Thursday 31 July 2014

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In early 2010, fears of a sovereign debt crisis, the 2010 Euro Crisis developed concerning some European states. What should be the response? How should economic and financial policies be coordinated at the EU level?

 

New payment system SEPA – Germans do not like it

Posted by on 28/07/14

It’s only two weeks until SEPA is starting officially. The start has been postponed from beginning of this year. At that time, many companies hadn’t been prepared for the new system. Now, the vast majority (89 percent) have taken it „into account“. By SEPA europewide transfer of money is much easier due to standardization. German companies do not like the system as it in first instant means conversion costs but in the long run it will most probably work out – in May, already 90 percent of remittances have been done by using the new system.

Vassilev-Peevski, CCB bank run: oligarchy in Bulgaria exposed

Posted by on 13/07/14

Credit dossiers for a total of 3.5 billion leva (1.78 billion euro) of Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) have disappeared and a sum equivalent to 206 million leva (105 million euro) has been withdrawn in cash upon order by its president of the supervisory board and the majority shareholder Tzvetan Vassilev, the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) announced on 11 July. Tzetan Vassilev is left on the photo.

BNB Governor Ivan Iskrov also said the license of CCB will be withdrawn, the bank will be declared bankrupt and all deposits and accounts of individuals and companies, with the exception of the accounts of Vassilev, will be transferred to CCB’s subsidiary bank “Crédit Agricole Bulgaria”, which will be nationalized.
Vassilev spoke from Vienna, denied any wrongdoing and basically said the developments were a conspiracy.
So much for the news. Now some comments.
Several media in Bulgaria titled “The robbery of the century”. It is assumed that CCB, one of the few Bulgarian-owned banks in the country, is the “bank of the power” – this is where most of the state assets used to be deposited.
In return for the favour, CCB contolled a media empire which paid lip service to the government – previously of Boyko Borissov, presently of the coalition between the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the Socialists. The media empire also badly attacked political foes and critics, including in the media.
A key figure in the story is Delyan Peevski, a shady power broker and MEP from DPS. Deevski is right on the photo. As it is common knowledge, the biggest concentration of Bulgarian media ownership and distribution concerns primarily the New Bulgarian Media Group Holding, of which Peevski’s mother Irena Krasteva is the owner, and of which credible press investigative reports suggested long ago that Vassilev is the creditor. I wrote about it myself some time ago.
In fact, the European Commission’s latest monitoring report on Bulgaria’s deficient law-enforcement system largely focused on Peevski, without naming him.
CCB has also reportedly financed the expensive European election campaign of the party “Bulgaria without censorship” of former journalist Nikolay Barekov, who is now an MEP. Vassilev has made no secret he wanted to play a role in politics. Barekov denies having been financed by CCB.
Then, the relations between Vassilev and Peevski deteriorated greatly, for undisclosed reasons. The Bulgarian prosecution took seriously Peevski’s signal that Vassilev had hired three people to kill him and investigated Vassilev’s offices, which contributed to a bank run on CCB that accelerated the early elections.
According to media reports, DPS has largely taken control over the siphoning of Bulgaria’s state resource, in terms of public procurement, governmental decision-making and law-making. Also according to publications in the Bulgarian press, the Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov often appears to act (or not to act) according to Peevski’s will.
Now the main topic in Bulgaria is “who will pay” over the salvaging of the bankrupt CCB. Some views support the conspiracy theory – unnamed big creditors created the bank run, so they will not have to pay.
In Bulgaria, huge wealth is visible (against the background of massive poverty), although few economic activities exist. It is assumed that much of the wealth has been created during a major previous bank crisis, in 1996.
Maybe we see a remake of the story. How was it possible that CCB and Peevski created such a powerful center of oligarchic power? Despite the fact that several media outlets in Bulgaria have warned against both against Vassilev and Peevski’s alleged foul play? How is it possible that the Bulgarian Central Bank did not notice for years the wrongdoings of CCB, before Iskov cried wolf a few days ago? Why major political forces were so largely silent, what was their interest to keep their eyes wide shut? Who are those people and companies who safely withdrew their millions just before the bank run became obvious?
Vassilev’s bank offered extremely generous interest rates for savers, and this is why most of the Bulgarian elite had put their money in his bank.
Many Bulgarian commentators today speak as if they were paid communicators by Vassilev. And nobody in the Bulgaria major TV stations asks those commentators before inviting them to comment: do you have put your money in CCB?
I don’t have any and will try to remain objective when returning to the matter.

Matteo Renzi’s rise: It’s Rome vs. Berlin now

Posted by on 07/07/14
By Bernhard Schinwald The European elections in May saw a number of winners. The biggest amongst them, however, can be found in Rome. The young Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, is set to become for the Socialists what Angela Merkel is for Christian Democrats.

Europe should enjoy its low inflation level

Posted by on 07/07/14

Europe is enjoying a level of price stability and low interest rates rarely seen since the end of World War II.

Wages, pensions, rents etc. do not require permanent adjustments to rising prices, an advantage we are not fully appreciating.

Citizens are no longer deceived by monetary illusions. The Euro has lost very little of its value during the past 10 years. Citizens can therefore keep their savings in liquidity without being afraid of a hidden depreciation, while house owners should no longer be deceived by inflationary rises in value.

The only ones not content with price stability are those who benefit from inflation, like heavily indebted governments and companies which see the relative weight of their debt shrink when prices rise, though they too benefit from price stability because of the low interest rates that go along with.

So why are the ECB and most monetary economists so afraid of low inflation? Why does the ECB keep reminding us of its medium-term inflation target below but close to 2%?

The answers are simple though not fully convincing:

  • Price stability might turn into deflation and lead to economic stagnation.
  • A moderate inflation may facilitate the consolidation of excessive public debt.
  • Investment may be more stimulated by expectations of inflation than of deflation.

There is no serious reason to fear deflation in Europe or in the world.

  • The prices of energy and other basic materials are bound to rise under the impact of growing scarcities, rising populations and demand.
  • In Europe wages are coming under upward pressure due to ageing population and increasing shortages of qualified labour.

Economic growth will remain weak in Europe for two basic reasons:

  • The labour force is stagnating;
  • It will become more and more difficult to raise productivity by more than 1% per year.

The meagre 1.7% economic growth projected for 2015 is in line with what will be ahead of us in the future. Considering our exceptional level of prosperity we should be more than happy with annual economic growth of 1% to 2% and focus our efforts on

  • absorbing the unacceptably high numbers of young unemployed by better training and schooling;
  • reducing regional income disparities;
  • making Europe fitter for global competition.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 10/7/2014

Kadyrov could disclose Putin’s conversation with Abramovich

Posted by on 21/06/14

Recently, the media scene is excited by news about Russian President Putin’s intentions to conduct the manual rotation of the government. There was even a leak to the press concerning supposedly intercepted Putin’s private conversation with notorious Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of London Chelsea FC.

It is to be recalled that in mid-June, some Russian and European media published a fragment of a conversation between two Russian-speaking people whose voices journalists attributed to Putin and Abramovich.

If that fact is true, Putin offered the billionaire to take up a post of the Prime Minister of Russia, instead of Dmitry Medvedev, who, according to the Russian president, “lost confidence”.

Considering that it is technically impossible to establish the primary source of information leakage, authorship of radio intercept was mothered to Americans.

At the same time, the intelligence community of the UK seems to be more engaged in receiving information about the Abramovich covert activities, especially taking into account large British assets of the oligarch.

Having found such an argument a weighty one, we managed to communicate with known in the recent past senior NATO general who is considered an expert on Russia and has recently provided consulting services to MI6.

Generally, he was skeptical of the likelihood of Abramovich’s appointment to high office, primarily, because of the attitude of the billionaire who does not want to take responsibility for the unpredictable Putin’s policies, which in principle can be reduced to complete curtailment of business cooperation between Moscow and Western countries.

Commenting on the incident with the unveiling of a telephone conversation, the general emphasized that the recent scandals concerning wiretapping of the EU first persons made guide technical units of most secret services to abandon most of their activities.

Answering the question of who may be in advantage to make public the internal Kremlin “wrangles”, an expert on Russia pointed directly to the Chechen leader Kadyrov. The latter allegedly draws a bid on Abramovich’s assets since spent heavily on the participation of his militants in the Ukrainian campaign.

Taking into account that the Russian authorities, who previously fully met Kadyrov’s financial appetites, today are experiencing physical discomfort themselves due to Western sanctions, Kadyrov is forced to search other financial sources, which was the cause of playing this dangerous standalone game.

Besides illegal collection of compromising information on Putin sponsors, the head of Chechnya is actively working to convince Saudi Arabia to consider his candidacy as a possible Medvedev successor, and in exchange for gold and preferences, ensures every assistance in promoting the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism in Russia.

In this regard, the information leak about Abramovich, made by Kadyrov, was consciously aimed to discredit the oligarch and forestall his possible appointment.

Of course, today it is difficult to imagine that Putin at least hypothetically can conceive Kadyrov premiership, but in the Kremlin back rooms future shifts in the power block are already being discussed.

In particular, a fairly low profile of Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu concerning Ukraine can become a certain chance for Kadyrov. In support of this prediction says at least the role that is currently assigned to the Chechen at conflict escalation in eastern Ukraine.

However, the question is who helps Kadyrov act behind Putin and how he is able to lead an independent game in order to subsequently dictate his rules to the Kremlin.

Bitcoin: The Perfect Crime?

Posted by on 15/06/14
Over the last year or so I have read quite extensively about Bitcoin. The amateur economist in me is fascinated by it’s disruptive capabilities and supply and demand characteristics. However, something that has been evident over the months is the extent to which very smart people around the world have been able to hack less [...]

Lithuania will join monetary union in 2015

Posted by on 11/06/14

After obtaining green light from the Commission and the ECB small Lithuania is almost certain to get confirmation by the EMU finance ministers and join the EMU next January.

This has been expected to happen for a long time. Lithuania has carefully prepared for it, especially by early tying its currency to the Euro and putting its financial house in order.

Estonia and Latvia having preceded it in 2011 and 2013 its decision to join was a logical consequence. After all, the three tiny robust Baltic economies have demonstrated an amazing capacity to adapt to economic stress. It would have been strange for one of them to stay outside the EMU and continue keeping its national currency.

Lithuania considers the adoption of the EU currency also as a demonstration of its strong ties to Europe.

The Lithuanian prime minister Butkevicius has therefore called the decision to join “one more step

toward deeper economic, financial and political security”.

Will other EU members follow in the next few years? All of them have to join one day under the terms of the Treaty, except for the UK and Denmark which have negotiated a derogation to stay outside”.

It is only a question of timing and political will. Joining the the Euro zone has not been very popular during the years of financial crisis. In many EU countries the Euro has suffered from often unjustified attacks. It has been made responsible for national economic difficulties and most recently for the admirable price stability. The increasing talk about the of deflationary threats by the Central Bank has not made the Euro more attractive.

Sweden, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, confronted with domestic opposition, feel they can do without membership. Others are not yet ready economically.

We should therefore not expect a rush for membership in the coming few years. The EMU can very well do with only 19 members and should refrain from being pushy.

But the time will come when the countries on the side line that fulfill the conditions for membership like Sweden should discreetly be called to duty.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 8/6/2014

Echoes of the past in the future of Europe

Posted by on 10/06/14
By Žiga Turk European peace, prosperity and democracy are in crisis. To fight this crisis, EU leaders are advised to stop looking at Europe as a project - it's not. Europe is half billion Europeans that deserve peace, security, jobs, economic opportunities and services from efficient public sector. Democracy as a system to establish trust between the rulers and the ruled, and it's time to go back to the basics in the EU.

Is Mario Draghi kicking out financial capitalism and austerity policies?

Posted by on 09/06/14

Yesterday’s decision of the European Central Bank to cut its key interest rate below zero and the other measures announced are more than a European way of the U.S. Quantitative Easing (QE). The ECB cut its main refinancing rate to 0,15% and its deposit rate from zero to minus 0,1%. The European Central bank is the first major central bank to endeavour into negative territory. In fact it is a historical breaking decision. It is particularly historical because it challenges the European Union institutional setting. It was not a genuine European procedure; rather it was an impartial decision of the board of directors of the European Central Bank!

A negative interest rate is the announcement to the financial markets that something is changing fundamentally. Banks are urged from now on by a simple declaration to channel money for real investment and not for speculation in the financial markets. European banks can no longer just ‘bunker’ money into the ECB. Even more the so called TLTRO program (Targeted longer-term refinancing operation) punishes banks when they don’t channel the credits to the private investment sector. This is the real revolution in European central banking: it is no longer the ‘invisible hand’, instead it has become a rule of the central bank to pave the road for investment and growth, rather than beforehand it was up to governments to initiate an investment programme.

There have been various comments and reactions especially from bankers but also from governments. Not surprisingly the harshest critics came from the former chief economist of the ECB, Jürgen Stark, and the head of the German IFO Institute Werner Sinn. They argue that the ECB decisions are a desperate attempt to pump more liquidity towards the south with even cheaper money. However they argue that the final bill will ultimately be paid by the small savers who will get barely any interest any more for their savings and the pensioners who will get less for their life insurance. They argue that this will affect in particular the richer countries in the North of the Eurozone.

Evidently, those criticising are largely orthodox monetary policy bankers stipulating that first and foremost price stability is the overall priority and investment comes second. According to them, firm consolidation of their structural economic problems is priority together with the substantial reducing of their debt. Moreover, they argue that there is already too much liquidity in the markets and lending will not and cannot be reinforced.

Nonetheless this decision is a real turning point of European monetary policy which has been for far too long influenced predominantly by the German Bundesbank and its orthodox and traditional approach of targeting only price stability and a low inflation rate rather than growth and investment.

Generally it is governments that have to provide stimulus with increased spending on public services and hence investments on stimulating growth. But the crisis countries are obliged to do exactly the opposite. They are cutting spending and increasing taxes to conform to austerity policies. As long as austerity policies prevail there is little hope for a vigorous economic recovery in the euro zone as the New York Times is commenting.

The ECB is now giving a strong wake-up call to these kinds of policies. Interest rates will now stay low for longer and more liquidity will be in the market to facilitate lending for investment especially in the south of Europe. This is the essence of the radical announcement.

Amazingly this links straight to the current negotiations on the top jobs in the EU. It is not by chance that some rumours stipulate that the German Chancellor, highly influenced by orthodox economists would like to get rid of this unorthodox Italian Central Banker. Rumours tell that she is trying to send him to the IMF in Washington. Is that the real merry-go-round behind in order to have not only a new mainstream president of the EU Commission but first and foremost another ECB head who is more in line with orthodox austerity policies?

Consequently the question lies if progressives allow conservatives once again to hinder a fresh start for Europe. It is absolutely inappropriate to try to smoothly sort out a non-conformist central banker who likes to stimulate growth and investment for substantially reducing unemployment especially for young people in southern Europe.

As long as European political leaders are continuing to argue that austerity is the only way out of the crisis they do not accept the dramatic consequences of these socially devastating policies! Mario Draghi seems to put an end to this with a courageous and risky decision and doesn’t address orthodox neo-liberals concerns. This makes him a truly avant-gardist. Hence, the decision is a historical break and a genuine starting point of kicking out devastating financial capitalism and austerity policies.

Litauen für den Euro?

Posted by on 04/06/14

Nach den Erfahrungen der europäischen Schuldenkrise fragen sich manche Europäer, ob die Eurozone eine Ausweitung verkraftet. Litauens Eintritt sollten sie jedoch begrüßen. Denn, mal ehrlich, ein Drei-Millionen-Einwohner-Land an der Ostsee wird den gemeinsamen Währungsraum wohl kaum sprengen, wenn es G-7-Mitglied Italien nicht geschafft hat. Litauen, das eigentlich schon 2007 dem Euroraum beitreten sollte, hat in den vergangenen Jahren Sozialausgaben und Gehälter gekürzt, Steuern erhöht, Staatsverschuldung und Haushaltsdefizit niedrig gehalten. Nach diesen Einschnitten erwarten die Litauer jetzt Preissteigerungen und jene Pflichten, die eine Euro-Einführung mit sich bringen. Die Frage müsste also eher heißen: Verkraften die Litauer die Eurozone? Und für die CSU gilt: Keine Angst, die Litauer dürfen ohnehin schon längst in die Sozialsysteme.

Why the new European Parliament should care about the EIB

Posted by on 30/05/14
Guest blogpost by Xavier sol, director of Counter Balance. The role of the European Investment Bank (EIB) has been a marginal topic during the European election campaign – regrettable for a bank with such an impact on the European economy. Here are some good reasons why newly elected MEPs should pay attention to the EIB [...]

True love?

Posted by on 26/05/14

Do you know the situation, trying to get rid of a friend that is in a way helpful but life would be easier without? German „Commerzbank“ is in a quite similar situation. German Government took over significant stake in the institute during financial crisis when the bank has been defined as „systematically relevant“ but too weak to survive independently. Now, it is in a much better situation but German Government remains to be stakeholder. The reason: The Ministry of Finance is hoping on an increased price of the share and making more money by that.

EU Bond Market Will Trigger Dollar Collapse-James Rickards

Posted by on 22/05/14

Interview with US Economist James Rickards

 

US Economist James Rickards New York Times bestselling book, The Death of Money: The Collapse of the International Monetary System, is an extensive  reference work on the reasons the dollar will cease to be the world’s reserve currency and  provides an overview of the current landscape of the international monetary system.

In an interview with James Rickards he stated that “Europe was doing everything right” and predicted that the euro would most likely overtake the dollar as the world’s reserve but he stated that to be a reserve currency rather than a trade currency the EU needs a “unified sovereign debt market.”

“And that’s where Europe actually falls down today. …they are broken down into these 18 separate debt markets they don’t want to have a unified sovereign debt market. You can see that coming at which point once you take the integration a few steps further…and create this unified European sovereign debt market where the bonds are issued or backed by the full faith and credit of the Eurozone, then it will be in a position to displace the dollar.”

“The next step, the next thing coming is the creation of a true European sovereign debt market, they don’t have that right now.” When “the total amount of euro denominated sovereign debt is comparable to the US treasury market … the euro is positioned to displace the dollar as the global reserve currency.”

“The reason that has not happened so far is because while the total European sovereign debt is comparable to the US treasury market, it is broken into separate markets: you have Italian debt, Spanish debt, German debt, Netherlands debt etc. It’s all denominated in euros, but it comes from numerous different issuers and not one of those markets is able to absorb the capital flows we see going into treasuries.”

“Now what will happen next is that Europe will agree that European sovereign debt going forward will be backed by the full faith and credit of the Eurozone. That is an enormously important development… The euro actually could displace the dollar as the leading reserve currency at that point.  Germany is controlling all this. Germany has not wanted to do that yet.”

“Have you had a chance to look that over the Commission Green Paper on Stability Bonds?”

I have and this is coming, but Merkel’s playing a very tough game.  She doesn’t want to go there right away because she thinks it would be too easy. ..It would let the Greeks, the Portuguese and the Irish, it would let them off the hook. She wants to see more structural reforms. She wants to see more economic adjustment, fiscal responsibility, improvements in labor laws, and improvements in labor mobility, etc. ….When she gets it then she will embrace this unified debt market that were talking about, but not yet because she wants to see more progress, but we are getting progress. This is moving in the right direction…This might be three or four years away.  It’s going to happen, and I expect that it will… I think that you’ll see the Chinese, The Russians, Arabs the remainder of the BRICS, and other countries around the world flocking into European Sovereign Debt, and that will be extremely detrimental to the role of the dollar. That’s kind of best case that’s if we don’t have a crisis.

 

 

‘The Euro will replace a doomed dollar’

Posted by on 21/05/14
By Erika Grey In the second part of an interview series with James Rickards, he discusses the possibilities of the dollar collapsing and what this will mean for the Euro. The dollar is “waiting for an avalanche or a trigger for it to come tumbling down," he says. Could the euro take over as global benchmark currency? “Yes and it is certainly a possibility. I won’t say the only possible outcome, but it is a very strong possibility."

Marginal European politicians on service at Putin

Posted by on 21/05/14

 

Long time the Putin’s plans to restore Soviet Union have been taken notice by neither European officials nor leaders of former Soviet republics. An alternative can be Eurasian Union as the alliance of independent states to deepen integration processes and to develop cooperation. All this is performed with the only aim to strengthen Russia’s positions and to hinder the European Union, but Kremlin’s power scenario has recently seemed impossible for anyone.
So, today after the February events in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, where both Russian special services and armed forces were used, it’s clear that neither Ukrainian, nor Belarus are the independent states for their Northern Neighbor. All Russian governmental branches with their strongest backing of Crimea annexation are behind Putin.
With weak economy persisting only due to oil and gas export Mr. Putin shows preference to strengthening of the military and security services and naturally of propaganda. The latest one is actively working on “iron curtain” restoration to rally the people against non-existent threat of “world conspiracy” against Russia that was concocted by the Federal Security Service (called FSB) and the Russian Mass Media.
Russian president hasn’t obviously accepted to disintegration of the USSR and has decided to return the status quo at least concerning the nearest neighbors. The interpellation making by Members of the Russian State Duma to the Prosecutor General’s Office to determine legality of disintegration of the USSR is a transparent hint for all former Soviet republics.
Frankly breaking all existing norms of international law Putin at the same doesn’t want time to be a sole aggressor. Despite extreme propagation, manipulations and misinformation transmitting through official and private Russian media channels it’s more and more difficult to justify his actions not only before the international public but also before own people.
To legitimate his power policy concerning Ukraine the Kremlin aspires in every possible way to revive revanchist moods in the countries of former Communist bloc such as Poland, Hungary, and Romania. In this case Putin will be able to justify own steps, he says there were also other European countries that were ready to expand their vital space in the similar way.
One of such reviviscences is statement of the Vice Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation and the main rowdy of the Kremlin Mr. Zhirinovsky, who eloquently calls upon to divide the territory of “failed state of Ukraine” between Russia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. His diplomatic demarche with distribution of missives from Liberal Democratic Party to embassies of these countries to hold referendum in western areas of Ukraine is especially significant one.
On what the Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland Marcin Wojciechowski has noticed “Russian political elite are thinking from the point of view of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”. But not everybody think so.
It’s known the Russian intelligence actively uses local European radical parties for fomentation of revanchist moods and subsidizes politicians and officials of various ranks to call upon to return of historical territories.
In Romania, for instance, not only the leaders of Social Democratic Party and Jobbik such as Viktor Ponta and Gabor Vona, but also the Prime Minister Viktor Orban make the statements about gathering of ethnic territories, protection of national minorities on territories of other countries and also about autonomy for them.
In Poland Russia was supported by right-wing radical party “Samoobrona” (Self-Defence) that comes out against the EU. Its member Mateusz Piskorski has even agreed to become the observer on a so-called “referendum” in Crimea.
The fact that Russia has been lending both political and price support to nationalist parties of Western Europe must be considered. One example is France’s National Front that opposes the EU and NATO expansion. To support this party The Kremlin actively sponsors French TV channel Pro Russia TV. So it’s not surprised the approval of the Press Secretary of party leader Ludovic de Dann according Crimea annexation as the Russian ethnic territory.
Nigel Farage, Chairman of UK Independence Party, who appeals to dissolution of the European Union, has gone too far declaring that the European politicians have themselves provoked Putin into invasion of Crimea as they have compelled Ukraine to choose between EU and Russia. It’s known in his performances on Kremlin English-speaking TV channel RussiaToday he has repeatedly told about problems in the EU, but never criticized Putin’s policy.
Whole world has realized today that Russian aggression against neighboring sovereign state of Ukraine is strong intervention in domestic affairs breaking all norms of international law and existing agreements between states. Moreover, similar actions create dangerous precedent that will give the chance to justify the same actions concerning any other state in similar way in the future. Approval of Putin policy by ultra-nationalist parties of Hungary, Romania, and Poland that support special status to national minorities can lead to chain reaction on renewal of territorial controversies and provoke redivision of state borders in Europe.
Taking into account existing situation and growing support for power policy of Putin all these actions and statements of ultra-right-wing parties in the EU don’t seem so harmless.
In this situation the international community should pay more attention to marginal parties in their own countries, coordinate efforts and despite different understanding of crisis’ solution do utmost to stop an aggressor. Let’s don’t admit that Ukraine become another victim of Russia whom other countries will undoubtedly follow.

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