Russia has unreservedly expressed its solidarity and unflinching support for Belarus after the United States and European Union slapped the fourth package of sanctions against its political leadership, members of the government and on a number of businesses.
On June 23, in an official statement posted to the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry, for instance, described the European Union decision as “illegitimate and illegal EU sanctions against Belarus” and the EU devalues its own claims to the role of guardian of international law.
According to the statement, “the Russian Federation is committed to allied relations with fraternal Belarus. We will continue to coordinate our efforts in the interests of strengthening state sovereignty and ensuring the national security of our countries on the basis of existing international legal agreements, and strengthening our collective stability in the face of external pressure and a policy of containment.”
In the meanwhile, Belarus and the world is waiting for the results of the international investigation into the emergency landing of the Ryanair airline in Minsk.
The European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States presented a joint statement on imposition of sanctions against Belarus, published on the EU website on June 21.
“Today, we have taken coordinated sanctions action in response to the 23 May forced landing of a commercial Ryanair flight between two EU member states and the politically motivated arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega,” the statement reads.
The sides urged Belarus to cooperate fully with international investigations into the events of May 23, and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue between the authorities and representatives of the democratic opposition and civil society, facilitated by the OSCE.”
The EU expanded its sanctions against Belarus, adding 78 persons and 8 companies to the list. The US sanctioned 16 persons and six companies, while the UK sanctioned 11 people and two organizations. Canada imposed sanctions against 17 persons and fiver Belarusian companies.
The European Council notes on its website that the EU sanctions now apply to 166 persons and 15 entities in total. “Those designated are subject to an asset freeze and EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to those listed. Natural persons are additionally subject to a travel ban, which impedes them from entering or transiting through EU territories.”
The package of sanctions imposed have sparked debates and discussions among Russian politicians and experts as well as foreign academicians. It has attracted unprecedented reports both in the local and foreign media.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, widely known Russian media, reported that the EU Foreign Affairs Council held a session in Luxembourg, and was attended by Belarusian opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. After her speech, ministers of 15 EU countries interactively asked her questions about sanctions, the domestic situation in Belarus, and the fact that the Belarusian crisis could be resolved peacefully through joint means of putting pressure on the government.
Besides that and as has been the situation, the Belarusian government has shown no desire to alleviate the tensions in its relations with the EU. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that Belarus terminated the activity of the UN human rights adviser in Minsk. The relations between Belarus and the EU have reached their highest escalation point in modern history.
Experts are still figuring out the possible impact on the economy of Belarus and its relation to Russia. First, all the individuals on the sanction list banned from entering the European Union and any of their potential assets be frozen in the EU.
On the economic sectors, the restrictions will affect the potassium, oil and financial spheres of Belarus. According to various news reports, the sanctions may affect up to 4% of Belarusian exports, which last year amounted to US$29 billion.
For instance, Belaruskali, one of the largest producers of fertilizers in the world, might be one of the companies targeted by the sanctions. It transports its products through the Port of Klaipeda in Lithuania, the newspaper reports. “Before the pandemic, the revenue of Belaruskali reached about US$2 billion. About 90% of its products go through Klaipeda.
It will be practically impossible to replace this route with the aid of Russian ports and railways,” Belarusian political analyst Dmitry Bolkunets explained as reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, adding that it is necessary to wait for the final decision on the sanctions regime.
So far, about 20-30% of Belarus exports are under the threat of sanctions, the expert suggested. Before the pandemic, Belarus’ exports reached US$32 billion, so as a result of EU sanctions the Lukashenko government risks losing up to US$10 billion.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis noted that Russia would be significantly affected by EU sanctions against Lukashenko’s government. Only Russia can refinance the losses of Belarus, so by introducing sanctions against Minsk, the EU puts part of the pressure on Russia, which has the ability to influence Belarus, the minister explained.
The new Western sanctions against Belarus will not produce the desired effect, while reciprocal measures will negatively affect the interests of the Western citizens and companies, Belarusian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
“The sanctions and restriction will not produce the effect, desired by those who ordered them. The reciprocal measures that the EU forces us to take may equally negatively affect the spheres of our cooperation and, eventually, the interests of Western citizens and companies who took unfriendly steps towards our country,” the Foreign Ministry said in its commentary on the sanctions, imposed earlier by the US, the EU, the UK and Canada.
The Foreign Ministry noted that “such approach leaves neither time nor space for a search for windows of opportunity, in order to find an exit from the situation that exists in the relations between Belarus and the EU, the US, the UK and Canada.”
Russia and Belarus parliaments have together against external forces. During its 60th joint parliamentary session held in June, the First Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia, Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, Vladimir Andreichenko, in remarks appreciated the support provided by Russia against the background of attempts by Western states and the European Union to destabilize the situation in Belarus.
According to the 2019 census, Belarus has 9.5 million population. Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, and is a former Soviet republic. The leadership has often been described as “Europe’s last dictatorship” by some media outlets, politicians and authors due to its authoritarian government. Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the country since the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers
Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv. In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.
The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.
Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.
It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.
They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!
Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?
The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.
A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.
One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.
The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.
Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.
First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.
Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.
Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.
Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.
The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.
The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.
Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.
But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.
The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.
Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.
Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.
This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank
Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia
Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.
On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.
But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”
For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.
In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.
That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.
A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.
It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.
Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.
One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.
It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.
Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.
The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.
To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.
Author’s note: first published at cepa
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