Ukraine, a crisis that resonates here
The human toll of the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine was being felt in Gibraltar yesterday.
As we report today, people in Gibraltar with connections to Ukraine awoke in the early hours to news that their worst fears had become reality.
One Ukrainian woman described how her octogenarian mother was preparing to shelter in a basement as Russian troops rolled across the border and explosions were reported in cities around the country.
For her and others like her, the images on the television screens and on social media resonated close to home.
Outside No.6 Convent Place, two Polish nationals with friends in Ukraine and fearful of Russia’s long-term intentions held placards denouncing Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.
The UK and other countries around Europe and the world have vowed to implement punishing sanctions on Russia.
Whatever financial action the UK takes will be mirrored here, an automatic step under Gibraltar’s Sanctions Act 2019.
Officials here said these sanctions were not expected to have any immediate practical impact on any businesses or individuals in Gibraltar, adding that to the Gibraltar Government’s knowledge, no entity or individual caught up in the measures conducts business on or from the Rock.
But the sanctions and the conflict in Ukraine will unleash powerful, unpredictable forces that will impact economies around the globe, including vital energy supplies.
Yesterday Spanish and Portuguese officials called on Europe, which relies on Russia for 40% of its gas needs, to cooperate more closely on managing energy supplies amid heightened fears of disruptions.
Gibraltar, which relies on liquefied natural gas for its power generation, is not anticipating any interruption in supply, at least for now.
Gibraltar buys all its LNG supplies via Shell, which sources gas from its worldwide resources at prices that are fixed for several years in advance. That should insulate Gibraltar from short-term geopolitical upheaval.
Authorities here, as in other countries around the world that have condemned Russia’s actions, will be on guard too for any threats to the digital infrastructure that underpins global trade and modern life as a whole.
On Thursday, after a meeting of the Gibraltar Security Council, the government circulated a memo to all public workers alerting them to the “potential of cyber interference” and the need for care.
It urged the wider community to also review its digital security.
As the crisis unfolds, expect additional warnings from different governments about the need to strengthen cybersecurity, including here.
There was no change to the overall security posture here, though the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police and the Borders and Coastguard Agency have heightened their alert state as a precaution.
And with the UK adopting a front-footed approach to its defence policy following publication in 2021 of its strategic defence and security review, Gibraltar’s importance as a military staging post, particularly for naval assets, will become more prominent going forward.
Russia has for years been increasing its naval presence in the Mediterranean, prompting a similar response from NATO allies.
Gibraltar’s role as a logistical base for any UK naval vessels moving in and out of the Mediterranean will only intensify due to tensions in the Ukraine, which has an extensive coastline in the Black Sea.
There will be an impact too, if only indirectly, on the ongoing negotiations for a UK-EU treaty on the Rock’s future relations with the bloc.
Negotiators are due to meet in London next week for the second part of the sixth round of talks, which commenced in Brussels last Tuesday but was split to accommodate the midterm school holidays.
For now, there is no change to the schedule and the talks next week are expected to go ahead.
But as the negotiations enter their final, perhaps most difficult phase, they will move from technical sessions to political discussions that will require the direct input of Foreign Ministers and top Commission officials.
With European countries now wholly focused on the crisis in Ukraine and the need for a collective response, it may be difficult for Foreign Ministers and European officials to find the time and focus needed to hammer out a final agreement.
There is a real possibility, in other words, that the talks on Gibraltar’s future could face delay yet again at the most critical stage.
The crisis in Ukraine may seem far removed to some, but it will have implications for all the world in the days and weeks ahead, Gibraltar included.
Above all though, Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has threatened a world order that, for all its faults, had delivered decades of peace in Europe and which many had taken for granted.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, put a spotlight on the most important issue as he addressed journalists during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
As they spoke, he reminded reporters, people were dying. In Europe. Today.