Emerging Europe This Week

Ukraine set for NATO setback at Washington summit

Catch up quickly with the stories from Central and Eastern Europe that matter, this week led by news of a major blow to Ukraine’s NATO ambitions.

Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine will be told next week that it is currently too corrupt to join NATO, in a major blow to Volodymyr Zelensky.

The alliance will request “additional steps” from Kyiv before membership talks progress, a senior official in the US State Department said on Wednesday.

The position will be set out in writing in the NATO communique to be signed at the alliance’s annual summit in Washington on July 9.

“We have to step back and applaud everything that Ukraine has done in the name of reforms over the last two-plus years,” the official told UK newspaper The Telegraph.

“As they continue to make those reforms, we want to commend them, we want to talk about additional steps that need to be taken, particularly in the area of anti-corruption. It is a priority for many of us around the table,” the source added.

Zelensky is pushing for swift NATO membership after the war ends to protect from future invasion. It would compel the US and Europe to come to the defence of Kyiv in the event of any Russian attack.

In better news for Ukraine, it was reported this week that NATO will next week announce that they have agreed to provide Ukraine with military aid worth 40 billion euros next year.

Viktor Orbán arrived made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday having just taken over as rotating president of the European Union.

While in Kyiv, the Hungarian prime minister said a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine could speed up negotiations to end the war that followed Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

Orbán has been a critic of Western support for Ukraine and is seen as the European leader closest to Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was his first visit to Ukraine in 12 years, although he has met Mr Putin repeatedly during that time.

During his joint appearance with President Zelensky the body language between them was not warm and neither took questions from the media after they gave their statements.

Orbán previously slowed agreement on a 50 billion euros EU aid package designed to support Ukraine in its defence against Russia.

Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria started a joint mine-hunting force in the Black Sea on Monday to increase shipping safety, particularly for Ukrainian grain exports.

The Istanbul-led initiative, the first major joint action of Black Sea nations since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, is aimed at defusing mines drifting into specific areas of the Black Sea as a result of the war.

Russia and Ukraine are key producers of grain, and the war has threatened the safe passage of shipments. Kyiv launched its own Black Sea export route last year after the collapse of a safe-corridor deal backed by Russia, Turkey and the United Nations. That has successfully boosted exports and helped the economy grow faster than forecast but the route remains risky.

Other news from the region

Eurozone inflation slowed to 2.5 per cent in June, but policymakers will remain concerned by strong increases in services prices that partly offset weaker growth in energy and fresh food costs. The figure for the year to June marked a slowdown from 2.6 per cent in the previous month. It was in line with economists’ forecast of 2.5 per cent in a Reuters poll. After an acceleration in May, slowing price rises in the 20 countries that share the euro will provide some relief for the European Central Bank, which last month started to cut interest rates in expectation of inflation hitting its two per cent target by next year.

Hungary’s nationalist government launched its presidency of the European Union on Monday with a Trump-like call to ‘Make Europe Great Again’ after EU lawmakers questioned whether it should be allowed to take on the role. Their concerns are based on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s many clashes with Brussels over democratic norms. Hungarian diplomats say the country will be an honest broker, while analysts say Budapest’s actions at the forefront of EU policy-making are likely to be restricted given that Brussels is in a transition phase following elections in June.

A week after the European Union launched membership talks with Moldova, the country’s separatist region complained on Tuesday that central authorities had ignored its proposals to settle their long-running dispute. The leader of the pro-Russian separatist Transnistria region, Igor Krasnoselsky, told the EU ambassador in a rare meeting that Moldova’s government had ignored its proposed declaration calling for a peaceful settlement. “The Moldovan position, refusing to sign a document about peace, is incomprehensible,” Krasnoselsky told EU ambassador Jānis Mažeiks.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić called relations between Serbia and Russia “very good” following a meeting on Tuesday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grusko in the Serb capital Belgrade. Vučić posted a photo taken during the meeting on Instagram and wrote that he thanked Russia for supporting the territorial integrity of Serbia, which does not recognise the independence of its former province, Kosovo. Vučić also thanked Russia for voting against a UN resolution on the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

Bulgaria was this week reclassified by the World Bank as a ‘high income’ country, becoming the last European Union member state to join the bank’s highest income bracket. The bank said that Bulgaria had been steadily approaching the high-income threshold with modest growth throughout the post-pandemic recovery period, which continued in 2023 as real GDP grew 1.8 per cent, supported by consumption demand. Ukraine also saw its classification upgraded, from lower-middle to upper-middle income, a result of the resumption of economic growth in 2023.

Estonian firm eAgronom, an agriculture-focused climate tech company helping farmers adopt sustainable practices for the health of their soils and the planet, this week secured 10 million euros in its Series A2 equity round. The funds raised will expand eAgronom’s presence in key markets and scale the company in various sustainable farming programs, especially Scope 3 and sustainable financing. As part of its ongoing fundraising efforts, eAgronom plans to raise an additional two-four million euros later this year.

Archaeologists have unearthed a huge prehistoric monument during excavations along a highway route in Czechia. The monument is a large burial mound measuring around 189 metres in length and roughly 15 metres across at its widest point, a team from the University of Hradec Králové (UHK) announced. The structure—located at the border of the villages of Dlouhé Dvory and Lípa in the eastern part of the country’s Bohemia region—is thought to date back to the fourth millennium B.C., placing it among the earliest funerary monuments in Europe, according to the archaeologists.

Ismail Kadare, the Albanian writer who explored Balkan history and culture in poetry and fiction spanning more than 60 years, died this week aged 88. Bujar Hudhri, Kadare’s editor at Tirana-based publishing house Onufri, said Kadare died on Monday after being rushed to hospital having suffered cardiac arrest. Writing under the shadow of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, Kadare examined contemporary society through the lens of allegory and myth in novels including The General of the Dead Army, The Siege and The Palace of Dreams

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