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29 June 2022, Wednesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #240
By Ashwin Dhanabalan
Lithuania’s rail transit to Kaliningrad, a new flashpoint of contention
What is the ban about?
On 17 June, Lithuania announced a ban on Russian goods transiting through its territory to Kaliningrad, following the guidelines of the EU’s sanctions. Kaliningrad is a strategic enclave of Russia geographically located between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic coast. The banned goods included construction materials, advanced technology, metals, and coals which were crucial for Kaliningrad and made up 50 per cent of its imports. Lithuania’s announcement has increased tensions between Russia and NATO as both Poland and Lithuania are member states. However, Lithuania has also argued that Russia knew about the sanctions and only used the issue to wage a possible information war.
On 18 June, in response to Lithuania’s announcement, Kaliningrad’s governor Anton Alikhanov said: “We consider this to be a most serious violation … of the right to free transit into and out of Kaliningrad region.” The governor said the enclave had prepared to increase the number of ships’ carrying goods to compensate for the shortages from Saint Petersburg. On 21 June, Russia’s security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev stated that Russia would respond to Lithuania’s actions with hostile measures. He added that the consequences would also have “a serious negative impact on the Lithuanian population.”
Five concerns of contention on the Kaliningrad blockade
First, the Suwałki land corridor. The Suwałki gap is considered the Achilles’ heel of NATO as it is geographically vulnerable to a joint attack by Russia and Belarus. This would also cut Lithuania’s border with Poland and fracture NATO’s land Baltic access.
Second, escalating Russian aggression. On 27 June, Russian hackers claimed responsibility for the cyber attacks targeting private institutions in Lithuania. In addition, Russia in February announced that it had positioned nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. These missiles would be able to target NATO countries in the Baltic seas and are now an immediate threat to Lithuania if issues escalate.
Third, NATO’s article five. Russia’s declaration of retaliation has drawn the US to be involved in the Russia, Lithuania, and Kaliningrad issue. US state department spokesperson Ned Price stated that the US fully supported Ukraine under NATO’s article five. Any escalation would result in a collective NATO response which would push the conflict away from Ukraine to Lithuania.
Fourth, reviving the debate on Lithuania’s independence. Lithuania has been supporting Ukraine since Russia invaded Kyiv. In retaliation, Russia and the Duma deputies suggested revoking Lithuania’s independence that the Soviet Union agreed upon in 1991. This would further disrupt the relations between Vilnius and Moscow.
Fifth, isolating the militarised region. Isolating the enclave would likely lead to stagnation as the region has an underdeveloped economy and is dependent on mainland Russia for imports. Russia has also argued that Lithuania’s blockade would exacerbate global food shortages and increase inflation.
Aleksandra Klitina, “Russia, Belarus threatening Lithuania with war over Kaliningrad ban,” Kyiv Post, 27 June 2022
Beatrice Zemelyte, “Kaliningrad standoff could reveal if Russia wants to ‘escalate,” Al Jazeera, 24 June 2022.
Juri Rescheto, “Transit row between Russia and Lithuania heats up,” Deutsche Welle, 23 June 2022
Paul Kirby, “Kaliningrad row: Lithuania accuses Russia of lying about rail ‘blockade,’” BBC, 23 June 2022
Juri Rescheto, “Who’s next? Lithuanians prepare for potential Russian aggression,” Deutsche Welle, 16 April 2022
“Russia deploys nuclear-capable missile system in Kaliningrad: reports,” Deutsche Welle, 16 April 2022
War in Ukraine: Day 125
By Rishma Banerjee and Emmanuel Royan
War on the Ground
On 28 June, president Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a telephonic conversation with the NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, ahead of the NATO summit. They spoke about Ukraine’s position and the necessity for a powerful missile defence system for Ukraine. He also addressed the UN security council, where he accused president Vladimir Putin of being a “terrorist” and requested for Russia’s expulsion from the council. To reiterate his argument, he also called the UN to visit the site of the recent missile strike in Kremenchuk.
On 27 June, Kharkiv’s governor, Oleh Synehubov, reported that Russia’s forces had shelled the city. Apartment buildings and a primary school were hit. As a result, five people were killed and 22 were injured, among which 5 were children. On the Telegram messaging app, Synehubov emphasized the fact that all the people affected by the shelling were civilians.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reported the arrest of a former KGB agent who had revealed the location of the Yavoriv military facility in Ukraine to an unspecified Russian agency. SBU maintains that this led Russia’s forces to strike the facility in March, killing over 50 service personnel and injuring around 150.
The Moscow View
Claims by Russia
On 28 June, in response to Vilnius's decision to stop the transit of some commodities subject to the EU sanctions to Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, the cyber-attack group from Russia, Killnet informed Reuters that it was conducting a significant cyberattack on Lithuania. The prime minister of Lithuania, Ingrida Simonyte, stated that her government's institutions are working around the clock to solve the problems as they are uncovered.
On the same day, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos disclosed the location coordinates of Western defense headquarters and NATO’s summit in Spain, claiming that Western satellite operators were working for Russia's adversary, Ukraine. Russian satellite images of the NATO headquarters in Brussels, the Pentagon, the White House, the British government buildings in central London, the German Chancellery and Reichstag parliament building in Berlin, the summit venue in Madrid, the French president's residence and other government buildings in Paris, the White House, and the Pentagon were also posted.
The West View
Responses from the US and Europe
On 28 June, the US treasury department reported the imposition of sanctions on 70 entities and 29 people who are allegedly important to Russia’s industrial base. This includes Russia's state aerospace and defense conglomerate, Rostec; the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), which makes MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets; Tupolev which makes strategic bomber and transport aircraft and the largest truck manufacturer, Kamaz. It also confirmed US’s move to ban Russia’s gold, as was discussed at the G7 summit. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: "Targeting Russia's defense industry will degrade (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's capabilities and further impede his war against Ukraine, which has already been plagued by poor morale, broken supply chains, and logistical failures."
70 Russian diplomatic staff were expelled from Bulgaria on espionage charges. The move was announced by the foreign ministry and the outgoing prime minister Kiril Petkov. This is by far the largest expulsion by Sofia, which decreases the presence of Russian diplomats to half of what it was. While describing the expulsions, Petkov said: "This is not an act of aggression towards the Russian people…When foreign governments are trying to meddle in our internal affairs, we have institutions that will respond."
The defence ministers of both the Netherlands and Germany said that they will send more howitzers to Ukraine. Speaking at the sidelines of the NATO summit, they mentioned that they were prepared to ‘do their share’ in supporting Ukraine. Germany’s defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, also spoke about the announcement of having NATO troops combat-ready. She said that Germany is likely to provide one division of 15,000 troops, along with 65 planes and 20 ships.
On 28 June, The US climate envoy, John Kerry said that the Ukraine war was showing the world why it should not be held hostage by oil-rich states for their energy needs. He spoke about how the current crisis is a warning to everyone to not be “prisoners of petrostate dictators who are willing to weaponize energy.”
The Global Fallouts
Implications of the Ukraine war
On 27 June, the Group of Seven (G7) agreed to commit USD five billion to increase global food security as a response to concerns in developing countries about the possibility of starvation brought on by the conflict in Ukraine. The US is said to provide more than half of that amount, which would support regional organizations and efforts to combat hunger in 47 nations. The G7 has also agreed to evaluate the possibility of prohibiting the transit of Russian oil that has been sold above for a certain amount.
Fumio Kishida, the prime minister of Japan, announced that he will provide an additional USD 100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine at the G7 summit. In addition, as harvest time approaches Japan would also support Ukraine's efforts to increase its grain storage capacity.
Furthermore, G7 members urged China to use its influence with Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine and cease "expansive maritime claims" in the South China Sea. They cited a decision by the International Court of Justice ordering Moscow to halt its military action and relevant UN resolutions calling on China to pressure Russia to withdraw forces from Ukraine quickly and unconditionally.
On 29 June, the prime minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese stated that he is considering reopening the Australian Embassy in Kyiv. As it seeks to join several of its allies that have resumed operations after evacuating its ambassadors over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
“Ukraine tells NATO it needs powerful missile defence system,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
Vitalii Hnidyi, “Russian shelling kills five civilians in Ukraine's Kharkiv - governor,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
“Ukraine arrests 'Russian agent' who guided strike that killed 50 troops –SBU,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
Daphne Psaledakis and Michelle Nichols, “New U.S. sanctions target Russian gold imports, defense industry,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
Tsvetelia Tsolova, “Bulgaria expels 70 Russian diplomatic staff over espionage concerns,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
“Germany and Netherlands to supply six more howitzers to Kyiv,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
Sergio Goncalves and Catarina Demony, “Nations can no longer be 'prisoners of petrostate dictators' -U.S. envoy Kerry,” Reuters, 29 June 2022
“Russian hacker group says cyber attacks continue on Lithuania,,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
“Russia publishes Pentagon coordinates, says Western satellites 'work for our enemy',” Reuters, 28 June 2022
Thomas Escritt and Sarah Marsh, “G7 commits $5 bln to tackling global food insecurity - US official | Reuters,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
“Japan PM Kishida: to extend additional $100 mln in humanitarian aid to Ukraine,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
“G7 agrees to explore cap on Russian oil price,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
“G7: China must press Russia to stop Ukraine war,” Reuters, 28 June 2022
By Emmanuel Royan and Sai Pranav
Scotland proposed dates for the new referendum on its independence
On 28 June, the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, decided to hold the next referendum on independence on October 19, 2023. She wrote to the UK prime minister Boris Johnson to obtain formal approval for the vote to take place. However, even if it is not approved by the UK government, Sturgeon declared she would move through with her proposal. In response, the UK government stated that it would look into Sturgeon's proposal but emphasized that it remained of the opinion that "now is not the time" for another vote. In addition, it has been stated that it is obvious that Westminster controls the constituent. (“Scottish independence: 19 October 2023 proposed as date for referendum,” BBC, 28 June 2022)
Demographic census data for 2021 was released by ONS
On 28 June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the initial report on the population census of 2021. Between 2011 and 2021, population growth was observed in all nine of England's regions as well as in Wales. The East of England experienced the highest rate of population growth, up 8.3 per cent from 2011. The South West increased by 7.8 per cent, adding 412,000 more people and London grew by 7.7 per cent. In England and Wales, 29,177,200 men and 30,420,100 women were recorded, and Men made up 29 per cent of the total population. However, a half-million fewer persons than expected were counted in the census in the figure for England and Wales increased by 7.8 per cent between 2001 and 2011. The ONS said that further information from the 2021 census for England and Wales will be released in stages over the next two years. (Callum May and Data Journalism Team, “Census: Population of England and Wales grew 6% in a decade,” BBC, 28 June 2022)
Italy faces impending doom due to crisis
On 27 June, Mario Draghi's smooth administration of Italy is about to conclude due to various troubles looming over Italy. The achievements of the prime minister in making sure of negative interest rates, the growth of Italy after the pandemic, and a chance to spend almost EUR200 billion in EU recovery funds are about to come to an end due to problems facing Italy. War, inflation, and imminent elections are threatening the economy of Italy. The rising energy prices are the main reason for inflation in the country. The predicted GDP growth of 4.1 per cent is cut short to 2.4 per cent due to the war and the implications it brought to Italy. Italy still depends on Russia for its gas needs and would suffer tremendously if Moscow decides to cut off the supply completely. Italy is trying to look for alternatives such as pursuing gas deals with countries like Qatar, Angola, and Algeria and maximizing the usage of coal plants in case Russia decides to cut off the gas supply. There is an impending fear of possible inflation in Italy due to the increase in interest rates and hike in energy prices. The elections ahead also might put Italy at risk. If a proper and smart government is not elected, then Italy would go into recession. (Paola Tamma, "Italy’s economy enters choppy waters," POLITICO, 27 June 2022)
Prime minister Pedro Sanchez faces heat on the death of migrants during the Melila incident
On 27 June, Spain's prime minister Pedro Sanchez is being criticized from within his coalition government over the deaths of 23 to 37 migrants who were attempting to cross from Morocco to the Melilla enclave of Spain. He was accused of failing to condemn the brutality and violence of the Moroccan police force toward the migrants. The leftist party of Unidas Podemos(UP) and the opposition Popular Party(PP) have criticized the prime minister's lack of action. Sanchez had blamed the mafia and their involvement in human trafficking that led to the incident. The prime minister and his interior minister are being petitioned to explain by the PP. (Camille Gijs, "Melilla migrant deaths fuel new Spanish coalition fissure," POLITICO, 27 June 2022)
Fashion brands to stop using the Higg MSI tool for environmental impacts
On June 28, fashion brands such as H&M and Norrøna announced that they would stop the usage of a sustainability measuring tool after critics called it greenwashing. 655 garments were rated by the Higg Material Sustainability Index(MSI) to check their environmental impacts on the website of H&M. This tool was launched by a global non-profit alliance of fashion brands, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition(SAC). SAC consists of 250 members of famous brands across the world. The Norwegian Consumer Authority(NCA) warned the H&M group about the negative effects of Higg MSI. The Higg MSI only assesses a selective part of the lifecycle of a product, which does not represent the sustainability of the product. According to critics, Higg MSI misleads and misinforms customers with faulty data. SAC's CEO Amina Razvi addressed the issue and told the media that they would rectify and improve the tool for accuracy in the information and would do an independent, third-party review of the data and the methodology. (Fleur Britten, "Germany signals support for 2035 fossil fuel car phaseout, with conditions," the Guardian, 28 June 2022)
NATO summit to discuss further deployment of troops in Europe
On 28 June, the meeting of NATO member countries in Madrid is expected to focus mostly on China's expanding global ambitions and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg highlighted the critical decisions that will be made at the Summit, including a major change in NATO's deterrence and defense, long-term support for Ukraine, and a strengthening of collaboration with like-minded allies around the globe. Members are anticipated to significantly raise the number of troops stationed in eastern Europe and the Baltic States, in addition to stockpiling weapons and equipment there. The national security adviser for the US, Jake Sullivan, stated that further military deployments of "land, sea, and air" will be announced for the long term. (“NATO summit in Spain focuses on Russia and China,” Deutsche Welle, 28 June 2022)
Germany is willing to back the 2035 CO2 cars phase-out with a condition
On 28 June, Germany agreed to support the 2035 fossil fuel cars phase-out under a few changes to the EU package. Germany wants to add CO2-neutral fuel cars to be added to the proposed bill. If the bill is adopted by the EU, it would ban the sales of carbon-emitting fuel cars from 2035 onwards. But Germany wants to add a clause so that carbon-neutral cars can be exempted. Countries such as Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania have requested to delay the implementation of the bill. These nations called for a 90 per cent phase-out of CO2 cars by 2035 and 100 per cent by 2040. Poland similarly supports the lighter ban. This bill is part of a set of laws developed to help the EU to tackle its carbon emissions reduction goal. ("Germany signals support for 2035 fossil fuel car phaseout, with conditions," Deutsche Welle, 28 June 2022)