Photo : REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko/
31 January 2022, Monday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #112
By Padmashree Anandhan
Six reasons, why is Russia looking at Ukraine
First, historical reasons. In the 17th century, through the treaty of Pereyaslav, the Russian Tsar united Ukraine with Russia for the first time. Russia expanded its territory, integrating the Cossacks, and made Russian peasants settle in the Crimean region. While doing so, Russia and Poland parted the River Dnepr, where Russia took the Left Bank, and the Right Bank was taken by Poland. After the end of the World War-I, Ukraine’s independence movement sparked but was partitioned in 1921 by the Treaty of Riga. Eastern Ukraine was merged into the USSR; however, Ukraine got back the Crimean territory in 1954 under Russian Premiere Nikita Khrushchev. Present-day Russia considers this move a mistake and threatens to acquire eastern Ukraine.
Second, demographic interest. Although the ethnic Ukrainians remain the majority in Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine, more ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking populations dominate the region. The infiltration of the Russian aided separatist groups are also a reason for the increase in the Russian people in Eastern Ukraine.
Third, natural resources including agriculture industry and the natural resources. The eastern Ukraine contains the highest quality soil, making it the largest crop-producing country. Apart from the rich soil, the region is also known for its gas, minerals, coal sources, and mines in the Donetsk area.
Fourth, geostrategic position in the Black Sea. It gives Russia a military advantage to carry out maneuvers, as it is the only warm-water port in Sevastopol. Moreover, Ukraine no more holds the longest coastline after losing the Crimean Peninsula to Russia.
Fifth, the divide in the population over Russia. When assessing the population, it was found that more than a million Ukrainians support Putin’s war over Ukraine. Especially in the eastern Ukraine, the ethnic composition consists of a Russian majority.
Sixth, increased involvement of the separatists. After the annexation, the separatist group took control of the Donetsk and Luhansk administrative regions, where the majority spoke Russian.
“Joe Biden to send US troops to Eastern Europe,” Deutsche Welle, 02 February 2022
Mychailo Wynnyckyj “Stop asking what Putin wants and start asking what Ukrainians want,” Atlantic Council, 22 January 2022
Bálint Störk, “Geopolitical situation of Ukraine and its importance,” Security and Defence Quarterly, 2015
By Joeana Cera Matthews and Ashwin Dhanabalan
President Mattarella gets re-elected
On 30 January, Italian President Sergio Mattarella withdrew his retirement plans and got elected to the post at the end of the eight-round of voting. Mattarella was ready to move out of the Presidential Quirinale Palace quarters to a new apartment in Rome. But, he recalled his decision to retire in the wake of a potential power vacuum in Italy. Mattarella said: "I had other plans, but if needed, I am at your disposition." Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said: "today can only be found around the figure of president Sergio Mattarella, of whom we know we're asking a great sacrifice." Italy had been worried about a power vacuum as incumbent Prime Minister Mario Draghi stood as a candidate for the President's post in the 2022 elections. His candidacy would leave Italy without a PM, spiraling the country's internal political stability in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. ("Italy: Mattarella re-elected president in eighth round of voting," Euronews, 30 January 2022; Crispian Balmer, "Italy's Mattarella drops retirement plan, stays on as president," Reuters, 30 January 2022)
Marking 50 years of the Bloody Sunday massacre
On 30 January, Northern Ireland marked the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre when 13 unarmed protesters were shot dead by the British soldiers. A procession commemorating the incident saw streets leading to the Bloody Sunday Monument lined up with relatives of victims and others. For the first time, the annual remembrance service saw an Irish Premier Taoiseach Micheal Martin being present. Commenting on the lack of a conviction on the incident, Martin said: “I believe that the full process and justice of the courts should be deployed… It is important because time is moving on too for many, many families, and families need closure." (“Northern Ireland marks 50 years since Bloody Sunday,” Deutsche Welle, 30 January 2022)
Antonia Costa wins the snap general elections
On 30 January, Portugal held snap general elections, and the country’s center-left Socialists candidate Antonio Costa won the Prime Minister’s post. Portugal held elections recently as, in November 2020, the government faced difficulties as reported by Reuters: "Costa's hard-left former Communist and Left Bloc allies joined the right in striking down his minority government's budget." The election's final result came as a surprise as Costa's party won an absolute majority. In his victory speech, Costa said: "An absolute majority doesn't mean absolute power. It doesn't mean to govern alone. It's an increased responsibility and it means to govern with and for all Portuguese." At the same time, Portugal's Parliament is investigating claims of a possible cyberattack on their websites. A group claimed to have hacked the country's legislative elections website and had "stolen sensitive information." (Sergio Goncalves and Catarina Demony, Andrei Khalip, "Portugal's PM Costa stuns with majority win in snap election," Reuters, 31 January 2022; The Cube, "Portugal's parliament investigating possible website hack on election day," Euronews, 30 January 2022)
THE UNITED KINGDOM
Partygate Scandal: Investigative report to release soon
On 31 January, the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke announced the release of the government report investigating the No 10 parties conducted during lockdown to be released soon. Several parties were allegedly conducted during the COVID-19 lockdowns at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s residence. The lockdown breaches are currently subjected to the Sue Gray inquiry and will see an extensive report being published although access to the same will be limited. (“Report on parties at UK PM Johnson's residence to come soon, minister says,” Reuters, 31 January 2022; Jessica Elgot, “Boris Johnson to try to regain control with Brexit bill and policy blitz,” The Guardian, 31 January 2022)
Ireland: Russian Ambassador Filatov announces relocation of naval drills
On 29 January, Russia Ambassador to Ireland Yuri Filatov announced that Moscow would relocate its naval exercises. The exercises were scheduled to take place on 03 February, off the coast of Ireland in the country's exclusive economic zone(EEZ). Therefore, Irish fishers pledged to protest and fish in the area where the maneuvers were set to take place. Filatov mentioned the decision was taken to shift the exercises outside the EEZ, saying: "with the aim not to hinder fishing activities." Fishermen near Cork in southern Ireland responded: "This is all we wanted. Now we can give out the information to our boats: 'Listen lads, out you go, fish away, no worries'." International law permits the Russians to hold the drill in the area, but the exercise schedule comes at a time when Russia-Ukraine tensions are at a peak. (Claire Parker, “Russia relocates naval exercise near Ireland after Irish fishermen said they would disrupt it,” The Washington Post, 31 January 2022; “Russia moves naval exercises upon Ireland's request,” Deutsche Welle, 30 January 2022)
ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Northern Europe: Storm Malik kills four people
On 30 January, a powerful winter storm named Malik swept through northern Europe and killed at least four people. The storm also destroyed houses, damaged cars, closed bridges, and caused flooding, leading to the region coming to a standstill. Flooding, felling trees, and flying debris caused substantial damage in Denmark. While in Scotland, wind speeds of 160 kilometers per hour were reported that disrupted transportation and power cuts to thousands of homes. UK's Met Office Chief meteorologist Paul Gunderson said: "The impacts of Storm Malik are going to be the greatest in Denmark on Sunday, but the track of the storm in the preceding hours means that the UK will be dealt a glancing blow as Malik moves eastwards on Saturday." The BBC weather presenter Tomasz Schafernaker said: "eastern Scotland, including Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen, was expected to be worst affected." ("Winter storm Malik hits northern Europe, kills at least four," Euronews, 30 January 2022; Tom Ambrose, "Storm Malik: Met Office says power cuts and travel chaos possible," The Guardian, 28 January 2022)
Ukraine: NATO, UK extend ‘support’ sans deployment of troops
On 30 January, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the alliance would not be deploying combat troops to Ukraine if Russia were to invade the country. During an interview with the BBC, he said: “We are focusing on providing support… There is a difference between being a NATO member and being a strong and highly valued partner (such) as Ukraine. There's no doubt about that.” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss mirrored a similar sentiment when she stated the “unlikeliness” of UK troops participating in the conflict, saying: “This is about making sure that the Ukrainian forces have all the support we can give them.” Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon. (“NATO, UK will ′support′ Ukraine if invaded by Russia, but won′t send troops,” Deutsche Welle, 30 January 2022; Emma Graham-Harrison, “UK ready to commit extra forces to Nato allies as Russia tension mounts,” The Guardian, 29 January 2022)
Russia: Foreign Minister concerned about NATO implementation of security demands
On 30 January, Reuters reported Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s intention to verify whether NATO would “implement” the former’s “security commitments”. Lavrov added: “Today, through the Foreign Ministry, we are sending an official request to our colleagues in the Alliance and the OSCE, urging them to explain how they intend to implement (their) commitment not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others… If they do not intend to do so, then they should explain why. This will be a key question in determining our future proposals, which we will report to the Russian President Vladimir Putin." (“Russia to challenge NATO on security pledge, foreign minister Lavrov says,” Reuters, 30 January 2022)