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Bavaria has traded energy for beauty and the UN is searching for a new term for 'deep concern'

19-8-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

Reuters: The threat of nuclear catastrophe is growing by the day

The U.N. chief and the presidents of Turkey and Ukraine have discussed ways to end the war started by Russia and secure Europe's largest nuclear power station, as Russia and Ukraine traded accusations of new shelling near the plant.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after talks in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday he was gravely concerned about circumstances at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and called for military equipment and personnel to be withdrawn.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he, Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed building on a recent positive atmosphere to revive peace negotiations with Russia that took place in Istanbul in March.

In a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement in July for Russia to lift a blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments, and exports resumed at the beginning of August.

NATO member Turkey has maintained good relations with Russia, an important trade partner, and sought to mediate in the conflict, which began six months ago when Russian forces invaded neighbouring Ukraine.

"Personally, I maintain my belief that the war will ultimately end at the negotiating table. Mr Zelenskiy and Mr Guterres have the same opinion in this regard," Erdogan said.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow.

At the same time, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is readying about $800 million of additional military aid to Ukraine and could announce it as soon as Friday, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Meanwhile, 17 people were killed and 42 wounded in two separate Russian attacks on the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the regional governor said on Thursday.

At least four explosions hit near a major Russian military airport on the Moscow-controlled Crimean peninsula on Thursday, three sources said. The sources said the explosions were near Russia's Belbek military airport, north of the Black Sea fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol.

Ukraine has hinted it orchestrated other blasts over the last 10 days at other Russian installations in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Russia says its aim in Ukraine is to demilitarise the country and protect Russian-speakers on land that President Vladimir Putin says historically belongs to Russia.

Ukraine and the West call it an unprovoked war of conquest. Ukraine shook off Russian domination when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Guterres reiterated calls for demilitarisation around the nuclear plant.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, agreement is urgently needed to re-establish Zaporizhzhia's purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area," Guterres said.

Russia, which captured the plant in southern Ukraine soon after the Feb. 24 invasion, said it could shut it down, which Ukraine warned would increase the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.

Russia had earlier rejected as "unacceptable" international calls for a demilitarised zone. Ukrainian engineers are still operating the plant despite the Russian occupation.

Ukraine also accuses Russia of using the plant as a shield for its forces to launch strikes across the reservoir on Ukrainian-held cities, which Russia denies.

Reuters cannot independently confirm the military situation in the area or the responsibility for shelling.

Zelenskiy said after meeting Guterres that they had agreed parameters for a possible mission to the plant by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Russia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as well as stopping any provocations and shelling," Zelenskiy said.

Politico: Beautiful landscape or available energy - how to prioritise correctly

Bavarian Premier Markus Söder and his predecessors spent years battling wind energy projects and high-voltage power lines they feared would spoil the state’s picturesque vistas.

Now, no other German state is more dependent on Russian gas or nuclear power, leaving Bavaria scrambling to ensure the lights don’t go out if Moscow turns off the taps.

Söder, who once threatened to resign as Bavarian environment minister if Germany’s nuclear power plants weren’t shut down at the end of 2022, is now campaigning to keep them running — and for northern states to compensate for the south’s shortcomings.

While pushing for more nuclear, Söder still opposes any radioactive waste storage in his state. He also thinks more wind energy is a great idea — up north, not among Bavaria’s rolling hills — and recently suggested Germany look into fracking to secure more gas, specifically in Lower Saxony, a safe distance from Munich.

A key figure in the CSU’s push was Söder, then serving as environment minister in Munich. Now, as premier, he’s fighting to keep Bavaria’s last nuclear plant running as the state fears it might face not only a gas problem this winter, but a power crisis, too.

Over the past decade, Bavaria has turned into a net importer of power as it failed to replace nuclear with other sources.

Nuclear still generates about 12 percent of Bavaria’s electricity — compared with 6 percent nationwide — and gas-fired power was responsible for 16 percent in 2020, compared to 12 percent nationwide. 

“In the past 10 years, we’ve almost completely lost the power generation we had tailored to our demand with nuclear power plants, and we didn’t build adequate replacements,” said Detlef Fischer, director of the Bavarian Energy and Water Management Association VBEW.

“Our 700,000 solar plants are of little use in winter, and we don’t have any storage facilities either,” he added.

Meanwhile, accounting for both direct deliveries from a pipeline arriving in northern Bavaria and indirect imports from other states and countries, Bavaria depends on Russia for 90 percent of its gas supply, the state's business association said in May.

The state also relies to a significant degree on a gas storage site located in Austria, and now Vienna wants to tap that facility for its own needs.

Concern over the state’s vulnerability has reached the federal government, whose reassessment of whether to delay the nuclear phaseout is partly driven by fears over a power shortage in Bavaria.

Berlin’s other short-term measures to battle the gas crunch — liquefied natural gas imports and coal — will be of limited use for landlocked, coal-poor Bavaria.

Stretching nuclear fuel into the spring could help prevent blackouts in Bavaria if a harsh winter coincides with a gas shortage and higher demand spurred by electric heater use, said Michael Sterner, professor for energy systems at the University of Regensburg.

“But it won’t reverse a decade of energy policy failures,” he warned.

Thanks to a solar boom and hydropower, half of the state’s power generation is renewable. But wind power growth stalled under the CSU's campaign against turbines.

Markus Söder

In 2014, the party imposed a restrictive law dubbed 10H that permitted wind plants only at a distance equalling 10 times the turbine’s height from residential buildings — severely curtailing wind expansion — with a vow not to “sacrifice the typical Bavarian landscape.”

The party also railed against “monstrous” high-voltage power lines designed to bring renewable power from Germany’s windswept North Sea coast or eastern coal power to the Alps. Bavaria eventually opted for more expensive below-ground cables; they are still not in operation.

The Bavarian state chancellery did not respond to a request for comment. Söder has so far rejected any responsibility, lambasting recent criticism as “Bavaria-bashing.”

Other states also lag behind on wind. Baden-Württemberg has been led by a Green government for a decade and turbines only cover 0.2 percent of the land, compared to Bavaria’s 0.68 percent and the federal target of 2 percent. The local government, which wanted to build 1,000 turbines by 2026, blames federal regulatory issues.

But in the event of an energy shortage, Baden-Württemberg can fall back on coal, and the state can receive gas via France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Many eastern and central states retain significant coal power capacity, while northern states have wind.

Experts warned that Bavaria’s import dependence would make it particularly vulnerable if power and gas are also in short supply in the state’s neighbors.

Sterner, of the University of Regensburg, said that even if Bavaria makes it through this winter relatively unscathed, the slow pace of wind and grid expansion would have severe consequences for the state’s economy.

Bavaria is one of Germany’s richest states, home to multinational giants and prosperous family businesses. But increasingly, industry is choosing to settle further north — near plentiful supplies of wind power.

Tesla’s gigafactory chose Brandenburg. Intel’s new semiconductor plant will be in Saxony-Anhalt. Sweden’s battery developer Northvolt recently picked Schleswig-Holstein, lauding the region as “Germany’s clean energy valley.”

“Just look where the new companies are going in Germany. They want to produce with climate-neutral and affordable power,” said Sterner. “Söder’s policy risks deindustrializing Bavaria.”

AP: Moldovan police overwhelmed by constant false bomb reports

For tiny Moldova, an impoverished, landlocked nation that borders war-torn Ukraine but isn’t in the European Union or NATO, it’s been another week plagued by bomb threats.

On an overcast day outside the international airport serving Moldova’s capital of Chisinau, hundreds of people lined up this week as bomb-sniffing dogs examined the vicinity. That’s now a common scene in Europe’s poorest nation as it battles what observers believe are attempts to destabilize the former Soviet republic amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Since the beginning of July, Moldova has received nearly 60 bomb threats — with more than 15 reported so far this week — at locations ranging from the capital’s city hall, to the airport, the supreme court, shopping malls and hospitals.

While no one has yet been charged for the bomb threats, most of which have arrived via email and all of which have turned out to be false, officials say they have traced computer addresses to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

“It is part of the disinformation war against Moldova, which is ongoing,” said Valeriu Pasa, an analyst at the Chisinau think tank “It could be part of the Russian effort to destabilize Moldova, as they use many different methods to do so.”

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Moldova, which has a population of 2.6 million people, has faced a multitude of crises. It has received more Ukrainian refugees per capita than any other country; tensions have soared in the country’s Russia-backed breakaway region; it is dealing with an acute energy crisis; and like much of Europe it is battling skyrocketing inflation.

The frequent bomb threats are only adding pressure to the country’s already overstretched authorities.

“It blocks a lot of the resources — police, investigators, technical services — it’s a type of bullying I would say, or harassment, of Moldovan state systems and public services,” Pasa said.

Maxim Motinga, a prosecutor from Moldova’s Office for Combating Organized Crime, told The Associated Press that since the bomb threats started “practically every day we open criminal cases.”

“At the moment, all criminal investigations are ongoing,” he said, adding that requests have been made for official assistance from Russia and Ukraine if “certain tracks leading to the respective countries were established.”

“I hope we get some answers from those countries,” he said.

For Veaceslav Belbas, a 43-year-old Moldovan businessman returning from Turkey to Chisinau on Monday, a bomb threat left him frightened as his plane circled the capital’s airport for 30 minutes. After that, the plane did a U-turn and went back to Turkey.

“We prayed a lot and finally landed,” he said. “For me, it was such a big shock that I told my wife that this is my last flight.”

Tensions in Moldova soared in April after a series of actual explosions occurred in the Russia-backed breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russia bases about 1,500 troops in a so-called frozen conflict zone.

It raised fears that non-NATO, militarily neutral Moldova could get dragged into Russia’s war orbit. At least one Russian official has spoken openly of snatching enough land in southern Ukraine to link up Russian-controlled areas from the mainland to Transnistria.

Observers pointed out that the blasts came as Moldova — which has historically close ties with Moscow — showed a growing Western orientation and after it had applied to join the EU, which it did shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. It was granted EU candidate status in late June, shortly before the bomb threats started.

Amid a seemingly endless pattern of disruptive and costly threats, Moldova’s Internal Ministry said it wants to toughen punishments for anyone convicted of false bomb alerts by ramping up fines and handing out lengthier prison sentences.

France24: Conflict between Serbia and Kosovo continues to simmer

EU-mediated "crisis management" talks Thursday between Serbia and Kosovo failed to quell rising tensions between the Balkan neighbours, but further dialogue will take place, the bloc's diplomatic chief said. 

"Unhappily, we did not get to an agreement today... But it is not the end of the story," EU High Representative Josep Borrell said after the Brussels talks ended.

"The discussion will resume in the coming days... I don't give up," he said.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic took part in the talks chaired by Borrell and aimed at defusing antagonism that has led to violent incidents in northern Kosovo in recent weeks.

Photo: N1

In a sign of the seriousness of the impasse, an aide to Vucic told journalists in Brussels that the Serbian president would return to Belgrade on Friday to give "what will be one of his most important speeches," regarding Kosovo.

Serbian state media said Vucic would on Sunday hold an "emergency meeting" in Belgrade with leaders of the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

The aide, Peter Petkovic, in charge of Serbia's relations with Kosovo, did not say what line Vucic would take.

But he said the president was staying in Brussels Thursday night "with the hope that a compromise might yet be reached".

Borrell did not elaborate on what obstacles stood in the way in the talks.

But he said that the discussion was "not a normal meeting" and he expressed alarm at "increasing tensions in northern Kosovo".

"It was a crisis management meeting," he said. "The purpose of this meeting was to calm down the situation on the ground."

Two aggravating issues between Serbia and Kosovo mentioned were vehicle licence plates Pristina is imposing across Kosovo, including on the Serbian minority living in the north, and entry-exit documents required on the border between the neighbours.

"The international community doesn't want to see renewed tensions in the coming period, and the parties will be fully responsible for any escalation on the ground," Borrell warned.

Serbia deeply resents Kosovo's breakaway status.

The territory's ethnic Albanian majority fought Serbian forces in 1999 with support from NATO warplanes. In 2008 it declared independence, which has been recognised by most but not all EU member states.

New violence flared in late July in northern Kosovo, prompting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday to say that the 3,700 NATO peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo "will take any measure that is necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all the people of Kosovo".

He made the statement after separately hosting Vucic and Kurti for talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Vucic and Kurti also met visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar in Brussels late Wednesday.

Escobar, who handles US policy for the Western Balkans, travelled to Brussels for the previous Serbia-Kosovo dialogue round.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva