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Russian Power Dance on Astana Round and Geneva Talks about Syria

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On December 2016, The Moscow Declaration about Syrian crisis had been announced by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia, and Iran. Three countries agreed in one voice to support the sovereignty, independence, non-military solution and humanitarian aids unity and territorial integrity of Syria.

This declaration provided the basis for the Astana talks, the first round of which held on the 23nd and 25th of February 2017. The main aim of these negotiations is to set a Russian order in an imbalanced regional order.

Since 1946 Russian policy toward Syria was directed on antagonism to the Western block. After independence in April 1946, in the Arab-Israel wars Moscow supported Syrian army but had never entered directly to a war against Israel. Soviet Union supported Hafez Assad in his policy against Israel and they signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation providing for regular consultations in 1980 that is in the force yet. In the first years of Putin administration, the relations between two countries increased and  Putin trying to strengthen his position in the Middle East .

Russian has puzzled strategy in the Middle East and Syria is one part of it. From Arab uprisings, (2011) Russia has got new opportunities in accordance its new strategy in the Middle East. The first step was to vetoing the UN Security Council’s resolution against Syrian government. Russia vetoed such a resolution in November 2017  for 10th. It that case Russian dance in the Security Council is obvious. During Barack Obama’ administration United States did not direct intervention on Syrian war.  Obama broke the red line that he had drawn usage of chemical weapons against Syrian government. Russia knows that the US overtired of Afghanistan and Iraq war. In addition the Western intervention on Libyan war and its failed results made the Western front hesitant on the Syrian crisis. Trump administration has different regional policy from Obama’ period, and Putin understand that he can use that opportunity.

From the beginning of the crisis Iran was the only Syrian government’ supporter. In fact some of Iranian and Russian goals overlapped on Syria. The problem is that their main strategic aims are different; Russia is following its multi dimensional policy while Iran trying to keep Assad in power. What is most important is that during the bloody war in Syria, Russia and Iran trying to use each other according their aims. It seems that Russia dancing with Iran more in its grand policy against the Western front on Syria. The events showed that Russia mostly does not consider Iranian aims.    

Since 2011 Turkey as one on of key actors in the Syrian crisis challenged the Russian policy. After Turkey’s downing of Russian bomber in November 2015, Russia has gained vast field of activity in Syria. Turkey was harmed of the event and had to soft its policy toward Russia. Moreover American policy in the Middle East especially toward the strong support of the PKK backed YPG and PYD in Syria, pushed Turkey to Russian side. In fact the US chooses the none-state group of PYD instead of Turkey and this made Turkish policymakers very dissatisfied.

Russia is working with the PYD and YPG in the north of Syria and this led Turkey to a complex position. “In Syria as in Iraq, however, Russia favors real autonomy for the Kurds. Over many decades, Moscow has had a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish groups in the Middle East, sometimes assisting them politically and militarily”. In another side Russia has a close relation with Israel and coordinates its operations with Israeli army. In this case, Russia plays a huge contradiction game. Russia is working with Israel while helps to Assad and his allies on the Syrian battle. This is a big opportunity for Russia. While we can see the US has lost its allies in the Syrian crisis Russia gaining more and more friends and allies.

 Success operations in Syria by Russia absorbed Saudi Arabia to cooperate with itself. In this case to prove it’ friendship to Saudi Arabia, Russia sells a set of high-tech arms including S-400 air defense systems and other types of armaments in October 2017 costs more than $3 billion.

The main aggressive action took place in the battle for Aleppo that ended in December 2016. Despite the international opposition, Russia ended this period of war with the desired result. The war disappointed international observers but proved that Russia resolute in their actions as same as in Georgia (2008) or Ukraine (2014). This battle convinced opposing sides to find a solution through diplomacy. After this success, serious negotiations process started and continued till today.

Recently, three main cities is Syrian crises regulation process very known: Astana, Sochi and Geneva. Russia is the key actor in the Astana round process between Middle Eastern moderators. Putin invited the presidents of Turkey and Iran to determine the road map for the future of Syria in Sochi. In the picture published by media, Putin stands in the middle of Turkish and Iranian presidents. The picture reflects Russia’s position in the Middle East. Through the Sochi meeting, Russia has consolidated its achievements in the Astana talks. While this is not the end and Russia planning to take the achievements to the Geneva talks.

On 11 December 2017 the media released unexpected news about Putin’ visit to Syria. Putin announced victory against ISIS and said “The war on terrorists was an exam, not only for our people, but for our arsenal. We tested dozens of weapons. As a result, foreign orders for Russian arms are rising fast”. In fact Putin announced victory over all of its regional and global rivals. This was propaganda for Russian arms.

The future will show how Russia success is. The events in the region show that Russia will continue its active political role in the Syrian crisis. This will create a positive face for Russian policy among its allies and the allies can be trusted for sure. The game in Syria provided ground for Russia to dance, which started in Syria and will continue on another existing crisis in the Middle East. The crisis in Yemen and Lebanon are the next station and Putin is not able to use military force but will start with negotiating power.

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What Does 2018 Have in Store for the Kremlin?

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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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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US Sanctions against Russia: The Forecast for 2018

Ivan Timofeev

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It must be clear that the letter and spirit of PL 115-44 define Russia in legislative terms as an adversary to the United States, which should be actively opposed and subjected to a comprehensive pressure. In fact, PL 115-44 sets the framework for US policies with regard to the Russian Federation, which to a great extent obviates opportunities for partnership and constructive cooperation. Russia should have no illusions about a reversal of course in the near future. We must also avoid underestimating the efficiency of the tools to pressure us. These trends need to be thoroughly analyzed and monitored.

So, the executive authorities will submit at least seven reports to Congress in 2018, which can be divided into three groups.

The first group includes reports drawn up mostly by the US Department of the Treasury. The U.S. Treasury is the key, if not the only, sanctions policy tool. Congress instructs the U.S. Treasury to work closely with the CIA, the Department of State and other agencies whose data may significantly expand capabilities of financial intelligence. The most expected document in this group is a report on Russian oligarchs and parastatal entities to be prepared by February 2018 and which contains a list of senior Russian political figures as well as oligarchs and entrepreneurs close to the “Russian regime.” Congress wants the submission of an assessment of the relationship between the said individuals and President Vladimir Putin or other members of the Russian ruling elite and an identification of any indices of corruption with respect to those individuals. The report should also include the estimated net worth and known sources of income of those individuals and their family members, including assets, investments, other business interests, and relevant beneficial ownership information and an identification of the non-Russian business affiliation of those individuals.

But being included in the report does not automatically mean that individuals or entities will face sanctions. Nevertheless, the Act unambiguously indicates that the report is a mechanism for their expansion. At least it is required to assess the potential impacts of imposing secondary sanctions with respect to Russian oligarchs, Russian state-owned enterprises, and Russian parastatal entities, including impacts on the entities themselves and on the economy of the Russian Federation, as well as on the economies of the United States and allies of the United States.

In theory, the report may include an unlimited number of Russian individuals and entities. But the algorithm and methodology of its compilation within so brief a timeframe is still a big question. It requires processing a huge amount of information, since, in fact, the case in point is Russia’s entire public sector. This significantly increases the risk of erroneous assessments, which may later affect the United States itself. In theory, the Americans may also choose to present a compact report that will include what they think are the most anti-Western figures. But one nicety involved is that the Act’s current wording does not imply that the report should be constantly updated and therefore the anti-Russia lobby can do what it will to expand the lists as much as possible.

The next report is to appear in February as well. It concerns opportunities for expanding sanctions against individuals or entities blacklisted by the Department of the Treasury under Presidential Executive Order No. 13662, which made it possible to impose sanctions to counteract Russian policies in Ukraine. The fine point is that the executive order imposed sanctions against Russia’s financial and energy sectors, while PL 115-44 added railways to the list, as well as the iron-and-steel and manufacturing industries. For the time being, the report is not to be expanded.

Unlike the previous two, the next report will require a longer preparatory period – until August 2018 – and is to be updated annually until 2021 (but there is nothing to prevent the timeframe from being extended). The report will concern any illicit financial transactions related to the Russian Federation or Russian nationals. It will contain data on specific violations, results of investigative actions, and outreach to the private sector to prevent these kinds of activities. Inclusion in the report involves criminal prosecution.

Importantly, it should disclose the outcome of US agencies’ cooperation with their counterparts in the EU and other countries. In other words, it internationalizes US practices. The report is also a mechanism for finding loopholes in law enforcement with regard to anti-Russia sanctions and has to include trouble-shooting proposals.

The next group is covered by the subtitle, Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia. The Act makes it incumbent on the US government to act as a protector of the sovereignty and security of all Eurasian countries that are or may become “victims” of Russian influence. The Department of State is the key agency responsible for this group. Policies in this area imply the broad use of soft power based on NGOs in the US and Eurasian countries (the Act lists some of these). The appropriations for these purposes in 2018 will add up to $250,000,000, a considerable sum given that it will be largely used for ideological and educational work rather than for infrastructure. At first glance, the money is spread across a wide spectrum of objectives and countries, such as protection of electoral infrastructure, the fight against corruption, legislative improvements, aid to NGOs and the media, and opposition to “propaganda.” However, given the low cost of these measures and their focus on countering Russia, they will become a serious source of pressure. At least this sum is much greater than Russia’s own “soft power” expenses. What’s more, Russian institutions are addressing the entire international agenda, while the West (let alone opposition to it) is not the first, nor the only target of its efforts.

PL 115-04 makes it incumbent on the State Department to report to Congress annually, including its performance, spending efficiency, and results. A separate report will cover cooperation with foreign entities and their contribution. In other words, the Americans expect that their spending should be reinforced by that of their allies in the EU and other countries. The report is due to be submitted on April 1.

The next two reports also need to be submitted annually by the US President.

The first is on the media organizations controlled and funded by the government of the Russian Federation. It is also a black list of sorts involving at least reputation effects and due to stigmatize both Russian media proper and those supported by Russia in some or other form.

The other concerns Russian Federation influence on elections in Europe and Eurasia. This is important as a tool for internationalizing the American approach to supposed Russian “electoral interference.” Unlike the United States, people in Europe and elsewhere are more or less skeptical of the US position. The annual report will make it possible to perpetuate the focus on this subject by aggregating events of any importance and prodding the related Western discourse towards the US stance.

Finally, yet another report is linked to a law on Ukrainian and other countries’ energy security interpreted as reduced reliance on Russian distribution or any ties with Russia. It is speaking about facilitation of Ukrainian energy sector reforms, the sector’s liberalization, enhanced efficiency, etc. But in the same breath it mentions counteraction to Russian energy projects (Nord Stream, etc.) and what it calls “Russian aggression.” It also says directly that the US policy should be aimed at promoting US energy exports to Europe, among other things, to create jobs in the United States. (This means that the Americans are using this political tool in market rivalry.) The Secretary of State is to report on the implementation of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act and on achievements in this area in February, with subsequent updates to be submitted every six months.

The bottom line is that PL 115-04 prescribes a specific bureaucratic procedure and narrative that will largely define US policy with regard to Russia in 2018 and thereafter. There will be at least seven reports submitted next year, each of which will most likely provide a pretext for the further alienation of Russia and the United States from each other. Russia needs a well-considered policy of clever actions that will make it possible to control confrontation, minimize damage, and retain foreign policy initiative.

First published in Valdai Discussion Club

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Russia- Europe: the Need for a Common Vision

Igor Ivanov

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Last days demonstrated yet another division in the transatlantic alliance — political leaders of major European countries explicitly distanced themselves from the new US position on the status of Jerusalem. Earlier they also opposed the new Trump assault against the Iranian nuclear agreement.

At the same time, the European Commission announced its plan to create a European Monetary Fund, to introduce a new position of the EU Minister of Finance in order to enhance the efficiency of the Union’s monetary policy. All the problems and complications notwithstanding, the EU — British negotiation on the modalities of Brexit go ahead narrowing the gap in positions of the two sides.

These and many other developments suggest that Europe has entered a period of a deep reassessment of both its institutional foundations that recently have demonstrated multiple malfunctions and its place and the role in the rapidly changing world of today and tomorrow. This reassessment will be difficult, sometimes painful and even risky, but Brussels cannot avoid or postpone it, if the European Union is to remain among global leaders drawing the counters of the new world order.

Russia, in its turn, has to confront serious challenges of both internal and external nature. Along with apparent recent successes in the international domain, the most manifestations of which being the fight against the terrorist threat in Syria and the advancement of Russia’s interests in the Asian Pacific region, Moscow faces an increasing risk of international isolation. Various sanctions and other restrictions applied to Russia have already caused significant negative consequences for the country. First, they distract substantial political and economic resources from dealing with urgent domestic problems. Second, they limit in many ways Russia’s capabilities to engage constructively in global and regional politics. Third, and this is arguably the most important, sanctions constrain political and economic reforms in Russia, which are badly needed and without which the country will find it increasingly difficult to stay in line with the most advanced nations in the world. To achieve this goal through keeping a robust military potential is clearly insufficient.

Of course, it is up to Brussels and to Moscow to figure out how to manage their respective domestic and foreign policy problems. However, in the modern interdependent world, where national and international factors are more and more intertwined, success or failure in addressing these problems will largely depend on external variables.

In the beginning of this century, Russia and Europe decided to build partnership relations with each other. It was not easy, given the remaining negative legacy of the Cold War, but it turned out to be possible due to the political will on both sides. At that point, everybody agreed that Russia could not become a full-fledged member of either the European Union or NATO and therefore we had to think about new mechanisms of cooperation. These new mechanisms had to help us to overcome institutional limitations and to open the door for a mutually beneficial cooperation.

Over two decades — and this is a very short period by history scales — together, we succeeded to shape a modern, well-structured normative base for our relationship that proved its efficiency in political, economic, and humanitarian domains. It is particularly important to note that we undertook a number of specific initiatives aimed at building a common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic security space.

Let me emphasize that Russia and Europe took all these steps not as concessions to the other side, but rather as a reflection of their respective interests and their understanding of long-term fundamental changes in the world.

Unfortunately, during the second decade of the XXI century a whole number of various reasons, which we have not yet analyzed in depth, led to increased tensions between Russia and Europe.   The previously accumulated positive potential in the relationship quickly evaporates; many established communication channels that have helped us to understand each other better and to find solutions to even the most divisive problems are now disrupted or blocked.   Why has it happened and could it have been avoided deserves a separate discussion. Of course, it is not exclusively or even largely about the Ukrainian crisis. The real troubles between Russia and Europe had started much earlier than 2013.

However, the most important question is not about the past, but about the future. What strategic trajectories can Europe and Russia choose from and how do these trajectories relate to each other?

One can easily imagine drifting further apart from each other guided by bitter disagreements about the past and their diverging perceptions of the future. The European Union will manage without Russia, and Russia will not collapse if it separates itself from EU. However, in this case our common continent will remain divided in the XXI century as it was for the most part of the XX century. The division will have a profound negative impact not only on Moscow and Brussels, but also on the nations in between. Furthermore, the inability or unwillingness of the two sides to make full use of their natural complementarity will inevitably negatively affect the ability of both Europe and Russia to remain vibrant parts of the highly competitive world that emerges right in front of our eyes.

The opposite trajectory implies both sides investing into bridging the gaps between each other, restoring communication links, identifying areas of mutual interest and gradually expanding cooperation in various fields. The progress is not likely to be fast; one can foresee many obstacles, procrastinations and setbacks on the way. The negative inertia of the current crisis will continue to intoxicate our relations for years, f not decades. Still, with due political will, stamina and patience exercised by both sides Russia and Europe can reverse many of the unfortunate developments we witnessed unfolding over last couple of years.

As they say, you should never waist a good crisis. One of the post important tasks for politicians, experts, public leaders and businesspersons on both sides is to rise beyond the passions of the day and to look at the Europe — Russia relations from a broader historic perspective. Only such an approach can enable them to focus our vision, to assess our long-term challenges, opportunities and capabilities –so that we could set our goals right.

First published in EFE Doc Análisis.

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