Monica Aggarwal

EU agrees to impose sanctions on Belarus’ Lukashenko

EU agrees to impose sanctions on Belarus’ Lukashenko

The European Union on Monday agreed to imposed sanctions on Belarus President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko and other government officials over repression of the protesters and alleged rigging of the presidential elections of August 9.

While the proposed sanctions will first go through legal vetting before coming into force, Lukashenko can avoid them by agreeing to hold talks with the opposition for fresh elections and easing the crackdown on protesters.

This development has come in the aftermath of violent clashes in Belarus on Sunday between the police and protesters which led to the police using water cannons and stun grenades at protests. More than 700 protesters were arrested by the police after the violent crackdown.

In line with the E.U.’s gradual approach, the E.U. stands ready to take further restrictive measures, including against entities and high-ranking officials, including A. Lukashenko

EU Foreign Ministers

Taking account of the incident, EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg on Monday and agreed on taking “restrictive measures” against Belarusian President Lukashenko and other high-ranking officials.

“In line with the E.U.’s gradual approach, the E.U. stands ready to take further restrictive measures, including against entities and high-ranking officials, including A. Lukashenko,’’ EU foreign ministers said in a statement.

Earlier this month, EU officials imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 40 Belarusian officials who were accused of rigging the election in August that led to Lukashenko coming back to power in the country.

In addition, the EU ministers also agreed to scale back the financial support of the bloc to the government of Belarus and redirect those funds to assist civil society groups in the country. Furthermore, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is also seeking to review its operations in Belarus.

In the statement, EU ministers also condemned the police violence against protesters, calling for officials to implement peaceful measures to end the crisis through talks with the opposition and agreeing to holding new elections.

While the EU had imposed sanctions on Lukashenko in the past, they were lifted in 2016 after he released his critics from prison and eased actions on the opposition. In wake of the ongoing political crisis in Belarus after the presidential elections, the US, the UK, Canada and the Baltic nations have imposed sanctions on the country in recent weeks.

Last month, the European Union had said that “Alexander Lukashenko is not the legitimate President of Belarus,” adding that his abrupt swearing-in ceremony directly contradicts the will of the people in the country.

Separately, during the meeting on Monday, the EU foreign ministers also agreed to impose targeted sanctions on Russian officials and organizations for their alleged involvement in the poisoning of Russian opposition leader and nerve agent Alexei Navalny. However, details related to which Russian officials will be facing the penalties and when those measures will come into forces have yet not been revealed by EU officials.

Israel, Jordan sign deal to allow flights to use each other’s airspace
Middle East & Africa

Israel, Jordan sign deal to allow flights to use each other’s airspace

Jordan and Israel on Thursday signed a historic agreement allowing their commercial flights to pass through each other’s airspaces. As reported by Israeli media, the deal was signed between the civil aviation authorities of both the countries.

With the signing of this agreement, lengths of flights will significantly reduce between Israel, the GCC countries and the Far East on one hand and from Jordan to Americas and Europe on the other. It will further contribute to saving of fuel  costs and reductions in flight prices.

According to a statement issued by Israel’s Transport Ministry, Israeli and Jordanian flights are permitted to use each other’s airspace during weeknights between 11 pm and 6 am local time. On weekends, they will be given an extended window of 12 hours, with the provision of 24-hour window during 12 holidays per year.

In the statement, Israeli Transport Minister Miri Regev also noted that the agreement will help the country in becoming more integrated into the region.

“We are opening up new ways of cooperation in the fields of transportation and economy,” she said.

Israel and Jordon did not use each other’s airspace for flights to other destinations across the world, even though direct flights have been operating between the two countries for years. Amman and Jerusalem entered into the accord after several years of negotiations as talks were accelerated by the recent breakthrough of Abraham Accords between Israel and other Arab Gulf countries. Earlier in September, historic peace deal was signed between the UAE and Israel paving way for normalising ties in the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia had also announced the opening of its airspace to all flights flying to and from the UAE.

This agreement will also facilitate flights from the UAE and Bahrain to use the Israeli airspace to fly to their destination countries.

“UAE and Bahrain airlines, as well as carriers from all over the world, will in the near future be able to begin flying over Israel to destinations in Europe and North America, and back,” the statement added.

As per media reports, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) played a crucial role in negotiating the terms of the accord.

Neighbouring countries Jordan and Israel had signed a peace agreement in 1994 even as they have had hostile relations over the past years.

US Defence Secretary visits North Africa to bolster regional security cooperation
Middle East & Africa

US Defence Secretary visits North Africa to bolster regional security cooperation

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper is visiting Maghreb countries this week with the aim to bolster military and security cooperation with the leaders of the North African nations. According to US defence officials, Esper is also seeking to push back activities of Russia and China in the region through his tour.

“The focus of the trip is to strengthen our current alliances and partnerships in the region, as well as reaffirm the enduring U.S. military commitment to the African continent,” a senior DOD official said, as per the official statement.

On Wednesday, Esper arrived in Tunisia as the first stop of his regional tour where he met top officials of the country including President Kais Saied. During the meeting, US Defence Secretary signed a 10-year military cooperation deal with Tunisian President and hailed the US-Tunisia cooperation over the conflict in Libya.

After Washington designated Tunisia as “a major-non NATO ally of the United States” in 2015, the two countries have been working on counterterrorism efforts aimed at ISIS-linked groups.

Esper also laid a wreath and delivered a speech at North Africa American Cemetery in Carthage in honour of the US soldiers who died in the North African campaign during the World War II. In his speech, Esper attacked China and Russia, accusing them of continuing “to intimidate and coerce their neighbours” with “malign and predatory behaviour” aimed at “undermining African institutions.”

On Thursday, Mark Esper is scheduled to visit Algeria for the next leg of his tour. According to media reports, he will be the first Pentagon chief to visit Algeria in 15 years. In Algeria, he will be holding talks with President AbdelmadjidTebboune, who serves as the Minister of Defence and Commander of the Armed Forces of the country.

As per official reports, the Pentagon chief will end his regional tour with a visit to Morocco’s capital Rabat on Friday.

With this three-day tour, Esper is seeking to boost US cooperation with the three North African nations, along with facilitating peace and regional stability and counter terror threats across various parts of the region. Western Africa’s Sahel has been under terror threat amid the ongoing jihadist in-fighting in the region. Islamic State group (IS) have been engaged in fierce clashes with al-Qaeda militants in parts of Burkina Faso and Mali.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Defence Secretary visited the island republic of Malta and held talk with the country’s Prime Minister Robert Abela and President George Vella.

World leaders express hope towards peace in Middle East after historic UAE-Israel deal
Middle East & Africa

World leaders express hope towards peace in Middle East after historic UAE-Israel deal

The historic agreement between the UAE and Israel normalising relations between the two countries has been hailed by world leaders as a major start to promoting peace talks across the Middle East. The deal, being regarded as the “Abraham Agreement”, will prevent Israel from further annexing parts of Palestinian territories in the occupied West Bank. The historic peace agreement has been brokered by US President Donald Trump, who termed it a huge breakthrough towards peace in the Middle East.

Significantly, this is a third such agreement between the countries in the Middle East and it has fostered the prospects of more similar deals in the region in the coming time. The UAE became the third country, after Jordan and Egypt,  to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

Among the Arab countries, Bahrain and Oman welcomed the deal as a significant step towards achieving peace in the Middle East. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi also took to Twitter and welcomed the deal, saying it for the welfare of the region’s prosperity and stability.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the deal as good news, while US presidential candidate Joe Biden hailed the move as a significant step towards establishing peace in the region.

Several Asian countries including China, India, and Japan expressed their support to the UAE-Israel ties along with the welfare of Palestinian people.

The European Union welcomed the move, asserting that it will benefit both Israel and the UAE. Taking to Twitter, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the “courageous decision by the United Arab Emirates and its desire to contribute to the establishment of a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also expressed her support to the development as she said that normalisation of relations between the two countries is an important contribution to promoting peace in the region.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement, expressing hope that the deal would realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

“The secretary-general welcomes this agreement, hoping it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realise a two state-solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

According to the official statement in the deal, the UAE and Israeli officials are going meet in the coming weeks to sign the agreement.

Lebanon faces political deadlock after resignation of entire cabinet
Middle East & Africa

Lebanon faces political deadlock after resignation of entire cabinet

In the aftermath of devastating explosion in Beirut on August 4, the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab submitted their resignation on Monday. Accepting their resignation, President Michel Aoun asked the government to carry on their duties in a caretaker capacity with limited powers until the appointment of a new cabinet.

Protesters and critics of the government have accused the country’s leadership of corruption and negligence in their handling of the state matter after the massive explosion at Beirut’s port killed more than 170 people and injured thousands of people. The streets of Lebanon have witnessed several protests by the angry citizens which led to the stepping down of the Diab cabinet.

While the government, in its caretaker position, is ensuring rescue and relief efforts to protect the people in the capital city, Lebanon is now in a situation of political limbo until the formation of a new cabinet.

According to the current political system in Lebanon, a new cabinet can be appointed by President Michel Aoun in consultation with the Parliament, which will not require fresh elections to be held in the country.

However, it is important to note that the President has not yet opened up about the procedures to form a new cabinet after Mr Diab’s resignation. Therefore, it appears that the appointment of a new government is going to be a long and tiring process for Lebanon, particularly after ongoing horse-trading within the sectarian Parliament and changes in demands of protesters.

According to political analysts, while the formation of a new government can be accelerated due to increasing pressure from the protesters, it will still not provide much-needed changes in the political system of the crisis-hit country.

Even before the explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon was facing the worst economic crisis in decades with severe inflation and hunger. Beirut explosion has brought the country to the brink of collapse amid deteriorating economic crisis, surging corruption, and dysfunctional governance.

Amid this crisis, focus of the leadership is gradually shifting towards forming a new government in the country.

Lebanese people have been carrying out raging demonstrations across the streets of the country, even after the Diab government resigned in the wake of the protests demanding political change. Activists have asserted that Monday’s resignation of the government did not meet their demands for the surrender of power by the political elite class.

Meanwhile, members of the Lebanese Parliament are scheduled to meet in coming to days to discuss the rescue and recovery measures.

Europe is yet to fulfil its COVID-19 commitments amid surging fear of second wave

Europe is yet to fulfil its COVID-19 commitments amid surging fear of second wave

From Scotland to Spain, European countries are witnessing an unprecedented surge in Coronavirus cases in recent days, forcing the governments to reinstate restrictions to control the spread of the disease. Fresh infections across Europe are threatening the hopes of the member states for a quick post-pandemic recovery.

While the European Union was aiming to lead the world in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, analysts have contended that the bloc has not been able to live up to its promises. After almost seven months since the Coronavirus outbreak hit the EU, the 27-nations bloc has only had a few positive results to show the world. It took weeks of negotiations for the bloc to agree on a €1.8-trillion budget and recovery package that will assist in countering the repercussions of the pandemic. According to the agreement, the European Commission will be borrowing €750 billion on international markets and allocate the aid to the member states to support their recovery process.

A surge in Coronavirus cases has also escalated the search for an effective vaccine against the disease in the European Union. However, at a time when the European Commission is seeking to set up an inclusive international buyers’ group for the bloc to procurement of potential COVID-19 vaccines, a number of member states have already signed up deals with vaccine manufactures for their countries respectively. Significantly, EU’s collective plan will require member states to pool in necessary resources for jointly developing effective vaccines to combat the disease which can lead to duplication of work of vaccine manufacturers.

Earlier in July, the European Commission entered a deal with Sanofi and GSK (the two have collaborated to develop a potential vaccine) for 300 million doses which will be available for all 27-member countries to purchase. Reportedly, the EU’s announcement came on the same day the US government stated that it will be investing up to $2.1 billion in Sanofi and GSK for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On the other hand, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 400 million doses of the vaccine in mid-June. Later after discussions, the four-nation deal was merged with European Commission’s efforts to procure the vaccine for all 27 members. Last month, European leaders openly clashed during negotiations over the allocation of the €1.8tn budget and recovery package for the bloc. The leaders engaged in intense debates over the size of the recovery fund for countries that have been worst affected by the pandemic consequences and the seven-year multi-financial framework.

Tourism in Asia-Pacific countries off to a gloomy recovery
Asia Pacific Focus

Tourism in Asia-Pacific countries off to a gloomy recovery

COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented collapse of the tourism industry in countries across the Asia Pacific region. Due to heavy reliance on tourism, several countries in the Asia Pacific region are facing difficulties in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the sector.

The Asia-Pacific region consists of some of the leading tourist destinations in the world including Indonesia, Vietnam, Nepal, Maldives, and Singapore. After almost 4 months of lockdown, workers in tourism-related services in these countries are facing an increased risk of economic crisis, including the fear of falling into poverty.

As these countries gradually resume their economic activities, the tourism sector is expecting to revive from severe losses. From the Indonesian island of Bali to Vietnam and Australia, countries are relaxing their rules on domestic and international travel. However, even after several relaxations, tourism is at its lowest due to the fear of virus transmission among tourists. Furthermore, a number of countries have resumed their tourism sectors to domestic travellers only, putting a cap in international travel to combat the spread of virus.

In countries like Hong Kong, the number of tourists went down by 80% after the administration closed down its borders in March. Bustling beaches of island states like Bali, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Tonga appear empty with a shortage of tourists. Restrictions and stringent rules in public activities, bars, restaurants and hotels are also keeping tourists away from these holiday destinations.In Japan, virus outbreaks spread across the country after a surge in travel during the summer holidays.

It is important to understand that the tourism-dependent Asia-Pacific SIDS (small island developing states) are in need of a fiscal stimulus to restart their operations after facing massive losses. From providing typical stimulus programmes such as wage subsidies and financing to small businesses and MSMEs to announcing compensation package for workers and employees in the informal sectors, governments can take various steps to ensure the well-being of local populations and survival of tourism businesses across the region. International travel was largely restricted across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus. In the aftermath of the pandemic crisis, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which make up approximately 80% of the global tourism sector, are critically affected. According to the United Nations World Tourism Barometer, the global tourism industry lost $320 billion in revenues in the first five months of the year 2020 after international travel came to an abrupt hald due to the pandemic.

Coronavirus and geopolitical shifts in world order

Coronavirus and geopolitical shifts in world order

The Coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on countries across the globe. However, the intensity of the impact is varied across the countries. Taking note of the diverse impact, world governments undertook contrasting approaches in their response to contain the pandemic and its repercussions on the public safety. At a time when most of East Asia and European countries have achieved success in containing the disease and have resumed their economic activities, countries like the US, Brazil, India and Russia are still struggling to control the surging infected cases.

Response against the Coronavirus pandemic by major and regional forces and how the impact is resolved domestically and internationally are implying significant long term geopolitical implications. World governments’ diverse responses will prove paramount in assessing their management of central levers of geopolitical power including, economy, diplomacy, military capabilities and global leadership.

COVID-19, not only resulted in the weakening of global health care systems, but the international economy also experienced its worst downturn since the World War II.

It is important to note that the ultimate geopolitical crisis will be emerging with the decision over the systematic allocation of the scarce Coronavirus vaccines, which are currently being developed by several countries. World leaders are investing billions in the development of a potential vaccine to fight the virus as well as securing millions of doses through pre-orders.

Evidently, COVID-19 has exposed the lack of international cooperation and deficit of trust among world governments in their handling of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. While the US is not showing any signs of leading the role in enhacing international cooperation, there is a deeper fear about a shift towards an anarchist policy of “everyone for himself”. Two of the world’s biggest economies – the US and China –  have been facing a fragile trade wars.

It is no doubt that Coronavirus has emerged to be one the most crucial variable in shaping multilateral relations at various regional, national, and global levels.

Therefore, it is essential for world governments to understand the pandemic as a problem of global nature which required political solutions based on international cooperation at every stage varying from multinational to local level. At the same time, it also requires free flow of scientific information and experiences among all the actors for a collaborative response.

Changing EU-US relations in geopolitical discourse

Changing EU-US relations in geopolitical discourse

For more than seven decades, the United States and the European Union have shared stable relations in the world order eve after disagreements certain fronts. However, it appears like both sides of the Atlantic are rethinking their relations due to a mix of internal and external forces, particularly, in the aftermath of the Coronavirus outbreak.

According to analysts, diplomatic and transatlantic relations between the US and the EU have significantly eroded after Donald Trump’s presidency. US President Trump has on several occasions attacked the bloc, ridiculing America’s relations with the EU in the geopolitical discourse.

Evidence have shown that after Washington has stopped interfering in European affairs, the 27-member bloc has also been actively working on gaining more autonomy from one of the world’s biggest economies. With the US and China are distancing themselves amid the ongoing trade clashes, the EU is also reassessing Sino-European relations. Notedly, Brussels is pondering on enhancing its economic and strategic partnership with China in a bid to curtail its reliance on the United States.

From the Paris Climate Accord to the Iran nuclear deal, the US and EU have locked horns on several issues. As per reports, tensions have escalated within the US-EU-NATO geopolitical triangle. Trump’s attacks on European NATO members through trade policies have also pushed the European Union into establishing a stronger autonomy in areas of security and defence to counter America.

Earlier in July, the EU declined to welcome American travellers into the bloc as it reopened its external borders to 15 countries in the post-pandemic recovery process. On the contrary, the EU’s list of safe countries where European citizens were allowed to travel to included China among other countries.

America’s response against the Coronavirus pandemic has appeared to be largely different from the European Union. When the US is still fighting the continuous surge in the number of positive cases, Europe is working on reopening its economy after reporting a decline in infections. On one hand, Europe has intensified its efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for the entire mankind, Washington is eyeing to monopolize use of the vaccine across the world. It is understandable that relations and interests between both sides are rapidly changing with time. But, it is important for both – EU and US –  to coordinate their efforts against global threats in the current situation.

European green recovery dependent on efforts of member states

European green recovery dependent on efforts of member states

The European Union is working on a green economic recovery in the post-pandemic process. Recently, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that Europe’s recovery will be green, adding that the new EU budget will power the European green deal and accelerate the digitalisation of the bloc’s economy. Significantly, European leaders have been stressing on the importance of climate action and green recovery in the upcoming seven-year budget of the bloc.

Earlier this week, EU leaders met at a special meeting of European Councils in Brussels. After hours of negotiations, the leaders agreed on a deal committing 30% share of the mammoth €1.074 trillion 2021-2027 EU budget and a €750 billion COVID-19 recovery fund towards climate projects. According to media reports, the European governments have approved a historic climate change plan, agreeing to invest $572 billion into various initiatives to support environmental development in areas like renewable energy and agriculture.

In addition, the European leaders agreed on a “do no harm” principle which states that no funding will go to any project that would cause harm to the climate or environment in the midst of the EU’s goal to become climate neutral continent by 2050.

With the increasing necessity to address the climate crisis, the issue is significantly gaining political attention. Evidently, European lawmakers are acknowledging the commitments to climate action and environmental protection, therefore allocating substantial funds from the EU budget to address the crisis. Notedly, the European Parliament has also worked on strengthening the allocation of funds to ensure the fulfillment of the EU’s goal for climate neutrality. Interestingly, how effective the green recovery plan will end up depends crucially on the member states and their respective recovery plans. Members states are required to submit their plans and investment agendas until 2024 to the Commission by October 2020. One of the criteria against which the Commission will assess their plans is whether they consist of measures for green and digital recovery. At the same time, member states can choose to go beyond the minimum 30% climate spend and give priority to measures that facilitate a more green and resilient economy. For instance, Germany’s post-pandemic recovery plan is among the greenest so far. The country is allocating about a third of its recovery budget of 130 billion euros ($145 billion) into developments of public transport and green hydrogen.

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