A Week of Deceit
When storms Eunice and Franklin rushed over our small city on Monday, no one could imagine the dire contrast with last week’s Valentine’s Day. In the beginning of the week world leaders were still convinced of finding diplomatic solutions to the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine. This quickly turned into despair on Tuesday, the Palindrome Day (22/02/2022). Following strong criticism to chancellor Olaf Scholz’ lack of action in the EU-Russia diplomatic advances, Germany finally halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project which was designed to double the flow of Russian gas to Germany directly. It was the EU’s first response to Putin’s formal recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine on Monday. By recognising the separatist areas controlled by Russian proxies as independent, Putin is progressing in his plan of conquering Ukrainian territory. Quickly after, he got the green light from Parliament to send troops to Ukraine. With one single action he tore up a peace deal by sending armed forces across borders in Ukraine’s north, east and south by Thursday early morning. He said Russia could not feel “safe, develop and exist” because of a constant threat from both Ukraine and NATO countries. Airports are shut down; military headquarters are hit, and tanks and troops dominate roads in border regions. While the EU is busy negotiating which package of sanctions they are going to present first, it becomes painfully clear that this was Russia’s plan all along. Question remains, what does Putin want? Russia does not want Ukraine to join the NATO. In 2021 he wrote a long article describing Ukrainians and Russians as “one nation” and express the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “disintegration of historical Russia”. In essence, he demands that NATO returns to its pre-1997 borders.
A direct consequence of the war is the wave of Ukrainian refugees at the EU’s external borders. The until recently anti-refugee governments in Poland prepare to do the right thing and already more than 115,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed over, Polish governments said. In Medyka, the main border crossing between Ukraine and Poland, cars are parked in endless lines along the road. Since Thursday, anyone from Ukraine is allowed entry, even without valid passports. It is a warm welcome in a country whose border guards last year beat back Middle Eastern and Afghan migrants, where a dozen died in the cold forests that characterize the border region. For Ukrainian refugees, leaving their home country is tainted with fear, despair, and uncertainty. Split up families and tears dominate newspaper captions across the world.
Following Russia’s invasion, Europe’s gas prices soar 62% as fuel supplies drop. Russia has not closed gas taps to Europe yet, but Ursula von der Leyen is already starting a quest to find LNG (liquified natural gas) from “more reliable partners”. Europe has a contingency plan, von der Leyen: “For this winter we will have enough supplies of LNG from elsewhere, from reliable suppliers’’, she insisted. The EU Commission president expressed the aim to develop a clear strategy of how to get completely independent of Russian fossil fuel, using green hydrogen as a potential alternative.
More recently, on early Sunday morning when Russian troops reach the capital Kiev, Putin orders nuclear deterrent forces to be on ‘high alert’. President Zelensky announced that delegates from Ukraine and Russia will start negotiations at the Belarusian and Ukrainian border, yet “without preconditions”. Previously, Putin has already referred to his nuclear arsenal, saying Russia’s response to any country that would try to interfere or hinder his operations would carry “consequences that you have never encountered in your history”. As missiles continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities, the humanitarian disaster is expanding swiftly.
Back to Maastricht, where its small streets are covered in red, yellow, and green, the festival of Carnival or how the locals call it: ‘Mestreechter Vastelaovend’. Carnival in Maastricht is characterised by public celebrations, street parties, folk music, and the Sunday afternoon parade, all combining some elements of a circus. As Carnival finds its roots in Catholicism, it is only celebrated in the south of the Netherlands. Up until Tuesday, the people colourfully dressed will dominate the streets creating an atmosphere of pleasant chaos. So, put on some “schmink”, your most funky shirt, and dance the night away!