The NewsFeed is a press review with a summary of a selection of articles and events that occurred in the past 2 weeks. Keep track!
In our brief of the last weeks, you will find an update on the tensions with Russia about Ukraine, the informal Council of Home Affairs, German presence in Eastern Europe, a joint statement from Russia and China, and much more!
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Focus: Latest developments on the Ukraine crisis
After a few months of increasing tensions and unsuccessful diplomatic initiatives, the crisis between Russia and Ukraine could start to come near to a solution
Russia is gathering troops at the Ukrainian border for what is presented as safety measures against the spreading of NATO as far as Russian borders. Russia requests a bilateral security agreement stipulating that troops deployment of one party can be forbidden if the other feels threatened, and that no military support should be brought to nations admitted in NATO after 1997, 14 countries in total. It is also requested that Ukraine should not join NATO. The official responses of NATO on February 2nd offered instead to establish trust-building measures and disarmament agreements, and remains committed to its Open-Door policy. A “finlandisation” of Ukraine, a concept called after Finland and the Treaty it signed with the USSR after the Second World War to ensure a forced neutrality, is currently not an option for the western flank.
In the meantime, many diplomatic actions have been taking place in order to maintain the dialogue with Russia and open a path for de-escalation. On February 8th, French President Emmanuel Macron met in person the Russian President Vladimir Putin, with no European behalf. Mr. Macron stated that he received some assurances that Mr. Putin would not “initiate an escalation”, despite continued military activities at the Ukrainian border. But no formal deal were expected, nor obtained. During the press conference, Mr. Putin even reminded that despite being militarily inferior to NATO, Russia was a nuclear power and there would be no winners in case of a conflict.
Russia has started on February 12th its naval manoeuvres in the Black Sea, for exercises aimed at defending the Crimean coast, but is also interpreted as an encirclement of Ukraine.
On February 11th, the White House warned that Russia could launch an attack in the following days, before the end of the Olympic Games, and urged the Americans to leave Ukraine rapidly. Russia answered by calling the American government “hysterical” and in need of a conflict. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin had a phone call on February 12th, 3000 American troops have meanwhile been sent in Poland.
Olaf Sholz visited Ukraine on February 14th and Russia on February 15th, for what was seen as the last chance for diplomacy before an actual invasion by the most pessimistic analysts. The German chancellor has been coldly welcomed in Kiev, where the German blockade of Estonian weapon deliveries to Ukraine has been criticised.
On February 15th, the Russian Ministry of Defence has however quite unexpectedly announced the withdrawal of some troops from the Ukrainian border, the first sign of a de-escalation since the beginning.
Romania considers buying Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets
On February 2nd, the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, gave some information about the modernisation going on in the Romanian Military Aviation during a visit to an air base. He defined as a priority for the country’s security and foreign policy the need to guarantee security to his citizens and support to his partners, in accordance with NATO commitments.
Concretely, Romania has already purchased 12 second-hand General Dynamics F16 fighters to start replacing its Mig-21, to the United States and Portugal. Mr. Iohannis however announced that he intended to buy also “state-of-the-art” aircrafts with F-35 fighters, given the current “tense period”, and “risks to the security of the region”, leading to the return to “the policy of force”. No figures or costs were given.
European Union military cooperation and external operations
Successful inspection of the first German Aircraft for the Franco-German Squadron
After the retirement of the C-160 Transall the German Airforce had a Capability Gap for tactical airlift under certain conditions. The successful handover of the first of six German aircraft (3x C-130J-30 / 3x KC-130J) in the USA for the Joint Franco-German squadron at Evreux air base marks the beginning of the deliveries for the German share of the Squadron. The aircraft is to be transferred to Europe in February. In total, the Franco-German Squadron shall comprise ten aircraft, five of each type.
Malian-European security cooperation stalls
The expulsion of the Danish special forces (24.01.2022) which were supposed to take part in Takuba Task Force in January was a setback for the cooperation between Mali and the European partners. In addition, the French ambassador has been expelled by the Malian government. On February 6th, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht expressed doubts on the continuation of the German engagement. The arrival of Russian Wagner-Group mercenaries and the lack of democratization efforts of the Junta has strained the relations to a major part. Despite growing skepticism, the German government seems to want to continue the engagement to a certain degree. The Bundestag will have a dedicated session in May.
In France, the Parliament, who has only a role of control concerning military engagement, and can vote one time if it lasts more than 4 months, will organize a debate, announced on February 2nd the Prime Minister Jean Castex. Criticism from the way France is “humiliated” by Mali is expected from the opposition parties, the last episode being the Malia Prime Minister Choguel Maïga calling the French legionnaires in his country “mercenaries”, and describing the first French intervention in 2013 to stop the terrorists heading towards the capital as an “operation of partition” of the country.
The French aircraft carrier is back at sea with a dense cooperation agenda
The French aircraft carrier, the R91 Charles de Gaulle, took the sea last February 1st for a mission called Clemenceau 22. During its journey to the Eastern Mediterranean to participate with its Rafale aircrafts to the Chammal operation against Daesh, many joint manoeuvres were organised with allied Naval Forces.
On February 5th, the Charles de Gaulle joined the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour for a high-level “PASSEX” (PASSing EXercise). Later joined by the American USS Harry S. Truman, they spent a few days together to work out their interoperability, forming a rare naval group of 3 aircraft carriers, 12 ships in total.
The Greek frigate Adrias and the Spanish frigate Juan de Borbon also got integrated in the French carrier battle group for a few days.
The Charles de Gaulle and its escort are now stationed off the Cyprian coasts to operate in the area.
Germany reinforces its contribution to defence in Eastern Europe
Given the rising tensions in Eastern Europe due to the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine, Germany has decided to strengthen its 500-soldiers presence in Lithuania with 350 additional troops, Christine Lambrecht, the German Minister of Defence, announced on February 7th. She described it as a “clear signal of determination sent to their allies”, but the Ministry of Defence also explained it was a “moderate reinforcement with a sense of proportion”. It complies with the 1997 Founding Act between NATO and Russia, which limits the troops in the countries that belonged to the Warsaw Pact. The German deploys troops in Lithuania in the NATO framework of the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP).
German Eurofighters also joined the Italian detachment of the enhanced Air Policing NATO mission in Romania. They will conduct interoperability missions together and contribute to the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) service. They will operate through a “Plug and Fight” process, that allows to optimise resources between both squadrons and accelerate the deployment.
Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers: three major advances for security and migration
Last week the Ministers responsible for Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) showed great support for the French presidency’s priorities.
On February 2nd and 3rd, 2022, Home Affairs Ministers met in Tourcoing and Lille (France) for an informal meeting, along with the European Commission, Europol and the Agency for Asylum. Justice Ministers met the day after. The discussion especially focused on the Schengen Area and the challenges faced by the Union during the last few years. They agreed on creating a “Schengen Council” to enhance coordination and provide “more political and responsive governance to the Schengen Area”. The Council will meet for the first time on March 3rd.
The Ministers put other major topics on the table, such as asylum and immigration or security. They showed great concern for radicalisation and the spread of “ideologies and ways of life that are contrary to European values”. When discussing civil security, the Ministers concluded the need for a greater mobilisation. Finally, the contribution of Europol will help to respond to cybersecurity.
The next meeting of the Home Affairs will be held on March 3rd.
Russia bans the German radio Deutsche Welle from Moscow
The German radio Deutsche Welle was banned from broadcasting in Russia at the beginning of February. This follows a recent decision from February 2nd from the German authorities to ban the German channel of RT (ex Russia Today), due to an invalid license. The channel was indeed using a Serbian one for its German operations. While the Russian media refused to comply, Russia’s foreign ministry said they were forced to ”start implementing retaliatory measures”. After the ban of Deutsche Welle, the EU External Action Service stated in reaction that this was an unjustified violation of media freedom in Russia, as both cases cannot be linked.
Russian President visiting China in the name of a “New Area for international relations”
Invited by President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin visited China on February 4th, 2022. They jointly signed an agreement on enhanced cooperation between the two countries. The two presidents showed their proximity at a time of diplomatic tensions on Russia’s borders with Europe and between China and Taiwan. The Russian President also made an appearance at the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
This agreement is the extension of the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship, a friendship and cooperation treaty signed in 2001. The statement stressed that “Friendship between the two States has no limits”, there are no ”forbidden areas of cooperation”.
It also expressed the vision the two countries have of democracy. Defining it as “a means of citizens’ participation in the government of their country”, they both underline their “long-standing traditions of democracy” and that “It is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their State is a democratic one”. On this basis, they criticized some States’ attempts to “impose their own democratic standards” and the use of human rights to pressure other countries, a criticism targeting the recent critics of the Western countries on the opposition repression in Russia or the situation of the Uighur in China.
President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China is also an occasion for the head of states to reaffirm their opposition to further enlargement of NATO and the formation of regional security alliances. Their collaboration also concerns space, climate change, the Internet, and artificial intelligence.
From the West, this agreement is mostly seen as a “challenge to political and military order”.