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Plus: Gun laws in Albania, Ukraine play in NY theater, NATO exercises everywhere, and more. 

The Big Story: Russian Security Council Meets With Putin After Finland Confirms NATO Aspirations

What happened: Russian leader Vladimir Putin held a meeting with his Security Council about potential moves by Finland and Sweden to join NATO, Russian state media report, according to Reuters. The Kremlin announced yesterday that a recent statement by Finnish leaders about wanting to join the military alliance was a hostile action posing a threat to Russia’s security.

More context: The Kremlin compared the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU with the country’s moves to join NATO, Newsweek reports. Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s first deputy UN representative, told the British news outlet UnHerd yesterday that “Our position on the European Union now is more similar to NATO because we don’t see a big difference.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that the EU has become an “aggressive and belligerent player which already displays its ambitions far beyond the European continent,” Euronews reports

Worth noting: A Ukrainian news outlet featured an interview with a captured Russian soldier describing Russian troops in Ukraine committing suicide and trying to injure themselves to escape the harsh conditions of Putin’s invasion, Daily Mail reportedThe Moscow Times reported today that a military recruitment office in Siberia was attacked with Molotov cocktails in the latest of a series of such attacks in Russia.

News from the Regions

Central Europe and the Baltics

  • The mayor of Prague has threatened to shut down its overwhelmed Ukrainian refugee center in the Vysocany area next week if national authorities fail to come up with a better plan to deal with the situation, Czech Radio reportsRacism and discrimation against Ukrainian Romani refugees is part of the ongoing crisis, with Roma sleeping outdoors to avoid staying in detention centers. A tent city designed especially for Romani refugees has been set up in Prague’s Troja neighborhood, Romea reports. Czechia is trying to get refugees with dual Ukrainian-Hungarian citizenship, many of whom are Romani, to go to Hungary by offering them free train rides, Euractiv reports
  • Troops from nine countries participated in a 12-day NATO exercise in HungarySlovakia, and SloveniaHungary Today reports. NATO exercises are taking place all over Europe involving troops numbering in the tens of thousands, NATO announced recently. Some 18,000 troops from 20 countries are participating in exercises in PolandNorth Macedonia, and other countries. In Estonia, 15,000 troops from 14 countries are involved in one of the largest military drills in the country since 1991, while an exercise in Lithuania involves 3,000 Allied troops, according to NATO. 

Southeastern Europe

  • AzerbaijanTurkmenistanKosovo, and Uzbekistan are the fastest growing economies in “emerging Europe,” according to the latest projections from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), bne Intellinews reports. At EBRD’s annual conference held in Morocco this week, Odile Renaud-Basso, the group’s president, announced the new priority of helping Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, also mentioning tentative plans for Ukraine’s eventual postwar reconstruction. Conference delegates walked out of the 11 May session when the Russian delegate insisted on speaking; though the EBRD suspended operations in Russia after the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, the country is still a member.       
  • Slovenia’s outgoing center-right administration has signed a major military deal to buy 45 armored personnel carriers, Euractiv reports. The contract worth almost 400 million euros with the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation would involve payments to Germany, the NetherlandsLithuania, and Britain. The deal was announced hours after the Constitutional Court dismissed a challenge to the move in late April. The incoming liberal administration plans to contest the purchase.

Eastern Europe and Russia

  • Russian authorities are purging schools and universities of dissenting views on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in an attack on academic freedom and free speechAmnesty International charged yesterday. The report cites educators being forced to either push anti-Ukrainian propaganda and to glorify the war or lose their jobs, as well as teachers fired over anti-war remarks after being reported to the police by their own students, by colleagues, or by parents.
  • A play by Ukrainian playwright Natalya Vorozhbyt had a staged reading in New York last night in a benefit for Ukraine, according to Broadway World. The 2017 work Bad Roads is set in Ukraine during the Russian invasion of Donbas in 2014. Vorozhbyt also directed a film version, presented at the 2020 Venice Film Festival in 2020, which was released in the United States last month and is available on streaming platforms, the Financial Times reported. The film was previously considered not “very believable” due to extreme scenes that resemble a horror movie, but it now looks more like “the grim reality of Putin’s [current] invasion,” the FT notes.

Central Asia

  • Kazakhstan’s Education Ministry is investigating possible corruption in student achievement medals, Eurasianet reports. Many students who receive the prestigious awards, which also provide advantages in grants and university admission, cannot later repeat their high grades in independent tests. The number of medals awarded is also skyrocketing, from 7,350 in 2019 to almost 10,000 last year. Some parents may be using bribes or influence to get the awards for their children, Eurasianet notes.

The Caucasus

  • Armenia’s ruling party has proposed new laws to loosen restrictions on private gun ownership so the country will be better prepared for future military conflicts with Azerbaijan, Eurasianet reports. A key provision of the bill focuses on particular regions in an apparent attempt to arm citizens in the border areas. Armenia lost control of large amounts of territory in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Critics of the proposal say gun trafficking could get worse if guns are more freely available, Eurasianet notes.

Borderlands

  • Turkish court’s ruling confirming the prison sentence of a main opposition leader over social media posts is causing an uproar in Istanbul politics, BIRN reports. The Supreme Court of Appeals approved three sentences totalling almost five years for Canan Kaftancioglu, the Istanbul provincial leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party. She was convicted of “insulting the president” as well as “openly degrading the state of the Republic of Turkey” and “insulting a public official” via social media posts, some of which date back 10 years, according to BIRN. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, the main rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said: “I find this decision political and I condemn it.”