Strategic Black Sea falls by the wayside in impeachment controversy
Presidents Donald J. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a plateful of thorny issues on their agenda when they met in the White House this week.
None of the issues, including Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria, its acquisition of a Russian anti-missile system and its close ties to Russia and Iran, appear to have been resolved during the meeting between the two men in which five Republican senators critical of Turkey participated.
The failure to narrow differences didn’t stop Mr. Trump from declaring that “we’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from.”
Mr. Trump’s display of empathy for an illiberal leader was however not the only tell-tale sign of the president’s instincts. So was what was not on the two men’s agenda: security in the Black Sea that lies at the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and NATO member Turkey.
The Black Sea is a flashpoint in multiple disputes involving Russia and its civilizationalist definition of a Russian world that stretches far beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders and justifies its interventions in Black Sea littoral states like Ukraine and Georgia.
The significance of the absence of the Black Sea on the White House agenda is magnified by the disclosure days earlier that Mr. Trump had initially cancelled a US freedom of navigation naval mission in the Black Sea after CNN had portrayed it as American pushback in the region.
The disclosure came in a transcript of closed-door testimony in the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump’s policy towards Ukraine by Christopher Anderson, a former advisor to Kurt Volker, the US special representative to Ukraine until he resigned in September.
Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Trump phoned his then national security advisor, John Bolton, at home to complain about the CNN story. He said the story prompted the president to cancel the routine operation of which Turkey had already been notified.
The cancellation occurred at a moment that reports were circulating in the State Department about an effort to review US assistance to Ukraine.
“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report… I can’t speculate as to why…but that…operation was cancelled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion,” Mr. Anderson said.
The operation was cancelled weeks after the Russian coast guard fired on Ukrainian vessels transiting the Strait of Kerch that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and separates Russian-annexed Crimea from Russian mainland. ‘This was a dramatic escalation,” Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. Trump at the time put a temporary hold on a condemnatory statement similar to ones that had been issued by America’s European allies. Ultimately, statements were issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley but not by the White House.
The Black Sea’s absence in Mr. Trump’s talks with the Turkish leader coupled with the initial cancellation of the freedom of navigation operation, the initially meek US response to the Strait of Kerch incident, and the fallout of the impeachment inquiry do little to inspire confidence in US policy in key Black Sea countries that include not only Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, a strategic gateway to Central Asia, but also NATO members Bulgaria and Romania.
In Georgia, protesters gathered this week outside of parliament after lawmakers failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have introduced a proportional election system in advance of elections scheduled for next year.
The amendment was one demand of protesters that have taken to the streets in Georgia since June in demonstrations that at times included anti-Russian slogans.
Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 and Russia has since recognized the self-declared independence of two Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Some 1500 US troops participated in June in annual joint exercises with the Georgian military that were originally initiated to prepare Georgian units for service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The absence of the Black Sea in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Erdogan raises the spectre that the region could become a victim of the partisan divide in Washington and/or Mr. Trump’s political priorities.
The Republican-dominated US Senate has yet to consider a bipartisan Georgia Support Act that was last month passed by the House of Representatives. The act would significantly strengthen US defense, economic, and cyber security ties with Georgia.
A Chinese delegation that included representatives of several Chinese-led business associations as well as mobile operator China Unicom visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia this week to discuss the creation of a special trade zone to manufacture cell phones as well as electric cars.
The Black Sea is one region where the United States cannot afford to sow doubt. The damage, however, may already have been done.
Warned Black Sea security scholar Iulia-Sabina Joja in a recent study: “The region is (already) inhospitable for Western countries as they struggle to provide security… The primary cause of this insecurity is the Russian Federation… Today, Russia uses its enhanced Black Sea capabilities not only to destabilize the region militarily, politically, and economically, but also to move borders, acquire territory, and project power into the Mediterranean.”
Ms. Joja went on to suggest that “a common threat assessment of NATO members and partners is the key to a stable Black Sea. Only by exploring common ground and working towards shared deterrence can they enhance regional security.”
Ukraine war: A new multipolar world is emerging
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is undoubtedly one of the biggest geopolitical conflicts of the 21st century to date. What would be a regional issue in our analysis, turned into a global event with economic and geopolitical impacts that will last for decades to come. The uncritical analysis of the subject is the main obstacle to a real geopolitical comprehension of the ongoing process. Our goal is to make some considerations to fill these gaps.
Russian demands about its geopolitical security have continuously been disregarded by either Washington or Brussels over the past three decades. On the contrary. Europeans and North Americans did their best to expand the European Union and NATO to Eastern Europe despite Moscow consistently expressing its dissatisfaction with such an advance.
In fact, Russia has always represented a *geopolitical concern* to Washington due to its military and technological capacity inherited from the USSR. The “ideal” Russia for the West only occurred under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) when the country made the transition to capitalism in a sudden and dramatic process, going through one of its most severe economic and social crises.
Kyiv’s move towards the European Union and NATO accelerated Moscow’s determination to firmly secure, or at least make a concerted attempt to do so, the still unconcluded chapter after the end of the USSR: its geopolitical security, as well as Washington’s use of Ukraine as a future NATO military base posing a significant concern for Russia. The second invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 marked this second phase in our conception.
Western perspective has a divergent viewpoint. Maintaining NATO created in the Cold War to face the threat of no longer existing in the post-Cold War scenario makes no sense. However, it makes sense when we think of the billions of dollars in sales of war material produced largely by the US to its European partners and the multi-million commissions involved for the middlemen. It is fundamental to keep Europe under Washington’s political and military domain. On the economic side, the expansion of the European Union over Eastern Europe followed the same logic: “By increasing the number of member states, the aim is to address the challenges faced by a problematic economic union that has been subject to internal questioning, culminating in the apex of Brexit in 2020
Unlike the 2014 Crimean campaign when the Russian victory came relatively smoothly and quickly, the 2022 invasion may initially be considered, to say the least, disastrous. Moscow’s numerous errors in assessing the short- and long-term consequences of its subjugation strategy in Ukraine drew attention. The images of countless kilometers of trucks and military equipment along roads, the initial advance towards Kyiv, and various other parts of the country, followed by a withdrawal months later, exposed the flawed military calculations and the unforeseen consequences that ensued. This was despite Russia’s unquestionable military supremacy. The calculations were not well executed, leading to significant unforeseen consequences, despite Russia’s undisputed military dominance
In the Western diplomatic area, the situation completely got out of Moscow’s control when the US had the perception that it could take advantage of the moment to weaken Vladimir Putin’s leadership, promote an “upgrade” in the criticized existence of NATO and facilitate a possible “regime change” through economic strangulation. But Washington and its allies also made some misjudgments. They underestimated the neutral stance of China and several other countries such as India and Brazil, in addition to several countries on the African continent, for example. And the worst: they also provided the beginning of the acceleration of the de-dollarization of the world economy with the economic sanctions against the Russians, uniting the objectives of several countries that already questioned the supremacy of the dollar as the dominant commercial transaction currency. A supremacy’s downfall could certainly take decades, but that seems to be already underway.
We reiterate that the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict could never gain the international proportions that were generated from the action of the Washington-Brussels Axis. Their actions have directly impacted Europe, which bears the brunt of the consequences while the US benefits economically from Russian sanctions and Europeans suffer as much as Moscow from their effects.
In the military field, Ukraine is only managing to be able to withstand the hardships of the war due to the full support given by NATO. Even as reports of the military prowess of Ukrainian soldiers were disseminated by Western media. Without that support, the war would probably have ended. On the other hand, despite the initial military mistakes, Moscow seems to have preferred a strategy aimed at the attrition of its enemy even knowing that time would somehow help Kyiv to receive more weapons from the Western military alliance and delay the finalization of its plans.
It’s expected that this clash between NATO and Russia will bring about a permanent reordering in the power dynamics of geopolitical forces in the 21st century. The so-called “American Century” is being finalized by the rise of new and future powers such as China, whose global role is gaining strength. Beijing’s performance in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict demonstrates that its action is guided by long-term projects: collaboration in the weakening of the North American power to determine the “punishment” of its enemies through economic means, consolidating BRICS as a “global influencer”, the decrease of the dollar as an international currency and the support for a multipolar spectrum as the basis of the international system in the current century.
Pakistan-Belarus Ties Set to Boost and Strengthen
The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Covering an area of 207,600 square kilometers and with a population of 9.2 million, Belarus is the 13th-largest and the 20th-most populous country in Europe. The country has a hemiboreal climate and is administratively divided into seven regions. Minsk is the capital and largest city. Belarus is a developing country, ranking 60th on the Human Development Index. The country has been a member of the United Nations since its founding and has joined the CIS, the CSTO, the EAEU, the OSCE, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It has shown no aspirations of joining the European Union but nevertheless maintains a bilateral relationship with the bloc and also participates in two EU projects, the Baku Initiative, and the Eastern Partnership. Its strategic location has been more prominent due to the Ukraine crisis and has become the focus of the Western world due to its close relations with Russia.
Belarus–Pakistan relations refers to the current and historical relationship between Belarus and Pakistan. Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize Belarus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Pakistan maintains an embassy in Minsk; Belarus maintains an embassy in Islamabad.
Pakistan and Belarus initiated joint ventures (JVs) in the textile, pharmaceutical, and lighting solution industries while sharing technological expertise with each other. Pakistan’s imports from Belarus stood at $42.65 million which mainly consisted of tractors (62.04%), artificial filament yarn (13.01%), and rubber tires (8.06%). Belarus has lauded Pakistan’s role and efforts in bringing peace and stability to the world by countering terrorism and offered his country’s full support in this fight.
On the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus H.E. Mr. Sergei Aleinik visited Islamabad from May 30 – 31, 2023 on an official visit.
During the visit, Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and the Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, in addition to holding comprehensive delegation-level bilateral talks.
H.E. Mr. Sergei Aleinik also held meetings with the Minister of Economic Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.
During their meeting, the two Foreign Ministers had a wide-ranging and substantive discussion on a variety of topics including political, economic, technological, cultural, educational, and multilateral cooperation in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding. The two sides agreed to take practical measures to translate the mutual goodwill between the two governments and their peoples into tangible cooperation in different fields.
The Ministers expressed satisfaction with the friendly relations based on mutual respect, friendship, and trust established between the Republic of Belarus and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and highly appreciated the bilateral meetings and interaction at the highest and high levels that have taken place in recent years.
The Ministers appreciated the holding of the 6th Session of the Joint Belarusian-Pakistani Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation on January 12-13, 2023 in Minsk under the chairmanship of the Minister of Energy of the Republic of Belarus H.E. Viktor Karankevich and the Federal Minister of Energy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Khurram Dastgir Khan.
The Ministers expressed their interest in strengthening cooperation within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the United Nations, and other International Organizations on matters of mutual interest, and reaffirmed their readiness to mutually support each other.
The Ministers noted the desire of both countries to expand the legal framework of bilateral relations and welcomed the signing of
the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the Abolition of Visas for holders of Diplomatic and Service Passports as well as between the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, and the Belarus Institute of Strategic Research.
The Ministers intend to support business initiatives aimed at the development of trade and industrial cooperation between the two countries, among other things, through the participation in exhibitions and fair events in both countries, holding face-to-face and online negotiations, and business councils.
Taking into consideration, that February 3, 2024, will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Pakistan, the Ministers welcomed the intention to develop a plan of joint events dedicated to the anniversary of diplomatic relations.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus expressed his gratitude for the reception given to the Belarusian delegation and invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to visit the Republic of Belarus at a convenient time. The invitation was accepted with gratitude and the dates of the visit will be finalized through diplomatic channels.
Both countries are committed to supporting each other and benefiting from each other’s strengths. It is desired from both sides to enrich and strengthen the relations in all walks of life covering trade, economy, industry, science and technology, education, etc. Long lives Pak-Belarus friendship.
Latvia risks to turn to a ghost state
Latvia 2020 population was estimated at 1,886,198 people at mid year according to UN data.
At the beginning of 2022 population of Latvia accounted for 1 million 876 thousand people, which is 17.5 thousand people fewer than a year ago.
The current population of Latvia is 1,826,608 as of May 17, 2023, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.
For many years Latvia has suffered from a so-called “brain drain”, a phenomena when young highly trained and qualified people emigrate from the country. Since Latvia became a member of European Union and Schengen Area and when working in other countries became especially easy, the human capital flight from the country has intensified and reached high figures, when Latvia lost many residents due to emigration.
The number of young people continues to has decline sharply. At the beginning of 2022, there were 234,500 boys and girls aged 13 to 25 living in the country. This is 12.5% of all residents. Behind the reduction of this group is not only a decrease in the birth rate, falling living standards but also emigration. The young and talented people prefer not to stay here.
One new reason for youth to leave the country has appeared this year. Latvia reintroduces compulsory military service. The decision was made by the country’s parliament on April 5. Latvia has not had compulsory military service since 2007 when it was abolished.
From 2024 onward, the number of conscripts will increase. The plan is to call up 7,500 Latvians every year, starting in 2028. This will increase the size of the army from over 22,000 soldiers to 50,000, including territorial defense and reserves.
The Baltic nation feels threatened due to the war in Ukraine. But, new public surveys show that many young men are not convinced that compulsory military service is the right reaction. Only a small share of people back compulsory military service.
Young men are known for their rebellious ways. So, it’s hardly surprising that the Latvian government’s recent decision to reintroduce compulsory military service has not gone down particularly well with them.
Far fewer people wanted to become professional soldiers. There have not been any national opinion polls conducted on the topic recently. But a study in May 2022 found that more than 40% of Latvians opposed it. According to Maris Andzans, a professor at Riga Stradins University, who wrote in a February briefing for the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis, support was lower among younger respondents, with only 34% in the 18-24 age group supportive of the idea.
In Latvia, there is also another segment of the population that doesn’t like the idea of military service. Some members of the country’s Russian-speaking minority are skeptical about what they perceive as the country’s pro-Western course. Russian-speakers make up about a quarter of Latvia’s 1.9 million-strong population. Joining the Latvian army to “fight against your own people” is not something they wanted to do. So many are planning to leave. So, a phenomena of “men drain” when young highly trained and qualified people emigrate from the country because of unwillingness to serve.
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