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Russia-Ukraine Conflict: U.S Prepares to Send Troops to Europe

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Crisis talks aimed at averting a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine appear to be faltering, as Western allies prepare for a possible conflict between the neighbors that could be “painful, violent and bloody.”

Western allies are preparing for some kind of military confrontation, with NATO putting more forces on standby and looking to reinforce Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets. The U.S. Department of Defense, meanwhile, said Monday that about 8,500 American troops are on heightened alert and awaiting orders to deploy to the region in the event that Russia does invade Ukraine.

The 8,500 troops are based in the U.S. and would be part of the NATO Response Force if that group is activated, the U.S. Department of Defense said on Monday.

The NATO Response Force is a 40,000-strong, multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces that NATO can deploy quickly, wherever needed. Its overarching purpose is “to provide a rapid military response to an emerging crisis,” NATO says. It has not yet been activated.

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby stated on Monday that the American forces being put on standby would be in addition to the significant combat-capable U.S. forces already based in Europe “to deter aggression and enhance the alliance’s ability to defend allies and defeat aggression if necessary.”

“Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin has placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the NRF or if other situations develop,” the press secretary said.

If it is activated, Austin’s order would enable the U.S. to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, along with units specializing in logistics, aviation, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, transportation and more, Kirby noted.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, warned on Monday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a “painful, violent and bloody, business” and a “disastrous step.”

“The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the border of Ukraine. The plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see. We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin that that would be a disastrous step,” he told reporters.

Europe in the back seat

But as the U.S. and NATO officials plan for a potential conflict, Europe seems to have been conspicuously absent from many of the proceedings leading up to this point.

Many last-ditch negotiations aimed at preventing tensions between Russia and Ukraine from spilling into conflict have gone ahead without the bloc, leading Eurasia Group’s Emre Peker and Alex Brideau to believe that Europe has been “sidelined on its own turf.”

“The EU has failed to unequivocally rally behind a strategy to counter Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture against Ukraine, and will struggle to do so going forward. That will relegate Brussels to the sidelines as the U.S. and Russia discuss the future of Europe’s security architecture,” they noted on Monday.

Several European officials have complained that the EU has been sidelined during discussions on Ukraine between the U.S. and Russian officials; Ukraine has also complained that it has also been left out of talks in which it is the central focus and concern.

But part of the European Union’s difficulties when it comes to dealing with its bellicose neighbor Russia is that there is division within the bloc over how to deal with Moscow. Some countries take a more dovish stance toward Russia (such as France and Germany), whereas others, such as those in Eastern Europe or those that used to be part of the Soviet Union like the Baltics, are more hawkish.

In addition, the EU has an awkward reliance on Russia for a large chunk (around 40%) of its natural gas supplies, meaning that Russia can use this resource, particularly in winter, to its own advantage. Germany in particular is in a difficult situation because the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is yet to be approved, will transport gas directly into Germany and is designed to boost Russian gas supplies to the continent.

Another part of the problem is that there is no consensus in the EU over its future security landscape. Some countries, like France, are pushing for more strategic autonomy from the U.S. and NATO, while others (again those in Eastern Europe and the Baltics where NATO troops are deployed) are more comfortable with remaining under the aegis of the military alliance.

Europe won’t act ‘unless there’s an invasion’

“Barring invasion, Europe can’t and won’t mobilize,′ Eurasia Group’s analysts warned, predicting that the EU “will struggle to bridge internal divides between Russia hawks and doves over Ukraine tensions.”

“These dynamics will put yet another nail in the coffin of EU defense integration, and exacerbate the bloc’s split into pro-U.S. and more-Europe camps on security,” Peker and Brideau noted, effectively meaning that “U.S.-Russia talks will decide the future of Europe’s security architecture, which the EU will follow.”

Crisis talks between Western officials and Russia have been taking place for a number of weeks now, and follow high-profile discussions between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Concerns over Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine grew amid reports that it had deployed around 100,000 troops and military hardware to various positions along its border with Ukraine. There have also been some intelligence reports that it is planning to invade.

Russia has denied these reports repeatedly.

In talks with the U.S. and NATO, Russia sought legal assurances that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO, as Putin seeks to stop any eastward expansion of the military organization, and pushes NATO to roll back deployments in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. So far, the U.S. and NATO have refused such demands, among others.

As Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the military alliance is not obliged to defend it, posing the question over just how far the U.S. and EU are willing to go to defend the country — one that aspires to both membership of the EU and NATO. Russia vehemently opposes these aspirations.

While the U.S., Europe and NATO have all talked tough when it comes to Russia, vowing “massive consequences” as U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken said on Sunday, if Russia does invade, so far it looks like more sanctions on key Russian sectors would be the primary response deployed by the international community.

While the U.S. and U.K. have sent military equipment to Ukraine to help it defend itself, the response from EU nations has been more nuanced — Germany has refused to provide Ukraine with direct military support and reportedly blocked Estonia from sending German-made weapons to Ukraine.

NATO has itself been bolstering its military capabilities in Eastern Europe by putting forces on standby and deploying more ships and fighter jets to the area. Some European countries, including Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands, have announced their intention to send military hardware to bolster NATO defense capabilities.

The Kremlin accused the U.S. and its allies on Monday of escalating East-West tensions by announcing plans to boost NATO forces and the U.S.′ decision to evacuate the families of diplomats from its embassy in Ukraine.

Europe preparing for conflict

The EU said on Monday that it will continue to stand by Ukraine’s side and, despite preparations for conflict, diplomats in Europe continue to push for peace.

A flurry of diplomatic meetings has continued in the region this week, with the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holding talks with foreign affairs ministers from Finland and Sweden.

On Monday afternoon, Biden held a video call with a number of European leaders and NATO chief Stoltenberg.

In a statement, the European Commission said the meeting “aimed at coordinating the collective response to the aggressive behaviour of Russia with regards to Ukraine. Leaders shared the assessment on the seriousness of the situation. They wished for diplomacy to succeed but are undertaking preparations for all eventualities.”

It added that it was “working on a wide array of sectoral and individual sanctions in the case of further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine,” as well as working with EU states and allies on preparedness, from energy to cyber-security.

On Monday, the EU announced a new financial aid package for Ukraine of 1.2 billion euros ($1.36 billion) in the form of an emergency financial assistance package and 120 million euros in additional grants. European Commission President Von der Leyen said the aid was aimed at helping Ukraine “address its financing needs due to the conflict,” adding: “Let me be clear once more: Ukraine is a free and sovereign country. It makes its own choices. The EU will continue to stand by its side.”

European leaders are also looking to try their hand at bringing Russia and Ukraine closer together this week, with political advisors from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany due to hold “Normandy format” talks on eastern Ukraine in Paris on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Such talks have in the past produced the so-called ‘Minsk Agreements’ — peace deals to stop the ongoing lower-level conflict in eastern Ukraine — but the accords did not stop ongoing skirmishes and some fighting in the Donbass region between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops, and both sides have accused the other of flouting the agreements.

As such, there is not much expectation that the Normandy talks will be fruitful. Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said that “Normandy and Minsk processes are dead,” with Moscow showing what he said was “zero interest” in the peace talks continuing.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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President Tinubu Orders Immediate Settlement of N342m Electricity Bill for Presidential Villa

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President Bola Tinubu has directed the prompt settlement of a N342 million outstanding electricity bill owed by the Presidential Villa to the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC).

This move comes in response to the reconciliation of accounts between the State House Management and the AEDC.

The AEDC had earlier threatened to disconnect electricity services to the Presidential Villa and 86 Federal Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) over a total outstanding debt of N47.20 billion as of December 2023.

Contrary to the initial claim by the AEDC that the State House owed N923 million in electricity bills, the Presidency clarified that the actual outstanding amount is N342.35 million.

This discrepancy underscores the importance of accurate accounting and reconciliation between entities.

In a statement signed by President Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, the Presidency affirmed the commitment to settle the debt promptly.

Chief of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila assured that the debt would be paid to the AEDC before the end of the week.

The directive from the Presidency extends beyond the State House, as Gbajabiamila urged other MDAs to reconcile their accounts with the AEDC and settle their outstanding electricity bills.

The AEDC, on its part, issued a 10-day notice to the affected government agencies to settle their debts or face disconnection.

This development highlights the importance of financial accountability and responsible management of public utilities.

It also underscores the necessity for government entities to fulfill their financial obligations to service providers promptly, ensuring uninterrupted services and avoiding potential disruptions.

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Abuja Electricity Distribution Company Issues Ultimatum to 86 Government Agencies Over N47bn Debt

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The Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) has issued an ultimatum to 86 government agencies, including the Presidential Villa, owing a collective debt of N47 billion.

The notice comes as a response to the prolonged failure of these agencies to settle their outstanding electricity bills.

According to the public notice released by the AEDC management, some of the highest debts are attributed to prominent entities such as the National Security Adviser (owing N95.9 billion), the Chief of Defence staff barracks, and military formations (indebted to the tune of N12 billion).

Also, several ministries, including the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory and the Ministry of Power, have sizable outstanding bills.

The AEDC has expressed its frustration over the inability of these government bodies to honor their financial obligations despite previous attempts to facilitate payment.

In response, the company has warned of imminent disconnection of services if the outstanding debts are not settled within 10 days of the notice.

The outstanding debts are attributed to various factors including the devaluation of the naira, cash scarcity resulting from demonetization programs, high inflation rates, removal of fuel subsidies, and foreign exchange challenges.

These financial burdens have adversely impacted the operations of the AEDC, contributing to a loss of N99 million in foreign exchange alone.

As the deadline for payment approaches, government agencies are under pressure to address their outstanding debts to avoid service disruptions.

The AEDC remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that all entities fulfill their financial obligations, underscoring the importance of prompt payment for uninterrupted electricity services.

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Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso’s Exit from ECOWAS Raises Economic Concerns

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Plans by military-ruled Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to break away from a West African bloc have the potential to backfire on their already fragile economies and exacerbate widespread food insecurity.

The trio of nations are all landlocked and among the poorest in the region, with annual per-capita gross domestic product of less than $1,000.

Exiting the Economic Community of West African States places them at risk of losing access to a $702 billion market, and exposes them to increased tariffs and restrictions on the movement of goods and financial flows.

“The military coup leaders who control Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have managed to score the silliest own goal since the UK voted for Brexit,” Charlie Robertson, head of macro-strategy at FIM Partners, said in an emailed note. “They take out 8% of Ecowas’ GDP and lose access to markets like Nigeria and Ghana, which together have a GDP of $467 billion.”

Ecowas members benefit from the free movement of goods, capital and people within the bloc. While trade between its 15 members is dominated by Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, and remains relatively small at about $277 million — or about 15% of the total they conduct — it has the potential to grow to as much as $2 billion over the next few years, the International Trade Centre said last year.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen nine successful military coups since 2020, and Ecowas has been pushing for a return to civilian rule among those within its ranks. It suspended Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso and imposed far-reaching economic and diplomatic sanctions on them, but the latter two nations have since been readmitted to the bloc and relations had been regularized.

Nigeria, which holds Ecowas’ rotating chairmanship and generates more than half its GDP, said it deplored the juntas’ actions, which amounted to “public posturing” and would deny their populations the right to free movement and trade, according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop defended the decision to leave Ecowas, saying it posed a threat to his nation and that its push for elections to be held was hurting its people.

“This decision was in our best interest in order to protect our interests and work with friendly countries,” he told public broadcaster ORTM on Monday. “We’re not alone, we have Niger and Burkina Faso.”

Credit Risks

Besides putting trade at risk, the three nations’ ability to access credit will also be impacted — they are all reliant on the regional market for financing because they can’t access international capital.

Mali and Niger defaulted on their domestic debt in 2021 and 2023 respectively after they lost access to the regional market. Burkina Faso has retained access, but if it is withdrawn its credit rating may be downgraded because of the increased risk of it being unable to refinance its commercial debt, S&P Global Ratings said in an emailed note.

“It’s a bit early to assess what the impact is going to be,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, told reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday. “In general, having an integrated economic area is something that’s going to be favorable, conducive to trade and conducive to higher growth. Moving away from this is going to have the opposite effect.”

The juntas haven’t indicated whether they intend leaving the West African Economic and Monetary Union, which seeks to promote financial integration in West Africa and regulates a regional central bank and the French-backed common West African franc that’s used by eight countries. Such a move would make it very difficult for commercial banks to continue operating.

Negotiated Solution

“The impact of exiting the WAEMU – which is not Moody’s baseline expectation – would have credit-negative implications for regional banks across the monetary union,” Mik Kabeya, a Moody’s Investors Service vice president and senior analyst, said in an emailed response to questions.

On Sunday, Ecowas said it was ready to find a negotiated solution to the “political impasse.” It hasn’t followed through on previous threats to reinstate elected leaders by force.

“Putting the threat of military intervention on the table without the desire to follow through, was a show of weakness, not strength,” Joachim MacEbong, a senior governance analyst at Stears Insights, said in an emailed response to questions. “It has probably emboldened the regimes to think they can negotiate.”

Mali and Burkina Faso are scheduled to hold elections this year, according to agreements they struck with Ecowas. Niger has complicated talks with the bloc, preventing its mediators who visited the capital, Niamey, last week from leaving the airport.

The juntas “want to stay in power,” Ibrahima Kane, Executive Director of Open Society Foundations Africa, said by phone from Dakar, Senegal’s capital. “Naturally they will try to get maximum from the bargain.”

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