Emerging Europe This Week

NATO welcomes Finland: 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 has warned Finland’s official accession to NATO risks a significant expansion of conflict between Moscow and the West, and that it would be forced to take countermeasures against Helsinki’s new status.

Finland joined the US-led military alliance in a ceremony on Tuesday, bringing it formally inside NATO’s mutual defence pact and reshaping northern Europe’s security environment.

The accession roughly doubles the length of NATO’s direct border with Russia at a time of heightened tension between the two sides, after more than 13 months of full-scale war in Ukraine — a conflict that Russian president Vladimir Putin has sought to blame partially on NATO enlargement.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that for Ukraine itself to join NATO, the country would have to be independent and democratic – two criteria currently unable to be fulfilled as a result of Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Poland on Wednesday, where his hosts promised to send more fighter jets to Ukraine.

President Andrzej Duda said he would send Poland’s remaining fleet of MiG-29 jets “if there is still such a need”.

Poland has been a key ally in supporting Ukraine and is usually at the forefront in pushing for arms supplies to its neighbour. It was the first country to pledge Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and on Wednesday committed more Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets.

Duda reiterated the country firmly supported Kyiv’s bid to join Nato and said he was trying to get “additional guarantees, security guarantees, which will strengthen Ukraine’s military potential”.

Meanwhile, Polish Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk resigned from his post on Wednesday amid rising anger among farmers over the impact of Ukrainian grain imports on prices.

Kowalczyk said he decided to quit the position due to the European Commission’s decision to extend duty free imports for Ukrainain grain until June 2024. Polish farmers had called for the introduction of tariffs.

“As it is clear that this demand will not be met by the European Commission at this point, I decided to resign from the post of agriculture minister,” Kowalczk said.

Kyiv is willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula, a top adviser to President Zelensky told the Financial Times this week.

The comments by Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, are the most explicit statement of Ukraine’s interest in negotiations since it cut off peace talks with the Kremlin last April.

“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” Sybiha said, referring to Kyiv’s long-planned counteroffensive.

He added: “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army.”

Sybiha’s remarks may relieve western officials who are sceptical about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim the peninsula and worry that any attempt to do so militarily could lead Vladimir Putin to escalate his war, possibly with nuclear weapons.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that China had a “major role” to play in finding a path to peace in Ukraine, as he kicked off a three-day visit this week to Beijing.

Speaking at a gathering of the French community in Beijing, Macron said France would seek to work with China “in this shared responsibility for peace and stability” in Ukraine.

“China, with its close relationship with Russia, which has been reaffirmed in recent days, can play a major role,” he said, noting Beijing’s stated opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as well as its proposal for peace between Kyiv and Moscow.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is travelling with Macron, said the pair wanted to persuade China to use its influence over Russia to bring peace in Ukraine, or at least deter Beijing from directly supporting Moscow in the conflict.

Other news from the region

As widely expected, the centre-right GERB party of former prime minister Boyko Borissov and the reformist We Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB) alliance each received a quarter of the vote in Bulgaria’s parliamentary election last Sunday. In the country’s fifth election ins two years, GERB took first with 26.51 per cent of the vote, the PP-DB alliance came in second with 24.54 per cent. The pro-Russian Revival party came third with 14.15 per cent. The inconclusive result makes yet another election likely.

Official results published Thursday confirmed a crushing defeat for Montenegro’s long-time leader Milo Đukanović in a weekend presidential election, signalling his departure from the small Balkan state’s political scene after more than 30 years in power. Economy expert and political novice Jakov Milatović won the presidential runoff election held on Sunday with around 59 per cent of the vote, to Đukanović’s 41 per cent, according to the final official results. Đukanović led Montenegro to independence from much larger Serbia in 2006 and to NATO membership in 2017.

Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He went on trial on Monday with three co-defendants, accused of killing nearly 100 people and other atrocities including enforced disappearances. The allegations date from Kosovo’s independence war against Serbia in 1998-99 in which more than 10,000 died. Thaci was co-founder of a group fighting for independence and is regarded as a hero in Kosovo.

A court in Sarajevo has sentenced Fadil Novalić, the prime minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation – one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities – to four years in prison after finding him guilty of corruption in a case regarding the purchase and importing of Chinese ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic. Fahrudin Zolak, the head of the entity’s civil protection service, and entrepreneur Fikret Hodžić were also found guilty on Wednesday and were sentenced to six years and five years in prison, respectively. Jelka Miličević, the entity’s finance minister, was found not guilty.

The United States this week barred four Georgian judges and their immediate family members from entering the US “due to their involvement in significant corruption.” The four officials were named as Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, Irakli Shengelia, and Valerian Tsertsvadze. According to the State Department, the judges “abused their positions as court Chairmen and members of Georgia’s High Council of Justice, undermining the rule of law and the public’s faith in Georgia’s judicial system.” The decision comes amid recent protests that erupted in Georgia in response to a Russian-inspired “foreign agents” draft law.

Poland’s climate ministry has outlined plans for the country to generate around three quarters of its electricity from zero-emissions sources by 2040, with 51 per cent coming from renewables and almost 23 per cent from nuclear. The Polish energy sector is currently one of Europe’s most polluting, relying on coal for around 70 per cent of generation, by far the highest proportion in the EU. “By 2040…zero-emission sources (renewables and nuclear) will account for approximately 74 per cent of installed capacity and will cover approximately 73 per cent of demand for electricity,” said the ministry.

The World Bank announced on Wednesday it will make 900 euros million available to Albania to invest in projects designed to strengthen and stimulate human capital, job creation, and resistance to crises as the EU hopeful grapples with ‘brain drain’. During a press conference held with Prime Minister Edi Rama, the representative of the World Bank in Tirana, Emanuel Salinas said the money demonstrated a commitment to help the country over the next four to five years.

Hungary won’t be participating in an EU-wide scheme to support start-ups because gender diversity is one of the group’s core values. The European Start-up Nations Alliance (ESNA) is a forum of governments working on creating more start-up friendly policies, founded in 2021. All countries that want to join the forum need to sign the declaration of the EU Start-up Nations Standard of Excellence (SNS), a list of best practices for governments on how to create start-up friendly policies. 26 EU governments and Iceland have signed the document. 

The souring of relations between Moscow and Yerevan took a bit of a literal turn last weekend when Russia suspended imports of dairy products from Armenia. While Moscow insists its new ban is based on safety concerns, skeptics point at Russia’s long record of using food bans to punish wayward satraps. The food fight comes as Armenians question their military alliance with Russia and debate their theoretical obligation under international law to detain Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was recently indicted for war crimes, were he to visit.

Photo: NATO

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