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IAEA team visits Ukrainian nuclear power plant: 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

Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said his team was able to gather “a lot” of information in a few hours while visiting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday. He was able to look at the “key things” he needed to see, Grossi told reporters in a video released by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. “We were able, in these few hours, to gather a lot, a lot of information. The key things I needed to see, I saw,” he said in the video. Grossi left the plant following the visit, RIA Novosti reported. 

It is not clear whether the rest of the members of the IAEA inspection team are still at the plant. It had previously been reported that several would stay until September 3.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive to reclaim the occupied city of Kherson has not stalled or failed, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Thursday. “The fact that we have not taken Kherson yet does not mean that the operation in the south has stalled or failed,” Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video messaged posted to Telegram. “It is carried out in a planned manner. We destroy enemy logistics, air defence systems, fuel and ammunition depots.”

Arestovych cautioned Ukrainians to be patient, adding “there will be no quick wins”. Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to fall into Russian hands after Moscow began its on February 24.

The Russian military has “severe manpower shortages” and is seeking to recruit contract service members and may even draw in convicted criminals, a US official said on Wednesday, citing US intelligence. The official said this may include “compelling wounded soldiers to re-enter combat, acquiring personnel from private security companies, and paying bonuses to conscripts”.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s general staff claimed to have “eliminated” around 48,350 Russian troops since the beginning of the invasion on February 24.

Russia on Wednesday stopped the flow of gas via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe, citing the need to carry out repairs, in a move that has heightened already acute nervousness over the reliability of winter energy supplies. Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy giant, said the stoppage would last for three days.

The pipeline was shut down for 10 days in July – again for repairs, according to Russia – and has recently been operating at just 20 per cent capacity because of what Russia describes as faulty equipment.

The European Union on Wednesday decided to fully suspend a 2007 visa agreement with Russia and intensify scrutiny over the future applications submitted by Russian tourists. However, the move falls short of the outright visa ban advocated by some EU member states. “It’s going to be more difficult and take longer to get a visa, and consequently the number of new visas will be substantially reduced,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, at the end of an informal meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Prague.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu later said that he aims to stop most Russians from entering the country within weeks, if possible acting in concert with its regional partners. “It takes some time, but I think timing is also critical, looking at these vast numbers of Russian citizens entering,” Reinsalu told Reuters on a visit to Prague.

It was the first day of school in Ukraine on Thursday but children weren’t sharing memories of fun vacations with their families. Their stories were of surviving war. For many, their last day of school was the day before the Russian invasion of their country. At least 379 children have been killed since the war began, while the whereabouts of 223 others are unknown, according to Ukraine’s General Prosecutors office. Another 7,013 children were among Ukrainians forcibly transferred to Russia from Russian-occupied areas.

Six months of war damaged 2,400 schools across the country, including 269 that were completely destroyed, officials said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, meanwhile issued its latest assessment of the Ukraine conflict, saying that authorities in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine are imposing a curriculum aimed at eliminating the notion of Ukrainian national identity, explicitly in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speeches and writings falsely claiming that Ukraine is part of Russia, and that the Ukrainian identity was an invention of the Soviet period.

Other news

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland – as well as Denmark, Finland and Sweden, this week committed to a seven-fold increase in wind power production as part of a move to wean the region off its dependence on Russian natural gas. The septet agreed to produce 20 gigawatts of wind power by 2030, enough to supply electricity to 20 million households. The region’s current capacity is under three gigawatts. Under the plan, up to 1,700 new offshore wind turbines would produce power equivalent to almost 20 nuclear power plants.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said this week he is “committed” to the enlargement of the European Union to include the six countries of the Western Balkans, as well as Ukraine, Moldova, and ultimately Georgia, declaring that the centre of Europe is moving eastwards. “Their EU accession is in our interest,” Scholz said on Monday in a speech at Charles University in the Czech capital in which he laid out his future vision of an expanded Europe. Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia are all seeking EU membership but have voiced frustration over their stalled bids, especially after the bloc’s expedited decision to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status in late June.

Price caps in Hungary will have to be phased out as they are more expensive to maintain as high prices become permanent, Minister for Economic Development Marton Nagy said on Wednesday. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government caps fuel prices, energy bills and the prices of some basic foodstuffs, as well as mortgage rates to shield consumers from inflation running at its highest level in two decades. “Sooner or later price caps have to be phased out as they are not market-friendly but anti-market steps… the question is how fast and how to reinstate market prices,” Nagy said.

Almost one in five Czech companies will look at cutting staff this year as they struggle with rising costs and high energy prices, the country’s Chamber of Commerce said on Wednesday. In a survey of 493 companies, the group found 18 per cent expected employee numbers to drop in the second half of the year. “By the end of the year, almost a fifth of companies will cut their employee levels… driven by rising prices and especially high energy prices,” the chamber said in a release.

Prosecutors in Belarus have asked a court in Minsk to convict and sentence Yuras Zyankovich, a Belarusian-born lawyer who also holds US citizenship, and five co-defendants to lengthy prison terms for planning to assassinate authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko and his family and seize power. Zyankovich and literary expert Alexander Fyaduta were snatched off a street in Moscow and driven more than 700 kilometres to Belarus in April 2021. Lukashenko claimed at the time that Zyankovich had formed a group that was part of a US-backed assassination plot. Washington has denied the accusation.

Kazakhstan’s president, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, has called for an early presidential election in the coming months in which he will seek a second term in office. In his annual address on Thursday, Toqaev also proposed increasing the presidential term to seven years from five years while barring future presidents from seeking more than one term. Toqaev also called for early parliamentary elections to be held in the first half of 2023.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has announced that the government will make a claim for war reparations from Germany. It says that losses from the war amount to 1.3 trillion US dollars. Berlin, however, has long argued that the issue was legally settled long ago and no reparations are owed. PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has also called on Israel to join Poland’s claim, as Polish Jews made up a large proportion of those killed in occupied Poland during World War Two. The announcement came during commemorations of the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.

The US has sent a team of FBI investigators to Montenegro following an unprecedented cyber assault on the country’s public administration. The digital infrastructure of a major part of Montenegro’s public administration has been offline since August 22 following a ransomware attack that security sources have told BIRN may have been an “inside job”, uploaded directly from a computer connected to a government server.

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