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Time to Make Friends with the Promised Land

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The first thing Armenia began to do shortly after it gained independence was establishing diplomatic relations with other states. This process received broad political resonance and infused pride in our compatriots who had just regained independence, both in our motherland and in the Diaspora.

Among all that joyousness the fact that Armenia and Israel didn’t exchange embassies fell out of sight.

The Armenian side explained this with the unwillingness to “offend” friendly Iran and spoil relations with the Arab world.

This was one of the flaws, ill-measured steps of the Armenian diplomacy whose negative consequences surfaced instantly and can still be observed.

In diplomatic practice there can be no normal development of relations between countries without opening embassies. (Currently Israel is represented in Armenia by its Ambassador in Georgia, while Armenia is represented in Israel by our Ambassador in Egypt.)

Just like physics, vacuum can’t remain continuously empty in diplomacy. It was filled by our neighbours Georgia and Azerbaijan in no time. And this was indeed done quickly and effectively.

Official Tel-Aviv holds the opinion that Georgian-Israeli relations are developing “swiftly and in the right direction”, and “the 26-century-long friendship of the two nations will last for the coming centuries”. For Georgians Israel is a country of unprecedented success in all spheres; and it is the Georgian dream to see their country become “Caucasian Israel”.

Georgia has been advancing contact with Israel in various aspects, including military and technical cooperation. It receives from Israel drones and modern artillery systems, modernizes T-72 tanks, trains military staff.

Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan are much deeper, more multi-faceted and perspective. Azerbaijan is one of the few states of the Muslim world (besides Turkey, Egypt and Jordan) developing bilateral relations with Israel. The embassy of the latter is quite active in Baku, while it is in no haste to open its diplomatic mission in Tel-Aviv, justifying its decision by the fear of negative reaction of the Arab world and Iran. This is a diplomatic myth, nothing more than double standards. Merely the fact that Azerbaijan has deployed a signals intelligence system to control Iran’s nuclear program on its territory demonstrates to what extent Azerbaijan “loves” Muslims and how sincere its feelings are. Azerbaijan and Israel are linked through political, strategic, economic and cultural interests. Relations between Baku and Tel-Aviv weren’t severed even by the tension between Turkey and Israel in 2011. In line with Russia, Israel is another major supplier of modern arms to Azerbaijan. Several plants assembling Israeli drones and other types of modern armaments function here. According to Azerbaijani reports the military machinery implemented in the attacks at the Armenian side during the four-day war of 2016 was mainly of Israeli make.

During informal meetings the Israelis try to convince us that their relations with Azerbaijan are purely of economic, business character and have nothing to do with politics. Things are definitely otherwise. Azerbaijan and Israel are linked to each other by a number of political consideratons: a) clearly pro-Azerbaijani position of the Israeli state concerning the Karabakh conflict; b) torpedoing of the recognition process of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset; c) attempts to drive a wedge between the Armenian and Jewish lobbies in the USA favouring the interests of Baku and Ankara; d) desire to establish durable relations with Trump administration via Israel.

As to Armenia, it should be noted that our relations with Israel have been developing in the opposite direction. There are no more or less tangible political or economic relations between us. (According to the data provided by the National Statistical Service of Armenia, trade turnover between the two countries in 2016 constituted only $8,525 million or 0.1% of the external trade turnover of Armenia.) Both parties seem to have done their best to alienate our states, to erect an invisible wall between them. At the government level, attitude towards Israel has been cool and passive, while the press periodically embellished the idea that Jews actively participated in the crime of 1915, that Israel doesn’t recognize the Genocide, that Jews “envy” Armenians and that there should be no relations with them at all as friendly Iran would be offended.

Israel pays us the same coin. Knesset has periodically rejected the resolution on recognition of the Genocide by majority of votes. Opponents of normalization of bilateral relations, and their number is quite large, cultivate the idea that “Armenia is a leader of anti-Semitism on the post-Soviet territory, that the attitude to Jews has always been bad there”. Mass media, namely influential “The Jerusalem Post”, demonstrate anti-Armenian position. Ears of Turks and Azerbaijanians peep out behind all this who work coordinately, in Israel as well as in the United States of America and other countries, against rapprochement of Israel and Armenia.

Given the level of bilateral interrelations, the wish for rapprochement with Armenia voiced in Israel could be viewed as a political surprise and a rather interesting turn.

Delegations at ministerial and parliamentary level, also public and political figures arrive in Yerevan. One of the recent visits deserves mentioning, the one to Yerevan and Stepanakert paid by Avigdor Eskin, which gave rise to hysteria in Baku. Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi signed a number of inter-state agreements with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Culture in Yerevan. He stated that his country “wants to develop friendly relations with Armenia”. In September the third forum of “Armenia-Israel” public organization was held in our country, and an academic conference was organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Armenian-Russian (Slavonic) University which was attended by representatives of the University of Tel-Aviv. Armenian Parliamentary delegation visited Israel in January. On the background of the anticipated development of bilateral relations, the hope that both countries will get involved in integration processes is cherished. It is probable that through Armenia Israel will join infrastructure projects of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEC), specifically the North-South corridor. An Armenian air company is negotiating with the Israel-Armenia Trade Chamber to open a logistic center in Gyumri.

Some experts both in Yerevan and Tel-Aviv are talking of a breakthrough and thaw in the Armenian-Israeli relations.

Refraining from the temptation to confirm or reject these emotional moods, let us try to understand the reasons for the current changes, their internal logic from the position of Israel and Armenia.

Israel:

  1. Tel-Aviv’s “sudden” move to change its foreign policy vector concerning Armenia is conditioned by global geopolitical processes, situation and power balance in the region.
  2. Parallel to its multilateral contacts with Georgia and Azerbaijan and based on its far-reaching strategic interest, Israel intends to regulate its relations with Armenia, which prolapsed from its “diplomatic geography”.
  3. “The minor Middle East NATO”, created and led by the USA, should have been perceived by Tel-Aviv as an amicable alliance due to its anti-Iranian focus. However, this artificial formation inspires no confidence in Israel. That is exactly why Israeli diplomacy is looking for routes, is doing everything for Israel not to become a “sandwich” for two Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Besides, Israel will seek normalization of relations with Armenia given it is a CSTO member and Russia’s only strategic ally in the South Caucasus. To some extent this step is considered to be able to provide security for Israel taking into account current turbulence across the region. Israel acknowledges that Armenia is much more preferable than Azerbaijan in easing tension with Iran. (During informal contacts Israeli politicians do not hide Tel-Aviv’s intentions and doubt reliability of Iran-Azerbaijan relations despite active contacts in economic and military spheres.)
  4. In case relations with Yerevan normalize, Israel will try to use Armenian Diaspora for its political and other aims.

Armenia:

  1. Development of relations with Israel is within our national interests and the need to enhance Armenian statehood. If these bilateral relations move forward, this will allow us to develop cooperation in a number of vital areas – science, high technologies, banking system, healthcare, agriculture, communications, trade, transport and others. Cooperation in military industry, which is at quite a high level in that country, isn’t excluded.
  2. Armenian-Israeli cooperation can develop in the format of multilateral diplomacy. Diaspora capacities of both countries could play a huge role here if state and public diplomacy, as well as soft power is implemented.
  3. It is possible that Armenian-Israeli cooperation might become necessary in the Kurdish issue and also in political and other processes in the Middle East region.
  4. Under global geopolitical transformations and in case of a favourable atmosphere Armenia can become a mediator between Israel and Iran, which is a part of Tel-Aviv’s strategic plans.
  5. In 2016 the military-political, economic and cultural union was formed between Israel, Greece and Cyprus (it has anti-Turkish direction) and is open for other states. We believe if Armenia joins this alliance, this could foster Armenia’s connection with the above mentioned countries, contribute to the enlargement of alternative external political opportunities and actions of Armenia.
  6. Normalization of bilateral relations will contribute to the maintenance and management of Armenian property and churches in Jerusalem, and also to enhancing their relations with Holy Etchmiadzin.
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Eastern Europe

A turning moment in Ukraine Crisis

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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.

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Lithuanian society is left shaken by plans to raise retirement age

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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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Eastern Europe

Why there is New Escalation in Ukraine War?

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In Dnipro, the Russian missile smashed the entire section of a nine-story building. January 14, 2022.Photo from Valentyn Reznichenko, Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Region Military Administration

Russia and Ukraine war has entered its second phase where violence and destruction become more prevalent with less possibility of negotiation between the conflicting parties. Russia claimed to have conquered a hotly disputed salt mining town, a rare win for the Kremlin after a string of losses in its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow chose Donetsk and the adjoining Luhansk province as objectives from the start, and in September proclaimed them part of Russia along with two other territories. Taking control of the town would allow Russian forces “to sever supply lines for the Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut and then block and encircle the Ukrainian battalions. Russia sees Bakhmut as a stepping stone toward total control of Donbas, the industrial region that encompasses Donetsk Province.

Moreover, Russia has opened multiple fronts encircling Ukraine from all sides. Russian missiles blasted a military camp in western Ukraine, killing 35 people in an attack on a site that served as a vital hub for collaboration between Ukraine and the NATO countries that assist its defense. The attack’s proximity to a NATO member country heightened the prospect of the alliance becoming involved in the war, which has reignited old Cold War rivalries and threatens to alter the present global security system. Poland also serves as a transit point for Western military supplies to Ukraine, and the bombings came in response to Moscow’s threats to target those shipments.

 However, despite significant casualties in the Ukrainian military forces over the last 11 months, Kyiv believes it is in a good position. It would be considerably more powerful if more contemporary weaponry were available, and there have already been some significant breakthroughs in this area, such as the supply of a variety of flexible light armored vehicles from Germany, France, and the United States that can move troops around quickly. Against a backdrop, Russia would reject any peace agreement that does not include the retention of all seized Ukrainian territory. On the flip side, Ukraine has been pleading with Western nations for months to equip it with more modern armaments, such as the Patriot air defense system.

Ukraine War and the Remilitarization of Europe

 Kyiv has shifted its focus toward Western Europe and the United States and the NATO alliance has been galvanized in a way not seen since the Cold War. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress in a historic speech on his foreign tours after the Russia attack in February. “Against all odds and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall’. Throughout the war, Kyiv has relied significantly on Western military help, and Zelenskyy continues to want more. Zelenskyy’s visit coincided with the announcement of $1.85 billion in further military support to Ukraine, which includes a Patriot missile battery for the first time.

The United Kingdom has announced that it will equip Ukraine with British tanks, putting pressure on Germany and other nations to offer additional military assistance to Kyiv in its conflict with Russia. It would send Challenger 2 tanks as well as additional artillery systems to Kyiv. Zelensky tweeted that British help “would not only boost us on the battlefield but will also send the proper signal to other partners. The decision by the United Kingdom to send the tanks would be important if other Western countries followed suit. Poland intends to send 14 Leopard tanks produced in Germany to Ukraine as part of a bigger multinational aid alliance. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed intentions for France to supply the Ukrainian military with AMX-10 RC light tanks. The Ukrainian armed forces will get Western-designed tanks for the first time. It represents a considerable increase in French engagement in the Ukraine war. Moreover, European Union foreign ministers have agreed to top up a fund for arms deliveries to Ukraine by a further two billion euros ($2.11bn) and discuss the 9th Round of sanctions on Russia which will escalate the skyrocketing food and oil prices further.

The Tanks are unlikely to change the game of the war but it triggers the remilitarization of Europe on the widest scale since that war, escalating military combat in the Pacific, and high levels of international instability produced by the war in Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan. Besides, it reflects that at the beginning of the war, the NATO members were divided regarding their response to the Ukraine war, and their responses were confined to the gamut of sanctions against Russia. However, as the war becomes complex, the European countries enhanced their support to billions of dollars in military aid and small weapons to Ukraine. Now, the whole of Europe can witness an increase in defense budget which drags them more in the dangerous trajectory of war resulting in more escalation and mayhem.

Putin’s Shadow War: New Front in Belarus

Belarus is being engaged in launching a new front in Ukraine’s war, which might compel Kyiv to shift resources and focus away from its counteroffensives in the country’s east and south. Belarus’s President, Alexander Lukashenko, announced on Monday that his soldiers will join Russian forces along the Ukrainian border, accusing Kyiv and its western backers of planning an attack on Belarus. Two days after visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg, Lukashenko announced the deployment. Kyiv, according to Zelenskiy, has no intentions to strike Belarus. Russia exploited Belarus as a staging area for its February 24th war, moving hundreds of troops across the border to attack Kyiv and firing missiles from Belarusian air bases into Ukrainian targets. Ukraine’s borders were allegedly under attack from Russian forces in Belarus to the north and Crimea to the south, near various Ukrainian cities including Kyiv, Kharkiv’s second biggest city, Odesa, and distant shooting from Zaporizhzhya. Engaging Belarus in the war will certainly open a new front in the Ukraine war.

Russian New General and Plausible New Escalation

Russia intends to deploy 500,000 extra troops beginning in mid-January, much more than the 300,000 soldiers it recruited in September. So far, Russia claims that 150,000 of those troops have been delivered to Ukraine.Besides, Russia named a new general in command of the Ukraine conflict, replacing its predecessor after only three months. This might indicate that Russia is preparing to intensify its conflict. Russia’s new commander in Ukraine has inherited a poisoned chalice, making him likely to deepen the conflict as Russia attempts to recover from a run of military failures. The ministry portrayed Gerasimov as taking on a new role with even more authority over Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.

His appointment, coming after months of Russian defeats, might indicate that Russia is about to step up its attempts to wrest triumph from defeat. Gerasimov has greater access, power, and resources at his disposal than any other subsidiary commander. This might entail increasing levels of violence, more cooperation, and a full-scale, all-out war on all fronts. Gerasimov is said to have been one of the military officers who devised Russia’s original invasion strategy.  The November missile strikes against Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities as well as orchestrated gas and oil leaks on European pipelines have been deeply painful for Ukraine but the winter doesn’t go as harshly as Putin expected. Ukraine has survived the first phase of the war better than both supporters and detractors expected. Russia has failed to realize its military aspirations, and the tide has begun to turn in Ukraine’s favor in recent months. he needs a win or his career will end in shame. As the conflict drags on with no apparent conclusion in sight, fierce fighting is likely to restart in early spring. Putin has previously used a variety of escalators tactics to destroy Ukrainian resilience and hope.

It is largely unlikely that Russia will fully retreat from the war as Vladimir Putin has grown so involved in the Ukraine conflict that he is making operational and tactical choices. He, on the other hand, is personally engaged in the battle and cannot afford to lose. Even if Russia pulls out from Ukraine, there is no chance for Russian disintegration which the West is silencing as part of its war strategy. Meanwhile, Ukraine is now well-equipped to hold its current leverage in the war but is not yet in a position to conclusively win the war. Besides, if the opposite happens or the war prolongs for years, then how would Ukraine and the transatlantic onslaught survive? Europe is already undergoing a cost-of-living crisis. The skyrocketing energy crisis, global inflation on the flip side, and increasing military expenditure left the west between the devil and the deep sea. In that regard, both are destined to pay heavy prices if the stalemate isn’t over. Thus, the fate of the Ukraine war this winter and the spring offensives will be critical in determining the course of the conflict in 2023.

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