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Diplomacy
Berlin, March 15, 2024: Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron

The French - German tension

by Juan Antonio Sacaluga

That there is a miscommunication between Paris and Berlin is something that is already being unreservedly acknowledged even among the power leaders in the two capitals. The rift caused by the war in Ukraine is the arena in which tensions are being played out. But there are underlying factors that have contributed to making this gap a major concern for the European stability. We point out the following: The strategic factor Geography determines strategic choices. Germany has always looked to the East as a pole of concern, but also as a pole of opportunity. The former has almost always outweighed the latter. Wars have historically conditioned coexistence with Rusia, regardless of the political regime that has existed in each historical stage. There is one incontrovertible fact: Germany has never won a war against Russia. On the other hand, when talking about peace, German interests have prevailed. Hence in Berlin (or in Bonn, during the first Cold War) there has always been a tendency towards appeasement towards Moscow. Earlier, Hitler wanted to postpone the inevitable confrontation with Stalin’s Russia with a tactical, not a strategic pact (in 1939), a move to gain time and consolidate his domination of Western Europe. With the victory of the Soviet Union, Germany endured the division of the country for almost half a century, a punishment even more humiliating than the previous ones. The western part prospered, and the eastern part stagnated. However, this underhand triumph did nothing to facilitate the reconciliation. Willy Brandt understood this very well when he launched his ‘Ostpolitik’ (Eastern policy) in the early 1970s. The initiative caused concern in Washington, not so much because it was opposed to a thaw it shared, but because of the risk of losing control of the process. There was also some reluctance in Paris. De Gaulle and his heirs had always maintained an open channel of cooperation with Moscow but were distrustful of German overtures. With the crisis of the Soviet system, Franco-German tensions surfaced again. A united and strong Germany awakened the ghost of three devastating wars for France. The Chancellor at that time, Kohl was Gorbachev’s main supporter and acted as a fundraiser for a Soviet Union that was falling apart at the seams. Germany’s repeated commitment to peace and European integration did not seem to be a sufficient antidote to the vision of an Eastern Europe, ‘germanized’ by the economic weight of the new political and territorial power. Germany’s actions in the Yugoslav wars, initially perceived in Paris as ‘dynamiting’, contributed to increase those fears. After the failure of the democratization trial in the ‘new’ Russia, largely caused by a predatory capitalism encouraged from the West, Germany continued to cultivate very close relations with Moscow to prevent an undesirable drift in the Kremlin. Until the successive crises in Ukraine have brought this strategic project to a halt. In France, there has always been an interest in an autonomous relationship model with Moscow, whether in collaboration with Germany or the United States, but in no way subordinate. Gaullist nationalism has survived, both on the right and on the left. Somehow, the French elites have tried to avoid Paris from playing a secondary role in relations with the Kremlin, whether in cooperation or confrontation. Hence Macron (‘more papist than the Pope: more Gaullist than the General’), will attempt a risky mediation game with Putin after the phantom intervention in Crimea and the more obvious one in the Donbas, in 2014; and eight years later, when the invasion of Ukraine was consumed. There has been much speculation about the true intentions of the French president’s trip to Moscow. Macron is anything but naive. Perhaps it was indeed the inevitable need of the Elysée Palace to leave its mark. Now that any conciliation with Moscow seems distant, Macron takes the lead among the ‘hawks’ and pretends to forget that he once wanted to look like a ‘dove’, by suggesting that, although there is no allied consensus, sending soldiers to Ukraine cannot be ruled out to prevent a Russian military triumph. Of all Macron’s gambits, this has been the most or one of the riskiest. And the one that has provoked the most irritation on the other side of the Rhine [1]. Since February 2022, Germany has buried the various branches of the ‘Ostpolitik’, a task falling to a Social Democratic chancellor, perhaps the most unremarkable and least suited for high-level leadership. Olaf Scholz announced the ‘zeitenwende’ (translatable as “change of era, or time”). Half a century of rapprochement with Russia was called into question. The economic equation (energy raw materials in exchange for machinery and capital goods) in bilateral relations was dissolving under the weight of Western sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, the pacifist post-Hitler Germany committed to a military effort of $100 billion (to start with), aimed rejuvenating, strengthening, and expanding the Germany military apparatus. But in everything there is a limit, or a red line. Germany has not been shy with Putin, despite being the European country most harmed by embargoes, limitations and constraints in the Russian oil and gas consumption. Economic war was accepted as inevitable in Berlin. However, caution has been exercised, particularly in the supply of arms to Ukraine. Nonetheless, Germany is, after the United States, the largest net contributor to Kiev’s arsenals [2]. Let’s not forget that. France has also taken its precautions in pressuring the Kremlin, as has the US, despite the rhetoric and the cold war propaganda prevailing for the past two years. That is why Macron’s latest ‘provocation’ has annoyed Berlin so much. Moreover, as usual in his boasts, the French president added insult to injury by suggesting that Ukraine’s delicate fragility demanded more “courage” and less timidity from the allies [3]. Scholz replied with diplomatic and bureaucratic discretion, without any outbursts, recalling that NATO’s decisions ruled out ‘boots on the ground’ (sending troops to Ukraine). But his Defense Minister, Pistorious, could not resist returning the favor and admonishing him for his new moral lesson. The foreign ministers of both countries attempted to ‘diplomatically’ solve the crisis days later, but did not risk holding a joint press conference in order not to show that the political wound between Berlin and Paris was still open. The leak of a meeting of senior German military commanders, spied on by Russian agents, further clouded the atmosphere [4]. Another element unchanged since the Cold War: Berlin may support the European autonomous defense project, but it has never ceased to consider it as subordinate to NATO. The American nuclear umbrella is untouchable, then and now. And not even an eventual (and only speculative, for now) strategic availability of the French nuclear arsenal is capable of changing that axiom [5]. Political factors Apart from strategic considerations, domestic political factors have also played a role in this latest crisis. Macron faces the European elections with the apprehension of a seemingly inevitable victory of the far-right ‘Rassemblement National’. It was once considered a pro-Russian party and even generously funded by the Kremlin. In recent years, the party’s chairwoman has tried to distance herself from the Kremlin but has not entirely succeeded. And Macron wants to exploit this supposed vulnerability of a woman he has defeated twice in the presidential elections, but who seems destined to occupy the Elysée Palace in 2027 if she achieves successful results in this year’s European elections. In this week’s parliamentary debate on the bilateral security agreement with Kiev, Marine Le Pen ordered an abstention. She made it clear that she supports the Ukraine resistance, so that there would be no doubt about her change of attitude towards Russia. But he saw in the initiative of the President’s party a clear intention for electoral gain. Divisions were evident on the left: rebels and communists voted against, while socialists and ecologists voted in favor, but the latter rejected the suggestion of troops deployment. Scholz also faces a challenge from the far right, with elections this autumn that could consolidate the dominance of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in the eastern states (Eastern Länder). This party has won over citizens who do not have such negative memories of the GDR, but in its rise, it has also bitten into the social democratic base. The chancellor does not want to appear too hostile to an electorate that does not participate in the anti-Russian discourse. Institutional factors In this Paris – Bonn clash, as in previous ones, the structure of the respective political systems also exerts a disturbing influence. The French political system is presidential; the German one is parliamentary. In France, the President has exclusive and personal authority over foreign policy. He does not even need his own majority (in this case, the minority that supports him) to formulate his international proposals. In Germany, by contrast, the Chancellor has to negotiate foreign policy with the coalition partners, and even on rare occasions when there has been a single-party majority government, the Bundestag has exerted considerable influence. Personal factors Finally, personal style is also not to be dismissed. It is not unusual for the Elysée Palace and the Chancellery to be inhabited by like-minded characters. The French President is conditioned by the aura of a political system that relies on an exalted figure and demands real, but also impactful, leadership. Both being and appearing so. The Chancellor, on the other hand, is a sort of ‘primus inter pares’, no matter how prominent. Therefore, since 1945, the personal stature of German leaders has always been framed in firm structures that prevent hyper-leadership. It is the Chief’s (Fuhrer) chastisement. This limitation (historical and political) is sometimes reinforced by a purely personal style. At present, the gap is perhaps the widest in the last eighty years. A French President who likes to talk and a Chancellor who is perhaps the most discreet since the post-war period. De Gaulle and Adenauer cultivated little personal relationship, but neither intended to. Pompidou and Brandt never got along particularly well, although the German took great care that his growing popularity did not irritate in Paris… until the Guillaume scandal ended his career. Giscard and Schmidt gave their cooperation a technical character, forced by the oil crisis following the wars in the Middle East. Mitterrand and Kohl raised the tone of the bilateral relationship but did not always adjust their personal dynamics. The German was the longest-serving post-war chancellor and so, the most mediatic, but the Frenchman never renounced, on the contrary, the solemnity with which the office was exercised. Merkel played down Sarkozy (and later Hollande), but not to highlight her personal qualities, but to put them at the service of Germany’s undisputed economic leadership in post-Cold War Europe. Macron wanted to put an end to this French ‘inferiority’, with difficulty. It is not clear that he succeeded against a retreating Merkel, but he thinks he has it easier with the unremarkable Scholz. Notes [1] “France-Allemagne, un tándem secoué par l’épreuve de la guerre en Ukraine”. PHILIPPE RICHARD & THOMAS WIEDER. LE MONDE, 9 de marzo. [2] “German Chancellor pledges to boost [ammunition] production for Ukraine”. DER SPIEGEL, 5 de febrero (versión en inglés). [3] “Le débat sur l’envoi de soldats en Ukraine révèle les profondes differences de vision de la guerre parmi les allies”. LE MONDE, 6 de marzo. [4] “Now It’s Germany’s turn to frustrate Allies over Ukraine”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 de marzo. [5] “Dans cette nouvelle ère où l’affrontement a remplacé la cooperation, la question de la dissuasion nucleaire reprend tout son sens”. SYLVIE KAUFFMANN. LE MONDE, 7 de febrero.

Diplomacy
Chancellor Sholz and Prime Minister Ibrahim in Berlin

Press conference by Federal Chancellor Scholz and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, on Monday, March 11, 2024 in Berlin - Wording

by Olaf Scholz , Anwar Ibrahim

BK Scholz: A warm welcome, Mr. Prime Minister! I am delighted to welcome you here to Germany for the first time. Your visit is a very special start to a Southeast Asia Week with several high-ranking visits from this important region of the world here in Berlin. The Indo-Pacific region is of great importance to Germany and the European Union. We therefore want to intensify political and economic cooperation. Germany already maintains close economic relations with the region. Malaysia is Germany's most important trading partner in ASEAN. This is of great importance because it is associated with many direct investments in the country, but also with all the economic exchange that results from this. We would like to further expand this partnership. Of course, this is particularly true with regard to the objective of further diversifying our economic relations with the whole world. We want to have good economic and political relations with many countries. We also want closer cooperation on climate protection and the expansion of renewable energies. We are therefore very pleased with Malaysia's announcement that it will stop building new coal-fired power plants and dramatically increase the share of renewable energies. We think this is very important. Malaysia and Germany are established democracies. We are both committed to multilateralism and compliance with international law. It is therefore also right that we deepen our security and defense cooperation. The defense ministries are already working on the necessary cooperation agreements. Of course, we also discussed developments in the Middle East, developments in Gaza and the situation following the Hamas attack on Israeli citizens. It is no secret that our perspective on the Middle East conflict is different to that of others. But that makes it all the more important to exchange views with each other. In any case, we agree that more humanitarian aid must reach Gaza. This is also our clear call to Israel, which has every right to defend itself against Hamas. We do not believe that a ground offensive on Rafah is right. An important step now would also be a ceasefire that lasts longer, preferably during Ramadan, which has now begun and during which we broke the fast together today. Such a ceasefire should help to ensure that the Israeli hostages are released and that, as I said, more humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza. We also have a very clear position on long-term development. Only a two-state solution can bring lasting peace, security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. That is why it is so important that we all work together to ensure that a good, peaceful perspective, a lasting common future is possible for Israelis and Palestinians, who coexist well in the two states. Of course, the world is marked by many other conflicts and wars, especially the dramatic war that Russia has started against Ukraine. It is a terrible war with unbelievable casualties. Russia, too, has already sacrificed many, many lives for the Russian president's imperialist mania for conquest. This is against all human reason. That is why we both condemn the Russian war of aggression. It is important to emphasize this once again. The Indo-Pacific is of great importance for the future development of the world. Of course, this also applies to all the economic development and development of the countries there. I therefore welcome the efforts of Malaysia and the ASEAN states to settle disputes peacefully and to find ways to ensure that this becomes typical of everything that has to be decided there. Any escalation must be avoided at all costs. Peace and stability must always and everywhere be maintained on the basis of international law. This applies in particular to the freedom of the sea routes and compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is why the ongoing negotiations on the Code of Conduct are so important. Thank you once again for coming to Berlin on the first day of Ramadan, at least for our location. We broke the fast together earlier. For me, this is a good sign of peaceful coexistence and solidarity. I see it as something very special. Ramadan Kareem! PM Anwar: Thank you very much, Mr. Chancellor, dear Olaf! Thank you for your wonderful hospitality and for bringing us together today to break the fast! Germany is of course one of our most important partners in Europe. We have seen a huge increase in trade and investment. We can see that major investments have been made. We have visited Siemens. Infineon is a big investor in Malaysia and is showing its confidence in the country and the system here. There are many other examples of companies operating in Malaysia. Of course, my aim is always to expand bilateral relations in the areas of trade and investment and also to benefit from your experience, both in the field of technology and in environmental and climate protection issues. We have set ourselves clear goals for the energy transition. We have drawn up an action plan that is also in line with your policy. Renewable energy, ammonia, green hydrogen - we are pursuing these very actively. Fortunately, Malaysia is also a hub within ASEAN for these renewable energies and technologies. We welcome the German interest in this, also with regard to new investments in the renewable energy sector and with a view to climate change. We have of course discussed this cooperation on this occasion and I am pleased with the Chancellor's willingness to tackle many of these issues. Sometimes we have small differences of view, but it really shows the trust we have in each other. As far as the war in Gaza is concerned, we agree that the fighting must stop. We need a ceasefire immediately. We also need humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, especially in Gaza. Of course we recognize the concern about the events of 7 October. We also call on Europeans, and Germany in particular, to recognize that there have been 40 years of atrocities, looting, dispossession of Palestinians. Let us now look forward together! I agree with the Chancellor on what he said about the two-state solution. It will ensure peace for both countries. Together we can ensure that there is economic cooperation and progress for the people in the region. We have also positioned ourselves with regard to the war in Ukraine. We have taken a very clear stance against aggression, against efforts to conquer. This applies to every country and, of course, also to Russian aggression in Ukraine. We want a peaceful solution to the conflict. Because this conflict has an impact on trade and economic development as far away as Asia. We have a peaceful region. ASEAN is currently the fastest growing economic area in the world, precisely because it is so peaceful - apart from the issue in Myanmar, but that is contained within Myanmar. The conflict has not spread to the region, although there are of course refugee movements. Within ASEAN, we have jointly agreed on a five-point consensus and the parameters by which the issue can be resolved. The ASEAN countries have agreed that Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia would like to lead the troika together and resolve the conflict with Myanmar. Then there are other issues such as the South China Sea and China. I assured the Chancellor that we are getting along well with China. We have not seen any difficult incidents, but of course we see ourselves as an absolutely independent country. We are of course a small country, but we stand up for our right to cooperate with many countries to ensure that the people of Malaysia also benefit from these mechanisms and from cooperation with other countries. Once again, Mr. Chancellor, thank you very much for this meeting. I am very impressed by your insight, by your analysis of the situation. It is very impressive to see what a big country like Germany is doing, and it was also good to share some of our concerns. I am pleased with the good cooperation. It's not just about trade and investment, it's also about the overall development of bilateral relations in all areas. I also told the Chancellor that the study of Goethe is gaining interest in Malaysia. Questions from JournalistsQuestion: Mr. Prime Minister, can you tell us something about the progress of German investment in Malaysia and can you say something about the challenges for the government in the transition to renewable energy in Malaysia? Mr. Chancellor, in 2022 you spoke about the turning point in German foreign and security policy. But if you now look at ASEAN or Southeast Asia: How does Germany see Malaysia in terms of its bilateral importance, trade and also regional issues? PM Anwar: Within the European Union, Germany is our biggest trading partner. They have made large investments, up to 50 billion US dollars. I have already addressed Infineon and many other leading German companies and I have said in our discussions that we are very pleased that they have chosen Malaysia as an important hub, as a center of excellence, as a training center in the region and I look forward to further cooperation in this area. Of course, I also mentioned that education should be a priority. There are 1000 Malaysian students here in Germany and also several hundred German students in Malaysia. We are also very happy about that. We are working with many German companies to train people and strengthen cooperation. We have taken important steps in renewable energy. We are investing in solar energy, in green energy and in our renewable energy export capacity. There is now an undersea green energy cable to the new capital of Indonesia, another to Singapore, and another cable to the Malay Peninsula. You can also see from the fact that data centers and artificial intelligence are growing and thriving in the Malaysian region that this has great potential. BK Scholz: Thank you very much for the question. - First of all, the turning point lies in the Russian attack on Ukraine. This was the denunciation of an understanding that we have reached in the United Nations, in the whole world, namely that no borders are moved by force. But the Russian war of aggression is aimed at precisely that, namely to expand its own territory as a large country at the expense of its neighbor - with a terrible war. We cannot accept this - not in Europe and not anywhere else in the world. That is why it is right for us to support Ukraine and to do so in a very comprehensive manner. After the USA, Germany is the biggest supporter - both financially and in terms of arms supplies - and in Europe it is by far the country that is making the greatest efforts to help Ukraine defend itself. But this touches on an issue that is important for the whole world. Anyone who knows a little about the history of the world - and it is colorful and diverse - knows that if some political leader is sitting somewhere, leafing through history books and thinking about where borders used to be, then there will be war all over the world for many, many years. We must therefore return to the principle of accepting the borders as they are and not changing them by force. That is the basis for peace and security in the world. That is why we are also very clear on this together. For Germany, however, this does not mean that we lose sight of our own economic development, the development of Europe and the world. As you may already have noticed, it is particularly important for the government I lead and for me as Chancellor of Germany that we now make a major new attempt to rebuild relations between North and South and to ensure that we cooperate with each other on an equal footing in political terms, that we work together on the future of the world, but that we also do everything we can to ensure that the economic growth opportunities and potential of many regions in the world are exploited to the maximum. This is why economic cooperation between Europe and ASEAN, between Germany and ASEAN, between Germany and Malaysia plays such an important role, and we want to make progress in the areas we have just mentioned. Renewable energies are central to this. We know that: We need to increase the prosperity of people around the world. Billions of people want to enjoy a level of prosperity similar to that which has been possible for many in the countries of the North in recent years. If this is to succeed, it will only be possible if we do not damage the environment in the process, which is why the expansion of renewable energies is so important. New and interesting economic opportunities are also emerging, for example in the area of hydrogen/ammonia - this has been mentioned - because the industrial perspective of the future will depend on more electricity, which we need for economic processes - and this from renewable energies - and on hydrogen as a substitute for many processes for which we currently use gas, coal or oil. Driving this forward and creating prosperity together all over the world is a good thing. The fact that the German semiconductor industry and successful German companies in the electronics sector are investing so much in Malaysia is a good sign for our cooperation. We want to intensify this. Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Your government supports Hamas and, unlike Western countries, has not described Hamas' attack on Israel as terrorism. In November you said that Hamas was not a terrorist organization. Do you stand by this assessment and are you not afraid that this position on Hamas could affect relations with countries like Germany? Mr. Chancellor, I have a question for you: Do you think that Malaysia's position on Hamas could damage bilateral relations between Germany and Malaysia? And if I may, one more question on Ukraine: Germany is still discussing the delivery of cruise missiles to Ukraine. The Foreign Minister said yesterday that a ring swap with the UK was an option, i.e. Germany sending Taurus cruise missiles to the UK and the UK then sending its Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine. Do you think this is also an option? PM Anwar: Our foreign policy position is very clear and has not changed. We are against colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and dispossession, no matter in which country it takes place, in Ukraine or in Gaza. We cannot simply erase or forget 40 years of atrocities and dispossession that have led to anger in the affected societies and also action after action. Our relations with Hamas concern the political wing of Hamas, and we will not apologize for that either. This cooperation has also helped to raise concerns about the hostages. We have no links with any military wings. I have already said that to my European colleagues and also in the US. But we have some different views. The Australian National Congress also recognized long before the Europeans or Americans that this apartheid policy must be abolished. That's why we have taken that position. We need to understand what the fundamental problem with this is. We cannot allow people to be plundered, to have their homes taken away from them. This has to be solved. Am I in favor of people, of children being killed? Absolutely not. No, nobody should do that. That is the consistency in our politics. But I am against this obsession, this narrative, as if the whole problem started on October 7 and would end then. It didn't start on October 7, and it won't end then either. It started 40 years ago and it's still going on today. Against this background, I am of the opinion - and I have also said this to the Chancellor - that we should now look to the future. We have a problem. Do we want to deal with history now, with the atrocities that have happened, or do we want to solve the problem now? Solving the problem now means: the fighting must stop, the killing must stop. Then the whole international community - Germany, Malaysia and all neighboring countries - can ensure that there is no more violence, from any group, against anyone - not against Muslims, Christians or Jews. People must be able to live in peace. Thank you very much. BK Scholz: I have already said it and I would like to repeat it again: Germany's position is clear. Israel has every right to defend itself against the terrorist attack by Hamas. We have always made that clear in recent days, weeks and months, and it remains so. Israel can rely on that. At the same time, we have clear positions on further developments, and these have already been stated. Let me say this once again: we want more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. We want the hostages to be released, unconditionally. We want there to be no unnecessary victims. That is why we have said very clearly what forms of military warfare are compatible with international law and what we find difficult. I have spoken out on Rafah and on the need for a long-term peaceful perspective with a two-state solution that makes it possible for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to live peacefully in a separate, self-governing state alongside Israel - as a democracy in the region, and where the citizens of Israel can also rely on us. That is the perspective we are working for and what is at stake now. That is why we are working - despite the different assessments of the specific issue - on a peaceful perspective, which is necessary. I would like to repeat what I have to say on the issue of supporting Ukraine in its defense. Germany is by far the country that is providing the most support for Ukraine - financially, but also in terms of arms deliveries. All in all, the deliveries to date and those promised amount to 28 billion euros and 30 billion dollars. That is a considerable sum. We have mobilized everything to ensure that Ukraine receives the necessary support from us - ammunition, artillery, tanks, air defence of various kinds, which is also highly efficient and very much appreciated. Our support is reliable and continuous. Ukraine knows this, and we hear time and again how much this great support is appreciated there. As far as the one weapon system is concerned, I am of the opinion that it cannot be used without control in view of its effect and the way in which it can be used, but that the involvement of German soldiers is not justifiable, not even from outside Ukraine. I have therefore said that I do not consider the deployment to be justifiable and that it is therefore not a question of direct or indirect involvement, but of us being clear on this specific issue. My clarity is there. It is my job as Chancellor, as head of government, to be precise here and not to raise any misleading expectations. And my answers are correspondingly clear. Question: Good afternoon, Excellencies! You both mentioned the situation in Gaza and said that we must look ahead to a two-state solution. But how much influence can this meeting have on a humanitarian ceasefire? PM Anwar: Germany is an important country in Europe and has established good relations with Israel, and we have somewhat better relations with Palestine, with the Palestinian Authority and also with the political Hamas. Other Arab countries and neighboring states of Palestine and Israel are doing what they can. We should also be a little more positive. It is of course a chaotic situation, an uncertain situation. There is no easy solution. The Palestinians have suffered a lot. The Netanyahu government has also been very clear in its stance. There is no easy solution. We have to stop the killing of innocent people on both sides, the killing of civilians. We now need a permanent ceasefire and, ultimately, a two-state solution. This is also possible if the international community has the courage and determination. I have said: sometimes you get really depressed when you have the feeling that this case has already been morally abandoned and that there is no real will from all countries to stop the war and find a solution. I am sure that the countries of the Middle East, the international community, Germany and the other parties involved want this peaceful solution. BK Scholz: We would all have liked the start of Ramadan to have been accompanied by a longer-lasting ceasefire, which would have been linked to the release of the hostages by Hamas and also to an increase in humanitarian aid reaching Gaza. Having said that, the aim now is to bring this about as soon as possible. I believe that would be very important for everyone and could also create prospects for further developments. That is what is at stake now. We are in agreement with the American government and the European Union in everything we do. Many people around the world are also trying to work in this direction - as we have heard here, but this also applies to neighboring countries. What we must prevent is an escalation of the war. We also warn against Iran or the Iranian proxies becoming more involved in this war than is already the case. This must be resolved soon. As I said, how this can be done is something that is very clear to me, to the European Union, to the USA and to many others, and it has also been mentioned here together. Question: Mr. Prime Minister, you said that history should be left behind. But for the Israeli hostages, October 7 is still the present, also for their families. Regarding the talks you are holding with the political leadership of Hamas: What are you talking about? How much hope do you have that these hostages will be released soon? Can you also say something about what you saw on October 7 and the fact that these hostages are still being held by this terrorist violence? Mr. Chancellor, you recently met the Pope, who has now caused controversy with his statements on the white flag, which Ukraine has taken to mean, as the Foreign Minister said, that the Church is behaving more or less as it did at the beginning of the 20th century, in other words that the Church did nothing against Nazi Germany at that time. How do you react to the Pope's statements? PM Anwar: Thank you. I have already made my opinion clear. You cannot simply overlook the atrocities of the last four decades, and you cannot find a solution by being so one-sided, by looking only at one particular issue and simply brushing aside 60 years of atrocities. The solution is not simply to release the hostages. Yes, the hostages should be released, but that is not the solution. We are a small player. We have good relations with Hamas. I have told the Chancellor that, yes, I too would like the hostages to be released. But is that the end of it, period? What about the settlements, the behavior of the settlers? No, it goes on every day. What about the expropriations, their rights, their land, their dignity, the men, the women, the children? Is that not the issue? Where is our humanity? Why is there this arrogance? Why is there this double standard between one ethnic group and another? Do they have different religions? Is it because of that? Why is there a problem? Yes, we want the rights of every single person to be recognized, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Jewish or Christian. I am very clear on that. But of course I cannot accept that the issue is focused on just one case, on one victim, and that the thousands of victims since 1947 are simply ignored. Is humanity not relevant? Is compassion not relevant? That is my point. Do I support any atrocities by anyone towards anyone? No. - Do I want hostages to be held? No. But you can't look at the narrative in such a one-sided way. You can ask if I disagree with some subgroups. But that's not the way to solve the issue. We have to be fair, just, and find an amicable solution that is just, that is fair. BK Scholz: Once again what I have already said: Germany has a special and good relationship with Israel. That is very important to us. That's why Israel can also rely on us. You have a clear position on what is necessary now. That includes the release of the hostages. That includes humanitarian aid. It includes the prospect of a two-state solution. I have already spoken about this, I just want to mention it again here. This is also important for us. We were very supportive of the founding of the state of Israel, and German policy will continue to develop along these lines. As far as the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is concerned, Germany's position is very clear: Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and Ukraine can rely on us to support it in many, many ways. I have already said that we are very far ahead when it comes to the volume and quality of the arms supplies we have provided. That is also true. That is why, of course, I do not agree with the position quoted.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier at a tank wreckage

As war in Ukraine enters third year, 3 issues could decide its outcome: Supplies, information and politics

by Tara D. Sonenshine

In retrospect, there was perhaps nothing surprising about Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Vladimir Putin’s intentions were, after all, hiding in plain sight and signaled in the months running up to the incursion. What could not be foreseen, however, is where the conflict finds itself now. Heading into its third year, the war has become bogged down: Neither is it a stalemate, nor does it look like either side could make dramatic advances any time soon. Russia appears to be on the ascendancy, having secured the latest major battlefield victory, but Ukrainian fighters have exceeded military expectations with their doggedness in the past, and may do so again. But as a foreign policy expert and former journalist who spent many years covering Russia, I share the view of those who argue that the conflict is potentially at a pivotal point: If Washington does not continue to fully support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military, then Ukraine’s very survival could be at risk. I believe it would also jeopardize America’s leadership in the world and global security. How the conflict develops during the rest of 2024 will depend on many factors, but three may be key: supplies, information and political will. The supplies race Russia and Ukraine are locked in a race to resupply its war resources – not just in terms of soldiers, but also ammunition and missiles. Both sides are desperately trying to shore up the number of soldiers it can deploy. In December 2023, Putin ordered his generals to increase troop numbers by nearly 170,000, taking the total number of soldiers to 1.32 million. Meanwhile, Ukraine is said to be looking at plans to increase its military by 500,000 troops. Of course, here, Russia has the advantage of being able to draw on a population more than three times that of Ukraine. Also, whereas Putin can simply order up more troops, Zelenskyy must get measures approved through parliament. Aside from personnel, there is also the need for a steady supply of weapons and ammunition – and there have been reports that both sides are struggling to maintain sufficient levels. Russia appears particularly eager to boost its number of ballistic missiles, as they are better equipped for countering Ukraine air defense systems despite being slower than cruise missiles. Increasingly, Moscow appears to be looking to North Korea and Iran as suppliers. After Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, visited Russia in 2023, the U.S. accused Pyongyang of supplying Russia with ballistic missiles. Iran, meanwhile, has delivered to Russia a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones. Ukraine, meanwhile, is dependent on foreign military equipment. Supplies were stronger at the beginning of the war, but since then, Ukraine’s military has suffered from the slow, bureaucratic nature of NATO and U.S. deliveries. It wasn’t, for example, until the summer of 2023 that the U.S. approved Europe’s request to provide F-16s to Ukraine. Ukraine needs more of everything, including air defense munitions, artillery shells, tanks and missile systems. It is also running short of medical supplies and has seen hospital shortages of drugs at a time when rampant infections are proving resistant to antibiotics. Perhaps the biggest factor that remains in Russia’s favor when it comes to supplies is the onerous restrictions placed on Ukraine from the West, limiting its ability to attack Russian territory with U.S. or NATO equipment to avoid a wider war. For example, the Ukrainian military had a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with a 50-mile range that could hit targets inside Russia, but it modified the range to keep the U.S. military satisfied that it would not cross a Russian red line. If this policy could be relaxed, that might be a game changer for Ukraine, although it would raise the stakes for the U.S. The information war The Ukraine conflict is also a war of messaging. To this end, Putin uses propaganda to bolster support for the campaign at home, while undermining support for Ukraine elsewhere – for example, by planting stories in Europe that cause disenchantment with the war. One outrageous claim in the early weeks of the war was that Zelenskyy had taken his own life. The rumor came from pro-Russia online operatives as part of an aggressive effort to harm Ukrainian morale, according to cybersecurity firm Mandiant. More recently, in France, stories appeared that questioned the value of assistance to Ukraine and reminded the public of the negative impact of Russian sanctions on the French. Stirring dissent in this way is a classic Putin play to raise doubts. And investigative reporting points toward a disinformation network being run out of the Kremlin, which includes social media bots deployed on Ukrainian sites spreading stories of Zelenskyy’s team being corrupt and warning that the war would go badly. Given that Putin controls the Russian media and is quick to crack down on dissent, it is hard to really know what Russians think. But one reputable polling agency recently reported strong support in Russia for both Putin and the war in Ukraine. Ukrainians, too, still support the fight against Russia, polling shows. But some war fatigue has no doubt lowered morale. There are other signs of domestic strain in Ukraine. At the end of 2023, tensions grew between Zelenskyy and his top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny who had complained about weaponry. Zelenskyy ended up firing the military chief, risking political backlash and underscoring that not all is well in the top chain of command. Should disunity and war fatigue continue into the war’s third year, it could serious impair Ukraine’s ability to fight back against a resurgent Russian offensive. The politics of conflict But it isn’t just domestic politics in Ukraine and Russia that will decide the outcome of the war. U.S. politics and European unity could be a factor in 2024 in determining the future of this conflict. In the U.S., Ukraine aid has become politicized – with aid to Ukraine becoming an increasingly partisan issue. In early February, the Senate finally passed an emergency aid bill for Ukraine and Israel that would see US$60.1 billion go to Kyiv. But the bill’s fate in the House is unknown. And the looming 2024 presidential elections could complicate matters further. Former president Donald Trump has made no secret of his aversion to aid packages over loans, calling them “stupid,” and has long argued that Americans shouldn’t be footing the bill for the conflict. Recently, he has made bombastic statements about NATO and threatened not to adhere to the alliance’s commitment to protect members if they were attacked by Russia. And uncertainty about American assistance could leave Europe carrying more of the financial load. European Union members have had to absorb the majority of the 6.3 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the beginning of the conflict. And that puts a strain on resources. European oil needs also suffer from the sanctions against Russian companies. Whether these potential war determinants – supplies, information and politics – mean that the Ukraine war will not be entering a fourth year in 12 months time, however, is far from certain. In fact, one thing that does appear clear is that the war that some predicted would be over in weeks looks set to continue for some time still.

Defense & Security
Vladimir Putin at United Russia congress

Russia's fateful triangle

by FAES Analysis Group

The news of the death of Alexei Navalny, a symbol of the political opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime, in a prison 60 kilometers from the Arctic Circle, has shocked Western public opinion, but comes as no surprise. Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has resorted to the physical elimination of his political opponents as a tool to stay in power and terrorize the opposition. First he used it against the oligarchs who enriched themselves during Boris Yeltsin's two presidential terms. Then journalists, such as Anna Politovskaya, who criticized him and reported on the Chechen war, were murdered. Then Boris Nemtsov on the Kremlin bridge in 2015, while numerous other opposition politicians were imprisoned. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, several people who opposed the invasion have "committed suicide". Navalny, who had already in 2020 been poisoned with novichok, a chemical nerve agent to whose use only high-ranking government or military officials can have access, had defined Putin's United Russia party as that "of criminals and thieves". He was also the driving force behind the massive anti-regime demonstrations during the winter of 2011-2012 (the largest so far), over alleged electoral fraud in regional elections. The most defiant figure to Putin's regime, Navalny has paid with his life for the one message he insisted on sending to Russians: that they should fight for freedom. Navalny's death is yet another symptom of what is really happening in Putin's Russia. The next presidential elections will be held March 15-17. Putin is certain to win them. The disappearance of the political opposition to the Russian regime has not translated into a mass protest of the population nor - more importantly - into a vote against the government. Boris Nadezdin, baptized by Western journalists as "the candidate for peace" will not be able to run in the elections because the Russian Supreme Court has upheld the decision, taken by the Central Electoral Commission, to invalidate 100,000 signatures endorsing his candidacy, under the generic pretext of "irregularities". Nadezdin advocates an immediate truce and a transition to peace negotiations in trilateral format involving Russia, Ukraine and the West. According to him, the decision on the fate of the territories annexed by Russia should be based on the will of the people who lived there before the conflict. The war in Ukraine, now entering its third year, is the cause of the breakdown of relations between Russia and the West and Russia's growing dependence on the "axis of the sanctioned" (North Korea, Iran and China). Ukraine is losing on the battlefield due to lack of ammunition and war fatigue affecting both its own population and its allies. The prospect of Donald Trump's victory in November this year further darkens its future, as NATO countries will not be able to overcome an eventual suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, as the alliance's secretary general has warned. The war is turning into a competition between the Western and Russian military industries. If Europe does not wake up, Ukraine and its allies will lose everything that Kiev has so far gained, thus fulfilling Russia's goal of turning its neighboring country into a failed state. The Western allies had managed to provide Ukraine with significant political, military and economic support during the two years of war. However, it is not so clear that they are prepared for a long war nor for the containment and deterrence of Russia, although it is well known that investing in deterrence is always cheaper than investing in open warfare. Navalny's death, Putin's electoral victory and the long duration of the war in Ukraine are the fateful triangle that the Kremlin now opposes to the West, a triangle strengthened by the shameful silence of the majority of the Russian population, a silence that is a consequence of the tyranny and information manipulation carried out by the regime, but also of its political apathy.

Defense & Security
Russian and Iranian flags on matching puzzle pieces

Increased Iran-Russia Military Cooperation After the Ukraine Invasion: Impact of US/Western Sanctions

by Ian Dudgeon

Iran and Russia have entered a closer political, economic, and military relationship during the past two years, the trigger widely seen as the upsurge in defence cooperation following Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This new relationship, described variously as a strategic alignment or strategic partnership, was seen by both Tehran and Moscow as necessary to meet mutual and separate critical national needs due to the restrictive effects on both of US and Western sanctions. Iran’s international affairs, since its 1979 Islamic revolution, have been largely shaped by two factors. The first is Iran’s strong adherence to national autonomy, maximum self-sufficiency, and non-alignment. The latter has included, as far as practical, a balance between East and West, or today, Global South and Global West. However, Iranians are cautious about trusting others. While, therefore, a strategic alignment with Russia, or potentially others, could be acceptable, a formal alliance that compromise’s autonomy, would not. The second factor is Iran’s relationship with the US, and in turn with Europe, other Western countries and the UN, and their use of sanctions to deter or change international adversarial differences. Iran-US relations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution have been tense and conflicted, and especially with Iranian-supported regional state and non-state militia. Major US concerns include Iran’s support for “state and non-state terrorism,” human rights abuses, missile development, and their potential, some say intent, to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Decades of broadly-based US sanctions, along with EU and UN sanctions, the latter mostly nuclear related, have strongly impacted the nation. The one short period of Iran-US rapprochement commenced in 2016 when President Barack Obama successfully brought Iran onboard as a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) or nuclear agreement. Obama’s aim was to firstly resolve the nuclear issue and use this as the stepping-stone to negotiations on other regional security issues. But this two-step process was undone by President Donald Trump‘s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose US primary and secondary sanctions. Trump’s action, and President Joe Biden’s subsequent “failure” to rejoin the JCPOA and repeal related US sanctions, bitterly disappointed a large cast of international stakeholders, including Iran’s moderates and other JCPOA signatories. For Iran, the US could not be trusted to seriously seek rapprochement and repeal US sanctions either before, or foreseeably after, this year’s US presidential elections. This distrust extended also to the Europeans and others who would continue to remain subject to US secondary sanctions. Iran saw its future fundamentally with countries that were willing to openly trade with them, notwithstanding US sanctions, and other countries or organisations that were prepared to overlook or actively circumvent or evade sanctions. Multilateral outreach included Iran joining two major non-aligned groups in 2023, the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and BRICS+6 (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa + 6). These comprise some 40 percent and 46 percent respectively of the world’s population, and some 20 percent and 30 percent of global GDP. BRICS also includes some 40 percent of global oil production. Key members of both include Russia, China, and India. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are part of the “+6 members” of BRICS, and are also Dialogue Partners of the SCO. Both organisations offer significant additional political and economic networking opportunities and economic options. Bilaterally, the relationship between Tehran and Moscow, from its imperialist Shah/Tsar and post-revolutionary Iran and USSR/Russia iterations to the late 1980s, has had its share of tensions and conflict, including territorial disputes. The past 30-year period from the early 1990s to 2021, however, has been relatively stable. Geographic proximity, including a maritime border across the Caspian Sea, facilitated a significant increase in trade, reportedly from some US$1 billion in 2005 to US$3.3 billion in 2021. Mutual security interests also saw an increase in regional military cooperation, including joint operations against ISIS in Syria, and increased Russian sales of military equipment to Iran. The relationship changed significantly in early 2022 due to Russia’s increased military equipment needs, and to help offset the broad impact of sanctions imposed by the US, the EU, and others on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Militarily, increased Iranian defence sales to Russia have included a range of munitions, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) systems, and potentially Iranian short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The UAV deal includes the construction of a factory for manufacturing thousands of Iranian drones in Russia’s Tartarstan province. In return Russia has sold, or agreed to sell, to Iran a range of advanced weapons systems, including the S-400 air-defence missile, helicopters, and SU 34 fighters. Enhanced cyber and satellite cooperation was also agreed. Russia has also passed to Iran many of the high technology Western weapons systems captured in Ukraine, enabling Iran to evaluate, copy, and develop counter-measures. Significantly, this new level of Iranian-Russian cooperation has lifted the military capability of both, with implications for the Middle East and Ukraine respectively. But how effective have the sanctions been? Iran has been subject to harsh sanctions since 1979, and developed a “resistance economy” involving official and extensive unofficial trade and financing arrangements. Because many related statistics are unreliable or unavailable, official GDP estimates may be highly inaccurate. Importantly, however, and despite fluctuations, the World Bank shows a consistent decline in Iran’s GDP since 1979. For Russia, due to shifting markets and higher prices for oil since early 2022, their GDP contracted some 2 percent only that year compared to a prediction of more than 11 percent, and has mostly recovered since. Economically, despite the challenges of sanctions, bilateral cooperation is strong, both economies still function, and their governments remain stable. Militarily, sanctions have facilitated closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, contrary to US, NATO, and allied interests. Are there areas for the US to negotiate the lifting of sanctions with Iran and Russia? US priorities for Iran could include rejoining the JCPOA, facilitating a reduction or cessation of state and non-state militia attacks against regional Israeli, US, and related maritime targets, and restricting specified military cooperation with Russia. US priorities for Russia could include various ceasefire compromises involving the war in the Ukraine, and restricting specified military cooperation with Iran. And the likelihood of progress? For the reasons above, progress on any issue between the US and Iran is very unlikely before this year’s US presidential elections. If or when afterwards would depend in large part on who was elected. For Russia, a ceasefire compromise in Ukraine could be possible if it gave them “temporary” retention of vast tracts of land captured post-2022. Timing will be dictated by battlefield outcomes, but the US Senate approval on 13 February of an additional US$60 billion of military assistance to the Ukraine, and its likely approval by Congress, makes a ceasefire in the foreseeable future unlikely.

Diplomacy
Meloni and Selenskiy shaking hands

Ukraine policy in Rome

by Michael Feth , Nino Galetti

Italy top, Vatican flop? The first war of aggression in Europe since 1945 is keeping two global players busy in Rome: the Italian government and Vatican diplomacy. While under the leadership of President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni there is no doubt about Italy's unbroken solidarity with Ukraine, criticism of the Holy See's course to date is growing, and not just in Catholic circles. Is Pope Francis' longed-for reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church more important than the future fate of Ukraine? When the right-wing alliance of Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi took power in Rome in October 2022, there was concern in some European government headquarters that the Tiber might be about to change its stance on the war in Ukraine. This mistrust was less directed at the newly elected Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, known as an Atlanticist, who had clearly positioned herself and her party "Fratelli d'Italia" against Moscow's war of aggression and Putin's expansionist ambitions during the election campaign, and more towards her two allies Lega and Forza Italia. Both parties were perceived internationally as Russia-friendly, albeit for different reasons: While in the case of Lega leader Matteo Salvini - similar to his ally Marine Le Pen in France - it was the ideological proximity of the anti-European right-wing populists to the authoritarian regime in Moscow, in the case of the bourgeois-conservative Forza Italia it was Silvio Berlusconi's long-standing personal friendship with Vladimir Putin that triggered fears of Italy's rapprochement with Moscow. These were further fueled by several erratic statements by Berlusconi during the coalition negotiations in autumn 2022, in which he openly adopted the Kremlin's view of the Ukraine conflict and thus caused severe irritation among the allies. His adlatus at the time, Antonio Tajani, felt compelled to fly to Brussels at short notice to hold talks with the heads of the EU Commission, NATO and the European People's Party to reassure them that the new right-wing government in Rome would by no means abandon the EU's common line, but would remain faithful to its commitments. Berlusconi's capers and Salvini's ricochet The situation was different in the case of the right-wing populist Lega, which had achieved a historically poor result of just eight percent in the early elections in September 2022. Giorgia Meloni therefore had her rival Matteo Salvini in her hands and was able to demand loyalty from the potential troublemaker. At the time, the designated head of government openly threatened her two partners with a collapse of the coalition negotiations: there would be "no joint government at any price". She played her cards close to her chest and in the end even brought Silvio Berlusconi into line, who had to make a pilgrimage to the Fratelli d'Italia party headquarters to recant his pro-Moscow remarks. A humiliation for which the Forza Italia patriarch has never forgiven her. Since Berlusconi's death, the capers have ceased: under the leadership of Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Forza Italia is clearly on the side of its Western allies and in line with the EPP. With the approval of the President (who can veto appointments to the government), Meloni chose Guido Crosetto, who originally came from the ranks of the Christian Democrats and is known as an anti-Russian hardliner, as Defense Minister. The fears of the Western partners that one of the most important NATO states could leave the joint phalanx against Putin were put to rest. Meloni counters Putin's friends Meloni set further signals: The memorable joint trip of the three European leaders Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz to Kiev on June 16, 2022 was still fresh in the minds of Ukrainians suffering from a daily hail of bombs, as Meloni made one of her first trips abroad to Kiev in February 2023 to personally assure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Italy's unwavering solidarity. The two had previously met at various international summits and the chemistry between them was instant. Since then, they have openly celebrated their cordial friendship in front of the cameras at every meeting. Under Meloni's aegis, there has been no hesitation or dithering in Rome on the Ukraine issue to date: Italy is supplying Ukraine with weapons and, together with its German allies, is monitoring the airspace on Europe's south-eastern flank and in the Black Sea from Romania. Rome is also firm in its sanctions policy against Russia: Dozens of accounts, real estate, ships and works of art belonging to Russian oligarchs on the EU sanctions list have been confiscated by the "Guardia di Finanza", the state financial police. And in the area of energy policy, Meloni has maintained the course of her predecessor Mario Draghi, who concluded supply contracts with a whole series of African, Arab and Central Asian states in order to quickly free Italy from its energy dependence on Moscow. During a working visit to Berlin last November, when Meloni and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were connected via video to the first OSCE meeting of heads of state and government since the start of the war, which was also attended by Vladimir Putin, she showed herself to be quick-witted. When the Kremlin ruler demanded a quick end to the war, Meloni immediately countered: "You can have that immediately. All you have to do is withdraw your troops." British Prime Minister Richi Sunak expressly thanked his counterpart for her "global leadership". And US President Joe Biden also never misses an opportunity to praise Meloni for her clear stance in the conflict. However, their closest ally in the Ukraine issue is President Sergio Mattarella. With all the authority of his office and his unbroken popularity, he explains the moral and ethical dimension of the major conflict to his fellow countrymen in detailed formulations at every available opportunity. In doing so, he takes the wind out of the sails of populists on the left and right who - as in Germany - criticize high military spending and complain about rising inflation as a result of "Western interference" in the war in Ukraine. In matters of foreign and security policy, head of state Mattarella, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces in accordance with the constitution, has so far had no reason to get in the prime minister's way. Is the Pope a friend of Russia? On the other side of the Tiber, in the Vatican, however, there are increasing question marks. Of course, the head of the Catholic Church has always and at every available opportunity lamented the suffering of the people in "martyred Ukraine" and called for an immediate end to the fighting. It goes without saying that the Holy See stands by the victims and is doing everything in its power to organize humanitarian aid and bring it into the country. Naturally, the Roman Curia has tried everything behind the scenes to mediate and explore possible negotiated solutions. Accusing the Pope of "moral equidistance" from the attackers and victims is therefore misguided. However, Francis does indeed have to put up with the accusation of "political equidistance". The Holy See is traditionally committed to a policy of neutrality, which aims to use the Pope's unbroken spiritual and moral authority as a non-partisan mediator to resolve a conflict. For this reason, the Holy See always acts discreetly on the international stage and has the long-term perspective in mind. Its actors are not subject to any democratic pressure to succeed and are generally not interested in winning points in the media. However, two years after the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, it is clear that the world's oldest diplomatic service has fallen far short of expectations. For many observers, the problem lies in particular in Pope Francis' unclear position. It took seven months after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the pontiff to name the attack as such for the first time and to publicly name Russia as the aggressor for the only time to date. Like so many other heads of state, the pontiff was probably unable to imagine until that February 24, 2022, that Putin would allow Russia's tanks to roll towards Kiev, triggering the biggest war in Europe since 1945. The Kremlin ruler had met Francis in person at the Vatican an astonishing three times in the preceding years. Is Francis a "Russia-understander" who is lenient with the aggressors? Many Vatican observers are now asking themselves this question. It is no secret that the Pope "from the other side of the world" (as Francis put it on the day of his election) has a different approach to European history and European sensitivities than his immediate predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian who was influenced by social-authoritarian Peronism as a child, does not have an unreservedly positive attitude towards the Western model of order. The first pope to come from Latin America can be said to have a critical view of the USA. It can be assumed that his experiences with the Trump presidency have not diminished his prejudices towards Washington's claim to international leadership. On the other hand, he has a certain soft spot for Russian classics from literature and music as well as for Russian history, as he himself revealed in a video link to a meeting of Catholic youths in Saint Petersburg. Tensions between Pope and Parolin In terms of church policy, there are also two ambitious goals that the 87-year-old has set himself since his election in 2013: Understanding with Beijing and rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church. He has been lenient to the point of self-denial with the political leaders of both powers; he has remained silent about some human rights violations and repression - including against Catholic clergy. A strategy that has repeatedly caused heated discussions in the highest circles of the world church - and not only among notorious critics of Francis. Years ago, the Pope tasked his Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a career Vatican diplomat and conflict expert whom Bergoglio had already come to know and appreciate as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, with the diplomatic implementation. With his help, a bishop of Rome met with a patriarch of Moscow for the first time in February 2016. Today, the two former confidants Francis and Parolin are considered to be at odds - and this is precisely where Putin's war comes into play. Soon after the invasion, Francis caused head-shaking in many places when, from a pacifist position, he refused to supply any weapons to Kiev and thus indirectly denied Ukraine's internationally enshrined right to self-defense. Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin and the Vatican "Foreign Minister" Paul Richard Gallagher, a Briton, corrected these statements in several interviews and corrected their own boss. Of course, they both argued, Ukraine, as a sovereign state, had the right to defend its territorial integrity, and the supply of military equipment and weapons was ethically justifiable. The "Kyrill card" After Putin was unavailable for his calls, Francis played another card: his personal relationship with Moscow Patriarch Cyril. Here, too, the experts warned the Pope that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church would be in the service of the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the pontiff played the "Cyril card". Francis was probably hoping that he could "turn" the patriarch politically with Jesuit cunning. To this day, his literal response to Parolin and Gallagher's warnings is still reported: "But Cyril is still a shepherd!" As expected, the "Cyril card" failed. Francis' bitter realization that the patriarch was an "altar boy of the Kremlin" came too late. The view that the Pope was a "Russophile" had long since become firmly established in Kiev. The suspicion of Russia-friendliness is fueled less by concrete actions than by the pontiff's omissions: to date, he has never addressed Putin directly in all his countless appeals for peace. He could have borrowed from a great predecessor: Immediately before the start of the Iraq war in 2003, Pope John-Paul II addressed US President George W. Bush at the Sunday Angelus prayer in front of running cameras and fervently implored him to refrain from the planned attack. When the city of Sarajevo was besieged for months during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, triggering a humanitarian catastrophe, the Pope from Poland appointed the archbishop of the bombed-out Bosnian capital, the then 48-year-old Vinco Puljic, as its first cardinal in history in 1994. Three consistories with the appointment of new cardinals have taken place in Rome since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: But the Ukrainians have so far waited in vain for a similar sign, although a suitable candidate is available in the figure of the Greek-Catholic Grand Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev. Diplomatic self-restraint of the Pope Francis appointed a high-ranking special mediator far too late: However, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi's shuttle mission between Moscow, Kiev, Washington and Beijing is now considered a failure. It seems that Kiev has lost hope that Vatican diplomacy will have a positive effect. At the same time, Moscow seems to be relying more on the mediation of the United Arab Emirates as the representative of the "global South" than on the Holy See as the supposed representative of the Western world when it comes to humanitarian actions such as the exchange of prisoners. Most serious, however, is the fact that Francis has so far refused any invitation to Kiev. He always repeats the same mantra that he will only travel to the Ukrainian capital if he is allowed to visit Moscow first. Either there is a secret plan behind this curious self-restraint on the part of the pontiff, which even close confidants among the cardinals are unable to see through, or it is a diplomatic staircase joke: Putin is unlikely to have the slightest interest in such a double trip by the Roman pontiff. And even if he did, a visit to Moscow by the Pope would probably give Vladimir Putin the biggest propaganda coup in his long time in office. Months ago, President Zelensky's security advisor announced that Kiev was no longer interested in a Vatican mediation mission. A resounding slap in the face for the Holy See's diplomacy in the most dangerous crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

Defense & Security
Saint Basil's Cathedral as viewed from Red Square.

There Was Once a Counteroffensive

by Pascal Boniface

The war in Ukraine is developing not quite as expected. Kiev's army is on the defense, Moscow's troops are advancing. All the while, the distance between the West and the rest of the world is increasing The year 2023 was a catastrophic year for geopolitical affairs. The war between Russia and Ukraine that began a year earlier continues, followed by the war between Israel and Hamas that broke out on October 7. The expected collapse of the Russian army did not happen. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of PMC Wagner, who openly questioned Vladimir Putin’s authority, died officially by accident. Vladimir Putin’s power is now even more firmly established in Russia. Westerners, who decided to leave Russia to impose sanctions on it, allowed it to recover $100 billion worth of abandoned assets for next to nothing, which the Russian government was able to redistribute among its cronies. The Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in the summer of 2023 has failed. The most likely scenario in this context is, of course, that the military situation will freeze, allowing Russia to retain some Ukrainian territory. This represents a heavy defeat for the West, as they themselves have stated that they will lose their credibility if Ukraine loses the game, and that Putin will win the war by default. The Ukrainian issue is also the subject of intense debate in the USA, with Republicans and Democrats arguing over whether to continue supporting Ukraine on a massive scale. The White House continues to massively support Kiev, but if Donald Trump returns to power next year, American aid to Ukraine will indeed be suspended. Vladimir Putin will be able to prevail, at least from a communications standpoint. The great mistake of the West is that it confused the desirable (Russia’s defeat) with the possible. However, demographics are in Russia’s favor: there are four times as many Russians as Ukrainians. The Russian defense industry is operating at full capacity and is supported by Iran and North Korea. Russia is weakened by the departure of many Russians who fled repression and mobilization. It is cut off from the Western world united against it, but on the other hand, it retains the cards to play in the so-called Global South. You could say that the war in Gaza has benefited its cause. Indeed, on October 7, 2023, Hamas launched deadly attacks against Israel. Israel has launched a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas. By carrying out massive bombing raids that have already killed more than 24,000 people and created a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Gaza is a children’s graveyard. If nothing justifies the October 7 terrorist attacks, nothing justifies the massive and indiscriminate bombing of civilians who would otherwise be subjected to a blockade. This situation in the Middle East is a real argument for Vladimir Putin against the West. The latter actually continues to ask the countries of the Global South, non-Western countries, to adopt sanctions against Russia that has seized territories by force and bombed civilians, which is forbidden by international law. But the same Western countries recognize Israel’s unconditional right to self-defense, while Israel also occupies territories and bombs civilians. For the affected Israelis, there will be a before and an after October 7. They thought they lived in a safe haven, protected from harm, but found that they did not. These attacks came as an undeniable shock to Israel. But there will also be wars before and after the Gaza war, because the images of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip under Israeli bombardment that we see now may be less visible in the Western world, but are widespread around the world and will also remain in the collective consciousness. In both cases, to varying degrees, there is a difference in understanding between Western and non-Western countries. Western countries condemn Russia and support Israel. Non-Western countries think it is completely abnormal to condemn Russia and not condemn Israel for bombing civilians. This difference in perception is growing and isolating the western world from the rest of the world.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier launching a drone for reconnaissance

How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict

by Kristen D. Thompson

Drone technology has been used extensively in twenty-first-century armed conflict, but the Russia-Ukraine war is driving innovations in autonomous warfare not seen on other battlefields. From drones that fit in the palm of the hand to drones weighing more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), Ukraine has built and acquired a diverse fleet of remotely piloted aircraft to complicate and frustrate Russia’s advances. The constantly evolving scope of this technology and its ever-growing use signal not only the potential for drones to level the playing field in the Russia-Ukraine war, but also their ability to influence how future conflicts are waged. Why is the war in Ukraine a hotbed for drones? As the war enters its third calendar year, neither side is close to achieving air superiority. Most military analysts expected that Russia, with its superior air power, would quickly seize control of contested airspace early in the conflict. But surprisingly, Ukraine’s defenses, later bolstered by Western systems, were able to repel and deter Russian aircraft from making near-border and cross-border strikes. The inability of either side to break through the other’s integrated air defenses has forced them to increase the agility of their fielded forces and rely more heavily on standoff weapons, including long-range artillery, missiles, and drones. These conditions have led to the development of new drone technologies that could help Ukraine level the playing field in the air battle and possibly turn the tide of the war in its favor. What technologies are in use? Ukraine’s drone deployment has evolved with the changing battlefield. During earlier stages of the war—when Russia’s air defense and electronic-warfare capabilities were less pronounced—Ukraine relied on larger drones such as the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar to great effect. The TB2’s ability to carry multiple air-to-ground munitions and loiter for long periods allowed Ukrainian forces to penetrate Russian air defenses and strike heavy targets. However, as time progressed and Russia took greater control of the skies, it was able to detect and shoot down these larger models more easily. The TB2 may maintain some relevance—its sensor suite and considerable range still enable Ukrainian operators to collect intelligence—but Ukraine has nonetheless shifted to using smaller drone technology to adapt to Russian advances. The more abundant, smaller drones are proving to be serious game changers in that they have given Ukraine better battlespace awareness and more capability to hit targets. The Ukrainians have tapped into commercial technology—the same recreational products available to civilians—to get cheap, off-the-shelf drones onto the battlefield quickly. Many of these “hobbyist” drones have been acquired through grassroots crowdfunding efforts, or “dronations.” At just one thousand dollars per unit, the small drones can be rapidly amassed and repurposed by operators for a specific effect. For example, the popular first-person view (FPV) drones commonly used for racing or filmmaking are retrofitted with makeshift explosives and flown to strike fixed targets at relatively low cost. These drones can carry out single-use strikes with high precision while remaining less susceptible to Russian air defense systems. Additionally, the Ukrainians have repurposed significant aspects of their domestic economy to support the new drone supply chain, increasing their drone-making capabilities through public-private partnerships. One year ago, Ukraine had seven domestic drone manufacturers and it now has at least eighty. As for Russian drone technology, Moscow deploys indigenous models, such as the Orion, Eleron-3, Orlan-10, and Lancet, but Western sanctions on crucial Russian supply chains have prevented Moscow from excelling in drone production. Instead, Russia has turned to Iran for a steady supply. The Russians now boast an extensive fleet of Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that can carry 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) of explosives over a range of 1,200 miles (1931 kilometers). How are drones shaping the war? This conflict has demonstrated the battlefield advantages of drones, which have become smaller, more lethal, easier to operate, and available to almost anyone. They compress the so-called kill chain, shortening the time from when a target is detected to when it is destroyed, and they can bolster a military’s ability to reconnoiter the forward edge of the battlefield. Drones with longer endurance profiles can effectively conduct hours of reconnaissance, enabling other, more advanced drones to carry out precision strikes deep inside enemy territory. Other models enable individual soldiers to monitor adversary movement without risking lives or giving up the soldier’s position. Drones can also play an important international humanitarian role, for instance, by conducting battle and collateral damage assessments or exposing war crimes. U.S. drone manufacturer Skydio recently donated nine drones that—with their high-resolution cameras—will be used to help Ukraine document potential Russian war crimes. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), images captured will be used to aid the Office of the Prosecutor General in documenting many instances of human rights abuses. What are the defenses against drones? Drones are susceptible to air defenses. Larger drones with a distinct radar cross-section are easy, slow-moving targets for air defense interceptors and anti-drone guns; both Ukraine and Russia have downed thousands of drones with their interceptors and artillery. However, the continual use of these systems by both Ukraine and Russia can be prohibitively costly, as a single drone could cost thousands or even millions of dollars to intercept. An emerging challenge of counter-drone defense is the need to develop and employ a system that is cheaper than its target. Crucially, smaller drones that can swarm toward a target are more difficult to shoot down. as they can overwhelm air defense systems. A key countermeasure has been to utilize electronic warfare in the form of jammers, spoofers, and high-energy lasers that prevent drones from reaching their target. Jammers—used by both Russia and Ukraine—send out powerful electromagnetic signals that can cause a target drone to fall to the ground, veer off course, or turn around and attack its operator. As the war progresses, both sides are continually investing in and adapting electronic warfare tactics to counter the innovations of their adversary. How will the drone war evolve? The Russia-Ukraine conflict has demonstrated that innovations in drone technology can change the balance of power in the air defense domain especially. While Russia seeks to build pockets of air superiority and bolster its drone production and anti-drone defenses, Ukraine continues to develop both more and less sophisticated solutions. In a recently uncovered partnership project with Iran, Russia finished constructing a drone factory in Tatarstan, 500 miles (805 kilometers) east of Moscow, where it could produce an estimated six thousand Shahed-136 prototypes (renamed the Geran-2 by Moscow) by mid-2025. This expanded drone production could be enough to counter Russia’s shortage of drones on the front lines and turn the tide of the conflict in its favor. However, Ukraine’s ability to acquire and crowdsource commercial drone technology, tactically modify drones in the field based on real-time feedback, and alter tactics to defeat anti-drone systems have proved to be crucial to its war effort. Even while overmatched force-wise, Ukraine has shown how savvy technological adaptation can change twenty-first century warfare and could tip the balance of power in favor of the force that is more innovative. Editor’s Note: Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author.

Defense & Security
A plane of the Russian airline Aeroflot takes off.

War in Ukraine Disrupts Russian Civilian and Commercial Aviation

by Hlib Parfonov

Originally published by Hlib Parfonov at The Jamestown Foundation on 13. December 2023 Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 190 Over the past month, as many as ten forced landings of civilian aircraft have taken place in Russia. The most serious of these happened over the past week. On December 7, a fire on board an Aeroflot Airlines Boeing 777 forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing. The plane was flying from Kamchatka to Moscow when a passenger noticed smoke coming from under his seat. The preliminary investigation attributed the fire to a short circuit of wiring in the main cabin (T.me/aviatorshina, December 7). That same day, a Tu-204S cargo plane of Aviastar-Tu Airlines with registration number RA-64024 was returning from Zhengzhou airport in China. After takeoff, the pilot reported to air traffic controllers that the left engine had stalled and requested an emergency landing at Ulan-Ude airport (Ruavia.su, December 7). And on December 8, a Siberian Airlines Boeing 737 traveling from Novosibirsk to Moscow made an emergency landing in Tolmachevo. Immediately after takeoff, both of the aircraft’s engines caught fire (T.me/aviatorshina, December 8). These incidents highlight growing problems for Russia’s civilian and commercial aviation. Many of the technical difficulties are tied to Western sanctions prohibiting the import of critical components for the proper maintenance of aircraft. The recent forced landings represent another example of the war in Ukraine increasingly being brought home to Russia. Western sanctions and a critical shortage of technical personnel have hampered Russian civilian aviation since the beginning of the war (see EDM, July 3, September 8). Due to a lack of specialists and necessary spare parts, negligence of management, and Moscow’s fundamental departure from the rules for servicing foreign-made aircraft, much of the Russian civilian fleet could be grounded over the next year, with few prospects for reversing that trend. This is evidenced by the fact that, compared to 2022, the number of flight delays for the Urals MTU of the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) increased by 44 percent this year (880 in 2023 compared to 490 in 2022). At the same time, there have been 739 cases of flights being unable to depart on time due to technical malfunctions (Insightnews.media, December 7). The lack of access to software updates and proper technical advice, as well as skipping regular maintenance intervals, have led many of Russia’s civilian aircraft to gradually break down. Most often, engines, landing gear, and brakes are the first to fail. Problems with flaps, air conditioning and de-icing systems, or internal wiring are less common but have been seen increasingly in recent weeks. Thanks to the Kremlin’s orders not to record any defects in pilots’ logbooks, all civilian aircraft appear to be perfectly serviceable on paper (Insightnews.media, December 7). Moscow’s problems with domestic aviation extend beyond civilian flights to the commercial sector. Russia’s air freight industry is stagnating fast, as it is dominated by the outdated Soviet Ilyushin Il-76 and Ukrainian Antonov AN-24 and AN-26 cargo aircraft. On November 8, the Federation Council held a roundtable discussion on the state of the country’s air transit capabilities (Gazeta.ru, November 9). Some participants expressed fear that up to 25 percent of the commercial fleet will be inoperable in less than five years. The average age of Russian commercial cargo aircraft is 50 years old. These aircraft have not been properly upgraded and maintained due to the mass transfer of foreign aircraft to Russia before the war; the lack of economic feasibility in completing such an overhaul, with costs estimated at billions of rubles; and the inability to gain access to necessary parts to upgrade the Ukrainian cargo planes. The repercussions of Moscow’s war against Ukraine have forced Russian operators to pay minimal attention to the maintenance of civilian and commercial aircraft. While companies can still source some spare parts for the 50-year-old aircraft, they have run into problems tracking down components for more modern equipment, such as parts for Motor Sich engines. In another example, the aircraft of Abakan Air, which operates international flights for Russian entities and provides transportation services for clients from other countries, are constantly out of order. According to internal documents, engines, air conditioning systems, and even radios often fail, and the company has been unable to bring in the necessary parts and technical expertise to solve these issues (24tv.ua, December 5) Similar problems also extend to helicopter aviation. The main bottleneck involves flagging production of modern engines. For example, in April, Russian Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov announced that a shortage of VK-2500 engines was slowing down the production of Mi-8 transport helicopters. For VK-2500 engines, only a single production center was created in St. Petersburg, with a maximum volume of 200 engines annually. Manturov pointed out that Russian officials had tried increasing the volume to 300, though production has struggled to keep up. Today, demand sits at over 500 for these engines (Interfax, April 11). In addition, extending the service life of transport helicopters has further hurt the industry. As early as 2022, Russian airline Utair asked Rosaviatsia to extend the maximum allowable service life of engines for the Mi-8 and Mi-172 helicopters. The airline asked to increase the period from 7,500 to 9,000 hours, arguing that “the resource condition of TV3-117 engines” is already close to the maximum permissible level. According to aviation experts, such a request is madness and will likely lead to more serious technical issues in the near future (RBC, August 16, 2022) All this points to Moscow’s war against Ukraine increasingly coming home to the Russian public, disrupting their everyday lives. The current trend in Russian civilian and commercial aviation points to the possibility that these two sectors cannot adequately support the country’s transit demands. This will result in a redistribution to the already overloaded Russian railways. That reality will have severe economic consequences and further limit the effectiveness of military logistics in resupplying the frontlines with manpower and munitions in a timely fashion.

Diplomacy
Vladimir Putin with President of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkey faces competing pressures from Russia and the West to end its ‘middleman strategy’ and pick a side on the war in Ukraine

by Ozgur Ozkan

From the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Turkey has performed a delicate balancing act, portraying itself as an ally to the warring sides while reaping economic and political benefits from its relationship with both. Turkey has condemned Russia’s invasion and extended diplomatic and material assistance to Ukraine’s war efforts. At the same time, the country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has pointedly opted not to join the Western-led sanctions against Russia or cut ties with Moscow. But Turkey’s neutrality in the Ukraine conflict is seemingly meeting with growing impatience in Washington and Moscow, and may be difficult to sustain amid a shifting geopolitical landscape. In September 2023, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Turkish companies and a businessman accused of helping Russia to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, Erdoğan has failed to revive a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain shipments via Turkey’s Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and eased global food prices. The developments suggest that both Washington and Moscow are seeking to pressure Turkey into taking a decisive stand. Already there are signs of Erdoğan bending. On Oct. 25, 2023, Erdoğan signed Sweden’s NATO accession protocol and sent it to the Parliament for ratification, having earlier refused to endorse the move – much to the annoyance of Turkey’s NATO allies. The move may be interpreted as a sign that Turkey’s balancing strategy is reaching its limits. But it may also be another tactical move in Erdoğan’s geopolitical chess game, which has expanded as he seeks to position Turkey as a diplomatic force amid escalating violence in the Middle East. As an expert on Turkish politics and international affairs, I have watched as Erdoğan walks a fine line between the country’s commitments as a longtime NATO member and its reliance on Russia for trade, economic resources and energy imports. But this balancing act is becoming increasingly difficult the longer the war goes on. The middleman strategy Erdogan’s approach aligns with Turkey’s historical foreign policy trajectory. Turkey has maintained a balance between Western European powers and Russia since the latter emerged as an ambitious regional player along Turkey’s northern border in the early 18th century. The balancing act allowed the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s predecessor, to survive the 19th century largely intact despite mounting pressures from the Russian Empire and European powers. Failure to utilize a balancing strategy in the First World War facilitated the empire’s demise. Joining forces with the losing Central Powers, Turkey had to share a catastrophic fate. In contrast, in World War II, a strategy of neutrality helped Turkey to weather the war unscathed. Against a mounting Soviet threat during the Cold War, Turkey took refuge under Western security guarantees, joining NATO in 1952. Relieved of the Soviet threat in the 1990s, Ankara sought greater foreign policy autonomy. However, it lacked the necessary economic and military resources and domestic political will to fully realize this ambition, leading to alignment with U.S. policies in the Middle East and Balkans until the early 2010s. Splintered support But U.S. support to Kurds in northern Syria, aligned to the militant separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan marked the beginning of a more confrontational relationship between Washington and Ankara. Blaming the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies for complicity in the coup, Erdogan began to court Putin, who openly stood behind him during and after the attempted coup. Ankara’s acquisition of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles led to its removal from the U.S.‘s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and a set of U.S. sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry. Coupled with its repeated military interventions in Syria, Turkey’s closeness with Russia has, critics say, reduced it to a status of “unreliable partner” in the North Atlantic alliance. But it didn’t take long for Ankara’s flirtation with Moscow to reach a deadlock. The death of 34 Turkish soldiers in a Russian bombardment in northern Syria in February 2020 prompted a renewed effort to seek reconciliation with the U.S. However, the Biden administration hesitated to reset relations due to concerns over Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. The balancing act and Ukraine War in Ukraine offered a new boost to Erdoğan’s balancing act. Turkey’s control of two major straits and established ties with Ukraine and other states along the Black Sea provided significant leverage for a multifaceted and neutral approach. Erdoğan seemingly hoped that maintaining trade relations with Russia and arms sales to Ukraine would bolster the struggling Turkish economy and rehabilitate his image in the West. But Erdoğan’s early blocking of Sweden’s and Finland’s entry into NATO stirred resentment in Washington and Brussels. As the Ukraine conflict continued and Erdoğan’s domestic popularity dipped in the lead-up to the May 2023 elections, the sustainability of Turkey’s balancing act seemed uncertain again. In need of financial and political support, Erdoğan has turned to the West and Persian Gulf countries. He approved Finland’s NATO accession and forged economic deals with West-friendly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – Turkey’s two bitter rivals in the Middle East. In summer 2023, Erdoğan announced a new cabinet that projected a pro-Western outlook. He mended ties with Egypt, another traditional regional rival, aligning with the new balance of power that the U.S. and its regional allies were shaping in the Middle East. And then, at the July 2023 NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Erdoğan announced the withdrawal of his veto against Sweden’s accession to NATO. Erdoğan’s pro-Western moves have prompted a cautiously optimistic approach by Western leaders, using both incentives and punitive measures: extending a US$35 billion World Bank credit to aid Turkey’s economy, while penalizing Turkish entities for violating U.S. sanctions. The latter has been taken as a not-so-veiled message to Ankara to take a definitive stance in its foreign affairs. Erdoğan has received a similar message from Putin. Disappointed in part by Turkey’s reconciliation with the West, Putin chose not to renew the Ukrainian grain deal despite Erdoğan’s earlier successful brokerage. It was a considerable blow for Erdoğan, who sought to position himself as a crucial power broker in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Although Erdoğan faces pushback from the U.S. and Russia, this does not necessarily signal the demise of his middleman strategy. Turkey’s location on the Europe-Asia boundary and historical ties to neighboring regions provide Erdoğan opportunities to sustain and even expand a strategy of neutrality among regional and global actors. Developments in the South Caucasus and the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are two recent examples. They add a new layer of complexity for Erdogan’s balancing act, but also more room for him to maneuver. Turkey has been a key backer of Azerbaijan’s military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh – something that has exposed Russia’s waning influence in the region and created a major geopolitical setback for Iran. Meanwhile, Erdoğan’s ties with both Hamas and the Israeli government provide an opportunity for him to play a mediator role there.