many instances Russia’s and Turkey’s approaches to certain challenges do not coincide, they always find consensus. “We have good relations with Turkey, but not without problems… But we manage to unite our efforts for good results and help each other to move towards creation of conditions necessary for normalization of critical situations. We will continue our cooperation with Turkey,” Lavrov declared. (Radio Free Europe, October 26)
Armenian, Azerbaijani leaders talk war as world powers press for Nagorno-Karabakh truce.
- PM Pashinian has announced that he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, dampening international efforts to forge a sustainable truce over the breakaway territory. “Everything that is diplomatically acceptable to the Armenian side…is not acceptable to Azerbaijan anymore,” the official stated, calling on Armenians to “take up arms and defend the Motherland.” Pashinian’s comments followed statements by President Aliyev foreseeing a military resolution to the crisis and boasting that Azerbaijani forces would drive Armenians “out of our lands.” (Radio Free Europe October 21)
Armenian President meets NATO Chief, slams Turkey.
- President Sarkissian accused Turkey of obstructing international efforts to stop hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh when he met with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg in Brussels on Wednesday, declaring that “if a NATO member country like Turkey stops being a part of the conflict it will contribute to the ceasefire … and hopefully after that we will go back to negotiations at the table of the Minsk Group and finally find a peaceful solution.” Stoltenberg responded that NATO is “not part of this conflict.” Turkey has been accused of aiding Azerbaijan in the conflict by Armenia, France, the U.S. and other international leaders. Meanwhile, Ankara announced on Wednesday that it will officially deploy troops if it receives such a request from Azerbaijan, who has so far stated that it is not necessary. (Azatutyun October 22)
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenia and Azerbaijan agree to U.S.-brokered ceasefire.
- Although Armenia and Azerbaijan had agreed to a new U.S.-brokered ceasefire, both sides again accused each other of violating the agreement minutes after it came into effect, and hostilities continue. The “humanitarian ceasefire” was announced on Sunday, following discussions between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Biegun, Armenian FM Mnatsakanyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Bayramov. (BBC October 26)
Iran deploys troops along border with Armenia, Azerbaijan.
- Iran has deployed troops along its border after shots were fired on its territory from Nagorno-Karabakh. Iran, which has good ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has repeatedly called on the belligerents to cease hostilities and offered to mediate between them, but announced that “any change” in the [Iranian] borders was “a red line for the Islamic Republic.” (Brussels Times October 25)
Nagorno-Karabakh says its military death toll rises to 1,009.
- The defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region announced on Tuesday that it had recorded another 35 casualties among its military. Its total military death toll has thus reached 1,009 since fighting with Azeri forces erupted on September 27. (Reuters October 27)
Pompeo to meet with Armenian, Azeri Foreign Ministers.
- Armenia and Azerbaijan Foreign Ministers will separately meet with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo on Friday for talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the U.S. did not rule out the possibility of face-to-face talks between the two Ministers, but the Armenian Ministry stated that it had no information to that matter. FM Bayramov and FM Mnatsakanian most recently met in Moscow on October 9-10 for 11-hour talks mediated by Russian FM Lavrov that resulted in an agreement to stop fighting around Karabakh and resume “substantive” peace talks, but both sides have since accused the other of not respecting the deal as hostilities continued. (Azatutyun October 20)
Ahead of U.S. talks, Azerbaijan accused of cluster-bombing “residential areas”.
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Azerbaijan of “repeatedly” using widely banned cluster munitions in residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh over the past month, based on on-site investigations. Cluster munitions are banned due to their unpredictable effects across a widespread area, as well as long-term dangers from unexploded submunitions. Both sides have denied using cluster bombs, while accusing the other of firing them—HRW has so far only found proof of cluster bombs fired by the Azeri side. (Radio Free Europe October 23)
More than 70 rockets hit northwestern Iran today.
- Political and Security Deputy Governor of East Azerbaijan Rastgoo announced that 71 rockets fired from the sides involved in the Karabakh war hit the border town of Khodaafarin in one day on October 21, but have not caused any casualties. Rastgoo stressed that “legal measures have been taken by the Iranian border forces and the parties involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh war have been given a serious warning to prevent such incidents.” (Iranpress October 21)
France demands end to Turkish “Provocations” in Karabakh.
- France has stepped up criticism of Turkey’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, stating that it is hampering international efforts to stop the fighting and is “the only country which isn’t calling for respect of the ceasefire.” French Government spokesman Attal declared that “it is imperative that Turkey cease its dangerous provocations in the region.” (Azatutyun October 23)
Nearly 5000 have died in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Putin says.
- The number of people who have died since the resumption of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh is nearly 5,000, according to President Putin. Russia has good relations with both camps, and Putin claims to be in permanent contact with both President Aliyev and PM Pashinian. (Brussels Times October 24)
EC sent letter to Bulgaria about the citizenship by investment scheme.
- After taking legal actions against Cyprus and Malta over their citizenship by investment regime—also known as “golden passport” schemes—the EC has sent a letter to Bulgaria expressing concern over its similar citizenship acquirement regime. The EC considers that granting citizenship in return for a predetermined payment or investment is incompatible with the principle of loyal cooperation and undermines the integrity of EU citizenship. The Government has one month to respond. (Novinite October 21)
U.S. and Bulgarian officials meet for two days of security talks.
- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Cooper visit Sofia on October 20 for defense talks. The meeting agenda includes military modernization and defense cooperation. Washington has stepped up defense cooperation with Sofia in recent years, with the latter procuring American-made F-16 fighter jets and committing itself as an important partner for military operations meant to deter Russian military aggression in the region. Further U.S. investment in defense and alternative energy infrastructure like the Three Seas Initiative is expected in the region. (Foreign Brief October 20)
Georgievski: North Macedonia and Bulgaria, lost in translation.
- Former Macedonian PM Georgievski is visiting Sofia was to reheat Bulgaria-North Macedonia relations. Georgievski believes the two countries are having a major miscommunication problem. However, Georgievski noted that Bulgaria imposing a veto on North Macedonia’s path towards the EU would be unfortunate. The former PM accuses history lessons in both countries being taught poorly and amplifying hostilities, instead of encouraging the two countries to face their history and work together. (IBNA October 23)
Bulgaria: Public broadcasting and democratic well-being.
- Speaking about the bill on amendments to the Law on Radio and Television (NPT), Constitutional Judge Semov declared that “laws that regulate the reality of the media cannot and should not be drafted by politicians. This is a law that can and should only be written by people who work in the media, who understand their importance and can heed their problems.” The publication of the bill led to the resignation of Bulgarian National Radio General Manager Baltakov, who expressed concern about it compromising public media independence. (IBNA October 26)
Protests in Bulgaria: Day 110.
- October 26 marks 110 days of anti-Government protests in Bulgaria. The “There is such peoples” party and “Stand Up.BG” civic platform have responded to last week’s invitation to meet with the so-caled Poisonous Trio, with several proposals were reached following the meeting to contribute to a more transparent election process. One of proposals involves the establishment of a network of volunteers to monitor all polling stations. The chairman of “Yes, Bulgaria!” Ivanov did not attend the meeting, but has stated that he would join these workshops at a later stage to help ensure fair electoral conduct. (Novinite October 27)
Transparency International Georgia assesses corruption in 2016-2020.
- Transparency International Georgia concluded in its report on Georgia’s anti-corruption policies in 2016–2020 that corruption-related “challenges will be impossible to tackle without a large-scale reform of the country’s anti-corruption system.” The report observed that problems regarding the concentration of power, informal influence over public institutions, and state capture have made it difficult to investigate corruption cases and suspicions—especially when linked to the Government—and implement anti-corruption policies, which remain largely unenforced after significant shortfalls in meeting international anti-corruption obligations. (civil.ge October 20)
NATO Secretary-General calls Georgia, Ukraine “highly valued partners”.
- Ahead of the October 21 meeting of NATO Defense Ministers, Secretary-General Stoltenberg stated that “Georgia and Ukraine are highly valued partners,” reiterating that “to work closely with and to discuss with and listen to a partner like Ukraine or Georgia is an important part of the whole NATO 2030 process.” The NATO 2030 process, involving reflection on strengthening the Alliance to face future challenges, was introduced in June this year and is supported by the Expert Group that will deliver its report before the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in December. (civil.ge October 22)
Developments in Transnistrian settlement process discussed at OSCE Permanent Council.
- The OSCE Mission to Moldova has presented the Mission’s half-yearly activity report, largely focused the unilateral actions of the Tiraspol regime and its illegal checkpoints along the administrative line, restricting free movement, and degrading the human rights situation in the region. Moldova reiterated its concerns about Tiraspol’s actions and their effect on the political climate and peacekeeping mechanisms, stressing the need to synchronize efforts and mobilize capacity to stop illegal actions and abuses. (Moldpres October 23)
November 1 presidential elections to be monitored by over 2,000 observers.
- The November 1 presidential elections will be overseen by 1,884 national observers and 309 international observers accredited by the Central Election Commission (CEC). The list of observers accredited by the CEC is available on the Commission’s official website. (IPN October 27)
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, FM Aurescu discuss defense, energy, 5G cooperation.
- FM Aurescu and U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo met on Monday to tackle strategic investments in defense and energy and bilateral cooperation. Aurescu welcomed the recent delivery of Patriot systems, signing of the Roadmap for Defense, and plans to increase U.S. military presence. The two officials discussed the recent Intergovernmental Agreement on Romania’s nuclear energy program, the memorandum of understanding that allows the U.S. Import-Export Bank to identify financing possibilities, and coordination for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Aurescu expressed desire to exploit gas resources in the Romanian continental shelf, mentioned preparations for a legislative framework to evaluate 5G providers, and assessed Moldova and its EU track. Pompeo praised Romania as a pillar of stability in the region, reiterating support for its OECD accession. (Actmedia October 21)
Ukraine, Romania step up cooperation within international organizations.
- Ukraine’s First Deputy FM Dzheppar and Romanian Ambassador to Ukraine Turcanu have met to discuss the creation of the Crimean Platform and cooperation between the two countries within international organizations. The sides noted the understanding of common interests and the importance of a constructive approach in addressing priority issues for each state. (Ukrinform October 21)
PM Orban, French counterpart Castex sign new, updated roadmap for Romania–France Strategic Partnership.
- A new roadmap for the Romania–France Strategic Partnership and the Declaration of Intent Regarding Civil Nuclear Cooperation were signed on October 27 by PM Orban and French PM Castex. During their meeting, the officials decided to intensify bilateral dialogue on security and defense. PM Orban also conveyed Romania’s “legitimate expectation” to see its Schengen accession bid greenlighted. Finally, Orban expressed his condolences over the recent assassination of a French teacher, and expressed “solidarity with France in respecting our fundamental values,” condemning ad hominem attacks against President Macron. (Actmedia Octover 27)
French Premier welcomes Romania’s solidarity after “the defaming attacks” launched by Erdoğan against Macron.
- French PM Castex welcomed on Monday the solidarity and support expressed by PM Orban after President Erdoğan’s “defaming attacks” against President Macron. “It is extremely important that our European partners be on our side to defend common values, such as freedom of speech and conscience and the fight against appeal to hate and against terrorism,” Castex declared. (Actmedia October 27)
NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Geoană: Romanian-American Strategic Partnership becomes more robust each year.
- NATO Deputy Secretary General Geoană declared that the Romanian-American Strategic Partnership is becoming more robust every year, regardless of the administrations in Bucharest or in Washington. Geoană therefore voiced confidence that the Alliance will be able to work with either U.S. administration following the November 3 elections, and that the U.S. relationship with Europe through NATO will continue to be an important anchor of U.S. foreign policy. As for the tensions between Turkey and certain NATO allies, Geoană acknowledged the delicacy of the situation, but expressed his conviction that the values that unite member states are stronger than moments of “public emotion.” (Actmedia October 27)
Turkey to extend gas exploration in Eastern Mediterranean.
- Turkey has extended the Oruç Reis exploration activities until October 27. In the most recent round of explorations, the Turkish vessel has gotten particularly close to Kastellorizo—a tiny Greek island near the Turkish coast. Based on a UN convention that Turkey never ratified, Kastellorizo has an Exclusive Economic Zone four times its size that directly cuts through territories claimed by Turkey—a situation that will likely put it at the forefront of Turkish-Greek tensions in the near future. (Foreign Brief October 22)
Turkish courts pursue trials, asset seizures in multiple cases against journalists.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported that this week, courts in Instanbul allowed the seizing of an exiled journalist’s assets over his work for a pro-opposition daily, convicted a freelance journalist to 15 months in prison over a 2014 tweet, and continued trials against five other journalists for Government-critical work and 33 other defendants for “sharing false information on social media.” “Turkish authorities persist in filing baseless and harassing charges against journalists for doing their jobs… None of these journalists has committed any crime, let alone sharing terrorist propaganda, spreading false information about the economy, or any other ludicrous charge authorities may try to cook up,” declared CPJ. (Committee to Protect Journalists October 22)
Turkey slams joint declaration by Cyprus, Greece and Egypt.
- During a trilateral regional summit Wednesday in Nicosia, Cypriot President Anastasiades, Egyptian President el-Sissi and Greek PM Mitsotakis urged Ankara to end its “aggressive” actions and accept Cyprus’ invitation to enter negotiations for an agreement on maritime delimitations. The Turkish FM “fully rejected the declaration containing baseless accusations and allegations,” stating that it attacked Ankara rather than support peace and stability in the region, and repeated that cooperation could only take place with the inclusion of Turkish Cypriots in governing and sharing the resources of the island. (AP News October 22)
Stoltenberg: Greece and Turkey decide on military exercise moratorium for next week.
- NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg confirmed that Greece and Turkey have canceled their military exercises scheduled for next week, with their national holidays approaching. Stoltenberg welcomed the decision as well as Germany’s efforts to facilitate negotiations. Asked about the continued presence of the Oruç Reis drillship near Kastelorizo, Stoltenberg stressed that what was primarily important was to avoid actions that would worsen the situation. (IBNA October 23)
France recalls Turkey envoy after Erdogan says Macron needs “mental check”.
- France has recalled its Ambassador to Turkey for consultations after President Erdoğan stated that President Macron needed “treatment on a mental level” for pledging to defend secular values and fight radical Islam. A French presidential official called the comments “unacceptable. Excess and rudeness are not a method. We demand that Erdoğan change the course of his policy because it is dangerous in every respect.” (BBC October 25)
Turkish leader backs boycott of French goods over cartoon row.
- President Erdoğan asked his compatriots to stop buying French goods, in the latest expression of anger in the Muslim world over images displayed in France of the Prophet Mohammad. Similar boycots of French products and retailers emerged in Kuwait and Saudi Arabian social media. In Bangladesh, protesters held anti-Macron placards, while Pakistan’s Parliament passed a resolution to recall its envoy from Paris. French Trade Minister Riester declared that so far the boycott campaigns were limited and mainly affected agricultural exports. (Reuters October 26)
Zelenskiy declares those who gave up Crimea without a fight must be held responsible.
- President Zelensky delivered the annual Presidential Address to Parliament on October 20, in a speech many consider to be an effort to promote his Servant of the People party before the October 25 local elections. Zelensky stated that “those who allowed Russia to illegally annex Crimea must be held responsible,” appearing to take clear aim at officials who assumed power in 2014. The official went on to praise the Ukrainian Army that is currently being developed and the October 21 visit from 120 fellow party members to the Donbas region. Zelensky declared support for an amnesty for “the millions of our compatriots, who have no blood on their hands and remain hostage” in Crimea and Donbas. (Radio Free Europe October 20)
Ukraine’s Naftogaz supports expansion of U.S. sanctions against Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
- The U.S. State Department has widened the scope of sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline and threatened involved companies with sanctions if they do not wind down activities within 30 days. Ukraine has been repeatedly asking the EU to impose sanctions against Nord Stream 2, which it believes is aimed at undermining the Ukrainian economy and increasing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Ukraine’s Naftogaz has expressed support for the decision and stated that it intended to continue cooperating with international partners on the issue. (Novinite October 21)
Hundreds of Belarusian techies find refuge in Ukraine as Belarus protests continue.
- On October 4, the Ukrainian Government adopted a decree to help Belarusians move to Ukraine by simplifying processes to enter the country, receive work permits, and register as private entrepreneurs, and introducing immigration quotas that allow for 5,000 tech specialists to apply for permanent residence permits. Since then, nearly 1,200 Belarusian techies have moved to Ukraine, with many more companies expected to come as protests in Belarus keep escalating. (Kyiv Post October 20)
Zelensky stresses free nature of elections in Ukraine after historic vote.
- President Zelensky applauded the October 25 local elections and insisted that Ukraine is moving in the right direction. The local elections are considered extremely consequential as the first held under a new Electoral Code that decentralizes power from Kyiv to local governing bodies. Voting was considered to be generally in compliance with election law, according to the civic networks, observes, and the CEC. (Radio Free Europe October 26)
Observers criticize Ukraine’s Zelensky for blurring elections with cannabis poll.
- International observers have concluded that local elections in Ukraine were “well-organised and transparent,” but have criticized a survey organized near polling stations at the initiative of President Zelensky. Several days before the election, Zelensky announced that voters would be asked to answer five questions on social issues, including the legalization of medical cannabis, in a move that analysts and the opposition denounced as an attempt to mobilize his party base. The poll “appeared to create an undue political advantage on election day and blurred the separation of state and party,” OSCE observers stated. (Euractiv October 27)
United States ready to cooperate in creation of Crimean Platform.
- U.S. Chargé d’Affaires a.i. in Ukraine Kvien has confirmed the U.S.’ readiness to cooperate with Ukraine to establish the Crimean Platform and emphasized that the U.S.’ position, as reflected in Secretary Pompeo’s Crimea Declaration, remains firm and unwavering: “Crimea is a part of Ukraine and the U.S. will never recognize Russia’s attempts to annex it.” In late September, Ukraine’s MFA announced plans to hold the Crimean Summit in Kyiv, which should become the highest level of international coverage of the Crimean Platform initiative. (Ukrinform October 27)
Police in Prague clash with citizens protesting the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
- A Sunday demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions ended in clashes between protesters and the police. When Prague City Hall called on the organizers to end the demonstration—attended by 2,000 people who mostly did not wear face masks—, several protesters attempted to break through the police cordon. Armored police then used tear gas, bangers, and heavy vehicles to push protesters from the square. 20 people were injured, including police officers. Before the demonstration, the police had detained 50 people after finding dangerous items on them, such as firework rockets, batons, and a firearm. (Expats.cz October 18)
Almost three-quarters of Hungarians agree to tie EU Funds to rule of law criteria.
- A survey commissioned by the European Parliament has found that 77% of EU citizens want EU funds to be conditional upon national Governments’ respect for the rule of law and democratic values. In Hungary, 72% of the respondents said totally or partially agreed with the rule of law criteria. The survey also found similar levels of support for tying the payment of funds to rule-of-law conditions in Poland. (Hungary Today October 20)
Hungarian court gags investigative report, citing EU data protection law.
- A Hungarian court has cited the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to prevent the Magyar Narancs newspaper from publishing an article on the Hell Energy company and its owners. Magyar Narancs announced that it will challenge the order, as the subject of state subsidies for major companies is of public interest. “Civil lawsuits are filed against the press in every democracy, and these sometimes involve legitimate retrospective sanctioning of the press. But using GDPR for pre-publication censorship is another level,” stated a Hungarian Civil Liberties Union lawyer. (Committee to Protect Journalists October 21)
Ukraine refuses entry to two Hungarian officials due to campaigning in Zakarpattia region.
- Due to campaigning in the Zakarpattia region during the October 25 local elections, Ukraine has refused entry to two high-ranking Hungarian officials—including the state secretary—, and has initiated bans on entry to Ukraine for several other Hungarians. “Our partners will soon be informed in detail about Hungary’s interference in the elections, and we have already informed the OSCE monitoring mission,” FM Kuleba declared, adding that “[Ukraine] will take tough and clear steps if Budapest ignores Ukraine’s interests and legislation.” (Ukrinform October 27)
Ukraine with “unfriendly steps” refuses Hungarian support for Euro-Atlantic integration efforts–Szijjártó.
- FM Szijjártó has criticized Ukraine’s “unfriendly steps” towards Hungary in summoning the Hungarian Ambassador and deciding to ban the entry of two officials, calling the decision “pathetic and nonsense.” “With this Ukraine sends the message […] that it has given up on Hungarian support for its Euroatlantic integration efforts,” Szijjártó added. On October 25, FM Szijjártó on his Facebook page called on Hungarians in Zakarpattia to support the KMKS Party of Hungarians of Ukraine and incumbent Mayor of Berehove Babiak, an announcement that the Ukrainian MFA denounced as direct interference in its internal affairs.(Interfax October 27)
Constitutional tribunal ruling makes abortion practically illegal in Poland.
- The Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Thursday that abortions in the case of a malformation of the foetus— representing about 98% of legal abortions conducted in the country—are unconstitutional, basically shutting down legal abortion in the country, which already had some of the toughest abortion laws in the EU. The decision means abortions will be legal only in the case of rape, incest or if the health of the mother is severely under threat. The ruling comes as a result of a request filed in 2019 by a group of parliamentarians from PiS and the far-right. (Balkan Insight October 22)
Norwegian asylum case points to Polish, Hungarian “deviation” on western values.
- Norway has granted temporary political asylum to human rights activist Rafal Gawel and his family, declaring that Poland’s Government had significantly eroded the country’s judiciary independence. Gawel, the founder of the Center for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behavior, was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of fraud, forging signatures, and faking financial documents in 2019. He denies the allegations and claims his conviction was political persecution for exposing far-right extremism. Gawel is the first Pole to be granted political asylum in the West since 1989. (Radio Free Europe October 20)
Polish PM meets with leader of Belarusian opposition.
- PM Morawiecki met with Belarusian opposition leader Cichanouska to discuss developments in Belarus, pledging to support the opposition “in solidarity in this difficult time.” Cichanouska asked Morawiecki for legal support for Belarusians who come to Poland as part of humanitarian programs, stating that “it is important to us that we can work and earn a living.” Last week, Cichanouska announced that she would call for a nationwide strike if President Lukashenka did not comply with demands to resign, stop violence in the streets, and release all political prisoners by October 25. (Poland.in October 12)
Poles protest abortion ban in churches and on streets.
- Women’s rights activists staged protests against the tightening of Poland’s already restrictive abortion law outside and inside churches Sunday, and have vowed to organize more protests in the coming week, including blockades of cities on Monday, a nationwide strike by women on Wednesday and street protests on Friday. Large protests were held for multiple nights in a row, and clashes between protesters with police and ultranationalist groups have been reported in multiple cities. (Associated Press October 25)
Deputy PM Gowin wants to reframe the abortion “compromise”.
- Leader of the Agreement Gowin announced that his party will propose a compromise to allow termination of pregnancy in cases where the fetus has suffered lethal defects, after a constitutional court ruling made abortion illegal on grounds other than rape, incest, or the life of the mother being under threat. Gowin stated that that the “law must be the guardian of values, but it should not force women into acts of heroism, “and also proposed increases in benefits for parents who have children with disabilities and on necessary therapy. (Poland.in October 26)
Police hand out fines over abortion protests in Poland.
- Police announced that 23 crimes and 481 less serious offences were committed during protests across Poland on Sunday, and that they have issued 142 fines and filed 281 applications to courts for penalties to be imposed. According to police reports, a total of 226 illegal gatherings of various sizes took place around the country on Sunday alone, on the fourth straight day of demonstrations against the tightening of the country’s abortion laws. Gatherings of more than five people are forbidden under the new coronavirus containment rules that came into force on Saturday. (Polskie Radio October 26)
Tragic death of Slovak national at the core of the European Parliament plenary talk on police violence.
- The MFA continues to exert diplomatic efforts to close the investigation and provide justice for Jozef Chovanec’s death in Belgium in 2018. FM Korčok initiated a meeting with Slovak MEPs with the objective of bringing the case to the attention of the EU institutions and engaging their support for the investigation. “The tragic death of our citizen should be put on the agenda of the European Parliament plenary session … even now it is clear that he was subjected to police violence that has no place in a democratic society,” declared FM Korčok, mentioning that “there is a clear expectation that the case will be investigated and those responsible will be tried in a court of law.” (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic October 20)
NGOs face eviction from Metelkova compound.
- On Monday, organizations operating on Metelkova 6 in Ljubljana received an eviction notice from the Ministry of Culture, who claimed that they need the premises and that they intend to renovate them. NGO officials stated that the budget envisages funds for renovation only in 2023, and that they were not offered alternative premises or discussed with, and thus “strongly protest against the action … [and] understand it as an attack on civil society and independent culture.” Metelkova 6 is the legacy of civil society movements that began in the 1980s, and is the only building that the Ministry of Culture dedicates to independent cultural, artistic, and research organizations that work in the public interest. (STA October 21)
Slovenia: Minister Logar meets with Linkevicius and Tihanovski.
- FM Logar held talks in Lithuania with FM Linkevicius on strengthening bilateral cooperation, the need for active cooperation and assistance to help Western Balkan countries progress, developments in Belarus, and EU coordination of COVID-19 measures. Logar also met with Belarusian opposition leader Tikhanovsky, who recently took refuge in Lithuania, to express his support and discuss current developments and hopes for Belarus and the potential for holding democratic elections, respecting human rights, and having a greater EU presence there. (IBNA October 22)
Janša endorses Trump.
- “We respect difficult, tragic personal life of Joe Biden and some of his political achievements years ago. But today, if elected, he would be one of the weakest presidents in history. When a free world desperately needs STRONG #US as never before. Go, win, Donald Trump,” tweeted PM Janša on Friday. The Social Democrats instead endorsed Biden, stating that the world needed leaders who understood cooperation, empathy, kindness as key to progress and prosperity for everyone. Defense Minister Tonin assured that Slovenia would respect the decision of U.S. voters regardless of the result. (STA October 23)
Biden Aide gets into Twitter fight with Janša after Trump endorsement.
- PM Janša’s endorsement of President Trump has sparked an acrimonious Twitter exchange with Biden’s foreign policy adviser, who tweeted: “Lol, Trump picks up an endorsement from Slovenia’s prime minister, previously indicted and convicted on corruption charges” alongside the Slovenian word for “shame.” Janša denounced the tweet as blatant lie, insulted the adviser by stating “I see why Trump calls you the #Swamp,” assured respect the decision of U.S. voters regardless of the result, and expressed hope that Biden will do the same—while expressing doubts in reference to his “supporters in Baltimore.” Former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Fried tweeted that it was not wise for a country to take sides in another country’s democratic elections. (STA October 25)