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When Kremlin's foxes in blue helmets want to guard the henhouse

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Long-time Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (pictured) expressed the necessity to raise the capabilities of CSTO peacekeepers so that they could become a part of the United Nations Peacekeeping, writes Zintis Znotiņš.

The CSTO was established shortly after the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact in order to maintain a counterforce to NATO.

The CSTO currently consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, i.e. all of the former Soviet republics that have remained in Russia’s sphere of interests or for some reason are essentially dependent on Russia. There are no doubts that all the CSTO member states share the same ideological platform. So, what are the military formations of the CSTO that Lavrov so eagerly wants to engage in UN peacekeeping missions?

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Russia: 98th Airborne Division (Ivanovo), 31st Air Assault Brigade (Ulyanovsk); Kazakhstan: 37th Air Assault Brigade, a naval infantry battalion; Belarus: 1st Spetsnaz Brigade; and one battalion each from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There are plans to supplement the CSTO with units of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Interior’s special purpose units. Such units are also provided by Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. The CSTO also has a Russian aviation unit deployed in Kyrgyzstan.

Fine, but what are the duties of the peacekeepers? They protect civilians, actively prevent conflicts, fight violence, further safety and authorize state institutions to take up these duties.

Wait, either Lavrov has a peculiar sense of humor, or I am not getting something. The CSTO mostly consists of cutthroats – soldiers or police officers who were trained for the sole purpose of killing someone quickly, but now they are made into peacekeepers. You could also announce that lions and crocodiles will now switch to eating grass or that a serial killer has been appointed a surgeon in some hospital.

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CSTO’s military forces cannot fulfill the duties of peacekeepers for the simple reason that they were not trained to do so. They were trained for a completely different purpose.

It is evident that Russian forces are the dominant ones in the CSTO. To such an extent that the CSTO is basically an organization established by Russia to serve its interests.

Let’s just look at some of the missions Russia has sent its troops to. Just a couple of cases.

Transnistria: the conflict began in 1990 in Soviet Moldavia, when the Russian-speaking minority of the Transnistria region separated and unilaterally announced independence.

South Ossetia: when Georgia regained independence in 1991, it – led by Zviad Gamsakhurdia – attempted to regain control of its autonomous territories. In South Ossetia this turned into a 1.5 year war with roughly 1,000 casualties. The conflict escalated in 2008.

Both these conflicts erupted because Russia wanted to prevent the establishment of sovereign nations, i.e. these countries wanted to leave Russia’s sphere of influence.

This is quite the peculiar situation, if you look at it. Russia was the reason for these conflicts to emerge, but then it also sent its peacekeeping forces to the same conflict areas.

Russia also wanted its peacekeepers to be sent to conflict areas in Ukraine. In Russia’s highly-developed hybrid warfare, these so-called “peacekeepers” are one of the methods of achieving its interests in Ukraine without launching a conventional attack.

As we can see, this is an old Russian tactic – to create a conflict and then send its peacekeeping forces to the conflict. It should be noted that the USSR was not ashamed of employing the same approach. The Soviet Union sparked unrest and then sent its troops as the “liberators” to protect the working people. Everything new is just well-forgotten old, right?

It is most likely that Russia itself is completely aware that its “peacekeeping” operations don’t look so good from the outside, so it is looking for ways of covering this up. The CSTO is not a complete solution, because no one in the world considers the organization to be anything serious. The next thing to try is to “get under someone else’s roof” – why don’t we just go all-in and attempt to become a part of UN Peacekeeping?

An interesting question comes to mind – are these attempts to become “peacekeepers” linked with the conflicts already caused by Russia, or with conflicts that are only yet to be brought upon us?

I believe the UN should clearly state that countries who engage in aggression against other countries cannot participate in peacekeeping operations, because otherwise we would be in a situation where we decide to send a fox to guard our henhouse.

The views expressed in the above article are those of the author alone and do not represent any EU Reporter stance.

Belgium

Commission approves €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies active in the Brussels-Capital region affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Belgian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The public support was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, which goes under the name 'la prime Relance', the aid will take the form of direct grants. Eligible beneficiaries are companies of all sizes active in the following sectors: nightclubs, restaurants and cafés (‘ReCa') and some of their suppliers, events, culture, tourism, sport and passenger transport. In order to be eligible, companies must have been registered in the Central Bank for Enterprises (‘la Banque-Carrefour des Enterprises' ) by 31 December 2020. The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.

The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64775 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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European Commission

Macro-financial assistance: EU disburses €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova

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The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has carried out another round of disbursements under the €3 billion macro-financial assistance package for ten enlargement and neighbourhood partners. The programme is a concrete demonstration of the EU's solidarity with its partners to help respond to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission has disbursed €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova. This support is provided through loans at very favourable rates. With these disbursements, the EU has successfully completed five out of the 10 MFA programmes in the €3 billion COVID-19 MFA package, and disbursed the first tranches to all partners. The Commission continues to work closely with the rest of its MFA partners on the timely implementation of the agreed policy programmes. 

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Finland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €2.1 billion in grants to Finland under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The financing provided by the RRF will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Finland's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a significant role in enabling Finland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide up to €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Finnish plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Finland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms contained in Finland's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Finland's green and digital transitions  

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 50% of the plan's total allocation on measures that support climate objectives. Finland has announced an ambitious target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The reforms and investments included in the plan will make an important contribution to Finland achieving this objective. The plan addresses each of the highest emitting sectors in turn, namely energy, housing, industry and transport. It includes reforms to phase out the use of coal in energy production, changes to taxation to favour cleaner technologies, and a reform of the Waste Act with increased targets for recycling and reuse. On the investment side, the plan will finance clean energy technologies and related infrastructure, industry decarbonisation, the replacement of oil boilers with low- or zero-carbon heating systems and private and public charging points for electric cars.

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 27% of its total allocation on measures that support the digital transition. The plan includes measures to improve high-speed internet connectivity, particularly in rural areas, support the digitalisation of businesses and the public sector, enhance digital skills of the workforce and support the development of key technologies such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics.

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Reinforcing Finland's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Finland's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Finland in recent years.

It contains a broad set of reform measures to raise the employment rate and strengthen the functioning of the labour market, ranging from the transformation of Public Employment Services to improving and facilitating access to social and healthcare services. The plan includes specific measures to provide integration support for young people and people with partial work-capacity. The plan also includes measures to strengthen the effective supervision and enforcement of Finland's anti-money laundering framework.

The plan represents a comprehensive and balanced response to the economic and social situation of Finland, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

Finland's plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects, which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the green and digital transition. For instance, Finland has proposed to provide €161 million to investments in new energy technologies and €60m toward the decarbonisation of industrial processes to support the green transition. To support the digital transition, the plan will invest €50m in the rollout of rapid broadband services and €93m to support the development of digital skills as part of continuous learning and labour market reforms.

The Commission's assessment finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harms the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The Commission considers that the controls systems put in place by Finland are adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to present the European Commission's endorsement of Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan. I am proud that NextGenerationEU will make a significant contribution to support Finland's goal to become carbon neutral by 2035. The plan will also help bolster Finland's reputation for excellence in innovation with support for the development of new technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics. We will stand with Finland throughout the plan's implementation to ensure that the reforms and investments it contains are fully delivered.”

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The Commission has today given its green light for Finland's recovery and resilience plan, which will set the country on a greener and more digital path as it recovers from the crisis. This plan will help Finland to meet its ambitious carbon-neutrality target by 2035, with reforms and investments that will reduce carbon emissions from energy production, housing, industry and transport. We welcome its focus on high-speed connectivity, particularly for sparsely populated areas to help maintain their economic activity, and on digitalising smaller businesses and the public sector. With reforms to boost employment and strengthen the labour market, Finland's plan will promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth once it is put into effect.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan is strongly focused on the green transition. No less than 50% of its total allocation is set to support climate objectives, helping to speed the country towards its ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2035. The plan also contains an array of measures to boost Finland's already strong digital competitiveness. I particularly welcome the Finnish plan's strong social elements, with measures to raise the employment rate, tackle youth unemployment and facilitate access to social and healthcare services.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a decision to provide €2.1bn in grants to Finland under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €271m to Finland in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Finland.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the recovery and resilience plan, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan

Factsheet on Finland's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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