Ukraine’s recent provocation in the Black Sea has become another pretext for unraveling the Yalta system of international institutions and legal accords, which has been actively and openly done since 2014. Before that, it was Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, a bungled attempt to do the same in Syria, as well as a series of “color revolutions,” orchestrated in close vicinity of the Russian borders, including the so-called “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine.
In Ukraine, however, these attempts hit another snag after Crimea reunited with Russia, southwestern Ukraine rebelled against Kiev’s nationalist ideology and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics were declared as a culmination of the disintegration processes set forth by Maidan. These attempts have equally failed in Syria after President Bashar Assad asked for military assistance from Russia and, in August 2015, signed an agreement to deploy Russian military aircraft in Syria in line with the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation that the Soviet Union and the Syrian Arab Republic inked in October 8, 1980.
Fully aware of the failure of previous attempts to use limited troop contingents in different parts of the globe, the West in general and the US in particular, were very skeptical about the success of the Russian military mission in Syria. Still, backed by the Russian Air Force group, quickly deployed in the country, the Syrian army took a mere two years to turn the course of the war all around.
Since 2004, the Ukrainian leadership has been diligently kowtowing to some Western powers’ attempts to dismantle the system of international agreements and the balance of forces existing since the end of World War II and, therefore, has ceased to be an independent one. Kiev is trying hard to put its self-serving interests in the context of the general political line of its Western patrons. To this end, Kiev is doing everything possible to give the West a reason to impose sanctions on Russia and to further exacerbate tensions between Moscow and the West. One of the results of the recent provocation in the Black Sea was the cancellation of President Vladimir Putin’s planned meeting with US President Donald Trump in Argentina, and the introduction of martial law in some Ukrainian regions.
Speaking of recent history, squeezing the Russian Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol and the creation of a NATO naval base there was one of the much anticipated and planned outcomes the “Revolution of Dignity.” Ukraine’s plans to join NATO alienated the country’s mutinous southeast, and Crimea’s rejoining Russia put “paid” to Brussels’ dreams of setting up a base on the peninsula.
However, even though the “Ukrainian project” in its original sense fell flat, the strategic goals haven’t gone anywhere. It’s been decided to keep up pressure on Russia with a plan dubbed “Azov tension,” whose implementation very curiously coincided with the completion of the construction of the automobile section of the Crimean Bridge.
Did the provocation in the Black Sea come as a surprise for the Russian military and diplomats? By no means, because the Western actions being taken as part of Operation “Azov tension” were too obvious to ignore. In an interview given on November 23, on the eve of the provocation, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that “… the Azov [incident] was intentionally injected into the information space. The Kiev regime, in coordination with its foreign mentors and patrons, has found another anti-Russian theme created from scratch. Moscow has recently been facing a series of unwarranted accusations of allegedly engaging in some illegal actions in the Sea of Azov. This should have been expected though, because now that the issue of Crimea as an instrument of pressure on Russia has lost its acuteness, they need a new pretext, and the Azov [incident] has been chosen as exactly such a pretext.”
The November 25 provocation in the Black Sea unfolded against the backcloth of frequent flights by US reconnaissance aircraft, and served as an excuse for increasing the number of NATO military observers in the Black Sea region. This is evidenced by the following chronology:
- On October 8, US Air Force and Navy planes flew many hours of reconnaissance flights off the coast of Crimea and Krasnodar Region (the RQ-4A Global Hawk strategic drone cruised from Crimea’s westernmost tip along its southwestern and southern coasts, near the Kerch Strait and further along the entire length of Krasnodar Region, all the way to Sochi). Almost simultaneously, a P-8A Poseidon US Navy anti-submarine patrol plane flew along the Russian coast from Sevastopol to Novorossiisk in close vicinity of Russia’s sea border on the Black Sea.
- On November 5, it was reported that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet had intercepted and escorted a US EP-3 Aries reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea.
- On December 2, a US Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk strategic UAV flew a second, eight-hour, reconnaissance mission off Russia’s Black Sea coast, cruising near Crimea, the Kerch Strait and Kuban Region.
- On December 4, two American reconnaissance aircraft, an RC-135V strategic reconnaissance plane and an EP-3E Aries II long-range electronic reconnaissance aircraft, flew for many hours off the coast of Crimea, near the Kerch Strait and Krasnodar Region.
This may not be the most detailed chronology, but it is still enough to understand the amount of attention paid to the region ahead of and after the November 25 Ukrainian provocation in order to gauge the reaction of the Russian Navy.
The following statements further clarify the US strategy in the Black Sea region:
- Speaking during the International Conference on Maritime Security in Kiev on November 29, Ukraine’s top naval commander, Igor Voronchenko, said that “due to the Russian ships’ aggression against Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov, Ukraine will insist that passage through the Bosphorus in Turkey be closed to Russia.”
- On December 3, US Senator John Barrasso proposed sending US ships to the Black Sea and “have NATO do it as well” to present “a forceful response” to Russia. He also called “to give [Ukraine]anti-aircraft [weapons] and give them weapons also in terms of anti-ship.”
To better understand the situation in the region, one should consider Turkey’s position on this issue. Ankara claims regional leadership, is actively involved in the Syrian conflict, is a member of NATO, has been included the US program of supplying the latest F-35 fighter jets, is building the Turkish Stream pipeline and a nuclear power station with Russia and is buying the latest S-400 missile systems from Moscow. Diverse and multidirectional as Ankara’s interests are, its close cooperation with Russia still makes Turkey a stabilizing factor in the Black Sea region. This is evidenced by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offer made on November 29 to act as a go-between in resolving the incident in the Black Sea. He also discussed the initiative with the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
It seems, however, that neither Erdogan’ proposal, nor his independent position on arms purchases resonate with the US strategy in this region. In view of Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia and the planned supplies of F-35 fighter jets from the US, Washington has told Ankara that it must make a choice whether it stays with the West or sides with Russia. In response, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Janikli dismissed as unacceptable the US demand that his country should not go ahead with the purchase of S-400 missiles as a condition for getting F-35 fighters.
Ukraine’s call to close the Bosphorus to Russian ships is also an attempt to make Turkey decide whose side it is on. This proves once again that executing foreign instructions to the detriment of their own country’s long-term interests, is now topmost on the minds of the big shots in Kiev, who have neither a development strategy or any vision of their country’s future. By subordinating itself to the will of others, Kiev stays the course of breaking off ties with Russia and setting the stage for new anti-Russian sanctions. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has already announced the cancellation of 40 bilateral agreements with Russia. On November 30, Ukraine lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights about the incident in the Black Sea. On December 3, President Petro Poroshenko submitted for parliamentary approval a proposal to terminate a treaty of friendship with Russia. The Ukrainian president also said that Kiev was going to lodge a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice to make Russia liable for the “recent act of aggression” in the Black Sea.
Well, a provocateur’s place in history has never been an enviable one. People usually forget his name the very moment his mission is over.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers
Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv. In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.
The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.
Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.
It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.
They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!
Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?
The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.
A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.
One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.
The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.
Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.
First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.
Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.
Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.
Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.
The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.
The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.
Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.
But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.
The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.
Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.
Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.
This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank
Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia
Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.
On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.
But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”
For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.
In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.
That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.
A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.
It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.
Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.
One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.
It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.
Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.
The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.
To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.
Author’s note: first published at cepa
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