The Eastern European nations of Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been embroiled in a battle of invectives over the exploration of gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. However, words have begun to quickly devolve into explicit displays of military strength as both Greece and Turkey have sent warships to protect deposits they see as falling in their territory. Greece claims that the gas reserves fall in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) according to the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) while Turkey, a non-signatory to UNCLOS, claims it is covered in their continental shelf region. The European Union has expressed its invariable support to Greece and Cyprus, as both nations are members of the EU, but Turkey has refused to back down. The conflict becomes all the more pronounced because both the nations are NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) members, and in normal circumstances, the US would intervene and guarantee peace. However, the US under President Donald Trump has preferred to take a back seat and focus on domestic issues, with the Presidential elections approaching.
Foundering economy and geopolitical costs
It might be surprising to see Turkey put up such a belligerent and tenacious front in this conflict considering the nosediving global oil prices and the imploding Turkish lira, adding to the shock electoral defeat of President Erdogan’s party in Istanbul’s mayoral elections in 2019. Turkish foreign exchange deposits are at crisis level and they have been depending on Qatari dollars to stay afloat. Some observers have tried to explain Turkey’s stance as being something of a desperate attempt to prop up its economy by securing a lucrative hydrocarbon stimulant. There could be truth to this, but it is a short-sighted explanation. Off-shore gas exploration in itself is a very expensive operation, requiring massive amounts of investment. On top of that, setting up drilling and refining facilities requires further injections of investment, something Turkey by itself is incapable of doing. Add to this the tricky geopolitical situation Turkey finds itself in.
In late 2019, Turkey signed a bilateral maritime agreement with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) indicating that gas exploration in the Mediterranean will not happen without Ankara’s participation. This was also done because the other Mediterranean states developed the EastMed pipeline project without consulting Turkey, through whose EEZ the supply line would have to pass, thereby angering Turkey. Additionally, France and Turkey have been engaged in proxy conflicts and one-upmanship quarrels since many years now. President Macron’s Libya policy, supporting strongman KhalifaHaftar’s coup attempt was one such instance. Recently, Macron’s visit to besieged Beirut and his promise to redevelop harbour areas along with UAE was a win over Turkey’s bid to do the same. The military agreement with UAE in late 2019 adds to France’s military alliance with Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which is expected to be a retardant to Turkey’s gunboat diplomacy. Historically too, France has unequivocally opposed Turkey’s entry into the EU. This, coupled with US fence-watching, has put the onus on Germany to intervene and prevent any escalation in tensions.
Aggressive Turkish nationalism and neo-Ottomanism
Foreign observers have been left perplexed at Turkey’s confrontational behaviour and refusal to allow compromises. The question is a natural one considering Turkey’s lack of Western European allies and its sinking economy. It must be understood, however, that since Erdogan’s ascension to Presidency in 2014, and a few years prior to that, Turkey’s post-World War Euro-centric national identity had begun to undergo a radical metamorphosis. After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, sovereign Turkey sought to align closely with the West not just geo-strategically but also culturally. A new national consciousness was developed which touted Istanbul as the gateway between the West and the Middle-East. However, persistent rejection from EU membership and a continuously eroding strategic depth began changing the nation’s outlook towards the world and its image of itself. Under Erdogan’s muscular leadership, Turkey has sought to establish itself once more as a leader of the Muslim world (evidenced by its decision to designate the Hagia Sophia as a mosque), which explains some of its assertiveness in the Mediterranean. Turkey also holds a crucial card at the negotiating table with Germany after its actions in Syria, where it controls several prisons holding former ISIS fighters, formerly held by the Kurdish authorities. They also control several refugee camps housing thousands of displaced Syrian and Iraqi citizens, and could use this factor to strong-arm EU nations, whose shores would be welcome destinations for the immigrants. In March, Ankara allowed millions of refugees to enter the EU claiming it was unable to contain the large influx of refugees on its territory. In 2016, Brussels and Ankara signed a pact, where EU offered financial aid and other benefits in return for Turkish guarantees of controlling the refugee movement. Relations became fraught when Turkey accused the EU of reneging on the deal when funding dried up. Consequently, Europe now faces a burgeoning refugee crisis, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An important and paradigmatic manifestation of the radical transition of Turkish political discourse is its actions to impose naval hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. Popularly called “MaviVatan” or blue homeland in Turkish political dialogue, this refers to its steadfast position that the oil reserves under the seabed belong to Turkey, even in the face of stringent EU sanctions and increased diplomatic isolation. It is representative of a changing political doctrine within the nation that threatens to unhinge an unstable peace in the region.
What can be expected?
There is a strong belief that President Erdogan is playing a high-stakes game, but his final intention is not to cause a full-frontal military conflagration, considering the massive odds against Turkey. It is pitted against the economic and military might of the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel now, following the historic agreement between the two. His actions have been wired to bring all parties to the negotiating table, and get a portion of the gas reserve to stimulate an economy on the brink. A military conflict does not seem likely as preventive measures will be taken, but one can expect this issue to dominate headlines. Moreover, with the USA conspicuously acting as a pedestrian owing to internal political events, the major players in the conflict will wait until November for a coherent strategy to be forthcoming from Uncle Sam. Moscow’s ambivalence and the lack of consensus over decision-making in the EU points towards a protracted period of brinkmanship.
After initially keeping a low profile during the acute military-political confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the European Union suddenly surprised the world in the latter half of June with more important decisions than the approval of yet another package of sanctions against Moscow. First, the land transit problem between the Russian mainland and Kaliningrad dramatically worsened as part of the EU economic war on Russia. Second, at a June 23 summit, the leaders of the EU countries agreed to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. Although neither is likely to have significant or truly dangerous consequences for the time being, these actions provide an excellent opportunity to reflect the nature of the EU, its role in Europe’s development and prospects.
This is of particular interest because European integration has become one of the most mythologised topics in international affairs. This is no surprise – the relatively stable and long-term cooperation of such a large group of states is highly unusual for international politics. But it inevitably gives rise to a number of hypotheses about the emergence of this phenomenon and its peculiarities.
In a sense, this association is indeed a marvel against the background of our entire historical experience, which is marked by competition and fierce rivalry between states.
This is why attempts to explain how it was at all possible inevitably engendered new myths and illusions that were designed to separate the phenomenon from the discussion about it.
The first, most enduring myth rests on the assumption that the EU is a peaceful project that, by its very nature, cannot be used for aggressive action beyond its borders. In effect, this is a simple extrapolation of the rules and norms of interstate relations to their relations with the outside world. Indeed, European integration did emerge at a time when a military solution to disputes between its members did not appear possible.
But the sequence is all important – the founding countries were already incapable of fighting each other before they created an association with additional opportunities for developing relations in the framework of law and institutions.
When the first institutions of European integration emerged, West European countries were still reeling from the greatest military cataclysm in history. Moreover, two of them – Germany and Italy – were not actually in charge of their domestic and foreign policy. Both countries were under full or partial foreign occupation and therefore could not even physically consider a military option one of the tools of their foreign policy as regards their neighbours. Formally one of the victorious countries in WWII, France was also dependent on the United States, which was the only country that could guarantee France’s sovereignty against the looming threat of being swallowed from the east by the victorious USSR.
Subsequently, European integration did not do anything to spread peace even among its members. The United States successfully resolved these issues inside the Western community. In the second half of the 20th century it could effectively discipline the elites of the countries under its military domination.
The only real opportunity for achieving peace between historical opponents in the framework of integration would be Turkey’s accession to the EU, which already counts its traditional foe, Greece, as a member. However, the EU has neither the ability nor appetite to make this happen, and the Republic of Turkey is now further from joining the EU than during any time since the start of their relations in 1961. Another example that some European officials also like to mention is containing the allegedly irrepressible territorial conflict between Hungary and Romania over Transylvania. However, the main deterrent here is NATO or, more precisely, US influence in Eastern Europe, which is vital to the existence of the alliance.
There is even less justification to claim that European integration was intended to improve relations with third countries via cooperation. In general, immediately after the creation of the communities, one of the main goals of their foreign policy was to restore the positions of their members in Third World countries that had just rid themselves of colonial dependence. The EEC’s first trade agreement was signed with a group of former French colonies in West Africa and was aimed at preserving the economic positions of the former parent state in this region.
Subsequently, the member countries charged their institutions in Brussels with other important tasks: oppose the USSR in the economic arena; contain the development of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) countries; coordinate formal and informal sanctions against the USSR and its allies; and ultimately undermine the CMEA’s integrity by signing separate trade agreements with its inpidual members. This is exactly why the EEC persistently opposed the signing of a general agreement with the CMEA or the USSR despite their urging until the latter half of the 1980s when the impending collapse of the Eastern bloc had become a likely prospect.
There are no grounds at all to call the EU a “peaceful project” after the end of the Cold War. In fact, the recent collision over Kaliningrad transit was one of the consequences of the EU’s activities in that historical period. After the collapse of the Soviet sphere of influence and breakup of the USSR, the West European countries began to rather aggressively establish control over Eastern Europe, while never considering the interests of Russia, their biggest partner in the East. Now nobody even conceals the fact that the EU expanded to the detriment of Russian interests, not to mention the policy the EU adopted after 2003 as regards the states that emerged along the perimeter of Russia in the western part of the former USSR. The ultimatum contained in “the EU’s peaceful project” for Ukraine in 2013 was one of the most important factors in triggering the Ukrainian crisis.
The second important myth is linked with the EU’s expansion to include new members. For a rather long time, there was a dominant view that any increase in the number of member countries was the result of a rational calculation based on an objective assessment of the ability of this or that country to meet a certain “gold standard.” But his was not the case. With the exception of the accession of Denmark and the United Kingdom to the European communities in 1973, all other waves of expansion were not based on the economic readiness of candidate members. This applies to Greece that joined the EU in 1981 and even more so, to Spain and Portugal, which became its members in 1986. It is possible to say with some reservations that the accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland to the EU in 1995 was not accompanied by any big differences in the level of socioeconomic development.
However, the following large expansion to Eastern Europe, as well as to Cyprus and Malta was a strictly political project. The preservation of economic harmony within the EU was out of the question. Therefore, it is possible to regard the granting of candidate status to Ukraine, which may not even exist in five or seven years, and Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, as the logical continuation of the road on which the West European countries embarked 40 years ago when they invited economically backward Greece to join their ranks.
Overall, we are seeing that European integration has always been aimed at resource extraction from new territories and consolidation of US influence in Europe. Brexit and Britain’s decades-long special position in the integration structure was possible owing to its much stronger bilateral relationship with the United States.
Finally, the third myth of European integration, which is widespread in Russia, concerns its legal and institutional character. Indeed, in several decades the EU has established a ramified system of its own legal standards and institutions, which creates a powerful illusion of resolving vital issues by the force of law, not by the law of force. However, we should not forget that all decisions in the EU are based on the relative power (demographic and economic) of the inpidual member countries. In this sense, the biggest countries have free rein to implement what they considered politically expedient. In other words, there can be no standards or rules in the EU that do not accommodate the interests of such countries as Germany and France first and foremost. This has become particularly clear in the past 15 years when most decisions were made directly through intergovernmental bargaining while the job of EU institutions was merely to process them legally.
To sum up, it is possible to say that the current circumstances are allowing us to see much clearer the real nature of the phenomenon to the west of our borders. Even if economic and political relations with the EU countries are restricted in the next few years, a better understanding of how their association develops will allow us to more accurately assess its historical prospects. For quite a long time, Russia, like many other countries, had no opportunity to see Europe for what it is. However, in the new historical era we will not have to recycle old myths and long-standing illusions that we often created ourselves.
From our partner RIAC
European Union Could Share its Solid Economic Benefits with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia
European Union has, at least by territory and population, expanded as the European Council overwhelmingly decided to grant Moldova and Ukraine, with the possibility of Georgia, candidates’ status to join the bloc. Current, the European Union consists of 27 members and has an estimated total population of about 447 million. Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, all former Soviet republics, will together add approximately 50.8 million to the current population of the European Union.
As former Soviet republics, the three attained their political independence and within the international laws, must be considered with respect based on the principles of their territorial integrity and national sovereignty. While the granting them their new status after official requests from them, it has indeed sparked debates especially in the Russian Federation.
European Union leaders have formally agreed to grant candidate status to Ukraine, as well as Moldova, although the two former Soviet republics face a long path before joining the bloc. Ukraine applied to join the bloc just days after the Russian invasion on 24 February, and the process from application to candidacy has gone through at record speed.
Undoubtedly the new status has opened wide, most possibly, better doors and a platform to spring up with economic development through integration into European Union. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, noted: “it is a historic moment, today marks a crucial step on your path towards the European Union. Our future is together.”
The official congratulated the leaders of Ukraine and Moldova. Regarding Georgia, the European Council “decided to recognize the European perspective of Georgia and is ready to grant candidate status once the outstanding priorities are addressed,” Michel said. “Congratulations to the Georgian people,” he said. “A historic moment in EU-Georgia relations: Georgia’s future lies within the EU.”
The European Commission on June 17 recommended that the summit grant a candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. It is a “symbol of hope” to support the Ukrainians while the country had a long way to go before actual accession. A few days later, Speaker of Moldova Parliament, Igor Grosu, announced that Moldova ready to join new sanctions, mostly in finance and banking, against Russia.
“We will show solidarity with the EU, as our status and European aspirations oblige us. Of course, we will join [any new sanctions] meant to stop the military operation. We are seeking to contribute to this goal by any diplomatic means,” Grosu said following a decision by the EU.
Moldova’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicu Popescu earlier said the East European nation could not fully join anti-Russian sanctions due to its weak economy. European Union candidate status now provides Moldova with access to world’s most developed market. It offers similar new economic opportunities to bothe Ukraine and Georgia.
In one of her warm-hearted illuminating speeches at a media briefing, President Maia Sandu emphasized: “Candidate country status gives us a clear direction of our development, support on this path, and most importantly, hope. We are a small and vulnerable country, which would feel more secure when it becomes part of the European family, in which we could count on support from all members and institutions. Belonging to the EU also means access to the richest and the most developed market in the world.”
Moldova, however, expects more support from the European Union to improve the wellbeing of its people and provide preconditions for developing the business environment. “The situation will not change overnight after candidate status has been granted, as a lot of hard work is still ahead,” Sandu said, attributing the current hardships in Moldova to the conflict in Ukraine that began late February.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the news as “a unique and historic moment”, adding “Ukraine’s future is within the EU” while the French President Emmanuel Macron said that the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support Ukraine’s pro-Western aspirations.
At least, they have joined the ‘European family’ that offers practical warmth for sustainable development. Ukraine has already signed an agreement with the European Union on joining its LIFE Program, an international funding instrument for the environment and climate action, whose budget on environment protection projects for 2021-2027 amounts to €5.43 billion, Ukrainian media reported with reference to the Environment Protection and Natural Resources Ministry.
Ukrainian Environment Protection Minister Ruslan Strilets and European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius signed the agreement.The ministry has over 15 concrete proposals to be transformed into relevant projects to be presented for consideration under LIFE Program.
“Ukraine has received great support and colossal capabilities from the European Union for restoring not only the environment but also live nature in Ukraine. This is something for which there has always been a lack of funding. LIFE is a powerful financial tool of the participating countries. This means great confidence in Ukraine,” Strilets said. “This should help us develop more new projects which local businesses could be engaged with. Therefore, we’ve made a very important step today.”
In the near future Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia have the possibility to access the benefits from the Global Gateway, a new European strategy directed at boosting smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport sectors and to strengthen health, education and research systems across the world.
It is in line with the commitment of the G-7 leaders from June 2021 to launch a values-driven, high-standard and transparent infrastructure partnership to meet global infrastructure development needs. The Global Gateway is also fully aligned with the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Agreement.
In addition, late June the he Group of Seven economic powers – the U.S., Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Canada and Japan – made some progress in bringing their counterparts from their five guest countries closer to Western views on sanctions against Russia. The G-7 is committing themselves to support the new members especially Ukraine.
Ahead of his trip, Biden authorized another US$450 million in weaponry to be sent to Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. commitment to US$6.1 billion since the start of the war. Offering a concrete template, the G-7 combined are aiming to invest US$600 billion in public and private capital for infrastructure projects over the next five years, with US$200 billion of that total coming from the United States.
According to European lawmakers interviewed by local Russian media Izvestia, this step has broad support from the EU. Meanwhile, Russia views the move ambiguously. On the one hand, it sees EU membership as tantamount to striving for NATO, on the other hand, European integration is a purely economic issue and does not raise any concerns.
“We’ll see, we’ll analyze the consequences,” former Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Izvestia. “The context is important; it is not as harmless as it might have seemed three years ago. Decisions are being made amid a sanctions offensive and against everything Russian,” he added.
That being said, the European Union noted that obtaining candidate status is only the first step towards membership. Engin Eroglu, a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament, in an interview with Izvestia said that the process of gaining membership to the EU does not mean automatic entry, but it means that the country has started pro-European processes and reforms, which are partially financed by Brussels.
The granting of candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova has angered other countries that have been striving to join the European Union for several years now. For example, the European Commission has so far denied this status to Georgia, the newspaper writes.
“Tbilisi, to put it mildly, was not happy about the refusal, but this will not be a reason for any deterioration in relations between the European Union and Georgia,” Head of the Department of Integration Studies at Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO) Nikolay Kaveshnikov told Izvestia.
Russia consistently expresses fierce opposition to this European membership over the past several years. President Vladimir Putin had declared Ukraine to be part of Moscow’s sphere and insisted he was acting due to attempts to bring the country into NATO, the Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.
Granting Ukraine and Moldova candidate status to join the European Union looks like nothing more than a scam by the West, according to Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Scam is such a wonderful word, seeing that the numerous decisions taken by the West are more like combination of a destructive, provocative nature, rather than well-thought-out steps,” the diplomat said, speaking to the Sputnik Radio.
“I think that’s certainly their case,” she added, “Given these maneuvers, these zigzags that we now are witnessing from the West with regards to Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, it is no longer necessary to prove anything in terms of market conditions. There is a direct link between economics and politics. And this is exactly what they have always stood against.” She described the actions by the European Union as infringement of Russia’s territorial integrity, and as encroachment on former Soviet space and territory.
On the distinctive opposite side, Russia sees no risks for itself in the fact that Ukraine and Moldova have been granted EU candidate status, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference following talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov on June 24 in Baku.
“Our position has always been that the European Union is not a political bloc, unlike NATO. The development of its relations with any countries that wish to do so does not create any threats and risks for us,” Lavrov said in reply to a media question. “Of course, we will realistically consider the European Union’s behavior and monitor the real steps it takes and how the candidate countries act: whether they comply with these requirements or still try to show their independence.”
These new European Union members have some strategic significance. Moldova is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It shares borders with Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north. Ukraine, with a coastline along the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively could be used for economic benefits by the European Union.
EU-Australia Relations: Strategic Security Cooperation
Over the last decade, security cooperation between Australia and the EU has grown. Increasing security and defence cooperation with governments outside the EU is something that the EU has looked into. Third-country participation in the “Common Security and Defence Policy” CSDP civilian and military crisis management missions and operations, as well as the exchange of sensitive information, are all examples of this.
Australia participates in CSDP missions and exchanges classified information with the EU. This emphasis on ties with other countries is a key aspect of EU Global Strategy, which asks its allies to assist promote the rule-based global order. “External partnerships” must be restructured and the EU must “engage with key partners, likeminded countries, and regional groupings” in order to share this responsibility.
Australia stated that it would work with “like-minded” friends like the European Union to address global concerns. The EU’s security mandate relies heavily on crisis management. For the EU to be seen and effective in managing crises, it must be able to draw in non-EU countries and establish links with them. Third-country participation in CSDP missions and the signing of Framework Participation Agreements on crisis management show how actors outside the EU regard the EU as a crisis management actor and validate the EU’s crisis management function.
The EU’s external measures to safeguard freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights must have this external validation if they are to gain “credibility and normative significance.” To “strengthen its own ability to bear responsibility and share the cost with security and defence partners,” the EU needs the support of third countries. European Union “strategic autonomy” refers to the EU’s ability to act and collaborate with international and regional partners but also working independently when necessary, according to the EU’s Security and Defence Implementation Plan, published in November 2016. EU credibility is bolstered as a result.
Ad hoc agreements, which took a long time to draft, are now the preferred method of enabling participation, instead of the time-consuming ad hoc agreements that were previously used. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the beginning of FPA negotiations with EU counterparts, Catherine Ashton, saying that “North Africa & Middle East have highlighted the value in Australia & EU cooperating closely to react to international crises” at the time of the announcement.
The EU and Australia, according to the FPA, share a common understanding of the threats they face and the objectives they should focus on. Australian participation in two CSDP missions has been made possible by this convergence. Some argue whether or not the European Union and Australia see each other as strategic or priority partners in the fight against global and interconnected security threats, as well as whether or not their geographical domains of interests and aims align.
In two CSDP missions, Australia’s involvement has been capped (and duration as with EUCAP Nestor). CSDP military operations are not permitted. EU crisis management will take a new step forward with participation by Australia in a CSDP military mission. The EU CSDP’s military efforts have primarily focused on developing military capabilities or deploying naval forces. As long as EU member states are unwilling to engage in large-scale military operations, this pattern will continue.
A naval operation in the Strait of Hormuz has been proposed recently by the EU as a means of protecting freedom of navigation and calming tensions between Iran and the United States. We could see Australia participating in an EU military operation as this occurs. As seen by its August 2019 decision to join the US-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz, Australia has a strategic interest in maintaining marine flow.
The EU-Australia security partnership is strengthened because to FPA. European Union and Australian cooperation will have a solid foundation thanks to the FPA, which recognizes common interests in international peace and security. Both EUCAP Nestor and EUAM Iraq have involved Australia in crisis management, but more effort is required. Both parties must agree that Australia will be invited to more than just these two missions. The EU’s CSDP missions are strengthened by its partners, who help the EU to be a responsible global actor. However, it also makes it necessary for Australia and the EU to work together more closely to identify common interests on a variety of issues.
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