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  • The war between Russia and Ukraine has been going on now for more than a year.

    This has been a devastating war in all respects. The main devastation has been brought on Ukraine by Russia. But the rest of the world has also been severely affected. Global food and energy prices have skyrocketed. This has led to a cost-of-living crisis. The harshest impact of this crisis has been felt in the world’s poorest countries.

    Background

    When the Russia-Ukraine war began the collective West was caught completely wrong footed and did not have any contingency measures in place.

    Slowly the Western countries started to pick up their slack. Initially a small window was left open for dialogue with Moscow. But this evaporated quickly. Instead, the West decided to go all out in its bid to counter Russia’s invasion. The United States has obviously played the leading role in this regard. Very soon the European countries through the EU framework also started to chip in.

    A twin pronged strategy has been followed against Russia. There are two components to this strategy. These are military and economic. The military aspect is of course more important in this ongoing war. However initially Ukraine’s Western allies were reluctant to supply it with any hi-tech weapons systems. Rather they were happy supplying basic arms like shells and rifles. This quickly proved to be untenable as the war started to escalate. So, the West had to also up its ante in this game. It began with tanks, continued with mobile missile launchers and has finally ended with fighter jets. Despite this the delivery of military aid has been slow in coming.

    One of the fears of the Western powers has been the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war into a direct conflict between Russia and the United States. This fear has abated a little bit after Russia suffered military reverses in the battlefield. But the possibility remains. Moscow has laid down a clear red line that any direct attack on Russian territory would lead to superpower confrontation. Washington has duly taken note of this. It has laid it down for Ukraine that if it tries to launch attacks within Russian territory then the West will not back. It looks like that Kyiv is already disregarding this instruction by supporting anti-Putin separatists within Russia. Ukraine is also using up the arms supplied to it at an enormously fast rate. This is putting immense pressure on the weapons industry in the West.

    The economic aspect of the Western strategy against Russia was dependent on the premise that the Russian economy is inherently economy. Russia’s economy is mainly based on the export of oil and natural gas. Most of this export went to Europe. So, the premise went that if Russia is completely cut off from the European market, then the Russian economy would collapse. This has spectacularly backfired. The Russian economy has not collapsed. Instead, the Western economies are facing a serious cost of living crisis. Russia continues to sell its oil at discount to countries in the Global South. India is one of these countries.

    India’s policy on this war has been mostly consistent right from the beginning. India does not have any bones to pick in this conflict. It seeks an end to this war based on mutual understanding. For this, direct talks need to take place between the two sides. This has not yet happened. New Delhi has also offered the services of its good offices to initiate such talks. Neither side has picked up on this offer. At the start of this war the Indian government was concerned about the safety of its student population in Ukraine. For this purpose, New Delhi coordinated closely with both Kyiv and Moscow to bring back its people safely. Direct criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not come from India. It has mostly abstained at the United Nations General Assembly when asked to vote on this war. This has been one of the bones of contention between India and the West. The West wants India to openly back it against Russia.

    Analysis

    India’s policy on the Russia-Ukraine war has received its fair share of criticism. But it has mostly worked. Today India is in the unique situation in that both sides are courting it. There are not many countries in the world which can act as a bridge between Russia and the West. India is one of them. Each side know that New Delhi has no interest in this conflict other than the establishment of peace. Currently Russia and the Western powers are not talking to each other directly. Kyiv is also not interested in any direct dialogue with Moscow. In such a situation the possibility of mutual misunderstanding increases. So, India’s role becomes all the more important. Russian and US officials have met face to face in India. Prime Minister Modi has already expressed his concerns about this war to President Putin face to face. Now he has met with President Zelensky personally.

    The West’s criticism of India’s position vis-à-vis Russia is not justified. New Delhi has long historic relations with Moscow. This goes back to the time of the Cold War. At that time Pakistan was the West’s stalwart ally in the fight against international communism. During this period Western countries implicitly supported Islamabad against New Delhi in the three Indo-Pakistani wars. In response India had no other option but to turn to the erstwhile USSR for help. And the Soviet Union was more than willing to help India. It was one of the few non-communist partners that Moscow had at the time. This was a strategic trump card for the Soviets. They supported India’s stance of non-alignment in the international sphere. Soviet arms assistance to New Delhi increased exponentially. This was at the same time that the West had a virtual arms embargo on India. The USSR’s vote in the Security Council proved crucial for India when resolutions on Kashmir were passed in the Council. In return India also supported Moscow’s position in the UN when it faced attacks from the West. So, this was a mutually beneficial relationship in which neither side crossed path with the other.

    This relationship continued even after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed.

    It is only now that the United States is trying to replace Russia as the premier strategic partner of India.

    But this will not be so easy. It will take a lot of effort to completely decouple Russia from India. The Indian defence industry is still locked in to its Russian supplier. The West continues to place high barriers in its defence dealings with New Delhi. As long as this does not change India will have little incentive to totally move away from Russia.

    Another major consideration which India has in mind in its dealings with Russia is China. The Chinese are a clear and present danger for India. Intensity of border clashes between the two countries has increased over time.

    At such a critical moment India cannot give up on its Russian friend. Of course, Moscow has moved closer to Beijing since it invaded Ukraine. But if tomorrow China invades India there is no guarantee that the West will come to India’s assistance. This is despite the fact that India is being built up as an alternative pole to China. Most likely in case of a Chinese invasion of India the West will call for dialogue. This will result in loss of Indian territory which is unacceptable to New Delhi.

    India has little direct leverage over Russia that it can use right now. It needs cheap Russian oil as much as Russia needs the Indian market for the moment. At the same time, it does not want to lose Russia to China. So, if this conflict ends peacefully, it will be beneficial for India. then New Delhi will not have to make the stark choice of either abandoning Russia or appearing to side with Russia in this war. Instead, Indo-Russian relations can return to the normal levels that they were in before this war erupted.

    The Indian government has tried to maintain a scrupulous policy of equidistance from both sides throughout this conflict. It has been a key supplier of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. It has the goodwill and trust of both sides. If India can play a part in the reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine then it will be a big boost for its diplomacy. This will show that India is a responsible international power which seeks to maintain the global order. Russian dependence on China will reduce. And India might even gain a new friend in the form of Ukraine.

    Assessment

    • Right now, there is no sign of any dialogue taking place between Moscow and Kyiv.
    • India can come into the picture only after the two sides are willing to talk to each other.
    • Both the West and Russia are looking towards India to make a contribution to end this conflict.
    • India can also play a big role after this war ends in the economic reconstruction of Ukraine.

  • Central Asia has always been at the crossroads of cultures and civilizations.

    In ancient times the Silk Road passed through this area. Many rival empires sought control of this region. Trade, religion and knowledge passed through this land. China had close ties with Central Asia in ancient times. Central Asia rulers used to send tributes to Chinese emperors. But this relationship got sundered in modern times.

    Background

    In the 19th century the ruling khanates and emirates of Central Asia began to weaken.

    At the same time the Russian empire was expanding from the north. The Central Asian states were easy targets and no match for the more advanced Russian army. One by one they fell under Moscow’s rule. Following these annexations Muscovy Russia finally became an empire. Russia’s prestige rose in the Western world. It could now compete with the other global empires on an equal footing. It was no longer just a second-rate power anymore.

    With the acquisition of Central Asia Russia became a part of the international power structure in a way that it was not before. It came into contact with other empires. The most notable in this regard was the British Empire. The British had by this time established their rule over the Indian subcontinent. Now they were concerned about the security of this Indian empire. The most likely threat came from the north-west direction in Afghanistan. So, the British decided to bring Afghanistan under their control. Russia was also moving on from Central Asia towards Afghanistan. As a result, a clash developed between these two great powers at the time in which Central Asia played a very significant role. This contest was known as the Great Game.

    In the 19th century the Chinese Empire was a shadow of its former self. It was boxed in from all directions by the Western imperial powers along with Japan and Russia. The historical Sino-sphere in which China was the shining centre had disintegrated. Tributary states no longer send their dues to Beijing. And the Chinese Emperor could do nothing about this. He was too busy dealing with the Western powers. It was in this period that the ancient linkages between China and Central Asia established through the Silk Road was broken. Chinese merchant traffic to Central Asia virtually ended. Chinese goods were no longer traded in Central Asian markets. Beijing lost all its influence in Central Asia.

    Russia continued to expand its domination in Central Asia. A policy of Russification was imposed from above. Under this policy the population of Central Asia were assimilated into Russian culture and language. Central Asia was incorporated within the wider concept of Russo-sphere. The Russians set about to modernize Central Asia. The first concepts of a modern nation state began to emerge in this region. Central Asians began to look at themselves as more than just a collection of tribes. Russian rule was harsh. But it brought in security and connected Central Asia to the wider world.

    The Russian Empire was succeeded by the Soviet Union. It continued with the policy of Russification. To this was added the policies of communization and collectivization. Local culture was suppressed as bourgeois and backward. The Islamic religion was seen as a relic of the past. Wandering tribes were settled. Proper boundaries were drawn between the various Central Asian republics for the first time. Russian settlement in this region increased to a considerable extent. The security forces of these countries were trained on the Russian model. But the economies of these countries suffered due to the lack of opportunity under communism. All dissent was ruthlessly crushed. Even when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse the Central Asian countries were reluctant to give up their attachment to Moscow. However, the inevitable soon happened. With central authority in Moscow disappearing, they had to declare their independence and came out as free states.

    Analysis

    As can be clearly seen in modern times the relationship between Central Asia and Russia has been a very close one. The Russian imprint on Central Asia can still be seen today. The Russian language is the international language with which Central Asians are most familiar with. Concepts of governance imported from Moscow are still being followed in these countries. They do not want Russian occupation to come back. But their neighbour to the north is the elder big brother on who they can rely at any time for their security whether internal or external. In this case Russia is no different from other great powers. The United States too considers Latin America to be within its sphere of influence and does not like other countries poking their noses in there. So, since the end of the Cold War the Central Asian nations have not taken any decision without informing Moscow. In return Russia has given them a special position in its own foreign policy. Such a relationship between an imperial power and its former colonies is unique. This arrangement continued throughout the 1990s and until quite recently. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed all previous calculations.

    Today Russia is a much weaker power than it was before it invaded Ukraine. It is cut off from a large section of the global economy. Its citizens are feeling the pinch of the sanctions. The war economy is putting a huge strain on the country’s productive capacity and infrastructure. The military is facing constant attrition as the war in Ukraine grinds on. So, even if it wants to Russia cannot give the same attention to Central Asia that it used to before. The leaders of Central Asia are seeing this clearly. From their perspective a great power which has been their pillar of support for so long is slowly losing control. A power vacuum is being created in Central Asia. As international relations theory tells us a geo-political power vacuum does not last very long. Some other great power will eventually sense an opportunity. In Central Asia’s case it is obvious that the most likely candidate would be the nearest great power i.e., China. The Chinese have not forgotten about their historical linkages with Central Asia. They know that this region is highly important. No conceivable obstacle is standing in their way. As a consequence, they see no conceivable reason for not moving forward.

    The relationship between Russia and China has also changed since the start of the war in Ukraine. It is no longer a relation between equals.

    Instead, today Russia needs China more than the other way round.

    The Chinese economy has suffered setbacks in recent times. But it is still a powerhouse in its own right. And war weary Russia needs this powerhouse behind it. It looks like that influence in Central Asia could be the price that Moscow has to pay for this. It is not something that the Russians like but it is something that they cannot stop.

    The Central Asian countries also see China as their new hope for the time being. The West largely forgot about them since they lost their utility after the War on Terror. They know what they can offer the Chinese and are ready to do business with Beijing.

    The Russians are of course not giving up. They are trying to play up their security partnership with Central Asia. Historical ties cannot be severed in a single day. Most of the Central Asian states have given their whole hearted support to Moscow in its war in Ukraine. They do not want to completely give up on the devil they know.

    Moscow is also attempting to muddy the waters for Beijing in Central Asia. It is seeking to increase the level of competition. To do this Russia is seeking to encourage other countries to become more active in its near abroad. Among these are India and Iran. India is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which includes the Central Asian states, Russia and China. Iran is an observer at the SCO but shares a border with Central Asia.

    Ultimately Central Asia is too important region to be without the involvement of a great power for a long period of time. The Chinese economy is seeking land connectivity with Europe and the Middle East. In this scheme of things Central Asia is crucial. Chinese money will bring its own set of problems to this region just as it has brought in other parts of the world. However, there will be an initial honeymoon period. It will be a tall order for Beijing to completely replace Moscow in its own backyard. In the interim though China will reap the economic benefits from this endeavour.

    Assessment

    • Chinese incursion into Central Asia is putting pressure on the supposed “unlimited friendship” between Moscow and Beijing following the start of the war in Ukraine.
    • Authoritarian China will find a lot in common with the dictatorial states of Central Asia.
    • The Chinese are not showing any particular military interest in Central Asia. They are looking at this region from a purely economic perspective.
    • The support that Russia has received in Central Asia over its war in Ukraine shows that the leaders here are still hedging their bets.

  • Introduction

    In a landmark case that has sent ripples through the technology world, the European Union has imposed a hefty €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) fine on Meta Platforms Inc. for a notable violation - failure to sufficiently safeguard user data from exposure to U.S. security services. This verdict is the sternest yet in the enforcement of data protection rights, backed by an order from the Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) for Meta to cease the transfer of European user data to the U.S.

    The Unprecedented DPC Decision

    The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a comprehensive legal framework for data protection and privacy, is central to this verdict. Through GDPR, the EU aims to empower its citizens with control over their personal data, obligating businesses to follow strict guidelines for collecting, storing, and processing such data. The decision by DPC, marking the most significant fine ever issued under the GDPR, is thus a strong statement underscoring the severity of Meta's violations.

    The DPC's authority over Meta is based on the tech company's European headquarters located in Dublin, making the Irish commission the lead regulator for Meta in the EU. The DPC expressed a clear concern, noting Meta's ongoing data transfers to the U.S. overlooked "the risks to fundamental rights and freedoms" of individuals.

    Repercussions for Meta Platforms Inc.

    Beyond the significant monetary penalty, the fine raises fundamental questions about the sustainability of Meta's business model. If Meta adheres to the DPC's directive and discontinues the transfer of European user data to the U.S., it would strike at the heart of the company's operations.

    While the full extent of the repercussions remains uncertain, depending on the specifics of the enforcement, Meta will undoubtedly need to reevaluate and revise its data handling practices. Such changes could affect its targeted advertising abilities, which contribute significantly to its revenue stream.

    The Verdict’s Impact on the Global Data Privacy Landscape

    The DPC's ruling is a decisive moment for the global tech industry's approach to data privacy. It underscores the EU's resolve in ensuring foreign companies operating within its jurisdiction comply with its data protection laws, potentially foreshadowing similar actions against other U.S. tech giants with comparable business models.

    Moreover, the verdict could inspire similar protective measures worldwide. Non-EU countries may interpret this decision as a precedent, ushering in their own data protection measures that demand higher transparency from tech companies in their user data handling practices.

    The User Data Privacy Perspective

    From a user standpoint, the ruling is a remarkable victory for data privacy. It highlights the necessity for tech companies to balance the commercial advantages of data usage with individuals' privacy rights.

    This landmark decision could lead to improved global data privacy standards, ultimately giving users more control over their personal data. The shift would fundamentally alter the relationship between tech giants and their users, tilting the power dynamics more favorably toward the users.

    The Future of Data Privacy and Tech Giants

    Looking ahead, tech companies will need to be more proactive in assessing their data management practices to ensure compliance with evolving data privacy laws. Tech giants must consider innovative ways to deliver personalized services and ads while respecting user privacy.

    Moreover, businesses will need to foster transparency about their data practices, providing users with easy-to-understand information about how their data is used. Companies must also make it easier for users to exercise their data rights, such as the right to access, correct, and delete their data.

    The Role of Regulatory Bodies

    Regulatory bodies will also need to play their part by actively enforcing data protection laws and holding companies accountable for violations. They can provide guidance to businesses on complying with data protection laws and work with them to address any issues.

    Furthermore, regulators can promote international cooperation on data privacy. They can work with their counterparts in other countries to develop common standards and procedures for data transfers, helping to create a more unified global approach to data privacy.

    Looking Towards the Future

    As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the question of balancing the needs of data-driven businesses and the privacy rights of users remains a critical challenge. This balance is crucial, not just for businesses and regulators, but also for society as a whole. Data can provide numerous benefits, from personalized services to advancements in fields like healthcare and education. However, these benefits must not come at the expense of individual privacy rights.

    The ruling against Meta is a turning point, signalling a potential shift towards stronger data protection laws and enforcement. It raises the bar for tech companies, who will now have to reconsider their data practices and take user privacy more seriously.

    Conclusion

    The DPC’s €1.2 billion fine against Meta is an emphatic statement about the importance of data privacy. This landmark case sends a clear message to the global tech industry about the consequences of failing to protect user data.

    As a result, companies will need to reevaluate their data practices and place a higher emphasis on user privacy. Meanwhile, users can look forward to more control over their data and potentially, greater respect for their privacy rights.

    In the broader scheme, this case might inspire more countries to implement robust data protection laws and encourage a more global dialogue on data privacy. The repercussions of this ruling will continue to impact the tech industry and the discourse on data privacy for years to come. This case may have set a new course for how user data is handled and valued, truly marking a landmark moment for global data privacy.

  • As the Indian Army patrols the streets of Manipur, empowered with authority to 'shoot at sight', going door to door rescuing trapped inhabitants marooned in townships controlled by rival ethnic groups and fearful of violent reprisals, the rest of the country looks aghast at the mayhem.

    While the trouble had been simmering below the surface for some time, the national media was too caught up in mainline stories to spare any attention for this small but crucial state in the Northeast, hence the shock and the universal horror at the senseless death and destruction. During a year when India has been showcasing itself to the SCO and the G20, the rank violence did not make a good copy.

    The tipping point came on May 3rd when incensed at the decision of the Manipur High Court, the All-Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM) called a Tribal Solidarity March in the Torbung area of Churachandpur. The march quickly degenerated into an orgy of arson and violence.

    Background

    The violence is coming to the fore of the traditional competition between the various tribal entities that make up this beautiful state in the North-eastern corner of India.

    The Meitei community is the majority in Manipur, making up 53 per cent of the state’s population and occupying the fertile valley area. An assortment of Naga (24 per cent) and Kuku /Zomi (16 per cent) tribes reside partly in the valley but majorly in the forest-covered hills ringing the valley.

    Religion is also a factor, as the Meitei are mostly Hindus with a mixture of Muslims and Christians. On the other hand, the bulk of the non-Meitei tribals are Christians.

    Under pressure from the Centre, the state government's wildlife preservation departments have been engaged in securing protected areas of forest land and wetlands from illegal tribal settlers, who historically have enjoyed the freedom to tap on the forest wealth for their survival. As per the tribal groups, many churches were demolished during the eviction drive, sparking outrage amongst the Christian Kukis and Nagas, which their leaders could effectively channel to create the consequent mayhem.

    The eviction drive added to the friction between the tribals and the Meitei-dominated state government organs. The infuriated tribals, spearheaded by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF), promptly burnt down a newly constructed open gym that was scheduled to be inaugurated by the chief minister, Mr Biren Singh.

    Justifying the eviction drive from reserved forest areas and wetlands, the All-Meitei Council claims that the eviction drive was not targeted at anyone tribal community, but all areas of illegal encroachments, whether by the Meitei or Muslims or Kuki, were addressed.

    Analysis

    The latest move that caused the water to boil over was the decision by the Manipur High Court of March 27th directing the Manipur state government to submit recommendations to the union government for the inclusion of Meitei in the ST list. There are 34 subtribes of the Nagas and Kuki-Zumi, all in the Scheduled Tribes list.

    Granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community brings them into direct competition with the non-Meitei tribals (who already enjoy this status) for the rapidly diminishing government jobs and the limited seats in government controls educational institutions for the reserved categories.

    This has to be viewed through the prism of the rapidly changing demography of the state. The hill areas of Manipur have experienced an abnormally high rate of population growth, which Meitei are attributing to the illegal immigration of Kuki people from Myanmar into the forest land of Manipur, abetted by the local Kuki community.

    The tribal groups - a majority being Kuki groups - protest that the eviction and survey are in violation of Article 371C of the constitution, which provides some administrative autonomy to the tribal communities occupying the hill areas of Manipur.

    The Meitei are the more predominant group in Manipur, wielding political and administrative power. They constitute 53 per cent of the entire population of the state but occupy only 10 per cent of the land of Manipur, as the rest of the state is classified as tribal areas and can only be bought by those classified as Tribals.

    The Meitei community had Scheduled Caste status before 1949 but lost this when the state merged with India in that year, reportedly because they are considered caste Hindus. They currently fall under the OBC category, providing them opportunities to occupy government or public sector seats in higher education institutions within the reservation allotted to this category. In Manipur, the quota for STs is 31 per cent, OBCs 17 per cent and SCs 2 per cent.

    The Meitei community considers itself at a grave disadvantage at being unable to expand its land holdings within areas earmarked for the tribals (90 per cent of the land) while the tribals are free to purchase land in the non-tribal areas (10 per cent). Unsurprisingly, the competition for land has become extremely acute.

    According to the Meitei, they will lose the status of an indigenous community without that of an ST status and to safeguard their ancestral lands, culture and identity, perceived to be under threat from an influx of illegal immigration from Myanmar and outside the state.

    Defending their demand for restoration of their tribal status, the Meitei, despite being staunch Hindus, point to their unique ancient rituals, their mongoloid origins and their geographical isolation from the Indian mainland, which has made them economically backwards in comparison to the national average.

    The tribal groups state that the Meitei are already a majority and dominating community in the state, pointing out that 40 of 60 MLAs are from the Meitei community. Also, they have been doing reasonably well even as an OBC and enjoying immense political patronage. If granted ST status, they would quickly spread out into tribal land and create a new set of conflicts in the surrounding hill areas.

    However, within the tribals themselves, there is a difference of opinion.

    While the Naga tribes also oppose the Meitei demand for ST status, this community has distanced itself from the recent outbreak of violence in the state. The Tribal Solidarity March took place throughout the state but remained peaceful in Naga areas.

    Several organisations of the Naga community have also stated that the ITLF is new and does not represent all tribals. The Rongmei Naga Council Manipur issued a statement, clarifying that the actions of ITLF are against the wishes of the indigenous tribes, “The indigenous Rongmei people clarify once, and for all that, it has no knowledge of the existence of such bogus forum and appeals all right-thinking indigenous communities to abstain from the said rally."

    The Kukis and Nagas have also demanded the extension of the sixth schedule into the hill areas but received opposition from the Meiteis. Implementing the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would allow these groups autonomy in their respective areas while they remain within the authority of the State of Manipur.

    This is a system of administration that would allow tribal areas to become more developed and protect these communities from exploitation, as well as preserve their social customs.

    The United Committee, Manipur (UCM) fears this may create a greater hill-valley divide in the state.

    Angered by the delay by the SPF (Secular Progressive Front) government, the Sixth Schedule Demand committee decided to instead support the All-Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM)’S demand for a separate union territory, carving out the five hill districts from the state.

    Assessment

    • Plagued with an insurgency that has lasted over half a century, the fragile state of Manipur cannot be allowed to drift into anarchy and lawlessness. This will have a tendency to spread instability into other regions of the Northeast, where already the political quilibrium and law and order are delicately balanced.
    • The Centre has to step in quickly, not only by rushing in Central forces to quell the riots but with more meaningful political and regulatory measures to convince all parties that, ultimately, peace is the only way forward for employment and prosperity for everyone across the tribal divide.

  • Türkiye is not only a land bridge between Europe and Asia, but geopolitically also, it has performed the same role for centuries.

    Hence, global attention is riveted on the closely fought presidential and parliamentary elections, which have tantalisingly gone into a May 28th run-off between the two leading presidential candidates-incumbent President Erdogan and his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leading an opposition alliance.

    Background

    President Erdogan has adroitly played off the U.S, (a traditional ally now in a sulk) against Russia (blowing hot and cold).

    Russia has historically been a player in Turkish geopolitical calculus since the heydays of the Ottoman Empire. The Dardanelles give sea access to Russia from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through Gibraltar and the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal.

    Erdogan has made a concerted effort to develop and maintain ties with Russia. In 2015, the two nations faced a diplomatic standoff when Türkiye shot down a Russian fighter jet over Syria. Erdogan formally apologised, putting an end to the conflict and leading to stronger ties. A month later, Russia extended support to Erdogan after a failed coup attempt in Türkiye. The relationship between Russia and Türkiye has withstood many factors, such as the two nations supporting opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Libya.

    As a NATO member with the largest military contingent (after the U.S.) Türkiye has for long been patronised by the U.S. But this has developed serious fissures under Erdogan, whose cultivation of closer ties with Russia has contributed to a fragmented relationship with the U.S. reaching a nadir in 2017 when Türkiye went ahead and sealed a deal for Russian S-400 missile systems. U.S. retaliated by imposing sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

    Clearly, Turkish hobnobbing with Russia has not pleased the West, including the EU. To make matters worse, as a NATO member, Ankara has been putting spokes in the expansion of NATO by objecting to the inclusion of Sweden, allegedly for sheltering Kurdish militants.

    EU nations continue to deny membership of their bloc to Ankara on the grounds of its failure to adhere to human rights and democratic standards such as the rule of law and freedom of the press.

    Analysis

    Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Türkiye has managed a diplomatic balancing act. By not complying with international sanctions against Russia, it has maintained a closer relationship with Russia and helped it circumvent sanctions. It has also maintained ties with Ukraine, supplying it with armed drones. It even brokered a deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain, which earned it brownie points with the beleaguered West.

    Most significantly, Erdogan’s Türkiye has developed closer economic ties with Russia in this period and benefitted from Russia’s isolation in the global arena. Amid international sanctions, Türkiye has become an especially important trading partner for Russia and provided a market for Russian energy. Russians are increasingly investing in real estate in Türkiye, and Turkish companies are increasing their presence in the Russian market as other international companies maintain a distance from Russia.

    Unsettled by Türkiye’s growing ties with Russia, the West will welcome a change in leadership since it would likely result in a more cooperative Türkiye. If the Kilicdaroglu-led opposition alliance comes to power, it will likely improve relations with Europe and the U.S. The opposition aims to return to more traditional Turkish foreign policy, where the nation was oriented towards the West.

    It has also promised to adhere to principles of international human rights, the rule of law, and democracy as a way to gain more standing with the West and enable Türkiye to accede to the EU. The opposition is also likely to make an effort to resolve contentious issues such as Sweden’s accession to NATO and Türkiye's fragmented relationship with the U.S.

    Türkiye is amid a cost-of-living crisis, and its economy is significantly dependent on Russia. Its trade with Russia exceeded $62 billion in 2022 (TASS, April 27, 2023). Türkiye's dependence on Russia for energy, tourism, capital, and trade means it cannot afford to set Russia aside. While the opposition has accused Russia of interfering in the election, it continues to emphasise that it favours cooperation and maintains economic ties.

    Assessment

    • From the foregoing, it is evident that all sides of the geopolitical divide keenly await the outcome of the electoral battle being waged in Türkiye. The West would like the new regime (if voted to power, which appears unlikely) would reset the balance in its favour. Conversely, Russia has made serious progress with the dispensation under Erdogan and would like him to continue as the President and retain the status quo vis-a-vis Moscow.
    • Whatever the final outcome to be decided on the 28th of this month, the Turkish people can only hope that the new dispensation will improve their lot, suffering as they are under spiralling cost of living and falling value of their currency. The massive reconstruction after the once-in-a-century earthquake stares millions of affected Turkish people in their faces.
    • For the new government, it will be a path strewn with rocks as it tries to navigate its relations with Russia and the West, both of which can improve or further deteriorate its economic wellness.

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