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25 July 2023, Tuesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #577
Third EU-CELAC Summit: Three Takeaways
By Sneha Surendran
On 17 and 18 July, leaders of the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), after a gap of eight years, convened in Brussels for their third summit. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, welcomed the CELAC leaders, stating that Europe wanted to be “the partner of choice for Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The summit aimed to reaffirm ties between the member states, which was reflected in the theme for the event: “Renewing the bi-regional partnership to strengthen peace and sustainable development.” The discussions at the summit revolved around security, current geopolitics, climate, and trade, along with talks on Europe’s colonialism past, the transatlantic slave trade, and demands for economic reparations.
Following are three major takeaways of the summit.
1. On the Ukraine War, CELAC refuses to criticize Russia
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, began his address by calling upon the participants to collectively condemn Russia for the “illegal war” it was waging on Ukraine. However, Ralph Gonsalves, President of CELAC and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, responded: “…this summit ought not to become another unhelpful battleground for discourses on this matter, which has been and continues to be addressed in other more relevant forums.”
The LAC states have largely stayed out of the war. Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua are Russian allies, with Cuba being a long-time partner to the Kremlin. While the EU leaders tried to lobby support for Ukraine at the summit, CELAC refused to call out Russia. At the end of the summit, the leaders signed a declaration. While Nicaragua refused to assent to the document citing a reference to the Ukraine war, the declaration also did not call out Russia as the aggressor of the war.
2. EU’s attempt to reduce economic reliance on China
The increased assertiveness of China globally has led to the EU looking to decrease its economic reliance on China, shifting focus to the resource-rich LAC region. China has also made inroads into the LAC and is their second major trade partner, after the United States. Meanwhile, the EU also has a strong economic presence in Latin America and the Caribbean as their biggest investor.
At the summit, von der Leyen promised GBP 45 billion for the EU’s Global Gateway Program for infrastructural development in the LAC region. The Global Gateway Program has been touted as the counterplan to China’s Belt and Road initiative. While the EU made commitments, CELAC stressed that projects would be based on a mutually beneficial transaction, refusing to be used as a source for the exploitation of raw materials. Alberto Fernández, Argentina's President expressed happiness at the discussion, saying: “This was the first time that we had the opportunity to discuss in such clear terms a mechanism that would take us away from extractivism in Latin America.” However, there were no breakthroughs on the stalled EU-Mercosur trade deal, although leaders agreed to finalize it soon.
3. The focus on slave trade and the colonial history
Dialogue on the historical transatlantic slave trade and Europe’s past as a colonizer was a priority for leaders of the CELAC. Gonsalves called for talks on reparations for the colonization and enslavement in the LAC region, stating: “Resources from the slave trade and from slavery helped to fuel the industrial revolution that has laid the basis for a lot of the wealth within Western Europe.” He also pointed to the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain as the “main colonial powers.”
EU leaders at the summit agreed to their colonial past and the profits that Europe reaped from this exploitation. Furthermore, this was included in the final declaration that read: “We acknowledge and profoundly regret the untold suffering inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of the transatlantic slave trade” although it did not bind Europe to making reparations to the LAC states.
War in Ukraine: Day 515
By Sreeja JS
War on the Ground
On 24 July, Ukrinfrom reported that heavy battles are continuing in Bakhmut, in the settlements of Klishchiivka, Andriivka and Kurdiumivka. According to Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, Bakhmut is the “main theatre of action in the east.” She added that Ukraine’s forces had advanced in the southern up to four square kilometres in last week. In the northern part, no change in battle positions was reported. She said that in Bakhmut, Russian forces had been trapped with limited manoeuvrability due to Ukraine’s forces. In southern Ukraine, offensive actions are reportedly underway in Melitopol and Berdiansk. According to the report in Reuters, Russian troops still hold sizeable territory in southern and eastern Ukraine. Over the past 24 hours, 35 combat clashes were reported in eastern Ukraine.
On 24 July, Ukrinform reported that Russian forces continued to attack Odesa, launching an overnight four-hour attack involving Shahed-Kamikaze drones damaging the port infrastructure on the Danube. According to the report, Ukraine’s air defence forces destroyed three drones. A grain hangar and several tanks used for storing other cargoes were damaged in the attacks.
The Moscow View
Claims by Russia
On 24 July, Ukrinform reported on the drone attacks in Moscow that damaged a building near the Ministry of Defence headquarters. According to Sergey Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor, the drone strikes were on two non-residential buildings in the early morning. No serious damage or casualties were reported. According to RT, Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, alleged that the drone attacks are an “act of international terrorism.”
On 24 July, Sergey Aksyonov, Russia-installed head of Crimea, announced that a Russian ammunition depot in the peninsula was hit in an overnight drone attack launched by Ukraine. The Defence Ministry said that the military had downed 17 drones using electronic signal defence systems and no casualties were reported.
On 24 July, Vladimir Putin, announced that Russia is ready to replace Ukraine’s grain exports to Africa. He said: “I want to give assurances that our country is capable of replacing the Ukraine’s grain both on a commercial and free-of-charge basis.”
On 24 June, Eurasia Review reported on Putin’s meeting with Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s President. According to the report, Lukashenko was quoted saying that the Wagner group engaged in training Belarus troops are keen to push into Poland across the border. Poland has been moving extra troops towards its border with Belarus since Wagner fighters arrived in Minsk. The meeting comes after Moscow warned that an attack on Belarus would be considered an attack on Russia and that it would use all means it has to retaliate against the hostility.
The West View
Responses from the US and Europe
On 23 July, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President, announced that a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council expected to address Black Sea security has been scheduled for 26 July. According to Oanu Lungescu, NATO’s spokesperson, the meeting requested by Zelenskyy would discuss the situation following Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. He also added that the meeting would take place at the level of ambassadors.
On 24 July, the Defence Ministry of Spain announced that four Leopard 2A4 tanks and other Ukraine-bound military and humanitarian aid have left for Poland. The shipment also included ten M–113 armoured personnel carriers, ten cargo trucks, an armoured multi-purpose vehicle and five ambulances. Margarita Robles, Spain’s Defence Minister, announced the supply of further military aid earlier in June 2023.
On 24 July, in a press briefing, Matthew Miller, US Department of State spokesperson, condemned Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the subsequent attacks on the port of Odesa. He said: “These vicious strikes further illustrate Russia’s willingness to use food as a weapon in its illegal war against Ukraine.”
“Noisy night in Moscow as authorities report drone attack,” Ukrinform, 24 July 2023
“Key battles taking place near Klishchiivka, Andriivka, Kurdiumivka in Bakhmut sector,” Ukrinform, 24 June 2023
Olena Harmash, “Ukraine reports more advances in south, battles rage in east,” Reuters, 24 July 2023
“Russian drones strike Danube port in Odesa region, destroying grain hangar,” Ukrinform, 24 July 2023
“Ukrainian drone attack on Moscow is ‘international terrorism’ – Foreign Ministry,” RT News, 24 July 2023
“Ammo depot in Crimea targeted by Ukrainian drones,” RT News, 24 July 2023
“Wagner Troops In Belarus ‘Want To Go West’ Into Poland, Lukashenka Quips During Meeting With Putin,” eurasiareview, 24 July 2023
“Putin says Russia will replace Ukrainian grain supplies to Africa,” Deutsche Welle, 24 July 2023
“Meeting with Putin, hot conference call, prosecutor's report, port logistics in President's Week,” eng.belta.by, 24 July 2023
Elaine Monghan and Nick Zieminski, “NATO-Ukraine Council meets Wednesday, Zelenskiy says,” Reuters, 24 July 2023
Martin Fornuesk, “Spain says 4 Leopard 2 tanks, 10 armored carriers en route to Ukraine,” The Kyiv Independent, 24 July 2023
“Department Press Briefing – July 24, 2023,” state.gov, 24 July 2023
By Genesy Balasingam
19,000 moved as wildfires continue
On 23 July, firefighters worked all night to put out 82 flames across Greece without the assistance of night-time firefighting planes and helicopters. The most serious fire occurred on the Greek island of Rhodes. As wildfires raged for the sixth day on the island, 19,000 people were evacuated from various sites. According to the Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection, this was "The largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country." A support station has been set up at Rhodes International Airport for travelers who have misplaced their travel documents. The Meteorological Service has forecasted that temperatures can be in the low- to mid -30s Celsius. (Demetris Nellas, “Fire still blazing on the Greek island of Rhodes as dozens more erupt across the country,” American Press, 23 July 2023)
Orban accuses Brussels of LGBT+ Offensive
On 22 July, Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister accused Brussels of leading an "LGBT+ offensive." The EU is rejecting the Christian heritage and organizing population exchanges through migration", the ultra-conservative leader declared at the Tusványos festival, in Transylvania, Romania, home to a large Hungarian community. The festival offers round-table discussions on major issues and intends to promote cross-border cooperation. However, the event has become one of the main forums for Orbán’s supporters to gather and exchange ideas.(“'LGBT+ offensive': Viktor Orban criticises EU at Transylvania festival,” Euronews, 22 July 2023)
Government to ease climate regulatory policies
On 23 July, Politico reported that Tory’s surprise victory in an outer-London by-election assured voters that they want to soften bold policies to combat energy costs, climate change and pollution. The UK government had recently been under scrutiny regarding the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030. To achieve the target of eradicating the UK's net contribution to climate change by 2050, Grant Shapps Energy Secretary, suggested North Sea oil and natural-gas license's should be granted for all viable oilfields and gas fields, if it was consistent with the net-zero ambitions. City Hall is expected to explore new measures to lessen the policy's budgetary impact. (Annabelle Dickson, “Less of the ‘green crap’: UK politicians want to take edge off net-zero pain,” Politico, 23 July 2023)
Quran row continuous to sever ties between Iraq and Sweden
On 22 July, the Iraqi government expelled Sweden's ambassador in Baghdad following the ongoing Quran row. Swedish officials evacuated its diplomatic personnel from Iraq to Stockholm for security reasons. Baghdad has halted work permits and ceased all business with Swedish companies. It has also raised concerns about Sweden's free speech legislation. Iran, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia have all criticized Sweden over the Quran's defilement. (Nadine Yousif, “Iraq expels Swedish ambassador as Quran row escalates,” BBC, 22 July 2023)