July 3, 2022No Comments

Food Uncertainty: The overlooked consequences of Putin’s actions

Author: Miguel Jiménez.

In this increasing globalized world interdependencies are strengthened, and countries become very import-dependent to satisfy its citizens’ daily needs. Obviously, some of these needs are more important than others. For instance, the achievement of food security is one of them and it represents one of the biggest challenges of our time. Developing countries suffer from illness the most, and this issue is often overlooked. Climate change and Covid 19 have made this goal even more unreachable by disrupting supply chains and fostering autarky. The current invasion is the cherry on top as it has closed down a major stream of food imports from low-income countries.

Beyond the Two Main Actors

June 24th marks the 4th month of Russian invasion in Ukraine. Roughly 120 days of ongoing humanitarian crisis which have resulted in the death of 4,266 civilians and the displacement of millions to neighboring countries. Negative economic effects have been even more immediate, with the markets of several sectors plummeting. The biggest toll is undoubtedly being suffered by Ukraine and Russia. According to the IMF, by the end of 2022, the former is expected to suffer a severed doble digit drop in GDP and the latter a large contraction.

However, besides the negative effects that the invader and the invaded are suffering, as well as the energy crisis especially striking Europe, the interruption in the supply and markets of crops due to the invasion may result in a major threat to food security in the developing world. Disruptions in the global food supply are not a new phenomenon. Between 2002 and 2008, the nominal price of food doubled as a result of droughts in food-exporting countries, food export bans and high energy prices. Nevertheless, current disruptions are unprecedented if the destructive impact of the invasion is coupled with other hunger-drivers such as COVID 19’s long-lasting effects and the devastating escalation of climate shocks.

To put it into context, Russia and Ukraine are agricultural production powerhouses. Together, they supply 12% of the world’s traded calories, mainly composed of wheat, barley, maize and sunflower oil. Yet, when one analyses the share that this represents in some of the importing countries, the strong dependence of the developing world comes to the surface.  According to the FAO, 26 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least 50 percent of their wheat imports

The Enemies of Trade

These agriculture-market disruptions are caused by two major factors. Firstly, in order to erode the resistance put up by Ukrainians, Russia has been targeting all aspects of Ukraine’s agriculture with the intention of crippling a major source of the country’s income. Secondly, aside from hindering production, harvested crops have few ways of reaching offshore as Russia set a naval blockade in one of the main trading routes, the Black Sea.  Thus, by March, record highs in the food market were reached, more concretely, in the FAO’s Cereal Price Index, Vegetable Oil Price Index and Meat Price Index

Seeking for alternative producers would be the most coherent move by countries in need, as we are currently seeing with the restructuring of the energy trade. There are certainly alternative producers which under “normal circumstances” could step up and take care of the lack of supply. However, to make matters worse, offsetting production shortages and the disrupted supply channels is prevented by two major factors.

 On the one hand, the effects of climate change are becoming a major barrier for stable crop production. For instance, the delayed rains in China and extreme temperatures in India, largest and second largest wheat producers in the world respectively, are sapping yields in breadbaskets. On the other hand, rising inflationary pressures, aggravated by the economic sanctions implemented to punish the invasor, have limited fertilizer exports from Russia and Belarus, inhibiting western farmers to boost productivity and capitalize on higher global prices.

From Coup d’ État to Devastating Famines

The mismatch between supply and demand is likely to extend to middle-income countries as well. The deployment of unprecedented fiscal packages during the pandemics to ensure a social safety net exhausted middle-income countries’ savings making them exceptionally poorly placed to cope with increased food insecurity. The combination of these factors created a weak balance which has been tilted by the invasion, resulting in civil unrest and devastating famines that are just starting.

Analysts are drawing parallels with the Arab spring revolts. Precisely one of the triggers for the outbreak of the coup d’état back in 2011 was attributed to high food prices. Currently, this factor has ultimately ousted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, incentivized the rise of deadly protests in Peru, and increased the likelihood of civil unrest by the end of the year in countries such as Philippines, Argentina and Tunisia

Nevertheless, these consequences are mild relative to the massive famines that this invasion is causing and can cause in low-income countries.  Food insecurity is a recurring trend in those parts of the world, and poor households tend to spend more of their budget on food. For instance, a sub-Saharan household spends up to 40% of their income in food. Therefore, a slight increase in such inelastic goods translates into a major shock for the household income. According to the FAO, food insecurity will worsen throughout this year in 20 “hunger hotspots and are in need of urgent humanitarian actions. Hunger hotspots stand for places where hunger is most severe. These countries tend to carry the burden of ongoing religious or ethnic-prone domestic conflicts as well. South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia are perhaps the best examples of this perfect storm.

How do We Bring Back the Balance?

With this devastating scenario ahead, what is to be done to reestablish food supply chains and resume production? Attempting to restore damaged crops in highly disputed areas  appears to be an impossible task for the time being, if we consider that the Ukrainian government forecasted the invasion to last until winter. The end of the war would not make the Black sea route viable in months either, as Ukraine has defended its coastline with mines and strategically sunk ships. What’s worse, reinforcing the creation of alternative trade routes does not seem viable as Ukraine’s rail system is wider than the EU’s, meaning loads would have to be switched to different wagons. Furthermore, grain wouldn’t even be reaching the places where it is needed most. These factors lead to the conclusion that the short-term solution for avoiding unprecedented famines ought to be outside of Ukraine. 

Without overlooking Russia’s role in creating this situation, easing up on sanctions and switching the final use of crops may alleviate it. Firstly, the export of fertilizers account for less than 5 percent of Russia’s GDP yet it deeply has an impact on farmers’ decisions on what to grow, and in turn, prevents meeting developing countries’ demand. Thus, lifting sanctions on fertilizers could improve the situation. Secondly, about 10 percent of all grains are used to make biofuel and 18 percent of vegetable oil go to make biodiesel. To put it into perspective, that percentage of vegetable oil contains an amount of calories sufficient to feed more than 320 million people per year. Weakening biofuel mandates just like Finland and Croatia have done, should become the immediate trend. 

One last resort is to rely on one of the most used development tools, aid. The US announced more than $320 million in humanitarian assistance in the horn of Africa. Yet even this falls short, as the amount of aid now is worth much less than a few years ago due to the ongoing inflation. 

Conclusion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the last event of a chain of events that have worsened the very fragile state of the developing world. The complexity of the situation makes finding a solution very tough and compromising already existing alliances.  In spite of the fact that lifting sanctions may seem controversial, millions dying from starvation far outweighs avoiding financing Putin’s war. Even more if some of those restrictions, such as fertilizers and food, account for very little of Russia’s GDP and so much for millions of developing countries’ households.

June 18, 2022No Comments

Food Security at Risk in Africa

Author: Alessandra Gramolini.

Before and during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict

Russia and Ukraine are not only the world’s biggest producers of wheat, they have also been the cheapest exporters on the market. This made them very attractive to low-income countries. Over 40% of wheat consumed in Africa usually comes from Ukraine and Russia. The war interrupted global markets and trade flows to Africaincreasing even more food prices in the region. Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea have been widely blocked for exports since the conflict began. Kyiv and its allies blame Moscow for blocking the ports. Even countries that import little from the two countries are indirectly impacted by higher world prices for key commodities.

Before the war in Ukraine, African countries were already struggling with the increase of food prices due to extreme climate and weather events and also after two year of Covid-19 pandemic,. Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, global food prices have reached new heights. Five weeks into the Ukraine war, disruptions are more severe and food prices are even surpassing the levels of the 2008 global financial crisis. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index, affirmed that international wheat prices rose for a fourth consecutive month in 2022. The March index is the highest it has been since the measure was created in the 1990s. In 2020 alone, Africa imported $4 billion and $2.9 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia and Ukraine. With this war in Ukraine, about 20 million people in the Sahel and West Africa do not have access to sufficient food. 

In Egypt, wheat is the main food item, and the Egyptian government imports about 50 to 60 percent of its cereal from Russia and Ukraine, despite the government’s efforts to diversify imports following the 2008 global food crisis. Egypt had to borrow three billion dollars from the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (Itfc), an Islamic finance instrument based in Saudi Arabia. Countries like Tunisia imported 50% of their grain needs exclusively from Russia and Ukraine. For the moment, Tunisia claims to have stocks, but to avoid food riots, as happened in the Arab Spring, basic products are subsidized and controlled by the government. Algeria, the second largest African wheat consumer after Egypt has also imposed moderate prices.

Additionally, according to the UN, Russia is the highest exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and the second-highest exporter of phosphorus and potassium fertilizer globally.  Several African countries rely on importing these Russian fertilizers, including Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Kenya. But following severe economic sanctions against Russia, its ability to sell fertilizer globally has taken down, precipitating a major shortage. In Kenya, farmers are scaling back on farming because of the exorbitant fertilizer prices that would certainly affect their profits. Others plan to avoid fertilizing their farms, especially olive and orange groves farmers. This will lower production and, of course, the quality. The pressure and prices will likely increase further as the war continues, raising food security concerns, with citizens beginning to feel the impact.

Image Source: https://www.wfp.org/news/hunger-west-africa-reaches-record-high-decade-region-faces-unprecedented-crisis-exacerbated

Alarm from aid agencies

Aid agencies have also felt the impact of rising prices. The World Food Program (WFP) used to buy more than half of its grain from Ukraine and Russia. The organization now spends an additional $71 million a month to reach the same number of people it did before the conflict. That money could be used to provide daily food rations to four million people for a month. The activities of the WFP in West and Central Africa have started to suffer too. The aid agency supports national school feeding programmes that run independently. But some governments are now asking the WFP for help, because they can no longer afford some food products. The WFP also distributes cash for people in the region to buy food, but with soaring prices this is not an effective solution. 

A recent FAO-WFP report issued today calls for urgent humanitarian action in 20 ‘hunger hotspots’ where acute hunger is expected to worsen during summer 2022. The effects of the war in Ukraine are expected to be particularly severe where economic instability and high prices combine with drops in food production due to climate events such as recurrent droughts or flooding. 

“We are deeply concerned about the combined impacts of overlapping crises jeopardizing people’s ability to produce and access foods, pushing millions more into extreme levels of acute food insecurity,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “We are in a race against time to help farmers in the most affected countries, including by rapidly increasing potential food production and boosting their resilience in the face of challenges.” 

Qu Dongyu called on Mediterranean countries to work together to avoid the risks to food security aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. “We must keep our world food trade system open and ensure that agri-food exports are not limited or taxed”, he said a few days ago during a summit on the food crisis in the Mediterranean area. He then illustrated the main steps on which this cooperation should focus on: greater investments in the countries most affected by the current increase in food prices; reduction of food losses and waste; better and more efficient use of natural resources; and finally, great attention to technological and social innovations that can significantly reduce the losses of the agricultural market. 

What are the consequences?

Some analysts argue the Kremlin is hoping that a possible food crisis will put political pressure on the West by provoking new refugee flows towards Europe from food-insecure countries in the Middle East and Africa.

“The situation is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to move to different communities and to live with host families who are already living in difficult conditions themselves. There is not enough food, let alone food that is nutritious enough for children. We must help them urgently because their health, their future and even their lives are at risk,” said Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children's director for West and Central Africa. The war is starting to push families to the brink of survival and increasing also the risk of violence against women. Hibo Aden, women's rights officer at ActionAid Somaliland, said the situation has become so desperate for some families that girls are forced to marry in exchange for food and water. 

The presence of unstable conditions and civil wars further aggravate the scenario. Many people in African countries will have problems accessing better hygiene, health, or school conditions, given that the family's spending power will be dedicated to the purchase of food at higher prices. Furthermore, phenomena of internal conflict are beginning to be seen, with countries such as Nigeria, South Africa or Ethiopia, which have chosen to restrict some food exports, blocking supply chains and trade, thus creating other problems.

In conclusion, the forecasts for the future are somewhat catastrophic. In these conditions, hunger will increase at high rates and will be more and more deadly. If the international community does not act in support of rural communities affected by hunger, the degree of devastation will be dangerous.

June 8, 2022No Comments

Italy’s cybersecurity response to Russian attacks (Italiano)

Author: Sarah Toubman

In the past few years, the Italian government has rapidly increased both the pace and number of steps taken to protect its national cybersecurity interests. Italy began creating legislation and organizations for the defense of its cybersecurity infrastructure in 1993, but many observers have criticized developments in Italian cybersecurity as inadequate and slow-moving compared to its peers in Europe and beyond. However, in June 2021, the Italian government declared its intention to create a new national agency for cybersecurity, and just weeks ago, released a national cybersecurity policy for 2022-2026.

The Italian government’s increased attention to cybersecurity has come just in time, as several prominent cyberattacks against Italy by Russian hackers occurred this May. Considering Italy and the European Union’s support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, it is not surprising that Russian-backed agents have unleashed attacks on Italy in the cybersphere, a space the Kremlin has long operated in. For example, during the 2008 Ruso-Georgian war, Russian-backed hackers reportedly carried out cyberattacks against Georgian internet infrastructure.

More recently, this cyber aggression has been turned towards both state and private cyberinfrastructure in Italy. On May 10th, Russian hacker groups “Killnet” and “Legion” attempted to break into and modify the voting results for the Eurovision Song Contest, which Italy hosted and Ukraine ultimately won. However, thanks to the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team, which was created in 2018, the attempt was foiled. 

Similarly, just one day later on May 11th, “‘Killnet’ claimed an attack on the websites of several Italian institutions, including the Senate, Italy's upper house of parliament, and the National Health Institute.” On May 19th, the Russian hacking organization launched additional cyberattacks on Italian institutions, including the High Council of the Judiciary, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Education, and Culture.

While Russian-backed cyber organizations are clearly enthusiastically targeting Italy, the robust responses of Italian cyber-defense organizations are now successful on a level which would have been unlikely prior to the development of its new cybersecurity agency and the rollout of its 2022-2026 cybersecurity policy. Although historically Italy has often been behind the curve in its cybersecurity policies, Mario Draghi’s push to launch the National Cybersecurity Agency was in fact extremely forward-looking and timely. Furthermore, since the agency’s announcement, Italian cybersecurity forces have developed the skills required to successfully counter Russian-backed agents, proving its creation was not merely a publicity-boosting measure for the Draghi government.

One recent headline has declared that “Italy [is] embroiled in cyber war with pro-Russian hackers.” Definitions of what constitutes cyberwarfare still vary, and the Russian government formally denies involvement with the groups of hackers conducting these attacks. However, such a headline again serves to remind those concerned with international security that Russia has historically and continues to use the cyber sphere to wage war, and therefore a robust international security policy necessarily includes cyber-defense. Therefore, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine--the largest war seen in Europe since 1945--defensive cybersecurity capabilities are evermore important for Italy and any nation openly opposing Russian actions. 

Italy’s 2013 National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security and 2017 Cybersecurity Action Plan had both highlighted the need for improved public-private cooperation to ensure national cybersecurity moving forward. In fact, the 2017 plan had urged that “private entities operating in strategic sectors must be considered as key assets and included into a holistic approach to national cybersecurity that provides for the implementation of minimum security requirements for country-critical systems.” Again, such a point was forward-looking, highlighting the fact that in May 2022, Russian-backed agents did not only launch cyberattacks on Italian government organizations, but also the Eurovision Song Contest, a multinational initiative being operated out of Italy. 

Notably, under the country’s new cybersecurity policy, the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team was successfully able to both prevent an attack against Eurovision and resolve cyber incidents related to government websites. However, moving forwards, this area merits even further attention. The Italian state could be severely impacted by cyberattacks against a whole range of websites, companies, and infrastructure, including public, private, and multinational organizations. Therefore, ensuring Italian cybersecurity going forward would require not just improved public-private cooperation, but also coordination between Italy and all interconnected sectors of the EU. 

Image Source: https://imgcdn.agendadigitale.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/28110643/cyber-war.jpg.webp

Italian translation 

Negli ultimi anni, il governo italiano ha accelerato rapidamente il passo e ha compiuto progressi nella protezione dei suoi interessi nazionali nell’ambito della sicurezza cibernetica. L’Italia iniziò a legiferare e fondare organizzazioni per la difesa delle infrastrutture legate alla sicurezza cibernetica nel 1993. Da allora, molti osservatori hanno criticato gli sviluppi, ritenendoli inadeguati e lenti rispetto agli altri paesi in Europa e nel mondo. Giugno 2021 segna una tappa importante per il governo italiano, che dichiara di voler creare una nuova agenzia nazionale per la sicurezza cibernetica, e poche settimane fa, è stata pubblicata la policy per la sicurezza cibernetica nazionale 2022-2026.

L’aumento di attenzione per questo campo arriva perfettamente in tempo, quasi in concomitanza con diversi attacchi cibernetici compiuti da hacker russi contro l’Italia lo scorso Maggio. Tenendo presente il supporto dichiarato da Italia e Unione Europea per la guerra portata avanti dall’Ucraina contro la Russia, non è una sorpresa che agenti sostenuti dalla Russia stessa abbiano effettuato attacchi contro l’Italia nella sfera cyber, uno spazio in cui il Cremlino opera da tempo. Per esempio, durante la guerra tra Russia e Georgia nel 2008, la Russia ha dato supporto ad hacker per colpire le infrastrutture internet dell’avversario.

Più di recente, le aggressioni cyber sono state indirizzate contro la sfera cyber pubblica e privata dell’Italia. Il 10 Maggio, il gruppo hacker russo “Killnet” e “Legion” ha cercato di entrare e modificare i risultati dei voti dell’Eurovision Song Contest,tenutosi in Italia e vinto dall’Ucraina. Nonostante ciò, grazie al Computer Security Incident Response Team dell’Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale, creato nel 2018, il tentativo è stato sventato.

Allo stesso modo, ad un solo giorno di distanza, “Killnet” ha rivendicato un attacco a diversi siti istituzionali italiani, incluso quello del Senato e dell’Istituto di Salute Nazionale. Il 19 Maggio, l’organizzazione russa ha lanciato ulteriori attacchi ad istituzioni italiane, inclusi il Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, i Ministeri degli Affari Esteri, della Pubblica Istruzione e della Cultura. 

Mentre le cyber organizzazioni russe sono chiaramente entusiaste di avere l’Italia come bersaglio, le risposte robuste date dalle organizzazioni di cyber-difesa italiane hanno avuto un successo che non sarebbe stato possibile raggiungere precedentemente allo sviluppo della nuova Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale e alla nuova policy 2022-2026. Sebbene storicamente l’Italia si è sempre trovata in ritardo rispetto ai progressi e alle policy promosse dagli altri paesi, il Presidente Mario Draghi ha insistito per fondare l’Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale e questo ha permesso di essere estremamente lungimiranti nel garantire una risposta agli attacchi. Inoltre, dalla creazione dell’Agenzia, l’Italia ha sviluppato delle abilità notevoli e necessarie nella lotta contro gli agenti russi. 

Di recente, è stato dichiarato che “l’Italia è coinvolta in una cyber guerra con gli hacker russi.” Le definizioni di questa cyber-guerra sono ancora varie, e il governo russo ha formalmente negato il coinvolgimento dei gruppi hacker e gli attacchi condotti. Nonostante questo, la situazione al momento conferma che la sfera cyber è sempre utilizzata dalla Russia come arma contro i nemici di guerra, e perciò c’è bisogno di politiche per la sicurezza internazionale più robuste e che includano necessariamente la cyber difesa. Nella guerra tra Russia e Ucraina, la più grande guerra mai vista dopo il 1945, le capacità difensive nel campo della cybersicurezza sono ancora più significative per l’Italia e per qualunque altra nazione che voglia apertamente condannare le azioni Russe. 

La National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security del 2013 e il Cybersecurity Action Plan del 2017 hanno entrambi sottolineato il bisogno di migliorare la cooperazione tra pubblico e privato per assicurare una rapida evoluzione nell’ambito della cyber sicurezza nazionale. Infatti, il piano del 2017 ha evidenziato che “le entità private che operano per la cyber sicurezza nazionale lavorano per l’implementazione dei minimi standard di sicurezza richiesti per le infrastrutture critiche del paese.” Ancora una volta, questo punto di vista è lungimirante e sottolinea il fatto che a Maggio 2022, gli agenti russi non hanno solo colpito il governo italiano ma anche l’Eurovision Song Contest, un’iniziativa multinazionale che era organizzata dall’Italia. 

Il Computer Security Incident Response Team dell’Italia ha avuto successo nel prevenire l’attacco contro l’Eurovision e nel risolvere incidenti legati a siti internet del governo.

Infine, questo argomento meriterebbe ancora più attenzione. Lo stato italiano potrebbe essere severamente colpito da cyber attacchi contro siti internet, compagnie e infrastrutture, includendo il settore pubblico, privato e organizzazioni multinazionali. Per questo, garantire la cyber sicurezza del paese e svilupparla ulteriormente richiederebbe non solo un miglioramento della cooperazione tra pubblico e privato, ma anche la coordinazione tra Italia e tutti i settori interconnessi dell’Unione Europea. 

June 2, 2022No Comments

Tracey German on the Human Security implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Dr. Tracey German is a Professor in Conflict and Security at King's College London, focused on Russian foreign and security policies, particularly Russia’s use of force in the post-Soviet space.

In this podcast interview, Dr. Tracey German explores the human security dynamics and implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Interviewing Team: Esther Brito and Réka Szabó.

May 31, 2022No Comments

Lisa Gaufman on Russia’s Information Warfare in Ukraine

Dr. Lisa Gaufman received her PhD from the University of Tübingen, Germany, in 2016. She then joined the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies at the University of Bremen as a postdoctoral research fellow. She is the author of "Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis" (Palgrave, 2017). Her research interests centre around the intersection of political theory, international relations, media and cultural studies.

In this podcast interview, Dr. Lisa Gaufman explores in-depth the development of Russian strategy of information warfare in Ukraine.

Interviewing Team: Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

May 19, 2022No Comments

The Consequences of Ukrainian War on U.S.-China Relations

Author: Francesco Cirillo.

The war in Ukraine is shaking the European security system and also influencing Washington's strategies in the Indo-Pacific. With the focus on Europe, the US has slowed down its diplomatic and political activity in Asia while keeping a close eye on Beijing's moves. The latest moves such as Beijing's ratified security agreement with the Solomon Islands has alarmed Canberra, a close US ally, as well as the Americans. For Washington, the move is seen as an attempt by Beijing to strengthen its diplomatic and politico-military position in the South Pacific. Another hot dossier concerns the thorny issue of Taiwan. With the Russian invasion Washington is analysing how it can support Taipei in terms of military aid without bothering the People's Republic of China.

In recent months, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, there have been growing concerns that in the near future Beijing might attempt an armed attack to occupy and annex Taiwan, which Beijing calls one of its 'rebel provinces'. At the moment, however, there seem to be no signs of a possible Chinese attack. The war has been a total game changer, causing concern within Xi Jinping's leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese big tech companies are scaling back their business in the Russian Federation market, as they are intimidated by possible sanctions that the US and the West might apply against them. But recently a War Game was broadcast on NBC news, simulating an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and a subsequent military confrontation with the US in the Pacific.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/mao-zedong-mao-tse-tung-chairman-mao-15983/ 

In fact, within the US federal agencies, preparations are being made for a possible war confrontation with Chinese forces. Despite the tension within some Chinese academic circles, it is theorised that a kind of competitive coexistence could be found with Washington, which would aim to exclude a warlike confrontation. In January 2022, Professor Wang Jisi , lecturer at the School of International Studies and President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, wrote and published an essay entitled 'A Hot Peace: Is a Paradigm in U.S.-China Relations Emerging?'. In this short essay, the academic theorises that despite the mistrust between Washington and Beijing on various dossiers ranging from the Hong Kong issue to the mistrustful view of international relations via Taiwan, it is necessary to maintain and consolidate a channel of communication between the two leaderships in order to cooperate when the interests of both the People's Republic and the United States converge. According to Wang Jisi, this would lead the current status of Sino-US relations not towards a new 'Cold War' but towards a so-called 'Hot Peace', in which Beijing and Washington, despite competition in various fields, mutual mistrust and different visions concerning the status quo of the international chessboard will necessarily have to cooperate in certain dossiers of global importance.  

The war in Ukraine puts Beijing in front of a dangerous strategy: on the one hand it publicly pushes both Moscow and Kiev to find a point of convergence to open a diplomatic mediation table; on the other hand it wants to avoid being included in possible economic sanctions. Moreover, it adds that there could be a remote hypothesis that is at the moment difficult to realise: with a severely weakened post-war Russia, China, in exchange for financial aid, would ask the Kremlin for possible access to military technology in the experimental phase in order to study it and acquire know-how.

At the moment, however, China is focused on other dossiers and preparing for the Party Congress, but with an eye on the economic consequences that the conflict could bring globally. 

April 13, 2022No Comments

Enlargement of NATO to Eastern Europe: Reasons and Consequences for European Security

By: Alessandro Spada.

Introduction

Today, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is an intergovernmental military alliance among the US, Canada and 28 European countries – but it has not always been this  large. Indeed, when Nato was first conceived in 1949 it was made up of just 12 members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. The creation of the Alliance pursued three essential purposes: “deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration”. The accession process is regulated by Article 10 of the Treaty and other European Countries can be invited to participate. The aspiring member countries must meet key requirements and implement a multi-step process including political, economic, defence, resource, security and legal aspects. In case they are experiencing any issue, they can request assistance, practical support and the advice by a NATO programme, which is called the Membership Action Plan (MAP)

Image Source: The Expansion of NATO Since 1949

Past enlargements

After the end of the Cold War, we can witness four different waves of NATO expansion to Eastern Europe. The first important wave of expansion to the East was launched by the reunification of Germany in 1990. On 12th September 1990, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, commonly known as Two Plus Four Treaty, was signed by the foreign ministers of  the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. The Treaty regulated all the foreign policy aspects of German reunification, including the membership to Nato, and imposed the withdrawal of all the foreign troops and the deployment of their nuclear weapons from the former East Germany and also the prohibition to West Germany’s possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. On October 3rd 1990, the  German Democratic Republic and Federal Republic were reunited again.

As to the second wave, the new member countries were Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. First, on 15th February 1991 they formed the Visegrad Group. Then, on 1st January 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1997, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary took part in the Alliance’s Madrid Summit and on 12th March 1999, the three former Warsaw Pact members joined NATO. The main reasons were: “to ensure thecountry’s external security”, to impede “the possibility of a great war in unstable Central Europe” and for Poland also “to advance its military capabilities”.

In May 2000, a group of NATO candidate countries created the Vilnius Group (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). The Vilnius Group resorted to the Membership Action Plan which was introduced by NATO for the first time at the 1999 Washington Summit. In addition, Croatia joined the Vilnius Group in May 2001. The Summit of the NATO Aspirant countries “Riga 2002: The Bridge to Prague” started the path towards the alliance’s membership which took place in Riga, Latvia, on July 5-6, 2002, where the leaders of NATO member and aspirant countries gathered for the last time before the NATO 2002 Prague Summit in November. On 29th March 2004, the largest wave of enlargement in alliance history materialized, except for Albania and Croatia. For Baltic states and Bulgaria, NATO membership symbolized their wish to be part of the European family. NATO was perceived not just merely as a military alliance with security guarantees under Article 5, but as a symbol of higher development, where Baltic states could find their proper place. Moreover, it was the attempt to escape Russian influence, in favor of the protection provided by the American strategic nuclear umbrella and a collective defence.

The same path of the Vilnius Group was followed by the Adriatic Charter of European  countries. The Adriatic Charter was created in Tirana on 2nd May by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and USA for the purpose to obtain their North Atlantic Alliance admission. Albania and Macedonia were previous participants of MAP since its creation in 1999, while Croatia joined in 2002. Moreover, Macedonia also took part in Nato's Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1995. On 1st April 2009, the North Atlantic Alliance officially annexed Albania and Croatia after their participation in the 2008 Bucharest Summit. Macedonia accession was postponed because of a dispute on the formal name with Greece. Macedonia became NATO's 30th country on 27th March 2020. Montenegro emulated the same path of the latter, but joined three years before on 5th June 2017, after the Accession Protocol signature in May 2016. For Montenegro itself, the major incentives to join NATO were the future eventuality of EU membership, the highest prestige of the Atlantic Alliance and to achieve “Nato’s security guarantee”.

Future enlargements

Bosnia Herzegovina is the only potential candidate which joined the Membership Action Plan on 5th December 2018.  In spite of Georgia and Ukraine expressing the will to start their path to the North Atlantic Alliance, their situation is still uncertain. The primary reason remains the need to meet all necessary requirements through important reforms focused on key areas; and, the current Russia-Ukraine war.

Consequences for the European Security

On one hand, many consequences, which were the main reasons for NATO expansion to the East, materialized in reality. For example, the inclusion of Eastern Europe nations in the military agreement have promoted democratic reform and stability there, provided stronger collective defense and an improved ability to address new security concerns, improved relations among the Eastern and Central European states, fostered a more stable climate for economic reform, trade, and foreign investment, and finally, improved NATO's ability to operate as a cooperative security organization with broad European security concern,” as stated in the clear purposes contained in a prepared statement of the Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on 23rd April 1997.

On the other hand, in spite of NATO's open door policy with Russia, the latter constitutes  the largest threat for European security once again in the energy, political and military field. Indeed, the current conflict in Ukraine shows the evident ambition to create a new Russian empire by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Many warnings about Russia’s reaction were expressed in the declarations of Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, when he worked as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. On 26th June 1997, a group of 50 prominent foreign policy experts that included former senators, retired military officers, diplomats and academicians, sent an open letter to President Clinton outlining their opposition to NATO expansion”In the end, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine, George F. Kennan described the NATO expansion as a “tragic mistake”.

Conclusion

The current Russian invasion in Ukraine puts in clear evidence the necessity for the EU countries to accelerate the formation process of the European Army. They will have to achieve energy independence by using Russian gas, diversifying their own supplier countries and to invest massively in the green economy. Moreover, the EU must strengthen its common foreign policy, implementing an effective diplomatic action and speaking with one voice to cope with the great tensions around Europe and the rest of the world. If not, the European project will risk crumbling. 

April 11, 2022No Comments

Maxim Alyukov on Russian Media, Autocracy and Information Control

In this interview, Dr Maxim Alyukov explores how political engagement in authoritarian states affects the ways in which its citizens interpret the news, particularly focussing on the Russia-Ukraine War. How does the media in Russia document the conflict in Ukraine? What is the response from the Russian community? This discussion centres on research by Dr Alyukov on how citizens living in authoritarian regimes interpret political information in a heavily regulated media landscape.

Dr Maxim Alyukov is a postdoctoral fellow at King’s Russia Institute, King's College London. He is also a researcher with Public Sociology Laboratory (St Petersburg). His research has been published in a variety of disciplinary and area studies journals, such as PoliticsQualitative Psychology, and Europe-Asia Studies. He holds a PhD in social sciences from the University of Helsinki and an MA in sociology from the European University at Saint-Petersburg. 

Interviewers: Leigh Dawson, Julia Hodgins, and Sofia Staderini.

March 31, 2022No Comments

ITSS Verona 2021/22 Webinar Series: “The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: What’s Next?” with Tracey German (KCL)

For its forth event of the 2021/22 Webinar Series, entitled "The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: What's Next?", ITSS Verona members Ludovica Brambilla, Davide Gobbicchi and Fabrizio Napoli (from the Russia and Post-Soviet Space Team) discuss with Dr Tracey German (KCL) - one of Europe's main experts on Russian affairs - the status of the conflict in Ukraine, narratives, strategies, winners and losers, and political, social, cultural, economic implications for all actors involved.

Do not miss on the other ITSS Verona webinars, which are available at the following link: https://www.itssverona.it/activities

March 21, 2022No Comments

Russia-Ukraine War Fact Sheet

By: Sofia Staderini

The Russian tactic is that of a pincer encirclement of entire Ukraine – from Russian territory and occupied Crimea, Donbas, and Belarus - and inside they follow the same tactic as Kyiv's focus, methodically destroying civilian infrastructure and nuclear power plants. The attempt is to demoralize and coerce Ukrainians. Yet morale is rising and these same civilians are becoming soldiers. Such support somewhat offsets the quantitative advantage of the Russian army in manpower and equipment. Now, Russian troops make advances into Ukrainian territory only at the cost of hundreds of soldiers every day, failing for now to take control of any regional center.

Their qualitative advantage is very reduced, as can be inferred from the high level of losses, which seems to be well above 5%, in men and materials. Russia could take control of the territory, but only with long times and high destruction. Reservist and conscript call-ups, as well as the ongoing shipment of Syrian and Chechen militants to Russia and Belarus, will not be able to affect the balance of troops around Kyiv in the coming week, slowing down the Russian tactic as it is momentarily unable to conduct simultaneous attacks.

Image Source: https://it.depositphotos.com/folder/La%20verità%20sulla%20guerra%20della%20Russia%20in%20Ucraina-299150880.html?offset=200&qview=551211048&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ntf_ruby_war&utm_term=100_images

Russia is now deploying maneuverable Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, reported by Russian state news agencies as a “next-generation weapon”. While it is very unlikely that the deployment of Kh-47M2 missiles will have a major impact on the current stall of the invasion, It could likely point out a shortage of other weapons and a propagandistic effort to distort Russia’s military failure.

However, after an end of decades of deterrence orthodoxy, the danger of a possible escalation involving nuclear weapons is real. Indeed, Putin has used nuclear threats to create a wide perimeter in which he may pursue a conventional war in Europe. NATO countries are doing everything to avoid escalations, complying with a policy of non-intervention for avoiding direct contact with the Russian military.

While not directing intervening in Ukraine, NATO countries are deploying significant military aid to the country while drastically raising defense spending, reclaiming the alliance's historical role as a protective haven against Moscow's military activities. Germany in particular is now increasing its defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output: a historic departure from its postwar commitment not to transfer armaments to combat zones. Moreover, the European Union's recent investments (€500 million) in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military mark a “watershed moment” in its history.

Image Source: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/russia-now-global-economic-pariah-ruble-worth-less-than-one-penny-us-2811892

However, many countries are starting to be bitten by the economic effects of the war, especially those with currencies linked to the rubble. More sanctions implications are quite likely to emerge in the coming weeks, particularly in a case like the EU-Russia energy partnership, where dependency is significant. Indeed, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is now serving as a geopolitical catalyst on key strategic, economic, and societal issues and will certainly bring to consider re-alignments, particularly in Post-Soviet countries and the Middle East. NATO's deterrent posture must be strengthened as well as cooperation and dialogue with the various regional actors in order to figure out the next evolutions in the geopolitical chessboards.