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Greek Auditory Illusions in the Greek-American-Turkish-Russian Labyrinth

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Authors: Aris Petasis and William Mallinson

A correspondent shared the following with one of the authors of this piece: In an event organised in the USA for a group of Greek luminaries the main speaker was a former American ambassador to Greece. He boasted about his strong philhellenic credentials and even brandished a photo of himself dressed in an ancient Greek tunic, earning universal applause from his Greek audience. When he had finished his address, which was replete with praise and expressions of admiration for Greece, he was asked about America’s position on Graeco-Turkish relations. Suddenly the cheerful and polite speaker turned sour and morose, banging on the table with his palm and asking the audience to get it into their heads that America will never disappoint ‘strategic military ally’ Turkey just to please the Greeks. This episode strikingly describes the reality of Graeco-American relations. When it comes to American support for the Greeks, it boils down to empty words and no deeds. American policy favours Turkey and will continue thus for the foreseeable future. This trend started with the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and continues to this day (for 73 years.) Surprisingly the Greek leadership appears to see nothing wrong in this, and continues without complaint its suppliant relations with America. In exchange for supple behaviour, the Greeks get words of praise for the achievements of their forefathers 2,500 years back. The American response to Turkish aggression against the Greeks is and always has been predictable. Turkey puts out an unreasonable claim against Greek sovereignty, and then uses intimidation to get her way, knowing that at some point America will step in to ask both sides (aggressor and victim) to compromise! Although both Greece and Turkey are NATO members, Turkey sits on the first-tier, while Greece is considered less vital. Greece is expendable; Turkey is not.

There has always been one constant in Graeco-American relations: irrespective of which American administration is in power, American policy consistently supports the Turks over the Greeks. Equally, irrespective of which administration runs Greek affairs, Greece remains an American instrument. The supposedly ‘anti-American’, ‘socialist/communist’ Syriza administration proved to be an American acolyte. Interestingly, when it comes to American presidential elections, Greeks support the most ‘philhellene’ of candidates, only to be disappointed. The ‘socialist/communists’ in Greece typically pray for a Democratic win, only to receive a rude awakening when their prayers are answered. When ‘philhellene’ Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976, church bells pealed in Cyprus to welcome the ‘saviour’ of the Greeks, as he had promised to rid Cyprus of Turkish occupation. But instead of working to free the Greeks, Carter’s administration worked overtime to lift the American arms embargo against Turkey. Clinton glibly yet sweetly fooled the Greeks into believing that he was a man of ideals and fairness, only to see him provide Turkey with arms galore; a staggering $10 billion funded fully by the American taxpayer to the tune of $8billion. These weapons in the end served Turkish aggression against the hapless Kurds and threatened the Greeks. (see, Arming repression) Other Greeks pray for a Republican win, oblivious to the fact that it was the Republican Henry Kissinger who gave the nod to Turkey to invade Cyprus and capture 37% of its territory. Democrat or Republican makes no difference to the Greek cause.

Greece’s membership of NATO, intended to afford her protection from outside attacks, proved illusionary, seeing that her tormentor and only adversary is NATO-member Turkey. This means that the collective defence provision at the centre of NATO’s founding treaty does not apply in this case. Article 5 of the Alliance, which says that an attack on one member is an attack on all, becomes null and void in the event of Turkey attacking Greece; in this sense NATO is of no use to the Greeks. Greece is however valuable to NATO, particularly in her support for American plans against Russia and China, neither of which have harmed the Greeks, nor intend to do so. Aggrieved Greece remains silent, voicing no dissatisfaction with American policy, and instead partaking in American designs against two friendly countries. Perhaps rather absurdly, the Greek political élite praises the ‘strategic military alliance’ with America, although this gives no protection to Greece from Turkish aggression.

To an independent observer, Greece seems to be interested more in American strategic designs against Russia and China and less in defending herself against Turkish aggression, enough to bewilder any political science scholar. Confusion sets in when one begins to think that Russia is a traditional friend of the Greek people and China an economic partner of debt-ridden Greece. Ingratitude hits roof level when one is reminded that Russia played the key rôle in freeing the Greeks from 400 years of Ottoman/Turkish occupation. In that period Russia even fought a war against Turkey (1828-9), with many Russians dying, when the Ottomans failed to avenge Russia’s involvement on the side of the Greeks at Navarino in 1827. Another twist to this saga is the fact that Turkey hardly co-operates with the USA on pivotal American challenges. Indicatively, in his memoirs Decision Points, President George Bush made reference to the 2003 second Iraq war saying that ‘ally’ Turkey proved not to be a true ally: “On one of the most important requests we had ever made, Turkey, our NATO ally, had let America down.” Yet, America steadily supports ‘ally’ Turkey, but not ally Greece which, unlike Turkey, fought on America’s side in both World Wars.

Linda S. Heard (October, 2020) correctly observes that Erdogan and Turkey behave aggressively against all and sundry because America turns a blind eye to Turkish aggression: “Instead of taking the moral high ground, NATO’s chief marshal and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Sir Stuart Peach, recently praised Turkey’s role within NATO and its essential contributions to NATO operations and activities.” Was Sir Stuart playing games with people’s intelligence and memory, one wonders, when in the same breath he added, perhaps mendaciously, that, “[…] no other ally has suffered more from terrorist attacks,” conveniently hiding the fact that Turkey is a net contributor to terrorism (see “There’s no doubt Turkey sponsors terrorism; why won’t the State Department say so?”)

Seeing that things work in her favour and against the Greeks, irrespective of the merits of the case, Turkey has found it expedient to press for further advantage through the employment of lobbyists in America, as the ineffectual and powerless ‘Greek lobby’ looks on passively. Just over a year ago Ahval News reported that, “Turkey paid nearly $9 million to lobbying firms in U.S. in 2018.” Even a former US National Security Adviser lobbied for Turkey. Ahval notes that the Turkish lobbyist list includes international law firms. Even more bizarrely, a former senior American naval officer of Greek decent, though not a lobbyist, finds it morally acceptable to support the continued arming of Turkey.

The [Athenian] Greek political élite pretend not to see and not to hear and maybe not to bother. Lately the American Ambassador in Greece publicly mandated the Greco-Turkish agenda saying that Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis “[…] will make all the needed comprises […]” (SLPress.) Turkey is trying to encroach on Greece’s sovereignty; yet the Ambassador asks Greece to compromise. Meanwhile, Pompeo has announced cheerfully that the Graeco-American relationship is “at an all time high and getting stronger.” In his last visit to Crete, Pompeo even boasted that he was in Greece, “[…] to showcase one of America’s strongest military relationships throughout all of Europe […]” Not to be upstaged, the Greek Prime Minister heralded the permanent docking of «USS Hershel «Woody» Williams» in Souda Bay in Crete. Pompeo capped it all by adding that he was incredibly proud to support the Greek leadership (29 September, 2020 Washington Post). Pompeo spoke with no pretence and made no attempt to hide America’s real intentions as regards the three American military bases on continental Greece and the naval base in Crete. He said, “[the military relationship] is especially important, as Russia continues to destabilize the region, especially in Libya, where the U.S. calls for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and support for military de-escalation and for Libyan reconciliation.” So, we see Greece in a Graeco-American ‘strategic military alliance’ that targets friendly Russia rather than enemy Turkey. The Greek political élite have yet to articulate a single benefit for Greece’s security needs from the Graeco-American recently announced ‘strategic military alliance.’

The Greek political élite are used to getting empty promises and by now are numb to these. The Greeks asked the EU to apply sanctions against Turkey for her violations of Cyprus’ sovereignty. A meeting was arranged for September 24-25, 2020, but was postponed to 1 October on the pretext that someone tested positive to the corona virus. Even that meeting was to be conducted remotely. Meanwhile, the agenda was miraculously expanded to include China, Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Navalny assassination, leaving little time to discuss sanctions against Turkey!. (see EU incompetence .)

Russia is perplexed by the Graeco-American ‘strategic military alliance’ that is steered against her. Thankfully Russia has not taken vindictive action against her friends the Greeks, who always turn to her for support in the UN Security Council. Greece is obviously unhappy with Russia supplying Turkey with the S-400 air defence system, but the truth is that Russia first supplied the Greeks with the S-300 over twenty years ago. A secret agreement between America and the then defeatist Greek government made this powerful defence system inoperable. Russia supports Cyprus unequivocally on the issue of the withdrawal from Cyprus of all Turkish occupation troops. America is vague on the issue, seeing that the Turkish occupation troops are also NATO troops. Most important, Russia spared Cyprus from the damage the American/British-initiated Anan Plan of 2004 would have brought to the Greeks of Cyprus.

. A lie was deliberately circulated many years back, to the effect that Russia was opposed to Greece extending her territorial waters to 12nm. This served America well in that it stopped Greece from exercising her legitimate rights in the face of an aggressive Turkish casus belli that could end in a war between two NATO [supposed] allies. In direct contrast to the disinformation, Russia’s Ambassador to Athens Andrei Maslov came out recently stating in no uncertain terms that all islands have a continental shelf and an EEZ of their own, thus rubbishing Turkish claims to the contrary. This unnerved the USA, which is now in a quandary, and worried that Greece may finally exercise her rights to 12nm. However, the Greek political élite made little use of the Russian pronouncement, for this would have meant having to take a decision that would have angered America and Turkey.

Is the Greek political éite therefore suffering from auditory illusions, creating false perceptions of what they actually hear the Americans telling them in clear words and actions? The Americans are crystal clear, saying openly that Turkey is their ‘strategic military ally’. Equally, the Americans tell the Greeks to concentrate their military energies on the perceived Russian threat to America, and not the real threat to Greece coming from Turkey. They tell the Greeks to compromise on Turkish demands that are outside international law and to stop creating problems for NATO, because if it comes to the USA taking sides, the Greeks will be the losers. For now Greeks have to be satisfied with the praise they get for their ancestry: Leonidas, Pericles, Xenophon, Plato et al. The Greeks do to Russia as America does to them. Whilst verbally praising the common cultural bonds and Christian Orthodoxy between Greece and Russia, in practice they provide Americans with bases to frustrate Russian plans in the Eastern Mediterranean. As long as Greece supports anti-Russian American plans, Russia will not openly favour their fellow Christian Orthodox Greeks. If Greece thinks that Turkey will be expelled from NATO anytime soon, with Greece filling the gap, that would prove illusionary; America is marking time, waiting for Erdogan to leave; then it’s back to business. Greece could test American sincerity and support for the Greeks by asking for a ban on servicing Turkey’s F-16s, to undermine her combat capabilities against Greece and to stop her from being a menace to her neighbours.

Conclusion: In a world of auditory illusions, games, international trickery and cunning, the [Athenian] Greek political élite stands little chance of gaining anything for Greece.

From our partner RIAC

Editor of Intractable Dilemmas in the Energy-Rich Eastern Mediterranean and author of Leadership Triumphs & Failures

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces

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photo: Alaattin Doğru - Anadolu Agency

I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.

The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.

In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events. 

From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset. 

I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it. 

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