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All the EU Gaffs and Bluffs: Why the Russia’s warning should be taken seriously?

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If there were those in today’s generation of grandparents (and grandmothers, of course), and this author firmly believes that he was not the only one, who in their youth followed the events on the international scene, some may recall the time when the People’s Republic of China published almost on a daily basis, “serious warnings” to the United States. It was a time when Washington was pursuing a policy that could be reduced to the formula “Taiwan (Formosa) is China, and the People’s Republic of China is – nothing.” But Washington knew very well that this “nothing,” which would only be recognized as a state during Richard Nixon’s tenure, is a reality that must be reckoned with. And as such real calculations were made primarily by Cold War proponents, because this “war” was not limited to US-Soviet relations, and by generals, the United States provoked Beijing every now and then militarily, knowing quite well that the Chinese could not and did not want to engage in armed conflict. And so the Americans were provoking, and the Chinese issuing “serious warnings” – hundreds. For years.

Nowadays, an observer of world events who is not from yesterday, had to remember those Chinese “serious warnings” when he heard Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telling the European Union that Russia is ready to sever relations with it, if the Union reaches for a new package of sanctions against Moscow, all related to the famous “Navalny case”. There is, however, one important difference. What Lavrov said was really the first warning, but it would be the last of its kind.

For years, Russia is faced not only with charges of aggressive intentions towards certain members of NATO, which is rapidly expanding towards its borders, despite a promise given verbally to Mikhail Gorbachev that after German reunification this will not happen. But it did happen and it is still happening. With this goes the sanctioning of Russia, primarily in economic field, for years, with the sanctions proclaimed not by the United Nations (therefore illegitimate) – as “punishment” for alleged military interference in Ukraine, because – and again alleged – annexation of Crimea, because of – for the third time alleged – poisoning of politically undesirable persons, such as the former intelligence officer Skripal and his daughter and – most recently – blogger and activist Alexei Navalni, predestined by the West as the future president of Russia. Not to mention anything else.

 Assertiveness of the fading one

It may be boring, but we have to repeat; if for no other reason, than because the Western propaganda uses the method of constant repetition, thus converting lies and half-truths in generally accepted and incontrovertible truth. In Ukraine, legal and legitimate President Yanukoviych (regardless of how one might asses him) was overthrown by violent street riots in which the West did not hide its involvement at all. He was overthrown only because he asked for a postponement (not cancellation, but a postponement!) of the signing of a cooperation agreement with the European Union, which was offered to him in the form of: either the Union or Russia, while Yanukoviych considered it his country’s interest to maintain and develop relations with both the European Union and the Russian Federation. The statement of Victoria Nuland, now the second ranking person in the US State Department, that “$ 5 billion has been invested in the development of democracy in Ukraine” (read: in the change of regime) is remembered from that time, as well as her vulgar response to the remark that the EU does not look just with sympathy the profile of people who appear as holders of the new government in Ukraine: “Fuck the EU”.

The eastern part of Ukraine, inhabited mainly by Russians, did not accept the changes in Kiev, the increasingly obvious anti-Russian course of the new authorities who, among other things, hurried to declare the infamous collaborator with the Nazi occupiers, Stepan Bandera, a national hero, resulting in rebellion and secession. Russia did not intervene directly, but hardly anyone can doubt that it helped the rebels militarily; although it never acknowledged their declaration of secession from Ukraine, let alone accept those parts of the Ukrainian east as parts of Russia. There were very likely “volunteers” from Russia on the side of the Ukrainian rebels, just as it is certain (proven) that on the side of the government forces from Kiev was a colorful group of volunteers, mercenaries and right-wing adventurers from a number of European countries. The situation is still tense today, the rebels control “their” part of Ukraine, the government in Kiev does not show much readiness for negotiations, and even less for any concessions. Indeed, the anti-Russian hysteria goes so far as to ban the use of the Russian language in Ukraine under threat of punishment and that Ukraine – so far the only country in the world – has officially banned the use of the Russian vaccine against covid19 (meaning Ukraine is not only not ordering this vaccine, it is prohibiting its use) .

The Crimea is a different story. Crimea is important to Russia for strategic reasons. Historically seen it had more ties to Russia than to Ukraine. If anyone doesn’t know: Crimea was part of Russia during the Soviet era, until Nikita Khrushchev, the first man of the Soviet party, a Ukrainian, did not with a stroke of a pen “give” it to Ukraine (which was not particularly important during the Soviet era). And in 1989., a little more than 67% of all inhabitants of Crimea were Russians, while in “Ukrainian” Crimea in 2001. this percentage was 65.2%. Enough for anybody thinking with his/her own head. But where are such smart people today?

At the time of the violent change of government in Kiev, Russia took control of Crimea with its troops stationed there (in unmarked uniforms). No riots, no unrests, no dead and wounded. Then a referendum was organized in which a convincing majority, as one could have expected, opted for the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Moscow accepted this. The West did not and still does not want to. Since then sanctions against Russia started, it is worth repeating: not by the United Nations, who only have the right to impose sanctions in international relations. Since then, the stories started about how Russia is dangerous for Europe (and NATO regularly sends contingents from its member countries on the border with Russia), from then stories started of how sanctions are breaking the Russian economy (which is not true), how Russia is isolated on the international scene (which is also not true), and how Putin has nobody to talk with in the world (and again – untrue ). The only thing the West should understand after years of the ineffective sanctions it is that Russia is a reality and that Vladimir Putin is a reality too.

West does not lead, it self-isolates itself

Unfortunately, the West – still intoxicated by its own view of the collapse of socialism in which it sees itself as a  winner – either does not want to, or, blinded by its own lies, can neither see nor understand this. And the pressure continues. The new sanctions were introduced after a rather murky case of poisoning in Britain of the former Soviet spy Skripal and his daughter. Promptly the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin himself were accused, it was disclosed that the Skripal’s were poisoned with Novicok, a very lethal means from the Soviet arsenal of chemical weapons. There was no solid evidence, no “smoking gun”. Still, the accusation was not changed even after the president of the Czech Republic publicly said that Novicok was produced in his country too (that is, not only in Russia!). Nothing was changed even after the “to death poisoned” Skripal’s survived, gave several interviews and simply – vanished, even after nobody in the small town where the poisoning took place showed the slightest signs of contamination. The accusations were uphold and the imposed sanctions were not lifted.

 Europe is now threatening new sanctions over an almost identical case of Alexei Navalny’s poisoning. And here is a lot of obscurity too, from the fact that the German authorities do not want to give laboratory findings that confirm poisoning (and again with Novicok!) to the Russians (who claim that their findings, because Navalny fell ill in Russia, do not confirm poisoning ), to the fact that Navalny who was supposedly recovering from a severe poisoning in a Berlin hospital, was traveling around Germany and working on a film in the Freiburg film studio to “disclose” Putin’s secret super-luxury residence (which the Russians quite credibly presented as a forgery).

And now Moscow has clearly warned that it will sever relations with the European Union if new sanctions are imposed on it, which will affect “sensitive segments of the economy.” If there was a little common sense, instead of victorious euphoria and self-love in its own superiority, in Western capitals they would realize that they had brought Russia to this position. The fact that Russia has so far largely failed to respond to sanctions, that it has persistently maintained a position of readiness for talks and agreements (despite the fact that Donald Trump in his own rude way broke key bilateral arms control agreements), has begun to erode Putin’s popularity. And to strengthen the camp of those who advocated an energetic response and objected to “indulgence” to the West .

So Lavrov’s warning should be taken seriously and not written off as a “new Russian threat” . Yes, it is the first such warning, but most certainly the last one too. If this is not understood in Brussels, but also in Paris, Berlin and Rome (small EU members will anyhow follow the big ones), if it is not understood that it is  in the interest of Europe and peace in Europe, but world peace too, to cooperate with Russia (which they cannot erase, no matter how much they disliked it), but also to talk to Putin (no matter how much they disliked him too), the result can be only one: destabilization of Europe, but also of the world, because Russia will be pushed to the end in an alliance with China. And the Russian-Chinese alliance is something the West, both economically, militarily and politically, should fear, especially as long as Western politics consists of confrontation only.

And, finally, for those who might say: so what, why should we be concerned by all this, a short answer: it does concern all of us, no matter where we are and what we are, because we live in an interconnected and interdependent world (today it was common to say: globalized ). That is why, to reiterate, Sergey Lavrov’s warning should be taken very seriously and those big ones in the EU (those little ones and smaller ones riding on the wave of antirussism are already lost and there is no point in explaining to them anything) should be helped to understand this. While there is still time. And time is running out.

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Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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