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

The French - German tension

by Juan Antonio Sacaluga

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

Chancellor Sholz and Prime Minister Ibrahim in Berlin

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

by Olaf Scholz , Anwar Ibrahim

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

Meloni and Selenskiy shaking hands

Ukraine policy in Rome

by Michael Feth , Nino Galetti

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

Vladimir Putin with President of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

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

by Ozgur Ozkan

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

Central Asian migrants in the airport

By Sending Migrants to Ukraine, the Kremlin is Damaging Ties With Central Asia

by Sher Khashimov

By continuing to rely on Russia’s ethnic minorities and foreign labor migrants to do its dirty work in Ukraine, the Kremlin is inadvertently damaging ties to its former colonies. A young Uzbek man named Fakhriddin has died in Ukraine after being recruited from a Russian prison, where he had been serving a five-year prison sentence, to work on a construction project in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine. Fakhriddin, who died when a shell hit the site he was working on, is one of the latest casualties of Russia’s push to use Central Asian natives not only on Ukrainian battlefields, but also in the reconstruction of battle-torn occupied territories. Hundreds if not thousands of Central Asian migrants are being hired to work in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, despite dangerous conditions and warnings from their governments not to go to Ukraine. Most of these migrants are used in the reconstruction of war-ravaged cities like Mariupol and Donetsk; others dig trenches and collect dead bodies on the frontlines. Female migrants from Central Asia are also offered jobs in military hospitals, canteens, and factories in occupied eastern Ukraine. Vacancies are posted on major employment websites like Headhunter and the classifieds site Avito, as well as some regional employment websites, and shared via social media and in migrant communities or advertised by construction companies directly. Employers promise to cover travel expenses to Ukraine, accommodation, meals, and uniforms. Salaries range from $2,000 to $3,300 a month: significantly more than laborers can earn in Russia. Yet despite the enticing promises, Central Asian migrants face the same issues in Russia-occupied Ukraine as they do in Russia itself: unsanitary conditions, unheated living quarters, and poor treatment by employers. Multiple reports indicate that migrants are either underpaid or not paid at all. Some disillusioned workers who have tried to leave Ukraine were not permitted by Russian border guards to re-enter Russia, forcing them to continue working in dangerous conditions on the frontlines while facing criminal prosecution from Kyiv and their home governments for participating in the invasion. These hostile conditions in eastern Ukraine put Central Asian labor migrants and their governments in a bind. Central Asia’s population continues to grow rapidly, with around half of the region’s population now under thirty years old. A lack of employment options and underdeveloped education systems combined with economies wrecked by nepotism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and capital flight mean many younger Central Asians are forced to move abroad to find work.  Central Asian governments, particularly those of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have become accustomed to exporting excess labor capacity in order to generate much-needed revenue for households through remittances, relieve domestic pressure to create jobs, and provide public goods and services. Politically, migration serves as a pressure valve that prevents the buildup of unemployment-fueled social and political frustration and helps undemocratic regimes to stay in power. Russia remains the primary destination for these labor migrants. Familiarity with the Russian language and culture stemming from a shared Soviet past, geographic proximity, and Russia’s acute need for labor migrants continues to keep Central Asia in Moscow’s orbit. Streamlined processes for obtaining citizenship for highly qualified personnel from former Soviet republics, such as doctors and engineers, adds to Russia’s allure, particularly to those from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the most remittance-dependent countries in the region. After a pandemic-induced dip, the number of Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks registered to work in Russia is peaking again. According to Russian Interior Ministry data, as many as 978,216 Kyrgyz, 3,528,319 Tajiks, and 5,837,363 Uzbeks entered Russia intending to work in 2022. Some people are likely to have been counted twice in these figures, as they reflect the number of registered border crossings, but they are still at a five-year high. Now the economic downturn in Russia and pressure to work in Russia-occupied Ukraine might contribute to changes in regional labor migration patterns—both at the grassroots level and from the top—that started during the pandemic. While Uzbekistan has become a popular destination for migrants from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan has emerged as a popular alternative destination to Russia for a growing number of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz (precise numbers are harder to find as many migrants take advantage of the lack of visa requirements to work illegally and avoid paying taxes).  Central Asian governments, facing domestic pressure to keep their nationals from dying in Ukraine, are also looking for ways to reduce their employment dependence on Russia by diversifying migration destinations and providing migrants with more resources. Uzbekistan has been working with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on the bilateral improvement of migration flows. Last December, the Uzbek and British governments discussed collaboration on labor migration during another round of economic talks. USAID has just opened a second consultation center in Uzbekistan for labor migrants, in Samarkand. In early 2022, Kyrgyzstan’s Labor Ministry created a center for employment abroad; later that year, the governments of Kyrgyzstan and South Korea signed an agreement guaranteeing additional employment opportunities for Kyrgyz nationals in South Korea.  This search for labor migration alternatives is part of Central Asia’s slow realignment away from its all-encompassing dependence on Russia: a nuanced dance the regional governments must perform without directly antagonizing the former metropole.  Central Asian governments refused to side with Russia in condemning the UN resolution to end the war in Ukraine. Russia’s regional integration projects are unlikely to expand, as Uzbekistan continues to decline invitations to join the Eurasian Economic Union, and Russia’s defeats in Ukraine have weakened the reputation of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Finally, Central Asian foreign ministers in February welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the first ministerial-level engagement of the C5+1 Diplomatic Platform—which represents U.S. engagement with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—in the region since its 2015 founding. This realignment can also be seen on the cultural front: the popularity of the Russian language is declining, while local languages are seeing growing interest in them since the invasion of Ukraine. Local governments are cutting the number of Russian language lessons in schools and renaming streets. The issue of decolonization and anti-colonial solidarity is as salient as it has ever been since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  By continuing to rely on Russia’s ethnic minorities and foreign labor migrants to do its dirty work in Ukraine, the Kremlin is inadvertently damaging ties to its former colonies. The longer the conflict drags on, the more incentive Central Asian republics will have to manage their dependence on Russia in exporting their excess labor. It’s hard to see Central Asia quitting on Russia entirely, but the relationship is sure to grow more nuanced and less lopsided in the months to come.

illustrative editorial Cartoon of Vladimir Putin President of Russia and Volodymyr Zelensky

Zelenskyy and Putin’s Distinct Understandings of National Identity Will Shape Support for Each Side in 2023

by Jessica Genauer

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia are two very different leaders. The way in which each defines a national identity shapes their leadership and sectors of support.      As we pass one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, attention is fixed on how the war in Ukraine will unfold this year. What happens in 2023 will have implications not only for Ukraine and Russia but for the international order more broadly. One factor that has influenced the trajectory of war so far, and is likely to continue to do so in 2023, is the distinct leadership styles of President Zelenskyy and President Putin. Zelenskyy and Putin could not be more different as leaders. Putin leads a personalist autocracy, having risen through the ranks of the Russian security services to claim the presidency in 2000. Zelenskyy, a newcomer to both politics and government, was freely elected in competitive elections in 2019. Putin leads in the style of nationalist-populist leaders. He has slowly but consistently tightened his grip on power since his first electoral success in 2000, shaping Russia into an electoral autocracy. Putin is very much a man of his generation. At 70 years old, he grew up and established himself during the time of the Soviet Union and now surrounds himself with advisors of a similar or more advanced age. He is very far from media savvy, reportedly not even owning a smart phone. Zelenskyy, on the other hand, is a master of media communications, having operated as an actor and comedian before becoming president. Also a man of his generation at 45 years old, Zelenskyy forged a media career in the post-Soviet world of the emerging democracy of Ukraine. A self-made comedian and media personality, he is a part of Ukraine’s dynamic and entrepreneurial civil society.National identity: A glorious past or a bright future?A key factor that distinguishes Zelenskyy and Putin as leaders is the way in which they draw on national identity in their leadership. For Putin, Russia’s national identity is static and homogenous. There is one acceptable version of Russian identity; variations are considered deviant and a threat. For Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s national identity is dynamic and inclusive. The unifying elements of Putin’s vision of national identity are specific communal factors: shared language, history, religion, culture, or ethnicity. For Putin, such elements create a common bond and a common purpose among those who possess them. In 2021 Putin stated: “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus… bound together by one language…, economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith… we are one people.” For Putin, this idea of an exceptional nation simultaneously evokes Russian entitlement based on past glory, as well as Russia’s victimhood and humiliation at the hands of foreign enemies. Putin’s popularity “is tied to the idea of reanimating Russia’s past to reinstate the country’s greatness.” In 2022, Putin praised the conquests of the historical Russian ruler Peter the Great as returning to Russia what was “rightfully” hers. At the same time, for Putin, Russia’s greatness is under threat from the West. By contrast, Zelenskyy himself brings together the fractured components of Ukrainian identity in his own person. He is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian born in the east of the country who embodies a strong Ukrainian identity that is distinct from a Russian one. In Zelenskyy’s words: “[Ukrainians] are all different. They fight wearing the cross, the crescent, the star of David. Lads from Western Ukraine and from the south-east. Russian speakers from Kharkiv and Kryvyi Rih and Ukrainaian speakers from Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk… All different. All Ukrainians.” The unifying element of Zelenskyy’s national identity is a focus on the human striving for freedom and dignity. This factor also constitutes a universal element – uniting Ukrainians with others who share these values. In contrast to Putin, for Zelenskyy, history is not used to illustrate a glorious and longed-for past, but rather to show that the human drive for freedom can triumph over oppression to create a brighter future. As Zelenskyy stated to the UK parliament in February 2023: “[Both of] our people went through crises and growth, inflation, and periods of social losses and social gains. It was tough but we always found strength and stamina to move ahead and achieve results… We know freedom will win… We proved together that the world truly helps those who are brave in defending freedom. And thus, paves the way for a new history.”Does national identity galvanise support?Ultimately, military outcomes will be decisive in determining whether and how the war might conclude this year. However, Putin and Zelenskyy’s distinct imaginings of national identity contribute to galvanising support with audiences domestically and across the world. Domestically, Putin’s static and homogenous national identity appeals to those for whom it provides certainty and belonging to a specific idea of what it means to be Russian. For this segment of the Russian population, the ongoing war only serves to reinforce Russia’s entitlement to territorial control beyond its borders, as well as the looming spectre of humiliation at the hands of the West. This constituency will not lose faith in Putin’s war in 2023. However, if Russia fails militarily, these supporters may grow dissatisfied with the outcome, if not the war itself. Globally, Putin’s emphasis on the West as Russia’s central opponent will further isolate Russia from Western countries. However, Putin’s assertion of a homogenous identity does appeal to groups who conceptualise their own identity in a similar way within their own context. Additionally, Putin’s narrative of Russian victimhood by the West resonates in countries that are uncomfortable with a US-led global order or have an enduring historical memory of Western colonialism. Nevertheless, given Putin’s emphasis on Russian particularism, this is more likely to create tacit acceptance of Russia’s actions than stir costly action in support of Russia’s war. Domestically, Zelenskyy’s dynamic and inclusive Ukrainian identity, with an emphasis on the striving for freedom, appeals to broad swaths of the Ukrainian population – and aligns with the sense of purpose felt by those fighting on the frontlines. This is unlikely to change in 2023. As Russia doubles down on asserting its self-proclaimed right to control Ukraine, the idea of freedom and agency become ever more galvanising. Beyond Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s emphasis on a common human striving for freedom as a basis for identity invites others who align with this notion to rally alongside Ukraine. This will continue to boost support for Ukraine in established democracies – but also beyond, in places where populations or leaders resonate with a smaller state fighting against a stronger one to determine its own political and social reality. In the coming months we are likely to see military escalation between Ukraine and Russia. A less-visible factor that will contribute to the trajectory of this conflict is whether Putin and Zelenskyy’s distinct articulations of national identity will maintain traction with their respective constituencies. Will Putin’s homogenous and static national identity, that harks back to a time of historical glory, continue to appeal – or will it fracture if Russian glory on the battlefield falls short? Will Zelenskyy continue to be able to unify the diverse aspects of Ukrainian society into a coherent whole – and will this unity hold past his leadership? The answer to these questions will shape the societal impacts of this war – in both Ukraine and Russia – long after the fighting has ceased.

Ongoing pipeline projects of China in Kazakhstan

Russia’s War Creates Opportunities for China in Central Asia

by Emil Avdaliani

As the war in Ukraine continues, China sees greater economic and political openings in Central Asia, the region extremely wary of Russian military ambitions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reverberated far and deep across the Eurasian continent. One region which especially susceptible to the pace of changes is Central Asia. Here, Russia, China, and Iran, the three former imperial powers willing to change the present world order, seek to impose a version of regionalism that excludes non-regional powers, chiefly the US and the EU, from playing an active role. However, the trend is not limited to the region, with similar developments taking place elsewhere across the continent, whether it is in the Black Sea, South Caucasus, or the South China Sea, where the race towards establishing spheres of influence has accelerated. The most significant game-changer to the geopolitical situation in the region is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Among other effects, Moscow’s aggression against its neighbor risks undermining the balance Moscow and Beijing have successfully maintained in Central Asia. The unofficial division of labor where Russia is a major security player and China focuses on the economic engagement has often been challenged as Beijing made inroads into security areas, too. Now, the pace of change could further accelerate. Russia’s war put its Central Asian neighbors on high alert, in fear that Moscow might use the same tactics as in Ukraine. Seeing Vladimir Putin fixated on making dreams of recreating the imperial map of Russia a reality, the former subjects to Moscow’s suzerainty cannot feel safe. This is especially true with Kazakhstan which shares a 7,644-kilometre border with Russia and northern parts of which are populated with ethnic Russians. While the tensions between Kazakhstan and its northern neighbor rarely get to the surface, they can hardly be dismissed. The friction was on public display at the latest St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Speaking at the gathering, the  first deputy chairman of the committee of the State Duma for the CIS and relations with Russian nationals abroad, Konstantin Zatulin, rather ominously remarked that “[Kazakhs] know too well that a number of regions, settlements with a predominantly Russian population had little to do with what was called Kazakhstan.” This followed a rather unexpected exchange between the Kazakh president, Kassim-Jomart Tokayev, and Russia’s notorious propagandist, Margarita Simonyan, in which the Kazakh president said his country will not be recognizing Lugansk and Donetsk separatist republics – the policy Kazakhstan has pursued also toward other separatist entities supported by Moscow. What is more interesting, however, is that the exchange took place in Vladimir Putin’s presence. Later, unconfirmed reports emerged that Kazakhstan stalled 1 700 railcars of Russian coal on its territory in response to Moscow’s decision to block Kazakh oil. Many linked the development to Tokayev’s statements. Yet, this was not a one-off deviation from supporting Russia, as Kazakhstan has consistently refused to toe the Russian line. In April, one Kazakh official argued that Kazakhstan will not help Russia to evade Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.Confident KazakhstanTo many, Kazakh behavior seems dangerous with geopolitically far-reaching effects on its relations with Russia and the security of the northern territories. Comparisons with Georgia and Ukraine go rampant – a similar fate might await Kazakhstan. An established analysis argued Kazakhstan feels vulnerable especially after the unrest in early 2022 when Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) troops were deployed to Kazakhstan. The thinking was that beholden Tokayev would have to keep close to Russia. Though this analysis is not entirely unfounded, a closer look reveals that Kazakhstan could actually be far more confident than other Russia’s neighbors. One critical factor to consider is that any major military move against Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity risks deteriorating Moscow’s ties with Beijing, which sees Kazakhstan as a gateway to Europe and a vital part of the sprawling Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This gives Kazakhstan greater space for maneuver. As the Russian invasion creates cracks in Moscow’s ties with its Central Asian neighbors, a widening space for diplomatic and economic maneuver will allow Beijing to gain a firmer hold in the region’s affairs. China will, nevertheless, be careful. Beijing will not make major moves to undermine its ties with Russia – larger issues such as competition with the US take precedent and Beijing has consistently made it clear that it is willing to give Russia political support on the international stage despite its war on Ukraine. Yet, the emphasis on greater Chinese engagement with Central Asia and especially Kazakhstan is nevertheless to be expected. A spillover effect from the troubled Russian economy (including a decreased level of remittances) will be pushing Central Asian states to embrace Chinese investments more readily. Moreover, increased cooperation with China can be a way to hedge against the military threat from Russia. These sentiments were visible in early June when the third China-Central Asian states summit (C+C5) was held where participants agreed to develop a structure for regular meetings between the informal groupings’ heads of state. The conference also approved four joint documents, including on data security and strengthening connectivity. The Chinese side stressed that Beijing would always stand behind Central Asian nations in respecting their sovereignty and independence, which bears particular relevance in the current context The parties also agreed on 10 points covering cooperation under the BRI, and maintaining indivisible regional security. While here, China essentially echoes Russia’s thinking toward security in the immediate neighborhood, at the same time, it signals that also Russia is not to be allowed to threaten China’s own security interests by encroaching upon its neighbors.The Middle CorridorConnectivity has long been a key topic on the agenda for China-Central Asia cooperation, but its relevance is bound to increase further. The Russian invasion set in motion massive changes in the connectivity of the Eurasian continent. The Russia route used by China to reach Europe by rail is hobbled by anti-Russia sanctions and, quite naturally, Beijing seeks alternative routes to ensure unimpeded trade flows. This puts Kazakhstan in an advantageous position as the Middle Corridor stretching from Turkey to the Caspian Sea would not be operative without Kazakh ports. Early signs of the re-emergence of the Middle Corridor are quite promising. Cargo transshipment across Central Asia and the Caucasus is expected to increase sixfold to 3.2 million metric tons year-on-year. In April, Maersk, a Danish shipping corporation, started a new train service along the Middle Corridor in response to the changing geopolitical situation in Eurasia. Another company, Finland’s Nurminen Logistics, started running a container train from China to Central Europe through the trans-Caspian route on May 10. The developments are also spurring cooperation among regional actors along the route. In early May, a Georgian Railway team met in Ankara with counterparts from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan to discuss the Middle Corridor of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route project. On May 25, Georgia’s state railway company said that it was working with businesses from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to develop a new shipping route employing feeder vessels between Georgia’s Poti and Romania’s Constanta. This follows a joint declaration by Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey in late March on improving the region’s transportation potential. In re-invigorating the middle Corridor China and Kazakhstan also seek greater support from other players, namely, Turkey. While Turkey may lag behind China and Russia in what it can offer to the regional states, it also presents an alternative to those who fear Russia but also feel uncomfortable relying heavily on China. A quest for diversification of diplomatic and economic ties creates a favorable momentum for Turkey’s increased penetration into the region. Recently, there has already been a noticeable upsurge in active diplomacy by Ankara, seeking to capitalize on the developments with diplomatic visits and pledges to enhance bilateral trade among Turkic nations. The growing interest to circumvent Russia was reflected in the messages Kazakhstan’s Tokayev conveyed to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the visit to Ankara in May as well. The joint statement included an interesting passage on connectivity when the two countries agreed to enhance cooperation in transport and logistics, praised the growth of cargo transit via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, and stressed the importance of the Middle Corridor. Hence, Russia’s war creates significant opportunities for China in Central Asia. Even if Beijing will be careful not to upend the balance straight away, it will chip away at Russia’s influence and use the emerging openings, such as by helping Kazakhstan to diversify its economic and political dependence away from Russia or building the Middle Corridor as a potential alternative to the Russian route. In Russia, this is sure to cause grievances, but Moscow finds itself in an unenviable position when it cannot really openly oppose Chinese moves without compromising their mutual understanding on joint resistance to the collective West. At a time when the end of the war in Ukraine is nowhere in sight, having China’s backing seems far more critical.