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Continued Uncertainty in DRC Hindering Energy Growth

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 13:50

Photo: WikiCommons

The Democratic Republic of Congo has had its national election delayed again by President Joseph Kabila; on this occasion the election was delayed one week to December 30 and the announcement came three days before citizens were scheduled to head to the polls. On December 26, the electoral commission (CENI) announced elections in three regions – two in the east and one in the west – will be delayed until March due to Ebola and violence.

These delays come two years after the president initially delayed elections, violating the constitution, thus a new wave of questions have been raised about an attempt to retain his grasp of power or if elections will be free and fair, with Emmanuel Shadary representing the ruling coalition on the ballot. Twenty-one candidates will be running. Felix Tshisekedi, president of Congo’s largest opposition party the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), is seen by some pundits as a strong challenger.

Mr. Kabila, 47, came to office in 2001 after his father, Laurent, who was part of the revolution that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, was assassinated and is constitutionally mandated for his terms to conclude. He won the first open, multiparty elections in 2006 in a run-off vote. Discussing the future at a regional meeting, he was quoted as saying “I’m not saying goodbye, just see you later.” There is also speculation he may attempt to return to office in 2023.

The extra uncertainty is piling another challenge to foster an environment for sustained investor confidence, especially for direly necessary energy and infrastructure projects, for the country plagued with poverty, energy shortages and high levels of unemployment in the formal economy.

Pervasive uncertainty has fomented in the nation of about 80 million inhabitants not only because of political instability, revolution, ongoing violence and the recent Ebola outbreak, but also chronic corruption, nonexistent or crumbling infrastructure and energy systems, lack of accountability, insufficient transparency, high-levels of inflation and difficulties gaining access to capital.

Facing these challenges, ninety-five percent of export revenues are derived from mining and extractive industries. Many of commodities, such as cobalt, lithium and copper, have become vitally necessary globally to produce high-tech products such as hand-held devices, renewable energy and batteries for electric vehicles.

Added together, years of war and institutions that are inadequate to stave of the enormity of external and internal forces has left the infrastructure network in disrepair, access to reliable electricity (non-diesel generator) at stunningly low levels and diversifying its economy a tall order to overcome. It is difficult for the government to implement effective reforms to reach sustained economic growth as the nation is exposed to volatile commodity market swings – demonstrated in 2016-2017. The prices of many goods, services and financial activities are indexed to the U.S. dollar.

On the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, DRC is ranked 184 out of 190 behind Haiti and ahead of South Sudan and on the UN’s Human Development Index it is ranked 176 out of 189. GDP per capita tallies about 460 USD, according to the World Bank.

Despite the barriers, DRC is often viewed with abundant socioeconomic growth potential from its burgeoning population, strategic location in central Africa and resource treasure trove and untapped energy potential to transition to be one of Africa’s most successful nations and even serve as a catalyst for African economic growth.

Extractive Industries Vast Impact

The DRC, which gained independence in 1960 from Belgium and is the second largest nation by land in Africa, is home to hundreds of minerals and metals. The need to attract foreign direct investment has left the nation prone to policy missteps or ineffectiveness at times. However, it has been able to implement a tax and customs duties regime applicable to mining rights. The terms of agreements signed by the parties involved, according to information from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), also must meet regulations of common law or fiscal policy. DRC began to implement the EITI in 2007 to attract foreign mining companies back to the nation, to overcome the increased national instability.

Chinese companies, similar it’s strategy in other nations, have been investing billions of dollars in pursuit of the DRC’s minerals. There is the expanding global, and especially on the African continent, dynamics of the West, with companies such as Glencore, and the Chinese state-owned enterprises for dominance of extractive minerals to support the expanding industries fostering new technologies for the future. For example, DRC Congo has close to half of the world’s cobalt reserves. There have been unsubstantiated estimates that DRC’s land could contain $24 trillion worth of raw minerals below its surface.

With such immense opportunity, mining companies have been constructing new power generation at their work sites for continued productive operations due to the lack of reliable energy.

The Persistent Energy Crisis

An overarching area that needs continued focus after elections, which can play a role in fostering socioeconomic growth in DRC in addition to economic diversification, is electricity access. Currently it is estimated that less than twenty percent of the country of 80 million has access (with some estimates well below that number), with less than 1 percent in rural areas. The access that is available is unreliable and there are frequent outages.

Unreliable or a lack of access to electricity has proven to be a drag on socioeconomic growth due to the inability to start a new enterprise or expand business to hire new employees, store vaccines, provide education, ensure security to vulnerable populations, charge communication technologies and continue productive activities once the sun goes down. Wider access to reliable electricity is a critical bridge to access to basic services.

Despite its mineral wealth, traditional biomass (such as wood and charcoal) represents more than 90 percent of total energy consumption – which is also having severe impacts on health and deforestation (70 percent of DRC’s land is forest). Like many of more than 2 billion people across the globe, inefficient biomass fuels are used for their basic energy needs such as cooking, heating and lighting.

National utility Societe Nationale d’Electricite (SNEL), the national utility, is mandated to oversee the transmission, distribution, generation and trading of electricity. SNEL has stated it has committed to partner with multilaterals, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), regional neighbors and private actors. In 2014, a new electricity law was adopted, enabling the energy sector to be opened up to more independent producers of traditional and renewable energy.

Lack of investment, no cost reflective tariffs, management problems, a small base of skilled workers and no independent regulatory body in the energy sector has left the sector with challenging operational abilities. Many power plants, transformers and transmission and distribution networks are in severe need of being refurbished or replaced due to lack of maintenance and age, leaving the infrastructure dilapidated and operating far below designed capacity. Estimates range that about one third of the national electricity capacity is not operational.

The electricity mix is dominated by hydro accounting for 96 percent of the electric supply of the 2,677 MW national capacity, with a potential of 100,000 MW the equivalent of 13 percent of the world’s hydropower potential. The balance of the mix is mostly heavy fuel oils.

A perfect example is the Inga I and II dams that have an installed capacity of 1,775 MW, about 100 miles southwest of Kinshasa and these facilities operate at about 60 percent generation due to decades of overdue maintenance and neglect.

Along the Congo River, a saga over a potential “Grand Inga” project has played out for years. In theory a completed multi-stage project would have the potential to produce 39,000 MW and cost $80 billion and $10 billion for transmission, which could provide energy for potentially 500 million Africans without electricity. There has been a myriad of schemes but controversy and many other issues have kept the project on the drawing board with many other calls for it to be completed scrapped. The latest iteration of plans has stakeholders from China, Spain, the AfDB and the European Investment Bank involved.

There is also vast potential in renewable resources such as biomass, solar, geothermal and moderate wind potential that can be harnessed with proper policy and investment structures.

DRC Home to Oil and Gas Reserves

DRC’s oil industry, dating to the 1970s, is operated solely by Perenco, an independent European company. In DRC it operates eleven fields onshore and offshore with an average production of 25,000 barrels per day, according to the company. Oil started being produced in 1975 and peaked at 33,500 b/d in 1985; output has continued to decline. All oil has been exported as there is no refinery. However, discoveries in the east of the country give the country the second largest crude oil reserves in Central and Southern Africa after Angola. There has been discussion of opening Virunga park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet home to about a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, to exploration for oil and minerals.

DRC may hold as many as 30 billion cubic meters of methane and natural gas in the three major petroleum deposits. In addition, Lake Kivu which has a border with Rwanda and recently commissioned a 25 MW plant, has a significant reserve of methane from natural gas. There is inherit risk with methane but it can be tapped for productive use as well.

In February 2017, a revised hydrocarbon code was published in hopes of making the sector more structured and attractive for investors.


Expanding Energy Options

With such low rates of electricity access, there is potential for decentralized systems to play a significant role in the energy market. The sheer size of the country leaves many areas without transmission and distribution infrastructure available and presents a problem to construct. Standalone gensets, mini-grids and household level systems can be an integral approach to combating the energy crisis.

Furthermore, new smart policy from the next administration could be developed to promote renewable energy sources using solar, wind, geothermal and biomass to tap the energy potential and stave off further energy crises.

Solar irradiation models show solar energy is viable throughout the country, but installed capacity is next to nonexistent currently. There is increasing micro-hydro being investigated and in operation but these systems can lead to problems with inter-seasonal deviations. Whichever technology, education at the local level is necessary for optimal operation and long-term sustainability.

Most Congolese have been caught in a no-win situation with apparent waves of growth only to be halted and not extend across the nation. With a new administration, a renewed focus onto energy infrastructure can lend a hand to provide a stimulant for sustained, expanded growth and be one spoke on the road to a strong nation.

The post Continued Uncertainty in DRC Hindering Energy Growth appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

How to Talk about Ukrainian Politics in the West?

Fri, 04/01/2019 - 16:21

Hyperbolic warnings about allegedly disastrous consequences of a Tymoshenko presidency are demobilizing Western support for Ukrainian reforms and defense

My recent article “What Would a Tymoshenko Presidency Mean?” for the Ukraine Alert of Washington’s Atlantic Council has caused indignation among numerous Ukrainian experts and journalists – some of them hitherto close colleagues and professional friends. I was reacting, with this text and two longer outlines on VoxUkaine and New Eastern Europe, to a – since then continuing – series of harsh attacks on Tymoshenko in Western outlets, by the prominent commentator of post-Soviet affairs Taras Kuzio. Responding to Kuzio’s comparisons of Tymoshenko with Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez as well as other, less controversial statements, I argued that Tymoshenko is leading in the polls for the presidential elections, with a wide margin. Her party too is currently ahead in the polls for the parliamentary elections, in autumn 2019. Kuzio has since rebutted my critique, in English, in the Kyiv Post, and, in Ukrainian, on VoxUkraine.

Ukrainian Reactions to a Presentation of Tymoshenko in the West

Obviously, there are a number of problems with Tymoshenko and her presidential bid such as her leftish populist slogans or the financial sources for her expensive electoral campaign. Yet, the fact remains that the real choice in Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections may not be between a young reformer, on the one side, and a representative of the Kuchma-period elite, on the other, but, perhaps, between incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and opposition leader Tymoshenko. The latter is currently far more popular than the former. Volodymyr Zelenskii, a famous TV producer, actor and comedian with no political experience whatsoever, had by late 2018 become more likely to defeat Tymoshenko than Poroshenko.

Therefore, such was my argument, the West should start establishing a constructive relationship with Tymoshenko as the, so far, most likely future leader of Ukraine and with her team. As starting points for such a rapprochement, I listed some positive aspects of Tymoshenko’s possible rise in 2019 as her becoming the first female president in the Eastern Slavic world, having built a functioning nation-wide party, and having recently conducted several serious programmatic conferences with (arguably, too) many more or less original political as well as economic ideas.

“Shut up!”- was one of the more polite responses among the Ukrainian reactions, on various social networks, to the selective paraphrasing of my article on Ukrainian websites. The most common defamation, by dozens of commentators, was that my article had been paid for by Tymoshenko. These slanderers did not answer, however, the question why the presidential candidate would spend money on an article asking “where the enormous amounts of money that Tymoshenko is currently spending on her campaign come from.”

The libel concerning my alleged sell-out to Tymoshenko, and many less defamatory, but also dismissive comments misunderstood the purpose and context of my article in three ways. They saw it (a) as a contribution to Ukrainian rather than Western debates, (b) as an expression of a political position rather than of a policy prescription, or/and (c) as a propagation rather than introduction of Tymoshenko for Western audiences. Many unforgiving responders to my portrayal of Tymoshenko apparently either do not care much about, or do not comprehend well, the dynamics of Western discourse and policies regarding Ukraine. They do not appreciate possible after-effects that, in the Ukrainian context, well-received condemnations of Tymoshenko, such as Kuzio’s comparison of her with Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez, have in Western capitals. Publicly warning Ukraine to not follow the path of Venezuela, in Ukrainian mass media would have been one thing. Painting such a picture in respected Western analytical outlets is a different story.

Why Tymoshenko Needs to Be Introduced to the West

The substantive motivation for my articles on her was less any particular traits of, or opinion on, Tymoshenko than the results of a large October-November 2018 poll in Ukraine, by the Razumkov Center, Kyiv International Institute for Sociology, and Rating Group. These three reputed think-tanks conducted jointly a comprehensive opinion survey interviewing circa 10,000 Ukrainians. They thus used data from far more respondents than most other polling agencies usually base their predictions on. This poll did not only put Tymoshenko and her party far ahead of all competitors in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Apart from some other notable aspects, it also revealed an exceptionally high negative rating of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko who also heads an electoral bloc bearing his fore- and surname (“BPP”) and scheduled to participate in the parliamentary elections in autumn next year. Over 50% of the respondents said that they would not vote for Poroshenko, under any circumstances. The survey, moreover, predicted a clear victory of Tymoshenko in a hypothetical second round of the presidential elections where she would have beaten, according to that poll, all potential competitors. At least, as of mid-November 2018, the, by far, most likely new president of Ukraine and the probable winner of the 2019 parliamentary elections seemed to be Tymoshenko and her Fatherland party.

Articles like Kuzio’s imply that this would be nothing less than a disaster for Ukraine which could become a second Venezuela. Many experts and journalists in Ukraine are less alarmist, but of largely similar opinion. Worse, such comments – when publicized in English or other European languages – fall on fertile ground among Western diplomats, foreign entrepreneurs and international aid workers. These days, many external partners of Kyiv are, even without the bleak prospects that Kuzio offered, uncertain about Ukraine’s future.

European and North American officials, businesspeople, journalists and activists wonder about their continuing roles, impact and status within Ukraine, after the elections. Not only are apocalyptic warnings such as those by Kuzio & Co. as well other skeptical statements from within Ukraine on Tymoshenko fueling Western insecurity about the future of Ukraine’s foreign relations, developmental path, and internal stability. Many Kyiv elite members’ explicit rejection of Tymoshenko are, moreover, in stark contrast to her nation-wide relatively strong popular support, in almost all regions of Ukraine.

What Western Actors May Conclude from Ukrainian Hyperbole

There may be, among some public critics of Tymoshenko, hope that the harsher they attack the presidential candidate in English, the more the West will either try to prevent her victory, or attempt to neutralize the effects of Tymoshenko’s presumably calamitous presidency. Yet, this is not how the West’s international relations, in general, and interaction with Ukraine, in particular, work. Numerous Kyiv experts’ gloomy warnings concerning Tymoshenko’s rise to power may, instead, have the opposite effect in the West from what these critics might hope when voicing their apprehensions, in public or private, vis-à-vis European or American partners.

At best, the representatives of Western states and organizations may, as a result, conclude that Ukraine’s relatively anti-Tymoshenko elite and pro-Tymoshenko population need to sort out relations among themselves. At worst, they will believe fully or in part dark prognoses such as those by Kuzio as well as by similarly inclined Kyiv experts, and respectively react or prepare. Contrary to what some in Kyiv may anticipate, such preparation could, however, not result in higher interest in, or better engagement with, Ukrainian domestic affairs. It may have the opposite effect of causing temporary disengagement from, or contemplating containment of cross-border instability emerging from, a soon-to-be self-destroyed Ukraine.

If indeed Maduro Number Two (Tymoshenko) is about to start ruling Ukraine in spring 2019, as Kuzio and others insinuate, Western actors may not be asking themselves how to prevent or constrain such a disastrous turn of events. Instead, they may start calculating how to minimize the effects, on their own countries, of an East European Venezuela. Currently mobilized Western political, economic and non-governmental actors who take seriously Kuzio’s gloomy predictions, on reputed Western expert outlets, for a Ukraine under Tymoshenko may decide to put on hold their collaboration with, or to simply withdraw from, Ukraine.

Some actors are now, in any way, adopting a wait-and-see approach until it becomes clear how things develop after the elections. If Kuzio & Co. want to further postpone Western investments in, projects for, and cooperation with, Ukraine, they should continue their alarmist campaign against Tymoshenko, in Western outlets. They may succeed to trigger more freezing of activities of Western risk-averse partners in Ukraine. Continuing talk of imminent Kyiv chaos, Ukrainian decay, reform reversal etc. may result in more Western cautiousness and bewilderment. It can lead to reorientation towards more predictable other investment destinations, by economic or financial actors, or towards equally burning, yet less confusing challenges of current world politics, by political or diplomatic actors.

Something similar, by the way, goes with regard to the narrative of Petro Poroshenko as a Yanukovych Number Two – at least, if such a metaphor is pronounced vis-à-vis Western partners. There are today a number of Ukrainian civic activists and political oppositionists who have, over the last four years, become extremely disenchanted with Ukraine’s fifth president and his half-hearted reform-efforts. As a result, more and more reputed NGO representative and political journalists are starting to talk of his rule since 2014 as a repetition of Viktor Yanukovych’s reign from 2010 to 2014.

Such hyperbolic condemnation of Poroshenko via identification with Ukraine’s fourth president is being voiced in Ukrainian, but also in English at Western conferences and websites. It can be as frustrating for foreign actors and observers related to Ukraine, as Kuzio’s comparison of Tymoshenko with Maduro and Chavez. If things are or will become as bad as these allegories suggest, it would seem to make little sense for the West to cooperate, engage and integrate with Ukraine.

Repercussions of Portraying Tymoshenko as a State-Criminal

Even more subversive foreign after-effects are contained in the, among some Ukrainian critics of Tymoshenko, popular reference to the infamous 2009 gas contract signed between Naftohaz and Gazprom when Tymoshenko was Ukraine’s prime-minister. Rather than explaining this problematic treaty as a result of enormous foreign pressures on Kyiv, at the moment of the Russian-Ukrainian agreement’s signing, some opponents of Tymoshenko see her behavior in January 2009 as self-serving, or even as criminal, if not treacherous. If one takes this narrative seriously, Yanukovych’s imprisonment of Tymoshenko in 2011 was apparently a justified measure.

Moreover, the EU’s immediate demand of a release of Tymoshenko in 2011 and Brussels’s staunch insistence on her freeing until she was finally released in February 2014 was then, so it would seem, either mistaken or duplicitous. Worse, Yanukovych’s postponement of the signing of the EU’s Association Agreement was thus apparently justified. Ukraine’s fourth President was in no position to follow-up on Brussels’s condition that Tymoshenko should be released for the mammoth treaty to be signed, at the 2013 Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius.

In late 2013, Yanukovych, it would appear, was defending Ukraine’s rule of law while the EU was trying use its leverage to get the political felon Tymoshenko out of jail. Only Vladimir Putin was, it seems, seriously trying to help the embattled Ukrainian rule-of-law-defender Viktor Yanukovych. The Euromaidan uprising was apparently based on a spectacular misunderstanding: Yanukovych had been merely trying to preserve Ukrainian justice against the EU’s attempt to save Tymoshenko from responsibility for her deceitful actions. If that is indeed how the Ukrainian regime change of 2013-2014 came about, the EU may want to cancel its Association Agreement with Ukraine, reduce economic sanctions against Putin’s Russia, withdraw its financial help for Kyiv, make Yanukovych a candidate for its next Sakharov Prize etc.

Two Different Arenas, Two Different Audiences

The Western public continues to have relatively little factual knowledge about and deeper understanding of Ukrainian domestic and foreign affairs. Ukrainian-language internal political bickering within Kyiv, and English-language foreign political communication about Ukraine’s upcoming elections are, therefore, two different showgrounds. Had Kuzio published his attacks on Tymoshenko in Ukrainian language for a Ukrainian audience, I would not have bothered to write a rebuttal. I may have, instead, simply enjoyed reading his overarching critique and bold comparisons of Ukraine’s 5.3-foot female presidential candidate.

Yet, Kuzio had chosen influential Western analytical outlets such as Washington’s Atlantic Council website and Warsaw’s New Eastern Europe journal, as platforms for his strident attacks on Tymoshenko. He did so against the background of a dearth of other assessments of Tymoshenko as well as of analyses of her more and more likely (though, by no means, yet certain) electoral victory next year. I fear that, in the West, some may – as a result of Kuzio’s assessments – see a possible Tymoshenko triumph in the 2019 elections as the beginning of the end of Ukraine. A possible reduction of such uncertainty was the sole purpose of, and – alas – only gratification for my, articles “What Would a Tymoshenko Presidency Mean?” for the Atlantic Council, and “As Good as It Gets” for VoxUkraine.

The post How to Talk about Ukrainian Politics in the West? appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

How We Have Failed Survivors

Thu, 03/01/2019 - 14:52

A displaced Iraqi girl from the Yezidi community holds a piece of bread Aug. 11 near the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

Various incidents that occurred a few doors down from the largest news team in Canada could be claimed to be the first spark of the MeToo era. A publicly funded radio star in Toronto was using his position to seduce women, and had a tendency to beat them up when alone with them. Despite many of the women also being members of staff and his union, and working in a government agency that has the added human rights protections under Canada’s Constitution, these incidences were known to have occurred for years. The women that accused him of these abuses actually lost in court and the accused, Ghomeshi, was declared innocent under Canadian law.

While there have been many convictions since the Ghomeshi era supposedly ended, it seems as if the perception of progress in protecting women has not evolved as much as was initially thought. Recently I have been made aware of a case where a man sought to attack a woman on her own in the same area of Toronto, Canada where people were targeted in a mass murder using a rental van last spring. The mass murderer who committed the crimes seemed to have issues with women, and in 2018 he killed many women and men. Despite the attack occurring a few short months ago, it seems as the woman who escaped her attacker in that area recently was given no effective assistance or help and that there is no safe area she can go to or security to depend on when she asked officials where she can go to be safe. She had also been told by many what her perception of what happened to her should be, interpreted by those who were not there and who did nothing to help her. With violence acts against women taking place for years in silence a few doors down from some of Canada’s top journalists because they didn’t listen to women who asked for help, it seems as if the Ghomeshi era perhaps never truly ended. With the mass murder in that same area targeting women, asking for help should not be subject to interpretation when her safety is involved. Let it be clear, attempted assault and harassment is a violation of Criminal Law in Canada, but despite a recent act of mass murder it seems as if there is no security in that area and no one wants to act to provide it in an appropriate manner.

We have failed women also on a massive scale in 2018. Recently the United States signed into law The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act 2018. For years, minority cultures have been put into a modern Holocaust, one where women from these cultures were actually taken as children, used as sex slaves multiple times a day and eventually executed in the most brutal of ways, many being burned alive. To even find information about the new act is difficult, and it flows from the severe lack of information on the Yazidi and minority genocides taking place in Iraq and Syria. For minorities from these regions, even when they have escaped, they are still harassed by the same men who raped, abused and killed their family in Iraq and Syria. Back in Canada itself, a Yazidi refugee was told to not speak up when her ISIS abuser found her and started harassing her in a small Canadian city. Almost no media reported on the events, and today there is no discussion or realisation that these abuses still occur. Yes, what he does to her in Canada is a crime. Despite varied official explanations on why those who fought for ISIS cannot be prosecuted in Canada, a long tradition coming from the Nuremberg trials, to the case of Klause Barbie to trials for war crimes that took place in Bosnia and Rwanda demonstrate that committing crimes against humanity is deeply illegal, in all countries and communities. Anyone who tries to justify the opposite have deeply failed women. There is no positive side to anything that has occurred in these examples above, and they take places all over the world. We have failed the most oppressed, and when public officials cannot simply keep their own small community safe by way of parsing the experience of a woman asking for help, the failure continues to grow in our own hands. This has been the legacy of 2018 and it is a reflection of our era.

The post How We Have Failed Survivors appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Why and How Ukraine Should Open Up to the EU Now

Tue, 25/12/2018 - 16:59

Armed men in military fatigues block access to government buildings in eastern Ukraine’s rebel-held Lugansk on November 22, 2017.
The patrols began after an apparent standoff between the rebel region’s self-proclaimed leader Igor Plotnitsky and the interior minister, who’s been accused of seeking to destabilise the war-scarred city. / AFP PHOTO / Aleksey FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Kyiv should foster Ukraine’s European integration, economic growth and national security by offering EU citizens instantaneous residence and work permission

Recent Eurostat data reveals that Ukrainians have been granted the most residency permits of any nationals in the EU last year. During 2017 alone, approximately 662,000 Ukrainians received such permission to live and work in the EU. Ukrainians are now integrating into Europe with an annual number roughly equivalent to the population of the official EU accession candidate country Montenegro.

More and more EU states – other than Poland and similar traditional destinations for immigrants from Ukraine – are starting to appreciate the quality of Ukrainians’ work and services as well as their adaptability and civility. Moreover, some countries are planning to open up further their labor markets for skilled migrants. For instance, Germany is discussing – not only, of course, out of altruistic reasons – a new immigration law. This trend is likely to continue during the next years. There is a chance that a post-Brexit UK could, in the future, accept Ukrainian labor under rules similar to those for other Europeans.

For hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians characteristically European liberties such as the freedom to work legally, live long-term and sell their services in the whole of the EU and European Economic Area are turning into reality. These rights are known as the freedoms of movement of labor and services of the European Single Market. They include the right of residence for persons with independent financial means.

However, this particular type of European integration of Ukraine is still largely a one-way street. There is very little movement of people in the opposite direction, i.e. from the EU into Ukraine. One reason for the minimal immigration of Westerners is that it requires a lot of paperwork for foreign citizens to acquire a Ukrainian residency and work permission. Ukrainian immigration policies are generally liberal towards applicants from Western states. Yet, the cumbersome Ukrainian procedures to receive a temporary (one-year) or long-term (ten-year) residency permit is today an effort that most EU citizens have become unaccustomed to, in view of the uncomplicated intra-European regulations for them. These problems are aggravated by some – to put it mildly – particulars of Ukraine’s post-Soviet central bureaucracy. As a result – of not only these, but also of other – circumstances, EU citizens settling in Ukraine, even for a limited period of time, are still few and far between.

Recently, Ukraine has started a process to change its constitution designed to make – even more explicitly than before – the country’s integration into the EU and NATO official objectives of the Ukrainian state. Ukrainian politicians, activists, intellectuals and diplomats continue to reiterate vis-à-vis their Western peers Ukraine’s deep desire for an as soon as and as full as possible inclusion into the West’s major organizations. Yet, Ukraine’s gradual incorporation into the West is not only dependent on larger geopolitical circumstances, and on Brussels’s assessments of how many EU and NATO standards Kyiv has implemented as a result of its domestic reform efforts. European integration is also a matter that Ukraine can foster itself, independently of Brussels, by modifying its foreign, immigration, labor, and demographic policies. It can, moreover, do so long before Ukraine’s negotiations for its accession to the EU and NATO even begin.

After the Orange Revolution, Ukraine took, in 2005, the unilateral decision to abolish visa requirements for short-term visits for citizens from the EU and some other countries. Twelve years later, in 2017, the EU responded in kind by allowing Ukrainian citizens, with a biometric passport, to freely travel to and move within the Schengen Area, for a short term without a visum. To be sure, the success of the EU’s Visa Liberalization Action Plan for Ukraine leading to this long-awaited result was not only dependent on Ukrainian visa regulations for foreign citizens. Yet, it helped a lot politically that Kyiv could point Brussels to the already liberalized travel for EU passport holders to and in Ukraine.

After this positive experience, it is time for Kyiv to take the next step for attracting Europeans to Ukraine, integrate the country more closely with the Union, and prepare Ukraine’s accession to the EU. This step could also concern citizens of other friendly Western countries like Switzerland, Norway, the US, Canada or Australia. Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), should make it easy to settle for those Westerners who would consider living, studying and/or working in Ukraine temporarily or permanently. For economic reasons and out of Ukraine’s own national interests, Kyiv should unilaterally grant all citizens of the EU and some other countries those freedoms of movement of labor and services foreseen within the European Single Market – which Ukraine aims to join anyway. This includes the right to live in Ukraine as person of independent financial means – a right that is one of the privileges of European citizenship within the EU.

These freedoms and rights for Western citizens should be granted by a new Ukrainian law. The liberties should be framed, in that law, in the same fashion as those that apply to people moving within the EU. That would mean that these freedoms can be enjoyed without any need to apply for residency and with no bureaucratic procedure beyond a simple registration of one’s living address in Ukraine. All that should be needed for an immigrant to register would be a passport of an EU member state or of a similarly friendly country. Such registration should be sufficient to start working as an employee in a Ukrainian company, to found a business, to study in a Ukrainian educational institution, to work as a freelancer and pay taxes, or to live in Ukraine as a pensioner.

Such a generous regulation would not only make life much easier for Western friends and enthusiasts of Ukraine willing to move for a time period or even for good to Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa or Kharkiv. Adopting such a policy would also benefit Ukraine as a state and nation. Most importantly, Ukraine currently loses hundreds of thousands of people every year due to a negative birth-death ratio, and large outmigration – mainly, but not only, to the West. Theoretically, Ukraine should thus welcome every immigrant who comes to the country, as such new residents soften the nation’s enormous yearly demographic decline.

When moving in and out becomes an uncomplicated matter, this will mean more economic exchange with the West. More foreign direct investment will come when it is easier for entrepreneurs, managers, specialists or even entire companies to relocate from the EU to Ukraine. It can also mean more capital inflow from the EU into Ukraine, as permissive residency and work practices will make using such capital in Ukraine less complicated. Western citizens living for longer or permanently in Ukraine will demand from Ukrainian governmental offices, commercial companies, medical hospitals, public or private schools, and many other institutions attention, accountability, reliability and transparency, at the same level and of the same quality as they are used to from their home countries, thus increasing pressure from below to raise service standards and apply best practices.

Moreover, Westerners moving for longer periods to Ukraine would contribute to a gradual improvement of the country’s foreign relations and image. EU citizens living in Ukraine will mean more positive and realistic stories about Ukrainian matters communicated back to these citizens’ home states. More people from the West will be coming to visit their relatives and friends who live in Ukraine. These visitors too will contribute to a clearer as well as better image of Ukraine abroad.

More Western citizens living in Ukraine will lead to more opportunities for Ukrainian citizens to practice and learn EU languages. It will demonstrate to many in the EU that Ukraine is a pro-European country that offers opportunities for EU citizens. More exchange between Ukraine and EU countries and more Western visitors will enable the Ukrainian perspective on vital political and economic interest to reach a larger international audience.

Last but not least, immigration from the West would also have a security dimension. If tens of thousands of EU citizens move to and start living in Ukraine over the next years for various reasons, this will substantially increase the interest of Western consulates in Kyiv, in the stability and development of the Ukrainian state. When freelancers, employees, students or pensioners from the EU settle in far larger numbers than today across the country, this will make their and thus Ukraine’s security a higher priority for Brussels and the Union’s member states.

It is odd that Ukraine has not already taken such an easy and budget-neutral step towards satisfying a range of its urgent national interests. To be sure, extended residency and labor freedoms will – like all liberalizations – also create problems. Western immigration could, for instance, increase competition for certain categories of jobs, or for rents in top residential areas. One could imagine debtors or criminals from the EU trying to hide in a large European non-Union country, with permissive residency policies.

Yet, even these primarily negative repercussions could have secondarily positive after-effects. For instance, Ukrainian and EU law enforcement agencies will have to cooperate closer than today, in order to jointly catch, extradite and prosecute Western fugitives, on Ukrainian soil. This will foster Ukraine’s European integration in the fields of internal security and police matters. While some Ukrainians will lose when more Western-born legal residents in Ukraine operate easily on various Ukrainian markets, such as labor, real estate or services, Ukraine’s economy as a whole will win from higher competition.

The positive results of an opening of Ukraine for Western citizens will far outweigh possible negative upshots. Ukraine is in an especially difficult situation today. The urgency and extraordinariness of her demographic, economic and geopolitical challenges demand especially swift solutions and resolute action. Letting citizens from EU and other friendly countries easily settle on its quickly depopulating territory is an obvious way for Ukraine to reduce some of its most challenging problems regarding her demography, security and economy. It is a measure that should be taken by the Ukrainian parliament earlier rather than later.

[An abridged version of this article was earlier published in the “Ukraine Alert” of the Atlantic Council of the US, in Washington, DC.]

ANDREJ NOVAK is an independent expert on Eastern and Southeastern Europe, foreign policy and security as well as European integration, with Berlin-based European Cosmopolitan Consulting.

ANDREAS UMLAND is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and General Editor of the ibidem­-Verlag book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” distributed by Columbia University Press.

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Op-Ed: Nichervan Barzani saved Kurdistan!

Mon, 24/12/2018 - 16:55

After a very tense and difficult year for Iraqi Kurdistan, the relationship between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the government in Baghdad is finally improving.  Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi recently visited the Kurdistan region, where he stressed the importance of working with the Kurdistan region in order to fill the remaining ministerial posts and to start a constructive political process in Iraq.  He stressed the importance of helping the displaced peoples to return to their homes, finding common ground with the Kurdistan Regional Government on Kirkuk and agreed that the Kurdistan region deserves to receive their fair share of the budget as envisioned in the Iraqi Constitution.

With his visit, it appears that finally there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.  After a year of suffering and despair following the Kurdistan Independence Referendum, it appears that Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani saved his people from the intense suffering and despair that they were enduring.

When the Central Government decided to cut the KRG budget right at the time when the ISIS threat was emerging, it was a great tragedy for all of Kurdistan.   1.8 million refugees and internally displaced persons fled to the Kurdistan region but the KRG did not have enough funds to take care of them. To make matters even worse, the price of oil dropped right around the same period of time and oil is one of the main financial resources for the KRG.

When Abadi, the Shia militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards attacked Kurdistan about one year ago, they caused the KRG to suffer a further setback.  The Kurdistan region lost not only 50% of their lands but also 50% of their revenue.  To make matters worse, ISIS re-emerged in the areas vacated by the Kurdish forces in Sinjar, Kirkuk and the other disputed areas.   Following the Kurdish forces withdrawal, there has been a spike in kidnappings, insurgency attacks and general unrest.   Offices that used to belong to peaceful Kurdish political parties were transformed into bases belonging to Shia militias loyal to the Iranian regime, thus helping to reinforce the Shia Crescent from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea, thus posing a strategic threat to Israel, Europe and the US.  To date, Kirkuk and Sinjar have undergone systematic Arabization.  The Kurds, Yezidis, Christians and other groups have been ethnically cleansed from these areas.

However, what was a bad situation could have been much worse.   Sadly, the international community did not support Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum.  The US did not support the Kurds due to the timing of the referendum and was not willing to take any action in order to help Kurdistan.  Many heavy American weapons that were given to the Iraqis were being utilized in order to attack the Kurdistan region, which lacked such advanced weaponry since the weapons they were supposed to get in order to fight against ISIS did not materialize. Turkey was set to impose an economic blockade upon the newly founded nation, thus closing down Kurdistan’s only window to the rest of the world.   International flights were no longer permitted to land in Kurdistan.  Even worse, Abadi, the Shia militias and the Iranian regime were set on taking over all of Kurdistan, thus destroying the area’s autonomy.

Fortunately, thanks to the diplomacy implemented by Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the full reign of horror that Abadi and his allies set to inflict upon Kurdistan did not materialize.  No other world leader could have masterfully utilized diplomacy under such adverse circumstances in order to convince the Turks to back off from blockading Kurdistan, thus leaving open a gate between the Kurdistan region and the rest of the world.  No other leader could have so skillfully empowered his forces to fight in order to keep every corner of Kurdistan, so that Abadi and his allies would fail to take over the whole area.  Indeed, it was only areas administered by non-KDP forces that surrendered in the end, even though they had inferior weapons to Abadi, Iran and their allies.  Indeed, KDP-administered areas stayed under KRG control.

After Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum, Mr. Nechirvan Barzani did everything in his power to reach out to other countries, both regionally and globally. His diplomacy to end the blockade resulted in a better financial situation and him receiving important support from the international community. As a result of his diplomacy, there are international flights to Kurdistan, there is no blockade on the area and the situation is getting better by the day.  And now, there is now an agreement to send Kirkuk oil through the Kurdistan pipeline in order to help Iraq increase its revenue because now Baghdad needs the funds in order to rebuild post-ISIS.  He also brokered other deals related to water, military and security cooperation.   During his governance as the KRG Prime Minister, he built a strong economic infrastructure in order to guarantee a brighter future for this region.

His background and what he has done in the past makes him the best candidate for KRG President. If he becomes the KRG president, he will strengthen relations with the neighboring countries and the world, which will guarantee a secure region with a stable economic situation.  His diplomatic efforts would result in more positive outcomes in the near future, both for Kurdistan and the rest of the world.  Therefore, everyone should support Kurdistan’s Prime Minister taking on the position of KRG President.

Sivan Gamliel is a freelance journalist based in Israel and is a political analyst working for the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East.  

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As Good as It Gets: Why the West Should Start Preparing Itself to a Ukraine under President Tymoshenko

Sat, 22/12/2018 - 16:46

The prominent Western commentator of post-Soviet affairs Taras Kuzio has recently come forward with a barrel of English-language attacks on Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko – so far, the clear front-runner in Ukraine’s upcoming presidential elections in March 2019. Kuzio has placed several critical and partly denigrating texts about Tymoshenko in reputed analytical outlets, such as the web edition of the Polish journal New Eastern Europe and in the Ukraine Alert of the Atlantic Council of the United States. Kuzio insinuates that a Tymoshenko presidency may be on par with the rules of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, can mean a return to the multi-vector foreign policy of former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, or could even lead Ukraine to eventually succumb again to Russia.


Who is Mrs Tymoshenko?

Tymoshenko became first a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council, Ukraine’s parliament), two years before Petro Poroshenko, in 1996. Since then, she has had an illustrious political career in a transition country with exceptionally sudden upheavals and sharp turns. As a member of parliament, party leader, deputy prime-minister and twice prime-minister, as well as today as opposition leader, she has made numerous decisions, announcements and comments which are worth scrutinizing, discussing and criticizing. The Kyiv fact-checking project VoxCheck has singled out Tymoshenko and her speech-writers for biased statements that, according to these well-regarded analysts, do not pass closer scrutiny. The members of her faction in the Verkhovna Rada have repeatedly voted against or abstained from voting for government-proposed reform laws, justifying such actions or inaction with these laws’ alleged flaws. What should the West think and do about this?

If one follows Kuzio’s logic, the West would seem to have to prepare itself to a major political disruption or even course reversal in the foreign and domestic affairs of Ukraine, in the case that Tymoshenko becomes its new leader. Under President Tymoshenko, according to Kuzio’s warnings, Ukraine could follow the path of today’s Venezuela, and eventually end up in chaos or in Russia’s sphere of influence – or in both. With such a grim outlook, presumably, Western governmental and non-governmental organizations – not to mention Ukrainian democrats – should do everything they can to prevent such a sad future for Ukraine.

The problem with Kuzio’s gloomy predictions is not only and not so much that they are overdrawn, but that they hinder constructive thinking about future Western-Ukrainian relations. Whatever interested observers in the West may wish or aspire with regard to Ukraine’s future leadership, Tymoshenko as a presidential candidate and her party “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland) as a contender in the autumn 2019 parliamentary elections currently lead the polls, with a significant margin. Many Western observers would, perhaps, prefer a relatively young president from the famous Euro-Optimists group in parliament, or from such new parties as the Democratic Alliance or Power of the People. Some are enchanted with the popular singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk who has recently become interested in politics, started to study social sciences at Stanford University, and could still announce his candidacy. Yet, as of November 2018, a likely scenario for the year 2019 is that Tymoshenko will become the next president and that her party’s share in parliament will significantly increase – independently of what Ukraine’s friends in Washington, Brussels or Berlin may dream of or plan for.

As of today, the only plausible alternative to a President Tymoshenko is, in fact, not the rise of a young reformer, but the continuation of Petro Poroshenko’s rule until 2024. Given the many contradictions in the public announcements and political decisions of both of these veteran politicians over the last 20-something years, Western observers find it difficult to judge what would be better for Ukraine. Continuity or change?

While few serious observers go as far as Kuzio in his statements, many are skeptical of Tymoshenko because of her strident rhetoric, unrealistic promises and demonstrative opposition to the government, during the last four-and-a-half years. Against the background of this experience, some Western observers, like Kuzio, support a prolongation of Poroshenko’s presidency. The problem is that, according to opinion polls, Ukrainian voters are, as of late November 2018, of a clearly different opinion. So far, Poroshenko’s negative rating – i.e. the percentage of those who would not vote for the candidate under any circumstances – is, with 51.4%, exceptionally high and significantly above that of Tymoshenko who has also a relatively high negative rating of 27.5%. Many Ukrainian civil society activists, moreover, are as (or more) critical of Poroshenko as (than) of Tymoshenko who is also disliked by numerous journalists, experts and diplomats in Ukraine and the West.

In any way, as of late 2018, a fundamental change of power in Kyiv during 2019 looks – reminiscent of the results of most earlier national elections in Ukraine – more likely than a continuation of Poroshenko’s rule. And it seems that this change will be to the benefit of Tymoshenko and Batkivhshchyna rather than any new pro-Western force. What exactly will happen, if the former prime-minister, her party and their allies indeed take over next year the presidency, parliament or/and government, is difficult to predict. But the West should already now get ready for that option.

Such a preparation should not only entail identifying, dissecting and pointing out inconsistencies in Tymoshenko’s current behavior in parliament and speeches in public – a process certainly and urgently needed. Being the most probable scenario so far, a prospective ascendancy of Tymoshenko can and should – in spite of some black points in her biography – also be seen as a chance for a new start, improved relations and progressive development. Certain arguably positive aspects of her possible rise could serve as starting points for such a forward-looking approach.


Why Tymoshenko may not be that bad

First and foremost, Tymoshenko would be the first female president – after she had already been the first female prime-minister in 2005 – in the Eastern Slavic world. This will, by itself, be a noteworthy achievement in the context of the traditionalist culture of Orthodox Christian civilization as well as neo-Soviet behavioral patterns that are both, to put it mildly, unsupportive of female power and proper emancipation. A Tymoshenko presidency would be a large step forward in terms of sexual equality in the entire post-Soviet world. It would help to encourage not only female Ukrainians, but also girls and women in other successor states of the USSR to seek political careers. A critical issue in Tymoshenko’s possible presidency and/or government will be whether she uses her increased executive and informal power to try raising the share of women in the highest echelons of power to the generally recommended minimum level of 30% — or, perhaps, to an even higher percentage.

Second, whereas Poroshenko was once co-founder of the thoroughly discredited Party of Regions (Yanukovych’s former political machine), Tymoshenko has managed to build, over the last 20 years, a relatively pro-Western party called Batkivshchyna. Creating this organization is by itself an accomplishment and good for Ukrainian democracy – independently of what one thinks about Tymoshenko. The few other more or less real political parties in Ukraine, such as the pro-Russian Communist Party or ultra-nationalist Union Svoboda (Freedom), have tended to be, in terms of their ideologies, explicitly or implicitly anti-Western.

Unlike most other political projects in Ukraine, Batkivshchyna possesses functioning regional as well as local branches. It has been present with a faction in Ukraine’s parliament for relatively many years now (since 2002). It is more or less evenly spread over Ukraine’s territory, and popular not only because of Tymoshenko’s personality, but also because of its socio-economic initiatives. In other words, it is a phenomenon closer, than other such Ukrainian groups, to a Western political party than to a post-Soviet “political-technological” project or pseudo-party of which Ukraine had many since 1991.

Moreover, Batkivshchyna is an official partner of the European People’s Party, the large family of Christian-Democratic parties in the European Union. Its parliamentary faction includes such veteran pro-Western diplomats as Borys Tarasyuk (b. 1949), Ukraine’s Foreign Minister in 1998-2000 and 2005-2007, and Hryhoriy Nemyria (b. 1960), Ukraine’s Deputy Prime-Minister for European and International Integration in 2007-2010. To be sure, Batkivshchyna is – like many previous parties in Ukraine – so far clearly a leader-centered network dominated by and associated with its prominent head. Yet, its relatively long existence as a parliamentary force and developed institutional structure give hope that this initiative could transform into a meaningful political organization outliving its charismatic founder.

Third, it is true that Tymoshenko belongs, along with presidents Viktor Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych and Petro Poroshenko, to the old cohort of appointees of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s longest serving president in 1994-2005. Still, Tymoshenko may still be a politician different from them – not only because she is a woman. Tymoshenko was a minister under Kuchma, but she was also briefly incarcerated under her initial patron, in 2001. While Poroshenko was a minister under Yanukovych in 2011-2012, she was, during that time, again in prison from 2011 to 2014.

These detentions are by themselves not necessarily a recommendation. Yet, they indicate that Tymoshenko may not be quite of the same material as Kuchma, Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Poroshenko – none of whom was ever arrested during their political careers (Yanukovych had been imprisoned for ordinary crimes, during Soviet times). Arguably, Tymoshenko’s two arrests as an opposition politician testify to the fear, among her opponents, of her resoluteness rather than to any exceptional misbehavior, in the Ukrainian context. Whether those qualities that led Kuchma’s and Yanukovych’s administrations to put her temporarily behind bars will be to the benefit of Ukraine, once she becomes president, remains to be seen.

Last but not least, during the last months, Tymoshenko and her party have become engaged in a series of well-organized programmatic, so-called “New Course” conferences that allowed wide participation and pluralistic discussion. The relative openness of these large events was illustrated by bizarre incidents caused by unscheduled speakers taking spontaneously and embarrassingly the floor without any hindrance. What is more, these meetings featured content-rich speeches and interactive debates containing a large array of more or less innovative (if, sometimes, half-baked) approaches as well as involving a whole number of activists and specialists not belonging to Batkivshchyna. In fact, the “New Course” conferences introduced so many novel plans that they are, in their entirety, difficult to digest even for seasoned political experts.

One may question, to be sure, the seriousness, realism and wisdom of some of the political, economic and institutional innovations proposed by Tymoshenko and her team. The Batkivshchyna team has, for instance, extensively, angrily and with much detail reacted to a scathing critique of the economic part of Tymoshenko’s “New Course” program by some of VoxUkraine’s editorial board members. Yet, the mere fact that numerous concrete and detailed ideas for Ukraine’s future domestic and foreign affairs were timely developed, extensively presented, openly debated and already criticized is remarkable. This focus on political substance rather than mere propaganda slogans distinguishes Tymoshenko’s campaign – whatever one may think about its contents – advantageously from those of her substantively less ambitious, elaborate and clear competitors (and let me myself briefly participate in one such debate in Kyiv, in autumn 2018).

None of these circumstances is a guarantee for a good Tymoshenko presidency, and I am not campaigning here for her. Yet, given that alternatives to her victory are currently less likely, the above aspects of Tymoshenko’s biography can serve as starting points for a constructive discussion between her as well as her team, on the one side, and Ukrainian civil society as well as Western actors, on the other – if she indeed becomes president. Arguably, Ukraine’s person on the top will, in any way, not be quite that important any more, as in earlier times. Ukraine’s formal political system has become more balanced, and its informal mechanisms have become somewhat less patronalistic than before 2014. The ongoing decentralization reform is gradually devolving power away from the center to local communities and municipalities making Ukraine thereby, with every passing month, less and less post- or neo-Soviet.


Reforming Ukraine with the old guys 

Many reforms under Poroshenko have, to be sure, been driven not only and so much by Ukrainian politicians than by joint pressure, on parliament and government, from national non-governmental and international governmental organizations, such as the IMF and EU. This so-called “sandwich model” of reform initiation and implementation, in which the still corrupt state is sandwiched between closely cooperating civic activists (principally organized under the umbrella of the so-called “Reanimation Package of Reforms” grouping), and foreign donors, will have to be also used in the future – independently of who becomes the next president. That should be especially so in the likely case that Ukraine’s law on parliamentary elections will not be changed to apply already in 2019.

In such a case, the coming autumn proportional and majoritarian elections to the Verkhovna Rada will happen under the old electoral law adopted under Yanukovych and designed to facilitate political corruption. Certain positions on the closed lists of the competing parties will be sold to the highest bidder. In single-member districts, affluent candidates can purchase so-called “nets” of groups of voters ready to sell their votes. As a result, private interests will again heavily infiltrate law making and governmental processes. One wonders where the enormous amounts that Tymoshenko is currently spending on her electoral campaign come from, and what they will mean for her possible future presidency as well as Batkivshchyna’s likely participation in government.

It would still make sense for both Western diplomats and Ukrainian activists to explore already now whether and how much a possible future presidential administration and/or cabinet under Tymoshenko will be willing to support pushing reforms through an oligarchically subverted parliament, corruption-plagued government, and reform-adverse bureaucracy. One of Tymoshenko’s most consequential actions as newly appointed Prime-Minister in 2005 was the reversal of the flawed privatization and transparent re-privatization of Ukraine’s largest steel-mill “Krivorizhstal’” which, as a result, became “ArcelorMittal Krivyi Rih.” While skepticism is always advisable, this publicly televised action 13 years ago could, in principle, also mean that Tymoshenko may be more serious about reducing oligarchic influence in Ukraine than Poroshenko has been since 2014.

Kuzio’s various articles seem to, instead, suggest that the West should shun or even stigmatize and isolate Tymoshenko because of her current left-wing populist stance, unrealistic social plans and seemingly unconstructive behavior in parliament. Yet, vociferous anti-governmental rhetoric, public resistance to unpopular austerity measures, and hyperbolic promises of quick future improvements are also not unheard-of behavior among Western opposition parties – as long as they are not in government. It is likely that Tymoshenko and her team will, in the same way Western parties adapt to reality after electoral successes, significantly adjust their positions once they have obtained executive power. Given the narrow corridor of action any Ukrainian government currently has and, in the future, will have, Tymoshenko & Co. will probably more productively cooperate with the IMF and EU as well as other donor organizations than their current unrealistic electoral rhetoric suggests.

For the case of such a positive turn, Western national governments and international organizations should not waste a possibly opening new window of opportunity. They should start studying Tymoshenko’s program, and reaching out to her team via, for instance, the European People’s Party channel. How exactly a Tymoshenko presidency and government will look like is difficult to predict, even against the background of her previous two terms as cabinet head during Yushchenko’s presidency. Too many variables have changed since the end of her last term as the prime-minister in early 2010. Yet, given the above peculiarities of Tymoshenko’s political career and her ambitious “New Course” agenda, there could be the prospect of a new wave of substantive political and economic changes that accelerate rather than hinder the transformation process. Ukraine is too important for Europe and the West to not pay attention.



[An excerpt from this article was earlier published with the Ukraine Alert of the Atlantic Council of the US in Washington, DC. The present text was, in Kyiv, first published by VoxUkraine whose editors Rostyslav Averchuk and Oleksandr Zholud kindly helped improving the text. For all remaining imprecisions and misinterpretations, the author alone is responsible.]

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The return of Russia as a superpower

Fri, 21/12/2018 - 16:43

Russia dwindled from its superpower status on the world stage following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ever since, Russia has been embroiled in a battle with the Western world to restore its global image as a superpower. On several fronts, Russia has been pursuing both domestic and foreign policies to restore its international presence to compete with the Western world.

In international relations certain states exercise greater leverage than others, due to their exceptional power status. Such a distinction may arise through being labelled a ‘superpower’ which requires for a state to be resolute along four axes of power: military, economic, political, and cultural. In recent times, Russian strategy has been to bolster these sectors to reclaim its status as a global superpower, which was lost following the Cold War.

To better understand how Russia plans to reclaim its superpower title, it’s worth individually exploring how Russia is solidifying its position on all four fronts.


With a defence budget of $44.6 billion, Russia is second only to the USA in the list of most powerful militaries in the world. Russia has long maintained its image as a militarily advanced state, capable of protecting its interests both at home and abroad. Over the last few year, unrelenting Russian military efforts across the world have been making the case for Russia’s worthiness of superpower status.

Russian involvement in Syria has been a contributing factor in exacerbating the ongoing civil war. Russia has equipped President Bashar Al Assad’s autocratic regime with new anti-aircraft missiles; just two weeks after a Russian aircraft was shot down. This rapidity displays Russia’s aptitude to adapt to world affairs to advance its militaristic ventures. This Russian expeditiousness has gradually been unnerving the western-led coalition, that is propping up forces against the Assad regime.

As with the invasion of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrated to the world Russia’s ability to advance personal goals by exercising military might.  The hostile invasion of Ukraine was a signal to the western world that Russia will not be pressured by international condemnation or sanctions while protecting its interests. Following the events in Ukraine, Putin’s popularity picked up again showing public support in Putin’s vision to boost patriotism for the motherland. Stressing how under the leadership of Putin, a more aggressive militaristic approach is being accepted, to pave the way for the revival of Russian superpower status.


According to US President Donald Trump, Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they’re getting between 60 to 70% energy from Russia. Though this figure may be inflated, Russia dominates gas imports in Europe through providing 37% of natural gas to the EU with $22.7 billion of monthly imports.  Enjoying the largest amount of natural gas reserves in the world, Russia is able to generate substantial wealth from importing gas, keeping its competitors at bay.

With Brexit in near view, Russia will seek to capitilise on the uncertainty, disruption and disorder it has been and will continue to cause. Russia will be able to seize the opportunity to use uncertainty from investors and businesses to create new business opportunities for themselves. As was seen with the allegations of Russian diplomats and even the Russian Ambassador influencing a key figure leading the Brexit campaign, with international business offers.


The special counsel investigation into the alleged collusion of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections is ongoing with multiple guilty pleas, including the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and of 13 Russian nationals. This case of Russia’s blatant interference in foreign elections, with the goal of weakening the health and credibility of democratic regimes elucidates the Russian objective to clamber to the top of the international community. Russia can only succeed in becoming a great superpower if it creates a sense of hostility and disorder in the international community – which will pave its way to dominate on the world stage.

In another show of political defiance, the Russian government has been found to ‘almost certainly’ orchestrated the poisoning of a former Russian military intelligence officer in the United Kingdom. The British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the perpetrators of the attack were from Russia’s military intelligence service, and likely approved at the senior state level. The expedition is one of insolence and gamesmanship as demonstrated by the Kremlin’s following actions.

The Kremlin sought to sow discord in the UK by undermining the authorities, by flagrantly disobeying international law and simultaneously displaying the UK as weak and incompetent. The actions, however, provoked a huge international backlash with more than 100 Russian diplomats expelled from Western countries. Russia, nevertheless, maintained its staunch and aggressive stature by expelling diplomats from 23 countries all the while denying the allegations.

What’s more is that Russia’s intelligence service allegedly attempted to target the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with a cyber attack. The OPCW is investigating the poisoning of the spy in Salisbury – highlighting Russia’s insistence to continue pushing its political agenda, using clandestine and hostile techniques.


As with the other axes, Russia has escalated its quest for supremacy by supercharging its global PR campaign to restore its image to the outside world through displaying Russia’s cultural impact on the world. Distancing from its image as a hostile and autocratic state, the Russian government has spent billions of dollars to host major cultural events –  despite them being mired with allegations of corruption. In 2018 Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup at a cost of somewhere between $26-30.8 billion, which Russian officials claimed would have a significant economic impact. Russia also hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 in which new roads, railways, hotels and leisure facilities helped to attract more tourists.

To keep up with western competitors Russia has been investing heavily into its cultural landscape through launching initiatives such as opening the first cultural institution in Russia specifically dedicated to design. Russian creativity and culture is publicised trough huge infrastructural project, such as the Moscow Metro which is Europe’s biggest mass transport system. As the world’s largest nation, Russian culture displays its diverse heritage through its architecture and colourful domes, ballet companies and nesting dolls – exhibiting to the outside world the deep-rooted cultural values of the Motherland.

With a view of poking at the issues and insecurities of the western world, Russia is running a secret yet highly effective campaign to weaken its opponents and supplement its growth as a superpower.

Though we exist under an anarchical system, the world is very much still governed by power politics, in which Russia is an integral force. With a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, Russia has a great deal of influence on the international community – and is only seeking to augment that presence. Russian economic, military, political and cultural policies are shaped to showcase to the international community the exceptional power Russia possesses to influence global affairs.

Under Putin’s leadership Russia has found a renewed sense of patriotism and is increasing its velocity on all fronts to continue its efforts to once again take pole position at the world stage. With a view of poking at the issues and insecurities of the western world, Russia is running a secret yet highly effective campaign to weaken its opponents and supplement its growth as a superpower. The bold statesmanship of Putin is helping craft a new legacy for Russia to reclaim its status as a global superpower – and if continued to be unchallenged it may just become reality.

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The Increased Cost of Living is the Fuel for Protests

Thu, 20/12/2018 - 16:42

Yellow jacket “gilets jaunes” protesters in the streets of France.

It is an anachronism in today’s society that anyone in a developed country would rightly claim that there is no path to warm shelter, food and employment for most in a community. But the effect of added taxes in a policy to reduce carbon emissions is exactly what lead a father in Ontario, Canada to take to rap in protest of high energy prices for his family. Eventually there was a change in government in that province of Canada, and now it seems as if many large Canadian provincial leaders are fighting Justin Trudeau’s new federal Carbon Tax to take effect in 2019. With a government in Ontario that recently fell hard because of high energy prices, it is questionable on how Canada will apply a tax that recently sent French citizens to the streets in historic protests, postponing the application of the new tax by the will of the people clad is fluorescent yellow by way of their gilets jaunes.

Despite the claims that all money taxed will be put back in the pockets of citizens, and that the current government was elected to put in a carbon tax, the protest vote in Canada seems to have come in regional elections for Provincial governments. Canadians often do not spontaneously take to the streets to protest many issues, not to the same degree that has taken place in France. Even when there are large rallies they are often organised by Unions or other political action groups, that is common in Canada and is very common in France and many parts of the EU. The recent protests seemed to be organic in nature, taking on the character or historic French protests that brought down royal families, or more akin to 1% rallies that grouped masses of people in disdain of general inequality in society.

What seems to be clear is that middle income Canadian and middle income French citizens have a common goal, to be able to use enough of their earned money for their family, and not for added taxes, carbon or otherwise. When someone like Macron, who is a symbol of elite French banking executives is seen as being detached from everyday people, there is a natural motivation to challenge that sort of power. While there is an outlet for protest via the regional governments in Canada that are challenging the Federal Government, the French people did not see many effective alternatives for their dislike of the new policy, symbolically wearing brightly coloured vests so they could be seen by those in power. Adding carbon taxes is now seen as a more of a tool in where the least middle class people in a country’s democratic history can alter the lives of everyday citizens to such a degree that they no longer can provide an expected healthy living for their families. With the cost of living in France already one of the highest in the EU and Canadians set to pay up to $400.00 more a year for their food next year, a loss of a job combined with increased costs of living makes carbon taxes an unacceptable burden in those situations. Governments often forget that it is their duty to listen to the people, even if they do not understand them.

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Op-Ed: Why India should not support the Sheikh Hasina government

Wed, 19/12/2018 - 16:41

In recent days, a series of articles have been published, emphasizing that India should be supporting Sheikh Hasina in the upcoming Bangladeshi elections. According to the Weekly Blitz, Sheikh Hasina is opposed to Jamat e-Islami. Furthermore, a Chinese news website argued that she should be supported because under her leadership, the UN reported that the literacy rate for women increased, the life expectancy of babies went up and the number of children enrolled in schools has improved. However, what these articles fail to realize is that Sheikh Hasina is a dictator who has been slowly ethnically cleansing Hindus and other minorities from the country.

On a daily basis, Hindus are being murdered, raped, abducted and forcefully converted to Islam. Their lands are being seized from them, their holy places are being desecrated and their homes are being destroyed. Forces loyal to the Sheikh Hasina government are doing everything in their power in order to make Bangladesh to be a minority-free country. Routinely, Hindus within the country face systematic pressure and threats merely so that they will be compelled to move to India and to leave behind their ancestral homeland. Just recently, a Hindu girl was stabbed to death in Manikganj and a number of Hindu opposition activists were arrested.

However, the minorities are not the only ones suffering under the present ruling Awami League government. In his recently published memoir titled A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy, Surendra Kumar Sinha, a former Hindu Bangladeshi Chief Justice who was forced into exile due to his support for protecting Bangladeshi democracy, proclaimed that Sheikh Hasina is not a democratic leader as the 2014 sham elections highlighted and that India should not be supporting her for this reason alone: “People cannot be ruled with the help of security forces consistently violating the civil rights of the citizens. No autocratic government can rule the country for an indefinite period. Unless democracy and rule of law are established, the sentiments of the people will keep rising against the tyrannical government and it will go against India as well because India is seen to be propping up an autocratic government for its own interest.”

But Sheikh Hasina is not just a dictator. She is a dictator who is empowering radical Islam within her country. In an exclusive interview with The Wire, Sinha claimed that 40% of Pakistan is under the control of terrorist groups and that under the Sheikh Hasina government, Bangladesh is heading in that direction: “This present government is patronizing Hefazat. Terrorism and fanaticism is spreading across the country through mosques and madrasas controlled by Hefazat.” While Sinha noted that the Sheikh Hasina government is opposed to Jaamat e-Islami, he claimed that Hefazat is even more fanatical than them.

In fact, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, noted that while the opposition BNP Party is tied to Jamaat e-Islami, who has terribly persecuted the Hindu minority, the Awami League is tied to not only Hefazat but also the Olama League, who pose a threat not only to the local Hindu population in Bangladesh but also to India and the entire free world. In addition, under the Sheikh Hasina government, ISIS has established a base in Bangladesh, the country went from being a secular state to an Islamic state and Sheikh Hasina now seeks for it to become a criminal offense to criticize the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim faith. Even before this announcement was made, there are already hundreds of cases filed against Hindus for hurting religious sentiment. There are also reports that the school textbooks in the country are increasingly encouraging fundamentalist Islamic thought and inciting against the minorities.

In conclusion, Basu declared: “We understand that there is a security problem along the Indian-Bangladeshi border. The Indian government thinks that if Sheikh Hasina does not come to power again, then terrorists can illegally infiltrate into India and then their country would be in a more dangerous security situation.” However, he believes that this mentality is misguided for both the Awami League and the BNP are responsible for implementing minority violence and supporting terror: “During the reign of these two parties, the Hindus and other minorities have suffered from massive human rights abuses.” However, with the rapid increase in the number of Hindus involved in the Bangladeshi opposition, Basu thinks it will be different now for it is not just the BNP against the Awami League but a coalition of groups against the Awami League: “At this moment, if a new government can be formed in Bangladesh, it will be loyal to India and the minorities will be in a better position. In addition, India won’t have any security risks.”

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New York trial casts new scrutiny on China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Tue, 18/12/2018 - 16:36

According to prosecutors, the trial of Patrick Ho was simply business. The Chinese financier, found guilty of orchestrating a multi-million dollar bribery scheme in Africa, wasn’t the victim of a US smear campaign as his defense claimed. No, he was simply brought to justice for violating US laws while working for an US-based organization.

Yet no matter what the prosecution says, it’s impossible to ignore the wider significance of the affair. By jailing one of China’s key international promoters for his role in the country’s ‘Belt and Road’ trade strategy, the US has shown its concerns at the shady practices Beijing is using to secure an advantage overseas. While Ho’s dealings appear to have posed little threat to the US, they epitomize a ruthless global strategy which, in many parts of the developing world, challenges US hegemony and is now forcing Washington to act.

To critics of President Xi Jinping’s regime, Ho summed up their ruthless attempts at economic imperialism. The former Hong Kong politician’s trial heard that, while working for a think tank funded by Shanghai-based CEPC China Energy, he offered $2.9 million in bribes to political leaders in Chad and Uganda to secure oil and development rights. Senegalese politician Cheikh Gadio, the prosecution’s key witness, claimed this included a gift-wrapped $2 million presented to Chadian President Idriss Deby in a rural village.

The case offered an insight into how China is building influence in Africa and Asia through Belt and Road, a $4 trillion funding program that has been likened to ‘WTO 2.0’. The program has long been the subject of rumor and innuendo, particularly in Africa, where Chinese businesses are routinely accused of buying contracts with kickbacks. A McKinsey report published last year found that nearly 90% of Chinese companies were using bribes in some African countries.

These reports, often accompanied by tales of bullying and the humiliation of local workers, are troubling enough. Yet they are mirrored by the Chinese government’s own coercive strategy, which, critics claim, is fundamental to Belt and Road.

Debt diplomacy

Chinese banks have lent money to developing countries at a furious rate – around $20 billion has been extended since last summer alone. The money is typically provided with attractive repayment rates and little scrutiny, perfect for unscrupulous regimes. But the evidence suggests China is simply laying a series of debt traps, which could be used to snare prime strategic assets in regions which previously fell under US control.

A prime example is Sri Lanka, where China provided the money for former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to build the huge port of Hambantota, widely derided as a personal vanity project. The port proved a disaster (in 2012 it attracted only 34 ships) and the financial arrears proved too much for Rajapaksa’s government, which surrendered Hambantota to Beijing on a 99-year-lease. Although the terms specifically forbid the military use of Hambantota, fears are mounting that this condition could be loosened in exchange for further debt relief.

The strategic importance of Hambantota to the US appears relatively low, but nonetheless it’s a headache Washington could do without. American strategists are already worried about China’s maritime buildup, and the ongoing US activity in the Middle East means the Indian Ocean, which has harbored a significant American presence since World War II, is a key artery. China has already invested heavily in the region through its economic corridor with Pakistan – prompting the Trump Administration to show its concern by imploring South Asian nations not to follow Sri Lanka’s lead by surrendering their sovereignty.

Meanwhile, 4,000 kilometers away, fears are growing that China will repeat the Hambantota trick in an area far more important to the US; the Horn of Africa. Beijing has already established a military base in Djibouti, near America’s monolithic Camp Lemonnier, and now appears poised to accept the neighboring Doraleh container terminal as a gift. With his country’s debt to China pushing 90% of GDP, President Ismail Guelleh has already ejected Doraleh’s previous operator, Dubai’s DP World, and allowed China to build a free trade zone.

Xi’s officials would doubtless claim that Doraleh, perched alongside one of the world’s busiest sea lines, is vital to the Maritime Silk Road, the aquatic branch of Belt and Road. Yet for the US, which uses Djibouti as a jump-off for operations against groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, there’s a clear military significance, heightened by evidence that Guelleh’s regime is abetting weapons smuggling between Yemen and Somalia. The decision to pick a fight with Beijing in May, after claiming Chinese forces pointed lasers at US planes in Djibouti’s skies, demonstrates how much China’s incursion has rattled decision-makers in Washington.

As Belt and Road expands, so new countries will become pawns in China’s push for global supremacy. In the Indo-Pacific region, for example, Beijing pledged $4 billion to a cluster of islands including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu just last year. Like Djibouti and Sri Lanka, the islands are plagued by corruption and weak government. According to Australia, previously the region’s top donor (and a key US ally), China’s loans have been wasted on “roads to nowhere”, echoing the folly of Hambantota.

Although the populations of these islands typically fall below 1 million, their location makes them strategic. The Indo-Pacific is not only vital in maintaining sea lines between East and West, it is close to the South China Sea, where the US and China have been locked in a regional struggle for years, both building new bases in a prolonged game of one-upmanship. Reports in April that China is planning a base in Vanuatu were hastily denied – but Beijing will surely have noted with interest the discomfort they caused.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see why the US was so keen to jail Ho. His activity was straight from the Belt and Road playbook, which arguably poses the greatest threat to US global superiority since the fall of the Soviet Union, and his American connection allowed the Department of Justice to land a blow. Prosecutors may claim there was nothing political about it, but when it comes to China and America, nearly everything is.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 17/12/2018 - 16:30

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Are China and Australia beginning to mend a frayed relationship?

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 19:10

Additions to Australia’s recently formed Cabinet have attempted to mend a somewhat fractious relationship between Canberra and Beijing, and economically, there is no relationship more important to Australia. But has the efforts of these ministers been a success, or will the negative actions taken towards China by Australia’s former government caused irreparable damage?

Australia’s sixth change of Prime Minister in eight years brought about a cabinet reshuffle. The recently appointed Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne met with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing in a meeting that ran an hour longer than scheduled, a seemingly positive sign. Payne claimed, “we remain absolutely committed as a government to welcoming foreign investment into Australia. It supports jobs, it helps to increase living standards.” Foreign Minister Wang echoed the sentiments, stating “I think the most important outcome of this dialogue is that we have reaffirmed the course of this relationship.”

Payne’s visit followed Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham attending the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, bringing to an end a year long diplomatic freeze by Beijing on visits by Australian officials. Minister Birmingham spoke warmly of the event, claiming “The CIIE is an incredible opportunity to highlight the strength of the Chinese economy since it began to open up to the world.” The expo was an opportunity for Australia to showcase its best products to Chinese markets, with around 150 Australian companies sending representatives. Businesses from Down Under will have “the added benefit of many products entering tariff free from January 1 next year, an attractive proposition for the thousands of domestic buyers attending the Australian stands”, exclaimed AustCham Shanghai chief executive Jack Brady.

Key indicators show how crucial a positive diplomatic relationship between Beijing and Canberra is to Australia. In 2017, Australia’s trade with China was valued at $US133 billion, up 16 percent on 2016 figures, accounting for 24 percent of Australia’s total trade, making it Australia’s biggest trading partner in terms of exports and imports.

The superpower’s presence can be felt throughout various sectors of Australia’s economy. And while the property investment and luxury consumer good sales have had contrasting fortunes recently, they give a snapshot of the magnitude of Chinese activity taking place.

Although the level of investment in the property market has fallen by 26 percent in the financial year 2016/17, leading Chinese global property investment portal,, reported that $US 17.4 billion was still ploughed into the Australian real estate market. The two main factors for the decline have been due to capital controls from Chinese regulators limiting the amount of money that can leave the country, and the introduction of a fee by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board on property investment applications. These measures have also resulted in a sharp decline in residential real estate application approvals from 40,149 in the 2015/16 financial year, to 13,198 in the following financial year.

The luxury consumer goods market has brought about tangible changes felt across high-end shopping districts in Australia. Industry insiders estimate Chinese shoppers are responsible for two-thirds of sales in the sector. Tim Starling, head of commercial property services company CBRE’s Australian retail occupier team, claims, “Over the past 12 to 18 months we’ve seen this push towards Australia, a lot of that’s being driven by the success of the stalwarts – Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada – who have been here for quite a long time.” A $US 517 million redevelopment to Australia’s largest shopping centre in Melbourne’s east saw the number of luxury brands double to 38, with concierge and in-store customer staff featuring a number of Mandarin speakers and shoppers in stores such as Gucci and Chanel speaking Mandarin. The shopping centre’s tourism manager Anita Donnelly also estimates visits from Chinese tourists doubled in 2017, from 102,400 in 2016, highlighting another burgeoning industry with a Chinese presence – tourism. Examining these industries helps to understand the scale of China’s significance on the Australian economy.

Additionally, the geopolitical tensions of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, along with the US trade war with China has meant the relationship and predictability of future actions by Beijing are as sensitive as they have been since the end of the Cold War.

The cause of tension between the two countries began in earnest at the end of 2017, when then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced legislation to counter foreign influence in domestic affairs, including a mandate for foreign governments to identify themselves on a pubic register. Turnbull admitted his decision was influenced by “disturbing reports about Chinese influence”, an assertion strongly denied by Beijing.

Naturally, this lack of credibility was viewed negatively by their Asian neighbours, with China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, warning that a “Cold War mentality” would undermine relations. In May, disdain was also shown when Australia’s then-Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s attempt to meet with his Chinese counterpart was rebuffed.

With efforts to ease tensions by the newly appointed ministers, does this indicate diplomatic relations between Beijing and Canberra are on the mend? Not exactly – in late August, Canberra denied the right for Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE involvement in the national rollout of 5G telecommunications upgrades taking place in Australia. Minister Payne defended the decision prior to being sworn in as Foreign Affairs minister, citing the protection of Australia’s national security as the motive, as Chinese law requires organisations and citizens to support, assist and cooperate with intelligence work, making Huawei’s equipment a conduit for espionage. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang claimed that China expressed “serious concern”, adding that “Australia should not use excuses to artificially erect barriers.” Chinese state media echoed these sentiments, describing it as a “stab in the back” to Huawei, and “disappointing and poisonous” to bilateral cooperation.

So will the olive branches extended by these ministers simply be in vain? Only time will tell.

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Bangladeshi media: Prominent Muslim human rights activist arrested

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 22:43

Aslam Chowdhury, a prominent Muslim minority and human rights activist who also serves as the BNP Central Joint Secretary General in Bangladesh, was displayed arrested recently in the Bangladeshi media and is presently in jail after being disqualified from running in the elections later this month. According to the report, the Police surrounded his home for three hours when a meeting was being held there and 25 leaders were arrested. Later on, Mr. Chowdhury revealed that he was not arrested but his elder brother Nizam Uddin Chowdhury and 17 other members of his political team were.

This incident came after the Bangladeshi Election Committee cleared Mr. Chowdhury to run for Chattogram 4 in the upcoming elections. Mendi Safadi, who presently heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, heavily criticized the incident: “When the election committee prevents Aslam Chowdhury and other opposition politicians from running for elections, in order to increase the chances of winning the elections, under international law, this is equivalent to falsifying elections. This is the conduct of an unfit election campaign and we will consider our actions in this case.”

“It is not enough that the government announced without warning in mid-November that the elections would be held at the end of December, and immediately afterwards, there was an unprecedented wave of arrests of tens of thousands of political activists, which was carried out to rig the election results in favor of the corrupt Sheikh Hasina government,” Safadi proclaimed, noting that 15,000 opposition activists were recently arrested and most of the detained are Hindus. “She refuses to face popular candidates from the opposition and this goes against any democratic value.”

Safadi declared in response: “We will turn to the United Nations and the European Parliament in the coming days and submit a special report to each of the parliaments in Europe, the Kremlin and the US Congress in order to give protection to the opposition in Bangladesh so that opposition candidates will be able to vote and to be elected transparently and legally.”

A couple of years ago, Chowdhury was arrested after meeting with Safadi, who formerly served as Ayoob Kara’s chief of staff. The Bangladeshi government alleged that he was part of an Israeli plot to topple the Bangladeshi government but Safadi related that the real reason he was arrested was due to his role in the country’s opposition. Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and Bangladeshi citizens are barred from visiting the Jewish state.

According to the Gatestone Institute, during every Friday sermon, the Jewish people are cursed from more than 250,000 mosques in the country. In addition, Sheikh Hasina declared that Bangladesh is an Islamic state: “Anyone who pronounces offensive statements against it or against the Prophet Muhammed will be prosecuted according to the law.”

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Weekly Quiz

Mon, 10/12/2018 - 17:36

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DPP’s Mid-term Exam

Thu, 06/12/2018 - 17:05

In 2014 Local Election and the Presidential Election in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) swiped Taiwan, from Parliament to local governments. This Saturday, the first local election after Tsai’ s administrations came to power will be held. From 2014 to 2016, DPP’s power grew rapidly as President Ma from Nationalist Party (KMT) floundered over several political issues and also the economies. However, after Tsai became the president of Taiwan, or formally the Republic of China (ROC) in 2016, the support rate for the DPP continued to decrease. On the one hand, Tsai’s administration did not improve the economic situation as promised and even involved in some political scandals. On the other hand, the bad Cross-Strait Relations damage not only Taiwan’s power on the international stage but also the domestic economy. And The bad performance of the central government has badly affected the local election.

Cross-Strait Relations after 2016

After Tsai became the president of ROC, there was barely any official communication between Beijing and Taipei as Beijing refuses to talk to the latter. The reason given by Beijing is very simple, that Tsai’s administration does not recognize the “1992 Consensus” which stresses the idea of ” One China, different expressions”: Beijing recognizes People’s Republic of China and Taipei recognizes the Republic of China. The DPP contends that it recognizes the historical facts of 1992 Conferences between representatives from both sides but not the so-called “1992 Consensus” which was not invented until 2004.

As Beijing is not satisfied with Tsai’s policies toward the mainland, it started to pressure Taiwan from multiple fronts. The first one is on countries which maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. Since Tsai came to power, 5 countries including São Tomé and Príncipe, Panamá, Burkina Faso, Dominican, and Salvador stopped their diplomatic recognition of ROC and switched to PRC. So far, there are only 17 countries left which still recognizes Taipei as the legitimate government of China. Taipei contends that it is a systematic strategy by Beijing to constrain the international space for Taiwan. Even the U.S., after Salvador, switched its diplomatic recognition to PRC, criticized Beijing for its pressure on Taiwan.

Beijing’s strategy also includes the pressure on international organizations which reserve seats for Taiwan.  For example, Taiwan was allowed to participate in the World Health Organization as an observer from 2009 to 2016 during pro-mainland President Ma’s administration. However, it was forced to quit after Tsai came into power.  Another case would be the International Civil Aviation Organization, which Taiwan was permitted to join in 2013 but again be forced to leave in 2016.  Pressures can be also observed in organizations where Taiwan wants to change its name from “China Taipei” to Taiwan. One example is the International Olympic Committee which in earlier this year warned Taipei that it will not allow “China Taipei” to be changed.  It should be noted that Beijing does not necessarily directly put pressures on these organizations, but they do not want to anger Beijing anyway.

The bad Cross-Strait Relations has political implications in both domestic politics and foreign policies. In contrast to the DPP, the KMT still recognizes the 1992 consensus and maintains a good relationship with Beijing as the delegation of the KMT, led by its former president Lian can still meet with President Xi in Beijing despite the current situation. As a result, the KMT attacks the DPP that its foreign policy has led to the loss of diplomatic relations and also the opportunities to participate in international organizations.

Since the mainland became increasingly aggressive, Tsai’s administration tries hard to seek help from the U.S. Soon after Donald Trump won the election, Tsai called Trump (and Trump answered the phone), triggering the diplomatic tension between China and the U.S. concerning the “One China” policy that the U.S. promises to follow. The crisis ended up with the State Department reassures that the U.S. recognizes Beijing, not Taipei. This year, as the trade dispute between China and the U.S. escalated, Taiwan seeks a closer tie with the U.S, culminating in the pass of Taiwan Travel Act which allows high-level American officials to travel to Taiwan.

To counter Taiwan’s strategy to drag Americans in, Beijing launched numerous military exercises near Taiwan including dispatching the latest carrier battle group near the island. Such aggressive approaches triggered severe anti-China sentiment in Taiwan and Beijing stopped military actions since about 6 months ago, fearing negative effects on the local election. Interestingly, Tsai’s administration seems to be unhappy with this and the coast guard just started a military exercise in the South China Sea which will last for 3 days and end only one day before the election. So far Beijing does not respond to this, but it will probably not make any comment until the election ends.

Economic issues

The most essential problem for Tsai’s administration is the economic development and the. Although she said in public that “Nowadays, Taiwan’s economy is the best for the past 2 decades.”, the economic data does not support her view. It is now struggling to maintain a GDP growth rate of around 2% and hard to attract foreign investment.

The bad Cross-Strait relationship is certainly one important factor. In 2008, Nationalist administration finally signed documents with Beijing, allowing tourists groups travel directly to Taiwan. (Before that, mainlanders need to transfer at Hong Kong to fly to Taiwan.) In 2011, individual tourism was also permitted. Since then, the number of mainland visitors to Taiwan skyrocketed, as well as the income for tourism. After the DPP started to rule in 2016, visitors from the mainland decreases dramatically. We do not know for sure whether Beijing did something to discourage tours to Taiwan, but mainlanders’ opinions about Taiwan did deteriorate due to pro-independence rhetoric. Tourists related industries did not immune from this. Restaurants, souvenir, transportations, and agriculture suffer in varying degrees. Additionally, foreign investors are discouraged from investing in Taiwan due to the unstable regional environment.

To compensate for the loss of mainland travelers, Tsai’ administration proposed the so-called New Southbound Policy (NSP) to attract tourists from Southeast Asian and Oceanian countries. But to what extent can this policy bear fruits is still questionable. In 2017,  tourists from PRC (including the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao) contributed about 40% of total foreign income for tourism, while those from countries included in NSP contributed around 22%.

Another reason contributed to the lack of investment is the lack of power. One of the biggest initiative by Tsai’s administration is to abandon all nuclear plants in 2025 while developing green energy, such as wind-power and gas. The problem with this initiative is that the development of wind-power and gas plants is still on-going, hence is not able to compensate for the decrease in nuclear powers. The lack of power badly damaged Taiwan’s investment environment as the memory of the island-wide power outage in summer 2017 is still vivid.

The government admitted that the power operating reserves are lower than the set standard and turned to traditional fossil fuel plants, triggering waves of critics as the air pollution became severe in several cities where power plants concentrate. In Taizhong, the air pollution is so serious that KMT’s candidate main rhetoric is brought the blue sky back. Also in New Taipei City, the DPP’s plan to expand a traditional plant was intensively attacked by KMT and was renounced about a month ago.

Domestic politics

So far, the most notorious political scandal of the current administration is the one of Transitional Justice Committee. This special committee was set up to vindicate political prisoners during the “White Terror”, the KMT’s authoritarian rule in the second half of the 20th century. However, in September, one of researchers in the committee leaked the voice recording of a secret meeting held by the vice president with some other officials and researchers, in which the participants planned to attack KMT’s candidate of New Taipei City by contending that he involved in political persecution during the “White Terror” without evidence. Moreover, the vice president claimed that the committee now became “Dong Chang (東廠)”, the secret police composed of eunuchs during Ming dynasty of China. After the leakage, the president of the committee and those members who participated in the meeting resigned, including the one who leaked the recording.

The rise of populist politicians also threats DPP. Four years ago, DPP supported the independent politician Ke and defeated KMT in Taipei’s mayor election. Ke, at that time, was, in fact, new to politics as he was a doctor before the election. As people, especially the young generation became tired of traditional vicious fights between the KMT and the DPP, Ke won the election rather easily. However, this alliance eroded over time and finally broke up as DPP nominated its own candidate for Taipei’s mayor early in this year. So far, the DPP’s candidate was marginalized and Ke still takes the lead in the polls. (Although KMT’s candidate is catching up.)

Surprisingly, another rising star, Han Guoyu, comes from KMT, competing for the mayor of Gaoxiong, the homeland of the DPP. Although he looks new to the public, he actually served as the legislator from 1993 to 2001 but quit politics since then. Several years ago, he was invited to serve as the CEO of Taipei Agricultural Marketing Corporation and gained a reputation for good management capability, making him nominated by the KMT. During the campaign, Han advocated for a “clean” election with no personal attacks on other candidates which is absent from Taiwan’s politics for a long time. In addition, he claims that he can attract investment and visitors, especially from the mainland to Gaoxiong as he recognized the 1992 Consensus. So far, the supporting rate for Han and the DPP’s candidate Chen is very close and the DPP started to treat Han seriously as almost all leaders of the DPP publicly criticized Han.

The common strategy for DPP is to portray its competitors as agents of Beijing. Earlier this year Ke said in public that “People from two sides of Taiwan Strait are one family. (兩岸一家親)”. Later on, some DPP politicians contended that Ke receives assistance from the mainland and even participated in the illegal trade of organs conducted by Beijing. For Han, it is much easier to attack as he wants more cooperation with the mainland. One famous pro-DPP TV show host said that Han “will sell Taiwan (to the Communist) if he wins”. Some rumors on SNS even contend that Han studied in Beijing many years ago and was secretly trained by the Communist to unify Taiwan.

So far, DPP seems to pay more attention to Gaoxiong than Taipei. For the DPP, as long as KMT does not win, it wins. However for Gaoxiong, if Han became the mayor, an internal conflict is likely to break out as it is the base for the DPP which it has ruled for more than 2 decades. President Tsai, who is also the president of the DPP, probably will resign. The No.2 in the DPP, Chen Ju who was the mayor of Gaoxiong for 12 years will also suffer from the defeat. If both Tsai and Chen lose ground, it would be very difficult for DPP to come up with a proper leader.

Although the supporting rate of the DPP decreases dramatically, it is not necessarily that pro-unification rhetoric is ascending. In fact, even the KMT gave up its platform of seeking unification of China earlier this year. Moreover, last week, when former President Ma suddenly addressed that he changed his policy of “no unification” to “not refuse unification”, all KMT candidates for city mayors refused to respond or simply disagreed with Ma. Besides, Mayor Ke also “apologized”  for his pro-mainland statement and never mentions it again.

According to Taiwan’s election law, it is illegal to publish polls’ results starting 10 days before the election date. As a result, it is very hard to predict the result for those hot spots, such as Taipei and Gaoxiong. However, no matter which party will more mayors or city councilors, both the KMT and the DPP needs to reform as they need to rebuild public confidence in traditional party politics. In terms of cross-strait relation, if the KMT wins the local election and hence the presidential election 2 years later, there may be a turning point as the “good old days” during President Ma’s rule return, but unification would be still very unlikely in the foreseeable future.

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Pence’s statement of US intent at APEC

Wed, 05/12/2018 - 17:17

The annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit recently took place in Papua New Guinea. Controversy has shrouded the build-up to the event; the local government decided it was a good idea to purchase 40 Maseratis to chauffeur attending dignitaries, in a country where poverty is rampant, while two cruise ships were docked in the harbour because there wasn’t enough accommodation available in Port Moresby to house summit attendees.

The typical pomp was shown by delegates and world leaders, with one particular world leader conspicuous by his absence – the United States represented by Vice President Mike Pence, rather than President Trump. In the build-up to this event, a well-worn line being thrown out there by social commentators and current affairs observers was, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” But if Mike Pence’s address to the summit was anything to go by, the United States were making sure they did their utmost to maintain control within the Asia Pacific region, ensuring they’re very much “at the table”.

While watching the address, there were two main points with which one can draw conclusions from. Firstly, it was the warm nature in which Vice President Pence spoke of ExxonMobil’s presence in PNG, boasting about the American multinational oil and gas company investing over $16 billion into the country, while building 450 miles of pipeline and creating 2,600 jobs in the process.

Unfortunately, there were other facts that seemed to slip from the minds of Pence and his script writers. With an expected flood to tax revenues from the venture, PNG went on a debt-fuelled spending spree, with the country’s prime minister Peter O’Neill stating at a mining and petroleum conference in 2012, “we are borrowing now certain in the knowledge the revenue inflows from mining and LNG projects will make repayments manageable.” Somewhat unsurprisingly, ExxonMobil paid about one-thousandth of its expected share of 2016 LNG sales from the project in royalties to the country, resulting in sharp public debt, and undoubtedly a contributing factor in government expenditure falling. It seems the Trump Administration’s catch-cry of “America First” is being heard loud and clear, by ExxonMobil at least.

Secondly, the arguably more significant statement from Pence’s address was the joint agreement between PNG, the US and Australia of a military base being built on Manus Island, and there were a number of reasons that made this announcement noteworthy.

The most obvious motive behind another military installation being established in the Asia Pacific region is one of containment. Throughout his speech, there was a tangible element of pessimism towards China’s geopolitical influence, with Pence accusing Beijing of intellectual property theft, unprecedented subsidies for state businesses and “tremendous” barriers to foreign companies entering its giant market.

Additionally, the Vice President offered assurances to those countries with Chinese offers on the table – “know that the United States offers a better option. We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce, compromise you independence,” claimed Pence. He added, “we do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road,” a phrase not-so-subtly taking a diplomatic swipe China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The address showed that Washington does not appreciate Beijing’s intentions on gaining power within the region, whether it be in the sovereignty battles in the South China Sea, or its support for Pacific countries such as Vanuatu.

The site’s proposed location is also sure to have gained attention from Australian observers. Manus Island was home to a notorious detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers aiming to enter a country with some of the most strictest immigration policies of any developed nation. To date, some 600 individuals remain on the site due to the precarious nature of their lives, without any assistance. Allegations of rape, child abuse, and psychological and physical assault were not uncommon, and the PNG Supreme Court ruled the facility unconstitutional in 2016. Australia’s then-Immigration minister Peter Dutton initially rejected the ruling, but later agreed to a relocation plan. One can ascertain that if the ruling was not brought to Canberra in the first place, Manus Island could possibly have been both home to a facility that persecutes society’s less fortunate, and an installation that promotes tension between the world’s two great superpowers.

The main cause for concern however isn’t the fact that this base increases geopolitical tensions within the region, nor is it that Manus Island is becoming a magnet for negative aspects of our society. Pence’s announcement signalled yet another addition to the number of US military installations around the globe, increasing the 770 or so that currently exist. The effects of this vast network of US military sites include numerous cases of pollution and environmental degradation, cases of indigenous cultures being eliminated and, of course, the $150 billion it costs the US taxpayer.

There are many reasons to be wary of Mike Pence’s address at APEC, but they all seem to boil down to one motive – control. It can be described in different terms – an assertion of global hegemony, an overt display of hard power, or a further expansion of the Military Industrial Complex that US President Eisenhower warned of in the 1960s, it all signifies Washington’s unwavering intentions that will seemingly never cease.

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Summary of Large October-November 2018 Political Poll in Ukraine: Tymoshenko and Her Fatherland Party Are, so far, Clear Front-Runners for the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections

Tue, 04/12/2018 - 19:06
Summary of especially comprehensive poll (ca. 10,000 respondents) jointly conducted by Ukraine’s three leading sociological services KIIS, Razumkov Centre and Rating Group, in October-November 2018: (1) Prominent presidential candidates’ rating among citizens who have made up their minds and plan to vote: Tymoshenko (Fatherland) –   21%, Zelenskyi (comedian) –           11%, Poroshenko (Solidarity) –       10%, Hrytsenko (Civic Position) –  10%, Boyko (Opposition Bloc) –       9%, Lyashko (Radical Party) –        8%, Vakarschuk (singer) –               6%, ….. Sadovyi (Self-Help) –                3%, Yatsenyuk (People’s Front) –   1%; (2) Tymoshenko leads in all macro-regions, i.e. in the West, Center, North, South (on par with undeclared candidate Zelenskyi) & East, with the exception of the Donbas where she (8%) is second to Boyko (12%), while Poroshenko gets 4%; (3) Poroshenko’s “anti-rating” among those who plan to vote: 51.4% (i.e. citizens who will not vote for the candidate, under any circumstances); Tymoshenko’s “anti-rating:” 27.5%; (4) Tymoshenko beats more or less clearly (while Poroshenko loses, with wide margin, to) all likely potential rivals, in 2nd round of presidential elections (undeclared candidate and comedian Zelenskyi comes with 23% vs. 26% closest to beating Tymoshenko); (5) Tymoshenko vs. Poroshenko in likely run-off: 29% to 14% of those planning to vote, i.e. Tymoshenko adds amount of additional votes approx. double to those Poroshenko gains, in 2nd round; (6) Major parties’ electoral support, if next Sunday were parliamentary elections, among citizens who have made up their minds and plan to vote (note: there is a 5% entry barrier, in the proportional part of the voting): – Fatherland (Tymoshenko) –                       21.7%, ….. – Civic Position (Hrytsenko) –                        9.8%, – Opposition Bloc (Boyko) –                           9.2%, – Solidarity (Poroshenko) –                            8.1%, – Radical Party (Lyashko) –                            7.0%, – Ours (Murayev) –                                          4.9% – Self-Help (Sadovyi) –                                    4.4%, …. – Freedom (Tyahnybok) –                               3.0%, – People’s Front (Yatsenyuk) –                       0.6%, – UDAR (Klychko) –                                         0.4%. ————————————– Extracted from:

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:31

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Op-Ed: The U.S. Should Join the ICC – for Humanity’s Sake

Fri, 30/11/2018 - 16:06

The President of the International Criminal Court, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, addressing the UN General Assembly during an official visit to the seat of the United Nations

The 4th of July is sacred in the civic culture of Americans. On that day of 1776, their forefathers formally terminated allegiance to King George III. Prominent among their grievances against him was that he ‘made Judges dependent on his Will alone’ – by pulling the strings of term and pay. It is this judicial independence that lies at the heart of America’s idea of constitutional democracy; an enduring ideal, emulated around the world, wherever the rule of law truly matters.

We insist on this ideal with pride at the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is confusing then to behold an American official declare intent to unleash economic sanctions and malicious prosecution upon the ICC functionaries (judges notably included) for doing their job in accordance with the law – just because their work may not please those making that threat. Not even King George III would go that far.

Still, that profound paradox should not obscure the need to address underlying anxieties concerning the ICC. There are now 123 countries that are members of the ICC. They represent all regions of the world. They include France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, UK and all of America’s closest and traditional allies in Europe (old and new). We miss America’s leadership and presence at the ICC for it is a global project that represents America’s caring instincts for humanity. Its purpose is to ensure that our civilization no longer suffers millions of children, women and men to fall victim to unimaginable atrocities committed with impunity.

It was the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s that gave the immediate impetus to the adoption of the ICC’s founding treaty in Rome in 1998, and the U.S. played a part in formulating its text in many important respects. Before 1998, the U.S. played a leading role in the international efforts to establish ad hoc international criminal courts to bring justice to the victims of the atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Those courts were heavily influenced by American judicial ideals. But it was even earlier that the U.S. commenced its leading role in international efforts to use the law to mend tears in the fabric of civilization caused by rampant acts of inhumanity. At Nuremberg, the U.S. was uncompromising that Nazi criminals (however highly placed) must face trial: for the holocaust, for other crimes against humanity, and for sundry war crimes. Robert H. Jackson, the American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, was at the spearhead, rightly insisting that an object of the proceedings was ‘to redress the blight on the record of our era.’

In 1998, the world felt a need for a permanent international court that will be on hand, both to try crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression; and to serve as an urge of second-thought to the minds of those inclined to commit such crimes. The ICC is that permanent international court.

Current examples of the ICC’s investigations and cases include the alleged or – as the case may be – established atrocities committed in Darfur; by an insurgency group in Uganda; or by Al-Qaeda affiliates in Mali. The charges include crimes against humanity and war crimes. Their details comprise, among other things, rapes and other manners of sexual violence and murder, committed on a widespread or systematic basis. The charges in the Darfur situation include allegations of genocide. A Chamber of the Court has recently held that the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the plight of the Rohingya people, which a recent UN report alleges as possibly including genocide. It must be stressed, of course, that all the suspects and accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Precisely as in American courts, charges at the ICC must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and due process (including, most importantly, the right to defence) is fully respected.

An important question was asked about the meaning of ‘complementarity’ – which is a condition built into the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction. Complementarity captures the idea that the ICC is only a court of last resort. As such, its jurisdiction serves only to complement the national jurisdiction. In both legal and functional terms, this means that the ICC does not usurp the sovereign jurisdiction of any country. The Court operates on the basic principle that every country has the primary obligation – indeed the sovereign right – to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by its citizens or on its territory. It is only when the country proves unable or unwilling to do so that the ICC steps in. To the victims, then, the ICC serves only as an insurance policy against injustice. So, when a country like the U.S., with its reputation for a competent and robust judicial system, is investigating or prosecuting genuinely a case falling within the American jurisdiction – or has done so already, – the ICC will not interfere. This is the law at the ICC.

I am confident that American interests and popular opinion do essentially unite with those of the world in creating and supporting the ICC. The prospect of the ‘death of the ICC’ would make the world a more horrid place for caring Americans, who cannot help but be confronted by the plight of victims of heinous crimes around the world: victims who may otherwise be without hope of justice.  It is a modern legend of America to step up to the plate for the powerless. With military might she did so in the two world wars. But using the rule of law, she has also intervened with other countries to redress instances of gross atrocities around the world in modern times, when righteous might did not prevent them. That American instinct finds its place in the reality of the ICC. As with every other human institution, including the most exalted ones in America, the ICC is not perfect. But it is the only one of its kind that we have. Let us all work together to improve it – for humanity’s sake.

In the words of a great American patriot, Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘Our own land and our own flag cannot be replaced by any other land or any other flag. But you can join with other nations, under a joint flag, to accomplish something good for the world that you cannot accomplish alone.’ It is truly time for America to aim to fortify – not weaken or wreck – the ICC as the only seawall that now stands against the man-made tides of barbarity that frequently assault humanity in its weakest parts.

By: Chile Eboe-Osuji, the President of the International Criminal Court

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