Tuesday, 23 February 2021: EU foreign ministers plan sanctions against Russia, Venezuela and Myanmar, Italian ambassador to DR Congo dies in attack on UN convoy, ECB is monitoring bond yields


EU foreign ministers plan sanctions against Russia, Venezuela and Myanmar: European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said individuals in Russia’s judiciary could face EU sanctions in the coming days. One EU diplomat said the proposed new travel bans and asset freezes would target, among others, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, the director of prisons, the director of Russia’s National Guard as well as the prosecutor general. In a statement Monday, Russia’s foreign ministry said the EU sanctions were unlawful, disappointing and adopted under a far-fetched pretext. The EU has also imposed sanctions on 19 senior Venezuelan officials, lawmakers and members of the security forces in response to December’s legislative election that the bloc said was rigged in favour of President Nicolas Maduro. Furthermore, EU ministers approved sanctions against those responsible for the coup in Myanmar, after the military seized power this month and launched an increasingly deadly bid to crush protests. Huge crowds brought Myanmar’s towns and cities to a standstill Monday in a mass strike against the coup, despite a warning from the military junta that protesters will „suffer loss of life“ if demonstrations confront security forces. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the United Nations must respond to China’s human rights violations, including abuses committed on an industrial scale against Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang.
reuters.com, dw.com (Russia); reuters.com (Venezuela); france24.com, cnn.com, politico.eu (Myanmar)

Italian ambassador to DR Congo dies in attack on UN convoy: Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luca Attanasio, and two other people have been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy in the restive east of the central African country. The convoy from the World Food Programme was attacked during an attempted kidnapping near the town of Kanyamahoro, a spokesperson for Virunga national park said. Attanasio and a male Italian military police officer travelling with him were killed, the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement. A driver also died in the attack, diplomatic sources and local officials said. Attanasio had been Italy’s head of mission in Kinshasa since 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019.

EU links defence and space in hunt for technological sovereignty: The EU Commission on Monday outlined plans to find common projects for its defence and aerospace industries to drive innovation in sectors ranging from quantum computing to artificial intelligence. The strategy includes developing a drone programme, a communications satellite system aimed at cutting out internet blackspots and a space traffic management framework to reduce the risk of collisions between debris and satellites in space. A new EU Observatory of Critical Technologies will be tasked with issuing reports every two years pinpointing the bloc’s strengths and vulnerabilities compared to its global rivals, and assessing the potential of new technologies.

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Iranian lawmakers criticise Tehran’s deal with IAEA: Iranian lawmakers protested on Monday against Tehran’s decision to permit monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for up to three months, saying the move broke a law mandating an end to the agency’s snap inspections this week. Iran has been gradually breaching terms of a 2015 nuclear pact with world powers since then US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. The pact aims to keep Iran at arm’s length from being able to make nuclear arms, which Tehran says it has never wanted to build. The United States will seek to strengthen and extend the agreement between world powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear programme, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.
reuters.com, cnbc.com

Dispute in the Aegean Sea: Turkish President Erdogan accuses Greece of pushbacks spiegel.de
Taxation: Council adds Dominica to the EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions and removes Barbados consilium.europa.eu
Fisheries: EU Commission: Agreement on fish catches soon zeit.de
Water Framework Directive: EU Commission approves 30 million euros German scheme to compensate farmers in Bavaria ec.europa.eu


Sadly, it seems we haven’t hit rock bottom yet.
Relations between the EU and Moscow have been in a serious crisis since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn on Monday.


Europe-bound migrants found amid broken glass, toxic ash: Something seemed wrong to the guard inspecting sealed bags of toxic ash in the port of Melilla, one of Spain’s two small territories in North Africa. So he pulled a knife, cut the bag open and found a motionless leg, confirming his suspicion that a person was inside. He lifted and dropped the leg a few times, with no reaction. A few moments passed. Suddenly the leg pulled back, and a young man emerged from the ashes — frightened and disoriented, but alive. The disturbing scene from a video released Monday by Spain’s Civil Guard highlighted the great lengths and risks that migrants and asylum seekers take in their desperate attempts to reach Europe.

Italy extends Covid travel curbs: The Italian government on Monday extended a ban on non-essential travel between the country’s 20 regions until 27 March as it looks to slow the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants. The ban on travel between regions was introduced just before Christmas and had been due to expire on 25 February, but officials fear a relaxation of restrictions could lead to a new surge in cases, driven by the so-called British variant. Hungary is extending a partial coronavirus lockdown in force since early November until 1 March, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.
reuters.com (Italy), reuters.com (Hungary)

Slovak minister asks EU partners for vaccines: Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok called on EU partners on Monday to send an advance vaccine shipment to the central European country which he said was in a tragic coronavirus situation with record numbers of cases. Slovakia also asked through the EU’s emergency mechanism for the help of 10 doctors and 25 nurses from abroad. Slovakia had 3,672 patients in hospital with confirmed coronavirus as of Sunday.

Portugal wants EU defence, security partnership with UK: The EU should create broad structures of partnership with the UK on defence and security policy, Portuguese defence minister João Gomes Cravinho said on Friday. Speaking at a high-level conference to discuss the future of EU security and defence, he stressed the need to partner better and more strategically by intensifying cooperation with traditional partners. Citing Canada and Norway, the minister said the EU should create the necessary corporate mechanisms and broad partnership structures with the UK as well. Moreover, he advocated the need for a stronger relationship with the US, especially in areas such as hybrid threats or capability gaps.

Germany mulls vaccinating thousands of officials with AstraZeneca reuters.com
French Riviera placed under weekend lockdown politico.eu
Austria: Dissatisfaction with Covid management growing de.euronews.com
Italy: How new Prime Minister Mario Draghi is changing Italy’s party landscape faz.net
Kosovo: I would vote to unify Albania and Kosovo, says election winner Albin Kurti euronews.com


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ECB is monitoring bond yields: European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said her institution is closely monitoring the market for government bonds, in a sign that she might act to prevent rising yields undermining the economic recovery from the pandemic. “Sovereign yields are particularly important,” Lagarde said at an EU Parliament event on Monday. “Banks use those yields as a reference when setting the price of their loans to households and firms,” she said. “Accordingly, the ECB is closely monitoring the evolution of longer-term nominal bond yields.” European yields fell after the comments.


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