At the Ukraine-EU summit, EU leaders seek to dampen Ukraine’s ambitions of joining the bloc, while the role of France and Germany in forming the EU policy has deteriorated significantly.
Meanwhile, up to 40 countries may create a coalition to boycott the Olympic games, the International Olympic Committee is threatening Ukraine with "implications of a boycott", and China is trying to intimidate the U.S. with spy balloons.
offers a digest of Western mass media at the end of the January 30 — February 3, 2023, business week.
The Ukraine-EU summit: EU leaders seek to dampen Ukraine’s ambitions of joining the bloc
EU leaders will seek to cool Ukraine’s expectations of a fast track to membership at the Ukraine-EU summit on February 3, while avoiding negative public statements, The Guardian writes.
As earlier reported, The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, had arrived in Kyiv to take part in the summit.
At the same time, western EU member states are concerned about Kyiv’s expectations on speedy membership.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, said Ukraine wanted to join the European Union within the next two years.
Few member states expect Ukraine to join any time soon, while Some diplomatic sources have expressed skepticism that Ukraine will ever attain membership.
The reasons that are mentioned are that Ukraine would become the poorest EU member state and the largest recipient of European funds.
However, speaking alongside Zelenskiy on February 2 лютого Ursula Von der Leyen praised Ukraine’s "impressive progress" to meet seven requirements set out in the commission’s opinion on Ukraine’s candidate status. Meanwhile, several EU member states argue that Ukraine should not be allowed to open accession talks with the bloc – the next key decision point on the road to membership – until it has passed all seven requirements.
How EU officials have taken the key role in the bloc’s politics
The Wall Street Journal has published an analysis arguing that the role of EU officials such as Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel has become more significant after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Thus, France and Germany led Europe’s response to Russian aggression in 2014, while officials in The EU’s new muscle was evident Thursday when commission President Ursula von der Leyen brought 15 EU commissioners to Kyiv, the author explains.
The commission is overseeing billions of euros of economic aid to Ukraine, funneling military assistance to its military and planning its postwar reconstruction. Top EU officials worked with the White House on craftings sanctions to impose on Moscow, and the commission has shaped subsequent rounds of sanctions.
The commission has also played a central role in handling economic spillover from the crisis sparked by Russia’s decision to largely turn off its gas exports to the EU.
"The more dysfunctional the Franco-German engine, the bigger the space also for the commission’s independent action," said Piotr Buras, head of the European Council on Foreign Relation’s Warsaw office.
However, since commission officials are appointed and not elected, they risk seeing a public backlash in case of mistakes.
"The more you shift these kinds of decisions into the hands of the so-called faceless bureaucracy, the more frustration you get if things don’t work out," said Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow at Chatham House.
Yet insiders say Ms. von der Leyen, despite some mistakes, has shown an ability to prod member states for more ambition at times while respecting member states’ red lines.
A boycott of Olympic Games: how the IOC threatens Ukraine
Up to 40 countries could boycott the next Olympic Games, said Poland's sport and tourism minister Kamil Bortniczuk as cited by BBC.
His comments came after Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia jointly rejected an International Olympic Committee plan to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in 2024.
The United States government backed these demands and also called for organizations to stop broadcasting events into both countries. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if that occurs.
Bortniczuk said he believed it would be possible to build a coalition of 40 countries, including Great Britain, the United States, and Canada, to support a block on the IOC's plans:
"If we were to boycott the Games, the coalition we will be a part of will be broad enough to make holding the Games pointless."
The IOC warned Ukraine and other nations about the implications of a boycott:
"A boycott is a violation of the Olympic charter, which obliges all NOCs to 'participate in the Games of the Olympiad by sending athletes'. As history has shown, previous boycotts did not achieve their political ends and served only to punish the athletes of the boycotting NOCs."
A Chinese spy balloon over the U.S.: What did it look for?
The United States has detected a Chinese surveillance balloon that has been hovering over the northwestern United States, The New York Times reports.
According to the Pentagon, this happened days before the first visit to Beijing by the American secretary of state, Antony Blinken, in six years, during which he is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping.
Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. [video]
The Pentagon sent F-22 fighter jets to track the balloon Wednesday, but President Joe Biden chose not to shoot down the balloon out of fear that debris could harm people on the ground.
A defense official said that while it was not the first time China had sent spy balloons to the United States, this one has appeared to remain over the country for longer.
The balloon did not pose a military or physical threat and had limited value in collecting intelligence over what China could glean through satellite imagery.
The balloon was launched in China and traveled over the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and through northwest Canada over the past few days before arriving somewhere over Montana.
Cina intimidates the U.S. with spy balloons [video]
It was unclear what China was looking for in Montana, but the state is home to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of three American Air Force bases that operate and maintain intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Brigade General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters that the balloon was traveling well above commercial air traffic, and that once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.
Why are balloons used again in reconnaissance and espionage?
Although for the last few decades, satellites have been de rigueur, now that lasers or kinetic weapons are being invented to target satellites, there is a resurgence of interest in balloons, says John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University as cited by The Guardian.
According to him, although balloons don’t offer the same level of persistent surveillance as satellites, they are easier to retrieve, and much cheaper to launch.
Balloons can also scan more territory from a lower altitude and spend more time over a given area because they move more slowly than satellites.
The Pentagon spotted a Chinese balloon over the U.S. [video]
Reconnaissance balloons were first used in the U.S. during the American civil war, the media notes. The U.S. has revived the idea in recent years, but has tended to use balloons only on U.S. territory.
Over somebody else’s atmosphere, you are required to seek permission, emphasizes Blaxland.
He argues that the Chinese understood that their balloon would be detected, but their goal was to embarrass the U.S. and make the U.S. aware of the fact that China has been secretly keeping up with its technology, while the capturing of intelligence was a secondary task.