Regional Press Review (30 Iunie-6 Iulie)
Full impact of latest ransomware attack linked to Russian cybercriminals still unclear.
- The extent of a major ransomware attack that U.S. cybersecurity experts have attributed to the Russian-speaking REvil gang has yet to be determined as more companies are announcing that their systems have been compromised. The July 2 attack, in which cybercriminals demanded ransoms between $45,000 and $5 million, affected thousands of victims in at least 17 countries, including small businesses, schools, small government agencies, travel agencies, and accounting agencies. (Radio Free Europe July 5)
Putin approves revised Russian national security strategy.
- President Putin has approved a revised version of Russia’s national security strategy that envisages “symmetrical and asymmetrical measures” in response to foreign states’ “unfriendly actions that threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Russia and its ties with “its traditional allies” on Friday. (AP News July 3)
Khodorkovsky to relocate his Russia-based journalists facing “next purge”.
- Exiled former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky plans to relocate the employees of his media projects out of Russia or close them altogether over state pressure on dissent. Khodorkovsky launched the Open Media and MBKh Media outlets in 2017 after Russian authorities blacklisted Open Russia as “undesirable.” Last week, Russian prosecutors added four other Khodorkovsky-linked civil society and educational groups, all based abroad, to its list of “undesirable” organizations. At least one journalist, MBKh Media’s Alexander Skrylnikov, has already fled Russia. (The Moscow Times July 5)
Ukraine: Torture, ill-treatment by armed groups in East.
- Human Rights Watch and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have found that Russia-backed armed groups in eastern Ukraine are torturing and ill-treating people in custody, after obtaining new information about several women who are being held by the “Donetsk people’s republic” on apparently fabricated charges of “espionage” despite facing serious health issues. (Human Rights Watch July 5)
Opposition in Armenia contests PM Pashinyan’s vote win via court.
- Armenia’s opposition alliance, led by former president Kocharyan, has asked the constitutional court to overturn the results of the June 20 election. So far, OSCE international observers have stated that the elections were competitive and generally well-managed. (Reuters July 2)
Armenia congratulates China’s Communist Party.
- PM Pashinyan has congratulated China on the centenary of the founding of its ruling Communist Party and reaffirmed his government’s desire to deepen Chinese–Armenian relations. Former President Sarkisian also congratulated President Xi on the occasion. China solidified last year its position as Armenia’s second largest trading partner after Russia, accounting for 13.6% of its foreign trade. (Azatutyun July 2)
Armenian officials criticize CSTO head.
- Senior Armenian officials have criticized the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for saying that the Russian-led defense alliance must not intervene in a continuing military standoff on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. CSTO Secretary-General Zas declared on Saturday that the border standoff is “not serious enough” to require the CSTO’s military intervention, whereas Armenia claims the CSTO is obliged to any threats to its member state’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and security. (Azatutyun July 5)
Azerbaijan frees 15 captured Armenian troops in exchange of minefield maps.
- Azerbaijan on July 3 handed over to Yerevan 15 Armenian troops captured last year, following Yerevan’s decision to release to Baku maps of 92,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines that were planted in the Fizuli and Zangilan regions last year. (Euractiv July 5)
Turkish contractors play key role in Nagorno-Karabakh.
- FM Bayramov has declared that Turkish contractors play a key role in the reconstruction of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeri government has in 2021 allocated over $1.3 billion to conduct reconstruction works in the territories. (Hurriyet Daily News July 5)
Court in Azerbaijan lifts grave crime charges from Armenian militaries.
- 12 Armenian military servicemen will be set free in Azerbaijan, after a Baku court dropped charges of grave crimes against the 14 Armenian militaries detained in December in Nagorno-Karabakh, finding them guilty only of illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border; two convicts received four years of imprisonment each, with the other 12 receiving six months each, which they have already served in custody. The Baku Human Rights Club believes that the lenient sentence to the Armenian militaries may be the result of agreements reached by the parties. (Caucasian Knot July 4)
Covid-19 in Bulgaria: Report criticizes pandemic management under former government.
- A report by Bulgaria’s National Centre for Public Health and Analyses has criticized decisions taken by the Borissov Government to limit the spread of coronavirus infections, but contained no specific recommendations on how the Covid-19 pandemic could have been managed better. The report found that the crisis caused by Covid-19 was managed primarily with a political, rather than a medical approach, and without a holistic strategy. (Sofia Globe July 1)
Prosecutor’s Office slams caretaker Interior Minister over “obstruction” claims.
- The Prosecutor’s Office has condemned comments by caretaker Interior Minister Rashkov after he alleged that prosecutors were not co-operating with police against vote-buying ahead of the July 11 parliamentary elections. Rashkov has called for disciplinary action and removal of some prosecutors, which the Prosecutor’s Office said was an attempt to encroach on the independence of the prosecution and illegally interfere in decisions on pre-trial proceedings. (Sofia Globe July 5)
Bulgarian Jewish organization slams candidate MP over Holocaust denial, praise of Hitler.
- The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” has strongly condemned Miroslav Ivanov, a parliamentary candidate for the ultra-nationalist Bulgarian National Union–New Democracy party after he gave a television interview in which, among other things, he denied the Holocaust and praised Adolf Hitler as a “fantastic personality.” (Sofia Globe July 5)
Georgian LGBT activists call off pride march after violent attacks.
- The Tbilisi Pride march was cancelled after hundreds of violent counter-protesters took to the streets, assaulting at least 53 journalists, ransacking LGBT organizations’ headquarters, destroying rainbow and EU flags, dismantling the antigovernmental tents set up in February and erecting tents against “LGBT propaganda,” and stabbing a foreign tourist for wearing an earring after “perceiving him to be gay.” Tbilisi Pride has accused the government and church of emboldening a “huge wave of hate” and failing to protect citizens’ rights; before the planned event, PM Gharibashvili called the march “inappropriate” and claimed it was organized by the “radical opposition” UNM Party, whereas the Georgian Orthodox Church called on supporters to gather against the march; the Rioni Valley Guardians also joined the anti-Pride rally. Despite the mass violence, only eight people have been detained so far. 20 people had already been detained after they disrupted a film screening at the opening of the Pride festival and hit a U.S. Embassy employee and a police officer with eggs. (Radio Free Europe July 5; civil.ge July 5; civil.ge July 5; Georgia Today July 5)
President condemns violence; Opposition accuses Georgian Dream of “organizing” violence.
- A joint opposition statement accuses the Georgian Dream Government of “encouraging and organizing” the massive homophobic violence, and the thirteen opposition parties and movements called for a change of government. President Zurabishvili visited injured journalists in hospitals to express and condemn the violence, stating that “we know no longer our main values, and apparently, we have forgotten that tolerance that [guided us] for centuries.” The European Georgia party called a protest rally in front of the Parliament building on July 6. (civil.ge July 5; Georgia Today July 5)
International reactions to Tbilisi violence, Pride cancellation.
- Some 20 diplomatic missions to Georgia have denounced the attacks that took place during the Tbilisi Pride counter-rally, and “the failure of the government leaders and religious officials to condemn this violence.” CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatović dubbed the violence spree a “woeful illustration of repeated threats LGBTI people face in Georgia.” OSCE/ODIHR has also expressed concern at the developments. (civil.ge July 5)
EU proposes spending billions of euros to boost economy, reforms in Eastern Partnership region.
- The European Commission has put forward a 2.3 billion-euro economic and investment plan for Eastern Partnership countries, with the potential to mobilize up to 17 billion euros in public and private investments as part of a Focusing On Recovery, Resilience And Reform agenda that sets 10 targets for 2025. The proposed long-term policy objectives are to be discussed at an Eastern Partnership summit planned for December 2021. (Radio Free Europe July 2)
2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Romania-Tier 2 Watch List.
- Romania remains, for the third year in a row, on the Tier 2 Watch List in the latest U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons report, not fully meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but making significant efforts to comply. Romania avoided a downgrade to Tier 3 because the Government devoted sufficient resources to a “written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards.” (Actmedia July 5)
Abolition of SIIJ demanded by the Venice Commission.
- The Venice Commission recommends the abolition of the SIIJ Crime Investigation Department “as the first urgent step” in a wider justice reform process, requesting the amendments on the abolition of SIIJ be removed in their entirety. Afterward, Minister of Justice Ion announced that he would initiate the procedures to dismantle the controversial section. (IBNA July 5; Romania Insider July 6)
Romanian workers stage 2,000km protest against low pay.
- A group of 13 Romanian workers completed a four-day rolling protest on Monday over the low wages and working conditions that force their fellow citizens to make similar journeys. The “Caravan of Social Rights” held a meeting with the European Commission and set off from Brussels on Friday, stopping outside Romanian embassies in Budapest, Vienna, Munich and Luxembourg. The group is concerned at how economic growth in Romania over the past ten years hasn’t translated into a better quality of life for the working people. (Euronews July 5)
Turkey to make its own maritime missile-launching system after sanctions interrupt Lockheed plans.
- Turkish defense company Roketsan is to develop a vertical launching system for the country’s first locally made frigate. The government initially planned to install Mk 41 VLS made by Lockheed Martin, but the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Turkey after its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system prevented the sale. (Defense News July 3)
Turkish agents abducted educational leader in Kyrgyzstan for alleged coup ties.
- Turkish intelligence agents abducted a Turkish–Kyrgyz educator whose disappearance from Bishkek last month triggered protests and concern about the man’s safety. The Turkish government accuses Inandi of beinga “top terrorist” with links to the Gulen movement, which it considers a terrorist organization responsible for a failed 2016 coup attempt. (Radio Free Europe July 5)
Rada passes at first reading bill on de-oligarchizing.
- The Verkhovna Rada has passed at the first reading a bill on the prevention of threats to national security associated with the excessive influence of persons with significant economic or political heft in public life (oligarchs). Persons included into a register maintained by the NSDC will be banned from making contributions to political parties and being buyers or beneficiaries of large-scale privatization processes. (Interfax Ukraine July 1)
Zelensky to visit Vilnius on July 6–7 to participate in 4th international conference on reforms in Ukraine.
- President Zelensky will visit Lithuania on July 6–7 to participate in the 4th international Ukraine Reform Conference. During the visit, Zelensky is also scheduled to hold talks with Lithuanian President Nauseda and President of the European Council Michel. (Interfax Ukraine July 5)
Poll: Every other Ukrainian disapproves of Zelensky’s actions.
- A poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) found that 52.7% of Ukrainians disapprove of President Zelensky’s actions, with 34.1% expressing approval. The poll did not specify which actions were under discussion. The results signal the continuation of a year-long negative trend in Zelensky’s approval ratings. In a June 2020 KIIS poll, 45% disapproved and 38% expressed approval of Zelensky’s actions. (Kyiv Post July 5)
Orbán becomes first EU leader to join “enemies of press freedom” list.
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has added PM Orbán to its annual list of “enemies of press freedom,” the first time a head of government from the EU appears on the list alongside the leaders of North Korea and Syria. RSF accuse Orbán and his Fidesz party of having “brought Hungary’s media landscape under their control step by step” since 2010. (Radio Free Europe July 5)
Hungary and Serbia connect Black Sea–Central EU gas pipeline networks.
- Hungary and Serbia’s high-pressure gas pipeline networks were connected on Sunday, reaching a symbolic point in the construction of the interconnector project, which is scheduled to be completed on October 1 and allow Hungary to receive large volumes of natural gas from the south. (Hungary Today July 5)
Following criticism, Government waters down new law on NGO donations.
- After the Government has apparently toned down its original version of law that bans any unnamed donations for civil organizations, forcing CSOs to make public only donations over EUR 1,420. Last week, Párbeszéd turned to the European Commission with a complaint regarding the decree, calling it contravening with data protection rules, having no legitimate purpose, and entailing a massive amount of red tape for NGOs. (Hungary Today July 5)
U.S. firm launches work to advance Poland’s nuclear energy program.
- U.S. energy firm Westinghouse Electric Company has announced the launch of work under a grant from the United States Trade and Development Agency to advance Poland’s nuclear energy program. The project is one of the key elements in implementing an intergovernmental agreement between Poland and the United States to work together in developing a civil nuclear power program. (Polskie Radio July 5)
Hackers breached several MPs’ email accounts.
- The email accounts of about a dozen MPs were hacked recently in one of the biggest cyberattacks on the country in recent years. The breach in the personal account of the PM’s top aide spurred a series of leaks, leading to criticism of officials for using private accounts to exchange confidential documents. Polish counter-intelligence on June 22 linked the hackers to Russia’s secret services. (Reuters July 2)
Orbán, Le Pen, Salvini, Kaczyński join forces to impact on the future of EU.
- Far-right parties from 16 EU countries have united on July 2, calling for deep reform of the EU “based on tradition, respect for the culture and history of European states, respect for Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage and the common values that unite our nations.” The declaration was signed by parties from Poland (PiS), Italy (Brothers of Italy; Lega), Spain (VOX), Hungary (Fidesz), France (RN), Bulgaria (VMRO), Austria (FPÖ), Belgium (Vlaams Belang), Denmark (Dansk Folkeparti), Estonia (EKRE), Finland (Perussuomalaiset), Greece (Ellinikí Lýsi), Netherlands (Ja21), Lithuania (Lietuvos lenkų rinkimų akcija) and Romania (PNȚCD). (Euractiv July 2)
Belgian police officer punished for death of Slovak.
- The second highest-ranked officer of the federal police in Belgium, André Desenfants, received disciplinary punishment for failure in case of the death of Slovak Jozef Chovanec, receiving a 10-percent salary decrease for two months. Last August, footage emerged in which a police officer under Desenfants’ authority was giving a Nazi salute above the lying Chovanec and another policeman pushed on his chest for 16 minutes, which resulted in Chovanec’s death. (Slovak Spectator June 29)
European Commission endorses Slovenia’s recovery plan.
- The European Commission has endorsed Slovenia’s EUR 2.5 billion national Recovery And Resilience Plan. Pending confirmation by Member States, Slovenia will be able to draw EUR 1.8 billion in grants and EUR 705 million in loans. Slovenia will spend the funds, equivalent to 5.4% of the country’s GDP, to support 33 reforms and 50 investments: 42.4% for green goals and 21.4% for digital goals, with 30% set aside for the promotion of smart and inclusive growth, 15% for health, and 13% for digital transformation. (Euractiv July 2)
Hojs causes confusion among EU reporters with swine statement.
- President Pahor has called on Interior Minister Hojs to apologize for a “do not cast pearls before swine” comment made about the Yellow Jackets—a far-right group which was removed from last Friday’s anti-government protests in Ljubljana—which seemed to be directed at European Commission First Vice President Timmermans. Hojs had explained that he did not refer to anyone as “swine,” but added that it might as well apply to a key player in the EU Administration. (Euractiv July 5)
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