UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shared his first in-office New Year message on Saturday, admitting that “it has been a very tough year for the UK” and that the country’s problems “would not go away” in 2023 either. The PM largely blamed Britain’s hardships on Russia and its conflict with Ukraine.
“I am not going to pretend that all our problems will go away in the New Year”, Sunak said in his address, posted on Twitter.
The ongoing Ukraine conflict has had a “profound economic impact” worldwide, and Britain is by no means “immune” to it, Sunak stated.
The UK PM claimed: “Now, I know many of you have felt that impact at home. That is why this government has taken difficult but fair decisions to get borrowing and debt under control. And it is because of those decisions that we have been able to help the most vulnerable with the rising cost of energy bills.”
Sunak, who took the reins at the end of October after the short-lived tenure of Liz Truss, has faced a multitude of assorted challenges, ranging from ballooning inflation and soaring energy costs to massive strikes by public sector workers demanding salary hikes. The new PM himself has singled out skyrocketing inflation as one of Britain’s key economic problems, pledging to make tackling it one of his priorities.
Confessions By Hollande and Merkel
Thousands of people have lost their lives in eastern Ukraine since 2014 because the West treated the Minsk agreements as scrap paper, the vice speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said last week.
Senator Konstantin Kosachev was reacting to an admission by former French president Francois Hollande that the Minsk agreements were actually a ploy to buy time for the Kiev government to strengthen its military. This move should be credited for Ukraine’s “successful resilience” to Russia in the ongoing conflict with its neighbor, he added.
Hollande was echoing a statement by former German chancellor Angela Merkel, who described the Minsk accords in December as “an attempt to give Ukraine time” to build up its armed forces.
The Minsk-1 and Minsk-2 deals were signed in 2014 and 2015 following mediation by Germany, France and Russia. They were designed to put an end to fighting between Kiev and the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk by giving them special status within the Ukrainian state. Kiev’s failure to implement those agreements has been cited as one of the reasons for Moscow launching its military operation on February 24.
“For the West, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is all about control over land and not about achieving social consensus. It is about territory, not people. It is about violence, not negotiations,” Kosachev wrote on Telegram.
“The confessions by Merkel and Hollande are a formalization of betrayal. The price of this betrayal is thousands of human lives lost over the past eight years of civil war in Ukraine. The civil war that the West did not stop by treating the Minsk agreement as scrap paper,” Kosachev wrote.
This approach “directly contradicts so-called European values,” he said.
According to the UN estimates, more than 14,000 people were killed in Donbass between 2014 and early 2022.
The Russian senator noted that Western attitudes towards the territorial integrity of the UK and Spain have been completely different in the face of Scotland and Catalonia’s push for independence.
The only co-author of the Minsk agreements that genuinely tried to act as a guarantor was Russia, the senator claimed. Moscow sided with the people and left the territorial issue aside for as long as “it was still possible to implement the Minsk accord,” the senator added.
Hollande Backs Up Merkel’s Revelation
The 2014 Minsk Agreement was indeed a ploy to buy Ukraine time and should be credited for Kiev’s “successful resilience” now, former French president Francois Hollande said on Friday. Confirming former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s assessment of the truce, Hollande also blamed US weakness for the failure to deter Russia.
Earlier this month, Merkel described Minsk as “an attempt to give Ukraine time” to build up its military. Speaking with the Kyiv Independent, a pro-government Ukrainian outlet, Hollande agreed, saying Merkel was “right on this point.”
“Since 2014, Ukraine has strengthened its military posture. Indeed, the Ukrainian army was completely different from that of 2014. It was better trained and equipped. It is the merit of the Minsk agreements to have given the Ukrainian army this opportunity”, Hollande said, adding that it also stopped the advance of Donbass “separatists” on Mariupol.
In Friday’s interview, he credited himself for wanting “maximal” sanctions against Russia, while other EU leaders were reluctant.
Here Hollande diverged from Merkel, pointing out she greenlit the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in 2015, while he canceled the sale of Mistral-class ships to Moscow.
The former French leader also had harsh words for his American counterparts, accusing Barack Obama of “American withdrawal from the international scene” in Syria, Donald Trump of undermining NATO, and Joe Biden of “the rout in Afghanistan” that signaled “weakness in the Western camp” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to Hollande, the conflict will end when Russia fails, and then the Minsk agreements “can be resurrected to establish a legal framework already accepted by all parties.”
Russia has yet to comment on the former French leader’s statements. Putin has responded to Merkel’s revelations by saying he had thought her honest, and that trust between Russia and the West was currently “almost at zero,” making future negotiations difficult at best. He also said her comments vindicated his decision to send troops into Ukraine and that in hindsight, the military operation should have started sooner.
Merkel Doubles Down On Ukraine Revelations
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel has once again confirmed that the 2014-15 Ukraine peace deal she helped arrange was meant to allow Kiev to strengthen its armed forces.
The Minsk accords, brokered by Germany, France, and Russia, were meant to stop the fighting in Donbass and create a path for the region’s peaceful reintegration into Ukraine. Kiev promised to enact constitutional reform that would grant autonomy to the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The deal, however, was never implemented, as Ukraine argued over the interpretation of the agreement.
“The 2014 Minsk agreements represented attempt to give Ukraine time,” Merkel told Italian magazine Sette. “Ukraine has used this time to become stronger, as we see today. The country of 2014-15 was not the same as it is today. And I doubt that NATO could have done much to help Ukraine as it does right now.”
Former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko said in June that Kiev had used the Minsk accords to buy time to rebuild its military and economy.
Merkel made a similar point this month, describing the agreements to Die Zeit newspaper as an attempt to allow Ukraine to “get stronger.”
Moscow cited Kiev’s failure to implement Minsk as one of the reasons it launched its military operation in the neighboring state in late February. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Merkel’s words demonstrate that “they were also lying to us and only wanted to pump Ukraine with weapons and get it prepared for a military conflict.”
Merkel’s view on the Minsk agreements was also criticized by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who described the revelations from her Die Zeit interview as “unbelievable.” Vucic promised to draw lessons for Belgrade, which in the past has conducted EU-brokered negotiations with the breakaway region of Kosovo.
Putin’s Unusual New Year Address
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his traditional New Year’s Eve address on Saturday, speaking to the nation about the challenges the country has faced over the past year and the achievements it has made. The address venue differed drastically from the traditional Kremlin courtyard stand-up shots of the president, with Putin this year recording the annual message at the Southern Military District HQ. During his visit, he also met with top military brass and gave state awards to distinguished soldiers.
The unusually long address primarily revolved around the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, the large-scale conflict which broke out late in February. The dramatic events have shown that Russia, “our multi-ethnic country has demonstrated its courage and dignity, as it always has during times of trouble,” he said, praising the country’s military and common citizens alike.
“Russian soldiers, militia and volunteers are fighting for our homeland, for truth and justice, to ensure peace and security for Russia. All of them are heroes to us. Their burden is the heaviest today. With all my heart, I wish a Happy New Year to all participants of the special military operation,” the Russian president said.
While the outgoing year has been “full of worries and anxiety” and many “tough, but necessary decisions” have been made, the country has made “critical steps towards achieving Russia’s full sovereignty and a vital consolidation of our society,” the president said.
“We are protecting our people in our historic lands, new constituent territories of the Russian Federation,” the Russian president stated, referring to the four formerly-Ukrainian regions, incorporated into Russia after September referendums.
Not only Russia but the whole world experienced a “significant change” over the past year, Putin said, adding that the efforts to harm Russia made by the collective West, which has been backing Ukraine in the ongoing conflict, have largely failed. The ongoing conflict has been “inspiring for other nations as they aspire to forge an equitable and multipolar world,” Putin noted.
Referring to sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. led camp Putin said: “An all out sanctions war has been declared against us. The masterminds behind it expected our industrial, financial and transportation sectors to collapse. This did not happen.”