The End of the EU-Russia Relationship As You Know It

Source: Getty
Relations between the EU and Russia are changing. By dissociating Russia from the West, Putin may aim to position Moscow to hold inescapable influence going forward.
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The EU-Russia summit last week in Brussels seemed almost routine. Gas, visas, Syria, and human rights were all on an agenda that proved largely fruitless. Yet, something is different and no one seems to have noticed. Relations between the European Union and its biggest neighbor are changing fundamentally.

The Europeans, of course, are focused on their own crisis and the restructuring that’s necessary to pull the continent back from the brink. Beyond their own union, they are mostly looking across the Mediterranean toward the Middle East and North Africa.

The Eastern Partnership between the EU and Russia’s six former Soviet neighbors is, frankly, languishing, and Ukraine is what the Russians call a “suitcase without a handle. ” In other words, it can neither be carried forward, nor abandoned.

But it is Russia itself that is Europe’s biggest disappointment.

Until last fall, Europeans believed that then president Dmitry Medvedev was taking Russia in the direction they themselves desired and in the fashion they preferred by promoting modernization through gradually introducing the rule of law, encouraging innovation, and opening up more to the West. Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted Medvedev to succeed so badly that she publicly called him a candidate in Russia’s presidential elections in 2012 before Vladimir Putin had a chance to announce his final decision.

After Putin announced his plan to reassume control, the political mood in Europe began to sour. Europeans were briefly encouraged by the sudden rise in Russian protests last winter, but this was quickly lost when the Kremlin cracked down on protestors, opponents, and foreign-funded NGOs. Merkel has turned openly critical of Moscow and this week’s Economist placed Putin right in the middle of hell in the unholy company of Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Business is running and gas is flowing, but Russia’s behavior is unacceptable in Europe.

Something fundamental has changed on the Russian side, too. Putin believes Europe—and the West more broadly—is in decline, and wants to reposition Russia vis-à-vis the main centers of power in the twenty-first century. Moscow’s “European choice” proclaimed by Putin himself in the German parliament in 2001 has been replaced with a focus on Russia’s near neighborhood.

The idea is not to create a new empire, as Hillary Clinton has wrongly suggested—Moscow lacks the material resources, political will, and social drive for that. But the plan is to improve Russia’s bargaining positions with the two real centers of power in Eurasia: the EU in the west and China in the east. Longer term, Putin hopes for a new compact between the Eurasian Economic Union he is constructing and the European Union. Such a compact, however, should in his view be based on rough parity rather than a Russian association with the EU.

The change on the Kremlin side runs deeper than geopolitics or geoeconomics. Not only is the EU no longer accepted as a mentor—or even a model—but Moscow has also accepted the values gap argument that the Europeans were using for a long time, simply turning it against its critics. The decline of Europe, one hears in elite Russian circles, is due to the Europeans becoming too “soft” and giving up their former strengths that once made Europe the world’s leader in favor of multiculturalism, mindless tolerance, and dilution of national or religious identities.

The Kremlin harbors few illusions about Russia’s own values deficit as Putin focused on it in his address to parliament several weeks ago, but it has no appetite to follow what it considers a failed example. Rather, Putin approvingly cites the handling by the attorney general of Texas of a request from the OSCE to place its monitors at polling stations during the U.S. presidential election in November. The response: come to these stations and get any closer than 300 yards, and you will be arrested.

Putin, always a Russian nationalist, recently mounted a major campaign to stop or severely limit any political influence or interference in Russia from abroad. Moscow is now busy dismantling agreements with Western countries signed in the 1990s that Putin no longer sees as equitable, from USAID assistance programs to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to children’s adoption.

This is more than a response to the Magnitsky Act just passed by the U.S. Congress, or a way to deter the Europeans from adopting anything similar. In fact, Putin himself has amplified the U.S. legislation by ordering government officials to transfer their private funds from abroad and park the money in Russia. This kills two birds with one stone—it reduces outsiders’ ability to pressure Moscow, and it places Russian officials under even tighter control from the Kremlin.

Russia famously “left the West” politically in the mid-2000s by veering off the U.S. orbit and reaffirming its strategic independence. Now, Moscow is “leaving the West” mentally by finally stopping to pretend that it shares the same values as EU countries and aspires to join them in some creative way.

By clearly dissociating Russia from the West—and the response to the Syrian crisis serves as a perfect example—Putin may be aiming to position Moscow to hold inescapable influence as the world scene reshuffles in the coming century. Russia is too weak to be a major power center on its own, but with strategic independence it may try to tip the scales of the global (or at least Eurasian) balance of power as it wants. If so, this is a serious change and the policy implications need to be carefully assessed.

End of document

About the Russia and Eurasia Program

The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.


Comments (30)

  • Ragozzi
    4 Recommends
    "The End of the EU-Russia Relationship As You Know It" -, yes and the beginning of a new era, new partnerships, where Russia and its interests are taken seriously. Just because Russia is different from EU and isn't willing to accepts its model entirely, it doesn't mean they can work together.
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    • Nagesh K Ojha replies...
      Probably, in the last line you want to say " it doesn't mean they can not work together."
  • Italy
    8 Recommends 9 Conversation Recommends
    When a Russian is a patriot we call him nationalist.
    When an American is a nationalist we call him a patriot.
    Reply to this post

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    • Walgerasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      With a little nuance , Russian Chauvinism has created among the orat dictatorships in the World the last four centuries . The US nationalism has been beneficiary for most of the Western European and East Asian countries,
    • John replies...
      No any nationalists in Russia, only murders and xenophobes. Also there are many Trolls from Russia on EU sites (with salary) :)
  • Ragn
    1 Recommend
    Who cares? Countries, politics - all is rubbish in the bigger picture of things.
    It's only useful for politicians to get their cut. People's cooperation is the future. Europe patronised Russians long enough to make them sick.
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  • walterasgbenjamin
    4 Recommends 12 Conversation Recommends
    Dmitri Trenin's article is as usual so pro Russian Chauvinism oriented. At least since 1993 - as Eltsin sent tanks against his own parliement - until now the political regime in Russia is a dictatorship of an oligarchy mainly composed by ex-KGB members . This dictatorship is accepted, supported by the majority of Russians who are - as always have been - "imperialist slaves" with one ideology "Russian Chauvinism" based essentially in the support of Russian Orthodox Church and the invasions during XVIII et XIX centuries of territories - North East ( Siberia, etc) and South East and South ( Islamic countries). Stalin - at the opposite of what Lenin and Trotsky imagined - has built a racist dictatorship - playing on the main mindset of the Ethnic Russians mentality - a imperialist slave one. To make the thing clear, it is easy to understand what it means with one example: Marechal Zukov. This brilliant and courageous officer won strategic battles against the Japanese ( in 1939) and against the German nazis in 1941-45. He was one of the main reasons for the survival of Stalinist dictatorship. His equivalent in History is probably Napoleon Bonaparte with his Italian victories who saved - but in a less important way than Zukov - the French Republic. Could we imagine one second that Napoleon Bonoparte, after these victories, will have accepted to be humiliated and pushed away as Zukov did in 1945-49 by Stalin? Why Zukov who has had a large influence accepted such treatment? Because as Russian he has a slave mentality - he respects the dictator.
    What Dmitri Trenin refuses to accept is that since 1993, step by step, after two years of in 1991-1993 and six years of great European vision by Gorbatchev - this Russia became and still his the main enemy of the Europeans ( included the majority of Ukrainians). Strategically the goals of any conscious European politicians if he wants to avoy a war in Europe, if he wants to create an European Federation , his goals are to destroy this Russia. It is possible. It is quite easy. It will take between 10 to 50 years.
    The best way to do it is to make a strategic alliance between China and EU. The deal is to offer China to "take" all the East of Russia ( Far East, Siberia, etc up to Ural mountains) directly under control and later to manage the West of Russia - this less than 110 millions ethnic Russians in the way they manage Tibet or Inner Mongolia.
    It is the price to pay to create peace in our continent.
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    • Russia replies...
      7 Recommends
      Russia has long history, and you are not the first one who suggested that Russia should be destroyed. Sorry, but... i must dissapoint you, it doesn't quite work like that. Study some Russian history and see for yourself.
    • Walterasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      No Russia has not a long History. At maximum 5 centuries because the History of Ukraine has nothing to do with Russia except Ukraine is civilized and Russia has always been a backward country.
      The short history of Russia is very well known : it is an History of misery, of dictatorships, of slaves imperialists.
      Many countries , empires , kingdoms, etc have disappear the last five centuries in all Europe, why not this Russian Federation where 111 millions Ethnic Russians could easily be part of a larger China of 1.4 to 2 billions people much more educated,intelligent, hard workers, etc with a Civilizaion of 7,000 years and a centralized state at least since 2,500 years. The Russians have never succeeded to create something else as a dictatorship , a backward country.
    • rkka replies...
      " this Russia became and still his the main enemy of the Europeans"

      You mean Russia is the main enemy of countries like Latvia? Hardly. the main enemy of Latvians is there own, highly-pro-West government, whose policy has yearly deaths in Latvia exceeding yearly births by 1.5 to 1.
  • walterasgbenjamin
    Dmitri Trenin of course is a great professional . His description of what happens now is perfect. Except he is prisonner of his Russian Chauvinism ideology. he couldn't imagine that the course of this Russian state during the XXIst and XXIInd centuries. Of course nobody could predict the future even in the next few months time because the parameters are so numerous. But at least we could choose wider hypothesis.
    I choose the ones elaborated by the hundred of thinkers about Russia of the XVIIIth, XIXth , XXth and XXIst centuries - from Gogol to Delpech via many others as Marx, Herzen, Tolstoi, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Shalamov, Isaiah Berlin, Politovskaia, Gaaidar etc etc .
    Dmitri Trenin refuses to imagine that what was built by the Russians in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries could be destroyed during the XXIst century.
    He refuses to take in consideration the World as it is today - with 7 billions people - and the absurdity of 111 millions of Ethnic Russians controling this Territory in front of a China of 1,4 billion people! He refuses to see that all the islamist countries at the South of Russia with or without the help of China will take back all their influences in Central Asia. He refuses to accept that in a way or another the majority of the Ukrainians and of the Georgians will refuse to be part of the "Russian speaking culture." He refuses to understand that the slave mentality of the Russians will psuh them naturally to be managed by the strongest dictator which are Chinese leaders.
    We, Europeans, know , as a great German philosopher told us, that to create an European Federation we need to have an enemy - to be prepared for the war against this enemy. Russia is the perfect enemy: Russia is weak and has a lot of strategic and tactic nuclear missiles. As Mrs Delpech in her last book describes it - the "deterrence"'s war in the XXIst will be a game where the Russians will lose because they will have at the same time so many enemies for all sides.
    Then please Dmitri Trenin tries to take in account the destruction of this Russia - and his territory - as it is today and imagine a Russia which will become a province of China - that it is the only way that you could create peace in our European-Asian continent which starts from Britany to Shanghai. Europeans need the best minds from China to develop during XXIst century - a strategic union between EU and China will make all countries in the World prospered and assure a balance of powers .
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  • daverhea
    1 Recommend
    Putin is still a Communist!!!
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  • walterasgbenjamin
    There is one point that Dmitri Trenin doesn't underline or explain enough, it is the incredible moral degradation of the Russian society. One example the Magnitsky case: US government and European Parliement decides or advises to ban from US and to seize their asstes in US the Russian bureaucrats of a tax bureau who have stolen 230 millions US$ from Russian state and who have killed a Russian lawyer who wanted to sue them. To "punish" the US government, the Russian parliements have decided to punish the Russian orphans to have the possibility to be adapted in USA and of course they promote the bureaucrats who have stolen from the Russian state these 230 millions US$! It is such a disgusting moral action that it is even difficult to understand. And you Dmitri Trenin you wrote something that I find really "disgusting" too - you insist on the proposal by Putin to forbide the Russian bureaucrats and "lawmakers" to own some foreign properties. But you know that it is a total joke - forf example Putin's assets , around 43 billions US$ , are mainly outside of Russia. You know perfectly that none of the main Putin's allies will respect this rule. It is simply a rule against Navalny's actions - to pretend not to have assets outside of Russia. It is simply a lie like everything in Russia, like to tell that Russia is a democracy when it is a dictatorship - a real dictatorship , worst than in China which declares officially to be a dictatorship. Russian elites respect absolutely no laws, surely not the ones they vote which means absolutely nothing for them. Then to read again and again, to hear again and again Dmitri Trenin that this new rule marks a great change it is really "disgusting" in the way either he thinks we are stupid , either he believes the words of Putin and of his allies. This type of comments makes the US government to make huge mistake like the ones they did recently to negociated with Putin through Ergoyan some sort of deal on Syria - terms of deal which has been revealed by Le Figaro and has made the Syrian opposition absolutely furious because for them like for us these Russians are our enemies and they have to be destroyed; there is no negotiations to make with them except the ones which means their humiliation and defeat. It is only this attitude that this type of Russian power understands because it is the way they feel themselves good - they feel slaves in front of a real master. Please dear respected Dmitri Trenin follows the Chinese way!
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    • 1111 replies...
      ну попробуйте уничтожить)))
    • Walterasgnenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      1111 replies demonstrates that a Russian Chauvinist is not even to write in English . That is one more proof of the backwardness of Russia today.
  • walterasgbenjamin
    she is right : it is so so boring and brings very few valuable information
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    • chinesepatriot replies...
      China hardly ever will collaborate with the old Europe (which will stop exist quite soon) because of only one thing - that is the territory which is inhabbited by people without ideology and "moral" princilples, people who declare some stuff about human rights and are just afraid. Remember 1945 and what Russian did with Germans, and your questions will be covered.
    • Walgerasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      This chinesepatriot speaks exactly like a Russian chauvinist . It is a good s example how low the level of culture is in Russia today when even a Russian Chauvinist hides under the name of chinesepatriot . It is exactly who are the supporter of this street guy Vladimir Putin - poor slaves who are trying to express the last Putin propaganda lines. Ah what is the new one? Russia is a moral country . Why? But of course because of the Russian Orthodox Church. Why? Because their patriarch says that Putin has been chosen by God, is a gift of God to Russians. Next step he will pretend that Putin is the Son of God. I hope they will not discover one day that this New Son of God is not homosexual because one of the greatest test of the Russian high morality is that Homosexuality is a great sin , it is the manifestation of the devil,...In a word it is what theWest is... Since the Grrece Times
  • Россия
    Уважаемый, walterasgbenjamin, вы лечиться не пробовали? У психиатра например? Обратитесь за помощью, вам помогут, не сомневайтесь.

    Россия провинция Китая ))))))))) мечты это прекрасно))))
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    • Walterasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      One more Russian Chauvinsit uneducated in all sense of thos word
    • Walterasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      Concerning the great psucho analysts it is true that I prefer Freud , Lacan or even a Russian woman Lou Andreas Salome than the backward Russian psychiatric doctors during the Soviet times.   
      You, Russian Chauvinists, you are funny : you refuse to recognize the facts : first you have been the slaves of Mongol- Tartars .Then two of your main important dictators Catherine II and Stalin were foreigners . You have never succeeded to establish a democracy in your country - e en the last 20 years when so many countries in theWorld have succeeded as Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, , Taiwan,... I follow the concepts developed by George F. Kennan,by Gaidar. ( Russian First Minister ) and by Ripes. (Harvard) who flatly demonstrated the reasons you stay a backward country,lovers of dictators and unable to be part of European civilization which has more than 3.000 years. Then with these facts and concept sand a realistic vision of the possibilities , I suggest that you become , as in your beginning, a province of China. You will be please to have great dictators much more civilized than yourselves,much more efficient . You will love surely to be treated like Tibetans . And for us as an Euroan Union Federation which will includes Ukrainians, Georgians, Turkey and probably some others, we will have the pleasure to negotiate with your Chinese dictators we will thank them to take the boring burdain to manage you but we wil appreciate that in this way we will have finally peace and prosperity in our Euoprwn Asian continent. We love China and Asian countries with their great civilizations and they seem to love our countries , civilizations and some of our products as we love their products.
  • Evil Empire
    You will die a lot faster than the old dead conquerors. Then there was no nuclear missiles
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  • Argo
    In the next article Mr Trenin should tell us why he regards Russia as weak even in the long run.
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  • What if Europe changes first?
    Trenin should be very careful about equating European opinion with whatever The Economist writes. Putin believes the present state of Europe will not last and he might very well be right. Europe's ruling elites are left with no other choice but to pursue the federalist illusion. Any other position would be a disavowal of everything they ever did. The electorate of mainstream European parties increasingly consist of the elderly and/or the well to-do. Things could change and particularly so in France, whose people is fed up with submission to the globalist-europeanist-zionist agenda. There is a growing conscience of this. What France is really waiting for is a new de Gaulle figure (a French Chavez if you prefer) - most of them just haven't realized it quite yet. Real regime-change in Europe might not be so far away. And any regime-change in Europe would be most favorable to Putins agenda. My advise would be to keep an eye on France in the coming years. If there is real regime change in Europe (I'm not talking about a change from social-liberalist europeanist-atlanticists to liberal-conservative europeanist-atlanticists or vice-versa), Russia would be in a favorable position.
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    • Walterasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      The Front National tupi am
      Front National typical argument, this French guy with his comment , racist , chauvinist , is exactly the type of lovers of dictators like the street guy Putin. He represents the long tradition of French anti-semit , like his mentor, a guy who did tortures and applauded of them during Algerian war . He dreams probably that his new mentor follows the path of PierreLaval   . But this time , instead of Hitler, she will be the puddle of Putin. Marx and Hegel are right once more : we will go from a tragedy to a farce. Don't worry this type of extreme right in France has always been defeated.

  • Pawel Lickiewicz
    Is Europe's disappointment towards Russia is really something new? If somebody believed in "Modernization" and "Rule of Law" might be disappointed, if no - then you just see the consistently Russian way which is way different than EU would like to see.
    No new disappointment, constant disappointment.
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    • Walterasgbenjamin replies...
      1 Recommend
      I agree totally. European Union , step by step, is becoming a Fedreration including Ukrine, Georgia and Turkey. This Federation of around 700 millions people will have one enemy at his border this Russia . The choice will be very simple. These Wthnic Russians have demonstrated that they have a slave mentality and they are looking of foreign dictator like Stalin or Catherine II then the best available will be the Chinse. This European Fedration of 700 to 800 millions will fit in size with the 1.4 to 2 billions Chinese . And because both we are old civilization of more than 2,500 years , we will build peace and prosperity in our. Continent . This Russian short parentheses in our long Hisotry will be forgotten as many others before, like a much more prestigious one of the Mongols.
  • jan z. volens
    India clamped down on U.S.&NATO NGOs even earlier then Russia: In Augst 2012, India's Home Ministry revoked permit for financial transfer from the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Sweden for 4141 of their NGOs active in India: For diverting funds for use against the national interests of India. (Paralysing national development projects to inhibit economic growth in India. The purpose of those NGOs is to limit India's ability to pursue an "independent" geopolitical course.) One agent of Germany's BND, Sonnteg Reiner Hermann was expelled and deported back to Germany. - Brazil has also taken some measures to lessen the impact of U.S.&NATO NGOs that inhibit national development in Brazil in order to prevent a strong Brazil becoming the core of an independen South America UNASUR. See Brazil's Intelligence agencies analysis in "Conversa Afiada Abin ONGs". India's move against the 4141 U.S.&NATO NGOs, see: "News Bharati" Aug.30.12: "Kundankulam Effect: Govt's biggest crackdown on foreign funding of NGOs."
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  • Cornel Gabriel BARBU
    1 Recommend
    I was always amazed by the Western world naivete related to Russia. For a citizen of a country close enough to Russia this is just another confirmation of their "eternal" vision.
    Lesson learned: never trust the Russians. They have always their own, hidden agenda which is never friendly to other possible preys or competitors. Their main concern now is to buy time to compensate the demographic decline which is quite serious. And this is possible only through bargaining later some positions/ best cards they try to get now.
    My opinion is no one can negotiate with he Russians based on the Western system of values. The only language they understand is is the language of force.
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  • anglosphere
    The West actually does have plenty to learn from these criticisms. Weak, political correctness, excessive welfare, self absorbant and to quick to berate its own cultural values and place them on the altar of the multicultural mess, timid in the face of resurgent islamic immigrants, lacking the stomache for serious defence spending, living in a dreamland where criminalsand nation states can all be tried in a criminal court. Naive, to say the least. yes Putin has a point. The West is not even wanting to stand up for itself, is this a model that has victory wrapped around it, or is it the self delusion of a fo0l. Whilst I do believe that Russia has its roots in european culture. It is not Russia so much that has lost its direction but the West that must come to grips with beingproud of itself and redefine its image, doing away with the bureaucratic nonsense that has so confined it. Sapped its strength and can only continue to demoralize is morale fibre if it is not checked. A dream of a free trad agreement stretching across the Eu, Russia and into NAFTA should be a vision but much needs to occur internally before that could have any real merit.
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Eurasia Outlook

In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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