The availability of fresh water has direct impact on food and energy production, development of industry, and human survival. Fresh water resources are often unevenly divided and irregularly distributed throughout the regions of the world. As populations in the world continue to increase, particularly in water scarce regions, the potential increases for conflict to develop over competition for water. As such, concern over the dwindling water supplies in the Middle East has been labeled as the next source of conflict in the Middle East.
The severity of the water issue in the Middle East is a key strategic issue in understanding future security decisions within the region. Nations in the region have many ongoing disputes, but few are more basic and deep-rooted as the need for water. After all, the human body can survive without oil, but the soul requires the font of living waters for survival. An understanding of the magnitude and scope of the water issue will better prepare an analyst or decision-maker to anticipate events in the region.
Nations in the region share more political conflicts than just water, to include religious differences, ideological disputes, border disputes, and economic competition. These tend only to complicate the water problem further. Cooperation in the region is a very significant problem. Nations in the Middle East are constantly afraid of another gaining an advantage from an agreement of any type. As a result, Nations of the region are blinded by preoccupation with autonomy, power, and security.
THE BLUE PEACE INITIATIVE
To address the ongoing water crisis in the Middle East, SFG has developed the Blue Peace approach that transforms trans-boundary water into an instrument for cooperation, with collaborative and sustainable strategies shared by riparian countries. The Blue Peace concept was conceived by Strategic Foresight Group in a project supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Political Directorate of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and presented in the form of a report published in February 2011.
Blue Peace at the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat in Entebbe, Uganda
This initiative is supposed to create a complete framework for water cooperation covering the entire spectrum from cooperation at the political and diplomatic level to cooperation to address the plight of marginalized people in the Middle East. The exchange of experience takes place in various forms. An important component is “Learning Journeys” to successful river basin organizations. It is feasible to undertake such Learning Journeys only when important river basin organizations agree to host them.
Per se, the Rhine Hydrological Commission and Mekong River Commission have hosted in the past Learning Journeys for policy makers and media persons from the Middle East and the latest learning journey was hosted by the Nile River Basin in East Africa in August 2016, following the Learning Journey to Senegal River Basin, held in August 2015, this was a continuation of the ‘exchange of experience’ activities under the Blue Peace Initiative.
On August 8-10, 2016, members of the Blue Peace Middle East Community embarked on a learning journey to explore and understand cooperation in the Nile River Basin in East Africa. The delegation from the Middle East included senior policy makers, academic and technical experts and leading members of the Blue Peace Media Network.
Strategic Foresight Group organized the Learning Journey to Nile River Basin in coordination with the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), headquartered in Entebbe in Uganda. The journey was conducted over a period of three days in Uganda during which the participants were able to appreciate the functioning of NBI and learn about its history and mandate. In addition, six other African River Basin representatives also participated in this learning journey which helped the Middle Eastern participants to get an overview of successful water cooperation across Africa. They included representatives of River Basin Organizations from Komati River, Gambia River, Congo River, Senegal River, Volta River, Orange-Senque Basin.
The most significant feature which the participants discovered in the case of NBI and also in the case of the other African River Basins was their emphasis on cooperation and the importance of a strong political will. The participants also noted that the riparian members of the Nile River were developing countries that were trying to find a common solution to water scarcity and economic development through cooperation over the common water resource they all shared.
NILE BASIN INITIATIVE
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is an intergovernmental partnership of 10 Nile Basin countries, namely Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, The Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Eritrea participates as an observer.
For the first time in the Basin’s history, an all-inclusive basin-wide institution was established, on 22nd February, 1999, to provide a forum for consultation and coordination among the Basin States for the sustainable management and development of the shared Nile Basin water and related resources for win-win benefits.
Mr. John Rao Nyaoro, HSC, Executive Director, Nile Basin Initiative (right) and Dr. Sundeep Waslekar Director of the SFG (left)
The highest decision and policy-making body of NBI is the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM), comprised of Ministers in charge of Water Affairs in each NBI Member State. The Nile-COM is supported by the Nile Technical Advisory Committee (Nile-TAC), comprised of 20 senior government officials, two from each of the Member States.
LEARNING JOURNEY TO UGANDA
The learning mission began with a presentation on the overview of Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), its structure and historical background by the Executive Director of the NBI, Dr. John Rao Nyaoro. The day was dedicated to understanding the socio-political background and the functioning of the NBI. A detailed historical background of the formation of NBI helped the participants better understand the context of cooperation.
Dr. Nyaoro also touched upon the Agreement on Declaration of Principles between the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia And The Republic of the Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project (GERDP) which was signed by the Heads of States on March 23, 2015. Later he emphasized the importance of cooperating and finding sustainable solutions together in order to fight the water scarcity in the basin. According to him, a balance can be struck once the cooperative mechanisms are in place. The problems can be foreseen and the solutions can be found before the problems go out of hand, eventually leading to a basin-wide development and peace.
Presentation on Nile Basin Initiative
On the second day of the Learning Journey, in addition to NBI, six African River Basin Organizations shared their experiences with the Middle Eastern participants. As participants, we had the chance to interact with representatives of the seven major African River Basin Organizations at the same time. The representatives gave brief presentations on the history, functioning, achievements and challenges that their respective organizations face. The session was later followed by a detailed discussion on the Strategic Foresight Group’s report on “Water Cooperation Quotient” where the participants gave their suggestions and remarks which will prove instrumental in upgrading the quotient.
As a part of the field visit the participants visited the Bujagali Hydropower Project built on the Victoria Nile in the town of Jinja, about 140 km east of Entebbe. It is a 250-megawatt power generating facility sponsored by the Industrial Promotion Services (Kenya) Limited and SG Bujagali Holdings Ltd, an affiliate of Sithe Global Power, LLC (USA). The main purpose of the project is to provide electricity to Uganda which suffers from power deficit and in turn to promote the socio-economic development of local residents.
Bujagali Hydropower Project built on the Victoria Nile
After the visit to the dam, the participants went on to see the source of the Nile River. It was an overwhelming experience for all the participants to be at the source of the world’s longest river from where it travels through eleven countries before it finally drains into the Mediterranean.
BLUE PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
It is when riparian countries face problems such as prolonged drought, depletion of water resources and other factors that can produce competition between them, that institutionalized cooperation for the sustainable management of water resources is most required. The African River Basin Organizations came into existence in order to address the problems of natural disasters or acute underdevelopment which would potentially lead to conflict over resources. This is the situation in the Middle East today, where natural disasters such as drought and underdevelopment in some parts pose a challenge. It is precisely at this time that institutionalized cooperation is required.
The Nile Basin Initiative for instance has a long history of disagreements which have been gradually narrowed down to the minimum and now have the prospect of the countries reaching an amicable agreement in the near future. This has been possible because the NBI is available as a forum where the state parties can meet, irrespective of the extent to which they may agree with each other.
In the case of the Middle East, currently the Blue Peace Community brings together various stakeholders including individuals associated with the institutions of state. However, this is not an official forum of the governments in the region. It is important for the Middle East to take the next step to progress from the Blue Peace Community to a Cooperation Council of state parties to address the issues related to water and environment in the region.
Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?
The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.
Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.
The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.
In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.
An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.
According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.
Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.
It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.
The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.
The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.
The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen
Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.
Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.
The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.
On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.
It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.
Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.
The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.
The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.
Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.
Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.
Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.
Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.
The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.
In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.
Greater Implications of the Iran-China Deal on India
Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee and Subarna Mustari*
India entered as a stakeholder in the development of Iran’s Chabahar port in 2016 as part of an India- Afghanistan- Iran trilateral agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor. A landmark strategic victory for India, this agreement not only connected New Delhi with Kabul but also provided India a link to Eurasia through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, it sought to challenge China’s investment in the Gwadar Port in Pakistan as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Indian involvement in the Chabahar- Zahedan Railway project therefore has far-reaching implications for New-Delhi’s interests in the Asian geopolitical scenario. However, after Iran’s signing of a landmark investment deal with China earlier this year, we aim to analyze the implications of the deal on India in this article.
The Middle East is particularly important to India because of its vast energy resources. Stephen P. Cohen feels that five factors steer India’s policy in the Middle East namely:
1. Energy Security: India is very reliant on Oil and Gas resources from the Middle East and therefore relations with most of the major suppliers including Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are strategically important to India. And India does not want to become a victim to a sudden increase in Oil and Gas prices or a temporary embargo of these resources as the pipeline from Central Asia to India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is not likely to materialize soon.
2. The Muslim Factor: Although a secular democratic State, India has a very high Muslim population who resonate with countries in the Middle East which brings out the relation between India’s foreign and economic policy on the one hand and domestic politics on the other. This linkage has particularly increased in importance after the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the Modi Government which is thought to be discriminatory against Muslims and has provoked sharp criticism from the international community.
3. The Kashmir Factor: For Indian foreign policy it is of paramount importance that the Middle Eastern States do not interfere in Kashmir or support Pakistan regarding the issue. Therefore it conducts a “sophisticated balance of power diplomacy” in order to contain the spread of Pakistani influence regarding Kashmir and to keep the Kashmir issue out of all discussions.
4. The Israel Factor: India’s recent cultivation of strategic relations with Israel has led to important advancements in the technology, intelligence, and military sectors as well as important leverage in the US but many analysts in India are still skeptical about cultivating close relations with Tel Aviv. Eventually it can be said that a balance between Tel Aviv and Tehran will become an important factor in Indian Foreign Policy.
5. The Non-Proliferation Factor: Because of India’s strategic relations with the US, India does not want to violate American non-proliferation goals in the region. But Indian strategists have had a long history of skepticism regarding American non-proliferation strategies and tactics with skepticism. In fact the Indian leadership was at the forefront in the development of the theoretical case against the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the global non-proliferation regime. In fact, most of the arguments developed by India are now used by Iran and North Korea to justify their opposition to the NPT and therefore India must find a solution to this paradox in the near future as although its record of horizontal proliferation has been very good, it has been an example for States regarding vertical proliferation.
China’s offer to invest $400 billion in Iranian oil and gas sectors over 25 years tokening a comprehensive trade and military partnership between the two nations is undoubtedly far more beneficial to Iran than India’s promise of a $150 million investment scheme over 10 years. This deal is mutually beneficial for both China and Iran and the Iranian economy reeling under sanctions will get a much needed lifeline. Similarly, China is facing international criticism over its aggressive political and military strategies that include attempts at hegemonizing the South China Sea (SCS) at the cost of the other littoral States, passing a new security law to strengthen its control over Hong Kong and engaging in a border standoff with India in Ladakh. This deal therefore allows China a strategic leverage in the Middle East. China’s strategic decision for such an investment into Iran comes at a notable time – immediately following the Sino-Indian Border Clash of June 2020. Iran’s decision to choose a more lucrative deal from a more lucrative regional partner facing the same extra-regional opponent – the United States – intersects directly with India’s vested security interests in Iran against both China and Pakistan. Furthermore, India’s relations with the United States puts both India and Iran in a very complicated situation with Iran at greater risk of allowing more Chinese presence than India in the region, given the former’s bigger investment and the mutual threat of the United States.
India, compared to China, not only has far less to offer economically to neutral yet strategic prospective allies (Iraq, Iran, and other Gulf nations) in countering China in the West Indian Ocean Region (IOR), but its alliance with the extra-regional United States has compromised Iran’s faith in India as concrete ally. With such a timely investment, China has in one stroke obtained a highly strategic regional ally against the United States in securing its energy concerns, and simultaneously taken the battle directly to Iran where India is attempting to undermine China’s String of Pearls (SOP) strategy (Gwadar Port, Pakistan) through the Chabahar Port.
Furthermore, India’s recent history of erratic dealings in the middle-east, and compliance with the US’s policies in Asia has dipped the region’s confidence in India as a reliable regional partner. China’s already expanding foothold in the middle-east and Africa, and stronger deliverance makes it a better prospective partner for Arab nations who see China as such. In fact, in recent years China’s influence has grown in the region through an increase in economic investment. Between 2005 and 2019, China has invested over $55 billion in the region according to the AEI’s China Global Investments tracker. Between 2004 and 2014, China also gave financial assistance of $42.8 billion to the region according to Aid Data Research lab. Also for many States in the Middle East, China is their most reliable trade and strategic partner as well as a key source of technology and armed drones. Therefore, it can be claimed that while Iran and China have patterned their foreign policies in such a way that it regionally benefits them against extra-regional influences; India’s current foreign policy narrative accounts to a degree of dependency on extra-regional powers that limits its regional interests of security against its two biggest border rivals – China and Pakistan. Secondly, India’s engagement with the United Sates in the maritime arena remains limited in the eastern side of the Indian Ocean at a time when India needs to increase a collaborative presence on the western side – which, given the unfavorable economic effects of the pandemic and wishful economic management of the Indian Government, leaves room only for clever diplomacy on India’s part. Therefore, Indian dealings in the middle-east and in the West IOR have to be strategically designed with not just extra-regional allies which share the same apprehensions of Chinese presence; but also look to secure greater strategic partnerships with East Asian nations like South Korea and Japan to balance its over-dependence on the United States for energy and geopolitically diversify its defense against China’s SOP doctrine.
India, apart from expedient solidification of its energy, trade, and security interests in the middle-east, has to double-down on its Act East Policy especially with Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, in this regard it can be said that relations with these two countries, particularly with Indonesia, will be of paramount importance to India. This will help cement India’s claim of a rules based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific in order to check Chinese attempts to hegemonize the region. In this regard, the link between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Aceh Province in Indonesia will cement maritime ties between the two countries and help to check Chinese advances near the strait of Malacca through the SOP strategy. However, a major restriction to such collaborations in this regard, would be the persecution of Muslims under the Modi government in India and the religious radicalism prevailing in the country. Another more viable option available to India is the QUAD group consisting of India, US, Australia and Japan. India can use this grouping to not only uphold its claim of a rules based maritime order but also gain a foothold in the SCS region and pose a challenge to China through close alliances with the QUAD and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Therefore, to conclude, it can be said that a new Cold War maybe brewing between India and China which might set to define the very nature of Asian geopolitics in the near future.
* Subarna Mustari is an undergraduate student of Political Science at Bethune College, Kolkata. Her interests lie in Political Science and International Relations as well as in history of war, colonialism and philosophy. She has recently published for Modern Diplomacy.
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