Emerging Europe This Week

Russia targets Ukraine’s grain exports: Emerging Europe this week

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

Russia for the first time on July 24 attacked a port on the Danube River in Ukraine, close to the Romanian border, destroying a grain hangar in an escalation of its efforts to cripple Kyiv’s agriculture and risking a more direct confrontation with the United States and its European allies. 

The assault on the port in the town of Reni, across the river from Romania, a NATO member, targeted Kyiv’s alternative export routes for grain to reach world markets, days after Russia terminated a deal that had enabled Ukraine to ship its grain across the Black Sea.  

The attack is the closest Moscow has come to hitting the military alliance’s territory since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. 

The Transfiguration Cathedral in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic centre of Odesa was badly damaged by Russian airstrikes that also killed at least one and injured 19. 

Russia claimed its Odesa targets were being used to prepare “terrorist acts” and blamed Sunday’s cathedral attack on Ukrainian air defence. Moscow has been launching near-constant attacks on Odesa since it withdrew from a landmark grain deal last week. 

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky vowed retaliation. 

Russia launched blistering artillery and aerial bombardments across southern Ukraine early July 27, the Ukrainian military said, an apparent effort to repel an intensifying Ukrainian assault aimed at ripping through Moscow’s heavily fortified defensive lines. 

Russian forces are focusing their “main efforts on preventing the further advance of Ukrainian troops,” the Ukrainian military’s general staff reported. It said that Ukrainian forces “continue to conduct an offensive operation in Melitopol and Berdyansk directions,” two cities along the Sea of Azov, which Ukraine hopes to reach in order to drive a wedge through Russian-occupied territory in southern and eastern Ukraine. 

After nearly two months of gruelling efforts to grind across open fields seeded with mines, battling tree line to tree line in one ruined hamlet after another, American officials say that Ukraine has begun the main thrust of its counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region and deployed thousands of soldiers newly outfitted with Western arms into the battle. 

Ukraine’s central bank lowered its key rate to 22 per cent on Thursday, announcing its first wartime rate cut in a move aimed at helping economic recovery.

The cut from 25 per cent, where it was set in June 2022, had been expected by economists and analysts, with inflation slowing more quickly than expected this year.

“A fast slowdown in inflation and the stable situation on the foreign exchange market enable the start of a cycle of lowering the discount rate,” the central bank said in a statement.

“At the same time, lowering the discount rate against the background of maintaining macro-financial stability will support the recovery of the economy.”

Consumer price inflation slowed to 12.8 per cent year-on-year in June, according to state statistics service data.

Other news from the region

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s capitals on Tuesday, demanding international intervention and support as the Red Cross warned of a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is facing critical shortages of staple foods, medicine, and fuel. The region has been under complete blockade since mid-June, when Azerbaijan banned Russian peacekeepers from delivering humanitarian aid, although a blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, has been ongoing in some form for over six months.

An meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Tuesday put off until September any decision on a request from Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia to extend measures agreed back in April that have banned imports of wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds originating in Ukraine. EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski proposed that one alternative solution to extending the ban would be to increase the number of solidarity routes and strengthen existing routes by subsidising the transit transport costs.  

The European Union on Wednesday agreed to ban exports of battlefield equipment and aviation parts to Belarus, expanding sanctions on the Kremlin ally for its involvement in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Spain, the current holder of the EU’s rotating chairmanship, said in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, the new sanctions were a response to “the situation in Belarus and the involvement of Belarus in the Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Moldova this week said it will expel 45 Russian diplomats and other embassy staff because of their “unfriendly actions”. The total will be cut to just 25—a figure closer to the number Moldova has at its Moscow embassy. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 the Moldovan government has accused Moscow of spying and backing opposition groups. Russia condemned the expulsion and said it would “not go unanswered”.

The European Union Court of Justice ruled on Monday that the Romanian judiciary should disregard decisions by the top national court which had led to thousands of corruption cases being closed since last year. A ruling by Romania’s Constitutional Court in 2018 eliminated exceptions to a statute of limitations for various crimes, including fraud. After the government failed to replace the previous rules with new legislation for four years, the court ruled last year that cases could be closed retroactively. The EU court said the rulings contradicted the bloc’s law by creating a “systemic risk of impunity” for serious cases of fraud.

Poland’s opposition has launched an audit of government spending on dozens of “family picnics” being organised around the country to promote the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s flagship child benefit policy. They say that the events—at which the public are given free entertainment and food, including one case in which sweets were dropped from a plane—are being used to “illegally” promote PiS’s campaign for this autumn’s parliamentary elections. The events, which are paid for by state funds, are promoting a child-benefits scheme introduced by PiS in 2016 and recently expanded by parliament. 

Georgia’s largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), has formed an election alliance with Giorgi Vashadze’s Strategy Aghmashenebeli party. On Wednesday, the two parties held a joint event at which they announced the launch of the ‘Platform of Victory’. The UNM is Georgia’s largest opposition party, and held power between 2003 and 2012. Strategy Aghmashenebeli was founded in 2016 by Giorgi Vashadze, a former UNM MP who headed public services reform under President Mikheil Saakashvili. The alliance is part of a broader effort by the UNM to rally the country’s opposition around a joint movement.  

Serbian police said on Monday that they had arrested two people suspected of helping smuggle Cubans toward Spain as part of an international crime group. The two Serbian citizens were arrested in a monthslong investigation in cooperation with Spain, the Interpol and Europol, police said in a statement. They said 18 more suspects have been arrested in Spain. The suspects in Serbia are accused of organising the illegal transfer of at least 53 people to neighbouring countries—North Macedonia or Bosnia—and on to Spain, said the statement.

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