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May of Investments, Entrepreneurship and Floods in SE Europe

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It’s barely two decades since the end of a devastating War on Ex-Yugoslavia teritory, devastating and lasting for 3,5 years in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have seen the most brutal scenes of crime, masacred civilians (children and women), hundreds of thousands refugees, have been filling  top headlines of famous world’s media, day after day.

May 2014, is no exception these days. Catastrofic Floods, destruction and people escaping from their homes, has reminded us of the 92-95 War in Bosnia, (i.e. Agression by Ex-YU Army (JNA), supported by Serbian and Croatian political and military establishments) at that time, but also it’s a reminder of how nature can be upredictable. It is officially said that over 2 million people have been attacked these days by devastating Floods in the Balkans region.

Sadly, more than 45 people lost their lives in enormous Floods, combined in two Balkan countries: Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina which have been the mostly efected. Experts predict that those numbers will rise as flood waters recede. It is truly epic flooding, keeping records in the last 120 years, meteorologists say.

Apart from some obvious devastating results, like vanishing homes/humanitarian catastrophie, destruction, desease and epidemic danger for the people in flooding area, those floods bring another very dangerous situation: replacing mines. As stated by Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic, speaking yesterday for CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “We cannot say exactly what happened with the mine fields“. He warned that the mines were likely displaced in the flooding along with signs warning of mines in the area. “The system of the mine fields (was) under control, and had warnings marks are now actually removed,” Izetbegovic said.

 

5th Sarajevo Business Forum, 14-15 May

Just couple of days earlier Regional Investment Conference – 5th Sarajevo Business Forum was preparing to take place in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was supposed to include presentations of business and investment opportunities in Energy, Infrastructure, Agriculture and Tourism from seven countries of Southeast Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.Yet, couple of days earlier, another tragic event occured. This time in Turkey, one of the friendly countries of the SBF Forum. It was a horrible mining explosion in the city of Soma, Manisa (western Turkey), where more than 300 workers lost their lives. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu participated in the opening ceremony of the 5th SBF Forum on May 14, 2014., and before the opening speeches of the Forum, participants paid homeage to workers who lost their lives in the mining accident in Soma. In his opening speech, Foreign Minister Davutoglu thanked for supporting messages conveyed in Sarajevo over the mining accident in Soma.

 

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Participant list of this year’s SBF, included some eminent names from political and business life, like: President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic, crown prince of the Malaysian state of Perak Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah, former President of Slovenia Danilo Turk, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar al Khalid Bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, and Ahman Al Sayed, Minister of State and General Director of „Qatar Investment Authority“ (QAI), one of the largest investment funds in the world. SBF for the 5th year in a row, by BBI Bank in collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), this year aimed to strengthen economic cooperation and attract international investments in South Easterm Europe.

Despite of its high reputation, what can the event like Sarajevo Business Forum, bring as a benefit to the SE Europe Region and community? Undoubtly, it already became widely recognizable, regional Investment Conference, attracting to site some of the wealthiest people from the world. One if them is Sheikh Saleh Kamel, who is highly ranked on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world and chairman of the financial and business groups „Al Baraka“. He is also the President of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In addition to inviting in investment projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sheikh Kamel is at the board of initiative for BBI Fund with an annual amount of 600 thousand dollars in the last three years, with scholarships for 1,500 young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Potential for investing counted to 15 billion EUR

The second day of SBF started with a panel of regional potentials in energy sector. Speaking at this panel discussion Erdal Trhulj, Minister of Energy, Mining and Industry of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,  said that so far in Federation had been discussed mainly about electricity potential, and now we are in position to talk about oil and gas explotation. Regional Director of NIS Gaspromneft, Branko Radujko noted that the region in next 7 to 10 years could attract about 15 billion euros in energy projects.

”We should facilitate procedures and work together, because as a small countries we have to work jointly in order to attract investment”, said Radujko.

During the panel disscusion about infrastructure, it was pointed out that a good and quality roads infrastructure is among the basic precondititon/requirementsfor the successful development of any economy. As a well known fact, Bosnia and Herzegovina is at he the end of the list by modern roads facilities, with only 68 kilometers of the highway, while the European average is 860 kilometers.
Similar situation is in Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Turkey as an example

As it comes to the agriculture sector, Bosnia and the whole region have strategic predisposition for development of this sector, such as good climate (it was until this May and Floods), water, furtile soil, cheap and skilled labour force and low tax rates.”We are aware of the agricultural potentials of the Balkans region, and there is no need for their presentation, but for branding and markting”, said Saif al-Sowaidi, Vice president of the Qatar company „Al Meera Consumer Good“. He pointed out Turkey as an example which Bosnia and Herzegovina should follow, as it has first being organized fairs, forums, and investing in branding and marketing and in that way conquer the global market.

By closing the two-day conference Minister Trhulj said that Bosnia becomes, as some used to say, El Dorado for investors and added that Government makes every effort to ease investment procedures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Potential investors were presented a large number of projects. But how many of them will be likely to find investors, remains to be seen in the future.

 

Sarajevo Pitch Day 17-18 May (IT Startup Conference)

As an entrepreneur who have failed with more than 30 projects up to now (please don’t blame me, life is sometimes tough, isn’t it?), and sent over 15,000 emails about several projects and ideas in the last 12 years – I know  exactly how important is to get a chance to present yourself in front of some some big ‘faces’ – investors and innovation experts, people with experience (and good intentions). If you intend to succeed in any field, in this case we talk about IT, it is extremely important to network with not only technology guys, but also journalists, political guys, marketers, innovation experts, etc.  They all know overall market better than you, and indeed will point you to some trick & tips that you have minimal chances to learn, any other way in your career. So, listen to what they have to say, carefully, at least I use to.

Startbootcamp and HUB387

Sarajevo’s first technological park HUB387 hosted the members of  a “regional Pitch day” on 17-18 May. In this way, Sarajevo was the first city in the region, as a host to the biggest European startup accelerator Startupbootcamp from Berlin.
On this occasion some of the well known Europe’s IT experts and innovation specialists arrived to Sarajevo, like Andy Shannon, Head of Global operations at Startup Bootcamp Berlin, which is making accelerator programs, and in addition to Berlin, his team has also developed its business in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Eindhoven, London and Tel Aviv. Among others, we also hosted Mike Butcher, editor and founder at TechCrunch.com, Tobias Stone, enterprise and innovation fellow from University of Huddersfield who is running work in London and Berlin. At the host side, Edin Saracevic, founder of HUB387 did amazing work, to provide that eminent guests feel pleasant and comfortable in our city.

 

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The call for applications was open for the whole region of the former Yugoslavia, and HUB387 invited all individuals and teams which had, or wanted to develop a startup idea, not to miss this unique opportunity. Sarajevo “Pitch Day” was entitled as „the entrance“ in the world of global business for the most successful regional startup entrepreneurs from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It was told that Startupbootcamp will offer the three month program in their Berlin accelerator to the selected startups. In this way, teams would get the opportunity to develop their ideas in cooperation with respected mentors and all with the secured resources for the accelerated development. After 100 days of intensive work, the startups should have be able to present their products to the wider public, and to the chosen group of investors. According to the statistics done so far, more than 70% of startups which go through the Startupbootcamp program were successful in getting the investment for further development, and the way to become more successful companies in future.
I personally attended Sarajevo Pitch Day last Saturday. It was really amazing to see the crowd and listen to the guests (mentors mentioned earlier in article) – they all came with huge expertize and experience to share, from large and successfull teams/companies they’ve been operating with across Europe.

 

Be brave, don’t lose your focus

The one thing I noticed at the online registration form, a day earlier, was that plan scheduled for at least 10 Startups to Pitch their ideas to the jury, that day. Unfortunately, only 8 teams presented themselves on the stage. It was a pity, and a sign that we need to rise awareness among young teams and talented people to get courage and get to stage. Undoubtly, there is a strong concentration of IT talent in the Balkans countries, all we need now is a bit mentorship and education (and of course, investment, which comes naturally in later phase). It is not easy to present idea on stage, in front of Investors, so I would advice the teams to choose from their team a guy who can do this sensitive ‘work’ in the best possible way. You have 3-5 minutes to present your several years’ hard work, or a unique idea, so you definitely don’t want to miss that opportunity. As stated by Andy Shannon, „we don’t invest in presentations or apllications – we invest in people“, or Mike Butcher, he said: „Start your presentation with a real problem.“ When it comes to pitching your ideas to investors, the crutial thing is to explain them, what is the problem you are trying to solve, or disrupt on the market – and  then get straight to the point of how you intend to do this. It is not easy, I know. You must make long and good preparations, exercise in front of your team and finally choose the best ‘presentator’ in your team, to show the best of you and your idea.

 

I really hope events like this will happen more frequently in Sarajevo. We must ‘fight’, we must use every opportunity to become better people and more successful in future, i.e. financially stronger, because we never know what catastrophy or natural disaster may next happen. It is better to prevent than cure. It is better to be in position to provide help to those who need (as a strong), than to ask for help (if you are poor, or homeless).

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EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China

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Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.

In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.

Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.

The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.

In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.

In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European

Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.

For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.

This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.

Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.

Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.

In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.

An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.

Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.

Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.

Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.

With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.

Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.

These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.

Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.

In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.

The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.

A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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