Earlier today, we have sent out in the European Values Center for Security Policy the very first Ukraine Watch Briefing! Our newest public newsletter summarises the current developments in Ukraine and brings analyses of the situation in Ukraine and the impacts of the Russian aggression for Europe and the West. First issue is here: bit.ly/UWB_1 Sign up to not miss out on the following ones here: bit.ly/UWB_signup
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▪️EVC Podcast will bring you interviews with security experts, analysts or politicians on topics related to Russian and Chinese malign influence.
▪️The main goal is to discuss lessons learned, effective policies, and best practices in countering malign foreign influence around the world.
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The first episode with Professor Kazuto Suzuki is dedicated to economic security and whether and how could democratic countries do business with China and Russia safely.
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The pro-Russian hackers, identified as "killnet," targeted Italian institutional websites, including those of the Ministry of Defense, the Senate, the Automobile Club of Italy, and the National Health Institute; the same group had also previously attacked German and Romanian government websites. No damage was caused, and the websites were restored in about an hour, while Italian police managed to stop attacks against the Eurovision song contest that disputed Ukraine's victory and had banned Russia following the invasion.
These attacks occurred following Italy's announcement that a parliamentary security committee would launch an investigation into three unnamed Russian commentators, who appeared on private Italian networks because they are suspected of being on the Kremlin's payroll for spreading disinformation.
On the other hand, on May 9, the day of the celebrations for the end of World War II, an attack knocked out RuTube, the Russian alternative to YouTube, for three days, not allowing viewing of the victory parade and requiring the intervention of a team of cybersecurity experts. The operation compromised the site's functionalities and called into question the cybersecurity capabilities of Russian services, as experts had to work for two days to restore it, while investigations into the perpetrators of the attack could take weeks.
Last week was an intense week as far as Russian cyber warfare is concerned partly because cybersecurity experts from the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union officially linked the Kremlin to the attack against the KA-SAT satellite network operated by Viasat perpetrated only an hour before Ukraine's military attack on February 24. This was the first time the EU openly blamed the Russian authorities for such an attack, attributing to it the malicious intent to generate chaos and facilitate the invasion.
NATO expansion and Ankara’s response
As a major consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden is following Finland in the process of applying for NATO membership leading to a dramatic shift in public opinion on the issue since 2017. Putin's threats in connection with the decision have only strengthened the position of the Scandinavian countries, which consider this the best move for their security at this time and therefore formally made the request on May 18, which was accepted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, calling it "a historic step."
However, Turkish President Erdogan stated that he would not support the admission of Sweden and Finland because they would host organizations that Turkey has designated as terrorists, such as the Kurdish militant groups PKK and YPG, and of the related rejection of extradition requests made by Ankara. In addition, Erdogan has openly dissuaded Sweden from travelling to Turkey for discussions, as it would not be willing to welcome and negotiate also due to the embargoes Stockholm and Helsinki placed on arms sales in 2019 as a result of Ankara's operations in Syria.
This would pose a problem as the enlargement process requires unanimity among NATO members, but Stoltenberg assured that to avoid further delays at such a crucial time the organization is working on a solution to Turkey's opposition, seen as a ploy ahead of next year's elections.
Meanwhile, many NATO members, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, and France, have reassured Sweden's concerns about their vulnerability during the application process, pledging to support it "by all means necessary" in the event of an attack by Russia. On the other hand, while Sweden wants to join the organization, it has specified that it will not host permanent NATO military bases and armaments.
The Biden administration announces $40 billion aid to Ukraine
The US president, Joe Biden, called on Congress to immediately pass the$ 40 billion Ukraine aid bill. Biden assessed the bill ''as vital as it is to help Ukraine combat Russian aggression" and stressed the importance of the adoption of the bill as soon as possible by Congress. The idea of the $ 40 billion Ukraine aid was firmly supported by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. During his visit to Kyiv, McConnell emphasized that the US will be there for Ukraine "as long as it takes" and underscored the fact that there is broad bipartisan support for Ukraine in the US. Moreover, the Senator rejected the idea that helping Ukraine comes at the expense of the United States. According to him, this aid can't be perceived as a charity, it is in the interests of the US and NATO to help Ukraine combat the Russian aggression.
It is noteworthy that there were some obstacles to the approval of the aid. Despite the overall bipartisan support for the bill, Senator of Kentucky Rand Paul made an objection to it by demanding changes to the legislation. They demanded change and dealt with the creation of a special inspector general to oversee how Ukraine's military aid would be spent. The members of both parties agreed with the notion but emphasized the risk of slowing down the process because of the time that the changes to the legislation needed. Finally, the US Senate voted on Monday to advance $40 billion in aid to Ukraine despite Rand Paul's opposition. The aid was also approved by Congress on a 368-to-57 vote. The $ 40 billion in Ukraine's aid comprises $ 15billion for military aid, training, intelligence support and Ukrainian defence force salaries, $ 14 billion will be dedicated to non-military support, and $ 5 billion will address global food security issues.
The Kremlin’s chemical weapons disinformation campaign
A new report published by the Global Engagement Center focuses on one of the prominent Kremlin narratives about the Ukrainian conflict, which claims that the US and Ukraine are involved in chemical weapons activities on the territory of Ukraine. In particular, Russia for years seeded the ground to claim that the US set up bio-warfare laboratories in Ukraine and other post-Soviet republics. Precisely, the disinformation narrative derives from the Soviet era and is related to the Soviet Union’s long-running allegations against the US according to which the US used biological weapons.
The spread of such narratives especially increased after the Russian invasion of Ukraine by the emerging hashtags #usbiolabs on Twitter. The accusation was also put forth by the Russian mission to the UN Security Council while claiming the discovery of "the US secret military biological projects in Ukraine. According to the Russian representatives of the UN Security Council, the US and Ukraine are developing chemical and biological weapons for use against Russian forces. The allegations prompted heightened concerns among US and Ukrainian officials that Russia itself may be planning to deploy chemical and biological weapons against the Ukrainian forces as part of a so-called "false-flag operation.
It is noteworthy that Ukraine does not have biochemical weapons laboratories. Instead, there are public health and veterinary labs operated with US support. According to US intelligence officials, the labs are focused on understanding and preventing pandemics and the spread of infectious diseases. As Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines stated, the assistance provided by Washington to Ukraine was in the context of biosafety. Besides, Secretary of State Antony Blinken predicted last month that Vladimir Putin might fabricate allegations regarding chemical and biological weapons to justify his violent attacks against the Ukrainian people.
“Russia will respond to all boorish and illegal steps of the West”, Zakharova claimed
Ria Novosti reports Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said that Russia will not leave unanswered the boorish or illegal steps of the West. "Recently, as you know, steps have been taken - declaring some countries unfriendly, taking appropriate measures and so on. There are no options here - there will be no unanswered steps that are sometimes boorish, somewhere simply outlawed, both international law and their domestic or our bilateral agreements. Of course, we will respond to all of this," said Zakharova on the Russian state TV during the program Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov.
Western countries have introduced several packages of sanctions against Russia because of the Russian military attack on Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin stressed that the policy of containing and weakening Russia is a long-term strategy of the West, and sanctions have dealt a serious blow to the entire global economy. According to Putin, the main goal of the United States and Europe is to worsen the lives of millions of people.
Putin added that current events draw a line under the global dominance of the West both in politics and in the economy. According to the Russian president, Russia is not going to isolate, it cannot be severely limited in the modern world. Victim playing has been a continuous and unjustified irrational behaviour of the Kremlin, thereby Lavrov asserted that “political correctness, decency, legal norms are discarded, the culture of cancelling everything Russian is applied… Any hostile actions against our country are allowed, including outright robbery.”
Putin: the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will not create a threat to the Russian Federation, but will cause a response
Radio Sputnik reports that Finland and Sweden remained neutral for many years and did not join the ranks of NATO, but they joined the North Atlantic Alliance against the backdrop of “a Russian special operation in Ukraine.” Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia has no problems with Finland and Sweden, but the expansion of NATO's military infrastructure on their territory will cause a backlash. Speaking at the CSTO summit, Putin noted that the direct entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO does not pose a threat to the country's security. However, the Russian leader stressed that Moscow would respond to the actions of the alliance’s expansion according to the situation. Putin added that the reaction will depend on the threats that will be created for Russia. Nevertheless, the Russian president has also signalled that relations with Russia could be “negatively affected” as a reaction to Finland’s decision to join NATO. Thus, it is highly likely that now Finland will be portrayed as a “non-friendly” country in Russian discourses and security strategies.
Moreover, another narrative of the Kremlin unsurprisingly is based on accusations against the USA. Russia referred to the Chinese newspaper Global Times and blamed the United States for driving Sweden and Finland into a trap, supporting their membership in NATO. Russia asserted that according to experts, after joining the North Atlantic Alliance, the two Scandinavian countries may find themselves in an American trap and further worsen the security situation in Eastern Europe.
RIA Novosti reports Cui Hongjian, director of the European department of the Chinese Institute of International Studies, saying that he believes that the inclusion of Sweden and Finland in the military bloc will allow the United States to use their territory to deploy strategic weapons directed against Russia. Moreover, Russia stressed that another consequence is the entry of Georgia and Moldova into the bloc. Thus, in this case, according to Russia, the thesis about the encirclement of Russia by NATO will be strengthened.
It seems that Kremlin made a huge miscalculation in its military-strategic goals because by attacking Ukraine Russia aimed at preventing NATO’s enlargement but now the result is the opposite. Moreover, NATO’s open-door policy created a favourable condition for sovereign countries including Finland and Sweden who have the legal right to "decide their future, foreign policy, and security arrangements."
A Polish delegation arrived in Taiwan on Monday, May 16 for a four-day visit focusing on expanding trade and investment cooperation between Warsaw and Taipei. The delegation is led by Grzegorz Piechowiak, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Technology and Government Plenipotentiary for Foreign Investments. The visit coincides with the 10th Poland-Taiwan Economic Consultations, during which stakeholders from both sides signed three new memoranda of understanding, pertaining to collaboration on semiconductors, compliance with good laboratory practice, and electric vehicles and environmental protection. Ties between Poland and Taiwan have recently followed an upward trajectory, and have been further bolstered by humanitarian relief Taiwan provided for Ukrainian refugees affected by the Russian invasion. Interestingly, in an unprecedented move, the delegation arrived in Taiwan on a government aircraft
rather than a commercial flight. This is significant due to Taiwan’s precarious international status and the broader tendency of European countries to emphasize the informal, non-diplomatic nature of their respective engagements with Taiwan.
With the 75th World Health Assembly approaching, a growing number of countries around the world expressed their support for the inclusion of Taiwan in the summit as an observer. In Washington, President Joe Biden on Friday signed a bill into law to help Taiwan regain observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA), demonstrating Washington’s continued support for Taiwan. State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated that the United States “strongly advocates for the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer and lend its expertise to the solution-seeking discussions at the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA)." Between 2009 and 2016, Taiwan was an observer in WHA; the WHO broke eight years of precedent at the 70th World Health Assembly in 2017, amid growing pressures from the Beijing government and rising tensions in Taiwan-China relations. Taiwan has made significant contributions
to the global public health protection regime, including the #TaiwanCanHelp
campaign which intensified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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