Emerging Europe This Week

Zelensky condemns Russian forces as ‘beasts’: 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 President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday condemned Russians forces as “beasts” over the execution of a Ukrainian soldier, who appeared to be beheaded while still alive in a video published on social media.

Zelensky’s reaction comes as Kyiv is ramping up diplomatic pressure over Moscow’s presence in international forums ranging from the UN Security Council to the Olympics.

“There is something that no one in the world can ignore: how easily these beasts kill,” the Ukrainian president said in a video posted on Twitter.

“This video, the execution of a Ukrainian captive, the world must see it,” he added. “This is a video of Russia as it is, what kind of creatures they are, there are no people for them: a son, a brother, a husband, someone’s child.”

The World Bank said on Wednesday it would finance 200 million US dollars to help fix Ukraine’s energy and heating infrastructure, with partners and others to provide another 300 million US dollars as the project expands.

The grant will be used to make emergency repairs to Ukraine’s transition transformers, mobile heat boilers and other emergency critical equipment, the World Bank said in a statement.

The World Bank has mobilised more than 23 billion US dollars in emergency financing for Ukraine, including commitments and pledges from donors. More than $20 billion of this has been disbursed through several projects, it said.

On Thursday, Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power company, claimed in a statement on Telegram that a Russian mine exploded near one of the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP).

Europe’s largest nuclear power station has been occupied by Russian forces since March 2022, with both Ukraine and Russia claiming that the other side have shelled the plant, risking a nuclear accident.

In its statement, Energoatom said: “A Russian mine exploded near the control room of the fourth power unit at the ZNPP. The Russian occupiers continue to turn the ZNPP into a military base, mining the perimeter around the plant. And these actions cannot but have consequences.”

The problem of Ukrainian grain imports flooding the markets of Central and Eastern Europe and bringing down prices was further highlighted on Wednesday as Polish farmers attempted to blockade the rail line on the border with Ukraine, but a cordon of police cars prevented them from doing so.

Polish farmers have been protesting for months against the rising volume of Ukrainian agricultural products, which are meant to pass through Poland on their way to other destinations outside Europe as part of “solidarity routes”, but which remain stuck in Poland and bring down the prices of similar Polish produce.

To support Ukraine and avoid a food crisis in African countries for whom Ukrainian imports are key, the EU had dropped tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural imports on the assumption that most of them would only pass through EU countries on their way to other markets.

In late March, the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia reportedly wrote to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urging her to reintroduce tariffs unless other solutions can be found.

Other news from the region

Azerbaijan and Armenia said on Tuesday seven servicemen died in a shootout along their shared border, the latest escalation between the arch-foes locked in a decades-long territorial dispute. The two Caucasus nations have fought two wars over Azerbaijan’s Armenian-majority region of Nagorno Karabakh and the latest hostilities ended in 2020 with a Russian-brokered ceasefire. “Armenian army positions deployed near the settlement of Dyg (at the two countries’ shared border) opened heavy fire at Azerbaijani army positions,” the defense ministry in Baku said in a statement, adding that Azerbaijani troops “have returned fire.”

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić said last Friday that ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo will not participate in local elections due to be held later this month – a move likely to aggravate current disagreements over Prishtina’s rule. The four municipalities, which border Serbia, do not recognise authorities in Prishtina and see Belgrade as their capital. Serb officials from the area, administrative staff, judges, and policemen resigned collectively in November 2022, in protest over Pristina’s plan to replace Serbian car licence number plates with those of Kosovo.

German company EMS Shipping and Trading has filed a lawsuit against the Albanian state in the ICSID Court of Arbitration in Washington, US, over a concession to operate a terminal at the Port of Durres, which is set for a multi-billion euro facelift. Since 2013, the company has owned the right to operate the East Terminal of the port for loading and unloading ships. But current plans to develop the port means the company has to move to the new port, which will be built in Porto Romano. However, as the new port is not built yet, the German company says the continuation of business activities is not certain.

Three executives of the Russian-founded, Budapest-based International Investment Bank, two Russian citizens and Imre Laszlóczki, the bank’s vice-president and former Hungarian ambassador to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, have been placed on the US sanctions list. “Since this Russia-controlled entity moved from Russia to Budapest in 2019, the US government has engaged the Hungarian government on numerous occasions to register our concern about the risks its presence in Hungary poses for the NATO alliance,” said US Ambassador David Pressman in Budapest on Wednesday. On Thursday, Hungary’s government said it would be exiting the bank.

Venture capital activity in Central and Eastern Europe got off to a slow start in 2023, and the region registered its lowest quarterly deal count in over five years. In Q1, only 360 euros million was invested across 125 deals, declines of 71.6 per cent and 59.4 per cent, respectively, from the same period last year, according to PitchBook data. Poland is leading the region in deal count with 32 completed rounds—headless commerce platform Vue Storefront’s 17.4 million fundraise among the largest. Estonia, which was one of the few countries in Central and Eastern Europe to register an increase in deals last year, follows in second place with 21 deals.

After a series of investments in lithium-ion battery manufacturing, Poland’s production capacity rose to 73 GWh in 2022, overtaking the US to become the second largest in the world, behind only China. Poland now has six per cent of the world’s total production capacity, compared to 14 per cent of all European countries combined, notes the Polish Alternative Fuels Association (PSPA) in a report published this week based on data from BloombergNEF. They are, however, well behind China, which has 77 per cent of global capacity.

Latvia’s government announced on Tuesday that it is terminating plans for a liquified fossil gas (LNG) terminal in Skulte. Plans for the Skulte LNG project involved a facility with a regasification capacity of 4.1 billion cubic metres per year, similar to the volume of the Klaipeda terminal in neighbouring Lithuania. An analysis by Latvia’s Ministry of Climate and Energy, which guided the government’s decision, concluded that the region has sufficient LNG import capacity as it stands and that “it is not possible to build a commercially self-sufficient liquefied petroleum gas natural gas terminals”.

Wizz Air was the worst major airline for flight delays from UK airports for the second year in a row, an investigation has found. The Hungarian carrier’s UK departures were an average of 46 minutes and six seconds behind schedule in 2022, according to analysis of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data by the PA news agency. That was more than three times longer than the previous year, when it was also ranked last for punctuality.

Photo: Volodymyr Zelensky official Facebook page.

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