Subscribe to our weekly newsletters for free

Subscribe to an email

If you want to subscribe to World & New World Newsletter, please enter
your e-mail

Defense & Security
Moldovan President Maia Sandu giving speech

Moldova's reaction on the Russian full-scale war against Ukraine and Its consequences

by Natalia Stercul

AbstractRussia’s war in Ukraine has been an exceptional threat to the European security architecture, and a peaceful and democratic development around the world. This war has led to the displacement of people, human sacrifices, damages of civilian property, material and financial loss. The imperial ambitions and the revisionist policy of the Russian Federation have created a new dramatic reality for the whole world. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has raised a significant alarm in the Republic of Moldova in terms of the aggravation of the country’s security problems, the wider regional political and strategic ramifications. This study examines Moldova’s response to the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine with special focus on the multiple vulnerabilities, social-economic tensions, energy problems as well as refugee and humanitarian crises.The long struggle between the East and the West has reached its peak. The endpoint of the difficult way for interacting with sanctions mechanisms after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 has become the war in Ukraine, radically changing the European security architecture. The end of the post-Cold War era of peace is accompanied by the threat of nuclear weapons. Autocrats have created a more favorable international environment for themselves over the past decade and a half, empowered by their own political and economic might, as well as by the waning pressure from democracies, which is grounded in autocrats’ shared interest in minimizing checks on their abuses and maintaining their grip on power. Rising Russian authoritarianism has contributed to a context that has made the unprovoked aggression in Ukraine possible. Increasing authoritarianism in Russia and some other countries, coupled with gradual democratic erosion around the world, poses an exceptional threat to a rules-based global order, and consequently to peace, prosperity and sustainable development. Global freedom faces an increasingly dire threat since non-democratic regimes have become more authoritarian in the last five years. According to the dates of the Global State of Democracy Report 2021, the percentage of non-democratic regimes with statistically significant declines on at least one sub-attribute over a five-year period increased from 21 percent in 2015 to 45 percent in 2020, the highest ever. Putinism is a form of autocracy that is conservative, populist, and personalistic. Putinism is due to an authoritarian regime, which has infiltrated the Russian political activists, the mass media, and the judicial system. Corruption at the highest level of government, disinformation of the population, closing the independent media (Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index), and violations of basic citizen’s rights – are the main features of Putin’s policies. During his reign, the image of Putin’s popularity bolsters his actual popularity and the consequence of this is the right-wing populism in Europe as a reflection of the Putinism influence. Features of Russian influence enable different effects on neighboring countries. Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move toward European institutions, and NATO, in particular, disregarding Ukraine’s right on the choice of pursuing a civilizational way of development. For Ukraine, this is to make its own sovereign choice, but for Russia, it is a question of a different nature – loss of its “sphere of influence”. The same thing applies to the Republic of Moldova, which for a long time was the traditional sphere of Russian influence. The so-called “Russian world” continues to remain that community uniting the cultural, ideological and linguistic components. The Republic of Moldova is a multicultural country, located on the geopolitical fault line, which combines various cultural traditions and languages. The struggle for the influence of the East and West, including the fight between the Russian and Anglo-Saxon worlds had a direct impact on Moldova. At present, in the world, there is a clearer trend toward the replacement of the Russian world, which is due to the Russian foreign policy itself. At the same time, the features of Russian influence and Putinism in Moldovan society persist. These features are frequently constituted as additional triggers for political speculations and dividing lines in society. The pro-Russian forces are in opposition, in the context of the current political agenda of the Republic of Moldova, but at the same time, their influence remains substantial enough. The promotion of Russian influence and support of Putin’s policy is popular among the pro-Russian forces in Moldova. The war in Ukraine marks the end of the post-Cold War era of peace. It demonstrates that the US power is not absolute and the threat of nuclear escalation remains as close and implacable as ever. Diplomacy has been exhausted. The parties involved cannot seem to find common ground for negotiation or consensus. The result of the struggle between democracy and autocracy reflects the crisis of diplomacy and the role of diplomatic negotiations for a peaceful solution to the conflict. After four rounds of diplomatic negotiations between Russia and Ukraine without any significant progress, this process has been suspended. The dark cloud of war remains menacing. Moldova’s response to the consequences of the Russian war in UkraineThe Moldovan parliament declared a state of emergency for 60 days across the country after Russia invaded Ukraine. In accordance with the provisions of Order no.1 from February 24, 2022, of the Commission for Exceptional Situations of the Republic of Moldova: The Civil Aviation Authority, jointly with the Ministry of Defense, shall decide on the prohibition of the use of the airspace of the Republic of Moldova for civil and state aircraft (national and foreign), depending on requests and the provisions of international conventions. Moldova’s airspace has been reopened for civil aviation only on March 21. This decision was taken following a meeting of the Interdepartmental Airspace Management Commission, whose members, after assessing the current security situation, decided to open part of the airspace so that passenger air transportation could be resumed. Moldova as a neutral state does not join any sanctions either. According to the announcement of the Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu: “A decision to impose sanctions on Russia is not an easy decision, this is a very hard decision that could be made by stronger and more prosperous countries than Moldova. The decision was made for economic considerations, as the Moldovan economy is too dependent on relations with Russia, including those economic”. The key argument of the Moldovan political elite, since the beginning of the war, was that Moldova is neutral and advocates for peace in Ukraine and the region at large. The neutrality of the country has always been a highly politicized, contentious, and divisive issue. Refugee crisisMoldova, which borders Ukraine, has been directly affected by a huge inflow of Ukrainian refugees. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, over 460 thousand refugees from Ukraine entered Moldova and nearly 100 thousand of them decided to settle in Moldova until they will be able to return safely to their homes in Ukraine. Of those 460,000, about 65% arrive via the Palanca and Tudora crossing points in the south of the country, and about 25% via the Otaci and Creva crossing points in the north. Moldovan citizens opened their homes and hearts to Ukrainian refugees. Despite being one of the poorest and smallest nations in Europe with very limited resources, Moldova has caused admiration from many countries by being able to make the border crossing easier for the refugee flow, ensure protection and grant shelter to Ukrainian refugees. Among the Ukrainian refugees, most are women, children and older people (almost 90% of the total number of refugees – this being one of the most vulnerable groups of people) who have crossed into Moldova since the beginning of the war on February 24.  According to the Operational Data Portal Ukraine Refugees Situation dates on the period as of 28 June, in the Republic of Moldova were registered 82,700 – Individual refugees from Ukraine recorded across Europe; 515,432 – border crossing from Ukraine; 146,939 – Border crossing to Ukraine. Due to the assistance of external partners, the Government of the Republic of Moldova now has the infrastructure in place to support incoming refugees and is working with its international partners to create protection action plans. The EU humanitarian operation in the Republic of Moldova enhances assistance for refugees through the European Humanitarian Response Capacity. Such a humanitarian crisis occurred for the first time in the history of independent Moldova. For the Republic of Moldova, this is the first experience of finding a response to a refugee crisis – large wave of refugees that puts pressure on basic services in Moldova and the surrounding region.Tensions in Transnistria ring alarm bells in MoldovaThe Transnistrian region located between the Dniester River and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border, a region in a protracted conflict, remains to be one of the most sensitive issues for Moldova, and tensions around it have arisen amid the intensification of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Transnistria extends for about 400 kilometers between the eastern bank of the Dniester River in Moldova and the country’s border with Ukraine, being home to a population of about 470,000 predominantly Russian speakers. Moldovan authorities are following with caution and vigilance the events taking place on the territory controlled by the Tiraspol regime. There are tensions between different forces within the region interested in destabilizing the situation. This makes the Transnistrian region vulnerable and creates risks for the Republic of Moldova. The authorities condemn any provocations and attempts to draw the Republic of Moldova into actions that may endanger peace in the country. Chisinau continues to insist on a peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.The possible scenarios of a dangerous development of Russian plans are quite thoroughly analyzed in the analytical overview of the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies.   Particularly, there are mentions that the Russian military operation could be extended towards Moldova. In the Transnistrian region there are concentrated 500 Russian peacekeepers and around 1,000 Russian military personnel. The Transnistrian military is thought to have around 4,000 active troops. The Moldovan authorities argue that there had been no change in the military situation, but with the beginning of the second phase of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, the situation in the Transnistrian region worsened.On April 26, tensions flared as Transnistrian authorities announced the “red level” of terrorist threat for 15 days across the territory. The announcement came after alleged attacks on two communication towers and a state building in the self-declared capital, Tiraspol, as well as an incident involving a military unit in the village of Parkany. Moldovan President Maia Sandu convened a Security Council meeting to prevent tensions and the escalation of the conflict.During the meeting of the Supreme Security Council on the subject of the incidents in the Transnistrian region and the security developments in the region, on April 26, the Supreme Security Council noted the facts of escalation and recommended to public institutions the following: – increase the intensity of movement checks in the vicinity of the security zone; – increase the intensity of patrolling and checks on the territory of the Republic of Moldova and at the border; – increase the level of alert in securing the critical infrastructure; – increase the level of alert of all institutions responsible for ensuring public order and security. In this complex and tense situation, the President assured that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent escalations, strengthen the security of the state, and protect Moldovan citizens, calling on the media, opinion formers, and social and political leaders to behave during this period with maximum responsibility, share only verified information and avoid using emotional manipulation for the sake of increasing public ratings. While the Moldovan government has repeatedly called for the removal of the Russian contingent, the Russian military troops remain on this territory. The Republic of Moldova does not intend and does not carry out a blockade of the Transnistrian region, remaining open to continuing the dialogue for the settlement of the conflict in the region in a peaceful, diplomatically negotiated manner that will give the people of Moldova, including those in the Transnistrian region, the chance to have a peaceful and prosperous life. It is important to mention that about an additional Ukrainian 8,000 refugees who have decided to stay are in the Transnistrian region. Providing support to refugees in the region has its own challenges and is still lagging. Economic and energetic consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war for the Republic of MoldovaThe Russian war in Ukraine is having serious economic and energetic consequences for the Republic of Moldova, the Black Sea region, and the global economy.  The war is triggering global ripple effects through multiple channels, including commodity markets, trade, financial flows, displaced people, and market confidence. The damage to Russia’s economy will weigh on remittance flows to many neighboring countries. Disruptions to regional supply chains and financial networks, as well as heightened investor risk perceptions, will weaken regional growth. Prices for commodities that Russia and Ukraine supply, including energy, wheat, fertilizers, and some metals, are sharply higher. In the Republic of Moldova as well as in many emerging markets and developing economies, rising food and energy prices are exacerbating poverty and, in some cases, food insecurity, heightening inflation pressures that were already building. The Russian Federation and Ukraine are prominent players in the global trade of food and agricultural products. Domestically, limited economic activity and increasing prices could undercut the purchasing power of local populations. Moldovan apple farmers are already feeling the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Their main trade route through the Ukrainian port of Odesa has been cut off. Normally, Moldova exports just under a fifth of its agri-food products to Russia. Now, 120,000 tons of apples are laying in cold storage – and they have to be sold before the next harvest begins. The support of Moldova’s Government is essential to help small-scale farmers respond to the crisis and remain resilient. Although there are some opportunities to export to Romania, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry is estimating steep losses in the fruit sector alone. According to the National Statistics Bureau, Moldova imports about 300,000 tons of fertilizer annually, the vast majority from Russia and Belarus. The national Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry estimates that, without fertilizer, the production of staple foods – like wheat, corn, and barley – will drop by at least 30 % this year alone. Mitigating the effects of the war on lives, livelihoods and economic growth will require carefully calibrated policies. A concerted effort will be needed to house refugees, meet their basic needs, and foster smooth integration into host communities. When the war subsides, a large mobilization of resources will be needed for reconstruction in Ukraine. Because of their substantial direct trade, financial, and migration ties with Russia and Ukraine, neighboring countries in Eastern Europe, especially the Republic of Moldova, are expected to suffer considerable economic damage. Currently, Moldova has no alternative for Russian natural gas, and the price of supply from other channels, in any case, would be higher than that of Russia. Given the high energy poverty in the country, it is highly unlikely that the majority of Moldovan people would want lower gas prices to be traded off for geopolitical gains. The supply of natural gas is one of the most sensitive issues that the Moldovan government has to deal with. Moldova is one of the countries that were most severely hit by the rise in natural gas prices and the recent sharp increase in gas prices became perhaps one of the most acute economic problems for the people of Moldova. In October 2021, Moldova extended its gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom following a bitter stand-off over price hikes. Moldovagaz, the national energy company half-owned by Gazprom, made the outstanding payment of a 74 million USD gas debt to Gazprom at the same time. The energy crisis due to the dependence on Russian gas, the price of which has almost tripled, has continued since last autumn.  On March 16, 2022, however, after years of preparatory work and in the middle of the war, the electricity grid of Ukraine and Moldova was successfully linked to the continental European network on a trial base. This will allow both Moldova and Ukraine to import electricity from the EU. The energy dimension of security in Moldova largely depends on the strategy of diversification of sources.Moldova’s response to Russian disinformation and propaganda during the warAfter the beginning of the “special operation” in Ukraine the independent media were closed in the Russian Federation. Echo of Moscow and Rain TV channel have been blocked, recognized by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation as foreign agent media; many editorial offices, including, and the BBC Russian Service announced the suspension of their activities because they do not see any opportunity to work under the conditions that the authorities have announced; other media faced being blocked, such as Meduza, the same for the BBC and, for some reason, The Village. Putin’s regime has focused on spreading disinformation and propaganda rhetoric both in the country and abroad. The perception of popularity, which has been created using media resources and PR technologies gives additional points for trust among the Russian population around the world. The level of trust in Vladimir Putin in Russia is very high – 77%. According to the dates of Moldova’s Public Opinion Barometer of the Institute of Public Policies, a great deal of trust in Vladimir Putin in 2021 had been placed – 28.8% of Moldovans respondents.Despite the European integration trajectory and the significant assistance received in this process from neighboring Romania, the main strategic partner of Moldova 32.5% perceived by respondents in the middle of 2021was Russia, 28.1% – Romania. The position of Moldovan authorThe position of Moldovan authorities in terms of combatting Russian propaganda and disinformation became more pronounced. Russian media remain influential in the Moldovan media landscape with high-rating TV stations, print and online media. Russian information resources continue to exert an obvious manipulative influence by spreading disinformation, in particular about the war, the position and actions of Ukrainian officials and Western countries. The impact of the Russian propaganda and disinformation is very high, especially for such regions as Transnistria, Gagauzia and the Northern regions of Moldova. The war in Ukraine does not seem to have changed radically people’s attitude toward Russia in these core Russophile regions of Moldova. In order to spread awareness about the Russian manipulative campaign, Moldovan president Maia Sandu promulgated in June the Informational Security Law, which bans the broadcast in Moldova of Russian TV news and political analysis. The law, designed to counter Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine, says that the ban will still apply after the expiration of the state of emergency established in Moldova after Russia invaded Ukraine. The normative act prohibits news and analytical broadcasts from countries that have not ratified the Convention on Transfrontier Television. It stipulates that 50 percent of TV content must come from EU countries, the United States and those states that have ratified the Convention. Fast forward to EuropeThe challenges the Republic of Moldova is currently facing in the security context are created by the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has brought instability and uncertainty to the region – but also a chance to rebuild the balance of power on the continent based on new, fairer rules. The new reality has shown us that authorities must act decisively if we want to anchor Moldova in a community that can offer stability and development. The European integration of the Republic of Moldova has enabled significant progress in terms of the country’s development over the past decade. According to the Public Opinion Barometer (2021), 65.1% of respondents were in favor of the future of Moldova in the EU.The positive perception of the European vector of development by the citizens of Moldova has significantly increased over the years of the existence of the Eastern Partnership, which is mainly the result of effective public diplomacy and the EU’s “soft power”.  For the Republic of Moldova, the European Union is, first of all, a peace project. Therefore, Moldova signed the EU membership application on March 3. EU accession is the only strategic option that offers the Republic of Moldova the chance to remain part of the free world. Moldova has an ambitious development agenda in cooperation with the European Union, but development requires peace. The Republic of Moldova has shown so far, a strong political will to promote the European agenda and pursue the necessary reforms. The Republic of Moldova is carrying out an intense lobbying campaign, having Romania, an EU member state, working side by side with Chisinau, to achieve this goal. In fact, all the states in the Eastern bloc support a favorable decision for the Republic of Moldova. The most difficult part was the process of completing the European Commission’s Questionnaire in an extremely short time (in the case of other states the process took up to several years), which required unprecedented synergy of actions. All this has demonstrated an amazing capacity of the authorities to mobilize, which despite the many crises facing our country, have allocated the necessary resources to achieve the national strategic objective. On June 23, 2022, the European Council decided to grant EU candidate status to the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. This is a victory for the citizens of Moldova and a victory for the strong political leadership of our country. ConclusionThe war requires a coordinated response at the national, regional and global levels. Political authorities of the Republic of Moldova need to avoid introducing distortive policies in response to surging commodity prices, opting instead to offer targeted support to vulnerable households and expand social safety nets. Pressures on fiscal space and increasing vulnerabilities also call for protecting essential basic services like health and education, and special approaches for the protection of vulnerable populations, especially low-income groups, refugees and the elderly. A still unfolding economic crisis requires carefully calibrated policies to ensure, in practice, the functionality and effectiveness of special crisis response measures. It is important to consider the direct and indirect economic consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war. A steep slowdown in Russia and Ukraine will affect neighboring countries, including Moldova, through disruptions to trade, financial, and remittance flows. The negative effects will lead to the severance of supply chains and transport links, and also impacts digital connectivity and associated services. The heightened risk perceptions by investors will result in a reduced level of foreign investments necessary for the sustainable development of the country. Higher energy prices will have important knock-on effects on the affordability and financial viability of electricity and heating services. Measures to increase energy efficiency will emerge as a key point. If the war, which is already affecting the Black Sea region and the global economy through large and unanticipated changes in the movement of people and commodities, is protracted, the conflict will affect major fiscal and financial implications. At the same time, tackling the conflict’s many spillovers, including the refugee flows, commodity market disruptions, food insecurity, and heightened financial market volatility will necessitate a comprehensive menu of national Moldovan policy priorities. Under these conditions, the Republic of Moldova will have to continue pursuing internal reforms and the modernization of the state, making efforts to promote the European integration. More attention should be paid to strengthening the control mechanisms for carrying out domestic reforms, as well as to the effectiveness of the political course and security policy, built on the principle of achieving practical results in ensuring and maintaining security on the European continent.

Defense & Security
puzzle reveals the flag of Kazakhstan and the inscription Russia, Concept, Mutual relations of both countries

After Ukraine, Is Kazakhstan Next in the Kremlin’s Sights?

by Temur Umarov

Kazakhstan is generally regarded as Russia’s closest ally after Belarus, so Moscow could have been forgiven for expecting some kind of support for its war with Ukraine from the Central Asian country. After all, Kazakhstan has always participated in all of Russia’s integration projects, including the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), where Kazakhstan cooperates with Russia on defense. Additionally, it was largely thanks to the Kremlin that Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev retained power in January when the country was rocked by political disturbances and violent clashes. Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, however, many in Russia have regarded Kazakhstan’s actions as being unworthy of an ally. It has adhered to Western sanctions against Russia, and in an appearance at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June, in the presence of President Vladimir Putin, Tokayev stated that Kazakhstan would not be recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.” Kazakhstan’s defiant rhetoric has been backed up by action, with Kazakh authorities sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine and maintaining contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russian military propaganda symbols have been banned in public places in Kazakhstan; the May 9 Victory Day parade was canceled; and official approval was even given for an anti-war rally in Almaty. When Kazakh oil being shipped through Russia ran into unexpected difficulties, therefore, many wondered if this was Russia exacting its revenge. Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that a hastily deleted post by former president—and now deputy chair of the Security Council—Dmitry Medvedev suggesting that after Ukraine, Moscow might turn its attention to the fate of northern Kazakhstan, was taken at face value by many people. But could Russia really enter into conflict with another of its neighbors?Kazakhstan has made political gestures in the past that have displeased Moscow, but they never prevented close cooperation between the two countries. Now, however, economic differences appear to have emerged, with the Kazakh side in no rush to help Russian companies bypass Western sanctions, opposing legalizing parallel imports and preventing Russian and Belarusian truckers from bringing in goods from Europe. In a move that is unlikely to be warmly received in Moscow, Kazakhstan is also giving a warm welcome to companies that are leaving Russia. Russia certainly has a variety of ways in which it can remind Kazakhstan of the price it will pay for worsening relations. It could cut off Kazakhstan’s main source of income: its lucrative oil exports. The oil and gas sector accounts for over 40 percent of the Kazakh state’s revenues, and 80 percent of its oil exports pass through Russian territory via the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), of which Russia is the largest stakeholder (31 percent). There are other possible export routes—via the port in Baku, by pipeline to China, or by rail to Uzbekistan—but they can’t match the CPC in terms of volume, price, or speed of delivery. By cutting off this key source of income for Kazakhstan, Moscow could also put pressure on the Central Asian state’s main customer, the European Union, demonstrating that a rejection of Russian oil would come with an additional loss for the EU of upwards of a million barrels of Kazakh oil a day. It’s possible that this was the veiled threat being sent when Russia twice—in mid-June and early July—brought the CPC’s operation to a standstill, citing technical issues. Both incidents followed statements from Tokayev that would have done little to please Moscow: one on Kazakhstan’s intention to observe anti-Russian sanctions, and the other on the country’s readiness to help stabilize the situation on Europe’s energy markets. Both stoppages were short-lived, but could have led to emergencies at Kazakh enterprises with continuous production cycles. Oil exports are by no means the only Kazakh pressure point that the Russians could exploit. Kazakhstan is critically reliant on imports from Russia for a range of food items, notably cooking oil, sugar, and milk. Russia is also a key source of petrochemicals, iron, and fertilizer for Kazakhstan, as well as imported car parts. Overall, Russia accounts for a fifth of Kazakhstan’s total external trade, while over half of Kazakhstan’s cargo flows pass through Russia. Again, alternative routes—to Europe via the Southern Caucasus, to the south through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, or by rail to China—are far more expensive. How the situation will develop is a matter of some debate. Following the invasion of Ukraine, almost anything in Russian foreign policy seems possible, and rational criteria cannot be relied upon to predict Moscow’s actions. It is unlikely, however, that Russia was counting on a great deal of support from Kazakhstan as it prepared its invasion. It’s also unlikely that Moscow would put up with direct criticism, but Kazakhstan hasn’t yet crossed that line, so Russian-Kazakh relations have not undergone a fundamental change. In Central Asia in general, Russia’s main priority has always been to reinforce friendly political regimes. Putting pressure on Kazakhstan now—throttling it economically, forcing it to support the war, and demanding a break with the West—would weaken the current leadership, which hasn’t yet fully recovered from the upheaval of January. Meanwhile, Tokayev’s readiness to publicly stand up to Moscow has only reinforced his position in Kazakh society. People are beginning to see him as an independent politician who is no longer reliant on his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, or on Putin. If the Kremlin attempts to force Tokayev to retreat from his position, it risks provoking a new wave of public discontent in Kazakhstan which, in turn, will impact the economic issues that have yet to be resolved. For now, Moscow appears keen to give the impression that Ukraine only has itself to blame and that it’s business as usual for Russia’s other neighbors and allies. Now that Russia is isolated from the West, it needs to demonstrate it has good relations elsewhere, not least in Central Asia. No surprise, then, that Medvedev’s post caused so much concern. Although the text was later removed and its authenticity denied, it reflected the expectations of the hawks in Russian society and is entirely in keeping with the current political dialogue within Russia, where hardly anything is taboo. Similar criticisms of Kazakhstan are regularly heard from Russian officials, not to mention the extremes reached by non-officials. The key factor here, though, is that Medvedev’s post simply transferred the same logic that it is applying to Ukraine to its relations with Kazakhstan. If the Kremlin sees that logic as being sufficient to justify a military invasion, what is to stop it doing the same in other former Soviet republics? For now, Moscow sees Kazakhstan as a friendly regime, but Russia’s criteria for friendship are becoming ever more amorphous. The regimes of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are closely intertwined, but Kazakhstan is now seeking its own path forward with a renewed leadership, a freer market economy, and an absence of hostilities with the West. As time goes on, Russia and Kazakhstan’s trajectories will become increasingly divergent, creating new sources of tension between them. As a result, there are now serious doubts that Moscow, with its varied arsenal for putting pressure on Kazakhstan, will be willing to let this ally go its own way without retribution.By:Temur Umarov

Defense & Security
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrive for Zapad 2021 joint military drills held by Russia and Belarus at Mulino training ground in Nizhniy Novgorod

Putin was convinced that it was necessary. What is the greatest danger surrounding the Russian retreat of from Kherson

by Oleksiy Melnyk

I see two important aspects here. The first one is military. The second is political. The news of the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu's order to withdraw from Kherson did not come as a surprise to me. On the other hand, it was really a pleasant surprise. It was clear that Russia's chances of keeping the right-bank part of Ukraine were decreasing day by day, and this is not an opinion of a cheering patriot or propagandist, because it is next to impossible to keep such a contingent, estimated at around 40,000, with all the equipment and logistics needs, while the two supply channels are under the enemy fire. Therefore, the question was only "when", or "how Kherson will be liberated": will it be retaken, or the occupiers will flee Kherson. Why did Russia delay this decision until now? This unfavourable situation was clear to them as soon as Ukraine started striking bridges with HIMARS. There are two important aspects here, in my opinion. The first one is military. The second is political. When Sergey Surovikin, as the newly appointed commander, spoke on October 18 about his readiness for "difficult decisions", he obviously had this in mind. But he, like any other Russian general, understood that he would not be allowed to do so without the go-ahead from the top. And it doesn't matter how he reasoned this retreat. Like any Russian general, he was afraid to tell Putin the truth. There is a Russian proverb about what happens to the one who brings bad news. Therefore, Surovikin tried to convey that a disaster awaited them on the right bank of the Dnieper in Kherson region, if they don’t decide to withdraw. The political value of Kherson is absolutely obvious. Russia (Kremlin, Putin) put themselves in a situation that could not be worse by declaring this territory Russian. Which could be an even more painful blow to the image of this great macho, who in fact showed his weakness? It involves both political and personal risks for Putin as the head of state, who presented himself as a macho man who had everything under control. In my opinion, either Evgeniy Prigozhin or Surovikin (by the way, there are rumours in Russian expert circles about agreements between Surovikin and Prigozhin), or both, might have convinced Putin that it was a necessary decision, and the political risks would be less catastrophic than if such a decision was not taken. Here, perhaps, lies the greatest danger, because such a decision might go with something that obviously should stop this information wave "everything is lost" in Russia. Our readers should at least mentally prepare for some unpleasant surprises awaiting us in the coming days. I think that our military leadership has calculated these risks and is preparing preventive measures. The next question, which is of interest not only to me, is how this retreat will take place? The thing is that compared with the "gesture of goodwill" at the end of March, then Ukrainian opportunities to pursue the retreating units were quite limited. So it was hardly a gentlemanly gesture on our part. Let's not take the Snake Island, because its case was special due to its location, but in September — October, we saw an uncontrolled process of Russians fleeing in the Kharkiv region. All — thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian forces could counterattack and pursue them. What is the Russian scenario of withdrawal from Kherson? What will be the tactics of our military? In open sources, I did not see any hint of the existence of, I would not say, political but some kind of gentlemen's agreements, that in exchange for such a "gesture of goodwill" Ukraine would allow these troops to leave the right bank unhampered. They are extremely vulnerable precisely for the reason I mentioned earlier — there are only two main ways to the left bank. They are under the Ukrainian artillery control. The fewer Russian forces are left on the right bank, the easier it will be for Ukrainians to cut this retreat altogether. So I don't know what the tactics of the Ukrainian side will be. Can they just be allowed to leave? Maybe so. But we understand that these 40,000 will not go to the Kerch Bridge — they will be immediately redeployed in another direction. So, if we allow them to leave quietly, in a week or two they should be expected near  Donetsk or Zaporizhia, and will try to storm them from the south. Obviously, there will be no lull in the coming days and weeks. It will not be like the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, when there was an agreement between the command and the enemy side that they would not touch the convoys moving towards the USSR. I do not think that the withdrawal from Kherson region is a bluff or a deceptive manoeuvre, despite all the Russian treachery. It is really impossible to hold Kherson region on the right bank, the price is extremely high. They will explain this withdrawal on their TV: Apparently, the Ukrainians threatened to blow up the Kakhovka dam, so they decided to save the lives of both military and civilians. For me, this gives some understanding that the threat of its explosion is minimal, at least at the moment. The intact Kakhovka dam is better for the Russians than if it were blown up. However, the risk of its explosion is not eliminated, only postponed, and when Russia is forced to demonstrate another "gesture of good will" — leave Nova Kakhovka and lose control of the Kakhovka dam — this threat will be extremely high. The Kakhovka dam means not only flooding of the territories downstream of the Dnieper but also a real threat to the Zaporizhia NPP — a threat of a disaster comparable to Japanese Fukushima.

Defense & Security
Crimea crisis 2014, Minesweeper U311 Cherkasy of Ukrainian Naval Forces on Donuzlav Lake few hours before it was taken by Russian troops

What goals drove Russia in 2014 and 2015 during the escalation and ongoing conflict in Ukraine?

by Beqa Bochorishvili

In this article we will talk about Russia's goals in 2014 and 2015, it will be analyzed from the categories of diplomacy, economy, and military directions. Throughout various periods in history, the leaders of the Russian state have consistently exhibited a profound fascination with the Black Sea region, particularly the Crimean peninsula and its strategically vital port of Sevastopol. Following Russia's defeat in the Crimean War in 1856, when it was compelled to comply with conditions imposed by France and England, including the relinquishment of its military base in Sevastopol, Russia has persistently pursued routes to gain control over Crimea and exploit its potential for dominating the Black Sea region. This pursuit remains ongoing to this day. During the era of Catherine the Great, Russia seized this strategically significant territory. However, in a later period, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Social Republic, transferred this region to the Socialist Republic of Ukraine, where it remained under Ukrainian control even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Notably, for official Moscow, the port of Sevastopol retained immense importance for its geopolitical interests, as it was controlled through an agreement signed with Ukraine in 1997. This port plays a crucial role in supporting Russia's Black Sea Fleet, enabling it to project power in the region. Its significance was underscored during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, as well as earlier conflicts like the Abkhazia war, during which Russia deployed its armed forces from the port of Sevastopol. On the Crimean Peninsula before its annexation, there were two separate armies representing Ukraine and Russia respectively. Both sides were perceived as legitimate by the local population, and there was no doubt regarding their legitimacy. As mentioned earlier, in the 20th century, Khrushchev transferred the Crimean Peninsula to the Ukrainian Socialist Republic. However, since both territories were integral parts of the Soviet Socialist Republic, the transfer held more symbolic significance than strategic implications. At that time, nobody foresaw the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent struggle for a new balance of power in the region. Given the substantial Russian population residing in Crimea, fostering active cooperation with the Russian Federation held great importance. Exploiting this situation, Russia employed covert operations, including the infiltration of Kremlin operatives disguised as local militia personnel, to gather information and influence the local climate. Furthermore, the Kremlin carried out a propaganda campaign aimed at stoking skepticism towards both local and central authorities, thereby making the population more receptive to the Kremlin's policies. Undoubtedly, the Russian military played a substantial role in the annexation of Crimea. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant impact of Russian propaganda and agitation mentioned earlier. The events of 2014 served as a stark reminder that Russia's relations and attitudes towards the Western world and post-Soviet countries are not isolated or independent matters. Simultaneously, the expansion of the European Union and NATO towards the eastern borders, nearing Russia's vicinity, was perceived by the Kremlin as both a challenge and a threat, seen as encroaching upon Russian interests. Throughout history, Russia has consistently viewed Ukraine as an intrinsic part of the Slavic world, particularly the Russian sphere of influence. It has regarded Ukraine's role as that of a buffer state positioned between Europe and Russia. To impede Ukraine's inclination towards the West, Russia made considerable efforts to redirect its trajectory away from the European Union, utilizing figures like Viktor Yanukovych. Subsequently, following the notable events of the Maidan Revolution in 2014, Russia initiated an active military campaign. These actions underscored Ukraine's pivotal position within the Kremlin's interests, highlighting its significance to Russian geopolitical objectives. The events that unfolded in the heart of Kyiv in 2013, along with the preceding wave of protests, were sparked by the pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign Ukraine's Association Agreement with the European Union. These incidents escalated into violent clashes between protesters and state security forces, serving as a stark reminder of Russia's unwavering determination to extend its influence over the country. Consequently, by "recruiting" Ukraine into its fold, Russia aimed to establish an axis of absolute power within its leadership, leveraging the collaboration between the two states. Indeed, events unfolded in a manner that resulted in Russia experiencing a significant geopolitical setback. However, this setback did not deter Russia from pursuing its goals. Instead, it deliberately executed a two-fold campaign. The first objective was the annexation of Crimea, while the second involved fomenting a series of protests in eastern Ukraine, which eventually escalated into a full-fledged rebellion. By adopting this approach, Russia aimed to assert its control over Crimea and fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine, furthering its strategic interests in the region. All this was very easy for Russia and it achieved its goals practically without resistance because, at the local level, the local population received the Russian military forces as friendly and considered them saviors. While Putin's actions may appear contradictory to the goal of restoring the Soviet Union, it is evident that his primary objective is to maintain the current political system under his leadership. The ongoing events in Ukraine serve as a demonstration of how crucial internal stability is, particularly for Russian-speaking communities. Preserving his power and leadership within the existing political framework is of utmost importance to Putin. It is worth noting that the Russian economy has faced degradation in recent years, particularly following the 2008 financial crisis. Previously, Putin enjoyed an 80 percent popularity rating with the country experiencing a seven percent annual economic growth. However, the current situation has seen a slight decline in his popularity, now standing at around 60 percent. This decline coincided with a slowdown in economic growth, with the economy shrinking to 1.4 percent per year in 2013. Consequently, Russia, and specifically Putin, feared that this economic stagnation would not be temporary but rather become a systemic and irreversible issue. Russia feels threatened by the West. It is particularly unacceptable for it to expand the European Union, and especially NATO, closer to its borders. The Ukraine crisis has turned into a zero-sum game where the winner gets everything and the loser gets nothing. In 2010, Ukrainian President Yanukovych and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Kharkiv Agreement, which entailed a lease agreement for Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. This agreement extended from 2017 to 2042 and included provisions such as discounted gas imports worth around 40 billion dollars for Ukraine. The primary objective of this strategic move was to safeguard the sovereignty of the Russian fleet in the region, particularly if Ukraine aligned itself with the Western world. However, it is important to note that Russia's motivations in the Ukrainian and Crimean conflicts were not solely focused on stabilization and de-escalation. Rather, it aimed to secure its naval power in the Black Sea region and maintain dominance over the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. This was done to mitigate potential threats that could undermine Russia's influence in the region. The Black Sea region holds significant economic influence for Russia, serving as a crucial transit route for its energy exports to Europe. Before the 2022 war, Russia accounted for over 25 percent of Europe's total oil exports, with approximately one-third being transported via oil tankers through the Black Sea. Moreover, the region acts as a gateway to the Middle East, facilitating partnerships between Russia and numerous countries. Consequently, the Black Sea region represents a vital economic asset for Russia. By annexing Crimea, Russia was able to secure its naval power and dominance in the area. It had further plans to develop Novorossiysk, one of its largest and most important shipping ports. Additionally, Russia had ambitious aspirations for the renewal of its Navy, which would be considered one of the most significant developments in the future. The implementation of these plans would bolster Russia's provision of navigation and enhance its control of sea lines and communication in the Black Sea. Russia would also increase its military and political exercises to exert control and prevent potential internal conflicts that could pose a threat. By safeguarding its economic and security interests in the Mediterranean, Russia aimed to improve economic dynamics and protect its economy. Overall, these actions aimed to strengthen Russia's position and influence in the Black Sea region. Following the annexation of Crimea, Russia gained the ability to construct and upgrade its bases in the Black Sea region, thereby bolstering its military power without interference from the West or Ukraine. The reconstruction of the Black Sea Fleet enables Russia to maintain sovereignty over Sevastopol and the broader Black Sea region. This provides an opportunity for Russia to enhance and modernize its military equipment, including coastal missiles, ground forces, aircraft, and transit routes. While the annexation of Crimea has granted Russia certain advantages, it has also created new risks of tensions and confrontations in the Black Sea region. Regional and external actors have mobilized against Russia in response to these developments, posing challenges and potential conflicts in the area. It is important to recognize that the annexation of Crimea has not only altered the geopolitical landscape but has also sparked concerns and opposition from various stakeholders in the region. The annexation of Crimea indeed served to bolster Russia's sovereignty and strengthen its control over the Black Sea Fleet, particularly in Sevastopol, as outlined in the Kharkiv Agreement. By gaining control over Crimea, Russia was able to secure and enhance its transit routes for energy exports to both Europe and Asia. Moreover, the inclusion of Crimea within the Russian Federation has reduced the pressure and influence exerted by external actors, most notably the United States and NATO. This has allowed Russia to exert greater control and diminish the influence of these external forces in the region. It is indeed possible to argue that Russia's involvement and motivations in Ukraine and Crimea were not primarily driven by a desire to reduce unrest or protect the pro-Russian population within Ukraine. Instead, the situation with pro-Russians provided a convenient justification for Putin to intervene. By portraying itself as the protector of the pro-Russian population and defending them against perceived Western forces, Putin was able to boost his popularity among the Russian population. Simultaneously, Russia aimed to establish itself as a dominant state in the diplomatic arena, showcasing its ability to assert its interests and challenge Western influence. Therefore, Putin's Russia seemed to have pursued dual objectives, leveraging the situation to both consolidate domestic support and enhance its position on the global stage. It is accurate to recognize that great powers strive to secure wealth and resources, as a strong economy leads to enhanced military power and defense capabilities. In this context, Russia's approach to the Black Sea region can be attributed to its pursuit of rich natural resources and strategic dominance, as well as the potential for profitable transit routes to Europe and Central Asia. The annexation of Crimea has presented opportunities for Russia to strengthen its economy and expand its influence in the region. One of Russia's key economic goals in the Black Sea region is to control important transit routes and energy exports to Europe, given its significant contribution to Europe's oil consumption, accounting for over 25 percent. Additionally, Ukraine plays a notable role in the global grain market, ranking seventh in grain exports in 2014-2015, with 37.9 million tons of wheat. By gaining control over these resources, Russia could secure substantial profits from the wheat trade, exert influence over market prices, and leverage this resource as a mechanism for influencing other states. The economic considerations associated with the Black Sea region align with Russia's aim to strengthen its economy, expand its market reach, and exert greater geopolitical influence. These factors highlight the economic motivations behind Russia's approach and engagement in the Black Sea region. Considering that Crimea now belongs to Russia, it becomes clear that one of the reasons why the annexation of the peninsula was carried out; Economic benefits and a window of opportunity that involves adjusting the role of the main player in the Black Sea region and excluding Western influences. Great powers also seek to gain land power through military means, as this is the best possible way to gain maximum control over the region. This means that the most important military assets for states are land forces, reinforced by strong air and naval forces. In other words, states try to strengthen their military potential to compete with the rest of the world, which consists of territorial hegemons. Before and during the Cold War era, the Black Sea region practically belonged to Russia, but after the collapse of the USSR, it became a more or less vulnerable region. However, in recent years, the actions of the United States and the West have forced Russia to strengthen its power in the region in order not to lose control and influence. In addition, another advantage of the Black Sea region from the Russian perspective is that this area is the way to the Middle East, where Russia has partnerships with many countries. Therefore, the Black Sea is a very important economic asset for Russia. Crimea, especially Sevastopol, plays a very important role for Russia since the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed there. After Ukraine's independence, it became Russia's goal to maintain its navy and bases in Crimea. However, the problem, arising in the context of the Ukraine crisis, was the fear that if Ukraine were to be admitted to the EU under the 2013 agreement, it would affect Russia's influence and dominance in the Black Sea in the long term. The Kharkiv agreement would have given Russia the opportunity until 2042 to modernize and expand the Black Sea fleet. The annexation of Crimea, as well as the agreement signed in Kharkiv, increased the presence of the Russian fleet in the region and allowed it to begin the development of the Black Sea Fleet, which is assessed as one of the most ambitious military naval reforms in the region. This would further increase Russia's naval power in the long run. In conclusion, Russia has managed to secure the region for its good and thereby created a wider and better coastline for itself, which will strengthen Russia's military power in the future and thus reduce the influence of external actors on the Black Sea. Russia can improve the provision of navigation and maritime communication lines in the Black Sea. This will further increase military, economic, and political influence and prevent domestic conflicts, as well as eliminate the possibility of external pressures that could undermine Russia's security. Therefore, it can be argued from a futuristic perspective that if Russia's actions like this continue successfully, it will be able to protect its economy as well as its security interests in the Mediterranean.

Defense & Security
Ukraine map with the red pin showing Nova Kakhovka

What Ukraine dam breach means for the country’s counteroffensive and aid deployment

by Christopher Morris

The humanitarian and ecological challenges caused by the breaching of the Nova Kakhovka dam present massive challenges for Ukraine, as it launches its long-awaited offensive. Mounting operations to assist and evacuate civilians from affected areas will deplete manpower and resources when the conflict is at a critical juncture. This is to Russia’s advantage. While Ukraine has already deployed an emergency response, there is little indication that Russia has either the capacity or inclination to assist in the humanitarian effort. Thousands are expected to have to leave their homes as waters flood dozens of villages. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has already called on the international community to offer immediate aid. Kyiv and Moscow have both accused each other of bombing people being evacuated. The circumstances surrounding the destruction of the dam on the Dnipro River remain difficult to determine. But the incident is being discussed as a possible war crime and an act of terror, with Russia indicated as the likely perpetrator. While it will be some time before all the details are clear, the event is certainly going to influence events on the battlefield. An attack of this nature can form part of a military strategy. After all, the destruction of Irpin dam in February 2022 played an important role in checking Russian advances earlier in the conflict. In this case, however, the relatively modest military benefit in no way justifies the massive and far-reaching destruction unleashed by the floodwaters. The rising water levels caused by the damage will, of course, have some implications for the campaign. Downstream any crossing of the river will become difficult for the foreseeable future, with the surging waters damaging any remaining infrastructure. The flooded ground may struggle to bear the weight of tanks and artillery as well, limiting the potential routes south for an attacking force. The scale of the disaster introduces many human factors to the battlefield, with displaced civilians further complicating any operations in the region. The result is that a significant portion of the frontline is now difficult to access, leaving Russia with less space to actively defend. While these are significant considerations and will complicate the nature of the battlefield from the Ukrainian perspective, the fundamental balance of power in the region remains unchanged. Ukrainian forces have demonstrated their adaptability from the outset in this conflict, and this will serve them well in the next phases. Having taken the time to integrate the training and equipment received from western partners, the forces compromising the Ukrainian counteroffensive will be able to effectively adapt to events of this nature. Current operations show that Ukrainian land forces are effectively probing for Russian weaknesses  in the south and east. These smaller advances – so called shaping operations – which provide intelligence and fix Russian forces in place, are taking place across a wide front. Ukrainian leadership remain quiet on specifics, but when its more heavily equipped brigades do move forward, they will benefit from these earlier efforts to shape the battlefield in their favour. Russian troops overstretched The Nova Kakhovka dam’s breach will do nothing to improve the status of Russian forces. While in the short term, there is now perhaps less frontline to defend, their troops are still overstretched. The fractured Russian leadership will struggle to effectively respond to any setbacks, and the equipment and human resources they currently have available remain of poor quality. If Nova Kakhovka was an attempt to replicate earlier events, in which Ukraine submerged the Irpin floodplain to interfere with the Russian advance to Kyiv, then it has not been successful. If it was the eve of a Russian offensive, an event of this nature might have been disastrous for them, with their rigid command structures and traumatised land forces incapable of adapting on the fly. This is not Russia’s moment, however. For the Ukrainian side, this is a setback that can be overcome. As well as growing disparities in training and equipment, the incident highlights the profound difference in the mindset and ability to adapt between the respective sides. Unfortunately, we may see more attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure as the offensive presses on. The Russian state clearly prefers to break what it cannot control. While attacks on civilian infrastructure may have little impact on how the conflict plays out, the Russian strategy is now about inflicting pain on the Ukrainian side by any available means. This could indicate that Moscow no longer views these areas as future Russian assets that can be assimilated relatively intact, but instead as areas it can devastate to harm the interests of the rightful owner.

Defense & Security
Aleksandr Lukashenko with Vladimir Putin

Ukraine war: Russia’s threat to station nuclear warheads in Belarus – what you need to know

by Natalya Chernyshova

The threat of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine is “real” and “absolutely irresponsible”, according to the US president, Joe Biden. He was reacting to questioning from journalists as to whether he believed Belarus had been taking delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons. If true, it’s the first time Russia has deployed nuclear warheads outside its borders since the end of the cold war. This does not immediately mean a nuclear escalation with Nato, since Russian nuclear missiles stationed in the Kaliningrad region already put Poland and the Baltic states within range. Experts are sceptical about Russia’s intentions to use these weapons in Ukraine. But the presence of tactical nuclear arms in Belarus has, nevertheless, important implications for European security. It would change the nature of the relationship between Russia and Belarus and bring Belarus deeper under Russian control. The two countries are already in what is known as a “union state” after longtime Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko and Boris Yeltsin signed a series of treaties in the mid-1990s. These made for “deeper economic integration” and the “formation of a single economic space” as well as the coordination of foreign policy and military activities between the two countries. The “union” was relatively loose until the 2020 mass protests in Belarus pushed the desperate Lukashenko to agree to a much closer economic and military integration with Russia. The real target Noting that this is “not an escalation from Putin’s prior nuclear weapons rhetoric”, the Institute for the Study of War says this is more about increasing Moscow’s military grip over Belarus: “The Kremlin likely intends to use these requirements to further subordinate the Belarusian security sphere under Russia.” The warheads will be under Russian control. Storage facilities are reported to be under construction for completion in early July. This will require a significant Russian military presence and permanent military bases in Belarus. Belarusians do not want to have Russian nuclear weapons on their soil. Researchers from Chatham House who regularly conduct surveys in Belarus have found that 74% of respondents in their March 2023 survey objected to deployment. The rejection of nukes is even more dramatic when analysed by which media the respondents are consuming. Belarus state media beats a relentlessly pro-Moscow drum. Among those who do not consume state media between 97% and 98% are opposed. The prospect of Russian military bases is hardly more popular, with only 24% of respondents supporting it in an earlier Chatham House survey in June 2022. The idea of a single foreign policy and army with Russia was backed by a mere 9% in the March 2023 survey. This is yet another indicator of the chasm between the regime and the people, which was made evident by the 2020 protests, the largest in recent Belarusian history. Belarusians are traditionally wary of having to choose sides when it comes to political alliances. And, despite a “vote” ratifying an amendment to the country’s constitution to allow Russia to station nuclear weapons on its soil, the country is increasingly divided between those who look to Russia and those who are in favour of closer relations with western Europe. After Russia went into Ukraine, a Chatham House survey found that 47% were against the invasion, while only 33% were in favour. Another poll found 93% would not support Belarus entering the war. Fallout from Chornobyl And Belarusians also have a good reason to be strongly opposed to nuclear weapons. The memory of the Chornobyl disaster in 1986. About 70% of the radioactive fallout landed on its territory, and there is evidence that Moscow deliberately seeded clouds so that radioactive rain fell over Belarus rather than drift towards Moscow. The political fallout was slower but no less significant: over the years, Chornobyl commemorations have become an annual rallying point for anti-Lukashenko opposition. It also helped ensure that independent Belarus was the first among post-Soviet nations to abandon its Soviet nuclear arsenal. These points seem lost on Lukashenko, who has publicly declared that he will not consider the opinion of the Belarusian people about using nuclear weapons. Opposition opinions are dangerous in Belarus, and state terror against all criticism of the regime has only intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine. The number of those arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms has been steadily growing. As of June 21, Belarus had 1,492 political prisoners. This is just the tip of the iceberg of repression. Not only opposition activists, NGO workers, and independent journalists, but anyone who can be linked to the 2020 protests or who ever spoke out against the regime on social media is at risk of arrest. The recent UN Human Rights Office report decried “the unacceptable picture of impunity and the near-total destruction of civic space and fundamental freedoms in Belarus”, including the systematic use of unlawful detention, violence and torture. Consequences for Belarus and beyond Lukashenko is playing a dangerous game. Belarus’s economic dependence on Moscow, already heavy, has been deepened further by western sanctions and the war in Ukraine. Russia’s share in Belarus’ trade grew from 49% in 2021 to 60% in late 2022. Recently, a joint tax agreement with Russia, previously resisted by Minsk, reduced Belarusian control over taxation. According to the independent Belarusian monitoring organisation, the Hajun Project, there is no evidence that any warheads have arrived. But deploying Russian nuclear warheads would lead to Moscow’s permanent military presence. It would mean further loss of authority for Lukashenko and his generals. And worse, if Putin did decide to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine, it would be an easier decision to launch them from Belarus and let them reap the whirlwind of retaliation. Consolidating his control over Belarus would be a significant strategic victory for Putin’s imperial ambitions. Preoccupied with fighting in Ukraine and lacking a clear and decisive policy on Belarus, the west has no obvious immediate response. But if Moscow follows through with its threat it would be a dangerous moment – not just for Belarus but for Europe as a whole.

Defense & Security
President of France Emmanuel Macron

French Defence and Foreign Policy and the War in Ukraine

by Dr. Ronald Hatto

After many years of struggle against Islamist terrorism, the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was an electric shock for France. The country now seems more committed to a reinforced Euro-Atlantic security partnership. Since 2012, France has been under a constant threat of Islamist terrorist attacks. These reached their peak in 2015 with the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in January and at the Bataclan theatre in November. These threats explain why the French government has decided to intervene where terrorists are most likely to proliferate – the goal being to neutralise them before they could reach France or other European countries. The two regions where the French military have operated against terrorists have been in the Middle East and the Sahel. Meanwhile, the relationship between Paris and select NATO allies have to led to some difficult diplomatic tensions. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Emmanuel Macron told The Economist in October 2019. At the time, the United States (US) had failed to consult NATO before pulling forces out of northern Syria, while Turkey – another important NATO ally – pushed inside Syria, threatening US and French interests with no reaction from the alliance. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine modified Paris’ defence and foreign policy but perhaps not enough to face the challenges ahead. France and NATO: A difficult partnership Following the “brain death” episode, the tensions between France and Turkey escalated and reached a peak in June 2020 when, according to the French Navy, a Turkish ship flashed its radar at the French vessels during operation Sea Guardian. This mission was a NATO maritime security operation in the eastern Mediterranean, deployed after the United Nations imposed an embargo on arms supplies to Libya. Once again, NATO did nothing to reprimand Turkey for its anti-alliance behaviour. These episodes are just two in a long series of tensions between France and NATO. It is rather well known that France and some of its NATO allies have been barely civil since the end of the Cold War; the most complicated relationship being the one with the US. If Macron has been frustrated at the absence of a reaction from the alliance, France has also manoeuvred to upset its allies also. To understand France’s at times awkward relationship with the US, one must note that there are strong French political currents opposed to a supposed American hegemony. The far left and the far right are the most obvious, but even moderate conservatives may sometimes adopt a discourse reminiscent of Charles De Gaulle from the 1960’s that pushed France outside of NATO’s integrated command. Today, those against “Atlanticism” are either anti-capitalism (far left), pro-sovereignty (far right) or for national or European independence (conservatives). They all share a more-or-less anti-liberal ideology and they all tend to perceive Russia positively. The far left seems to think Russia is the successor of communist Soviet Union. The far right and the conservatives are fond of Putin’s anti-Islam discourse and his defence of traditional values. Meanwhile, many people serving in the French military are also sympathetic to Russia. This broad support for states that may “resist US hegemony” in France may explain the initial moderation of president Macron’s position vis-à-vis Russia. This anti-American sentiment is reinforced by the fact that France still seems to see itself as a major player in international relations. In April 2023, after a visit to China, Macron told journalists that Europe must resist becoming America’s “vassal.” This infuriated many allies in Europe, North America, and Japan, and it did nothing to strengthen European defence capabilities or strategic autonomy, paradoxically one of Macron’s goals before going to China. NATO: The inescapable actor According to President Macron himself, the war in Ukraine revived the “brain-dead” NATO. On the other hand, it seems to have had the opposite effect on French ambitions to be a central global player or a European security leader. Declarations regarding security guarantees to Russia, and the fact that France has contributed relatively less to the defence of Ukraine than some of its allies, have weakened its stature in Europe. That’s why Paris seems ready to work more closely with NATO, even if some incoherence still weakens the clarity of the message. Three things point in the direction of greater cooperation between France and its NATO allies. The first, following Macron’s speech in Bratislava in May 2023, is the new Loi de programmation militaire (military programming law) for military manoeuvres. The best example of recent joint military manoeuvres is ORION 2023 that started in 2021 and was terminated in May 2023. These were the largest exercises in thirty years for the French military and they involved, in their final phase during the Spring 2023, around 14 allies, including Indian air force Rafale jets. In ORION, France proved it was ready to act as a NATO framework-nation in a high-intensity-warfare scenario. This reassured France’s allies who were rattled by president Macron’s various statements since 2019. With its departure from the Sahel, France has at last been able to focus more seriously on European security. Another signal pointing at a switch in the French posture towards Transatlantic security was Macron’s speech in Bratislava. The French president wanted to reassure his allies about the role of NATO in European security. He did not emphasise “strategic autonomy,” preferring to highlight the importance of becoming better allies to the United States. He even mentioned that Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine had revived NATO. The last element regarding France’s decision to play a more constructive role in Transatlantic security is the military programming law for 2024-2030. At first sight, this law is impressive: with an estimated cost of €413 billion over the next seven years, this would bring the defence budget to €69 billion in 2030, up from €44 billion in 2023 and €32 billion in 2017. The problem is that, like Germany or the United Kingdom (UK), we don’t know if this new money will really boost European military capacity. In the case of France and UK, a large part of the military budget is dedicated to nuclear deterrence rather than for the needs of a high intensity conventional conflict like the one in Ukraine. What is more, inflation will chew through a relatively important part of this new budget. It is an important question then to ask if the new defence budget will boost France’s conventional military capacity to face a high intensity conflict in Europe or other technological capabilities to help project power far from France’s borders. Only time will tell. But allies must keep an eye on what the French government does rather than on what it says. With the importance of the populist and radical political movements, and also the constant threat of terrorism, a return to self-centred defence and foreign policy is always a possibility.

Defense & Security
Polish Army's Leopard 2A5 and 2PL and Rosomak IFV at International Defence Industry Exhibition in Kielce, Poland

The impact of the war in Ukraine on Polish arms industrial policy

by Lorenzo Scarazzato , Anastasia Cucino

One of the many knock-on impacts of Russia’s war against Ukraine has been a surge in demand for military equipment and ammunition in Europe. Poland is one of several Central European countries whose arms industries have seen a marked increase in orders: from their national governments, from European allies buying materiel to give to Ukraine and to replenish their own stockpiles, and from Ukraine itself. Since February 2022, Poland has been among the top suppliers of major arms to Ukraine, not least because it held stocks of Soviet-era equipment that Ukraine’s armed forces still relied on in the first months after the invasion. Demand seems likely to remain high as, on top of the orders already placed, many European states have pledged to increase military spending in response to a heightened perceived threat from Russia. This blog looks at how Poland, which has the biggest domestic arms industry in Central Europe, is using this opportunity to pursue a long-held ambition to modernize its armed forces and grow its arms industry, targeting new markets, diversifying product portfolios and finally moving beyond its post-Soviet legacy. The long road to military modernization in Poland During the cold war, many Central and East European states developed large domestic arms industries to produce Soviet-designed military equipment for the forces of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. The cold war’s end sounded the death knell for many of the region’s arms producers. Between the mid 1980s and 2000, for example, employment in Poland’s arms industry fell by 76 per cent. Nevertheless, successive Polish governments decided it would be strategic to maintain a domestic arms industry. A series of attempts to revitalize the industry during the 1990s and 2000s met with limited success. Poland’s accession to NATO in 1999 was one opportunity, given the Alliance’s military spending requirements and common equipment standards. The government tried to ensure that Polish companies were given a role in producing and servicing new NATO-standard equipment that was procured for the Polish Armed Forces. Despite this, the Polish arms industry remained a marginal player on the global stage, often still producing equipment based on Soviet-era designs. ‘Polonization’—the participation of Polish partners in the manufacture and delivery of imported weapon systems—has been a key element in Polish military modernization drives and an important criterion in evaluating bids from foreign suppliers. Not only does it provide income for Polish companies, but it also gives them access to new technologies and skills. The latest Polish military modernization programme was launched in 2020 as part of an updated National Security Strategy, largely in response to a perceived growing threat from Russia. Much like its predecessors, it aims to ‘Create conditions for the Polish defence industry . . . to meet long-term needs of the Polish Armed Forces’, while ‘strengthening operational capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces to deter and defend against security threats, with particular emphasis on enhancing the level of mobility and technical modernisation’. In 2020 it was estimated that around 60 per cent of Poland’s budget for military procurement and modernization was allocated to the domestic industry. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 provided new impetus and a month later the government passed the Homeland Defence Act to reorganize its national defence policy and increase military expenditure to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2023. In January 2023 Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that the course of the war in Ukraine meant Poland needed to ‘arm ourselves even faster’ and pushed the military spending target up to 4 per cent of GDP. Once again, the domestic arms industry was to play an important role in—and be a key beneficiary of—the military modernization plans. Key ‘Polonized’ procurement deals since the start of the war During 2022 the estimated share of Polish military spending dedicated to procurement jumped from 20.4 to 35.9 per cent, largely due to a flurry of new bilateral arms procurement deals. The state-owned arms industry group Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ), which has been the biggest actor in the Polish arms industry since a consolidation programme in 2014, has been the main beneficiary of the Polonization requirements built into these deals. In March 2022 Poland selected the United Kingdom’s Babcock as a partner to support a consortium led by PGZ in delivering new frigates to the Polish Navy. The ships will be built in Poland and Babcock will provide design specifications and transfer technologies and skills to the consortium members. Six months later, Poland signed a deal with Korea Aerospace Industries for FA-50 light attack aircraft, which will replace Poland’s Soviet-designed MiG-29s and Su-22s. The deal is worth $3 billion and includes setting up a service facility for the new aircraft, which is to be operated by PGZ. In November another contract was signed, worth $5.7 billion, for the supply of South Korean K2 main battle tanks and K9 self-propelled howitzers for the Polish Armed Forces. Some are to come from existing stock while others are to be produced by South Korean–Polish consortiums. In the same month, PGZ also signed an agreement with BAE Systems for the delivery of M88 armed recovery vehicles and armoured multi-purpose vehicles to the Polish Armed Forces. In February 2023 the Polish government placed an order with PGZ subsidiary Huta Stalowa Wola for 1400 Borsuk infantry fighting vehicles. The Borsuk is a new model developed to replace the Soviet-era BMP-1 and is to be produced in Poland based on a Korean chassis. In March South Korean producer Hyundai Rotem signed a consortium agreement with PGZ for the production of K2s in Poland. PGZ subsidiaries will also cooperate with the South Korean Hanwha Group to produce the K9s as well as K239 Chunmoo multiple-rocket launchers, which are to be integrated with trucks and other technologies produced in Poland under a $3.55 billion contract signed in November 2022. Hanwha has said it plans to increase its presence in Poland and work with local companies to develop and build a variety of military systems. In April, in what has been hailed as the ‘largest European short-range air defence acquisition programme in NATO’, the trans-European arms producer MBDA won a $2.4 billion contract to provide Poland with missiles and missile launchers to be integrated with the PGZ-produced Pilica+ air defence system. The two companies ‘continue to work towards contracting the technology transfer and Polish manufacture of the mid-tier . . . air defence programme’. Last month, Poland expressed interest in joining South Korea’s 4.5-generation KF-21 Boramae combat aircraft programme. If the partnership is given the green light, it would mean an upgrade to Poland’s air force capabilities, and PGZ would once again be involved in the industrial process. Opportunities and risks There is little doubt that the war in Ukraine has caused ripple effects across the arms industries in the whole of Europe. While for Poland helping Ukraine is a matter of national and regional security, the war is also catalysing steps to upgrade and modernize its arms industry. Poland sees an unprecedented opportunity to finally achieve its ambitions and become a more significant player in the global arms industry. The pre-1989 origins of the Polish arms industry have strongly influenced its recent fortunes, particularly in terms of products and customers. Since the end of the cold war, Poland has been trying to distance its arms industry from its Soviet legacy, for military, political and commercial reasons. However, one modernization and investment programme after another has been delayed, abandoned or simply fallen short of ambitions. While Poland is still a major importer of major arms, its approach has been to balance off-the-shelf imports to fulfil immediate needs with Polonization deals to develop domestic production capacity for the long term. Modernization and Polonization seem to currently be in full swing: contracts with major foreign companies positively impact the visibility and attractiveness of the Polish domestic arms industry, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Coupled with increased Polish military spending and the most recent spending pledges, the current demand means the Polish arms industry’s prospects seem good for the next few years. However, basing ambitious long-term investment and modernization plans on the response to temporary, largely external events is something of a gamble. Several factors could change the prospects for Poland’s arms industry, such as a shift in governments’ spending priorities or new European policies on arms industry integration. If something like that were to happen, Poland’s ambitions for its arms industry could once again be undermined.

Defense & Security
Depicted pictures Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin with shadowed faces

How “Putin’s chef” undermined the Kremlin’s case for invading Ukraine

by Ani Mejlumyan , Nika Aleksejeva

In a June 23 video released on one of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Telegram channels the morning he launched his mutiny, the Wagner founder undermined core false narratives Russian President Vladimir Putin used to justify launching his war of aggression against Ukraine in February 2022. While the impact of Prigozhin’s remarks remains to be seen, they serve as evidence of how Putin attempted to deceive domestic audiences and the international community, both of which may come with long-term consequences for the Russian president.  The Kremlin and its proxies spent the years and months leading up to the invasion attempting to paint Ukraine as the aggressor. As the DFRLab outlined in Narrative Warfare: How the Kremlin and Russian news outlets justified a war of aggression against Ukraine, Putin and his pro-Kremlin media proxies employed false and misleading narratives to justify military action against Ukraine, mask the Kremlin’s operational planning, and deny any responsibility for the coming war. “Collectively, these narratives served as Vladimir Putin’s casus belli to engage in a war of aggression against Ukraine,” the report noted. Over the course of the thirty-minute video, Prigozhin criticized Russian military leadership under Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gennady Gerasimov, castigating the reasons given to justify the war and dismissing them as false. In challenging core pre-war Kremlin narratives, Prigozhin simultaneously undermined multiple arguments cited directly by Putin during his public address on February 24, 2022, when he announced the start of the invasion. Prigozhin’s remarks represent the most consequential debunking of the Kremlin’s case for war by a high-profile Russian power player and Putin confidant. Since the start of the war, the Kremlin has cracked down on dissent by criminalizing criticism of the military, restricting access to social media platforms, and forcing independent media to either cease operations or flee the country. In doing so, Kremlin pro-war narratives dominate Russia’s entire domestic information ecosystem. And just as Prigozhin’s mutiny exposed the regime’s weaknesses for the entire Russian public to see, his pre-mutiny takedown of the Kremlin’s justifications for war exposed how Putin and his proxies wove together a web of falsehoods to initiate the invasion. Background As part of our previous research for the Narrative Warfare report, the DFRLab analyzed hundreds of debunked claims made during the 2014-2021 interwar period, as well as more than 10,000 instances of pro-Kremlin and anti-Ukrainian narratives appearing in Russian media during the ten weeks preceding the invasion. We then documented how these narratives formed the backbone of Putin’s false justifications for war during his public remarks on February 24, 2022, when he announced the launch of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” against Ukraine. At the heart of the speech, Putin relied on false and misleading narrative tropes prominently featured in the weeks and months prior to the invasion, some of them dating to his 2014 of Ukraine. While maintaining the position that Russia seeks peace, for example, Putin also emphasized that Russia had a moral obligation to do something about security in the region. Putin also embraced multiple false narratives and tropes about Ukraine being the aggressor, including accusations that the country is run by Nazis, that Ukraine intends to commit genocide against Russian speakers, and that it plans to use weapons of mass destruction against Russia and the breakaway regions. Lastly, he used these opportunities to blame the West for whatever would happen next, arguing that Ukraine is a puppet of the West, which wants to create tensions in the region. Putin’s February 2022 speech was specifically crafted to make his false case for war. In just over thirty minutes on June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin – one of Putin’s closest, longtime confidants in security and propaganda efforts – successfully undermined Putin’s core arguments for his war against Ukraine. Questioning Ukraine’s “aggression” In his February 2022 speech, Putin highlighted the need to save Russians in Ukraine before Ukraine could commit “genocide” against them. “It became impossible to tolerate it,” Putin stated at the time. “We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia, on all of us.” He then added, “If we look at the sequence of events and the incoming reports, the showdown between Russia and these forces cannot be avoided. It is only a matter of time. They [NATO] are getting ready and waiting for the right moment. Moreover, they went as far as aspire to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not let this happen.” Prigozhin’s June 23 remarks undercut Putin’s claims that there had been any imminent threat to Russians, let alone genocide. “All these long eight years, from 2014 to 2022, sometimes the number of various skirmishes increased,” Prigozhin said. “Roughly speaking, the exchange of ammunition, the exchange of shots, sometimes decreased. On February 24, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Now the Ministry of Defense is trying to deceive the public, is trying to deceive the president, and tell the story that there was insane aggression on the part of Ukraine, and they were going to attack us together with the entire NATO bloc. Therefore, the so-called special operation, on February 24, was launched for completely different reasons.” [emphasis added by the DFRLab] Notably, Prigozhin described the war as a profit-making enterprise that would enrich Kremlin elites rather than residents of the Donbas, the region of eastern Ukraine comprising Donetsk and Luhansk. “Today, a decision is already being made when it will be launched,” he said, describing the events of February 2022. “And how the hell will it be launched? Who will it get to own it, who will profit on it? It’s a 100% chance that it won’t be the people of Donbas – 100%. There will be new owners immediately who will then cut these grandmothers.” Prigozhin alleges Kremlin regime change plan As part of Putin’s February 2022 explanation for conducting a “special military operation,” he insisted that its goals were limited in scope. “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory,” he insisted. “We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.” Prigozhin contradicted this as well, insisting the Kremlin planned to decapitate Ukraine’s democratically-elected leadership and replace it with a Russian figurehead – specifically, former Ukrainian MP Viktor Medvedchuk, a well-known Kremlin supporter who would later be arrested by Ukraine and exchanged for prisoners-of-war held by Russia. “So the second most important task of the operation was the appointment of Medvedchuk,” Prigozhin argued. “The same Medvedchuk who had already made his way to Kyiv in advance, sat and waited for the troops to arrive. Zelenskyy would run away, everyone would lay down their arms, and he would become the president of this Ukraine.” Denazification as a red herring Throughout Putin’s February 24 address, he referred to Ukrainians as “Nazis,” and invoked Russian patriotism by discussing the former Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany. “The country stopped the enemy and went on to defeat it, but this came at a tremendous cost,” Putin recounted. “The attempt to appease the aggressor ahead of the Great Patriotic War proved to be a mistake which came at a high cost for our people.” He added, “The outcomes of World War II and the sacrifices our people had to make to defeat Nazism are sacred.” Soviet forces successfully captured Berlin in the spring of 1945 as its US and British allies closed in from the west. Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, was among the first Soviet states invaded by Nazi Germany, and Ukrainians played a key role in the Soviet counteroffensive to defeat Germany. Millions of Ukrainians died in the war, including nearly one million Ukrainian Jews; President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, was among those who lost family during the Holocaust. When discussing the present situation in Ukraine, though, Putin insisted that “leading NATO countries are supporting far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine.” “They will undoubtedly try to bring war to Crimea just as they have done in the Donbas, to kill innocent people just as members of the punitive units of Ukrainian nationalists and Hitler’s accomplices did during the Great Patriotic War,” he continued. “They have also openly laid claim to several other Russian regions. “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” Again invoking Russian patriotism, Putin added, “Comrade officers: Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Prigozhin, in contrast, insisted that the purpose of the invasion was to assimilate Russian-speaking Ukrainians into the Russian Federation rather than to defeat Nazis. “The war was not needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, and not in order to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.” Denying the existence of Ukrainians Not all of Prigozhin’s remarks ran counter to Putin. While attempting to make the point that a negotiated settlement with Ukraine remained a possibility prior to the invasion, Prigozhin reinforced Putin’s long-standing position that Ukrainians do not exist as their own ethnic entity and are actually Russians, both culturally and genetically. “All [the Kremlin] had to do was get down from Olympus: go and negotiate, because the whole of Eastern Ukraine is inhabited by people who are genetically Russian,” he said. “And what is happening today, we’re seeing these genetic Russians being killed.” Putin reinforced this idea in his February 2022 speech when he argued that Ukrainian aggression was tantamount to genocide against Russians living in the Donbas. As previously noted, Putin said, “It became impossible to tolerate it,” he said. We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia, on all of us.” Later in the speech when he declared the launch of his “special military operation,” he added, “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.” In this sense, Putin and Prighozin share the false assertion that Ukraine was perpetrating genocide against Russians, while simultaneously denying Ukrainian identity. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide describes genocide as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part,” which is very much reflected in Putin and Prigozhin’s beliefs that Ukrainians are genetically Russian and should be assimilated by force. Criticizing Russia’s military capabilities Putin’s February 24 speech also claimed that Russia’s armed forces could defeat any aggressor. “As for military affairs, even after the dissolution of the USSR and losing a considerable part of its capabilities, today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states,” Putin said. “Moreover, it has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons. In this context, there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.” Prigozhin undermined these claims when he said the Russian army wasn’t combat-ready and the soldiers weren’t given proper weapons, preventing them to fight more aggressively. “The army did nothing since 2012,” he insisted. “Each conscript was given three rounds of ammunition. Like during the best Soviet times. Although this was not the case in Soviet times either. They weren’t in combat training. They are not trained on various types of weapons, especially modern ones. And so, in Russia the army was in such a flawed state that it could not conduct any large-scale military operations.” Short-term mutiny, long-term consequences Prigozhin’s June 23 video kicked off what would prove to be a two-day mutiny against the Russian government. A deal negotiated by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka helped de-escalate the crisis, but the mutiny exposed the weaknesses in not only the organization of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine but also the Russian state itself. We expect to see increased fractionalization among Russian leaders as they position themselves with the public through propaganda and other means while buttressing themselves within the Kremlin hierarchy. When Yevgeny Prigozhin put his Wagner mutiny into motion, he repeatedly stated that the object of his revolt was to hold Russia’s military establishment accountable for its failures in Ukraine. But by blaming the Russian Ministry of Defense for everything that has gone wrong for Russia in Ukraine, including its premise for prosecuting the war, he simultaneously exposed enormous cracks in Putin’s public arguments for going to war in the first place. Given his prominence, his closeness with Putin, and his role in the military operation, Prighozin’s words debunking the Kremlin case for war will be important to long-term efforts to hold Putin and the regime accountable for its war of aggression and other crimes conducted against Ukraine. As we noted in Narrative Warfare, documenting the Kremlin’s use of false narratives prior to the war could serve as evidence for proving the crime of aggression: First, Kremlin disinformation published in the leadup to the invasion may be evidence of planning or preparing for an act of aggression. This includes many of the false and misleading narratives documented in this report: claims of Ukraine’s alleged planned chemical-weapons attacks, the shelling of the kindergarten, sabotage of chlorine tanks, development of nuclear weapons, and genocidal acts against Russians in the Donbas. These and other narratives by Kremlin and Donbas officials in the days and weeks leading up to the invasion were used to create a pretext for the invasion, thus making them part of the planning that went into the invasion. Second, disinformation narratives that started prior to the invasion and continued afterward may be evidence that Russian or Donbas officials knew the invasion was inconsistent with the UN Charter and constituted a “manifest violation” of it. For example, if officials believed the invasion was legally justified, there would be no need to create a pretext for it. The fact that they created a pretext for the invasion could help prosecutors prove that they were aware a pretext was needed. No doubt, Russian and Donbas officials would argue that they did not create a pretext and the information they published was accurate, or that they believed it to be accurate. This argument would, therefore, require establishing that officials knew their public claims to be false but published them anyway.For weeks, months, and even years prior to the invasion, Putin, the Kremlin, and their proxies telegraphed an array of narratives to justify it, deny responsibility for it, and mask their hostile intentions. If subsequent investigations establish that these officials knew these narratives to be inaccurate, the deployment of disinformation narratives could serve as evidence of knowledge that the invasion was a manifest violation of the UN Charter. Whether intentional or not, the most lasting impact of Prigozhin’s insurrection was the admonition of the Kremlin’s false premise for war. His remarks on June 23 may very well become a piece of the puzzle for investigators that seek to hold Putin accountable. 

Defense & Security
French President Emmanuel Macron giving speech at Global Fund to Fight HIV conference

French President Emmanuel Macron’s Speech in Globsec Summit in Bratislava

by Emmanuel Macron

Since GLOBSEC opened its doors in 2008, many political leaders and officials have spoken at the Bratislava Forum, but unless I am mistaken, no French President. That was no doubt an anomaly. And it would be even more of an anomaly today, in the context of Russia’s war against neighbouring Ukraine when, quite simply, the future of our continent is at stake, and with much playing out in this region. This is particularly true at the cusp of a month that sums up the magnitude of our strategic challenges, with the European Political Community Summit in Chișinău tomorrow, then an important European Council meeting for the future of our Union in June, and last the NATO Summit in Vilnius. Before these milestones, I think it is worth explaining my thinking, with great freedom in the tone, when it comes to the moment which Europe is living on the geopolitical stage. Almost 20 years ago, our Union opened its gates to Slovakia and other countries freed from the Soviet grip. That was not merely an enlargement of our Union: it was the return to our family of those from whom we had been separated for too long. I do not believe there is a “Western” Europe and an “Eastern” Europe, an “old” Europe and a “new” Europe. That would mean perpetuating the artificial border imposed for decades by the Soviet Union. There is only one Europe. A single weave of intertwined histories and diversity, but with the will for geographical and geopolitical unity and to build, ultimately, a common narrative. I believe that is what unites us all behind this project, that does not erase our national identities and national projects, but rather enables us to conjugate them in an overarching narrative. Let us remember the last words of the director of the Hungarian press agency, just minutes before he was crushed by Russian artillery in November 1956: “We will die for Hungary and Europe”. The curtain was falling across our continent, and it was already our unity that was at stake. It announced decades of forced separation, decades of a “kidnapped West”, to borrow the excellent words of Milan Kundera that we can make our own today. And I would like to add, as I speak to those who are here today, that even after Slovakia and many other countries joined the Union, we did not always hear the voices you brought, calling for recognition of your painful memories and history. Some told you then that you were missing opportunities to keep quiet – but I believe we sometimes missed opportunities to listen. That time is over, and today, these voices must be all our voices. So my message is simple. In the times we are living in, we must not let the West be kidnapped a second time. We will not let Europe be kidnapped a second time. The challenges we face are considerable, with war at our borders. The war of aggression against Ukraine isultimately an extreme manifestation of a challenge to our European unity that has played out in the last fifteen years, and a show of fragility. Fifteen years of Russian attempts to overturn the whole European security architecture, to reshape it in its own terms. We all know the milestones: Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007, the aggression against Georgia in 2008, that against Ukraine in 2014, and again against Ukraine in 2022, and the rampant transformation of Belarus into a vassal state. Ultimately, what Russia demands, and what it sought to codify in the draft treaties it brandished on the eve of its invasion just over a year ago, is the weakening and neutralization of Ukraine and, ultimately, for a whole part of Europe to be made vulnerable in return for minor and largely unverifiable commitments. In this context, it is true, we failed to provide a European response, or to organize an architecture to protect ourselves, via the OSCE or the other projects envisaged at the time, against these attacks. As for NATO’s response, it was too much or too little: perspectives offered to Ukraine and Georgia, exposing the two countries to Russia’s wrath, but which did not protect them, and which came with guarantees that were far too feeble. And we lacked coherence as Europeans. So we provided insufficient guarantees to certain countries at our borders. We did not engage with Russia in a security dialogue for ourselves. Ultimately, we delegated this dialogue to NATO, which was probably not the best means to succeed. And at the same time, we did not break free of dependencies on Russia, particularly for energy, and indeed we even continued to increase them. So we must be clear-sighted about ourselves. We were not coherent in our approach. In coming here, I am aware of the experience many of you had during the Soviet period, and I know why everyone is determined, for good reasons, to ensure that does not happen again. That is my commitment too. Every country has the right to choose its alliances, and opting for freedom, democracy and transparency is never a threat to one’s neighbours. And as I saw powerfully, with the major G7 partners in Japan a few days ago, the foundation of the Charter of the United Nations remains sovereign equality: it has never been limited sovereignty. And it is in this respect too that what is happening in Ukraine today is not merely a European issue, but an issue for the international order and global peace. What the war in Ukraine shows is not merely that these attempts to subjugate part of Europe are illegal and unacceptable, but also that, in the harsh light of power balances, they are now unrealistic. In Kyiv, in Kharkiv and in Kherson, whole Russian armies have retreated, before being squandered in Bakhmut and elsewhere for the slightest of gains. The war is far from over, but I believe I can say today that one thing is clear: Ukraine will not be conquered. And now what was, a little over a years ago, a “special operation”, has led to date to a geopolitical failure and to the accession of Finland and soon, I hope, Sweden, to NATO. And so a closure of Russia’s access to the Baltic, and also heightened distrust among all neighbours, as well as a loss of standing for Russia in the concert of nations due to failure to respect the Charter. The situation on the ground gives Russia no credibility to seek by threat what already no right could justify. There is no place in Europe for imperial fantasies. It is very important to recognize that, and that is a precondition, in my eyes, for any future organization of peace. How we got here says several things about us. We must remember them as we seek to build the future. The first is the strength of our alliance: from the very first days of the fighting, NATO ensured the security of its borders most effectively. Article V played its full role, and I am convinced it holds Russia at bay, and in this respect we owe gratitude to our American allies who have provided a major share of material and intelligence support to Ukraine. In December 2019, I made a severe comment about NATO, highlighting the divisions that, at the time, as you will recall, were present within it between Turkey and several other powers, describing it as “brain dead”. I dare say today that Vladimir Putin has jolted it back with the worst of electroshock. The second thing that strikes me is the exemplary role of the European Union, too. We have been united, swift and clear and I believe that very few, starting with Russia, expected the European Union to respond in such a way: €67 billion in total, including €14 billion in military aid, sanctions and emergency assistance, as well as taking in millions of refugees. We completely and profoundly reorganized our energy system, which was highly dependent on Russia, in just a few months. And that was a demonstration of unity and strategic clarification. It happened under constraint, and should have been done sooner, but we must be satisfied. I also welcome the adoption of a clear doctrine. Europe has chosen strategic autonomy and European sovereignty. And the Versailles Agenda that we defined in March 2022 is ultimately a long way from what people described five years ago as a French whim when I talked of European sovereignty at the Sorbonne. So I believe the second thing that we should take away from recent months, in addition to the strength of the alliance, is the unity and the ideological clarification of our European Union, and its clarity in terms of military, humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine. France has played its full role in this respect, and I can discuss this further during question time. I will also come back to the subject in the coming weeks and months. However, this collective effort will be for nothing if it is not sustained. Looking forward now, in light of what I just said, and of analysis of the past and the situation in recent months, I would like to imagine our future. Moscow must certainly be very tempted to hope that, where its armies have failed, time will come to the rescue, perhaps when elections are held or as public opinion fatigues. I think we need to be very clear about what we have to do in the short and medium terms. Today, we need to help Ukraine, by every means, to conduct an effective counteroffensive. That is essential. That is what we are doing, and we need to step up our efforts, as what is at stake in the coming months is the very possibility of chosen and therefore lasting peace. The second thing is that we need to be very clear about what we call peace. Peace in Ukraine and on our continent cannot mean a ceasefire that enshrines the current situation, re-creating a frozen conflict and, if you will, accepting the seizure of territory in violation of all the principles of international law. Because ultimately, such a frozen conflict would definitely be the war of tomorrow or the day after, and would weaken us all. Only one peace is possible: a peace that respects international law and is chosen by the victims of the aggression: the Ukrainian people. That is a peace that can last and that therefore respects these balances, bolstered by, and I will come back to this, credible guarantees. And so we need to prepare very clear-sightedly for this conflict and I will come back to this, credible guarantees. And so we need to prepare very clear-sightedly for this conflict to last, and for the consequences of the conflict to last. I hope the coming months will enable us, following a victorious counteroffensive, to bring everybody back to the negotiating table and build lasting peace, under the conditions I just set out, chosen by Ukraine and in accordance with international law. But we will have years and years of reconstruction and a humanitarian situation to manage, as we know already. We must also, to be credible in Russia’s eyes, put ourselves in a position, ourselves and our public opinions, to support Ukraine longer-term in a high- and medium-intensity conflict. That means working with all our partners to review and re-analyse this summer the very nature of our support and what is needed to achieve the result I have described. At the same time, we need to convince the global South, because there is, in the context I have discussed, a fragility that we must be clear about. It is that today, while thanks to the engagement of Japan and a few others, this is not simply a Western war, many emerging powers consider that it is not their war. Even if they recognize that it is an aggression and contrary to the Charter of the United Nations, they barely murmur it, because they consider that their main problems are fighting poverty within their borders, that they are subject to enough constraints already, that there are double standards, that their own security is not addressed, that they are facing the consequences of this war head-on, and that when their own security was threatened, we did not respond with the same vigour. We must heed that message. Otherwise, the risk is that all these countries will be seized upon by others to build an alternative international order and become, by choice, clear-sightedly or in fact, by composition, objective allies of a sort of Russian way. And so we must absolutely, as we make efforts to support the preparation of lasting peace, do this work to convince the countries of the South and several emerging countries, and thus re-engage in the assistance that we have a duty to provide them in the clarification of our agenda. Now that I have said all that, let us look at our future. The question we face is ultimately what future is possible for our Europe, in the long term, and how our Europe can rebuild lasting stability, peace and security for itself. We have responded very well in the short term, thanks to the commitment of States. NATO has shown its credibility on its Eastern Flank, and the European Union through its efforts. But is that enough in the long term? Today, we should be pleased to have an American Administration that has stood with us, that has made as many efforts as the Europeans, and that very clearly increases our collective credibility. We should be grateful and thankful to the United States of America. Will that Administration always be the same? Nobody can tell, and we cannot delegate our collective security and our stability to the choices of American voters in the coming years. At the same time, the Americans have been asking us for years, each successive Administration, to better share the burden and to make greater efforts for our security and our neighbourhood. And so yes, a Europe of Defence, a European pillar within NATO, is essential. That is the only way to be credible for ourselves, to be credible in the long term, to reduce our dependency and to shoulder our legitimate share of the burden. Because, whether we like it or not, our geography will not change. We will live in the same place, and Russia will remain Russia, with the same borders and the same geography. We need to build a space that, tomorrow, must be this space of lasting peace, because the rights of the Ukrainian people will have been respected and international law will have been restored. That space must allow us to cohabit as peacefully as possible with Russia – but with no naivety. I repeat, this project is not one of naivety with regard to Russia – I have never had such naivety – but it is aboutbnot denying geography and not considering that we should make our choices as if there was an ocean between Russia and us. And my goal is in no case to try to replace NATO with something else. I want to debunk all these ideas here because I know how they can be repeated and distorted. I do not want to replace NATO with a sort of Franco-German condominium. No. I believe that it is a broad, powerful Europe, with countries like yours, like Poland and many others, that need to play their role in this Europe of Defence, a Europe that increasingly ensures its own security and addresses its own neighbourhood issues. To do so, we now, urgently, need to speed up our strategic choices and the implementation of what we have started to decide. And that agenda is part of what we must build for this common destiny. Firstly, we need to forge a more sovereign European capacity when it comes to energy, technology and military capabilities. That is part of the Versailles Agenda we launched in March 2022. We now need to swiftly, and very tangibly, implement that agenda: meaning we should increasingly build European, buy European and innovate European. When it comes to military capabilities, that also requires a national effort that we have to make. France did not wait for this war. We stepped up our efforts with the military programming law in my first term and we are currently increasing it by €100 billion compared to the previous period, to reach a total of €413 billion under the current draft law. Alongside the prospect of reaching 2% of GDP, we also need to achieve tangible goals, with deployments and real capabilities to ensure the credibility of this collective effort, as France did a few days after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by deploying forces to Romania. Less than eight days later, we had hundreds of soldiers in Romania. This is about the credibility of a European Defence within NATO. later, we had hundreds of soldiers in Romania. This is about the credibility of a European Defence within NATO. But a sovereign choice is needed, with capabilities, expenditure and deployment mechanisms. This strategic autonomy and military sovereignty also requires an industrial effort. We have clearly understood, in recent months, while emptying our arsenals, that we own with certainty only what we produce. We must learn lessons from this and act accordingly. And when I see certain countries increase their defence spending to massively buy non-European, I simply say: “you are creating yourselves your own problems for the future”. We need to use this opportunity to produce more in Europe. We have been inventive together, creating something new concerning ammunition, a great progress in support of Ukraine. We need to go much further. We need to harmonize our European standards, because there is too much competition between us. There are far more different standards between Europeans than there are within the United States of America. But in doing so, we must develop a genuinely European defence technological and industrial base in all interested countries, and deploy fully sovereign equipment at European level. We need to reduce our dependence and we need to continue building strategic proximity in this collective effort. I have in mind, of course, the European Intervention Initiative we launched five years ago, and that is still every bit as relevant today. Several of you accompanied us in fighting terrorism in Africa, showing that solidarity is two-way, and for that we are grateful. Even if the French presence in Africa is changing, the need to continue to be engaged together remains. And therefore we need to explore possibilities for cooperation in all these spaces and build capacity among Europeans by building on NATO’s interoperability, yet going beyond that, knowing how to engage together common action forces in new theatres of operation in our neighbourhoods, but also in cyber space, in space, in maritime areas, etc. More broadly, as you can see, this first pillar is, ultimately, to strengthen our military sovereignty. This means that we must take a look at the situation in which we live. It is up to us, as Europeans, in the future, to have our own capacity to defend ourselves and to deal with our neighbourhood. And in this regard, let’s not only focus on capabilities to manage past or current wars or to manage conflicts that are simply those that are emerging today. Dealing with our neighbourhood does not concern our Eastern Flank alone. It also concerns the Mediterranean, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Mediterranean regions, and new spaces of conflict including cyber space, space and maritime areas. They are at least as important as land wars on our continent that we have seen re-emerge because of Russian aggression and that we thought were disappearing, but that do not dispel the new forms of conflict that will grow in number. Therefore, let us have this strategic lucidity to prepare future conflicts that are bound to happen. In addition to this focus on sovereignty that is therefore European, technological and military, our second challenge is to see to it that Europe becomes a fully-fledged player, instead of being on the receiving end of strategic evolutions in its environment. In these last few years, I have been struck by the fact that we Europeans have not changed our status of geopolitical minority. It’s very hard for a French President to say this so bluntly. This generates irritation and annoyance. But I had the experience of going to a NATO Summit with another US Administration that liked us less, and which, with hardly any notice and in coordinating things with Europeans in a very bureaucratic way, informed us that it was withdrawing from the INF Treaty saying that “the Russians are no longer complying with it”. In 2019, we Europeans discovered a treaty that covered us against missiles that landed on our soil, and that Russian non-compliance and the US decision could leave us exposed and somehow naked, because we were not a party to it. The same thing happened when Russia methodically suspended implementation of the New Start Treaty last February, then clearly violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act in March, etc. I say this very clearly, we Europeans must be active players of these treaties that cover our security and build the future framework. If we delegate our role to others, Russia, the United States or I don’t know who, we will never be credible players. And therefore, yes, we must build these diplomatic solutions for the future.  To do so, we must first fully control arms, which refers back to what I was saying about our industrial lucidity. Europe was absent from treaties such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the New Start Treaty, despite the fact that its security was at stake. Therefore, it must now weigh in. And it will have much more credibility if it is a player, and not a spectator, in these balances. That is why I called on Europeans to acquire a deep-strike capability, which will bolster our security, and also give us a card to play in all future negotiations. I wish to launch discussions with the European partners that are interested in exploring cooperation in this area. The second, which is related, is air-defence. The war in Ukraine has shown its vital importance. It’s a strategic issue before being an industrial issue , but very clearly, it must build on a balance of offense and defense. It should clearly take nuclear deterrence into account. That is why, as I have pledged in Munich,  a conference will be held on this issue on 19 June in Paris. I invite all defence ministers of the European countries represented here today to attend. It will give us an opportunity to pursue our work. The third, more broadly, is the way in which Europe can secure its environment. We must build these new treaties as fully-fledged players around the table. And in doing so, let us be very clear, the issue of security with our neighbours will be raised. We will undoubtedly discuss this again during question time. But securing our environment is a key component of this credibility and of a Europe with a full role. We should provide Ukraine with solid security guarantees to put an end to repeated destabilizing actions. If Russia wants to continue destabilizing Europe, it must be ready to pay the geopolitical price. I have listened to all of our debates, but we would be strange geopolitical players if we were to say “we are massively arming Ukraine, but we do not want to include it in any strategic security debates.” I was reading something Henry Kissinger said recently, who we all know is not the least experienced diplomat. He was right when he said: In a year, all those who, with good reason, have helped Ukraine, have made it such a powerful player that it would be best to bring it back into these existing security architectures. I tend to share this vision. Therefore, if we want credible lasting peace, if we want to have influence with respect to Russia, and if we want to be credible vis-à-vis Ukrainians, we must give Ukraine the means to prevent any additional aggression and we must include Ukraine, in a structure, in a credible security architecture, including for ourselves. That is why I am in favour – and this will be the subject of collective discussions in the coming weeks ahead of the Vilnius Summit – of providing tangible security guarantees to Ukraine, for two reasons: Ukraine today is protecting Europe and provides security guarantees to Europe. The second reason is that Ukraine is now armed to such a point that it is in our interest for it to have credible security guarantees with us in a multilateral framework, with multilateral support or bilateral support. This is what we will discuss. We must today be much more ambitious than we sometimes are in discussions on this topic. Over the medium term, it is clearly our Europe’s stability and security that we will need to build on the basis of this solid peace in Ukraine, of these security guarantees in our neighbourhood – and tomorrow the question of Belarus and others will be raised – and of a transparent framework of trust making it possible to avoid the escalation of capabilities in the future to exit, at some point, this state of war when peace will be negotiated and stable. Yet we have armed our Eastern Flank so much and Russia has deployed so many arms that we will have to rebuild - I am talking here about the medium term - a framework for de-escalation. But it will be up to Europeans at that time to really build it in a transparent framework in which we must be players of these treaties, we must be around the table in order to negotiate, and around the table in order to determine their effective compliance and their evolution, as opposed to what has been done in the past. That is why, within this framework, we must also think of a wider Europe and I will end my remarks with these points. This Europe is one that I wanted to propose just over a year ago in Strasbourg, that of a European Political Community. Why? Because we need to consider our Europe, not only from a security standpoint, within the framework of NATO, and not simply within the framework of the European Union. That is why the European Political Community does not compete with NATO, nor does it replace enlargement. It is a framework for strategic discussion needed by all countries to build, I hope, an innovative and new institutional architecture, regarding energy and interconnection, mobility, security, strategy, and coming up with common solutions without waiting for enlargement to be completed and without merely taking a NATO-based approach. We will pursue this at Chișinău and we will express our willingness to go as far as possible in this format where cool-headed discussions can be held and topics of common interest can emerge. Among other topics, I will have an opportunity to propose the extension of the European Cyber Reserve to include all EPC countries because it is in our interest to be inclusive in order to safeguard our security. In this regard, the European Political Community is a geopolitical lab, if you will, and we need to continue down this path. But as I have said, it does not replace enlargement. For us, the question is not whether we should enlarge – we answered that question a year ago – nor when we should enlarge – for me, as swiftly as possible – but rather how we should do it. Several of you may remember that France advocated a change in the enlargement method in 2018. However, ultimately the war in Ukraine and today’s worsening situation in several areas of the Western Balkans have shown us one thing, which is that our current method is not working. Yet I believe there are two mistakes we should avoid making. The first is to tell ourselves that the situation is worsening, stay as we are, and give hope to Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova, and then procrastinate. We are very familiar with this tactic, we’ve been using it for a long time. If we do this, I think that we would actually give more space to those who want to destabilize Europe and I think that we would wake up in a few years to a situation that is considerably worse. A second mistake would be to say “let’s enlarge, it’s our duty and in our geopolitical interest, I think we need to anchor Moldova, Ukraine and the Western Balkans to our Europe. Let’s do it. We’ll reform later”. This would also be disastrous because it would create a powerless Europe, burdened at times by heavy bureaucratic procedures, slow, and with divergent trajectories. You can clearly see that in Europe there are ultimately two deep forces. They are both respectable. One that says: we need more geopolitical unity, to anchor the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine to this Europe. It needs to be united. It needs to think of itself in this space in terms of security, geopolitics, energy and migration. On the other side, we have had a preview, but we need to coordinate economic policies to a greater extent, have more requirements regarding the rule of law and it creates a somewhat centrality that some States do not always accept. We need to think about this paradox, which is that our European Union was not designed to be enlarged at will. It was designed to always be deepened and to move towards a more integrated project. We need – due to the times in which we are living and the fact that everything is happening at the same time to a certain extent – but that’s how it goes – a very great moment of theoretical and geopolitical clarification of our European Union. Yes, it should be enlarged. Yes, it should be rethought very extensively with regard to its governance and its aims. Yes, it should innovate, undoubtedly to invent several formats and clarify each of their aims. It is the only way to meet the legitimate expectation of the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine, which should become part of the European Union, and to maintain effectiveness in the geopolitical field, but also with regard to the climate, rule of law, and the economic integration the EU is now experiencing. And therefore, we need to re-articulate and rethink the balance of intergovernmental versus communitarian, and also understand what happens in Member States when they no longer understand Europe and the path that it is taking now and for the time being. And we will be working on this with several of our partners in thecoming weeks. I have already spoken too long. Please accept my apologies. These were the points I wanted to discuss. And therefore, as you have understood, our ability to build a just and lasting peace in Ukraine without any weakness is at stake, along with the future of our continent. I truly believe this will happen in the months and the two or three years ahead. Not much more. I believe Europe has experienced a conceptual and strategic awakening. But is must learn all the possible lessons from the past for itself and its neighbourhood. In this context, I think you’ve understood that is why I’m here. You can count on France. France is sometimes seen as being arrogant or faraway from or not interested in this part of Europe. As for me, I visited every EU Member State during my first term in office. Every one, because I considered that the European Union is not just Brussels, but all the capitals. It is this constantly plural dialogue and the absence of hegemony. But you can count on France over the long term. I also know that France can count on you so that we can together build a Europe that is stronger, more sovereign and more capable of ensuring its own security. And this cannot be done with just one, two or three countries. We will do it with all 27 and even more, by including in this strategic debate all those who will join us tomorrow in Chișinău, in this capacity to have frank, open, far-reaching, powerful, ambitious dialogue, by accepting our differences, respecting them and clearly setting out our aims. Ultimately, let us recognize together that our Europe must be a great democratic, diverse, but united power. Thank you very much