Emerging Europe This Week

Ukraine’s ‘irreversible’ NATO path

Catch up quickly with the stories from Central and Eastern Europe that matter, this week led by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s morale boosting visit to Kyiv.

Russia’s war on Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Ukrainians this week that his alliance’s members had failed to live up to their promises of military aid in recent months, but said the flow of arms and ammunition would now increase.

In an unannounced visit to Ukraine, the secretary general of the transatlantic military alliance held talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky and addressed Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada.

Stoltenberg praised Zelensky’s leadership and the bravery of the Ukrainian forces and people, but acknowledged that “leadership and bravery alone cannot repel the Russian forces; you also need arms and ammunition.”

He recognised that serious delays in support have translated to serious consequences on the battlefield. “Ukraine has been outgunned for months… fewer Russian missiles and drones have been shot down, and Russia has been able to push forward on the front line,” said Stoltenberg. “But it is not too late for Ukraine to prevail. More support is on the way.”

On membership, Stoltenberg said: “Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO. Ukraine will become a member of NATO. The work we are undertaking now puts you on an irreversible path towards NATO membership, so that when the time is right, Ukraine can become a NATO member straightaway.”

President Zelensky meanwhile this week said that Russia is taking advantage of the slow delivery of Western weapons to go on the offensive.

Speaking alongside Stoltenberg, Zelensky said: “The Russian army is now trying to take advantage of a situation when we are waiting for supplies from our partners, especially from the United States of America.

“And that is exactly why the speed of deliveries means stabilising the front.”

He specifically singled out Ukraine’s need for artillery shells and air defence systems.

“Our partners have all of these things and they should be working now here in Ukraine destroying the Russian terrorist ambitions.

“Russia’s army is preparing for further offensive actions,” said Zelensky.

Western tanks and military hardware captured by Russian forces in Ukraine went on display in Moscow on Wednesday at an exhibition the Russian military said showed Western help would not stop it winning the war.

Long queues of people formed on what was a sunny May Day public holiday at the entrance to the exhibition, entitled “Trophies of the Russian Army,” which is being held outside a museum celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

“History is repeating itself,” the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement, adding that the Soviet Union had in 1943 also put on a display of captured tanks and hardware, in this case from the German army.

In addition to tanks, British and Australian armoured vehicles seized in Ukraine are on display in Moscow along with military hardware made in Turkey, Sweden, Austria, Finland, South Africa and Czechia.

Other news from the region

Georgia’s parliament moved a step closer on Wednesday to passing a law that critics fear will stifle media freedom and endanger the country’s European Union membership bid, as police used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray against the tens of thousands of protesters who thronged surrounding streets. Dozens of people have been arrested, and mass rallies have continued daily in the capital, Tbilisi. Protesters denounce the bill as “the Russian law” because neighbouring Russia uses similar legislation to stigmatise independent news media and organizations critical of the Kremlin.

Finnair on Monday said it would suspend its daily flights to Tartu in Estonia until May 31 in order to try and find a solution that does not require a GPS signal to land at the airport. Last week, two Finnair flights had to divert back to Helsinki after GPS interference prevented them from landing at the airport in south Estonia. Baltic ministers have warned separately that GPS jamming blamed on Russia risks causing an air disaster in the region. “Things in the Baltic near Russian borders are now getting too dangerous to ignore,” Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times.

Prime minister-elect Miloš Vučević told the Serbian parliament on Wednesday that membership in the European Union remains the country’s strategic goal but said “burdens” introduced into the membership process “cannot be ignored”. Vučević, leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), said EU expectations are tied to Serbia “humiliating” itself by recognising Kosovo’s independence and joining sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. In a three-hour speech to parliament setting out his government’s priorities, Vučević, said Serbia will maintain its policy of not joining the sanctions.

The EU should develop a version of the World War II-era US Marshall Plan to fund development projects in Moldova and war-torn Ukraine, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on Monday. “Just as Western Europe was offered an economic lifeline after the World War II by the US Marshall Plan, Moldova and Ukraine need a tightly focused 21st-century equivalent from the European Union,” Sandu said at the EU’s annual budget conference in Brussels. Moldova, which together with Ukraine last year received the green light to start accession talks with the EU, has the second-lowest GDP per capita in Europe.

A decision to delay 1.85 billion US dollars of investments shows Hungary is committed to reining in fiscal imbalances, S&P Global said on Tuesday. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has struggled since the Covid-19 pandemic to control Hungary’s budget deficit, with the shortfall averaging nearly seven per cent of gross domestic product over the past four years, well above EU average levels. Orban’s government announced in April it would postpone about one per cent of GDP worth of investments to cut this year’s shortfall to a recently-increased 4.5 per cent of GDP target.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk opened fire this week against the former CEO of state oil company PKN-Orlen, accusing him of losing 1.6 billion złoty (370 million euros) in a botched energy deal. “Poles must know the truth. There’s nothing to wait for!” tweeted Tusk. The attack on former CEO Daniel Obajtek targets an executive who was the golden child of the former Law and Justice (PiS) government. Obajtek served as Orlen’s CEO from 2018 to 2024, and the company acted as a provider of jobs for the politically connected, and even took over a newspaper chain which became a pro-PiS outfit.

The European Commission this week approved, under EU State aid rules, Romania’s plans to grant the Romanian state-owned flag carrier Tarom restructuring aid for up to 95.3 million euros. The Commission says that the measure will enable the troubled Romanian airline to restore its long-term viability while minimising competition distortions. Romania first notified the Commission of the plan, which sets out a package of measures for streamlining Tarom’s operations, renewing its ageing fleet and reducing costs, in 2021.

The Czech government approved changes to the country’s pension system on Tuesday, raising retirement ages and lowering pensions for future retirees as it aims to save the system billions of dollars per year.The reform builds in gradual shifts in the retirement age, delaying retirement by seven months for people who are now 52, compared to the current retirement age of 65, according to plans. It also lowers pensions calculated for future retirees by about eight per cent compared with the current formula. “(The changes) will prevent a collapse of the pension system,” said Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

Photo: NATO.

Unlike many news and information platforms, Emerging Europe is free to read, and always will be. There is no paywall here. We are independent, not affiliated with nor representing any political party or business organisation. We want the very best for emerging Europe, nothing more, nothing less. Your support will help us continue to spread the word about this amazing region.

You can contribute here. Thank you.

emerging europe support independent journalism