Emerging Europe This Week

The Belgorod incursion: 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

The United States on Wednesday distanced itself from an incursion into Russia – which Moscow says ended in the defeat of armed insurgents who entered from Ukraine.

Parts of the border region of Belgorod came under attack on Monday, in one of the largest cross-border raids since Russia invaded its neighbour last year.

Russia later released pictures of abandoned or damaged Western military vehicles, including US-made Humvees. The US insisted it did not “encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia”.

A state department spokesman acknowledged reports “circulating on social media and elsewhere” that US-supplied weapons had been used, but said his country was “sceptical at this time of the veracity of these reports”.

Some Ukrainian military experts and bloggers have suggested that the images of destroyed US vehicles released by Russia could have been staged.

Villages in Belgorod near the border were evacuated after coming under fire. Russia says 70 attackers were killed, and has insisted the fighters were Ukrainian.

But Kyiv denies involvement – and two Russian paramilitary groups opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin say they were behind the incursion. Denis Kapustin (pictured above, in black), who describes himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, one of the two groups, said on Thursday that, “I think you will see us again on that side. I cannot reveal those upcoming things, I cannot even reveal the direction. The … border is pretty long. Yet again there will be a spot where things will get hot.”

Mercenaries of the Wagner private military company have started to withdraw from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and will be replaced by regular Russian troops, the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a video released on Thursday.

Prigozhin announced the capture of Bakhmut on Saturday, a claim echoed by the Russian Defense Ministry, after one of the longest and deadliest battles of the war in Ukraine. He has said that his fighters, who had spearheaded the Russian assault on the city, now need to recover and to repair weapons and other equipment.

Ukraine has conceded that Russian forces control nearly all the city and has signaled that its forces are shifting their focus to Bakhmut’s outskirts, where they made gains this month. If Wagner’s forces do withdraw, it will present a significant test for the Russian military, which will be challenged to hold a city imbued with outsize symbolism for both Moscow and Kyiv.

Russia and Belarus signed a deal on Thursday to formalise the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear missiles on Belarusian territory, a step Moscow said was driven by rising tensions with the West.

“In the context of an extremely sharp escalation of threats on the western borders of Russia and Belarus, a decision was made to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear sphere,” TASS news agency quoted Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.

The deployment of the missiles was first announced by President Vladimir Putin in March. Since invading Ukraine last year, Putin has said repeatedly that Russia would be ready to use nuclear weapons if needed to defend its “territorial integrity”.

NATO said at the time it did not see any need to adjust its own nuclear posture, though it said Putin’s nuclear rhetoric was “dangerous and irresponsible”. Ukraine said Russia’s ally Belarus had been “taken hostage” by Moscow.

Moscow will retain control over the weapons and any decisions on their use, Shoigu said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has helped ignite a boom in clean energy investment which will significantly outpace spending on fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency.

A report from the IEA has found that clean energy investment is on track to reach 1.7 trillion US dollars this year as investors turn to renewables, electric vehicles, nuclear power, grids, storage and other low-carbon technologies.

At the same time investment in coal, gas and oil will rise to just over one trillion US dollars, the IEA said.

The Paris-based agency found that clean energy investments have been boosted by many factors including periods of strong economic growth and volatile fossil fuel prices as well as heightened concerns about energy security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Other news from the region

Kosovo must implement a Western-brokered peace deal with Serbia if it wants to achieve its goal of joining the NATO military alliance, two US senators visiting Prishtina said on Monday. US Democratic senators Chris Murphy, a member of the foreign relations committee, and Gary Peters, who sits on the armed services committee, urged the two countries to act quickly on the accord reached in March with European Union mediation. They are part of a congressional delegation visiting the Balkans. “The pathway (for Kosovo) to NATO and to the European Union runs through an agreement with Serbia. That’s a hard fact,” Murphy told journalists at the US embassy in Prishtina.

Armenia’s prime minister has, for the first time, explicitly stated that his government intends to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, drawing ire from the de facto authorities in the Armenian-populated region. The Armenian government has been signaling its willingness to recognise Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh for over a year but it was only at a news conference on Monday that Nikol Pashinyan actually said it in so many words. “Armenia recognises Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, assuming that Azerbaijan recognises Armenia’s territorial integrity.

A coalition of Bulgarian parties on Monday agreed to form a government tasked with uprooting corruption and led by two rotating prime ministers — one of whom will be former European Commissioner for Innovation Mariya Gabriel. The coalition’s main goal will be to implement constitutional reforms in the first half of its mandate, particularly targeting the judiciary in a country plagued by high-level corruption. Bulgaria’s center-right GERB party and the anti-corruption alliance led by We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB) will form a grand coalition government, the two parties announced Monday according to local media.

Austria has stepped up security on its borders after Hungary released convicted people smugglers from its prisons in a row that has also raised tensions with Brussels. Following reports that hundreds of detainees may have been released on Monday provided they left the country immediately, Hungary’s state secretary of the interior ministry, Bence Rétvári, blamed the European Union for the move. He said the decision was necessary because the EU “refuses to contribute to border controls” and claimed the EU owed Hungary 1.5 billion euros in return for measures to protect the bloc’s external borders.

A huge pro-EU rally took place in Moldova’s capital Chișinău, organised by the country’s President Maia Sandu. An estimated 75,000 people turned out to support Moldova’s push to join the European Union. Her pro-Western government has accused Russia of stoking tensions by supporting Moldova’s pro-Russian opposition Sor party. Moscow denies meddling in the country’s affairs. Sandu told demonstrators her country no longer wanted to be an outlier. “We don’t want to be on the outskirts of Europe anymore,” she said, pledging that Moldova would become a European Union member nation by 2030.

Poland has introduced new rules allowing family business owners to ensure a smoother and less costly succession of their firms to family members upon their retirement or death. The succession of a business has until now required the direct involvement of at least one of the heirs in the running of the business and agreement with other family members, which in practice sometimes led to conflicts and has meant that the division of assets could take years. The new law introduces the mechanism of a “family foundation” which will allow its beneficiaries to profit from the company and its assets even without direct involvement, by putting it under the management of a board of directors or a supervisory board.

Romania has failed to enforce the rights of same-sex couples by refusing to recognise their relationships, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said on Tuesday in a ruling which will force policymakers to expand protections for the LGBT+ community. Socially conservative Romania decriminalised homosexuality in 2001, decades later than other parts of the European Union, but still bars marriage and civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The ruling, which says the government has breached the European convention on human rights, comes after 21 Romanian same-sex couples filed challenged with the court in 2019-2020.

Teachers in Turkmenistan are being accused of demanding free lunches, money, and favours from students ahead of crucial graduation exams, leaving university hopefuls fearful they might not make the grade if they refuse. Teachers at multiple high schools in the southern city of Mary have threatened senior students with low grades “that would ruin their school diplomas” if they don’t comply, one parent told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service on condition of anonymity. Other parents echoed the claims of what they called “extortion,” adding that some teachers were delegating their own tasks to senior students by making them check homework.

Photo: ArmyInform.com.ua via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0).

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