US Independence of Oil Imports is Clearly a Desirable Goal, but Caving In to the Oil Barrons by Letting them Drill in the Arctic Harms US Global Goals and the Whole World. The Sierra Club promisses to fight such moves by the Obama Administration and Shell Oil Co.
Coming Clean – The blog of Executive Director Michael Brune, The Sierra Club.
So why has the administration allowed things to go this far? If this were a wedding with a reluctant bridegroom, we’d be listening to the minister clear his throat and gaze out over the congregation. I don’t know. Maybe, even though they know this is a bad idea, they just don’t have the guts to call it off.
But you know what? That’s the wrong analogy. What’s about to happen in the Chukchi Sea is more like a blind date than a shotgun wedding. Even if Shell manages to get its act together with its exploratory drilling this summer, it will still need approval for commercial drilling, and it will be even harder to make a case that such drilling can be done safely. Shell would also need to install hundreds of miles of pipeline, both on the seafloor and dry land. The process could take a decade or more, and every step along the way, we have opportunities to make the case that clean energy is better for our country and our planet. And the longer this drags on, the more obvious it will be that drilling in Arctic waters is an unnecessary invitation to disaster.
We will not rest until President Obama cancels all drilling and future leases and protects the Arctic Ocean.
From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon.
A former staunch ally of the US-led War on Terror, Macedonia PM Nikola Gruevski has gradually turned his country away from the west towards Russia – all the while keeping his neoconservative ideology intact.
Meanwhile, political analysts have detected a certain rift in the relations between Skopje and the West which has resulted in the Macedonian government’s more decisive reorientation towards Moscow.
From one neocon to another:
The latter objective was achieved via the recruitment of a younger pool of cadres. Following a widespread trend all over Southeast Europe (e.g. Albania’s Edi Rama and Serbia’s Vuk Jeremi?), the party’s central committee and later the Cabinet of Ministers consisted of young, aspiring and, often, Western-educated individuals (e.g. the Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2011, Antonio Milošoski). Moreover, Gruevski maintained the central aspects of Georgievski’s strategy of rapprochement vis-à-vis the ethnic Albanian community.
Despite this, Gruevski’s term in office has been marked by the emphatic endorsement of Neo-Macedonism to the detriment of the modernist narratives over the Macedonian ethno-genesis in the nineteenth century. The adoption of Neo-Macedonism became further institutionalized through the endorsement of grandiose architectural projects, largely inspired by classical antiquity, which commenced in 2010.
On the domestic front, the Socialists/SDSM and other opposition circles accused the government of investing a disproportional percentage of the state’s budget on these projects. In foreign policy, the emphasis on Neo-Macedonism further complicated relations with the southern neighbour, Greece.
Since the early days of Nikola Gruevski’s term in office, the ‘new’ VMRO-DPMNE drew inspiration from the rather influential trend of neoconservatism among policymaking circles in the US. As it was the case with various other statesmen in Central and Southeast Europe (e.g. Romania’s Traian B?sescu), Nikola Gruevski underlined his firm commitment to Euro-Atlantic institutions and opted for the rapid liberalization of the economy along post-Keynesian lines.
Meanwhile, Gruevski constantly stressed his deep faith in God and highlighted the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy and its system of moral values as a fundamental pillar of the state’s identity. In the field of foreign policy, Nikola Gruevski soon emerged as a staunch supporter of George W. Bush’s policy-doctrine on the Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, FYR Macedonia had dispatched military personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’.
The pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West
Meanwhile, the simultaneous advent of the economic crisis made European policymakers more introverted and reluctant to the prospects of the EU’s wider enlargement. With specific regard to FYR Macedonia, European policymakers and political analysts soon stroke a critical stance towards Nikola Gruevski and his apparatus. The main areas of concern were symptoms of nepotism and authoritarianism as well as accusations over the relentless propagation of ‘ethno-kitsch’.
This shifting landscape in global and regional politics had direct ramifications on the government circles in Skopje. Several commentators have argued that delaying the state’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions runs detrimental to FYR Macedonia’s stateness and it is largely to account for Skopje’s disillusionment with the West. From a more ‘ideological’ angle, though, the change of guard in the White House and the subsequent adoption of a new US foreign policy doctrine are not to be overlooked either.
In other words, Nikola Gruevski’s government has lost much of the patronage that it enjoyed during George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Moreover, we are currently experiencing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of semi-authoritarian models of governance among emerging regional actors (e.g. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia). The latter development has encouraged the, if only subtle, admiration of certain statesmen throughout Central and Southeast Europe towards the above-mentioned models.
For instance, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán recently coined the concept of illiberal democracy. According to the Hungarian PM, ‘it is not an imperative that contemporary democracy must be structured along the ideological frame of Liberalism…there can be numerous other models of democracy in Europe, nowadays’. Moreover, Viktor Orbán has also positioned Hungary’s foreign policy more solidly within Russia’s orbit of influence.
In particular, both FIDESZ and VMRO-DPMNE converge along a common axis. Both are post-Communist parties that commenced their engagement in politics as, anti-establishment, umbrella-initiatives that hosted a wide range of conservative as well as liberal standpoints. However, in the long run, local adaptations of neoconservatism evolved into the dominant intra-party trend.
Nikola Gruevski and/or Viktor Orbán are not merely unhappy with the outlook(s) of Euro-Atlantic institutions on their respective states or the way(s) that their rule has been portrayed in the Western press. They have also isolated specific elements in Vladimir Putin’s leadership which they deem rather akin to their brand(s) of neoconservatism. These are, namely, Russia’s leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national and Christian values, and the safeguarding of ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles.
Especially in the light of a multipolar international system, one might contend that the neoconservative, ideological, core in parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and/or FIDESZ has remained intact despite the, apparent, foreign policy readjustment towards Moscow.
Pro-government circles have hinted at the involvement of ‘foreign decision-making centres’ who are not particularly content with the bilateral cooperation between Russia and FYR Macedonia. In the other end of the spectrum, opposition circles have suspected the government of engineering the Kumanovo troubles in an attempt to play the card of ‘national unity’ as a last resort. A third assumption that has not been examined to an adequate extent is the possibility of a peculiar, yet amorphous, blend between Albanian ethno-nationalism and elements of Islamic fundamentalism along the lines of the ‘Chechen precedent’.
Russia, on its part, has been quick to point the finger for both the Kumanovo incidents and the anti-government mobilization at the West. The US and the EU have been accused of orchestrating one more ‘Maidan-style’ coup with the aim to destabilize the government and obstruct cooperation with Russia in energy issues.
Russia Today and other pro-Kremlin media outlets dedicated considerable time to the coverage of pro-government demonstrations where Russian flags also featured among the crowd. Quite a few Western political analysts have expressed the wishful thinking that Nikola Gruevski may be forced to resign under popular pressure and be replaced by a coalition government with a Euro-Atlantic orientation.
Apart from nominally right-wing parties, centre-left statesmen in the region have also detected, albeit more subtly, some ‘positive’ aspects in Vladimir Putin’s pattern of governance (e.g. the Bulgarian Socialist Party/BSP and Slovakia’s SMER). Therefore, in order to grasp such chameleonic mutations more adequately, one should also pay close attention to political culture among post-Communist parties in Central and Southeast Europe and its evolution.
WE SUGGEST TO THINK ALSO THROUGH THE ELECTION RESULTS IN THE UK WHEN READING ABOVE ARTICLE – THIS SO THAT THE MAKINGS OF A EUROPEAN UNION ARE CONSIDERED WHEN LOOKING AT CENTRIPETAL MOVEMENTS LIKE THOSE APPEARING IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE.
Related Articles: The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward – Heather Grabbe -the same source.
Heather Grabbe 13 May 2015, openDemocracy, London
The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of a captured state machinery – by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance. This will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance.
For nearly two decades, Macedonia has been a pressure cooker of public anger at corruption, deteriorating governance and chronic unemployment. Now the valve has blown. This year, union-organised strikes were followed by student protests against flawed education reforms. Then the opposition party released recordings of conversations that exposed government wire-tapping of more than 20,000 citizens. Quickly dubbed “bombs”, these recordings were released over the last three months by the main opposition party leader at press conferences. On them appear the voices of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, senior officials, journalists, judges and security officials conspiring in electoral and judicial fraud, and organising systemic corruption. On the latest, released on 4 May, the prime minister discusses with interior ministry officials a cover-up of the murder in June 2011 by one of his bodyguards of 21-year old Martin Neshkovski, a student who supported the ruling party.
These revelations have led to a new wave of protests, led by grassroots networks of civil society rather than the opposition party. The young activists have become more radical in their demands under sustained attacks by riot police and government infiltrators, who provoked the protestors for five nights in a row. Last Friday, they pledged to come back to demand the resignation of the prime minister. Then the population awoke on Saturday morning to news of what the government called a “terrorist attack” in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in Kumanovo, a town near the Serbia/Kosovo border. The results were the deaths of police officers and arrests of alleged terrorists. The government-controlled media called for unquestioning support for the government, and labelled as a traitor anyone who disputed the official interpretation of events. What is going on? Is this a security crisis or a consolidation of power by the ruling party in the face of mounting opposition?
High stakes – but for security or politics?
The shootings in Kumanovo have woken up the rest of the world because they are reminiscent of the security crisis fifteen years ago, when ethnic Albanians took to the hills with their guns to demand rights, representation and jobs. The country narrowly escaped a full-blown civil war thanks to the Ohrid Agreement, which gave the Albanians greater political and economic inclusion, including quotas for public-sector jobs and parliamentary seats.
It was NATO and the EU that took responsibility for Macedonia’s security in 2001, with Javier Solana, as EU High Representative for Foreign Policy at the time, and George Robertson, then NATO Secretary-General, as the main negotiators at Ohrid. But the current crisis is not primarily driven by ethnic tensions. The security framing by the government obscures a much deeper crisis in the body politic, and a looming one for the economy.
After 24 years of independence, Macedonia’s model is crumbling. The ruling party has held onto power by controlling the state and media, and borrowing on international markets to keep the economy going. This has undermined the country’s fragile democracy – despite the promises made at Ohrid, which are still not fully implemented – and failed to build rule of law and a sustainable economy. Prime Minister Gruevski won power nearly a decade ago on promises of clean government and economic development. But he then perfected the system of clientelism and state capture begun by Branko Crvenkovski, his predecessor as opposition leader and prime minister, and later president. Gruevski has used snap elections twice to keep his party in power, and his leadership has become increasingly coercive. The wiretap recordings have confirmed that his VMRO-DPMNE party has captured all vital areas of the economy and established complete control over media, even imprisoning critical journalists. Macedonia’s ranking has fallen from 36 to 136 in the freedom of media index produced by Reporters Without Borders.
The government dispensed with parliamentary debate at the end of 2013. Faced with a short deadline to approve the next loan to pay pensions before the Christmas and New Year holidays, they forcibly expelled the opposition and media from the parliament during a debate over the state budget rather than find an agreement.
The public is scared. More than half of Macedonians believe they cannot freely express their opinions. A staggering 81 percent believe that fear of consequences for them and their families prevent them and others from speaking out. Their political fears are heightened by their economic vulnerability.
The chronic economic malaise underlying acute political crisis.
The Macedonian economy appears to be financially stable. The government nurtures an image of business promoter and responsible borrower. Until recently, it was the region’s poster child for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. European banks were happy to earn good returns on Macedonian state bonds. Macedonia’s average GDP growth of 3% in the last three years is the highest in the region, completing this picture of prosperity.
But the economy is not sustainable. The government has used debt financing to invest in grandiose infrastructure projects, including the flagship “Skopje 2014” project, which erected statues and faux-classical buildings in the capital at a cost of over 600 million euro. Between 2008 and 2014, Macedonia’s public debt quadrupled, rising from 23% of GDP in 2008 to around 46% in 2014. Debt is projected to reach the 60% ceiling prescribed by the international financial institutions by 2019. The state budget increased by a third over the same period (from roughly 2 to 3 billion euro). Inflows of foreign direct investment averaged only 2.8% of GDP per year between 2009 and 2014, low even by regional standards.
Life for citizens has become more precarious. Around a third of the workforce is unemployed, the second highest rate in Europe after Kosovo. Without the heavy borrowing, the fragile economy could not sustain more than 300,000 pensioners, who rely on the state budget for half of their needs. Nor could it afford to pay the huge number of state employees. The last official number was 140,000 in 2008, and latest estimates range from 200,000 to 255,000. The total number of people employed in Macedonia is 700,000 – meaning that the state employs nearly a third of the workforce. No wonder people are leaving to seek better prospects abroad. A census has been postponed by the government, but Gallup estimates that more than 300,000 people have left the country. According to Deutsche Welle, most of the 120,000 Macedonians who acquired Bulgarian passports have already emigrated to the EU or elsewhere. Macedonia seems to have more registered voters (at 1,780,128) than residents.
VMRO-DPMNE has kept its hold on power in this unhappy state by resorting to strident nationalism and intimidation of its opponents, increasing the divisions in a multi-ethnic country. Ethnic Macedonians are understandably aggrieved by the lack of a solution to the dispute with Greece over the country’s name, which already blocked entry to NATO – and Gruevski has adroitly used the issue to rally nationalism in support of the government. Meanwhile, the ethnic Albanian political parties have been co-opted by their share in the spoils of mis-governance, even though their people remain even more alienated and poorer than the rest of the population.
The divisions are deepening right across society. Three-quarters of ethnic Albanians still firmly believe in EU and NATO accession as the way to a better future, but by now over 62 percent of other Macedonians think badly of joining the EU. Three-quarters of the ruling party’s supporters see the name dispute with Greece as the key reason for Macedonia’s now bleak EU accession prospects; but only 20% of opposition supporters agree. The biggest divide is between rich and poor, especially along party lines. The poor are undoubtedly getting poorer: resources available to the poorest fifth of citizens fell by 38% between 2008 and 2012. But business profits have grown by almost two and a half times since the year 2000. Nearly 80% of all Macedonians believe it is unfair that employment in state institutions and general prosperity is based on political party membership.
Macedonia is once again becoming a security threat on the EU’s borders. But this time it’s different: a non-partisan civic movement has taken to the streets for the first time to change the country. There is a real opportunity to use this energy to build democracy and a market economy in this multi-ethnic state.
No party is doing well in Macedonia: the secret recordings have lost the government all credibility, but the public has little faith in the leaders of the opposition and ethnic Albanian parties either. The immediate solution lies in collective action first by all those who have created the problem.
Now that three of the prime minister’s key allies have tendered their resignations, Macedonia should turn again to the solution that averted the civil war in 2001: a unity government composed of the four main parties. To foster the necessary compromises and offer a fresh start. it would not include the current prime minister, public prosecutor or speaker of the parliament – but opposition parties must be involved in open and credible oversight of the intelligence agencies, and take responsibility for the discredited interior ministry.
The most promising scenario is a government of national unity that lasts for 12-18 months, to prepare the country for free and fair elections, and create an independent commission to investigate all the events since the opposition was violently ejected from the parliament in 2013. And it should agree on a common negotiating platform on the name dispute with Greece. Macedonia’s newly reinvigorated civil society should also contribute to the work of the parliamentary commissions and monitor the new government’s progress in restoring the accountability of public institutions. The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of the captured state machinery, by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance.
As so often in the Balkans, such a scenario will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance. The default position among EU foreign ministers is to expect sovereign countries to sort out their own political problems through democratic institutions. But after a decade of unconsolidated democracy and state capture, Macedonia does not possess those institutions. Therefore, other levers of influence are needed. NATO could offer a tangible incentive to all parties by offering a possibility to re-open membership talks. EU accession negotiations are far off because so much time has been lost on necessary reforms, but the enlargement process is vital to offer hope, especially to the ethnic Albanians, and guidance to reformers who are seeking to take back captured parts of the state. The support of EU institutions, member-states and banks is vital for the country’s macroeconomic stability. Neighbouring governments could also exert more pressure, as their own security is at stake. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov was the first to request Gruevski to step down.
The EU can no longer afford to indulge a model of governance in Macedonia that has been far more aggressive in its authoritarian zeal than nearby Montenegro or Turkey. The European People’s Party has a particular responsibility to get involved, having accepted and protected VMRO-DPMNE as a sister party for all these years. Now it must act to uphold the standards of democracy on which it was founded, by putting pressure on VMRO-DPMNE to relinquish its grip on power and join a unity government. The time to move is now, as the costs of inaction will continue to rise.
Russian civil society deemed ‘undesirable’
Tanya Lokshina 20 May 2015, the openDemocracy website, London
Tanya Lokshina is Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, based in Moscow.
A new Russian bill on ‘undesirable organisations’ has been endorsed today which will allow the government to ban foreign NGOs. But are they the real targets?
Today, Russia’s upper house of parliament endorsed a bill on ‘undesirable organisations,’ passed by the lower house just a day earlier, on May 19. The bill will let the government ban the activities of foreign or international nongovernmental groups deemed to undermine ‘state security,’ ‘national defense,’ or the ‘constitutional order.’ There is little doubt that this new piece of repressive legislation will be now swiftly signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, my phone is ringing off the hook: ‘So, this new law the State Duma has just adopted, is it about you? Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’ Well, to be sure, the bill has the potential to severely damage our work in Russia. The ‘undesirables’ bill is a cause of grave concern for all international rights groups operating in the country.
‘Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’
Nevertheless, I am genuinely convinced that it’s not about us. The intended targets of this new legislation on foreign and international organisations are actually Russian activists and Russian groups. The bill is aimed at cutting them off from their international partners, further isolating them, and squeezing the very life out of Russian civil society.
Just think about it. Why would the government need new legislation to close down Russia-based offices of foreign groups when the Justice Ministry can do this in one swift move simply by de-registering any organisation, no strings attached? And if Russia wants to stop representatives of foreign groups from entering the country, the authorities can simply blacklist them with no explanation whatsoever.
The bill on ‘undesirables’ not only allows the authorities to ban specific organisations’ activities on Russian territory – it also provides for sanctions against Russian citizens and Russian groups for ‘involvement’ in the activities of ‘undesirable’ organisations.
The bill does not specify what ‘involvement’ might include. So anything goes. Distributing — including by posting online — the statements, reports, or other materials of an ‘undesirable,’ participating in international events jointly with ‘undesirable’ organisations, or even simply communicating with staffers of ‘undesirable’ organisations could be all interpreted by the authorities as ‘involvement’ in their activities and result in punishment of the Russian groups and individuals. Sanctions include hefty administrative fines for the first two offenses, and more than two offenses in one year can result in criminal prosecution and up to six years in prison.
The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation. The definition of ‘state security’ under Russian law is vague. The prosecutor general’s office can designate an organisation as ‘undesirable’ without judicial review based solely on materials from law enforcement and security services. The Justice Ministry is designated as the keeper of the ‘undesirables.’
There is no requirement for the authorities to give a potential ‘undesirable’ any notice – an organisation may only discover its ‘undesirability’ after it has been already included on the list. Once the law enters into force, any foreign non-governmental group that criticises the Russian authorities, conducts independent activity, and supports civil society in Russia will be under threat of being pegged ‘undesirable.’
The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation.
An ‘undesirable’ organisation must terminate its presence in Russia and stop participating in any projects on Russian territory. Moreover, it won’t be able to reach out to the public through Russian media or websites – all its information will effectively be banned. And any Russian friends, partners or sympathizers of these organisations should know better than to go near them.
These new harsh restrictions follow in the footsteps of the ‘foreign agents’ law passed in July 2012, which has been used to demonise in the eyes of the public close to 60 local non-governmental organisations, including the country’s leading human rights groups, as anti-Russian saboteurs. Several of these organisations chose to shut down rather than bear the ‘foreign agent’ stigma.
The new bill on ‘undesirables’ is indubitably part of the Kremlin’s trend of repression against independent voices but takes it even further. While supposedly focused on preventing foreign and international groups from undermining national security, it is evidently meant to deliver another hard blow to Russian groups and activists. Once the authorities have free rein to bar Russians from ‘involvement’ with their ‘undesirable’ foreign counterparts, the authorities can leave critics of the government in an airless limbo and eventually suffocate them.
The Rise and Fall of a Modern ‘Devshirme’ in Erdogan’s Turkey
by Burak Bekdil
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Originally published under the title, “How Non-Muslims “Survive” in Turkey.”
Prominent non-Muslims in Turkey, then and now. Left: an Ottoman Janissary officer. Right: the Armenian Christian intellectual Etyen Mahcupyan, who retired as advisor to Turkey’s prime minister after saying “what happened to Armenians in 1915″ was “genocide.”
Last October, Etyen Mahcupyan, a leading Turkish Armenian intellectual, “liberal” writer and columnist, was appointed as “chief advisor” to Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. At first glance, this was good news in a country where Islamists privately adhere to the old Ottoman millet system, in which non-Muslims were treated as second-class (if not third-class) citizens.
In reality, Mahcupyan was a reincarnation of the Ottoman “devshirme” system, in which the Ottoman state machinery produced several non-Muslim converts who enjoyed a place in the higher echelons of the palace bureaucracy, and the finer things of life, because their pragmatism earned them excellent relations with the ruling Muslim elite.
In a December interview with Turkey’s leading daily, Hurriyet, Mahcupyan said, “Whatever has been a [political] asset for Turkey’s Armenian community (they number around 60,000) is an asset for the Jewish community too. But… there is Israel… As long as the psychology of the Israel issue continues to influence politics in Turkey and relations between the two countries do not normalize…” The line, which Mahcupyan shyly did not finish, probably would have gone on like this: “Turkey’s Jews will keep on paying the price.”
Mahcupyan admitted that if Turkey’s Jews felt alienated, it was the government’s responsibility to do something about that.
What more? “I have lived through this personally for the past 60 years,” he explained. “Among Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, including Jews and Armenians, there is an opinion about humiliating Muslims.” As Mahcupyan’s statement is not true, it therefore just seems a way to justify Islamists’ intimidation of Jews.
Next, Mahcupyan argued, “Both Jews and Armenians are better-educated [than Muslim Turks] and more open to the West. And this brings in a feeling of superiority complex.” In this view, daily attacks on Turkey’s Jews and other non-Muslims happen because Jews and Armenians humiliate Muslims — they are better-educated than Muslims and hence their superiority complex. The charge is, at best, silly.
As in Ottoman times, just one unpleasant utterance can suffice to end a devshirme’s career in government service.
Only a few months later, Mahcupyan would learn how wrong he was about the Islamist supremacists in Ankara and their inherent intolerance to liberal thinking.
Mahcupyan recently commented on Pope Francis’s remarks on April 12, in which the Pope described 1915 as “the first genocide of the 20th century,” and said that the Vatican had “thrown off a 100-year-old psychological burden.”
If, Mahcupyan said, accepting that what happened in Bosnia and Africa were genocides, “it is impossible not to call what happened to Armenians in 1915 genocide, too.”
It was probably the first time in Turkish history that a senior government official recognized the Armenian genocide. Once again, at first glance, that was good news in a country where outright denial has been the persistent official policy. But it seems Turkey was not quite as liberal as Mahcupyan had thought.
Immediately after his remarks became public, EU Minister Volkan Bozkir expressed unease, saying that “Mahcupyan’s description was not appropriate for his title of adviser.” But that was not the only price Mahcupyan would have to pay.
A few days after his remarks on genocide, Mahcupyan “retired” as chief adviser to Prime Minister Davutoglu — after only about six months in the job.
Officially, Mahcupyan had retired in March after turning 65, the mandatory retirement age for civil servants. But it was an open secret in Ankara that his departure came simply because Turkey’s Islamists were not quite the liberals he had claimed they were.
The “Mahcupyan affair” has a message to Turkey’s dwindling non-Muslim minorities: Just like an Ottoman devshirme, a non-Muslim can rise and become a darling of today’s neo-Ottoman Turks. He can win hearts and minds in important offices in Ankara — and a bright career. But to maintain his fortunes he must remain loyal to the official Islamist line, both in deed and rhetoric. Just one unpleasant utterance would suffice to end a devshirme’s career in government service.
That is the kind of collective psychology into which Turkey’s ruling Islamists force non-Muslims: either become a collaborator, or…
There is another Turkish Armenian columnist who looks more seasoned than Mahcupyan in his devshirme career. Markar Esayan, a writer for a fiercely pro-government daily, recently said in reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 2014 statement about the Armenian victims of 1915: “[Erdogan's] message of condolences illustrates how we have achieved the Ottoman spirit in line with this century and its democratic practice. Furthermore, the practices in the last 13 years [of the Justice and Development Party's rule] have positively influenced our [Armenian] community and non-Muslims.”
Apparently Esayan is happy with Turkey’s neo-Ottomans and their Islamist rule, including their rigid policies of genocide-denial, which he claims have done good to Turkey’s Armenians and other non-Muslim citizens. Etyen Mahcupyan may have been punished, but Markar Esayan is being rewarded for his loyalty: he has been selected to run for parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Davutoglu’s party!
Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior Associate, and the Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
The nature and consequences of Russia’s current crisis cannot be reduced to economic issues. Sberbank President German Gref argued in his January 14, 2015, speech at the Gaidar Forum in Moscow that it is important not to overlook the impact of critical governance shortcomings. But instability or gaps in the quality of the state’s administrative capabilities—however important—are not a root cause. Rather, they are one of the effects of a deeper institutional and values-based crisis. All other aspects of the crisis, including the current political situation, merely stem from it. And there should be no question that Russia is indeed in a political crisis, despite outward manifestations of calmness and the consolidation of society and elites around the head of state.
Unfortunately, the triple whammy is not unleashing the forces of “creative destruction” or disruption that some reformist voices had been pinning their hopes on. In many cases, crises enable states to reform political life and move forward. In this sense, the 2008–2009 financial crisis was a lost opportunity for Russia. The crisis did not change behavior among state capitalism’s elites nor did it spur structural reform. Rather, the struggling economy was simply flooded with money from the state’s reserve funds. The state’s playbook conformed with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s old axiom: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
The Economy After Crimea
Russia’s economic problems are certainly significant.
Economic analysts generally agree that Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will decline by at least 3–7 percent in 2015 while annual inflation will soar. Inflation is forecast by the central bank to peak at 17.0–17.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015.
Headline inflation was 15 percent in January 2015 (from January 2014 to January 2015), and increasing at a rate of 3.9 percent a month—the highest rate since February 1999. The disaggregated components of the inflation numbers also tell a powerful story. Prices for medicine and medical equipment grew 6.6 percent in January (19.4 percent year-on-year). Food prices, excluding fruit and vegetables, were up 3.7 percent in January (18.4 percent year-on-year). Fruit and vegetable prices increased by 22.1 percent in January (40.7 percent year-on-year).
Another factor contributing to the current situation is the large percentage of workers who are employed in the shadow economy, which, according to official statistics, accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP. According to Rosstat data, in 2011, 22 million Russians—almost a third of the 71-million-person workforce—were employed in informal sectors of the economy. (This sector comprises, for example, many entrepreneurs and their employees, those providing paid services off the books, and agricultural workers.)3 The number is expected to increase as a result of the ongoing decline in real incomes, worsening labor market conditions, employee realignment and reductions at various large-scale enterprises, and other crisis-related factors. Workers in the informal economy pay no taxes and therefore will not be able to contribute to the Pension Fund. According to data from the Russian Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 20 percent of the able-bodied population is missing from the Pension Fund databases.4
Taxpayer’s Democracy: An Unattained Ideal
Meanwhile, Russians remain quite passive about their economic situation, even as the consequences of the triple whammy gradually emerge.
Both Hegel and Marx wrote about alienation (Entfremdung), specifically, the mutual alienation of the people and their government. On a conceptual level, governments seek to exploit the benefits from GDP, economic rents, and tax revenues for the sake of self-preservation. This goal in turn leads to unproductive government expenditures on defense, law enforcement, and operations that significantly exceed productive government expenditures in other areas, say, education and healthcare.
The government is also alienated by virtue of the fact that elections now distort the principles of representation more than ever before. This fact triggered the street protests in 2011–2012, when some in the middle class demanded democracy and fair elections. These demands were perfectly in line with Seymour Lipset’s theory that higher living standards, education, and income are the foundations for a realization by increasingly affluent members of society of the need for greater democracy.7
The year 2014 marked the degradation and militarization of state policies and mass consciousness. These policies were a striking contrast to the recent behavior of modern democratic societies, which consider military losses unacceptable and regard appeals to an entity’s sacred status as a relic of bygone theocratic eras.8
Along with the post-Crimean consolidation of Russian society, sociologists have found that Russians stayed true to a core belief: “We cannot have an impact on anything so therefore we do not want to impact anything.” According to a Levada Center poll, about 60 percent of the population agree with the statement that they are unable to affect the situation in the country. Close to 50 percent believe that they can do nothing to influence events in their own city or town.9
Out of this emerges a level of passivity among the public and acceptance of the consequences of the triple whammy as they gradually materialize. It appears that there never was and never will be a taxpayer democracy in the current rentier system—after all, individual contributions to the national well-being are quite small when contrasted with what is received from hydrocarbon-based rents. The public’s impact on government decisions, their own political participation, and their involvement in civic life are just as insignificant. The process of spending taxpayer money does not concern the taxpayers themselves.
But when the oil-oozing, ostensibly collective pie is complemented by the mantra “Crimea is ours,” it destroys both consensus-based and participatory democracy, along with any sense of civic duty or collective effort. Crimea was not a collective effort by any stretch—the Russian public stormed the peninsula while sitting in front of their televisions. Rather, Crimea was a gift from the government.
In their heart of hearts, Russians do not consider themselves creators of national wealth. That further discourages most forms of political participation, which should ideally be directed at achieving a more rational, honest, and equitable distribution of the goods and services produced by the economy.
This reality explains the public’s willingness to tolerate just about everything and its unwillingness to protest. It also explains the lack of incentive for private initiative, for private investment, for innovation, and for the protection of private property. For their part, state investments further discourage private economic activity and fail to spur economic growth. Generally speaking, state-generated investment produces a pool of money that either provokes inflation or encourages capital flight to countries with more attractive investment climates. The Russian economy needs state investment as much as Soviet-era enterprises needed foreign machinery, most of which was never unpacked and rusted away in leaky warehouses.
The triple whammy is a blow to all income levels of Russian society, but it especially affects lower- and middle-income groups who are more sensitive to price increases. The general level of inflation that took off in early 2015 severely impacted the middle class, the major consumer of various services and durable goods. Real disposable incomes fell 7.3 percent in December 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. According to a January 2015 Public Opinion Foundation poll, 62 percent of the population describes the situation as an economic crisis and sees “dreadful inflation” as the main manifestation of the crisis.12
Research on the middle class by the director of the Independent Institute for Social Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Tatyana Maleva, suggests that the social structure of Russian households has not undergone significant change in recent years. According to Maleva, about 70 percent of the population are below the middle class. Approximately 40 percent of households belonging to that group are at risk of poverty, while 30 percent could potentially join the middle and upper-middle class.
The size of the middle class can be measured in a number of ways based on different criteria. A rough estimate of the size of the middle class puts the number at around 20 percent of the population.13 While some other studies have come up with different numbers, an approach based on analysis of 2012 Eurobarometer data supports Tatyana Maleva’s conclusions.14
In a political sense, the group at risk of poverty makes up the regime’s social and electoral base. Not coincidentally, they are also the main recipients of public funds. Even amid the constraints imposed by the triple whammy, the government will therefore strive to ensure that this group does not end up below the poverty line. Humanitarian considerations play a fairly minor role in these efforts, which are based on cold political calculations and the regime’s desire to discourage the creation of social tensions. Social mobility from the middle to the upper-middle class, which has been long stifled by the highly monopolistic economy controlled by a small number of political-business elites, may cease altogether as a result of the current crisis.
Thus, the regime’s social goal is to preserve the class pyramid, which emerged during the oil boom and economic recovery of the 2000s and has enabled the system of power-property and crony capitalism to reproduce itself. Evaporating material gains are being replaced with spiritual appeals, which will involve using cruder and more archaic propaganda, including indoctrination by the top brass of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the increasingly selective application of repressive laws.
Status can be acquired by assuming high office (hence all the talk of regime figures buying top positions, seats in parliament, and so on). It can also be bestowed by the suzerain (look at the members of the Kremlin’s inner circle, who share similar security and intelligence backgrounds with Putin), and it can be inherited. Children of high-ranking officials and state capitalists from the redistributional coalitions take charge of high offices and even receive government decorations. Naturally, concludes Kordonsky, “Such a system does not need democracy as an institution for reconciling interests, nor does it focus on the needs of individuals who fall outside of the estate system.”16
Privatization in the 1990s was a way to utilize (and increase) resources within the market framework. The “re-privatization” of the 2000s in favor of state capitalism and figures from the president’s inner circle was a way to escape the market framework and return to a system based on estates.
Instead of encouraging middle-class growth, this type of estate structure actually slows it down. Quite often, one can only join the middle class—at least in terms of income levels—by working in a system dominated by the most privileged estates, for example, state-run corporations and companies that live off of government contracts or tenders.
How will the Russian middle class respond to the triple whammy? How will its political behavior and socioeconomic well-being be affected?
Some researchers point out that the middle class has been “the main actor of socioeconomic adaptation” in recent years.17 At the same time, it is still not large enough, strong enough, or confident enough in its future well-being to clearly formulate a political outlook or to insist on proper representation in government bodies and decisions. Other economists also talk about its “low bargaining power.”18
This bargaining power decreased even more after the failure of the 2011–2012 protests. After Dmitry Medvedev left the president’s office, both society and the loyal, liberal political elite lost incentives to construct political, lobbying, and civic coalitions in favor of modernization. Thus, modernization coalitions were replaced with redistributional, estate-based ones.
The big question is whether the middle class, which is quite adaptable, even wants such coalition-based bargaining power. In reality, its political behavior and positions are far removed from the romantic image that took shape in Moscow’s streets and squares and in the independent media during the democratic illusions of late 2011 and the first half of 2012.
In a 2014 book, Francis Fukuyama argues that the middle class has been the engine behind practically every recent protest in various countries across the world.19 What’s more, even a fairly elected but ineffective or corrupt government does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of the most advanced segments of the population. As Fukuyama writes, “Government actually had to deliver better results if it was to be regarded as legitimate, and needed to be more flexible and responsive to changing public demands.”20
That was exactly the chief motivation behind the 2011–2012 protests. Russians were dissatisfied with the government, and its legitimacy was diminishing as a result of dishonesty and ineffectiveness.
But the political protests that grew out of the public’s stance against the regime’s corruption were mostly limited to Moscow and involved only a very small part of the educated, urban middle class (although some upper- and lower-income segments of the population joined at times). This social stratum was immediately named the “creative class,” which, in turn, led to the shorter and more derisive word, “creatives.” While this concept does have something in common with the term coined by Richard Florida, the Russian meaning of the term does not actually cover people who are engaged in creative work. It refers instead to a small segment of Russian citizens who are dissatisfied with the regime and its authoritarian rule, predominantly for political and ethical reasons. In their beliefs and goals, creatives today somewhat resemble the democratic intelligentsia of the late 1980s.
Nor is the creative class always synonymous with the middle class, especially in terms of income levels (although its behavior does correspond to that of the middle class). In addition, its opposition activities sharply contrast with the conformism exhibited by the majority of the middle class. Contrary to expectations, this conformism will only grow or remain unchanged as a result of the triple whammy. Despite some sporadic protests, the majority will more readily embrace the strategies and tactics of survival instead of protests and demands for change, at least in 2015.
Consider the 2012 Eurobarometer survey of the middle class.21 According to the data, against the backdrop of blatantly dishonest elections that provoked protests in 2011, the middle class actually voted for United Russia—the pro-regime party. And at higher strata of Russian society, the level of support for the regime actually increased. The motivations underlying voting behavior varied: some voters had benefited handsomely during the economic boom of the early 2000s while others became complacent with their lot. Either way, conformism became the overarching trend.
The middle class was only slightly more active in terms of participation in opposition rallies (2.3 percent versus 1.9 percent at lower-income levels). The upper-middle class seemed to be the most active (11.7 percent), but this stratum was also quite active when it came to attendance at pro-government rallies (6.7 percent versus 1.0 percent of the middle class).
The lack of participation by the middle class—either in opposition to or in support of the government—suggests that its conformism is inherently passive. It does not express passionate or unequivocal support for the government; rather, the middle class is simply not ready to struggle for change. (It seems that active support for the regime manifested itself only after the referendum in Crimea and did not diminish much, if at all, as the Ukraine crisis worsened.)
According to the Eurobarometer survey, the middle class was evenly split in its assessment of the political situation (43 and 44 percent were satisfied or dissatisfied with it, respectively). In fact, the majority of respondents wanted no change to the political situation, while 12 percent preferred radical change.
The middle class’s relationship to the European Union (EU) is further proof of its conformism: 18.2 percent of the middle class and 27.8 percent of the upper-middle class wanted Russia to distance itself from the EU as much as possible. It is quite indicative of the mood in the country that the lower-middle class was the biggest supporter of EU integration, at 23.4 percent. These numbers have changed in the direction of greater “patriotism” for the time being. A January 2015 Levada Center poll, for example, demonstrated an increase in negative attitudes toward the United States and EU countries to 81 and 71 percent, respectively.
In his 1997 work “Anomalies of Economic Growth,” Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Russian reform, noted that two main social groups are interested in liberal market reforms in Russia: “The middle class, which needs a level playing field, effective protection of private property, and a government that is not cumbersomely involved in economic affairs; and the intelligentsia—those who are connected to the science, education, healthcare, culture, and other such sectors—to whom the redistribution of resources objectively reflects the economic needs of the country.” Russia’s developmental perspectives depend on the combined resources of these two groups.
In the nearly two decades since Gaidar began his work, by and large, very little social change has come to Russia: those in the middle class are considered the agents of change. The creative class can be considered the new intelligentsia.
Nevertheless, the coalition for modernization that began to emerge under Dmitry Medvedev was never realized. The signal from above that permitted the very existence of such a coalition was unceremoniously cut off, while the politician who had the best chance to launch perestroika 2.0 surrendered power based on his own free will.
The Russian model of change can only work if the demand for modernization expressed from below is noticed and clearly approved from above. In such a case, the notorious middle-class conformism toward official government policy could yet play a constructive role. If the higher-ups allow democracy, this brand of conformism implies that citizens will recognize that it must be supported and taken advantage of. As for the creative potential of the Russian middle class, it may very well serve as the engine of economic liberalization and political democratization, if it receives a level of representation in the government.
However, the creative forces among the agents of change can lie dormant for extremely long periods of time. After all, modernization coalitions in Venezuela and Iran have never really gained momentum, and those countries have experienced their own analogues to the triple whammy. So far, these forces have not yet fully shaken the Russian middle class.
We are now anxiously waiting for the agents of modernization, who have turned into the agents of mobilization, to finally come to their senses. But we probably will need to wait quite a bit longer. Give it a year or two.
1 “??????? ????? ?????? 1,2% ??? – ???????????? ???????? ???,” [The price of sanctions to Russia—1.2% of GDP: The research of the FBK company] FBK Grant Thornton, January 12, 2015, www.fbk.ru/press-center/news/sank….
2 “?????? ????????? ?????????????? ????? «????????»: ????????????? ?????? ? ?????–2015,” [The discussion club “Academy” first meeting: The economic challenges and risks in 2015] Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, December 19, 2014, www.iep.ru/ru/19-12-2014-pervoe-z….
3 Maxim Tovkaylo, “???????: 38 ??? ??????? ?????? ‘????????? ??? ? ???,’” [Golodets: It’s incomprehensible what 38 million of Russians are doing and where] Vedomosti, April 3, 2013, www.vedomosti.ru/career/news/1072….
4 Lyudmila Klimenteva, “???????: ????? 20% ????????? ????? ???????? ??? ????????? ??????,” [Topilin: Approximately 20% of the population can remain without noncontributory pension] Vedomosti, January 26, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/finance/articles….
5 Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik, “The Chilly Fallout Between Putin and His Oligarch Pals,” Bloomberg, January 22, 2015, www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-22….
6 Gaidar Institute, 2014.
7 A number of researchers have found empirical evidence for this controversial modernization hypothesis put forward by Seymour Lipset. For instance, Robert J. Barro, Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).
8 Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 99.
9 Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov, ????????? ???????????? ??????? ? ??????? ?????????? ??????? [The potential of the civic participation in solving social problems] (Moscow: Levada Center, 2014), www.levada.ru/books/potentsial-gr….
10 Alexei Kudrin, “????????? ? ???????? ? ??????? ???????” [Economy and politics in search of a balance] ????? ???????, no. 2-3 (Moscow: Moscow School of Civic Education, 2014). otetrad.ru/article-763.html.
11 Margarita Lyutova, “‘????????’ ????????? ?? ??? 1,3 ???? ?????? ?? 28 ????????” [Rosneft asked for 1.3 billion rubles from the National Wealth Fund] Vedomosti, January 28, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/companies/news/3….
12 “???????? ? ??????????? ?????????????? ???????” [Russians about manifestations of the economic crisis] Public Opinion Foundation, January 21, 2015, fom.ru/Ekonomika/11919.
13 Tatyana Maleva and Lilia Ovcharova, ?????????? ??????? ?????? ???????? ? ?? ???? ?????????????? ????? [Russian middle classes on the eve and at the peak of economic growth] (Moscow, 2008), 73.
14 Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ????????? ???????? ?????? ? ?????????? ????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics and value-political choices of the middle class in the Russian Federation] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014).
15 Simon Kordonsky, ????????? ????????? ????????????? ?????? [The estate structure of the post-Soviet Russia] (Moscow: Public Opinion Foundation, 2008), 28.
16 Ibid., 34.
17 Tatyana Maleva et al., ???????????? ????????? ?????????? ???????? ?????????? ????????? ?? 2050 [The long-term concept of social policy of the Russian Federation until 2050] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014), 43.
18 Alexander Auzan et al., ??????? ????? ? ????????????: ???????? ? ???????????? ????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ?????????? ? ?????? [The middle class and modernization: Hypotheses on the formation of economic and sociopolitical institutions in Russia] (Moscow: 2009), 264.
19 Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), 6.
21 The data are cited from Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics].
Read more at: carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…
by Maxim A. Suchkov – posted February 1, 2015 – Al-Monitor.
Maxim A. Suchkov, a former Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010–11), is currently a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the North Caucasian city of Pyatigorsk, Russia, and a contributor to the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Eurasia Outlook. On Twitter: @Max_A_Suchkov
Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…
Summary? – Print Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman believes his country is uniquely positioned to negotiate with Russia and Ukraine.
On Jan. 26, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. While the encounter took place during the 70th anniversary observance of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the two diplomats took the opportunity to check up on their busy bilateral agenda. They touched primarily on six main issues — the overall situation in the Middle East, Russia’s role in the region, the course of the “5+1” negotiations on Iranian nuclear program, Lebanon, the situation in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, in an interview with the Russian media agency RIA Novosti, Liberman said Israel would be prepared, if necessary, to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
The statement drew mixed reactions from both Israel and Russia, but the very intent, if it is at all serious, could be interesting to think about.
Over the more than yearlong conflict in Ukraine, Israel turned out to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in its neighboring country. Israel’s diplomats were not present during the vote on the US-supported UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which made it look as if Israel were avoiding showing its stance on the issue. Although Tel Aviv explained that the vote coincided with a strike of Israel’s foreign affairs workers, few believed this explanation. Later, Israel refused to join the US-led sanctions regime against Russia. In both instances, the Obama administration, which cannot boast good relations with the Netanyahu government, took it as a sign of ingratitude toward Israel’s prime strategic ally at a time when America needed it most.
Essentially, while certainly not an act of support for Russian policies, it also was a sign of no opposition. At the initial stages of the war in Ukraine, in early 2014, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking on a TV program, said that “everybody understands that the situation [in Ukraine] is about standing up for the interests of each party [Russia and the US] in accordance with their own foreign policy courses.” That was a message that Israelis see the situation as a conflict of interests, not a conflict of principles. At the same interview, he declined any meddling with this conflict as a mediator between Russia and the US over Ukraine, saying Israel had enough to worry about with its own challenges.
The Israelis insisted, however, that neutrality didn’t mean inaction. A year hence, Tel Aviv wants to raise its political profile as a peacemaker, not between the Kremlin and the White House, but between Moscow and Kiev.
Indeed, as surprising as it may sound, Israel is uniquely positioned to mediate the conflict and ease the “Ukraine-Russia fatigue” that dominates the European security agenda. In this regard, Israel has three principal advantages. First, it clearly enjoys equally good relations with both Russia and Ukraine — a political luxury few nations can boast in today’s much-polarized context. Certainly, Russian-Israeli relations are far from being ideal, with the majority of the discrepancies lying in different priorities in the Middle East rooted in their own vision of national interests and historic political trajectories. At the same time, the Israeli leadership believes good relations with Russia are a “perceived necessity.”
Second, Israel possesses a key foreign policy resource — the large Jewish diaspora both in Russia and Ukraine. The number of Jews in the two countries is hard to estimate. Due to a well-known history of oppression, many had to flee, while others decline to identify themselves. Current estimates vary: in Russia from 190,000 to 228,000 to 380,000. That represents approximately 0.14% of Russia’s population and 1.7% of the global Jewish population, making Russia the country with the seventh-largest Jewish population. In Ukraine, the Jewish population was historically greater. At present, the figures range from 67,000 to 80,000 (0.16% national share and 0.6% global share). Other accounts say the Jewish population is as high as 300,000.
Most important, many Jewish figures occupy top positions in politics and business and have had significant influence on the two spheres. Therefore, Tel Aviv has a direct interest in their security and peaceful settlement of the crisis. Several influential Israeli public figures and politicians, including some from the Knesset, are actively raising awareness against more frequent instances of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
Finally, the number of Israelis of Ukrainian and Russian descent in Israel itself is high. Many Israeli natives of the post-Soviet states occupying top political leadership positions have contributed to shaping a balanced stance on the conflict. While opinions on the crisis in Ukraine within this group are split, their expertise and action helped the State of Israel shape a policy that remained firm to outside pressure, including that of the US.
Liberman, a native of the Republic of Moldova, said, “It is precisely because we are from these countries that we can understand both parties. … If someone told me some time ago that Russia and Ukraine would become enemies, I would have told them to see a doctor.” Therefore, for a large group of Israeli policymakers, the crisis in Ukraine has a clear-cut personal connection. Yet at the same time, being foreign statesmen, they take a neutral position that potentially makes them “natural mediators.”
This is the benchmark data. In the end, however, the proposal represents the intent of only a fragment of the Israeli political spectrum and society — those coming from the post-Soviet space — and finds opposition from other Israeli groups.
In truth, taking the mediator’s burden in the conflict that already involves — in one form or another — a dozen actors carries high risks for Israel’s reputation and would engender an enormous, perhaps impossible, responsibility; in other words, it is a thorny path that may bear little fruit. At the same time, when no negotiation format seems to be working, Israel offers a straw that Russia and Ukraine could consider grabbing. Israel’s image as a middleman in a conflict may be something not many are accustomed to, and it does have some legitimate limitations. But what it can do is offer an important channel of communication.
Bennett, Liberman battle for defense portfolio
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New and promising technologies of renewable and alternative energy production are already here, waiting to be used. Knowledge based barriers stand in the way of this potential for the creation of a very large number of jobs. An OIKOS-International Summer Academy for Young Scholars will be held at Tel Aviv University with support from St. Gallen, Switzerland based, Oikos – June 7-11, 2015.
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An Indian Navy Commander and Student of Sustainability calls upon the the Arctic Council to adopt guidelines which impose limits and restrictions on shipping and resource exploration activities in the Arctic region.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARCTIC – IS IT POSSIBLE?
Author : Kapil Narula
The Arctic is a unique region which plays a very important role in the earth’s ecosystem. It regulates the earth’s climate, influences the ocean currents, has rich biodiversity and is home to a substantial indigenous population. Therefore, sustainability should be a prerequisite condition for development in the Arctic.
Let us consider two major issues which are threatening the sustainability of the Arctic region: ‘resources’ and ‘routes’. The scramble between Arctic nations to control both these and the intent of extra regional powers to share the trickledown benefits, have resulted in countries engaging in active geopolitics on the Arctic. While some countries like India are keenly interested in science in order to increase their understanding of climate change, other countries such as South Korea are looking at the economic benefits which they can reap as fallout of increased shipping in the region.
Let’s talk about resources first. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil. These valuable energy resources have been fossilised over millions of years. From the viewpoint of sustainability, the ‘strong sustainability’ condition defines that the ‘economic capital’ (produced capital such as infrastructure, knowledge etc.), and ‘natural capital’ (environmental assets such as fossil fuels, biodiversity and other ecosystem structures) are complimentary, but not interchangeable. This implies that natural capital needs to be preserved sufficiently, as it has to be passed to the next generation and cannot be replaced with economic capital. Hence the amount of fossil fuels and minerals which can be extracted from the Arctic region should be limited to the regeneration rates of these resources. Obviously, this would mean that only miniscule amounts of resources can be extracted and therefore the strong sustainability condition is difficult to meet, in the case of energy and mineral resources. An alternate interpretation for resources can be as follows: the non-renewable resources which are extracted should be replaced by an equivalent amount of substitutes for that resource. This interpretation can however serve as a prerequisite condition for resource extraction, if the Arctic has to be developed sustainably.
The strong sustainability condition is often diluted to a ‘weak sustainability’ condition which allows unconditional substitution between economic and natural capital. This implies that natural resources may be used as long as economic capital is increased. Proponents of this approach claim that the energy which is extracted now, can be used to increase economic capital, so that the total amount of capital for the next generation remains unchanged. However, most often this weak sustainability condition is also violated and the extracted resources are consumed by the existing generation without a thought for the future generations.
It can, therefore, be concluded that there are many challenges to sustainable development of the Arctic region. However, such a possibility exists, provided stringent rules and regulations are followed for shipping and a limited amount of resource extraction is permitted in the region. How would this development unfold, is a question which none can predict, but one can only hope that the Arctic Council adopts some guidelines which imposes certain limits and restriction on shipping and resource exploration activities in the Arctic region.
(*The author is a Research Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at kapilnarula at yahoo.com)
PhD Research Scholar
The Clima East Expert Facility (EF) established by the EU proposes to help Climate Adaptation and Mitigation activities in associated countries of the former East bloc – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia – and Belarus, Moldova, the Ukraine.
from: Zsolt Lengyel – zsolt.lengyel at climaeast.eu
February 10, 2015
We are pleased to inform you that the Clima East Expert Facility (EF) has a new round for applications for support from eligible organisations involved with climate actions, targeting both mitigation and adaptation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
In this round we will also accept collaborative applications from two or more beneficiary organizations. This track should enable sectoral ministries, other national or local administration bodies, and in particular civil society organisations, to contribute successfully to the definition, development and delivery of national climate policy and actions.
In the Geneva Race to Paris 2015 – Langston James Goree VI reports that the first day ended with a feeling that there might be cooperation between the speakers for groups. It is an American and an Algerian who co-chair the session 2.8 of the ADP.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2015 – GENEVA HIGHLIGHTS – First day of the new start-up Session:
On Sunday morning, the ADP opening plenary took place. In the morning and afternoon, the ADP contact group on item 3 (implementation of all the elements of Decision 1/CP.17) convened.
ADP OPENING PLENARY
COP 20 President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment, Peru, called on parties to maintain the momentum generated in Lima and work responsibly, efficiently and in a spirit of compromise. ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) called on delegates “to keep the promise made to our children in Durban.”
ITEM 3: Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder (US) underscored the objective of delivering a negotiating text on Friday and that the main task of the ADP contact group will be to ensure that the text fully reflects parties’ positions. Parties agreed to the proposed organization of work.
South Africa, for G-77/CHINA, noted that: the elements for a draft negotiating text annexed to Decision 1/CP.20 (Lima Call for Climate Action) are not fully negotiated; streamlining of options must be based on consensus; and parties’ views must be reflected in the text in a balanced manner.
The EU urged progress on: ensuring dynamism in the 2015 agreement through regular review of ambition; clarifying how the agreement will deliver transparency and accountability with respect to mitigation; delivering climate resilience through adaptation and climate finance; and enhancing mitigation before 2020. Australia, for the UMBRELLA GROUP, proposed distinguishing content that needs to be included in a legal agreement from content that is more appropriate for a COP decision. Switzerland, for the ENVIRONMENTAL INTEGRITY GROUP, proposed break-out groups to address specific issues and urged focusing on streamlining the text.
ADP CONTACT GROUP
GENERAL/OBJECTIVE: On Section C “General/Objective” Co-Chair Reifsnyder suggested bracketing it and reflecting that some parties feel that the Section is not necessary.
Parties made suggestions to add text and identified opportunities for consolidation.
The US questioned the need for a separate Section on objectives. BRAZIL identified the Section as necessary to explain why a new agreement is needed. SAUDI ARABIA suggested omitting the Section, but if retained, then reflecting the objective in one to two paragraphs. Several parties suggested focusing the Section on the agreement’s overall objective and including details on how to achieve this objective elsewhere. SINGAPORE called for addressing the relationship between the Convention and the new agreement.
Maldives, for AOSIS, called for a reference to science on keeping the average temperature increase below 1.5 °C. JAMAICA proposed text on ensuring significant and rapid global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of at least 70-90% by 2050. The EU underscored the need to reach zero net emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs by the end of the century to ensure consistency with the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. SWITZERLAND agreed on the need to reflect the objective of achieving zero net GHG emissions. BRAZIL warned that references to the IPCC could lead to politicization.
Sudan, for the AFRICAN GROUP, highlighted a new proposal on loss and damage. AOSIS underscored the need for high ambition from all parties; interlinkages between mitigation and adaptation; and addressing loss and damage.
BRAZIL lamented that parts of the text are not in line with the Lima outcome, such as references to “evolving CBDR.” He supported undertakings by all Parties. The US proposed categorizing developed and developing countries into two new annexes.
Malaysia, for the LMDCs, called for addressing adaptation with the same urgency as mitigation. He proposed emphasizing, inter alia, the link between developing countries’ mitigation actions and enhanced support by developed countries; and that developed countries must not resort to any unilateral measures on climate change. SAUDI ARABIA suggested combining text on ensuring resilience and adaptive capacity with text on ensuring that all investments are resilient to climate change.
Several parties supported including text on gender equality. Tuvalu, for the LDCs, identified similarities between the proposals. MEXICO, supported by UGANDA, CHILE and BOLIVIA, also suggested text on human rights. Tuvalu, for LDCs, called for language on universal participation, human rights and rights of people with disabilities.
Co-Chair Reifsnyder indicated that informal discussion on the Section can be reconsidered at a later stage. He expressed satisfaction with progress made and said parties’ proposals together with revised Section C will be made available online promptly.
MITIGATION: In the afternoon, the contact group focused on Section D on mitigation.
Argentina, for the LMDCs, underscored, inter alia, that commitments, contributions and actions should comply with the Convention’s principles and obligations, with developed country parties undertaking quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) that are comparable, verifiable and implemented without any conditions. She added that developing country actions may include REDD+ and joint adaptation and mitigation, in accordance with their specific circumstances and needs.
Chile, for AILAC, suggested text on distinguishing between ex ante and ex post review of INDCs, proposing that all parties make successive mitigation commitments. On the use of market mechanisms in the land-use sector, he suggested including references to: environmental integrity; avoiding double counting; and a levy to support climate change resilience in developing countries.
Panama, for CfRN, called for: the REDD+ framework be reflected and anchored in the new agreement; applying safeguards; and strengthening institutional arrangements under the Convention based on Decision 10/CP.19 on support for the implementation of mitigation activities in the forest sector by developing countries.
The EU, inter alia: emphasized accounting rules and suggested bringing these from the Section on transparency of action and support, into the Section on mitigation. He proposed separating text on land use and market mechanisms. He highlighted the need for parties to periodically review and update their commitments. AUSTRALIA proposed text on national schedules and intended mitigation contributions, including that each party individually update their respective national schedules in accordance with modalities to be agreed by the governing body.
Kenya, for the AFRICAN GROUP, emphasized developed countries’ obligation to provide MOI, and that social and economic development and poverty eradication are first and overriding priorities for developing countries. Maldives, for SIDS, proposed, inter alia, that proceeds from the use of market mechanisms will be used for meeting the costs of adaptation in the most vulnerable developing countries.
Underlying the importance of text on peaking of global GHG emissions as soon as possible, TANZANIA proposed text specifying these efforts be quantitative and time-bound for developed countries and aspirational for developing countries.
The US proposed replacing references to developed or developing countries throughout the text be replaced with reference to new annexes y and x. He proposed text to provide clarity on how parties engage in consultations on future cycles of contributions, specifying that parties should submit INDCs no later than six months before the beginning of each cycle. CANADA proposed text suggesting that all parties prepare national inventory reports in accordance with IPCC guidance.
BRAZIL suggested text on an economic mechanism comprising an emissions trading system (ETS) and an enhanced Clean Development Mechanism (CDM+). He explained that parties with quantified mitigation targets could use ETS and CDM+ to supplement domestic action, and developing countries may participate in CDM+ projects on a voluntary basis. He emphasized voluntary cancellations of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to enhance environmental integrity, saying cancelled CERs could be used to meet quantified financing targets or pledges but not mitigation targets.
SENEGAL stated that market mechanisms and actions in the land-use sector should contribute to the sustainable development of the host countries. He proposed a centrally governed market mechanism under the Convention, building on existing market mechanisms. ETHIOPIA announced a new submission clarifying the details of market mechanisms in the 2015 agreement.
SOUTH AFRICA stressed review as an integral part of a dynamic contribution cycle. She proposed text on common accounting rules to be developed by the COP. NEW ZEALAND noted that accounting rules must be more explicitly addressed in Section D, and, with NORWAY, stressed the importance of avoiding double-counting.
BOLIVIA stressed the need for inclusion of alternative, non-market, and joint mitigation and adaptation approaches, and for adding text on “the protection and integrity of Mother Earth.” On a global emission budget, ETHIOPIA proposed including a reference to national per capita emissions and taking into account historical emissions.
IN THE CORRIDORS
On a cold but sunny Sunday morning, delegates arrived in the historic Palais des Nations for the first of several negotiating sessions leading to Paris. Many felt the meeting got off to a good start. The opening plenary was described as “surprisingly short” and many expressed appreciation for the gesture by many negotiating groups to submit their opening statements electronically in the interest of time.
The ADP morning contact group made good progress and closed ahead of schedule. In the afternoon contact group, the mitigation section of the text grew in length with a total of 52 new proposals made. Regardless, that meeting closed an hour ahead of schedule. Pleased with the progress, Co-Chair Reifsnyder joked that continuing with such efficiency, “we will definitely have an agreement in Paris – or even before.”
Having consulted with the negotiating group leaders, the Co-Chairs proposed to speed things up and collect all new textual proposals on Monday in order to focus the rest of the session on streamlining the text. On that note, many delegates said they anticipated a late evening to finalize negotiating groups’ internal coordinations on new text.
The eighth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Ad-Hoc Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP – Ad-Hoc Durban Platform) will be held from 8-13 February 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the conference is the first conference of several meetings in preparation for the Paris Climate Change Conference that will be held in France in December. The Paris Conference is mandated to adopt “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.” The agreement will be implemented from 2020 onwards.
The body tasked with developing the Paris Agreement is the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). In Geneva, the ADP will hold the eighth part of its second session (ADP 2-8).
Updated as of 7 February
Scenario note by the Co-Chairs on the eighth part of the second session of the ADP
The Cochairs are: Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf and Mr. Daniel Reifsnyder and Ms. Yang Liu as the Rapporteur of the ADP, to serve until the conclusion of the ADP session to be held in conjunction with COP 21 in 2015.
IISD RS @ UNFCCC ADP 2.8 | 8-13 February 2015 | Geneva …
IISD Reporting Services, through its Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), will cover the Geneva Climate Change Conference – February 2015, from 8 to 13 February 2015 …
ECO is a daily newsletter published by a group of NGOs active at UN Conferences – not as a reporting service like the ENB of the IISD that is backed financially by several Western governments, but rather as an outlet of several opinionated Civil Society groupings.
We post here the e-mail we received from ECO as posted at the opening of ADP 2.8
The dust from COP20 has (barely) settled and now with just 10 months left before COP21 in Paris, Parties need to come together on the way forward to the 2015 agreement.
In Geneva, Parties will start from where they left off the draft negotiating text that is annexed to the Lima Call for Climate Action decision of COP 20 of the UNFCCC. The current draft has many options on most issues, some of them highly divergent.
There are several key issues that need to be grappled with if we are to get a robust and ambitious post-2020 agreement in December. One of the most difficult is coming to a shared understanding of CBDR&RC (differentiation). This is at the heart of many of the divergent areas, and the differences were just papered over with the last-minute compromise of language in Lima.
Civil society needs to be an active participant within this review and it should be conducted in earnest, and in 5-year intervals. The UNFCCC has in the past seen many reviews that only point to the problem without enabling solutions. The review mechanism within the 2015 agreement needs to be different: it should enable and equip countries to bridge the gap between what science requires and what is being put on the table by each country.
First, the agreement should state an obvious fact which even ECO’s uncle and aunt would understand: the lower the level of mitigation ambition, the higher will be the adaptation needs, and the loss and damage from climate change impacts and the associated costs thereof, which will require much higher support to vulnerable countries and people who have not caused climate change. A good basis for addressing this continuum of mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage in Paragraph 4 of the current text. In today’s thematic session, Parties should support this language, and make further efforts to operationalise it.
ECO believes the phase out of fossil fuel emissions and phase in of 100% renewable energy as early as 2050 should be the long-tern goal of 2015 agreement. Language reflecting this option should be added to the text coming out of Geneva. The text should also note that achievement of this goal rests on up ramping mitigation ambition within the pre-2020 period, as well as countries putting ambitious INDCs on the table in Paris. Such timely action will not only reduce costs in the longer run, but can ensure that climate impacts are curtailed early on.
While these bumps collectively might appear daunting, they can be overcome through a mix of political will and good faith negotiating. People, businesses, and local authorities across the world are already showing the way; ECO calls on Parties here in Geneva to do the same.
Today’s negotiations on the long term goal of the Paris agreement are, therefore, critical to help define our ultimate objective. That is: to reduce carbon emissions to zero and achieve a 100% renewable-powered world by 2050.
The Economist recently reported that Saudi Arabia’s profligate energy consumption means that “the country may have no oil to export by 2030” ? a real spur for domestic innovation and diversification.
Clean energy is already the low cost option. In Jamaica, the price of solar power is the same as that of wholesale fossil-fuelled power and in Nicaragua, electricity from wind is half as expensive as power from traditional sources. Renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper all over the world, making the 100% renewable goal ever more attractive, and the decline of fossil fuels an ever-clearer reality.
Human rights protections for all:
As you, dear negotiators, tackle Section C of the elements paper today, ECO urges you to think not just about numbers and principles, but about people. There should be unifying language in the general, operational section of the draft agreement text that recognises the human dimensions of climate change. We suggest:
“Parties shall, in all climate change-related actions, respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights for all”.
240 organisations endorsed this language in a submission to the ADP co-chairs yesterday. It’s also what each of the 76 independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council recommended in a joint statement to the UNFCCC Parties during COP20.
Looks familiar, right? Yes, yes, it’s a lot like what’s in the shared vision of the Cancun Agreements. Since Cancun, however, we have noticed that this reference hasn’t done the job of ensuring that rights are adequately considered in climate policies. This language in Section C will help ensure that these principles apply to all pillars of the Convention.
Today is the day to make sure it lives on in Paris!
Why, you ask? Well, we can’t escape the fact that climate change has human consequences. The lives and livelihoods of literally billions of people are riding on what comes out of this process, and this language is relevant to every element of the negotiating text.
It’s also nothing new. Parties already have human rights obligations. This language, as in the Cancun Agreement’s shared vision, helps spell that out in the context of climate change. And it helps make sure that Parties are looking out for their own people. No matter what delegation or constituency you represent, you care about your people. ECO knows you do. After all, you are a person too.
So as we kick off this week of negotiations, ECO and 240 organisations call on you to make sure Section C ensures that Parties respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights for all. That shouldn’t be controversial, so just go do it!
When ECO thinks of Switzerland we think of skiing, watches, neutrality, delicious chocolate and of course, the Environmental Integrity Group.
ECO appreciates that Switzerland negotiates as part of a group with the stated priority of “environmental integrity”, but we wonder about Switzerland’s own integrity when it comes to its domestic emissions and commitments?
During the Multilateral Assessment in Lima, Switzerland became very evasive when asked why it would not opt for a conditional target of negative 30% emission reductions by 2020. Perhaps it’s because the country, to date, has merely achieved stabilisation of its absolute emissions. Switzerland offers population growth as a cheesy excuse for this lack of ambition. However, there is much more that Switzerland can do—like instituting policies to switch its population off of high-emitting oil heating systems, reducing per capita car ownership, addressing the startling fact that that average Swiss citizen racks up double the annual air miles of people in neighbouring countries.
ECO hopes that Switzerland will admit it has been off piste when it comes to climate ambition, and demonstrate its integrity by delivering on its 2014 United Nations Climate Summit announcement that it will become carbon neutral.
Minister Doris Leuthard, who made that commitment in New York last September, is in a perfect position to deliver on it. How could she not be when she’s responsible for Switzerland’s policies on climate, energy, transportation (including aviation), forestry, environment, spatial planning and (tele)communication. It’s exactly these sectors that need to change for Switzerland to make an ambitious effort in its INDC submission. ECO also seriously hopes the rumor that Switzerland intends to use carbon markets rather than striving for ambitious emission reductions at home is false. How would this fulfill a vision of carbon neutrality?
To top it off, Switzerland’s move in Lima to avoid talking about the next steps for climate finance makes it even harder to see how Switzerland can claim to be a champion of environmental integrity. ECO calls on Switzerland to check its watch and realise how late in the day it is for climate action. On this issue, being neutral isn’t a virtue – rather, it’s time for bold action.