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How Ukraine’s War Is to Be Settled: Zelenskiy, Crimea, and Donbass

Eric Zuesse

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On April 30th, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission announced that after the final voting tabulations (which included more than 13% of Ukrainians living abroad), Volodmyr Zelensky had beaten the sitting President, Petro Poroshenko, by a vote of 73.22% to 24.45%. The biggest single issue that Ukraine’s new President will be dealing with is going to be whether to continue, or to end, Ukraine’s war against its two break-away regions, Crimea in the extreme south, and Donbass in the far east.

Ukraine’s ‘civil’ war had started in late February 2014, when the United States’ longstanding efforts at regime-change in that country (in order to install an anti-Russian government in the European country that has the longest border with Russia) finally succeeded. These efforts succeeded there in much the same way that the U.S. regime’s efforts at regime-change in 1953 Iran did, and that the U.S. regime’s efforts at regime-change in 1954 Guatemala did, and that the U.S. regime’s efforts at regime-change in 1973 Chile did: by means of a bloody coup. In each case, the U.S. coup replaced an existing democracy and it installed instead a fascist dictatorship, which was promptly followed by a ‘civil war’ when the U.S.-installed dictatorship targeted for extermination and/or expulsion the leaders and voters for that overthrown democracy. In each of these coup-cases, the first task of the newly installed dictatorship was to eliminate enough of the voters who had voted for and backed the democracy, so that any future ‘elections’ would install only other fascists and thereby continue that government as being a U.S. vassal-nation.

A month before Zelenskiy’s April 23rd electoral win, UAWire headlined on March 23rd, “Front-runner in Ukraine’s election race names condition for returning Crimea”, and reported that Zelenskiy had suddenly made the radical statement: “Crimea will return only when power changes in Russia. There is no other choice.” This view accepted the likelihood that Crimea would remain as a part of Russia (which it had been for hundreds of years until 1954 when the Ukrainian Nikita Khruschev, as the Soviet dictator, arbitrarily gifted it from Russia to his own homeland). Zelenskiy’s statement directly contradicted the view that Ukraine’s Government had emphatically stated ever since the U.S. Government’s successful February 2014 coup (which was hidden behind massive grassroots anti-corruption demonstrations at Kiev’s Maidan Square) replaced Ukraine’s neutralist, simultaneously pro-Western and pro-Russian, Government, by the present rabidly anti-Russian U.S.-imposed regime. This U.S.-installed regime promised, repeatedly and consistently, that it would invade and conquer Crimea, and would thereby restore it to Ukraine, as Crimea had been, from 1954 to 2014.

That UAWire report also quoted Zelenskiy’s remark about the other breakaway region from Ukraine, Donbass: “Residents of Donbas should ‘realize that they are Ukrainians,’ stressed Zelensky.” This too constituted a radical break away from the U.S.-imposed Ukrainian Government’s repeated promises (which U.S. President Barack Obama had strongly supported) to retake Donbass by force — not by any means of convincing Donbassers about anything. The American regime’s view was that the residents of Crimea and of Donbass should have no say in whether or not they are to be ruled by Ukraine’s Government. 

None of the other candidates in the Presidential contest veered apart from the U.S.-installed regime’s consistent line of war against Russia and of retaking both Crimea and Donbass. All of them promised victory against Russia.

Zelenskiy thus won this election as the peace-candidate in the race. Ukrainians had finally become sick and tired of being at war against Russia, and that’s the main meaning of Zelenskiy’s enormous 73% win.

This victory by Zelenskiy represented actually the will not of the U.S. regime, but of the EU regime, which had never been quite as eager as the U.S. regime was to conquer Russia. On March 15th, France’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Isabel Dumont, communicating privately to Ukraine’s then-existing Government. Writing on behalf of all seven of the G7 Ambassadors, she warned Ukraine’s far-right Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, that “the G7 group is concerned by extreme political movements in Ukraine.” Those “extreme political movements in Ukraine” were Ukraine’s two racist-fascist, or ideologically nazi, political parties, Svoboda and Right Sector, both of which had provided the shock-troops, which had worked for the U.S. regime during the coup, and which subsequently led in the new regime’s ethnic-cleansing campaign to kill as many as possible of the residents in Donbass. (90% of the Donbass voters had voted for the Ukrainian President that Obama overthrew.) America’s Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty headlined, on March 22nd, about the March 15th G7 statement, “G7 Letter Takes Aim At Role Of Violent Extremists In Ukrainian Society, Election”. This reported that the G7’s concern referred specifically to “products of the Azov Battalion.” That battalion is (though RFERL carefully ignored the fact) a self-organized blatantly white-supremacist Ukrainian organization of members both of Svoboda and of Right Sector. Azov’s founder and leader, Andrei Biletsky (or “Beletsky”), calls his movement “Ukrainian Social Nationalism,” and he has laid out in writing its program as “racial purification of the Nation” and specifically as being a return to “old Ukrainian Aryan values forgotten in modern society.” His followers had, under Obama (during and since the coup), powerfully helped to install the far-right post-coup regime, which regime now possibly could finally end — Obama’s coup in Ukraine thus to become terminated in abject failure (which it actually already is) and perhaps ultimately even to become abandoned by the Europeans. So: Zelenskiy will need will need to be very concerned with what the EU’s leadership wants. If Ukraine now were to lose the EU’s continued support, it would become totally isolated.

The EU’s new position on Ukraine is decidedly less American than it had formerly been. It’s no longer much respecting the U.S. regime. It falls more into line with what Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has advocated for and helped to negotiate for in the Minsk accords (which the U.S. regime refused to particiate in). He wants Donbassers to be restored again into the electorate of the Ukrainian Government, but only in a way which those people themselves participate in helping to shape — and not (as the U.S. regime has constantly championed) by means of coercion: by military force (war).

Here is how Russia’s position on Donbass evolved into this fixed and steady policy:

On 19 September 2014, I headlined “Russia’s Leader Putin Rejects Ukrainian Separatists’ Aim to Become Part of Russia”, and reported the momentous news that Putin had finally decided not to allow the former Ukraine’s far-eastern Donbass region to be admitted into the Russian Federation, in any such way as he had, just a half-year before, on 16 March 2014, allowed Crimea in — simply by means of a majority-vote of the residents there to abandon Ukraine and to join Russia.

Then, a year later, on 12 September 2015, I bannered “U.S.-Installed Ukrainian Regime Now Fears Return of Donbass to Ukraine”, and reported that, and explained why, “for Ukraine to re-absorb the breakaway region, Donbass (its two districts Donetsk and Lugansk), back into Ukraine, would be politically disastrous, unless the residents there are eliminated.”

The reason for that “politically disastrous” was made clear by the voting-map for the 2010 Ukrainian Presidential election, which election had been won by the Presidential candidate who had advocated for Ukraine to have cordial relations both with Russia to the east and with the European Union and the U.S. to the west: Viktor Yanukovych. (The voting percentages for him are indicated on that map as the places that voted for “Janukovych”). The dark-purple part of that voting-map indicates the areas where Yanukovych had won by 90% or higher, which was the highest support in all of Ukraine, and almost all of the dark purple area is in Donbass. This is the reason why the Obama-installed regime wanted to eliminate those people. They could vote out-of-office Obama’s Ukrainian regime. So: if those voters aren’t permanently eliminated from Ukraine (or ethnically cleansed from Ukraine), then the U.S. regime’s control over Ukraine’s Government won’t be able to last long, and probably won’t even survive beyond the next Ukrainian elections. In other words: the U.S.-installed Ukrainian regime depends, for its very existence, not only upon the U.S. regime, but also upon eliminating from any future Ukrainian election the voters who live in Donbass. That’s the reason why “U.S.-Installed Ukrainian Regime Now Fears Return of Donbass to Ukraine”. At least between the time of ther U.S. coup and Zelenskiy’s win, Ukraine’s regime demanded the land in Crimea and in Donbass, but with the voters there either dead or gone as refugees to Russia — but definitley not participating in future Ukrainian elections.

Only in this light can the recently reaffirmed news that Putin wants the residents of Donbass to become Ukrainians again, become correctly understood: Putin doesn’t want a U.S.-stooge-regime to be ruling next door in Ukraine. He wants those pro-Russian residents to be voting in Ukraine, and he has no need for them to be added to Russia’s electorate. Their presence in Ukraine’s electorate reduces Ukraine’s anti-Russia policies, and thereby increases Russia’s safety. So: this is what Putin wants.

Thus, on 19 April 2019, Reuters headlined “Putin’s INTERVIEW-ally advised the new president of Ukraine to agree with Moscow and reclaim the Territory” of Donbass, and reported that a Ukrainian legislator who serves as a rare negotiator between Ukraine and Russia, “Viktor Medvedchuk, a significant figure of the Ukrainian pro-Russian opposition,” is urging Ukraine’s newly elected President, Vladimir Zelenskiy, to negotiate with Putin the return of Donbass to Ukraine. The article closed by saying, of Medvedchuk, that:

his party “opposition platform-for life”, which occupies the second place according to the polls, may be ready to cooperate with Zelensky after the October parliamentary elections, But the decision will be taken for each individual case. Zelenskiy hinted that he would not want to join the coalition with the Medvedchuk party and did not say whether he would be ready to work with him on an ad hoc basis.

And, then, on 23 April 2019, UAWire headlined “Russia to offer Zelensky deal on gas and the Donbas”, and reported that:

Moscow sees a chance to improve relations with Ukraine following the outcome of the presidential elections in Ukraine, announced Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday as he commented on the results of the second round of voting after which 41-year-old Vladimir Zelensky won with over 70% of the vote. …

According to Medvedchuk, who had traveled to Moscow to meet with Putin and representatives of the Russian government two weeks ago, Moscow promises a 25 percent discount on gas if Ukraine agrees to resume direct purchases from Gazprom instead of reverse flow purchases from European countries as has been the case since 2015. …

Moscow’s main goal is to return the territories of the Donbas controlled by the pro-Russian militants to Kyiv on its own terms.

A deal on how to implement peace in the east of Ukraine can be reached “within a few months” and enforced within “six to eight months”, Medvedchuk said, adding that any negotiations on this issue should be conducted by Kyiv, Moscow and the two breakaway pro-Russian regions.

If Zelenskiy takes up Russia’s invitation, then the sticking-points will be:

Can ways be found that will persuade the residents of Donbass, whom the U.S.-imposed Ukrainian regime has been trying to exterminate and/or force to flee into neighboring Russia, to become again citizens of Ukraine? If, indeed, “any negotiations on this issue should be conducted by Kyiv, Moscow and the two breakaway pro-Russian regions,” then the residents in Donbass (who had voted around 90% for Yanukovych and since then were bombed and even firebombed by the U/S.-installed Ukrainian regime) would have a say in their own fates. How could they vote to become Ukrainians, after that — Ukraine’s war against  them? The inducements would have to be pretty strong.

Zelenskiy would, in that scenario, be seeking to absorb those voters back again into what would now be Zelenskiy’s own electorate, and therefore he would probably be voted out-of-office in his re-election campaign. Would he be willing to do such a thing? Well, if he were to be strong for Donbassers’ rights and for the Ukrainian Government’s protection of them, then maybe, because then he’d win Donbassers’ votes at least as much as Yanukovych did. That would be the end of Obama’s impact upon Ukraine.

Whereas, in The West, the war against Donbass is portrayed as Russia invading that part of (the former) Ukraine in order to ‘grab’ ‘another piece’ of its territory, the reality is that it’s an invasion there by the U.S.-installed Ukrainian regime in order to make sure that Donbass’s voters will never again be voting in any Ukrainian elections. One of the reasons that the publics in the U.S. international empire endorse their regimes’ aggressions against Russia — and against any nation’s leader (such as against Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Viktor Yanukovych, Hugo Chavez, and Bashar Assad) who is friendly toward Russia — is the rampant fraudulent headlines such as was epitomized in the 7 December 2018 The Week magazine, “Ukraine: Is Russia trying to take another chunk?” It’s hardly a free press in the sense that the empire’s propaganda says it is. It’s a deceit-machine. The publics within the empire are overwhelmingly deceived, especially about international relations (which is what’s necessary in order to be able to increase the empire).

CONCLUSIONS 

The Minsk accords and all the rest are now just PR. The residents in Donbass have become stranded between two governments — one which wants them dead or otherwise gone, and the other which doesn’t need them but which does whatever it can to help them to survive where they are, until they finally accept becoming again ruled from Kiev.

If I were to venture a guess as to what the outcome of this will be, it would be that Zelenskiy will give the war-weary residents both in Ukraine and in Donbass — and also the residents of Crimea, which Putin did accept into Russia — what they want, while Ukraine extracts from Gazprom and Russia whatever discounts they can get, in return for reducing Russia’s costs to maintain the people in Donbass. 

What will happen if that doesn’t? Maybe, long term, Donbass will be able to become admitted into Russia, without the U.S. regime and its allies invading Russia on the excuse of there having been ‘another land-seizure by the dangerous and aggressive Russian dictator Putin’ (or his successor). But, post-coup, Ukraine’s leaders need to satisfy the U.S. and its allies (now especially the EU), and so the U.S.-led group will then ultimately determine what Ukraine does regarding Donbass. 

Only if the U.S. too somehow gets a peace-President can Donbassers have peace. If Zelenskiy doesn’t follow through on the peace-path and the U.S. wants the war against Donbass to resume, then that’s what will happen: the war against Donbass will resume. 

A way needs to be found to restore Ukrainian voting rights and social services to Donbassers and yet to allow Donbassers to be protected by Russia against Ukraine’s nazis. It won’t happen unless there is a U.S. President who wants peace with Russia, instead of conquest of Russia. Zelensky said “Crimea will return only when power changes in Russia. There is no other choice.” But the reality is that Crimea will remain as a part of Russia, and that Donbass will return to Ukraine only if and when America’s Government finally and truly ends its side of the Cold War, which Russia’s side ended in 1991 while the U.S. side secretly continued on right into the present, aiming ultimately to conquer Russia.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Eastern Europe

Armenia-Iran: Good neighbourly relations absolute necessity

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Some experts believe that Iran’s cooperation with Armenia could become costly for the latter owing to the ever increasing hostility demonstrated by US President Donald Trump towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. They predict that American sanctions and extensive pressure on Iran could throw Armenia into a kind of blockade.

What comes to mind in connection with this is the words that are thought to have been said by Napoleon Bonaparte: geography is destiny. Even though it could not always be the case but it definitely is with the Caucasus. There are few if any regions whose military, strategic and economic significance would combine with unprecedented ethno-religious diversity on a fairly small territory with historically conditioned disputable issues. This naturally creates all the conditions for an atmosphere of permanent tension which over the last two centuries has repeatedly exploded in armed conflicts and wars.

In the 21st century, the situation in the Caucasus is formed by a most sophisticated political gamut of bilateral and multilateral relations among three former Soviet republics of Transcaucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, and also, not in the last place, by the Caucasian states of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Besides, one should not forget about the military and political influence of non-regional countries, first of all, the United States, the European Union and Israel.

Undoubtedly, today we are witnessing the influence of multiple forces in different areas of  Caucasian politics, and these forces are dragging Caucasian states into various alliances. Moreover, the regional policy of each of the South Caucasian states is determined by a variety of factors that spring from the specifics of bilateral and multilateral relations.

But we will not analyze the whole spectrum of complicated and entangled relations between groups of countries and within groups proper. We will focus on relations beween Iran and Armenia.

What is the role of Armenia, taking into account the US anti-Iran sanctions?

Iran is the largest multi-ethnic state in the Middle East. Present day Iran is home to more than 40 nationalities, each at a different level of socio-economic development. The multi-million population of Iran is ethnically related to the peoples of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia.

For centuries, Iran has been maintaining close economic and cultural ties with the peoples of the Transcaucasus. But its relations with Armenia stand out as somewhat specific.

Significantly, the first state formations of Armenia and Iran appeared in the VII – VI centuries BC, that is, nearly 3 thousand years ago. Since then their territories and regimes have undergone numerous changes, but Armenians and Persians, as state-forming ethnic groups, have passed through the centuries unchanged.

An idea which is deeply rooted in both the Iranian and Armenian consciousness is that Persians and Armenians boast ancient culture that cannot be thrown into oblivion. This explains cultural ties between the two nations and a comprehensive respect for the specifics of each other’s national and religious mentality.

At present, Iran is home to more than 200 thousand Armenians. Iranian Armenians enjoy substantial rights. Under the Constitution of Iran, they have guaranteed representation in parliament and local councils. Not so long ago, Russian Orientalist Karine Gevorkian reported that in 2018, a young Armenian woman was appointed head of the financial department of the Iranian oil company.

The Armenian Christian community is the largest of its kind in Iran. Functioning throughout the country are about 200 Armenian churches and about 30 Armenian schools. Some universities have departments of the Armenian language and culture. Iran publishes books and magazines in Armenian. Also, there are Armenian theatrical, cultural, and sports societies, and the Armenian Club.

It should be pointed out that Iranian Armenians are taking an active part in the social and political life of the country.

Naturally, Iranian Armenians maintain permanent ties with the Republic of Armenia, which undoubtedly cements Iranian-Armenian relations at the state level.

Although Iran and Armenia are not comparable in their scope and position, as history and current geopolitics show, they need each other.

Iran is interested to maintain ties with Armenia, in the first place, because, as it was already mentioned above, the country is home to an influential Armenian community. Secondly, given that the Armenian diaspora exists in many countries of the world, it could become a kind of bridge connecting Tehran with the capitals of other, not always friendly, states where an Armenian community is also active. Also, it is through authoritative Armenian lobbies that Iran could secure favorable political and economic solutions. Thirdly, the territory of Armenia, as a neighboring country, is important for Iran as a corridor to the North (through Georgia) and further to Russia, which is clearly beneficial for Iran considering the current  geopolitical situation.

Armenia, in turn, is also interested in friendly relations with neighboring Iran, not only on account of links between the Armenian diaspora and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran assumed a fairly balanced position regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, by refraining from backing fellow believers from a neighboring country and complying with the Minsk format, the decisions of the Minsk Group (OSCE).

Moreover, the continuing trade and economic ties between Armenia and Iran have become, to a certain extent, a lifeline for Yerevan. Blocked by Turkey and Azerbaijan from two sides, Armenia  has only two windows to the outside world: via the borders with Georgia and Iran. Therefore, for Armenia Iran is of vital importance. The Armenian-Iranian border, running through the Araks River, is the shortest for two countries – a mere 35 km. Nevertheless, this border is of great importance, both for Armenia and for Iran, being used for developing trade and economic relations between the two countries and promoting touristm. Statistical data say Iranians (and not only Armenian) enjoy visiting Armenia.

In recent years, Armenia and Iran have seen a successful implementation of various economic programs. One of the first projects was a bridge erected across the Araks River. Also, two high-voltage power transmission lines have been built, a third one is currently under construction.

One of the key areas of economic cooperation between Armenia and Iran is provided by an interim agreement signed in May 2018 between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on the creation of a free trade zone. Thus, there have appeared opportunities for merging the 180-million market of the EEU with the 80-million Iranian market. Since Armenia is the only EAEU country that has a land border with Iran, it plays a crucial role in cooperation between the EAEU and Iran, which provides it with an opportunity to develop its relations with Iran.

Undoubtedly, Armenia and Iran’s shared interest in bilateral cooperation envisages good prospects for the future. However, it is not that simple, as there have arrived new times, both for Yerevan, and Tehran.

In 2018 Armenia saw a change of government, as a result of which Nikola Pashinyan was elected Prime Minister. There have been changes in domestic policy. As for foreign policy, at least in relation to Iran, there have been no particular  changes and, in all likelihood, there will not be any. Given the present-day conditions, good-neighborly relations between Yerevan and Tehran are not a luxury, but an urgent need.

In this regard, Nikola Pashinyan’s official visit to Iran in February 2019 is of special significance. During the visit the two parties held high-level talks with the participation of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who rarely receives foreign guests. The negotiations were held in a fairly warm atmosphere, with both sides underscoring the importance of bilateral relations and expressing readiness to exert efforts to develop them.

In the course of above-mentioned talks, representatives of Armenia and Iran signaled the high level of political cooperation, emphasizing yet again that the current level of economic cooperation does not match the full potential of the parties involved. Although by the end of 2018, trade turnover between Armenia and Iran had reached $ 364 million, which is the highest figure since 1991.

Among major projects of the Armenian-Iranian bilateral economic cooperation program is  the construction of the third power line, the implementation of the Meghri hydropower project, the North-South highway corridor, trilateral and quadrilateral economic cooperation with Georgia and Russia.

What makes the visit to Iran by Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinyan special is that Iran is under the US sanctions. In 2018, a transitional year for Armenia, the United States subjected Iran to unprecedented pressure. In addition, the US “secondary sanctions” were imposed against all countries, legal entities and physical persons of foreign countries which dare to maintain relations with Iran. This meant a challenge for Armenia, in many ways economically connected with Iran.

In October 2018, US National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to secure support for US plans to further isolate Iran. Reports say Washington is lobbying for the closure of the Armenian border with Iran through opening the border with Turkey.

While in Yerevan, Bolton told Prime Minister Pashinyan that since the United States will pursue the policy of sanctions against Iran, the Armenian-Iranian border is a “big problem.” Pashinyan responded by saying the following: “We respect the requests and national interests of any country, but Armenia has its own national  interests, which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries.” But as they say, there could be options.

It is necessary to emphasize that Washington, despite its hostile policy towards the IRI, has always had to tolerate cooperation between Armenia and Iran. Such tolerance is due to the US awareness of the geo-economic situation of Armenia, which, without extensive ties with Iran, will face social and economic problems. In addition, as said before, the Armenian lobby has a lot of sway in Washington, especially in the US Congress, which does not give much say to Iran’s opponents with regard to Armenia. That this is true is confirmed by the absence of any US sanctions against Armenia. That’s why John Bolton all but voiced proposals, and not warnings or threats. Suren Sargsyan, Chairman of the Armenian Center for American Studies, said recently, “Washington is fully aware of the situation and the realities that exist in the region. This means that the United States will never pressure Armenia into rejecting Iran or Russia. And this is good, because Washington knows that we will not survive without Iran and Russia … “

As is known, besides the United States Iran has another “big friend” – Israel. Apparently,  the strengthening of Armenian-Iranian relations is not welcome in Jerusalem, and Yerevan is aware of this. The Armenian diplomacy has taken sophisticated measures to neutralize the negative Israeli reaction. Right after Prime Minister Pashinyan’s visit to Iran, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigor Hovhannisyan paid a visit to Israel, where he discussed opening an embassy in Israel “in order to bring bilateral relations to a new high”. The Armenian delegation also focused on organizational issues related to the upcoming visit to Israel by Armenian Prime Minister Nikola Pashinyan and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.

In all likelihood, the main point of Prime Minister Pashinyan’s foreign policy agenda and the main goal of his government is tolerance and absence of problems in relations with foreign countries: with Moscow, with Tehran, th Washington, with Brussels, with Jerusalem.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the change of government in Armenia and large-scale US sanctions against Iran and its partners did not affect the stable nature of Armenian-Iranian relations. In these conditions, the Armenian-Iranian border is unlikely to ever be closed – a complete blockade of Armenia is highly impossible. Moreover, the small Armenia, pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy, has become an important factor in ensuring security in the South Caucasus. 

From our partner International Affairs

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China Set to Increase its Influence in Georgia

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China-Georgia relations since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 have been positive in both the economic and overall political sense. However, they are often overestimated by analysts in Georgia and elsewhere. Bilateral trade growth as well as a gradual increase in Chinese investments in Georgia have oft been hailed as exceptional and a marked sign of increased Chinese influence over Tbilisi.

True, economic growth has been taking place, but this has been but a small portion of the real potential. In fact, despite analysts’ positive views, Georgia and the South Caucasus transit corridor has yet to feature in official versions of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Overall, China has been cautious. Russia’s factor too might have been at play when Beijing only minimally involved itself in the economy of Georgia. But the biggest obstacle has been geographic barriers such as the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus range, difficult Georgian terrain as well as the Black Sea.

Still, in a number of articles for GT, I have suggested that the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is not static in nature and, like any other trade routes in ancient or medieval periods, it does respond to rising challenges and opportunities. Another suggestion was that Georgia, if it improves its railroads, roads and ports infrastructure inside the country, will become more attractive to China and its BRI.

Indeed, there are signs proving this scenario. On 24 May, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Georgia. This is crucial as it is the first official visit of a Chinese foreign minister to Georgia in 23 years. According to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the focus of the minister’s visit was to understand more about Georgia’s future and its potential as an important transit state.

The visit to Georgia came as a part of the Chinese delegation’s regional trip. China and Armenia on Sunday signed an agreement for mutual visa exemption for ordinary passport holders.

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the visit to Georgia confirmed the “clear vision” of China regarding Georgia and its role in China’s plans for large-scale projects. Here, most likely BRI was meant, a clear emphasis on Georgia’s potential as a transit state. “Trade, investments, transport, as well as partnership within the frames of international organizations, were set as the major priorities for future cooperation,” states the Georgian Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese Foreign Minister said that “China is implementing a foreign policy which is based on the principles of peaceful coexistence. We are ready to develop friendly relations between our countries further. We have a firm position that all countries are equal, regardless of their size. We respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and other countries.”

China’s interests in Georgia are also intricately linked to the latter’s territorial problems with Russia. For Tbilisi, it is important that China supports it on the issue of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Indeed, the issue of the Georgian occupied territories was also raised during the meetings and Georgian officials mentioned the “high importance” of Chinese support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Chinese delegation’s visit follows the Georgian Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Maya Tskitishvili’s, trip to Beijing, where she attended the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. More importantly, she signed an agreement on cargo and passenger transportation with Chinese Minister of Transport Li Xiaopeng.

Overall, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister’s visit to Tbilisi has been important, but attention in the Georgian media was only paid to official statements; no analysis has yet been made. However, what is crucial is the timing of the visit, as China and the US are locked in a geopolitical battle over influence in the Indo-Pacific world. Since Georgia is close to the US in terms of military and political cooperation, it will be interesting to see how far China-Georgia cooperation will go. One thing is likely to happen: Beijing will try to increase its influence in Georgia through economic and various political moves.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Times

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Quality of Life in Latvia is not a priority

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Four presidents, 14 governments and eight Seimas have changed in Latvia over the past 20 years. The country joined the European Union and NATO, and then switched to the euro. But have Latvians become better off? Has their quality of life improved? Statistics shows that the general well-being of population remains very low. Political turbulence only worsens the situation.

Thus, according to Numbeo.com portal, one of the largest databases on the cost of living and quality of life worldwide, Lithuania and Latvia are the worst Nordic countries for quality of life.

Quality of Life Index by Country 2019

The leaders of the rating are Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Latvia showed the lowest result, the quality of life index here is 149.15 points. In Lithuania, the result is slightly higher – 156.36 points.
Numbeo experts took into account the purchasing power of the population, safety, health care, the cost of living and some other factors.

It is noted that the world ranking of countries for the quality of life is led by Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Estonia took 11th place, Lithuania – 29th, and Latvia – 34th.

The more so, experts said that the proportion of shadow economy in Latvia rose by 2.2 percentage point last year to 24.2 percent.

The shadow economy proportion in Latvia has risen for the past two years in a row.

EU-SILC survey gives another frightening indicator. According to eurostat.ec.europa.eu, Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania are top three EU countries in terms of poverty risk among pensioners.

Political and economic short-sightedness has lead to the state when the Baltic States have become the first battlefield in case of war between NATO and Russia.

The United States is preparing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe along with non-nuclear countries, said Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts point out that military airfields in the Baltic States and Poland have already been prepared to receive NATO aircraft that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. If take his words seriously, this means the end of the Baltic States’ existence.

The behavior of the authorities guaranteed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the status of the first battlefield, despite the fact that in the event of war, economy would be completely destroyed and population would disappear.

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