VIF News Digest: International Developments (US, Europe and Russia), 1-15 January 2021
Dr Himani Pant, Associate Fellow, VIF

I. United States

Politics and Society
US and Iran ratchet up military activity as concerns increase ahead of Soleimani killing anniversary, 2 January 2021.

The US and Iran charged each other with ratcheting up tensions in the Persian Gulf as concerns about potential conflict build days before Iran marks one year since the US assassinated its most powerful military figure and less than three weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.Iran appealed to the UN Security Council to stop the US from conducting what it called heightened "military adventurism" in the Gulf and the Oman Sea, including dispatching nuclear-capable bombers to the region, declaring that it did not want conflict but would defend itself if necessary. Meanwhile, a US official alleged that some Iranian maritime forces in the Gulf ramped up their readiness levels in the last 48 hours. Click here to read...

Divided U.S., Not Covid, Is the Biggest Risk to World in 2021, Survey Says, 4 January 2021.

With the global economy still in the teeth of the Covid-19 crisis, the Eurasia group sees a divided U.S. as a key risk this year for a world lacking leadership. “In decades past, the world would look to the U.S. to restore predictability in times of crisis. But the world’s preeminent superpower faces big challenges of its own,” said Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer and Chairman Cliff Kupchan in a report on the top risks for 2021. Click here to read...

US Congress in turmoil as violent Trump supporters breach building, 6 January 2021.

Violent supporters of President Donald Trump have breached the Capitol in Washington, as lawmakers met to confirm President-elect Joe Biden's poll win. In dramatic scenes, demonstrators swarmed the building as Congress members were escorted out by police. Mr Biden said it was an "insurrection", and Mr Trump released a video message asking supporters to go home. Click here to read...

Pelosi pushes for Trump's resignation; Twitter suspends Trump, 8 January 2021

A trio of House Democrats plan to introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump for incitement of insurrection following Wednesday's riots at the U.S. Capitol, multiple sources familiar with the efforts tell CBS News. The articles of impeachment come on the same day Twitter suspended Mr. Trump's personal account after reviewing the tweets and "the context around them" after the assault on the U.S. Capitol.Click here to read...

U.S. judge blocks Trump administration's sweeping asylum rules, 9 January 2021,

U.S. District Judge James Donatoblocked the Trump administration’s most sweeping set of asylum restrictions less than two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The court order has limited immediate impact because the government has largely suspended asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border during the coronavirus pandemic, citing public health concerns. Click here to read...

North Korea's Kim calls U.S. 'our biggest enemy' in challenge to Biden, 7 January 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for more advanced nuclear weapons and said the United States is “our biggest enemy,” state media said reported, presenting a stark challenge to President-elect Joe Biden just days before he takes office. Washington’s hostile policies would not change regardless of who occupies the White House but dropping those policies would be key to North Korea-U.S. relations, Kim said, according to state news agency KCNA. Click here to read...

US lifts self-imposed restrictions with Taiwan, 11 January 2021

The United States is lifting decades-old restrictions between American and Taiwanese officials, in a move that will fundamentally change Washington's relationship with the self-governed island -- prompting threats from Beijing.Washington has for years "created complex internal restrictions to regulate" US officials' dealings with Taiwan "in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Saturday. "No more," Pompeo wrote. Click here to read...

U.S. imposes sanctions on Ukrainians over election interference, 12 January 2021

The U.S. Treasury Department accused the seven individuals and four entities of involvement in a Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach. The pro-Russian lawmaker was hit with sanctions by the U.S. government in September over accusations he tried to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election won by Biden. The action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from doing business with them.Click here to read...

Second Trump impeachment trial takes U.S. into uncharted waters, 14 January 2020

America will be in uncharted territory when the U.S. Senate meets as soon as next week for the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, a case against the outgoing president that one Democrat preparing for arguments called “shockingly evident.” The House of Representatives voted have voted to impeach Trump on charges of incitement one week after his supporters rampaged in the Capitol following a speech in which the Republican urged them to fight President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory. Click here to read...

Economy
US jobs numbers drop dramatically as Covid cases soar across the country, 8 January 2021

The recovery in the US jobs market collapsed in December, the last full month of Donald Trump’s presidency, as coronavirus infections soared across the country. The US lost 140,000 jobs in December, down from a gain of 245,000 in November, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS). The loss ended seven months of jobs growth with the leisure and hospitality sector once again bearing the biggest losses. The unemployment rate stayed at 6.7%, close to twice as high as it was in February before Covid-19 hit the US. It is also three percentage points higher than the 4.5% rate Trump inherited from his predecessor Barack Obama. Click here to read...

Health and Environment
Covid-19 Vaccination’s Bumpy Rollout in The U.S., 3 January 2021

Trump Administration officials had previously predicted there would be 20 million first dose vaccinations by the end of December, but as of January 2nd, only about 4.2 million people have had their first dose, according to a CDC tracker. This is both due to demand and supply issues owing to an absence of a national plan for the distribution and administration of vaccines. Click here to read...

As pandemic worsens, most US states resist restrictions, 13 January 2021

As the U.S. goes through the most lethal phase of the coronavirus outbreak yet, governors and local officials in hard-hit parts of the country are showing little willingness to impose any new restrictions on businesses to stop the spread. And unlike in 2020, when the debate over lockdowns often split along party lines, both Democratic and Republican leaders are signalling their opposition to forced closings and other measures. Some have expressed fear of compounding the heavy economic damage inflicted by the outbreak. Click here to read...

Biden on ambitious Covid rescue plans: ‘I will always be honest with you’, 14 January 2020

President-elect Biden unveiled a sweeping plan to combat the pandemic in the U.S., which includes investing billions in a nationwide Covid-19 vaccine campaign. The plan, which Biden is expected to discuss in detail Thursday night, would invest $20 billion in a national vaccination programme in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories. Click here to read...

Perspective
Joe Biden’s Russia conundrum: Will the incoming US president work to relax tensions or double down on hostile approach to Moscow? 1 January 2021

Despite the former vice president’s sharp rhetoric on Russia, there are hopes in the country that it signals a return to a leader who thinks in Cold War-era terms, and understands the value of the systems put in place during the period. While re-joining and resurrecting many of the deals that his predecessor tore up will be a challenge, any effort by the new administration to reopen talks on arms control in 2021 would likely be received as a welcome sign of its intentions. However, while there are opportunities to create goodwill and to turn around troubled US-Russian relations, there are also fears that Biden’s foreign policy doctrine will prevent him from taking advantage of them. Trump’s approach, albeit perceived by some as inconsistent and erratic, was defined by a ruthlessly pragmatic approach to strengthening American interests across the globe.Click here to read...

II. Europe

Politics and Society
EU offers aid, urges Bosnia to rebuild burned refugee camp, 3 January 2021

The European Union has announced additional funding to help vulnerable migrants and refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but urged the government there to rebuild a camp that burned down.Brussels has denounced the condition for migrants in Bosnia, a candidate for EU membership, as “completely unacceptable”, and warned that lives are at risk.Click here to read...

European Union criticized for slow vaccine rollout as countries tighten restrictions once again, 4 January 2021

European politicians have asked the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, to explain why it has not bought more jabs. The European Union began its vaccination programme in late December, after the approval of the Pfizer/Bio NTech jab. Despite being developed in Germany, however, the jab received approval in the U.K. and the United States well before it was greenlit by the European authorities. Click here to read...

British Court Rejects U.S. Request to Extradite WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, 4 January 2021

A British court has denied a request from U.S. officials to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on charges of illegally obtaining and sharing classified material related to national security. The judge cited the risk of suicide if Assange is sent to U.S. custody. Click here to read...

EU says it will redouble efforts to save Iran nuclear deal, 5 January 2021

The European Union said it would redouble its efforts to save the Iran nuclear agreement despite what it calls Tehran’s “important breach” of commitments made in the 2015 deal by starting to enrich uranium to new levels. EU spokesman Peter Stano said that Iran’s actions “will have serious implications when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation.” Stano said it was in everyone’s interest to rescue the deal and said the 27-nation bloc “will strengthen” its attempts to make sure all adhere to the commitments made in the landmark deal. Click here to read...

Venezuela Elections: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union, 6 January 2021

Statement: “The Venezuelan elections of 6 December 2020 for the National Assembly regrettably went ahead without a national agreement on electoral conditions. The European Union considers that the elections failed to comply with the international standards for a credible process and to mobilise the Venezuelan people to participate. The lack of political pluralism and the way the elections were planned and executed, including the disqualification of opposition leaders, do not allow the EU to recognise this electoral process as credible, inclusive or transparent, nor do they allow its outcome to be considered as representative of the democratic will of the Venezuelan people. The EU deeply regrets that the National Assembly assumed its mandate on 5 January on the basis of these non-democratic elections…” Click here to read...

Nord Stream 2: Europe stays quiet while US ‘tramples over EU sovereignty’, 15 January 2021

With the adoption of its National Defense Authorisation Act on 20 December, America dealt another blow to the Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, just one month before Donald Trump leaves the White House. A few lines in the 1,824-page document is sowing confusion as the text speaks of a “clarification and expansion of sanctions concerning the construction of Nord Stream 2”. Concretely, the law reinforces the unilateral US sanctions put in place since 2019 with the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. From now on, these sanctions will not only target companies that sell, lend or supply vessels in charge of laying the Nord Stream 2 pipes, but also all those which “facilitate” the provision of these vessels.Click here to read...

Economy
Italy to spend 222 billion euros of EU funds to revive economy, 8 January 2021

Rome is entitled to more than €200 billion from a European emergency programme designed to help those EU nations hardest hit by the coronavirus.The €222 billion scheme includes resources from the emergency fund and other European programmes, including an agricultural fund, the document showed. The plan still needs to be approved by the cabinet which will likely meet before the end of this week, according to government sources. Click here to read...

Northern Ireland-Britain supply chain at risk of collapse, hauliers warn, 9 January 2021

The supply chain between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is a “boat breakdown” away from collapse as a result of the post-Brexit regulatory border, the UK’s Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned the British government. In a letter sent to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove seen by Reuters, the RHA said some sectors are “struggling enormously” with the new, complex rules just over a week after the United Kingdom left the European Union’s orbit.While Britain is no longer part of the EU’s single market and customs union, the British-run region of Northern Ireland has a foot in both camps – part of the UK’s customs territory but also still aligned with the EU’s single market for goods.Click here to read...

UK fishing industry faces £1m daily losses after Brexit, 15 January 2021

The Scottish fishing industry is counting the “crippling” costs of new bureaucratic requirements to export their catch to the EU, prompting industry leaders to warn that without immediate government support there could be “permanent casualties”. The fishing industry was at the centre of an eleventh-hour compromise between EU and UK negotiators which paved the way for an agreement to be concluded on Christmas Eve. Under the deal, the UK will take back 25% of the EU’s fishing quota, with changes phased in over five-and-a-half years. However, concerns have already been voiced by Scottish lawmakers and fishing representatives that the sector is losing £1m a day due to delays processing new paperwork for export, and reports of shellfish rotting in ports. Click here to read...

Health and Environment
Coronavirus | U.K. PM Boris Johnson announces nationwide lockdown, 5 January 2021

Nearly 56 million people in England will return to a full coronavirus lockdown, possibly until mid-February, to try to cut spiralling infection rates, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced. Some 44 million people or three-quarters of the population of England are already living under the toughest restrictions, as Britain grapples with one of the worst mortality rates from coronavirus in the world. Click here to read...

European Union seeks up to 300 million more Pfizer-BioNTech doses, 5 January 2021.

The European Union is negotiating with Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE on a deal that could double their supply of Covid-19 vaccine to the region, according to people familiar with the talks. The new contract would include 100 million doses, as well as an option for as many as 200 million more. Click here to read...

European Union agency approves Moderna's Covid vaccine as cases spike across the continent, 6 January 2021

The European Union’s medicines agency gave the green light Wednesday to Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine, a decision that gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use in the desperate battle to tame the virus rampaging across the continent. The approval recommendation by the European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee — which must be rubber stamped by the EU’s executive commission — comes amid high rates of infections in many EU countries and strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people. Click here to read...

Data shows 2020 was Europe’s warmest year on record, 8 January 2021

2020 was the warmest year in Europe since records began, according to data published Friday by the EU climate monitoring service. Last year topped the previous temperature record in Europe — 2019 — by a whopping 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 Fahrenheit), the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said. It said 2020 was also tied with 2016 for the warmest year worldwide, confirming the past decade as the hottest on record. Rising global temperatures are tied to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Chief among them is carbon dioxide, which is released by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Click here to read...

Perspective
The Strategic Implications of the China-EU Investment Deal, 4 January 2021

The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment is a win for China, and a blow to transatlantic relations. since the benefits of the Comprehensive Agreement for Investment for Chinese FDI to the EU are so limited, the advantages of the deal for China must lay elsewhere. According to Theresa Fallon, they include three gains. First, the deal will preserve and encourage EU investment in China, to fuel China’s economy and technological development. Second, it will legitimize the regime in the eyes of domestic and international public opinion (despite recent behaviour in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and elsewhere). Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the CAI could pre-empt policy coordination on China between the EU and the United States under the new Biden administration. Click here to read...

III. Russia

Politics and Society
De-dollarization in overdrive: Russia & China boost settlements in national currencies to 25%, 3 January 2021

Moscow and Beijing have ramped up the share of settlements in national currencies to 25 percent this year against a modest two percent recorded seven years ago, according to the Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov. “The share of national currencies in our [trade] relations with China is steadily increasing. It has reached about a quarter through the nine months since the beginning of the year. This is quite a big progress,” the ambassador said, citing the Chinese partners. Click here to read...

India’s defence deal with Russia may trigger US sanctions: Congressional report, 4 January 2021

The Congressional Research Service in its latest report to Congress said “India’s multi-billion dollar deal to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defence system may trigger US sanctions on India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” Click here to read...

Putin hosts talks between leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia post ceasefire, 11 January 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin brought together the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan for the first time since a war last year over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an effort to resolve problems that risk undermining the deal that ended the conflict. A Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement in November halted the six-week conflict between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces over the mountainous enclave and surrounding areas, locking in territorial gains for Azerbaijan. But tensions persist, with sporadic fighting, prisoners of war continuing to be held by both sides, and disagreements over how a prospective new transport corridor cutting through the region will work. Click here to read...

Cyberattacks contradict Russia's foreign policy principles - Russian US Embassy, 14 January 2021

Attacks in the information space contradict the foreign policy principles of the Russian Federation, the US media are once again groundlessly trying to accuse Russia of hacker attacks on US government bodies, the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, wrote on Facebook. Click here to read...

India-Japan-Russia grouping in the works, 13 January 2021.

A new trilateral format is taking shape in the Indo-Pacific region, with India, Japan and Russia planning to hold a joint meeting in the near future as part of their emerging partnership. India took the initiative to hold the trilateral meet amid Russia’s reservations on the Quad format, which involves India, Japan, Australia and the United States. The focus of the meeting would be to explore trilateral cooperation in the resource-rich Russian Far East. Click here to read...

Massive new gas field discovered in Russia’s Far East, 13 January 2021

Russian energy giant Rosneft has announced the discovery of a huge gas condensate field in the Far Eastern republic of Yakutia. It contains over 75 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 1.4 million tons of condensate.The new deposit is part of the company’s drilling campaign to explore the region’s oil and gas potential.The discovery was made by Rosneft’s subsidiary Taas-Yuryakh Neftegazodobycha. A joint venture between Rosneft (50.1 percent), BP and a consortium of Indian companies, Taas-Yuryakh Neftegazodobycha operates in 10 license areas. Click here to read...

Nord Stream 2 to complete first of two branches as soon as June, 14 January 2021

Nord Stream 2 AG plans to complete major construction work on one of two branches of the controversial Russian gas link in the first half of 2021, despite U.S. sanctions that have threatened its completion for over a year.The section of pipe could be largely finished as soon as June, as the operator of Nord Stream 2 starts some testing in Danish waters.Construction of the 1,230-kilometer (764-mile) gas pipeline that will deliver Russia’s natural gas to Germany was halted after U.S. sanctions in December 2019, when all but 160 kilometres of the link had been put in place. The U.S. -- which has tightened restrictions -- maintains that the gas link, owned by a unit of Gazprom PJSC, gives Moscow too much leverage over Europe. Click here to read...

Collision course Moscow: The Return of Alexei Navalny, 15 January 2021

Five months later, after a miraculous recovery from poisoning, a lucid Navalny plans to board a flight to Moscow this Sunday(17 January) that will bring him back to the country where he suffered a near-fatal attack.“I ended up in Germany, in an intensive-care box, for one reason: They tried to kill me,” Navalny said in an Instagram post announcing his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport this weekend. “Russia is my country, Moscow is my city, I miss it.” Click here to read...

Russia announces withdrawal from Treaty on Open Skies, 15 January 2021

Russia is launching domestic procedures to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement."Given the lack of progress in efforts to remove obstacles preventing the future functioning of the treaty in a new situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry is entitled to announce the start of domestic procedures to pave the way for Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies," the statement reads. "Once the procedures are completed, notifications will be sent to the treaty depositories," the ministry added. Click here to read...

Health and Environment
Russia’s PM approves list of prohibited activities in Baikal eco-zone, 5 January 2021

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has approved the list of prohibited activities in the central environmental zone of the Baikal natural site. "The enclosed list of activities prohibited in the central environmental zone of the Baikal natural site to be approved," the document says. "Timber harvesting, except timber harvesting by individuals for their own needs" is banned, according to the document. Furthermore, the ban is set for exploration and developed of mineral resource deposits where operations were not performed earlier, oil and natural gas production and construction of motorways and railways. Click here to read...

Putin orders to move to mass COVID-19 vaccination for Russians starting next week, 13 January 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed authorities to move forward with mass coronavirus inoculation for all Russians starting next week. "We have already started large-scale vaccination. Last week, [Prime Minister] Mikhail [Mishustin] reported to me that the industry had not only kept up with the promised targets and volumes but also exceeded the planned vaccine production targets. We need to move from large-scale to mass vaccination," Putin told a cabinet meeting. "I ask you to launch mass vaccination for the whole population starting next week and come up with the respective schedule of work, as is done with other infections like flu," the president added. He noted that the relevant infrastructure should be prepared for mass inoculation. Click here to read...

Perspective
No One Benefits from Renewed Demonizing of Russia, 14 January 2021

New Year, but no new rhetoric it seems. Moscow — admittedly often a geopolitical rival of the West’s — is again being pilloried as some kind of existential threat in ways as inaccurate as they are counterproductive, for West and Russia alike. Click here to read...

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