Emerging Europe This Week

Ukraine denies carrying out Kremlin ‘attack’: 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

Volodymyr Zelensky has denied Russian claims that Ukraine was involved in a drone attack on the Kremlin that was intended to kill the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian president said on Wednesday: “We don’t attack Putin, or Moscow, we fight on our territory and defend our towns and cities.”

“We leave it to the tribunal,” he added, referring to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which in March issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges. Zelensky made a surprise visit to the court on Thursday.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that two drones had been used in the attack, but that they had been disabled by Russian defences. It has vowed to take retaliatory measures.

In a statement published on its website, the Kremlin stated it considered the attack a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the life of the president of the Russian Federation.

“Two unmanned aerial vehicles were aimed at the Kremlin. As a result of timely actions taken by the military and special services with the use of radar warfare systems, the vehicles were put out of action,” the Kremlin press service said. It said that debris from the drone “fell on the territory of the Kremlin”.

“There were no victims and material damage,” the Kremlin said, adding that “the Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit”.

On Thursday, Russia accused the US of being behind the attack.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the allegation in a briefing to reporters, saying Washington should be aware that Russia knew it was selecting the targets and Ukraine was merely implementing US plans. He did not provide any evidence to support the claim of US involvement.

Overnight into Thursday, Ukrainian air defences withstood Russia’s most intense air attack on Kyiv since the start of the year, the capital region’s military chief said.

“Our city has not experienced such a heavy intensity of attacks since the beginning of this year! Last night, the aggressor launched another large-scale air strike on the capital,” Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, wrote on Telegram.

All Russian missiles and drones “were destroyed in Kyiv airspace by our air defence forces,” Popko said after Moscow attacked the city with “Shahed-type barrage munitions and missiles, presumably ballistic”.

There were no civilian casualties or damage to residential buildings and infrastructure, he added.

Attacks in Kherson also increased markedly this week, with 23 people killed by Russian strikes in the region on Wednesday, including a deadly bombardment of a supermarket that killed eight people.

Residents of the key southern Ukrainian city are now stocking up on food and water before an announced 56-hour curfew begins on Friday evening.

A number said they planned to stay indoors before the curfew and planned closure of the city, adding that they had slept in their clothes or gone to shelters because of the intensity of the Russian attack.

Ukraine’s much-anticipated spring counteroffensive could be the deciding factor in the war, according to a former head of the British Army. 

Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the General Staff, told Sky News that with its supplies of Western weapons and planning support, Ukraine will “have the capability very soon to strike some decisive blows against the Russians”. 

“If they were able to do this in a really effective way, it could have the result of turning the war rapidly in the Ukrainians’ favour this year,” he said.

But, he warned, if the Ukrainians don’t take advantage this year then they will have “shot their bolt”. 

“Time is on Putin’s side and things will start to look bleak for the Ukrainians,” he said. 

Lord Dannatt said he believed the counteroffensive is “not far off now”, though Ukraine has been keeping details under wraps. 

More than 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in fighting in Ukraine since December, the US estimates.

A further 80,000 have been wounded, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said this week, citing newly declassified intelligence.

Half of the dead are from the Wagner mercenary company, who have been attacking the eastern Bakhmut city.

Russia has been trying to take the small city since last year in a grinding war of attrition.

Moscow currently holds most of Bakhmut, but Ukrainian troops still control a small portion of the city in the west. The fierce battle has taken on huge symbolic importance for both sides.

Ukrainian officials have also said they are using the battle to kill as many of Russia’s troops as possible and wear down its reserves.

Other news from the region

A gunman was on the loose on Friday after killing eight people and wounding 13 others near Belgrade, local media reported, the second deadly mass shooting around the Serbian capital in two days. Heavily armed police set up roadblocks near the town of Mladenovac, 42 km south of Belgrade, and were searching for a 21-year-old suspect. On Wednesday, a 13-year-old boy shot dead eight children and a security guard at a school in Belgrade.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Tuesday refused to accept a draft statute for the establishment of an Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities to represent Serbs’ interests in Kosovo, claiming it would establish an entity like Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, whose leaders have repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of their state. His comments came after a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell in Brussels. Vučić later said talks between Serbia and Kosovo had “hit a wall”.

Lithuania has overtaken Estonia to become the highest ranked country from the emerging Europe region in the World Press Freedom Index, published this week by Reporters Without Borders. Lithuania climbed two places to seventh in the ranking, which assesses media freedom in 180 countries and territories. Estonia fell four places to eighth. Czechia (14th), Latvia (16th), and Slovakia (17th) all make the global top 20. Ukraine, despite Russia’s war, has climbed to 79th from 106th.

Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev escaped unscathed on Monday after a large explosion occurred near his car which the authorities have described as a targeted attack on him. Attackers had placed a bomb at a bend in the road where traffic had to slow, Borislav Sarafov, head of the National Investigation Service, said. They detonated the bomb at exactly the moment Geshev’s car went past, he said, describing it as a “professionally prepared attempt, and obviously well executed”.

A court in Belarus convicted a dissident journalist who was arrested after being pulled off a commercial flight that was diverted to the country and sentenced him Wednesday to eight years in prison. Roman Protasevich’s dramatic arrest in May 2021 elicited outrage in the West, with some leaders saying the plane’s diversion was tantamount to state-sponsored hijacking. Protasevich, who ran the independent media outlet Nexta, was found guilty of organising unrest and plotting to seize power in the wake of a disputed presidential election in August 2020.

Hungary’s parliament on Wednesday approved legislation aimed at addressing EU concerns over the independence of its courts — part of the reason why Brussels has frozen multiple EU funding lines, worth billions of euros, for the country. However, the legislation only addressed some of the wider concerns over the erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties, as well as systemic corruption, EU officials said. The EU funding freeze is badly hurting the Hungarian economy, which is reeling from anaemic growth and inflation that at 25 per cent is twice the level of the EU’s other member states.

Czechia this week became the 24th country to sign the US-led Artemis Accords, which lay out core principles to guide international participation in the Artemis programme for sustainable exploration and use of the Moon. In a signing ceremony at NASA Headquarters, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský pointed to his country’s participation in the lunar Gateway space station and said that among the more than 100 Czech companies and research institutes involved in space activities are “over 50 start-ups that have been created in the past six years.” Prague is also home to the  European Union’s space agency.

Turkey’s foreign minister on Wednesday said the country had closed its airspace to Armenian flights in response to a new monument that was erected in Yerevan commemorating a programme to assassinate perpetrators of the Armenian genocide. The monument “glorifies terrorists,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with NTV television. It isn’t clear which Armenian planes are affected. One Armenian airline, Flyone, reported on April 29 that a flight from Paris to Yerevan was forced to land in Moldova because it was unexpectedly refused permission to use Turkish airspace.

Voters in Uzbekistan have overwhelmingly approved constitutional changes that will allow the president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, to remain in power until 2040. Mirziyoyev, 65, became president in 2016 after the death of dictator Islam Karimov. In a tightly controlled referendum on Sunday, Uzbeks voted on changes that would extend presidential terms from five to seven years and allow Mirziyoyev to serve two more terms. According to preliminary results, the changes were approved by 90.21 per cent of voters, on an 84.54 per cent turnout.

Forces from both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan committed apparent war crimes in attacks on civilians during their brief but intense armed border conflict in September 2022, Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week. The 69-page report, ‘When We Moved, They Shot’: Laws of War Violations in the September 2022 Kyrgyzstan – Tajikistan Border Conflict, is the most detailed human rights account to date of the four days of fighting in 2022, from September 14 to 17. In total, Human Rights Watch documented the death of 37 civilians, including 5 children, and injuries to 36 others on both sides. 

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