Emerging Europe This Week

Weaponising crops: 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

Fierce battles continued to rage this week in eastern Ukraine with Russian troops on the verge of encircling the key industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, bringing a sharp rebuke of the west from Volodymyr Zelensky for not doing enough to help Kyiv win the war.

As the Ukrainian military reported on Thursday that 40 towns in the Donbas region were under Russian bombardment, Luhansk Governor Sergiy Gaiday described fighting outside Sievierodonetsk as “very difficult”, saying Russian troops were shelling the city from the outskirts with mortars.

Zelensky said in his nightly address on Wednesday that Russian troops “heavily outnumber us” in some parts of the east and echoed pleas from his foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba to the World Economic Forum in Davos for more weaponry from the west.

Kuleba said he had come to Davos at a “very difficult moment on the frontline”.

“The battle for Donbas is very much like the battles of the Second World War,” Kuleba said. “Some villages and towns, they do not exist anymore,” he said.

Vladimir Putin is “weaponising Ukraine’s crops” as “a blackmail tool” for the rest of the world, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Davos.

Mateusz Morawiecki told the BBC in an interview it was like what “Stalin did in 1933”.

Ukraine’s inability to export its grain has led to global food prices soaring. It has also raised the prospect of famines in the countries which depend on its exports. Morawiecki said that this was “part of [Vladimir Putin’s] strategy” in order to “create ripple effects in Northern Africa and huge migration waves”.

His warning was echoed by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who told delegates in Davos that Russia was using “hunger and grain to wield power”.

More than 14 million people are thought to have fled their homes since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations (UN) said this week.

More than six million have left for neighbouring countries, while eight million people are displaced inside the war-torn country itself.

Poland has received more than 3.5 million people, Romania one million, Hungary 660,000, Moldova 470,000 and Slovakia 430,000.

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have no border controls with other parts of the EU’s Schengen area. Many refugees who first arrived in these countries have since moved on to others.

Czechia for example has granted more than 350,000 emergency visas to Ukrainian refugees, while more than 700,000 Ukrainians are in Germany, 40 per cent of whom are children.

Other news

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who seized additional power this week with a state of emergency, has said that large companies ranging from energy to airlines will have to turn over their “extra profit” to shore up the nation’s ailing budget. Banking, insurance, energy, large retail, telecom and airline industries – sectors dominated by multinational firms – will be ordered to turn over the “bulk of their extra profit” to two funds this year and next to finance utility-price subsidies and the cost of modernising the armed forces, Orbán said in a video message on Wednesday.

Hungary will allow Serbia to store natural gas in its gas storage facilities for next winter, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Wednesday after talks with Serbia’s finance minister. Belgrade plans to direct 500 million cubic metres of gas to Hungarian storage facilities by the end of June, Serbia’s Finance Minister Siniša Mali said at a press conference with Szijjártó. “We agreed that in the currently extremely critical times when energy security is not a natural condition … we will contribute to guaranteeing each other’s energy security,” Szijjarto said.

The United States said on Monday that it would supply Romania with a training simulator in preparation for building a new type of nuclear power generating plant in the country. If an agreement on moving ahead with a power station is reached, Romania could become the first country in Europe, and perhaps in the world, to have such a plant, known as a small modular reactor. Designed to be less expensive and easier to build than traditional nuclear reactors, modular reactors have been proposed by several manufacturers. The one in Romania would be built by NuScale Power, a start-up company based in Portland, Ore.

Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița has welcomed moves to step up cooperation with the European Union, but says such initiatives cannot replace the actual process of joining the bloc. “We welcome any mechanism for bringing us closer together, improving our cooperation, as long as this does not replace the path to membership,” Gavrilița told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, adding that “only full membership in the bloc would offer aspiring countries full benefits and a stable place in a value-shared community such as the EU”.

Moldovan prosecutors meanwhile have asked that former President Igor Dodon, who was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of treason and corruption, be placed in pretrial detention for 30 days. “Anti-corruption prosecutors have filed their request that Dodon be detained for 30 days and the court is due to assess their request,” Mariana Cherpec, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office, said on Wednesday. The pro-Russian Dodon was president from 2016 until 2020, when he lost to Maia Sandu, a US-educated former World Bank official.

The head of Serbia’s Orthodox Church said on Tuesday that he would recognise the full independence of the church in neighbouring North Macedonia, signalling an end to a decades-old religious dispute. The Macedonian Church unilaterally announced its independence, or autocephaly, from the Serbian Church in 1967, while the two predominantly Orthodox republics were still part of Yugoslavia. Serbian religious leaders at the time had condemned the move as schismatic and the breakaway church was not recognised by other Orthodox churches.

Bulgarian authorities are beating, robbing, stripping, and using police dogs to attack Afghan and other asylum seekers and migrants, then pushing them back to Turkey without any formal interview or asylum procedure, Human Rights Watch said this week. “Bulgarian authorities are brutally and summarily pushing back migrants and asylum seekers across the land border with Turkey,” said Michelle Randhawa, refugee and migrant rights officer at Human Rights Watch. “The European Union should ensure that Bulgaria immediately stops the illegal and dehumanizing pushbacks at its borders and allows asylum seekers access to fair asylum procedures.”

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