Eastern and Central Europe
Coverage regarding recent developments in Central and Eastern Europe. Our writers Grace Kuang, Natasha Williams, and Yun Da Tsai produce weekly. Our section editor is Daphne Schermer.
Long-time trading partners, Russia and Belarus, have recently revised a standing bilateral trade agreement concerning Russian exportation of crude oil and oil products to Belarus. Trade in oil has served as a foundational feature of relations between Russia and Belarus for years, and amendments to the existing oil trade provisions have become a regular point of leverage for Russia to maintain Belarus within the sphere of influence of the near abroad.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian legislator, made comments about a new Russian defense system on a talk show on Oct. 15, claiming that it could “shut down the whole planet”. Zhirinovsky heads the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and often gives fervent speeches similar to the latest one. In one instance, he said that Russian children should learn how to use a rifle rather than learning English, asserting that the whole world will speak Russian.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the traditional leader of the Orthodox Church, has formally moved to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and revoke the Russian Orthodox Church’s right to ordain the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Bellingcat reported the identity of the second suspect in the Skripal poisoning case. He has been identified as Dr. Alexander Mishkin, a military doctor and member of the Russian GRU. Bellingcat was able to discover his identity by analyzing the information on his passport, vehicle registration, and other open sources as well as using testimony from people who knew the suspect. The first suspect had previously been identified as GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, who used the alias Ruslan Boshirov for the alleged attack.
The Estonian branch of the European bank conglomerate, Danske Bank, has undergone extensive investigation regarding recent connections to a nearly decade-long money laundering scandal. Beginning in the year 2007 and lasting until around 2015, reports conclude that Danske Bank Estonia served as the conduit for the funneling of nearly 200 billion euros through illegal money laundering via various non-resident customer portfolios.
Latvian voters have rejected the incumbent governing three-party center-right coalition, sending pro-Russian and anti-establishment parties to Riga with over a combined half of the legislature’s 100 seats in the parliamentary election held on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018.
A Lithuania-bound ferry was left stranded for hours in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, October 2, after reports suggest that an engine malfunction rendered the vessel immobile. The boat was en route to Klaipeda, a Lithuanian port, and found itself stuck in international waters at a juncture between Poland and Lithuania, off the coast of Russian Kaliningrad. A distress call from the ferry initiated a nearby international rescue response.
On Monday, September 17, a Russian military plane was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft defenses. Following the incident, Moscow placed full blame on Israel for their actions that resulted in the death of 15 Russians.
Judicial authorities in Slovakia have formally charged three individuals with “premeditated murder and other crimes” related to the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée that occurred earlier this year.
Following talks earlier this June between Greece and Macedonia over a decided Macedonian name change, the historic agreement will be brought to referendum in the coming week on September 30th. The culmination of these deliberations highlights the potential end to a decades-long dispute between the two nations, and signals a positive direction for Macedonia’s inclusion into larger European affairs.
Poland’s National Judicial Council has been suspended from the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary — the European Union’s premier national judicial coordination association — after months of turmoil in Warsaw over the judicial reforms passed by the governing Law and Justice Party earlier this year.
Russian activist Pyotr Verzilov, associated with the proclaimed protest group Pussy Riot, is speculated to be the latest victim in a series of on-going Kremlin targeted poisonings. Verzilov most recently has been publicized for his active participation in Pussy Riot’s protest at the 2018 World Cup Final match.
The Russian Orthodox Church has formally suspended ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople — the leading church of the Eastern Orthodox faith — after the Patriarch of Constantinople appointed two bishops to go to Kiev and lay the groundwork for approving formal independence for Ukraine’s church from the Russian Orthodox Church.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 12th, the European Parliament voted in favor of a process of sanctions against the Hungarian state, which under the leadership of Viktor Orban, has gone down a path of illiberalism, defiant to the basic tenets of rule of law and democracy upheld by the EU. In an over two-thirds majority vote, with 448 to 197 votes in favor, the decision symbolizes a growing intolerance across Europe for rising illiberal and autocratic government behavior.
Prospects for a deal between Kosovo and Serbia to swap territory in a “border correction” are looking increasingly grim as larger numbers of notable individuals and organizations across both countries and beyond have explicitly called for any redrawing of the border between the erstwhile enemies to be rejected.
As the Bundeswehr continues to languish and Berlin prepares to join larger European defense initiatives, the issue of defense spending will undoubtedly continue to test the unity of the CDU-SPD coalition government.
The Russian Patriarch Kirill, the highest ranking Bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church, made the first official visit to Albania on April 28. The visit lasted three days and was a symbol of solidarity and respect.
Overstepping his Constitutional responsibilities, leading member of the dominant Romanian Social Democratic Party (SDP) and top Romanian politician, Liviu Dragnea, recently announced the Balkan nation’s intentions to transfer its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. In an effort to follow American steps, Dragnea has sparked deep internal discord with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital.
After 11 days of street protests by anti-government demonstrators, Prime Minister of Armenia Serzh Sarksyan has announced his resignation. President of Armenia Armen Sarkysan (of no relation to the embattled prime minister) accepted the resignation on Apr. 23 while the governing coalition named Karen Karapetyan — First Deputy Prime Minister and a close ally of Serzh Sarkysan — the acting prime minister until a new candidate is elected by the Armenian parliament.
Serbia has banned Croatia’s Defense Minister, Damir Krsticevic, from entering the country in response to Croatia’s announcement last week that effectively barred Serbia’s Defense Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, from entering the country to attend a Serb-organized World War Two commemoration ceremony held in Croatia. This tit-for-tat move signals a new low-point in relations between the two former Yugoslav republics, who fought one another during the implosion of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
In January of 2017, Finland ventured into a largely unexplored welfare policy realm - universal basic income. Praised as cutting edge, this program was the first national government-supported experiment in universal basic income. The world has waited to see the results. However, on Monday, Finland’s government refused to extend or expand the program. The experiment will come to an end in January 2019.
After a striking hit to the global aluminum and metal markets, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control is considering loosening the sanctions it imposed earlier this April on Russian aluminum conglomerate Rusal, suggesting that easing of sanctions is attached to the stipulation that the company’s head, Oleg Deripaska, a Putin-entangled Russian oligarch, would cede control of the organization before it may be reintegrated into conducting complete business transactions with the U.S.
Prime Minister of Armenia Serzh Sarksyan announced his resignation after 11 days of street protests by anti-government demonstrators.
Armenia faces a deepening political crisis as demonstrators and opposition leaders take to the streets to protest the election of former President Serzh Sarksyan as Prime Minister of Armenia.
On Tuesday April 17, 2018, the European Commission proposed to open European Union membership talks with Albania and Macedonia.This comes after growing concerns about the influence of non-EU countries, primarily China and Russia, in the Western Balkans.
After an alleged chemical weapons strike on April 7th in the Syrian city of Douma, Russian forces will finally permit inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to visit the site of attack this week. After online claims and confusion surrounding possible fabrication and staging, the delay in admittance aroused international concern that this time lapse alludes to possible Russian tampering and interference with the scene of the incident.
The future of a new gas pipeline project linking Russia to Germany appears to be in jeopardy after Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, stated that the “Nord Stream 2 project is not possible without clarity on the future transit role of Ukraine” for natural gas shipped between Russia and Europe. Chancellor Merkel’s statement, delivered at a joint news conference with President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko on Apr. 10, 2018, is a reversal from her earlier position on the pipeline, which portrayed the project as “primarily a business venture driven by private investors.”
Following the April 8th Hungarian national election, incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured a surprising majority victory for himself in reclaiming his seat as the head of the government under the banner of his party Fidesz. Ringing in his third consecutive term, Orban posits himself as another steadfast figure in the sweeping trend of nationalistic populism overtaking many democracies across the North Atlantic region.
Kosovo’s government is in disarray after revelations of “secret and urgent” deportations of six Turkish nationals, unauthorized by the Prime Minister of Kosovo, led to the sacking of Kosovo’s Interior Minister and the head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency.
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