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Member States of the Eurasian Economic Union Concerned Over Anti-Russian Sanctions of the USA

Uran Botobekov

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The confrontation between Russia and the West has had a negative impact on the closest partners of Moscow that share in the trade and economic market with Russia. Thus, the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), including Russia, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, have been concerned over the new law on sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea signed by U.S. President Donald Trump (www.whitehouse.gov, August 02).

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev during the working meeting with Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev emphasized that a new wave of U.S. sanctions against Russia may have impact on the economy of Kazakhstan. “I address everyone, before the year is out; we have to work hard to finish the year in an orderly way. There is a substantial risk. There are price fluctuations for our energy carriers and raw materials. It might be the influence of sanctions against Russia. That fact must be taken into account,” Nazarbayev said (http://www.akorda.kz, August 07).

It should be emphasized that a new package of U.S. economic sanctions against Russia is the response of the U.S. to the Russian interference into the American presidential elections, annexation of Crimea, and the support of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The package imposes restrictions on Russian energy companies such as Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, which are actively operating in Central Asian states. The U.S. president may not curtail or lift sanctions without congressional approval.

The market of Kazakhstan has responded nervously to the new list of sanctions. In early August, the national currency of Kazakhstan depreciated by 15 points against the U.S. dollar, i.e. the Kazakh tenge depreciated by 3.5%. If before the American sanctions, one USD was equal to KZT 334.5, after August 2, the USD exchange rate jumped as high as KZT 343. The currency market of Kazakhstan faced the devaluation with hysteria and panic. In this regard, the National Bank of Kazakhstan had to make an official statement where it condemned the speculative actions of some commercial banks and called on the population to stay calm. However, the National Bank honestly claimed that “the current dynamics of the tenge rate is explained first by the expected negative impact of additional sanctions of the USA against the Russian Federation, the uncertain further development of the situation, as well as the respective dynamics of the Russian ruble. Certain speculative comments in the media fuel the panic buying of US dollars” (www.zakon.kz, August 2).

Such explanations by the national bank of the country expectedly caused the discontent of the Kazakh society about the dependence of the tenge rate on the fluctuations in the Russian ruble and the ups and downs of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Due to the increased volatility of the tenge to dollar rate in the domestic currency market, the National Bank of Kazakhstan has decided to decrease the reference rate to 10.25% (www.nationalbank.kz, August 21).

After the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions, the markets of other member states of EAEU – Belorussia and Kyrgyzstan – have faced reduced economic performance and a nervous environment in the financial sector. The American sanctions against Russia have already had a negative impact on the economy of Belorussia, which is closely connected with the Russian market. In particular, restrictive measures have affected the performance of Belorussian banks, many of which are the subsidiaries to the Russian banks. According to Alpari Forex Broker analyst Vadim Iosub, “U.S. sanctions have shortened the period of loans granted to Russian banks. Now these banks may not attract long-terms loans on western markets. Respectively, the subsidiaries of these banks in Belorussia will need to adjust their plans” (www.naviny.by, July 29).

The U.S. sanctions against Russia have the same negative impact on the Kyrgyz economy, too. In the interview with the Kyrgyz analyst, Arslan Kapai, he said, “in the long term, the anti-Russian sanctions may damage the economic growth rate of Kyrgyzstan given that Moscow is a key trade and economic and investment partner of Bishkek.” Therefore, it should be noted that Kyrgyzstan remains the most vulnerable and poor state among other EAEU members. The Eurasian Economic Union is known to be established at the initiative of Russia and it is the main instrument to get the states of former USSR back under the influence of Moscow. It is the political and economic dependence on the Kremlin that has forced President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev to sign the Agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union (www.eaeunion.org, August 12, 2015).

It should be noted that after Atambayev came to power, he not only bound the Kyrgyz economy to the financial system of Russia, but he was also actively pursuing an anti-American policy for 7 years. Based on the “recommendation” of the Kremlin, he forced the US airbase to leave Kyrgyzstan that participated in the Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan against the international terrorism. (www.ria.ru, June 03, 2014).  

One year later Atambayev defiantly denounced the Agreement Between the Governments of the United States of America and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic Regarding Cooperation, which was the basis of the bilateral cooperation (www.24.kg, July 21, 2015). And this summer the Kyrgyz president blamed the Government of the United States for pushing Uzbekistan for the conflict with Kyrgyzstan. He claimed he had no warm sentiments about the policy pursued by the U.S. State Department run by Democrats. Atambayev openly blamed the United States for the interventions into his national affairs reminding that Americans “actually pushed for, encouraged the conflict between the two fraternal peoples – the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks” (www.sputnik.kg, July 24, 2017).

The result of the unilateral pro-Russian policy of the Atambayev’s Government was full dependence of the Kyrgyz national economy on the Russian economy. In 2013, the strategic gas industry of the republic was sold just for $1 to the Russian Gazprom, which is now under the Western sanctions (www.fergananews.com, July 29, 2013). Oil products and fuel and lubricants are 100% imported to Kyrgyzstan from Russia, where the main supplier is Rosneft, which is also under the sanction imposed by the Government of the United States. After the accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, Kyrgyzstan has lost its transit corridor for the transit of the Chinese goods to other CIS states, which brought multimillion profit to the public treasury. According to Minister of Finance Adylbek Kasymaliev, as a result, the government debt of Kyrgyzstan is $4 billion 243 million, which is approximately the annual budget of the country (www.azattyk.org, July 22, 2017). After the accession to the EAEU, no particular breakthroughs in the development of the industrial production have occurred, as was promised by Atambayev. All these indicators show that the economy of Kyrgyzstan may suffer from the anti-Russian sanctions more than others.

Armenia, a member to EAEU since January 2015, is seriously concerned over the new package of American sanctions against Russia. The Armenian Minister of Finance, Vardan Aramyan, noted that “American sanctions against Russia and Iran will damage the economy of Armenia” (www.regnum.ru, August 5, 2015). This concern is caused by the fact that the new sanctions of the United States are mainly against the Russian oil and gas sector. Today the Russian Gazprom fully provides Armenia and Kyrgyzstan with natural gas. Due to the sanctions, Gazprom may raise the natural gas prices for Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. This can lead to the growing prices of electricity, food and oil products, which will cause a wave of discontent.

Migrant workers from Central Asia and Caucasus working in Russia are also seriously concerned about the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the United States. In particular, the authorities of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan expect the massive return of their citizens from Russia, if sanctions lead to certain job cuts in Russia. According to the Main Directorate for Migration Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, today about half a million citizens of Armenia, 600,000 citizens of Azerbaijan, over 2 million citizens of Uzbekistan, over 2 million citizens of Ukraine, one million citizens of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, 500,000 citizens of Kazakhstan work in Russia. Deterioration in the economic situation in Russia may reduce the amount of money transferred by migrants to their homeland. Today transfers from Russia constitute the major part of all transfers to Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. For example, last year Kyrgyz migrants in Russia transferred $2.4 billion home, which is one half of the national GDP. A possible reduction of money transfers from Russia and a massive return of Kyrgyz migrant workers back home may lead to another color revolution in Kyrgyzstan.

Thus, the inclusion of Russia into the list of rogue states along with Iran and North Korea has expectedly caused concern of the political leaders of post-Soviet countries that have Moscow as their main trade and economic partner. It has become obvious that Russia cannot symmetrically respond to the American sanctions. Instead, the Kremlin applies its favorite method of causing anti-American mood in the authoritarian leaders and residents of CIS.

However, the anti-Russian sanctions of the West may give a good chance to Central Asian and Caucasian states to reduce the imperial influence of Moscow on their national economies. “The current American sanctions package is a step toward removing Russia from the world globalization process,” outstanding political expert Lilia Shevtsova concluded (www.svoboda.org, August 1, 2017). It remains to be seen whether the CIS states will use this opportunity.

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The Eurasian Economic Union: The Core of Continental Integration

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Photo: © Artyom Korotayev/TASS

The chairmanship in the (EAEU) in 2018 was passed to Russia from Kyrgyzstan. The presidency includes the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (president level) the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council (prime minister level) and the Council of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC). Among the main expectations and plans for the year there are:

  • The admission of new countries.
  • Digital economy development.
  • Strengthening of national currencies as a way of de-dollarization.
  • Working on conclusion of the agreement on free trade zone with the Association of   Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Among the highlights of  the year there are :

– approval of the Customs Code by all country-members of the EAEU;

– coordination of the digital agenda by the member countries of the Union;

– systematic removal of barriers and restrictions in the EAEU markets and

– development of cooperation with other countries.

The year 2017 for the EAEU was marked by positive dynamics in different sectors: on the whole industrial production growth in the Union amounted to 3.6 %,  in agriculture – 1.5 %, in freight and passenger turnover – to approximately 7 %. In 2017 the volume of bilateral trade in the Union increased by more than a quarter. Since the beginning of 2017 foreign direct investment (FDI) in the EAEU has almost doubled.

An important line of action of the EAEC, in which significant success has also been achieved, is the establishment of relations with the European Union. As stated by Tigran Sargsyan, Chairman of the Board of Eurasian Economic Commission: “We note that in this year «the ice was broken». This is an important point. Previously, the EU was forced to follow closely what is happening in the EAEU, what institutions we set up and how we adhere to the declared standards. By now the contacts between the EAEC and the EU-level departments of the two commissions have started to develop”. According to the Eurasian Economic Commission, the main buyer of exported goods of the EAEU is the European Union: 50.3 % (of total exports), among them, the main buyers are the Netherlands (10,9 %), Germany (7.3 %), Italy (6,3 %), Poland (3.4 %). It is obvious that sanctions and the food embargo has not prevented the increase in turnover of bilateral trade. According to some experts, there has recently been some positive signals in the launching of the industry dialogue between the EAEU and the EU. Regarding cooperation between the EU and the EAEU in the energy sector, it is important to understand that in the near future the share of the Eurasian continent will account for more than half of the total world electricity demand, and therefore it will have a significant impact on the development of global energy. Note that the planned reforms of the EACE energy market (in 2019-2025) are being developed on the basis of the WTO regulatory framework. This increases the level of compatibility of European and Eurasian energy unions. The Director of the EAEC Integration Development Department, Sergey Shukhno said: “In the foreseeable future the EAEC expects to establish a full-scale dialogue in its relations with the EU.” Business, particularly in Europe, actively promotes contacts between the two unions and, in fact, is a kind of catalyst for the establishment of relations.

New members

Iran plans to join the Union in February 2018. The Iranian market after the lifting of sanctions begins to open up to external players and is very interesting for companies of the countries-members of the Union. In addition, on the list to sign economic and trade agreements with the Eurasian economic Union there are such countries as India, Egypt, Israel, Serbia and Singapore. At present EAEC has been in  intensive dialogue with these countries. About 50 countries have expressed a desire to cooperate with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC), as stated in one of his speeches of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

National currencies and de-dollarization

At present about 70 % of payments for exports in the EAEC are made in national currencies. The use of the national currencies by the members of the Union in mutual transactions helps the business – it reduces currency risks and removes various economic and regulatory barriers. In addition, it helps the EAEC economies to strengthen the macro-economy and to develop local financial markets.

According to a report published by the EDB Centre for Integration Studies the share of Russian ruble in the currency structure of payments in the EAEU has increased over the last six years from 56% to 75%, while the dollar’s share during the same period decreased from 35 % to 19 %. According to their data, the settlements between the countries in rubles make up more than 69 billion dollars, in U.S. dollars – about 18 billion dollars, in Euro – about 5 billion dollars. Strange as it may sound, but the policy to reduce dependence on the dollar was also helped by the economic sanctions imposed by Western countries against Russia in 2014. It should be noted that the Euro is also gradually being pushed out of payments inside the EAEU: if in 2013 the share of Euro settlements was 8%, then in 2017 it was reduced to 6%. According to analysts’ forecasts, if the growth of the ruble’s share continues to grow at the same rate, then the countries of the EAEU can completely switch to trading in rubles by 2023-2025. Of course, much depends on the stability of the world economy.

According to expert assessments, the history of the EAEU began not from the moment of the formation of the Union in 2015, but from the collapse of the USSR. The Eurasian Union began its development under the influence of various factors and not as an attempt to create the USSR 2.0, but as a reaction to global macroeconomic processes. Some western experts point out that this is a Moscow project aimed at strengthening Russia’s geopolitical influence. Moreover, Moscow is called the initiator and the progenitor of new integration in the post-Soviet space. However, the historical fact is that the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev presented the project of the Eurasian Union in March 1994.

To date, the EAEU model is characterized by a market economy and an institutional arrangement in accordance with democratic systems. It is important to note that the decisions, directives and recommendations of the EAEC Council are taken by consensus, which indicates full equality of the participating countries. The EAEU agenda  is deliberately limited to economic cooperation. And no matter how Western critics tried, political issues are not within the competence of the EAEU, but are resolved in the formats of bilateral interaction, for example, the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the CSTO and the CIS.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Russia: President Putin likely to have a cake walk in the March presidential poll

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Russians who had made a Socialist revolution in 1917 for a new  communist society for providing  the people equality they sought by systemic change and who later in 1990 joined President Michael Gorbachev and Boris Yelstsin to dismantle communist system and erase its legacy and still later in 2000 they elected a former KGB personnel Vladimir Putin as their President, will again go to the polls on 19 March for the country’s seventh presidential election and in all likelihood incumbent President Vladimir Putin would get reelected to the Kremlin for a fourth term in office.

The election results would make President Putin the leader with the longest tenure in executive authority of any of the world’s major powers.

The Kremlin factions and clans do not approve of the choice of Putin’s successor and that would be will be incentivized to consider following the color revolution playbook as a way to offset their rivals begins to increase.

Weak, divided opposition

Like in India, Russian opposition is also split, making Putin’s win fairly easy. Indeed, it is fascinating that several of the candidates running in March’s election, especially Boris Titov, representing the old “Right Cause” (now the Party of Growth) and to a lesser extent the new face of the Russian Communists, Pavel Grudinin, replacing the old perennial stalwart Gennday Zyuganov, do not expect to win election but are using the campaign to push their respective pro-privatization and anti-globalization programs, in an effort to influence the direction the Russian government will take in the coming years.

With Alexei Navalny sidelined after energizing thousands of Russians in towns and cities across the country to protest in recent months, Sobchak could be an alternative opposition voice. In 2012, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov ran for president. He came nowhere close to victory — finishing third with nearly 8 percent of the vote — but many believed that had never been the point. Prokhorov, they argued, was a spoiler candidate: a tool for Putin to channel anger at the Kremlin into a non-threatening vote.

Since former reality TV star Ksenia Sobchak announced her candidacy for presidency, deciphering her motivations has become a national obsession. She is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically-elected mayor of St. Petersburg and a former mentor of President Vladimir Putin. Russian presidential candidate Sobchak is running on an “against all” platform from the Civic Initiative Party in Russia’s presidential elections in March.

Sobchak, 35, has a wide-reaching public persona. She is a socialite and former reality TV presenter, turned opposition activist, then opposition journalist and — now — presidential candidate. Her candidacy has come as a shock to many — often referred to as the Russian Paris Hilton, her more than 5 million followers on Instagram are served daily photos of fashion shows, expensive restaurants and far-flung beach holidays.

Ksenia Sobchak’s campaign is bringing issues into the public realm—and her ability to pose a question in her capacity as a reporter to Putin at December’s marathon press conference was seen as a signal that, even if she is not expected to win, her candidacy is part of the necessary process to consider what happens to Russian politics after Putin retires or departs from this mortal realm.

Many believe Sobchak has been handpicked by the Kremlin to inject vitality in Russia’s presidential elections and bolster turnout on March 18, 2018. Is she just the latest Kremlin stooge? Is she a spoiler candidate — someone co-opted by the Kremlin to split the opposition vote — or will she actually further the opposition’s cause?

As an independent candidate, she would have to gather 300,000 votes in a matter of weeks — a practically insurmountable challenge. Many see that as evidence that Sobchak has been given the Kremlin’s assurance she will be allowed to run — a claim she denies.

During a meeting with Vladimir Putin several weeks ago to discuss a documentary about her father, she said, she had told Putin personally about her decision to run. “He said that every person can make their own decisions and take responsibility for them too,” she said.

Many say, immediately after the presidential elections, Ksenia Sobchak will disappear from the political arena.

A problem that will not be solved by the March election is the question of Russia’s role in the Eurasian region and the world. In the West, there remains the assumption that US foreign-policy problems with Russia are personal: that they stem from Putin.

Russia won’t be able to turn a new leaf in US-Russia relations with a President Navalny, or Sobchak, or even a Titov, not to mention the long-established liberal reformer Grigory Yavlinsky, who has also thrown his hat into the ring.

It goes without saying, however, that a President Grudinin—or a President Maxim Suraikin, who is running under the banner of the neo-Stalinist “Communists of Russia” and released his “Ten Stalinist Strikes on Capitalism and American Imperialism” platform, or the perennial contender Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in for his seventh attempt to become Russia’s president—would not be interested in improving relations with Washington

Most of the candidates have similar views with Putin. A different candidate might terminate the Syria intervention, be more flexible on the Ukraine question, be less confrontational and more accommodative to US demands.  But no one stands for Russia giving up its position if not as a super power at least as the regional leader or as one of the great powers who should be consulted on the important matters of the global agenda.

Putin Putin Putin

The current Russian political system was constructed for one person and can only be managed and controlled by one person—Vladimir Putin

Today, Puitn – and not Trump – is the most important leader of the world with some amount of dignity. Russians love and respect him and look forward to his forthright actions to weaken the unipolar, dictatorial and fascist mindset of USA.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born on 7 October 1952 in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in the Soviet Union., served as President of the Russian Federation since 7 May 2012, previously holding the position from 2000 until 2008. He was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation from 1999 until 2000, and again from 2008 until 2012. He studied law at the Saint Petersburg State University, graduating in 1975. Putin was a KGB foreign intelligence officer for 16 years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring in 1991 to enter politics in Saint Petersburg. He moved to Moscow in 1996 and joined President Boris Yeltsin’s administration, rising quickly through the ranks and becoming Acting President on 31 December 1999, when Yeltsin resigned. Putin won the subsequent 2000 presidential election by a 53% to 30% margin, thus avoiding a runoff with his Communist Party of the Russian Federation opponent, Gennady Zyuganov. He was re-elected President in 2004 with 72% of the vote.

In Putin’s first term (2000–2004), he was the emergency man called to take the helm of Russia and stop its slide into catastrophe following the breakup of mighty Soviet Union. The second term was marked by the theme of rebuilding and reconstructing what had been lost during the disasters of the 1990s.

During Vladimir Putin’s first presidency, the Russian economy grew for eight straight years, and GDP measured in purchasing power increased by 72%. The growth was a result of the 2000s commodities boom, high oil prices, and prudent economic and fiscal policies. Because of constitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008. The 2008 presidential election was won by Dmitry Medvedev, Putin became Prime Minister

In September 2011, after presidential terms were extended from four to six years Putin announced he would seek a third term as president. The election will be held in March 2018, with a term until 2024. Putin has enjoyed high domestic approval ratings during his career (mostly higher than 70%), and received extensive international attention as one of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Putin won the March 2012 presidential election with 64% of the vote. Falling oil prices coupled with international sanctions imposed at the beginning of 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine led to GDP shrinking by 3.7% in 2015, though the Russian economy rebounded in 2016 with 0.3% GDP growth and is officially out of the recession

During Putin’s first eight years in office, industry grew substantially, as did production, construction, real incomes, credit, and the middle class. Putin has also been praised for eliminating widespread barter and thus boosting the economy. Inflation and corruption remained a problem however.   A fund for oil revenue allowed Russia to repay all of the Soviet Union’s debts by 200.

The goal of Putin’s activity was to create a ruling party, along the lines of the postwar liberal Democrats in Japan that could maintain decades of electoral supremacy, serve as a big-tent grouping allowing for differing factions to exist but remain united in a single political entity, and would develop sustainable mechanisms for leader development and renewal of cadres.

Human rights are of great concern in Russia.

Color revolutions in Europe and elsewhere have not solved any problems and slowly they brought back the old system.

Putin is known for his often tough and sharp language, often alluding to Russian jokes and folk sayings. An Orthodox Christian, Putin is said to attend church services on important dates and holidays on a regular basis and has had a long history of encouraging the construction and restoration of thousands of churches in the region. In 2014, he was reportedly nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1980, Putin met his future wife, Lyudmila, who was working as a flight attendant at the time. The couple married in 1983 and had two daughters: Maria, born in 1985, and Yekaterina, born in 1986. In early June 2013, after nearly 30 years of marriage, Russia’s first couple announced that they were getting a divorce, providing little explanation for the decision, but assuring that they came to it mutually and amicably.

Unconstrained by conventional global norms, his reach has magnified in recent years. In 2016 Russian hackers were accused of tapping into email accounts owned by members of the US Democratic Party in a bid to aid the campaign of Donald Trump, who has regularly praised Putin’s leadership style. The Kremlin denies the charges, and President-elect Trump has also dismissed the possibility of outsiders tampering in the election, despite a reported CIA memo suggesting otherwise. Either way, with a likely ally entering the White House, Putin’s power may go largely unchecked for years to come.

No matter the fact of Putin’s genuine base of support in Russia, the ways that the Kremlin has managed the election process and the inevitable gap that will emerge between actual voter turnout and number of votes cast for Putin with the published results—especially if the target of 70 percent turnout/70 percent in favor of Putin is reached  amidst reports that some degree of fine-tuning was required to meet these goals—will be cited to deny that Putin has any popular mandate to continue to govern.

Against US unipolarity

In the last few years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been made into a convenient scapegoat for all the West’s problems.  If anything goes wrong at home — then blame that bounder Putin.

Russia is known for its policy of anti-Americanism but being a strong economic power with a UN veto, it has levers to upset all moves of USA and NATO against Russia.

During the Cold War era, the US Russia conflict was acute, though both maintained diplomatic and economic channels to continue the “normal” bilateral relationship. .

Being a former top KGB officer, President Putin is not trusted by US leaders who want to use the Kremlin to promote and shield all its capitalist and imperialist crimes.

Many prominent Russians in New Russia particularly in 2005 talked about how Russia, as one of the great powers, could work with the USA in creating a new concert to address critical international problems. But no one—not even the most liberal, pro-Western candidates running—would now advocate for Russian subordination in a US unipolar system.

The use the Russian threat ably is being promoted by US leadership in order to be able to strengthen unipolarity. The so-called ‘Russian threat’, being used by US politicians and media as the  ever existing threat to them, is not only good for the arms industry, and defense budgets, but for all western politicians who have no answers to the very real threats their public face in their daily lives. They also cover up their failure by naming the Russian threat just like Indian regime points to Pakistan to ward off all its failures, both systemic and administrative.

Western world faces several serious problems, including a knife crime epidemic, a significant rise in the murder rate, a steady rise (over 60%)in homelessness and increasing unemployment, a sharp rise in child and pensioner poverty and a hideously expensive and unreliable public transport system- to name only a few.  But rather than focus on solving them, those in power would rather ‘obsess’ about non-existent threats from Russia. ‘Army Chief warns of Russian threat’ has been the routine headline on the media websites and newspapers. It is deliberate attempt to divert people’s attention.

As to the ‘Russian threat‘; the idea that Russia would want to invade or attack the USA, UK and other Atlantic nations is extremely ludicrous.

Domestic scene

Russian politics today is still very far from this model, and Putin’s perpetual candidacy is a clear sign that the problem of political succession which bedeviled him in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election (when Putin was constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third consecutive term) still has not been solved. Putin, in many ways, cannot give up power maybe because he and those around him would not have the political and legal guarantees that they require.

Elections in USA, Russia and elsewhere are very routine matter for the government to hold by using all illegal means and would therefore not make any changes for the nation or world. Trump’s paid election is not going to change anything for the Americans.  Russians—and the world—will wake up on March 19 to find that not much has changed. But the clock counting down towards domestic and international crises will be running.

Knife crime used to be a rare event in the UK, but in 2017 there were 80 fatal stabbings in London alone. The reality is that Britain is becoming an increasingly dangerous country in which to live. Crime figures released in October showed an underlying 8% increase in the murder rate, with a 13% rise in all police-recorded offenses from June 2016-June 2017. But the ruling elite prefer to scare people about Russia. An imaginary ‘Russian threat’ has been given precedence over dealing with the genuine threats citizens face at home.

However, President Putin is not at all responsible for all the crimes that take place in western capitals, elsewhere. The people responsible reside not in the Kremlin, but in Whitehall and Oval hall, elsewhere. With utmost cynicism, those who have put many innocent lives at risk, while spending a small fortune on neocon-inspired military ‘interventions‘ overseas, want people transfer their anger on to a foreign bogeyman- Putin is seen as  the most convenient object. .. The strategy of seeking to divert attention from problems at home, by conjuring up the scepter of a menace from abroad, is of course not original: ruling classes throughout history have done this. . Establishments and their media continue to play it to confuse the masses.

Foreign Policy

On March 4, 2012, Vladimir Putin was re-elected to his third term as president. After widespread protests and allegations of electoral fraud, he was inaugurated on May 7, 2012, and shortly after taking office appointed Medvedev as prime minister. Once more at the helm, Putin has continued to make controversial changes to Russia’s domestic affairs and foreign policy.

During the period of the tandem with Medvedev, the erstwhile emphasis on modernization was replaced with an anti-crisis approach, to safeguard Russia from the vicissitudes of the global recession. Putin launched his third term by presenting a vision of securing Russia’s place in the world as the Eurasian pole of power, an effort that has faltered as the Eurasian Union has underperformed but even more so because of the Ukrainian crisis. There doesn’t seem to be an overarching, compelling, captivating vision for the fourth term, other than the slogan “A strong president for a strong Russia.”

In December 2012, Putin signed into a law which took effect on January 1, 2013 a ban on the US adoption of Russian children. According to Putin, the legislation is aimed to make it easier for Russians to adopt native orphans. However, the adoption ban spurred international controversy, reportedly leaving nearly 50 Russian children—who were in the final phases of adoption with US citizens at the time that Putin signed the law—in legal limbo.

Putin strained relations with the USA the following year when he granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the USA for leaking classified information from the National Security Agency. In response to Putin’s actions, US President Barack Obama canceled a planned meeting with Putin that August.  Around this time, Putin also upset many people with his new anti-gay laws. He made it illegal for gay couples to adopt in Russia

In September 2013, tensions rose between the USA and Syria over Syria’s possession of chemical weapons, with the US threatening military action if the weapons were not relinquished.  Putin spoke directly to the U.S.’s position in taking action against Syria, stating that such a unilateral move could result in the escalation of violence and unrest in the Middle East. Putin asserted that the U.S. claim that Bashar al-Assad used the chemical weapons on civilians might be misplaced, with the more likely explanation being the unauthorized use of the weapons by Syrian rebels.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympics, amidst widespread political unrest in the Ukraine, which resulted in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, Putin sent Russian troops into Crimea, a peninsula in the country’s northeast coast of the Black Sea. The peninsula had been part of Russia until Nikita Khrushchev, former Premier of the Soviet Union, gave it to Ukraine in 1954. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, claimed that approximately 16,000 troops invaded the territory, and Russia’s actions caught the attention of several European countries and the United States, who refused to accept the legitimacy of Russian occupation of east Ukraine.

Putin defended his actions, however, claiming that the troops sent into Ukraine were only meant to enhance Russia’s military defenses within the country—referring to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has its headquarters in Crimea.

In September 2015, Russia surprised the world by announcing it would begin strategic airstrikes in Syria, aimed at the rebel forces attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s historically repressive regime.

Months prior to the 2016 US presidential election, well over a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies unilaterally agreed that Russian intelligence was behind the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, who had, at the time, been chairman of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, designed to undermine Clinton’s campaign in favor of her Republican opponent Donald Trump. Soon after, the FBI and National Intelligence Agency publicly supported the CIA’s assessments. CIA claimed that Putin was personally involved in intervening in the US presidential election. Putin denied any such attempts to disrupt the US election.

Underscoring their attempts to thaw public relations, the Kremlin in late 2017 revealed that a terror attack had been thwarted in St. Petersburg, thanks to intelligence provided by the CIA.

A program was started to increase Russia’s share of the European energy market by building submerged gas pipelines bypassing Ukraine and other countries which were often seen as non-reliable transit partners by Russia, especially following Russia-Ukraine gas disputes of the late 2000s (decade). Russia also undermined the rival pipeline project Nabucco by buying the Turkmen gas and redirecting it into Russian pipelines.

Russia diversified its export markets by building the Trans-Siberian oil pipeline to the markets of China, Japan and Korea, as well as the Sakhalin–Khabarovsk–Vladivostok gas pipeline in the Russian Far East. Russia has also recently built several major oil and gas refineries, plants and ports. There was also construction of major hydropower plants, such as the Bureya Dam and the Boguchany Dam, as well as the restoration of the nuclear industry of Russia, with 1 trillion rubles ($42.7 billion) which were allocated from the federal budget to nuclear power and industry development before 2015. A large number of nuclear power stations and units are currently being constructed by the state corporation Rosatom in Russia and abroad.

The ongoing financial crisis began in the second half of 2014 when the Russian ruble collapsed due to a decline in the price of oil and international sanctions against Russia. These events in turn led to loss of investor confidence and capital flight.

It has also been argued that the US/EU sanctions had little to no effect on Russia’s economy.

Russia responded with its own sanctions against the West. Additionally, to compensate for the sanctions, Russia developed closer economic ties with Eastern countries. In October 2014, energy, trade and finance agreements with China worth $25 billion were signed. The following year, a $400 billion 30-year natural gas supply agreement was also signed with China.

With peacekeeping as the goal, Russia’s foreign policy will proceed slowly and reluctantly, in line with the country’s shrinking economy – just as the West hoped it would.

When the commission investigating the crash of the MH17 flight over Donbass announces its conclusion that a Russian missile downed the Boeing aircraft, Moscow will declare the findings nothing but lies and slander.

Moscow will continue to haggle over Ukraine, seeking an end to sanctions in return for this or that concession. Russia will also partially fulfill the Minsk agreements and withdraw a major part of its forces from Syria. The Kremlin will similarly deny that Russian hackers and trolls attacked the US elections and democratic processes in Britain and France.

In fact, Russian actions in the Middle East have actually aided the security of the West. The regime-change obsessed UK and USA were backing so-called ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria. The Russian military played a key role in the defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda linked groups there promoting security of USA and Europe. Many western countries provided covert backing for these so-called terror groups. The ‘threat’ turned out to be entirely bogus. The next time you hear an Establishment figure talking about the ’Russian threat to USA” one should know the regime is making some illegal moves against the people.

In fact, all western nations and their eastern allies jointly working against Islam and Muslims- for sure. . Russia and China, the veto members also support them.

Some rumors

Russia  will adopt a new Constitution that will allow Putin to stay in power ; beyond 2024; Putin will marry a descendant of the Romanov family’; The authorities will re-introduce exit visas for Russians;  Putin will develop multiple sclerosis and hand over power to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov; US hackers will influence Russia’s elections and the ruble exchange rate; Russian oligarchs will write a secret letter to Putin asking him to imprison Rosneft head Igor Sechin; The Russian national football team will take a $1 billion bribe from Saudi Arabia to lose their World Cup game; And maybe, everything will turn out differently. The right-leaning, conservative ideological bent will deepen until it starts to resemble monarchism.

Despite the commotion surrounding the World Cup, the authorities will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family with pomp and fanfare.

Possibly, Russia will undergo a major political crisis at the point only when Putin, like his predecessor, discoverer cum mentor Yelstsin will no longer be able to govern.

Maybe Putin’s ruling regime will begin to show signs of weakness, a Russian Orthodox fundamentalist or progressive liberal will come to power again.

Soon the country’s financial system and economy will collapse, or a new “thaw” will improve Russia’s relations with the West. One year from now, we’ll check back to see.

These are just rumours. Imaginations.

Russia’s strong president Putin, the world’s most powerful person for years, has asserted the  Russian policies, exerted his country’s influence in nearly every corner of the globe; from the motherland to Syria to the US presidential elections, Putin continues to get what he wants.

Unlike Trump or Netanyahu or Modi, Putin is not deceiving his people with false promises and secret agendas.

Before a single ballot is cast, a majority of the US political establishment will already consider the results of this poll to be illegitimate. This readymade prescription is understandable as President Trump got elected with suspected mandate by the US voters.

However, unlike Trump, Putin enjoys real support and love of majority of Russians who continue to want to see their nation a “great”.

The reality is that any leader in the Kremlin pursuing Russian national interests is likely to have points of friction with their arch rival USA.  There seems to have no mechanism that would work to dampen down or deconflict those irritants on permanent basis. .

The election may solve nothing: those in the Russian elite who believe that Americans and some Europeans must concede the “reality” of Putin and start doing business with the Kremlin will be disappointed. Also, those in the West who maintain that all anyone needs to do is wait for the inevitable color revolution to depose Putin, that in turn will solve all the outstanding issues that have led to the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West.

But the victory of Vladimir Putin is a foregone conclusion though the USA might try its luck to create problems for Putin in Moscow. Russian do not see or want any alternative to Putinism.

For Russians, Puitn stands for Russian character (Russkii kharact’er) of which they are very proud. They are supportive and fond of assertive stand of the Kremlin.

So, on March 19, 2018 when Russians voters queue up for voting, nothing will have changed and nothing is going to change even after that date. But the two looming problems that the election will not solve will still be there.

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Russia

What Does 2018 Have in Store for the Kremlin?

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

Published

on

How does the world in 2018 look from the Kremlin? Judging from statements and interviews of Russian leaders, the world is not a very cool place these days. The international environment is more adversarial than cooperative; security challenges dominate over development opportunities; national survival rather than economic prosperity is the name of the game in global politics. The Kremlin’s perspective implies that the international system has entered an arguably long period of instability, increased volatilities, multiple regional crises and, more generally, a steep decline of the global and regional governance.

In my view, it would be wrong to dismiss this vision of the world as completely hypocritical or entirely self-serving; it reflects very real concerns and fears of the Russian leadership. Let me try to summarize the most often referred to manifestations of the 2018 international ill-beings, perceived roots of the problems and Kremlin’s suggestions on how to deal with multifaceted crises in 2018 and beyond.

Manifestations:

  1. The state crisis in the MENA region, in sub-Saharan Africa, in parts of the former Soviet Union. States are losing their sovereignty; they cannot provide law, order or basis social services to populations on their territories, turning into failed or semi-failed states. Failed states became hotbeds of conflicts that last for years and even decades with no solutions in sight.
  2. The growing unpredictability and volatility of global and regional economic and financial markets creates new risks; states, societies and individuals can no longer control their economic destinies or even to influence them in a significant way. We observe economic and social polarization among states and within them; polarization increases populism, radicalism and extremism of various kinds.
  3. The rise of non-state actors challenges state sovereignty and questions the fundamentals of the modern international system. Irresponsible non-state players (from international terrorism and religious fundamentalism to transnational crime and multinational corporations) are accountable to nobody and often have goals and aspirations incompatible with international peace, stability and prosperity. Any attempts to manipulate these players are counterproductive and dangerous.
  4. Uncontrolled and potentially disastrous environmental and climate changes, mounting challenges to biodiversity, environmental stability and resource sufficiency constitute another dimension to the crisis. We observe gross inequalities in resource distribution around the world, the looming resource crunch (food, energy, fresh water, etc.).
  5. The explosion of regional, continental and global migrations increasingly affect the world, which is completely unprepared to confront this challenge. It leads to an unavoidable economic, political, security, social and cultural implications of the coming migration crisis with most countries ill equipped to handle these implications.
  6. Another manifestation of the crisis is the ongoing decline of many international institutions — global and regional, security and economic alike; the growing inability of the UN based system to find effective solutions to mounting problems. In many cases, we witness a shift from legitimate institutions to illegitimate or semi-legitimate ad hoc coalitions.

Roots:

  1. The liberal economic and political paradigms have depleted their potential; they can no longer provide a stable economic growth, a fair distribution of wealth and an acceptable political inclusiveness. Spontaneous market forces and open political competition demonstrate their limitations.
  2. The Western triumphalism after the end of the Cold War led to an institutional overstretch and to ungrounded hopes for the West-centered world. The Western (both American and European) arrogance led to many crises that could otherwise have been avoided or at least mitigated.
  3. The selective use of international law, double standards in international relations, a lot of hypocrisy and double-speak contributed to the erosion of some of the fundamental norms of international public law. These factors produced diverging and even opposite narratives, contributed to more cynicism, opportunism and transnationalism in foreign policies.
  4. The rapid and chaotic process of globalization produced many negative side effects including a rapid decline of traditional values, a global revolution of expectations along with social and cultural polarization, growing vulnerability of an individual to extremism and political radicalism.
  5. The ongoing technological revolution created a whole spectrum of new opportunities for disruptive and subversive non-state actors — including new means of communications, new types of weapons, and new mechanisms of political mobilization. However, states turned out to be unprepared to regulate properly the technological revolution and to put its potentially dangerous repercussions under proper control.
  6. Most of the Western political systems do not allow for any long term planning; politicians in the West are looking for fast results and quick returns on their political investments. This feature of the modern liberal democracy contradicts the apparent need for large scale and long term political projects, including resource-consuming ones.

Solutions:

  1. We have to agree that the critical task of the day is the task to restore and to enhance the shattered global management. Without addressing this task, we are not going to succeed in any other undertakings. The central dividing line in the modern international system is not that between democracy and tyranny, but between order and chaos.
  2. The prime building blocks of the international system are and will continue to be nation states. Therefore, the principle of sovereignty should be fully adhered to and considered to be of paramount importance. Interdependence and integration can be accepted as long as they do not contradict the principle of sovereignty.
  3. The emerging international system should fully reflect the changing balance of powers in the world. The existing West-centered institutions should either undergo a profound transformation or be replaced by more universal, more inclusive and more representative organizations.
  4. We should fully reject the concept of Western (i.e. liberal) universalism of favor of developmental pluralism. The emerging concept of modernity should imply opportunities for preserving national traditions, culture, specific economic, social and cultural models distinctly different from the Western examples. No export of liberal democracy should be supported or even tolerated.
  5. Spontaneous market mechanisms, which set the rules for the global economic and financial systems today, should be complemented by appropriate regulatory frameworks; these are to be agreed upon by participating states. Non-state actors should be forces to moderate their ambitions and behave accordingly.
  6. The overall international system should constitute a pyramid with a number of interacting levels: (1) UN and its specialized agencies; (2) regional security and development institutions; (3) ad-hoc coalitions and alliances with an appropriate mandate; (4) a system of overlapping multilateral and bilateral agreements and other arrangements (regimes), and (5) a think network of contacts, interactions, partnerships, etc. of non-sate, sub-national and other actors.

Numerous critics of Vladimir Putin in the West would argue that this picture of the world in 2018 is one-sided, dogmatic, antiquated and misleading. They would also insist that Russia itself contributed a lot to many problems that the international community has to deal with in 2018 and beyond. Finally, they are likely to maintain that this vision is meant to justify the current Russia’s foreign policy and security posture, to keep the Russian political system intact and to put on a back burner all the badly needed economic and social reforms.

However, a more productive approach might be in trying to single out particular bits and pieces of this vision, which could constitute a basis for a substantive, albeit very limited, dialogue between Russia and the West on the fundamentals of the emerging world order. Even if this dialogue in any format starts this year, it is unlikely bear fruits anytime soon. Nevertheless, to understand Russia’s true concerns, fears, perceptions and expectations remains important, no matter how archaic, biased, opinionated or self-serving these might appear in the eyes of Russia’s critics.

Nikolai Lobachevski teaches us that two parallel lines can intersect, if we move away from the traditional Euclidean to a non-Euclidean geometry. Regardless of how each of us sees the world in 2018, it seems apparent that this world can no longer be explained within traditional IR paradigms. Once we shift to a non-Euclidean approach, parallel visions of the international system may gradually get closer to each other and finally intersect.

First published in our partner RIAC

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