Photo : CFP/CGTN
20 July 2023, Thursday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #573
Ukraine: Attack on the Crimean Bridge
By Sreeja JS
On 17 July, the Crimean Bridge (also called Kerch Strait Bridge) connecting the Crimean Peninsula to Krasnodar in Russia’s southwestern Taman peninsula came under attack for the second time after October 2022.
According to Russia’s antiterrorism committee, the bridge has been hit by two maritime drones in separate explosions. Even though they have inflicted minimal damage than the first one, it was a serious bolt to one of the important Russia’s supply routes passing through the bridge. Transport Ministry of Russia said that the roadway on the bridge was damaged while the spans remained intact.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President said the attack would not be left answered. Stressing on the imminent restoration of the bridge, he said: “Considering that this is the second terrorist attack on the Crimean Bridge, I am waiting for specific proposals on how to improve the security of this strategically important transport facility.” Dmitry Peskov, Moscow’s spokesperson said: “We know the reasons and those behind this terrorist act. This will require further composure and additional measures and work from all of us. No other measures have been discussed at the moment.” He did not divulge the specific details of Kremlin’s response to the attack but mentioned that its ultimate answer to the attack would be the achievement of all goals behind the “military operation” in Ukraine.
History, geography and the strategic significance of the Crimean bridge
The Crimean bridge is a 12-mile, USD 3.7 billion infrastructure project funded by Russia connecting Crimea with Russia across the Kerch Strait. The bridge consists of two parallel tracks: one four-lane road and a double-lane rail line and is considered one of the longest bridges in Europe. It offers a driving route to the peninsula, a popular destination for Russia’s tourists during summer.
The bridge is critical for Russia as the only road and rail link to Crimea that also served as a key military supply route for the Russia’s forces fighting in Southern Ukraine. It also holds a symbolic value that Putin inaugurated the bridge in 2018 and called it a “miracle.”
The bridge and peninsula have been a bone of contention between both Russia and Ukraine for a long time which intensified when Moscow declared a “special military operation” in February 2022. However, for Ukraine, the bridge violates its sovereignty and is widely despised. Therefore, the bridge was one of the key targets of the Ukraine’s forces as it has been targeting Russia’s logistics and supply routes for the last few months.
The Crimean bridge first came under attack by the Ukraine’s security forces in October 2022. A truck laden with explosives detonated at a vulnerable spot of the bridge maximizing the damage. Following the attack, Russia responded harshly with drone and missile attacks targeting Ukraine’s energy supplies hitting power stations and other critical infrastructure for several months in a tit-for-tat move. Since then, Russia improved security measures to protect the bridge, including inspections and strengthening anti-air defences to prevent missile and drone attacks. It also deployed a “target barage” with radar reflectors to act as decoys for any guided missiles targeting the bridge. The Russia’s navy has reportedly built new pens for dolphins trained to protect its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. The recent attack also provoked a stark response from Russia that it used sea-launched precision weapons on Ukraine’s military facilities near Odesa and Mykolaiv, in the northeastern Ukraine hitting fuel depots and facilities that make maritime drones.
Ukraine has been constantly targeting Crimea and it vowed to reclaim the peninsula from Russia's control. According to Kyiv, Crimea is playing a major role in sustaining Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the bridge served as the single important supply route replenishing the Russia’s forces in Southern Ukraine, damage to it means slowing down Russia’s efforts against Kyiv’s counteroffensive which is slightly progressing and making notable gains over the past few weeks.
Matthew Mpoke Bigg, “What We Know About the Attack on the Crimean Bridge,” The New York Times, 17 July 2023
Marc Sanotra, Neil MacFarquhar and Haley Wills, “Explosions Damage Crimea Bridge as Russia Blames Ukraine for Attack,” The New York Times, 17 July 2023
Andrew Roth, “Why is the Kerch Bridge attack significant to the war in Ukraine?,” The Guardian, 17 July 2023
“Meeting on the Crimean Bridge,” Kremlin.ru, 17 July 2023
“Russia’s forces destroy Ukrainian army’s fuel depot near Kramatorsk — top brass,” TASS, 17 July 2023
“Russia ‘knows’ who ordered Crimean Bridge terror attack – Kremlin,” RT News, 17 July 2023
War in Ukraine: Day 510
By Rishika Yadav
War on the Ground
On 19 July, The Kyiv Independent reported on the information shared by Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior advisor to Ukraine’s President on the Ukraine’s counteroffensive. He emphasizes that Ukraine’s counteroffensive in recapturing Russia’s-controlled territory is likely to be challenging and lengthy. After five weeks into the operation, progress is slower than predicted. Kyiv seeks joint military patrol of Black Sea countries for grain exports after Russia left a safety deal for cargo ships. According to the report, Kyiv faces difficulties due to heavily mined territory and logistical issues, requiring more tanks and F-16 fighter jets to accelerate efforts against Russia’s forces.
On 19 July, The Kyiv Independent reported on the information shared by Mykola Solskyi, Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister, about the Odesa attacks. He said that Russia’s attacks on port infrastructure in Odesa Oblast resulted in the destruction of 60,000 tons of grain. He calls it a "terrorist act" with severe global implications for food security. Odesa's port of Chornomorsk faces heavy Russia’s strikes, with air defence intercepting eight drones and one missile.
On 19 July, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President said that the attacks on Odesa and other regions had caused significant damage to ports and food storage. Around a million tons of food destined for Africa and Asia were affected. Zelenskyy emphasizes the need to strengthen Ukraine's air defence and hold Russia accountable for terrorism. Preparations for international events, including the Summit of the Crimean Platform, were discussed, with the aim of liberating Crimea from occupation.
The Moscow View
Claims by Russia
On 19 July, TASS reported on the statement made by Putin on the Black Sea Grain deal. He said that Moscow may reinstate the grain deal if previous promises, including waiving sanctions on grain and fertilizer supplies, are fulfilled without exception. Putin expressed openness to the deal's importance for the global food market and many countries. The decision depends on adhering to agreed principles fully.
On 19 July, Anadolu Agency reported that Putin will not be attending the BRICS summit in Johannesburg next month. It was also confirmed by Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African President. Instead, Russia will be represented by Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister. The decision comes after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin, putting pressure on South Africa, a signatory to the Rome Statute. All BRICS leaders, except Putin, will be present at the summit.
On 19 July, the Russia’s defence ministry reported on the progress of the special military operation in Ukraine. It confirmed successfully neutralized targets, including military facilities and depots near Odesa and a Ukraine’s Air Force airbase. In other directions, Russia’s troops continued offensive operations, advancing in depth and along the front, seizing a railway station. Numerous Ukraine’s attacks were repelled, and ammunition depots of Ukraine’s brigades were destroyed. Russia’s forces also targeted and destroyed Ukraine’s equipment and personnel across various regions. Notably, they shot down an AFU Su-25 aircraft and a Mi-8 helicopter.
On 19 July, TASS reported on Russia’s defence ministry’s shift in handling Ukraine’s ships crossing Black Sea. In a statement, Russia will consider all ships travelling to Ukraine’s ports across the Black Sea as potential carriers of military cargoes from midnight on July 20, 2023, following the expiration of the Black Sea grain deal. Russia further informed that the flag states of these ships will be viewed as siding with Ukraine in the conflict. Sea areas in certain parts of the Black Sea have been declared temporarily dangerous for navigation, with warning notices issued to mariners. This move comes after the termination of the maritime humanitarian corridor.
On 19 July, The Moscow Times reported about a bill passed by Russia’s m lawmakers that permits the National Guard to deploy heavy weaponry, including tanks. This move comes following a failed uprising by the Wagner mercenary group. The National Guard, under Putin's command, was initially established to tackle unrest and protests but has since taken part in military operations, including the offensive on Ukraine. The legislation allows the force to possess military-grade arms and was passed after the defence ministry acquired weapons from the Wagner group. The move aims to strengthen Russia's security apparatus after the mutiny attempt by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner's leader.
The West View
Responses from the US and Europe
On 19 July, the US announced a new military package of USD 1.3 billion to Ukraine which includes air defence systems, anti-tank missiles, and drones. The US department of defence issued a statement assuring USs support to Ukraine’s demands for “critical near-term capabilities.” This will also boost capacity of Ukraine’s armed forces. Through the package, Ukraine will receive “Four National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) and munitions,152 millimetres artillery rounds, mine clearing equipment and drones.”
On 19 July, The Guardian reported that a video has surfaced showing Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing his fighters in Belarus. In the video he is calling the Russia’s war effort in Ukraine a "disgrace." Prigozhin, who led a recent mutiny, criticized the Russia’s military's management of the war, and stated his fighters wouldn't participate for now. The video suggests a deal was struck during the mutiny allowing Wagner fighters to live in exile in Belarus, where they may be training Belarusian territorial forces. Prigozhin indicated Wagner mercenaries would be going to Africa for new operations.
On 19 July, Associated Press reported that five EU countries will extend their ban on Ukraine’s grain imports to protect their farmers. It will, however, allow food to move through their territories to destinations in need after Russia left the Black Sea grain deal. Agriculture ministers of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria signed a declaration supporting the transit of Ukraine’s grain through road, rail, and river routes, while maintaining the import ban until 2023. The ministers seek EU mechanisms to prevent grain congestion in their countries, with Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus noting a doubling of Ukraine’s grain moving through Poland this year due to the ban's effects.
On 19 July, Deutsche Welle reported that Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s Foreign Minister, pledged support to Ukraine for finding alternative grain export paths. She proposed the EU-created solidarity lanes "by barge, rail, or road" as an option. Baerbock accused Vladimir Putin of jeopardizing Ukraine’s grain exports and harming the poorest worldwide. Ukraine's grain feeds 400 million people globally.
On 19 July, BBC reported that in a speech in Prague, Sir Richard Moore, MI6 Chief, reveals that the intelligence agency has recruited disaffected Russia’ss. He emphasized that they are those Russia’ss who appalled the Ukraine and appealed for more to defect and join them. He emphasized that many Russia’ss are horrified by their armed forces' actions in Ukraine and offered them a chance to work to end the bloodshed. Moore assured that their secrets would be safe with MI6. He also discussed the Wagner mercenaries' rebellion and stated that the solution to the Ukraine war is Russia's withdrawal of troops. He highlighted the importance of human agents alongside AI technology in intelligence work.
“Kyiv Expects 'Long and Difficult' Counteroffensive – Ukrainian Presidential Advisor,” The Kyiv Independent, 19 July 2023
“Minister: Russia’s strikes destroy 60,000 tons of grain,” The Kyiv Independent, 19 July 2023
“Russia’s terror affects everyone; everyone in the world should be interested in bringing Russia to justice - address of the President of Ukraine,” president.gov.ua, 19 July 2023
“Russia may get back to grain deal once promises made to Moscow are kept — Putin,” TASS, 19 July 2023
“Russia’s Defence Ministry report on the progress of the special military operation,” eng.mil.ru, 19 July 2023
“Russia to view ships going to Ukraine across Black Sea as carrying military cargoes,” TASS, 19 July 2023
“Russia Backs Bill to Arm National Guard with Heavy Weapons,” The Moscow Times, 19 July 2023
Andrew Roth, “Video appears to show Wagner chief for first time since aborted mutiny,” The Guardian, 19 July 2023
Monika Scislowska, “Five European countries will extend ban on Ukraine’s grain but let it head to other places,” AP news, 19 July 2023
“EU 'solidarity lanes' provide alternative to grain deal, Germany's Baerbock says,” Deutsche Welle, 19 July 2023
Frank Gardner, “Disaffected Russia’ss spying for UK, says MI6 head,” BBC news, 19 July 2023
Hassan Isilow, “Putin set to skip BRICS summit in Johannesburg: South African president,” Anadolu Ajansi, 19 July 2023
“Ukraine updates: Russia threatens Black Sea grain transport,” Deutsche Welle, 19 July 2023
By Sneha Surendran, and Genesy Balasingam
Head of Belarus Red Cross reveals transport of Ukrainian children to Belarus
On 19 July, Dzmitry Shautsou, leads the Belarus Red Cross, said that his organization had been transporting children from Russia’s-occupied regions in Ukraine to Belarus to “improve their health.” He said that by partnering with a charity foundation, they were trying to make “..the children forget the horrors of the war and just rest, feel that there’s an island of happiness.” The revelations have led to widespread criticism, within Belarus and the international community. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to issue an arrest warrant” for Shautsou. Meanwhile, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the matter has been referred for investigation to their compliance committee. Since April, Belarusian officials said that over 1000 children have been brought in from the Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine. (Yuras Karmanau, “Belarus Red Cross sparks outcry after its chief says it brought Ukrainian children to Belarus,” Associated Press, 19 July 2023)
Government to close Russia’s Consulate General in Turku from October
On 19 July, the Finnish Government reported on the meeting between the President and the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy. During the meeting, they discussed Russia’s decision to shut down Finland’s Consulate General in St. Petersburg on 01 October. The group decided to deny Russia’s Consulate General permission to operate in Finland’s city of Turku. The President and the Ministry Committee also talked about the Russia’s consulate in Mariehamn. Furthermore, the launch of the Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy was also discussed. (“President and Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy discuss diplomatic missions of Finland and Russia and preparation of Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy,” Finnish Government, 19 July 2023)
EU sanctions exclude Russia's nuclear industry due to no immediate alternative
On 19 July, Deutsche Welle reported on how the EU sanctions exclude the Russia’s nuclear industry. While the EU is making progress in withdrawing itself off Russia’s resources, it poses various challenges in breaking its reliance on Russia’s nuclear energy. EU sanctions against Russia's civil nuclear industry have proven politically unpalatable. Nuclear fuel imported from Russia's state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom and its units contributes to roughly half of total energy production in Slovakia and Hungary, as well as more than a third in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. In fact, the value of Russia’s nuclear-related exports has not only not decreased since February 2022, but data suggests that it may be increasing. Experts say while uranium from Russia could be relatively easily replaced by supplies from elsewhere, finding alternatives to Russia’s fuel enrichment capacity could take years. (Ashutosh Pandey, “Why EU sanctions don't include Russia’s nuclear industry,” Deutsche Welle, 19 July 2023)
The Mediterranean becomes a climate change new hot spot
On 20 July, with intense heat waves and near record temperatures, scientists ranked the Mediterranean as the new climate change hotspot. Various beaches, shorelines, marine ecosystems, heritage sites and seafood in this region are under threat. The IPCC in the 2022 report on impacts of climate change reported that heatwaves are increasing in intensity due to climate change and are further amplified in cities due to urbanisation practices. Political tensions over water management are rising because of the drought in Spain. Hotter temperatures are causing groundwater shortages further affecting wheat and olive yield in North Africa. (“Heat-struck Mediterranean is climate change 'hot spot',” France 24, 20 July 2023)
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
EU’s introduced Cyber Resilience Act
On 19 July, the EU introduced Cyber Resilience Act, a mandatory cyber security requirement for products to enable a safe and secure digital single market. The proposed legislation provides consumers the opportunity to make informed choices of hardware and software products with cybersecurity. This proposal would further ensure security of the products throughout their supply chain encouraging transparency, responsibility for compliance and support onwards manufacturers and small-scale enterprises. (“Cyber resilience act: member states agree common position on security requirements for digital products,” European Council for European Union, 19 July 2023)
Supporters of Shiite leader attack Sweden’s Embassy in Iraq
On 20 July, the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad was attacked by hundreds of protestors. The protestors scaled the walls of the embassy and set fire while the law enforcement used water cannons and electric batons to disperse the mob. According to reports, the protest was organized by supporters of a Shiite cleric to oppose the second planned Quran burning in Sweden. The Swedish Foreign Ministry called out the Iraqi government, said: “The Iraqi authorities are responsible for the protection of diplomatic missions and their staff.” Iraq has condemned the violence and opened investigations. (“Iraq: Swedish Embassy in Baghdad stormed,” Deutsche Welle, 20 July 2023)
International Gymnastics Federation lowers ban on Russia’s and Belarusian athletes
On 20 July, Deutsche Welle reported that the ban on Russia’s and Belarusian gymnasts will be removed by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). This will enable athletes to participate in international competitions as well as in the Paris Olympics in 2024. However, according to the FIG, the gymnasts will compete as Individual Neutral Athletes with rules “Aimed at ensuring strict compliance with the neutrality requirements.” FIG’s decisions also exclude team gymnastics as according to the International Olympic Committee, athlete teams from Russia and Belarus are still banned. The sport ban had been placed in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Jonathan Crane, “Gymnastics lifts ban on Russia’s and Belarusian athletes,” Deutsche Welle, 20 July 2023)