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Regional Press Review (3-9 Dec)

RUSSIA

Russia deploys missiles to Pacific islands claimed by Japan. 

  • The Russian army has confirmed the deployment of state-of-the-art air defense systems to the Pacific Islands held by Japan. Russia’s Eastern Military District reported in a declaration that the S-300V4 air defense missile systems had joined active service on the Kuril Islands, contributing to the shorter range of Tor M2 missiles that had been stationed on the island earlier. Russian Defense Ministry TV station Zvezda announced that air defense missile systems have been deployed in Iturup, one of the four southernmost islands of Kuril. The new deployment marked the latest phase in a persistent Russian military expansion on the islands, including the stationing of sophisticated fighter jets and anti-ship missiles. (Associated Press, December 01)

Russia may have a “key to Africa” with Sudan’s military fleet. 

  • The Kremlin has plans to create a naval fleet in Sudan on the Red Sea. The reputation project will extend the role of Russia in Africa. That could have strategic consequences globally. For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, President Putin wants to see Russia build a naval base overseas. The president directed the Defense Ministry to enter into an agreement with Sudan in mid-November. This will not only be the second Russian military facility in the Middle East and North Africa, an area that has become extremely relevant to Moscow, together with the still-active Cold War-era Tartus base in Syria, but internationally, aside from a fleet on the annexed Crimean Peninsula that is not actually considered extraterritorial by Russian government officials. (Deutsche Welle, December 2)

Joint Statement on Vanessa Kogan’s deportation from Russia. 

  • On 2 December 2020, the residency permit of human rights lawyer and director of the Justice Initiative Group, Vanessa Kogan, was withdrawn by the Russian immigration officials. “The withdrawal was made on the unfounded basis that “Kogan presents a danger to the Russian Federation’s national security.” Kogan was allowed two weeks to leave Russia. Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights and Norwegian Helsinki Committee organizations see Kogan’s deportation as a reprisal for her exemplary efforts in the area of human rights and request the Russian authorities to revoke the decision immediately. (Human Rights Watch, December 3)

EU executive strategy proposes penalties on fake news spreaders, including Russia. 

  • The Vice-President of the European Commission notes that the EU Executive Arm would propose sanctioning organizations that distribute misinformation, especially foreign actors” from countries such as Russia and China, in an attempt to impose a cost” on those who distribute fake news. (Radio Free EuropeDecemebr 3)

ARMENIA

Another lawmaker leaves ruling bloc. 

  • MP Gevorgian left PM Pashinyan’s My Step bloc on Tuesday, citing major disagreements with Armenia’s ruling political team on “a number of key and contentious issues facing the state.” Four other My Step deputies have quit the bloc since November 10, citing disagreements or denouncing the ceasefire agreement. (Azatutyun December 1)

Armenian President appeals to Putin. 

  • President Sarkissian has asked President Putin to help free Armenian soldiers and civilians remaining in captivity. Though the ceasefire agreement calls for the exchange of all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian captives, it remains unclear clear when the warring sides will start implementing this provision. Yerevan-based human rights lawyers have identified 50 Armenian POWs and detainees in lawsuits, and are asking the European Court of Human Rights to order Baku to provide information about their health and prison conditions. Hundreds of soldiers remain unaccounted for. (Azatutyun November 30)

Putin calls on leaders of CSTO member states to support Armenia’s Prime Minister. 

  • President Putin has called on the leaders of member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to support PM Pashinyan, declaring that Pashinyan “had to make painful but necessary decisions” to stop the conflict. Pashinyan, in turn, called Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh “a guarantor of security in the region” and emphasized Putin’s “exclusive role” in “stopping the bloodshed.” (Radio Free Europe December 2)

 AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan reclaims third district from Armenia under Nagorno-Karabakh truce. 

  • Azerbaijan has completed reclaiming the three districts that were controlled by ethnic Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. In an address to the nation on December 1, President Aliyev hailed the restoration of control over Lachin, a strategic link between Armenia’s internationally recognized border and ethnic Armenian-held areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, as a “historic victory.” (Radio Free Europe December 1)

Azerbaijan announces almost 3,000 troops killed in Nagorno-Karabakh fighting. 

  • Nearly 2,800 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in fighting with ethnic Armenian forces over Nagorno-Karabakh, officials declared in their first announcement of casualty figures, nearly three weeks after a cease-fire ended fighting over the territoryThe Defense Ministry stated that 2,783 of its soldiers and officers were killed during the conflict, more than 100 military personnel were missing, and 1,245 servicemen were wounded. (Radio Free Europe December 3)

French lower house also calls for Karabakh’s recognition. 

  • The French National Assembly joined the country’s Senate on Thursday in calling for Nagorno-Karabakh’s recognition as an independent republic. French FM Le Drian spoke out against such recognition before the vote, calling it counterproductive for both France and the Karabakh peace process, and reminding lawmakers that even Armenia does not recognize the region as independent. (Azatutyun December 3)

GEORGIA

Georgia in the 2030 NATO Report. 

  • “The Alliance should seek to expand and strengthen partnerships with Georgia and Ukraine “as weak democracies are seeking membership and are under intense domestic and foreign tension from Russia”. NATO should consider offering more consistent and reliable support flows for partnership activities, while maintaining and reinvigorating its “Open Door Policy. The report notes that while Russian hostility persists in Georgia and Ukraine, its assertive behavior has intensified in the Upper North and North Atlantic, with air and naval build-ups in and around key maritime chokepoints in the Barents, Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Seas. (Civil.ge, December 2)

A telephone conversation between the Georgian PM and EU Commissioner Varhelyi.

  • In a telephone conversation between the Georgian PM and EU Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Varhelyi, the parties addressed the challenges posed by the global pandemic, as well as the importance of EU aid to Georgia, aimed at improving the country’s socio-economic situation and overcoming the adverse influence of COVID-19, were stressed. The debate reflected on the Georgia parliamentary elections. In this context, it was observed that in reaction to the pandemic and economic challenges facing both Europe and Georgia, it is essential to convene a new parliamentary meeting in a timely and complete manner, in order to promote the country’s democratic progress. (Georgia Today, December 3)

MOLDOVA

After MPs decided to strip Moldova’s new pro-EU president of a crucial authority, thousands revolt. 

  • As legislators allied to the incumbent pro-Russian president voted to deprive his pro-Western successor of a crucial authority, thousands of demonstrators protested outside Moldova’s parliament building on Thursday. The ruling Socialists put forward the attempt to prevent the former Soviet republic’s president from getting control of the powerful state security. It was authorized in the 101-seat parliament with 51 votes in favor. (Euronews, December 3)

Moldova should enhance the protection of victims of human trafficking. 

  • The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has urged the Republic of Moldova to ensure access to justice for victims of trafficking in human beings by guaranteeing that at a preliminary phase, they obtain specialist support and free legal representation, information on their entitlement to compensation and security against coercion during or after the investigation. In a report released in early December 2020, GRETA analyzes the country’s progress in implementing the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, with a special emphasis on access to justice and successful solutions, since 2016, when it conducted its previous assessment. (Council of Europe, December 3)

ROMANIA

Commission disburses €8.5 billion under SURE to five Member States: Romania receives €3 billion. 

  • The European Commission has disbursed €8.5 billion in the third instalment of financial support under the SURE instrument: Belgium has received €2 billion, Hungary €200 million, Portugal €3 billion, Romania €3 billion, and Slovakia €300 million. The support, in the form of loans granted on favorable terms, will assist EU Member States in addressing increases in public expenditure to preserve employment, covering costs related to national short-time work schemes and other measures implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Actmedia December 2)

Romania elects new government amid pandemic. 

  • Romanians will hit the polls on Sunday to vote in the parliamentary elections. Center-right PM Orban’s prospects have been dramatically undermined by the pandemic, with ruling National Liberal Party (PNL)’s support ratings having fallen to below 30%, from 45% in January. To form a Government with a robust parliamentary base, PNL would have to bring the more reformist USR–PLUS alliance on boardMeanwhile, the Social Democrats (PSD) are polling between 21–24% ahead of Sunday’s election, only half the support they had in the 2016 election. (Balkan Insight December 4)

TURKEY

Pompeo criticizes Turkey over Russian missiles, alliance reforms at NATO talks. 

  • U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo strongly criticized Turkey at a NATO ministerial meeting. Pompeo accused Turkey of playing into Moscow’s hands by buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system and urged Ankara to behave more like an ally, accusing it of thwarting efforts to build unanimity for vital reforms. The intervention was described as “punchy” or “short, but very clear” by those attending the meeting. EU members will decide on December 10 whether to begin the process of applying sanctions against Turkey for violating Greek waters to search for gas or breaching a UN arms embargo on Libya.  (France24 December 2)

UKRAINE

Estonia and Ukraine announce a strategic cooperation treaty. 

  • At last week’s video conference, the PMs of Estonia and Ukraine entered into an agreement on a future technological initiative. PM Ratas said that the visit of the PM of Ukraine to Estonia was expected to take place in November, but was delayed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. “Estonia conducts nearly 40 cooperation projects with Ukraine a year, the main focus of which is on strengthening democracy, including through the development of e-government, supporting the business environment, and raising the quality of education. In connection with the spread of the coronavirus, we are also paying more attention to the field of health care Estonian PM declared. (ERR News, December 01)

Hungarian authorities call out Ukrainian envoy on ethnic Hungarian charities regarding attacks. 

  • After the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) raided ethnic Hungarians’ offices, Hungarian authorities called out the Ukrainian ambassador. In a statement, the Hungarian Cultural Association in Transcarpathia declared that SBU agents searched the headquarters of the organization and its chairman’s house, looking for proof of “activities aimed at violently changing the borders.” (Radio Free Europe, December 1)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Handling of pandemic has changed how Czechs feel about the EU

  • The EU’s popularity in the Czech Republic is on the rise thanks to its response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a survey conducted by the STEM institute and the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy in October, only 23of respondents dislike the EU, with 2being active anti-EU protesters. However, the survey also discovered that only 52were satisfied with EU membershipand 73% believed that the EU money allocation system is unfair. (Expats.cz December 1)

HUNGARY

Hungarian MEP facing expulsion from EPP group over Gestapo comments. 

  • EPP lawmakers have declared their “growing dismay and impatience (with the) increasing radicalization and verbal abuses of certain Fidesz MEPs” as they called for the expulsion of MEP Deutsch, the head of Fidesz’ European Parliament delegation. After EPP Leader Weber called Hungary and Poland’s veto on the 2021-2018 EU budget “irresponsible” and stated that there is no reason to fear the rule of law mechanism if the country upholds media freedom and judicial independenceMEP Deutsch called the comments reminiscent “of the Gestapo and (Hungary’s communist-era secret police) the AVH.  (Euronews December 2)

“It’s not gonna work,” Orbán says about Polish veto retreat. 

  • Following news that Poland may be softening its position on the veto, PM Orbán reiterated that Hungary and Poland have committed to supporting each other’s position in the budget row, and that attaching a declaration to the rule of law regulation does not work for Budapest. Orbán declared that Hungary’s proposal to the German Presidency is to quickly and “without any difficulty” adopt the EU’s long-term budget and recovery fund, and “set aside and discuss later” the rule of law regulation. (Euractiv December 4)

EU top court should dismiss Hungary’s bid to challenge Article 7 action—Advocate General. 

  • Advocate General Bobek has declared that the European Court of Justice should dismiss Hungary’s bid to annul an EU Parliament resolution urging the bloc to take disciplinary action against it over alleged backsliding on the rule of law. Bobek’s opinion is not legally-binding, but such decisions are usually a good indicator of which way the Court will sway. The Hungarian Government launched legal action against the European Parliament in October 2018, a month after MEPs voted to trigger Article 7 proceedings against the country. (Euronews December 3)

POLAND

Commission considers options for recovery fund without Hungary and Poland. 

  • EU leaders will meet on December 10-11 to assess options for the 2021-2027 EU budget and €750 billion recovery fund, after Hungary and Poland refused to approve it unless rule of law conditionality attached to the EU funds is watered down or scrapped. A senior EU official declared that a “bridge” solution could be found and implemented “quite quickly” to “replicate the effects” of the recovery fund without them; the new proposal would be ready by early next year, and would only require a qualified majority, leaving no prospect of any vetoes. (Euractiv December 2)

Poland ready to drop EU budget veto for EU summit declaration on rule of law. 

  • Poland announced that it might drop its veto to the EU’s €1.8 trillion financial package if EU leaders endorse an explanatory declaration on the link between EU funds and the rule of law. Polish Deputy PM Gowin highlighted the importance of “finding a good compromise,” as the veto would harm the country, as well as the other Member States.  Gowin added that top Commission officials have made it clear that if Poland and Hungary stuck to their veto, the EU would have no choice but to bypass them through a deal on the recovery fund made among the 25 other countries. (Euractiv December 4)

Council of Europe tells Poland: “LGBTI are people, not an ideology”. 

  • The Council of Europe (CoEhas criticized the Polish Government over its treatment and stigmatization of LGBTI citizensexplicitly addressing President Duda for what the CoE called his endorsement of hate“Stigmatization and hate speech carry a real risk of legitimizing violence,” the report states, adding that “LGBTI are people, not an ideology.” The Polish Government has rejected the criticism, reiterating that the institution of marriage as a union between men and women is manifest in the Polish constitution. (VoA News December 3)

SLOVAKIA

Penta partner Haščák reportedly charged with corruption after a police raid. 

  • Heavily armed police have raided the offices of one of Slovakia’s biggest financial groups and took one of the partners, Jaroslav Haščák, into custody, charged with corruption and money laundering. The Penta Group controls a substantial part of Slovakia’s healthcare systemand has found itself in the middle of various major corruption scandals. Haščák’s arrest is likely connected to police operations “Purgatory” and “Mills of God,” which have led to the apprehension of the country’s former special prosecutor and former police chief. (Slovak Spectator December 1)

Responsibility goes hand in hand with EU advantagesČaputová

  • President Čaputová has met with Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Jourováand reiterated that Slovakia’s position regarding the EU budget is unequivocal and shared across the Government and constitutional officialsČaputová stated that Hungary and Poland acted individually in vetoing the budget agreement, and not in coordination with other V4 countries. Responsibility and respecting “the principles on which the EU stands goes hand in hand with the advantages of EU membership, Čaputová added. (Slovak Spectator December 1)

SLOVENIA

Slovenian Government condemned for cutting funds to public news agency. 

  • The Government Communications Office (UKOM) will not continue its contract with the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), allegedly because the agency did not file the requested documentationThe decision threatens STA’s future, and has been called a serious threat to media pluralism and media freedom by STA, the Slovene Journalists’ Associationthe Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS), and local and international press freedom watchdogs. Jansa’s right-wing Government has been speculated to be dissatisfied with the STA’s reporting during the pandemic.  (Balkan Insight December 2)

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