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.
Coronavirus: Why Russians Are Lucky to Be Led by Putin
On Tuesday, March 24th, the following happened:
Reuters bannered “U.S. has potential of becoming coronavirus epicenter, says WHO” and reported that,
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was seeing a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicenter.
Over the past 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were from Europe and the United States, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters. Of those, 40 percent were from the United States.
Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.
Right now, on Wednesday the 25th, the U.S. again has the world’s largest number of new cases reported, 11,074. That’s a 25% increase added to the 43,734 cases total on March 24th. And, within just three more days, America will have the world’s largest total number of cases, if Italy won’t. And after yet another day, the U.S. will almost certainly have the world’s largest total number of cases, because Italy has been adding only around half as many new cases per day as the U.S., though Italy’s total right now is higher than America’s, and is actually the second largest total after only China’s. China will have the world’s third-largest total number of cases by this weekend, the 28th or 29th, and America will be #1 then, not only on the number of new cases, but on the total number of cases, of this infection. That quickly, then, China will become no longer the #1 coronavirus-19 nation, but, instead, #3, behind the #1 U.S., and the #2 Italy.
America has been in political chaos because each of its two houses of Congress, and both Parties, and the President, have been blocked from agreeing on what to do — all of them were ignoring that this is an existential emergency and thus dealt with it as if it were instead just another way for each to increase its chances of re-election at the expense of the others. Both political Parties, Republicans and Democrats, and Congress and the President, agreed on a “$500 billion fund for corporations” to reduce the negative impact on billionaires’ wealth, but Democrats demanded that limits be placed on executives’ pay, and “included reducing student debt and boosting food stability programs. Some of the ideas would be major sticking points with Republicans: The bill, for example, would invest money ‘to eliminate high-polluting aircraft’ and ‘research into sustainable aviation fuels.’” Democrats also wanted, but Republicans refused, some costly measures to continue workers’ incomes during their plague-induced period of unemployment. Agreement had been reached only on the billionaire-bailouts — protections especially of stock-values. This is the way America’s ‘democracy’ works. Rule by the billionaires is considered to be ‘democracy’. Luxuries are treated as being more important than necessities are. (Billionaires are thought to be superior people, who must be served before anyone else.) Dollars rule, people don’t. And this chaos is the result of that.
On March 23rd, the prominent progressive economist James K. Galbraith headlined “What the Government Needs to Do Next” and described in detail what a governmental policy-response would be that would subsidize the public to deal with this crisis, but not subsidize the billionaires (who already have way too much and can well afford to become merely millionaires while not actually suffering at all), and that would be of maximum benefit to the total economy by protecting the assets of the most-vulnerable (who could then continue to shop and work), but his common-sense proposal wasn’t even being considered by the legislators, nor by the President.
Only a few countries had a faster rate of increase in cases than the U.S. did on March 24th, but all of them had far fewer cases: Portugal, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. For example, Rwanda had the world’s highest percentage-increase from the day before, almost a doubling, but that was 17 new cases, up from a total of 19 on the day before. So, America’s 30% increase was clearly the world’s worst performance, on that single day.
Russia’s performance is perhaps the world’s best.
On March 22nd, CNN headlined “Why does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?” (that’s a country of 628,000 people) and reported that
Russia’s early response measures — such as shutting down its 2,600-mile border with China as early as January 30, and setting up quarantine zones — may have contributed to the delay of a full-blown outbreak, some experts say.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to criticism over the number of recorded cases.
A strong record on testing
“The director-general of WHO said ‘test, test, test,’” Dr. Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organization’s representative in Russia, told CNN Thursday. “Well, Russia started that literally at the end of January.”
Vujnovic said Russia also took a broader set of measures in addition to testing.
“Testing and identification of cases, tracing contacts, isolation, these are all measures that WHO proposes and recommends, and they were in place all the time,” she said. “And the social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early.”
Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s state consumer watchdog, said Saturday that it had run more than 156,000 coronavirus tests in total. By comparison, according to CDC figures, the United States only picked up the pace in testing at the beginning of March.
On March 20th, the permanently anti-Russian U.S. organization, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (whose “Orwellian” name was perhaps one of the inspirations for George Orwell’s permanent-warfare novel, 1984) headlined “Confronting the Challenges of Coronavirus, Russia Sees Its Worldview Vindicated”, and tried to put as bad a face on Russia’s coronavirus performance as they could, such as by alleging that (alleged) dictatorships were performing no worse than ‘democracies’ at controlling the coronavirus threat:
The state has reasserted itself as the prime actor on the global scene. International institutions like the World Health Organization have become mere statisticians, and even the EU has taken a back seat to the governments of member states.
The world’s democracies are not faring better in the crisis than nondemocracies.
However, back on 27 July 2015, that organization had bannered “How Authentic is Putin’s Approval Rating?” and reviewed more than 15 years of Putin’s approval ratings from the Russian public, and reluctantly concluded that it was and had always been “Authentic,” and almost always high.
Internationally, too, Putin’s leadership of Russia is more highly regarded than is the current U.S. President’s leadership of America.
Back in 2017, the British firm of WIN/Gallup International issued “Gallup International’s 41st Annual Global End of Year Survey Opinion Poll in 55 Countries Across the Globe”, which sampled 1,000 persons in each country in order to determine in each one the percentage of the public who rated “Favorable” and who rated “Unfavorable” each of the following 12 national heads-of-state (listed here in descending order of their net favorability, or “favorable” minus “unfavorable”): Merkel, Macron, Modi, May, Xi, Putin, Saud, Netanyahu, Rouhani, Erdogan, and Trump. (Merkel globally scored highest, Trump lowest.)
Amongst Russians, the score for Putin was 79% Favorable, 11% Unfavorable, for a net score of +68%.
Though Germany’s Merkel had the highest score worldwide, her score in Germany was only 54% Favorable and 44% Unfavorable, for a net of +10.
Macron’s net score in France was -1%.
May’s net in UK was -18%
Rouhani’s in Iran was +37%
Erdogan’s in Turkey was +22%
Modi’s in India was +72% (that’s 84%-12%)
Trump’s in U.S. was -23% (35%-58%) — the worst of all.
The following leaders weren’t surveyed in their own countries: Xi, Netanyahu, and Saud.
So: Putin’s net +68% score amongst his own country’s population was second ony to Modi’s — and, whereas Modi had been in office for only 3 years and had not yet begun his controversial actively anti-Muslim campaign, Putin had led Russia for 17 years, and was a very firmly established high performer in these figures. Here are some of the reasons for this.
Russian-Japanese dialogue in the context of amendments to the Constitution
As Russia discusses amendments to the Constitution, an issue of particular concern has been the amendment that prohibits the alienation of Russian territories. The amendment will likely be put to vote on April 22. It is not surprising that it has evoked interest abroad, especially in Japan, where they still expect to regain control of the so-called “northern territories”. Unlike a great number of categorical alarmist comments in the Japanese press on this issue, Sankei Shimbun writes: “The amendment includes the wording “except for cases of demarcation or re-demarcation of borders with neighboring states”. Thus, negotiations on the Japanese “northern territories” can be considered not in conflict with the new Constitution. “
Are there grounds for such an interpretation of the amendment in question? “Any moves aimed at alienating territories, as well as calls for such actions, are not permitted,” – the presidential amendment says, specifying that it is not indeed about delimitation, demarcation, or re-demarcation of the state border.
Japan, claiming the southern islands of the Kuril Ridge, cites the Soviet-Japanese Declaration of October 19, 1956 “On ending the state of war between the two states and restoring diplomatic and consular relations”, according to which the USSR pledged to transfer the Shikotan and Habomai Islands. The Declaration, ratified by the parliaments of the two countries, has not been abolished. Another presidential amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation stipulates that Russia is the legal successor of the USSR in its territory and as a member of international organizations and international treaties.
However, the Tokyo Declaration indicated that the de facto transfer of these islands to Japan would be executed after the signing of a peace treaty between the USSR and Japan. In addition, the Soviet Union was also far from happy about the presence of American military bases on Japanese territory.
At present, what obstructs progress on the islands and the peace treaty is Japan’s unwillingness to take into account Russia’s strategic concerns about the status of the four islands of the South Kuril Ridge. In particular, Russia would like to receive guarantees about the neutral status of these territories and the non-deployment of US military bases on them.
The main thing is that while considering the issue of concluding a Peace Treaty with Japan, Russia insists that Japan recognize the results of World War II – something it has refused to do for many years. This approach is regrettably deeply rooted in the minds of the Japanese establishment and expert community. The abovementioned newspaper, for example, cites the opinion of Professor Sindzo Hakamada of Niigata University that “if Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes part in the celebration of Victory Day this year, it will mean acknowledgment of a blatant distortion of history by Russia and its uncompromising policy towards Japan.
From the Russian point of view, such statements are characteristic of the position of Japan. History, by the way, remembers cases when Tokyo changed this position depending on the political situation. A. Koshkin writes that in the spring of 1945, amid fears that the Soviet Union could participate in the war against Japan on the side of the Allied Powers, the Japanese leadership began to develop plans to “interest” the Soviet government by the concessions which Tokyo could make in exchange for Moscow’s neutrality and consent to mediate in armistice negotiations, including the abandoning of claims on Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.
Some Japanese experts, for example, M. Sato, believe that even after the amendments are made, there are two ways to resolve this problem so that the transfer of Habomai and Shikotan does not contradict the Russian Constitution. “The first way: to confirm that the transfer of Japanese islands to the USSR was recorded in the Yalta agreement of February 1945 and that in accordance with the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Kuril Islands, which Japan turned down, do not include Habomai and Shikotan. The transfer of Habomai and Shikotan is not an act of alienation of territories, but the result of demarcation of borders, so this will not run counter to the Constitution of Russia. The second way: since the Soviet-Japanese declaration is an international agreement signed long before the approval of the Russian Constitution, the provisions of the Fundamental Law of Russia should not apply to it.
In any case, the presidential amendment that delimitation, demarcation and re-marking of the state border do not fall under the alienation of territories is fairly substantial. There have been similar situations in the past, for example, how would the Russian leadership act when considering the demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border in 2005 or the Russian-Norwegian border in 2010?
However, in the case of Japan, the formality – when and if the presidential amendment is adopted – is less important than content. The Russian-Japanese dialogue on a Peace Treaty is still possible and may end to the benefit of both parties if they manage to accept the terms of the Tokyo Declaration taking into account the new realities. In my opinion, this is what the presidential amendment to the Russian Constitution is all about.
From our partner International Affairs
Coronavirus: A blessing in disguise
Last week, many universities and colleges in Europe and other countries canceled classes and moved to online instruction amid coronavirus fears as the authorities are trying to check the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paradoxically, such measures can prove beneficial to the world’s leading universities that practice online training and have developed platforms for this, above all in Russia, where the oldest educational institutions have long been using digital technology in teaching.
St. Petersburg State University (SPbU), the alma mater of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, is among the institutions, which are best prepared to go on-line, and a large number of dedicated courses developed by the university can already be found on federal educational platforms such as https://openedu.ru/. The issue of digital education featured prominently on the agenda of the 4thInternational Labor Forum held in St. Petersburg in February – the last major international event held by the university before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking at the forum, the university’s rector, Nikolay Kropachev, described SPbU as being at the forefront of the development of online courses and distance learning.
Nikolay Kropachev also said that the university had come a long way in promoting international cooperation, and was among the first to protect foreign students from being subjected to irrational and ill-advised measures related to the spread of coronavirus. In February, after many Russian politicians proposed isolating all students from Southeast Asia, Nikolay Kropachev appealed to common sense, questioning the need to place in quarantine for several months students who have not been in their home country since their last vacation.
Now that the entire university has gone on a kind of “antiviral” vacation, St. Petersburg State University is working out an algorithm of distance learning, including by foreign students, who come for a year or two studying in English and other languages. Thus, even if the coronavirus epidemic lingers on, students will not lose a semester or two and will be able to fully communicate with their tutors via a computer screen. Also, everyone is welcome to come aboard and join the training process. For more details, go to the University website.
Note: St. Petersburg State University is a complex of early 18th century buildings – the city’s oldest stone structures, which housed the ministries of Russia’s first emperor, Peter the Great. Nikolay Kropachev wants to move some of the classrooms out to create in their place several museums dedicated to Russian history and Russia’s greatest scientists. Just like other Russian universities, SPbU now has chance to check the effectiveness of its achievements in the field of distance learning. “A blessing in disguise” as the Russian proverb has it.
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