|Image taken by jubarrier|
Written by Cristina Avram, Geopolitics.ro
Moscow has not released any specific threat against the Czech Republic, although strongly criticized Prague’s preparations for entering NATO. Russian authorities have been very irritated by that Havel’s comments who strongly supported the expansion of NATO to the Baltic states and said that Russia “had no right to oppose NATO expansion.”
By the NATO summit in Madrid in July 1997, Russians pleaded that the Czech entry into the Alliance can have negative consequences for the delivery of natural gas. But soon after the restoration of its independence, Prague insisted to reorient its economy and markets to the West and to reduce dependence on natural gas deliveries from Russia.
Moscow generally refrained from exploiting ethnic problems in the Czech Republic. However, the position of the Roma minority was sometimes brought to attention by Russian officials and media to represent the Czech Republic as not democratic enough. Moscow has also expressed concern over alleged unfair treatment of ethnic Russians enforced by the Czech authorities.
According to Slovak government reports, Russian information agencies have hired members of the Slovak secret police in order to sabotage the expansion of NATO to the Czech Republic by organizing plots meant to exploit rivalries and to fuel doubts on the ability of the Czech Republic join NATO. According to the Czech counterintelligence service, international organized crime that acts in the country has mostly links with Russia. Czech intelligence noted a growing interest of Russian intelligence services for information on modern military equipment that NATO brings in the Czech Republic. Czech analysts have complained about the refusal of successive governments to reform the four information services of the country, indicating that some senior officials continue to cooperate with Moscow.
Moscow’s position became even harsher after Hungary has requested NATO membership. Russian propaganda attacks on Hungary were more moderate than those against Poland because the country does not occupy a strategically difficult position, as it is not so close to the CIS region. Moscow has not released any specific threat against Hungary as the country joined NATO. The comments of prime minister, Viktor Orban, in October 1999, regarding the possibility of allowing U.S. to place nuclear weapons in Hungary “in times of crisis” have outraged Russian officials and led to postponement of Prime Minister Kasyanov’s visit to Budapest.
Since the election of Putin, Moscow has tried to boost the sale of arms to former signatories of the Warsaw Pact and to regain some of the lost market due to Western intervention. However, Budapest has remained cautious about military dependence on Russia.
Russian companies have been trying to invest more and more in the Hungarian energy sector through privatization. Russian capital has increased its role in Hungary in the last decade. The Hungarian authorities have noted this tendency with some fear and are believed to be imposing restrictions.
Moscow has tried to discredit the Hungarian pro-Western and pro-NATO government, focusing on Roma issues, which they consider a more sensitive issue in Western capitals.
Although the Russian authorities have resigned to the loss of Poland as a satellite-state, they perceived its integration into NATO as an obstacle to their influence in the region.
In February 1994, Russian authorities claimed that Poland’s entry into NATO will undermine its relationship with Moscow. Every Polish government official hinted that he/she is in favour of joining NATO, despite objections from Russia. The main purpose of accusing Poland and its neighbours was to desqualify their candidacy to NATO. Poor relations with Russia had an alleged negative impact on relations between NATO and Russia. An additional purpose was to create doubts and divisions between Polish politicians on security and foreign policy of the country.
Russian propaganda strongly attacked Poland’s efforts to establish regional groupings with its post-soviet neighbors and the ones from Central Europe. Moscow feared that structures such as the Visegrad group would exclude Russia and attract CIS countries in the Western orbit. Moscow believes that Poland is its main regional competitors in exercising influence over the CIS countries.
Relations with Russia became even more strained after Poland’s accession to NATO in 1999. Kremlin was trying to demonstrate that the new members of NATO will adopt an attitude of opponents of Russia. Officials were complaining about NATO’s increased activity at the borders of Russia, including military flights over the Kaliningrad region of Russia.
Although Warsaw has focused much of its foreign trade to the West, it remains heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies. Moscow thus uses its “energy diplomacy” to achieve political gains.
In a movement to ensure energy diversity and decrease dependence on Russia, in September 2001, Poland signed an agreement with Norway, although Norwegian gas suppliers prices were 30% higher than Russia.
Due to Poland’s ethnic homogeneity and the absence of any significant autonomist movements involving Russian-speaking population, there weren’t too many opportunities for Moscow to exploit the ethnic issue to its advantage.
Russian services have had too few opportunities to provoke ethnic, social, religious or regional unrest in Poland or to incite anti-government feelings. As one of the most homogeneous countries in Eastern Europe, with a reasonable attitude towards minority rights and a small number of ethnic Russians, Poland has escaped some of the complaints raised by Russia to the neighboring Baltic states. Therefore, there was little chance of manipulation by the Russians on these issues.
Moscow has tried hard to discredit the Polish authorities to disqualify the country’s entry into NATO. Russian officials also tried to show that Poland was not a serious partner for Western institutions telling the Polish secret services and other secret services in Central Europe continued to spy on Alliance.
Russian leaders did not believe that they can realistically integrate the three countries in the CIS or other supra-structure. They tried instead to place Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a “neutral zone”, undefined, between NATO and the CIS and between Central Europe and Russia, in this way, Western influences could be minimized. Russian officials have lanched many warnings in the 90s on the fact that admission of the Baltic countries in NATO would lead to interruption of relations between Moscow and NATO and would lead to a new era of conflict.
Moscow was vehemently opposed to Balkan states’s entry in NATO and warned that such a move would bring to power the hard-line politicians in Russia, and this would hasten the appearance of a conflict with the Alliance. Kremlin argued that the admission of the Baltic states would create a strong barrier against Russia and claimed to have a decisive word in the Baltic republics security policies.
Kremlin tried instead to isolate the three countries internationally, generating tensions within and between the Baltic states and other states to block their acceptance into NATO, specially since the good relations with neighbors were an important condition to become a member of the Alliance.Moscow was manipulating the minority issue to demonstrate that all three governments are unable to achieve European standards of minority protection and human rights.
In the first two years of Putin’s presidency, the focus has been on preventing the entry into NATO of the Baltic republics. Their acceptance into NATO was condemned as an attempt to isolate Russia from Europe, by creating a “sanitary belt”. Officials stated that membership of any of the Baltic countries will permanently damage relations with Moscow and will cause potential countermeasures. It could thus change the “balance of power” in the region and could degrade relations between Russia and NATO. Putin has intensified ethnic tensions in 2001.
Moscow raised even territorial issues on Estonia and Latvia to maintain the pressure created on their governments. Setting border eventually remained not ratified, according to a cunning calculation: unset boundaries meant that the country could not be admitted into NATO.
Russian authorities threatened the Baltic States, supported the economic conflict and claimed that these states represented a springboard for a possible NATO attack against Russia. Some politicians asked to take military measures to force the three republics to comply, and Foreign Minister Primakov called for a revision of certain post-Soviet borders. When direct threats did not have the desired effect, Kremlin resorted to incentives.
At the Easter European leaders’ high level meeting in Vilnius in September 1997, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin proposed several confidence building measures, under the name of “the Baltic Programme”. This included proposals for unilateral security guarantees offered by Russia if Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania remained outside NATO and bilateral guarantees offered by Russia and NATO.
Moscow continued to work towards the disqualification of the Baltic states as viable candidate for the Alliance. They invented internal and external problems such as NATO leaders to consider that the accession of the Baltic states would be too risky, creating new problems to the organization.
Moscow was disrupting Baltic economies to gain political advantage. Each government has tried to steer the economy to the West and to limit dependence on Russia and its susceptibility to blackmail. Moscow has tried particularly to control power transmission means, this being profitable both financially and politically. There were also attempts to discredit the intelligence and security in the Baltic countries to disqualify them for joining NATO.
Moscow has tried to create differences between Baltic leaders claiming that the Estonian and Latvian businessmen are skeptical about the integration into NATO and would prefer to expand trade and political ties with Russia.
When Putin understood that NATO expansion can not be stopped, he changed his strategy, believing that acceptance of NATO membership for the Baltic States combined with a stronger expression of the views of Moscow in NATO deliberations, could weaken the Alliance and undermine the relevance of extending. Baltic officials that it’s important that all three Baltic countries should be included into NATO simultaneously. This was the only way that future conflicts with Moscow could be prevented regarding the NATO membership, the possibility of rivalry could be reduced and could provide a safe environment for economic development. Any delay in joining of any Baltic state would have allowed Russia to develop its international influence by obtaining a firmer control in strategic sectors of local economies.
Russia has had some disappointments in the policy of the Baltic countries. It failed to attract the three independent states into its own orbit of security and proved unable to prevent their political orientation to the West and establishing close relations with the United States.
With the outbreak of Yugoslav wars in the summer of 1991, Russian policy has oscillated between supporting the integrity of Yugoslavia and the cold relations with Milosevic, who had supported the coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991. The central goal of Russian diplomacy was the preservation of Yugoslavia and maintaining domination over Serbia, according to the Soviet Foreign Ministry before the Soviet collapse (position inherited by his successor Russian), an independent Yugoslavia representing “an important element of stability in the Balkans and throughout Europe”.
In turn, Belgrade considered Russia as a useful ally because of Moscow’s veto in the UN Security Council during Belgrade’s attempts to create Greater Serbia. Yeltsin recognized the independence of Slovenia in February 1992 after it became clear that socialist Yugoslavia died.
Yet, in the early stages of the Bosnian war in 1992, Moscow strongly supporter Serbia, which coincided with the affirmation of a more aggressive foreign policy line. During the visit Foreign Minister Ivanov in Ljubljana, several agreements have been finalized and was stressed that the economic cooperation was steadily improving. Slovenian businessmen have made their presence felt in Russia more than ever, as the volume of investments increased. Slovenia and Russia plan to expand trade from the current $ 600 million annually, to at least one billion dollars by 2006. Discussions were held also around Russia’s debt to ex-Yugoslav countries. Slovenia should receive 207 million dollars of the total of 1.29 billion that Russia owes the successor states of Yugoslavia.
In Slovenia, Russia had few opportunities to exploit ethnic differences, as the country is predominantly homogeneous and there are no territorial claims from neighbors. Moscow had few opportunities to influence political processes in Slovenia. Moreover, most parties in Slovenia were prominent anti-Yugoslav and pro independence – positions that were contrary to Kremlin policy. It is believed that Moscow was clearly defending Yugoslav and Serbian causes. Still, Moscow is counting on the fact that it could enter in Zagreb on long term by economic cooperation and investment.
Slovakia from Merciar’s time became the only Central European state to accept the “Kvitinski doctrine” and signed a fundamental treaty with Russia. The doctrine was named after the Soviet deputy foreign minister, Yulia Kviţinski, who led negotiations in 1991 for bilateral treaties with all countries of the former Warsaw Pact, incorporating security clauses that deny them the right to establish “hostile alliances.”
Exclusion of Slovakia from the first round of NATO expansion was considered a diplomatic success of Moscow. As a result of NATO’s expansion, Moscow launched a warning on creating a multi-state alliance in the region, which could exclude Russia from any of its traditional “spheres of influence”. With the election of a democratic government in Bratislava in September 1998, Moscow’s influence began to be closely investigated. Putin administration also had to accept the invitation to join NATO addressed to Slovakia in November 2002 at the Prague summit.
Moscow did not need too many propaganda attacks and disinformation campaigns against Meciar regime, which was perceived as a valuable outpost of Russian interests in the middle of a Western-oriented region. Criticism against the democratic coalition who was ruling the country after the elections in September 1998 had become a common ground and Russian secret services bribed or blackmailed editors and journalists to send materials to the benefit of Moscow. There were suspicions in Bratislava that some negative reports on government security agencies were created and spread by Russian intelligence. Among them were allegations of lack of credibility of the Slovak security services and illegal sales of arms to regimes internationally sanctioned.
NATO leaders had expressed concerns over Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) being involved in arms trafficking, working with Russian intelligence services, tapping journalist’s phones illegally and engaged in campaigns of denigration of some politicians, which could affect the national security of the country and the Alliance in general. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said that Bratislava has to convince the Alliance that their security bodies are to be trusted with the custody of classified information and that they have a credible and independent oversight of security.
The Slovak authorities have harshly criticized the reports according to which the SIS situation was raising serious doubts about the country’s ability to integrate into NATO and the EU. There were suspicions that the reports were exaggerated and falsified by activists associated with Meciar, which kept active links with Russian intelligence services, in a deliberate campaign of denigration of the government.
Russia believes that the Black Sea states, Bulgaria and Romania, have strategic importance for several reasons. First, their control can help increase Russian influence in southeastern Europe, while the Black Sea itself is considered a zone of Russian domination, secondly, they form a bond of energy and infrastructure between Europe and Caucasian and Caspian regions. Thirdly, Bulgaria is seen as a historical ally that can help restore Russia’s advantage. Traditionally, Russia has sought to keep open the Bosporus straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean for its navy and raw materials. This was done in the late nineteenth century at the expense of all countries in the region, including Bulgaria and Serbia, who have become Russian quasi-protectorates. Today, Russia’s strategic ambitions are focused primarily on the impending flow of Russian energy supplies to the West, but not necessarily through the Bosphorus. Moscow intends to provide alternative routes through the Balkans, as a shield against potential bottlenecks in Turkey.
Much of the 90s, Bulgarian Socialists remained closely tied to Russia in December 1994, when they returned to power, Russia’s influence grew and it considered Sofia as an opponent of NATO’s expansion. During a visit to Sofia in March 1996, Yeltsin said that Bulgaria is the only Eastern European country to become a member of the Russian community. In March 1996, Duma’s President, Gennady Selezniov said that Russia and Bulgaria share a common strategic objective and supported Bulgaria’s neutrality, In contrast, the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) who was in opposition was perceived as a dangerous element, which could lead the country closer to NATO. UDF’s election victory in April 1997 was seen by the Kremlin as a major obstacle, as the new Bulgarian government fully embraced the possibility of entering NATO. Moscow tried to divide the Union, seeking to corrupt officials and lawmakers with business proposals. It invested large sums of money to undermine the government, between 1997 and 2001. Resources were allocated to the media and several political parties to discredit the UDF and to promote the Socialists, who were more reliable. Pro-Russian lobby of the Bulgarian Socialist Party campaigned on behalf of Russian economic interests against Bulgaria’s accession to NATO.
Russia was determined to use Bulgaria as a strategic outpost to penetrate the region, based on cultural and historical ties with Russia and the country’s geostrategic position. Disintegration of the Soviet bloc questioned the manner in which Sophia could to protect the independence and promote economic development while maintaining balanced relations with Moscow. Russia continued to show a superiority complex towards small Slavic states and expected that Bulgaria would remain part of post-sovietic political, economical and security space. Its expectations were deceived in April 1997, when Bulgaria elected a reformist pro-NATO government and its progress towards entry into NATO generated tensions with Moscow.
When Russia realized that – in terms of not allowing Bulgaria to NATO, the stakes were lost, there was a new facet of the “Slavic-Orthodox” construct, some Russian commentators claiming that the Bulgarians, in fact, were not entirely Slav. The intention was to maintain the illusion that NATO propaganda is essentially a Catholic-Protestant organization, aiming against the East Slavic world.
Moscow consistently opposed the accession of Bulgaria to NATO, but failed to deflect Sofia’s application for membership, however, the Russian secret services engaged in a campaign to discredit the Bulgarian government by launching rumors which have circulated widely in Bulgaria, that the new prime minister, Simeon Saxe Coburg Gotha, was a puppet for the Russian mafia. Also, Moscow claimed that the United States forced Bulgaria to join NATO and pressured Sofia to weaken its relations with Russia.
There was no direct military threat from Russia against Bulgaria, but Moscow has regularly expressed dissatisfaction towards Bulgaria’s moves closer to NATO and Washington.
At the end of NATO war in Kosovo, Bulgaria refused to grant overflight rights to Russia in order to position troops in the province, until agreement was reached between NATO and Russia for a unified command of the peacekeeping forces. Yeltsin’s deputy, Andranik Migranian, described this decision as a hostile act of Sofia that “will enhance anti-Bulgarian feelings in Russia” and which may affect economic relations”.
Bulgaria’s decision to join NATO sparked Moscow’s officials protests. In August 2000, Foreign Minister accused Bulgaria of establishing excessively close relationships with NATO, warning that it is detrimental to the country’s traditional ties with Russia. A smoldering conflict between Moscow and Sofia is on planning the opening of U.S. bases and military bases in Bulgaria. Setting up of bases was welcomed by the Bulgarian authorities who saw it as a means to strengthen ties with Washington and bringing economic benefits to the country. Kremlin signaled Sofia about its strong opposition towards this initiative and asked to participate in negotiations on the projected bases.
The ethnic issue occupied a marginal place in Russian policy towards Bulgaria. Otherwise would have been shocking that in the name of “Slavic solidarity”, Moscow to instigate a conflict or to accuse Sofia of discrimination against its Muslim communities (Turkish, Roma, pomaka), which forms most of the country’s minorities.
Some Bulgarian companies have been involved in scandals involving the export of arms to dubious regimes, including equipment that could already be used by governments in the Middle East. Such a scandal involving spare parts for armored personnel carriers for Syria, was presented in the press on the eve of NATO Summit in Prague in November 2002.
Relations between Romania and Russia were distant during Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime and partially improved after the fall of the dictator. Only in September 1993, did Romanian leaders traveled to Moscow to sign agreements to restore economic ties. Romania became the only country in the region that Russia has failed to sign a bilateral political treaty. Bucharest has insisted any treaty to include a joint condemnation of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, following which Romania lost part of his province, Moldova. Moscow feared that this would legitimize favorable movements to the union of Romania and ex-Soviet Moldova. The Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation Relations was finally signed July 2003, during a visit to Moscow of President Ion Iliescu.
During the 90s, the Russian state propaganda described Romania as an expansionist power, claiming parts of Moldova and Ukraine lost to the USSR after the Second World War. Moscow has encouraged animosity between Bucharest and Chisinau and Kiev, to act as a defender of territorial integrity of neighbors in northern Romania.
Romania initially accepted the “Kviţinski doctrine” proposed by Moscow on the eve of the Soviet collapse. At the negotiations on the bilateral treaty, a clause was inserted by which both parties were denied entry into any military alliance perceived as hostile by any of the signatories. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the treaty remained in Bucharest unratified and, to the disappointment of Kremlin, Romania started to adopt a more open pro-NATO position. Although there was no direct military threat against the country, it was clear that Russia was strongly opposed to foreign and security policies of Bucharest.
The persistence of the political crisis in the neighboring country of Moldova, was manipulated by Moscow to put in a negative light Romania’s foreign policy. The maneuver became clear in February 2002, as the conflict between the government and protesters was getting stronger in Chisinau. There were demonstrations organized by the opposition movement against the forced introduction of Russian as official language by the Moldovan Communist administration. However, Russian officials have presented demonstrations as a Romanian provocationt, aimed at the annexation of Moldova.
Romanian authorities have accused Moscow of maintaining the crisis in a fragile state, in order to break the pro-Romanian block, to have a more subordinate Moldova and in order to discredit the government in Bucharest, in the manner well known Russian officials have launched libel to the foreign policy of Romania and questioned Bucharest ‘s credibility as a potential ally of NATO. Communist authorities in Chisinau, with close links to Moscow, in turn inflamed speculation that Bucharest would promote a “revenge” against the Republic of Moldova if they were admitted to NATO.
In September 2003, after Romania received the green light for NATO membership, conflict broke out on the need for parliamentary oversight of intelligence. Western agencies have pressured the Romanian commissioners to clean the data network by eliminating former members of the Securitate (Ceausescu’s secret police). Western intelligence services continue to be concerned about possible links between the former communist intelligence agents and Russian services. Washington demands a greater civilian control of intelligence from all invitees to join the NATO and transparency of their budgets.
Diplomatic relations between Albania and the Soviet Union were established in July 1999 after nearly thirty years of its deterioration by the regime of Enver Hoxha in Tirana. Relationship between the two countries remained cold throughout the ’90s, primarily because of the Balkan crisis. Russian authorities did not want to sacrifice good relations with Belgrade to improve those with Tirana. The conflict in Kosovo has strained relations, following the letter sent by Prime Minister Primakov to Albanian Prime Minister, in which he accused Tirana of exacerbating the crisis and pressed the government to eliminate “Albanian terrorism” in Kosovo. Albanian authorities have sent a harsh response to Kremlin’s allegations.
Russia was desperately seeking to have more legitimacy and a stronger voice in the regional policy. Russian officials claimed that NATO tacitly supports the Albanian “ethno-terrorists” in Kosovo in its war against Belgrade because their goals coincide. NATO’s intervention was seen as a way to reduce Russian influence by marginalizing the UN Security Council. Kremlin felt entitled to criticize NATO’s expansion, which coincided with NATO’s offensive missions that could set a precedent for operations near Russia’s borders.
Despite its criticism against U.S. unilateralism, Moscow was the first country to send troops into Kosovo without having UN approval first, in a movement designed to outrun NATO. Russian authorities have urged Tirana to accept a Russian military presence in Kosovo. The belligerent attitude of Kremlin during the NATO campaign was meant to gain a better bargaining position after the war was over.
Moscow’s proposals for the post-conflict period, to create a new Balkan “collective security system”, were received in Tirana as a renewed attempt to regain regional influence and weaken the U.S. position. Albanian authorities have revealed that Kremlin’s proposed security system was designed so as to bypass NATO and to include countries such as Serbia, who did not even participate in the NATO PflP program.
Since NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, Russian officials have described the Albanian nation as a major threat to stability in the Balkans.The Russian state propaganda claimed that all conflicts in Southeastern Europe are deliberately provoked to justify the expansion of NATO and its missions “in the outside area”, proving to be unable to recognize the Albanian ethnic cleansing of Kosovo by Serbian security forces. However, mass flight of hundreds of thousands of residents was described as the consequence rather than cause of NATO’s campaign.
Russian politicians have warned that Albanians are incapable of democratic government and are fundamentally violent. As proof, they emphasized the unstable developments in Albania. They claimed that the Albanian state generates regional instability, undermining the European expansion process , that it plays the role an intermediary for illegal materials and provides an opening for Islamic fundamentalist forces. Albania was denounced as a training base and transit point for terrorists.
Albania avoided to depend on the Russian energy, trade and market. However, Russia intends to include Albania in its increasing energy network across Europe.
Moscow had few opportunities to use social manipulation in Albania or Kosovo, in the middle of an Albanian majority population, where Russia exercises little influence. However, Albanian analysts believed that Serbian secret services, with the involvement of Russia, are active in both countries to generate social tensions and instability. Not having strong ties with major political forces in Tirana or Pristina, and no influence on them, Moscow failed to promote extremist political parties which could have challenged the popularity of pro-Western governments.
Constant presence of organized crime and corruption at high level in the Balkans gave Moscow solid grounds to insist at home on the anti-Albanian and anti-Kosovo message. Albania is regularly described as a regional center of crime, this leading to diplomatic incidents.
Albania’s close relationship with NATO and the United States were additional reasons for espionage by Russian agencies in Tirana. Similarly, Kosovo, a region where NATO and U.S. presence was significant, has become fertile ground for information-gathering for the Russian military and civilian intelligence units.
After declaring independence in June 1991, Croatia was attacked repeatedly by Moscow’s press. The attack included three main elements: Croatia was allegedly the most blatant enemy of Yugoslavia and Serbia, the government was urging NATO’s military involvement in the Balkans, and Croatia sought to become a member of the Alliance. All three policies, shared by Slovenia, diminished “objectively” Russia’s position in the region.
The increased presence of NATO in peacekeeping operations was negatively perceived by Moscow. The new Strategic Concept of NATO was considered a program of institutional expansion and military action. The Alliance, which became the main force to resolve conflicts in the Balkans, was condemned because it was believed that it was a way to marginalize Russian influence.
In 1992, President Yeltsin recognized the independence of Macedonia. It was a difficult decision because by doing so he risked to alienate the Orthodox nationalist bloc that opposed the disintegration of Yugoslavia and was in favor of Serbia in all regional conflicts. Russia’s aim was to build a future alliance with Macedonia and draw the country closer to the pro-Russian Serbia. Several incidents, including Albanian insurgency in 2001 and Western pressure on the government in Skopje to reach an agreement with leaders of the Albanian minority, represented propitious moments for Russian diplomacy to intervene. Moscow posed into champion of the cause of the Macedonian state, arguing that Albanians intend to divide the country.
Russian authorities have described the ethnic tensions in Macedonia as consequences of “Albanian terrorism” and expansionist tendencies coming from Kosovo. Officials warned that as Kosovo region could be dismantled and taken away from Serbia, similarly, parts of Macedonia may also be deployed. In this way, they managed to gain the trust of the government in Skopje.
Russia is pressuring Georgia, threatening that if it becomes a NATO member, it may lose the two pro-Russian breakaway territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia could recognize as independent states.
Regarding Ukraine, Russia believes that adherence to NATO would destabilize the region and could lead to a division of Europe.
Concluding, even if this process is viewed with skepticism by Russia, which still sees the process of expansion as the main threat to its security, it must understand that for a global security it is required a good relationship with NATO and together to promote and to build this relationship.
Creating Perceptions: What is Really Happening with the Indian Economy?
In just a little over a year, Indians will take to the polling booths again to decide whether the Narendra Modi led BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government’s much anticipated second term as the ruling party will become a reality or not. Even though the present government has always been the favourite to retain its position, a heightened focus on the health of the Indian economy may or may not be in their best interest, and it all depends on which picture Indians choose to accept.
One picture, two different outlooks
IMF (International Monetary Fund) chief Christine Lagarde said earlier in October that “for the medium term, we see a very solid track ahead for the Indian economy”, assuaging some of the disconcertedness that has surrounded the Indian economy post two of the boldest moves ever attempted by any government since independence in the country: demonetisation and a massive rollout of the GST (goods and services tax) earlier in the year. The lingering effects of the disruption caused by these steps resulted in India’s GDP growth slowing down again in the latest quarter to 5.7%, with the country playing second fiddle to China, again. However, Lagarde has lauded the steps taken by the Indian government to digitise the economy and simplify the tax regime, dismissing any surprises in the drop in figures as “a little bit of short-term slowdown” which was to be expected following the government’s “monumental effort”.
Moreover, during his visit to the US to meet with investors and corporate leaders, Minister of finance Arun Jaitley reflected that there is a “positive mood” about India in the US, adding that Americans have a good understanding of the actions taken by the government and what they will lead to. That may very well be the case, but the picture of the economy within the borders is far less pronounced, and the division of its state among the citizens far more.
Soon after the figures for growth were in for the latest quarter, India’s former minister of finance Yashwant Sinha, who is also a member of BJP, singlehandedly contributed hugely to the already dwindling confidence of the public in the government’s approach when he wrote in a letter in his column on The Indian Express about “the mess the finance minister has made of the economy.” Citing issues ranging from the decline in private investment and distress in the agricultural sector to the loss of jobs across different sectors, he has blamed demonetisation and a poorly implemented GST for the poor state in which the economy finds itself. Consequently, the past month has seen a flurry of editorials and opinion pieces on what the true picture is of India’s economy, where it is headed, and whether the fears of the people are warranted or if these tiny setbacks will finally be followed by the promised prosperity.
The problems are real, but what are they?
Agriculture was one crucial sector of the economy hit badly. The agrarian crisis has worsened due to an unsatisfactory monsoon season after farm loan waivers were granted following massive protests across states. On the other hand, the GST rollout has hit hard the small and medium businesses which were vastly unprepared to cope with the government’s move. While the GST council meet earlier in October may have eased the tax burden on the SMEs, it is still some way to go before they can be pulled out of what Mr Sinha accurately describes an “existential crisis”. An improvement in growth would also require a timely recovery from the supply shock caused by the implementation of the GST, in the absence of which it would be more realistic to expect more quarters of slow growth. Another major problem is the dearth in the investment by the private sector with an increase in stalled projects for the fifth consecutive quarter. This, along with other engines of economic growth including private consumption has shown slowing signs as well. The government may argue that when they inherited the economy it wasn’t in its best shape either, but demonetisation and now GST, no matter how ambitious have created a scare among the people leading to alarms of low confidence ringing across all major sectors, which needs to be addressed.
The biggest concern perhaps for the government is the lack of jobs created. One of the promises made by the Modi government during the elections was the creation of millions of jobs. However, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy the workforce declined from 406.5 million at the end of last year to 405 million till April this year. Almost every indicator points out to a net loss of jobs for the year 2017. The telecom, construction, and textile industries among others have also laid off a large number of their workforce. A broken promise on this end is unlikely to be forgiven and forgotten that easy.
Where the government is right
As is always the case, the analysis here as well is a two-way street. To the credit of the government, some positive signs have shown with the first tax collection under GST exceeding government’s expectations of Rs. 91,000 crore. Other sources also show a bit of a revival in consumer spending. Moreover, irrespective of the expected duration of the slowdown, PM Modi has recognised the need to tackle some of the most prominent issues that plague the economy in order to get it back on track. It is for that purpose that the Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister has been set up consisting of experts chosen by Mr Modi himself. “There is a consensus amongst us that there are various reasons that have contributed to a slowdown of growth rate. Our entire thrust would be on implementable decisions”, said the Council’s chairman Bibek Debroy. The EAC or EAC-PM has identified 10 issues to tackle in order to launch the economy towards a higher trajectory of growth. These are inclusive of but not limited to the areas of agriculture, the informal sector in the country, job creation, public expenditure, and monetary policy among others. The need for instituting an Economy Track Monitor has also been realised by the Council to suggest correct courses of actions based on heavy and informed assessments.
Making it right: which path to follow
What can the government do? What should be done? Division exists on the suggested courses of actions as well. One of the solutions to the problem would be an increase in the government spending, a suggestion that has found the support of many policymakers throughout the country. That, however, is not without its problems. The central bank has warned that such a fiscal stimulus may come at the cost of macroeconomic stability and even the EAC seems not to be in favour of it. The government also wants to stick to its fiscal deficit target of 3.2% of the GDP and is unlikely to trade off some of this stability for growth. In the event that it should achieve neither, it would be further behind the starting line, not making for a flattering image before the next general elections.
If not a fiscal stimulus, then what is the alternative? The answer is policy reforms in those sectors of the economy that have been plagued with poor performance in terms of both employment and growth – textiles, real estate and construction, and leather among others. A report from JP Morgan suggests that the government should focus on fixing the supply chains that were disrupted first due to demonetisation and then the GST by improving the regulatory framework for SMEs. Resolving the problem of non performing assets in banks is another area that the government needs to set its sights on. The EAC, in its next meeting may look at the sale of government stakes for the recapitalisation of banks as the right step to take.
Time prevails over all
“It is a mistake to think that there is some magical, perfect way to run a large-scale complex system like an economy”, says Jitendra Singh, emeritus professor of management at Wharton, on the subject of the growth of the Indian economy. Yashwant Sinha expressed the same sentiment while concluding his letter when he mentioned: “nobody has a magic wand to revive the economy overnight.” The problems that the Indian economy is facing did not start with demonetisation and GST, they were already headed this way. These steps may have accentuated some of the many problems that have slowed growth but it is also true that an excessive and undue amount of attention is being placed on them. The real problems of the economy are the ones that the EAC to PM Modi hope to tackle and only time will tell what the government is able to do. Unfortunately, time is what is most scarce for the government.
Changing The Rules of the Game: What to Expect When Social Media Dictates the News
Till about five years ago when I was still in high school and without a smartphone, a single faint thud against the front door every morning at roughly 7 AM would signal the arrival of the daily news digest for everyone in my house including myself. Even though I rarely read beyond the sports section and was more or less updated on every development with my favourite leagues, devouring those few pages was a daily ritual. Today, the newspaper arrives every morning in the same fashion and while the ritual has remained unchanged for most of my family, the need, as well as the want for it, does not exist for me.
My story is a phenomenon that resonates with millions of families across the world. The sources from where we get our news and the way we read it has been rapidly changing, in more ways for some than the others. When Pew Research Center conducted a study on ‘The Modern News Consumer‘ across the United States, it was found that 50% of adults from the ages of 18-29 get their news online, followed by television, radio and lastly with only 5% from print newspapers. Television was still reported to be the most dominant source of news among all age groups taken together. However, since it was mostly the choice of the older population, further changes over the next few years should be substantial and rapid. In another survey conducted by Pew this year, it was noted that about 67% of adults in the United States were getting at least some of their news from social media. While the numbers projected above are for the United States, there is no denying that an increasing population of young adults worldwide is getting more and more of its news from social media, and the same is intuitive given the average time a teen spends on social media is up to roughly two hours per day. The important questions however are:
1) whether social media is capable enough to take the baton as the foremost source of news and also
2) whether we as consumers of news are equipped enough to differentiate between what is news and what’s not.
Facebook, fake news, furore!
“Social media already provides more diverse viewpoints than traditional media ever has”, wrote Mark Zuckerberg in his 6,000-word manifesto in February this year on how Facebook plans to make the world better. There is little reason to doubt what he says. However, there are two sides to this coin as well since “the two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news)”, he also mentioned in the same address citing that alternate perspectives do not necessarily contribute to news and there is a need for a complete picture. Still, the greater evil here perhaps is the inaccuracy in information or what Zuckerberg calls it – ‘fake news’.
Zuckerberg’s address came soon after Facebook received heavy backlash for its role in the spread of fake news meant to divide the Americans ahead of the presidential elections. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the pressure was sure to mount on the most popular social media site when it was caught in the midst of another incident relating to the spread of misinformation. Facebook’s safety check feature kicked in for citizens in Bangkok in December 2016 when an erroneous article about a bombing in a nearby shrine went viral. For users in the region, such a mistake can cause a pandemonium. With Facebook falling victim to the fake news again, the world was left evaluating their sources of consumption of news.
Trump’s tussles over Twitter
Let’s take a turn back to the United States yet again but away from Facebook. According to the same study conducted by Pew, about 74% of Twitter users have said that they receive their news from the social media site itself. Twitter allows you to keep a close tab on people you follow, and the problems associated with Facebook are largely avoidable. However, what happens when you are barred from following the president of your country on Twitter? Midway through the year, Donald Trump was sued by a free-speech group when he blocked a number of accounts on the grounds of criticism and dissent. With the White House spokesperson stating that tweets from Trump’s personal account were to be considered “official statements by the president of the United States”, the move was called unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. The question then arises, will Donald Trump’s twitter account be treated as an official one, or despite the remarks from the White House will it be considered a personal one, in which case he may be allowed to block anyone from his account, just like any other person.
Just like Mark Zuckerberg had to shoulder responsibility for the unprecedented burden that social media all of a sudden now carries in disseminating the news, so did Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, although his role was different and just limited to admission of self-perceived guilt. Recognising that Twitter may have played an important role in having Trump elected as president, Williams publicly apologised when he said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be President if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
Sharing the burden is your choice to make
Zuckerberg and Williams, among others, have been at the centre of a phenomenon where social media has taken over reporting and while Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites keep working on filters, resolutions, and artificial intelligence to help overcome the set of issues that this wave has brought with it, it does not mean there is no role for us to play. We are not all fed the same information as we were until a few years ago in the form of newspapers. Today we have fountains of news, information and opinions at the distance of a click, a tap or a scroll. Unfortunately, that also means that not everything that comes across our way is genuine, or to our liking, or even what we may be looking for. To that end, developing habits of open-mindedness, fact-checking and impartiality is imperative on our part.
When we are biased in favour of or against a particular idea or entity, we are often willing to skip checking of facts from sources we may feel are dubious or biased themselves if the news suits our allegiance on the matter. That is where impartiality jumps in. For example, as a young Indian adult when seeking an update on the situation in Kashmir I am aware that the dailies of the two different countries (India and Pakistan) may be under the political influence to portray the news as per the wishes of their respective countries’ governments. Keeping that in mind I may opt to read news from sources from both the countries individually, or maybe just not get carried away with the political undertones in the report from either of them to paint the opposition in a bad light and focus just on the facts. Similarly, while reading an article on the border dispute between India and China on the Chinese daily Global Times, I have to keep in mind the controversial journalism and the pro-government stance that the daily is often known to take, or perhaps get my news from some other source.
Social media has opened the doors to information and connectivity like never before for people all over the world. In the strife to make different platforms for dissemination of news better equipped to make us even better informed, we would do well to strive to also keep ourselves toe to toe with it.
A Lovers’ Quarrel: What Now for India and China?
When China’s Consul General to India Zheng Xiyuan addressed a gathering in the city of Mumbai earlier in the week he made an interesting comparison on the relationship between the two Asian giants. “Relation between China and India is just like the monsoon season,” he said. “There are different levels of rainfall in different years. And sometimes you have clouds as well.” It is not surprising how apt the statement is especially with regard to the past three years which have seen the tiger and the dragon compete for geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond and tussle over longstanding territorial issues. The latter of the two culminated in the 70-day long military standoff in Doklam/Donglang, which has since then deescalated. However, the monsoon sometimes surprises with a few delayed showers, and so has Beijing with a sudden change in its rhetoric towards New Delhi, from one of visible aggression to one which is seemingly cooperative.
Clashes between the two kept analysts across the globe busy, with the possibility of a full-scale military conflict a favourite topic of discussion for the political enthusiasts among the uninitiated. The Doklam episode was the final among a series of recurring conflicts. The most prominent among them included India snubbing China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit in May flagging sovereignty issues due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); a key portion of the OBOR which runs through a region of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and claimed by India, and China’s repeated blocking of India’s move to get the chief of Pakistan based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed listed as a global terrorist with the UN. The relations had already taken a downturn with India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group being blocked by China on a consistent basis. Added to that, tensions reached a high with India’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama, seen as a separatist by China to visit the Tawang region which is claimed by China as Southern Tibet and by India as a part of its state Arunachal Pradesh. This happened despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that the visit would cause serious damage to diplomatic ties between the two countries. Did it?
The action-packed episodes are in the past now and recent developments on the world stage are worth a second look. With no new conflicts brewing for the time being and a precarious lid on the existing ones, it has been nothing short of intriguing to see the evident tone of cooperation between the two frenemies since the Doklam issue has been resolved. China seems to have made good, even if ever so slightly, on blocking the move to designate the JeM chief as a globally designated terrorist by condemning the Pakistan based terror group along with the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba at the recent BRICS summit held in Xiamen. While the move has likely and arguably been made to protect its own investments in the country and doesn’t have any visible bearing on India’s repeated efforts as yet, the step is significant in projecting Beijing’s new viewpoint on the fight against terror based outfits on a global level which previously was limited to vague statements sighting requirement of solid evidence and further communication and coordination between the involved countries. Beijing has also snubbed Pakistan in its effort to internationalise the issue of Kashmir, maintaining its position that the matter is for them and India to resolve on their own. While there has been no change of position on the issue from before and there is no strain of ties between the two ‘all-weather allies’, the tone of the statement is a change to be welcomed by New Delhi in its prominent stand against terrorism on both the national and international level.
Speaking of change, India along with Japan remained relatively quiet in the South China Sea conflict, making no explicit mention of it in their joint statement when the Prime Ministers of both the countries met earlier this September. Improvements in ties aside, another likely reason could be that the issue has taken a backseat with the focus of China, Japan as well as that of the United States on the heightening tension in the Korean Peninsula.
However, with Trump’s undiverted attention on Kim, the South East Asian countries involved in the conflict may find it difficult to stand up to the Chinese on their own, should Beijing choose to push even further with its activities in the contested waters. Therein lies an important lesson for India. “The Chinese have demonstrated a pattern of creeping encroachment”, India’s former Ambassador to Beijing Ashok K. Kantha has said, and India would do well to remember that. Indians may see the disengagement from both the sides in Doklam as a diplomatic victory over the Chinese but the conflict is not yet resolved. China’s perceived soft behaviour may merely be an understanding on their part that perhaps the time to act is not now, more so that cooperation is the way ahead; something which has continuously and explicitly been implied by both the sides over and over considering what else is at stake.
As two large and quickly growing economies, India and China’s relationship with each other has been heavy enough invested in by both the countries for them to know different. This is not just evident from the business end, but also from the mixing of the two cultures as well. Bollywood movies are enjoying huge popularity among the Chinese audience. At the same time across the border, Mandarin as a language has acquired more importance over the years, with schools offering the same as an optional language growing in number. Opinions of the people on each other may change every now and then from favourable to not as much in polls, yet there is no denying their mingling.
In this lovers’ quarrel, as is with any other, while the occasional bickering is unlikely to give way (at least in the foreseeable future), reconciliation is perhaps always the key and a quick one for that matter. This is known by both, even if they may forget from time to time.
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