GFSIS http://bspn.gfsis.org/ Georgian Foundation For Strategic and International Studies - events. A Training Course: Overview of Foreign and Domestic Policy of the Republic of Turkey http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/794 Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) is pleased to announce the call for applications for the training course Overview of Foreign and Domestic Policy of the Republic of Turkey. In the scope of the program the training participants will enhance their knowledge on the current political developments in Turkey and discuss its domestic and foreign policy in the regional context. The training module includes the following topics: Brief overview of the history of Turkey, Ataturk and his reforms; State structure and political parties; Political situation; Ethnic minorities; Foreign policy and security, Turkey-Georgia relations; The course consists of five lectures (10 hours) of instruction. The module is designed for: Researchers, young students mainly working/studying in the field of International Relations, Oriental Studies and Foreign Policy; The course is led by Zurab Batiashvili, Expert on Oriental Studies, Doctor of Historical Sciences. The lectures will take place on Tuesday and Thursday between 19:00-21:00 at the office of the Rondeli Foundation (address: 3a Sh. Chitadze street, Tbilisi Georgia) The starting date of the course is March 13th, 2018. The training participants shall be awarded with the certificates of completion. Application process: To apply, please submit CV and short motivation letter electronically to info@gfsis.org with the subject line: "Training Course on the Foreign and Domestic Policy of the Republic of Turkey" no later than March 7, 2018 Mon, 12 Feb 2018 0:00:00 GMT Are we in Danger of the Suspension of Visa-Free Travel with the European Union in the Nearest Future? http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/793 Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, Director of EU Studies Center at Rondeli Foundation The first Report regarding the mechanism for the suspension of visa-free travel by the EU with the third countries, published by the European Commission at the end of December 2017, caused quite a stir in our society as, according to the data of Eurostat, the number of Georgians seeking asylum in the European Union or remaining there illegally has grown after the enactment of the visa-free regime. Earlier, according to the data of Georgian official structures, about 10,000 citizens (6.1%) out of 180,000 travelling to the European Union from March to November 2017, had not returned to Georgia. These citizens, therefore, violated the time limit of entering the Schengen area for three months without visa, which might have shaken the possibility of a long-term, unhindered existence of this regime. Despite the fact that the European Union makes the decision about granting to third states visa-free regimes unilaterally, through its own internal procedures, the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union obligates both parties to simplify the movement of citizens from the territory of one to the other. The Agreement says: "The Parties shall continue to endeavor to enhance mobility of citizens and shall take gradual steps towards the shared objective of a visa-free regime…" This statement guarantees that if Georgia follows the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) unwaveringly and continues its reforms in all fields required by VLAP, in the future, it should be possible to fully abolish the requirement of visa for Georgian citizens to enter the European Union. As is well known, as of today, Georgians can only stay in Schengen area visa free for three months out of every six months. Such a spirit of the Association Agreement practically guarantees that if for some reason the European Union decides to suspend a short-term visa free regime, it will be restored again, as soon as the causes of the suspension are eradicated. As for the development of the visa-free regime and its gradual expansion to long-term visits, in this context the respective provisions of Association Agreement have a "soft" nature – there are no specific dates named or any other details. Hence, its full realization and the pace of development depend upon the dynamics of approximation between Georgia and the European Union, the interests of the Union and active diplomatic efforts from our side. The suspension of the visa free regime, should this happen, will negatively influence at least two of the listed conditions. In such a case, not only the part of the population of Georgia that wants to travel to the European Union will suffer, but also the whole process of development of EU-Georgia relations, especially the pace of the process of liberalization of the movement of citizens. The visa free regime rapid suspension mechanism modified by the European Union in March 2017 introduced the regular monitoring of performance of the countries that got this regime through visa dialogue, more specifically the candidate and potential candidate countries from the Western Balkans and the Eastern European countries Associated with the European Union. The main purpose of the dialogue was to accelerate the pace of certain reforms in EU partner states. If the reforms determined by the Visa Liberalization Action Plan do not continue and in addition the migration trends from a certain country towards the European Union is worsening, a mechanism could be used which would (temporarily) suspend visa free regime with a country in question. In what Cases does the European Union Trigger the Quick Suspension Mechanism? According to the March 2017 amendments to the suspension mechanism of the visa free regime, the procedure can now also be launched upon the request of the European Commission (not just a member state) and the time necessary for the enactment has been reduced significantly. The conditions necessary for triggering the suspension mechanism have also been specified: Illegal migration – significant growth of the number (about 50%) of those refused entry to Schengen area or staying longer than allowed; Significant increase (about 50%) of the number of people seeking asylum, when the share of granted asylum applications is low (3-4%); Weakening of cooperation in the field of readmission from side of a partner country; If the security of a member state of the European Union is being harmed due to increased criminal activities by the citizens of a partner country; The European Commission also has a right to request the suspension of visa free regime with the countries that do not fulfill the requirements and promises considered during the visa liberalization dialogue. It should be noted that the requirements listed above are indicative and in any given case, taking the existing threats into account, the decision about the enactment of the suspension mechanism can also be made even if the growth of illegal migration is less than 50%. Same holds true for the share of granted asylum applications for the citizens of a third country. This is explained in the 17 February 2017 joint statement of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. The visa free regime suspension mechanism covers 60 countries with which the Union has such regimes. It is usually enacted at the request of one of the member states. The European Commission discusses the request and as a result of the analysis of existing information, it might ask the member state to resolve the issue with a partner country through "peaceful means," if it considers such a thing to be possible. At the next stage, if the issue is not resolved, the European Commission will formulate a draft decision, which is then considered by the Council of the European Union through ballot, with a majority vote. Within a month from the beginning of the discussion, the Council must either confirm or reject the draft decision through qualified majority. If the decision about the suspension has been made, the visa free regime for a specific country will be suspended for nine months. In this period, the European Commission and member states will continue consultations and negotiations with the partner country regarding the conditions of restoring visa free regime. If, after nine months, the country does not meet the set conditions, the European Commission will make a decision about the postponement of the decision. The visa free regime will only be restored when the European Commission considers (and the member states confirm) that the reasons for its suspension have been eradicated. Of course, it is important for our citizens to know how the Report of the European Commission assesses Georgia and How Realistic is the Suspension of Visa Free Regime with the European Union in Nearest Future? According to Eurostat, there was no serious worsening in the data related to the visa free regime with Georgia in the first half of 2017. The table below reflects the trends of major indicators that affect the decision regarding the suspension of the visa free regime. The Report of the European Commission points out that Georgia generally fulfills the obligation taken in terms of the visa liberalization dialogue and continues reforms in the fields of migration and integrated border management, security as well as combating corruption and organized crime. In many fields, Georgia has better results than Albania or Moldova, which are also mentioned in the Report. Indicator Assessment Refusal of Entry to Country The worsening of this indicator was not noticeable in the first half of 2017. However, the trend was growing in April and May. The most number of refusals was recorded during the entry to Greece, Poland and France. Number of Illegal Migrants This number in 2015 and 2016 was 5400 and 5200 respectively. The number did not increase significantly in the first half of 2017; however, a sharp increase was recorded in Germany. Asylum Applications In 2016, the indicator (8,700) grew by 8-9% as compared to the previous year. In the first half of 2017, the trend of growth as compared to the previous year was no longer noticeable; however, the growth compared to the same period of the previous year amounted to 20% in May-June 2017. Share of Approved Asylum Applications Recognition rate grew in 2016 and reached 6.48%. Same indicator almost did not change in the first half of 2017, amounting to about 6.1%. Return Rate The rate was 55.9% in 2016. It remained almost the same in 2017. The cooperation between the European Union and Georgia in terms of the readmission of migrants is characterized as exemplary. However, it should also be noted that Georgia far exceeds Ukraine and the majority of Western Balkan states in terms of illegal migration. Practically, all Western Balkan states except Albania have better dynamics than Georgia – the number of illegal migrants to the EU is decreeing. The number of asylum seekers shows significant downward trend too. It should also be noted that all assessed countries (Western Balkan states and eight countries of Eastern Europe) except Moldova (48%) have better return rates than Georgia. The Report also underlines that the criminal activity originating from Georgia is among the highest and fastest growing in Europe, threatening the public tranquility of the EU citizens. The usage of the territory of Georgia for various sorts of criminal transit, such as money laundering, transit of psychotropic medications and illegal migrants, is also considered to be a serious problem. Instead of Conclusion At this stage, fortunately, conditions have not formed that would lead the European Commission or any member state to demand the suspension of visa free travel with our country. However, we should consider the risks that could grow if the economic and social background of the country does not improve. The number of those seeking asylum to the European Union might increase sharply in the nearest future, as we are one of the top countries discussed in the Report in this regard. We should also pay attention to the trends of all these indicators not only with regard to the European Union in general but in the cases of specific member states as well, given the fact that the worsening of these indicators in the case of a specific country might cause it to demand suspending visa free regime for Georgia. In this regard, negative trends are noticeable in the cases of Germany, France and Greece and also in part with Italy and Poland, which is manifested in the refusals to entry in the country, growth of the number of asylum seekers and others. We should pay a very close attention to the statistics of legal violations and criminal activities of Georgian citizens in the European Union. In this regard, Germany, France and Spain often state their concern. If appropriate measures are not taken, in the future these issues might also become grounds for the suspension of visa free regime with the European Union. Fri, 9 Feb 2018 0:00:00 GMT Public Discussion in Marneuli on Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic Aspirations http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/789 On February 8, 2018 Rondeli Foundation organized a public discussion for the local representatives of ethnic Azerbaijani youth at Marneuli Youth Centre. The lecture was delivered by Alex Petriashvili, the former State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration (2012-2014). The speaker discussed Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The event was followed by an ardent discussion. Thu, 8 Feb 2018 0:00:00 GMT Kremlin New Appointments and the Occupied Regions of Georgia http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/788 Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst In December 2017, the Kremlin made important appointments, which will affect the processes unfolding in the occupied regions of Georgia as well. More specifically, an experienced diplomat was appointed on the position of the Head of the Federal Agency for of CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs. As for the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues, a new position of Deputy Minister for Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions has been created. An Experienced Diplomat Heading Россотрудничества On 19 December 2017, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin appointed Eleonora Mitrofanova as the Head of the Federal Agency for CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs [Россотрудничества]. She replaced Liubov Glebova, who headed the Agency from 23 March 2015 to 14 September 2017. In September Glebova became a member of the Council of the Russian Federation from the Udmurt Republic. The position of the Head of the Agency remained vacant for several months, which can be explained, among other things, with the confrontation between various groups inside the Kremlin. According to the prevailing version, Mitrofanova’s appointment was being hindered by the powerful Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Sergei Kirienko, who is considered to be a backer of Glebova. In addition, Mitrofanova’s brother was also considered to be a hindrance, as he is wanted by the Russian law enforcement structures. Aleksei Mitrofanov is a famous Russian politician, who is a former member of the LDPR and Fair Russia political parties. In 2014, he was stripped off his MP immunity, with criminal proceedings commenced against him and a search for him announced. Mitrofanova has a rich experience of working on the issues of her compatriots in the CIS countries and on the international arena. In 2001-2003 she served as the Deputy Secretary General of UNESCO in Administrative and Governance Issues whilst in 2003-2004 she occupied the position of the First Deputy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first woman in the history of Russia who held the position of First Deputy Secretary. Mitrofanova was in charge of protecting the rights of her compatriots living abroad and also developing international cultural connections. Her priorities included protecting the interests of compatriots and strengthening the positions of the Russian language in CIS countries as well as supporting war veterans and Russian speaking pensioners. In 2004-2009 she headed the Russian Center for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation (Росзарубежцентр) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, which is considered to be a legal predecessor of the Federal Agency for CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs. In 2009-2016, Mitrofanova represented Russia in UNESCO. After her appointment as the Head of the Agency, among her priorities Mitrofanova named developing Russia’s cultural cooperation with the CIS countries, expanding the teaching of the Russian language in CIS countries and training the teachers. In addition, according to her statement, it is necessary to create a proper condition for dialogue in the countries with which Russia has certain difficulties. Due to the status of relations between Russia and Georgia, the activities of the Agency in Georgia are constricted; however, it does have representations in Sokhumi (since 2009) and Tskhinvali (2010). At this stage, the Department of CIS Affairs in the Agency is headed by Sergei Malenko, who has occupied this position since November 2015. Elena Volgina is the Head of the Department for Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Her predecessor was Anastasia Miklina, who now works in the Department of Central Asia. New Curator for Occupied Regions at the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues (Минкавказ России) On 21 December 2017, Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev appointed Igor Koshin on the position of a Deputy Minister of North Caucasus Issues. According to the decision of Minister Lev Kuznetsov, apart from international cooperation, Koshin will also oversee the relations between Russia and the occupied regions of Georgia. Before his appointment, from February 2014 to September 2017, Koshin was the governor of Nenets Autonomous Oblast. He resigned before the expiry of his tenure. Koshin had one of the lowest ratings among governors. He was being accused of the financial problems of the region, which was also caused by the reduction of oil prices. According to the assessment of the Russian experts, Koshin’s positions in the region started to weaken after state-owned oil giant Rosneft became more active, as Koshin was considered to be lobbying the interests of Lukoil. In the second half of 2017, the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues, which was created on 12 May 2014, was especially active with regard to the Georgian occupied territories. The appointment of Koshin as a curator of the occupied Georgian regions indicates that the role of the Ministry in the processes unfolding in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region will become more and more profound. Apart from coordinating the implementation of social-economic state programs in the North Caucasus Federal Oblast, the competences of the Ministry also include monitoring the implementation of the investment projects funded by Russia and aimed at social-economic development of the occupied regions. For this purposes, namely for the monitoring of the investment projects aimed at facilitating social-economic development from 2015 to 2017, Minister Kuznetsov visited the occupied regions multiple times in the second half of 2017. For example, in July 2017 Kuznetsov visited Abkhazia and inspected the rehabilitation works of social objects in Sukhumi. In the same month, he also visited Tskhinvali where he criticized the pace of the construction of the objects, threatening the contractor company with fines. In November 2017, Kuznetsov visited Abkhazia once again and inspected the constructions of No. 2 public school in Gagra, a small electro-station and a hotel. Together with de-facto Prime Minister, Beslan Batsits, he also personally checked the condition of the new elevators installed in block buildings, paid for by Russia. He visited the completed construction work of Abkhazia State University and harshly criticized the builders – he expressed his discontent with the quality of asphalt in the yard of the University as well as the ceilings of the Rector and Pro-Rector cabinets. "Accepting such a result and putting your signature on it is inadmissible, this is really shameful", - stated the Minister. In September 2017, Kuznetsov visited Tskhinvali and took a look at medical-social center under construction, surgery center, children’s hospital and university complex. On 8 December 2017, Kuznetsov went to Sokhumi once again where he participated in the session of the Government Commission on Social-Economic Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the de-facto republic. From the Russian side the Commission was led by Vice Prime Minister, Aleksandr Khloponin. During the meeting, they discussed the results of the implementation of investment program for the development of Abkhazia and discussed further plans for 2018-2019. During the meeting, the Abkhazian side especially stressed the effective cooperation with the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues. According to the statement of the de-facto Prime Minister, Beslan Bartsits, the Ministry is one of the most important partners, which is actively involved in the social-economic development process of Abkhazia. Principal Conclusions The appointment of an experienced diplomat as the Head of the Federal Agency for CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs [Россотрудничества] will encourage the activation of the work of the Agency in the Post-Soviet space, as well as in the occupied regions of Georgia. Eleonora Mitrofanova, who, compared to her predecessor, knows the Post-Soviet states better, believes the popularization of the Russian language in the CIS countries to be an important component of the Kremlin’s soft power. In the nearest future, we must expect the increased activities of the agency in this regard, including in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. The frequent visits of the Minister of North Caucasus Issues to the occupied regions of Georgia in 2017 and the introduction of the position of Deputy Minister overseeing the occupied regions indicates that the role of the Ministry in monitoring the social-economic projects conducted in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region through Russian funding, will increase. The growth of the role of the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues may weaken the influence of the Division for Social-Economic Cooperation with CIS Countries, Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the Presidential Administration in the field of the implementation of social-economic projects. The Division has been led by the Assistant of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladislav Surkov, since 2013. Until now, Surkov and the structures subordinate to him have been controlling the operation of social-economic projects in the occupied regions and the spending of money allocated by Russia. In this regard, the events of the second half of 2017 cause us to think that Surkov may have some competition in this field from the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues, which will intensify the battle for the control of high-budget projects in the occupied regions among various groups in the Kremlin. Mon, 5 Feb 2018 0:00:00 GMT Public Seminar “Political Economic Discussions with Vladimer Papava” http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/787 On January 31, 2018 Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) hosted a public seminar "Political Economic Discussions with Vladimer Papava". Professor Ioseb Archvadze, Kutaisi State University made a presentation on the topic "Where does the income of population go?". The speaker noted that revenue of most of the population goes into commercial banks and gambling games. The event was followed by an ardent discussion. The attendees made some useful remarks and suggestions. The seminar was moderated by Prof. Vlidimer Papava, the Senior Fellow and the Director of the Center for Applied Economic Studies at Rondeli Foundation. Wed, 31 Jan 2018 0:00:00 GMT 5-day Training Course in Kutaisi on DCFTA http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/786 On January 22-26, 2018 Rondeli Foundation organized the final round of a 5-day training course in Kutaisi for the representatives of local media, NGO and municipality on DCFTA under the framework of the project "Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Awareness Raising Trainings for Journalists and Civil Society Organizations". The training participants were introduced to the following topics: Free Trade and Economic Integration Models, Trade Related Energy Provisions of DCFTA, Trade in Services, Electronic Commerce, Establishment, and Operation of Businesses, Transport Services, Government Procurement and many more. The participants were awarded with the certificates of successful completion. Previously, the abovementioned sessions were conducted for the local journalists and the representatives of CSOs in Telavi, Tbilisi, Akhalkalaki, Batumi, Gori and Marneuli. The project implemented with the financial support of USAID/ Governing for Growth (G4G) in Georgia aimed to enhance the quality of journalists’ reporting on trade and DCFTA as well as improve the capacities of the central and regional NGOs dealing with DCFTA and strengthen the support towards DCFTA-related policy reforms. Fri, 26 Jan 2018 0:00:00 GMT Meeting with the representatives of the National Defence Academy http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/785 On January 23, 2018 Rondeli Foundation hosted the representatives of the National Defence Academy. The meeting was attended by Colonel Zaza Japaridze, Rector of the National Defence Academy, Nino Jojua, Acting Deputy Rector, Mariam Darbaidze Acting Head of Quality Assurance Service and Nino Getsadze, Head of International Relations Section. The parties discussed the perspectives of the cooperation between Rondeli Foundation and the National Defence Academy. Tue, 23 Jan 2018 0:00:00 GMT Geopolitical Vision of the Russian Opposition http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/784 Author: David Batashvili, International Relations Analyst The Russian political opposition group around Alexey Navalny has recently condensed its political platform into a single document. The text is titled "The Program of Alexey Navalny," consists of eight chapters and their short summaries, and was developed by Navalny with participation of an "expert council" that includes economists, lawyers and a well-known writer Boris Akunin. This article concerns the parts of Navalny’s program where its authors present their vision of Russia as an international player. It is true that whether Navalny or his team will ever get the opportunity to implement their concepts is unclear. Presently their chances do not appear to be very rosy – Navalny has recently been barred from participating in the Russian presidential election on 18 March, his supporters having to content themselves with an election boycott and planned protest rallies. It is also true that even if the opposition did gain power in the future, their real actions on the international stage may be quite different from the vision they are now presenting. My answer to the first of these concerns is that whatever we may think about the team gathered around Navalny and their political chances, the fact remains that at the moment they are the only significant political group in Russia that is seeking to be an actual alternative to the regime. This makes their views on what kind of foreign policy is desirable for Russia interesting. To the second concern I answer that whenever the Russian opposition members’ words or actions regarding foreign affairs deviate from their present stance, we, the observers, should take careful note, but this does not mean that we should not pay attention to what this present stance of theirs is. To the contrary, it offers us a point of reference to which we can compare possible future evolutions of Navalny’s political group’s geopolitical attitudes. Salvation of the great power through economic recovery A key concern for opposition members is the impending national weakening of Russia as a result of economic stagnation, mismanagement, and lack of meaningful development. Their declared purpose is to prevent this expected backsliding and keep Russia among the major powers. They make this point clearly enough in their program, saying that "the status of a great power will be lost irrevocably if Russia does not prove its economic viability." In another part of the program its authors reiterate this idea, arguing that "only economic viability can guarantee for the country the status of a great and independent power in the modern world." Economic rehabilitation and growth is, in the eyes of Navalny’s team, a means of not only improving the lot of Russian citizens, but also strengthening Russia’s position among the world’s nations, which they believe is being compromised as a result of developmental stagnation under Putin. And they do intend to strengthen this position: "Russia must be the leading country of Europe and Asia. The country must be broadening its influence through economic might and cultural expansion, including the support for the Russian language all over the world." Economic recovery through détente with the West To achieve the desired economic viability the opposition proposes a number of measures within Russia, but one of the principle prerequisites it lists as required for achieving this purpose is a relief from the confrontation with the West. As the program’s authors deftly put it, "Russia must recover for itself an image of an amicable country and put this amicability in the service of economic development." As specific parts of such "amicability" the program names reduction of tensions in relations with the European Union, the United States, and Ukraine, as well as return to fulfilling Russia’s commitments in accordance with international treaties. The program promises to stop aggression against Ukraine, achieving "the lifting of sanctions that prevent our entrepreneurs from trading with the rest of the world and from taking cheap loans in the world’s financial markets." It is questionable how meaningful each of these pronouncements is given Navalny’s stated refusal to end Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea if he comes to power. After all, this occupation certainly violates international treaties signed by Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently clarified that "Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine," and it can be posited with certainty that without deoccupation of Crimea full normalization between Russia and Ukraine is flatly impossible. Another measure to achieve détente listed in Navalny’s program is to "stop supporting dictatorial and unviable regimes all over the world." It is specified in the text that "political support of Bashar Assad’s regime and other similar regimes is not a priority of the Russian foreign policy." Once this desired détente is achieved, Navalny’s team intends to engage in other foreign political moves aimed at strengthening Russia’s economy. These moves include using "Russia’s unique geographic position" for economic integration with both Europe and East Asia, and "full support for the expansion of our high tech exporters to the foreign markets." Dealing with Russia’s neighbors Navalny’s program pledges to "cease the support for the separatist movements, rebel groups and opposition parties all over the world." It says nothing of specific cases of such support, however, with the exception of the promise to stop aggression against Ukraine. And yet, even in the Ukrainian case the Russian opposition’s stance is less than satisfactory. It is clear that under "aggression against Ukraine" the Russian opposition means only the occupation of parts of the Donbass region. The occupation of Crimea is somehow not considered an element of this aggression. Besides Navalny’s statements referred to above, the program itself says that the Russian position regarding Crimea "will be defined by the recognition of the rights of the peoples of Crimea to decide their fate themselves," which in translation from the formalistic language actually means that the Russian opposition has no more intention to de-occupy Crimea than Putin’s regime does. Another significant statement in the Russian opposition’s program is its intention to pursue "economic integration in the post-Soviet space." For some reason, the framework of such integration is designated there as "EvraZES" [ЕвраЗЭС], which is a Russian abbreviation for the Eurasian Economic Community – a Russian-led regional organization in 2000-2014 that was replaced on 1 January 2015 by its next evolutionary form called the Eurasian Economic Union. It is notable that for the final goal of economic integration with the European Union, Navalny’s team sets a free trade zone not between the EU and Russia, but between the EU and "EvraZES". The implication of such a stance is that Russia must first consolidate around itself an economic integration sphere that includes its post-Soviet neighbors, and then cooperate with the EU - not as a separate nation but as a leader of a regional zone of influence. That Russia’s neighbors might want to proceed with their European integration directly, without intermediaries in Moscow, does not appear to occur to Navalny and his team. Besides the attempt to combine rejection of support for separatism and aggression against Ukraine with keeping Crimea under the Russian control, there is another contradiction in Navalny’s program regarding Russia’s neighbors. While pushing for integration with the post-Soviet countries, even wishing to unite them into some kind of economic union, Navalny intends to "introduce visa regime with the countries of Central Asia and South Caucasus" (with Armenia and Azerbaijan, to be more precise - Russia introduced visa regime with Georgia back in 2000), stressing that "labor migrants must arrive through working visas, not uncontrollably as at present." Perhaps Navalny somehow deems it possible to combine deeper integration with countries like Kazakhstan or Armenia and new visa barriers with them, but in any case this nuance does betray contradictory impulses in his thinking about Russia’s neighbors. * * * * The primary foreign policy goal of the Russian opposition is to improve Russia’s global standing. While Putin’s government seeks to accomplish this through a combination of aggressive covert and military actions with opportunistic diplomacy, the opposition’s present concept envisions achieving the same end by increasing Russia’s relative economic standing in the world. And yet, the legacy of the old ways lingers in Navalny’s program, causing inconsistencies. The document promises a Russia that strictly follows international rules while continuing its illegal occupation of Crimea. It declares a desire to engage in economic integration with Europe, but indicates the intention of doing so after consolidating Russia’s neighbors into its own economic sphere. The program betrays a somewhat lazy thinking regarding relations with Russia’s neighbors. The expectation, entertained by the program’s authors, that they will be able to fully normalize relations with Ukraine without returning Crimea, is unrealistic. In addition, the document does not say anything about how Russia would disentangle itself from the mess it has created in countries like Georgia and Moldova, besides a single vague statement about ending the support for separatists "all over the world." To be sure, it might be politically unwise for the Russian opposition members to expand on these matters at the moment, but the problem is that their ambiguity might be genuine. Russian foreign policy has a very long tradition of disregarding the interests, intentions and political identities of its neighbors. This trend has been consistent under different Russian regimes. Unless the Russian opposition consciously employs a fresher view, it will probably continue this unpleasant habit, if it ever comes to power. Its potential failure to grasp how seriously Russia’s neighbors take their sovereignty could cause a new cycle of tension and conflict. Mon, 22 Jan 2018 0:00:00 GMT Panel Discussion "Middle East - Current Challenges" http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/783 On January 16th, 2018 Rondeli Foundation organized the panel discussion on the current events in Iran. The discussion was moderated by Irakli Menagarishvili, the Chairman of the Center for Strategic Studies, the speakers included Amb. Levan Asatiani, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia in Islamic Republic if Iran (2004-2009), Nikoloz Nakhutsrishvili, Researcher, Ilia State University, G. Tsereteli Institute of Oriental Studies and Zurab Batashvili, the Expert on Oriental Studies, Doctor of Historical Sciences. The presenters made a brief overview of the political, religious and social contexts within the Islamic Republic of Iran, discussed the current developments in the country, their impact on the broader region and possible scenarios for Georgia. The speakers also talked about the relations between Georgia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The representatives of expert community, governmental and non-governmental organizations attended the event. The presentations were followed by an engaging discussion between the audience and the speakers. The event was conducted in the framework of the series of expert panel discussions about the current situation in Middle East. Wed, 17 Jan 2018 0:00:00 GMT Who Gets Russian Help? http://bspn.gfsis.org/events/view/782 Author: Amb. Giorgi Badridze, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation Recently not a day goes by without the revelations about the Kremlin’s involvement in some Western election campaign or a referendum. Of course, it was also known before that for example in France, Marin Le Pen’s far-right National Front was getting multi-million assistance (or loans, which is one and the same) from Russian sources; however, Russia’s involvement in the Western politics moved at the center of attention of the international community after the Presidential Elections in the United States. Today it is possible to say that according to the information revealed during the investigation of the United States FBI, later covering whole of Western Europe, there has not been a single election or referendum in recent years which the Russian intelligence services did not try to influence. This is probably not very surprising – Russia has long worked very actively to expand its influence beyond its borders. Until the twentieth century, it employed the concept of the Orthodox Empire or The Third Rome, in the 1920s and 30s it was building Communist International in order to create a global empire based upon a new ideology, also actively working with communist or the so-called "progressive" forces during the Cold War. Hence, the main principle upon which the Russian or Soviet assistance was based was the ideological proximity of its partners. Of course, both the Russian Empire as well as the Soviet Union worked primarily according to their geopolitical interests; however, it is also a fact that as their allies they mostly chose the groups holding ideologies similar to theirs. The main thing that has changed is that the current beneficiaries of the Kremlin’s financial or other type of assistance (the fact that assistance does not only mean giving money will be discussed below) often hold differing, sometimes completely incompatible ideologies. This does not mean that the Kremlin does not favor far-right nationalist ideology; however, as it has become increasingly clear in recent years, Russia no longer limits itself with the principle of ideological proximity. Let us now discuss who is getting Russian assistance and for what. First and the main (perhaps the only) criterion for gaining the Kremlin’s sympathies is the ability of the force in question to serve Russia’s interests in its home country. In the case of the Western countries this often does not even mean direct cooperation with Russia – it is enough for a party or a social movement to foster the weakening of NATO and the European Union, both so loathed by Russia. For example, Kremlin definitely does not dream about powerful UK or France, independent from Europe; however, as it was revealed, they did provide financial and informational support to the Leave campaign in the United Kingdom, just as they rooted for Marin Le Pen in the French Presidential Elections – Ms. Le Pen got not only financial assistance, but also a meeting with Putin and his open support. The task, as already pointed out, was to weaken the European Union, with which the Kremlin is unable to find common ground, hoping that it will be able to better promote its interests in Europe on a bilateral level (it is no coincidence if you remembered the old proverb about a quiver of arrows). How do we know that Russia does not support strong UK, France or the United States? This becomes quite clear if we look at the beneficiaries of Russian assistance more closely. Yes, the British businessman linked to Russia, Aaron Banks, was the largest sponsor of the Brexit campaign. He dobnated at least seven million pounds to help those wishing to bring the UK out of the European Union. Currently, the actual origins of this money is being investigated; however, Aaron Bank’s ties with Russia are very clear – he is married to a Russian national Ekaterina Paderina. Ms. Paderina obtained the UK residence permit with the help of the one and same Michael Hancock (MP) who had another young Russian lady, Ekaterina Zatuliveter as his Parliamentary Secretary, giving her access to classified material, also arranged the. Ms. Zatuliveter, who was the daughter of an officer of Soviet and Russian intelligence, was officially investigated by the British counter intelligence service (MI5) on charges of cooperating with the representatives of the Russian foreign intelligence service in London. In his turn, Mr. Hancock later was exposed for of numerous non-ethical actions, as a result of which he lost his Parliamentary seat. At the same time, it has been revealed that the Scottish separatists were also getting Russian assistance, together with their hyper-active support in the social media. This means that on the one hand Russia was assisting the supporters of the "independent" Britain, wielding the slogans similar to "Making Britain Great Again" in the social media, whilst on the other hand it was also supporting those wishing the dissolution of the United Kingdom, providing them with support in the social media as well. For more than a year, the investigation of covert or open contacts of Donald Trump and his entourage with the representatives of Russia has been the main political intrigue in the United States. One FBI Director has already fallen victim to this investigation. However, the investigation continued in a special format with the former FBI Director, Robert Muller appointed as a Special Counsel. During Muller’s investigation, one of the leaders of the Trump Campaign and later his National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, has already pleaded guilty on lying about contacts with Russia. In addition, numerous other evidence emerges about Russia’s support to the Trump Campaign, first and foremost – the illegally obtaining and publication of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, Russia’s support was not uniform in this case either – the purpose of it was not to ensure Trump’s victory and a strong right-wing administration, but rather to ensure Clinton’s defeat. The fact that Russia did not support Trump’s Presidency in order to foster the success of the United States is further confirmed by the data regularly presented by the investigation after the elections. The involvement of the Russians in the hacking of the computers of the Democratic Party and handing over the acquired information to the Trump campaign, as well as the activities of the Russian "Troll Factory" in the social media in Trump’s favor was common knowledge. However, the new data increasingly show that after Trump’s victory, the numerous fake Twitter or Facebook accounts managed from Russia have been spreading the posts aimed against him with equal success. During the same current social event, for example the protests about disproportionate police violence against African Americans, Russian fake accounts were spreading the posts supporting white nationalists, who were Trump’s supporters, as well as posting anti-racist and anti-Trump content as well. Numerous serious investigations have been dedicated to this issue and the principal conclusion, based upon the material currently at hand, is that in reality Russian support is not intended to guarantee the success of the addressees, but rather aims to weaken the countries that Russia considers as adversaries. This should have been clear earlier as well – it is very naïve to believe that the Kremlin loathes "Clinton’s America" but likes Republican, or "Trump’s America". Putin’s goal is to weaken the United States and in order to achieve this goal he will support the forces, which, in his opinion, will harm their country the most, later also attempting to weaken the latter as well. We should have learned this lesson a long time ago. There are forces in Georgia too, which are supported by Moscow in certain ways, albeit covertly. Recently, even a sort of competition could be observed among the anti-Western or openly pro-Russian forces in Georgia, with the pseudo-nationalist groups being more active than the others. The fact that Georgian ethno-nationalists are pro-Russian is especially baffling, since Russia has never even attempted to cover its total support towards the greatest enemies of Georgian statehood. These include not only all sorts of separatists, but also forces, which have performed the ethnic cleansing of Georgians twice in recent period. Based upon all this, the conclusion is not difficult to make: Russia is currently helping numerous forces, which are often opposed to one another. It may support both far-right and left-wing forces, or nationalists and separatists. The reason of this is not the sympathies to specific forces or wish for their success, but rather the desire to weaken the Western political institutions, democratic states and their alliances. This concerns Georgia directly and everyone, discovering that they are being offered Russian money or other types of support, must know that Moscow considers them to be its allies in the task of harming their own country. Fri, 12 Jan 2018 0:00:00 GMT