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A New Great Game in the Caspian: NATO and Russian Countermeasures

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Russia has worked diligently to keep NATO from entering its perceived geostrategic territory, even if that comes at great personal cost to the nation, which it has on a number of occasions.

Russia’s latest move to block NATO’s entrance into the Caspian region came after it led other littoral states to sign a declaration guaranteeing stability and security in the region. The presidents of the five Caspian states signed the political declaration, which ensures that only the Caspian littoral states have the right to maintain an armed forces presence in Caspian territory. This effectively shuts NATO out of the area and prevents it from establishing any foreign base of operations in the foreseeable future. The issue to consider: how much does this matter and why?

The most interesting aspect in this scenario is the change in political favor by some of the Caspian states. Azerbaijan in particular has been a strong strategic energy partner with the US and Europe since its separation and subsequent independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country possesses a wealth of natural gas and oil riches that have continuously gone westward. This is partly a strategy of Western desire to purchase oil from Azerbaijan in place of Russia, as it effectively keeps the money out of Russia’s oil economy. This is why it is of particular interest that Azerbaijan is now siding more closely with Russia on a declaration that would effectively keep its Western economic allies out of the area. Aside from Azerbaijan’s strong economic ties to the West, it has also contributed some logistical support to the international security assistance force in Afghanistan. Thus, at one point in time both its security and economic interests aligned with that of the West.

For Azerbaijan to side with Russia on the declaration would seem to fly in contradiction to what the nation has been doing for the past two decades: cultivating a Western-leaning relationship. Azerbaijan appears to have voluntarily put that relationship in jeopardy, or at the very least placed it in a more stressful situation than before. One could even argue that Azerbaijan missed a glorious opportunity to ally itself closely and personally with NATO by having a foreign operating base established within its borders. This could have led to an expansion in economic trade first and foremost and could even have cultivated further security coordination and cooperation. It seems likely this is NATO’s long-term desire. However, this was precisely what Russia was aiming to prevent by leading the Caspian states to sign the declaration.

Russia has no interest in having NATO encroach further onto its geostrategic territorial influence. Aside from the residual Cold War tensions that still exist between the US and Russia, there is also a tangible security concern for Russia: the West has already advanced further east than Russia would like or can tolerate. What first began as an exclusively Western European treaty has gradually spread further and further east to the point where nations such as Turkey are being actively courted to join the organization as a permanent member. In fact, Turkey was very close to joining NATO as a permanent member recently. However, there is some evidence to suggest that Russia intervened with those talks and ultimately succeeded in putting them down. Its actions in Azerbaijan can be seen as a preemptive strategy, utilizing what it learned observing NATO’s courting of Turkey. For Russia, the idea is to get out ahead of NATO and foster a relationship between it and the Caspian states, thus mitigating NATO’s objectives to advance further east.

Thus, NATO penetration into the east has been put on hold for the time being. Russia’s obvious desire to keep the US in particular away from its eastern and southern borders weakens the likelihood of NATO penetration in the area. This could mean that in the future Caspian nations are tied to Russia more deeply, particularly as it concerns security and other military activities. The main takeaway from the Caspian summit is that Russia is now the main military force in the area. It is without a doubt the most powerful of the five Caspian states (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Iran). In fact, Russia’s military is more powerful than the rest of the Caspian states combined. Russia has effectively assumed control over the Caspian region so far as international security and military deterrence is concerned. However, some concessions were made by Russia in order to achieve this end. The belief is that Russia would rather make minor economic concessions to the Caspian states rather than allow major security concerns to arise by not making such compromises.

Though it would seem that NATO has hit some serious resistance in its drive to expand east, with failed initiatives in Turkey and now the Caspian region, NATO is undoubtedly still looking to push east for both economic and military reasons. NATO is not pushing simply to intrude on Russian borders, however. Though it would give the alliance a significant strategic advantage to be able to set up a base of operations that could also fall under a missile defense plan, allowing them to install missiles closer to Russia, there are still a number of economic reasons for NATO to continue its drive east. Ironically, though this deal may have squashed NATO’s strategic goals of intruding on the Caspian area in the short-term, it may have opened the door for further oil pipelines to be built in the long-term which could benefit NATO allies. One of Russia’s main concessions was to help build a north-south corridor linking Western and Northwestern Europe to the Caspian basin, making the shipping route considerably shorter in the process. This would be expected to lead to some economic stimulation primarily for Caspian nations but also some Western states by extension.

Russia is keen to protect its geostrategic border areas, even if that comes at some economic cost to itself. The Caspian deal demonstrates that Russia is proactively creating a buffer zone of economic and strategic partners that will be militarily dependent upon its might. So far the Caspian region is the only real success it has had toward that end, as Turkey has remained independent from complete Russian influence. While this should not have any major impact on NATO and its current operations in Western Europe, it will mean that NATO needs to find a new angle for entry if it wishes to keep pushing eastward. What this brief analysis hopefully shows is how that push will likely always be met by Russian resistance and not entirely without solid geostrategic logic that encompasses not just military objectives but long-term economic ones as well. A new game is afoot in the Caspian, still shrouded in the trappings of military garb but really more about the soft power of economic clout.

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St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018, one of the annual international platforms that brings together political, industry and business leaders to discuss the most pressing issues affecting global economics, development and finance, will take place on May 24 to 26 in St. Petersburg.

Ahead of the forum, the official website of the President of the Russian Federation has published his welcome greetings to participants, organisers and guests. In his greetings, Putin expressed his confidence that ideas and initiatives to be developed during the forum would facilitate the recovery and growth of the world economy.

“By harnessing the wealth of scientific and technological potential which is rapidly expanding in digital and other areas today, we can improve quality of life and boost stable and harmonious development in all nations and across the world as a whole,” he stressed in his message.

“And it is crucial that we strive towards increasing mutual trust, promoting wide-ranging integration processes, realising large-scale and promising projects. Russia is always open to this kind of partnership and cooperation,” Putin said.

According to RosCongress, the event organiser, about 15,000 guests from more than 140 countries expected to participate in the forum. France, China, India and Japan as guests of the forum will have their own exhibition pavilions on site, which will house a presentation area and a business space for delegations and representatives to interact with business partners from other countries.

Delegations from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Vietnam, USA, Canada, African countries and others will participate in various business events. BRICS member states (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) have been prominently represented there.

For foreign participants, including Africans, the forum is very useful for networking and discussing business strategies, and serves as an important study platform for deepening knowledge about the economy and possible ways of transacting business in Russia.

Series of official speeches and panel discussions will undoubtedly dominate the three-day event. The special sessions on business and investment opportunities will include the “Russia – Africa Business Dialogue” that has generated increasing interests among Russian and African businesses, international companies, African governments and institutions.

According to Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and Executive Secretary of the SPIEF Organising Committee, the upcoming forum will hold two special celebrations marking the occasions related to the continent: Africa Day and the 55th anniversary of the African Union.

“Economic cooperation between Russia and Africa has been developing rapidly during recent years. We have seen a positive dynamic in trade with Ethiopia, Cameroon, Angola, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries”, says Kobyakov. “I strongly believe that Russian-African cooperation at SPIEF, Russia’s largest forum will stimulate trade and economic ties, as well as investment activity.”

Kobyakov further disclosed that during the event, experts will share best practices and discuss new opportunities for implementing joint projects in the BRICS countries. Sergey Katyrin, the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, will moderate the session.

“The paramount task for BRICS is to continue strengthening efforts aimed at solving international issues in the spirit of unity, mutual understanding and trust. The prospects for cooperation and joint efforts of the BRICS member states will be discussed at the SPIEF 2018. I am confident that this will give momentum to further development of a fruitful dialogue on key world issues,” Kobyakov says.

Over the past few years, Russian authorities have made relentless efforts toward raising Russia’s political influence and economic cooperation in some African countries. Thus, discussions at the forthcoming forum will undoubtedly focus on reviewing the past and the present as well as proposing practical and the most effective ways to facilitate investment activities and that might include promising areas such as infrastructure, energy and many other sectors in Africa.

On her part, Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies and a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said in an interview with me that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in the interview.

The revival of Russia-African relations have be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russian-Africa relations have be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.

“What seems to irk the Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves. It is also still not clear how South Africa sees Russia’s willingness (and intention) to step up its role in Africa, especially with China becoming more visible and assertive on the continent,” said Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria, in South Africa.

Today, Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. Given its global status, Russia has to be more active in Africa, as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, but Russia is partially absent and playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired  diplomat who served previously as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements entered into with South Africa and various other states in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” he said.

“The Kremlin has revived its interest on the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Professor Olivier wrote in an email query from Pretoria, South Africa.

Last June 2017, the African representatives including heads of state, deputy president, ministers or their deputies, entrepreneurs and diplomats came to the St. Petersburg forum from Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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Social protection for Filipino workers in the Russian Federation

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano

The Philippines and Russia get closer to signing an agreement that would protect Filipino workers in the Russian Federation. As the number of migrant Filipino workers increases, Moscow and Manila are busy negotiating a bilateral labour agreement that could allow thousands more overseas workers into various sectors of the Russian economy.

On May 15, formal discussions were held by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano in Moscow.

Sergey Lavrov noted: “We are interested in ensuring that Filipino workers, who work in the Russian Federation, are socially protected. Many of them were here through private companies, often without the necessary licenses.”

“All this does not provide social protection for Filipino citizens working in the Russian Federation. With the conclusion of the agreement, the beginning of preparation of which we have agreed today, we will solve these issues. We have such agreements with a number of other countries, including ASEAN member States,” he promisingly added.

Earlier, a Regional Migration Specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Regional Office for Asia-Pacific in Bangkok (Thailand), explained in an interview with me that a comprehensive labour agreement between Russia and the Philippines could be positive, if it established procedures and standards for the recruitment, employment and subsequent return of migrant workers.

According to the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Russia officially registered nearly 15, 000. Consequently, such an agreement (could) guarantee the labour rights of migrant workers and eliminate or limit recruitment costs. It will further provide Filipino workers with access to emerging labour market there.

The Federal Migration Service (FMS) office in Moscow has also explained that “official” Filipino workers are entering the country on tourist or business visas, assisted by middlemen and local licensed agencies that often act as migrants’ direct employers and channel them straight into labour market.

The Philippine government has been negotiating for better regulations and working conditions for its citizens for the past several years with little or no conclusive results.

In March 2012, for instance, the then Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert Del Rosario held an official discussion in Moscow with Minister Sergey Lavrov on the possibility of sealing a bilateral labour agreement.

Besides, a string of events and conferences over the years have highlighted renewed interests in developing the market of overseas Filipino workers, who are believed to be one of many solutions to Russia’s human resource needs.

Many experts believe that economic modernisation in Russia depends heavily on skilled foreign labour, limited to certain specific sectors like domestic work, finance, and construction.

The fact that Russia willingly entered into the negotiations implies not only that it has an urgent need for the services of foreign workers but also that it is fully aware of the benefits of such an agreement.

Experts have pointed to the Philippine government’s success in deploying its workforce abroad, in many foreign countries. About 10 percent of The Philippines’ population of 90 million people works abroad, with regular remittances accounting for up to 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Some estimates put the total contribution to the Philippine economy by specialists working abroad at $50 billion last year.

The Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Rome (Italy), explained to me that the Philippine government has an official policy of deploying Filipino workers only to countries that guarantee protection and promotion of their rights, welfare and interests.

Under a recently enacted law, the Philippine government banned its nationals from seeking employment in countries that do not guarantee the rights and welfare of foreign workers, or whose local labour and social legislation does not cover migrant workers.

Quite recent, the Philippines government and the Kuwaiti government signed an agreement on the recruitment, use and protection of Filipino workers after a diplomatic row over abuse and inhuman treatment of working Filipinos.

It therefore implies that The Philippines and Russian authorities have to work on effective ways to establish and improve the bilateral legal framework for mutual benefit for both countries. *This special report from Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent researcher and policy consultant, in Moscow.

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The Russian strategy towards North Africa

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As John Mearsheimer quote “The ideal situation for any state is to experience sharp economic growth while its rivals’ economies grow slowly or hardly at all”. Russia paves the way to tighten its economic and military cooperation’s with Egypt as one of the main North African allies so far.

Russian keen interest in Africa, particularly North Africa, began in the 18th century, with benefits and incentives in the Mediterranean bowl as part of an expansion strategy that was based on economic, political and military estimation.

Africa changed between east and west in terms of alliances which helped form its, economic, cultural, political and militarily balance. Like now, after changes in the status of relationships among alliances, and after structures of the region shifted with a picture that is different to the previous one that had seen over the era of the alliances of the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, Russia is back again after the removal of the Americans. This time, Russia came to the region with the notion of regional rivalry, after a long time, which could make it a key actor until the US resets its position. Russia has put all its power and influence on playing a role in which it would take back its position in North Africa towards enlarging and deepening the economic and investment cooperation as well mutual relations that back to the 1960s.

Due to this, Russia has taken many steps that show its mutual incentive and awareness in North Africa with the main interest in Egypt. This came after the decline of Egyptian-American relations, so Russia and Egypt signed many political agreements, including one of the important agreement which is modernized Egyptian air defense system. This step is advised a Russian warning to the Americans that it is on its way to subjoin one of its significant allies in the region, which used to experienced strategic and military cooperation depend on mutual interests. American vessels used to be the first one when crossing the Suez Canal and could use its air zone in interchange for annual military aid equivalent to $1.3 billion in 2013, which America froze in protest upon the displace of the first democratic regime in Egypt that came after the January 25th Revolution and the coup d’état against legitimacy.

The objective of Russian return to the region is not incomparably limited to economic arbitrations; there are mainly arms contracts, security exchange in fighting terrorism and upgrading trade process. Other than Egypt, there are also other promising destinations which began with diplomatic visits, such as Morocco and Algeria. The significant aspect of returning of Russia to North Africa at this time is the lack of any ideological agenda in the new agreements and cooperation plans.

Currently, Russia embarks to Egypt; the foremost step reaches several targets. Basically, Egypt is seen as geo-strategic access and convenient gateway through Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa where the natural resources wealth of uranium, gold, oil and maritime exist. These natural resources might be a rational reason for future dispute between Russia and America, especially after US withdrawal from North Africa, but only after having strengthened its presence in sub-Saharan Africa and safeguards Maritime roads for Gulf oil through the region.

As long as the two superpowers competing, North Africa is the free land of future investment that requires an agreement between the Russia and America, especially as other powers, such as China, are present and access Africa from its center. China was involved and engaged in exploring and manufacturing Sudan’s oil, before the division of the state of South Sudan in 2011. Today China is growing its activities after most oil fields became part of South Sudan. In addition to the new state, China has other markets in central Africa and the east. It only collaborates and participates in economic and trade sectors and infrastructure construction in Sudan.

The Russian president Putin embark to Cairo last Monday after a concise and unpublished visit to a Russian military air base in Syria. The air base has offered the main ledge for the air campaign Russia has undertaken since September 2015 under the backing of Syrian President Basher Assad.

Egypt’s constantly close ties with Russia get back to the 1950s and 1960s when Egypt became a close Russian ally at the height of the cold war. Therefore, Egypt changed sides in the 1970s under the late President Anwar Sadat, who replaced Moscow with Washington as his country’s chief economic and military backer following the signing of a U.S.-fund peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Egypt has since become an important successor of American. aid. Under el-Sisi, Egypt has been able to sustain close relations with both Russia and the United States.

In term of Military Cooperation, Sisi and Putin also tackled about Syria and mutual rejection of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that has sparked protests across the region and from European capitals as well. The high-level Russian visit comes after the U.S. government in August decided to deny Egypt $95.7 million in aid and to delay another $195 million because of its full failure to make progress on human rights and democratic norms.

Russia started a military operation to back and support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, and there are clues Moscow is keen to enlarge its military existence in the region.

To sum, Russia chose Egypt for its geopolitical and strategically partner combining three continents. Therefore, let’s see how Russia could maintain its presence in the region showing off its ability to promote economic interests, especially with African partners. So will Africa be for Russia alone?

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