It all began three months ago to the day, in the Chinese town of Xiamen. During a news conference following the BRICS Summit, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin proposed the use of international peacekeepers under auspices of the United Nations in the east of Ukraine.
The idea was not totally new either: it had been discussed, in a variety of formats, ever since the very first months of the military confrontation in Donbass. However, it was the first time that Russia had officially proposed a peacekeeping initiative at the highest level. The President of the Russian Federation suggested a fairly narrow mandate for potential peacekeepers, yet his initiative took all the parties in the conflict by surprise.
This is no surprise. On the eve of Putin’s statement, official Russian representatives had resolutely rejected the very idea of involving international peacekeepers in the Ukrainian conflict. Moscow’s usual argument was to cite the Minsk agreements, which do not envisage such a possibility. Kiev’s intermittent calls for involving the United Nations or the European Union in the settlement process effectively indicated the desire of the Ukrainian authorities to divest itself of any responsibility for the implementation of these agreements.
The proposal of the President of the Russian Federation gave rise to numerous conjectures as to the Kremlin’s possible motives and intentions.Was Putin’s statement merely a tactical ploy aimed at driving Kiev into a corner? Or had Russia’s position on the Ukrainian changed dramatically? Should the parameters of a possible UN peacekeeping mission outlined by Putin be taken as Moscow’s new red line? Or are they a bargaining chip for the future? Finally, who were Moscow’s proposals primarily addressed to: the Ukrainian leadership? The participants in the Normandy format? Or the Donald Trump administration?
Even now, three months on, the possible answers are being heatedly debated. All the more so as the public discussion of possible ways to resolve the conflict remains extremely emotional and not necessarily constructive. External observers who are not privy to the various informal consultations still know very little about them. Nevertheless, the statements, comments and interviews with the main actors that are available to us give us an approximate idea of the disagreements that have up to now stood in the way of implementing the peacekeeping discussion in practice, as well as an idea of what needs to be done by all stakeholders in order to overcome these differences.
Does Russia (and Ukraine) Want War?
The following arguments are based on the assumption that both Kiev and Moscow want to find a political solution to the Donbass problem. Any political solution would imply that the parties are willing to compromise. If at least one of the parties lacks the desire and readiness required, and is looking at a violent resolution instead, one that would result in the opponent’s unconditional surrender, then it would naturally be senseless to talk about the prospects for an international peacekeeping mission. At best, we might see certain tactical agreements designed to gain time, regroup, accumulate resources and resume political (if not military) pressure on the enemy at the appropriate moment. Another possibility is that the statements made by the parties to the effect that a political solution is the only viable solution are nothing more than propaganda. The presumption that the sides are prepared for a political compromise is certainly open to criticism, but if we do not allow for this possibility we are better off ending this discussion right here and now.
Other assumptions are that Kiev is not currently ready to let Donbass go, and that Moscow is not interested in absorbing the DPR and LPR or in securing the status of “unrecognized states” for them. As is known, many people in Russia doubt the validity of the former solution, and many people in Ukraine question the legitimacy of the latter. It is unlikely that anyone, with the possible exception of the leaders of the two countries, knows for sure what ideas the Russian and Ukrainian governments are currently considering. Nevertheless, official statements from both sides allow us to treat the aforementioned assumptions as being justified and lawful.
The third important assumption is that the four years of conflict have taught both Moscow and Kiev to assess the current situation, and its perception by the opposing side, in a realistic manner. Back in late 2014, some people in Russia thought that Ukraine could disintegrate at any moment, that the mounting economic difficulties would undermine the socio-political foundation of Ukrainian nationalism, and that the West would be either unable or unwilling to keep Kiev’s sinking “comprador” regime afloat. Now, in late 2017, no intelligent person can conceivably entertain such ideas any longer. On the other hand, a widespread idea in Ukraine was that the Russian economy would quickly collapse under the weight of the Western sanctions, that political support for Putin would crumble, and that Russia would soon be facing a new 1991. Today, such a scenario appears to be something taken from a parallel universe, completely unrelated to the actual state of affairs in Russia.
Looking back, we must admit that both Kiev and Moscow (or, rather, the Ukrainian and Russian people) have demonstrated the steadfastness, resilience and flexibility. And this has come as a surprise to many external observers. You can call this staunchness as stubbornness, or you can blame the insidious government propaganda. However, this does not change the essence of the matter: the Ukrainian and Russian people, with the exception of a handful of dissidents, are prepared to continue to bear the costs associated with the Donbass conflict.
This means that the hopes formerly held in Kiev and Moscow that the situation would resolve itself it quick time, that time was on “their side” and that victory was guaranteed because their cause was just, stood no chance of persisting on either side of the conflict. Neither side is likely to achieve a decisive victory in the foreseeable future. And a protracted crisis will mean the accumulation of long-term problems for both Ukraine and Russia. In this conflict, time is working against both Kiev and Moscow, even though the people of both countries have somehow adapted to living in a situation that would have seemed totally inconceivable only four years ago.
What are Kiev and the West Afraid of?
The three months that have passed since Putin made his proposal have been rich in commentaries, criticisms and counterproposals by the Ukrainian leadership, experts and analysts. The peacekeeping idea provoked an equally vivid reaction in the West. Parts of this reaction lacked a certain coherence and consistency, yet the response itself allows us to draw several conclusions as to what it is about the Russian proposal that does not suit Kiev and its Western partners.
Donbass as a frozen conflict. To begin with, the deployment of peacekeepers exclusively along the demarcation line between the opposing sides could turn Donbass into another “frozen conflict.”  This kind of deployment would recognize the status quo, which, as is illustrated by many conflict situations, including in the former USSR, often plays into the hands of separatists. Kiev cites the examples of Transnistria and Abkhazia, where delimiting the sides did nothing to resolve the respective conflicts but rather consolidated and accelerated the centrifugal processes. This means that a “dividing line” is capable of putting an end to the prospects of Donbass subsequently being integrated into the political, economic and social life of Ukraine.
Legitimizing Russia’s military presence. Kiev believes that if Russian troops are included in the peacekeeping contingent (a matter on which the DPR and LPR authorities insist), Moscow will be able to secure a legitimate military presence in the east of Ukraine under the auspices of the United Nations. In addition, Russian peacekeepers cannot be a politically neutral force, given the current state of relations between Moscow and Kiev. In fact, the UN peacekeeping traditions preclude the participation of countries that border the areas where peacekeeping operations are being carried out.
Recognition of the DPR and LPR authorities. Throughout the conflict in the east of Ukraine, Kiev has demonstrated a continuing reluctance to have anything to do with the leadership of the unrecognized DPR and LPR as the second party to the peacekeeping talks, something that Russia has always insisted on in its proposals. Ukraine believes that any direct interaction with the current Donbass leadership on peacekeeping issues would effectively mean the recognition of that leadership as the legitimate representatives of the DPR and LPR population. This is politically unacceptable to Kiev. Kiev believes, therefore, that any peacekeeping talks should be conducted exclusively with Moscow, and that it is for Moscow to make sure that its “stooges” implement the agreements reached.
Easing of Western pressure on Russia. The decision to launch a peacekeeping operation in the east of Ukraine, in any format, could lead to the activation of forces in the West that have always promoted the restoration of cooperation with Moscow, including the lifting or mitigation of the sanctions against Russia. Such a scenario understandably worries the current Ukrainian leadership. In Kiev’s opinion, the very fact that Russia has made proposals on a peacekeeping mission indicates that the Western sanctions are having the desired effect. Therefore, in order to make progress in the resolution of the conflict, the pressure on Moscow needs to be maintained, or perhaps even intensified.
What are Moscow and the DPR/LPR Afraid of?
The past three months have demonstrated Russia’s unwillingness to make any fundamental concessions to Kiev and its Western partners. Moscow objects to Ukraine’s version of international peacekeeping involvement (extending the peacekeeping area to cover all of the DPR and LPR and the state border with Russia; the refusal of Kiev to negotiate with the Donbass leadership; and the rejection of the idea of Russia’s direct involvement in the peacekeeping operation, etc.). The Kremlin’s objections grow even more resolute and uncompromising when transmitted via the leaders of the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk republics.
Donbass massacre scenario. At the heart of Russia’s objections lies the suspicion that an international peacekeeping contingent would not be able to provide sufficient security to the Donbass population, especially given the widespread radical nationalist and revanchist sentiments in Ukrainian society. Moscow points out that the Ukrainian leadership remains incapable of controlling the numerous autonomous armed groups and paramilitary radical political movements that might terrorize the DPR/LPR territories, threaten their political opponents and contribute to the spread of crime in the region. It is possible that this could be followed by new waves of refugees and internally displaced persons from Donbass towards Russia.
Peacekeepers as a pretext for revising the Minsk agreements. The Ukrainian version of a possible peacekeeping operation raises numerous questions in Moscow linked to the future of the Minsk agreements. Russia suspects Kiev of attempting to use the new settlement plan as a pretext for overhauling the Minsk agreements, or even abandoning them outright, particularly those provisions that concern political reform. In addition, should the Ukrainian version be implemented, Moscow would lose all its current influence on the situation, effectively becoming an outside witness to Ukrainian nationalists engaging in a “mopping-up” operation in Donbass. As far as Moscow is concerned, the commitment of Western countries to the Minsk agreements is by no means a sure-fire guarantee that the agreements will be observed by Kiev. 
Moscow’s flexibility resulting in greater pressure on Russia. Whereas the Ukrainian government fears the erosion of the West’s anti-Russian consensus and the weakening of pressure on Moscow, the Russian government has reasons to believe that, should Moscow make any significant concessions with regard to the peacekeepers in Donbass, Kiev and the West (the United States at least) would perceive this as a sign of weakness on the part of Russia and might try to apply greater pressure on Moscow.  If Russia decides to give up Donbass, then Crimea might become the West’s next target.
Wrong time for concessions. As far as we can tell, Moscow does not see Kiev’s latest proposals, which have been supported by the West, as a compromise. Should Russia adopt these proposals, it will be difficult to present this as another foreign political victory (even a formal victory) for the Kremlin to domestic and outside audiences. The presidential election campaign is under way in Russia, and the Kremlin is likely use the foreign policy victories it has earned in the past few years to bolster its chances of winning. This means that any “retreat” on the Ukrainian front would appear ill-timed, to say the least. It could even entail unnecessary political risks. On the other hand, the Kremlin points to the numerous uncertainties that remain in the West, including the domestic political crisis in the United States and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s inability to form a coalition government. As far as Moscow is concerned, it would be better to postpone serious discussions on the Ukrainian issue until next summer or autumn.
Where is a Compromise to be Found?
As is characteristic of any complex and multifaceted international crisis, the situation in the east of Ukraine represents a tangle of subjective and objective factors, external and internal circumstances, personal ambitions and long-term social trends, specific interests of individual political groups, and banal mistakes caused by the incompetence or incomplete awareness of the parties. This is why solutions to this problem – in the plural, as there is no single solution – should be sought at different levels and on different planes. Listed below are just the most obvious ingredients required for a successful peacekeeping mission in the east of Ukraine.
Agreeing on the current priorities. Even though the diverse tasks facing the peacekeeping mission are absolutely important, the most urgent and important objective is to put an end to the violence, stop the loss of life and ensure the implementation of the first three conditions of the Minsk agreements (a bilateral ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the implementation of monitoring activities). This objective should inform priorities with regard to both the territory where the peacekeeping are forces initially deployed (the demarcation line) and to the initial mandate of these forces (preventing possible violations of the ceasefire agreement, regardless of which side commits the transgression). For Russia, it would be worthwhile to think about expanding the mandate it originally proposed to include not only the protection of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers, but also the provision of a stable truce. This mandate needs to be consistent with the number of peacekeepers, the weapons in their possession, and their right to use such weapons against those who violate the truce. For its part, Ukraine should not insist on giving the blue helmets any additional functions at this stage. As things progress, the peacekeeping force might be provided with a new, broader mandate.
Overcoming phantom fears. Some of the concerns of the two parties seem to be far-fetched. And that is putting it mildly. It is, for example, fairly difficult to believe that, under the current circumstances, any NATO member – no matter how much Kiev pleads – would be prepared to commit significant military contingents for a peacekeeping operation in Donbass, certainly not before they have obtained sufficient security guarantees from the DNR and LNR. Furthermore, the existing UN procedures for setting up and managing peacekeeping forces exclude even the theoretical possibility of a single country (including Russia and the United States) or group of countries (including NATO) unilaterally controlling the progress of a peacekeeping operation. There appears to be nothing preventing the peacekeeping force from comprising representatives of countries trusted both by Kiev and Moscow; everything would depend on the political will of the two sides and their readiness to make balanced compromises.
Taking prior experience into account. Existing peacekeeping experience does not support the idea that negotiating with unrecognized entities within a given territory serves as the first step towards the international recognition of those entities. For example, the United Nations has been coordinating its peacekeeping activities in Cyprus with the government of Northern Cyprus for decades, ever since Turkey invaded the island in the summer of 1974, even though the territorial entity is not recognized by anyone except Turkey. A similar situation arose in the course of numerous attempts by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), and then the OSCE, to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh issue: the presence of Nagorno-Karabakh representatives at the negotiating table since 1992 has not, and will not, lead to the recognition of the territory as a legitimate subject of international law. There is no doubt that, should the sides agree on this and demonstrate a degree of flexibility and creativeness, a similar formula could be devised for Donbass.
Sharing the responsibility for the peacekeeping mission. Observing Ukraine’s demands to the letter – that Russia take no part in the peacekeeping operation and that negotiations with the Donbass authorities do not take place – would raise the logical question of who is to act as the guarantor of uninterrupted peacekeeping work in Donbass. Is Kiev prepared to bear sole responsibility for inevitable incidents, outbreaks of violence and attacks on the peacekeepers? It appears that at this point in time, Ukraine’s interests would best be served by the active involvement of both Moscow and the Donbass authorities in the settlement process. The particularities of such involvement, however, are quite a different matter. The existing experience of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine should be carefully studied again, as should the experience of practical interaction between the OSCE monitoring mission and the Donbass authorities. As for Russia, its strategic role should be to define the mandate of the peacekeeping operation within the framework of the UN Security Council, as well as planning and monitoring that operation. Speaking of Russian peacekeepers in Donbass, some form of presence, however symbolic, would be an additional guarantee that all the parties to the conflict will fulfil the terms of the peacekeeping agreement.
Considering the dynamic side to the agreement. Many of the disagreements between Moscow and Kiev would appear less fundamental if the mandate, area of deployment and the timeframe of the possible peacekeeping mission were viewed as dynamic, rather than static, values. In other words, the mission should be perceived as a set of successive stages, with the objectives of each subsequent stage defined by the preceding stage’s achievements. For example, it would be correct to expect the peacekeeping mission’s deployment area to expand gradually (all the way to the border between Russia and Ukraine), its potential to grow over time and its functions to gradually transition from the initial objectives (ensuring the cessation of hostilities) to more complex matters (including, for example, technical assistance with the organization of local elections). Both Kiev and the West fear that Moscow will retain the right to block the transition to the next stage if it is not satisfied with the current results of the peacekeeping mission. However, Russia would reserve such a right irrespective of how the UN peacekeepers are used. Also, peacekeeping missions eventually acquire their own dynamics and inertia; politically, it is always more difficult to block the continuation of a successful mission than prevent the launch of a new one.
Synchronizing the peacekeeping mission with the implementation of the Minsk agreements. There exists the opinion that, since the Normandy format has reached an impasse and the focus of the current Donbass settlement consultations has shifted to the “shuttle diplomacy” exercised by Kurt Volker’s successor as the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, the future UN peacekeeping mission should eventually replace the “outdated” mechanisms and procedures envisaged by the Minsk agreements. It appears that, rather than becoming an alternative to the Minsk agreements, the mission should represent an additional instrument for their implementation. Such an instrument is not provided for in the text of the Minsk agreements, but it does not contradict the spirit of the document in any way. Having assisted the parties to the conflict in the implementation of the first three clauses of the agreements, the peacekeeping mission could move on to deal with the other clauses, including the distribution of humanitarian assistance, the disarmament of illegal groups, the enforcement of law and order, etc. The timeline of the Minsk agreements would certainly need to be revised accordingly to reflect the progress of the peacekeeping mission.
Keeping the pan-European perspective in mind. There is undoubtedly a bilateral causal link between the current crisis involving Ukraine and the more general problems related to European (or Euro–Atlantic) security. For as long as the Ukrainian crisis remains unresolved, the European security system cannot become indivisible; nor will it be possible to overcome the new east division of the continent. At the same time, the Ukrainian crisis cannot be resolved completely all efforts are focused on it alone, outside the context of solving broader European problems. Restoring peace in Donbass, normalizing Russia–Ukraine relations and finding new approaches to European security in general need to be viewed as parallel objectives, not consecutive ones. It will take many years, if not decades, to solve these problems. However, the launch of a UN peacekeeping operation in Donbass could become a pivotal event in European politics, one that would result in a negative trend being replaced by a positive one. We are left to hope that this shift will take place in 2018. The longer the current crisis lasts, the harder it will be to emerge from it.
First published in our partner RIAC
[i] “First, I believe the presence of UN peacekeepers or, should I say, of those people who would ensure the security of the OSCE mission, to be fairly appropriate. I see nothing wrong in this; on the contrary, I believe this would help resolve the situation in the southeast of Ukraine. Of course, we are talking exclusively about ensuring the security of the OSCE officers. Second, these forces need to be stationed exclusively along the demarcation line and nowhere else. Third, the decision is to be made only after the sides have disengaged and withdrawn heavy equipment. No decision can be made without direct contact with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.” (http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55535).
[ii] Ukraine’s first official detailed response to Putin was Petro Poroshenko’s address to the UN Security Council on September 20, 2017, which proposed a comprehensive UN peacekeeping operation across the entire territory of the DPR/LPR, including the stretch of the Ukraine–Russia border that is currently not controlled by Kiev (https://www.unian.net/politics/2145861-poroshenko-obratilsya-k-sovbezu-oon-o-razvertyivanii-mirotvortsev-na-donbasse-video.html).
[iii] We can cite, for instance, the following statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin: “We have absolutely no use of a frozen conflict here, simply because this is something that Russia needs by definition. The entire logic of Russia’s actions boils down to attempting to influence us and destabilize use via the occupied Donbass, via this Russian colony in Donbass. This is why even this schizophrenic Russian proposal to protect the OSCE by means of peacekeepers (read: protect from Russia itself, because nobody else can influence them there) also contributes to nothing more than the freezing of the conflict. The same can be said of placing peacekeepers exclusively along the contact line, which is nothing more than the creation of a new frontier.” (https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-polytics/2312434-klimkin-nazvav-rosijsku-rezoluciu-po-mirotvorcam-sizofrenicnou.html).
[iv] Following his meeting with U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker in Belgrade on November 13, 2017, Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov stated that, out of the 29 proposals made by the United States, Russia had only been able to concede to three, those which generally reiterated the inviolability of the Minsk agreements (https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2017/11/14_a_10985108.shtml).
[v] As Putin told the Valdai Club conference in October, “Closing the border between Russia and the unrecognized republics would result in a situation akin to Srebrenica. A massacre will follow there. We cannot, and never will, allow that.” (http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55882).
[vi] There are grounds for such concerns. Consider, for example, the recent statement made by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov (https://rian.com.ua/politics/20171128/1029853624.html).
[vii] Moscow refers in particular to the events that took place in Kiev on February 21, 2014, when a number of European officials facilitated an agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the Ukrainian political opposition on a transition period that was subsequently breached by the opposition at the West’s “connivance” (http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55882).[viii] When Jon Huntsman Jr., the new Ambassador of the United States to Russia, conditioned the lifting of the U.S. sanctions on progress in Donbass (https://topspb.tv/programs/stories/466132/), the general reaction from Russian politicians and experts was extremely sceptical. The overwhelming majority of commentators believed that the sanctions were there to stay and that, no matter what Moscow did, the decision of the United State Congress was irreversible, regardless of the Trump administration’s desires.
The Baltic States: Gained dependence
Future of Europe is still uncertain. Though security is the real priority for all countries, each of them understands the process of achieving security by its own.
Lithuanian and Latvian authorities increased political activity and intensified preparing to NATO summit that will take place in Brussels in July 2018. It is obvious that they will not miss a chance to attract attention and money to the problem of national security and the Armed Forces. Their statements show adherence to the chosen way of “asking US, EU and NATO for help.”
The so called Snow Meeting dedicated to European security took place on 11-12 January in Lithuania. Foreign security policy experts discussed the main challenges facing the transatlantic community and ways to respond to them.
High-level event that costs big money. What for? What was the real purpose of the conference? According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, “the participants of the event discussed possible solutions for the strengthening of allied security in the face of conventional and hybrid threats.” But the real purpose of this conference was to demonstrate that the Baltic States authorities are not going to give up the idea of further keeping NATO and EU interest in them. They try to convince NATO that without its support “the World is in great danger.” Thus, according to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, “transatlantic security depends on the security of the Baltic States.”
Themessage is clear – the Baltic States again need more money, more troops and military equipment. Only under these conditions the Baltic States are ready to maintain peace in the region.
Dalia Grybauskaitė is more than sure in further NATO support and sometimes allows herself to use an unacceptable tone, demanding more and more. She humiliates not only herself but Lithuanian nation. The role of a pleading nation in EU and NATO does not fit the independent Lithuania that has a long history of struggling for sovereignty.
Latvia is also ready to be a recipient of foreign military assistance. On January 9, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis was so proud of foreign support that share with LTV correspondent a secret information. He said that “in August 2018, the greatest military exercise since the restoration of the country’s independence will take place in Latvia.”
He underlined also that “there’s no telling yet precisely how many troops will be involved, but allied troops are to be present as well.” This facts can be called transparent. Latvians are not fully aware of the military event that will be conducted on their territory. So he admitted Latvia’s helplessness. The authorities do not even try to rely purely on themselves.
As a result the Baltic States have nothing their own in the military sphere: only taken, given, bought or deployed. There is a question if there is any national military science or research programs that could help to develop national Armed Forces? Where are national development of weapons and military equipment?
The Baltic States have no more national secrets or even plans. We share our secrets with other states but leave nothing that should be our own pride, that could demonstrate our uniqueness. We share our “today” with others and we can lose our “future” as the independent nations. Foreigners will never defend our Motherland better than we ourselves. We are just needed or not needed, and this could change in a second. With what will we stay?
The reasons why Lithuania is not friends with neighbors
Lithuania has entered the New Year with a political chaos. As it turned out there are problems and complete misunderstanding among the high-ranking officials concerning Lithuanian foreign policy. National mass media perplexedly quote the President, the Prime-minister and the Minister of foreign affairs, who have completely opposite views on Lithuania’s role in the international sphere.
It sounds paradoxical, but Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė “did not ask the government before making her decision to vote in favor of a UN resolution rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” This way Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis commented her decision on the issue.
On the other hand the President said that the statement made by Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis on the possibility of resumption of the work of the Lithuanian-Russian commission on intergovernmental cooperation irresponsible.
It has become absolutely obvious that lack of consent between Lithuanian authorities has led to the political chaos. The situation when “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” is typical for Lithuanian domestic policy at least in the last five years. Probably, the fact is that Dalia Grybauskaitė and Saulius Skvernelis pursue different goals in the foreign policy. The Prime Minister is guided by national economic interests while the President is highly dependent on her previous promise to support the US and EU common strategy to restrain the growing might of Russia and its allies. Once again national interests contradict the interests of huge international organization – NATO and EU. Having received huge financial resources she lost voice in these organizations. The more so Dalia Grybauskaitė also lobbies the US policy in Europe though it very often harms the national economy. As a result – she could not oppose Washingnon’s decisions. In other words she “works out” the funds received by exaggerating the threat coming from Russia and its neighbor Belarus.
Such foreign policy may be a straightforward consequence of failed domestic policy. The President could not find ways to restore the state economy after gaining independence. She has become accustomed to rely on external NATO, EU and the US assistance and continues to do so further. As soon as the issue of the threat from the East ceases to sound loudly, the president tries to aggravate the problem by inventing horror stories, for example about the Russian-Belarus Zapad 2017 exercise when the strength of involved troops was greatly overestimated in order to gain additional attention and financial aid.
Lithuanian Prime minister, who suggested resuming political contacts with Moscow, said that dialogue between Lithuania and Russia could address issues relating to trade, energy, and transport cooperation, as well as issues relating to agriculture, carriers, and the situation with teachers of the Lithuanian language in the Kaliningrad region. For Lithuania it is a good chance not only to support national economy but also restore lost ties.
Former President Rolandas Paksas, for example, reminds that Lithuania has three strategic political directions: NATO and EU membership as well neighborhood policy. It seems as if the third direction is no more actual one for the President.
He also blamed Dalia Grybauskaitė for refusing to negotiate not only with Russia but with Belarus. Today Lithuania fiercely protests against the construction of a Belarusian nuclear power plant about 50 kilometers from Vilnius, but, in his opinion, it was the unwillingness to talk and negotiate that led the Belarusians to build a station in a place so unsuitable for Lithuania.
Lithuania can not establish good neighbor relations even with Poland that is NATO and EU members either.
The President forgets or consciously does not want to use Lithuania’s advantageous geographical position. After all, Lithuania can and should play the role of a bridge between the West and the East in all spheres: cultural, economic and even military. Today, Western countries communicate directly with Russia, and the heads of state do not refuse meetings and contacts, so it is unclear why Lithuania can not do the same.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – said Albert Einstein.
Returns on Diplomatic Investment: Zionist Policies and the Armenians
There were repercussions to Zionist pursuits associated with the Armenian Question over a century ago. The Armenian Question refers to the protection and the freedom of Armenians from their neighboring communities and the Ottoman Turkish government. The Armenian Question spans forty years of history in the context of international power politics generally from the 1878 Congress of Berlin to the start of World War One.
These Zionist pursuits appear continuing to the present day. The advancement of a surrogate Turkish identity onto Muslim-centric Turkish leaders was initiated in large part by Jews and crypto-Jews in influential and leadership positions. The resulting ultra-nationalist ideology along with the manipulation of external conditions or direct involvement in internal events of the Ottoman Turkish state by international players had a devastating effect on the Armenians. It provided the ideological basis for, and encouraged, the genocide of the Armenians under the guise of World War One. The subsequent policy of genocide denial by Turkey was supported by the state of Israel for decades. These actions should provide a lesson for today’s semi-official Israeli public relations policy regarding present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Theodor Herzl faction of early Zionism attempted to secure influence with the Turkish Sultan in the very late 19th century by offering to help calm anti-Turkish opinion in European press in the aftermath of empire-wide repressive measures against Armenians. Near the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when scores of Jews were subject to pogroms in central and eastern Europe, the Armenians in Turkey were being eliminated in state-sponsored massacres on the order of tens of thousands, later into hundreds of thousands with their possessions and lands expropriated, Armenians were eventually subjected to a genocide which exterminated nearly two thirds of the Armenians in Turkey and neighboring countries. It was during this time when Herzl offered to secure financing to pay off the massive Ottoman debt in exchange for medium-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine and the outright purchase of large swaths of land for that purpose. These actions will be examined and contrasted with other policies:
- Aiding in the ideological formation of an ethnic Turkish uniqueness to replace the traditional religious identity
- During the 1980s and into the early 2000s kowtowing to Turkish denials of their genocide of the Armenians during World War One
- Today’s anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani articles and political commentary, the majority being authored by Jewish writers and posted in leading Israeli or otherwise Jewish-centric on-line sites.
Theodor Herzl, Early Zionism, and the Ottoman Sultan
Early Zionism as defined by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, had a goal of alleviating the deteriorating conditions under which Jews lived, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, in an attempt to catch up with the nationalist and societal consolidation that was sweeping across Europe. As part of that goal, it was concluded that Jews ultimately needed a sovereign homeland. It was not immediately apparent where such homeland might be, but Palestine was at the top of the list. Palestine had been ruled by the Turks since the early 1500s. There was a brief period, from 1832 to 1840, when Palestine was conquered by Egypt, but the British eventually re-secured Turkish rule over the region. Such realpolitik certainly caught the attention of Zionists, that is, a power such as Great Britain could determine the fate of a piece of land Zionists eyed as the Jewish homeland. However, the issue for Herzl and his Zionist contemporaries was that Palestine was an integral part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire with its sultan as the Sunni Islamic Caliph. A confluence of opportunities presented themselves to the Herzl camp in the late 1890s. Herzl was a journalist and businessman well aware of the dire financial situation of Ottoman Turkey. Being well-versed in contemporary European politics, with contacts in centers of power in Europe, acquaintances in the publishing industry and centers of finance, Herzl was introduced to the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. This initial meeting took place on May 17, 1901, in the aftermath of the sultan ordering the empire-wide massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Ottoman Turkey was receiving negative press across Europe, which made its financial condition critical due to a near complete erosion of trust and sympathy towards Turkey in general and the sultan in particular.
Herzl offered the sultan financing for the payment of the sizeable Ottoman state debt and use his influence in countering anti-Turkish/pro-Armenian sentiment that existed throughout European press. In return, Herzl wanted to acquire large regions of Ottoman Palestine accompanied by Jewish immigration. Herzl also met with Armenian leaders in an attempt to end to their demands for equal rights as Ottoman citizens. Herzl’s association with the sultan was not universally accepted by others across the Zionist political spectrum. Max Nordau wanted nothing to do with Herzl’s dealings. Bernard Lazare, a French Jew quit the 1899 Zionist Congress with the statement, “How can those who purport to represent the ancient people whose history is written in blood extend a welcoming hand to murderers, and no delegate to the Zionist Congress rises up in protest?” He protested the Herzl Zionist faction’s public honoring of Sultan Hamid II. After back and forth meetings between Herzl and the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Herzl’s offers were rejected.
Some present-day Jewish hypotheses surrounding Herzl’s motives suggest that Herzl sold out the Armenians or had contempt for the Armenians and their plight. In most likelihood, there wasn’t an anti-Armenian sentiment working here, but rather the Armenian condition was exploited.
The global power of Great Britain was apparent to Zionists, whose goal was at least securing Jewish immigration into Palestine, but whispers of dismembering the “Sick Man of Europe” was heard again across the capitals of Europe during these early years of the early 20th century. A catalyst for such dismemberment was the introduction, organizing, and manipulation of latent ethnic identities and national aspirations among the constituent population of Ottoman Turkey. Amplifying such a group ethnicity was challenging since Sunni Islam permeated the Ottoman Muslim constituency. The national emergence of the Empire’s Christian populations resulted in the independence of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and eventually most all the Balkans between the late nineteenth and just before out outbreak of World War One. Greece had become independent much earlier in the nineteenth century. European powers, especially Great Britain, in an attempt to counter Russian expansion in both Central Asia and towards the Adriatic shores based on a pan-Slavic ideology, looked favorably upon the introduction of a pan-Turanist (pan-Turkic) ideology which glorified a mythical ethnic origin of the Turks. The mechanics of this pan-Turanist doctrine were rather crude as compared with the republican implementations seen in Europe, such as with Garibaldi’s unification of Italian city-states and Bismark’s Prussian homogenization. In Ottoman Turkey, Sunni Islam was the element of identity, ethnic and linguistic association was secondary. Something needed to be instilled into the Turkish element of the empire, just as Arab nationalism was championed by Lawrence of Arabia as its public face, to generate enough centripetal force to replace Islam as the leading or only group identity with a national, and subsequently a geo-ethnic character. Directed nationalism ushered in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by the British and French, the most capable colonial powers.
The Young Turk Movement and Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire
The Young Turk movement, also known as Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) with its origins many years earlier, overthrew the Ottoman Sultan in 1908 and initially promised equality among the constituent ethnicities of the Empire. However, soon after that putsch, the hard-line faction within the CUP prevailed with its Social Darwinist ultra-nationalist ideology. Its many tenets were based on concocted racial theories put forth by contemporary writers, including Arminius Vambery a Hungarian Jew and “The man most responsible for popularizing the concepts of Turan and pan-Turkism…”. Vambery published many works on the necessity for the revival of Turkish nationality, language, literature and generated theories about ethnic ties between Turks and Hungarians. His 1864 work, Travels in Central Asia, was written for [British] Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, implying it was of military interest. For decades Rawlinson advocated that Russia was hostile and expansionist, threatening British interests in Afghanistan and India. Tekin Alp, born Moiz Cohen was a writer, philosopher, and one of the founding fathers of Turkish nationalism as well as the Pan-Turanist movement. The 1912 work Turan was his seminal work. The efforts of these and other writers resulted in the mythic Turkish ethos espoused by individuals such as Ziya Gokalp considered the CUP central ideologue along with a noteworthy individual, Dr. Nazim.
There were high-ranking CUP officials and other lesser known figures that were secret Jewish converts to Islam, known as dönme in the Turkish language. Many had an association with Masonic clubs and other societies in Salonika (now in Greece) cooperating with Turkish military leaders across Ottoman lands in the now ex-Yugoslav areas and Albania. An Italian Jew, Emanual Carrasso founded the Macedonian Masonic Lodge and spearheaded the Young Turk movement. Many leaders of the Young Turks movement were from the Salonika region, especially local dönme. In his book, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks, Marc Baer states on page 96 “Dönme played a significant role in the turn-of-the-century Ottoman politics and an important founding and supporting role.” Talaat Pasha, considered the architect of the Armenian genocide, was a member of the Salonika organization, as was the dönme, Dr. Nazim. Nazim, a chief ideologue in the CUP, was vehemently anti-Armenian, and also championed the expulsion of Greeks from Anatolia. Dönme Mehmed Cavid was the Ottoman Turkish Minister of Finance until 1914 but remained as a financial adviser until 1917.
It was in the interest of Zionists to instill a sense of Turkishness in a constituent population that was otherwise Islamic-centric. This mechanism was in the plans of imperial Europe bent on the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Imperial European and Zionist interests were parallel. Zionist intelligence organizations, such as the Nili group, were in the service of Great Britain during WWI. Memoirs of the Nili spies describe the Turkish extermination of Armenians. Zionists feared the Turks would seek the elimination of Jews, for the Turks not only went after Armenians, but Greeks and Assyrians were to be eliminated as well. Indeed, the Jews in Palestine were to be deported. Initially, thousands of Jews were deported from Jaffa in 1917, but this was quickly halted.
With Turks expending enormous resources exterminating the Armenians and plundering their wealth, less energy would be spent in fighting the Allied Powers during the war. Simultaneously, the effort creating a new geo-ethnic identity, the Turk, was crudely successful, mechanically manifesting itself by eliminating the Armenian presence in Anatolia, the heartland of an envisioned Turk-only republic. The elimination of the Armenians, as the significant ethnicity controlling commerce and trade in Anatolia, was also encouraged by the Germans as they would co-opt Armenians to increase their influence along and far beyond the Berlin-Baghdad railroad. In fact, the elimination of the Armenians was suggested by influential Germans years before World War One. One such example is Dr. Paul Rohrbach, Settlements Commissioner in German Southwest Africa, the location of the German genocide of the Herero in 1905. He was an advocate of eradicating native Africans to make room for the “white race.” Rohrbach also proposed a deportation of the Armenians as early as 1913 to solve the “Armenian Question.”
Early after the outbreak of World War One, the Sykes-Picot agreement had been agreed to with British and French mandates over large regions of former Ottoman territories. This agreement included a British mandate over Ottoman Palestine, and in association Jewish immigration, as spelled out in the Balfour Declaration. The Armenians were in the way of these European powers economically controlling areas stretching from the Mediterranean to the oil fields of Baku, where the Rothschilds found Armenians competitors and irritants to unfettered transport and control of oil.
Jewish and Israeli Support for Turkish Genocide Denial
Israel’s semi-official policy of supporting the official Turkish state policy of genocide denial, unfortunately, meant that denial of genocide could be rationalized for the benefit of more significant interests. It should not be concluded that Israel is anti-Armenian or even pro-Turkish, but rather the interests of Israel is a simple calculation. The prospects (economic or regional) appeared brighter for Israel in detente with Turkey than to deal with a frail ex-soviet Armenia and politically weak Armenian diaspora. To encourage better relations with Turkey, Israel was in a position to offer their influence to minimize or otherwise obfuscate the genocide of the Armenians. Israel has never politically recognized the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and is still not part of the official Israeli school curriculum, even though a large percentage of books, articles, and analysis about the Armenian genocide are authored by Jewish and Israeli authors. Israel could get away with claiming Armenians were not subject to genocide, or claim Armenian suffering cannot possibly be compared with the Holocaust. However, as Turkey’s relations began to improve with Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s, official Israeli statements regarding the non-genocide of the Armenians intensified. It hit a peak on April 10, 2001, when Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted on the front page of April 10, 2001, Turkish Daily News, “Armenian Allegations Are Meaningless.”
What followed were Jewish organizations in places such as the United States quietly supporting Turkish efforts in defeating US congressional resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide, year after year. As relations between Turkey and Israel soured in the latter half of this decade, many US Jewish groups began distancing themselves from supporting Turkish genocide denial.
Azerbaijan Gets Free Anti-Armenian Public Relations
Ever since members of the Israeli Knesset visited Baku in September of 2015, with some of them (Israeli Knesset Member Oren Hazan and advisor Mendi Safadi) pledging to counter Armenian claims over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, there has been a spike in the number of articles written that are thoroughly anti-Armenian and pro-Azerbaijani. At that rather high-level meeting, Safadi, in particular, said, “I’ve always been on the side of Azerbaijan, and we are ready to provide assistance and patronage of the Azerbaijani side to neutralize the influence of the Armenian lobby in the US Congress, the EU institutions, and international organizations.” The themes are so conspicuous that propaganda is the only purpose of such yellow journalism. It has been observed that an overwhelming number of these politically targeted articles are written by Israeli or diaspora Jews with publicly verifiable affiliation with Israeli or Jewish groups. See the table below.
Diana Cohen Altman
Raoul Lowery Contreras
Note: While not exhaustive, the table above includes those affiliated with organizations in Israel or the Jewish diaspora, and only English language articles. Other authors are listed whose affiliations are indeterminate. Every listed author has nearly the same themes through their published articles. The table is based on publicly available information. Samples of their writing can easily be found by searching for their names on the internet.
Many articles usually combine themes extolling zero anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, Jews living idyllically in Azerbaijan, or how Azerbaijan surpasses all expectation of a state exhibiting multi-cultural tolerance. Armenia is portrayed as the devil incarnate, being racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, pro-Russian and Iranian, buying and selling illicit nuclear material, having powerful lobbies in the United States, etc. This propagandist effort is detrimental to readers because it generates a completely inaccurate view of reality. For example, Israeli flags are burned on Azerbaijani streets, and the Azerbaijan President Aliev in 2012 was given the title of the Corrupt Man of the Year. Only a couple months back the term Azerbaijan Laundromat was used to describe widespread money laundering and influence peddling discovered based in the UK. Armenia isn’t perfect, no state is, but the universal representative theme of these articles is zero-sum, 100% positive for Azerbaijan, 100% negative for Armenia.
It appears some of what Theodor Herzl suggested to the Ottoman Turkish Sultan in Constantinople is being played out a century later in Baku. Hypotheses can be proposed to account for this targeted public relations campaign, and they include:
1) Israeli Knesset members were sweetening deals made with Azerbaijan by offering positive Azerbaijani public relations at the expense of Armenia.
2) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel purchasing half its crude oil imports from a Muslim country.
3) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel’s selling billions of dollars of high-technology weaponry as well as covert security arrangements with a Muslim state.
4) Since Armenia has cordial relations with both Iran and Russia, Armenia is an indirect secondary target for both anti-Russian and anti-Iranian propaganda regardless of Azerbaijan also having close relations with both Iran and Russia.
Israeli concerns about Azerbaijan receiving negative public relations are not new and can be traced back to the early 1990s when the use of the internet began. Starting in the late 1980s, the first facility that today is known as social media was called Usenet newsgroups. The mechanism of information transfer, clearly preceding the World Wide Web, looked like emails sent to all those registered for the particular topic of interest. This author was a prolific contributor to the issue of the denial of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, exposing real-time human rights violations taking place against Armenians across Azerbaijan, and fighting taking place in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reports coming out of Azerbaijan were horrific. I was the top contributor to these Usenet newsgroup reports. In early 1992, I was contacted by the purported president of the Shawsheen Valley Zionist Council, a chapter located in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area at the time. Interestingly, I worked with this woman at a previous job and knew her well. She was extremely interested in what I was posting about Azerbaijan, why I was posting, where I was getting my information, and asked for an account on my server for somebody in their organization. I was told that my efforts were interfering in the interests of the state of Israel. After a few questions and answers, a several year friendship came to an end.
What Lessons Might be Learned
Not recognizing a genocide that was the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust apparently had almost no downside for Israel. Israel and the Jewish diaspora absorbed a lot of political backlash from allegations made about crypto-Jewish involvement with the Young Turk and the CUP movement, as well as Israel supporting Turkish genocide denial. Israeli non-recognition of the Armenian genocide caused angst in the Jewish diaspora. Many were torn by the dissonance between supporting Israeli actions, while such policies denied a crime of genocide. The latter is something antithetical to modern Judaism. Recognizing claims of genocide where none occurred is equally disgraceful especially in the most sacred of Jewish venues, synagogues.
Today’s blatant anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani propaganda will have lingering repercussions. It will linger because these actions are inevitably woven into issues associated with continued non-recognition of the crime of genocide committed on the Armenians and existential threats to the survival of Armenia. It is not necessary for the state of Israel to create a soft [Armenian] enemy where no enmity exists, even if half of the gasoline tanks in Israel are filled with an Azerbaijani crude distillate. Israel could purchase just as much crude from Azerbaijan, sell Azerbaijan billions of dollars of high technology weaponry yet not engage in anti-Armenian propaganda. Policy makers in Israel weighed the numbers and compared the possible reaction of land-locked Armenia with a population of three million against an oil-rich Azerbaijan with eight million people and its long border with Iran. Experts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry might want to review such policy, given its lack of return over the past century.
The Diplomatic Returns
Armenians today view the Jewish or crypto-Jewish influence in both the Young Turk movement and its ideology as at least a contributing factor in the genocide of the Armenians. This view might be a logical hypothesis. However, there is no evidence of any organized Zionist or crypto-Jewish universal interest in seeking the destruction of the Armenians. However, it would be rather unlikely for dönme in leadership positions in the CUP not to have known of the planned elimination of the Armenians. In the end, the process of forced ethnic homogenization of Anatolia continues as Turkish state policy, unabated to this day, taking on a path of its own.
Theodor Herzl’s foray with the Ottoman Sultan at the expense of the Armenians ended in a dead end. Zionists certainly aided European forces associated with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Turkish nationalism. Their participation at the highest levels of the CUP attests to this. The results of this were indeed the dismemberment of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the Balfour Declaration, but also the genocide of the Armenians. Were the Armenians mere collateral damage, as a result of an operational ultra-nationalist Turkish policy?
The genocide of the Armenians became the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust. Over eight hundred German officers were in the Turkish Army before and during World War One, many witnessed the extermination of the Armenians, but others planned and participated. The German General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorf, the Chief of the General Staff of the Ottoman Army, justified actions against the Armenians – even after World War One. In 1919 he stated, “The Armenian is like the Jew, a parasite when outside his homeland, who sucks up the health of other country in which he settles. Thence comes the hate which was discharged in a medieval fashion against them as an undesirable people and which led to their murder.” (See another translation) Von Schellendorf became a fervent supporter of Hitler in the 1930s. If the Armenian Genocide didn’t occur or if the Turks were not allowed to evade justice, the political discourse in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany could have been different enough that it is possible the Nazi Holocaust may not have taken place. Every significant political or diplomatic effort has its effect and overtones. The human condition is a continuum.
Israeli support for Turkish genocide denial only brought attention to Israel’s, seemingly hypocritical, policy regarding its non-recognition of the Armenian genocide, although minority parties in the Israeli Knesset periodically open debate on the topic. In the end, Israel appears to be holding the Armenian genocide like the Sword of Damocles over the head of Turkey.
Armenia’s geopolitical situation is not of its making. After a devastating genocide, what remained of Armenia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. This incorporation included Joseph Stalin placing heavily Armenian populated regions, such as Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, fighting escalated between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1994, Armenians were able to defend and establish sovereignty over this region, to the dismay of Azerbaijan. Subsequently, both Azerbaijan and Turkey blockaded their borders with Armenia. Seventy percent of Armenian’s borders are currently blockaded. During this same period, the West being euphoric having won the Cold War and with NATO busily dismembering Yugoslavia, Armenia had no choice in turning to Russia for its defense, having been strategically threatened by Turkey and ignored by the West. In contrast, Azerbaijan was signing lucrative oil extraction and transportation deals with western suitors funding both Baku’s oligarchic system and its substantial arms purchases. Unless another party comes along and offers a better deal to Armenia, a Russian retreat from its treaty obligations to defend Armenia’s borders will spell the end of what exists of Armenia. As it was a century ago, the international community perceives Armenia as an irritant to broader corporate, regional and international interests. What will Israel do when Azerbaijan is critically out of oil? It will buy it from somebody else or pump it out of the Golan Heights, but the fallout of its unofficial anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani policy will linger.
These series of Zionist policies and activities over a century are essentially realpolitik, with results both chaotic and riddled with Machiavellian indifference.
The Armenians over a century ago were in political situations beyond their ability to influence. Powerful forces were in motion then, and the Armenians were used, manipulated, and eventually deemed an inconvenience, relegated to extermination. The existence of Armenia, today, appears to be an inconvenience and remains a tool to be used by others.
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