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Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch – From January 29 to February 4, 2022

Eastern Europe Geopolitical Watch Team: Olga Chekhurska, Liliia Kuzyk, supervised by Clelia Frouté

01/31/2022: UN Security Council meeting on the deployment of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine on 31 January 2022. – Liliia Kuzyk –

On January 31, an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council was held in New York at the request of the United States, following the deployment of Russian troops along the Ukrainian borders. The Council heard the statements of the United Nations Under-Secretary-General, as well as those of the 15 members of the Council, in particular the five permanent members, Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and China, as well as those of Ukraine.

Russia, which first requested a procedural vote in the morning to have the session cancelled, arguing that the troops are deployed on its own territory, and considering that the review of the deployment of its forces “interference in Russian internal affairs” and “an attempt to deceive the international community”. The US representative, Ms Thomas-Greenfield, justified the holding of this session by estimating that more than a hundred meetings with Russian and European representatives had taken place in recent weeks and that “the time had come to have a public meeting”. She said, “If you had 100,000 troops at your border, wouldn’t you be uncomfortable?” China, which joined Russia in the vote against the agenda, said that several Council members agreed that the situation calls for “quiet diplomacy, not micro diplomacy”.

The representative of the Russian Federation, Vassili Nebenzia, said that “similar troop movements in the past [had] never provoked such hysteria“. He reiterated that Russia had never expressed its intention to invade Ukraine while asking the United States to provide proof of the presence of 100,000 Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border. He also made an accusation by his “western colleagues” that he “supported the coup in Ukraine in 2014 and [installed] a Russophobic, racist and Nazi power”. He denounced an attempt to blur the “understanding between these two sister nations” to weaken Russia and create “a sphere of instability at its doorstep” and declared Russia’s willingness to resolve the crisis in Ukraine as “an internal crisis in the country”. while calling for the implementation of the Minsk agreements and direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. “If this is not the case, it will be harmful, not because Ukraine will be destroyed but because it will destroy itself”, he concluded.

The representative of Ukraine, Sergiy Kyslytsya, denounced the presence of 130,000 Russian soldiers on the border, the strengthening of separatist positions in Donbass, and the establishment of a large military formation in Belarus and the Black Sea, implicitly referring to Phase 2 of the operation “Union Resolve 2022”. While questioning these troop movements, he assured that Ukraine would not launch a military offensive “in Donbass, Crimea or elsewhere”. He insisted that there was no alternative to the peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict and the restoration of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also challenged Russia’s “false accusations” that Ukraine was planning a military attack: “this will not happen”, he said, denouncing Russia’s “reluctance to de-escalate tension.” He finally reaffirmed Ukraine’s determination not to succumb to Russian provocations while reiterating Ukraine’s firm commitment to peace.

02/01/2022: British and Polish Prime Minister’s Visit to Kyiv – Olga Chekhurska –

Both the Polish and British prime ministers, Boris Johnson and Mateusz Morawiecki paid a working visit to Kyiv on February 1, during which they intended to announce the creation of a new cooperation format with Ukraine.

However, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tested positive for coronavirus and therefore could not travel to Ukraine and officially announce this new cooperation. The announcement of the trilateral alliance therefore had to be postponed to a later date. Nevertheless the creation of this new cooperation was confirmed by President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), and Prime Minister Denys Shmihal during a press conference with his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki. A new Ukrainian-Polish-British cooperation will be primarily defensive in nature, such as developing a common security strategy and preventing threats. And then it can also cover the economic, social and cultural sectors. For more than a year, Britain has been cooperating a lot with Ukraine and according to some experts London is trying to influence the situation in Eastern Europe by bypassing the United States. The new format was discussed during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to London last December. As for Boris Johnson in Kyiv, the Prime Minister underlined the UK’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Ukraine and the UK have agreed to work together to strengthen Ukraine’s security and defence capabilities. The leaders also expressed their commitment to strengthening Ukraine’s energy security and supporting its efforts in the area of ​​“green” transformation. The British government has also announced that it will provide financial assistance of £88 million to “help reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy“, the statement said. In January, London already sent Ukraine about 2,000 anti-tank missiles. Moscow’s reaction was unequivocal. “The real goal of the trilateral alliance of Ukraine, Poland and Britain is a provocation,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. 

02/02/2022: Belarus sanctions on the transit of goods from Lithuania, in response to the breach of the potash contract with Belaruskali – Clelia Frouté –

Anatoly Glaz, spokesman for the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced on February 2, the entry into force of sanctions on rail transit and the importation of a group of goods from Lithuania. These sanctions apply to “petroleum products, chemical fertilisers and minerals shipped from Lithuania by rail and loaded into Lithuanian railway stations”,  he said.

This decision was taken in response to the sanctions effectively applied by Lithuania since February 1, 2022 on rail and maritime exports and transit of potash from the Republic of Belarus. These sanctions are in line with those imposed by the United States since December 2021 on Belaruskali, and their previous non-application in the context of the transit contract for Belaruskali’s potash, had caused considerable unrest within  the Lithuanian government.

The decision to prevent access to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda for the export of potash is considered illegal by the Belarusian Government, which argues that in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Belarus, as a landlocked country, has a right to operate the international maritime area, which is prevented by these sanctions. Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko promised that the authorities would respond symmetrically, and the Belarusian government plans to recover the Lithuanian compensation due for the termination of the contract in question. The contract was signed in 2018, and provided for rail transit through Lithuania and the loading of 11 million tons of Belarusian potash fertiliser per year in the port of Klaipeda, until 2023. The complaint would have already been filed with the competent Lithuanian court.

Roman Golovchenko added that these sanctions were ultimately a punishment of Lithuanians towards themselves. Nikolai Mezhevich, director of the Centre for Belarusian Studies of the European Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a doctor of economics, lamented the enormous losses that the halting of the flow of Belarusian goods would entail for the port of Klaipeda. He even speaks of a deficit operation, since apart from Belarusian exports, the port is not the economic solution for Russian and Chinese exports that pass through the Latvian ports of Ventspils and Liepaja.

Belaruskali is said to have already taken alternative measures to charter the goods sanctioned via Russia, which was confirmed on February 2, by Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He clarified that the issue remains “on the agenda” for the moment, but that “the reorientation of these flows has not yet begun”. India also intends to buy 1 million tonnes of Belarusian potash fertiliser, the Times of India reported. This agreement is an alternative to the Western sanctions imposed on the Republic of Belarus. The publication confirms that the State Bank of India will allow the opening of a rupee account to the Belarusian Potash Company, which will help Belarus to circumvent the blockage of the trade of Belarusian potash fertiliser in euros and dollars. This announcement follows the meeting between the President of the Council of the Republic of Belarus, Natalya Kochanova, and the Ambassador of India to Belarus, Alok Ranjan Jha, which took place on February 2, in Minsk, which gave rise to a statement by the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs and National Security of the Council of the Republic of Belarus, Sergei Rachkov, confirming the importance of India as a gateway to Belarusian exports to third country markets.

02/03/2022: A call took place between the Presidents of Ukraine and France, Volodymyr Zelensky and Emmanuel Macron, on the intensification of the peace process in the Normandy format – Olga Chekhurska –

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a call on Thursday February 3, with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. On the same day Emmanuel Macron also exchanged with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Poutine. 

The exchanges focused on “the conditions of the strategic balance in Europe, which should guarantee security on the continent” and on the “recent positive advances in the Normandy format“. “We have agreed on new common measures to maintain the security of Ukraine and Europe and to strengthen cooperation in the Normandy format“, – wrote the Ukrainian leader. 

Several telephone conversations between President Macron and his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts have taken place in recent days as well as with US President Joe Biden. The purpose of these conversations is to ease tensions and pursue dialogue to “identify the elements that should lead to de-escalation”. The situation around Ukraine and the measures proposed by Moscow for security guarantees were discussed during the conversation of French President Emmanuel Macron with Vladimir Putin, reported the Kremlin press service. In addition, the presidents discussed the current situation and agreed to continue the cooperation. According to the Kremlin, the heads of Russia and France agreed to organise their personal meeting quickly. In this context of the crisis and, above all, in order to reduce tensions, President Macron will visit Moscow on Monday February 7 and Kyiv on Tuesday February 8. 

02/03/2022 – The military attaché of the Ukrainian embassy in Belarus is summoned on charges of flying over the territory by a Ukrainian drone. – Clelia Frouté-

On February 3, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Belarus reported that it had spotted a drone flying from Ukraine to Belarus on January 24, 2022. It was the Belarusian Border Service that registered this unauthorised flight in association with units of the Air Force and the Air Defence Command of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus. It would be an analysis of the recorded data that would indicate that the drone was launched from Ukraine. This drone was reportedly launched at 10:58 am on January 24, 2022 from an area near the village of Pishcha, in the Kovel district of the Volyn Oblast, 1.7 km from the border with Belarus, and then crossed the Belarusian border near the village of Khmelishche, Malorita district, before continuing its flight to the Brestsky military training area.

Knowing that this incident could constitute a violation of Belarusian airspace, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Belarus convened the Military Attaché of the Embassy of Ukraine, Colonel Sergei Katsuba, on February 3. According to a note to Sergei Katsuba, this violation would be the third since November 2021. The Ukrainian side indicated that it would investigate the incident and would inform the Belarusian side of the search results.

02/03/2022: Strengthening Estonian sanctions on the Republic of Belarus – Clelia Frouté –

Estonia has decided to tighten sanctions on imports and transit of petroleum products from the Republic of Belarus, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced on February 3, 2022. Thus, additional sanctions will be applied to products bearing customs code 2707 to and via Estonia, although these products are not subject to European sanctions at the moment. But the Prime Minister said that for reasons of principle and harmonisation with their foreign policy line, they have decided to extend their sanctions to these products. Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Lyimets took the opportunity to point out that a full embargo will not be imposed on the Republic of Belarus, and that the transit of certain groups of goods would continue to be authorised. “We want to change the regime in Belarus, not take it off the map of the world”, she added.

These sanctions follow an investigation by the newspaper Eesti Paevaleht, which revealed the increase in exports of these oil products from Belarus to Estonia. The report details in particular that trade in these products has used the loopholes of EU sanctions, and has been allowed by companies associated with the oligarch and businessman Mikhail Voroby. He also is the subject of sanctions by the European Union and United-States because of his proximity to Alexander Lukashenko. Sanctions on these products had been avoided until now by changing the customs codes on shipments of these petroleum-derived products. The report also indicated that these exports of petroleum products from Belarus to Estonia would be worth EUR 534 million for the period January to November 2021, compared to EUR 161 million for the year 2020.

02/03/2022: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Ukraine – Liliia Kuzyk –

On February 3, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Ukraine on an official visit. On the same date, 30 years ago, diplomatic relations were established between Turkey and Ukraine. Prior to his departure, the Turkish President proposed to mediate the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow by urging both sides to exercise restraint and remain in dialogue to maintain peace in the region. He also said that the crisis must be resolved under international law. He confirmed that following his visit to Ukraine, Vladimir Putin would visit him in Turkey, allowing him to meet with both parties.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed Turkey’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea where Turkey pays particular attention to the situation of the Tatars. The subject of the Crimean Tatars is one of the main elements of bilateral relations with Ukraine and has been placed on the agenda.

Turkey is positioning itself in this matter as a member of NATO for which it wishes to assume responsibility, which was affirmed by the Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, and the visit of the Turkish President follows that of other leaders of NATO member countries, Britain, Poland and the Netherlands. All the more so since Turkey has recalled its strategic role with NATO and the parties to the conflict, being a co-signatory of the Montreux Convention of 1936 which regulates the circulation to and on the Black Sea through the straits of Dardanelles and Bosporus, in times of peace and in times of war, and limits its use for non-riparian states. Turkey has the geostrategic advantage, which in fact makes it an important interlocutor in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It was on the basis of this convention that the United States had renounced the deployment of two warships in April 2021.

Turkey, however, opposed the implementation of sanctions proposed by other NATO member countries against Russia in the event of a Russian military incursion into Ukraine, while Moscow and Minsk continue to assert that troop deployments pose no danger to Ukraine and Western countries, and consist only of exercises limited to their own territories. A Turkish official, under cover of anonymity, told Reuters that “Turkey’s approach is not to choose a side or to oppose a country in tensions”.

Following the meeting, the presidents of Ukraine and Turkey, Volodymyr Zelensky and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, signed an agreement for a free trade area between the two states, as well as for cooperation in the fields of education and industry. One of the goals is to raise the volume of their trade to $10 billion, said the Turkish president. In addition, a cooperation agreement in the fields of high technology, aviation and space has been signed between the two States, which should give new impetus to Turkish-Ukrainian cooperation in development, the production and operation of the Bayraktar category drone. The Minister of Defence of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, said that “[Bayractars] will be produced in Ukraine. As a result, a training centre will be created to train military personnel in the management of these drones of different categories.” He recalls that on the basis of “the decision of the Turkish company that produces the Bayraktars, the next generation of these engines will be produced by the Ukrainian aircraft engine manufacturer Motor Sich”.

 

 

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