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MEP Ramona Mănescu on the Qatar crisis: When patriotic hackers and fake news destabilize a whole region

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 The Arab states of the Persian Gulf are facing an unprecedented regional crisis. On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt announced a diplomatic break with Qatar. They cut air, sea and land links and ordered Qatari officials and nationals stationed in their countries to return home. 

Qatar, known on the world stage because of its great wealth of oil and natural gas, is being acused of supporting terrorist groups.

Countries in the Gulf are key to the US-led coalition against ISIS, with Qatar hosting the Al Udeid Air Base, the US military’s main regional center for daily air missions and coordination of all air operations. So there are higher stakes to be considered, not only the regional effects.

In an analysis headed” Qatar crisis: when patriotic hackers and fake news destabilize a whole region”, EPP MEP Ramona Mănescu argues that in an already troubled region, ”more instability is the least what people need”. 

Full article signed by Ramona Mănescu, EPP MEP:

Qatar crisis: when patriotic hackers and fake news destabilize a whole region

In the last three days, the whole world witnessed in bewilderment how a whole region, involving 14 countries, from Egypt to Maldives Islands, suddenly shifted to the brink of war.

In a much-unexpected move, between 5 and 6 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, the Maldives, and Bahrain all separately announced that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, imposing trade and travel bans. The Libyan interim government, which is based in eastern Libya and is one of Libya’s three rival governments, also cut off ties. All involved countries ordered their citizens out of Qatar.

Three Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain) gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries. The foreign ministries of Bahrain and Egypt gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave their countries. This, of course, created some dramatic situations when mix-nationalities families got separated because of the travel ban.

Other measures involved Qatar being expelled from the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, shut down the local office of Al Jazeera Media Network in Saudi Arabia, interdiction for Qatari vessels or ships owned by Qatari companies or individuals in Saudi Arabia and the UAE ports, border shutdown of Saudi Arabia – Qatar border, bank restrictions and airspace restriction to Qatar Airways over Saudi Arabia (and this last measure, taken overnight, brought havoc all over the region with global implications and huge uncertainties about the future of Chicago Convention and the Transit Agreement which assure open skies for everyone).

As a detail, I must say that Hamad Saif al-Shamsi, the Attorney-General of the UAE, announced on 7th of June that publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar through social media or any type of written, visual or verbal form is considered illegal under UAE’s Federal Penal Code and the Federal Law on Combating Information Technology Crimes. Violators of this offense face between 3 to 15 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 500,000 Emirati dirhams ($136,000) or both.

All of these look like the whole region is preparing for war because, in diplomatic terms, there is little left to show more aggression than what was already done and said.

In a troubled region, neighboured by several warm conflicts (Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen) and some of the poorest and most unstable countries (Eritrea, Sudan or Somalia), more instability is the least of what people need.

What startled all this diplomatic earthquake?

If someone looks at the general picture in the Gulf area, how it was till days ago, can notice a couple of muffled tensions between the Saudi Arabia and the much smaller neighbor – Qatar. These tensions date back to 2014 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain temporarily pulled their ambassadors out of Qatar because of its support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

But it is not only about the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also about Saudi Arabia which tries to impose its position over all the GCC countries, about Qatar which tries to project a much bigger shadow, or about the regional clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia for the control of the world largest natural gas deposit which is shared by Qatar and Iran.

None of these could predict what it is happening now.

It all started on 24th of May just three days after President Trump visit to Riyadh with a hacking of Qatar State News Agency and subsequently carrying of “false statements” on sensitive regional topics attributed to the country’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Amid an apparent wide-scale security breach it was also reported that the agency’s official Twitter account had also been hacked and “fake” reports that Qatar was withdrawing ambassadors from several countries in the region appeared online.

Among the issues allegedly addressed by the Qatari ruler in the statement were the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, strategic relations with Iran, and comments about Hamas. There were also alleged negative remarks about Qatar’s relationship with the new administration of US President Donald Trump (and this despite President Trump’s declarations in Riyadh, just three days before, which were saying that “Qatar, which hosts the U.S. Central Command, is a crucial strategic partner”).

Despite Government Communications Office statement which said that “The Qatar News Agency website has been hacked by an unknown entity” and “a false statement attributed to His Highness has been published”, the remarks on QNA were picked up and reported by broadcasters in the region, including some in the United Arab Emirates.

What it is really interesting are the early findings of an FBI investigation, called in by Qatar’s authorities, onto the security breach. Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.

If this statement will be confirmed by the final report, we can all say that it is for the first time in history when a cyber-attack combined with fake news creates a real regional crisis.

What is equally interesting is the link between some Russian hackers and very well targeted fake news insertion into a State News Agency. There is no money ransom, no database theft, no “this site was hacked by…”. Actually, it is difficult, if not impossible to believe that hackers (no matter their nationality or how patriotic they are) will conduct such an attack otherwise than at the request and guidance of a state actor. In this case Russia.

In police investigations, the leading line is “follow the money”. In geopolitics, we can say “cui prodest”.

Who would benefit from a fractured GCC and a weaken alliance with the United States

Syria? Bashar al-Assad regime is in no way capable of conducting such an organized attack.

Iran? Iran benefits more from today’s certain nuclear deal than from an unclear future of a tougher conflict with Saudi Arabia and most of the other Arab countries.

There is only one state actor, present in the region, capable of orchestrating such a plot, that would cash in the effects of a fractured GCC, a weaker US in the Middle East and even a higher uncertainty on the oil and gas market. This is Russia!

No lucid analyst can buy the theory which says that all this trouble is because of the many accusations, pointing towards Qatar, saying that the Gulf state is a major sponsor of various terrorist organizations.

These accusations are not new, they are circulating around for years and even if now is the time to clarify them, they don’t justify the huge regional crisis we are witnessing.

Also, similar accusations, even more, serious ones, like the yet unpublished UK government report about terror funding in the UK, are pointing to Saudi Arabia.

There is no need to even mention Iran and its proven links with Hamas and Hezbollah.

If all of these are about cutting ties with terrorism and its funding there is no better moment. The international community has never been more determined to tackle this problem in such a way it will not bounce back in just a year. But destabilizing a whole region is not solving problems is just bringing new ones.

I believe that instead of rushed actions it is time for calm, diplomacy and vision.

The future of the Gulf countries is together, cooperating as a strong alliance and a reliable partner for both US and EU. Everyone needs a strong Arab countries alliance in the Gulf area, from their citizens to the countries in the neighborhood.

It is also time for the UN to step in and tackle the issue of state actors accused of sponsoring terrorism. This cannot limit to only one country and it must cover all the accusations that are floating around.

Last but even more important, it is time for the international community to acknowledge the urgency of criminalizing the cyberwarfare, cyberterrorism, and cybercrime in such a manner they can be prosecuted in a credible way. Countries that are still blocking this process must understand that nobody and no one is fenced when we talk about cyber threats and any aggressor can become a victim.”

 

 

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Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference: We tried to build a partnership with Russia, but Putin destroyed the common base. Romania is correct and NATO should focus more on the Black Sea region

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© MSC / Kuhlmann

Interview conducted by Robert Lupițu

Russia’s invasion in Ukraine is a turning point in history, including for Germany, who was tried to build a constructive partnership with Moscow over the last decades, argues Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, in an exclusive interview for CaleaEuropeană.ro on the sidelines of the Munich Leaders Meeting, organised for the first time on the southeastern flank of NATO, in Bucharest, just before the NATO Foreign Ministerial Meeting. The Chairman of the Munich Security Conference also emphasised that Romania is correct and NATO should focus more on the Black Sea region.

“I hoped that Putin would be impressed by the international solidarity with Ukraine and would have second thoughts about aggressing Ukraine”, he said, recollecting the strong EU and transatlantic unity at the Munich Security Conference, few days before Russia’s full scale invasion.

Former German Ambassador to the UN and ex-diplomatic advisor to Angela Merkel, Heusgen explained Germany’s longstanding approach to Russia and the stakes of the “Zeitenwende” (turning point) approach on foreign and security policy.

“Germany in World War II was responsible for the death of 20 million people who lived on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Also, without Russia giving its consent Germany would not have been reunited. So German policy towards Russia for a long time was influenced by a feeling of guilt and of gratitude. (…) We tried to build a partnership with Russia, but all of these efforts terribly failed. Putin destroyed the common base we had tried to build”, he said.

“Now, we have to be very tough in response to Russia’s war”, Heusgen added.

The Chairman of the Munich Security said that Russian President cannot be welcomed again in the community of respected politicians and emphasised that Putin is wrong when he is counting on Ukraine’s war fatigue or the fatigue of Western help.

“I believe that Germany and the transatlantic community will have to even strengthen their support to Ukraine. There is demand for political leadership which makes clear what is at stake: If Putin wins this war he will not stop in Ukraine”, he said, mentioning that the only possibility for peace talks is for Russia to return Ukraine’s territories.

Full interview below:

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Russia’s invasion was preceded a few days before by the Munich Security Conference. Did you felt at that moment, when President Zelenskyy took the stage, when Chancellor Scholz, Foreign Minister Baerbock, Vice President Harris or Prime Minister Johnson did the same, that Russia’s full scale military aggression is imminent, and diplomacy will be shadowed by war on the European continent? 

Christoph Heusgen: I had predicted already at the end of 2021 that Putin may wage war and invade Ukraine. The Intelligence Community was certain that Putin would actually do it. But when I witnessed the strong EU and transatlantic unity at the Munich Security Conference on 18 to 20 February 2022, and the readiness to give a common and tough response to a possible Russian attack, I hoped that Putin would be impressed by the international solidarity with Ukraine and would have second thoughts about aggressing Ukraine. But he didn’t and went ahead with his flagrant breach of International Law, his breach of civilization. 

CaleaEuropeană.ro: You mentioned the transatlantic unity and for many pundits Germany’s stance, including in the context of a brand-new coalition, was remarkable. The Zeitenwende speech, halting North Stream 2, economic and energy sanctions against Russia and stepping forward as a future military power in Europe. Is there a new German foreign and security policy in the making? What does it mean for Europe and for NATO? 

Christoph Heusgen: Chancellor Scholz in his speech to the German parliament three days after the invasion, pronounced a ‘Zeitenwende’. We are indeed witnessing  a turning point in history. For decades, Germany had tried to maintain a constructive partnership with Russia. To understand German policy towards Russia, one must go back in history. One has to remember that Germany in World War II was responsible for the death of 20 million people who lived on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Also, without Russia giving its consent Germany would not have been reunited. So German policy towards Russia for a long time was influenced by a feeling of guilt and of gratitude. Many in Germany hoped that we could conduct a policy where, on the one hand, we would be a good partner of NATO, but on the other hand maintain a decent relationship with Russia. The latter included a lot of trade, but also a broader dialogue between our societies through the so-called Petersburg dialogue, where an exchanges took place between the political and business class, non-governmental organizations and youth. We tried to build a partnership with Russia, but all of these efforts terribly failed. Putin destroyed the common base we had tried to build. Putin violated every international covenant and every bilateral agreement with Ukraine when he started his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Putin has destroyed all bridges behind him. Now, we have to be very tough in response to Russia’s war. Some people in Germany have problems to adapt to the new reality to the ‚Zeitenwende‘.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: So, as I understand correctly, this will be a long-time stance of Germany and also of Europe when it comes to Russia?

Christoph Heusgen: As I said, Putin committed a breach of civilization. He severely violated international law. And we must respond to it in a very clear way, defending the rules based international order, also defending Ukraine. And we have to make Putin and his gang accountable for the crimes they committed,  war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. There is no way back for Putin into the community of respected, civilized politicians

CaleaEuropeană.ro: And we saw that Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine has brought major strategic changes in Europe – Sweden and Finland are almost NATO members, Ukraine and Moldova have received candidate status for the EU, France is more involved in NATO, especially in Romania, Germany’s Zeitenwende approach. But the war costs lives, threatens critical infrastructure, food security, energy prices soaring and so on. Do you envisage a war fatigue in matters of Western support for Ukraine or this “as long as it takes” approach will continue?

Christoph Heusgen: This is what Putin counts on. Putin counts on Ukraine fatigue, Putin counts on Europe and the US becoming weak, no longer ready to pay for defending Ukraine. Putin believes that at some stage we will either pressure Ukraine into a ceasefire and some kind of peace agreement to the liking of Russia. But Putin is wrong. This is what the Ukrainian representatives here at our Munich Leaders Meeting in Bucharest made very clear. The Ukrainians are determined to defend their country no matter what Putin does. He has already flattened Mariupol as he has flattened Grozny and Aleppo. But he cannot destroy the Ukrainian determination to defend their country. And I remain optimistic that Germany, the European Union, NATO and our transatlantic partners will remain at the side of the Ukrainian people despite higher food and energy prices, despite a possible recession. 

I believe that Germany and the transatlantic community will have to even strengthen their support to Ukraine. There is demand for political leadership which makes clear what is at stake: If Putin wins this war he will not stop in Ukraine. He has set his eyes on other countries which at some stage in history were parts of Russia, including Moldova or the Baltic countries. This means that when we are helping to defend Ukraine we are defending our own freedom.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: I understand from your very elaborated answer that given Ukraine’s stance to defend its country and given Russia’s destructive war in Ukraine we are far in reaching the conditions for political and peace talks?

Christoph Heusgen: Currently, I don’t see it. First, we have to respect what the Ukrainian people and government intend to do. I fully understand that the Ukrainians are not ready to give up their territory, to give in to a dictator who commits war crimes and crimes against humanity. I only see a possibility right now for negotiations if Russia is ready to give back the territory that according to international law belongs to Ukraine. Also, what is very important is that Russia pays reparation and that there is  accountability. At this stage, I don’t see that Russia is ready for it and therefore I’m also afraid that this conflict will continue.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Since the war began there has been a particular focus on the Black Sea security, a matter that Romania has advocated for since Crimea’s annexation. Foreign Minister Aurescu called for a to do transatlantic list for the importance of the Black Sea region. How can NATO focus better on this part of the Eastern flank, in the Black Sea, and what role Romania plays or should play in the region?

Christoph Heusgen: Aurescu is correct. Russia’s naval blockade has demonstrated how critical the Black Sea is. NATO has to focus more on the region. But NATO is turning already into this direction.  There will be more NATO troops stationed here. The fact that the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting took place in Bucharest is a demonstration that NATO is serious, but also a recognition of the role that Romania plays as a key partner in the Alliance. And I am certain that NATO is there to stay and will remain engaged. 

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MEP Vasile Blaga, after the lifting of the CVM for Romania: We are just one step away from Schengen accession

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© European Union 2022 - Source : EP

MEP Vasile Blaga welcomes the lifting of the CVM for Romania by the European Commission and underlines that our country is just one step away from Schengen admission.

“We are at an extremely important moment – we are only one step away from Schengen admission. We should no longer hear, either now or after accession, how bad we are, how imperfect, how lacking in merit”, the MEP said in a statement to CaleaEuropeană.ro.

„It is our right to be in Schengen, just as it was our right to be monitored in exactly the same way as the other Member States – and not through a special mechanism like the CVM. I have said it many times in recent years. And I want to underline once again – at important moments for Romania, politicians must speak with one voice. In unison. In the same way that politicians in Brussels of other countries manage to unite behind their national objectives. It is good to learn from the lessons of the mature democracies we want to live alongside”, he added.

The Liberal MEP also condemned the attitude of some Romanian politicians in Brussels regarding Romania’s merits: “If 2022 was the year of Romania’s integration into the European Union, some Romanian politicians in Brussels would nonchalantly say that we are not ready for integration, that there would be one more thing to do, that the EU should pay close attention to us. This is where we are. I cannot understand the reaction of some politicians who are in Brussels primarily for Romania.”

“The CVM will be suspended after consultations with the European Parliament and the Council. As I said above, we find in Brussels the grey voices that, in subtext, are disappointed: it is good that the CVM is suspended, but, thank God, we will continue to be monitored by the generalised rule of law mechanism”, concluded the PNL MEP.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: EU will not recognise Russian documents issued in areas illegally occupied by Russia in Ukraine and Georgia

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The European Parliament agreed by a large majority at its last plenary session in Strasbourg not to recognise travel documents issued by the Russian Federation in the illegally occupied territories of Ukraine and Georgia, said MEP Vasile Blaga on Monday.

MEPs agreed by 540 votes to 6 with 36 abstentions on a mandate for negotiations with the Council on a legislative proposal on the non-recognition of travel documents issued by Russia in the occupied Ukrainian regions and the so-called breakaway territories of Georgia for visa purposes or when crossing the EU’s external borders.

At the same time, MEPs amended the Council’s proposal and underlined the right of citizens from conflict zones to flee the war and their right to enter the European Union for humanitarian reasons.

“The illegal annexations in Ukraine and Georgia require clear EU decisions on the non-recognition of documents issued by Russia in those territories to be used for travel within the European Union,” said Vasile Blaga, EPP & NLP MEP, member of the LIBE Committee, which handled this dossier in the European Parliament.

“The Russian Federation must understand that the European Parliament and the European Union will not compromise on these unacceptable aggressions. At the same time, the European Union must allow access to refugees from conflict zones, honest citizens fleeing war. The European Union must also take humanitarian cases into account and provide adequate support to refugees”, said the EPP MEP.

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