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27 November 2021, Saturday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #54
By Vaishnavi Iyer
Ukraine: Russia's military mobilisation raise concerns
On 23 November, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied rumours that Russia was planning an incursion after NATO accused Moscow of deploying troops near Ukraine's borders. His remarks came a day after the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated the US's concern about the Russian army's movement and attitude towards Ukraine. He added that the US was aware of the Russian excuse of citing fictitious aggression from Ukraine or another nation to cover Russian plans. Russia, again, denied allegations stating that they were being accused of unprecedented military action in Ukraine after the US withdrew from Afghanistan. "This hysteria is being intentionally whipped up," added Peskov. He demanded NATO to stop arming Ukraine, facilitating a disaster and a more significant problem for Europe.
On 24 November, US President Joe Biden pledged support for Ukraine, recalling the "deliberate" Stalinist famine that killed millions in Ukraine in the 1930s. He added: "The United States also reaffirms our commitment to the people of Ukraine today and our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine." The US has demonstrated support in the Black Sea with navy manoeuvres and the delivery of patrol boats to the Ukrainian navy, enraging Russia. The Kremlin had previously accused the US of conducting nuclear bombing drills too close to its border. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu demanded strengthening the Russian military, citing "increasing activities of NATO countries along Russia's borders."
On 25 November, Ukraine performed more military exercises along its borders, warning of dire repercussions if Russia invaded. After a "special operation" at its border with Belarus, the Ukrainian military conducted tank drills in the eastern Donetsk area. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that predicting what Russia planned was difficult but that Ukraine was doing everything to discourage Russia. He also warned that any aggression from the Russian side would result in an economic and political crisis, adding: "Moscow must clearly understand what political, economic and human losses it will suffer in case of a new phase of aggression. So, it's better not to do it."
With Russian forces threatening Ukraine and the US intelligence fearing an occupation, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal requested NATO to deploy warships in the Black Sea and increase reconnaissance flights around Russia's borders. Shmyhal said Ukraine concurred with the US intelligence assessments of increased Russian presence around Ukraine, in addition to the Belarus-Ukraine border backed by Lukashenko. According to the analysis, Russian President Vladimir Putin may aim to grab a sizable share of Ukrainian territory to "build a land bridge between Russia and Crimea". Russian military efforts are associated with attempts to destabilise the EU and NATO members. The destabilisation efforts are assumed to be aimed at taking advantage of a rise in global natural gas prices by limiting supply, causing concern in some European countries about having enough fuel for the winter and expensive gas bills.
The Russian threats intend to disrupt Ukraine's measures to enhance its economic, political and security ties with the EU and NATO. The unclear nature of Russia's military mobilisation has impeded NATO and Ukraine's reaction to the crisis. Russia has previously conducted a similar mobilisation effort before Putin's run-up to the annual address. As tensions rose, the Russian military was withdrawn immediately after the address with zero casualties. Shmyhal claimed that Russia was continually employing hybrid methods against Ukraine and the West, such as cyberattacks and disinformation. As a consequence, he believes NATO countries should increase their military training missions in Ukraine.
David M. Herszenhorn, "Ukraine PM calls for NATO's help against Russia," POLITICO, 26 November 2021.
Sammy Westfall, "What you need to know about tensions between Ukraine and Russia," The Washington Post, 26 November 2021.
"Ukraine president alleges 'coup plot' in media briefing," Deutsche Welle, 26 November 2021.
"Ukraine holds military drills, warns Russia against invasion," Deutsche Welle, 25 November 2021.
Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, "US Warns Allies of Possible Russian Incursion as Troops Amass Near Ukraine," The New York Times, 19 November 2021.
By Joeana Cera Matthews and Padmashree Anandhan
France and Italy sign a deal to end years of stranded relations
The French President Emmanuel Macron and the Italian Prime Minister signed a French-Italian Enhanced Cooperation Treaty towards the rapprochement of diplomatic relations. Both countries' relations got stranded when a governing coalition led by the anti-establishment 5-star movement and far-right League held power in Italy. Draft of the treaty includes European affairs, migration, industry, justice, venture capital in start-ups and innovative businesses, macroeconomics, culture, youth and most important strategic sectors like 5G, AI, the cloud. The deal also intends to develop space launchers Ariane 6 and Vega-c. According to Macron: "It was almost an anomaly not to have this Quirinal treaty before because so much unites us -- our histories, our cultures, our artists." The treaty's success will depend on the outcome of the forthcoming elections, with both countries yet to see the presidential contest. (Sandrine Amiel, "Quirinale treaty: Will a new French-Italian pact shift the balance of power in Europe?" Euronews, 26 November 2021; Hannah Roberts And Giorgio Leali, "Italy and France heal their rift with a treaty," Politico, 24 November 2021)
THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Miloš Zeman rehospitalised hours after discharge
On 25 November, the Czech Republic's President Miloš Zeman was discharged after being hospitalised for over 46 days. However, he soon returned to the hospital as he tested positive for COVID-19. The rehospitalisation affected the meeting Zeman was set to have with the prime ministerial candidate and leader of Spolu Petr Fiala; Zeman has to appoint Fiala into power until the post-election limbo continues. The move to postpone the meeting garnered social media condemnation as renewed calls to establish a constitutional provision permitting the parliament to declare the president "unfit to exercise his powers" emerged. The ailing President's foot-dragging has delayed Fiala from taking over. Zeman is expected to be discharged on 27 November and has scheduled to meet Fiala on 28 November. (Robert Tait, "Covid test returns Czech president to hospital hours after discharge," The Guardian, 26 November 2021)
President Zelenskiyy warns of coup attempt in December
On 26 November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a press conference amidst which he claimed his authorities had discovered a potential coup attempt predicted for 01 December. He stated: "We have challenges not only from the Russian Federation and possible escalation - we have big internal challenges. I received information that a coup d'etat will take place in our country on December 1-2." The intelligence, which includes audio recordings, implicates the involvement of Russia and representatives of media oligarch and owner of football club Shakhtar Donetsk along with business and ex-parliamentarian Rinat Akhmetov. Zelenskyy has stated the possibility of Akhmetov being unaware of the plans and is expected to invite him to listen to the recordings. Despite no reference to Russian involvement, Interfax quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov commenting on Zelenskyy's statement. He said: "Russia had no plans to take part. And Russia never gets involved in such affairs." The allegations come in the backdrop of a recently-passed law that limits the influence of the wealthy elites in the country's politics. The press conference, which included only select media personnel, was held to mark the mid-way point of Zelenksyy's presidential term. Those journalists who failed to receive invitations to the same were also seen protesting. ("Ukraine president alleges 'coup plot' in media briefing," Deutsche Welle, 26 November 2021; Patrick Wintour, "Ukraine has uncovered Russian-linked coup plot, says president," The Guardian, 26 November 2021)
Lukashenko visits migrant warehouse at Poland-Belarus border
On 26 November, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with migrants at a warehouse at the Poland-Belarus border. Addressing the media, he backed the efforts of the migrants to cross into the EU. He said: "If anybody wants to go west – that is your right. We will try not to catch you, beat you, and hold you behind barbed wire… We will work with you to achieve your dream." The President's speech was largely appreciated by the migrants. Despite Belarus returning migrants back home via flights, Lukashenko urged Germany to accommodate a few more of them, saying: "Please take these people in. This number is not very big. They want to live in Germany – 2,000 people is not a big problem for Germany." However, Germany has denied the possibility of taking in any more migrants with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stating: "... it would mean implementing the very basis of this perfidious strategy." The situation at the border has urged the EU to resort to fresh sanctions which are expected to be implemented in December. ("Belarus' Lukashenko says migrants have 'right' to go west," Deutsche Welle, 26 November 2021)
First victim of the English Channel identified
In the recent English Channel mass drowning, a 24-year Kurdish woman Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin has been recently identified as the first victim. The victim's family members confirmed the same and stated that the reason for migration is to search for better living standards. As per the reports, she was one of those 27 who drowned in the accident. The other two survivors who were found sinking were rescued, hospitalised and now have been discharged. ("Channel disaster: Kurdish woman is first victim identified," BBC, 27 November 2021)
Switzerland to ease Covid restrictions amidst a high infection rate
On 27 November, the Switzerland government took a reverse route than the rest of Europe through a vote for the complete removal of certain Covid restrictions. The decision comes in an odd time as new variant infections rise from 40 to 50 per cent in a week. Another point to note is that Swiss is one of the countries in Europe with the lowest vaccination rate. It is observed that since the pandemic, the government of Sweden has always been tactical in handling the controls measure towards Covid. If Sweden faces a massive infection rate, one major challenge will be the shortage of essential health professionals, especially nurses. (Imogen Foulkes, "Covid: Swiss vote on ending restrictions while cases surge," BBC, 27 November 2021)