On Saturday the British government announced that their most recent intelligence points to a Russian plan to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a puppet regime controlled by Russia. Former Ukrainian parliament member Yevheniy Murayev, leader of a small pro-Russia political party was identified by the British Foreign Ministry as the likeliest candidate to lead the puppet government. Murayev wasted little time in distancing himself from both Russia and Western Europe on social media. On Thursday, the United States leveled similar accusations at Russia, claiming that Russian intelligence services were spearheading an effort to recruit Ukrainian politicians to take over the government and gain control of the nation’s infrastructure in the opening hours of a Russian invasion. If the coup attempt fails at the start of an invasion, then Moscow will still have enough pro-Russian politicians to form a core government to run the Ukraine after hostilities draw to a close. Whether or not Yevheniy Murayev is selected to become a twenty-first century Viduk Quisling remains to be seen. The US and British governments have warned that an overt Russian invasion is not the only act that will bring on severe economic sanctions. A coup, followed by the subsequent installment of a pro-Russian puppet regime in Kiev will also result in significant economic sanctions.
Ireland has been informed that a Russian naval exercise will occur in February 240 kilometers southwest of the Irish coast. A live-fire segment will be included in the exercise, which will take place in international waters but also inside of Ireland’s excusive economic zone. The Irish Foreign Ministry has raised the issue “ at senior level with the Russian authorities and will continue to do so in the week ahead.” The Russian naval units that will be involved in the exercise will most likely come from the Northern and Baltic fleets. It’s worth paying attention to how these exercises develop in the coming days and weeks as they could give fresh clues about what Russia’s intentions really are.
Europe is facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases continue to surge in many nations across the continent. Outbreaks are being reported in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and areas of Spain and Italy among others. Governments have been deliberately selective with placing restrictions, and lockdowns on the general public, but the time may be nearing when more immoderate measures are put into play. Ireland is the only EU nation to reimpose a six-week long nationwide lockdown starting Thursday. Nonessential retail businesses will close, and residents are expected to stay within three miles of their homes, except for work and other essential activities. Police will set up road checkpoints to deter unnecessary travel.
On the continent, select regions in Spain and Italy are returning to lockdown conditions. A two week lockdown begins in the Spanish region of Navarre on Thursday. The measures being imposed on Navarre are more restrictive than those which have been placed on Madrid by Spain’s central government. In Italy, the southern region of Campania will be conducting an 11 PM- 5 AM curfew similar to one currently in place in the north. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that this time around, unlike the March lockdown, he is giving towns and regions more freedom to decide what measures to put into place. In effect, Conte is giving towns and regions across Italy the ability to decide their own fate.
With a second wave of the pandemic now ramping up, travel restrictions which had been relaxed over the summer are starting to be reintroduced in some cases. Denmark has closed its borders again to a number of European nations that it considers to be high-risk. France is suggesting voluntary quarantines for people arriving from Britain and Spain. In the Netherlands and Belgium, the governments are trying to discourage non-essential travel across the shared border of the two nations.
All of these measures are relatively fair, and cannot be considered extreme. If case numbers do start to surge dramatically though, restrictions will become tighter and for the second time in a year the European Union could see its member-states closing its borders to essentially the rest of the continent.
The British government is now moving ahead on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit. Michael Gove, who has been made responsible for no-deal preparations wrote in the Sunday Times that “No deal is now a very real prospect.” Newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wasted little time in grounding the British government so to speak. In the last six months of Theresa May’s tenure the British government had functioned under a cloud of uncertainty, so to speak. A no-deal Brexit was the white elephant in the room, so to speak. Even as it became clear that May’s Brexit deal was not going to pass, the possibility of a no-deal scenario was paid no mind. No preparations were discussed internally, and whenever ‘No-deal Brexit’ was uttered by a member of the government, a swarm of political pundits descended on media outlets to explain in detail why a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic to Britain, and perhaps the world. Bear in mind too, these folks said the same thing about Brexit back in June, 2016 so their knowledge, and credibility are questionable to say the least.
With Johnson now on Downing Street, reality is setting in. To be fair, a no-deal exit is not an attractive option. It is a very real possibility at this point, and the government is preparing for it. Extra funding is being made ready for no-deal essentials like additional Border Force officers, and improved port infrastructures. Some of the newly appointed officials in the Johnson government have even publicly stated that no-deal preparations are now the government’s top priority.
The Irish border backstop has been the main sticking point in negotiations between the EU and UK. Theresa May, and EU officials had decided that no matter what the outcome of Brexit, the border between Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK) would not be hardened. It would remain unchanged, ensuring a link between Britain and the EU in the post-Brexit years. The backstop created a firestorm in British politics and is most responsible for derailing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and ultimately her government. Keeping an open border between the EU and Britain is seen by many as keeping the UK in the EU.
Boris Johnson is committed to removing the backstop from a future exit deal. The European Union is equally as determined to keep the backstop in the plan as part of the agreement. With this stalemate, it only makes sense for the British government to begin preparing for a no-deal Brexit as the 31 October deadline comes closer.
With three weeks remaining until the United Kingdom officially separates from the European Union, negotiations continue on in hopes of preventing a hard Brexit. Today, a proposal put forth by EU negotiator Michel Barnier brought little enthusiasm from Theresa May or members of her government. The proposal was crafted in large part to bring an end to the concerns surrounding the Irish backstop, and help reassure the British government that the border between Ireland (EU Member) and Northern Ireland (UK) will be managed properly post-Brexit.
Theresa May was unmoved by the proposal, and the reaction from other British colleagues was similar. The proposal is not seen as being enough to overcome the large amount of opposition remaining in British parliament to the UK-EU divorce deal. Negotiations between EU and UK officials will carry on over the weekend. Time is running short, and anxiety is starting to build. On Friday 29 March, 2019 Great Britain will leave the European Union. It still remains to be seen if the departure will be hard or soft. The anxiety surrounding this is what’s responsible for causing the anxiety in Britain, across Europe, and around the world.
May is feeling the pressure to get the divorce deal passed through parliament soon. Time is running out, and even with renewed negotiations with the EU, it appears quite unlikely that Brussels will amend the deal further.
*Author’s note: Short write up this evening. Apologies. I’ll try and make up for it over the weekend*
Fourteen of the European Union’s member states stepped forward today and officially recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the provisional president of that country. Other EU nations such as Poland and Sweden have indicated they will also recognize Guaidó, increasing the pressure on Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro to told new presidential elections and bring the current political crisis to an end. The EU move comes after Maduro ignored an EU deadline to call for new elections by this past weekend. Europe wasted no time in joining the United States in its efforts to bring about a leadership change in Caracas.
Even though Europe appears to be relatively unified on the issue, there are a handful of nations straddling the fence. Greece refuses to condemn Nicolas Maduro or his government and instead has called for a “political dialogue” to avoid a civil war in Venezuela. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has long been an admirer of Hugo Chavez, and the political model he created. Italy and Ireland are two EU member nations that also oppose recognizing Guaidó, yet this does not signal support for Maduro and his government. Officials in Rome and Dublin are more concerned with setting a dangerous precedent by recognizing a self-proclaimed leader. Italy’s objections were even enough to block a planned EU statement recognizing Guaidó.
Despite the minor differences between some European nations on the semantics of handling Guaidó, Maduro, and the Venezuelan crisis as a whole, the battle lines have already been clearly drawn along familiar geopolitical, and ideological positions. The West, following the lead of the United States, is pushing for free elections, and a new leader in Caracas. Russia, China, and a handful of smaller nations around the world led by left wing, socialist leaders, or are anti-US in nature, have sided with Maduro. These positions will become more significant now that it seems the crisis is moving into a geopolitical phase now. International pressure could become the opposition’s most powerful weapon in the coming weeks.