The Orthodox Church and the Christian tradition have always assumed a role of primary importance in Russian history and tradition.
The origins of Christianity in Russia go back to 988 and coincide with the baptism of Prince Vladimir the Great. He had come to Constantinople, following which the evangelization of the Principality Kievan Rus’ started. The latter included the space currently occupied by the areas of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus, considered the predecessor of the Russian Empire. Formed by Igor in 882, the Principality Kievan Rus’ is the first political form organised by the Oriental Slav tribes placed on those territories. This gave rise to the common orthodox faith and the Russian people’s sense of national belonging.
Retracing the path of the Principality one can indeed observe that the Orthodox Christian Faith was immediately embraced by those populations. It also succeeded in asserting itself in the Eastern zones, where there was strong pagan influence. This barely digested the advent of the new creed and accompanied their evolution, acting as a stalwart for the Country’s national and cultural identity. Orthodoxy is even granted with Scripture, which is surely a culture’s fundamental principle. It was introduced via the spread of Christianity among the Slav tribes through the creation of the Cyrillic characters due to two great saints, Cyril and Methodius. It also constituted the prerequisite for the political and cultural development of the Principality of Kiev, leaving a heritage that would last even after its disintegration.
Indeed, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Orthodox religion regained that role it traditionally enjoyed.
To understand the extent of this phenomenon, one can analyze some statistics carried out by the International Social Survey Programme:“Russians return to religion, but not to Church 10/02/2014” relating to the number of the faithful in the Country between 1988 and 2008.
If in 1988, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox church counted 67 dioceses, 21 monasteries, 6,893 parishes, 2 academies and 3 theological seminars. In 2008 it counted 133 dioceses, over 23,000 parishes, 620 monasteries (including 298 male ones), 322 convents, 5 academies and 32 theological seminars, 43 schools for seminary preparation, 1 theological institution, 2 orthodox universities and 2 female diocesan theological schools.
Examining the data also reveals that between 1991 and 2008, the share of Russian adults considering themselves orthodox had grown from 31% to 72%, while the share of the Russian population not considering themselves religious had dropped from 61% to 18%. However, research carried out by the International Social Survey Programme also reveals that the return to religion does not correspond to its practice. The research demonstrates two substantial facts: only one in ten of those declaring themselves religious attended mass at least once a month; the growth in practisers was ridiculous when compared to that in believers. The latter is borne out by the fact that from 1991 to 2008 it was just 5 percent, going from 2% to 7%.
The growth in the population towards the various religious affiliations was also analyzed over various demographic groups. This analysis revealed that from 1991 to 2008 there was an increase of around 38% in women approaching Orthodox religion, going from 43% to 81%; and an increase of 46% in men, going from 17% to 63%. It also reveals that the increase in identification with Orthodox religion grew by 43% in youthful groups, aged between 16 and 49, going from 26% in 1991, to 69% in 2008, and by 39% amongst those aged over 50, going from 40% in 1991 to 79% in 2008. One may further register that approach to the Orthodox Faith grew substantially in the population with a high level of education, and in particular graduates. This can be augmented by the facts that in 2008, women of faith were the majority and practicing more than men, and that the over-70s were a more religious group than the youngsters. Reference to age therefore, highlights that the elderly form the most religious: 82% of the over-70s declare they are orthodox, in comparison with 77% of people aged between 50 and 69 and 74% of those aged between 30 and 49. Finally, the 62% of youths aged between 16 and 29 remains.
Although the above-mentioned study displays a clear discrepancy between the practicing and non-practicing faithful, the great rebirth of orthodoxy in the Russian people cannot be denied. In this regard, it is interesting to quote the episode of great mass participation occurring in November 2011. Three million Muscovites, facing the cold and rain, poured onto the streets to venerate the belt of the Virgin. This had benn brought from Mount Athos to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (the church destroyed by Stalin and substituted by a pool, but rebuilt in a few years under El’cin).
There is no doubt that this rebirth was supported by the collaboration between the Church and political power. This significantly grew over time and intensified on the occasion of two events in particular: the election of Archbishop Cyril Somolensk as patriarch of Moscow and all Russia in 2009, and Vladimir Putin’s return to power in 2012.
The Orthodox church’s policies can actually be easily reconciled with Putin’s vision and his strong call to the Country’s traditions. Patriarch Alexei II had already set himself clearly apart from the Western concepts of “human rights” and “globalization”, considering them unsuited to Russian specifics. Further, Cyril I, his successor, issued the “Declaration of Human Rights of Russia’s Orthodox church”, after repudiating the Western Universal Declaration of Man’s Rights.
The intensification of relations between Church and State has become even more evident in recent years. Indeed, on the forth anniversary of the nomination of Patriarch Cyril, the Kremlin explicitly wished for the Orthodox church to raise its beneficent role in society. In a meeting between the State and religious exponents, held on 11 February 2013, Putin also underlined the need to give the Orthodox church more space. This extended, to political questions regarding matters like the family, education of youths and the patriotic spirit. With reference to defending these values, in particular the family, Russia has often wished to confirm and remark defending traditional, natural values of human society. To this end it has underlined its conception of “family” – understood as the basic element in ordered development for State and society – and the realization of a political and social strategy favouring it. These have decisively contributed to inverting the very negative demographic trend afflicting the Country over the last decades, warding off out-and-out social disaster. If one considers that the “demographic Winter” striking Russia around 1991 to 2005 is now a common situation in most European states, there can be no doubt that the Russian model constitutes an international example.
Keeping these facts in mind, in some alarming cases the attempt to define and orient States’ policies supporting families and young mothers is even more important and current. It aims to guarantee correct demographic development, crucial for effect on the process of State’s main internal and external policy. In this regard, President Putin has often insisted how humanity today clashes with very serious challenges, like continuous attacks on the institution of the family. This explains why Putin’s Russia is very interested in demographic and family matters. Protecting the rights and interests of families, motherhood and childhood is a priority for public authorities. This actively support and encourage politics and initiatives in their favour: they, benefit from the close collaboration with non-governmental organisations and voluntary citizen associations. Russia’s objective is to defeat this long-lasting demographic deficit, by reaching a fertility rate of 2,1 instead of its current 1,7.
Indeed, for the Russian authorities the problem of birth reduction cannot only be attributed to the economic sphere. It has deeper, cultural roots hence the need to intervene in the fields of education and information too. On many occasions, both Putin and Patriarch Cyril have emphasised that the globalised financial system caused the world economic crisis as of 2008, creating and making hegemonic speculative, parasitical financing. It is also responsible for the ethical, moral yielding developing internationall to create a dangerous ‘tendency to destroying human society’. This moral crisis had exacerbated a tendency to selfishness and individualism. These phenomena appear in Russia as the “social orphan”: 80% of abandoned children normally have both parents, who intentionally choose not to bring them up.
One may further note that a new agreement between the Church and the Counts’ Court was recently signed at Moscow. It aimed to raise morale in Russia, impaired by corruption, a real blight there; and safeguard the national spiritual, historical and cultural heritage, necessary for the social good. On the occasion of signing, Patriarch Cyril declared that “The work of the Counts’ Court has a substantial impact on society’s moral climate. We know that corruption degrades human beings. And if corruption reaches a significant extent, it erodes the healthy fabric of society and undermines the basis of the State.”
In fact, for Cyril, the “current vices, connected with theft of public and state property” are attributed to the difficulties faced by the population in the ’90’s and early 2000’s. They are, “the collapse of the economy, the destruction of certain ideals and the attempt to create new ones”.
For these reasons, the Kremlin considers the Church a fundamental ally to preserve Russia’s spiritual and cultural identity. Politics and the Church are intertwined: the Kremlin needs to promote the Church as an organ representing the nation’s values to regroup consensus; it is opportune for the Church to collaborate with politics to promote choices protecting the family and safeguarding public morality. With reference to safeguarding life, the Orthodox church has worked hard to explain that abortion is nothing but the killing of an innocent human being. The work of many NGOs promote the pro-life cause in Russia.
Another emblematic case of the common political strategy linking the Orthodox church and the Kremlin is the anti-blasphemy. This was adopted following the episode of three feminist activists, Pussy Riot, who played in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Their rock music, blasphemous in character, was performed on the platform of the altar, to protest against Putin’s policy. For the secular authorities the gesture was considered as one by hooligans or vandals; for the Ecclesiastical leaders it was blasphemous profanity.
Further, the Church supported the new regulations limiting access to abortion; and Putin’s law forbidding the publication of material portraying homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals.
The Orthodox church’s action also spreads internationally, appearing as the promoter of dialogue between different religions and cultures. Patriarch Cyril actually stated the need to build orthodox geopolitics, in line with Putin’s foreign policy. To favour this role, the “Inter-Religious Council of the Russian Federation” and its analogous “Inter-religious Council of the CSI” (Community of Independent states) were set up in 1998. Orthodox Christians, 230 million in all, include: countries orthodox by tradition (Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldavia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Ukraine), with their own orthodox national Churches, countries containing orthodox ethnic-cultural minorities (Albania, Czech Republic, Finland, Poland, Slovakia), and countries containing orthodox faithful, principally in Western Europe. Patriarch Cyril often visits countries from the former Soviet belt to consolidate cultural, religious, but also political relations. The Orthodox church moves in the former Soviet area, which the Kremlin aims to regroup. All this, supports the government’s foreign policy, continually appealing to a shared values between the “sister nations” with “a unique story, a unique Church and unique future”.
To understand the importance one may refer to Eirini Patsea’ article, “Church diplomacy: Greece, Russia and beyond”.
The author stresses that “after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox post-Soviet states chose to submit to the spiritual leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; not the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was important, for those states and for their western interlocutors, that they cut the cord from the ROC and the Soviet politics”.
With reference to foreign policy, the situation lived in the Ukraine following the conflict is also interesting. In this country Orthodox church exponents were submitted to pressure from the Ukraine’s new “nationalist” authorities and other organisations. The latter wished to take over faculties to transfer the clergy depending on the Moscow Patriarch under the Kiev Patriarch (the latter not recognised, not even by the Constantinople Patriarch). In this regard it should be stressed that the Ukraine counts the highest number of orthodox parishes after Russia.
To conclude, it is fundamental to underline that this type of collaboration between Church and state has facilitated the rebirth of faith in Russia. It is possible in the traditional acephalus-national reality of Orthodoxy, which has made the “symphonic” Caesaropapism the true foundation of Russian identity for centuries. It is then clear that the model cannot be exported. However, the National character of the orthodox Ecclesiastical reality has not hindered the possibility of an “orthodox ecumenism” open to international dialogue between cultures and religions.
All sanctions against Russia are based on lies
All of the sanctions (economic, diplomatic, and otherwise) against Russia are based on clearly demonstrable intentional falsehoods; and the sanctions which were announced on August 8th are just the latest example of this consistent tragic fact — a fact which will be proven here, with links to the evidence, so that anyone who reads here can easily see that all of these sanctions are founded on lies against Russia.
The latest of these sanctions were announced on Wednesday August 8th. Reuters headlined “U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia for nerve agent attack in UK” and reported that, “Washington said on Wednesday it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia by the end of August after it determined that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.” This was supposedly because “Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door. European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by President Donald Trump against Russia since he came to office.”
However, despite intense political pressure that the UK Government and ‘news’media had placed upon the UK’s Porton Down intelligence laboratory to assert that the poison had been made in Russia (labs in several countries including the UK have also manufactured it), the Porton Down lab refused to say this. Though the U.S. Government is acting as if Porton Down’s statement “determined that Moscow had used a nerve agent,” the actual fact is that Porton Down still refuses to say any such thing, at all — this allegation is merely a fabrication by the U.S. Government, including its allies, UK’s Government and other Governments and their respective propaganda-media. It’s a bald lie.
On March 18th, the great British investigative journalist and former British diplomat Craig Murray had headlined about UK’s Foreign Secretary, “Boris Johnson Issues Completely New Story on Russian Novichoks” and he pointed to the key paragraph in the Porton Down lab’s statement on this matter — a brief one-sentence paragraph:
Look at this paragraph:
“Russia is the official successor state to the USSR. As such, Russia legally took responsibility for ensuring the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] applies to all former Soviet Chemical Weapons stocks and facilities.”
It does not need me to point out, that if Porton Down had identified the nerve agent as made in Russia, the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office — UK’s foreign ministry] would not have added that paragraph. Plainly they cannot say it was made in Russia.
Murray’s elliptical report, which unfortunately was unclearly written — it was rushed, in order to be able to published on the same day, March 18th, when the UK’s official response to the Porton Down lab’s analysis was published — was subsequently fully explained on March 23rd at the excellent news-site Off-Guardian, which specializes in investigating and interpreting the news-media (in this case, Craig Murray’s article, and the evidence regarding it); they headlined “Skripal case: ‘closely related agent’ claim closely examined’,” and concluded their lengthy and detailed analysis:
In short, the ruling cited above, even if read in the most improbably forgiving way possible, shows the UK government does not have the information to warrant any of the claims it has so far made about Russian state involvement in the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. It shows the UK government is currently guilty of lying to Parliament, to the British people, and to the world.
Nothing has been published further about the Skripal/Novichoks matter since then, except speculation that’s based on the evidence which was discussed in detail in that March 23rd article at Off-Guardian.
On the basis of this — merely an open case which has never been examined in more detail than that March 23rd analysis did — the Skripal/Novichok case has been treated by the UK Government, and by the U.S. Government, and by governments which are allied with them, and by their news-media, as if it were instead a closed case, in which what was made public constitutes proof that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Russian Government. On that blatantly fraudulent basis, over a hundred diplomats ended up being expelled.
The Porton Down lab still refuses to say anything that the UK Government can quote as an authority confirming that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Russian Government.
All that’s left of the matter, then, is a cold case of official lies asserting that proof has been presented, when in fact only official lies have been presented to the public.
The UK Government prohibits the Skripals from speaking to the press, and refuses to allow them to communicate even with their family-members. It seems that they’re effectively prisoners of the UK Government — the same Government that claims to be protecting them against Russia.
This is the basis upon which the U.S. State Department, on August 8th, issued the following statement to ‘justify’ its new sanctions:
Imposition of Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act Sanctions on Russia
August 8, 2018
Following the use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.
Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, these sanctions will take effect upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected on or around August 22, 2018.
U.S. law is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty” — the opposite of legal systems in which the contrary assumption applies: “guilty until proven innocent.” However, regarding such matters as invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 upon the basis of no authentic evidence; and invading and destroying Libya in 2011 on the basis of no authentic proof of anyone’s guilt; and on the basis of invading and for years trying to destroy Syria on the basis of America’s supporting Al Qaeda in Syria against Syria’s secular government; and on the basis of lying repeatedly against Russia in order to load sanction after sanction upon Russia and to ‘justify’ pouring its missiles and thousands of troops onto and near Russia’s border as if preparing to invade ‘the world’s most aggressive country’ — the U.S. federal Government routinely violates that fundamental supposition of its own legal system (“innocent until proven guilty”), whenever its rulers wish. And yet, it calls itself a ‘democracy’.
Donald Trump constantly says that he seeks improved relations with Russia, but when his own State Department lies like that in order to add yet further to the severe penalties that it had previously placed against Russia for its presumed guilt in the Skripal/Novichok matter, then Trump himself is publicly exposing himself as being a liar about his actual intentions regarding Russia. He, via his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s State Department, not only is punishing Russia severely for this unproven allegation, but now adds yet further penalties against Russia for it. Trump is being demanded by the U.S. Congress to do this, but it is his choice whether to go along with that demand or else expose that it’s based on lies. He likes to accuse his opponents of lying, but, quite obviously, the members of Congress who are demanding these hiked rounds of sanctions against Russia are demanding him to do what he actually wants to do — which is now clearly demonstrated to be the exact opposite of exposing those lies. If Trump is moving toward World War III on the basis of lies, then the only way he can stop doing it is by exposing those lies. He’s not even trying to do that.
Nothing is being said in the State Department’s cryptic announcement on August 8th that sets forth any reasonable demand which the U.S. Government is making to the Russian Government, such that, if the reasonable demand becomes fulfilled by Russia’s Government, then the United States Government and its allies will cease and desist their successive, and successively escalating, rounds of punishment against Russia.
Russia is being offered no path to peace, but only the reasonable expectation of escalating lie-based American ‘justifications’ to perpetrate yet more American-and-allied aggressions against Russia.
There have been three prior U.S. excuses for applying prior rounds of sanctions against Russia, and all of them have likewise been based upon lies, and varnished with many layers of overstatements.
First, in 2012, there was the Magnitsky Act, which was based upon frauds (subsequently exposed here and here and here) which assert that Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by the Russian Government. The evidence (as linked-to there) is conclusive that he was not; but the U.S. Government and its allies refuse even to consider it.
Then, in 2014, Crimea broke away from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation, and the U.S. and its allies allege that this was because Russia under Putin ‘seized’ Crimea from Ukraine, when in fact America under Obama had, just weeks prior to that Crimean breakaway, seized Ukraine and turned it against Russia and against Crimea and the other parts of Ukraine which had voted overwhelmingly for the democratically elected Ukrainian President whom the Obama regime had just overthrown in a bloody coup that had been in the planning ever since at least 2011 inside the Obama Administration. Several rounds of U.S.-and-allied economic sanctions were imposed against Russia for that — for the constant string of lies against Russia, and of constant cover-ups of “the most blatant coup in history,” which had preceded and caused the breakaway.
These lies originated with Obama; and Trump accuses Obama of lying, but not on this, where Obama really did lie, psychopathically. Instead, Trump makes those lies bipartisan. On what counts the most against Obama, Trump seconds the Obama-lies, instead of exposing them. And yet Trump routinely has accused Obama as having lied, even on matters where it’s actually Trump who has been lying about Obama.
Then, there have been the anti-Russia sanctions that are based upon Russiagate and ‘Trump is Putin’s stooge and stole the election.’ That case against Russia has not been proven, and Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange says that what he had published were leaks from the DNC and Podesta’s computer, not hacks at all; and yet the sanctions were imposed almost as soon as the Democratic Party’s accusations started. Those sanctions, too, are utterly baseless except as being alleged responses to unproven (and likely false) allegations. Furthermore, even in the worst-case scenario: the U.S. Government itself routinely overthrows foreign governments, and continues tapping the phones and electronic communications of foreign governments, and manipulating elections abroad. Even in the worst-case scenario, Russia hasn’t done anything that historians haven’t already proven that the U.S. Government itself routinely does. That’s the case even if Russia is guilty as charged, on all of the U.S-and-allied accusations.
So: Who wants World War III? Apparently, both the Democratic and the Republican Parties do. Obama called Russia the world’s most aggressive nation. Trump joins with him in that bipartisan lie. Outside of America itself, most of the world consider the United States to be actually the “greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Therefore, why isn’t the NATO alliance against America? The NATO alliance is America and most of its vassal-nations: they’re all allied against Russia. Their war against Russia never stopped. That ‘Cold War’ continued, even after the USSR and its communism and its Warsaw Pact mirror-image to NATO, all ended in 1991; and now the intensifying ‘cold war’ threatens to become very hot. All based on lies. But that seems to be the only type of ‘justifications’ the U.S.-and-allied tyrants have got.
Either the lies will stop, or else we all will. Trump, as usual, is on the wrong side of the lies. And he seems to be too much of a coward to oppose them, in these cases, which are the most dangerous lies of all. This is how we could all end. Doing something heroic that would stop it, seems to be way beyond him — he doesn’t even try. That’s the type of cowardice which should be feared, and despised, the most of all. Trump has taken up Obama’s worst, and he runs with it. Trump had promised the opposite, during his Presidential campaign. But this is the reality of Trump — a profoundly filthy liar — at least insofar as he has, thus far, shown himself to be. What he will be in the future is all that remains in question. But this is what he has been, up till now.
Author’s note: this piece first posted at strategic-culture.org
The importance of the first Russia-Africa Summit
After several years of high-level consultations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally hinted that Russia would organize its first Russia-Africa Summit of African leaders and Ministers to roll out a comprehensive strategic road map outlining concrete economic sectors for investment, issues relating to trade and culture for Africa.
Addressing a group of invited African leaders at 2018 BRICS Summit on July 27 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Putin told the gathering “I would like to inform you that we are studying the idea of holding a Russia-Africa summit with the participation of Heads of African states. This could be preceded by meetings of prominent businessmen, policy experts and public figures. And I intend to discuss this with representatives of African countries.”
He did not provide specific dates or any further details about the proposed summit, but strongly acknowledged that Russia has always given priority to the development of relations with African countries, based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual assistance, and Africa has now emerged as the world’s most rapidly developing regions.
The leaders of African countries who attended his special meeting came from Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has earlier said in interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine that At present, Russia’s relations with African countries were progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.
He noted Russia has maintained an intensive political dialogue with African countries on one hand and on other side, representatives from African countries are active participants in international forums hosted by Russia.
“Our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express their interest in holding a Russia-Africa summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues,” he explained.
“However, it is necessary to bear in mind that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government requires most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content,” Lavrov further argued.
As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition. Equally important is African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market, the Foreign Minister elaborated in his discussion.
Definitely, time was needed to solve all those issues, Lavrov said and suggested, both Russia and Africa could start with experts’ meetings, for example, within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum and other economic cum business related events where business leaders participate.
He assertively promised that Russia would do its best to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation. Currently, Russia’s trade with Sub-Saharan countries amounted to $3.6 billion in 2017, compared to $3.3 billion in 2016 and $2.2 billion in 2015.
Maxim Chereshnev, the Chairman of the Board of the Council for the Development of Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations also noted that Russia and African states have a long story of relations. But, what is very important today is the fact that new opportunities are arising for medium size enterprises for collaboration in Russia and Africa.
According to him, nowadays perspectives of business contacts between Russian and African business are actually underestimated, however, there are a huge number of opportunities. For instance, agricultural, high-tech, medicine, energy-saving technologies, logistics and infrastructure projects are really perspective for strengthening Russia-African economic cooperation.
The Russia-Africa summit, would therefore, highlight favorable conditions for active business interaction, participating Russians and Africans establish closer contacts and continue cooperating in key sectors of the economy of both regions. Hence the significance of the proposed summit.
As Professor David Shinn, an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an email to GNA, Russian government’s weakness for investing or boosting economic cooperation compared to many foreign countries has been primarily the question of project financing in Africa.
As authorities have always explained Russia has its own priorities, and Africa is a priority for Russia but it’s Russia’s own priority to determine the pace and how to raise economic presence in Africa, he argued, and finally added “it neatly makes the argument that the relationship continues to be a low priority. It is difficult to affirm or change policy when key people are not present to make decisions.”
As already publicly known, all previous summits held by many foreign countries with Africa, there were concrete financial packages earmarked towards infrastructure development and concrete ways to improve bilateral trade with African countries.
From Russia’s perspective, there are undeniably important geopolitical implications working with Africa. Nevertheless, Russia’s efforts in the region have been limited thus far which many experts and researchers have attributed to lack of a system of financing policy projects.
Russia–Turkey Relations Need a Stronger Foundation
Relations between Russia and Turkey have always been and will always be a controversial subject. Even over the last couple of years, this relationship experienced dramatic ups and downs, sudden U-turns from cooperation to confrontation and back to cooperation.
First, relations between Moscow and Ankara will remain important for both sides. Russia and Turkey are neighbors with extensive and diverse bilateral ties — including trade and investments, energy and construction, as well as a vibrant social, humanitarian and cultural interaction.
Second, there will always be a mixture of common, parallel, overlapping and colliding interests driving Moscow and Ankara in dealing with each other.
Third, various external players — both global powers (the European Union, NATO, and the United States) and regional actors (Iran, Gulf States, and Israel) will continue to have a profound impact on Russia–Turkey relations.
Both sides should be interested in more stable, more predictable and less adversarial Russia–Turkey relations. Let’s face it: there will be no real trust between Russia and Turkey until we deal together with the most sensitive, the most divisive, and the most unpleasant issues dividing us.
As the recent history demonstrated, the “agree to disagree” approach is not good enough to move the relationship ahead. Thinking strategically, one can even imagine a more important role for Turkey as a country that might be best suited to facilitate a renewal of the currently nearly dormant NATO-Russian Council.
Russia is not an alternative to Turkey’s cooperation with the European Union; neither Turkey is a substitute for Russia working harder to resolve its problems with the United States and Europe. We need Russia–Turkey relationship to acquire a strategic depth of its own.
Relations between Russia and Turkey have always been and will always be a controversial subject. For both countries, this is a very special relationship; it contains a lot of emotions, mythology, prejudices, uneasy legacies of the past, and sometimes unrealistic hopes for the future. The glass remains half-full or half-empty, depending on how you look at it and on whether you are trying to fill it or to drain it.
Even over the last couple of years, this relationship experienced dramatic ups and downs, sudden U-turns from cooperation to confrontation and back to cooperation. The 2015 — 2016 crisis, albeit a short one, demonstrated both the fragility and the resilience of this unique set of connections linking the two countries. No doubt, in years to come we will see more of surprising developments in Russia–Turkey relations that we cannot possibly predict today. Still, there are a number of features of this relationship, which are likely to remain constant in the foreseeable future.
First, relations between Moscow and Ankara will remain important for both sides. Russia and Turkey are neighbors with extensive and diverse bilateral ties — including trade and investments, energy and construction, as well as a vibrant social, humanitarian and cultural interaction. Moreover, they share vast common neighborhood; for both countries, this neighborhood presents tempting opportunities and serious challenges at the same time. Both countries claim a special Eurasian status in world politics that puts them in a league of their own, distinguishing Russia and Turkey from other purely European or Asian states. Therefore, it is hard to imagine the two powers drifting too far away from each other and losing interest in the bilateral relationship.
Second, there will always be a mixture of common, parallel, overlapping, and colliding interests driving Moscow and Ankara in dealing with each other. Elements of cooperation and competition (hopefully, not direct confrontation) will be blended by politicians into a single sweet and sour cocktail and offered to the Russian and Turkish public. We will continue to live with numerous paradoxes. For instance, Turkey is a NATO member, but it plans to purchase the most advanced Russian air defense systems (S-400). The two countries actively cooperate on the ground in Syria, but they have very different attitudes to the current Syrian leadership in Damascus. Russians and Turks are equally interested in stability in the South Caucasus but quite often, unfortunately, they find themselves on the opposite sides of the barricades in the region.
Third, various external players — both global powers (the European Union, NATO, and the United States) and regional actors (Iran, Gulf States, and Israel) will continue to have a profound impact on Russia–Turkey relations. External players can push Moscow and Ankara closer to each other, but they can also push Russians and Turks apart by offering either of them alternative options for strategic, political and economic cooperation. The Russia–Turkey cooperation will also rely on such independent variables as the rise of international terrorism, fluctuations of energy prices, volatility of the global economic and financial system and, more generally, on the fundamentals of the emerging world order.
Both sides should be interested in more stable, more predictable and less adversarial Russia–Turkey relations. It is particularly important today, when the international system at large is becoming less stable and less predictable. Besides, both Russia and Turkey face enormous challenges of economic, social and political modernization in a less than perfect external environment; it would be stupid to add to existing lists of their foreign policy problems a new round of Russia–Turkey confrontation.
So, is it possible to prevent colliding interests from curbing joint work on common problems? What can we do to reduce the risks of potential future crises between Moscow and Ankara? How can we mitigate negative impacts of external factors on our bilateral cooperation?
The immediate answer to these questions is clear — above all, we need to enhance our lines of communication. This is not about preparing the next Erdogan-Putin meeting, nor about generating new technical proposals for the Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission. This is not about mil-to-mil contacts on the ground in Syria. The enhancement of communication should bring it far beyond serving operational needs of political leaders. Let’s face it: there will be no real trust between Russia and Turkey until we deal together with the most sensitive, the most divisive, and the most unpleasant issues dividing us. These issues include mutual historical grievances, existing suspicions about one side allegedly supporting subversive and even terrorist groups on the territory of the other side, concerns that the partner country might abruptly reconsider its commitments to cooperation, should it get a better deal from a third party, and so on. If they cannot discuss these issues at the official level today, one should start with a track two format providing for informal expert dialogues.
Even more important would be not to limit such dialogues to articulating existing disagreements and conflicting narratives, but to identify ways, in which disagreements can be bridged, and narratives reconciled. As the recent history demonstrated, the “agree to disagree” approach is not good enough to move the relationship ahead. If resolving difficult problems does not seem possible now, let us at least try to stabilize areas of potential conflict. For instance, Russia and Turkey will continue to disagree on the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, they can exercise their respective influence on both sides of the conflict in order to prevent another outbreak of military hostilities and further losses of human lives. Likewise, Moscow and Ankara are not likely to come to a common stance on Crimea. However, Turkey can play an important positive role in preventing any further cultural and civic alienation of the Crimean Tatar population in the peninsula.
Sometimes, what we routinely perceive as a part of the problem might become a part of the solution. For example, the Turkey’s membership in NATO is commonly regarded in Russia as an obstacle on the way to more productive security cooperation with Ankara. Counterintuitively, it is exactly the Turkish membership, which can help to reduce risks of dangerous incidents in the Black Sea. These risks started growing in 2014, when both Russia and NATO significantly increased their naval presence here and engaged themselves into ever more frequent naval exercises. Why doesn’t Ankara take an initiative in promoting more confidence-building measures between Russia and NATO in the Black Sea? Thinking strategically, one can even imagine a more important role for Turkey as a country that might be best suited to facilitate a renewal of the currently nearly dormant NATO-Russian Council.
It is also important to make sure that cooperation between Russia and Turkey is not regarded by either side as the “second best option” when the “first best option” is not available for this or that reason. Russia is not an alternative to Turkey’s cooperation with the European Union; neither Turkey is a substitute for Russia working harder to resolve its problems with the United States and Europe. Situational alliances based on shared frustrations and common complexes of inferiority usually do not last. We need Russia–Turkey relationship to acquire a strategic depth of its own. To quote Saint Augustine, “the higher our structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation”.
First published in our partner RIAC
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