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Greek – Russian relations into perspective

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Ever since the establishment of the modern Greek State, Greece has formed strong, mainly psychological, ties with Russia. Indeed, it was the Russian support to the Greek National Revolution of 1821, that set in alarm the other Great European Powers of the time, internationalized the greek demand for liberty and paved the way for action to be taken to help the Greeks. The endgame of the help that was offered to Greeks was to prevent Russia from gaining access to the Mediterranean, a fact that would have changed the international balance of power in its favor.

It is essential to note that the Russian involvement in the Balkans, when manifested, it is expressed in a very vivid and dynamic way, only to be slowly yet steadily diminished. This is the case due to the fact that Russia uses this geopolitical area as a lever in order to improve its position to other issues of foreign policy that are higher in its agenda. It is safe to argue that the greater area of the Balkans is an arena for Russia to secure its interests and strengthen its position in other issues. Bearing in mind the proximity that Balkan states feel towards Russia due to the common orthodox and soviet past, we can not avoid the observation that ever since Putin rose to power, Russia implements a pragmatic foreign policy, in which narratives such as “omodoxy” or the communist ideology and affinity have absolutely no place. The immediate goal of Putin’s policy is for Russia to regain its status as a Great Power, through the consolidation of its power in the former soviet area while, preserving its territorial footholds worldwide.

A detached analysis of the current state of Greek-Russian affairs would safely argue that the two countries never shared a strategic relationship, rather their collaboration was limited in secondary issues. High expectations were cultivated particularly in the period of 2004-2009, which, however, soon failed. The momentum (and interventions of every kind) did not favor the conclusion of the pursued partnerships, mainly in the energy sector. To elaborate a bit more, from 1993 onwards, any plan that has to do with the construction of pipelines is not fruitful. For one, Greece is a very small market for Russia to take up the high cost of such projects. Moreover, Greece can not yet pose itself as a transit state in order to lure investors. Finally, we can not ignore that the European Commission is very susceptible towards Russia, due to Gazprom’s monopoly in the European energy market. Clearly, there is a great issue with the sanctions that have been implemented on Russia and are focusing primarily on its energy sector, which is undoubtedly the basic pillar of its economy. For instance, in the list of sanctions, for the first time, we see that they name a specific natural gas field, Sahalin, and they forbid any prospective investors from exploring the chances to participate and invest in any plans to develop the particular field. The importance of this particular prohibition lies in the fact that the deposits under development call for high- tech equipment, which is not at the disposal of Russian oil companies. Therefore, the participation of international (western) oil companies, which have the technological “know-how” to develop such projects, is a necessity.

Taking as a given that the EU has diverged from its original utopian dimension, attributed to it by its founding conventions, Greece needs to understand the specific axis under which it can shape its policy towards Russia. Firstly, any effort to promote bilateral relations in the form of alliances should not be perceived as a competition of a strategic and consolidated alliance against another possible and infinite alliance. Secondly, for the balance of power to change in Europe, Greece needs to ally with other European countries with which it has common interests and goals in order to shape a common path and present a united front. It is common knowledge that countries of the so- called core of the EU claim for themselves the unilateral right to set the pace in the relations with Russia, usually in accordance to a tight interpretation of their national interests. Any unilateral effort on behalf of Greece to change the current status of Russia’s image and participation in the European affairs is doomed to fail. Greece is in a very weak economic place. Most importantly, Greece is no longer considered a reliable partner: the irresponsible and opportunistic actions of successive governments regarding the economic crisis led to the loss of whatever political capital the country had. At the moment and unless catalytic events take place, member states sharing interests and views with Greece can not trust the latter to be a reliable partner. For instance, we can refer to the way the Greek government tried to use the negotiations with Russia, at January 2015: Greece gave the impression of a country that tried to manipulate Russia (and China) in order to set them against EU and gain leverage in the main negotiations with EU. Both powers perceived this behavior as an arrogant effort to exploit them. As a result, they dismissed the efforts of the Greeks as superficial and meaningless while the bilateral ties were severed, though not damaged. It remains to be seen whether the current government can learn from its mistakes and make steps towards the right direction to restore the balance and save Greece’s face.

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Russia and Africa to strengthen ties further

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Faced with persistent criticisms, Russia has finally announced it will most likely host the first high-level Russia-African Union forum next year, a replica or a carbon copy of Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) or European Union–African Union summit, signaling its readiness to work towards deepening and strengthening multifaceted engagement with Africa.

Working on a new paradigm collaboratively with African Union, Russia hopes to fill up pitfalls and cracks in the existing relationship, reinforce diplomatic ties and raise its staggering economic profile on the continent similar to the levels of China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, U.S. and Europe.

On his official visit to Rwanda early June, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that the forum rolls out a comprehensive strategic roadmap for more economic cooperation and wide-range of investment possibilities, find effective ways of addressing regional security issues and that of improving public diplomacy in Africa.

“We discussed Russia’s idea of holding a large African Union business forum with AU member states and Russia to be attended by entrepreneurs and politicians, possibly next year,” Lavrov said at a media conference after meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community Louise Mushikiwabo in Kigali, Rwanda.

“We have agreed to prepare a framework political document that will set out a concept for cooperation in the next few years and also several practical projects for implementation in the near future. We are now preparing for a meeting of Russian and AU experts,” he assertively added.

Just before his African tour early March, Lavrov also told Hommes d’Afrique magazine “we carefully study the practice of summits between African countries and their major partners abroad. At present, Russia’s relations with African countries are progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.”

In the interview posted to MFA website, he said “our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express interest in holding a Russia-African summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over 50 Heads of State and Government requires most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content.”

Lavrov acknowledged in the interview: “The economic component of the summit has a special significance in this relation as it would be of practical interest for all the parties. As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition. Equally important are African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market.”

On May 16, Lavrov chaired the Foreign Ministry Collegium meeting on the subject “Cooperation with Sub-Saharan African countries as part of implementing important tasks of Russian foreign policy.” The meeting noted that the consolidation of versatile ties with the Sub-Saharan African countries remains a major part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy, which is acquiring special significance in the context of deep changes in the global arena.

Some experts and researchers have, of course, identified low enthusiasm and lack of coordinated mechanism as key factors affecting cooperation between Russia and African countries, and suggested that this trend could be reversed if both Russian authorities and African governments get down regularly to serious dialogue with concrete business agenda.

Nearly a decade ago, Themba Mhlongo, Head of Programmes at the Southern Africa Trust, said in an emailed interview that “there is no effective Russia-African dialogue or mechanism for dialoguing with Africa. On the other hand, Russia has not been as aggressive as China in pursuing opportunities in Africa because Russia has natural resources and markets in Eastern Europe, South West Asia. Russia’s key exports to Africa might only be dominated by machinery and military equipment which serves their interest well.”

He suggested that Africa must also engage all BRICS members equally including Brazil and Russia in order to build alliances and open trade opportunities including finance and investment opportunities, African countries must not seem to show preferences in their foreign policy in favour of western Europe if they want to benefit from trade relations with Russia.

Tellingly, Vadim Trofimovich Kirsanov, an African Affairs Advisor at the Regional Projects Department of Russkiy Mir Foundation, (non-profit Russian NGO that promotes Russian language, literature and culture abroad), in an interview with Buziness Africa media, discusses the significance of developing bilateral ties not only in economic sphere but also in culture, exchange of people and ideas in the social sphere.

“We must use the full potential interest in Russian culture, Russian language, mutual sympathy and interest between the peoples of Africa and Russia, a great desire of Russians and Africans to visit each other to make friends, establish new connections. That’s where public diplomacy becomes an effective instrument for supporting business dialogue,” he said.

Kirsanov noted: use new opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation open to the accession of South Africa to BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), taking into account the economic impact of South Africa on the African continent and the world at large. Besides the intensification of dialogue with the African Union (AU), the Russian authorities have the development of multilateral cooperation among African countries with Russian Federation.

Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria in South Africa, noted that Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, the United States and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role.

“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements have been signed with South Africa and various other states in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” Professor Olivier, previously served as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote in an email comment from Pretoria, South Africa.

Be as it may, he indicated further that “the Kremlin has revived its interest in 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.”

In his assessment, Rex Essenowo, a Moscow-based Economic Policy Analyst, pointed out to a known and well-established fact, which Russians have always shrugged off, that there have been many summits and conferences between the United States, EU and Asian states with Africa, but there has yet to be a single high-level Russia-African summit.

However, he believes that all was not yet lost, there is still an unexplored chance to strengthen Russia’s relationship with Africa if, for example, African countries work collectively together as AU to focus on improving all aspects of Russia-African relationship.

Large investments and comprehensive approach, similar to the Chinese, would help to bridge the economic and political gap between Russia and the African continent, Essenowo said, and reminded that Russia is very much involved in educating and/or training professionals who are playing key roles and could serve as excellent useful links between Russia and Africa. Russia has ignored this valuable product in its diplomacy with Africa.

Interesting, BRICS countries are vigorously moving into Africa and now three BRICS members: Russia is planning, India and China are also preparing for summits next year with Africa. As already publicly known, all previous summits held by many foreign countries with Africa, there were concrete financial packages earmarked towards infrastructure development in Africa.

From Russia’s perspective, there are undeniable important geopolitical implications working with Africa. Nevertheless, Russia’s efforts in the region have been limited thus far which some experts attributed to lack of a system of financing policy projects. While Russia government is very cautious about making financial commitments, Russia’s financial institutions are not closely involved in foreign policy initiatives in Africa.

Experts and researchers have recommended one new initiative that will largely interest African leaders, that is for Russia to create a Russian Development Fund for Africa (RDfA) as an agency to manage and run projects as business for Russia in Africa while Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) could become the key organiser and coordinator of future Russia-African Union summits.

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A Roadmap for Russia–U.S. Relations

Igor Ivanov

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Today, both Moscow and Washington at official and unofficial levels recognize that relations between the United States and Russia have hit perhaps their lowest point. This is possibly one of the very few issues the Russians and the Americans actually agree on. Indeed, even at the height of the Cold War, the political dialogue between the Kremlin and the White House was never interrupted for such an extended period as it has been recently.

Another point both parties agree on is that the current crisis in Russia–U.S. relations is fraught with serious risks. Not just for the two countries concerned, but also for international security as a whole. I happened to visit Washington recently, and these concerns were voiced in almost every single conversation I had with prominent U.S. politicians and public figures.

As is often the case in life, it turned out to be far easier to create the crisis in bilateral relations than to find a way out of it. There is no shortage of so-called “hardliners” on both sides (and this will always be the case), who call for a rejection of the very notion of compromise and insist on the unconditional surrender of the other side. Yet we have all seen that, despite all the sanctions, Washington has been unable to impose its will on Moscow. And it would be equally absurd for Moscow to try to do the same with regard to the United States.

And if it is so, then we have only one option: to agree on the basis for taking the legitimate interests of both sides into account. All the more so because there are no insoluble problems between the two countries, and the problems that do exist can be resolved through negotiations.

Diplomatic experience teaches us that we need to study both the current international situation and historical precedents if we are to develop the most fitting solution to the problem. Let us take an example from the recent past, coincidentally a series of events in which I was directly involved. In early 2001, the newly elected President of the Unites States George W. Bush released a long list of Russian diplomats considered personae non grata in that country. The Russian government responded with a list of its own. A serious crisis in bilateral relations thus began — at the very start of a new political cycle in the United States.

In order to prevent the situation from spinning out of control, the Russian leadership made a critical decision: it would not succumb to the temptation to get pulled into the spiral of confrontation, and instead organized a personal meeting between the presidents of the two countries without delay. The meeting took place in Ljubljana on June 16, 2001.

The meeting did not concern any pressing international issues, it was not followed by high-profile statements, and neither side viewed it as a means to immediately solve all the problems that had accumulated between Moscow and Washington in the preceding years. The main goal was simply for the two presidents to “look one another in the eye” and demonstrate that, despite all their differences, the countries were open to political dialogue and the search for solutions to the existing problems.

Ljubljana meeting thus reached the goal: the presidents started to meet on a regular basis. And, despite the profound differences between the two countries (suffice it to recall the withdrawal of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the war in Iraq), the sides managed to maintain an intensive political dialogue and successfully work together on the international stage, whenever doing so was in the interests of both Moscow and Washington.

Projecting this experience onto the current situation, we can draw the conclusion that the only thing capable of breaking the vicious cycle in Russia–U.S. relations and launching them towards a state that is acceptable for both sides is a personal meeting between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Donald Trump. Of course, the current state of Russia–U.S relations is more complicated than it was 17 years ago, and Donald Trump’s position in Washington is not as solid as that of George Bush in 2001. However, it is very unlikely that we will be able to reverse the negative trends in the bilateral relations if a summit meeting is not held.

In all honesty, such a meeting should have taken place a year ago, or even earlier — right after Trump came to power. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to prevent an “early summit” between Russia and the United States. However, it would be a serious mistake to postpone the meeting any further. Where exactly this meeting will take place is a technical matter, because the most important thing is for the presidents to have the opportunity to exchange opinions freely on a wide range of issues. Obviously, a full-fledged bilateral summit is required for this — yet another meeting “on the side-lines” of a multilateral event is simply not enough.

After such talks, the presidents could instruct the relevant ministries and government agencies to resume meaningful negotiations on the most pressing issues on the bilateral and international agenda and agree on a roadmap for developing relations at least until Trump’s term in office is up. The long history of bilateral relations between Russia and the United States would suggest that a direct mandate of this kind is absolutely essential to launching such a negotiating mechanism. At the same time, the presidents could agree upon a schedule for further meetings and exchange visits.

It is extremely important that this road map outlines several areas for future work, assuming the presidents of the two countries give the go-ahead. First, the sides need to work out and agree on the scope of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed — issues which, if left unattended, could lead to serious incidents between the two countries in the air, at sea and on land. We need to restore tried and tested channels of communication or develop new ones — primarily between military departments — in order to prevent possible incidents and unintentional escalation.

Second, serious negotiations are required in order to resolve the problems that have built up in the bilateral and multilateral aspects of security. We are talking here about the entire complex of issues related to strategic stability, strategic arms control and the regional conflicts in which the two countries are involved in one way or another. So-called “non-traditional” security threats such as cybercrime are acquiring greater significance. And we cannot expect to find an adequate response to them after a single round of negotiations. What we need is a systemic approach, long-term and persistent efforts on both sides.

Third, there is a range of issues that, for a number of reasons, would appear to be unresolvable at the present time. We are talking here primarily about issues of the internal development of the two countries, about the “values” and fundamental principles on which the new world order should be built. But dialogue is necessary on these points as well, so that we can better understand each other’s stance and avoid pointlessly rocking the boat.

Fourth, a meeting between the presidents would go some way to removing the barriers that have been erected in recent times to communication between the people of the two countries. Even today, amidst a vicious propaganda war, Russians and Americans are still extremely interested in one another. The fact that more U.S. tourists have come to Russia to attend the FIFA World Cup than from any other country is particularly telling.

The development of full-fledged cooperation between Russia and the United States through civil society and the professional community demands that we address, in the shortest possible time, the clearly absurd situation with regard to the issuing of visas and remove the obstacles that are preventing scientific, cultural and educational contacts between the two countries from achieving their full potential.

We need to be prepared to exert great efforts consistently and over a long period — efforts that will not bring immediate results. The inertia of confrontation will continue to influence public opinion in the United States and Russia for a long time. This inertia will inevitably colour the positions of the expert community in both countries — and not in a positive way — and will be reflected in the leading media, influencing politicians and public figures. But the scope and complexity of the tasks facing us are no excuse for not making any efforts to resolve the problem whatsoever.

Talking to journalists at a press conference in Qingdao, China, on June 10 about the possibility of holding a Russia–U.S. summit, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said, “As soon as we can set one up, I’m there. As soon as the American side is ready, we’ll set up a meeting.” Now the ball is in their court.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia, China and the New World Order

Igor Ivanov

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The state visit of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to China and the talks he held with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, marked an important milestone in the establishment of a new type of relations between the two nations, both of which have acquired an obvious strategic importance.

As per tradition, the Russian and Chinese leaders summed up the results of the development of bilateral relations over the past year and discussed in detail both the achievements already made and the ambitious goals for the future that will further enhance cooperation across all areas.

While the bilateral dimension of Russia–China relations is important in and of itself, special attention ought to be paid to the discussion of more general matters concerning the current global situation and issues of the emerging new world order that took place during the visit.

The traditional centres of global politics are unable to play a leading role in establishing a new world order. The United States is deeply politically polarized, and no one can reliably predict when or how that chasm will be bridged. Accordingly, no long-term, balanced, or consistent foreign policy can be expected to come from Washington any time soon.

The European Union is struggling with a fundamental internal crisis of its own, or more precisely, a whole set of structural, financial, economic, political, and even value crises. Thus, Brussels will most likely continue to focus on resolving its multiple internal issues for a long time to come, rather than on building a new world order.

In these new conditions, the traditional centres of global politics are unable to play a leading role in establishing a new world order.

It can be said that the multilateral mechanisms established over the past two decades with the active participation of Russia and China, such as the SCO, BRICS, and EAEU, might become integral parts or elements of a future international structure. At the same time, the Russia–China conversation should also include such issues as the restoration of global governance, the reform of the United Nations and other international institutions, the renewal of international law, and a new understanding of globalization and interdependence.

The state visit of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to China and the talks he held with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, marked an important milestone in the establishment of a new type of relations between the two nations, both of which have acquired an obvious strategic importance. These relations are growing stronger against the background of the continuing degradation of the entire system of international relations, the intensification of geopolitical contradictions, and the narrowing of the space in which constructive cooperation can take place. A new item has been added to the list of security threats facing the world today, a list which traditionally includes confrontations in cyberspace, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal migration, etc., and that item is the trade wars unleashed by the U.S. administration in all directions. This has landed yet another very dangerous blow to the architecture of the world order, which was rather shaky to begin with.

In such an extremely complex and unpredictable situation, it would seem difficult to make decisions of strategic importance – and not only for Russia and China, but for the global community as a whole. Yet we can see how a new edifice of Russia–China cooperation that meets all the requirements of the 21st century is being built with each passing year thanks to the consistent policy implemented by both leaders.

As per tradition, the Russian and Chinese leaders summed up the results of the development of bilateral relations over the past year and discussed in detail both the achievements already made and the ambitious goals for the future that will further enhance cooperation across all areas.

While the bilateral dimension of Russia–China relations is important in and of itself, special attention ought to be paid to the discussion of more general matters concerning the current global situation and issues of the emerging new world order that took place during the visit. The heightened interest in those topics is understandable. Russia–China relations are not developing in a vacuum, and the dynamics and prospects of these relations moving forward are largely contingent on the global political and economic situation as a whole. This situation may generate both additional opportunities and new limitations for both nations and may reduce or increase external risks; its evolution will inevitably have a serious impact on what Moscow and Beijing focus on and how they set their priorities, including in bilateral relations.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the previous Yalta-based global political system has been all but destroyed in the two decades since the end of the Cold War. Yet nothing has been devised to replace it. The world is increasingly sliding towards chaos, which now threatens not just individual nations or regions, but the entire international community.

History has taught us that humanity’s transition from one world order to another has been always driven by the accumulation of new production technologies, with wars and revolutions usually acting as a catalyst. Today, a critical mass of new technology for yet another civilizational breakthrough has been accumulated, yet a new cycle of wars and revolutions may prove deadly not only for individual countries, but for humanity. That is why it is extremely important to break this established cycle of world history in order to transition to a new level of civilizational development without another global cataclysm.

In these new conditions, the traditional centres of global politics are unable to play a leading role in establishing a new world order. The United States is deeply politically polarized, and no one can reliably predict when or how that chasm will be bridged. Accordingly, no long-term, balanced, or consistent foreign policy can be expected to come from Washington any time soon.

The European Union is struggling with a fundamental internal crisis of its own, or more precisely, a whole set of structural, financial, economic, political, and even value crises. Thus, Brussels will most likely continue to focus on resolving its multiple internal issues for a long time to come, rather than on building a new world order. Other leading global political players have their own problems that are preventing them from taking charge of designing new rules of the game for the modern world.

In this sense, Russia and China enjoy a substantial advantage over the other global centres of power.

First of all, unlike the divided and politically polarized Western societies, the public in Russia and China are politically consolidated and united in their attitudes towards the most important global problems. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the latest presidential elections in Russia have reiterated this sustainable public consensus and the high level of stability.

Secondly, thanks to the specific features of their political development, Russia and China are capable of building policies that strategically plan for years or even decades ahead, something that Western democracies simply cannot do. At the same time, the current global situation requires long-term planning and comprehensive approaches, rather than ad-hoc tactical solutions.

Thirdly, Russia and China have accumulated wide-ranging and multi-faceted experience developing bilateral cooperation. This cooperation is unique in many of its dimensions and may be, in phases, building what may be labelled “A New Type of Great Power Relations.” There is no doubt that this experience will prove useful in a wider multilateral format too.

Over the past two decades, Russia and China have been promoting the idea of a “multi-polar world” as the most sustainable, dependable, and fair structure for international relations. However, much joint work still needs to be done to shape a holistic concept for building such a “multi-polar world.” This needs to be done fast, as time is running out for a structured rebuilding of international relations to take place.

It can be said that the multilateral mechanisms established over the past two decades with the active participation of Russia and China, such as the SCO, BRICS, and EAEU, might become integral parts or elements of a future international structure. At the same time, the Russia–China conversation should also include such issues as the restoration of global governance, the reform of the United Nations and other international institutions, the renewal of international law, and a new understanding of globalization and interdependence.

This conversation is not going to be short or easy, even between such close partners as Russia and China. Let us not forget that, while Russia and China obviously share close stances on key global policy issues, they still have different historical experiences and different positions in the system of international relations, and their current priorities are not entirely aligned. Yet such an open conversation is especially needed today, as the world is approaching a point of bifurcation: either the restoration of global governance at a new level, or an acceleration towards anarchy and chaos.

The joint statement signed following the talks between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping said that both countries would “promote international relations of a new type based on the principles of mutual respect, fairness, mutually beneficial cooperation, and the building of a community of a single fate for humanity, as well as facilitate the establishment of a more just and rational multipolar world order on the basis of equal participation of all nations in global governance, adherence to international law, equal and indivisible security, mutual respect, consideration of each other’s interests, and a refusal of confrontation and conflicts.”

Obviously, not everything in the world depends on Russia and China. If the situation develops according to the worst-case scenario and our Western partners are not willing or able to change their obsolete approaches to global politics, Moscow and Beijing will inevitably have to think about further strengthening bilateral cooperation up to a point where their relations become those of allies.

The negotiations with President Xi Jinping that took place during President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to China have demonstrated in a convincing manner that the Russia–China partnership is not only an example of modern international relations, but it also plays an increasingly substantial role in maintaining strategic balance and stability in the world.

First published in our partner RIAC

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