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.
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”.
The Russian constitutional referendum of July 1, 2020
With specific reference to the health situation, Russia is still in a severe situation with over 350,000 Covid-19 cases.
Brazil, however, has replaced the Russian Federation as the hardest hit country in the world, while the United States is now firmly at the top of the ranking. Nevertheless, what really frightens the Russian decision-makers are the medium and long-term economic consequences of the health crisis.
Russia’s GDP had already recorded a 1.6% increase in the first quarter of 2020, but all Russian economists expect GDP to fall by at least 16% in the second quarter.
Two-thirds of this GDP contraction, however, can still be attributed to the lockdown, but only one-third to the related fall in oil prices.
With specific reference to the quarantine management, Prime Minister Mishustin thinks that 27 regions can now reduce quarantine restrictions, while the leaders of Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian Consumer Protection Agency, have asked the Governors of the Sverdlovsk and Smolensk regions to restore or even tighten quarantine requirements.
The national average growth rate of viral infections in Russia is currently 3.9%, but a “Plan 2” for the definitive recovery of the Russian economy is already supposed to be in place.
However, there will be three recovery phases: in the third quarter of 2020, the government will ensure that recession does not spread to the sectors which are still scarcely affected and will then refinance, one by one, the hardest hit economic sectors.
The real Phase 2 – hence the real recovery – will take place from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021, with Russia trying to recover the pre-Covid 19 standards of living for the entire population. In the Phase 3, which will begin in the fourth quarter of 2021, the economy is even expected to start growing again.
Pursuant to Russia’s current regulations, all proceeds from oil and gas exports are directly deposited into the National Welfare Fund (NWF).
This Russian Sovereign Fund currently holds 11% of the whole Federation’s GDP. When the oil barrel prices are below 42 U.S. dollars, the Fund directly covers the difference by depositing what is needed directly into the federal budget. Above the threshold of 42 U.S. dollars, everything goes smoothly.
Regardless of the constitutional referendum, the central government is likely to decide to take the necessary funds for the new economic expansion directly from the NWF.
In a new crisis situation, the federal budget would directly receive all the oil revenues, which shall be allocated to the reconstruction of the Russian welfare and economy.
Again with reference to oil, unlike other countries, Russia needs a basic oil barrel price of 40 U.S. dollars to “recover its costs”.
Furthermore, the high prices reached after the various recent production restrictions within OPEC+ have enabled Russia to increase its reserves, which now stand at approximately 400 billion U.S. dollars.
The Russian Federation’s current resources, however, would still enable the country to sustain even an oil barrel price of 25 U.S. dollars for ten years.
Moreover, unlike Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ countries, Russia depends on oil and gas exports only for approximately two thirds of its revenues, while the rest is made up of raw materials such as uranium, coal, other metals and minerals, and especially the sale of arms abroad, a sector for which the Russian Federation is second only to the United States.
It is precisely in this geo-economic situation that the forthcoming referendum scheduled for July 1 in Russia will take place.
As you may remember, the announcement of the constitutional referendum made on January 16, 2020, enabled the then Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, to resign on that day and then take on the role of Vice-President of the Russian Security Council, which is obviously chaired by Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev was replaced by Michail Mishustin, who is not a “man of force”, i.e. a former director of the Intelligence Services turned politician, but comes from the Federal Tax Service. When Mishustin himself fell ill with Covid-19, from April 30 to May 19 he was replaced by the economist Andrey Belousov.
Hence what does President Putin want to achieve with his constitutional reform? Not just his mere stay in power, which the leader deems necessary, since he has not yet found his true heir apparent.
It is a particularly effective sign that the second reading of the constitutional reform, adopted by the State Duma at the beginning of March 2020, was dominated by the presence of Valentina Tereskova, the first cosmonaut, now an 83-year-old member of Parliament.
In that vote there were 382 in favour, 44 abstained and 0 MPs against.
Therefore, if approved in the referendum, the current reform will be the real constitutional definition of Putin’s “vertical of power”.
It should be recalled it is a mechanism made up of centre-periphery relations, but also of now stable electoral systems: the prohibition of presenting “independent” candidates; the registration of regular candidates by parties that are officially recognized and have at least 50,000 members in different regions of the country; the 7% hurdle, whereby the votes of those who do not reach said threshold shall always be distributed among all the other parties that have exceeded it.
Certainly the Russian Federation cannot be a democracy. If it were so, it would no longer exist as such.
A great empire, with a surface sixty times the size of Italy, but with a population just below the sum of Italians and Germans, as well as with empty Siberia on the border with the very overpopulated China.
In an “empty country” – as Baron De Custine defined it at the beginning of the 19th century – the fear of foreigners always recurs: Putin’s old video, in the 2012 election rounds, showed the Chinese arriving in Khabarovsk; NATO taking Kaliningrad; the Islamists raiding in the Caucasus and finally the skinheads – an evident symbol of Western stupidity – moving freely around St. Petersburg.
The Russian Constitutional Court, however, has already made it clear that Putin’s reform is legal.
Hence what does Putin want? Firstly, a stronger system of central State controls over the federal and peripheral governments, so as to create the constitutional legislation of the “vertical of power” which is currently based only on Putin’s personal energy.
Secondly the considerable strengthening of the status and role of the Russian Federation’s State Council, which is at present only an advisory body, not prescribed in the Constitution. It shall also be given the powers of orienting domestic and foreign policies, as well as identifying the main areas of future development in the country.
Thirdly, Vladimir Putin’s proposal would mean that the regional Governors could automatically be members of the State Council, obviously after having established a pact with the Kremlin.
Fourthly, the statute of the State Council shall be fully incorporated into the Constitution. The vast “nationalisation of elites” will be strengthened, since those who hold important positions for ensuring the country’ security, such as President, Ministers, members of the State Duma, regional Governors, judges or any other high-ranking State official, shall not have foreign citizenship or even a residence permit in other countries, either at the time of their work in office or, in the case of the President, at any time before.
A presidential candidate, however, must prove he or she has been permanently living in Russia for at least 25 years (currently 10 years) and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. Ex post, of course.
The Constitution shall take precedence over international law and over the provisions of international treaties. Here the Russian concept of “sovereign democracy” is reaffirmed, which sometimes departs from the Western mythology of “human” and hence “universal” rights and states its clear opposition to dealing with the internal affairs of any other country.
In the proposed constitutional reform, there is also the clear prohibition to transfer and alienate part of the Russian Federation’s territories.
The Federation Council (the Upper House of Parliament), which now becomes the primary government body, shall also have the right to propose to the President to dismiss federal judges by providing a reasoned assessment and motivated opinion on their activity; in some cases, upon the proposal of the President, the Federation Council shall have the right to remove judges of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts.
The State Duma (the Lower House of Parliament) shall have the right to approve the Prime Minister’s candidacy (currently it only gives consent to his/her appointment). The State Duma shall also approve the candidates of Deputy-Prime Minister and Federal Ministries; the President cannot refuse their appointment, but in some cases he/she will be able to remove them from office
Hence the two directives of “United Russia”, Putin’s traditional party, become constitutional rule, i.ederžavnost’ – the ‘great power’ – and gosudarstvenničestvo, the ‘strong State’.
Moreover, as always happens in current political propaganda, there is the issue of family relations.
The new Constitution proposed by the President defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman – and even the TV propaganda of the referendum underlines this aspect.[
Furthermore, the State has the explicit duty to “preserve and honour the memory of the Defenders of the Fatherland, as well as honour the pan-Russian cultural identity and show faith in God” as a value sacredly received by ancestors.
Sobianin, the mayor of Moscow, the city which is still the epicentre of the COVID-19 infection, wanted to hold the referendum in September, but Putin wants it now.
Why? Because Vladimir Putin is aware of the political and personal tensions within the apparata.
In the Secret Services and in the Armed Forces – which, over the last few months, have been the origin of indirect and veiled attacks on him. A series of events has also revealed how the Military Secret Service (GRU) is no longer entirely in Putin’s hands, as was previously the case.
Certainly, now that the Covid-19 is in a phase of controlled expansion, Putin has anyway regained popularity.
Still today, 63% of the Russian population shows strong support for Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin. In the referendum case, however, the voter turnout is estimated at 65%, which is always too little to ensure a real and definitive success to the President. Nevertheless, by paraphrasing Blaise Pascal, it should be recalled that democratic elections have ways “of which reason and the heart know nothing”.
About 47% of Russians, however, states to be in favour of the reforms proposed by Putin to the Constitution.
Too few? We shall see what the future has in store. Only 53% of young people is expected to vote, while 77% of elderly people is expected to go to the polls.
Nevertheless, 41% of young people will always vote against Putin’s amendments to the Russian Constitution, with 45% of them living in Moscow.
It is currently foreseen that 35% of voters will not go to the polls.
Is Putin in danger? We do not believe so, considering that – if this happens because of his poor electoral performance – the President will find a way to recover. However, we do not think this will be the case.
Hence centralization of true power in Putin’s hands, up to two terms and even beyond but, on the other hand, distribution regulated by the central power to the regional governments.
A new configuration of power in Russia, until Putin finds his true heir apparent.
If he ever finds him, of course.
The State is “a work of art”, as an old and valuable book by Jakob Burkhardt, “The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy”, reads.
Therefore, every State does not reproduce as a photocopy, but only through the Author, the Artist.
If voted and adopted, the amendments to the Russian Constitution will enable Putin to be regularly re-elected for over two consecutive terms, but, with the current changes, we can think of additional 12 years and more in power, but only for Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin.
As US-China Competition Unfolds, Russia Watches Closely
Russia’s relations with the West are at their lowest point in two decades. Similar patterns of warming and cooling have taken place intermittently ever since Russia emerged as a major Eurasian power in the early 18th century. Each crisis with the West alternated with rapprochement and at times full military and security cooperation.
An unchangeable trait of those relations was that Russia had scarcely any foreign policy alternatives with which to balance its West-oriented geopolitical worldview. For Moscow, the West remained a major source of technological, economic, and political progress even as it remained an existential threat, as various military invasions by western Europeans into the Russian heartland proved.
This changed in the early 2000s, when China’s rise gave Russia a new card to play. Today’s Russian political elites advocate a more balanced foreign policy in which the Kremlin’s interests lie in every major Eurasian region. According to that vision, Russia’s foreign policy is no longer attached to any specific region but is evenly spread in an era of “Global Russia.”
From the Russian perspective, the competition between the US and China is a geopolitical development that could offer Moscow many opportunities. The US, which once focused on containing Russia through broader support for vulnerable territories from Scandinavia to the Black Sea, is now focused on Syria and other Middle East trouble spots and is shifting its attention far from Russia’s borders to the Indo-Pacific.
There is, indeed, an urgent need for this shift in American focus, as China’s power far outstrips Russia’s. But for the Russians, the shift in the American worldview means US power will be depleted even more than it was in the 2000s. Over the century’s first two decades, the US entered Afghanistan and Iraq and later got involved in Syria, spending trillions overall.
This means that Russia’s pivot to the east, rebalancing the West with China, has much deeper geopolitical significance than many believe. Russia-China cooperation goes far beyond the “partnership of convenience” propounded by many analysts.
As the US-China competition persists (as it is likely to do for decades), it will grow easier for Russia to maneuver and attain at least some geopolitical aims in its immediate neighborhood. For Moscow, the longer the competition between the two economic and military powers goes on the better, as it will help Russia position itself as a separate pole of geopolitical gravitation.
We often forget that to the Russians, China and the US are long-term geopolitical rivals of very much the same caliber. The Kremlin does not trust either one of them, and their competition redounds to Russia’s benefit. A similar situation existed before WWII, when Stalin and the Bolsheviks perceived all Western powers as hostile. To gain geopolitical advantage it was necessary to foster disagreements between the Nazis and France and Great Britain.
While that strategy worked then, this is a different era. First and foremost is the grand scale of the struggle between the Chinese and Americans. Still, the inherent geopolitical worldview of the Russians remains the same: abstain from directly engaging in the US-China competition and try to leverage it to gain geopolitical points. The ultimate object is to have both the US and China approach Russia for geopolitical support.
Time will tell if this strategy will work. The US is increasing pressure on allies and partners across the world to desist from security and military cooperation with the Chinese. A clearly defined US-led techno-economic bloc is emerging. For the moment, Russia is closer to China through burgeoning economic and military ties—but the Russians fear that a powerful China could strategically challenge Moscow’s interests in Central Asia and elsewhere.
Ideally, Washington would prefer that Moscow come closer to the US than turn toward China. Perhaps serious effort will be made to salvage its broken relations with the Kremlin. The problem will be how many concessions the US and the EU can make. The focal points will be Ukraine first of all, and then Moldova and Georgia. Some concessions might be offered, but it is unlikely that the collective West will abandon its decades-long economic and military efforts in the former Soviet space.
Similarly, Russia will try to score points in the Middle East. The West might be more conciliatory there, but not to the point of abandoning the region altogether.
This leads to another scenario in which the West does not try to pull Russia closer, but rather leaves it to be drawn into China’s orbit. Many believe the collective West would be unable to match Russia’s and China’s combined resources. This might not be entirely true. After all, the US managed to contain the Soviets and the Chinese when they were close in the 1950s and early 1960s, a time when their satellites controlled most of the Eurasian landmass. This US tradition could serve as the basis for a more pronounced confrontation with the non-democratic powers.
This would mean that Russian hopes for geopolitical gains through grand geopolitical trade-offs with the West might not materialize. The country might be further pulled into the Chinese sphere of technological, military, and security influence.
The possession of a large nuclear arsenal would not be a point of leverage for Moscow. Chinese influence would expand in every non-nuclear sphere. With Russia essentially cut off from the West, it would be unable to contain China’s economic and military power in Central Asia and the Middle East.
Either of these scenarios could unfold. Russia might try to play the difficult game of balancing the West and China to gain concessions from both. However, the Kremlin’s long-term hopes could be dashed if the US comes to regard Russia and China as strategically linked in the enemy camp. With China dominant and Europe hesitant to help, there would be very little room for cooperation.
Author’s note: first published in BESA
Possible West-Russia Rapprochement and its Impact on South Caucasus
In the West analyses abound on possible rapprochement between the West and Russia. This is mainly caused by China’s rise and the West’s fear that Russia could eventually be lost to Beijing’s economic, military and technological superiority. The possible West-Russia rapprochement will have a direct impact on the three South Caucasus states. Each country will react differently, but overall the three oppose the idea of a possible Western withdrawal as it will increase Russian influence and limit diversification of their foreign policy.
China and the US are in the midst of emerging global competition. Russia is an important player to watch as both Beijing and Washington will try to gain Russian support for their respective geopolitical visions. Surely, the US can confront Russia and China simultaneously (as it does currently), but with Russia being drawn closer to the West, the US will be better positioned to confront the rising China.
Instead of focusing on Russia, containing it through a wider support for the vulnerable territories from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the US is now shifting its attention away from the Russian borders to the rising Indo-Pacific region. For the Russians this shift means that American power will be depleted elsewhere.
Another feature of Russian thinking is that the US-China conflict might enable it to advance their own interests, which have been limited by the West over the past three decades. This was mostly evident in the former Soviet space. The successful western expansion into Russia’s neighborhood halted Moscow’s projection of power. The Russian political elite thus sees the nascent US-China competition as a chance to enhance its weakened geopolitical position across the former Soviet space.
Russians believe that both Washington and Beijing will need Russian support. This logic is driving the Kremlin’s approach towards Beijing and Washington. Russia wants to position itself to have the US and China strongly competing with one another to win her favor. If Moscow sides with the West, the concessions to Russia could be more significant than that those potentially offered by the Chinese. Ukraine and the South Caucasus would be the biggest prizes, with NATO expansion closer to Russia’s wishes.
For the moment, this tentative rapprochement might sound highly hypothetical. But Russia has its own reasons to worry about rising Chinese influence, which in the next decade or so could drive the Kremlin towards finding a compromise with the West. This in turn makes one think that in the long run Russia is interested in having the Western counterbalance to China.
West-Russia rapprochement will primarily impact the lands adjoining Russia, or what we commonly call the borderlands, which mostly consist of the former Soviet republics. Ukraine and Moldova have territorial problems with Russia, while in the South Caucasus there is a mixture of territorial issues with Russian economic and military overbearance.
Let us start with Georgia. Perhaps a tentative West-Russia compromise would cool down the existing Russo-Georgian confrontation. However, many in Georgia fear that possible improvement of West-Russia relations could potentially mean Washington’s abandonment of larger aid to Georgia and the latter’s hopes for NATO aspirations.
Tbilisi’s fears are aggravated by the developments in the EU too. Since the Ukraine crisis in 2014, Brussels and Washington have been working in concert to impose and keep economic sanctions against Russia. This combined western resolve also meant the gradual increase of NATO troop presence in eastern Europe.
However, Russia’s recent return to PACE and the restoration of military cooperation between France and Russia (frozen since 2014) indicate that changes in Russia’s EU policy might be forthcoming. It should be added that the French president has insisted on the need to build more stable relations with the Kremlin. In several successive interviews Macron warned that Europe might eventually lose Russia to China.
More importantly, these statements and political moves coincide with a widening gap in between the transatlantic allies. The US’ policies are often at odds with European security imperatives. Take, for example, the US’ decision to cut down its troop presence in Germany by some 9 500 soldiers. A significant decrease whose meaning for the Russians is unmistakable – the US is increasingly unwilling to commit itself to the defense of the European mainland.
Differences in the West cause fears for Georgia. A rethinking of Georgia’s foreign policy might need to take place. It is no surprise that in September 2019, Georgian and Russian FMs (David Zalkaliani and Sergey Lavrov respectively) held a meeting for the first time since the Russian-Georgian War of 2008. It is likely that similar meetings could take place in the future. However, it is also worth stating that a full re-establishment of diplomatic relations is unlikely to happen.
Thus, any decrease of Western support for Georgia will have direct impact on the security of the country. Russia will try gradually increasing its influence through economic and political means. In the long run, this could sap Georgia’s resolve to pursue pro-western policies.
For the moment however, the US continues to support Georgia. For instance, since 2010, US non-military aid to Georgia stands at $64 million a year on average. This sum does not include various programs such as the five-year Millennium Challenge Corporation grant of $140 million to support education. As for the military, in 2018, US military aid to Georgia reached $40.4 million. 400 Javelin portable anti-tank missiles were also sold to Georgia.
The pandemic further underscored the US’ support when its Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food for Progress programme, donated 27,000 tonnes of high-quality wheat to support Georgia when Russia prohibited exports of this product.
Additionally, a string of letters and statements coming from the US senators and congressmen over the past several months indicate the US is deeply involved Georgia’s fate.
Apart from the US, the EU too, despite the pandemic-related troubles, showed continuity in its approach to its eastern neighbors. In March a new Eastern Partnership was introduced – a milestone development as the project was feared to stall significantly.
The West’s collective approach to Armenia and Azerbaijan differs. But there are crucial interests which the EU and the US intend to pursue. Those are mainly regional infrastructure projects such as pipelines, railways and roads connecting the Caspian with the Black Sea.
Potential West-Russia rapprochement will have a lesser impact on Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the two countries are not interested in having larger Russian influence in the region. The EU and the US represent a certain counterbalance for Armenia and Azerbaijan against the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions. Western withdrawal from the South Caucasus would bring a longer stalling of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Dependence on Russian trade and military support will increase leaving little room for the geopolitical maneuvering we witness from time to time: Azerbaijan and Armenia seeking other sources of military technology from Pakistan and India respectively.
Azerbaijan fears that an increased Russian influence as a result of tentative West-Russia rapprochement could result in the blocking of Azeri gas/oil from reaching the Mediterranean. This re-routing of exports to Russian pipelines is what Baku fears the most.
Overall, it could be argued that a certain change in perspective is taking place in the West. Loss of Russia to China is now widely discussed and different visions are being put forward to mend relations with the Kremlin. The rapprochement is still a far-fetched scenario. As shown above, the US and EU show a continuous resolve in supporting Georgia. Nevertheless, the South Caucasus needs to be discussed within the wider Eurasian context. The region could find itself in an uncomfortable place of being a bargaining chip between Russia and the West if the latter decided to have the Kremlin on its side in a growing competition with China. To avoid this situation, South Caucasus states should diversify their foreign policy and cooperate closely with the collective West.
Author’s note: first published in Caucasus Watch
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