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Russia: Fighting the 3rd totalitarianism in 70 years?

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Is Russia today saving our World from yet another totalitarianism, this time of a One World Dictatorship of Bankers and Their Military?

Russia’s Remarkable Renaissance

Something remarkable is taking place in Russia, and it’s quite different from what we might expect. Rather than feel humiliated and depressed, Russia is undergoing what I would call a kind of renaissance, a rebirth as a nation.

This despite or in fact because the West, led by the so-called neo-conservatives in Washington, is trying everything including war on her doorstep in Ukraine, to collapse the Russian economy, humiliate Putin and paint Russians generally as bad. In the process, Russia is discovering positive attributes about her culture, her people, her land that had long been forgotten or suppressed.

My first of many visits to Russia was more than twenty years ago, in May, 1994. I was invited by a Moscow economics think-tank to deliver critical remarks about the IMF. My impressions then were of a once-great people who were being humiliated to the last ounce of their life energy. Mafia gangsters sped along the wide boulevards of Moscow in sparkling new Mercedes 600 limousines with dark windows and without license plates.

Lawlessness was the order of the day, from the US-backed Yeltsin Kremlin to the streets. “Harvard boys” like Jeffrey Sachs or Sweden’s Anders Aaslund or George Soros were swarming over the city figuring new ways to rape and pillage Russia under the logo “shock therapy” and “market-oriented reform” another word for “give us your crown jewels.”

The human toll of that trauma of the total collapse of life in Russia after November 1989 was staggering. I could see it in the eyes of everyday Russians on the streets of Moscow, taxi-drivers, mothers shopping, normal Russians.

Today, some two decades later, Russia is again confronted by a western enemy, NATO, that seeks to not just humiliate her, but to actually destroy her as a functioning state because Russia is uniquely able to throw a giant monkey wrench into plans of those western elites behind the wars in Ukraine, in Syria, Libya, Iraq and well beyond to Afghanistan, Africa and South America.

Rather than depression, in my recent visits to Russia in the past year as well as in numerous discussions with a variety of Russian acquaintances, I sense a new feeling of pride, of determination, a kind of rebirth of something long buried.

Sanctions Boomerang

Take the sanctions war that the Obama administration has forced Germany, France and other unwilling EU states to join. The US Treasury financial warfare unit has targeted the Ruble. The morally corrupt and Washington-influenced Wall Street credit rating agencies have downgraded Russian state debt to “junk” status. The Saudis, in cahoots with Washington, have caused a free-fall in oil prices. The chaos in Ukraine and EU sabotage of the Russian South Stream gas pipeline to the EU, all this should have brought a terrified Russia to her knees. It hasn’t.

As we have earlier detailed, Putin and an increasing number of influential Russian industrialists, some of the same who a few years ago would have fled to their posh London townhouses, have decided to stand and fight for the future of Russia as a sovereign state. Oops! That wasn’t supposed to happen in a world of globalization, of dissolution of the nation-state. National pride was supposed to be a relic like gold. Not in Russia today.

On the first anniversary of the blatant US coup in Kiev that installed a hand-picked regime of self-professed Neonazis, criminals, and an alleged Scientologist Prime Minister Andriy Yansenyuk, hand-picked by the US State Department, there was a demonstration in downtown Moscow on February 22.

An estimated 35,000 to 50,000 people showed up—students, teachers, pensioners, even pro-Kremlin bikers. They protested not against Putin for causing the economic sanctions by his intransigence against Washington and EU demands.

They protested the blatant US and EU intervention into Ukraine. They called the protest “Anti-Maidan.” It was organized by one of many spontaneous citizen reactions to the atrocities they see on their borders. Internet satirical political blogs are making fun of the ridiculous Jan Paski, until last week the fumbling US State Department Press Spokesperson.

Not even an evident False Flag attempt in the London Financial Times and Western controlled media to blame Putin for “creating the climate of paranoia that caused” Boris Nemtsov’s murder is being taken seriously. Western “tricks” don’t work in today’s Russia.

And look at US and EU sanctions. Rather than weakening Putin’s popularity, sanctions have caused previously apolitical ordinary Russians to rally around the president, who still enjoys popularity ratings over 80%. A recent survey by the independent Levada Center found 81 percent of Russians feel negatively about the United States, the highest figure since the early 1990s “shock therapy” Yeltsin era. And 71 percent feel negatively about the European Union.

The renaissance I detect is evident in more than protests or polls, however. The US-instigated war in Ukraine since March 2014 has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, one which the US-steered German and other western media have blocked out of their coverage.

More than one million Ukrainian citizens, losing their homes or in fear of being destroyed in the insane US-instigated carnage that is sweeping across Ukraine, have sought asylum in Russia. They have been welcomed as brothers according to all reports.

That is a human response that has untold resonances among ordinary Russians. Because of the wonders of YouTube and smart phone videos, Russians are fully aware of the truth of the US war in eastern Ukraine. Russians are becoming politically sensitive for the first time in years as they realize that some circles in the West simply want to destroy them because they resist becoming a vassal of a Washington gone berserk.

Rather than bow to the US Treasury’s Ruble currency war and the threat that Russian banks will be frozen out of the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) international interbank clearing system, something likened to an act of war, on February 16, the Russian government announced that it had completed its own banking clearing network in which some 91 domestic credit institutions have been incorporated. The system allows Russian banks to communicate seamlessly through the Central Bank of Russia.

That is inside Russia among banks that otherwise were vulnerable even domestically to a SWIFT cut. Russia joined the Brussels-based private SWIFT system as the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989. Today her banks are the second largest users of SWIFT. The new system is inside Russia.

Necessary, but not sufficient, to protect against SWIFT cutoff. The next step in discussion is joint Russia-China interbank clearing independent of SWIFT and Washington. That is also coming.

The following day after Russia’s “SWIFT” alternative was announced as operational, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said China will build up its strategic partnership with Russia in finance, space and aircraft building and “raise trade cooperation to a new level.”

He added that China plans to cooperate more with Russia in the financial area and in January Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said that payments in national currencies, de-dollarization, were being negotiated with China. China realizes that if Russia collapses, China is next. Failing empires try desperate measures to survive.

Russians also realize that their leaders are moving in unprecedented ways to build an alternative to what they see as a morally decadent and bankrupt American world.

For most Russians the disastrous decade of poverty, chaos and deprivation of the Yeltsin era in the 1990’s was reminder enough what awaits should Russia’s leaders again prostitute themselves to American banks and corporations for takeover, Hillary Clinton’s infamous “reset” of US-Russian relations she attempted when Medvedev was President.

Russians see what the US has done in neighboring Ukraine where even the Finance Minister, Natalia Jaresko, is an American, a former State Department person.

Russia and its leaders are hardly trembling behind Kremlin walls. They are forging the skeleton of a new international economic order that has the potential to transform the world from the present bankruptcy of the Dollar System.

Moscow and Beijing recently announced, as I discussed in a previous posting, their project to create a joint alternative to the US credit rating monopoly of Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. President Putin’s travel agenda in the past year has been mind-boggling. Far from being the international paraiah Washington and Victoria Nuland hoped for, Russia is emerging as the land which has the courage to “just say No!” to Washington.

Russia’s president has been in Cyprus where possible basing for the Russian navy was discussed, in Egypt where General al-Sisi warmly welcomed the Russian leader and discussed significant economic and other joint cooperation. Late last year Russia and the BRICS states agreed to form a $100 billion infrastructure bank that makes the US-controlled World Bank irrelevant. The list grows virtually every day.

The special human side

For me, however, the most heartening feature of this Russian renaissance is in the generation which is today in their late thirties to early forties—young, highly intelligent and having experience of both the depravity of Soviet communist bureaucracy but as well of the hollow world of US-led so-called “free market capitalism.” I share some examples from the many Russians I have come to know in recent years.

What is unique in my mind about this generation is that they are the hybrid generation. The education they received in the schools and universities was still largely dominated by the classical Russian science. That classical Russian science, as I have verified from many discussion with Russian scientist friends over the years, was of a quality almost unknown in the pragmatic West.

An American Physics professor from MIT who taught in Moscow universities in the early 1990s told me, “When a Russian science student enters first year university, he or she already has behind them 4 years of biology, 4 of chemistry, of physics, both integral and differential calculus, geometry…they are starting university study at a level comparable to an American post-doctoral student.”

They grew up in a Russia where it was common for young girls to learn classical ballet or dance, for all children to learn to play piano or learn a musical instrument, to do sports, to paint, as in classical Greek education of the time of Socrates or Germany in the 1800s. Those basics which were also there in American schools until the 1950s, were all but abandoned during the 1980s. American industry wanted docile “dumbed-down” workers who asked no questions.

Russian biology, Russian math, Russian physics, Russian astrophysics, Russian geophysics—all disciplines approached their subject with a quality that had long before disappeared from American science. I know, as I grew up during the late 1950’s during the “Sputnik Shock,” where we were told as high school pupils we had to work doubly hard to “catch up to the Russians.”

There was a kernel of truth, but the difference was not lack of American students working hard. In those days we worked and studied pretty hard. It was the quality of Russian scientific education that was so superior.

Teaching of the sciences especially, in Russia or the Soviet Union, had been strongly influenced by the German education system of the 1800s, the so-called Humboldt Reforms of Alexander von Humboldt and others.

The strong ties in Russian education with classical 19th Century German culture and science went deep, going back to the time under Czar Alexander II who freed the serfs in 1861, following the example of his friend, Abraham Lincoln.

The ties were deepened to German classical culture later under Czar Alexander II prior to the 1905 Russo-Japanese War when the brilliant Sergei Witte was Transport Minister, then Finance Minister and finally Prime Minister before western intrigues forced his resignation.

Witte translated the works of the German national economist Friederich List, the brilliant opponent of England’s Adam Smith, into Russian. Before foreign and domestic intrigues manipulated the Czar into the disastrous Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907 against Germany a pact which made England’s war in 1914 possible, the Russian state recognized the German classical system as superior to British empiricism and reductionism.

Many times I have asked Russians of the 1980s generation why they came back to Russia to work after living in the USA. Always the reply more or less, “The US education was so boring, no challenge…the American students were so shallow, no idea of anything outside the United States…for all its problems, I decided to come home and help build a new Russia…”

Some personal examples illustrate what I have found: Irina went with her parents to Oregon in the early 1990s. Her father was a high-ranking military figure in the USSR. After the collapse he retired and wanted to get away from Russia, memories of wars, to live his last years peacefully in Oregon.

His daughter grew up there, went to college there and ultimately realized she could be so much more herself back in Russia where today as a famous journalist covering US-instigated wars in Syria and elsewhere including Ukraine, she is making a courageous contribution to world peace.

Konstantin went to the USA to work as a young broadcast journalist, did a master’s degree in New York in film and decided to return to Russia where he is making valuable TV documentaries on dangers of GMO and other important themes.

Anton stayed in Russia, went into scientific and business publishing and used his facility with IT to found his own publishing house. Dmitry who taught physics at a respected German university, returned to his home St Petersburg to become a professor and his wife also a physicist, translates and manages a Russian language internet site as well as translating into Russian several of my own books.

What all these Russian acquaintances, now in their late 30s or forties share is that they were born when the remnants of the old Soviet Russia were still very visible, for better and for worse, but grew to maturity after 1991.

This generation has a sense of development, progress, of change in their lives that is now proving invaluable to shape Russia’s future. They are also, through their families and even early childhood, rooted in the old Russia, like Vladimir Putin, and realize the reality of both old and new.

Now because of the brazen open savagery of Washington policies against Russia, this generation is looking at what was valuable. They realize that the stultifying bureaucratic deadness of the Soviet Stalin heritage was deadly in the USSR years. And they realize they have a unique chance to shape a new, dynamic Russia of the 21st Century not based on the bankrupt model of the now-dying American Century of Henry Luce and FD Roosevelt.

This for me is the heart of an emerging renaissance of the spirit among Russians that gives me more than hope for the future. And, a final note, it has been policy among the so-called Gods of Money, the bankers of London and New York, since at least the assassination in 1881 of Czar Alexander II, to prevent a peaceful growing alliance between Germany and Russia. A prime aim of Victoria Nuland’s Ukraine war has been to rupture that growing Russo-German economic cooperation.

A vital question for the future of Germany and of Europe will be whether Germany’s politicians continue to kneel to the throne of Obama or his successor or define their true interests in closer cooperation with the emerging Eurasian economic renaissance that is being shaped by President Putin’s Russia and by President Xi’s China.

Ironically, Washington’s and now de facto NATO’s “undeclared war” against Russia has sparked this remarkable renaissance of the Russian spirit. For the first time in many years Russians are starting to feel good about themselves and to feel they are good in a world of some very bad people. It may be the factor that saves our world from a one world dictatorship of the bankers and their military.

 

First published by our partner The-4th-Media under tittle: “Russia Saves the World from a One World Dictatorship of Bankers and Their Military”.

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The European Union and Russia: To talk or not to talk and about what?

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The recent visit of the High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell to Moscow was seen by those, who care about good-neighbourly relations between the EU and Russia, as a first step on the way of putting an end to their decline, since already for some time they were going from bad to worse. Why didn’t the expectations of these people of good will bear the fruit? Were they simply naïve? To an extent, it is true. But why was there such a negative reaction to Borrell’s visit in several European capitals, and also in the European Parliament, including the calls for his resignation? What led Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, to declare that his country must be ready to severing relations with the EU in case the latter adopts new sanctions against Moscow? What would this mean for Europe, for Russia and even for the wider world since notwithstanding the coronavirus the world remains interconnected and interdependent, even if a reverse tendency has also become visible?

First of all, it has to be noted that there are those, both in Russia as well as in Europe, who are actively against any improvement of relations between Moscow and Brussels. In Russia these are not only, and even not so much, those ultra-nationalists (exemplified, say, by Alexander Prohkanov) for whom the Western influence in Russia is like a bat from the hell infected by coronavirus. These are also members of the radical pro-Western opposition to the Kremlin, exemplified by Alexei Navalny. For them any sign of reconciliation between the West and Russia is a cause for alarm since in such a case they may be soon out of job. And both of these Russian opponents of rapprochement between the EU and Russia have their counterparts in the West, including Europe. Significant parts of political elites, particularly in the Baltic countries and in Poland, for whom trans-Atlantic ties are much more important than European interests, hope that by supporting the radical opposition in Russia they could enforce there a regime change, a kind of ‘colour revolution’.

However, as the success of such scenarios is ‘highly unlikely’ and political pragmatism and economic self-interests usually prevail over vociferous extremism, be it political or religious, there is still hope at the end of the tunnel. Moreover, when Sergei Lavrov said that Russia should be ready to possible severing relations between EU and Russia, he didn’t mean at all that it would be Russia’s choice. It was said in the context of a response to a threat of new EU’s sanctions and Moscow’s countersanctions since all such unfriendly measures inevitably undermine relations between States and societies. And though it is impossible to realistically imagine a complete severance of relations between Brussels and Moscow, it may well be that at least for the nearest future political relations between them become a bit frozen. It maybe even advisable to take the time off and reflect for a while, instead of continuing with mutual recriminations. However, this would also mean that relations between Russia and individual member-States of the Union would necessarily rise in importance since there are areas and issues where cooperation between Russia and Europe is inevitable and unavoidable (be it the situation in the Middle East, the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, responses to cyber-terrorism and even the conflict in Eastern Ukraine or the situation in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh, etc.). Moreover, Covid-19 is not only forcing States to impose stricter border controls, even within in the Schengen zone; the virus is also pushing them to cooperate in the distribution and use of effective vaccines, notwithstanding their ‘politically incorrect’ origin. This all means that the role and position of the EU in the world would further weaken.

The failure of Borrell’s mission was also predetermined by what the High Representative himself called ‘the DNA’ of the European Union – the concern for human rights, particularly in States that don’t belong to the Union. As the High Representative himself claimed, in justification of his visit and apologising before the MEPs for its meagre results, the primary purpose of his twofold mission was to convey to the Kremlin the Union’s concerns for human rights and political freedoms in Russia and particularly for the situation of Mr Navalny. He even demanded Navalny’s ‘immediate and unconditional release’. And only then came issues of bilateral cooperation between the EU and Russia. This was an absolutely wrong, even disastrous, way to start a dialogue. The European Union is not a human rights NGO, like the Amnesty International or the Human Rights Watch, and even if it has a human rights mandate, then only vis-à-vis its member-States. Moreover, the whole history of the human rights movement shows that inter-State relations (and relations between the EU and Russia are inter-State relations) are not the best forum for conducting a human rights discourse. For that there are specialised human rights bodies, both international and domestic, intergovernmental and non-governmental. When human rights diplomacy of States has had tangible positive effects, it has been achieved by unobtrusive approaches, never through public criticism in the face of mass media. Such criticism has always been counterproductive, even vis-à-vis smaller and weaker States, to say nothing about great powers.

Usually such public criticism doesn’t even have a purpose of improving the human rights situation in a target country. It may be a form of self-satisfaction – we are holding a moral high-ground, while you are outcasts (rogue or pariah States). It is nice to feel virtuous even if things on the grounds don’t change at all or even get worse. It may be also a part of regime-change tactics in parallel with undercover support for opposition forces in target States. Never have such public campaigns improved human rights situations. The opposite is true – human rights situations have improved as a result of fruitful cooperation between States. So, the reforms in China and the inclusion of China in the world-wide economic cooperation have lifted, according to the World Bank, 850 million Chinese out of extreme poverty, helping thereby the UN to achieve one of its Millennium Development Goals. However, such an unexpected success has not been to everybody’s liking and today Washington is trying to harness its allies to help contain Beijing’s rise, using for it, inter alia, human rights discourse that is not doing any good either for Uighurs in the North or Hongkongese in the South of the country. But such policy of containment is not at all about Uighurs or inhabitants of Hong Kong; it is about geopolitics in the disguise of human rights. 

In the aftermath of the failed attempts to promote democracy and human rights in the wider Middle East, the former British Prime Minister Theresa May promised that there is no ‘return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.’She vowed never to repeat the ‘failed policies of the past’, breaking from the ’liberal intervention’ principle established and promoted by her predecessor Tony Blair. Hubert Védrine, the former French Foreign Minister, was right in emphasising that ‘democracy and human rights will progress in future much less through the prescriptions and interference from the outside by the West than depending on the internal dynamics of individual societies’. It is often, though not always, the case that the less States publicly criticise other States on human rights issues, the better would it be for human rights.

From our partner International Affairs

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The Role of Ideology in Foreign Policy: Why Contemporary Russia Cannot Be Compared to the Soviet Union

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Ideology is a crucial component in understanding the motivation behind any individual or group of people. Realism falsely presupposes that the motivation of actors can be understood purely through the lens of survival in a limited resources zero-sum domain. At face level, this sounds rational and economic, but it should be understood that in microeconomics, even though people are assumed to always act self-interestedly, it is also understood that what their self-interest is actually composed of is ultimately subjective. Therefore, a more realistic and analytical view of realpolitik allows us to understand that the self-interest of nations is also subjective, which means that the role of ideology cannot be discounted as it pertains to foreign policy.

Throughout human history, nearly every nation has been founded for the sake of itself, even expansionist empires. A glaring exemption to this rule was observed during the Cold War, a clash of two markedly ideological countries.

The United States is a country that was founded on the ideology of humanist enlightenment liberalism and is a country whose founding was assumed to be not for the sake of themselves, but for the sake of all mankind. This was seen as early as the settling of the American continent, with John Winthrop’s famous imagery in A Model of Christian Charity which portrayed the country as a moral paragon, a city on a hill for all the world to see. Likewise, this idea of liberal universalism was evident in the very founding documents of America. In the United States Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers wrote that their country was being incepted to secure the idea “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

This founding ethos directly affected America’s foreign policy, as America has historically occupied a position as the world’s “policeman,” believing that they uniquely have an obligation to defend democratic values everywhere. This rhetoric can be found exhaustively in colloquial American media, but one noticeable concrete example of it is found in George Bush’s 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy, where the document states that “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”.

In a similar vein, the Soviet Union was also founded upon an ideology that extended beyond its national borders. The USSR was the product of Marxist theory and was therefore not founded for the sake of national interest or nationalism, but for the sake of facilitating the international communist revolution, a sentiment captured in the final remarks of Marx’s Communist Manifesto: “the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains…WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!”

This created an interesting vision for communist statehood, because in the USSR, the state was not the merely the final end, as it is in many governance structures, but both an end in itself and a means to a further end. This Proletarian internationalism manifested itself into an interventionist foreign policy, one that sought to propagate communist ideology across the world and facilitate revolution. In fact, it could even be said that this was the primary function of the USSR. Even Lenin once admitted that “from the beginning of the October Revolution, foreign policy and international relations have been the main questions facing us” (Jacobson, 1994) [1].

The clash between these two ideological superpowers became physically manifest during the Cold War through various “cold conflicts” such as the Vietnam War, conflict in Angola, and Cuban missile crisis, instances when the US and USSR sought to project their values onto other nations. As can be imagined, the war made tensions very high between the two countries, and in the West, a staunch fear-based perception of Russia developed. The Cold War was portrayed in America as a fight between good and evil, and Russia was portrayed as a relentless enemy that will never back down, a sentiment which had a lasting effect on the way that Russia is viewed in the contemporary West. This impact has been so salient, that even Russia today is still often characterized as if it was some great evil, waiting for “red dawn” to arrive.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the communist ideology that had influenced the behavior of the USSR fell with it. Without this ideological superstructure, Russia reverted back into a country that falls into a normal range of ideological behavior, determined primarily by a defined set of national interests. While the USSR and US fought for the ability to hegemonize a bipolar system into a unipolar one, contemporary Russia rejects the idea of unipolarity and seeks to coexist with other nations in a multipolar world. Russia certainly has defined geographical areas in which it has foreign interests, specifically the Eurasian sphere, but these interests are predicated on a shared history and mutual economic benefit, and not desires to imperialize.

Nevertheless, in the modern age, there are still fears about Russian imperialism and a “new cold war”. Such fears come from a misunderstanding about the role of ideology in foreign policy. These sentiments demonstrate both a failure to understand the determining factor behind Soviet foreign policy—the union’s ideology, and a failure to analyze a modern country independently of its ideological history. These feelings come from an assumption that Russia today has the same motivational foundation as the Soviet Union, and that is simply not true.

The ideology supporting modern Russia’s foreign policy had formed largely in response to the conclusion of the Cold War, when a bipolar system was turned into a unipolar one, dominated by the United States. In this condition, the world was severely influenced by American foreign policy, military interests, politics, culture, and media, and could be defined as what many scholars would call a global hegemon. Russia considers such a distribution of power to be undemocratic and an affront to the individual autonomy of nation-states.

In his 2007 Munich address on security policy, Vladimir Putin criticized the idea of an America controlled hegemonic order when he stated that in our world, “there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within”. Another comment by Putin from around the same time period attacks this model of governance was when he stated that “(the) people are always teaching us democracy but the people who teach us democracy don’t want to learn it themselves”.

It was in response to this new structural backdrop, as well as increasing levels of globalization, that an ideology of multilateralism and polycentrism became the underlying motivator behind contemporary Russia’s foreign policy. Russia’s ideology rejects a vision of an American led hegemonic order, but also does not seek to hegemonize the order for itself either, it merely beckons for the mutual coexistence and recognition of autonomy between the world’s global powers and regional subsystems.

This sentiment is captured in the words of Sergey Lavrov, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs for Russia in 2013. Lavrov stated that the world was undoubtedly moving towards a polycentric system of international relations, and that in order to ensure an equitable outcome during this transition, “fairer and more democratic systems where economic growth centers and new financial power centres should play a greater role in managing the world economy and political processes”. While the moves and actions of modern Russia are often framed in a realist lens by Western critics, the underlying ideology of the Russian Federation is actually quite liberal, as Russia accepts that a multipolar world should be brokered by polycentric or multilateral means, such as the United Nations.

It would be foolish to judge any country by its ideological history. It would be intellectually dishonest to evaluate a previously religious state in the context of religious ideology after secularization. Likewise, Russia today has largely, if not completely separated from its interventionist communist past and has embraced a new vision of both the world order and its foreign policy. When evaluating contempo

1. Jacobson, J. (1994). “The Ideological and Political Foundations of Soviet Foreign Policy.” In When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics. University of California Press. pp. 12.

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What Russia Wants In The Balkans

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Popular narratives on Russia’s geopolitical interests in the Balkans point to two rather divergent directions. One of them, inherited from the 19th-century strategic thought, says that Russia, as a landlocked empire, must expand into the Balkans, so as to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. According to this narrative, the Balkans is treated as an empty space, regardless of the ethno-religious identity of the inhabitant population. The other one, which can be traced back to 19th-century romanticist pan-Slavism, but which has been popularized in its present form after the publication of Samuel Huntington’s theory of „the clash of civilizations“, says that Russia conceives of its influence in the Balkans through the cultivation of fraternal relations with the region’s Orthodox Christians, using common religious identity to project its geopolitical ambitions.

Facts on the ground, however, do not support either. Russia’s influence in the region, from the early 19th century to the present day, could never compete with the influence of the Anglo-French axis, exercised through the channels of Serbian and Greek nationalisms, constructed on the anti-Ottoman/anti-Islamic and anti-Habsburg/anti-Catholic foundations, in accordance with strategic interests of the two West European powers to dismantle the declining empires and transform them into a number of weak nation-states. Although these nationalist movements used Orthodox Christianity and a popular folklore motif of fraternity with Orthodox Russia as effective tools for mobilizing the targeted populations on the anti-Islamic and anti-Catholic grounds, their elites always remained clearly detached from Russia, being continuously oriented towards their true patrons in London and Paris.

The Russian motive in mobilizing Serbian nationalism in the 1990s was, of course, quite convenient for London and Paris, having concealed their continuous support to the Serbian military invasion of Bosnia and Croatia, which produced a gigantic campaign of ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population in the occupied areas, with more than 100.000 dead and over one million expelled. That was one of the reasons why the British propaganda, both diplomatic and public, insisted on the alleged Russian support to Serbia and its military expansion as a reason why the Western powers could not intervene in the war in Bosnia and prevent further bloodshed. Another reason, much more important from a strategic point of view – indeed, the reason why the Serbian campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing was supported by London and Paris in the first place – was the global promotion of Hungtington’s theory of „the clash of civilizations“ as „the next pattern of conflict“. According to that pattern, future geopolitical blocs would be formed on the basis of religious identities, acting as „civilizations“ in ineradicable conflicts. As a model of such conflicts at a micro-level was the one launched in Bosnia, in which Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Christians were pushed to the point of mutual extermination, in an attempt to form „ethnically cleansed“ areas. This scheme was imposed on these communities’ self-appointed leaders (Izetbegović, Karadžić, Boban) by the European Community’s negotiator Lord Carrington at the conference held in Lisbon in 1992, several months before the war. The widely promoted narrative of the alleged Russian support of the Serbian aggression on Bosnia, and the alleged pan-Islamic support to Bosnia’s defenders (with the deliberate media characterisation of all Bosnians, whatever their religion, as „Muslims“) served the purpose of transforming the world into one of clashing „civilizations“. The ultimate goal was to generate an analogous conflict between Orthodox Christians and Muslims on the macro-level, which would eventually push Russia into a lasting armed conflict with the former Soviet republics populated by Muslims, and then into a global conflict with the rest of the Islamic world. Needless to say, such a development would have created a significant strategic advantage for the Anglo-American powers and a great strategic loss for both Russia and the Islamic countries. 

Yeltsin’s foreign policy at the time did not show too much understanding of that geopolitical game, allowing for a public image of Russia as a promoter of pan-Orthodox ideology and a sponsor of the Serbian aggression in the Balkans. However, it must be noted that Russia was not drawn into any major conflict that would fit the pattern of Hungtington’s „clash of civilizations“, although the local conflicts in Chechnya and Nagorno-Karabakh, in which it was directly or indirectly involved, did possess some elements of that model. In contrast, Putin’s foreign policy was based on a much deeper understanding of global relations and geopolitical games at play, so that eventually the Anglo-American strategy of drawing Russia into inter-religious conflicts in Central Asia, in line with Huntington’s theory, did not bear much fruit. And so did the constructed image of Russia’s involvement on the Serbian side gradually wither away.

Yet, paradoxically, in the last couple of years Russia has played the role, previously insinuated by the Anglo-American propaganda, of a protector of Serbia’s efforts to create a Greater Serbia out of the territories of the neighbouring countries with a Serb ethnic minority population (Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo).It is difficult to imagine anything more destructive for a country, which is a home to more than 190 ethnic groups, than to adopt the principle of ethnic and religious homogeneity. However, contrary to the principles of ethnic diversity applied in its own territory and in the broader area of the former Soviet Union, Russia’s attitude in the Balkans has shown open support to the Greater Serbian programme of uniting all Serbs into a single, ethnically homogenous state. Russian foreign policy of open support for the Serbian efforts to cede the Serb-populated renegade province of Bosnia to Serbia is self-contradictory, to say the least. It is also self-defeating, if taken seriously and applied to Russia itself and the neighbouring countries with a Russian ethnic minority. Can anyone imagine today’s Russia in permanent efforts to cede parts of all post-Soviet republics populated with Russians, so as to unite them in some mythical Greater Russia? Or, can anyone imagine Russia attempting to ethnically cleanse its own territory, so as to expel or exterminate all those 190 ethnic communities, in the name of an ethnically homogenous Russian nation-state? Of course not. Yet, that is precisely the policy of Serbia towards its neighbours and towards its own population that Russia now openly supports on the international scene. Therefore, one has to rightfully ask, what is it that Russia wants in the Balkans?

In the first place, it is highly questionable how influential Russia really is in Serbia, despite its public support for it. For, the very existence of Serbia, from a semi-autonomous principality within the Ottoman territory in the 1830s to the creation of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882 , to its expansion into other South Slavic territories in the form of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) at the Versailles Conference in 1919, always had explicit support by London and Paris. The dissolution of the communist Yugoslavia, which Serbia used as a convenient opportunity to implement the Greater Serbia programme, was also clearly backed by London and Paris, with no relevant participation by Moscow. Under these conditions, it is difficult to imagine a strategic shift from the centuries long Anglo-French influence to that of Russia. It is also difficult to identify Russian strategic interests in the Balkans, given that Russia’s foreign policy was not designed to exert control in the zones outside the territory of the former Soviet Union. 

Yet, if Russia has no real influence on Serbia, then the current Russian support of Serbia’s continuing hostile policy towards its neighbours may well be a simulation of influence. Even if such a simulation cannot deceive the foreign policy circles in London, which are quite familiar with the extent of their long-term control over Serbia, it may well deceive such circles in Washington, which are commonly persuaded that Moscow’s influence can be detected everywhere. For what purpose? If the Balkan region is of strategic importance for the US, not only as a link between the West and the Middle East, but also in terms of its natural resources (e.g. Kosovo), then the simulated Russian influence in the Balkans might serve as a leverage against the American influence in the zones of true strategic importance for Russia. What first comes to mind, of course, is Ukraine and its aspirations to join NATO: if a tactical simulation of Russian influence in the Balkans, as a zone of traditional strategic influence of the West, turns out to be successful, then it might be possible to push Washington to reduce its ambitions in Ukraine and leave it outside NATO structures.

There is also another purpose for which such a simulation might serve. Not so many analysts, diplomats or politicians are aware of the tacit strategic alliance between Russia and Turkey, which has elevated Turkey to the status of a great power. This alliance has already been tested in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. In Libya, Russia and Turkey simulated a possibility of mutual military confrontation, each supporting one of the warring parties, while in reality they agreed to divide the spheres of influence, using the Libyan warring parties as their respective proxies. In Syria, under the pretended confrontation, the new allies also divided the spheres of influence. Still, the most interesting game was played out in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Turkey openly supported Azerbaijan in its efforts to restore sovereignty over this region. On the other side, Armenia was persuaded by Western powers, namely France, to go into the war over Azerbaijan’s region under the pretext that Russian military support to Armenia was a geopolitical inevitability. However, Azerbaijan, with Turkish military support, took the region over, with no resistance on Russia’s part. Russia thus returned to the principle of inviolability of post-Soviet borders and finally abandoned the principle of ethnically homogenous greater states, advocated by Armenia and its patrons in Paris and London. Is there a possibility for Russia and Turkey to play a similar game in the Balkans? Is there a possibility that Russia and Turkey want to generate an illusion among the Serbian nationalist elites that Russia would unquestionably support their attempts to cede parts of Bosnia and Kosovo, at the same time leaving Turkey with a free hand to extend its military support to Bosnia’s and Kosovo’s efforts to prevent Serbia from questioning their sovereignty? Is there a will in Russia to return to the principle of inviolability of borders in the Balkans, too, thereby abandoning the principle of ethnic homogeneity advocated by Serbia and its sponsors in London and Paris, the most harmful principle for Russia’s own interests? Is there a will in Russia to follow its own geopolitical interests, in cooperation with Turkey, along the same lines and with the same implications as in Nagorno-Karabakh? Really, what is Russia doing in the Balkans? 

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