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Policy & Research

Russian threat from Africa

Spain and Britain are pressing NATO to address the threat posed by the Kremlin’s influence in Africa, where it is spreading conflict through exacerbation of ethnic violence, anti-Western propaganda, and private armed groups such as Wagner. The instability and hunger sweeping the continent will inevitably have a significant impact on Europe as well and should not be underestimated by the alliance at such a sensitive time.

This is not the first time that Russia has exerted similar pressure on Europe: indeed, it is speculated that the refugee crisis on the Belarus-Poland border in 2021 was encouraged by the Kremlin to put a strain on the European Union. Since Belarus has been weakened for years by the sanctions imposed by the EU, it is plausible to assume that the president, Alexander Lukashenko, could not have pulled off such an operation to retaliate and provoke Poland and the EU without the help and support of the Kremlin, the country’s only ally.

Now there are concerns that the next target will be NATO’s Mediterranean shore, and the alliance must not find itself surprised or unprepared. Notably, at the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June, the alliance will have to consider the threat in drafting its new strategic concept, its basic military doctrine, which will ultimately involve “the whole of NATO, all the territory it covers through its partnership,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said at a bilateral meeting in Madrid.

Commercial satellites as OSINT tools in the conflict

Commercial satellites are becoming increasingly crucial in matters of national security, and the war in Ukraine is not the first time they have played such a role. This openly available tool has not only strategically aided those directly involved in the conflict but has provided a multitude of actors and the general public with direct insight into the visual scope of the conflict. As a form of open-source intelligence, it is also enabling the collection of evidence related to the killing of civilians by the Russian military and the tracking of military advances and losses. 

This represents a double-edged sword that can be widely exploited by the Kremlin and pro-Russian hackers to undermine Ukraine’s defense and monitor the sensitive activities of its enemies. However, so far open-source intelligence imagery has predominantly helped actors such as the United States, where Internet sleuths have been able to triangulate images from commercial satellites with those from social media, validating the work of Western intelligence and undermining Russian disinformation. From this perspective, it is a fundamental democratic tool that is helping Ukraine’s struggle for survival.

U.S. Developments

The US Treasury pushes Russia toward default

The US has announced that it won’t extend an exemption permitting Moscow to pay the foreign debt to American investors in the US dollars, forcing Russia back into a default countdown. The US Treasury Department granted an exemption to the Russian Central Bank to process payments to bondholders in dollars up until Wednesday. Moscow has a deluge of debt payment deadlines. In the case of the absence of payment, Russia will face a 30-day grace period before likely being declared in default. According to experts, Russia’s situation is unlike the usual process for sovereign default as due to sanctions Russia won’t be able to restructure its bonds with international investors. In the light of the default, Russia will lose most of its market access, even to China. It means no capital, no investment, no growth, lower living standards, capital and brain drain. Moreover, Russia will be isolated from the global economy. 

In response, Russian Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov put forth a new mechanism of payment. According to this mechanism, Russia will pay its debt by bypassing Western financial infrastructure which means that Russia will pay its debt in rubles while the conversion of the payment into the foreign currency will be made through the foreign currency and ruble accounts set up in the Russian Bank.

Launch of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA) for Ukraine

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the launch of a new joint UK, EU, and US group to help support the efforts of the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s General (OPG) to document war crimes and other atrocities committed in Ukraine. The new mechanism aims at ensuring efficient coordination of current EU, US and UK efforts to hold Russia accountable for the war crimes committed in Ukraine. The new mechanism called the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA) will provide strategic advice and operational assistance to the War Crimes Units of the OPG. The OPG represents the legally constituted authority that is responsible for prosecuting war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.

Under the auspices of the ACA, the multi-national team of international prosecutors and other war crimes experts will provide strategic assistance and operational assistance to the OPG in terms of collecting and preserving evidence, military analysis, investigating conflict-related sexual violence, and cooperating with international and national accountability mechanisms. In practice, the ACA support includes two elements: an advisory group to the OPG and Mobile Just Team (MJTs). The advisory group provides expertise, mentoring, and advice to the OPG, while MJTs is responsible for conducting field investigations

Kremlin’s Current Narrative

“Russia is ready to help overcome the food crisis in the world, subject to the lifting of relevant sanctions by the West”, Putin declared

TASS reports that Vladimir Putin said in a telephone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Draghi that the Russian Federation is ready to contribute to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers. For this, he said politically motivated restrictions from the West had to be removed. Putin also claimed that the exit of civilian ships from the ports of the Azov and Black Seas was hindered by the Ukrainian side.

Putin is trying to blackmail the western countries by the access to Ukraine’s ports and Russian fertilizers export as well as accusing them of global famine in order to receive some economic and political advantages. In fact, there are approximately 20 Russian Navy vessels in the Black Sea operational zone, including submarines, according to the UK Ministry of Defence, which cut off supplies from Ukraine’s ports. According to Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, Russia has decided to “temporarily limit” the supply of fertilizers to foreign markets in order to avoid downtime and to carry out “temporary preventive maintenance and repair of equipment”.

Marine blockade together with ban on the export of Russian fertilizers have led to reduction of the global supply and to increasing the food prices that are almost 30% higher than the same time 2019, according to the UNThe Economist reports, the number of people who cannot be sure of getting enough to eat by 440m, to 1.6bn and nearly 250m are on the brink of famine. As the global reference price of fertilizers is expected to soar 13% by 2023, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Russia would like to resume the fertilizers supply on the highest price quotes and to demonstrate its generous approach to resolve world food crisis for which mostly Russia is responsible itself.

Zakharova: «The United States is causing a food crisis in Ukraine by depriving it of consumption reserves»

Ria Novosti informs Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said that The United States is itself provoking a food crisis through its actions in Ukraine, while the Russian Federation intends to continue supplying food and other products in good faith. “US President Joe Biden’s statement on May 10 about the need to look for opportunities to export 20 million tons of grain from Ukraine coincided with the signing of the Ukrainian Lend-Lease. It turns out that Kyiv will pay for weapons with wheat. In fact, the Americans themselves provoked the Ukraine food crisis, depriving her of grain supplies,” was published on the official portal of the diplomatic department by Zakharova.

It was expected by Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food that Ukraine would have a grain harvest of approximately 83.8 million tonnes in the 2021/2022 marketing year. For inner consumption Ukraine needs around 19.3 million tonnes of grain yearly, which includes food needs, seeds, livestock feed and non-food processing. The market supply for export reaches around 65.5 million tonnes each year.

After Russian large-scale invasion Ukraine failed to maintain food supply due to missile attacks against infrastructure chains and cut off the Black Sea ports. “It’s an almost grotesque situation we see at the moment in Ukraine with nearly 25 million tonnes of grain that could be exported but that cannot leave the country simply because of lack of infrastructure, the blockade of the ports,” said Josef Schmidhuber, FAO Deputy Director, Markets and Trade Division. It is absolutely clear that a food crisis in Ukraine is not real because the agricultural capacities could produce around 50 million tonnes of grain in the 2022/2023 marketing year, informed Ukrainian Agribusiness Club. So the export of 20 million tons of grain can not cause the food crisis in Ukraine. Ukraine really needs to devastate storage facilities for next year’s harvest. 

Taipei News

While Taiwan was not invited to join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), US President Biden’s new economic initiative, Washington and Taipei announced the launch of a new bilateral format, the U.S-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade. The initiative covers eleven areas of cooperation, including trade facilitation, regulatory practices, and agriculture. The latter is particularly salient in the broader context of U.S.-Taiwan relations, particularly considering recent tensions in Taiwan over Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration’s decision to allow imports of U.S. pork containing ractopamine.

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) arrived in Taiwan on May 30 for an unannounced three-day visit. She stated that the primary goal for her visit is to emphasize Washington’s support for the country’s economy and security. The visit shortly followed the introduction of a bipartisan bill by Senator Duckworth which includes a provision to encourage a partnership between Taiwan and the National Guard and require an annual briefing by the U.S. Secretary of Defense on this cooperation. Since Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan intensified its efforts to strengthen its all-out mobilization capabilities. The cooperation with the U.S. National Guard is a part of this endeavor; Duckworth traveled to Taiwan with the director of the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program “which will be working with [Taiwan] on setting up [Taiwan’s] all-out defense.”

AUTHORS: Elita Khmelidze – Eleonora Sobrero – Dmytro Filonenko – Marcin Jerzewski