President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia has confirmed his intention to attend the Victory Parade in Moscow on June 24th. «I have received an invitation from Moscow, so naturally, I will represent Serbia at Victory Parade», – Srbija Danas cites him as saying. «Few countries can pride themselves on anti-fascist struggle like Serbia. I will proudly hold the flag of my Fatherland on Red Square in Moscow», – the Serbian president said.
The Serbian leader also said that he was planning to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin within the next few days ( on June 17 or 18).
According to reports, one of the key issues to be discussed at the forthcoming talks is the situation involving Kosovo. In the words of Aleksandar Vucic, the current state of affairs has forced him to give up on putting forward “great initiatives” relative to the Kosovo issue and he is waiting for proposal from the international community. At present, he said, he cannot see a solution to the Kosovo problem, since all of his previously voiced proposals on Kosovo were declined: ««When I saw a solution everybody said that my vision was poor and that the issue had better be handled by those who do not live in the Balkans and who have nothing to do with Serbs or Albanians rather than those who ar directly involved in the conflict – these are Serbs and Albanians. This is how influential states have been behaving in this region for more than 150 years». «I am waiting to see what kind of proposal we will receive. If you ask me why I say so and what I expect I will tell you that I do not expect anything. I do not know what they will propose», – President Vucic added.
The Serbian president approved of a decision by the newly formed government of Kosovo to abolish trade tariffs which were imposed on Serbian goods. He said that this decision would pave the way to the resumption of talks between Belgrade and Pristina and that it should facilitate the development of economic ties. «This will set a framework for better cooperation between our business communities», – Aleksandar Vucic underscored.
By the «previous proposals» on Kosovo settlement President Vucic means, first of all, the idea of dividing Kosovo into the Serbian and Albanian sections, which he and Kosovo President Hashim Taci presented in the middle of 2018 with a view to secure normalization of bilateral relations. The above mentioned measure was designed to guarantee implementation of the key requirement for Serbia’s membership in the European Union. The document included a protocol on a territorial carve-up of Kosovo.
The corresponding agreement was to be signed in early September 2018 in Brussels with the participation of EU leaders. However, the process was stalled by differences over division principles and protests by opposition forces in Belgrade and Pristina.
There existed two projects for the division in question. Under Hashim Taci’s plans, the relevant scenario was to be a “package” one envisaging a comprehensive exchange of territories, including Serb-populated Northern Kosovo communities Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok (about one fifth of the territory of Kosovo), Albanian-populated adjacent to Kosovo Southern Serbian communities Bujanovac and Presevo, and also, if possible, Medveja.
In the opinion of the Kosovo leader, a revision of borders to the effect that regions of Serbia with an Albanian majority would become part of Kosovo, while those populated by Serbs mostly would go to Serbia could ease tension between Belgrade and Pristina. That the Pristina authorities had to hand over to Serbia part of Kosovo was announced by Hashim Taci at the beginning of 2019 as he addressed the Council for International Relations in Washington. In his words, the signing of a corresponding agreement with Belgrade in Brussels under the patronage of the EU would make it possible for Kosovo to secure an approval from Serbia and join the UN: «If a minor change of the border is the cost of a final peace settlement, it should be acceptable». Such an agreement, Hashim Taci says, should be signed “with the support of the United States”. In his words, it looks like Russia “is ready to accept an agreement which will be reached” between the two parties.
He added that what is meant is «commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement between Kosovo and Serbia, which will guarantee Kosovo a seat in the UN and will enable it to acquire membership in the family of NATO and the EU».
According to the last census in Serbia, about 90 thousand people live in three southern communities of Presevo Valley. The ratio of Serbs and Albanians is as follows: in Presevo – 89% Albanians and 9% Serbs, in Bujanovac – 55% Albanians and 34% Serbs, in Medveja – 26% Albanians and 67% Serbs. Thus, Albanians make up the majority of the population of Presevo and Bujanovac and are “building up” their presence in Medveja. This triggers concerns in Belgrade.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic agrees in principle to the division of Kosovo, with Belgrade regaining control of the province’s northern areas, but he is against a “package”, which includes the exchange of the territories of Presevo, Medveja and Bujanovac.
However, what disrupted the signing of an agreement in the spring of 2019 was the negative position of top EU powers: in the first place, France, and especially, Germany. «The territorial integrity of Western Balkans has been formed and cannot be changed», – Chancellor Angela Merkel said: «There have been attempts to start negotiations on the borders but we cannot do it».
After talks between Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Taci in Berlin in April 2019 resulted in no concrete agreements, the initiative in the negotiating process was assumed by the United States. It was the Trump administration that issued an ultimatum and de facto forced into resignation the Kosovo Cabinet, led by Albin Kurti, a radically minded politician and a staunch opponent to Hashim Taci and any agreements with Belgrade. In addition, Washington got Pristina to lift the restrictive trade tariffs from Serbian goods – something the European Commission had failed to do before.
Speaking of European countries, Austria has come in support of division of Kosovo as a measure to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina. «If Serbia and Kosovo agree on a change of border, Austria will support the move», – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said as he commented on the situation.
Nevertheless, a whole range of political issues has to be clarified if regional stability is to be achieved and not come under threat.
First of all, these issues embrace the territorial aspect of the “package” agreement, including the list of regions which are covered by it. Apparently, the exchange of territories of Northern Kosovo for the Serbian communities of Presevo Valley, which was proposed by Hashim Taci, does not appear to be fair from the point of view of the Serbian president, let alone for radically minded Serbian parties and politicians, who used this to mount their campaign in the run-up to parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 21st.
Secondly, Brussels’ approval of a new carve-up of the Balkan borders will inevitably give fresh impetus to debates on the creation of “Greater Albania” – a state which would incorporate Albania proper, the larger part of Kosovo, Presevo Valley, parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, and probably, Greece, with a projected population of about 10 million people. These concerns are far from groundless.
Leaders of neighboring Albania acknowledge the inviolability of the existing borders. In 1992, the then Albanian leader Sali Berisha announced that “the idea of establishing “Greater Albania” was alien to Albanian ruling circles and political forces». However, in 2011 Azgan Haklaj, a member of the Presidium of the Democratic Party of Albania, said openly during his visit to Presevo that allAlbanian territories should be united to form one state. The incumbent Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, keeps emphasizing that for Tirana, unification of Albania and Kosovo represents the so-called “Plan A”, while division of Kosovo should be viewed as a move in this direction. According to opinion polls, the plan to turn Albanian borders into “ethnic” ones (that is, to include in them all Albanian-populated areas in the Balkans) is backed by more than 80% of the population of Kosovo, over 70% of residents of Albania, and by more than half of Macedonian Albanians.
The reasons why the US and the EU, in particular, have been unable to secure a compromise-based long-term solution to the Kosovo issue lie in their unwillingness to pursue a balanced policy regarding regional conflicts in the Balkans. The experience of the 1990s shows that top western powers, forming NATO, sided with one of the parties to military conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia, thereby violating the key principles of international peace and law. In 1999 such an approach spilled into aggression against Yugoslavia and the subsequent military and political support of Albanian separatists in Kosovo. As for the EU, this organization, from the very outset, assessed the Balkan problems separately from one another, proceeding from the “uniqueness” of every case.
Such an approach underlay the Stability Pact for Southern and Eastern Europe, which was devised by the European Union and put into effect in 1999 but which never produced any tangible effect or lasting results. The current situation all but confirms that.
AllthisgaveextraimpetustoBelgrade’sandPristina’seffortstoachieveatleastsomebilateralagreements. As acknowledged by Le Monde diplomatique, «a carve-up of regional borders on the ethnolinguistic and religious principles may receive more momentum in the course of talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic makes no secret of his readiness to recognize Kosovo in exchange for territorial concessions, whereas his counterpart Hashim Taci hopes to invite Serbian Albanians to live in his country», – the French newspaper reports.
Given the situation, Russia, with due regard for its interests and the history of Serbian-Russian relations, finds it important to use the models which the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina are currently ready to accept, including division and exchange of territories on the basis of a compromise and under the supervision and guarantees of the international community represented by the UN and its Security Council. Russian officials, in the first place, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has repeatedly pointed out that Moscow will welcome “any solution which will meet the interests of Serbia”.
About his country’s foreign policy priorities, including those related to the issue of Kosovo, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic made a clear statement a few days ago to this effect. He said that Serbia has been cooperating with Russia and China in the same manner as many other countries of the EU and that simultaneously, it has no intention to give up on its policy of integrating with the EU – trade with the EU is at an all-time high: «We want to belong to this community. But don’t forget that Serbia is in a specific situation, when we talk about Kosovo and Metohia. The undivided support for Serbia’s integrity comes from China and Russia, we have very good economic and other tie with these countries».
Simultaneously, he pointed out that Serbia, due to its geopolitical position, cannot say a decisive ‘no’ to either the EU, or the USA.
Considering the above mentioned, Russia considers it essential to continue to render diplomatic and political support to Serbia’s incumbent authorities and keep a close eye on what is happening around Kosovo, where they forecast the possibility of an escalation of tension between the EU and the USA.
From our partner International Affairs
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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