Brussels Playbook: Biden heads to Europe — Foreign affairs meetup — Aalst carnival still racist

Brussels Playbook: Biden heads to Europe — Foreign affairs meetup — Aalst carnival still racist
Опубликовано: Monday, 20 February 2023 05:14

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DRIVING THE WEEK: GRIM ANNIVERSARY Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

ONE YEAR SINCE RUSSIA BROUGHT ALL-OUT WAR BACK TO EUROPE: This week will mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine, with political meetings and statements planned for the coming days, culminating in a demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine planned for Saturday in Brussels.

One year and still standing: When Russia first invaded, many Western leaders and military experts believed Kyiv would fall within weeks. But the Kremlin failed both at dismantling Ukraine’s democratic leadership and at dividing the country and its allies. The West, meanwhile, has gradually ramped up its support to Ukraine, but is now facing a need to scale up the production of weapons and ammunition as officials believe Ukraine’s defense is entering a critical phase.

Today, US President Joe Biden is set to arrive in Poland, where he will meet Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and discuss stationing more U.S. troops in Poland, Reuters reports.

Biden’s aides have even explored attempting to covertly get the U.S. president across the border to Ukraine. He’s one of the last Western leaders who has not made the journey, which would require a 10-hour train ride or a daring flight. But most aides believe the security risk to Biden or Ukraine would not be worth it.

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Further reading: NATO’s eastern flank has found its voice — but Biden’s visit to Poland is a reminder that Western capitals still have the weight, my colleague Lili Bayer reports. The West are the ones holding the largest quantities of modern tanks, fighter jets and long-range missiles, after all.

Also today, EU foreign affairs ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss the war. Their agenda reads like a message to Moscow: First, a breakfast with Russian activist Garry Kasparov, then a doorstep by top EU diplomat Josep Borrell together with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, followed by a lunch with Moldova’s Deputy Prime Minister Nicu Popescu.

Sanctions update: Diplomats are positive that the EU’s tenth package of sanctions for Russia will be agreed upon in time for Friday — which will mark exactly one year since the invasion, my colleague Jacopo Barigazzi reports.

The foreign ministers are also expected to discuss how to better prevent sanctions circumvention: New trade data shows EU exports to Russia declined, but exports to bordering Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia have soared. And as Playbook first reported, EU countries are calling on Brussels to sanction a company they believe is fronting for Russia’s oil tanker fleet.

According to three diplomats, the EU’s sanctions envoy David O’Sullivan will also brief EU ambassadors about sanctions circumvention on Wednesday.

Jets and ammunition are also expected to be discussed today. Over the weekend, our U.S. colleagues reported on emerging calls within the U.S. government and military to send advanced fighter jets to Ukraine. Kuleba is also expected to push his colleagues for more courage in providing jets.

Ministers will discuss joint purchases of ammunition for Ukraine. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday proposed using EU procurement powers to ramp up production — similar to when the EU mobilized industry to produce vaccines during COVID.

US WARNS CHINA MAY SEND WEAPONS TO RUSSIA: In an unusually explicit and public warning, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday warned Beijing was weighing sending weapons to help Russia in its war against Ukraine.

Blinken said the U.S. had “some further information that we are sharing today, and that I think will be out there soon, that indicates that they are strongly considering providing lethal assistance to Russia.”

INTERVIEW 1 — LITHUANIA’S FM LANDSBERGIS CALLS FOR NUCLEAR SANCTIONS: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis remains dissatisfied with the EU’s tenth package of sanctions — details of which were outlined last week — and is mounting a last-minute lobbying campaign to include sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has for weeks been urging the bloc to sanction Russia’s Rosatom nuclear energy giant, but to the frustration of Kyiv has been rebuffed, despite appealing to von der Leyen.

Speaking to POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer at the Munich Security Conference, Landsbergis said he has been “quite vocal” in support of sanctioning Rosatom. “I think there’s a way for Rosatom to be added. I understand [the worries of] certain countries which have contracts with Rosatom, and when it comes to their nuclear power plants, the argument is reasonable that for them to cancel contracts would possibly entail nuclear safety issues,” he said.

But he says the EU faced similar challenges when targeting Russian oil and it should pursue a similar strategy. “We derogated some countries because of their dependency on Russian oil, or the fact they didn’t have alternative sources or because their oil refineries suited only oil coming from Russia.” He added: “It was a difficult decision for us because we wanted a full embargo. But it worked out in the end. Why can’t we repeat the exercise and allow countries which have existing contracts with Rosatom to honor them, as it is about nuclear safety, it’s about their energy production. But no new contracts would be signed, no new bank accounts opened in any EU country.”

Landsbergis said he has spoken to his counterparts “of the countries who object to the idea of nuclear embargo. But I am voicing it to you for the first time publicly. Maybe we need more public debate about this. It isn’t a technical thing, it is a political thing.”

INTERVIEW 2 — AUSTRIA’S FM SCHALLENBERG DEFENDS RUSSIAN DIPLOS VISIT: Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg defended his country’s decision to allow Russian diplomats to enter Vienna to participate in an OSCE conference from February 23-24 — despite all of them being on the EU’s sanctions list, which bars them from traveling to the EU.

Bad timing: Schallenberg said he regretted the “very unfortunate date,” on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, but insisted on defending Russia’s participation. “Austria has concluded a headquarters agreement with the OSCE, which creates obligations under international law,” he told POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi. “We are legally obligated to facilitate the entry of all delegations … even if it is not popular,” he argued. “I will not play into Moscow‘s hands by categorically rejecting Russia‘s violation of international law and then ignoring our own legal obligations.”

China’s role: Today’s foreign affairs summit comes on the heels of the Munich Security Conference, where China’s foreign policy chief Wang Yi broke the news that President Xi Jinping would soon present a “peace proposal.” Schallenberg, who also had a bilateral meeting with Wang in Munich, seemed cautiously optimistic about Beijing’s move: “The Chinese comments about a possible peace initiative are at least an interesting signal,” he said.

“China is obviously not happy with Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the global consequences, especially in the economic sphere,” Schallenberg said, but added: “We have to wait and see what exactly China puts on the table.”

Realism: One thing is clear, he said: “As long as Russia is trying to create facts on the battlefield, it is not very likely that negotiations are about to begin.”

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MORE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

IRAN SANCTIONS: EU ministers are today also expected to give the green light to the fifth package of sanctions against Iran, two diplomats told Playbook.

Protest in Brussels: Iranian diaspora groups have organized a rally today in Brussels to call on the EU to list Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. The demonstration is backed by MEPs including Abir Al-Sahlani (from the Renew group) and Charlie Weimers (from the European Conservatives and Reformists) as well as national parliamentarians, such as Belgium’s Darya Safai, Theo Francken and Sweden’s Alireza Akhondi.

Humanitarian aid after earthquakes: Ministers will also pay a tribute to the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and discuss further help. As Playbook reported last week, officials in Brussels are discussing how to best get aid to war-torn Syria, where the Assad regime has reportedly demanded bribes and delayed humanitarian convoys from reaching the victims, while Russia has vetoed U.N. cross-border aid operations in the Security Council.

Asked about concerns that EU sanctions against the Assad regime could be delaying help, Austria’s Schallenberg pointed to exemptions designed specifically for such cases, telling POLITICO that “we are fully in favor of being flexible in using the humanitarian exemptions in the sanctions regime to address the devastating consequences of the earthquake.”

BLINKEN IN THE EAST MED: Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken took a helicopter tour on Sunday of Turkey’s earthquake-hit areas, along with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and pledged a further $100 million in aid to help the region, Nektaria Stamouli reports.

“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Blinken said at the Incirlik Air Base. “The search and rescue, unfortunately, is coming to an end. The recovery is on, and then there will be a massive rebuilding operation.”

Blinken will also meet Turkish officials today, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan. He will then fly to Greece for meetings in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, his counterpart Nikos Dendias and main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras.

GREECE WARNS OF NEW MIGRATION CONCERNS: Greece warned Sunday that the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria could lead to more migrants heading to Europe, adding that Athens stands ready to protect its borders.

“Everybody knows that when the earthquake happened in Turkey, we stood by our neighbors,” Greek Minister of Civil Protection Takis Theodorikakos told local TV, Nektaria reports. “There is indeed a risk of new strong migratory pressure. But our borders on the Evros are impassable. We are ready for any eventuality and the work on the Evros fence is already accelerating,” he added, referring to a fence erected along Greece’s land borders with Turkey.

IN OTHER NEWS Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE ‘DIGITAL EURO’ TALKS: Eurozone central bank governors will be in the Finnish winterland of Inari this week, way up in the northern region of Lapland, to discuss how best to communicate the digital euro project to the average Joe and Jane. Other topics will also be on the agenda for the non-monetary policy meeting. But it’s clear that a trip to one of the most remote regions of Europe will hardly bring more attention to the project, which has had limited engagement with members of the public. Best bets are that the European Central Bank will start minting the virtual extension of the euro banknotes and coins in around four years — if the governors believe it’s worth the hassle. But the digital euro’s success is hugely dependent on buy-in from the public.

A chat with ordinary folks working around the EU quarter in Brussels will give you an idea of how little people know, or care, about the digital euro. Out of seven people that POLITICO spoke to about the digital euro, two had heard of the plans. Only one thought it was a good idea. Read all about the struggle the ECB faces to bring the public on board.

GERMANY DITCHES US-STYLE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Germany has decided to drop plans to create a U.S.-style National Security Council after Berlin’s ruling three-party coalition failed to agree on the details, Hans von der Burchard writes in to report.

Security strategy coming: The decision means Germany will finally be able to move forward with its delayed national security strategy: Negotiators have reached a deal in principle that now needs to be approved at the political level — which could happen as early as this week. Read more from Hans.

CHECHEN LEADER’S DREAM OF HIS OWN MERCENARY GROUP: Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he aspires to cooperate with Yevgeny Prigozhin to one day create his own private military group, similar to Prigozhin’s powerful Wagner Group.

His comments come amid mounting evidence that the Kremlin is trying to curb Prigozhin’s influence, suggesting it fears Prigozhin’s statements attacking Russia’s official military have gone too far, Reuters reports.

NEW REPORT — ANTI-LGBTI VIOLENCE ON THE RISE: For Europe and Central Asia, 2022 was the most violent year for LGBTI people in the past decade, according to the Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People by ILGA-Europe, which will be published this morning under this link.

The report reveals that the region saw a sharp increase in violence against LGBTI individuals, with planned attacks but also suicides on the rise. The report links the surge in violence to growing hostility toward the community, fueled by hate speech from religious and political figures.

ARTY AI: Hallucinatory landscapes, Shiba Inus, award-winning masterpieces: art generated by artificial intelligence is everywhere. That’s courtesy of the rise of generative AI models such as DALL-E-2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. But while we have all had a good laugh or an awe-inspired gander at these images, AI-made art raises a smorgasbord of tricky questions, including for policymakers.

Just to rattle off some: Who owns AI-made art? Are the instructions (prompts) given to an art-making AI art themselves, and can they be copyrighted? Should “traditional” artists whose works have been used to train the AIs get some form of reward? Gian Volpicelli addresses this and much more in a long read out today.

AGENDA Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

Foreign Affairs Council. Arrivals and doorstep at 8:30 a.m. … press conference by top EU diplomat Josep Borrell at 6 p.m. Watch.

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola gives the opening address at the Tenth Ordinary Session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly in Moldova’s Chisinau at 10:30 a.m.

— Commission Vice-President Vĕra Jourová is in Bratislava: meets Slovakia’s Minister of Culture Natália Milanová; speaks at a roundtable on disinformation; speaks at the Media Freedom 2023 Conference; and speaks at the opening ceremony of the Jan Kuciak and Martina Kušnírova week.

— Commissioner Janez Lenarčič is in Riyadh: participates in the “Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum: The evolving Humanitarian landscape for 2023 and beyond”; meets Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud; meets Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Jasem Albudaiwi.

— Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi meets Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

— Commissioner Ylva Johansson visits the SIRENE Bureau in Brussels at 1 p.m.

— Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visits Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

BRUSSELS CORNER Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

IRAN PROTEST MEANS MORE TRAFFIC: Brussels authorities have warned residents to expect traffic disruptions between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m today due to the protest against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Expect road closures and tram delays in the following areas: Albert II, Jardin Botanique, Petite Ceinture, Madou, Jozef II, chaussée d’Etterbeek, Belliard, Joyeuse Entrée, and Petite Rue de la Loi. Trains and the Metro are running on schedule, though buses may take detours.

SLEEPLESS UKRAINE: The exhibition “Sleepless Ukraine” at KULT XL Ateliers & Expo will mark the grim anniversary of the start of the war, with artists depicting the initial days of the invasion. The show runs until February 26. More details here.

CARNIVAL SEASON BEGINS: The carnival season has officially kicked off. Throughout this week, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová will report on some of the festivities around Belgium.

Carnival of Binche: Today we begin with celebrations in Binche, a small town about an hour south of Brussels, famous for hosting one of the oldest street carnivals in Europe, dating back to the Middle Ages. It has even made it onto UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list. This year’s carnival, the first since cancellations due to the COVID pandemic, started Sunday and runs until Tuesday.

The carnival centers around the Gilles, clown-like masked figures dressed in black, red and yellow striped costumes, representing the colors of the Belgian flag. There are also other characters at the festival, including peasants, sailors and Pierrot.

What to expect: Music, parades and confetti fights take place throughout the festival. On Mardi Gras Tuesday, the Gilles — who can only wear their costume on this day — parade their way to the town hall to the beat of a drum. It all starts in the early morning with a big breakfast consisting of oysters (or salmon) and bubbles, ending with dancing and fireworks.

NEWS FROM CARNIVAL IN AALST: Meanwhile, carnival participants in Aalst again seem keen to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Reminder: Before the pandemic, the carnival in Aalst polarized Belgian politics for its displays of anti-Semitism, with participants in 2020 dressing up in costumes that combined the hat and ringlets of ultra-orthodox Jews with the bodies of insects.

Still racist: This year, three Playbook readers spotted revelers dressed up as morality “police,” handing out tickets “for deliberately laughing at overprotected difficult people.” Fields to tick in the “Jews” category included “too big nose,” “too curly locks,” “black hat,” “too stingy” and “puns with animals.”

BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Rasmus Andresen and Marisa Matias; Former MEPs Paloma López and Laurențiu Rebega; POLITICO’s Carmen Paun; Former U.K. PM Gordon Brown; Sandra Parthie from IW Köln.

THANKS TO: Jacopo Barigazzi, Nektaria Stamouli, Jamie Dettmer, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová, editor Emma Anderson and our producer Grace Stranger.

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