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Boxoffice Pro LIVE Sessions: NATO’s John Fithian on the State of the Cinema Industry During the COVID-19 Crisis – Boxoffice Pro

Posted: April 11, 2020 at 4:09 am

In the first edition of our LIVE Sessions webinars, Boxoffice Pro hosted National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) president & CEO John Fithian and chief communications officer Patrick Corcoran. On April 3, Boxoffice Pro executive director Daniel Lora and deputy editor Rebecca Pahle moderated the live webinar, with over 600 attendees tuning in from 30 different countries, in a conversation that covered the state of theatrical exhibition during the COVID-19 crisis.

The discussion opened with NATO providing insights on its three top priorities during the crisis: providing economic assistance to affected cinema workers through government and private funds, keeping exhibitors afloat and viable by lobbying for liquidity sources during this pause, and keeping the public safe by following the guidelines and recommendations of local agencies in regards to business operations.

Of those three priorities, Fithian highlighted the importance of protecting cinema workers through public and private fundraising efforts. We are encouraging governments to help the workers by compensating for their lost wages, he says. We live in a business that is mainly hourly employees. Unlike big businesses with salaried employees, were a place where first workers come to get their first job. First and foremost, we are trying to help cover our workers so that they can pay their rent and can have groceries during the interim.

Fithian notes that liquidity is crucial for companies to stay afloat during this crisis and to welcome their workers back as quickly as possible. We have to have liquidity for our members to weather the storm, he says. They have ongoing fixed costs and no income coming in. The various loan programs being established in the United States, the various government subsidies and tax breaks that are happening around the world, are intended to get our members to the other side of this storm.

The president and CEO of NATO stressed the importance of the industry working together during this difficult period, noting the voluntary closure of many cinemas before they were legally mandated to suspend operations. Were trying to do our part to keep everybody safe, says Fithian. We shut down all of our cinemas very, very quickly. Were working with all of our governments as they support the healthcare efforts, because the faster we can get through this crisis, the faster we can get back up and running.

NATO is hoping for theaters to begin reopening in June. That would mean a two to two-and-a-half month shutdown of the theatrical exhibition industry in the United States, depending on how effective current containment measures are in slowing down the spread of the virus. NATOs chief communications officer, Patrick Corcoran, notes that timeframe could change. It depends on how the situation changes and if the curve bends downward on this pandemic. Were looking at possibly being open at the end of May, early June, in a limited way. Then ramping up to major releases, if thats possible, in July.

The reopening strategy will be inspired by efforts from different countries around the world, as each country is at a different stage in dealing with the crisis. The lessons are very similar, the timelines are very different, says Fithian. China shut down in January and Western Europe and North America didnt shut down until mid-March, so were learning from each other. Were comparing notes on how long the virus takes, on what you do to ramp back up once the virus has gone, what kind of film programming we can have when we get back up and running.

What that reopening campaign could look like depends largely on the guidance of health officials. NATO is consulting with the Center for Disease Control as well as local health departments in the United States on issues like social distancing, cleanliness, and sick employees staying home. Whether we open back up location-by-location, region-by-region, nation-by-nation remains to be seen, depending on what the health officials say is the cessation of the threat, says Fithian.

Everyone should stay in touch with their local health officials first and foremost about their recommendations and then prepare to ramp back up in steps. We anticipate that when we first open cinemas anywhere in the world well have social distancing elements involved. The 50 percent seating capacity issue is one way to address that so that people have a chance to come to the cinema but have some space between themselves. Obviously, well return to very intense cleaning procedures and anything else that health officials recommend, so that when were opening back up people know that we are careful with their health as they come to our cinemas.

In an audience poll conducted during the webinar, a majority of attendees highlighted the importance of a coordinated, industry-wide marketing campaign to encourage a return to cinemas as their most desired initiative in the coming months.

B&B Theatres executive vice president Bobbie Bagby Ford joined the conversation by emphasizing the importance of an industry-wide recovery effort to get audiences comfortable to return to cinemas. Its important that we all get our heads around that messaging so we have a united front, she says, suggesting incorporating a social media hashtag once cinemas are ready to reopen. All of us are in this industry for a reason, and if we can find a way to be united and jump forward with that messaging, its vitally important. It can be that sweet spot in American and in worldwide culture about how its time to be together. Youve been alone, youve been quarantined: now lets get out and enjoy our communities and our movie theaters.

Another major concern is content availability, particularly when it comes to the theatrical exclusivity window. With some studios moving titles whose theatrical runs were curtailed by the onset of the crisis to digital outlets, exhibitors are worried more titles might forgo a theatrical release entirely in favor of a straight-to-streaming launch. Fithian, however, believes most studios and distributors will abide by their original theatrical commitments for future films. The model is not broken. The model is simply on hold, he says.

A related problem is the availability of release dates as titles get pushed further down the schedule. This could potentially create a bottleneck for titles and crowd the marketplace. Fithian doesnt believe this will be the case, as the impact of COVID-19 is also affecting production schedules: titles originally slated for release in 2021 will likely get bumped to later dates until production can resume. Im very confident that for most distributors, almost all their movies are going to be postponed for a later theatrical release where theyll have an adequate and robust theatrical window, says Fithian.

Ultimately, once cinemas are deemed safe to reopen, NATO is confident audience demand will be there to welcome the return to business. My family is watching a lot of content at home right now, just like everybody elses. Thats the only place where you can get entertainment as people are following the right steps to stay home, stay safe, and to reduce the spread of the virus, says Fithian. All that means is they still love movies and they still love content. Its good to keep people connected to that content while theyre stuck in their homes, because once theyre out they will want to come back [to cinemas]. We strongly believe there will be a rush to cinemas to see all kinds of movies, just as people will want to reconnect with their friends and family through social experiences.

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The coronavirus threatens NATO. Let’s move to protect the alliance. – DefenseNews.com

Posted: April 9, 2020 at 5:44 pm

The global fight against COVID-19 has devastating economic consequences which might soon be felt in the defense sector. First estimates by OECD and national institutions conclude that the initial economic impact of the measures to fight the virus will by far exceed that of the 2008 financial crisis. The severe socio-economic consequences may tempt European governments to prioritize immediate economic relief over long-term strategic security and defense considerations. The good news is: there is no automatism it remains fundamentally a political decision.

If European governments do decide to slash defense spending as a result of the current crisis, it would be the second major hit within a decade. Defense budgets have only just begun to recover towards pre-2008 crisis levels, though capabilities have not. Nationally, as well as on an EU and NATO level, significant gaps still exist. European armies have lost roughly one-third of their capabilities over the last two decades. At the same time, the threat environment has intensified with an openly hostile Russia and a rising China.

With European defense budgets under pressure, the United States might see any effort to balance burden-sharing among allies fall apart. A militarily weak Europe would be no help against competitors either. The US should work with allies now to maintain NATOs capabilities.

Improve coordination to avoid past mistakes

Europes cardinal mistake from the last crisis was uncoordinated national defense cuts instead of harmonized European decisions. In light of the looming budget crisis, governments could be tempted to react the same way. This would be the second round of cuts within a decade, leaving not many capabilities to pool within NATO. If domestic priorities trump considerations about procurement of equipment for the maintenance and generation of military capabilities the system-wide repercussions would be severe. NATO defense, as well as the tightly knit industrial network in Europe, will suffer. Capabilities that can only be generated or sustained multinationally like effective air defense, strategic air transport or naval strike groups - could become even more fragile; some critical ones may even disappear.

If Europeans cut back on capabilities like anti-submarine warfare, armored vehicles of all sorts and mine-warfare equipment again, they could endanger the military capacity of nearly all allies. Ten years ago, such capabilities for large-scale and conventional warfare seemed rather superfluous, but today NATO needs them more than ever. This outcome should be avoided at all costs, because rebuilding those critical forces would be a considerable resource investment and could take years. Europe would become an even less effective military actor and partner to the US, resulting in more discord about burden-sharing.

Uncoordinated cuts would also affect the defense industry, as development and procurement programs would be delayed or cancelled altogether hitting both European and American companies. Moreover, their ability to increase efficiency through transnational mergers and acquisitions and economies of scale is limited due to continued national sentiments in Europe. Companies might decide to either aggressively internationalize, including massive increase of defense exports, or leave the market as national armed forces as otherwise reliable clients drop out. Technological innovation would suffer from a shrinking defense industrial ecosystem and duplicated national research and development efforts, risking the foundation of security for the next generation of defense solutions.

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To safeguard NATOs strategic autonomy, lean on lead nations

In order to prevent the loss of critical capabilities and infrastructure within NATO, the US should immediately start working with its European partners to preemptively plan for increasingly tight budgets. NATO should take stock of existing capabilities and offer alternatives for consolidation. Based on a coordinated effort to redefine NATOs level of ambition and priorities, it should offer plans for maintaining the military capacity to act while retiring unnecessary and outdated resources. Such a coordinated effort should include close cooperation with the European Union.

Building on the NATO Framework Nations Concept, the United States should work with a network of larger member states, better equipped to weather the economic shock of the current crisis, to act as lead nations. These countries could safeguard critical defense capabilities and provide a foundation of essential forces, enabling smaller partners to attach their specialized capabilities. Such an arrangement allows for a comparatively good balance of financial strain and retention of military capacity. Additionally, NATO should look beyond the conventional military domain and build on lessons learned from hybrid warfare and foreign influence operations against Europe.

The way ahead is clear: As ambitions for European strategic autonomy become wishful thinking in light of the current crisis, allies should focus on retaining NATOs strategic autonomy as a whole. For the foreseeable future, both sides of the Atlantic have to live by one motto: NATO first!

The authors are analysts at the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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What way for NATO? Hungary follows Turkey down the authoritarian path | TheHill – The Hill

Posted: at 5:44 pm

Critics claim Hungary has turned into an elective dictatorship, with parliament voting to give Prime Minister Viktor Orban power to rule by decree. This follows Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who effectively rules by decreeas well as manipulates elections and arrests critics. What is NATO, an alliance focused on supposedly democratic Europe, going to do?

A better question would be, why should the U.S. continue to underwrite the transatlantic alliance?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization began in 1949 with 12 members. A more accurate name would be North America and the Others. Now up to 30 membersthe comedic Duchy of Grand Fenwick became a member in late March, in the guise of North Macedoniathe alliance long has been notable for enabling military free-loading by a continent whose wealth matches and population exceeds that of America.

By a vast margin the biggest spender with the largest military and greatest combat capabilities is the U.S. Only eight other governments meet NATOs official objective of military outlays reaching 2 percent of GDP. Four of them barely hit the line. Only Bulgaria is significantly above that level. Greece makes this elite group because it is arming against fellow alliance member Turkey, not Russia or any other outside threat.

The 2 percent goal is not new: it was set in 2006, when seven members total met that level. Most significant, even now only one of the continents major powers, the United Kingdom, makes it across the line, staggers really, with a bit of fiscal legerdemain (expanding the definition of military outlays). France comes close. Expenditures by Germany, Italy, and Spain fall abysmally short.

Admittedly, the 2 percent standard is arbitrary, merely indicating military effort. Nevertheless, it represents important evidence of a countrys commitment to defend itself and its region. Apparently most Europeans cant be bothered to do so.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the states viewed as most at risk seemingly view the floor as a ceiling. Poland spends 2.0 percent, Latvia 2.01 percent, Lithuania 2.03 percent, and Estonia 2.14 percent. All claim to feel frightened by possible Russian aggression, yet is that all they believe their independence and freedom are worth? Even the very nations that proclaim themselves to be most at risk prefer to rely on Washington than devote their own resources to their defense.

Of the other 29 members only two have genuinely capable militaries, France and the United Kingdom. Germany, despite a storied past, when its prodigious battle skills were put to ill ends, has been embarrassed for years by reports of minimal readiness. Small nations such as Denmark and the Netherlands have contributed forces to allied endeavors (losing lives in the process) but would be marginal players in any continental conflagration. And mini-states, such as North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Croatia, are merely geopolitical ornaments, increasing allied defense responsibilities but not capabilities.

The basic problem is two-fold. Most European nations, certainly those constituting old Europe, as Donald Rumsfeld referred to it, have little fear of Russia. Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinWhat way for NATO? Hungary follows Turkey down the authoritarian path Belarus's risky coronavirus strategy New START is not NAFTA MORE is a nasty authoritarian, not a foolish megalomaniac. Martians are more likely than Russians to invade the continent. European peoples know that and offer little support for a military build-up to satisfy Washingtons threat conceptions.

Equally important, NATO members assume Washington would deal with any crisis, so ask, why spend more money on the military? Moscows assault on Ukraine has spurred a small but steady spending increase by some members. However, despite constant whining by Washington, expressed more vociferously by President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE, the substantive impact is and will remain small. After all, even as U.S. officials insisted that Europe must do more, they repeated reassurances of Americas commitment to the continent and increased funding for and placement of men and materiel in Europe. Congress even approved more military subsidies as part of The European Reassurance Initiative (since renamed The European Deterrence Initiative).

What incentive does any European government have to do anything more than the minimum necessary to reduce Washingtons complaining?

Now even alliance advocates are appalled by Hungarys authoritarian move. Yet Turkey has gone much further down this path, wrecking a democratic order, crushing dissent, threatening fellow NATO member Greece as well as Cyprus, aiding the Islamic State and other Islamic radicals in Syria, and moving close to Russia, even purchasing weapons from Moscow. Who seriously believes that Turkey would go to war with Russia over a threat to, say, Estonia?

Still, the more fundamental issue is whether the transatlantic alliance serves Americas interests. Orbans power play should trigger a review of Americas, not Hungarys, membership in NATO. The U.S. should turn responsibility for Europes security over to Europe, which could take over NATOs leadership or create an organization tied to the European Union. Washington still should cooperate with the Europeans but need not guarantee the security of nations well able to defend themselves.

The EU has 10 times the economic strength and three times the population of Russia. With America so busy elsewhere in the worldfighting endless wars in the Middle East and confronting a rising China in AsiaEuropean governments should do what all governments normally are supposed to do, defend their peoples. It is time for burden-shedding, not just burden-sharing.

Alliances should be a means to an end, enhancing U.S. security. In Washington, NATO has become an end, even as it undermines U.S. security. Hungarys transformation is forcing an alliance rethink, which is long overdue. In the midst of a viral pandemic and debt explosion, Americans cannot afford to provide military welfare for the rest of the world, especially populous and prosperous Europe. The Europeans should take over that responsibility.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: Americas New Global Empire.

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Coronavirus response: Turkey dispatches medical supplies to Allies and partners in the Balkans – NATO HQ

Posted: at 5:44 pm

An A-400M cargo plane of the Turkish Air Force carrying medical supplies donated by Turkey was dispatched to a number of Allies and partners in the Balkans region on Wednesday (8 April 2020).

The medical supplies were provided by the Turkish Ministry of Health to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak in North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.

The supplies include masks, overalls and test kits and left from Ankara's Etimesgut Airbase on a Turkish Army aircraft earlier today.

The medical supplies were sent in crates displaying the words of 13th century poet Jalaluddin Rumi: "There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness.

North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina requested assistance via NATOs Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC). The EADRCC is NATOs principal disaster response mechanism. The Centre operates on a 24/7 basis, coordinating requests from NATO Allies and partners, as well as offers of assistance to cope with the consequences of major crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Turkish initiative is the latest example of Allied efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Turkey sent another A-400M cargo plane of the Turkish Air Force carrying medical supplies to Spain and Italy.

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NATO welcomes its 30th member, strengthening the ties that bind | TheHill – The Hill

Posted: at 5:44 pm

The United States has a new ally. North Macedonia is now the 30th member of NATO and, as of last week, its flag now flies over NATO headquarters in Brussels. On March 27, the State Departments acting assistant secretary for Europe, Philip T. Reeker, met the Spanish ambassador to Washington, Santiago Cabanas, who handed over at arms length and without a handshake, in these days of COVID-19 the final bilateral ratification of North Macedonias membership for filing this latest accession to the Treaty of Washington.

It has been a long process. North Macedonia began its membership drive in 1995 when it joined NATOs partnership for peace, but it was continually blocked from achieving full membership because of Greeces objection to the name Republic of Macedonia. When Macedonia agreed in 2019 to change its official name and add the word North a modifier designed to differentiate the country from the province of Macedonia in Greece North Macedonia was on its way to membership.

During its 25-year wait, successive Macedonian governments decided that even though the country was not a full-fledged member, it would act as if it had become one, including through participation in NATO out-of-area deployments and facilitating NATO movements. It has not been easy. During NATOs action in Kosovo in 1999, then-NATO Commander Wesley K. Clark asked Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov if he would agree to store war materiel in the event that NATO needed to invade Kosovo with ground troops.

President Gligorov listened carefully, and replied to Gen. Clark: Would this mean that Macedonia is a member country? Before the general could finish explaining that membership is a much broader question that could be solved at his level, Gligorov continued in his deliberative style, I ask because, if we are to help in the invasion of our neighbor, we need to bear in mind that the Serbs have long knives but even longer memories.

Membership for North Macedonia provides another land link that helps connect the 30 NATO countries to each other in this case, a direct route from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. It also helps take what was known for centuries in Balkan history as the Macedonia Question and reinforces the answer. With only Bosnia and Serbia to go, membership for North Macedonia represents an important step toward completing the mission of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.

North Macedonias membership comes at an important time for Europe and the worlds premier military and security organization. More than any other single institution, NATO has bound the United States to Europe. The United States left Europe during a period of isolationism, which ended when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor while Adolf Hitler in solidarity with his Japanese allies declared war on the United States. Over the course of four bloody years, Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, with an assist post-war from an extremely aggressive and belligerent Soviet Union, set the U.S. on a course that made it an essential element in European security.

When the Balkans exploded into bloody conflict in the 1990s, the United States and Europe came together in Bosnia, and later in Kosovo, to reestablish peace and bring that part of Europe into European institutions where it belongs. In Afghanistan, NATO states deployed under NATO command and fought a long, difficult war to make sure that country did not, as it was before, become a breeding ground for terrorism with global reach.

With countries such as North Macedonia, the complex task for NATO has been to maintain military standards while also insisting on standards for internal behavior and democratization. These latter expectations at times have proven more difficult to achieve than the military standards. North Macedonia has done well so far. It has succeeded in the important task of holding elections in which the government changed peacefully. As a former Macedonian prime minister said to me upon learning that his party had lost an election, One of the greatest tests of a democracy is not just the behavior of the government, but also the behavior of the opposition. We will do our part.

NATOs future rests on a myriad of factors. Will new members understand the responsibilities of membership? Will military standards be strengthened and better shared? Will a broad commitment to democracy and NATOs values be sustained? Can consensus decision-making be maintained with 30 members? These are all valid questions as NATO moves forward.

Ultimately, however, a great deal rests on U.S. understanding of this vital element of its security. An active U.S. presence in Europe, far from being a drain, has made the U.S. stronger and more influential. The fact that North Macedonia is now a member speaks to a U.S. commitment to collective defense that still holds. But, like many things in the world, it requires constant and relentless effort.

Christopher R. Hill is a retired foreign service officer who was a four-time ambassador, including to Macedonia from 1996-1999. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Asia/Pacific affairs from 2005-2009, and currently is a professor of the practice of diplomacy at the University of Denver and a senior nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Institute. Follow him on Twitter @ambchrishill.

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How Russia is influencing the EU and NATO during the pandemic – New Eastern Europe

Posted: at 5:44 pm

While the Kremlin has concentrated on the crisis unfolding in Western Europe, serious problems loom at home as the pandemic spreads further into the Russian heartland.

April 9, 2020 - Maksym Skrypchenko- Articles and Commentary

Ilyushin Il-76 Russian transport plane. Photo: Rob Schleiffert (cc) wikimedia.org

While Italy continues to record the largest number of deaths during the COVID-19 crisis, Russian President Putin has sent nine Il-76 military airplanes to Rome, carrying more than 100 specialists, some medical equipment (including truck-based units for disinfection) and testing devices. The planes and trucks bore giant stickers showing heart-shaped Russian and Italian flags with the slogan From Russia with Love in both languages. Russian media claimed it to be an act of goodwill free from any political pretext. At the same time, Italys daily La Stampa reported that 80 per cent of the Russian supplies are not useful to the countrys health services.

It is worth saying that this entire mission is the work of the Russian Ministry of Defence. Even the specialists are Russian military officers whose expertise is decontamination. This was one of the reasons why the airplanes had to change their route to avoid the airspace of some northeastern European countries Moscow would need to ask permission to fly over them.

Last month, whenCOVID-19 began spreading rapidly in Italy, the country appealed for help viathe Emergency Response Coordination Centre. We asked for supplies of medicalequipment, and the European Commission forwarded the appeal to the memberstates. But it didnt work, Italys permanent representative to the EU,Maurizio Massari, stated in an interview with Foreign Policy. After theoutbreak in Italy, EU or NATO members were not able to send immediate help.

Putin sent nine airplanes within 24 hours of his phone conversation with Prime Minister Conte. At that moment, Rome had not received any substantial help from the EU or NATO members. First of all, EU governments decided to close their national borders. Secondly, all European states are still suffering from a dramatic shortage of masks and medical equipment to fight the pandemic. Face masks, being the cheapest protection items to be bought in large numbers, are today a scarce product and it is very difficult to buy enough for a whole countrys population. As a result, it is increasingly hard to export such masks to other countries. Some EU countries are expecting a situation similar to Italy in the coming weeks and they subsequently do not feel comfortable sending masks to Rome. This logic also applies to ventilators, medicinal drugs and protective suits.

Even so, afterRussian planes had landed in Italy, some EU members decided to send millions offace masks and thousands of protective suits (Germany, France, Austria and theCzech Republic). Some countries, like Poland and Germany, sent experienceddoctors and also agreed to fly some critical patients to their hospitals. NATO isalso now using aircraft to transport patients and medical supplies. No matterhow useless or politically motivated it was, Russian aid attracted muchattention among the media as one of the first states to lend Italy a helpinghand.

Russian flags onthe trucks driving around Italy could affect Romes attitude towards the EU andNATO, which were not able to allocate resources at the same time as Moscow. Polishdoctors do not wear a specific uniform with national symbols like Russianmilitary officers. NATO placed trucks at Italian disposal without any alliancesymbols. A resident of Bergamo, the city worst hit by the coronavirus, would notbe able to differentiate between Italian military trucks and those provided byNATO. At the same time, Russian vehicles, which are not typical for the region,do possess many distinctive flags and symbols.

The nature ofthis military operation is also unprecedented for Moscow Russianspecialists are gaining access to Italys health and military system, which ispart of a larger NATO structure. One of the largest and most important USmilitary bases in Italy is located just two hours from the Bergamo area. Russianstate media continue to report that the countrys soldiers have been travellingin the very heart of Europe along NATO roads. It is clear that Putinwill demand that the operation continues regardless of any internaldevelopments. After all, the Kremlins prestige is at stake.

Italy is a NATOmember which has 166 soldiers based in Latvia as part of NATOs Enhanced ForwardPresence, which is ultimately an effort to deter Russia. A few days afterMoscow sent its specialists to Italy, NATO jets intercepted a Russian militaryaircraft in the Baltic Sea close to Latvia.

An EU internal document seen by Reuters accused Russian media of deploying a significant disinformation campaign against the West in order to worsen the impact of the coronavirus. Of course, Moscow denied any such plan. While not mentioning Russia by name, the EUs foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on his blog that the EU needed to be more aware of a struggle for influence through spinning and the politics of generosity.

Although Putin says that there is no need to declare a state of emergency due to Moscows level of preparation for the pandemic, many Russian media reports have stated that the situation inside Russia is deteriorating and is only being made worse by deliberate government misinformation. According to official statistics, there are some 10,000 persons infected in Russia. However, independent media reports believe that there has been an ARVI and pneumonia outbreak in many large cities, as well as in the regions in close proximity to Russia-China border. Moscow does not have enough kits to test even those living in the capital. Many people with pneumonia, as Lenta reports, cant find out if they have been infected with COVID-19 because there are no test kits. Russian Vostok-media has provided stories of people in the Russian Far East, close to China, which claim that a strange flu is making many elderly people sick.

It is clear that the Kremlin is scared of any potential societal panic due to the economic crisis already affecting Russia. Sanctions over Ukraine and the collapse of crude oil prices have already defanged the Russian economy. Due to this, the coronavirus crisis may become a black swan event for the country. Despite this, Putin knows that the situation is critical and that he needs to mobilise all available resources. So why did he decide to send experienced Russian experts, ventilators, masks and even trucks to Italy when his own local authorities should be using them?

On March 18th, KonstantinKosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Councilof Russia, called for a global lifting of sanctions, except those imposed bythe United Nations, due to the spread of coronavirus and the ongoing situationin the oil market. Of course, Russias own sanctions resulting from its actionsin Ukraine were not imposed by the UN, but rather the European Union andAmerica.

A year ago, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte stated that his government was trying to lift EU sanctions against Russia. The belief that Italy should respond to a hypothetical Russian attack on a NATO ally has become less common over time, decreasing from 40 per cent in 2015 to just 25 per cent in 2019 according to the Pew Research Center. The European Parliament has also reported a downward trend regarding the EU, with just 44 per cent of Italians surveyed stating that they would vote to remain a member. This is the lowest rate of support for EU membership among all 27 states.

It is alsoimportant to note that China was also one of the first states to help Italy.Certainly, it is still the biggest exporter of medical aid to affected countrieswhilst it simultaneously attempts to sell even more equipment. However, Beijingis still blamed for the coronavirus outbreak so its help is useful, at the veryleast, in restoring the bilateral status quo. Beijing has sold medicalequipment to many countries which are now returning it due to its lack ofquality.

Swedensexperience with China provides a clear example of the underlying politics oftenpresent in Beijings gift giving. It did not receive any medical aid from Chinaeven after it requested help. Elisabeth Braw believes that this is because of Swedishsupport for the imprisoned Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who was blamed for illegallyproviding intelligence overseas.

On April 2nd, Donald Trump stated that a Russian airplane full of medical stuff was preparing to land at New Yorks John F. Kennedy airport in the late afternoon. Trump expressed gratitude for 60 tons of ventilators, masks, respirators and other items. While Russian media were reporting about another successful Kremlins aid mission, one of the US officials told Reuters that Washington had to pay for that airplane. However, he admitted that the price was below market value. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Washington had only paid half the cost. Putin failed to present it as a gift but Trump anyway extended thanks for any help.

Overall, it is very important for state leaders to see the difference between real aid efforts and those tied to political interest. It is critical to remember that sanctions are ultimately imposed to exert pressure on dictatorial governments rather than people. Moscow waged war against Georgia in 2008. A year later, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a reset button which was to symbolise a new era of relation between the Kremlin and the West. In 2014, Russia occupied Crimea and Donbas and established separatist republics. The EU and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia for violating Ukrainian territorial integrity. This war is not over, soldiers and civilians die every day and sanctions are increasing every year. Consequently, there is only one condition for the sanctions to be lifted Russia should abandon Ukraine and restore the borders as they were before the conflict. Otherwise, it would only legitimise the actions of others who violate international law.

Maksym Skrypchenko is a cofounder of Ukrainian TranslatlanticPlatform and a Deputy Director of Security Initiative Center residing in Kyiv. His main areas of expertise are conflictology, Eastern Europe, Ukraine-EU and Ukraine-NATO relations.

Covid-19 pandemic, European Union, NATO, Russian foreign policy, Russian influence

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How Russia is influencing the EU and NATO during the pandemic - New Eastern Europe

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Coronavirus gives NATO a chance to demonstrate its worth | TheHill – The Hill

Posted: at 5:44 pm

On March 27, North Macedonia became NATOs 30th member, expanding the Alliances direct area of responsibility to much of the Balkans, with the exceptions of Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Bosnia is negotiating to enter the Alliance, and Kosovo has indicated it intends to apply. Whether NATO has the resources, the will or, for that matter, the ability to defend every one of its members and certainly any more members is an open question.

Four days after North Macedonias accession, the U.S. Navy placed all but the skeleton crew of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in quarantine to halt the spread of the coronavirus onboard the ship. The decision underscores the tenuous nature of NATOs ability to defend its members against external aggression. The carriers commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, who asked the Navy for assistance after several of his crewmen contracted COVID-19, had asserted that the situation would be different in wartime because in combat we are willing to take certain risks that are not acceptable in peacetime. (Crozier since has been relieved of his command.)

Whether the United States, or any other NATO member would undertake those risks during a crisis, or in the face of an aggressors gray zone operation against one of its weaker members such as North Macedonia, is not that clear, however. Indeed, the Alliances flaccid collective response to the challenge of the coronavirus points to its lack of cohesion and does not augur well for its ability to mobilize militarily in the face of an impending threat to one or more of its members.

NATOs foreign ministers released a statement Thursday after discussing the COVID-19 threat by video conference, saying in part, Allies continue to stand together and support each other in the pandemic, through different NATO arrangements, as well as bilaterally, and that the ministers will consider what more can be done.

But in fact, the NATO states have not done much to assist one another in combating the coronavirus. It took weeks, and hundreds of deaths, before Italy began to receive aid from its European neighbors. Until mid-March, China was Italys major source of protective masks. NATO created the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) in 1998, but tellingly, it did not issue its first situation report until April 1. At the same time, it has received requests from seven nations including a North Macedonian request for 500,000 masks and 800,000 nitrile gloves to which it has yet to respond. Thus far, only Turkey and the Czech Republic have completed deliveries to Spain and Italy.

France, which had started to supply large numbers of masks to Italy, now is running short of its own supply of masks and is in need of ventilators as well. Thus far, it does not appear to have received much, if any, assistance from its NATO or European Union partners.

In his statement welcoming North Macedonia to NATO, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called it great news in a difficult time. The time is certainly difficult, but the news may not be that great. The alliance is stretched thin and North Macedonias entry stretches it thinner. NATO simply has too many members and too few that can make a material contribution to its defenses. Its cohesion in the face of a threat is not a foregone conclusion.

The travails of the Theodore Roosevelt highlight the reality that NATOs forces even those of the United States may be insufficiently robust to overcome extraordinary challenges, such as the coronavirus, that would reduce its readiness and responsiveness in a crisis. And the go-it-alone policies of NATOs member states, most especially the United States, in combating the coronavirus do little to inspire confidence that all, or even most, members can be relied upon to invoke Article 5, which calls for their common response if one of their counterparts comes under attack.

As the coronavirus rages on, it offers NATO a chance to demonstrate its credibility to operate as a unit for the benefit of all members. The Alliance, together with its partners, should build upon its creation of the EADRCC to develop a common plan for the most efficient distribution of masks, protective gear, ventilators and other badly needed commodities including any newly developed vaccines among all member states.

In addition, now that the Trump administration has finally recognized the seriousness of the threat that the virus poses, it should assume its historic NATO role and lead both the planning effort and its rapid implementation. There is no time to lose. Too many lives remain in serious peril.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to reflect that Kosovo is not yet negotiating to join NATO.

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Could Movie Theaters Reopen by Early June? Thats the Optimism of NATO – IndieWire

Posted: at 5:44 pm

Top brass from the National Association of Theatre Owners struck an optimistic tone during a webinar Friday, as VP Patrick Corcoran said he expects movie theaters to begin to reopen by late May or early June and ramp up to a summer blockbuster season beginning in July.

The webinar, hosted by NATO magazine Boxoffice Pro and viewed by exhibitors, concessionaires, theater vendors, and journalists from around the world, represented the latest effort by the trade group to offer guidance and soothe an industry facing an unprecedented crisis during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to NATO president John Fithian, We anticipate when we first open cinemas back up anywhere in the world, well have social distancing. This would include enforcing 50 percent auditorium capacity,a measure that was common if brief, before US theaters closed their doors in March. Well return to the very intense cleaning procedures and anything else the health officials recommend.

His hope is that within a couple of weeks of reopening of theaters, theyll be on full blast.

We essentially need to go through the period where the government is confirming that the threat has been abated, Fithian said.

That timeline coincides with the pandemic picture painted by President Donald Trump, who last week abandoned his earlier hope that things could return to normal by mid-April and extended social distancing guidelines through the end of the month. He suggested that by June 1, a lot of great things will be happening.

Other governments have less hopeful projections. In New York, the epicenter of the US outbreak, Governor Andrew Cuomo last month forecast the coronavirus spread could last up to nine months, with up to 80 percent of the population contracting the virus. And California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday confirmed that school campuses will be closed for the remainder of the academic year, which runs through mid-June at some institutions.

Here are some key takeaways from the NATO webinar.

NATO is urging its theater-owner members to rely on government programs created as part of the $2 trillion stimulus bill to ease their pain. The group said they lobbied Congress to ensure theaters could enjoy some of the benefits. We wanted liquidity for our members so they can get through this, Corcoran said.

Among those are Small Business Association loan and grant programs, some of which are partly forgivable contingent on businesses retaining employees and keeping payroll going.

The first thing I would say is you should be talking to your banker right now, Corcoran said.

Moving forward, NATO expects to see some conflicts arise surrounding the number of programs in which businesses can participate. The group is lobbying officials to ensure rules are clear, and discussing additional stimulus programs in the pipeline.

Nearly all of the 65,000-plus employees of the countrys three largest circuits, AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, have been laid off or furloughed. Theres also tens of thousands more who worked at small chains and local theaters.

Taking care of the employees is equally important, and a key concern because we want them to stick with us, Fithian said. We want employees that are trained and believe in the cinema experience.

For that, NATO is again counting on government assistance. The Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation on Monday launched a fund with an initial $2.4 million to provide grants to exhibition workers facing financial needs due to the coronavirus outbreak.

To start, $300 grants are available to experienced workers those with at least five years in the business. (Larger grants may be available on a case-by-case basis.)The money is meant to supplement government relief, such as the additional $600 per week for unemployment claims provided by the stimulus bill.

Closed theaters presented studios with a choice: Push back theatrical release dates or send movies straight to VOD. The most prominent example came when Universal announced last month it would release the animated musical Trolls World Tour for premium rental April 10. Fithian took pains to draw a distinction between the VOD debut of Trolls which he described as a mistake to on-demand movies that saw their theatrical runs cut short by theater closures.

Trolls: World Tour

Universal

Fithian downplayed the idea that the Trolls move represented a threat to theatrical.

Im very confident that for almost all distributors, almost all movies will get postponed, he said. We believe that was a bad decision, but one movie does not change a model. All the other movies are being postponed for later theatrical release.

That assessment overlooked another film, the Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae-starrer The Lovebirds, which was scheduled for release by Paramount April 3 and is now heading straight to Netflix theater chains public enemy number 1.

Asked what hes been hearing from studios, Fithian said The conversations are not suggesting significant changes in the business model. The conversations are how do we survive as an industry.

Fithian cited the Gulf War as a would-be analog to the current pandemic; during that time, Israeli cinemas were closed. When they reopened, the population flocked to cinemas for months.

We strongly believe there will be a rush to cinemas to see all kinds of movies because people will just want to connect with their family and friends once its safe to do so, he said.

However, the Gulf War happened three decades ago a time when the exhibition business was very different, and VOD didnt exist. Also, the threats of war are very different than a pandemic.

Bobbie Bagby, executive VP at Texas chain B&B Theatres, said its key for cinemas to engage with their audiences online. She also suggested launching an industrywide campaign that rallies people behind a message of seeing movies together. It would encourage them to sign a pledge that theyll head to the theater once the threat dissipates, and to sign up for an alert that lets them know when their local theaters open.

Tom Brueggemann contributed reporting.

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Tensions flare up between Greece and Turkey during NATO meeting – Greek City Times

Posted: at 5:44 pm

Tensions erupted between the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers during a meeting on Thursday, according to diplomatic sources who spoke to CNN Greece. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlt avuolu reiterated some of the fake news that his countrys media and leaders have been spreading about Greece during the migration crisis that Turkey unleashed in March.

Ankara claimed that Greek border forces tortured and killed illegal immigrants, something that Turkey attempted to disseminate to international media to discredit Greece with little effect or success. Greek City Times has already debunked the Turkish fake news relating to the migration crisis. However, we must remind our readers that Turkey isone of the lowest ranked countriesfor media freedoms in the world, is the second most susceptible country surveyed on the European continentto fake news, has themost imprisoned journalistsin the whole world, and90% of media is government controlled.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was not tolerating any of the allegations made by avuolu and immediately took the floor during the online NATO conference to inform the alliance thatGreece faced an orchestrated and unprecedented attackon its border and a disinformation campaign from Turkey. Themethods used by Turkey violated the supposed values of NATO, adding that all so-called allies have the right to call for NATOs solidarity, but only if they honour their commitments.

The Turkish Foreign Minister became so enraged by Dendias comments that he called for a second opportunity to speak. This was promptly rejected by NATO Secretary GeneralJens Stoltenberg. avuolu clearly thought he was dealing with the Turkish public where he can disseminate the fake news with a high level of believability and little scrutiny, and became frustrated with the rejection that he resigned from the meeting even before the conference was over.

On Twitter, Dendias said During the Council of Foreign Ministers of the NATO member states, I referred to the recent developments in Evros and the instrumentalization of people, which undermines the values of the Alliance, but offered no further details to what the diplomatic source revealed.

Both Greece and Turkey became NATO members in 1952, becoming the first new members of the alliance since the formation of it from the original 12 founders. Despite technically becoming NATO allies, relations have remained hostile between Greece and Turkey, mostly notably during the 1955 Istanbul pogrom when the Greek population of the city decreased from 116,108 to 49,081, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the 1996 Imia Island crisis.

In 2019, Turkish war planes violated Greeces airspace 4,811 times and Ankara redrew the maritime borders of the Eastern Mediterranean on a new map with the Muslim Brotherhood government in Libya. The new map claimed large swathes of Greeces maritime space. NATO has not condemned or punished Turkey for any of its hostile actions against Greece.

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EU Foreign Policy Chief proposes creating European Military Task Force to work in cooperation with … – The Nation

Posted: at 5:44 pm

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has proposed establishing a European military task force that will compliment and work in cooperation with NATO, the EUs foreign policy chief said at a press briefing on Monday after EU defence ministers held a video conference.

Borrell praised the work of armed forces across the bloc for their efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease and work infacilitating the building of fieldhospitals and ensuring deliveries of medical supplies. With the challenge of COVID-19 still looming, the EUs foreign policy chief proposed establishing a task force to coordinate responses and efforts across the continent.

"We agreed with the ministers to explore how we could use the military expertise at EU level to support the exchange of information and thesharing of best practicesamong member states and to do so, we could set up a task force within the European External Action Service, led by the European military staff," Borrell stated.

Despite European countries requiring their own distinct alliance in order to liaise and respond to the challenges the continent faces, Borrell stated that any potential task force would alsocooperate with NATO.

"This will be done in full compliance, in full coordination and complementarity with NATO. I can assure you there will not be a duplication of work, but it is important that we Europeans work together to ensure a coordinated effort and mutual supportwhere it is needed, in full solidarity," he said.

Brussels is working diligently to protect the health of military and civilian personnel currently engaged in missions abroad amid the current health crisis, Borrell stated. However, theEuropean Union is still tryingto continue its missions wherever possible in order to avoid worsening security conditions, he added.

During a press briefing after Fridays video conference of EU foreign ministers, Borrell called for the bloc toprovide greater assistanceto Africa during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The EU also supports calls for a global ceasefire at the current time, he stated.

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