Daily Briefs

Photo : Valentin Sprinchak / TASS

14 April 2023, Friday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #487

War in Ukraine, Day 414: ​​​​​​​Diverging claims emerge among the actors in the Bakhmut Battle

War in Ukraine: Day 414
Diverging claims emerge among the actors in the Bakhmut Battle

War on the Ground
On 13 April, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who attended the meeting conducted by the US with IMF representative, requested for a concrete system to be placed to use the frozen Russian assets as compensation for the damage in Ukraine. According to the report the reconstruction cost comes to EUR 411 billion with an estimated time period of 10 years. Ukraine demanded for EUR 14 billion on immediate basis as per World Bank. It announced to give USD 200 million for energy and heating infrastructure reconstruction, whereas its members agreed to give another USD 300 million to expand that.

The Moscow View
On 13 April, Russia’s Defence Minister Igor Konashenkov claimed that the Wagner Group had engaged in intense fighting to push Ukraine forces away from the central parts of Bakhmut. On the same the Russian forces claimed to have blocked the paths used by the Ukraine forces to fight the frontline of Bakhmut. Russia’s Defence Ministry in a statement: “Airborne troops are providing support to advancing assault troops, blocking the transfer of Ukrainian army reserves to the city and the possibility of retreat for enemy units.” According to the founder of the Wagner Group, denied the claims stating it was too early to confirm the encirclement.

The West View
On 13 April, UK’s Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt announced the decision to grant an additional USD 500 million to Ukraine as a loan. The total comes to USD 15.6 billion under the four-year package of IMF loan guarantee to Ukraine. He said: “This funding will enhance Ukraine's economic resilience and strengthen its resistance against Russia.”

On 13 April, the US sanctioned more than 120 entities to add pressure on Russia. This will include Russia’s state energy company, Rosatom, Russia’s private military company, along with its partner firms in Turkey and Hungary. One of the key target of the sanctions was Russia’s businessman Alisher Usmanov, who is known to be the host of larger network of businesses that provides space to avoid sanctions.

On 13 April, in the intelligence update, the UK Ministry of Defence reported on the challenges faced by Russia ahead of the “victory day” in May. It observed that due to “sensitive communication” issues, has risked the management of the campaign in Ukraine. According to the report: “Putin couches the ‘special military operation’ in the spirit of the Soviet experience in World War Two.”

On 13 April, the Norway’s Foreign Ministry announced the expulsion of 15 Russian officers working in Norway. Out of the 40 Russian Diplomats, three were already expelled in 2022. According to the Foreign Minister: “We have followed their activities over time. They have increased since the invasion of Ukraine… Their activities pose a threat to Norway.”

By Rishika Yadav

Drier summer ahead due to reduced rainfall
On 13 April, Deutsche Welle reported that France is expected to experience a drier summer as compared to 2022’s record drought due to lower groundwater levels resulting from climate change. BRGM, the French geological service, has cautioned that the entire country could be affected by the situation. The lack of rainfall during the winter has prevented the ground from retaining more water, exacerbating the situation. Over three-quarters of the country's groundwater levels have fallen below the monthly average, with fruit and vine crops being the most susceptible to damage. Water restrictions are likely to be imposed, particularly in central regions and around Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a 10 per cent reduction in water usage by all sectors by 2030. (“France facing even worse summer drought than 2022,” Deutsche Welle, 13 April 2023)

59 per cent opposes nuclear phase-out reveals survey
On 13 April, Frankfurter Allgemeine reported that a majority of German citizens oppose the nuclear phase-out, which will occur on 15 April 2023 with the closure of the last three nuclear power plants. The decision is considered wrong by 59 per cent of participants in a recent survey, with only 34 per cent believing it is correct. Older age groups tend to reject the phase-out, while approval is only found among the younger age group. Concerns over increased energy prices accompany the shift towards more climate-friendly energy, with two-thirds of survey participants expressing major concerns. Political party supporters also showed mixed opinions, with the Greens and SPD in favor, and the Union, AfD, and FDP against the nuclear shutdown. Henceforth, abandoning nuclear power as part of the climate policy is a regressive measure, indicating that the German shift was not solely focused on energy policy but also included societal and capitalist critiques. Political party supporters also showed mixed opinions, with the Greens and SPD in favor, and the Union, AfD, and FDP against the nuclear shutdown. (“The majority of Germans are against the nuclear phase-out,” Frankfurter Allgemeine, 13 April 2023; Jasper von Altenbockum, “Offering to Old Green Men,” Frankfurter Allgemeine, 14 April, 2023)

Law proposed to curb 'digital violence' and anonymous hate speech
On 12 April, Germany's Justice Minister, Marco Buschmann, presented a draft law aimed at combating digital violence and anonymous hate speech. The proposed law seeks to make platform operators accountable for taking more decisive action against hate speech beyond merely deleting offensive posts. One key aspect of the legislation is a civil claim that allows victims to request the blocking of hostile accounts. The proposed law is designed to safeguard those who suffer from digital violence, but it also raises apprehensions regarding privacy and anonymity rights. The divulgence of IP addresses can undermine the privilege of anonymity, which is protected by the coalition agreement in Germany. Legal policy associations will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the key points until 26 May, after which a draft bill will be presented to the Bundestag for voting, expected to take place in the latter half of 2023. (Alina Clasen, “Germany plans legislation to block cyber-hate accounts,” Euractiv, 13 April 2023)

Mediterranean Sea crossings indicate record high deaths
On 13 April, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) published in a report that the number of people dying while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe has reached a level not seen since 2017. The report recorded 441 deaths in the first three months of 2023, but cautioned that the actual number was likely much higher. Since the start of 2023, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Pakistan represented the largest share of people taking the Mediterranean route to Italy. The IOM accused Mediterranean states, without specifying which ones, of failing to launch state-led search and rescue operations in a timely manner, resulting in numerous deaths. It also criticized policies introduced by some countries to hinder humanitarian efforts, such as Italy's impounding of humanitarian boats and new requirements for those carrying rescued people to disembark further from their areas of operations. The IOM called for state support of NGOs and an end to criminalisation of their efforts to save lives. (“UN reports rise in Mediterranean migrant crossing deaths,” Deutsche Welle, 12 April 2023)

Former EU lawmaker Eva Kaili granted house arrest
On 12 April, Deutsche Welle reported the statement given by a Belgian judge to grant house arrest to Former European Union (EU) lawmaker Eva Kaili, who was arrested four months ago in connection to the Qatargate corruption scandal. The Greek lawmaker is accused of accepting bribes from Qatar and Morocco in exchange for political favors, which she denies. Moreover the charges go against her partner, Francisco Giorgi, who allegedly ran a network of bribe-taking lawmakers, NGO leaders, and trade unionists, stemming from investigations into former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri. However, he was previously released with an electronic tracker. These individuals are said to have attempted to improve Qatar and Morocco's reputations, including by downplaying criticism of Qatar's treatment of workers ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Even the governments of Qatar and Morocco deny the accusations. (“EU corruption scandal: Eva Kaili moved to house arrest,” Deutsche Welle, 12 April 2023)

Latvia to strength gas security through joint use of Paldiski LNG Terminal
On 12 April, LSM reported that Latvia's Ministry of Climate and Energy (KEM) plans to enhance the safety of its natural gas supply by collaborating on the use of the Paldiski LNG terminal in Estonia. The Lithuanian-Polish interconnector and the Inkoo terminal in Finland, along with the upcoming LNG terminal in Paldiski, Estonia, have drastically transformed the natural gas system in the region. The KEM emphasized that constructing a Skulte LNG terminal in Latvia is impractical without substantial state guarantees, and an independent LNG terminal in the area is not economically viable. Instead, the KEM will work with the Estonian national regulatory authority to develop joint access terms for the Paldiski terminal to strengthen the gas security of both Estonia and Latvia. (“Latvia plans joint use of Estonia's Paldiski LNG terminal,” LSM, 12 April 2023)

Norway expels 15 Russian officials under intelligence suspicion
On 13 April, BBC News reported that Norway expelled 15 Russian diplomats who were allegedly engaged in espionage activities under the guise of diplomatic cover. The expulsion is the latest in a series of similar actions taken by various European countries against Russia since its military invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Norway’s Foreign Minister, Anniken Huitfeldt, emphasized that Norway would not tolerate Moscow using its embassy to conduct secret intelligence operations. However, Norwegian authorities did not disclose any specific details about the activities of the expelled diplomats. The two countries have a 197 kilometer land border in the Arctic, and their relationship has been strained since the Ukraine crisis began. Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, has followed in the footsteps of several EU countries and imposed sanctions on Russia. The Russian government has promised to respond to Norway's move with an "appropriate" action. Norway claims that Russia poses the most significant intelligence threat to its national security and that the threat is intensifying amidst Europe's deteriorating security environment. Despite this, the government wants to maintain regular diplomatic relations with Moscow. (Sean Seddon, “Norway expels 15 Russian diplomats accused of spying,” BBC News, 13 April 2023)

ESA postpones the launch of Jupiter Satellite
On 13 April, BBC News reported on the European Space Agency (ESA) delayed launch of its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) satellite, which is going to take an eight-year journey from Earth to reach Jupiter's major moons, due to concerns about lightning risks. JUICE aims to investigate whether Jupiter's three largest moons (Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede) have the potential to support simple microbial organisms. The spacecraft will perform 35 close flybys of the moons, taking measurements with 10 instruments, including a magnetometer provided by the UK's Imperial College London. The data gathered could provide insight into the properties of the moons' hidden oceans. The mission had been due to launch from Kourou, French Guiana, on 14 April 2023, but the launch was rescheduled for 16 April 2023. The craft will be dispatched on a path around the inner solar system and is due to arrive at Jupiter's system in July 2031. The US is also planning a companion mission, known as Clipper, to focus on Europa. (Jonathan Amos, “Juice: European Space Agency mission to Jupiter's icy moons postponed,” BBC News, 13 April, 2023)

US imposes sanctions on Russian-controlled bank in Hungary
On 13 April, Euractiv reported about the US sanctions being imposed on three top officials of the Interna Investment Bank in Budapest, which is controlled by Russia, after accusing Hungary of ignoring US concerns over the "opaque Kremlin platform". The US Treasury stated that the bank's presence in Budapest has allowed Russia to enhance its intelligence presence in Europe, and could facilitate corruption and illicit finance, including sanctions violations. The sanctions list includes former chairman of the bank, Nikolay Kosov as well as Russian national Georgy Potapov, and Hungarian national Imre Laszloczki, both high-ranking officials on the IIB's management board. The Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbån's government has fostered friendly ties with Moscow since 2010, despite being criticized for not personally criticizing President Vladimir Putin while condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Hungary heavily depends on imports of natural gas and crude oil from Russia and has criticized the EU's sanctions against Russia, arguing that they have not effectively weakened Moscow and could harm the European economy. Other NATO allies have responded to the US's concerns, while the Hungarian government has remained committed to hosting the IIB. (“US sanctions leaders of Russian bank, warns Hungary over ties with Moscow,” Euractiv, 13 April 2023)

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