Photo : Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament, via Reuters
09 March 2022, Wednesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #144
By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan
War in Ukraine: Day 14
War on the ground: Airstrikes and evacuation
On 09 March, Russia launched an airstrike on a maternity and children’s hospital situated in the south-eastern city of Mariupol. It was confirmed by the head of the regional military administration, and President Zelensky tweeted that: “People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror?” With the strike, Russia has once again breached the ceasefire, which was agreed for 12 hours in six cities, including Mariupol.
On 09 March, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister declared the 12-hour ceasefire in six areas which Russia agreed in permitting civilians to flee the war zones. The six corridors include “Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, Enerhodar to Zaporizhzhia, Sumy to Poltava, Izyum to Lozova, Volnovakha to Pokrovsk in Donetsk,” and other places routed to capital were Vorzel, Borodyanka, Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. With the failure of previous attempts in moving people out of Ukraine, the top development of the day was Sumy becoming the main point;close to 7000 people were evacuated. While the evacuation took place in the planned areas, the Sumy Regional Governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyi accused Russia of launching airstrikes in a residential area, killing 22 civilians.
On 09 March, Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces released a statement on “operative information,” saying that the Ukraine forces were firmly fighting against the continuing attacks launched by the Russian military. It termed it “covert mobilisation,” where Russia was found to be using its training camps to carry out the attacks.
Apart from the above, the Polish Border Guard agency reported that close to 1.33 million people have fled to Poland, and the government already hosts two million refugees since the Russian invasion. The first success in the evacuation at Sumy gives hope for a ceasefire, at least in a few parts of Ukraine; the Ukraine army observed this as slow in Russian progression as Ukraine defends strong in the areas of strikes and carries out the evacuation.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the UK House of Commons chamber
On 08 March, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the British MPs in the House of Commons chamber, becoming the first leader to speak in the chamber. The speech covered the struggle of Ukraine in the 13 days of the war against Russia. President Zelensky highlighted four key areas. First, the resistance, strength, and heroism of the Ukrainian military to stand the Russian attacks. Second, the frustration of how relations with NATO have become unfavourable. Third, the rising humanitarian crisis and deaths of children, civilians due to attacks, food and water shortage. Fourth, requesting the UK for more support and to recognize Russia as a terrorist state. He also thanked the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the help given to Ukraine.
On 08 March, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed Zelenskyy’s video address that was broadcasted to the Members of Parliament in the Commons. Johnson said the speech had moved the hearts of everyone in the House. He further called the whole house to support Ukraine and supply Kyiv with the needed military equipment to defend itself. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also paid his tribute to Zelenskyy’s bravery. He said Zelenskyy could have fled amidst the invasion, and “no-one would have blamed him for fleeing.”
The Moscow view: Claims by Russia
On 09 March, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to lay economic restrictions on the exports from other countries and imports into Russia. As per the decree: “Ensure implementation of the following special economic measures until December 31, 2022: export and import ban of products and/or raw materials in accordance with lists to be defined by the government of the Russian Federation.” According to Putin, the decree was implemented to safeguard the security of Russia and ensure the continuous operation of its industries. The announcement is also observed as a counter to the economic sanctions by the West.
On 09 March, the Defense Ministry of Russia claimed the finding of secret documents which disclosed the plans of Kyiv to attack the Russian Separatists group in eastern Ukraine. Apart from this, Russia announced a ceasefire again for the public to leave the city. The order covered Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol.
On 09 March, Russia announced the meeting of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukraine’s Minister Kuleba. The meet will be the first of its kind since the invasion and is scheduled to take place in Turkey, which Turkey’s Foreign Minister proposed to hold it under trilateral format.
While Russia proceeds with the war in Ukraine and counter-sanctions the West, the impact of the sanctions levied is well observed inside Russia, especially amongst its citizens. Russia’s economy is taking a hit with currency crashes, a ban on airspace, and the withdrawal of more than 200 MNCs. The gold class services enjoyed by the Russian have ended with no card payment being accepted, limits in withdrawing foreign cash, no more buying of dresses from Western shops, no access to digital services, and no more Starbucks or McDonalds. Although it lays out a grim situation for the Russian, the support for Putin has not wavered down.
The West view: Responses from the US and Europe
On 09 March, the US rejected Poland’s offer to receive MiG-29 fighter jets to transfer them to Ukraine. The Pentagon rejected the proposal as it raised serious concerns with the NATO alliance. The Pentagon said the prospects of flying a combat aircraft from NATO territory into a war zone could have implications for the entire bloc’s alliance. As reported by Euronews: “Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby questioned the prospect of jets departing from a US/NATO base in Germany to fly into Ukrainian airspace contested with Russia.”
On 08 March, US President Joe Biden announced that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would never be successful in taking over the whole of Ukraine. He said: “Putin seems determined to continue on his murderous path no matter the cost…Putin may be able to take a city, but he’ll never be able to hold the country. And if we do not respond to Putin’s assault on global peace and stability today, the cost of freedom, and to the American people, will be even greater tomorrow.” Biden also commended the strong resistance the Ukrainian people put up in the face of war.
On 08 March, Biden said that the US would ban Russian oil and gas. The US would additionally release 60 million barrels of oil from its reserves to avoid an energy shortage. He also assured security assistance to Ukraine, which would be worth more than USD 1 billion. Biden said: “Shipments of defensive weapons are arriving in Ukraine every day from the United States, and we in the United States are the ones coordinating delivery of our allies and partners of similar weapons — from Germany to Finland to the Netherlands.” He also reaffirmed the US support in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine.
The UK also announced to phase out Russian oil imports on the same day by 2022. The Ministers in the UK are also trying to make it into an offence for planned owned or chartered by Russians to be made a criminal offence. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was: “One of the first countries to ban Russian aircraft, and today we are going even further by making it a criminal offence for Russian aircraft to operate in UK airspace.” This was aimed to target private jets registered in third countries but are used by wealthy Russians. The government further announced new trade sanctions to prevent UK exports of aviation or space-related technology to Russia, even insurance-related services.
The Global Fallouts: International implications of the Ukraine war
On 08 March, the International Monetary Fund’s executive board proposed to extend USD 1.4 billion as emergency funding to Ukraine. This is the third segment of funding proposed for Ukraine after it gave USD 700 million in December 2021 and allocated USD 2.7 billion as emergency reserves for August. As reported by Reuters: “The IMF chief said the war had delivered a shock to the world economy, sending energy and food prices higher, displacing millions of people and eroding business confidence.”
Also, on 08 March, FIFA announced to postpone Ukraine’s world cup qualification play-off against Scotland. The match was supposed to be held on 24 March but postponed the qualifier after Russia invaded Ukraine. FIFA said: “Following consultation with UEFA and the four participating member associations in Path A of the European qualifying play-offs, it was unanimously agreed in the spirit of solidarity to accept.”
On the same day, energy giant Shell said it would be withdrawing all its services and involvement in Russia. The announcement came as Shell’s Chief Executive Officer, Ben Van Beurden, apologised for the company’s move to purchase a cargo of Russian crude oil. He said: “We are acutely aware that our decision last week to purchase a cargo of Russian crude oil to be refined into products like petrol and diesel – despite being made with security of supplies at the forefront of our thinking – was not the right one and we are sorry.”
On 09 March, Bitcoins prices rose over USD 41,000 amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis. This comes even after the crypto platform of Coinbase said it blocked 25,000 wallets that are related to Russia. In addition, the platform said it would block Russian individuals or entities that are speculated to be involved in illicit activities. Coinbase’s Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal said: “We shared them with the government to further support sanctions enforcement…Sanctions play a vital role in promoting national security and deterring unlawful aggression and Coinbase fully supports these efforts by government authorities.”
Also, on 09 March, Venezuela freed two jailed US citizens as a goodwill gesture. The release of prisoners came as Venezuela had a visit by a high-level delegation from Washington. US President Joe Biden said: “Tonight, two Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once more.” The move signals Venezuela’s interest in improving relations with the US amid the war in Eastern Europe.
On 09 March, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for evacuating Bangladeshis from Ukraine. The citizens of Bangladesh were among students from Pakistan, Nepal, and Tunisia who were evacuated under India’s Operation Ganga.
Also, on 09 March, Scotland-based food and drink firms have also decided to halt their exports to Russia. As reported by BBC: “Scotch makers such as Edrington, Diageo and Chivas Brothers have all confirmed they have suspended Russian sales.” Furthermore, the Albanian capital of Tirana was the latest European city to rename a section of its street near the Russian embassy to support Ukraine. They renamed it as Free Ukraine street, and the city’s mayor Erion Veliaj said: “The Russian [embassy staff] will have to work, live and get their mail at a Free Ukraine street address.”
“War in Ukraine: West hits Russia with oil bans and gas curbs,” BBC, 09 March 2022
Alasdair Sandford, “Ukraine war: US rejects Poland's offer to supply fighter planes to Kyiv,” Euronews, 09 March 2022
Christy Cooney, "Ukraine: Russian planes can be detained in UK," BBC, 09 March 2022
"War in Ukraine: More Scots firms halt sales to Russia," BBC, 09 March 2022
“Tirana renames Russian embassy street 'Free Ukraine' in show of support for Kyiv,” Euronews, 09 March 2022
Vivian Sequera, Matt Spetalnick and Diego Oré “Venezuela frees two Americans after talks with U.S.,” Reuters, 09 March 2022
“IMF board to consider $1.4 bln in funding for Ukraine on Wednesday," Reuters, 09 March 2022
“FIFA postpones Ukraine's World Cup qualification playoff against Scotland,” Reuters, 09 March 2022
Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Sana Noor Haq, George Ramsay, Ed Upright, Amir Vera and Maureen Chowdhury,"Biden says "Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin"," CNN, 08 March 2022
"Biden says the US will ban all Russian energy imports,” BBC, 08 March 2022
“Ukraine: Boris Johnson says Zelensky's address 'moved hearts’," BBC, 08 March 2022
“Ukraine: Keir Starmer pays tribute to Zelensky's bravery,”BBC, 08 March 2022
“Crypto platform blocks thousands of Russia-linked wallets,” BBC, 08 March 2022
By Joeana Cera Matthews
German court rules far-right AfD party a suspected threat to democracy
On 08 March, a German court declared the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) to be a suspected threat to democracy. This allows for the domestic intelligence agency to monitor the activities of the opposition party. In March 2021, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) had legally challenged the AfD calling on the court to put the party under observation; however, the challenge was dismissed. Meanwhile, the court in Cologne found “sufficient indications of anti-constitutional goals within the AfD”. This classification permits intelligence agents to monitor party communications and deploy spies. The AfD, founded in 2013, began as an anti-euro entity that is now both an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam party. (“German court rules far-right AfD party a suspected threat to democracy,” The Guardian, 08 March 2022)
NATO Accession: Prime Minister Andersson denies calls by the opposition to join alliance
On 08 March, Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson turned down calls by the opposition to consider acceding into NATO. Andersson stated that applying for accession now would further jeopardize European security. The Prime Minister added: “I have been clear during this whole time in saying that what is best for Sweden's security and for the security of this region of Europe is that the government has a long-term, consistent and predictable policy and that is my continued belief.” Sweden’s foreign policy is founded on non-participation in military alliances; however, it has created close ties with NATO following growing Russian aggression in the Baltic region. (“Swedish PM rejects opposition calls to consider joining NATO,” Reuters, 08 March 2022)
Germany: Ministries of Economy and Environment approve closure of nuclear plants, LNG terminal to be opened by 2024
On 08 March, Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck announced that the country’s first LNG terminal would be functional by 2024. Additionally, commenting on the closure of nuclear plants in the country, the Ministries of Economy and Environment released a joint statement that read: “As a result of weighing up the benefits and risks, an extension of the operating lives of the three remaining nuclear power plants is not recommended, also in view of the current gas crisis.” Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany now considers creating alternative energy sources to make up for the fast-closing nuclear plants; other energy sources under consideration include solar and wind power while relying on coal-based power plants for emergencies. Russia accounts for two-thirds of Germany’s natural gas imports. (“Germany vetoes nuclear power extension, aims for LNG terminal in 2024,” Reuters, 08 March 2022)
The UK: Embargoes on Russian oil and gas imports lead to price hike
On 09 March, the BBC reported diesel prices in the UK to have crossed GBP 90 for the first time affecting public life. According to the RAC motoring group, the average diesel price saw a 165.24 pence surge – the second biggest daily jump since 2000. Following the embargo on Russian gas and oil, European governments have been looking for alternative sources to meet their energy requirements while aiming to increase output. Meanwhile, a barrel of crude oil saw an increase of 1.3 per cent in cost. According to RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams: “The cost of a filling a 55-litre family car with petrol is now GBP 87 - GBP 7 more than it was at the start of the year. Diesel drivers are even worse off with a tank now costing more than GBP 90 for the first time ever - GBP 8 more than in early January.” (Russell Hotten & Daniel Thomas, “Ukraine war: Warning Russian oil move will hit UK living costs,” BBC, 09 March 2022)