Understanding the Kremlin’s new found aggression towards Ukraine requires an understanding of Russia’s history, and President Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy motif. An understanding is essential in avoiding the frigid hostility of the Cold War.
In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. The world turned a blind eye, partly because Georgia is an insignificant state on the fringe of Europe but mostly because the costs of cutting Russia adrift would be too high. Days after the Sochi Olympics, Russia annexed Crimea. The world accepted it because Crimea should have been Russian all along – the territory had been transferred to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954. If the Soviet leader were alive today he would likely admit that in hindsight the transfer was a mistake. Now the Russian army is infiltrated eastern Ukraine, albeit subversively. Putin denies any such action, however this is highly implausible. The attacks were co-ordinated, and in strategically useful places that had seen few prior protests. Ukraine is a part of Europe, it was moving towards EU membership, and despite Moscow’s perception it is a sovereign state. Disregarding minor sanctions, why is the West standing by while Russia destabilises its neighbour? The answer is that ultimately, Ukraine remains within Russia’s sphere of influence and the land matters more to Putin than it does to any Western leader. Those two reasons are what the whole conflict is over, after all.
Its all about geography – the vast Russian landmass and its foreign policy
The Russian foreign-policy paradigm is one I have examined many times; recent events make the explanation relevant once again. The Russian landmass is incredibly large, flat, and thus vulnerable. Throughout history, the peoples that populated this landmass secured their frontiers aggressively. This is true of the Scythians, the Huns, the Mongols, the Russian Empire of the Czars, the Soviets, and the modern Russian Federation. Throughout Russia’s history, it has acted as “a land power that had to keep attacking and exploring in all directions or itself be vanquished.” We see this in the 1800s when Russia pushed into Eastern Europe in an attempt to block France, and again in 1945 when Moscow used Eastern Europe as a buffer-zone against a resurgent Germany. Russia has also pushed into Afghanistan to block the British during the Great Game, and conquered the Far East to block China. These same motives were at play when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Moscow again felt vulnerable when the Soviet Union dissolved and it lost the buffer-zone it gained in 1945.
Today Russia is the most vulnerable it has been in centuries
During the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow gave up much of its influence of both the Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Republic states. Many of these states subsequently joined the EU and NATO. This left Russia even smaller, and in Moscow’s eyes even more vulnerable as a result than it was in the aftermath of the First World War, when it was bitterly defeated by the Central Powers. Indeed, Russia holds a similar amount of territory today as it did under Peter the Great.
Expanding EU integration is seen by Moscow as an attempt to install Russia-hostile political regimes in Russia’s former sphere of influence. In contrast to the EU’s value-driven foreign policy, Russia’s government places importance on stable governance, it believes the promotion of democracy and the rule of law risks regional stability. Thus, Moscow remains very wary of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, an attempt to deepen EU ties with the post-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. To Moscow this is an attempt by the EU to contain Russia by removing the legitimate authoritarian regimes and installing Russia-hostile governments. This is why today Putin believes the European Union is a threat, and why the Ukraine is of utmost importance. If the country were to slip out of Moscow’s sphere of influence, Russia would be left that much more vulnerable. The nation feels cornered.
The man with the plan
Putin has stated that “the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” He sees the world as in a state of transition from an American dominated power balance that began with the fall of the USSR to one that is made up of several global powers. As such the Russian President’s goal is to re-establish Russia as a great-power, if not in a bipolar state system than in a multipolar state system. Allowing Ukraine to drift westwards is in direct conflict with this goal, and thus the overthrow of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in favour of a European oriented interim government is anathema to the Kremlin. The Ukraine is in particular a more personal-desire to the Russian national narrative, as it was in Kiev that the modern Russian state was born. Furthermore the country borders Russia, cutting deep into its southern flank. To the Kremlin, a western-oriented Ukraine is likely even more undesirable than a western-oriented Poland.
So what does Putin hope to achieve in the Ukraine? It is unlikely that the intention is to annex Ukraine’s east, occupation would come at heavy costs, both politically and militarily. It is more likely that the Kremlin hopes to incite civil conflict to erode the authority of the new pro-Western government in Kiev. In Putin’s eyes, a destabilised Ukraine is better than a Western one.
The West’s Balancing Act
With this in mind, how best can the West counter Russia’s new found aggression? Both sanctions and NATO military exercises are certainly necessary, the latter to assure the Baltic states that they are not second-class NATO members, and can count on NATO to come to their defense. However, the West must be very careful not to overact, thereby plunging the world back into a Cold War, or worse. A complete isolation of Russia would be devastating to Europe’s economy, a distraction to America’s “Asian Pivot,” and destructive to overall global security. A cornered bear is a dangerous one, and West must understand where it can act, and what is outside of its own sphere of influence. Henry Kissinger eloquently described the balancing act the West must achieve in order to counter Moscow without ostracising it, and it all comes down to understanding Putin’s motives.
“Paradoxically, a Russia is a country that has enormous internal problems … but it is in a piece of strategic real estate from St Petersburg to Moscow. It is in everybody’s interest that it becomes part of the international system, and not an isolated island. One has to interpret Putin not like a Hitler-type, as he has been, but as a Russian Czar who is trying to achieve the maximum for his country. We are correct in standing up to him, but we also have to know when the confrontation should end.”
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Mali’s North has been seized by radicals, among them a branch of al-Qaeda. An African-led Western-supported intervention is on its way. Although this is a promising development, ensuring success requires preparing for the worst.
Mali democratized in 1991. By March 1991 massive protests in Bamako, the country’s capital, culminated in the deaths of at most hundreds of protesters. Following mass riots, on 26 March 1991, Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré announced he had arrested the dictator President/General Massao Traoré. The revolution occurred because the army refused to kill its people. Touré would act as an interim president until an elected government received power in 1992. Touré would later enter political life, and be democratically elected in 2002. He successfully won re-election in 2007.
Examining Mali’s recent history, it is easy to make comparisons to the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt. Although the situations in Tunisia and Egypt are still developing, as of yet all three had relatively peaceful democratic transitions, and in all three the army played a critical role in accomplishing this. It is thus with great tragedy that Mali’s stability has fallen into disarray and great irony that the Libyan intervention inadvertently led to this outcome.
The conflict’s background
In March Mali’s military, frustrated by the inability of the government to suppress a continuing Tuareg rebel insurgency in the country’s North, staged a coup ousting President Touré. The Tuareg people are akin to the Berbers of North Africa. Colonel Qaddafi employed many Malian Tuaregs in the Libyan army, once he was overthrown these trained militants returned to Mali. The fall of Qaddafi also gave these rebels access to arms. Therefore the Libyan revolution paved the way for Tuareg rebels to seize the strategic cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao, effectively giving them control of Northern Mali. Soon after the North of Mali was lost, the Tuaregs in turn lost power to radical jihadist groups including a branch of al-Qaeda know as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mali has since fallen into complete disarray. The new president, Diacounda Traore was beaten and left for dead in his office by a mob on May 21, he was hospitalized in Paris and remains there. On 10 December the army arrested Prime Minister Cheik Modibo Diarra and forced him to resign for allowing foreign armies to operate in the country. Not only is Mali’s North been conquered by jihadists, its South is also extremely unstable. Mali risks becoming a failed state.
The radicals now controlling Mali’s North are brutal rulers. They have banned music, destroyed historical monuments, and instituted sharia law. Reports of a couple being stoned to death for having premarital sex are not hard to believe. Unfortunately this or the fact that Mali may become a failed state does not mean the West will intervene to reinstate Mali’s democratic government. Situations such as those of the Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda among others were and are equally or more brutal, however no or limited Western involvement occurred. That is because these situations did not present a security concern to the West – a harsh fact, but thus is the reality of the international state system.
The security concern Mali presents
However the West is concerned by the situation in Mali, and that is because it does present a security threat. The AQIM now controls a massive swathe of territory covering more than 300,000 square miles. Terrorist networks like al-Qaeda thrive in power-vacuums. This area comes complete with airports, military bases, armories and training camps. It is a perfect location in which to support other terrorist organizations, to attack American interests in Africa, and possibly to launch terrorist attacks aimed at Europe and/or North America. Mali could become similar to the ‘terrorist haven’ of pre- 2001 Afghanistan.
The fact that Mali presents a security threat to the West has dawned on Western leaders. However because or Iraq’s legacy, Washington above all else would detest being involved in another war abroad. A center pillar of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is to avoid foreign conflict. Therefore a NATO intervention, for the time-being at least, is unlikely.
Instead, on 21 December, a UN resolution drafted by France (Mali’s former colonial power) passed unanimously allowing for an African-led Western-supported intervention. The Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) has readied 3,300 troops, but an operation is not expected before September 2013. The military force will be known as the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, and will be backed by Western (mostly American and French) logistics, airpower, intelligence, surveillance (including drones), and possibly special forces.
The West must be prepared for the worst
While the planned operation by ECOWAS forces is promising, it may not be enough. AQIM still has several months to entrench itself in Mali’s North, and although it is likely Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao will be liberated in due course, eradiating al-Qaeda from the Saharan desert may be more difficult. I would not say the intervention’s failure is probable, but it is certainly possible. Thus it is essential that should this African-led mission fail, NATO is prepared to do more. America must be willing to engage in a foreign intervention should the situation continue to deteriorate. Preparing for the worst is critical for success. Otherwise Mali risks becoming a failed state. Al-Qaeda would persist and the democratizing force of the Arab Spring would be countered by the collapse of Mali’s elected government.
Balir, David. “Mali: how the West cleared the way for al-Qaeda’s African march,” The Telegraph. 10 July 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9390601/ Mali-how-the-West-cleared-the-way-for-al-Qaedas-African-march.html
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“UN backs Mali intervention force to oust rebels.” BBC News. 21 December 2012.
Jean Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions were essentially the right ones. Canada’s involvment in Afghanistan was both a necessary and legitimate. Keeping Canada out of Iraq was a critical achievement, and cemented Chrétien’s legacy.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 led to two subsequent American-led wars. I will argue Jean Chrétien’s foreign policy decisions during this time guaranteed that Canada would be remembered as a strong asset of the NATO alliance by participating in Afghanistan while also as a country that would not follow the Americans into a unnecessary an illegitimate war in Iraq. I will demonstrate the 2001 war in Afghanistan, was both a necessary and legitimate for both the Canada and the United States. This means that an invasion of Afghanistan had to occur (it was necessary) and that the war was approved of internationally (it was legitimate). I will demonstrate that the Iraq mission did not meet the goals American government, it was therefore unnecessary and a mistake. Subsequently, not only did Jean Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions guaranteed Canada would be remembered both as a strong asset to NATO and not a country that would commit the same mistakes as the US, by speaking out publicly about the Iraq war Chrétien solidified his legacy as a in the liberal tradition exemplified by Lester B. Pearson wherein Canada could act as a voice of restraint for American aspirations. Essentially, Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions were the right ones, in this way both Canada and Chrétien remained on the right side of history.
Afghanistan, the necessary and legitimate war
The war in Afghanistan was a necessary reaction to the 9/11 attacks for both Canada and the United States. After the initial 9/11 terrorist attack, it immediately became apparent the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. An American mission launched with Al-Qaeda as a target was necessary because Al-Qaeda presented a clear threat – it had attacked the American homeland. An attack on Afghanistan was necessary by extension because Afghanistan’s Taliban government supported Al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden “supplied the Taliban not just with significant financial support, but also with cadres of fanatical, experienced fighters. In return, the Taliban ceded control of training camps in eastern Afghanistan to Al-Qaeda and provided the latter with the sort of secure base that was a terrorists dream.” Afghanistan, “the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched” was essentially a terrorist safe-haven – it was therefore necessary for the United States to invade. On October 4th 2001 George Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first time in NATO’s history. Article 5 states that an attack on one member state would be considered an attack on all member states. Member states (including Canada, a founding member) were thus legally committed and obligated to come to the defense an NATO ally that was attacked. Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan was therefore also necessary – its NATO ally was attacked. Thus Chrétien’s decision to invade ensured Canada would be remembered as a strong NATO ally, and in this way Canada remained on the right side of history.
The invasion of Afghanistan was legitimate because it was deemed legitimate internationally by the United Nations. On September 12th 2001 the UN General Assembly issued a unanimous declaration of solidarity for the American people. Security Council Resolution 1378 which passed unanimously on November 14th 2001 called for a change in government for Afghanistan. Resolution 1383 – which passed unanimously – endorsed the Afghan Interim Authority (the new Afghan Government) on December 6th 2001. Resolution 1386 – which also passed unanimously – authorized the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to assist the Afghan Interim Authority (the government replacing the Taliban) to maintain security in Afghanistan. Even countries historically at-odds with American aggression, such as Russian and China who are both permanent veto-holding Security Council members, deemed legitimate a US and NATO intervention which would replace the Taliban.
Jean Chrétien, the Pragmatist
Jean Chrétien was a pragmatist – he never acted rashly when it came to foreign policy decisions. “Chrétien rejected the idea of a formal speech in favour of a routine scrum in the commons lobby,” he did not even call a full Cabinet meeting. In response to Blair’s visit to Washington, Chrétien stated: “‘I never thought of going to Congress to listen to a speech by the President. You know, it’s just not a normal thing to do.’” This displays a critical element of Chrétien’s personality. As Lawrence Martin, a prominent Canadian journalist and Chrétien biographer argues, “in crisis situations, Chrétien, aides noticed, had a tendency to under react. He wasn’t about to go along with the pack until he had stepped back and taken a long look.” This pragmatism would prove essential as Chrétien skilfully guided Canadian policy in reaction to the events of 9/11. He would invade Afghanistan when doing so was necessary. However Chrétien would not overreact, as the Americans inevitably would, and he would not commit the same mistake as the Americans, a mistake the British would make. Balancing these two forces ensured Canada remained on the right side of history.
Iraq, the mistake
The invasion of Iraq was seen as necessary by the Bush administration, but would prove to be unnecessary because it would end up working against American interests. The first way it worked against American interests is by evaporating the solidarity felt towards the US. The invasion of Iraq, in the words of French President Jacques Chirac, would “‘break-up the international coalition against terrorism.’” Countries like France, Germany, and Russia who all supported the war in Afghanistan would oppose American aggression towards Iraq.
The second way the Iraq war the worked against US interests is by creating a situation where Pakistan and Iran could harass American regional interests. The decision to invade Iraq allowed the Taliban to establish itself in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Iraq “was critical to convincing Musharraf that the US was not serious about stabilizing the region, and that it was safer for Pakistan to preserve its own national interest by clandestinely giving the Taliban refuge.” Furthermore one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Iraq war was actually Iran – Iraq’s regional rival. Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador to Iraq and later to the UN, claimed the Iraq invasion “‘helped Iran’s relative position in the region, because Iraq was a rival of Iran,’” – Iran subsequently supported Hezbollah and Hamas.
The most critical way the Iraq war worked against American interests is the fact that the decision to invade jeopardized the chance for victory in Afghanistan, the initial war that was a necessary response to 9/11. In 2003 Donald Rumsfeld believed the job was almost done in Afghanistan, “the challenges were stabilization, development, and nation-building. There was no sense that the Taliban had withdrawn to the safety of the mountains and were reorganizing and regrouping . . . this kind of strategic retreat is hardly new in the history of guerrilla warfare.” Journalist and author Ahmed Rashid’s book Descent into Chaos argues the Bush administration squandered an opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan – and thus defeat the Taliban. Rashid argued Afghanistan’s agriculture industry needed investment to “revive public morale in the countryside and convince people of the worthlessness of the Taliban.” But this kind of nation-building was anathema to the Bush administration. Bush, Condeleeza Rice (the national security advisor), Dick Cheney (the vice president), and Rumsfeld “had all, very publicly, gone on record . . . deploring the use of military force for this purpose.” In 2000 Bush stated, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building – I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win wars.” Rice had stated she did not want “the 82nd Airborne Division walking children to kindergarten.” The Bush administration was more concerned with fighting and winning wars – but nation-building was what was needed to defeat the Taliban. When the Pentagon’s own Defence Science Board requested that stabilization and reconstruction operations be set as core military tasks, the request was ignored. Dan K. McNeill the Commander of ISAF decided to tell the Bush administration what was needed to win Afghanistan in 2008. “The American force needed to be increased by 50 percent, he said.” McNeill never got his troops because these troops were engaged in Iraq. The Taliban realised their greatest weapon was “American tentativeness, an unwillingness by Bush or other officials to commit troops, money, and resources.” “As resources shifted west, toward Baghdad, plans for a reconstruction program evaporated. The initial appearance of an easy victory was masked by the fact that the Taliban had never been defeated.” Afghanistan – a necessary and legitimate war – was abandoned in favour of Iraq. This focus on Iraq would mean the war in Afghanistan would be lost, and the necessary reaction to 9/11 turned was squandered.
The war in Iraq was not only unnecessary, it was also illegitimate. If the UN Security Council unanimous sanctioning of the war in Afghanistan legitimized it, the opposite proves the Iraq war was illegitimate. Despite Colin Powell’s 5 February 2003 speech to the UN, where he presented the US intelligence’s evidence that Iraq possessed WMD, the US failed to get a UN sanction for its mission. This failure occurred because it became apparent both France and Russia, veto-holding permanent members if the security council, would vote against such a resolution.
Chrétien simply didn’t buy it
Since 2001 the Canadian government was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of an Iraq invasion, Ottawa simply did not see a link between 9/11 and Iraq. For Ottawa to see an invasion of Iraq as legitimate, it believed it must pose a threat. Foreign minister Bill Graham argued that “under international law, proof of an imminent threat of an attack would be required to justify a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.” But after a conversation where Bush attempted to convince Chrétien of the danger of Iraqi WMD, Chrétien’s senior policy advisor Eddie recalls Chrétien “shrugged and said, ‘I started my career as a small-town lawyer, and I heard nothing today from the president that would convince any judge in a rural courthouse.’” On 4 December 2002 statement before the Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Charles – Philippe David stated that “the argument that the evil Iraq regime must be toppled now, immediately, without delay, rings hollow. The threat today is not so much greater as it was four years ago, certainly not enough to justify imminent war.” Put simply, both Chrétien and the Canadian government saw an invasion of Iraq for what it was, both unnecessary and illegitimate.
Cementing the legacy, Chrétien to Bush on Iraq like Pearson to LBJ on Vietnam
Chrétien came from a long liberal tradition wherein the party leaders had often acted as a voice of restraint against American adventurism . . . Lester Pearson had courageously challenged Lyndon Johnson, warning him against the escalation of the Vietnam War.” Like Pearson to Johnson, Chrétien expressed to Bush the fact that he remained unconvinced Iraq posed a threat. On the first anniversary of 11 September, before a scheduled meeting with Bush in Detroit, Chrétien told Bush to “show me” the evidence. “Ottawa, he announced, wanted proof.” He then “made it clear to the president that Canada’s participation in a war with Iraq would depend on the support of the United Nations.” Just as Former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson denounced the America’s Vietnam war in a 1965 speech at Philadelphia’s Temple University, on 13 February 2003 Jean Chrétien delivered a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations denouncing the Iraq war. Goldenberg, lists Chrétien’s concerns with an invasion. Canada “had to consider whether participating in a war declared by non-Islamic western countries, without the support of the United Nations, against a government of an Islamic country, no matter how abhorrent the regime, would in the end bring about more democracy in the Middle East, or whether it would be responsible for provoking more terrorism in the world.” Chrétien argued it is important for the United States to act multilaterally, stated that “‘it is imperative to avoid the perception on a clash of civilizations. Maximum use of the United Nations would minimize that risk.’”
Still a pragmatist to the end
It is important to acknowledge that Chrétien’s pragmatist nature got the best of him; ultimately he would support a mission without UN support if Iraq posed a threat. Graham inferred that it was possible a situation might arise similar to that of Kosovo – where a mission was necessary for humanitarian reason, but a legitimising UN sanction was impossible due to the veto-holding power of Russia who saw Kosovo as in its sphere of influence. Therefore Chrétien would support a mission if it was necessary – if the US could prove Iraq posed a threat. Despite Powell’s UN speech, Chrétien was unconvinced that Saddam possessed WMD or that it posed a threat. Greg Fyffe, the former Executive Director of the International Assessment Staff in Ottawa stated that Chrétien and his staff’s instincts were that Iraq did not possess WMD, and Canadian intelligence did not contradict this notion. Chrétien would not be duped by an American attempt to make the invasion appear necessary with weak intelligence, and would express this opinion publicly, he therefore remains on the right side of history.
A critic of the argument that Canada remained on the right side of history by not invading Iraq would argue that Ottawa’s winter 2003 decision “to send two thousand troops back to Afghanistan on the eve of the Iraq war” allowed the United States to shift its military focus to Iraq. In this way Canada supported the Iraq war without directly invading Iraq and could therefore be seen as on the wrong side of history. I would argue Canada had already made the decision that Afghanistan was both necessary and legitimate and Canada’s commitment to troop escalation in Afghansitan was therefore worthwhile despite the US’s shift towards Iraq. As previously mentioned, this commitment could have neutralised the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had the Americans been committed to nation-building. Since the US and not Canada abandoned Afghanistan the fault lies with the American government.
Tony Blair ‘On the Wrong Side of History’
To fully appreciate the foreign policy fiasco Chrétien avoided by not invading Iraq one can examine British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair – who has been described as “America’s biggest admirer” – was so concerned with expressing solidarity to the US he would act irrationally. Britain would invade Iraq either because Blair believed the faulty intelligence presented or agreed with the preconceived American plan to intimidate other would-be aggressors. Either way Tony Blair’s Iraq legacy will be the same as Bush’s, he committed a foreign policy blunder. Luckily, Chrétien’s pragmatist nature would mean he would not be convinced by faulty intelligence and Canada would remain on the right side of history.
Conclusion, thanks for keeping us out of that mess
Charles – Philippe David’s 2002 parliamentary address denounces the Iraq war by comparing it to Vietnam. “The Iraq II Campaign would be the first major US-led invasion and occupation since Vietnam. It cannot be compared with other policing actions in Grenada in 1983 or Panama in 1989, and still less with other military interventions in the interim.” Because the American invasion of Iraq was and deemed unnecessary and illegitimate it is fair to say its legacy is that of a foreign policy mistake – perhaps the worst since Vietnam. Unlike Tony Blair, Jean Chrétien would not commit the same mistake the Americans would. Chrétien pragmatist nature would thus skilfully ensure Canada would both not be seen as a ‘free-rider’ by the US and NATO when it came to the necessary and legitimate war in Afghanistan and avoid a major foreign policy blunder when it cam to the unnecessary and illegitimate war in Iraq. His ability to speak publicly on this ensured Canada would be remembered this way. Indeed, today Canada’s decision not to participate in the Iraq War is widely considered to be one of Prime Minister Chrétien’s most important achievements. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions were ultimately the right ones, they ensured Canada would remain on the right side of history.
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