Daily Briefs

Photo : Vahid Salemi/AP

06 July 2023, Thursday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #562

Protests over Quran-burning in Sweden: A Profile | War in Ukraine: Day 496

Countries approach ICJ against Iran for the downed plane Flight PS752; Just Stop Oil activists disrupts Wimbledon Tennis Championship; Estonia joins the OECD's Development Assistance Committee

In Focus
By Sreeja JS

Protests over Quran-burning in Sweden: A Profile
On 28 June, Salwan Momika, an Irani immigrant living in Sweden, burnt Quran outside the central mosque in Stockholm on the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important festivals in the Muslim calendar. According to the police, Momika had permission to protest according to the free speech laws. Later, police explained that an investigation is underway to enquire about “agitation against an ethnic group.” Following the Quran-burning protest and the stark criticisms raised against Sweden internationally, the government issued a statement saying that it “strongly rejects the Islamophobic act committed by individuals in Sweden,” and that it “in no way reflects the opinions of the Swedish Government.” The incident sparked varied responses within Sweden and many Muslim-majority countries that condemned the burning. 

Repeated Quran burning protests and the influence of far-right politics
Sweden has witnessed such demonstrations in the last couple of years. The riots that broke out in Malmo in 2020 and in the various cities of Malmo, Norrkoping and Orebro in 2022 were instances of Islamophobia. They also marked the rise and the increasing influence of right-wing politics in Sweden. 

The catalyst for these riots was Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish who established the far-right Stram Kurs, or Hard Line movement promoting anti-immigrant and anti-Islam agenda. In January 2023, another Quran-burning protest happened outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm by a far-right politician against Sweden’s NATO bid. In February 2023 Swedish police took steps to curb such actions citing security risk concerns. The Supreme Administrative Court, however, overturned the decision saying security risk concerns are not enough to limit the right to demonstrate. Thus, the debate in Sweden revolves around free speech laws and the prevailing Islamophobic narratives.

Opposition from the Muslim-majority countries:
The Muslim-majority countries have raised serious objections and concerns towards the repeated incidents of Quran burning in Sweden. Triggering widespread condemnation, these countries demanded the Swedish government impose bans on such actions hurting religious sentiments. The freedom of speech and expression debate is not well taken in the Islamic world and the recent incident has caused protesters to storm Swedish embassies in Ankara and Baghdad. 

Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt strongly criticized the burning. Iran said the burning reflected “a hateful aggressive spirit that has nothing to do with freedom of expression.” Tehran also refrained from sending its ambassador to Stockholm. Iraq called it “provocative and unacceptable.” Saudi Arabia responded that “these hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted without any justification.” Morocco, Kuwait, UAE and Jordan recalled their ambassadors to Sweden. On 30 June, Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan called for a daylong protest to defend the sanctity of the Quran as the parliament discussed the burning of the Quran in Stockholm. 

Karl Ritter and Jan M Olsen, “Quran burnings have Sweden torn between free speech and respecting minorities,” AP News, 05 July 2023
Susan Frazer, “Turkey says Quran burning in Sweden raises questions about its reliability as a possible NATO member,” AP News, 04 July 2023
Alys Davies, “Sweden Quran burning: Protesters storm embassy in Baghdad,” BBC News, 30 June 2023
Sweden issues rare ban over Quran burning rally,” Deutsche Welle, 08 February 2023
Dozens arrested at Sweden riots sparked by planned Quran burnings,” BBC News, 18 April 2022

War in Ukraine: Day 496
By Rishika Yadav

War on the Ground
On 05 July, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, in his Presidential address, focused on the safety of strategic facilities, including nuclear power plants. Measures were discussed and decisions were made to ensure control and information sharing with international partners regarding the situation at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and Russia's threats. The East, South, and Northern regions were discussed in detail, expressing gratitude to the brave warriors. Ammunition supply, both from partners and domestic production, was emphasized, acknowledging progress in Ukraine's weapon production. New sanctions are being prepared by the government, following a meeting between the President, Yulia Svyrydenko, first Deputy Prime Minister, and Oleksiy Myacheslavovych Danilov, National Security and Defence Council Secretary. The President addressed the lack of available shelters in various Ukrainian cities, expressing concern and emphasizing the responsibility of local authorities to take action. 

On 04 July, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Emmanuel Macron, held a telephone conversation to discuss defence agreements and the current situation in Russia. Zelenskyi expressed gratitude for France's transfer of armoured vehicles, including necessary sanitary and evacuation transport, light tanks, and air defence systems. They emphasized the importance of the productive Vilnius NATO summit and discussed security guarantees for Ukraine's path to the alliance. Zelenskyi also warned Macron about potential dangerous provocations by Russian forces at Zaporizhia NPP, agreeing to closely monitor the situation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

On 05 July, IAEA reported on the situation in Ukraine. According to Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of IAEA, experts from the agency have conducted inspections at Ukraine's ZNPP and have not observed any visible signs of mines or explosives. Additional access, however, is needed to confirm their absence, particularly on the rooftops of reactor units and certain areas of the turbine halls and cooling system. The IAEA emphasizes the importance of verifying the facts on the ground amid increasing military tension in the region. The main external power line to the ZNPP has been reconnected after a temporary disruption.

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia

On 05 July, the Moscow Times reported that the Kremlin issued a warning on the situation at ZNPP. The Kremlin stated that Kyiv might be preparing a dangerous act at the Russian-controlled ZNPP. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, expressed concern about potential sabotage and catastrophic consequences. Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of jeopardising the plant's safety. Renat Karchaa, an advisor to Russia's Rosatom nuclear agency, accused Kyiv of planning an attack on the plant on 05 July.

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe  

On 05 July, Reuters reported on the calls made by Poland and Italy for Ukraine’s security. The report says that ahead of the NATO summit, Poland and Italy expressed their belief in the necessity of providing real security guarantees to Ukraine. While Ukraine seeks assurances of future NATO membership, some members like the US and Germany are cautious due to concerns about escalating tensions with Russia. Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister of Italy emphasized the importance of security guarantees for Ukraine and reiterated Italy's support. Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland, confirmed that the two countries share the same stance on Ukraine.
On 05 July, the UK's Ministry of Defence tweeted on its latest defence intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine. The report says that General Sergei Surovikin, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, and Colonel General Yunus-bek Yevkurov, Deputy Defence Minister of Russia, have been absent from public appearances since the Wagner Group mutiny. While reports of Surovikin's arrest are unconfirmed, his long association with Wagner raises suspicion. Surovikin's potential sanction could divide the Russian military, highlighting existing fault lines within the national security community exacerbated by the failed insurrection of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group leader.
On 05 July, the White House reported a press briefing with Karine Jean-Pierre, the Press Secretary of the White House. Pierre said that the White House is closely monitoring the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine following accusations between Moscow and Kyiv of plotting an attack. The UN nuclear watchdog's experts have not observed any signs of mines or explosives but require further access to confirm. Pierre confirmed that Joe Biden, President of the US, has not spoken to President Zelenskyy regarding the issue. The President remains committed to NATO's open-door policy, but decisions on Ukraine's membership will be made collectively. The White House considers Russia's occupation of the nuclear plant dangerous.
On 05 July, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reported on the case filed against Iran. The press release reported that Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and UK jointly filed a case against Iran at the ICJ regarding the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, in 2020. The countries accuse Iran of failing to prevent the offense, conducting an impartial investigation, and providing reparation and compensation to the victims' families. They seek full accountability, return of belongings, and acknowledgment of Iran's wrongful acts. Iran had sentenced an air defence commander to 13 years in prison, but the countries dismissed it as a sham trial.

We are working with our partners as hard as we can to ensure that our common security in Vilnius prevails; it all depends on our partners - address by the President of Ukraine,” president.gov.ua, 05 July 2023
Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed with Emmanuel Macron security assistance and preparations by the occupiers for provocations at the ZNPP,” president.gov.ua, 04 July 2023
Update 171 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine,” iaea.org, 05 July 2023
Kremlin Warns 'High' Threat of Ukraine Sabotage at Nuclear Plant,” The Moscow Times, 05 July 2023
Poland, Italy call for strong security guarantees for Ukraine,” Reuters, 05 July 2023
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 05 July 2023,” Twitter, 05 July 2023
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre,” whitehouse.gov, 05 July 2023
Canada, the Kingdom of Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland jointly institute proceedings against the Islamic Republic of Iran ,” icj-cij.org, 05 July 2023

In Brief
By Sneha Surendran and Prerana P

Joins as 32nd OECD-DAC member
On 04 July, Estonia joined the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC), becoming its 32nd member. Mariin Ratnik, the Undersecretary for Economic and Development Affairs, said that the news “reflects the outstanding work we have done over the last few decades and that our expertise in these areas is internationally recognized and sought after.” The OECD-DAC forum aims to coordinate and improve development policies and their implementation between the member states. The Foreign Ministry said that with the accession, Estonia’s global visibility will receive a boost. Estonia has been a part of the OECD since 2010. (“Estonia joins OECD Development Assistance Committee,” News.err, 06 July 2023)

PM visits Estonia; holds talks on the security situation in EU
On 05 July, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo visited Tallinn, Estonia. In a joint press conference with Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Orpo stated: “The relationship between Finland and Estonia is stronger today than ever before, we have a broad personal relationship and friendship, Finland and Estonia have strong cultural ties, our values, and ideas are very similar and our ideas about the reality around us are also very similar.” Orpo said that he held talks with his Estonian counterpart on energy issues, the security situation in Europe, NATO, and Ukraine. The PM stressed the need to support open market economies to strengthen the EU. He said that this will increase the EU’s influence on geopolitical and environmental matters. Orpo also remarked on Finland’s wish to strengthen bilateral ties with Estonia to support Ukraine. (“Finnish PM: Relations with Estonia are stronger than ever,” News.err, 06 July 2023)

SC rules against compensation in slavery case from Martinique

On 04 July, the Supreme Court (SC) of France denied the reparation demand sought by three groups for a slavery case from Martinique, a French Caribbean island. The court ruled that there was no evidence to prove that the petitioners had “individually suffered” for the crimes perpetrated on their ancestors. Alain Manville, a lawyer pursuing the case said that the decision was “political” and the substantial compensation money being demanded had influenced the court's decision. He stressed the need to increase the global reach of the case, so that “all Afro-descendants” could be brought in to ensure a different judgement from the court. Another lawyer responded to the ruling saying that they would be appealing to the  European Court of Human Rights to seek a different judgement. (“France’s Supreme Court rejects groups’ request for slavery reparations in case from Martinique,” Associated Press, 05 July 2023)
Macron’s suggestion on social media blockage raises the idea of democracy
On 04 July, French President Macron addressed over 200 mayors at the Elysee Palace, where he raised an idea of blocking social media platforms during the upcoming riots. Jean-Noel Barrot, the minister of the Digital Transition, discussed the bill to “secure the digital environment.” The temporary block on social networks could raise arguments on the legal questions. Although the French Constitution holds the freedom of expression, the Constitutional Council simultaneously ruled that limiting the above measures to protect the public order must be proportionate. Macron stated that the French ISP network has already blocked various certain sites and would extend its blockage to other applications such as Snapchat, Twitter and Telegram. The proposal was made two days after the Ministry of Interior requested the restriction of internet access due to false press releases. The Social Party leader Olivier Faure has stated that: “The country of human rights and the rights of citizens cannot align itself with the great democracies of China, Russia and Iran.” Further, the digital specialists have questioned the idea of democracy. (“Damien Leloup and Florian Reynaud, “Macron suggests blocking social media during riots,” Le Monde, 05 July 2023)

Draft budget for 2024 approved
On 05 July, the draft for Germany’s 2024 budget was approved by the Cabinet. The draft proposes a cut on expenditure, with the government planning to spend EURO 445.7 billion, a decrease of 6.4 per cent from the expected spending of EURO 476.3 billion. However, defence expenditure has been increased to around EURO 51.8 billion. Germany is expecting to achieve the two per cent GDP target that NATO has set in defence expenditure by next year. Germany intends to return to their debt-brake system, which allows new borrowings up to only 0.35 per cent of the annual GDP. For the last three years, this had been suspended owing to the pandemic as the country looked to borrow large amounts to finance support packages. Finance Minister Christian Lindner said that the government was “initiating the return to budget normality,” and was sending a  message that the country was “committed to state finances that are sustainable in the long term.” The Parliament is expected to approve the final version of the budget in December.  (“German Cabinet approves a lower 2024 budget as it eyes a return to financial ‘normality’,” Associated Press, 05 July 2023)
The Wagner troops in Belarus alerts the neighbouring countries
On 05 July, Eng.Lsm.lv reported that Lithuania has introduced top-level border security by tripling its number of border security force. The country expressed its concern of Prigozhin’s mercenaries’ presence in the neighbouring borders. Polish Interior Minister has also deployed additional 500 police officers into the border control. Although Latvia did not experience any significant risks, the country has increased surveillance due to dozens attempt to enter the border from Belarus every day. The Interior minister of Latvia has stated that the intelligence force and the presence of National Armed Forces (NBS) might increase if the situation worsens. Further, the President stated that: “We cannot say anything specifically at this time, because it is all speculation, but we need to follow it closely.” (Ella Semjonova, “Latvia continues enhanced monitoring of Belarus border,” Eng.lsm.lv, 05 July 2023)

Greta Thunberg booked for disobeying police orders
On 05 July, Swedish prosecutors pressed charges on climate activist Greta Thunberg for violating police orders to leave a climate protest in the city of Malmo in June. Thunberg was part of a protest that disrupted shipping in the oil port of Malmo that had been organized by Ta Tillbaka Framtiden (Take Back the Future). At the time, she had posted online saying: "We choose to not be bystanders, and instead physically stop the fossil fuel infrastructure. We are reclaiming the future." The case is expected to be heard at the Malmo District Court before the end of the month. Although charges for flouting police orders carry sentences upto six months in prison, a prosecutor informed that it could be settled by payment of fines. (“Sweden charges Greta Thunberg with disobeying police,” Deutsche Welle, 05 July 2023)

Just Stop Oil interrupts Wimbledon match
On 05 July, a Wimbledon Tennis Championship match was disrupted by two climate activists from the group Just Stop Oil. The two activists interrupted a first-round match between Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov and Japanese qualifier Sho Shimabukuro. One of the protestors, a 66-year-old man, said “I'm here for my grandchildren and everybody else's. I'm not prepared to let our politicians wreck everything and leave the next generation to pick up the pieces.” The play was resumed after the two protestors were arrested on charges of suspicion of aggravated trespass and criminal damage. Later, Just Stop Oil released a statement confirming its role in the incident. The organization has vowed to continue protests till the UK government stops all new oil and gas exploration projects. (“Wimbledon: 'Just Stop Oil' climate activists halt tournament,” Deutsche Welle, 05 July 2023)
The rare summer storm affects air and train traffic
On 05 July, the Netherlands experienced a severe summer storm at speeds of up to 146 kilometres per hour. The Dutch authorities warned the people to stay indoors in the Amsterdam province and have requested to use emergency services only in “life-threatening” situations. Over 300 flights were cancelled and train operators have halted all the services due to falling trees. At least one person died in the Dutch town due to the summer storm. The Dutch weather service declared the wind force to be the strongest ever recorded in the summer of Netherlands and coined it as the “first very severe summer storm ever measured,” Netherlands was exposed to extreme weather conditions, as one-third of the country lies below its sea-level. (“Netherlands: Rare storm brings death, traffic chaos,” Deutsche Welle, 05 July 2023)
Ariane 5 launches successfully
On 06 July, the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5, marked its final mission from French Guinea, after its 27 years of service. The ESA’s workforce rocket, Ariane 5 carried two military communication satellites into the geostationary orbit, which includes Germany's Heinrich Hertz (H2Sat) and France’s Syracuse 4b. On 05 July 2023, the 53-metre-tall rocket marked its 117th final mission, at 2300 hours. The launch was delayed twice, which was scheduled on 16 June, due to technical problems and bad weather respectively. (“Europe's Ariane 5 rocket lifts off for final time,” Deutsche Welle, 06 July 2023)
EU proceed towards latest gene techniques, to curb the global shortages
On 05 July, the EU asked a 27-nation bloc to embrace the latest gene techniques that could counter several global challenges. EU Vice President Timmermans stated that the new techniques would fetch similar results with much more speed and efficiency. The EU has secured a conservative approach towards the genetically modified organisms (GMOs), while the US quickly adopted the new technologies. The output products consisted of colour that could attract the consumers, while using less pesticides. The proposal was welcomed by large farming companies and was criticised by several environmentalists. The 2001 GMO legislation assured the environmentalists that the EU would not produce GMOs in bulk and sell them across 450 million without warning. The latest proposal has alarmed the environmentalists, who demanded for better testing. Eva Corral of Greenpeace stated that: “Biotech companies have long considered these safety procedures an unnecessary bother and it’s disappointing to see the commission agree with them.” Further Timmermans corrected the statement saying the development will only be accepted if the results are in conventional breeding. (Raf Casert, “The European Union is moving toward gene tech in food production to counter climate change and shortages,” AP News, 05 July 2023)
Four countries approach ICJ against Iran for the downed plane Flight PS752
On 05 July, BBC reported that Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and the UK were taking legal action against Iran at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for Iran shooting down the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in January 2020. Iran had admitted to accidentally shooting the plane down, in which 176 people had lost their lives. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, whose unit had fired missiles at the plane, had responded that the plane had been mistaken for a US missile. In April, an Iranian court had sentenced 10 armed forces personnel over the incident, but it had been called “meaningless and unacceptable” by the victims’ families. Now, the four countries want Iran to publicly acknowledge its “internationally wrongful acts” and apologize to the families of the victims. The latest recourse to legal action was taken after Iran surpassed a deadline to respond to an arbitration stating that the missiles had been launched “unlawfully and intentionally.” (Emma Harrison, “Ukraine plane: Iran facing legal action over downing of Flight PS752,” BBC, 05 July 2023)

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