Emerging Europe This Week

Tanks for Ukraine: 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

After weeks of reluctance, Germany this week agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in what Kyiv hopes will be a game-changer on the battlefield.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision to send 14 tanks – and allow other countries to send theirs too – at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. A German government spokesperson said the decision to supply the tanks “follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability”.

Germany will also permit other countries to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – something which was restricted until now under export regulations.

Scholz’s announcement was followed shortly afterwards by US President Joe Biden confirming that the US would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The full list of countries who have now agreed to supply tanks to Ukraine is: Germany, US, Finland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Czechia, Bulgaria, UK, France.

Russia responded to the news on Thursday by launching a new wave of missile attacks against the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and a number of regional cities, including Odesa. The vast majority of drones and missiles were shot down by Ukraine’s air defence, although 11 people were killed across the country.

The US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, labelled it as “another cruel attack, same strategic failure.”

“Waves of Russian drones and missiles can’t stop Ukraine’s heroic defenders, its brave people or our determined, unified support,” she said.

At least 11 senior Ukrainian officials resigned or were sacked this week after President Zelensky vowed to purge his government of corruption.

Their departure came after the sacking of two other officials in recent days in what was the biggest shake-up of Ukraine’s ruling class since Russia invaded in February last year. Six of the officials had been accused by Ukrainian media of illegal enrichment or other wrongdoing.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, a deputy defence minister, and Ivan Lukerya, a deputy minister for infrastructure, all resigned. Oleksiy Symonenko, the deputy prosecutor general, was sacked, as were Vyacheslav Negoda, another deputy infrastructure minister, and Vitaliy Muzychenk, a deputy minister for social policy.

Zelensky also announced this week that Ukrainian officials will no longer be allowed to leave the country unless on official business.

The Ukrainian president said he had signed a decree which applied to “all those who are supposed to work for the state and in the state”.

Under martial law, Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are banned from leaving the country during the war, except for cases when they obtain special permits from the government. Some Ukrainian state officials and businesspeople have routinely abused this system and bypassed the restrictions. 

The European Court of Human Rights said this week that a case brought by the Netherlands and Ukraine against Russia over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight is “partially admissable”, and will make a formal ruling at a later date.

The court considered the actual shooting down of the plane, and accusations from Kyiv that Moscow was responsible for the various violations committed by the separatists of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk republics since 2014, and for the abduction of three groups of children in eastern Ukraine between June and August 2014.

Among the reasons given by the ECHR for declaring the appeals admissable was the fact that the Strasbourg judged ruled “that the areas of eastern Ukraine in the hands of the separatists were, from May 11, 2014 and at least until January 26, 2022, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation”.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down on July 17, 2014, over Ukraine by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, fired by Moscow-backed separatists.

All 298 people, most of whom were Dutch, died in the crash. 

Other news

Bosnia and Herzegovina completed the formation of a state-level government on Wednesday, several months after the October 2022 general elections, with the approval of the new Council of Ministers led by Borjana Krišto, vice-president of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, the main Bosnian Croat party.  Krišto and her council of nine ministers received just enough support in the House of the Representatives of the state parliament, with 23 out of 42 members voting in their favour.

Bulgaria will hold another parliamentary election — its fifth in two years — after the Socialist party on Tuesday announced that it had failed to form a government and had returned the unfulfilled mandate to the country’s president. “We have done everything necessary to fulfil the third mandate,” party leader Kornelia Ninova said, adding that despite setting clear national priorities at the talks with the other parties, “there was not enough will to form a working government.”

A retired army general who backs military support for Ukraine and a eurosceptic billionaire who has questioned NATO’s collective defence clause are contesting for the ceremonial but prestigious post of Czech president in a runoff starting today. Former General Petr Pavel and Andrej Babiš advanced to a second round of voting because none of the eight initial candidates received an absolute majority in the first round two weeks ago. The polls favour Pavel, who came a narrow first in the first round with 35.40 per cent. Three other candidates have pledged their support for Pavel ahead of the two-day ballot.

There were signs this week that Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, might finally be ready to begin the process of normalisation with Kosovo. Envoys from the EU, France, Germany, Italy, and US have all recently met with Vučić to discuss a draft agreement for the normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations. On Monday, during a televised news conference, Vučić summarised what they had been telling him. “[They] told me – you must accept this plan, or you will face the interruption of the process of European integration, the halting and withdrawal of investments and comprehensive economic and political measures that will cause great damage to the Republic of Serbia”, Vučić said.

US Sempra Energy said on Wednesday it would supply one million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its Port Arthur LNG Phase 1 project to Poland’s PKN Orlen over the next 20 years. The deal is the latest in a series of long-term contracts for US LNG after Western sanctions on major producer Russia following its invasion of Ukraine squeezed an already-tight global supply. The agreed volume of supplies covers about 10 per cent of Poland’s current gas demand.

Irish fashion retail giant Primark this week announced plans to open a store in the Hungarian capital Budapest. The first Primark store in what will be its sixth market in CEE will be located on the east side of Budapest, in one of the city’s largest shopping centres, Arena Mall. The retailer says its expansion into Hungary demonstrates its continued investment and commitment to CEE, following successful store openings across Slovenia, Poland, Czechia, and most recently Romania and Slovakia.

Meanwhile, petrol prices in Hungary have jumped since the government scrapped a fuel price cap in December and raised taxes on fuel, prompting many drivers to fill up on cheaper fuel in neighbouring countries such as Slovakia or Romania. Across the Danube river in Sturovo, Slovakia, diesel cost 1.60 euros per litre at the weekend at a local filling station versus 690 forints (1.78 euros) at a MOL station in the Hungarian city of Esztergom. Hungary was forced to abandon a year-long cap on retail fuel prices for households amid a severe shortage in early December.

Azerbaijan has launched a landmark legal challenge against Armenia for allegedly destroying its environment and biodiversity during nearly three decades of occupation of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. An international tribunal will consider evidence of widespread environmental destruction during the conflict between the two nations, including deforestation and pollution, and will be asked to order Armenia to pay reparations.

An enormous herd of bison, containing up to 170 of the animals, has been spotted on the outskirts of Białowieża Forest in eastern Poland. Scientists say it is the largest they have ever seen. The group was observed at the end of December via drone by researchers from the Institute of Mammal Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IBS PAN) in Białowieża, who monitor bison and study their reproduction. They released the image of the herd shown above.

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