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Libya: At what point is the night?

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum gets underway in the Tunisian capital, in Tunis. UNSMIL

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On Monday, November 9, the talks that should decide Libya’s future began in Tunis.

After almost a decade of unrest, chaos and civil war, probably the United Nations – with the direct commitment of the new “special envoy”, Stephanie Wilson, will succeed in reasoning with the various factions that have fought one another, with no holds barred, in recent years and in organizing the first national election from which the new Libya after Gaddafi should come out, as hoped for by the whole international community.

During the opening ceremony of the peace conference, before the Tunisian President Kais Saied, Mrs. Williams stated flat out that “the road to the agreement will not be paved with roses and it will not be easy to achieve a good outcome. The conference, however, is the best opportunity in the last 6 years to put an end to civil war”.

Seventy-five delegates, chosen by the United Nations to represent an array of political viewpoints, regional interests and social groups, sit at the negotiating table as the main warring sides that have opposed one another since in 2014 General Khalifa Haftar – in an attempt to put an end to chaos and contain the aggressiveness of Islamist militias – founded the “Libya Liberation Army” and launched “Operation Dignity”, which actually led to the splitting of Libya into three macro geographical areas that roughly correspond to the Velayat, the three regions into which the Ottoman rulers had divided the country: Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica.

In Tripolitania the following entities are present: the “Government of National Accord” (GNA) established in 2015 under the aegis of the United Nations, recognized (but not supported, as we will see later on) by the international community and led by Fayez al-Sarraj, that controls part of Tripolitania; the Tobruk government that occupies the whole Cyrenaica with Haftar’s troops; a conglomerate of tribal militias representing the independent municipalities of Fezzan.

The key players on the scene are, of course, Haftar and al-Sarraj. A few days ago, the latter – after announcing his resignation last September – announced his intention to hold office until an agreement is reached.

 As said by Mrs. Williams, the road is not “paved with roses”, for the additional reason that at the negotiating table there are the long shadows of the external sponsors of the two main warring factions. These sponsors have actually turned the Libyan civil war into a low-intensity international conflict which, however, is potentially very dangerous for the stability of North Africa and the whole Middle East.

 General Haftar is openly supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, France and Russia, while al-Sarraj can count on the support of Erdogan’s Turkey, Qatar and – in its small way – Italy.

 Turkey and Qatar support Tripoli for ideological and religious reasons, as all the militias that have so far kept al-Sarraj’s fragile government alive are strongly Islamist, while Italy – with an uncritically “legitimist” position – has sided with the “Government of National Accord” (GNA) to emphasize its loyalty to the UN decisions.

As we will see later on, however, not only religious or nationalistic interests are at stake, but also the interests linked to Libya’s wealth, thanks to its huge oil and gas fields, which are still partly untapped.

The external sponsors of the civil conflict have come out since last spring, when General Haftar’s “Libyan Liberation Army” launched an offensive on the West, with the aim of conquering Tripoli and getting rid of al-Sarraj and his government once and for all. Faced with this prospect, the Turkish President Tayyp Recep Erdogan – who had already signed an agreement with the Tripoli government for the joint exploitation of oil and gas resources in Libya’s “exclusive economic zone” (practically the whole South-Eastern Mediterranean) – sent his own military and – with a very severe and dangerous move for the region’s future stability – he transferred to the Libyan territory 13,000-20,000 Syrian militiamen, veterans of the anti-Assad civil war, all fierce and experienced veterans and, above all, siding with the most intransigent front of Islamic extremism.

Thanks to Turkey’s decisive support at military level and Qatar’s at economic level, al-Sarraj managed to stop General Haftar at Tripoli’s gates and, since the end of last August, the front has stabilized west of Sirte and a fragile “ceasefire” has brought some calm to a country that is beginning to suffer also under the Covid-19 blows. On October 23, in the Geneva UN headquarters, the truce on the ground was formalized with a “ceasefire” agreement.

While al-Sarraj could rely on Turkey’s active support, throughout last spring’s offensive General Haftar was supported by the Russian mercenaries of the “Wagner Group” – an organization of former members of the Russian special forces that was very active during the Syrian civil war – and on the fundamental support of the United Arab Emirates, which, together with Jordan, constantly supplied the “Libyan Liberation Army” with sophisticated and modern armaments.

From Abu Dhabi, fundamental help has been provided to Haftar’s troops by the parastatal company International Golden Group (IGG), an armament company that has close business relations with similar Western groups, first and foremost the French Thales.

The International Golden Group is in partnership with the “Royal Group”, a holding company owned by Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the powerful National Security Advisor of the Arab Emirates.

IGG is therefore at the forefront in supporting the policy of intervention in Libya decided by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It is also at the forefront in arms procurement for General Haftar’s faction, since it is able to purchase heavy and sophisticated armaments in Russia, such as T-72 tanks, SA-3 surface-to-air missiles, S-300 anti-aircraft batteries, all weapons that Abu Dhabi is firmly intent on delivering to General Haftar’s troops.

According to reliable local sources, considering their complexity, these weapons should be entrusted to the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group, some of whom have already been seen driving Mi-24 helicopters during the spring offensive against Tripoli. These helicopters come directly from the Arab Emirates’ arsenals.

An important source of armaments for the Emirates – and indirectly for General Haftar – is Serbia.

 Thanks to the personal commitment of Mohamed Dahlan – former Head of the Palestinian intelligence service and protagonist of reckless joint operations with Israel against Hamas, who currently holds the position of advisor for the special operations of Crown Prince Mohamed Al Zayed –  the “Serbian connection” was able not only to ensure a constant supply of weapons to Haftar’s troops, but also to provide 80 French Leclerc tanks to Jordan, after the Jordanian State company Med Wave Sippinghad been subject to heavy sanctions by the European Union for violating the arms embargo to Libya on September 21 last.

Jordan, however,is still very active in supporting the Tobruk troops, thus managing to provide to Haftar also a substantial supply of South African Mbombe 6X6 armoured vehicles, which are very useful for fast movements in the desert.

This is the situation at the beginning of the peace talks in Tunis.

The front has stabilized along the border between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania that the Egyptian President, Al Sisi, another supporter of Haftar, declared to be a “red line” that if it were to be crossed by al-Sarraj’s troops, or by Turkish soldiers and Syrian militiamen, would force Egypt to deploy its troops on Haftar’ side.

The most important stakeholders of what in the past was a civil war – later degenerated into an international conflict – side with their protected, in Tripoli and Tobruk, and they will set the time schedule of a possible, but extremely difficult solution to a ten-year crisis, which is infecting the whole Mediterranean basin.

At the centre of this basin there is Italy which, almost unconsciously, under the formal UN umbrella, actually sides in Libya with Turkey and Qatar, two countries which have never made any secret of their sympathies for jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as protagonists of unscrupulous operations in Syria to support Isis.

With these troublesome and embarrassing travel companions, Italy is now facing not only the sensitive issue of protecting its interests in Libya, starting with ENI’s commitment in that region, but also having to manage the delicate affair of the 18 fishermen from Mazara del Vallo, kidnapped by Haftar’s Navy for many weeks and thrown into a prison near Benghazi.

Considering that the Italian government – overwhelmed by the problems related to the spreading of the Covid-19 pandemic –seems unable to carry out – let alone to conceive – an operation for the liberation of the Sicilian fishermen using its excellent special forces, the only way to achieve their liberation is a negotiation with General Haftar, either directly or indirectly, possibly with the support of France, Russia or Jordan, not to mention Egypt, which has spent itself so much to support the Tobruk government’s demands.

The Italian media have leaked news that the fishermen of Mazara del Vallo could be exchanged for a Libyan smuggler and trafficker detained in Italy.

The news appears unreliable, because it is known that all the boats transporting illegal migrants which sail daily from Libya to the Italian coast, leave from the beaches and small harbours of Tripolitania, all controlled – at least theoretically – by the forces of al-Sarraj we support because “recognized and backed” by the United Nations.

In all likelihood, General Haftar detains our fishermen to convince us to have milder political and geopolitical views, certainly not to obtain the release of a Tripolitan thug.

We have talked about the chessboard on which the pieces of the Libyan game are placed.

If we want to positively influence the final outcome of the game and do our best to protect the national economy and the safety of our fellow citizens, unjustly kidnapped and detained in the prison of Benghazi, probably we should give up the role of mere pawns and try to gain more influence in a game in which the key players are Turkey, France, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Emirates.

A game in which you cannot participate simply by reiterating slogans such as “we need to protect the international legality enshrined by the United Nations”, but which would require the same good dose of realism and courage as France has proved to have.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Hybrid Warfare Against Pakistan: Challenges and Response

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The term ‘hybrid warfare’ entered the strategic lexicon in the early 21st century despite having been practiced in various forms for a long time. It is defined as a blend of both kinetic and non-kinetic options to offset conventional power dynamics.  Hybrid warfare includes extensive use of tools like spreading disinformation, propaganda, economic coercion, backing proxy militia and cyber-attacks to achieve strategic objectives. In modern times, owing to the exponentially high cost of men and material used in traditional warfare, not only the great powers but various middle powers engage in hybrid warfare in order to destabilize, demoralize and disintegrate their core adversaries.

The advancement in technology over the 21st century encourages the blending of the different modes of warfare making hybrid warfare a practical option for meeting political objectives. The aspects of ambiguity and deniability that accompany hybrid warfare, make it an attractive option for states to exercise subtle power – they do not have to fear attribution and retribution. Hybrid warfare has become more popular because of the issue pertaining to major wars. The arrival of nuclear weapons in the 20th century even to India and Pakistan, and the different major wars have made conventional warfare much riskier. The consequences of the major wars have led to a transformation in how these wars are viewed. States that want to exert their influence have found other means to do so. There is an on-going debate in the UN about the serious consequences of the internet that can be constituted as acts of war. Its warfare without any direct violence.

Pakistan’s arch enemy, India, has constantly been waging hybrid warfare against Pakistan since partition but it has been recently expedited with increased funding, training of a separatist militia, through economic subversion by politicizing international bodies such as FATF and carrying out diplomatic sabotage in the form of disinformation campaigns disclosure by EU Disinfo Lab. Though the decision was motivated by the political objective of placing Pakistan on the grey list, India’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan jeopardizes South Asia’s stability.

India’s main objective when it comes to hybrid warfare against Pakistan is it to keep Pakistan politically and economically unstable. This helps achieve certain other goals like preventing the rise of Pakistan’s power in Kashmir and pressuring Pakistan to settle on India’s terms in issues like Siachen and Sir Creek. India has tried to employ numerous tools to wage this warfare against Pakistan at the different levels.

India is trying to build a narrative, especially among Indian Muslims and Kashmiris that Pakistan is a failed or failing state and the partition of the Indian sub-continent was huge mistake. They are also generating the idea that the Indian Muslims are far superior to the Pakistanis and even the Bangladeshis. The hybrid warfare against Pakistan also has its internal dynamics, as it is very much part and parcel of India’s domestic politics particularly around elections. Even the Hindutva intoxicated BJP came to power by employing this strategy. India has also given rise to the narrative that she always tried to build good relations but the Pakistani military does not let the relations normalize. Also, it is the Pakistan Army, which is not allowing a solution to the Kashmir dispute because when Pakistan and India were engaged in backchannel diplomacy to work out a solution on the basis of President Musharraf’s four-point formula, it was the Pakistan Army which conducted, supported and funded the Mumbai attack of 2008. Thus, the Pakistan Army is portrayed as a major problem when it comes to Pakistan. It is also being projected that Pakistan’s defense expenditure is illogical as it needs to invest more in its development rather than the armed forces to defend itself against India. India is also exploiting the fault lines of Pakistan – Baluchistan and CPEC. Pakistan is also blamed for not allowing regional peace and integration. India links Pakistan to the Taliban at international level. Certainly, India’s main aim is to weaken the social contract of Pakistan by creating restlessness, divisions and instability within the country.

Pakistan needs a well calibrated strategy in how to counter India’s move at every platform. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to understand the nature of hybrid warfare while concentrating on Pakistan’s social and political harmony. More importantly, we need to realize the potential of CPEC. There must be good governance based on deliverance to overcome the vulnerabilities. There is no denying the fact that this is an era of multilateralism, but multilateral approach works well when there are healthy bilateral relations. While it is good to host conferences and seminars, there is a need for more practical action. We live in world were information spreads quickly. Hence, we need a counternarrative to India’s narrative of ‘talks and terrorism cannot go side by side’ but unfortunately Pakistan always acts in an apologetic manner. The media can potentially be the face of any state but in the case of Pakistan, the media does not care and there is no policy-based discussion between the media and the government. Also, Pakistan does not have enough English news channels to portray the positive image of Pakistan. Furthermore, every part of Pakistani society including the media, the civil society and academia should collectively respond to India’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan. For all of this to be successful, Pakistan’s immune system must be protected through socio-political harmony and improved governance. Last but not the least, India may not be able to sustain its economic lure for long, therefore, India must stop this hybrid warfare against Pakistan, and resume diplomatic activities for stability and prosperity of the region.

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How Putin’s Russia is Exploiting Jihadists Against pro-Navalny Protesters?

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Who is Putin’s terrorist: Navalny or Jihadist?

Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin is considering using old tactics to stem the growing wave of nationwide protests in support of his fiercest critic, popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This tactic was developed in the late 90s by the KGB ideologists and successfully applied in order to bring to power Vladimir Putin, who is ruling the country with an iron hand longer than all his Soviet predecessors except Joseph Stalin. The tactical skills of the Putin’s policy architects were aiming to frighten Russian citizens by Islamist terrorism and Chechen separatism and unite patriotic and nationalist forces around a new leader capable of challenging the West.

Thus, when the nationwide protests in support of Navalny from Yakutia to Kaliningrad became the most serious challenge, the Kremlin began to trumpet the threat of Islamist extremists and international terrorists. This time, the Putin regime is intimidating protesters with impending terrorist attacks of Central Asian and Caucasian jihadists and their Syrian parent organization, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

On the eve of the next nationwide protests on February 14, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russia warned of the inadmissibility of calls to participate in an unsanctioned rally. Russian state news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS have disseminated information that the most powerful Sunni militant faction of HTS in northern Syria is preparing a series of lone-wolf attacks during the upcoming mass street protests of Navalny’s supporters in various Russian cities. In doing so, however, the pro-Kremlin media cited its undisclosed law enforcement sources and ultimately spread merely conspiracy theories.

According to anonymous sources of Russian security services, HTS-backed Uzbek Jihadi battalion Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), Chechen militant groups Ajnad al-Kavkaz (AK) and Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA) are planning to carry out explosions and attack protesters. To achieve these purposes, terrorist groups allegedly recruited Russian citizens and Central Asian migrants, who expect their leaders’ commands.

pro-Navalny protesters

The Putin regime faced the most serious challenge when anti-government protests took place across the Russia in support Navalny in recent weeks. As is known, in mid-January, Navalny returned to the country after recovering from a chemical Novichok poisoning that nearly took his life and was immediately detained and later jailed for alleged parole violations. The robust Putin regime first demonstrated its grave alarm when tens of thousands pro-Navalny protesters demanded his resignation in more than 100 cities and towns, chanting Putin as a ‘thief’. Police detained more than 11,000 people at what they say were unsanctioned protests that the Moscow condemned as illegal and dangerous.

Alexei Navalny’s political creativity and tactical skill inspired Russian liberal youth weary with the corruption-plagued political order presided over by Putin. Fierce clashes between protesters and riot police during the mass rallies indicate that a new generation is not afraid of arrests and the repressive state machine. And to stop the pace of marathon confrontation with the opposition, Putin resorted to his long-standing KGB tactics, intimidating society with possible terrorist attacks and explosions by Islamists.

Will Uzbek and Chechen Jihadists hit pro-Navalny Protesters?

But the fact is, it’s not the first time Putin’s Russia has intimidated society with possible terror attacks by Islamist terrorists and Chechen separatists to achieve political goals. During the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin at the end of the second millennium, Kremlin ideologists successfully tested anti-Islamist tactics to overcome the challenges of the political opposition. The ideologists of Putin’s election campaign created his image as a decisive and strong leader, the one who can defeat Islamist terrorism, Chechen separatism and preserve the integrity of Great Russia. His image as the only savior of the Russian Empire was accompanied by radio and television spots and news about the atrocities of Chechen militants and their beheading of Russian soldiers.

Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy theory in Russian political circles that the powerful FSB orchestrated apartment bombings in the Russian cities of Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 to boost Putin’s approval rating aiming to ensure his victory in the presidential elections. As a result of these “terrorist attacks”, 307 people were killed, more than 1,700 people were injured. Russian officials concluded that there was a “Chechen trail” in the bombings, but no proof of their involvement was adduced. Many still doubt the results of the investigation and consider Putin to be the culprit of this tragedy.

That’s when Putin uttered his famous phrase: “We will pursue the [Islamist] terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, we’ll kill them there. If we catch them in the toilet, we’ll exterminate them in the toilet.” Many still believe that the apartment bombings and the FSB’s tactic against Islamist extremists catapulted Putin into the presidency. Putin soon launched a second war in Chechnya and emerged victorious in the intra-Kremlin struggle. His ratings soared. He met with huge approval in a society weary from the economic collapse, corruption and crime of the Yeltsin era.

Usually people prefer to keep quiet about this tragedy. Russian political figures Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky worked to unravel the mystery of apartment bombings. But all of them were brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances. Ultimately, the Kremlin’s tactics to combat Islamist terrorists not only helped to rocket Putin to the political Olympus, but also increased Islamophobia, nationalism and chauvinism in Russian society.

Today, even 22 years after Putin came to power, the Kremlin’s ideologists have begun to intimidate Russia’s liberal society with likely Islamist terrorist attacks again as the nationwide protests seriously threaten his regime. This illustrates the regime exhaustion and the lack of confidence in face of the strategic sophistication of Navalny’s team.

So far, neither HTS, nor Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups have officially responded to the FSB on the plotting of terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition rallies. However, in encrypted Telegram chats, Uzbek and Chechen jihadists actively discussed the “leak information”.

Thus, one of the KTJ’s followers on Telegram under the name Al Hijrat said in Uzbek: “Kafir Putin frightens his people with the just sword of Allah.But the people of the blessed land of Sham know that he himself is the main terrorist. Russian infidels and Putin’s Nusayri puppy (Alawites regime of Bashar al-Assad) bomb Greater Idlib to destroy Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. Executioners will have to hold a harsh response before the Almighty for their crimes.”

A pro-Jihadi chat “Inspire” in Telegram wrote in Russian: “the information about the impending attacks by Ajnad al-Kavkaz is fake. The authorities are trying to hold Russia’s awakening people from mass protests against Putin’s criminal group. To intimidate civilians, the Russian siloviki (FSB) can and are ready to commit terrorist acts, blaming HTS for this, which are not interested in what is happening there in Russia. The Putinists have a lot of experience in killing their own citizens and blowing up their houses.” In this message, Chechen militants indirectly protect HTS from accusations by pro-Kremlin media on impending terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition protests. This is no coincidence, since Ajnad al Kavkaz is known for its close ties with HTS.

On Telegram channel, some Russian-speaking jihadists from the post-Soviet space mocked at the ‘leaked information’, some expressed their anger against the “Russian occupants” in Sham, some advised protesters to be vigilant before the FSB provocation. A pro-Jihadi chat Icharkhoin Telegram recommended Muslims of Caucasus be ready for new repressions of Russian infidels and local Murtad (apostate), because after the bombings of houses in Volgodonsk, Putin started the 2-Chechen war and took away the independence of Ichkeria. The Telegram chat “Muhajireen” says that the Kremlin is preparing for a harsh suppression of the mass protests.

It is not the first time the Russian authorities have accused Central Asian and North Caucasian Jihadi networks of organizing terrorist act. On April 3, 2017, the Russian FSB blamed KTJ for the bombing on a subway train in St. Petersburg that killed 16 people and injured 67 others. On October 15, 2020, the FSB once again accused the Uzbek KTJ militants of preparing subversive and terrorist acts in Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Maikop and Volgograd. In a statement, the intelligence services claimed that during the counter-terrorist operation, they prevented explosions and eliminated two members of KTJ. Then FSB distributed photos and videos of firearms, ammunition, IED’s chemical components, and religious literature seized during the operation.

On October 16, 2020, KTJ in its statement denied the Russian authorities’ accusation in these attacks. The Uzbek militant group stated that “according the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s policy, our activities are limited to the territory of Sham, and we do not conduct jihadi acts outside of it.” Further, KTJ assured via its Telegram channel that it “does not have its cells in Russia and is not involved in organizing terrorist acts there.”

Jihadi factor of Russian democracy

The Russian authorities often make thunderous statements about plotting terrorist attacks by “international terrorist groups” and how siloviki (FSB) successfully prevented its. This time, trumpeting about terrorist plots by HTS and its foreign subsidiaries during mass protests in various Russian cities, Moscow hoped to hit two birds with one stone. First, the Kremlin hopes that alarm on terrorist attacks could become a cold shower for Navalny’s supporters, as a result of which the activity of protesters will subside and the scale of the rallies will decrease. Second, by accusing HTS of plotting terrorist attacks, Russia is trying to justify its bloody bombing in northern Syria before the international community.

However, experts on jihadism and political Islam were skeptical about accusations of HTS for plotting terrorist attacks in Russia.HTS, Syria’s most powerful rebel group, is trying to implement a new strategy to transform itself from a global jihadist outlook into a local “moderate national liberation movement”. Today its new agenda is entirely dedicated to Syria and the Syrian local Sunni community. Within this new strategy, HTS severely restricted external attacks by its subsidiaries – Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups –KTJ, AK and JMA. Consequently, HTS, which holds the last major rebel bastion in Idlib province and backs the local Salvation Government, is focused only on the internal Syrian jihad than organizing external terrorist attacks.

HTS emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani is well aware that any terrorist attacks in Russia could place his group among the global terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, from which he decisively disavowed. HTS pursues a pragmatic approach to the political context, and its external attacks outside of Syria could undermine its fragile legacy, which Julani has achieved with great difficulty.

According to the new strategy, HTS has excluded Central Asian and local hardliners from its ranks. Those jihadists who did not want to submit to its new policy, such as former KTJ emir Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki and HTS Shura Council member Abu Malek al-Talli, were arrested or taken out of the Syrian jihad zone. Given the ability of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to pressure Russian-speaking militant groups to abandon its global jihadist ambitions, it can be concluded that the Russian FSB’s accusation against HTS raises many questions.

In conclusion, the Russian authorities alert about Islamists terrorist attacks during pro-Navalny protests is aimed at an internal audience and pursues exclusively domestic political goals. And these goals are clear as plain as the nose on the face. Using these methods, the Kremlin wants to stop the turbulent development of mass protests and divert the attention of people from the Navalny factor. If they succeed, the authorities will take time out to gather strength for the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2021.But if the wave of protests grows ever stronger and threatens Putin’s regime, then a repetition of the 1999 scenario is quite possible. As then, radical Islamism and terrorism can become a starting point for strengthening authoritarianism in Russia.

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Corona pandemic: Realism limitation in solving 21st century security threats

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Today, most serious threats of the 21st century are not ones we can protect ourselves by using armies or advanced weapons. Indeed, the popularity of extreme-right politics, unilateralism based on nationalism and COVID-19 are threatening the world’s post-war security architecture. 

The state-based unilateralism and the trends of national response to the 21st century’s biggest security threat trigger lack of coordination, diplomatic divisions, and incoherent global answer to COVID-19. Hence, as we face the biggest challenge of the contemporary century today, we need to rethink the very nature of our comprehension of national security threats. By doing so, we need a different approach to facing security threats.

With the Corona pandemic as a security threat, one of the foundational international relations theories, the realism, has been revealed to be far limited in terms of its explanatory power than it declares. The argument is that realism has a valid logic and reasons for confidence since answers to the pandemic have confirmed the supremacy of sovereign states, the grounds for the state’s power competition. Nevertheless, the pandemic also presents realism’s weaknesses as a source for successful policy answer to this security challenge. In other words, realism is better at defining risks and threats than suggesting solutions. Put simply, realism’s explanatory power lies in diagnosis rather than treatment or prevention. To make this clear, one insight the theory emphasizes is the representation of states as the fundamental actors in world politics. 

As the coronavirus hit, states shifted quickly to close or tighten international borders, controlled movement within their borders. However, while much independent national action is understandable from a realism’s point of view, it’s insufficient. Unilateralism and state-based measures, such as border controls did not spare states from the pandemic, and unilateral measures risk ending up in national economic and social crisis. 

To fight the Corona pandemic most efficiently, policymakers will have to shift to other theoretical traditions to overcome this security threat. They will depend more and more on greater international openness, trust and cooperation. Hence, while from the realism’s view, unilateral and state-based actions may serve national interest to fight the pandemic “within the national borders”, the pandemic is a global security threat and thus remains unsolved so long as other states and non-state actors have not done the same and states move on unilaterally. 

Solving global crises and security threats such as a pandemic, similar to world economic or other security crises cannot be solved based on the realist considerations of zero-sum competitive logic. Instead, transnational security threats, such as Coronavirus, is unmasking the limitations of individual states actions in the global system. Thus, while realism does an excellent job of “diagnosing the problem”, it does not offer solutions to that problem.   

Considering the necessity of worldwide medical items and actions, coordinated and offered by international organizations and non-state actors, the uncoordinated state-based actions result in an ineffective solution to this security crisis. The perspective this article aims to offer is that given the limitations of realism, we need more faith in international transboundary cooperation based on mutual trust, especially trust vis-a-vis international institutions. However, neither the United Nations nor the World Health Organization (WHO) nor any other non-state actor can overcome the Coronavirus on its own; nor non-state actors such as international institutions are alternatives to national states in international relations. 

Instead, they are an instrument of foreign policy and statecraft and states need to rely on them, incorporating them in finding solutions to global security threats. According to constitutionalists, Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin, “States are indeed self-interested, but cooperation is often in their interest and institutions help to facilitate that cooperation.”

From our partner Tehran Times

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