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The situation in Ukraine

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The conflict between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian government is the point of greatest tension, but also of EU weakness  towards its East, as well as the point of greatest tension between Russia and Europe still today.

The European Union cannot solve this problem, just because it currently has the same armies that ironically Stalin asked the Pope to have – hence it will be closed to its East.

Unlike Jason and his Argonauts – owing to the clash going on in Ukraine –  Europe will not be able to find the “Golden Fleece”.

And the “Golden Fleece” is the beginning of the Greek myth: Jason who travelled to Colchis to look for gold – an initiation theme – and married the sorceress Medea. Now Europe is depriving itself of the new way of communication with the land of Colchis to accept the orders of a power that is obviously doing its utmost to harm the EU, the Euro, the EU  exports, etc.

Currently none of the two main parties, namely Russia and Ukraine, has any intention to implement or at least to formally comply with the Minsk II agreements of February 2015.

In what did those agreements consist? It will be worth recalling the  origins and the development of the conflict.

After the various “Orange Revolutions” of February 2014 – which were US operations – when the long wave of protests called the Euromaidan movement culminated in the removal of the regularly elected President Viktor Yanukovych, violent riots broke out in the Eastern part of the country – traditionally the region most linked to the Russian-speaking world and the Russian culture.

The Ukrainian activists of the pro-Russian Eastern region feared the marginalization – and hence the future ban – of the Russian language and also rejected the new resurgence of Ukrainian nationalism, traditionally linked to the Third Reich and the Nazi mythologies.

 At that juncture the armed insurgency took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and spread also to the other cities of the Russian-speaking neighboring regions. Indeed, most of the Ukrainian people is Russian-speaking.

 At the end of summer 2014 a real war broke out between the Ukrainian armed forces and the rebels operating within the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.

 Hence, in late August 2014, Ukraine decided to proceed with a diplomatic solution.

 It was the typical problem of the Ukrainian forces since they were badly organized, badly trained and could not face the rebels of the two “pro-Russian” Republics, who were much better organized and optimally motivated.

 Finally, on September 5, 2014,  the representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the OSCE observer, gathered in the capital of Belarus and signed the Protocol called “Minsk-I”.

 It was essentially an agreement for the ceasefire and the exchange of prisoners.

 Ukraine promised to adopt a law on the special status of the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

 From the very beginning it was an agreement written in the sand. Meanwhile clashes and firefights went on, in addition to bombings on the inhabited centres.

 Nevertheless it was in January 2015 that tension mounted again.

  The reason lay in the fact that the Ukrainian military, who came to the region in force, planned to fully reconquer the Donbass, while the “rebels” of Donetsk and Luhansk, too, thought they could expand the territory of their own pro-Russian republics.

 On both sides, however, the forces on the field were not enough to achieve their respective goals.

 And the Donetsk and Luhansk military fought very well, albeit with a much lower number of soldiers than the Ukrainian army.

 Ukraine, however, decided to resume diplomatic negotiations.

 Therefore the above stated “Minsk-II” agreement was signed by Russia, Ukraine, the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, France, Germany, the usual OECD observers and the delegates from the other secessionist Ukrainian provinces, which had not been officially invited to the meeting.

Everything happened on February 12, 2015 in the Belarusian capital – as was the case with the Minsk-I agreement – in the sumptuous Independence Palace. It was an agreement envisaging 13 points: 1) immediate and full ceasefire in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk as from midnight on February 15; 2) pull-out of all heavy weapons and withdrawal of troops by both sides with the aim of creating a security zone on minimum 50 kilometers apart for artillery and 140 kilometers for multiple rocket launchers. However, the pullout of the above-mentioned heavy weapons had to begin no later than the second day after the start of the ceasefire and finish within 14 days. The process had to be assisted by OSCE with the support of the Trilateral Contact Group; 3) OSCE effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire and pullout of heavy weapons from the first day of pullout; 4) on the first day after the pullout a dialogue had to start on the ways for conducting local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law and the Minsk I agreements in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk; 5) pardon and amnesty had to be provided by means of a law forbidding persecution and punishment of people in relation to the events that took place in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk; 6) the release and the exchange of all prisoners and illegally held persons had to be ensured; 7) safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy had to be provided on the basis of international rules and mechanisms; 8) definition of the ways to fully restore social and economic relations and connections, including social transfers such as payments of pensions, wages and welfare benefits; 9) restoring full control of the State border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone; 10) pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision, as well as disarmament of all illegal groups; 11) constitutional reform in Ukraine, with a new Constitution the key element of which had to be  decentralization and also approval of permanent legislation on the special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts; 12) the issues related to local elections had to be discussed and agreed upon by Ukraine with the representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts; 13) intensification of the activities of the Trilateral Contact Group.

 It was a weak agreement, just to play for time.

  An agreement that was reached also thanks to a very strong pressure put by France and Germany.

 The Minsk-II agreement was a rift between the Franco-German axis and the US interest, which had previously dominated the European strategy.

 This was the core of the matter at that stage.

 The United States was thinking of a new war to make the Russian Federation think twice and see reason since – after the USSR collapse – Russia had not resigned itself and adapted to be the poor Asian country depending on the IMF’s and World Bank’s funds and selling its oil and minerals off.

 As Francesco Cossiga said, however, “Americans are always about to wage a war and later, when they are stuck in it, they do not know how to break through”.

 Least of all, the United States wanted to join the Eurasian peninsula and the “Greater Russia”, according to Zbigniew Brzezinsky’s old idea.

 It would be the end of its geopolitical project.

 Furthermore, Ukraine is the contact point between the Russian Federation and the EU area that has accepted the US missile rearmament and “signal war” programme in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania.

 As said in the United States, it is formally positioned “against the Iranian missiles”, but no one is so naive not to understand what this new positioning is really for.

 It is from Ukraine that the safety and security of those installations is controlled and that we can react to a possible attack by Russia and its allies on the US bases at the edges of the Russian Federation.

 It is worth clarifying that they are US and not NATO installations.

 The United States has also de facto declared war on Russia, with Resolution No. 758 of the US Congress adopted on December 4, 2014.

 A resolution stating that Russia was an “aggressor State” that had invaded Ukraine and ordered the shooting down of the MH17 flight of Malaysian Airlines that took place on July 17, 2014 – something which is still uncertain. Furthermore the Resolution called upon NATO to apply Article  5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, should Russia invade Ukraine.

 Yet there is a not negligible fact to consider: Ukraine is not a member of  NATO.

  Considering the aforementioned Resolution, the US President could legally declare war on Russia without requiring further authorizations from the House of Representatives and the Senate.

 The Pentagon sent 100 tanks to Eastern Europe shortly after voting on that Resolution, while the Ukrainian government was full of strange characters at that stage such as Natalia Jaresko, US citizen, Minister for Economy until April 2016 and Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian citizen and investment banker, married to a Ukrainian lady, who resigned on February 3, 2016. Without fearing of falling into the temptation of “conspiracism”, it is also worth recalling that George Soros, the point of reference of the many foreigners present in the Ukrainian government at the time, publicly stated in a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria on May 25, 2014 that he had funded the Euromaidan coup.

 In Resolution 758 there is also an explicit reference to Georgia and Moldova, which could be treated by the USA as points of friction and attrition against the Russian Federation if the situation in Ukraine developed  according to the best predictions.

 Said points could cause a US war against the Russian Federation just as with Ukraine.

 Nevertheless let us revert to the Franco-German axis in the Minsk-II agreements.

 There were three sets of reasons for the finally vigorous behaviour  of the Franco-German duo. Firstly, since September 2015, the pro-Russian  militias had tripled their control area up to the Sea of Azov. Secondly, 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were trapped in the Debaltsevo bulge and, southwards, the neo-Nazis soldiers – particularly loved by US Senator McCain – were encircled by the pro-Russian militias of the Azov division.

 Thirdly, the increasingly disorganized Ukrainian army could certainly not reconquer the Donbass.

The defeat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces marked the end of the project – nurtured in the EU Eastern region – of a new Hanseatic League that would unite the rich and powerful German-Baltic-Polish North to the fertile lands of the Golden Fleece, namely Ukraine.

 This was precisely the “dream” that had convinced Germany to accept the US policy line on Ukraine.

 In an infra-European perspective, said project was also a German way to clearly oppose the EU Mediterranean areas.

 The idea was to have an autonomous sea of reference and leave the Mediterranean to the poor Southern European countries, deprived of means and resources, as well as flooded by African migrants and overburdened by massive public debt.

 Nevertheless even if the United States had provided more weapons to Ukraine, no success would have been recorded by the anti-Russian front on the ground.

 In that case, it was Angela Merkel who flew to Putin’s Russia to ask for putting an end to the conflict and later visited President Obama to stop the transfers of weapons to Ukraine.

 President Obama always hoped that the truce would fail, while Putin did not need it because he was already the strongest on the ground.

  Currently Russia can control NATO’s Southern Flank from Crimea – which was not illegally annexed, as Western documents repeatedly state –  including remote control from the US missile base in Devreselu, Romania.

 With the appropriate security of the area, Russia can always exert control again from Crimea and also from the “friendly” Ukraine.

 Ukraine could be an irrenounceable asset also for the Atlantic Alliance, as Western military stations in that country could control the axis stretching from Novorossisk to Sevastopol, the real key connection for Russia in the region.

 Said axis is decisive also for Russia’s operations in Syria.

 At economic level, the clash between Ukraine and Russia is also very dangerous for Russia’s gas distribution to the EU.

 The Russian Federation cannot use the natural gas it exports to Europe as a real tool for political pressure, considering the magnitude of the clashes that block any influence action outside the Ukrainian area.

   Furthermore Russia tends to support two pipeline projects encircling  Ukraine, namely Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream.

 The Nord Stream 2 pipeline stretches from Narva Bay, Russia, on the border between Finland and the Baltic countries, up to Lubmin, along the German coast on the border with Denmark.

 The TurkStream pipeline stretches from Anapa in the Krasnodar region, Southern Russia, up to Kiyikoiy in the Turkish Thrace after crossing the Black Sea.

 The recently reactivated Turkstream pipeline will above all meet the Turkish interest. It will naturally join the TransAdriaticPipeline (TAP) and reach Italy, thanks to the Turkish Botas carrier, without infringing the EU rules that accept the crazy sanctions against the Russian Federation.

 However, we still need to be careful: on August 2 last, President Trump’s Administration signed a new law called “Countering America’s Adversary Through Sanctions Act”, which extends the energy sanctions against Russia significantly.

 The Russian strategic logic in Ukraine basically works on the assumption that the breaking of trade and economic ties with Russia and the loss of the Donbass are the beginning of default for the Ukrainian economy.

 Ukraine, however, is still able to acquire resources from both the  International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, regardless of the problematic situation of its economy.

 Until when, however, the interests of the United States and its ever less  convinced allies will be such in that region as to afford the costs for maintaining a failed state such as Ukrain,e which is not even capable of waging a real proxy war against the Russian Federation?

 The Russian economy finds it hard to back the war in Ukraine, but it cannot certainly withdraw from the conflict.

 The war stagnation, however, now favours the Ukrainian Republic, which is supported by the United States and the international financial institutions, while Russia is still constrained by international sanctions and the stagnation of the oil price, which is yet showing some signs of recovery.

 Hence, as Italians and Europeans, are we interested in following Zbi Brzezinsky’s old geostrategic psychosis, which keeps us in check and slave  at any price to the United States? Or can we finally think for ourselves with the independence of mind to open the doors to the Russian economy, without having to pay this now meaningless seventy-year-long tax to those who won the Second World War (and made us pay it also immediately afterwards)?

 Hence, we can assume a further strategic separation between the two  NATO mainstays, namely Europe and the United States, with the EU putting an end to sanctions. Or we can assume a heroic exit – the only possible today – of Putin who decides to launch the final attack on current Ukraine so as to later redesign the geopolitics of the Great Mediterranean region.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Eastern Europe

Armenia-Iran: Good neighbourly relations absolute necessity

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Some experts believe that Iran’s cooperation with Armenia could become costly for the latter owing to the ever increasing hostility demonstrated by US President Donald Trump towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. They predict that American sanctions and extensive pressure on Iran could throw Armenia into a kind of blockade.

What comes to mind in connection with this is the words that are thought to have been said by Napoleon Bonaparte: geography is destiny. Even though it could not always be the case but it definitely is with the Caucasus. There are few if any regions whose military, strategic and economic significance would combine with unprecedented ethno-religious diversity on a fairly small territory with historically conditioned disputable issues. This naturally creates all the conditions for an atmosphere of permanent tension which over the last two centuries has repeatedly exploded in armed conflicts and wars.

In the 21st century, the situation in the Caucasus is formed by a most sophisticated political gamut of bilateral and multilateral relations among three former Soviet republics of Transcaucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, and also, not in the last place, by the Caucasian states of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Besides, one should not forget about the military and political influence of non-regional countries, first of all, the United States, the European Union and Israel.

Undoubtedly, today we are witnessing the influence of multiple forces in different areas of  Caucasian politics, and these forces are dragging Caucasian states into various alliances. Moreover, the regional policy of each of the South Caucasian states is determined by a variety of factors that spring from the specifics of bilateral and multilateral relations.

But we will not analyze the whole spectrum of complicated and entangled relations between groups of countries and within groups proper. We will focus on relations beween Iran and Armenia.

What is the role of Armenia, taking into account the US anti-Iran sanctions?

Iran is the largest multi-ethnic state in the Middle East. Present day Iran is home to more than 40 nationalities, each at a different level of socio-economic development. The multi-million population of Iran is ethnically related to the peoples of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia.

For centuries, Iran has been maintaining close economic and cultural ties with the peoples of the Transcaucasus. But its relations with Armenia stand out as somewhat specific.

Significantly, the first state formations of Armenia and Iran appeared in the VII – VI centuries BC, that is, nearly 3 thousand years ago. Since then their territories and regimes have undergone numerous changes, but Armenians and Persians, as state-forming ethnic groups, have passed through the centuries unchanged.

An idea which is deeply rooted in both the Iranian and Armenian consciousness is that Persians and Armenians boast ancient culture that cannot be thrown into oblivion. This explains cultural ties between the two nations and a comprehensive respect for the specifics of each other’s national and religious mentality.

At present, Iran is home to more than 200 thousand Armenians. Iranian Armenians enjoy substantial rights. Under the Constitution of Iran, they have guaranteed representation in parliament and local councils. Not so long ago, Russian Orientalist Karine Gevorkian reported that in 2018, a young Armenian woman was appointed head of the financial department of the Iranian oil company.

The Armenian Christian community is the largest of its kind in Iran. Functioning throughout the country are about 200 Armenian churches and about 30 Armenian schools. Some universities have departments of the Armenian language and culture. Iran publishes books and magazines in Armenian. Also, there are Armenian theatrical, cultural, and sports societies, and the Armenian Club.

It should be pointed out that Iranian Armenians are taking an active part in the social and political life of the country.

Naturally, Iranian Armenians maintain permanent ties with the Republic of Armenia, which undoubtedly cements Iranian-Armenian relations at the state level.

Although Iran and Armenia are not comparable in their scope and position, as history and current geopolitics show, they need each other.

Iran is interested to maintain ties with Armenia, in the first place, because, as it was already mentioned above, the country is home to an influential Armenian community. Secondly, given that the Armenian diaspora exists in many countries of the world, it could become a kind of bridge connecting Tehran with the capitals of other, not always friendly, states where an Armenian community is also active. Also, it is through authoritative Armenian lobbies that Iran could secure favorable political and economic solutions. Thirdly, the territory of Armenia, as a neighboring country, is important for Iran as a corridor to the North (through Georgia) and further to Russia, which is clearly beneficial for Iran considering the current  geopolitical situation.

Armenia, in turn, is also interested in friendly relations with neighboring Iran, not only on account of links between the Armenian diaspora and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran assumed a fairly balanced position regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, by refraining from backing fellow believers from a neighboring country and complying with the Minsk format, the decisions of the Minsk Group (OSCE).

Moreover, the continuing trade and economic ties between Armenia and Iran have become, to a certain extent, a lifeline for Yerevan. Blocked by Turkey and Azerbaijan from two sides, Armenia  has only two windows to the outside world: via the borders with Georgia and Iran. Therefore, for Armenia Iran is of vital importance. The Armenian-Iranian border, running through the Araks River, is the shortest for two countries – a mere 35 km. Nevertheless, this border is of great importance, both for Armenia and for Iran, being used for developing trade and economic relations between the two countries and promoting touristm. Statistical data say Iranians (and not only Armenian) enjoy visiting Armenia.

In recent years, Armenia and Iran have seen a successful implementation of various economic programs. One of the first projects was a bridge erected across the Araks River. Also, two high-voltage power transmission lines have been built, a third one is currently under construction.

One of the key areas of economic cooperation between Armenia and Iran is provided by an interim agreement signed in May 2018 between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on the creation of a free trade zone. Thus, there have appeared opportunities for merging the 180-million market of the EEU with the 80-million Iranian market. Since Armenia is the only EAEU country that has a land border with Iran, it plays a crucial role in cooperation between the EAEU and Iran, which provides it with an opportunity to develop its relations with Iran.

Undoubtedly, Armenia and Iran’s shared interest in bilateral cooperation envisages good prospects for the future. However, it is not that simple, as there have arrived new times, both for Yerevan, and Tehran.

In 2018 Armenia saw a change of government, as a result of which Nikola Pashinyan was elected Prime Minister. There have been changes in domestic policy. As for foreign policy, at least in relation to Iran, there have been no particular  changes and, in all likelihood, there will not be any. Given the present-day conditions, good-neighborly relations between Yerevan and Tehran are not a luxury, but an urgent need.

In this regard, Nikola Pashinyan’s official visit to Iran in February 2019 is of special significance. During the visit the two parties held high-level talks with the participation of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who rarely receives foreign guests. The negotiations were held in a fairly warm atmosphere, with both sides underscoring the importance of bilateral relations and expressing readiness to exert efforts to develop them.

In the course of above-mentioned talks, representatives of Armenia and Iran signaled the high level of political cooperation, emphasizing yet again that the current level of economic cooperation does not match the full potential of the parties involved. Although by the end of 2018, trade turnover between Armenia and Iran had reached $ 364 million, which is the highest figure since 1991.

Among major projects of the Armenian-Iranian bilateral economic cooperation program is  the construction of the third power line, the implementation of the Meghri hydropower project, the North-South highway corridor, trilateral and quadrilateral economic cooperation with Georgia and Russia.

What makes the visit to Iran by Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinyan special is that Iran is under the US sanctions. In 2018, a transitional year for Armenia, the United States subjected Iran to unprecedented pressure. In addition, the US “secondary sanctions” were imposed against all countries, legal entities and physical persons of foreign countries which dare to maintain relations with Iran. This meant a challenge for Armenia, in many ways economically connected with Iran.

In October 2018, US National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to secure support for US plans to further isolate Iran. Reports say Washington is lobbying for the closure of the Armenian border with Iran through opening the border with Turkey.

While in Yerevan, Bolton told Prime Minister Pashinyan that since the United States will pursue the policy of sanctions against Iran, the Armenian-Iranian border is a “big problem.” Pashinyan responded by saying the following: “We respect the requests and national interests of any country, but Armenia has its own national  interests, which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries.” But as they say, there could be options.

It is necessary to emphasize that Washington, despite its hostile policy towards the IRI, has always had to tolerate cooperation between Armenia and Iran. Such tolerance is due to the US awareness of the geo-economic situation of Armenia, which, without extensive ties with Iran, will face social and economic problems. In addition, as said before, the Armenian lobby has a lot of sway in Washington, especially in the US Congress, which does not give much say to Iran’s opponents with regard to Armenia. That this is true is confirmed by the absence of any US sanctions against Armenia. That’s why John Bolton all but voiced proposals, and not warnings or threats. Suren Sargsyan, Chairman of the Armenian Center for American Studies, said recently, “Washington is fully aware of the situation and the realities that exist in the region. This means that the United States will never pressure Armenia into rejecting Iran or Russia. And this is good, because Washington knows that we will not survive without Iran and Russia … “

As is known, besides the United States Iran has another “big friend” – Israel. Apparently,  the strengthening of Armenian-Iranian relations is not welcome in Jerusalem, and Yerevan is aware of this. The Armenian diplomacy has taken sophisticated measures to neutralize the negative Israeli reaction. Right after Prime Minister Pashinyan’s visit to Iran, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigor Hovhannisyan paid a visit to Israel, where he discussed opening an embassy in Israel “in order to bring bilateral relations to a new high”. The Armenian delegation also focused on organizational issues related to the upcoming visit to Israel by Armenian Prime Minister Nikola Pashinyan and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.

In all likelihood, the main point of Prime Minister Pashinyan’s foreign policy agenda and the main goal of his government is tolerance and absence of problems in relations with foreign countries: with Moscow, with Tehran, th Washington, with Brussels, with Jerusalem.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the change of government in Armenia and large-scale US sanctions against Iran and its partners did not affect the stable nature of Armenian-Iranian relations. In these conditions, the Armenian-Iranian border is unlikely to ever be closed – a complete blockade of Armenia is highly impossible. Moreover, the small Armenia, pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy, has become an important factor in ensuring security in the South Caucasus. 

From our partner International Affairs

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China Set to Increase its Influence in Georgia

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China-Georgia relations since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 have been positive in both the economic and overall political sense. However, they are often overestimated by analysts in Georgia and elsewhere. Bilateral trade growth as well as a gradual increase in Chinese investments in Georgia have oft been hailed as exceptional and a marked sign of increased Chinese influence over Tbilisi.

True, economic growth has been taking place, but this has been but a small portion of the real potential. In fact, despite analysts’ positive views, Georgia and the South Caucasus transit corridor has yet to feature in official versions of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Overall, China has been cautious. Russia’s factor too might have been at play when Beijing only minimally involved itself in the economy of Georgia. But the biggest obstacle has been geographic barriers such as the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus range, difficult Georgian terrain as well as the Black Sea.

Still, in a number of articles for GT, I have suggested that the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is not static in nature and, like any other trade routes in ancient or medieval periods, it does respond to rising challenges and opportunities. Another suggestion was that Georgia, if it improves its railroads, roads and ports infrastructure inside the country, will become more attractive to China and its BRI.

Indeed, there are signs proving this scenario. On 24 May, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Georgia. This is crucial as it is the first official visit of a Chinese foreign minister to Georgia in 23 years. According to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the focus of the minister’s visit was to understand more about Georgia’s future and its potential as an important transit state.

The visit to Georgia came as a part of the Chinese delegation’s regional trip. China and Armenia on Sunday signed an agreement for mutual visa exemption for ordinary passport holders.

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the visit to Georgia confirmed the “clear vision” of China regarding Georgia and its role in China’s plans for large-scale projects. Here, most likely BRI was meant, a clear emphasis on Georgia’s potential as a transit state. “Trade, investments, transport, as well as partnership within the frames of international organizations, were set as the major priorities for future cooperation,” states the Georgian Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese Foreign Minister said that “China is implementing a foreign policy which is based on the principles of peaceful coexistence. We are ready to develop friendly relations between our countries further. We have a firm position that all countries are equal, regardless of their size. We respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and other countries.”

China’s interests in Georgia are also intricately linked to the latter’s territorial problems with Russia. For Tbilisi, it is important that China supports it on the issue of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Indeed, the issue of the Georgian occupied territories was also raised during the meetings and Georgian officials mentioned the “high importance” of Chinese support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Chinese delegation’s visit follows the Georgian Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Maya Tskitishvili’s, trip to Beijing, where she attended the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. More importantly, she signed an agreement on cargo and passenger transportation with Chinese Minister of Transport Li Xiaopeng.

Overall, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister’s visit to Tbilisi has been important, but attention in the Georgian media was only paid to official statements; no analysis has yet been made. However, what is crucial is the timing of the visit, as China and the US are locked in a geopolitical battle over influence in the Indo-Pacific world. Since Georgia is close to the US in terms of military and political cooperation, it will be interesting to see how far China-Georgia cooperation will go. One thing is likely to happen: Beijing will try to increase its influence in Georgia through economic and various political moves.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Times

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Quality of Life in Latvia is not a priority

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Four presidents, 14 governments and eight Seimas have changed in Latvia over the past 20 years. The country joined the European Union and NATO, and then switched to the euro. But have Latvians become better off? Has their quality of life improved? Statistics shows that the general well-being of population remains very low. Political turbulence only worsens the situation.

Thus, according to Numbeo.com portal, one of the largest databases on the cost of living and quality of life worldwide, Lithuania and Latvia are the worst Nordic countries for quality of life.

Quality of Life Index by Country 2019

The leaders of the rating are Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Latvia showed the lowest result, the quality of life index here is 149.15 points. In Lithuania, the result is slightly higher – 156.36 points.
Numbeo experts took into account the purchasing power of the population, safety, health care, the cost of living and some other factors.

It is noted that the world ranking of countries for the quality of life is led by Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Estonia took 11th place, Lithuania – 29th, and Latvia – 34th.

The more so, experts said that the proportion of shadow economy in Latvia rose by 2.2 percentage point last year to 24.2 percent.

The shadow economy proportion in Latvia has risen for the past two years in a row.

EU-SILC survey gives another frightening indicator. According to eurostat.ec.europa.eu, Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania are top three EU countries in terms of poverty risk among pensioners.

Political and economic short-sightedness has lead to the state when the Baltic States have become the first battlefield in case of war between NATO and Russia.

The United States is preparing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe along with non-nuclear countries, said Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts point out that military airfields in the Baltic States and Poland have already been prepared to receive NATO aircraft that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. If take his words seriously, this means the end of the Baltic States’ existence.

The behavior of the authorities guaranteed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the status of the first battlefield, despite the fact that in the event of war, economy would be completely destroyed and population would disappear.

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