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Regional Press Review (26 Nov – 2 Dec)

RUSSIA

The Dutch judge refuses calls for further investigation by the prosecution counsel. 

  • The Dutch court case on the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 denied the offer to explore possible explanations to clarify the disaster. Four Russian suspects are on trial for their suspected involvement in the 2014 accident. The Dutch Prosecutor’s Office claims that MH17 was shot down by a ground-to-air missile fired from eastern Ukraine operated by pro-Russian rebels. (Euronews, November 25)

For the Russian President, President-elect Joe Biden is still a ‘candidate’.

  • Leaders from across Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific have welcomed President-elect Joe Biden. But even as Washington pushes forward with the overdue presidential transition, President Putin has pushed back Biden’s wishes. Russia’s steadfast diplomacy is becoming so uncomfortable that it avoids being viewed as an indication that Putin is sidelined by retiring President Trump and his unfounded statement that the election has been manipulated and obvious efforts to discredit the elected president. Russian leaders, including Putin, have also sent some pessimistic warnings about the validity of the U.S. election in recent days, referencing what they termed the “standoff” following a chaotic time caused by Trump’s reluctance to admit defeat. (The Washington Post, November 26)

Russia is debating its presence in the European institutions. Moscow considers that the EU’s ‘arrogant’ approach reduces the prospect of preserving a mutually respectful, equitable dialogue.

  • Russia is questioning more connections with some EU systems, Russian FM Lavrov declared. The explanation for this is the non-partner and sometimes unsympathetic actions of a number of EU states accepted by the whole bloc, Lavrov told reporters during his tour to Belarus. “For our part, we are thinking not about how to conduct affairs [with the EU], we want to understand whether it is worth dealing with the Brussels structures at all while they are working in their current form,” he explained. Lavrov continued that the failure of several European nations to surrender the the narcissistic way of speaking to others from a position of strength” limits the prospect of developing a mutually respectful, equitable dialogue. (Anadolu Agency, November 26)

ARMENIA

How Armenians see Russia regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. 

  • Though many Armenians express frustration that Russia didn’t provide more support in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, ill will toward the Kremlin seems to have subsided since it brokered a truce and deployed peacekeepers to the region, with many believing that the situation would have been far worse without their involvement. How these opinions are distributed is unknown without public-opinion polling performed on the matter. Based of Yerevan’s official statements and media, PM Pashinyan has relied heavily on Russian assistance, despite being seen as a pro-Western leader seeking greater ties with the EU when he came to power. (Radio Free Europe November 24)

Armenian Economy Minister also resigns. 

  • PM Pashinyan is poised to replace a sixth member of his Cabinet following the resignation of Economy Minister Khachatrian on Monday. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the Armenian economy will shrink by about 7% this year, though the budget bill submitted to the Armenian Parliament early this month expects economic growth to resume, reaching a 4.8% growth rate next year. (Azatutyun November 24)

Putin again talks to Armenian, Azeri leaders. 

  • President Putin has again telephoned the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the implementation of the trilateral agreement, as high-level Russian government delegations visited Yerevan and Baku to the same purpose. The leaders discussed the results of the visits, the work of the Russian peacekeepers in the region, and steps to provide further humanitarian assistance. Putin has touted the Russian mediation efforts as “creating prerequisites for a long-term and full-fledged resolution” of the Karabakh conflict. (Azatutyun November 24)

 AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijani forces enter second district returned by Armenia under Nagorno-Karabakh truce. 

  • Azerbaijani forces have entered the second of three districts to be handed back by Armenia as part of a deal that ended weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced on November 25 that units of the Azerbaijani army had entered Karvachar/Kalbacar as scheduled, after the initial deadline for the handover was postponed by Azerbaijan for humanitarian reasons. (Radio Free Europe November 25)

French Senate calls for Karabakh’s recognition. 

  • France’s Senate called on the French Government on Wednesday to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state, in a resolution that describes the recent war in Karabakh as Azerbaijani aggression supported by Turkey and foreign mercenaries and urges Azerbaijan’s withdrawal from recently “seized” territories. The measure was passed by 305 votes to 1 despite being opposed by the French Government, who warned that it would undermine France’s role as a OSCE Minsk Group co-chair. Armenia welcomed the resolution, whereas Azerbaijan condemned it, with President Aliyev dismissing it as a mere “piece of paper” and reiterating accusations of Paris having pro-Armenian bias. (Azatutyun November 25)

Azerbaijan’s Parliament calls for French removal from Nagorno-Karabakh mediation. 

  • Azerbaijani lawmakers on November 26 called for France to be expelled from the Minsk Group mediating in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. On November 25, the French Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution that backed the breakaway region’s independence claim, accused Azerbaijan of “not guaranteeing the security and freedom of the Armenian populations” in the region, and called on Baku to revise its political and economic relations with France in. (Radio Free Europe November 26)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria–North Macedonia Joint Committee to convene on December 3 and 4. 

  • The meeting of the North Macedonia–Bulgaria Joint Committee on the Controversial Historical Issues will take place next week. Following Bulgaria’s veto on the start of EU accession talks for North Macedonia, backlash continues to grow as pressure for the talks to conclude continues. North Macedonia Deputy Commission Chairman Gjeorgjiev has stated that citizens are frustrated and angry with Bulgaria’s actions, but that while Bulgaria’s are “completely unacceptable for North Macedonia” and affect the work of the Committee, its operation must continue. (IBNA November 24)

Bulgarian Parliamentarians say “no” to Grand National Assembly and new constitution. 

  • Bulgarian lawmakers have dampened the ruling party’s ambitions to initiate a convention of the Grand National Assembly to prepare and adopt the new Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. The draft decision failed to garner the necessary 160 votes, after all the parties except for GERB and the United Patriots abstained or voted against it. (Novinite November 25)

Nadezhda Neynsky nominated for Secretary General of Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. 

  • Nadezhda Neynsky has been approved for the candidature for the post of Secretary General of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization for the period of July 2021–June 2024. The nomination of a Bulgarian for the high post is considered a result of Bulgaria’s strong commitment to the Black Sea region, of its active role in the organization, and of the strengthening of relations with EU and the successful Bulgarian EU presidency in the first half of 2019. (Novinite November 25)

GEORGIA

Report of the Council of Europe on the conflict in Georgia. 

  • The Council of Europe (CoE) released the 22nd integrated report on the dispute in Georgia, addressed by Secretary-General Marija Pejčinovic Burić, who assessed the stability and human rights scenario in Georgia’s Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia for the duration from April to September 2020. According to the paper, amid the COVID-19 epidemic, the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions remained involved and proceeded to resolve security and humanitarian concerns, but noted that the 51st round of talks had been delayed twice, which is currently scheduled to take place in December. (Civil.ge, Novemebr 26)

ROMANIA

Romania, Spain consider Memorandum of Understanding between Ministries of Culture. 

  • Romania and Spain are considering drafting a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministries of Culture to celebrate 140 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2021. Romania’s Ambassador in Madrid has met the Spanish Minister of Culture and Sports to present their initiative for the 2021 anniversary, which was received positively by the Minister. (Actmedia November 26)

Celebration of 140 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and Great Britain. 

  • At a celebratory event marking 140 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and Great Britain, British Ambassador to Romania Noble called Romania a strong and reliable partner who has made “fantastic” progress over the past 25 years. Prince Charles sent participants a video message discussing Romania–U.K. cooperation and highlighting the important role that the more than 600,000 Romanians currently living in the U.K. play in their communities. Romanian FM Aurescu concluded the event by stating that the cooperation between the two countries in the field of security and defense, their mutual interests in foreign policy at Europe’s borders, and their support for a strong transatlantic link have brought the two states closer. (Actmedia November 26)

TURKEY

Greece: Dendias sends out message to Turkey in view of upcoming EU Summit.

  • Greek FM Dendias has criticized “the provocative, aggressive and illegal behavior of Turkey” in reaction to Turkey’s recent statements regarding its European course. Dendias called Turkey’s seismic explorations in the eastern Mediterranean “subversive under international law and European goals,” and “leaving no room for any positive agenda at the forthcoming European Council.” (IBNA November 24)

Concerns of some OSCE Minsk co-chairing countries don’t matter—Erdoğan. 

  • President Erdoğan has stated that unfortunately, some OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries are concerned about the declaration signed on November 10 by Azerbaijan, Russia, and Armenia. Regarding these concerns, the President has explained that “the concern of some OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries does not matter… Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia have taken very important steps to ensure peace and stability in the region. The Azerbaijani flag is flying in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the occupied Kalbajar district was liberated this morning.” (Today.az November 25)

Turkish Police raid Mezopotamya News Agency, detain journalist Dindar Karataş.

  • Police officers have arrested journalist Dindar Karataş at his home and brought him to the local office of pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, where they searched the premises and confiscated equipment. Karataş was not allowed to see a lawyer during his first 24 hours in custody and no allegations against him have not disclosed. On October 6, police raided the same office and detained two other reporters. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Turkish authorities to stop harassing Mezopotamya News Agency journalists, immediately release Karataş, and return the confiscated equipment. (The Committee to Protect Journalists November 24)

UKRAINE

Ukraine-Israel Free Market Deal to enter into effect in 2021. 

  • The free trade deal involving Ukraine and Israel will enter into force on 1 January 2021, President Zelensky confirmed. The partnership would improve trade relations between the two states, as it revokes the majority of import taxes for both. The Ukrainina leader also hopes that the agreement will support raise bilateral trade to $2 billion a year. “This is a new level of relations between the countries and a green light for increasing Ukrainian exports, closer cooperation in the fields of high-tech, engineering and the development of investment cooperation,” President Zelensky declared. (Kyiv Post, November 25)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Trip to Russia by president’s advisor under fire. 

  • Pirate Party MP Lipavský has called on FM Petříček to revoke the diplomatic passport of Presidential Advisor Nejedlý over a planned trip to Russia that was arranged by a Russian deputy prime minister. MP Lipavský called the visit a “mockery” of the Czech Prime Minister’s Office and “a waste of taxpayers’ money” in view of the fact that official representatives of the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation have not met at ministerial level for over ten years. (Radio Prague International November 26)

HUNGARY

Government-linked “Indamedia” buys Index.hu shares, new leadership leaves after four months. 

  • On Monday, Indamedia announced the purchase of news portal Index. The current leadership will be replaced, with its CEO claiming that he is to be removed for “not obeying.” Index, which was Hungary’s most-read, government-critical news portal before its entire staff resigned in July, is now under the direct influence of government-ally media mogul Miklós Vaszily, who is known to be linked to Orbán-allied billionaire Lőrinc Mészáros and has played a major part in firing popular independent news portal Origo’s editor-in-chief before Origo turned into a pro-Fidesz tabloid. (Hungary Today November 25)

EU Parliament discusses Hungary’s alleged interference in Slovenian media. 

  • The European Parliament has debated allegations that Hungary has been interfering in media in Slovenia and North Macedonia. Four Slovenian MEPs presented their views on the matter, with S&D and Renew members claiming that Government-linked Hungarian media influencing Slovenian media was dangerous, whereas EPP MEPs dismissed the claims as “raised solely to interfere in internal affairs and discredit the Slovenian Government.” (STA November 25)

MEPs call for media freedom to become part of “rule of law” assessments.

  • In a resolution adopted on November 25, the European Parliament expressed its “deep concern” about the state of media freedom within the EU as they denounced the violence, harassment, and pressure faced by journalists, the “attempts by governments of some member states to silence critical and independent media,” and the need for more mechanisms to assess and protect media freedom and pluralism in each member state. Among other issues, the MEPs noted a “growing pattern of intimidation aimed at silencing journalists,” citing the murders of investigative journalists in Malta and Slovakia. According to Reporters Without Borders, the Government’s drive to subjugate the judicial system and growing tendency to criminalize defamation are affecting media freedom in Poland, whereas in Hungary, access to information is increasingly difficult for independent journalists. (Emerging Europe November 26)

POLAND

Polish FM congratulates Blinken, Biden’s pick for U.S. Secretary of State. 

  • FM Rau has congratulated Antony Blinken, who has been nominated as the next U.S. Secretary of State. While accepting President-elect Biden’s nomination to be Secretary of State on Tuesday, Blinken spoke of his stepfather, who was “one of 900 children in his school in Białystok, Poland, but the only one to survive the Holocaust after four years in concentration camps.” The Mayor of Białystok has invited Blinken to visit the town. (Polskie Radio November 25)

Hungary, Poland pledge mutual support for EU Budget veto. 

  • After PM Morawiecki’s visit to Budapest on Thursday, the Hungarian and Polish PMs signed a joint declaration pledging to support each other in blocking the EU’s next budget and its pandemic relief fund over a proposed mechanism that ties it to compliance with the rule of law. Both countries are under EU investigation for undermining the independence of the judiciary, media, and NGOs, and risk losing access to funds due to the proposed mechanism. Their veto is likely to significantly delay the adoption of the €1.8 trillion plan, angering the EU member states who are keenly awaiting payouts from the stimulus package for economies affected by the pandemic. (Radio Free Europe November 26)

SLOVAKIA

Jankovská admitted to her relationship with Kočner. She also mentioned Fico. 

  • Former State Secretary of the Justice Ministry Jankovská has started cooperating with investigators after spending months in pre-trial custody for corruption-related crimes. Jankovská has testified to multiple meetings and mutual aid given “out of friendship” between her and mobster Marian Kočner, also admitting guilt to other cases where she is a suspect and promising additional testimonies in the near future. (Slovak Spectator November 26)

Slovak court system gets shake up as Justice Ministry looks to root out corruption.

  • The Justice Ministry has announced plans for a considerable shake up to the country’s court system, which will see the number of courts drastically reduced in an attempt at break corruption chains at lower levels of the court system, improve the quality of rulings, and speed up the decision-making process by allowing judges to specialize in particular areas. The legislative framework for the new court map is expected to be created next year, with the establishment of the Supreme Administrative Court in 2021 and the implementation of most of the changes in 2022. The legislative framework must first be approved in Parliament, and some politicians have already expressed reservations about parts of the plan. Though some NGOs have welcomed the announced reforms, the Association of Judges of Slovakia has yet to comment on the proposal. (Slovak Spectator November 27)

SLOVENIA

Slovenia: Conflict between Government and Opposition is heating up. 

  • The dispute between the ruling parties and the united opposition continues, with the Opposition initiating a petition to hold a referendum against the Government’s Law on Financing the Armed Forces of Slovenia. Janša has called the petition “sabotage of the Slovenian Army” as he accused the Social Democrats of being behind the “Anonymous” movement and recent demonstrations in Ljubljana. The Chairman of the Committee on Internal Affairs of the Slovenian Parliament has filed criminal charges against Left MP Kordiš for statements he made following the behind-closed-doors session of the Committee last week, which he claims are a breach of confidentiality; Kordiš insists that the statement was based on publicly available information. (IBNA November 24)

Logar talks EU presidency challenges, rule of law at Berlin Forum. 

  • FM Logar addressed the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum on Tuesday to highlight the priorities of Slovenia’s EU presidency in the second half of 2021. Logar stressed that solidarity among EU members also involved compromise, before explaining that the recent letter sent by PM Janša was not as a call for a veto on the funding package, but a final attempt at coordination to reach consensus, as “traditional democracies” had a different view of the rule law compared to “countries that emerged from under repressive regimes 30 years ago.” (The Slovenia Times November 25)

Slovenia highlights role of efforts to end violence against women. 

  • Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Slovenia has called for ending violence against women. Human Rights Ombudsman Svetina noted a 11% increase in reported domestic violence cases between March and May, adding that support facilities for victims of violence are insufficient and under-staffed. President Pahor declared that violence against women and children is still widely present. The ZSSS trade union warned against workplace violence as they urged the Government to ratify the 2019 Violence and Harassment Convention. In Slovenia, domestic violence is present in one in five families, one in seven women has been raped, and only 5% of the victims seek help. (The Slovenia Times November 26)

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