Regional Press Review (3-10 Feb)
EU’s Borrell calls relations with Russia “at a crossroads.”
- EU foreign policy chief Borrell has called EU–Russia relations “at a crossroads” following a visit to Moscow that the diplomat described as “very complicated” and “confirmed that Europe and Russia are drifting apart.” During a press event with Borrell on February 5, Russian FM Lavrov called the EU an “unreliable partner,” and shortly afterward announced that diplomats from Sweden, Poland, and Germany had been expelled for purportedly participating in a protest to support Aleksei Navalny on January 23, allegations which all three Governments denied. The EU’s top diplomat added that the bloc’s next steps could include further sanctions against Moscow. (Radio Free Europe February 7)
Von der Leyen backs Borrell amid calls for resignation over “humiliating” Russia trip.
- EU foreign policy leader Borrell has complete backing from EC President von der Leyen amid calls from more than 70 MEPs for his replacement after a disastrous visit to Moscow. Borrell is being criticized for standing passively and smiling while the Russian FM labeled the EU an “unreliable partner” at a press conference in the Moscow. (Politico, February 8)
German officials warn against Navalny’s fate of with Nord Stream pipeline.
- Chancellor Merkel and German Economy Minister Altmaier cautioned against linking Moscow’s treatment of Aleksei Navalny to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, supporting the completion of the pipeline despite Russia’s recent crackdown on anti-government protesters and Moscow’s expulsion of European diplomats from Russia. The company behind the project announced on February 6 that it was continuing construction of the pipeline. (Radio Free Europe February 7)
U.S. deploying B-1 bombers to Norway to send a message to Russia.
- The U.S. Air Force is sending B-1 aircrafts to Norway for the first time, in a development that delivers a direct warning to Moscow that the U.S. Army will work in a strategically important Arctic area and will protect its partners against any Russian attacks near the border. Four U.S. Air Force B-1 aircrafts and nearly 200 Dyess Air Force staff are deployed to Norway, with operations taking place in the Arctic region and in the international airspace off the northwest of Russia over the following three weeks. (CNN, February 9)
Armenia slides in Global Democracy Ranking.
- London-based think-tank The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has downgraded Armenia’s position in its annual survey of the state of democracy around the world. Armenia fell from the 86th to the 89th place in the latest Democracy Index, after rising substantially in the global ranking in the previous two years. The EIU rates 167 countries and territories on five indicators including civil liberties, electoral process, and pluralism. (Azatutyun February 5)
Pashinyan Government: “No demand” for new elections.
- Armenia’s ruling My Step faction appears to have retreated from PM Pashinyan’s promise to hold snap parliamentary elections in 2021, declaring that “there is no demand for snap elections among the general public” on February 7. Pashinyan initially offered the opposition the chance to participate in discussions, but his invitation was rebuked as opposition leaders instead called for his unconditional resignation and replacement with a transitional government. (OC Media February 8)
Azerbaijan sues Armenia at European Court over Nagorno-Karabakh.
- Azerbaijan has filed a lawsuit against Armenia with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), accusing Yerevan of human rights violations during its almost 30-year occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and adjacent districts, and during the 44-day conflict in 2020. Baku also accused Yerevan of not undertaking measures to find out the fates of 3,800 Azerbaijani nationals who went missing during the initial war in the 1990s, and also raised the issue of Armenia’s alleged use of ballistic missiles, white phosphorus munitions, and cluster munitions during shelling of Azerbaijani towns and villages located far from the conflict zone last year. (Radio Free Europe February 9)
How taxpayers are forced to help finance Azerbaijan’s post-war recovery.
- Employers in Azerbaijan are reportedly docking salaries or ordering employee contributions to state funds that assist wounded military personnel and the families of soldiers slain during the 2020 hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh. The beneficiaries of these donations are three government funds created after the November 2020 ceasefire was agreed upon, with the understanding that strictly voluntary donations would provide their resources. (Current Time February 5)
Georgian PM and Norwegian Ambassador discuss economic and defense cooperation.
- The Georgia–Norway economic and defense partnership was a central topic addressed throughout the meeting between the PM of Georgia and the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Georgia. The meeting celebrated the establishment of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway in Georgia and highlighted the importance of reaching into the maximum potential of economic cooperation. (Georgia Today, February 5)
EU foreign policy chief discussed Georgia with Russian FM.
- EU foreign policy chief Borrell addressed the question of Georgia during a recent meeting with the Russian FM. “Respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Syrian and Libyan crises were also among the issues we touched upon in a review of our troubled neighborhood, where Russia and the European Union remain more often than not at odds,” Borrell stated. (Civil.ge, February 8)
Prime Minister Cîțu, President Maia Sandu discuss Republic of Moldova’s access to COVID-19 vaccine.
- The Romanian PM and the Moldovan President discussed how Romania can help Moldova have faster access to the COVID vaccine. President Sandu mentioned on her social network that she had a “short meeting” with the Romanian PM in the context of her visit in Paris. (Act Media, February 4)
PM Cîțu to pay working visit to Brussels.
- PM Cîțu will pay a working visit to Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday to meet with senior EU officials, including the European Council, European Commission, and European Parliament presidents and European Commission Executive Vice-Presidents Timmermans, Vestager and Dombrovskis. Cîțu will also meet with the European Commissioner for Transport Vălean and with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Geoană, EPP Group leader Weber, EPP Secretary-General Lopez-Isturiz White, RENEW Group leader Cioloș, and S&D Group leader Pérez. (Actmedia February 9)
Turkey’s opposition HDP faces ban.
- The future of Turkey’s second-largest opposition party is uncertain, with mass arrests and growing calls for its closure. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is facing an unprecedented legal crackdown, with 16,000 members detained and dozens of deputies ousted from Parliament and jailed under Turkey’s anti-terror legislation. The HDP local elected representatives are facing the brunt of the legal crackdown, with 60 out of its 65 mayors jailed or replaced by trustees appointed by the Interior Ministry under anti-terror legislation. (VoA February 8)
Turkish student protest over rector becomes wider struggle for freedom.
- For a month, students and academics at Boğaziçi University have been demanding the right to rectoral elections, which were cancelled following
a failed coup attempt in 2016. Following police intervention, it has turned into a wider student-led revolt against the Government and its crackdown on universities. The Government h as branded Boğaziçi “a hotbed of radicalization,” calling pr otesters “terrorists” and “fascists” causing “anarchy.” President Erdoğan s tated that “they say the rector should resign; if they are brave enough, they would say the President should resign, too…. they will not be successful. There will not be no second Gezi Park protest.” Police detained hundreds of students last week, and several journalists reported being targeted and attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets by riot police. The students say that they will continue their protests until all Government-appointed rectors resign. (Balkan Insight February 5)
Erdogan tells Merkel he wants Turkey–EU summit by July.
- President Erdoğan told Chancellor Merkel that he hopes for a summit with EU leaders in the first half of 2021 to ease tensions, before Portugal—seen as friendly by Ankara—gives up the bloc’s rotating presidency. Merkel welcomed “recent positive signals and developments in the eastern Mediterranean.” However, tensions are still high between the neighbors, with the EU stating last month that “credible gestures” from Erdoğan are needed to patch things up, and condemning Turkey’s detentions of university students and Erdoğan’s use of anti-LGBT “hate speech” last week. (Euractiv February 9)
Ukraine will create new systems to monitor biothreats.
- The Ukrainian President announced that a novel system for monitoring biological threats should be strengthened and created in the country, including research on the spread of pathogens in the animal world that are at risk of spreading to humans. “We need to create an accessible, clear and comprehensive system for monitoring and forecasting biological threats in Ukraine and the world,” Zelensky added. (Ukrinform, February 8)
Ukraine demands Twitter remove “official” Russian FM account in occupied Crimea.
- Ukraine is pressing Twitter to delete the authenticated blue-check profile of the Russian FM Crimea Office, accusing the social media network of spreading Kremlin disinformation. The Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States sent a message to Twitter urging the organization to disable the Russian site. (Radio Free Europe, February 9)
Parties begin discussing electoral law changes.
- The parties in the Czech lower house began talks on Tuesday on how to amend the country’s electoral law, after the Constitutional Court repealed last week an article under which parties running in blocs each need to reach the 5% threshold individually, as well as a system in which more votes are required to win seats in certain constituencies. The amendments must be approved by both houses to pass. (Radio Prague International February 9)
Citing “systemic” fraud, Commission pushes Hungary to change procurement.
- Reuters reported on Monday that the European Commission has told Hungary to reform its public procurement laws to curb “systemic fraud” before accessing the EU pandemic recovery fund. The bloc allegedly expects outrigh
t changes to Hungary’s public procurement laws, citing that “competition in public procurement is insufficient in practice,” noting “systemic irregularities” that “led to the highest financial correction in the history of (EU) structural funds in 2019,” and calling specificall y for improved data transparency and accessibility. (Euractiv Febru ary 8)
PMO Head Gulyás: Reports of EC Document on Hungary procurement laws “fake news”.
- The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Gulyás called reports of the European Commission requiring amendments to Hungary’s public procurement laws “fake news,” assuring that Hungary had received no such request and that the Government was cooperating closely with the EC on the use of the recovery fund and on the EU’s next multiannual financial framework. Gulyás called on the Commission to clarify the situation and reject the “allegations,” because “fake news of that sort undermines and threatens the public trust needed to ratify the decree on [member states’] own resources.” (Hungary Today February 9)
Germany, Sweden, Poland expel Russian Diplomats in tit-for-tat move.
- Germany, Sweden, and Poland are each expelling a Russian diplomat “in accordance with the principle of reciprocity” after Moscow’s expulsion last week of diplomats from the three EU countries for allegedly taking part in protests in support of Aleksei Navalny. The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately reacted, calling
the decisions “unfounded, unfriendly, and a continuation of the very series of actions that the West is taking with regard to our country and which we qualify as interference in our internal affairs.” (Radio Free Europe February 8)
Slovenian journalists accuse Government Communication Office of censorship.
- The Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS) has complained of “new forms of lowering journalistic freedom” in the country, following reports that the Government Communications Office (UKOM) has withheld permission for officials to appear on news shows, including the Education Minister, the head of the advisory group at the Health Ministry, and the director of the National Institute of Public Health. According to the union, limits to media freedom in Slovenia are also reflected in restricting access and preventing journalists from asking questions at government press conferences. (Balkan Insight February 5)
Slovenia expresses solidarity with Belarus protesters.
- The Slovenian Foreign Ministry has expressed solidarity with, and support for, Belarusian citizens who have been holding peaceful anti-government protests since the presidential elections in August 2020, urging respect for democratic standards and fundamental human rights. (STA February 7)
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