Emerging Europe This Week

Ukraine sets up positions on east bank of Dnipro: 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

Ukrainian troops have set up positions on the east bank of the Dnipro River in southern Kherson region, reports said this week.

The region is partially Russian-held and crossing the river could be significant in future offensives.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War says Russian military bloggers have posted “enough geolocated footage and text reports to confirm” the advance.

BBC Ukraine says its military sources have reported a “certain movement across [the] Dnipro” near Kherson city.

Ukraine’s military has not confirmed the movement, while Russia has denied the reports.

But if the reports that Ukraine has secured an enduring presence on the east bank are correct, it could be significant in helping Kyiv drive Russian troops back.

A senior US military commander in Europe told lawmakers on Wednesday that Russia has plenty more firepower left in its arsenal.

“[T]he Russian ground force has been degenerated somewhat by this conflict, although it is bigger today than it was at the beginning of the conflict,” Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the commander of US European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee.

“The Air Force has lost very little, they’ve lost 80 planes. They have another 1,000 fighters and fighter bombers,” he said. “The Navy has lost one ship.”

Classified military documents allegedly leaked by a junior enlisted National Guard airman for months gave a snapshot of where Russia’s ground forces were committed in the war. One document, dated February and March, said that 527 of 544 of available Russian battalions have been committed to the war against Ukraine; 474 of them are already in the country, the intelligence said.

One document also estimated that between 35,000 and 43,000 Russian forces have been killed in action during the conflict.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Wednesday he had held a “long and meaningful” phone call with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, and hoped it would give impetus to relations with Beijing.

“I had a long and meaningful phone call with President Xi Jinping,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.”

China confirmed the call, adding that it “always stood on the side of peace”.

Unlike the West, Beijing has sought to appear neutral on the Russian invasion.

But it has never hidden its close ties to Moscow, or condemned the invasion, and last month President Xi paid a two-day state visit to Russia.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas supported Kyiv’s calls for accession to the NATO military alliance “as soon as conditions allow” during a visit to Ukraine on Monday.

Kallas, whose country is a member of NATO and the European Union, had talks with President Zelensky in the northwestern city of Zhytomyr and signed a joint declaration with him condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We agree that a strong, independent and prosperous Ukraine, as part of the Euro-Atlantic family and as a member of the EU and NATO, is essential for the future of European security,” the joint declaration said.

“In the context of the NATO Vilnius Summit (in July), we agree to work together to establish a path that will help bring Ukraine closer to NATO membership and pave the way for Ukraine to join NATO as soon as conditions allow.”

A Ukrainian journalist working with reporters for La Repubblica has been shot dead by Russian snipers in southern Ukraine, while his Italian colleague was injured, the Italian newspaper said on Wednesday.

“Today, our correspondent Corrado Zunino and his fixer Bogdan Bitik were victims of an ambush near the bridge in Kherson by Russian snipers on the outskirts of Kherson, in southern Ukraine,” La Repubblica said.

“Bitik unfortunately did not make it and died: he leaves behind his wife and a son. Corrado, who was wounded in the shoulder, is in the civil hospital in Kherson,” it said.

Zunino, who had extensively covered the conflict, told La Repubblica he had been wearing a bulletproof vest with “press” written on it when the reporters were attacked.

Other news from the region

After talks with the European Commission, Hungary’s government will submit a key judicial reform bill to parliament as part of its efforts to unlock suspended EU funds, Justice Minister Judit Varga said on her official Facebook page on Thursday. Hungary could receive some 5.8 billion euros in free grants and a further 9.6 billion euros in cheap loans from the EU, but the bloc has suspended any payments until Budapest’s nationalist government implements reforms to improve judicial independence and tackle corruption.

Barely a month after it was hailed as a breakthrough moment in the strained relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, the EU-brokered agreement between the two appears to have run into trouble. Kosovo has accused Serbia of violating the agreement by voting against its Council of Europe membership. According to the deal and its implementation mechanism approved on 18 March, Serbia will not obstruct Kosovo’s entry into international organisations.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has again called for a union between Serbia and Republika Srpska – one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities – amid already high tensions in the region. Dodik – who has been targeted by sanctions from the United States and Britain over alleged destabilisation efforts and corruption — has repeatedly threatened to push for the independence of Republika Srpska. Dodik was speaking on April 24 at a commemoration ceremony in the northern Republika Srpska village of Gradina held for the victims of who perished in the World War II Croatian camp of Jasenovac.

Prosecutors in Warsaw have opened an investigation into whether Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s main opposition party, abused his powers when previously serving as prime minister. The decision came in response to a request from Marek Falenta, a businessman who was responsible for making secret recordings of leading politicians that helped bring down the government of Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) party in 2015. Falenta alleges that Tusk abused his powers to order an inspection of the company, Składy Węgla, that he ran and which was involved in importing Russian coal to Poland.

The combined revenue of the companies operating in the automotive industry in Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia increased by 13.2 per cent year-on-year to 32 billion euros in 2021, following a drop of 9.2 per cent in 2020, according to a new report. The automotive sector is one of the biggest employers in the three countries, with 285,000 full-time employees in 2021, up by 3.7 per cent in annual terms, according to the report titled Automotive Industry in Southeast Europe: Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia warming up the engines. The report analysed the performance of 566 core automotive companies across the three countries from 2019 to 2021.

Hundreds of thousands of Armenians flocked to the nation’s capital this week to commemorate the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, amid fears that a new genocide carried out by Azerbaijan may be beginning. This year’s memorial of the Genocide took place just days after fresh border skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. For the past several months, Azerbaijan has been imposing a blockade on the Lachin corridor, the sole road connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, known to the Armenians as Artsakh, a disputed territory internationally recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan. 

Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation on Tuesday allowing border guards to turn back migrants who cross its frontier illegally, brushing away concerns from human rights organisations. Lithuania, Poland and Latvia have reported a sharp increase since 2021 in migrants from countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan trying to cross their borders from Belarus, in what they and Brussels have said was a form of hybrid warfare designed to put pressure on the European Union over sanctions it imposed on Minsk.

A migrant woman was accidentally shot and killed by police in North Macedonia during a struggle that broke out Wednesday as an officer tried to arrest a suspected smuggler, authorities said. The fatal shooting occurred during an inspection of two vehicles outside the town of Gevgelija, close to the country’s southern border with Greece. Police said the shot was fired after the migrant smuggling suspect, identified only as a 26-year-old man, tried to snatch the officer’s handgun during the roadside inspection. The victim of the shooting died of chest wounds in a nearby hospital, medical officials said.

The Tirana Special Court of Appeal for Corruption and Organised Crime has upheld a decision that saw the confiscation of the majority of assets belonging to Albanian businessman Ylli Ndroqi, including popular TV station Ora News. Ndroqi found his assets seized in 2020 and 2021 due to suspicions they were the product of criminal activities. However, the seizure of government-critical RTV Ora by armed special forces police officers caused concern amongst journalists and various local and international watchdogs. Using such force on the premises of a media station was deemed excessive, sending a chilling message to any journalist or media that is critical of the government.

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