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EU Blue hand for Ukraine in the Black Sea

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Each sea basin has its own importance from different perspectives: economic, political, social, environmental and strategic. The Black Sea is not an exception. Even more: due to the very different coastal countries, Black sea has a difficult contradiction complex. Consequently, the Black Sea needs a regional or at least a sub-regional approach. In different sea basins EU is using various initiatives and approaches for gathering the actors and its actions. The aim of these initiatives are identify all aspects of cooperation and existing initiatives and to achieve maximum coherence between strategies of each country, thereby maximizing their effectiveness.

In 2019 EU gave a helping hand in the form of Common maritime agenda for the Black Sea (CMA) which can offer successful answers to some of the specific problems in this basin. The CMA cover all Black sea states: Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine. 

CMA includes the full range of issues related to Black Sea activities (infrastructure, transport, ecology, tourism, aquaculture, fisheries, digitalization, etc.), except political and security issues. Exception of the policy matters is one of the reasons of mechanism’ success. In addition, the European Commission has decided to separate the scientific component – SRIA.

SRIA should involve all stakeholders in the process of responding to all challenges in the Black Sea Basin through the scientific component.

During the first meeting of CMA contact persons, which took place on 1 October 2019 in Brussels, attended by representatives of DG MARE, member countries, EU member states etc. Also, in this meeting the Black Sea Assistance Mechanism was established with purpose of the implementation of CMA, provides guidance and support to governments, private investors, trade and industrial associations, research institutions and universities and to the general public regarding opportunities to engage in Blue Economy maritime activities in the Black Sea region.

It is obviously that the conflicts in Black Sea region transformed already into frozen and these conflicts are forming scenario for future cooperation or development. Also, it should be mentioned that in addition to the complex political situation in the Black sea there are high volumes of traffic, industrialization, urbanization, overfishing and as a result environmental degradation.

During the Ukrainian national webinar “Blueing the Black Sea” on 11 March the Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Ukraine mentioned that the Black sea is the most polluted EU basin. The World Bank’s representative Steven Schonberger mentioned that the severe pollution in the Black Sea has happened only over the last 20 years so this makes it reversible. The World Bank is delighted to see Ukraine emerging as an environmental leader in Europe. But it does require a regional solution and collaboration and cooperation across national boundaries is essential.  The Blue growth and blue energy should play a more important role in the forecasts and initiatives of the European Union for all sea basins within its scope, especially the Black Sea. That is why the main cornerstone of CMA is blue economy as an instrument for better future for Black Sea.

In this regards, the blue economy and marine renewable energy are necessary precondition for the establishment of certain projects in the area, as well as others related to them.

Ukraine joint this instrument in early 2019 but till the summer of 2020 Ukrainian steps were non-systematic. Only in the end of 2020 Ukraine defined the nationals’ coordinators (Ministry of foreign affairs of Ukraine and Ministry of education and science of Ukraine), formed national team and the Ukrainian national hub under Black Sea Assistance Mechanism started its activity.For the first step Ukrainian stakeholders need to raise awareness on the opportunities presented by the blue economy in the Black Sea region for the upcoming EU funding possibilities for Ukraine to support their engagement in the CMA implementation at national level and regional level. That is why the first Ukrainian national event Financial Instruments of Implementation Support of CMA and SRIA in Ukraine took place in online format on 3 March 2021.

The event objectives were:

  • to give a full picture of tools and assistance available in Ukraine for an effective implementation of the Common Maritime Agenda and its R&I Pillar (SRIA) for a healthy and sustainable blue economy.
  • to share issue and best practices on EU funding calls.
  • to provide practical guidance to the various stakeholders in the blue economy for Ukraine (Authorities, Universities, SMEs, CSOs, etc): what’s in it for them, which are the specific requirements to be eligible and what they have to gain from future financing streams.

Talking about the EU financial instruments within CMA instrument we can figure out eight:

  1. Neighbour development and international cooperation instrument (target on special priorities of cooperation during 2021-2027.
  2. Interreg next Black sea program 2021- 2027.
  3. Horizon Europe.
  4. Interregional innovation investment.
  5. LIFE Program.
  6. European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
  7. ERASMUS +.
  8. TAIEX (Technical Assistance Information Exchange).

Some of these programs are not new for Ukrainian stakeholders, but common window for Black sea related projects is in any case a big advantage.

Separately need to be described the Blueing the Black Sea (BBSEA) project. This is a regional initiative to tackle marine pollution and climate change to catalyze Blue Economy investments in the Black Sea region. The first stage aimed on defining priority investments in pollution prevention, reduction, and control in the Black Sea and the architecture and modalities of the BBSEA project. During the second stage implementation procedure will start. In September 2021 will be announced the calls of proposals according to the defined priorities.

Actually, the CMA provides a single source that summarizes possibilities for blue development for such sectors as marine industries, aquaculture; offshore wind energy; floating offshore wind energy; tidal and wave energy; marine biotechnology, seabed mining; tourism and recreation etc. The target of Blue Economy is to develop some new marine industries and new the political agenda. This EU instrument have been established with the aim to bring together industry, finance, academia and public authorities to identify solutions and make investment more attractive.

Also, under the Horizon 2020 program in this year starts the new project “DOORS: Developing an Optimal and Open Research Support system to unlock the potential for blue growth in the Black Sea’.

DOORS will bring the four pillars of the SRIA into reality, turning the challenges into opportunities for a highly valued Black Sea. It will harmonise research and provide the infrastructure to better understand the Black Sea, particular ecosystem characteristics, develop the framework to support Blue Growth and early development of start-ups, and provide evidence to inform policy and behavioural change. To reach its ambitious objectives, the project team will work closely with stakeholders from the start to develop an open research system and establish a framework to support continuous stakeholder dialogue. DOORS will implement three Work Programmes: a System of Systems to harmonise approaches and provide an accessible data repository, a Blue Growth Accelerator to support enterprise, and Knowledge Transfer and Training to share best practice and build capacity.

Finally, the implementation of CMA and SRIA as an integrative tool to improve maritime governance could be noted positively, stressing the relation between marine activity in Black sea and Blue Growth. Weaknesses CMA for Ukraine is in a lack of private risk funding for innovative maritime technologies, which is still hampering maritime innovation to get to the market in one hand and from another hand in lack of state support.

*Ukraine National Hub with the support of the Black Sea Assistance Mechanism Central Team

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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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