Daily Briefs

Photo : Henry Nicholls/Reuters/The New York Times

22 December 2022, Thursday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #390

UK's ambulance worker strike; Baltic-Nordic annual meet | War in Ukraine: Day 301

Lithuania's border fence with Belarus nears completion; Lower consumption leads to energy crisis reduction in France; Middle East and Europe discuss Iraq crisis in Jordan

By Allen Joe Mathew

New reform to remodel the healthcare services 
On 23 June 2021, Finland’s Parliament passed a law transferring the healthcare services from the country’s 293 municipalities to the 21 regional authorities and independently, the city of Helsinki. These reforms are to begin from 2023 onwards and include a whole array of new strategies. The reforms have been made following a provincial model of implementation. The services have also been renamed to now known as ‘wellbeing service county’. The reforms are not just in names or division of responsibilities but have also been done keeping in mind to decrease the costs. They also include a generous package to encourage the use and faster adoption of digital services. The reform do not address about the funding, this might lead to tightening of funding and a possible shortage of healthcare workers. (“What structural changes should be expected from Finland’s public healthcare reform?,” yle.fi, 21 December 2022)
Risk of energy shortage slightly reduced due to reduced consumer demand
On 20 December, France’s grid operator, RTE published a statement saying that the country is no longer in danger of facing an energy shortage. The overall consumption and demand from the consumers have become lower, in line with the government’s recommendations. The French government had earlier recommended that households and businesses should aim to reduce their electricity usage by at least 10 per cent. As of now, there is a nine per cent reduction which has led to France coming out of the red zone. Another development that has assisted in this has been the greater output generated by Nuclear and hydropower plants. The power utility company EDF has listed out some risks too that are being faced due to increased production. (“Reduced energy consumption helps lower threat to French power supply,” France24, 20 December 2022)
Border fence installation with Belarus completed
On 20 December, Lithuanian border forces revealed in a statement that the defence forces had stopped the regular and constant patrolling of its shared border with Belarus. This development came to be as the border fence between the countries nears completion. The border fence covers most of the entire length and has been built by Lithuania. It also includes surveillance systems that will assist in enhancing border security. The work had begun after the migrant refugee crisis during the summer of 2021. More than 19,200 migrants have been turned away since 03 August 2021, earlier nearly 4,200 migrants had managed to cross over into Lithuania. (Augustas Stankevicius, “Lithuanian troops stop patrolling Belarusian border,” lrt.lt, 20 December 2022)

Ambulance Workers strike higher pay and better working conditions
On 21 December, ambulance workers in England and Wales hit the streets to protest and raise voices for their demands. Driven by inflation and an overload of duties on the current employees, their demands ranged from the revision of the pay scale to better conditions at work. The major complaint was about overtime and underpaid hours that they were forced to do. They also demanded that the government recruit more employees for the health service function more smoothly. The workers are all part of one of the three workers' unions that called for the strike, and nearly 20,000 workers took part in the walkout nationwide. The government did not respond in kind to the protest saying that it is disappointed due to these developments and would in the future take strong action against any such strike or walkouts. (“U.K. Ambulance Workers Stage Their Largest Walkout in Decades,” The New York Times, 21 December 2022)
The UK aviation authority clears the path for Virgin Orbit launch
On 21 December, the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK gave the final clearance for Virgin Orbit to conduct space launch operations from its soil. This is after a 15-month period where it was being checked whether the company met all requirements for such operations or not. For such an operation there are a lot of safety regulations which are to be completed and tested, and all the authorities have done a thorough inspection of the procedures undertaken by the company, said a statement issued by the UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper. With this landmark decision, the UK wants to get on par with other space competitors and get going in the space race. It is estimated to bring in a lot of investment too, touted to be 16.5 billion euros and generate a whopping 47,000 and 2,500 apprentices that will open up huge avenues for the people. The first mission is named ‘Start Me Up’ and will be launched from the Spaceport Cornwall, a highly modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet is to carry the rocket to be released. (“UK space regulator issues Virgin Orbit licences ahead of UK launch,” gov.uk, 21 December 2022)

Cyprus plans to process natural gas from Israel for export
On 20 December, while the war between Russia and Ukraine rages on, Cyprus sees an opportunity to become an alternate energy provider for Europe. Considering this the country is thinking of importing natural gas from Israel and processing it into liquefied form and then reading it for export. Cyprus’ Energy Minister Natasa Pilides stated that the first step would be the construction of a plant for processing large amounts of natural gas, the plans for which are what is on the table at the present. The country is in talks with an energy company, Energean, for the construction of a pipeline. This would be finalized once Israel agrees on how much gas it will export to the Mediterranean country. Other energy giants are also in the fray with major companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Qatar Petroleum and Dutch Shell. The minister also spoke about transitioning to green energy and investing in areas such as solar energy. (Menelaos Hadjicostis, “Cyprus: Plant to process Israeli gas for export an option,” independent.co.uk, 20 December 2022)

Baltic-Nordic annual meeting focuses on regional security
On 19 December, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto visited Riga in Latvia to meet Latvia’s President Egils Levits. He discussed regional security, bilateral cooperation and Nordic-Baltic with Levits before the Joint Expeditionary Force member states leaders meeting. They agreed to increase their support to Ukraine, in accordance with the Baltic-Nordic summit held on 09 September. In a joint press conference with Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda, Estonia’s President Alars Karis, and President Levits discussed regional security, the Ukraine war, linking the electricity grids with Europe and the development of the Rail Baltica project. The importance of supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia was prominent in their discussion. The Baltic leader pledged to continue economic, military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. (“Baltic and Finnish Presidents meeting in Rīga,” Eng.LSM.lv, 19 December 2022)
Jordan hosts leaders from Middle East and Europe to discuss the Iraq crisis
On 20 December, leaders from across Europe and the Middle East came together at a joint meeting in Jordan to discuss the domestic security and the conditions prevailing in Iraq. The country has been through turmoil for the past many years, starting with the 2003 US-led invasion and then the subsequent political instability with the rise and fall of ISIS. This meeting is being seen as the second edition of the Baghdad Conference which was co-organized by France in 2021 and was held in Baghdad. France President, Emmanuel Macron, stated that France’s interests in the stability of the region which also reflects on the security of the Mediterranean basin. The other leaders in attendance were from Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan’s King and the Crown Prince. The foreign ministers of Saudi, Iran, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait were also present and spoke of how they viewed the situation and provided suggestions. The chief of the Arab League called for peace and sovereignty in Iraq. (“Middle Eastern, European leaders meet in Jordan to discuss security in Iraq,” france24, 20 December 2022)

War in Ukraine: Day 301
By Sai Pranav

War on the Ground
On 20 December, Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed the Georgia Ukraine Azerbaijan Moldova Organization (GUAM)’s ministerial meeting virtually. Kuleba said that Ukraine will take a decisive and productive role during its GUAM presidency in 2023 despite the ongoing war with Russia. Kuleba pointed out five priorities that will be addressed during Ukraine’s GUAM presidency in 2023. First, Guam member states’ protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Second, the establishment of new economic opportunities and development in trade between European and Asian markets; third, the development of the free trade zone’s full functions; fourth, dialogue with the European Commission on the GUAM Transport Corridor; fifth, customs procedures simplification and an extensive approach to logistics within GUAM Transport Corridor. Kuleba also urged the GUAM member states to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and place sanctions against it.

On 21 December, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the US to meet President Joseph Biden to discuss extensive cooperation between both countries. The cooperation aimed to strengthen Ukraine’s defensive capabilities and restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Zelenskyy also met with the US Congress’ House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Zelenskyy requested further military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine from the US Congress. In his address at the joint meeting of the US Congress, Zelenskyy stated: “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” about the US aid to Ukraine.

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia

On 21 December, TASS reported that following several months of investigation, there was no evidence pointing to Russia as the perpetrator behind the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline explosions. According to TASS, 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials from nine countries including from the CIA claimed that there was no proof found Russia sabotaging the pipelines. They were interviewed by the Washington Post. According to the investigations, the saboteur remains unclear.

On 21 December, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin virtually launched the new Siberian gas field which increases gas export to China. The Kovykta gas field will supply Russian gas to China via the Power of Siberia pipeline. The gas field contains recoverable reserves of 1.8 trillion cubic metres. 

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe 

On 21 December, US President Biden issued economic, military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine during his joint press conference with Zelenskyy. Biden stated that he approved a USD 1.85 billion military aid package to Ukraine. The package will include a direct transfer of equipment and artillery, tanks and rocket launchers ammunition supply. The package will also include a Patriot missile battery, which will be provided to Ukraine to strengthen its air defence. Biden also announced that the total amount of humanitarian assistance provided by the US to Ukraine on 21 December was USD 2.2 billion. Biden said that the US Congress had unanimously approved an additional USD 45 billion in funds for Ukraine. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) also pledged USD 374 million in humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people. The USAID’s assistance will provide food and monetary help to Ukrainians.

On 21 December, Reuters reported that Belarus announced restricting access to a part of the border zone with Russia and Ukraine temporarily. The Gomel region in the southeastern part of Belarus that borders Russia and Ukraine will have temporary restrictions on entering, staying and moving within the Loevsky, Braginsky and Khoiniki districts of the region. Belarusian government said that the restriction would not apply to officials, workers and residents of the regions. However, it did not mention the duration of the restriction.

The Global Fallouts 
Implications of the Ukraine war

On 20 December, Reuters reported that the World Bank had approved a USD 610 million urgent financial package to address Ukraine’s immediate recovery and relief needs amid the ongoing war with Russia. The package will include an additional USD 500 million loan from World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The USD 610 million financial package will fund the Public Expenditures for Administrative Capacity Endurance (PEACE) project, which covers government expenditures relating to family and children benefits, public employees’ salaries, and utility payments and Health Enhancement and Life-saving (HEAL) project, which will help in restoring and improving access to healthcare services in Ukraine. The World Bank package is in addition to its USD 18 billion aid, out of which USD 15 billion had already been disbursed.

On 21 December, during his meeting with Russia’s former President and Security Council Chairman, Dmitry Medvedev, President Xi Jinping said: “China together with Russia intends to facilitate a fairer and more rational implementation of global governance.” Xi wants China and Russia to have a stable bilateral interaction and follow both countries’ long-term strategic interests. He also said that China will have a new approach to its bilateral relations with Russia.

Dmytro Kuleba named the five main priorities of the presidency of Ukraine in GUAM in 2023,” mfa.gov.ua, 20 December 2022
The President of Ukraine went to the USA on an official visit,” president.gov.ua, 21 December 2022
In Washington, the President of Ukraine met with the speaker of the House of Representatives and senators from the Republican and Democratic parties,” president.gov.ua, 22 December 2022
Aishvarya Kavi, “Full Transcript of Zelensky’s Speech Before Congress,” the New York Times, 21 December 2022
No evidence of Russia behind Nord Stream attack — newspaper,” TASS, 21 December 2022
Launch ceremony of Kovykta gas field,” kremlin.ru, 21 December 2022
Remarks by President Biden and President Zelenskyy of Ukraine in Joint Press Conference,” whitehouse.gov, 21 December 2022
Belarus restricts access to parts of region bordering Ukraine, Russia,” Reuters, 21 December 2022
Andrea Shalal, “World Bank approves additional $610 million in financing for Ukraine,” Reuters, 21 December 2022
Ana Paula Rocha, “Lula talks to Putin and highlights Brazil's commitment to “a peaceful world free of hunger,”  Brasil de Fato, 20 December 2022
China ready for rapprochement with Russia for fair global governance — Xi,” TASS, 21 December 2022

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