Monday 26 February 2024

Leadership is about courage and clear priorities

Navalny and Zelensky: two examples of extraordinary courage

Victor Angelo

I want to start this week's text with a posthumous tribute to Alexei Navalny, who was executed exactly a week ago by Vladimir Putin's regime. Navalny was a fearless opponent in a country where power terrorises its citizens and coldly executes its main opponents and dissidents. This is also what happened these days to Russian helicopter pilot Maxim Kuzminov, who at the age of 28 was shot dead at point-blank range in a town in the province of Alicante, in other words on Spanish territory, without Russia's special operations forces showing any respect for either the law or Spain's sovereignty. In August 2023, in an operation planned with the Ukrainian secret services, Kuzminov diverted a Mi-8 military transport helicopter loaded with sensitive parts destined for Russian fighter jets to Ukraine. Putin was unforgiving and the young pilot, who had taken refuge in Spain in the meantime, was tracked down by a specially-created group, discovered and murdered. The Spanish secret services only realised what was at stake when the body was found, a few days after the murder, in the garage of the building where the former pilot lived. The same thing happened in Berlin in 2019 to a dissident of Chechen origin and to others in the UK and elsewhere. 

Political assassination is a practice from another era, except for people like Putin. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner terrorist group, has forgotten this fact and fallen for the bait. Navalny, on the other hand, was aware of the risk. He had already experienced a first attempt in 2020, which didn't work thanks to the reaction of the captain of the commercial flight he was travelling on and then medical care in Germany. Once treated, he dared to return to his home country, fully aware of the dangers he would face. In this way, he sent Putin and his fellow citizens three messages: firstly, a leader doesn't abandon the battlefield; secondly, such a leader keeps his eyes on the target he considers fundamental - in this case, ousting the corrupt clique from power; and thirdly, a true leader believes that, sooner or later, the dictator will eventually be defeated. 

Portugal has no such problems. But it does have major political flaws, which place it in a mediocre position in various EU rankings. We lack leaders who are capable of fighting for vital priorities, who have an unwavering concern for the common good and who believe that it is possible to transform Portugal into a more efficient country capable of harnessing its existing potential. Recent debates have shown that we need leaders with clear ideas and the ability to unite citizens around projects that will allow us to consolidate citizen ethics, put our house in order and modernise the country. When I heard about Navalny's assassination, I was exceptionally shocked and, on the other hand, thinking that a man like that makes our politicians poor puppets of the television channels. Or, at best, half-wits, some more naive and others more opportunistic, with a lot of talk, a lot of parrying and little operational capacity.

Volodymyr Zelensky does not play the game and has equally exemplary courage. At this point, two years after the devastating invasion ordered by Putin, I couldn't fail to mention Ukraine, the bravery of its people and the unusual qualities of its leadership. Ukraine surprised the Kremlin, which thought it could take over Kyiv in three days, and won the admiration of all those who value freedom and resistance against the imperialism of the great powers. 

Now the country urgently needs another extraordinary amount of foreign aid. Joe Biden has been endeavouring to get the House of Representatives to approve a supplementary budget to contain the current Russian offensive and finally repel the invader. But the leader of the House, under orders from the notorious Donald Trump, won't even put the matter to a vote. It would certainly be approved, as it has already been by a very large majority in the Senate. Without these funds, Biden could appear in the election campaign as the loser in Ukraine and unable to resolve the migratory pressure on the Mexican border. That's what Trump wants to win votes. Trump is, in his own way, just as dangerous as Putin. 

We cannot let Putin emerge victorious from his war against Ukraine. The Eastern European countries, Denmark, the United Kingdom and others understand this. Germany is a key player on our side. There has been some evolution in the right direction at the level of its leaders. But Olaf Scholz is still hesitant, particularly when it comes to supplying full-power long-range missiles without reducing their capabilities. We must advise him to take inspiration from the courage of Navalny and Zelensky. It is also critical to make him understand that there can be no hesitation when it comes to people like Putin and issues of self-defence. Putin will never negotiate in good faith, contrary to what Scholz and other naive people imagine is possible.

A.I. translation of my opinion piece published on Diário de Notícias (Lisbon) in the Portuguese language on 23 FEB 2024

Friday 23 February 2024

Are we getting closer to a big war?

The world smells dangerously like gunpowder 

Victor Angelo

The Munich Security Conference, an annual event now celebrating its 60th edition, begins today and runs until Sunday. As has become customary, it is a high-level meeting. This time, it will feature the participation of around 50 Heads of State and Government, another hundred ministers and a good number of leaders of international organizations, academics, thinkers and journalists of international importance.

The report that serves as the basis for this year's conference makes a diagnosis of the main ongoing conflicts and, in summary, suggests two conclusions. First, geopolitical competition continues to worsen, now reaching a level of intensity and complexity unprecedented since the creation of the United Nations. Second, the reestablishment of international cooperation must be seen as an absolute priority. Only in this way will it be possible to resolve the most dangerous challenges, which in reality know no borders and have an impact that cannot be ignored. It is a positive recommendation, in a report that is, in essence, pessimistic.

When reflecting on 2024, the rapporteurs particularly draw attention to the growing risks in four regions of the globe. We are told that the international scene has more fires than firefighters, that there is an accumulation of serious crises to be resolved and an international system that is no longer respected. It's a clear question: instead of all of us winning, would we all rather lose?

One of these regions is Eastern Europe. The geopolitical vision that prevails in the Kremlin is a threat that must be taken seriously. It consists of increasing arrogance and aggressiveness, based on ancient practices of first inventing conflicts with neighbors seen as rivals, and then trying to resolve them with swordplay. My reading of this region is familiar: either Russia withdraws and recognizes the sovereignty of Ukraine, or what is now happening in that country will end up spreading to others in the region. A crisis of this kind would bring immense problems to the unity of NATO and the major countries of the Western world. In democratic contexts, these alliances are more fragile than they might seem.

In the Middle East, that's a powder keg. It is a region of great fractures, where xenophobia and the absurdity of decisions taken in the 20th century are added to cultural and religious hatred, and a multiplicity of borders that do not respect historical identities and give way to nations without homogeneity and without resources, to in addition to oil and gas.

What is conventionally called the Indo-Pacific is another problematic area. It demands increasing attention, as it could be the theater of a major conflict surrounding the issue of Taiwan and beyond. Xi Jinping has just been reappointed for the third time as leader of the single party and as President of China, for new five-year terms. At the end of these terms, he will be 74 years old and no one knows if the conditions will exist for him to be re-elected again. Now, in my opinion, Xi wants to go down in history as the leader who managed to subdue the Taiwanese rebellion. If that is indeed his ultimate ambition, it is very likely that military action against Taiwan will take place before 2027. And if Trump is in the White House, distracted by pursuing his internal adversaries, starting with the Biden family, Xi could conclude that The time has come to step forward and inscribe your name at the top of the list of heroes of communist China.

The Sahel forms the fourth region of deep insecurity. At the moment, the list of absolutely unsafe countries includes Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It must also include Sudan, which is plunged into a merciless civil war and a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions. But Sudan has been excluded from media headlines in an unacceptable way. The crises in the Sahel have all the conditions to spread, as is already happening on a large scale in Nigeria and now in Senegal, due to the political confusion created by the president. In the same Senegal that had always been considered an example of stability and democracy.

Three other major themes are also discussed in this year's report: the growing disparities and economic rivalries between different blocs around the world, including with regard to what could happen with the development of the BRICS; the consequences of climate change on international relations, including migration; and the impact of the technological and digital revolution.

The report describes a world evolving in a worrying direction. And it would be even worse if the spectre that roams the corridors of Munich, silently, were re-elected in November, as no one likes to talk about evil spirits. But November is still a long way away and until then anything can happen.

A.I: translation of my opinion text published on 16 February 2024 in the Lisbon daily newspaper Diário de Notícias. 

Sunday 11 February 2024

Vladimir Putin' s rhetoric about the Third World War

My opinion column of this week, published on 9 Feb in Diário de Notícias, Lisbon, in Portuguese language. This is an Artificial Intelligence translation on my text, thanks to Google Translate. 

Fight against foolishness or open the doors to populist danger?

Victor Angelo

The bellicose rhetoric of Vladimir Putin and his acolytes against NATO and the European Union has worsened as we approach the Russian presidential election, scheduled for March 15th to 17th. Experience teaches us that there are no reasons for surprises. It is a common tactic of dictatorships. The political narrative of these regimes seeks to convince voters of two deceptions: that the danger coming from the “external enemy”, so designated even though it is not in fact an enemy nor is it actually preparing for armed intervention, is now more serious and imminent; and that only the re-election of the absolute leader, with an overwhelming percentage of votes, will be able to prevent the enemy from launching the alleged aggression, invented by the dictator's lying propaganda. That's why we now hear talk in Moscow about the possibility of a third world war, a topic that is part of the frequent interventions of Putin's most famous court jester, the vice-president of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev.

In my opinion, Putin and his people do not want to enter into an open and widespread war with NATO. Rather, they intend to maintain control of political power in their country and transform the fierce aggression against Ukraine into what could be seen by the international community as a Russian military victory. In concrete terms, it is about seizing a significant part of Ukrainian territory and imposing an armistice entirely based on the political conditions defined by the Kremlin. In this way, they would reinforce their image as a great power in the international context. This is one of Putin's biggest concerns, showing an unbeatable Russia, in the champions league and capable of dictating its political will on the international stage. They would feel safer not only in relation to the West, but also in relation to China. The alliance with China is seen, by influential ideologues of Putin's ultranationalist regime, as a double-edged sword. Political friendship and cooperation with an extremely vast, populous neighbouring country with thousands of kilometres of common border hides, at the same time, the roots of a rivalry that could degenerate into a major conflict. This is why Russia needs to show military muscle, West and East.

On the European side, as I always insist, it would be a mistake to leave half-hearted aid to Ukraine in the legitimate defence of its sovereignty. The combination of economic, diplomatic, informational and military means is essential to convince the Kremlin to put an end to the invasion that began in 2014. Those who do not understand this fact and the need for an integrated strategy, which combines the four vectors mentioned in the previous sentence , is creating the conditions for, sooner or later, a series of oppressive governments to emerge in Europe, inspired by what is happening in Russia. We would then have a Europe that would be a very dangerous chessboard of replicas of Hungary.

It would also be a mistake not to prepare our geopolitical space for an armed confrontation with Russia. Whoever wants peace prepares for war, as it was said in ancient Rome. And although it can be recognized, as I do in this text, that Putin does not deep down want to start a war with our part of Europe, that possibility exists.

We need to speak frankly. We are, as has not been the case for a long time, in a complex and dangerous situation. We cannot accept either populism or a lack of ethics in international relations.

Populism lies, and only leads to confusion. It fails to understand what should be a priority in order to respond only to vote hunting and polls. Populist leaders, on the left and on the right, promise the impossible, spend resources on unsustainable policies, create debts that future generations will have to resolve and ignore that security and defence are indispensable for safeguarding democracy. They don't have the courage to tell the truth and explain that there are moments in history when sacrifices have to be made. Populists are narcissists and born dictators disguised as friends of the people.

Disregard for values prevents international alliances from functioning. Cooperation is replaced by chaos. Countries lose their credibility and principles are no longer the standards for resolving conflicts. The ethical references that have been built over decades are forgotten. The defenders of opportunism, which they call political realism, regain the stages they had lost.

  In the European case, international law is rightly defended when it comes to Ukraine. At the same time and in an incomprehensible way, ambiguity and laxity are expressed when it comes to the inhumanity that is occurring in Palestine. This foolishness makes us lose allies, which are very necessary, and has, in the long run, a very high cost.

Sunday 4 February 2024

European leadership and their incoherence

Artificial Intelligence translation of my opinion column dated 2 Feb. 2024 and published in Lisbon in Diário de Notícias

From Ukraine to Gaza: where is European coherence?

Victor Angelo

With exceptions, politics is a world inhabited by opportunists. Five hundred years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli entered the history of modern political science when he wrote on the subject, placing emphasis on the word cynicism. But the practice came from antiquity and continues today, in governments, parties and the ability to manipulate citizens' opinions. Ethics, that is, respect for principles, for the common interest, for contemporaries and for future generations, is a word that makes many people in politics laugh, covertly. For these, the only thing that counts is their personal benefit, guaranteed by maintaining power thanks to a political clientele.

In the case of the EU, Viktor Orbán repeatedly reminds us of this truth. It is the worst example of a European leader. Orbán plays with a double-edged stick: on the one hand, to show that he belongs to the club of democracies, as a member of the EU, and, on the other, to make the most of the available funds. The staff he leans on is called Vladimir Putin. This allows him to spend the money coming from Brussels without serious controls and to govern without respect for democratic rules and in a corrupt manner. The counterpart that gives him strength is to complicate European politics in a way that pleases his friend of convenience, the master of Russia. This explains why Hungary continues to not approve Sweden's accession to NATO. There is no other reason than to do Putin a favour. And that is also why, until yesterday, it prevented financial aid to Ukraine — 50 billion euros. This amount is essential to keep Ukraine afloat over the next four years. Hungary has also opposed the creation of another European fund for military cooperation.

All this serves the interests of Russian imperialism. It contributes to the weakening of Ukraine and aims, in the long term, at the disintegration of the EU. Now, Russia is currently the main threat to peace in Europe. It is a hostile country, an enemy in the style of the past. As long as it maintains this behaviour, Russia must be treated as such, without hesitation. Orbán, when he behaves like a de facto ally of Putin, is betraying European interests.

It's time to call things by their names. Years ago, at a European summit, Jean-Claude Juncker patted Orbán on the back and joked, calling him a dictator. Today, he could perhaps add the word traitor.

However, at the "H" time when it is essential to guarantee Ukraine's future, we see the US handcuffed for months on end. The country is deeply fractured, internally, from a political and social point of view, and faces a number of foreign policy problems that disperse its intervention capabilities and confuse the order of priorities. It's the southern border. The problematic alignment with Israel. The obsession with Iran. The suicidal competition with China. The fear of North Korean madness. Putin's unpredictability. And now, the specter of Trump. All of this gives rise to two major conclusions. Europe, that is, NATO on this side of the Atlantic, cannot rely on US assistance in the event of a conflict in Europe. And Ukraine must seek to establish bilateral alliances with European and other countries as it continues its response to the Russian invasion. These alliances must above all be established with nations neighbouring or close to Russia. These are states that sooner or later could come into the Russians' sights, if Ukraine were unable to resist the Kremlin's aggression.

Europeans must step up support for Ukraine. Approving financial assistance for the next four years is an excellent step. Regarding the Ukrainian crisis, Europe has adopted the most appropriate positions. The same cannot be said with regard to Israel. There has been, on the part of the major European nations, an incoherent attitude towards the drama in Gaza. They swallow everything that Benjamin Netanyahu serves them on a plate. When the Prime Minister of Israel wanted to forget, last week, the preliminary orders of the International Court of Justice, which were clearly addressed to the Israeli government, he spoke of the 12 UNRWA agents who would have participated in the attacks of October 7, in a universe of 13,000 Agency employees in Gaza. He did not present any kind of evidence, nor did he talk about the colossal disproportion between the numbers, nor about the extraordinary work that UNRWA has been doing for 74 years, but his diversion was a masterstroke. And he managed to create an uproar against an organization that has helped millions of Palestinian lives. Several European countries opportunistically took advantage of the wave created by Netanyahu.

Many will think that on the European side, meekness, armchair politics and inconsistency prevail. Or, simply put, the cynicism of those who pretend not to understand what the word ethics means dominates.

Sunday 28 January 2024

Gaza and the International Criminal Court

Articial Intelligence translation of my opinion piece of this week published in Portuguese in daily national newspaper Diário de Notícias (26 JAN 2024)

Gaza: an earthquake in international politics

Victor Angelo

The Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs was in Brussels this week, at the invitation of Josep Borrell. The purpose was to allow the minister to discuss three major issues with his European counterparts: the dramatic situation in which the population of Gaza finds itself, within the framework of the enormous military intervention ordered by Benjamin Netanyahu; the requirements for an immediate ceasefire; and the dimensions and phases of preparing a peace plan.

Borrell was aware of Security Council Resolution 2720 (2023), which approved on December 22 the implementation of humanitarian pauses and the opening of corridors that would allow essential goods for their survival to be delivered to the inhabitants of Gaza. The Security Council had recognized the extreme urgency of humanitarian assistance.

A month later, it is undeniable that the situation continues to worsen. Israel reveals absolute disrespect for the Security Council. Controls became even tighter. The hundreds of humanitarian trucks that should enter Gaza daily are faced with a tragically different reality. Borrell mentioned that the average would be around eighty trucks a day. Calls for “humanitarian pauses” have been met with an intensification of military operations and the continuation of attacks against civilian targets, including UN installations, which prefigure war crimes. Resolution 2720 has been simply ignored, despite its mandatory nature.

Regarding peace, the approach proposed by Europeans would be multidimensional. The first concern would be the creation of a sovereign State of Palestine, capable of peacefully coexisting with the State of Israel. This idea is nothing new. It was approved in 1947 by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 181) and reaffirmed in the 1993 Oslo Accords and at the Camp David Summit in the USA in 2000. But it never went beyond paper, with both sides accusing each other for failures.

The international community is firmly committed to this solution – two independent states. This is the only viable, albeit complex, solution that can lead to the construction of a peaceful neighbourhood. It will only happen if there is an unquestionable commitment from interested parties, as well as from countries in the region and the main members of the UN. It needs, above all, Israeli and Palestinian leaders of exceptional vision and calibre.

The current Israeli government does not accept this solution. And contrary to the Palestinian National Authority, there are Palestinian extremists who also do not accept it. This shows that the tragedy that is taking place in Gaza, and to a certain extent in the other occupied Palestinian territories, in the West Bank, can seriously contribute to a radicalization of positions.

The Israeli minister did not understand the message that awaited him in Brussels. He talked nonsense about strange, meaningless things, such as the construction of an artificial island off Gaza and a railway corridor that would connect this territory to the rest of Palestine. In my opinion, it was a way of conveying to Europeans a clear position from the Netanyahu government, for whom the EU is seen as a featherweight.

Borrell responded, at the press conference after the meeting, that Europe has “a moral responsibility”. He spoke of looking for a path to peace. I would respond that the moral responsibility that must weigh on our consciences is not only to fight for peace, but also to ensure that humanitarian laws and the laws of war are respected. And bring individuals suspected of having violated these international rules to the attention of Karim Ahmad Khan, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). That's what the ICC is for, to judge political leaders. It is a separate instance from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which judges conflicts between States, as is now the case of South Africa against Israel and which today issues a first Order on the accusation of genocide. Khan, who is a British citizen, was very active in the case of the accusations against Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova. He did what he was expected to do. But he has been as low as a stone in the face of the atrocities committed on October 7th and ever since. The credibility of the ICC is thus called into question.

We live in a time of great dangers and enormous challenges. Anyone who has their eyes open and sees beyond their parish knows that this is the case. Extraordinary times require extraordinary political courage. And serious justice, impartial and expeditious.

Friday 26 January 2024

The United Nations and its current financial challenges

 Friday, 26 January 2024 | New York | Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG)

Secretary-General's letter to staff on UN financial situation
Dear Colleagues,
I am writing to draw your attention to the unfortunate deteriorating financial situation of our regular budget operations.
I have written to Member States to inform them of the situation and to alert them that we are now forced to implement aggressive cash conservation measures to avert a default in meeting the legal obligations of the Organization.  I have also reminded them that the ultimate responsibility for our financial health rests with Member States, and I encouraged them to pay in full and on time. 
The main cause of the liquidity crisis is this:  not all Member States pay their assessments in full.  In 2023, we collected 82.3 per cent of the year’s assessment, the lowest in the last five years.  Only 142 Member States paid their dues in full – again, the lowest in the last five years.  As a result, year-end arrears climbed to $859 million, up from $330 million in 2022.
A secondary cause of the liquidity crisis relates to a shift in the payment patterns of Member States, including the unpredictability of both the timing and the amounts of anticipated collections.  In 2023, collections trailed estimates throughout most of the year. We ended the year $529 million short of anticipated collections.
Structural weaknesses in our budgetary process further contribute to liquidity constraints.  These include the inability to assess for new mandates arising during a budget period, intergovernmental decisions to execute additional mandates “within existing resources”, and the return of unspent funds to Member States without offsetting it first against their outstanding contributions.  We are forced into an absurd situation where we must return funds we could not spend because we did not receive the cash, even to those who did not pay their assessments in full. 
We were able to partially mitigate the operational impact in 2023 because we had started the year with about $700 million in cash, including our liquidity reserves, and had imposed spending restrictions from mid-July.  Notwithstanding these measures, these liquidity reserves were exhausted by October, and after some collections in November and December, we ended 2023 with only $60 million left in the reserves.
As you know, we have been working closely with Member States to address the liquidity challenges.  In response, Member States have provided some systemic support over the last few years to alleviate the liquidity problems of the regular budget and peacekeeping operations.  For peacekeeping operations, the General Assembly approved cash pooling, advance assessments and the use of the Peacekeeping Reserve Fund to meet shortfalls in peacekeeping operations.  For the regular budget, the General Assembly increased the level of the Working Capital Fund by $100 million from January 2023.  We have also been allowed to borrow temporarily from the surplus cash of closed tribunals.  These measures were helpful in addressing the liquidity challenges and we will continue to draw on these in 2024.
However, we expect the regular budget liquidity situation to be far more challenging in 2024, as we are starting with very little cash.  In order to avoid a payment default throughout the year, while dealing with the unpredictability of intrayear collections, our initial estimates are that we will need to conserve around $350 million in cash by slowing down and reducing spending until we have certainty that we have enough cash to meet our obligations each month.  This means that we will have to introduce spending restrictions right away or risk running out of cash by August, including the liquidity reserves and the surplus cash of closed tribunals.
Protecting staff from the liquidity crisis to the maximum extent is a priority for me.  I have repeatedly made every effort to do so over the years and I will not relent in doing everything possible to mitigate any pressure on you. 
However, the reality is that personnel costs account for more than 70 per cent of the regular budget.  In order to ensure liquidity for paying staff salaries certain difficult steps will be necessary.  Hiring restrictions will need to be maintained during 2024.  I am keenly aware that this will have a knock-on effect.  High vacancies put an added burden on staff – especially those who work in entities with high vacancy rates.  This step is essential if we are to have any hope of ensuring sufficient cash inflows.
Restrictions in non-post spending will also be critical to bridge the liquidity gap.  As a result, until the situation improves, official travel will need to be limited to the most essential activities.  Purchases of goods and services will be postponed, unless absolutely critical.  Hiring of consultants and experts will be minimized to the extent feasible.  Most construction and maintenance projects will be suspended, except where the slowing down of major construction projects would result in significant future additional expenses.  We will implement energy-saving and other measures to reduce utility bills and curtail expenses on managing facilities. Non-essential security expenses will also be curtailed, as long as they do not impact the safety of our premises, assets and of our personnel and delegates.
I have asked relevant senior managers to engage with Member States and outline the potential impact on our ability deliver on our mandates, including support to intergovernmental meetings across duty stations.  The Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance will work with senior managers to help deal with the impact of these measures.  We will monitor the cash flows carefully and adapt to the evolving liquidity situation.
Member States have been very supportive of my proposals regarding the budget for 2024 and have made positive decisions on initiatives, such as establishing two new offices for Anti-Racism and for Data Protection, increasing funding for core activities of UNRWA, increasing resources for development and human rights activities and strengthening the Peacebuilding Fund with assessed contributions from 2025. However, budgets approved without adequate cash to execute them undermine the essence of the process.
We will also continue to urge Member States to ensure that every effort is taken to avoid any erosion of our capacity to deliver, while working with them to find a sustainable solution that supports staff and enables the United Nations to sustain its operations.
The work of the United Nations has never been more vital.  You are central to our success.  I regret that we are faced with these challenges which are not of our making.  But with your continued dedication and support, we will overcome this crisis and ensure that our Organization can continue to fully perform its vital mission for the people of the world.
Yours sincerely,
António Guterres

Friday 19 January 2024

My reading of Davos 2024

 Davos in times of great uncertainty

Victor Angelo

Davos 2024 took place this week. As usual, the meeting brought thousands of participants to the Swiss ski resort, including politicians, businesspeople, academics, journalists, directors of multilateral institutions, civil society activists, and lobbyists. The president of Ukraine was present for the first time, as well as China's new prime minister, Li Qiang, Xi Jinping's political godson. Ursula von der Leyen and António Guterres were also present again. For obvious reasons, Russian leaders were not invited this time.

Participating in the Davos meeting means recognizing that you have power. It is not, contrary to what many think, a mere gathering of billionaires. Several will be, including leaders of corrupt countries. But many billionaires think it's not worth flying to the small Alpine town in the middle of winter. They already have an indisputable level of global influence, they do not need the validation of Davos or listening to lectures, which are often boring, from guest speakers, nor the networks of contacts that are the main reason for this annual initiative. In fact, Davos is above all an opportunity to make or reinforce contacts between powerful people, in addition to confirming that you belong to the club. Open sessions are often a repetition of what has already been said at other events or advertised in influential media. The most delicate issues are discussed in informal meetings, bilaterally, or in very exclusive groups.

This year the atmosphere was gray. On the one hand, there was the brightness of the international economic and financial situation, reflecting a positive end to 2023. On the other, the dark clouds of an uncertain and increasingly dangerous geopolitical situation. In reality, the geopolitical issue weighed heavily on the analyses and prognoses of many of the participants. Zelensky sought to provide a ray of hope, but participants know that much depends on the assistance that Ukraine receives, or not, to ensure its legitimate defense, from the USA, European countries, and other allies. The Middle East, China, and Taiwan, important parts of Africa and Latin America, all these regions contain unstable and explosive scenarios. The expansion of populism in Europe is another major concern. However, for a good number of participants, the greatest concern lies in the possibility of Donald Trump returning to power. The man is a brute who lives in a world of imbalances and personal revenge. It is a danger whose contours are unpredictable.

The other central theme concerned the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The large technology companies, all of them North American, were well represented. They managed to bring this topic to the list of major concerns. It is a fact that the most advanced countries will invest seriously in this area. The Chinese Prime Minister himself was clear on the matter: cooperation in matters of AI and international trade constituted the core of his intervention. China needs chips produced in the most advanced countries, at least for now, and international economic relations without obstacles or disputes. China's demographic size is simultaneously an advantage and a challenge to its social stability. This is what I would call the complexity of gigantism. A complexity that, on the part of Chinese leaders, requires a very prudent policy, both internally and externally.

The problem is that many politicians around the world have a certain dose of insanity. This is especially true in the case of authoritarian regimes. Rational behavior cannot be expected when the future of dictators may be at stake. At the beginning of 2024, it is essential to be prepared for bad surprises. This is one of the lessons I take away from observing the week in Davos.

Guterres also made a short intervention. He spoke fundamentally about climate change, and the need to regain people's trust in governments and multilateral institutions. And he inevitably mentioned humanitarian issues. He also made reference to the UN's work on regulating AI. All very correct and revealing of the vast agenda that the United Nations has on the table. But, in a context dominated by geopolitical tensions, some clear and striking phrases were missing. It seemed naive and repetitive. He missed an excellent opportunity to make the UN's proposals on international peace and security heard loud and clear.

Published in the Portuguese language on 19 Jan 2024 in the Lisbon daily DIÁRIO DE NOTÍCIAS.

AI translation to English

Friday 12 January 2024

New Year: Get Russia out of Ukraine without further delay

Diário de Notícias, Lisboa, 12 Jan 2024

My opinion piece of 12 Jan 2024: translation to English made by AI

New Year: Get Russia out of Ukraine without further delay

Victor Angelo

Vladimir Putin started the year with violence: he launched day and night without stopping a large number of missiles and drones over multiple Ukrainian locations. Contrary to what some analysts claim, he thus implied that he is in a hurry to force Ukraine's surrender. And he reminded us that dictators don't respect red lines. Believing that you can negotiate with despots is an expensive illusion.

Russia presides over the BRICS group this year. You will want to show that you are capable of successfully leading and expanding an organization that you consider to be a possible alternative to the current world order. As part of the Russian presidency, a series of international meetings are planned, which should culminate in a summit in October, in the emblematic city of Kazan. To be able to attract those who are hesitant, Russia must appear as a victorious, powerful, but peaceful country, after having re-established dominance over territories to which it claims rights in the light of an imperialist past. In other words, after robbing Ukraine of sovereignty over the four eastern provinces and keeping Crimea, usurped in 2014. To international law and treaties, Putin contrasts an archaic and absurd historical narrative, to try to justify hostility, aggression and border wars against neighbouring countries.

At the beginning of the year, five new countries joined the BRICS: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Iran. The group now has 10 members, most of whom have a dubious democratic reputation. Putin would like to reach the end of his year of presidency with at least twice as many countries as members of the BRICS. He mentioned a few days ago that there are around 30 countries interested in joining. I consider this statement to be little more than mere propaganda. It reveals, however, the intention to fracture the international community and destroy the norms of cooperation that have been built, within the framework of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, since 1945.

It is not up to democratic Europe or other allied states to intervene in the accession, policies and practices of the BRICS, if all this occurs in accordance with international standards. For example, if Brazil feels that it is better supported in an alliance with Russia or Iran, rather than in a close relationship with the G7, the choice is yours. It cannot, however, at the same time expect preferential treatment from countries in the G7 or EU orbit. Not even from the CPLP, which should not offer sun on the threshing floor and rain on the eaves, if one day it is to be led with the necessary courage.

But the fundamental issue, at the beginning of the year, is different: Russia must leave Ukraine, without further delay, and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This should be the number one concern of the EU and its allies.

The most recent evidence appears to show that both parties in the US are close to an understanding on this matter and ready to renew assistance to Ukraine. The EU is missing. Europe's leaders talk a lot and well, but they don't act as expected. It is a conversational leadership, fuelled by fear of Russia. The Member State that has helped the most and counts the most – Germany – is afraid of taking the necessary decision that would significantly modify the existing scenario: the supply of long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine. This is equipment that will make it possible to strike the Russian invader with weight and depth, and isolate Crimea from the rest of Russia. When I decided to write this text, I thought I would highlight the indecision shown so far by Olaf Scholz. Meanwhile, the chancellor this week made an exhortation to other European partners and a declaration of agreement with the EU's 50 billion aid plan for Ukraine, which is expected to be approved at the European Summit on February 1.

In a Europe without clear leadership, Scholz's words are encouraging. But they know little and late. There is urgency. It is necessary to advance with the Taurus, with more ammunition, with new anti-aircraft defence systems, with combat drones and an air defence force based on the F16. And accompany all this aid with new political decisions, which once and for all accentuate the financial and diplomatic isolation of the Putin regime. Constantly explaining to European citizens what Ukrainian heroism has been, the advances in the Black Sea, in the ports of Crimea, in the attacks on the Russian naval fleet and in terms of defence in the face of brutality.

I also thought about criticizing the leaders of France, Italy and Spain: they are major economies that have been minor players when compared to Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Baltics, not forgetting the United Kingdom. But we'll see how they behave in the near future, faced with Scholz's challenge. Whether or not they realize that it also depends on them to prevent Putin from continuing to be a threat to stability and peace in Europe.

Rússia fora da Ucrânia

 Ano Novo: Fazer sair a Rússia da Ucrânia sem mais demoras (

A minha crónica de hoje no Diário de Notícias. 

Traduction par IA de ma chronique d'aujourd'hui

 Diário de Notícias (Lisboa, 12 JAN 2024)

Nouvel An : faire sortir la Russie d’Ukraine sans plus attendre

Victor Angelo

Vladimir Poutine a commencé l'année dans la violence : il a lancé jour et nuit sans arrêt un grand nombre de missiles et de drones sur plusieurs sites ukrainiens. Contrairement à ce que prétendent certains analystes, il a laissé entendre qu'il était pressé d'imposer la capitulation de l'Ukraine. Et il nous a rappelé que les dictateurs ne respectent pas les lignes rouges. Croire qu’on peut négocier avec des despotes est une illusion coûteuse.

Cette année, la Russie préside le groupe des BRICS. Vous voudrez montrer que vous êtes capable de diriger et de développer avec succès une organisation que vous considérez comme une alternative possible à l’ordre mondial actuel. Dans le cadre de la présidence russe, une série de rencontres internationales sont prévues, qui devraient aboutir à un sommet en octobre, dans la ville emblématique de Kazan. Pour pouvoir attirer ceux qui hésitent, la Russie doit apparaître comme un pays victorieux, puissant, mais apaisé, après avoir rétabli sa domination sur des territoires sur lesquels elle revendique des droits au vu d'un passé impérialiste. En d’autres termes, après avoir privé l’Ukraine de la souveraineté sur les quatre provinces orientales et conservé la Crimée, usurpée en 2014. Au droit et aux traités internationaux, Poutine oppose un récit historique archaïque et absurde, pour tenter de justifier l’hostilité, l’agression et les guerres frontalières contre les pays voisins. .

Au début de l'année, cinq nouveaux pays ont rejoint les BRICS : l'Arabie saoudite, l'Égypte, les Émirats arabes unis, l'Éthiopie et l'Iran. Le groupe compte désormais 10 membres, dont la plupart ont une réputation démocratique douteuse. Poutine aimerait atteindre la fin de son année de présidence avec au moins deux fois plus de pays que de membres des BRICS. Vous avez mentionné il y a quelques jours qu’une trentaine de pays étaient intéressés à y adhérer. Je considère que cette déclaration n’est guère plus qu’une simple propagande. Cela révèle cependant l’intention de fracturer la communauté internationale et de détruire les normes de coopération qui ont été construites dans le cadre des Nations Unies et d’autres organisations multilatérales depuis 1945.

Il n’appartient pas à l’Europe démocratique ou à d’autres États alliés d’intervenir dans l’adhésion, les politiques et les pratiques des BRICS, si tout cela se déroule conformément aux normes internationales. Par exemple, si le Brésil estime qu’il est mieux soutenu dans une alliance avec la Russie ou l’Iran que dans une relation étroite avec le G7, le choix vous appartient. Il ne peut cependant pas s’attendre en même temps à un traitement préférentiel de la part des pays du G7 ou de l’UE. Pas même de la part de la CPLP, qui ne devrait pas offrir du soleil sur l'aire et de la pluie sur les avant-toits, si l'on veut un jour la mener avec le courage nécessaire.

Mais l’enjeu fondamental, en ce début d’année, est différent : la Russie doit quitter l’Ukraine, sans plus attendre, et respecter sa souveraineté et son intégrité territoriale. Cela devrait être la préoccupation numéro un de l’UE et de ses alliés.

Les éléments de preuve les plus récents semblent montrer que les deux parties aux États-Unis sont proches d’un accord sur cette question et prêtes à renouveler leur aide à l’Ukraine. L’UE est absente. Les dirigeants européens parlent beaucoup et bien, mais ils n'agissent pas comme prévu. Il s’agit d’un leadership conversationnel, alimenté par la peur de la Russie. L’État membre qui a le plus aidé et qui compte le plus – l’Allemagne – craint de prendre la décision nécessaire qui modifierait considérablement le scénario existant : la fourniture de missiles Taurus à longue portée à l’Ukraine. Il s’agit d’équipements qui permettront de frapper avec poids et profondeur l’envahisseur russe et d’isoler la Crimée du reste de la Russie. Lorsque j’ai décidé d’écrire ce texte, j’ai pensé souligner l’indécision manifestée jusqu’à présent par Olaf Scholz. Entre-temps, la chancelière a adressé cette semaine une exhortation aux autres partenaires européens et une déclaration d'accord sur le plan d'aide de l'UE à l'Ukraine de 50 milliards d'euros, qui devrait être approuvé lors du sommet européen du 1er février.

Dans une Europe sans leadership clair, les propos de Scholz sont encourageants. Mais ils en savent trop peu et trop tard. Il y a urgence. Il faut avancer avec le Taurus, avec plus de munitions, avec de nouveaux systèmes de défense anti-aérienne, avec des drones de combat et une force de défense aérienne basée sur le F16. Et accompagner toute cette aide de nouvelles décisions politiques, qui accentuent une fois pour toutes l’isolement financier et diplomatique du régime Poutine. Expliquer constamment aux citoyens européens ce qu'a été l'héroïsme ukrainien, les avancées en mer Noire, dans les ports de Crimée, dans les attaques contre la flotte navale russe et en termes de défense face à la brutalité.

J'ai aussi pensé à critiquer les dirigeants de la France, de l'Italie et de l'Espagne : ce sont des économies majeures qui ont été des acteurs mineurs par rapport au Danemark, aux Pays-Bas, à la Suède et aux pays baltes, sans oublier le Royaume-Uni. Mais nous verrons comment ils se comporteront dans un avenir proche, face au défi de Scholz. Qu’ils réalisent ou non qu’il dépend également d’eux d’empêcher Poutine de continuer à constituer une menace pour la stabilité et la paix en Europe.