Photo : Reuters
18 December 2021, Saturday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #76
By Joeana Cera Matthews
The G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Summit
On 11 and 12 December, the G7 Foreign and Development ministers met at Liverpool. The meeting was coordinated along with the foreign ministers from Australia, and the Republic of Korea. In a first ever occurrence, the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) also attended the meeting. After the summit, a statement was released by the G7 Chair and the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Elizabeth Truss. Germany is expected to assume the G7 presidency for 2022.
The following matters were considered through the course of the ministers’ meeting.
Omicron and COVID-19
A major subject of concern during the meeting was the latest COVID-19 variant of Omicron. Restating the 29 November statement released by the G7 Health Ministers, the ministers reiterated their pledge to provide vaccination to low-and middle-income countries in need. Since the June Leaders’ Summit, the G7 has supplied 657 million vaccine doses. Meanwhile, Africa was commended on its ‘exemplary work’ in identifying the new variant and warning the world of its existence. The ministers further validated their support for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Vaccination Strategy along with the Access to COVID Tools (ACT)-Accelerator. The Global Health Summit Rome Declaration was also upheld by the ministers.
Other efforts at increasing vaccination rates included maintaining open supply chains, growing regional vaccine production and regulatory capacities, strengthening health systems, while being able to deliver fair, timely and transparent roll-out of quality vaccines and other health products. In line with these efforts, the UK is set to host a Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations replenishment in March 2022 while the US will host the Seventh Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2022.
The statement also reinstated the group’s position on Russian escalation of tensions along the Ukrainian border. Truss stated: “We’ve been clear that any incursion by Russia into Ukraine would have massive consequences for which there would be a severe cost.”
The Belarusian regime was condemned for ‘orchestrating a migration crisis’ and its ‘repression of citizens’ rights’. The Western Balkans were asked to maintain their stability and security through a European perspective. Divisive attempts in Bosnia and Herzegovina were condemned with calls for unity and talks on ‘constructive agendas’. Normalization of relations was requested between Kosovo and Serbia through a dialogue mediated by the EU.
On 13 December, Truss met with the Western Balkans Six (WB6) foreign ministers. The meeting also saw EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak and US Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabriel Escobar participating in the same.
Other issues discussed
Various other global issues were also discussed. The climate goals were reinstated with the ministers embracing the Glasgow Climate Pact ratified during the COP26. Reaffirmation of commitments to maintain the 1.5 degrees goal until COP27 was also stated. Issues pertaining to gender equality, infrastructure investment and development finance were other topics discussed. Commitments to ‘defend open societies’ and uphold democracy internationally was also considered as a follow up to the US Summit for Democracy.
China was another point of discussion. The human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong along with the tensions witnessed in the East and South China Seas were debated on and the necessity of maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait was reiterated. The Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) was condemned for its ‘provocative actions’ and asked to 'abandon’ all its unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) according to the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
While the continuation of talks in Vienna bringing back the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) was commended, Iran was reprimanded for its nuclear ambitions. Afghanistan’s ‘worsening humanitarian crisis’ was another matter of major concern given the liquidity challenges faced by the country primarily via the UN and NGOs. The G7 stated the points they would consider when engaging with the Taliban such as 'respecting human rights, in particular those of women, girls and minorities, countering terrorism and enabling safe passage for those who wish to leave Afghanistan’. The statement further saw a harsh stance on Taliban where “(they) will continue to judge the Taliban by their actions, not by their words”.
Support was extended for democratic elections in Libya, peaceful negotiations in Ethiopia, humanitarian aid to Sudan, while the 25 October Sudanese military takeover and the ‘destabilizing activities’ of Wagner group were strongly denounced. Nonetheless, efforts of the G5 Sahel countries were lauded. The Indo-Pacific was extensively discussed given the need for it to be kept open and inclusive adhering to the rule of law. Promising further cooperation in the region, support was extended in the maritime domain. Expressing concern over the situation in Myanmar, the ministers endorsed ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus to stabilize the region.
Elizabeth Truss, “G7 Foreign and Development Ministers' Meeting, December 2021: Chair's statement,” GOV.UK, 12 December 2021.
“Meeting of Western Balkans Foreign Ministers, Lancaster House, 13 December 2021: Chair's conclusions,” GOV.UK, 14 December 2021.
By Ashwin Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan
Russia's eight-point draft treaty to de-escalate tensions
On 17 December, Russia put forward a list of demands to de-escalate tensions in Europe. The list was an eight-point draft treaty issued by Russia's Foreign Ministry that was handed over to the US and NATO. A senior US official mentioned that certain parts of the treaty were "unacceptable" as one of the treaties said, according to BBC: "… countries that joined Nato after the fall of the Soviet Union not to deploy troops or weapons in areas where they could be seen as a threat to Russia." In light of the draft treaty, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "There will be no talks on European security without our European allies and partners." The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated that Russia was keen to meet "without delays and without stalling" as Moscow focused on its talks with the US. At the same time, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned about Russia increasing troops on its side of the border as it had already stationed about 100,000 troops. ("Russia Ukraine: Moscow lists demands for defusing Ukraine tensions," BBC, 17 December 2021; Andrew Roth, "Russia issues list of demands it says must be met to lower tensions in Europe," The Guardian, 17 December 2021)
Fear rises amongst the Baltic states as Russian troops align on the Ukraine border
On 19 December, Sonya Ciesnik via an analysis in France24 examined the situation of the Baltic states facing the threat of Russia on the Ukrainian border. Lithuania along with Estonia and Latvia published a wish list of security guarantees over the concern of the recent line-up of 100,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine. According to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis: “I believe Russia is really gearing up for war and is doing it seriously, I still have the feeling that we are not taking this seriously enough, including what's going on in Lithuania as well.” The fear amongst the Baltic states is due to two reasons. One, experience as a former Soviet Union member and two, being unnervingly close with NATO. The anticipated area under threat is said to be the Suwalki gap; this patch of land which is around 90 kilometers lies at the center of the Baltic states. According to an associate analyst: “If Russia gained control of the corridor, they would cut off the connection between the Baltic states and the other NATO allies. It would be a nightmare situation.” He also added that to secure the region, the first objective of NATO must be to increase the number of the US armed forces along the shared eastern borders. The second objective must be to lay a path for both Ukraine and Georgia to initiate the membership process into NATO. (Sonya Ciesnik, “Amid Russia tensions, Lithuania advocates for more robust Western response,” France24, 19 December 2021)
The Netherlands: Plans to build two new nuclear plants to tackle climate change
On 15 December, the coalition government in the Netherlands decided to build two nuclear power stations to achieve climate goals. As reported by Reuters, the government has kept aside investments "needed to secure a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 and helped by ultra-low interest rates, the government's fiscal pledges presented this week contain generous spending plans ranging from sustainable energy to housing, education and childcare". According to the agreement, the government plans to invest more in its green transition and has earmarked EUR 35 billion. The Ministry of Climate and Economy will be separated to form a new ministry for climate and energy to handle the fund and the transition. (Karl Mathiesen, "The Netherlands to build new nuclear plants under coalition deal," POLITICO, 15 December 2021; Bart H. Meijer, "Frugal no more: New Dutch government promises to ramp up spending," Reuters, 16 December 2021)
French leaders cancel their visits due to new COVID-19 measures.
On 17 December, French President Emmanuel Macron cancelled his Mali trip due to the new restrictions announced by France in the wake of the rising COVID-19 cases. Macron was to meet transitional leader Colonel Assimi Goita and French soldiers stationed in Mali for Christmas. The President's office said: "This decision was taken in order for there to be coherence between national measures and the president's international agenda, and in order not to expose troops." The meeting had been organized to de-escalate the tensions between France and Mali as speculations arose on Russian mercenaries being deployed in the country as France was reducing its troops. Additionally, French Prime Minister Jean Castex cancelled his trip to meet French troops stationed in Jordan. ("Macron cancels visit to Mali after new Covid-19 measures announced," France24, 17 December 2021; "France's Macron cancels Mali trip over new COVID wave," Reuters, 17 December 2021)
German Minister warns Russia of halting Nord Stream 2
On 18 December, German Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck warned that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline would be halted and Russia would face severe consequences if it attempted any attack on Ukraine. He said: “Any new military action cannot remain without severe consequences.” He also added: “From a geopolitical point of view, the pipeline is a mistake… All the countries were against it except Germany and Austria.” The Nord Stream 2 pipeline which extends through the Baltic Sea will enable the supply of natural gas in double capacity and also at cheap cost. Germany is in great need of it as it is transitioning from coal and nuclear energy, but the project is under pressure due to delays and criticisms from the US. Meanwhile, Ukraine has depicted it as a geopolitical weapon. (“Nord Stream 2: German minister warns Russia over Ukraine,” Deutsche Welle, 18 December 2021)
French boats rescue 138 refugees off the English Channel
On 17 December, French authorities reported that 138 refugees were rescued using two navy vessels and two lifeboats. The makeshift vessels had got stranded in the English Channel. Despite the past mass drownings in the English Channel, the migrant crossings have not stopped. This increase in the movement of migrants across the Channel has amplified tensions between the UK and French governments. The UK, in order to reduce the crossings, funded GBP 54 million to France for the latter to deploy police patrols along the French beaches. The UK has blamed the French administration for not meeting the obligation and has urged for more police on the beaches. (Nadeem Badshah, “More than 130 people rescued after becoming stranded in the Channel,” The Guardian, 17 December 2021)