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Rejection of EU necessary for Yanukovych’s Survival Beyond 2015

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Is there anybody left in the Eurasia-watching community in the West that has not condemned Ukraine for suspending preparations for agreements that would have taken closer into the EU’s fold?

Until recently this community had expected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to enter history as “the man who has brought Ukraine into Europe” by signing the Association Agreement (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) at the two-day Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius this week. But that was thwarted, as many Western experts have it, by “imperialist” Russia strong-arming Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych into an 11th hour about-face.

The decision has created a backlash in Ukraine, where the parliamentary opposition now wants Yanukovych impeached for state treason. Thousands of protesters have hit streets of Kiev in a pitch to force a change of mind in their president. As a recent poll shows, even 47 percent of supporters of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions support Ukraine’s association with EU.

So why would a leader up for re-election in less than 15 months from now balk at granting the wishes of his own constituents? Should he not at least have put this issue of tantamount importance to vote in a referendum?

The short answer is: It’s the economy, stupid.

Viktor Yanukovych Ukraine European Union

Photo: news.kievukraine.info

Russia imports more goods from Ukraine than the entirety of Europe, according to the Ukrainian government, while supplying almost two-thirds of gas that Ukraine consumes. Many of these goods are produced in eastern Ukraine, which together with Crimea, represents the power base for Yanukovych and his supporters.

Russia has already made it painfully clear that the billions that the Ukrainian economy has already lost because of recent trade restrictions introduced by Moscow will only be the beginning if Kiev signs the AA and DCFTA.

EU officials claim Russian officials told Ukraine that introducing EU requirements would have cost as much as $100 billion, while Russia cutting off trade and imposing other restrictions on Ukraine would have hurt the country to the tune $500 billion, Reuters has reported.

And even though the EU knows Russia would punish Ukraine economically, it has shied away from offering a comprehensive package to compensate for Kiev’s potential losses.

As former Clinton administration adviser Andrew Weiss has rightly put it, “What the EU has come up with is a kind of partnership on the cheap.”

But suppose Moscow didn’t act on its national interest in anchoring its post-Soviet neighbors. Let’s also imagine that Moscow would for some reason keep in place trade perks favoring Kiev, even though that would mean its producers being exposed to EU goods re-exported onto the Russian market through Ukraine.

Even then Ukraine could still not afford westward integration on the terms the EU is offering.

By Yanukovych’s assessment, Ukraine needs $160 billion to shift to European standards by 2017, as required by the proposed agreements with EU. Yanukovych is most probably exaggerating, but even if the cost was 10 times smaller, it would still be a hefty sum for a nation that is set to run a budget deficit of more than6.5 this year. On top of that, the IMF is reportedly refusing to issue the loan that Ukraine needs to prop up its economy, unless Kiev doubles gas prices for consumers.

One has to ask, would leaders in the EU double gas prices for their population and divert billions of dollars needed to pay pensioners and public servants to spend on reaching somebody else’s expectations only a little more than one year before an election?

Loss at the February 2015 presidential elections for Yanukovych would not just mean an end to his tenure, but also the loss of his and his allies’ business assets and possible jail time. After all, that’s what he has subjected former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to. Why should  the next leader of Ukraine treat him any differently?

If Yanukovych were to sign the EU agreements as they stand, the economy would suffer and he would probably lose to whichever rival candidate arch-foe Tymoshenko gives her backing in 2015.

Having lost part of his core supporters over the pain inflicted on Ukraine’s economy and budget by a combination of Russia’s punitive measures and costs incurred by bringing Ukraine’s standards in line with EU’s, the incumbent would still fail to win enough voters among the pro-Western crowd, who largely hate his guts.

In short, the Ukrainian president’s decision to suspend the EU drive is the rational choice of a politician concerned with his own survival.

In contrast, if Yanukovych were to enter Ukraine into the Russian-led Customs Union, he could at least count on enough loans and gas discounts from Russia to prop the economy up long enough to win the 2015 election.

And yet Yanukovych knows from experience that siding with Russia, which seeks to anchor Ukraine to itself, has its disadvantages. Upon his inauguration in February 2010, Yanukovych undertook a number of steps to accommodate Russia.

These included cancellation of his predecessor’s campaign for recognition of the Holodomor famine of the early 1930s, suspension of Ukraine’s drive for NATO membership and an agreement to extend the stay of Russia’s Black Sea fleet until 2042.

The overtures made to Russian leaders early in Yanukovych’s presidency  have achieved little, in the opinion of his aides, other than a modest discount for gas. The perceived failure to re-ignite the relationship prompted Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister Valery Khroshkovsky to quip that “it all started as light flirtation, but ended in hardcore porn.”

Yanukovych is therefore most likely to continue balancing between EU and Russia – a policy his mentor and former president Leonid Kuchma described with the Russian saying about “a smart calf sucking milk from two cows.”

His hope for now must be that the trilateral talks between EU, Russia and Ukraine that he has proposed will allow him to somehow integrate into the Western European economic space while preserving the perks of trading with Russia.

Whether, however, EU and Russia will continue put up with Yanukovych playing them off one another is another matter.

First Appeared on: RIA Novosti, Republished following the terms of use.

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Simon Saradzhyan is a researcher at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center. His research interests include international security, arms control, counter-terrorism as well as political affairs in post-Soviet states and their relations with major outside powers. Prior to joining the Belfer Center in 2008 Saradzhyan had worked as deputy editor of the Moscow Times and a consultant for the United Nations and World Bank. Saradzhyan holds a graduate degree from the Harvard University.

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Seasif’s Franco Favilla discusses the post-Covid economy and the price of gold

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Although the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over yet, there has been much discussion on the idea of a “post-Covid” economy, especially with the beginning of vaccination efforts in some countries. With markets throughout the world suffering the economic effects of the virus, experts have been looking towards the future –– and one of the topics that often comes up is the price of gold.

In August, the price of gold exceeded US$ 2,000 an ounce for the first time, driven by multiple factors. However, in November, advancements in Covid-19 vaccines led to a decrease in this trend, a result of the turbulent period we are going through.

“Regardless of the market volatility and the price changes that could occur over a given period of time, the fundamental fact is that the price of gold over the course of 2020 has reached an all-time high, and this, in my opinion, is very good news for the world economy,” explains Franco Favilla, founder and CEO of Seasif, a multinational company active in the extraction and trading of gold and oil.

According to Mr. Favilla, the main problem of the pre-Covid economy was the completely arbitrary nature of international finance. At one time, a ton of gold corresponded to a ton of currency, but since the 1980s, and at an impressive rate since 2000, the gap has widened enormously, so much so that today the relationship between the world’s currencies and gold is enormously unbalanced.

Total gold reserves around the world cover only 30% of currencies. This means there is nothing to cover and guarantee the value of money. In short, money has turned into a pure convention, a pure agreement between parties acting outside the market. Gold, on the contrary, guarantees democracy, because it protects savers and the market, offering an objective value for parameterizing every transaction. 

“My hope, therefore, is that the crisis caused by Covid-19 will help to change finance, making it less ‘phantom’ and more linked to an objective dimension, based on gold, with obvious advantages for the real economy. Gold protects consumers, the most important component in any economic system: if you don’t have a market made up of consumers with a certain level of wealth, how can you sell? To whom? Consumer protection must come first, and gold is one of the main ways of protecting them,” states the CEO of Seasif.

Sustainability has also been at the forefront in discussions about the post-Covid world, as countries look towards establishing a more resilient global economy, one able to better withstand such events in the future –– and “green gold” may well be a part of that future. Green gold, in a sense, can be considered the “gold of the future” due to its ethical and sustainable extraction process. Seasif produces green gold, with a department entirely dedicated to green, and has allocated economic incentives to its continued production.

Even as 2020 draws to a close, the future may still look uncertain. But for those searching for greater security, gold may be one of the few certainties left.

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Europe

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Spain?

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There are plenty of reasons why you may be thinking about living in Spain: its population is friendly and kind; its climate, especially in the coastal areas, is enviable; its gastronomy is incredible… but, what about its prices? What is the most affordable way to live in Spain?

Perhaps the most important question if you decided to go: would it be better to buy instead of renting a property in Spain. Or yet living in a Spanish residence?

Spanish cities where to live cheap and well

In the geographical variety that Spain presents, we can find many differences in average salaries and the standard of living that reside there would require. The areas of Galicia, Extremadura, Castilla y León, together with Almería and the south of Alicante usually have a lower price of euros/square meter in their homes. The quality of life is really appreciable, but you should know that there are fewer possibilities for business and transports.

The autonomous community of the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Madrid, which have higher than average incomes (normally more than 24,000 euros per year), also have higher prices. However, Madrid has such a wide range of rents that it sometimes makes them cheaper than other countries. 

In addition, and taking into account the tourist seasons, the areas of Valencia and Andalusia are normally a preference when it comes to living in Spain for a while or even spending your retirement. Although day-to-day life can be more expensive than in other areas of Spain, the mild climate and variety of leisure options are often worth it in the long run. 

Whatever your option is when moving to another country, especially if you don’t know its legal system, can be very tiresome. That’s why our advice is to try to contact local agencies (that speak English) to give you fair and fruitful advice. For example, to move to Andalusia, we usually recommend Tejada solicitors

I have already decided on the place. Now what?

Well, if you have already fully immersed yourself in the streets of a beautiful city that we have talked about, what should be your first step?

Decide what kind of stay you want to be in (since your future economic situation will also depend on this: taxes, permits…). You may have already chosen, for example, property conveyancing in Marbella, but it is recommended that you also think about renting a property, because it can be very profitable while you are in your other place of residence.

To sum up, before moving to a Spanish city, decide if you want to spend a little more money per month in exchange for the exceptional conditions that their precious land can give you; secondly, contact a reliable agency that will help you make the best investment and even more, apply for a Spanish residency if you are decided to stay for a long time.

And remember: a move is always a new beginning.

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Europe

Holiday in Italy: choose Florence for a break in the winter

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Florence is one of the most visited Italian cities, with over 15,4 million tourists visiting the city each year. Located in the heart of the Tuscany region, this beautiful city breathes history, life and culture among its streets. If you are looking for the perfect location for your next winter holidays, then you should look no further, Florence is the perfect destination for you.

Enjoying the best cuisine

Florence is one of the cities with the richer gastronomy in the world. From traditional Italian cuisine to exquisite wines, the food in this city have everything you may wish for in order to please your palate.  With so many options available, you may be wondering where to eat in Florence. Food critics recommend that you check out the following options during your visit to Florence: 

  • Traditional Italian cuisine: visiting Florence and not tasting original Italian cuisine would be considered blasphemous by many.  Italy has one of the most delicious gastronomies in the world, and in Florence you will be able to taste it at its finest with local ingredients. Restaurants like La Chiostrina or Il Rosmarino will allow you to rediscover Italy by its traditional food.
  • Tasting the local wine: wines from the Tuscany region are famous worldwide as the best in the market, making this region the Mecca of wine lovers. During your visit to Florence you will be able to taste those deliquescent wines in restaurants such as Olio Restaurant or Villa Pitiana Restaurant, or taste it on places dedicated exclusively to wine such as Enoteca Obsequium Firenze or L’Enoteca Sandro Soltani.
  • International cuisine: if you like international cuisine, then you are on luck. The best chefs around the globe have restaurants on Florence. This means that you will be able to taste flavours from all the world without having to leave the city. For example,  you can visit the restaurant El Inca for a taste of Peruvian food, restaurant Com Saigon for genuine Vietnamese cuisine, restaurant Ararat for Armenian and Georgian traditional food, or Dim Sum for refined Chinese cuisine. Discover the world by trying the taste of these countries’ traditional flavours.
  • Taste original gelato: gelatos are the ice cream predecessors, and they have been one of Italy’s culinary specialties for centuries . This traditional Italian cold dessert is similar to ice cream, but has less fat and less added sugar. You will be able to enjoy this amazing treat on the many gelaterias around Florence streets, such as Gelateria Edoardo or Gelateria Dei Neri.
  • Tapas and Street food: these are excellent alternatives if you are looking to make a simple meal with your family. You will be able to enjoy these small dishes in places like Italian Tapas or Rivalta Cafe.
  • Modern cuisine: you can taste the most modern and alternative cuisine in the world in Florence. Restaurants like Alla Torre De’ Rossi or Winter Garden by Caino will bring to your table the sophistication the more delicate palates crave. 

Discover Florence’s hidden gems

Florence is a city with a lot of monuments and museums to discover. However, most people that visit the city tend to focus only on the main monuments of the city, such as Campanile di Giotto or Palazzo Vecchio o della Signoria, and the restaurants near those. Because of that, if you want to experience Florence to its fullest, we recommend you rent a bike

Discovering Florence by bike will grant you access to places away from the mainstream crowds,  such as the Andrea del Sarto Museum (dedicated to this amazing Italian painter) or the beautiful Ospedale degli Innocenti (a 17th-century home for abandoned children which includes some amazing pieces of art done by renowned artists like Botticelli). These are really stunning places you would miss if you stick to the traditional tourist route, causing you a lot of regrets over the missed chance. 

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