It took Defense Minister Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky more than a week to confirm the biggest overhaul in the ranks of Hungary’s army in the past two decades after the first articles appeared about a major wave of layoffs. For days, news about the dismissal of hundreds of high-ranking officers, some of them only recently promoted, were circulating in the Hungarian press without any official comment from the government. 

Szalay-Bobrovniczky said in an interview on January 31 that several hundred officers were being sacked, mostly from the top ranks, in order to help “meritocracy and competition” in the army and to make the organization a little less top-heavy. The decision came as the government struggles to fill up to 10,000 roles in the lower ranks (the current personnel ceiling is 37,460.) The layoffs have already been taking place based on a decree signed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a week earlier, which allows the firing of officers who have served at least 25 years and are at least 45 years old, with two months’ notice. Many are at the rank of lieutenant colonel and above. There were reports of officers summoned from posts abroad to be summarily dismissed. 

Given the government’s unwillingness to offer much explanation, others began to fill in the blanks. 

The opposition MP and member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Ágnes Vadai, called the decision a “political purge.” A former Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defense, she said the decision was a government attempt to “de-NATO-fying” the armed forces.  

Others have disputed this, arguing that many of the sacked officers had been promoted since Orbán’s current stint in the government started in 2010, and have said that the dismissals will ultimately create space for younger officers with more international experience. Yet, if the purpose is to revitalize the army with younger people, is difficult to explain why Orbán’s decree drew the line at 45 years, a relatively young age.  

Szalay-Bobrovniczky sternly declared that the army was “not a social institution”, but “an army . . . next to a raging war at the center of Europe.” 

This is surprising from a member of Orbán’s government. For the past year, his administration has argued that the prime minister has an amicable relationship with Russia and that the constant threats to veto EU sanctions and refusal to provide military aid to Ukraine have been necessary to keep Hungary far away from a war, into which reckless left-wing politicians, in Orbán’s telling, would “drag” the country and its population. It is worth noting that even now, the minister did not refer to Russia as a threat; instead speaking only about NATO’s eastern flank.   

The government has significantly increased military procurement in recent years, in part to meet NATO’s 2% of GDP target which it has long failed to achieve. 

Spending rose in 2018 when, as per the sources of the investigative outlet Direkt36, a more business-focused leadership took over in the Defense Ministry. German, and to a somewhat smaller extent, US and Israeli suppliers were the main beneficiaries of these deals. Some reportedly also benefited business circles around Fidesz. Another explanation circulating around the dismissals has been that they allow the government to break opposition to certain deals. 

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Whatever the true reasons for the latest development, the circumstances of it and the way it has been handled by the government highlight bigger and more deeply rooted problems — of a political, not military nature.   

Given Orbán’s subversive foreign policy it’s easy to understand why there are suspicions. There are also concerns that such abrupt changes might be the result of ulterior motives, and the risks of further eroding trust between Hungary and its allies. His administration has launched diatribes against Western sanctions and military aid to Ukraine, has vetoed initiatives to bring Ukraine closer to NATO, has taken a lenient approach to Russian diplomats and government-controlled organizations, and still provides residence rights to the son of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency (SVR) head.  

That significant personnel changes have been executed by Szalay-Bobrovniczky, a businessman without substantial expertise in the field of defense, is perhaps more concerning given that prior to taking office, he co-owned a company with the Russian Transmashholding (whose former president is sanctioned.)  

Even if the dismissals themselves do not amount to a politically motivated purge, it is difficult to argue the government’s case. The country is currently the most corrupt member state in the European Union (EU), according to Transparency International, and it is possible to believe that the decree could be used to put political pressure on young officers as they approach 45 years of age.  

Perhaps most importantly, even if the layoffs do promote promising younger officers into the newly freed-up spaces, they are unlikely to solve what Direkt36’s sources called the main problems of Hungary’s military: the lack of specialists able to operate the modern equipment that the government has acquired in recent years.  

Currently — as the minister himself acknowledged — the Hungarian military is not an attractive place for young professionals to work. Poorly executed and poorly explained dismissals, and persistent rumors of over-politicization, are unlikely to change this.  

Just as with Hungary’s diplomatic corps, which also experienced mass layoffs and the influx of a new cohort of officials with a “business-focused” approach and political connections, there is a very clear risk that the country’s key institutions, which guarantee the security and ethos of the state, will become hollowed out and rotten. 

András Tóth-Czifra is a Non-resident Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA.) He is a political analyst from Hungary, based in New York City.   

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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Finland, its neighbors Norway and Estonia, as well as other frontline states, have a common interest to ensure that there will be credible collective deterrence against Russian future aggression in Europe and to be heard within the (soon to be ) 32-member organization. 

It is no accident that two prime ministers from the eastern flank, Sanna Marin of Finland and Kaja Kallas of Estonia, have emerged as straight-talking and unapologetic leaders of the democratic coalition supporting Ukraine, and delivering sobering broadsides against Russia.  

“The way out of the conflict is for Russia to leave Ukraine,” Finland’s leader said in October after President Biden had mused on building an off-ramp for Vladimir Putin. “There is war in Ukraine because Russia started it, not because Ukraine is defending itself,” Kallas said last month. “Russia’s goals haven’t changed, it wants to continue its war of aggression. This means we all need to do more. Give many more weapons to Ukraine, faster.” 

This confidently assertive tone from the two women may irk Europe’s traditional continental leaders in France and Germany but is a necessary counterbalance to the old European alliance, which has dominated much of the continent’s discussion on how to manage the Russian regime.  

Prime Ministers Marin and Kallas represent a generation of European politicians unencumbered by continental post-Cold War thinking about economic or energy interdependence and shielding European states from Russia’s aggression. Their personal relationship also symbolizes the state of bilateral relations, which are as close as ever. This was not always the case. 

During the early years following the Cold War, the Finnish political elite displayed less understanding of Estonia’s more rhetorically hawkish stance towards Russia. President Tarja Halonen infamously accused the Baltic states of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder towards Russia in 2008, and again in 2012. This, and the frequent meetings between Finnish and Russian presidents, functioning relations at the border, and political rhetoric laced with phrases about cooperation and interdependence led some Estonian politicians to argue that despite their long border with Russia, Finns did not understand the threat posed by Russia.  

But while Finnish public statements were closer in tone to those emanating from Berlin or Paris, Finland maintained a robust national defense and a resilient and diverse energy system precisely for national security reasons. Russia — like the Soviet Union before it — was seen as the only potential existential threat to Finnish security, even if this was not formally stated.  

Russia’s actions in the early months of 2022 were to profoundly change both Finnish political rhetoric and its sense of how security was best achieved, and as a result, Finland sought NATO membership.  

The application that was handed in May 2022, was backed by a great majority of the Finnish public, whose views on alliance hardened just as quickly — support reached 76%, compared to 26% a year earlier. Meanwhile, EU sanctions against Russia are backed by 96% of Finns, and the country is among the handful of EU countries that have banned travel with tourist visas for Russians.  

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In his new year speech of 2023, President Sauli Niinistö talked about good and evil — the West and Russia — in black-and-white terms that sounded almost Estonian in their directness. The Finnish Defence Forces ended the decades-long practice of referring to the potential adversary as A2Yellow (A2Keltainen), and simply clarified that deterring and defending against Russian aggression — in the future with allies — was its primary mission. So what explains Finland’s sudden change of political course and rhetoric – apart from Russia’s war of aggression? 

In order to understand the swift — and seemingly enduring — change in the outlook of the Finnish public and leadership on NATO membership, one needs to understand the essence of the country’s strategic culture.  

Its core is what Finns often refer to as “small-state realism”: a pragmatic, non-ideologized way of looking at world politics. Former President Mauno Koivisto’s response when asked about Finland’s national idea, responded: “To survive.” For a small state bordering an unpredictable giant, national security questions always came first. So, when Finland hosted the Helsinki Security Conference in 1975 or the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki in 2018, it was not from idealism but from pragmatism: it hoped that easing great power tensions would reflect positively on a small frontline states’ room to maneuver, and ultimately its security.  

This security-driven pragmatism and the ultimate concern for survival as a sovereign country is something that Finland shares with other frontline nations, such as the Baltic states and Poland. It also sets it apart from the logic of the key European players like France and Germany – even if Finland’s Russia policy once looked superficially similar to those of Germany and France, the underlying logic has always been fundamentally different.  

Finland’s ongoing security policy culture change will need to marry its historical small-state realism with a collective frontline state sensibility, both as an EU and NATO member. Its nuanced and realistic assessment of Russia’s logic will aid in bridging various perspectives in the two blocs.  

For example, when Russia’s leaders have clearly expressed that they consider neighboring countries’ sovereignty to be second class, that it should be qualified by Russian needs, and that Russia is ready to invade a country to back this belief, Finland can make it clear to Germany and France that advocating a dialogue on the European security order, and possibly making compromises to appease Russia, would be detrimental to Finland, and the entirety of the eastern flank of NATO and the EU.  

Finland must ensure, together with other frontline states, that NATO and the EU continue to build capacity to address Russian aggression in military, economic, energy, and political spheres.  

This position is not the ideological stance of a hawk, but the pragmatic position of a country that understands the huge costs of war: there can be no lasting peace on the continent until there is credible Western deterrence to keep Russia at bay.  

Sinikukka Saari is a Research Director for Great Power Politics and Foresight at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Her key research interests include Russian foreign and security policy, the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Finnish foreign policy. 

Charly Salonius-Pasternak is a Lead Researcher heading up the Center on US Politics and Power at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. His work focuses on international security issues, with a geographic focus on Nordic and transatlantic security, and US foreign and defense policy.  

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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NATO standard tanks such as the British Challenger 2, the German Leopard 2, from the 2A5 version onward, and the American Abrams in its M1A2 model, outclass most Russian platforms currently in Ukraine – except, perhaps, the T-90M. They possess improved protection and survivability, better battle-management systems, and superior fire control. 

If the announced numbers (around 120-140) and models are confirmed, Ukraine should be able to deploy at least three new heavy brigades with qualitatively superior tanks. This would give Ukrainian tankers key advantages against enemy armored units, especially in a phase in which older Ukrainian T-64s and T-72s are struggling against Russia’s more capable T-90M and upgraded T-72B Obr.2022 tanks now pouring into the country in large quantities. Western allies’ decision to send tanks also confirms, once again, the latter’s continued relevance in today’s warfare, despite a plethora of analyses and comments hastily heralding the tank’s demise. 

But for all the fanfare, they are not a wonder weapon and cannot decide the conflict alone, any more than the Bayraktar TB2 armed drone, or other weapons systems.  

To begin with, managing the logistics of three different tanks will be an enormous challenge for the Ukrainian military and will require a complex set of combat engineering forces and logistic capabilities, as well as steady assistance from Western allies. Repair support initiatives, for instance, are already in place in neighboring countries such as Poland and other eastern European states.  

Secondly, while it is true that most Western tanks are superior, so far tank-on-tank engagements appear the exception rather than the rule. The popular image of large, armored formations taking on their enemy counterparts does not match the current situation in Zaporizhzhia or the Donbas, where lines are static and threats mostly emanate from concealed anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), artillery, and loitering munitions. In this context of attrition, tanks on both sides are hardly used to their full potential and become easy targets or, sometimes, surrogate artillery. 

This operational complexity will increase exponentially in offensive operations against well-entrenched Russian forces, making superior training even more important. Highly skilled crews make the real difference in the use of sophisticated tanks, often more than the tank’s specifications themselves, but it takes longer to instruct them. For this reason, the sooner Ukrainians start to train and familiarize themselves with Western platforms, the better, and they must also consider the possible doctrinal and organizational implications. Both Western allies and Ukrainian authorities seem to understand this. 

The current sensationalism on tanks, as with Javelins, drones, and HIMARS in past months, derives from two interconnected dynamics. The first is an incomplete portrayal of the war from a constant but incomplete flow of information emerging from the frontlines, which has over-emphasized the role of individual weapons. As Alexander Clarkson of King’s College, London pointed out: “Events on the battlefield are a product of a complex interplay between political, economic and technological processes”, the understanding of which requires “a willingness to reconsider and revise initial analytical assumptions as more evidence emerges over time”. War, therefore, cannot be reduced to the role of single weapon systems, whose impact is just a drop in an ocean of intertwined factors. 

The second, more dangerous dynamic is the tendency, especially in the conventional debate, to consider war as a linear, monolithic phenomenon that is now easily predictable thanks to an unprecedented flow of information and open-source intelligence (OSINT.) As such, against the backdrop of Russia’s overall poor military performance and an imminent, huge delivery of heavy equipment to Ukraine, it now seems consequential to assume Russia’s inevitable defeat in the face of qualitatively superior tanks. But such assumptions are very dangerous, for they encourage underestimation of the adversary’ strength and limit our understanding of the conflict’s different phases. 

While Russia is having enormous problems, it is also adapting and preparing for a protracted conflict. Despite multiple shortcomings, ranging from a lack of discipline and cumbersome logistics to sluggish command and control (C2) and inadequate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), Russian forces have stabilized a vast front, entrenched themselves, and increased the attrition for Ukrainian units, especially in the Donbas.  

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Major logistical flows and C2 centers have been moved from the reach of Ukrainian HIMARS and long-range precision fires, while the injection of fresh recruits, including Wagner private military contractors, has put new pressure on Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut, although at an enormous human cost. Russia also retains a substantial advantage in both manpower and equipment, potentially enough to embark on a new large-scale offensive to reverse the current situation.  

NATO’s statements on the recent mobilization of Russia’s mobilization of at least 200,000 soldiers and the preparation of new ammunition stocks and equipment seem to corroborate this. At the same time, Russia has managed to circumvent Western sanctions, and continues to buy critical components for its defense industry, while receiving weapons from Iran and North Korea. 

Russian forces have for months been fortifying defensive positions in the occupied eastern territories and replenishing personnel losses in anticipation of a new Ukrainian counteroffensive. For the latter to succeed, it will require complex combined arms operations, with mechanized infantry able to effectively maneuver and exploit breakthroughs while retaining decent protection. For this reason, as analyst Rob Lee observes, the delivery of large amounts of infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) and armored personnel carriers (APC), such as the US-made Bradley or Swedish CV-90, maybe even have even greater cumulative effects on the battlefield than tanks. Recent pledges by Western allies are encouraging, and there should be more to come.  

Furthermore, Ukraine needs longer-range precision weapons to strike deeper behind Russian lines and degrade its C2 complex, logistic nodes, ammunition depots, and reserve forces within Ukraine’s international borders. This will be essential to deny momentum for a potential Russian offensive in the coming months, but also to prepare the ground for offensive operations. The US-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of up to 300km (186 miles) and has long been among Kyiv’s requests, although the Biden administration has refused this. Instead, the less powerful Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb with a range of 150km, recently proposed by Boeing and deployable through the HIMARS, seems likely to be approved shortly to provide this capability.  

Other key systems include short and medium-range mobile air defense complexes, including anti-aircraft guns, and C-UAS systems to protect forward Ukrainian units, tackle enemy UAS and loitering munitions, and make it harder for Russian aircraft to maintain local air superiority in the Donbas. At the same time, the Ukrainian air force would also be fundamental to protecting Ukrainian maneuver formations and should receive new aircraft to do its job. Besides operational advantages and disadvantages, supplying western fighter jets such as the F-16 remains a long-term solution given the extensive training required. Conversely, modernized Mig-29s, which Ukraine already operates, appear the best stop-gap solution since they can be quickly delivered by allies such as Poland and Slovakia.  

Equally important, Ukraine will need an unprecedented amount of ammunition, both for its artillery and armored forces, to sustain a potential counteroffensive or repel a new Russian onslaught. As Ukraine gradually integrates more Western platforms, ammunition requirements, and demands must be carefully reassessed for the long haul. While this brings the Ukrainian military even closer to NATO standards, it also creates a logistical headache. In any case, Western countries should significantly ramp up the production of ammunition to support Kyiv — including through partnership agreements with Ukrainian companies — and restock their national reserves.  

This is now happening, as can be seen from the recent US decision to boost 155mm shell manufacture sixfold within two years, and the decision by European allies to increase ammunition production capacity, including Soviet calibers. 

It is unthinkable that the West should allow Ukraine to be defeated. But to defend Europe and its values, the West must provide all the heavy weapons the country needs to win.    

Federico Borsari is a Leonardo Fellow at the Center for European Political Analysis (CEPA), NATO 2030 Global Fellow, and a Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). His main research interests include security and defense dynamics, transatlantic security relations, and the impact of new technologies on warfare.

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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To hear Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tell it, Iran has an information problem. “I have repeatedly said, and repeat, that the enemy relies on misinformation and propaganda in its plans,” he explained ahead of the execution of a score of protestors earlier this month.  

That followed a November speech claiming the “enemy is seeking to dominate minds” in which he inveighed against “fake news and analyses in the satellite channels and social media that belong to” the enemy and called for a “jihad of clarification.” On January 21, his personal website hosted an interview with a media professor to explain how “the enemy’s media outlets reshaped the truth in a way that the general public would have a different understanding of the truth — an understanding that is far from reality.”  

The protests that are shaking the country, in the Supreme Leader’s telling, boil down to the dissemination and interpretation of information. And he’s right. 

This is the second part of a four-part series on how information theory can help to explain authoritarian power. The opening piece introduced a framework for understanding propaganda based on the work of Claude Shannon, who pioneered the mathematics that underpins modern telecommunications. Shannon described the division of transmitters (with whom the message originates), channels (over which the message travels), and receivers (to whom the message is targeted.)  

Rulers care about this. A lot. A ruler’s legitimacy depends on their ability, as a transmitter, to convince their population, the receiver, that they are rightfully in power. But this idea of legitimacy is not a simple proclamation, “I am legitimate.” Instead, it emerges from an ever-flowing complex of information, originating not just from the state or media but also from social interaction and lived experience. A state is therefore wise to encourage its population to accept a set of values, customs, and beliefs that makes it easier to accept information that supports the state’s legitimacy and harder to accept information that contradicts it. 

Where the Ayatollah still exercises complete control of the tools for interpreting information —through media, the mosques, and the madrasas — he can continue to run the country aground while his loyalists blame the “US and Zionist regimes” for all their problems. But where that control frays, the reality of the regime’s incompetence and brutality is undeniable and protests and widespread resistance flourish

The Iranian government invests heavily in channels to deliver its values and beliefs. Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB boasts a budget estimated at $900m-$1bn per year. Clergy on the state payroll reap over $100m per year. Any rival sources of information, from foreign journalists to popular opposition figures, face constant harassment, jail time, and worse.  

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For the conservative, religious, and rural heartland of Iran, the messages coming from IRIB and the clergy are easily assimilated. This traditional power base of the regime shares Shia identity and a drive for a strong and powerful Shia state with the Ayatollahs. And as mainly Persian speakers, the messages from Tehran not only face no linguistic barriers but easily fit into the presuppositions and worldviews of the audience. 

But native Persian speakers constitute as little as 60% of the country and between a tenth and a quarter of the country is Sunni. Iran has invested little in reaching these minority groups. IRIB dedicates as many channels to Hausa, a language spoken in northern Nigeria, as to Kurdish and to Baloch — the two largest majority Sunni ethnic groups, together an eighth of the country. Across the border, meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdistan hosts dozens of Kurdish-language television networks. In contrast to the spoils lavished upon Shiite clerics, Sunni clerics find themselves prevented from repairing their mosques or building new ones. The tension is well-illustrated by protests in the Baloch heartland, which have regularly followed Friday sermons at Sunni mosques. 

Meanwhile, in Tehran, tech-savvy young Iranians can circumvent regime safeguards to access BBC Persian or Radio Azadi, while personal connections to the diaspora enable the flow of uncensored information on the regime’s brutality. More secular-minded and aware of the West than their provincial compatriots, Tehranis are far less likely to accept the messages coming from the clerics. The damage done is recognized by the regime; a media professor invited onto Khamenei’s personal website decried “foreign-based Persian-language media outlets and the [sic] social media.” 

Where Persian is not spoken, or where Shiism is not the dominant denomination, are therefore the places with the most protests and most brutal crackdowns, despite vast differences in economic conditions, religiosity, and ethnic makeup. The six provinces with the most protesters killed, according to watchdog Iran Human Rights, are: Balochistan i Sistan (majority Baloch), Kurdistan (Kurdish), West Azerbaijan (mostly Azeri but Kurdish in the south where the protests are concentrated), Tehran, Gilan (populated by a Caspian people whose language is related to Kurdish and bears some Georgian influence), and Mazandaran (where they speak a language close to that in Gilan.) 

The continuing protests since the murder of the Kurdish blogger Mahsa Amini in September represent the most serious challenge to the regime’s legitimacy yet. Legitimacy, in its most basic form, is an idea, and a regime’s continued existence relies on its ability to replicate that idea in its population.  

If that is now failing, the Ayatollah cannot simply blame an American-Saudi-Israeli-ISIS conspiracy; it has ultimately been his own choice to ignore this basic principle. 

Ben Dubow is a Nonresident Fellow at CEPA and the founder of Omelas, which specializes in data and analysis on how states manipulate the web. 

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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One of Russia’s most serious and least-discussed problems is that under the over-mighty hand of Vladimir Putin, the state’s antennae for receiving and analyzing information has been so badly degraded that it’s blinded itself to events.  

This degradation began long before 2014 and is partially responsible for Putin’s initial decision to annex Crimea and start a war in Ukrainian Donbas. It is a deeply dangerous facet of Russian policymaking. 

The Kremlin relies on networks of marginal, criminal, and simply inadequate figures to promote its influence abroad and to receive information on developments. This refers not only to support for unpopular leaders, such as former pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich — forced to flee by a popular uprising in 2014 — but also certain social movements which were so unpopular that they were discredited in the eyes of local populations. 

For example, in Crimea, the Kremlin bet on so-called Cossack organizations, that included former bandits from the 1990s, as well as the descendants of prison guards, checklists, and party bosses, according to the Crimean Tatars. Residents reported that these groups were involved in murders and kidnappings, which didn’t win them any popularity among the peninsula’s population. 

Another favored tool of Russian “soft power” was reliance on Russian Orthodox Church elements abroad, especially those that were then considered marginal even within Russia. It is important to note that in the 2000s, religious radicalism was not encouraged in the Russian church. Of course, there were always groups of anti-Western conspiracy theorists who glorified Stalin, hated change, and dreamed of restoring an empire. However, these groups did not constitute the church mainstream and were dimly viewed by the church leadership and educated believers. It took time for them to become mainstream. 

Even before this domestic development, however, the Kremlin had placed its bets on radical parties and groups abroad. In Serbia, for example, this was the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party, and then the Zavetniki party that emerged from it. In Ukraine, the Orthodox brotherhoods and the People’s Cathedral organization, which at that time had just begun to gain strength within the Russian Orthodox Church, were considered the most pro-Russian. In December 2013, the chairman of this organization, Igor Druz, organized a religious procession in Kyiv against “eurosodomy,” as he dubbed the Ukrainian desire for an association agreement with the EU. 

But while figures like Druz might be extreme, they were also useful. People with similar views began to be used by Kremlin analysts and intelligence agencies not only as agents of influence to pursue the Kremlin’s ends but also as sources of information about events in their countries. It is entirely possible that their inadequate reports are also the basis for the propaganda myths of 2014 according to which “Ukrainian nazis on orders from the USA and Eurosodom will destroy the Russian-speaking population of Donbas,” as Druz phrased it. 

It was likewise a myth that the population of Donbas was somehow “ready to take up arms against the Kyiv regime,” and that a full-scale civil war in Ukraine was unavoidable. In fact, such views were shared only by an extremely narrow stratum of ideological marginals. Even Druz stated that at first, “few people among Russian official authorities understood what was happening,” that is, even in Moscow they didn’t want to listen to his fantasies.  

But the situation later changed dramatically. Outcasts were welcomed to the mainstream, not only abroad, but also in the Russian expert community. Russian policy began to respond to these imagined events, Russian organizations including the intelligence agencies began to manufacture evidence of nonexistent events, and foreign and defense policies began to respond in kind. There is a clear line between these developments and Russia’s embrace of wars of aggression.  

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A frequenter of Russian propaganda TV shows, and former leading researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), Aleksandr Sytin was fired at the beginning of 2015. He then began to detail allegations against his former employer. He said that the-then director of the Institute, former General of the SVR Leonid Reshetnikov, was overcome by religious White Guard ideas, which led the organization to argue at length that Ukraine was an artificially created failed state. 

“This position was mixed with extreme, very emotional anti-Westernism,” Sytin said. “It was based on the thesis that European and Russian civilizations have opposite historical missions: the European puts man at the center of its value system while the Russian puts God first.” In Sytin’s account, these were precisely the people who lobbied for the decision to annex Crimea and unleash a war in Donbas in 2014. 

Confirmation can be found on the RISS website content for 2013-2014. In particular, at the height of the Euromaidan revolt in February 2014, an interview with a marginal Finnish figure, Johan Beckman, described as a political scientist, and known for his collaboration with the radical ultra-Orthodox portal Russian People’s Line, appeared on the Institute’s website. In an interview with RISS, Beckman claimed that the Euromaidan was “financed by Western intelligence agencies” and was “a fascist occupation of streets and buildings.” 

Even earlier, at the end of December 2013, the Institute published a man called Eduard Popov, termed a Ukraine specialist, who argued that the Maidan would lead to a split in Ukraine, and “the leaders of the new Orange Revolution are counterparties of the West.”  

RISS is not some marginal organization howling into the wilderness — it is directly subordinate to the Presidential Administration, and previously fell under the jurisdiction of the foreign intelligence service, the SVR. Its job in persuading public opinion is marginal; RISS informs the Russian administrative elite. 

There is more evidence, much more. For example, in 2018 on the Military Thought website, which is close to the Ministry of Defense, the analysis section published an article reporting that “open preparations for NATO and US intervention in Russia were underway.” 

This was the work of a global, satanic elite mafia, the author explained, “with the goal of gaining total control of the planet and humankind.” It was a theme regularly echoed on the site. 

Meanwhile, the Russian president’s brainchild, the Valdai Discussion Club of intellectual figures, not only failed to resist these lurid arguments, they too offered ideological support to the war hysteria and ultimately the full-scale invasion. 

There is no reason to hope for improvement. Even pro-Kremlin experts predict further archaization of Russia, noting that economic degradation and the de-emancipation of certain social groups should be expected. The most serious consequence of this trend is the impossibility of conducting constructive negotiations with the Kremlin. Russia’s rulers, as has repeatedly been noted, inhabit an illusion.  

Kseniya Kirillova is an analyst focused on Russian society, mentality, propaganda, and foreign policy. The author of numerous articles for the Jamestown Foundation, she has also written for the Atlantic Council, Stratfor, and others. 

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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It is sometimes assumed in the West that the Crimean Peninsula is somehow a negotiable element of the conflict and that the government in Kyiv might be persuaded to relinquish it as part of a grand bargain with Russia. 

This is despite the fact that Ukraine has consistently stated that its liberation is a central war aim. In the summer of 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy once again declared that the Russian war against Ukraine must conclude with this achievement.  

The idea that Crimea, seized in 2014 by Russian forces in an early and open act of aggression against Ukrainian statehood, is somehow an optional add-on is mistaken, and not just because this is an issue of national pride and integrity. 

Firstly, the significance of Crimea extends far beyond Europe. Its annexation was a serious act of enforced border change by an aggressive neighbor. The 1991 Gulf war was fought on precisely the issue of border change by force of arms; that conflict gathered an extraordinary coalition involving the armed forces of 38 countries. It was designed to send a message to future aggressors. Failing to uphold that message would mark a serious failure for the international rules-based order. 

Secondly, the illegal annexation of Crimea was endorsed in a rigged vote. In May 2014, a report from the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights estimated that the actual turnout for the Crimean independence referendum may have been as low as 30%. The Russian Unity Party that had pushed for Crimean succession into Russia had received less than 5% of the vote in the 2010 regional election. In 2011, a poll was conducted in Crimea and found that more than 71% of Crimean residents considered Ukraine their motherland. Vladimir Putin, in other words, seized a part of Ukraine that had no intention of joining Russia in democratically held elections in prior years.  

Thirdly, the Russian Federation has extensively mistreated its supposed new citizens. It is not for the West, or anyone else, to leave large numbers of people at the mercy of a criminal regime inflicting non-judicial sanctions and brutality on the peoples of the occupied territories. Ukraine has a duty to assist its citizens through liberation — exactly the policy that the US, the UK, or France would follow in similar circumstances.  

Lastly, and most importantly, Ukraine has no choice but to fight until Crimea returns to its control. The events of 2014 were merely the opening act of a drama aimed at erasing Ukrainian statehood. But the events of 2022 made clear that Crimea wasn’t enough for the warmongers in Moscow; the area was simply a launchpad for a much bigger operation. This is intolerable for Ukraine. If the battlelines were to be frozen with the peninsula still in Russian hands, it would amount to a dagger held at the country’s throat, to be used at any moment of the Kremlin’s choosing. This is not, therefore, an issue of choice for Ukraine but of survival.  

(The West might also consider the strategic advantages —the loss to Russia of the Sevastopol naval base would seriously damage the Kremlin’s efforts to make the Black Sea a Russian lake, and force its fleet to rely on the port of Novorossiysk.) 

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Is it possible to retake Crimea? The main objective of Ukraine's counter-offensives is exactly this. While Russia maintains a strong presence there, the war has demonstrated that it is capable of losing territory quickly and unexpectedly, as in Kherson last fall. Despite some Western leaders expressing concerns about Putin considering Crimea a "red line", the region is continuously under fire from Ukrainian forces. The arrival of new, longer-range US munitions means this bombardment of military targets is only like to intensify.  

As Russia frantically constructs defensive trenches in Crimea, it becomes clear that the country is deeply concerned about the region's vulnerability to a Ukrainian invasion. Even the Russian-appointed governor of Sevastopol has taken the precaution of moving his family to Cyprus, part of a wave of elite Russians fleeing the area.  

The Biden administration continues to shift in this direction; according to recent New York Times reporting, "After months of discussions with Ukrainian officials, the Biden administration is finally starting to concede that Kyiv may need the power to strike . . . [Crimea], even if such a move increases the risk of escalation.” The calculation appears to be that even if the peninsula is not recaptured, a demonstration of the Ukrainian armed forces’ ability to challenge Russia's military control will ultimately strengthen Ukraine's position at the negotiating table. 

Former French President François Hollande recently expressed the idea that a Ukrainian victory, marked by the withdrawal of Russian troops from Donbas and even Crimea, would serve as a powerful deterrent to Russia and China's imperial ambitions towards their neighbors. Putin's defeat would signal the end of this temptation to invade neighbors and serve as a clear warning that aggression will not pay.  

It is time to remove Russia’s dagger, to defang its aggressive capacity in the borderlands, and reassert the primacy of peaceful coexistence as the foundation of international relations. Of course, Ukraine does this for itself, but it also does this for every other menaced country. The democratic world should remember that. 

David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and an editor at Euromaidan Press. He can be found on Twitter @DVKirichenko.   

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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Our citizens are challenging the legitimacy of democratic elections. Digital tools offer a potential remedy. They can modernize our voting systems – and boost political participation.

Finland and its Northern European neighbors teach good lessons.

During the COVID-19 pandemic governments rolled out special voting arrangements such as postal voting, proxy voting, and mobile ballot box voting. Political parties harnessed new technologies to assist their campaigns and reach voters. They leveraged new ways of fundraising and virtual rallies.

These new remote, digital practices must become a permanent part of future elections. In Estonia, 44% of voters in the latest EU Elections cast their ballot online, a new record for Internet voting. Estonian officials say two elements are needed to spread remote digital voting – an electronic identity infrastructure and political will. Estonia’s 1.3 million citizens have been able to vote on the Internet since 2005. It is the first – and still only – nation to offer legally binding general elections over the Internet.

Call it e-Estonia. Estonians can conduct almost every interaction with their government online. With a few clicks, they can get married, pay parking tickets, and receive a building permit.

Of course, change brings challenges. Sophisticated online manipulation can destabilize democracy, reinforcing extremists and election deniers. Furthermore, what works in a small, homogeneous country may be difficult to implement in large, heterogeneous countries such as the US.

Before the Internet, newspapers and traditional media allowed for a single national conversation, making many of us nostalgic for the days gone by when it was easier to tell right from wrong. Many democracies today lack a common debate and narrative and instead face a fragmented information landscape. Democracies have become self-assured, even arrogant, in thinking they can sustain and absorb any level of conflicting and divisive discussion.

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Yet the solution cannot be to wish for a return to the analogue past. We must secure an open and transparent online environment even when facing new AI-driven technologies such as ChatGPT. My own home country shows how digital tools can promote pragmatism and defeat propaganda. Finland ranked No. 1 of 41 European countries on resilience against misinformation for the fifth time in a row in a recent survey. Media literacy is part of the national core curriculum starting in preschool.

Successful digital democracy requires a strong infrastructure. Both Estonia and Finland boast strong broadband networks. Finland is one the world’s most connected countries, with 96% of households having access to broadband internet. Since 2010, broadband internet access has been considered a legal right of all citizens and businesses.

Digital tools should be designed to protect citizens against surveillance and cyberattacks. My vision for a democratic digital state depends on trust in society and its institutions creating an expansion of deliberative democracy, which derives legitimacy from public exchanges of thought and arguments between equal citizens, rather than just from the traditional moment of voting. All citizens have a continuous political agency, exercising freedoms of expression and thought, and in doing so online platforms can help.

They can encourage excluded citizens to participate outside of elections, engaging voters in online rallies and policy debates. The Åbo Akademi University in Turku set up a fascinating laboratory bringing together small random groups of citizens to discuss transport planning for the city.

One group included politicians. Another did not. Researchers theorized that the discussion with politicians would lead to division. They were mistaken.

“No trace of differences between the two treatment groups were reported,” the report concluded. “We conclude that politicians, at least when they are in a clear minority in the deliberating small groups, can deliberate with citizens without negatively affecting internal inclusion and the quality of deliberation.”

The unequal distribution of material wealth in society is mirrored by a digital divide, where the poor enjoy fewer opportunities than the rich to participate in digital democracy. In the coming years, we must close the divide in order to strengthen and upkeep democracy. A new age of digital democracy requires that we give everyone equal online access. It means moving beyond encouraging participation in elections. It means building a real digital deliberative space.

Charlotta Collén is a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. She is currently the Director of the Office for Research, International Affairs, and Corporate Connections at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland.

Bandwidth is CEPA’s online journal dedicated to advancing transatlantic cooperation on tech policy. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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The US Justice Department recently sued Google accusing it of illegally abusing a monopoly on digital advertising technologies. Europe will move fast to name the gatekeepers subject to its new Digital Markets Act in later 2023. And now, the UK is preparing a Digital Markets Competition and Consumer Bill.

Andrea Coscelli, former chief executive of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, argues that the upcoming UK reform will be more flexible than the European rules. His interview with EURACTIV has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: The Digital Markets Competition and Consumer Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament this spring, meaning it could be in place before the end of the year. Andrea, could you give us a brief overview of the bill?

AC: The bill essentially does three things. It sets up the UK’s first digital regulatory framework. Second, it upgrades the powers of competition market authorities, and third, it changes quite substantially the UK consumer protection enforcement laws.

Question: How significant of a shift does this represent in terms of tech regulation?

AC: The Competition and Markets Authority has been addressing the issues in tech using the powers given to it by parliament almost 20 to 25 years ago. Obviously, at that time, there was very little in terms of digital activity.

This draft bill essentially reflects discussions and reports that have been published over the past three or four years in the UK, discussions in the European Union, and several other jurisdictions. There would be significant new powers given to a new Digital Markets unit and the legal power to regulate a handful of companies with strategic market status.

Question: The bill also contains some significant updates on consumer law. Could you tell us what it could mean for online platforms?

AC: The current consumer protection regime in the UK was conceived at a time when the economy was analogue. At the time, Parliament didn’t give the Office of Fair Trading (which then became the Competition and Markets Authority) the power, for instance, to levy fines against companies.

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When firms engage in problematic and potentially illegal practices but don’t cause direct financial harm to consumers, it is very difficult to think in terms of redress. For example, we struggled to address the problem of fake reviews because we were unable able to levy fines, so these platforms regarded these investigations as less of a priority.

That’s why the Competition and Markets Authority has asked the government for upgraded powers.

Question: How do you compare what the EU has done in their Digital Markets Act?

AC: There are strong parallels. The two sets of reforms are trying to address similar problems. The discussion in the European Union right now is about the implementation of existing law. In the UK, we are still waiting for a draft bill, so essentially the UK is now behind what’s happening in Europe.

The UK plans to give significant powers are given to the Digital Markets Unit to work through codes of conduct monitoring markets. There is a lot of room for significant exchanges between the companies, the regulator, third parties, and litigation, so there is the benefit of flexibility.

The risk in the UK is that the new system starts feeling too much like the competition cases and potentially takes too long. The choice in the European Union was to go for something which is more rigid, and potentially more difficult to upgrade over time as things change. But has the benefit of quick and effective implementation.

Question: The British framework will be tailored to the firms that have been deemed to have strategic market status – while under the Digital Markets Act, gatekeeper platforms will be subject to standardized obligations. Why is the UK taking this approach?

AC: We felt this targeted approach will be able to change over time as technologies and our understanding of the issues change. The institutional framework in the EU made it less attractive to design a system with a sizeable regulator engaged in extensive conversations on codes of conduct.

Implementation will be key. All of this is a bit of an experiment. This is the first time that something like this is happening on a global scale. I think other jurisdictions outside of Europe will go down similar routes. Look at what’s going to happen in the United States in the next few years in terms of litigation on a number of big cases, and potential legislation.

Molly Killeen is a Brussels-based tech reporter for EURACTIV.com. Romy Hermans, an intern with the Center for European Policy Analysis in Brussels, transcribed and edited the interview

This article was originally published by EURACTIV. EURACTIV is an independent pan-European media network specialized in EU affairs including government, business, and civil society.

Bandwidth is CEPA’s online journal dedicated to advancing transatlantic cooperation on tech policy. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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The commitment was made by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, and Hungary in Bucharest on December 17. The deal foresees the transmission of green energy from the South Caucasus to Europe, and forms part of the European Union’s (EU) wider plans for energy diversification; It was praised by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as a project “full of possibilities.” 

Azerbaijan, a key producer of oil and natural gas, already plays a significant role in European energy security through recently agreed deals with the EU. In addition, both Azerbaijan and Georgia are important energy transit countries for Turkey, and Southern and South-eastern Europe. Key economic projects with geopolitical significance, like the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (running from Azerbaijan to Turkey) and Baku-Supsa oil pipelines, and the Southern Gas Corridor (again running east-west through Turkey) have elevated the importance of Azerbaijan as a major energy security player for Europe.  

The EU’s decision to support the undersea power line between Georgia and Romania represents a significant development. It will allow electricity produced in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and other countries to be delivered directly to the European market. It will also help clean energy-producing countries to attract more foreign direct investment in hydro, wind, and solar power generation. 

While Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea wind farms may be the leading source of electricity for the power line,  a preliminary economic analysis has demonstrated that the participation of the other South Caucasus countries will be important for its ultimate commercial success. 

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the loss of Russian energy supplies, the EU’s need to diversify its energy sources, including both fossil fuels and renewables, is greater than ever. Naturally, this makes Azerbaijan increasingly important as a partner. The July 2022 visit to Baku of von der Leyen, and the subsequent signing of an energy agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan on increased natural gas supplies to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor, have significantly elevated bilateral ties. That, in turn, has paved the way for a growing understanding of mutual dependence, as well as expanded collaboration on economic projects. 

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This growing closeness serves as the backdrop for the most recent breakthrough by Georgia, Azerbaijan’s regional neighbor. The idea of the submarine power line between Georgia and Romania was born during the country’s partnership discussions with the EU back in 2018. The initial concept was based on Georgia’s interest in boosting its economic integration with the bloc, as well as the potential to export hydro energy to Europe. This led Georgia to request a pre-feasibility study from the World Bank, which was completed in 2020 (and is now publicly available.) The project, in turn, received a new boost with Azerbaijan’s interest in developing its vast wind power generation potential in the Caspian.  

Georgia is now moving forward to the feasibility study stage, funded by the World Bank, which should confirm the project’s commercial viability, optimal transmission capacity, and exact routing. It will also examine some of the technical challenges, including the difficult geography of the Black Sea, as well as the need to cross two undersea natural gas pipelines connecting Russia and Turkey. In addition, the feasibility study will assess a need for additional power infrastructure at the Georgian and Romanian ends in order to ensure the stable operation of their power grids. 

Initial costs estimates are around €2.5bn ($2.7bn), with one potential source of funding the EU’s funding European Economic and Investment Plan. Other finance may come from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and others. Given the involvement of Romania and Hungary, both members of the Three Sea Initiative (3SI), it would be natural to have the 3SI Fund involved as well.   

There have been several past projects to transmit energy from the eastern to western shores of the Black Sea, but they have foundered because of an array of political, economic, and technical problems. These include the White Stream natural gas pipeline project to ship Turkmen gas to Europe via Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania liquefied natural gas (LNG) interconnector project.  

Yet this time there is a discernible political will to get the infrastructure built. The severance of Russian supplies was a serious shock for Europe and the urgent need to meet climate change objectives with greener energy are both providing significant momentum. The undersea power cable project has a realistic chance for implementation. That would blaze a trail for other projects to help boost connectivity in the Black Sea.   

Mamuka Tsereteli, Ph.D. is Senior Fellow for Eurasia, American Foreign Policy Council/Central-Asia Caucasus Institute. 

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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