Photo : YvesHerman/Reuters/FilePhoto
NIAS Europe Daily Brief #16, 20 October 2021, Wednesday
By Joeana Cera Matthews
NATO-Russia relationship: Looking beyond the suspensions and expulsions
On 18 October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced via a Foreign Ministry statement that Russia would be terminating its diplomatic mission to NATO. Lavrov claimed the suspension to be a retaliatory move to NATO’s recent expulsion of its mission members to the alliance.
What triggered the suspension?
First, the immediate triggers. On 06 October, NATO banned eight Russian diplomats who were members of the Russian mission to the alliance. They were expelled on the grounds of being “undeclared intelligence officers” or simply put — spies. Alongside this expulsion, NATO halved the size of the Russian mission to its Brussels headquarters without justifying the need for the same. Deutsche Welle had then reported Interfax citing a senior Russian lawmaker’s response; he said that Moscow “would retaliate, not necessarily in kind.”
Second, the ripple effect of the expulsion. The NATO expulsion was followed by several eastern European countries, as well as those countries closely associated with the alliance, asking Russian envoys in their countries to leave, accusing them on grounds similar to those alleged by NATO. Moscow responded in kind — asking these diplomats to leave the respective region ‘for good’.
Third, the role of history. Relations between Russia and NATO have been tense since 2014. Following the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula along with the Moscow-backed Donbass region conflict, any working relationship between Russia and NATO ceased. The NATO-Russia Council too has been dormant.
What does the suspension mean?
Russia is set to cancel NATO’s accreditation on 01 November. Once this comes into force, NATO is expected to contact Russia via its envoy to Belgium, Alexander Tokovinin, in case of emergencies. Lavrov suggested that NATO too appoint a similar envoy in Moscow. However, the already strained relations imply the futility of such a facility. Since the suspension of practical cooperation in 2014, channels of communication remain open only for high-level military coordination talks.
Is there a possibility of reconciliation?
First, the incessant misunderstandings and blame games. Following the expulsion of the Russian diplomats, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu stated that they had acted only in “defense and deterrence” and were still interested in having an “open and meaningful dialogue” with Moscow. However, Lavrov criticized the alliance for trying to “disintegrate the internal unity of the region” by creating stressful situations and being “unfriendly”.
Second, the declining relationship. Responding to the Russian announcement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “It’s more than just regrettable, this decision taken by Moscow will seriously damage the relationship.” Russia never replaced its latest ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, who had returned to Moscow in January 2018. The deteriorating relation between the two has been quite evident in the past few years; member countries regularly battle a noncooperative Russia either at sea or via media. The Russia-NATO relationship only saw signs of worsening given the fact that NATO’s condition to return to normalcy was based on Russia leaving Crimea. A highly unlikely event, at least in the near future. Thus, the current scenario indicates the prolongation of tense relations.
“Russia to suspend Nato diplomatic mission amid tension,” BBC, 19 October 2021
“Russia suspends its mission to NATO,” Deutsche Welle, 18 October 2021
David M. Herszenhorn, “Russia shuts diplomatic mission to NATO – POLITICO,” POLITICO, 18 October 2021
“NATO expels 8 from Russian mission as 'intelligence officers',” Deutsche Welle, 06 October 2021
By Padmashree Anandhan and Joeana Cera Matthews
Madrid: Crying room installation aims to rid mental health stigma
On 10 October, the World Mental Health Day, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez proposed a EUR 100 million mental healthcare drive which would include a 24-hour suicide helpline among other services. Speaking on the occasion, Sanchez commented on mental illness: “It is not a taboo, it is a public health problem that we must talk about, make visible and act accordingly.” Also called the La Lloreria, Spain’s Crying Room is an attempt to remove the taboo that looms around crying, seeking help, and basic mental health. Records prove that suicide is the second most common cause of death in Spain; 3,671 Spanish people died by suicide in 2019. (Michael Gore, “Spain's 'Crying Room' seeks to banish mental health taboo,” Reuters, 18 October 2021)
Karpathos: Earthquake of magnitude 6.0 hits island
On 19 October, the Greek island of Karpathos was hit by an earthquake, the tremors of which were felt across the eastern Mediterranean region including several other Greek islands, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, as well as parts of Israel and Palestine. No casualties or fatalities have been reported. The US Geological Survey estimated the magnitude of the quake to be 6.0 while the depth of the same was 37.8 kilometers. A Greek seismologist has confirmed that the quake originated from an African fault and there were no aftershocks to be expected. (“Quake off Greece's Karpathos shakes eastern Mediterranean,” Reuters, 19 October 2021; “Strong earthquake hits the eastern Mediterranean,” Deutsche Welle, 19 October 2021)
Envoys from 10 countries summoned over calls to release Osman Kavala
On 18 October, ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the US released a statement calling for a speedy resolution to the Osman Kavala case. Osman Kavala is a civil society leader who was imprisoned in 2017 for involving in anti-government protests; he is yet to be convicted. The Council of Europe has issued a warning against Turkey that it would launch disciplinary proceedings if Kavala is not released before 30 November 2021. Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu responded to the statement, saying: “It is not acceptable for ambassadors to make a recommendation or suggestion to the judiciary for an ongoing case." (“Turkey summons 10 envoys over calls for Kavala's release,” Deutsche Welle, 19 October 2021; “Turkey summons 10 ambassadors over call to release activist Osman Kavala,” France24, 19 October 2021)
Poland-EU: European Parliament witnesses Morawiecki
On 19 October, a debate sparked between the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the recent ruling by the Polish court. The court ruled that “parts of the EU treaties are "incompatible" with the country's constitution and that the latter takes precedence.” Poland’s move is viewed as a direct challenge to the unity of the EU legal order. In the debate, the PM maintained that he rejected the rumors of a Polexit. He asked for member nations to fight the common challenges such as energy shortage, migration, and the issue of Russia. Criticizing the EU for treating certain member states as “second-class,” he stated that Poland would not stand for blackmails or financial threats. In response to Morawiecki’s statements, von der Leyen mentioned the applicability of Article 7 in the case of member violations. She also said that the Commission continued to keenly assess the judgment and added “We cannot and will not allow our common values to be put at risk.” (“Polish leader blasts EU over controversial rule of law dispute, Deutsche Welle, 19 October 2021; Maïa De La Baume and David M. Herszenhorn, “Ursula von der Leyen, Mateusz Morawiecki clash in European Parliament,” POLITICO, 19 October 2021)
EU completes export of one billion COVID-19 vaccines
On 18 October, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU had successfully exported one billion COVID-19 vaccines. She further commented on the occasion: “Very clearly, the European Union is the largest exporter of the COVID-19 vaccines.” As von der Leyen stated, the EU is now the world’s biggest vaccine exporter. It provided almost 90 million of its vaccines to WHO’s COVAX initiative. Despite the large rollout of vaccines, vaccine inequality persists. Most of the jabs have reached developed countries like the UK, Japan, and Turkey while developing and under-developed countries struggle to increase their inoculation rates; they cannot due to the lack of available vaccines. Recognizing this dearth, the EU has promised a supply of 200 million doses to the most vulnerable countries. Disregarding the lack of vaccines in poorer countries, rich countries are now introducing booster shots. The WHO has warned against this “hoarding of vaccine supplies” and requested those countries in question to delay third shots until an equilibrium is reached in the global vaccine distribution. (“EU says it has exported over 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines,” Deutsche Welle, 18 October 2021; Francesco Guarascio, “EU has exported over 1 bln COVID-19 vaccines, von der Leyen says,” Reuters, 18 October 2021)
The EU and Iran: Nuclear deal talks hit pause
On 15 October, the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said that Iran had agreed to meet the EU officials at Brussels for nuclear talks but had denied the indirect talks with the US in Vienna. The advanced uranium capacity that Iran acquired during the Trump-approved US pull-out from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018, created enormous pressure on the EU and the US. Since then, they have been trying to negotiate with Iran to restore the previous status quo as part of the nuclear deal. Iran, however, proposes to agree to the same in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on it. A senior EU diplomat predicted that the upcoming meet in Brussels could be a mere diversion and cannot match the indirect talks that could have happened between Iran, the US, and other parties. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented that “We will look at every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran.” (Arshad Mohammed, “EU's Borrell says Iran wants to meet officials in Brussels over nuclear deal,” Reuters, 15 October 2021; Stephanie Liechtenstein, “EU, US try to lure Iran back to nuclear talks as hopes fade,” POLITICO, 17 October 2021; “EU denies nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels, contradicting Tehran,” France24, 18 October 2021)
Pentagon chief visits Black Sea countries
On 19 October, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine with the motive of enhancing and strengthening defense cooperation. Commenting on Russia, he stated: “Let’s be clear, that Russia started this war and Russia is the obstacle to a peaceful resolution.” Austin is on a visit to the Black Sea countries, having already visited Georgia on 18 October. He is set to visit Romania on 20 October. The idea behind the meetings is to assure that these countries have US support against Russian belligerence. The key focus of the visit to Georgia was to renew the military program that expires in December and to showcase its commitment to Tbilisi which has sought for NATO membership. Austin’s visit intends to send a message to Russia, as its participation in the Black Sea region is turning into a challenge for NATO. (“US defense chief says Russia is an 'obstacle to peace,” Deutsche Welle, 19 October 2021; “Pentagon chief to hold military talks in Georgia on first stop of Black Sea visit,” France24, 18 October 2021)