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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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Is a Marshall Plan for Ukraine possible?

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Photo: © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Reflecting on Ukraine’s future beyond the current conflict, many politicians and experts speculate about the expediency of a new Marshall Plan for the country. Although the old Plan (officially known as the European Recovery Program) was designed and implemented by the Truman administration some three quarters of a century ago, it is still considered one of the most successful large-scale projects of post-conflict reconstruction. The experience still represents a certain value today. Leaving aside the political aspects of the U.S. aid program to Europe, which is a separate subject to discuss, we will confine ourselves to some relevant technical features of this initiative.

First of all, it would be wrong to think of the Marshall Plan as some bottomless source of financial resources that poured by the United States into the economy of Western Europe. In 1948–1951, Washington invested in Europe just over $13 billion, which is about $115 to $150 billion at today’s rate. Recall that at the end of the summer the Ukrainian leadership estimated the needs for the post-conflict reconstruction of the country at $600–800 billion—by the results of the autumn hostilities with a lot of new damage inflicted upon the core economic infrastructure, these needs were to increase even more, measuring now in trillions of dollars.

Since financial resources under the Marshall Plan were distributed among 17 countries and territories, even the largest recipients did not receive much: Great Britain — 3.3 billion, France — 2.3 billion, West Germany — 1.4 billion, Italy — 1.2 billion, etc. Most of experts believe that the money received from the U.S. directly boosted the growth of European economies by about 0.5% per year on average. However, this does not mean that the Marshall Plan played a merely marginal role in the post-conflict reconstruction of Europe. The importance of the Plan was not so much in the absolute amount of aid, but rather in the fact that this mechanism helped launch the natural process of Europe’s economic revival, namely the recovery of the private sector, the accumulation of trade between European countries, the rise of national investment activity, and the establishment of new economic institutions. The Plan also acted as a kind of guarantee granted to European nations by the U.S. government, allowing the gateways to open for the flow of American FDIs into Western Europe. It also became a catalyst for the fast growth of domestic investments in most of participating countries.

Applied to the current situation, this suggests that foreign aid as such is unlikely to be the only or the main driver of the post-conflict development of the Ukrainian economy. Ukraine still needs to make decisive progress in such areas as combating corruption, the independence of the judiciary, and improving the quality of public administration at various levels. The challenge is to unleash the creative potential of the Ukrainian society and to make full use of the many comparative advantages that the nation can demonstrate integrating itself into European and global economies. In other words, any potential Marshall Plan for Ukraine is not a substitute for still incomplete domestic reforms, but only one of the possible tools to facilitate them. But just as three-quarters of a century ago, large-scale government or international aid programs should stimulate private sector investment, both external and domestic.

The source of funding for the reconstruction of Western Europe in the late 1940s – early 1950s was obvious, since the U.S. was at the peak of its economic and financial power and could therefore allocate 13 billion to European countries relatively painlessly. Moreover, a significant part of these resources was returned to the U.S. in the form of purchases of American goods and services by Europeans. Even in those days, though, Washington began to cut aid to European partners as soon as money was needed for the Korean War.

Today, the U.S. is burdened with much more serious financial problems, and one should no longer expect Washington to be that generous. Especially since the U.S. has already taken the lead in providing unprecedented military and technical assistance to Kiev. Given the importance of Ukraine to the states of the EU, it would be logical to assume that Brussels rather than Washington would be the main donor for a post-conflict Ukraine. However, today the financial standing of the European Union, including Germany as the main potential sponsor of the new Marshall Plan, leaves much to be desired.

Perhaps, architects of a new Plan could rely on the reserves of the Russian Central Bank, frozen by the West after February 24, 2022. Making a decisive move from freezing to confiscation is not yet possible, but it will probably be done in the end. However, there are many other contenders for these Russian funds. For example, countries that have sheltered Ukrainian refugees, as well as those most affected by the sanctions war with Moscow, would like to receive financial compensation. So, in fact, $300 billion of frozen Russian reserves is not a bottomless pit where you can get money at will. Even if all of this money ends up in Ukraine, it is not likely to cover all the costs of the post-conflict reconstruction.

Only in case of complete and unconditional surrender of the Kremlin could it be possible to pull significant funds from Russia to add to the declared level of $600–800 billion. Today, such a surrender does not look as a likely outcome of the conflict. However, if we assume a scenario of such surrender for a moment, we then have to conclude that a depleted and bloodless Russia, capitulated to the Collective West, simply won’t have the necessary resources it could promptly transfer to the reconstruction of Ukraine. Paying reparations has never been easy. For example, after the end of World War I, Germany could not pay its war debts to the victorious countries in full as late as the end of the Weimar Republic, and in 1933 the Third Reich simply unilaterally refused to pay any further reparations afterwards.

Apparently, Ukraine’s recovery will take a long time under any scenario for the end of the crisis. It might go faster in agriculture, in residential construction or in services, it is likely to go slower in heavy industry and in hi-tech. In the case of Ukraine, it is probably not quite correct to talk about “recovery”, because the task will not be to return to the old economic structure that the country had in the beginning of the century, but to create an entirely new economy, which could organically fit into the international (global, not just European) division of labor of the mid-21st century. In this process, the role of external sources of funding will be significant, although not decisive. Much more will depend on the strategic economic decisions made in Kyiv, as well as on the long-term vision that the European Union might or might not develop regarding a unique future role of Ukraine in the Forth Industrial Revolution, which is already sweeping across the continent.

Another feature of the Marshall Plan should be noted. The program was launched two years after the end of World War II, when not only the military actions in Europe were completely stopped, but the post-war European order was defined as a whole. If we draw an analogy with the present, a successful Marshall Plan for Ukraine can also be possible only once the conflict is over and when minimal stability is restored on the European continent. This, in turn, means that each new day of the conflict results in new human casualties and causes greater damage to the Ukrainian economy, pushing the prospect of the beginning of the post-conflict reconstruction farther away.

From our partner RIAC

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Azerbaijan is to open an embassy in Israel: timely or little late?

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Image source: twitter @GeorgeDeek

Time to open that bottle!” tweeted with joy George Deek, Israel`s Ambassador in Azerbaijan on November 18, by posting a photo of wine flanked by the flags of the two countries. What lit him up was the decision of the Azerbaijani parliament to (finally) open an embassy in Israel.

The joy was shared by Israeli officials and media outlets: for instance, Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the decision, calling Azerbaijan “an important partner of Israel and home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world”. The Jerusalem Post, in its turn, referred to Azerbaijan as the first Shiite country to open an embassy in Israel.

The two countries have established and been successfully leading one of the unique, if not strange, case of partnership since the early 1990s: a Shiite Azerbaijan plays an incredible role in the energy security of the Jewish state surrounded usually by antagonistic states: according to some estimates, Israel receives 40-50% of its oil imports from Azerbaijan.

Another, no less important, director of the bilater relations is security-oriented. Israel has managed to become the largest supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan. SIPRI estimates that some 60% of Azerbaijan’s defense imports in 2015-2019 originated in Israel, while in 2020, that number jumped to almost 70%. This partnership benefited Azerbaijan, who successfully used the Israeli-manufactured state-of-the-art military technology during the 2020 Karabakh war to defeat its arch-nemesis Armenia and liberate the formerly occupied territories. The contribution of Israel to the historic triumph was acknowledged both by political elite and general society in Azerbaijan: seeing Israel flags, along with Azerbaijani and Turkish ones, across the entire country is therefore not uncommon nowadays.

Last May, amid regional tensions with Iran, reports emerged on Azerbaijan buying Iron Dome missile defense batteries. Then in October 2021, Azerbaijan reportedly considered buying Israel’s Arrow-3 missile defense system. Neither Israeli authorities nor Israeli defense firms commented on the news.

Another sign of deepening ties and mutual trust came to light lately when the Israeli government approved an emergency plan to receive Jews fleeing from Russia. The plan involves possible transition camps for Russian Jews in Finland and in Azerbaijan ahead of their arrival to Israel.

Add to this, Azerbaijani-Jewish diaspora who naturally forges the warm relations between the two countries. While the Jews were persecuted, oppressed and driven out both in Christian and Muslim worlds in the Middle Ages, Azerbaijan always served as a safe haven for them: an all-Jewish town just outside of Baku, Azerbaijan`s capitol city, Red Town is home to at least 4,000 people and is sometimes referred to as Jerusalem of the Caucasus. This fact also boosts the image of Azerbaijan as a reliable and amicable land in the Jewish perception. According to historians, the indigenous Mountain Jews have been living in geography for at least 2,000 years. A unique sub-group of the Jews, they now protect the interests of both Azerbaijan and Israel.

Despite the nearly perfect ties between the two countries, Azerbaijan had for decades avoided opening an embassy in Israel, although the latter has been diplomatically represented in Azerbaijan since 1993. The reason could be related to the assumption that such a move could alienate the huge Muslim world, most of whose members had been quite hostile towards Israel. However, things started changing with the signing of the Abraham Accords. The thaw between some Gulf countries and Israel heralded a new era in the Middle Eastern geopolitics and Azerbaijan had to rethink its relevant policies.

The signs of Azerbaijan`s intention to finally set up a mission in Israel had been observed for some years until when Baku opened Trade and Tourism Representative Offices in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2021.

While elevating its diplomatic presence in the Jewish state, Azerbaijan, known for its skillful balancing, did not forget Palestine and passed a parliamentary resolution on opening a representative office in Ramallah as well.

Yet, Azerbaijan`s historic decision amid its tensions with Iran and the comeback of Netanyahu, who is expected to resume Israel`s assertive policy especially in the Iran direction could not be only a coincidence. Intriguingly, in early October Israel`s Defense Minister Benny Gantz paid a visit to Azerbaijan, where he met not only his counterpart but also Azerbaijan`s president Ilham Aliyev. This visit overlapped with the attempts of Israel and Turkey to finally overcome their past disagreements and open a new chapter in the relations, something the Azerbaijani side had for years desired for and worked on.

It can be predicted that Azerbaijan`s foreign policy priority for the next period will be focusing not only on cementing bilateral ties with the Jewish state, but helping to establish what some Azerbaijani experts see as Azerbaijani-Israeli-Turkish triangle, a geopolitical constellation, which would also determine the regional picture in the coming years.

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Kiev is not interested in preventing war crimes

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Image source: war.ukraine.ua

The video of the execution of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian troops, which circulated in the media and social networks, is far from the only video recording of war crimes by Ukrainian army. Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, videos of beaten and stripped prisoners of war and civilians suspected of collaborating with the Russians have appeared on the network. Records of torture also circulated widely.

At the same time, experts admit that there is a lot of cruelty on both sides, during the clashes almost no prisoners are taken, only Moscow does not promote violence, and Kyiv does not care about the promotion of war crimes. What are the reasons for such “public violence”, which can greatly compromise both the Ukrainian military and President Zelensky himself?

We could assume that the Russians commit many more war crimes, but due to the large number of military police and counterintelligence officers, they simply do not film them. It would seem that the answer lies on the surface – Russia is an authoritarian state, where phones are taken away from soldiers, and Ukraine is democratic. However, the reality is different, there is no democracy in the war, smartphones of military personnel in the conflict zone are trying to remove both sides. Moreover, as we have already pointed out, it is precisely in “totalitarian” Russia in the war zone that there are dozens of war correspondents who freely visit military units and could shoot such videos. It is true that a significant part of those journalists is under the control of the Russian army, however, they cannot control all of them. This is evidenced by the fact that more than once, due to journalists filming and revealing the positions of the Russian army, there have been losses of men and equipment in the Russian army.

But Russians are not characterized by cruelty. The main difference between Ukrainian nationalists and Russian fighters is different cultural traditions. In the 80th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, formed in Lviv from the natives of Western Ukraine, the personnel were brought up in the spirit of the traditions of the Ukrainian underground during the Second World War. Recall that then the supporters of Stepan Bandera shot back pro-Soviet and pro-Polish activists, including doctors and teachers sent to western Ukraine, and also massacred entire Jewish and Polish villages.

In the Russian mentality, mockery and mistreatment of prisoners is unacceptable. You can kill the enemy, but not torture. Russians in their ideology have always opposed themselves to the German Nazis with their concentration camps and gas chambers. So, if someone posted a video of the torture and murder of captured soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Russian audience would explode with indignation, recognizing the perpetrators of such acts as war criminals.

However, the true reason for the appearance of such videos lies not even in the different mentality of Ukrainian nationalists and Russians. In fact, Kyiv propagandists deliberately give the green light to such videos. This is primarily done to scare Russian soldiers and reservists. And official Kiev does not pay much attention to these crimes.

Take for example the recent Ukrainian war crime in Makiivka. The Ukrainian army immediately began to claim that the video was staged and fake. However, it was the Western experts who confirmed the authenticity of the video and the Western media exerted pressure to launch an investigation.

However, such video propaganda of cruelty actually has a much more serious purpose. Its main task is to form a stable feeling of hatred between Russians and residents of Ukraine. EU residents have little idea of ​​the mentality of the average Russian. The fact is that many in Russia sincerely consider the current war to be a civil one. Almost all Russians treat Ukrainians either as a very close people or as southwestern Russians. Half of the inhabitants of Ukraine have Russian surnames, relatives in Russia and use Russian as their main language. However, each such video should, according to the plan of Kiev radical propagandists, change the mentality of Russians more and more. They must hate all the inhabitants of Ukraine, stop treating them as “their own” and recognize that reconciliation with Ukraine and a new reunification with it is impossible. Peace will come sooner or later, but a steel wave of hatred will fall between the future Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, Russia’s desire to punish the killers of defenseless prisoners of war and civilians will also prevent the settlement of relations between Moscow and Kyiv for many decades.

The line of military contact between Russia and Ukraine is lengthening, fresh troops and new weapons are coming to the front from both sides. Obviously, the execution in Makiivka will not be the last video demonstrating the complete disregard of Kyiv, for “democratic values”, the Geneva Convention and human rights. The question involuntarily begs itself, does a united Europe need such a Ukraine, proud of the massacres?

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