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 writers Riley Restori, Natasha Williams, and Yun-Da Tsai produce weekly articles. Our section editor is Sagram Parkesh.
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+.
Following rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait last week, there has been additional religious friction. Last week, Ukraine declared martial law following the standoff between the two countries.
A map from the ECDE-WHO Regional Office for Europe 2018 depicting new HIV diagnoses in the countries of the WHO’s European region for the calendar year of 2017. Photo: ECDE/WHO Regional Office for Europe.
Poland is set to host the upcoming 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). From Dec. 2-14, the city of Katowice will welcome delegates and heads of state from across the world to discuss the creation of a new ‘rulebook’ on climate change to enable participatory states to credibly and effectively commit to environmental goals set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia and Ukraine have been involved in an ongoing conflict. Tensions between the two nations recently escalated with a confrontation in the Kerch Strait on Nov. 25, 2018. Russia’s report of the incident differs from Ukraine’s report, with much disagreement over the exact details of the incident amongst the international community.
The head of the Russian military intelligence agency GU (still commonly known by its previous acronym GRU) has died from a “serious illness.” The news, first reported to Russian state media on Nov. 22, 2018, makes Colonel General Igor Korobov the second spy chief to have died within two years.
A long-standing dispute over the role of the Nord Stream pipeline running across Europe from Russia to Germany has become a point of contention in both intra-European and European-American relations over the last few months. Since his time in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has vocalized his discontent over the energy relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe, fostered by a Russian primary supply and increasing monopolization over oil and natural gas resources to the rest of the continent.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, Serbia began the largest military exercise in the country’s history, with 8,000 soldiers participating in the military drills. These drills were carried out 100 years after the end of World War I, for which Serbia is often held responsible for starting, due to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914.
The Greek government has struck a tentative agreement with the powerful Orthodox Church of Greece to strip roughly 10,000 clergy and auxiliary staff of the status of civil servants and formally remove the Church from government payrolls. The deal, announced on Nov. 8, 2018, by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a joint televised address with Archbishop Ieronymos, primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece, comes as the left-wing Greek government pushes for constitutional reform to separate church and state, cut government spending, and resolve lingering property and monetary disputes with the Church.
An announcement on Oct. 25, 2018, revealed Central European University (CEU) plans to relocate its main campus from Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria by December 1st of this year. The address comes after a nearly 18-month long, unsettled struggle between CEU officials and members of the Hungarian government, in regards to Hungary’s legal tightening and impositions of restraint on the autonomy and academic freedom of the university.
The right-wing government of the Republic of Austria has announced that it intends to withdraw from the final steps to join the United Nations-sponsored Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
On October 20, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intentions to lead the U.S. out of the Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF. The INF treaty was signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who as of late has publicly noted that this move by President Trump is a large “‘mistake.’”
The presidential election in Georgia will employ a second run-off round, as no candidate was able to win a clear majority during the first round held on Oct. 28, 2018. This presidential election is the seventh to be held since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and will also be the last time a president is directly elected, as Georgia is changing to a parliamentary system in which a 300-member group of government officials will elect the next president.
A school shooting in Crimea has left 20 dead and dozens of others injured. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin sponsored media have blamed Western culture as the motivating force behind the attack.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (commonly the European Court of Justice, ECJ) has issued an order mandating the Polish government “immediately” halt its reforms of the Supreme Court of Poland while judicial proceedings brought by the European Commission (EC) against Warsaw are underway. Passed in December 2017, the legislation lowered the mandatory retirement age for Polish judges and granted the president of Poland the exclusive right to determine the size of the Supreme Court.
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.
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