Why Putin And Erdogan Are Both Going After Germany's Greens

On the Internet, Russian trolls are attacking the top candidate of the German Greens in the worst possible way. Attacks on Annalena Baerbock and other Green politicians also come from Turkey. Behind this is the concern about a green foreign policy.

Annalena Baerbock speaking at the Greens Party virtual federal party in Berlin,  June 12, 2021
Annalena Baerbock speaking at the Greens Party virtual federal party in Berlin, June 12, 2021
Daniel-Dylan Böhmer and Clemens Wergin

BERLIN — By the time Annalena Baerbock had been tapped to be the Green party candidate for chancellor, she had already made clear her critical position on Russia. She'd lambasted the Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and demanded a reversal of support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Rising to the top of the Greens ticket, Baerbock began receiving targeted attacks across social media.

Among them was a purported nude photo of the politician, which in reality showed a Russian nude model who resembles Baerbock. There were also campaigns that tried to tie her to a left-wing world conspiracy in alliance with the billionaire George Soros. Initially, the Greens had considered these violent personal attacks against Baerbock were part of a pattern of misogyny.

Now, however, Green Party politician Cem Özdemir is accusing Russia and Turkey as the originators of anti-Baerbock campaigns on social media. "Annalena and the rest of us are no longer just being attacked domestically, but also by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his secret services, as well as by Turkish activists who are running a dirty campaign against her and the Greens." Özdemir told the Tagesspiegel daily.

Özdemir, as a German-Turkish critic of the Erdogan government, has himself experienced troll attacks from pro-Erdogan supporters. Why Baerbock is now being targeted by the Kremlin is also easy to explain. Among Germany's top politicians, she is what could most easily be called a "Russia hawk." Baerbock stands for a values-driven foreign policy and has repeatedly sharply criticized Putin's treatment of regime critics such as Alexei Navalny.

The statements of its co-chairman Robert Habeck in eastern Ukraine, which calls for Germany to supply defensive weapons to Kyiv to defend itself against Russian aggression, further turns Moscow against the German Greens. Baerbock also believes the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 project is a mistake both environmentally and geopolitically.

Germany remains the focus of Russian influence operations in Europe.

Even in Washington, it is believed that a possible victory for Baerbock in the race to succeed Angela Merkel is the only chance to prevent the commissioning of the pipeline, which would bring Russia enormous strategic advantages in Europe. Putin, for example, has just made it clear where the journey is headed: even before the pipeline was completed, the Kremlin leader threatened Ukraine that he would only supply gas to the country if it behaved well.

This is precisely what the critics of the pipeline to Germany had always warned would happen: allowing for the bypassing of previous Eastern European gas transit countries would make blackmail by Moscow easier.

Journalist and politician Armin Laschet — Photo: Olaf Kosinsky

Armin Laschet, the CDU/CSU's top candidate and Baerbock's main rival for the chancellorship, takes a much softer stance toward Moscow, and has repeatedly put economic interests ahead of questions of values or geopolitics in the past. He is therefore a more acceptable candidate to Moscow than Baerbock, making the Green Party candidate the most likely target of negative campaigns in Russian state-run foreign media and also of Kremlin-directed trolls on social media.

Germany remains the focus of Russian influence operations in Europe. Since 2015, Germany has been targeted twice as often by Russian disinformation campaigns as any other country in the European Union, according to the documentation center for foreign propaganda activities, EUvsDisinfo, based in the European External Action Service.

The documentation center counted some 700 cases of targeted disinformation campaigns against Germany alone in this period, 300 for France, followed by Italy with 140 cases. The 2021 campaign would not be the first time that Russia intervened in the German electoral campaigns. For example, in the last federal election in 2017, Russian hacker attacks were directed at Bundestag members, and Russian bots tried to boost online content linked to the far-right AfD party.

Özdemir has long been target of vitriol among Erdogan's supporters.

The Greens are also increasingly becoming a red flag for the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Cem Özdemir in particular has repeatedly found himself in the crosshairs of online attacks. The most recent example: Özdemir's appearance at a solidarity demonstration for Israel on May 20. "Garbage man," wrote one user on Twitter of Özdemir's speech condemning rocket attacks by the Islamist Hamas militia. Some pointed comparatively matter-of-factly to Palestinian casualties, while others were clearly abusive, including many with Turkish-sounding usernames. "The guy can only speak Swabian that's all!!!" wrote one, and another judged in Turkish: "He has become more German than the Germans."

Özdemir has long been target of vitriol among Erdogan's supporters. Back in 2016, he drew fierce verbal attacks from Ankara when he backed a bipartisan resolution on the Ottoman genocide of Armenians. But Özdemir also repeatedly opposes Erdogan in other ways. For years, the Green party activist has demanded that Berlin and Brussels be more adamant in condemning human rights abuses in Turkey and drawing political consequences from them. "The next federal government, if it includes the Greens, will immediately end its cuddling with Erdogan," Özdemir recently told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland newsroom.

Özdemir is an important voice on foreign policy in his party, and could become a problem for Erdogan's government if the Greens score well in the election. And Özdemir is by no means the only Green whom Ankara is worried about arriving in a future government. Bundestag Vice President Claudia Roth has repeatedly criticized the Erdogan government's handling of civil rights in the country. The foreign policy spokesman of the Bundestag parliamentary group, Omid Nouripour, calls Erdogan's policy in the Middle East a stability problem.

Kurdish-born member of the state parliament Berivan Aymaz is actively committed to civil rights and freedom of the press in Turkey and is also becoming the target of pro-government media on the Bosphorus. However, antipathies of the current Turkish rulers for the Greens have deeper cultural reasons. From their tradition as a left-liberal civic movement party, the Greens contradict everything that is tolerable according to the self-image of the Islamist-nationalist coalition in Ankara. This tradition almost naturally led to human rights issues playing an important role among the Greens. And as a party that tends to be left-wing, the Greens did not have the inhibitions of other German foreign policy makers to criticize NATO partner Turkey.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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