This sanctioned bank is now Norway’s most valuable asset in Russia

This sanctioned bank is now Norway’s most valuable asset in Russia

Norwegians are not allowed to buy or sell new bonds, equity or similar financial instruments with a maturity exceeding 90 days issued by Sberbank. This follows the European Union’s sanctions from 2014 after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and destabilizing the situation in Eastern Ukraine.

Norway follows the EU sanctions word-by-word.

The sanctions, however, do not hinder Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, known as the wealth fund, to buy more shares in Sberbank.

The fund increased its share in the bank from 0,77% in 2019 to 0,83% in 2020.

The shares owned by the Norwegian wealth fund had a value of 6 billion kroner (€579 million) by December 31, 2020.

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Vaccination challenges: vaccine shortage and unfair competition

Poor quantity  of vaccine manufacturing capacity against the backdrop of high global demand provokes unfair competition between manufacturers, as well as differentiation of countries based on their ability to contract the required volumes of vaccines.

Covid-19 has showed significance of having strong manufacturing capacity to produce high-quality and well-tested vaccines in the required volume. These very capacities will allow both vaccinating at a rapid pace and preventing attempts of the countries to market dubious and untested medicines. According to the statement of the director-general of the World Health Organization Tedros Ghebreyesus, 92 countries with low and middle income will be able to get the vaccine in the framework of the Covax global initiative promoted by WHO, Gavi,  the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. However, market saturation at current production volumes will be extremely slow.

Medical research centers, pharmaceutical companies and governments of some countries run information campaigns to discredit vaccines of rivals.

Moscow and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for Sputnik V vaccine promotion, are actively involved in mud-slinging campaigns. The spread of the Russian vaccine correlates with the Kremlin’s already existing geopolitical influence. First, Sputnik V was brought to the former Soviet republics, close to Moscow (Belarus and Kazakhstan), and the occupied regions of Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass). Later on, the vaccine was shipped to the Kremlin-friendly countries such as Serbia, Algeria, Iran, Myanmar, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and Paraguay. Russia is conducting a powerful information campaign in Latin America to discredit Western vaccines and popularize its own medicine.

Below are some of the recent disinformation narratives spread by Russian propaganda media and troll-factories under Kremlin’s control:

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Closed military town on Kola coast loses lifeline to base

Closed military town on Kola coast loses lifeline to base

The remote town located on the Barents Sea coast about 300 km east of Murmansk is almost completely isolated after the ship that connects the locals with the outside world is sent away for repair.

The 42 year old liner Klavdiya Elanskaya was in mid-January sent to a shipyard in Arkhangelsk for upgrades. The aging ship is the only way of transportation between Ostrovnoy and Murmansk.

The closed military town that used to house a fleet powerful nuclear submarines has no road connection to the rest of the Kola Peninsula.

Food supplies in local stores are now dwindling, locals report on social media.

Regional authorities have set up a helicopter connection, but the air bridge is only partly able to provide the small town with necessary supplies.

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Russia handed strategic airbase in Syria to Iran, in a bid to prevent a clash with Israel

Russia handed the T4 Airbase in Homs, Syria to Iran amid ongoing threats of air strikes by Israel. The Russians have used the T4 since 2015 to station their helicopter task force.

Russia’s military had to leave the Syrian T4 Airbase, according to Syria’s Zaitun news agency. The reports confirm the Russians withdrew equipment, weapons and ammunition from the airbase. 8 military trucks were particularly seen leaving the airbase immediately. The helicopters were redeployed to the Qamishli Airbase.

Local sources are pushing out a message that the decision to leave the T4 was made under pressure by Damascus and Iran. We believe however, the Russians handed the airbase themselves as a trade-off to prevent a clash with Israel.

First of all, the Kremlin knew Iran would like to move its weapons supply center for Syria from the Damascus international airport to a Syrian air base located very far from the capital city. The decision is related to the latest wave of Israeli attacks on the Damascene airport.

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Traffic, mobile data show Lapland travellers not deterred by worsening COVID situation in Finland

Traffic, mobile data show Lapland travellers not deterred by worsening COVID situation in Finland

Finland’s deteriorating coronavirus situation does not appear to have affected the travel plans of winter holidaymakers.

According to mobile phone and traffic data, there were as many–or even more–people travelling domestically this week compared to the same period last year.

Automatic measuring points on roads leading to the most popular ski resorts in Lapland registered a clearly increased number of vehicles in the weekend before the ski holiday week began.

According to data collected by the Lapland ELY Centre, a total of 11,500 vehicles were registered on Saturday by three measuring points: between Kemi and Rovaniemi on highway 4, on highway 79 leading to Kittilä and on highway 21 travelling in the direction of Ylläs.

Last year, just under 10,300 vehicles passed the same three measuring points.

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The time to rethink Russia policy comes

The Kremlin’s threats to break off relations with the European Union are nothing but hollow words. Moscow is not ready for such actions, since the EU remains Russia’s key economic partner in energy resources consumption. Russia’s dependence on the European energy market explains Moscow’s aggressive protection of the projects like Nord Stream-2. Therefore, the breach with the EU for the Kremlin will mean both decreasing its influence in Europe and losing foreign currency revenues as well.

The economic sanctions imposed by the US and the EU on Russia have proved their effectiveness. However, they turned out to be insufficient to accelerate the processes that will make Putin respect international law.

The Kremlin is afraid of toughen sanctions and expansion of groups of key export goods; introduction of more restrictions on technological imports to Russia, and impose of personal sanctions on individuals from the circles of the country’s political leaders.

During the visit of Josep Borrell’s, the EU foreign affairs chief, to Russia, the Kremlin defiantly declared three ambassadors of the EU member states persona non grata, accusing them of joining and supporting pro-Navalny protests. After the trip, the actions of the head of EU diplomacy faced a barrage of criticism from the European Parliament. Hilde Vautmans, Belgian MEP, said, ‘Mr. Borrell, do you know how to tame a bear? If you try once, you’d better get ready. Take a pot of honey and a large stick. Because only the bear feels that you do not control the situation, he attacks. If you are very lucky, he will only hurt you badly. The European Parliament gives you a yellow card. Let this humiliating experience be a lesson for you. We must agree on a clear strategy on how to engage with the Russian Federation’. Upon his return to Brussels, Josep Borrell admitted his mistake and stated about imposing new sanctions against Russia.

For a long time, we have been building on the fact that cooperation with Russia and reciprocal steps will stimulate Moscow to move towards democratization, peacefulness and acceptance of the values ​​of the West. However, practically, the only result we could achieve is that this very policy has pushed Russia to perform the confrontational policy of the Soviet times, the Cold War. Such a policy is the most beneficial for Russia as it allows suppressing protests inside the country and explaining to its citizens the reason for such a low living standard having so significant natural resources. The Kremlin positions all Western countries as enemies, and this ‘hostile environment’ serves as a pretext for a constant struggle where the authorities empower and justify lawlessness and authoritarianism. This policy dates back to the middle ages when Moscow chose power inviolability and unlimited rule instead of the way of democratic development. Russia takes only strength and it is incapable of negotiating because negotiations are seen as weakness.

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Journalist Svetlana Prokopeva wanted to understand the young terrorist from Arkhangelsk. She ended up in a brawl with the FSB

Journalist Svetlana Prokopeva wanted to understand the young terrorist from Arkhangelsk. She ended up in a brawl with the FSB

In late October 2018, the 17-year old Mikhail Zhlobitsky entered the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk and blew himself up with a self-made bomb.

The perpetrator, a student at the local technical institute, himself died in the attack and three FSB officers were injured.

The terrorist act in Arkhangelsk shook Russia. Photo: Karina Zabolotnaya, 7x7-journal

Just minutes before the attack, he posted a message at a social media platform

«I alone take the responsibility for the act of terrorism in the Arkhangelsk FSB building. The reason that pushes me to do the act is the repressive police of the state, suppressive laws, state propaganda and much more.»

In a post on Telegram, he reportedly also explained that he was going to the extreme action because the “FSB is fabricating cases and torturing people.”

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Giga-scale green hydrogen plant with steel production to be built in northern Sweden

Giga-scale green hydrogen plant with steel production to be built in northern Sweden

Northern Sweden offers unique conditions for fossil-free steel production, the newly established company said in a press release on Tuesday. The region has Europe’s largest iron-ore mines, plenty of renewable energy in the form of hydropower and wind-power, and is a center for knowhow on zero-emission industrial processes.

“We want to accelerate the transformation of the European steel industry,” said Carl-Erik Lagercrantz at the presentation of the plans.

“Electrification was the first step in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation industry. The next step is to build vehicles from high-quality fossil-free steel,” he said.

Founded last year, the largest shareholder in H2 Green Steel is Vargas, the same investment company that co-founded Nortvolt, currently building Europe’s largest battery factory in Skellefteå, also in northern Sweden.

Another partner in the project is Scania, the manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses, and lorries.

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Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation

Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation

By Eilís Quinn 

The parliament agreed that the November 2022 deadline should be pushed until the end of of 2023, they announced on Monday.

“The early time frame was too narrow because of the coronavirus,” said the President of the Sami Parliament in Finland, Tuomas Aslak Juuso, in a phone interview. 

Anni Koivisto, deputy speaker of the Sami Parliament in Finland, said priority needed to be on the quality of the preparation. 

“The start of the commission’s work has been delayed and it’s important for us to ensure that a too tight schedule does not become an obstacle to the success of this important work,” Koivisto said in a news release.

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The Return of the Brinkmanship Strategy in the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

Joe Biden was officially sworn in on January 4, 2021 as the 46th President of the United States. This election was a relief in many diplomatic citadels with regard to the risk of war caused by the bellicose management of many sensitive international issues by the former US administration. Among these sensitive international issues stands the Iranian nuclear program. Since the unilateral and unjustified withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA in 2018 has led Iran to gradually free itself from all of its obligations under this agreement signed in 2015. Among the retaliatory measures adopted are the decision to resume enrichment of uranium at 20%, which has raised serious fears among Western powers regarding the risk of Iran producing a nuclear bomb. What factors can explain such a situation of animosity? In other words, why has Iran made such a decision with serious regional consequences? How advanced is Iran’s nuclear program and therefore its ability to produce a nuclear bomb?

            Iran Government spokesman Ali Rabie announced on January 4, 2021 the resumption of enrichment activities for its uranium up to 20%. This was done in retaliation by the Iranian government following the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered to be the mastermind of Iran’s nuclear program. Although there have been no official claims from the Israeli government, several experts agree on the responsibility of the Israeli secret service in this assassination. [1] In addition, the Iranian parliament recently adopted a bill inviting the government to stop respecting the additional protocol of the IAEA which authorized unannounced inspections in the nuclear installations and certain military bases of the country. It is important to stress that Iran had already adopted similar retaliatory measures in the context of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani. [2] Therefore, the decision to resume enrichment activities up to 20% appears to be a logical continuation in its policy of counter-attacks against the economic cost of the sanctions imposed on it. Combined with the unilateral sanctions imposed by the previous US administration, the assassination of this eminent scientist had enormous political impact beyond the technical implications for Iran’s nuclear program. What is the state of Iran’s nuclear program? Is Iran already capable of producing an atomic bomb?

                        The production of an atomic bomb depends on both technical and political factors. Regarding the technical aspects, it would require centrifuges, fissile material and a delivery system. According to official reports, Iran meets two of the conditions listed above, the most problematic of which is the mastering of the enrichment cycle that produces fissile material. The level of enrichment is critical in the production of fissile material necessary for the production of a bomb. Between 1% and 19%, (LEU) Uranium is enriched for exclusively civilian or peaceful purposes. From 20%, enrichment is problematic because it makes it possible to reach the critical threshold of 90% (HEU) which gives access to the nuclear bomb. [3] Therefore, it is logical that Iran’s decision to enrich its 20% uranium is a source of concern in the West. Regarding the political conditions, the State should resolutely embark on the path of nuclearisation, as North Korea did, which is not yet the case for Tehran considering the Fatwa of  the Supreme Leader which prohibits the production of nuclear weapons. From this perspective, it is too early to panic. Moreover, the compromise recently reached between Iran and the IAEA on a minimum implementation of the additional protocol is a signal that Iran wants the preservation of the JCPOA.[4]

            The preservation of the JCPOA therefore appears to be the keystone likely to resolve the current crisis between Tehran and Washington. However, Iran request beforehand the lifting of sanctions imposed on its economy by the Trump administration. While the Biden administration has also indicated its willingness to return to the JCPOA, they also request Iran’s initial return in the JCPOA, which leads  to a brinkmanship scenario. The solution proposed by Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif of a synchronized return of both sides under EU auspices seems a middle-ground approach acceptable to both sides. The upcoming Iranian presidential elections might put the Biden administration in a difficult bargaining position with Iran. A bold political action is therefore urgently required.

[1]          Bunkall, Alistair, The meticulous planning behind assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist, Sky News, 2021.

[2]          Marcus Jonathan,Iran rolls back nuclear deal commitments,BBC, 2020.

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Large Russian missile cruiser sails Varanger fjord close to Norway's border

Large Russian missile cruiser sails Varanger fjord close to Norway's border

The missile cruiser “Marshal Ustinov” came from the western part of the Barents Sea, an area where Russia for the past few days have marked as “Impact area for Russian missiles.”

Sailing back towards the Kola Peninsula, the warship took an unusual path into the Varanger fjord, waters that mark the Russian-Norwegian maritime border.

“Such sailing west of the Fishermen Peninsula is something we haven’t seen in recent times,” said Major Brynjar Stordal, spokesperson with Norway’s Joint Headquarters.

He confirms it is a Slava-class missile cruiser. 

“Marshal Ustinov” is the third largest warship sailing for the Russian Northern Fleet, after the aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” and the nuclear-powered missile cruiser “Pyotr Velikiye”. 

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Finnmark dogsled race cancelled over COVID-19 fears

Finnmark dogsled race cancelled over COVID-19 fears

It is freezing cold in Finnmark this weekend with temperatures dropping down to -32°C in the Pasvik valley. A seriously hard challenge for mushers and the dogs, but it is exactly such conditions that since 1981 have attracted participants to race the 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) between Alta and Kirkenes and return.

The pandemic, however, put a stop to the race, the organizer informs in a press release.

“The guidelines in connection with the pandemic make clear that large events bringing together participants from several municipalities and different regions of the country are not recommended.”

Norway has some of the strictest entry rules in Europe, with borders practically being closed since January 29 to all foreigners not living in the country, or specialist workers and employees within health care professions. Several cases of new coronavirus variant have been detected after the new year and authorities fear a worsening of the breakout.  

Last year, the Finnmark race had participants from five countries. For 2021, 94 participants had signed up for the start in the long 1,200 km race (14-dogs), the shorter 600 km (8-dogs), and the 200 km junior-class race (6-dogs).

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Arctic shipper shows off a historical icebreaking voyage

Arctic shipper shows off a historical icebreaking voyage

It is the first time that a commercial vessel sails across the Northern Sea Route in February. The voyage of the Christophe de Margerie from Jiangsu in China to the remote Arctic terminal of Sabetta was made in the Arctic winter dark and through thick sea-ice.

Glimpses of the voyage are now put on display by shipping company Sovcomflot and its partner Rosatom.

As previously reported by the Barents Observer, the 299 meter long LNG carrier operated by Sovcomflot on the 27th January set out from the Chinese port and few days later sailed through the Bering Strait where it soon team up with nuclear icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy.

The Christophe de Margerie sails into port of Sabetta on 19th February 2021.

The two ships subsequently sailed together across the vast Arctic route to the Yamal Peninsula. On the 19th February, the powerful LNG carrier entered the port of Sabetta. That is two days after the original schedule.

According to shipping company Sovcomflot, the voyage shows that navigation across the eastern sector of the Russian Arctic can be significantly extended.

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Russia enhances its Spy Hub in Ireland

There are evidences Russia’s field agents from military G2 conduct intelligence operations in Ireland. Ireland’s counterintelligence service has launched an investigation into an expansion project at the embassy of Russia in Dublin. According to sources cited by The Times newspaper, the Irish government is concerned that the expansion project is part of a secret plan by Moscow to turn its embassy in Dublin into a major espionage hub in Europe.

Irish military sources have suggested that the development could provide a cover for a signals, or intelligence gathering base.Last February Russian intel stuff lighted up in Ireland, when the London-based Sunday Times’ reported that Russia’s government had sent a team of spies to Ireland to monitor undersea fiber-optic cables, which enable communications traffic between North America and Western Europe. IGTDS underlined then, that within last 3 years the Russian Navy deep-sea forces had undergone rapid growth, ramping uptheir ops.

The two nations had no diplomatic relations until September 1973, when the Republic of Ireland officially recognized the Soviet Union, and the two countries proceeded to establish embassies at each other’s capitals. Since then, the Russian embassy in Dublin has been located on Orwell Road, in the southern suburb of Rathgar. For at least three decades, the embassy has been considered by Western intelligence a hub of Russian intelligence collection operations in Europe. Some claim that the tranquil environs of the Irish capital, coupled with Ireland’s relatively relaxed counterintelligence posture, have encouraged Moscow to use its Dublin embassy as a support base for espionage activities throughout much of Western Europe.

Russian embassy at Orwell Road in Rathgar (Image: Google Maps).

But the Irish government changed its stance in 2018 when, in a surprising move, it introduced emergency legislation aimed at stopping a previously approved expansion of the Russian embassy complex. The government reportedly feared that the initial plan, which proposed to add 86,000 sq ft of structures to the embassy’s existing 21,000 sq ft of building space, threatened Ireland’s national security. The Russians had little choice but to comply with the restrictions imposed by the Irish government. Now, however, the Irish government is reportedly concerned that Moscow was able to proceed with the establishment of an “intelligence hub”, despite the reduced size of the embassy’s expansion.

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Kosovo in the 13th year of independence: Opportunities and risks

Kosovo’s February 14th parliamentary elections mark a major turning point since the post-war period. Self-determination Movement (LVV) a left-wing party, emerged as the leading force in Kosovo, leaving behind the Democratic Party of Kosovo known as the war wing party and the Democratic League of Kosovo known as the non-violent party of former historic President Ibrahim Rugova, as well the oldest party in Kosovo. This victory of LVV was expected because it comes after a long journey of its leader Albin Kurti to come to a great victory like this. The pro-LVV vote is also seen as a punishment for past governments, a punishment for corruption and bad governance.

Preliminary results published on Monday by the Central Election Commission show that the LVV has won 47.85% which translates roughly to 52 seats on the 120 seat National Assembly. The Democratic Party of Kosovo 17.41% and the Democratic League of Kosovo 13.08%, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, received about 7.43 per cent, without counting the conditional and postal votes which are expected to increase the percentage of LVV. A great push towards the victory of LVV was given by the union of acting President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani, who was previously part of the LDK after disagreements she had with her former party over the previous coalition with LVV.

Immediately after the announcement of the first results on the evening of February 14, the second party in the country, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, in a press conference congratulated the winner of the elections and stated that it would not cooperate with LVV to form the new government. This puts PDK for the second term in the row in the role of the opposition in Kosovo. PDK lost its two prominent leaders, former President Thaci and former Speaker of the National Assembly Veseli to the Specialized Court Chambers after the indictment was published accusing them of crimes committed post 1999. After losing almost half of its voters, LDK held an emergency meeting where its leadership resigned taking responsibility for the disaster. Isa Mustafa was former Prime Minister of Kosovo in 2014 until 2017. Last two elections, he appointed others to run for elections while retaining his party leadership.

On the 13th anniversary of its Independence, Kosovo is found with new leadership. This has raised eyebrows both in country and internationally. There is a dilemma of whether LVV and Albin Kurti as Prime Minister will lead Kosovo forward, based on his ideological actions which have produced social polarization through his exclusive narratives of state capture, corruption and nationalistic agenda. Expectations of the Kosovo citizens for the Kurti government are high, but whether he will be able to meet these challenges in this term, remains to be seen.

Challenges of the Kurti Government

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The Road Ahead with Russia

“You destroyed us.” 

That assessment by a senior Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy official summed up the feeling in Moscow during the immediate post-Cold War period.  As Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, I made regular visits to the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy and nuclear facilities.  With my Russian counterparts we coordinated expert and Congressional visits to the “Nuclear Cities,” the once super-secret jewels in the Soviet nuclear archipelago.  Seeing those cities it was hard to disagree with him.  Curtains hung in disrepair, dusty pianos sat unplayed in formerly elegant ballrooms, and the general feeling in cities like Sarov, or Arzamas-16, was one of directionlessness and despair. The lifestyle of the nuclear elite was destroyed.

After the Cold War the U.S. developed an ambitious plan to take Russia’s nuclear weapons and nuclear expertise and render it less dangerous.  We had programs to safeguard nuclear materials, to upgrade security and accountability at weapons factories and nuclear repositories, programs to blend highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium for burning in U.S. nuclear plants, and programs to encourage weapons scientists to find other, peaceful pursuits, rather than selling out to rogue countries.  There were even plans to help the Nuclear Cities themselves thrive economically in a globalized world, using the scientific talent already there.  One of the last vestiges of that effort was discarded when Vladimir Putin withdrew Russia from the Plutonium agreement.

The swords to plowshares effort should have been just one piece of a larger effort to put Russia back on track.  But Russia never turned the corner and we did not think broadly enough.  The problem was the assistance, as good as it was for U.S. security and as helpful as it was to Russian government fiscal balances, did nothing for the average Russian.  It was invisible.  And Public Diplomacy counts.  How many Germans remember acts of kindness from American GI’s?  A bar of chocolate given to a hungry child was remembered and treasured for life.  We followed up with the Marshall Plan. With no visible support, Putin could create a narrative in which the West, and the U.S. in particular, wanted Russia to fail.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States needed to consolidate the security gains, surely, but also do more to put Russia on the right path.  How?  Leadership, a plan, and public diplomacy. Easy to say now I know.  We need to work on our end game to win the war, cold or hot, and then win the peace.  

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Greece to gain more dependence on Russia losing touch with EU and U.S., spurring pariah state’s ambition

Belterra Investments Ltd consolidated control over the Greek port of Thessaloniki last week. If the deal is clinched, 80,3% of the port’s voting shares will come under direct or indirect control of Ivan Savvidis, Russian businessman, Sofokleousin reports.

In 2017, a 67% stake in the port was acquired by Belterra Investments Ltd (20%) and Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH (DIEP) (47%). Belterra Investments is now taking up the German shareholder’s stake. Russian capital entered the port after President Tsipras of Greece invited Moscow to participate in the privatization of the port in 2015.

Belterra Investments Ltd is owned by Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis (the Savvidis Group), who has been fully engaged in some large-scale information and not only campaigns by Russian intelligence.

The port’s purchase will give the Russians a free hand in keeping an eye on NATO missions in the Balkans, as NATO troops in Bosnia and Kosovo are known to be getting some of their supplies through the port of Thessaloniki.

The purchase of Thessaloniki’s port seems a move to stymy NATO’s naval access to the interior of the Balkans, a region at the convergence of Russian and American spheres of influence.

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Is red ribbon making a comeback in the Balkans too?

The early elections of February 14 in Kosovo are being eagerly awaited by the citizens. The hope for change is great but what change it will be, remains to be seen after the 14th of February. The Guardian called it a ´wave of anti-corruption´ and some dozens of left wing philosophers led by world infamous Slavoj Zizek sent a letter in support of the current opposition leader, Albin Kurti who is leading a campaign under the slogan “All and Straight.”

A big competition is taking place mainly between the three largest political parties in the country, for the next term of government. Electoral campaign that gathers thousands of citizens in times of pandemics, looks terrifying and a new wave of infected people with COVID 19 will be the highest bill of this campaign which citizens will pay in the end.

At a time when Kosovo is at a political and economic crossroads, a part of the political factor, with its military past, is not part of the electoral competition for the first time in Kosovo. Former President Hashim Thaci and former Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) leader Kadri Veseli and several other former KLA[1] members are facing war crimes charges in The Hague.

February 14 at this stage for Kosovo is seen as a challenge in itself. Will the political scene in Kosovo continue to be so polarized or will early elections produce another fragile government that could affect Kosovo’s role in the region and beyond, as well as in talks with Serbia? It remains to be seen after February 14th.

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Moscow espouses QAnon and other conspiracy theories

Russia favors infiltrating conspiracy theories into U.S. political agenda to denigrate U.S. policy and manipulate public perceptions. In view of this, state propaganda tools broadcasting abroad and cyber units of Russian intelligence support conspiracy organizations and movements like QAnon.

Russian government-supported organizations are playing increasing role amplifying conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon.

Although there were no signs that Russia had a hand in the early days of the movement, launched in 2017 with anonymous web postings, as QAnon gained adherents and took on new topics, social media accounts tied to a key Kremlin ally joined in.

In 2019, accounts removed by Twitter and suspected of being controlled by Russia’s Internet Research Agency(IRA) sent a high volume of tweets tagged with #QAnon and the movement slogan #WWG1WGA. The IRA was indicted by Robert Mueller in his election interference prosecution.

Russian government-backed media Russia Today and Sputnik have stepped up coverage of QAnon, which began with a false proclamation Hillary Clinton would be arrested for an undetermined reason and now includes theories about child trafficking by Hollywood elites, the novel coronavirus and more.

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Is EU being unreasonable with Kosovo´s foreign policy?

The establishment of official relations between Israel and Kosovo and mutual recognition sent a signal to the opposing countries of the Kosovo statehood and with that also the EU non recognizing fiver that are Spain, Greece, Cypruss, Romania and Slovakia. EU has not been a supporter of the Independence of Kosovo since its declaration on the 17th of February 2008 but supported Kosovo on its European perspective and European integrations in various ways. However, the EU support has not always been in line with the Kosovo’s foreign policy. One of the cases is also the negotiations mediated by President Trump and the Agreement signed at the White House where Kosovo managed to secure the recognition by the state of Israel.

The establishment of diplomatic relations between Kosovo and Israel is seen by many as the beginning of another round of recognitions expected for Kosovo despite Kosovo being in a challenging political crossroad with difficult elections in February 2021 and its Kosovo Liberation Army accused of war crimes. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Kosovo is a signal that Kosovo has been accepted as a unique situation or what international lawyers like to call ‘a sui generis case,’ which was a problematic issue especially for Cyprus, Romania and Spain due to secessionist movements in their own countries. Similarly, Israel’s progress in establishing diplomatic relations with Morocco and UAE, and Kosovo being recognized by Israel, is a good indicator for the progress both in the troubling Balkans and Middle East despite political capitalization from President Trump and Prime Minister Natanyahu as well as Prime Minister Hoti of Kosovo. Serbia’s President Vucic, was not very happy about this outcome yet he signed a document that committed to ‘normalization of economic relations with Kosovo’ on September 4th 2020 at the White House together with Prime Minister Hoti of Kosovo in an audience with President Trump.

What stirred EU politics lately as well as Turkish foreign ministry is this act of diplomatic mutual relations where Kosovo officially declared that it will open its Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. Peter Stano, an EU Foreign Policy Spokesperson, declared that the EU position is that the embassies of EU countries should be located in Tel Aviv. Stano had reacted the same even after the Washington agreement on September 4 last year, he had expressed “serious concern and regret regarding the warning that Serbia and Kosovo will establish embassies in Jerusalem. Similar reaction was received from the Turkish MFA in reaction against such decision by Kosovo Government. Kosovo Government’s stand is that it will open the Embassy in Jerusalem as soon as conditions allow, which means practically, once the pandemic lock down is over.

Despite Serbia’s promise to do the same, they are yet to do such an act. EU has not reacted to Serbia yet and has not reacted against Serbia even at the time when the so called ‘stabilization agreement’ was signed at the White House. Serbia’s politics flows from alliances with China and Russia on several fronts including the 5G untrusted vendors installed by Huaiwei in Belgrade beginning from last year to arms deals with Russia and installation of Russian defense technology in Serbia as well as military bases such as the one near Nis. The flirt of East-West of Serbia is almost unnoticed despite President Vucic’s declarations that EU is like a stepmother to Serbia whereas he called Xi Jinping, a brother when China donated medical supplies to fight the pandemic situation in Serbia. Vucic accused EU of closing the border and turning its back to Serbia when they needed.

Serbia’s foreign policy in a hybrid situation with EU and members states of the EU as Serbian Foreign Policy mostly consists of playing a double-edged sword, receiving donations from the EU and playing the ‘non-allied’ card when needed. For historic reasons such as NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Serbia is at large in a alienated feelings with NATO and NATO members as well. Yet, EU and NATO rarely seem to react towards Serbian foreign policy of same nature with Kosovo. Such is the case with deployment of Embassies in Jerusalem.

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