Emerging Europe This Week

Hopes rise for Ukraine peace summit

Catch up quickly with the stories from Central and Eastern Europe that matter, this week led by news of major Ukraine peace summit taking place in Switzerland next week.

Russia’s war on Ukraine

An upcoming Swiss-hosted summit on Ukraine will aim to create a pathway for Russian officials to take part in future talks, US news outlet Bloomberg reported this week. 

The summit will aim to carve a path to involving Russian officials in future talks after establishing agreement on nuclear safety, food security and returning abducted children, a draft document shows.

The June 15-16 gathering in Lucerne, Switzerland, will focus on the three measures as a way to build trust in order to later engage with Moscow on a limited number of issues, according to a draft document seen by Bloomberg.

Although Russian officials have been excluded from the Kyiv-led format, the document says that an end to the war must involve all parties.

“We, therefore, agreed to undertake concrete steps which can serve as confidence building measures in the above-mentioned areas with further engagement of the representatives of the Russian Federation,” the document, which is subject to change in negotiations, says.

Russia has knocked out or captured more than half of Ukraine’s power generation, spurring rolling blackouts nationwide and heightening fears about the future of energy supplies to Ukrainian cities and EU customers.

Moscow’s missile and drone attacks in recent months have homed in on Ukrainian power plants, forcing energy companies to impose nationwide shutdowns while scrambling to repair the damage and find alternative supplies.

Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, Ukraine’s domestic energy production was around 55 gigawatts of electricity, among the largest in Europe. That power generation capacity has currently dropped below 20GW, due to bombardments or to Russian occupation taking those plants offline, according to Ukrainian officials.

A Russian attack last Saturday struck energy facilities in five regions, causing significant damage, said Kyiv energy minister German Galushchenko. The latest strikes have also targeted pumping facilities for underground natural gas storage being used by EU customers. Though these pumps can be easily replaced, the attacks do highlight concerns about security of supply come winter—both for domestic use and exports to the bloc.

Other news from the region

Voters in the 11 EU member states of emerging Europe (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) will this weekend cast ballots in elections for the European Parliament. Key countries to watch include Hungary, where Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz is likely to see its vote squeezed by the emergence of former Fidesz insider Peter Magyar and his new TISZA party. In addition to the European vote, a parliamentary election is being held in Bulgaria (the country’s sixth since 2021), while in Romania, voters will head for polls in local elections.

Georgian opposition parties this week pledged to form a ‘pro-European’ coalition as the government’s controversial ‘foreign influence’ bill came into law. Georgia’s parliamentary speaker signed off on the legislation on Monday, meaning that the law, which has caused a political crisis in the South Caucasus country over recent weeks and drawn sharp criticism from its Western allies, has now taken effect. Critics of the law, including President Salome Zourabichvili, say that the law disrupts Georgia’s ambitions to join the European Union.

Poland this week announced plans for a three billion złoty (700 million euros) ‘cybershield’ to protect the country’s critical infrastructure from growing malicious threats, in particular from Russia. Announcing the measures on Monday, ministers warned that such attacks have increased ahead of this week’s European elections. “For over a month, we have been observing that the number of cyberattacks on Poland has increased significantly,” said digital affairs minister Krzyszstof Gawkowski, speaking alongside interior and security services minister Tomasz Siemoniak.

Slovenia recognised a Palestinian state on Tuesday after its parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move, following in the recent steps of three other European countries. Slovenia’s government endorsed a motion last week to recognise a Palestinian state, and sent the proposal to the parliament for final approval, which was needed for the decision to take effect. Lawmakers on Tuesday voted with 52 in favour and no one against recognition in the 90-seat parliament. The remaining lawmakers were not present for the vote.

Czechia will end its dependence on Russian oil by mid-2025 thanks to an expansion of the Transalpine Pipeline (TAL) from Italy, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said this week. TAL brings oil from the Italian port of Trieste to southern Germany, where it connects to the IKL pipeline taking it to Czechia. The pipeline extension will double capacity for the EU and NATO member to eight million tonnes when it becomes operational next year. In 2023, Russian oil accounted for 58 per cent of all Czech oil imports, according to industry and trade ministry data.

Four people died and 26 were injured after a passenger train heading to Ukraine collided with a freight train in the Czech city of Pardubice, officials said on Wednesday. “I can confirm that four people suffered injuries incompatible with life,” local emergency spokesperson Alena Kisiala told broadcaster Czech TV. The crash occurred on Wednesday evening in Pardubice, part of the country’s main rail corridor from Prague, about 60 kilometres west of the town. Czech TV reported that the train had been carrying more than 300 passengers, many of them foreigners.

Police in Moldova, aided by French and US colleagues, raided dozens of premises on Tuesday as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to block the actions of Interpol against fugitive criminals, a top prosecutor said. Veronica Dragalin, the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, told a news conference the operation was launched on the basis of information provided last month by France’s financial prosecutor acting at the behest of Interpol. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation was also involved, as were British officials, she said.

Kraków’s student population has shrunk by almost 40 per cent in just over a decade. To stem the decline, the Polish city—famous for its universities, in particular the 660-year-old Jagiellonian—is hoping to attract more students from abroad. “At the peak, around 2012, 212,000 students studied in Kraków. Now there are only 133,000,” Stanisław Mazur, the city’s recently appointed deputy mayor, told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. Mazur, who previously served as rector of the Kraków University of Economics, warned that declining student numbers have a negative knock-on effect on the city.

Media in Uzbekistan meanwhile this week reported that the annual number of Uzbek labour migrants seeking work in Russia has fallen to about one million from an average in excess of four million a decade ago. According to presidential spokesman Sherzod Asadov, the decline reflects “the effectiveness of ongoing economic reforms.” President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s administration has also implemented a new regulatory framework designed to better manage labor flows, expand state support for unskilled laborers, and steer job seekers toward higher paying positions outside of Russia.

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