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A blog talking abput peace in Europe and the Middle East. Love is universal. Jews Christians or Muslims we must love each other. If by error blog offensed someone please write me. We'll try to stay into historical research and talk less about wars. Love is the only gun of our survival. We must love all nations and cultures. We are all ONE. United we will win middleeastnewsservice@outlook.com

Russian Invasion in Ukraine: Explaining the Identity Crisis and the Energy Wars Over the Shale Gas Reserves Share in Ukraine


At the moment of writing these lines, an Ukrainian soldier falls to the ground, with a bullet piercing his head, while a Russian soldier is losing his life from a fragment of an anti-tank shell. At this time, small children are losing their parents in Ukraine, either they are Ukrainian or Russian orphans. We must end the war on Ukraine and find a way to put an end to perpetual wars.

The catastrophe that was set in motion by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 cannot be averted on the basis of Russian nationalism, a thoroughly reactionary ideology that serves the interests of the capitalist ruling class represented by Vladimir Putin.Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International

Analysts argue that Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has overturned the post-war world order.  Surely, Putin’s indefensible invasion has been transformative, violating international law and fueling a perilous escalation of violence. We have witnessed the heart-rending suffering of Ukrainians, including the 350,000 already forced to flee; the bravery unfairly required of people lining up to donate blood or organize resistance; the more than 6,000 arrests of anti-war demonstrators in Russia.

If he persists in this mad act of imperial aggression, it will be catastrophic not only for Ukraine but for Russia and all of Europe — and maybe even the entire world. With his forces encircling Kyiv but bogged down after five days of heavy combat, Putin placed Russia’s nuclear forces on alert.

The Imperialist war between Russia and the United States into the Ukrainian territory.

Since 2014, the Russian regime has become more nationalistic and chauvinistic, while nationalism in Ukraine has become more civic, and yet some western writing on Ukraine and Russia since 2014 gives the opposite impression.

A successful overthrow of the current regime in Ukraine would increase the threat to the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all NATO members, and encourage China to consider a military conquest of Taiwan.

Russia has demanded since the mid-1990s that Eurasia be recognized as Russia’s exclusive sphere of influence where countries cannot integrate with, or join, NATO and the EU. Russia has also been opposed to Eurasian countries using UN peacekeepers in frozen conflicts artificially manufactured by the Kremlin to thwart pro-Western countries integrating into NATO and the EU. Ranked by the human rights monitoring think tank Freedom House as a “consolidated authoritarian regime”, Russia aggressively opposes the spread of democracy in Eurasia. The existence of a successful democracy in Ukraine is viewed by the Kremlin as a threat to the autocracy built by President Vladimir Putin.

The US Biden administration, by refusing to discuss Russia’s objections to Ukraine’s integration into NATO, used Ukraine as bait. It incited the invasion, which will now be used as a pretext for escalating confrontation with Russia.

The claim, repeated by Biden, that “our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” has no credibility. The US and NATO powers have funneled billions of dollars in military equipment into Ukraine and have armed its fascistic paramilitary forces with the aim of prolonging the conflicts and exacting significant Russian losses. “History has shown time and again,” Biden said, “how swift gains in territory eventually give way to grinding occupations, acts of mass civil disobedience and strategic dead-ends.”

Biden again declared that in a confrontation involving Russia with any NATO country, the US will use the “full force of American power.” This can only mean that not only is nuclear war possible, but the danger is far advanced and greater than at any previous time in history. Biden stated today that relations between the US and Russia have completely broken down, declaring that, amidst the danger of a catastrophic European and global war, he has no plans to call Putin.

(source)

Language Map of Ukraine
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ethnolingusitic_map_of_ukraine.png

Putin Wants to Reinstate the Soviet Bloc Influence in East Europe

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of Communism as a major global ideology, observers across the world were optimistic that “political ideologies” would never again determine great power competition. However, the spread of ethnic conflict in Ukraine between Russian-speaking minorities and the Kiev government since 2014 has demonstrated that the Communist political ideology, which was promoted by the Soviet Union for over seventy years, was being replaced by a new narrative, “identity politics”, which emphasized ethnolinguistic identities as fundamental pillars of society rather than socioeconomic categorizations.

Back in February of 2015, representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the leaders of separatist-held regions Donetsk and Luhansk signed a 13-point agreement called Minsk II.

The Minsk II deal set out military and political steps that remain unimplemented. A major blockage has been Russia’s insistence that it is not a party to the conflict and therefore is not bound by its terms Al-Jazeera reports.

Considering Ukraine’s own problems with corruption and the rule of law and given the active war in its east, it is impossible that the country joins either the EU or NATO in the near future. Russia, for one, demands that the latter remains completely off the table by a mutual agreement between Moscow and Washington. But part of the problem is that although Ukraine is not in NATO, Ukraine’s security is treated by EU and NATO member states (like Poland and Lithuania) as a matter of their own security.

What is the ‘Minsk conundrum’?

Ukraine sees the 2015 agreement as an instrument to re-establish control over the rebel territories. It wants a ceasefire, control of the Russia-Ukraine border, elections in the Donbas, and a limited devolution of power to the separatists – in that order.

Russia views the deal as obliging Ukraine to grant rebel authorities in Donbas comprehensive autonomy and representation in the central government, effectively giving Moscow the power to veto Kyiv’s foreign policy choices. Only then would Russia return the Russia-Ukraine border to Kyiv’s control.

After Minsk II and the implication of Russia in the Syrian conflict, Russian identity warfare has helped Moscow to advance her regional policies and to deter strategic threats. Following the 2014 Ukraine revolution, Russia was concerned about the expansion of NATO to Ukraine, though the pro-Russian separatist movements in Luhansk and Donetsk successfully established a buffer zone between Russia’s mainland and pro-west Kiev.

However, it is hard to believe that Russia and its proxies withdrew from their territorial ambitions solely to assist the Minsk II process. In reality, there were other issues that might have convinced the Kremlin to put a hold on its territorial ambitions. Moscow’s incursions against Georgia and Ukraine have also altered the attitudes of other traditional allies of Russia in Central Asia and East Europe. Following the occupation of Crimea by Russia, both Belarus and Kazakhstan were increasingly worried that they might be the next targets of Russian expansionism. Many in Kazakhstan started to fear that Russia might attempt to bring regions populated by ethnic Russian speakers in northern Kazakhstan back within its borders. Also, in Minsk, a growing fear began among elites over Russian intentions towards Belarus. Hence, despite the many achievements of Russia’s identity warfare, it also presented Moscow with new challenges.

One the other hand, Russian identity warfare has not been cost-free, Russia’s policy has led to the growth of xenophobic nationalism in Russia to the extent that many of the country’s minorities have started to consider themselves as persona-non-grata in Russia. In a way, the current emphasis on the Orthodox religion and Slavic ethnicity as the core elements of Russian national identity has raised concerns among non-Slavic minorities that Russia is moving toward a cultural nationalism that discriminates against these minorities. Hence, it seems that while identity warfare can be an efficient sword in Russia’s weaponry, it is also double-edged one that can be hurtful to Russia.

The Question of the Ukrainian Identity according to Ukrainians

Most people think of Ukraine as an Eastern European country. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba isn’t one of them. “I am deeply convinced that Ukraine is and has always been a Central European state: historically, politically, and culturally,” he said in a speech last year. “Central Europe is where our identity belongs.”

This was not a statement of geographical fact but one of historical and cultural perspective. Ukraine’s future, like its past, lies not with Russia but with the Central European countries firmly ensconced in NATO and the European Union: Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, and especially Poland.

Over the past 20 years, Poland has influenced Ukraine’s cultural and political development more than any other country besides Russia. It has been its staunchest supporter within the EU and NATO; welcomed millions of Ukrainians to live, study, and work there; and provided an alternative model of what Ukraine could become as a truly Central European country: European, patriotic, openly anti-Russian, and economically successful—all under the safety of the U.S. security umbrella.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014‚ Kyiv has steadily built itself up as a nation state on the Polish model. It is a process that Russia itself set in motion, and one that—as Russian troops again amass on Ukraine’s border, with talk of war imminent—is all but impossible to reverse.

In 2020, leaders of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine met in Lublin, Poland, to make a joint declaration announcing a new alliance called the “Lublin Triangle,” dedicated to strengthening cultural, economic, political, and military ties as well as supporting Ukraine’s eventual EU and NATO integration. Pro-Kremlin propaganda labeled the formation part of an “Anglo-Saxon proxy war” with Russia. This year, Poland and Ukraine entered yet another trilateral alliance aimed at protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, this time with the United Kingdom.

Fracking Shale Gas Reserves in Ukraine and the role of Presidents Biden and Putin since 2014

The vast shale gas reserves in the separatist-held Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions are an important element not to be overlooked when analysing the Ukraine crisis!

Concerns that Russia is using its gas supplies as a weapon to achieve its political aims are well founded. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, noted that Russia’s decision to drop gas supplies to Europe by a quarter came as it was heightening tension towards Ukraine. “I hope this was only a coincidence,” he told the Guardian.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Ukraine has third-largest shale gas reserves in Europe at 128 trillion cubic feet (3.6 trillion cubic metres). As of 2011, approximately 22 domestic and foreign-owned companies have been engaged in hydraulic fracturing in Ukraine. Excluding Russia’s gas reserves in Asia, Ukraine today holds the second biggest known gas reserves in Europe. As of late 2019, known Ukrainian reserves amounted to 1.09 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, second only to Norway’s known resources of 1.53 trillion cubic meters. Yet, these enormous reserves of energy remain largely untapped. Today, Ukraine has a low annual reserve usage rate of about 2 percent. Moreover, more active exploration may yield previously undiscovered gas fields, which would further increase the overall volume of Ukraine’s deposits.

In addition, if we put the map of the conflict on the one of Ukraine’s shale gas fields, the Donetsk region is an obvious overlap.  Besides sitting on an allegedly huge deposit of shale gas known as Yuzivska, perhaps not surprisingly, it is also the hotbed of the fiercest fighting between the government’s armed forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Yuzivska is believed to contain up to four trillion cubic meters of shale gas, according to the Ukrainian government. To tap this, energy giant Shell signed a production sharing agreement in January 2013, opening way for a potential $10 billion investment in the field. In an optimistic scenario before the armed conflict, Yuzivska alone was supposed to produce up to 20 billion cubic meters of gas annually (bcm/y) by 2030, which equals Ukraine’s 2011 overall gas output.

It is not hard to see why this would be a quite a scary scenario for Moscow. An energy independent Ukraine, let alone if it decides to export its gas to Europe, would mean enormous losses for Gazprom.

Foreign Policy reported in June 2014 that the Russian president and his inner circle have been covertly backing European movements that demonise fracking, in order to maintain the Russian stranglehold on European gas imports. FP notes that strong environmental opposition to fracking is present in countries like Bulgaria and Ukraine, which are heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies.

According to Russia’s TASS, the residents of Slavyansk, which is the centre of the Yuzivska deposit, organised several protests against development of the deposit. They even planned to have a referendum on the issue.

Another TASS report even allegedly cited Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed leader of pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, admitting in an interview with Russian television Rossiya 24 on 19 May 2015 that one of the key reasons for the fighting is Kyiv’s push to “continue development of shale gas on the territory of Ukraine”.

In 2015, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States would bring in technical experts to speed up Ukraine’s shale gas development.

In fact, the Biden family was so interested in Ukraine, that his son Hunter was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, Burisma Holdings. This has put Ukraine’s shale gas question into a new perspective – at least from the American viewpoint.

Burisma holds licenses covering the Dnieper-Donets basin in the eastern Ukraine and Biden Jr. is not the only American with political ties to have recently joined the company’s board.  Devon Archer, a former senior advisor to current Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and a college roommate of Kerry’s stepson, signed up with Burisma in April 2014.

Shale Gas Reserves in Ukraine

Contemporary Russian Nationalist (Imperialist) Imagining of Ukraine and Ukrainians

The following was also repeated during President’s Putin speech before starting the war in Ukraine

First, Ukraine is an artificial country and a failed, bankrupt state. Putin (2008) raised this in his 2008 speech to the NATO-Russia Council at the Bucharest NATO summit. Ukraine as a failed state is one of the most common themes in Russian information warfare and appears in many different guises (Zolotukhin 2018, 302–358). Political collapse in 2014 required Russian intervention, Ukrainian authorities are incapable of dealing with their problems, Ukraine is not a real state and will not survive without trade with Russia, western neighbours put forward territorial claims on western Ukraine, while the east is naturally aligned with Russia, and Ukraine was artificially created with ‘Russian’ lands. Ukraine is a land of perennial instability and revolution where extremists run amok, Russian speakers are persecuted, and pro-Russian politicians and media are repressed or closed down.

Russia’s long-term inability to come to terms with an independent Ukraine and Ukrainians as a separate people became patently obvious when Putin’s regime rehabilitated Tsarist Russian and White émigré views of Ukraine and Ukrainians (see Wolkonsky 1920; Bregy and Obolensky 1940). Igor Torbakov (2020) traces the continued influence of Tsarist ‘liberal’ and White movement supporter Struve’s view of what constitutes an ‘All-Russian People’ to contemporary Russian leaders.

In the USSR, there was a Ukrainian lobby in Moscow, while under Putin there is no such thing (Zygar 2016, 87). In the USSR, Soviet nationality policy defined Ukrainians and Russians as close, but nevertheless separate peoples; this no longer remains the case in Putin’s Russia. In the USSR, Ukraine and the Ukrainian language ‘always had robust defenders at the very top. Under Putin, however, the idea of Ukrainian national statehood was discouraged’ (Zygar 2016, 87) and the Ukrainian language is disparaged as a Russian dialect that was artificially made into a language in the USSR. (source)

Sources:

Borders of Identity: Ukraine’s Political and Cultural Significance for Russia : https://www.jstor.org/stable/40869778

Fracking is Dangerous: The High Cost of Cheap Gas | ENDEVR Documentary


What is fracking and why it is bad?

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure allowing the gas to flow out to the head of the well.


Why is it bad? Well, in addition to the waste, fracking can cause subsurface geological shifts in the ground, causing settling, small earthquakes, or the release of other trapped gasses underground. For example, methane.


But most importantly, fracking requires use of huge amounts of freshwater. The environmental problems causes by fracking in America have been well-publicized.
This documentary, explores how fracking plants quietly invade some of the most protected places on the planet. What is the price we pay for cheap gas? This documentary answers the question.

fr:

Qu‘est-ce que la fracturation hydraulique et pourquoi est-ce si mauvais pour l’être humain ?

La fracturation est le processus de forage dans la terre avant qu’un mélange d’eau à haute pression ne soit dirigé vers la roche pour libérer le gaz à l’intérieur.

De l’eau, du sable et des produits chimiques sont injectés dans la roche à haute pression permettant au gaz de s’écouler vers la tête du puits.

Pourquoi est-ce mauvais? En fait, en plus des déchets, la fracturation peut provoquer des changements géologiques souterrains dans le sol, provoquant un tassement, de petits tremblements de terre ou la libération d’autres gaz piégés sous terre. Par exemple, le méthane.

Mais surtout, la fracturation nécessite l’utilisation d’énormes quantités d’eau douce. Les problèmes environnementaux causés par la fracturation hydraulique en Amérique ont été largement médiatisés.

Ce documentaire explore comment les plantes de fracturation envahissent tranquillement certains des endroits les plus protégés de la planète. Quel est le prix que nous payons pour du gaz bon marché ? Ce documentaire répond à la question.

The dry Limpopo River in Botswana, where fracking companies have started to drill for natural gas in protected areas.

How The Dystopian New Era of Capitalism has Come to Stay!


The Covid-19 pandemic has caught most countries unprepared! It is not just the poor, less economically developed countries that have also been badly hit. The economically advanced countries—the US and the core European Union countries—have also been equally, if not worse hit. With the help of science ,I hope that humanity will eventually overcome the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Many theories and philosophies will emerge. Many interpretations will be presented before the people and the governments.

We found ourselves in a transformed world sometime in the beginning of 2020. For the first time globally we saw empty streets, closed shops and unusually clear skies, with climbing death tolls being reported daily: something unprecedented was unfolding before our eyes.

One may ask if the difficult days we are going through but also the severity of the effects of the new pandemic is the result and the impact of the new globalized capitalist practices, not only on the economic situation, but also on our poor diet, our alienated new human lifestyle, our immobility in front of our TV screens watching Netflix, obesity, junk food or even drugs overdose . Have they degraded our biological resilience?

If, in the end, it turns out that the Covid pandemic was caused by a leak from a lab in Wuhan, China, it will rank among the greatest scientific scandals in history: dangerous research, possibly involving ethically dubious techniques that make viruses more dangerous, carried out in a poorly safeguarded facility, violently covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life, catastrophic for the entire world.

It is depressing it has taken so long for the world of science, supported by most journalists and politicians, to start accepting the basic truth that no theory should be discounted without evidence — especially given the seriousness of the issues at stake and history of leaks from laboratories. A spate of strong articles seems to have suddenly changed the media narrative, despite mostly reheating material familiar to those of us who have been tracking this story for months. Among these a Wall Street Journal story, for example, about three Wuhan researchers allegedly falling suspiciously sick in November, builds on facts revealed by David Asher, former lead investigator for the State Department.

Nonetheless, the main question is whether the post-COVID 19 world will be the same as before or will it change, whether the capitalist order will become more inhuman and exploitative.

“All philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways. However, the point is to change it” Marx wrote in Thesis on Feuerbach. This was the fundamental premise of the philosophical pursuit of Marx and his lifelong companion Friedrich Engels. They analyzed human existence, the relationship between human beings and nature and the ways in which production and the reproduction of the human species and the economy take place.

While asserting that “labour is the source of wealth and prime basic condition for human existence,” Marx and Engels analysed the dialectics of nature. They pointed out how the harmony among people, land, water and air leads to changes. In Capital, Marx explained that “labour is in the first place a process in which both man and nature participate”. Marx went on to explain that labour process was nothing but the production process. He showed how labour is the source of wealth and how labour power keeps producing surplus value. In the same work, he explained how under capitalism, surplus value is appropriated by capitalists, who are the owners of the means of production. He also explained how this appropriation of surplus value leads to accumulation of wealth at one pole and the pauperisation of the working people at another. Such inequality is reflected in the miserable working and living conditions of the working people.

In addition the new era of Capitalism comes with more surveillance practices. Drawing on Shoshana Zuboff’s (2019) sustained investigation in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism along with sources infrequently highlighted in the social work literature, the focus is on some of the main imperatives driving forward new surveillance practices. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism describes how global tech companies such as Google and Facebook persuaded us to give up our privacy for the sake of convenience; how personal information (“data”) gathered by these companies has been used by others not only to predict our behavior but also to influence and modify it. This results on how this has had disastrous consequences for democracy and freedom. This is the “surveillance capitalism” of the title, which Zuboff defines as a “new economic order” and “an expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above”.

It seems likely that the future is going to witness intense class struggles for political power so that a new social order emerges in which the state shall ensure housing, healthcare, education and all means of livelihood to all its citizens, and equality, justice and dignity of all citizens are upheld.

A number of questions have arisen as we see the progression of the pandemic. Why is it that such a pandemic was not foreseen, when warning signs with avian flu, swine flu, SARS and MERS, all within the last two decades, were clear? Why is it, that with such advances in medicine, vaccines and healthcare, infections have spread so rapidly and the health systems collapsed?

The political implications of COVID-19 will continue to unfold for months, perhaps even years.

The pandemic hit after four decades of neoliberalism had depleted state capacities in the name of the ‘superior efficiency’ of the market, fostered deindustrialization through the ‘globalization’ of production and built fragile financial structures secured by magical thinking and state guarantees, all in the name of short-term profitability. The disintegration of the global economy left the wealthiest and most uncompromising neoliberal economies, the USA and the UK, exposed as being unable to produce enough face masks and personal protective equipment for their health staff, not to speak of ventilators to keep their hospitalized population alive.

These insufficiencies were caused not only by the lack of productive capacity due to changing technologies or China’s trade policies but also by deliberate policies: from universities to labs to manufacturing, neoliberalism actively promoted the fragmentation and disarticulation of a wide range of systems of provision as individual firms scrambled for short-term profits. The ensuing shortcomings were exacerbated by the destruction of state planning capacity and the disinclination of neoliberal governments to use all necessary means to mobilize industry, labour and private capital for a common purpose during the pandemic. Under pressure from the pandemic, service provision was transformed beyond recognition; online work became the norm in countless areas in a matter of days rather than the years that this transition would have normally taken, while the neoliberal worship of consumption dissolved into empty supermarket shelves, scrambles for hand sanitizer, pasta and sardines and fistfights for toilet paper.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the Achille’s heel of capitalism. Underfunded and ageing health systems across the capitalist world are crumbling whilst the global economy has entered a recessionary spiral.

Initially, the western world leaders adopted the same strategy as China by downplaying the lethality of Covid-19, but then once the crisis was out of control, they started reacting by proclaiming that the fight against the pandemic is likened to that of a World War and does not discriminate between rich and poor. At present, nearly two years after the spread of Covid-19 was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the question of how the virus first emerged remains a mystery due to the unwillingness of the Chinese regime to give us clear answer and take its own responsibilities instead of orchestrating propaganda worldwide and trying to divide the leftists at one hand and then the rest of the world!

Today, after months of ‘state-imposed quarantine’, it should be recognized that whatever the exit strategy, ‘normality’ might be a word with an ‘elusive’ meaning. The question therefore that begs an answer is rather simple: What’s next?

Photo credit: Pawel Kuczynski

China’s “Silk Road” in the Eastern Mediterranean and Beyond


China’s economic and political footprint has expanded so rapidly that many countries, even those with relatively strong state institutions and civil society organizations, found it difficult to manage the effects of this extension. The United States and the advanced industrial democracies of Japan, Australia and Western Europe are paying more and more attention to this issue. Whether Beijing seeks to use debt as a tool to expand its influence and leverage over other countries remains under debate. 

The Belt and Road Initiative ( BRI) is the foundation of President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy through which China is trying to establish connections with more than 100 countries in the world. The BRI was officially launched by Xi in 2013, and was added into China’s constitution in 2017, The Economist reported.

The projects revolve around the improvement of physical infrastructure in these countries in order to open trade routes and transport corridors that approximately correspond to the historic Silk Road routes that consisted of both land and sea corridors connecting the East and the West to each other.

From the British point of view of BBC‘s, despite that China being technically a “communist” country, the government had put its faith in trickle-down economics, believing that allowing some people to become extremely rich would benefit all of society by dragging it out of the disastrous quagmire of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution as quickly as possible.

After the 1989 fall of communism in the Soviet bloc, five self-declared communist states remain today: China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam. Belarus and Venezuela can also be added to the mix as they fulfil the criteria of a communist state – even though they do not officially invoke the ideology. So, at present, the number stands at seven. Another question arising now is that if capitalism is the engine of China’s economy at present, what is communism today? And if the number of communist states is poised to grow in the near future, as some predict, what does this prospect mean for capitalism?

China managed to fend off the post-Mao malaise with the introduction of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in late 1978, which redefined for several decades the meaning of the special brand of Leninism known since the 1980s as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Yet only a decade later, the PRC became an international pariah again after the brutal suppression of the 1989 democracy movement known as the “Beijing Spring”. 

Few would have contemplated, much less predicted, in 1989 that the PRC would rise again so soon and so dramatically, and become within a few short decades a major global player, aspiring, plausibly, to (re)design the “future of all mankind”. Yet it was, arguably, exactly this hopeful, pivotal year of 1989 that set China on this path and ultimately led to its current position in the world.

There is no place for dissent that would disrupt the harmony between the wise rulers and the devoted masses. The market economy and private ownership are only tolerated insofar as they help the party achieve its goals.  The country is ruled by law, but it is the party that decides what the law is and interprets it as needed. As Xi Jinping declares, the main feature of the New Era is the unquestionable leadership of the party in all aspects of life. He is fond of quoting Chairman Mao’s adage: “The Party, the government, the army, the people, the education; East West South North and the centre—the Party leads it all !

In the beginning of China’s expansion, it was about the potential of China, especially after Deng’s Open-Door Policy. In the second stage, the discussion transformed from its possibilities to its increasing influence on the global economy, especially after its membership to the World Trade Organization. In the third and last stage, especially after BRI, the discussion is shifting to China’s ever more complex balancing act between nations. 

China ‘s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Eastern Mediterranean region

The Eastern Mediterranean remains a region of critical importance for the United States and the West. Through Greece and Cyprus, it is a frontier of the European Union. Through Greece and Turkey, it is also a NATO frontier. The presence of Israel, a unique U.S. ally, adds to the region’s geopolitical significance. Coupled with the fallout from the conflict in Syria, the rise in political tensions, close encounters between military forces, and overlapping territorial and resource claims among allies and partners in the region, divisions and instability have increased. These developments have created opportunities not just for Russia, but increasingly for China to exert influence.

For the record, during the era of the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt was the first Middle Eastern and African country to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1956. Former President Hosni Mubarak was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

It is no surprise the Chinese state-owned conglomerate TEDA is the biggest investor in the Suez Canal industrial zone near the city of Ain Sokhna. The company operates an industrial park with 85 companies and more than 4,000 employees.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project , of which the Mediterranean is a key part, has forced the United States and Europe to think more seriously about geopolitics for the first time since the Cold War. Geopolitical competition requires the orchestration of political, economic, and security instruments in the words of China’s Foreign Minister. The challenge for the United States and Europe going forward will be to agree on the problems posed by BRI, and then to develop a set of integrated strategies in response.

The sudden Chinese economic growth occurring at the end of the 1970s, coupled with its government’s strategy to promote Chinese investment abroad at the end of the 1990s gradually reduced the economic gap between China and the Mediterranean. Under Xi Jinping, Chinese diplomacy has become more active, not only through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but also by expanding their economy globally.

China heavily invests in infrastructure and acquisitions of European companies. Especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, China is building an enormous economic presence. Its involvement in major infrastructure projects is growing at a rapid pace and may have a significant impact on trade routes that traverse this strategically located region.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most important maritime highways of all international trade routes around the globe. It is a focal point, as it represents the western end of the BRI. Given the Mediterranean’s strategic position, China has stepped up its presence in the region by acquiring, building, modernizing, expanding, and operating the most important Mediterranean ports and terminals in Greece, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, and Israel. Beijing wants to capitalize on the Mediterranean’s geographical proximity to become a major distribution hub for Chinese goods to the European Union (EU), its biggest trading partner. The increasing economic ties between China and Europe are giving the Mediterranean region an opportunity to regain its place at the forefront of international trade.

China is the main geopolitical rival to the United States in the Asia Pacific region. As this rivalry intensifies, it is likely to affect other regions. China has major ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean in the area of infrastructure and transportation, and the greater its regional involvement becomes, the larger the risk becomes of this spill-over effect, regarding a potential economic trade war with other nations.

China’s activities in the area, while relatively new, are growing in scale. In the sphere of investment and trade, the Eastern Mediterranean is a conduit for Chinese power into Europe. Through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has gained influence over strategic infrastructure, from 5G networks to port facilities. Two important examples include a nearly €600 million investment in the Greek port of Piraeus (dating back to 2006), and China’s success in bringing Italy on board to the BRI in March 2019.

In addition, China also continues bilateral negotiations with Turkey on the Port of Izmir, and Istanbul holds strategic importance for the BRI. Its alliance with Egypt constitutes a very critical point for China’s trade because of the significance of the Suez Canal for intercontinental maritime trade from Asia to Europe. Moreover, China also has the right to manage the Port of Ashdod in Israel for forty-nine years.

For China, the way to secure the BRI’s trade interests in the Mediterranean is not only to abstain from intervention in the domestic politics of other countries, but also to prevent any conflict between those countries. 

  • The BRI as a debt trap for less-developed countries ?

However, labeling the BRI a debt trap is not only insulting to the borrowing countries, who feel they are being accused of gullibility, but it also neglects the domestic root of this debt problem. Although China often claims that it is not exporting its system of governance, the BRI’s “hidden debt” is an offshoot of the public-private partnership (PPP) trend that took off within China over the past decade as more and more local governments leveraged capital from the business sector to help fund large infrastructure projects.

The reviving of the Silk Road: These projects were being planned and undertaken as of December 2015 in China’s Belt and Road initiative.

To be sure, China is not the only country spreading the PPP gospel, which began in Western countries and gained support from multilateral development banks as a solution to the Global South’s infrastructure gap. Still, whether in the West or China, PPPs have not proven to be a silver bullet. Many projects suffered heavy losses that eventually required a public bailout.

In China, PPPs are particularly problematic given that state-owned enterprises, with their privileged access to China’s state-controlled financial system, often act as the local governments’ “private” partners in PPP projects. This off-balance-sheet financial arrangement, coupled with inevitable moral hazard problems, has perpetuated China’s string of inefficient domestic investments, such as the infamous “ghost towns” that blight many parts of the country. While Beijing-backed overseas PPP projects have caught the U.S. foreign policy circle’s attention, it is important to keep in mind that China’s domestic hidden debt is a much bigger concern for Beijing. A September 2017 report estimated China’s PPP projects at around $2.7 trillion.

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