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03 May 2022, Tuesday| NIAS Europe Daily Brief #191

War in Ukraine: Day 68

Hungary and Slovakia may be exempted to join the EU’s embargo on Russian oil; Pegasus spyware was found in the mobile phone of Spain’s prime minister; Italy unveils plans to protect its citizens from growing energy prices

War in Ukraine: Day 68
By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan

War on the ground:
Zelenskyy’s address, continuing attacks, and Ukraine's military claims

Zelenskyy’s address
On 02 May, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of the threat of a food crisis across the globe. He reported that Ukraine was close to losing tens of millions of tonnes of agricultural products due to the port block it faces at the Black Sea. Ukraine is one of the top grain and food exporters, face a hard challenge from Russia, thereby affecting its economy.

Continuing attacks
On 02 May, Russia launched a new set of attacks on Azovstal steel works after a complete evacuation of civilians from the industrial area. According to a Ukrainian national guard commander: “A ceasefire has been declared for the past two days during a civilian evacuation operation. Two days passed quietly. As soon as the last civilian left the plant, shelling from all kinds of weapons began” He predicts 500 soldiers to have been wounded and the evacuated civilians are expected to reach Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine Military reported on attacks of the Russian military on Odesa using a missile strike. A loud explosion was recorded in the city. According to the press centre for the Security and Defense Forces of the South: “the strike has also damaged a religious building, information about the wounded is being clarified.”

The West view:
Responses from the US and Europe

The US
On 02 May, the White House said US president Joe Biden would “love to visit Ukraine,’ but no current plans”. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US would continue assessing the situation before agreeing to Biden visiting Ukraine. US first lady Jill Biden said she would be visiting parts of eastern Europe. She added: “I know that we might not share a language, but I hope that I can convey, in ways so much greater than words, that their resilience inspires me, that they are not forgotten, and that all Americans stand with them still.”

The UK
On 02 May, the UK promised to send an additional USD 375 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The aid will include electronic warfare equipment and a counter-battery radar system apart from the GBP 200 million. The UK has sent Ukraine more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles and five air defence systems since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. 

On 02 May, Denmark said it plans on reopening its embassy in Ukraine. Denmark’s foreign ministry mentioned: “It’s a very strong symbol of the Danish support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people that today we are reopening the doors to the Danish embassy.” 

On 02 May. Two German ministers mentioned that Germany would be ready to back the EU in banning Russian oil imports. Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck stated: “Germany is not against an oil ban on Russia. Of course, it is a heavy load to bear, but we would be ready to do that.” 

On 02 May, Poland said it was preparing to be fully independent of Russian oil. Poland even offered to support other countries in cutting their fuel supplies from Russia. Poland’s environment and climate minister Anna Moskwa added, “Poland is proud to be on Putin’s list of unfriendly countries.” 

On 02 May, a local Finnish newspaper Iltalehti stated that Finland would apply for NATO membership on 12 May. The article further mentioned that the process would consist of two steps. First, President Sauli Niinisto would announce the country’s approval to join NATO, followed by the approval of the parliamentary groups.

On 02 May, Hungary stated that it was still opposed to any EU embargo on Russia’s oil and gas imports. Hungary’s spokesperson Zoltán Kovács said: “The Hungarian stance regarding any oil and gas embargo has not changed: we do not support them.” This comes as the EU plans to propose a phased ban of Russia’s oil imports as a part of their sanctions. Hungary also stated it had moved its embassy back to Kyiv from Lviv.

On 02 May, Sweden said it plans to reopen its embassy in Kyiv. Sweden’s minister Ann Linde mentioned: “Sweden will continue to #StandWithUkraine, and are delighted that @SwedeninUA’s diplomatic presence will be back where it belongs.” 

The EU
On 02 May, the EU’s chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would be passing the sixth round of sanctions at the next foreign affairs council meeting. Borrell mentioned that the bloc hopes to curb Russia’s energy exports. He added: “But I am confident that, at least with regard to oil imports, this agreement will be possible between now and the next Council meeting.”

The Global Fallouts:
International implications of the Ukraine war

On 02 May, Israel condemned comments by Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that claimed Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins. Israel called it an “unforgivable” falsehood. The comments sharply deteriorated relations between Israel and Russia as Jerusalem’s foreign ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador and demanded an apology. 

On 02 May, an analysis by Reuters mentioned how the Iran nuclear deal was slowly dying as the world was focusing on the war in Ukraine. The EU played a significant role in reviving the pact in March; however, the talks did not happen as Russia proposed last-minute demands.

Saudi Arabia
On 02 May, Saudi Arabia said it felt let down by the US, which had promised to help tackle security threats. This comes as the US has been focusing on Ukraine as the war continues. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the declining commitment by the US as Saudi Arabia, and the UAE rely on its security umbrella. The OPEC countries resisted calls by the West to help isolate Russia. They also did not increase their oil production to help control the energy prices. 

On 02 May, Taiwan mentioned that it would start looking for alternatives as the US stated a delay in their howitzer supply. The US stated that a crowded production line caused the delay, and the delivery would not happen until 2026. The US has been ramping up its military support and supply to Ukraine; however, they did not cite this as a reason.  

South Korea
On 02 May, South Korea’s embassy said it resumed its embassy operations in Kyiv. South Korea’s ambassador to Ukraine and a part of the delegation returned to Kyiv. The ministry said: “The South Korean embassy is preparing to resume operation from 02 May and intends to conduct diplomatic work in Kyiv in even closer cooperation with the Ukrainian government in order to protect its citizens in Ukraine.”  

The UN
On 02 May, the UN announced that more than 3,000 civilians had been killed in Ukraine. The toll had reached 3,153, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). Most of the victims were killed by explosions caused by missile strikes and airstrikes. 

The UNHRC claims that more than 5.5 million people have fled Ukraine since 24 February. The statistics were compiled from multiple sources, but mainly from the authorities at the official border crossing points. 

Borrell says EU aims to pass new Russia sanctions at next Foreign Affairs Council meeting,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Jan Strupczewski and Kate Abnett, “EU may offer Hungary, Slovakia exemptions from Russian oil embargo,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Britain promises further $375 million in military aid for Ukraine,” Reuters, 02 May 2022
Biden would 'love to visit Ukraine,' but no current plans -White House,” Reuters, 02 May 2022
The US first lady, Jill Biden, will visit parts of eastern Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reports the Associated Press,” The Guardian live, 02 May 2022

Joseph Nasr, Christian Kraemer, “Germany drops opposition to Russian oil ban, ministers say,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Sweden to re-open embassy in Kyiv on Wednesday,” Reuters, 02 May 2022
Hungary moves embassy back to Kyiv,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Denmark foreign minister to reopen embassy in Ukraine capital,” Reuters, 02 May 2022  
Finland will decide to apply for NATO membership on May 12, says Iltalehti newspaper,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Poland is ready to be fully independent from Russian oil,” The Guardian live, 02 May 2022 “
Hungary is still opposed to any EU embargo on Russian oil and gas imports, government spokesman Zoltán Kovács has said,” The Guardian live, 02 May 2022

Crispian Balmer, “Israel demands apology after Russia says Hitler had Jewish roots,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
More than 3,000 civilians killed in Ukraine so far, U.N. says,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Arshad Mohammed, John Irish and Parisa Hafezi, “Analysis: Iran nuclear deal near death, but West not ready to pull plug,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
More than 5.5 million people have fled Ukraine, says UNHCR,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Saudis feel 'let down' by U.S. over Houthi security threats, says senior royal,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
Taiwan considers alternatives after U.S. informs of howitzer delay,” Reuters, 02 May 2022 
South Korean embassy resumes operations in Ukraine's Kyiv,” ANI, 02 May 2022

By Emmanuel Royan and Sai Pranav

Italy introduces new schemes for rising energy prices
On 02 May, Italy devised a package of measures to safeguard companies and families from the rising energy costs. In the package, EUR 14 billion was set aside for state-guaranteed bank loans and EUR 200 bonuses for low and middle-income Italian citizens. Due to the Russian-Ukraine crisis, energy prices and the cost of living has increased in the EU’s third-largest economy. The energy producers and sellers were being taxed at a higher rate and were also taxed on their extra profit. According to the economy minister Daniele Franco, Italy expects EU 10 billion of tax in 2022. The GDP of Italy has dipped by 0.2 per cent due to the sanctions against Russia. Italy is hoping to overcome its dependency on Russian gas by mid-2024 with this scheme. (Giuseppe Fonte and Gavin Jones, “Italy unveils new stimulus plan as economic outlook darkens,” Reuters, 03 May 2022)

Pegasus spyware detected in the prime minister’s phone
On 02 May, Reuters reported that the mobile phones of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez and defence minister Margarita Robles were infected with the Pegasus spyware. According to the government minister for the presidency Felix Bolanos said, the spyware was detected in May 2022 and at least one data leak had occurred. It is suspected to be the work of external non-official bodies. The High court has taken charge of the case. This issue may have a link with the members of the Catalan separatist movement, who were also the targets of Pegasus. The EU has called for a ban on Pegasus as there were allegations of it being abused to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians. (“Spanish prime minister's mobile phone infected by Pegasus spyware, government says,” Reuters, 03 May 2022)

Hungary and Slovakia may be exempted to join EU’s embargo on Russian oil
On 02 May, the European Commission stated it might exclude Hungary and Slovakia from an embargo on Russian oil purchases. The commission cited the two countries’ significant reliance on Russian petroleum. Hungary is mainly reliant on Russian oil and has repeatedly mentioned that it will not participate in energy restrictions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Slovakia and Hungary, both on the southern route of the Druzhba pipeline transporting Russian oil to Europe, are particularly reliant, acquiring 96 per cent and 58 per cent of their crude oil and oil products imports from Russia. The commission might offer Hungary and Slovakia “an exception or a long transition period” to keep the bloc united. (Jan Strupczewski and Kate Abnett, “EU may offer Hungary, Slovakia exemptions from Russian oil embargo,” Reuters, 03 May 2022)

Crude oil futures are on a strong bull rally
On 02 May, oil prices reversed course to close on a positive note, leading to a rapid increase in the diesel market. This comes amid concerns that supply could be hampered by a potential EU ban on Russian crude oil. Brent crude futures rose 44 cents to close at USD 107.58 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures jumped 48 cents to settle at USD 105.17 a barrel. Diesel futures rose five per cent to USD 4.0172 a gallon. Both benchmarks had fallen more than USD two earlier in the session on news that the European Commission may exclude Hungary and Slovakia from a Russian oil embargo as it prepares to complete its sixth round of sanctions on Russia. (Laura Sanicola, “Oil settles up on distillate strength, supply concerns,” Reuters, 03 May 2022)

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