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29 March 2022, Tuesday| NIAS Europe Daily Brief #161

War in Ukraine: Day 33

Barclays bank to be scrutinized by the US regulators; SDP win elections in Saarland; G7 rejects Putin's demand to pay in Rubles

War in Ukraine: Day 33
By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan

War on the ground:
Zelenskyy speaks to Scholz; Zelenskyy’s interview; Ukraine-Russia talks in Istanbul; Ukrainian MP and Abramovich poisoned? 

Zelenskyy speaks to Scholz
On 28 March, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz on a call to discuss the progress of the peace talks with Russia. Zelenskyy urged Scholz to continue putting pressure on Russia and intensify their sanctions against Moscow. Scholz after the meeting had mentioned how Moscow was breaking all the rules of the international order, due to which “everyone will suffer for it, especially Russia.” 

Zelenskyy’s interview with Russian media outlets
On 28 March, Zelenskyy was interviewed by “Novaya Gazeta’s Dmitry Muratov, TV Rain’s Tikhon Dzyadko, the author Mikhail Zygar, Meduza’s Ivan Kolpakov and Kommersant’s Vladimir Solovyov.” He put forward the conditions for peace by Kyiv and spoke about the war to let the people of Russia know the reality. Nevertheless, since Russia had implemented a censor ban, not all of them could publish Zelenskyy’s remarks. Also, for its interview with Zelenskyy, Novaya Gazeta received a second warning for violating Russia’s controversial foreign agent’s law and had decided to halt its operations.  

Ukraine-Russia talks to be held in Istanbul 
On 28 March, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine was seeking peace without delay and added that he was ready to meet Putin for an in-person meeting. However, Zelenskyy said, "We must come to an agreement with the president of the Russian Federation, and in order to reach an agreement, he needs to get out of there on his own feet ... and come to meet me.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also responded to it by saying: “The meeting is necessary once we have clarity regarding solutions on all key issues.”  

On the same day, Zelenskyy said he was willing to discuss “neutral status” with Putin in Turkey. In a late-night video message, he said: Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are beyond doubt. Adequate security guarantees for our state are mandatory.” He said he was ready to adopt a neutral status and make compromises about the status of the eastern Donbas region. This would further secure a peace agreement with Russia. However, he mentioned that he was not interested in discussing demilitarisation. 

Humanitarian corridors suspended 
On 28 March, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk mentioned that the humanitarian corridors were suspended and cited Russian provocations. Vereshchuk said she had received intelligence reports of escape routes being unsafe for passage. Ukraine has been accusing Russia of sabotaging evacuation corridors in contested areas. However, Moscow blames the same on Kyiv for disagreeing on the safe corridors that Russia had suggested.  

Civilians of Mariupol transferred to Russia
On 28 March, Ukraine accused Moscow of forcibly relocating thousands of civilians from the port city of Mariupol into Russia. Vereshchuk said about 40,000 civilians were moved to Russian-held territory without Ukraine being informed. BBC reported: “Some Ukrainian officials describe Russia’s actions as “deportations” to “filtration camps” - an echo of Russia’s war in Chechnya, when thousands of Chechens were brutally interrogated in makeshift camps and many disappeared.” 

Situation in Chernihiv
On 28 March, the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv was almost entirely encircled by Russian forces. This had led to the city facing a dire situation as it was left without electricity, gas, or running water with tens of thousands of people still trapped. The city is located near Belarus and was the first place to be attacked by the Russian forces who invaded through Belarus. A resident said: “They hit [sites] two times in a row. It is obvious they do it on purpose….Most of the city suburbs are completely destroyed.”  

Ukrainian MP and Abramovich poisoned? 
On 28 March, The Guardian reported that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and a group of informal Ukrainian negotiators suffered symptoms that hinted at poisoning. This came after there were informal talks held between the two groups. Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov said: “It was during his first trip to Kyiv. Roman lost his sight for several hours. In Turkey, they were treated in a clinic, together with Rustem.” Experts on the ground concluded that the symptoms were likely the result of poisoning with an undefined chemical weapon.  

The Moscow view:
Claims by Russia 

Lavrov on the EU
On 28 March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the EU had demonstrated its inability to serve as a guarantor of conflict settlement in the war. He said: "…, just as it was the case in February 2014, when the EU guaranteed a settlement in Ukraine between the [former] president, [Viktor] Yanukovich, and the opposition. The next morning, when the opposition severed that agreement, the EU preferred to keep quiet and then started referring to some democratic processes." Lavrov talked about the situation in Kosovo, where the UN had asked the EU to mandate as a mediator in the conflict. Hwoever, even in 2013, after the EU had to persuade Pristina and Belgrade to sign an agreement, no such communities had been established.  

Talks between Zelenskyy and Putin
On 28 March, Lavrov said that a meeting between the two leaders should happen once the two sides show some progress on critical issues. Nevertheless, he added: "any meeting between Putin and Zelenskiy to exchange views on the conflict right now would be counter-productive."  

Also, on 28 March, Peskov emphasized the importance of face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations. However, he said the Kremlin did not see any progress towards it. He added: "For now, we prefer to follow a policy of not disclosing any details of the talks. We believe that otherwise we might harm the negotiating process." 

Peskov on Russia's gas supply
On 28 March, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov talked about the implementation of unfriendly countries paying for their gas supplies in the Rubles. He said: "The supply process is very complicated…both the supplies, the payment, as well as adjustment of balances." Even if Europe refuses to pay, they will not engage in charity. However, he did not disclose the Kremlin's plans and measures if Europe refused to pay Russia for its gas.  

Deutsche Welle on foreign agents list
On 28 March, Russia's Justice Ministry announced that it had put Germany's Deutsche Welle broadcasting company on the country's list of foreign agents. The judgement cited that the broadcasting company performed the functions of a foreign agent. This could likely be in response to Germany's Commission on Licensing and Supervision banning the broadcasting of RT DE TV channels in Berlin. Furthermore, Russia would also withdraw the credentials extended to the staff members of Deutsche Welle's Russian bureau.  

From the Kremlin 
On 28 March, the Kremlin expressed concerns about US President Joe Biden's comments on calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a "butcher." Peskov said: "This is a statement that is certainly alarming….We will continue closely monitoring statements of the US president." Also, on the same day, Russia expelled three Slovakian diplomats in response to Slovakia expelling three Russian embassy staff. Russia has ordered the employees to leave the country within 72 hours.  

The West view:
Responses from the US and Europe

The US
On 28 March, US President Joe Biden speech in Poland during his visit on 25 March has triggered criticisms from Russia. He stated in his speech that “Putin cannot remain in power.” The Russians have responded by saying that it was not the right of Biden to decide as Putin was elected by the Russians. As the speech created concerns, Biden denied on asking for a change in regime in Russia.

On 28 March, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in the meeting with policy makers highlighted the need for immediate response from the international community for rampant missile strikes taking place in Ukraine's south-eastern city Mariupol. He said: “Mariupol is a siege war that Russia's been in for a month now. Maybe it wasn't envisaged as a siege war but today we're in siege warfare, and Mariupol is one of the most striking examples.”

On 28 March, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz disclosed the plans of Germany on buying a long-range defense missile system as a preventive measure to Russian attack. He said: “We need to be aware that we have a neighbour who is prepared to use violence to enforce their interests.” Till now Russia has granted tens of billions of dollars to Ukraine, which exceeds NATO’s support.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a meeting with Putin, urged for “ceasefire and better humanitarian conditions” to allow evacuation of civilians in Ukraine. He stressed on the peace factor to better the humanitarian situation and assured Turkey’s support in the negotiation process.

On 28 March, Interior Minister, Krista Mikkonen highlighted the importance to narrow the processes in handling the refugees over Russian invasion. She brought out the issues in time-consuming process of residence permit card and registration of refugees. She urged to discuss the situation on refugees and asked to better the efforts in coordinating the refugees. Mikkonen said: “We’re also ready to re-settle them from other countries to Finland. One of the EU’s ideas is that the re-settlements could be orchestrated by setting up centres where people fleeing Ukraine can receive information about the situation in member states and transport options.”

The UK
On 28 March, the government of the UK appointed a war crimes lawyer, Sir Howard Morrison QC for Ukraine to fight legally over the Russian invasion. Sir Howard had previously served as judge at the International Criminal Tribunal and the International Criminal Court (ICC) for more than 12 years. She said in the House of Commons that she asserts on UK’s approach to hold Putin’s regime responsible in the ICC.

On 28 March, the UK Ministry of Defense reported Russia’s advancement in blocking Black Sea coast and keeping Ukraine away from international maritime trade. It also observed that the missiles of Russian navy continue to strike through Ukraine. With Ukraine’s forces holding steadfast in the west, the progress of the Russian troops was seen more in the south.

The Global Fallouts:
International implications of the Ukraine war

On 28 March, people across London, Beirut, Moldova, Washington, and Chile were observed to be protesting using various signboards and Ukraine’s national flower, the sunflower in support of Ukraine and demanding for the war to end.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has raised concern about its inability to send aid to the city of Mariupol. It demanded to Russia and Ukraine to provide a safe passage to reach to people, which has failed. ICRC spokesperson Matt Morris said: “The sides have to be the guarantors and have an agreement to allow safe passage. They have to publicise the route and allow plenty of time for people to get out.”

On 28 March, Heineken, a Dutch brewing company announced the end of its businesses in Russia. It had previously stopped its sale, production and new investments. It also said that it will not make a profit through the transfer of ownership and it expects the amount to be around EUR 400 million.

On 28 March, Russian officials seized Swiss timepieces through security service agents under the charge of violating customs rules. The Switzerland government has not confirmed yet, but the cost of the watches are estimated to be GBP 700,000.

The UN
On 28 March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths to look into the parties engaged in ceasefire talks in Ukraine. He said: “to allow for progress in serious political negotiations, aimed at reaching a peace agreement.”

The G7 nations including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US and Canada have together denied Russia’s demand to the unfriendly nations to pay for the energy imports in roubles. One of the spokespeople said: “payment in rouble is not acceptable and we will urge the companies affected not to follow Putin's demand.”

Zelenskyy and Scholz discuss peace talks during call,” Deutsche Welle, 29 March 2022
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: List of key events, day 33,” Al Jazeera, 28 March 2022
Samantha Lock and Daniel Boffey, “Zelenskiy says Ukraine willing to discuss neutrality at Russia talks,” The Guardian, 28 March 2022 
Ukraine announces no new humanitarian corridors, fears Russian ‘provocations,” Reuters, 28 March 2022
Zelensky says Ukraine prepared to discuss neutrality in peace talks,” BBC, 28 March 2022 
Andrew Roth, “Will Zelenskiy’s interview with Russian media make a difference in war?,” The Guardian, 28 March 2022
Laurence Peter, “Russia transfers thousands of Mariupol civilians to its territory,” BBC, 28 March 2022
Hugo Bachega & Orysia Khimiak, “In Chernihiv, civilians are trapped as hospitals and schools attacked,” BBC, 28 March 2022
EU shows its inability to serve as guarantor of conflict settlement — Lavrov,” TASS, 28 March 2022
Not engaged in charity’: Russia won’t supply gas to Europe for free, cautions Kremlin,” TASS, 28 March 2022
"Russia adds Deutsche Welle to list of foreign agents,” TASS, 28 March 2022 
Face-to-face Russia-Ukraine talks important, no progress achieved yet — Kremlin spokesman,”TASS, 28 March 2022 
Press review: Donbass eyes referendum to join Russia and why Baku renewed Karabkah gamble,” TASS, 28 March 2022 
Russia expels three Slovakian diplomats, foreign ministry says,” Reuters, 28 March 2022
Putin-Zelenskiy meeting needed once sides closer on key issues, Lavrov says,” Reuters, 28 March 2022 
Kremlin Says Biden's Comments on Putin ‘Alarming’,” The Moscow Times, 28 March 2022 
Shaun Walker and Pjotr Sauer, “Abramovich and Ukrainian MP may have been poisoned this month,” The Guardian, 28 March 2022
BBC Live,” BBC, 28 March 2022
Mikkonen: Finland needs more resources to deal with refugees from Ukraine,” Helenski Times, 29 March 2022

By Emmanuel Royan

London to break the impasse over the trading protocol with Northern Ireland 
On 28 March, the UK’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis stated that he would make every effort to reach an agreement with the EU to reform Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading protocols. The UK and the EU have been trying to break the deadlock on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the trading regulations that London agreed to, but now claims are impractical. Lewis said: "Our focus has to be and it rightly is - for myself, the foreign secretary and the prime minister - on resolving these issues by agreement with the EU." He further expressed that the UK Government refuses to use safeguarding measures mentioned in the agreement to solve the issue. (“UK to 'strain every last sinew' to get N.Ireland protocol deal, minister says,” Reuters, 28 March 2022)

European countries freeze assets post-economic crisis in Lebanon 
On 28 March, the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) announced that France, Germany and Luxembourg had frozen assets in Lebanon after its investigation. Eurojust stated that the probe involved five anonymous individuals alleged of embezzling public funds amounting to over USD 330 million between 2002 and 2021. Germany seized over EUR 35 million in assets and Luxembourg an estimated EUR 11 million in bank accounts. In Monaco, France confiscated assets worth at least EUR 18.2 million and bank accounts totalling EUR 46 million. On 21 March, Lebanon’s central bank Governor was charged with illegal enrichment and money laundering. The developments come as Lebanon is in a crippling economic crisis primarily caused by corruption and mismanagement of public funds. (“EU countries freeze assets worth $130m in Lebanon probe,” Deutsche Welle, 28 March 2022)

Group of Seven rejects Putin's demand to pay in Rubles
On 28 March, the Group of Seven countries agreed not to comply with Putin's demand to pay for gas and oil in rubles. On 23 March, Putin announced that unfriendly countries need to pay for natural gas only in Rubles and instructed the central bank to lay out the procedures for buyers to acquire rubles. The demand triggered concerns over Russia halting gas supplies to Europe and it also caused a further rise in fuel costs. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated: “the contracts we know lay down the euro as a payment currency and the companies will pay according to the contracts they have signed.”(“G7 rejects Russia's demand to pay for gas in rubles,” Euronews, 28 March 2022)

Barclays bank to be scrutinized by the US regulators
On 28 March, the UK bank Barclays risked an estimated USD 592 million loss and regulatory scrutiny for exceeding the US limit on sales of structured products. Barclays' stock dropped four per cent after the bank admitted to overselling billions of pounds worth of securities over a year, exceeding the USD 20.8 billion limit agreed with US regulators. Two exchange-traded notes (ETNs) related to crude oil and market volatility are among the products concerned. On 14 March, Barclays ceased sales and issuance of both the products. The two ETN products had risen in popularity as investors bet on volatility as the Ukraine crisis roiled global markets. As a result, Barclays stated it will postpone its share buyback until the second quarter of 2022. (Iain Withers and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed, “Barclays faces $590 million hit, scrutiny over sales slip-up,” Reuters, 29 March 2022)

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