Moldova: the forgotten in-between Russia and the EU

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The difficulty of the implementation of the EU’s Eastern Partnership is as we have witnessed that these countries constitute the so-called Russia’s “backyard”and for strategic and historical reasons, Russia is not willing to let go easily. The paradigmatic case was Ukraine in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, but Russian efforts to hinder  the post-soviet space relationship with the EU started years before.

Beyond the military means and political involvement, Russia has wielded its power in the form of economic sanctions and bans to imports and goods from the EaP countries. But Russia’s loss of power  is patent, recurrently in Ukraine and Georgia, both having left the Commonwealth of Independent States . The  republics’ eagerness to become close partners with the EU have resulted in Russian attempts to interfere in the countries’ political arena and processes; economy and trade relations through the use of a variety of means ranging from military and occupation to economic sanctions and trade bans.

But just like Georgia or Ukraine, the situation of Moldova has been an in-between position that cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration its causes and consequences, to be sure: state capture, structural poverty or a great migration crisis 

Moldova, as other post-soviet countries witnessed as well this state capture from the 1990’s, culminating in the so-called “billion-dollar theft”, the 2012-2014 theft of one-eighth of Moldova’s economy, which led to a few politically motivated arrests, but it has never been recovered. The same years, Moldova saw itself involved in the massive theft that became known as the “Russian Laundromat”, a scheme led by government officials and members of Moldova’s judiciary, who had moved $20.8 billion in funds stolen from the Russian treasury through Moldova’s banking system. The case is another example of how Moldovan regulators have been captured by corrupt interests and consistently fail to indict those responsible for large scale financial crimes.

Russian ambitions in the post-soviet space are nothing new. In Moldova, the situation is worsening as this path of post-soviet state capture is being transferred to Russian hands since the 2016 election of Igor Dodon: the audio-visual sector, the railway and even the international airport are slowly being financed (and thus controlled) by the Russian Federation. Energetic dependency gives further power to Russia in Moldova, as most of their gas comes from Russia, little diversified.

State capture has had its consequences on Moldova, as the Human Development Index of 2019 positions Moldova in the 107th place out of 189, making it the poorest country in the EU neighbourhood. Endemic corruption, the main consequence of normalised state capture for a long time now and the poverty created by this situation has made emigration levels an all-time high.

Despite the fact that Russia is slowly gaining political significance once again in Moldova, the European Union is still a close partner with the country. The Republic of Moldova is today between the East and the West, and each player, in particular Russia, have interests in the country.

Although often overlooked, the geopolitical implications of Moldova cannot be underestimated.

Ankara at crossroads to protect its borders

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The international community has again turned its back as it watches the conflict in Syria escalate. Waves of refugees fleeing towards the Turkish border, entire towns emptying as the Syrian army, backed by Russia is systematically bombing the Idlib province for days on end in line with Bashar al-Assad’s wish to recapture “every inch of Syria”. Idlib is one of the last rebel populated strongholds remaining in Syria, attributing a great strategic significance to the latest events happening in the north-western region.

The conflict is seeing direct clashes between NATO member Turkey and Assad’s regime with its top backer Russia, which raises the fear of a full-scale war between these three forces. On Monday, forces loyal to Assad fired shells at an observation post manned by Turkish troops in Taftanaz, to the north of Saraqib, killing eight Turkish citizens, one of them being a civilian. These observation posts were set by the 2017 de-escalation agreements between Turkey, Russia and Iran, but the agreements have clearly been sidelined by self-interested rival efforts by the involving parties.

So as the de-escalation agreements, part of the peace process, are being violated, the Syrian army supported by Iranian militiamen and Russian air strikes are making advances on the ground and have been capturing dozens of towns and villages in Idlib since December.

In hopes of repelling attacks, Turkey had been providing artillery and support to rebel defensive positions in the city of Saraqib, which briefly prevented the Syrian army’s takeover of the city. However, the Syrian regime succeeded in capturing the town. This capture is a major strategic territorial move as the city is located in the intersection of the M4 and M5 highways, linking the east with the west and the north with the south of Syria, giving the regime broader manoeuvre possibilities, making it even more difficult for Turkey to contain Idlib.

The Turkish army responded to the attacks on Monday allegedly hitting 54 regime targets and killing 76 Syrian soldiers. Turkey will continue to retaliate while its observation posts are being targeted and has threatened to drive back all Syrian troops behind their twelve observation posts in Idlib if the Syrian army doesn’t withdraw, claiming that they are willing to do this no matter what the consequences are. But what Turkey does not seem to be aware of is what they are up against.

Turkey cannot afford a rupture with Moscow because of  joint interests including energy pipelines, or the prospect of purchasing Russia S-400 Missile Defense Systems in defiance of fellow NATO member, the US. But more importantly, Turkey should not undermine the capabilities of the Russia-backed Syrian army and should be aware that it cannot afford to engage in a full-scale war with Syria and Russia when it is already struggling to protect its borders.

Ankara is alone in this so its first order of business should be finding a balance in its foreign policy by regaining Western support in Idlib. Further inaction from the West along with reckless retaliatory operations will be too costly for everyone – if Assad forces continue to advance, not only it will be a humanitarian disaster, but the mass exodus will spill over to Turkey, the region and Europe by pushing Islamist militants beyond Syria’s borders.

Coronavirus: an affective understanding of global panic

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What started the 31st of December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China, as a Pneumonia of  unknown cause has turned to the newest highly contagious internationally spead 2019-nCoV (Coronavirus) in the first days of 2020. The Coronavirus crisis and consequent global panic follows other global public health crises related to outbreaks of diseases such as SARS in 2003, Zika in 2015, Ebola in 2014-2016  or MERS in 2012( both provoking deaths in parts of Asia and Africa still today).

Understanding global panic is hard in many ways.  Some  commentators have highlighted the side of the politics of fear, a mainstream  comprehension of fear understood as a tool of governance positing in this case China as a geography of fear inspired by an event which has a global reach.  From this reading, fearmongering  is used by big media outlets and politicians, speading fear and making people vulnerable to certain restrictive measures, against the WHO’s Eemergency Commitee recommendations, like we are seeing: border closure, travel bans and so on. In this regard conceptualising global panic just in these terms is purely self-explanatory: it all ends in irrationality, precaution measures and controlling masses.

But I propose another understanding, from the conceptualisation that has been made from  affective theory. Very briefly, affective theory proposes  ‘to examine the ways in which feelings can (re)produce dominant social and geo-political hierarchies and exclusions’

From affective theory, and particularly within the frame of one of its proponents, Sara Ahmed, we can read global panic and understand how affect is embedded in China, coronavirus (re)marking it a geography of fear, and the Chinese, the bodies to fear (or hate), once again. For Ahmed, affect and emotions (fear,hate, love) are cumulative, just like any form of capital, and thus has its historical development. From European colonization of Chinese land to the yellow peril , to the fear of China and its rise to great power status, to the current Coronavirus situation, there is a continuum in what Ahmed refers to as affective economy.

There is no doubt that particular contexts and situations provoke a certain reading of those bodies affected, in particular when an outbreak of a disease is where those geographies and those bodies are located and already marked; marked different from European, Chinese and China circulates as an “other”- like this very case: a non-clean other, an infected other.  Emotions of fear transform into hate, which circulates  then easily, getting attached to anybody of  perceived similar characteristics despite all other circumstances. This attachment will provoke then new affect, accumulating to the one that is there, and moving forwards to (re)produce perceptions of Asian peoples and Asian geogrpahies.

To be sure, Coronavirus creates the best opportunity for the reintensification of discourses that are already enrooted in large parts of societies. In this case the campaign  launched by Asian peoples #imnotavirus #jenesuispasunvirus #yonosoyunvirus is relevant to understand rise of racism from affective theory. At the same time the travel bans (particularly in the US), disruptions in Asian markets and in key economic areas or even Taiwan trying to take political advantage of the situation respond to similar affective logics, nontheless expressed differently depending on the politics, history, and contexts that shape particular perceptions of China and its peoples.

Finally, this reading does not oppose others, but can help in explaining beyond “precaution” or “risk” how affect circulates, why are some measures imposed and wonder if there would have been such cases of racism against peoples from Asia in Europe had it been an European outbreak.