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Churchill was Right about Russia and Still Is

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The world buzzes with headlines of Vladimir Putin and Russian action and reaction to world events. On the surface it seems virtually all Russian foreign policy responsibility is vested in Mr. Putin alone.

Certainly the Russian governmental decision­ making process is not bestowed solely upon one man, but it seems that little happens in Russia’s name that Putin does not endorse. Russia’s, and by extension Putin’s, actions and reactions tend to confuse and mystify us despite the rhetoric of various politicians indicating that they clearly understand Russian intentions. Actually understanding how Russia will act or react is as difficult as it has always been. In the West we tend to default to Winston Churchill’s famous epigram on forecasting Russian actions: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…”

This frank admission by Mr. Churchill about forecasting Russian actions and reactions holds today. If a politician of Churchill’s grasp and intellect placed prognostication of Russian proclivity within virtually impenetrable concentric circles, why should we assume to be blessed with better equipped political actors on today’s stage? The answer is simple: we should not because we are not.

Churchill’s observation of Russian predictability is quoted so often we sometimes fail to remember that he did not stop with merely his observation of Russian inscrutability, and we can be thankful for it. He left Britain and the West with an insight into deciphering Russian will with his additional surmise that “perhaps there is a key” to Russian reaction to political stimuli. Wisely Churchill posited, “That key is Russian national interest.”

Churchill’s prescient observations were aired in an October 1939 broadcast and concerned his speculation on how Russia would act throughout the course of WWII. Offering insight into solving the Russian riddle Churchill shrewdly noted that Russia would not put aside anything that “would be contrary to the historic life­-interests of Russia.” It is very important to note that Churchill was not simply referring to what the Soviet leadership of Russia would do in a specific instance; he was looking instead to how Russia had historically acted, and he was predicting that Russia’s future actions would be in keeping with the major Russian interests exhibited in the past.

In 1939 Russia was faced with a Nazi threat to establish a physical presence on the shores of the Black Sea, occupy the Balkans, and subjugate the Slavonic population in Southeastern Europe. Churchill knew then what we should know now: Russia will act and react in traditional ways as it evaluates its national interests. Correctly interpreting Russia’s “historic life­-interests” allowed Churchill to predict Russia’s future actions only a month into WWII. Nazi Germany and the USSR had signed a mutual non-aggression pact less than two months before Churchill stated his conviction that “Hitler, and all that Hitler stands for, have been and are being warned off the east and the southeast of Europe” by Russia.

Churchill knew that Russia would not allow its traditional geopolitical aspirations to be threatened without mounting a serious response. A precursor to the coming Nazi Germany-­Soviet Russia death struggle came with the 1940 invasion of Romania by the USSR. This invasion underscored the conflict between the Russian “historic life­-interests” and the strategically critical Nazi requirement for oil and other war material. Hitler had to see from Stalin’s actions that the USSR would be a competitor for the Balkans, and this knowledge, correlated with his view of “Slavic races”as Untermenschen and his ambition, propelled Germany’s massive preemptive strike against the USSR in June of 1941.

Hitler sowed the wind with his invasion of Russia, and Germany reaped the whirlwind of defeat and occupation. German defeat in effect gave Russia the Black Sea, the Balkans, and rule over the Slavonic people of Eastern Europe. With Germany’s defeat Russia’s traditional geopolitical interests gained a large measure of satisfaction.

Russia may be the most traditional actor of all the major and secondary powers of the earth. But the assertion that Russia acts according to traditionalist tendencies runs the risk of venturing into an academic definitional fog because of the strand of religious belief known as Traditionalism. The difference between “traditional” and “Traditional” is largely a spiritual demarcation.

Traditionalism, either lowercase or uppercase, implies a handing down or generational passing on of beliefs and/or practices and may be applied across a range of practices from cuisine to courting to fashion. Uppercase Traditionalists believe that spiritual and religious truths have existed from time ­out­ of mind and that only certain groups of selected and initiated candidates have been chosen to gain and maintain the pure revelations of Truth that Traditionalism possesses. Traditionalists do not confine their belief system to any specific religious expression, rather they claim that kernels of original (therefore pure) Truth still exist and can be discovered within the major religions. Hence, Traditionalists often embrace selected elements of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism within the exclusive claims of Traditionalism.

Although traditional religious belief and practice cannot be equated exclusively with Orthodox Christianity, Russia does have a strong and pervasive embrace of Orthodox Christianity, and Orthodox Christianity is certainly traditional.

Russian culture is a very traditional culture, and Russian geopolitical interests run along recurring traditional strands. It is understandable that Orthodox Christianity and other religious expressions are considered traditional, but it would be a mistake to confuse the correlation of religious tradition between Orthodox Christianity and other Russian traditions. Although Russian religious and geopolitical traditions may be related, correlation of religious traditional traits should not be considered the cause of the traditional geopolitical interests of Russia a priori.

In addition to the recognizing the definitional fog surrounding “traditional” and “Traditional” (as if the common spelling is not enough) affecting those attempting to predict Putin’s future actions, it is important to recognize that distinctly anti­-Modern, therefore anti­-Western, sentiments are distinguishing elements in some contemporary adaptations of Traditionalism. Some influential members of the Russian political right, especially those identified as the “Russian New Right,” assert a connection with the Traditional strand of religious belief and practice.

Alexander Dugin, for example, is a Russian political philosopher who has been very closely associated with the ideas and teachings of the controversial Italian self-­proclaimed Traditionalist, Julius Evola. Documentation of Evola’s association with Fascism is extremely alarming to some students of Traditionalism. Mark Sedgwick’s provocative history and commentary, Against the Modern World, devotes considerable attention to Evola, hence to the reasoning of Dugin and the anti­-Modern bend of Evola’s disciples.

To an adherent, Traditionalism is right belief, and right belief guides right actions. If right belief and right actions include a distinctly anti­-Western characteristic, then Russian actions under Putin should be of serious concern based upon Putin’s reception of Dugin and others of the Russian New Right. Leaders and diplomats of the West would be well advised to study the works of Dugin and other seriously right-­leaning writers and thinkers and their influence on Putin and his political actions.

The West should not be so naive as to believe that the Traditionalist factions evident in Russia today are not significant forces. Evola and his interpretation of Traditionalism influences Dugin and the Russian New Right; thus Putin is influenced in turn. Important manifestations of the contemporary Russian New Right thought include beliefs that the West is dangerously materialist, morally corrupt, and godless. The Western tendency toward more direct democracy is viewed as promoting these damnable traits. Does this characterization of the West sound familiar? There is a certain resonance between these views and accusations in many Islamic criticisms of the West. It is hubris of the worst sort to treat these accusations of Russia or the Islamic world in any flippant way; perhaps a too light consideration even borders on the suicidal.

Russian traditionalist perspectives (its “historic life-­interests”) are certainly geopolitical. The Russian Empire long coveted the Balkans and the warm water ports of the Black Sea and other access points to the Mediterranean and other seas. Imperial Russia aspired to become the single great Eurasian power — an empire stretching from Western Europe to India and perhaps farther. Does contemporary Russia under Putin aspire to less? One needs only to look to the plans and purposes of the Eurasian Economic Union to realize that there is an elephant (more appropriately a bear) in the room and that the bear is attempting to rearm in the grand style of the USSR.

It is a cultural and historical fallacy to project Western inculcated responses onto Putin’s Russia. A Coca­-Cola sign displayed at a market in Moscow does not necessarily mean Russia is eager to be “just like us;” perhaps it means nothing more than there one may purchase a Coke. Russia (under Putin) will act and react purposefully, not as a Western actor, but as the Eurasian imperial power it aspires to be. Putin may, or may not, be genuinely influenced by Traditionalist beliefs of the Russian right, but he will act traditionally (that is, within Churchill’s “historic life­-interest” understanding) as a Russian imperialist.

Some experts on Russian political behavior credit Putin’s actions to his being a practitioner of realpolitik, others to Putin’s having pronounced megalomaniac tendencies, still others to Putin’s being a product of KGB culture. While expert opinion should be considered, no opinion affords the traction provided by viewing Putin as a Russian leader steeped in Russian geopolitical tradition who is open to the aspirations of Dugin and the Russian New Right. Putin does not, as some pundits proclaim, desire a 21st Century return of the USSR; his imperial desire is a return of the Czarist Empire constructed to his specificiations — a Czarist Empire wielding the might of the USSR in its glory days and fulfilling the “historic life­-interests of Russia” in a very real and recognizable way.

Mr. Churchill was right. Where geopolitics are concerned, Russia will act in historically traditional ways. To predict how contemporary Russia will behave, forget reading of the Enlightenment and the ideals of the French Revolution; instead read Alexander Dugin.

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What Remains of the Relationship between Russia and the European Union

Natalia Viakhireva (Evtikhevich)

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We May Have Stumbled, but We Have Not Fallen Down

On Friday November 9, 2018, Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz made a statement about the detention of a retired Austrian officer on suspicion of spying for Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria Karin Kneissl cancelled her December visit to Russia. That very same day, the Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to Russia, Johannes Aigner, was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Journalists expressed concern that the situation would have an impact on the development of relations between Russia and Austria and further effect the EU–Russia relationship. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov expressed his regret that the West was increasingly turning to “microphone and megaphone diplomacy” instead of turning to Russia directly for clarification, which has always been the case in international relations.

The fallout from this incident will only become clear later. It is unlikely that it will result in any serious consequences, for example, a new round of sanctions or a sharp deterioration in relations. At the very least, Friday’s events did not affect the development of interaction at the level of track one and a half diplomacy. On Monday November 12, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) hosted a seminar entitled “EU–Russian Relations in the Context of the Republic of Austria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.” The meeting was organized by RIAC in conjunction with the Embassy of the Republic of Austria in Russia and the European Union Delegation to the Russian Federation. It was attended by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Alexander Grushko, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to Russia Johannes Aigner and the Head of the European Union Delegation to the Russian Federation Markus Ederer. Participants included ambassadors of EU countries and Russian experts on EU–Russia relations. During the closed-door discussion, the ambassadors and experts talked about factors influencing the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Austria, and between Russia and the European Union, and outlined a number of development trends. It is important to note here that Friday’s incident was not brought up or discussed at the meeting.

Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

Presidency of the Council of the European Union changes hands among EU member countries on a rotating basis every six months. During the six-month presidency, the country chairs meetings of the Council at all levels, ensuring consistency of the European Union’s work within the Council. To this end, the European Union employs a mechanism of a “trio presidency,” or simply Trio. Trios set long-term goals and draw up a common agenda on the main issues to be considered by the Council over the course of the next 18 months. Each country then prepares a more detailed programme on the basis of this agenda for their respective six-month terms. Presidency of the Council of the European Union entails, first and foremost, supervising the Council’s work on the development of EU legislation. The president country chairs meetings of the Council’s various structures, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council. However, it does work in close cooperation with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and supports its work.

Austria took over presidency of the Council of Europe for the second half of 2018, being part of the trio that includes Estonia and Bulgaria. Contacts between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the European External Action Service have been adequately maintained during the Republic of Austria’s presidency. Dmitry Medvedev has met with Jean-Claude Juncker, Sergey Lavrov has met with Federica Mogherini and regular working meetings and expert discussions have taken place. Indeed, Russia has a special relationship with Austria. Throughout the crisis, Austria has been a bridge between Russia and the European Union, maintaining an objective and loyal attitude towards the country and not succumbing to the general hysteria sweeping the continent. Austria has always believed that it is important to preserve communication channels with Moscow. For example, Austria did not follow the lead of other Western countries that expelled Russian diplomats in a display of solidarity with the United Kingdom following the Skripal case. In the context of the crisis in EU–Russia relations, it is in the interests of both sides to have a neutral mediator. We have to hope that Austria will continue to fulfil that role.

Islands of Cooperation between Russia and the EU

The discussion at the seminar once again demonstrated that Ukraine remains a sticking point in EU–Russia relations. Moscow and Brussels differ in their opinions on the reasons for the crisis in their relations, as well as on the reasons for the Ukrainian crisis and current events around it. As far as the European Union is concerned, the crisis has been primarily caused by Russia’s policy towards Ukraine. Russia, meanwhile, believes that the causes of the crisis had been simmering long before the events in Ukraine, owing to the accumulated problems between Russia and the West. Key among these problems, according to Russia, is the eastward expansion of NATO in total disregard of Russia’s security interests. Moscow regards the events in Ukraine in 2014 as a coup d’état that threatens the Russian-speaking population and ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, while the European Union sees them as a popular protest against the regime. Both Russia and the European Union call for the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and the implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, the approaches of the two sides are irreconcilable. Russia believes that Kiev’s policies are blocking the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The European Union sees otherwise, blaming Russia’s policies for impeding the proper fulfilment of the agreements. Russia does not even see itself as a party to the conflict. Moscow is in favour of improving relations with the European Union, as it believes that further deterioration is not in the interests of any of the parties. For the European Union, improving relations involves changing Russia’s policies.

Despite the deep crisis in EU–Russia relations, there do exist certain “islands of cooperation.” First and foremost, humanitarian cooperation remains one of the few areas of regular interaction between the two sides. This includes cooperation in science, culture, education and academic exchanges. Liberalizing the visa regime would contribute to greater mobility and success in this area, but it is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future given the current political climate.

When states experience difficulties in their official relations, non-governmental channels are often used to maintain a dialogue – non-profit organizations, analytical centres, contacts among academic institutions and scientists, expert dialogues, etc. The political situation could very well change at some point in the future, which is why it makes sense now to work out a strategy for cooperation if and when that does happen, at least at the expert level.

Russian experts and members of the political community support the idea of cooperation between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), seeing it as a niche area of interaction with the participation of Russia and the European Union. However, European experts and EU officials have expressed their concerns that the EAEU is not a purely economic integration association. In particular, many European experts see the creation of the EAEU as an attempt to restore Russian influence in the post-Soviet space. At the political level, the reaction is more restrained. The Global Strategy for the Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union states that the European Union supports regional integration and is prepared to cooperate with regional associations. However, the Eurasian Economic Union is not named as one of those associations. EU officials complain that the interests and positions of the EAEU member countries are not aligned, which makes it difficult to cooperate with it as an association. At the same time, attempts have been made to cooperate with the Eurasian Economic Union at the technical level. It is probably best in this situation to work out issues of interaction at the level of track one and a half diplomacy beforehand, involving representatives from interested EU and EAEU countries in the process.

Russia and the European Union have common interests with regard to China. In particular, many experts believe that both players could take a more proactive stance on China’s Belt and Road Initiative to strengthen connectivity in the Eurasian region. Cooperation could be built in the format of the European Union, Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union, China and Central Asian states.

Of course, this set of initiatives is not enough for a full-fledged cooperation agenda, but it is a niche for interaction during the crisis in the relations between Russia and the West. Limited interaction between Russia and the European Union is evident against the background of a rapidly changing world, the growing threat of terrorism and extremism, the conflict in the Middle East, the technological revolution in the military sphere, the growing threats in cyberspace and the significant changes in the foreign policy of the United States under the Donald Trump administration, which has seen the country increasingly becoming a factor of instability and unpredictability in global politics. It is in the interests of both Russia and the European Union to come together to resolve these issues, as well as many others, in a coordinated fashion.

First published in our partner RIAC

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On Russia’s Power: is Winter Coming?

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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On November 11–12, 2018, Abu Dhabi hosted the fifth annual expert meeting within the strategic dialog organized by Emirates Policy Center with the support of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Traditionally the event gathers a large number of specialists in international relations, regional security, and Middle Eastern issues. Andrey Kortunov, RIAC Director General, made a speech at the session devoted to the role of Russia in the modern world, including in the Middle East.

Talking about Russia’s power in the Middle East or in a broader global context, we should probably start with defining what power in the contemporary world politics really means. Is it about material resources that a nation can mobilize to shoulder its foreign policy aspirations — the total throw-weight of strategic missiles, the number of aircraft carriers and combined budgets of national assistance agencies? Is it about the size of your territory or about the natural resources that the territory contains? Is it rather about you GNP or about GNP per capita that defines your power in international relations? Probably not. If you happen to be an eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the jungle, this does not necessarily make you the strongest beast around. A lot depends on how functional these eight hundred pounds are. It may be pure muscle tissue, but it may also be accumulated belly fat.

There is another, more functional definition of power in world politics. Power is defined as ability of states or non-state actors to make other actors do certain things or abstain from doing some things in the interests of those exercising power. To put it in a broader context, you can define power as ability of actors to meet the goals they set for themselves in international relations.

From this vantage point, Russia has recently demonstrated that it is a powerful state, capable of using its power in an efficient way. No matter how we assess the Russian role in the contemporary international system — as a predominantly positive or a predominantly negative, — we should agree that Russia constantly punches above its weight, having more impact on the system that it theoretically should have according to its ‘objective’ economic, technological or demographic potential.

If I were to compare Russia to a large investment fund, I would venture to say that the price of its stocks today is significantly higher than the true value of its assets. Look, for instance, at the recent Russia’s posture in the Middle East region. In my view, we can label it as an exceptionally successful political start-up: with rather modest price paid in blood in treasure, Moscow has been able to turn itself from a marginal player in the region into the arguably most important external power broker.

This apparent gap between the operational power and its material foundation needs an explanation. To say that Vladimir Putin has been simply lucky, making full use of indecisiveness and inconsistencies of the West and exploiting many vacuums of power around the globe is to say nothing. There should be something here about the ability of the Kremlin to make fast and resolute decisions, about its capacity to promptly mobilize Russia’s political and military forces, about the quality of the Russian diplomacy and so on.

Russia’s highly centralized political system, impressive domestic and international state propaganda machinery, its consistency in supporting Moscow’s allies and partners — all these features of the ‘Putin’s style’ foreign policy puts Russia in a league of its own in world politics. It does not have many important features of a truly great power (above all, it lacks a solid and diverse economic foundation), but so far it has been able to capitalize exactly on what distinguishes it from a ‘standard’ Western democracy or a typical non-Western autocracy. In other words, Russia is powerful because Russia is different.

Nevertheless, the Russian way of maximizing its international power contains a number of risks that should not be underestimated. First, the set of instruments, which the Kremlin can use in international relations to advance its goals, is quite limited. Russia is a nuclear superpower, is has military power projection capabilities second only to the United States. It is a global leader in cyber warfare and in a number of futuristic weapons. It is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto power, which it never hesitates to use. It is a member of other international groupings — ranging from G20 and APEC to SCO and BRICS. It is a global supplier of hydrocarbons, many other commodities, as well as of food stock. It is the largest country in the world with eleven time zones.

However, is this set enough for Russia to maintain its status in global politics for all of the XXI century? Until 2050? Until 2030? Probably, not. If so, in the rapidly changing international environment the Kremlin has to consider seriously a significant diversification of its foreign policy instruments with a special emphasis on soft power components (culture, education, social practices, technological edge, science and so on). The sooner we start moving in this direction, the more secure the country’s role is likely to be in the long-term future.

Second, many of current Russia’s foreign policy investments are high-risk investments bordering political speculations. Should Russia continue betting of leftist political regimens in Venezuela or in Nicaragua? Should it bet on Euro-sceptics and right wing populists in the European Union? Should it invest into failing autocracies in Africa? This opportunistic globalism is distracting Moscow from what is truly important for Russia: from resolving multiple crises on the territory of the former Soviet Union, from building stable partnerships with its immediate neighbors, from gradually restoring the troubled relationship with the West.

As for targets of opportunity overseas, any political engagement should be preceded, not followed by a careful consideration of exit strategy options. History teaches us repeatedly: countries that can win wars, quite often lose peace. If you take the ongoing conflict in Syria, it will not last forever. When the name of the game is no longer military operations, but a post-conflict reconstruction, new players will come to the stage, no matter who is charge in Damascus. External powers with deeper pockets than those that Russia has will claim a central role in the post-war Syria. The Kremlin should try very hard to convert its current military successes into less explicit, but a more lasting and a more stable political presence in the country.

Finally, neither Russia, not any other nation should forget that the real foreign policy power comes from the inside. Foreign policy victories might look great and they definitely appeal to the public, but they never become an adequate substitute for victories at home. In the end of the day, the ability to balance economic growth and social equity, preserving national identity and integration into the global community, political representation and efficient governance constitute the only reliable foundation for power in international relations. All other foundations turn out to be quite shaky and fragile.

I have no doubts that Russia has all needed ingredients to stay as a great power, no a global spoiler. It has the potential that makes it capable of being not a part of the problem, but a part of the solution for the international system of the XXI century.

However, the future of Russia’s power and that of Russia’s role will depend on the overall evolution of the system. In a popular American fantasy television series “The Game of Thrones”, characters from time to time remind each other — “Winter is coming”. By “Winter” (with a capital “W”) they mean something really bad, big and unavoidable looming on the horizon. They cannot prevent the Winter, so they have to learn who to survive in this extremely hostile and dangerous environment.

Today, there are many indicators that “Winter” might be the future of the world politics in years to come, that what we observe today is not a bad weather, but a profound climate change. The implosion of the state system in parts of the Middle East, the rise of right populism and nationalism in Europe, Brexit in UK the election of Trump in US, the coming collapse of the US — Russian strategic arms control, a renewed arms race in Asia — there are multiple symptoms of hard times ahead of us.

If the name of the game in the global politics is likely to be security, not development, if the prime goal of nations is going to be survival rather than prosperity, why should Russia change its current understanding of power in international relations? In a way, the Kremlin is better prepared to face the global Winter than most of its competitors and opponents are. To create incentives for the Russian foreign policy to reinvent itself, one has to prove that the global Winter is not the only option. Otherwise the world might face a self-fulfilling prophesy. As they say, “fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention.”

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia and Comoro Islands Cooperate To Enhance Bilateral Relations

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On November 8-10, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Comoro Islands, El-Amine Souef, paid his first official working visit to Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with him on November 9.

After the talks, Lavrov told the media conference that they had confirmed to continue promoting bilateral cooperation in many spheres and work together towards using the existing potential in both countries.

There is considerable potential for cooperation in fishing, renewable energy, the provision of fresh water and agriculture.

“We have agreed to help our business communities establish direct ties and we also exchanged opinions on international issues, reaffirming the identity or similarity of our views,” Lavrov said.

They exchanged of views on international and regional issues of mutual interest with an emphasis on preventing and defusing crises in Africa and the Middle East, struggling against piracy in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean and countering terrorism and extremism.

Lavrov reminded that Moscow firmly supports the principle formulated by the African countries, that is “African solutions to African problems” and urged Africans to find ways of settling conflicts while the international community provides the necessary assistance through the African Union and sub-regional African organisations with the coordinating role of the UN.

Under a memorandum signed by the ministers, Russia will be training law enforcement personnel for the Comoro Islands.

Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, observes that foreign assistance is very essential to transform the economy and improve living standards of the population on the Comoro Islands.

Thus, Russia’s economic engagement is needed at this time, most importantly, to maintain stability and turn around the opportunities into an attractive place. With a relatively small investment, Russia could achieve important results for the Islands, so the first step should be genuine commitment, he told me in an emailed interview from Johannesburg.

One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, the Islands are hampered by inadequate transportation links. It has a rapidly increasing population and few natural resources.

The low educational level of the labour force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. France, the colonial power, still remains a key trading partner and bilateral donor.

Russia established diplomatic relations with the Comoro Islands after it gained independence from France on 6 July 1975. In mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community with 15 other regional member states.

The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic are also widely spoken. About 57% of the population is literate. The Islands, with a population of about 1.2 million, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, to the east is Mozambique and northwest is Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

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