In a speech delivered on May 6 last, Patriarch Kirill – the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church – defined the Russian war in Syria as a conflict “against global terrorism” and hence suggested a “holy war” to free not only the Middle East, but also the entire Christian civilization, from this “fierce and deceitful enemy”.Russia as a “third Rome”, after the first falling and the second failing because it surrendered to the profane world.
Patriarch Kirill believes that Christians are in terrible danger in many countries – and this is the reason why the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church cherishes good memories of the meeting he had in Cuba with Pope Francis.
A meeting that, as Patriarch Kirill said, “took place in the right place and at the right time”. After one thousand years.
The Church of Rome has realized that modern society is failing and that an alliance of religions is needed to save the world. This is an idea that the Patriarch of Moscow has always had and, after the USSR collapse, Russia can finally work freely with the West.
And Patriarch Kirill has certainly been the least pro-Soviet of the Orthodox Fathers.
In other words, the Russian Church – closely linked to the new regime of Vladimir Putin, who never forgets his role as believer – is thinking of an agreement – not necessarily hegemonic – with the Roman Church.
An agreement to overcome the “two worlds”, the East and the West, and unite and federate the Middle East, the cradle of the Faith (and of the Faiths) and strategic axis between the East and the West.
By explicit admission and also by tacit activity of the Pope, the Catholic Church has now become not only the “field hospital” of the world crisis, but the only geopolitical point of reference of the poor and miserable people of the old “Third World”, which is experiencing one financial crisis after the other.
However, we are still in a pro-Western area.
Conversely, the Russian Church intends to maintain its traditional role in the East so as to become the only “voice of the poor” against the old and new imperialism, but in a new multipolar context beyond the old US and Western hegemony.
Hence Patriarch Kirill proposal for a single anti-terrorist coalition operating in the world.
On February 19 last, in Moscow, when the Orthodox Patriarch received the Patriarch of Antioch, John Yazigi X – born in Latakia and supporter of Bashar al-Assad – he recalled that “ISIS was discrediting the image of Islam with the whole world”.
Patriarch Kirill wants to separate the jihad from mass Islam and unite the latter to make it support his interreligious dialogue project, which should manage the future distribution of power in the Middle East.
Said distribution will not be State-based, but religious and community-based – hence beyond the spheres of influence madly designed in the desert by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
A communication strategy that, in this case, associates Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis.
As we have seen, they both want to separate the jihad from current Islam, although it seems that they do not perceive the profound practical and theoretical transformation modern jihadism has brought about in the symbols and practice of any forms of contemporary Islamism – from the Afghan “resistance” against the Russian troops until Bin Laden.
After the current sword jihad, nothing – even in the Quietist Islam – will be the same as before.
In this case, however, separating the wheat from the chaff can allow something new: the emergence of an Islam not only peaceful, but with two other characteristics: the fact of being national, and not vaguely and violently universalist, and with a new and strong, relationship with the local and regional political authorities.
An Islam typical of the old Caliphate, but capable of having a wide echo, instead of the Islam damned and cursed by everybody and now at the end of its war with its new Caliphate.
In fact, Patriarch Kirill thinks that ISIS is “anti-Arab” and it is also “destroying the Middle East”.
In other words, the Russian Orthodox leaders – who certainly do not speak without Vladimir Putin’s permission – think that the Caliphate’s jihadism wants to weaken the current Middle East States, with a view to delivering them to non-State entities, behind which the Patriarch sees above all the New West, dissolving the old national and religious identities into a postmodern and harshly materialistic and capitalist medium.
Patriarch Kirill’s apparently “backward” ideas have a clear relationship with Orthodox Russia’s foreign policy: abortion, easy divorce, drugs, propaganda for homosexuality are all psychological warfare operations designed to destroying States, religious communities and, above all, social solidarity, with a view to paving the way for atheism but, in particular, for the post-capitalist social fragmentation and atomization.
It would be the end of the Middle East, which would be turned into a cultural desert, much more than the jihad has done so far.
As Pope Francis said at the meeting held last February with the representatives of “Economia e Unione”, overcoming capitalism is now a well-acquired fact, thus going well beyond the traditional social doctrine of the Church.
As the Pope said, capitalism “knows philanthropy, but not communion.”
According to Patriarch Kirill, whose Church is much more integrated into the Russian financial and political system than Catholicism in the West, capitalism is an asset as it produces the goods for the poor.
According to the Russian Patriarch, it is the Orthodox Church which distributes the superfluous and corrects society and its economy.
Traditionally, Orthodoxy is a Church that is not only Sponsa Christi, but bodily and practical presence of Jesus Christ among the people and in history.
The Roman Church is a different case, because it operates above all with Catholic laity and personal persuasion – in a much more anti-religious world than the one typical of the current Slavic world.
Furthermore, in the encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, the decisive mechanism for society and the economy is that of a liturgical and sacred culture that generates a gift economy.
According to Patriarch Kirill, however, peace in the Middle East can be certainly achieved with the new relationship established with the Church of Rome, but above all by reactivating the old “Orthodox Imperial Society of Palestine”, which shall reacquire all the huge and ancient Russian properties in the Middle East.
The Society also wants to reacquire the Israeli side of the Monastery of Saints Cyril and Methodius and put back in order the Monastery of Alexandrovsky in Jerusalem, as well as the other eleven churches and the three Orthodox sites still owned by the Russian Orthodox Church outside the motherland.
One of the largest and symbolically most important properties of the Churches in all the Sacred Places, which Patriarch Kirill (and Putin) will use with extreme subtlety to conquer Middle East peoples’ minds and hearts.
The cross of the Slavic Church has two inscriptions in Russian, which are very important, especially today: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet” (Isaiah, 62).
Hence Patriarch Kirill’s underlying idea is to return to the pre-revolutionary situation when there were over 100 Orthodox schools and education institutes in 50 different cities throughout Syria.
An immense cultural and political presence that no media propaganda can supplant and replace.
Currently 500 Palestinian children are already attending the Russian school in Bethlehem, opened under the aegis of the Imperial Society.
For the Slavic Orthodox Church, the destabilization strategy in Ukraine and the one in the current Middle East with the jihad is one and one only and mainly concerns the persecution of Christian peoples throughout the area, as well as in the Maghreb region.
It is related to the geopolitics of the atheistic and consumerist destabilization carried out by the Western countries that have fomented at first the Caucasus insurgency and later the “Arab Springs”.
Patriarch Kirill believes that the Westernization outside the EU and United States has already failed.
It is easy to understand how the Russian Patriarch rightly believes that the “Arab Springs” are at the origin of the current destabilization in the Middle East and of its de-Christianization.
The Western countries do nothing – or, indeed, very little – to rescue and then host the Middle East Christian migrants. Only the Russian Church and the Vatican have taken actions in this regard, in spite of the difficult conditions also caused by the presence of many migrants from Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill supports a theology of the new community and religious regionalization in the Middle East, against the globalization that has favoured a satanic “modernization”, namely that of the jihad.
Hence another asset of the Russian Church, which is preparing Russia’s expansion throughout the region, between Syria, Iraq, the Lebanon and Palestine, by taking credit for the protection of Christians, including those faithful to Rome.
As the Melchite (hence Catholic) Archbishop of Syria – Joseph Absi -– says, this leads to the additional Orthodox asset of deciding to put an end to all the rivalries between the Middle East Christian Churches, which weaken the Faith faced with a fierce and unscrupulous enemy.
Ferocious as a fanatic, modernizer as a post-modern.
Either sword jihad or pro-Western mass atheism – destroying the differences in the Middle East is not Patriarch Kirill’s nor Putin’s goal.
There are 22 local Churches in communion with the Church of Rome throughout the Middle East and many argue that – considering the needs for local autonomy in the new Middle East – the union between the Orthodoxy and the Roman Church should be based on a pluralistic project “to separate the communion from the authority”.
Patriarch Kirill’s goals also include support for the small, but growing Catholic community speaking Hebrew and operating in Israel, as well as defining fixed dates for pilgrimages to the Holy Land so as to maintain a continuous flow of faithful from abroad.
According to Patriarch Kirill, all Christian communities are protected in Israel.
And the Jewish State can develop – without losing its identity – into a political entity protecting religious minorities throughout the Middle East.
The great presence of Russian migrants in the Jewish State makes many Orthodox pilgrims “feel at home” and the current agreement between Russia and Israel on passports makes everything easier.
Also at religious level, the Russian Orthodoxy is essentially a geopolitical project to protect all Christian minorities throughout the Middle East – as “major shareholder” of Christianity – as well as to collaborate with the Vatican, which still has a pro-Western geopolitics, and finally create a cultural and religious climate to support Russia’s operations.
In short, Patriarch Kirill wants Israel to collaborate to his interreligious project. He particularly appreciates the significant presence of the Jewish State in Russia and proposes a relationship between Orthodox people and Judaism, foreshadowing – at religious level – the future bilateral and preferential relationship between Russia and Israel.
As to Saudi Arabia, the Russian Church has supported President Putin’s policy of opening, by maintaining that all the Islamic countries, often hit by ISIS, such as Saudi Arabia, must enter an interreligious alliance against extremism and terrorism in a multilateral context.
Moreover, within the framework of the complex Lebanese issue, as early as the visit paid by Patriarch Kirill in the Lebanon in 2011, the Slavic Orthodox Church has been referring to the support for Syria to defend peace and religious pluralism also in the Lebanon.
The 2001 visit had been planned with the Vatican support and the establishment of a specific relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Maronites, in particular, who have always been faithful to Rome.
Hence, while in the Greater Middle East, the Westerners ally with vast Islamic communities known as “moderates”, the Russian Orthodox Church becomes the united pole of all the Christians in the region. Furthermore, while the Vatican reduces its presence in the core of the Islamic world, to avoid retaliation or to promote dialogue with the Mohammedans in Europe, the Russian Church establishes a stable relationship with all religious faiths in the region. Finally, while Islam has its own statehood, the Orthodox Russia treats us amicably; while Judaism discusses in theological terms, the Russian Church extends the interreligious debate also to Israel.
Hence, for Russia, the construction of religious hegemony, which seems to be the necessary shadow of Putin’s project for multipolar control over the Middle East after the United States being forced to leave the region, due to the many mistakes made, thus leaving it in the hands of unreliable “friends”.
Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans
Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.
Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.
Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.
With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.
“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.
In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.
Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.
On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.
At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”
President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.
In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
Nobody Wants a War in Donbass
Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.
On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.
On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.
There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.
As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.
I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.
Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.
To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.
The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.
The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.
I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.
From our partner RIAC
Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom
Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.
The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.
All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.
The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.
For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.
The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.
In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.
Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.
Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.
The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.
The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.
The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.
The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.
The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.
Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.
From our partner RIAC
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