NATO and Turkey

News Desk,
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According to the latest analysis of the 'Foreign Policy' journal on global situation, there was so much emerging hope in the conflicting context of the the world, particularly regarding NATO.

When Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership last May, abandoning decades of neutrality in Helsinki and more than a century of nonalignment in Stockholm, U.S. and European officials celebrated the historic step as a major strategic defeat for Russia, stemming from its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The only thing NATO leaders needed to do to lock this in was get their house in order to admit them.

Cut to eight months later, and 29 of NATO’s 30 members have signed off on expanding the alliance, but there’s still one holdout blocking the whole thing: Turkey. (Hungary, the other holdout, has said it will ratify Sweden and Finland’s bids in February.)

Sweden and Finland, backed by NATO powers, have carefully tried to court Turkey to agree to greenlight NATO expansion through a painstaking, monthslong diplomatic campaign that appears to have run aground. Turkey, Finland, and Sweden signed a memorandum at the NATO summit in Madrid last June signaling there’d be an end to the impasse, but no one spoils otherwise routine NATO business better than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has dug his heels in—amid a critical election season in Turkey—over claims that Sweden harbors militants from a separatist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated as terrorists by the United States and European Union that Turkey has been fighting for more than 30 years.

In the early months of the NATO expansion process, Finland and Sweden vowed to move in lockstep with each other and coordinate entering NATO at the same time. Now, after eight months of impasse, Finland is reportedly considering going for a membership bid alone. And the prospect of expanding the alliance to 32 members—once seen as a foregone conclusion—now appears more remote than ever.

Turkey had already been stalling on a parliamentary vote needed to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership for months by the time the clock rolled around to 2023, looking for a variety of concessions—such as deportations of people from Nordic countries viewed by Erdogan as terrorists—that seemed like nonstarters.

But the prospect of Swedish membership, which was first jeopardized by the past government’s ties to Kurdish parties (which their successors distanced themselves from), now appears much more remote after a far-right politician in Sweden burned a Quran at a protest early in January, a move that directly angered Erdogan. That led to Turkey canceling a meeting to hunker down with Swedish and Finnish officials to talk about their NATO membership—indefinitely.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “meaningless” to hold a trilateral meeting to clear the air this month in Stockholm.

Finland is now considering moving ahead with a solo effort for NATO membership if Turkey continues to balk at Sweden’s bid, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.

But on the other hand, Turkey’s gambit may be time sensitive. Turkey’s elections are set for May 14, and Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades, faces his toughest test yet, with critics calling out the 68-year-old leader for presiding over a severe economic downturn and the erosion of democratic freedoms. (The six-party opposition group opposing Erdogan has yet to put forward a candidate.)

Months ago, when your trusty SitRep writer was in Finland reporting on NATO issues and asking how Sweden and Finland were preparing for a new era of showdowns against Russia, a Finnish official joked to him that “the Swedes are prepared to fight to the last Finn.”

A good natured joke between two neighbors, but the underlying point stands. Finland shares one of the longest borders with Russia in Europe, and friend or not, it acts as a giant, country-sized buffer between Sweden and Russia. So while many U.S. and NATO officials are quietly fuming over what they see as Turkey’s intransigence, they also concede that from a purely geopolitical or defense planning perspective, it may be better to get Finland—the “front-line” country—into NATO as soon as possible.

World Uyghur Congress nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

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Global recognition for the struggle of the Uyghur peoples in China has come by way of nomination of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. Lawmakers in Canada and a leader of the Young Liberals in Norway, the youth wing of Norway’s Venstre political party, have nominated the WUC. The rights group has been nominated for its work towards peace, democracy and plight of the Uyghur and other Turkic people who live under, what the nomination letter describes as a “repressive regime in China.” The Voice of America (VoA) reports that “The World Uyghur Congress has the main purpose of promoting democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur People and supporting the use of peaceful, non- violent, and democratic means to help the Uyghurs achieve self- determination.”

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, one of two Canadian Members of Parliament who nominated the WUC, shared the nomination letter with VoA, which says the WUC had drawn global attention to China’s treatment of Uyghurs with “the overwhelming campaign of physical, religious, linguistic, and cultural repression” by the Chinese government. China has repeatedly denied mistreating the Uyghur peoples, with Xinhua describing the allegations as “lies” concocted by “anti-China forces in the West.” In a June 2021 article, the state owned media paper claimed that “Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion at all, but about combating violent terrorism and separatism,” and that the region has experienced economic and social development. Last August, the UN Human Rights office released a report on Xinjiang, which stated that the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in so-called vocational education and training centres could constitute crimes against humanity. The United States and several other countries have classified human rights abuses in the region as genocide.

Meanwhile, Volker Türk the new chief of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) said his agency had documented China’s arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and the separation of children from their families. Making these comments during a global update on human rights (8 March 2023) in Geneva, Turk said his office had opened channels of communication with various actors to follow up on human rights issues in China, including the protection of minorities such as Uyghur, Tibetans and other groups. He said, “In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns, notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up.” The UN and several Western governments have remained steadfast in condemning China over its harsh policies affecting Uyghur, and Tibetans. Türk’s comments come nearly three weeks after the UN Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or UNCESCR, grilled 40 Chinese delegates about the human rights situations in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the far-western autonomous region in China where more than 11 million of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur people live.

Notably, several Western parliaments have declared the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghur and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang as constituting genocide and crimes against humanity. During an address to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (2 March 2023), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cited the report by the OHCHR and said “We remain gravely concerned about the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that China is committing against Muslim Uyghurs and other members of minority groups in Xinjiang,” he said. He added that the OHCHR report on Xinjiang “affirmed serious abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China in Xinjiang, including the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities, and credible allegations of torture and sexual and gender-based violence.”

Zumretay Arkin, WUC advocacy manager told VoA, “The fact that the WUC was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is proof that the free and democratic world has recognized the WUC’s work as valuable and important. Instead of defaming such organizations, the Chinese government should listen to the democratic world,” Arkin said. The WUC, founded in Munich in 2004, has a wide range of activities, including campaigning for the rights of people being forcefully disappeared, advocating for the release of political prisoners, protecting the rights of asylum seekers to prevent forcible repatriation to China, and advocating at the UN, EU, and national level. The nomination letter states that efforts of the WUC has led to the international community developing policies and actions to help secure the rights of the Uyghur.

The WUC was founded after the East Turkistan National Congress and the World Uyghur Youth Congress merged into one organization and its main objective is to promote democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur people and to use peaceful, non-violent, and democratic means to determine their political future. The group’s mission statement states that “By representing the sole legitimate organization of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan and abroad, WUC endeavours to set out a course for the peaceful settlement of the East Turkistan Question through dialogue and negotiation.

East Turkistan is the name some Uyghur prefer to use instead of Xinjiang, which means “new territory” in Chinese and is what China calls the Uyghur homeland. “It makes me very proud to see that the World Uyghur Congress’ hard work to end the Uyghur genocide has not gone unnoticed,” Dolkun Isa, the President of the WUC, said in a press statement. The nomination was also significant because it was “a show of support for the Uyghur people,” Isa said. The nomination of the WUC is thus a clear sign that the voice of Uyghur is being heard across the world. There is no doubt that WUC deserves the prize much more than the sham nomination of Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey!

Source: Geneva Daily


Russian Attacks Continue in Wake of Putin Arrest Warrant

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Widespread Russian attacks continued in Ukraine following the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

According to news agency AP, Ukraine was attacked by 16 Russian drones on Friday night, the Ukrainian Air Force said in the early hours of Saturday. Writing on Telegram, the air force command said that 11 out of 16 drones were shot down “in the central, western and eastern regions.” Among areas targeted were the capital, Kyiv, and the western Lviv province.

The head of the Kyiv city administration, Serhii Popko, said Ukrainian air defenses shot down all drones heading for the Ukrainian capital, while Lviv regional Gov. Maksym Kozytskyi said Saturday that three of six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district bordering Poland. According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and Russia’s Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military additionally said in its regular update Saturday morning that Russian forces over the previous 24 hours launched 34 airstrikes, one missile strike and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire. The Facebook update said that falling debris hit the southern Kherson province, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.

According to the Ukrainian statement, Russia is continuing to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province. Pavlo Kyrylenko, regional Gov. of the Donetsk province, said one person was killed and three wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.

Further west, Russian rockets hit a residential area overnight Friday in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. No casualties were reported, but houses were damaged and a catering establishment destroyed, Anatoliy Kurtev of the Zaporizhzhia City Council said.

The International Criminal Court said Friday that it has issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine, together with Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

It is the first time the global court has issued a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow — and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough.

Its practical implications, however, could be limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

U.K. military officials said Saturday that Russia is likely to widen conscription. In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. defense ministry said that deputies in the Russian Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, introduced a bill Monday to change the conscription age for men to 21-30, from the current 18-27.

The ministry said that, at the moment, many men aged 18-21 claim exemption from military service because they are in higher education. The change would mean that they would eventually still have to serve. It said the law will likely be passed and come into force in January 2024.


TikTok Confirms US Urged Parting Ways With ByteDance to Dodge Ban

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TikTok confirmed Wednesday that U.S. officials have recommended the popular video-sharing app part ways with its Chinese parent ByteDance to avoid a national ban.

Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, have been taking an increasingly tough approach to the app, citing fears that user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.

"If protecting national security is the objective, calls for a ban or divestment are unnecessary, as neither option solves the broader industry issues of data access and transfer," a TikTok spokesperson told AFP.

"We remain confident that the best path forward to addressing concerns about national security is transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification."

The Wall Street Journal and other U.S. news outlets on Wednesday reported that the White House set an ultimatum: if TikTok remains a part of ByteDance, it will be banned in the United States.

"This is all a game of high stakes poker," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.

Washington is "clearly... putting more pressure on ByteDance to strategically sell this key asset in a major move that could have significant ripple impacts," he continued.

The White House last week welcomed a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would allow President Joe Biden to ban TikTok.

The bipartisan bill "would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services... in a way that poses risks to Americans' sensitive data and our national security," Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement.

The bill's introduction and its quick White House backing accelerated the political momentum against TikTok, which is also the target of a separate piece of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Appearing tough on China is one of the rare issues with potential for bipartisan support in both the Republican-run House and the Senate, where Biden's Democratic Party holds the majority.

Concern ramped up among American officials earlier this year after a Chinese balloon, which Washington alleged was on a spy mission, flew over U.S. airspace.

TikTok use rocketing

TikTok claims it has more than a billion users worldwide including over 100 million in the United States, where it has become a cultural force, especially among young people.

Activists argue a ban would be an attack on free speech and stifle the export of American culture and values to TikTok users around the world.

U.S. government workers in January were banned from installing TikTok on their government-issued devices.

Civil servants in the European Union and Canada are also barred from downloading the app on their work devices.

According to the Journal report, the ultimatum to TikTok came from the U.S. interagency board charged with assessing risks foreign investments represent to national security.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the report.

TikTok has consistently denied sharing data with Chinese officials and says it has been working with the U.S. authorities for more than two years to address national security concerns.

Time spent by users on TikTok has surpassed that spent on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and is closing in on streaming television titan Netflix, according to market tracker Insider Intelligence.

Source: Voanews


U.K. Bans TikTok on Government Devices

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The move reflects fears in Britain and elsewhere in the West that the popular app’s Chinese ownership could share user information with Beijing.

Britain on Thursday became the latest Western country to prohibit the use of TikTok on “government devices,” citing security fears linked to the video-sharing app’s ownership by a Chinese company.

Speaking in Parliament, Oliver Dowden, a senior cabinet minister, announced the ban with immediate effect, describing it as “precautionary,” even though the United States, the European Union’s executive arm, Canada and India had already taken similar steps. New Zealand did so on Friday.

Social media apps collect and store “huge amounts of user data including contacts, user content and geolocation data on government devices that data can be sensitive,” Mr. Dowden said, but TikTok has aroused more suspicion than most because of its owner, the Chinese company ByteDance.

Britain’s actions reflect fears expressed across a variety of Western governments that TikTok might share sensitive data from devices used by politicians and senior officials with the government in Beijing.

The ban announced on Thursday follows a hardening of policy in Britain. On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described China as an “epoch-defining challenge” to the international order.

The new instruction applies only to the official work phones of government officials, and it was described by Mr. Dowden as a proportionate approach to addressing a potential vulnerability of government data.

TikTok has long insisted that it does not pass on information to the Chinese government. In a statement on Thursday, TikTok said it was disappointed with the British government’s decision, saying that the bans imposed on it were “based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics.” It added that it was taking steps to protect British users’ data.

In the United States, the White House told federal agencies on Feb. 27 that they had 30 days to delete the app from government devices. More than two dozen states have banned TikTok on government-issued devices, and a significant number of colleges have blocked it from campus Wi-Fi networks. The app has been banned for three years on U.S. government devices used by the Army, the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Coast Guard.

On Wednesday, TikTok said the Biden administration was toughening its stance about addressing national security concerns, telling the company that it would need to sell the app or face a possible ban.

Several British government departments have TikTok accounts as part of their public outreach, including the country’s defense ministry, and as recently as one day ago, Michelle Donelan, the secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said the app was safe for British people to use.

“In terms of the general public, it is absolutely a personal choice, but because we have the strongest data protection laws in the world, we are confident that the public can continue to use it,” she told lawmakers in Parliament.

China has featured prominently in an updated security review published by the government, although Mr. Sunak’s toughened language failed to satisfy all the hawks in his Conservative Party, including one of its former leaders, Iain Duncan Smith.

Mr. Duncan Smith questioned whether the British government officially considered China to be a threat, and on Thursday, while he praised the action against TikTok, he called for the ban to be extended to private devices belonging to government officials.

That followed a decision by China in December to withdraw six of its diplomats from Britain, after a diplomatic standoff between London and Beijing in the wake of a violent clash during a pro-democracy demonstration at the Chinese Consulate in the northern city of Manchester.

The British authorities had asked six Chinese diplomats to waive their official immunity to allow police to investigate how a protester from Hong Kong was injured after being dragged onto the consulate grounds and beaten on Oct. 16.

Instead, China decided to repatriate the six officials, including one of its senior diplomats, the consul general, Zheng Xiyuan, who had denied beating a protester, without denying involvement in the incident.

Source: Nytimes