Photo : Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
31 May 2023, Wednesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #530
By Melvin George
Russia to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus
On 25 May, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Belarus’s Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin signed a deal on deployment and storage of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus. Sergey said that it was in response to NATO’s joint nuclear missions in Europe. The agreement involves “non-strategic nuclear weapons” and in accordance with “all international legal obligations currently in force.” The control over the weapons remains with Russia. Khrenin said that the deployment would make western powers reconsider their activities in the region.
On 25 May, Belarusian President Aleksandr G Lukashenko said: “We had to prepare storage areas and the like. We have done this, so the movement of nuclear weapons has already begun.”
On 26 May, Tokyo imposed additional sanctions on Russia as a response to the Russian deal to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. It involves export ban to Russian military-related organizations and assets of individuals and organizations. Hirokazu said: “Japan’s government demands Russia and Belarus stop actions that further escalate tensions as we continue to watch the development with strong concern.”
The following are the three issues:
1. Triggers for Russia to formalize the deal:
The increase in the attacks inside Russian borders which Moscow called “terrorist activities” by Ukraine is background in which Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu signed the deal with Khrenin. UK and Netherland’s signing of coalition to provide fighter jet training to Ukrainian is also another factor for Russia to step up. This could have resulted in signing agreement with Belarus. The US upgradation of its nuclear weapons in Europe, recent staging of nuclear capable bomber drills near Russia’s borders over the Black and Baltic Seas is seen as NATO’s nuclear provocations by Russia.
2. Russia’s strategy behind tactical nuclear weapons:
Tactical nuclear weapons are short range and less destructive than long-range strategic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads. It is intended to destroy the enemy troops and weapons in the battleground. When Russians say that the deployment is in accordance with “all international legal obligations currently in force,” that means unlike strategic weapons that are under arms control agreements, there is no limitation on these tactical weapons. Uncertainty remains as no clear information on the number or characteristics of the weapons to be deployed in Belarus in unknown.
3. The Belarusian ties with Russia:
Polish Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Skrzypczak's announcement of support for the ‘Pro- Ukrainian army’ in Belarus became a threat for Aleksandr Lukashenko. Similar to the once attempted Colour revolution or any other Maidan type insurgency to overthrow the Belarusian government, dependency for loans and subsidized oil and gas from Russia makes Minsk to come closer to Moscow. According to Aliaksandr Alesin, an independent Belarusian military analyst, there are dozens of soviet-era facilities in Belarus that stored about two-thirds of Russia’s medium-range nuclear-tipped missiles that are still functional. Last March, Putin announced that the construction of storage facilities will be completed by 01 July. Apart from existing storage facilities, the construction would increase the capability of Belarus to carry more weapons.
Tom Nichols, “What Happens if Russia Stashes Nukes in Belarus,” The Atlantic, 26 May 2023
“Russia signs deal to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus,”AP, 25 May 2023
“The United States condemns a deal allowing Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus,” The New York Times, 25 May 2023
Mari Yamaguchi, “Japan adopts new sanctions on Russia, criticizes its deal to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus,” The Washington Post, 26 May 2023
“Explained: Why does Russia want tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus?” Frontline, 28 March 2023
Jonathan Masters and Will Merrow, “Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Mapping U.S. and Russian Deployments,” Council on Foreign Relations, 30 March 2023
War in Ukraine: Day 461
By Rishika Yadav and Melvin George
War on the Ground
On 30 May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported on Telegram about his first ever telephonic conversation with Cape Verde’s President Jose Maria Neves, discussing the Ukrainian peace formula and global food security. Zelensky invited Cape Verde to participate in implementing the Ukrainian Peace Formula and discussed the Grain from Ukraine humanitarian initiative, emphasizing the topic of global food security.
On 30 May, Zelenskyy tweeted about his substantial phone call with Germany’s Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He mentions discussing the implementation of previous agreements, strengthening Ukraine's defence capabilities, particularly in air defence, and aligning positions for upcoming international events. Zelensky expressed gratitude for Germany's EUR three billion defence package. This conversation follows Zelensky's recent visit to Germany, his first since Russia's invasion.
On 30 May, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defence Hanna Malyar, reported on Telegram that the Russian army is undergoing replacements and regrouping in the Bakhmut sector. She stated: “Ukrainian defence forces have temporarily halted their movement for other military tasks while maintaining control of the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut. The Russian continues shelling and conducting air strikes in the area.”
On 30 May, Ukraine's spokesperson Yaroslav Zhelezniak announced on Telegram that the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has approved a law that lowers the maximum conscription age from 27 to 25 years. The law aims to reduce the duration of citizens' stay on the military register of conscripts during times of martial law in Ukraine.
On 30 May, Ukrinform reported on the drone attack on Russian territory, Ukraine refrains from commenting. Ukrainian spokesperson for the Armed Forces, Yuriy Ihnat, stated that the Kremlin regime is resorting to strikes and attempts to create nightmares due to its lack of obvious successes. Multiple drones reportedly targeted Moscow, with most being intercepted and a few causing damage.
The Moscow View
Claims by Russia
On May 30, Sputnik reported that Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, said that Ukraine continues to carry out attacks against peaceful Russian citizens and the social facilities. Shoigu emphasized that Ukraine lost more than 16,000 soldiers in May, 16 aircrafts, five helicopters, 466 UAVs, more than 400 tanks and armored fighting vehicles, 238 field artillery pieces and mortars. He claimed that about 200 HIMARS long-range guided missiles, 29 UK Storm Shadow cruise missiles were intercepted and destroyed by Russian air defence systems in May.
On 30 May, Sputnik reported that Russian Press Secretary of the President, Dmitry Peskov said that the 30 May drone attack on Moscow was the response to Russia's successful attack on 28 May. The Russian officials briefed about the incident to Putin and he had no “special plans” to address the Russian citizens after the attack on Moscow. Several drones were shot down and several buildings were slightly damaged by the attack.
The West View
Responses from the US and Europe
On 30 May, Sky News reported on UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly comments on Russia’s influence. He stated: “Ukraine has the lawful authority to protect itself and can exert military force beyond its borders to counter Russia's influence.” The report says he cleverly refrained from speculating on the recent drone attack in Moscow, but affirmed Ukraine's right to self-defence.
On 30 May, according to the Ukrainian ministry's press service, Ukraine and Portugal signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance cooperation in social policy on 29 May. The memorandum includes exchanging knowledge and experience in social protection for vulnerable groups, providing social assistance, early childhood intervention, and reforming the social action system. Portugal expressed readiness to assist in various areas, and both parties agreed to coordinate future cooperation.
On 30 May, Deutsche Welle reported on an interview of Ukraine's Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov. He stated that there is a potential for Ukraine to receive Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from Germany. Reznikov highlighted the possibility of forming a "coalition of fighter jets" with the American F-16, Eurofighter, and Swedish Gripen. Reznikov expressed interest in Germany's involvement in training Ukrainian pilots on Eurofighters, while Denmark and the Netherlands are already engaged in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s.
The Global Fallouts
Implications of the War
On 30 May, IAEA Director General Rafaela Mariano Grossi, said neither Russia nor Ukraine are committed to respect five principles laid down by the IAEA to safeguard Ukraine's Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. He said that as the military activities continue in the region and it may escalate in the future, the situation at the plant is “extremely fragile and dangerous." IAEA would reinforce its staff at Zaporizhzhia to track whether the principles are obeyed. Russia and Ukraine blamed each other in the UN assembly for shelling that reduced the power supply required for the cooling of the reactor. The US ambassador said the decision to avert the nuclear catastrophe is within the control of Moscow.
On 30 May, IMF staff and Ukrainian authorities reached a staff-level agreement that would be subjected to approval of the IMF executive board which would enable disbursement of about USD 900 million. The agreement consists of an updated set of economic and financial policies for the first review under the four year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement. The remarkable resilience and recent economic developments points towards gradual economic recovery in 2023. But the outlook of the country remains uncertain because of the war.
“We continue our systemic work with #GlobalSouth,” Telegram, 30 May 2023
“Volodymyr Zelenskyi/Twitter,” Twitter, 30 May 2023
“During the day, the enemy did not advance in any of the directions in which he was attacking,” Telegram, 30 May 2023
“Agenda for May 30,” Telegram, 30 May 2023
“Air Force refuses to comment on drone attack in Moscow,” Ukrinform, 30 May 2023
“Russia Reacts Harshly to Ukrainian Terrorist Attacks With NATO Weapons - Shoigu,” Sputnikglobe, 30 May 2023
“Kremlin on UAV Attack on Moscow: This is Kiev’s ‘Response’ to Russia’s Successful Strike,” Sputnikglobe, 30 May 2023
“UK foreign secretary: Ukraine has right to defend itself beyond borders,” Sky News, 30 May 2023
“Ukraine and Portugal signed a Memorandum on cooperation in the social sphere,” msp.gov.ua, 30 May 2023
“Reznikov: Germany can add a Eurofighter fighter to the coalition,” Deutsche Welle, 30 May 2023
“Russia, Ukraine fail to embrace IAEA plan to protect nuclear plant,” Reuters, 30 May 2023
“IMF and Ukrainian Authorities Reach Staff-Level Agreement on the First Review Under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement,” IMF, 30 May 2023
By Sreeja JS and Nithyashree RB
NATO to deploy 700 more troops in Kosovo to curb violence
On 30 May, Reuters reported that NATO will send 700 more troops in Kosovo and put another battalion on high alert. The unrest has intensified since ethnic Albanian mayors took office in the Serb-majority town of Zvecan after elections in April 2023. NATO already has around 4,000 soldiers currently deployed in Kosovo. Around 30 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending three town halls in Zvecan were injured on 29 May and 52 protesters were wounded. EU Foreign Policy Chief urged Kosovo and Serbian leaders to find a way to de-escalate tensions by saying that Europe “cannot afford another conflict.” (Ivana Sekularac, “NATO to deploy more troops to Kosovo to curb violence,” Reuters, 30 May 2023)
European political community summit to be held in Moldova
On 30 May, Reuters reported that the European Political Community summit is to be held in Moldova. More than 40 European leaders are expected to attend. The meeting will focus on cyber-security, migration and energy security. The meeting will also showcase Europe’s unified support for Ukraine as it readies for the counteroffensive against Russia. The summit was initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2022. According to the Moldovian President’s Foreign Policy advisor Olga Rosca, the meeting will help the country’s endeavours to join the EU. (John Irish, “European leaders head to Moldova for symbolic summit on Ukraine's doorstep,” Reuters, 30 May 2023)
ChatGPT expresses interest to set up office in Europe
On 30 May, Politico reported that ChatGPT CEO Sam Altman wants to establish an office in Europe during his visit to the country. In an interview with Politico in Paris, Altman said that France would be a great place if he is looking for research talent but he added that places all across Europe are full of talent and energy. In an interview with Reuters, Altman affirmed that the company will abide by the AI Act, Politico quoted. He added that he will join the EU’s first sandbox in Spain to test his company’s regulatory compliance. (Gian Volpicelli, “ChatGPT boss wants HQ in Europe,” Politico.eu, 30 May 2023)
Wagner group is using social media for recruitment, claims Politico
On 30 May, Politico, claimed that, according to its research, the Wagner group has been using Twitter and Facebook to recruit “fresh blood” to aid its operations including in Ukraine. According to Logically, a UK-based research group focused on disinformation, job ads for Wagner have reached 120,000 views on both social media platforms over the last ten months. The job ads were in dozens of languages having details on fighting, IT, driving and medical positions, promising monthly salaries of RUB 240,000 with benefits including healthcare. Despite the uncertainty looming over the nature of their recruitment campaigns, incitement to violence and promotion of Russian aggression in Ukraine violates the terms of service of both Facebook and Twitter. Head of Research for Logically, Kyle Walter acknowledged that it is concerning that the job posts are circulating more and more despite designating the Wagner group as dangerous and terrifying. (Clothilde Goujard, “Russia’s Wagner Group uses Twitter and Facebook to hunt new recruits,” Politico.eu, 30 May 2023)
Turkey condemns the projection of PKK flag in the parliament
On 30 May, Turkey’s spokesperson Fahrettin Altun condemned the projection of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flag in Sweden’s parliament. The incident happened parallel to Turkey’s elections on 28 May. The video was released by a Swedish-based Rojava Committee, which supports PKK. The video contained a message to release PKK’s founder Abdullah Ocalan and displayed a burning puppet of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The spokesperson called for the prosecution of the perpetrators. Turkish deems the PKK a terrorist and the incident comes at a crucial time where Turkey is blocking Stockholm’s accession to NATO. (“Turkey wants action from NATO hopeful Sweden over Kurdish political stunt,” Euronews, 30 May 2023)
"Time is now to finalise Sweden’s accession” says US Secretary of State
On 31 May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Turkey to drop its objections and back Sweden’s accession to NATO. Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership when Russia began the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined NATO in April 2023. Sweden’s accession is still pending due to objections from Hungary and Turkey. Blinken said: “From the perspective of the United States, the time is now to finalise Sweden's accession.” He also affirmed US’s position that Ankara should be provided with upgraded F-16 jets “as soon as possible.” (“US urges Turkey to back Sweden's NATO bid,” Euronews, 31 May 2023)
Russia and Ukraine neglect to protect the Zaporizhzhia plant says IAEA Director General
On 30 May, the Director General of IAEA Rafael Grossi accused Russia and Ukraine of not following the principles to protect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the UN Security Council. The principles comprise no attack on or from the plant, and no heavy weapons, artillery systems and munitions, tanks and military personnel should be harboured in the plant. He also announced that off-site power to be provided to the plant. According to the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia, Russia is following the same. The Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya called for the “demilitarization and deoccupation” of the power plant. (Daphne Psaledakis and Arshad Mohammed, “Russia, Ukraine fail to embrace IAEA plan to protect nuclear plant,” Reuters, 31 May 2023)
Prime Minister to meet US President in Washington
On 30 May, Reuters reported that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on 07 and 08 June 2023 on his first state visit. Sunak will meet with members of Congress, and US business leaders. Sunak will discuss increasing economic and trade cooperation and military support to Ukraine. Both leaders are to discuss the political situation in Northern Ireland. (“Andrew Macaskill, “Rishi Sunak to visit Washington next week for talks with Biden,” Reuters, 31 May 2023)