In some ways the United States has played a very strange self-injurious game since 1991 when it comes to Russia. On the one hand, it expects that the former rival accepts a new stage after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in which there are no more fundamental ideological battles and that DEMOCRACY in big capital letters is the clear and undisputed victor.
As the greatest champion of democracy this of course infers that such acceptance also automatically declares the US the world’s only superpower, the hegemon with no rivals. On the other hand, despite this expected acquiescence, America still tends to see Russia as scheming to relive Soviet glory days and interacts with Russia only on its own terms and in that distrustful light. Given this general backdrop, it is a bit disingenuous for those of us feted as ‘Russian experts’ to question why Russian-American relations have been such disjointed bipolar affairs for the past generation.
What remains fascinating and frustrating, however, is a continued ‘Cold War residue’ that refuses to leave the stage when it comes to how the United States and Russian Federation deal with each other. Too often the instinctive academic and diplomatic positions in the West place responsibility for poor relations exclusively on the Russian side. While Russia undoubtedly plays a major role (it does indeed take two to tango), there is an inexplicable absence of focus on the culpability of the United States in fostering this negative interaction. Foreign policy is difficult enough, let alone when sides refuse to recognize geopolitical reality.
This situation only worsens when you get to the specifics. Since 1991 there have been three major situations with direct Russian military involvement that gained intensive scrutiny from the United States: Chechnya, South Ossetia, and Crimea/Eastern Ukraine. In Chechnya, Russia was often privately outraged that many in the US characterized that conflict as a ‘battle for independence’ by an oppressed minority rather than it being about a war against radical religious extremists engaging in terrorism. In South Ossetia, Russia was outraged once more when it was accused of ‘invading’ another country when it felt it was justifiably responding strongly to unrest and instability threatening its own North Ossetia (which resulted in Russian peacekeepers being killed according to the UN) and sending an appropriate force message to Georgia to stop exacerbating the situation between North and South. In Crimea/Eastern Ukraine, Russia is bluntly pursuing its own foreign policy interests during a time of political turmoil in a region that was once its own (Crimea was given to Ukraine in the 1950s with an air of diplomatic indifference as the expected eternal nature of the Soviet Union made the ‘gift’ irrelevant – ie, Moscow would always control it from afar), while listening to the West say it is trying to ultimately occupy all of Ukraine and possibly beyond.
In each case, when you look back over numerous media, academic, and diplomatic sources, the word ‘imperialism’ factors prominently: Russia’s motivations in each case were not based on national security interests, but were instead founded on its inevitable need to regain an old Soviet ‘imperialistic’ nature. This Cold War residue even made the categorization and scope of the conflicts themselves a source of political discord: in the West, Chechnya often became ‘Southern Russia,’ South Ossetia became ‘Georgia,’ and Crimea has now become ‘Ukraine.’ In other words, time and again Russia preferred keeping situations more case-specific and minimalized, while the United States (in Russia’s opinion at least) effectively re-characterized the situations so that they seemed more far-reaching and tyrannical in terms of danger and concern.
No doubt even more galling to Russia has been the need to answer such criticism while the United States has pursued decidedly more aggressive maneuvers on a global scale without interference and relatively minor criticism. Russia did not interfere when campaigns were launched in Afghanistan and Iraq. Russia did not interfere with maneuvers in Libya and Yemen. What Russia bristles at is when America characterizes its own maneuvers as somehow being something ‘above’ basic foreign policy priorities and national security objectives while everything the Russian Federation does in much the same light is declared ‘neo-imperialist’ or breaking international law.
Make note: this is not any lame or manic anti-American diatribe. Russia is not anti-American. Russia is simply first and foremost pro-Russia, just as it expects and assumes America to be first and foremost pro-America. And here is the tricky part: on this issue, in the eyes of most of the world when speaking privately, Russia is right. America is the only country that indefatigably explains its positions as being about something more than just purely American interests. But the U.S. needs to understand that this sermon is being delivered from a pulpit more and more often to an EMPTY congregation: no one except America believes this diplomatic propaganda.
Surveying allies and adversaries alike reveals nothing but dismissive smirks about the idea that American global maneuvers are based on higher moral principles rather than on what best positions American national interests. Again, remember the subtlety: such dismissiveness is not anger about America trying to leverage its power for maximum output. It is rather irritation at how often America tries to judge and prevent other states from doing the exact same thing on the regional and/or global stage. Other countries might not like how Russia expresses its power but they accept those maneuvers, for better or worse, as the way the geopolitical game still works on the modern global stage of differentiated power capacity. As long as the United States continues to delude itself on this basic fundamental aspect of global affairs – envisioning itself as the great preserver of international principles while never supposedly acting opportunistically or self-servingly – then it will continue to blow a mighty wind on situations like Crimea while accomplishing nothing.
Indeed, Russians have complained about the essence of this American diplomatic grandstanding for decades, in earnest since 9/11 when they believed America would be joining them in the global fight against radical Islamic extremism only to be inexplicably (to them) rebuffed. America has long held pride in the fact that it can and does project its global power independently when it wants to. It has never, however, responded positively whenever any other nation tries to do the same, whether it is Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Russia. And for those who think it is alright to ‘constrain’ such nations, keep in mind that France, Germany, Israel, and India have all complained at times of the same thing. There is nothing wrong with trying to ‘manage your power brand’ so that it comes across as something more noble and more righteous than pure nationalist desire. When the United States seems to actually come across as complaining about other countries not buying in and wanting the same right to enact its political will just like America, then it underserves its own true global power by seeming a bit petulant and unsubtle. And doing that, unfortunately, is why Russia has been so successful in maintaining geopolitical sympathizers outside of Western Europe when it comes to American posturing. It makes the U.S. look like it is trying to bring a knife to a foreign policy gunfight.
Steering Russia-US Relations Away from Diplomatic Expulsion Rocks
As the recent expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic demonstrate, this measure is becoming a standard international practice of the West. For the Biden administration, a new manifestation of the “Russia’s threat” is an additional tool to discipline its European allies and to cement the transatlantic partnership. For many European NATO members, expulsions of diplomats are a symbolic gesture demonstrating their firm support of the US and its anti-Russian policies.
Clear enough, such a practice will not be limited to Russia only. Today hundreds, if not thousands of diplomatic officers all around the world find themselves hostage to problems they have nothing to do with. Western decision-makers seem to consider hosting foreign diplomats not as something natural and uncontroversial but rather as a sort of privilege temporarily granted to a particular country — one that can be denied at any given moment.
It would be logical to assume that in times of crisis, when the cost of any error grows exponentially, it is particularly crucial to preserve and even to expand the existing diplomatic channels. Each diplomat, irrespective of his or her rank and post, is, inter alia, a communications channel, a source of information, and a party to a dialogue that can help understand your opponent’s logic, fears, intentions, and expectations. Niccolo Machiavelli’s adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” remains just as pertinent five centuries later. Unfortunately, these wise words are out of circulation in most Western capitals today.
A proponent of expulsions would argue that those expelled are not actually diplomats at all. They are alleged intelligence officers and their mission is to undermine the host country’s national security. Therefore, expulsions are justified and appropriate. However, this logic appears to be extremely dubious. Indeed, if you have hard evidence, or at the very least a reasonable suspicion that a diplomatic mission serves as a front office for intelligence officers, and if operations of these officers are causing serious harm to your country’s security, why should you wait for the latest political crisis to expel them? You should not tolerate their presence in principle and expel them once you expose them.
Even the experience of the Cold War itself demonstrates that expulsions of diplomats produce no short-term or long-term positive results whatsoever. In fact, there can be no possible positive results because diplomatic service is nothing more but just one of a number of technical instruments used in foreign politics. Diplomats may bring you bad messages from their capitals and they often do, but if you are smart enough, you never shoot the messenger.
Diplomatic traditions do not allow such unfriendly actions to go unnoticed. Moscow has to respond. Usually, states respond to expulsions of their diplomats by symmetrical actions – i.e. Russia has to expel the same number of US, Polish or Czech diplomats, as the number of Russian diplomats expelled from the US, Poland or the Czech Republic. Of course, each case is special. For instance, the Czech Embassy in Moscow is much smaller than the Russian Embassy in Prague, so the impact of the symmetrical actions on the Czech diplomatic mission in Russia will be quite strong.
The question now is whether the Kremlin would go beyond a symmetrical response and start a new cycle of escalation. For example, it could set new restrictions upon Western companies operating in the country, it could cancel accreditation of select Western media in Moscow, it could close branches of US and European foundations and NGOs in Russia. I hope that the final response will be measured and not excessive.
The door for US-Russian negotiations is still open. So far, both sides tried to avoid specific actions that would make these negotiations absolutely impossible. The recent US sanctions against Russia have been mostly symbolic, and the Russian leadership so far has demonstrated no appetite for a rapid further escalation. I think that a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin remains an option and an opportunity. Such a meeting would not lead to any “reset” in the bilateral relations, but it would bring more clarity to the relationship. To stabilize US-Russian relations even at a very low level would already be a major accomplishment.
From our partner RIAC
Russia becomes member of International Organization for Migration
After several negotiations, Russia finally becomes as a full-fledged member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It means that Russia has adopted, as a mandatory condition for obtaining membership, the constitution of the organization. It simply implies that by joining this international organization, it has given the country an additional status.
After the collapse of the Soviet, Russia has been interacting with the IOM since 1992 only as an observer. In the past years, Russia has shown interest in expanding this cooperation. The decision to admit Russia to the organization was approved at a Council’s meeting by the majority of votes: 116 states voted for it, and two countries voted against – these are Ukraine and Georgia. That however, the United States and Honduras abstained, according to information obtained from Moscow office of International Migration Organization.
“In line with the resolution of the 111th session of the IOM Council of November 24, 2020 that approved Russia’s application for the IOM membership, Russia becomes a full-fledged member of the organization from the day when this notification is handed over to its director general,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement in April.
Adoption of the IOM Constitution is a mandatory condition for obtaining its membership, which opens “extra possibilities for developing constructive cooperation with international community on migration-related matters,” the statement stressed in part.
It is significant to recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order to secure Russia’s membership in the organization in August 2020 and submitted its Constitution to the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) in February 2021.
Headquartered in Geneva, the International Organization for Migration, a leading inter-government organization active in the area of migration, was set up on December 5, 1951. It opened its office in Moscow in 1992.
IOM supports migrants across the world, developing effective responses to the shifting dynamics of migration and, as such, is a key source of advice on migration policy and practice. The organization works in emergency situations, developing the resilience of all people on the move, and particularly those in situations of vulnerability, as well as building capacity within governments to manage all forms and impacts of mobility.
IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. It works to help ensure proper management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people. It is part of the structured system of the United Nations, and includes over 170 countries.
Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (Senate) Committee on International Affairs, noted that the organization’s constitution has a provision saying that it is in a nation’s jurisdiction to decide how many migrants it can receive, therefore the IOM membership imposes no extra commitments on Russia and doesn’t restrict its right to conduct an independent migration policy.
On other hand, Russia’s full-fledged membership in IOM will help it increase its influence on international policy in the sphere of migration and use the country’s potential to promote its interests in this sphere, Senator Dzhabarov explained.
Russia has had an inflow of migrants mainly from the former Soviet republics. The migrants have played exceptional roles both in society and in the economy. The inflow of foreign workers to Russia has be resolved in accordance with real needs of the economy and based on the protection of Russian citizens’ interests in the labor market, according to various expert opinions.
The whole activity of labor migrants has to be conducted in strict compliance with legislation of the Russian Federation and generally recognized international norms.
State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and many state officials have repeatedly explained the necessity of holding of partnership dialogues on finding solutions to emerging problems within the framework of harmonization of legislation in various fields including regional security, migration policy and international cooperation. Besides that, Russia is ready for compliance with international treaties and agreements.
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.
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