Emerging Europe This Week

Zelensky urges patience: 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

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has said his country needs more time to launch a much-anticipated counter-offensive against Russian forces, as its military awaits the delivery of promised aid.

The expected attack could be decisive in the war, redrawing frontlines that, for months, have remained unchanged. It will also be a crucial test for Ukraine, eager to prove that the weapons and equipment it has received from the West can result in significant battlefield gains.

Speaking at his headquarters in Kyiv, President Zelensky described combat brigades, some of which were trained by Nato countries, as being “ready” but said the army still needed “some things”, including armoured vehicles that were “arriving in batches”.

“With [what we already have] we can go forward, and, I think, be successful,” he said in an interview for public service broadcasters who are members of Eurovision News. “But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.”

Ukrainian military commanders said on Wednesday that their troops had broken through Russian positions on the southern flank of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, forcing Russian units back from their positions at an important bridgehead of a canal.

Ukrainian officials and the head of Russia’s Wagner militia group said that Russian troops had lost an area of roughly three square miles southwest of the city.

If confirmed, it would be the first significant gain for Ukraine in the fight for Bakhmut since pushing Russian forces off a key access road two months ago, although it was far from clear that Ukrainian forces could hold the ground or that it was a turning point in the months long battle.

Britain has begun supplying Ukraine with long-range missiles, officials in London confirmed on Thursday. The news represents a major milestone in international efforts to support the Ukrainian fightback against Russia’s ongoing invasion. Ukrainian leaders have been calling on international partners to provide long-range missiles for some time, arguing that such weapons are needed in order to complete the liberation of the country from Russian occupation. That goal now appears to be one step closer.

Addressing parliament in Westminster, UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace confirmed Britain was supplying Ukraine with Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which have a range of over 250 kilometres. Wallace said the missiles would allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces from Ukrainian sovereign territory and noted that the decision had been taken after Russia “continued down a dark path” of bombing Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.

Poland’s envoy to Budapest this week lambasted Hungary’s new army chief for effectively advocating the “appeasement” of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, underscoring a widening rift between once staunch central European allies.

Ambassador Sebastian Keciek published a letter addressed to Lieutenant General Gábor Böröndi, who said on Tuesday that World War II could have been prevented had western powers backed peace talks with Nazi Germany after Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. 

The newly appointed head of the Hungarian armed forces called the German invasion and following partition of Poland involving the Soviet Union a “German-Polish local war.”

The comments are an “unacceptable distortion of history and should never have been uttered, especially not by a representative of a close ally,” Keciek wrote in the letter published Wednesday. “The politics of appeasement and the acceptance of further demands by the Third Reich led to the outbreak of World War II, not the absence of peace talks with the aggressor.”

Russia plans to relocate about 2,700 Ukrainian staff from Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Ukraine’s atomic energy company has claimed, warning of a potential “catastrophic lack of qualified personnel” at the Zaporizhzhia facility in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine.

Workers who signed employment contracts with Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom following Moscow’s capture of the Zaporizhzhia plant early in the war are set to be taken to Russia along with their families, Energoatom said in a Telegram post on Wednesday.

Removing staff would “exacerbate the already extremely urgent issue” of staff shortages, Energoatom said.

The Moscow-installed governor of the region ordered civilian evacuations from the area last Saturday, including from the nearby city of Enerhodar where most plant workers live. The full scope of the evacuation order was not clear.

Other news from the region

Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday blamed each other for an exchange of fire along their restive border, which killed one person and wounded four, days ahead of EU-hosted peace talks. The leaders of the two countries are due to hold talks in Brussels on Saturday as part of a push to resolve the three-decade territorial dispute between the two neighbours in the Caucasus. The European Union-hosted meeting comes after the United States said “tangible progress” had been made at talks between foreign ministers in Washington last week aimed at ending the dispute over the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.

Tens of thousands of Serbs joined protests against gun violence in the capital Belgrade and another city on Monday after two mass shootings last week. Seventeen people died in the shootings last Wednesday and Thursday, including eight children in a primary school. The protesters are demanding that top government officials resign, and want newspapers and TV stations that they say promote violence to be shut down. Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vučić, condemned the protests. He accused the opposition of capitalising on a national tragedy to promote their own interests. He said he was ready to test his party’s popularity at a snap vote.

Serbia also this week stalled plans to hand out passports to Russians and other foreign nationals who have lived just one year in the country, as the EU warned it could suspend visa-free travel for the Balkan nation. Draft legislation put forward by the government in Belgrade in April specified that one year of temporary residency would be sufficient to enable foreign nationals who worked in local companies or were self-employed to be issued with a Serbian passport. Foreigners at present need to live in Serbia for a minimum of five years before applying for citizenship.

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová picked central bank Deputy Governor Ľudovít Ódor to lead a technocrat government after caretaker Prime Minister Eduard Heger quit on Sunday just months before early elections in September. Slovakia has struggled through months of political uncertainty as Heger’s ruling coalition was weakened, coming amid a period of high inflation and war in neighbouring Ukraine. The country’s political scene is fragmented ahead of an election that the largest opposition party, opposed to continued military aid to Kyiv, may win.

The leader of Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party, coming off a narrow victory in snap parliamentary elections, has nominated Mariya Gabriel, currently a European Union commissioner, for the post of prime minister as the country looks to end two years of political instability. Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov announced the nomination in parliament on May 10, saying Gabriel’s portfolio at the EU – innovation, research, culture, education, and youth – mirrored the issues that the main parties in the legislature are focused on. Borissov has said that there would be “no dividing lines” as his party attempts to forge a government following an April election, the country’s fifth inconclusive parliamentary poll in two years.

Hungarian inflation, the European Union’s fastest, eased for a third month, bringing the central bank closer to cutting the bloc’s highest key interest rate. The inflation rate dropped to 24 per cent in April from 25.2 per cent the previous month. Central bank officials will assess the “persistence” of risk improvement in the coming months as they deliberate on when to cut their EU-high 18 per cent key interest rate, Deputy Governor Barnabas Virag said on Tuesday. Investors have largely been split about whether rate cuts may start in May or June.

Kosovo has recorded stable economic progress while reducing the poverty rate and increasing per capita income, according to The World Bank, which approved the new Country Partnership Framework for the fiscal years 2023-2037. The World Bank found an increase of nearly 50 per cent in per capita income and a 35 per cent reduction in poverty, demonstrating a successful transition from a growth model based on high dependence on foreign aid.

Russia has restored visa-free travel for Georgians while lifting a ban on direct flights between the two countries. The moves are widely seen as a Kremlin reward for the Georgian government’s restrained approach on the war in Ukraine, while also serving as tacit recognition that Georgia is an important node of sanctions-busting trade for Russia. According to a May 10 decree issued by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Georgians will be allowed to visit Russia for up to 90 days without a visa. The new rules are set to go into effect on May 15. The 90-day limit set by Russia is the same timeframe that Georgians can spend in the European Union without a visa.

Smurfit Kappa has invested 40 million US dollars in a significant expansion of its corrugated plant in Poland, adding state of the art machinery and paving the way for new jobs. The investment means the Pruszków corrugated plant is now one of the most high-tech packaging plants in Europe. The new technology includes a high-tech corrugator and ultra-modern converting machinery, with t he plant also getting a new finished goods warehouse that has the capacity for more than 12,000 pallets.

Methane leaks alone from Turkmenistan’s two main fossil fuel fields caused more global heating in 2022 than the entire carbon emissions of the UK, satellite data has revealed. The data produced by Kayrros for the Guardian found that the western fossil fuel field in Turkmenistan, on the Caspian coast, leaked 2.6m tonnes of methane in 2022. The eastern field emitted 1.8m tonnes. Together, the two fields released emissions equivalent to 366m tonnes of CO2, more than the UK’s annual emissions, which are the 17th-biggest in the world.

Photo: Volodymyr Zelensky official Facebook page.

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