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.
Russia’s role in the revival of the Iran Nuclear deal
Iran in recent weeks has stated on more than one occasion, that is willing to return to the negotiation table for talks pertaining to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)/Iran Nuclear deal (the Vienna negotiations which began in April 2021 have been on hold since June 2021). The US has on more than one occasion expressed the view, that Iran needs to show greater urgency with regard to getting back to talks on the Iran Nuclear deal . The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken while addressing the press, on October 13, 2021, before his meeting with Foreign Ministers of UAE and Israel:
‘We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to do that, but it takes two to engage in diplomacy, and we have not – we have not seen from Iran a willingness to do that at this point.’
In August 2021, US President Biden in a meeting with the Israeli PM, Naftali Bennett had said that Washington was willing to explore other options, if diplomacy with Iran did not work (this was in stark contrast to his stance vis-à-vis Iran in his initial days in office).
It would be important to point out, that Russia has been playing a key role in getting Iran back to the negotiating table, while also urging the US to remove some of the sanctions it has imposed on Iran. During the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Moscow earlier this month, a number of issues pertaining to the Iran-Russia relationship were discussed during the meeting between Abdollahian and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Iran Nuclear deal however was high on the agenda. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Iran is seeking to sign a strategic agreement with Russia along the lines of what it had signed with China, and Russia would thus have significant leverage vis-à-vis Tehran. While commenting on the same, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh said:
‘The initial arrangements of this document, entitled the Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia, have been concluded,’
Iran and Russia have also been working jointly in Syria to keep Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in power.
Israeli PM’s visit to Russia
During Israeli PM Naftali Bennett’s recent visit to Moscow, on October 22, 2021 while a number of bilateral issues were discussed during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Iran issue was also discussed. While Putin is supposed to have put forward the Russian stance which favours a diplomatic solution for dealing with the issue of nuclear enrichment by Iran, while Israel expressed its concerns with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.
While Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC countries), such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which were opposed to revival of the Iran Nuclear deal have toned down their opposition to the deal, since they themselves are working to improve ties with Iran, Israel has been fervent in its opposition to the revival of the deal, and the Biden Administration of late has also begun to adopt a more aggressive stance (not very different from that of the Trump Administration) and seems to be unwilling to make any significant concessions in order to revive JCPOA .
It remains to be seen, if Russia’s relationship with Israel can play any role in softening the latter’s opposition to the Iran Nuclear deal. Apart from this, Moscow whose ties with Iran have strengthened will also play an important role in getting Tehran back to the negotiating table on the Iran nuclear deal, and could also convince Iran to avoid a maximalist approach towards the Iran nuclear deal. In recent months, Moscow’s strategic importance has risen not on account of its proximity to Beijing, but because it’s stance on the situation in Afghanistan and Iran has been pragmatic, and Moscow has not kowtowed to Beijing in spite of the fact that its ties with Washington ties are far from cordial. Moscow is also one of the few countries which has been able to maintain good ties with both Israel and Iran.
It remains to be seen, if Russia’s intervention on key global issues especially the Iran Nuclear deal can achieve any tangible results. A lot will also depend upon whether the Biden Administration, which has drawn flak for its handling of Afghanistan, is willing to think out of the box and exhibit risk appetite. It is also important that Washington-Moscow ties remain manageable if not perfect, and that both countries realize the importance of working closely on important global issues.
Russia, Turkey and the new geopolitical reality
The recent Russia – Turkey summit in Sochi, even though yielding no tangible outcomes (as became clear well before it, the summit would not result in the signing of any agreements), has evoked a lot of speculation – ranging from assumptions of the “failure” of talks to fairly optimistic forecasts for the future of bilateral relations.
What can be seen as a clear result of the meeting is that the two sides acknowledged readiness for further dialogue. A dialogue is vital also in view of the fact that western countries have been curtailing their military and political presence in the region, which has thus led to the formation of a terrorist state in Afghanistan.
According to Sergei Lavrov, terrorist threat persists and has even been intensifying in Idlib: «Terrorist groups operating from beyond the Idlib de-escalation zone continue to attack the positions of the Syrian army, what’s more, they have been trying to act against the Russian contingent», – the Russian foreign minister told a news conference following talks with his Egyptian counterpart, after the summit in Sochi. A solution to the problem lies, he said, in “complete implementation of the agreements signed by Presidents Putin and Erdogan to the effect that terrorists, first of all, from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, should be isolated regardless of whatever new slogans they might come up with and for the purpose of quelling all these terrorist groups”.
As a final agreement on de-escalation in Idlib is expected to be reached, sources report a build-up of Syrian army forces along the Syrian side of the demarcation line, on the one hand, and a concentration of Turkish military groups, on the other (whereas after talks in Sochi the Turkish military started to retreat to the north – A.I.) Opposition representatives have been making aggressive statements again, even though in Sochi, Dmitry Peskov said, the two sides reiterated their “commitment to earlier agreements, underscored the need to implement these agreements by clearing Idlib of terrorist groups which were still there and which could pose a threat and launch a fierce attack against the Syrian army”.
Turkey keeps accusing Russia of breaching a ceasefire agreement for the northwest of Syria of March 5, 2020, while Russia maintains that Turkey is not acting on its commitments and that it is unable (or unwilling? – A.I.) to separate terrorists from armed opposition. For these mutual accusations the two presidents use politically correct statements, while their discontent over the situation is articulated by foreign ministers, press secretaries and MPs.
In brief, Moscow’s position is as follows: Bashar Assad is a legally elected head of the Syrian Arab Republic, the territorial integrity of which is beyond doubt. A compromise with Damascus calls for similar steps from the opponents, whereas confrontation in Idlib and in other hot spots across Syria should be the responsibility of countries whose troops are deployed there without the approval of the UN or without invitation from official Damascus. These countries are known – the United States and Turkey.
While Moscow and Ankara are often at odds over the Sunni opposition, their attitudes to Kurdish nationalists are less of a clash. Moscow sees them as “mere” separatists who “have not been lost” for Damascus, while Ankara describes them as terrorists that should be eliminated or neutralized by a buffer zone which Turkey has been building and strengthening for several years.
Some experts and politicians believe that this will last forever. In 1920, the already not quite Ottoman but not yet Turkish Parliament adopted the so-called National Vow, which specified that New Turkey would include Syrian and Iraqi territories, which currently border Turkey. Even though the move failed, the National Vow is still, if only unofficially, seen as a founding ideological document of the Turkish Republic, the implementation of which cements the authority of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Moreover, areas occupied by the Turkish army (which make up more than 10% of the Syrian territory) are used for accommodating Syrian refugees, of which there are over three and a half million in Turkey proper. Turks’ growing discontent over the presence of such “guests” is adding to social instability. A new influx could trigger a public outcry in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023.
In all likelihood, Ankara believes that any serious concessions in Idlib will entail the collapse of the entire “buffer zone” project and will invalidate three military operations and the multimillion investments. In addition, it will bring back “the Kurdish issue”, destroy the image of Turkey as a trustworthy ally, and will inflict irreparable damage on the reputation of the incumbent authorities.
Nevertheless, Cumhuriyet observer Mehmet Ali Guller argues that Erdogan suggested readiness to make concessions when he said: «We agree that the time has come to secure a final and lasting solution to the Syrian issue. We announced that we are open for any realistic and fair steps in this direction».
From our point of view, there is nothing about “concessions” in what Erdogan says but what is clear is that he is, if only unwillingly, beginning to accept The Syrian reality. After years of demanding the removal of Bashar Assad, the Turkish leadership no longer issues statements to this effect, though it refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the incumbent regime (contacts at intelligence agency level do not count), promising to withdraw troops only after the establishment of “democratic rule” in Syria. But democracy as seen through the Middle East realities is something vague and unclear.
Furthermore, Erdogan is forced to “re-evaluate values” by a growing tension in relations with western allies. The Turkish president, after years of speaking strongly in favor of American presence in Syria, is now calling for the withdrawal of the American contingent from the country.
A consolidated position of Ankara’s western partners on Russia-Turkey relations was formulated by Die Zeit: during talks with the Russian leader in Sochi Erdogan played the role of a “requestor”, since he “missed a decisive factor – the West”, which he needs as “a critically important partner, which makes it possible for Ankara not to bow to Russia”. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu did not agree to that: «We are a NATO member, on the one hand, but on the other hand, our relations with Russia are progressing…..Why should we make a choice [between them]?».
«It’s no secret that Ankara’s and Moscow’s interests in the region do not coincide…..[but] The positive responses of the two countries’ leaders on the results of talks in Sochi suggest that Moscow and Ankara are prepared to remove all misunderstandings by dialogue», – Ilyas Kemaloglu, political analyst with Marmara University, says. Haberturk Media Holding observer Cetiner Cetin argues that American troops’ “flight” from Afghanistan and their gradual departure from other regions is creating a new geopolitical reality, which means that “Turkey might continue to distance itself from NATO in order to find itself among top players within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization”.
While economic ties between Russia and Turkey are mostly problem-free, the political relations are often an issue. However, every time they meet, Putin and Erdogan manage not only to “quell” conflict, but to make a way for cooperation. The reason is that the two countries, despite their tactical differences, share the strategic goals: diktat of the West is unacceptable, the leading role in the East should belong to regional powers. As long as we share these goals, a Russia-Turkey alliance will be beneficial for both parties.
From our partner International Affairs
The 30th Anniversary of the Renewal of Diplomatic Relations Between Russia and Israel
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey V. Lavrov’s article for the Israeli Newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth” dedicated to the 30th Anniversary of the Renewal of Diplomatic Relations Between Russia and Israel, October 15, 2021.
On October 18, Russia and Israel celebrate the 30th anniversary of the renewal of full-fledged diplomatic relations – the beginning of a new era of common history.
Turning to the pages of the past, let me recall that the USSR was the first country to recognize de jure the State of Israel back in May 1948. Of course, there were ups and downs in the chronicle of our relationship. Today, it could be assessed with confidence that Russian-Israeli mutually beneficial cooperation has stood the test of time and continues to actively develop in all directions.
Its foundation is formed by an intensive political dialogue, foremost – at the highest level. Inter-parliamentary contacts are progressing, bolstered by Friendship Groups established in the legislative bodies of our countries. Inter-ministerial communications are carried out on a regular basis.
Over the past decades, a solid experience of diversified cooperation has been accumulated in such spheres as economics, science and technology, healthcare and education. More than twenty acting intergovernmental agreements reflect the richness of the bilateral agenda.
Our mutual practical cooperation has significant potential. A number of joint projects are being successfully implemented. Many initiatives have received the support of the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel. The interest of Israeli business circles in entering the Russian market continues to grow. Despite the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, by the end of 2020 trade between Russia and Israel decreased by only 3.9%, and in January-July this year it increased by 51.8% over the previous year’s period. The key coordinating mission in these common efforts is fulfilled by the Joint Russian-Israeli Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation, founded in 1994. We are interested in the early resumption of its work in full.
A special role in strengthening the unifying baselines of our relations as well as ensuring their stability and continuity belongs to humanitarian contacts. We appreciate the high level of mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and Israel, connected by a common historical memory and convergence of cultures. It is encouraging that this thread, which has no geographic boundaries, is only getting stronger in course of time.
There are millions of Russian-speaking compatriots living in Israel, including descendants both from the former Republics of the USSR and from the Russian Federation. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War, survivors of the siege, former prisoners of concentration camps are among them. The fate of these people is of major interest to us.
Most vigorous rejection of the attempts of historical revisionism, combatting the distortion of the genesis, course and generally recognized international legal outcomes of the World War II have always united Russia and Israel. We will continue to coordinate our efforts, and specifically at the UN, to counter this shameful phenomenon.
While in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe Nazi henchmen are being brought to the level of national heroes and neo-Nazi tendencies are being revived, the memory of the decisive contribution of the heroic soldiers of the Red Army to the Victory over Nazism, the saving of Jews and other peoples from extermination, the liberation of the world from the horrors of the Holocaust is sacred in Israel. We see how Israeli colleagues – at the state and public levels – encourage the activities of the veterans and compatriots movements, conduct active work to educate the younger generation.
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the law on Celebrating the Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9, approved by the Israeli parliament in 2017. It is particularly telling that on the 76th anniversary of the Great Victory, celebrated this year, festive events and commemorative parades along with the Immortal Regiment march were held in more than 45 Israeli cities. Thousands of Israelis of all ages as well as officials participated. This scale speaks for itself.
Cooperation in the field of education and science – whether through student and academic exchanges or joint scientific research continues to move forward. Every year, students from Israel get an opportunity to receive higher education in Russian universities. All of them are sincerely welcome there.
We hope that it will be possible to restore mutual tourist flows as soon as the sanitary and epidemiological situation improves. Russia is traditionally one of the top three countries in terms of the number of visitors to Israel.
The Russian-Israeli dialogue is vigorously advancing through the foreign ministries. It is obvious that without constructive interaction of diplomats it is impossible to solve a number of international and regional problems that are of paramount importance both for ensuring the prosperous future of the peoples of Russia and Israel just as for strengthening international and regional security and stability. From this perspective, diversified contacts between the Security Councils and the defense ministries of our countries have also proven themselves well. On a regular basis it allows us to compare approaches and take into account each other’s legitimate interests.
Russia is pursuing an independent multi-vector foreign policy, contemplating pragmatism, the search for compromises and the observance of balances of interests. Creation of the most favorable external conditions for our internal socio-economic development remains its backbone. We have no ideological likes and dislikes, or any taboos in relations with our foreign partners, therefore we can play an active role in the international arena and specifically through mediation in the settlement of conflicts.
We are interested in continuing consultations with our Israeli partners on security and stability issues in the Middle East. We always draw attention to the fact that comprehensive solutions to the problems of the region must necessarily take into account the security interests of Israel. This is a matter of principle.
At the same time, we are convinced that there is no alternative to the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a generally recognized international legal basis. We strongly support direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. A comprehensive solution to all issues of the final status is possible only through it. We are ready to work with Israeli colleagues, including multilateral formats, primarily in the context of the renewal of work of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators in close cooperation with representatives of the Arab League.
I am convinced: it is in the common interest to maintain the momentum. Ahead of us are new milestones and additional opportunities not only to continue, but also to enrich the positive experience of multifaceted cooperation for the benefit of our states and peoples, in the interests of peace and stability.
Source: Minister of Foreign Affairs
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