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.
China Still Ambivalent About the Middle Corridor
Despite the oft-touted momentum behind the Eurasian Middle Corridor circumventing Russia, China still appears not to be fully behind the project beset by geopolitical challenges and infrastructure hurdles.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has been a game-changer for Eurasian connectivity. The route through north Eurasia running from China to Europe that served as a major conduit between the two is now less attractive as a result of the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow. China-EU shipments along the Northern Corridor have decreased by 40 percent according to data from October 2022. This new reality serves as a major incentive for finding alternative routes.
It is rare in geopolitics that so many states in such a short timeframe would agree on advancing a certain project. The Middle Corridor, connecting China and Europe via Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, is a good example of a vision where different countries from across Eurasia have accelerated the work not only on promoting the idea, but also laying the ground for its expansion.
In the months following the invasion of Ukraine, the EU has re-invigorated its policies toward the wider Black Sea region and has actively engaged Central Asia through high-level visits, pledging economic and political support. No longer willing to trade with China through Russia, Brussels is now pushing for the expansion of the Middle Corridor.
Small nations along the Corridor, too, have upped their diplomatic game. Leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Central Asian states have grasped the emerging opportunity and begun inter-state cooperation through bilateral visits and the signing of memorandums on the minimization of tariffs and border crossing hurdles.
The effects of such cooperation are already evident. Indeed, emerging connectivity opportunities push the governments to reconsider their previous position on long-stalled projects such as the Anaklia deep sea port in the case of Georgia or the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which the cooperating states pledged to begin work on in 2023.
Then, there is Turkey. Seeing an opening in the region, Ankara has increased its outreach to Central Asia already following Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in 2020. Effectively the initiator of the Middle Corridor idea back in 2000s, Turkey is now arguably one of the critical players driving the concept. A series of “block train” transports were initiated in recent years, traversing the corridor. In February 2021, a train reached China from Turkey’s eastern provinces after nearly twenty days of transit. In April 2022, another train was dispatched via the same route. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Kazakh colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev commended during their summit in Ankara in 2022 “the growth of cargo transit via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and the East-West Middle Corridor.” Moreover, the two sides “stressed the importance of strengthening coordination between the relevant institutions for the effective and sustainable use of the Middle Corridor.”
Yet, one critical player– China – is largely missing. Beijing has rarely commented on the Middle Corridor and Chinese analysts write exceptionally little on the issue. Most importantly, Beijing has invested very little in the actual development of the corridor.
China’s reticence so far can be explained by pure pragmatism. Of course, there is a major imperative for Beijing to find alternative routes as transit through Russia becomes problematic. In that regard, the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus indeed constitute geographically the shortest link to Europe.
Yet, the route is not an easy one – it is multimodal, i.e. consists of both sea lines and land routes and crosses multiple countries which have made little effort to synchronize their transit capabilities and develop infrastructure before 2022.
Currently, there is close to no joint tariff coordination, effective inter-governmental dialogue and adequate infrastructure to process the throughput which has been shipped through Russia. For instance, lack of infrastructure in the Caspian Sea prevents convenient transit from Central Asian ports to Azerbaijan. Similar troubles beset the Georgian side of the Black Sea, especially as there is no deep sea port. The construction of the Anaklia port was postponed due to political infighting in the country with new construction plans only recently announced. In 2022, the Middle Corridor could only absorb 3-5 percent of the China-EU trade, which limits Beijing’s interest in the route.
Finally, geopolitical factors, such as instability in the South Caucasus, have contributed to making the Middle Corridor not as attractive for China as it might seem on the first sight. Russian influence is a primary factor. Despite Russia’s current weakness and incrementally growing dependence on China, the latter will have to carefully measure how Moscow will be responding to the development of a route which circumvents it from the south, in the region where Moscow has four military bases.
Kremlin could potentially rupture the connection both politically and through the use of more radical measures if deemed necessary. Much will depend on how Moscow fares in Ukraine. Perhaps a victory might even embolden it to prevent the corridor from materializing. But even if defeated or bogged down in a protracted war, Russia’s behavior will remain unpredictable, keeping China at unease.
From the South Caucasus, the Middle Corridor continues to either the Black Sea or Turkey. The former is currently a war theater, with chances for peaceful implementation of the corridor quite limited. This leaves China with Turkey.
Ankara and Beijing have promoted inherently competing visions of Eurasian connectivity. There were even hints that Turkish and Chinese influence clashed in Azerbaijan, which limited China’s engagement in the expansion of the Middle Corridor. After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the situation seems to have changed and Turkey and China have opened more active talks on cooperation along the corridor. For instance, China-Turkey Communication Forum was held in September 2022, focusing, among other things, on synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the Turkey’s Middle Corridor. Yet, the pace of cooperation remains slow with little practical steps taken so far.
China might eventually grow interested in the re-invigorated Middle Corridor as a part of a hedging strategy. As was the case with silk roads in ancient and medieval times, trade corridors rarely remain static. They constantly adjust to emerging opportunities and evade potential geopolitical dangers. In the same vein, China’s massive BRI is far from stationary, but constantly evolving and adjusting to varying circumstances instead.
Although the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea have not featured high in the BRI documents published by Beijing, the region can rise to rank higher among Chinese interests amid a new emerging geopolitical reality. This is especially the case if Russia grows even more sidelined in Eurasian geopolitics and Beijing realizes that betting on Russia long-term is a dead-end.
Author’s note: first published in chinaobservers
A turning moment in Ukraine Crisis
Germany’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine is a major moment in the Ukraine Crisis. It will have a far-reaching impact and may turn it into World War III. It is a tradition of the US to gang up to counter its adversaries. Iraq war, Libyan attacks, Syrian aggression, and the Occupation of Afghanistan, all were the result of allied forces, the US has the skills to make allies in addition to NATO and achieve its political objectives.
The US lobbies against its adversaries, and use all dirty tricks including media to malign its adversaries. They mislead the public and level the ground for the next stage – armed intervention. Looking at US interventions in any part of the world, you may conclude a similar approach.
Ukraine is also no exception. The US was preparing grounds for this crisis for a long and dragged Russia into it. Including Ukraine in NATO, was a red line for Russia, but, deliberately, this path was chosen to spoil global peace.
After failing all negotiations, Russia was left with no option except launch a special military operation on the same line as the 2014 Crimea operation. It was just a limited operation and should have been over after securing Russian borders only.
Unfortunately, the US had different intentions and trapped Russia in Ukraine and a full-scale war started. It was purely American war against Russia, but, as usual, America ganged up with NATO and also sought assistance and support from friendly countries.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the move on Wednesday, bowing to intensifying international pressure – led by the United States, Poland, and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles. The influx of Western tanks into the conflict has the potential to change the shape of the war. The shipments are a breakthrough in the West’s military support for Kyiv, signaling a bullish view around the world about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim occupied territory. Crucially, they may allow Ukraine to take the fighting to Moscow’s forces and re-capture more occupied land, rather than focusing primarily on beating back Russian attacks.
The US has increased its defense budget and military aid to Ukraine. It is aimed to attack Russia, not limited to liberating Ukraine only. It will prolong the war and let Russia bleed for longer.
Participation of Europe in conflict may worsen the situation and may harm Europe more. Although there are public rallies, protests, and agitations in major cities in Europe to end the Ukraine war or at least oppose Europe’s active participation. Some were chanting slogans to leave NATO. It seems the public understands the consequences but the rulers are blindly following US policies. It might create a rift between the public and rulers.
Blunders made by rulers, but, the price is being paid by the public, in the form of inflation, hikes in the price of fuel, energy, food, etc., are a common phenomenon all over Europe. The danger of spreading the war is at high risk.
Imagine, if Russia also seeks assistance from its allies and gangs up to conform to NATO aggression, it will be certainly a Word War III. Today, the World is obviously polarized and blocks are emerging rapidly.
It also can turn into nuclear war too. The 8 declared nuclear states have enough piles of nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world completely. It is scaring scenario.
But despite knowing the consequences, no one is taking any initiative to end the war and seek political solutions to the crisis. The US is not interested in the peaceful resolution of the disputes and Europe is blindly following America.
It is urged that the UN may intervene proactively and initiate a dialogue to reach an acceptable solution for all stakeholders. Unbiased, non-partisan nations may come forward to initiate peace dialogues. All peace-loving countries and individuals may act proactively and struggle to end the Ukraine crisis. Satisfying all concerned parties may achieve sustainable peace and avert any big disaster.
Humankind is the most precious thing in this universe and must be respected. Value human lives, save human lives, and without any discrimination protects human lives across the board all over the globe.
Lithuanian society is left shaken by plans to raise retirement age
This month Lithuanian society is left shaken after spreading the news about the increasing of the retirement age. In Lithuania, the retirement age has increased every year since 2012 and by 2026 it will be 65 years. Previously, discussion surfaced on whether raising the retirement age to 72 would help offset Lithuania’s ageing population issues.
As Lithuania’s demographic situation continues to worsen, the European Commission estimates that the number of working-age people capable of supporting pensioners will go down in the future. Brussels says that increasing the retirement age could be a solution.
The existing average in Lithuania is now 57.5 years. It should be said that Lithuania expects to reach a life expectancy of 65 years only in 2030.
In some years there will be 50 retirees per 100 working people and it will have crucial implications for public finances and may require raising taxes. At the moment, 35% of the country’s population are aged over 55.
Before prolonging its working age, Lithuania should address the relatively poor health and low life expectancy of its population. Before they even reach retirement age, many people in Lithuania are unable to work due to high prevalence of chronic, non-infectious conditions.
It’s necessary to focus on increasing healthy life expectancy in Lithuania, instead of weighing up the idea of increasing the retirement age, Irena Segalovičienė, presidential adviser has said.
Taking into account the fact that men in Lithuania live an average of 14 more years from the age of 65, and women an 18 more years, Vilnius residents are not impressed with such an idea.
The officials are afraid of possible protests which could lead even to the government resignation.
Thus, late Thursday afternoon millions of French workers were still on the streets protesting against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms.
Lithuanian officials were quick to announce that it’s inadequate to consider a 7-year increase in the retirement age at this stage. Most likely, the news was deliberately disseminated in order to study public opinion on this issue.
Discussion is most toxic now, and will continue in Lithuania because wasting money on defence, government puts aging population at risk of poverty and death.
At the same time, the government calls for more defense spending. Together with Poland and the UK, Lithuania is leading a push within the NATO to agree to higher spending goals. In 2023, the country’s national defense budget will reach 2.52% of its gross domestic product (GDP). According to Zilvinas Tomkus, Lithuania’s vice minister of defence, Lithuania is ready to spend even more on the modernization of its armed forces and military infrastructure. The more so, spending money on defence procurement today will not improve Lithuania defence today. The modernized weapons, vehicles and equipment will be available only in some years while old Lithuanians need money right now just to survive.
Thus, chosen political priorities do not reflect the current social and economic situation in the country and even worsen it.
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