Catch up quickly with the stories from Central and Eastern Europe that matter.
Russia’s war on Ukraine
Senate Republicans this week blocked a move to pass an aid bill for Ukraine after failing to secure border compromises they sought in exchange.
The 110 billion US dollars package included 61 billion US dollars for Ukraine, as well as funds for Israel and aid for Gaza. The White House has warned that US funds for Ukraine could soon run out.
A Ukrainian official said that that failure to secure more US aid would mean a “very high possibility” that the war will be lost to Russia.
While Republican members are generally in favour of aid to Ukraine, some have sought to use the issue as a way address mounting domestic concerns over the US southern border.
Senators—including every single Republican—voted 51 to 49 against advancing the bill, with 60 votes needed. The vote throws uncertainty into the future of aid for Ukraine and sends lawmakers back to the negotiating table. Several Senators said that while more negotiations would follow, it is unclear whether any progress can be achieved before Congress breaks for the holidays next week.
Republicans are insisting that any aid to Ukraine be tied to sweeping US immigration and asylum reforms.
Poland is calling on the European Union restore permits limiting transit for Ukrainian truckers, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said this week as Polish and Slovakian truckers block several border crossings to Ukraine.
Polish drivers have been blocking the crossings since November 6, demanding that the EU reinstate a system whereby Ukrainian companies need permits to operate in the bloc and the same for European truckers to enter Ukraine.
The permits were abolished after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, but Polish truckers say that has resulted in unfair competition from their Ukrainian peers.
“We will very strongly and unequivocally demand the restoration of transport permits for Ukrainian drivers,” Morawiecki told reporters.
Ukraine’s association of truckers recently warned the country had already lost 400 million euros in revenue because of the blockade, with exports of wood products, car parts and vegetable oils particularly affected.
The trucking dispute during a delayed government transition in Warsaw could become a political headache for Poland’s Donald Tusk, who is expected to take office next week after winning elections in October as leader of a pro-European coalition.
Meanwhile, far-right politicians have visited the border to back Polish drivers and stoke anti-Ukraine feelings before local elections in April. Tusk’s coalition has criticised PiS for allowing the blockade, but has stopped short of promising to break it up.
A former Ukrainian MP regarded by Kyiv as a traitor was shot dead in a park in suburban Moscow this week, in an attack attributed to Ukraine’s SBU security service.
Illia Kyva was a pro-Russian member of Ukraine’s parliament before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but fled to Russia a month before the start of the war and frequently criticised Ukrainian authorities online and on Russian state TV talkshows.
Russian investigators said in a statement on Wednesday that Kyva had been shot, adding that his body was discovered in a park in the elite Moscow suburb of Odintsovo.
“An unknown person fired shots at the victim from an unidentified weapon. The man died on the spot from his injuries,” Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement.
Other news from the region
Estonia’s education system remains Europe’s best, according to the latest results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) PISA tests. Delayed a year due to Covid-19, scores for 2022 place Estonia fourth globally, behind only Japan, South Korea and Singapore. “We can all be proud of the Estonian education system and its results,” said Estonian Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas. At the other end of the table, Romania and Bulgaria once again scored poorly, the two countries sharing the European Union’s lowest results.
Staying in Estonia, UP Catalyst, a pioneer in sustainable carbon material production directly from CO2 emissions, this week closed a four million euros seed investment round to advance its ground-breaking technology. The investment will be instrumental in UP Catalyst’s quest to scale up their production capabilities, and comes shortly after China’s announcement of graphite export curbs—an announcement that has added urgency to the quest for local battery raw material alternatives. This is particularly crucial given that Europe currently depends on graphite imports for 99 per cent of its supply.
The Polish port of Gdańsk recorded the second-highest growth among the EU’s largest ports last year. Gdańsk handled 63.15 million tonnes of cargo in 2022, up from 45.02 million in 2021, according to new data from Eurostat. That increase of 40.3 per cent ranked behind only Nantes in France, which saw a 51.4 per cent rise. Spain’s Cartagena (17.3 per cent) and Romania’s Constanța (15.2 per cent) saw the next largest rises. Klaipeda in Lithuania (-23.1 per cent) and Tallinn in Estonia (-20.6 per cent) were among those ports that saw the steepest declines in cargo volumes.
A Romanian telecom firm is poised to become one of the biggest winners of a market consolidation in Spain. The company, Digi, is favoured by European Union regulators to buy assets that Orange and Masmovil—two of Spain’s four biggest telecom companies—must get rid of to complete their 20 billion US dollars merger and meet competition rules. Digi has reached a preliminary deal to buy the assets, and could potentially finalise the purchase by the end of the year. Digi is also set to step up its expansion in Portugal and Belgium from next year.
Romania this week declared a national measles epidemic following an alarming rise in measles cases and the substantial number of hospitalisations among infected children. Currently, there are nearly 2,000 cases nationwide, spread across 29 of the country’s 41 counties, with 80 per cent of affected children being unvaccinated. The Romanian Ministry of Health said that vaccination rates had been on a “downward trend” for more than 10 years. “This declaration of an epidemic makes it possible to speed up the vaccination campaign,” said Health Minister Alexandru Rafila.
Moldova has put itself forward as a candidate for the presidency of next year’s UN climate summit and Serbia is also considering throwing its hat in the ring, according to people familiar with the matter and a document seen by Reuters. The two countries’ proposals are an attempt to resolve a geopolitical spat that has left the COP29 event without a host. Talks on who will take over from current COP28 host the United Arab Emirates hit an unprecedented deadlock, with countries in the eastern Europe region, which is due to host the annual UN summit, unable to agree on a candidate.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico this week announced he’ll scrap an institution tasked with fighting corruption and serious crimes, sparking accusations that the move would undermine the rule of law. Fico’s six-week-old cabinet approved a draft amendment that would abolish the Special Prosecutor’s Office as of January 15. The prime minister said on Wednesday the institution “significantly contributed to the violation of human rights,” repeating his accusation that officials in the office have abused their authority.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev this week signed a decree announcing an early presidential election in the country on February 7. Aliyev’s decree, issued on Thursday, instructed the Central Election Commission to start preparing the poll in accordance with the procedure specified in the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan. Aliyev has been the president of the oil-rich Caucasus country since 2003, when he succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev, and has stayed in power ever since through a series of elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud.
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