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.”
A Chill in Georgia-China Relations
A sense of growing disenchantment is starting to dominate China-Georgia relations. Given China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Georgia’s geographical importance to the realization of China’s plans, Georgian elites had high hopes for the future. Today, few people are as enthusiastic.
The relationship used to look promising. In 2017 China and Georgia signed a free trade agreement to remove customs barriers, in a move Georgian leaders hoped would boost exports and help develop the Georgian economy. The Georgian government also expected an increase in Chinese investments into Georgia’s infrastructure, specifically its Black Sea ports of Poti, Batumi, Anaklia, as well as east-west rail and road links. Several large-scale investment forums were held in Tbilisi for that purpose.
Fostering closer ties with China was also seen as a vital component of Georgia’s quest to balance Russia’s regional influence, and as a hedge against Russian military moves in occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The hopes for improvements in trade have not panned out. While there has been a steady increase in overall volume, statistics show that Georgia mostly exports raw materials to China, such as copper and various chemicals. A market for goods higher up the value chain has not materialized. Similarly, concerns over corrupt practices have increased, especially tied to how Chinese companies have been awarded contracts. One illustrative case concerns Powerchina’s subsidiary Sinohydro winning a €26.3 million tender for the reconstruction of a 42-kilometer section of the Khulo-Zarzma road. Sinohydro has a long record – both in Georgia and abroad – of corruption, environmental degradation, and of generally shoddy work. And yet it keeps winning new tenders.
Furthermore, it has become apparent to policymakers in Tbilisi that China will not go out of its way to harm increasingly important relations with Russia. For example, China has been generally unhelpful on key diplomatic issues critical to the Georgian side. It repeatedly failed to back Georgia’s UN vote on refugees forcefully expelled from Abkhazia and South Ossetia by separatists and Russian troops. It repeatedly failed to denounce de-facto presidential or parliamentary elections held in Georgia’s occupied territories. China has also stayed silent on Russian cyber-attacks against Georgia over the last few years, as well as on Russian “borderization” policies in South Ossetia. Its Ministry of Defense even announced that it would participate in the Russian-led “Kavkaz-2020” exercises, alongside troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
China has also helped the Kremlin seed destabilizing disinformation in the country. On September 2, the Chinese state media outlet China Daily questioned the utility of the U.S.-funded Lugar Laboratory located near Georgia’s border with Russia and alleged that it both represented a biohazard risk to Georgia and that Georgian citizens were being unwittingly used as test subjects.
All this stands in striking contrast with Georgia’s Western partners, who continuously stand up for Georgia’s foreign policy priorities, as well as for its territorial integrity. Though increasingly disenchanted with China, Georgian leaders continue to walk a diplomatic tightrope, keen to not draw ire from China while preserving its ties to the West. But as America’s stance on China hardens, it will be more and more difficult to maintain this balance. In a series of public letters addressed to the Georgian government sent earlier this year, U.S. congressmen and senators have been explicit that Georgia needs to avoid deep entanglements with China and hew closely to Western standards and trade practices.
The balancing act is simply unsustainable. Georgia’s NATO and EU membership aspirations, the cornerstone of its geopolitical orientation, are an irreconcilable irritant for China, especially as the Alliance expands its scope to face down China’s growing military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. Georgia will be forced to pick sides eventually.
And the outcome is a foregone conclusion. At this point, criticizing China openly would cost Georgia a lot, which means that Tbilisi taking a firm stance on Taiwan or on human rights issues is not likely. But as tensions ratchet up between the West and China, expect Georgia to side more firmly with the West, not only politically, but also increasingly economically, by embracing Western 5G technologies as well as its trade and investment standards.
Author’s note: first published in cepa.org
How Pashinyan failed in the peacekeeping mission and complying with international law
Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan Republic. The major disagreements and clashes started at the end of the 1980s when Armenian SSR declared to annex the Nagorno Karabakh region into its territory. February 20, 1988, at the session of the NKAO (Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast) Soviet of People’s Deputies, members of the region’s Armenian community adopted a scandal resolution to appeal to the Supreme Soviets of Azerbaijan SSR and Armenian SSR to annex NKAO to Armenian SSR. At that time, it was against the Constitution of the USSR, therefore in 1990 the USSR government rejected this resolution as an illegal act and gave back its autonomous status within Azerbaijan SSR.
Following the collapse of the USSR, August 30, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan declared the restoration of state independence and adopted a Law “On the abolition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
Starting from 1992, Armenians began military activities against Azerbaijanis, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding seven districts. The collapse of the Soviet Union and political instability in Azerbaijan in early 90s caused by the internal standoff; as a result, Armenia began military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh with external military support. During 1992-1994, the active war continued in the region and Armenia occupied the whole Nagorno-Karabakh region and its surrounding territories. In 1994, the ceasefire was announced, and OSCE Minsk Group invited parties to the negotiations table.
Negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have not yielded any results for 25 years. The Minsk Group initially proposed three packages to resolve the conflict. However, these proposals were not accepted by the parties in terms of securing their interests. Finally, the Madrid Principles on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were adopted, and this document is the latest set of proposals on the current conflict.
In 2018, Nikol Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister of Armenia by defeating Serzh Sargsyan in the elections. Pashinyan was active during his campaigns by proposing optimistic promises to both his country and region. His promises have seemed the sign of new formation of the political system in Armenia. Pashinyan also was accepted by official Baku with a mixture of optimism and skepticism due to flattering speeches towards the current issues. During Pashinyan’s campaigns, one of the promises towards region was to solve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict only peacefully and accelerate the process of peace talks with Azerbaijani government in frame of international laws in order to achieve significant steps in terms of regional integrity.
In his initial period, he showed great intention to change everything from zero. However, Pashinyan could not maintain the absolute power in his hands; he literally failed to democratize Armenia. Defeated by his rivals in internal strife, Pashinyan could not withstand the pressure and made a U-turn in his promises on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He started to provoke both sides and raise tension first by making a speech during his visit to Iran, stating “Karabakh is Armenia and that is it.”Right after this speech, he visited Shusha city to participate in the events in occupied territories; laterhe sent his son to the military service, who served in the occupied territories.
Pashinyan’s another failure in this conflict was the desire to change the format of the negotiation process. Starting from 2018, Pashinyan demanded to bring the separatist regime of Nagorno-Karabakh to the negotiations process. First, this issue contradicted the principles of the Minsk Group after the ceasefire signed in 1994, the format of negotiations and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Secondly, since the Minsk Group last put forward the Madrid Principles for resolving the conflict, the negotiations continued around these principles. The Madrid Principles, last updated in 2009, are proposed peace settlements of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As of 2020 OSCE Minsk Groupis the only internationally agreed body to mediate the negotiations for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Senior Armenian and Azerbaijani officials have agreed on some of the proposed principles. However, they have made little or no progress towards the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied territories or towards the modalities of the decision on the future Nagorno-Karabakh status. Third, pressure on Pashinyan and his failed foreign policy attempts further heightened tensions in the aftermath, leading to serious clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh.
As a result, the attack of the Armenian army with heavy weapons on the Tovuz Rayon of Azerbaijan changed the stability in the region and caused the regional war scenarios to be brought to the agenda once again. During the clashes in July, both sides suffered serious losses, especially in the mutual attacks that resulted in casualties between 12 and 15 July. For the first time in the conflict history, Azerbaijan lost a general in the hot conflict. The outposts belonging to Armenia, where attacks were carried out on the Azerbaijani side, were destroyed by the counter-fire of Azerbaijan. Tovuz was far from the centre of the conflict and Pashinyan’s foreign policy strategy again contradicted with what he delivered to the world community in 56th annual Munich Security Conference. Because during the debate with Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, he noted: “I am first Armenian leader to say that any solution should be acceptable to Azerbaijani people as well.”For his part, Pashinyan also said that there cannot be a military solution to the conflict in the region. Indeed, he was right; he was the only Armenian leader that supported peace talks and peaceful settlement of the conflict in recent years. However, the attack on Tovuz Rayon of Azerbaijan from Armenian territories showed that Armenian government does not have any intention to solve conflict according to the international law norms and proposals by the OSCE Minsk Group.
The clashes since September 27, 2020 in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have resulted in the largest number of reported casualties between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the last four years. According to media reports, the death toll is already well into the hundreds, with relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan now in freefall. Despite the agreed humanitarian ceasefire, the Armenian army shelled Ganja, the second-largest city in Azerbaijan, three times and Mingachevir twice. Even Armenian army continued violate second agreed ceasefire by launching missile attacks to Barda, Terter, Aghjabadi, Ganja, Khizi, Mingachevir region and Absheron peninsula, which are far away from frontline. A new nightly SCUD ballistic missile attack by Armenian forces on residential area of Ganja, destroyed more than 20 houses, left more than 10 civilians killed and 40 wounded including children. This step by the Armenian leadership is aimed at expanding the geography of the war and the entry of third parties into the region. However, despite being a close ally, Russia also has called for an immediate ceasefire. Turkey, a long-standing ally of Azerbaijan, has demanded the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the line of contact, with President Erdogan underlining Turkey’s total solidarity with Azerbaijan, urging Armenia to end its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, Armenia shifted the context of the conflict and accused Turkey of arming Azerbaijan. The Pashinyan government then sought to attract the attention and support of the West by turning the conflict into a religious context. Nevertheless, neither international organizations nor states responded to the issue that Armenia wanted to deliver.
Pashinyan also failed to understand and comply with the legal aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As it is stated above, he wanted to bring the separatist regime of so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” to the negotiations process. However, no member state of the United Nations, including even Armenia, recognizes the “NKR” as an independent entity. “NKR” also does not meet any of the four principles for the formation of an independent state enshrined in the 1933 Montevideo Convention. The recent rejection of the NKR’s appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is proof that the so-called body is illegitimate. Also, Armenia did not comply with four resolutions adopted on “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” by UNSC, which recognize occupied territories as an integral part of Azerbaijan and emphasize the continuation of peace talks in this context. Commenting on the resolutions, Nikol Pashinyan tries to draw attention to the fact that the conflict is between local Armenians and Azerbaijan; however, all four resolutions start with the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then the escalation of armed conflict. Besides, the Security Council provides a good understanding of who is involved in the conflict by stressing the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of international borders of all states in the region. Four resolutions passed by the UN Security Council (No. 822 – April 30, 1993; No. 853 – July 23, 1993; No. 874 – October 14, 1993; No. 884 – November 12, 1993) demand the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from therein.
It can be questioned why the UN Security Council did not mention that the conflict happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan? What is the reason for not calling Armenia as an occupier? If Armenia would have been recognized as an occupier, then new obligations would arise for the UNSC. In the meantime, Armenia had to be called as an aggressor and the resolutions adopted should have been demanded unconditionally. Due to several reasons, the UNSC did not do this but instead stressed who is responsible in this conflict. However, in a speech to the Armenian Parliament May 18, 2001, the then-Minister of Defence, former President Serzh Sargsyan, confessed: “There are lands we occupied. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We occupied those lands to ensure our security. We were saying this before 1992, and we are saying it again. My style might not be diplomatic, but that’s the reality”.
Despite all the accepted and approved international documents, the Armenian leadership wants Nagorno-Karabakh to be recognized as an independent entity because, in this way, it will be easier to control the territory in favour of Armenia. Moreover, the self-determination subject was often raised at the meetings of the OSCE Minsk Group. The deportation of Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh during the Soviet era had a serious impact on the ethnic composition of the population. Today, the Armenian diplomatic corps demands the status quo, taking into account only the ratio of 1988.However, this issue contradicts both international law and the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the right to self-determination cannot be extended to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. According to the principle of “Utipossidetis Juris” (the principle of respect for the existing borders of the state at the time of independence) even if the status of the state changes, the existing borders are preserved. Therefore, UNSC Resolutions 853 and 884 explicitly state Nagorno-Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan, which shows that Armenia has grossly violated and continues to violate “jus cogens” norm by demanding recognition of NKR as an independent entity. On the other hand, in 1991, Azerbaijan declared itself as a legal successor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and kept the Constitution of 1978 and Soviet laws till 1995 in the post-independence period. Therefore, the restoration of independence did not contradict the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and not aimed at changing national borders and state structure.
The occupation and use of military force by the Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict significantly weakens the arguments of Pashinyan about “self-determination.” Statuses acquired by a violation of the rules of “Jus ad Bellum” are not unequivocally accepted in the international arena in modern times. When evaluating the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, one shall regard principles due to their importance in that sequence: 1) “Utipossidetis Juris”; 2) territorial integrity; 3) the self-determination of peoples. Under customary international law, the self-determination right cannot be invoked if the territorial integrity and “Utipossidetis Juris” principles are breached. Thus, the two aspects of “self-determination” clearly examines the rights which nations and states can apply; internal self-determination – is the right of the people of a state to govern themselves without outside interference; external self-determination – is the right of peoples to determine their own political status and to be free of alien domination, including the formation of their own independent state. In international law, the right of self-determination that became recognized in the 1960s was interpreted as the right of all colonial territories to become independent or to adopt any other status they freely chose. Ethnic or other distinct groups within colonies did not have a right to separate themselves from the “people” of the territory as a whole. Armenian people have already exercised the self-determination right and established their state. Therefore, Armenians living in the territories of different countries, do not have a reason or right to create another Armenian state.
To put briefly, Armenians authorities’ non-compliance with international law also creates conditions for the proliferation of terrorist groups in the region. The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under international law will ensure the security of the region and the effectiveness of economic and humanitarian assistance. Considering the slowdown in peace talks in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the failure of the OSCE Minsk Group, the unfair treatment of the Western media on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, repeatedly nurturing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with an unreasonable attitude by Armenia, makes the region more unstable and increases border clashes. As in the past, the region will not lead to multi-directional change.
Azerbaijani civilians are under Armenian military attacks: Time to live up to ‘never again’
2020 marks with the global celebration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and entering into force of its Charter on 24 October 1945, which was adopted on the ruins of the Second World War.
The major supranational universal platform of international cooperation was created in response to the mass atrocities committed by Nazis during the War. The victorious powers initiated the creation of this international institution in order to maintain international peace and security, achieve international cooperation in solving international problems, and respect the human rights.
The international crimes of Nazi regime urged international community vowed ‘never again’ to allow horrors of the Second World War to be repeated in the history of a mankind.
Three years later in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly and inspired further legally binding international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966 and altogether representing the International Bill of Rights. These landmark international treaties inaugurating the respect for human dignity embody generally accepted standard of accomplishment for all.
The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights famously proclaimed that ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…’. Undoubtedly, this provision is the result of the tragic experience of the Second World War with its barbarous acts which shocked the whole mankind.
Thus, it is not a coincidence that a year later in 1949 the Geneva Conventions were adopted in order to limit the barbarity of war. These Conventions and their Additional Protocols are the milestone international documents protecting people who do not take part in military actions (civilians, health and aid workers, as well as people who can no longer continue to fight).
Evidently, the international community learned the bitter lesson from the sad experience of the War and decided to unite its efforts to respond collectively to new threats to international peace and security.
However, the noble mission of the world nations crashes to smithereens with the barbarian terror acts committed by Armenia against Azerbaijani civil population.
Since the beginning of the recent escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which was occupied along with the seven adjacent districts by the Armenian military forces, Armenian side intentionally targets civil population of Azerbaijan in rude violation of the norms and principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Thus, the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja had come under heavy rocket fires by the military forces of Armenia for the three times in the last two weeks that were resulted in killing of more than 25 and injuring more than 100 civilians. It is worth to mention the fact that the city of Ganja with the population of 500.000 people is located fully outside the battlefield. Armenian military forces used a SCUD / Elbrus ballistic missile and chose the night hours to attack the civil population in order to commit bloody atrocities against as many people as possible.
Armenia targeted civil population not only of the city of Ganja, but also Mingachevir, Goranboy, Tartar, Barda and Shamkir that are also situated outside of the war zone. These provocative and bloody acts were committed despite the announcement of humanitarian ceasefire, which was reached during the meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers in Moscow with the mediation of the Russia.
Intentional killing of Azerbaijani civilians committed by Armenian political-military leadership is a war crime, representing the rude violation of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which along with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 address the issues of conduct of warfare and war crimes.
Furthermore, taking into account the fact that targeting civil population is the traditional tactic of Armenian side, the recent bloody attacks are also legally assessed as crimes against humanity.
Noteworthy, the war crimes and crimes against humanity were the corpus delicti for the commission of which German Nazis and Japanese militarists were convicted by the Nurnberg and Tokyo international military tribunals after the Second World War.
Today, 75years later when the world community celebrates the victory over fascism Azerbaijani civilians are under attacks of the Armenian military forces which occupied Azerbaijani internationally recognized territories and committed ethnic cleansing for the last 30 years. These atrocities are committed in front of the world community which promisingly proclaimed a belief in human dignity after the nightmares of the War.
The world community which successfully achieved in a comparatively resent history a revolutionary shift from impunity to international accountability for international crimes should live up to its vow of ‘never again’ today, when innocent Azerbaijani people are suffering from the barbarian acts of the Armenian fascist political-military regime. In fact, the cost of impunity is the threat to international peace and security, which humanity seeks to achieve through the consideration of the tragic experience of the Second World War.
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