Emerging Europe This Week

A marathon, not a sprint: This week in emerging Europe

You can read all of our coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including explainers and articles offering context and background information here.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

“Extremely fierce battles” are raging in parts of Ukraine as Kyiv’s forces continue their counter-offensive, the country’s deputy defence minister said on Thursday.

Hanna Maliar wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian forces had managed to advance near Bakhmut in the east and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

But she conceded Russian forces were mounting a stiff defence in some areas.

Her comments come after another night of Russian missile and drones strikes on cities across Ukraine.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, overnight attacks hit industrial facilities in the Dnipropetrovsk region, according to Ukraine’s army. The previous day, a strike on a warehouse and a shopping centre in the city of Odesa killed three people.

Also on Thursday, The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the war in Ukraine is a “marathon, not a sprint” and that America will “stand with Ukraine for the long haul”.

In public opening remarks at the meeting of the Ukraine defence contact group at NATO HQ in Brussels he paid tribute to the Ukrainian defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, who he was earlier pictured embracing, and said Ukraine “stands well positioned for the challenges ahead.”

“Make no mistake, we will stand with Ukraine for the long haul,” he said, adding that US commitment is reflected in its security and defence support.

After a destructive feud between his top military chiefs and the Wagner Group mercenary warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to side with his top brass this week, calling for Russia’s “volunteer detachments” fighting in Ukraine to be placed under the direct control of the defence ministry.

The decision severely undermines Prigozhin, who has turned Wagner’s role in the capture of Bakhmut into an outsized public profile in Russia that he uses to berate Putin’s generals and promote himself.

Speaking to a group of pro-war bloggers on Tuesday, Putin said he welcomed Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu’s initiative to force mercenary groups to sign contracts with the ministry – an order Prigozhin has refused to follow.

Western microchips and other components coming largely via China are being used to manufacture Russian cruise and ballistic missiles that are being launched at Ukraine, Kyiv said in a presentation prepared for G7 members this week.

The document, leaked to the Guardian, calls for the world’s leading economies to “pressure countries who fail to act decisively”, without naming Beijing directly, as well as a plea to further tighten export controls.

Russia, Kyiv says, “has adapted to sanctions” and will produce 1,061 missiles this year, more than double the 512 that the country’s arms manufacturers made in 2022, the first year of its full invasion of Ukraine.

The document argues that with the help of China and others, western components have been found in Kh-101 and Kalibr cruise missiles as well as Iskander and the Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles.

Czech President Petr Pavel said this week that the only way to achieve stability in Eastern Europe is to have “Ukraine on board both in NATO and the EU.”

Speaking with RFE/RL’s Natalie Sedletska on Wednesday in Prague, he also said “all Russians living in Western countries should be monitored” by security services.

“That’s simply the cost of war,” he added.

Other news from the region

The EU this week introduced rare restrictions against Kosovo officials for failing to quell tensions with the ethnic Serb community which escalated in recent days, leading to Belgrade arresting three Kosovo policemen. The bloc reduced high-level visits, contacts and financial co-operation with the Balkan country, mirroring similar measures taken by the US late last month. The steps are reversible and “incremental”, with “financial and political consequences”, EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said.

The top Republican on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday he was blocking a 735 million US dollars arms sale to Hungary because its government has refused to approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO. “Given promises that were made to me and others last year that this vote would be done, and the fact that it is now June and still not done, I decided that the sale of new US military equipment to Hungary will be on hold,” Senator Jim Risch said in a statement.

Romanian oil and gas group OMV Petrom, majority-controlled by Austria’s OMV, said on Tuesday it discovered new crude oil and natural gas deposits equal to about three quarters of its overall 2022 production. The deposits are the largest crude oil discovery OMV Petrom has made in decades, it said, and were found in southern Romania holding over 30 million barrerls of oil equivalent (boe) of recoverable resources.

Poland’s government this week announced plans for a record rise in the minimum wage next year, with the figure set to increase by over 23 per cent between now and July 2024. The current monthly minimum wage stands at 3,490 złoty (781.37 euros) gross, which is already due to increase to 3,600 złoty from July 1. On Tuesday, the cabinet approved a proposal for that to rise to 4,242 złoty in January 2024 and then to 4,300 złoty in July 2024.

A report published on Monday from a cross-party group of UK MPs determined Albania is a “safe” country and people who flee from there to seek sanctuary in the UK should not routinely be granted asylum. In 2022, more Albanians crossed the English Channel than any other nationality, with the 12,301 accounting for 28 per cent of total small boat arrivals to the UK. Until June 2022, 51 per cent of asylum claims from Albania were accepted by the UK even as nine countries, including Germany, accepted no asylum claims from Albania. 

Over 3,000 manganese miners in the mining town of Chiatura in Georgia have gone on strike—including several on hunger strikes—demanding higher pay and improved conditions. The mines produce ferroalloys, which were the country’s third largest export in January–February. Most workers have been sent home with 60 per cent salaries since the beginning of the year, while the mining company, Georgian Manganese, has drastically increased ore quotas for miners, which miners say could put their lives at risk. 

Ryanair this week announced that it will build a training centre in Kraków. The carrier, which is Poland’s largest by passenger numbers, will spend around 600 million złoty (134 million euros) on the facility, creating 150 jobs. It is the Irish airline’s fifth such centre in Europe, but its first in the Central and Eastern Europe region. The facility will be used to train pilots, flight attendants and mechanics from across the continent.

Sunly, an Estonian-founded independent power producer, this week scored a win with a 30 million euros investment from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). This injection of funds marks EBRD’s entry as a minority investor and completes Sunly’s capital raise campaign, started in October 2022, bringing the total capital raised to 230 million euros. With new investment, Sunly aims to play a pivotal role in achieving climate targets in Estonia and beyond.

The Georgian authorities say they are prohibiting surrogacy services for foreigners, a decision that will bring to an end a booming industry into which numerous Georgian women have been pushed by economic hardship. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced on Monday that in the future only Georgian citizens will be able to use surrogacy services in the country. The reasons cited include a number of safety concerns for both surrogate mothers and children, trafficking risks, but also fears that babies born to Georgian surrogate mothers are ending up with same-sex couples.

Turkmenistan has launched two initiatives aimed at cutting the colossal leaks of methane from the country’s oil and gas industry. Measures include improving national legislation, cooperation with foreign partners to set up pilot projects and collaboration with UN’s International Methane Emissions Observatory. The country was responsible for the highest number of methane “super-emitter” events in the world in 2022, the Guardian revealed in March. The worst leak caused climate pollution equivalent to the rate of emissions from 67 million cars.

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