“The project of the century” is how Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi touted the Belt and Road Initiative to the world when addressing the UN General Assembly on 21 September. It was only the latest in a series of pronouncements and events, including a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May and the ninth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Xiamen in early September, choreographed to position China at the vanguard of a new stage of globalisation. Step by step, China is demonstrating that the Belt and Road is now the guiding framework for its international economic statecraft.
In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced that Italy has been paying armed groups in Libya to cease smuggling migrants into the country. Some estimate that the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Italy has reduced by half compared to the same time period last year. At the heart of the issue is a governance vacuum that allows armed groups to control the flow of migrants in and out of Libya, presenting a unique challenge for governments in North and West Africa and EU policymakers.
While defending the EU’s interests and values, we should continue to retain bridges with the Russian people.
I arrived in Moscow as the EU’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation exactly four years ago. At the time, relations with Russia were strained but still functioning. Our efforts to engage Moscow had not yielded much but still allowed open channels of communication. But only a few months later, our relations with Russia plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
It is not easy to follow what has been happening in Syria. After six years of war and between 300,000 and 400,000 people killed — with half the population displaced and a dizzying array of factions, foreign armies and extremist groups fighting — it is hard to know who shares what interest with whom or how the killing stops.
Over the last few weeks, the fight for Raqqa, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital, and the battle for Deir Ezzor, the gateway to Iraq and the location of oil fields, have heated up, but the intensity of fighting in some other parts of the country has diminished. This is because Syrian government forces and their allies — Hezbollah, Shia militias from Iraq, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Russian bombers — have taken and held territory. The Russians have also taken the lead in establishing “de-escalation zones” in parts of seven provinces and in eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine reminded many that states use a mixture of tools to achieve their political objectives. Analytically troublesome but politically useful terms such as hybrid war emerged. Russia’s neighbours were thought to be particularly vulnerable. Yet Finland is structurally relatively resistant to hybrid campaigns due to a foundation created over decades.
First, Finland is fundamentally a stable and functioning state. On measures of democracy, the rule of law, anti-corruption, free speech and the media, education, and socio-economic equality, Finland scores well. In the Fragile State Index (compiled annually by the Fund for Peace and consisting of over one hundred individual measures), Finland is ranked year after year as the most sustainable country. Trust in the authorities is also high.