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West is Unlikely to Slap Heavy Economic Sanctions on Russia. Why?

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The tone of the statements made from Brussels and Washington and their decisions taken with regard to the Russian Federation, Russian businesses and officials imply that West is unlikely to go beyond ‘cosmetic’ sanctions.

Escalation of the Crimean conflict and the risk of further infiltration of the Russian troops into the continental part of Ukraine have raised a concern about international mechanisms of deterrence of the Kremlin policy, economic sanctions being among them. Although Brussels and Washington made rather harsh statements earlier, it is quite improbable that they will really dare impose heavy sanctions on Moscow. This means that the world community now lacks efficient instruments of influence allowing adequate response to the aggression of the countries with nuclear weapons.

The Russian Federation is the third biggest trade partner of the EU (next to the US and China) with the USD 417.4 billion sales turnover in 2013. That is why the sanctions in question may have the reverse effect and thus cause direct loss of about USD 170 billion to European producers. Considering the current state of the EU economy, the results will be grave. At the same time, it is quite remarkable that where the trade is concerned, the biggest losses will be incurred by the Eastern European countries (except Romania), which will result in yet greater misbalance in the EU economy, strengthen the effect of the centrifugal forces impeding stable economic development of the EU countries, and exacerbate economic issues within the EU in general.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest oil producing countries and the world’s second biggest ‘black gold’ exporter. It supplies most of its oil and gas to the EU countries. Hence, the only way to affect Russian economy is slapping sanctions on it that would target Russia’s energy sector. And this implies refusal from Russia’s natural gas supplies resulting in reduction of its state revenues. In 2013, the country’s earnings from oil export amounted to USD 162 billion, from natural gas export — USD 67 billion.

There are more factors which prevent the EU from ‘punishing’ Russia, such as location of Russia’s sufficient energy assets in Europe, complete influence of 11 EU countries on energy supplies from Russia, close partnership with Germany and the Netherlands in the area of gas supplies.

Out of 485 billion cubic meters of gas consumed by the EU countries annually, Russia supplies about 160 billion cubic meters which is almost one third of the total volume. According to the forecast suggested by governments and energy companies, by 2013 consumption may increase up to 585 billion cubic meters annually, and imports from Russia — up to 175 billion. Therefore, Russia’s share in gas supply to the EU will remain about the same.

In its turn, the dynamic of oil import by the EU 2001 through 2013 shows that, despite general decrease in volumes, Russia’s share has never decreased ever since 2005 — it was Kazakhstan, Libya and Saudi Arabia that reduced their exports. Import of natural gas is currently, quite oppositely, increasing steadily, Russia’s share still being the largest.

Talks about compensation of losses caused by lifting some Iran sanctions are absolutely groundless and economically unjustified.
Therefore, ban on Russia’s energy imports will be a blowback to Europe resulting in further aggravation of the current economic crisis. Brussels has no chance to arrange for quick diversification of natural gas supplies. At the same time, sanctions against Russia will result in raising prices for energy resources, which, vice versa, will increase Moscow’s revenues. Moreover, Europe will face economic recession once again, thus negating all anti-crisis programs implemented by Brussels during the last several years. In its turn, this will raise social issues.
So neither the US nor the EU will impose an embargo on oil and gas imports from Russia just because the consequences thereof will have too negative an effect on the global market which is expected to see growth of oil consumption up to 92.5 million barrels daily in 2014. Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zangeneh agrees with this forecast.

Russia’s budget for 2014 was calculated based on the average annual oil price of USD 93 per barrel. In case sanctions become a reality, the prices will well exceed USD 130, and the raise will continue. This will bring Russia additional USD 37 from each exported barrel of oil at the least. Let us not forget that in 2013 Russia exported about 234 million tons of oil and liquid gas.

Imposing sanctions against the key Russian energy companies — Gazprom, LUKoil and Rosneft —also seems quite doubtful. Most of them signed field development contracts with a number of American and European oil and gas producing companies. Therefore, the blow to Russian oil and gas producing companies will affect their western partners whose business interests are concentrated in this country.

According to Bob Dudley, the Group Chief Executive and a director of BP — which is one of the largest foreign investor in Russia’s oil producing industry owning a 20% share in one of the world’s biggest oil exporters Rosneft — his company is not going to stop investments in Russia. He underlined that BP is immensely interested in investing in this country. BP produces one fourth of its oil and keeps one third of its oil and gas reserves in Russia.

President of the French company Total Christophe de Margerie promised to continue investing in the USD 26.9 Yamal LNG project where Total’s share amounts to 20%, its project partners being Novatekom and CNPC (China). The partner plan on starting liquid natural gas supplies from the arctic field in 2017. “We are there for a long term,” Margerie told reporters at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference. “Total and Yamal will definitely survive through this crisis and I hope not too many others.” At the same conference, Paolo Scaroni, the Chief Executive of Eni, said that sufficient gas reserves give Russia powerful instruments of influence on Europe. He believes that the worst possible scenario would be complete termination of gas supplies from Russia through Ukraine.

On March 5, after Russian troops invaded Crimea, top managers of the British energy producing company BP and the French Total promised to continue investing in Russia, and CEO of the Italian Eni underlined once again that huge gas reserves allow Moscow to hold control over the whole Europe.

According to Rainer Steele, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom’s partner Wintershall, sanctions against Russia will not settle the issue and will be ineffective. Philipp Mißfelder, member of the German Parliament, also said that sanctions against Russia will affect Germany, and that sanctions are never a good method for export-oriented Germany. German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier doubted that Europe would even dare expel Russia from the G8.

Direct EU investments in Russia’s economy are yet another issue. Thus, foreign direct investments from the Netherlands in Russia amount to 12% of the overall investment outflows from Amsterdam, 4.3% from Germany, 3.4% from France, 30% from Cyprus (mostly reinvestments), 3.8% from Ireland.

Investment outflows from Russia to the EU are also quite considerable: 37% — Cyprus, 15.9% — the Netherlands, 2.5% — Great Britain, 2.2% — Germany. This shows that blocking of bilateral financial flows between Russia and the EU is not reasonable from the economic point of view.
According to the disclosed secret documents of the British Parliament, Downing Street also recommends to refrain from closing the British market for Russia, and to not go beyond visa restrictions and exclusion for certain Russian officials. In particular, one of the documents tells that Britain should not impose any trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre for Russian capital.

These recommendations also include evasion of the issue of participation of the North Atlantic Alliance in settling the Crimean conflict. This means that the EU will resort only to some political instruments available to the OSCE and the UN that will be targeted at certain persons and not the whole country.

All in all, Britain and Germany will attempt to not affect their own economy, and this is what will determine further London’s behaviour. We believe that Britain and Germany will only act as diplomats in the Crimean conflict, and they might even try to lobby some nominal sanctions about which the US Senator John McCain gave a hint in his interview after his meeting with the British representatives during which he expressed his disappointment about London’s official standpoint and ignoring history’s lessons on the part of Europe. Basically, he said that the US would like but could not possibly impose certain effective sanctions, and Europe is not ready for such serious measures.

Russia only ranks number 20 among the countries consumers of the US products and is not among the top ten of the countries exporters of goods and services to the US. Therefore, Washington has only financial leverages at its disposal in this situation. Moreover, sanctions similar to Iranian, for example, will affect, and most probably, block economic cooperation between Russia and the EU — scenario which is unacceptable for Brussels. This means that neither the US has any flexible economic leverages against Moscow at their disposal.

That is why Washington now counts on, first of all, imposing sanctions by its European partners aimed at limiting access for the Russian President’s wingmen and partners to their bank accounts and financial flows within the territory of Europe. Therefore, they expect some upward pressure, sparking discontent among the political elite which would make it possible to prepare grounds to exert influence on the Kremlin. However, it is not probable that such measures will turn out to be effective.

It is fair to say that the international checks and balances system elaborated back in 1945 is efficient no more, and the depth of integration of the global economy no longer allows control over the countries with nuclear weapons and critical shares in the global export. In view thereof, despite all the strivings of the world community, there are no more ‘innocent’ leverages to exert effective pressure on such players as Moscow, Washington and Beijing. Any instruments which may help achieve the desired results are going to bring serious consequences for the global economy and the initiators of the sanctions. At the same time, as the ‘Crimean precedent’ may be used without any dramatic consequences only by three countries, and Washington and Brussels understand that no mass chain reaction will follow, and most incidents may be precluded by means of traditional diplomatic and economic instruments.

This means that the world is gradually approaching the new round of the Cold War which today, as strange as it may sound, may have a stimulating effect on the development of the key national economies.

Therefore, according to our forecast, West is likely to resort to financial aid for Ukraine instead of further complicating relations with Russia, thus preventing the risk of economic loss in the context of the current crisis. This means that neither Washington nor Brussels will dare impose serious economic sanctions against Russia. Hence, these instruments are unlikely to considerably influence the Kremlin’s policy with regard to Ukraine in the medium term.

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All sanctions against Russia are based on lies

Eric Zuesse

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All of the sanctions (economic, diplomatic, and otherwise) against Russia are based on clearly demonstrable intentional falsehoods; and the sanctions which were announced on August 8th are just the latest example of this consistent tragic fact — a fact which will be proven here, with links to the evidence, so that anyone who reads here can easily see that all of these sanctions are founded on lies against Russia.

The latest of these sanctions were announced on Wednesday August 8th. Reuters headlined “U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia for nerve agent attack in UK” and reported that, “Washington said on Wednesday it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia by the end of August after it determined that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.” This was supposedly because “Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door. European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by President Donald Trump against Russia since he came to office.”

However, despite intense political pressure that the UK Government and ‘news’media had placed upon the UK’s Porton Down intelligence laboratory to assert that the poison had been made in Russia (labs in several countries including the UK have also manufactured it), the Porton Down lab refused to say this. Though the U.S. Government is acting as if Porton Down’s statement “determined that Moscow had used a nerve agent,” the actual fact is that Porton Down still refuses to say any such thing, at all — this allegation is merely a fabrication by the U.S. Government, including its allies, UK’s Government and other Governments and their respective propaganda-media. It’s a bald lie.

On March 18th, the great British investigative journalist and former British diplomat Craig Murray had headlined about UK’s Foreign Secretary, “Boris Johnson Issues Completely New Story on Russian Novichoks” and he pointed to the key paragraph in the Porton Down lab’s statement on this matter — a brief one-sentence paragraph:

Look at this paragraph:

“Russia is the official successor state to the USSR. As such, Russia legally took responsibility for ensuring the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] applies to all former Soviet Chemical Weapons stocks and facilities.”

It does not need me to point out, that if Porton Down had identified the nerve agent as made in Russia, the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office — UK’s foreign ministry] would not have added that paragraph. Plainly they cannot say it was made in Russia.

Murray’s elliptical report, which unfortunately was unclearly written — it was rushed, in order to be able to published on the same day, March 18th, when the UK’s official response to the Porton Down lab’s analysis was published — was subsequently fully explained on March 23rd at the excellent news-site Off-Guardian, which specializes in investigating and interpreting the news-media (in this case, Craig Murray’s article, and the evidence regarding it); they headlined “Skripal case: ‘closely related agent’ claim closely examined’,” and concluded their lengthy and detailed analysis:

In short, the ruling cited above, even if read in the most improbably forgiving way possible, shows the UK government does not have the information to warrant any of the claims it has so far made about Russian state involvement in the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. It shows the UK government is currently guilty of lying to Parliament, to the British people, and to the world.

Nothing has been published further about the Skripal/Novichoks matter since then, except speculation that’s based on the evidence which was discussed in detail in that March 23rd article at Off-Guardian.

On the basis of this — merely an open case which has never been examined in more detail than that March 23rd analysis did — the Skripal/Novichok case has been treated by the UK Government, and by the U.S. Government, and by governments which are allied with them, and by their news-media, as if it were instead a closed case, in which what was made public constitutes proof that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Russian Government. On that blatantly fraudulent basis, over a hundred diplomats ended up being expelled.

The Porton Down lab still refuses to say anything that the UK Government can quote as an authority confirming that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Russian Government.

All that’s left of the matter, then, is a cold case of official lies asserting that proof has been presented, when in fact only official lies have been presented to the public.

The UK Government prohibits the Skripals from speaking to the press, and refuses to allow them to communicate even with their family-members. It seems that they’re effectively prisoners of the UK Government — the same Government that claims to be protecting them against Russia.

This is the basis upon which the U.S. State Department, on August 8th, issued the following statement to ‘justify’ its new sanctions:

Imposition of Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act Sanctions on Russia

Press Statement

Heather Nauert 

Department Spokesperson

Washington, DC

August 8, 2018

Following the use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.

Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, these sanctions will take effect upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected on or around August 22, 2018.

U.S. law is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty” — the opposite of legal systems in which the contrary assumption applies: “guilty until proven innocent.” However, regarding such matters as invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 upon the basis of no authentic evidence; and invading and destroying Libya in 2011 on the basis of no authentic proof of anyone’s guilt; and on the basis of invading and for years trying to destroy Syria on the basis of America’s supporting Al Qaeda in Syria against Syria’s secular government; and on the basis of lying repeatedly against Russia in order to load sanction after sanction upon Russia and to ‘justify’ pouring its missiles and thousands of troops onto and near Russia’s border as if preparing to invade ‘the world’s most aggressive country’ — the U.S. federal Government routinely violates that fundamental supposition of its own legal system (“innocent until proven guilty”), whenever its rulers wish. And yet, it calls itself a ‘democracy’.

Donald Trump constantly says that he seeks improved relations with Russia, but when his own State Department lies like that in order to add yet further to the severe penalties that it had previously placed against Russia for its presumed guilt in the Skripal/Novichok matter, then Trump himself is publicly exposing himself as being a liar about his actual intentions regarding Russia. He, via his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s State Department, not only is punishing Russia severely for this unproven allegation, but now adds yet further penalties against Russia for it. Trump is being demanded by the U.S. Congress to do this, but it is his choice whether to go along with that demand or else expose that it’s based on lies. He likes to accuse his opponents of lying, but, quite obviously, the members of Congress who are demanding these hiked rounds of sanctions against Russia are demanding him to do what he actually wants to do — which is now clearly demonstrated to be the exact opposite of exposing those lies. If Trump is moving toward World War III on the basis of lies, then the only way he can stop doing it is by exposing those lies. He’s not even trying to do that.

Nothing is being said in the State Department’s cryptic announcement on August 8th that sets forth any reasonable demand which the U.S. Government is making to the Russian Government, such that, if the reasonable demand becomes fulfilled by Russia’s Government, then the United States Government and its allies will cease and desist their successive, and successively escalating, rounds of punishment against Russia.

Russia is being offered no path to peace, but only the reasonable expectation of escalating lie-based American ‘justifications’ to perpetrate yet more American-and-allied aggressions against Russia.

There have been three prior U.S. excuses for applying prior rounds of sanctions against Russia, and all of them have likewise been based upon lies, and varnished with many layers of overstatements.

First, in 2012, there was the Magnitsky Act, which was based upon frauds (subsequently exposed here and here and here) which assert that Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by the Russian Government. The evidence (as linked-to there) is conclusive that he was not; but the U.S. Government and its allies refuse even to consider it.

Then, in 2014, Crimea broke away from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation, and the U.S. and its allies allege that this was because Russia under Putin ‘seized’ Crimea from Ukraine, when in fact America under Obama had, just weeks prior to that Crimean breakaway, seized Ukraine and turned it against Russia and against Crimea and the other parts of Ukraine which had voted overwhelmingly for the democratically elected Ukrainian President whom the Obama regime had just overthrown in a bloody coup that had been in the planning ever since at least 2011 inside the Obama Administration. Several rounds of U.S.-and-allied economic sanctions were imposed against Russia for that — for the constant string of lies against Russia, and of constant cover-ups of “the most blatant coup in history,”  which had preceded and caused the breakaway.

These lies originated with Obama; and Trump accuses Obama of lying, but not on this, where Obama really did lie, psychopathically. Instead, Trump makes those lies bipartisan. On what counts the most against Obama, Trump seconds the Obama-lies, instead of exposing them. And yet Trump routinely has accused Obama as having lied, even on matters where it’s actually Trump who has been lying about Obama.

Then, there have been the anti-Russia sanctions that are based upon Russiagate and ‘Trump is Putin’s stooge and stole the election.’ That case against Russia has not been proven, and Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange says that what he had published were leaks from the DNC and Podesta’s computer, not hacks at all; and yet the sanctions were imposed almost as soon as the Democratic Party’s accusations started. Those sanctions, too, are utterly baseless except as being alleged responses to unproven (and likely false) allegations. Furthermore, even in the worst-case scenario: the U.S. Government itself routinely overthrows foreign governments, and continues tapping the phones and electronic communications of foreign governments, and manipulating elections abroad. Even in the worst-case scenario, Russia hasn’t done anything that historians haven’t already proven that the U.S. Government itself routinely does. That’s the case even if Russia is guilty as charged, on all of the U.S-and-allied accusations.

So: Who wants World War III? Apparently, both the Democratic and the Republican Parties do. Obama called Russia the world’s most aggressive nation. Trump joins with him in that bipartisan lie. Outside of America itself, most of the world consider the United States to be actually the “greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Therefore, why isn’t the NATO alliance against America? The NATO alliance is America and most of its vassal-nations: they’re all allied against Russia. Their war against Russia never stopped. That ‘Cold War’ continued, even after the USSR and its communism and its Warsaw Pact mirror-image to NATO, all ended in 1991; and now the intensifying ‘cold war’ threatens to become very hot. All based on lies. But that seems to be the only type of ‘justifications’ the U.S.-and-allied tyrants have got.

Either the lies will stop, or else we all will. Trump, as usual, is on the wrong side of the lies. And he seems to be too much of a coward to oppose them, in these cases, which are the most dangerous lies of all. This is how we could all end. Doing something heroic that would stop it, seems to be way beyond him — he doesn’t even try. That’s the type of cowardice which should be feared, and despised, the most of all. Trump has taken up Obama’s worst, and he runs with it. Trump had promised the opposite, during his Presidential campaign. But this is the reality of Trump — a profoundly filthy liar — at least insofar as he has, thus far, shown himself to be. What he will be in the future is all that remains in question. But this is what he has been, up till now.

Author’s note: this piece first posted at strategic-culture.org

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The importance of the first Russia-Africa Summit

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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After several years of high-level consultations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally hinted that Russia would organize its first Russia-Africa Summit of African leaders and Ministers to roll out a comprehensive strategic road map outlining concrete economic sectors for investment, issues relating to trade and culture for Africa.

Addressing a group of invited African leaders at 2018 BRICS Summit on July 27 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Putin told the gathering “I would like to inform you that we are studying the idea of holding a Russia-Africa summit with the participation of Heads of African states. This could be preceded by meetings of prominent businessmen, policy experts and public figures. And I intend to discuss this with representatives of African countries.”

He did not provide specific dates or any further details about the proposed summit, but strongly acknowledged that Russia has always given priority to the development of relations with African countries, based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual assistance, and Africa has now emerged as the world’s most rapidly developing regions.

The leaders of African countries who attended his special meeting came from Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has earlier said in interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine that At present, Russia’s relations with African countries were progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

He noted Russia has maintained an intensive political dialogue with African countries on one hand and on other side, representatives from African countries are active participants in international forums hosted by Russia.

“Our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express their interest in holding a Russia-Africa summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues,” he explained.

“However, it is necessary to bear in mind that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government requires most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content,” Lavrov further argued.

As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition. Equally important is African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market, the Foreign Minister elaborated in his discussion.

Definitely, time was needed to solve all those issues, Lavrov said and suggested, both Russia and Africa could start with experts’ meetings, for example, within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum and other economic cum business related events where business leaders participate.

He assertively promised that Russia would do its best to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation. Currently, Russia’s trade with Sub-Saharan countries amounted to $3.6 billion in 2017, compared to $3.3 billion in 2016 and $2.2 billion in 2015.

Maxim Chereshnev, the Chairman of the Board of the Council for the Development of Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations also noted that Russia and African states have a long story of relations. But, what is very important today is the fact that new opportunities are arising for medium size enterprises for collaboration in Russia and Africa.

According to him, nowadays perspectives of business contacts between Russian and African business are actually underestimated, however, there are a huge number of opportunities. For instance, agricultural, high-tech, medicine, energy-saving technologies, logistics and infrastructure projects are really perspective for strengthening Russia-African economic cooperation.

The Russia-Africa summit, would therefore, highlight favorable conditions for active business interaction, participating Russians and Africans establish closer contacts and continue cooperating in key sectors of the economy of both regions. Hence the significance of the proposed summit.

As Professor David Shinn, an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an email to GNA, Russian government’s weakness for investing or boosting economic cooperation compared to many foreign countries has been primarily the question of project financing in Africa.

As authorities have always explained Russia has its own priorities, and Africa is a priority for Russia but it’s Russia’s own priority to determine the pace and how to raise economic presence in Africa, he argued, and finally added “it neatly makes the argument that the relationship continues to be a low priority. It is difficult to affirm or change policy when key people are not present to make decisions.”

As already publicly known, all previous summits held by many foreign countries with Africa, there were concrete financial packages earmarked towards infrastructure development and concrete ways to improve bilateral trade with African countries.

From Russia’s perspective, there are undeniably important geopolitical implications working with Africa. Nevertheless, Russia’s efforts in the region have been limited thus far which many experts and researchers have attributed to lack of a system of financing policy projects.

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Russia–Turkey Relations Need a Stronger Foundation

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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Relations between Russia and Turkey have always been and will always be a controversial subject. Even over the last couple of years, this relationship experienced dramatic ups and downs, sudden U-turns from cooperation to confrontation and back to cooperation.

First, relations between Moscow and Ankara will remain important for both sides. Russia and Turkey are neighbors with extensive and diverse bilateral ties — including trade and investments, energy and construction, as well as a vibrant social, humanitarian and cultural interaction.

Second, there will always be a mixture of common, parallel, overlapping and colliding interests driving Moscow and Ankara in dealing with each other.

Third, various external players — both global powers (the European Union, NATO, and the United States) and regional actors (Iran, Gulf States, and Israel) will continue to have a profound impact on Russia–Turkey relations.

Both sides should be interested in more stable, more predictable and less adversarial Russia–Turkey relations. Let’s face it: there will be no real trust between Russia and Turkey until we deal together with the most sensitive, the most divisive, and the most unpleasant issues dividing us.

As the recent history demonstrated, the “agree to disagree” approach is not good enough to move the relationship ahead. Thinking strategically, one can even imagine a more important role for Turkey as a country that might be best suited to facilitate a renewal of the currently nearly dormant NATO-Russian Council.

Russia is not an alternative to Turkey’s cooperation with the European Union; neither Turkey is a substitute for Russia working harder to resolve its problems with the United States and Europe. We need Russia–Turkey relationship to acquire a strategic depth of its own.

Relations between Russia and Turkey have always been and will always be a controversial subject. For both countries, this is a very special relationship; it contains a lot of emotions, mythology, prejudices, uneasy legacies of the past, and sometimes unrealistic hopes for the future. The glass remains half-full or half-empty, depending on how you look at it and on whether you are trying to fill it or to drain it.

Even over the last couple of years, this relationship experienced dramatic ups and downs, sudden U-turns from cooperation to confrontation and back to cooperation. The 2015 — 2016 crisis, albeit a short one, demonstrated both the fragility and the resilience of this unique set of connections linking the two countries. No doubt, in years to come we will see more of surprising developments in Russia–Turkey relations that we cannot possibly predict today. Still, there are a number of features of this relationship, which are likely to remain constant in the foreseeable future.

First, relations between Moscow and Ankara will remain important for both sides. Russia and Turkey are neighbors with extensive and diverse bilateral ties — including trade and investments, energy and construction, as well as a vibrant social, humanitarian and cultural interaction. Moreover, they share vast common neighborhood; for both countries, this neighborhood presents tempting opportunities and serious challenges at the same time. Both countries claim a special Eurasian status in world politics that puts them in a league of their own, distinguishing Russia and Turkey from other purely European or Asian states. Therefore, it is hard to imagine the two powers drifting too far away from each other and losing interest in the bilateral relationship.

Second, there will always be a mixture of common, parallel, overlapping, and colliding interests driving Moscow and Ankara in dealing with each other. Elements of cooperation and competition (hopefully, not direct confrontation) will be blended by politicians into a single sweet and sour cocktail and offered to the Russian and Turkish public. We will continue to live with numerous paradoxes. For instance, Turkey is a NATO member, but it plans to purchase the most advanced Russian air defense systems (S-400). The two countries actively cooperate on the ground in Syria, but they have very different attitudes to the current Syrian leadership in Damascus. Russians and Turks are equally interested in stability in the South Caucasus but quite often, unfortunately, they find themselves on the opposite sides of the barricades in the region.

Third, various external players — both global powers (the European Union, NATO, and the United States) and regional actors (Iran, Gulf States, and Israel) will continue to have a profound impact on Russia–Turkey relations. External players can push Moscow and Ankara closer to each other, but they can also push Russians and Turks apart by offering either of them alternative options for strategic, political and economic cooperation. The Russia–Turkey cooperation will also rely on such independent variables as the rise of international terrorism, fluctuations of energy prices, volatility of the global economic and financial system and, more generally, on the fundamentals of the emerging world order.

Both sides should be interested in more stable, more predictable and less adversarial Russia–Turkey relations. It is particularly important today, when the international system at large is becoming less stable and less predictable. Besides, both Russia and Turkey face enormous challenges of economic, social and political modernization in a less than perfect external environment; it would be stupid to add to existing lists of their foreign policy problems a new round of Russia–Turkey confrontation.

So, is it possible to prevent colliding interests from curbing joint work on common problems? What can we do to reduce the risks of potential future crises between Moscow and Ankara? How can we mitigate negative impacts of external factors on our bilateral cooperation?

The immediate answer to these questions is clear — above all, we need to enhance our lines of communication. This is not about preparing the next Erdogan-Putin meeting, nor about generating new technical proposals for the Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission. This is not about mil-to-mil contacts on the ground in Syria. The enhancement of communication should bring it far beyond serving operational needs of political leaders. Let’s face it: there will be no real trust between Russia and Turkey until we deal together with the most sensitive, the most divisive, and the most unpleasant issues dividing us. These issues include mutual historical grievances, existing suspicions about one side allegedly supporting subversive and even terrorist groups on the territory of the other side, concerns that the partner country might abruptly reconsider its commitments to cooperation, should it get a better deal from a third party, and so on. If they cannot discuss these issues at the official level today, one should start with a track two format providing for informal expert dialogues.

Even more important would be not to limit such dialogues to articulating existing disagreements and conflicting narratives, but to identify ways, in which disagreements can be bridged, and narratives reconciled. As the recent history demonstrated, the “agree to disagree” approach is not good enough to move the relationship ahead. If resolving difficult problems does not seem possible now, let us at least try to stabilize areas of potential conflict. For instance, Russia and Turkey will continue to disagree on the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, they can exercise their respective influence on both sides of the conflict in order to prevent another outbreak of military hostilities and further losses of human lives. Likewise, Moscow and Ankara are not likely to come to a common stance on Crimea. However, Turkey can play an important positive role in preventing any further cultural and civic alienation of the Crimean Tatar population in the peninsula.

Sometimes, what we routinely perceive as a part of the problem might become a part of the solution. For example, the Turkey’s membership in NATO is commonly regarded in Russia as an obstacle on the way to more productive security cooperation with Ankara. Counterintuitively, it is exactly the Turkish membership, which can help to reduce risks of dangerous incidents in the Black Sea. These risks started growing in 2014, when both Russia and NATO significantly increased their naval presence here and engaged themselves into ever more frequent naval exercises. Why doesn’t Ankara take an initiative in promoting more confidence-building measures between Russia and NATO in the Black Sea? Thinking strategically, one can even imagine a more important role for Turkey as a country that might be best suited to facilitate a renewal of the currently nearly dormant NATO-Russian Council.

It is also important to make sure that cooperation between Russia and Turkey is not regarded by either side as the “second best option” when the “first best option” is not available for this or that reason. Russia is not an alternative to Turkey’s cooperation with the European Union; neither Turkey is a substitute for Russia working harder to resolve its problems with the United States and Europe. Situational alliances based on shared frustrations and common complexes of inferiority usually do not last. We need Russia–Turkey relationship to acquire a strategic depth of its own. To quote Saint Augustine, “the higher our structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation”.

First published in our partner RIAC

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