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Europe voluntarily punishes itself

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The future of EU-Russia relations is even more uncertain than ever before. Everyman may observe only deterioration. Mass media broadly covered the extension of the bloc’s economic sanctions against Russia by six months until January 31. European Union leaders made such decision on June, 22 during a two-day summit in Brussels. This step followed the Washington’s decision to broaden its sanctions against Moscow.

But this is only a visible part of world politics based on the clear desire to punish Russia for annexation of Crimea. The US and European politics continue to consider the sanctions the only effective mechanism to influence Kremlin. Though there is no great success. Sanction cause counter-sanctions and so on and so forth. May be it is high time to try other tools of international diplomacy? Where are talented diplomats who could reverse the situation and prevent further confrontation? It is absolutely urgent because it turned out that Europe punishes not only Moscow but itself.

The most complicated and demonstrative situation is in energy sector. After a decline in gas consumption in 2001-2014, Europe has begun to consume more. For example, last year, the EU consumed 447bn c m, of which 34% was Russian gas. The demand is expected to go even higher because in the next decade, Europe will run short of its gas reserves. Nothing to do, Europe has to cooperate with Russia and try to find the consensus.

The US has its own opinion on this matter. The US also offer gas to Europe. Washington and Moscow are real rivals in the gas supplies to the European states. Some European leaders are even sure the senators were pursuing US economic interests at Europe’s expense. This fact proves the Senate bill that says “The United States government should prioritize the export of United States energy resources in order to create American jobs, help United States…, and strengthen United States foreign policy.”

That seems aimed against Nord Stream 2, the proposed Russian pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Investors in Nord Stream 2 include five major European companies: Anglo-Dutch Shell and Austrian OMV, German Uniper and Wintershall, French ENGIE. It expected to be very profitable for the states participated in the project. But the US considers it a threat to its own economic interest and successfully uses political background in order to oppose the realization of the commercial project.

Though the US is increasing its liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity, it’s not clear whether the price of US gas will be lower than that of the Russian pipeline gas, supplied by Russian Gazprom. At this point, large-scale US LNG exports to Europe appear to be a money-losing enterprise aimed at gaining market share. There is nothing common with politics.

Nowadays Europe should clearly defend its interests and be able to distinguish the real politics from private business interests. It is obvious that the US forces Europe to harden sanctions against Russia and Russian energy sector not because of the Ukraine or Crimea, but because of own economic interests. It is not clear why Europe should be committed to American economic interests and continue political confrontation with an economically more profitable partner under the cover of imposed political motives.

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Complicated puzzle in the UK

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Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has become a major riddle in the country. Many English citizens do not have a complete understanding of the EU, the British government and the UK Parliament’s move to leave the European Union. However, the British authorities seem to have planned a tentative game.

Recently, some western news sources are speaking of an issue called “repeating the Brexit referendum”, and name it as a possible option! An option that had been previously denied by British authorities, including Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the country. According to the France news agency, regarding the increasing doubt about the British Prime Minister’s efforts to conclude an agreement with United Europe, the possibility of holding a second referendum on Brexit has multiplied.

However, one of the goals of the English authorities is to complicate the exit process of the European Union. Accordingly, “Brexit” continues to be an implicit term in Britain’s political equations. the British government, with its widespread negative propaganda against the Brexit, is seeking to re-arrange a referendum. In other words, the European authorities are trying to direct the public opinion about the Brexit.

It should not be forgotten that both Labor and Conservative parties in the UK in the 2016 referendum were opposed to withdrawal from the European Union. The negative propaganda of Theresa May’s government against the Bexit since 2016 is known to everyone. After the British citizens voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the two Labor and Conservative parties (as UK’s two traditional parties) tried their best to change the general vote on this issue.

 The active role played by people like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair can well indicate the dissatisfaction among British authorities over the Brexit. Although it seems that Theresa May is trying to convince legislators to give a positive vote to this agreement, not only members of the Labor Party, but also some members of the Conservative Party are opposing it. The MPs argue that Brexit is basically contrary to the interests of the UK.

 Meanwhile, supporters of the “People’s Vote” campaign, who is now very active in England, believe that the parliament’s negative vote will pave the way for a new referendum on the Brexit. This issue is no way contrary to the demands of Theresa May and the Conservative Party, but it’s secretly supported by them. 

Puzzles in the UK over the country’s exit from the European Union are becoming more and more complex. The European Union is also keen on the continuation of this complicated game. However, it is still not clear if England will eventually leave the European Union. As mentioned, the two traditional British parties were both opponents of leaving Europe.

Labor Party officials led by Jeremy Corbin have also agreed to vote again on the Brexit, and have officially backed this issue. The fact that Britain’s two rival parties have come to an agreement on holding a new referendum has provided the ground for its ultimate realization.

First published in our partner MNA

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Rift deepens between US and EU over Iran

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Munich Security Conference 2019: A view of the main conference hall, Image source: MSC / Kuhlmann

Recent days have been witness to two important events: the Middle East Conference in Warsaw (co-hosted by Poland and the US State Department from February 13-14, 2019) and the Munich Conference. Differences between the EU and US over dealing with challenges in the Middle East, especially concerning Iran, were primary during both events.

The Middle East Conference in Warsaw somewhat lacked legitimacy as a number of important individuals were not present. Some of the notable absentees were the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, and Italy. Significantly, on February 14, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Sochi, Russia to discuss the latest developments in Syria and how the three countries could work together.

The personalized aspect of Trump’s diplomacy

In addition to the dissonance between the EU and US over handling Iran, the dependence of Trump upon his coterie, as well as his overly-personalized diplomacy, was clearly evident. Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, spoke about the Middle East peace plan at the Warsaw Conference, which Trump will make public, after elections are held in Israel in April 2019. The fact that Netanyahu may form a coalition with religious right-wingers could of course be a major challenge to Trump’s peace plan. But given his style of functioning and excessive dependence upon a few exclusive members within his team who lack diplomatic and political experience, this was somewhat expected.

EU and US differences over Iran

While Israel, the US, and Arabs seem to have identified Iran as the main regional threat, the European Union, while acknowledging the threat emanating from Iran, made it amply clear that it disagreed with the US method for dealing with Iran unilaterally and was against any sort of additional sanctions. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, even went so far as to state that the goal of stability in the Middle East could only be attained if Iran was ‘confronted’. The EU, unlike the US, is opposed to the US decision to get out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

At the Warsaw Conference, Vice President Mike Pence criticized European Union member countries for trying to circumvent sanctions which were imposed by the US. Pence was referring to the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) launched by Germany, France, and Britain which de facto undermine US sanctions against Iran. The US Vice President stated that the SPV would not just embolden Iran but could also have a detrimental impact on US-EU relations.  

Differences at Munich Conference

The differences between the US and EU over Iran were also visible at the Munich Conference. While Angela Merkel disagreed with Washington’s approach to the Nuclear Deal, she agreed on the threat emanating from Iran, but was unequivocal about her commitment to the JCPOA. While commenting on the importance of the Nuclear Agreement, the German Chancellor said:

“Do we help our common cause…of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?”

But it was at the Munich Conference that the US Vice President clearly flagged Iran as the biggest security threat to the Middle East. Pence accused Iran of ‘fueling conflict’ in Syria and Yemen, and of continuously backing Hezbollah and Hamas.

GCC Countries at the Warsaw Conference

It is not just the US and Israel, but even representatives of GCC Countries took a firm stand against Iran. A video leaked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed this.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Khalifa stated that it was not the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict but the threat from Iran which posed the gravest threat in the Middle East.  Like some of the other delegates present at the Warsaw Conference, the Bahraini Foreign Minister accused Iran of providing logistical and financial support to militant groups in the region. Similarly, another clip showed the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al Jubeir, saying that Iran was assisting and abetting terrorist organisations by providing them with ballistic missiles.

Iran was quick to dismiss the Middle East Conference in Warsaw and questioned not just its legitimacy but also the desired outcome. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that the conference produced an ‘empty result’.

US allies and their close ties with Iran

First, the US cannot overlook the business interests of its partners not just in Europe, but also in Asia, such as Japan, Korea, and India. India is not just dependent upon Iran for oil, but has significantly invested in development of the Chabahar Port. This will be its new modern gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. New Delhi in fact took over operations of the Chabahar Port in December 2018. On December 24, 2018 a meeting – the Chabahar Trilateral Agreement — was held and representatives from Afghanistan, Iran, and India jointly inaugurated the office of the India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ).

The recent terror attacks in Iran as well as India have paved the way for New Delhi and Tehran to find common ground against terror emanating from Pakistan. On February 14, 2019, over 40 of India’s paramilitary personnel were killed in Pulawama (Kashmir) when a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of Central Reserve Police Personnel (CRPF). The attack is one of the worst in recent years. The terror group Jaish-E-Muhammad claimed responsibility. On February 13, 2019, 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were killed in a suicide attack in the Sistan-Baluchistan province which shares a border with Pakistan. Iran stated the attack was carried out by a Pakistani national with the support of the Pakistani state.

In the aftermath, the Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Aragchchi en route to Bulgaria. In a tweet the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister stated that both sides had decided to strengthen cooperation to counter terrorism, remarking that ‘enough is enough’. This partnership is likely to evolve further. In fact, many strategic commentators in India are pitching for an India-Afghanistan-Iran security trilateral agreement to deal with terrorism.

Conclusion

 So far, Trump’s Middle Eastern Policy has focused on Iran and his approach suits both Saudi Arabia and Israel but it is opposed by a number of significant US allies. As a result of the recent terror attack in Pulwama, geopolitical developments within South Asia are extremely important. Thus, the US and GCC countries need to keep a close watch on developments in South Asia and how India-Pakistan ties pan out over the next few weeks. If Iran strengthens ties with India, and given the fact that it already has Russian support, achieving its isolation will be tough for America. New Delhi may have no option but to enhance links with Tehran given its own national security interests in the region. Trump needs to be more pragmatic towards Iran and should think of an approach acceptable to all, and not just the small cabal within his Cabinet that view the region from an anti-modern perspective.

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Montenegrin political earthquake

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In mid-January, across Montenegro, one video clip caused a real political storm. For the first time it was seen how a businessman close to the government gives 97,000 euros to Slavoljub Stijepovic, former mayor of capital Podgorica and senior official of the rulling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), to fund the election campaign. It all happened ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2016. Dusko Knezevic, chairman of the Montenegro-based Atlas Group, meanwhile suspected of money laundering and other financial malversations, explained that this was just one in series of multi-million donations to the DPS of President Milo Djukanovic, during which time the DPS has never been out of power. This video clip was the first concreate confirmation of something that has long been an open secret in Montenegro.

Ten days after the release of the video Djukanovic confirmed that Knezevic was a donor, but not in the figures stated by Knezevic. The Prosecution Office needed three days to make a statement after Knezevic’s video, which shocked most of the public. Also, it was shocking how the Prosecution Office led the investigation. Thus, after the audio recording as part of the affair Atlas, the former Vice Governor of the Central Bank Velibor Milosevic was arrested expressly, because of the suspicion of being part of a criminal organization, for whose boss is marked Dusko Knezevic. Milosevic was detained for up to 30 days, due to possible influence on witnesses. On the other hand, the video from the beginning of the story was not a sufficient reason to treat Slavoljub Stijepovic in the same way. He was interviewed only 20 days after the appearance of the video, as a citizen. Unlike Velibor Milosevic, who was detained by the prosecutor with handcuffs and in front of television cameras, Stijepovic had the privilege to come to the Prosecutor’s office through the premises of the Ministry of Justice and to come out unnoticed.

The Prosecution Office decided to suspect Stijepovic for the criminal offense of Money Laundering by helping, but Prosecution Office in his case, as in the case of Velibor Milosevic, did not see a threat to the influence of witnesses or the need for detention. According to some media reports, Stijepovic took the guilty upon himself, which is why the Prosecution assessed that there was no need for the hearing of Milo Djukanovic, president of Democratric Party of Socialists and Montenegro. Stijepovic also reportedly told the Prosecution Office the names of DPS activists from the Zeta region who received money. More than 20 were heard in the Prosecutor’s Office, no detention was ordered.

Reaction

On the same day when he was charged with a criminal offense, Stijepovic  came to the session of the Presidency of the Democratic Party of Socialists, where “traditional centers of destruction”, media and other circles, were blamed for current affair, aimed at destabilizing the country. Milo Djukanovic, according to a tried-and-tested model, tried to show that behind this affair are centers of power from Russia. So his media machine was trying to show that Dusko Knezevic is in Moscow and that he work at the orders of the Russian intelligence services. However, it soon became clear that Dusko Knezevic is in London. In an interview with Al Jazeera Balkans in London, Dusko Knezevic presented new accusations against Milo Djukanovic. Dusko Knezevic stated that he has a lot of videos that shows how he personally gives money to Djukanovic. He keeps these videos for the finals of the affair, when he says, will completely reveal the criminal octopus of Milo Djukanovic.

This criminal affair encouraged people to action. Soon protests were organized. The first protests were held on February 2. The protest was organized by a group of citizens who claimed that they started “civil struggle” against the regime in Montenegro, and that behind them stands no organization. With whistles and sirens, the demonstrators scandalized the “Street of Freedom”, “Rise Up, People”, “We Want Justice”, after which they left 97 envelopes in front of the building of the Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office, on which they wrote “1,000 Euros” on the one hand, and on the other some of the long-standing unsolved affairs that the Prosecution should solve. On Saturday, February 16th, second large gathering was held in the capital of Montenegro, where the demands to the Protesters Office were presented. From the protest gathering, held under the slogan “97,000 Resist”, urgent and irrevocable resignations were sought from the president of the state and the government, Milo Djukanovic and Dusko Markovic, Supreme State Prosecutor (VDT) Ivica Stankovic, Special State Prosecutor (SDT) Milivoje Katnic and Director of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (ASK) Sreten Radonjic. Since Dusko Knezevic has said that there is a part that is not corrupt in the Democratic Party of Socialists, the protestants decisively denied that. The current events with the new affair of Milo Djukanovic were also used by Albanians from the United States. A truck with the inscription “Meet the Montenegrin president – a man of organized crime in the year 2015” was parked near the White House, the Congress, the State Department, the Montenegrin and the EU Embassy in Washington. On the truck also stood the message “Stop the discrimination of Albanians in Montenegro”.

Conclusion

Montenegro, which is, a NATO member since July 2017 and a candidate for EU membership, is often accused of not doing enough to tackle organized crime and corruption. EU has demanded more concrete results in the fight against corruption at a high political level as one of the main conditions for its making progress towards joining the EU. The entire rule of Milo Djukanovic is marked by affairs, but what this sets out is the fact that Dusko Knezevic is an insider, a man who took part in many important tasks. In addition to his testimonies, Dusko Knezevic also presents video recordings as well as documents. What many analysts spoke and warned about long time ago, now is documented. This affair also clearly demonstrated that all institutions in Montenegro are under the control of Milo Djukanovic. Initially, the scandalous silence of the Prosecution Office after the outbreak of the affair, the subsequent refusal to execute detention measures for Stijepovic, but above all the absence of a hearing of Djukanovic despite the unquestionable evidence of his involvement in illegal work, is in favor of the long-held thesis that these institutions are an integral part of the regime. Judicial institutions do not even try to show that they are independent. There is no doubt that the affair initiated by Montenegrin businessman Dusko Knezevic seriously shaken Milo Djukanovic and his party. It is still early to predict how the affair will culminate because all the evidence Knezevic announces has not yet been published. However, this is clear indication that the West has decided to significantly weak Djukanovic. An attempt by the media machine of Mila Djukanovic to connect Dusko Knezevic with Russian intelligence services, is not accepted in the West. Dusko Knezevic clearly shows that he is doing all the attacks on Djukanovic from London, where he currently lives. The fact that some political parties that are close to the Western Embassies support street protests, which was not the case before, speaks enough. One of the reasons why Milo Djukanovic has been ruling for almost three decades is complete obedience to the West. However, Djukanovic did all the tasks that the West needed, the separation of Montenegro from Serbia, the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, and finally the violent entry of Montenegro into NATO. Now with his biography, which is full of affairs, he is only a burden to the West. In any case, this affair will either take Djukanovic out of power or send him a clear message that it is time for political retirement.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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