And our soil strategy will allow soil to get healthy, be used sustainably and receive the legal protection it needs,” he added. Under the proposal, all EU companies that export waste outside the EU should ensure that the facilities receiving their waste are subject to an independent audit showing that they manage this waste in an environmentally sound manner. By promoting the consumption of ‘deforestation-free’ products and reducing the EU’s impact on global deforestation and forest degradation, the new rules are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. Finally, tackling deforestation and forest degradation will have positive impacts on local communities, including the most vulnerable people like indigenous peoples, who rely heavily on forest ecosystems. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Commission presents tools to curb EU-driven deforestation and forest degradation

By New Europe Online/KG

From the left, Frans Timmermans, Virginijus Sinkevičius

EU Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans (L) and Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius in Brussels, November 17, 2021. With the proposals on November 17, the Commission is presenting the tools to move to a circular economy, protect nature, and raise environmental standards in the European Union and in the world. Healthy soils are the foundation for 95% of the food we eat, they host more than 25% of the biodiversity in the world, and are the largest terrestrial carbon pool on the planet. The Regulation on waste shipments further strengthens action against waste trafficking, one of the most serious forms of environmental crime as illegal shipments potentially comprise up to 30% of waste shipments worth €9.5 billion annually. “Our deforestation regulation answers citizens’ calls to minimise the European contribution to deforestation and promote sustainable consumption. The main driver of these processes is agricultural expansion linked to the commodities soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, and some of their derived products. “The deforestation and waste shipment regulations we are putting on the table are the most ambitious legislative attempts to tackle these issues worldwide ever. We also put forward a ground-breaking EU soil strategy with a strong policy agenda that sets out to grant them the same level of protection as water, marine environment and air,” he said. The Commission said it will step up dialogue with other big consumer countries and engage multilaterally to join efforts. Waste shipments to OECD countries will be monitored and can be suspended if they generate serious environmental problems in the country of destination. The Strategy calls for ensuring the same level of protection to soil that exists for water, the marine environment and air in the EU, the Commission said, adding that this will be done through a proposal by 2023 for a new Soil Health Law, following an impact assessment and broad consultation of stakeholders and Member States. Under the revised Regulation on waste shipments, the Commission delivers on the circular economy and zero pollution ambitions by proposing stronger rules on waste exports, a more efficient system for the circulation of waste as a resource and determined action against waste trafficking. Within the EU, the Commission is proposing to simplify the established procedures considerably, facilitating waste to re-enter the circular economy, without lowering the necessary level of control. The Commission proposes a new Regulation to curb EU-driven deforestation and forest degradation. The Commission noted that the Regulation sets mandatory due diligence rules for companies which want to place these commodities on the EU market with the aim to ensure that only deforestation-free and legal products are allowed on the EU market. The Strategy also mobilises the necessary societal engagement and financial resources, shared knowledge, and promotes sustainable soil management practices and monitoring, supporting the EU ambition for global action on soil. EUROPEAN UNION, 2021/EC – AUDIOVISUAL SERVICE/CLAUDIO CENTONZE

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In the framework of the European Green Deal, the EU Commission adopted on November 17 three new initiatives to curb EU-driven deforestation, as well as new rules to facilitate intra-EU waste shipments to promote circular economy and tackle the export of illegal waste and waste challenges to third countries. The Commission will use a benchmarking system to assess countries and their level of risk of deforestation and forest degradation driven by the commodities in the scope of the regulation. The proposed new rules would guarantee that the products that EU citizens buy, use and consume on the EU market do not contribute to global deforestation and forest degradation. EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said if the expects more ambitious climate and environmental policies from partners, it should stop exporting pollution and supporting deforestation itself. The new rules are also bringing waste shipments to the digital era by introducing electronic exchange of documentation. The Commission also presented a new Soil strategy to have all European soils restored, resilient, and adequately protected by 2050. “To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad,” EU Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said. Waste exports to non-OECD countries will be restricted and only allowed if third countries are willing to receive certain wastes and are able to manage them sustainably. Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the enforcement regime includes setting up an EU Waste Shipment Enforcement Group, empowering the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF to support transnational investigations by EU Member States on waste trafficking, and providing stronger rules on administrative penalties, the Commission said. New Soil Strategy
Finally, the Commission also presented on November 19 a new EU Soil Strategy – an important deliverable of the European Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 for tackling the climate and biodiversity crises. Yet, 70% of soils in the EU are not in a good condition, the Commission said, adding that the Strategy sets a framework with concrete measures for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of soils and proposes a set of voluntary and legally binding measures. This strategy aims to increase the soil carbon in agricultural land, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, and ensure that by 2050, all soil ecosystems are in a healthy condition. Our new rules to govern waste shipments will boost the circular economy and ensure that waste exports do not harm the environment or human health elsewhere. Just counting from 1990 to 2020 the world has lost lost 420 million hectares of forest – an area larger than the European Union. With these proposals, we are taking our responsibility and walking the talk by lowering our global impact on pollution and biodiversity loss. This helps to reduce the EU’s dependence on primary raw materials and supports innovation and the decarbonisation of EU industry to meet the EU’s climate objectives.

The EU will allocate a grant of €30 million to cover programmes and projects to support the implementation of the Team Europe Initiative. The initiative, backed by an initial €30 million grant from the EU budget, will strengthen the EU’s partnership with the region in areas including climate action, environmental and biodiversity protection, clean energy transition, disaster resilience, prevention of illegal logging, wildlife trafficking and air pollution, the EU Commission said. This can demonstrate the transformative power of the European Green Deal and strengthen the EU partnerships with the region. To address this challenge, this Team Europe Initiative (TEI) offers a framework for a Green Initiative in South East Asia, seeking synergies between the European Green Deal and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, promoting the joint commitment to a lasting and sustainable transformation towards circular, climate-neutral and environmentally sustainable economies and resilient ecosystems. The Initiative will be implemented both at national and regional levels in the ASEAN region. Our Green Team Europe Initiative is a ground-breaking step going forward and I am very pleased to take this step with our partners in South-East Asia,” she added. “As strategic partners, the EU and ASEAN share a joint commitment to fostering a fairer, greener, and more sustainable future,” Urpilainen said. The TEI will help ensure the continuation and strengthening of relevant regional and bilateral EU initiatives (EU-ASEAN High-level dialogue (HLD) on Environment and Climate Change, FLEGT, ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility (ACGF), etc.) and will be coordinated with all relevant Commission services and EU Delegations in the region. EUROPEAN UNION, 2021/EC – AUDIOVISUAL SERVICE/AURORE MARTIGNONI

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During the 3rd ASEAN-EU Dialogue on Sustainable Development, European Union Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen launched on November 18 a Green Team Europe Initiative in partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)/South East Asia. In support of this initiative, the entire EU external action toolbox can be mobilised: diplomacy, policy dialogue, trade policies and development cooperation including budget support, blending (EFIs) and the investments fostered under the ESFD+. South-East Asia (SEA) is among the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impacts of climate change, with five of the 20 countries most affected by climate change in SEA. This regional TEI will aim to further strengthen the positive and already strong partnership with ASEAN and give momentum to the joint commitments to implement international agreements such as the Paris Agreement, including by promoting green economic policies fostering climate action. It requires rethinking our approach to development in the context of a rapidly warming and increasingly interconnected planet. As part of the EU’s overall Green Deal diplomacy, this initiative provides the framework for coordinated green action between participating Team Europe partners (Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Romania, as well as the European Investment Bank) and ASEAN and its Member States, seeking synergies between their respective political frameworks: in particular the European Green Deal and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. In December 2020, the EU and ASEAN elevated their relations to a Strategic Partnership with ASEAN. This is only a part of the funding that Team Europe partners will mobilise in the context of this Initiative. “Building back better is about supporting our economies and creating decent employment opportunities while also addressing climate change, tackling pollution, and protecting biodiversity. The Commission said it will allocate a grant of €30 million from the Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation (NDICI) – Global Europe to cover programmes and projects to support the implementation of the Team Europe Initiative, which will be defined in the coming months. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>EU, South East Asia launch Green Team Europe Initiative to protect the environment

By New Europe Online/KG

Ville Skinnari, Jutta Urpilainen

EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen in Brussels, Belgium, November 19, 2021.

It is important for the international community, in particular the European Union, to actively support the efforts of the federal government which is committed to a democratic process. Ethiopia’s northern neighbor Sudan has taken advantage of the chaotic situation to make a land grab for part of  Ethiopia’s territory on the frontier. But it is essential that the main protagonists need to commit to respecting the need to secure a solution through a democratic process, and not by force of arms. Facebook

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Civil war has been raging in Ethiopia for over a year now, between the National Defence Forces of the Ethiopian Government, and rebel militia numbering some 250,000 fighters from the northern region of Tigray, the “TPLF”. Key infrastructure to the Tigray region needs to be repaired, and the free movement of civil society, journalists, humanitarian aid organisations and other international actors must be restored. The wreckage of a Soviet-made tank belonging to Ethiopian government forces, near the town of Humera. The first priority should be to stop the fighting, and for all parties to stop military action and cease bickering in the media. Perhaps peaceful dialogue could be facilitated by international objective and unbiased civilian observers drawn from Ethiopia’s neighbours and from the wider international family of nations? style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>The case for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia

By James Wilson
Founding Director of the International Foundation for Better Governance, a not for profit organization dedicated to promote, protect and defend the fundamental rights of citizens, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This has left a trail of death, hunger, destruction and humanitarian catastrophe in the country. The conflict has forced more than two million people from their homes, according to rough estimates 
100,000 fatalities both military and civilian. They should also condemn absolutely and without exception any attempts by the political forces involved to exploit belligerent methods which use the ammunition box rather than the ballot box to decide differences of opinion. The outcome of any dialogue about how to restructure the balance of power between the Federal Government and the regions should not be held hostage to negotiations. But once this step has been agreed upon by the protagonists, ending the civil war will require an inclusive national dialogue on how to restructure federalism in the country and resolve a dispute over sharing the political balance of power in controlling territories. This is not a question of apportioning blame or taking sides in the conflict, it is a fundamental principle that democratic governance has to take precedence in resolving the dispute. American and European efforts to bring pressure to bear on the respective parties and diplomatic manoeuvres involving the UN Security Council have failed. The ultimate losers in any civil war are the citizens of the entire country. The federal government has in fact announced plans to launch just such a dialogue. Military analysts have suggested that both parties are evenly matched in the field and that any armed confrontation is likely to end in a stalemate. They have also included former political detainees in the government structure following the June elections. Cities and territories have changed hands over the past year, as battlefield fortunes have swung first one way, then the other. The United Nations and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a bloc of East African countries, have both called for an immediate ceasefire. Recently, the TPLF has ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric making it clear that they intend to continue to seek to use military means to achieve their goals, and to refuse any peaceful dialogue. The fighting started with a pre-emptive strike by the TPLF on federal armed forces on November 3, 2020, in an attempt to seize military weapons. Their role would be to coordinate peace and reconciliation initiatives and promote the efforts needed to reconstruct areas damaged by the war. Ethiopia has already suffered more than enough through this crisis, and it is time to call off the dogs of war and bring in the emissaries of peace and reconciliation. Realistically, if there is to be any resolution to the dispute, both sides need to be forced to the conference table
For its part, the national government declared a state of national emergency on November 2 for a period of 6 months, in order to enable them to bring the situation under control. The selection of this group would need to be agreed by the main political forces. The African Union and neighbouring African states have also increasingly called for peaceful resolution of the conflict, but proposals for peace are yet to emerge. This was promptly quashed by the Ethiopian national army, and controls were introduced on telecommunications and internet use in the Tigray region, making it difficult for international journalists to establish the facts about what has happened since. The hostilities have become a source of extreme concern with the international community, worried about regional security in the unstable Horn of Africa. In essence, the dispute concerns a contest over the balance of regional power, and the inability of both sides to make the necessary compromises for a peaceful negotiated settlement that eliminates their political differences.

The Kyiv Post will rise from the ashes like Phoenix. Since 2018, however, Kivan has tried hard to curry favor with the authorities. One of them, Olena Rotari, proclaimed herself the chief editor of this version without telling Bonner or anyone else from the Kyiv Post. Venediktova and Kivan denied the opening of such cases. All Ukrainian governments have tried to stifle free speech, and all of them failed. At that time, I was not fired only due to our chief editor Brian Bonner’s efforts to preserve our editorial independence. The Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s main English-language newspaper and one of the most independent media in the country – was shut down on November 8 by its owner, Adnan Kivan. At the Kyiv Post, we used to have cups with an Albert Camus quote that reflected our newspaper’s mission. After the Kyiv Post stopped running Venediktova op-eds and published another critical story about her in September 2021, the newspaper faced pressure again. The quote read: “A free press can be good or bad, but most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”  All of its staff were fired immediately. Due to government pressure, in October Kivan came up with a plan to undermine the Kyiv Post’s independence. The Kyiv Post has been one of the most patriotic and anti-Kremlin media outlets in Ukraine, and now it has been destroyed after months of government pressure. After the September article, Venediktova also opened criminal cases against Kivan and then closed them, Bonner told the Ukrainian Weekly. He wants the media to lavish praise on his non-existent reforms and meager achievements. A silver lining 
The good news is that Ukraine is not Russia. He asked me to reduce my criticism of the government. He was nervous and sarcastic, ridiculing our editorial independence. In 2020, the Kyiv Post also ran a critical story about Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova, and she summoned Bonner to her office. I refused, saying that I believe in the absolute freedom of speech. Crackdown on media
The Kyiv Post’s abrupt closure and firing of all of its staff was the culmination of a trend that started in early 2021. This plan included launching a Ukrainian-language version of the Kyiv Post run by Kivan proteges. We were not against expanding the Kyiv Post or launching a Ukrainian version as long as all new hires would be independent and professional journalists. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Ukrainian president seeks total control over media

By Oleg Sukhov
Independent Journalist/Political Commentator

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has had two options since he was elected in 2019: either to improve the reality that he faced or to create a fake one. The new publication will continue to speak truth to power and to hold everyone, including Ukrainian officials, oligarchs and the Kremlin, to account. After Kivan took over, Sergey Leshchenko, a staunch supporter of Zelensky’s administration, became a paid columnist for the Kyiv Post. The National Television and Radio Council also filed a motion on November 4 with a court to strip Nash, another TV channel critical of the government, of its license. Although there is no sufficient evidence that the government ordered the closure, it is a fact that the Kyiv Post has faced increasing pressure from the government due to its independence stance. He has simultaneously worked as a paid board member at the state railway company, Ukrzaliznytsya. I wrote that even the most pro-Western, independent and objective media, including the Kyiv Post, could be unlawfully shut down in the future. Pressure on the Kyiv Post 
The pressure on the Kyiv Post fits perfectly into Zelensky’s wholesale crackdown on free speech. This is exactly what has happened. Most of the editorial team is launching a new newspaper that will keep the professionalism and independence of the old Kyiv Post. He has opted for the latter: to silence independent voices and try to brainwash the populace through puppet media. I warned at the time that the extrajudicial and unlawful closure of the propagandist channels set a very dangerous precedent for most media. In August, Zelensky also blocked strana.ua, a popular news site that heavily criticized the government, and the media outlet run by Anatoly Shariy, a fugitive Ukrainian blogger with a substantial following. Previously Shariy had also been charged with treason for his videos. Instead of creating a business-friendly environment and introducing the rule of law, Zelensky has decided to stifle the media that report on corruption, lawlessness and poverty. This approach is strikingly similar to the one chosen by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. She was trying to pressure him at that meeting, threatening to file a lawsuit. After that the Kyiv Post published op-eds authored by Venediktova to give her the right to respond. But Kivan wanted to have his own way and decided to get rid of us. In February, Zelensky closed three pro-Russian television channels – NewsOne, ZIK and 112 Ukraine – without any legal grounds. There was no court ruling, and neither evidence nor clear explanations were provided for the claim that they threatened national security. Other anti-Kremlin journalists – such as the Suspilne and Pryamy television channels and Savik Shuster’s Freedom of Speech show – have also complained about pressure by the authorities in recent months. Now he is planning to launch a new puppet media outlet using the Kyiv Post brand under his total editorial control. Kivan came to the Kyiv Post’s office and said that, by criticizing Venediktova, we were hurting both ourselves and him. The idea was to dilute its independent staff with his own loyalists and hire people who would do his bidding. In 2018, Kivan complained to me that the administration of then-President Petro Poroshenko was pressuring him due to the Kyiv Post’s critical coverage. I strongly believe that it will outlive Zelensky’s presidency. Many Ukrainians welcomed the move because it is indeed true that the channels had often allowed their speakers to voice pro-Russian opinions and spread Kremlin narratives. For me, as a Kyiv Post journalist, Kivan’s intentions were clear from the very beginning.  
Both Shariy and strana.ua are admittedly pro-Russian but the real reason for the crackdown on them was their criticism of Zelensky.

Despite that, a dialogue between the EU and Russia must be restarted. Despite not possessing the legal right to cross into the Schengen Zone, the migrants then attacked the Polish border guards with stones and whatever else they could use. These were tightened again after a state-sponsored hijacking of a passenger plane last spring. Lukashenko ordered the Belarussian Air Force to intercept and force a Ryanair flight flying from Athens to Vilnius to land in order to arrest an opposition member that was on board the flight. By Otmar Lahodynsky
Ex-President of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and former European Editor of the Profil news magazine in Austria

epa08200835 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrives for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2020. The migrants were subsequently turned back with water cannons, tear gas and batons. Morawiecki demanded that the new German government immediately stop the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline as part of a response to the hybrid war that is being carried out against Europe. Facebook

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One can hardly imagine the misery of the refugees at the border between Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. Just prior to the outbreak of the migrant crisis, the EU’s highest court imposed a €1 million daily fine on Warsaw in an attempt to persuade the Poles to abolish its new disciplinary chamber. This time, however, Lukashenko’s patron in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, did not agree. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke twice on the phone with Lukashenko this week. The Belarussian national airline Belavia, along with Turkish Airlines, allegedly chartered flights and brought the people to the Belarussian capital Minsk. He may also be worried that control of the situation on the border with Poland and Lithuania could slip from his grasp. A correspondent from Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Ivo Mijnssen, was in the area of the border zone and reported: “The misery is indescribable. She could be saved for the time being.” 
Polish military vehicles usually take such migrants back to the border with Belarus soon after initial treatment. We found a woman with 5 children who had a body temperature of only 25 degrees and took her to a hospital. The Polish authorities do not allow journalists to reach the border and have sealed off a three-kilometre-wide strip as a prohibited zone. A few hundred managed to cross the green border at first, then to Germany. In the meantime, however, Lukashenko seems to be trying to de-escalate the situation: Apparently, he fears that several thousand migrants could remain in Belarus permanently. A first plane did indeed take over 400 of the migrants on November 18, all of which had agreed to be sent back to Iraq. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Is Lukashenko setting a new trap for Europe? Lukashenko, for his part, threatened to cut off a natural gas pipeline running through his country, which would limit the supply of Russian gas to Europe. Furthermore, he deliberately chose the timing, as Germany has yet to form a new government after their federal elections in October. I was in the forests with a delegation of doctors. Belarus’ dictator is deliberately using migrants to blackmail the EU
Lukashenko’s actions are part of his reaction to sanctions that were imposed by the EU after last year’s rigged presidential election. Reports have indicated that the new round embargoes would have included cutting the country off from international payments. Poland’s government has refused to let officials from the EU border protection agency Frontex – which is based in Warsaw – to the border and has rejected offers of help from other countries. Lukashenko is perhaps now afraid that he will lose control of the border conflict that he artificially caused and that the migrants could stay in Belarus for a long time. Putin must fear that the conflict could postpone the completion and bringing on line of the new Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Poland’s right-wing government is itself in conflict with Brussels over political interference in the Polish judiciary. Contradictory signals from Minsk should lead to talks between the EU and Putin on Belarus. This has made direct reports from the border rare. Near the border with Poland, an old warehouse has been converted to accommodate the migrants, who are now no longer allowed to approach the border strip. Lukashenko, himself, now actually seems interested in da e-escalation. The fact that Putin has called on Lukashenko to enter into a dialogue with members of the opposition in Belarus is a good sign. The EU should now quickly start talks with Lukashenko’s patrons in the Kremlin. Requests for asylum are not accepted. And they all have only one goal – they want to enter the EU, with most of them wanting to reach Germany. The Polish army then built a tight cordon along the 400 km long border with barbed wire and soldiers. The Belarussian opposition, which is supposed to meet for a conference in Vienna on November 22, has nothing against a representative of Russia taking part and acting as a mediator. The ill-fated visit by Europe Foreign Affairs chief, Josep Borrell, in March marked a low point in relations between Moscow and Brussels. As a precondition, however, political prisoners should be released and acts of violence stopped, according to a spokesman for the leader of the opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. At that meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov utterly embarrassed Borrell. Or, in the worst-case scenario, he may want to set a new trap for the EU. Lukashenko, however, will only agree to this if more pressure is applied by the Kremlin. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL MANDATORY CREDIT

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko. To that end, even a real war can no longer be excluded. The European Commission has so far strictly rejected negotiations with Minsk. They all have been lured by the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is on a working visit to Russia to discuss aspect of the Russia-Belarus cooperation, including oil and gas cooperation which is on the top on the agenda talks. According to information from Minsk, a deal was negotiated: The EU would take in 2,000 refugees, and Lukashenko would repatriate the remainder, about 5,000 people, back to the Middle East. “We are defending the EU border here in Poland. Sadly, the EU also acted in a rather clueless and uncoordinated manner, and has done so since the beginning of the crisis. Lukashenko has upped the stakes in his ongoing war with the West by trying to force thousands of illegal migrants to cross Poland’s – and the EU’s – borders. According to Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Germany, in particular, should have a special interest in protecting the EU’s external border. And when we talk about the bigger picture: Let’s work together for peace and not give Vladimir Putin extra money through energy payments so he can keep arming.”
The EU was reluctant to impose new, more severe, sanctions on Belarus. To be sure, Moscow has so far done everything to weaken and divide the EU. Thousands of people from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, many of them Kurds and Yazidis, are camping in the woods in freezing temperatures with little supplies and no medical care. From there they were taken by bus to the border with Poland and Lithuania. This is the only way to prevent further provocations by Lukashenko and thus further, and even greater, human suffering.

While obvious, failure to do so would give Lukashenko further ammunition to tar foreign opponents. There have been signs that illegal migrants have been transported to Belarus since September.  
Belarus is using the crisis as a petri dish to see what kind of price they can exact. One area that could be addressed immediately is the creation of an effective hybrid early warning system (EWS) and alarm protocol. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Border pains: A set play by Belarus

By Roger Hilton
Defense and Security Fellow, GLOBSEC

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Desperate migrants sandwiched between the Belarussian-Polish border is a nasty quagmire. To date, the EU has exclusively relied on a cocktail of targeted economic sanctions as well as travel and landing bans to punish the Belarussian regime. They will prove especially important given the upcoming release of the EU Strategic Compass and NATO Strategic Concept. For this, the logical instrument to deploy is cyber weapons due to their broad nature. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery; it is time for a set Western hybrid play. In turn, Warsaw and other concerned parties are forced to engage with the pariah Belarussian president. Combined, they have significantly increased the long-term prospects of his presidency. This approach can also be employed by NATO and the EU, within reason. While solidarity is always welcomed, there is no conceivable military solution to the crisis that does raise the risk of spiralling into a wider conflict. Credit where credit is due to Russia, who wrote the foreword of the playbook in 2016 by driving Syrian migrants to Turkey and later into Europe.  
Moving forward, whether it is this crisis or the next, the standard quo is no longer palatable. While unthinkable, the time has arrived to consider deploying select ransom wear attacks at Belarus’ regime. Each passing day of the crisis solidifies Lukashenko’s domestic standing and removes any modicum left to resist. The use of this non-kinetic weaponry to disrupt the electricity and utilities of Belarussian government buildings, or even cripple computer or telecom networks, are viable targets that inflict damage at no cost to citizens. As the crisis remains in a sweet spot and well managed by Minsk, it seems illogical that Lukashenko would hope for it to spill over to a more dangerous level. With threats to both EU and NATO borders at the center of the situation, an air of anxiety and atrophy has plagued Brussels’ decision-makers throughout this crisis. Foreign media is squarely focused on border security with dwindling mentions of the domestic political situation. The decision by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to bring migrants from the Middle East to the borders of Poland and Lithuania is a brilliant set play out of an ever-growing hybrid playbook that serves to advance both the domestic and external interests of similar dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both Warsaw and Vilnius have considered invoking Article 4 of the NATO charter. At home, despite a rocky summer of revolt in 2020 calling for his exodus, a wave of violent repression, including an air jacking, and dissident exhaustion has weathered the storm. Despite the steep learning curve, the crisis is an opportunity to learn and improve their hybrid warfare responses. Given the unusual volume, and complicated travel logistics, alarm bells at NATO and the EU should have been ringing. For all intents and purposes, it has zapped the momentum of protestors, who have been outmuscled by humanitarian media shots. A subservient place Lukashenko wishes to avoid like the plague or democracy. If the West has learned anything recently, it is that weakness invites further aggression. They then should have taken preventative measures to coordinate with host countries to remove the landing rights of Belarussian, Turkish, Iraqi and Russian air carriers to blunt the influx of migrants from the Middle East. The current Belarusian design has split the West, increased Lukashenko’s legitimacy and provided the Kremlin with more propaganda by painting the EU as a hypocritical organization. Abroad, the appalling domestic clampdown resulted in economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation, leaving no outlet except Putin. They should have the foresight to understand that today its planes, tomorrow could be cruise ships. Consequently, through his migrant crisis, Lukashenko has unshackled himself from both predicaments. Any new data derived from these tactics can sharpen the EU’s Strategic Compass and NATO’s Strategic Concept to ensure they are hybrid match ready. This would be a formal request for consultations with other members of the alliance if one member feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security are threatened. In recent days, there has been a lot of saber-rattling from Minsk that has included snap Belarussian-Russian paratrooper exercises, and the UK sending military advisors to Poland. It is also an impressively manufactured crisis. Given the plausible deniability of attackers, it offers the perfect cover to use them as a proportional response as Lukashenko escalates the border mess. His counterpart in the Kremlin has declared active dialogue with Lukashenko as a prerequisite to end the situation. Given the likelihood of poor outcomes at the border, now is the time to test and gather original data. Any EWS must be adaptable to include all possibilities. Although the current situation is unenviable and heartbreaking, it provides a sober preview of the future conflict landscape that both organizations will have to learn to address. Although it is important to show EU citizens, and the wider international community, that the policymakers are acting, there is a limit to their ability to change Belarus’ behavior. Outside of this default position, NATO and the EU must consider raising the stakes through controlled escalation. Middle East migrants just didn’t get to Europe without help. Events have developed to the point where the deployment of this hybrid play can be, and is, stunningly successful. Contemplating new countermeasures must ensure that punishment or disruption impacts the regime not its denizens. As the border debacle unfolds, mistakes in policy selection and moral judgement will be made. Although changing the scope of response using Western infused hybrid tactics will be a messy proposition, and not universally endorsed, it is a necessity. Moreover, if the EU Commission reports are true, he has replenished his state coffers with migrants paying up to €10,000 for passage to Europe.

Presidential runoff
The simultaneous presidential elections failed to produce a victor, consequently, a runoff for this largely ceremonial post is set for November 21. In this round the ITN garnered around 9.5 percent of the vote, a substantial drop from earlier this year. After two inconclusive elections held previously this year, the PP party, launched only two months ago by two Harvard-educated entrepreneurs who also worked as interim ministers, was able to seize the fickle and politically exhausted Bulgarian electorate’s attention and beat the former ruling, and normally front running, conservative GERB party led by Boiko Borissov which garnered 22.7%. The resolution of this dispute does not guarantee other member states will move forward, and a number are hesitant. In trying to form an anti-GERB bloc, the PP’s leader, Kiril Petkov, has also hinted he will be talking seriously with right-wing “Democratic Bulgaria” (DB) party, which earned 6.3% percent of the vote as well as Bulgaria’s Socialist Party that garnered about 10.2 percent, performing unexpectedly poorly on Sunday. This is because the country’s long-running dispute with North Macedonia over language and identity have EU-wide ramifications; Bulgaria will not approve further EU Enlargement until satisfied. Initial contacts have already begun, but coalition talks can normally take weeks and as the world witnessed earlier this year can automatically trigger new elections after three parties fail, in succession, to assemble the required majority. As a centrist party, its list of potential partners includes the “There Is Such a People (ITN)” party, headed by pop singer and former TV star Slavi Trifonov, which itself failed to form a workable coalition when handed the mandate over the summer. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Third Bulgarian election in 2021 appears to break the logjam

By Alec Mally
Director for Global Economic Affairs at IPEDIS

Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission

BNT File photo

Time for coalition talks

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In Bulgaria’s November 14 elections, the tough anti-corruption oriented “We Continue the Change” party (PP), won 25.7% of the vote, based on a nearly-complete ballot count released November 16. Look for the use of the all-important term “regional stability” in those messages. The runoff vote will be held between incumbent President Rumen Radev, who is endorsed by several parties including the PP and who came tantalizingly close to victory with 49.42 percent of the vote on November 14, and GERB-backed Anastas Gerdzhikov, who got 22.8 per cent, according to official final results from the Central Election Commission. The usual parliamentary math 
Once confirmed, the PP will be given the initial mandate to attempt to cobble together a workable coalition in the country’s 240-seat parliament. Discussions between Sofia and Skopje are slated to resume as soon as a new government takes over in Sofia, with most EU member states unwisely lined up against fellow member state Bulgaria’s claims that North Macedonia is little more than a cultural and historical offshoot of Bulgaria formed in the twentieth century for various political reasons. The Bulgarians have shown the ability to hold their own against North Macedonia’s historical revisionism and heavy pressure from its European Union and NGO supporters up to now and it can be assumed the pressure on Sofia will resume once a new government is named, quite possibly even mentioned in the congratulatory messages from major powers. Regional impact
While foreign observers will certainly profess interest in watching yet another Bulgarian government pull itself together based on the almost perennial anti-corruption theme, most will be actually paying much more attention to how Bulgaria’s foreign policy takes shape.  
On the plus side, the weak government holding on in Skopje after Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats did so poorly in October’s municipal elections might make the North Macedonian side more amenable to compromise, if it opts to go that route and not hide behind foreign supporters.

The interconnectedness of government registries, social insurance, and labor office, for example, would have revealed that none of the companies had any employees. So what can be done to prevent such a case from ever happening again? The fact that the unusual activity of one labor office did not raise red flags, will eventually be investigated and no doubt prosecuted by the respective law enforcement agencies. By Juraj Kuruc
Research Fellow & Project Coordinator for the Future of Security Programme at the GLOBSEC Policy Institute. In short, the state will not try to prevent potential abuse, but it will avenge it. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>What happens when due diligence cannot or will not be applied? Over €2 billion was distributed this way. Some 28 companies were allegedly paid almost €24 million as part of the government scheme to help businesses cope with the effects of the pandemic, these companies are shell companies with no activities, employees or tax returns. Another investigation will have to look at the possibility that this was not the only labor office where rules were flaunted. So what went wrong? Box addresses in Slovakia, no contact details, no employees, no health or social insurance contributions and tax returns that were not filed in years. The state made a choice, it divested the power of trust when accepting these applications to the officers at every application desk in every district labor office. The big weak spot of this approach was an assumption that the small-time swindlers claiming to have 6 instead of 5 employees will remain in-country and it will always be possible to recover the money from businesses later, even years later. This is an opportune time to highlight and learn from mistakes. Technology could be the answer. As both business and labor office staff adjusted to the new reality. Local knowledge of officials will ensure the timely payout for assistance. These companies turned out to be the very worst examples of what a shell company is. The monitoring of office employees also need not be big brother like, with every loo break logged, but perhaps unusually large or outsized claims should require more than just a simple local approval, even at a time of crisis.  
What is clear is that the decision to help firms quickly was the correct one. However, over a relatively short time, the process became clearer, more manageable and slightly more user friendly. This case can serve as a prime example of what can go horribly wrong when speed is paramount and red flags and thorough due diligence cannot or will not be properly carried out. These shell companies with foreign owners in collusion with what appears to be an insider at one particular labor office have ensured that it will take a lot of effort and taxpayers money to investigate and recover even a fraction of the allegedly paid out sum, as there can be no doubt that the money was already transferred elsewhere. There are large investments heading the Slovak way in the form of European structural and investment funds for the program period of 2021 – 2027, as well as a recovery and resilience facility to the tune of billions of euros combined. On October 21, 2021, an investigative journalist centre published a story that quickly became a national scandal in Slovakia. With both needing to be disbursed quickly, there can be no doubt about effectiveness and accountability. WIKIPEDIA

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When due diligence and a basic compliance process is not followed bad things happen. Upon which assistance could start. The crucial document when applying for state assistance was a signed affidavit by the company’s owner stating the number of employees on furlough and lost profit are true at the time of applying for state’s assistance. Rather than burdening the companies applying for help with the need for providing evidence and carrying out due diligence upfront the government made a choice. Registerd in Slovakia, with owners abroad (mainly from Croatia or Greece), with virtual P.O. These need not be lengthy in-depth due diligence checks, just standardized checklists to make sure the company exists, and it does have money-making activities that require assistance at the time of crisis. At the beginning of the pandemic, as elsewhere in Europe, aid to businesses could be slow and cumbersome, fears of abuse were greater than the will to expedite help quickly. A general view of the building housing Slovakia's National Cuncil. The choice was also made to ensure meticulous after-the-fact checks. At the time when the story broke much was said about the political responsibilities of a particular minister and the slow communication of the ministry of labour social affair and family of the Slovak republic.