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”.
Eurasia’s Great Game: India, Japan and Europe play to Putin’s needs
Eurasia’s Great Game is anything but simple and straightforward.
A burgeoning alliance between China and Russia that at least for now is relegating potential differences between the two powers to the sidelines has sparked a complex geopolitical dance of its own.
With India, Japan and Europe seeking to drive a wedge between the two Asian powers, Central Asian states, where anti-Chinese sentiment is rising, are quietly rooting that Asian rivalries will grant them greater manoeuvrability.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Russia this month during which he attended the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, established to attract Asian investment in the country’s Far East, announced a US$1 billion credit line to fund development of the region.
Mr. Modi and Russian president Vladimir Putin also agreed to establish a maritime link between the Far East’s capital, Vladivostok, and Chennai that would reduce transport time from 40 to 24 days.
The connection potentially could serve as an extension of the Indian Ocean Corridor that links India to Japan and the Pacific and competes with China’s pearl of strings, a series of ports across Asia in which China has invested heavily.
In contrast to Mr. Modi, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has attended the forum since its inception in 2015, did not announce any major deals in response to Mr. Putin’s insistence that “the development of the Russian Far East, strengthening its economic and innovation potential, and raising the living standards of its residents among others, is our key priority and fundamental national goal.”
With the trans-Atlantic alliance fraying at the edges, Markus Ederer, the European Union’s ambassador to Russia and one of the EU’s top diplomats, appeared to recognize Mr. Putin’s priorities when he urged the bloc, to engage on a massive scale with Russia on some of the most tricky political and security aspects in their relationship despite differences over Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia, human rights and alleged Russian interference in various European elections.
In a memorandum to senior bureaucrats, Mr. Ederer suggested that 5G mobile communications, personal data protection, the Artic, regional infrastructure and the development of joint policies on matters such as customs and standards by the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland, should be topics on the EU-Russian agenda.
Mr. Ederer said that these were areas “where leaving a clear field to our competitors by not engaging would be most detrimental to EU interests.”
He argued that a “pragmatic” move towards “enhanced co-ordination” with Russia was needed to combat “Eurasian competition” as China’s influence grows.
The EU “would have everything to lose by ignoring the tectonic strategic shifts in Eurasia. Engaging not only with China but (also) with Russia…is a necessary condition to be part of the game and play our cards where we have comparative advantage,” Mr. Ederer asserted.
Messrs. Modi, Abe and Ederer see opportunity in what Thomas Graham, a former U.S. diplomat and managing director of Kissinger Associates, describes as Russia’s need for “diversity of strategic partners in the (Far East) to maintain its strategic autonomy (from China) going forward.”
The EU, India and Japan hope to capitalize not only on Russia’s requirement for diversified investment but also Mr. Putin’s need to counter widespread anti-Chinese sentiment in the Far East that has turned against his government at a time that protest in Russia is accelerating and after Mr. Putin’s party this month lost a third of its seats in the Moscow district council.
Public sentiment east of the Urals is critical of perceived Chinese encroachment on the region’s natural resources including water, particularly in the Trans-Baikal region.
A petition initiated earlier this year by prominent Russian show business personalities opposing Chinese plans to build a water bottling plant on the shores of Lake Baikal attracted more than 800,000 signatures, signalling the depth of popular resentment and pitfalls of the Russian alliance with China.
Protests further erupted earlier this year in multiple Russian cities against Chinese logging in the Far East that residents and environmentalists charge has spoilt Russian watersheds and is destroying the habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.
The protesters, who also denounced construction of housing for Chinese workers, are demanding a ban on Russian timber exports to China.
Underlying the anti-Chinese protests is the lopsided nature of economic relations that Russia scholar Leo Aaron says fits Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin’s definition of colonial trade, in which one country becomes a raw material appendage of another.
“China is Russia’s second-largest trading partner (after the EU) and Russia’s largest individual partner in both exports and imports. For China, the Russian market is at best second-rate. Russia ranks tenth in Chinese exports and does not make it into the top ten in either imports or total trade,” Mr. Aaron said.
He noted that three-quarters of Russia’s exports to China were raw materials and resources as opposed to consumer goods, electronics and machinery that account for the bulk of Chinese sales to Russia.
European, Indian and Japanese efforts to capitalize on anti-Chinese sentiment taps into a deeply embedded vein.
Writing under the pen name P. Ukhtubuzhsky, Russian author Nikolai Dmitrievich Obleukhov warned already in 1911 that “Russians are being displaced by the yellow races who seize commerce, industry, wages, and so on… God guides people. Those nations who protect Good and Truth will be victorious. If Russia, carrying the light of Orthodoxy, faces in Asia the yellow races wallowing in the darkness of paganism, there cannot be any doubt as to the outcome of this struggle.”
Mr. Putin, presiding over a country in economic trouble, can’t create the margins of manoeuvrability that he needs on his own. He hopes that India, Japan and Europe will come to his aid.
Why We Should Not Expect Russia to be Welcomed Back into the G7
The history of relations between Russia and the G7 can be compared to a multi-act play with a convoluted storyline, magnificent scenery, a number of vivid characters and unexpected plot twists.
Objectively, such a play more looks like an epic tragedy or, at worst, a sentimental melodrama. But, personally, I liken the misadventures of the “Group of Seven,” which has not become a full-fledged “Group of Eight,” to Moliere’s famous comedy Le Bourgeois gentilhomme.
This comedy tells the story of a French “bourgeois” of the 17th century, Monsieur Jourdain, who dreams passionately of being accepted into noble society. Everybody who can take advantage of this obsessive idea of the naïve Jourdain, including toadies from among the impoverished aristocrats, numerous tutors of how to act correctly in “high society” and even his closest relatives do just that. In the end, Monsieur Jourdain’s dream almost comes true: during a pompous and fanciful ceremony, he is awarded an imaginary Turkish high rank of Mamamouchi. The initiation ceremony, of course, turns out to be a complete deception and a swindle.
I will dare state that, like Monsieur Jourdain, who never turned into a real nobleman, Russia, even after formally joining the G7 in 1998, never became a full member of this group. Some of the issues – especially those related to economics and finance – were still discussed in the G7 format, and the annual G8 summits turned Russia into an object of criticism and mentoring edifications more often than any other member of this club. Mutual grievances, frustrations and claims had been accumulating for many years, and the sad reality of 2014 was either a historical inevitability or at least a completely predictable ending to a protracted play.
When President Yeltsin first submitted an application for Russia’s membership in the G7 back in 1992, there were simply no other alternative associations in the world where Moscow could try to squeeze in. Structures such as the G20, BRICS or SCO did not exist at the time, and Russia’s membership in NATO and the European Union seemed unrealistic even then. Therefore, joining the “Group of Seven” not only pursued situational tasks (access to financial and technical assistance from the West, restructuring Soviet debts, combating discrimination of Russian goods), but also had symbolic political significance (a kind of compensation for Moscow’s loss of its “superpower” status).
The Western “Group of Seven” also set quite specific situational goals: the accelerated military drawdown of Moscow in Central Europe and the Baltic states; the prevention of leaks of Soviet nuclear technologies; and the consolidation of the results of economic reforms of the early 1990s. However, political considerations played an important role both for Western heads of state and for the Russian leadership. Russia’s integration was to confirm the global aspirations of the G7 and the universalism of Western values. It is curious that the task of including China or even India as the “largest democracy in the world” had never been posed to the G7 members in practical terms – Russia was clearly seen as the preferred, if not the only, candidate for accession.
Despite all the difficulties, awkwardness and inconvenience associated with the integration of the not quite stable, not quite democratic and not quite “western” Russia of the 1990s into the “Group of Seven,” this process was stimulating for the group as a whole. The participation of a new non-standard partner contributed to the emergence of new ideas, strengthening the discipline of the old members, and enhancing the overall tone and ambitions of the group. Appointing a rude and awkward rough man as a new gym teacher to a female high school teaching team that had refined their working partnerships and become a close-knit group after many years of joint work has a similar stimulating effect.
But such idyll lasts only until the gym teacher begins to actively meddle in the work of the teachers’ council and cast doubt on the wisdom of the school principal. And this is exactly what happened in the G8 at the beginning of the century. Whereas for Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s membership in a privileged western club remained mainly a matter of the country’s symbolic status in the world, Vladimir Putin considered the G8 primarily as a tool for the practical realignment of the world order, in both the security and development spheres. Moscow has challenged Washington’s previously unquestioned hegemony in the G8 by raising the issue of American-led intervention in Iraq. Moscow insisted on including non-traditional challenges and security threats in the agenda of the G8 summits. Moscow called on partners to strengthen G8 institutions by increasing the number of regular meetings of ministers of natural resources, science, health, and agriculture.
The increased activity of the Russian neophyte faced growing resistance on the part of the G8 veterans. The new initiatives of the “high school gym teacher” no longer moved, but rather irritated the conservative teachers’ council, not to mention the authoritarian American principal. After the triumphant G8 Summit in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2006, an ever more obvious sabotage of the Russian agenda began: the G8 took the annoying gym teacher down a peg. It turned out that no G8 declarations on global energy security had been perceived by EU officials as a guide to action. The G8’s common positions on international terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation do nothing to dampen the desire of United States for the further expansion of NATO eastwards. And recognizing Russia as a member of the “Western Club” does not signify that the West refuses to try to weaken Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.
The catalyst for the decline of interest in the G8 format from the Russian leadership was, of course, the creation of the G20. A significant part of the issues of global governance that were of great interest for Moscow moved to this platform. Russia felt more comfortable in the G20 compared to the G8: in a more representative association, Russia had new partners and additional opportunities to form tactical coalitions and advance its interests. It is no coincidence that since the expulsion of Moscow from the G8 in the spring of 2014, the Russian leadership has been constantly emphasizing the obvious defects in this structure compared to the G20.
Is Moscow’s return to the “Group of Seven” realistic in the foreseeable future? This question has been raised more than once over the past five years by certain Western leaders, including Angela Merkel, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron. Common sense suggests that this return will never take place. The play was performed, the curtain fell, the audience whistled and applauded, and the critics are scribbling their comments and reviews.
There will be no return, if only for the reason that there is still no unity regarding the conditions for this return among the “Group of Seven.” While the current German position connects the reconstruction of the G8 with the progress in implementing the Minsk agreements on Donbass, Canada is ready to welcome Russia to the updated G8 only if it comes there without Crimea. Historically, the G7 never had any formal procedures and mechanisms for accepting new members, but most likely, a decision on such an important issue will be taken by consensus. And reaching a consensus at the moment seems impossible.
The G7 itself is in the process of deep transformation and a thus-far not very successful search for a new identity. Donald Trump confronts the rest of the club in a harsh manner, being quite provocative at times in that confrontation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has many fundamental disagreements with French President Emmanuel Macron, and with the leadership of the European Union as a whole. Italy in its current state is hardly capable of taking on any serious international obligations. As a result, the G7 looks like a suitcase without a handle – one can neither carry it nor leave it behind.
Does this mean that Russia should not deal with the G7 at all? Absolutely not. The history of the “Group of Seven” knows many countries, non-permanent members of the club, who participate in the work of the Group. The recent summit in Biarritz, France, was attended, among others, by the leaders of India, Egypt, Australia and even Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had come under personal sanctions from the United States literally the day before the meeting.
Returning to the “G7+1” formula may be a better solution for Russia than restoring the G8. Provided, of course, that the Russian side will not find itself in the position of a suspended gym teacher invited to the teachers’ council only to get another portion of reprimands from stiff colleagues.
It is clear that the leaders of the “Group of Seven” are most interested in discussing current issues of international security with Russia, including the situation surrounding Syria, Ukraine, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as arms control and strategic stability. But most of these issues are already being discussed at other time-tested platforms. However, joining the G7 discussion on the problems of digital economy, international tax reform, fighting trade protectionism and eliminating global inequality would certainly be nice.
The stakes in this game are not as high for Russia as they were a quarter of a century ago. The G7 is no longer a unique or even the main laboratory where the components of the new world order are being developed and piloted. And the repertoire of Russia’s foreign policy is not limited to the part of the self-confident, but at the same time diffident and arrogant Monsieur Jourdain from Moliere’s comedy.
From our partner RIAC
Troubled Partners: What Russia and Turkey are Dividing Up in Syria
“Turkey is our close partner, our ally,” said Presidential Spokesperson and Turkologist Dmitry Peskov on the eve of the meeting in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow. On August 27, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, where they held a working meeting on the bilateral agenda. Regardless of all their differences, the two countries still need each other greatly.
Although relations between Moscow and Ankara are developing in many areas, the focus was naturally on the further actions of the parties in the crisis-affected Syria. Will Turkey conduct another operation in Syria? And what is Moscow’s opinion?
Several events of importance for Russia–Turkey relations took place a week before the presidents met. On August 21, the first creditor was selected for the company building the Akkuyu NPP strategic facility. On August 27, deliveries started on the second S-400 battalion to Mürted Air Base in Ankara. As the United States removed Turkey from the F35 project following the purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems, analysts believe that Turkey might look at Russia’s Su-35 or Su-57. These are the aircraft the Turkish President saw at the MAKS Salon.
But the meeting took place against the backdrop of the escalation of the situation in the Syrian Idlib province and the announcement of the establishment of a Joint U.S.–Turkey Operation Centre.
And it was the desire to overcome contradictions over Syria and prevent a crisis in the bilateral relations that led the presidents to hold an unplanned meeting in Zhukovsky following an urgent telephone conversation on August 23.
At the press conference held after the meeting, Vladimir Putin noted two key elements in Russia’s approach to the Syrian settlement: the priority of working within the Astana format and the launch of the the Syrian Constitutional Committee “that, as we hope, will be able to start its activities in Geneva in the very near future.”
Ankara had previously expressed its discontent with the Syrian government forces taking control of towns in the north of Hama Governorate and in the south of Idlib Governorate, including the town of Khan Shaykhun. Approximately 200 Turkish soldiers are still surrounded in the town of Murak, which makes the situation extremely uncomfortable for Ankara. This Turkish contingent served as an observation post established under the Turkey–Russia Memorandum on Idlib signed in Sochi on September 17, 2018 as part of de-escalation in the Idlib zone.
The situation deteriorated following reports that the Syrian Air Force had carried out an aerial strike on a Turkish convoy. After a telephone conversation between Putin and Erdogan, reports started to surface that a Russian military police force had inserted itself between the Syrian military and the Turkish observation post. Turkey might find a way out of the situation by withdrawing its observation post from Murak and launching a new operation in the north of Syria against the U.S.-supported Kurds. Given the situation, it is desirable for Russia to find a way of advancing the dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds.
While Ankara supported the Syrian opposition, it undertook under the Sochi agreements to fight terrorism in Idlib and facilitate the opening of the М5 and М4 highways leading from Aleppo to Hama and Damascus via Idlib, and from Aleppo to Latakia via Idlib. Most likely, implementing this provision is the key objective for Moscow. Once М5 and М4 are secured, the logistics infrastructure might have been put into operation once again and pathways opened for restoring economic ties between Syria’s regions. This never happened.
With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian military continued intermittent hostilities in the Idlib Governorate for approximately six months. Following another round of talks in Nur-Sultan on August 1–2, Damascus announced an armistice. The ceasefire failed, however, due to attacks perpetrated by the militants in Idlib. Subsequently, the government forces and their Russian allies significantly intensified their activity. Offensives were mostly undertaken at night. By mid-August, the Tiger Forces equipped with Russian-made night-vision devices and Т90А tanks with thermal imagers succeeded in breaching the defence of the terrorists and groups that oppose Damascus in the north of the Hama Governorate.
The Idlib Governorate and its eponymous capital are largely controlled by the forces of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (outlawed in Russia), which has managed since January to expand its power by subsuming other groups, largely labelled pro-Turkish.
Back then, Turkey succeeded in stabilizing the situation, yet failed to radically change it in favour of Turkey-friendly forces such as al-Jabha al-Wataniya Li-Tahrir (the National Liberation Front), which is in opposition to the government. Russian and Turkish analysts already appeal to the Sochi agreements, yet each party accuses the other of undermining their implementation.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov openly stated that the actions of the Syrian government forces in Idlib are legitimate and do not violate the Turkey–Russia Memorandum. The terrorists in the area now controlled by the Syrian military had posited a threat to Syrian territory and the Russian military base in Khmeimim. Turkey faces a difficult predicament with regard to its domestic audience, and the processes in Syria could result in escalating tensions between Moscow and Ankara.
However, the ties developed over the recent years, as well as the strategically important joint projects and Erdogan’s commitment to increasing mutual trade turnover from USD 25–30 billion today to USD 100 billion (which he again confirmed at the MAKS opening ceremony) demonstrate both desire of both parties to avoid a crisis similar to the freeze put on the relations in 2016.
Erdogan informed Putin about the plans to launch an operation against the Kurds in the northeast of Syria. One might surmise that Turkey sees the solution in shifting the emphases in its “Syrian” policies and in concentrating on the Kurdish threat, since Turkey’s current policy in Syria is conducted in two areas: Idlib and the Trans-Euphrates region. Unwilling to be tied solely to the Astana format, Turkey is also building an appearance of collaboration with the United States. The operation in the Trans-Euphrates region today is the key point for Ankara. This operation will be the result of the pressure Turkey puts on the United States, an ally of the Kurds.
Ankara’s main goal is ostensibly to create a buffer zone in the north of Syria to prevent the Kurds from implementing a project there.
This will allow Ankara to cut ties between Kurds in Syria and Turkey and bring Syrian refugees, mostly Sunni Arabs, back to settle in the new “safe zone.” The United States has even convinced even the Kurds that the “safe zone” is necessary. The question, however, is how deep the Turkish military will go into the territory. They want to go more than 30 kilometres into the territory currently controlled by the allies of the United States from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Judging by the leaked reports, the United States has proposed only five kilometres. That certainly will not be enough for Turkey.
Answering a question about the Trans-Euphrates region at the press conference after the meeting of August 27, Vladimir Putin said, “We understand Turkey’s concern related to ensuring the safety and security of its southern border, and we believe these are legitimate interests of the Republic of Turkey… We proceed from the premise that establishing a safe zone for the Republic of Turkey at its southern borders will be a good condition for ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria itself.”
Turkey believes that the threat to its security comes from the Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) controlling the northeast of Syria. Ankara identifies them with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It should be noted here that Moscow occasionally reminds Turkey of the 1998 Adana Agreement concluded between Ankara and Damascus to resolve the “Kurdish question.” Back then, Ankara accused Damascus of supporting the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. This agreement regulates the provision of security in border areas.
In recent months, the President of Turkey has repeatedly stated that Turkey had made an earnest decision to launch a new offensive, the third operation in Syria following Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. Turkey has been transmitting these sentiments for some time now to both the U.S. and the Russian militaries. However, in order to conduct an operation in the north of Syria, Ankara needs to ensure that certain conditions are in place. Each element, particularly air support for the offensive and the involvement of the Syrian opposition forces, is linked to Ankara reaching a consensus, even if a silent consensus, with Washington and Moscow.
An agreement with Moscow is important for Ankara in order to at least temporarily suspend hostilities in Idlib, as it would allow at least some Syrian opposition forces to be moved to the area of Turkey’s new operation in the northeast of Syria.
As regards Idlib, Moscow and Ankara could agree on Damascus taking control of the М4 and М5 highways, while Turkey’s safe area in the northeast would be greenlit. The question hinges solely on consent to the launch of the operation. How the parties will conduct their operations and whether they would succeed will be up to them.
Currently, the question remains open as to how much the United States is willing to concede to Turkey. However, as Turkey launches its operation, Russia has an opening to interact with Kurds. If the United States allows Turkey to go too far, Kurds will realize the former cannot ensure their safety.
For the Kurds, this setup is fraught with the risk of possible loss of all their achievements (and territories). Moscow could work through the question of resuming serious talks between the Kurds and Damascus, thereby allowing the Kurds to avoid clashes with Turkey.
… A summit of the Astana process guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be held in mid-September. The launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is expected to be announced at the summit. Recent developments in the war bolster Damascus’ bargaining positions, yet at the same time they endanger the continuation of the political dialogue. The Russia–Turkey context is important as well, as the two countries strive to move beyond cooperation in Syria, understanding how complicated it is to achieve agreements.
Should Turkey launch an operation against Syrian Kurds, it will allow Ankara to “save face” concerning its Idlib losses. It will also allow Moscow to act as an intermediary and lead the Kurds and Damascus to an agreement. Much, however, will depend on the capacity in which the United States will continue its presence in Syria in and on whether the Kurds and Damascus will be able to move away from their maximalist counter-claims.
Moscow and Ankara understand that their partnership is difficult, but mutually necessary. Such partners can create quite a lot of trouble, but they are valuable because they steer an independent course and understand and recognize each other’s national interests, as well as the need for coordinating their stances.
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