Daily Briefs

Photo : LETA, Ieva Leiniša

18 August 2023, Friday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #598

Latvia’s Prime Minister Resigns: Three Questions | War in Ukraine: Days 538

UN to halt Turkish Cypriot road construction in buffer zone; Spain's Socialist candidate secures key parliament win; Strategic CBRN reserve with EU funding established

In Focus
By Padmashree Anandhan

Latvia’s Prime Minister Resigns: Three Questions
On 14 August, following the split in the coalition government, Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš announced to resign. Kariņš New Unity (JV) party which formed a coalition with National Alliance and United List in the 2022 elections will be dissolved due to persisting differences and a new prime minister will be chosen. The clash of interest is due to objections from the National Alliance (NA) and Combined List (AS) on the proposal against Karins to include the Progressive Party (PRO), the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS). Apart from this, differences also exist in approving policies relating to welfare schemes and economic growth. Karins said: “For any country, there are difficulties when someone tries to hold on to their office.”

How New Unity won 2022 Saeima elections?
Until 2019 due to wide differences, forming a coalition was a challenge. The win of the New Unity party in the October 2022 elections was viewed as a positive signal as it laid the basis for continued political stability. This was possible due to a shuffle in the support for other competing parties. Harmony Party (a centre-left pro-Russian party) which had topped in the 2018 election, lost the majority in 2022, the Union List which had competed for the first time came third and the Union of Greens and Farmer vote share increased by three per cent. The divide in votes and the inability to form a coalition by other parties led to Karins’s success to form a coalition after 2018, again in the 2022 elections with the National Alliance and the Conservatives maneuvering through COVID-19, the war in Ukraine. It projected safety for Latvia against Russian aggression and provided scope to engage closely with NATO.

What are the differences within the coalition over Karins?
When the coalition was signed in 2022, Latvia was affected by the war in Ukraine similar to Europe in terms of inflation, and the energy crisis. By 2023, this inflation lowered by 6.4 per cent but not the differences within the coalition. Karins decision to include ZZS and PRO in the existing coalition with NA and AS was proposed to implement reforms. This was not well taken by the existing partners as they fear more members would lead to more differences. According to NA and AS, issues such as “..school network arrangement, improvement of health care situation, labour force issue, stock exchange listing of state-owned capital companies, social issues.” Missed priorities are top among the concerns of NA and AS. Apart from this missed priorities of the government and personal differences over budget to health and education between the JV and AS party heads cracked the coalition.

What’s ahead for the JV?
The JV has managed to increase its representation in 2022 in the parliament from eight to twenty-six mandates. This was possible not due to socio-economic development but due to people’s aversion to Russia’s aggression and the government’s timely response. JV’s coalition with NA and AS held 54 votes in total in the parliament. After the dissolution opens a possibility for JV to join with  ZZS and PRO giving 52 seats to maintain the majority and prevent another snap election or intermediary government.

Claudia Chiappa, “Latvian prime minister announces resignation,” Politico, 14 August 2023
Ilona Bērziņa, “OPINION | Latvian PM is the architect of his own government’s collapse,” BNN, 21 June 2023
Three Latvian parties sign coalition deal to form government,” Associated Press, 14 December 2022
Phil Juris Rozenvalds, “Krisjanis Karins governments: competitors to friends or friends to enemies?,” The Baltic Times, 26 July 2023
Padmashree Anandhan, “Latvia Elections 2022: Three takeaways | War in Ukraine: Day 226,” NIAS Europe Daily Brief, 08 October 2022

War in Ukraine: Days 538
By Rishika Yadav

War on Ground
On 17 August, according to The Kyiv Independent, Ukraine's Azov Brigade, part of the National Guard, resumed military operations at the front, engaging in combat tasks near the Serebrianskyi forest. The brigade is holding captured lines and causing significant losses to Russian forces. Recently, the brigade's artillery destroyed a Russian mortar and a vehicle in Luhansk Oblast. Azov Brigade gained prominence for defending Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant. 

On 17 August, according to Africa News, Dmytro Kouleba, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, aimed for a "long-term" effort to enhance relations with Africa, seeking to diminish Moscow's influence on the continent. Kouleba envisions a "Ukrainian-African renaissance" and partnership based on mutual cooperation. He asserts that while many African nations remain neutral in the conflict, a shift away from Russia is evident in countries like Liberia, Kenya, Ghana, and Mozambique. Kouleba accuses Russia of using "coercion, corruption, and fear" to maintain control in Africa and pledges to liberate Africa from Russian dominance through diplomacy and cooperation.

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia

On 17 August, according to TASS, Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s Defence Ministry Spokesman, said that the Russian forces launched a missile strike, destroying a Ukrainian military train with ammunition in Dnepropetrovsk Region. In the Kupyansk area, Russian forces eliminated around 125 Ukrainian troops and improved their forward position. They also attacked Ukrainian units in Krasny Liman, destroying about 55 Ukrainian soldiers. Successful offensive operations were conducted in the Donetsk area, resulting in the destruction of over 310 Ukrainian troops. Air defence forces downed 18 Ukrainian military drones, while Russian forces wiped out two Ukrainian UAV control posts and an ammo depot in Donetsk People’s Republic.

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe  

On 17 August, the Riksdag, Sweden’s Parliament, approved donating military equipment worth up to SEK 3.25 billion to Ukraine. The government can provide spare parts, emergency supplies, ammunition, mine-clearance equipment, and transport vehicles. Additionally, the government can sell a limited number of Rb 99 (AMRAAM) air-to-air missiles to the US, as part of a program to strengthen Ukrainian air defences. The move will increase the defence budget by MSEK 545 in 2023, allowing the Government to order equipment worth SEK 2.8 billion to replenish the donated items. The decision was initiated by the Committee on Finance, not a government bill or private motion.

On 17 August, according to The Press United, Nicolas Sarkozy, former France’s President, emphasized the need for diplomacy to resolve the Ukraine conflict, urging a neutral Ukraine to act as a bridge between Europe and Russia. He stated that Russia's invasion was a mistake, but stressed that diplomacy is the way forward. He suggested recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and proposed referendums under international supervision for disputed areas. Sarkozy criticized unrealistic promises of EU and NATO membership for Ukraine, advocating for its neutrality instead. He asserted that Europe and Russia need each other and highlighted the importance of strong security assurances for Ukraine's neutrality.

On 17 August, according to Reuters, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, affirmed Ukraine's autonomy in determining negotiation timing after the Russian invasion. This echoes NATO's unchanged stance following recent comments from a senior member. Stoltenberg stressed that Ukraine alone can gauge when conditions are ripe for talks and decide acceptable solutions at the negotiating table. NATO's recent summit confirmed an invitation to Ukraine when conditions align and members agree, underscoring Ukraine's independent path apart from Russia. 

On 17 August, according to Barron’s, General Daniel Zmeko, Slovakia's army chief, made a rare official visit to the southern Ukrainian front line, as confirmed by Ukrainian military sources. General Zmeko met with the Tavria operational-strategic group near Zaporizhzhia. He expressed gratitude for Slovakia's "material and technical assistance." 

On 17 August, according to the Associated Press, amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine, the scheduled performance of Anna Netrebko, Russian opera singer, in Prague was canceled due to political pressures. Prague's government and coalition parties opposed the concert as insensitive. The cancellation was agreed upon by Prague's Municipal House and the organizing agency, Nachtigall Artists Management. Netrebko, who previously faced controversy for her support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, won't seek compensation. 

On 17 August, according to The Daily Sabah, a civilian cargo ship, defying Russia's blockade, arrived in Turkey after leaving Ukraine. The Joseph Schulte, a Hong Kong-flagged vessel, challenged Russia's bid to seal Ukraine's Black Sea access. It utilized a new humanitarian corridor established by Kyiv after Russia paused a grain agreement brokered by Turkey and the UN. This move comes after Russia fired warning shots at a Turkish-crewed cargo ship bound for Ukraine. 

On 17 August, according to The Kyiv Independent, Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s President, stated that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, isn't trying to drag Belarus into the Ukrainian war. Lukashenko, an ally of Putin, emphasized that Belarus won't participate unless Ukrainian forces cross their border. He noted Russia's alleged goals in its "special military operation" in Ukraine were fulfilled. Lukashenko urged negotiations without preconditions, including discussing Crimea and contested Ukrainian territories. He warned of a forceful response to external aggression and indicated the potential use of nuclear weapons. 

The Global Fallouts
Implications of the War 

On 17 August, according to Deutsche Welle, Li Shangfu, Chinese Defence Minister, visited Belarus to enhance military cooperation, meeting with Lukashenko. While they agreed on increased military drills, specifics of the collaboration were not detailed. Lukashenko emphasized that their cooperation was not directed against other nations, relying on China and Russia for military aid. Shangfu's visit follows his meeting with Sergei Shoigu, Russia's Defence Minister in Moscow. 

Martin Fornusek, “Azov Brigade returns to fight at front,” The Kyiv Independent, 17 August 2023
Ukraine announces a long fight against the "Russian hold in Africa",” Africa News, 17 August 2023
Russia’s missile strike wipes out Ukrainian army’s ammo train in Dnepropetrovsk area,” TASS, 17 August 2023
Further military equipment to be donated to Ukraine,” riksdagen.se, 17 August 2023
France’s Sarkozy urges West to get real on Crimea,” The Press United, 17 August 2023
Gwladys Fouche and Victoria Klesty, “Ukraine alone decides when conditions right for peace talks- NATO's Stoltenberg,” Reuters, 17 August 2023
Slovakian Military Chief Visits Ukraine Front Line,” Barron’s, 17 August 2023
Prague government cancels performance by Russian soprano Anna Netrebko,” Associated Press, 17 August 2023
1st cargo ship under Ukraine’s new Black Sea route reaches Türkiye,” Daily Sabah, 17 August 2023
Maxim Rodionov, “Putin not pushing Belarus to enter war with Ukraine, says Lukashenko,” Reuters, 17 August 2023
China, Belarus seek closer military ties,” Deutsche Welle, 17 August 2023

In Brief
By Rishika Yadav

Strategic CBRN reserve with EU funding established
On 17 August, according to the Finnish Government, Finland received EUR 242 million EU funding to set up a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) strategic reserve to tackle emergencies and threats. The reserve will store protective equipment, detectors, tests, medicines, and vaccines for first responders and civilians. A collaboration between various ministries and agencies is overseeing the project, which aligns with the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The move enhances Finland's preparedness for accidents and threats while contributing to the EU's joint capacities. Similar reserves are emerging in France, Poland, and Croatia, with lessons learned from these projects to shape EU-wide guidelines post-pilot phase. (“Europe’s largest CBRN reserve to be established in Finland,” valtioneuvosto.fi, 17 August 2023)
Spy chief and officials charged with abuse of power
On 17 August, according to Deutsche Welle, Slovakia charged its spy agency chief, Michal Alac, and other intelligence officials with alleged abuse of power and criminal conspiracy. The charges also target Vladimir Pcolinsky, former SIS head, and Roman Konecny, National Security Authority Director. The accusations include forming a criminal group, abuse of public authority, and obstruction of justice. Ahead of September elections, these charges add political complexity. Eduard Heger, former PM, called for police investigation independence, while Robert Fico, ex-PM, criticized the cases as a "police coup." Fico's party might gain from recent polls, signaling potential policy shifts, notably on Russia. (“Slovakia spy chief facing criminal charges ahead of key vote,” Deutsche Welle, 17 August 2023)
Socialist candidate secures key parliament win
On 17 August, according to Le Monde, Spain's newly elected Parliament voted in favor of Francina Armengol, Socialist Party candidate, as chamber speaker. The move supports Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's push for a leftist government. The outcome of inconclusive elections raises doubts about Sánchez's ability to form a cohesive government, potentially leading to new elections. The Popular Party's defeat underscores its isolation due to alliances with Vox, weakening its position. The involvement of Carles Puigdemont, Catalan politician and journalist, adds political complexity, as he seeks commitments on separatist issues from the incoming government. The win for the Socialist candidate reflects a potential shift towards a leftist government, but challenges in forming a cohesive administration remain amid a closely divided Parliament. (“Spain: Socialist wins key parliament vote that could pave way for new leftist government,” Le Monde, 17 August 2023)
Government raises security threat level amid Quran burnings
On 17 August, according to Politico, Sweden elevated the security threat level to four out of five due to Quran burnings, becoming a "priority target" for violent Islamism. The Swedish security service urges normalcy despite the heightened alert. Estonia advises caution for travelers in Sweden, while the UK warns of possible terror attacks. Recent Quran burnings by far-right groups spark condemnations and concerns, leading to tensions with Muslim-majority countries. The incidents highlight the challenges of managing religious sensitivities and extremism in Europe. (Laura Hulsemann, “Sweden raises terror threat level after Quran burnings,” Politico, 17 August 2023)
UN to halt Turkish Cypriot road construction in buffer zone
On 17 August, according to the Associated Press, the UN mission in Cyprus will prevent the construction of a road by Turkish Cypriots that would breach the UN-controlled buffer zone, potentially escalating tensions. The UN aims to obstruct the road’s creation through non-violent means, as it contravenes the mission's mandate to maintain the buffer zone's status quo. The road links a Turkish Cypriot village to a mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village, and the construction is seen by Greek Cypriots as a potential military maneuver. The move may hamper peace talks and impact Turkey's EU relations. Cyprus is striving to restart negotiations to end its division. (Menelaos Hadjicostis, “UN says it will block road construction that would encroach on a buffer zone in divided Cyprus,” Associated Press, 17 August 2023)

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