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Op Ed: Out of the spotlight Belarusians’ struggle for freedom continues amidst persistent repression

Article by Joanna Szymańska

March 2, 2024

Op Ed: Out of the spotlight Belarusians’ struggle for freedom continues amidst persistent repression

As 2024 dawned, the world found itself plunged into deeper socio-political upheaval, with ever more tumultuous events dominating global headlines. Overshadowed amongst these was the elections that took place in Belarus last weekend, the first since the fraudulent presidential vote in 2020 and the subsequent mass protests.

 

On 25 February 2024, Belarus elected 12,514 local council deputies and 110 deputies to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly. The outcome was of no surprise, and further reinforces President Alexander Lukashenko’s iron grip on power. Meanwhile, Belarusians continue to endure an unprecedented level of repression, which similarly has seen little coverage, since the events of four years ago.

 

Nevertheless, the year 2020 undoubtedly stands as a haunting memory for Lukashenko. In August of that year, thousands of Belarusians took to the streets to defy the dubious official results of the presidential election which secured Lukashenko his sixth consecutive victory. People voiced their strong dissent while waving the historic white-red-white flags: a symbol of a democratic and independent Belarus, later banned by the authorities. Protesters believed that the rightful winner, and thereby the next president, was Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose growing popularity became an escalating problem for the regime in the lead up to the elections. As a result, she was threatened, and ultimately forced into exile, where she remains today.

 

The months that followed brought with them mass repression on a scale that the country had not seen before. Many active protesters had to flee the country. Those who did not want to or did not manage to on time, were detained, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed. The experience of the 2020 mass protests made Lukashenko even more ruthless and extremely determined to prevent any future challenges to his power.

 

In February 2022, just a few days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including from the territory of Belarus, the regime in Minsk conducted a sham constitutional referendum to further consolidate power. The referendum, among other things, served as a tool to remove presidential term limits, give a lifetime immunity to Lukashenko and constitutionalise the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, a body introduced by Lukashenko in the 1990s. Officially, this group of about 1,200 people, selected from among local and national officials, is tasked with providing support to the Government and acting as a voice of ‘the people’. It has the power to declare martial law, initiate the process to remove a president from office, or even overturn presidential election results. The purpose of this group is clear: it has been formed to prepare the ground for when Lukashenko no longer serves as president.

 

In 2023, the regime was able to ban or dissolve most political parties through new regulations that forced all political parties to re-register, under much stricter requirements.[1]  Out of the 15 parties previously registered in the country, only four were confirmed in October 2023 by the Ministry of Justice as successfully meeting the new requirements.[2] They were Belaya Rus, the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, the Communist Party of Belarus, and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice. Not surprisingly, all of them are considered pro-government and support the regime.

 

As a result, the outcome of the February 2024 elections was easy to predict, further reinforced by the opposition forces in exile calling for a boycott of the vote.[3] The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was not invited by Belarusian authorities to conduct impartial election observation.[4] Instead, the regime invited observers from the Advisory Council of Heads of Electoral Bodies of the friendly Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states.[5]

 

The lack of strong mobilisation by Belarusians against the highly questionable way in which these 2024 February elections have been held, can be explained not only by the call of the opposition in exile to boycott them, but also by the pervasive terror which has persisted inside the country since 2020. The Government of Belarus has stepped up its efforts to excessively hinder people’s ability to speak out or protest by introducing or amending various repressive laws. According to official data, by November 2023, the number of criminal cases on charges related to “extremism” surged to 16,000.[6] As of December 2023, at least 960 NGOs were in the process of forced liquidation.[7] Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus have effectively outlawed human rights work and independent media, criminalising “working on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organisations” and making it punishable by imprisonment.[8]

 

Activists, human rights defenders and journalists have been added to the list of ‘extremists’; currently even a single ‘like’ under a social media post written by those on the list can result in criminal charges. Independent media has reported that Belarus and Russia plan to unify their lists of ‘extremist’ individuals and organisations, allowing coordinated repression of independent voices.[9]

 

Given the level of repression, the courage of Belarusians who actively oppose the regime continues to amaze. A day before the elections, on 24 February, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reported on X (formerly Twitter) that her address to Belarusians about the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Lukashenko’s sham elections was displayed on 2,000 screens in public spaces throughout the country, an action organised by BELPOL, a coalition of former police & security forces officers.[10]

 

According to the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’, currently there are 1,411 political prisoners in Belarus.[11] Many of them have faced inhuman treatment, denial of medical care and no access to lawyers. Nasta Lojka, a prominent human rights defender who was sentenced in 2023 to seven years in prison for ‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord’, reported that she was forced to remain in a courtyard without any outerwear for eight hours in temperatures below ten degrees celsius, after which she fell ill.[12]  A few days before the elections, on 20 February 2024, it became known that a 63-year-old political prisoner Ihar Lednik died in the Minsk regional hospital. Such news does not always make headlines in the western media, but it is crucial to highlight that Ledinik is the fifth political prisoner known to have died in Belarus since 2021.[13]

 

Families of many political prisoners have not heard from their loved ones for months, many do not know if they are still alive. This includes Siarhei Tsikhanouski, blogger and husband of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, or Maria Kalesnikava, one of the leaders of the opposition. Many other political prisoners have very little or no opportunity to send and receive letters. With the continuous disbarment of lawyers who can represent the victims, access to any information related to the well-being and condition of political prisoners is increasingly limited. As recently as last month, the security forces have raided homes and detained family members of former and current political prisoners.[14]

 

More than three years after the 2020 protests, the regime continues to do everything in its power, with a vast arsenal of violent means at its disposal, to spread fear and terror among its citizens. In the face of the ongoing repression, the West must strengthen the support for Belarusian civil society, which, despite the mounting challenges, continues to be very active and vibrant.

 

We must continue to show unwavering support to the brave people of Belarus repressed for exercising their fundamental human rights and demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. As Tsikhanouskaya called for recently, sanctions against the regime must be tightened.[15] Thanks to Belarusian and international investigative journalists, we know about the instances of sanctions evasion in the European Union, and the European community must address this as a matter of urgency.[16]

 

Belarus might not be front page news, but the struggle for a free and democratic country continues.

 

Joanna Szymańska is the Acting Head of Europe Office at ARTICLE 19. She has extensive experience of working on freedom of expression issues in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

[1] CSO Meter, Belarus launches campaign of forced liquidation of political parties, July 2023, https://csometer.info/updates/belarus-launches-campaign-forced-liquidation-political-parties

[2] Alexandra Boguslavskaya, Ban any opinion: are the authorities of the Republic of Belarus building a party system?, DW, November 2023, https://www.dw.com/ru/zapretit-luboe-mnenie-vlasti-rb-stroat-partijnuu-sistemu/a-67576770

[3] Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to Belarusians: “This day is for you, not the regime. Spend it wisely!”, February 2024, https://tsikhanouskaya.org/en/news/sviatlana-tsikhanouskaya-to-belarusians-this-day-is-for-you-not-the-regime-spend-it-wisely.html

[4] Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, The OSCE ODIHR regrets that the Belarusian authorities did not invite observers to the upcoming elections, Elections*-2024, February 2024, https://elections2024.spring96.org/en/news/114502

[5] Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, “Seriously underlines the credibility of this kind of company.” Pavel Sapelka spoke about international elections* monitoring, Elections*-2024, January 2024, https://elections2024.spring96.org/en/news/114036

[6] REFORM.by, The Prosecutor General’s Office has counted more than 16 thousand “extremist” crimes since 2020, Reformation, November 2023, https://reform.by/genprokuratura-naschitala-bolee-16-tysjach-jekstremistskih-prestuplenij-s-2020-goda

[7] LAWTREND, Monitoring the situation of freedom of association and civil society organisations in the Republic of Belarus December 2023, https://www.lawtrend.org/english/monitoring-the-situation-of-freedom-of-association-and-civil-society-organisations-in-the-republic-of-belarus-december-2023

[8] OMCT, Belarus: New amendment to the Criminal Code leaves no room for legal human rights activities, January 2022, https://www.omct.org/en/resources/statements/belarus-new-amendment-to-the-criminal-code-leaves-no-room-for-legal-human-rights-activities

[9] Maria Yeryoma, Belarus Weekly: Belarus, Russia to unify lists of ‘extremists,’ coordinating repression, The Kyiv Independent, February 2024, https://kyivindependent.com/belarus-weekly-belarus-russia-to-unify-lists-of-extremists-coordinating-repression/

[10] Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Twitter post, Twitter, February 2024, https://twitter.com/Tsihanouskaya/status/1761471246309450116

[11] Viasna, As of February 28 1411 persons in Belarus are considered as political prisoners, https://prisoners.spring96.org/en

[12] ARTICLE 19, Belarus: End persecution of human rights defender Nasta Lojka, April 2023, https://www.article19.org/resources/belarus-end-persecution-of-nasta-lojka/

[13] Viasna, Political prisoner Ihar Lednik died. He had health problems, February 2024, https://spring96.org/en/news/114453

[14] European Parliament, New wave of mass arrests in Belarus of opposition activists and their family members, February 2024, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2024-02-08_EN.html#sdocta1

[15] Todd Prince, Tsikhanouskaya Calls On U.S> To Support Belarusian Opposition, Tighten Sanctions on Lukashenka, RFE/RL, December 2023, https://www.rferl.org/a/tsikhanouskaya-us-support-belarusian-opposition-sanctions/32715837.html

[16] OCCRP, Lithuania Cracks Down on Sanction Evasion Schemes after OCCRP Investigation, March 2023, https://www.occrp.org/ru/daily/17377-lithuania-cracks-down-on-sanction-evasion-schemes-after-occrp-investigation

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

Footnotes
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    Two Years On: New recommendations for the safety of journalists working on the frontline

    Article by Maria Ordzhonikide and Valeriya Chudarova

    March 1, 2024

    Two Years On: New recommendations for the safety of journalists working on the frontline

    The London-based charity Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ), in partnership with the National Union of Journalists in Ukraine, has been collecting open-source evidence and satellite imagery of attacks on media workers during the war in order create better ways to protect journalists heading to the war zone. Maria Ordzhonikide and Valeriya Chudarova from JFJ, explain more about their work and recommendations for journalists working on the frontline.

     

    After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, thousands of Ukrainian journalists found themselves becoming frontline correspondents almost overnight. Dozens of foreign journalists also arrived in the country to report on the war. Without these professional and citizen reporters the world would not have been able to understand the extent of the unfolding catastrophe.

     

    However, a high toll has already been paid, as according to the National Union of Journalists, at least 16 media workers have died while performing their professional duties, nine media workers have died as a result of collateral damage and at least 54 journalists have died while serving in the armed forces.[1]

     

    At JFJ, in partnership with the National Union of Journalists in Ukraine, and with the financial support by UNESCO, we have been collecting open-source evidence and satellite imagery of attacks on media workers during the war in order to create safety recommendations (outlined below), risk assessments and HEFAT training for journalists heading to the war zone.

     

    Over the course of the project, we have obtained and processed information about 35 instances of both fatal and non-fatal attacks against media workers in Ukraine, involving at least 55 journalists from countries including Ukraine, Turkey, Czech Republic, the USA, Russia, Ireland, the UK, Italy, France, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, and Lithuania.

     

    Verified data confirms that 12 media workers have died as a result of enemy shelling. This includes six foreign journalists: Arman Soldin, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, Mantas Kvedaravičius, Pierre Zakrzewski, Oksana Baulina, Brent Renault; and four Ukrainian journalists: Oleksandra Kuvshinova, Maks Levin, Bohdan Bitik and Yevheniy Sakun.

     

    2024 has already seen two journalists and one fixer for the Turkish news agency Anadolu injured by Russian shelling on the Park Hotel in Kharkiv. Additionally, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty camera crew came under mortar fire while working on the front line.

     

    Having analysed the collected data and interviewed the victims and witnesses of these attacks, JFJ has identified the key risks journalists were facing while reporting from the war zone and developed preliminary safety recommendations for media workers covering the war in Ukraine. These recommendations do not cover all aspects of journalists’ safety, but will be useful for those who are reporting from Ukraine.

     

    While some physical attacks against media workers become public, not all cases are known. In particular, this concerns journalists working for smaller regional publications, freelancers, and fixers. While journalists working for more prominent media outlets routinely receive essential training prior to their trips to war zones, and have both access to the necessary equipment and support, the safety of freelancers and local team members is in their own hands. They often have to deal with costly expenses alone, while also assessing and mitigating their professional risks.

     

    JFJ and its partners aim to increase the safety of media workers in Ukraine by creating and maintaining a secure database of evidence related to those attacks and ensuring media workers are aware of their risk mitigation options.

     

    Safety Recommendations for Journalists

     

    • COMPLETE A HEFAT TRAINING COURSE BEFORE TRAVELLING TO THE WAR ZONE

    Completing a hostile environment and first aid training course is crucial before travelling to the conflict zone. Skills developed during this training will help media workers learn more about the basics of safety; how to conduct a risk assessment; how to act in dangerous situations, and potentially save their fellow crew members’ lives. Even if you are a well-trained journalist and have a lot of experience covering conflicts, because all wars are unique it is essential to refresh these skills every year.

     

    • CONDUCT RISK ASSESSMENT BEFORE TRAVELLING

    Conducting preliminary risk assessment and developing a specific risk protocol prior to travelling to the war zone should be mandatory for all media workers in conflict zones. It is vital to understand the specificities of the regional context, including tactics, combat uniforms and weapons used by both sides.

     

    While planning the route, informing your colleagues or management about your whereabouts is key. Remember the safety basics, i.e., avoid using the same entrance and exit roads while planning your route.

     

    • CONDUCT LOCAL RECONNAISSANCE

    While on assignment, keep in touch with locals to keep up to date with what is happening in the area you plan on travelling to. Do not rely on outdated information, even if it is just a couple of days old. In the area of direct combat operations, get new information as often as possible.

     

    When visiting an unknown area, conduct a preliminary terrain analysis. Never rely on technology, learn to read physical maps, and navigate the terrain without the help of gadgets whose signals can be tracked.

     

    • CHOOSE ACCOMMODATION CAREFULLY

    Evidence shows that the Russian military targets hotels favoured by international and Ukrainian media representatives. When choosing your accommodation, try to avoid hotels that could become a target of such an attack. Avoid staying close to administrative buildings, railway junctions, warehouses and other strategic objects that can be targeted. The best option, when possible, is to rent a flat discreetly. Regular safety considerations should not be forgotten: the building should not be tall and should have an easy escape route in the case of attack. Familiarise yourself with all the entrances and emergency exits in advance.

     

    • PROTECTIVE GEAR

    A journalist must be fully equipped with protective gear on the frontline, including a bulletproof vest and protective helmet with the inscription “PRESS”. Avoid wearing military-style clothing as there is a significant risk of being confused with military personnel.

     

    • MARK AND PREPARE YOUR VEHICLE

    Marking the car with a “PRESS” inscription is vital. Do not go for options like “TV” as in Ukraine it might be read as “V”, which is used by the Russian Armed Forces. In case of a drone attack, the usual “PRESS” sign can be hardly visible. Consider using polyvinyl magnets, which are easy to apply and remove. The marking should be large and visible on all sides of the car: on the front, on both sides, and on the roof.

     

    To avoid being identified as military personnel and becoming a target, avoid marking your car with any signs associated with the military (such as yellow tape, white crosses, etc.), even if this is suggested by the local armed forces.

     

    Ensure that the car is in good condition and has spare wheels, as well as other necessary tools for emergency repairs.

     

    • BEWARE OF SWITCHING CARS

    Make sure your vehicle always has clear “PRESS” markings. Try to avoid changing vehicles, and do not get in a car with unknown people or military personnel, who can be targeted by the opposing military. Be careful when using taxis to travel to dangerous areas. Ensure that your driver fully understands the risks; will not abandon the crew in case of an attack; and has the necessary spare parts for the vehicle in case of an emergency.

     

    • HAVE ADDITIONAL CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION

    Never rely on technology while in the conflict zone. If you are a journalist working for a media outlet, try to obtain a satellite phone. This can often be costly for freelance journalists who can use a cheaper alternative, like a satellite navigator. Always have a backup plan if the technology fails.

     

    Remember that both sides use electronic warfare equipment near the combat zone, while mobile gadgets may not work properly or provide unreliable GPS navigation data. Avoid using your GPS in a combat zone unless you have no other means to determine your location.

     

    For more information, please see – https://jfj.fund/

     

    Maria Ordzhonikide is Director of the Justice for Journalists Foundation and a member of FPC Advisory Council.

     

    Valeriya Chudarova is the Research Manager at the Justice for Journalists Foundation.

     

    [1]NSJU, List of journalists who have died since the beginning of full-scale Russian aggression (updated), February 2024, https://nsju.org/novini/arman-soldin-stav-14-ym-mediapraczivnykom-shho-zagynuv-pry-vykonanni-profesijnyh-obovyazkiv/

     

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

    Footnotes
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      War in Ukraine: The ongoing conflict has provided growing strategic opportunities for GCC states

      Article by Drewery Dyke

      February 28, 2024

      War in Ukraine: The ongoing conflict has provided growing strategic opportunities for GCC states

      Heading into the third year of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Gulf Arab states – the six states comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – continue to maintain an intentional ambiguity regarding their stances in relation to the governments of Russia and Ukraine in respect to the ongoing conflict, rejecting the dichotomous pro/anti Russia/West stance.

       

      No GCC state has categorically backed either party to the conflict. Instead they have, mainly via Saudi Arabia and the UAE, sought to operationalise the conflict for their own objectives, opting, in general, for an increasingly multipolar diplomatic and security stance. As the Ukraine war does not constitute a direct threat to the Gulf’s security or political interests, broadly, engagement has adhered to carefully formulated policy objectives.

       

      Each GCC state has carried its own nuanced perspective into bilateral relations with the parties to the conflict: Qatar, subject to a regionally-imposed blockade between 2017-2021; and Kuwait, occupied by Iraq in 1990-1991, both initially appeared sympathetic to Ukraine.[1] Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, arguably initially appeared to give Russia considerable political leeway, possibly on account of its role in OPEC+ or since these Gulf states have provided a safe haven for Russian capital facing widespread western sanctions.[2] The conflict also enabled Saudi Arabia to distract and expunge residual western concerns over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate. Collectively, however, the conflict has presented opportunities for economic, security and diplomatic diversification.

       

      This has been bolstered by their economic situation: the collapse of oil prices in 2014 adversely impacted on Gulf states’ budgets, exacerbating aspects of their domestic challenges.[3] Yet since Gulf states possess nearly 40% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 23% of proven natural gas reserves, Europe’s sudden diversion away from Russian sources had an immediate impact. According to a January 2024 report, the conflict resulted in around a 50% increase in oil prices.[4] Gas prices increased tenfold in the months following the invasion, falling to a threefold increase towards the end of year one.[5]

       

      The resulting pivot away from Russian energy sources toward Gulf sources underscored the centrality of the Gulf to the UK and much of Europe’s energy security.[6] It bolstered Gulf self-confidence as well as political leverage amidst a period of doubt by Gulf states about the primacy of security relations with a seemingly unreliable United States (US) following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and apparent US inaction following the 2019 and March 2022 Houthi attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, including on the Gulf.[7]

       

      While, in broad terms, US staying-power appears to have ebbed over the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, Gulf caution remains predicated on the US military presence in the region and it is still the case that “GCC’s economies remain strongly tied to the US, as their currencies are pegged to the dollar and the global sale of oil is conducted in that currency.”[8]

       

      Yet growing multipolar economic relations presage diplomatic ones: In 2017, the People’s Republic of China surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest crude oil importer; in 2022, Saudi Arabia was China’s top supplier of oil – later overtaken by Russia.[9] Perhaps commensurate with this economic orientation, in March 2023, exemplifying Gulf states’ increasingly confident diplomatic diversification and shaking up of engagement with great powers, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China issued a joint trilateral statement. This statement declared their “agreement to resume diplomatic relations between [Iran and China] and re-open their embassies and missions […] and [that] the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states.[10] A June 2023 assessment stated that “China’s growing clout poses a challenge to America’s long-held political and diplomatic influence in the region”, but it overlooked that it was also a decision taken by Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran.[11]

       

      The Ukraine war has provided Gulf states a two year opportunity to learn-by-doing as well as extend their own influence. In March 2022 – only a month after the invasion -Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a surprise virtual appearance at the Doha Forum and called on Qatar to “contribute to stabilizing the situation in Europe” and “increase energy production to make Russia understand that no state should use energy as a weapon and to blackmail the world.[12]

       

      In 2023, GCC states – mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE – built on this engagement:

      – In February 2023, the GCC and US re-activated the US-Gulf Cooperation Council Working Groups on Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Maritime Security.[13]

      – Also in February, reflecting a cautious, measured policy approach, the “UAE cancelled the branch licence for Russia’s MTS Bank, the target of British and US sanctions.”[14]

      – In March came the Chinese-led Saudi Arabia- Iran agreement, when Saudi Arabia also joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Chinese-led Asian security and economic bloc, with the status of dialogue partner.[15]

      – In May, on invitation, President Zelenskiy addressed a meeting of the Arab League, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.[16]

      – In June, while western figures avoided the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, the UAE’s President, Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan nevertheless attended: UAE-Russia trade increased 63% between January to September 2023.[17]

      – In June and September, the GCC and the US convened ministerial-level meetings.[18] In early August at an event convened by Saudi Arabia, “representatives from over 40 countries gathered […] to discuss Ukraine’s plan to bring its protracted war with Russia to an end. The summit included high-level delegations from the United States, the European Union, China, India, and dozens of other states—and conspicuously did not include any officials from Russia, who were not invited.[19] The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the summit a “breakthrough”.[20]

      – In the same month, the UAE sent a ship carrying 250 tons of relief aid to Ukraine. In early December 2023, Vladimir Putin visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia and held discussions with President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, respectively.[21] With both, Russia sought to engage their counterparts in relation to bilateral cooperation in trade and investment; on 10 December, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, undertook a virtual engagement at the Doha Forum, where he gave a bullish account of the Ukraine conflict, appearing to appeal to the ‘global south’.[22]

      – In late 2023, the UAE brokered a high-profile Ukraine-Russia prisoner swap, following on from a similar exchange that the UAE and Saudi had supported in 2022, deepening their experience of working with both sides to the conflict.[23]

       

      Has the Ukraine war offered only opportunity? No, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are nevertheless apprehensive about Russia’s engagement with Iran in respect to technology transfers in the arms sector between Iran and Russia, particularly in respect to precision missiles and drones.[24] Recalling observations made by Professor Simon Mabon in February 2023, even in the Gulf, food security remains a concern.[25] Recent Yemen-based Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea has also raised Gulf concern about the vulnerability of global supply chains and the impact of inflation, notably on food prices.

       

      Heading into the third year of the Ukraine war, while it may still be a bit premature to assert that “Persian Gulf States May Be the Best Mediators for Peace in Ukraine” on account of the links they have assiduously maintained with both sides, they have, broadly, grasped opportunities, gained experience and expanded their strategic knowledge, depth and perhaps, above all, diffidence.[26]

       

      It is the case that “Ukraine war shows [the] soft power of the Gulf states”.[27] As Kristian Coates Ulrichsen forecast in April 2023, “Ties with long-established security and defense partners, such as the United States, will continue along issue-specific and transactional lines but may not be regarded as exclusive of developing other relationships […]”[28] And GCC leaders will continue “to stay out of any confrontation that may occur and minimize the regional overspill. To the extent that any global uncertainty is likely to keep oil prices at elevated levels, the region’s energy producers will accrue economic leverage and reinforce their self-perception as influential middle powers.

       

      The war in Ukraine has enabled GCC states and their leaders to grow, learn and gradually, purposefully, extend their reach and influence. A UK still working out the impact of Brexit; with its own, deep ties to the Gulf as well as long-standing security links, must re-assess and re-calibrate its own relationship to the region and how to balance Gulf stances with its own.

       

      Drewery Dyke is a FPC Senior Research Fellow.

       

      [1] Giorgio Cafiero, Where has the Ukraine Conflict Left Gulf States? , Italian Institute for International Political Studies / Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI), February 2023, https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/where-has-the-ukraine-conflict-left-gulf-states-116712

      [2] Eugene Chausovsky, Persian Gulf States May Be the Best Mediators for Peace in Ukraine, Foreign Policy, February 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/02/09/persian-gulf-states-mediators-peace-ukraine-russia-west/#:~:text=This%20points%20to%20the%20unique,them%20leverage%20with%20the%20West; See: “The Gulf states have actually increased their own imports of Russian oil since the conflict began, using cheaper oil from Russia for domestic use while increasing exports of their own oil to Europe [and] GCC states have also resisted alienating Moscow from OPEC+”. It comprises “a loose grouping of energy producers that includes OPEC members as well as other countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, South Sudan, and Sudan” and coordinate members’ oil supplies, even after the invasion. For example, in October 2022 “they agreed to cut production against the wishes of the Biden administration.

      [3] Office for Budget Responsibility, Why have oil prices fallen by so much?, Box sets >> Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2015, Box: 2.1, Page 27, https://obr.uk/box/why-have-oil-prices-fallen-by-so-much/#:~:text=During%20the%20second%20half%20of,our%20economic%20and%20fiscal%20forecasts.

      [4] Qi Zhang, Yi Hu, Jianbin Jiao & Shouyang Wang, The impact of Russia–Ukraine war on crude oil prices: an EMC framework, Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume 11, Article number: 8 (2024), January 2024, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-023-02526-9#:~:text=In%20other%20words%2C%20the%20Russia,%2C%20an%20increase%20of%2056.33%25. They state that “[…] the Russia–Ukraine war caused the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices to rise by $37.14, an increase of 52.33%, while Brent crude oil prices rose by $41.49, an increase of 56.33%.”

      [5] Energy and Climate intelligence Unit, The Cost of Gas since the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, February 2023, https://ca1-eci.edcdn.com/Cost-of-Gas-since-Russian-invasion-ECIU-briefing-Feb-23.pdf?v=1676929286

      [6] For just one example, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, EU countries received almost 40% of their gas from Russia. In October 2023, QatarEnergy agreed to supply Netherlands-based Shell for 27 years, mirroring an agreement the same company concluded with France-based TotalEnergies, also in October 2023, constituting Qatar’s largest and most enduring gas supply agreements with EU states. See: Yousef Saba, Qatar supplies gas to Europe, vying with US to replace Russia supply, Reuters, October 2023, https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/qatarenergy-shell-agree-27-year-lng-supply-2023-10-18/

      [7] Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), Beyond Riyadh: Houthi Cross-Border Aerial Warfare 2015-2022, January 2023, https://acleddata.com/about-acled/. ACLED noted, in the introduction, that “on 25 March 2022, the Houthis launched a large-scale attack on Saudi Arabia using a combination of loitering munitions, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. This coordinated attack targeted oil refineries and energy infrastructure across Saudi territory, from Asir to the Eastern Province, and even threatened the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah.

      [8] Dr Diana Galeeva, Ukraine war shows soft power of the Gulf states, Arab News, September 2023, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2365801

      [9] United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest crude oil importer in 2017, December 2018, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=37821; Aljazeera, Russia overtakes Saudi Arabia as China’s top oil supplier / Chinese imports of Russian oil rise by nearly one-quarter from the same period in 2022, March 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/3/20/russia-overtakes-saudi-arabia-as-chinas-top-oil-supplier#:~:text=Imports%20of%20Saudi%20crude%20totalled,equivalent%20to%201.75%20million%20bpd

      [10] Embassy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Sweden, Joint Trilateral Statement by the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, March 2023, http://se.china-embassy.gov.cn/eng/zgxw_0/202303/t20230311_11039241.htm

      [11] Amrita Jash, Saudi-Iran Deal: A Test Case of China’s Role as an International Mediator, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs / Conflict & Security, June 2023, https://gjia.georgetown.edu/2023/06/23/saudi-iran-deal-a-test-case-of-chinas-role-as-an-international-mediator/#:~:text=Overall%2C%20in%20its%20current%20form,to%20sustain%20the%20manufactured%20peace. The article also noted that in August 2022, “Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, signed a memorandum of understanding with its Chinese counterpart, Sinopec, covering multiple areas of potential collaboration between the parties in Saudi Arabia. The other joint ventures between the two companies include Fujian Refining and Petrochemical Company (FREP) and Sinopec Senmei Petroleum Company (SSPC) in China, and Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company (YASREF) in Saudi Arabia.

      [12] The Cradle, Zelensky makes surprise address to Doha Forum amid GCC split between Washington, Moscow The Ukrainian president is the latest western envoy to try his hand at convincing GCC countries to increase oil production, March 2022, https://thecradle.co/articles/zelensky-makes-surprise-address-to-doha-forum-amid-gcc-split-between-washington-moscow

      [13] US Department of Defense, Readout of the New Round of U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Working Groups on Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Maritime Security, February 2023, https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/3298553/readout-of-the-new-round-of-us-gulf-cooperation-council-working-groups-on-integ/#:~:text=The%20United%20States%20and%20GCC,the%20GCC%2DU.S.%20Strategic%20Partnership

      [14] Dr Diana Galeev, Ukraine war shows soft power of the Gulf states, Arab News, September 2023, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2365801

      [15] Ibid.

      [16] Giorgio Cafiero, Why Saudi Arabia, Arab League invited Zelenskyy to their summit / Ukraine’s president and Arab nations might not seem like a natural fit, but they both had their reasons for extending and accepting invitation, Aljazeera, May 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/23/why-saudi-arabia-arab-league-invited-zelenskyy-to-their-summit

      [17] Andrew Roth and Pjotr Sauer, Western firms snub ‘Russian Davos’ as its prestige evaporates / Annual event headlined by Vladimir Putin described as ‘totally toxic’ since full-scale invasion of Ukraine, The Guardian, June 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jun/15/western-firms-snub-russian-davos-prestige-evaporates

      [18] See, for example, US Department of State, Joint Statement Following the Ministerial Meeting of the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), September 2023, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-following-the-ministerial-meeting-of-the-united-states-and-the-gulf-cooperation-council-gcc-2/

      [19] Ambassador William Roebuck, Saudi-Hosted Ukraine Event Ends Without Breakthrough but Still Irritates Absent Russia, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW), August 2023, https://agsiw.org/saudi-hosted-ukraine-event-ends-without-breakthrough-but-still-irritates-absent-russia/

      [20] Eugene Chausovsky, Global South Pivot: Ukraine’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Gulf, Gulf International Forum, https://gulfif.org/global-south-pivot-ukraines-diplomatic-strategy-in-the-gulf/

      [21] President of Russia (website – note: site is not secure) – On December 6, Vladimir Putin will pay working visits to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, December 2023, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/72913

      [22] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation – Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the 21th Doha Forum, December 2023, https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1920028/

      [23] Eugene Chausovsky, Global South Pivot: Ukraine’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Gulf, Gulf International Forum, https://gulfif.org/global-south-pivot-ukraines-diplomatic-strategy-in-the-gulf/; Agence France Presse (AFP), in the Moscow Times, Russia, Ukraine Swap Hundreds of Prisoners in UAE Brokered Deal, January 2024, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2024/01/04/russia-ukraine-swap-hundreds-of-prisoners-in-uae-brokered-deal-a83637

      [24] Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, The Russia-Ukraine War and the Impact on the Persian Gulf States, Project Muse, Asia Policy, Volume 18, Number 2, April 2023, pp. 39-46 (Article), https://muse.jhu.edu/article/893919/pdf

      [25] Professor Simon Mabon, One year on: The reverberations of the war in the Middle East, Foreign Policy Centre, February 2023, https://fpc.org.uk/one-year-on-the-reverberations-of-the-war-in-the-middle-east/

      [26] Eugene Chausovsky, Persian Gulf States May Be the Best Mediators for Peace in Ukraine, Foreign Policy, February 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/02/09/persian-gulf-states-mediators-peace-ukraine-russia-west/#:~:text=This%20points%20to%20the%20unique,them%20leverage%20with%20the%20West

      [27] Dr Diana Galeeva, Ukraine war shows soft power of the Gulf states, Arab News, September 2023, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2365801

      [28] Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, The Russia-Ukraine War and the Impact on the Persian Gulf States, Project Muse, Asia Policy, Volume 18, Number 2, April 2023, pp. 39-46 (Article), https://muse.jhu.edu/article/893919/pdf

       

      Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

      Footnotes
        Related Articles

        Legal impasse or excuse for inaction? The state of play in the efforts to seize oligarchs’ assets

        Article by Dr Maria Nizzero and Oksana Ihnatenko

        February 26, 2024

        Legal impasse or excuse for inaction? The state of play in the efforts to seize oligarchs’ assets

        In the two years since Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine, policymakers in the Western block have made big statements of their intention to seize Russian oligarchic wealth in their countries. Sanctions were rolled out quickly to freeze assets. It was thought that their confiscation would come just as nimbly.

         

        Experts were, however, quick to point out that confiscation was going to be an uphill and lengthy battle.[1] The most obvious solution, devising a new mechanism that would allow the seizure of sanctioned assets within the boundaries of the law and in full respect of human rights, needed time and skilled researchers. However, political interest, and with it funding for research, ran out quickly.

         

        Despite this, proposals on how to break the deadlock on asset recovery have been made. First, it was suggested to focus on sanctions evasion as a short-term route for confiscation, albeit with limited scope, given it would only allow for confiscation where sanctions evasion is proved.[2] Supporting this approach, in early February this year, the UK government announced new reporting obligations for sanctioned individuals to disclose their UK assets, making it easier to tackle sanctions evasion attempts.[3] It is a little early to claim victory, but it’s a step in the right direction. Still, the UK response remains far from ideal. While confiscations have started appearing in the US, the UK’s Combatting Kleptocracy Cell is yet to announce a high-profile case.[4]

         

        Upgrading the overall asset recovery response is also required.[5] After all, the oligarchs’ wealth has notoriously been amassed through corrupt practices. Enhancing the ability to recover the proceeds of crime would be a sensible move. Two Economic Crime Acts later, one of which included amendments to the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) regime, no significant case has been initiated against any high-level sanctioned kleptocrat, and law enforcement remains largely under-resourced to meet the challenge.

         

        With sanctions and asset recovery not doing the trick, a voluntary donation route has been proposed. But even there, rhetoric and reality mismatched. Last June, the UK Government promised a route for sanctioned oligarchs to donate their frozen funds for Ukrainian reconstruction.[6] Since then, neither the route, nor an oligarch offering to donate has appeared. Even the much-anticipated sale of Chelsea FC, the result of an agreement between Abramovich and the UK Government, has stalled – provoking the ire of the House of Lords.[7]

         

        While the UK has taken every opportunity for inaction, Ukraine has kept itself busy. As a country at war, Ukraine has developed and employed three distinct mechanisms for asset seizure: confiscation via sanctions, forcible seizure of objects of property rights of the Russian Federation and its residents, and confiscation within the criminal proceeding framework.[8] The forcible seizure mechanism is currently being applied against the financial assets of Ukrainian subsidiaries of bank Sberbank.[9] Meanwhile, the High Anti-Corruption Court has issued 34 decisions on seizure of the assets of Russian oligarchs.[10] Ukraine’s confiscation mechanisms may potentially result in contested cases in international arbitration. They also represent an exceptional scenario, given Ukraine is currently under martial law. However, they are a good reminder of the benefit that recovered assets could bring to Ukraine’s cause.

         

        It seems that it is not just the oligarchs’ assets that are frozen in limbo; the Western asset recovery response is too. If at the beginning the legal difficulties of moving ‘from freeze to seize,’ and the lack of understanding of the issue by policymakers, could be blamed, now these seem just an excuse for inaction. Western governments had all the opportunities to act. Whether by tackling sanctions evasion, funding research to develop new legislation, strengthening existing asset recovery mechanisms against any kind of kleptocratic wealth, or encouraging voluntary donations to materialise – the options to confiscate these assets are many.

         

        In the words of the House of Lords, this ‘reflects poorly’ on Western governments, and the UK in particular.[11] What is needed now is for rhetoric and reality to meet. Not all is lost: the sanctioned oligarchs’ pot is still there, albeit slightly depleted by their attempts to evade sanctions.

         

        The options mentioned above are all still viable and are not mutually exclusive – now it is up to governments to listen and act. This year, different countries will undergo election processes. While the focus will inevitably shift to domestic issues, it is important that support for Ukraine, and long-term commitments to sustain its reconstruction, remain high on the agenda – if oligarchs pay, taxpayers that have been supporting Ukraine will feel some relief. Despite the complexities involved, asset confiscation still stands as one of the tangible means of bolstering Ukraine’s pursuit of freedom.

         

        Maria Nizzero is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at RUSI. She is a member of the Financial Crime Policy Programme, which tracks the implementation and evolution of anti-financial crime policy both in the UK and globally.

         

        Oksana Ihnatenko is a Researcher for the SMURF project at the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at RUSI.

         

        [1] Maria Nizzero, From Freeze to Seize: How the UK Can Break the Deadlock on Asset Recovery, RUSI, October 2022, https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/freeze-seize-how-uk-can-break-deadlock-asset-recovery

        [2] Maria Nizzero, Sanctioned oligarchs should have to list their UK assets, The Times, February 2023, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sanctioned-oligarchs-should-have-to-list-their-uk-assets-lqprkw3fs

        [3] Giles Thomson, New reporting requirements for Designated Persons under the Russia Regime, Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, Gov.uk, February 2024, https://ofsi.blog.gov.uk/2024/02/12/new-reporting-requirements-for-designated-persons-under-the-russia-regime/

        [4] RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, U.S. Attorney General Allows First Transfer Of Russian Oligarch’s Confiscated Assets To Ukraine, RFE/RL, February 2023, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russia-malofeyev-transfer/32255371.html

        [5] SOC ACE Research Programme, How to Seize a Billion: Exploring Mechanisms to Recover the Proceeds of Kleptocracy, RUSI, March 2023, https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/external-publications/how-seize-billion-exploring-mechanisms-recover-proceeds-kleptocracy

        [6] FCDO, HM Treasury, Home Office, The Rt Hon Suella Braverman KC MP, The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, and The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, New legislation allows Russian sanctions to remain until compensation is paid to Kyiv, Gov.uk, June 2023, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-legislation-allows-russian-sanctions-to-remain-until-compensation-is-paid-to-kyiv

        [7] Kiran Stacey, ‘Incomprehensible’ that Abramovich’s Chelsea funds not yet spent on Ukraine, The Guardian, January 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/31/incomprehensible-roman-abramovich-chelsea-proceeds-still-not-spent-to-help-ukraine; House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Call for UK and Eu to continue support for Ukraine, and sanctions on Russia, UK Parliament, January 2024, https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/516/european-affairs-committee/news/199672/call-for-uk-and-eu-to-continue-support-for-ukraine-and-sanctions-on-russia/

        [8] The Law of Ukraine, About sanctions (Reports of the Verkhovna Rada (VVR), 2014, No.40, Article 2018), https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/1644-18#Text; The Law of Ukraine, About the main principles of forced seizure in Ukraine of objects of property rights of the Russian Federation and its residents, https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/2116-20#Text

        [9] National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Decision from May 11, 2022, https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/n0006525-22#n2

        [10] Higher Anti-Corruption Court, Decisions in administrative cases (Part 7 of Article 283-1 of the Code of Administrative Procedure of Ukraine), https://hcac.court.gov.ua/hcac/gromadyanam/administrative_judgments

        [11] House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Call for UK and EU to continue support for Ukraine, and sanctions on Russia, UK Parliament, January 2024, https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/516/european-affairs-committee/news/199672/call-for-uk-and-eu-to-continue-support-for-ukraine-and-sanctions-on-russia/

         

        Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

        Footnotes
          Related Articles

          Two years on: The importance of protecting the media and winning the informational frontline in Ukraine

          Article by Sergiy Tomilenko

          February 23, 2024

          Two years on: The importance of protecting the media and winning the informational frontline in Ukraine

          The Ukrainian army has been holding the Russian aggressor off for two years already. In its desire to destroy Ukraine at any cost, the Kremlin has spared neither its missiles nor its soldiers. Moreover, Putin has also spared no resources to fight on the parallel informational front, in order that the world receives distorted information about his crimes.

           

          Once Russian soldiers have seized a new piece of our land, the propaganda machine immediately begins to inundate local residents with Russian-printed newspapers. At the same time, the enemy often resorts to falsifications, including using the names of Ukrainian local media, so that people believe more in what they read.

           

          Today, it has become common practice that a journalist with the inscription ‘PRESS’ on his body armor is a target no less important than a tank or artillery unit for a Russian soldier. Ukrainian and international journalists document the war crimes of the Russians so that, thanks to the international court, Putin will be brought to justice.

           

          Unfortunately, more than 80 journalists have already been killed in Ukraine, and the fate of several more is unknown. Of that number, 16 colleagues were killed while performing their professional duties; nine became civilian victims of the aggressor state, and others have been mobilised to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). Journalists who reveal the truth about the war in Ukraine to the whole world understand their extremely important mission.

           

          While the Russians convince the world that their targets are only military facilities, Ukrainian and international journalists show the world destroyed cities with civilians. Currently, a critical situation has developed in the thousand-strong town of Avdiyivka, Donetsk Region. The city has almost been destroyed.

           

          Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who continue to live in the front-line and de-occupied territories remain in an information vacuum. They have neither electricity supply nor communication. Sometimes, Russian or Belarusian radio reaches their territory.

           

          Therefore, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) is doing everything possible to find funding for Ukrainian newspapers. Today, thanks to the cooperation of the Union and international partners, we have resumed the work of 30 newspapers in the front-line and de-occupied territories. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and the Kharkiv Regions are now able to obtain information from Ukrainian sources.

           

          Since the beginning of the war, the NUJU, together with UNESCO, has also launched six assistance centers for Ukrainian and international journalists, where they can receive protective equipment, advice, and/or use an equipped workplace in a co-working space. Due to the constant danger to the work of journalists in Kharkiv, we recently opened the Journalists’ Solidarity Center. There, hundreds of colleagues receive both protective equipment and a place where they can work readily and easily.

           

          Two full years have passed since the full-scale invasion. The war continues. The world is increasingly talking about fatigue. Ukrainians are also tired. But evil does not exhaust… and so we must continue.

           

          Support Ukraine. Support Ukrainians! Support journalists who fight injustice. Journalists are important!

           

          Sergiy Tomilenko is the President of the National Union of journalists of Ukraine.

           

          Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

          Footnotes
            Related Articles

            Two years on: Breaking the cycle of impunity for Russian war crimes

            Article by Oleksandra Matviichuk

            Two years on: Breaking the cycle of impunity for Russian war crimes

            The full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a result of the total impunity that Russia enjoyed for decades. The Russian military has committed terrible crimes in Chechnya, Moldova, Georgia, Syria, Mali, and Libya but was never punished. They believe they can do whatever they want.

             

            Now, Russian troops are destroying residential buildings, churches, museums, schools, and hospitals in Ukraine. They are shooting at evacuation corridors. They are torturing people in filtration camps. They are forcibly taking Ukrainian children to Russia. They are abducting, robbing, raping and killing in the occupied territories.

             

            This is a conscious policy. Russia uses war crimes as a method of warfare. Russia attempts to break people’s resistance and occupy the country by means of inflicting immense pain on civilians. At the Centre for Civil Liberties, we document this pain. Over the past two years alone, with the joint efforts of the ‘Tribunal for Putin’ initiative, we have documented 62,000 episodes of war crimes.

             

            However, we face an accountability gap. The Ukrainian legal system is overloaded with an extreme level of war crime cases. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court restricts its investigations to just a few selected cases and has no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression to hold Russia to account for its actions against Ukraine.

             

            If we want to prevent wars, we have to punish the states, and their leaders, responsible for starting them. In the whole history of humankind, we have only one such precedent.

             

            That’s why we still look at the world through the lens of the Nuremberg Trials, where Nazi war criminals were tried only after the Nazi regime had collapsed. But we are living in a new century. Justice should not depend on how and when the war ends. We must establish a special tribunal now and hold Putin, as well as Belarussian President Lukashenko and others, guilty of the crime of aggression, accountable.

             

            Besides the crime of aggression, there are other international crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. These crimes should not have to remain as simply information stored in our archives, in the media, and in reports of international organisations.

             

            New technologies allow us to document war crimes in a way that we could not even dream of 15 years ago. The experience of the open source media outlet Bellingcat and other investigators convincingly proves that we can rebuild a picture of what took place without even being on the spot.

             

            The challenge facing Ukraine is the unprecedented amount of international crimes. The Office of General Prosecutor has registered more than 125,000 criminal proceedings. International donors can finance thousands of training and hundreds of advisors; but in a situation where Ukrainian investigators need to investigate more than a thousand criminal cases simultaneously, we will not get results.

             

            Instead, we must ingrain an international element into the level of national investigation and national justice. Ukraine requires the support of foreign professionals, judges, prosecutors and detectives, in order to properly investigate and ensure court proceedings for the tens of thousands of crimes, in compliance with international standards of justice.

             

            We must break this circle of impunity. Not only for Ukrainians. But also for the people who could become the next target of Russian aggression. And prevent it this time.

             

            Oleksandra Matviichuk is the Head of the human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties, which won the Nobel Peace Prize 2022.

             

            Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

            Footnotes
              Related Articles

              Two years on: in the face of continued Russian aggression, Moldova is navigating its path towards the West

              Article by Iulian Groza

              February 22, 2024

              Two years on: in the face of continued Russian aggression, Moldova is navigating its path towards the West

              Two years have elapsed since Russia initiated its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, yet the reverberations persist across the European continent. Moldova, standing among the most affected states after Ukraine, grapples with the enduring repercussions of Russia’s hybrid aggression.

               

              Amidst these challenges, Moldova has showcased a resilient spirit and an unwavering commitment to fortify its defenses, secure its future, and advance on its path to becoming a member of the European Union (EU). The national aspiration, as set by President Maia Sandu, is for Moldova to be prepared to join by 2030.

               

              In April 2023, the EU reaffirmed its support for Moldova by deploying the EU Partnership Mission (EUPM), signaling a robust commitment to bolster the country’s crisis management structures and ability to combat hybrid threats, including cyber warfare and foreign information manipulation. Moldova’s embrace of this collaborative initiative underscores its determination to safeguard its sovereignty in the face of external pressures and fortify its ties with European allies.

               

              The adoption of Moldova’s new National Security Strategy in December 2023 marked a pivotal moment in the country’s security agenda. President Sandu’s vision for Moldova prioritises strengthening democracy, fostering prosperity, and ensuring the protection of all citizens through a modern security sector. Central to this vision is the imperative of building resilience to hybrid threats and modernising Moldova’s armed forces and civil security sector. The strategic partnership with the EU emerges as a cornerstone for comprehensive security enhancement, encompassing economic, energy, cyber, and environmental dimensions.

               

              In 2023, Moldova faced escalating hybrid aggression from Russia, including attempts to undermine the country’s democratic process. Kremlin-backed forces sought to manipulate Moldova’s local elections, prompting decisive action to preserve the integrity of the country’s democratic institutions. The resilience displayed in the face of external interference underscores Moldova’s commitment to upholding democratic values and protecting its national sovereignty.

               

              Supported by the EU, the United States, and other Western allies, Moldova has made significant strides towards economic resilience and energy independence. By reducing its dependency on Russian gas, Moldova has charted a path towards self-reliance and sustainability, mitigating vulnerabilities to external pressures and advancing its integration into European networks.

               

              As Moldova continues on its European path, the forthcoming constitutional referendum initiated by President Sandu will determine the country’s strategic objective of EU accession, solidifying Moldova’s commitment to becoming a member of the EU in the next decade. The overwhelming support for European integration reflects the Moldovan people’s aspirations for prosperity, stability, and security within the European family of nations. The referendum, slated to coincide with presidential elections, symbolises a pivotal moment in securing the country’s future within the Western democratic fold.

               

              Two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moldova stands as a testament to resilience and determination. As Moldova charts a path towards a brighter future, its resilience serves as an inspiration for nations striving to uphold democratic values and principles in the face of adversity.

               

              Iulian Groza is an expert in international relations, European affairs and good governance. He is a former Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova in charge for European integration and international law. Currently, Groza leads the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE) – a Moldovan think-tank that aims at supporting Moldova’s accession to the EU. Since 2022, Groza is representing Moldovan civil society in the Supreme Security Council and the National Committee for European Integration chaired by the President of the Republic of Moldova. He holds a University Degree in Law. He also did postgraduate European Studies at Birmingham University and NATO Security Studies at SNSPA in Bucharest. He is fluent in English, Russian and Romanian (native) languages. Groza is a career diplomat and holds a diplomatic rank of Minister-Counsellor. He is also an FCO Chevening Scholar.

               

              Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

              Footnotes
                Related Articles

                Two years on: Business as usual in a new geopolitical reality?

                Article by Dr. Aijan Sharshenova

                Two years on: Business as usual in a new geopolitical reality?

                Two years into the full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine, Central Asia finds itself under slightly less pressure to take sides. It seems that both Russia and the West have finally accepted Central Asian republics’ reluctance to unequivocally support one side over another and have left them to be ‘neutral’ on the matter. Nevertheless, it is possible to trace some direct and indirect impacts of the war on Central Asian society, politics and economics.

                 

                In the external political domain, international politics is still a dynamic balancing act for Central Asia. The republics’ leaders have to continue cooperating with Russia without alienating the rest of the world.[1] Secondary sanctions remain a very real threat, but the extent to which this threat provides strong leverage is questionable given the limited trade the region has with the European Union (EU) and the USA, the key driving forces behind anti-Russian sanctions.[2]

                 

                In terms of economic development, there has certainly been a reinvigoration of Russian-Central Asian economic relations, but there also exists a continuous danger that Russia’s war economy might result in an economic crisis domestically, which might have a ripple effect impacting on Central Asia too.

                 

                In the regional political domain, the war in Ukraine has become a part of everyday news. As each country in the region grapples with their own internal political struggles, energy and food security issues, the war is not something that stays at the top of the agenda.

                 

                However, those in the region face another issue connected to the ongoing conflict, that is – the growing level of disinformation and misinformation. As a region where Russian is either the second or third most-frequently used language, any Russian-language information about the war finds its way into the Central Asian information spaces. And, this is not necessarily limited to the war in Ukraine only – Russian conspiracy theories of any kind spread freely via social media platforms.

                 

                Central Asian governments have adapted their narratives and policies to make the most of the current geopolitical situation, seeking benefits from all parties involved and avoiding any negative repercussions through a declared neutrality. To what extent this neutrality is genuine is difficult to assess due to the closed nature of the states. What the majority of the region’s population thinks about the war is even more obscure as reliable public opinion polls are still lacking two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine.

                 

                Dr Aijan Sharshenova is a FPC Research Fellow.

                 

                [1] Aijan Sharshenova, Understanding Russia’s Central Asia policy, Crossroads Central Asia, September 2023, https://crossroads-ca.org/understanding-russia-s-central-asia-policy/

                [2] Filippo Costa Buranelli, Central Asia and Secondary Sanctions: The Tight Rope of Compliance, ISPI, November 2023, https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/central-asia-and-secondary-sanctions-the-tight-rope-of-compliance-151442

                 

                Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

                Footnotes
                  Related Articles

                  Two years on: The war has left the OSCE in peril, but the institution is worthy of reinvestment

                  Article by Prof Stefan Wolff

                  Two years on: The war has left the OSCE in peril, but the institution is worthy of reinvestment

                  As the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine heads into its third year, the Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic security orders remain deeply unsettled, and there is little prospect of their imminent restabilisation. This is nowhere more obvious than in relation to the OSCE—the sole remaining, yet barely surviving collective security mechanism created at the height of the Cold War with a view to managing relations between East and West in ways that would avoid all-out military confrontation.

                   

                  Last year’s Ministerial Council avoided the complete collapse of the Organisation, but only just. And it did not resolve several of the fundamental institutional impasses that have been apparent for some time. This includes a lack of a unified budget since 2021, and hence an increasing dependency on so-called extra-budgetary contributions from individual participating States. The top-four positions in the OSCE, including the Secretary General, have only been extended for nine months, rather than the customary three years, thus foreshadowing the next leadership crisis in the run-up to the expiry of this briefly extended lifeline.

                   

                  All the while OSCE staff in Vienna and in the field operations from the Balkans to Moldova, and Central Asia have worked hard to keep the Organisation going and its mission—comprehensive, cooperative security—alive. Beyond the headlines of the Ukraine war, their day-to-day efforts make real contributions to security and stability across the OSCE area. In their work, they address the broader security needs of states and societies including when it comes to protracted conflicts and instability in Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and the South Caucasus; emerging security risks, such as the climate emergency, natural resource scarcity (particularly water), new patterns of migration, and the aggravation of food and energy security problems; and the risks that disinformation poses to social cohesion and societal stability.

                   

                  The OSCE is not the mechanism to ‘fix’ any one of these problems on its own, but if its participating States would muster the requisite political will, the Organisation could certainly make a meaningful contribution to their management—because it (still) has the tools, staff, and institutional knowledge and understanding to do so. With some modest investment of political and financial resources, early-warning and early-action capabilities could be upgraded, allowing the OSCE to deploy its considerable mediation and dialogue facilitation capabilities on the ground to prevent conflict escalations.

                   

                  Similarly, when it comes to emerging security risks, the OSCE has access to know-how and expertise that can be mobilised for knowledge creation and knowledge transfer to enable affected participating States to address the risks they are facing. In relation to information security, the OSCE, especially through its field operations, could contribute to ‘restoring’ the perceived value of scientific knowledge and expertise to inform public debates and decision-making by facilitating and encouraging dialogue between the academic/think tank community and civil servants, elected representatives, and media professionals.

                   

                  None of this should detract from the importance of the war against Ukraine and the role that OSCE can play in supporting Ukraine in mitigating the consequences of Russia’s aggression. But it is important to remember that the Organisation’s continued relevance, and functionality, as a platform for dialogue among 57 participating States extends beyond this war.

                   

                  Professor Stefan Wolff is a FPC Senior Research Fellow.

                   

                  Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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                    Two years on: Proactive measures are needed to address the conflict related mental health crisis

                    Article by Prof Robert van Voren

                    February 21, 2024

                    Two years on: Proactive measures are needed to address the conflict related mental health crisis

                    The war in Ukraine has entered its third year with no end in sight. This is not surprising. The future of the Putin regime depends fully on victory and cannot survive a defeat, thus fighting will continue to the bitter end.

                     

                    For Ukraine this is a nightmare scenario. The war is nothing less than a war of destruction, with large swaths of territory totally devastated, towns eradicated, agriculture destroyed for many years to come (if for no other reason than the massive use of landmines and unexploded ordnance), and the country facing a decreased population. About one-fourth of the population are now displaced, either inside the country or abroad. The longer the war lasts, the less likely it is that people will return, and of course those who have the best prospects of building a new life abroad are those with education and knowledge of languages. At the front, the losses of personnel are immense, even though no official data is given. Those who should be on the forefront of rebuilding the country – the young men and women who believe in Ukraine and are willing to sacrifice their lives – are dying.

                     

                    Ukraine will probably emerge from this war devastated, with a greatly reduced population, a destroyed economy and a large number of traumatised people. With over one million Ukrainians under arms and more than 600,000 with front-line experience, we estimate up to 100,000 people will need long-term psychosocial support. However, veteran mental health services in Ukraine are disorganised, highly dependent on volunteers and NGOs, and it is unlikely that the country will have sufficient resources to develop a system in time. Traumatised veterans have families and live in communities, who will also suffer from the inflicted trauma.

                     

                    With millions of refugees eventually returning to Ukraine, mainly women who will have spent time in countries with greater gender balance, higher levels of domestic violence and divorce can be anticipated. Furthermore, while the Ukrainian society is still highly supportive of the military and veterans, we already see a decline. When veterans have outbursts of violence as a result of war-related trauma, this support will gradually change to stigma and fear. This does not bode well for the future.

                     

                    What Ukraine will need is a system of community-based support for those traumatised by war, both military personnel and civilians who provided the vital support at the front by providing food, care, and medical support, and who are now not eligible for any participation in services earmarked for the military. Such a system should be sustainable and based on what Ukraine can really afford, even when Western support gradually disappears and the country will be left to start the long and winding road to recovery and rebuilding a severely affected society.

                     

                    Robert van Voren is Chief Executive of the international foundation Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP, an international foundation for mental health reform. He is also Executive Director of the Andrei Sakharov Research Center for Democratic Development and Professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. Robert van Voren in an Honorary Fellow of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists and Honorary Member of the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association. He has worked in the field of human rights and mental health in Ukraine since 1990.

                     

                    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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