Displaying items by tag: Europe
Conflict between Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian military has continued since 2014, with a shaky ceasefire in place. Western and Ukrainian intelligence suggest an invasion or incursion could happen sometime in early 2022. In December Russia amassed 100,000 troops on the border - so Ukrainian army reservists took part in exercises. On 18 January defence secretary Ben Wallace told MPs the UK is supplying Ukraine with short-range anti-tank missiles for self-defence, with a small team of British troops to provide training. He said there was ‘legitimate and real cause for concern’ that the Russian troops could be there for an invasion. Dozens of British troops have been in Ukraine since 2015 to train the armed forces, and the UK has also committed to help rebuild Ukraine's navy following Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea. Now the UK will provide extra help with security in the light of Russia's ‘increasingly threatening behaviour’.
How should we respond to a world that is increasingly estranged from Christian beliefs? This is a question that Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola are confronted with. Last year, Ms Räsänen was accused of “hate speech” for publicly voicing her deeply-held beliefs on marriage and human sexuality. The former minister of the interior, mother of five, and grandmother of seven now faces a daunting trial on 24 January in Helsinki. Rev. Dr Pohjola, who was consecrated as a Lutheran bishop in August 2021, assumes his new role at a very challenging time. He faces criminal prosecution with Ms Räsänen for publishing the pamphlet she wrote on human sexuality for his church congregation. Pray for a just outcome of their trial, that no one would be intimidated into silence, but that people would be encouraged to share their beliefs with confidence.
Officials from Russia and the United States have been holding security talks in Geneva, in a week of diplomatic activity to defuse tensions over Ukraine. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov and his delegation have begun face-to-face discussions with Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary of state, and her team. Ms Sherman is one of the world's most powerful diplomats, nicknamed the Silver Fox because of her snowy white mane and canny deal-making style. Pray that their meetings will kickstart dialogue between Moscow and Washington, whose relations are at a low point over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine. The negotiations have been particularly gruelling, say analysts, and Ms Sherman will need all the diplomatic tricks she can muster to avoid a major war in Europe. Sergei Ryabkov brings a list of demands the US officials must agree to, including not expanding NATO forces eastward or allowing Ukraine to join NATO. See also the next article and
Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabriel Landsbergis has warned that reducing NATO troop numbers in the region could worsen the security situation. Prompted by fears of a Russian invasion sparked by 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, he said the EU needed to be ‘more involved’ and offer solutions to the crisis. He also called on the EU to review its sanctions against Russia and Belarus to close loopholes and make sure they still had teeth. Lithuania was in ‘constant contact’ with the US during its talks with Russia, and the US had offered a high level of transparency over the negotiations, which did not involve the EU. There is speculation that the US could reduce troops in return for a similar drop in Russian military numbers on the Ukraine border. But Mr Landsbergis warned against any moves to reduce NATO troop numbers in the region. ‘There is this sense of rebuilding the Soviet Union 2.0,’ he said, pointing to Russian troops in Georgia, parts of Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Russia declared Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (a member of the Pussy Riot band) and prominent satirist Viktor Shenderovich ‘foreign agents’ as authorities press ahead with a crackdown on dissent. The justice ministry also added to its list of ‘foreign agents’ journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova and art collector Marat Gelman. ‘These people systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funds.’ the government said in a statement. Shenderovich is a prominent anti-Kremlin satirist and political observer. Anyone identified as a ‘foreign agent’ must disclose sources of funding and accompany all texts, videos and social media posts with a caption mentioning content from a ‘foreign agent’: this is reminiscent of the Soviet-era term ‘enemy of the people’. Independent media outlets including Rain TV and a popular Russian-language website have also been branded as foreign agents. Russia claims that there is increased interference from abroad, meddling in Russian affairs.
Bosnia has three presidents. Each one represents a particular ethnic group, and the fragile multiethnic government faces its greatest crisis since the Balkan wars. Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik is threatening to tear Bosnia apart by withdrawing the Serb territory he leads from Bosnia. He has stopped meeting the other regional presidents and vowed to withdraw from the armed forces and tax agency in favor of his own agencies. Political rivals and foreign diplomats say recent scandals suggest his rhetoric is to deflect corruption allegations. But in a region where the war shadow is everywhere, Bosnians fear their country’s peace is threatened. ‘It will not be peaceful,’ warned Sefik Dzaferovic, one of the three presidents. An opposition party leader said, ‘He hates stability because he then has to explain why we are living like we do. He plays on people's emotions regardless of the consequences.’ The UN called it ‘the greatest threat’ to Bosnia’s survival since 1990.
The EU's LGBTQ+ goodwill ambassador cross-dressed as a bearded Virgin Mary for a same-sex rendition of the Holy Family draped in the colors of the transgender flag. Riccardo Simonetti appeared on the cover of a queer community magazine boasting thick facial hair in a white robe, blue head veil and holding a baby doll representing Jesus. He posted the photos to his Instagram feed with the caption, ‘If we ignore the fact that Jesus wasn’t white, we could believe the Virgin Mary had a beard, why not?’ Another photo depicts Simonetti, still dressed as Mary, with a man in a pink robe embracing him from behind. ‘Very proud and honoured to be on the cover of December’s issue of a queer institutions magazine. Special thanks to my friend @akwantu for playing Joseph in our newly-interpreted holy family photo using the trans flag as inspiration.’ The photo shoot drew backlash from Christians online, but he accused them of homophobia.
Omicron will become the dominant Covid variant in France by January. Germany, the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, and France have announced additional restrictions to stem the tide. Germany's health minister said they must prepare for a challenge never seen before. He has designated France, Norway and Denmark as ‘high risk’ and added tougher rules on UK arrivals. A third of Ireland’s new cases have been Omicron. They are expecting infections at a rate that far exceeds anything they have seen to date. Italy, Greece and Portugal announced that visitors from the EU, even those who have been vaccinated, must present a negative test result on arrival, to stem the tide of infections. The UK is hardest hit, but English people with Covid can end quarantine after seven days instead of ten if they test negative on days six and seven. England has new restrictions before Christmas, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have curbed social mixing.
France and Britain have clashed repeatedly over migrants crossing the Channel, post-Brexit trade arrangements, the sale of submarines to Australia, and fishing territories. The fishing dispute has come to a head as France threatened the UK with a lawsuit unless a few dozen fishing licences are granted as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ before 10 December. The deadline expired without a breakthrough in talks, despite France's threat, and 104 French boats still lack licences to operate in British and Channel Island waters. Britain earlier denied discriminating against French boats, saying many of the vessels are unable to provide the paperwork required to qualify for a licence. ‘This is a technical process based on evidence rather than deadlines’, a UK government spokesman said. France's Europe minister Clement Beaune said, ‘If they stick to their guns, then we will ask the European Commission to begin a legal complaint’.
Since 1960 we have witnessed a move away from traditional norms and values connected to Christianity and embraced ‘new’ cultural values unrelated to religious conviction regarding marriage, sexuality, family, education, beginning and end of life. It is cultural liberalism, which calls itself progressive compared to ‘conservative’ traditional norms and values. Cultural liberalism is to live an ‘authentic’ life. Church, social environment and the state should give ‘me’ the freedom to live and act according to what ‘I’ feel and desire. What was wrong yesterday is acceptable today - which is described as ‘progress’. However, while cultural liberalism spreads in western Europe it meets resistance in eastern Europe, encouraging us that it may not be the inevitable future of European society. Christians are challenged to remain faithful to God’s Biblical commandments and Church principles. We have good arguments to expose weaknesses in cultural liberalism. We have the enormous power of prayer.