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Regional Press Review (5-11 Mai)

RUSSIA

Russian lawmakers initiate thinly veiled bill aimed at keeping Navalny associates from participating in elections. 

  • Russian lawmakers have proposed legislation barring individuals involved in the activities of any “extremist or terrorist” organization or group from taking part in parliamentary elections, even if the organization had not been designated as extremist at the time. Employees, as well as those who provided financial support, property, or any type of assistance to such organizations one year before the organization was banned will also be barred from taking part in parliamentary elections for three years. The Moscow City Court will rule on May 17 whether Navalny’s regional network and organizations will be recognized as extremist organizations. (Radio Free Europe May 5)

Biden says “hope and expectation” for Putin meeting in June. 

  • President Biden expects to hold a summit with President Putin during a June trip to Europe. A summit has not been confirmed, but Putin’s advisor has declared that planning is underway. Biden is scheduled to attend a G7 summit in Britain in mid-June, followed by NATO and EU summits in Brussels, which would open the door to the logistics of a separate Putin meeting. (The Moscow Times May 5)

G7 To bolster efforts to counter Russia’s “irresponsible” behavior. 

  • The G7 wrapped up its first in-person meeting in more than two years on May 5 with a pledge to bolster collective efforts to counter Russia’s “irresponsible and destabilizing” behavior, but offered little concrete action aside from expressing support for Ukraine. G7 leaders will hold a summit next month in England. The Group also released joint statements calling for new elections in Belarus, asking Iran to “refrain from destabilizing actions and play a constructive role in fostering regional stability and peace” and to release foreign and dual nationals who are held arbitrarily in prisons, and criticized China for its “arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices.” (Radio Free Europe May 5)

The U.N. suspects Russian military “instructors” of major human rights violations in the Central African Republic.

  • Russian military “instructors” assisting government forces in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) are facing allegations of committing major human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Citing eyewitness accounts and internal reports from a U.N. Working Group on the use of mercenaries, a new investigation from Radio France Internationale describes dozens of abuses allegedly involving Russian servicemen, including extrajudicial killings, rapes, arbitrary detentions, and other crimes. The Russian Embassy in the C.A.R. has dismissed the U.N. working group’s conclusions as “speculation.” (Meduza May 5)

Russia pledges support for Tajikistan amid concern over Afghanistan.

  • Russia is working on strengthening its military base in Tajikistan to boost regional security as the situation escalates in Afghanistan. Tajik President Rahmon had raised concerns over the rising tensions in neighboring Afghanistan since the U.S. announcement last month that it will pull out all remaining American troops by September 11. Tajikistan hosts about 7,000 troops from Russia. (Radio Free Europe May 8)

Putin, Merkel mark anniversary of end of World War II.

  • President Putin has sent congratulations to fellow members of the Commonwealth of Independent States over their roles in the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, and called for “brotherly friendship and mutual assistance” to mold their future relations. Chancellor Merkel marked the anniversary by declaring that “it remains our everlasting responsibility to keep alive the memory of the millions of people who lost their lives during the years of National Socialist tyranny.” (Radio Free Europe May 8)

Kremlin claims it doesn’t know if Czech Blast, Skripal Poisoning suspects work for it.

  • The Kremlin stated that it is unaware of its alleged employment of the suspected Russian agents wanted over the 2018 Skripal poisonings in Britain and 2014 arms depot blasts in the Czech Republic. Investigative journalist Christo Grozev had previously announced that the duo, identified as GRU military intelligence agents Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, had been “promoted” to work for the Kremlin.  (The Moscow Times May 7)

Biden claims Russia has “some responsibility” in pipeline ransomware attack.

  • President Biden has stated there was “no evidence” the Russian government was involved in the cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, but that “there is evidence” the hackers or the ransomware software they used are “in Russia.” The FBI identified the group behind the attack as a criminal gang known as DarkSide, a hacker network that emerged last year using ransomware to extort money from victims. (Radio Free Europe May 10)

Russia rolls out military might for Victory Day amid tensions with West.

  • Russia showed off its military might with parades across the country on May 9 to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. President Putin vowed that Russia will defend its national interests and denounced what he asserted was the return of “Russophobia” during his address at the Moscow parade, which featured some 12,000 troops, nearly 200 pieces of military hardware, and aircraft and helicopter flyovers. (Radio Free Europe May 9)

ARMENIA

Armenian president investigated over British citizenship. 

  • Armenian prosecutors have ordered a criminal investigation into renewed allegations that President Sarkissian is not eligible to serve as head of state because of his past British citizenship. The Armenian constitution requires presidential candidates considered by the National Assembly to have been only Armenian citizens for the last six years. Sarkissian received British citizenship in 2002 and claimed that he renounced it in 2011; however, earlier this year, 53 lawyers submitted to Armenia’s Special Investigation Service (SIS) what they described as information showing that Sarkissian remained a British national after 2011. (Azatutyun May 4)

Former army chief prosecuted after criticizing Pashinyan. 

  • Law-enforcement authorities have brought criminal charges against former top general Movses Hakobian, nearly six months after he accused PM Pashinyan of mishandling the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and criticized arms acquisitions carried out by the current leadership. The National Security Service (NSS) announced that Hakobian has been charged with a disclosure of state secrets, but gave no details of the accusations. (Azatutyun May 5)

Latvia’s Parliament recognizes Armenian Genocide. 

  • Members of the Latvia’s Parliament passed a declaration on the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, condemning all crimes against humanity and considering itself obliged to recognize such crimes in order to prevent their recurrence. The recognition does not have any legal consequences. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called the decision “a null attempt to rewrite history with political motives” and “reject[ed] and strongly condemn[ed] this unfortunate and unlawful decision.” (Caucasian Knot May 6; Hurriyet Daily News May 6)

Armenia’s Parliament dissolves in final step toward early elections. 

  • Armenia’s parliament failed to elect a prime minister for the second time on May 10, triggering its own dissolution in a final move toward early elections next month. (Radio Free Europe May 10) 

Important progress for people with disabilities in Armenia. 

  • On May 5, Armenia’s parliament adopted the law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The law is a long-awaited reform with the potential to change the lives of the roughly 200,000 people with disabilities by protecting them from discrimination and creating opportunities for a more inclusive society, and is also a step towards implementing the state’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Armenia ratified in 2010. (Human Rights Watch May 11) 

AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan hands three POWs over to Armenia. 

  • After the EU called on Azerbaijan to provide the information about Armenian POWs that had been requested by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and to speed up their return to their homeland on April 29, three Armenian POWs were taken by plane from Baku to Yerevan and sent to the hospital for examination on May 4. Azerbaijan has called the release of the three military servicemen a “goodwill gesture.” (Caucasian Knot May 5)

Azerbaijan, UNICEF sign 2021–2022 action plan. 

  • Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs Chairman Muradova and UNICEF Office in Azerbaijan Head Carwardine have signed an Action Plan for 2021-2022, covering various areas of cooperation and allowing joint work at a higher level. (Today.az May 7) 

Georgian, Azerbaijani FMs talk David Gareji. 

  • FM Zalkaliani has discussed the issue of David Gareji Monastery Complex with his Azerbaijani counterpart Bayramov during a May 5 visit to Baku alongside PM Garibashvili. Both sides are ready to continue delimitation talks to decide the “problematic topics” as soon as possible, referring to the parts of the revered monastery which are located on the undefined boundaries of the Georgia–Azerbaijani border. The two officials also discussed the region’s development, post-pandemic economic recovery, and trilateral cooperation with Turkey. (civil.ge May 6) 

BULGARIA

Bulgaria sees snap parliamentary elections on July 11. 

  • President Radev announced that he will set July 11 for early parliamentary elections after a third and final attempt to form a government failed. The appointment of a new electoral commission is expected to be finalized on May 11, after which Radev would then call the election, dissolve Parliament, and appoint an interim government. (Radio Free Europe May 5)

GEORGIA

Clergymen attack “cartographers case” suspect, journalists in David Gareji. 

  • David Gareji Monastery clergymen confronted and supposedly attacked Georgian Dream government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV journalists and Iveri Melashvili, former state expert who is the key suspect in the controversial “Cartographer’s Case” investigation over attempts of land-ceding to Azerbaijan. The Interior Ministry of Georgia has launched a probe into the incident. Melashvili and the TV crew were later confronted by civilians and told to never return to the place of worship. (civil.ge May 5)

President criticizes “rushed” administrative code amendments, refrains from veto. 

  • President Zurabishvili refrained from issuing a veto on the widely controversial amendments to the Code of Administration Offenses, arguing the changes did not go against the Constitution despite the expedited passage not complying “with the spirit” of the April 19 EU-brokered deal. However, the official stated that the adoption of new rules, which toughened penalties for police disobedience and petty hooliganism, “could be perceived politically untimely” as the Parliament has first to move forward on amnesty law, judiciary and electoral reforms. Zurabishvili also underscored that lack of communication with the public and the opposition on issues such as human rights and law enforcement “is harmful to everyone, as it gives rise to distrust.” (civil.ge May 7) 

EU Delegation to Georgia: Nika Melia’s Bail worth 40.000 GEL Paid. 

  • UNM Chairman Melia’s bail worth 40 thousand GEL (almost $11.700 USD) has been paid, following the understanding reached by the political parties on April 19 in the context of the EU-mediated agreement. The EU Delegation “warmly thanked” the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) for making the funds available, and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) for transferring the funds to the authorities. (Georgia Today May 8) 

MOLDOVA

AUR to compete in snap parliamentary elections of July 11. 

  • The Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) has officially registered in Chișinău and will take part in the snap parliamentary elections of July 11. AUR diaspora-elected Romanian MP Volosatyi read a statement in the name of the six Bessarabians who were elected to the Parliament of Romania in December 2020, pleading “for the confirmation of the Romanian identity of the Republic of Moldova and the building of a political destiny together with the historical and ethnical part—Romania.” (IPN May 5) 

ROMANIA

GRECO report on Romania: compliance with recommendation remains globally unsatisfactory. 

  • The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO)’s latest report on Romania has found that Romania had only satisfactorily implemented five of the 18 recommendations outlined in previous GRECO reports, noting that the level of compliance remains very low despite the authorities seeming determined to reverse or abandon many of the controversial judicial reforms. PM Cîţu argued that the report confirms that his coalition is “on the right path” without commenting on the criticism. (Romania Insider May 5; Romania Insider May 6)

President Duda on official visit to Romania. 

  • President Iohannis welcomed his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda to the Presidential Palace on May 10. The visit takes place amidst the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of a Defensive Alliance Convention between the Kingdom of Romania and the Republic of Poland. Talks between the two officials focused on ways to develop and deepen the bilateral strategic partnership and examination of regional and international security co-operation. (Actmedia May 10)

Romania tells Biden more NATO forces needed on eastern flank.

  • NATO members from Eastern Europe have pushed for a larger allied military presence on the bloc’s eastern flank on May 10 at the Bucharest Nine (B9) Summit, jointly hosted by Presidents Iohannis and Duda. At the summit, President Biden “convey[ed] his desire for closer cooperation with our Allies in Central Europe and the Baltic and Black Sea regions on the full range of global challenges.” NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg stated that Biden’s attendance proved Washington’s determination to rebuild and strengthen NATO. (Radio Free Europe May 10)

TURKEY

EU–Turkey ties high on agenda as Çavuşoğlu visits Slovenia. 

  • FM Logar met with FM Çavuşoğlu to discuss Slovenia’s positions on issues relevant to EU–Turkey relations, its EU presidency priorities, and bilateral relations. The two officials dedicated a great part of their meeting to plans to boost bilateral cooperation, in particular direct investment, and to balance bilateral goods trade. Çavuşoğlu also met President Pahor and PM Janša to discuss bilateral relations, EU presidency preparations, the situation in the east Mediterranean, and other current issues. (The Slovenia Times May 4)

President Erdoğan speaks with Russian, German leaders. 

  • President Erdoğan and President Putin on May 5 discussed in detail the fight against coronavirus and the Sputnik V vaccine, which is set to be delivered to Turkey starting this month. Russia and Turkey are also working on joint production of Sputnik V in Turkey. On the same day, Erdoğan discussed bilateral and Turkey–EU relations as well as regional issues in Libya and Afghanistan with Chancellor Merkel, with Erdoğan informing Merkel that “Greece continues its provocative actions,” but assuring the Chancellor that Turkey maintains its moderate attitude to preserve the positive Turkey–EU agenda. (Hurriyet Daily News May 5)

Turkey, Egypt launch exploratory talks to normalize relations. 

  • Egyptian and Turkish officials met in Cairo on May 5 to hold talks in a bid to restore ties between the two countries after eight years of animosity. Political consultations between the countries will be held under the chairmanship of Deputy FM Önal and his Egyptian counterpart, focusing on “necessary steps that may lead towards the normalization of relations between the two countries bilaterally and in the regional context.” (Hurriyet Daily News May 5)

Erdoğan: “Egyptian people, Turkish nation have unity based on history.” 

  • The exploratory talks between the Turkish and Egyptian delegations held in Cairo and headed by the Deputy FM Önal and Deputy FM Loza concluded on May 6, after two days of deliberations. The two sides declared that the discussions were “frank and in-depth,” addressing bilateral issues as well as a number of regional issues, in particular the situation in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Following the talks, President Erdoğan stressed the age-old amity between the Turkish and Egyptian peoples and assuring that “as friends, we strive to restore our historical unity with the Egyptian people.” (IBNA May 7) 

UKRAINE

President Zelensky says there are still 75,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. 

  • President Zelensky has stated that there are still approximately 75,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders. Zelensky claims that the Russian forces are withdrawing from the border region too slowly, and that they could still pose a threat to Ukraine. (Meduza May 6) 

U.S. considering additional military assistance to Ukraine.

  • The U.S. is considering Ukraine’s request for “additional” military assistance following a massive buildup of Russian forces near their shared border and in annexed Crimea. Kyiv has requested U.S. air defense systems and anti-sniper technology, along with a possible deployment of Patriot missiles in Ukraine. (Radio Free Europe May 6)

EU Ambassador hopes Ukraine to implement Venice Commission conclusions on HCJ bill. 

  • The Venice Commission’s conclusion on the bill on the High Council of Justice (HCJ) will pave the way for the establishment of a selection procedure for the High Qualification Commission of Judges, as well as guide ongoing discussions on reforming the High Council of Judges and a new law on the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). (Interfax Ukraine May 6)

Ukrainian President marks WWII anniversary in village near Russian border. 

  • President Zelensky paid tribute to the victims of World War II in a visit to Milove, a village in the Luhansk region, where tensions had escalated during a recent Russian military buildup. “Ukrainians fought together with dozens of peoples against Nazism…and definitely not for war to take the lives of our people 76 years later,” Zelenski declared during the visit. (Radio Free Europe May 9)

NATO summit to be held without Ukraine, while discussing Ukraine’s obtaining NATO MAP.

  • The NATO Summit, which will take place in Brussels on June 14, will be held without the participation of the Ukrainian side as a partner country, but its agenda includes the issue of Ukraine’s possibly obtaining the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). (Interfax Ukraine May 8)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Emotions run high in lower house as MPs accuse deputy PM of treason. 

  • MPs met on Tuesday to debate allegations that Deputy PM Hamáček had planned a trip to Russia aiming to hush up the involvement of Russian agents in the 2014 Vrbětice explosions in return for one million Sputnik V vaccines and the right to host a U.S. summit in Prague. Opposition parties have branded Hamáček a traitor and are calling for a thorough investigation into the matter. The session turned into a slinging match and had to be suspended. Hamáček insists that the visit was a smoke screen to get the Czech ambassador to Russia back to Prague for consultations without raising suspicion, and announced that he would sue those who had branded him a traitor for damages. (Radio Prague International May 5; Radio Prague International May 5; Radio Prague International May 5)

Czech bill to compensate illegally sterilized Roma women moves forward. 

  • A bill to compensate illegally sterilized women passed the second reading in the Czech Chamber of Deputies on Thursday. Amendments to the Health Services Act were also passed to help transform infant care facilities and replace them with care in family environments. In 1971–1993 as part of the state policy on this practice, Romani women were systematically sterilized throughout the country without giving their full and informed consent as a means of controlling the Romani birth rate—despite the policy change, Roma women reported being forcibly sterilized as late as 2007. (Expats.cz May 7)

Czech support for Euro adoption doubled over past year. 

  • Support for Euro adoption has doubled in the Czech Republic over the past year. According to Eurobameter statistics, 40% of Czechs would like to join the European Monetary Union, the highest number in the past ten years, up 19 percetage points since 2020. Last December, the Czech National Bank and the Ministry of Finance recommended to the Government not to set a date for joining the euro area. (Expats.cz May 5)

Czech PM asks European Council to condemn Russian involvement in arms depot blast. 

  • Czech PM Babiš has asked the European Council to condemn Russia for its involvement in the deadly explosion of an arms depot on Czech soil in 2014, calling on the Council to make it clear “that it is impossible to accept such actions, and that we must view an attack on one [EU] Member State as an attack on all.” (Radio Free Europe May 8) 

Czech Ambassador to Moscow attends military parade on Red Square

  • Ambassador to Moscow Pivoňka attended a traditional military parade marking the 76th anniversary of the end of WWII on May 9. Opposition politicians have called the attendance scandalous in view of the recent revelation that that the Russian secret service was involved in the 2014 explosions in Vrbětice. Diplomats from Germany, France, and Belgium also attended the parade. (Radio Prague International May 9) 

Czech Republic to seek compensation from Russia for 2014 explosions in Vrbětice. 

  • The Czech Republic plans to claim $47 million in compensation from Russia for the two fatal explosions at military ammunition depots in Vrbetice in 2014, Finance Minister Schillerová announced on May 9. According to Schillerová, Prague plans to seek compensation within the framework of international law because criminal proceedings would take too long to recover the damages. (Meduza May 10) 

HUNGARY

Fidesz MEP accuses the EC of appointing a “left-wing political activist” as liaison of rule-of-law report. 

  • Fidesz MEPs have sent a letter of protest to the European Commission arguing that Gábor Magyar, appointed as liaison of the delegation preparing this year’s rule-of-law report on Hungary, was “an out-and-out left-wing political activist,” and accusing the EC of having produced “a political pamphlet echoing the European and Hungarian left-wing’s slanders against Hungary.” Fidesz EP group leader Deutsch noted that Magyar had previously called Hungary a regime that no longer met the criteria of the democratic rule of law that respects human rights, and criticized last year’s rule-of-law report as “being biased.”  (Hungary Today May 5)

LMP: Government discriminating against opposition-run local councils. 

  • The opposition LMP party has accused the Government of discriminating against local councils run by opposition officials when it comes to distributing funding. The LMP has accused PM Orbán of depriving local councils of partial revenue by slashing taxes for cars, local businesses, and parking, and compensating for the lost revenues using a central government grant of EUR 3.85 million; however, the money has largely gone to Fidesz municipalities. (Hungary Today May 9) 

POLAND

Minister Hojs discusses migrations in Poland.

  • Slovenian Interior Minister Hojs met his Polish counterpart Mariusz Kaminski as part of Slovenia’s preparations for the upcoming EU presidency. Together, the ministers advocated for “elimination of the root causes of migration, and a greater role of the external dimension of migrations, foremost sending migrants back more effectively” and agreed that together with the European External Action Service, the European Commission must “enhance talks with key partner states.” (STA May 6)

Poland, Hungary block “gender equality” from EU social summit. 

  • Lobbying by Poland and Hungary has led to the removal of the phrase “gender equality” from a May 7 declaration on advancing social cohesion in the EU as it strives to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. PM Orbán explained that “men and women should be treated equally… but ‘gender’… is an ideologically motivated expression.” ILGA Europe has declared that erasing the language meant erasing gender equality as a principle. (Euractiv May 8) 

ECtHR rules on “unlawful” Constitutional Court. 

  • The European Court of Human Rights has found that irregularities in the election of judges to the Constitutional Court of Poland had precluded access to a “tribunal established by law” on May 7, in the case Xero Flor v Poland. (Amnesty International May 7) 

EU readying new sanctions on Belarus. 

  • Brussels is preparing a new package of sanctions against the Belarusian authorities for targeting Poles in the country, with a new raft of EU sanctions expected in the coming weeks. The European Commission in March called on the Belarusian authorities to free and drop all charges against several detained leaders of the Polish ethnic minority in the country. (Polskie Radio May 11) 

SLOVAKIA

President has 30 days to decide whether Slovakia will hold another referendum. 

  • The petition on holding a referendum on snap elections was delivered to the Presidential Palace on May 3, signed by 585,816 people. The President will now have 30 days to decide whether to announce the referendum or turn to the Constitutional Court to question its constitutionality. (Slovak Spectator May 5)

Intelligence agency has a new director. 

  • President Čaputová has appointed Michal Aláč to lead the Slovak Information Service (SIS), nominated by the Sme Rodina party. “It’s obvious what the most important task will be—to make the public believe that the agency acts as an intelligence service of the democratic state, observing rule of law principles,” Čaputová stated, adding that SIS should inform the public about its findings and stressing the need to strengthen external control of the intelligence agency. Aláč is replacing Vladimír Pčolinský, who was arrested on March 11 for corruption-related charges. (Slovak Spectator May 7)

SLOVENIA

Slovenia: Citizens satisfied with living conditions but not with democracy. 

  • The latest Eurobarometer survey conducted in February and March shows that Slovenia citizens are generally satisfied with their lives, but they are unhappy about how democracy works in their country, with 25% satisfied and 75% dissatisfied, significantly worse than in the previous year and the lowest level of satisfaction in the entire bloc. Slovenians also showed declining trust in the army and police, political parties, the justice system and the public administration, though both the army and the police enjoy the trust of the majority of the population. (IBNA May 5)

Pahor to host regional summit on May 17. 

  • President Pahor will host the leaders of the Brdo-Brijuni Process of Enhanced Cooperation in the Western Balkans for a summit on May 17. In the run-up to the event, Pahor met his Montenegrin counterpart Đukanović in Podgorica on Wednesday before travelling on to Tirana for talks with Albanian President Meta on Thursday. (STA May 4)

Tikhanouskaya received by President Pahor, Speaker Zorčič. 

  • Belarusian opposition leader Tikhanouskaya was received by President Pahor, the heads of parliamentary deputy groups, and by parliamentary Speaker Zorčič, with the latter expressing support for efforts for democratic change in her country. Zorčič told Tikhanouskaya that democracy was fragile and that it needed to be fought for every day. (STA May 4)

Tonin meets Stoltenberg to discuss defense investments. 

  • Defense Minister Tonin presented to NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg Slovenia’s defense reforms, plans to raise defense spending, and investments into the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) with the focus on meeting the country’s commitments towards NATO. SAF can count on EUR 780 million in 2021–2026 for investments to get modernized, with Slovenia planning to increase defense spending to 1.5% of its GDP in 2024. (STA May 7) 

STA director announces legal action against Prime Minister

  • STA Director Veselinovič announced legal action against PM Janša after the latter implied on Twitter that Veselinovič had been involved in the “murder” of a former STA editor-in-chief a decade ago. Veselinovič will press criminal charges as a private plaintiff and lodge a civil defamation suit, an announcement to which Janša responded: “Finally. Bullying a journalist who then died must get a closure in court.” (STA May 7) 

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