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Contemporary Russian foreign policy: Moscow turns to East to coerce West resume ties

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Development of modern Russian foreign policy could be divided into two eras or phases: the post Soviet policy after Michael Gorbachev and the Putin era policy. Both are philosophically and politically different from one another.

The post Soviet era policy was based entirely on the Gorbachevian ideology of ‘Perestroika and Glasnost’ (Restructuring and Openness) in post Communist milieu when new Russia’s first president Boris Yelstsin put in place a new non-communist foreign policy abandoning the Soviet socialist ideology completely in order to advance the national interest of an essentially first ever anti-communist government in modern Russia.

While Yelstsin pursued a pro-west policy so as to get Russia closer to so-called western civilizational values– and of course he failed in achieving his key objective of promoting democracy as far as possible in Russia backed by the anti-communist Western regimes – his successor Vladimir Putin, now fully comprehending petrified western attitude towards even new Russia, began pursuing an assertive, at times what looked like anti-West policies.

In order to continue ‘dialog’ with USA and Europe, Russia gradually developed an approach of ‘confrontation cum cooperation’ but Russo-NATO tensions do reveal the hard truth that Cold War the former super powers fought had not indeed ended even after the collapse of Berlin Wall plus collapse of communist system world wide – the prime target of USA since World war Two.

The Western world is impressed by the ‘democratic’ efforts of new Russia, especially under president Putin. Russia remained globally isolated.

Today Russia, focusing on a retrieving super power status, lost in the Cold War, is seen making strenuous efforts to impress upon USA and Europe the need to take it seriously and as an equal partner if the West wants to advance their collective interests globally. Russia has made the point to especially USA loud and clear by forcefully entering Ukraine and Syria while Washington responded only in rhetoric.

Since it became a new non-communist nation in 1985 following the collapse of Soviet Union, for the first time Russia is now under such huge sanction that has weakened its economy and slashed its western contacts. Of course, the sanctions on account of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine could not cripple Russian economy to the extent the West thought their cumulative sanctions would do primarily because of its super power wealth from arms and oil.

Among primary factors that will impact Russian foreign policy today and in the coming years the key one is to effectively fight the potential for a new direction in US foreign policy that is more aggressive towards Russia in recent times, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The USA and its allies continue their policy of international isolation in respect to Russia, a policy that once again started to bear some fruit in 2014. However, it should be kept in mind that there is limitation for the USA in applying pressure on the Kremlin, for, Russia is not North Korea, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Iran. It is hard to ensure international stability and prosperity while at the same time driving one of the big nuclear powers into a corner.

Russia’s uncertainty of its own fate makes Russian policies, both domestic and foreign complicated as western powers have pushed Russia’s rulers from one extreme to another. Russia’s perennial inclination to shake the world’s capitalist-imperialist foundations to their core stems from its geopolitical weight it assumes as a Eurasian civilization. Although other international players, led by USA, keep talking about “rootless” claim of Russia as being a Eurasian civilization, have never been able to properly balance Russian strength.

Assertive diplomacy

Recent move by the Kremlin to turn to East is meant essentially to force the USA and allies to take Russia very seriously, end efforts to isolate Russia, roll back all sanctions and resume ties with Putin’s Russia by considering the assertive nature of his policy.

Russia suffers from a phenomenon of strong Russian character and great power and after the collapse of mighty Soviet Union President Putin is seen by most Russians as displaying that powerful character. Russian success in finding a strong president in Putin is not insignificant as the West is still to come over the impact Soviet system made on the USA-UK controlled world.

For a century Russia in its varied formats of governance from capitalist empire, to communism back to crony capitalism, has conducted an assertive foreign policy and elaborate diplomatic discourse to put forward its ideas for a new multipolar world order if not for a new society.

Soviet assertive politics disfigured the global colonialist and capitalist structures and threatened to remove them from the face of the world. The impact that the Soviet state had made on the global security, political and economic systems was so profound and strong that USA and its western allies sought to dismantle the formidable USSR and they succeeded.

Some of the punitive actions by USA and its European allies have further strengthened the character of Putin presidency. Western sanctions against Russian role in Ukraine including annexation of Crimea have not made Russian policy less assertive, though the country has become more vulnerable to economic upsets. However, in order offset the impact of western sanctions, Russia has pursued a very cautious foreign policy, though it had to curtail human rights in the country in order to contain the opposition leaders from resorting to any possible uprising against the Putin regime for the large scale sanctions.

America is therefore responsible for human right violation of Russian state.

It is not the first time that Russia, as a global power, has changed the international status quo through its aggressive military actions in Ukraine, either by heightening the level of confrontation, such as prior to the outbreak of World War II and throughout the Cold War, or defusing it, as a result of its victories over Napoleon and Hitler and Gorbachev’s “new thinking” in the 1980s. Putin represents the strong willed Russian mindset, reflected in his policies, both domestic and foreign.

Russia said it can attack any nation even without any real threats to its territory. When Putin announced Russian willingness to use its nukes as Russia’s military policy, even when there is no serious threat perception from enemy sties, many eyebrow were raised in the West.

Obviously USA and EU do take Russia and its warnings very seriously

Multi-polar world

Since Gorbachev era, Moscow has pursued a double strategy of seeking to establish a multipolar world while at the same time dutifully pursued a policy against open confrontations with the West.

Putin is often characterized as an autocrat by the Western media and some politicians, but his relationship with former US Presidents like Obama and George W. Bush, among others is reported to be personally friendly. Putin’s relationship with Germany’s new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is reported to be “cooler” and “business-like”.

Western policy is wrongheaded. Today’s “globalised world is based on an unprecedented interconnection between countries, and so it’s impossible to develop relations between Russia and the EU as if they remained at the core of global politics as during the Cold War.” The so-called “historical West” no longer is “the master of the human race’s destinies” – the role it assumed “for almost five centuries.” Transition “to a new international system” changed things.

Today’s world is increasingly multi-polar. One dominant center no longer applies. US interventionism is hugely destructive, one nation after another raped and destroyed. US-led Western efforts to ensure “global leadership” produces confrontation, not mutual cooperation, the unthinkable possibility of another global war. “There is virtually no state in Libya; Iraq is balancing on the brink of disintegrations, and so on and so forth,” Lavrov explained. “A reliable solution to the problems of the modern world can only be achieved through serious and honest cooperation between the leading states and their associations in order to address common challenges.”

In a January 2007 interview Putin said Russia is in favour of a democratic multipolar world and of strengthening the system of international law. Putin also proposed certain initiatives such as establishing international centres for the enrichment of uranium and prevention of deploying weapons in outer space.

Russia’s view of the modern world, as well as its goals and objectives are reflected in the Foreign Policy Concept adopted in 2013. It evaluates the global situation and analyses the processes unfolding in the world and its regions. On its basis the foreign strategy of the country has been found in full recognition of the fundamentally new geopolitical situation in the world.

The independent foreign policy pursued by Russia in accordance with modern trends and long-standing traditions is in increasingly high demand in the world, attracting a wide range of partners from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

Russia has consistently advocated an inclusive and positive agenda aimed not at restricting but rather amplifying ties between states. Our country stands ready to join efforts with all those who are equally willing to cooperate in line with the principles of equality, mutual respect, mutual benefit and norms of international law, as well as recognition of the central role of the United Nations in global affairs. The work of the UN Security Council, the Group of 20, BRICS, SCO and CSTO clearly demonstrates the efficiency of joint efforts. Conversely, the Ukrainian crisis was a consequence of a policy of strengthening one’s own security at the expense of others, which has been pursued by Western states for over a quarter of a century aiming to expand areas under their geopolitical control. This was manifested by successive waves of NATO expansion despite assurances to the contrary at the highest level and in violation of solemn declarations on the establishment of a system of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic space. The current negative turn in global affairs is not our choice. Russia will continue working under these circumstances and remains open for dialogue.

There is no viable alternative to mutually beneficial and equal-footed cooperation between Russia and the EU, as our countries are closely intertwined by virtue of numerous geographic, economic, historical and human ties. We are ready to mutually approximate positions and seek compromises, but only on the basis of equality and true consideration of each other’s interests, excluding any attempts of blackmail and diktat. The establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union is making a tangible contribution to the development of wide-ranging cooperation in the region. We are convinced that gradual steps towards creating a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok based on the principles of equal and indivisible security should serve as a strategic guideline in shaping a new architecture on the European continent. In this regard it seems particularly important to establish direct dialogue between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, including their respective supranational executive bodies, with a view to perfecting models of mutually beneficial and equal-footed harmonization of the processes of European and Eurasian integration.

While there is no credible proof to show that USA is sincerely pursuing peace mission globally, there is enough evidence to prove that the Russians do have at least the peace mission intention. The decision of Russia to withdraw its forces occupying Syria, killing the Syrians (Sunni sect) only shows somewhat positive intent of the Kremlin and that it does not want to complicate the problem and is eager to give peace a chance. If “problem” resurface, President Puitn would resend the forces to Syria.

Even Soviet foreign policy was pro-peace; at least theoretically, L. Brezhnev sent the Red Army into Afghanistan ostensibly to defend socialism from those Afghans and their American backers there.

Following the collapse of the mighty USSR, Russia stopped its historic empire ambition and began cooperating with USA and Europe extending their nexus into terror war on Islam. It never invaded any nation which is not well within its space of influence, especially the former Soviet republics and East European nations. Russian military intervention in Georgia and Ukraine should be seen from that ankle only. However, Syria is certainly not in that category of nations where Moscow could intervene as its legitimate right. Russia explains that it has a duty to protect Syrian government and its president Assad and hence it intervened there militarily.

Cooperative confrontation

Russia’s geopolitical approach “is shared by most countries,” including China, other BRICS countries, SCO nations, and “our friends in the EAEU, the CSTO, and the CIS.” Moscow forthrightly supports resolving major geopolitical issues “on an equal and mutually respectful basis, providing a reliable foundation for a long-term improvement of international relations” – free from the scourge of war. Defeating terrorism militarily remains a pressing issue, while at the same time working for resolving conflicts diplomatically.

Lavrov stressed that Russia isn’t seeking confrontation with the United States, or the European Union, or NATO. It seeks mutual cooperation among all nations. ‘Either we find a way to live together in peace, or we’ll perish together from a war ending all future ones’.

Emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), seen in Moscow as its traditional sphere of influence, was initially viewed in the West as an effort by Putin to revive old Soviet Union and socialist system to resume the super power status, lost with the fall of Berlin Wall. Though initially the CIS generated enough enthusiasm in Russia and elsewhere, it could not be developed into a well-knit union to promote Russian goals as the member states did not cooperate with Russia on the new effort to revive Soviet Union mainly because of pressure from USA on both Russia and former Soviet states.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), seen in Moscow as its traditional sphere of influence, became one of the foreign policy priorities under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states.

However, the CIS became one of the foreign policy priorities under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states.

Instead of working cooperatively with Russia, US dominated NATO provocatively occupies “geopolitical space” near its borders, making normalized relations impossible. Repeated anti-Russian efforts over centuries failed, however. Lavrov said hid nation remains proud and resilient. It’s vitally important as a leading centre of the modern world, and a provider of the values of sustainable development, security and stability.

Pursuing a non-confrontational approach to the USA and Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin opted for in response to his nation’s deepening economic crisis, by seeking a “frozen” conflict in Ukraine, and actively looks for a diplomatic settlement with the West. This is necessary in order to offbeat the negative consequences of western sanctions and by smoothening his nation’s deepening economic crisis.

Vladimir Putin’s presidency lasted already three terms from January 2000 until May 2008 and again from 2012 and one is not sure if he would seek more terms. In international affairs, Putin made increasingly critical public statements regarding the foreign policy of the USA and other Western countries. In February 2007, at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, he criticised what he called the United States’ monopolistic dominance in global relations, and pointed out that the USA displayed an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations. The result of it is that no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.

In the wake of the 11 September hoax in the United States, Putin agreed to the establishment of coalition military bases in Central Asia before and during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Russian nationalists objected to the establishment of any US military presence on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and had expected Putin to keep the US out of the Central Asian republics or at the very least extract a commitment from Washington to withdraw from these bases as soon as the immediate military necessity had passed

During the Iraq disarmament crisis 2002–2003, Putin opposed Washington’s move to invade Iraq without the benefit of a United Nations Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing the use of military force. After the official end of the war was announced, American president George W. Bush asked the United Nations to lift sanctions on Iraq. Putin supported lifting of the sanctions in due course, arguing that the UN commission first be given a chance to complete its work on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

In 2005, Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder negotiated the construction of a major gas pipeline over the Baltic exclusively between Russia and Germany. Schröder also attended Putin’s 53rd birthday in Saint Petersburg the same year.

During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, Putin twice visited Ukraine before the election to show his support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was widely seen as a pro-Kremlin candidate, and he congratulated him on his anticipated victory before the official election returns had been in. Putin’s personal support for Yanukovych was criticized as unwarranted interference in the affairs of a sovereign state (See also The Orange revolution). Crises also developed in Russia’s relations with Georgia and Moldova, both former Soviet republics accusing Moscow of supporting separatist entities in their territories.

Russia’s relations with the Baltic States also remain tense. In 2007, Russo-Estonian relations deteriorated further as a result of the Bronze Soldier controversy.

Ukraine and Syria

International relations have entered a very difficult period, according to Russian foreign minister Lavrov, a world-class diplomat, a tireless pursuer of world peace and stability; specialists argue that President Putin is fortunate to have him as foreign minister. Lavrov said Russia is at the crossroads of key trends. Despite Russia’s importance in European affairs, its member states allied with Washington try keeping it marginalized, weakened, destabilized, contained and isolated, preventing it from taking part in Europe’s most important affairs, Lavrov explained.

Crimea’s accession to Russia, the Kremlin’s alleged support of separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – all this contributed to dividing European countries in their assessment of Russia’s policy in Ukraine and the sanctions war between the Kremlin and the West.

Not only did Moscow spoiled its relations with the USA in 2014, but also with its traditional allies in Europe, particularly with France and Germany, as indicated by the Mistral case with France and the failure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin to see eye to eye.

Wars in Ukraine and Syria have become a challenge not only for USA but even for Russia which has the advantage of playing the king maker in both nations. Washington has been unequivocal about its insistence and pressure on other countries to join their campaign against Russia’s policy in Ukraine. Although these countries are interested in doing business with Russia, they are hardly likely to put at stake their far larger business relations with the West. The European Union and United States are China’s first and second largest trading partners, accounting for some 30 percent of China’s overall trade. Russia does not even figure in the top ten of Chinese trading partners. Moscow holds a weak hand in its relations with Beijing, except in arms sale as China remains the key customer of largest military equipment of Russia.

Russia’s decision to intervene in Syria was driven by several overlapping objectives. The Kremlin was eager to strengthen the regime of longtime ally Bashar al-Assad, which was then losing significant ground to its various political opponents. Russia was keen to let Iran also feel safe simultaneously. Moscow has showcased its military strategy to Arab and other Muslim nations among other third word countries to get ‘orders” from them. Moscow was also keen to reinforce its strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean, which was centered on the longstanding Russian naval base in the Syrian port city of Tartus.

Importantly, Putin’s government was desperate to regain momentum that had been lost in preceding months in Ukraine, where its forces had encountered stronger-than-expected resistance. Putin has shown Russia remains relevant today.

Moscow’s military presence in Syria, meanwhile, has expanded dramatically. Since September, Russia has significantly reinforced its preexisting naval base at Tartus, erected a new airbase in Latakia, and commenced work on at least two other military facilities nearby. It has surged manpower and materiel into the area, and placed naval cruisers from its Black Sea Fleet on “permanent” rotation off the coast of Syria.

Russia’s Syria deployment has also paid clear political dividends. Through it, Putin has been able to divert domestic Russian opinion away from the massive failures of his government (fiscal decline, a dwindling supply of foreign goods, and deepening authoritarianism among them). The intervention has also allowed Russia to at least partially break out of the international isolation caused by its earlier aggression against Ukraine.

Today the West requires Russia’s assistance to ensure the Assad regime’s continued compliance with the terms of any political solution. Russia was an intrinsic part of the putative ceasefire concluded in Geneva in mid-February, and—as a result of its ongoing leverage over Assad—remains essential to its implementation. That, in turn, gives the Kremlin a deciding voice over West Asia regional politics, has positioned Moscow as a key power broker in the Middle East. The March 14 announcement was both abrupt and surprising; coming as it did just six months after Russia’s entry into the Syrian civil war, assures Arab nations its resolve not to overstay, unlike USA or NATO, in Syria or any other regional nation in future.

However, whether or not Arab world thinks that way, USA and EU look at the Russian moves as a serious threat to them. Europe sees the aggressive move by Putin’s belligerent Russia as one of the most pressing threats to European security it is willingly uses armed force and breach the sovereignty of other states in defense of its interests. NATO has decided to face the ‘threat” by beefing up its presence in the Baltic States, to demonstrate that it has a “credible commitment” to defend member states under Article V of the NATO charter.

Countries like India and China are hardly likely to yield to US pressure because they are pro-Russia and somewhat independent players of world politics that have no reason to join the US campaign against the Kremlin. India is annoyed with USA for promoting Pakistan as a counter weight in the region. Only those countries that have economic and political links with Washington will yield, as in the case of Japan and Australia, which have quickly imposed sanctions against Russia. Japan was forced to support sanctions due to its geostrategic and geopolitical positions. Tokyo is struggling to develop its relations with Russia, yet it has to be in solidarity with the USA.

Russia’s Asia pivot

For a long time since the close of the so-called Cold War and Hot Peace, Russian has express its intentions of ignoring the West and turning to the East to warn the West about its intentions to join the Asian nations and harm US interests in Asia, though Washington has not taken that warning seriously. When Obama declared his ‘Asia pivot’ tactics he was only ridiculing Moscow. True, USA always sought to contain both Russia and China with veto handle.

With Russia losing traditional and reliable partners in Europe, it is trying to find new ones in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. President Obama made trips to these areas- latest being in Latin America where capitalist Russia is fast losing its friends. Yet can these “new allies” satisfy Moscow’s trade requirements and replace the partners Russia has lost over its schism with the West?

Even though German society is divided in its assessments of the prospects of Russian-German relations, there are increasing debates over the possibility of a cold war between Germany and Russia. Russia avoids any cold war with Germany that would affect Russian economy.

While losing its partners in Europe, Russia makes no bones about its turn to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America in attempt to persuade the West that it is not isolated and has numerous partners. Putin’s visits to India, Turkey in December, China in May and Latin America in July look like a clear gesture from Russia, demonstrating that it can make do without the West.

Russia has always sought strong relationships with Central Asia, and was engaged in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the BRICS group well before this summer’s difficulties with Europe. “But Russia is now trying to deepen and strengthen ties in Asia and the Middle East more than ever to offset the losses of business with Europe.

Likewise, Russia is attempting to establish closer ties with Iran amidst its schism with the West, as indicated by the conference held in Moscow on Nov. 25 on “Development of Strategic Partnership between Russia and Iran”. Stunning Russian ’progress’ in Syria could prompt Tehran to sign up more military deals with the Kremlin.

China has plenty of capital and plenty of expertise, but needs its capital internally and is also keen to invest in Africa and Iran and elsewhere, and lacks some of the specific expertise (e.g. Arctic oil exploration, tight oil extraction, innovation-based entrepreneurship) that Russia needs most.

Probably these countries may not be interested in full collaboration with a weaker Russia and would instead prefer it over the partnership with West. They “might work” with Russia on trade, but “they are unlikely to ally with Moscow, and they won’t “displace Europe in trade terms. In 2013, EU-Russia trade was more than four times Russia-China trade, and more than 15 times Russia-Turkey trade. Even though Asia and the Middle East do matter for Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow would abandon its deep-seated illusion that there is an opportunity to switch from its Western partners to eastern ones. Russia’s new allies in the Middle East and Asia are not meant to replace, but rather should be an addition to our traditional partners, including those in the zone of the European Union.

No clear evidence of the willingness of “Russia’s supposed ‘new partners’ to engage in preferential relationship with Moscow because of the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West not even India.

Even though Moscow made several attempts to woo the Asian and Middle East countries, there is still a lack of certainty over whether these “new allies” are eager to team up with Moscow and sacrifice their relations with the USA.

In most cases, Russia’s ‘new partners’ pursue their own – mainly economic – agendas, while considerations of standing up to US dictates take the backstage as a motivation for engaging with Russia. In fact, one is doubtful that Russia aims at replacing its EU partners with other ones elsewhere. If there are promising bonds and benefits to Moscow from cooperation with Asia or the Middle East, they had to be expanded irrespective of Russia’s relations with the USA or the EU.

The ‘partner replacement’ logic works in contemporary international relations but in small measures. Such logic can only be applied – albeit with limited effect – to military alliances for joint exercises. In trade or other forms of economic engagement, and even diplomatic coordination, ‘replacing’ one set of failing relationships with another simply makes no sense. There was never any reason why Russia should not have been developing ties with potential partners in the Middle East or the Asia Pacific region before its conflict with the West over Ukraine started. These regions, now controlled by USA, do not really trust Russia being a reliable ally against US monopoly of global affairs and economics.

However, Russia, backed by hue resourced reinforced by sales of arms and energy resources, has nothing to lose.

Nuke deterrence

The vulnerability of our highly civilized and technological world to WMD is considerable. If it is difficult just to protect armed forces in operations against WMD, in particular biological weapons, then to protect the civilian population will pose even greater problems.

On August 6, 1945, towards the end of World War II, the American Little Boy device was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, obviously to test the efficacy of first ever atomic bomb on humans. Exploding with a yield equivalent to 12,500 tonnes of TNT, the blast and thermal wave of the bomb destroyed nearly 50,000 buildings (including the headquarters of the 2nd General Army and Fifth Division) and killed approximately 75,000 people, among them 20,000 Japanese soldiers and 20,000 Koreans. Today president Obama is testing latest unmanned drone weapons – first tested by Israel on Palestinians – on global Muslims, starting in Pakistan.

During the height of WW-II USA had threatened Moscow with an atomic attack but Stalin said was ready to face it. The Soviet Union had a peak stockpile of 45,000 nuclear warheads in 1988, forcing the NATO not to think of any misadventure on Russian soil. It is estimated that from 1949 to 1991 the Soviet Union produced approximately 55,000 nuclear warheads.

According to an audit by the Brookings Institution, between 1940 and 1996, the U.S. spent $8.78 trillion in present-day terms on nuclear weapons programs. 57 percent of which was spent on building nuclear weapons delivery systems. According to the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that assesses nuclear weapon stockpiles, in 2013, Russia possessed an estimated 8,500 total nuclear warheads of which 1,800 were strategically operational. The organization also claims that the U.S. had an estimated total 7,700 nuclear warheads of which 1,950 were strategically operational. According to Mark Schneider of the National Institute of Public Policy Russian strategic nuclear weapons now deployed number near 2500, considerably greater than the nominal treaty limits of 1550 under the New Start treaty.

In 2014, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released a report, stating that there are a total of 2,530 warheads kept in reserve, and 2,120 actively deployed. Of the warheads actively deployed, the number of strategic warheads rests at 1,920 (subtracting 200 bombs that are “deployed”, but are not considered “strategic”). The amount of warheads being actively disabled rests at about 2,700 warheads, which brings the total United States inventory to about 7,400 warheads

Eliminating nuclear weapons has long been an aim of the pacifist left. But now many mainstream politicians, academic analysts, and retired military leaders also advocate nuclear disarmament. Goals include the initiation of United States-Russia bilateral negotiations for reductions to 1,000 total warheads each and commitments from the other key nuclear weapons countries to participate in multilateral negotiations for phased reductions of nuclear arsenals.

As of 2016, there are still more than enough nuclear weapons globally to render the planet uninhabitable. 16,000 nuclear weapons are ‘stored’ at sites in 14 countries and many are ready for immediate use. Modernisation of weapons continues to occur. Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons: 80–110 each active warheads; nuclear weapons: North Korean nuclear weapons: 10 active warheads; Undeclared nuclear rogue weapon states not party to the NPT: Israeli nuclear weapons: 75–200 active warheads.

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-weapon-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. Nuclear disarmament groups include the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Peace Action, Greenpeace, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Mayors for Peace, Global Zero, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Dangers are inherent in the very existence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction have come to occupy center stage in international politics. The term “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) is used to characterize a variety of weapons that share two key features: their potential for large-scale destruction and the indiscriminate nature of their effects, notably against civilians. There are three major types of WMD: nuclear weapons, chemical warfare agents, and biological warfare agents. In addition, some analysts include radiological materials as well as missile technology and delivery systems such as aircraft and ballistic missiles.

Radiological weapons are part of the nuclear risk. These are weapons, procedures, or methods that disseminate radioactive substances; for example, the conventional detonation of a container holding a radioactive substance. The aim of such weapons is to disperse radioactive particles. At multilateral arms control talks, such weapons are regarded as difficult to define, and there is little chance of reaching consensus on this issue. In addition, their military value is unclear.

While the mass killing of human beings is not a new feature of warfare, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose an unprecedented constellation of challenges to peace and security. Over the past century, various states have built and stockpiled lethal arsenals of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the materials to produce them. While states have officially committed to eliminating all stockpiles of chemical weapons and offensive biological weapons and to strive for the elimination of nuclear weapons, nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons – Britain, China, France, India, Israel (assumed), North Korea (claimed), Pakistan, Russia, and the United States – and several states are believed to possess chemical and/or biological warfare agents.

Anti Islamic media of US-UK led nations have spread rumours that the terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda was actively seeking nuclear materials to terrorize the humanity further. The use of WMD increased in the United States and around the world following the use of the biological warfare agent anthrax in the US mail in 2001 in Afghanistan occupied by NATO and one can easily guess who is behind this.

Last month US defense secretary Ashton Carter proposed boosting the initiative’s funding from $789 million to $3.4 billion for FY 2017. Both sides use displays of military prowess to signal their resolve to the other side. In 2007, Russia resumed the Cold War practice of strategic bomber patrols along NATO borders.

Even while targeting each other by the strategic missile postures, Russia and the West apparently also focus on a re-nuclearization of defense planning, driven by worst case scenarios. This is stoked by all the talk of a “second Cold War,” which encourages each side to view the other as implacably hostile, duplicitous and dangerous.

The cost of making the wrong call on the WMD issue is astronomically high. Both sides take steps to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons and reliance on nuclear threats as part of their defense strategies. There must be a follow-on to the 2010 New START agreement and the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which expired in 2012, and resolution of mutual accusations of violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Deterrence by nukes may not work in the long run. Acknowledging an overriding common interest of avoiding nuclear war is not an exercise in appeasement. There were several incidents where humanity came perilously close to the nuclear brink, from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to NATO’s Able Archer exercise in 1983. Russia’s own military doctrine states that if it found itself losing a conventional war, it may use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s security. NATO, too, has a nuclear doctrine that does not preclude first use in a conflict. NATO seems to be underestimating Russia’s willingness to escalate and finds itself in a classic security dilemma, where defensive actions by one side are seen as a threat by the other, triggering an escalating cycle of action and response. Russia feels the NATO involved in a desperate nuke gamble.

USA may isolate Russia in order to make it look irrelevant in international affairs, but it can’t simply ignore the security readiness of the Kremlin to face any eventuality now or in the future.

Observation

The system of international relations is in transition as a new polycentric world order is taking root. World is witnessing the creation of a fundamentally new global model marked by growing competition in all spheres, including social and economic development and moral values. Evidently, Russia is well placed to consolidate its role as one of the centres of the new multipolar system and actively impact the global situation with a view to ameliorating it, strengthening security and stability, putting in place favourable external conditions for the country’s internal development to ensure sustainable economic growth and thus a higher quality of life for Russian citizens.

Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, saying in Lavrov’s words a nation’s greatness is not determined by the size of its territory or the number of its inhabitants, but by the capacity of its people and its government to take on the burden of great world problems and to deal with these problems in a creative manner.

President Puitn has lived up to the expectations of Russians who want a strong presidency to face the challenges of foes.

Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s thoughtful new essay, titled “Russia’s Foreign Policy” explains current foreign policy of Putin’s Russia. Lavrov explained Russian history and its special role in European and global history, an impressive scholarly account, rare for figures in his position, maybe unique in today’s world. Lavrov is no ordinary diplomat, shaming his Western counterparts, serving his country with distinction, a devoted advocate for peace, democratic values and rule of law principles.

Lavrov said that achieving world peace and stability, mutual cooperation among all nations, respect for their sovereignty, and upholding fundamental rule of law principles matter to Moscow most of all.

Putin’s Russia would not change its tone now or in future, though he seeks a multilateral world for the entire world to survive the challenges.

Western sanctions have crippled Russian economy or its tone of rhetoric, and obviously the USA ‘options now are limited in the chess broad. Russians, after its Syrian ‘blast’ are waiting for the next move of the USA.

Policy makers in Washington also know too well how Putin reacts to US unilateral moves. The more opportunities Washington offers to it, the better for Russia to make full use of them depending on the circumstances.

However, Russia won’t be able to remake the Soviet Union or socialist system even if Putin and his active supports at the Kremlin want that. It can only undertake measures to reform crony capitalism so that common Russians have a hope of better life.

Assertive foreign policy may be necessary but that should not promote domestic authoritarianism which is harmful to the nations and world.

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Battle for the Arctic: Friends and foes

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According to Western media, the “struggle for the Arctic” is becoming ever more fierce. Moreover, this confrontation is unfolding much faster than expected.

In its recent publication the Swedish Aftonbladet wrote that since  “climate change” has made the Arctic “more accessible, countries taking advantage of it to produce more fossil fuels.” Der Spiegel cites American experts as saying that “temperatures [in the Arctic region] are rising twice as fast compared to average statistics”, while permafrost melting in some regions began “70 years earlier” than predicted. Meanwhile, the US Geological Service estimates the Arctic energy reserves at more than 400 billion barrels of the oil equivalent. The Arctic is home to at least 10% of the world’s yet-to-be-discovered oil reserves, “and as much as 25% of gas,” Aftonbladet reports. In addition, in the medium and long-term perspective, the melting of polar ice makes routes through the Northwest Passage and the Russian Northern Sea Route (NSR) more attractive for commercial navigation, as these routes are , in some cases, are 1.5 – 2 times shorter than the currently used ones. As the number of mineral exploration and development projects grows, along with prospects for increasing shipping volumes, there is a need to strengthen security in the region. Therefore, many observers predict a further “militarization of the Arctic”. “The Arctic is a region whose significance is changing the geoeconomic and geopolitical situation in the whole world,”  -Bloomberg reports.

The current strategic situation in the region is determined by three main trends. The “return” of Russia, the “re-evaluation” of strategy by the United States and the growing interest in China. In the opinion of some Western commentators, the natural from the geographic point of view dependence of the Arctic region on Russia is a geopolitical problem for Europe, Canada and the United States. Nearly half of the coast and the coastal zone of the Arctic belong to the territory of the Russian Federation and its special economic zone, which yields the country up to 15 percent of GDP. In March 2018, Vladimir Putin described the NSR as “key to the development of the Russian Arctic and the regions of the Far East.” Given that the Russian leadership is fully aware of  the challenges associated with such an agenda, Russia’s Decree of May 2018 sets realistic goals: to increase the cargo flow through the NSR by 2024 to 80 million tons. At present, traffic through the Northern Sea Route is considerably less intensive than that through the Suez Canal.

What western commentators are particularly worried about is (quite natural and geographically justified) Russia’s efforts to strengthen its northern borders. Restoration of military infrastructure in the region is being presented as a “return to the Cold War practices.” Moreover, there are open warnings that can be interpreted as threats. The June report of Chatham House says that  “Russia should not assume that it can continue to freely develop the Arctic …. At present, Russia is determining the future of military activity in the Arctic. However, it’s time for the West and NATO to secure parity of potential in this region.” “We should not allow Moscow to continue to consider its military activity on the vast expanses of the region decisive”.

In May, the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that Russia “was already far ahead” of other countries not only in the military, but also in the economic development of the Arctic. Nevertheless, the West believes that the current sanctions that restrict Russian access to oil exploration and production technologies in the severe conditions of the North force Russia to partially change its priorities and focus on developing LNG projects and transport corridors instead. And Russia has been successful at that, they say: the Russian icebreaking fleet is the world’s most numerous and most powerful. Three new ships have already been put into operation, “capable of breaking ice up to three meters thick.” Such icebreakers will allow Russia to redirect part of the world’s transport routes to the NSR in the foreseeable future. And by using ice-class LNG tankers, which are currently under construction, Russia gets the opportunity to “deliver gas to customers around the world”, without being dependent on the existing pipeline systems, Stern writes.

The United States is also showing interest in the economic opportunities which spring up as the polar ice melts. The incumbent administration has reversed Obama’s decision, banning the drilling of test wells off the coast of Alaska.  Donald Trump “pays a lot of attention to the Arctic in words but take little action to this effect,” Bloomberg says, describing the Bering Strait as “a potential Persian Gulf of the future.” Meanwhile, the US practical potential in the Arctic is still limited: it has 1-2 icebreakers, while Russia has 14. So far, there is no program for the development of the region: recently, Trump gave up on his initial plans to build new icebreakers. 

In the meantime, many American experts believe that security remains Washington’s top priority in the Arctic. The Arctic joins together North America, Asia and Europe. Through this region, military experts fear, lies the shortest route for potential missile and air strikes against America from the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, Washington plans to strengthen missile defense and aviation forces. And this is not a new strategy. Back in January 2007, the United States adopted Directive No. 66 on National Security, which declared the presence of “broad and fundamental” interests in the Arctic region. It signals readiness “to act either independently or jointly with other states in order to protect these interests.” In 2012, the US Secretary of State described her country as “a leading state in the high latitudes of the planet,” and Norway, a NATO ally, as “the capital of the Arctic”. Last October, Norway hosted the largest NATO military exercises since the end of the Cold War, called Trident Juncture, with the participation of up to 40 thousand servicemen from all countries of the alliance, as well as military personnel from two northern countries that are not members of NATO – Sweden and Finland. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, recently described the Arctic as an “arena of rivalry between world powers.” Pompeo did not forget to blame Russia for planning to “use force”, and China – for demonstrating a “model of aggressive behavior.” All this dispels any doubts that for NATO, the Arctic is becoming a strategic scene of military activity.

In addition to the United States, NATO maintains its presence in the Arctic region through its two other members, Canada and Norway. The latter owns the strategically important Svalbard archipelago. At the same time, there is mutual understanding among countries that are members of the Arctic Council regarding the importance of resolving security issues “solely between them.” Nevertheless, “Russia in Global Politics” remarks, the presence of an extensive and well-developed legal framework for regulating the Arctic does not prevent “an increasing number of countries” from trying to provide cooperation in the region with a wide “international dimension”.

In particular, the European Union has not been giving up on attempts to obtain the status of observer with the Arctic Council. While doing so, the EU has consistently cast doubt on the legal status of the NSR as a Russian national transport artery. The EU is also advocating an exceptional priority of norms of international law in the Arctic, primarily the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, while “deliberately forgetting” about the country level of regulation. In contrast to Russia, the EU is pursuing ambitious plans for the development of a transport hub in Kirkenes, which is seen as an alternative to the ports of the Russian NSR. In 2018, the Norwegian city became the terminating point of a railway route from Europe to the Arctic. According to the Arctic Corridor Project, the route is to be built from the northern coast of Norway to the planned tunnel under the Gulf of Finland to Estonia, and then across Europe to Berlin. By connecting the Arctic Corridor with a transit route through the NSR, the EU hopes to transform Kirkenes into a major logistics hub for Chinese goods which are planned to be transported to Europe as part of the Polar Silk Road Project. But critics of this project rightfully fear that if the EU becomes an observer of the Arctic Council, it could provoke similar claims on the part of NATO.

China declared its interests in the Arctic in 2013, when it joined the Arctic Council as an observer. Such a move sent the West into  bewilderment. According to the Pentagon, Beijing artificially “appropriated” the status of an “Arctic state”. However, China has already opened research stations in Iceland and Svalbard with a view to explore the Arctic. In January 2018, Beijing unveiled the White Paper titled China’s Arctic Policy. An analysis of the text gives grounds to consider Beijing’s approach a multi-faceted one. On the one hand, the document contains passages that suggest China’s readiness to recognize the legal priority of the Arctic countries, their national level of regulation in the Arctic. However, some passages echo the point of view of the United States.

At present, China is promoting the above mentioned  concept of the “Polar Silk Road”, which aims to provide it with natural resources and alternative shipping routes for export purposes. According to estimates by the Chinese Institute for Polar Research, Arctic routes will account for 5 to 15 percent of China’s foreign trade by 2020. Western experts are keeping a close eye on the progressive development of cooperation between China and Russia. Investors from China own shares in a number of large-scale  industrial and infrastructure projects implemented by Russia beyond the Arctic Circle. One of such projects is Yamal-LNG, the gas reserves of which are estimated in the West higher than at “all US gasfields.”  According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “China’s ambitions in the region do not seem to disturb Moscow yet.” Moreover, Russia is counting on Chinese investment in the NSR.

The main “battles” around the status of the Arctic are unravelling in the legal sphere. The debate is centered on two issues: the external borders of the continental shelf and its delimitation in the central part of the Arctic Ocean, and freedom of navigation. The legal position of the Russian Federation, backed by geography, gives a “broad” definition of the boundaries of the NSR, explaining that this route follows more than one way and is not fixed. Russia’s main foes on this issue are the United States and the EU. They do not recognize the priority rights of the Arctic states, primarily Russia and Canada, to regulate shipping in Arctic waters. Moscow’s decisions to introduce a permit procedure for the passage of foreign ships and, in particular, warships, as well as a mandatory use of Russian icebreaking and piloted convoys, are considered as a loose interpretation of Art. 234 of the 1982 Convention.

In general, despite the fact that Russia and the United States have potentially common interests related to the desire of the polar countries to avoid “internationalization” of regional regulation issues, the Arctic is becoming another point of discord in a series of geopolitical differences around the globe. In May this year, the Arctic Council “for the first time in its history” failed to agree on a declaration on the results of its meeting. According to one report, the US opposed the clause on “the need to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement”. According to other reports, this was because the US accused China of promoting its economic and military interests in the region in an “inappropriate way”.

Moscow is fully aware of the gains from the development of the Arctic at a qualitatively new level. The Russian leadership is also aware of the fact that this will require multibillion investments over many years. Not to mention efforts that will be required for the protection of national interests in one of the least developed regions of the planet. Russia’s consistent position on this issue will undoubtedly yield economic fruit over time, but this fruit will have to be fought for.

From our partner International Affairs

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Towards the First All-African Conference in Sochi

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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As Russia prepares to strengthen its overall corporate economic profile during the African leaders’ summit, policy experts are questioning bilateral agreements that were signed, many of them largely remained unimplemented, at least, for the past decade with various African countries.

Experts, such as Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, Institute for African Studies in Moscow, have argued that Russia needs to be more strategic in aligning its interests, and be more proactive with instruments and mechanisms in promoting economic cooperation in order to reap the benefits of a fully-fledged partnership.

“The most significant positive sign is that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, and authorities are seriously showing readiness to compete with other foreign players. But, Russia needs to find a strategy that really reflects the practical interests of Russian business and African development needs,” said Arkhangelskaya, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics.

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

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

In his opinion, Professor Shubin, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, reiterated: “Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments of Russian culture, the economy, science and technology in order to form a positive perception of Russia abroad and a friendly attitude towards it as stated by the new Concept of the Foreign Policy.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Research Director at the Valdai International Discussion Club and Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertize on Russian foreign policy and global developments – has acknowledged that Chinese strategy in Africa is about to get access to resources, vitally important for Chinese development. To achieve this, Beijing use all leverage, including soft power, technical and economic assistance, political support to leaders of African countries (be it Zimbabwe’s Mugabe or Sudan’s Bashir).

“Russia has not similar need to gain African resources, so there is no motivation to develop such a comprehensive approach. We can identify many aspects of Chinese experience which would be useful to learn, but looking realistically I don’t think Russia will ever do it,” Lukyanov wrote in an emailed interview.

The media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well, he suggested and added that “soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”

London based Business Consultant and Director, Irina Awote, explained in an emailed interview that increasingly, the African continent is witnessing a surge in the number of infrastructure and investment deals requiring a combination of both internal and external financing, increased capital for expansion. And indeed, she says Russia has to demonstrate its preparedness for all these.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia primarily focused on building and strengthening its internal economy, she explained.  Awote, however, added “today, the Russian economy and Russian industries have come a long way since the Soviet collapse – the Russian economy is a lot stronger than in the first two decades following the Soviet collapse, at the same time many Russian enterprises have since evolved and developed, many through partnerships with international organizations.”

As such, there has been, for a long time, interest from Russia to revive its old economic ties with Africa. Russia and Russian enterprises are in a much stronger position to capitalize on this opportunity than a few decades ago. At the same time, not ignoring the fact that the continued economic sanctions imposed by the West, has made Russia reinforce its strategic partnerships with other regions, and especially Africa where they have had good historical ties from the Soviet era, according Irina Awote.

Late July, Bogdanov held talks with the President of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and further discussed about military-technical cooperation while meeting with the Minister of National Defense and Veteran Affairs, Moumina Sheriff Sy, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Burkina Faso, Alpha Barry, and Vice-President of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso, K. Traore.

Reports indicated that Moscow and Ouagadougou had agreed to further develop the entire range of relations including deepening the political dialogue, expanding trade and economic cooperation, promoting promising mutually beneficial projects, strengthening partnerships in the areas of developing mineral resources, energy, transport and agriculture.

Working with Sierra Leone has been on the table for years. Quite recently, Bogdanov and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Sierra Leone Solomon Jamiru also held diplomatic talks, rounded up the discussion on fishing ventures, military-technical cooperation and the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit.

On Aug 1, while attending the official inauguration of the new leader in Mauritania, Bogdanov used the opportunity to discuss about current relations with President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. The President of Mauritania elected on June 22, 2019. Both agreed on possible ways for strengthening aspects the existing relations. An official report says the common interest of Moscow and Nouakchott is giving additional dynamics to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields, primarily in the field of marine fishing and the development of natural resources, as well as the personnel training in Russia.

Over the past two to three months, Bogdanov has met with nearly all African ambassadors accredited in the Russian Federation. The key issue here is to explore opportunities for expected stronger collaboration and dialogue them on African leaders’ and business people’s participation in the upcoming Sochi Summit.

According to the official information posted to the ministry’s website, Minister Bogdanov during these high-level meetings described 2019 as a momentous year for Russian-African relations, and the culmination of all activities would see the first full-format Summit and Economic Forum, on the sidelines of which a number of new bilateral and multilateral agreements are expected to be signed.

About 35 leaders of African countries have officially confirmed their participation in the Russia-Africa Summit, according to Bogdanov. “Almost all of them want to come. About 35 leaders have officially confirmed their participation. I believe at least 40 leaders will come. We do feel our partners’ commitment and their keen interest.”

Since his appointment in 2004, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has distinctively done a lot for Africa. Speaking in an exclusive interview as far back on October 21, 2011, (simultaneously with the Voice of Russia, the Echo of Moscow and the Radio of Russia) Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov informed listeners that “the main thing is to develop mutual economic ties, something that is yet to be implemented as far as our relations with African nations are concerned.”

Now, the situation is gradually changing. The Russia-Africa summit will be the first in a series of activities under the aegis and direction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian Ministry of Energy, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, as well as legislative bodies and public organizations. During the past decades, a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have held such gatherings in that format.

This first Russia-Africa summit is expected to enhance mutual multifaceted ties, reshape diplomatic relationships and significantly rollout ways to increase effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa. The idea to hold a Russia-Africa forum first initiated by President Vladimir Putin at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg in July 2018.

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Neo-Kennan Paranoia and the Hope for Russia’s Downfall

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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For more than two decades I have written about missed opportunities and egregious missteps on the part of America (sometimes accidental, sometimes seemingly deliberate) when it comes to establishing a new relationship dynamic with Russia that could be positive strategic if not necessarily truly friendly. For about that same amount of time I have traveled all across my native country of America, openly inviting and challenging any and all comers to respectfully but critically debate the issues and ideas that hinder this new relationship from emerging. For the most part, those entreaties and invitations have been ignored, refused, or openly derided. Now, admittedly, I would love to think this apparent reluctance to intellectually engage on stage before an interested public was motivated by dread fear of my incredible talent, intelligence, and debating skills. But alas, in all likelihood, the real reason for this lack of engagement is based on the simple fact that too many of the powerful institutions, agencies, and bodies in America are purposely set to maintain a negative relationship with Russia and see that it will not be allowed to move beyond tired standards set back during the worst of the Cold War-era. But, as they say, no worthy fight should ever be abandoned. As such, this article is yet one more attempt on my part to bring light to this purposeful paranoia and expose for it for the fake and flawed intellectualism that it is.

The focus of today’s effort is on a recently published piece in Politico.com by an international security professor working at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Now, for those that do not know the NDU, it is a magnificent and important institution, technically closed to the general public, as it trains and educates those already in the employ of the American Intelligence Community and those deeply engaged within the national security industry writ large. It is a place of deep thought, serious reflection, and total devotion to the security and well-being of the United States. This is why my focus on the recent article, “The Best Way to Deal with Russia: Wait for It to Implode,” is of such importance. If institutions as noted, respected, accomplished, and important as NDU can produce ideas so off-the-mark, then there needs to be some effort from somewhere to challenge those ideas. Otherwise, the national attitude on Russia has no chance but to remain stale and ignorant.

The first point to remark on is the telegraphing of intent in the article. The author, whom I have nothing but respect for in terms of his service and commitment to American security, culled the present article from a forthcoming book which he commands as a ‘neo-Kennanite’ approach to Russia. For those who may not know or have forgotten the importance of George Kennan’s genius, he really can be cited as the inspiration, the godfather, behind American Cold War ideology. Mind, this is not written as a refutation or rejection. Kennan’s words and philosophy (born from the post-WWII 1940s-50s) were indeed needed and necessary in the global circumstance at the time. What matters here, however, is the idea of someone trying to formulate a ‘neo-Kennan’ approach in 2019 which, if it stays logically consistent, is ideologically committed to justifying and maintaining a thought process at any cost which isolates Russia as a rival and enemy, just as Kennan did with the Soviet Union nearly 70 years earlier.

The problem, of course, for those who wish to work on new platforms and create new relationship foundations for Russia and America, is that there is nothing new about ‘neo-Kennanism.’ It is, de facto, a testimony to and application of Cold War thinking to modern Russia. It is a reduction of modern Russia so as to see it as nothing but a mimic of the old Soviet Union eternally. Indeed, it is a predetermined engineering of the narrative so that Russia has no other course, is able to achieve no other path, in its relations with America. As such, it is not a reflection of modern reality at all but a fantastical framing so as to make sure modernity does nothing but mirror the past. This tired approach must be discarded as much for its reckless dangerousness as for its lethargic inaccuracy.

In the very first paragraph of the article, the author decries what a giant threat Russia represents for its targeted interference in the 2016 American Presidential election and its alleged desire to continue such interference as America heads into 2020. While there is no doubt such attempts are indeed illegal under American law, the author does not mention the fact that every piece of evidence to date indicates Russian attempts to actually alter or interfere with real election technology proved unsuccessful. As a result, the real concentrated effort on the part of Russia was an expansive social media disinformation campaign, largely contained within Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Breakdowns of that disinformation campaign reveal almost laughably biased attempts to sway the minds of the American public, both left and right. If one argues that campaign was successful, then isn’t at least some, if not most, of the blame firmly resting in the gullible and intellectually lazy minds of American citizens, who did not bother to vet, check, or investigate the things they came across on social media?

Perhaps more bothersome, the author quotes an intelligence professional who admits that the American Intelligence Community is now, in response, doing far more than it has ever done before to Russian civil society, including stepped-up attacks on Russia’s power grid. The problem with this, obviously, is that the author is calling Russian social media attacks as grounds for maintaining Russia as a ‘deadly’ threat but openly ignores America’s own response, which, given it is an attempted incursion on critical Russian national infrastructure, is arguably far more threatening and far more dangerous. Finally, in this infantile tit-for-tat environment, why is anyone in America even feigning shock that the Russians would continue its own campaigns? The current dilemma between the two countries is far less Cold War and far more children on the school ground. The failure to openly and self-critically assess these kinds of positions (and whether they truly mark dangerous threats) makes American national strategy on Russia not only flawed: it drives it into dead-end corners of its own making.

The author also makes somewhat grandiose but utterly off-base assessments of the state of current Russian power, claiming it is far less stable today than the end of the Romanov dynasty and highlights supposed ethnic republican strife that could challenge the very territorial integrity of the Russian Federation as a whole. Again, with no disrespect to the author, these arguments are simply…WRONG. It is either a misreading of history (ie, not understanding just how flagrantly unstable and chaotic the end of the Romanov dynasty was) or an emotionally inaccurate and hyperbolic characterization of present-day Russia (ie, not realizing just how little ethnic unity there is between the so-called Finno-Ugric nationalities largely existing throughout Southern Russia). The citing of some relatively localized and entirely powerless youth/citizen groups in Bashkortastan and Tatarstan, respectively, is hardly evidence to make an argument as wild as millions of citizens are simply waiting for Putin to no longer be President so as to seek out their own state independence. This is simply false. As someone who has done research on the ground in both Ufa and Kazan, the capital cities of said republics, these leaps of illogic are more a reflection of American wishful thinking for the disintegration of Russia than real scholarly research built on painstakingly collected empirical data. This also hints at another egregious misconception often professed by American Russian experts: that the current Russian state is nothing but a megalomaniacal dictatorship revolving entirely around the whims of Putin’s personality. Again, this is completely inaccurate: a hyper-presidential system not entirely enamored with the American system of democracy, which Russia definitely is, is not a synonym for what Stalin created. It simply isn’t. Writing articles where you pretend that it is doesn’t make it so.

This position is only more erroneously pounded upon with statements that are both flat wrong and perhaps purposely taken out of context. Vyacheslav Volodin is incorrectly named as Putin’s Chief of Staff, a position he departed from in 2016 in order to run successfully for the Duma, where he now sits as its Speaker. In addition, Volodin’s 2014 quote of ‘there is no Russia without Putin’ was purposely misappropriated in the article. It was used as evidence for how dictatorial Russia had become. In reality, that quote came as Volodin was head of Putin’s presidential re-election campaign and was said as a reference to how none of Russia’s current success and progress could have been achieved without the efforts of Putin’s previous terms as President. It was literally standard campaign-PR bravado that we see already nearly every day in America as it gears up for 2020. Reframing it to push as false evidence of a modern-day Stalinist Russia is extremely flagrant. Worthy of a Russian disinformation campaign, in fact.

Finally, the author states that the fact that modern Russia no longer has a strong unifying ideology like it did back in the Soviet Union Communist hey-day means it is primed for divisional strife and ultimate disintegration. Most of what I have written above already proves how that is yet another example of hyperbolic political posturing/propagandizing. But I would also be remiss to not point out how the very argument itself is in contradiction with the other ‘pieces of evidence’ used in the article to justify keeping Russia the dread enemy of America. Russia has either remade itself into a modern-day equivalent of Stalinist Soviet dictatorship OR it is a mere shadow pathetic shell of itself barely keeping all of its disgruntled peoples under one bann er, desperately afraid of splitting into a dozen little pieces. It cannot be both at the same time. This article, without realizing it, argues that very thing.

So, for the so-called neo-Kennanites, I have bad news: Russia is not ready to disintegrate and even Putin’s exit from the political stage will not trigger a massive ethnic upheaval. Unfortunately, for the so-called neo-Kennanites, I have even worse news: the only group that likely needs to disintegrate, not only because it mishandles contemporary Russian analysis but pushes a political agenda that actually weakens, not strengthens, American national security, is the neo-Kennanite group itself.

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