In a now famous speech delivered at the Conference on Security, held in Munich in 2007, Vladimir Putin harshly clarified the structural determinants of his foreign policy.
Let list them briefly: according to President Putin, Russia does not tolerate in any way the encirclement that the Atlantic Alliance carried out and still carries out at the edges of the old Warsaw Pact.
Putin is not even convinced – and his argument cannot be faulted – that the network of sensors, radars, ICBM missiles currently operating around the Federation is bound to manage “instability in the greater Middle East”.
Moreover, Putin believed, and still believes, that the international system should only be based on the lawfulness of the United Nations and the other global agencies rather than on NATO and EU only, as the Russian President said to the Italian Minister of Defence at that time.
Or on the coalitions of the willing that had unleashed – with adverse and unexpected effects – the US (and Saudi) actions in the First and Second Gulf War, by wiping out a Russian traditional ally, namely Iraq, to create the void of bands, gangs and regional powers on a territory turned into “no man’s land”, for oil in particular.
Putin still remembers when the Head of the US provisional government in Baghdad created a system for road signalling which was very similar to Boston’s.
For the Russian President, the American unipolarity is the warning sign of the strategic void at the edges of empires, with incalculable negative effects for the future strategy of global leaders, even the United States themselves.
Furthermore, again in Munich, Putin stated he was extremely interested in an agreement with the United States for the reduction of the ICBM missile systems, to be later extended also to other regional players.
It had to be a negotiation to be carried out in strictly bilateral terms and within the UN bodies, and not delegated to other regional alliances.
Hence a “conventionalization” of confrontation which, for the Russian President, avoids the constant nuclear threat and allows a significant reduction in military spending, which will no longer be targeted to an impossible bilateral and final post-cold war confrontation, but to the control and reduction of the peripheral clashes of the States placed in the Rimland, in the peripheries of the old opposing blocs.
Once again there is special attention paid by Russia to the destructive effects of a future unipolar world: no power alone can control the world but, if it does so, it generates polarizations paving the way for a terrible war.
In those years the Iran case was evident.
For Russia, the future world must be multipolar, especially at a time when the United States have lost their geo-economic primacy and hence, basically, globalization is over. Indeed, it must be put to an end.
And Europe? Will it wait for the crumbs of the TTIP, namely the still secret Treaty with the United States, to believe it can expand its economy or will it begin to really think big, which, indeed, should be its role at global geoeconomic level?
Finally, after some very harsh comments on the US behaviour, in Munich Putin said that the undue pressures to export “democracy” were, in fact, bad forms of interference, together with international NGOs, which produced the opposite effect.
This means weak and viable States which are at the mercy of expensive international aid, as well as Trojan horse of multinational companies that subsequently generate further social tensions which, in some cases, lead to the rooting of Islamist terrorism.
An objective and well-grounded analysis which – with Machiavellianism and the harshness of the Russian decision-makers, from Peter the Great to the current time – avoids the rhetoric of fierce “tyrants” by nature, or the curse of religious ideologies ad memoriam which only lead to jihadists’ hegemony.
In Munich as currently, courage was needed to create a linkage between the global economic disasters and jihadist terrorism, as well as between globalization, unipolar policies, and social and political destabilization in the world.
For Vladimir Putin, in substance, the unipolar world ended with the crisis of what we might define “the first globalization”, cornered by the expansion of China, the BRICS and the other new centres of independent economic and political development which, over time, saw the United States be bogged down in a financial crisis that was directly derived from the geopolitical and financial overstretch of the only winner of the Cold War.
Today, we realize that some of the Russian President’s prophecies have come true: China is expanding geo-economically beyond its borders, both with the One Road, One Belt initiative, which will lead to the economic development and geostrategic unification of the whole Asian Heartland, and with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is bound to turn from an “Asian EEC” into a real “Eastern NATO”.
The United States, with current President Obama and his successor after the elections, are leaving the Middle East to its fate. This, however, will also be the end of Europe.
The traditional American pendulum swinging between the “necessary power” to be spent everywhere and the “house on the hill”, between T. Roosevelt and Monroe doctrine of the ‘kitchen garden”, to be fully exploited up to its limits.
Even Israel, which with Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused a meeting with President Obama in Washington on March 18, has resumed its ties with Russia.
The Knesset, namely the Jewish State’s Parliament, paid a visit to Crimea early February, while the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has expressed his dissatisfaction with the new bilateral agreement between Israel and Turkey.
Israel follows its own Global Strategy, which is the repetition of the old divide and rule strategy in the Arab region, typical of the Cold War, and its natural ambition to become a regional power, now that the Islamic world discovers itself at war with all its many souls and powers.
Currently Israel closely monitors the defensive infrastructure along its Syrian border and, while at the beginning of hostilities, it thought that Bashar al-Assad was the ”weak link” of the pro-Iranian axis, the subsequent evolution of the strategic framework in Syria has meant that Israel has no longer plans to support the so-called “moderate rebels” – a stance at the time passively inherited from the United States.
Also the United States, with NATO, believed that the Russian support for the Arab Syrian Army would be technologically and strategically irrelevant but the reality, with the Baath covert networks already operating in Raqqa, the “Caliphate’s capital city”, and Assad’s forces a few kilometres away from that city and now placed all around Aleppo, the key to the link between Isis and Turkey, shows us a very different course of events.
With its actions in Syria, the Russian Federation has proved to be a credible opponent of the Atlantic Alliance, while NATO is now deprived of a strategy in the Middle East and the Maghreb region going beyond the old peacekeeping rhetoric.
Hence, a new Russian-Israeli axis is likely to materialize, also thanks to the Russian and Chinese investment in the Israeli hi-tech sector, which is the most advanced in the world.
A bond which, as already happened, fills the gaps left by the old North American hegemony, which now persists in maintaining pressures around China, so as to limit its terrestrial and maritime power projection, and encircle the Russian Federation, as in a resurgence of useless Cold War.
The Philippines have offered six new bases to the United States, while China has built its new base in Djibouti and America is establishing a network of Special Forces that, starting from Eurasia and China, is global for its outreach and use.
In this regard, it is worth recalling John Maynard Keynes’ witty remark according to which “the difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”.
The issue arises from Eurasia’ encirclement – that the Americans are pursuing – or from the Russian use of the Eurasian Heartland as hub for the expansion and hegemony of the new Russia (and current China led by Xi Jinping).
Today Putin is the most careful follower of the American geopolitician Spykman, one of the masters of the USSR containment, which attached priority to the “edges” of the world’s great continental land masses.
Furthermore, today both China and Russia tend to expand onto their “near abroad”, with a view to opposing the US unilateral order, both by means of the economy, considering China’s gradual relinquishment of its role as first buyer of US Treasury bonds, and with Russia’s “conquest” of the Middle East nerve centre.
Both new powers, which want to become the reference poles of a new multipolar world, are divesting dollars and buying gold, while now the current domestic imbalance in world markets enables China to sign contracts denominated in yuan-renminmbi with emerging countries and enables Russia to sell oil and gas to the small “third” powers and to China itself, thus offsetting the embargo imposed by the United States and Great Britain.
Hence a new distribution of world strategic polarities can be imagined in the near future.
It is an axis going from Russia, the Western strong point of the new Chinese Silk Road towards the Middle East, and the European Union, so as to oppose the pro-US Sunni axis in Syria, with a new independent role played by Israel.
Russia is still afraid of the US Global Strike, with or without NATO support.
Moreover, as early as the Munich Conference of 2007, Russia has attached essential importance to the decoupling between the Atlantic Alliance’s power, which Putin sees as part of the US global strategy and projection of US independent power.
Furthermore, the Russian Federation will at first be connected with India in a stable way, so as to expand its own international market, and later with the EU, which is currently undergoing a process of strategic separation from the United States, if and when Europe implements an effective foreign policy. Later it will head for the areas not yet penetrated by the Western bloc.
These areas are the Arctic, and the Russian share of the Antarctic, namely the primary aim of the Russian new maritime doctrine until 2020, and finally its “near abroad” that Russia sees destabilized by the doctrine of the US “colour revolutions”.
Moreover, NATO expansion is regarded by Russia as the primary threat to Russian strategic interests, in the new military doctrines followed by the Russian Armed Forces.
Hence destabilizing the Rimland of the great continental aggregates to directly hit Russia or China? Are Italy and the European Union really interested in doing so? I do not think so.
For the Russian strategic doctrine, a particular factor is the cultural and symbolic aspect.
Eurasianism is the mainstay of Russia’s geocultural issue.
The Soviet world has always seen cultural continuity between Western Europe and the “Third Rome” which, in the last Tzars’ political theology, was heir to the genuine tradition of a betrayed and forgotten West, in its deep and spiritual roots.
Even the Bolshevik revolution, long after Peter I and Tsar Alexander II, preserved the myth of equalizing, also violently, old Russia and its natural link with the Western spirit, merged with the popular and “oriental” traditions of the Narod, the Russian “people”, seen as the spiritual root of the Nation, of its specificity, but also of its heritage of merger between East and West.
Therefore, today, the philosophical Eurasia is a cultural and strategic model of autonomy of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, an attempt at cultural interconnection between the Eurasian peninsula and the Slavic Heartland.
All this, with a view to creating a geo-cultural and military “environment”, referring to a Russia which is still a great power capable of performing its function as a bridge between nations and traditional geopolitical areas, through the Russian spirit and its cultural autonomy.
Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba Back to Russian University
The Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing for the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, July 2023. At the Russian Foreign Ministry, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov has held a special meeting with the heads of diplomatic missions of African states accredited in Moscow.
Bogdanov briefed them on the preparations for the summit, as well as the second International Parliamentary Conference “Russia – Africa” planned for March.
Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Alexander Babakov and Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky made presentations on the concept of the second Russia-Africa International Parliamentary Conference. It was noted that the parliamentary event is regarded as an important stage in the preparation of the Russia-Africa summit.
Representatives of the leadership of the Roscongress Foundation, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the Department of State Protocol of the Russian Foreign Ministry took part in the discussion and discussed the entire range of issues related to the organization of the second Russia-Africa summit.
The African diplomatic corps got acquainted with the architecture of the program of upcoming events, as well as with the organizational and protocol aspects of the stay in St. Petersburg of the heads of state and government of African countries and the leaders of leading regional organizations and inter-African associations.
The heads of African diplomatic missions expressed a consolidated position in support of the speedy restoration of the name of Patrice Lumumba in the name of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. In February 1961, the university was named Patrice Lumumba University after the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, who had been killed in a coup that January.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the name of the Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba, was removed and now authorities are attempting to fix back to influence African leaders to the forthcoming summit.
Established in 1960, it primarily provides higher education to Third World students during the Soviet days. Many students especially from developing countries still come to this popular university from Latin America, Asia and Africa. It is Russia’s most multidisciplinary university, which boasts the largest number of foreign students and offers various academic disciplines.
In a related development, on January 30, Ambassador-at-Large, Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov also held talks with Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Integration Ashraf Sweilim as part of his trip to Cairo, Egypt.
Ozerov emphasized the significant contribution of Egypt, which co-chaired the first such summit in 2019, to the development of this format for coordination of actions and comprehensive cooperation. The progressive build-up of Russia’s economic ties with the African continent, where a significant role in cooperation was played by Egypt, was noted.
A thorough exchange of views took place on the current state of Russian-Egyptian relations and the prospects for strengthening cooperation, including within the framework of joint activities under the auspices of the African Union and the League of Arab States. The second Russia-Africa summit will be held July 26-29 in St. Petersburg, the second largest city, in the Russian Federation.
Destroying the concept of truth: Russian propaganda uncovered
Authors: Dr. Maria Alesina and Ivan Kolpakov*
The world has fully realised the power of the Russian propaganda machine only after the 24th of February 2022. The full-fledged invasion of Ukraine would have been impossible without the popular support – or at least silent toleration – of the Russians at home. That this support would be the case was hard to believe. Yet it turned out to be a reality. The reality with far-reaching consequences for Ukrainians, Russians, and the entire world.
From supporting Putin’s decades-long rule to enabling his aggressive external actions, Russian state propaganda has become a factor significantly influencing world’s history. Russia’s intervention in internal political affairs and socio-political discourses of other countries is a widespread phenomenon. For years, state-sponsored media outlet Russia Today (RT) has been impacting public opinion in countries across the globe, spreading fake news and alternative interpretations of reality. However, the product offered by Russian media internationally is a child’s game in comparison to the propaganda targeted at Russia’s own residents.
Irresistible power of entertainment
It is not a coincidence that the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was followed by shutting down of the last remaining independent media in Russia. The occupation of Ukrainian territories came together with immediate blocking of the access to Internet and Ukrainian media in favour of streaming Russian television. Alongside the system of state violence and political repressions, propaganda is one of the two key elements used by Vladimir Putin to manipulate the society.
The machine of propaganda did not appear overnight. It has been methodically constructed in the course of the past twenty years, since the very moment when Putin got into power. First, he has monopolised the television as a means to control his political ratings and the elections’ results. In the same way, later, he took full control over the national press and the Internet.
Contrary to what many would imagine, the propaganda machine does not work in a rigid and straightforward way. More than anything, it is based on a modern and addictive entertainment industry, providing vast and diverse content about pop-stars, style, travel, food. And in the midst of this flow of entertainment one finds socio-political content with propaganda-infused messages.
Furthermore, political content itself is presented in an entertaining manner. Presenters of the news programs on the major TV channels talk to viewers in a tabloid-style language. In the studios of the political TV shows, opponents are fighting and insulting one another. Shock and outrage are the main drivers behind these shows’ ratings.
Meanwhile, the Russian propaganda machine is a deeply institutionalised ecosystem, where each player has its own ‘niche’: Telegram-channels are needed for introducing fake news, which are later spread through second-rate online media. After that, in an already ‘legalised’ form these fakes are overtaken by the major TV channels.
To an uncritical viewer, it might even seem that this media-curated socio-political discourse includes certain debates and alternative points of view. In reality, any discussions are carefully constructed and controlled. In this regard, radical patriots are as dangerous for the Kremlin as radical opposition, as their performance is difficult to contain. Everything that does not fit into the narrow margins of the official discourse thus simply gets deprived of air time.
Alternative truth – or lack thereof as such?
Russian propaganda does not simply suggest an alternative version of reality. It undermines the very concept of truth as such. State-controlled media relativize concrete events and developments with such messages as ‘nothing is that evident’ and ‘we will never find out the whole truth’. Information about objective facts is commonly substituted with conspirological statements and narratives that do not require evidences and coherency. In this narrative, the West is heading towards moral degradation, Russia’s army is the second strongest in the world, and the Ukrainian nation does not exist as such. This provides Russians with a comforting sense of their country’s moral superiority and the strength of its leadership: ‘everything is under control’, ‘everything goes according to the plan’.
This brings us to the key element of this vicious circle. A common consumer of propaganda is a person who has Soviet-times experience of media consumption: he or she knows that media can be lying. Yet media are not blamed for that, since their role – by history and by habit – is seen differently. Official media is not necessarily a source of relevant facts and information but a source of the general sense of orientation – be it moral, socio-political, or cultural. They are the main channel through which political agenda ‘from above’ reaches ordinary citizens and provides them with ‘guidelines’ on how to interpret reality.
The state propaganda machine has become closely associated with Putin’s regime. However, consumers’ habits might eventually turn out to be even more long-lasting than his rule. The main problem thus lies not only in delivering and spreading independent information inside the country but in making Russian citizens perceptive to such information. Considering the global spill-over effects of the ‘brainwashing’ inside Russia, this is something that the world needs to be ready to fully understand and properly tackle, at least in a long-term perspective.
*Ivan Kolpakov is a Russian journalist, writer, one of the founders of the Sol newspaper, editor-in-chief of the Meduza newspaper from 2016 to 2018 and since March 2019.
Any “red lines” left for Putin?
“Red lines” have become a ubiquitous narrative of Russian-initiated conflict with the West. Putin repeatedly used “red lines” as a warning metaphor for the West, trying to establish his boundaries of international influence. The “red lines” acquired this warning connotation in his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly on April 21, 2021, to be repeated several times later up to February 24, 2022. As explained by his press-secretary Dmitriy Peskov and many other Russian politicians and experts, “red lines’ relate to Russian national interests, outlining its national borders.
And not only Kremlin but the West also talks about “red lines”, though the West sees “red lines” in using nuclear weapons by Putin in his futile attempt to conquer Ukraine.
When addressing the nation on February 24, 2022, announcing an invasion of Ukraine, Putin said that any “interference” in Ukraine by outside powers would be “a red line” for Russia. However, the West started to support Ukraine long before the Russian invasion supplying Javelins and intelligence information. The West certainly interfered in different ways from the first day of the Russian invasion providing more weapons, ammunition, humanitarian aid, volunteers, anti-Russian information campaigns, sanctions, intelligence sharing, and military training, to name a few.
All Kremlin’s propaganda targets the inner audience first. When they speak to the West, at the same time, they address ordinary Russians. The apparent importance of “red lines” for the Kremlin, the ability to show that they are not violated, made the West artfully create information campaigns before supplying new deadly weaponry to Ukraine. These information campaigns aim to provide valid arguments for such supplies as a response to the escalation of the war from the Kremlin’s side. At the same time, they shift attention from the weaponry itself to “conflicts” inside the NATO countries around the supplies. They expose various technical problems, such as a lack of trained personnel to master new weaponry, no service maintenance base, and others. Finally, these information campaigns often highlight Kremlin’s atrocities against civilians (Bucha and missile bombing cities, villages, and critical infrastructure).
We have seen these tactics successfully employed more than once. The Kremlin’s loss of information war has become evident from the beginning of the war. However, when one talks about supplying Ukraine with modern tanks to fight against the Russian army, it takes one to be a master of information tactics to supply the tanks and not to break this crucial “red line.” For the last two decades, Putin has made the Victory of the USSR in the Greta Patriotic War (WW II in the Western tradition) the main achievement of recent Russian history, utilizing it as a unifying myth for multi-national Russia. This myth also serves as a justification for its aggressive foreign policy. Furthermore, this makes it very painful for Russia to think of fighting with foreign tanks, especially german tanks, making this red line very thick and visible.
Nevertheless, the West could dilute it without any seemingly essential consequences. Let’s see how it was done.
The German play: at first, Olaf Sholz, Chancellor of Germany, said that Germany would allow Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine only after US Abrams; this statement gets immediately refuted by the German Minister of Defense; the refutation followed by supporting statements in the US media that even go as far as saying that the German position irritates Washington.
The Polish play: first, Poland says that it can send a Leopard tank to Ukraine; then it refutes it; then Poland threatens that it would send the tanks even without Germany’s consent, to be followed by a statement of Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs that Germany would not block Poland sending tanks to Ukraine.
All these “conflicts and disaccords” happen before an official decision-making session in Rammstein format. Then the plays continued with Boris Pistorius, recently appointed Germany’s Minister of Defense, who, after the meeting at Rammstein, not only said that there were other countries besides Germany to disagree on shipping tanks to Ukraine (although he never revealed which ones), but also hinting later that the decision on tank shipping could be negative. In such a case, the decision would become irreversible. They even remembered a previous German Minister of Defense who allegedly refused to conduct an inventory of available Leopard tanks.
Less than five days later, a positive decision is taken, making it hard to believe that such significant disagreements and confusion could exist not only inside Germany’s government but also between leading European countries and the US. Of course, conflicts and disagreements might exist, and they do exist for different international topics. However, it is hard to imagine them being so publicly visible on such a vital issue as the Ukraine-Russia war. The war has been going on for almost a year now, and effective mechanisms of communication and decision-making must have been developed, at least in such an essential part of it as military aid.
After the war’s beginning, the West took a principal position in the war: to provide diverse support to Ukraine to fight against Russia. All sanctions and humanitarian and military aid issues get communicated, coordinated, and then agreed upon.
According to Francis Bacon’s famous quotation, knowledge is power; this power comes with information, and information comes with noise. The West utterly understands it employing this understanding with art and craft. And the Kremlin fails to play this game. Instead, this wonderful chaos of noise prior to any critical decision allows for diluting more and more “red lines.”
These information tactics allow the West to supply Ukraine with more deadly weapons. We will see another act of this information play before a decision to ship modern jet fighters to Ukraine is agreed upon. Then, of course, there will be the same level of “disagreements and conflicts,” but eventually, one shouldn’t doubt that Ukraine will get jet fighters, starting with Soviet MIG- and SU-fighters from Slovakia and Poland, then followed by F-16s and other NATO models.
The Kremlin’s reaction is precious. Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, commented on the decision to ship tanks to Ukraine, saying that it became clear to the Kremlin that there was no accord in the West in general around the issue of military aid to Ukraine. Also, the fact that the West has enough modern tanks capable of fighting with Russian remains obscure for the Kremlin, according to Peskov. This is what the Russian propaganda wants and needs to see: disagreements and conflicts. This conflict’s agenda allows them to lullaby the Russian people with tales that the support for Ukraine will wither soon and that Russians need to be patient just a little bit more. Then Victory will come, exactly like in the Great Patriotic War.
The strategy of the West is clear; no Western country wants to be at war with Russia. At the same time, Ukraine needed support, so the West started supplying it with more advanced weapons. Now the supplies happen much quicker than at the beginning of the war. The “tank case” shows this change in the western approach to the weapon supply, where a silent embargo on offensive weaponry was in effect for 11 months.
The Kremlin’s narrative of “the red lines” failed from the beginning as Russia violated international “red lines” when it invaded a sovereign state. Furthermore, this ‘red line” is not only part of Western values but is one of the pillars of the system of International Law. Another pillar of international relations is that supplying weapons and even using one country’s experienced army officers to help another country’s army in its military actions has never been seen as direct involvement in a war. No one has seen, or described Soviet military support and presence in Vietnam against the U.S., or in Egypt and Syria against Israel as direct war between the U.S. and the USSR.
Putin’s several public warnings to respond if NATO crossed “red lines” by providing Ukraine with certain missile strike systems remained just words. Other prominent Russian officials repeatedly made similar warnings, promising to consider U.S. and NATO vehicles transporting weapons on Ukr
The West understands that Putin’s “red lines” are for the internal agenda only. Even the fact that they are not named but outline some obscure “national interests’, allows the Kremlin to interpret them differently, twisting its propaganda around. But the “red lines” do exist. The West should not underestimate them. Inability of the Kremlin to define and observe them. It is quite obvious that the next “red line” is national borders between and Ukraine and Russia as of Feb.24, 2022. This issue lacks accord in the West. Should Ukraine get Crimea back? Should it get it now or later? Should the West publicly announce its “red lines” outlining them as the Russian Federation’s borders as of 1991?
While these questions are still to be answered, one red line obviously exists for Putin. This line is his personal safety, and in the current power construction in Russia, Putin can secure his safety only if he retains power. When the West challenges his personal power, then he will feel the real threat. One should remember that it might be dangerous to corner a rat, especially one with a nuclear bomb. Putin’s body, ex-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, regularly reminds us of that, saying that “a nuclear power can never lose a conventional war.” His regular remarks clearly state that the Kremlin acknowledges its possible defeat in Ukraine, but they also warn against such outcome. We should hope that Western leaders have learned how to play with Russia and will continue the winning game, weakening Russia further and successfully staying away from nuclear confrontation.
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