Zelensky Chalks Up Four Major Political Wins and It Is Only Tuesday

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool

As the warning on investments used to state (it may still state that, but I'm no longer investing), "Past performance is no guarantee of future results," that said, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has had a helluva start to the week. One of the events was planned, but the other three were not. Instead, they reflect a shifting political environment in Europe that accepts a degree of decoupling from Russia that was unheard of three years ago.

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EU Accession Talks

Ukraine began formal talks on joining the EU on Tuesday. Three weeks ago, the German foreign minister announced talks were starting and that Ukraine had met the major milestones for joining the EU.

So, what are those accession criteria?

  • political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces;
  • administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis* and ability to take on the obligations of membership.

BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 118. Ukraine Gets a Green Light From Biden and France Nearly Has 'Boots on the Ground' – RedState


Via AP:

The European Union on Tuesday launched membership talks with Ukraine, a decade after Russian troops seized the Crimean Peninsula to deter the country from moving closer to the West, part of a chain of events that set the two neighbors on the path to war.

Ukraine’s accession negotiations were set in motion at an intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg. Just a few hours later, Moldova also launched its membership talks. While the events are a major milestone on their European paths, the talks could take years to conclude.

In opening remarks presented via video-link, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal described it as “a historic day” that marks “a new chapter” in his country’s ties with the bloc, particularly as the war with Russia rages on.

“We fully understand that there is still much work ahead of us on the path to accession. We are ready for it. We have demonstrated that we can move swiftly and achieve the impossible,” Shmyhal said.

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EU Loan Funded by Russian Assets

I've posted several times on the efforts to use frozen Russian assets to fund Ukraine's civil government, defense, and reconstruction. Those efforts are slowly taking shape and producing results.

On June 13, the G7 agreed to turn $50 billion in frozen Russian assets into $3.2 billion in annual funding for Ukraine. The Russians weren't happy, but a) who cares, and b) they'd better get used to it. 


BACKGROUND:

G7 Agrees to Confiscate Russian Assets to Fund Reparations For Putin's War in Ukraine – RedState

Senate Panel Votes to Sic the Repo Man on Frozen Russian Assets

Sad Faces in the Kremlin As the House Sends Ukraine Aid Package to Almost Certain Senate Approval – RedState

The West Will Make Russia Pay to Rebuild Ukraine and This Is How That Will Happen


The EU had announced its intention to do the same with Russian assets, but there were some questions about how this would happen.


BACKGROUND:  EU Will Use Frozen Russian Assets to Fund Ukraine's Defense and Russia Retaliates – RedState


On Monday, the EU made its move.

European Union governments agreed to use 1.4 billion euros ($1.50 billion) in profits from Russian frozen assets for arms and other aid to Ukraine, prompting Hungary to accuse fellow EU members of a "shameless" rule breach to bypass its objections.

EU governments had already decided in May to use profits from the assets frozen in the EU to help Ukraine, with 90% of funds earmarked for military aid. But Hungary has been holding up approval of the necessary legal measures, diplomats say.

...

With a first tranche of proceeds from the frozen assets worth 1.4 billion euros due next week, EU officials had been urgently exploring ways to bypass Hungary's objections and ensure the money could swiftly help Ukraine.

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Hungary Neutered

The sticking point in the EU and NATO on actions to be taken in Ukraine has been running afoul of Hungary's Viktor Orban. As recently as April 2022, I had a favorable opinion of Orban. I viewed him as a populist willing to buck the European consensus and do what he thought was right for Hungary.


BACKGROUND: Viktor Orban's Election Is Not a Win for Putin or a Loss for Zelensky and NATO, It Is a Win for Hungary – RedState


In retrospect, I think I was not sufficiently cynical.

Orban sandbagged the accession of Sweden into NATO, delaying long after the Turkish rug merchant President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had closed his deal. He also tried to prevent sanctions against Russia after Putin's invasion of Ukraine.


BACKGROUND::

Sweden Joins NATO After Hungary's Obstruction Abruptly Ends – RedState

Turkey Signed Off on Sweden's NATO Membership, Hungary's Orban Is Dragging His Feet and No One Knows Why


His actions while in power, changing the country's constitution, making the courts an instrument of his political party, and culminating in the "Defense of National Sovereignty Act" are those of someone who wants to pull Hungary back to the bad old days of USSR satellite or, worse yet, to the days of the quisling regime of Ferenc Szalasi. It all calls into question whether Orban's Hungary has any reason to be part of the EU or NATO other than to act as a Trojan horse and security risk.

Hungary had blocked the seizure of profits from frozen Russian assets but soon found it was no match for a unified Europe determined to proceed.

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The EU has devised a legal workaround to sidestep Hungary’s veto on buying weapons for Ukraine with the profits generated by Russia’s frozen assets this year, in a move that could also clear the way for the G7 to pay $50bn to Kyiv.

EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell told the Financial Times that since Hungary abstained from an earlier agreement to set aside the proceeds from Russia’s frozen assets, it “should not be part of the decision to use this money”. He added that the workaround was “sophisticated as every legal decision, but it flies”.

Bypassing Budapest this way could also remove a hurdle that could complicate G7 efforts to raise a $50bn loan for Kyiv by December — designed to be paid off by the future proceeds — a decision taken by leaders at a summit in Italy earlier this month.

Earlier in June, Hungary agreed not to obstruct NATO efforts to help Ukraine as long as it was not made to participate.

Hungary agreed on Wednesday not to veto NATO support for Ukraine but Prime Minister Viktor Orbán insisted that his government would provide neither funds nor military personnel for any joint assistance effort.

Everyone has grown sort of tired of Orban playing MiniMe to Putin. NATO has already limited intelligence sharing with Hungary. Though no mechanism exists to expel member states from the EU, a fifth of the delegates to the EU parliament favor suspending Hungary's voting rights in the EU.

Even if nothing happens, Orban's days of being the bag of burning poo on the porch.

ICC Indictments

This was long overdue.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for two top Russian military figures who led the war on Ukraine for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes, it announced Tuesday.

Former defense minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov were named in the warrants for their attacks on civilian infrastructure in particular.

The action comes after the court — to which Russia is not a signatory — last year issued indictments against President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova, over the removal of Ukrainian children to Russia.

The court has no powers of enforcement and relies on the 124 nations that are signatories to the Rome Statute that established the court to arrest those indicted on a charge of war crimes or crimes against humanity if they visit their territories.

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Even though the ICC is sort of a toothless beast, there is political value in this. Plus, there are few worse fates for wealthy Russians than to make them stay in Russia.

The next step on this is for the ICC to take a page from the Nuremberg trials and consider the Russian Defense Ministry and parts of the Russian military as criminal organizations and subject any member of those groups to arrest if they set foot in an ICC cooperating country.

Bottom Line

With the battlefield in Putin's War stalemated for the moment, the focus of the conflict is shifting to the political arena. Things are not going well for Russia in that theater of operations. It has become politically and diplomatically isolated. It is seeking out allies among the disreputable and irrelevant. And it is powerless to resist or retaliate. The fact that Zelensky had this string of political victories without lifting a finger speaks to Russia's weakness much more than it does to Ukraine's strength.



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