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Russian Aggression in Georgia and Ukraine: Powerful and Worrying Parallels

Introduction

Ever since Ukraine was attacked on 24 February, the Georgian people have expressed their full support for the besieged country through protests, volunteering, donations, etc. Ukrainian flags can be seen hung on every balcony, window and door in the downtown area, the suburbs, and so on. Every evening, thousands gather in the city center to display solidarity with Ukraine.

Parallels between the invasion of Ukraine and Georgia (2008)

For many Georgians, including myself, this invasion of Ukraine is eerily similar to that of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. The parallels are indismisible. During the 2008 war, Russia recognised two Georgian breakaway regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and stationed its troops there. Since then, Tbilisi has pushed even more strongly for closer integration with the West, via closer ties to the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), even if membership in neither body seemed immediately likely. Similarly, in Ukraine in 2022, Russia recognized the independence of two breakaway regions, Luhansk and Donetsk. In order to “defend” the two proclaimed independent states, Russia then conducted a “special military operation,” which lead to the current situation.

Georgia’s reaction

Despite these parallels and the broad public backing for Ukraine, the Georgian government has tiptoed around the crisis, fearing the consequences of provoking its powerful northern neighbor, Russia. The day after Russia invaded, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said his government would refuse to join any Western sanctions on Moscow, dismissing them as unproductive. Despite citizens’ anger, Gharibashvili has remained cautious. This is partly due to the real economic crisis that could occur if Georgia imposes sanctions, as well as the Georgian Dream Party’s proclivity to support Russian actions. But despite the government’s hesitance, its divisions with the Kremlin are increasingly on display. On 28 February, the National Bank of Georgia said it would act “in accordance with the international resolutions and standards and cannot and will not help evading implementing these sanctions”. On 3 March, Georgia, along with Moldova, followed Ukraine’s lead in filing a formal application for EU membership.

While building more contacts with Russia, Georgia has been feeling increasingly frustrated with the lack of real prospects of joining the EU or NATO. Since 2014, when Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU, it started adjusting its laws and economic policies to meet Europe’s criteria for accession. In an attempt to build support among NATO powers for its bid to join the alliance, Georgia kept its troops in Afghanistan until the very last weeks before the U.S. withdrawal. But these investments were not enough to overcome resistance among European and U.S. officials and politicians who see the downsides of Georgian membership in either organization as outweighing any benefits. Many existing members argue that Georgian membership would anger the Kremlin and deepen its conflict with the West, reducing rather than increasing security for all.

Conclusion

Georgians can feel the agony that a Russian invasion brings, having fought our own war with Russia almost fourteen years ago. But many in the country’s leadership believe saber-rattling and diplomatic protests could put Georgia high on President Vladimir Putin’s radar, leading to problems in the long-term. Hours before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, a senior Georgian official told civil society representatives that the leadership often has to choose between a “bad option and a worse option. Unfortunately, this is our reality”.Russia can easily, cheaply and effectively harm Georgian stability by leveraging its influence in the breakaway regions whose pursuit of self-rule Moscow champions and where its troops are already stationed. Its border guards patrol the South Ossetian line of separation with Georgia, including within a few hundred meters of a major highway linking Tbilisi to Georgia’s Black Sea coast and in close proximity to the Baku-Tbilisi-Supsa pipeline that delivers oil from Azerbaijan to Europe and elsewhere. The line of separation in this area seems to be creeping steadily forward into the Georgian government-held areas – and there may be little Georgians can do about it.

These aggressive tactics make the Tbilisi leadership wary. A small shift of the line that brings more territory under the control of the breakaway regions could displace thousands of people. Even more worrying to Georgian officials is the possibility that Moscow could exploit any small incident along the line to resume a military invasion and take even more Georgian territory. Georgia, like several other former Soviet states, can ill afford, militarily or economically, to pick a fight with Russia. Despite the show of Western resolve over Ukraine, as far as sanctions and military equipment are concerned, Georgia, smaller, less significant and farther away, fears being left alone to face Russia.

Sources

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Hindu Extremists Call For Genocide Against Indian Muslims

Introduction

Extremism is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for centuries, and will continue to exist for a long time. Globally, the issue of extremism faces minorities, racial, religious or ethnic. In India, Muslims are facing very hard times with Hindu extremists calling for genocide against them. This begs the question: How did this happen, and what does the future of non-Hindu minorities in India look like? 

Indian Right

Hindu Mahasabha, one of India’s oldest political organizations was founded during a time of conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India [1907]. The group’s mission, according to their official website, is to declare India “the National Home of the Hindus.”  The group states that if they gain power, Indian Muslims will be forced to migrate to Pakistan and the Indian education system will be changed to fit Hindu values. 

No doubt, the group’s controversial ideology means it is a marginal political force, having their last presence in Parliament in 1991. According to Gilles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University, however, their “strength is not to be measured in electoral terms.” Over the past 8 years, Hindu Mahasabha appear to have expanded in numbers and influence based on the size and frequency of their meetings.

As Hindu Mahasabha has grown in recent years, the organization has become more outspoken. In 2015, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, who was a senior member, caused widespread controversy when she told reporters Muslims and Christians should undergo forced sterilization to control their population growth. At last month’s conference, several speakers called on India’s Hindus to “defend” the religion with weapons. Another called for the “cleansing” of India’s minorities, according to footage from the conference.

Current Situation

What sparked media outrage and attention was a recent conference held by right-wing Hindu activists in December of 2021. Hundreds of activists, as well as monks rose to take an oath that they would change India, constitutionally a secular republic, into a Hindu nation, essentially a theocracy, even if this required spilling the blood of fellow Indians. “If 100 of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation,” said Pooja Shakun Pandey, a leader of Hindu Mahasabha, referring to the country’s Muslims. “Be ready to kill and go to jail.”

Additionally, in December, crowds of India’s Hindu-right confronted Muslims praying on the streets in the city of Gurugram, just outside of Delhi. They prevented Muslims from praying, while shouting and disrupting the peace.

What is being done?

Now, what is being done by the government to prevent such a genocide? The short answer is: essentially nothing. To elaborate, under several sections of India’s penal code, hate speech is prohibited, including a section which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts” which are targeted towards religious beliefs. According to Vrinda Grover, a lawyer, any group inciting violence is barred under Indian law. “Police, states and the government are responsible to ensure [inciting violence] doesn’t happen,” she said. “But the state, through its inaction, is actually permitting these groups to function, while endangering Muslims who are the targets.”

“This is the first time I find myself using the term ‘genocide’ in Indian politics,” Verniers said, referring to the comments made at the conference held in December. “They have tacit support in the form of government silence.” Pandey’s rant and some of the other calls for violence were the “worst form of hate speech,” according to Verniers. This lack of government action is probably due to Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist leaning agenda. Grover further adds that criminal laws are “weaponized” in India, anyone who challenges the government and those in power will be crushed by the law, but those that pander to it will be spared.  “Muslim lives in India are demonized,” she said. “The Indian state is in serious crisis.” 

Though the fate of Indian religious minorities is uncertain, the media attention has sparked mass outrage, which may pressure the Indian government to act and somehow maintain internal peace.

Sources

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/hindu-extremists-india-escalate-rhetoric-calls-kill-muslims-rcna12450

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/24/world/asia/hindu-extremists-india-muslims.html

https://article-14.com/post/as-hindu-extremists-repeatedly-call-for-muslim-genocide-the-police-ignore-an-obvious-conspiracy-61dba33fa759c

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/20/hindu-supremacists-nationalism-tearing-india-apart-modi-bjp-rss-jnu-attacks

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The Belarus-Poland Border Crisis and its consequences

Introduction

The Belarus-Polish border crisis has become the biggest challenge to the EU’s border in years.  The standoff between migrants and the Polish border guards seems to have been fueled by Belarus’ tensions with the EU. Although some migrants have managed to cross into Poland from Belarus over the past couple of weeks, Poland has recently strengthened its border and closed crossings in response to the crisis. For the Poles and EU member states, the aforementioned crisis is seen as an artificial one created by Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, to get an advantage in the political game between the two.

Origins of the tensions

Since the beginning of November, there has been an influx of migrants from the Middle East [Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan] as well as other countries at the Belarus-Polish border. These migrants have been camped in the Białowieża Forest in freezing temperatures. According to a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, Hanna Liubakova, “it’s a terrible situation” for those caught in the camps without food or proper clothing. Several migrants trapped at the border have died due to the freezing conditions.

Lukashenko’s regime has denied the charge that his administration has been actively encouraging migrants to come to Minsk, before pushing them to the border, encouraging them to clash with Polish authorities. The migrants have come to the border with the hopes that they will cross into Poland since Belarus is not a member of the EU. Poland being a member represents a doorway into the EU and the promise of a better life for these migrants. (BBC)

Although the number of migrants at the border is roughly 4.000, it has become the EU’s biggest border challenge since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of migrants crossed from Turkey into Europe. More than a million migrants were eventually allowed into the union as a result. 

In the past week, Polish guards used water cannons and tear gas against stone-throwing migrants at the Kuznica-Bruzgi border crossing. Other scenes similar to this one have appeared on the border, supporting Lukashenko’s anti-EU agenda following the union’s sanctions imposed on his regime after the August 2020 elections. (New York Times)

Lukashenko’s hopes and aims

For more than 25 years, Lukashenko has remained the leader of Belarus, returning for a sixth-term as president in a vote which is widely considered fraudulent.

In May, Belarus forced an international flight to land in the capital of Belarus, Minsk, in order to apprehend Roman Prostasevich, a journalist, former editor and founder of an opposition blog and social media channel. The outrageous act prompted the EU to impose retaliatory sanctions. Shortly after, Alexander Lukashenko hinted at the ability for Belarus to quickly stir up a migrant crisis against the neighboring EU member states — Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

“Lukashenko wants to show his revenge for sanctions,” says Liubakova of the Eurasia Center. But the leader also wants to switch the discussion from political prisoners, torture and repression under his rule to something external, she says: “he wants to refocus the situation and force the West to see the crisis at the border and ignore the human rights situation in Belarus.” The aim of this is to try to begin discussions and lift the sanctions. Lukashenko understands the leverage he can acquire through force, and believes that through this he can forcefully restore bilateral dialogue. (Inews)

What can Poland and the EU do?

The EU has planned additional sanctions against Belarus as a response to the crisis. Considering the fact that the entire causal factor of this manufactured crisis are the sanctions, the EU should be wary of what it does next.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to have a discussion with Lukashenko on Monday, the 15th of November. This rare phone call between the two leaders allowed Lukashenko to secure dialogue with the EU. Germany would most likely receive the highest influx of new immigrants if the Polish border opened up, therefore, it was prudent for Merkel to negotiate. Their talks seem to have been successful since new reports have emerged, stating that Belarus is putting migrants on buses to be transported out of the area. Additionally, in an effort to further de-escalate the situation, Merkel spoke with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, asking him to use his leverage on Lukashenko. So, Lukashenko has succeeded in re-opening dialogue, but it’s unclear where that might lead, given continued international distaste for his authoritarian tactics. (New York Times)

However, now there is the question of where the migrants will go. According to international law, the European Union and Poland are obligated to hear the case of asylum seekers. As Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council says, “both sides of this abject power play should take responsibility for these migrants, who are vulnerable people. Belarus and Russia have to stop using them as pawns on some kind of a chessboard.” (Inews)

Sources

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59289998
  2. https://inews.co.uk/news/world/belarus-what-happening-poland-border-crisis-why-migrants-enter-eu-explained-1307498
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/17/briefing/poland-belarus-border-crisis.html
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Analysis News

AUKUS: Why is it such a big deal?

Introduction

Before answering the question of why the AUKUS agreement is such a global issue, we must first understand its background and contents. Over the past couple of decades, ever since the end of the Cold War between the USSR and the USA, a new nation has been rapidly expanding its influence on the world. That nation is China. In response to China’s growing power, many alliances, notably the World War II-era “Five Eyes” alliance (consisting of the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand & Canada), now seem to be overwhelmingly focused on Beijing. Announced on the 15th of September, 2021, the AUKUS agreement has become the newest addition to the long list of actions taken by the West to counter China.   

Motivations for AUKUS

AUKUS has been described by analysts as one of, if not the most significant security arrangement between the US, UK and Australia since World War II. According to the states involved in the agreement (USA, UK & Australia), the focus of AUKUS is to maintain “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” with the help of nuclear-powered submarines on patrol. The new security partnership will supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarine technology which will be provided by the USA and UK. While it may take over a decade for the Australian Navy to deploy the first submarine, the agreement represents the USA’s mission to form a stronger threat in Asia and the Indo-Pacific to offset China’s rapidly modernizing military. Even though Australia has tried to remain balanced concerning her ties with the USA and China, the recent barrage of disciplinary trade reprisals from Beijing has drastically shifted Australia’s stance on the matter.

China’s Reaction

What does China think of this agreement? Unsurprisingly, Beijing has consistently lashed out at what it calls a “Cold War mentality,” denouncing anti-China partnerships. Chinese officials have stated that the AUKUS agreement will cause an arms race in the Indo-Pacific. From the Chinese perspective, the agreement was not created for competitive purposes, but instead is a deliberate attempt to impede China’s development. Relations have become increasingly tense, even before AUKUS. President Joe Biden’s administration has continued to put effort into preventing China’s economy from pulling ahead. Furthermore, Beijing has sparred with the UK over Hong Kong and Canada over detained citizens while Europe has called China a “systemic rival”.

Reaction of other countries

China is not, however, the only nation that has been upset by AUKUS. France, and many other NATO member states, such as Germany, have denounced the agreement. France suffered the most, losing a $37 billion deal between France and Australia concerning diesel-powered submarines. Adding insult to injury, France – a very old ally of the West – found out about the new pact just a few hours before it was announced to the public. The Asia-Pacific is a key strategic and economic region for France as 1.65 million French citizens reside on islands including La Reunion, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia. The cancellation of a deal that would reinforce such a region is a great loss for France. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian described AUKUS as a “stab in the back”. As a response, France has recalled her ambassadors to Washington and Canberra for the time being.

Conclusion

All is not lost, however. In a joint statement, President Joe Biden of the USA and President Emmanuel Macron of France have agreed to work on creating “conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives”. The two leaders have said they will meet in Europe towards the latter half of October to further mend the damaged diplomatic relations.

Sources

  1. BBC. “Aukus Pact: France and US Seek to Mend Rift.” BBC News, 23 Sept. 2021, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58659627.
  2. —. “UK, US and Australia Launch Pact to Counter China.” BBC News, 15 Sept. 2021, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-58564837.
  3. Chazan, Guy. “Aukus Security Pact Is ‘Insult to a Nato Partner’, Says Merkel’s Adviser.” Financial Times, 24 Sept. 2021, http://www.ft.com/content/dfc4f860-c178-4c2a-a46c-c5f4e5595b1a. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.
  4. Prof. Nursin Atesoglu Guney. “ANALYSIS – Third Front of New Cold War Expanding in Asia-Pacific.” Www.aa.com.tr, 24 Sept. 2021, http://www.aa.com.tr/en/analysis/analysis-third-front-of-new-cold-war-expanding-in-asia-pacific/2373757. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.