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No deal on Greece today. EU schism with France on one side and Germany on the other

Finland’s Finance Minister Stubb said that, “I think we’re very far away from the types of conditionality that we need. If this was a negotiation from one to 10.”

Alex Christoforou

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Will the Greek eurozone crisis ever end…apparently not. Here is the latest run down.

Some highlights of today’s meeting, as reported by Zerohedge…

  • Slovakia FinMin Peter Kazimir said quite simply earlier “it’s not possible to reach deal today.
  • “We continue to work to establish the conditions to start negotiations, which is the real target – it’s not about closing a deal, it’s about starting negotiations,” Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan tells reporters in Brussels.
  • Finland’s FinMin Stubb who said that while he is still hopeful “I think we’re very far away from the types of conditionality that we need. If this was a negotiation from one to 10, I think we’re still standing somewhere between 3 and 4. So making progress but not there yet.  No one is blocking a deal, we’re all constructively trying to find a solution in a very difficult situation.”
  • We don’t consider the Greek proposal at all sufficient for starting negotiations. Much must happen in order to advance. The Finnish government is unanimous on its stance on Greece.

To sum it up…again via Zerohedge…

Basically, all Europe has left now is hope: hope that Germany will change its mind in the last second and will backtrack on its demands. It got so bad that Luxembourg’s foreign minister made a plea for Germany to avoid a Greek exit from the euro, warning Berlin of a catastrophic schism with France if it pushes for Athens to leave the currency union. The comments from Jean Asselborn, released on Sunday, came after Germany argued that Greece could take a five-year “time-out” from the euro zone and have some of its debts written off if Athens fails to improve proposals it has made for a bailout.

“It would be fatal for Germany’s reputation in the EU and the world if Berlin does not now seize the chance that there now is with the Greek reform offers,” Asselborn told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

“If Germany pushes for a Grexit, it will provoke a profound conflict with France. That would be a catastrophe for Europe,” he added in an advance release of an interview to run in the Sueddeutsche’s Monday edition.

Some thoughts on all the theatre and tragedy from Sky News’ Ed Conway…

Here are a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts about where we are, written at lunchtime on Sunday. They may be out-of-date by the time you read them. Then again, in the euro crisis, nothing ever seems to change all that much.

1. Today’s Absolutely Final deadline is no longer final.

There was lots of talk (from the President of the European Council among others) that Sunday’s leaders’ and EU leaders’ summit was the Very Last Opportunity to seal a deal or to throw Greece out of the euro. That seemed to make some sense — after all, not only are the Greek banks closed, the entire financial system seems to be about to run out of money. There’s only so long you can run an economy without a fully-functioning banking system.

However, at yesterdays’ eurogroup meeting (that’s the euro finance ministers) it emerged that the decision on a deal may be put off for another few days. Sources said that the financial outflows were not so bad last week, and that the Greek banking system could survive for another few days. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen.

2. One big problem is trust

This is both good news and bad. Good because it signifies that in terms of the proposals for a bailout deal, there is no longer much distance between the two sides. Having persuaded his people to vote in last weekend’s referendum against the deal proposed by the creditors, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has subsequently signed up to the vast majority of its strictures. So the two sides now, finally, largely agree on the kind of austerity that needs to be imposed (cuts to pension bills, liberalising monopolies and nationalised industries, raising VAT and removing exemptions, including on the islands etc). The problem is that no-one believes that Greece will actually go through with the reforms — especially after all the surprises, disappointments and broken promises of the past few weeks and months. That is why there is talk of waiting until the Greek parliament has actually passed some of these measures before giving the final go-ahead to new bailout talks.

3. The other big problem is domestic politics

Midway through yesterday’s finance minister’s meeting, it emerged that Finland’s government was close to collapse, as the second-biggest party, the True Finns, were dead set against handing any extra cash to Greece. There were also extremely hawkish comments coming from the German and Slovakian teams. It’s a reminder that around the Eurozone many countries are simply sick and tired of handing money to Greece. The largely centrist leaders in Spain and Italy, who face upsurgent anti-euro parties back home, are desperate to prove to the electorate that voting in a party like Syriza is the worst thing they could do. The more Greece suffers (preferably with wall-to-wall coverage across the European broadcast media) the more likely their voters are to think twice about voting for Podemos or Beppe Grillo.

This is probably the least edifying element of the crisis at present: in a sense, Greece is being ritually economically tortured in order to safeguard the jobs of politicians on the other side of Europe.

Either way, in order to get a deal, politicians will have to risk losing at least some votes (maybe lots of them) back home. And no politicians like that.

4. Crazy ideas are now mainstream

A few years ago it was forbidden to talk about the possibility that a country could leave the euro. That taboo was overcome a few years ago at the Cannes G20. Now some finance ministers are openly discussing how it would be done. The big story out of yesterday’s eurogroup was that Germany has been throwing around an idea of a temporary Grexit — that Greece could leave the single currency for five years, restructure its debt and re-join when it is in better health. The problem with such an idea is that “temporary” changes in currency regimes almost always turn out to be permanent. Take the UK leaving the ERM in 1992, or leaving the gold standard in 1931, or the US closing the gold window in 1971. All were described as temporary. Many might have even believed that at the time. Ultimately, they were nothing of the sort.

Anyway, what seems more likely is that this plan is a mischievous attempt at brinksmanship. And, even if it never comes to pass, it is going down brilliantly back home with the German electorate [see point 3].

5. The cancellation of the full EU leaders’ summit is neither a good nor a bad thing

There was originally supposed to be a euro leaders and then a full EU summit today — the idea presumably being that if Grexit was indeed likely, the whole of the EU might need to sign off both on that and the consequent humanitarian aid that might be needed. Now the EU summit has been cancelled — mainly because after last night’s nine hour marathon of talks it is clear that there will be no straightforward conclusion from the eurogroup, and hence the leaders won’t simply be coming into town to sign a piece of paper and then leave.

6. Best-case scenario: eurofudge

Of course, the pie-in-the-sky best-case scenario involves Greece getting a deal immediately and going home and successfully implementing it. But a more realistic scenario is probably going to involve a characteristic euro fudge.

The euro finance ministers could agree to begin bailout talks on the pre-condition that Greece implements a number of austerity/reform proposals in the next few days. This would be endorsed by the leaders, unanimously. Then, the European Central Bank confirms that because talks are now ongoing (as opposed to frozen) it can loosen conditions on Greece’s banks (though they won’t open for some time either way). The eurogroup confirms the bailout talks are underway in yet another meeting or teleconference later on this week. Note that there is no longer any hope of getting a full bailout signed off — the best that can be done is to begin formal negotiations for another bailout. All because the last deal expired a couple of weeks ago.

7. Worst-case scenario: eurodisaster

The worst-case scenario for both sides involves Greece leaving the euro. Quite how this happens is anyone’s guess, though Germany’s eurosabbatical paper yesterday underlined that despite the fact that the EU Treaties don’t have a clause to allow it, Grexit is absolutely feasible. It would begin with a breakdown of today’s talks, with a complete split in the eurogroup and euro leaders’ meeting between those who believe Greece’s departure is good news for the euro (Germany, Finland etc) and those who think it would be a disaster (France, Italy etc).

Rather than coming out and waving a piece of paper saying Greece is heading back to the drachma, the process might be more subtle and imperceptible: Athens might be allowed to print its own euro-denominated instruments; it might be allowed to print scrip; it might simply not be allowed to get extra liquidity from the ECB and be forced to nationalise its banks.

But though it might not begin with one big moment of fanfare, a departure would be messy, would provoke a further default by Greece on its debts to the IMF, the ECB and other euro nations. They would be pursued in the courts for decades for some sort of payback. Questions would arise over the future of the single currency. If the remaining members do not commit to big-scale further integration (a single Treasury, fiscal union) they will leave the door open for further departures in the coming years. Markets would plunge, not just in the Eurozone but everywhere around the world. Greece would almost certainly be out of the euro forever, however much the move would be branded initially as temporary.

References:

https://medium.com/@edconwaysky/still-talking-a680366af95f

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-07-12/its-not-possible-reach-deal-today-eu-summit-canceled-european-leader-scramble-keep-d

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US Blunders Have Made Russia The Global Trade Pivot

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead

The Duran

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Authored by Mathew Maavak via ActivistPost.com:


The year 2019 had barely begun before news emerged that six Russian sailors were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Benin. It was perhaps a foretaste of risks to come. As nations reel from deteriorating economic conditions, instances of piracy and other forms of supply chain disruptions are bound to increase.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 107 cases of piracy were noted during the first half of 2018 vis-à-vis 87 throughout 2017.  The 2018 tally included 32 cases in Southeast Asian waters and 48 along African shores – representing 75% of the total. To put this figure into perspective, Asian behemoths India and China – despite their vast shorelines – recorded only 2 cases of piracy each during the study period. Russia had none. In terms of hostages taken, the IMB tally read 102 in H1 2018 vs 63 in H1 2017.

Piracy adds to shipping and retail costs worldwide as security, insurance and salaries are hiked to match associated risks in maritime transport. Merchant vessels will also take longer and costlier routes to avoid piracy hotspots.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in 2016 sums up the perils ahead:

As over 90% of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling. Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances.  These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.

Indeed, cases of human trafficking, organ harvesting, and the smuggling of illicit substances and counterfeit goods are proliferating worldwide in tandem with rising systemic debt and suspect international agendas.

Australia offers a case in point. While it fantasizes over a Quad of allies in the Indo-Pacific – to “save Asians from China” – criminal elements from Hong Kong, Malaysia to squeaky-clean Singapore have been routinely trafficking drugs, tobacco and people right into Sydney harbour for years,  swelling the local organised crime economy to as much as $47.4 billion (Australian dollars presumably) between 2016 and 2017.

With criminal elements expected to thrive during a severe recession, they will likely enjoy a degree of prosecutorial shielding from state actors and local politicians. But this is not a Southeast Asian problem alone; any superpower wishing to disrupt Asia-Europe trade arteries – the main engine of global growth – will have targets of opportunity across oceans and lands.  The US-led war against Syria had not only cratered one potential trans-Eurasia energy and trade node, it served as a boon for child traffickingorgan harvesting and slavery as well. Yet, it is President Bashar al-Assad who is repeatedly labelled a “butcher” by the Anglo-American media.

Ultimately, industries in Asia and Europe will seek safer transit routes for their products. The inference here is inevitable: the greatest logistical undertaking in history – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – will be highly dependent on Russian security umbrella, particularly in Central Asia. Russia also offers an alternative transit option via the Northern Sea Route, thereby avoiding any potential pan-Turkic ructions in Central Asia in the future.

Russo- and Sinophobia explained?

In retrospect, Washington’s reckless policies post-Sept 11 2001 seem aimed at disrupting growing synergies between Asia and Europe. This hypothesis helps explain the relentless US-led agitprops against Russia, China and Iran.

When the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests rocked France weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before some pundits blamed it on Russia. US President Donald J. Trump cheered on; just as “billionaire activist” George Soros celebrated the refugee invasion of Europe and the Arab Spring earlier.  If the yellow vest contagion spreads to the Western half of Europe, its economies will flounder. Cui bono? A Russia that can reap benefits from the two-way BRI or Arctic trade routes or a moribund United States that can no longer rule roost in an increasingly multipolar world?

Trump’s diplomatic downgrade of the European Union and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2gas pipeline matches this trade-disruption hypothesis, as do pressures applied on India and China to drop energy and trade ties with Iran.  Washington’s trade war with Beijing and recent charges against Huawei – arguably Asia’s most valuable company – seem to fit this grand strategy.

If China concedes to importing more US products, Europe will bear the consequences. Asians love European products ranging from German cars to Italian shoes and Europe remains the favourite vacation destination for its growing middle class. Eastern European products and institutions are also beginning to gain traction in Asia. However, these emerging economies will suffer if their leaders cave in to Washington’s bogeyman fetish.

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough – at least theoretically – to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead.

In the meantime, as the US-led world crumbles, it looks like Russia is patiently biding its time to become the security guarantor and kingmaker of Asia-Europe trade.  A possible state of affairs wrought more by American inanity rather than Russian ingenuity…

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

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Historic Eastern Christianity: An Uncertain Future

The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Elias Samo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The survival of historic Eastern Christianity has never been as urgent as it is today. Christianity saw its beginning in Greater Syria which was subdivided by France and Britain after WWI into modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestian/Israel and Jordan. The land that housed, nurtured and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ for over two millenniums, now threatens children of that faith. The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons:

  1. Greater Syria is the homeland of Jesus and Christianity. Abraham was from modern day Iraq, Moses from Egypt, and Muhammad from Mecca; Jesus was from Syria.
  1. Paul converted to Christianity and saw the light while walking through ‘The Street Called Straight’ in Damascus.
  1. Jesus’ followers were called Christians for the first time in Antioch, formerly part of Syria.
  1. One of the earliest churches, perhaps the earliest, is in Syria.

The potential demise of historic Eastern Christianity is reflected in the key question Christians ask: should we stay or emigrate? The urgent question – in the face of the ongoing regional turmoil – precipitated with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and escalated since the Arab uprisings in 2011. Historic Eastern Christians’ fears were further magnified when Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, both of metropolitan Aleppo, were kidnapped on April, 22, 2013; with no traces of their whereabouts, dead or alive, since. For many years, I was deputy, friend, and advisor to the Archbishop Ibrahim, which provided me an opportunity to meet many Christians. I have, over time, noticed the change in their sentiment, with more considering emigration after the uprising and the kidnapping of the two Archbishops. Historic Eastern Christians survived the Ottoman Genocide in 1915 and thereafter; they multiplied and thrived in the Fertile Crescent despite some atrocities until the start of the misnamed “Arab Spring” in early 2011. Prior to the “Arab Spring”, historic Eastern Christians were victims of violence on several occasions. In the mid-1930s, the historic Assyrian community in Iraq suffered violent onslaughts and were driven to Syria. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War, Christians were victims of sectarian violence. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians were victims of widespread sectarian violence which led to mass migration. The “Arab Spring” began with great hope for the right of the people to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. However, it was swiftly hijacked by Islamists and Salafists and turned into an “Islamic Spring, an Arab Fall and a Christian Winter”; bringing along with it a new massacre of Christians. Presently, Eastern Christianity is at the mercy of clear and identifiable domestic, regional, and international, historic and contemporary conflicts in the Fertile Crescent, namely:

  1. Jihad vs. Ijtihad: A long standing conflict amongst Muslims between the sword vs. the pen.
  2. Sunni vs. Shiite: A conflict which began following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  3. Arabism vs. Islamism: The former has territorial limitations, the later has no territorial limitations.
  4. Syria vs. Israel: It is an essential component of the Palestinian problem, not the presumed Arab- Israeli conflict.
  5. West vs. East: A throwback to the Cold War, or its revival.
  6. Historic Persian, Ottoman and Arab Empires animosities: Each seeking regional hegemony.

One is reminded of the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Certainly, Eastern Christianity is suffering and threatened with extinction.

Syria was a model of religious tolerance, common living and peaceful interaction amongst its religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic components. Seven years of turmoil, in which various international and regional powers manipulated segments of Syrian society by supplying them with an abundance of weapons, money and sectarian ideologies, has heightened Eastern Christians’ fears. During the seven-year turmoil in Syria, the entire society has suffered; Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others. Christians, being a weak and peaceful component of the society, have suffered immensely. Ma’aloula; a religious treasure for Christians globally, and the only city in the world where Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – is spoken, was attacked and besieged by ISIS. Numerous historic Churches were damaged, and many destroyed. Christians in Raqqa were forced by ISIS into one of three options: 1. Pay a penalty in pure gold – known as a ‘Jizya’ to keep their life and practice their faith – albeit in secret only; 2. Convert into Islam; or 3. Face immediate death. To top their pain, the kidnap of the two prominent Archbishops meant no Eastern Christian believer was safe.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, however, there remains hope. The survival of Christianity depends on the actions and reactions of three parties:

Eastern Christians: During the last hundred years, 1915-2015, since the Ottoman Genocide, Eastern Christians have been victims of a history of massacres, which meant that every Eastern Christian was a martyr, a potential martyr or a witness of martyrdom; if you fool me once, shame on you, if you fool me twice, shame on me. The ongoing regional turmoil has heightened their sense of insecurity. The answer to an age-old question Eastern Christians had on their mind: To flee Westwards or remain in their land, in the face of death, is increasingly becoming the former.

Eastern Muslims: There is a difference in perceptions between Eastern Christians and mainstream Muslims regarding the massacres committed against Christians. When certain violent groups or individuals kill Christians, while shouting a traditional Islamic profession: “No God but one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, it is reasonable for Christians to assume the killers are Muslims. However, for mainstream Muslims, the killers do not represent Islam; they are extremists, violating basic Islamic norms such as Muhammad’s sayings, “Whoever hurts a Thummy – Christian or Jew – has hurt me”, “no compulsion in religion” and other Islamic norms regarding just treatment of people of the Book; Christians and Jews. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim elites to impress upon their fellow Muslims that:

a. The three monotheistic religions believe in one God and all ‘faithfuls’ are equal in citizenship, rights and duties.

b. Christians participated in the rise of Arab Islamic civilization. They were pioneers in the modern Arab renaissance and they joined their Muslim brethren in resisting the Crusades, the Ottomans and Western colonialism.

c. Christians are natives of the land and they provide cultural, religious, educational, and economic, diversity.

d. Christians are a positive link between the Muslims and the Christian West, particularly in view of the rise of Islamophobia. Massacres of Christians and their migration provide a pretext for the further precipitation of Islamophobia.

e. Civilization is measured by the way it treats its minorities.

The Christian West: The Crusades, Western colonialism, creation and continued support of Israel, support of authoritarian Arab political systems, military interventions, regime change, and the destabilization of Arab states made Muslims view Eastern Christians ‘guilty by association’. The Christian West helped Jews come to Palestine to establish Israel. Shouldn’t the same Christian West also help Eastern Christians remain in their homeland, rather than facilitate their emigration? Western Christians, particularly Christian Zionists, believe that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Jesus to his homeland. However, it would be a great disappointment for Jesus to return to his homeland, Syria and not find any of his followers.

Prior to 2011, Eastern Christian religious leaders were encouraging Syrian Christians in the diaspora to return to Syria, their homeland, where life was safe and secure with great potential. Now, the same leaders are desperately trying to slow down Christian emigration. Eastern Christians’ loud cries for help to remain are blowing in the wind.

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Protests erupt in Athens, as ‘North Macedonia’ vote fast approaches (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 62.

Alex Christoforou

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NATO and the EU are full of joy with the Prespes agreement, which is sure to pass the Greek Parliament and fast rack the newly minted Republic of North Macedonia into NATO and the EU.

Meanwhile in Athens and Skopje, anger is reaching dangerous levels, as each side debates the pros and cons of the deal inked by Tsipras and Zaev.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at yesterday’s protests in Athens, Greece, where things got very ugly as radical left Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras used tear gas and a heavy police hand to put down protests, that reached upwards of 60,000 people in the Syntagma downtown square.

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Via Ekathimerini

As Greece gets ready for a political showdown this week over the Prespes agreement, we are witnessing a relentless, often cynical, maneuvering between parties, their leaders and even individual deputies.

What is at stake is not only the ratification of the deal between Athens and Skopje, but also the potential redrawing of the domestic political map.

Greek society and the country’s political world are deeply divided. The public is clearly against the deal, with up to 70% opposed to it.

The tens of thousands that demonstrated in Sunday’s rally in Athens, showed once more that sentiments run high.

The violence, which the Prime Minister blamed on extremists, while the opposition leader criticized the extended use of tear gas and called for an investigation to find out who was responsible, is indicative of the slippery slope the country is facing in the months leading to the national elections.

Despite the voices of reason calling for a minimum of cooperation and looking for common ground, Alexis Tsipras and Kyriakos Mitsotakis are in an all out war.

The leftist Prime Minister is attempting to use the Prespes agreement to create a broad “progressive” coalition that extends well beyond SYRIZA, while the conservative opposition leader, who is leading in the polls, is trying to keep his party united (on the name issue there are differing approaches) and win the next elections with an absolute majority.

With respect to the Prespes deal itself, the rare confluence of shrewd political considerations with deeply held feelings about one’s history, makes for an explosive mix and ensures a heated debate in parliament.

As for the raw numbers, despite the public opposition, the passage of the Prespes agreement in the 300 member Greek Parliament should be considered a done deal. In the most plausible senario 153 deputies will support the deal in the vote expected later in the week.

The governing SYRIZA has 145 deputies, and one should add to those the positive votes of Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, centrist To Potami deputies Stavros Theodorakis, Spyros Lykoudis and Giorgos Mavrotas, former To Potami MP Spiros Danellis, and ANEL MP Thanasis Papachristopoulos.

This leads to a majority of 151. Last night one more positive vote was announced, that of Thanasis Theocharopoulos, leader of Democratic Left which untill now was part of the Movement for Change coalition, from which he was ejected as a result of his decision to support the deal.

Finally, Citizens Security Deputy Minister Katerina Papacosta, a former member of New Democracy, is expected to also vote for the agreement, but has not officially said so. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Prespes agreement is expected to pass, with 152 or 153 votes.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who is not a member of parliament and who has worked tiressly on the issue, both as foreign minister and PM, has gone public in support of the deal.

Despite the discomfort this move created in the leadership of the Movement for Change, doing otherwise would have made him look inconsistent. As he is not voting, the damage is seen as limited, although the symbolism does not help the Movement for Change approach.

To the extent that Greece’s transatlantic partners and allies want to see the agreement implemented, they should feel relief. Of course, nothing is done until the “fat lady sings”, but one can clearly hear her whispering the notes in the corridors of the Greek Parliament.

Still, for the astute observer of Greek politics and the foreign officials and analysts who value the crucial role of Greece as an anchor of stability in the Balkans – being by far the strongest country in this region, both militarily and economically, despite the crisis of the last eight years – the deep divisions the issue has created in the society and the political world, are a cause for concern and could spell trouble in the future.

Dealing with such a volatile landscape calls for delicate moves by all.

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