Emerging Europe This Week

‘Nuclear weapons for everyone’: 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 said on Thursday it had repelled more cross-border attacks from Ukraine while its relentless aerial assaults on Kyiv killed another three people including a nine-year-old girl and her mother locked out of an air raid shelter.

Russia’s defence ministry said its troops thwarted three attempted incursions near the town of Shebekino in the western region of Belgorod, killing 30 Ukrainian fighters and destroying four armoured vehicles.

However, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), a far-right paramilitary group of ethnic Russians that supports Ukraine, claimed to be fighting inside Russia. “The second phase promised by the RVC’s commander has begun!” it said on Telegram, referring to a previous incursion, alongside images of fighters firing weapons and inside a building.

In Kyiv, Ukraine said it shot down 10 ballistic and Iskander cruise missiles in Russia’s 18th attack on the capital since the start of May. But a nine-year-old girl, her mother and another woman died when debris fell near an air raid shelter they had been trying to enter.

Earlier in the week, Moscow was targeted with a large-scale drone attack for the first time since it invaded Ukraine, marking a new inflection point in the conflict, with the Kremlin threatening to take the “harshest possible measures” in response to the strikes. 

The Russian defence ministry said eight drones targeted the city but Russian media close to the security services wrote that the number was many times higher, with more than 30 drones participating in the attack. 

At least one of the drones appears to have been a Ukrainian-manufactured UJ 22, produced by the Ukrjet company. Footage appears to match images of the unmanned aerial vehicle, which Russia has claimed has been used in other attempted attacks. Looking like a scaled-down light aircraft, the UJ22 has a claimed range of 800 kilometres and is able to fly for six hours. 

After the president of Kazakhstan declined a proposal by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for the Central Asian country to join the Union State between Russia and Belarus, Lukashenko promised nuclear weapons to any nation that joined. 

“It’s very simple. You have to join the union between Belarus and Russia, and that’s it: There will be nuclear weapons for everyone,” Lukashenko said in a comment aired on Russian state TV. 

The comment came just days after the Belarusian leader confirmed the transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to his country. Russian President Vladimir Putin has periodically hinted at a nuclear escalation since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, dramatically increasing tensions with the West. 

Belarus, which does not possess its own nuclear weapons after it transferred the stock it inherited from the Soviet era to Russia in the 1990s, is not officially a party to the war in Ukraine, although Moscow used its territory to launch the full-scale invasion last year. 

Emmanuel Macron, president of France, has for the first time called for Ukraine to be granted a NATO membership “path”. Ukraine’s longstanding demand to enter the US-led military alliance is seen by Kyiv and its allies as a core part of the country’s postwar future, but the timeline and the means to achieve that have divided NATO’s members. 

On Wednesday, Macron said discussions were taking place and would continue at the alliance’s summit in Lithuania in July. But he admitted it would be difficult to achieve consensus on full membership, so instead he advocated a new approach, potentially along the lines of how the US backs Israel with multiyear commitments to provide specific weapons and support.

Poland has already floated the idea of extending security guarantees to Kyiv similar to the ones enjoyed by Israel. 

Ukraine will need “strong, concrete and tangible security guarantees” so its allies “will have to build something between the security provided to Israel and a full-fledged membership,” Macron said. He also said it may not be possible to send Putin to face war crime charges at The Hague if he is the only person with whom the West has to negotiate an end to the Ukraine war. 

Other news from the region

Moldova hosted the second summit of the European Political Community (EPC) on Thursday, which was attended by almost 50 European heads of state and government – including Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky – and other high-ranking European officials. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced enhanced support for Moldova’s integration into the European Union, including financial packages for thermal insulation of buildings, modernisation of railways, and strengthening the military. Newly re-elected Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cancelled his planned attendance of the summit the day before. 

Kosovo’s relations with its key US ally deteriorated sharply as Washington said it will impose penalties until Prishtina takes measures to de-escalate the tense situation that led to violent unrest in the Serb-majority north of the country which saw 30 NATO troops from the KFOR peacekeeping mission injured in violent clashes with protesting Serbs. Kosovo Serbs protested in front of municipal buildings in Serb-dominated municipalities against the installation by Kosovo police of ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected with less than four per cent turnout amidst a boycott by Serbs.

Latvia’s parliament picked the country’s long-serving and popular foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, as its new president in a tight vote on Wednesday. Rinkēvičs, the country’s top diplomat since 2011 and a staunch supporter of Ukraine, was chosen to serve a four-year term as head of state after a three-way race ensued following the incumbent president’s surprise decision not to seek re-election. Rinkēvičs will be the first openly gay president in the Baltic nations. In a news conference after his election, he urged countries to give Ukraine hopeful signals of a possibility of NATO membership in the military alliance’s upcoming summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July. 

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda this week signed into law new legislation that could effectively ban opposition lawmakers from public office for a decade under the guise of rooting out Russian interference in the country. Put forward by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), the law paves the way for the creation of a new commission tasked with investigating alleged Russian interference in the country from 2007 to 2022, including looking at gas deals signed with Moscow that the government says left the country overly reliant on Russian energy.

Hungary’s government is looking for a “friendly” co-investor to acquire Budapest Airport and to then also operate the airport, Economic Development Minister Marton Nagy said on Thursday. Nagy said the government was seeking a majority stake but the issue was open to negotiation. He said the acquisition could be closed by the end of 2023, with the government in talks with several airport operators, one of them in Qatar. Since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took power in 2010, his government has boosted Hungarian ownership in energy, banking, telecoms and the media, and has been planning to buy the airport for years.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili drew sharp criticism both within and outside Georgia for his comments at the Global Security Forum in Bratislava on Tuesday that “everyone knows” that NATO enlargement was one of the main reasons for the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. “I don’t want to quote the statements of the Russian government, but one of the reasons was Ukraine’s will and determination to become a member of NATO,” said Gharibashvili.  He also claimed the ruling Georgian Dream party was responsible for “peace in the country,” going so far as to state that had they been in power in 2008, the Russo-Georgian War would have been avoided.  

Kyrgyzstan‘s State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on June 1 that a group allegedly involved in organising illegal travel to European countries via Kyrgyzstan by using forged Schengen visas has been uncovered. “More than 40 foreign nationals who became victims of the activities of the organizers of the illegal migration via Kyrgyzstan have been identified,” the UKMK said, without giving any other details. It remains unclear if the alleged perpetrators were apprehended.

Photo: Volodymyr Zelensky official Facebook page.

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