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Eastern Europe

The Caspian Sea as Battleground

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Populated at the time by fluent Hebrew speakers, the Israel desk of Armenia’s foreign ministry waited back in 1991— in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union—for a phone call that never came. The ministry was convinced that Israel, with whom Armenia shared an experience of genocide, were natural allies. The ministry waited in vain. Israel never made the call. That shared experience could not compete with Armenia’s Turkic nemesis, Azerbaijan, with which it was at war over Nagorno Karabakh, a majority ethnic Armenian enclave on Azerbaijani territory.

“The calculation was simple. Azerbaijan has three strategic assets that Israel is interested in: Muslims, oil, and several thousand Jews. All Armenia has to offer is at best sev¬eral hundred Jews,” said an Israeli official at the time.

Azerbaijan had one more asset: close political, security, and energy ties to Turkey, which was supporting it in its hostilities with Armenia. As a result, the pro Israel lobby and American Jewish organizations with longstanding ties to Turkey for years helped Ankara defeat proposals in the U.S. Congress to commemorate the 1915 mass murder of Armenians. That has changed in recent years with strains between Turkey and Israel becoming more strident over issues such as the status of East Jerusalem, held by Israeli since 1967’s Six Day War, the Palestinian question, Iran, political Islam, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s touting of implicitly antisemitic conspiracy theories.

What has not changed is Israel’s close ties to Azerbaijan that puts it on the same side as Turkey in renewed animosity between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the former’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War. This is a reflection of the Caspian basin’s inextricable links to the greater Middle East’s myriad conflicts and the fluid and fragile nature of regional alliances, partnerships, and animosities across the Eurasian landmass. Writing in the previous issue of Baku Dialogues, Svante Cornell emphasized this important point, noting the “gradual merger of the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East” and going so far as to say that Azerbaijan, in particular, is “more closely connected to Middle Eastern dynamics than it has been in two centuries.”

Turkey, which has opportunistic partnerships with Russia and Iran, both littoral Caspian states that pushed for a ceasefire but were seen as empathetic to Armenia, and Israel, with its close ties to Moscow, rank among Azerbaijan’s top arms suppliers. (A top aide to President Ilham Aliyev confirmed that the Azerbaijani military was using Israeli and Turkish‑made killer drones in the Second Karabakh War that began in late September.)

Straddling Divides

If Israel and Turkey seem strange bedfellows, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates appear to be in a bind. The two Gulf states have invested in Azerbaijan to counter Iranian influence in the Caspian but seem inclined to favour Armenia because of their animosity towards Turkey, which they accuse of interfering in internal Arab af­fairs. Saudi Arabia signalled where it stood by backing Armenian calls for a ceasefire within the first two days of the re­newal of hostilities and giving voice to Armenia rather than Azerbaijan’s side of the story in state‑controlled media.

By the same token, Israeli ties to Azerbaijan, which has worked hard to deepen its ties to Iran, potentially put it at opposite ends with the UAE and Bahrain with which it recently established diplomatic relations in order to strengthen their alliance against Iran and Turkey. Nonethe­less, this may be one instance in which finding Gulf states and Israel on different sides of a divide may work in the Jewish State’s favour. Is­raeli sources suggest that the Second Karabakh War potentially creates an opportunity for backchannelling in which Israel could try to drive a wedge between Turkey and Iran.

“The arms shipments to Azerbaijan and the flare‑up in Nagorno‑Karabakh is a reminder that the periphery alliance may not be entirely dead,” said prominent Israeli commentator Anshel Pfeffer in early October 2020. Pfeffer was referring to the Israeli policy prior to the opening of relations with Arab states to maintain close rela­tions with its neighbours’ non‑Arab neighbours in the absence of official Israeli ties to its Arab neighbours.

With ethnic‑Azerbaijanis, who account for up to a quarter of Iran’s population and are influential in the country’s power structure, Tehran, often perceived as empa­thetic to Armenia, walked a fine line calling for a ceasefire in the Second Karabakh War and offering to me­diate an end to the fighting. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is of ethnic‑Azerbaijani decent. Iranians in nearby border areas stood on hilltops to watch the fighting in the distance. Security forces clashed with demonstrators in various cities chanting “Karabakh is ours. It will remain ours.” Iran, in line with international law, has long recognized Nagorno‑Kara­bakh as being a part of Azerbaijan. Yet, the demonstrations serve as a reminder of environmental pro­tests in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan at the time of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that often turned into manifestations of ethnic‑ Azerbaijani nationalism.

Naval Posturing

Even before the hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted on the north­western inlands of the Caspian, Iran had stepped up its naval pos­turing on the basin’s southern coast. Analysts like Jamestown’s Paul Goble and Russian conservative writer Konstantin Dushenov, as well as Iranian naval commanders, raised the specter of enhanced U.S. sanctions‑busting military cooper­ation between Moscow and Tehran in the Caspian and beyond.

These and other analysts—in what appeared to be a repeat of unconfirmed reports of closer Chinese‑Iranian cooperation that stretched credulity but circulated for an extended period and were discussed widely in policy circles— suggested that Russia and Iran were planning extended military collab­oration, including naval exercises in the Caspian as well as in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

The analysts, including the afore­mentioned Dushenov, who was reportedly jailed a decade ago on charges of antisemitic incitement, claimed further that Iran had of­fered Russia naval facilities at three ports—Chabahar, Bander‑Abbas, and Bander‑Busher—on the Is­lamic Republic’s Gulf coast, a move that would violate its foundational principle of no foreign presence on its soil. It would also contra­dict Iran’s proposal for a regional Middle Eastern security architec­ture that would exclude involve­ment of non‑regional powers.

Nevertheless, raising the spectre of a more asser­tive attitude, senior Iranian com­manders stepped up visits to naval facilities and a shipyard on Iran’s Caspian coast where a destroyer is being repaired and modernized. The officials, including Iranian navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, his deputy, Admiral Habibullah Sayari, and Admiral Amir Rastegari (who re­portedly oversees naval construc­tion), stressed the importance to Iranian national security of the Cas­pian on tours of facilities on the coast.

They also urged closer coopera­tion and joint naval exercises with other littoral states like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. “The Caspian Sea is the sea of peace and friend­ship and we can share our military tactics with our neighbours in this region. We are fully ready to expand ties with neighbouring and friendly countries,” Khanzadi said.

The Iranian moves are about more than only strengthening the country’s military presence in a basin that it shares with Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. A 2018 agreement among the littoral states, made necessary by the collapse of the Soviet Union, barred entry to the basin by military vessels of non- littoral states but failed to regulate the divvying up of the sea’s abundant resources.

Closer naval ties with Caspian Sea states would allow Iran to leverage its position at a time that Central Asians worry about greater Chinese se­curity engagement in their part of the world. The engage­ment threatens a tacit under­standing in which Russia shouldered responsibility for regional security while China fo­cused on economic development. Increased Chinese engagement raises the spectre of the export of aspects of the People’s Republic’s vision of the twenty‑first century: an Orwellian surveillance state amid widespread anti‑Chinese sentiment in countries like Kyrgyz­stan and Kazakhstan as a result of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled north‑western province of Xinjiang.

Hard hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Cen­tral Asians are torn between wanting to benefit from Chinese willingness to reinvigorate projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative and their concerns about the way that enhanced Chinese influence could impact their lives. Popular senti­ment forced Kyrgyzstan early on in the pandemic to cancel a $275 million Chinese logistics project. The Kazakh foreign ministry sum­moned the Chinese ambassador to explain an ar­ticle published on a Chinese website that asserted that the Central Asian country wanted to return to Chinese rule. Kazakh media called for China and the United States to leave Kazakhstan alone after the Chinese foreign ministry claimed that the coronavirus had originated in U.S.‑funded laborato­ries in the country.

Iranian efforts, boosted by the Indian‑funded deep sea port of Chabahar that serves as a con­duit for Indian exports to Central Asia, benefit in the margin from big Asian power rivalry, has opened the region, including the Caspian basin, to greater competition with the Islamic Republic’s chief Gulf opponents, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran hopes that geography and Central Asian distrust of past Saudi promotion of its ultra‑conservative strand of Islam will work to its advantage. That hope may not be in vain. Tajik foreign minister Sirodjidin Muhriddin, despite past troubled relations with the Islamic Republic, opted a year ago to ig­nore a Saudi invitation to attend an Organization of Islamic Cooperation conference in the kingdom and visit Iran instead.

Iran has since agreed to in­vest $4 billion in the completion of a five‑kilometer‑long tunnel that will link the Tajik capital of Dushanbe with the country’s sec­ond‑largest city, Khujand. That, however, has not put a halt to recurring strains. In September 2020, Iran summoned the Tajik ambassador in Tehran in protest against the broadcast of an an­ti‑Iranian documentary on the Central Asian’s state’s state televi­sion channel.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have fared somewhat better in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Saudi utility developer ACWA Power, in which China’s state owned Silk Road Fund has a 49 percent stake, and the UAE’s Masdar or Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company agreed to invest in Azerbaijani renewable energy projects. ACWA Power also signed agreements in Uzbekistan worth $ 2.5 billion for the construction of a power plant and a wind farm.

Perhaps Iran’s strongest trump card is that by linking the Caspian to the Arabian Sea it can provide what the Gulf states cannot: cheap and short access to the Indo‑Pacific. Already, Iran is written all over Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s transporta­tion infrastructure plans. A decree issued in late 2017 identified var­ious corridors as key to his plans, including the extension of a rail line that connects Uzbekistan’s Termez to Afghanistan’s Mazar‑i‑Sharif to the Afghan city of Herat from where it would branch out to Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, Chabahar; and Bazargan on the Iranian‑Turkish border.

“As Tashkent seeks to diversify its economic relations, Iran con­tinues to loom large in these calcu­lations. For Uzbekistan, not only do Iranian ports offer the shortest and cheapest route to the sea, but sev­eral future rail projects cannot be accomplished without Tehran’s ac­tive participation,” wrote Central Asia analyst Umida Hashimova in Jan­uary 2020.

Iran, together with Russia and India, has been touting a sea and rail hook‑up involving Iranian, Russian, and Indian ports that would link South Asia to northern Europe as a vi­able alternative to Egypt’s Suez Canal and constitute an addition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In July 2020, Iranian and Indian officials suggested the route would significantly cut shipping time and costs from India to Europe. About a month earlier, Senior Indian Commerce Ministry official B.B. Swain said the hook up would re­duce travel distance by 40 percent and costs by 30 percent.

The Iranian‑Indian‑Russian push is based on a two‑decades old agreement with Russia and India to establish an International North‑South Transport Corridor (INSTC) as well as more recent free trade agreements concluded by the Russia‑dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Iran and Singapore.

The agreements have fuelled Central, South, and Southeast Asian interest in the corridor even if the EAEU itself groups only a handful of countries: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, another Caspian Sea state. Exploiting the mo­mentum, Russia has been nudging India to sign its own free trade agreement with the EAEU while the grouping is discussing an ac­cord with ASEAN, which, as it hap­pens, has just signed a Regional Comprehensive Economic Part­nership with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

If successful, the Iranian push, backed by Russia and India, would anchor attempts by Iran to project itself—as opposed to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates— as the key Middle Eastern player in Russian and Chinese ploys for regional dominance. Leveraging geography and Central Asian dis­trust of past Saudi promotion of its ultra‑conservative strand of Islam, Iran expects that kick­starting INSTC will give it a signif­icant boost in its competition with Saudi Arabia and the UAE for the region’s hearts and minds. INSTC would also strengthen Iran’s po­sition as a key node in BRI on the back of a two‑year old rail link be­tween western China and Tehran that runs across Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

The INSTC would link Jawaharlal Nehru Port, India’s largest container port east of Mumbai, through the Iranian deep‑sea port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, which is funded by India to bypass Pakistan, and the Islamic Repub­lic’s Caspian Sea port of Bandar‑e‑Anzali to Russia’s Caspian harbour of Astrakhan at the mouth of the Volga and onwards by rail to Europe. The Iranian push was boosted in by an agreement in March 2020 be­tween Russia and India that would enable the shipment of goods through the cor­ridor on a single invoice, a requisite for shippers to persuade banks to issue letters of credit.

History Repeats Itself

Invoices and letters of credits may not make the difference as long as Iran asserts itself, and Russia seeks to fend off a Turkish challenge in the South Caucasus, its Chechen Muslim soft un­derbelly, and potentially among Russia’s Turkic Muslim minorities, as well as Central Asia’s former So­viet republics, territories Moscow has long considered as its preserve.

“If it turns out that […] we just hum and dither and do not force our southern neighbour to swallow his insolence along with his own teeth […]; and if [it turns out that] we take sixteenth place in Azerbaijan, while Erdogan is number one; then what is our posi­tion in Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, in […] Ukraine (con­sidering Crimean Tatars and mil­itary supplies)? And what will our position be in Tatarstan, in Bashkiria, in Yakutia and Altai, where Turks also live? This is not theory, it is reality,” said in October 2020 prominent Russian commentator and head of the Moscow‑based Middle East Institute Yevgeny Satanovsky.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have fared somewhat better in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Saudi utility developer ACWA Power, in which China’s state owned Silk Road Fund has a 49 percent stake, and the UAE’s Masdar or Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company agreed to invest in Azerbaijani renewable energy projects. ACWA Power also signed agreements in Uzbekistan worth $ 2.5 billion for the construction of a power plant and a wind farm.

Armenia’s humiliating defeat at the hands of an emboldened, Ankara‑backed Azerbaijan is likely to turn the Caspian basin into one more battlefield in multiple power struggles across the greater Middle East aimed at shaping a new regional order.

The Azerbaijani and Turkish sense of moral and military victory, coupled with Erdogan’s assertive re­gional policies, bodes ill for the need for Azerbaijan to balance its success with gestures and magnanimity that will rebuild confidence in Azerbaijani assurances that the safety, security, and rights of the Armenian population in Nagorno‑Karabakh will be safeguarded amid their fears of re­newed displacement or even ethnic cleansing. It also throws into doubt longer‑term relations between Russia and Armenia, where many feel betrayed by Moscow’s refusal to come to Armenia’s aid under a defense pact between the two coun­tries. (Russia maintains a couple of military bases in Armenia under the pact.)

Turkey’s inevitable role in any ne­gotiations to resolve the Armenian‑ Azerbaijani conflict adds to the bal­ancing act that Russia and Turkey are performing to ensure that their alliance is not undermined by mul­tiple regional conflicts in which the two countries back opposing sides.

Russia is likely to worry about pan‑Turkish and nationalist voices demanding that Turkey capitalize on Azerbaijan’s success to increase its influence in Central Asia, a re­gion of former Soviet republics with ethnic, cultural, and linguistic links to Turkey.

The pan‑Turkic daily Türkiye—a newspaper with the fourth largest circulation in Turkey—urged the government to leverage the Azerbaijani victory to create a military alliance of Turkic states: “The success in Karabakh has brought once again to the agenda one of the West’s greatest fears: the Turan Army. Azerbaijan, which has become stronger with the military training, joint drills, and support with armed drones that Turkey has provided, has broken Armenia’s back. This picture of success that has appeared has once again brought to life the hopes concerning a Turan Army, that would be the joint mili­tary power of the Turkic states,” Türkiye said. (“Turan” is the term used by pan‑Turkists to describe Turkic Central Asia.)

So far, Turkey’s bet that history would repeat itself appears to be paying off. The South Caucasus is the latest former Soviet region, after political crises in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan and the electoral defeat of pro‑Russian forces in Moldova, in which Moscow’s ability to main­tain stability is being challenged.

For now, Erdogan has strength­ened his position in what will lead inevitably to a rejiggering of the balance of power in the Caucasus between not only Russia and Turkey, but also Iran, at a time that the trade‑off for Israeli support of Azerbaijan is believed to be the Jewish state’s ability to operate sur­veillance of the Islamic republic. “The message sent from Tel Aviv to Tehran is very clear: ‘Syria is my backyard, and I will be in Azerbaijan, your backyard,’” said Sadik Öncü, a Turkey‑based in­ternational relations analyst, refer­ring to Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al‑Assad.

Author’s note: The story was first published in Baku Dialogues

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Eastern Europe

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

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Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable. 

This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus. 

The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.  

Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale. 

This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated. 

Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions. 

It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts. 

Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable. 

Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement. 

The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.  

This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia. 

The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements. 

Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

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It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?

It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.

Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.

Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.

Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.

It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.

It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.

Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.

So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

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It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.

Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.

The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.

“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.

It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.

Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.

Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.

In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.

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