Regional Press Review (6 – 11 Nov)
Russian peacekeepers deploying to Nagorno-Karabakh after truce as political crisis hits Armenia.
- Russian peacekeepers are on their way to Nagorno-Karabakh to be deployed as part of a Russian-brokered agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia to halt the military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. President Putin declared that the agreement “will create [the] necessary conditions for a long-term and full-fledged settlement of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh on a fair basis and in the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani people.” The agreement calls for the long-term deployment of Russian troops to the region and also for Russian border services to monitor a new transport corridor through Armenia connecting Azerbaijan to its western exclave of Naxcivan. (Radio Free Europe November 10)
Kremlin spokesman says Putin is withholding congratulations to President-Elect Biden until Trump’s lawsuits play out.
- Kremlin spokesman Peskov declared that President Putin will withhold congratulations to the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election until the results are formally finalized. Asked to clarify why Putin didn’t wait for the official results four years ago, when Trump won the U.S. Electoral College, Peskov stated that “there are certain legal procedures ahead that the acting president has announced. This makes it a different situation, which is why we believe it is correct to wait for the official announcement.” (Meduza November 9)
Moscow court mitigates prison sentence for activist in high-profile “Moscow case”.
- A court of appeals in Moscow has intervened to ease the terms of the three-year prison term that activist Yegor Lesnykh received last year, ruling that Lesnykh will serve the remaining part of his sentence in a colony settlement instead of a prison. Lesnykh was arrested along with several other activists and charged with assaulting police during rallies in July and August last year. The activists’ sentences sparked a public outcry in Russia because of their severity, with the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center considering Lesnykh as a political prisoner. (Radio Free Europe November 9)
Russian helicopter shot down over Armenia.
- A Russian military helicopter was downed over Armenia on November 9, with two crew members killed and one injured. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement admitting to having shot down the helicopter by accident, offering apologies and compensation for the incident. (Deutsche Welle November 9)
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia sign Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal.
- Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia have signed an agreement to end the military conflict over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10. The new ceasefire agreement prompted anger in Armenia and was celebrated in Baku. Under the deal, Azerbaijan will hold on to the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it has taken during the conflict, with Armenia agreeing to withdraw from other adjacent areas in upcoming weeks. Russia will oversee the peacekeeping process, with 1,960 peacekeepers and armored personnel already deployed to the region. The agreement includes an exchange of war prisoners, with “all economical and transport contacts to be unblocked.” (BBC November 10)
Armenian PM calls for calm amid unrest over Karabakh deal.
- Unrest in Yerevan began after the news broke of the agreement putting an end to the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, which rioters perceived as an act of surrender. A group of 17 Armenian opposition parties issued a joint statement demanding PM Pashinian’s resignation in response to the deal and have announced plans to hold a rally, and angry protesters have stormed Government and Parliament buildings, ransacking offices and smashing windows. Parliament Speaker Mirzoyan has been hospitalized after being attacked by a crowd of protesters. (Azatutyun November 10)
Angry Mob attacks RFE/RL’s Armenia Office amid unrest following Nagorno-Karabakh deal.
- Around 40 men have attacked the office of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) in Yerevan amid unrest triggered by the Russian-brokered agreement over Nagorno-Karabakh. The mob tried to break into RFE/RL’s office early on the morning of November 10, calling the Armenian Service “traitors” and “Turks” while in a tirade against the government, stating that they wanted to destroy Azatutyun’s computer servers to stop journalists from going on air. Azatutyun Executive Producer Hambardzumian claims he identified one of the men as a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The attack has been condemned by media outlets and watchdogs. (Azatutyun November 10)
Azerbaijan and Turkey to host joint security conference.
- Azerbaijan and Turkey will hold an online forum to discuss enhancing the role of the private sector in their defense industries. The event is also aimed at expanding cooperation between the two countries’ defense establishments, as well as attracting further investment and new technologies, and is expected to further consolidate military ties between Baku and Istanbul. (Foreign Brief November 10)
Bulgaria dispute threatens to delay North Macedonia’s EU path.
- Bulgaria is threatening to delay North Macedonia’s path toward EU membership, declaring to the European Commission that it will block the negotiating framework for North Macedonia until they acknowledge that both its identity and language have Bulgarian roots. Skopje has long insisted Macedonian is a distinct South Slavic language that forms part of the country’s culture and national identity, whereas Sofia claims that Macedonian is merely a regional dialect of Bulgarian. (Radio Free Europe November 6)
Western Balkans: Berlin Process Summit kicks off.
- Western Balkan country leaders and EU representatives will hold a summit on the Western Balkans in Sofia under the auspices of the Berlin Process, co-chaired by North Macedonia and Bulgaria, where they are expected to adopt an action plan for a common regional market. North Macedonian PM Zaev expects the Sofia Summit to promote EU intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia. The Sofia Summit is the seventh summit of the Berlin Process. (IBNA November 10)
Protest at Georgia’s Election Commission in Tbilisi ends after police use water cannons.
- A protest in Tbilisi demanding the resignation of Georgia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) and snap parliamentary elections came to an end after police used water cannons to disperse the crowd. Despite Georgian law requiring police to warn civilians before using water cannons, no such warning was issued. The ruling Georgian Dream party claimed the use of force was justified, as the opposition tried to storm the CEC building. (Radio Free Europe November 9)
Georgia’s Security Service investigates “coup attempt”.
- The State Security Service of Georgia announced on November 6 that it had launched an investigation into a “state coup attempt” on October 1, stating that “certain persons” from the opposition intended to overthrow the Government and had been establishing conspirator “mobile groups comprised of former law enforcement and military servants.” The announcement came after Georgian Dream MP Kobakhidze stated that a number of opposition leaders had been plotting a “revolutionary scenario” to come to power. This is at least the fourth investigation into state coup attempts since the Georgian Dream party came to power in 2012. (civil.ge November 7)
Watchdogs urge parties to negotiate.
- Transparency International (TI) Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) has released a joint statement urging all political parties to participate in political dialogue and negotiations, stating that there is still a chance to find a way out of the “political impasse” through dialogue despite the October 31 parliamentary elections being called a “clear step back” and “the worst elections held under the Georgian Dream Government.” The watchdogs stated that the current political situation was “further aggravated” by the actions of the law enforcers against demonstrators in Tbilisi. (civil.ge November 9)
Honorary consulate of Moldova inaugurated in Turkish city of Alanya.
- FM Tulea attended, along with his Turkish counterpart Çavuşoğlu, the official inauguration of Moldova’s honorary consulate in Alanya. Tulea thanked the Turkish authorities for the support, and referred to the the Strategic Partnership that was launched in 2018 between the nations, calling relations with Turkey one of the priorities of Moldova’s Government. For his part, FM Çavuşoğlu welcomed the decision to extend the network of honorary consulates in Turkey. (Moldpres November 7)
FM Aurescu: I’ve constantly underscored need for EU rapid response, action decisions of Belarusian authorities.
- FM Aurescu declared that Romania has constantly underlined “the need for EU rapid response and action with regard to the decisions of the Belarusian authorities” as he presented an activity report of his first year in office. Aurescu mentioned that the Romanian Foreign Ministry (MAE) earmarked €100,000 in financial contributions in support of the civil society and the independent press in Belarus. (Actmedia November 9)
Romania: Aurescu heads to The Hague on an official visit.
- FM Aurescu is paying a visit to The Hague at the invitation of his Dutch counterpart to meet and discuss ways to manage the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and the Recovery Plan, the future EU-UK agreement, Romania’s accession to the Schengen Area, and other issues related to the crisis. The visit will also include the donation of a Romanian painting to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and a meeting with the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the President of the International Court of Justice (CIJ) to discuss current issues. (IBNA November 9)
Romania’s Orthodox Church publishes “pastoral recommendations for a responsible and fair vote”.
- The Orthodox Church, one of the most trusted public institutions in Romania, has issued ten recommendations for believers to follow for the December 6 general elections. While it doesn’t explicitly support any certain political party, it urges citizens to “make choices based on criteria aimed at achieving the country’s good and promoting Christian values in society.” (Romania Insider November 9)
No agreement concerning deployment of Turkish peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, says Kremlin.
- Though Azeri and Turkish media reported that the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey have discussed the creation of a joint Russian-Turkish peacekeeping center, and some media outlets report Turkey being part of the peacekeeping deal, the Kremlin declared that there was no agreement in place for the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh. Kremlin spokesman Peskov stated that a center to monitor the ceasefire, located outside Nagorno-Karabakh, was subject to a separate agreement. (Reuters November 10)
Kuleba, Szijjártó agree to turn page on Budapest’s interference in Ukrainian elections.
- Ukraine and Hungary have agreed to restore constructive dialogue following Budapest’s interference in local elections in Ukraine. FM Kuleba called Hungary an important neighbor of Ukraine, with Ukrainian-Hungarian relations at their peak. “There is no alternative to the good-neighborliness of the Ukrainian and Hungarian peoples and our common European and the Euro-Atlantic future,” Kuleba declared. (Interfax November 6)
Report: China spreading propaganda, Czech ISIS deaths may be at five.
- The Czech counterintelligence service (BIS) 2019 report has found that that Chinese intelligence services have advanced Chinese investments in the country, and that Beijing was seeking to influence Czech public opinion and spread pro-Chinese propaganda in the country. The report added that Russian intelligence agencies were also active in the Czech Republic, with aims of destabilizing their opponents. The BIS report also mentioned that a Czech had reportedly died while fighting with ISIS last year, the fifth Czech citizen to do so. (Radio Prague International November 10)
Hungary’s Orbán threatens EU budget veto over rule-of-law.
- PM Orbán has threatened to veto an EU accord linking the bloc’s long-term budget to a mechanism requiring countries to uphold Europe’s democracy rules. The European Council declared that “provisional agreement” had been reached between Germany and the European Parliament over the seven-year €1.1-trillion budget and a €750-billion virus relief package. However, PM Orbán has threatened to veto the package should the payment of budgetary funds to member states be subject to rule-of-law conditionality. (Euractiv November 9)
A Polish blasphemy case tests the country’s commitment to freedom and tolerance.
- A court in Plock this week pushed back the trial of three LGBT+ activists to January, with the threat of a prison sentence remaining for the three women who are accused of “offending religious feelings by insulting an object of religious worship,” risking up to two years in prison. In April 2019, the three activists put up images of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo in protest of what they called the “exclusion of LGBT+ people from society” by the Catholic Church, for which they were later detained and charged under Article 196 of Poland’s criminal code. (Emerging Europe November 7)
Trump ally Poland conflicted over Biden win.
- While much of the world hailed Joe Biden’s win on Saturday, President Duda tweet congratulated him for his “successful presidential campaign,” shortly after failing to mention Biden in a speech for the ratification of a U.S.-Poland defense co-operation pact, when he referred instead to “a very heated time indeed” in U.S. political life. Poland’s state broadcaster TVP has also been describing Biden as a politician “referred to by some U.S. media as the winner of the presidential election,” and broadcasting Trump and Russian media talking about possible election fraud. (Euractiv November 10)
Poland ratifies defense cooperation agreement with U.S.
- Poland has ratified a major military deal with the U.S., under which at least 1,000 extra American troops are expected to be stationed in the country. President Duda ratified the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in the presence of officials from both countries, declaring that “the U.S. military presence strengthens the security of this part of Europe, strengthens the security of the NATO alliance, and is a guarantee that Article 5 of the [North] Atlantic Treaty will be respected.” (Polskie Radio November 9)
Tragic death of Slovak national at the core of the European Parliament plenary talk on police violence.
- The MFA continues to exert diplomatic efforts to close the investigation and provide justice for Jozef Chovanec’s death in Belgium in 2018. FM Korčok initiated a meeting with Slovak MEPs with the objective of bringing the case to the attention of the EU institutions and engaging their support for the investigation. “The tragic death of our citizen should be put on the agenda of the European Parliament plenary session … even now it is clear that he was subjected to police violence that has no place in a democratic society,” declared FM Korčok, mentioning that “there is a clear expectation that the case will be investigated and those responsible will be tried in a court of law.” (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic October 20)
Coalition joins criticism of Janša over Biden tweets.
- PM Janša has drawn criticism over his tweets related to the U.S. presidential election, both from the opposition as well as from members of his coalition. The tweets were deemed “not benefiting Slovenia at the moment” by Defense Minister Tonin, not “decent or diplomatic” by National Assembly Speaker Zorčič, and also criticized by the leaders of opposition parties and by other public figures and politicians. Janša endorsed Trump ahead of the election and was the only world leader to congratulate Trump for his victory a day after votes were cast. While he has not congratulated Biden, Janša has since tweeted that U.S.–Slovenia relations will remain strong “no matter which party the U.S. president was from.” The Foreign Ministry and the president’s office have so far declined to comment on the tweets. (Slovenia Times November 10)