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Ukraine Conflict Shows We Are Drowning in Information Overload



Ukraine Conflict Shows We Are Drowning in Information Overload
People carry an elderly woman as people continue to leave Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The Ukraine crisis has consumed us in a sudden and overwhelming information overload. After weeks of warnings about a potential war in Ukraine preceded by years of increasing antagonism, the Russian military marched into the country and swiftly altered geopolitics for decades to come. Within minutes of the invasion, the global news cycle kicked into high-octane war coverage and it hasn’t stopped since. While it is vital that the war and suffering of the Ukrainian people is reported as transparently as possible, the flood of information through our phone screens carries its own kind of harm. The Ukraine crisis is adding another layer to our crisis of information overload, and it’s damaging collective mental health in myriad ways.

Let’s start with the immediate factors concerning the Ukraine war. Given the nature of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the conflict has taken on a personal dimension for many around the world. Even if you have no connection to Ukraine or Russia, the war has felt intimate and overwhelming. Is the next world war on the horizon? Is the global economy about to enter a prolonged recession? Someone could be sitting at home in Jakarta or Buenos Aries, doom-scrolling through Twitter and feel as though the events in Ukraine are taking place outside their door. This situation is compounded by the fact that social media companies have a vested interest in keeping users engaged on their platforms. That’s how they generate revenue, after all. 

The writer James Greig astutely notes that it’s reasonable “to be anxious about what might happen next, but we should bear in mind that, as of now, this is first and foremost something which is happening to people in Ukraine. We are not being bombed or driven out of our homes.” Greig goes on to bemoan the glib reaction to the conflict by many on social media. Many have made the war about themselves because of the tendency to place oneself at the center of this historic episode. 

To understand how we arrived at this moment, we need to consider how the internet is changing our relationship to information. The incredible amount of time we spend glued to our smartphones is changing how we experience and integrate information. We read differently than we did just decades ago. Our attention spans have shortened. Our sleep has become worse thanks to the constant blue light of our screens. The Ukraine war is the latest and most extreme example of the shift in how we deal with information. Perhaps surprisingly, this change is deeply affecting our mental health and can be clearly seen in how the midlife crisis is changing.  

While it might seem like a jump on the surface, the midlife crisis in the internet age is a key dynamic in mental health trends. Made popular by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the midlife crisis is a period of great transformation that we all experience around the midpoint in our lives regardless of wealth, social situation, and upbringing. In popular culture, a midlife crisis is articulated with people chasing fancy sports cars to reclaim some form of lost youth and vitality. However, the transformative period is more about one’s relationship with self than material goods. 

For Jung, a person is called upon in the middle part of their life “to achieve an authentic and balanced self that acknowledges every aspect of his or her character.” When Jung was working in the early 20th century, this crisis generally came about between the ages of 40 to 50. At that stage, many have established a career and started a family. Suppressed emotional trauma comes to the surface at this stage as we begin to grapple with the proximity of death. The challenge, for Jung, is to psychologically harmonize with all aspects of the self, a process he called individuation. Jung famously said that “midlife is the time to let go of an over dominant ego and to contemplate the deeper significance of human existence.”

How can we contemplate the deeper significance of human existence if we are glued to our Instagram and Twitter feeds engaged in endless commentary about far-off conflicts that don’t bear directly on our lived experience? The Ukraine crisis is not the reason for our mental crisis but an example of how we are losing ourselves in the constant stream of information we encounter on a daily basis. It’s fine to be concerned about the fate of Ukraine and how geopolitics will change but when we are consumed by it all day, we lose sight of the deeper significance of human existence. The difficult process of individuation is rendered nearly impossible if one is constantly checking a smartphone.

Popular culture has made the midlife crisis into a bit of a joke but the process is an important and potentially positive one. If we take the opportunity seriously, it is a rare chance to become our true selves. Given the financial interests of powerful technology companies to keep us online, we are facing unprecedented challenges in navigating our midlife crises. It’s time to rebrand the midlife crisis and see it as a vital portal to better mental health.

By Joseph Dana is the senior editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was formerly the editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact.


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Greece’s Growing Role in the Eastern Mediterranean



Greece’s Growing Role in the Eastern Mediterranean
Greece’s economic performance and policies have been closely monitored under the framework since 2018 to ensure it implemented reforms promised under three international bailouts. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

With wars to its east and to its north, Greece has taken on a new geostrategic significance in the Eastern Mediterranean. The country has become a staging point for the Western alliance but also, equally important, a credible partner in the region. This new status is a remarkable come-back story for a country that was ground zero in a complicated European financial crisis only a decade earlier.

First with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and now with the Israel-Gaza War, Greece is serving as a conduit for men and materiel for the US and other NATO allies. It is becoming a vital link in energy supply chains for the region. And it is increasingly seen as a safe haven destination.

Greece’s emerging role also underscores an evolving security architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean that has quietly taken place over the past decade. 

Since at least 2010, Athens has developed multiple and overlapping defense and commercial ties with Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, as well as with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It has cultivated ever closer cooperation with the US, which has been supportive of this new Eastern Mediterranean alliance, as America’s relations with Turkey – its erstwhile ally in the region – have frayed.

These days, the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis has become a hub to supply NATO members Bulgaria and Romania, while the island of Crete is supporting US military operations in the Middle East and North Africa. Meanwhile, Greece is proceeding with a $13 billion defense modernization program and has deepened its military cooperation with each of its regional partners through joint exercises and bilateral exchanges.

This new alliance is underpinned by growing trade and investment ties, particularly in the energy sector. Long before the recent conflicts, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt had found common interest in developing the energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. The discovery of bountiful natural gas reserves – first in Israel in 2009, and then in Cyprus and Egypt − ushered in a new era of cooperation among the four countries. This led to the proposal for the East Med pipeline to bring the gas via Greece to Europe, and then the creation of the East Med Gas Forum.

The US has been mainly supportive of this four-way energy alliance. It has since withdrawn its backing for the East Med pipeline − which, in any event, faces technical and financial hurdles − but still supports two successor projects, specifically two high-voltage underwater transmission cables to connect the power grid of Greece with Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. In either case, Greece would act as the transit point for bringing either natural gas or electricity from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

Those projects would complement Greece’s emerging role as an energy hub for southeast Europe. Two new natural gas pipelines and two new LNG facilities are providing the country’s northern neighbors with new sources of supply. Greece has also started exporting surplus power to nearby countries including Bulgaria, Albania and North Macedonia from its own fast-growing production of renewable energy. 

Recognizing the prospects, the UAE signed a number of bilateral agreements with Greece in 2022 to develop both LNG and renewable energy projects, and the two countries announced a small, pilot project at this month’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

Likewise, there are growing commercial ties between Greece and Saudi Arabia in a range of sectors, including energy, but also extending to building supplies, engineering and environmental services, and in food and agriculture. Last year, Greece signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to develop an €800 million high speed data cable – the East to Med Data Corridor – that will help establish Greece as the Middle East’s digital gateway to Europe.

Israeli businesses have been coming in growing numbers to Greece. Recent investments have been in the hospitality sector, technology, the life sciences and defense. 

At the same time, a small but growing number of Israeli funds and Israeli private citizens have been buying property with an eye to establishing residency or a second home in Greece. That has become particularly visible in the past year among select middle- and upper- class Israelis put off by political turns in Israel. Since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, the numbers are said to have increased sharply. A similar calculus has been made in recent years by well-heeled Turks and Lebanese who have likewise found in Greece a haven from uncertainty at home.

For Greece, this new role as a pillar in the Eastern Mediterranean represents a dramatic transformation from just a decade ago when the country was in the throes of its financial crisis. Domestically, the country’s $240 billion economy has returned to its pre-crisis levels and is now one of the fastest growing economies in the Eurozone. And politically, public opinion has shifted towards a more pragmatic centrism. There is broad support for the reform policies of the incumbent New Democracy government, re-elected to a second term in office in June. 

Greece’s rising status represents a fresh narrative on the international stage. The Greek government is currently seeking a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. If it succeeds it will cement Greece’s new standing in the region.

Alkman Granitsas is a consultant based in Athens. He was previously Bureau Chief at The Wall Street Journal for Greece and Cyprus. X: @agranitsas1

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Europes Rising Tide of Immigration Hysteria



Europes Rising Tide of Immigration Hysteria
Migrants trapped between Belarus and the EU. Photographer: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

In The Netherlands, a formerly fringe far-right party wins more seats in the Dutch general election than any other political group.

 In Dublin, a knife attack outside a school triggers rioting and looting by right-wing thugs.

 In the UK, the latest YouGov poll reveals rising support for the right-wing Reform party.

 The common theme in each of these recent news stories is immigration, a topic that has risen to the top of political agendas across Europe, threatening to transform liberal democracies into illiberal bastions of intolerance.

 Make no mistake. This isn’t about “illegal” immigration. It is about racism, pure and simple.

 For instance, it suits the UK government to make an issue out of “stopping the boats” crossing the English Channel.

But the numbers involved are tiny compared with the number of migrants coming to the UK legally, to work as doctors, nurses and care-home assistants, or to study as students.

 And even those students are coming under fire.

 The UK is seeing a record number of students coming from overseas to study. Worth millions to universities, which charge foreign students far higher fees than their British counterparts, they contribute significantly to the nation’s GDP.

 Some stay on in the country after completing their course. If they do, it’s because they’ve got a job and are paying taxes to the treasury.

 Regardless, right-wing politicians are now demanding that such students should not be allowed to bring family to live with them.

 Europe is walking, eyes tight shut, into a new dark age that makes a mockery of the 70-million-plus lives lost during the Second World War in the effort to rid the world of the cancerous, supremacist ideology of the Nazis.

 A fundamental misunderstanding underpins Europe’s rising tide of immigration hysteria: Europe, with birth rates declining, needs immigration.

 In the UK in particular, migrants form a large part of the workforce, including doctors and nurses, but also carry out many of the low-paid jobs.

 But at the same time, right-wing politicians are peddling the false trope that migrants are taking “our” jobs and housing, clogging up “our” health system and – most sinister of all – “changing the shape of our country before our very eyes.”

 That last incendiary quote comes from Richard Tice, a wealthy British property developer who founded the UK Brexit party and is now the leader of its successor Reform party, which says Britain is “broken” and “needs net zero immigration.”

The Conservative government, he said, had “totally betrayed” the British people because immigration to the UK was at a record high.

 It is, but only because if it wasn’t, Britain’s economy would collapse.

 Regardless, traditional, more reasonable political parties across Europe are in a bind. If they ignore the rising tide of racist hysteria, they will be swept away, and so they are pandering to the mob. 

 In the UK, the Conservative government is fragmenting, torn apart by the competing narratives of the beleaguered party’s few remaining centrist MPs, and the extremists like the recently sacked Home Secretary Suella Braverman, architect of the bizarre policy of dispatching boat people to Rwanda.

 In The Netherlands, a four-party coalition government collapsed in July after failing to reach agreement over measures to control the flow of migrants.

Into the moral vacuum stepped radical right-winger Geert Wilders, a preposterous man who rants about the “tsunami of asylum and immigration” and who has pledged to “ban” the Quran, close the country’s borders and deliver “Nexit,” a Dutch version of Brexit. 

On one level, this growing distaste for non-European foreigners is hilarious, given that it is a direct consequence of the colonialism that European states such as the UK, and Holland imposed on the world for centuries.

But such truths cast no shadows on the fantasy landscapes occupied by the likes of Wilders.

The advantages of cultural diversity are obvious, and too numerous to list, and in choosing to present multiculturalism as a threat rather than an asset, right-wing politicians expose themselves for what they are ­– racists.

In Ireland last week, anti-migrant mobs gathered following an incident in which five people, including a five-year-old girl, were stabbed outside a primary school in Dublin.

In the words of the police, “hateful assumptions” that the attacker was a foreign national spread quickly, and mobs took to the streets, expressing their disdain for foreigners by, oddly, vandalizing and looting Irish shops. 

Ironically, the man who risked his own life to save the wounded victims, was himself a migrant, a fast-food courier and a father of two, originally from Brazil.

Unfortunately, Europe is increasingly under the spell of those who would highlight our differences rather than our similarities, in a cynical bid to seize power.

The roots of all the disruptions in the Middle East and North Africa that have, to a significant extent, contributed to Europe’s migrant problems, can be traced to European intervention in the region dating back to the First World War.

The challenge now for Europe’s moderate, mainstream politicians, is to recognize and own this history, to hold the line of decency and to combat, rather than pander to, the false narratives of the extremists.

So far, however, none has appeared capable of rising to this challenge, and Europe is slipping inexorably into a moral dark age.

Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.

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Moscows Strategic Indifference in Syria



Moscows Strategic Indifference in Syria
Several soldiers exchanged small patches worn on their uniform as a momento of the amicable interaction. Delil SOULEIMAN AFP

Repercussions from Hamas’ October 7 attack continue to reverberate beyond Israel’s borders. In Syria, skirmishes between Iranian-backed militias, Israeli forces, and American troops are complicating efforts to contain the fighting.

But as diplomats from Doha to Downing Street race to prevent a wider war, Russia, a key Syrian ally, has been conspicuously quiet. For Moscow, chaos may be a means to an end. 

After decades of relative calm, fighting along Syria’s southern border with Israel has returned. Initial clashes involved the exchange of mortar fire, but tensions escalated significantly on November 10, when an armed drone reportedly flew more than 400 kilometers from southern Syria across Jordan to hit an Israeli school in the city of Eilat. 

In response, Israel targeted not only the perpetrators of the attack – without naming them – but also two Syrian airports believed to serve as transit hubs for weapons to Iranian-backed militias throughout the region.

While concerns are mounting that these escalations could turn Syria into a new front in the Israel-Hamas war, Moscow’s attempts to defuse the situation carry little clout, experts say. 

Informed diplomats and analysts tell me that Moscow, despite being among President Bashar Al Assad’s closest allies, isn’t actively trying to mitigate the proxy war in Syria. This contrasts with Moscow’s previous role as mediator in Syria five years ago, when Russia relayed Israeli messages to Iran’s leadership to help contain hostilities in May 2018.

In explaining the current silence, some sources suggest that Russia lacks sufficient leverage to influence a de-escalation. With Iran distancing itself from this round of fighting, Moscow’s ability to get Tehran to the table is limited.

At the same time, Russia stands to benefit from the consequences of these escalations, particularly because they’re perceived as posing no direct threat to Moscow. Dmitry Peskov, the Russian presidential spokesman, said recently that the Kremlin has “no concerns about Russia being drawn into the conflict.”

In truth, Russia has done more than observe. The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group, which operates in Syria, has been tasked with delivering Russian-made surface-to-air SA-22 missile defense systems to Hezbollah, according to American intelligence sources.

Moscow may even be doing more than arming its allies. Classified documents leaked earlier this year revealed the creation of a coordination center involving Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime. Its purpose is to coordinate efforts to increase risks for United States military personnel in Syria – and to eventually compel their withdrawal. 

To that end, US troops are increasingly under fire. In the month since Hamas’ attack, US soldiers operating in Syria and Iraq have been hit by at least 40 separate drone and rocket attacks launched by Iranian-backed militia groups.

The departure of the US would be a strategic victory for Moscow, as it would open the door for the Syrian regime to regain control of the resource-rich northeast, handing Russia substantial financial gains.

Assuming Washington stays put, which seems likely for now, the next-best outcome is a preoccupied foe. Moscow anticipates that increased American military support for Israel will divert resources away from Ukraine.  

This is far from wishful thinking. Last month, US President Joe Biden sent a $106 billion emergency spending package request to Congress, which included funding for both Israel and Ukraine. Instead of approving the entire request, Republicans focused their efforts on passing a bill to provide only $14.3 billion in emergency aid to Israel. The bill passed the House of Representatives before being blocked by Democrats in the Senate.

Even if Biden does manage to keep Ukraine atop the US funding agenda, the increased demand for US weapons could prompt Washington to prioritize deliveries to Israel or split supplies between the two fronts. This situation might lead to delays in arms deliveries to Ukraine, causing concern for Kyiv.

At its most basic, Moscow views the Israel-Hamas conflict as a beneficial distraction from the war in Ukraine and its atrocities committed there. The heightened divisions in Europe over Gaza, coupled with a surge in anti-American sentiment across the Middle East and the Global South due to Biden’s unequivocal pro-Israel stance, could hurt America’s diplomacy and image.

While the frequency of attacks in Syria against US forces and toward Israel have increased in recent weeks, Russia is quietly lurking in the wings, ready to reap the rewards if chaos continues.

Most frustratingly, all Russia needs to do to benefit from its strategic indifference in Syria is sit back and wait.

Dr Haid Haid is a Syrian columnist and a consulting associate fellow of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program. X: @HaidHaid22

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With World’s Gaze on Gaza, Ukraine’s Leadership Is Quietly Split



With World’s Gaze on Gaza, Ukraine’s Leadership Is Quietly Split
President Volodymyr Zelensky pictured in Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, on March 31, 2023. (Photo: President's Office)

With the war in Gaza reverberating around the world, it is hard to hear anything above the noise. Yet an interview with Ukraine’s commander-in-chief last week came through loud and clear, sparking both an internal crisis in Kyiv and an international debate on the future of the conflict.

General Valery Zaluzhny is the man leading the Ukrainian war against Russia’s invasion. For him to voice publicly that the fighting had reached a stalemate was astonishing, even shocking. Yet that was his conclusion: “Just like in the first world war we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” he said. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”

It was a surprising admission, which unsurprisingly brought an immediate rebuke from Ukraine’s political leadership. “This is not a stalemate,” said Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, clearly concerned by the characterization and its impact on Western support.

It was also a rather obvious statement about the current situation. That the Ukraine war is at a stalemate has been clear for weeks, yet it has taken the Gaza war to make that reality clear.

Ukraine’s spring counter-offensive was meant to be a military storm that would finally shift the tide of battle. From the beginning it was plagued by a lack of equipment and when it finally got started in the summer, it spluttered rather than shocked.

Before the counteroffensive began in June, Ukraine had managed to regain territory from the Russians, mainly around Kharkiv in the east and Kherson in the south.

But since the operation got underway, progress has been slow-going. Across the almost 1,000 kilometers of heavily fortified front line, there has been practically no change. Zoom out from the map of the vast territory occupied by Russian forces, and the areas Ukraine has regained are mere specks. The New York Times estimated last month that the total area retaken by Kyiv across this entire year of fighting is smaller than the capital Kyiv itself. That’s a lot of pain for little gain.

This lack of movement has dispirited Ukrainians and their supporters. Allies have paid an enormous price for backing Ukraine through two bloody years and one freezing winter. Both the US and European countries have given around $80 billion each in military and financial assistance. At least five countries, including Denmark and Norway, have given the equivalent of 1 percent of their annual GDP, just to keep Ukraine fed and fighting.

Across the world, the fallout from the Ukraine war has been astonishing, with disrupted supply chains causing a spike in prices, a lack of food and political unrest. The Global South was placated by the argument from the West that the Ukraine invasion represented a fundamental change in the rules of the global order, and some pain was necessary to rectify it.

Then came Gaza, and as Palestinian casualties mounted and Western leaders struggled to even pronounce “cease-fire,” the exceptions to global rules offered to Western allies became clear.

But the Gaza war hasn’t made clear the Ukrainian stalemate for that reason. Instead, the sheer focus from Western politicians on Zelensky shielded Ukraine’s leadership from the flagging campaign. Zelensky’s energetic diplomacy meant that most weeks saw him address one event or another, visiting or being visited by Western politicians. The reality of the war was lost in a whirlwind of cameras and soundbites.

Now, with Gaza taking up the world’s political attention, the lack of front pages about the Ukraine war somehow makes the reality starker. When the politics was in constant flux, it was easy to ignore the frozen battle lines. Now, it is harder to ignore, hence why the splits within Ukraine have become clearer.

There are signs that Western allies are beginning to search for a way out.

Reports in the US media, based on anonymous sources, have suggested the topic of peace negotiations have been broached with Ukraine at the highest level.

For now, the official line continues to be that the West, and especially the United States, will stand by Ukraine as long as the country needs help. In reality, though, Washington has priorities of its own, and a contentious and fractious election cycle is looming next year, at which President Joe Biden’s handling of the Ukraine conflict will be an important part of the debate.

That makes Biden himself one of the weakest links in the diplomatic chain that leads to a Ukrainian settlement. He has now staked his personal reputation on two deeply controversial wars, neither of which show any sign of ending soon.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin will be happy to see Biden’s likely opponent Donald Trump return to the presidency – which means there is almost no chance that Russia will negotiate while the US election campaigns are in full swing. Far better to keep the front lines frozen and let Biden take the blame.

If there is no reason for Moscow to end the conflict, then the battle lines could be frozen for at least the next year.

Zelensky has staked his political life on being an uncompromising wartime leader. As it becomes clear Ukraine’s army cannot deliver victory – when even the head of the army says so – it won’t be long before Ukraine’s allies look to put their faith, not in a wartime leader, but in someone who can deliver peace, possibly at any cost.

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. X: @FaisalAlYafai

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To Challenge Russia, Turkey Courts its Turkic Brethren



To Challenge Russia, Turkey Courts its Turkic Brethren
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

While the world remains focused on de-escalating the Israel-Hamas war and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Turkey’s attention is increasingly on gaining a foothold in former Soviet republics of the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

Shared culture provides the rationale for closer ties. Trade and security deals, negotiated with the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), offer the motivation.

At last week’s OTS summit, in the Kazakh capital of Astana, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that it’s the Turkic language that bonds Turkey with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Echoing calls for a common Turkic alphabet, the Turkish leader said language enabled the countries’ unity.

Although largely symbolic, the plea was a message to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to abandon Cyrillic, which forms the basis of the Russian script, in favor of the Latin alphabet, which was adopted by Turkey in 1928. Ankara’s ally Azerbaijan made the transition in 2001, a move viewed clearly as a repudiation of former Soviet rule. Turkmenistan, an OTS observer, switched to Latin script even earlier, in the 1990s.

Of course for Turkey, the organization is more than a bloc for creating a common script. Rather, it’s an emerging instrument that could help Turkey crowd Russia out of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, strategically important regions where Turkic-speaking people make up most of the population. 

The big question is whether other members share Turkey’s ambition. Evidence to date suggests they may not.

For instance, one of Turkey’s goals is to convince OTS nations to support the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Recognized only by Turkey, TRNC is considered by the international community to be part of the Republic of Cyprus. Like Turkmenistan, TRNC is an observer state to OTS.

The Organization of Turkic States members, meanwhile, appear split on their stance toward TRNC. Unlike at the previous OTS summit in Ankara in March, where the Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar was treated like a head of state, in Astana last week, there was no official TRNC presence.

Other geopolitical matters are even more divisive. 

Despite being allies, Turkey and Azerbaijan have diametrically opposed attitudes on the Israel-Gaza conflict. While Azerbaijan’s people openly support Israel – and Baku supplies Israel with 60 percent of its oil needs – Erdogan spews anti-Israel rhetoric.

Trade corridors are another point of contention. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey share an interest in a quick realization of the Middle Corridor project, a transportation route starting from Southeast Asia and China, running through Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and on to Europe. 

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, meanwhile, have supported Russia’s plans to build the Southern Transport Corridor, which would effectively bypass Kazakhstan.

What most, if not all, former Soviet Turkic-speaking countries have in common is a desire to leave Russia’s zone of influence.

Kazakhstan is looking to develop closer ties with neighboring Turkic states and the West, giving Turkey an opening for engagement. Kyrgyzstan is also in play. Despite being Russia’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), it has recently purchased Turkish-made Akinci and Aksungur drones, which are used for border security. 

Kyrgyzstan already has Turkish-made Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicles; it reportedly used them against Tajikistan during a 2022 border clash. 

Beyond military hardware, Turkey is also using economic cooperation to entice engagement with the former Soviet Central Asian republics. For instance, Ankara aims to reach a $10-billion bilateral trade target with Kazakhstan, while Turkish companies’ investments in Uzbekistan have already reached $1.5 billion.

But the problem for Ankara is that OTS members are land-locked countries heavily dependent on Russian geography. For instance, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, as major energy exporters, rely on oil and gas pipelines traversing Russian territory to reach their customers in Europe. As long as Russia remains an important transit country for the Turkic world’s energy resources, Turkey’s bid to supplant Russia in the region will be a tall order.

The fact is that OTS members from the post-Soviet space need Russia as much as they aspire to increase ties with Turkey. Each remains integrated into the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan remain part of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, as well as the CSTO. 

These alignments suggest that for most Turkic states, Turkey’s vision of an Ankara-led Turkic world order is overly myopic. Erdogan might see it in simple terms of letters on a piece of paper, but for Turkey’s brethren in former Soviet republics, the final chapter with Moscow has yet to be written.

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. X: @nikola_mikovic

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Gaza War Fallout Reaches Europe



Gaza War Fallout Reaches Europe
This image taken from the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 29, 2023, shows black smoke ascending from the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. The Israeli army has raised the number of troops fighting inside the Gaza Strip, a spokesman said on October 29, 2023, as the military stepped up its war on Hamas in the tiny Palestinian territory. Thousands of civilians, both Palestinians and Israelis, have died since October 7, 2023, after Palestinian Hamas militants based in the Gaza Strip entered southern Israel in an unprecedented attack triggering a war declared by Israel on Hamas with retaliatory bombings on Gaza. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP) (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

With one global war still at a stalemate, a new global conflict has erupted in the Middle East.

Viewed from Europe, the Israel-Hamas war is a complete minefield. It has exposed vast divisions: among European countries, between political leaders and their publics, and, most of all, between the West and the Global South, to whom the West was looking for support over the Ukraine war.

A long war in Gaza threatens to harden these divisions, perhaps even to the point where Western support for Ukraine is affected.

Those divisions were on display this week, when foreign ministers from the European Union met to try to forge an agreement on the Gaza war. The EU has been internally convulsed since the conflict started.

Almost immediately, the head of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Israel, without consulting the European Council, which represents all the national governments. A different duo from Europe then went to Egypt to represent the EU there, before von der Leyen and the president of the European Council Charles Michel appeared together in Washington. Across three continents in a matter of days, there was no consensus over who was representing the European Union, let alone what they were saying.

On Thursday, the bloc’s leaders called for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” to allow aid to reach Gaza, but only after days of bickering over the form of words. They stopped short of calling it a “humanitarian ceasefire” that had been mooted.

Those divisions extend to their publics. There appears to be a gulf between those in power and those who vote for them. Europe has seen mass public demonstrations against the Gaza war, the largest outpouring of anti-government protests since the Iraq War.

In London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Athens and many other cities, tens of thousands have taken to the streets on multiple occasions, criticizing their governments support for the war.

Particularly in France and Germany, authorities have appeared surprised by the scale of the protests and unsure how to respond. The French interior minister took a surprising decision to ban pro-Palestinian protests across the whole country, only to be overturned by the highest administrative court. This week, protests took place in cities across France. Germany has also tried to use legal means to stifle demonstrations, denying requests for protests.

Such protests have had a political impact, with leaders ameliorating the language they use over the conflict, especially towards the Palestinians. But as the war drags on – the expected main ground invasion hasn’t even begun – that balancing act will become harder to maintain.

An even bigger division looms with the Global South.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the West has tried to rally support among non-Western countries by framing the invasion as more than a European war. The Ukraine conflict, they argued, was about international law, and thus countries far from the conflict – in Beijing, in Abuja, in Cairo – ought to side with Ukraine because it was about upholding the rule of law.

Then came Israel’s response to the Hamas attack. Within days, the United Nations human rights office was warning that the siege of Gaza and the demand that one million Gazans in the north flee their homes could breach international law. More such warnings followed.

That disconnect between why the Global South was being asked to weather extreme pain over the Ukraine conflict and the extent of public support that European and American leaders were willing to offer Israel, regardless of its military policy, was noted.

Last week, Russia brought a resolution before the UN Security Council that called for a pause in the fighting, as well as condemning the Hamas attack. Despite major Global South countries – China, Brazil – backing the resolution, and even France, the United States vetoed it.

The danger for Western countries is that this way of acting falls completely in line with what Russia and China have been arguing: that the global order only favors a handful of countries, and the Global South is not in that club. King Abdullah of Jordan put it most starkly: “International law loses all value if it is implemented selectively.”

Indeed, the aspiring leader of the Global South, China, was gifted an opportunity to demonstrate this last week, when a summit marking ten years of the Belt and Road Initiative was held in Beijing. Against the background of America’s frantic diplomacy in the Middle East, Xi Jinping presided over a conference with 130 countries represented, including some of the biggest Global South countries, Indonesia, Ethiopia – and, at the center of it, Russia.

That moral aspect isn’t the only issue. There’s also self-interest. Another winter is coming across Europe, and already there are signs that Europe’s attempts to restrict Russian gas sales are eroding. A week after Hungary’s prime minister met Vladimir Putin in Beijing, it was announced the country would buy more gas over the winter. If the West can’t even hold together countries within the EU, how likely are they to keep a broader coalition, as the Ukraine war plods towards a second winter and eventually a third year?

Taken together, the differences between leaders and publics, within Western blocs and across the Global South, pose an enormous challenge for the West, as it seeks to keep both wars in the public eye. As the Gaza war escalates, and the front lines in Ukraine freeze, that will be harder, and the shaky coalition of the past 19 months may quietly crumble.

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. X: @FaisalAlYafai

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/From The Past/