Trump Meets the Baltics
Donald Trump welcomed the heads of Baltic states to the White House this week. It was supposed to be a celebration of their centennials and a tribute to shared ideals of freedom and democracy. In ironic twist, as Baltic leaders touched glasses with the host, it was precisely his illiberal views that have shredded the US credibility and strained transatlantic relations.
The presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, however, put on a tightly scripted charm offensive during the meeting. One can decode their behavior as follows: Trump may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard.
Former US Presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, while quibbling over the Baltic policy at the margins, never questioned the US commitment to collective defense. With his remarks about conditional security guarantees, Donald Trump had stepped into a new territory. This, naturally, unsettled many in Eastern Europe. A recent poll found only 16.1% of Lithuanian’s have trust in the current White House incumbent.
In hopes of shaping the US policy in more favorable direction, Baltic representatives have looked for all possible levers and keys. Cutting across party lines, they managed to arrange visits of influential Congressional power brokers and extract statements of unconditional support. One the one hand, they have taken comfort in the actions of Congress, which has systematically sought to punish Russia for its misdeeds.
But they are also aware of the fact that vast power and potential for unilateral action lay in the Oval Office. Hence, systematic effort has been made to establish links with people close to president’s ear – Mike Pence, James Mattis, H. R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson, last two of which are already out of the administration.
At a time when many allies were trembling about the appointment of a new national security adviser, the Baltics may have quietly cheered. When in summer Trump questioned if he would automatically leap in defence of the Baltics, John Bolton had called it ‘a massive failure of deterrence’ and suggested that the President retract his statement. But targeting people in Trump’s orbit may as well be a losing strategy. Simply put: anyone could be next in the firing line.
No one in the Baltics wanted Donald Trump as a gift – an erratic man at the wheel. One must admit, however, that his ambivalent presidency has prompted allied governments to hold up a mirror and engage in some self-inspection. Opposing Vladimir Putin is easy: he jails opponents, grabs foreign lands and orders brazen assassinations. To figure out how to deal with Trump, illiberal leader of the free world, requires significantly more skill and statecraft.
Trump has left allies with an unpleasant choice: either you hitch your wagon to an aspiring authoritarian in the service of national interest or stand up to his improper behavior while endangering your most valued partnership.
Pragmatically, the Baltic coping strategy, knowing Trump’s thin-skin, has been to weigh words carefully and avoid airing of any personal criticism. Instead, they have looked for every opportunity to compliment the man in the Oval Office. During the April 3 meeting, Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite even bizarrely suggested that Trump’s ‘unpredictable leadership’ has somehow put ‘very good pressure to all of us, all members of NATO’.
Stephen Walt, a leading realist thinker, has incisively observed that ‘when you really need allies, you can’t be too choosy’. The Baltics need all the friends they can get, which also explains their uncritical praise of Trump.
However, there is also real a danger of swinging too far in attempts to please populists and autocrats. In one instance, Baltic lawmakers have already demonstrated their willingness to abandon democratic principles in the name of vital security concerns. All three governments were unwilling to back any EU punishments on Poland, a country that has seen the rule of law and democracy unravel.
The Baltics can and should retain willingness to oppose the US at the policy level. A case in point was the UN vote on Jerusalem. Despite threats that ‘names will be taken’, Estonia and Lithuania did not bow to US pressure and rejected proposed recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (Latvia shamelessly abstained). Their opposition, however, was couched in diplomatic language so that it does not catch Trump’s personal radar.
Perhaps this is the only possible balancing act in the Trump era – staying out of TV headlines and twitter feed – mediums that are crucial for the US president, while still challenging the administration on policy in measured and bureaucratic fashion. After all, it is his own public image that President Trump is most concerned with, not the details and intricacies of actual policies.
For any country, reconciling interests with certain set of values can be a very narrow corridor to walk. But it is also something that the trio of Baltic countries must aspire to if they want to belong to the family of mature democracies.
As these republics reach one hundred years of modern statehood and celebrate their impressive achievements, they should recognize that it is not only Moscow’s blunt power tools that pose risks to their democracies. Values of freedom can also be eroded in seemingly innocent fashion by cozying up to disgraced Western demagogues. This is their challenge at 100.
Bombing of the Kakhovka Dam could be the worst, and most desperate war crime yet
Social media was abuzz on Tuesday morning with footage showing the Kakhovka Dam had been breached, with water surging down the Dnipro River.
Later in the day, the southern command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces claimed the dam, which is in Russian-controlled territory, was blown up with explosives.
Russia’s TASS news agency confirmed the dam had “collapsed” and that nearby areas were beginning to flood.
The dam itself is huge, 30 metres in height and hundreds of metres wide. It forms part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, with its reservoir containing the same amount of water as Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
The effects of the breach threaten to be immense.
The dam is a critical water source for millions of people in Kherson, the Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, and Crimea. It will also likely impact agriculture and food production in what is already a war-torn region.
Flood waters have already affected over 80 towns and villages. Over a thousand people have been rescued in Kherson, with many more displaced. While there have been no report of human deaths yet, it has been reported that 300 animals at the Kazkova Dibrova zoo were killed in floodwaters.
Rare wildlife species and habitats have also been affected. The Ukrainian Environment Minister, Ruslan Strilets told the media yesterday that at least 150 tonnes of oil from the dam has leaked into the Dnipro, and that the environmental damage has so far been estimated at $80 million.
The breach also puts the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at risk. The plant, which is in Russian hands, relies on water supplied by the dam, without which raises the threat of a nuclear meltdown. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced yesterday that there is “no immediate nuclear safety risk”.
Many of these issues cannot be solved until a new dam is built, something Russia is unlikely to do while it controls the area.
The breach has immediately raised questions about who is responsible.
Ukrainian officials have blamed Russia, with President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeting that “the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they (Russia) must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land.”
Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, claimed that “Russia has unleashed an ecological weapon of mass destruction, inflicting grave consequences upon hundreds of cities and villages”, and called on the world to “condemn this crime”.
Last year, Ukrainian officials accused Russia of mining the dam, which Russia denied, calling for a monitoring mission and for the dam to be taken under international protection.
There are also reports the dam was at capacity before the breach, suggesting Russia purposely raised the water level to ensure maximum destruction.
Russia has denied blowing the dam, instead blaming Ukraine.
Ukraine, for its part, has said that it would be impossible for them to breach the dam from the outside, considering it has been under Russian control for months.
But, while there is no definitive proof, pointing the finger at Russia is not unreasonable.
The Russian military continues to target vital infrastructure in Ukraine, including power plants, dams, railways and ports, in a desperate attempt to make the Ukrainian population suffer.
Russia’s invasion has also shown that its military does not respect human life. Russian forces have allegedly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against Ukrainians, including torture, summary executions and enforced disappearances. They have also continuously targeted civilian buildings, including hospitals and apartment blocks, killing countless civilians.
Blowing up the dam also comes at a time when Ukraine is poised to launch its counteroffensive, which likely involves attempts to retake the Zaporizhzhia oblast and Crimea. Flood waters would complicate any crossing of the Dnipro and may be an attempt by Russia to buy time.
In contrast, Ukraine has very little to gain from breaching the dam and, unlike Russia, doesn’t have a history of using civilians as collateral damage.
If Russia is responsible, it may constitute a war crime.
The Geneva Conventions explicitly bans attacks in war-time on “installations containing dangerous forces”, such as dams, due to risks posed to civilians. The conventions also oblige waring parties to distinguish between “civilian objects and military objects”, with attacks on the former forbidden.
While dams aren’t specifically mentioned, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court criminalises “intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”
Ukraine’s prosecutor general has opened an investigation into the dam blast, labelled it a possible war crime and “’ecocide” under Ukrainian domestic legislation. Ironically, Russia has similar ecocide laws.
Russia’s alleged involvement in the bombing of the Kakhovka dam would represent an incredibly desperate and dangerous act.
It would also be added to the long list of war crimes committed by Russian forces, something Ukrainian and ICC prosecutors would surely investigate and seek to prosecute.
Either way, it is yet another disaster for Ukraine and Ukrainians.
Whoever is guilty needs to be held responsible.
Ukraine war: A new multipolar world is emerging
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is undoubtedly one of the biggest geopolitical conflicts of the 21st century to date. What would be a regional issue in our analysis, turned into a global event with economic and geopolitical impacts that will last for decades to come. The uncritical analysis of the subject is the main obstacle to a real geopolitical comprehension of the ongoing process. Our goal is to make some considerations to fill these gaps.
Russian demands about its geopolitical security have continuously been disregarded by either Washington or Brussels over the past three decades. On the contrary. Europeans and North Americans did their best to expand the European Union and NATO to Eastern Europe despite Moscow consistently expressing its dissatisfaction with such an advance.
In fact, Russia has always represented a *geopolitical concern* to Washington due to its military and technological capacity inherited from the USSR. The “ideal” Russia for the West only occurred under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) when the country made the transition to capitalism in a sudden and dramatic process, going through one of its most severe economic and social crises.
Kyiv’s move towards the European Union and NATO accelerated Moscow’s determination to firmly secure, or at least make a concerted attempt to do so, the still unconcluded chapter after the end of the USSR: its geopolitical security, as well as Washington’s use of Ukraine as a future NATO military base posing a significant concern for Russia. The second invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 marked this second phase in our conception.
Western perspective has a divergent viewpoint. Maintaining NATO created in the Cold War to face the threat of no longer existing in the post-Cold War scenario makes no sense. However, it makes sense when we think of the billions of dollars in sales of war material produced largely by the US to its European partners and the multi-million commissions involved for the middlemen. It is fundamental to keep Europe under Washington’s political and military domain. On the economic side, the expansion of the European Union over Eastern Europe followed the same logic: “By increasing the number of member states, the aim is to address the challenges faced by a problematic economic union that has been subject to internal questioning, culminating in the apex of Brexit in 2020
Unlike the 2014 Crimean campaign when the Russian victory came relatively smoothly and quickly, the 2022 invasion may initially be considered, to say the least, disastrous. Moscow’s numerous errors in assessing the short- and long-term consequences of its subjugation strategy in Ukraine drew attention. The images of countless kilometers of trucks and military equipment along roads, the initial advance towards Kyiv, and various other parts of the country, followed by a withdrawal months later, exposed the flawed military calculations and the unforeseen consequences that ensued. This was despite Russia’s unquestionable military supremacy. The calculations were not well executed, leading to significant unforeseen consequences, despite Russia’s undisputed military dominance
In the Western diplomatic area, the situation completely got out of Moscow’s control when the US had the perception that it could take advantage of the moment to weaken Vladimir Putin’s leadership, promote an “upgrade” in the criticized existence of NATO and facilitate a possible “regime change” through economic strangulation. But Washington and its allies also made some misjudgments. They underestimated the neutral stance of China and several other countries such as India and Brazil, in addition to several countries on the African continent, for example. And the worst: they also provided the beginning of the acceleration of the de-dollarization of the world economy with the economic sanctions against the Russians, uniting the objectives of several countries that already questioned the supremacy of the dollar as the dominant commercial transaction currency. A supremacy’s downfall could certainly take decades, but that seems to be already underway.
We reiterate that the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict could never gain the international proportions that were generated from the action of the Washington-Brussels Axis. Their actions have directly impacted Europe, which bears the brunt of the consequences while the US benefits economically from Russian sanctions and Europeans suffer as much as Moscow from their effects.
In the military field, Ukraine is only managing to be able to withstand the hardships of the war due to the full support given by NATO. Even as reports of the military prowess of Ukrainian soldiers were disseminated by Western media. Without that support, the war would probably have ended. On the other hand, despite the initial military mistakes, Moscow seems to have preferred a strategy aimed at the attrition of its enemy even knowing that time would somehow help Kyiv to receive more weapons from the Western military alliance and delay the finalization of its plans.
It’s expected that this clash between NATO and Russia will bring about a permanent reordering in the power dynamics of geopolitical forces in the 21st century. The so-called “American Century” is being finalized by the rise of new and future powers such as China, whose global role is gaining strength. Beijing’s performance in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict demonstrates that its action is guided by long-term projects: collaboration in the weakening of the North American power to determine the “punishment” of its enemies through economic means, consolidating BRICS as a “global influencer”, the decrease of the dollar as an international currency and the support for a multipolar spectrum as the basis of the international system in the current century.
Pakistan-Belarus Ties Set to Boost and Strengthen
The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Covering an area of 207,600 square kilometers and with a population of 9.2 million, Belarus is the 13th-largest and the 20th-most populous country in Europe. The country has a hemiboreal climate and is administratively divided into seven regions. Minsk is the capital and largest city. Belarus is a developing country, ranking 60th on the Human Development Index. The country has been a member of the United Nations since its founding and has joined the CIS, the CSTO, the EAEU, the OSCE, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It has shown no aspirations of joining the European Union but nevertheless maintains a bilateral relationship with the bloc and also participates in two EU projects, the Baku Initiative, and the Eastern Partnership. Its strategic location has been more prominent due to the Ukraine crisis and has become the focus of the Western world due to its close relations with Russia.
Belarus–Pakistan relations refers to the current and historical relationship between Belarus and Pakistan. Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize Belarus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Pakistan maintains an embassy in Minsk; Belarus maintains an embassy in Islamabad.
Pakistan and Belarus initiated joint ventures (JVs) in the textile, pharmaceutical, and lighting solution industries while sharing technological expertise with each other. Pakistan’s imports from Belarus stood at $42.65 million which mainly consisted of tractors (62.04%), artificial filament yarn (13.01%), and rubber tires (8.06%). Belarus has lauded Pakistan’s role and efforts in bringing peace and stability to the world by countering terrorism and offered his country’s full support in this fight.
On the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus H.E. Mr. Sergei Aleinik visited Islamabad from May 30 – 31, 2023 on an official visit.
During the visit, Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and the Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, in addition to holding comprehensive delegation-level bilateral talks.
H.E. Mr. Sergei Aleinik also held meetings with the Minister of Economic Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.
During their meeting, the two Foreign Ministers had a wide-ranging and substantive discussion on a variety of topics including political, economic, technological, cultural, educational, and multilateral cooperation in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding. The two sides agreed to take practical measures to translate the mutual goodwill between the two governments and their peoples into tangible cooperation in different fields.
The Ministers expressed satisfaction with the friendly relations based on mutual respect, friendship, and trust established between the Republic of Belarus and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and highly appreciated the bilateral meetings and interaction at the highest and high levels that have taken place in recent years.
The Ministers appreciated the holding of the 6th Session of the Joint Belarusian-Pakistani Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation on January 12-13, 2023 in Minsk under the chairmanship of the Minister of Energy of the Republic of Belarus H.E. Viktor Karankevich and the Federal Minister of Energy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Khurram Dastgir Khan.
The Ministers expressed their interest in strengthening cooperation within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the United Nations, and other International Organizations on matters of mutual interest, and reaffirmed their readiness to mutually support each other.
The Ministers noted the desire of both countries to expand the legal framework of bilateral relations and welcomed the signing of
the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the Abolition of Visas for holders of Diplomatic and Service Passports as well as between the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, and the Belarus Institute of Strategic Research.
The Ministers intend to support business initiatives aimed at the development of trade and industrial cooperation between the two countries, among other things, through the participation in exhibitions and fair events in both countries, holding face-to-face and online negotiations, and business councils.
Taking into consideration, that February 3, 2024, will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Pakistan, the Ministers welcomed the intention to develop a plan of joint events dedicated to the anniversary of diplomatic relations.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus expressed his gratitude for the reception given to the Belarusian delegation and invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to visit the Republic of Belarus at a convenient time. The invitation was accepted with gratitude and the dates of the visit will be finalized through diplomatic channels.
Both countries are committed to supporting each other and benefiting from each other’s strengths. It is desired from both sides to enrich and strengthen the relations in all walks of life covering trade, economy, industry, science and technology, education, etc. Long lives Pak-Belarus friendship.
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