Emerging Europe This Week

NATO rules out sending troops to Ukraine

Catch up quickly with the stories from Central and Eastern Europe that matter, this week led by the NATO reaction to French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion that deploying ground forces in Ukraine “should not be ruled out”.

Russia’s war on Ukraine

Several NATO countries, including the US, Germany and the UK, this week ruled out deploying ground troops to Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron said “nothing should be excluded”.

Macron said there was “no consensus” on sending Western soldiers to Ukraine.

Russian forces have recently made gains in Ukraine and Kyiv has urgently appealed for more weapons.

Macron told a news conference on Monday evening: “We should not exclude that there might be a need for security that then justifies some elements of deployment.

“But I’ve told you very clearly what France maintains as its position, which is a strategic ambiguity that I stand by.”

US President Joe Biden believes the “path to victory” is providing military aid “so Ukrainian troops have the weapons and ammunition they need to defend themselves”, a White House statement said in response to Macron’s comments.

“President Biden has been clear that the US will not send troops to fight in Ukraine,” it added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meanwhile said there had been no change to the agreed position that no European country or Nato member state would send troops to Ukraine.

Ursula von der Leyen this week said windfall profits from Russian frozen assets should be used to buy weapons for Ukraine as discussions intensified between European allies about how to continue supporting the war-torn country.

The proposal comes amid a lack of consensus over the legality of using roughly €300bn in Russian sovereign assets frozen by G7 allies in response to Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

“It is time to start a conversation about using the windfall profits of frozen Russian assets to jointly purchase military equipment for Ukraine,” the European Commission president said in a speech to EU lawmakers on Wednesday.

“There could be no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday announced a new economic platform to facilitate permanent dialogue between the state and businesses called Made in Ukraine.

The president made the announcement during a forum held under the same name in Kyiv, attended by over 400 entrepreneurs, government officials, and foreign guests.

“I am glad to announce today the launch of our new economic platform, and therefore a new economic policy—the Made in Ukraine policy,” Zelensky said.

“We have to win [the war], it is a matter of our survival. And in order for Ukraine to have all the necessary resources for its victory, then Ukrainian goods, Ukrainian services, Ukrainian consumption, and Ukrainian exports, that is, Ukrainian entrepreneurs, must also win.”

The US has said it is closely watching the situation in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, after pro-Russian officials in the territory appealed to Moscow for “protection”.

Transnistria, which borders Ukraine to the east, has maintained autonomy from Moldova for three decades with support from Russia, which has more than a thousand troops stationed there since a brief war in 1992.

Since Moscow began its full-scale assault on Ukraine, Chișinău has been concerned the Kremlin could use Transnistria to open a new front in the south-west, in the direction of Odesa.

The request for Russia to help Transnistria’s economy withstand Moldovan “pressure” was made after a meeting of hundreds of officials in the unrecognised region.

Other news from the region

The European Commission on Thursday formally approved the release of 137 billion euros to Poland. The commission cut off funding to Poland in 2022 due to rule of law concerns. Poland could access some 76.5 billion euros in cohesion funds to help raise living standards in poorer EU member states. It will also get access to almost 60 billion euros from a post-Covid recovery fund. The latter still needs to be approved by EU member states. “Today we turn a page on the rule of law issues [with Poland],” EU Commission Vice President Vera Jourova wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Hungary’s parliament elected Constitutional Court chief Tamás Sulyok as the country’s next president on Monday, two weeks after the unexpected resignation of Katalin Novák. Novák, a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, resigned from the largely ceremonial role as president after she came under mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children’s home. Parliament elected Sulyok for five years with the backing of lawmakers from Orbán’s ruling party, which has a commanding majority.

On Thursday meanwhile, Hungarian Central Bank Governor György Matolcsy warned that Orbán is planning a “significant attack” against central bank independence with a proposed modification of the law regulating the institution. “The government’s plan to amend the central bank law would constitute a significant attack against the MNB’s independence and autonomy,” Matolcsy said at a Budapest Stock Exchange event. He also railed against Orban’s economic policy to boost consumption via stimulus, saying it was “doomed to fail”.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) this week announced that it is investing up to 150 million euros in a Bulgaria-based commercial property investment company to support its expansion into green warehousing in Bulgaria and Romania—boosting access to prime logistics infrastructure in both countries and supporting Europe’s green transition. IFC’s financing package to Lion’s Head Investments will help the company build new infrastructure in the green logistics and light industrial market in Bulgaria and Romania, increase its energy efficiency, and improve its current office assets in Romania.

Bulgarian authorities this week blocked two Russian citizens from entering the European Union for five years, accusing them of setting up identities in order to begin spying. The State Agency for National Security (DANS) said the two had previously been living in Bulgaria as Denis Rashkov and Diana Rashkova, but are in fact Russian operatives named Vladimir Nikolaevich Gorochkin and Tatiana Anatolievna Gorochkina. Earlier in February a Bulgarian Interior Ministry employee was arrested for allegedly leaking classified information to staff at the Russian embassy in Sofia.

Lithuania plans to screen 18,000 Belarusians who came to the country before 2022 and require them to fill out a questionnaire that asks, among other questions, their view on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Migration Department Director Evelina Gudzinskaite told Lithuanian news agency ELTA on Tuesday. The questionnaire has been required since November 2022 for all Russians and Belarusians moving to Lithuania. Lithuania’s population of 2.8 million includes 224,800 foreigners, including 62,500 Belarusians.

A court in Kosovo this week reached an agreement with two ethnic Serbs after they pleaded guilty to attacking NATO-led peacekeepers. Radosh Petrovic and Dusan Obrenovic admitted to being part of a crowd that attacked KFOR troops in Zvecan, in Kosovo’s north, which is dominated by ethnic Serbs. Petrovic was sentenced to six months in jail but with time served will not have to return to jail. Obrenovic will avoid jail time if he pays a 6,000 euros fine. In May 2023, ethnic Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led peacekeepers, over the validity of local elections.

A six-month trial in Uzbekistan over the deaths of at least 68 children linked to contaminated cough syrup imported from India has ended with several of the accused receiving lengthy sentences. A Tashkent court on Monday 23 people guilty of a range of crimes, from bribery and malpractice to abuse of power, tax evasion, and the production and sale of substandard medicines. The stiffest sentence, 20 years in prison, was handed down to Raghvendra Pratar Singh, the head of Quramax Medikal, the company that imported the drugs produced by India’s Marion Biotech.

Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron. © European Union.

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