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HENRY DEEDES: The Prime Minister trying to beam in was like a rhino with a Ming vase

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HENRY DEEDES: The Prime Minister trying to beam in was like a rhino with a Ming vase

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HENRY DEEDES: The Prime Minister trying to beam in was like a rhino with a Ming vase (Gulp… was the Trident button far away?)

Well, I suppose we should be grateful at least that he wasn’t on the hotline to Vladimir Putin.

Boris Johnson attempted to do PMQs remotely from Chequers yesterday. Predictably, it was only minutes before chaos broke out.

Something about this Prime Minister and technology. They simply don’t mix. He should no more be trusted with a switch than a rhinoceros be allowed to play keepy-uppy with a Ming vase. One dreads to think how he’d have managed aboard Jeff Bezos’s space rocket. Probably he’d have sat on a vital button and sent them all whizzing off into the next galaxy.

The trouble began midway through his exchanges with Sir Keir Starmer. Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was struggling to hear him. The PM sounded as though he was speaking into a rusty baked bean can.

HENRY DEEDES: The Prime Minister trying to beam in was like a rhino with a Ming vase

Boris Johnson attempted to do PMQs remotely from Chequers yesterday. Predictably, it was only minutes before chaos broke out

‘We are really struggling on the sound level,’ Sir Lindsay complained. Boris froze, panic etched across his face. A man stuck in a lift. ‘Can you hear, me? Can you hear me, Mr Speaker?’ wailed our man in the Shires. It was like a phone conversation with your half-deaf grandmother.

‘Hang on a moment, is it this thing here?’ he said, motioning towards a button. Oh Gawd, what was he about to push?

Possibly sensing that Boris might be on the verge of accidentally powering up Britain’s arsenal of Trident missiles, Sir Lindsay announced that he could now hear him perfectly well.

The PM repeatedly asked whether he should repeat everything he’d said before. Crumbs, we were going to be here until tea time.

‘No, do not worry,’ sighed Sir Lindsay wearily. ‘Just complete the end bit.’ The Commons computer screens will be removed after MPs head off for summer recess today in anticipation of business as usual when Parliament resumes. I can confidently predict there will be no happier person to see the back of them than Sir Lindsay.

Meanwhile, something odd was going on with Sir Keir Starmer. He appeared to be test driving a new persona. Something with go-faster stripes and fluffy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. There were twirls and expansive hand movements. He’d even developed a laugh, albeit as authentic as a bootlicking estate agent’s.

He greeted Boris cockily.

‘Can I wish the ‘‘Chequers One’’ well in isolation? Hahaha!’ he joshed.

The trouble began midway through his exchanges with Sir Keir Starmer. Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was struggling to hear him. The PM sounded as though he was speaking into a rusty baked bean can

The trouble began midway through his exchanges with Sir Keir Starmer. Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was struggling to hear him. The PM sounded as though he was speaking into a rusty baked bean can

The PM wasn’t in the mood for this smug new model. He stared back lifelessly from the screen, moody and ashen-faced. I’m not sure isolation suits his temperament. Bet he’s been driving the Chequers gardeners potty. Boris kept playing it straight but his opponent wanted to joust. Odd. Usually it’s the other way around. Starmer attacked the Government’s mixed messages over whether people should isolate when they get pinged. ‘When it comes to creating confusion, the Prime Minister is a super-spreader, haha!’ he hollered with ill-disguised triumph.

Tories MPs looked around quizzically. Westminster’s prize bore was suddenly acting all Mr Showbiz.

Sir Keir had a pop at the Government’s latest three-word slogan – ‘Keep life moving’ – too. Naturally, he had a better one: ‘Get a grip, hahaha!’ Boris rolled his eyes and accused Starmer of ‘feeble stuff’ and trying to score ‘vacuous political points’.

Also remarkably pleased with himself was the SNP’s Ian Blackford. No change there then. He drew from Dominic Cummings’s recent poisoned well of revelations and accused the PM of wanting to sacrifice the over-80s.

The PM called that a gross mischaracterisation of the exchanges that had taken place. The look he shot Blackford could have wilted a cactus.

Incidentally, this session marked PMQs’ 60th anniversary. Harold Macmillan and Hugh Gaitskill were the inaugural combatants. Since you ask, Macmillan’s first answer to a question was ‘Yes, sir’ before resuming his seat.

Oh, for such brevity! Thanks to modern windbaggery, yesterday’s confrontation dragged on nearly 50 minutes.

When it was finally over, Sir Lindsay urged MPs to return to Westminster in the autumn with much shorter questions.

Hear, hear. And please, no more remote PMQs – for Boris’s sake, if not our own.

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Impact of Italy’s Far-Right Government Will First be Felt Abroad

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Impact of Italy’s Far-Right Government Will First be Felt Abroad
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party, reacts during a press conference at the party electoral headquarters in Rome on Sept. 26. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

The election victory of Giorgia Meloni in Italy has left journalists scrambling around for adjectives. Is her Brothers of Italy political party fascist? (It certainly uses the same logo as a party formed by Mussolini’s lieutenants.) Is it neo-fascist, or far right, or merely populist?

This confusion is mirrored in the ambiguity surrounding Meloni herself, who has on occasion struck a more conciliatory tone and, after her victory, vowed to govern for all Italians.

And it is reflected most strongly in the wider questions that are now inevitably asked about Europe’s fourth-largest economy: What does it mean for an openly far-right party to win in Europe in the 21st century?

Meloni’s victory took place just over 100 years since Benito Mussolini formed his fascist political party, amid the invasion of Ukraine that the head of NATO has called the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War II, and with spiraling economic conditions. Journalists who read the tea leaves of history can’t help but see parallels.

Curiously, though, few of these questions are about Italy itself. Instead, they are about the wider context in which the election victory has occurred. There is a good reason for that: The effects of Italy’s far-right government won’t immediately be felt inside the country, but in the rest of Europe and the Middle East.

For one thing, the victory of the Brothers of Italy brings with it its own narrative momentum. This is now the third time in six months that a far-right political party has come within touching distance of real power in Europe, after Marine Le Pen came runner-up in France’s presidential election and the Sweden Democrats became the country’s second largest party two weeks ago.

The ideas of the far right are seeping into European politics. Social conservatism, the challenges of immigration, the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis – all have become part of the national discourse in every major European country.

Italy has its own peculiarities, of course, particularly falling birthrates and high youth unemployment, but the challenges that Meloni highlighted in her election campaign are shared across the European continent. Therefore far-right candidates will also be watching her win for messaging or tactics they can apply to their own countries. Indeed that is already happening – the far-right French agitator Eric Zemmour said Meloni’s strategy of presenting a united far-right slate for the election could work in France, too. Considering how close Le Pen came in April, that is a significant threat.

And not merely the far right. Mainstream conservative candidates across the continent have sought to “steal the clothes” of the far right and appropriate and mainstream their ideas. Meloni’s avowed conservatism and preference for the nuclear family is one other conservatives could adopt; the focus on law and order is always a conservative mainstay, though in Italy, and other southern European countries, it has the additional strength of being connected to immigration, and the wars across the Mediterranean fueling it.

All of which means that the challenges that propelled Meloni and her alliance to power exist elsewhere on the continent – and equivalent parties will be eager to offer similar solutions.

That is particularly the case across the European Union’s southern flank, because it is here that the external events that have had the most to do with Meloni’s rise to power occurred.

Simply because of geography, the majority of migrant arrivals by boat end up on the European Union’s southern border, mainly in Italy and Greece, but also Spain.

Although technically migration is an EU-wide issue, under the Dublin agreement of 2013, the country where asylum seekers first land is the country obligated to deal with and process them. This has, inevitably, placed enormous strain on the southern Mediterranean countries, and pushed them to try many ways of stopping the arrival of migrants.

If Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party, becomes interior minister, a job he held previously, he will no doubt bring back his controversial “closed ports” policy from 2018, under which boats that had rescued migrants at sea were denied access to Italian ports.

That caused a firestorm of criticism within Italy and Europe, but also had a knock-on impact in North Africa. This will be the second place the effect is felt, as smugglers seek alternative routes, or the government seeks separate deals with countries like Libya to stop the boats crossing and crack down on smugglers.

It is, however, a fiercely domestic issue. So much of the right-wing vote is concentrated in northern Italian districts, because these districts have had to deal with large numbers of migrants. Many of those who arrive in Italy prefer to head north to France, the UK or Germany, where economies are bigger and there are more “grey-market” jobs. That means the migrants congregate in northern Italy as they seek to find a way over the border.

EU countries have spoken about reforming the Dublin agreement and imposing a quota system across the bloc, but northern European countries have dragged their feet, happy to delay the issue for another election cycle or another government. Now however, they may be forced to accept some change as the numbers of migrants northern countries take increases.

She may have been elected to face challenges at home, but the real impact of Italy’s new far-right premier will be felt first abroad.

Syndication Bureau_____________________

Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He has worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai

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How Russians Read the Conflict in the Caucasus

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How Russians Read the Conflict in the Caucasus
Ukraine supporters rally in Times Square holding flags, signs, and chanting slogans on February 25, 2022, in New York City. People from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and other Indo-European supporters gathered in solidarity against Russian President Vladimir Putin one day after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Credit: John Lamparski/NurPhoto

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, September 13, Azerbaijan launched an aggressive military assault along the borders of the Armenian Republic.  Observers of politics in the post-Soviet space may be forgiven for thinking that the center of fighting was the disputed, Armenian-inhabited region of Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh by Armenians).  In fact, however, the attack targeted several towns and villages within Armenia proper, notably Vardenis near Lake Sevan, Jermuk in the rocky Vayots Dzor province, and the leafy town of Goris in Syunik.

The attack was only the latest in a series of provocations initiated by Baku, with Ankara’s backing, since the conclusion of the 2020 Karabakh war, and especially since the commencement of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022.  One might expect there to be renewed hostilities in a face-off involving only Armenia and Azerbaijan.  However, these attacks are even more significant, given the fact that Russian forces and peacekeepers have been present in the conflict zone since 2020.  Moscow’s reaction to Baku’s brazen bellicosity has so far been restrained, reflecting not only its difficult balancing act between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also concerns about potentially upsetting political ties with Turkey amid the conflict in Ukraine.  However, while restrained for now, Moscow’s patience with Baku and Ankara is wearing thin and will not last forever, especially in the context of the current international situation.

Complicated roots

Russia’s historical association with Transcaucasia and its peoples dates back centuries, although its first major political foray into the area was Peter the Great’s Persian Campaign of the 1720s, an intervention involving an alliance with local Georgian and Armenian leaders.  The roots of the Karabakh quandary itself are at least just as old.  For some, the conflict can be dated back to the late 18th century, with the onset of competing interests between local Armenian princes and Tatar khans.  For others, it can be dated to 1917-20, when the upheavals of the Russian Civil War led to ethnic violence in Transcaucasia.  A 1919 decision by British interventionist forces left the Mountainous Armenian Karabakh under the control of the newly established Azerbaijan Republic.  The British, who entered the fray in opposition to the Reds, were less concerned with ethnic peacebuilding and more interested in seizing the strategic oilfields of Baku.  By the time the Bolsheviks managed to Sovietize Transcaucasia in 1920, they encountered a Karabakh that, although majority Armenian, was under the control of Azerbaijani forces.  Therefore, as scholar Arsène Saparov reminds us, the eventual Soviet decision to officialize the status of the region as part of Soviet Azerbaijan was intended to be a “quick fix” for a new ruling elite eager to begin work on building a new socialist state.  Yet, this “fix” ultimately left both Armenians and Azeris unsatisfied.

The immediate origins of the Karabakh problem date back to the late 1980s, when Karabakh Armenian demands to unify with Soviet Armenia found expression under the banner of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika.  Peaceful protests in the Armenian capital Yerevan and the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert were soon met with anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani industrial town of Sumgait.  From there, a vicious cycle of violence ensued, pitting Armenians against Azeris, and Azeris against Armenians.  A forceful population exchange traumatized the two communities.  By the time of the Soviet dissolution in 1991, the conflict had erupted into a full-scale between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  It ended only with a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994, leaving Armenian forces in control of most of Mountainous Karabakh, plus seven adjoining districts.

For the next three decades, the situation remained essentially “frozen.”  Peace talks between the sides saw limited results and effectively hit a dead end after the failure of the 2001 Key West peace talks.  The death of longtime Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev and the ascendancy of his more nationalistic son, Ilham, to the presidency further dimmed the prospects for peace, fueled by massive Azerbaijani arms purchases made with its new oil revenues.  Baku’s newfound belligerence found willing allies among the American war party in Washington, which hoped to use the former Soviet republic as a NATO-backed “bridgehead” across the Caspian, and to undermine Russian influence in energy-rich post-Soviet Central Asia.

Russian interests and realities

However, aside from periodic ceasefire violations, the situation in Karabakh remained relatively stable.  Only the 2016 “four-day” war seemed to allude to the challenges that were to come.  Russia’s position toward the region during this period was to preserve its influence and maintain regional stability for the sake of its state security.  To that end, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov advanced the so-called “Lavrov Plan,” advocating the return of certain districts to Azerbaijan (excluding Kelbajar and Lachin) as well as the introduction of Russian peacekeeping forces in the region.  However, neither Yerevan nor Baku ultimately accepted it.

Turkey’s intervention in the Caucasus in the 2020 Karabakh War changed the entire dynamic.  Ankara tested the waters for such an intervention with its staunch support of Baku in 2016.  However, it was the 2020 Karabakh war that increased Turkey’s influence in the Caucasus considerably, with an eye to enhancing its influence in post-Soviet Central Asia, at the expense of Moscow.  Although Russia managed to secure entry of its peacekeepers into the Karabakh conflict zone at the end of the war, the new presence of Turkey now meant that it had to balance its traditional interests with actively combating the expansion of Turkish influence in the region.  At the same time, it sought to avoid a direct entanglement with Ankara.

In practice, the Russian peacekeeping presence in Mountainous Karabakh should have acted as a guarantor for regional stability, deterring the prospect of renewed hostilities.  Indeed, the idea behind the peacekeeping mission reflected the logic of the earlier Lavrov Plan, i.e., that Russian troops would be able to stabilize the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines in a way that the Armenian forces never fully could.  Although the presence of Russian troops initially acted as a strong deterrent to renewed clashes, the peacekeeping mission ultimately failed to provide the lasting stabilization that was envisaged by policymakers in Moscow.  The reasons stemmed partially from the greatly diminished territorial size of the self-proclaimed Artsakh-Karabakh Republic as a result of the 2020 war, combined with the limited number of Russian peacekeepers.  The loss of the strategic districts of Kelbajar and Lachin (which were envisioned as remaining under Karabakh Armenian control in the original Lavrov Plan) also meant that the peacekeeping mission’s physical connection to the Russian forces in Armenia was severely curtailed and limited to a single road, the Lachin corridor, which itself has recently become an object of dispute.

In addition, the outcome of the war destroyed any remaining balance that existed between the two sides, hindering Moscow’s ability to navigate the diplomatic waters between Baku and Yerevan.  Armenia was catapulted into a state of political crisis, centered on its combative Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his opponents.  Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, with Ankara’s blessing, went on a “victory high,” and rather than content itself with its gains and pursue peace, sought to press its advantage by snatching up small strategic border territories in clashes with Yerevan.  The Russian leadership foresaw the potential for even more provocations and flare-ups from Baku after the start of the 2022 conflict in Ukraine.  Therefore, on the eve of the conflict, Putin met with Aliyev to bolster state-to-state relations. However, these steps failed to incentivize Baku from ceasing its attacks.  Indeed, the attacks on Armenia and Mountainous Karabakh only increased soon after the conflict commenced, despite the Russian presence.

Meanwhile, some Azerbaijani analysts, channeling classic Caucasian bravado, began boasting that Baku had become the “leading great power” of the region and that it could easily defeat Russia in a war.  Although it is highly doubtful that Azeri troops will ever march on Moscow, the fact that Azeri public intellectuals started speaking in this manner did not go unnoticed in the Kremlin, reflecting the fact that Baku’s hubris was reaching unacceptable levels.  Some Russian observers even perceived Baku’s latest attacks as part of another Western-led effort to provoke a “second front” of the Ukraine conflict in Transcaucasia, something that neighboring Georgia has strongly refused to do in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Limited in scope and territorial control and faced with constant provocations from an Ankara-allied Azerbaijan, the Russian peacekeeping mission has been hamstrung in its ability to perform its basic mandate – to provide security for the civilian population, as well as greater stability in the region.  Politically for now, Moscow has focused on quick and quiet diplomatic resolutions to put out the fires that periodically erupt between Baku and Yerevan, an approach that is informed largely by its effort to avoid antagonizing Turkey.  However, the reality remains that Ankara’s growing influence in the Caucasus and Azerbaijan’s unrestrained bellicosity fundamentally contradict Russia’s long-term strategic interests in the region.  For now, the Kremlin has opted to tiptoe around Turkey, but as in Ukraine, the time will come when its patience becomes exhausted, and it will have to turn to tougher and more decisive measures against provocations in Karabakh.

Already, the more conservative focus on quiet diplomacy is beginning to appear incongruent with the challenges facing both Russian peacekeepers and Armenian civilians on the ground.  It is also starting to undermine Moscow’s soft power in the region.  The more aggressive the Azerbaijani attacks and the more reserved the Russian reactions, the more that Armenian civilians will begin to see Russia as being an unreliable ally, thus lending credence to pro-Western Armenians who wish to see the back of the Russians.  Eroding public perceptions of Russia in Armenia, along with the perceived inaction of the Russian peacekeepers, were especially highlighted by the recent visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Yerevan.  Indeed, although Pelosi’s move will not realistically provide the Armenian people with any tangible security benefits, it was politically calculated to antagonize Moscow, just as her visit to Taiwan was politically calculated to antagonize Beijing.

Overall, the current situation surrounding Mountainous Karabakh has profound security implications for Moscow that are arguably just as serious as those in Ukraine.  From the Kremlin’s perspective, if NATO-allied Turkey comes to dominate the Caucasus, they will also dominate Central Asia, and suddenly NATO’s influence will be felt as far as the Altai mountains.  Such a scenario is naturally intolerable for Russia, and the fears over security along its southern parameter undoubtedly informed its swift reaction to the events in Kazakhstan in January, dealing a blow to Ankara’s post-Soviet ambitions.  These same concerns continue to fuel anxiety in the Kremlin over the border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the past week.  Indeed, in Eurasia, Russia seems left with few easy decisions, but at some point, it will be forced to get tough in the Caucasus.  Like a bear defending its territory, Moscow will not hesitate to defend its vital national security interests.  The Russians are a patient people, but their patience is not infinite.

Globetrotter___________________

Pietro A. Shakarian is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Historical Research, National Research University–Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, Russia

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What Azerbaijan’s Armenia Assault Says About the New World Order

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What Azerbaijan’s Armenia Assault Says About the New World Order
Armenian soldiers and a Russian peacekeeping soldier, on the vehicle, at a checkpoint in Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020. | MAURICIO LIMA / THE NEW YORK TIMES

The latest round of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan will come as little surprise to most. After all, the two states have been locked in various levels of conflict for three decades, ranging from low-level exchanges of fire to the full-scale warfare that engulfed the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2020.

Yet the latest bout marks a major escalation, one that, if allowed to continue, could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and even a regional war.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, September 13, Azerbaijani forces launched a wide-ranging assault on Armenian positions across nearly 200 kilometers of their shared border. The offensive included drones, artillery and armored vehicles, and Azerbaijani strikes reached targets up to 40 kilometers inside Armenia. Artillery fire rained down upon Armenian towns and villages, including the resort town of Jermuk, destroying civilian homes and apartment blocks. By the time fighting stopped with a tenuous ceasefire on Wednesday evening, more than 200 soldiers had been killed (135 from Armenia, 71 from Azerbaijan), 7,500 Armenian civilians had been displaced, and Azerbaijani troops had advanced more than seven kilometers into Armenia.

There was little doubt who started the fighting. Azerbaijan initially claimed that it was merely responding to Armenian “provocations” – a claim echoed by its ally, Turkey – but largely dropped this rhetoric in the following days in favor of other justifications. The same pattern has been seen repeatedly in the past two years, including during the 2020 war – in which a long-prepared assault was initially billed as a “counteroffensive” – and Azerbaijan’s attack last month on Armenian positions in the Lachin corridor connecting Karabakh with Armenia proper.

The goals of the assault were not immediately clear, but they fit with Azerbaijani policy since the end of the 2020 war. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev believes Armenia made a major mistake when it failed to force his country to sign a full treaty enshrining the gains from Armenia’s victory in the First Karabakh War, which ended in 1994. Aliyev is determined not to repeat his enemy’s error. Instead, he is seeking to force Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to the table to sign a document which would relinquish what remains of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to Azerbaijani control. Similarly, Aliyev wants Armenia to give his forces exclusive control over a sovereign corridor connecting mainland Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan – something he claims Azerbaijan is owed as a result of a false interpretation of the final clause of the 2020 ceasefire agreement.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the attacks occurred simply because they could. With Russia bogged down in Ukraine and other powers in no position to intervene, Aliyev took the chance to humiliate his Armenian enemies and demonstrate Azerbaijan’s continued primacy on the battlefield.

The Russian absence from all of this has been striking. Russia is a major ally to Armenia and where Moscow once wielded enough influence over Azerbaijan to halt its aggression, bringing the 2016 “April War” to an end in just four days, it now appears helpless before Baku. The present offensive took place just days after Moscow’s forces were routed by Ukraine in the Kharkiv region, reinforcing growing perceptions of Russian impotence. The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a defensive bloc including Armenia and four other former-Soviet states, was meanwhile fully exposed as a paper tiger after failing to honor Armenia’s invocation of the mutual defense clause its charter contains. With Russia ever more politically and economically isolated, Vladimir Putin has evidently decided there is nothing to be gained by standing up to Azerbaijan or Turkey, two countries whose friendly relations he desperately needs.

That leaves the response of other powers. The European Union has provided little of anything beyond soft calls for “restraint by both sides.” Many Armenians rightfully point to a July visit by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Baku, where she posed beaming for the cameras alongside Aliyev to sign a gas deal, as further emboldening Azerbaijan’s actions. The EU’s search for alternative energy partners amidst its break with Russia has left Brussels loath to condemn, let alone punish, Baku’s brazen aggression.

Iran, meanwhile, the other major state in the region, has repeatedly stated that it considers any change in the borders of the region “unacceptable,” especially anything that would cause it to lose its transit corridor through Armenia to the Black Sea (via Georgia). It remains unclear, however, whether Tehran is willing to do anything tangible that might affect Baku’s calculus.

That leaves the United States. As the only other actor capable of influencing Aliyev’s appetite, Washington’s response has been surprisingly robust. State Department officials have shifted their tone from the usual calls for restraint from both-sides and placed the blame for the fighting unequivocally upon Baku. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia at the weekend where she condemned Azerbaijan’s “illegal and deadly attacks.” It will require more than just words to cow Aliyev, but tangible measures may be forthcoming: By all accounts, it was American pressure that convinced Baku to cease its offensive on Wednesday night.

The reality is, however, that more attacks are probably coming. Azerbaijan, which never confirmed the ceasefire itself, spent the next few days spreading news of alleged Armenian “saboteur” groups being discovered and destroyed, including in the enclave of Nakhchivan, from where Armenia has warned of a new offensive. Azerbaijani officials started to openly call for a “buffer zone” on Armenian territory, one that would be large enough for the settlement of those displaced by the fighting. Pelosi’s visit made it clear that the US is watching the region closely and would use levers at its disposal to dissuade Azerbaijan from attacking again. One must hope they are enough.

Syndication Bureau__________________

Neil Hauer is a security analyst based in Yerevan, Armenia. His work focuses on, among other things, politics, minorities and violence in the Caucasus. Twitter: @NeilPHauer

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Evil Empire: Let the Monarchy Die Along With Elizabeth

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Evil Empire: Let the Monarchy Die Along With Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth II arrives for a state banquet in her honor in Berlin during a royal visit to Germany in June 2015. GETTY IMAGES

There is no good reason to allow the evil empire to retain any legitimacy as the British royal family papers over the pillage it continues to benefit from.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch of British royalty, has sparked global fascination and spawned thousands of clickbait reports of the details of her funeral. Americans, who centuries ago rejected monarchy, are seemingly obsessed with the ritualism, bizarrely mourning the demise of an elderly and fabulously wealthy woman who was born into privilege and who died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 96 across the ocean.

Perhaps this is because popular and long-running TV shows about British royalty like “The Crown” have convinced us that we know intimate details about the royals—and worse, they cause us to believe we should care about a family that is a symbolic marker of past imperial grandeur.

But for those who are descended from the subjects of British imperialist conquest, the queen, her ancestors, and her descendants represent the ultimate evil empire.

India, my home country, celebrated its 75th anniversary of independence from British rule this year. Both my parents were born before independence, into a nation still ruled by the British. I heard many tales while growing up of my grandfather’s absences from home as he went “underground,” wanted for seditious activity against the British. After independence in 1947, he was honored for being a “freedom fighter” against the monarchy.

Despite the popularity and critical acclaim of “The Crown” and movies and shows like it, I found a far stronger connection to the new superhero series “Ms. Marvel,” if for no other reason than the fact that it tackles the horrors of partition, a little-known (in the U.S.) legacy of the evil empire.

As Pakistani writer Minna Jaffery-Lindemulder explains in New Lines, “The British changed the borders of India and Pakistan at the eleventh hour in 1947 before declaring both nations independent, leaving the former subjects of the crown confused about where they needed to migrate to ensure their safety.” As a result, 15 million people felt forced to move from one part of the South Asian subcontinent to another, a mass cross-exodus with an estimated death toll ranging from half a million to 2 million.

Today, those contested borders, callously and recklessly drawn in 1947 by British officials acting at the behest of the crown, remain a source of simmering tensions between India and Pakistan that occasionally erupt into full-blown wars.

This is the legacy of British monarchy. The United Kingdom enjoys a hideous distinction in the Guinness Book of World Records, for “most countries [62] to have gained independence from the same country.”

One could argue that Elizabeth, who was gifted the throne and its title in 1952, did not lead an aggressive empire of conquest and instead presided over an institution that, under her rule, became largely symbolic and ceremonial in nature. And indeed, many do just that, referring to her, for example, as an “exemplar of moral decency.”

Rahul Mahajan, author of Full Spectrum Dominance and The New Crusade, has a different opinion, referring in an interview to Elizabeth as a “morally unremarkable person with a job that involved doing extremely unremarkable things.”

Mahajan explains further, saying that this was “a highly privileged person, given an opportunity to influence world events in some degree, which she had to do nothing to earn, who never did anything particularly remarkable, innovative, or insightful.”

While Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne were mostly spent overseeing an ostensible unraveling of British Empire in a world less tolerant of occupation, enslavement, and imperial plunder, just a few months into her role as queen, the British violently put down the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. According to a New York Times story about how citizens in African nations today have little sympathy for the dead monarch, the squashing of the rebellion “led to the establishment of a vast system of detention camps and the torture, rape, castration and killing of tens of thousands of people.”

Even if Elizabeth was not responsible for directing the horrors, they were carried out in her name. Over the seven decades that she wielded symbolic power, she never once apologized for what was done during her rule in Kenya—or indeed what was done in her family’s name in dozens of other nations in the Global South.

It’s no wonder that Black and Brown people the world over have openly expressed disgust at the collective fawning of such an ugly legacy.

Professor Uju Anya of Carnegie Mellon University, who is Nigerian, is under fire for her frank dismissal of Elizabeth after posting on Twitter that she “heard the chief monarch of a thieving and raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.”

Kehinde Andrews, a Black studies professor at Birmingham City University, wrote on Politico that he cannot relate to his fellow Britons’ desire to mourn Elizabeth, a woman he considered to be “the number one symbol of white supremacy” and a “manifestation of the institutional racism that we have to encounter on a daily basis.”

Elizabeth may have appeared a benign, smiling elder who maintained the propriety expected from a royal leader. But she worked hard to preserve an institution that should have long ago died out. She was handed the throne after her uncle, the duke of Windsor, abdicated in order to marry a twice-divorced American. Both the marriage to a divorcee and the fact that the couple turned out to be Nazi sympathizers marked a low point for the royals.

“The monarchy was in a really good position to fade away with this kind of clowning around,” says Mahajan. But it was Elizabeth who “rescued the popularity of the monarchy.”

Further, Elizabeth quietly preserved the ill-gotten family fortune that she and her descendants benefitted from in a postcolonial world. “One thing she could, and of course should, have done and said something about is the massive royal estate,” says Mahajan. Observers can only estimate the royal family’s worth (Forbes puts the figure at $28 billion), assets that include stolen jewels from former colonies, pricey art investments, and real estate holdings across Britain.

Britain’s new king, Charles III, now inherits the fruits of the evil empire. According to Mahajan, Charles “is apparently very bent on taking his fortune and investing it in such a way as to make himself as rich as possible.” According to the New York Times, “As prince, Charles used tax breaks, offshore accounts and canny real estate investments to turn a sleepy estate into a billion-dollar business.”

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2017 found that both Elizabeth and Charles were named in the leaked “Paradise Papers,” indicating that they hid their money in havens to avoid paying taxes.

Fleecing taxpayers and living off stolen wealth—monarchy’s original modus operandi appears to be central to Elizabeth’s legacy, one she passes on to her son (who also won’t pay an inheritance tax on the wealth she left him).

The British monarchy, according to Mahajan, “mostly represents a real concession to the idea that some people are just born better and more important than you, and you should look to them.”

Mahajan adds, “It’s a good time for the popularity of this institution to fade away.”

Independent Media Institute_______________

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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Can King Charles Preserve the Commonwealth?

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Can King Charles Preserve the Commonwealth?
“King Charles III” is already in the lexicon. Britain may be beginning 10 days of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, but the 24-hour news cycle barrels forward, and Prince Charles just became King Charles. Jane Barlow - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II was never a parochial figure, solely of interest to the UK and Northern Ireland, and the 14 other realms of which she was head of state. During her 70 years on the throne, she met 13 US presidents, more global leaders than perhaps anyone else, and saw the United Nations expand from 60 to 197 countries. And despite a recent slowing down in her world travels, she came third  in a 2021 global survey of the world’s “most admired women.”

But her global legacy is complicated. For all the respect and love, even, for the queen, there are those for whom she represents an institution and system responsible for harm, violence and exploitation across Britain’s former empire and beyond. With the succession of the new king, what does this mean for the British monarchy and its relationship with peoples and countries beyond the UK. And in particular, what of the Commonwealth? The club of 56, mostly former members of the British Empire. Given the complicated legacy of the monarchy, can it survive the death of a queen who was perhaps respected more for her dedication and commitment than the wider institution she headed?

Once the public displays of mourning and respect are over, questions are likely to be raised in the remaining non-British countries for whom the queen was head of state over their continued relationship. As the decision of Barbados to become a republic last year showed, there has long been a growing appetite for cutting this formal link to the British monarchy. There is likely to be a new push by many in countries like Australia, Jamaica (which has just announced its intention to hold a referendum), and Grenada for becoming a republic. The succession of the new monarch will be seized upon as an opportunity for a new start.

But if the number of countries of which King Charles III is head of state is likely to fall over the next few years, these formal ties were never the foundation of the queen’s global yet quiet, mostly invisible, authority. This was founded more on her leadership of the Commonwealth, and soft-power relationships of state dinners, informal chats and the power of pageantry. While the new king will be able to continue the latter two, having formed his own relationships with world leaders through his long heirship, there are questions about what his accession means for the Commonwealth.

Charles was chosen as the next head of the Commonwealth at the 2018 heads of government meeting. But this was always more reflective of the warm bonds of affection for the queen within the Commonwealth, than an active support for the then Prince Charles.

For a reign that began in the last, desperate and violent days of empire, the respect for the queen in its former colonies has always been something of a puzzle. Some of the most important moments of her reign occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1947, in a speech broadcast from Cape Town, she pledged a life of service to the peoples of the empire and Commonwealth. It was in Kenya that she learned she had become queen after the death of her father. She received much credit, too, for her role in persuading British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to drop her opposition to Commonwealth sanctions on apartheid South Africa.

The Commonwealth meetings allowed her to chat and get to know the leaders of 2.5 billion people. But still, it was the person, and her evident personal commitment and love for the Commonwealth that proved the glue for these bonds. Charles has visited around 45 of the 56 Commonwealth countries, and has voiced his own commitment. But he has had – as heir rather than monarch – fewer opportunities to prove that commitment through his own “Thatcher moment.”

While he cannot inherit those ties of affection, nor gain decades worth of respect within a few months, he does have an opportunity to make his own mark, and to ensure the British monarchy continues to exercise its peculiar form of global authority.

Charles has been vocal, long before it became subject of global concern, on environmental issues and climate change. This is an area he could use his informal power to speak to global leaders and institutions, and support those Commonwealth countries which will be impacted the most by rising temperatures, sea-levels and extreme weather events. He will be constrained in his public voice, but being able to meet world leaders and institutions gives an opportunity few others will ever have.

His desire to be seen as a defender of the faiths, rather than the traditional defender of the Anglican faith, may also be useful. He has shown himself interested in other cultures and religions, supporting cross-faith dialogue and understanding. This, too, would help build new bonds within the diversity of the Commonwealth. And the work he has supported through his Prince’s Trust, a charity focused on young people, would be an ideal platform for a more Commonwealth-wide focus on global youth. With more than half the global population under the age of 30, a champion for youth (even if that champion is in their 70s) would strengthen the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is at a tipping point: it could easily slide into irrelevance, or become a somewhat aimless club. As king, Charles will have access to global leaders and institutions; and a powerful, quiet influence. By serving as an ally to states most threatened by the climate emergency in the corridors of global power, by championing youth, and diversity, Charles has an opportunity to renew and strengthen the bonds of the Commonwealth, and perhaps create a legacy for his own successor to build on.

Syndication Bureau__________________

Michael Jennings is a professor in global development at SOAS University of London, where he works on issues related to global health and the politics and history of global development.

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Turkey’s Balkan Balancing Act

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Turkey’s Balkan Balancing Act
As Russia, the EU and China eye the Western Balkans, it may be that the old colonial power, Turkey, is best placed to play a key role in the region. And this perhaps because of, not despite, its economic problems. Picture Alliance/Pixels

The Balkans is often described as Turkey’s gateway to the European Union. But for many years, Turkey, a Balkan state itself, maintained a low geopolitical profile in the region, portraying itself as the patron of Balkan Muslims, and little else.

Now, however, with the EU preoccupied fending off an energy crisis amid the war in Ukraine, Turkey is looking to deepen its ties to the region. In turn, Muslims and Christians in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and elsewhere are finally seeing Turkey for how it wants to be viewed: as an ascendant, impartial partner. 

“I’m not naive and I know that …[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan will always be on the side of Muslim-Bosniak interests,” Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s joint presidency, said during the Turkish leader’s visit to Sarajevo last week. “But he respects everyone and as long as his policy is like that, I will respect him.” 

Erdogan’s visit to Sarajevo was aimed at boosting economic bonds between Turkey and the region, with vows of pushing bilateral trade with Bosnia and Herzegovina to $1 billion annually, up from $845 million in 2021. One of the outcomes of the trip was passport-free travel between Turkey and Serbia, and Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Erdogan also expressed a commitment to becoming more politically involved in the Balkans by helping to mediate a growing constitutional crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina that came as a result of unresolved rivalries and opposing interests among the three ethnic groups living in the country – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. 

Bosnia-Herzegovina is still governed under the terms of a 1995 peace treaty known as the Dayton Accords, which divided the country into a Bosniak-Croat entity – called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – and a majority-Serb entity, called Republika Srpska. However, it is the EU’s High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, rather than local leaders, who has the final say in the country. While the accords ended the war between the former Yugoslav republics, critics today see this arrangement as de facto neo-colonialism

Even Erdogan suggested as much last week, when he told journalists in Sarajevo that EU Representative Christian Schmidt was going too far by pushing an amendment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s federal election law. Schmidt “should not interfere in the process,” Erdogan said. 

Although the EU and the United States continue to be the major foreign powers operating in the Balkans, Turkey is seizing opportunities where it can. Erdogan has expressed interest in a trilateral summit with Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Back in January Turkey and Serbia have also reportedly agreed to mediate between Bosniak, Croat, and Serb leaders in a bid to end the stalemate in Bosnia-Herzegovina. If talks do take place, possibly in Istanbul, Erdogan will undoubtedly use the summit to maintain Bosnia-Herzegovina territorial integrity.

To be sure, Turkey and Serbia haven’t always seen eye to eye. Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008. But unlike the EU and the US, Turkey never pressured Serbia to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty, which left the door open for Ankara and Belgrade to strengthen bilateral relations one day.

That day appears to have arrived. More than 1,300 Turkish companies currently operate in Serbia, employing some 8,000 people. Last year, the trade balance between the two countries reached $1.73 billion and Belgrade now hopes to develop military cooperation with Ankara. 

For instance, the two countries are expected to hold joint military exercises soon, while Serbia has been interested in purchasing Turkish-made Bayraktar drones since 2020, when the sophisticated weapon proved efficient in conflicts from Libya and Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh.

“We do not hide it …Serbia plans to buy Bayraktar drones,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said during a joint press conference with Erdogan last week. “We know that the whole world wants to buy them, so we are in the line, waiting.”

Turkey’s commitment to regional stability was on display on September 2, when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu addressed the Open Balkan initiative, an economic and political alliance between Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Among the pledges Cavusoglu delivered was a vow to help the bloc address its energy needs this winter.

 

To the Serbian leadership, Turkish political and economic activities in the country represent a “golden age” of relations between Belgrade and Ankara. “We will take care to maintain our friendship at the highest level, to guard it jealously,” Vucic said

And yet, given that Serbia has a trade deficit with Turkey – as does every other Balkan nation except Slovenia – it’s actually Ankara that benefits most from its growing economic cooperation in the region.

Still, and while it might not last forever, Turkey is currently presenting itself as a neutral actor, interested in doing business with all sides. “Our country’s balanced and fair attitude is appreciated by all peoples in this geography,” Erdogan said before his trip last week. “We will continue this stance in the coming period as well.”

Syndication Bureau_________________

Nikola Mikovic is a political analyst in Serbia. His work focuses mostly on the foreign policies of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, with special attention on energy and “pipeline politics.”

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