Regional Press Review (5-12 October)
Russia offers to ease Europe’s gas crisis on specific terms.
- With winter fast approaching and a stunning energy price surge pummeling Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin chose an opportune moment to use his country’s leverage as an oil and gas superpower. Nord Stream 2 lies completed under the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany, but is tied up in a long, complicated and highly politicized permitting process. While President Putin himself didn’t directly link additional supplies to approval the pipeline, he noted that another major route for Russian exports to Europe, Ukraine, was more expensive and polluting. (Bloomberg, October 7)
EU calls for justice fifteen years after Russian journalist Politkovskaya’s murder.
- The European Union has marked the 15th anniversary of the murder of prominent investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya in central Moscow by renewing its call for all those responsible to be brought to justice. Politkovskaya — a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose reporting exposed high-level corruption in Russia and rights abuses in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya — was shot dead in her apartment building on Putin’s birthday — October 7, 2006. The case remains unresolved, and the European Court of Human Rights in 2018 found that the Russian state had failed in its obligation to adequately investigate the killing. (Radio Free Europe, October 7)
The investigation of torture and rape of prisoners in the Saratov region will be handled by the central office of the IC.
- Criminal cases of abuse of prisoners in the Saratov region were transferred to the central office of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. The corresponding order was given by the head of the IC Alexander Bastrykin “for the most complete and objective investigation,” according to the website of the Investigative Committee. (Meduza, October 7)
Poll: Trust In President Putin drops to lowest levels since 2012.
- A new opinion poll indicates that Russians’ trust in President Vladimir Putin has dropped to its lowest level in nearly a decade. The Levada Center survey released on October 6 found 53 percent of respondents saying they trusted Putin, down from 71 percent in September 2017. Levada stated it was the lowest recorded level of trust for the Russian leader since October 2012, when 51 percent of respondents said they trusted the President. Trust in President Putin soared in 2015, a year after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, reaching nearly 80 percent, according to Levada. (Radio Free Europe, October 7)
Kremlin declares NATO diplomatic expulsions undermine ties with Moscow.
- The Kremlin declares that NATO’s expulsion of eight Russians from Moscow’s diplomatic mission to the alliance “almost completely” undermined any hope for improving relations. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comments on October 7 come one day after NATO officials announced the decision to kick out the Russians, who it said were in fact “undeclared intelligence officers.” (Radio Free Europe, October 10)
EU added eight more people to the sanctions list over Russian actions in Crimea.
- The European Council has announced sanctions against eight individuals who are “responsible for enforcing Russian law” in occupied Crimea in a move that comes as senior EU officials travel to Kyiv for a major EU-Ukraine summit. The additions bring the total number of individuals hit with punishments over Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula to 185, along with 48 companies or other legal entities. (Radio Free Europe, October 11)
Blinken and Lavrov discuss Iran nuclear deal as Tehran signals talks ‘days’ away.
- The top U.S. and Russian diplomats have discussed their shared interest in the restoration of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Lavrov urged the United States to end what he described as “illegal restrictions on Iran and all of its trading partners.” Blinken stated that the U.S and Russia are sharing an interest in seeing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA in reference to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that Washington pulled out of in 2018 before reimposing sanctions on Iran. (Radio Free Europe, October 6)
Russian NGO defending conscripts’ rights ceases activities out of fear of persecution.
- The “Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg” organization announced on October 5 that it ceasing its activities, citing “serious restrictions” imposed by Russia’s main domestic security service on the group’s activities. The move comes days after the Federal Security Service (FSB) published a 60-point list of nonsecret topics that could result in people or organizations being designated as “foreign agents” if they cover or write about them, and face criminal prosecution. (Radio Free Europe, October 6)
Russia designates more RFE/RL journalists as “foreign agents”.
- In the latest such step, authorities added Tatyana Voltskaya, Yekaterina Klepikovskaya, and Yelena Solovyova, who collaborate with RFE/RL’s Russian service; Yelizaveta Surnacheva, a Russian journalist who works for Current Time in Kyiv; and Current Time freelance TV journalist Roman Perl. RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned the move as another attack on the free media in Russia and reaffirmed the media outlet’s commitment to its Russian audiences. (Radio Free Europe, October 8)
Turkey and Azerbaijan launch joint military drills.
- The “Unshakable Brotherhood” exercise comes amid heightened tensions between Baku and Tehran, with Iran launching rare war games along its border with Azerbaijan in recent days. Azerbaijan and Iran have long been at loggerheads over Tehran’s backing of Armenia, but normally friendly relations began to deteriorate following joint military drills that Azerbaijani troops conducted alongside their Turkish and Pakistani counterparts last month. Azerbaijan’s restrictions on Iranian truck drivers’ access to Armenia, as well as Azerbaijan’s ties to Israel are also fueling a spiraling standoff between the two neighbors. (Radio Free Europe, October 6)
Azerbaijani activist sentenced to 13 years in prison on ‘absurd’ terrorism charges.
- A court in Baku has sentenced a member of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) to 13 years in prison after finding him guilty of financing terrorism — a charge he and his supporters have rejected as “absurd.” Niyameddin Ahmadov’s relatives, friends, and colleagues were not allowed to be present in the courtroom when Judge Siyavus Haciyev pronounced the verdict and sentence on October 8. In his last testimony at the trial, Ahmadov reiterated his innocence and called all charges against him unfounded. His lawyers said the court’s decision will be appealed. (Radio Free Europe, October 8)
Azerbaijan sends defiant message to Iran. Azerbaijani officials rejected claims by Iranian officials that Israeli forces are present on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border.
- Azerbaijan’s State Border Service (SBS) rejected claims by Iranian officials that Israeli forces are present in Azerbaijan near the Iranian border, saying that Azerbaijan “does not need the support of foreign forces.” Ahmed Ali Goudarzi, commander of Iran’s Border Guard, claimed last week that Israeli forces are present in “sensitive areas” in neighboring countries and conducting intelligence and espionage work, advising Muslim countries “not to allow this”. (The Jerusalem Post, October 11)
Bulgaria’s President: We Refuse to Greenlight Northern Macedonia.
- Bulgarian President Rumen Radev reconfirmed his country’s reluctance to greenlight Skopje’s EU accession negotiations unless North Macedonia honors its commitments to address the moot points in bilateral relations. Radev said that the Western Balkans’ EU entry is a key priority of Bulgarian foreign policy and that his country consistently supports this project based on the principles of own progress in reforms and meeting the accession criteria and of good neighborly relations. (Novinite, October 6)
Bulgarian oligarch Delyan Peevski was summoned for questioning at State Agency for National Security.
- According to information from the international investigation “Pandora’s Files”, he is connected with 3 offshore companies, for which there is no trace in the property declarations submitted by him. Peevski serves as MP from the Parliamentary group of DPS in the National Assembly. According to Reporters Without Borders, his media group consisting of 6 newspapers, “New Bulgarian Media Group” controls nearly 80% of print media distribution in Bulgaria. (Novinite, October 6)
Bulgaria detains one Russian, two Lithuanians over alleged espionage at arms maker.
- Three foreign employees of Bulgaria’s biggest weapons maker, Arsenal, have been detained on suspicion of exporting “sensitive information” about the company’s manufacturing plant.The Bulgarian Interior Ministry said on October 7 that all three — two Lithuanians, a man and a woman, and a Russian man — held senior positions and handled innovative technologies at Arsenal, which makes small arms, artillery systems, gunpowder, and ammunition. (Radio Free Europe, October 7)
Elections on November 14 will have one smart card in use, alongside a machine, for each votant.
- The Central Election Commission has decided that in the “two in one” elections on November 14, voting will take place on one machine and with one smart card. The receipts will be two or one, depending on whether the voter votes for both types of elections or only for one.The commission also agreed on how the device’s screens will be visualized, so that a choice can be made as to whether the vote will be held simultaneously for president and vice-president and for MPs, or in just one of the two elections. (Novinite, October 9)
Dumitru Robu proposed acting Prosecutor General.
- The Superior Council of Prosecutors decided to field Robu for the post of the acting prosecutor-general. Robu is the deputy chief prosecutor of the Chisinau Prosecutor’s Office. He started his career as a prosecutor in the Human Trafficking Combating Section of the Prosecutor General’s Office. In July 2016, he was named prosecutor at the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. In 2018, he was promoted to the post of deputy chief prosecutor of the Chisinau Prosecutor’s Office. In July and December 2019, Dumitru Robu held the post of acting prosecutor general before Alexandr Stoianoglo took up his duties. (IPN, October 6)
Sweden supports Moldova’s European integration efforts.
- Noting that the current visit by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Linde is the second paid to Chisinau this year, FM Nicu Popescu said the Moldovan-Swedish dialogue develops at an appropriate pace. The economic reforms in the justice sector are supported and this gives an impetus to the effort to build a European country and to bring it closer to the European Union. The Eastern Partnership, whose format was generated also by Sweden, is an efficient cooperation instrument. (IPN, October 6)
Moldovan leftists protest arrests in Prosecutor’s Office.
- Several hundred people protested in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, against the October 5 suspension of Prosecutor-General Stoianoglo in an event organized by the Communist and Socialist parties on October 10. The protesters chanted slogans against President Sandu, accusing her of seeking to control the prosecutor’s office for political purposes. Another, smaller demonstration was held in Comrat. Stoianoglo was detained as part of the new Government’s pledge to combat corruption and “clean up” the judiciary. On October 9, one of Stoianoglo’s deputies, Ruslan Popov, was also detained and suspended in connection with the probe. (Radio Free Europe, October 11)
Moldova’s national economy registers clear tendency of recovery according to a report.
- The Economics Ministry has presented a report of the social and economic evolution for January-August 2021. According to the report, the national economy registers a clear-cut tendency of recovery. So, in the first half of this year, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) amounted to 104.2 billion lei, recording a real growth of 11.7 per cent against the same period of the 2020 year. According to the competent ministry, the industrial sector is growing as well. This occurs after the industrial production increased by 13.6 per cent in January-July 2021. (Moldpres, October 12)
Government dismissed as PSD motion of censure passes.
- The Parliament passed a motion of censure initiated by the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD). The vote was 281 to nil out of 281 cast. 318 lawmakers attended. According to the Law on Government organization and functioning, the Citu Cabinet will continue to carry out only actions with individual or normative character needed for the administration of public matters, without promoting new policies, until the new government members take the oath. During this period the Government cannot issue orders and initiate draft laws. (ActMedia, October 6)
Dacian Ciolos resigned from the leadership of Renew Europe.
- Dacian Ciolos announces at RFI that he presented his resignation from the position of leader of the group Renew Europe in the European Parliament, to concentrate on his mandate as leader of the USR, obtained during the recent congress of the party. (ActMedia, October 6)
Romania’s president proposes center-right party head to form Government.
- The Romanian President has proposed the leader of the center-right Save Romania Union (USR), Dacian Ciolos, as a candidate to form a Government, days after a nine-month-old minority coalition was toppled in a no-confidence vote. President Klaus Iohannis made the announcement on October 11 after holding consultations with all parties in Parliament, stating that the next Government’s urgent tasks would be to address a devastating fourth COVID-19 wave and spiraling energy costs ahead of the winter season. (Radio Free Europe, October 11)
Private companies in Romania predicted to increase wages by over 8% in 2021 and 2022.
- Private companies in Romania estimate an average increase of 8.1% in basic salaries in 2022, after an average increase of 8.9% this year, according to the PayWell 2021 study conducted by PwC Romania. The salary increase reported for this year is almost twice as high as that expected by respondents, of 4.68%, in the edition of the PayWell study conducted in 2020, in a period of economic uncertainty. (Romania Insider, October 12)
Turkey-Greece consultative talks in Ankara.
- Ahead of the meeting, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar urged Greece to keep dialogue channels open in bilateral disputes. Elaborating on the Greek Nautical Geo ship’s attempt to breach Turkey’s continental shelf, Akar said, “Unfortunately, our neighbor Greece has persistently attempted to violate the east of Crete and the south-west of Cyprus.” France and Greece announced last week a defense and security deal worth around $3.5 billion USD, which includes the Greek purchase of three French warships. The Turkish Foreign Ministry declared that a recent defense deal between Greece and France threatens to harm the NATO alliance. (Hurriyet, October 6)
Turkish President signals new military push into Syria.
- President Erdogan signaled Monday that Turkey was preparing to launch a new military operation in Syria, where its forces are under attack from Kurdish militants backed by the United States. The President’s comments followed a car bombing on Monday in the northern Syrian city of Afrin that killed six people, including at least one Turkey-backed rebel fighter, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (The Defense Post, October 12)
Turkey proposes G20 working group for Afghanistan.
- Turkey has proposed the establishment of a special working group at the G20 to address the Afghanistan-related issues and warned the international community that Afghan people cannot be left to their fate. The meeting was held by the Italian term presidency of the G20 weeks before the face-to-face summit to be held in Rome. The security and stability of Afghanistan are critically important not only for the region but the entire globe, President Erdoğan stated, urging the international community to address all the problems stemming from the uncertainty in this country, including growing humanitarian needs. (Hurriyet, October 12)
Ukrainian FM is ready to meet with his Hungarian counterpart.
- Ukraine is ready to negotiate with Hungary on complex problems in bilateral relations, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba has said in an interview with Ukrinform during the Warsaw Security Forum. Earlier, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry condemned Hungary’s decision to sign a 15-year gas supply contract with Russia. The fifth meeting of the Ukrainian-Hungarian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation was scheduled for September 29-30 in Budapest, but Kuleba did not attend the meeting. (Ukrinform, October 6)
President of Ukraine Zelensky and President of Israel Herzog made a joint statement following the official visit of the President of Israel to Kyiv.
- The parties positively assessed the implementation of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement provisions, which came into effect on January 1, 2021, and said they expect that negotiations on the introduction of a free trade regime between the two countries in the field of services will be soon launched. They also stressed the importance of resuming the work of the Ukrainian-Israeli Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation as soon as possible, considering the epidemic situation in both countries. (Ukrinform, October 7)
Ukrainian bank chief dismissed after assault on journalists.
- Ukraine’s state-owned export-import bank has dismissed its chairman after a court ordered him to be put under nighttime house arrest while the authorities probe a confrontation with RFE/RL investigative reporters last week. During an interview on October 4 at Ukreksimbank’s Kyiv offices, CEO Yevhen Metsher and his spokesman ordered a security guard to seize the cameras and memory cards of two reporters of Schemes (Skhemy). (Radio Free Europe, October 12)
Ahead of EU-Ukraine Summit, EU foreign-policy Chief signals ‘progress’ alongside push for further reforms.
- EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell says senior EU officials will use an EU-Ukraine summit to underline the bloc’s support for reforms and reiterate “full support” for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as Brussels commits to a multibillion-euro investment package and an aviation agreement. (Radio Free Europe, October 11)
Top European Union officials have pledged deeper support for Ukraine in ensuring reliable gas supplies.
- Amid concerns about the reliability of Russian supplies, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, Head of the European Council, spoke at a joint news conference in Kyiv on October 12 during a summit with Ukrainian officials including President Zelenskiy. She underlined the issue of gas supplies, both for Ukraine and European markets, as it came into sharp focus in recent weeks s temperatures fall and gas prices soar to record levels. (Radio Free Europe, October 12)
Czechia among states calling for Commission to address energy price spikes.
- The Czech Republic is one of five EU member states that have issued a joint appeal for the European Commission to address the issue of rising energy prices. A statement from the group calls for better coordination when it comes to purchasing and building strategic gas reserves, reform of the electricity market and reduction of dependence on energy imports. The Ministers from the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain, France and Romania signed the call. (Radio Prague International, October 6)
Czech Army to get new anti-aircraft defense system.
- The Czech Ministry of Defense has signed an agreement with the Israeli state company Rafael on the purchase of an anti-aircraft defense system worth 13.7 billion crowns. The defense system (SHORAD) is designed to protect cities, nuclear power plants, airports, industrial centers and other important facilities. (Radio Prague International, October 5)
Pandora Papers: Czech PM Babiš used offshore companies to buy USD 22 million French estate.
- Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has come under fire following the publication of the global investigation into the Pandora Papers which claims that he moved USD 22 million through offshore companies to buy an estate on the French Riviera, while keeping his ownership secret. PM Babiš has since lashed back, stating that the accusations are timed to damage his party’s chances in the upcoming lower-house elections. (Radio Prague International, October 7)
Czech Republic in post-vote limbo after President takes sick.
- President Milos Zeman admitted to intensive care, raising risk of political vacuum following shock defeat for Prime Minister in election.The 77-year-old president, who plays a critical role in nominating any future prime minister, was taken by ambulance to Prague’s Central Military Hospital on Sunday shortly after meeting Babis. He received treatment in an intensive care unit. (AlJazeera, October 11)
Turkey-Hungary Strategic Cooperation Council to meet in Istanbul in November.
- Hungarian Foreign Minister Szijjártó has declared that cooperation between the two countries had become a success story after a meeting with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Thanks to the modernisation of the Turkish gas pipeline network, Hungary’s gas supplies are secure from the south since last week, he added. The next meeting of the Turkey-Hungary Strategic Cooperation Council will be held in Istanbul in November, with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. (Hungary Today, October 6)
Momentum President initiates vote of no confidence against himself after primaries failure.
- Centrist-liberal opposition party Momentum’s President András Fekete-Győr has initiated a vote of no confidence against himself, after finishing last in the opposition primary’s first round. Fekete-Győr finished fifth at the primary, obtaining only 20,944 votes (3.4%). (Hungary Today, October 6)
Hungarian opposition Primary under way again to pick PM Orban challenger.
- Voting continued among Hungarian opposition forces on October 11 in the second round of a primary aimed at uniting behind a single challenger to national populist PM Orban and his Fidesz party in next year’s parliamentary elections. The diverse, six-party opposition alliance set up last year to unite behind any eventual candidate accuses the PM of overseeing rampant corruption and emergent authoritarianism since retaking the prime minister’s seat in 2010. The field of potential voting leaders for the opposition has narrowed to two front-runners, center-left lawyer and vice president of the EP, Klara Dobrev, and Peter Marki-Zay, the Conservative Mayor of Hodmezovasarhely. (Radio Free Europe, October 11)
Rushed introduction of Euro could hurt Hungary’s growth.
- A rushed adoption of the euro that ignores differences in the levels of economic development between Hungary and the euro zone could sacrifice Hungary’s growth and even pose risks to its stability, a member of the Central Bank’s Monetary Council said on Wednesday. (Hungary Today, October 7)
Poland supports Western Balkans’ EU aspirations.
- Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki stressed, during the EU-Western Balkan Summit in the castle of Brdo in Slovenia, that Poland unambiguously and consistently supported the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the EU. He also called for closer transatlantic relations. (Polandin, October 6)
Polish Foreign Minister and PACE head discuss situation on the Polish-Belarusian border.
- FM Zbigniew Rau met with Rik Daems, the head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The main topic of the conversation was the situation in Belarus and the Polish-Belarusian border. The head of the Foreign Ministry emphasized that the migration crisis was deliberately created by the Belarusian regime to destabilize the internal situation in EU countries. Minister Rau called for the Council of Europe to maintain interest in the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, including the repressions affecting representatives of the Polish minority. (Polandin, October 7)
Shots fired from Belarus at Polish troops, according to Warsaw.
- Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki has voiced support for the troops guarding the Belarusian frontier from illegal migration after reports that Belarusian forces allegedly fired shots — possibly blank ammunition — at Polish servicemen. The PM reported that “all state powers” were behind the border guards and the military. Earlier on October 8, Polish Border Guards spokeswoman Anna Michalska declared that Belarusian forces fired shots across the European Union’s eastern border on October 7, without specifying what forces were targeted. (Radio Free Europe, October 8)
V4 wants peace and development in Middle East according to the Polish Prime Minister.
- PM Morawiecki assured that the Visegrad Group would urge countries from the Western part of the EU to deepen economic cooperation with Egypt. “Egypt is a great partner, 100 million people, a very future-oriented country, that is why Poland for several months has been building cooperation on the basis of reciprocity by creating a special economic zone in the Suez region constructed by the Katowice zone,” the head of the Polish Government stressed. (Radio Free Europe, October 12)
Group around Nitra-based businessman Bödör screened opposition politicians under Smer Government.
- A group around Nitra-based oligarchs who allegedly controlled the security forces under the Smer Governments, screened several opposition politicians when Smer was the only ruling party, the Denník N daily reported. A year before the 2016 parliamentary election, the group around Bödör and then-Police Corps president Tibor Gašpar used the police to created detailed reports disclosing very private information on Smer’s main political rivals. (Slovak Spectator, October 12)
West Balkan leaders leave Brdo summit with mixed impressions.
- Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has identified minor progress, whereas Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti was not completely happy with the concluding statement and North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged the EU to act. (STA, October 6)
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