A War in Ukraine Could Mean Another European Refugee Crisis

A War in Ukraine Could Mean Another European Refugee Crisis
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at his watch at the end of his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).
The United States and NATO have delivered written responses to  Russian demands for security guarantees, rejecting Moscow’s insistence on a withdrawal of NATO forces from Eastern Europe and an assurance that Ukraine will never be granted membership in the alliance. That firmly puts the ball back in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s court, while doing nothing to reduce the prospects of a Russian military invasion. Now European governments must consider the practical realities of what a war in Ukraine would mean, particularly in neighboring EU member states. Following a meeting of the NATO security council on Tuesday, Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said that even a limited conflict in Ukraine could force tens of thousands of refugees across the border into his country. Bratislava is already making plans to deal with this eventuality, with Nad saying that Ukrainians arriving at the border in the event of a war in their country would be granted refugee status in Slovakia. Czechia has offered to send police officers to the Slovak-Ukrainian border to help out with contingency operations such as an influx of refugees. “Protection of the external border of the Schengen area is a common priority for us,” said Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan after the security council meeting. If war breaks out, the EU countries on Ukraine’s border must “address the situation together from the very first second,” he added.

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gave a press conference yesterday after delivering the alliance’s written response to Moscow, saying that the letter contained specific suggestions on how to address Russia’s security concerns, such as holding regular mutual briefings on each side’s respective military exercises, as well as a proposal to set up an emergency hotline between Brussels and Moscow. But both letters from Washington and NATO firmly refused to close the door on Ukraine’s potential membership in the alliance. “NATO is a defensive alliance and we do not seek confrontation. But we will not compromise on the values on which our alliance rests,” Stoltenberg told reporters, while saying that NATO forces are increasing their readiness. For its part, Washington has reportedly put troops on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe. Last night, after eight hours of talks, advisers from the “Normandy Format” countries—France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine—issued a joint declaration promising “unconditional observance of the ceasefire [in eastern Ukraine] … regardless of differences on other issues of the implementation of the Minsk agreements.” The significance of this declaration remains unclear, since Russia could still, in theory, find a casus belli unrelated to the Minsk agreements, which provided a roadmap toward resolving the war in eastern Ukraine but whose implementation stalled due to disagreements over the terms. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz want to hold a Normandy Format leaders summit with their counterparts, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky, but Moscow for now remains lukewarm on the idea.

In Other News

Boris Johnson gets a brief reprieve. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson got some good news as well as some bad news at the start of this week, with more emphasis on the latter. The good news is that the publication of a report into allegations of lockdown-breaking parties held at his official residence, 10 Downing Street, has been delayed. The bad news? The reason for the delay is that Sue Gray, the senior civil servant conducting the investigation, has referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police. Publication of the report is now expected Monday, though it could come as early as Friday. The Guardian reports that a group of senior Tory backbenchers is now ready to join a raft of newly elected MPs in their effort to force a vote of no-confidence against Johnson if the report finds that the law was broken. The EU may tell Apple to ditch the “lightning port. EU member countries yesterday approved a new law mandating a common charger for all smartphones, based on a compromise text from the French presidency of the Council of the EU. The multinational tech giant Apple is one of the strongest opponents of the law, as it is expected to create a USB charging standard for all smartphones and force the company to ditch its so-called lightning charging port. Apple argues that such a one-size-fits-all approach to smartphone technology would stifle innovation. Now that EU member states in the council have adopted their position, they will enter into negotiations with the European Parliament to ratify a final version of the law. But given that the council was the major hurdle for the law’s initial passage, the writing now appears to be on the wall for non-USB chargers. Portuguese voters head to the polls. Early voting begins Sunday in Portugal’s snap general elections , and the campaign’s final polls continue to predict a win for the country’s governing Socialist Party. However, their lead has narrowed in recent weeks. Prime Minister Antonio Costa has led two consecutive minority governments since 2015, but his failure to secure the support of two smaller far-left parties for the proposed 2022 budget led to the collapse of the Socialist-led government. Voting will end the following Sunday, Feb. 6. Should Costa’s Socialist Party lose, or perhaps even if he wins, there has been speculation in Brussels that he might be chosen to replace European Council President Charles Michel, who could be ousted midway through his term amid dissatisfaction with his performance.  Despite Portugal being a relatively small country, a defeat for the ruling Socialists there could dampen the recent momentum Europe’s center-left parties have generated in recent years. Social-democratic parties across the continent have gone from being exiled to the political wilderness a decade ago to now making up the largest grouping in the European Council. A loss in Portugal could complicate this narrative considerably.

Dave Keating is an American-European journalist who has been based in Brussels for 12 years. Originally from the New York City area, Dave has in the past covered the halls of the U.S. Congress in Washington, courtrooms of Chicago, boardrooms of London, cafe of Paris and the climate campaigns of Berlin.

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