Is Ukraine sacrificed on the Budapest-Moscow axis?

Is Ukraine sacrificed on the Budapest-Moscow axis?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is blocking a European financial aid package of 50 billion euros over four years for Ukraine, has explicitly requested that this aid be granted outside the EU budget and be subject to annual review.

Strong Opposition

“If we want to support Ukraine, let’s do it outside the EU budget and on an annual basis! This is the only sustainable democratic position with five months to go before the European elections,” Orban mentioned in a post on the social network X. He clarified his position after stating on Tuesday that he was willing to support Kiev but “without harming the EU’s common budget.” The Hungarian Prime Minister gave up his veto on Ukraine’s accession negotiations with the EU in December at the European Council. However, he blocked a €50 billion EU financial aid package for Ukraine for the next four years. This decision was made amidst tensions between Budapest and Kiev regarding the rights of the Hungarian minority in the Transcarpathia region and the European Commission’s withholding of EU funds that Hungary is entitled to. The Hungarian government has been accused by Brussels of violating the rule of law. Before the December summit, the European Commission unlocked €10.2 billion from cohesion funds for Hungary, along with €920 million from the European REPowerEU plan. However, over €21 billion of other EU funds (cohesion funds and post-pandemic recovery plan) remain frozen.

During this time, Viktor Orban is demanding the unblocking of all European funds, which he claims have been unfairly withheld from his country for political reasons by the European Commission due to Hungary’s opposition to illegal migration and the LGBT movement.

While discussions with Budapest continue regarding the lifting of the veto on aid to Ukraine ahead of a new European summit scheduled for February 1st, the European Commission is exploring alternative solutions, such as taking out a €20 billion loan and providing this amount to Ukraine. Hungary opposes this loan scheme as well, which is similar to the financing of the European post-pandemic recovery plan, warning that ultimately, all EU member states will have to repay this credit through their own contributions to the EU budget.

Is the EU blackmailed?

Hungary is far from reaching an agreement with the European Union regarding aid for Ukraine, according to Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. This statement comes as the EU seeks to secure a deal on a new financial assistance package for Kiev, as reported by Reuters.

Gergely Gulyas made these remarks after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated during a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg that she was “confident” that all 27 EU member states would find a solution to provide funds to Ukraine, a matter currently hindered by Hungary’s resistance.

Hungary is in discussions with the Commission, but it is not certain that an agreement will be reached. If an agreement is not reached, the other 26 EU member states may find a solution without Hungary, said Orban’s chief of staff.

Providing aid through 26 bilateral agreements is an option that has been brought up but is more complicated and costly than using the central budget, and it could potentially affect EU unity.

Gergely Gulyas also explained that the President of the European Commission has conditioned the unlocking of new EU funds for Hungary on changes related to LGBTI issues and migration, attempting to exert pressure on Budapest.

He emphasized that Hungarian voters have clearly expressed their opinions on these two issues and assured that his government is willing to reach an agreement on matters that are “not harmful.” However, when it comes to issues on which Hungarian citizens have made their stance clear, this would be “antidemocratic and unacceptable,” the source further emphasizes.

Historical Relations

In the past, Hungary and Russia had historical ties, especially in the 19th century when both countries were part of the Habsburg Empire and shared political and cultural connections. However, these relations became tense after the Cold War when Hungary moved out of the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.

Hungary and Russia have a significant trade relationship. Hungary imports energy, especially natural gas, from Russia and has been a supporter of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which would enable the direct supply of Russian gas to Western Europe. This has been criticized by some European countries and the United States, who believe it could increase Western Europe’s dependence on Russian energy resources.

Hungary and Russia have cooperated in the field of nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Hungary operates a nuclear power plant, the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, which has four nuclear reactors and plays a crucial role in the country’s electricity production. This plant was built in collaboration with Russia and was modernized through an agreement signed in 2014, which included the construction of two new reactors at Paks.

This nuclear cooperation has been of interest in the context of European energy and geopolitical security. Some Western countries and organizations have expressed concerns about Hungary’s dependency on Russia in terms of nuclear energy, viewing it as a potential influence of Russia in the energy infrastructure of Eastern Europe.

Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU) and is subject to EU policies and regulations. Within the EU, Hungary has previously opposed the sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This stance has drawn criticism from other EU member states that have supported the sanctions.

The relationship between Budapest and Moscow is complex and ever-changing, influenced by multiple economic, energy, and geopolitical interests and considerations. This relationship can evolve based on changes in the domestic and international policies of both countries.

Budapest and Kiev

The relations between Ukraine and Hungary have been tense at various points in recent history due to various issues, especially those related to the Hungarian minority in Ukraine and the bilateral relations between the two countries.

One of the main sources of tension between the two countries is the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, which resides mainly in the Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) region in western Ukraine. Hungary has periodically raised concerns regarding the rights and status of this minority, including issues related to the use of the Hungarian language in schools and local administration. Russian propaganda has exploited these differences to the fullest, with accusations of the involvement of Russian federal security services in various destabilization actions.

A major source of tension was Ukraine’s adoption of an education law in 2017, which raised concerns in Hungary. The law restricted the use of minority languages in schools and imposed limits on the use of the Hungarian language in the education system. Hungary saw this law as a threat to the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

Tensions related to minority issues have led to diplomatic conflicts between the two countries. Hungary has blocked or put on hold certain Ukrainian initiatives within the European Union and NATO in response to these concerns.

The relations between Ukraine and Hungary should be understood in the broader geopolitical context of Eastern Europe and Ukraine’s relations with other neighboring states, such as Russia and Romania. The current leadership in Budapest has used the issue of minorities in relations with all neighboring states, raising accusations of serving the strategic interests of Hungary within the broader context of Moscow’s strategy to weaken the European Union and NATO from within.

German Warning

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has warned that the war between Russia and Ukraine could extend to neighboring countries, as reported by the media. “We hear threats from the Kremlin almost every day – most recently again against our friends in the Baltic states,” Pistorius said in an article published by the Tagesspiegel newspaper on Friday, marking exactly one year since taking office as the Federal Minister of Defense. Regarding the German army (Bundeswehr), Boris Pistorius emphasized: “We need to rapidly strengthen our defense capabilities, in the context of the urgency of the threat situation.” “Therefore, we must consider the fact that (Russian President) Vladimir Putin might even attack a NATO country at some point,” Boris Pistorius stated, estimating that if it were to happen, it would be within “5-8 years” from now. With his call for the Bundeswehr to become “war-ready,” Pistorius intended to “shake up” German society. He is waiting for proposals to reintroduce a version of mandatory military service by April, after his country abandoned it in 2011. According to the German minister, the defense industry needs to become more efficient. Boris Pistorius has advocated for reforming public debt, for security reasons. “With a debt mechanism in its current form, we will not get through these crises unscathed,” he explained. On the other hand, the Berlin representative rejected requests for increasing German military aid to Ukraine, saying that the Bundeswehr cannot be brought to “exhaustion” and leave Germany “defenseless.” On February 24, 2022, Russia launched an unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, claiming to carry out a “special military operation of denazification” in the neighboring country and to protect the Russian-speaking community.

Parliamentary Protest

The European Parliament has contested the European Commission’s decision to unfreeze over 10 billion euros in EU funds for Hungary last December, in a resolution voted on Thursday, two weeks before an extraordinary European Council summit dedicated to adopting aid for Ukraine, as reported by Agerpres in a special correspondence. In the resolution adopted with 345 votes in favor, 104 against, and 29 abstentions, MEPs express their deep concern about the ongoing erosion of democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights in Hungary, particularly with the recent adoption of the so-called “national sovereignty protection package” – which has been compared to Russia’s “foreign agents law,” as stated by the community legislature in a press release. Expressing regret for the Council’s failure to apply the procedure provided for in Article 7, Paragraph (1), following its activation by the Parliament in 2018, the community legislature calls on the European Council to determine whether Hungary has seriously and persistently violated EU values, in accordance with the more direct procedure provided for in Article 7, Paragraph (2). In theory, the procedure can lead to the suspension of voting rights at Council of the EU meetings. MEPs also condemn the actions of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who last December blocked the crucial decision to revise the EU’s long-term budget, including the aid package for Ukraine, thereby fully violating the EU’s strategic interests and the principle of loyal cooperation. The EU must not yield to blackmail, they emphasize in the adopted resolution.

The EP announces its regret over the European Commission’s decision to release up to 10.2 billion from previously frozen funds, despite Hungary not having fulfilled the required reforms for judicial independence, and in a context where the EU executive recently extended the application of measures from the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation. Furthermore, MEPs condemn systemic discriminatory practices against the academic environment, journalists, political parties, and civil society in the allocation of funds. They also express regret for the use of manipulated public procurement procedures, government and government-affiliated entities’ public purchase offers, and the use of EU funds to enrich the government’s political allies. The necessary measures for unlocking EU funding, under various regulations, should be treated as a single package, and payments should not be made if deficiencies persist in any area. The European Parliament insists that it will examine whether legal action should be initiated to annul the partial unfreezing of funds and emphasizes that it can use a range of legal and political measures if the Commission fails to fulfill its duties as guardian of the treaties and to protect the EU’s financial interests. In the EP plenary session in Strasbourg, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen justified her decision on Wednesday to unfreeze certain funds for Hungary, explaining that Budapest had carried out the reforms demanded by Brussels to strengthen the independence of its judicial system.

However, she reminded that “about 20 billion euros” of EU funds destined for Hungary remain frozen, due to concerns especially related to LGBT+ rights, academic freedom, and the right to asylum.

The EP, in its adopted resolution, also questions whether the Hungarian government will be able to fulfill its duties in the second half of 2024, warning that if the position of President of the European Council is vacant, it will fall to the Hungarian Prime Minister during the Council’s six-month presidency. The text refers to Charles Michel’s announced candidacy in the European parliamentary elections, who announced that he will submit his resignation upon the formation of the new community legislature if elected. MEPs call on the Council to find adequate solutions to mitigate these risks and demand reforms to the Council’s decision.

Nuclear Discussions Impossible

Russia has stated that talks with the USA on nuclear arms control are impossible if the situation in Ukraine is not considered, while also accusing Washington of trying to impose its military dominance, according to the media.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, explained in a press conference that Washington has proposed separating the two issues and resuming talks on “strategic stability” between the two countries, which hold the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. Lavrov emphasized that this proposal is unacceptable for Russia due to the West’s support for Ukraine in the war that has already lasted for nearly two years.

He made these remarks in the context where the New Start treaty, the last bilateral Russian-American agreement on nuclear arms control, expires in February 2026, and tensions between the two nuclear superpowers are at their highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. “We see not the slightest interest from the USA or NATO in settling the Ukrainian conflict and listening to Russia’s concerns,” added the head of Russian diplomacy, as quoted by the Russian media.

He accused the West of pushing Ukraine to use increasingly long-range weapons to strike deeper inside Russia. Such attacks have intensified in recent weeks; on December 30, 25 people were killed in the southern Russian city of Belgorod in one such attack. Sergey Lavrov provided no evidence to support his claim that the West encourages Ukraine to carry out such attacks but accused the United States of seeking military superiority over Russia, as noted by Reuters.

The Russian minister insisted that talks on arms control are unfounded as long as the West conducts what he called a “hybrid war” against Moscow. “We do not reject this idea in the future, but we condition this possibility on the West abandoning its policy of undermining and disrespecting Russia’s interests,” concluded Lavrov.

The Russian Federation, the inheritor of the Soviet nuclear power, has the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, nearly 6,000 warheads, according to experts. Together, the USA and Russia hold about 90% of the global nuclear warhead count, enough to destroy the planet several times over.

The Russian foreign minister also called on the USA to cease its “aggression” against Yemen, following the American military’s fourth bombing of Houthi rebels in less than a week. “The most important thing now is to end the aggression against Yemen, as the more the Americans and the British bomb, the less willing the rebels will be to negotiate,” Lavrov noted in the same press conference.

Purification of Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Thursday that the military offensive against Ukraine has allowed for the “purification” of Russia from people who “do not feel a sense of belonging to the history and culture” of the country.

Since the beginning of the conflict nearly two years ago, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country for political reasons or fear of being drafted into the military, a choice firmly condemned by Russian authorities. The suppression of any dissenting voice has sent hundreds more to prison, as any criticism of the Kremlin’s policies is not tolerated in Russia, according to international media.

“The special military operation has united our society like never before and contributed to its purification from those without any sense of belonging to Russian history and culture,” said Sergey Lavrov, using the official euphemism to refer to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Some have left, others have stayed and started to reflect,” he added during a press conference in Moscow, where he reviewed the activities of Russian diplomacy in 2023.

This is not the first time Russian authorities, who claim they want to “denazify Ukraine,” have spoken about the need to “purify” society. In March 2022, at the beginning of the conflict, President Vladimir Putin said that “such an autopurification of society will only strengthen our country.” “Every people, and the Russian people in particular, will always be able to identify the trash and traitors and spit them out as one would spit out a fly that flew into their mouth,” Putin stated.

In the same press conference, the Russian Foreign Minister equated the Holocaust – the genocide against the Jewish people carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II – with the killing of other peoples by the Nazis, as reported on its website by Radio Svoboda, the Russian service of Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL).

Lavrov implied this while commenting on Israel’s operation against the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by the USA and EU, in the Gaza Strip. According to the Russian minister, “Israelis should not create the impression that, because they suffered during World War II, they can do anything today,” as reported by the radio station. “Yes, there was the Holocaust, a terrible crime. But there was also genocide against all the peoples of the Soviet Union. They did not suffer less… If we were to follow this logic, then we too can do anything, everything is allowed for us,” Lavrov stated in his press conference.

In this context, the head of Russian diplomacy stated that, during Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, “far fewer” civilian casualties are observed compared to the current operation by Israel in the Gaza Strip, according to the Russian official news agency RIA Novosti. Moscow criticizes Israel, accusing it of causing a high number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. In 2022, Israel protested against a statement by Sergey Lavrov, who claimed that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood,” and in 2023, when he compared the West’s policy towards Russia with Hitler’s actions against the Jews, according to Radio Svoboda.

Coalition for Artillery

Allies of Ukraine launched an “artillery” coalition in Paris on Thursday to address urgent weapon needs of Kyiv, which has warned of an “ammunition shortage” ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, international media reports.

“The ammunition shortage is a very real and pressing issue our armed forces are currently facing,” wrote Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustam Umerov on social network X (formerly Twitter) during the launch of an “artillery coalition,” led by France and the USA.

“We need to strengthen Ukrainian defense capabilities to protect the free world against the Russian threat,” he stated.

The artillery coalition launched on Thursday is one of the components of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the so-called Ramstein Group, which brings together over 50 countries in several subgroups, from demining to anti-air defense.

“There is no alternative to modern artillery; we must continue our efforts and increase our ammunition production,” the Ukrainian defense minister said in a video conference during the opening ceremony, after canceling his visit for “security reasons”.

France announced on this occasion that it would “release a sum of 50 million euros” to “purchase 12 additional Caesar (howitzers)” – bringing the total number of such equipment for Ukraine to 67 – and said it has the capacity to produce another 60, funding of which will depend on allies.

“I called Emmanuel Macron to thank France for launching the ‘artillery’ coalition for Ukraine and committing to produce dozens of ‘Caesars’,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky on social network X. The two leaders also discussed the “need to further strengthen Ukraine’s anti-air defense,” targeted almost every night by drones and missiles launched by Moscow, added Zelensky.

Kyiv has already deployed 49 Caesars, produced by Nexter (Franco-German group KNDS), with another six howitzers to be delivered “in the coming weeks,” according to the French Ministry of Defense. France has the capacity to produce another 72 such howitzers and is prepared to finance the manufacture of 12, indicated French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu. “Thus, 60 remain to be financed, about 250 million euros, a sum that seems accessible for different budgets of the allies,” he continued in front of representatives of 23 countries supporting Ukraine’s defense.

To arm the howitzers, the EU had set a goal to supply Ukraine with a million munitions by spring 2024. But only 300,000 shells have been delivered so far, according to European parliamentarians. Ukrainians launch between 5,000 and 8,000 shells daily, compared to 10,000-15,000 by the Russian side, emphasized Cedric Perrin, chairman of the French Senate’s International Affairs Committee, noting that “national and European production is extremely weak” and that “the current economy does not meet Ukrainian expectations.” From the French side, Minister Lecornu insisted on Thursday on tripling French ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, which have increased from 1,000 units per month to 2,000 in the first year of war and should rise to 3,000 shells starting in January. “We are in the process of rebuilding gunpowder stocks. We are recycling powders from unused ammunition,” he told reporters. The minister also announced the delivery of about 50 air-to-ground guidance kits A2SM per month starting in January, throughout the year. With a medium range, these can be adapted to “Soviet-class” aircraft such as Mig and Sukhoi, used by Ukraine, he assured.

France has already transferred or sold 30 Caesars to Ukraine, which ordered an additional six howitzers in the fall. Denmark has also provided 19 units of an eight-wheeled armored version. Mounted on a truck, the Caesar howitzer can fire 155 mm shells at a distance of 40 kilometers. Emmanuel Macron announced he will visit Ukraine in February, for the second time since the war began on February 24, 2022. France is “about to finalize” a security agreement with Kyiv similar to the one signed on Friday between the United Kingdom and Ukraine for a duration of ten years, he added, announcing among other things the delivery of about 40 Scalp missiles.

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Ukraine: War, Peace and European Dreams

Ukraine: War, Peace and European Dreams

The Ukrainian army is advancing slowly on the southern front in an attempt to achieve more results before the fall sets in, while the Russian army has concentrated over 420,000 soldiers on the ground to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive. “We must reclaim our land,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared in an interview with CNN.

Hopes in Kiev

Zelensky’s statement comes amid reports of Ukrainian forces advancing towards Tokmak, a significant railway junction in the south used by the Russian army to maintain the front in the region. “Ukraine will not back down, will not abandon its own territory. We will never do that,” Zelensky added, reiterating that the war would be long, as a frozen conflict does not mean peace.

Zelensky acknowledges the slowdown of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which he attributed to Russia’s aerial superiority and the slow delivery of Western arms. “Some things are on the way. Many people say the counteroffensive is too slow, but some things are on the way,” he insisted.

In this regard, he assured that he would once again discuss with American partners the need to supply Kiev with long-range ATACMS missiles, which are expected to be received as early as this fall.

In any case, the war will not have a happy ending, Zelensky said. “This is not a movie that lasts an hour and a half (…) There will be no ‘happy end.’ We have lost a lot of people,” the Ukrainian president stated.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar indicated that in the past week, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has managed to recapture 4.8 square kilometers of territory in the southwest of the Donetsk region and the neighboring Zaporizhia region. Maliar explained that with the recovery of this territory, Ukrainian forces attacking on these two segments of the front line have liberated a total of 256.5 square kilometers since Ukraine began its counteroffensive in early June.

Race Against the Weather

While senior American officials claim that Ukraine has between 30 and 45 days to continue its counteroffensive before worsening weather conditions, Kirilo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, has stated that adverse weather will not hinder Kiev from pursuing its plans. “Last autumn, combat actions did not cease. This year will be the same,” he asserted, promising that the offensive “in all directions will continue.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), in its daily report on Monday, estimates that “cold and wet weather will impact but not stop” Kiev’s operations.

In turn, Russia is said to have concentrated around 420,000 troops in the occupied territories to thwart Kiev and launch its own offensive, according to Ukrainian sources. Moscow is thus attempting to “take revenge” and regain some of the territories liberated by Ukraine last year, such as extensive areas in the Kharkiv region, as indicated by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

Furthermore, Russian forces aim to gain full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east, one of the primary objectives of their military intervention in Ukraine, according to GUR.

Black Sea, Theater of War

Officials in Kiev have announced that Ukraine has recaptured two oil and gas drilling platforms from the Russians in the Black Sea, which had been under Moscow’s control since 2015 and were located close to the annexed Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“Ukraine has taken control of ‘Vishki Boika’ (Boiko Towers),” announced the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s intelligence service (GUR) in a statement. During a “unique operation,” “clashes took place between Ukrainian special forces on board ships and a Russian Su-30 fighter jet,” the statement added, stating that “the Russian plane was damaged and had to retreat.”

During the operation, other “valuable trophies” were also captured, such as helicopter ammunition and a radar system capable of tracking the movement of ships in the Black Sea, GUR further reported.

The statement recalls that Russia had occupied these platforms since 2015 when it annexed Crimea in 2014, and Moscow had been using them for military purposes since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia has not yet commented on this information, and the cited news agencies have not been able to independently verify GUR’s information. “For Ukraine, regaining control of the Boiko Towers has strategic importance, and as a result, Russia has lost the ability to use them for military purposes,” GUR emphasized in a video posted on Telegram.

“Russia is now deprived of the ability to fully control the waters of the Black Sea, and this means that Ukraine has taken significant steps toward the liberation of Crimea,” the GUR statement concludes. Before Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine extracted a significant portion of natural gas from the Black Sea, supplying gas not only to Crimea but also to mainland Ukrainian regions.

Foto: wikipedia
Foto: wikipedia

Billions for Ukraine

In 2024, Ukraine will need financial assistance from the United States in the range of $12 to $14 billion, as budgetary expenses remain high amid the Russian invasion, stated Ukrainian Finance Minister Serghei Marcenko on Monday.

Marcenko also expressed hope that the interim budget of the United States would be approved soon, allowing Ukraine to receive an additional $3.3 billion by the end of the year to cover the budget deficit. “There are no discussions yet, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we are not confident that this is guaranteed,” said Serghei Marcenko at a business forum held in Kiev.

Marcenko added that in 2024, the ministry he heads would like to receive funding from the United States for the state budget at a level similar to this year. “Not lower than this year: somewhere between $12 and $14 billion. That’s what we expect,” Serghei Marcenko stated.

Ukraine received nearly $10 billion in financial aid from the United States this year to cover the budget deficit, and Ukrainian authorities estimate that their needs will not diminish next year as the Ukrainian army makes slow progress in its counteroffensive.

Although U.S. President Joe Biden has requested emergency funds of $24 billion to respond to the war in Ukraine, the next tranche of American aid for Ukraine has faced political obstacles as the United States enters a cycle of presidential elections.

Ukraine’s new Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov, stated last week that he would request a budget increase for defense this year by 251 billion hryvnias ($6.8 billion), given that military expenses are rising day by day.

Finance Minister Serghei Marcenko mentioned that the Kiev government would discuss the Defense Minister’s request at the next meeting but appreciated that “I’m not sure we’ll be able to cover all the needs” mentioned by Rustem Umerov.

War for Peace

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated on Tuesday that a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine is not yet in sight, as Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine continues.

Although key actors have sometimes been brought together for discussions, Germany must not turn its back on the daily brutality of the war, Scholz emphasized during the “International Meeting of Religions and Cultures in Dialogue” forum in Berlin, an annual event organized by the lay Catholic movement Sant’Egidio.

“This requires effort and time,” the German Chancellor said about peace negotiations. “Time that we actually don’t have, because in the meantime, Russia continues to bomb, torture, and kill in Ukraine,” he added. As the basis for any peace, “the Russian leadership must understand that it is about the withdrawal of troops,” Olaf Scholz stressed: “Then there will be the possibility for discussions, and the Ukrainian government will participate, I am sure of that.”

Over 18 months since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chancellor rejected the “narratives” that a peace deal had already been negotiated between Ukraine and Russia in the spring of 2022 but had been sabotaged by the United States or the United Kingdom. “No, it’s not true,” Scholz firmly stated, thus refuting one of the “narratives” that Moscow has recently been pushing.

He stated that any “common understanding” that might have been found in the early days of the war “was destroyed because the Russian president used that time to move his troops around Ukraine after the failure of the attack on the capital Kiev and to begin the assault on eastern Ukraine.”

Scholz once again defended the delivery of German arms to Ukraine: “We will continue to support Ukraine in its right to self-defense as long as necessary.”

Foto: Facebook

Moscow Sets Conditions

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Tuesday that the cancellation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decree prohibiting dialogue with Moscow should be the first step for negotiations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, according to the official Russian news agency TASS. The same idea was expressed during the day by Russian President Vladimir Putin at an economic forum in Vladivostok (Russia’s Far East), as reported by the Russian press. Lavrov opined that the longer Kiev postpones negotiations with Moscow, the more challenging it will be to negotiate later.

“This is our official position; I will say it again: against the backdrop of the ban on negotiations signed by (Ukrainian President Vladimir) Zelensky, this position should not raise any questions,” Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Rossia-1 television.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in October 2022 officially declaring the ‘impossibility’ of any negotiations between Kiev and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, effectively leaving the door open for discussions with Russia.

Zelensky promulgated the decree after the Kremlin declared the annexation of four Ukrainian regions occupied by the Russian army, which Moscow still only partially controls at present – Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.

“He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are willing to engage in dialogue with Russia, but with a different Russian president,” Zelensky stated at the time, as quoted by Reuters.

Putin’s Threat

Ukraine may begin peace negotiations only when it runs out of resources and will use any potential cessation of hostilities to rearm with the help of the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

The war has devastated areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, killed or injured hundreds of thousands, and triggered the most significant rupture in Russia’s relations with the West since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok, Putin stated that Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces thus far has failed, and the Ukrainian army has suffered heavy losses.

“I have the impression that they want to bite as much as they can and then, when their resources are almost zero, seek a cessation of hostilities and start negotiations to replenish their resources and restore their fighting capacity,” Putin said.

The President added that many potential mediators have asked him if Russia is ready to cease fighting, but he has stated that Russia cannot stop as long as it faces a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

For any chance of discussions, Putin noted that Ukraine should first lift its self-imposed legal ban on peace talks and explain what it wants.

Tough Confrontation

Russia controls approximately 18% of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and territories in eastern and southern Ukraine seized in 2022.

Putin also stated that the West’s decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions is a crime, but such deliveries, while potentially prolonging the war, will not change its ultimate outcome.

He also criticized the West’s decision to provide Ukraine with F-16 aircraft.

When asked if Russia needs to introduce a new mandatory mobilization, Putin stated that 1,000-1,500 Russians sign voluntary contracts daily to join the army.

In the last six or seven months, 270,000 people have signed voluntary contracts, Putin said—a slightly lower figure than the 280,000 announced by former President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month.

Foto: Wikipedia

Illegal Annexations

The Kremlin insisted on Monday that negotiations with Ukraine are possible only if Kiev recognizes the reality created on the ground, referring to the Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia in September 2022.

“In any case, the regime in Kiev will have to discuss based on the recognition of the realities that emerged after it refused to resolve the issues peacefully in March (2022),” following the failed negotiations in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine, held a month after the war began, said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian presidency.

At the same time, the Kremlin’s spokesperson stated that there are currently no prerequisites for a return to negotiations. “At present, there are no prerequisites for the resumption of the negotiation process,” Peskov stated.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear willing to negotiate. “Everyone wants this war to end, but it must end on fair and sustainable terms that reflect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an interview with The Economist over the weekend, said he is emotionally prepared for a long-lasting war and believes that “this is not a favorable moment” for possible negotiations with Russia, as the counteroffensive continues, and Moscow sees Ukraine’s difficulties on the battlefield, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

European Dreams

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated during a visit to Kiev that Ukraine’s place is in the European Union, and Kiev can count on us and our vision of EU expansion as a necessary geopolitical consequence of Russia’s war, as reported by German media.

“Ukraine already has candidate status. And now we are preparing to make a decision on opening discussions on EU accession,” Baerbock said.

According to her, Ukraine’s results regarding judicial reform and media legislation are already impressive, but there is still a long way to go in implementing anti-oligarch legislation and fighting corruption. The European Union itself must “work quickly to ensure that we are positioned adequately for more seats at the table,” explained the Berlin representative.

Furthermore, the German Foreign Minister referred to reports of Ukrainian children being deported to Russia, stating that those responsible for the crimes must be brought to justice. Germany supports organizations and authorities “that provide traumatized children with a safe and secure home,” she said.

“The first step toward peace is for Putin to let these children return home,” Baerbock added. The issue is to be addressed at the UN General Assembly.

Annalena Baerbock’s visit to Ukraine is the fourth since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022. The German Foreign Minister arrived in Kiev by train from Poland as Ukrainian airspace remains closed.

Last May, Baerbock became the first member of the German executive to travel to Ukraine since the start of the war. On that occasion, she visited Bucha, near Kiev, the site of horrifying Russian troop atrocities against civilians. Annalena Baerbock also visited Ukraine in mid-September last year and in January of this year.

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Does a multipolar world begin at the Black Sea?

Does a multipolar world begin at the Black Sea?

The issue of the emerging multipolar world is a hot topic in global geopolitics. Hans Morgenthau believed that multipolar systems are less prone to war as they are more flexible in deterring conflict and limiting potentially dangerous states. For proponents of this configuration, flexibility in alignment was a virtue. On the other hand, Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer believed that bipolar systems (the United States vs. the USSR) were preferable as they were more stable, with the two major powers knowing that there was a natural counterbalance against any attempt to change the status quo.

Foto: Wikipedia

As we presented in the first part of the material dedicated to this highly relevant topic, the motive behind the formation of a multipolar world is the desire to coalesce a part of the world into a geopolitical and economic pole that competes with American unipolarity. The reasons behind the decisions of these entities or states to create a power pole capable of counterbalancing America’s and its allies’ dominance are complex and tied to the historical developments of the world after World War II.

For 45 years, the major victors of Germany and Japan, the USA and the USSR, led global affairs. However, subsequent historical developments have confirmed the rise of other states that are increasingly unwilling to accept the domination of the international stage by a single conductor. The beginning of this multipolar alternative is an organic process that has unfolded over the years but is also accompanied by its violent phases in which the global hegemon seeks to maintain influence and dismantle the competition that threatens the order it has established.

In the article “Decline Is a Choice,” published in 2009, American columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote: “For America today, decline is not a condition. Decline is a choice. Two decades after the birth of the unipolar world that emerged with the fall of the Soviet Union, America is in a position to decide whether to abdicate or to retain its dominance. Decline—or continued ascendancy—is in our hands.”

The article, a veritable crusade against the beginning of Obama’s presidency, predicted the changes that the new president would make during his term and especially criticized the lack of unipolar appetite exhibited by the new administration. In the mentioned article, America was referred to as the accidental hegemon, considering its history of isolationism and what Krauthammer labeled as a lack of instinctive imperial ambition. He also argued that America had saved Europe twice to defend and save the Western civilization to which it belonged, not because it projected itself as a hegemon.

The beginning of the multipolar world has several milestones, and China and Russia are the backbone of this construction. With the rise of Vladimir Putin in Russia and the beginning of recalibrating its new post-imperial status, there is also a strong economic growth in China, which retains its role as the world’s primary manufacturer but lays the foundation for its status as a global superpower, developing remarkable military capabilities and projecting its geopolitical influence around the globe. It should not be forgotten that, despite periods of calm and cooperation, China with the USSR, and later China with the Russian Federation, were ideological and military adversaries of the United States and the Euro-Atlantic pole. Both states shared the experience of communism, with China still being one of the few countries in the world that maintains the Communist Party as the sole party and communism as the only official state ideology.

However, the alternative pole could not coalesce without America’s weakness. Barack Obama is considered the American president who decided that the United States should not be the ‘world’s policeman,’ and starting with his second term, the Americans gradually withdrew from the role of global leadership or were not as prominent in pursuing their interests in the world. It was not a strategy of isolationism in the strict sense, but a strategy of withdrawal, which led to the United States being labeled as a ‘reluctant hegemon.’ The American public became more hesitant to expend American human and military resources in distant regions that were not as justifiable in terms of effort and tangible results. Many members of U.S. foreign policy and national security believed that the United States should end the ‘endless wars’ and pursue a strategy of restraint and reduced engagement. Such domestic political factors led U.S. presidents to reconsider the cost of maintaining the primacy of the United States.

The new approach created power vacuums in regions where America decided to reduce its geopolitical involvement and security commitments. The major powers, Russia and China, naturally sought to fill these voids, driven by an appetite to do so, and adopted offensive foreign policy positions, encouraged by the new reality.

The United States also called on its allies to assume more responsibility and resources for addressing their security concerns. Greater responsibility comes with greater economic and political burdens, and most U.S. allies were not prepared to shoulder these expenses. The European Union member states had to reassess their national security positions, sparking debates focused on strategic autonomy and the existence of a European army.

However, with Joe Biden’s presidency, America has reevaluated the new realities and quickly returned, at least in Europe, to the formula from NATO’s inception, adapted to the present circumstances: Russia out, USA in Europe; Germany down.

From the beginning of his term, Biden said, ‘The United States must regain the credibility and moral authority for which it was known in the world. It will take time to repair the devastating damage caused by the previous administration, but it is precisely what we will focus on.’

He also reaffirmed, in an online speech at the Munich Security Conference, the importance of the transatlantic partnership, promising that the United States would face common challenges together with its European allies, including the challenge posed by China. He also halted Trump’s plan to withdraw 12,000 American soldiers from the Federal Republic.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

Multipolarity and Its Expressions

Multipolarity, in fact, signifies the emergence of other powers and regional blocs, such as India, Russia, the European Union, Japan, Brazil, and South Africa, which have their own interests, values, and agendas and cooperate or compete with each other in various fields for a common purpose.

Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, between 1997-2002, stated a decade ago: ‘Twenty years after the end of the USSR, a global order is not being formed, but rather competition within the deregulated and still inadequately regulated global economy, a free space for everyone, between states, enterprises, financial actors, and various interest groups, both legal and illegal. Alliances are ad-hoc among rising or declining centers of power.’ (…) The United States faces the challenge of recognizing that its leadership in the world is now only relative, and that its power must be exercised differently. Half of America refuses to do so.

The motivations of states such as China, Russia, and others from what is generically called the ‘Global South’ to break free from American unipolarity are complex, but the ideology that unites them posits a series of arguments that, in their view, pertain to a historical process that can no longer be ignored.

A multipolar world is different from a unipolar world, in which one state dominates the international system, different from a bipolar world, in which two states or blocs of states compete for power and influence, and different from a tripolar world, in which three states or blocs of states dominate the international system.

The impact of globalization and technological innovation has increased interdependence and connectivity between states and non-state actors, such as businesses, civil society, and international organizations.

The theory of a multipolar world argues that the challenges and opportunities of global governance, trade, security, climate change, human rights, and development require more dialogue, negotiation, and compromise among the poles of power and other actors to resolve conflicts and achieve common goals.

As a result, seven key pillars of the multipolar world have been identified:

  1. Energy Distribution – The first pillar of the multipolar world revolves around energy distribution.
  2. Economic Interdependence, as economic relationships are not limited to a few dominant players but encompass a wide range of nations and regions. Multiple economic powers stimulate trade and investment links globally, creating a complex network of economic relationships that contribute to global prosperity and stability.
  3. Cultural Pluralism – Cultural pluralism involves power dispersed among diverse actors, with a multitude of cultures, languages, and ideologies coming to the forefront. This cultural mosaic promotes an inclusive environment and respect for diversity. As societies interact and exchange ideas, a richer global tapestry emerges, challenging traditional notions of homogeneity and promoting cultural dialogue.
  4. Diplomacy and Multilateralism – In a multipolar world, diplomacy and multilateralism play a crucial role in managing complex international relations.
  5. Technological Advancements – Technological progress is essential in shaping the multipolar world. Rapid innovation and the diffusion of technology empower a wider range of actors to engage in global affairs.
  6. Security and Cooperation – Security and cooperation form another vital pillar of the multipolar world. With power distributed among multiple actors, the balance of power becomes dynamic and requires constant reassessment. Nations seek to build alliances, partnerships, and coalitions based on shared interests and mutual security concerns. Collaboration on issues such as counterterrorism, climate change, and nuclear non-proliferation becomes imperative to maintain global stability.
  7. Adaptability and Flexibility – Ultimately, adaptability and flexibility are key pillars in the multipolar world. Nations must be open to adjusting their strategies, policies, and alliances to successfully navigate the complex landscape of the multipolar world.
Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook


BRICS, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, is an acronym coined by economist Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in 2001. Initially, it included only Brazil, Russia, India, and China (hence the original BRIC), with South Africa joining in 2010. O’Neill suggested that these four economies had the potential to dominate the global economy by 2050. Over the years, the economic power of these nations has inevitably translated into political power, leading to regular summits and concerted actions aimed at forming a global political and economic bloc.

The common declarations of BRICS articulate the general principles that underlie their cooperation. They emphasize respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, national unity, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. BRICS nations have committed to promoting peace, improving the global economic governance system, ensuring a fairer international order, and fostering sustainable development and inclusive growth. Each member state has its own reasons for supporting this project, initially driven by economic interests and later by the pursuit of global political power.

South Africa views its BRICS membership as an important vehicle for its foreign policy and an additional platform to increase its international influence.

Brazil sees BRICS as a platform to promote Brazil’s influence abroad and to build multilateral partnerships with other global powers, not just within the organization.

India considers the BRICS mechanism as a springboard for addressing development challenges in the Global South and, importantly, as a means to engage with China, a neighboring country with which it has numerous disputes, in an extended framework on issues of common interest.

For China, BRICS is a platform to expand its influence as a global power on the multilateral stage within the paradigm of multipolarity. Similarly, Russia, while committed to its own geopolitical projects aimed at restoring its position among the major BRICS powers, considers itself an advocate for reforming the global order, which has been dominated by the West, with the goal of making the international order fairer and challenging what it sees as Western hypocrisy and double standards.

What unites these states, despite their heterogeneity in terms of political regimes (from dictatorship, communism, democracy, authoritarianism, to monarchy), is two ideological motivations: anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism.

The proponents of multipolarity seek to include the multipolar spectrum as the basis of the current and future international system, consolidate BRICS as a global influencer, and attempt to de-dollarize a portion of the global economy, viewing the U.S. dollar as a principal instrument of American global dominance.

The Conflict in Ukraine and the Acceleration of Shaping the Multipolar World

America’s relations with Russia have been characterized as a unique “unipolar moment” in the history of the decade following the end of the Cold War. Subsequent evaluations have accused America of arrogance and narcissism in its handling of the relationship with the defeated party in the bipolar world. America’s governing elite failed to respect the interests of a weakened Russia and did not grasp Moscow’s potential for revenge. Representatives of the Clinton administration argued that NATO expansion was not an anti-Russia initiative and that there was no reason for Russia to fear it. However, the Russian political class perceived the opposite.

In her memoirs, Madeleine Albright confirmed that the decision to support expansion was made in June 1993, long before Russia took any aggressive actions against its neighbors. “We believed that NATO should remain at the center of the European security system,” she confessed. Furthermore, “it was correct for NATO to open its doors to new democracies, provided they met the same political and military standards as other members.”

As a result, the expansion of the most powerful military alliance still in operation after 1991, up to the borders of a Russia that had emerged from the ruins of the USSR, was interpreted as a hostile act by Moscow. NATO’s expansion, in what Moscow defined as Russia’s security buffer zone, and U.S.-led military interventions in the Balkans greatly dampened Russian enthusiasm for American values and created the perception that Russia would be increasingly hemmed in and encircled. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack F. Matlock Jr. stated regarding this matter: “The effect on Russian confidence in the United States was devastating.” Therefore, from Moscow’s perspective, Russia’s attack on Ukraine is seen as a consequence of distrust in America and the West, which are viewed as enemies that have not ceased to undermine the Russian nation and state.

With the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory in the so-called special operation, the significance of the Kremlin’s decision goes beyond its stated motivations and extends to a conflict between American unipolarism and the multipolar alternative, with Russia relying on its allies. The reactions of a significant portion of the world’s nations to the conflict initiated by Russia have not leaned toward the majority condemnation as they did in the past but rather toward favorable neutrality.

At the United Nations General Assembly, approximately 40 countries (around 60% of the world’s population) refused to participate in condemning Russia. Concerning the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), they have taken different positions within the United Nations regarding the conflict in Ukraine. For example, in the vote to demand Russia’s cessation of its offensive against Ukraine on March 2, 2022, Brazil voted to condemn Russia, while the other BRICS members abstained. In the vote on March 24, 2022, to allow humanitarian access to the region, China and Brazil voted in favor of the resolution, while India and South Africa abstained.

This marks a return to a form of “non-alignment” by countries that do not necessarily agree with Moscow but do not want to be compelled to automatically support the Western-led America.

The current Russia-Ukraine conflict has not remained a local dispute between two former Soviet neighboring states but has expanded into an international issue due to the actions of the Washington-Brussels Axis. The involvement of the European Union in the conflict, through support with weapons, logistics, and funding for Ukraine, has had a direct impact on Europe, which bears the brunt of the consequences. The United States benefits economically from Russian sanctions. Without NATO support, Ukraine would have been defeated rapidly. However, Moscow’s goal seems to be not only the defeat of Ukraine but also wearing down Europe and increasing dissatisfaction among Europeans with the prolonged conflict.

If the war in Ukraine ends in a military impasse without a peace agreement or even a formal ceasefire (which seems increasingly likely), the EU and the US will maintain their sanctions against Russia for years if necessary. In practice, the world will witness a “mini Cold War” between, on one side, EU and NATO countries and their closest partners (such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea), and on the other side, Russia.

However, the West will continue to maintain its relations with China (no matter how difficult this compromise may be) even if Beijing continues its partnership with Russia.

Regarding whether the multipolar order begins at the Black Sea, it is expected that this clash between NATO and Russia will lead to a permanent reordering of the dynamics of geopolitical power in the 21st century through a ripple effect. This conflict is the litmus test of the current geopolitical confrontation, with Russia historically pivoting toward Asia and moving away from its orientation toward Europe being the great achievement of the multipolar project.

Although America, under Joe Biden’s mandate, is trying to maintain the continuity of the so-called “American century,” the data suggest that this war symbolizes a military stage in the creation of a multipolar world. This conflict, and especially its consequences, favor the rise of new emerging powers and strengthen the major players in the multipolar equation. Furthermore, China, whose global role is gaining prominence, through its non-alignment in sanctioning Russia and collaboration with Moscow, indicates that its actions are guided by long-term projects, with the same objective as Moscow: weakening the power of America and its allies.

While China is not openly involved in the Ukrainian conflict on anyone’s side, its use of economic instruments and discreet military aid acts as a form of “punishment” against its Western enemies or other allies of the United States.


How viable is the multipolar world and how strong is American unipolarism?

Bekir Ilhan, an international relations analyst, in his article “ANALYSIS – The illusion of the multipolar world,” is skeptical about the prospects of creating a genuine multipolarity. He argues that Russia and China are not equal competitors to the United States because the economic and military power of Russia and China cannot match the reach and impact of America in the world. In Ukraine, he says, the Russian army, presented as the second-largest military power in terms of size, faced serious problems, despite substantial nuclear capabilities. China, on the other hand, even though its GDP surpasses that of the U.S., still has much to do to catch up with America, and its economic growth does not necessarily translate into equivalent military power. Furthermore, Ilhan sees China’s power projection capacity as limited for a potential global military power. At the same time, China has not yet developed a military doctrine that protects China’s global interests.

However, the argument of nuclear power in China and Russia remains essential, which will lead to “nuclear multipolarity,” certainly a significant factor in global geopolitical rivalry. The United States sees this as the most serious threat it will face by the 2030s. In this situation, the U.S. will have to deter two major nuclear powers simultaneously, Russia and China. This will be an unprecedented strategic balance that even surpasses the Cold War.

For the multipolar project, America’s return represents a significant obstacle because the Biden administration has departed from the withdrawal strategy pursued during the Obama and Trump eras and has become increasingly involved in global affairs. Biden’s speech, “America is back,” signaled a turnaround in American national security policy, and the unprecedented military aid provided by the U.S. to Ukraine against Russia strongly supports this shift.

Biden’s main concern has essentially been China, not the Russian Federation. Although there was fierce domestic political rivalry between him and his predecessor, Joe Biden did not deviate significantly from Trump’s approach to Beijing. Biden’s stance against China may not have been as bombastic as Trump’s, but it amplified the geopolitical and economic struggle with Beijing. He aimed to revitalize the cause of democracy worldwide and address the urgency of climate change, but it is possible that his and America’s ambitions may not find the desired followers in many parts of the world.

In his strategy of re-establishing America as a global leader, Joe Biden sought to rally U.S. allies to present a united front against a powerful and influential China on the world stage, determined to be a rule-setter rather than a rule-taker. However, America is the one setting the rules, which can only lead to conflict sooner or later.

The American President referred to Russia and China as two of the “biggest” issues in U.S. foreign policy. He called Russia “a country that wants to destroy our democracy.” China, on the other hand, is a threat to the U.S. because of its “great economic ambitions.” Joe Biden concluded: “We must act firmly but with diplomatic means.”

Critics of Biden challenge his hegemonic return policy as a misjudgment of geopolitical realities. Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, harshly assessed that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue for the past four decades.” Biden supported many failed defense policies and rejected others that proved more successful, Gates wrote. He voted for the 2003 Iraq War but against the 1991 Gulf War. The latter, controversial decision led to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguably his greatest vulnerability in foreign policy, where he was seen as one of the most experienced American politicians with over 40 years of experience.

Returning to Bekir Ilhan’s article, he concludes by saying that the illusion of multipolarity stems from American strategic choices, not from the American system itself. The international system will remain unipolar, and unipolarity does not mean that the United States actually leads the world. Unipolarity means that no other major power matches the material capabilities of the United States. The United States has voluntarily stepped back from the role of the world’s policeman in recent years, giving rise to the illusion of multipolarity, which could be a trap for multipolar enthusiasm.

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Republic of Moldova: fugitive oligarchs play the Gagauz card

Republic of Moldova: fugitive oligarchs play the Gagauz card

The autumn of 2023 promises to be geopolitically active in the southern regions of the Republic of Moldova. Political forces funded by fugitive oligarchs Ilan Șor and Vladimir Plahotniuc are stirring up tensions in the autonomous Gagauz region as local elections draw near. The Republic of Moldova has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in recent weeks

Republic of Găgăuzia

One local leader, the President of the regional legislature, the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Dmitri Constantinov, does not rule out the creation of a “Gagauz Republic.” He stated in an interview with a TV station from the separatist Transnistria region that “people are demanding it,” although he did not provide evidence of this statement. Constantinov later reaffirmed his statement to the media in Chisinau, stating that the Republic of Moldova has been “somewhat negligent in its attitude towards Gagauzia’s laws.” On September 9, a meeting of deputies of all levels will take place in Comrat, and, as Constantinov mentioned, “it is possible” that “some of the deputies may support this idea.”

Dmitri Constantinov subsequently declared that he would appear before the Prosecutor’s Office if summoned for explanations following his statements about the possible proclamation of the Gagauzia Republic. He also maintains that he is not a proponent of this idea, mentioning that his statement was not correctly understood.

Constantinov’s response came after the Secretary-General of the DA Platform, Liviu Vovc, announced on Facebook that he had filed a complaint with the relevant authorities against him. According to Vovc, the President of the People’s Assembly, in his capacity as a public figure, advocates against the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. This comes after he said that Gagauzia could self-proclaim as a “republic.”

Referring to the statements of the local elected official from Gagauzia, Victor Petrov, a political ally of Shor, who had characterized Constantinov’s statements as a provocation that could lead to the elimination of autonomy a few days ago, the President of the People’s Assembly stated that his statement was not correctly understood. Furthermore, a few days after the declaration about creating a republic, Constantinov declared that he was renouncing this idea. “I said that on the 9th, there would be a continuation of the session, where deputies, those with mandates, would be summoned, and I have a mandate. I was asked if the question of the Gagauz Republic could be raised there, and I said I can’t tell you what questions will be discussed there and how they will be voted on. I can’t know. That’s why I can’t guarantee,” he said.

Every year, on August 19th, Gagauzia celebrates the proclamation of the Gagauz Republic. From 1990 to 1994, Gagauzia self-proclaimed itself as a separate republic from Moldova, but from December 1994 to July 1995, Gagauzia was reintegrated into Moldova, becoming an autonomous region.

What is Gagauzia?

Gagauzia is an autonomous region located in the southern part of the Republic of Moldova. It possesses a distinct ethnic, cultural, and linguistic character and is renowned for its predominantly Gagauz population, who speak the Gagauz language, a Turkic language.

Gagauzia has a complex history, with the Gagauz people being descendants of the Oghuz Turks, as some researchers think. They have developed a unique traditional culture, influenced by other peoples who have lived in the area over time, especially in the Balkan region. The Gagauz people were colonized by the Russian Empire in the current region as part of its imperial policy.

Gagauzia obtained the status of an autonomous region within the Republic of Moldova in 1994. This autonomy grants Gagauzia partial control over internal affairs, including the right to choose its local leadership and promote Gagauz culture and language.

The predominant religion in Gagauzia is Orthodox Christianity. The Gagauz Orthodox Church plays a significant role in the religious and cultural life of the region, while also serving as one of the means through which Russian influence is exerted in the area.

The economy of Gagauzia is primarily based on agriculture and the food industry. The region is known for its wine production and animal husbandry.

Relationship with the Republic of Moldova

Gagauzia has a complex relationship with the Republic of Moldova. Over the years, there have been debates and negotiations concerning its status and autonomy. Gagauzia maintains its distinct identity but also collaborates with the central administration of the Republic of Moldova. Gagauzia has its own autonomous government and legislation. It has a regional government and an autonomous president who oversees local affairs.

Certainly, disagreements between Chisinau (the capital of the Republic of Moldova) and Comrat (the capital of Gagauzia) have been present in the relationship between the two entities in recent decades, often related to issues of autonomy, local governance, cultural identity, and control over resources. One of the main sources of tension has been Gagauzia’s autonomous status within the Republic of Moldova. Gagauzia gained its autonomy status in 1994, granting it a significant degree of self-governance in certain areas. However, there have been disagreements regarding the boundaries of this status and the extent to which Gagauzia can exercise its autonomy.

Disputes have also arisen regarding control over resources, including agricultural land, industries, and sources of income. Gagauzia’s economy is largely based on agriculture and the food industry, and questions about rights to these resources can lead to tensions with the central administration in Chisinau.

Political aspects and local elections can also contribute to tensions. In some cases, the election of the president and government of Gagauzia can lead to divergences and affect relations with the central administration of the Republic of Moldova.

Dialogue, negotiation, and a commitment to the peaceful development of the relationship between the two entities are essential for maintaining stability and cooperation in the Republic of Moldova.

Transnistrian Precedent

The threat of a new Transnistrian scenario in the context of Russia’s illegal military aggression against Ukraine should raise questions for all sensible individuals in autonomy. The authorities in Chisinau must swiftly clarify the rights and obligations of both parties, including those of Gagauzia, to remove this leverage favorable to Russian interests.

Just a year ago, Mustafa Şentop, former President of the Turkish Parliament, delivered a message of unity during his visit to Comrat in the context of the war in Ukraine. “The future of Gagauzia is not elsewhere but in Moldova. Gagauzia is an integral part of Moldova. It is more important than ever to have a constructive attitude in relations with Chisinau,” said the former head of the Ankara Legislature, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His statements are clear evidence that Gagauz separatist ambitions are fueled by the Russian Federation, while Turkey, a NATO member state and a candidate for EU membership, does not view Gagauzia as an independent state but an integral part of the Republic of Moldova.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

The Şor Executive

During a recent special session of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (APG), deputies managed to approve the structure of the executive committee, but with some reservations, which were accepted by Governor Evghenia Guțul. The condition set by the deputies is that “by November 2023, when the autonomy’s 2024 budget is to be formed, the structure should be optimized, and the number of departments and officials reduced.” The second significant point is the reduction of the budget for maintaining the executive committee’s staff.

Deputy Mihail Jelezoglo reminded that some candidates in the governor’s team did not pass the Gagauz language proficiency exam – Doiceva, Kendighelean, and Cîlcic. “Our approval of these candidates in the executive committee structure will give any court the right to challenge today’s decision of the APG,” he mentioned.

Vice President of the APG Alexandr Tarnavschi stated, “It’s not the governor’s fault that she doesn’t know all the people in the proposed executive committee, as the list was not made by her but by Ilan Şor.” He continued, “You are not to blame for this; perhaps you are an honest person but inexperienced. I believe it would be more honest to resign because you are being used by others. They do not support this executive committee because its members cannot distance themselves from Şor. You will not be able to work because you will not find common ground with Chisinau or European structures,” said the deputy.

Nicolai Dudoglo, former mayor of Comrat, later stated that “we must defend her, and the central authorities should not scare the autonomy authorities with criminal cases. We all need a little patience now that we have chosen a new governor,” he said, emphasizing that Evghenia Guțul “learns quickly and is different now.” He mentioned that he would run as an independent candidate for the position of mayor of Comrat, pointing out his desire to join the political team of oligarch Şor.

Dudoglo admitted that he had suggested that the President of the People’s Assembly, Dmitri Constantinov, resign. “Enough, leave, you’ve done everything you can in this position,” he told him. “I have nothing against Constantinov, but I consider him guilty of the deadlock in Gagauzia,” said Dudoglo, who is close to Vladimir Plahotniuc.

Weak Opposition

Within the autonomy, there are several leaders opposing the feudalization policy promoted by Şor, including the Vice President of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Alexandr Tarnavschi. He stated that the new governor, Evghenia Guțul, and her team affiliated with the former “ŞOR” Party, which was banned by the Constitutional Court, are not prepared to govern Gagauzia. Vice President of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Alexandr Tarnavschi, shares this opinion.

It should be noted that the head of autonomy and the team she has presented have not distanced themselves from the unconstitutional “ŞOR” party and the convicted politician Ilan Şor. Furthermore, Guțul does not position herself as the head of Gagauzia for the entire autonomy but as a representative of the “ŞOR” Party, and she constantly speaks about it. This makes the authorities in Chisinau increasingly cautious about Gagauzia, especially since autonomy, after the assumption of power by Evghenia Guțul, is isolated from external partners and donors.

It is hard to believe that the republican authorities will negotiate with the Executive Committee of Comrat, given that without dialogue, you cannot develop the economy and manage social issues. The lack of dialogue between the Moldovan Government and the Executive Committee will worsen the situation in Gagauzia.

On the agenda of the Moldovan Parliament is the draft law of Deputy Radu Marian regarding the reimbursement of taxes to economic agents from the Gagauzia budget. In this case, the lack of dialogue between Comrat and Chisinau can lead to the approval of this project in its initial version, which would mean the collapse of the Gagauzia budget system.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

Fantasy Promises

The “ȘOR” Party and its oligarchic leader have promised to build an airport, investments of 500 million euros, and natural gas at 12 lei/m3. These promises have allowed Șor members to exert public pressure, including through massive protests, even though it is evident that the governor will not fulfill these promises.

It should be noted that the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia have repeatedly refused to discuss topics related to the structure and composition of the new Executive Committee (local government). Parliamentarians are dissatisfied that the proposed list includes individuals affiliated with the fugitive politician Ilan Șor. At the last session held on August 25, deputies only managed to approve the structure of the Committee, suggesting to the governor to modify the list of members and only then seek the vote of the People’s Assembly.

Some deputies expressed dissatisfaction with the candidate for the position of deputy governor, Mihail Vlah. According to them, Vlah was involved in a case of voter bribery during the polling stations set up in Gagauzia during the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. They also mentioned that the public television station in Gagauzia, GRT, is at risk of disappearing due to mismanagement. Deputies from Gagauzia reminded Guțul about Marina Tauber’s statements, according to which the vote in the People’s Assembly for the new composition of the Executive Committee is “a mere formality.”

By the decision of the People’s Assembly, Evghenia Guțul has until November 15 to present the new composition of the Executive Committee.

Spy War

The situation in Gagauzia has also influenced the recent spy war between Chisinau and Comrat. Dozens of Russian diplomats and their families recently left the territory of the Republic of Moldova after the authorities in Chisinau decided to reduce the staff at the Russian Embassy due to “destabilizing” actions in the country. Some of them carried out official and unofficial activities in southern Moldova. At the end of July, the Moldovan government announced that the number of accredited diplomats and “technical-administrative” staff working at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Chisinau would be reduced from over 80 individuals to 25. Chisinau’s decision came “as a result of numerous unfriendly actions towards the Republic of Moldova, unrelated to diplomatic mandates, as well as attempts to destabilize the internal situation in our country.”

In response, Moscow announced through the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it would not remain without a response. “This is a new step towards the destruction of bilateral relations on the part of the regime in Chisinau. In its desire to stand out in front of its Western sponsors in terms of Russophobia, the official Chisinau is falling to ever greater depths, borrowing the Ukrainian and Baltic experiences, as well as standard measures, including public offenses against our country, banning the Russian-language press, and attacking the Russian language,” said Maris Zaharova.

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Bulgaria, the tourism powerhouse of the Black Sea

Bulgaria, the tourism powerhouse of the Black Sea

The Russian military invasion of Ukraine has caused significant damage to the tourism sector in Bulgaria, a traditional touristic area for citizens of the Russian Federation, Ukraine or Belarus. Authorities in Sofia are trying to identify new solutions to boost this industry.

Foto: wikipedia/Michal Gorski
Foto: wikipedia/Michal Gorski

Tourism Tradition

Bulgaria is known for its natural beauty, the beaches along the Black Sea coast, and its rich cultural heritage. The tourism industry has been a significant sector for the Bulgarian economy, making substantial contributions to national income and job creation.

Bulgaria boasts a number of popular resorts along the Black Sea coast, such as Sunny Beach, Albena, and Golden Sands. These resorts attract tourists due to their beaches, water sports, and vibrant nightlife.

The Balkan state has a rich history and diverse cultural heritage. Cities like Sofia, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo are renowned for their historical attractions, monuments, and museums.

The Balkan Mountains run through Bulgaria, providing opportunities for mountain tourism, hiking, and winter sports during the colder season. Additionally, Bulgaria is recognized for its spa resorts and thermal baths, such as Bansko and Sandanski, which attract tourists seeking relaxation and healing.

Rural tourism is a growing segment in Bulgaria’s countryside, offering authentic experiences with picturesque villages, local traditions, and specific cuisine. This segment aims to attract both domestic and international tourists.”

Problems and Challenges

A significant issue for Bulgaria’s tourism industry is its outdated or underdeveloped infrastructure. Roads, public transportation, hotels, and other facilities have needed modernization to meet tourists’ requirements and expectations.

Being in a region with strong tourism competition is another challenge. Neighboring countries like Greece, Turkey, and Croatia are also popular tourist destinations, making Bulgaria compete to attract visitors.

Another major challenge has been the seasonal dependency on the summer season. Many of Bulgaria’s attractions, such as Black Sea coastal resorts, draw tourists mainly during the summer, leaving less active periods during the rest of the year.

Similar challenges are present in the winter tourism sector. Diversifying the offerings and promoting tourism during off-peak seasons are concerns to mitigate this seasonal dependence.

Past political instability and economic uncertainty negatively impacted tourists’ confidence in Bulgaria as a safe and attractive destination. Negative media coverage or inappropriate political events can influence tourists’ decisions to choose Bulgaria as their destination. Additionally, few foreign firms are willing to invest in a country known for corruption and political instability.

The rapid growth of tourism in Bulgaria has led to pressures on natural and cultural resources, as well as local communities. Issues like waste management, uncontrolled urban development, and the risk of over-tourism in certain places can threaten the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry.

Improving the quality of tourism services, including accommodations, food, and overall tourist services, is another challenge. Maintaining high standards and ensuring positive experiences for tourists are crucial aspects for the industry’s long-term success, as indicated by specialized studies.

Foto: Facebook

Russian Influx

As of my last update in September 2021, Russian tourists played a significant role in Bulgaria’s tourism industry. Russians were one of the largest groups of foreign tourists visiting Bulgaria in recent years.

During certain periods, Bulgaria was a preferred destination for Russian tourists, especially for vacations along the Black Sea. The country’s proximity to Russia, relatively affordable prices, and coastal attractions were factors that attracted a substantial number of Russian tourists. Several tens of thousands of Russian citizens have purchased properties in Bulgarian tourist areas, both mountainous and coastal, using them as vacation homes or investments. This has impacted the real estate market in certain areas.

Coastal resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands were among the most popular destinations for Russian tourists. The beaches, nightlife, and attractive prices contributed to the popularity of these resorts.

Most Russian tourists preferred to visit Bulgaria during the summer season due to the pleasant climate and appealing beaches. This brought a significant flow of visitors, particularly during the summer months.

Bulgarian experts acknowledged that the presence of Russian tourists had a significant impact on the Bulgarian economy by creating jobs in the tourism industry, generating sales of services and goods, and contributing to state revenue through taxes and fees.

Russian tourists contributed to the overall increase in visitor numbers to Bulgaria, especially during the summer season. This rise in tourist numbers had a positive effect on the economy, generating significant income for businesses in the tourism sector. The presence of Russian tourists also boosted sales across various sectors, including accommodations, restaurants, souvenir shops, excursions, and car rental services. These sales positively impacted local businesses.

The choice of Bulgaria as a vacation destination by Russian tourists helped promote the country in the Russian market and other markets. Positive experiences by Russian tourists could generate good reviews and recommendations for potential visitors.

To cater to the needs and preferences of Russian tourists, Bulgaria’s tourism industry developed and diversified the range of services and facilities offered. This included providing accommodation options, food, and leisure activities that would attract this specific group of tourists, originating from the Russian Federation and other CIS states.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

Expanding Tourism

Foreign visitors made 1.8 million trips to Bulgaria in July 2023, which is 19.7% more than the same period last year. The majority of visits to Bulgaria were made by citizens from Turkey (266,400), Romania (224,900), Ukraine (214,600), Germany (180,000), Poland (96,600), Serbia (75,600), Greece (72,500), Czech Republic (60,600), the United Kingdom (59,800), and France (41,500).

Transit through Bulgaria accounted for 35.9% (658,300) of the total foreign visitor trips to Bulgaria.

In the same July period, Bulgarian residents made 820,500 trips abroad, which is 12.1% more than the same period last year. The most frequent travel destinations were Turkey (220,900), Greece (216,400), Romania (60,400), Germany (54,400), Serbia (46,600), Italy (28,100), Austria (23,000), Spain (21,700), France (21,400), and the United Kingdom (17,300).

Holiday and recreation trips accounted for the largest portion of Bulgarian residents’ trips abroad in July, at 44.8%, followed by trips for other purposes (education, cultural and sports events) at 38.6%, and business-related travel at 16.6%.

During this period, Bulgaria is seeing over 30% more bookings compared to last year, and revenues are up by 50%. It is expected to welcome 13 million foreign visitors in 2023, as previously stated by Rumen Draganov, a director at the Institute for Analysis and Assessments in Tourism, as reported by the media.

“If we end the year with around 13 million foreign visitors in total, we will surpass the level of 2019, when there were 12.5 million. During the winter, there were many satisfied tourists, not only in winter sports and spa segments, but also in cultural tourism in historical urban areas and other types, like visiting friends and relatives. We have an excess in accommodation and continue construction works,” stated Draganov.

Foto: Facebook

Nessebar Strategy

The 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in September 2023, when the proposal to include the city of Nessebar on the List of World Heritage in Danger will be voted on, according to local authorities in Nessebar. This move is part of Sofia authorities’ strategy to strengthen the country’s image, especially after the COVID pandemic and the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.

In a report released in July, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) launched this proposal as Bulgaria failed to implement previous recommendations regarding the preservation of the authenticity of the old city.

One of the recommendations is the decommissioning of the port and marina facilities beyond the limits of the peninsula where the old city is located. This recommendation was deemed unacceptable because the port serves a traditional function for Nessebar, existing before the Old Town was designated as a World Heritage site in 1983, according to the Nessebar Municipality.

Local authorities also added that the Port Authority objects to this recommendation as the city’s ports have sustained the local community’s livelihood for a long time and are part of the peninsula’s history. Decommissioning the ports would affect the lives of the local population and their millennia-old connection with the sea.

The latest ICOMOS monitoring report also identifies the absence of a plan for conserving and managing Nessebar as a World Heritage site.

However, local authorities contend that the report did not consider several projects implemented for conserving and restoring medieval churches, as well as upcoming projects mentioned in Nessebar Municipality’s plans for managing the old city.

“Nessebar will maintain its status as a World Heritage site. The measure to designate it as a heritage site in danger is aimed at preserving its cultural heritage. The historic center of Vienna is currently on the list. The designation of Venice as a heritage site in danger will also be on the agenda in the Riyadh meeting, along with other historical, archaeological, and natural sites from various parts of the world. I believe Nessebar will never lose its status as a World Heritage site, but the public, local and central authorities must understand that our most important role is as guardians of a unique and culturally unparalleled landmark,” wrote the mayor of Nessebar, Nikolai Dimitrov.

Foto: wikipedia
Foto: wikipedia

Bulgarian Effort

Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov will host the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, on October 9 at the Euxinograd Residence (near Varna). President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, have also been invited. This meeting was set during Prime Minister Denkov’s one-day visit to Athens, as announced by the Sofia government’s press office.

The Bulgarian side hopes that by expediting the construction of infrastructure between these states, tourism will also benefit.

The main subject of discussions near Varna will be regional connectivity, particularly the project for a corridor from Thessaloniki via Kavala, Alexandroupolis, Burgas, and Varna to Constanța, with a possible extension to the Republic of Moldova. The idea is to build modern transportation, communication, and energy infrastructure along this route, which will strengthen economic and political ties between the involved countries. The future corridor will function even more efficiently if all the countries along the route become members of the Schengen Area and borders between them are eliminated.

Joining the Schengen Area is considered vital by Bulgaria to boost Bulgarian tourism, given that the Balkan state relies significantly on this sector.”

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Tbilisi-Moscow, 15 years since the August 2008 war

Tbilisi-Moscow, 15 years since the August 2008 war

Relations between the Republic of Georgia and the Russian Federation remain a sensitive and complex subject at the regional and international levels, amid Moscow’s military aggression against Ukraine. A turning point in the relations between the two countries was the 2008 War between Georgia and Russia. The conflict took place mainly in the region of South Ossetia, where Georgian troops intervened to restore control over the breakaway territory. In response, Russia intervened militarily and bombed Georgian infrastructure. This confrontation led to a dramatic deterioration of relations between the two countries and the international recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia, although most countries do not recognize them as independent states.

Old problems

The Republic of Georgia has long expressed its desire to get closer to the European Union and NATO. The country signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, which also included the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). This meant a significant approach to European standards and values. But for Russia, this move was perceived as a threat to its influence in the region and generated hostile reactions.

Russia has been accused several times of trying to influence Georgia’s domestic politics, either through support for pro-Russian political parties or movements, or through propaganda. This fueled tensions and undermined the process of normalizing relations between the two countries.

The Kremlin imposed economic restrictions on Georgia between 2006 and 2013, affecting Georgian exports to the Russian market. This had a significant impact on Georgia’s economy and damaged trade relations.

The situation in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains one of major conflict. Russia has recognized their independence and maintains significant military presence in these regions and continues to support them politically and economically. This prevents the peaceful resolution of conflicts and contributes to regional tensions.

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