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.
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Minister Netanyahu that unabashedly recognized Polish collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War, Poland rescinded its participation.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.
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 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+.
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.
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