On 04 March, Rena Lee, President of the UN Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), announced that “the ship has reached the shore,” referring to the last compromise and successfully negotiated to stumble block of this historic treaty, which marked the apogee of over two decades of negotiations to protect the ample internationally ungoverned space of the ocean. The last time the countries came together to gather political will during geopolitical tensions to protect biodiversity was on 01 December 1959 during the cold war to declare Antarctica a place for peace and science.
The draft agreement of the ‘The New High Seas Treaty’ emphasises the need to address the planet’s largest unregulated biosphere for the sustainable use of resources and biodiversity protection. It covers the expansive portion of the ocean beyond national boundaries and will provide a legal framework for designating vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against marine life degradation and sharing of resources. It is necessary to identify, monitor and regulate vulnerable areas to address the commitment of protecting 30 Percent by 2030 endorsed by COP 15 in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022. Exit options and other unique provisions for the Arctic or China Sea and other geopolitically tense areas are also mentioned to avoid disagreements and conflicts within the agreement.
The stumbling block of this treaty was how to appropriately share marine genetic resources (MGR) and wealth, which separated the Global South and North. Due to their potential for application in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, MGR, which are made up of the genetic material of bacteria, corals, krill, seaweed, and deep-sea marine sponges, are gaining more scientific and commercial interest.
The agreement is legally binding and establishes a new global authority for the high seas, complete with an executive body called “COP,” a secretariat, and a scientific council. It is based on certain principles and approaches like the polluter-pays principle, the principle of the common heritage of humankind, the freedom of marine scientific research, and other freedoms of the high seas.
In addition, an approach for maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity, including the carbon cycling functions that support the ocean’s role in climate while also increasing ecosystems’ resilience, is practiced. Signatories are also tasked with conducting environmental impact assessments before exploitation, exchanging marine technology with other littoral states, and monitoring the space for other threats.
What are the High Seas and the threats present on them?
States currently govern up to only 200 nautical miles of seas from their coasts, delineated by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But beyond the nautical boundaries are the high seas, which only one percent are protected. States have access to freedoms, including the right to overfly, navigate, and install underwater cables. The high seas cannot be the subject of any claims to sovereignty. Once expressed as desolate, it is now considered a treasury of rich biodiversity and marine resources. However, they are being exploited by technological advances enabling them to deplete fisheries and seabed minerals. Deep-sea ecosystems may change or be destroyed by machine-aided excavation and gauging of the ocean bottom. As a result, there will be a loss of species in addition to fragmentation or loss of the structure and functionality of the ecosystem.
Increasing cargo ship transportation and their Bilge Dumping practices also threaten the open ocean. Bilgewater, which gathers in the bottom of a ship, is a mixture of fluids from the engine room and other potentially harmful materials like lubricants, cleaning agents, and metals like lead and arsenic. It is expensive to process this oily effluent, whether by treating it to eliminate contaminants or by discharging it at the port. Some ships simply dump it into the ocean with portable pumps, which can be a significant hazard to marine life, to save operational expenses.
Another threat in the high seas is the Great garbage patch, which carries and culminates tonnes of plastic debris released through river exits. They are carried and formed by ocean currents and “gyres.” There are five gyres in the ocean. One in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean. Garbage patches of differing sizes are located in each gyre. Cleaning up these garbage heaps and systematically disposing of them is a heinous task.
In addition, Climate change is heating the oceans, which may result in a mass extinction of marine life like the Permian Extinction experienced 250 million years ago, which extinguished 90 percent of marine species. The oceans have mitigated the worst of climate change by absorbing 90 percent of the heat caused by global warming and providing us with 50 percent of the oxygen.
What are the existing treaties on High Seas, and what are their issues?
About 20 international organisations oversee human activity in the high seas in accordance with UNCLOS, although their authority is constrained. In the shipping industry, for instance, the International Maritime Organization is in charge of safety and pollution control, whereas regional fisheries management organisations are in charge of particular fish populations. Yet, a lot of marine species migrate and regularly switch between various environments into the wild ocean which are unprotected from human activities.
The International Seabed Treaty is less concerned with conserving the environment and more interested in advancing the ultimate extraction of valuable mineral accretions from the seabed. Exploratory mining licences have never been denied. The contracting entity does environmental impact assessments; they are not independently verified and investigated. The ISA dismisses the worries of environmental groups like Greenpeace about defending the seabed from similar mining in the future or from the several very detrimental environmental side effects that would be involved.
What does the treaty pose to International Security?
First, an increased presence of private players. The implementation process of the treaty will see an increased presence of private maritime players as the agreement does not apply to the Navy warships. However, they are expected to behave reasonably with the agreement. Ocean conservation is currently led by non-governmental organisations funded by philanthropists, bureaucrats, and governments.
Second, increased monitoring and surveillance. To assess environmental impacts, monitor and traffic control ships, and provide constant surveillance over an expansive area will require advanced remote sensing and imaging technologies. There will be a need for marine spatial analysis and planning to track human activities and the ecosystem. New marine technologies must be exchanged between the developing and developed states to explore the deep ocean and seabed’s for research and exploitation. Increased monitoring will be a critical challenge for the littoral states to move their submarines in stealth and secrecy.
Third, potential for new marine resource-induced conflict. Though the agreement states that the marine samples and genetic coding will be shared, it does not mention who can further exploit the resources and with whom it shares. Does it share with the states involved in the exploration or those proximate to the resource.? Here, Global North faces the question of the free-riding problem and whom to free-ride its services.
The ICC acts naively in foreign affairs
On March 17, 2023, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: President Putin of the Russian Federation and his aide Maria Lvova-Belova who is in charge of Children Rights Affairs at the President’s Office. The ICC did arouse a sensational news in global media, but it is also seen as a diplomatic farce and a political fuss among the Global South.
The ICC was created with a view to working for a global fight to end impunity and, through International Court of Justice, it has since aimed to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes. Yet, the ICC is aware of the reality where it can’t reach these goals alone. Governed by an international treaty called the Rome Statute, the ICC has been literally the world’s first permanent international criminal court. Later, it has one Liaison Office to the U.N. headquarters in New York and seven field presence/ country offices: Kinshasa and Bunia (Democratic Republic of the Congo, “DRC”); Kampala (Uganda); Bangui (Central African Republic, “CAR”); Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire); Tbilisi (Georgia); and Bamako (Mali), where ICC field offices are responsible for developing and maintaining cooperative relationships with key stakeholders in situation countries and supporting the Court’s mandate and resulting activities in these countries.
Now the question arises if the ICC has acted as an inter-States legal organization of fairness, neutrality and humanity. The answer is saliently “No”. International law essentially consists of rules and principles of general application dealing with the conducts of states and of international organizations and with their relations inter se, as well with some of their relations with persons, whether natural or juridical. [Malanczuk, 1998] Yet, the decentralized nature of international law is fundamentally rooted in the decentralized structure of international society or what it is termed of «anarchic system». As some legalists argue that modern international law has in any case always been dual in nature: it is based on state sovereignty while making an effort to regulate if not limit it. With the League of Nations in 1920, it began the establishment of the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague. Since 1945, it was renamed the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that has since played a major role in the formation of international law.
Yet, at the end of the WWI, the winning side of the war came to argue that the individuals of the losing side would be subject to criminal prosecution for their part in the outbreak of the war and the conducts during it. In doing so, the Versailles treaty affirmed that the Kaiser of Germany was liable to criminal prosecution on account of “a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties” in terms of the violation of Belgium neutrality. However, the Dutch government refused admitting the clauses providing for the extradition of the German Kaiser (Art. 227) due to the fact that all the great powers of Europe had become involved in an arms race prior to the total war. Accordingly, in 1919 the peace treaty acted a deliberate policy of discrimination against Germany referring to “keeping Germany down”. After the WWII, several dozens of German and Japanese military and political figures were prosecuted and sentenced by the tribunals of the allied powers in Nuremberg and Tokyo. This has inspired the liberal scholars and some of public groups to set up international criminal courts under the auspices of the U.N. in Arusha after the genocide in Rwanda and in The Hague after the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. The Rome Statute provided for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), where persons are to be tried for serious violations of the laws of war and crimes against humanity.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) officially came into existence in 2002 following the 60th ratification of the Rome Statute, heralding a new era for the effective prosecution and punishment of serious violations of international humanitarian law, e.g. the ICC investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. Today there are approximately 121 countries that have joined the Rome Statute system and then taken a stand for supporting the ICC to fight against impunity, so that perpetrators of such crimes are punished, and to help prevent future occurrences of these crimes. This idea is claimed as the cause of all the humanity. Thus far, ICC judges have issued 40 arrest warrants, by which 21 persons have been detained in the ICC detention center and have appeared before the Court, while 16 persons remain at large. No doubt, the ICC has been recognized by more than half of all sovereign states of the world. Yet, in the case of Russia, there is no question that the ICC acts naively to accuse President Putin for alleged war crimes involving abductions of children from Ukraine.
First, as some observer put it that the warrant marks the first time that the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state. However, Russia, like China, India, Israel and the United States, has not signed on to the ICC, citing concerns about the court’s jurisdiction and potential impact on national sovereignty. Moreover, it remains a challenging issue whether it is a responsible act to issue a warrant of arresting a sitting head of state who has enjoyed wide support and sympathy from his people while the BRICS and the Global South have refused labelling Russia as an invader in the case of the Ukraine war. Finally, as one of the great powers of the world, Russia will never allow it happened to see its head of state being arrested as a war criminal since Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the charges outrageous and unacceptable. The only flash spot of the ICC’s investigation lies in political and diplomatic ramifications for Russia as the West could further isolate Russia from the international community or lead to much severer economic sanctions. Geopolitically, it becomes salient that the U.S.-dominated West has aimed to keep Russia down, as they did to Germany in 1919.
As a matter of fact, China has argued that Russia must be kept as a major player in the world affairs, not to mention its role in rebuilding the European security architecture. Historically, Russia has been one of the major powers of Europe to act a key balancer of European equilibrium. Today, the rise of China equally needs a powerful and prosperous Russia as its good neighbor and a geostrategic partner to counter any unilateral hegemonic world order. As China reiterated recently that over the last decade, China and Russia have followed the principles of good-neighborliness, friendship and win-win cooperation in advancing exchanges and cooperation in various areas. Under the new historical circumstances, the two sides will view and handle China-Russia relations with a broad vision and a long-term perspective, in a bid to bolster the wide-ranging cooperation between the two countries going forward.
It is worth noting that the ICC has also faced criticism and challenges over the years. Some countries—the United States, Russia, China, and India—have not signed on to the ICC, while many countries of the Global South have criticized the ICC of its bias against certain countries or groups of countries, politicization, and inefficiency. Obviously, some critics argue that the court is dominated by Western countries since it has unfairly targeted leaders from Africa while ignoring atrocities committed by leaders from other parts of the world. This is a very strong statement because on March 18, just as China’s President Xi was about to take his trip to Moscow, the ICC issued an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes. The warrant, which was flatly rejected by Russia as a political ploy from the West, was applauded by President Joe Biden and his allied partners. The basis of the claims seem to hinge on the fact that Russia took Ukrainian children out of the war zone and brought them to protective custody in Russia. Or put it simply, the claims seem to imply that Putin should have left the children in the war zone where they would possibly be killed.
Now it concludes that the ICC acts naively with a view to advancing a strategy that aims to jeopardize China’s desire to be seen as a broker for peace between Russia and Ukraine given that Putin is officially a war crime suspect. For sure, in the immediate term, the ICC’s warrant for Putin and one of his aides is unlikely to have a major impact on Russia’s image or China’s stance on the Ukraine issue. However, the stain of the arrest warrant could well work against China and Russia in terms of public opinion. In doing so, it is ridiculous to see the ICC as a fair court and transparent forum struggling for international justice and the world peace.
What does the Arctic Ocean hold for the world in changing global politics?
“The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate”, a book by Robert Kaplan sheds light on the imperative role of geography in changing the destiny of nations. Only geography of a country doesn’t benefit countries much, but technology and research open ways to become a developed nation. History showed the true manifestation of this fact. The arrival of Vasco de Gama in the Indian Ocean and his discovery of the trade route brought the interest of great powers of that time to the subcontinent. The arrival of these powers in the subcontinent changed the fate of indigenous people. However, they also benefited from the sea and natural resources of the Indian subcontinent. The past tells that sea and national resources are the cornerstone of the country’s position in global politics but also attracts attention from world powers. Similarly, In today’s world, where the world is confronting the energy crisis, global warming, challenges of the supply chain, and chasing maximization of resources as a strategic benefit, the arctic ocean grapes the world’s attention. The Arctic Ocean is located in the North polar region. The main countries sharing the arctic ocean are the US, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. According to the world economic forum, 13% of undiscovered oil is present in the arctic ocean as well as 30% of undiscovered gas is present there. Apart from these bordering countries, non-Arctic countries also have a great economic and strategic interest in the arctic which includes India, japan, south korea, and many more.
Energy security, Europe and Russia
The invasion of Russia in Ukraine highlighted an issue of energy security in the world but on the other hand, the strategic use of renewable energy resources also came into the light. The rising energy prices and halting supply of energy gave a call for a diversification of energy resources to gain strategic defense where overly dependence can put countries in a vulnerable situation. In this geopolitics and geoeconomics scenario, Norway is fully reaping the benefits of its research and exploration of oil resources in the arctic ocean. In all these circumstances, the strategic importance of renewable resources in the arctic ocean came under discussion. The reason behind this is that renewable energy resources like wind and solar energy are difficult to be weaponized at the time of war. Somehow, the rising global warming which is opening avenues to utilize untapped resources also demands a shift toward renewable energy resources. Though the shift from fossil fuels is difficult, Ukraine Russia war triggers a debate on the use of renewable resources where the arctic ocean can be proved an excellent opportunity to opt for a renewable energy policy in the world.
New trade routes, Sino-Russia, USA, and non-arctic countries
The development of the Northern Sea Route by China and Russia will provide a faster route for the passage 0f traffic as compared to the passage from the Suez canal which will attract more attention from the world in terms of economic and environmental benefits i.e. fuel consumption reduced and it also has a positive impact on the environment. But it will have a drastic impact on Egypt whose major chunk of the economy is contributed by earnings from the Suez Canal. Additionally, the development of trade routes in the arctic ocean will also impact the Malacca strait, especially in Singapore and Indonesia. Therefore, it is showing that new trading routes will have an impact on certain countries and supply chains will change. The strategic, economic, and strategic benefits of this area attract the world, but it also raises the question: will this region become a new area of strategic competition? According to Malte Humpert in his article New US Arctic Strategy Foreshadows Increasing Hurdles for Cooperation in a More Complex Region The U.S. strategy is built around four pillars: security, climate change and environmental protection, sustainable economic development, and international cooperation and governance. The US Arctic policy 2022 which is the first time published after 2013 highlighted The strategy specifically singles out Russia and China as the two main competitors in the Arctic and highlights their recent activities in the Arctic in light of the growing strategic importance. Contrary, sino-russia both have a point of divergence and convergence for interest. Since both countries are collaborating in different areas mainly in One Belt One Road and other areas of mutual benefit, most likely they will collaborate in areas of energy and research in the arctic ocean. Similarly, the interest of other non-arctic countries like Japan and India, etc in the arctic ocean also demands a collaborative approach between stakeholders. In today’s global world where every country is focusing on strengthening their economies by opting strategy of diversifying their income sources and trying to attain natural resources to gain strategic advantage, it is the need of the hour to have collaboration between countries under the umbrella of international organizations because a healthy competition between countries bring development in technologies and development but unhealthy competition results in a disastrous impact on the world especially under developing and developing countries.
Global warming, arctic ocean, climate challenges
The melting ice in the arctic ocean, and the exploitation of oil resources, and minerals will impact the climate of the world. The Arctic Ocean is one of the untapped resources of the world. The melting in the arctic ocean will bring a change in geo-economic and geopolitical areas. The exploitation of resources causes the emission of immense carbon dioxide that has transboundary impacts especially on developing countries which are already facing indigenous challenges altogether. The heat weaves in Europe, devastating floods in Pakistan, and other examples create challenges for the world. Therefore, there is a need for a special focus on climate change concerning the arctic ocean.
What is next?
The future of the world lies in peace. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine depicts that the war has ripple effects and impacts the lives of every individual on the earth in this globalized world. The strategic competition between great powers is good until it fosters research, and the upgradation of technology which is a symbol of healthy competition, but when this competition shouldn’t result in a cold war which proves a disaster for the world. The stakeholders of the arctic ocean should come under one umbrella and work together by keeping in view mutual benefits. Therefore, the world needs to develop policies to counter global warming by keeping in view the arctic ocean.
Putin, Xi, the ICC, and the Demise of Global Judiciary
Authors: Roman Kusaiko and Alexey Ilin*
On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian president Vladimir Putin. The press release stated that Prosecution’s application was filed on the February 22, 2023, while the existence of the warrants was disclosed on March 17, 2023. This is the first time the ICC releases a warrant against a sitting president of the state possessing nuclear weapons. Moreover, it immediately preceded the visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which took place on March 20-22, 2023. While the warrant is expected to force Russia and its leader into submission, the end result may be the erosion and eventual demise of the universal criminal justice.
The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute (done July 17, 1998, in force July 1, 2002) to prosecute the most serious crimes of international concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression (Rome Statute art. 5). The ICC has three main advantages against its predecessors – the ad hoc tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). First, it is a permanent court. Second, it is based on an international treaty and not the United Nations Security Council resolution, which gives it more legitimacy. Third, the ICC jurisdiction is not limited to a particular country or case – the Court can prosecute a crime if it was committed either by a national of a State Party, or on a State Party’s territory. Generally, officials of the non-party states cannot be prosecuted, but even this barrier can be overcome if the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by the UN Security Council (Rome Statute art. 13(b)).
France and the UK are the only State Parties to the ICC among those countries that legally possess nuclear weapons (under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty). China, India, Pakistan and North Korea neither signed nor acceded to the Rome Statute while the U.S., Russia, and Israel officially refused to ratify the treaty. The attitude towards the Court reveals a divide in states’ perception of international criminal justice. Countries with extensive military capabilities decided not to delegate any of their judicial power to an external international institution. The rest of the countries delegated their authority to an international judiciary seeking justice in case any major crimes are committed against them.
Since its inception, the Court’s authority has been facing challenges, especially from the U.S. The latter has a long history of complicated relations with the ICC, from open hostility to the recent bipartisan support. Most prominently, the “Hague Invasion Act” grants the U.S. the right to use military force to liberate any U.S. or allied country’s citizen being held by the ICC. The existence of such methods undermines the authority of the Court and also manifests that the U.S. and its allies are “out of judicial range” and thus not accountable before the international community.
The ICC has been repeatedly stumbling in its attempts to investigate the most serious crimes in the areas where the U.S. and their allies conducted their military operations. Between 2014 and 2020, the ICC investigated the war crimes in Iraq (willful killing, torture, and rape) committed by the armed forces of America’s closest ally – the UK. Nevertheless, the investigation was closed in 2020 raising criticism from European institutions, non-government organizations and multiple media sources. Some critics claimed the ICC’s refusal to hold the UK accountable discredited the Court’s authority. Afghanistan has been a State Party to the ICC since 2003, but the Court has not taken any decisive actions in this country until October 2022, when its Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the Prosecution to resume its investigation of war crimes. This move has been first rejected in 2019, and then deferred in 2020. Likewise, the ICC Preliminary Investigation team has been halting the prosecution of war crimes committed in Syria for more than three years despite the ample evidence.
At the same time, reasonable grounds against Vladimir Putin for organizing an unlawful deportation of children were found in less than a month – an unprecedented speed. The disclosure of the ICC warrant on March 17, 2023 suspiciously coincided with the announcement of Xi Jinping’s official visit to Moscow. The announcement was made only on the 17th of March, 2023, with the agenda reported by both Chinese and Russian sources. It is hard to believe in such a coincidence, especially after subsequent remarks by the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed that the warrant targeted Chinese leader’s visit. While some media claimed Putin’s days are now numbered, the others were more skeptical referring to the West’s “deafness” for their own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ICC warrant sends several signals to the Russian state, society, and beyond. The first one is to oust Vladimir Putin from the office to improve relations with the West. The second one is for the Russian elites: as long as Putin is in power, their assets will be always under threat of sanctions and even confiscation. The third one is for the other world leaders: leaving Putin alone at the table will not be enough – legal actions should be taken against him. The Russian leader should become a pariah. One may argue, that such a strategy could be partially successful in 2014, but an open Chinese criticism of the warrant demonstrates that it will have serious limitations in 2023.
Vladimir Putin will not willingly step down, but the warrant will push his government to build parallel institutions with friendly or non-aligned countries. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin proposed to pass an act similar to the “Hague Invasion Act.” In addition, he prompted the Russian government to sign bilateral agreements which will guarantee the denial of the ICC authority. Moreover, the depth of the issues discussed between Putin and Xi suggest that Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could become an “umbrella” for alternative global institutions, including the judiciary branch. The SCO already hosts regular meetings between the chairs of the Supreme Courts. As more countries are willing to join in, it may become a respected institution of transnational justice. This development, amplified by U.S. unaccountable posture, will bury the once noble idea of global judiciary in The Hague. The ICC will remain what Rwandan President Paul Kagame called it, “the court for Africans and poor countries.”
*Alexey Ilin, Ph.D. candidate at Shanghai Jiaotong University.
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