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Soft power as a threat to a hard power

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2012 was fruitful for Russian legislators and painful for the NGOs. That year marked the series of laws threatening the fragile civil society in the country: penalties for violation of the law on assembly were toughened, defamation criminalized, and NGOs receiving foreign funding forced to register as “foreign agents”.

Later on the State Duma passed another law expanding the notions of “espionage” and “treason” as crimes that include “any financial, technical, advisory and other assistance to a foreign state or an international organization, as part of any activities directed against the security of Russian Federation”.

The NGO law: theory

The law states that Russian nonprofits that receive “funding or material support from foreign states, international and foreign organizations” and engaged in “political activities” are endowed with the status of a “foreign agent”. Also, any materials published or distributed by those organizations, even online, should be marked as “published by the organization performing functions of a foreign agent”. In case if an NGO refuse to register or provide any information on its finances, it may face a considerable fine and its representative could be imprisoned. The law significantly complicates the procedure of financial reporting and also gives grounds for unscheduled inspections.

The essential drawback of the law is that the definition of “political activity” is rather blurry. According to the lawmakers it includes any “political action or influence on public opinion aiming to change a policy”. Russian legislation does not provide a clear definition of these concepts and thus gives the freedom of interpretation to the authorities. However, activities in the field of science and education, culture, health, environment, social protection of citizens are exempt from the law as they are not “political”.

FARA: Is the US Russia’s role model?

In response to criticism of the law Russian officials contend that the same law exists in the United States, which proves that this kind of legislative act may be adopted in a democratic state. Indeed, the Russian NGO law seems to be “copied” from the American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) – it contemplates almost the same terminology and concepts and provides similar penalties for its violation. Both American FARA and the Russian NGO claim to “increase transparency”. A law, however, cannot be evaluated outside the context of its implementation practices.

FARA was adopted in 1938 and aimed to protect the Americans from foreign propaganda during the war. It required that the “agents” representing interests of foreign powers in the US politics have to disclose their ties with foreign governments and information on funding. Since then the law was several times amended, concepts specified, and the burden of proof elaborated. It has become so complicated that actually just a few criminal prosecution cases made it through the end. However, the most substantial distinction of FARA is that it primarily aims to disclose the foreign lobby that promotes its political interests in Congress and not any organization receiving funding from abroad.

The NGO law: practice

As the law came into force more than a thousand NGOs have been subjected to unscheduled inspections and searches, many of them got “warnings” that their activity is “political” and should be changed. Some organizations have been charged with administrative offences and fines, and their leaders prosecuted as they refused to enter the roster of Foreign Agents at the Ministry of Justice. The first organization to be recognized as a “foreign agent” was the Golos Association (“voice” or “vote”), Russia’s biggest organization protecting electoral rights. It had to pay a big fine and suspend work for several months but eventually they managed to win the court case.

Many Russian non-profits obtain funding through foreign grants and even though in many cases it is only a few percent of a budget, the government sees it as a reason to suggest that the organization represents interest of a foreign power. Lack of financing is quite a big problem for many of the Russian NGOs. Before the bill became law, Vladimir Putin claimed that public funding for nonprofits will be increased. Later it was confirmed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – he said that the government will support the NGOs, however, assuming “their activity is useful and positive for the country”.

The same year the “foreign agents” law was adopted, the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID), one of the biggest donors for the Russian nonprofits halted its activities in the country. Besides, the government lunged at some of the international organizations – Russian office of the Transparency International and bureau of the Nordic Council of Ministers which suspended its work this year were forced to enter the “foreign agents” roster.  

The inclusion of the Dynasty Foundation in the list of the “foreign agents” and its subsequent closure produced a strong public reaction. The organization is the first family nonprofit foundation in Russia. Created by a businessman and scientist Dmitry Zimin it supported talented scientists and educational projects. Mainly, the organization was financed from his private funds. The Foundation gave scholarships and grants to students and young professionals, supported school teachers of exact sciences, organized public lectures, developed a program of short-term visits of foreign scientists to Russia. The Dynasty also financed the “Liberal Mission” Foundation which conducted researches on economic and political issues. Apparently, this was a good reason to consider its activities as “political”. Unexpectedly, several environmental organizations we also included in the Foreign Agents lists.

The law was applied on many organizations promoting human rights and civil society, gender equality, and independent media working in the domains of social protection and assistance to refugees and displaced people. Among them are the prominent human rights center “Memorial” which was originally concentrated on the history of political repressions in the Soviet Union, the famous “Levada – Center”, independent sociological research organization, ” The Committee against Torture”, and “Perm -36”, the founder of Russia’s only museum of the history of political repressions created on the territory of the former Gulag. As the Russian paratroopers were detained in the Eastern Ukraine, “the Saint-Petersburg Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers” which received the complaints from the families of those who were allegedly involved in the conflict, was recognized as a “foreign agent”. The organization claims that it hadn’t received any foreign funding.

Soft power as a threat to a hard power

A person familiar with the political history of Russia can easily notice that the Kremlin on both official and unofficial levels more and more actively uses the Soviet phraseology. The expression “foreign agent” had stuck in ideological memory of a Russian – according to polls this phrase is perceived as the analogy with the terms like “spy”, “enemy”, or “traitor” even among the younger generation. The ”foreign agent” terminology used in the text of the law, thus, clearly functions as a pointer – the enemy can sabotage the country from within.

As the Kremlin began to hunt down “unsuitable” NGOs, some organizations terminated their activities or had to change legal forms. Many do not agree to accept the new “shameful” status and continue to press charges against the Ministry of Justice. Some of the NGOs filed complaints in the European Court of Human Rights. The persecution of the independent non-governmental organizations continues. In May this year the new law was adopted according to which any foreign or international NGO “which threaten the national security” can be recognized as “undesirable” and banned from conducting its activities in Russia. The American National Endowment for Democracy (NED) became the first one in the blacklist. After the law was introduced one of the largest US private nonprofits, The MacArthur Foundation, announced its closure in Russia.

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Iran, Russia, and Turkey: A Eurasionist Model of Foreign Relations

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Because Westerners tend to place the idea of cooperation among nations under a normative umbrella, whether it be an alliance or some other legal mechanism (as is often the case in the West), analysts and pundits have been mischaracterizing the ongoing Russia-Turkey-Iran cooperation as an alliance. This both underestimates and overstates the interaction between the three pivotal Eurasian states.

The players have not formed an alliance; in fact, the opposite is in place. They cooperate, compete, seek each other’s help, and turn their backs on one another as they see fit. This kind of interaction is very similar to the 19th century concert of European powers in which mistrust ran wide, but the powers nevertheless wished to find common ground where necessary and achieve a balance to avoid the imposition of one power’s will on the others. They also shared the overarching belief that a changing world order is something to be feared.

Several threats have brought Iran, Turkey, and Russia together: the war in Syria; terrorism and extremism; and, to an extent, Kurdish separatism (Russia shares Ankara’s and Tehran’s concerns about this). Crucially, US pressure of varying degrees on each of the three powers serves as glue to promote their cooperation in resisting the liberal world order. The three seek to remake the world order as they no longer benefit sufficiently from post-Cold War arrangements. Each wants new space for balancing.

Their ideas vary, however, in terms of the depth and breadth of the necessary changes. Iran seeks a complete overhaul, as its revolutionary fervor and geopolitical outlook are in diametric opposition to the US-led world order. Russia is also a revisionist power but its demands for fundamental changes are less radical, as it gains some advantages through the liberal world order.

Turkey seeks to balance between the US and Russia. This has become one of the most important aspects of Ankara’s Middle East and Mediterranean policy. Turkey argues that in the evolving world order, it should be free to cooperate with any global actors depending on its interests, but none of those relations should be considered fixed.

Significantly, the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian peoples all have a similar historical experience of anti-imperialist struggle. They believe “Eurasia” can provide an alternative to the West’s cultural, historical, political, and economic dominance.

More importantly for smaller countries, the three also advance the concept of “regional ownership,” which prioritizes bilateral cooperation in regional problems without the involvement of third parties. In this way, Turkey and Russia pursued a shared vision in the Black Sea and cooperated in the South Caucasus following the Second Karabakh War. Efforts were made in Libya as well, and similar ideas were expressed (at least rhetorically) about the recent crisis between Israel and the Hamas organization.

Iran has similar aspirations to Russia when it comes to the Caspian Sea. No foreign powers are allowed into the region, and smaller states with access to the Sea have to acknowledge Tehran’s and Moscow’s vital energy and security interests.

The trio’s aspiration to sideline the West is visible in concrete initiatives. The Astana Talks are nothing but an attempt to advance an alternative vision to the Syrian problem. Similar attempts were made in the South Caucasus, when Turkey and Iran proposed and supported the idea of creating a regional pact on security and cooperation that has no place for the West.

Russia has long aspired to better ties with Turkey and Iran. Even in the Soviet period, Moscow periodically attempted to advance a form of cooperation with those two countries that would exclude the West. Both states gradually emerged as pillars of Russia’s post-Soviet aspirations to construct a more active foreign policy in the Middle East and remold the existing world order.

Though Turkish Eurasianism is inimical to the Russian version, from the late 1990s Russian neo-Eurasianists began looking at Turkey in a more positive light. The current Russian leadership might not be radically neo-Eurasianist, but the seeds of the modern reliance on Turkey has its roots in the ideological fervor of the 1990s.

While underlying currents on both the regional and global levels are pulling the trio closer together, this does not imply that the parties will attempt to create an official grouping with formal alliance obligations. This is what sets them apart from the West. Iran, Russia, and Turkey see the absence of a formal alliance as a boon. It allows them to maneuver, balance, and honor each other’s vital spheres of influence.

This trend of finding common ground without formal obligations is characteristic of the post-unipolar world. Russia and China officially refuse to have an alliance—indeed, they claim an alliance would undermine their purportedly benevolent intentions toward one another. While much of this is just rhetoric to conceal the absence of any common cultural or otherwise important features necessary for a geopolitical alliance, this behavior is part of an emerging trend in which Eurasian states prefer maneuverability to the shackles of formal obligations.

For Russia, intensive cooperation with Turkey and Iran is beneficial inasmuch as it provides leverage over the West and allows Moscow to solve critical problems in the Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian regions, as well as Syria. With that said, it is doubtful how much Russia wants Turkey to completely sever its ties with NATO. In a way, Turkey’s position as a member of the alliance—one that generates continuous intra-alliance tensions—benefits Russia more than an unshackled Turkey would. The latter scenario would ease NATO’s internal problems and perhaps even diminish Turkey’s importance in Russia’s geopolitical calculus.

As far as Iran is concerned, Russia seeks to render the Islamic Republic dependent on its diplomatic clout. A long-term solution to Iran’s nuclear stalemate is the Kremlin’s least desired scenario. While it would allow Russian companies to penetrate Iran’s market, that market would also be opened up to more competitive Western enterprises. A closer interaction beyond the partnership is also not an option for Russia.

For Moscow, keeping Ankara and Tehran close will be a constraining geopolitical weight, but distancing from them would be detrimental as well. Russia is trying to maintain a delicate balance with the two.

Turkey and Iran naturally have their own agendas. Each plays the Russian card to get concessions from the West, and for each, a complete severing of ties with the West in a non-starter. Turkey understands that while its over-reliance on the West as a balance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War era was costly to Ankara, its reliance on Russia as a balance against the US could be similarly disquieting. Iran, too, is unwilling to commit solely to the Russian card. Balancing between the West, China, and Russia is arguably the best choice.

This mixture of different interests makes the interaction between the three all the more surprising. But the trio shares similar objectives, and each needs the other two to help it maneuver in its relations with the West.

The trio has introduced a new pattern of ties—one unconstrained by formalities but still driven by long-term shared interests. This Eurasian model is a byproduct of an evolving global order in which each state with geopolitical influence recalibrates its foreign policy ties. Russia is critical here, and its efforts to have Turkey and Iran play the role of disruptors have brought results. But we have also seen Ankara and Tehran pursue their own game by sticking with Russia only intermittently.

Author’s note: first published in besacenter

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Two Opposite Views of Alexei Navalny

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The views of Alexei Navalny in Russia and in the United States are virtually opposites of each other.

In America, for example, on June 20th, the New York Times headlined “U.S. Preparing More Sanctions Against Russia, Sullivan Says”, and sub-headlined “The national security adviser raised the issue of more penalties in the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny days after President Biden met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.” The Hill online bannered “Sullivan says US preparing more Russia sanctions over Navalny”, and the “Best” or most popular of the many hundreds of reader-comments was “Putin is too chickenshvt to face Navalny in an election”. In other words, the view is: Putin is aiming to kill Navalny because Navalny represents democracy and Putin is the dictator. That is the dominant view of Navalny not only in the United States but in its allied countries.

In Russia, however, here is the dominant view:

An RT news-report on 1 February 2021 headlined “Top Navalny aide asked alleged British spy for millions in funding, intelligence video released by Russia’s FSB claims to reveal”. Back in 2012, Russia’s equivalent of America’s FBI had a hidden camera in position filming, and recording, Navalny’s top aide trying to persuade a person he thought to be an MI6 (UK’s CIA) agent that MI6 should annually donate tens of millions of dollars to Navalny’s organization because doing this would provide billions of dollars of benefit to UK corporations if Navalny would then succeed and become Russia’s leader. 

Navalny is also known in Russia as a far-right ethnic supremacist. Here is a video that he posted to youtube on 19 September 2007, under the title of “НАРОД за легализацию оружия” meaning “PEOPLE for the legalization of weapons

He was saying there that all Russians should get guns in order to kill Muslims who are infesting Russia, which would be like swatting big flies or stamping on big cockroaches. Later, he decided that demagoguing against Russia’s “corruption” was far likelier to win him the backing of the U.S and its allies than demagoguing against Russia’s Muslims would. This was when U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media began presenting him as the ‘democratic’ alternative to Vladimir Putin, who has always been vastly more favorably viewed by Russians than Navalny has been. On 5 September 2020, right before the latest Russian Presidential election, the internationally respected Levada polling organization in Russia reported that the top choice of Russians to lead the country was Putin at 56%, the second-from-top choice was the nationalist Zhirinovsky at 5%, and Alexey Navalny (shown there as Алексей Навальный), was the third-from-top choice, at 2%. In the 2018 Presidential election, Zhirinovsky polled at 13.7%, Grudinin polled at 12.0%, and Putin polled at 72.6%. The actual election-outcome was Putin 76.69%, Grudinin 11.7%, and Zhirinovsky 5.65%. There were many polls and Navalny was never any serious contender for Russia’s Presidency. The U.S. regime lies as it usually does (at least about international matters).

That’s what Russians know about Navalny. And, of course, it’s very different from what the publics in U.S.-and-allied countries know (or, at least, believe) about him.

Here is some recent propaganda that’s published by U.S.-and-allied regimes about Navalny: 

On May 22nd, Japan Times ran a Reuters report, “How Russia’s new gulag tries to break convicts like Alexei Navalny”.

On May 23rd, the Wall Street Journal headlined “Russia’s Navalny Fights to Stay in Public Eye in Putin Standoff”.

On May 4th, the Washington Post columnist Vladimir Kara-Murza headlined “Russia just took a big step back toward the Soviet Union”, and said: “Last week, for the first time since the Soviet era, the Kremlin officially classified opposition to its rule as a criminal offense. … Moscow prosecutors suspended the activities of the nationwide organization of Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent. Navalny is currently incarcerated in a prison camp after surviving a state-sponsored assassination attempt last year.”

Navalny, though he actually is favorably viewed by only around 2% of Russians (as indicated in polls there), is widely publicized in U.S.-and-allied media as having instead the highest support by the Russian people of anyone who might challenge Vladimir Putin for Russia’s leadership. It’s a lie, and always has been. Other politicians have far higher polled support in Russia. For example, a Russian poll conducted in the days following Alexey Navalny’s alleged novichok poisoning showed the following level of support for him then, if a Russian election for President would be held at that time: Vladimir Putin 56%, Vladimir Zhirinkovsky 5%. Alexei Navalny 2%. In the 2018 Presidential election, Zhirinovsky polled at 13.7%, Grudinin polled at 12.0%, and Putin polled at 72.6%. The actual election-outcome was Putin 76.69%, Grudinin 11.7%, and Zhirinovsky 5.65%. There were many polls and Navalny was never any serious contender for Russia’s Presidency. The U.S. regime lies as it usually does (at least about international matters), such as about “Saddam’s WMD.”

To say that Navalny has enough public supporters for him to have become elected as Russia’s President is like alleging that the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had enough public supporters for him to have become elected as America’s President. That’s how much U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media lie.

This news-report is submitted for publication to virtually all English-language newsmedia. A Web-search for its headline will show which ones have published it.

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Fragile Stabilisation of Confrontation

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Prospects for relations between Russia and the United States after the summit in Geneva

The Russia-US summit in Geneva will certainly not lead to a qualitative improvement in Russian-American relations and will not be able to initiate a process that would lead to a change of their confrontational nature within the next several years. This is impossible, due to the systemic nature of the confrontation between Russia and the United States. Overcoming this would require one or both sides to fundamentally change their approach to the international order and their place in it; a strong bipartisan anti-Russian consensus persists among the American political elite and establishment, despite an acute polarisation of the political system in the USA.

The task of the Geneva summit is different: to stabilise the Russian-American confrontation, to put an end to its unhealthy nature and uncontrollable course of recent years, and to form a model of relations in which the parties, despite considering each other as opponents and even enemies, nevertheless will try not to cross each other’s red lines. They also can develop selective cooperation on those issues where it is expedient for their national interests and where this cooperation does not require significant concessions. This model can be defined as controlled or disciplined confrontation.

The main reason that the summit in Geneva is taking place is that the further escalation of the Russian-American confrontation would otherwise undoubtedly lead to an even greater aggravation of the Ukrainian conflict, the situation around Belarus and a large-scale spiral of the arms race. This does not correspond to either Russian or American interests (as they are understood by the Biden administration).

For Russia, such an escalation would be fraught with the emergence of anti-Russian sanctions to a qualitatively new level, the need to increase military spending (today the Russian leadership is cutting defence spending and is proud of it), and an even greater deterioration in relations with European and Asian allies and partners of the United States (not only with the EU as a whole). It would also lead to the further strengthening of Russia’s asymmetric dependence on China, not to mention the humanitarian consequences of a new escalation of the war in eastern Ukraine and the increased risk of a direct military clash with the United States and NATO as a whole. Moscow, obviously, would like to avoid all this.

The interest of the Biden administration in stabilising the confrontation with Moscow is connected, firstly, with the Chinese factor. Since January this year, it became finally clear that the confrontation between Washington and Beijing, which was launched under Trump, is irreversible, systemic and existential for both sides, and therefore it is deeper and more long-term than the confrontation between the United States and Russia. Contrary to the hopes of many observers, there was no detente in US-China relations, and the Biden administration has made it clear that it regards China, and not Russia, as its main strategic rival and adversary.

At the same time, Washington is gradually understanding the limitations of its own resources and the need to concentrate on the Pacific sphere; a vivid example is the Biden administration’s desire to limit the obligations and presence of the United States in the Middle East. The White House also sees further rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow, which has increased in tandem with their opposition to the United States, as undesirable. As a result, the Biden administration seeks to stabilise the “Russian front” in order not to be distracted and to be able to throw as many resources as possible at the “Chinese front”.

Second, as the events of this spring have proved, the Biden administration, on the one hand, is not ready to invest serious material resources in containing Russia in the post-Soviet space, and even less enthusiastic about going to war with Russia because of such countries as Ukraine and Georgia. On the other hand, Washington would not like to witness the termination of their statehood.

The stabilisation of confrontation does not at all mean the resolution of the most acute conflicts and contradictions in Russian-American relations. The contradictions around Ukraine, Syria, Belarus, mutual allegations of interference in internal political affairs, Russia’s accusations of illegal hostile activities and even a “hybrid war” against the Western countries will most likely not be reduced following the summit. The prospect of a fundamental change in the foreign policy of Russia and the United States and serious compromises between them is still absent. Such compromises would be reasonably viewed by both sides as steps towards a strategic defeat, which for the time being is completely ruled out by both Moscow and Washington. In this regard, the stabilisation of the confrontation does not mean the resolution of these contradictions, but the absence of their further escalation.

At the same time, this stabilisation requires understanding, and, most importantly, respect for each other’s red lines. There is no doubt that these red lines will be discussed in Geneva. The ability of the parties to recognise and adhere to them is doubtful, especially in the longer term. For example, the United States will not only not give up open support for Russia’s domestic opposition in the near future, but will increase criticism of the Kremlin over internal political issues in the event of new protests. The parties will also not come to an agreement on what “Russian interference” in America’s internal political processes entail, and where the “red lines” are. Finally, there are great risks of destabilisation of many of the above crises “from below”, contrary to the wishes of Moscow or Washington. For example, the Ukrainian or Belarusian crises, which will inevitably entail a new round of confrontation and complicate interaction on other issues as well. Therefore, the stabilisation of confrontation, which is likely to follow the summit in Geneva, will be very fragile.

The second most important result of the summit is likely to be the launch of selective cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats on issues where it is beneficial to both parties and does not require qualitative concessions from the parties. This, in turn, will mean a significant improvement in Russian-American relations compared to the state in which they have been for the past several years. Namely, building a policy towards each other based on national interests and national security considerations, as well as the ability to combine rivalry and cooperation where it is necessary and beneficial.

In recent years, this was impossible. Under Trump, the Russian factor became one of the main instruments of America’s internal political struggle, and US policy towards Russia was determined by domestic political considerations to a much greater extent than foreign policy itself. This ruled out any constructive interaction in principle. The White House was forced to constantly prove that it was not a “Kremlin puppet”, and Congress sought to weaken Trump’s ability to determine US foreign policy, making confrontation with Russia irreversible. Coupled with the Republicans’ traditional preference for maximum freedom in defence policy and the desire to put pressure on opponents with the threat of an arms race, this led to the fact that by the end of 2020 the Russian-American agenda virtually disappeared, and the mechanisms of relations (summits, diplomatic dialogue) collapsed. An illustration of the latter is the diplomatic war that has been going on for more than four years, the recall of ambassadors and the actual paralysis of consular relations.

Today the situation is gradually improving. Although Russia still remains a factor in the American internal political struggle (and will remain so as long as the polarisation of the US political system persists), the scale of the politicisation of the Russian factor has significantly decreased since the end of the Trump period. Biden’s foreign policy does not provoke resistance, at least from his own administration, bureaucracy and among Democrats, and in any case he cannot be accused of any sympathy for the Russian president. Moreover, the Biden administration does not view the arms race as a preferential instrument of confrontation with Russia and does not seek the complete destruction of the remnants of the arms control system. Finally, the Biden administration perceives transnational challenges and threats (climate change, the pandemic, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc.) as significantly more important in the hierarchy of threats to national security, and prefers a multilateral approach to their solution.

All this creates the preconditions for selective cooperation with Russia on issues where both sides consider this cooperation necessary and beneficial for themselves.

First of all, the result of the Geneva summit may be the launch of broad Russian-American consultations on strategic stability: how to adapt the system to the qualitatively changed military-strategic landscape and what to do after the already-extended START-3 Treaty (the last traditional instrument for nuclear missile control) expires in 2026.

The parties are unlikely to come to a new “big” agreement in the near future on the limitation and even the further reduction of nuclear weapons to replace the START Treaty. Moreover, it is extremely inappropriate to start such negotiations: the positions of the parties differ so much that it is impossible to successfully complete such negotiations. It is unlikely that it will be possible for them to reach an agreement on the deployment of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe. Nevertheless, a full-scale dialogue between the two nuclear superpowers on all aspects of strategic stability (which has long entailed more than nuclear weapons alone) is extremely expedient. It includes the discussion of how they understand the threat of a nuclear war amid new military-technological and geopolitical conditions, as well as the development of more stringent rules of conduct in the military-strategic sphere, mechanisms of conflict prevention and de-conflicting.

The second area of ​​selective cooperation between Russia and the United States after the Geneva summit is cybersecurity, which includes four main aspects: the fight against cybercrime, the use of ICT as a military tool, interference in each other’s internal affairs using the Internet, social networks, hacking, etc., and cyber espionage. On the first aspect, the intensification of Russian-American cooperation is most likely. The second aspect relates to the military security and strategic stability (with the help of cyber means it is possible to inflict damage comparable to the use of nuclear weapons, or to disarm or “blind” the enemy during a military crisis). Here it is important at least to determine the red lines (to agree on what infrastructure should not be subject to cyberattacks under any circumstances), develop the rules of the game and create de-conflicting mechanisms and “hot lines” in the event of a crisis. This will not be easy, but it is extremely necessary: ​​properly in the cyberspace that the risk of an unintentional military conflict with its further escalation up to a nuclear war is the highest. On the third and fourth aspects, reaching any agreements in the foreseeable future is extremely unlikely.

The third area of ​​cooperation is the intensification of interaction on the nuclear programmes of Iran and the DPRK, especially in the context of the Biden administration’s desire to restore, in one form or another, a multilateral deal on the Iranian nuclear programme and to abandon the practice of bilateral negotiations, especially summits with Pyongyang, used by Donald Trump.

The fourth area of ​​possible cooperation between Russia and the United States is environmental protection and the fight against climate change, which are positioned as one of the most important priorities of the Biden administration and are taking an increasingly important role in Russian foreign policy. Here the parties have something to talk about globally and locally. For example, the United States may suffer from the introduction of the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (border adjustment carbon tax) within the framework of the European Green Deal, no less and even more than Russia. In the common interests of Moscow and Washington is the creation, as an alternative, of some kind of global mechanism aimed at reducing carbon emissions primarily where it is most beneficial for both countries.

However, the main object of possible cooperation between Moscow and Washington on environmental issues and climate change is the Arctic. In this region, Russia and the United States are part of a shared ‘neighbourhood’, where the rate of climate change is 3-4 times higher than the global average, and where the environmental, socio-economic and foreign policy consequences of this change are the most widespread. The fragile Arctic ecosystem, its infrastructure built on permafrost, and the traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples of the North are under threat of destruction. Moreover, the melting ice of the Arctic contributes to the overflow of the US-Russia and US-China confrontation – the perception of the region, as indicated in the 2019 Department of Defense Arctic Strategy, as “an avenue for great power competition and aggression”. As a result, the militarisation of the Arctic is increasing alongside the risk of disasters and military clashes, impeding the economic development of the region. Cooperation between Russia and the United States in protecting the environment in the Arctic is the only factor that can, if not slow down, then at least compensate for these negative trends, combating climate change amid even greater acceleration, addressing the melting permafrost (it is fraught with large-scale methane emissions) and adapting to new climatic conditions in the region.

Finally, the fifth area of ​​possible cooperation between Russia and the United States after the Geneva summit is a “truce” in the diplomatic war and the return of ambassadors to Washington and Moscow, respectively. This is perhaps the easiest and most feasible decision that can be expected from the summit and implemented in the short term.

A distinctive feature of this agenda, which is important for understanding the nature of the managed Russian-American confrontation, is that the beginning of a dialogue on these topics does not require any serious concessions from the parties. This is the most important prerequisite for this cooperation. Moreover, this cooperation should not be seen as a way to improve relations between Russia and the United States. This is generally not on the agenda in the foreseeable future. The meaning of cooperation is to understand Russian and American national interests, which in the indicated areas cannot be realised in other ways, even despite the fact that the parties generally regard each other as opponents.

From our partner RIAC

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