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New era of #Putin



One year and one day ago, on 7 May 2018, Vladimir Putin was sworn in for his fourth term as president of Russia. The newly elected Russian leader arrived at the inauguration ceremony directly from his office, showing the people that he was busy with current state affairs and at the same time demonstrating to an entire army of high-ranking officials waiting in the Kremlin's royal halls that the objectives he planned to accomplish during his fourth tenure could not wait, writes James Wilson.

Putin is indisputably a very popular figure in Russian society — he enjoys a level of trust and respect that is hard to attain for a politician. What is more, Putin has been able to achieve this consistently for many years. This is partly because he brought back a feeling of national pride for the Russian people. His controversial foreign policy is still largely met with enthusiasm and support at home, and with rejection, but fear mixed with respect in Western democracies.

Putin is smart, and is well aware that to win people's devotion one needs more than "a sharp pen and a sword" — a true historical figure and beloved leader of the nation should also bring meaningful changes to the country's life. With this in mind, on the first day of his office last year, he issued a decree on national goals and strategic objectives for the development of the Russian Federation until 2024.

By signing this document, he tasked his government with one of the biggest objectives in the 20-year history of his rule. He launched nine national projects to develop key areas of the country's life, which by the end of his current term should bring about sustainable population growth, increase life expectancy to 78 years, place Russia among the world's five largest economies, achieve higher than global average economic growth rates, improve environmental protection and most essentially maintain the famous "Putin's macroeconomic stability", which would be difficult to accomplish under the constant pressure of sanctions.

Putin's national projects have a domestic focus and aim to renovate infrastructure, develop human capital and entrepreneurship, create conditions for comprehensive development of the digital economy amongst other objectives. On the instruction of the President, more than US$ 380 billion — a considerable amount by any measure — has been allocated over the year for these purposes.

The commissioning of a bridge across the Kerch Strait to the annexed Crimea was a prelude to Putin's future success in this field. This large-scale infrastructure project was completed on time, just a week after the inauguration, setting a political precedent, opening up a new logistical channel and creating a great number of jobs in related industries. The successful experience of implementing a particular task in such a difficult economic and foreign policy environment spurred discussions on launching an additional national project to modernise old and build new major infrastructure facilities, such as those built as part of an integrated northern mega-project for gas production and liquefaction in the Yamal Peninsula, north of the Arctic Circle, which reinforces Russia's status as an energy leader in the Arctic.

Today, many things depend on geopolitics and infrastructure — however, it is the financial sector that continues to be the lifeblood of the modern world. Accordingly when taking stock of the first year of Putin’s 4th term, it is necessary to take into account his financial policies. Despite heavy external pressure and negative attitude of the majority of Russians towards the government's economic team, Putin managed to keep the ruble stable, contributing to overall macroeconomic stability against a backdrop of a sharp decline in other national currencies.

A new round of devastating sanctions by the US financial authorities announced this spring only temporarily slowed down a series of successful placements of Russian government bonds. Besides, as the US has been holding off on introducing the new set of sanctions, the demand for Russia's government debt obligations from foreign investors has only increased due to their high yield. In March and April, non-resident investments in Russia's debt obligations grew by more than 15%, exceeding the value of US$ 7.5 billion. Also noteworthy is Russia's surplus budget generated in 2018. Today, even skeptical experts give an optimistic forecast for the Russian budget until 2020. Thus, Putin's provident budget policy helped him to comply with his ambitious pledges in the social sphere despite massive external pressure without resorting to populism whilst simultaneously ensuring macroeconomic stability and a stable ruble exchange rate. All of the above can objectively be called Putin's achievements during the first year of his fourth term of office.

But improving the perceived well-being of Russia's population, which has been falling over the recent few years, has been a real headache for the Russian leadership. Putin seemed to realise that the only way to deal with this issue is to stabilise the country's relations with the West. Better cooperation would benefit both sides, and this is understood by a number of actors in Western countries. Austria is signing another contract with Gazprom up to 2040; Germany, despite considerable pressure from the United States, continues to support the construction of Nord Stream 2, viewing it as an exclusively commercial rather than geopolitical project.

Many countries supporting Euro-Atlantic solidarity also believe cooperation with Russia is mutually beneficial. Hungary and Turkey seek to strengthen their energy security through new units of their nuclear power plants built by Russia's Rosatom Corporation, which during the last two presidential terms of Vladimir Putin has become a world leader in the nuclear power market. The business communities of Italy and France have also called for lifting sanctions, as European companies have lost an estimated €100 billion since they were imposed, arguing that Europe has failed to attain the political goals it had set, paying a steep price for no political achievement.

Security remains the Russian leader's strong point. Putin, for his part, has repeatedly indicated that he is ready to search for compromise and engage in equal and mutually beneficial dialogue, yet will never sacrifice Russia's sovereignty and national interests. This was demonstrated at the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump held in summer 2018, where the Russian President put forward a number of arms control proposals, including one on negotiating nuclear arms limitation. Despite Russia's nuclear arsenal and a range of new weapons commissioned over the past year, Putin showed initiative and, guided by the logic of global security and stability, forewent geopolitical ambitions and mistrust towards the United States fostered by his many years' KGB experience. However, six months later, President Trump’s administration answered by the decision to suspend the country's participation in the INF Treaty, thus undermining the strategic stability so often cited by them and virtually sending the world 30 years back to the epoch of James Bond and the Cold War.

In conclusion, it was presidential elections in the neighbouring Ukraine that delivered Putin a surprise public relations coup. Former President Petro Poroshenko appeared to have chosen Russia as his personal enemy, and throughout his electoral campaign appealed to Ukrainian people with a "Me or Putin" slogan. But in the second round of the election the voters favoured Volodymyr  Zelensky who won the presidential elections with 73%.  Whilst it is too early to make far reaching conclusions about the result, what is clear is that Poroshenko’s anti-Putin platform achieved nothing and this provides food for thought. Whether you like it or not, the era of Putin marches on.


USEUCOM demonstrates readiness to support NATO in Exercise Austere Challenge



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.”


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



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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Parliament launches the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize



Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb explosion in October 2017 

The European Parliament has launched a journalism prize in tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in 2017. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values.

"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala.

Prize money of €20,000

The €20,000 annual prize will be awarded as of October 2021 to journalists or teams of journalists based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.

The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.

Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.

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