Photo : BBC/ Reuters
24 December 2021, Friday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #81
By Ashwin Dhanabalan
Russia's draft treaty with the US and NATO
On 15 December, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed over a draft treaty to the US and proposed a draft agreement with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in an effort to de-escalate tensions in Europe. The crisis in Ukraine has been centre stage in Europe due to the troop build-ups on both sides of the border. A US senior administration official said that Washington was prepared to discuss the proposals but mentioned: "That said, there are some things in those documents that the Russians know are unacceptable."
Russia's eight-point draft treaty with the US
The draft mentioned both the US and Russia as parties and stated that the document was guided by the principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations. The draft treaty had eight articles dealing with multiple issues from de-escalating tensions and cooperation to security and deterring military escalation. However, the US did not like the proposal and the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: "We will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built, including that all countries have the right to decide their own future and foreign policy, free from outside interference.” The treaty also mentioned that the US and Russia would not place nuclear weapons outside their own sovereign territories. This would contradict the US’ nuclear-sharing arrangements with the European members of NATO.
Russia's draft agreement with NATO member states
The draft agreement between the Russian Federation and NATO member states reaffirmed "... their aspiration to improve relations and deepen mutual understanding". The agreement had nine articles based on "reaffirming their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations" and were drawn up in English, French and Russian. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg ruled out any possible agreements that would deny Ukraine the right to join the alliance; he reiterated that it would be Ukraine's decision to be a part of the military alliance. A report by France24 highlighted the drawbacks of a few articles in the draft agreement. One of the articles mentioned: "not to deploy additional troops and weapons outside the countries where they were in May 1997 - before the accession to NATO of any of the former communist states in East Europe that for decades were dominated by Moscow." This would mean that NATO would have to abandon any military activities in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia if they agreed to the proposed draft agreement.
The outcome of the proposals
The draft agreement and the treaty outline were proposed to reaffirm trust, security and to introduce confidence-building measures. Yet, the recommendations did not seem hopeful to de-escalate tensions between the parties. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Moscow was ready to negotiate "without delays and without stalling" with both parties. However, the responses of the US and NATO members have not been positive as they did not find the treaty as a means of de-escalating tensions. Apart from the unacceptable provisions in the agreement and the treaty, Russia still has a 100,000-troop build-up on its side of the border. Moreover, NATO and the US are unlikely to compromise on the 1975 Helsinki final act. States have a right to decide on their foreign policy, leaving Ukraine space to decide if it wants to join NATO. Polish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lukasz Jasina added: "Russia is not a member of NATO and doesn't decide on matters related to NATO." As reported by The Guardian, all parties would have to "come to the table prepared to address the other's legitimate security concerns. Agreeing on the meaning of "legitimate" will consume long hours".
“Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on security guarantees," The Washington Post, 23 December 2021.
“Russia demands US, NATO curtail activity in East Europe to defuse Ukraine crisis,” France24, 18 December 2021.
Andrew Roth, “Russia issues list of demands it says must be met to lower tensions in Europe,” The Guardian, 17 December 2021.
"Russia Ukraine: Moscow lists demands for defusing Ukraine tensions," BBC, 17 December 2021.
By Joeana Cera Matthews and Padmashree Anandhan
Orban denies repealing “controversial immigration law”; states EU “sabotaging European unity”
On 23 December, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated that his government would abide by the decision to continue on its “controversial immigration laws”, defying the EU ruling against the same. In November 2021, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against Hungary criminalizing those lawyers and activists who aided asylum seekers citing that it “breached” EU law and “failed to fulfil its obligations”. The Hungarian government’s defiance is set to cost itself “billions of dollars in cash”. The immigration law, also called the “Stop Soros law”, was passed in 2018 forbidding aid to asylum seekers. However, in Orban's end-of-year news conference held on 21 December, he stated the “obsoleteness” of the EU law amidst “massive migration”. He further added: “The reality is that we have to stop migrants at the borders… This can be solved by one thing: changing the European asylum rules, but this process has not even started yet.” Speaking on the EU withholding pandemic-recovery funds due to the breach of EU law, Orban said: “The whole process, from the point of view of the unity and the future of Europe, is the most brutal sabotage. This is what shatters the EU.” (“Hungary's Viktor Orban to defy EU over immigration law,” BBC, 23 December 2021)
Pope Francis addresses COVID-19, conflict during Christmas prayer
On 25 December, Pope Francis warned about the worsening pandemic situation and called for a dialogue. Praying on Christmas, he also urged for peace on the conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, North Africa regions and Myanmar. He said: "We continue to witness a great number of conflicts, crises and disagreements, we have become so used to them (conflicts) that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence; we risk not hearing the cry of pain and distress of so many of our brothers and sisters.” The Pope’s prayer was received by more than 2,000 public members and 200 religious figures. Other highlights from the Pope’s prayer were issues of gender violence and rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia. (“Pope prays for end to pandemic, world conflicts in Christmas address,” Deutsche Welle, 24 December 2021)
Claims of Russian mercenaries deployed in eastern Ukraine raise concerns
On 23 December, Reuters reported four sources to have claimed the presence of Russian mercenaries in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine. One of the sources was cited saying: “There is a full house. They are gathering everybody with combat experience.” Responding to the claims, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “It’s the first we’ve heard of this and we don't know how reliable these assertions are.” Two of the four sources stated that the deployment was for “defensive purposes”. Ex-Prime Minister of Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and head of the Union of Donbass Volunteers Alexander Borodai said: “If and when it’s needed, we’ll call people - but there has been no call for now.” Borodai is also a lawmaker for Russia’s ruling United Russia. (Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev, “Russian mercenaries deploy to eastern Ukraine - sources,” Reuters, 23 December 2021)
Serbia lithium project to be put on hold due to protests
On 24 December, Serbian mining group Rio Tinto decided to temporarily stop its controversial western Serbia lithium project worth USD 2.4 billion. The company had planned to develop the mine located in the western Jadar river valley to extract lithium that can be used in electric car batteries, solar panels and wind turbines. Initially, the company had stated that the project would benefit the environmental standards at domestic and EU levels. Apart from satisfying the environmental aspect of the society, it became part of the Serbian government's efforts to generate more investment and economic growth. In the recent weeks, protests have emerged demanding for the project to be banned. These protests have taken a political turn as the present administration fears its outcome in the nearing elections. According to the CEO of Rio Tinto Vesna Prodanovic: “We want to call for a public dialogue, to acquaint residents with all aspects of our project. It is extremely difficult in such an intense anti-mining and negative campaign to have a reasonable debate on any topic.” (“Rio Tinto puts Serbia lithium mine on hold,” The Guardian, 24 December 2021)
Norway: Christmas commercial portrays Santa Claus as gay
On 23 December, the BBC published a story on a recent Christmas advertisement that caught public attention. According to the article, the four-minute advertisement features “Father Christmas kissing a man waiting for him at home on Christmas Eve”. Created by Norway’s state-run Posten postal service, the commercial has crossed two million views online. Posten’s Marketing Director Monica Solberg commented: “We wanted to celebrate the 50-year anniversary since the abolition of a law prohibiting same-sex relationships… The magnitude of response took us a bit by surprise. We expected a reaction, but not to such an extent.” Criticisms did arise with some claiming that Father Christmas was being sexualized and Santa was “cheating on Mrs Claus”. Norway decriminalized homosexuality in 1972, and the acceptance to the advertisement only shows “Norway’s progressive approach to LGBT rights”. (Alexander Maxia, “Gay Santa ad highlights big shift in Norwegian society,” BBC, 23 December 2021)
Blinken and Stoltenberg discuss Russia-Ukraine border standoff
On 23 December, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and examined the Russian troop buildup along the Ukrainian borders. The US State Department released a statement following the announcement, which said: “They discussed NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia, noting the alliance remains ready for meaningful dialogue with Russia while standing united to defend and protect allies.” (“Blinken speaks with NATO secretary-general about Russia-Ukraine tensions,” Reuters, 23 December 2021)
Biden administration agrees to talks with Putin in early January 2022
On 23 December, a senior Biden administration official said that the US was set to have talks in early January 2022 with Russia. They would ready themselves to address the security proposals put forward by Moscow. Although both parties have agreed for the talks, the time and venue are yet to be decided. The US spokesperson commented on the Ukraine issue, stating: “Well facts are a funny thing and facts make clear that the only aggression we’re seeing at the border of Russia and Ukraine is the military build-up by the Russians and the bellicose rhetoric by the leader of Russia.” (Alexandra Alper, “White House says no agreement on new Biden-Putin talks,” Reuters, 23 December 2021)