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#Newsletter Exclusive / True Story Project

Regional Press Review (4 – 10 Mar)

RUSSIA

Russia warns West not to play with fire with Navalny sanctions. 

  • Russia responded with anger to the new round of restrictions levied on it over the poisoning and arrest of Alexei Navalny, claiming that the action was “absolutely unacceptable” and would have a harmful effect on the country’s already poor ties with the United States and the European Union. President Putin’s spokesperson told reporters that Russia would react to penalties in a manner that best suited its objectives, a day after the  U.S. Government and the EU sanctioned senior Russian officials and institutions over Navalny. (Radio Free Europe, March 3)

Russia brands Navalny-linked medical trade union a foreign agent. 

  • The Russian Ministry of Justice will add a medical union with links to the imprisoned opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, to its list of “foreign agents,” hindering its activities. The Ministry announced that it had opposed the Russia’s  Doctors Alliance, which supplies personal protective equipment to health workers and helps doctors in the preservation of their labor rights, after having determined that it had obtained international funding on more than one occasion and engaged in politics. (Reuters, March 3)

Prominent Russian rights organization dissolves amid crackdown. 

  • Veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev has declared the dissolution of the For Human Rights movement. Ponomarev was recently labeled a “foreign agent,” after Russian lawmakers included an addendum to Russia’s law on “foreign agents” at the end of last year to include individuals and unregistered public movements involved in politics and financed from abroad. The label “foreign agent” in practice it can mean discrimination, punishing bureaucratic hurdles, and fines. (Deutsche Welle, March 3)

EU takes first step towards Russian ‘’Sputnik V’’ vaccine approval. 

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has launched a rolling examination of Russia’s Sputnik V as a first move towards the EU-wide authorization of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement comes after initial laboratory and clinical trials in adults showed that the vaccine caused the development of antibody and immune cells. ( Euractiv, March 4)

‘’We are coming for you’’: Russian feminists face intimidation campaign online.

  • On 14 February, a small number of women in the Russian capital celebrated Valentine’s Day by organizing a rally in honor of the imprisoned women they find political prisoners. They also tried to inspire Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed opposition leader. “I admire those who know that they could face more than just fines but who come to protests anyway,” declared a retiree who asked to be identified only as Marina and who regularly attends opposition demonstrations. “When you know what those people are risking, you are ashamed to sit at home and complain in your kitchen.” (Radio Free Europe, March 6)

Russian rights NGO disbands under ‘foreign agent’ pressure.

  • A long-standing human rights organization in Russia declared it’s disbanding due to pressure from the law on foreign agents in Russia. The legislation mandates associations and persons engaged in vaguely defined political activities and receiving support from abroad to identify as foreign agents. It was seen as an excuse to disappoint activists because of the derogatory connotation that the word “foreign agent” has for many Russians. The organization For Human Rights said in a statement that it was disbanding, citing the inclusion of its leader on the Justice Ministry’s list of foreign agents. (Associated Press, March 7)

Facebook blocks Russian articles after arrest of Ukraine nationalists declared false.

  • Facebook removed articles by Russian news outlets claiming that the police last month arrested alleged Ukrainian nationalists after experts concluded the radicals were Russian. RBK and Kommersant published articles in February reporting that Russian law enforcement had arrested alleged members of MKU, a Ukrainian nationalistic youth organization, in the southwestern city of Voronezh. Police reportedly discovered extremist literature, symbols of nationalist organizations, knives, and an object resembling on old military mine inside their apartments. (Radio Free Europe, March 7)

Russia to make Sputnik V vaccine in Italy; a 1st in EU.

  • Russia has signed an agreement to manufacture its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Italy, the first EU agreement declared by the Italian Russian Chamber of Commerce.The agreement was signed with Adienne Srl, an Italian branch of a Swiss-based pharmaceutical firm, and Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Production is due to begin in July for 10 million doses this year. “The innovative production process will help create new jobs and allow Italy to control the entire production of the compound,” the chamber said in a statement. Financial terms were not released. (Associated Press, March 9)

ARMENIA

Pashinyan, opposition leader fail to agree on elections. 

  • PM Pashinyan and the leader of a major opposition party met on Thursday, but failed to agree on snap parliamentary elections which they believe should be held to end the political crisis in Armenia. The Bright Armenia Party (LHK) insisted during the meeting that Pashinyan stop trying to sack the country’s top army general, Onik Gasparian, who demanded the Government’s resignation last week. Pashinyan, however, considers that the two issues must not be linked to one another. The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) has still not officially responded to Pashinyan’s proposal for elections. (Azatutyun March 4)

Head of judicial watchdog under fire from ruling bloc. 

  • The head of a state body empowered to nominate, sanction, and fire Armenian judges faced a barrage of strong criticism from pro-government lawmakers for a second consecutive day on Wednesday. Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) Vartazarian was put on the defensive as he asked the National Assembly to confirm two new senior judges nominated by the SJC. The My Step ruling bloc ignored the nominations and accused Vartazarian of siding with the Armenian opposition. (Azatutyun March 3)

Armenian opposition leader “indicted”. 

  • Law-enforcement authorities have reportedly brought criminal charges against a veteran Armenian politician who had stated that opposition forces trying to topple PM Pashinyan must be ready to stage an uprising. Vazgen Manukian made the statement at a rally held by the Homeland Salvation Movement, an alliance of more than a dozen opposition parties, on February 20. (Azatutyun March 3)

Armenian Generals shun ceremony led by Defense Minister. 

  • Only one high-ranking officer of the Armenian army’s General Staff attended a ceremony led by Defense Minister Harutiunian amid its continuing standoff with the Government. The annual wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Vazgen Sarkisian—a former prime minister and one of the army’s founders, who was assassinated in 1999—had traditionally been attended by most senior generals. (Azatutyun March 5)

U.S. expects “rule of law” in Armenia. 

  • U.S. Secretary of State Blinken discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and political developments in Armenia on March 5 with PM Pashinyan. The Secretary stressed the significance of respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, and expressed his continuing support for the development of democratic processes and institutions in Armenia. (Azatutyun March 6)

 AZERBAIJAN

U.N., Azerbaijan sign new Cooperation Framework for 2021–2025. 

  • Azerbaijan and the U.N. have signed a Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) for 2021-2025 on March 1based on the principles of human rights, gender equality, sustainable development, resilience and responsibility, including the priorities of socio-economic development. The UNSDCF is the fifth UNAzerbaijan cooperation framework and is based on an analysis of Azerbaijan’s progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (Today.az March 3)

Azerbaijan, Belarus discuss military cooperation. 

  • Azerbaijani Defense Minister Hasanov and newly-appointed Belarus Ambassador Ravkov discussed opportunities for further development of bilateral military and technical cooperation between the two countries on March 1. Hasanov noted that Azerbaijan attaches particular importance to cooperation with Belarus in all areas, especially in the military sphere. The Ambassador agreed and emphasized Belarus interest in the development of bilateral military relations. (Today.az March 2)

Azerbaijani rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova disbarred. 

  • A court in Azerbaijan has approved the disbarment of Shahla Humbatova, one of the last remaining human rights lawyers in the country, for owing $270 in membership fees. Humbatova plans to appeal the decision and has stated that she would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, insisting the accusations were politically motivated; the association did notify her of her debt before taking her to court, and she had paid the fee before the trial started. Humbatova is known for taking on high-profile human rights cases, including those of queer Azerbaijanis as well as blogger Mehman Huseynov. (OC Media March 5)

Baku Police detain women on International Women’s Day. 

  • Police in Baku dispersed a demonstration by women’s rights activists to mark International Women’s Day as soon as it got underway. 25 people were detained and released after their personal details were recorded. This was the third year that women’s rights activists in Azerbaijan have organized a demonstration on 8 March, with events in previous years also violently dispersed by police. This year’s march was to focus on gender-based violence and femicide. (OC Media March 8)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria: Defense Committee approves creation of cyber warfare command. 

  • The Parliamentary Defense Committee has approved the amendments to the Defense and the Armed Forces Act, including the creation of a command unit for communication and information support and cyber defense. The conclusive provisions in the Defense Act envisioned that municipal councils under certain conditions could provide land plots to some companies for the implementation of projects important for national security and enable the Chief of Defense to be able to draw up action plans for the Armed Forces and assess their combat readiness, as well as assign tasks to the Military Police. (Novinite March 3)

EU Prosecutor brushed off seven out of ten Bulgarian delegated candidates. 

  • The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) has notified the Bulgarian Justice Ministry that they have remarks about seven of the ten candidates the Bulgarian authorities proposed on February 18. An inside source has explained that the EPPO has restrictions against the appointment of investigators—who, unlike prosecutors, do not plead in court before judges—and against prosecutors with no experience on high-profile cases. refusal would mean the EPPO expects seven new candidates from Bulgaria. (Novinite March 4)

North Macedonia: Skopje urges Sofia to pay attention to narrative, avoid provocations. 

  • Officials from North Macedonia are calling on Sofia to pay attention to the narrative and avoid provocations in response to President Radev’s initiative to convene a meeting of the heads of the security services to examine the alleged violation of the right of self-determination of Bulgarians in North Macedonia. Skopje considers these moves non-aligned with the practice of European values, the NATO alliance, and the expected close cooperation within the EU in the context of further strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. (IBNA March 4)

Bulgaria: Electoral campaign officially kicks off. 

  • The election campaign for the parliamentary elections started on March 5 and will last until April 2, with the elections taking place on April 4. A total of 30 parties and coalitions have registered for the first regular parliamentary elections since 2009. According to the Central Electoral Commission, the dominant parties are GERB-SDS, the Socialist Party, VMRO, Ataka, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. (IBNA March 5)

Senators warn U.S.–Bulgarian relationship faces “serious challenges” as Sofia prepares for elections. 

  • U.S. lawmakers have called on Bulgaria to respect democratic values and the rule of law as it prepares for national elections, warning that persistent corruption, restricted media freedom, the politicization of the judiciary, and other threats to the rule of law are posing “serious challenges” to the bilateral relationship. The senators vowed to assist Bulgaria in addressing these issues. (Novinite March 5)

Bulgaria’s President: U.S. Senate’s slashing criticism is warning signal to our establishment.

  • President Radev has accused the Government of not heeding the demands of the people and the protesters, leading to a “slashing assessment” from the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Head of State advised the Government to not ignore the assessment and recommendations from Bulgaria’s strategic partners. (Novinite March 5)

GEORGIA

Freedom House: Georgia remains ‘’partly free’’ as score declines slightly. 

  • According to the recent Freedom House survey, Georgia recorded a one-point decline in Freedom in the World score.  In the 2021 ranking, Georgia scored a total of 60 points (23 in human rights and 37 in civil liberties), with a marginal decrease compared to last year’s performance of 61 points. As in previous years, it was classified as a “partly free” country. (Civil.ge, March 3)

FM: Turkey supports Georgia in deepening relations with Euro-Atlantic structures. 

  • Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu declared that his country supports the deepening of Georgia’s relations with Euro-Atlantic structures after meeting with his Georgian counterpart Zalkaliani. On March 3, Vice Prime Minister of Georgia and Minister of Foreign Affairs Zalkaliani paid an official visit to Turkey and met with FM Çavuşoğlu to discuss current issues on the bilateral agenda, as well as the challenges, threats, and prospects facing the region. The two officials emphasized the strategic partnership between the two countries, focusing on the existing economic projects. (Georgia Today March 4)

ODIHR issues final election observation report on Georgia. 

  • The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued its official report, based on the results of the Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) during the Georgian elections of 31 October 2020, with a list of recommendations aimed “to enhance the conduct of elections in Georgia and to support efforts to bring them fully in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections.”(Civil.ge, March 6)

Rally in front of government administration “Come Out for Dignity”. 

  • Today, the Movement for Georgia launched the “Come Out for Dignity” rally. Activists gathered in front of the government to boycott the contents of the leaked audio recording, demanding that those appearing on the audio recording be held accountable, and that the validity of the recordings be established. Protesters are demanding the resignation of PM Garibashvili. (Georgia Today, March 9)

MOLDOVA

President Sandu has new consultations on methods of overcoming political crisis. 

  • President Sandu has introduced a new round of talks on alternative solutions to overcome the national crisis. She addressed the best options that could help overcome the impasse and prompt an early election with opinion makers and constitutional law experts. “All those who attended the discussions agreed that the country needs snap elections, a responsible Parliament and a stable Government that would stop with the schemes and take the country out of the crisis. I thanked the participants for their recommendations and involvement,” President Sandu declared. (IPN, March 4)

IT center of excellence to open in Comrat. 

  • A Center of Excellence in Information Technology based on the Tekwill model in Chisinau will be created in Comrat. The action is part of TEKWILL’s expansion commitmenta project for development of the Moldovan IT sector, implemented with the support of the USAID and Sweden. According to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Executive Committee of Gagauzia and TECWILL, further investment will be made in the education and training of local ICT professionals, fostering innovation-based industry, improving competition in the local business community and building an IT excellence center. (Moldpress, March 5)

Our female intellectual capital should be put at country’s service. 

  • Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that Moldovan women in earn in average 14 per cent less than men for the same type of activity. In terms of money, this difference is about 1,098 lei. Women supporters of gender equality believe this is due to the employer’s approach to, or lack of confidence in, female workers. The director of the Women’s Political Club 50/50 Mardarovici declared that the women in the Republic of Moldova are disadvantaged on the labor market and are paid less compared with the men for the same types of activities. The fact that the women opt for the status of mother to the detriment of the career makes the employers be more skeptical towards female employees. (IPN, March 8)

ROMANIA

Romanian Government prepares to ban Chinese companies from big infrastructure projects. 

  • Romania’s Government will analyze next week an ordinance that will exclude companies from non-EU countries that don’t have trade agreements with the EU, including China, from participating in infrastructure projects in Romania. In early February, the Government adopted a memorandum for limiting the participation in tenders for companies from non-EU countries that have no trade agreements with Romania or the EU. (Romania Insider March 4)

Romania’s President joins choir of politicians demanding explanations after court decision in “August 10” case. 

  • President Iohannis expressed his disappointment after Bucharest court rejected the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) prosecutors’ request to reopen criminal case investigating a violent crackdown by the Gendarmerie against an anti-government protest that took place on August 10, 2018. The decision is final. Iohannis urged Minister of Justice Ion (USR-PLUS) to explain how the case was closed. (Romania Insider March 4)

TURKEY

Erdoğan urges cooperation against terrorism in Macron call. 

  • President Erdoğan has told President Macron he wants their countries to cooperate to fight terrorism and contribute significantly to regional stability and peace, as Ankara moves to ease tensions with Paris. The two leaders spoke on March 2 for the first time since September. Erdoğan  did not mention the fate of more than a dozen French teachers at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University whose work permits have been held up and who face the threat of expulsion due to the diplomatic spat. (Euractiv March 3)

U.S., EU remain wary of Erdoğan’s diplomatic charm offensive. 

  • Since President Biden’s election, President Erdoğan has been making diplomatic overtures to the West, pledging democratic reforms and serious effort to improve ties with NATO partners. Despite the overtures to Biden and Brussels, the diplomatic charm offensive has been received so far in Washington with wariness and skepticism, especially after Turkey announced that it is considering purchasing a second S-400 anti-aircraft missile system from Russia despite strong disapproval from the U.S. and NATO. Biden and Erdoğan have yet to speak. (VOA News March 3)

Turkey not necessarily seeking return to F-35 project, but to ask for compensation. 

  • Turkey will take its rift with the U.S. over the F-35s that have not been delivered to Turkish Armed Forces to international courts. Turkey is no longer seeking to return to the F-35 international project from which it was removed over its purchase of Russian defense systems, but seeks to be compensated for its lossesIn 2019, Washington took Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, later imposing sanctions on Turkey over the purchase. (Hurriyet Daily News March 3)

President Erdoğan speaks with Chancellor Merkel. 

  • President Erdoğan has discussed Turkey–Germany relations and regional issues with Chancellor Merkel. Erdoğan stressed the importance he attaches to the continuation of regular contact and dialogue with Germany, and touched upon the updating of the March 18 Memorandum as he assured the Chancellor that Turkey will display constructive stance in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean issues. Humanitarian aid in Syria and the political situation in Libya were also on their agenda. (IBNA March 5)

U.S. to ask Turkey “to host” intra-Afghan peace talks.

  •  In a bid to accelerate the stalled peace process, a meeting between Afghan Government representatives and the Taliban would be arranged in Turkey, with an additional meeting held between foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the U.S. to discuss promoting peace in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Blinken has called for an improved approach by the Afghan government to the negotiations, and warned that security would worsen in the near future as the U.S. was still considering the full withdrawal of forces by May 1. (Hurriyet Daily News March 8)

Turkey: Erdoğan and Johnson speak over the phone.

  • President Erdoğan and British PM Johnson had a phone conversation to discuss trade, tourism, defense, tackling the COVID-19 crisis, bilateral relations and regional developments. Erdoğan welcomed the U.K.’s efforts on the Cyprus issue and encouraged a two-state solution as beneficial to all parties. Turkey is ready to host the Tatlidil Turkish–British Forum in the second half of 2021, if pandemic conditions allow, which brings together leaders from academia, business, media and politics to strengthen relations between the two countries. (IBNA March 8)

UKRAINE

Zelensky calls on EU to impose sanctions over human rights violations in occupied Crimea. 

  • The President of Ukraine welcomed the President of the European Council to participate to the Crimean Platform Summit and urged on the EU to enforce restrictions on the systemic human rights violations in CrimeaI am grateful for the EU’s consistent policy of non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea. At the same time, more effective international steps are needed. The issue of Crimea should be put on the international agenda,” President Zelensky declared at a joint meeting with the European Council President in Kyiv. (Ukrinform, March 3)

OSCE condemns armed seizure of Crimea

  • Ukraine, EU Member States, the U.S., Canada, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, and Georgia criticized Russia’s military invasion of Crimea at the end of February 2014 during a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on March 4. “We thank [our] partners for supporting [the] territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea! The issue of illegal occupation of Ukrainian Crimea remains in a spotlight of OSCE,” the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna declared. (Ukrinform, March 5)

Space and nuclear energy: President’ Office outlines priorities in cooperation with U.S.  

  • Ukraine has a strong interest in improving trade and investment ties with the United States. “We would like to further develop cooperation in the fields of agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, as well as in the aerospace sector. We strive to dramatically increase the volume of bilateral trade and attract American investors and technology to Ukraine,” Deputy Head of the President’ Office Svyrydenko declared. According to her, it is highly critical for Ukraine that the United States enter the Donbas negotiating process in Normandy and Minsk formats in order to make them as effective as possible. At the same time, the Deputy Head of the President’s Office emphasized that the United States, the European Union and Ukraine should align their actions. (Ukrinform, March 6)

Media literacy lessons should be introduced in schools. 

  • The Ukrainian President is confident that media literacy classes should be included in educational establishments and that senior citizens should be taught information hygiene. ‘’Media literacy lessons should appear in our school curriculum. We should also teach those who finished school long ago – our parents, our grandparents – what information hygiene is, what fakes are, what propaganda is, and how someone, in just a few sentences or even words, can control their minds and their hearts,” Zelensky stated. (Ukrinform, March 9)

HUNGARY

Orbán’s Fidesz leaves EPP Group before being kicked out. 

  • PM Orbán announced on March 3 that the Fidesz party is leaving the European People Party’s (EPP) faction, after years of disagreements that culminated with the EPP preparing to vote on their suspension. The amendments to rules of procedure that would make the suspension possible were adopted by an overwhelming majority on Wednesday morning, with some French, Italian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Croat members voting against what Orbán called “clearly a hostile move against Fidesz and our voters. (Euractiv March 3)

Hungary’s opposition parties demand repeal of new healthcare bill. 

  • Hungary’s opposition parties have spoken out against the Government’s recent mandatory contract for all those working in the healthcare field. Around 5,500 essential workers have resigned over refusing to sign a contract involving stricter work conditions, a lower salary due to new overtime rules, and the banning of second jobs. Six parties of Hungary’s opposition—DK, Jobbik, LMP, Momentum, MSZP, and Párbeszéd—have sent a joint statement to the Orbán Government demanding that the new bill be removed. (Hungary Today March 3)

Hungarian media watchdog targets LGBTQI TV campaign. 

  • Hungary’s media authority has initiated proceedings against RTL Hungary media group for broadcasting an advert aimed at boosting acceptance of LGBTQI families, claiming the broadcast was not suitable for children. The Háttér Society group behind the campaign claims the media authority is purposely trying to silence LGBTQI groups. Hungary’s controversial media law lists promoting “respect for the institution of marriage and family values” among the goals of public service broadcasting, but had not been used to curtail the broadcast of LGBTQI-friendly material before last year. (Euractiv March 5)

Hungary PM wants to create new European right-wing “force”.

  • PM Orbán on March 5 called for the creation of a new European right-wing force, days the Fidesz party quit the European Parliament’s conservative EPP grouping after a lingering dispute. Orbán stated that he was in talks with Poland’s governing PiS party, as well as the leaders of two anti-immigration and eurosceptic Italian parties, as he called for “a European democratic right that offers a home to European citizens who do not want migrants, who do not want multiculturalism, who have not descended into LGBTQ lunacy, who defend Europe’s Christian traditions, who respect the sovereignty of nations, and who see their nations not as part of their past, but as part of their future.” (Euractiv March 5)

POLAND

Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian presidential advisers meet to discuss security. 

  • Presidential advisers from Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine met in Warsaw for two days of talks on regional security and defense cooperation, including topics such as joint military exercises and tensions in neighboring Belarus. The talks were followed up with a meeting with President Duda. (Polskie Radio March 4)

EU court ruling “unacceptable”: Polish Justice Minister. 

  • Justice Minister Ziobro has called a ruling by the EU’s top court “unacceptable.” The Court of Justice of the European Union had ruled on Tuesday that successive amendments to a Polish law regulating the work of the National Council of the Judiciary panel could infringe EU law. Ziobro declared that the European court was overstepping its boundaries, as the Polish constitution “is the law of the highest rank,” rather than European law, and that the judgement “goes beyond the European treaties and, in this sense, also violates them.” (Polskie Radio March 3)

Top court to examine conflict of Polish and EU laws. 

  • PM Morawiecki will submit a request to the Constitutional Court for a comprehensive settlement of the issue of the conflict between the norms of European law and the Polish Constitution, as well as confirmation of the existing jurisprudence in this regard. “There is no doubt as to the supremacy of Polish constitutional norms over other legal norms. This has been confirmed by numerous decisions of the Constitutional Court since the beginning of Polish membership in the EU,” according to a Polish government spokesman. (Poland.IN March 3)

SLOVAKIA

Sputnik V is a tool of hybrid war: Foreign Affairs Minister. 

  • FM Korčok will ask for a meeting between President Čaputová, Speaker of Parliament Kollár and PM Matovič to reaffirm the foreign policy orientation of Slovakia. “I need the reassurance that nothing has changed in our foreign policy,” Korčok declared a day after the Sputnik V vaccine was delivered to Slovakia and was personally welcomed by the PM. It is clear that Sputnik V is not only a vaccine, but a tool of hybrid war,” Korčok noted. (Slovak Spectator March 2)

Slovak PM apologizes for “inappropriate” Ukraine–Russia joke. 

  • PM Matovič offended Ukraine after his recent radio appearance to discuss the current government crisis in Slovakia, where he made an “inappropriate” joke about exchanging Ukrainian territory for Russian vaccines. When asked what he had promised Russia in exchange for the two million Sputnik V vaccine delivery, Matovič replied “Zakarpatska Oblast”, a Ukrainian province that was once part of Czechoslovakia. Matovič tweeted an apology after the statement drew criticism from diplomatic circles. (Euractiv March 5)

SLOVENIA

Massive money laundering investigation touches on some controversial figures. 

  • A total of 28 house searches were carried out by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in relation to a suspected money laundering scheme worth millions of euros and involving shell companies and the withdrawal of large amounts of cash from bank accounts. It unofficially involves Slovenian tax advisor Rok Snežič and Bosnian citizen Dijana Đuđić, who is known for a controversial EUR 450,000 loan made in 2017 to the current ruling party in Slovenia. (Total Slovenia News March 3)

European Parliament will discuss media freedom in Slovenia next week. 

  • The European Parliament’s plenary on Wednesday includes a planned debate on government attempts to silence media in Poland and Hungary, which has been expanded to include Slovenia. The situation in the Slovenian media landscape was discussed on Friday afternoon by the EP’s group for democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.  (Total Slovenia News March 4)

Tomc, Zver, Bogovič did not back changes to EPP rules of procedures. 

  • Three of Slovenia’s four MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP) did not back changes to the rules of procedure allowing it to suspend or exclude a member party from its ranks. The MEPs argued that the changes came at an inappropriate time given the global context, risk weakening the EPP, and affect democratically-elected MEPs’ executing of their terms in office, concern issues that should have been resolved by EPP leader Tusk, and requested a broader and more open debate to discuss the party’s future. (The Slovenia Times March 4)

State Secretary presents priorities of Slovenia’s EU presidency to U.S. official. 

  • Foreign Ministry State Secretary Dovžan held a conference call with the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. The officials discussed preparations for Slovenia’s EU presidency in the second half of the year. One of the priorities of Slovenian Presidency will also be to strengthen Transatlantic relations. (The Slovenia Times March 9)

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