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The fate of Central Asia may be decided on the steppes and in the forests of Ukraine

The fate of Central Asia may be decided on the steppes and in the forests of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin was sworn in for another six-year term as the President of Russia on Tuesday, 7 May. With Putin having been the undisputed leader of Russia for decades, continuity, one would have thought, was assured. Yet Putin himself, on Monday (13 May) speaking at a meeting of the Security Council spoke of “a new political cycle” in Russia. Some of the first decisions of the re-elected president give us a sense of what is to come. First, there was the surprise dismissal of Sergei Shoigu as Minister of Defence, and his transfer to be the Secretary of the Security Council. There had been speculation for some time that Shoigu’s time at the Ministry of Defence was up. But what was surprising was the appointment of Andrei Belousov, former Deputy Prime Minister – an efficient technocrat with an economic background to replace him. That the Russian Ministry of Defence has needed a shake-up for some time has been abundantly clear, but Andrei Belousov’s mission seems to be more ambitious than that: He is tasked with transforming the Russian Defence Ministry into a modern institution that can embrace new ideas and techniques, and that has enough flexibility to conduct the sort of hybrid warfare that is likely to be the order of the day going forward. So despite all of Putin’s bravados about the Russian nuclear arsenal, it seems he is putting his faith in a more innovative, agile, and versatile force. Then on Monday, 13 May, Putin held his first meeting of the Security Council since his inauguration. The Kremlin website only referred to one item out of apparently several that were discussed, namely relations with the post-Soviet Republics, a subject much close to the heart of the president. Putin reiterated that this was a priority in foreign policy. Putin said, “we should pay even more attention to this area in the new political cycle in Russia and discuss the way we will organise this work from all points of view, including organisational”. So it appears that there is new thinking in this sphere, details of which is not yet known.
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A new era of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean

A new era of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean

A ground breaking meeting between the President of Turkiye, Recip Tayip Erdogan, and Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on Monday (13 May) is being hailed as the dawn of a new era of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mitsotakis was in Ankara as the guest of the Turkish leader. There are no unsolvable problems between Athens and Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, as he and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised the state of relations between the two neighbors while pledging to further enhance bilateral ties. "We had a constructive and positive meeting and discussed problems in Türkiye-Greece relations; We will solve problems through dialogue," Erdoğan said at a joint news conference with Mitsotakis. Erdoğan said that Ankara and Athens are committed to resolving issues via "cordial dialogue, good neighborly ties, and international law" as outlined in last year's Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighborliness. Improvement of bilateral relations with Türkiye is yielding concrete and positive results, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said "I can only begin by thanking you for the warm hospitality today in Ankara, it was a fourth meeting in the last 10 months, which I believe proves that the two neighbors can now establish this approach of mutual understanding, no longer as some exception, but as a productive normality that is not negated by the known differences in our positions," Mitsotakis said. He said bilateral relations have been progressing, as agreed by the parties, on three levels: political dialogue, positive agenda and confidence-building measures. "I believe that it is a positive development in a difficult time for international peace, but also for the broader stability in our region," the Greek leader said.

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Opinion
Opinion: Armenia and Azerbaijan warm-up to the bilateral track in their negotiations

Opinion: Armenia and Azerbaijan warm-up to the bilateral track in their negotiations

For many months formal talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in stagnation, writes Samir Hajizada in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. Then on 7 December, the two countries surprised the international community with a joint statement re-affirming commitment to the peace process and announcing confidence-building measures. A number of recent developments allow us to assume that the bilateral discussion format is finally gaining a real momentum. Thus, on December 14, the Government of Armenia has approved the regulations for the functioning of the delimitation commission- while a similar move is expected from Baku in the coming days. Moreover, on the same day Azerbaijani MFA issued a statement that normalisation of relations with Armenia seems realistic, and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan during his visit to Azerbaijan stated that peace between the countries is very close. The opportunities for a long-awaited breakthrough suddenly started to look bright at the end of the grim 2023.
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Editorial
Editorial: EU decision to grant Georgia "candidate status" overshadowed by controversy in Brussels over Ukraine

Editorial: EU decision to grant Georgia "candidate status" overshadowed by controversy in Brussels over Ukraine

If one had said it even as recently as 2021, that by the end of 2023 Georgia would be given "candidate status" for EU membership, hardly anyone would have believed it. Yet it happened yesterday, when the member states gathered in the European Council in Brussels took the historic decision to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova and grant candidate status to Georgia. The immediate impact of this decision will be minimal - some consider the step as more symbolic than tangible, but soon, the impact of the prospect of a South Caucasus country becoming an EU member will sink in, with huge implications. Of course, it is the events around Ukraine starting with the Russian invasion in February 2022, that changed all the certainties. And it was also Ukraine that dominated the news yesterday. The decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova will also have tremendous implications. Perhaps appropriately it was taken in somewhat dramatic circumstances, after Hungary tried to oppose it. Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, left the meeting of the European Council to enable the decision to be adopted unanimously by the remaining 26 member states. There remains a decision on the issue of a substantial aid package to Ukraine, which has been left for another meeting in January. What now for Georgia? In Georgia everyone is trying to take credit for the "candidate status" decision. Good thing because everyone can now feel to be a stakeholder in the journey that needs to follow. No doubt, in the style of Georgian politics, the journey will be  adventurous and sometimes hazardous. But the new status is good news for Georgia. It will help stabilise the political situation, and contribute towards economic success. The decision also brings the EU firmly in the South Caucasus. Those who very disingenuously in the last year or so have been talking about keeping the South Caucasus cosy in a 3 plus 3  format - ie with Russia, Iran and Turkey together with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, now need to think again. The South Caucasus is Europe and Europe should be a partner in its future. But that is for later. For today, it is congratulations Georgia, and to all those Georgians who for decades worked for this development to be possible.
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153 countries call for an immediate cease fire in Gaza

153 countries call for an immediate cease fire in Gaza

In a vote in the United Nations General Assembly 153 member nations supported a call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Only 10 countries voted against it and 33 abstained. The vote took place during an emergency special session of the assembly titled “Protection of Civilians and Upholding Legal and Humanitarian Obligations.” It was called last week by the representatives of Egypt and Mauritania, in their capacities as chair of the Arab Group and chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation respectively, after the US on Friday vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. The draft of the text of the resolution adopted by the General Assembly on Tuesday, and seen by Arab News, closely reflected the vetoed Security Council resolution. It expresses “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population, and (emphasizes) that the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.” It calls for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” as well as the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.” The vote once more exposed divisions in the position of EU member states, with Austria and Czechia voting against the resolution, whilst Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia abstained. All other EU members voted in favour.
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EU to increase the size of its monitoring mission in Armenia from 138 to 209 members

EU to increase the size of its monitoring mission in Armenia from 138 to 209 members

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU member-states, meeting in the framework of the Foreign Affairs Council, on Monday (11 December) agreed to increase the size of the EU Mission in Armenia from 138 to 209. This was announced by the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell in a briefing after the session of the Council in Brussels. Borrell told journalists, "You know that we are currently working on strengthening our relations with Armenia. I see that Armenia clearly sees the benefits of increasing cooperation with us, and we are ready to respond positively." Borrell referred to the ongoing efforts to normalise Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, stating:  "We believe that there is a historic chance to achieve peace in the region. It is an opportunity. We are committed to continue our support to these efforts – by working together with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The fact that we have decided to increase by such an important number our staff on this mission shows our clear commitment to the stability in the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and [is] an important contribution to the peace efforts." The Foreign Affairs Council also held an informal exchange of views with the Armenian Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan at the start of its proceedings. During the day, Borrell also held a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov. Azerbaijan has criticised the fact that only the Armenian Foreign Minister was invited to exchange views with the Foreign Affairs Council, and that no similar invitation was extended to his Azerbaijani counterpart.
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Armenia and Azerbaijan move towards normalising relations and signing a peace treaty

Armenia and Azerbaijan move towards normalising relations and signing a peace treaty

Armenia and Azerbaijan have issued a joint statement in which they announced tangible steps in implementing confidence-building measures between them as a step towards normalising relations between them "and to reach a peace treaty on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity." The two sides also announced a prisoner exchange. A joint sttament issued in Baku and Yerevan states that following talks between the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, an agreement has been reached on taking tangible steps towards building confidence between two countries. Azerbaijan will release 32 Armenian military servicemen and Armenia will release 2 Azerbaijani military servicemen. The two countries will support each other's initiatives in the framework of COP. The statement adds that Armenia and Azerbaijan "will continue their discussions regarding the implementation of more confidence building measures, effective in the near future and call on the international community to support their efforts that will contribute to building mutual trust between two countries and will positively impact the entire South Caucasus region.”
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European Commission launches a Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling

European Commission launches a Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling

Criminal networks take advantage of people's desperation, and this abuse often leads to loss of life. Migrant smugglers squeezing hundreds of people onto unseaworthy boats, resulted in a staggering humanitarian toll of over 28 000 people having drowned or missing in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014. The main beneficiaries are the criminals, the smuggling networks in countries of origin, transit and destination. The current legislative framework is the Facilitators Package from 2002. Under the Facilitators Package, any person who intentionally assists the unauthorised entry, transit, or residence of a non-EU national into the EU, or, for financial gain, to reside there is to be sanctioned unless they are doing so for humanitarian reasons. On Tuesday (28 November), the European Commission proposed new legislation to prevent and fight migrant smuggling. The Commission has also launched a Call to Action for a Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling, at an International Conference hosted this week in Brussels. The Commission will ensure that the Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling will work at bilateral and multilateral level as well as through the work of the UNODC. Regular stocktaking at political level will be ensured, with the first event taking place in Copenhagen in the spring 2024. The Conference will be the first such opportunity to take stock of the achievements of the Global Alliance. Migrant smuggling is a criminal activity that disrespects human life and the dignity of people in the pursuit of financial or other material benefits. Smuggling networks make substantial profits from their criminal activities, ranging between EUR 4.7 – 6 billion worldwide annually.  The modi operandi of smuggling networks change rapidly, adapting to circumstances and responses by national authorities. This is why the Commission is increasing its efforts to tackle this crime at a global scale.
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Turkiye and UK sign landmark security and defence agreement

Turkiye and UK sign landmark security and defence agreement

The UK and Türkiye, on Friday (25 November) agreed to work more closely together to help bring greater stability, security and prosperity to both nations. UK Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, signed a Statement of Intent on defence co-operation, with his Turkish counterpart, Minister of National Defense, Yaşar Güler. This will provide the framework for closer working to deliver additional activities that will benefit the security and prosperity of both countries and, in so doing, enhancing national, regional and international security. Following the signing, activity will see closer collaboration between both countries’ defence industries, the identification of possible joint training exercises in the Mediterranean, and the exploration of security support around North Africa and the Middle East. As well as discussing the need for de-escalation in the Middle East, the British Defence Secretary thanked his counterpart for utilising Türkiye’s influence as the gatekeeper to the Black Sea to enable the export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to nations who need it most. There was strong agreement on the need to keep focused on our collective support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s continuing aggression.