Eastern and Central Europe
The Eastern and Central Europe Section of IR Insider publishes breaking news reports and analysis from Russia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, and other Eastern and Central European nations. Topics covered in the Eastern and Central Europe Section may range from Russia’s role in the Syrian Civil War to the Latvian parliamentary elections and beyond. Our section editor is Sagram Parkesh.
The months-long dispute between Hungary’s right-wing governing party Fidesz and the European People’s Party (EPP)— the European Union-wide political grouping of Christian democratic and center-right constituent national political parties — was escalated this past week.
A tragic emergency landing of Russian Aeroflot flight 1492 on Sunday, May 5, 2019, resulted in the deaths of 41 of the 78 passengers onboard. The disaster has come under a large amount of scrutiny from officials in the airline industry, specifically concerning the causal attribution behind the plane’s crash landing.
In an escalation of a simmering dispute between Turkey and Cyprus over possible oil and natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a Turkish drilling vessel entered waters claimed by Cyprus as part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to begin drilling operations on May 5, 2019.
Recent events have thrown the independence of the Czech judiciary into doubt and controversy. Only one day after official allegations were launched against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš for his involvement in a nearly 50 million euro scandal of EU funding fraud, Czech Justice Minister Jan Kněžínek unexpectedly stepped down with no reasoning as to why. Directly following the Justice Minister’s resignation, Prime Minister Babiš proposed Marie Benešová to the post, a current advisor and political ally of Czech President Miloš Zeman.
The Interior Ministry of the Russian Federation confirmed on April 29, 2019 that it has opened the first processing center for issuing Russian passports to residents of rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine.
Czech President Milos Zeman will visit China on Wednesday, Apr. 24 to attend the Second Belt and Road Initiative Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing. President Zeman’s visit to China signals rising developments between the two countries and the region of Central and Eastern Europe, in light of China’s recent moves to solidify connections to the countries of the European region.
Protesters rallying against the incumbent Serbian government of President Aleksandar Vucic demonstrated in downtown Belgrade, capital of Serbia, on April 20, 2019, marking another Saturday of anti-government protests since December 2018.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrived in Croatia on Thursday, Apr. 11 ahead of the 16+1 Group’s annual summit. The 16+1 Group, initiated in 2012, is a symbol of China’s concentrated effort to increase its presence and influence in the Central and Eastern European region.
The leadership of the Party of European Socialists (PES), the European Union-wide political grouping of social democratic national political parties, announced on April 10 that relations between the PES and Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) are considered “frozen, pending a formal discussion.”
Developments on Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2019 revealed that British-Dutch oil and gas company Shell will no longer be moving forward with the Baltic Liquified-Natural Gas (LNG) Project with Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom. The Baltic LNG Project was initiated between the two companies in mid-2016 as a joint effort to produce over 10 million tons of LNG in the Leningrad region. Following an official announcement made on behalf of the Baltic LNG Project on Mar. 29, 2019 concerning the project’s final development phases, no mention was made of Shell within the context of the plans for continuation.
A panel of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled in favor of Russia in a dispute with Ukraine over Russia’s invoking of “national security” to bar Ukrainian products from accessing Central Asia via rail lines running through Russian territory. However, the panel, which issued a report of its findings on Apr. 5, 2019, also rejected the Russian position that claims of “national security” are not justiciable by the WTO.
As national elections approach later this year, Poland faces much controversy and division over the country’s entrenched conservative stance and ideals. The present ruling power the Law and Justice Party, also known as PiS, has actively spread a platform of staunch traditionalist and Christian values since its rise to prominence in 2015. However, as its European Union neighbors increasingly favor more progressive politics, Poland confronts a widening gulf at home between those favoring the Christian fundamentalism driving the country’s leadership and those aiming to introduce more diversity and forward-looking politics into the agenda.
Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipilä announced the resignation of his entire center-right government on Mar. 8, 2019, after it became clear that he would be unable to pass his government’s flagship social welfare, healthcare, and regional government reform package through the Parliament of Finland.
On Monday, Mar. 11, the United States Treasury Department launched new sanctions against Russian-based bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank. The bank is notoriously linked to supporting the Nicolas Maduro regime in present control of Venezuela and represents a crucial tie between the governments in Moscow and Caracas. Evrofinance stands as yet another figure in the ongoing standoff between Russia and the United States.
On Friday, March 1 Dimitar Kostov, the Bulgarian Central Bank Deputy Governor, announced his unexpected formal resignation from the post. Kostov, a key figure in Bulgaria’s impending transition into the Eurozone, had reportedly attempted to step down earlier last year but held off amidst Bulgaria’s ongoing negotiations with the EU regarding its financial ascendance into the European Banking Union. The resignation abruptly comes midway through a six-year term committed to in 2015, and leaves Bulgaria still underway in European Central Bank reviews to join the Eurozone.
Two committees of the European Parliament (EP) voted on Feb. 27, 2019 to nominate Laura Codruţa Kövesi, Romania’s former anti-corruption chief, to head the European Union’s new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
U.S. born investor Michael Calvey was recently detained in Russia on accusations of embezzlement and fraud in connection to Calvey’s private equity firm Baring Vostok Capital Partners. Calvey founded Baring Vostok in Russia in 1994, with the company allegedly having injected upwards of $3.7 billion into the Russian economy over the years. Given Baring Vostok’s significant stakeholder position in the Russian economy, the allegations facing Calvey and five other business affiliates create a wary uncertainty for other foreign investors and financiers in the country, unsettling prospects of future financial security in Russia.
Ahead of the May 2019 European Union-wide elections for the 705 members of the next European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) — the largest EU-wide political grouping of Christian democratic and center-right national political parties — has become embroiled in a heated internal debate over how to respond to a new anti-immigrant and anti-EU advertisement campaign launched by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party is a member of the EPP.
A summit of the Visegrad Group, commonly known as the V-4, slated to take place beginning on Monday, Feb. 18, was canceled amongst diplomatic uproar surrounding the Holocaust. The V-4 summit was set to occur in Israel and to be hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following public remarks made by Prime Minister Netanyahu that unabashedly recognized Polish collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War, Poland rescinded its participation. The other member states of the V-4-- Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia-- who notably make up a nexus of rising nationalist sentiment, xenophobia, and antisemitism in Europe, will no longer be in formal attendance of the group summit in Israel.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signaled that he was open to further integration between Belarus and Russia during talks held at Sochi between the leaders of the two countries. In his statements, given during a Feb. 15, 2019 joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko asserted that “we, the two of us, could unite as early as tomorrow, no problem with that.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently announced a new pro-natalist policy to promote the country’s declining birth rate. The plan aims to provide financial incentives to Hungarian women in exchange for having more children. Pro-procreation policies have notoriously been implemented in various other countries, and have presented dubious outcomes.
Lithuanian intelligence bodies published their annual National Threat Assessment Report on Feb. 6, 2019, with China being named and featured for the first time this year as “a country with interests detrimental to Lithuania’s security” alongside perennial national security threat, Russia.
On New Years Eve, Ukrainian comedian, Vladimir Zelenskiy, announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections set for Sunday, Mar. 31. Polls indicate that he is a frontrunner in the race, despite a lack of political experience.
Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 marked a historic moment for the soon-to-be Republic of Northern Macedonia. After years of division and controversy surrounding Macedonia’s name and national cultural lineage with Greece, an agreement finally came forth to allow Macedonia to move forward with its accession to NATO, and with its internationally integrative and cooperative aspirations with the West and Europe at large.
In a widening scandal over food safety standards in the European Union, the Polish government acknowledged that it exported 2.7 metric tons (2.98 short/US tons) of beef sourced from a slaughterhouse that was filmed illegally slaughtering cattle.
The Chairman of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform For Life, Viktor Medvedchuk, has recently proposed a plan for peace between Ukraine and Russia. Medvedchuk is known to have close ties to Putin; Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.
The current socio economic turmoil overtaking the Venezuelan political scene now indicates the ongoing tepid power balance characteristic of decades of American-Russian relations. While Venezuela is endowed with its own political uncertainties, the country as of late represents a notable new playing field for the ‘proxy’ conflicts between the United States’ and Russia’s vested interests to come head-to-head.
France began an investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the ongoing Yellow Vests protests. Reports surfaced regarding social media accounts being tied to Moscow, in an alleged effort to encourage and amplify the protests.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, the German government announced the formation of a new tank battalion that will be activated by October 2019. The move, which will be accompanied by a concerted effort to upgrade existing tanks and expand military bases, marks the first time in decades that the German Army (Bundeswehr) is slated to expand and comes amid heightened security tensions in the European continent owing to a flare-up in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Vienna is set to host an oil summit between the leaders of OPEC and other major global oil producers between Dec 5-6. The meeting follows in the wake of a G-20 meeting held in Buenos Aires at the beginning of this month where Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly committed to continuing their previously established cooperative agreement, known as OPEC+.
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