What Is the Way out of the Ukrainian Crisis?

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What Is the Way out of the Ukrainian Crisis?
Published 12-12-2013, 03:10
Following the Vilnius EU summit failure the Western political elite and media pundits have had a field day, explaining the unexpected turn of events by conjuring up nefarious machinations originating in the Kremlin. "Ukrainian government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin," Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister tweeted. "Politics of brutal pressure evidently works." Wall Street Journal editors appeal to the EU to "make it harder for Mr. Putin to rebuild a revanchist Russian empire."

The list of similar or even more overwrought expressions is endless. They come under a smoke screen of verbiage about freedom, democracy and human rights advancement as the main EU goals in its Eastern partnership project. But that smoke screen is clearly seen for what it is in the light of facts: Russia is rejected, while Azerbaijan and Belarus, whose democracy level is, to say the least, rather questionable, are included in the partnership.

Fortunately, there are a few cool heads around who really care about the future of Ukraine and wish it well. They suggest certain positive moves instead of scoring political points, continuing efforts to weaken Russia by pushing it into a geopolitical corner, or looking for another democracy promotion grant.

For example, Nikolai Petro of Rhode Island University writes in the International New York Times that "from the very outset European negotiators went out of their way to turn European Union association into a loyalty test instead of adopting a strategy that would have allowed that country to capitalize on its close cultural, religious and economic ties with Russia; a strategy that could also have served to build deeper ties between Western Europe and Russia.”

Another reasonable voice is that of Gilbert Doctorow of the American University in Moscow. In an article in the Moscow Times that deserves a long quote he sums up certain reasonable steps to be taken now: "Given the divisions in Ukrainian society over its history, its official languages, and its future civilizational orientation, the only way forward, the only win-win situation that can come out will be arrived at if all interested parties, EU, Russia and Ukraine, sit together at the table…. to ensure that Ukraine gets the financial help it needs to stay solvent and that its long-suffering people see rising, not falling living standards ahead."

So far, it looks unlikely that the EU will go for it - despite the fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, a lonely but the most powerful EU leader, made some hints that she might be interested. However, this did not prevent her foreign minister Guido Westerwelle from marching with the Ukrainian opposition at a rally in Kyiv.

This raises a separate question whether it is at all acceptable for European politicians to come to a foreign country and stir up mobs against a democratically elected president, parliament, and government. Isn't it outrageous, dangerous, irresponsible and incendiary? Whatever happened to Brussels' faith in due process under a democracy?

As for Washington's reaction it was pretty mild at the beginning when the administration has made clear it doesn’t want to rock the boat. The official line was that "this is not about the United States versus Russia."

However, it looks like now the rhetoric is getting much tougher. "The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy,” Kerry said in a statement last night.

Was it really peaceful as Kerry said? Isn’t this a usual western double standard when comparing these events with the recent police actions in Greece, Spain, or Portugal? Kerry also instructed his deputy Victoria Nuland to show the flag in Kyiv by meeting with the opposition leaders and basically endorsing their actions. The latest we hear is that Washington is already considering some sanctions against Yanukovich and his government.

This is pretty sad as the logical way out of the Ukrainian crisis is definitely not through intensifying the escalatory spiral there but by finding mutually satisfactory solutions acceptable to all sides. On the economic front there seem to be no irreconcilable differences between the EU, the Eastern Partnership, and Russia, especially since all of them belong to WTO.

One would think that a truly democratic resolution of the problem is a referendum on whether Ukraine should sign the EU or Custom Union agreement. However, the results of this referendum are predictable with the East/South part of the country voting for closer ties with Russia and western part for EU but there is no guarantee that both winning and losing sides will accept the results.

Unfortunately, Ukraine East - West split is the most realistic outcome short of civil war.

What is necessary for the West to do in this situation is quite clear: search for ways not to weaken Russia but to integrate it into an equitable economic, political and even military relationship to face the common global challenges. Such a level-headed policy would serve the best interests of the U.S. and Europe, Russia and Ukraine included.


The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Edward Lozansky

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of World Politics at Moscow Sate University



Expert Panel Contributions 

EU Double Standards Reversal on Ukraine

By Martin Sieff

Martin Sieff is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow and Chief Global Analyst at The Globalist

The European Commission in Brussels has catastrophically bungled its Eastern partnership accession negotiations with Ukraine.

The EC had a golden opportunity to deepen the 27-nation European Union’s ties with Ukraine and improve badly needed relations with Russia. Instead, it repeated its 20 years of cultural arrogance, blindness and incompetence in dealing with Turkey and the result was exactly the same: Brussels provoked a backlash from a furious, once friendly government creating a burden of ill will and suspicion that may take a generation to undo.

The EC took President Viktor Yanukovych for granted and lost no opportunity to moralize to him and try to humiliate him with the Uriah Heep sanctimonious pseudo-righteousness that is now de rigor in Brussels. Yet, Yanukovych was genuinely trying to boost ties with the EU without provoking Russia into angry hostility. But it was not Russian pressure that torpedoed this process: It was the self-righteous insistence of the EU negotiators on pressuring Ukraine to go far further and faster than Yanukovych had any workable consensus to achieve.

Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with Ukraine realizes at once that moving slowly and cautiously to expand ties with the EU is the only practical course of action for any government in Kiev. For Ukraine remains divided between its western and eastern halves.

Clearly, the negotiators and policymakers in Brussels hadn’t read "The Clash of Civilizations and the New World Order,” the master work of the late great American political scientist Prof. Samuel Huntington. Huntington cautioned that the universal triumph of Western values and political models in the world was neither imminent nor likely following the collapse of communism. He warned that one of the greatest threats to world peace in coming decades would be the growing danger of conflict between different centers of civilization generated by lack of understanding on all sides.

Ukraine genuinely wanted to strengthen its ties to the EU. But the terms that European negotiators were imposing amounted to a dictat. They guaranteed that the ordinary people of Ukraine would be plunged into a grim era of economic suffering and extreme austerity. This fashionable straitjacket approach to social policy and economics dictated from Brussels and Berlin has already caused angry reactions against the EC from Portugal to Greece.

It is bitterly criticized even in core EU nations as France, Britain and Italy. Why should the government of Ukraine commit political suicide and inflict needless suffering on its own people by swallowing an economic medicine that has repeatedly failed in long established EU member nations?

Finally, the hysterical reactions of Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt of Sweden and Guido Westerwelle of Germany to President Yanukovych’s decision have created a dangerous precedent that European leaders would do well to condemn.

Politicians should never cross national borders and try to directly stir up potentially violent protests in other countries.

Bildt and Westerwalle’s conduct exposed the double standards of EU policymaking. Ukraine is vastly more democratic than Azerbaijan, Belarus or Kazakhstan. But there is no comparable public condemnation of the long-serving, autocratic virtually immovable presidents of those nations.

The whole purpose of the EU was to eventually apply the same standards, and offer the same dignity and standing, to all member states of the great Union. The childish and irresponsible responses to President Yanukovych’s decision reveals how far the EU still is from that goal. Whatever happened to Brussels' faith in democratic due process?

Martin Sieff is a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow. He is the author of "That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman's Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs”(2012)


What Is the Way out of the Ukrainian Crisis?Vlad Ivanenko 

PhD economics, Ottawa

The current political crisis in Ukraine is a multifaceted phenomenon brewing on the intersection of several international and domestic conflicts. The situation requires simplification with the help of appropriate analytical tools to expose its main drivers. The professional background prompts this author to rely on economic concepts expandable to political and psychological aspects as well.

Let’s start by describing the stances of principal players. Ukraine is a non-aligned country lying between two regional trade blocs, the EU and the Russia-led custom union. Since the country is a net debtor to both unions, her economic health is conditioned on continuous access to their credit. This key Ukrainian weakness is tolerable during the "good economic times” but becomes a serious nuisance during the time of crisis as Spain or Greece would attest. Facing economic issues at home the creditors attempt to resolve their problems at the borrowers’ expense. The question becomes how much the borrowers can minimizethe falloutplaying on disagreements among creditors. The answer depends on the position within global "food chains” the indebted country has to assume in the end. Three scenarios are conceivable with none among them offering Ukraine a chance to preserve its economic independence.

The main EU problem is internal trade imbalances that have accumulated after the introduction of euro. To maintain the existing configuration, European net exporting countries have to continue extending trade credit to EU internal debtors. After a certain limit, this politics will result in the breakup of the euro zone. The opening of a new, Ukrainian, market to the EU products will alleviate the imbalances albeit temporarily.

The problem of deindustrialization is what plagues the Russia-led custom union. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the successor states saw their internal markets shrinking to the size that was insufficient to maintainlarge-scale manufacturing at home. Consequently, mostly primary (extractive) industries have survived and blossomed in the absence of domestic constraints. Since they are centered on supplying external markets with few products, the lack of diversification makes post-communist economies extremely vulnerable to external crises. To raise resiliency, these countries need to revitalize their manufacturing that generate greater value-added than extraction. To achieve this goal, the size of their internal markets has to be increased. The inclusion of a new, Ukrainian, market in the custom union would boost demand for the union’s manufactured products.

We may ignore the role of America as this country has only marginal economic interests in Ukraine. Yet, what the sole superpower does reverberates across the world. Independent Ukraine would be optimal from the US perspective – because it would keep both the EU and Russia at bay – but this outcome requires Washington to prop up Kyiv financially, which it cannot afford. The second best outcome is to allow Ukraine joining the grouping representing a lesser threat to the US vital interests. In this respect, a stronger Russia-led union is marginally less threatening than a stronger EU. The best that Russia will gain is to develop her manufacturing, which would not bring it closer to the provision of financial services that generate superior value-added andwhere the US occupies the top spot. On the contrary, the EU is involved in the provision of financial services, particularly through offering the euro as a reserve currency, making it direct competitor to the US dollar. Thus, it is not in the US interests to see the euro zone strengthening too much financially.

International dimensions of the Ukrainian crisis are much more important for its resolution than domestic considerations. The standoff in Kyiv centers on non-economic slogans such as the dismissal of the ruling party through a democratic process. I find these slogans to be devoid of real content. Democracy and the rule of law presume the existence of self-sufficient and sustainable economic groupings but this assumption does not hold in Ukraine. Opposition appears to comprise mostly unemployed youth and retirees, which are not economicallyviable groupsby definition. Therefore, their demands are necessarily redistributive in nature.The most thatsuch protests can achieve is to help one oligarchic group to replace another at the helm. Nevertheless, the fight in Kyiv will continue because the stakes are high for the oligarchy: the losing side will be deprived ofits assets.

The sole remaining question concernswhat post-crisis dependency is the least damaging for Ukraine. The answer depends on the type of specializationthat this countryassumes within the newtrade borders. Having aligned with the EU, Ukraine remains a staple producer. Being included in Russia-led commodity chains, Ukrainian manufacturing gets a chance to redevelop. Since the specialization in primary products generates lesser value than the production of manufacturing goods, Ukraine will get a greater economic value going east.

US media's one-dimensional and ideological coverage of post-Soviet developments in Russia

Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus at New York University and Princteon University

On November 20, The New York Times published an editorial urging--or perhaps warning--Ukraine to resist "Moscow's bullying" and sign an association agreement with the European Union. The editorial was in the spirit of virtually all US media coverage of Ukraine's "strategic decision" and "civilizational choice" its last chance for democracy and economic prosperity and the West's best hope to stop Putin's attempt, as then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton misrepresented his Eurasian Customs Union, "to re-Sovietize the region." All this is another example of the US media's generally one-dimensional and ideological coverage of post-Soviet developments in Russia and other former Soviet republics since 1992. Not surprisingly, when the Ukrainian leadership announced its decision last week against signing the agreement with the European Union, US media commentators, with no factual analysis in mind and egg on their collective face, could only again rage over Putin's "bullying."

According to a New York Times editorial, "The Cold War should be over, " but "not, it appears, for Mr. Putin," who is trying to keep former Soviet republics, particularly Ukraine, from signing binding economic agreements with the European Union. This is the one-eyed axiom of the US political -media establishment, passing for analysis, when it comes to Putin and to U.S. -Russian relations:

Washington and its European allies ended the cold war nearly 22 years ago, but Putin continues to wage it.

But have the U.S. and Europe really done nothing to provoke Putin's reactions? During these years, who, for example, expanded the West's cold-war military organization, NATO, to Russia's borders, and still covets Ukraine and Georgia as members; bombed or invaded three of Russia's international partners (Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya) and now threatens a fourth (Iran); and is currently ringing Russia with missile-defense installations? And then there is the editorial's venerable Cold War double standard: "Europe's use of trade leverage ... is constructive and reasonable"; but when Putin uses similar carrots--financial loans, discounted energy supplies, access to markets--to persuade Ukraine to join instead his fledgling Eurasian Customs Union, those are "attempts to bludgeon."

Evidently, the Times is unwilling see what the Kremlin sees: the US-led West 's two-decade march toward Russia--political, military, economic--with Ukraine as the biggest prize of all, as its American and European proponents readily acknowledge. Moreover, independent editorial analysis would ask whether signing with Europe is really in Ukraine's best interests. Ukraine is not "economically robust" but near default. Will crisis-ridden Europe bail it out with tens of billions of dollars? Will Ukrainian goods flourish on Western markets? Will Europe open its arms to migrant Ukrainian workers?

Not a word about any of this or about the real issue: the West's ongoing campaign to move the new cold-war divide further East, to the heart of Slavic civilization. Nothing could be more de-stabilizing or more detrimental to the real security of Europe or America.

Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow 

Once again the West is destabilising Ukraine and once again the Western media is re-typing the propaganda it’s handed. What is happening in Kiev is the result of Western, specifically European Union, actions with cheerleading from Washington and other places. It has very little to do with Russia.

Everyone who knows anything about Ukraine knows that the population is bitterly divided on the East-West question. Roughly half of the population would like closer ties with Europe and weaker ties with Russia ranging up to the extreme of 100% Europe and 0% Russia. Roughly half the population holds the opposite opinion. This split exists because the two halves of the country have had very different histories. Anyone who knows anything about Ukraine therefore understands that the surest way to destabilise and split it is to force a choice between all one or all the other.

And yet that is what we saw the West try once before with the "Orange Revolution” and the subsequent elevation of the question of NATO membership to the first place on the agenda. I never saw an opinion poll that suggested any more than about 25% support for NATO membership (a slightly lower percentage would want absorption into Russia) and yet it absorbed the energies of the "Orange Revolution” President until his humiliating defeat. Now it’s being tried again under the guise of EU association. An association, Brussels makes clear, that Ukraine cannot share with any accommodation with Russia: all, or nothing.

And that is why responsibility for the current disturbances must be laid at the door of the West. Obviously, the happy situation for Ukraine would be some trade arrangement with the EU and some trade arrangement with the Customs Union. The government of Ukraine has said, many times, that this is what it wants. But Brussels knows better: no half and half is possible. (Brussels, of course, speaks out of both sides of its mouth: Canada has a free trade agreement both with the EU and NAFTA. Canada can do both but Ukraine can’t. Why not?)

So today Ukraine is again being made to fight out its internal East-West split. A split that could, at the extreme, lead to civil war, secession and other disasters for the country. Thanks to Brussels, its cheerleaders in Washington and to the copy typists of the Western media.

As always, one must wonder why. Ignorance, arrogance and stupidity certainly play their part but is there something else? Is there some perceived benefit to Europe (and Washington) if Ukraine should split apart: easier access to cheap labour and fire-sale real estate prices, perhaps? Is the destruction of Ukraine supposed to weaken Russia? But even the most unintelligent Machiavelli wannabe can see that a strong, prosperous and united Ukraine is a better bulwark against Russia than what we have today. It’s a puzzle why the West keeps acting against its own interests.

After the complete failures of the "coloured revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and the Kyrgyz Republic, one would think someone had learned the folly of meddling.


Andrej Kreutz

Adjunct Professor, University of Calgary

Affiliated Expert, European Geopolitical Forum

What is the Way Out of the Ukrainian Crisis?

The ongoing political crisis in Ukraine is probably one of the most important developments in the post-Soviet territories, and its impact could influence both the future of the region and the whole international system.

The Ukrainian Prime Minister Janukovich’s delay to sign the Association Agreement of his country with the European Union could not have been seen as a sufficient reason for the ensuing uproar which, in addition to the unrest in Kiev, included a diplomatically unprecedented harsh Western reaction. The Ukrainian leader had quite serious reasons for asking for a delay and for more talks both with Brussels and Moscow which is the major economic partner and creditor of Ukraine. The immediate acceptance of the Association Agreement demanded from him without any changes and additional accommodation and the subsequent opening the borders for free Western import, would have caused considerable hardships for the Eastern, more industrially developed and Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, which are the main political basis of support for Janukovich’s own Party of Regions. In addition, neither the European Union nor the International Monetary Fund was willing to provide Kiev with sufficient loans and economic assistance which were seen to be necessary to facilitate the painful economic transition. The Ukrainian leader did not turn to Moscow to join the Custom Union and the Eurasian Economic Community, which would be seen by Brussels as contradicting the possible future association with the European Union (Canada has similar agreements both with the EU and NAFTA). Also, he did not reject the Association Agreement with the EU. He just asked for a delay and a better deal for his own people. Under any normal circumstances, such a request should not cause such an uproar and hostile reactions both inside and outside the country.

Unfortunately, Ukraine is not a "normal” country but a deeply divided nation, and the disputed economic issues are in fact of secondary importance.

The real issue at stake is Ukraine’s geopolitics and its role in Western policy and strategy towards Russia. The global West, which is led by Washington, still considers the post-Soviet Moscow as its main foe and is intent on its further weakening and humiliation. As during the last year, the Americans and the allies experienced a number of difficulties and lack of success in the Middle East, the renewed attention of the imperial centres of powers was turned back to Eurasia where Ukraine has always been seen as a key strategic country. Zbigniew Brzezinski has indicated that more than once, arguing that without Ukraine, Moscow will lose its great power status and submit to Western domination. As Mark Adamonis correctly notices, in the West "everyone knows that Ukraine is the key to Europe, and if it adopts a Western course, Russia will be doomed”[1].

The great expectations caused by that belief for the November 29 2013 signing in Vilnius of the Ukrainian Association Agreement with the European Union and of the presumed later NATO’s expansion to this large country, which is so close to Russia, were much more of geopolitical rather than of a dubious economic nature. Because of that the lack of the anticipated success caused such a bitter frustration. The international reactions were harsh and aggressive. Numerous Western politicians including US secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, and US senator, John McCain, came to Kiev to express their solidarity and encouragement to the anti-government demonstrators. Such behaviour, which was still unprecedented in the political practice of Western and even non-Western nations, has been an undoubted challenge to Ukrainian sovereignty and to the legitimacy of its democratically elected government. The Americans and their European allies’ expansion in Eurasia has started again, and Washington’s aspiration for full spectrum domination has intensified.

One could doubt whether such an imperial policy could bring much good for the Americans or for the Europeans. It’s much more likely that the possible results might be very costly and even painful. However, all kinds of missteps and foolish projects have always been known in human history. In 1648, the great Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna wrote to his son: "Do you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?” Unfortunately the situation has not changed much.In order to find the way out of the present Ukrainian crisis would be necessary to find a majority consensus among the Ukrainian people themselves and after that a trilateral pragmatic understanding with both Russia and the West. This is perhaps still possible but not very likely.


[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2013/12/13/everyone-needs-to-remember-that-ukraine-is-not-a-prize-but-an-enormous-liability/

William Dunkerley

William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant based in New Britain, CT. He works extensively with media organizations in Russia and other post-communist countries, and has advised government leaders on strategies for building press freedom and a healthy media sector. He is a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.

U.S. Government Agitators Stir-Up Ukraine

Ukraine's big dilemma -- whether to side with Russia or the EU -- has been playing itself out in headlines around the world. The general storyline is that a democratic Ukraine is seeking integration into Europe and escape from domination by Vladimir Putin's autocratic Russia. Kyiv has seen massive demonstrations in support of that position. Senator John McCain recently stirred the crowd in person saying, "The free world is with you, America is with you, I am with you." McCain made it sound like this is a struggle between good and evil.

Is that really the case? At issue is whether Ukraine enters into an association and trade agreement with the EU, or joins a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. That hardly seems to deserve McCain's Cold War sounding rhetoric.

McCain claims there's more to it than simply Ukraine's choice. He has told media organizations that President Putin is really seeking to reestablish the Russian Empire. McCain has long-opposed greater engagement with Russia, saying, "Moscow and Washington do not share common interests or values."

Not everyone agrees with McCain on the EU matter. French politician Marine Le Pen recently said, "I think that there is no point for Ukraine to join the European Union." Her remark was carried in an interview by Voice of Russia. Readers of her comments responded very vociferously. They tended believe that the EU is overplaying its hand in courting Ukraine. There was a general sense that the EU is now a troubled, overly bureaucratic organization with little to offer Ukraine. Some suggested that the real issue is just an attempt to alienate Ukraine from Russia by any means.

That may be. But there is another possibility. Since the beginning of Putin's tenure as leader, Russia has been beset by attacks waged via the media. They have been instigated by political enemies of Putin's, many of whom have been London based. A proclaimed objective has been to destabilize Russia, delegitimize its leaders, and precipitate a violent revolution. Malicious campaigns have focused on topics such as the Georgian war, the Politkovskaya and Litvinenko death cases, gay rights, and Pussy Riot. Is the current Ukrainian issue just another cause célèbre?

The lead-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games has been used to rouse antipathy toward Russia with threats of boycotts on various grounds. Clearly McCain's fear-mongering about Putin could serve as a pretext and justification. The most prominent reaction so far has been Obama's decision to forego a high-level delegation to the Olympics.

I find it hard to believe that whether Ukraine leans toward Russia or the EU is so consequential as to justify all the media fuss it's generated. It seems reasonable to suspect a hidden agenda somewhere in this. There's been no transparency on who has been paying for all the organization and publicity for the demonstrations.

Putin's response to all the past media attacks has been tepid. He has a vast array of domestic and international media outlets at this disposal. Some are even specifically intended to project a favorable image abroad. Most of them produce interesting and credible content. But they are no match for the media war that is being waged. They are the wrong modality for that. He's got to change all this if he wants to neutralize future reputational assaults on himself and his country. The drubbing he's now taking over Ukraine's alliances is just one in a long series that currently has no foreseeable end.

On McCain's junket to the Kyiv demonstrations he was accompanied by Connecticut's junior senator Chris Murphy. McCain a Republican and Murphy a Democrat seem to have an affinity when it comes to demonizing Russia. Last June while chairing a Senate hearing, Murphy likened justice in contemporary Russia to Stalin's Great Purge. He must not understand history very well to say that.

Upon return from Kyiv, Murphy told BBC, "It's in the U.S. interests for the Ukraine, as Ukraine citizens want, to orient itself towards Europe." When the BBC anchor challenged Murphy's assertion about what Ukrainians really prefer, he awkwardly responded, "I don't claim that it's a 95/5 proposition. But I think it's pretty clear that ... Ukraine wants to be part of Europe." In truth, though, a recent Ukrainian poll indicated that over 50 percent do not favor European integration.

I observed Murphy's persistent use of the term "the Ukraine." That's a touchy point in itself. Many Ukrainians prefer simply "Ukraine," believing that the former denigrates the country by suggesting it is merely a provincial region as in earlier times. The government has even taken an official position on the matter.

In 2009, just months after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Radio Free Europe ran a story that belittled former vice-president Dick Cheney for calling the country "the Ukraine." It will be interesting to see if that U.S. government sponsored broadcaster will now give Murphy the same treatment!

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