Juncker versus Italian corruption

Anna van Densky. OPINION. This week Brussels institutional  freedom of speech reached a new low, when the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has been confronted with the demands of withdrawing his comments on corruption in Italy.  During a public  exchange of views, the top EU executive referred to corruption and insufficient efforts as  the key obstacles,  blocking the development of the poorest regions in the south of Apennines peninsula.

Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work; less corruption; seriousness,” Juncker said. “We will help them as we always did. But don’t play this game of loading with responsibility the EU. A country is a country, a nation is a nation. Countries first, Europe second”. These words caused the whirlwind of emotions from newly endorsed vice-prime minister Matteo Salvini, numerous political personalities, and even the president of the European Parliament (from Italian origin) Antonio Tajani, – all of them indignant about Juncker referring to the well-established facts. Yes, objectively speaking, there is a huge problem of corruption in Italy,  regarded as plague first of all by the Italians themselves.

According to the official statistics corruption, including political one, remains a major challenge, particularly in southern Italy, affecting Calabria, Campina, and Sicily, where citizens suffer from its consequences at most.  Transparency International   annual reports indicate Italy has been consistently assessed as one of the most corrupt countries in the Eurozone.  While 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks Italy 54th place out of 180 countries. Scoring on a par with Montenegro, Senegal and South Africa. Yearly the crime of corruption causes Italians a damage of €60 billion .

However an attempt to smother Juncker with ‘politically correct’ banning from public debate the tensions in eurozone is not a unique episode in European political life, it is a chronic syndrome. A year ago then the chair of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem came under the fire for his criticism of abuse of solidarity by heavily indebted countries of the  EU south. The degree of indignation had  amounted to demands of resignation put forward by Spain and Portugal. However the most striking in rude tone was the comment from Italy: “He has missed a perfect opportunity to shut up,” former Italian Socialist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote in a Facebook post. “The sooner he goes, the better.”

The entire calamity was caused by the Dutchman remarks to a  German newspaper: “As a social democrat, I think that solidarity is extremely important. But whoever benefits also has duties,” he added. “I can’t spend all my money on booze and women and then ask for your support.” It was the allegory implied to illustrate  the role of corruption and tax evasion in ongoing Greek financial crisis that caused the indignation, not the depressing reality. The Transparency International estimated Greek tax evasion figures between €11 – €16 billion per annum ‘not collectable’, and the corruption also played ‘massive role’ in an outbreak of financial crisis.  Dijsselbloem survived the criticism, so  did his corrupt foes.

One year later the situation of tensions between the north and south of eurozone reflected in Dijsselbloem polemics has not improved in a meaningful way, but instead of fighting grim realities of corruption, the Italian politicians almost unanimously prefer to put some makeup on a face touched by leprosy, while the northern societies reject to accept the trick, requesting accountability. Dijsselbloem then, and Juncker now said what millions of taxpayers in the north of Europe know and think, and silencing them one guarantees the rising pressure of their discontent, because they are the ones to endorse the checks.

Obviously, the expected contemporary modus operandi of the presidents of European institutions, reserving them a role of modern royals – smiling to cameras and shaking hands, plus signing big checks for charity – will not please the EU taxpayers from the northern countries. Being the donors to the southern economies,  where a portion of their transfers is systematically disappearing in the pockets of the corrupt, they are increasingly concerned about the profile of the recipients of their funds.

With the upcoming departure of the UK, the second net contributor to the EU budget, the monitoring of funds transferred from donors to recipients in the bloc will be much more keen. It is possible to smother the heads of the EU institutions by ‘politically correct’ reserving them a public role of mute modern royals, but it will hit back,  undermining the trust in EU institutions, unable to defend the European values.

Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est pas d’éloge flatteur”, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (“Where there is no freedom of blaming, there can be no genuine praise”).

Bruxelles, 3 june 2018

 

#Liège: ‘prisoners of believe’

Anna van Densky, OPINION It was in exceptionally gloomy day in Belgium in spite of the sunshine: two police agents stabbed and shot dead – Soraya and Lucile;  one passerby civilian – Cyril just 22 years old shot dead, and a number of wounded police agents – all  in the city of Liège – a ‘capital of Wallonia’, otherwise famed by its rich cultural history.

Today outside Belgium, Liège is well-known for its University, attracting students from all over the world, but for those who are fans of crime novels, Liège is celebrated for being a birthplace and a favorite setting for the stories of George Simenon, the third most popular writer in French language, a creator of the legendary character commissaire Maigret, the ideal detective, who mastered psychology.

The city has drastically changed since those days Simenon had been describing. There are no more squalid little streets, without lanterns, and shabby houses – a usual background for Simenon crime scenes, but in the modern surroundings  the profession of a detective is as much in demand as in  those days.

Contemplating on Liège shooting we expect many questions to be answered: why a certain Benjamin Hermans 36 years old, native of Rochefort, a small town next to Liège, decides to spend his short “family” leave from a prison for killing police agents, his compatriots, in name of the Great God of Muhammadans – Allah Akbar?..What makes him to socialize with Islamists in prison? Why he decides to convert to Islam? And why above it all, the administration of the prison, knowing him as an extremely violent and marginal character, accepts the risks to release him for “socializing” in town?..

There are no simple answer, but they needed to be found honoring the memory of the victims – Soraya, Lucile Garcia and Cyril. We also need the conclusions to avoid new losses in future. However, today everything is shrouded in gloom.

Are we all just “hopeless prisoners of what we chose to believe”?..

 

 

Putin’s Firebird versus Chinese Dragon

Anna van Densky. OPINION.

The predictions are plentiful at the IV inauguration of the very same Russian ruler. However only few are optimistic ones, the majority is fearing the deepening schism between Russia and the West, the revival of the Cold War modus operandi, and even risk of the accidental eruption of the III World war. But if not following the extreme scenarios, what the EU can expect from the IV mandate of Vladimir Putin? Clearly not much in terms of science, progress or respect of human rights, but highly likely the continuation of stagnation  with the subsequent loss of traditional Russian spheres of influence like Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The recent events in Armenia showed the fragility of the only ally in the Caucasus, and the switch of Kazakh alphabet to Latin letters indicated to direction of the development the leadership has chosen, clearly not impressed by Kremlin’s achievements. For traditional allies and neighbours Russia is not an attractive construct: rusting vertical of power, causing corruption at all levels, elite openly preferring to keep their fortunes and families abroad; economy firmly becoming a global supplier of raw materials; and declining population. The latter deserves some special attention, because with the current trends Siberia is rapidly inhabited by Chinese neighbours, hardworking and politically inactive, filling working places of those Russians who leave for the European part of the country, or void of many of extinct villages. The process called by the Siberians themselves as ‘Chinese colonisation‘.

When voting Putin for the fourth time, Russian have chosen for a traditional biologic cycle of political power change, it means that the current model will come to a natural end in 15  year from now, when Putin‘s close cercle reaches the age it would be physically unable to keep a grip on power, and even on their own fading away lives. No one is immortal. But what kind of Russia will the West encounter then?..

Culturally in 15-20 years Russia will be a different place. At present 38 million Chinese live in bordering Heilongjiang province, while in the entire Siberia just 36 million, and lately in the province the Communist party allowed to have a third child to the couples with the higher income. Growing population with growing needs, and limited resources, but remembering Deng Xiaoping advise they keep low profile, while “aiming to do something big.” In social media Russians share posts about Chinese taking over enterprises and territories. Siberians have collected 140 000 signatures under petition to Putin, asking him to stop the commercial destruction of forests, but in vain.

Cornered by the Western sanctions, Kremlin has little choice to turn to the East, selling natural resources, and welcoming Chinese workers to cope with the economic trouble caused by the stance of the West. Above it all the Chinese are so much friendlier to Kremlin, never reminding about Human rights, Freedom of speech, or requesting the liberation of political prisoners. What a stark contract with the West!

However the Chinese factor is not the only one, the other element is rapid spreading of Islam over Russian territory. In case the current trends stay in 20 year from now the country’s population will transform from predominantly Orthodox to Muslim. One more challenge for Europe, desperate to cope with radical Islam and home-grown terrorists.

In his inauguration speech Vladimir Putin compared Russia to Phoenix – magic Firebird, living rebirth. However even a very myopic observer could notice, that after each crisis Russian Firebird comes smaller in size, with further shrinking population. Would it come back as a Firebird after a quarter of a century of Putin‘s uninterrupted rule? Or will it be consumed by the Chinese Dragon? (The President himself has well prepared his children, who learned Chinese language at school:)

To conclude, the fourth inauguration of Vladimir Putin is a turning point, a clear choice for decline and Russia’s disintegration. Subsequently the EU needs to adjust its four road maps with Moscow, conducting its foreign policy having in view the upcoming Russia‘s ethnic, and religious change. Abyssus abyssum invocat! (One abuse leads to another).

Image: Siberia becoming a desert, while the forests are cut out in barbaric way, and sold to Chinese companies. Source: social media.

Siberian forest cut out

Armenia political crisis deepens

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan has failed in his bid to become interim prime minister short of eight votes. The next step in legal procedure is the second Parliament sitting in a week time, expected to end in the similar stalemate, leading to dissolving of the institution, and snap elections. However, Republicans hope to organise the process, continuing to cling to power against all odds.

After a day of debate in the Parliament, Pashinyan  didn’t receive enough support despite being the only candidate for the post, while collecting 45 votes, eight short of the 53 he needed to have a majority in the 105-seat legislature. 

In  a very intense and sharp debate all parties had a consensus on keeping the matter as ‘interior policy problem’, without challenging any issues of foreign policy, and respecting international agreements and obligations, namely vis-à-vis Russia, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the other international organisations. They also agreed that the only way of the impasse lies though general elections.

However  the ruling Republican party was not willing to abandon power without resistance, motivating their disagreement to endorse the candidacy of Pashinyan as interim PM in his lack of a governing experience, especially taking into consideration complexity of military-political situation with  the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The denial allowed Pashinyan to remind to his opponents that  Nelson Mandela became South African President after long stay in prison brought to power by will of people, which is a decisive force in a democratic process. In his exchange with MP he also presented his views on a broad spectrum of issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, relations with Russia, Georgia, and denied any personal contacts with Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili.

“Grilled” in a tough American style by MPs  Pashinyan said he would increase defence budget, blaming that last 15 years government failed to level military might with Azerbaijan. He also vowed to create conditions for repatriating Armenians from abroad, including those who would bring investments, linking the process to a substantial reform of system of justice, liberating it from its ‘totalitarian mentality‘. He put to shame Republicans, blaming them temptation to curb the judiciary to serve their political interests, even degrading to keeping ‘prisoners of thought’. The substantial amount invested in judiciary was spent on exterior – buildings and judges outfits, but not on establishing of its independence, he added.

An issue of ethnic minorities took a special place in a debate: Pashinyan insisted they don’t have political freedoms, and are almost obliged to be loyal to a dominant political force, the practise he would certainly end, opening to them an opportunity to join political life, and to choose freely, including joining the opposition.

However it was the question of children and youth that fueled most anger from the Republicans who considered Pashinyan  crossed red lines, inviting schoolchildren to join the protests. They received an answer that it is an experience, and education of civility, which would stay with them, and hopefully pass on to the future generations. The position forced one of the MPs to leave the audience in a protest for 10 minutes.

The rejection of Republicans to accept  the will of people, endorsing the only candidate as an interim PM to organise snap elections, caused the continuation of protests.

Pashinyan called the citizens to go on with actions of civil disobedience, he also addressed transport workers asking to join the strike to ensure a total paralysis, forcing ruling party of Republicans to accept the democratic transition without further delay.

 

 

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#Armenia unexpected break away

Today’s vote at noon in Armenian parliament electing Prime Minister is crucial for the future of Armenians, but also the Caucasus, and the Kremlin, gradually losing influence in the region. While oil-rich Azerbaijan manifests its affiliation with Turkey, and Georgia is open about is ambition to join NATO, Armenians, as the last ally of Russia in the region abruptly, and unexpectedly are breaking away led by an opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan,  who has never been hiding his pro-European stance.

Massive street manifestations are rather startling as a phenomenon for the ex-Soviet Republic, where leaders are not used to democratic accountability. At first glance the current turmoil came as a result of a political miscalculation of a former President Serzh Sargsyanwho ‘mechanically’ applied Kremlin scheme of moving from President’s to Prime Ministers chair to continue his unchallenged rule from a different office interior decorations.

The scenario was clearly not appreciated by Armenians, who considered the manipulation as a fraud: while reforming the country from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, Sargsyan ensured citizens, that he is not going to claim any more mandates.  But later he broke his promise arranging  for himself the Prime Minister’s chair, and fueling the indignation of Armenians, who streamed into the streets, manifesting their protest.

However there is more to indignation of Armenians than discontent with their former President attempt to impose himself in Vladimir Putin‘s style as a tsar or an eternal ruler. There is an entire rejection of outdated Russian authoritarian system, plagued with corruption and nepotism. If in the Soviet era the information flows were under strict control of the Communist party, nowadays it is increasingly difficult to govern neglecting ‘demos‘, who is intensely communicating with each other via smartphones.

In age of Digital revolution, when people can easily find an alternative information via internet, the role of Armenian diaspora in Europe and the USA is not the least factor to contribute public opinion disposition. People to people contacts with friends and family members, sharing experiences of life in democratic societies became an efficient engine of progress, shifting Armenians away from outdated authoritarian rule of heirs of Soviet nomenklatura. 

The experts would say that Russia can not be rapidly removed or replaced or abandoned due to its status in resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh frozen conflict, offering to Armenia military and political guarantees, through Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). And they are right. Pashinyan has already confirmed that in case his party leads the country, no changes will be introduced to its membership in both CSTO (‘Tashkent Treaty’), or Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

However, now it is too early for Pashanyan to reveal his real aims.

Unlike Sargsyan, he did not fight in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), and does not have any personal affiliation to the region claiming independence. Like many of Armenians of his generation he presumably wishes to move on with the resolution of the conflict, inclining to a compromise to end the stalemate, and isolation of his country in the Caucasus. Subsequently in coming years it will be increasingly difficult for Kremlin to keep the alliance with #Yerevan, in total absence of incentives, relying only on protracting the NK stalemate.

The entire situation with street protests in Armenia is a definite indicator of Russia‘s loss of influence in the region and an absolute decline. It is reminiscent of the other colored revolutions in ex-Soviet Republics, coming as unpleasant surprise to Kremlin inhabitants unable to understand the people’ rejection of their obsolete modus vivendi on the ruins of Soviet Empire in a perimeter protected by ballistic missiles. The very same missiles which did not save their predecessors from collapse.

No new Russian envoy to new NATO headquarters

Russian decision to postpone  the appointment of a new ambassador to NATO announced today marks a new low in rapidly deteriorating relations between the East and the West, but even more it underlines Kremlin assertiveness, and claims of parity,  turning the page of a period when one could label Russia as a “regional power“.

However while looking at new splendid NATO headquarters in Brussels one wonders what it the purpose of the Alliance today? What’s the raison d’être? If it is the revival of the Cold War, what is its aim this time? The Communism has fallen, and there is no official state ideology in Russia to defeat. The authoritarianism, human rights and rule of law issues can hardly be targets of criticism, while NATO ally Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan openly, and literally conducts purges against his political opponents, and wages a war against Kurds, describing it the ‘Olive Branch’ operation against Islamic State.

Meanwhile the radicals are not shy about showing faces in Afghanistan. After a decade of military campaign, NATO has withdrawn its troops in 2014 without any definite conclusion, but rapid and widespread rise of Taliban. Nowadays the Islamists are taking grounds, imposing unprecedented levels of violence, and there is hardly a week without news of terrorist attacks, and numerous victims among civilians. Unlike the time of the beginning of the US military mission Jawbreaker (2001)  against Osama Ben Laden in Tora Bora, the radicals are not hiding in the caves, they are claiming  power,  and constructing networks in real and virtual world, controlling two-thirds of Afghan  territory. The airstrikes in defeating the radicals do not help much, but turn against the Kabul and the West the entire population of the provinces for ‘collateral damages’.

However even the rapid progress of Taliban does not motivate NATO to start a coordinated action with Moscow, in spite of the obvious interest of both sides to defeat terrorism,  there are instead allegations of Russians ‘arming Taliban’.

“They say they wouldn’t mind if we gave them weapons, but they don’t need weapons. They say ‘give us money, we’re buying weapons from the stocks of the Afghan army and police’,” Ambassador Zamir Kabulov was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Ambassador said  that in their talks with the Taliban, the group’s representatives said they buy all their weapons illegally from the Afghan government and police, and asked for financial support for that.

While the West argues with Russia, reducing diplomatic missions and expelling staff, the Taliban actively uses an opportunity to expand, and it will succeed until there is a comprehensive joint NATO-Russia strategy for counter-terrorism. However within the current political situation, the low tight in diplomatic relations does not provide with an effective response to the rapidly growing terrorist threat.

#Skripal’ assassination omitted truth

The omitted factors in presumption of Moscow deliberate assault on a former KGB Colonel Sergei Skripal with Cold War mass-destruction chemical weapon Novichok reduce the blame of Prime Minister Theresa May to a highly subjective hypothesis.
Challenging the official conclusions, different episodes from Novichok sinister legend frame the official British version as endogenous, thus serving the political strategy of accusing Kremlin, but not pursuing the search of the truth, which goes begging…

Skripal arrest
Arrest of Colonel Sergei Skripal in his apartment. Moscow, 2004.

The narrative of Novichok is deeply rooted in Cold War, when the USSR was flaunting its military might. The Communist party was so proud of a possession of such a powerful chemical weapon, that honoured both inventors of NovichokVladimir Ouglev (Владимир Углев) and Vil Mirzayanov (Виль Мирзаянов) with Lenin Prize (1991) for a break-thought in science. The special achievements of this new generation of nerve agents were it is unprecedented might – with one liter of liquid a population of multi-million city could be destroyed without a chance of recovery. The other characteristic was in method of application – in unremarkable composing elements, which represent no danger to humans if kept apart, will produce a lethal effect when assembled.
“Scripals are practically dead”, said the Vil Mirzayanov, an immigrant in the USA since collapse of the Soviet Empire. “And even if they survive, they will never recover”, he added. There is not antidote to Novichok.

Vil Mirzayanov
Vil Mirzayanov (Виль Мирзаянов) one of inventors of USSR chemical weapon of mass destruction – Novichok. Facebook page.

Tragically Skirpals attacked with nerve agent were not the only victims who came to public attention. The sinister story of Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi (1995) assassinated by application of chemical weapon to a telephone in his office,  shocked Russians. His secretary (30) and coroner (40) who performed autopsy on Kivelidi’s body also lost their lives – the poison was so powerful, that continued the devastation in derivatives.
After this sequence of suspicious deaths the investigation led to an employer of the scientific laboratory in the institute where the chemical was invented, and his wealthy client, who purchased the formula, – a businessman and former victim’s partner – Vladimir Khutsishvili. Both men arrested and sentenced. It is useful to mention that Kivelidi was not just “a” banker, but a chair of a club of bankers, with a pronounced interest in politics.

Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi poisoned by a powerful nerve agent (1995)
Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi assassinated in Moscow by a powerful nerve agent (1995)

However it was unclear then how the former partner managed to insert the nerve agent in the telephone membrane – one should have special costume,  triple layer gloves and gas mask to survive the manipulation, but the accused Vladimir Khutsishvili entered the office of the victim in tenue de ville

At present one of two Novichok inventors lives in the USA, Mirzaynov claims that he revealed the formula of the chemical in his book, and at collapse of the USSR warned Americans about this secret Russian weapon, that should have been included in the list of prohibited substances. Russian expert at United Nations Igor Nikulin confirmed that the formula of Novichok was known by the potential foes after collapse of the USSR.

At present Russians instantly deny the possession of Novichok – in 1997 Kremlin ratified the Convention of prohibition of chemical weapons, and subsequently President Putin received report of a complete destruction of the entire Soviet arsenal in Russian Federation. But Igor Nikulin added that Novichok samples could have been kept in any of the former Soviet Republics after collapse of the Communist system. In the USSR one of the leading production laboratories of chemical weapons was situated in Noukous, in Uzbekistan,  outside Russian jurisdiction, where the government worked closely with the USA in destruction of its arsenal.

Considering these omitted in public debate factors – the leak of Novichok formula from laboratory in 90th, and migration of  its inventor Vil Mirzayanov to the USA,  the access to production and samples in Soviet Republics, which became independent states, – the circle of potential holders of the nerve agent formula is significantly larger than Lubyanka secret service office in Moscow.

Beyond mentioned above, there are too many inexplicable elements in the assassination of Sripals: why father and daughter collapsed at the same moment? If she was the one who brought poison in her luggage from Moscow, and was exposed to it first, logically there should have been a time difference in their collapse, but there was not. If the suitcase was contaminated with such a powerful nerve agent as British media reports claim, all workers along the air transport chain should have been dead by now, but fortunately there are no reports of any ‘suspicious deaths’ so far. But was it Novichok, or some other nerve agent?.. Only an independent international inquiry can establish the truth, until independent experts have an access to the information, the accusations would remains in the realm of hypothesis, serving political concept of demonizing Russians, and dragging the world backward into Cold War era, where Skirpal belongs.

Recruited by MI6 while serving as a military attaché of Russian Embassy in Spain, Skripal sold 20 000 pages of secret documents, receiving more than £100 000 in 10 years before his arrest in 2004, and subsequent sentence for 13 years.
The former double agent was pardoned five years later in a swap operation between Moscow and Washington. Freed, the disgraced Colonel installed in a small English town of Salisbury, not far from his recruiter, where he led low profile lifestyle, until the spectacular assassination, worth masterpieces of Bondiana, when Skripal’s name stormed the headlines of media worldwide, and ascended to UN debate.

Skripal black cat
Skripal’ black cat vanished. Neighbours in Salisbury suspect it died from nerve agent. (Image from social networks).