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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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Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia

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Through all the discussions that accompanied the preparation of the Valdai Club report “Space Without Borders: Russia and Its Neighbours”, the most clear question was whether Russia should or should not avoid repeating the historical experience of relations with its near abroad. This experience, in the most general terms, is that after Russia pacifies its western border with its foreign policy, the Russian state inevitably must turn to issues related to the existence of its immediate neighbourhood. With a high degree of probability, it will be forced to turn to its centuries-old method for solving problems that arise there: expansion for the sake of ensuring security.

Now Russia’s near abroad consists of a community of independent states that cannot ensure their own security and survival by relying only on their own forces; we cannot be completely sure of their stability. From Estonia in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east, the existence of these countries in a competitive international environment is ensured by their link with one of the nuclear superpowers. Moreover, such connections can only complement each other with great difficulty. As the recent developments in Kazakhstan have demonstrated, they are not limited to the threat of an external invasion; even internal circumstances can become deadly.

The dramatic events in that country were intensified by external interference from the geostrategic opponents of Russia, as well as international terrorists, but it would be disingenuous to argue that their most important causes are not exclusively internal and man-made. We cannot and should not judge whether the internal arrangements of our neighbours are good or bad, since we ourselves do not have ideal recipes or examples. However, when dealing with the consequences, it is rational to fear that their statehood will either be unable to survive, or that their existence will take place in forms that create dangers which Russia cannot ignore.

In turn, the events experienced now in relations between Russia and the West, if we resort to historical analogies, look like a redux of the Northern War. The Great Northern War arose at the beginning of the 18th century as the result of the restoration of Russia’s power capabilities; the West had made great progress in approaching the heart of its territory. Within the framework of this logic, victory, even tactical victory, in the most important (Western) direction will inevitably force Russia to turn to its borders. Moreover, the reasons for paying more attention to them are obvious. This will present Russia with the need to decide on how much it is willing to participate in the development of its neighbours.

The developments in Kazakhstan in early January 2022 showed the objective limits of the possibilities of building a European-style sovereign state amid new, historical, and completely different geopolitical circumstances. More or less all the countries of the space that surrounds Russia, from the Baltic to the Pamir, are unique experiments that arose amid the truly phenomenal orderliness of conditions after the end of the Cold War. In that historical era, the world really developed under conditions where a general confidence prevailed that the absolute dominance of one power and a group of its allies creates conditions for the survival of small and medium-sized states, even in the absence of objective reasons for this.

The idea of the “end of history” was so convincing that we could accept it as a structural factor, so powerful that it would allow us to overcome even the most severe objective circumstances.

The Cold War era created the experience of the emergence and development of new countries, which until quite recently had been European colonies. Despite the fact that there are a few “success stories” among the countries that emerged after 1945, few have been able to get out of the catch-up development paradigm. However, it was precisely 30 years ago that there really was a possibility that a unipolar world would be so stable that it would allow the experiment to come to fruition. The visible recipes of the new states being built were ideal from an abstract point of view, just as Victor Frankenstein was guided by a desire for the ideal.

Let us recall that the main idea of our report was that Russia needs to preserve the independence of the states surrounding it and direct all its efforts to ensure that they become effective powers, eager to survive. This desire for survival is seen as the main condition for rational behaviour, i.e. creating a foreign policy, which takes into account the geopolitical conditions and the power composition of Eurasia. In other words, we believe that Russia is interested in the experiment that emerged within the framework of the Liberal World Order taking place under new conditions, since its own development goals dictate that it avoid repeating its past experience of full control over its neighbours, with which it shares a single geopolitical space.

This idea, let’s not hide it, prompted quite convincing criticism, based on the belief that the modern world does not create conditions for the emergence of states where such an experience is absent in more or less convincing forms. For Russia, the challenge is that even if it is technically capable of ensuring the immediate security of its national territory, the spread of the “grey zone” around its borders will inevitably bring problems that the neighbours themselves are not able to solve.

The striking analogy proposed by one colleague was the “hallway of hell” that Russia may soon face on its southern borders, making us raise the question that the absence of topographic boundaries within this space makes it necessary to create artificial political or even civilisational lines, the protection of which in any case will be entrusted to the Russian soldier. This January we had the opportunity to look into this “hallway of hell”. There is no certainty that the instant collapse of a state close to Russia in the darkest periods of its political history should be viewed as a failure in development, rather than a systemic breakdown of the entire trajectory, inevitable because it took shape amid completely different conditions.

Therefore, now Russia should not try to understand what its further strategy might be; in any case, particular behaviour will be determined by circumstances. Our task is to explore the surrounding space in order to understand where Russia can stop if it does not want to resort to the historical paradigm of its behaviour. The developments in Kazakhstan, in their modern form, do not create any grounds for optimism or hopes for a return to an inertial path of development. Other states may follow Ukraine and Kazakhstan even if they now look quite confident. There are no guarantees — and it would be too great a luxury for Russia to accept such a fate.

This is primarily because the Russian state will inevitably face a choice between being ready for several decades of interaction with a huge “grey zone” along the perimeter of its borders and more energetic efforts to prevent its emergence. It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. This is not a hypothetical invasion of third forces — that does not pose any significant threat to Russia. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991. Even now, there seems to be a reason to believe that thirty years of independence have made it possible to create elements of statehood that can be preserved and developed with the help of Russia.

from our partner RIAC

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Russia

Do as You’re Told, Russia Tells the Neighborhood

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The Kremlin has always argued that it has special interests and ties to what once constituted the Soviet space. Yet it struggled to produce a smooth mechanism for dealing with the neighborhood, where revolutionary movements toppled Soviet and post-Soviet era political elites. Popular movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and most recently Kazakhstan have flowered and sometimes triumphed despite the Kremlin’s rage.

Russia’s responses have differed in each case, although it has tended to foster separatism in neighboring states to preclude their westward aspirations. As a policy, this was extreme and rarely generated support for its actions, even from allies and partners. The resultant tensions underlined the lack of legitimacy and generated acute fear even in friendlier states that Russia one day could turn against them.

But with the activation of the hitherto largely moribund six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kazakhstan seems to be an entirely different matter. Here, for the first time since its Warsaw Pact invasions, Russia employed an element of multilateralism. This was designed to show that the intervention was an allied effort, though it was Russia that pulled the strings and contributed most of the military force.

CSTO activation is also about something else. It blurred the boundaries between Russia’s security and the security of neighboring states. President Vladimir Putin recently stated the situation in Kazakhstan concerned “us all,” thereby ditching the much-cherished “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring states. The decision was also warmly welcomed by China, another Westphalia enthusiast.

In many ways, Russia always wanted to imitate the US, which in its unipolar moment used military power to topple regimes (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and to restore sovereignty (in Kuwait.) Liberal internationalism with an emphasis on human rights allowed America and its allies to operate with a certain level of legitimacy and to assert (a not always accepted) moral imperative. Russia had no broader ideas to cite. Until now. Upholding security and supporting conservative regimes has now become an official foreign policy tool. Protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan helped the Kremlin streamline this vision.

Since Russia considers its neighbors unstable (something it often helps to bring about), the need for intervention when security is threatened will now serve as a new dogma, though this does not necessarily mean that CSTO will now exclusively serve as the spearhead of Russian interventionist policy in crises along its borders. On the contrary, Russia will try to retain maneuverability and versatility. The CSTO option will be one weapon in the Kremlin’s neighborhood pacification armory.

Another critical element is the notion of “limited sovereignty,” whereby Russia allows its neighbors to exercise only limited freedom in foreign policy. This is a logical corollary, since maneuverability in their relations with other countries might lead to what the Kremlin considers incorrect choices, like joining Western military or economic groupings.

More importantly, the events in Kazakhstan also showed that Russia is now officially intent on upholding the conservative-authoritarian regimes. This fits into a broader phenomenon of authoritarians helping other authoritarians. Russia is essentially exporting its own model abroad. The export includes essential military and economic help to shore up faltering regimes.

The result is a virtuous circle, in the Kremlin’s eyes. Not only can it crush less than friendly governments in its borderlands but it also wins extensive influence, including strategic and economic benefits. Take for instance Belarus, where with Russian help, the dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka managed to maintain his position after 2020’s elections through brutality and vote-rigging. The end result is that the regime is ever-more beholden to Russia, abandoning remnants of its multi-vector foreign policy and being forced to make financial and economic concessions of defense and economics to its new master. Russia is pressing hard for a major new airbase.

A similar scenario is now opening up in Kazakhstan. The country which famously managed to strike a balance between Russia and China and even work with the US, while luring multiple foreign investors, will now have to accept a new relationship with Russia. It will be similar to Belarus, short of integration talks.

Russia fears crises, but it has also learned to exploit them. Its new approach is a very striking evolution from the manner in which it handled Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, through the Belarus and Armenia-Azerbaijan crises in 2020 to the Kazakh uprising of 2022.

Russia has a new vision for its neighborhood. It is in essence a concept of hierarchical order with Russia at the top of the pyramid. The neighbors have to abide by the rules. Failure to do so would produce a concerted military response.

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Russia’s Potential Invasion of Ukraine: Bringing In Past Evidence

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Since mid-November 2021, the U.S. intelligence community and media have been warning of a Russian military buildup along the country’s western border. As the military activities are widely interpreted as a sign of Russia’s upcoming invasion of Ukraine, NATO needs to carefully analyze Russia’s motivations and previous behaviors, as well as hammer out policy options in case the existing fears prove to be correct.

Although Russia’s record of deception and recent statements about red lines make current tensions particularly worrisome, there is no hard evidence that an invasion is indeed being planned. The present situation is one of ambiguity (which is probably deliberate), and the West should treat it as such. Washington and its allies should be prepared for the worst without assuming that the negative scenario will inevitably come true. In particular, NATO should consider continuing its policy of tailored deterrence while refraining from steps that can lead to escalation themselves.

What Makes the Invasion Possible

Putin’s modern Ukraine policy originates from two basic assumptions about Russia’s relations with the West after the end of the Cold War. The first assumption is based on the broken promise narrative. According to Mary Sarotte, the Soviet Union did expect that NATO would not move eastward, whereas German Foreign Minister Genscher did promise that NATO “would not expand itself to the East.” The assurances have never been codified. However, NATO’s close military cooperation with Ukraine is viewed by Russia as violating the spirit of the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany of 1990. The historical fear of an attack from the West makes this perception even more vivid. The second assumption is that protests, revolutions, and major political shifts in the post-Soviet space can usually be attributed to Western malicious intentions. The 2014 pro-European revolution in Ukraine is therefore referred to by Moscow as a coup d’état. As unpleasant as they are, the two preconceived notions have a substantial impact on Russian foreign policy, leading the Kremlin to take radical military and diplomatic steps.

Further, Russia’s previous behaviors indicate that Moscow can actually use force against its neighbors, which means that military scenarios should be given serious consideration. It is known that Russia used military force to take control of Crimea in 2014, as President Putin admitted Russia’s involvement and disclosed secrets of the “takeover plot” quite a while ago. It is also known that Russia occupied large swaths of Georgia in 2008, even though Russia’s sovereignty was not directly threatened by skirmishes in South Ossetia. It is presumed, yet denied by Russia, that Moscow has been directly engaged in the Donbas War, which began in mid-2014.

More importantly, Russia has a record of denying its role in crises where Russia’s involvement was suspected by others from the outset. It is only in April 2014 that Putin admitted responsibility for the takeover of Crimea that had taken place between late February and early March. A more recent example of deception is Russia’s anti-satellite test in November 2021. Initially, the Vice-Chair of the Defense Committee in Russia’s Parliament said that “[t]here is no limit to the fantasies of the State Department. Russia is not engaged in the militarization of space.” Foreign Minister Lavrov speculated that “there is no evidence.” Later that day, Russia’s Defense Ministry admitted that the test had been conducted. There are even more cases of Moscow’s presumed malicious activities where Russia has never admitted its role. Those include the Donbas War, the downing of MH17 in July 2014, and the poisoning of Skripal and Navalny.

Given this record, Russia’s assurances that no invasion is being planned cannot be taken at face value. Moreover, Russian officials have made a number of worrisome statements recently. Since late November, President Putin has been calling for “security guarantees” from the West to prevent further NATO enlargement. On November 22, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service released a statement on the tensions over Ukraine, saying that “[w]e observed a similar situation in Georgia on the eve of the events of 2008.”

Rationality, Restraint, and History Lessons

Yet, it may seem that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would be contrary to Russia’s interests, which is in fact true. A fait accompli along the lines of the 2014 takeover of Crimea is no longer possible, as Ukraine’s Army has been forged in the combats of Donbas. The covert war scenario for an entire country does not seem feasible either. Not only would an invasion result in numerous casualties for both sides, but it would also constitute a drain on Russia’s budget for years to come. A brutal war against Ukraine would literally destroy Moscow’s “fraternal peoples” narrative underlying much of Russian foreign policy.

The irrationality of attacking Ukraine is not the only reason why risks for NATO in the current situation may be exaggerated. Although Russia has used military force in a few notable cases, there have been even more examples of Russia’s restraint. In 2018, Russia refrained from attempting to keep in power Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan in a revolution that was framed by many as inherently pro-Western. Russia did not take sides in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, even though Azerbaijan was explicitly supported by NATO member Turkey. Russia was sticking to a “wait and see” approach during much of the attempted revolution in Belarus in 2020. Finally, Russia has tolerated coups and revolutions in Central Asia, including most recently the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2020. In other words, understanding what Russia could have done but chose not to do is no less important than the awareness of what has indeed occurred. Russia is not inherently expansionist, and the domino logic does not apply.

However, this in no way means that an invasion of Ukraine is impossible. Irrational, previously unknown, and even “impossible” events tend to occur from time to time, as the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated 80 years ago. Even crazier twists and turns have probably been averted thanks to diplomacy and deterrence. This is why contingency planning is an integral part of any foreign and defense policy. NATO’s goal is to preempt, prevent, and be prepared for an invasion rather than predict whether it will happen or not.

Way Forward

While a full-scale invasion of Ukraine has not been launched, Western policy can rely on traditional deterrence instruments tailored to the crisis in question. In doing so, the United States and its allies should not act as though an invasion were inevitable, which it is not. NATO’s response to the current tensions should be very limited and focused, yet commensurate with the Western interest in countering Russian adventurism and short of upending the status quo for no apparent reason. First, the U.S. and its allies may continue providing military aid to Ukraine and even increase it, which is in line with previous policies. That said, troop deployments in Ukraine and enhanced military presence in the Black Sea would not be helpful, as such measures could alienate Russia without providing any benefits to the West. Second, NATO should dissuade Ukraine from attacking first, as Georgia did in 2008. Russia should be put in a position where any attack it might undertake would be unprovoked and very explicit. However, NATO should find it in its interest to refrain from providing any specific guarantees to Ukraine. The nature of Ukraine-Russia tensions makes provocations on both sides highly likely; assurances and alliances would only heighten risks, boosting Ukraine’s and Russia’s self-confidence.

A full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine is possible. Still, it is neither inevitable nor likely. When everyone takes war for granted, the question arises whether the United States still has a foreign policy capable of fostering a positive environment for the prosperity of the American people.

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