News Timeline: Europe 2021

January 21 – Russia / Hungary

Global Health, coronavirus, or COVID-19

Hungary is the first country in the European Union to approve the Russian-developed coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V. According to a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet, the Russian vaccine is 91.6 percent effective in protecting against symptomatic COVID-19 — on par with the currently approved Western vaccines.[1] Despite this, only seven percent of Hungarians say they would accept the Russian vaccine. This suspicion among Hungarians relates to the domination of the country by Communist Russia from 1948 to 1989.[2]

January 23 – Russia

Anti-government protests

More than 3,000 people are arrested during widespread demonstrations by tens of thousands in over 100 cities across Russia protesting jailing of the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. Navalny was arrested a few days ago when he flew home from Germany, where he had spent months recovering from poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent in an assassination attempt by the Russian state. After returning to Russia, Navalny posted a YouTube video report about President Vladimir Putin’s alleged secret palace. The video has been viewed more than 70 million times.[3]

More on protests in Russia

February 3 – Russia

New Start Nuclear Arms Control Treaty

The United States extends the New Start nuclear arms control treaty with Russia for the next five years, the last remaining nuclear arms deal between the two countries. The treaty limits each country to 1,550 long-range nuclear warheads (a lower number than under the previous Start deal). Each country is also allowed to no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear arms. Another 100 are allowed if they are not operationally deployed.[4]

Q&A: New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start)

March 1 – France

France’s former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is found guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced to one year in prison.  A court found him guilty of trying to illegally obtain information on another case against him from a judge in return for a prestigious job for him.  He denies any wrongdoing and is expected to appeal.  Nicolas Sarkozy was president between 2007 and 2012,and is only the second French president since WWII convicted of a crime.  Former President Jacques Chirac was convicted in 2011 of embezzling and misusing public funds when he was mayor of Paris.[5]

March 14 – Italy

Global Health: Coronavirus, or Covid-19

Most of Italy enters a new lockdown as coronavirus cases surge by 15 percent driven by the spread of the UK variant and a slow progress in vaccination.  The residents can leave their homes only for work, necessities, or health reasons.  Italy is one of the hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus in the world with 100,000 deaths and 3.2 million infections.[6]

April 1 – Europe

Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19

France begins a third national lockdown in a desperate move to halt a new deadly wave of coronavirus.  The lockdown that covers about one-third of the country’s population will last four weeks.  Although this time people can go outside without filling out forms, they are limited to a six-mile radius from their homes, are not allowed to travel between regions and have to observe a nighttime curfew.  In Italy, about three-quarters of its population is barred from going outside except for work, health or other essentials.  Germany is also on a partial lockdown, while Poland closes all nonessential shops and switches most of its schools to remote learning.[7]

(Apr 10): Russia reports that as of mid-April the country’s official coronavirus death toll is 102,649, which is, when adjusted for the population, far lower than that of the United States and most of Western Europe.  At the same time Russia saw a jump of more than 400,000 deaths from other causes overall above normal during the pandemic (from last April through February of this year), 28 percent higher than normal, an increase in mortality greater than in the United States and most countries in Europe.[8]

More on pandemic numbers in Russia

(Apr 28): Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, orders a three-week lockdown closing nonessential businesses and moving schools to remote learning as the country struggles to contain the new surge in coronavirus cases.  On April 16, Turkey reported 63,000 new cases, its highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic.  So far, only about 16 percent of Turkey’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.[9]

April 9 – United Kingdom

Death of Prince Philip

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Husband of Queen Elizabeth II, dies at 99. As consort to the Queen, Philip’s powers were largely ceremonial.  He supported his wife in her duties, accompanying her on royal visits abroad, to ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament in various countries, and state dinners.[10]

More on the life of Prince Philip

In pictures: announcement of death of the Duke of Edinburgh

Prince Philip: A life in pictures

April 15 – Russia

Sanctions on Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden announces extensive new sanctions on 32 Russian entities and individuals in return for cyber attacks on U.S. government agencies and companies, and for disinformation efforts and interference in the 2020 presidential election. Ten Russian diplomats, most of them identified as intelligence operatives, are expelled from the Russian Embassy in Washington.  The Biden administration also bans American banks from purchasing newly issued Russian government debt.  The U.S. has also sent diplomatic messages to Russia expressing concerns about intelligence reports that Russia had paid bounties to encourage Taliban attacks on American troops.  The United States also joins its European partners to impose sanctions on eight people and entities associated with Russia’s annexation from Ukraine and occupation of Crimea in 2014.  Russia promises retaliation.[11]

Do Sanctions Work?

April 15 – European Union / United Kingdom

Post-Brexit trade deal

The European Union approves the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the post-Brexit trade deal between the European Union and United Kingdom.[12]

More on the post Brexit EU-UK trade deal

May 7 – Russia


A ransomware cyberattack shuts down Colonial Pipeline, one of the United States largest pipelines.  The attack affects computerized equipment that manages the pipeline; the company is forced to stop all its operations to contain the attack.  Colonial Pipeline is 5,500 miles long and carries 45 percent of the country’s gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from Texas through the southern states and up the East Coast.  The hackers, believed to belong to the criminal hacking group DarkSide that operates from Russia, hold the company’s data hostage demanding a ransom of $4.4 million in bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that makes it harder to track.  The interruption in the pipeline operations causes the gasoline prices to go up, as well as shortages and long lines at fuel gas stations. Cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure are more frequent, revealing the vulnerability of the Internet infrastructure.[13]

(June 7): The US Department of Justice says it was able to track the ransom money paid to DarkSide hackers by Colonial Pipeline and recovers about $2.3 million.[14]

More about recent rise in cyberattacks

May 23 – Belarus

State sanctioned kidnapping of a passenger plane

Belarusian fighter jets force a Ryanair passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania over Belarus’s territory to land in Belarus’s capital city of Minsk claiming there was a bomb threat.  The country’s authorities then arrest Belarusian exiled opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich who was on the plane.   Western countries accuse Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, of hijacking the plane, call for an immediate release of Protasevich, and ban Belarusian airlines from Europe’s air space.  They also promise more economic sanctions.  Called Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.  He recently has signed more punitive laws against protesters who take part in unauthorized rallies.  Hundreds of opposition supporters and journalists have been imprisoned or forced into exile.[15]  

Who is Roman Protasevich

What’s happening in Belarus?

June 9 – Russia

Politics: Suppressing the Opposition

A court in Russia bans opposition Aleksei A. Navalny’s political movement, ruling that it is an extremist network.  It halts activities of his three nonprofit groups, Navalny’s Headquarters, the Fund for Fighting Corruption, and the Fund for Defending Citizens’ Rights. Navalny was prohibited from forming a political party and worked through a network of nongovernmental organizations.  The move is another attempt by the Putin regime to suppress the dissent.  After the court’s ruling, the movement’s organizers, donors, and even social-media supporters can be prosecuted and face prison time.[16]

July 14 – European Union

Environment: Plan to Cut Fossil Fuel

The European Union unveils a detailed plan to a significant cut of fossil fuels, 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels reaching a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.  The plan also means the end of sales in the European Union of new gas- and diesel-powered cars in just 14 years and imposes tariffs on some imports from countries with looser environmental rules.  In comparison, the United States has promised to reduce emissions 40 to 43 percent by 2030.[17]  China, the United States, and the EU are the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world.[18]

More on the EU proposal

July 17 – Europe

Climate: Global Warming and Extreme Weather

The extreme weather takes place this summer across Europe and North America. Devastating and deadly floods in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands submerge towns and kill at least 165 people with hundreds missing.  In the United States, the northwestern region registers record temperatures that lead to deaths from heat, while wildfires spread across 12 states.  In Canada, one village is completely burned off the map.  The specialists conclude that the extraordinary heat wave in the Northwestern United States in late June would not have occurred without global warming.[19]

More on climate and extreme weather

Heat wave in the West is fueling dozens of wildfires

Europe’s plan to shift from fossil fuels might cause trade disputes with the U.S. and China

September 7 – European Union

Global Health: Coronavirus pandemic, or Covid-19

More than 70 percent of the European Union’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, one of the highest vaccinations rates in the world.  However, it is uneven across the Union.   Some countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Portugal have 80 percent of their population fully vaccinated. Spain is aiming to inoculate 90 percent of its total population soon.   Eastern European countries, however, are trailing with Bulgaria and Romania among those with the lowest vaccination rates at 20 and 32 percent respectively.  Those countries, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, also have some of the highest mortality rates across the EU during the pandemic.   One reason for this discrepancy is vaccine misinformation, but also deep mistrust of the government in Eastern and Central Europe.[20]

September 15: United Kingdom

AUKUS: trilateral security pact

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States sign a trilateral security pact, AUKUS that includes cooperation on naval technology, closer alignment of regional policies and actions, and greater integration of the militaries and the defense industries of the three allies.  The UK and the U.S. will also help Australia build its first nuclear-powered submarine fleet.  The goal is to counter China’s expansion in the South China Sea and its aggressive stance towards Taiwan and to match technologically Australia’s navy with that of China’s, the world largest.  Nuclear power submarines can remain at sea for up to five months and operate more quietly, evading enemy detection.  Australia will be only the seventh country in the world to have submarines propelled by nuclear reactors.[21]

September 17-19 – Russia

Parliamentary elections

Pro-Putin United Russia party wins almost 50 percent of the vote in the Russian legislative election.  Although it is down form 54 percent in 2016, it still has over two-thirds of the seats, a constitutional majority, in the State Duma.   Voter turnout was about 40 percent.  The victory comes after the government’s unprecedented crackdown on opposition politicians who were either jailed, or banned from running, or forced to flee the country.  The opposition accuses the government of voter fraud.  There were thousands of electoral violations reported.  United Russia’s super majority allowed the Putin’s government to make constitutional changes, such as allowing Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, which would keep him in power until 2036.[22]

More on the 2021 Russian elections

September 26 – Germany

Federal elections

Germany holds federal parliamentary elections.  Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU/CSU coalition, who held this office since 2005, is not running.  The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) records their best result since 2005; it beats the CDU/CSU, winning the most seats in the parliament.   The SPD wins 25.7 percent of the vote, followed by the CDU/CSU bloc with 24.1 percent, and the Green Party with 14.8 percent of votes.  The Free Democratic Party (FDP) makes small gains garnering 11.5 percent of the vote.  The Alternative for Germany (AfD) fell from third to fifth place with 10.3 percent.   The SPD will now start negotiations to form a coalition government that might take several weeks.[23]

How does the German election system work?

About outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel

October 15 – Italy

Global Health: coronavirus, or COVID-19

Italy is the first major European country to require workers in all sectors of the economy to show proof of vaccination called a Green Pass, or face unpaid leave.  Employers will be responsible for verifying the certificates and workers that do no comply can be fined up to $1,760.  The law sets a higher bar for other democracies, which are reluctant to implement similar national mandates relying on other ways to encourage people to accept vaccinations.[24]

November 24 – France / UK

Migrant crisis

At least 27 migrants drown when their flimsy inflatable boat capsized in the English Channel off the coast of France.  Since a crackdown on the smuggling of asylum-seekers in trucks crossing the Channel Tunnel, migrants who pay smugglers thousands of dollars try to reach Great Britain by boat.  This year alone, there have been 47,000 attempts to cross the Channel and 7,800 migrants had been saved from shipwrecks.  Most of these migrants come from Africa and the Middle East.  They pick Britain as an ideal destination because of the English language and loosely regulated job market.[25]

More on people crossing the Channel

November 24 – Germany

New government

After 16 years of Angela Merkel’s reign as a chancellor, Germany has a new leader, Olaf Scholz from a center-left Social Democratic Party.  As a result of a month and a half of negotiations, Scholz unveils his new governing coalition that includes progressive Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.  Despite their differences, they agreed on issues such as the pandemic, the minimum wage hike, and a plan for Germany to quit coal and expand renewable energy to 80 percent by 2030.  It is also expected that policies concerning Europe, trade and foreign policy will be a continuation of the previous government.[26]

December 14 – Belarus

Jailing of opposition leaders

A court in Belarus sentences the activist and opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky to 18 years in prison.  He challenged the country’ authoritarian leader Aleksander Lukashenko in the last year’s presidential elections, but was arrested before the election took place.  He is convicted on charges of organizing mass unrest and inciting social hatred.  The five other defendants, including Igor Losik, a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Belarus, are also sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 16 years.  Thousands of others, including opposition leaders, protesters and those who subscribed to independent media outlets have been detained.  This is Lukashenko’s sixth term as president.[27]

Belarusian opposition leader speaks on Lukashenko’s dictatorship (video: 08:42 min)

December 28 – Russia

Closing human rights groups

The Supreme Court in Russia rules that Memorial International, one of the country’s most renowned historical and human rights organization, must close.  Memorial International compiled an archive of political repression in Russia and victims of Soviet persecution, mostly in the era of the gulags and the forced labor camps during the Stalin times.  Its database contains more than three million names, about a quarter of all victims.  It was founded by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and other dissidents 30 years ago.[28]

More on the reasons behind Russia’s stifling human rights groups and dissent


[1] Carlo Martuscelli. “Russian coronavirus vaccine achieves over 90 percent efficacy: Lancet.” February 2, 2021. Accessed February 25, 21.

[2] Nick Thorpe. “Coronavirus: Hungary first in EU to approve Russian vaccine.”

BBC News. January 21, 2021. Accessed February 25, 21.

[3] Anton Troianovski and Andrew Higgins. “Pro-Navalny Protests Sweep Russia in Challenge to Putin.” The New York Times. January 23, 2021. Updated February 3, 2021. Accessed February 26, 21.

[4] New Start: US and Russia extend nuclear treaty. BBC News. February 3, 2021. Accessed March 12, 21.

[5] Aurelien Breeden. “Ex-President Sarkozy Gets Jail Sentence for Corruption in France.” The New York Times. March 1, 2021. Accessed

[6] Gaia Pianigiani and Jennifer Jett. “Italians start a widespread lockdown.” The New York Times. Published March 14, 2021. Updated April 2, 2021. Accessed May 5, 2021.

[7] Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut. “Macron Returns France to Lockdown as Vaccinations Lag.” The New York Times. March 31, 2021. Updated April 2, 2021. Accessed May 18, 21.

[8] Anton Troianovski. “You Can’t Trust Anyone’: Russia’s Hidden Covid Toll Is an Open Secret.” The New York Times. Published April 10, 2021. Updated May 22, 2021. Accessed May 23, 21.

[9] The Coronavirus Outbreak. “Turkey orders a three-week lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and other news from around the world.” The New York Times. Published April 28, 2021. Updated May 6, 2021. Accessed May 26, 2021.

[10] “Prince Philip: Tributes after Duke of Edinburgh dies aged 99.” BBC News. April 9, 2021. Accessed May 11, 21.

[11] David E. SangerAndrew E. Kramer. “U.S. Imposes Stiff Sanctions on Russia, Blaming It for Major Hacking Operation.” The New York Times. April 15, 2021. Accessed May 14, 21.

[12] “Brexit: Euro MPs’ vote bolsters EU-UK trade deal.” BBC News. April 15, 2021. Accessed May 27, 2021.

[13] David E. Sanger, Clifford Krauss and Nicole Perlroth. “Cyberattack Forces a Shutdown of a Top U.S. Pipeline.” The New York Times. May 8, 2021. Updated May 13, 2021. Accessed June 19, 21.

[14] Alexander Mallin andLuke Barr. “DOJ seizes millions in ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline.” ABC News. June 7, 2021. Accessed June 19, 21.

[15] “EU agrees new Belarus sanctions after plane arrest.” BBC News. May 25, 2021. Accessed June 5, 21.

[16] Andrew E. Kramer and Anton Troianovski. “With a Ban on Navalny’s Group, Putin Sends Clear Message to Biden.” The New York Times. June 9, 2021. Updated June 14, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.

[17] Steven Erlanger and Somini Sengupta. “Europe Unveils Plan to Shift from Fossil Fuels, Setting Up Potential Trade Spats.” The New York Times. July 14, 2021. Updated Aug. 25, 2021. Accessed August 25, 2021.

[18] Crippa, M., Guizzardi, D., Muntean, M., Schaaf, E., Solazzo, E., Monforti-Ferrario, F., Olivier, J.G.J., Vignati, E., Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries – 2020 Report, EUR 30358 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020, ISBN 978-92-76-21515-8, doi:10.2760/143674, JRC121460. Accessed August 25, 2021 from

[19] Somini Sengupta. “No One Is Safe’: Extreme Weather Batters the Wealthy World.” The New York Times. Published July 17, 2021. Updated Aug. 13, 2021. Accessed September 10, 21.

[20] Elian Peltier, Boryana Dzhambazova and Monika Pronczuk. “A Vaccine Success in Europe That Sinks in the East.” The New York Times. September 7, 2021. Updated November 8, 2021. Accessed December 16, 2021.

[21] Julian Borger and Dan Sabbagh. “US, UK and Australia forge military alliance to counter China.” The Guardian. September 15, 2021. Accessed November 5, 21.

[22] “Russia: Putin’s party wins majority in parliamentary election.” September 21, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2021 from

[23] Frederik Pleitgen, Salma Abdelaziz, Nadine Schmidt, Stephanie Halasz and Laura Smith-Spark. “Germany’s Social Democratic Party wins most seats in federal elections, preliminary official results show.” CNN. September 27, 2021. Accessed November 16, 2021.

[24] Jason Horowitz. “Workers across Italy face a new reality: No health pass, no paycheck.” The New York Times.  October 15, 2021. Updated November 12, 2021. Accessed February 8, 2022.

[25] Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut and Norimitsu Onishi. “At Least 27 Dead After Migrant Boat Capsizes in English Channel.” The New York Times. November 24, 2021. Accessed February 11, 22.

[26] Katrin Bennhold. “A new era: Germany meets its post-Merkel government.” The New York Times.  November 24, 2021. Accessed March 4, 22.

[27] Ivan Nechepurenko. “Belarus Opposition Leader Is Sentenced to 18 Years in Prison.” The New York Times. December 14, 2021. Accessed March 15, 2022.

[28] Ivan Nechepurenko Andrew E. Kramer. “Russian Court Orders Prominent Human Rights Group to Shut.” The New York Times. December 28, 2021. Accessed March 23, 2022.