Regional Press Review (29 Oct – 5 Nov)
U.S. Congressional Ukraine Caucus worried Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill could be dropped.
- Members of Congressional Ukraine Caucus are worried that the U.S. proposal to extend restrictions on Russia’s natural gas pipeline to Europe could be excluded from the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The measure, known as the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act, will expand the scope of penalties for the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany to include any person or company offering insurance or welding facilities for the pipeline. (Radio Free Europe, October 28)
Parliamentarians and peers are demanding the investigation of possible Russian interference.
- A coalition of parliamentarians and peers brought legal action against the Government for failure to “shield” UK democracy from Russian intervention. They request judges to call for an impartial inquiry following allegations surrounding the EU referendum of 2016 and the Scottish independence vote of 2014. They contend that votes must be taken under provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech under the European Convention on Human Rights. (BBC News, October 29)
Russian President Putin is willing to cooperate with anyone who wins the U.S. elections.
- President Putin states that his Government is happy to cooperate with every U.S. leader, no matter who wins the election next week. “We are studying all events [about the forthcoming U.S. presidential election on November 3rd], we will support any decisions reached by the American people and cooperate with any government. I hope that the decision will be well balanced,” President Putin told the VTB Capital Forum Russia in plenary. (Radio Free Europe, October 29)
Armenia, Azerbaijan urged to seek lasting cease-fire as diplomatic efforts continue.
- Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan have intensified after the collapse of the October 26 U.S.-brokered cease-fire, which both sides reportedly violated within minutes of coming into effect. President Putin spoke by phone on October 27 with President Erdoğan, telling him about the steps being taken to de-escalate the crisis. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu and Russian FM Lavrov also discussed the issue, with Lavrov raising the issue of mercenaries transferred into the conflict zone. (Radio Free Europe October 28)
Civilians reported killed as conflict between Armenia, Azerbaijan spills into urban areas.
- Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry has announced that 21 civilians were killed and 70 injured in the city of Barda, located in central Azerbaijan outside the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with another four civilians reportedly killed on the previous day. In turn, Azeri forces were accused of shelling a hospital and maternity clinic in Stepanakert, as well as the nearby town of Shushi (Susa). The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that urban areas had been hit, with one Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society volunteer killed and two injured in the shelling. Both sides have claimed the other is targeting civilians, and both sides denied the other’s claims. (Radio Free Europe October 28)
Azerbaijan hands over bodies of Armenian soldiers killed in Nagorno-Karabakh fighting.
- Azerbaijan has handed over to Armenia the bodies of 29 servicemen killed in the ongoing fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian Defense Ministry declared that the transfer—initiated by Baku—was made possible by Russia’s “exceptional mediation efforts,” with the help of the OSCE and of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Armenia stated that is ready to reciprocate and start the process of recovering bodies from the front line, as well as to exchange information on POWs and their release. (Radio Free Europe October 29)
North Macedonia reassures Bulgaria over objections to country’s name.
- North Macedonia’s FM Osmani stated that Bulgaria has been raising objections to the use of the shortened version of the country’s name in EU documents, and that Skopje is willing to clarify and add an annex to its 2017 Friendship Treaty to guarantee that the name “North Macedonia” does not imply claims on Bulgarian territory. Hopes are also being invested in the work of the Joint History Commission, which met in October 16 and will hold its next meeting in December. (Balkan Insight October 27)
Bulgaria to block EU negotiations with Skopje.
- FM Zaharieva declared that Bulgaria cannot approve the EU negotiating framework for North Macedonia in its current form, as the Friendship Treaty is not scrupulously implemented. In December, EU leaders will decide whether or not to launch accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, which Bulgaria has been threatening a veto based on unresolved issues and tensions with North Macedonia; as the official Bulgarian position is that both countries should move towards the EU at the same time, the veto should extend to Albania. (Euractiv October 28)
Zaharieva: Bulgaria’s accession to the OECD will be of significance for the whole of Southeast Europe.
- “Bulgaria is ready to launch negotiations for its accession to the OECD, and we are hoping to receive an invitation,” declared Deputy PM and FM Zaharieva at the OECD’s annual ministerial teleconference. Zaharieva highlighted the active co-operation between the organization and Bulgaria and its importance amid the pandemic, noting that Bulgaria’s OECD accession would be of significance for the whole of Southeast Europe. Joining the OECD is one of Bulgaria’s top foreign policy priorities and one of the Government’s immediate goals. On January 1 2021, Bulgaria will become a full member of the OECD Nuclear Energy Organization. (IBNA October 29)
490 MP candidates to run in 30 majoritarian constituencies.
- 490 MP candidates—among them 120 women—will contest 30 single-mandate majoritarian constituencies in Georgia’s October 31 parliamentary elections. According to the recently passed constitutional amendments, Georgians will elect 120 lawmakers (instead of 77) through proportional party lists and 30 MPs (instead of 73) as majoritarian, needing over 50% of votes to claim victory in a single round. (civil.ge October 29)
GYLA releases third interim report on October elections.
- Local watchdog Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) has released its report for the October 1–26 period on the October 31 parliamentary elections. The report notes violations and negative practices perpetrated by both the ruling party and the opposition, including alleged vote-buying, alleged political pressure and violence, alleged ignoring of the requirement to separate the state and political parties, possible obstruction of election campaigns, supposed misuse of administrative resources. (civil.ge October 30)
Concern over Moldova cyber security as election looms.
- Experts warn that Moldova is vulnerable to cyber-attacks, propaganda, and fake news, particularly around election time. As the campaign for Moldova’s presidential election intensifies, so too does the rate of cyberattacks on state institutions. The Centre for Investigative Journalism in Moldova warns that “Moldova does not have a strategy to tackle propaganda, nor clear policies for the protection of the information space.” (Balkan Insight October 28)
Citizen detained by Tiraspol breakaway structures today released.
- Following the intervention of Moldova’s Delegation to the Joint Control Commission and other competent authorities, the Moldovan citizen who had been detained by MGB (so-called state security ministry) structures has been released. The person—who relies on the Camenca-Sănătăuca route for his commute—is a Moldovan citizen who works for the authorities on the right bank of Dniester. (Moldpres October 29)
Moldovans choose between East and West at presidential elections.
- Moldova will hold its first round of presidential elections on Sunday, where voters will choose between eight candidates. The front-runners are pro-Russian incumbent President Dodon, backed by the Socialist party (PSRM), and the pro-European ex-prime minister and leader of the Action and Solidarity party (PAS) Sandu. According to the latest Public Opinion Barometer, Dodon leads with 23.2%, Sandu is close behind with 19.7%, and 27.6% of Moldovans are undecided. The opinion survey also registered widespread public discontent, with three out of four respondents stating that the country is going in the wrong direction, and 42.9% stating that their family income only provides for bare necessities. (Balkan Insight October 30)
Orthodox Church head suggests divine punishment for politicians who banned pilgrimage.
- The Romania’s Orthodox Church Patriarch Daniel suggested in his October 27 preach that politicians who interrupt pilgrimages could be punished by God, after the Liberal Government banned pilgrimages and limited events in the context of rising COVID-19 cases. The service for a major Romanian Orthodox event was therefore attended by only 200 people, including the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), who was personally invited by the patriarch. (Romania Insider October 28)
In Paris, Ludovic Orban reiterated Romania’s firm commitment to joining the OECD.
- Addressing the plenary session of the OECD Council, PM Orban reiterated Romania’s firm commitment to joining the OECD. Orban evoked Romania’s enhanced cooperation with the OECD, pointing out the adoption of 47 legal instruments and the request to join another 19. Among the relevant projects, the Premier mentioned the development of the economic survey, the revision of the licensing system, the national strategy for capital markets, as well as Romania’s inclusion in the 2021”Governance at a Glance” Panoramic Report. (Actmedia October 28)
$600,000 grant offered by the U.S. Government to combat human trafficking in Romania.
- The U.S. Government has provided $600,000 to the International Justice Mission (IJM) to combat human trafficking in Romania. The IJM has pledged to collaborate with the justice system and community leaders, partner with local authorities to rescue individual victims, and equip advocates. U.S. Ambassador Zuckerman applauded the Orban Government for its fight against human trafficking and noted recent successes in tackling organized crime, before concluding that “Romania has no greater friend than the U.S.” as he expressed complete confidence in the collaboration. (Actmedia October 30)
Turkey vows legal action over Erdoğan cartoon.
- Turkey has vowed to take “legal, diplomatic actions” over a cartoon of President Erdoğan lifting the dress of a veiled woman that was featured in Charlie Hebdo, with Turkish prosecutors launching an official investigation. The cartoon has been condemned by Turkish officials, who called on “the international community to raise its voice against this disgrace.” Pro-Government satirical magazine Misvak posted a number of cartoons criticizing Macron and Charlie Hebdo in response. (BBC October 28)
Turkey sentences U.S. consulate employee to over 5 years in jail.
- A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced an American Consulate security guard to more than five years in jail for aiding a religious organization that was accused of masterminding a failed coup in 2016. Nazmi Mete Canturk is one of three Turkish staffers at U.S. Consulates facing similar charges, which U.S. diplomats claim are baseless. (New York Times October 27)
EU could support France with sanctions against Turkey.
- Brussels announced that President Erdoğan has contravened the spirit of trade arrangements with the EU by calling for a boycott of French products, and is now weighing its potential responses. While some politicians—notably EPP members from Greece and Cyprus—are calling for a full-blown suspension of the EU’s customs union with Turkey, most officials favored a more targeted approach or the imposition of new tariffs against Turkey. (Novinite October 28)
Ukraine’s top court deals critical blow to anti-corruption agency.
- Ukraine’s Constitutional Court has ruled it unconstitutional to hold officials criminally liable for intentionally providing false information on asset declarations, and deprived the National Agency for Preventing Corruption (NAZK), of the right to access registers, draft reports on violations, and conduct anti-corruption inspections in government agencies. The court decision may impact lending from the International Monetary Fund and threaten EU visa liberalization. Anti-corruption campaigners claim the ruling undermines Ukraine’s battle against graft, and call it especially controversial as four judges are under investigation by the NAZK for failing to properly declare assets in their declarations. (Radio Free Europe October 28)
G7 “alarmed” by Ukraine “undoing” anti-graft reforms.
- The G7 countries have declared that they are “alarmed” by the rollback of reforms in Ukraine after the Constitutional Court stripped the country’s anti-corruption agency of some of its critical powers. “The G7 ambassadors are alarmed by efforts to undo the anti-corruption reforms that followed the Revolution of Dignity,” according to a joint statement released by the group on October 29. President Zelensky on October 29 called an urgent meeting of the National Security Council, declared that new bills should “immediately” be introduced to Parliament to undo the damage caused by the court’s decision. (Radio Free Europe October 29)
Pirates urge Government to let Polish women have abortions in the Czech Republic.
- The Czech Pirates have called on the Cabinet to let Polish women undergo abortion in Czech health facilities. “If possible, the Czech Republic should provide maximum support in providing medical care to the women whose country’s Government has denied them the freedom of choice,” Pirate MP Kopriva declared. (Expats.cz October 27)
Czech center-right parties form alliance to defeat Babiš.
- The center-right Civic Democrats (ECR), Christian Democrats (EPP) and TOP 09 (EPP) parties will form an alliance for the October 2021 general elections. With ECR Leader Fiala as their prime ministerial candidate, the alliance’s position towards the EU is expected to be a compromise between reformists and pro-European centrists, with a strong emphasis on traditional European values. Meanwhile, the Pirate Party (Greens/EFA) are also considering forming a coalition with the Mayors and Independents (EPP). (Euractiv October 29)
EU Commission to stay out of Ukraine-Hungary row.
- Asked if the EU should play a mediating role in the recent tensions over Hungary’s election interference in Ukraine, which have led Budapest to threaten to block Kyiv’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, EC spokesperson Stano stated that these are “issues of bilateral relations between the two countries and the only thing that you can do is to encourage everyone who is involved in bilateral issues to try to solve them based on EU values and principles, and based on the principles of good neighborly relations.” (Euractiv October 27)
Orbán unveils George H.W. Bush Monument: “He shared Central Europe’s dream of freedom and independence”.
- On Tuesday, a new statue of George H.W. Bush was inaugurated in Budapest’s Liberty Square. At the ceremony, PM Orbán declared that “Hungarians have always regarded the U.S. as a home of freedom,” as he listed notable moments in U.S–Hungary relations’ history, culminating with George H.W. Bush’s 1989 visit to Budapest, in which Orbán stated that the U.S. leader supported “saving Hungarians from Yalta” because “he shared Central Europe’s dream of freedom and independence.” Referring to the fact that Ronald Reagan also has a statue in the same square, Orbán declared that “here are two men from America who have started a fight against communism in the world.”(Hungary Today October 27)
Media watchdog urges end to Hungarian police probe into journalists’ “illicit data collection”.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has demanded that Hungarian police stop harassing two journalists who were summoned for questioning after they published stories that used drone footage showing armored vehicles parked outside the business of a friend of PM Orbán. The two journalists claim that police summoned them as witnesses in a criminal probe into suspected illicit data collection—a criminal offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years—and asked questions such as why they wrote their articles, who their sources were, who made the drone footage, and who authorized their publication. (Radio Free Europe October 29)
Council of Europe flags concern over Poland’s treatment of detainees.
- The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee have expressed “serious concern” about conditions in police custody in Poland, urging “urgent and decisive action” by the authorities. In a special report, the committee found “a number of allegations of physical ill-treatment,” including excessive force at the time and after apprehension. This risk of ill-treatment at the hands of police was a source of “ongoing serious concern,” stated the report, which highlighted “serious deficiencies” and also expressed concern about detainees—including minors—being denied access to lawyers or doctors. (Euractiv October 28)
Commotion in Polish Parliament as tempers fray over abortion law.
- Parliament security guards were called in to the Polish Lower House on Tuesday after a protest by left-wing MPs opposed to tightening the country’s abortion laws. A group of left-wing women MPs crowded around where conservative MPs sit in the chamber and waved banners stating “Legal abortion” and “This is war!” A conservative Deputy Speaker summoned security guards, who cordoned off the protesting MPs. (Polskie Radio October 27)
Poland deploys riot police as pro-abortion protests continue for seventh day.
- Riot police were deployed in Poland on Wednesday, as people went on strike and filled streets across the country for the seventh day of protests against a court ruling that further limits the country’s highly restrictive abortion laws, with some employers and schools announcing days off to allow people to join the protests. NGOs have accused law enforcement of using excessive force against peaceful protesters, and have also criticized ruling party leader Kaczynski—who is in charge of police and security services— for calling on his party’s supporters to defend churches “at any cost” on Tuesday. Opinion polls show a majority of Poles oppose the ruling, and another opinion poll on Wednesday showed falling support for the Law and Justice party. (Euronews October 29)
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)
Slovenian NGOs facing eviction claim Janša wants them silenced.
- Almost 20 NGOs and collectives in Slovenia are protesting against the threat of eviction from Metelkova Street in Ljubljana. Though the eviction was justified by the Ministry of Culture by stating that it needs renovations, the CSOs suspect a political motive, noting that PM Janša’s Government takes a dim view of its critics. The organizations have released a protest letter stating “we have no intention of leaving Metelkova 6 and will resist with all possible means these attacks on civil society, independent culture, and democracy.” More than 200 NGOs have supported the letter, and an online petition to stop their eviction had collected almost 8,000 signatures by Tuesday. (Balkan Insight October 28)