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Primakov: The man who created multipolarity

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On March 24, 1999, Yevgeni Maximovich Primakov was heading to the United States for an official visit. Midway over the Atlantic Ocean, the Russian Prime Minister learned the combined forces of NATO had started bombing Serbia, a close ally. Primakov immediately ordered the plane to turn around, and returned to Moscow in a manoeuvre dubbed “Primakov’s Loop”.

Primakov’s decision was in sync with what he had set out to achieve. In 1996, as Foreign Minister he had presented before the Kremlin elites a plan to develop a strategic three-way pivot between Russia, India and China. This doctrine of multipolarity would be an alternative to the US-imposed unipolarity of the post Cold War period.

Back then the Kremlin was crawling with pro-western Muscovites. Rotten to the core, many were in the pay of motley American think tanks (read: spy agencies). It was not a time or place to sell an idea as radical as uniting three disparate countries in a strategic embrace.

But like most great ideas, Primakov’s was simple. First, Russia must end its subservient foreign policy guided by the US. Secondly, he emphasised the necessity of renewing old ties with India and fostering the newly discovered friendship with China.

Primakov argued that a Russia-India-China (RIC) troika in a multipolar world would allow some protection for free minded nations not allied to the West. He said the economic crisis in Russia had presented a rare convergence of conditions in the RIC.

Leonid Fituni, Director of the Moscow-based Centre for Strategic and Global Studies, explains: “China is practically the only state in the contemporary world that enjoys over 3000 years of uninterrupted statehood. It has its own rich traditions of state governance, not identical to those existing in the (West) today, but by no means inferior. Through millennia, China has accumulated unparalleled experience of social and political organisation and development.”

Fituni adds: “India, being different in many respects, enjoys a similar wealth of historical experience, often incomprehensible to westerners. The last couple of centuries have been a time of degradation and humiliation for these two great nations. In the eyes of the Chinese and the Indians, this was inextricably linked to the European/western expansion: colonialism and imperial dominance, including the imposition of a normative and economic servitude that still keeps then trapped in the semi-periphery even after the era colonialism.”

Russia found itself in a similar state. It was a time when the former planned economies were “ruthlessly looted by the victorious democracies under the guise of economic reforms or liberalisation. Russian social thinkers and historians noted similarities to the historic period of the destruction and pillage of China and India in the 19th and early 20th centuries”, writes Prof Li Xing writes in The BRICS and Beyond.

Primakov – a former journalist, Orientalist and spymaster – predicted an inevitable degradation of the Russian economy, reduction to “third world” country status, and the continued drain of resources (natural, financial, technological and human) to the victorious West in its attempt to postpone the imminent crisis in the (western core) enfeebled by decades of Cold War competition. (This has an uncanny parallel to the drain of India’s resources – black money and high tech talent – to the West.)

Slow start

In 1998, Primakov visited India and pushed the proposal for creating the RIC strategic triangle. The new Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin reversed the Boris Yeltsin era drift in Russia-India ties, signed a major strategic partnership treaty and established the institution of annual summit meetings. Fourteen years after Russia had abandoned its old ally, Indians heard friendly voices emanating from Moscow. “India is number one,” Putin said, referring to India’s primacy in the subcontinent.

To be sure, the troika took a long time to reach a basic agreement. A key reason for RIC not getting early traction is the India-China border dispute, which has spun off an Asian version of the arms race between the two giants.

Secondly, in any trilateral partnership, the weakest member – in this case India – acquires prestige and power out of proportion to its actual strength. Beijing – which has traditionally viewed India as weak, divided, slavishly pro-West and above all as a potential strategic rival – clearly did not want to help India achieve that status.

Initially, RIC leaders only met on the sidelines of global summits. “Once the format was underway in 2003, broadening it to include Brazil did not present insurmountable challenges,” write Nikolas K. Gvosdev and Christopher Marsh in ‘Russian Foreign Policy: Interests, Vectors, and Sectors.’

(Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill’s term – rapidly adopted by financial and emerging-market analysts around the world – happened to be released at that exact opportune time. O’Neill or not, BRICS would have been a reality, minus that clunky name.)

It wasn’t until 2012 – coinciding with India successfully testing long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching China’s eastern seaboard – that RIC talks took off. Finally, the February 2015 meeting in Beijing imparted a fresh momentum, with China endorsing Russia’s move to include India in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Wider footprint

Large as its scope is, Primakov went beyond RIC. “The Primakov doctrine is designed primarily to dilute America’s strength and influence while increasing Russia’s influence and position in the Middle East and Eurasia,” writes policy analyst Ariel Cohen of the US-based Heritage Foundation in a report titled ‘The Primakov Doctrine: Russia’s Zero-Sum Game with the US’.

“Primakov has shown himself to be a master at exploiting anti-American sentiments of the Iranian Shiite establishment, the Arab nationalists, and even the French foreign policy elite. On visits to Japan and Latin American, Primakov promised Russia’s support for their efforts to secure permanent seats on UN Security Council.”

But Primakov was not letting American hawks go unchallenged. In a 2006 speech he thundered: “The collapse of the US policies pursued in Iraq delivered a fatal blow on the American doctrine of unilateralism.”

“Having captured more and more countries the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has approached our borders, and this cannot fail to make us uneasy,” Primakov added. “All the more so NATO extension is accompanied by anti-Russian rhetoric, as well as aggressive policies pursued by the US in the former Soviet republics. Moscow cannot fail to regard all this as activities bred by the displeasure of certain circles in the West by the fact that restoring its enormous prospective potential, Russia is regaining its status of a superpower.”

New era in Russian diplomacy

Another key contribution was Primakov ended the age of Russia’s post-Soviet innocence. Taking advantage of Moscow’s conciliatory – and overly trusting nature – the Americans had hoodwinked Moscow in several theatres, including Iraq, Libya, NATO expansion and the ABM Treaty. “We are too honest in these matters and such naivety in the political arena does not lead to good results,” he said in an interview. (http://www.voltairenet.org/article30553.html) “I hope that our policy changes.”

In a sideswipe at Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations, he said Russia would not accept the division of the world based on civilisation-related and religious principles, but would instead pursue its own policies, “cooling hotheads who fail to learn their lessons in Iraq but are all but ready to repeat pernicious combat techniques against unwanted regimes”. (http://www.voltairenet.org/article145298.html) In fact, his defining credo was: “Those who do good will be rewarded. Life gets even with those who do bad.”

Primakov’s legacy was best summed up by current Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “The moment he took over, the Russian Foreign Ministry heralded a dramatic turn of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia left the path our western partners had tried to make it follow after the breakup of the Soviet Union and embarked on a track of its own.”

Pointing to the success of BRICS, which emerged from the RIC, Lavrov said the line of countries eager to join the five-member group “keeps getting longer”.

One day when they chronicle the “Decline and Fall of America”, substantial credit would go to the man who came in from the Cold War – and changed the map of the New World Order.

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Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans

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Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.

Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.

Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.

With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.

“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.

In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.

Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.

On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.

At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”

President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.

“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.

In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.

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Nobody Wants a War in Donbass

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image source: euromaidanpress.com

Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.

On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.

On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.

There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.

As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.

I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.

Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.

To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.

The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.

The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.

I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.

From our partner RIAC

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Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom

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Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.

The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.

All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.

The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.

For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.

The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.

In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.

Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.

Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.

The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.

The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.

The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.

The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.

The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.

Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.

From our partner RIAC

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