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German MPs have no clue to what happened to the “Berlin patient”

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The German government was quick to accuse Moscow of using a poisonous substance (“chemical weapon”) against Alexei Navalny, which resulted in additional sanctions being imposed on Russia, and the completion of Nord Stream 2 called into question. However, inconsistencies in Berlin’s version have raised doubts about the credibility of accusations brought against Russia among several deputies of the Bundestag and the parliamentary faction of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is in opposition to the policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government.

The government’s 76 answers to MPs’ queries raised even more questions

In their foreword to the government’s answers, the deputies provided the following timeline of events: on August 20, 2020, Alexei Navalny fell violently sick while on a plane from Tomsk to Moscow, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny was rushed to a hospital and put in a coma. Subsequent tests confirmed the doctors’ initial diagnosis about the natural causes of the patient’s condition. On August 22, Navalny was flown to Germany for treatment at Berlin’s Charité hospital. During a news conference held at the clinic two days later, on August 24, it was announced that Alexei Navalny had been poisoned.

Additional studies at a German military toxicology lab, and a little later (September 5 and 6) also in France and Sweden, confirmed that Navalny had been poisoned allegedly with a substance from the “Novichok” group of nerve agents.

“We have high expectations of the Russian government to solve this serious crime,” Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on September 6, adding that “if the [Russian] government has nothing to do with the attack, then it is in its own interest to back this up with facts.”

Moscow has argued, however, that it is unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation and open a criminal case as long as the German government keeps withholding the data necessary for such a probe. Since doctors in Omsk did not find any poisonous substances in Navalny’s body, Russia has no grounds for opening a criminal case, and a pre-investigation check is being completed by the transport department of the Interior Ministry in the Siberian Federal District.

On September 17, 2020 (almost a month later), Navalny’s team announced that he had been poisoned in his hotel room in Tomsk after drinking from a bottle of water, which he could have taken to Berlin. However, during the next four weeks it was believed that “Novichok” had most likely been added to the tea that Navalny drank at the airport in Tomsk.

The German MPs also pointed to “confirmed facts that “Novichok” is available not only to the state, but to private individuals as well. It has been proven that already in the mid-1990s, some criminal groups in various countries possessed nerve agents from the “Novichok” group. In January 1997, The Washington Times quoted a US chemical weapons expert as providing detailed information on the various poisons of the “Novichok” family. And in 2018, the US Army admitted to producing different versions “Novichok.”

Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the government’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, England, said that the “owner” of the toxin would be hard to find. He added that while in the case of the Skripals’ poisoning his laboratory was able to find traces of “Novichok,” the involvement of government agencies  in the poisoning was “presumptive” and the “owner” could not be established.

The Bundestag deputies believe that not only Germany and Russia, but Europe as a whole would benefit from finding the truth about Navalny’s poisoning, and that there are questions that Germany, just like Russia, has to answer.

The questions asked were intended to clarify:

  1. to what extent the German government is following the terms of the OPCW Convention, under which “states are obliged to give each other legal assistance and to act vigorously to clarify various issues through exchange of information and bilateral consultations,”
  2. how the identified trace amounts of degradation products of a chemical compound resembling a cholinesterase inhibitor got into the body of Navalny in Russia, and not later,
  3. to clarify the biomaterials whose samples were taken for analysis, so that they can be compared with similar ones taken in Russia, and establish a specific formula for the identified inhibitor biomarkers in order to determine the country of origin of the synthesized chemical agent.

The deputies’ concerns are fairly understandable, because answers to the above questions can either prove or disprove the legitimacy of the German government’s accusations against the Russian authorities. The answers were simply shocking:

I. Legal assistance. The German government confirmed that it had received four requests for legal assistance from the Russian Federation in the preliminary investigation of Navalny’s case, which the government sent to the relevant authorities for further processing after the initial verification (response 26). The federal government kept mum about the government’s failure to provide any clear response to these requests for a whole three months;

– despite the significance of Navalny’s case, Berlin explained the 8-day delay in accepting the August 27, 2020 request by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office for the provision of legal assistance from the German Ministry of Justice by the need to conduct a standard procedure for verifying compliance with legal norms, thus failing to provide any substantive answer (answer No. 28);

– Russia’s request for legal assistance, dated September 11, 2020, which included a permission for Russian investigators to come to Germany and meet with Alexei Navalny or with German doctors and experts, went equally unanswered (replies 26 and 29);

– all of Moscow’s requests for cooperation between the German and Russian chemical laboratories to compare the results of the obtained analyzes, were also rejected on the grounds that since the Russian authorities have their own biomaterials of Alexei Navalny, they can study them themselves (answers 22, 40 and 67 );

– the German government did not exchange information with the Russian doctors who had provided first aid to Navalny (answer 9).

II. Method and place of the alleged poisoning. It turned out that, according to its own admission, the German government, has no reliable information about the fundamental facts of the use of chemical weapons, namely:

– about the subsequent discovery of similar symptoms in the medical personnel who accompanied Navalny on the plane (Question: Were the accompanying persons examined for possible poisoning, given that there should have been traces of “Novichok” on Navalny’s body?) (answers 4, 6);

– about the methods of delivery and the persons who delivered the victim’s personal effects with traces of “Novichok” and the bottle of water,  allegedly poisoned with “Novichok” (answers 5, 15, 16, 38);

– about the initial condition (liquid or powder) of the applied substance (answer 41);

– about the reason why the expert opinion of Navalny’s attending physician was not made public during the September 24 news conference at the Charité clinic, where the fact of Navalny’s poisoning was announced (answer 21);

– about how the poisonous substance got into Alexei Navalny’s body: via the respiratory tract, skin or orally (answer 36);

– about why the long delay between Navalny’s alleged contact with “Novichok” in the hotel and its onset on the plane, while a chemical warfare agent is designed to instantly destroy enemy manpower (answer 67);

III. Biomaterial research. When asked directly about the nature of the biomaterials tested: blood, urine, samples from a bottle of water, or otherwise, the German government describes them as just “biomedical materials” (answers 47 and 48);

– the German government explains its refusal to disclose the composition of the discovered compound “Novichok” by the allegedly “high risk of information leakage” (answer 75), although even Wikipedia provides the structural formula and a method of synthesizing this toxic substance. We believe that the “risk of information leakage” boils down to the fact that disclosure of the composition of the found substance can reveal to specialists its country of origin, since chemical laboratories in different countries are able to determine this.

Failing to get any answers to leading questions, the MPs decided to put their questions “head-on” (questions 55-69), and, as a result, learned the following:

– traces of “Novichok” could only be found on a bottle of water, but not in Navalny’s body;

– the poison was on the bottle, not in the water, because otherwise, Alexei Navalny would not have survived;

– Alexei Navalny was in contact with the poisoned bottle while already on the plane flying from Omsk to Berlin. Maria Pevchikh was on the same plane and she carried the bottle onboard. Still, she was never interrogated in Germany;

– no fingerprints were taken from the bottle, which could prove that Navalny had touched it;

– the bottle of water was listed as the (alleged) source of poisoning only four weeks after the (alleged) poisoning.

The German federal government had no answers to these questions either. As a result, the most obvious version was not verified, and charges were immediately brought against the Russian authorities.

LEADS

Here we’ll try to consider different versions of what happened, based on the known facts and the answers provided by the German government.

Let’s start with the most implausible one, which is still being actively forced on the ordinary people in the West: “the dictator Putin is challenging the democratic countries by demonstrably using banned weapons of mass destruction against the opposition leader.” This immediately brings to mind the defamatory campaigns waged against Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad, accusing the former of being ready to use, and the latter of using chemical weapons. In both cases, the Western media portrayed these two leaders as “merciless” and even “crazy,” capable of acting against their own personal interests and the interests of their countries. In February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell held up a vial that he said could contain anthrax as he presented “evidence” of Iraq’s alleged WMD programs to the UN Security Council, while knowing full well that it was a lie. The same with the shameless staging of “mass chlorine poisoning” in Syria to name just a few…

By using the same defamatory tactic against the Russian leader, the collective West may be looking for “justification” for a possible pushback, including a motion to deprive Russia of its permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

This version has too many pitfalls, however. Why should Putin want to raise a scandal exactly when the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was all but over?; why allow Navalny’s evacuation to Germany, even though there were enough legal grounds to the contrary amid a pandemic and an ongoing criminal case against Navalny (over insulting a WWII veteran)? And why keep sending requests for cooperation in the investigation of the incident?

Germany’s refusal to cooperate and clarify the circumstances, which the lawmakers pointed to in their questions, is apparently an attempt by  the government to present to the public only one handpicked version of what happened. Indeed, this version could be immediately disputed by a) the absence of Navalny’s fingerprints on the bottle of water containing a poisonous substance that was allegedly found in Navalny’s hotel room in Tomsk; b) comparison of test results in Russia and Germany; c) disclosure of the formula of the detected poisonous substance. This is obviously why the German government failed to do this.

Another thing that German officials remain silent about is how Navalny learned about the alleged mining of the Omsk airport before the plane landed there, while he was already on his hospital bed at Charité. The Russian Interior Ministry hadn’t released the information about the false alarm that could have prevented the plane’s emergency landing in Omsk and provision of medical assistance to Navalny. According to the Ministry, the anonymous message about the bomb came via an online mail service, whose servers are in Germany.  The German authorities still refused to help identify the owner of the email address from where the warning about the bomb allegedly ticking at Omsk airport had come.

According to another version, Navalny’s poisoning was organized by certain elements in Russia’s ruling elite and the oligarchy, unhappy about Putin’s performance and seeking to discredit him in the West. That what had remained of the “Novichok” that was used to kill the banker Ivan Kivelidi in the 1990s, could have now been used to poison the Skripals and Navalny.

However, according to Western sources, NATO countries have also been able to synthesize or had access to “Novichok”’s analogues. In a joint report , the German newspapers Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, and public broadcasters NDR and WDR said, citing their sources, that the country’s intelligence agency BND had obtained a sample of the “Novichok” nerve agent from a Russian scientist. The sample was analyzed in Sweden, and the chemical formula was then passed on to the German government and the military. The BND declined to comment on the report, which said that the BND informed the US and British intelligence agencies about that and small quantities of the poison were later produced in several NATO countries to test Western defenses, test equipment and antidotes.

During the 1990s, US specialists were working in Uzbekistan to scrap the production facilities of the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GNIIOKhT), where the nerve agent “Novichok” was produced and tested in Soviet times. This means that the Americans also had access to the technology used in the production of this agent, The New York Times wrote in 1999. The same is reported by Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. Therefore, representatives of the intelligence agencies, trying hard to give Russia a bad name in the world, should by no means be excluded from the list of possible poisoners. To rule this out, the German government should have provided substantive answers to the questions posed by the Bundestag deputies. Otherwise, one gets the impression that what is being kept under wraps is precisely what can shed light on the whole situation, and Berlin’s reluctance to cooperate with Russian law enforcement agencies smacks of a deliberate provocation.

Finally, the most trivial explanation cannot be discarded either: what if Navalny really fell sick on the plane, necessitating an emergency landing and hospitalization? He is put in a coma and medical tests reveal no traces of any poisonous substances. Meanwhile, the Western special services spring into action and decide to use this opportunity to discredit Russia: they arrange for taking Navalny out to Germany in order to find any traces of “Novichok” (exactly the type of poison they need to demonize the Russian regime). To do this, they order Maria Pevchikh, who, most likely (or “highly likely”) is associated with Western intelligence, to take out from Navalny’s hotel room some evidence of poisoning. Unsuspicious of this, (although it should have been after the Skripals’ affair), Russia agrees to the evacuation. During the flight or upon arrival in Germany, they mark a bottle of water, clothes and some biomaterials (which for some reason are hidden) with small amounts of a cholinesterase inhibitor, pointing to the presence of a new analogue of a poisonous substance from the “Novichok” group.

At the same time, as follows from the federal government’s answers to the questions from Bundestag deputies about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, without knowing for sure that the bottle of water was actually used by Navalny and that the biomaterials and their analysis are identical to the samples taken in Russia, the German government continues to blame the Russian leadership for poisoning the opposition activist.

Small wonder that the German government does not respond or gives formal replies to four requests from the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, refuses to  cooperate and disclose the formula of the discovered inhibitor under the ridiculous pretext that: “given the high risks of information leakage, the Federal Government did not disclose any details about the substance used” (answer to question 75). While accusing Russia of a deliberate crime, the German government is actually hiding evidence from the alleged “criminal” under the pretext that learning about the “murder weapon” he might want to use it again. If Germany fears that this weapon could be used by other countries and entities, then the transfer of related information can be made extremely confidential. If you really want to get at the truth, you have to exchange information, including of the analyzes of the composition of biomaterials, since, according to Article IX of the OPCW Convention, the participating States “shall consult and cooperate, directly among themselves … on any matter which may be raised relating to the object and purpose, or the implementation of the provisions, of this Convention … States Parties should, whenever possible, first make every effort to clarify and resolve, through exchange of information and consultations among themselves, any matter which may cause doubt about compliance with this Convention … A State Party which receives a request from another State Party for clarification of any matter which the requesting State Party believes causes such a doubt or concern shall provide the requesting State Party as soon as possible, but in any case not later than 10 days after the request, with information sufficient to answer the doubt or concern raised along with an explanation of how the information provided resolves the matter.”

How the US and Britain opposed the inclusion of “Novichok” in the OPCW Convention

During the 1990s and 2000s, the United States and Britain made sure that a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons, and their alleged predecessors, was not put on the list of substances banned by  the OPCW Convention.

In the autumn of 2018, the US and Netherlands proposed to include in the Convention only two families of toxic substances from the “Novichok” group. Russia then proposed to add five such chemicals to the list, but the Western countries rejected the initiative.

In September 2019, Russia came up with a revised proposal where the 5th group of chemicals objected to by the United States and its allies was no longer mentioned.

As a result, the parties reached a compromise and in November 2019, the Conference of the States Parties to the Convention approved the proposals put forward by Russia and the “troika” of Western countries to include four hazardous chemicals of the “Novichok” family on the Convention’s list.  However, the substance used in Navalny’s alleged poisoning was notably missing from the amended list.

List 1 of the Convention, which now includes “Novichok,” features chemicals that can be used in the production of chemical weapons or constitute a weapon per se. According to the Convention, a country that produces more than 100 grams of such substances a year must declare it to the OPCW. In addition, a state is allowed to have maximum one ton of such substances. This list includes mustard gas and ricin, among others.

Almost simultaneously with the inclusion in the Convention’s list of chemical compounds of the “Novichok” family, articles by Western scientists about the synthesis and research of this group’s substance began to appear in the press. For example, an article by Steven Harvey provides data on obtaining (using independently developed methods) preparations of the “Novichok” group (A230, A232 and A234) of very high purity (over 95%). This means that the West had been actively developing chemical warfare agents before, albeit secretly. This explains why the United States and Britain rejected the idea of adding to the list a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons, before including the five chemicals of the “Novichok” group.

This conclusion is also confirmed by the former Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who was the first to announce the creation of a new chemical warfare agent. In a recent interview with “Echo of Moscow” radio , he said that “a team in England and another one in the United States analyzed the hydrolysis of these “Novichoks,” which is thousands of times slower than that of all the known organophosphate toxic substances. This means that its traces remain in the human body for a very long time and do not disappear – that’s my conclusion.” In other words, it is possible to subject a person to a deliberately small non-lethal dose of such a substance, being fully confident that even three weeks later biomarkers indicating the use of “Novichok” will be detected, just like in the cases of the Skripals and Navalny. Those who planned both operations did not intend to kill, but only to embed material evidence to discredit Russia.

They will certainly try to deny this and say that Russian experts could have synthesized and reveal such properties in some analogue of “Novichok,” and use it for criminal ends.

Theoretically, such a version can’t be ruled out, but it should be considered on an equal basis with others. To identify the real organizers of these incidents, we need to work together and find answers to the questions asked by the German MPs, compare the results of Navalny’s analyzes taken in Russia and Germany, and reveal the formulas of poisonous substances found in the biomaterials of the Skripals and Navalny. Germany, just like the UK before it, refuses to cooperate in such an investigation, which could mean that they have something to hide. As they say in Russia, “No one shouts ‘thief!’ louder the thief himself.”

Opponents stick to a completely opposite version, however, arguing that the reason why neither case ended in death is because the Russian “spooks” used a minimum amount of the substance to make sure that its residue in the victims’ bodies could not be determined after a while. They also say that because the physical and chemical properties of the chemical substance were not taken into account, they erred with the dose and, as a result, the victims remained alive and the markers were found. This version holds no water, because if they wanted to hide the murder weapon, then why use an untested substance again, instead of some tried-and-true one harking back to the Medici era, or arrange an accident, just like they have occasionally done also in the West? Moreover, why let the patient be urgently taken out to Germany (the flight that would take Navalny to Berlin was delayed by several hours, but not because it was being held up by Moscow, but because the German pilots had to rest)?

Germany’s accusations against Russia over the alleged poisoning of Navalny, as well as Britain’s over the Skripals’ poisoning rest on the assumption that “Novichoks” could have allegedly been produced only at certain military facilities to be found only in Russia. However, this is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. In his 1995 article, and later in a book that came out in the US in 2008, Vil Mirzayanov revealed “Novichok”’s chemical formula. In the book, Mirzayanov wrote that “chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version “Novichok-5” are common organophosphorus compounds that can be produced at commercial chemical plants making fertilizers, pesticides, etc.”

Czech President Milos Zeman admitted that in 2017, Czech chemists synthesized compounds of the “Novichok” family of nerve agents.

From a scientific standpoint, no laboratory, be it the Bundeswehr in Germany or Porton Down in the UK, is able to identify chemical compounds as analogues of the “Novichok” family if it has no compound of the same class available. They can determine that it fits Mirzayanov’s formula, but since he published the formula 20 years ago, this can by no means serve as proof of its Russian origin – just the opposite. If Porton Down can synthesize this chemical agent, so can many others, and not only in Russia. Moreover, as the same Mirzayanov said in his recent interview with Echo of Moscow: “Not a single substance, including “Novichok,” is 100% pure … chromatography mass spectrometry can be used to analyze the semi-products from which the final substance is obtained to determine the country and laboratory of origin of this toxic substance.”

The refusal by Germany and Britain to provide their samples of “Novichok” and to perform a comparative analysis of biomedical samples taken from the victims is evidence of their fear that this would point a finger at laboratories that could have actually synthesized the said chemical agents.

From our partner International Affairs

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Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China

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The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.

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The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.

The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.

However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.

Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses

The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.

The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.

The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.

However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.

At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.

The issue of forced labour in China

Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.

It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.

US concerns and strategic rivalry

The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.

Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.

It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.

Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.

Way ahead for implementation

The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.

The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.

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Hungry for change: An open letter to European governments

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In 2020, the entire world knew what it was to be hungry. Millions of people went without enough to eat, with the most desperate now facing famine. At the same time, isolation took on a new meaning, in which the lonely and most remote were deprived of human contact when they most needed it, while the many victims of Covid-19 were starved of air. For all of us, the human experience fell far short of satisfying even the most basic needs.

The pandemic has provided a taste of a future at the limits of existence, where people are bereft, governments are stymied and economies wither. But it has also fuelled an unprecedented global appetite for change to prevent this from becoming our long-term reality.

For all the obstacles and challenges we face in the weeks and months ahead, I start 2021 with a tremendous sense of optimism and hope that the growling in our stomachs and the yearning in our hearts can become the collective roar of defiance, of determination and of revolution to make this year better than last, and the future brighter than the past.

It starts with food, the most primal form of sustenance. It is food that determines the health and prospects of almost 750 million Europeans and counting. It is food that employs some 10 million in European agriculture alone and offers the promise of economic growth and development. And it is food that we have learned impacts our very ecosystems, down to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we enjoy, come rain or shine.

Even before the pandemic, 2021 was destined to be a “super-year” for food, a year in which food production, consumption and disposal finally received the requisite global attention as the UN convenes the world’s first Food Systems Summit. But with two years’ worth of progress now compressed into the next 12 months, 2021 takes on a renewed significance.

After a year of global paralysis, caused by the shock of Covid-19, we must channel our anxieties, our fear, our hunger,and most of all our energies into action, and wake up to the fact that by transforming food systems to be healthier, more sustainable and inclusive, we can recover from the pandemic and limit the impact of future crises.

The change we need will require all of us to think and act differently because every one of us has a stake and a role in functioning food systems. But now, more than ever, we must look to our national leaders to chart the path forward by uniting farmers, producers, scientists, hauliers, grocers, and consumers, listening to their difficulties and insights, and pledging to improve each aspect of the food system for the betterment of all.

Policymakers must listen to Europe’s 10 million farmers as custodians of the resources that produce our food, and align their needs and challenges with the perspectives of environmentalists and entrepreneurs, chefs and restaurant owners, doctors and nutritionists to develop national commitments.

We enter 2021 with wind in our sails. More than 50 countries have joined the European Union in engaging with the Food Systems Summit and its five priority pillars, or Action Tracks, which cut across nutrition, poverty, climate change, resilience and sustainability. And more than two dozen countries have appointed a national convenor to host a series of country-level dialogues in the months ahead, a process that will underpin the Summit and set the agenda for the Decade of Action to 2030.

But this is just the beginning. With utmost urgency, I call on all UN Member States to join this global movement for a better, more fulfilling future, starting with the transformation of food systems. I urge governments to provide the platform that opens a conversation and guides countries towards tangible, concrete change. And I encourage everyone with fire in their bellies to get involved with the Food Systems Summit process this year and start the journey of transitioning to more inclusive and sustainable food systems.

The Summit is a “People’s Summit” for everyone, and its success relies on everyone everywhere getting involved through participating in Action Track surveys, joining the online Summit Community, and signing up to become Food Systems Heroes who are committed to improving food systems in their own communities and constituencies.

Too often, we say it is time to act and make a difference, then continue as before. But it would be unforgivable if the world was allowed to forget the lessons of the pandemic in our desperation to return to normal life. All the writing on the wall suggests that our food systems need reform now. Humanity is hungry for this change. It is time to sate our appetite.

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Blank Spot in EU

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The historic exit of the Great Britain from the European Union sparked both opportunities and chaos alike. Whether it comes to sectors within and beyond the orders of Britain, the trade policy with Northern Ireland or the isolated position of the bloc as the pandemic continues to perforate the continent with each passing day. It took a span of 4 years and a combination of referendums, disagreements in the House of Commons, displacement of public office and relentless efforts of the diplomats to bargain and negotiate an exit deal. Despite of the celebrated trade deal in action, much of the uncertainty still looms across Europe. The economic bloc now faces an empty spot of a 28th member post UK-exit and with rilling economic desperation and the Coronavirus spiralling alike, EU seeks a promising role to displace some of the pressure buildup.

The United Kingdom, mainly London, serves as the only unarguable financial rival to the metropolis of New York. Although the financial epicentre casted no qualms over trade post Brexit and even the EU financial markets reported no apparent glitches in trade across borders now subject to custom rules and regulations, the sheer volume of the trade denominated in LIBOR projects a sinister possibility of financial turmoil in the near future. Moreover, the trade deal negotiated, hailed by either parties as a victorious bargain, does little to placate uncertainty in the financial markets which further encourages the need of a solid alliance or partnership to fill the gap and subsequent irregularities faced by the European Union.

Turkey stands as one of the aspirants seeking EU membership. Every European state enjoys the privilege to seek EU membership which is subject to yearly review. Turkey has been a lurking party to seek EU approval since 1987. The opportunities opened up in 2016 after decades of tensions over Turkey’s shady democracy and violent role in dealing with their Kurdish minority, residing on the south-eastern borders of Turkey shared with a war-torn Syria. A refugee deal was signed in 2016 between Turkey and EU to facilitate Syrian refugees amidst the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. The deal served as a defining chapter in improving bilateral relations. Despite of Turkey’s conditions in the refugee deal: demanding a $60 billion grant from EU to pivot the refugee crisis, EU subliminally promised an expedited track for Turkey’s ascension to EU membership. 

However, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and arguably the most powerful political figure in the circles of Europe, always stood against and awry to Turkey’s membership in EU. The talks of Turkish membership were even stalled back in 2019 in the EU parliament and the prospects looked murky. However, as Merkel inches closer to departure from Germany’s political benches after decades of systematic control, Turkey cites the opportunity as a blessing in disguise. Coupled with Germany being at the verge of a severe recession synonymous in scale to the financial crisis of 2009, Germany’s position could actually shift in favour of Turkey ever since UK-exit baffled even the most sage minds of the continent.

The opportunities, however, are not the only blocks paving way for Turkey towards EU. Turkey shares a brutal conflict with Greece, another EU member state that has muddled the chances of Turkey in the EU for decades. Turkey has the longest continental coastline in the East Mediterranean which has been long contested with Greece over the gas reserves found profoundly in the waters of the East Mediterranean. Both countries have overlapping areas and have time and time again rejected each others claims over respective maritime borders and continental shelves. The icy relations between the duo have been hazy due to multitude of other reasons as well. Ranging from disputes over Turkish migrants crossing Greek borders to ships anchoring in the disputed regions without prior alert. The recent turmoil incited when Turkey officially declared Hagia Sophia, a museum in Istanbul and a historic remnant of Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral, as a mosque which infuriated the Greek patriots.

Turkey’s ascension to membership might be a solution to economic disparity in the region; Turkey serving as a corridor between Europe and Asia and opening channels of economic flourish to EU like Silk Road initiative with China. The ascension could even solve the border disputes with Greece and project a solution to the energy reserves in Mediterranean, solving the divide once and for all. Even with Recab Tayyab Erdogan’s boasting position over improving relations with EU, the extent of ease in bilateral relations is still unclear. As top Turkish Diplomat’s schedule visit to Brussels in a week, and Turkey and Greece are to resume exploratory talks over territorial claims in the Mediterranean on January 25th, glimmers of astounding results are on cards in the arching diplomacy of Europe.

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