Daily Briefs

Photo : Prigozhin Press Service / AP

08 May 2023, Monday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #508

War in Ukraine, Day 437 & 438: Wagner group back in the Bakhmut game

Wagner group checks ammunition; Slovakia’s pro-western caretaker PM resigned; Asian investors are filing lawsuits against the Swiss government

War in Ukraine Day, 437 & 438:
Wagner Group back in the Bakhmut game
By Padmashree Anandhan

War on the Ground
On 07 May, Ukraine’s prosecutor general reported the death of six members from the emergency services group of Ukraine. The claim comes after Russia’s continued shelling using a drone in the most populated area in Kherson. 

On the casualty figures, Ukraine’s military reported Russia suffering 193,430 deaths since the war began.
On 07 May, Ukraine claimed striking Russia’s hypersonic missile through US supplied patriot defence system. Ukraine’s Air Force Commander, Mykola Oleshchuk confirmed the interception of Russia’s “Kinzhal-type ballistic missile.” The patriot is known for its precision targeting and combat and the US has pledged to send more in October.

On 07 May, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi reported on the endangering situation in Zaporizhzhia. He warned that the area was becoming “potentially dangerous.” Earlier 16 zones in the area were hit by 75 strikes as per report of local administration. 

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia
On 07 May, Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin stated about Russia’s promise to support with ammunition. Earlier, he threatened to withdraw his forces from Bakhmut. Since the battle began, both Ukraine and Russia have faced severe casualties and the also differences between the Wagner and Russia.

On 07 May, Russia appointed Governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev reported on successful countering of Ukraine’s drone strike in Crimea. He said: “Anti-aircraft defense and electronic warfare units repelled a new attack.” No infrastructural damage was reported, but Sevastapol city is reported to be the key point for Russia’s Black Sea fleet since 2014. Till now Ukraine has not accepted the claims.

On 07 May, the Defence Ministry of Russia reported on a prisoner exchange with Ukraine. In the report three Russian pilots were returned, while 45 Ukraine’s fighter from the Azov regiment were sent back.

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe 

On 06 May, Poland’s representative to the EU stated his country’s request to the latter to impose sanctions on Russia’s farm products. This was mainly due to surpluses and to settle the increased import of such products from Ukraine.

On 06 May, Switzerland’s government approved Ukraine’s request to remove the ban on the weapons’ exports to conflict zones. The decision comes following Ukraine’s continued pressure. 

On 06 May, Agence France-Presse reported on increased attacks on Russia’s infrastructure such as refineries, train. According to the report, it is viewed as Ukraine’s “preparations” for its spring counteroffensive, while Ukraine has not claimed. The attacks are observed to be targeting Russia’s supply chains and military bases.

Kateryna Tyshchenko, “6 State Emergency Service workers killed and 2 injured in Russian attack on Kherson Oblast,” pravda.com.ua, 06 May 2023
Marc Santora, Eric Schmitt and John Ismay, “Ukraine Claims It Shot Down Russia’s Most Sophisticated Missile for First Time,” The New York Times,” 06 May 2023
Wagner Group to Get More Ammo After Bakhmut Pull-Out Threat,” The Moscow Times, 07 May 2023
Moscow-Installed Sevastopol Head Claims Drone Attacks On Annexed Crimea,” rferl.org, 07 May 2023
Ukraine, Russia hold prisoner swap, Azov fighters returned,” Reuters, 06 May 2023
IAEA warns of dangers around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant,” Reuters, 07 May 2023
Russia-Ukraine war at a glance: what we know on day 438 of the invasion,” The Guardian, 07 May 2023
Ukraine updates: Moscow 'promised' Wagner more ammunition,” Deutsche Welle, 07 May 2023

By Rishika Yadav and Nitashree RB

Demand for a more explicit apology from France over migration comments
On 07 May, in an interview with RAI, an Italian state-owned television, Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani stated that France’s apology for their comments over Rome’s poor handling of the migration crisis is unclear and inadequate. On 04 May, French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin accused Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni incapable to handle the migration crisis. Over this, Tajani called off his visit to Paris the same day. On 05 May, in an interview with CNews French government spokesperson, Olivier Veran said that Darmanian had no intentions to shun Italy. (Giselda Vagnoni, “Italy calls for clearer apology from France over migration ‘insult’,” Reuters, 07 May 2023)

Taking lead in switching to emission-free cars
On 08 May 2023, Euronews reported that the usage of electric vehicles is surging in Europe. According to the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association,  only 2 per 10,000 cars were fully electric in 2013, but in 2022, 76 per 10,000 cars were fully electric. According to Euronews, in 2022, there was a 58 per cent increase in the usage of electric passenger cars compared to 2021. In 2022, there were three million fully electric cars as opposed to 52,000 in 2013. In 2022, the number of fully electric cars in Germany, the UK, France, and Norway exceeded 500,000 in each country. In 2021, Norway’s 15.5 per cent of cars were fully electric while the EU’s was only 0.8 per cent. In 2022, 79 per cent of car shares were fully electric out of the newly registered passenger cars in Norway, while it was 18, 17 and 13per cent in Germany, UK, and France respectively. Norway‘s policies of strict pollution limits, and the sale of emission-free cars by 2025 push this swift change. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Norway offers tax incentives for motorists with electric vehicles and exempts them from paying registration tax, value-added, and motor fuel taxes.. (“Norway, Germany, UK: Which European countries have the biggest share of electric cars?”, Euronews, 08 May 2023)

The Wagner group seeks more ammunition
On 07 May, BBC News reported that Russia’s head of Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed that Moscow had agreed to his demand for more ammunition to continue fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. This comes days after he threatened to withdraw his men from the city and attacked his Russian partners in an expletive-filled rant filmed among Wagner troops' corpses. The alliance between Russian troops and Wagner fighters has been uneasy, with Prigozhin regularly criticizing Russian officials for a lack of front-line support. Although Prigozhin did not expressly reverse his pledge to withdraw troops from Bakhmut, he suggested that they would remain and act as they see fit. Ukrainian officials were skeptical about Prigozhin's claim to withdraw forces from Bakhmut, suspecting Wagner was moving mercenaries to capture the city before Russia's Victory Day on 02 May. However, the Kremlin has not commented on Prigozhin's latest statement. (Matt Murphy, “Yevgeny Prigozhin: Wagner boss 'promised ammunition' after retreat threat,” BBC News, 07 May 2023)
Pro-Western caretaker PM resigns
On 07 May, Slovakia’s pro-western caretaker Prime Minister, Eduard Heger, resigned ahead of an upcoming election likely to favor the Moscow-friendly Smer-SD party. Heger stepped down two days after the Foreign Minister quit his cabinet. Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová has named central bank Deputy Governor Ludovit Odor to lead a technocratic government until the scheduled election in September. Heger, elected in 2021,has been running a caretaker government since September 2022, when the ruling coalition lost its majority over disagreements about energy costs. Polls have indicated that the Smer-SD party, led by former Prime Minister Robert Fico, is favorable to lead Slovakia. Fico has stated that he would end Slovakia's arms supply to Ukraine if elected to lead the next government. (Stuart Lau, “Slovak caretaker PM quits, adding momentum to pro-Russia rival,” Politico, 07 May 2023)

Campaigning ruckus amid presidential elections
On 07 May, Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu was attacked with stones while he was campaigning for the Republican People Party at Erzurum. Imamoglu said about nine people were injured. He will file a complaint against Erzurum’s governor and the police chief for allowing the violence. Imamoglu’s office reported that the mayor was forced to retreat for the public’s safety. They also released pictures of the shattered windows of the campaign bus. Turkish Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, a senior official of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, called Imamoglu, a provocateur and accused him of provocating violence. Meanwhile, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to succeed against the opposition while campaigning. He ensured that the opposition’s pro-LGBT interests will be suppressed. He accused the opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu of colluding with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party which Turkey, the US, and the EU named as terrorists. The opposition has denied the claims. “Turkey elections: Opposition campaign bus pelted with stones”, DW, 08 May 2023) 

Prince William pays tribute to King Charles
On 07 May, Prince William paid tribute to his late grandfather, King Charles, the day after the Coronation, saying that Queen Elizabeth II would be proud of him. The Coronation concert at Windsor Castle was attended by the King and Queen Camilla and other members of the Royal Family. The crowd of 20,000 people got their tickets in a public ballot and enjoyed performances from stars such as Katy Perry and Take That. The concert also featured spoken word pieces and video cameos from various celebrities. The Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Ballet, Royal College of Art, Royal College of Music and the Royal Opera also participated in the show. A multi-location drone show was also staged, featuring 1,000 drones in formation. (Lauren Turner & Sean Coughlan, “Coronation concert: William says he is 'so proud' of his father King Charles,” BBC News, 08 May 2023)

Asian bondholders join international lawsuits against Swiss government
On 04 May, BBC News reported that Asian investors are filing lawsuits against the Swiss government over its handling of the takeover of Credit Suisse by larger rival Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS). In March, Credit Suisse was forced to merge amid concerns it could collapse, rendering worthless USD 17 billion of bonds held by investors. Some individual bondholders are taking legal action against Swiss authorities, claiming that the manner in which the merger was conducted deprived them of value. Shareholders were allowed to exchange their Credit Suisse shares for UBS shares, but bondholders received nothing. Despite Credit Suisse's difficulties, presentations by the bank encouraged buying bonds as late as 14 March. Legal experts have expressed doubts over the bondholders' success, but the limited time period allowed for claims has prompted action. (Nick Marsh, “Credit Suisse: Asia investors sue Switzerland over bank collapse,” BBC News, 04 May 2023)

Hydroelectric power in the EU: NGOs warn of the devastating environmental fallouts
On 04 May, Euractiv reported that the European Union has untapped hydroelectric deposits that could increase flexibility in the energy system, equivalent to 20 per cent of France's current hydroelectric production. However, NGOs warn of the devastating environmental effects of exploiting these natural resources. Reservoirs across Europe are currently under-utilized; improving them could increase electricity storage capacity by 80 per cent. Nevertheless, the EU competition policy would likely impede the industry, particularly in France. Conflict over the legal status of hydroelectric plants has fuelled tensions for years, with Paris advocating state management, and Brussels preferring competition. The EU is now trying to reassure investors by proposing long-term electricity sales contracts. However, environmental associations argue that exploiting new deposits would cause environmental damage and not contribute to the EU energy transition and have urged the EU to apply stringent sustainability criteria and exclude hydropower from "go-to areas." (Paul Messad, “Hydropower: EU energy transition’s other sticking point,” Euractiv, 04 May 2023)
NATO to strengthen military integration and bolster transatlantic security with Finland
On 02 May, the Director General of the NATO International Military, Lieutenant General Janusz Adamczak, visited Finland, following Finland's accession to the Alliance on April 4, 2023. During the trip, he met with military officials to discuss security priorities and opportunities for military integration. The visit began with a meeting with the Finnish Military Representative to NATO, Lieutenant General Kim Jäämeri, where Adamczak emphasized the importance of Finland's membership to NATO. He also expressed the desire to enhance collaboration between Finland and NATO. Adamczak observed exercise ARROW 23 and praised Finland's highly trained and capable armed forces. Finland’s Chief of Defence Command, Lieutenant General Vesa Virtanen, highlighted the importance of multi-dimensional military integration to ensure Finland's defense is fully integrated into the Alliance's collective defense. During his visit to the Finnish Air Force Command, Adamczak acknowledged Finland's experience in providing security in the Baltic Sea and Arctic regions, which would significantly enhance NATO's posture in the High North and the ability to reinforce Baltic Allies. (“The Director General of the NATO International Military Staff visits Finland,” nato.int, 05 May 2023)

Evacuation near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant sparks concern of a severe nuclear accident
On 07 May, BBC News reported that Russia had ordered the evacuation of a town near Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, sparking concerns of a "severe nuclear accident", as warned by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The evacuations come ahead of Kyiv's anticipated offensive, as Russia tells people to leave 18 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region, including Enerhodar, near the plant. According to Ukraine's mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, there were five-hour waits as thousands of cars left. Rafael Grossi, the director of the IAEA, said: “The evacuation of residents near the nuclear plant indicated the possibility of heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Although the plant's reactors were not producing electricity, they still contained nuclear material.” Operating staff were still at the site but there is deep concern about the increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions for personnel and their families. (“Ukraine war: 'Mad panic' as Russia evacuates town near Zaporizhzhia plant,” BBC News, 07 May 2023)

IOTC members to discuss EU’s counterproposal on tuna fishing
On 08 May, Politico reported on the divided Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) regarding the proposal of a 72-day moratorium on fishing and a limit on how many devices can be used for fishing. According to the IOTC, the EU vessels catch one-third of tuna fish in the Indian Ocean. The scientists claim that when the vessels use fish aggregating devices made of wood and plastic to attract fish, it leads to overfishing and plastic pollution. 11 IOTC members are supporting the proposal while the EU through various sustainable fisheries partnership agreements with countries such as Seychelles, Madagascar, Kenya, and Tanzania is trying to block the proposal. The EU member states, through the partnerships are allowed to dock and overfish in the partner country’s waters by funding millions worth of projects, such as the blue economy project with Kenya. The EU member states are accused of leveraging their interests by influencing the IOTC members to block the proposal. IOTC’s EU delegation head, Mario Valleto, denied the claims by stating that the proposal was less conservational and called out the member countries’ commercial interests. In February 2023, Kenya backed out from supporting the proposal came as a surprise as Kenya supported the proposal in the past. This led to a secret ballot on the proposal led by Indonesia and backed by countries like India, Australia, and South Africa. Two-thirds of the countries voted in favor of the proposal while Seychelles, Kenya, Philippines, Oman, and Comoros objected it. The proposal was passed. The IOTC previously said, on the account of the IOTC scientific committee’s inability to provide a solution, a 72-day ban will be implemented as a precautionary approach. The EU opposes it by saying it cannot be done so without scientific evidence. On 08 May, the IOTC members will discuss the EU’s counterproposal which aims to discard the 72-day moratorium and the limits of the fishing devices. (Antonetta Roussi and Louise Guillot, “Environmental cash for fish: EU flashes green money to support Indian Ocean tuna grab,” Politico, 08 May 2023)
NATO Secretary General meets industry leaders
On 04 May, NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, held a roundtable discussion at NATO Headquarters with industry leaders in energy and communications infrastructure. The discussion focused on understanding the threats to critical undersea infrastructure and sharing best practices on cooperation and coordination. Stoltenberg emphasized that protecting critical undersea infrastructure is essential to NATO's security and defense as it plays a crucial role in protecting societies' security and prosperity. The Secretary General highlighted the importance of collaborating with the industry to better enhance the security of the infrastructure. NATO has already taken steps to protect critical infrastructure, including increasing military presence in the region following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. NATO has also created an undersea infrastructure coordination cell and established a new NATO-EU taskforce on resilience and critical infrastructure protection. (“NATO Secretary General engages industry on critical undersea infrastructure,” nato.int, 05 May 2023)

Russian secret services staging fake protests in European cities
On 08 May, Deutsche Welle referring to joint research by media outlets, reported Russian secret services are staging or infiltrating demonstrations in major European cities for propaganda purposes, according s. Leaked strategy papers, said to have come from the Kremlin's security apparatus, suggest that small Russian agents simulate fake protests to create an anti-Ukraine sentiment or hamper Sweden's NATO accession. Some Kremlin-directed fake protests have already occurred, including anti-Turkish rallies where agents pretend to be Ukrainians, agitating against Turkish President Erdogan to give the impression of a broad anti-Islamic mood in Europe. The goal is to generate propaganda material for internet platforms, with several cities targeted, including Paris, The Hague, Brussels, and Frankfurt. Photos of the fake demonstrators have circulated on social media, appearing to give the impression of widespread anti-Ukrainian sentiment in western European countries. (“Russia staging protests for anti-Ukraine propaganda — report,” Deutsche Welle, 08 May 2023)

India and Russia fail to settle bilateral trade in rupees with Russia
On 04 May, Euractiv reported on India and Russia's efforts to settle bilateral trade in rupees, which have been suspended after Moscow refused to accumulate rupees, resulting in a major setback for Indian importers of cheap oil and coal from Russia. Russia has redirected all its crude oil exports affected by Western sanctions over Ukraine to "friendly" countries, and India is the largest buyer. India's share of global exports of goods is just about 2 per cent, and the rupee is not fully convertible. Russia believes it will end up with an annual rupee surplus of over USD 40 billion, which it considers undesirable and therefore Russia is not comfortable holding rupees and prefers to be paid in Chinese yuan or other currencies. India started exploring a rupee settlement mechanism with Russia soon after the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, but no deal has been reported in rupees. (“India, Russia suspend negotiations to settle trade in rupees,” Euractiv, 04 May 2023)

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