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Russian annexation of Crimea is final

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] C [/yt_dropcap]rimea was an integral part of Russia for centuries and is historically, culturally and linguistically Russian.

Just like some European nations continue to see European Turkey as being a part of Asia mainly because of its Islamic religion; they now view Crimea as being a part to Ukraine just because it became a part of the Soviet nation as a part of Ukrainian Republic but now it is an East European nation. Soviet President Khrushchev, who belonged to Ukraine, had gifted Crimea from Russian Republic to Ukrainian Republic as a part of territorial rearrangement.

Angry over Ukrainian support for USA and it move away from Moscow, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and made it an integral part of Russia once again. Even if Ukraine changes its anti-Russia stand, Crimea would remains with Russia henceforth.

Clearly, if Putin’s statements are of any indication, Russia is not going to give Crimea to Ukraine any time in future. As such, all calls for Russia to leave Crimea are useless and as pointless. Continued occupation of many Arab nations as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan by the USA and anti-Islamic allies, does not offer any chance for forcing Russia as well.

Meanwhile, French Presidential candidate Francois Fillon warned that Russia was “unstable” and “should be handled with care.” “Can we lift sanctions against Russia without progress in Crimea?” he said. “We have to respect two important yet contradictory principles: respect for sovereign borders and the right to self-determination. No one doubts that Crimea has been historically, culturally and linguistically Russia, and pointless to keep demanding that Russia leaves Crimea: it’s never going to happen.” Fillion had been seen as a forerunner in the French elections until February this year, when French police began to investigate claims that he had deliberately squandered public money by hiring his wife in a nonexistent role as a “parliamentary assistant.” He’s recently made a comeback in the polls, reaching third place. The first round of the French presidential elections takes place this Sunday.

Russia remains strong notwithstanding all economic sanctions by USA and EU, and its other allies. Putin said he would stress Superpower status in Presidential Campaign next year. Restoring Moscow’s global influence will be a dominant theme of the 2018 election. There are obviously no signs of Putin asking the military to leave Crimea for Ukraine and EU to take it away.

2018 Presidency poll

In 2016, Donald Trump rode a wave of popular discontent to the White House on the promise that he would “make America great again.” As Russia’s presidential election, scheduled for March 2018 draws nearer, President Vladimir Putin may try a similar tactic — by contending that he has already restored Russia’s greatness. Since annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, Russia has increasingly asserted its role on the global stage.

Following annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has also ignited a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine and supported the unrecognized “people’s republics” that emerged there. In 2015, Russia entered the longstanding Syrian civil war in support of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Trump’s electoral victory and the demise of the Western consensus against Russia’s violation of international law has also been a major coup for the Kremlin.

These events have all catapulted Putin to the position of a powerful broker in the international arena and fulfilled the country’s longstanding desire for international influence. They signify that, Russia is once again a global player on par with the USA—much like the USSR was thirty years ago.

Russia’s military prowess

Earlier this month, it emerged that Russia had deployed a 22-member special forces unit to a base in western Egypt, near the Libyan border. Russia’s goal is likely to support Khalifa Haftar, a renegade Libyan National Army general who currently controls most of the country’s east and poses a serious challenge to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

The general made two high-profile visits to Moscow in 2016, and signed a series of undisclosed agreements with the Russian military in January. But it is significant because it undermines UN efforts to stabilize the north African country. The deployment shows that Russia is thinking “not just about its continued presence in Syria, but in the Greater Middle East,” says Alexei Malashenko, a regional analyst at the Dialogue of Civilizations foundation.

Recently, Russia has also increased its role in Afghanistan. In February, the Kremlin organized an Afghanistan peace conference in Moscow that brought together representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, and Iran. Notably absent were the United States and other NATO coalition members. Russia has also advocated for including the Taliban in any solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, presenting the Islamist militants as a bulwark against the Islamic State (IS). In February, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. military operations in the country, alleged that Russia had increased covert and overt support for the Taliban to undermine the USA and NATO in Afghanistan.

Russia has sincere concerns about conflict spillover from Afghanistan into Central Asia, says Malashenko. But it is also using the IS and Taliban presence in Afghanistan to assert the role of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance of post-Soviet states in the region.

On March 20, David McAllister, chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, accused Russia of deliberately destabilizing Serbia in order to prevent the Balkan country from joining the EU. He has also alleged that Russia supports nationalist leaders throughout the Balkans. In Montenegro, two Russian intelligence officers stand accused of masterminding a failed coup on election day in October 2016 to prevent the Balkan nation from joining NATO. Last month, a Montenegrin special prosecutor stated that “Russian state bodies were involved on a certain level.”

Any move that destabilizes the Balkans would send a strong message to the West: Russia is a critical regional powerbroker.

Europe could serve as another staging ground for restored Russian influence. As political uncertainty grows in the EU, Russia is reasserting its influence in the Balkans. Earlier this month, when EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini spoke in the Serbian parliament, a group of pro-Russia parliamentarians met her with chants of “Serbia! Russia! We don’t need the EU!”

Observation

The sanctions, imposed by USA and EU on Russia against the annexation Crimea, have not yielded any fruits. It is mainly because of economic position of Moscow. The major sources of economy include arms and oil. Unless weak countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan, Russia cannot be bullied by sanctions or threat of terror attacks the powerful Kremlin.

Threats of USA are not going to weaken Russia in any manner. And there is no reason for the Kremlin to leave Crimea.

So far, there is no consensus in the Kremlin on whether to boost tension in Serbia. Cooler heads understand it may be riskier than involvement in Syria.

Meanwhile, decision makers must take into account the public mood.

Last year, polls repeatedly showed that Russians are tired of war.

Armed conflicts are increasingly seen as an irrational waste of resources, and human losses—first in Ukraine, then in Syria—as something Russia doesn’t need.

The Russian public sees the country’s newly achieved superpower status as a source of international respect, but Russians are more eager for this status to be used for dialogue, than for confrontation.

The challenge for the Russian leadership will be to avoid backsliding into real conflicts that might undermine stability, something Russians hold dear. Putin seems to understand this. He is too cautious to attempt a full-scale restoration of Soviet grandeur. Besides Syria and Ukraine, it’s either isolated local episodes, or just talk So far, there is no clear indication that the Kremlin has decided on a central idea for Putin’s electoral platform. One of the challenges for the Kremlin will be addressing economic stagnation and declining living standards that will likely persist in Russia for a few more years. The other will be getting voters to the polls. But nostalgia for Soviet greatness could still drive electoral mobilization. Recent debates over holding the election on the fourth anniversary of the Crimean annexation reflect an appeal to that nostalgia.

Restoring Russia’s superpower status was the purpose of Putin’s third term. Russia’s global influence will be a key part of the campaign, but the nostalgia card has already been played. EU cannot expect Putin to explain why Russians need global influence and what they get from it.

Russia’s quest for global influence won’t end in the near future. The upcoming presidential election will be utterly predictable, lacking real competition. As a result, Putin will likely spend 2017 demonstrating Russia’s global greatness to spur enthusiasm and drive Russians to the polls.

This does not mean that Russia will rush to war, however. . But it does mean the Kremlin must project an image of strength abroad. The idea is to show influence. Putin will need to make headlines, assert Russia’s global presence and demonstrate that it is returning its spheres of influence.

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It Is Crucial to Watch Changes among the Russian Elites

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Georgia’s and to a large extent any other post-Soviet state’s foreign policy depends on what happens in/to Russia.

Problems in the Russian economy might be causing reverberations in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, etc., but it still is not a long-term problem. What should matter more fundamentally to us are internal developments within the Russian ruling class, changes in the government, struggle among powerful groupings, and relations between the civil and military branches.

In other words, we need to pay closer attention to the Russian elites which govern the country and therefore control the country’s foreign policy. This is important since Russia’s internal situation often has a bearing on foreign policy, and that is where it matters to us.

To be sure, watching developments in a country’s ruling elites is crucial for almost every modern state which is geopolitically active. But with Russia, this is even more important as the political power in the country does not derive from the people as in the European democracies, but rather from powerful security and military agencies which enable the central government in Moscow to control efficiently large swathes of territories, usually of unfriendly geographic conditions.

The way modern Russian elites operate is very similar to the way how Soviet and imperial (Romanov) governments worked. Quite surprisingly, in all the cases Russian elites have been always perceptible of changing economic or geopolitical situation inside or outside the country.

It is often believed that a ruler, again whether during the imperial or Soviet times, wielded ultimate power over the fate of the population and the governing elites. The same notion works for Vladimir Putin. Westerners often portray him as a sole ruler to all the affairs Russian and non-Russian and a major voice in what should be done. True, the incumbent president is powerful, but he gained this authority more as a balancer among several powerful groups of interests such as military, economic, security, cultural and numerous smaller factions inside each of these large groups.

To many, it might seem strange and hardly possible that the Russian president balances rather than rules, but generally a Russian ruler, despite the historically autocratic models of government, always had to pay attention to changing winds among the country’s elites. In the beginning, if all goes badly, the elites might be silent for the fear of oppression, but slowly and steadily they would always try to influence the government. If this did not work, the Russian elites would not hesitate to abandon the ‘sinking ship’.

Indeed, Russian history shows how powerful the Russian elites are and how vital their support for a government is.

Take the example of the Romanov dynasty before World War I. There was a big disenchantment with the way the government operated and once the Tsarist rule failed in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 and the WWI, the result was immediate: the elites turned their back on the Romanovs and the Empire ceased to exist in 1917.

Perhaps an even better example is how the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Though there were military problems, corruption as well as economic woes, it was still in the minds and hearts of the ruling Russian and Ukrainian, Georgian and other governing circles that the idea of a common state failed.

Nowadays, Russia is experiencing serious problems, ranging from economic and educational to purely geopolitical. There are occasional signs that the Russian elites are getting more worried about the future prospects of the country. Where before the Ukrainian crisis there was still hope of final European-Russian rapprochement and the idea that Russians had to model themselves on Europe, now this idea is dead.

Thus, along with social and foreign policy troubles, the Russians are also experiencing a purely spiritual problem. All point to the fact that there are too many issues which have accumulated during Putin’s rule, which, surely, will not be easy to change overnight, but there is a growing understanding that this chosen way is not getting Russia to a spectacularly good place in the world arena.

This brings us to the pivotal question of what Russia will be like after Putin. Is a change to the existing status quo possible? Many developments show that it is a plausible scenario. Considering how many problems have accumulated and considering how troublesome historically it has been for the Russian elites to act openly against the government, it is possible that once Putin is out, internal infighting among elite groups will take place. As a result, reverberations to foreign policy will follow. It is not about wishful thinking on the part of the western community, but rather the result of an analysis of Russian history and the Russian mentality. Almost always, changes at the top of the government, whether peaceful or otherwise, have an impact on the foreign and internal situation.

This is what should be meticulously studied by the Georgians.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Experts Campaign to Enlist Russia’s Commitment to Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Roscongress Foundation and Integration Expertise LLC (Intex) have signed an agreement on cooperation between their organizations to work collaboratively on the “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” in preparation for the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit. The agreement directed towards collecting and collating expert views for the project “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” that could be incorporated into the final Summit Declaration.

A group of Russian experts plan to present a comprehensive document titled “Russia-Africa: Shared Vision 2030” at the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit scheduled on 23–24 October in Sochi, southern Russian city.

Sochi, located in southern Russia, has an excellent heritage. In both winter and summer, the city hosts world-class global international events, such as the Olympics, the World Festival of Youth and Students, and many others. Sochi has one of the largest congress complexes in the country.

The key issue emerging from many policy experts is a fresh call on Russian Government to seriously review and change some of its policy approach currently implemented in Africa. It’s necessary to actively use combined forms of activities, an opportunity to look at the problems and the perspectives of entire Russian-African partnership and cooperation in different fields from the viewpoints of both Russian and African politicians, business executives, academic researchers, diplomats and social activists.

The Russia-Africa Summit will be the first platform to bring African leaders and business executive directors to interact and discuss economic cooperation of mutual interest with Russian counterparts, nearly 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Even as the historical event draws nearer and nearer with preparations underway, Russian officials at the Kremlin and Ministries, particularly Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and Economic Development and Industry, are still lip-tight over what African leaders have to expect from the Summit.

On the other hand, competition is rife on the continent, with many foreign countries interested in Africa. Resultantly, African leaders have been making rational and comparative choices that enormously support their long-term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Roscongress Foundation along with the Integration Expertise information-analytical company said in a recent news brief that collaborative writing team of Russian and African experts have been working on a document that would outline the main areas for interaction between Russia and African countries.

An expert analysis, including macroeconomic reviews, and an analysis of political systems and inter-country development strategies would be used to reach conclusions about opportunities for cooperation, make recommendations, and define specific goals for the development of Russian-African relations in the period until 2030.

Anton Kobyakov, an Adviser to the Russian President, noted that “Russia has traditionally prioritized developing relations with African countries. Trade and economic relations as well as investment projects with the countries of the African continent offer enormous potential. Major Russian businesses view Africa as a promising place for investment.” 

Andrei Kemarsky, Director of the Department of Africa of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the work on the series of expert reports united by the common theme “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” would make a significant contribution to intensifying Russian-African cooperation and would further promote Russia’s interests on the African continent.

“This project seems to be particularly relevant given the fact that the Russia-Africa Summit is scheduled to be held in Russia with the participation of heads of all African countries,” Kemarsky said.

In December 2017, Russian Export Center became a shareholder of Afreximbank. Russian Export Center is a specialized state development institution, created to provide any assistance, both financial and non-financial, for Russian exporters looking for widening their business abroad.

 “We are seriously looking at multifaceted interaction with Africa. Russia has a long historical connection with the continent since the time African states started gaining their independence. However, that has lost its momentum in early 90s. It is our major goal now to rebuild the trust and the connections with the African countries to make the strong foundation for further business cooperation,” the General Director of the REC, Andrei Slepnev, told me in an emailed interview.

“We’re witnessing a clear growing interest from the both sides to establish the new level of relationships which means it is a perfect timing to boost the economic agenda we have, create a platform to vocalize these ideas and draw a strong roadmap for the future,” stressed Slepnev.

“Given the growing interest in Africa, Russian organizations, both private and public, need a high-quality guide that will help to avoid at least some of the mistakes that have already been made and provide pointers on some of the most promising mechanisms for collaboration,” Roscongress Foundation CEO, Alexander Stuglev, said.

Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, already many important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen, first of all, how these intentions and agreements would be implemented in practice with African countries, according to Arkhangelskaya.

During the signing of an agreement between the Integration Expertise and Roscongress Foundation, Yevgeny Korendyasov, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that intensifying Russian-African cooperation was now among the list of current priorities of the Russian government and the business community.

“Preparations for the Russia-Africa Summit as a new platform for the Russian-African partnership are in full swing. In this situation, ensuring that relations between countries reach a new level requires a rethinking of approaches, mechanisms, and instruments for cooperation based on their heightened significance in the new conditions of world politics and economics,” according to Yevgeny Korendyasov.

Andrei Maslov, an Expert at the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that Russia’s partnership with the African continent was also a major focus at the Valdai International Club’s  discussion platform, which hosted an expert session titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Interests, Challenges, and Prospects” held in March 2019.

On March 19, under the Chairmanship of Yury Ushakov, an Aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Organizing Committee on Russia-Africa held its first meeting in Moscow. The Russia–Africa summit is expected to be attended by roughly 3,000 African businessmen, according to the official meeting report.

As a way to realize the target goals, a preliminary Russia-Africa Business Dialogue as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) will take place on June 6–8, and will be followed by the annual shareholders meeting of African Export-Import Bank. Russian Export Center became a shareholder in December 2017.

The Roscongress Foundation, established in 2007, is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of international business conventions, together with Russian Export Center are the key institutions responsible for preparation and holding of the all events. President Vladimir Putin put forward the Russia—Africa initiative at the BRICS summit (Russia, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa) in Johannesburg in July 2018.

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Russia and North Korea: Key areas for cooperation

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The April 25 meeting in Vladivostok between President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un was their first since the North Korean leader came to power in 2011. Arriving on his armored train, Kim Jong-un said that he had always dreamed of visiting Russia and hoped that his first visit would not be the last.

“We talked about the history of our bilateral relations, about the current situation and the development of relations between our two countries,” Vladimir Putin said wrapping up the opening phase of the negotiations, which lasted for two hours – twice longer than originally planned.

Kim Jong-un said that the two leaders “had a very meaningful and constructive exchange of views tete-a-tete on all pressing issues of mutual interest.”

“I am grateful for the wonderful time I have spent here, and I hope that our negotiations will similarly continue in a useful and constructive way,” he added.    

The talks later continued in an expanded format and ran for three and a half hours.

“We had a detailed discussion of all issues on our agenda: bilateral relations, matters related to sanctions, the United Nations, our relations with the United States and, of course, the central issue of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, focusing on different aspects of all these problems,” Vladimir Putin said during the final press conference.

The main outcome of the talks, however, was the two leaders’ repeated emphasis on the need to restart the six-party talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as Russia’s readiness to act as a de-facto mediator between Pyongyang and Washington. Representatives of Russia, North and South Koreas, China, Japan and the United States regularly met between 2003 and 2008 (under Kim Jong-il), but those meetings were eventually suspended by Pyongyang following Washington’s refusal to ease the sanctions regime and its attempts to revise existing accords.

Ahead of the Vladivostok summit, the US Special Envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, made a brief visit to Moscow to discuss the terms of the new Korean settlement parley. The US State Department described the diplomat’s visit as a desire to “discuss respective bilateral engagements with North Korea and efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

However, Mr. Biegun’s visit only underscored the lingering differences in the negotiating sides’ views on resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula and regarding the mechanisms and mutual steps needed to make this happen. While North Korea, Russia and China are holding out for a phased lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang in exchange for North Korea gradually rolling back its nuclear missile program under international security guarantees, the United States insists on Pyongyang’s prior cessation of its entire nuclear missile development effort. According to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un then asked him to convey his position and expectations to Washington.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un personally asked us to inform the American side about his position and the questions he has about what’s unfolding on the Korean Peninsula,” Vladimir Putin told reporters after the summit.  He promised to do this at upcoming international forums – including in China, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The North Korean leader had thus decided to get back to Pyongyang’s previous practice of “balancing” between the leading world powers in an effort to achieve maximum possible concessions. This balancing act is important for Pyongyang primarily with Washington and Moscow – especially after the failure of the US-North Korean summit held in Hanoi in February.

According to Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, “Kim Jong-un’s trip to Vladivostok means that he is looking for outside support amid his stuttering talks with the United States.”.

“With the failure of the Hanoi summit, Kim Jong-un needs to confirm that he is generally committed to denuclearization, but within the framework of the Russian-Chinese phased plan. Donald Trump and his team reject this and demand a complete denuclearization of the DPRK as a condition for lifting the sanctions,” Go Myung-hyun of Seoul’s ASAN Institute of Policy Studies said.

“What Pyongyang now needs following the failure the Vietnam summit is at least a semblance of minimal diplomatic success,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said.

The list of countries Kim Jong-un can now turn to for diplomatic support is very short. These are essentially Russia and China. However, his visit to Beijing is not in the best interest of China, which is currently locked in tense trade negotiations with the United States.

Therefore, Kim Jong-un apparently hopes that his talks with Russia will send a signal to Washington that since political pressure on Pyongyang is not working, the Americans should proceed to a phased lifting of sanctions against North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang partially coming across on its nuclear missile program.

“North Korea’s strategy always has been walking a tight-rope between the conflicts of the world powers and getting concessions that way,” the BBC commented.

With the successful Russian-North Korean summit, which reaffirmed the two countries’ shared desire to breathe new vigor into the Korean settlement process, the ball is now in the US court, and President Trump’s well-known predilection for quick fixes and spectacular moves inspires hope for his next, third, meeting with Kim Jong-un.

During his recent visit to Washington, South Korean President Moon Jae-in underscored the need for a new such meeting between Trump and Kim. When meeting with Donald Trump, President Moon stressed that his “important task” is to “maintain the momentum of dialogue” toward North Korea’s denuclearization while expressing “the positive outlook, regarding the third US-North Korea summit, to the international community that this will be held in the near future.” Donald Trump responded in his peremptory manner: “I enjoy the summits, I enjoy being with the chairman,” he said, adding that his previous meetings with the North Korean leader had been “really productive.”

Although there has been no word yet about when exactly this meeting could happen, Kim Jong-un has already made it clear that he is ready “to be patient and wait for the American president by the end of the year.”

Seoul, another target of Pyongyang’s political signals, factors in very importantly in the diplomatic activity currently swirling around North Korea. 

“Kim launched the inter-Korean phase of the “new way” immediately after the meeting in Hanoi. It involves ratcheting up pressure on South Korea to demonstrate greater independence from the US,” The Hill commented.

“Of course, while it is awkward for South Korea to say so openly, there is no gainsaying the fact that the failure to make really meaningful progress in implementing the detailed agreements negotiated during the inter-Korean summits in Panmunjom and Pyongyang is due to the constraints imposed by South Korea’s support for the US’ North Korea policy.”

“South Koreans truly may be the most effective mediators precisely because they are caught between the parties: the Americans with whom they share long-term, common interests; and the North Koreans with whom they share an existential, common national identity,” the publication concluded.

In addition to general political issues and the problem of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, economic projects in energy and infrastructure, including the construction of a gas pipeline and a railway line linking the two countries are an equally important aspect of cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

All these things, however, depend very much on the overall situation on the Korean Peninsula and the prospects for the normalization of inter-Korean relations.

“I spoke about this. We have been talking about this matter for many years. This includes direct railway traffic between South Korea, North Korea and Russia, including our Trans-Siberian Mainline, opportunities for laying pipelines – we can talk about both oil and gas, as well as the possible construction of new power transmission lines. All of this is possible. Moreover, in my opinion, this also meets the interests of the Republic of Korea, I have always had this impression. But, apparently, there is a shortage of sovereignty during the adoption of final decisions, and the Republic of Korea has certain allied obligations to the United States. Therefore, everything stops at a certain moment. As I see it, if these and other similar projects were implemented, this would create essential conditions for increasing trust, which is vitally needed to resolve various problems,” President Vladimir Putin said about this particular aspect of the talks with his North Korean counterpart.

Any further progress in the Korean settlement process depends directly on the kind of relationship we are going to see happening within the framework of the “six” world powers. Anyway, the summit, which has just closed up shop in Vladivostok, gives reasons for optimism. 

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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