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The Great National Divorce and its Consequences

mar, 25/05/2021 - 20:27


After being a resident living in the UK and EU, learning the legal foundations and delicate intricacies of British and European Commercial Law and Intellectual Property rights, it still amazes me how these two powerful entities could still place the weakest and most needy in society at peril over the political aspirations of a few wealthy, elite politicians and their political movements. This being done to the clear detriment of everyone’s parents. The birthplace of Parliamentary Democracy and Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite chose to squabble during a deadly pandemic over vaccines, a possible cure to the Covid crisis, in the middle of a third horrendous wave because there are two camps with well dug in positions over the issue of the UK leaving the EU.

When a community votes for an issue that affects them directly, a democracy should work to respect their decision even if it is not wholly correct in the eyes of professional democrats who run democracies. That is the foundation of society in Western Europe. A weakness of the EU system is that direct democracy is often lacking, and large Supranational bodies often apply policy without the constraints of grassroots communities in the process. This was a key failure in the process that lead many in the UK to push away from the EU. If the British people and those of the now streamlined European Union chose a path for their society, it will be taken by vote, but the decision should not result in a political punishment of those voters.

Citizens on both sides need vaccines, and if the parents who need it the most who lived in the European Economic Community need help, they should be helped in concert with other European nations. The European Economic Community was after all mostly a trade agreement before the legal and cultural ties of the modern EU took shape, and it functioned fairly well for citizens of both communities. A shared trade agreement between many of the current EU members and the UK needed and needs to get everyone vaccinated, whatever their politics might be in 2021, to help those who lived well under the EEC in the 70s. A people first approach should be sacrosanct when everyone’s family is at risk, whatever their political opinion on borders are currently.

While the EU as a quasi-Federal political entity did fracture, other Federated states have taken to charging at their political opposition in different regions of their country. While regional health initiatives produced more effective local results in combatting Covid, the challenging of states against other states seems to have more to do with shifting blame to political opponents instead of sharing useful health policy in an environment where honest science produces life saving healthcare strategies. On top of elites challenging elites to the detriment of the greater community, there have even been cases of petty politicians using their petty politics to belittle and even dehumanise their political opponents who are clearly members of the 1% crowd, concerned more about their job than the people they believe they govern. Such individuals need to be ejected from polite society, still landing on a cushion of power, with great rewards depending on how corrupt the system they gave birth to has become. This will not save any lives but their own it seems.

Welcome to 2021…or for most of us still waiting for vaccines under lockdowns, 2020 plus 5.

U.S. Foreign Policy Discourse Vs. The Sources of American Conduct

lun, 24/05/2021 - 20:26

The Source

To many Americans, foreign policy discourse comes in broad themes punctuated by very specific issues.  China policy may well form the largest of those themes, and reasonably so.  China could pose a threat to displace America’s international system, arguably the only one.  News and commentary focus heavily on China’s actions and their rulers’ intent: whether they aim to displace us in our influence or merely want to insulate themselves from us; whether they want to supplant democracy with their system; and how far they will go to disrupt our society.  Our China experts, and others, report every fact and parse every analysis of China.  They yield deep insight on China’s nature and intentions, possibly deeper than George Kennan’s 1947 study of the Soviet Union.

Relatively few raise the question of what the U.S. seeks in our China policy. AEI’s Giselle Donnelly calls for a true strategic approach, and Ali Wyne of Eurasia Group has queried what we compete over in “great power competition.”  We should recall the old adage about friendships and interests, and add that enmities as well as friendships defer to interests.  Kennan established the Soviet Union as an existential danger, so opposing that country became a proxy for our interests.  But today we lack consensus on America’s core interest.  Having been immersed in what China might do, our discourse should turn its focus, to coin a phrase, to the sources of American conduct.  The same holds for our foreign policy in general.

U.S. policy toward China will variously cite a rules based global order, democracy, human rights, trade, common interests in curbing climate change, U.S. competitiveness, and jobs.  Policies shift between these various concerns, but rhyme and reason to any given shift is hard to see, while the common denominator is that we oppose China.  And we offer no coherent and durable narrative to say why.  We do not confront the Chinese leadership with a durable counter to their self-serving but coherent interpretations.

America in fact has a fundamental bottom line.  The nation was conceived on a short, abstract creed, of unalienable rights and government that exists to secure those rights, under the consent of the governed.  This definition of national identity underpins American national legitimacy, the deepest interest a nation can have.  Yes, we have more tangible interests, of fair trade in principle and of trade advantages of our industries, of democracy in Taiwan and of peace, of human rights in Xinjiang and of climate policy.  But we need to organize our priorities around the deep interest, our commitment to the creed of the Declaration of Independence.

Today, U.S. foreign policy serves as a tool of bipolar politics.  Two partisan camps occasionally voice the same incontestable common points, but they are more concerned to do better than the other side. Everyone knows China is a one party dictatorship, so no one is overly friendly.  Everyone knows we share interests from financial market stability to climate issues.  But Republicans act to hobble China’s tech firms, while Democrats seek collaboration on climate policy.  What degree of support either side would muster for other goals is a matter of political convenience.  Both sides found reasons to ditch the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact.  Will either find it useful to defend Taiwan?

Walter Russell Mead points out that all potential policy stances toward China carry risks.  He further asserts that a flourishing Asia is the answer to the U.S.’s China problem. If flourishing includes growth in personal freedom, as it has in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, then that approach also fits America’s founding ethos.  A world that not only protects, but promotes, people’s right to the pursuit of happiness best serves everyone, and fulfills our creed.  A flourishing world goes very far toward securing America’s deepest interest, for all of our foreign policy.  If U.S. foreign policy organizes itself to express that aspiration, then to the American public, and to billions of others, that’s what matters most.

Somalia, Time To Part Ways?

jeu, 22/04/2021 - 18:27

Somalia, Is It Time To Part Ways?

If there was any undisputable lesson gained from the three miserable decades of civil war and that lesson was engraved on a stone, it would have read: Avoid the road most traveled; pave yourself a new one.

But, ‘who cares’ is sadly the prevalent attitude. Currently, Somalia is at the tail end of that mindless political combat that occurs every fourth year that many Somalis know as ‘xilligii kala guurka’ or time to part ways. If the phrase was intended to inculcate attitude of apathy toward nationhood and mutual interest, it has worked effectively; certainly among the political class. Make no mistake, language matters.

Today, Somalia is governed by a government whose president’s term has ended on February 8, 2021, is kept in-check by a parliament whose term has ended on December 27, 2020, is guided by a provisional constitution that has been in the making since 2012, which is interpreted by a constitutional court that is yet to be established. This foreign-funded façade of a government is being told ‘you lost legitimacy’ by foreign-funded federal-state presidents, and presidential candidates who telegraph their willingness to preserve the status quo.

Meanwhile, professional narrative framers, foreign intelligence, and mercenary media outlets in Mogadishu, Nairobi, Johannesburg, and other localities continue issuing one-sided reports, stories, interviews, and articles intended to disseminate disinformation and promote that ever-recycled fallacy: ‘Election is the panacea to all of Somalia’s problems therefore all other issues should be shelved.’

Sadly, they are being effective as they have been before. In the past three decades, Somalia has been trading one visionless charlatan for other; at least in most cases.

‘Mutiny’ or ‘right to self-govern’ in Jubbaland?  

The federal-state of Jubbaland still remains the microcosm of the Somali political paradox. It has all the highly flammable political material necessary to detrimentally undermine the progress made since 2013- direct involvement of two frontline states and their local cronies, aggrieved and marginalized clans, political sensitivities between the federal and state governments.  Two of the three regions that constitute Jubbaland (Lower Jubba and Gedo) are currently at odds.

At the outset let me say this: in the past three decades no Somali region has been more tormented with periodical persecutions and military attacks than Gedo. The latest was the attack on Beled-Hawo. that killed dozens of civilians including 5 siblings and seriously injured their mother.  That attack was led by a controversial figure named Abdirashid Janan- a man who is considered by the Federal Government of Somalia and Amnesty International as a fugitive, ruthless criminal accused of committing serious crimes against humanity by “killing of civilians and obstruction of humanitarian aid.” On the other hand, the same man is recognized by the federal-state of Jubbaland and Kenya as Jubbaland’s security minister.


Against that backdrop, the FGS has deployed some of Somalia’s newly trained forces to the Gedo region to bulwark against what it described as ‘Kenyan aggression’. Whereas the latter claimed its forces carry out attacks inside Somalia only when in hot pursuit of al-Shabaab and that all other military operations are within AMISOM the legal framework. And Jubbaland authority claimed forces led by Janan were trying to defuse mutiny that was ignited by FGS.

In reality, neither of these authorities are being entirely candid about the real issue that was pouring kerosene on the Gedo fire.

Bone of Contention

Kenyan forces have been in Jubbaland since 2011 when they illegally invaded Somalia. Though the Kenyan forces are now under the AMISOM mandate, they operate an illegal enterprise of exporting charcoal, smuggling in contrabands, and splitting checkpoint extortions collected by al-Shabaab. More dangerously, the Kenyan forces have been attacking the Gedo region at will, destroying mobile phone antennas, and building a wall to annex part of Gedo as ‘a buffer zone.’ On top of all these, you have the ICJ maritime case regarding the ownership of a 58,000 square-mile area off Somalia’s Indian Ocean coastline.     

In 2017, after the people of Gedo organized demonstrations against Kenya’s illegal construction of a border wall, the FGS could no longer keep its head in the sand. It dispatched a fact-finding committee led by its interior minister. The discovery of the fact-finding committee was affirmative. But, upon their return, or the day before presenting their report to the Council of Ministers, the interior minister was sacked and the report never saw the light of day.

Then in 2019, Kenya’s then speaker of the parliament, Aden Du’ale, made an unannounced visit that violated diplomatic protocols to Kismayo to attend Ahmed Madobe’s controversial second inauguration that the FGS declared null and void. While there, in a speech that was clearly intended to ridicule, if not outrage, President Farmajo’s of-cited ‘Somalia’s territorial integrity,’ Duale said he had to attend that celebration (despite FGS’ position) because Kenya has a special relationship with Jubbaland which it shares a border of 800 kilometers.

So, why were all these not outrageous enough for FGS in the past four years? Why did the FGS not demand the Kenyan forces be removed from AMISOM? How could a country with questionable record and shady motives that you severed diplomatic relationship with them be trusted as a partner against al-Shabaab?

Aside from the contention between Farmajo and Madobe on leverage and electoral advantage over the Gedo members of the parliament, there is another issue that has not been on the surface.

The real bone of contention between FGS and Kenya is the future of Jubbaland president Ahmed Madobe and his security minister Abdirashid Janan. This duo had a very close relationship with TPLF, thus PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia wants them out of the picture. Not only for their past but for the danger that they could present when Ethiopia starts to cash on the corrupt 4 seaports deal it acquired under Farmajo. Ethiopia has been bankrolling the transportation of the federal troops and other logistical cost of the deadly showdown in Gedo. Kismayo happens to be one of the aforementioned sea ports. Meanwhile, the civilians of Gedo suffer. As a ‘loyal friend and partner’ of Abiy Ahmed, Farmajo successfully facilitated getting rid of former al-Shaab leader Mukhtar Roobow and the leaders of Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah and host of other less known Abiy targets. On his part, President Uhuru Kenyatta wants Madobe and Janan to sustain the annexation process of Gedo region, and leverage against any drama that may set back the maritime case. 

The Farmajo Legacy

In fairness to Farmajo, he has inherited from his predecessor, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, eight challenges. Among them, the mother of all corruption- the Soma Oil & Gas deal, a deal that gravely compromised Somalia’s natural resources.  What he did about fixing that issue is a chapter of its own. 

Four years later, his presidency would probably be remembered as one of the worst.  Security has never been worse and al-Shabaab has never been deadlier. Finishing four straight years at the bottom of the Corruption Index, Farmajo’s presidency is apparently worse than the one before him whom most Somalis consider the most corrupted president. Over a million IDPs still live in pitiful shacks exposed for rape and other abuses in Mogadishu. The country is ever more dependent on foreign assistance. FGS neither institutionalized national currency nor does it collect taxes. Its four years ended without a Somali-owned reconciliation, for taking over security, for ending the unjust 4.5 clan power sharing system, for protecting the national resources, for a robust foreign policy and for flushing out Halane or shutting down the green zone. 

Farmajo will be leaving behind a gridlock of false narratives, a country that is bitterly polarized and dangerously exposed for exploitation and perpetual division. Staying on course with current trajectory will only lead Somalia back to the same dead-end that it marched into too many times in the past three decades.

Those of us who were against clan-based federalism that was modeled after Ethiopia’s ethnic-based have been arguing that it only creates perpetual inter-clan hostilities and endless fragmentation of the Somali state. Now that we know for a fact, shouldn’t the FGS and federal state governments such as Jubbaland and Hirshabille refrain from forcing grudging clans together?

Starting with Gedo, Hiiraan, Sanaag and Sool, let these regions either stand alone states, or go under the federal protection, or decide freely which other federal-state they wish to join. Why not if that would stop senseless bloodshed and political manipulations? 

If there is one last chance for the Somali state to reemerge and reclaim its rightful place among community of nations, FGS must gain legitimacy from its own people. And there is no political legitimacy without genuine national reconciliation.


Azerbaijan and the diversification of Europe’s natural gas supply

mer, 21/04/2021 - 18:27
It was recently reported that the Shah Deniz consortium has commenced natural gas deliveries to Europe.  Shahmar Hajiyev, an AIR Center expert, noted, “This is very important because Azerbaijan became the first country to supply Caspian natural gas to European energy markets.  It represents the future of the European Union’s energy supply.  Azerbaijan will supply 10 billion barrels of gas per year to the EU.   This is very important for Europe’s diversification process.”   According to Hajiyev, it is very important that the EU stop relying upon Russian oil for the sake of its own energy security: “It’s very dangerous for the EU to rely upon Russia.  What happened in the Ukraine shows that this is dangerous.  There was a huge crisis between Russia and the Ukraine.  The terms of the transit issue and later also the conflict with the separatists supported by Russia created major problems.  This showed the EU that relying upon Russia is dangerous for the EU.   Also, there was the price issue.   For all these reasons, they prefer to diversify their sources and Azerbaijan was the best option.”   Paolo Bergamaschi, a European energy expert, concurred: “the European Commission declared that the Southern Corridor is critical for the strategic security of the EU.  The pipeline is thus critical for the security of the EU, especially related to the diversification of supplies for we want to decrease the influence of Russian gas on Europe.  That is why the EU has pursued the support of the TAP pipeline to create an alternative to Russian gas.”   According to Bergamaschi, it is also good for the United States that the EU diversify its oil supply: “One of the foreign policy objectives of the US is to decrease Russian influence on the EU, so that is the purpose of this pipeline.  If I look at the Eastern Mediterranean and the many gas and oil fields all over, the discoveries of Turkey in the Black Sea, etc., there will be many markets.  I believe in a quick energy transition.  But if I must choose, I prefer the Azerbaijani gas for they won’t use it as an instrument to impose their foreign policy objectives like Russia does.  Azerbaijan is a friend of Europe and that is important for us.”   Hajiyev concurred: “The United States always supports the EU on energy security.  They also are against the Russian monopoly on the European market.  The US put sanctions on the Russian gas pipelines, for they would help Putin to improve his position and dominate the European gas market.  Therefore, the US supports the EU in its diversification to decrease the Russian monopoly on EU market.”   When asked how Azerbaijan supplying natural gas to the European Union will influence Israel, Hajiyev responded: “Azerbaijan and Israel are remarkably close.  Azerbaijan supplies 45 percent of Israel’s energy needs.  Israel will also build pipelines, but there are geopolitical issues, so we cannot say exactly when Israel will build the pipeline.  The Azerbaijani pipeline is ready.  Azerbaijan supplies 10 bcn to Europe every year.  They will increase to 20 bcn in the future.  It won’t contradict Israel, for the EU market is very big and there is room for more gas.  It is against the Russian interest, for Azerbaijan and Israel can jointly fill what Russia supplied.  In the end, these two countries will supply Europe and there will be no conflict of interest between Israel and Azerbaijan.  Israel needs 3-5 years to complete the project, if everything goes right.”   The Azerbaijani diaspora in the European Union countries also support first direct gas deliveries to Europe, which will serve to strengthen the diplomatic and economic relations between their motherland Azerbaijan and their host countries.  It will also reinforce the position of the Azerbaijani Diaspora organizations in the EU countries to promote more effectively these relations.

Plus Jamais ça and Zero Tolerance

mar, 20/04/2021 - 18:26


Healthy democracies do no burn legal documents. This recent and disturbing trend when confronted with an issue that took place during Covid policy approaches should be considered as an attempt to hide serious crimes from the public at a time when the public is at its weakest. When such options are available to a government that is found to be assisting in human rights abuses, an immediate and swift judicial response should become the norm. Zero tolerance for actions that contribute to human rights abuses should be a standard response. If that response is delayed, ignored or evidence is outright destroyed, criminal charges should follow for anyone interfering with an investigation, as in some cases eliminating evidence can become part of contributing to the atrocities.

Plus Jamais ça, or Never Again is a concept that followed the end of the Holocaust, where humanity dedicated itself to never allowing another genocide. The world has failed on many occasions, but the concept should be adhered to religiously. While average citizens often support human rights, politicians often are the ones enabling atrocities for personal gain. Recently, French footballer Antoine Griezmann cut his sponsorship ties with Huawei  in protest to abuses being waged against China’s Uighur population. Griezmann pointed out that Huawei was tied to an app that apparently was going to be used to digitally identify members of China’s Uighur Muslim minority, a group that has been subject to abuses by China, with many being placed in mass detainment facilities simply for being born Uighurs.

The actions against China’s Uighur population has been known for some time, but little has been done directly about it due to China’s political and economic weight. Protests like those done by Griezmann stand out as money often controls the narrative when speaking about human rights abuses in that part of the world. In reality, in Communist systems almost all organisations and companies are controlled and owned by the government, and actions taken by those organisations are almost always to the benefit of their home nation.

Recent revelations that Canada’s government had been encouraging its own military and intelligence service to accept coordination and training with China’s military has shocked many in Canada, the US and NATO establishment. While still not completely clear the extent of the cooperation, it has been noted that Canada’s leaders took steps to give China winter war training and allow Chinese Generals training inside Canadian military colleges. It is more than likely that Canada has been aware of human rights abuses done against Uighurs and any other abuse that could be easily accessed by reading Human Right Watch reports. With Canada acknowledging its own nation committed genocide against its indigenous populations, the same standard should be applied to other humans abroad.

Training soldiers to operate more efficiently in the regions of the country where Uighurs reside, Tibet is located and where skirmishes with India have taken place, likely contributes to actions taken in those regions as well. It might be the case that actions by Canada may have exacerbated human rights abuses against those groups and populations, and as a result those officials in Canada should be open to questioning by Canadian and international human rights tribunals. While the same government has been those in a democracy that have destroyed legally obtained evidence by its own government’s committee in the recent past, society as a whole needs to demand justice at home, so it can legitimately demand justice abroad for those who have lost all freedoms.






“Isolation”: Donetsk’s Torture Prison

lun, 19/04/2021 - 18:25

By Stanislav Aseyev and Andreas Umland

The Russia-controlled East Ukrainian separatists have been operating a small concentration camp in the city of Donetsk, Ukraine, for more than six years now. Outside any regular jurisdiction, men and women are being physically and psychologically tormented on a daily basis, in ways reminiscent of Europe’s darkest times.

Throughout the fateful year of 2014, the Russian state’s mass media, spokespersons, and friends abroad managed to impress upon large parts of the Western public a distorted interpretation of the violent conflict in the Donets Basin, commonly called the Donbas. In parallel to the annexation of Crimea in spring 2014, Moscow intervened with agents, special forces, volunteers, and mercenaries into an inner-Ukrainian civil conflict in the Donbas, thereby turning non-violent domestic tensions into a Russian pseudo-civil war against the new post-Euromaidan Ukrainian state. Influential observers in and outside Ukraine nevertheless adopted the Kremlin’s narrative that the Moscow-instigated, six-year long war in Eastern Ukraine resulted from the central government in Kyiv’s violations of human rights in the Donbas. According to Moscow’s story, in March 2014 Ukraine’s Russian-speakers stood up against a new Ukrainian allegedly “fascist” regime that had emerged from the Euromaidan revolution. As the Kremlin story continues, “anti-fascist” Donbas “rebels” (opolchentsy) rose to defend the rights of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers to use their native language and enjoy Russophone culture.

Without much concern for the actual course of events on the ground, numerous politicians, activists, and journalists—especially in Western Europe—have since been reproducing Moscow’s narration of the sources and nature of the Donbas war. This has not only led to belated and, so far, ineffective sanction policies from Brussels vis-à-vis Moscow: it has led the European Union, Russia’s largest trading and investment partner, into an ethical no man’s land. While Western media has been continuously interested in Ukraine’s marginal right-wing groups and their attacks on minority groups, there has been far less public scrutiny of the worse and more frequent infringements of human rights in Crimea and in the Donbas. This concerns the penitentiary systems in occupied territories, among others, where even Russia’s deficient rule of law is not or, at best, partly functioning.

Since summer 2014, one of the most brutal prisons of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a Kremlin-installed pseudo-state in Eastern Ukraine, has been functioning in the city of Donetsk. Being a secret institution, this grim facility is unofficially called “Izoliatsiia” (Isolation). It was set up on the territory of a former plant producing insulation. Having seized the factory, the separatists led from Moscow created a military base there. The administrative premises of the former plant and a system of bomb shelters were turned into prison cells and torture chambers. The “Izoliatsiia” prison became quickly akin to a concentration camp where torture, humiliation, rape of both women and men, as well as forced hard physical labor are the rules of the day.

One of the authors of this article is a former inmate of “Izoliatsiia.” As a Ukrainian journalist, Stanislav Aseyev was arrested on espionage charges by the so-called Ministry of State Security of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” in May 2017. He spent 31 months in custody, including a 28-month term in the “Izoliatsiia” concentration camp and experienced various forms of torture there. Aseyev was freed within a Russian-Ukrainian prisoners exchange in late December 2019.

At that point in time, there were eight ordinary multi-prisoner cells in the “Izoliatsiia,” two disciplinary seclusion cells, one basement-bomb shelter for holding prisoners, and a single cell adjoining it, as well as several torture cellars. Three of the eight cells were women’s cells. The maximum number of inmates held simultaneously in the “Izoliatsiia” could reach approximately 80 people.

The prison has extremely strict rules of detention that are themselves a medium for torture. Outside the cells, prisoners are obliged to move only with bags or sacks on their heads. When the cell door is being opened, the prisoners have to turn around, face their cell’s wall, put bags on their heads, put their hands behind their backs, and stand silent until the door is closed. There was a period when, by order of the administration, the prisoners in the cellar were also obliged to kneel down and cross their legs. Lying on the bunk was strictly forbidden. This right could be obtained only after having served a longer term, i.e. six months or more, in the “Izoliatsiia.”

The prisoners are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The cells are constantly lit. It is strictly forbidden to turn off the light even during the day. This rule has a deep psychological impact on the prisoners.

However, “Izoliatsiia” is best known for its system of cruel physical torture which is applied to prisoners of all ages and genders. The most common method of torture is exposure to electricity. A newly arrived prisoner is immediately lowered into the basement, stripped naked, tightly taped to a metal table and connected to two wires from a field military phone. Then water is poured over the person and electric current is released. Among the prisoners of the concentration camp, one is considered to be lucky if the wires are tied to one’s fingers or ears. More often, one wire is connected to the genitals, and the second is inserted into the anus.

The prisoner may also be forced to “hold the wall.” This is a method of torture in which inmates have to stand against the wall, spread their legs widely, and put their hands on the wall above their heads—and must stand like this for several hours to several days. If the prisoner gets worse and puts their hands down slightly or tries to sit down, they are immediately hit with a pipe on their genitals, by the prison administrators.

Heavy forced labor and rape are further forms of torture practiced in the “Izoliatsiia.” At any time of the year, mostly male convicts with a long duty time are forced to work in the industrial part of the former factory or are taken to do construction work on a polygon. Apart from the prison administration’s torture, the “Izoliatsiia” inmates community is subject to a harsh and peculiar system of informal rules and notions (poniatiia), by which criminals organize themselves in the penitentiary systems of the post-Soviet space.

For instance, there is a caste of the so-called “omitted” or raped men. These are prisoners on whose lips or forehead a prison administrator or guard had put his penis, thereby “downgrading” the status of the convict to that of an “omitted.” These men then have to do the dirtiest and toughest work in the prison. They can also serve as “tools” to transfer other prisoners to this status.

Much of Western discourse, under the influence of Russian or pro-Russian spokespersons, still revolves around Kyiv’s infringement of human rights in Eastern Ukraine. Yet, as demonstrated, the reality on the ground is very different. Moreover, scandalous infringements such as the above-outlined in Donbas have been reported from annexed Crimea. Various human rights violations within the occupied territories happen not only in their harsh prison systems. They have become part of public life in the Russia-controlled regions of Ukraine since 2014. In Crimea, the peninsula’s largest indigenous group, the Crimean Tatars, and their political institutions have become targets of systematic terror by the Russian state. In spite of these and numerous other Russian infractions, Russia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), was readmitted to the sessions and granted voting rights in summer 2019 after it had been banned from the organ in 2014.

First published in the Harvard International Review.

Stanislav Aseyev is a writer and journalist who worked in the Donbas, for leading Ukrainian media outlets including “Dzerkalo tyzhnia,” “Radio Svoboda,” “Ukrainska Pravda,” and “Tyzhden.” In 2017-2019, he was incarcerated in the Donetsk “Isolation” torture prison before being freed in a prisoners’ exchange. Since 2020, he has worked as an Expert on the occupied Donbas territories at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv.

Andreas Umland is general editor of the ibidem Press book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society,” a Senior Expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv, and a Research Fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) in Stockholm. This article is part of a series of UI Stockholm articles related to Sweden’s 2021 Chairmanship in the OSCE.

America’s Need for Clean and Resilient Energy Infrastructure can make its Global Climate Leadership Smart Again

ven, 16/04/2021 - 18:25
Source: Eolas Magazine

With a new president-elect in the White House, it is now time for America to move forward with bipartisan efforts to resuscitate its global leadership. However, this return to normalcy depends on the liberal epicenter’s techno-industrial quest for energy infrastructure modernization and innovation (especially in adaptive energy management systems). Confronted with the inevitable 21st-century thrust toward de-carbonization, decentralization, and digitalization (3D), low carbon energy transition, clean, and energy-efficient adaptation to a low carbon economy has become more normalized and embraced worldwide, including by most of our allies. Thus, it is strategically necessary for America to evolve and adopt a new approach for the new global thrust. Besides joining our allies in committing to the Paris Agreement’s target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we should further orchestrate a global climate alliance that establishes norms and standards for clean and resilient “energy freedom.” Such norms and standards would allow the world’s vulnerable populations to sustainably and democratically choose their preferred modes of production, consumption, prosumption, and governance for adaptive energy management, empowering them to cope with Orwellian energy exploiters’ technocratic energy acquisition and monopoly. However, the sufficiency of America’s global climate leadership critically depends on boosting domestic investments both in the clean technology and cyber-secure adaptive energy management system that is ultimately compatible with the “clean” network’s certification standards for quality 5G/6G network suppliers.

Domestic Need for Secure and Resilient Energy Infrastructure

From bridges to airports, the outdated status of America’s D+ infrastructural networks is slowing down the country’s economic productivity. Four in ten bridges in the country are almost half a century old, and 9.1% of these bridges, which account for the daily average of 188 million trips, are structurally deficient. A total of 90,580 of the country’s dams have an average age of 56, of which 2,170 are classified as High Hazard Potential Dams. The economic cost incurred from deteriorating infrastructure is enormous. Delays resulting from road traffic congestion alone costs over $120 billion annually, while delayed and canceled trips due to poor airport conditions similarly incur another $35 billion per year. Experts expect that, until 2025, the almost failing status of the country’s infrastructural networks will shrink the GDP by $3.9 trilion, take away 2.5 million American jobs, and reduce business sales by $7 trillion.

The bad news is equivalently echoed in many government and industrial reports on the status of energy infrastructure. Most national electric transmissions and distribution lines were built in the 50s and 60s with a life expectancy of 50 years, and the 640,000 miles of high-voltage power transmission lines that stretch across the country have already reached the full capacity. The dilapidated, choke-full state of the country’s energy infrastructure has ten-folded the chance of power outages from the mid-80s to 2012 while doubling its exposure to climate-related risks in the 2000s. In 2015, power outages had numbered as many as 3,571 with an average lasting time of 49 minutes. Such an exponential increase in the outrage rate cost American businesses approximately $150 billion per year in 2018 and has chronically left millions of east-coast residents in hours and even weeks of darkness during the hurricane season. Apart from the economic cost, the modernization and innovation of the energy infrastructure are further needed for security reasons. Eighteen million American’s residing in rural areas still have limited access to broadband internet, thus bringing into question America’s capability to deter future cyberattacks that could paralyze part of America’s critical energy infrastructure. Undoubtedly, the enhancement of the average Americans technological literacy would improve the country’s cybersecurity readiness. To circumvent the deficiencies mentioned above of the energy infrastructure, America needs a smart plan for modernizing and innovating its energy infrastructure. America has already developed 3.3 million clean energy jobs, which is three times more than fossil fuel jobs. Specifically, 2.3 million of these jobs are related to the promotion of energy efficiency. Wind and solar energy now account for 20% of electricity generation in ten states, and clean-vehicle jobs now represent 13% of all jobs in the motor vehicle industry; yet, more investments in smart/microgrids are critical since these grids are the fundamental catalyst stimulating the momentum in the transition to low-carbon energy.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, what makes a standard electric grid a “smart grid” is “the digital technology that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers, and the sensing along the transmission lines.” More specifically, the essential component of such technology is 5G/6G Internet of Things (IoT)-integrated sensor technologies and data analytics that allows energy-efficient, climate-risk-free, and cyber-attacks-proof energy consumption and production between diverse energy producers and technologically equipped consumers. The reliable future supply of these technologies depends not only on procuring “clean” networked vendors (especially in the semiconductor industry) and hosting their manufacturing facilities on American soil. Regarding policy, the recent amendment of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Creating Helpful Incentives for Producing Semiconductors in America Act (CHIPS Act) introduced tax credits and grants as policy instruments to facilitate the latter aim; however, striking a balance between the national interest and strategic technological cooperation with allies is still an unresolved issue .

In addition to the sine qua non of securing reliable technology, smart grids that maximize “energy freedom” must also be politically manageable or decentralized enough to facilitate both urban and rural communities’ resilient adaption to a low-carbon energy transition. On the one hand, such a process of decentralization should recognize local communities’ energy freedom and environmental rights, ultimately widening their range of choice for energy governance and minimizing the socioeconomic impacts of the transition. On the other hand, the process should be accompanied by politically neutral economic policies that make the market competitive. In this regard, instead of using regulations to discourage energy producers and utility providers who are increasingly betting on clean energy technologies, a politically neutral carbon pricing policy should be used to incentivize energy producers and utility providers to actively engage in the energy transition. The Baker-Schultz Dividend Plan sheds light on the politically neutral path of carbon pricing by pricing a CO2 emissions allowance at $40 per ton, which, in return, pays off a monthly dividend of $2,000 to every four American family members.

 America’s ‘Smart’ Global Climate Leadership Matters

The Foreign Affairs Op-ed by Baker et al.(2020) succinctly persuades critics opposing America’s active climate leadership that such pressing leadership matters for the country’s national interest. The interdependence between climate action and the economy is so deeply embedded in today’s international political economy that it shapes the geostrategic balance of power. For example, water resource scarcity in the Middle East often escalates regional conflicts, and the discovery of new trade routes and new access routes to natural resources in the melting Arctic Ocean strengthens some great powers’ geopolitical leverage. Therefore, the interdependence is a rather telling caveat that America would be worse off by remaining isolated and letting its competitors dominate clean technologies and industries. Besides, the conditions of both fossil fuel and renewable energy markets are ripe for America to adapt to a low-carbon economy. The shale gas revolution has significantly reduced the country’s economic vulnerability to fossil fuel prices, while the costs of solar and wind technologies have dropped by 90% and 70%, respectively. Hence, America has an overall carbon advantage to gain from leading a global climate alliance that could raise stricter environmental and labor standards to penalize the competing great powers’ carbon-intensive manufacturing activities and reduce their neighboring associated economies’ energy and economic dependency. Unfortunately, as Baker et al. highlighted, America lacks a coherent climate foreign policy.

In the absence of a coherent climate foreign policy, the Democrats’ Green New Deal and Green Marshall Plan are garnering attention from the public. The Green New Deal’s idea of creating manufacturing jobs for the American middle class through large-scale clean infrastructural projects is no doubt, timely and strategic. Likewise, the Green Marshall Plan’s objective of restoring America’s liberal solidarity with allies through choosing positive-sum-creating-butter over guns captures the zeitgeist of 21st global peacemaking. However, as much as a low-carbon energy transition is inevitable, achieving a swift bipartisan compromise on a coherent climate foreign policy is also unavoidable. Perhaps, finding and protecting the shared values between America’s concept of “energy freedom” and that of our allies and the rest of the world can sustain a bipartisan climate foreign policy. Although its concept is partially applied to policymaking and policy production (e.g., lifting the net metering cap in the case of South Carolina’s enactment of the Energy Freedom Act in 2016), a “clean” networked climate alliance for “energy freedom” can help build international consensuses over local sustainably and democratically resilient governance codes on energy modernization and innovation. In doing so, however, America needs to work closely with European and Indo-Pacific allies with leading clean technologies in setting international standards for emerging energy governance challenges, especially in the interoperability of smart grid technologies that specify the competencies of trustful vendors and blockchain-based energy governance.

The Proposals for Renewing the State Department

jeu, 15/04/2021 - 18:24

Not long before President-elect Biden started naming his cabinet, two sets of recommendations to reform the Department of State were published, one from the Council on Foreign Relations, one from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School.  The Economist noted their rich menu of proposals.  Secretary of State – designate Blinken will do well to implement a number of them. 

He should also go further.  A question has been hanging over State for decades, namely: what precisely is the U.S. diplomat’s function?  Every U.S. Marines is told they are riflemen; what is every U.S. diplomat, particularly in the transformative 21stCentury?

A fundamental, elemental answer is that diplomats are authoritative representatives of their sovereign.  In much of history, the “sovereign” has been personal, a monarch.  For the U.S., while the President is Head of State, sovereignty transcends any person or office.  This is especially important to recall in a time of political polarization, when Americans could yet imagine a 2024 Presidential contest between Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The Kennedy School’s recommendations do start by calling for a new mission for the Foreign Service, asking the new President to “restore the State Department’s lead role in executing the nation’s foreign policy.”  Rex Tillerson’s “listening survey” of 2017 also made identification of State’s mission its first recommendation.  The CFR report opens with issues, seeking a special envoy for climate change – i.e. John Kerry – and “elevating pandemic disease to a core U.S. national interest.” 

Both the CFR and JFK School pieces seek a reduction in political appointments.  The latter says 90 percent of Ambassadors and 75 percent of Assistant Secretaries should be career officers.  The issue of political appointees has long been a complaint of Foreign Service Officers.  Though the numbers (summarized in the Economist) show the Trump Administration accelerating the trend, it has been growing for decades.  And while there are horror stories that every FSO knows, many political appointees have been highly effective representatives, due to their stature – think Mike Mansfield or Jon Huntsman, as just two – or their close relationship with their President. 

One complaint career officers make is that the powers that be would never make a political appointee a brigade commander or ship’s captain.  The question, though, is what is the U.S. diplomat’s expertise, equivalent to the military expertise of rifleman, sonar operator, or fighter pilot?   Many FSOs cite the service’s presence in foreign countries and ongoing conduct of business with their governments.  But relations with governments have been conducted by military, commercial, and many other figures, and many of them, as well as academics and others, spend more continuous time in any given country than the diplomat progressing through her career.  Indeed, both the JFK and the CFR reports espouse recruitment of mid-career and experienced professionals from outside the Department.  In another vein, both call for extended professional education, focused on diplomatic history and practice.  But international relations Master’s degree holders abound in Washington, universities, and NGOs. 

The CFR effort contains elements of a functional definition, seeking to overcome a culture of risk aversion and building an “I have your back” ethos.  It calls for “de-layering” State and streamlining decision making, with less top-down instruction and more “nimble” diplomacy in the field.  The picture that starts to take shape will require much hard thinking and organizational innovation to fill out, but it points toward a unique, necessary, and rigorous expertise that would define the U.S. diplomat.

Ultimately, the diplomat officially represents the American nation.  A nimble and enabled diplomat still will need an innate capacity to carry and project, fundamentally and durably, what that means.  The calls for professional education should be filled out in a manner to instill this capacity.  Gestating diplomats must be deeply imbued with a stress-tested commitment to the American foundation and the people who make our national life on that base.  Their professional formation should, yes, include full familiarization with the history of foreign policy and diplomacy and current knowledge of everything from M-16s to MI-6 to M1B money supply.  But it must be rooted in rigorous ingestion of the tenets, nuances, and arguments around the Declaration of Independence, of U.S. history and development, and of American life in its many communities and institutions.  As a collegial body, they should all be pushed not only to study and observe, but to test themselves and each other in their comprehension and commitment, arguing with each other into the night about their understandings and obligations.  All should know that each has made a deep personal commitment to their American ethos.  With this formation and esprit, and an enabling institutional structure, the U.S. diplomat can be that nimble and empowered agent for the nation, across any administration, capable of addressing long standing issues and surprise controversies coherently, even when full instructions are unavailable.

Such a rigorous formation will help in another respect.  As the two reports note, diversity and inclusion are major issues for a U.S. Diplomatic Service (as the JFK effort would rename the Foreign Service).  A deeply rigorous, stress-testing formative process will, given America’s fundamental definition, select for a service demographically representative of the nation’s population.  It should allow for minimal use of arbitrary numerical targets and external identity markers. 

Not incidentally, when such diplomats serve in Washington and provide their counsel to the policy process, they become more than just “other countries’ voice,” though they will have special knowledge of foreign sensitivities.  As experienced carriers of America’s national identity, they can be stewards of what that means.  They will be experts in Americans’ common creed amid the functional agencies, clinical specialists in the nation’s roots through diverse administrations and shifting partisan landscapes.

Finally, both reports call for a new Foreign Service Act, the JFK report sooner, the CFR report as new practices take hold.  Either way, if a legislative proposal included a fundamental commitment to America’s eternal truths, for a functional and commonly shared goal of sound national representation — might it just transcend polarized partisanship, maybe even give a small spur to unity?

3 Easy Foreign Policy Wins for the Biden Administration

mar, 19/01/2021 - 18:04

With January 20th at hand, I have been thinking more and more about what I assume will be a great shift back toward normalcy in American foreign policy. Despite the failures of the last four years, I have confidence that the Biden administration, along with incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will reclaim America’s soft power influence and return to multilateralism. The Trump administration sought to undermine the Obama administration’s legacy by removing the U.S. from several important foreign policy initiatives purely on the basis of partisanship and isolationism. So reestablishing America’s international presence and signal the resurgence of U.S. leadership could be accomplished early on with these three foreign policy initiatives.

1. Rejoining the JCPOA Iran Nuclear Deal

Despite Trumps withdrawal from the JCPOA in early May of 2018, the seven other original parties still remain in the agreement. The decision to withdraw from the agreement was purely political and undermined faith in U.S. negotiations. Considering the recent easing of tensions in the Middle East in regards to Israel, I can’t help but think that Iran, Israel’s chief regional adversary, would’ve been better poised to get aboard the peace train had we not abandoned the agreement. The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan all have agreed to normalize relations with Israel. Normalized relations between Israel and Iran is only impossible if people in power believe it to be. 

By withdrawing from the JCPOA, Trump signaled that the U.S. prefers a state of heightened hostilities. Knowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had consistently confirmed Iran’s compliance with the agreement, I can not think of anything the U.S. could desire of Iran other than economic collapse. Despite how you may feel about Iran, I myself am Jewish, a collapsed Iran does not benefit the U.S. You would think by now we would have learned our lesson on toppling governments. Every time we removed a leader and toppled a government, we created a vacuum where extremists rise to power. If our goal is to end islamist terrorism, we should be focused on deescalation and a normalization of relations. Iran used to be our closest ally in the region and its people are not as illiberal as conservatives would have you believe. There is an opportunity to finally establish a grand strategy in the region focused on economic growth and liberal values. The Iran Deal provided the start of that strategy, but also left roam for punishing the funding of terrorism.

The JCPOA had stipulations that the U.S. and others could keep in place any non-nuclear related sanctions and also impose new ones if appropriate. Additionally, the agreement was also a show of good faith in multilateral negotiations between western powers and China and Russia. The pettiness of the U.S. withdrawal undercut the country’s ability to address the issues cited for its decisions to leave in the first place. Normalizing relations with Iran and integrating into their economy is the best option for reducing Iran funded terrorism. 

President-elect Biden has already said he would rejoin the JCPOA. Despite how U.S. politicians try to leverage this domestically, this is a foreign policy win. It signals to the world that America is ready to engage in multilateralism again, and that we are willing to make peace with adversaries. 

2. Renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Biden has expressed interest in reentering negotiation on the TPP free trade deal. The TPP was revised and rewritten into the CPTPP or Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Most economists agree that free trade is a net positive for all parties, however they do acknowledge that the gains are usually distributed unequally. While I am aware that the President-elect wants to renegotiate for more labor and agricultural protections we should be aware that China has already created its version of TPP named the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with 15 Asia-Pacific countries expected to sign this year. The TPP would have comprised 40% of the worlds GDP, and it is not too late as the member countries have expressed favorable attitudes towards the U.S. returning to the negotiating table. 

The real reason the U.S. abandoned the TPP, like the JCPOA, was domestic politics. Contrary to claims that the TPP would benefit China, it would actually have reduced China’s economic control in the region. If the U.S. used the economic gains to invest in workers who’s industries would be adversely affected, it would be able to counteract the inequality that often occurs with free trade while both increasing it’s own GDP and developing close economic ties in the Indo-Pacific. Conservatives drastically reduce tax rates  and remove regulations for large corporations that in turn strangle small and medium sized businesses, reducing competition. To then turn and politicize free trade as harmful to the labor and agricultural class is shameless. 

The TPP, while not perfect, would have significantly increased U.S. GDP, created favorable economic ties in the Indo-Pacific region, and would have put pressure on China. The Biden administration should push for the labor and agricultural protections, but it must also include legislation that redistributes the gains of free trade to those who are adversely affected. The Democrats now control both chambers of congress and the executive branch. Getting the trade agreement passed should not be difficult for them if they are unified. Creating a winning narrative and properly framing the deal should be a key focus. However, if Democrats are unable to beat back Republican misinformation and fear mongering, the inclusion of economic support for adversely affected industries will be of great importance. The Democrats will be able to point to the GDP gains and those who held jobs that were negatively impacted would come out better for it as well. 

3. Paris Climate Agreement

Lastly we come to the issue of our time: Climate Change. It is an indisputable fact of science that humans are negatively impacting the global environment. Instead of grasping the mantle of leadership, the U.S. has abdicated its moral responsibility and reveled in pseudo-science and corporate propaganda. There was a time when progress and capitalism went hand in hand. Now conservatives, and even some liberals, cling to the past, subsidizing dying industries and deregulating environment destroying externalities. This global crisis can never be properly addressed if those in power still seek to obfuscate the truth and mislead the public.

The Paris Climate Agreement was adopted by 196 Parties. The U.S. was not one of them. It is a landmark international treaty on climate change and it is well passed time the U.S. signs on to it. Now more than ever, we need strong leadership. There can be no progress if Democrats give any political leeway to climate change deniers and corporate lobbyists dressed as politicians. The act of signing the Paris Agreement would do more than commit the U.S. to enacting sound policies to curb greenhouse emissions, it would signal that U.S. leadership is back. 

The Agreement also developed a framework for how developed countries can provide financial, technical, and capacity building support to those that need it. This would be a smart way for the U.S. to reemerge as both a leader and a global force for good. Increasing both our standing in the world and positive ties with developing nations. The only requirement is the political will to do what is right.


There was a time when the U.S. wanted a strong global presence and the world in turn wanted the U.S. to be present. We must return to that again, but this time focus on economic cooperation and diplomacy. In doing so we can create a more progressive and moral global society.

Recommendations from Dr. Zhivago

mar, 01/12/2020 - 20:02

One of the most famous censored pieces of literature in the post Second World War era is Dr. Zhivago, a work by author Boris Pasternak about the life of a family during the Russian Revolution in the early part of the 1900s. Smuggled out of the USSR and taken to Italy for publishing, the story is critical of the early Soviet era, and resulted in it being banned during the Soviet era at the same time as earning international acclaim. The story focuses to some degree on the rapid collectivization of Russian society at the time of the Revolution from the perspective of a Doctor in Moscow. When his home is filled with other citizens and their family receive veiled threats by newly minted government Commissars, they make they journey to their Dacha, or second home in the far east of Russia. Dealing with the onset of Communism in a more contested part of the country, the Doctor and his family fight to survive in the reality of the new regime.

Much of the criticism from inside of the Soviet Union, one registered only by the government and hidden from the citizens of the Soviet state, was that Dr.Zhivago shows the Soviet system in a negative light. The reality was that tyranny was a large part of life in Russia at the time and still existed at the time the book was published. A true account of what life may have been like in the process of collectivization of the nation had to be censored, as the truth, that of a loss of rights and often life would undermine their political power.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Doctor and author Pasternak as well, mostly aimed at how free societies should repel any movements towards a Soviet style system, and how that style of top down government control can easily turn into a tyranny. These lessons are as relevant today as ever, and while no system is perfect nor can claim that justice is always paramount in the application of the law, the ability to fight and seek justice without the threats of violence or being ostracized from society needs to be preserved in order to have a free society with free citizens. The alternative, according to Pasternak, is always bad for individual citizens. When power is held by a few, it will never be equally distributed in a system that allows a concentration of that power. In Pasternak’s experience, Absolute Power certainly Corrupts, and the best of us are not able to protect ourselves, our family or even our lives.

If you live in a place where a large entity or corporation has disproportional power, you must take steps to create equality of justice. If your government wants to take more control of you without precedent or for the valid public good, you must take steps to ensure your voices are being heard. If you take the time to vote, but your government does things to limit your voice or your elected representative’s vote in your legislature, parliament, congress or local council, you must acknowledge it and demand your democracy remains sacrosanct. If your news and media is censored to protect any government and similar actions as those above, then they are not media, they are an arm of a system to protect those from being accountable to equality and justice. Tyranny always produces a strong response in the long term, as those without a democracy, justice or freedom have nothing to lose. Those who have freedoms but claim they have nothing to lose are often those who are seeking power, not equality nor justice, and not for the individuals of their community.

Preparing for Mayhem

lun, 30/11/2020 - 20:02

By Pavlo Klimkin and Andreas Umland

Once the Kremlin is persuaded that Joe Biden will become the US’s next president, it may go for the jugular. Already today, not election manipulation, but triggering civil conflicts in the United States could be the main aim of Moscow’s mingling in American domestic affairs.

Over the last 15 years, the Kremlin has played with politicians and diplomats of, above all, Russia’s neighbors, but also with those of the West, a hare and hedgehog game, as known from a German fairy tale. In the Low Saxon fable’s well-known race, the hedgehog only runs a few steps, but at the end of the furrow he has placed his wife who looks very much like him. When the hare, certain of victory, storms in, the hedgehog’s wife rises and calls out to him “I’m already here!” The hare cannot understand the defeat, conducts 73 further runs, and, in the 74th race, dies of exhaustion. 

Ever since Russia’s anti-Western turn of 2005, governmental and non-governmental analysts across the globe have been busy discussing and predicting Moscow’s next offensive action. Yet, in most cases, when the world’s smart “hares” – politicians, experts, researchers, journalists et al. – arrived with more or less adequate reactions, the Russian “hedgehogs” had already long achieved their aims. Such was the case with Russia’s invasion of Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, “little green men” on Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, hackers inside Germany’s Bundestag in 2015, bombers over Syria since 2015, cyber-warriors in the US elections of 2016, or “chemical” assassins at England’s Salisbury in 2018. 

Across the world, one can find hundreds of sensitive observers able to provide sharp comments on this or that vicious Russian action. For all the experience accumulated, such insights have, however, usually been provided only thereafter. So far, the Kremlin’s wheeler-dealers continue to surprise Western and non-Western policy makers and their think-tanks with novel forays, asymmetric attacks, unorthodox methods and shocking brutality. More often than not, Russian imaginativeness and ruthlessness become sufficiently appreciated only after a new “active measure,” hybrid operation or non-conformist intervention has been successfully completed.

Currently, many US observers – whether in national politics, public administration or social science – may be again preparing to fight the last war. Russian election interference and other influence operations are on everybody’s mind, across America. Yet, as Ukraine has bitterly learnt in 2014, the Kremlin only plays soft ball as long as it believes it has some chance to win. It remains relatively moderate as long as a possible loss will – from Moscow’s point of view – only be moderately unpleasant. Such was the case, during Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential elections in the US.

The Ukrainian experience during the last six years suggests a far grimmer scenario. At some point during the Euromaidan Revolution, in either January or February 2014, Putin understood that he may be losing his grip on Ukraine. Moscow’s man in Kyiv, then still President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych (though very much assisted by Paul Manafort), may be kicked out by the Ukrainian people. As a result, Russia’s President drastically changed track already before the event. 

The Kremlin’s medal awarded to the anonymous Russian soldiers who took part in the annexation of Crimea lists the date of 20 February 2014, as the start of the operation to occupy a part of Ukraine. On that day, pro-Russian Ukrainian President Yanukovych was still in power, and present in Kyiv. His flight from Ukraine’s capital one day later, and ousting, by the Ukrainian parliament, on 22 February 2014, had not yet been clearly predictable, on 20 February 2014. But the Kremlin had already switched from merely political warfare against Ukraine to preparing a real war – something then largely unimaginable for most observers. Something similar may be the case, in Moscow’s approach to the US today too. 

To be sure, Russian troops will hardly land on American shores. Yet, that may not be necessary. The possibility of violent civil conflict in the United States is today, in any way, being discussed by serious analysts, against the background of enormous political polarization and emotional spikes within American society. As in Putin’s favorite sports of Judo – in which he holds a Black Belt! – a brief moment of disbalance of the enemy can be used productively, and may be sufficient to cause his fall. The United States may not, by itself, become ripe for civil conflict. Yet, an opportunity to push it a bit further is unlikely to be simply missed by industrious hybrid warfare specialists in Moscow. And the game that the Russian “hedgehogs” will be playing may be a different one than in the past, and not yet be fully comprehensible to the US’s “hares.”

Hillary Clinton was in 2016 a presidential candidate very much undesired, by Moscow, as America’s new president. Yet today, a democratic president is, after Russia’s 2016 hacking of the Democratic Party’s servers and vicious campaign against Clinton, a truly threatening prospect for the Kremlin. Moreover, Joe Biden was, under President Obama, responsible for the US’s policy towards Ukraine, knows as well as likes the country well, and is thus especially undesirable for Moscow.

Last but not least, Moscow may have had more contacts with Trump and his entourage than the American public is currently aware of. The Kremlin would, in such a case, even more dislike a Biden presidency, and a possible disclosure of its additional earlier interventions, in the US. The stakes are thus higher, for the Kremlin, in 2020 than in 2016. If Trump has no plausible chance to be elected for a second term, mere election interference may not be the issue any more. Moscow may already now implement more sinister plans than trying to help Trump. If Putin thinks that he cannot prevent Biden, the Kremlin will not miss a chance to get altogether rid of the US, as a relevant international actor.


Pavlo Klimkin was, among others, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany in 2012-2014 as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in 2014-2019.

Andreas Umland is a researcher at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv and Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.


Trump in Review: Serious Questions Remain Unanswered

ven, 27/11/2020 - 20:01

Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign asked serious questions in unserious ways. His administration never answered them

In 2016, the United States faced a wide range of serious foreign policy questions. The United States had not readjusted key frameworks for ten or twenty years or more. Candidate Trump used populist rhetoric, pledging to “build a wall” to restrict immigration and to “drain the swamp” of Washington’s elite, globalist ecosystem. Claiming to be a peerless negotiator, he promised to protect Americans from corruption, free trade, China, immigrants, ISIS and “radical Islam,” to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, to restore an era of coal- and steel-based economic growth, and to “Make America Great Again.” Enough swing-state voters were willing to take a chance on the outsider to defeat Hillary Clinton.

The questions Trump raised – however inarticulately – were real. Trade and technology created massive wealth for some Americans but had cost the U.S. millions of manufacturing jobs. Economic inequality rose from the 1970s to mid-1990s: twenty years later the Gini coefficient in the U.S. remained higher than in Germany, France, and the UK. President Trump demanded replacing NAFTA with a new agreement and engaged in an on-again, off-again trade dispute with China.

By 2016, Congress had failed for a decade to fashion comprehensive immigration reform to update the 1986 law. Trump promised to limit migration from Mexico and Central America. He added a “Muslim ban,” suspending the U.S. refugee program and nearly all immigration from seven Muslim-majority counties.

By 2016, China and Russia were formidable diplomatic opponents. China’s economic growth over four decades empowered it to make expanding maritime claims and transcontinental “Belt and Road” plans. Russia had transformed from a defeated, de-industrializing weak democracy to an increasingly confident, assertive, autocratic power. It was active in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria and menacing elsewhere, including in the U.S. elections via social media. Trump seemed to admire strongmen like Putin and Xi even as he armed Ukraine and contested China’s trade policies. Putin’s 2018 re-election and Xi’s claim to office for life indicate continuing challenges to the U.S. instead of new cooperation.

Nuclear proliferation, especially in Iran and North Korea, remained key concerns. Trump took the U.S. out of President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal as promised, but also held high-profile summit meetings with Kim Jong-un. Iran’s economy remains under economic pressure, and in January 2020, the U.S. killed a leading Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani. Meanwhile, no landmark agreements were reached with the DPRK.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. He had campaigned on restoring jobs in coal and steel industries. He promoted fracking, as Obama had, but without the concerns for advancing new energy technologies to reduce climate change.

Despite pledges to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the core issues remain unsolved. Afghanistan and Iraq continue to have unstable political, economic, social, and security environments. Each still suffers from its own brands of corruption, violence, and limits on freedom. After nearly 20 years, neither government is fully in control of its territory and neither seems on a path to steady improvement. More than 7,000 U.S. military forces have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with terrible numbers of Afghanis and Iraqis. Thousands of U.S. troops are still stationed in these countries, though with plans to continue to reduce their number.

In 2015 and 2016, refugee flows from Syria and elsewhere surged into Europe. EU democracies came under economic and political pressure, with right-wing (and some left-wing) populist parties gaining in popularity. The UK voted for “Brexit” to leave the EU. Trump’s NATO policy seemed rooted in other members “paying their fair share.” NATO members in the east were concerned about Russia intentions while some members, but not NATO as an organization, assisted Turkey in Syria.

More broadly, democracy was increasingly challenged around the world. Freedom House warned that “In every region of the world, democracy is under attack by populist leaders and groups that reject pluralism and demand unchecked power.”

Problems at home continue. The President presided over three years of economic growth from 2017 through 2019, with solid performance in GDP, income, and especially unemployment rates. U.S. public debt as a percentage of GDP remained relatively stable, totaling just over 100% of GDP, even after the 2017 tax cuts.

But other worries remained. Congressional Republicans failed to repeal or replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as they had promised/threatened for years. About 28 million Americans remain uninsured, while many more face the rising costs of insurance premiums and prescription drugs. The dramatic video of a white police officer killing of a handcuffed black man in Minnesota, in the context of a national economic crisis and global pandemic, sparked peaceful and violent protests around the country. The President promised law and order but failed to lead a credible and effective government response to the calls for reform or to the economy and pandemic. The Covid-19 death toll climbed throughout 2020, while millions of children were kept out of school, unemployment rates skyrocketed, and usual medical care like coronary and cancer screenings were missed.

“Threat to democracy.” Trump was seen as respecting autocratic and populist rulers like Xi, Putin, Kim, Brazil’s Jair Bolsinaro and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, while criticizing the U.S.’s democratic allies and their leaders. Trump’s statements and policy proposals were seen as a genuine threat to American democracy by scholars, pundits, and political opponents – and by some in his own party, enkindling groups like the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump. Trump’s tweets and speeches were characterized as misogynist, racist, xenophobic, and more. Promoting suspicion of electoral integrity and the peaceful transfer of power was seen by some as anti-American, unconstitutional, and un-democratic. Trump was impeached for embedding campaign politics into a foreign policy negotiation.

All this worsened the enduring difficulties of the two parties working together. They were unable to find common ground, or even to seek it. Obama signed the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal without offering either to the Republican Senate for ratification. Trump promptly led the U.S. out of each deal on his own. Obama authored immigration leniency in DACA instead of forging bipartisan immigration legislation with the Congress. Trump followed with a “Muslim ban” and increased family separations. Federal failures during the Covid-19 pandemic – between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and within in the executive branch itself – harmed the nation’s public health and economy and lowered global esteem for the United States.

What’s Next?  As a hotelier, television star, presidential candidate, president, and Covid survivor, Trump has always exuded extreme confidence. His 1987 bestselling autobiography, The Art of the Deal, offered this insight:

“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

Trump faces former Vice President Joe Biden in the presidential election November 3. Early voting is already underway, with record turnout so far. The serious foreign policy questions the U.S. faced in 2016 remain.


Photo: Donald J. Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trump_accepts_nomination.jpg (public domain) from VOAnews.com


Bangladeshi Hindu dissident: “Coronavirus led to more violence against women”

jeu, 26/11/2020 - 20:01

In an exclusive interview, Shipan Kumer Basu, who heads the World Hindu Struggle Committee and is now an honorary member of the International Police Commission alongside being an International People’s Alliance of the World Peace Ambassador, claimed that the coronavirus has led to more violence against women in Bangladesh: “The World Population Review survey found that there were 11,682 cases of violence against women in Bangladesh in 2020, which is really worrying. In 2019, 517 minor girls were raped, of whom 60 were killed after being raped and 6 committed suicide after the rape. Due to the shamelessness and indifference of the Awami League government, in the first 4 months of 2020, 164 girls were raped. In the next 3 months, the rape rate of minor girls went up 102% and increased to 332.”

Of course, Bangladesh is not alone in this.  The Sustainable Social Development Organization, an Islamabad-based charity, noted a 400% spike in child rapes, sexual assaults, and the abduction of minors in Pakistan during the coronavirus lockdown.  Sisters-for-Sisters, another charity, found that the fact that nearly a quarter of Nepalese workers lost their jobs during the pandemic has led to a rapid increase in child marriages in the Asian country.    And in Tennessee in the United States, marital rape and homicides have skyrocketed.  According to the Pulitzer Center, “In the COVID era, offenders are likely spending more time with victims because of social distancing, working from home or unemployment.”  

However, Basu noted that the rapid spike in rapes, gang-rapes, murder after rapes, incidents of physical torture, etc. is deeply concerning and that the Bangladeshi government should be held accountable for it: “The local media has reported the involvement of the ruling Awami League Party in many of the incidents.   The police and the administration have collaborated with the criminals.  Since the Awami league came to power in 2009, the crime rate has risen dramatically, especially regarding murder, rape, torture of Hindus, corruption, theft, robbery, and terrorist activities.  Yet, the pandemic made these already existing trends even worse.”

Basu noted that Bangladeshi anti-rape protesters have chanted, “The police are the watchmen of the rapists.”  He claimed this is because the police take virtually no actions in defense of Bangladeshi women who are sexually abused: “In recent times, the whole country has been consumed by a horrific rape culture.   The judiciary of the state has been corrupted against the woman to such a level that even women working prominent positions in the government are unlikely to get justice.”

According to Basu, towards the end of September, a Hindu girl was murdered for refusing to marry a Muslim.  So far, he claims that the police have failed to arrest the perpetrator.  Around the same period of time, Basu claimed that an Awami League official raped a seventh grade school girl and social media posts have emerged of mobs torturing a Hindu woman: “Due to this and many other cases, the Hindu community doubts that the police will ever give them justice.”   In conclusion, Basu called upon the international community to come up with a global plan of action to assist women and girls that are gravely getting persecuted in the Third World amid the pandemic.  As the late Elie Wiesel once stated, “For evil to flourish, it only requires that good men do nothing.”  

Keeping The Peace And Protecting Taiwan: Squaring A Circle?

mer, 25/11/2020 - 20:00



And Not To Provoke China
Image from scmp.com

The unusual news that Taiwan’s legislature passed a bipartisan bill asking the foreign ministry to seek formal relations with the US puts a clear point on the latest round of China-Taiwan tensions.  It also puts a distinct strain on the old US approach of “strategic ambiguity” around Taiwan.  Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. election, the next administration will need to craft a new approach.

The “we agree that it’s your territory but reject forcible reunification” stance begs the question of America’s interest in Taiwan’s status.  The U.S. could defend Taiwan as a matter of non-violence, to avoid economic disruption, to keep geopolitical stability – or to stand up for democracy.  At a time of deep-current shifts in world affairs, it is crucial that America’s stance carries our deepest values.

Ambiguity has shaped Taiwan policy and overall China policy alike.  One justification is that giving up ambiguity means risking some major interest.  In the wide range of interests at stake, policy makers have not wanted to hazard that risk.  But as a result, even we don’t know why we do what we do, or don’t do, vis a vis Taiwan, or China generally.   The problem is that China, the rest of the world, and we ourselves, don’t know what America’s first priority is.  The problem in that is that everyone is left to interpret our motives, and assess our character, on their own terms.

The Trump administration has confronted China on a range of issues, from trade to technology, security policy and human rights.  But undifferentiated confrontation with China leaves open the idea that “China bashing” is simply a Realpolitik move to contest global dominance.  It is not only the Chinese who might take this view.  In a way it carries the same problem as ambiguity, only in unfriendly terms.

America was founded in the name of unalienable rights, and government existing to secure them with consent of the governed.  We must display that as our baseline motivation, not merely as another tool to oppose China.  If our intentions, however bent by circumstance, do not carry that conviction at bottom, then the nation founded in 1776 is absent and the institutional edifice built in its name has no foundation.  On the other hand, if we follow our foundation, Americans see our own common purpose, and the world hears us voicing our own core convictions.

There is a concern that supporting Taiwan for the sake of our principles, opposing China’s forays for the same reason, could lead to a zero-sum Cold War.  The risk is that the loser ends up as a version of the Soviet Union in 1992.  Of course America can always choose to stake its existence on the power of its founding ethos.  We do every day, in one sense.  But we can also look for ways to avoid provoking a desperate existential resistance from China.

First, we must be crystal clear that we oppose China for its transgressions against freedom, for principle rather than for vested interest.  An Indo-Pacific coalition that includes Viet Nam would signal strategic interest taking priority over principle.  We also cannot “trade Taiwan” for trade or technology concessions, in any form.  On the other hand we should try to avoid irreconcilable fundamental hostility.  At least a long term possibility of some philosophical commonality must, and can be found.

What could that be?  Perhaps, as one very low-level compatibility, U.S. policy can note that the Chinese Communist Party is organized for the public interest, in contrast to clan or factional dictatorships.  The U.S. stance might then hope for the two sides to grow into further commonality in standards for government – from this very low level.  Perhaps Chinese doctrines could evolve: Chinese philosopher TongDong Bai, in his “Against Political Equality,” imagines a neo-Confucian governing scheme with a popularly elected lower legislative house.  If U.S. policy signals a relaxation of opposition as such forms might evolve, it defuses the zero-sum nature of the rivalry.  Even as far off as any such developments might be, they mark a path toward convergence and away from intransigent hostility.

Meanwhile we retain a rationale for defending Taiwan.  Of course we already do, and if we see a way, however remote, for some eventual conceptual compatibility with China, we can assert that that defense of freedom does not aim at subverting China.  Our aid to Taiwan essentially aims to make a Chinese invasion prohibitively costly rather than to attack China.  And against any pacifist’s citation  of John Quincy Adams’ injunction against going abroad seeking monsters to destroy, we are already defending Taiwan, and Adams in that same speech declared American would always be a friend to anyone pursuing liberty.  Abandoning an existing commitment would compromise that ethos.

In short, we are already committed to protect Taiwan, we can do it without professing existential hostility to China, and America’s own existential tenets demand our defense of that democracy.

Choosing Deficits Wisely

mar, 24/11/2020 - 19:59

Most countries in the world right now are trying to find a balance between having their citizens trust their Covid responses, manage the inevitable debt and deficits that arose and continue to rise with mass shutdowns of the economy, and responsibly manage that debt and deficit level so that when a time for a recovery commences, that the level of debt and manner in which it was taken does not drag down any future recovery. It has been difficult to achieve all three, but all three are necessary in order not to cause permanent damage to their economies.

There is a debate on the best method to reduce Covid transmissions, but much of the harm has come from putting politics before the approach. Political fights over Covid has dominated local politics, especially in the US where a united approach has be challenged between different levels of government while fighting a Covid era election. Whether or not reduced rates could have been achieved if it was not in an election year is indeterminable, but the trust in Federal or State governments have taken a hit while political rivals attempt to use the pandemic to their personal benefit in some cases. The reduced trust in their approach has developed a lack of trust in officials managing the pandemic, a problem that has occurred in many countries, albeit without the same political structure as the United States in an election year.

Some countries like Argentina and Canada have not fared well in managing their debt, and it could be the case that short term infusions of cash based on restricting currency exchange rates or outright printing too much money will harm their eventual recovery. Argentina has taken to making it more difficult and expensive to purchase US Dollars, a currency often used when there are signs of economic trouble brewing in Buenos Aires. This is done to prevent a run on the Argentine Peso by local investors, a rush by many holding their savings on Pesos made in the economic collapse in 2001. Canada has taken to not only printing money, and excusing cheap borrowing as an economic model (a model that has torn apart Argentina’s economy pre-2000), but also turned the support for existing profitable businesses towards new experimental industries. With formerly job rich healthy companies now suffering during the pandemic, Canada will focus on a “green” industries, while leaving those companies that paid taxes to them expecting help in an emergency to essentially stave out economically.

Trust in a country’s Covid response must be paramount, and any actions that give even the impression of taking advantage of people during this time will permanently hurt a country’s reputation. In one case, the same government also raised taxes among massive job losses while giving themselves a raise, was caught funneling money to family and friends via a children’s charity in the middle of the pandemic. Actions such as these when many governments have received excess powers during the Covid era does nothing but hurt citizens while enshrining corruption during the pandemic. Transparency and honest approaches can forgive mistakes in policy decisions in a difficult time, but ensuring some at the top benefit while the rest of us suffer should be dealt with promptly and assertively by all meaningful democratic actors and agencies within a society. This is the case because corruption hurts everyone in the long run, especially those who are further weakened because of Covid.

The Forgotten Potential of Ukraine’s Energy Reserves

lun, 23/11/2020 - 19:59

By Anatoliy Amelin, Andrian Prokip and Andreas Umland

Over the last several years, the future of the European energy supply has become an increasingly geopolitical topic. It has become more and more linked to the questions of security, competing gas transportation routes, and continuously tense Ukrainian-Russian relations. In late 2019, Kyiv concluded a new and beneficial transit agreement with Moscow for the transfer of Siberian gas to the EU, in part due to fresh US sanctions against Russia’s off-shore pipeline projects. This 5-year deal is currently securing the continued use of a part of Ukraine’s large gas transportation system, and as long as Gazprom’s Nord Stream II pipeline through the Baltic Sea does not go forward, the Ukrainian gas transportation system will have some prospect, use, and income.

These well-known confrontations and negotiations concerning different routes of Russian gas supply to the EU, however, diverted attention from the potential of Ukraine’s own gas and oil reserves, as well as the associated storage facilities. The considerable natural resources in Ukraine’s energy sphere remain underexplored and underused today despite the fact that their use could spur economic growth not only in the energy sector, but also in other industries of the country.

Untapped Potential

Excluding Russia’s gas reserves in Asia, Ukraine today holds the second biggest known gas reserves in Europe. As of late 2019, known Ukrainian reserves amounted to 1.09 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, second only to Norway’s known resources of 1.53 trillion cubic meters. Yet, these enormous reserves of energy remain largely untapped. Today, Ukraine has a low annual reserve usage rate of about 2 percent. Moreover, more active exploration may yield previously undiscovered gas fields, which would further increase the overall volume of Ukraine’s deposits.

In spite of this hopeful situation, Ukraine still depends substantially on gas imports. When the USSR started large-scale gas extraction in Western Siberia in the 1970s, much of the relevant expertise and capacity in the sector of Soviet gas exploration and production were transferred from the Ukrainian to the Russian Soviet republic and some other East European states. As a result of this outflow of expertise, Ukraine’s remaining gas resources have remained insufficiently developed, largely underused, and partly unexplored.

Until recently, Ukraine’s total average annual consumption amounted to approximately 29.8 billion cubic meters (bcm). Of this entire yearly need, approximately 14.3 bcm consists of imports. Thus, unlocking its unused reserves would provide for a revolutionary future for Ukraine’s gas sector and energy consumption.

Resolute development of the already explored and accessible Ukrainian resources could result in a substantial increase of Ukrainian gas production. The boost would not only enable the country to fully cover its domestic gas needs, but also make Ukraine largely self-sufficient from an energy perspective. In a best-case scenario, increased production could even allow Ukraine to start exporting gas to or via neighboring European states. This would be feasible because Ukraine’s substantial gas transportation system means that the necessary infrastructure is already in place to bring large amounts of gas to the EU.

According to some estimates, the EU will import around 90 percent of the gas it consumes by 2030. Thus, during the next decade, Brussels will be increasingly eager to diversify the origins and routes of the European gas supply. In this context, smaller or even prospective gas exporters like Ukraine become more attractive to policymakers in Brussels: such new participants in the European market would lower EU dependency on the large players in the field, thus strengthening the European negotiating position.

Despite the enormous potential of Ukraine’s energy reserves, there are non-trivial costs to developing Ukraine’s capabilities. According to an assessment study by the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, a transformation of Ukraine into a self-sufficient energy consumer and potential exporter would require a number of investments amounting to approximately US$19.5 billion. Of this amount, about US$3.5 billion are needed for developing gas fields and building pipelines, US$14 billion would have to be invested into oil extraction, and US$2 billion would go toward oil refining.

The overall size of the investment needed to achieve the goal of full energy independence constitutes a considerable amount compared to Ukraine’s relatively small state budget and GDP. Nevertheless, the sum only equals the approximate costs for current Ukrainian energy imports over the span of two to three years. Thus, the relatively high absolute cost would amortize itself quickly.

Moreover, financial investment in Ukraine’s energy sector is increasingly attractive. Over the last few years, Ukraine has (often under IMF pressure) gradually reduced distortive governmental interventions into the gas market. Kyiv has introduced market prices for households and no longer provides subsidies for all consumers indiscriminately. This relatively new domestic market should make financial engagement in Ukrainian gas production and exploration more attractive than it had been in the past, and the investment climate will improve once European energy markets recover in the aftermath of a likely global containment of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

The Road Ahead

Ukraine’s gas transportation system will continue to play a key role for the future of Ukraine’s energy sector. Ukraine has one of the most well-developed and all-encompassing gas transportation infrastructures of any country in the world, in terms of both domestic deliveries and export facilities. The Ukrainian gas transit system constitutes a heritage of the Soviet energy expansion to Europe, as a partial result of the German Neue Ostpolitik (New Eastern Policy) of the 1970s. For a long time, Ukraine served as the main corridor for the transfer of Soviet and later Russian as well as Central Asian gas to numerous European states. The current usage of this capacity is much lower than a decade earlier due to the completion of the first Nord Stream pipeline in 2012, the growing introduction of renewable energy resources, and the current economic downturn; however, Ukraine’s pipelines and compressor stations are still ready to be used, and have significant capacity beyond merely delivering Russian or Turkmen gas to the EU.

A significant part of the multidimensional Ukrainian gas infrastructure is the huge underground gas storage facilities that the country controls. Only partially used, Ukrainian capacities to store natural gas amount to more than 31 bcm. If fully exploited, Ukraine could hypothetically add almost one third to the approximately 100 bcm of storage space that EU member states currently hold as a whole. Thus, it is no surprise that the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie recently suggested that Ukraine holds the key to Europe’s gas current storage crunch. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, world gas prices plummeted, but the EU’s storage facilities do not have enough space to take full advantage of the situation. To ease foreign concerns about investing in Ukraine, the country adopted some amendments to relevant laws and directives in late 2019—regulatory modifications that should make it easier for foreign firms to use available storage capacity. In response, during the first nine months of 2020, foreign energy firms pumped 7.9 bcm of gas to Ukraine for storage, an amount several times higher than the volume of foreign gas stored in Ukraine during the entire year of 2019.

Hydrogen is another new horizon for Ukraine’s underdeveloped energy industry. Today, various gas distribution companies are examining Ukraine’s pipeline capacities with the hope of converting some of the existing infrastructure to deliver hydrogen to their customers in the future. The EU has identified Ukraine as a priority partner for future collaboration in the use of hydrogen to enhance the Union’s energy supply and security.

Yet another energy form of high potential in Ukraine is biogas. Currently, the country has sufficient capacity to produce circa 10 bcm of biogas annually, a volume that is roughly equivalent to the amount of natural gas that Ukraine imports every year. In view of Ukraine’s currently growing agricultural sector, its capacity to produce biogas may grow further. This capacity is quite future-proof: mixing biogas with hydrogen generates biomethane, an environmentally friendly form of energy that does not contain carbon dioxide.

Boosting Ukraine’s domestic production of natural gas, biogas, hydrogen and biomethane would not only lower or even abolish Ukrainian dependence on energy imports. It would also create a new and potent export-oriented branch in Ukraine’s economy, while also providing impulses for stronger growth in other sectors. At the same time, the EU would benefit from a diversification of its gas supply sources, and from obtaining a new major energy partner in its immediate vicinity. Moreover, such cooperation would strengthen Brussels’ economic ties with Kyiv, and lower the need for Western support for the Ukrainian state. A resolute development of Ukraine’s untapped reserves in the production, export and storage of energy would be in the interest of all sides involved.

Anatoliy Amelin is one of the co-founders of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv, and its Director of Economic Programs.

Andrian Prokip is an Energy Expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv, and Senior Associate of the Kennan Institute in Washington, DC.

Andreas Umland is a Senior Expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv, and Researcher with the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.


Old Disputes and New Weapons

ven, 09/10/2020 - 16:25

Cover of the June 30, 2016 issue of ‘Excelsior’ carried an illustration of a Russian soldier on horseback with a refugee child in his arms. The picture was captioned, ‘The Symbol of Protection of the Armenians by Russians.’

Whether it be the conflict in Syria, skirmishes in Crimea, Ukraine and Chechnya or the recent outbreak of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the old disputes that were never fully resolved have often broken out into armed conflict since the end of the Soviet Union. While the Soviet regime often created some detente between conflicting regions by applying overwhelming security in those regions, at times silently quashing conflicts behind the Iron Curtain, the modern iteration of those conflicts now are armed with weaponry that was once used by the Soviet Army themselves. These weapons were designed to fight a large scale Cold War with the US and NATO, and while being very advance for the era of the late 1970s into the 1980s, they were not designed to do anything but completely destroy their targets, along with the regions where the conflicts would take place.

Much of the modernisation of 1980s era Soviet weapons came from experiences in the field in Afghanistan along with anti-air systems used in Vietnam against the US Air Force. The defense of the Soviet Union from Germany in the Second World War created a focus on air defence and long range missile defence in order to deter an attack on the Soviet Union from the other end of Europe or the globe. With many of these systems now reaching the farthest parts of the world, a new and expansive military threat looms whenever a conflict erupts between regional rivals. With the old disputes in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh echoing conflict between Turkish backed forces and Russian backed forces during the First World War, the ability for Armenia or Azerbaijan to use a conventional ballistic missile to target the larger powers if they support the opposing side is a very real threat to the region. Soviet designed systems were very good for their day, and still are very effective on older aircraft that make up the bulk of systems in the region. An Iskander missile landing on Azeri troops in Turkey or an anti-aircraft missile shooting down a Russian transport plane is likely to escalate conflict between both powers in the region.

The use of conventional modern weapons in the field also is designed to completely destroy communities caught in the conflict. Later Soviet era equipment was very effective, and the costs to the lives of young solders escalates rapidly when used in urban combat. Experiences in Syria, and previously in the many conflicts in Chechnya showed the toll those ex-Soviet weapons could have, even on the modernised Russian Army. Weapons designed to quash rebellions in Prague and Warsaw, and to roll into the rest of Europe are devastating in regional conflicts. For the most part, both sides in those regions have equivalent systems, and both sides fight until everything is destroyed. With the traditional politics still lingering in the region and the proximity to one of the world’s largest oil reserves, the world community should quell any further conflict immediately, before it becomes worse…and in our generation’s disputes it has always become as bad as it can get.

Op-Ed: Has the coronavirus encouraged Islamist extremism?

jeu, 08/10/2020 - 16:24

As we speak, the world is plagued by the coronavirus, which has claimed more than one million lives worldwide.  While many commentators have noted that the pandemic has created the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, horrific mental health problems among a great segment of the population and great social unrest, not enough people have noticed that the pandemic has also led to the strengthening of Islamist extremism across the globe.  

According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, a recent poll found that if elections were held today between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas would win: The overwhelming majority of the Palestinians views the decision of the UAE to normalize relations with Israel as a betrayal or abandonment of the Palestinian cause, one that serves only the interests of Israel. A similar majority thinks that Saudi Arabia and Egypt, by endorsing that normalization, have in effect abandoned the Palestinian leadership.   But most Palestinians also place the blame on themselves because they are divided and have normalized relations with Israel long before others.”

If Hamas were to take over the West Bank, a Palestinian source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that this would be detrimental for women. The Hamas daily Falistin encourages gender apartheid in the Gaza Strip by calling for limiting women’s participation in public life for they are the “fastest transmitters of epidemics.”  From age 9 onwards, all schools are gender segregated in Gaza by law, even if the schools are privately owned, Christian or run by the UN.  Furthermore, male teachers in Gaza are forbidden from having female students. Women in Gaza are also barred from riding motorcycles, smoking in public, learning to drive in the presence of a man, using a male hairdresser and even submitting complaints of incest.  On top of that, Gazan women are forbidden from going to the beach or a restaurant unless they are accompanied by a male chaperon.  In fact, even mannequins in women’s clothing stores are required to be dressed modestly.  The Hamas Morality Police are known to frequently harass women who do not wear the hijab or conduct themselves in accordance with their ideology.  All of this occurred way before the pandemic reached the coastal strip.   

The Palestinian source added that minorities fare no better under Hamas rule as well.  The Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, warned people against celebrating Christmas a couple of years ago in a flier, claiming one should “not to go the way of the Jews and the Christians, indeed God is not for the evil people.”  According to the Hamas authorities, the flier was aimed not only at Muslims but also Christians in the coastal strip.  It is apparent that if Hamas takes over the West Bank, such radical Islamist extremism would reign supreme there too.   

Further to the West, Turkey has been inciting against Israel and India at the UN.  Recently, Erdogan stated that the “filthy hands” of Israelis are “increasing their audacity at Jerusalem’s holy sites,” a remark which has an uncanny resemblance to Mahmoud Abbas’s anti-Semitic “dirty feet” speech.  He also took a jab at India’s Kashmir policy.  Shipan Kumer Basu, who heads the World Hindu Struggle Committee, called Erdogan’s remark about Kashmir and Israel at the UN “highly reprehensible.” 

Erdogan also has been threatening the UAE and other countries who seek to reconcile with the Jewish state.  This came after they transformed the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and submerged a UNESCO world heritage site under water, both acts that showed that religious extremism is dominating Turkish politics these days.  They also have been taking advantage of the pandemic to try and deport Iranian refugees.   Not too long ago, it was reported that Turkey tried to deport Iranian women’s rights activist Maryam Shariatmadari back to the Islamic Republic.  Although she was spared in the end, the Turkish authorities have now eyed the deportation of another refugee from Iran. 

Sirwan Mansouri, a Kurdish political and human rights activist, was captured and tortured several times in Iran before he was finally forced to flee to Turkey: “I was recognized as a refugee 5 years ago by UNHCR and I was interviewed for resettlement in 2016, but my case went on hold till 2019 for unknown reasons. Again in 2019 my wife and I were interviewed for resettlement in Ankara, but no result again and every time I contacted them, they told me I should be awaited.  I am a refugee rights activist and manage a refugee website named: HANARefugees.”

“I publish the latest news on websites for refugees.  I also have done a lot of talks and interviews about refugees in Kurdish, Persian and English languages,” he added.  “I wrote some articles about their terrible condition and the rights they are entitled to in Turkey. Two years ago we wrote a letter in a type of petition with more than 5400 signatures to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and complained about the process, but received no response. Again, this year, we wrote another letter to ECHR (European Court For Human Rights) and complained about both the UNHCR and immigration office of Turkey.”

“I am Kurdish and due to my race, bear more discrimination in comparison with other refugees. Besides all I am a journalist and work on the human rights and refugees rights field and because of my activities in social media, the Turkey government put more pressure on me directly and indirectly. In their recent act, they took my Identity card without any reason and  are trying to deport me and have wanted me to leave the Turkish territory, while I am a refugee and based on Geneva convention no one has the right to deport a refugee to his/her country of origin.  I know Turkey responsible for holding my case in the resettlement section for 5 years without any reason, while according to UNHCR staff, I am eligible to resettle in a third safe country.  Furthermore, I am sick and have some different diseases such as diabetes type 2 and have polyps in my intestines suspicious of cancer and have all medical documents.” 

And according to Mansouri, he is not the only one: “In late 2018, the UNHCR formally handed over the review of refugees’ cases to the Turkish Immigration Office. Since then, the Immigration Office has rejected most of the cases on an unprecedented scale, given many refugees expulsion notices for leaving Turkish territory, and in some cases has deported refugees. And this process is continuing. All this is happening while according to the Geneva Conventions, none of the refugees who have been accepted by the UNHCR and are under international protection should under any circumstances be returned to their countries of origin.”

This fact was confirmed by Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights: “Turkey was a refuge for opponents of the Iranian regime and many Iranian opposition figures saw Turkey as a safe haven, but now Turkey has turned into a great danger for them, given that the Turkish government is cooperating with their Iranian counterparts.  Said Tamjadi and Muhammed Rajabbi were sentenced to death in Iran after they were betrayed by Turkey.  Other Iranian refugees who fled Turkey are awaiting deportation back to Iran, like Mansouri.   The Safadi Center operates in the international arena to prevent such deportations from happening, for Turkey is violating international law.”

However, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey are not the only ones that turned more Islamist since the pandemic erupted.   Basu claims that radical Islam has also only got stronger in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan since the pandemic erupted, and that it poses a threat to the continued existence of Hindus in these three countries: “A Hindu school girl was hacked to death for refusing to marry a Muslim in Bangladesh.  In that same country, a Hindu girl was raped inside a police station.  A Hindu family in in Eidalpur village was recently assaulted.  A 14-year-old Hindu girl was forcefully converted to Islam in Pakistan.  In the same country, a Hindu doctor had his throat slit and a Hindu temple was destroyed during the coronavirus lockdown.  And these types of incidents just keep getting worse.”  

“Due to the silence of humanity, the simple-minded Hindus of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan are gradually disappearing,” he added.  “Environmental activists always played an effective role in protecting endangered species in various countries.   But no one has stood up to help the oppressed Hindus of these three countries.  This is very tragic.  I think that humanity should wake up from its slumber or else Hindus will cease to exist in these countries.  And given their radical Islamist ideology, they will not even establish museums to preserve the vanquished Hindu culture in their nations.   I urge humanity to step up to the plate before it is too late.”

The existence of this global pandemic is causing many people to turn to religion as a remedy for their sorrows.   However, Islamist extremists are taking advantage of this normal human reaction in order to push forward their extremist agendas that oppress women and minorities, and one day, this will once again threaten the West, after the borders open up again.   After all, an increase in the number of people adhering to extremist ideology leads to more terror attacks and rogue regimes.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance for Western policy makers to formulate a strategy for dealing with Islamist extremism, so that we will be prepared for what happens the day there is a vaccine.  

Taiwan Is Latest Front In U.S.-China Ideological War

mer, 07/10/2020 - 16:23

By delpixart on Pixabay

Recent high-level diplomatic visits to Taiwan risk rupturing permanently the U.S.’ “One China” policy. This policy is the foundation of the U.S.-China peaceful relationship. As Taiwan is the most preeminent security issue in U.S.-China relations, a miscalculation from either side, leading to a military conflict cannot be entirely ruled out.

U.S.-China relations are currently quite abysmal and tensions run the full gamut of issues, including trade, technology, human rights, security, and now health due to COVID-19. Additionally, recent U.S. bans on TikTok and WeChat have made the results of U.S.-China tensions more readily visible to more Americans.

While there have been legitimate issues involving trade and human rights in China, from the U.S. perspective, the pace at which additional issues have been added to these original ones has become quite frenetic in current U.S. China policy. From the Chinese perspective, China has finally emerged from its “Century of Humiliation”. Because of historical reasons, territorial integrity is seen as a key component of this emergence. Any Chinese administration, not just the current one, would face an extreme test of its legitimacy from its own people if, after having regained Hong Kong and Macao, it failed to eventually do the same on the Taiwan question.

The current crisis in the Taiwan Strait mirrors other crises, from The Cold War and beyond. Both The Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as The Ukraine Crisis, clearly illustrate that great powers are not keen on other great powers intruding into their own perceived sphere of influence, or “near abroad”. Fortunately, The Cuban Missile Crisis ended with no military engagement between the U.S. and The Former Soviet Union. However, despite not getting as much news coverage as before, The Russo-Ukrainian War resulting from The Ukraine Crisis is still ongoing, with no end in sight.

At the beginning of the The Cold War, China was a revisionist power bent on exporting its ideology to its region, if not the world. Today’s battlefield is also a clash of ideologies, with China’s state-run capitalist model, the so-called “Beijing Consensus” facing off against the U.S.’ own market-driven capitalist model, the “Washington Consensus”. Both models are being evaluated globally in terms of their resiliency in the face of extraordinary circumstances, like financial and health crises, internal socio economic stability, as well as their effectiveness in bringing sustained economic benefits to the bulk of their respective populations. 

It is in this soft power front, affecting both trade and economic issues, that Washington faces a truly daunting adversary in today’s China, the most significant state challenge the U.S. has ever faced. No power the U.S. has ever confronted has had the same economic heft of today’s China. Even when China and the U.S. actually engaged each other militarily, during The Korean War, China was nothing like the global power it is today. Also it bears mentioning that, at the time of The Korean War, China did not yet possess nuclear weapons.

Because of this, from China’s perspective, Taiwan is seen as being a pawn on the chessboard of the increasing U.S.-China great power competition game. Taiwan provides the U.S. a convenient model for what China could possibly be, provided it made the necessary ideological changes to its current form of government.

As important as exceptionalism and ideology are however, China chose the avenue of pragmatism in 1972 when it accepted Nixon’s overtures. The Middle Kingdom did not do this out of an abiding love for democracy and free markets, but out of self-interest and self-preservation. Even then, it was not a full-fledged U.S. ally, but only a “strategic partner”. With the U.S. as this strategic partner, China was not as vulnerable when facing hostilities from its erstwhile ideological ally, The Former Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, only in time did China’s pragmatism allow it to re-engage with the West and reap the concordant economic benefits. However, no political reform was ever promised by China through this re-engagement. Perhaps not codified, but understood implicitly by the U.S., was that this new arrangement would have China following the U.S.’ lead in Asia in perpetuity. Now, it is abundantly clear that China never saw it that way. 

Deng’s Southern Tour inspired new modes of thinking in China such as “To get rich is glorious” and “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mice”. The latter slogan was an admission that a state’s ideological orientation mattered less when it came to being able to pragmatically provide economic benefits for one’s own people. For sure, China saw the benefits of economic re-engagement with the West, which enabled it to lift more people up out of poverty than ever before in human history.

However, Deng and others also recognized that “If you leave the window up, some flies are bound to come inside”, meaning that more economic freedom always posed the risk of increased political freedom being demanded by the population, now exposed to external values. However, China was never going to change its mode of government and become a “like-minded partner” of the U.S., at least not in terms of values. By the late 1980s, China had seen the beginning of the unravelling of state power in The Former Soviet Union due to increased political freedom there and decided not to repeat this mistake. This was made abundantly clear at Tiananmen, the reaction to which Deng also spearheaded.

Though difficult, more tolerance and appreciation for different forms of government within the global system architecture will lead to overall system stability. Continued intolerance towards the full diversity of forms of government in today’s global ecosystem will only lead to further system instability. Further increasing system instability is the impact of global pandemics and irreversible environmental degradation. By working together, on the Covax initiative for example, both China and the U.S. would demonstrate to the world their commitment to keeping this system stable. COVID-19 and forest fires so huge that they are visible from space do not care about the ideology of their victims, and neither should we.

Personal Battles Against Corruption

lun, 05/10/2020 - 16:22

Corruption sours healthy economies, always places freedoms at risk and awards the worst of the worst for doing the most damage they can possibly imagine. Much of the slide from corruption into a full totalitarian regime comes from purging those who may limit the powers of elites who wish to dominate their fiefdom. In many cases, corruption gives more power to those at the top of it than possessed legally by King or Queens in those nations where they still exist. Constitutional powers limit the ability for a monarch to become an unelected dictator, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time. A corrupt leader seeks to infect all systems of government with corruption, so that even checks and balances via different branches of government are suppressed or outright eliminated. Different government structures operate in different ways, but when one person at the top can direct justice or jail for those they choose to oppose, the sickness of corruption in a democracy will take hold of it completely.

There are few resolutions to entrenched corruption, except for preventative measures to limit the powers of anyone who is given that degree of control and state wealth. Over 800 years of civilization created modern democratic systems as we see today. For this reason, once a democracy is injured or corrupted, it is extremely difficult to return to balance. Accounting for the most democratic systems currently, the British Parliamentary system, often referred to as Parliamentary Democracies as well as the systems that came out of the French Republic, a system based on a President limited by checks and balances seemed to have produced the most freedoms in modern times. To get to that point, many of those combating tyranny died fighting for it, from the streets of Napoleon’s France to the beaches of Normandy during the Second World War.

A key element of corrupt regimes is for that newly formed government to set upon their political enemies soon after taking power. This includes whistle blowers that seek to promote an openness in society, as an open and transparent society is harder to corrupt. Protests in Belarus are an example of a country that wishes to nip further corruption at the start of government regime taking power. As seen in Venezuela, a state that has fallen to a generation of corruption regularly places opposition leaders in jail or sequesters them using fear. Canada, a country now mired in its second corruption scandal in a two year period had a third major ongoing invisible scandal where a top Admiral was punished for exposing political ties to a shipping contract. The current Prime Minister used his power to go after him personally for being a whistler blower, apparently done in his first meeting of his new government. Corruption is almost impossible to eliminate, and it is why in Brazil, in a remarkable move by those in its judicial branches of government set out to purge the country of as much corruption as possible, even placing some ex-Presidents in jail for crimes against the nation.

Recently actions in Mexico has reflected elements of what has occurred in Brazil and Canada, but mainly due to an ex CEO of PEMEX being targeted by what he claims to be a corrupt system, including three ex-Presidents of Mexico. Emilio Lozoya, the ex-CEO and accused comes from an influential family, and has worked closely with Mexico’s government for many years. His personal crusade to clear his name may activate Mexico’s judiciary against former and current political leaders as evidence leaks out from Lozoya’s time working closely with Mexico’s elite. While there are questions regarding his political loyalties to various factions in government, the exposure of his case may shed some light on how corruption works in Mexico. It is up to Mexican citizens and the Judiciary to withstand pressure from elite leaders, a situation where even Canada was unable to prevent fully. Punishing a powerful individual may help average Mexicans in the process, if that process is able to remain visible.