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19 April 2022, Tuesday| NIAS Europe Daily Brief #179

War in Ukraine: Day 54

Spain’s government's use of Pegasus was confirmed; Northern Ireland arrests five-under terrorism act

War in Ukraine: Day 54
By Padmashree Anandhan, Ashwin Dhanabalan and Rishma Banerjee

War on the ground
Zelenskyy’s address
On 18 April, president Zelenskyy talked about the increasing offensive in the Donbas region of Ukraine and said that it was the beginning of the “Battle of Donbas.” He said: It can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive.” But he also clarified that Ukraine is not planning to be intimidated by what is to come and that they will keep on fighting and defending their land. 

Chief of staff’s message
On 18 April, Ukraine's presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak said: "the second phase of the war has started.” This is in reference to Russia’s aggression in the Donbas region. He however emphasized the strength of the army and how they could hold off the offensive. 

On 18 April, the relatively safer city of Lviv reported missile strikes. In the Western part of the country, Lviv has been a city for people searching for refuge from the regions under active war, humanitarian organisations and media personnel. Ukraine’s officials have said that seven people died and 11 people were injured as a result of four missiles hitting the city.

On 18 April, the city council of Mariupol said that around 1,000 civilians are hiding in underground shelters beneath the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Street battles are also taking place in the city as Russian forces try to take full control over the region.

The Moscow view:
Claims by Russia

Putin on the economic blitzkrieg by the West
On 18 April, Russia's president Vladimir Putin said the economic blitzkrieg launched by the West to destabilise the economy with sanctions had failed. He said: "The situation is stabilising, the ruble exchange rate has returned to the levels of the first half of February and is supported by a strong balance of payments." He added how the sanctions were released to quickly undermine the economy, create panic, and trigger a banking system collapse. But the economic policies of Russia were able to withstand the blitzkrieg. 

Russian economy
On 18 April, Putin noted that the country's economic situation was stabilising as unemployment remained low. Concerning the Ruble, he said: "Russia has withstood this unprecedented pressure. The situation is stabilising, the Ruble's exchange rate has returned to the levels of the first half of February and is being defined by the objectively strong payment balance."   

On the same day, Putin regarding inflation mentioned how even that was stabilising. He said: "consumer prices grew notably over the last 1.5 months - by 9.4%, while in annual terms as of 8 April inflation amounted to 17.5%." 

Implications of sanctions on the West
On 18 April, Putin claimed that the sanctions by Western countries were deteriorating their own economies. This comes as Putin mentioned how Russia was able to stabilise inflation and that the retail demand in the country had normalised. 

At the same time, Putin also mentioned the increase in assistance to entrepreneurs to help them solve the hindrances created by Western sanctions. In addition, he mentioned that the government is looking to stabilise the financial system at the federal and regional levels.

Report on foreign mercenaries in Ukraine
On 18 April, Russia released a report that stated 6,824 foreign mercenaries from 63 countries had come to Ukraine to fight alongside the government of Zelenskyy. The report mentioned that 1,035 fighters were "destroyed" while thousands remain. In addition, Russia says that about 400 foreign fighters were holed up in Mariupol along with nationalist and neo-nazi fighters. 

The Donbas offensive
On 18 April, the buildup in the eastern city of Izyum was a sign of a possible upcoming offensive by the Russian forces. The article by the Moscow Times reported on how the army was facing issues of declining morale, continuing counterattacks by Ukrainian forces and disrupted supply lines that could cause difficulties to reach their goal in Donbas. Furthermore, according to the institute of war: "Military reversals are likely to have a significant impact on Russian morale." 

Missiles launched on Ukrainian military
On 18 April, Russia said it had launched multiple missile strikes overnight on Ukrainian targets. They claimed to have hit targets in the southern region of Ukraine and destroyed 16 military facilities, fire command posts, a fuel depot and three ammunition warehouses. The strikes were carried out in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and in the port of Mykolayiv. 

Claims by the Russian defence ministry 
On 18 April, the defence ministry claimed that Ukraine was plotting to shell Orthodox churches and cathedrals in various regions of Ukraine. The ministry accused Ukraine of planning "monstrous provocations" to cause civilian deaths, which would be used to portray Russian forces in a bad light. It asserted that it had evidence for its claims but did not provide anything.  

The West view:
Responses from the US and Europe

The US
US deputy treasury secretary Wally Adeyemo, in his recent speech, forecasted the next possible steps that can be taken by Russia. He said with economic sanctions being imposed to slow down Russia’s progress on the ground, to go next step, he recommended: “Even as we continue to pursue rigorous financial sanctions against Russia and its key financial institutions, the next phase of our work will be to take apart Russia’s war machine, piece by piece, by disrupting their military-industrial complex and its supply chains.” He added that the US was imposing sanctions accordingly aiming at Russia’s aerospace, electronics and defence to block Russia’s military from restocking, and rebuilding.

On 18 April, the US Defense Department confirmed Russia’s airstrikes on Lviv city using “air-launched cruise missiles.” The Pentagon confirmed that the missiles targeted ammunition depots and observed that the strikes aimed at blocking Ukraine’s capacity from restoring combat forces ahead of the eastern offensive. It also expects to train the Ukraine troops with howitzers in the coming days.

The UK
On 18 April, the UK Ministry of Defence reported on renewed shelling in the western Ukraine cities of Kyiv and Lviv. It said that there had been severe casualties in Mariupol and accused Russia of targeted shelling in populated areas such as Chechnya and Syria. Till now Russia has denied all such targeting.

On 18 April, NATO has scheduled to conduct its cyber defence exercise by engaging its alliance countries and Ukraine. The Annual cyber exercise is called as Locked Shields exercise, which will begin in Estonia. As part of the routine, fictional cyber-attack exercises will be tested under a time target. International policy adviser in the cyber policy unit of Estonia’s ministry of defence, Anett Numa said: “Like-minded countries have to work together in order to protect themselves.” The NATO Cyber Security Centre chief, Ian West remarked on the effectiveness of the exercise, highlighting the participation of cyber techies from different countries to exchange about various types of attacks and technology products.

On 18 April, the EU’s ambassador in Ukraine, Matti Maasikas said that the EU membership questionnaire was completed and returned in just 10 days’ time. Similarly, Georgia and Moldova have submitted their questionnaires.

Post Finland's announcement to join NATO has led to the withdrawal of many foreign investors has been observed. The move comes due to fear of safety and stability of operations. It was seen that the businesses were transferred from the Nordic to the Baltic States. According to Finland’s president: “All these alternatives have an advantage that our security will improve. Or we make sure that our stability remains and that we can make sure we live in [a] secure environment. Our main headline is: Finnish security.”

The relations between Turkey and the US have taken a shift due to the war in Ukraine. Since Joe Biden became president, the relations between both countries were on deteriorating. It has taken a turning point with the US decision to send Turkey the F-16 fighter jets along with modernization kits as the US considers the rising security threat of Russia in the region. The former foreign minister of Turkey, Yasar Yakis said: “The Turkish-US negotiations on F-16s look like a breakthrough in the relations between these two NATO allies, but one swallow does not make a summer.”

The Global Fallouts:
International implications of the Ukraine war

To suit its demand for wheat, Egypt has shifted its import contract from Russia and Ukraine wheat to India. The same was confirmed by commerce minister Piyush Goyal. Therefore Egypt will import close to 240,000 tonnes of wheat out of one million tonnes in total from India. Goyal said: “Indian farmers are feeding the world. Egypt approves India as a wheat supplier. Modi Govt. steps in as the world looks for reliable alternate sources for a steady food supply. Our farmers have ensured our granaries overflow and we are ready to serve the world.”

UNHCR reported that more than 4.9 million Ukrainians had left the country, the count has increased along with the internally displaced people. The UNHCR, head said: “The Ukrainian government was fast to adapt its social protection programmes and IDP registration to respond to the emerging needs. But a crisis of this magnitude needs everyone’s support. This partnership will further strengthen our collective efforts to help displaced people access assistance and services, and rebuild their lives wherever they have found safety in the country.” On the count of internally displaced, close to 7.1 million is estimated by UNHCR. She stressed on supplying emergency service and needed items that include doors, blankets, mattresses and items for personal hygiene in six areas of Donetsk and Kramatorsk regions. According to International Organization for Migration (IOM), those who fled the country included majorly students and migrant workers.

We, the world and history will take from Russia much more than Russian missiles will take from Ukraine - address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, 18 April 2022
Maria Starkova and Pavel Polityuk, “Ukraine says Russia begins eastern offensive, missiles kill 7 in Lviv,Reuters, 19 April 2022
Second phase of war has started, says Ukraine president's chief of staff,” Reuters, 19 April 2022
At least 1,000 civilians hiding under Ukrainian stronghold steel plant in Mariupol- city council,Reuters, 18 April 2022
Western ‘economic blitzkrieg’ has failed – Putin,” RT News, 18 April 2022
Russia publishes data on foreign mercenaries in Ukraine,” RT News, 18 April 2022 
Losses, Morale and Counterattacks Stymie Russia’s Donbas Offensive,” The Moscow Times, 18 April 2022 
Putin says Western countries have hurt their own economies with sanctions,” Reuters, 18 April 2022 
Russia says it launched mass strikes on Ukrainian military overnight,” Reuters, 18 April 2022
Meeting on economic issues,” Kremlin.ru, 18 April 2022
Situation in Russian economy, ruble’s exchange rate stabilizing, says Putin,” TASS, 18 April 2022
Finland Witnesses Withdrawal Of Investors & Businesses Over Risk Escalation With Russia,” Republic World, 18 April 2022
Turkey and US move closer to the same wavelength,” Arab News, 18 April 2022
NATO Cyber Game Tests Defenses Amid War in Ukraine,” WSJ, 18 April 2022
Michael R. Gordon, “Pentagon Sees Lviv Strike as Part of Russia ‘Shaping Operations’,” WSJ, 18 April 2022
Remarks by Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.” U.S Department of Treasury, 18 April 2022
Egypt approves India as wheat supplier; to import about one million tonnes,” Hellenic Shipping News, 18 April 2022
Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine and UNHCR Ukraine Representative sign agreement to expand displaced persons’ access to social protection including cash assistance – UNHCR Ukraine,” UKRINFORM, 18 April 2022

By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan

Five protestors were arrested under the terrorism act
On 19 April, at the Easter parade linked to dissident republicans, five men were arrested under the terrorism act in Londonderry. The parade was planned by the National Republican Commemoration Committee, which had held the parade on behalf of the anti-agreement republican party, Saoradh. Saoradh is also linked to the New Irish Republican Army. The demonstrators attacked the police with petrol bombs during their operation at the City Cemetery. Concerning the arrests, the police said: “Police monitored the event closely and, at what was considered to be an appropriate point, took action to secure evidence and make arrests.” (“Londonderry: Five Terrorism Act arrests at parade,” BBC, 19 April 2022)

Citizen Lab confirms the use of Pegasus by the government
On 19 April, leaders of the movement for Catalan independence accused the government of Spain of spying on them by using the Pegasus software. A report by Citizen Lab found that the software was installed on the phones of 60 leaders between 2017 and 2020, during the low point of relations between Barcelona and Madrid. Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said: We have been spied on in a huge and illegal manner through software that only states can possess.” Puigdemont accused incumbent prime minister Pedro Sanchez and former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of spying on him and their leaders belonging to the movement. (“Catalan independence leaders accuse Spain of mass surveillance campaign,” Deutsche Welle, 19 April 2022) 

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