If you spend some time listening to reputable news shows all across the West you will start to notice several recurring ‘interpretations’ that explain all things Russian and Vladimir Putin.
Rather than being enlightening about this complex country and perhaps even more complex leader, a series of increasingly incredulous ‘pop-psychology-analyses’ emerge instead. What follows are just five of the most commonly touted, with subsequent breakdowns for those who wish to read more accurate alternative considerations:
1.Putin fantasizes about returning to the ‘glorious Soviet’ past. Ukraine is just the first step.
Putin has made many comments and started many symbolic initiatives over the last decade that in some ways have reclaimed the accomplishments and history of the Soviet Union. What most in the West miss about this is the internal perception in Russia that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was not just a historical and political transition to a new stage or new evolution for the state as a whole. Since the dissolution took place within the context of the Cold War and the ideological ‘war’ that was capitalism versus communism, with communism losing, most of the world felt the dissolution was also an ERASING of history. As in, nothing that took place from 1918 to 1991 was worth remembering, commemorating, or observing. Many of the leaders in the initial Yeltsin years at least partially supported this, if not directly then by simple omission. In short, the ways in which Putin has ‘reclaimed’ the partially erased Soviet history is his denial of the Western demand that losing the Cold War means nearly 75 years of history no longer counts for Russia, unless it is to emphasize negative events and incidents done by the Soviet Union. That concept is rejected by Putin, which he considers a sort of emotional Treaty of Versailles put upon Russia unfairly by the West. But there is nothing about Ukraine that connects to this reclamation of history. The concept is actually rather absurd: if the Russian Federation truly wanted to ‘reinstitute’ the Soviet Union in full there are few competent strategic plans that get there by first taking over Eastern Ukraine and causing that country to disintegrate into chaos.
2.Putin is obsessed with getting attention from the United States. This is just his way of acting out.
I like to call this the ‘infantilist theory’ of Russian politics here in the United States. It is littered with the breathless condemnations of so-called experts who have spent little time actually in Russia, have questionable language skills when it comes to Russian, and most certainly have never spent significant time with Putin or anyone within his close circle. Despite these rather daunting limitations, these experts do not hesitate to appear on numerous radio and television talk shows and write countless newspaper and magazine op-ed pieces, giving a detailed and intimate psychological profile of the Russian leader that basically amounts to characterizing the Russian president as a petulant child who is hopelessly needy and demands that the United States recognize him as an ‘unequal equal partner.’ What most in this camp fail to see is that the position of Russia in Ukraine has been largely based on a strategic plan that IGNORES the relevance or power of the United States. If the so-called ‘Ukraine initiative’ was about Russia getting attention from the United States, then Russia seems to be doing an outstanding job of misdirection, feigning total ambivalence on statements, sanctions, and initiatives coming out of Washington DC.
3.Putin demands the rest of the world accords Russia ‘Superpower’ status. Ukraine is his reminder to the rest of the world.
This leans a bit on the logic of the first rumor, in that, how exactly does any initiative in Ukraine signal superpower-status to anyone anywhere? By now even the most hardened Russian critics in the West have admitted that Ukraine basically squandered two decades of political, economic, and geostrategic promise with complete mismanagement and dysfunctional governance. To admit that on the one hand and then try to connect Russian initiatives within Ukraine as a so-called grand plan springboard to being taken more seriously by the global community is inane and lacking in strategic common sense. This is even more ridiculous when one simply looks to other areas of Russian hard power that have monumentally increased under Putin since 2000, whether that be in military restructuring, federal budgetary strengthening, or natural resource development. If Putin was going to lean on something to make the world understand Russia should remain or once again be considered a superpower in the 21st century, it is those areas of real domestic strength that would power the argument. Getting involved with Ukraine after the Maidan revolution has absolutely zero chance of accomplishing that goal. Putin clearly acknowledges this, so it is a mystery why the West won’t as well.
4.Putin is violating international law by interfering with Ukrainian affairs.
One of the most successful movie franchises in history, The Pirates of the Caribbean, is actually a fantastic teaching tool for this accusation. In the very first film, when Elizabeth was taken aboard the Black Pearl to face the dreaded Captain Barbosa, she was dismayed to learn he was not going to follow the so-called holy Pirate’s Code. To which, rather bemusedly, Captain Barbosa explained that the Pirate’s Code was not so much a code as a set of guidelines. And guidelines are to be followed pretty much as one sees fit…or sees not to, as the case may be. This is an absolutely spot-on description of how international law measures up against actual strategic foreign policy and global affairs: states would like to follow international law, may even prefer to follow it, and for the most part do follow it. UNTIL, that is, international law comes in direct opposition to national interest and foreign policy priorities. At which time international law can pretty much be told to go hang. Now, the part of this that always gives the United States consternation (or is it political indigestion?), is when Russia is adamant that the chief model for this semi-respectful, semi-dismissive attitude toward international law is none other than the US. If you want to stop a dinner party dead in its tracks in Washington, casually mention how Putin feels absolutely certain that his actions in Ukraine are a perfect mirror to how the United States has conducted its business in other areas, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, just to name a few. Only Putin believes his ‘interference’ in Ukraine is FAR more justified and explainable than American ‘interference’ in those aforementioned countries. In short, international law is a grab-bag of mysterious and contradictory interpretations based on power and priority. Russia simply admits it more readily, and more publicly, than the United States.
5.Putin has put hundreds, if not thousands, of intelligence agents into Eastern Ukraine and they are causing all of the unrest.
This last one is disheartening simply because it is an avoidance of political and military reality on the ground in Ukraine and as a result could be influential in the continuing violence and bloodshed. There is no doubt that Russia has an intelligence presence inside of Ukraine. Russia has always had one. So has the United States. The US also has an intelligence presence inside of Russia, some of it with permission, some of it without. But to take this basic principle of intelligence reality all around the world (for example, China has intelligence agents in Taiwan, Japan has agents in China, India has them in Pakistan, and Pakistan in India, and the United States basically has agents everywhere) and distort it so that it is the chief culprit of events spiraling out of control in Eastern Ukraine is irresponsible. Dissembling of this sort removes most of the focus from the Ukrainian authorities who are struggling to regain control across their territory, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, sometimes peacefully, and sometimes violently. It also eliminates the existence of actual pro-Russian factions within Ukraine that no longer wish to be part of it. The West is dominated by stories of pro-Russian groups engaging in violence in Ukraine and within a day those pro-Russian factions are magically ‘littered with Russian agents and/or provocateurs,’ ie, there is no legitimate anti-Ukrainian authority movement, there is only Russian intelligence forces manipulating events on the ground to the detriment of Ukrainian territorial integrity. This is overstatement at best, political fabrication at worst, as the West has made it clear it does not want to see any disintegration of Ukraine. What’s not being said is how that position is not so much based on the desire for peace and tranquility as it is based on the fact that any dissolution of Ukraine will undoubtedly end up benefiting Russia. And that has been silently acknowledged as the least optimal outcome to the West.
Russia is not perfect. Russia is not blameless. No country is. But when reputable news sources and so-called experts with decades of experience examining Russia all seem to cater to the same storyboard, and that storyboard seems a bit far-fetched if not actually fantastical, then it is time to signal the call for a new generation of leaders and experts who are willing to examine not just from old prejudices but from cold-hearted objective foreign policy reality. In that crucible no one is absolved but no one is also unfairly prejudged. Right now the future of Russian-American relations depends on the emergence of these new voices.
Relegating the “Russia Problem” to Turkey
Turkey’s foreign policy is at a crossroads. Its Eurasianist twist is gaining momentum and looking east is becoming a new norm. Expanding its reach into Central Asia, in the hope of forming an alliance of sorts with the Turkic-speaking countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan — is beginning to look more realistic. In the north, the north-east, in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, there is an identifiable geopolitical arc where Turkey is increasingly able to puncture Russia’s underbelly.
Take Azerbaijan’s victory in Second Karabakh War. It is rarely noticed that the military triumph has also transformed the country into a springboard for Turkey’s energy, cultural and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia. Just two months after the November ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey signed a new trade deal with Azerbaijan. Turkey also sees benefits from January’s Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan agreement which aims to jointly develop the Dostluk (Friendship) gas field under the Caspian Sea, and it recently hosted a trilateral meeting with the Azerbaijani and Turkmen foreign ministers. The progress around Dostlug removes a significant roadblock on the implementation of the much-touted Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) which would allow gas to flow through the South Caucasus to Europe. Neither Russia nor Iran welcome this — both oppose Turkey’s ambitions of becoming an energy hub and finding new sources of energy.
Official visits followed. On March 6-9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Defense cooperation, preferential trade deals, and a free trade agreement were discussed in Tashkent. Turkey also resurrected a regional trade agreement during a March 4 virtual meeting of the so-called Economic Cooperation Organization which was formed in 1985 to facilitate trade between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. Though it has been largely moribund, the timing of its re-emergence is important as it is designed to be a piece in the new Turkish jigsaw.
Turkey is slowly trying to build an economic and cultural basis for cooperation based on the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency founded in 1991 and the Turkic Council in 2009. Although Turkey’s economic presence in the region remains overshadowed by China and Russia, there is a potential to exploit. Regional dependence on Russia and China is not always welcome and Central Asian states looking for alternatives to re-balance see Turkey as a good candidate. Furthermore, states such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are also cash-strapped, which increases the potential for Turkish involvement.
There is also another dimension to the eastward push. Turkey increasingly views Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as parts of an emerging geopolitical area that can help it balance Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus. With this in mind, Turkey is stepping up its military cooperation not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Georgia and Ukraine. The recent visit of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Turkey highlighted the defense and economic spheres. This builds upon ongoing work of joint drone production, increasing arms trade, and naval cooperation between the two Black Sea states.
The trilateral Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey partnership works in support of Georgia’s push to join NATO. Joint military drills are also taking place involving scenarios of repelling enemy attacks targeting the regional infrastructure.
Even though Turkey and Russia have shown that they are able to cooperate in different theaters, notably in Syria, they nonetheless remain geopolitical competitors with diverging visions. There is an emerging two-pronged strategy Turkey is now pursuing to address what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees as a geopolitical imbalance. Cooperate with Vladimir Putin where possible, but cooperate with regional powers hostile to Russia where necessary.
There is one final theme for Turkey to exploit. The West knows its limits. The Caspian Sea is too far, while an over-close relationship with Ukraine and Georgia seems too risky. This creates a potential for cooperation between Turkey and the collective West. Delegating the “Russia problem” to Turkey could be beneficial, though it cannot change the balance of power overnight and there will be setbacks down the road.
The Future of the Arctic
The harsh ecological conditions of the Arctic in the past have sustained economic activity in the region. Climate change, new technologies and innovations open new perspectives for the development of these territories. The Arctic has turned into one of the hotspots of geopolitics: global and regional players are striving to expand their borders. Watching the Arctic is a complex problem, so the solution can only be secured by integrating the forces of all parties in the Arctic.
It is impossible to discuss the development of the Arctic from the standpoint “whether we are going to exploit it or not”, as the industrial development of the Arctic started about 100 years ago. Today 10 million people live around Arctic, only about 10% of them are indigenous peoples. The main question is how we can make this development responsible and sustainable to ensure all three aspects – economic, social and environmental – in the long term and who should be a stakeholder in this activity.
Scientists from Russia, Norway and Iceland, despite the difficulties and deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, are conducting an active dialogue on the future of the Arctic. They call for enhanced cooperation and joint development of the Arctic for the benefit of humanity, not for geopolitical confrontation, because “Together we are stronger.” Scientists have also called for attracting the capabilities of space satellites to conquer the Arctic and solve various tasks and problems. They hope to strengthen public and private investment in human capital, for better education, to attract more talented people, to create high-paying jobs for young people, to create and develop smart cities. The Arctic is an excellent opportunity for a clean and green economy, for Industry 4.0 and for the creation of new industries.
As part of the High North Dialogue Arctic 2050: Mapping the future, a panel discussion was held on April 23, 2021. The umbrella theme of all Arctic 2050 presentations: Mapping The Future of the Arctic and exhibitors tried to give their views on development and change in the Arctic over the next few decades from the standpoint of economy, trade and maritime transport, energy, ecology and social trends. During the panel Russian scientists from the Skolkovo School of Management, one of the leading research centers in Russia and their Norwegian colleagues discussed possible scenarios for the development of the Arctic in the next 30 years
Although almost all exhibitors were wary of more accurate predictions given the many factors that potentially determine the course of events in this area, the general impression that could be gained from different presentations is that greater importance is expected in this area in world economic and traffic flows. Development opportunities in mining, energy and maritime transport are great, but there are also great unknowns and potential temptations regarding the mutual rivalry of countries in this area, regulating legal and policy frameworks for the implementation of development policies and finally regarding climate change and risk environment.
The ability to think long-term, and to maintain a balance between all three dimensions, is what is called a ‘sustainable mindset’ and this is exactly what the Arctic needs from leaders now and in the future. A new leadership agenda emerges in each and every sector, reflecting the paradigm shift: policymakers will have to work towards creating an enabling environment, incentivizing more responsible investment in the Arctic, instead of trying to find a balance between economic activity and environmental footprint business needs to turn away from the cost reduction imperative and concentrate on creating innovation in technology and business models that together will make it possible to do business in the Arctic sustainably, which means both at the new level of productivity as well as in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. NGOs must concentrate on facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogs aimed at finding a balance of interests, rather than lobbying for limiting policies and challenging business activity in the region. What is more important, is that, just as with the triple bottom line, these paradigm shifts should be synchronized and synergetic. The sustainable future of the Arctic tarts with the sustainable thinking of the leaders of today.
Disagreements between States Should Be Resolved in a Peaceful Manner Based on International Law
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has appreciated the role of Pakistan in the peace process of Afghanistan. He said that Russia expects that the meeting of the extended ‘Troika’ will give a necessary impetus to the Intra-Afghan negotiation and active role of Pakistan in the preparation of this event is appreciable.
Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov expressed these views during in an interview and its important points are shared below:
Q1.: Recently, another round of consultations took place in Moscow as part of the extended “Troika” on Afghanistan, which will likely to be followed by a session of talks in Doha. What are the prospects for an intra-Afghan dialogue given that the government of President Ashraf Ghani avoids such negotiations? How will peace and security in South Asia be affected by India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir, its active participation in the “Quad” (USA-India-Japan-Australia) and its dispute over the border areas with China?
Answer: We expect that the meeting of the extended “Troika” of March 18, 2021 will give a necessary impetus to the intra-Afghan negotiations. We note the active role of the Pakistani side in the preparation of this event. Moscow also hosted separate meetings between the Afghan delegation (headed by the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah) and representatives of the Taliban. We consider it important that both sides speak in favour of intensifying the intra-Afghan negotiation process.
As for New Delhi’s participation in the “Quad”, we proceed from the fact that India as a responsible world power determines its foreign policy priorities by itself. At the same time we are convinced that disagreements between states in any region of the world including, of course, South Asia, should be resolved in a peaceful, civilized manner based on international law. Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is ready to assist this in every possible way.
In principle we do not support the creation of divisive geopolitical structures in the spirit of the cold war. In modern conditions there is demand for such multilateral associations, initiatives and concepts which are based on the principles of inclusiveness, collegiality and equality. It is this philosophy that underlies the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Moscow, Islamabad and New Delhi are members, he said.
Russia is interested in building up cooperation with the Pakistani, Indian and other partners in Eurasia. We have common interests, above all, ensuring security and improving the quality of life of the peoples of our countries. A unifying agenda is being promoted by the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin to develop Greater Eurasian Partnership. Participation in it is open to all states of the continent, including the members of the EAEU, SCO, ASEAN, as well as, in case there is such interest, the European Union. Systematic implementation of the initiative will not only strengthen positive connectivity and improve the competitiveness of all participants but will also be a solid foundation in building a common continental space of peace and stability, he said.
Q2.: Your comments on the global multilateral response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines. What role could the UN and other multilateral organizations play in resolving conflicts and ensuring the rule of law in relations between states?
Answer: Despite efforts to curb the coronavirus infection, unfortunately, the international community has not fully coped with this dangerous challenge. The current crisis not only reminds of the enduring value of a human life but also shows again that sooner or later most of the problems of our time become common. To tackle them efficiently we need to unite. Therefore from the very beginning we urged our partners to take joint steps. Now it is especially important to suspend trade barriers, illegitimate sanctions and restrictions in the financial, technological and information spheres.
The epidemic has demythologized the idea of superiority of the ultra-liberal model of development. It is obvious that self-sufficient countries with clearly formulated national interests demonstrate greater stress resistance. Those who took the path of ceding their independence, part of national sovereignty to others lost. We regard WHO as the main international platform for coordinating global efforts in the fight against the pandemic. We presume that, on the whole, the Organization is coping with its functions. We will continue to provide multifaceted support to it.
Russia is one of the leaders in the field of global health care. We will continue to contribute to international efforts to combat COVID-19. We will continue to help the affected states both in bilateral formats and within multilateral structures. Our accumulated potential for countering infections allowed us to develop and launch the production of the Sputnik V vaccine in a short space of time. To date two more Russian vaccines against the new coronavirus infection have been registered.
Now the priority is vaccination of the population. Of course, the issue of an equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines is very sensitive, especially for the poorest countries. In this regard we are ready to deliver safe and efficient Russian vaccines on a transparent basis. A lot of work is being done on this track. We have agreements on the supply of our vaccines with more than 50 states. A number of countries have launched the production of Sputnik V.
As for the second part of the question, the subjunctive mood is not entirely appropriate here. Same as 75 years ago, the UN is the “cornerstone” of the international legal architecture and its Security Council bears the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.
Despite the growing challenges, the UN on the whole successfully copes with its responsibilities to resolve conflicts. As an example, I can mention more than ten peacekeeping operations currently deployed in various parts of the world. Even amid the difficulties caused by the pandemic, the Blue Helmets continue to fulfill their duty with dignity.
Russia as a founding member of the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council advocates strengthening the central role of the Organization in the world affairs. Our constant priority is to contribute to the formation of a more just and democratic, multipolar world order. It should be based on the UN Charter and not on dubious concepts such as the “rules-based order” promoted by Washington and its allies.
Q3.: How close are the views of Russia and Pakistan on the various regional and international issues such as Afghanistan, peace and prosperity in South Asia and the Middle East? What are the plans for the development of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries especially in energy and other sectors as well as in defense?
Answer: Moscow and Islamabad enjoy friendly, constructive relations which are based on the concurrence or similarity of approaches to the majority of topical issues of the international and regional agenda. Among them are the issues of strategic stability and of course Afghanistan. Suffice it to say that during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly the Pakistani partners supported all draft resolutions submitted by Russia and co-sponsored most of them. And, of course, we appreciate the contribution of Islamabad to the advancement of national reconciliation in Afghanistan, including through the mechanism of the extended “Troika” as mentioned above. I would like to note that our states are consistent proponents of settling conflicts including in the Middle East and North Africa solely by political and diplomatic means in compliance with the principles of the UN Charter.
In the area of bilateral relations our priorities are well known. These are, above all, cooperation in combatting terrorism as well as trade and economic ties. We will continue to provide assistance in strengthening the anti-terrorist potential of the Pakistani law enforcement agencies through joint exercises including “Druzhba” (Friendship) and the “Arabian Monsoon”.
In the field of practical cooperation we also have a lot to be proud of. The past year saw a record volume of bilateral trade: it grew by 46% and reached $790 million. We are making necessary efforts to start the construction of the North-South gas pipeline – the flagship project in the energy sector. We hope that all remaining technical issues will be agreed upon in the very near future. Russian companies are ready to participate in the modernization of the energy sector and the railroad system of Pakistan.
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