Top 5 stories of the week

It is always good, and necessary, to keep abreast of the most important events of the last few days, both to understand the reality that surrounds us, and to be able to analyse it, and thus understand how things change in our day-to-day lives. Here is a brief summary of the 5 most important news stories of the last week Wednesday, 22 February 2023

1.      One year of war in Ukraine

This Friday will mark exactly one year since the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On that fateful 24 February, Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, initially planned as a 'lightning operation', but which gradually got out of hand for the Kremlin.

The figures for the war are disastrous: the UN estimates that Europe has (officially) received 8 million people, with Germany and Poland receiving more than a million displaced people. In Spain, the number of refugees has risen to 166,000.  Of these refugees, an estimated 90% are women and children, with the majority of the male population remaining behind due to logistical and military requirements. This drama makes it the largest refugee exodus in Europe since the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the situation is becoming more tense at the international level: the US claims to have evidence that China is planning to become more involved in the conflict, giving arms to Moscow, and warning the Asian giant that this action would have consequences for international relations. In turn, Scholz and Macron are calling for unity among European partners in the conflict, and encouraging them to become more explicitly involved in military support for Ukraine. Just a few days ago, a convoy of Ukrainian military personnel landed in Spain to be trained in the use of tanks and anti-aircraft batteries.

Far from a solution to the conflict, the humanitarian drama continues to grow. This situation is compounded by the impatience of countries such as Belarus and Moldova, which may increase their support for Russia in the conflict, as well as rumours that Moscow is preparing an offensive later this month.

Finally, it seems that the swords are finally in the air. Last Monday, US President Joe Biden visited Kiev, while Putin announced a speech to the nation the following day that could turn the situation around.

2.      Earthquake in Syria and Turkey: one week on from the disaster

Ten days after the fateful earthquake that shook the border between Turkey and Syria, the first more or less stabilised figures on the consequences of the quake are beginning to come in. While in Syria the earthquake left 5,000 dead, Turkey, the main affected country, estimates the number of dead at 40,000.

In Turkey, some of the real estate companies responsible for the construction of buildings that did not withstand the earthquakes have been held accountable. The investigation has brought the number of people under investigation to 254, 55 of whom have already been remanded in custody. On the other hand, it seems that the misfortune in Syria has reached such a point that some countries that have not maintained relations with the Al-Assad government since the beginning of the war in the country (2011) (such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan) have decided to maintain them temporarily. This re-establishment of relations is aimed at sending humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates, a partner in the normalisation of regional relations with al-Assad, has offered $100 million to the regime to help it get over the hump.

The thaw in relations between Syria and some countries in the region has been accompanied by the lifting of some US sanctions, and Europe is beginning to consider reviewing them. The earthquake seems to be an opportunity for the Syrian regime to improve its international relations, as well as a way to stabilise the regime, which has been decimated for over a decade.

3.      Economy: Inflation moderates broadly, but still affects food prices

Last week we reported how inflation began to moderate, and how this seemed to encourage European economies, which improved their financial forecasts for the coming months. Even so, it seems that in some areas price increases are not slowing down, as in the case of some basic foodstuffs.

Inflation in the food sector, already present in the months prior to the start of the conflict in Ukraine, exploded with the war, due to the importance of Ukraine and Russia in wheat production. It is in particular with the EU blockade of Russian products and the sanctions against Putin that price rises are rapidly escalating.

One year after the start of the war, core inflation, which is the most worrying among experts, stands at a dangerous 7.5%, while food inflation rises to 15.4%, punishing the poorest incomes.

4.      Renfe scandal: boss and number two resign over train size error

A few weeks ago, the Spanish public was shocked by the umpteenth inoperability of RENFE: the trains designed for Asturias and Cantabria were too big, to the point that they could not pass through some tunnels in the region.

Initially, some senior officials of ADIF and Renfe resigned, and it seemed that everything ended there, but, probably due to the fact that the regional elections are approaching, and this issue has strongly shaken the local politics of those communities, in this case the accountability has gone further than expected. On Monday, the head of RENFE (Isaías Tobias) and the number two of transport (Isabel Pardo de Vera) announced their resignation.

5.      Economy and climate: CEPSA opens a corridor to bring hydrogen to Rotterdam

The Dutch consortium of companies ACTE signed yesterday with Respol a memorandum of understanding in which the two parties committed themselves to reach an agreement to facilitate the maritime transport between Algeciras and Rotterdam. In this transport, high quantities of green ammonia, used for industrial purposes, would be sent.

This corridor is supposed to be open by 2027, allowing CEPSA to enter the northern European market and open the door to increasing the potential of customers interested in using this material, which the Spanish company produces in the south of the Iberian country.

The agreement has been of such magnitude that the Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and the Minister of Energy of the Netherlands, Rob Jetten, signed the agreement and a complementary Memorandum of Understanding on hydrogen cooperation. This agreement will have a duration of 5 years, and is also welcomed by the EU, which solidifies its intention to be the leader in the transition to a green economy.    

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