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#SilkRoad to be revived in four Eurasian countries

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The Turkic Council, a relatively new international organisation, comprised of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, is determined to revive the ancient Silk Road. The Council designed a tour package and expects 1 million tourists from around the world to visit the destinations in the package until 2023. This new route promises a unique experience for tourists interested in cultural tourism and alternative safe destinations, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

The Turkic Council created a tour package, which will be commercialized and online sales will start very soon. Already two Fam Tours were organised in April and May, with tour operators and journalists coming from across Europe, Asia and America. The tour goes through İstanbul, Konya, Nevşehir, Kayseri, Gandja, Sheki, Qobustan, Baku, Almaty, Turkistan, Shymkent, Taraz, Bishkek, Naryn, Issyk-Kul and Tash Rabat.

The tour package makes use of several public and private sponsors in 4 countries for 14 days. There are 11 tour operators in the organisation of the tour, which are coordinated by a Turkish operator. The Turkic Council is leading the negotiations with airlines and hotels to obtain competitive prices.

The secret of the success of the tour will be its unique formula, which allows tourists to pick and choose and design their own tour online. People would be able to combine their destinations and are not obliged to join all the steps of the tour. The tour will be full board and will offer a lot of flexibility, with different options for hotels which appeal to the taste of the middle-income tourists as well as upper-class tourists.

One of the aims of the project is to boost the economy, employment and social development of in the region while allowing Member States to decrease their dependence on oil and to diversify their economy.  According to the Secretary-General of the Turkic Council Ramil Hasanov: "Akin to Italy and Spain sharing a common Latin heritage, the four Turkic Council member states have common roots, language, culture and traditions.” Hasanov adds that these common traits may be instrumental in resolving regional conflicts and shall be seen as an opportunity for the future stability and peace in the region.

The organization plans to strengthen its ties with other Turkic-speaking countries, such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Silk Road may be the first step for the rapprochement of these nations, which were isolated and alienated from their Turkic roots during the Soviet era.

The Turkic Council currently collaborates with the UNDP, UN Office for South-South Cooperation, UN World Tourism Organization, UN Alliance of Civilisations on several projects, including projects dedicated to young people and prevention of radicalization.

According to the Deputy Secretary-General of the Turkic Council, Ömer Kocaman, the Silk Road connects China with Europe, with a daily trade volume of 1 billion dollars, expected to reach $3-4 billion in the near future. By promoting the Central Corridor of the Silk Road passing through the Caucasus and Central Asia, the organisation is aiming at connecting infrastructures and developing new routes to bring the East and West together.

Azerbaijan saw a huge transformation with new ports, railways, roads etc. since 2006. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will follow suit, increasing the connectivity in the region. The new railway project Baku-Tbilisi-Kars to be materialised soon is an important example to the fast modernisation of the region.

Ali Faik Demir, Professor at Galatasaray University and one of the participants of the Silk Road Fam Trip, says: “The Silk Road will be a road from heart to heart. There is everything: Culture, history, religion, nature, gastronomy.”

The Silk Road is inspiring and magical, stretching from Turkey’s Erciyes Mountains to Kazakhstan’s celestial Tian Shan Mountains, from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Issyk Lake in Kyrgyzstan.The journey starts with a boat tour on the Bosphorus, goes on with a hot air balloon flight over the fairy chimneys in Turkey, a train journey through the Kazakh steppes and a camel ride in Azerbaijan’s Naftalan, and ends with a horseback riding adventure in mountainous Tash Rabat region of Kyrgyzstan.

It is a special destination for cultural and historical tourism, which is unspoiled and undiscovered. From Khodhja Ahmed Yasawi to Rumi, the Silk Road is home to numerous mystics. At the crossroads of Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrimage routes, traces of shamanism and Zarathustrianism can also be found along the Silk Road. Moreover, the visitors can travel through history by tracing the footsteps of their ancestors through the oldest cave paintings in the world in Qobustan in Azerbaijan and petroglyphs dating 2000 BC to 400 AD in Cholpon Ata in Kyrgyzstan.

The Silk Road is coroneted with writers and poets, such Nizami Ganjavi, Azerbaijani writer of the oriental version of Romeo and Juliet- Leyla and Mecnun. Chingiz Aitmatov, whose books, such as Jamila, The First Teacher and The White Ship were translated into 150 languages, is the pride of Kyrgzystan as is the Manas epic poem, which holds a Guinness record for the longest poem in the world. Great scientists, such as the Turkish Nobel prize-winner in chemistry Aziz Sancar and Al Farabi, are among the jewels of the region.  It goes without mentioning painters, such as Abilkhan Kasteev, the father of Kazakh art, who is painting realist scenes of nomads in yurts, milking horses and making cheese, and musicians such as Azerbaijan’s Vagif Mustafazadeh, who is credited with fusing jazz with mugham.

One can do nothing but admire the splendid nature and architecture along the Silk Road stretching from the Bosphorus Strait of Istanbul and mysterious geological formations of Cappadocia to Kyrgyzstan’s pristine alpine lake Issyk, 7000m snowy peak Kan Tengri, ancient Burana Tower, from Kazakhstan’s endless steppes decorated with ethno villages such as Alasha and Taj Mahal-esque love temples, such as Aysha Bibi, to the green hills of Azerbaijan’s Sheki famous for its khan’s palaces to the land of fire and wind, Baku and its ever-burning mountain Yanar Dag.

Travelling from one caravanserai to another, which are usually at a 40-km distance from one another, as this was seen as a maximum distance a camel could walk for 9 hours a day, makes visitors travel in time. Falcons and gold eagles of Almaty, camels of Naftalan, snow leopards of Naryn and horses of Cappadocia accompany the tourists through this ones-in-a-lifetime journey. While the trade of ancient Silk Road goods such as silk (Sheki) and horses (Kochkor) is still alive, one can also shop for ceramics in Cappadocia, felt carpets in Kochkor and traditional hats in Almaty’s Green Bazaar.

One of the most important and distinguished features of the Silk Road is its nomadic people, who still lead a semi-nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan’s Tash Rabat region, for instance.  It is a unique experience to spend a night in a yurt, decorated with colourful carpets, blankets and chests. Sitting on a floor table in a yurt camp, one can taste regional specialities, such as kumis (fermented mare milk), camel milk and horse meat.

Cappadocia’s Ürgüp region is also known for its authentic cave hotels and home restaurants.

Other gastronomical wonders one should absolutely not miss on the Silk Road include beshbarmak (Kazakh and Kyrgyz ravioli with meat called ‘five fingers”), beef or sturgeon with pomegranate sauce, walnut jam, meat and chick pea meal called ‘piti’ of Ganja (Azerbaijani specialities) and Turkish specialities such as sarma (stuffed wine leaves), dolma (stuffed pepper) and tas kebabı (a special sort of kebab).

By offering these out-of-the-box tourism destinations, the Turkic Council Modern Silk Road Joint Tour Package will bring tourists together with the unique cultural, spiritual, historical and gastronomic life of the traditional Silk Road, which was a source of inspiration for famous travellers, including Marco Polo.

EU

Will the Kremlin go beyond election interference? 

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Once the Kremlin is persuaded that Joe Biden will become the US’s next president, it may go for the jugular. Already today, not election manipulation, but triggering civil conflicts in the United States could be the main aim of Moscow’s mingling in American domestic affairs, write Pavlo Klimkin and Andreas Umland.

Over the past 15 years, the Kremlin has played with politicians and diplomats of, above all, Russia’s neighbors, but also with those of the West, a hare and hedgehog game, as known from a German fairy tale. In the Low Saxon fable’s well-known race, the hedgehog only runs a few steps, but at the end of the furrow he has placed his wife who looks very much like him. When the hare, certain of victory, storms in, the hedgehog's wife rises and calls out to him “I'm already here!” The hare cannot understand the defeat, conducts 73 further runs, and, in the 74th race, dies of exhaustion.

Ever since Russia’s anti-Western turn of 2005, governmental and non-governmental analysts across the globe have been busy discussing and predicting Moscow’s next offensive action. Yet, in most cases, when the world’s smart “hares” – politicians, experts, researchers, journalists et al. – arrived with more or less adequate reactions, the Russian “hedgehogs” had already long achieved their aims. Such was the case with Russia’s invasion of Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, “little green men” on Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, hackers inside Germany’s Bundestag in 2015, bombers over Syria since 2015, cyber-warriors in the US elections of 2016, or “chemical” assassins at England’s Salisbury in 2018.

Across the world, one can find hundreds of sensitive observers able to provide sharp comments on this or that vicious Russian action. For all the experience accumulated, such insights have, however, usually been provided only thereafter. So far, the Kremlin’s wheeler-dealers continue to surprise Western and non-Western policy makers and their think-tanks with novel forays, asymmetric attacks, unorthodox methods and shocking brutality. More often than not, Russian imaginativeness and ruthlessness become sufficiently appreciated only after a new “active measure,” hybrid operation or non-conformist intervention has been successfully completed.

Currently, many US observers – whether in national politics, public administration or social science – may be again preparing to fight the last war. Russian election interference and other influence operations are on everybody’s mind, across America. Yet, as Ukraine has bitterly learnt in 2014, the Kremlin only plays soft ball as long as it believes it has some chance to win. It remains relatively moderate as long as a possible loss will – from Moscow’s point of view – only be moderately unpleasant. Such was the case, during Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential elections in the US.

The Ukrainian experience during the last six years suggests a far grimmer scenario. At some point during the Euromaidan Revolution, in either January or February 2014, Putin understood that he may be losing his grip on Ukraine. Moscow’s man in Kyiv, then still President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych (though very much assisted by Paul Manafort), may be kicked out by the Ukrainian people. As a result, Russia’s President drastically changed track already before the event.

The Kremlin’s medal awarded to the anonymous Russian soldiers who took part in the annexation of Crimea lists the date of 20 February 2014, as the start of the operation to occupy a part of Ukraine. On that day, pro-Russian Ukrainian President Yanukovych was still in power, and present in Kyiv. His flight from Ukraine’s capital one day later, and ousting, by the Ukrainian parliament, on 22 February 2014, had not yet been clearly predictable, on 20 February 2014. But the Kremlin had already switched from merely political warfare against Ukraine to preparing a real war – something then largely unimaginable for most observers. Something similar may be the case, in Moscow’s approach to the US today too.

To be sure, Russian troops will hardly land on American shores. Yet, that may not be necessary. The possibility of violent civil conflict in the United States is today, in any way, being discussed by serious analysts, against the background of enormous political polarization and emotional spikes within American society. As in Putin’s favorite sports of Judo – in which he holds a Black Belt! – a brief moment of disbalance of the enemy can be used productively, and may be sufficient to cause his fall. The United States may not, by itself, become ripe for civil conflict. Yet, an opportunity to push it a bit further is unlikely to be simply missed by industrious hybrid warfare specialists in Moscow. And the game that the Russian “hedgehogs” will be playing may be a different one than in the past, and not yet be fully comprehensible to the US’s “hares.”

Hillary Clinton was in 2016 a presidential candidate very much undesired, by Moscow, as America’s new president. Yet today, a democratic president is, after Russia’s 2016 hacking of the Democratic Party’s servers and vicious campaign against Clinton, a truly threatening prospect for the Kremlin. Moreover, Joe Biden was, under President Obama, responsible for the US’s policy towards Ukraine, knows as well as likes the country well, and is thus especially undesirable for Moscow.

Last but not least, Moscow may have had more contacts with Trump and his entourage than the American public is currently aware of. The Kremlin would, in such a case, even more dislike a Biden presidency, and a possible disclosure of its additional earlier interventions, in the US. The stakes are thus higher, for the Kremlin, in 2020 than in 2016. If Trump has no plausible chance to be elected for a second term, mere election interference may not be the issue any more. Moscow may already now implement more sinister plans than trying to help Trump. If Putin thinks that he cannot prevent Biden, the Kremlin will not miss a chance to get altogether rid of the US, as a relevant international actor.

Pavlo Klimkin was, among others, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany in 2012-2014 as well as minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine in 2014-2019. Andreas Umland is a researcher at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv and Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.

All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the authors alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

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Defence

USEUCOM demonstrates readiness to support NATO in Exercise Austere Challenge

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US European Command (USEUCOM) leaders, strategists, planners and operators joined forces with their NATO counterparts in exercise Austere Challenge 2021 (AC21) to practice a co-ordinated response to a fictional major crisis this week. While the exercise was conducted virtually to protect the health of the participants and our communities from COVID-19 more than 4,000 military and civilian personnel participated.

The exercise brought together USEUCOM and its components who joined Joint Forces Command-Brunssum and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO for the weeklong, computer-based, biannual command post exercise, which culminated today (23 October).

"We are looking forward to drawing on the lessons learned we have from this exercise as we prepare for future activities together," said German Gen. Jörg Vollmer, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum. AC21 is part of an exercise series planned and executed since the 1990s and focused upon training combatant command co-ordination, command and control and the integration of capabilities and functions across USEUCOM’s headquarters, its component commands, US interagency and NATO.

The exercise was linked globally to other US combatant command exercises, including US Strategic Command and US Space Command’s Exercise Global Lightning 2021 and US Transportation Command’s Turbo Challenge 2021. “Exercises like AC21 prepare the USEUCOM staff to respond to crises in a timely and well-coordinated manner with our NATO Allies, which ultimately supports regional stability and security,” said US Army Maj. Gen. John C. Boyd, USEUCOM’s director of training and exercises.

While the ongoing pandemic forced a variety of USEUCOM exercises to be modified or canceled this year, training and partnership-building has carried on. “We remain postured and ready to support NATO against any enemy or threat – be it a military crisis or an invisible virus,” Boyd added. “Together on innumerable instances, the US and NATO have demonstrated a strong, unbreakable working relationship to counter any threat to the alliance. AC21 is yet another example of the strength and solidarity of the NATO alliance and USEUCOM’s contributions to Europe’s collective defense.”

About USEUCOM

US European Command (USEUCOM) is responsible for US military operations across Europe, portions of Asia and the Middle East, the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean. USEUCOM is comprised of approximately 72,000 military and civilian personnel and works closely with NATO Allies and partners. The command is one of two US forward-deployed geographic combatant commands headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. For more information about USEUCOM, click here.

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Brexit

President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again

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President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

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