Photo : Institute of War
17 March 2022, Thursday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #151
War in Ukraine: Day 22
By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan
War on the ground:
Fourth Russian General killed
On 17 March, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned the death of another Russian General. This is the fourth Russian General to be killed in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Gen Mityaev was killed near Mariupol. As Ukraine’s military is outnumbered, its military intelligence team has been dedicated to targeting the Russian officer class to boost their own morale. On the same day, Ukraine handed over nine captured Russian soldiers as an exchange to secure the Mayor of the city of Melitopol.
Also, on 17 March, Zelenskyy stated that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia were ‘Fairly difficult’. His comments came as there have been multiple meetings with no decisive outcome. He further said: “First of all, negotiations are still in progress. The negotiations are fairly difficult…any war could be finished at the table of negotiations.”
Attack on a theatre in Mariupol
On 17 March, Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov mentioned that the theatre was being used as a refugee centre hosting 1,000 to 1,200 people. Russian forces had bombed the theatre as they besieged the southern city of Mariupol. Mariupol’s city council said the troops had “plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding.” The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the city Council accused Russia of a war crime as the word children were marked on the ground near the building to deter jets targeting the building.
Zelenskyy’s call on Germany
On 17 March, Zelenskyy thanked Germany for its support but mentioned a new Berlin wall being built. Zelenskyy’s wall was regarding German energy policy and business interests that had created that wall, BBC reported: “The controversial, now cancelled, Russian-German gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 was “cement for that new wall” dividing Europe, he said. Germany’s continued reluctance to allow Ukraine into the European Union was “another brick” in that new wall.”
The Moscow view:
Claims by Russia
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman's response on targeting the civilian population
On 17 March, Moscow claimed that the special military operations were not aimed at destabilising Ukraine's statehood. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "…this operation is not targeted at the civilian population. It does not pursue the aim of seizing the country's territory, ruining its statehood, or ousting the current president. We keep saying this again and again." Zakharova accused the Western media of forming a distorted picture of the events and called them a propaganda tool.
Also, on 17 March, as Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were scheduled to talk later, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: "I don't know if they are already underway but they are expected [to take place] on various tracks." Peskov said the Ukrainian negotiators were not enthusiastic and further mentioned: "Our delegation, led by [Presidential Aide Vladimir] Medinsky, maintains contact with experts and government agencies, it's ready to work around the clock, it has made its willingness clear.…."
On the same day, Russia's Finance Ministry stated it closely watched the bond payments. The Ministry said: "A payment order for the payment of coupon income on the Russian Federation's external bond loans … in the total amount of $117.2 million … was sent to a foreign correspondent bank on 14 March 2022 and has been executed." The government said the payment was paid in USD and added that Russia did not face any issues in paying its debts.
Dmitry Medvedev's statements
On 17 March, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev talked about how the collective West did not want Russia to become a strong power again, which could work towards its self-interests and protect its citizens. He said: "They have an urgent need to corner our country, bring it to its knees and reform it based on the Anglo-Saxon world's blueprints, to make it weak and obedient, or better yet, to tear it to pieces." However, Medvedev further stated that Russia was now strong enough to "…put all of its brazen enemies in their place."
On the same day, Medvedev also dismissed the speculations that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit the zone of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine. He said: "No plans for any such trips…All will take place in due time." A journalist further asked if Putin would visit the frontline the way Joseph Stalin did during World War II in 1943; Medvedev replied: "After all, these are different situations."
Responding to the ICJ ruling asking Russia to suspend Ukraine offensive
Also, on 17 March, the Kremlin rejected the ruling by the International Court of Justice as it ordered Russia to "immediately suspend" its offensive on Ukraine. As reported by The Moscow Times, "Peskov echoed Moscow's stance during hearings earlier this month that the ICJ has no jurisdiction because Kyiv's request fell outside the 1948 Genocide Convention on which it based the case." However, the ICJ stated that it had jurisdiction in the case, and it argued that Moscow had falsely created allegations about genocide in Ukraine's Donbas region.
The West view:
Responses from the US and Europe
On 17 March, the US launched an international task force that will target the Russian Oligarchs and seize their assets. This task force includes Australia, the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the European Commission. According to the US Treasury Department: “In the last three weeks alone, information provided by US law enforcement to foreign partners has helped detain several vessels controlled by sanctioned individuals and entities.” The seized ship value goes to hundreds of millions of dollars.
On 17 March, US President Joe Biden and Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin held a virtual call to discuss the aid provided to Ukraine and plan on furthering the cost on Russia for invading Ukraine.
On 17 March, in a news conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the reporters on Russia’s war in Ukraine. He appreciated the efforts of the Kyiv forces and Germany’s action in providing military and humanitarian support to Ukraine. Stoltenberg said: “NATO has a responsibility to prevent this war from escalating further, we cannot take peace and security for granted.”
On 17 March, on the same line as Biden, the Polish Deputy Foreign Minister agreed on characterising the Russian leader as a “war criminal.” He said: “The Kremlin believed the government of Ukraine will evaporate somehow. That was not the case. Ukrainians are very brave defending their land and their values, their democracy, the country they built, they've been building for the last 30 years. So now Mr Putin decided to hit civilian infrastructure.”
On 17 March, the UK’s Ministry of Defense revealed that Russia’s military is opting for older weapons with lesser precision to cause causalities. Another prediction kept forward by the Ministry was that Russia’s usage of older weapons is not by choice but because of its failure to strengthen its military. Apart from this, the UK Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, confirmed the deployment of the Sky Sabre missile system and 100 troops in Poland for three months. The decision comes as NATO further to securitize its eastern front due to recent Russian military advancement into the West of Ukraine. According to the UK government, Sky Sabre is “a state-of-the-art air defence system” which can hit a tennis ball at the speed of sound. With the UK deploying its air-defence systems, Poland will be able to protect itself from missiles and bombs launched by Russia.
On 17 March, European Space Agency (ESA) ended the joint Mars programme with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. The decision comes in support of Ukraine, and with the announcement, the operations on the ExoMars rover mission will remain an impossibility. ESA said: “While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, Esa is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states.”
The humanitarian crisis: The refugee challenge
On 17 March, continued shelling by Russia in Mariupol has forced more than 30,000 people to flee away Ukraine. As estimated, 1.95 million people have left Ukraine and moved into Poland since the war. On the same, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Victor Orban, has also expressed fear of expecting 900,000 refugees to flood into the country.
Apart from Poland and Hungary, 460,000 refugees have drifted into Romania. The refugees have been observed to use the Black Sea Coast to escape from Russia and move into other European countries. Due to this, the Black Sea passage has gained importance as it serves as a strategic point for refugees to escape.
On 17 March, Belgium royals King Philippe and Queen Mathilde have confirmed using the two houses owned by the Royal Trust to host three Ukrainian families. As far as Belgium is concerned, close to 10,000 Ukrainians have registered for international protection and permit to work for one year. The Authorities expect 200,000 Ukrainians to reach Belgium.
The Global Fallouts:
International implications of the Ukraine war
On 17 March, UNSC announced its plans to hold an emergency meeting to address the rising humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The meeting will include, the US, Britain, France, Ireland, Norway and Albania. The UN agency, UNESCO, has come forward to supply protective equipment to Ukrainian Journalists to safeguard them from conflict zones. According to the director-general of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay: “Every day, journalists and media workers are risking their lives in Ukraine to provide life-saving information to local populations and inform the world of the reality of this war. We are determined to support and protect them in every way possible.”
On 17 March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) passed the order asking Russia to stop its military attacks on Ukraine. It urged for immediate suspension of military activities in Ukraine, and President Zelensky claimed the judgement to be a victory.
On 17 March, OECD warned that the war between Ukraine and Russia would cut down the global economic growth rate by one per cent. It predicts that the effect of war can push Russia into a “deep recession.” The impact of the war raises concerns, as both countries are responsible for producing raw materials. Hence with the products becoming unavailable, the prices easily shoot up, affecting the global economic growth.
On 17 March, India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. Will likely shift its fuel imports from Russia to the Middle East and the US. It is done to avoid being charged under Western sanctions.
On 16 March, Panama’s Maritime Authority reported that three of its flagged ships were hit by Russian missiles in the Black Sea. It did not report any causalities but the material was damaged.
The price of the commodities has increased due to Russia’s invasion, thereby pushing the inflation rate close to six per cent. This has made the central bank increase the interest rate further.
“Russia’s special operation is not aimed at ruining Ukraine’s statehood — Foreign Ministry,” TASS, 17 March 2022.
“Russian, Ukrainian negotiators to continue talks on Thursday — Kremlin,” TASS, 17 March 2022.
“Medvedev: Cornering us won’t work, Russia strong enough to put brazen foes in their place,” TASS, 17 March 2022.
“No plans for visiting zone of Russia’s operation in Ukraine on Putin’s schedule — Kremlin,” TASS, 17 March 2022.
“Kremlin Rejects Top UN Court's Order to Halt Ukraine Invasion,” The Moscow Times, 17 March 2022.
“Russia Makes Bond Payment, Avoids Default – Finance Ministry,” The Moscow Times, 17 March 2022.
Ben Tobias, “War in Ukraine: Fourth Russian general killed - Zelensky,” BBC, 17 March 2022.
Hugo Bachega, “Russia attacks theatre sheltering civilians, Ukraine says,” BBC, 17 March 2022. ‘‘Fairly difficult’: Zelensky weighs in on Russia-Ukraine talks,” TASS, 17 March 2022
“BBC Live,” BBC, 17 March 2022
“Panama says three ships hit by Russian missiles in the Black Sea since start of Ukraine invasion,” Reuters, 17 March 2022
Julie Gordon and Fergal Smith, “Canadian inflation seen peaking at or above 6%; more rate hikes in the cards,” Reuters, 17 March 2022
Mayank Bhardwaj, “EXCLUSIVE India acts to seize gap in wheat export market left by Ukraine war,” Reuters, 16 March 2022
By Emmanuel Royan
Interior Minister to visit Corsica amid protests for autonomy
On 16 March, the French government stated that it was ready to grant the Mediterranean island of Corsica “autonomy” to ease the tensions in the region. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmamin, ahead of his visit to the island, mentioned: “We are ready to go as far as autonomy,” but “there can be no dialogue while violence is going on. A return to calm is an indispensable condition.” Luc Bernardini of Core in Fronte, a nationalist group in Corsica, resented the move and stated: “If he’s only coming to do us, or himself, a favour, our response will be the same as that of the last days on the streets. The Corsican people will say, ‘No.’” (“France ready to discuss ‘autonomy’ for Corsica, minister says,” Reuters, 16 March 2022)
Aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff’s passport returned
On 15 March, the UK stated it returned the passport of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff. Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested her at Tehran Airport on 03 April 2016. She was accused of plotting to overthrow the regime, which she denied. Her family believes she was being held as a political prisoner until a debt between Britain and Iran could be settled. However, the UK and Iranian governments denied the connection between the debt and the case; Iran’s state media in 2021 reported that she would be freed once the debt was paid. (“UK-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe gets her British passport back-UK lawmaker,” Reuters, 15 March 2022)
European Tax Observatory suggests asset database to combat financial crime
On 16 March, the European Tax Observatory, an independent think-tank, advised the EU to establish an asset database. This would aid in tracking the proprietors of assets owned by shell firms and improve the efficiency of EU sanctions on Russian oligarchs. The report stated: “A comprehensive database tracking where and by whom wealth is held could increase the efficiency of targeted sanctions.” An EU task force may gather, cross-check, and analyse all accessible information on affluent individuals’ money and assets held in EU countries beyond a certain threshold. This might pave the way for a permanent European Asset Registry to collect wealth data from all asset kinds and utilise it to combat financial crime. (“Think tank calls for EU database to help trace oligarchs’ assets,” Reuters, 17 March 2022)
Intel to set up new silicon hub in Germany
On 15 March, US Tech Giant Intel set up its first phase of a ten-year investment plan for EUR 80 billion. The initiative focuses on researching and producing semiconductor chips, which are crucial components in computers and electronic devices. The city of Magdeburg in Germany was chosen to set up the new hub to create “Two first of their kind semiconductors.” CEO of Intel Pat Gelsinger said: “Our planned investments are a major step both for Intel and for Europe. The EU Chips Act will empower private companies and governments to work together to drastically advance Europe’s position in the semiconductor sector.” (“Intel announces multibillion investment plan for Europe,” Deutsche Welle, 15 March 2022)