Brexit: Passions Heating Up
With the negotiations on the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU on the home run now, a legally-bound Brexit is slated for March 29, 2019. By this date, a pertinent agreement must have been ratified by both the British parliament and those of all 27 EU countries. Thus, it should be agreed at the November or, at most, the December EU summit (December 17-18).
During the EU summit in October, its participants felt that not enough progress had been made in the talks even to discuss the final agreement in November. If no deal has been agreed by December, Britain will leave the EU without an agreement and will have to switch to WTO rules, it has problems to adjust to.
British Prime Minster Theresa May expects to wrap up the talks by the November summit, but her government needs an agreement that could win parliamentary approval. Meanwhile, tensions between “Bremainers” (supporters of the UK’s continued stay in the EU, or at least of a “soft” Brexit) and Brexiteers (including proponents of a “hard” Brexit) are heating up. The latter fear that the Chequers plan, hatched up by Theresa May, a compromise EU withdrawal roadmap, would emasculate the very meaning of the UK’s divorce with the EU and become a Brexit in name only.
One lingering problem that remains unresolved is the status of the Irish border. Theresa May heads a minority government, which depends on the support of a faction of 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP), who represent the interests of the local Protestant community and demand that all of the country’s regions enjoy the same status. Therefore, London can’t concede to Brussels’ requirement for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union and the single EU market (by having the customs border running across the Irish Sea). However, in the event of a “hard” Brexit where the entire territory of the United Kingdom is outside the EU and the Irish border is essentially closed, this would be detrimental to business and, most importantly, would rekindle unrest and terrorist activity in the United Kingdom. This would effectively unravel the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which established an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland thus ensuring a fragile peace between the region’s Catholics and Protestants.
Even though in 1912 the Tories adopted the official name of the Conservative and Unionist Party, it looks like the Brexiteers are ready to sacrifice unionism by insisting on walking out from the EU customs union and the single market. It also seems that they could agree to the border running across the Irish Sea (while the DUP fears a “creeping annexation” of Northern Ireland by the Republic of Ireland) or to a “hard” border between them in violation of the Belfast Agreement, which is something the European Union will not go for. The Brexiteers insist on restoring Britain’s full parliamentary sovereignty and withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice with the possibility of signing trade agreements with third countries.
The Bremainers are equally unhappy with Theresa May’s Chequers plan. They believe that Britain will have to comply with all EU regulations without having a voice in collective decision-making, let alone other problems, such as freedom of movement of people, etc. Hence their demand for a second referendum on a deal with the EU, including the issue of Britain’s membership in the bloc, in a bid to reverse the results of the 2016 Brexit vote. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sallied his reputation during the war in Iraq, has reasonably noted that holding the 2016 referendum before determining the exit conditions was illogical, and called for a revote. His opinion is shared by ex-Premier John Major (Conservative) and Deputy Prime Ministers Michael Heseltine (Conservative) and Nicholas Clegg (Liberal Democrat). They are joined by some members of Britain’s business community in their demand for a second referendum on the final deal with the EU (“Popular Vote,” People’s Vote).
An estimated 700 million people from across the UK rallied in London on October 20 calling for a second Brexit referendum in a major demonstration with the cost of their transportation to the capital paid for by many celebrities from the world of politics, business, sports and the arts.
Meanwhile, the idea of a revote is facing strong opposition from Prime Minister Theresa May who has to maneuver her way both at home and abroad in an effort to hold on to her job. Tory Brexiteers planned to hold a vote of no confidence in May as party leader and prime minister, but eventually backed off for fear of failing to get the support of a majority of Conservative MPs in parliament. Realizing this, they chose a tactic of obstructing her moves on the parliamentary floor.
Government-proposed bills relating to Brexit were tabled ahead of the summer recession with a margin of only a handful of votes (including by some Labour MPs). Teresa May still managed to hold on to her post of party leader and prime minister by clinching a compromise deal with the Bremainers and making concessions to the Brexiteers, warning both that her resignation would bring to power Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and pave the way for early parliamentary elections.
On November 8, DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that her party would not support a deal with the EU if it meant a special status for Northern Ireland , disguised as the EU customs union covering Northern Ireland, while the rest of the UK would end up in a kind of a customs union. Foster was responding to a letter she had received from Theresa May, which contained a hint of such a proposal, if no deal on the Irish border is reached during the transitional period until December 20, 2020. However, this interpretation was flatly refuted by Downing Street 10.
On November 9, Deputy Transport Minister Jo Johnson, the brother of Boris Johnson, and, unlike him, a Bremainer, became to 18th member of Theresa May’s Cabinet to resign over his opposition to the prime minister’s Chequers plan, which he called a “travesty” of Brexit. In a highly-charged resignation statement, he called for a second referendum.
“Putting the nation before a choice between two deeply unpleasant exits — vassal dependence or chaos — is a failure of British government, unprecedented in scale since the times of the Suez crisis,” Johnson said.
On November 10, media reported a meeting between the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and MI6 head Alex Younger at the intelligence agency’ Vauxhall headquarters, where Corbyn was briefed on threats to national security. Observers view the meeting as a sign of impending early elections.
During the Labor Party’s annual conference in September, Jeremy Corbyn said that no option should be ruled out. However, on November 9, he rejected the possibility of a second referendum insisting that the government return to the negotiating table or resign – a clear pitch for snap elections.
On November 11, it became known that Brussels rejected May’s key proposal for an “independent mechanism” for Britain’s withdrawal from the temporary customs agreement with the EU in the event of a negotiations failure during the transition period (in fact, on the issue of the Irish border). London’s proposal was aimed at preventing Britain from remaining in the customs union for an indefinite period and withdrawing from it only in agreement with the European Union: that is, “always obey the rules of Brussels”, with no right to any role in EU decision-making. Brussels, meanwhile, insists on the jurisdiction of the EU Court.
Moreover, the EU countries earlier said they wanted to examine the final version of the agreement prior to its publication and ahead of the EU summit. They fear that Britain could gain a competitive advantage if the European Commission caves in to London on the issue of a customs union to cover the entire territory of the country without any British commitment to comply with EU standards for labor, environmental and social relations and an obligation to open its seas to EU fishing fleets.
However, with the main sticking point hardly possible to resolve, both sides are preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Any version of the agreement will hardly sit well with Britain though. As evident from the high-profile resignations of the Johnson brothers, who hold opposite views on Brexit, the prime minister’s compromise plan does not suit either party. Further ministerial resignations are not excluded, fraught with a government crisis and the agreement’s failure to gain parliamentary support.
According to the newspaper Observer, there is one thing Britons all agree on: Theresa May’s plan is at stake. The negotiations are in their final stage now and the deadline is near.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies
Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the past 15 months. These changes are intrinsically related to China’s rise, which diverted the EU-American international protagonism.
While there is no common ground among EU members on how to counterbalance the dependence on trading with the second-largest economy in the world, the G7 Summit imparted to the collective endeavors of the largest economies to ‘de-risk’ from China. The EUA, Canada, the UK, and Japan have joined the club.
The Russo-Ukrainian War Context
In March 2019, the European Union adopted a two-folded stance on its relationship with China, defining it as competition cooperation. This dualism underlines the need to understand how to play politics the Chinese way. Since then, the EU has sought to adopt a more assertive tactic, and the ‘systemic rival’ approach has thus prevailed. Besides, the recent Russia-Ukrainian war has contributed much to this decision. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently stated, “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”
China’s close ties with Russia have been around for a while. Their connections in the global arena intensified to counterbalance the American world leadership. Sino-Russian relations were built through symmetric ideological concepts, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still rooted in the Marxism-Lenist ideology.
China’s foreign affairs are based on non-interventionism principles, but its alignment with Putin has been questioned instead as support to the current war that possibly includes military intelligence and economic aid to Russia. China’s abstention from voting on the resolution that condemned Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine in October 2002 and the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Moscow days after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin contributed to the EU to build the narrative that China does support Russia’s point of view and justifications to the war.
The EU strongly condemned Xi’s trip, voicing worries about China’s role in the war and power balance in its relations with Russia, which now favors China. In late March, Von der Leyen delivered a speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre, stating, “President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.”
As Xi voiced “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over the war, a joint statement with his Russian counterpart raised the flag of a possible siding with Russia. The joint statement contained criticisms of sanctions and the contributions of NATO in expanding the conflict.
China’s possible role in a peaceful negotiation is unlike the one adopted to break a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which ended decades of elusive diplomatic relations. The reason is simple: its close ties with Russia.
The Economic Context
In the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, the largest global economies voiced ‘de-risking’ China against possible economic coercion in various areas involving trade, technologies and intellectual property, and supply chain.
Apart from the Sino-American trade war and the reliance on trading in China – the EU recorded a trade deficit of more than 365 billion euros with China in 2022 – at least two other concerns have debuted on the discussion agenda: the country’s rare earth metals control and responsibility in cyberspace.
To counterbalance China’s new status quo on the global stage, the G7 announced the launch of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The total of $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure is a clear threat to the Belt and Road initiative, but it is unlike that it will pose any danger to China-led investment activities.
The Taiwan Context
The expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea has also become a prominent topic at the G7 summit. The G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement against China’s latest military activities near Taiwan, condemning economic coercion and urging peaceful talks.
Taiwan is perhaps China’s most irrevocable negotiation topic in foreign relations as the “One China” policy emphasizes the recognition of the island as an integral part of its territory instead of a separate sovereign state. This policy is the central pillar of bilateral diplomatic relations with China.
The complex dynamics shaping countries’ perceptions and interactions with China have shifted Europe’s future standpoint, leaning towards a more assertive approach. As Europe redefines its relationship with China, the balance between reciprocity and market access, and strategic cooperation in climate change will shape the continent’s strategy moving forward. In any event, Europe’s future relations on China promises to be more stick, less carrot.
Expulsion of Diplomats further Cripples Russian-German bilateral ties
Russia and Germany have cross-haired relations as both disagreed on many policy issues, the latest on Russia-Ukraine crisis. The bilateral relations has dived down to its lowest level, especially with imposition of sanctions and expulsion of diplomats.
Reports said hundreds working for Germany in Russia had to quit employment and leave the country. Hundreds of civil servants and local employees working for German institutions in Russia would need to leave the country or lose their jobs in the coming days following an order by Moscow, Germany’s foreign ministry said May 27.
Those affected include teachers, as well as other employees of schools and the Goethe Institute, and is necessary to maintain the right balance for Germany’s diplomatic presence, said the person, who described the number affected as at least 100.
Starting from June, Russia will slash the number of people that Germany can employ in its embassies or institutions in Russia in the education and cultural sectors, the ministry said.
Several hundred people are affected, including officials from the embassy and consulate, but mostly employees of the Goethe cultural institute in the country, German schools, nurseries and teachers working in Russian schools, it added.
Both German and local Russian employees are affected, the ministry said, without giving precise figures on each category of staff. German employees will have to quit the country by June 1.
Russian employees should not be required to leave the country, but will lose their jobs since German institutions will no longer be able to employ them, the ministry said – clarifying initial indications the locals would have to leave too.
The news was first revealed in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which spoke of a “diplomatic declaration of war by Moscow” against Berlin. “This is a unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision,” the German foreign ministry said in a statement.
A close economic partner with Russia before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Germany has since moved away from Moscow, financially and militarily supporting Kyiv in the conflict. Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Russian espionage in Germany has grown at a rate rarely equalled in recent years, according to German security services.
In mid-April, Germany expelled a number of Russian diplomats “to reduce the presence of intelligence services” which prompted a tit-for-tat response from Moscow which booted out some 20 German embassy staff.
The Russian foreign ministry in April set a ceiling for the number of German diplomats and representatives of public organisations allowed to stay in Russia or be employed by German institutions, the German foreign ministry said.
“This limit set by Russia from the beginning of June implies major cuts in all areas of (Germany’s) presence in Russia,” the ministry said. German authorities have tried in recent weeks to get the Russian ministry to reverse its decision, but without success, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said.
Berlin will aim to ensure “a real balance” in its response, the foreign ministry said. In spring 2022, Germany already expelled some 40 Russian diplomats which Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.
Before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Russia was Germany’s main supplier of gas and a major supplier of oil. However Germany stopped supplies and has since become one of the biggest providers of arms and financial support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, souring relations which had been warming over decades.
Last October, the head of Germany’s cybersecurity agency, Arne Schoenbohm, was fired after news reports revealed his proximity to a cybersecurity consultancy believed to have contacts with Russian intelligence services. A month later, a German reserve officer was handed a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia.
Relations between Russia and Germany, which used to be the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, have broken down since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the West responded with sanctions and weapons supplies.
Earlier on May 26, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the ambassadors of Germany, Sweden and Denmark to protest over what it said was the “complete lack of results” in an investigation to identify who blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year.
Several unexplained underwater explosions ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and newly built Nord Stream 2 pipelines that link Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea in September 2022. The blasts occurred in the economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. Both countries say the explosions were deliberate, but have yet to determine who was responsible. The two countries as well as Germany are investigating the incident.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement accused all three of deliberately dragging their feet and trying to conceal who was behind the blasts. It said it was unhappy about what it called the opaque nature of the investigation and its refusal to engage with Russia.
“It has been noted that these countries are not interested in establishing the true circumstances of this sabotage. On the contrary, they are delaying their efforts and trying to conceal the tracks and the true perpetrators of the crime behind which we believe are well-known countries,” it said.
“It is no coincidence that ‘leaked’ improbable versions (of what happened) are dumped in the media to try to muddy the waters,” it said. The Danish foreign ministry confirmed that its ambassador had been summoned, and said authorities in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden were continuing their investigations.
“Denmark has been providing ongoing updates to Russia regarding the investigation’s progress and responding to their inquiries. We will continue to do so,” the ministry said. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have called the incident “an act of sabotage.” Moscow has blamed the West. Neither side has provided evidence.
Several reports show that Kremlin’s leadership is taking hysterical actions to secure it sovereignty and territorial integrity. Its actions aim at protecting the statehood. Germany, Denmark and Sweden are not the only countries with locked-horns with Russia. It has policy differences with entire European Union and and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Genocide, Serbia and the Ukraine War: Geopolitics Matters
The Serbia genocide, commonly known as the Bosnian genocide or Srebrenica massacre, is considered one of the heinous vestiges of ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts led by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and Scorpions paramilitary group. Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, has become notorious as the site of one of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, which took place in July 1995 during the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995. By the way, in the Bosnian case of genocide, it is discerned that geopolitics played a crucial role in which NATO and the West were wholly against the Bosnian Serbs since they broke international law and repudiated the decisions of NATO for maintaining a no-fly zone in Bosnia, while Russia has been in a shrewd stance due to their identical similarities and geopolitical interests of thwarting the influence of the West.
Over the years, Serbia has been maintaining a strong alliance with Russia. However, Aleksandar Vucic, the president of Serbia is strategically hedging between both the West–NATO and EU– and Russia, retaining a close rapport with Moscow, at the same time, gradually improving its ties with the West. On one side, Vučić claims to have a genuine interest in joining the EU and encouraging regional integration via schemes like ‘Open Balkan’, on the other hand, the country continues to reject calls from the West for imposing sanctions against Russia and cutting ties with the country. Despite its pro-Russian leanings, this Balkan nation claims neutrality in the Ukraine war and promises to join the EU.
With regard to the notable developments in the Balkan region, the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Brussels comes up with a very critical inquiry. The country, which has been carrying the blemish of one of the most notorious genocidal and violent acts in human history, is nowadays considered to be an ally of the West. Why are NATO and the EU becoming closer to the Balkan country while it maintains intimacy with Russia and is accused of conducting the infamous Bosnian genocide? The Western nations which had played a robust role in ensuring the penalty of Serbian leaders like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic, forgetting and wiping out history, why is the West now keen on developing ties with Serbia? The clear-cut and outspoken answer is–the Ukraine war and the geopolitical interests of the West in the Balkan region.
A Synopsis of the Bosnian Genocide
After 40 years of coexistence under Yugoslavia’s communist rule, things started to shift as the nation began to implode in the early 1990s, coinciding with the fall of communism. After Serbia’s provinces of Croatia and Slovenia gained independence, a conflict broke out between the two countries and Serbia. Previously peaceful neighbours turned on one other and took up guns as racial tensions came to light. Slobodan Miloevic’s Serbia attacked a secessionist Bosnia under the pretence of “freeing” Serbian Orthodox Christians residing in Bosnia. Serbia began its ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Bosnian land in April 1992, with the deliberate expulsion of all Bosnian Muslims, often known as Bosniaks. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was encircled by Serbian and ethnic Bosnian Serb forces armed with weapons from the former Yugoslavia. Thousands of Bosniaks were forced into torture cells, and concentration camps, in which they were subjected to torture, starvation, and murder at the hands of the camp guards and other inmates.
Sarajevo, Goradze, and Srebrenica, along with other Muslim enclaves, were designated as safe zones in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council and assigned to be guarded by UN forces. However, in one of these regions—Srebrenica—Serbs perpetrated the worst murder in Europe since WWII in July 1995. About 8,000 Muslims were jailed and executed, while 23,000 women, children, and the elderly were horridly tortured and oppressed. In 1994, NATO launched air strikes on Bosnian Serbs in an effort to put an end to the violence. However, more than 160 people have been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague since the conclusion of the war. There have been convictions of Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, with the preponderance of accusations being levelled against Serbians and Bosnian Serbs. The Serbian top leaders like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic were charged with conducting ‘genocide, mass killing and crimes against humanity.’
Bosnian Genocide and Serbia’s Rift with the West
The genocide marked the height of the brutal Bosnian War, significantly squeezing the relationship between Serbia and the Western world, particularly with NATO and the EU. During the Bosnian War, which stemmed from the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO assumed a pivotal role in attempting to mitigate the crisis. Initially, NATO imposed a ‘no-fly zone’ in Bosnia to prevent the Serbian air force from conducting airstrikes on civilian targets. However, as the situation escalated, NATO’s involvement expanded to include air campaigns against Bosnian Serb military installations and infrastructure. Operation Deliberate Force, a concentrated NATO bombing campaign, was instrumental in pressuring the Bosnian Serbs into accepting a peace agreement. Therefore, the Bosnian Genocide caused a sea change in how the West saw Serbia and hence, resulted in the deterioration in ties between Serbia and the West.
The extent and cruelty of the genocide startled the world, prompting worldwide criticism of Serbia’s conduct. Reports of torture, rape, and forced relocation, together with the systematic death of thousands of innocent people, sparked widespread anger and cries for justice. Recognizing the genocide as a breach of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide severely damaged Serbia’s reputation abroad. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) came into being as a direct result of the genocide and several high-ranking Serbian politicians and military officers faced charges of war crimes and genocide. As a result, Serbia’s ties to the West and NATO were severely strained after the 1995 Bosnian Genocide.
The Bosnian Genocide and Serbia’s Rapport with Russia: A Geopolitical Viewpoint
During the time of Soviet involvement in the Balkans, connections between Serbia and Russia were strengthened further, but it is important to remember that both countries are significant Slavic states with a long history of cooperation. However, Slobodan Milosevic, the former nationalist leader of the Republic of Serbia, aimed to centralize authority among ethnic Serbs throughout the newly independent republics. Serbian forces pursued acts of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbian populations, resulting in the tragic loss of thousands of lives. In this respect, Russia has pursued subtle policy toward Serbia due to the two countries’ common Slavic culture, religious faith and more importantly, geopolitical interests of the country in the Balkan region.
Regarding this development, geopolitical factors have significantly played a critical role in moulding this relationship as Russia wanted to maintain its global clout in the Balkans and counteract the growing EU and NATO involvement there. Russia had been in the position of favouring political and diplomatic assistance to Serbia throughout the genocide and used its veto power multiple times to prevent stronger international penalties on Serbia at the United Nations Security Council. It is also worth noting that Russia’s backing for Serbia was not constant; there were times when they encouraged Miloevi to call off military operations and negotiate peace. However, Officials in Russia, on the other hand, have said that their backing was motivated by a desire to head off a Western intervention that they think would have only made things worse. Some academics argue that Russia’s backing unintentionally aided in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding to the complexity of this relationship.
The Ukraine War and the Shift in the Serbia-West Relationship: Geopolitics Matters
Serbia has not been a grim enemy of the West, nor an eternal friend of Russia, rather different regimes in the country tried to balance both powers. Things remarkably started shifting after Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009 while continuing its moral support for Russia in every aspect of world politics. In this regard, the recent developments given rise by the Ukraine war are gradually heading Serbia to be a closer ally of the EU, although the country did not impose any embargo on Russia and is still maintaining a sound rapport with Putin. Since Vucic’s ascension to power a decade ago, Serbia has pretended to be on neither Russia’s nor the EU’s side. He has effectively used the rivalry between the two groups to bolster Serbia’s position in negotiations over energy, security, and EU membership, and to keep five EU nations to prolong their recognition of Kosovo. Serbia, the largest receiver of EU assistance in the Balkans and a leading candidate to join the EU by 2025, has benefited greatly from this strategy.
But the intriguing matter is the West is now craving for becoming a stronger and time-tested ally of the Balkan country. Is not it very thought-provoking to experience the moral shift of the West? The EU and NATO, which have always been vocal against Serbia regarding the Bosnian genocide, are now gradually pursuing closer ties due to the rise of geopolitical dynamics posed by the Ukraine war. Although the Balkan country has long been awaiting EU membership for its geopolitical interests, the West also nowadays seems to be more inquisitive in seizing the geopolitical interests in the region. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union is now more aware of the importance of the Western Balkans and the potential that Moscow could leverage against the West. The EU, however, has exhibited fewer concerns and pursued a policy of distancing itself from the Balkans for years. In this respect, the Ukraine war is working out as a catalyst factor to make the parties feel the need of strengthening the ties with a view to securing geopolitical interests in the Balkan region keeping aside all the previous stains imposed on the country. In a nutshell, geopolitical matters have become the core drivers to bring about the shift, in which the moral stance of the West regarding the genocide, is likely to be lost to the geopolitical gains of them in the region.
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