Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.
Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Eva Jovanova
- A bill regarding reintegration of Donbass into Ukrainian society has been submitted before the Ukrainian Parliament. The pro-Russian separatists in Donbass are currently being dealt with as an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” which complicates the legal framework around the conflict, as it is not legally defined as a war. The new bill would strengthen the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s ability to act and coordinate with other agencies through a reinterpretation of Donbass as ‘temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine.’ Russia claims that this bill is a violation of the Minsk Peace Accords and a possible path to reigniting the war.
- Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic made a comparison between the cases of Kosovo and Catalonia this Monday and accused the world of hypocrisy. In a letter to the European Commission, she stated that there was an international law applicable to the EU members only, and a separate one for the other countries. The EC reminded Serbia on two occasions that Catalonia and Kosovo are not analogous cases and stated that the institutions in Brussels do not apply double standards when it comes to international law. The Chair of the Foreign Affairs committee of the Russian Federation Council is strongly backing Serbia and attacking the EU. Our Editor in Chief, Kristijan Fidanovski, in an article published earlier this week argued the analogy made between some Western Balkan countries and the case of Catalonia.
- Czech police have finally launched criminal proceedings against the Stork’s Nest farm and hotel complex owned by Czech presidential hopeful Andrej Babiš. It is believed that he used his position of power to receive a 50 million Euros subsidy that he otherwise would not have received. He claims that this is just an attempt to hurt his election campaign. His position as the leading candidate in the polls has not changed much, while a few smaller parties are gaining support.
- Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci argued that the USA should also get involved in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue. He stated that the US Vice President Mike Pence promised that the USA would get involved directly in the dialogue and help the creation of a Kosovo army. The EU has the leading role in this dialogue, which aims at normalizing the relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
- The EU appears to be more and more divided, though not all agree. The Czech President’s spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček, has been heavily criticized for comparing the EU to Hitler’s Third Reich because of EU regulations limiting Czech alcohol in the EU markets. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested a ‘multi speed Europe’ which would divide Europe based on how integrated states are within the EU. This was criticized by Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło who believes that this will not persuade states to further integrate, but instead create divisions within the union. At the same time, Polish President Andrzej Duda suggested that the EU is still divided by cold war era divides.
- Whereas last week, the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stressed the importance of a Serbo-Croatian friendship in the Balkans and announced his plan to visit Zagreb in November, this week, the relations between Serbia and Croatia diverged from that friendly tone. President Vucic’s visit has been postponed due to unknown reasons, and there is no information if a meeting between him and his Croatian counterpart, President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, will take place by the end of this year.
- The new US ambassador to Russia has finally been appointed. Jon Huntsman Jr. is a well respected centrist in the US political system, so he is a good fit to help the two countries in amending their ties. He served as the US ambassador to China during the Obama era, but he has little experience with Russia which has baffled some observers. President Putin appears to be happy with the appointment, claiming it is a new opportunity to “make substantial contribution to repairing the damage to our relations from Washington’s actions”.
- This Sunday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey no longer wants to become a member of the European Union. Even though Turkey has been a candidate country for the EU for 12 years, this statement does not come as a surprise. Turkey has been criticizing the EU for a longer time now, a rhetoric which gained most momentum as EU heads of states banned Erdogan’s referendum campaigns in their countries earlier this year. In his State of the Union speech last month, European Commission’s President Jean Claude Juncker shared pessimism about Turkey’s EU aspirations, chiding the country for its lack of media freedom.
- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been arrested again, this time for organizing ‘illegal gatherings’ during Putin’s 65th birthday, even though the protests he was going to attend were permitted by the city. He will be held for 20 days, which means he will miss the protests. Because of Russian law, his criminal conviction means that he is not allowed to run in the upcoming 2018 elections, even though he has publically declared his intentions to do so. Critics of this policy see it as a way of preventing popular opposition figures from running against Putin, allowing him to maintain his power in Russian society.
- Yesterday, the European Commission asked all Macedonian ministries to fill out questionnaires and report for their achievements. These questionnaires were also sent to the other Western Balkan states which aspire for EU membership. This used to be an annual practice until 2005 and helped the EC draft its annual progress reports. Whereas some Western Balkan states (Serbia and Montenegro) have opened negotiations with the EU, Macedonia received its last positive recommendation to open negotiation talks by the EC in October 2014. It remains to be seen, if the governmental change in the country will help Macedonia get another positive recommendation by the EC later this year.