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.
FG Resumes Conditional Cash Transfer Programme Across Six Local Govt. In Kebbi
The Federal Government has resumed the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme in Kebbi State, commencing with a payment of N9.24bn to 76,107 CCT beneficiaries.
The National Coordinator of the programme, Hajiya Halima Shehu, made the announcement during a state visit to Governor Atiku Bagudu in Birnin Kebbi.
“As at now, payment to CCT beneficiaries is ongoing in the state. A total number of 76,107 beneficiaries across six local government areas of Bagudu, Danko, Wasagu, Dandi, Jega, and Shanga, will be receiving the payment. The beneficiaries will be receiving 26 months of payment circles, starting from January to February 2020.
“The payment will be in two batches of those 60,000 beneficiaries for four payment cycles, using the virtual account. The second batch has 70,107 beneficiaries for nine payment cycles through the debit cards. The total amount for the two batches in the state, according to Shehu, was over N9.24 billion.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria, in partnership with the World Bank in 2016, designed and developed a safety net programme for Nigeria under the platform of National Social Safety Net Programme (NASSP).
“One of the components of NASSP is the national conditional cash transfer office responsible for implementing the household uplifting- conditional cash transfer to the poor and the vulnerable households across the country,” she said.
Shehu commended the governor for providing her an audience and the chance to update him on the commencement of payments and the state’s successful implementation of the program.
Responding, Gov. Bagudu, represented by his Deputy, Alhaji Samaila Yombe-Dabai, thanked the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, headed by Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq, for actualising the programme in the state.
“I assure you that the state government will do all it takes to support the success of the programme in the state.
“We are looking forward to getting more local governments to be involved in the cash transfer programme,” Bagudu said.
Ukraine/Russian War: Twitter Heightens Fight Against Misinformation
In the wake of the Russia-Ukarine crisis, Twitter has stepped up its effort to put an end to misleading tweets from official accounts about the war.
Investors King gathered that Twitter has already limited content from more than 300 Russian government accounts, including President Putin. The new change will be effected under the company’s new “crisis” policies.
Twitter will also prioritise labelling false posts from accounts with wide reach, like state media or official government accounts, while preserving them for “accountability” reasons.
Twitter users will now be required to click through the warning notice to view the post and Twitter will disable the ability to like, retweet or share the content. The company said it would also change its search and explore features to avoid amplifying false tweets.
Twitter’s head of security and safety, Yoel Roth, wrote in a blog post announcing the changes saying “Today, we’re introducing our crisis misinformation policy – a global policy that will guide our efforts to elevate credible, authoritative information, and will help to ensure viral misinformation isn’t amplified or recommended by us during crises. In times of crisis, misleading information can undermine public trust and cause further harm to already vulnerable communities.
“Alongside our existing work to make reliable information more accessible during crisis events, this new approach will help to slow the spread by us of the most visible, misleading content, particularly that which could lead to severe harms.
“While this first iteration is focused on international armed conflict, starting with the war in Ukraine, we plan to update and expand the policy to include additional forms of crisis,” Twitter said examples of problematic posts included false or misleading allegations of war crimes, false information regarding the international response and false allegations regarding use of force.
The company said it would rely on multiple sources to determine when claims are misleading. Strong commentary and first person accounts are among the types of tweets that would not be challenged by the policy, it said.
Twitter has approved a $44bn takeover by billionaire Elon Musk, who has criticised its content moderation policies
The new policies come just weeks after Twitter’s board agreed to a $44bn (£34.5bn) takeover offer from billionaire businessman Elon Musk, who has called for less moderated speech on the platform.
Musk had said in the past week that he would revoke Twitter’s suspension of former United States president, Donald Trump.
Modest Increase in the FAAC Payout – Coronation Economic Note
The gross monthly distribution by the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) to the three tiers of government and public agencies amounted to N725.6bn in April (from March revenue). This shows an increase of 4.4% or N30.6bn from the previous payout.
Based on data in the local media, it was observed that companies’ income tax (CIT), petroleum profit tax (PPT), value-added tax (VAT), oil and gas royalties, import and excise duties recorded increases over the previous month. The FGN received a total of N277.1bn and state governments received N227.2bn, including N53.4bn representing the 13% derivation for the few oil producing states.
The headline figure consists of N337.4bn in gross statutory distribution, N165.6bn from the VAT Pool, and excess bank charges of N7.5bn was recovered. The total deductions for cost of collection was N44.4bn and the total deductions for statutory transfers, refunds and savings was N382.8bn.
The committee disclosed that the balance in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) is USD35.4m.
The average monthly FAAC distribution (N665.1bn in Q1 ‘22) declined from an average of N682.5bn in Q4 ’21 but is slightly above the average of N647.0bn recorded in Q1 ’21.
Based on local newswires, the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) has not made any remittance to the federation account this year due to the high fuel subsidy costs. The NNPC spent N210.4bn (USD500.1m), N219.8bn (USD522.9m) and N245.8bn (USD584.8m) as subsidies on petrol in January, February, and March respectively. This is a total of N675.9bn (USD1.6bn) in Q1 ’22.
The NNPC is expected to deduct N671.9bn from its remittance to FAAC for April which is due for sharing at the May ‘22 FAAC meeting. The estimated total shortfall of N671.9bn comprises of shortfalls recorded in February (N152bn) and March (N519bn).
Money markets saw an inflow of N391bn in early-May ‘22, representing the net distribution to state and local governments. The FGN’s share is directly to the treasury single account.
Analysts at Coronation expect continuous strain with regards to FAAC payouts. According to them, it is imperative for states that depend solely on the inadequate monthly FAAC distribution to seek ways to boost their internally generated revenue. The FGN’s primary objective should be to create a conducive business environment as IGR sustainability is a by-product of an enabling environment.
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