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Vladimir Putin in Serbia: Brotherhood and geopolitics

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President Vladimir Putin visited Serbia on January 17, making his first official trip to Serbia since 2014 and fourth since coming to power. Several-hour program was marked by the signing of more than twenty agreements. Also, contracts were signed to such areas as nuclear energy, space exploration, as well as digital technology, innovation and investments in high-tech and strategic areas. In particular, parties signed a Joint Statement on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Serbia on the construction of the Center for Nuclear Science. However, the key issue of the Russian-Serbian summit talks was energy issues. Instead of the South Stream gas pipeline project, which was actually blocked by the West, Russia successfully builds the Turkish Stream pipeline, one of which is designed to supply Russian gas further to Europe. Serbia is objectively interested in becoming a key regional player in the system of transit of Russian gas further towards Central Europe. Moscow is ready to invest 1.4 billion dollars in expanding the infrastructure necessary for laying the Turkish Stream gas pipeline in Serbia. As part of the Russian-Serbian negotiations, an agreement was reached on additional investments in the amount of 230 million euros for the reconstruction of the local railway with a length of 210 kilometers by RZD, as well as in the construction of centralized operation centre, which will control all rail traffic in Serbia.

Mutual trade is growing, and  in 2017 it amounted around 2 billion dollars and continued to increase last year. Russian investments in the Serbian economy exceeded $ 4billion. Cooperation with the concern Gazprom Neft allowed the Oil Industry of Serbia company to become a leader in the energy market of the Balkan region. Export of Russian natural gas to Serbia have increased and Gazprom company is planning to increase them even more with plans to expand the capacities of the Banatski Dvor storage facility as well as the gas pipeline network in Serbia. Total Russian investments in Serbia in the next two years could reach $ 500 million, Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, said. Also, Russian president said they discussed military cooperation between two countries.

President Putin had separate meetings with Serb politicians from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. He met with Republika Srpska president Zeljka Cvijanovic and Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency President Milorad Dodik and with the leaders of the strongest opposition party in Montenegro – Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic.

Vladimir Putin awarded Aleksandar Vucic with the Order of Alexander Nevsky, and they jointly visited both the graveyard of the Russian soldiers who participated in the liberation of Belgrade during the Second World War, and the city’s largest Temple dedicated to Saint Sava, where they put the final pieces in a new mosaic. The city was ornamented with Russian and Serbian flags. During the joint press conference, Russian president reflected on the normalization process between Serbia and Kosovo, emphasizing that Russia supports a mutually acceptable solution of Belgrade and Pristina, but based on the UN Resolution 1244. President Putin stated, that Kosovo’s authorities have recently undertaken provocative actions that have further undermined the regional stability, such as establishing the Armed Forces. ”The Resolution 1244 does not allow the existence of any armed formations in Kosovo except for the United Nations contingency. We share the concerns of Serbia, because we know that these steps lead to instability in the Balkans. Our support will continue.”, stated Putin. Russia’s President pointed out that trade of goods between Serbia and Russia has reached the value of two billion Euros, while the procurement of natural gas is also on the rise.

Situation on the ground

The main reasons for the visit of Vladimir Putin to Belgrade were to agree on Serbia’s entry into the free trade area with the Eurasian Economic Union, arrange further military-technical cooperation, and ensure Serbia’s determination to participate in the Turkish Stream project. It is clear that under the rule of Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia will not enter into free trade with Eurasian Economic Union, while Russian energy projects are supported. One of the main reasons why Aleksandar Vucic received the Order of Alexander Nevsky is the military – security cooperation, which during the rule of Alexander Vucic significantly improved. Serbia received six fighter jets “MIG 29” from Russia, and in accordance with the military-technical  cooperation with Belarus, this year four fighter jets “MIG 29” will be delivered. And together with the four Serbian fighter jets “MIG 29” will be sent for modernization to Russia, so Serbia will have a squadron of fighter jets equipped with modern weapons and radars. The upgrade process will cost around 185 million euros. Also, according to announcements, Serbia has already signed contracts with Russia worth around 280 million euros for the purchase of four MI-35M combat helicopters, three Mi-17 B5 transport helicopters and also for Pantsir-S1 self-propelled, medium range surface-to-air missile system.

However, Serbia has much stronger cooperation with the West. Serbia concluded with NATO an Individual Partnership Plan (IPAP) in 2015, according to which NATO received the right to use the Serbian infrastructure. Today, in Serbia personnel of NATO member countries have the opportunity to move freely throughout Serbian territory and have diplomatic immunity. From 2012 to 2017 Serbia held 98 military exercises with NATO and only 12 with Russia. Exercise “Serbia 2018” was the largest NATO civilian exercise in history of the Alliance, which was held from 8 to 11 October in Serbia. Around 2,000 participants from 38 countries practiced wide range of emergency responses. Maintaining such a large exercise in Serbia, was a direct provocation of Russia, because Russian Humanitarian Center in Nis is intended for elementary disasters and emergency situations. Also in January is expected the adoption of the new Individual partnership action plan (IPAP). The draft of the agreement has been submitted to NATO officials and their answers is the only thing left, stated head of delegation to NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly and a member of the Security Services Control Board  Dragan Sormaz. During  2018, Serbian army took part in two major NATO-exercises as an observer, and Serbian soldiers were engaged in ten exercises which were organized or participated by NATO member countries. At the same time, employees of the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in the city of Nis did not received diplomatic immunity.

In a visit to Belgrade in April 2017, the late Senator John McCain noted that the United States is Serbia’s most important defense partner with the two countries engaging in ninety joint military activities per year. And most importantly, the NATO Liaison Office in Belgrade is located in the building of the Serbian Defense Ministry, just one floor beneath the office of the defense minister. Another project of the Serbian government, which attracts the attention is the announced construction of a highway between Serbian city of Nis, Kosovo’s Pristina and Albania’s Durres, so that Serbia could get its harbor on the Adriatic. However, why would Serbia need highway to port in Durres, when Serbia has port of Bar in Montenegro. Especially having in mind that a lot of Serbs live in Bar, as well as throughout Montenegro. The answer is simple, the highway Nis – Pristina – Durres is needed by NATO troops, for a better and safer move to Bulgaria, in case of disabling the passage of NATO ships through Bosphorus.

In terms of economic cooperation, things are also clear, the value of Serbian-Russian trade has indeed increased to over 2 billion euros, but the value of Serbian trade with EU is around 11 times larger-almost 25 billion, and 63% of Serbia’s foreign trade is with the EU countries. When Aleksandar Vucic praise how he refused Western pressure to impose sanctions against Russia, that is only because of the Serbian nation and the majority of its voters. When he would officially introduced sanctions to Russia, he would turn the majority of the Serbian people against him. Even though agriculture is the biggest development chance of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic did not allow Serbia to enter seriously on the big Russian market in 2014, at that time, Aleksandar Vucic refused to grant state grants to Serbian farmers.

Bearing in mind the popularity of Vladimir Putin in Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic wanted to use President Putin’s visit for his personal political interests, as a response to the weekly protests against him that have been going since the beginning of December. The ruling party has organized transport of many of its members from across the country to greet Putin and politicaly exploit his arrival. The participiants were carrying the banner titled “One of the 300 million”( there’s a saying among Serbs “Us and Russians 300 million“ although that number is actually much smaller), which was an obvious reference to the title of the protests against Aleksandar Vucic, which is “One of the five million”. Vucic planned that Putin would address the people in front of the Temple of Saint Sava, sending a message that Russia supports Alexander Vucic’s policy. President Putin rejected that. Vladimir Putin addressed the people in front of the Temple of Saint Sava with the words in serbian: “Thank you for your friendship!”

Conclusion

Vladimir Putin in Belgrade was greeted by more than 120 000 people. In addition, he is the most popular politician in Serbia. It’s hard to find an example that more than 120,000 people in a European country are gathered on the streets of the capital to welcome the president of another country. The statement by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that Russia will support any Belgrade-Pristina agreement within the framework of Resolution 1244, is encouraging. That is exactly what must be the basis of Russian policy towards the current Serbian authorities. Because in the case of the acceptance of Aleksandar Vucic’s plan to divide Serbs and Albanians, the consequences for Serbia would be catastrophic. It is in the interest of Russia that its main ally in the Balkans become economically and demographically strong, but under the rule of Alexander Vucic things are going in the other direction. This primarily refers to demography.  Around 60 000 people leave Serbia per year, while around 40 000 die more than it is born. In other words, Serbia decreases annually for nearly 100 000 people. These are the results of the Aleksandar Vucic’s rule.

Russia needs a new strategy towards Serbia. Russian investments, which in addition to the energy sector, should also focus on Serbian agriculture. By investing in Serbian agriculture, Russia would significantly strengthen its position in Serbia and economically strengthen Serbia. Vladimir Putin’s visit has also shown the strengthening of russophobia by NGOs funded by the West. A situation similar to that with Montenegro. In Montenegro, the absolute majority of the population advocated brotherly relations with Russia, and in all polls, the majority of the population was opposed to joining NATO. However, the West has enabled the creation of an authoritarian system in Montenegro, led by Milo Djukanovic, which with undemocratic methods, has brought Montenegro into NATO. Almost the same is now done with Serbia. Aleksandar Vucic, who runs with methods almost identical to Milo Djukanovic, is a person who fulfilled or wanted to fulfill all the strategic requirements of the West. How willing he can go in that direction could be seen when the Serbian Orthodox Church openly opposed his plan of division with the Albanians. Then, direct attacks by the media in Serbia, as well as members of his government, were launched to the Serbian Orthodox Church. In line with the above, it is necessary to enable the opening of the pro-Russian television with national frequency in Serbia, to strengthen pro-Russian NGO movements, to strengthen local patriotic movements. A mistake similar to that with Milo Djukanovic, must not be repeated.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces

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photo: Alaattin Doğru - Anadolu Agency

I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.

The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.

In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events. 

From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset. 

I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it. 

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