InvestEU and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development partner to finance green projects in EU countries, with over $1.192 billion in funding available. 

European Bank for reconstruction and development logo in front of their main office for Ljubljana – 15 Sep 2021 (Shutterstock)

By Harper Meacham  

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and European Commission are working together to help European Union (EU) countries reach their full green potential through the InvestEU program. 

The program is providing over €1.1 billion (about $1.192 billion) in financing to support sustainable projects in the municipal, transport and energy sectors in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.  

The financing will address environmental challenges, contribute to the EBRD’s Green Cities program, and support green investments in a range of industrial and infrastructure projects.  

The InvestEU Investment Committee has approved guarantees of up to €150 million (about $162.7 million) for the first EBRD operations as part of the InvestEU guarantee agreement worth up to €450 million (about $487.9 million) between the European Commission and the EBRD.  

This will help financial institutions in these countries provide loans to finance investments in sustainable transport, energy efficiency, renewable energy and residential buildings, and support green investments in private companies facing higher costs of newer technologies, higher perceived risks and a lack of available financing. 

The InvestEU program aims to leverage substantial private and public funds to support a sustainable recovery, mobilize private investments for the EU’s policy priorities. 

They also work to back investment projects of implementing partners using the EU budget guarantee of €26.2 billion ($28.4 billion).  

The entire budgetary guarantee will back the investment projects of the implementing partners, increase their risk-bearing capacity, and mobilize at least €372 billion ($403.4 billion) in additional investment. 

Georgia and Germany’s EU candidacy alliance faces uncertainty.

Georgia and EU flags – date unknown (Shutterstock)

By Tara Trinley

Germany Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, landed in Georgia capital Tbilisi late on Mar. 23. The visit comes amidst uncertainty over Georgia’s commitment to pursuing a path to EU candidacy.

Last summer, Georgia applied for European Union (EU) status along with Ukraine and Moldova.

Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status, while Georgia was promised the same only after meeting 12 conditions aimed at anti-corruption and democracy building.

However, just a few weeks ago, the Georgian Dream party passed a controversial “foreign agent” bill, sparking mass protests across the country and severely damaging Georgia’s image as an emerging non-Soviet, European nation.

The bill was retracted, but it caste serious doubts over Georgia’s commitment to joining the EU.

Now, Baerbock has spoken with Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili in an attempt to keep Georgia on a European path.

“I want to make it clear that Germany is fully committed to Georgia’s prospect of EU membership,” Baerbock said.

Baerbock further stated that Germany sees the actions of the Dream Party as contrary to what “the overwhelming majority of Georgians want.”

In their conversation, Baerbock and Zourabichvili discussed a Germany-Georgian alliance for EU Candidacy. Zourabichvili agreed that most younger Georgian’s would be enthusiastic about a freer, more transparent government, but was concerned that a second rejection from EU Candidacy would discourage the base of pro-European support.

Baerbock understood these concerns, but she defended Georgia’s process to acquire status.

Georgia needs to continue reforms in order to get the candidate status,” Baerbock said.

Baerbock continued to say, however, that Georgia would not reform alone but with the support of Germany and other like-minded nations. The minister remarked, “That is why I am here and this is what my government supports.”

Georgia becoming a European nation is not guaranteed.

Today, Russia occupies 20% of Georgian internationally recognized territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin views Georgia as an important anchoring point for Russian influence in the South Caucasus.

How Russia’s war and climate change are causing a humanitarian crisis in Central Asia

Old rotting ship in the ship graveyard in the Uzbek desert near Moynak or Muynak due to climate change – Aral Sea, Uzbekistan, Central Asia – date unknown (Ann Ritter/ Shutterstock)

By Jack Evans

Climate change in Central Asia has caused a domino effect of disastrous developments in the region.

While climate change affects all people and all regions, the temperature in Central Asia has been increasing at an accelerated rate compared to other regions of the world. This has led to droughts, food insecurity and human migration as areas of Central Asia became more inhospitable.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated these dire issues.

Central Asia’s economy has been strained due to its loss of agricultural lands and the influx of Russians who have fled to escape conscription. Additionally, the sanctions placed upon Russia by the West-led coalition have accelerated the humanitarian crisis even more as countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are reliant upon trade with Russia, making it even more difficult to deal with the ramifications of climate change in the region.

These harmful effects are not limited to the Central Asian region.

According to the World Bank, half of the top 20 producers of greenhouse gases come from Central Asia. While these countries have made commitments to decrease greenhouse gas production, the World Bank readily acknowledges that many of these countries lack the structural, institutional, and economic progress to implement these changes.

Iran Suspends Morality Police: Have protestors brought real change in Iran? 

Milan, Italy – November 19, 2022: People rally in support of the worldwide protest following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, died on September 16, following her arrest by Iran’s morality police. (Shutterstock)

Kevin Zupkas 

It has been announced that the Iranian government has suspended its ‘morality police,’ which caused massive protest and unrest in the country after the arrest and subsequent death of Mahsa Amini back in September. To understand the entire gravity of this situation, how we got to this point, and what it may mean going forward; it is important to look back and understand how events transpired in Iran in the past three months. 

It all began with a young 22-year-old woman from Irani Kurdistan named Mahsa Amini who was travelling to Tehran to visit her family on Sept. 13. Amini was arrested and detained by the country’s morality police because she ‘violated’ Iran’s strict dress code for women: she had allegedly not worn her hijab in accordance with government standards. Three days later, she was pronounced dead at a hospital while in a coma and with bruises all over her body. 

Protests in her hometown of Saqqez in Northwestern Iran began during her funeral procession. The protests spread like a California wildfire: with mass protests beginning in the capital Tehran shortly after. By Sept. 22, the entire country had become engulfed in a wave of mounting unrest. Average citizens, university students and professors all took to the streets to display their anger and frustration with the government’s strict laws regarding Islamic values. On Sept. 30, there was a reported shootout between protestors and police resulting in the deaths of 66 people, including children. 

By October, many began to wonder if these mass protests would bring real political change in Iran: either through reform or revolution. The former option was ruled out, however, when the supreme leader Ali Khamenei doubled down on his country’s actions, blaming the United States and Israel for the political unrest in the country. On Nov. 21, the country’s national soccer team refused to sing the national anthem in protest before their game against England. 

Now, reports have come from the country that the morality police are being suspended. This may lead one to wonder if this is the first of many reforms in Iran, or if it is just a political move by the government to quell unrest. Either way, with at least 470 people killed and 18,000 arrested since the start of the protests’, it is clear that something must be done about human rights abuses in Iran: or else we may see worsening violence in the country for years to come. 

The weapons industry’s expansion in Eastern Europe 

Repair of heavy military equipment at a plant in Kyiv, Ukraine. August 2015 (Shutterstock)

By Paul Mitsopoulos 

The arms industries have been booming in Eastern Europe as countries have sought to provide Ukraine with military aid. However, the plans do not cease there. Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are allocating money toward the long-term production of military weapons and the establishment of new factories farther from the border of Belarus for security purposes.  
The number of weapons being produced by Eastern European countries has not been seen at this level since the Cold War under the USSR. These countries perceive this to be a matter of regional stability and believe the answer to resisting Russian aggression is through a more powerful and better funded defense arsenal. In Ukraine this has already proven to be effective, and the old Warsaw Pact countries are now looking toward the future and the investments that are necessary to continue to strengthen that security. One of Poland’s major weapons producing companies is going to invest more than double its pre-war expectations, a total of 1.8 billion dollars. This is astounding growth that has been ordered by the State-owned company under Sebastian Chwalek. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has served as a reminder to Eastern Europe of its time under the Soviet Union. Now preparations are being made to ensure that they will possess the fire power to prevent losing their autonomy to Russia. When faced with the question of Russia’s possible aspirations to annex Poland if they are successful in Ukraine, Poland’s Prime Mister, Mateusz Morawiecki, replied: “This is why not only Poland but also many other countries, in particular of eastern flank of NATO and eastern flank of the European Union, are very active in helping Ukraine to survive and to preserve their, maintain their independence and territorial integrity.”  
It is evident that the eastern flank is keenly aware of the consequences of losing Ukraine and the regional insecurities that would follow. Saving Ukraine is merely the first step to a much greater process. Multiple countries have already increased their defense budgets: Poland by 2.10%, Estonia by 2.28%, Romania by 2.02%, Latvia by 2.27%, and Lithuania by 2.03%. This serves as an awakening for many countries that have realized the unpredictability of their neighbors. Much of this growing budget will be helpful in producing a united stance amongst these countries with them knowing that they cannot defend each other if they cannot defend themselves.  
The number of nations pursuing to join NATO has also increased, with interest expressed from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia, Sweden, and Ukraine. With all these new developments that have been brought upon by the Russo-Ukrainian war one question remains, what happens once this war is over? Pondering what is next is a complicated task in such a variable situation. Will Eastern Europe continue this trend of growing defense budgets and increased weapon production? What other fortifications will be necessary for these states to ensure their safety? One thing is certain, Ukraine is integral to weakening the grasp that Russia has.  
A shameful defeat caused by the global support presented to Ukraine would be a demonstration of the results that these alliances and sanctions yield. Countries must not hesitate to continue aiding Ukraine and this boom in weapons production is a reassuring sign that Eastern Europe is aware of what it can lose and the things it can accomplish. Perhaps this increase in weapons is an ironic step toward making war a thing of the past. 

Russia resumes involvement in Black Sea Grain Deal with Ukraine days after suspending participation  

Wheat grains, corn and sunflower seeds on the yellow and blue flag of Ukraine with stop sign, Ukrainian grain crisis, global hunger crisis concept due to war (Shutterstock).

By Harper Meacham  

On Nov. 2, Russia agreed to resume its participation in the Black Sea grain deal days after it suspended involvement in response to Ukraine’s alleged drone attack on Russia’s naval fleet in Crimea. Russia’s decision to rejoin the agreement came after receiving assurances that Ukraine would not make military use of the safe zone and attack Russia. 

Initially, Russia’s decision to suspend their involvement came from their Defense Foreign Ministry’s fear for citizen safety. After the unexpected attack on their vessel, Russia declared that “the Russian side cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the ‘Black Sea Initiative’ and suspends its implementation from today for an indefinite period.” In doing so, complications emerged. After entering back in, Putin made it clear that Russia reserves the right to withdraw from the deal again if Kyiv breaks its word. 

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Russia had been accused of “weaponizing food” by starving many vulnerable parts of the world. Their blockade on exports from Ukraine led to backlash from the U.S. and other allies of Ukraine. The United Nations brokered the Black Sea Grain Deal to resume all shipments of grain and other commodities out of Ukraine –– up to 9 million tons and 397 ships.  

The deal ultimately contributed to lower prices of wheat and other goods. Since then, Russia has announced that the allowed exports of grain were directed to Europe rather than the world’s hungriest nations. Tension continues to stretch between Russia and Ukraine as the war persists. 

As Ukraine is one of the world’s largest suppliers of wheat and corn, their contribution, now obstructed, is going to be a “big hole” to fill. Exporting up to 9.6 and 11.8 metric tons of corn and wheat in 2021 –– Ukraine accounts for 10% of all wheat exports worldwide. The war between Russian and Ukraine had a detrimental effect on the world as wheat exports decreased by a whopping 76% and corn by 34% before the deal.  
What else does Russia’s decision to suspend their involvement mean? For starters, these developing nations will have to search for new grain suppliers and inevitably pay much more for the same good. Underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Yemen will still suffer from an 863.1 million metric ton gap, even with the Grain Deal in effect.  

Ukraine has yet to take responsibility for the recent attack but since then, both parties have reached an agreement and business will proceed as usual. Russia is very unpredictable and Ukraine, along with the US and Britain, will continue to monitor the nation closely during these unprecedented times.  

On the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict 

Protesters in Hollywood supporting Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, protest outside CNN building in Los Angeles, Oct. 4, 2020 (Shutterstock).

Blake Ramsey 

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict is an ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the contested region the conflict’s name derives from. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani land despite its autonomous leadership.  
The conflict dates back to as early as 1988 but escalated in the last decade, with flare up spikes in April of 2016 and September of 2020. In 2020, Azerbaijan launched an offensive across the contested borderline with the help of Turkey, looking to gain a greater geopolitical presence in the region. Over 7,000 combatants were killed among both sides showing the bloodshed of the war. The fighting eventually subsided; however, it has once again broken out as of Sept. 20 this year. Armenia claimed that Azerbaijan was the aggressor in this new fighting while Azerbaijan claimed that they were responding to bombing from Armenia. In this most recent round of conflict, forty-nine Armenians were killed. While the war’s lethality is a significant consequence, its further geopolitical effects have been even more devastating.  
In 2020 alone, more than 90,000 people were displaced because of the war. One of the worst aspects of it is the constant revamping of tensions, typical for border conflicts, keeping the region in peril and chaos despite past peace agreement attempts. This conflict has not been covered much by mass media, especially as of recent because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the conflict has equally real implications for the people living there. For instance, UNICEF reported that in their 2020-2021 fiscal year over 30,000 children were affected by this conflict and required provision of necessary things such as school supplies, food, and COVID-19 prevention gear.  

In addition to civilian casualties and displacements, the Azerbaijani military was found unlawfully detaining civilians in the region, subjecting them to torture, according to the Human Rights Watch. Not only is human torture an international crime, but civilians themselves are designated as a protected class under the Fourth Geneva Convention, suggesting that Azerbaijan broke international law during the original conflict. The Human Rights Watch also reported that Azerbaijan failed to return all prisoners to Armenia at the end of the 2020 flare-up, breaking the terms of the settled upon peace agreement brokered by Russia.  
While Azerbaijan is the original aggressor in the conflict – despite Azerbaijani claims of the opposite, Armenia is not without fault. Amnesty International reported that there were over 100 casualties in territories ceded to Azerbaijan from Armenian forces and mines. Tensions at the border have subsided recently from their peak in early 2022, but a vigilant eye must be kept on the situation because of its potential to cause even further harm in the region. 

Russian “filtration” camps beat and torture Ukrainians, in direct violation of Geneva Conventions 

plate on the background of a fence with barbed wire, on the plate the inscription in Russian “forbidden zone” (Shutterstock).

Jack Evans 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced millions of people to flee their homes to escape the destruction caused by the war. As of late November, over 7.8 million people have been identified as Ukrainian refugees. Ukrainians have found refuge in Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and other neighboring countries as Russia devastates their homeland.  

As Ukrainians are trying to escape Russia, Russia is trying to force them into the Russian Federation. Russian authorities have been forcing Ukrainians into “filtration camps,” the conditions of which have been likened to concentration camps. During intake, Ukrainians are fingerprinted, photographed, and have other forms of their biometric data recorded.  

Members of the FSB – the successor of the Soviet KGB – are allegedly beating people in the camps, punching them in their throats, making repeated blows to their stomachs, and engaging in other forms of physical abuse. Russian authorities are also forcing Ukrainians in these camps to strip naked, repeatedly questioning their political beliefs, mocking and humiliating them, and even calling them “Nazis.”  

The United Nations did an assessment on the camps, where they found that the prisoners there “lacked access to food or water for more than a day,” had their hands tied so tightly it “left wounds on their wrists,” were subjected to “threats,” “dog attacks,” “electric shocks with Tasers,” and even killed. The same assessment found that women were “threatened with sexual violence,” and “subjected to degrading treatment.” The report concluded that these camps violated the Geneva Conventions and demanded that Russian authorities cease their activities – which they did not. 

These camps exist in dark irony to the Russian Federation’s claims that they are on a “Special Military Operation” to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. The inhumane treatment of Ukrainians at the camps and the forced migration to the Russian Federation can be easily seen as war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

Ukrainian refugee crisis continues to force millions to leave the county

Jackson Sharman

Russian forces continue to force their way into Ukraine’s inner defenses, over four weeks (at time of writing) after the initial invasion. The Ukrainian military is mustering a spirited defense that has won sympathy from the rest of the world, though it is still uncertain when the war will end.

Ukrainians who have been forced to flee because of the Russian invasion have also drawn international support. As of March 31, the United Nations reports that over 4 million people—almost 10% of the Ukrainian population—have left the country since the start of the war. This is the largest number of refugees in Europe since the end of WWII. An additional 6.5 million people are estimated to be internally displaced in Ukraine.

The high commissioner of the United Nations’ refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said: “I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years, and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people.”

The refugees are mainly women, children, and the elderly. Men of ages 18-60 are prohibited from leaving Ukraine and must stay and defend the country. In early March, one 11-year-old boy was welcomed into Slovakia after crossing the border alone. He fled the country and traveled 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) by himself without his mother, who was caring for her own mother who wasn’t healthy enough to leave.

People leaving Ukraine have fled to Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, Russia, and Belarus. Poland has received by far the most refugees, with over 2 million people coming into the country. They have largely been met with support from local governments and residents, and the refugees have the opportunity to apply for an ID number that qualifies them to get healthcare and access to emergency services.

Many refugees do not stay in the initial countries that they flee to, and many Western countries have announced programs to help facilitate the continuing flood of Ukrainians who are seeking a place to live before they can return to their homes.

If you would like to help contribute to humanitarian aid for Ukrainians impacted by this war, CNN has compiled a list of 40 organizations working to aid those in need.

Living Under the Aggressor: What Life is like for Russians After the Invasion of Ukraine

At the time this article was written, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has entered its fourth week. As the war drags on and the Kremlin’s hope for a quick, successful invasion are dashed and sanctions on Moscow pile up, life for Russians at home deteriorate.

To gain insight into what life is like for everyday Russians, I spoke with Alexey Andronov, an International Relations student at St. Petersburg State University.  “Our society now is really divided,” says Andronov, “a majority of my friends and acquaintances are certainly against the war, but some of them find excuses for the outbreak of war.” Andronov’s comments reflect the rift in Russian society over the war. While some Russians have shown opposition to the invasion, others have lauded Putin for his actions, believing that the West is a threat to Russia and that Putin is truly saving Ukrainians from so-called “Nazis.”

The retaliatory sanctions against Putin’s actions has caused suffering amongst the Russian population. I asked Andronov how life for everyday Russians has changed since the war began. “Many innocent people … who can’t change the situation will suffer,” he says. Andronov says his greatest concern is over “the withdrawal of supplies in medical, industrial, and food sectors,” as he believes these will hit Russians the hardest.

Of course, the suffering of the Russian people does not just come from the new sanctions. President Putin has increasingly suppressed Russians’ freedom of speech. Photos and videos have circulated the internet of protesters being arrested by Russian police at even the slightest hint of dissent. It is now illegal in Russia to refer to the conflict in Ukraine as anything but a “special military operation.” Failure to abide by this law can result in three to fifteen years in prison. According to Andronov, “the war has become a nightmare.”  Despite this, Androvov believes that his generation will change Russia “for the better.” Even in the bleakest of moments, Andronov asserts that “every nightmare ends, and this one will too.”