NewsFeed n°46

Published by Elias Ricken on

he NewsFeed is a press review with a summary of a selection of articles and events that occurred in the past two weeks. Keep track!
 In this edition that covers the last two weeks, you can read about the tensions with Russia concerning Kaliningrad, the coming NATO summit in Madrid, the approval of the Ukrainian EU application, and much more!
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Focus: Railway across Lithuania – Blockage or EU-Policy enforcement?

Since June 17th, the sixth EU sanction package against Russia is active. It was signed by all 27 EU member states on June 3rd and relies on compulsory implementation. The package prohibits certain materials coming from Russia such as coal, oil, metal, construction materials, chemicals or advanced technologies to pass the territory of the European Union.

As one of the 27 EU member states, the country of Lithuania enforces this sanction package by restricting a Russian train that drives regularly across Lithuanian territory (further stating: EU territory) and carries these materials on board to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The instruction: Make sure that the train does not carry the cited materials on board and let it pass after the implementation of the sanction package is assured.

This very straightforward approach to the execution of law has come under heavy critique from Russia; stating that the methods Lithuania is implying would resemble a blockade that is to be regarded as illegal and not compatible with international law. Which is seen as quite an accusation for a country that wages a war without declaration, kills civilians in the thousands, and blocks any shipping convoy leaving the Sea of Azov into international waters by military force and therefore obstructing the only passage that could be used for merchant goods leaving port.

In contrast to this actual blockade Russia is itself conducting near Odessa, the country still has all possibility to travel through these exact international waters that it is blocking in the Sea of Azov to reach Kaliningrad by ship. In fact, the governor of Kaliningrad, Anton Alikhanov, already confirmed that “Our ferries will handle all the cargo,” thereby excluding any major damage that this specific part of the sanctions could possibly inflict on Russia.

Secondly, the action of the sanction only takes place in Lithuanian territory. Therefore, the Russian threat of responding with “practical and non-diplomatic” retaliation is another sign of disrespect of the limitations of country borders, as is the entry on February 24th in Ukraine, breaking the Russia-NATO relations of 1997 in the process. Simultaneously demanding full European compliance with accords that regards the transit to the exclave of Kaliningrad through an EU countries territory is questionable. It could however become part of the new diplomatic relations between the EU and Russia.

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European policies

Ukrainian EU-membership: Soon back to 28?

During the European summit in Brussels on Thursday June 23rd, the 27 Member States and the European Commission have officialised the status of candidates for Ukraine and Moldova.

Ukraine has been requesting its entry in the EU with more strength since the Russian invasion, as it could provide the country some security warranties. Moldova is included for the same reason, the country being already partitioned and under the Russian threat. However, some countries were at first reluctant to a new enlargement, such as Spain or the Scandinavian countries, for two reasons: first, the fear that adding new members to a union going through institutional doubts and difficulties in decision-making could jeopardise its normal functioning. And second, the necessary reforms that are required by all candidates, and that in the case of Ukraine were not enough implemented, especially on corruption.

France was also not very supportive at first, stating that Ukraine and Moldova should “not have too much illusions” as their entry could “take decades”, and offering to integrate those countries in a European political community, open to non-EU third states.

All those countries finally granted the status of candidate to the two countries, first step on the long path for integration. Saluted in Europe, this decision provoked on the contrary some anger in the Western Balkans.

Indeed, the same day, during the morning, a dedicated summit gathered the leaders of this region: Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. And while some countries are in the EU waiting room since sometimes 20 years, the only outcome was a reiterated support to their EU integration. The absence of concrete progress provoked diplomatic tensions, as the EU leaders cancelled their following press conference, leaving the Balkan leaders free to criticize the eternal promises never followed by action. But the entry of Ukraine may reinforce their position in the short term.

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European Union military cooperation and external operations

Military ERASMUS between France and Britain

The “Combined Joint Expeditionary Force” or “Force expéditionnaire conjointe franco-britannique” fosters the Franco-British military exchange since 2010. It is an exchange program that has French and British generals serving in the command structure of the respective opposite military. With today’s friends being countries being former enemies, the exchange sometimes comes with a special historic taste, as it was the case last Friday, on June 17th: When French Brigadier General Jean Laurentin, formerly in charge of the 1st Marine Infantry Paratrooper Regiment in France, assumed command of the 1st Infantry Division of the British Army. A regiment whose roots can be traced back to the Battle of Waterloo: the decisive French defeat at the hands of notably the British that ended the Napoleonic wars for good. Although not permanently, but only for the time a new British commander is found for his troops, this approach to leadership in the military can certainly be valued as proof of true European spirit and surely has potential for the future: Maybe with more European countries included for a wider exchange or a more in-depth-approach where also officers and non-commissioned officers can experience this exchange?

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Military exercise BALTOPS 22 has been concluded in Germany

Since 1972, NATO annually holds the exercise BALTOPS in the Baltic sea. This year, around 40 Navy ships with 7.000 military personnel from 14 NATO-countries, plus Finland and Sweden, participated. The exercise was concluded last Friday, June 17th, in the German coastal city of Kiel. Most notably this year: The amount of 40 ships and 75 aircraft that participated in the exercise. In comparison to the 29 ships and aircraft and 3.000 troops, that participated in 2020 the commitment and consciousness of need to participate in such an exercise becomes obvious through sheer numbers. It is certain that the war in Ukraine deeply influenced this year’s BALTOPS, not only in the NATO camp: In response, the Russian navy temporarily forwarded their own Naval exercise and began exercising directly after BALTOPS had ended.

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International relations

All the stakes of next NATO summit in Madrid on June 28th to 30th

A NATO summit will be hosted by Spain in the next days, from June 28th to June 30th. This type of reunion from the North Atlantic organization only occurs every two years in average.

The agenda gathers many various topics, with the war in Ukraine but also wider and longer-term reflexion about the alliance.

NATO has been contributing to Ukraine’s security since the Crimean crisis, by training its troops, and has significantly increased both its presence in the area and its lethal and non-lethal support since February. However, the deliveries are still estimated insufficient, at 10% of real needs, by Ukrainian diplomats, given most western armies are already struggling to purchase sufficient stocks of material.

As a direct consequence, a renewed reinforcement of the eastern flank of the alliance should be agreed by the defence Ministers. The number of battlegroups are to be doubled to 8, and alongside the increased number of troops deployed in the eastern Europe countries, identified units of troops could be placed on alert to be sent there in case of a crisis. This strategy is clearly assumed as deterrence towards Russia.

As Turkey is still opposed to the Swedish and Finnish application to the alliance, both countries will not be invited to the summit. The Turkish concerns, linked to an alleged support of the Kurdish people that Ankara sees as terrorists, will be addressed, ensured the US ambassador to NATO, Julie Smith.

This summit was initially the opportunity to adopt the new 2030 Strategic Concept of the Alliance, the old one dating back to 12 years ago. This document provides an assessment of the security environment. From a potential partner, Russia will become a security threat for the Alliance, and so may China.

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Step to the past: The AUKUS-dispute has now been settled

555 million euros compensation and a new framework of international strategic relations and military cooperation, here is the outcome of the French-Australian submarines contract torpedoed by the AUKUS alliance.

Foreseen to strengthen the bonds between the two countries, the contract awarded to Naval Group by the Australian government for the supply of 12 Shortfin Barracuda submarines (Attack class) was cancelled last September in favour of a multilateral alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom for the supply of nuclear submarines.

Since then, it has been time for the legal resolution of the cancellation of the contract with compensation provided to reimburse the costs incurred by the French group.

While a middle ground was being found, elections in France and Australia respectively re-elected Emmanuel Macron in France and elected a new government in Australia with Labor Party Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. His priority after his election was to rebuild a relationship of trust with a historic and strategic partner, France, whose presence in the South Pacific can’t be denied due to the various French islands in the region. In a now tense geopolitical climate between the Western bloc and China, both would have a keen interest in cooperating in the policy of containing China.

Now that the dispute is closed, it is time for the AUKUS alliance to become operational by starting to work on the joint defence programme with the three partners. Kurt Campell, the National Security Council coordinator, also recently stated that announcements on the nuclear submarine programme would soon be revealed. The alliance aims to step up its game substantially in the Pacific. This area is of enormous strategic importance, especially for Americans in their “distant warfare” against China and its willingness to expand toward the Pacific Ocean.

Cooperation goes beyond the military field with intelligence sharing in the continuity of the Five Eyes alliance and the joint programme on military equipment. Indeed, China puts strong political and diplomatic pressure on the Pacific islands. In the face of this offensive policy, Australia, with the help of its allies, as a major regional player, must use its economic and political power and influence.

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Rafale-Deal between France and Serbia

Serbia is looking to renew its MiG-29 fighter fleet. With eyes on China and Russia, Serbia is also looking to the French Rafales. The visit of Nebojsa Stefanović, Serbian Minister of Defence, to Sébastien Lecornu, his French counterpart in France, with a visit to Dassault Aviation and to the EuroSatory land armament show (Paris) should have contributed to making some progress on the file. However, nothing has been agreed yet for the Rafale. Second-hand British Eurofighter Typhoons and Russian Su-30s are still on the table.

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