For the United States and the now brainless Europe, initially the Russia-EU Summit in Sochi in March 2014 had been cancelled due to the Ukrainian crisis, but later, after the regular referendum which saw the peaceful annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol with over 4,000 votes, the relations between Russia and the West continued only at G7 level.
For the time being, however, Russia cannot join the OECD and the International Energy Agency, of which it had been a founding member as early as the USSR’s times.
Ironies of fate and memory.
146 Russian citizens and 37 federal “entities” cannot have relations with the European Union, enter the EU territory or do business within it and with anyone.
On March 10, 2016, the EU extended the measures which also regard the partial ban/restriction of oil trade but, above all, of technological materials for this purpose, until September 15, 2016.
Nevertheless the Minsk agreements reached in 2015 between President Poroshenko, France, Germany and Russia were clear: immediate and full “ceasefire” in Donetsk and Luhansk, the districts of pro-Russian “separatism”; pullout of all heavy weapons by both sides to equal distance; effective international monitoring of the forces’ separation lines; a significant constitutional reform in Ukraine, based on “decentralization” and hence on a substantial weakening of the pro-Russian insurgency.
All the Minsk II package of measures has been complied with – hence there is no lawful reason to keep on enforcing sanctions.
Therefore, precisely on the basis of the Russian signature of the “Minsk II” agreement, it was not possible and it is not possible today – without obvious Russian countermoves – to maintain or accept the sanctions against the Russian Federation, which also regard some oil and gas products – at least with reference to the EU.
Not to mention the severe banking and corporate bans, as if the issue were not the annexation of a territory which is Russian since the time of czar Peter The Great, but of a whole continent conquered by the Russian “fascism” (the usual word and concept fitting all contexts and circumstances).
Just to be brutally clear, with the Ukrainian issue – manipulated up to the almost comical EU recognition of the phantom “Tatar parliament”, composed from scratch of a largely minority population who had been deported by Stalin in 1944 – a naïve (albeit wicked, as often happens) attempt was made to turn a great power such as the Russian Federation into a ”marginal area” subjected to the geoeconomic wishes of the Western powers.
These powers, however, have neither the strength nor the ability, and not even the ecostrategic alliances to face and manage all the disputes with Russia.
Meanwhile, in April 2016, 55 French members of Parliament (as opposed to 44) voted to lift sanctions against Russia.
Moreover, it has been estimated that the cost for European farmers of the sanctions against Russia is equal to 5.5 billion euro a year in terms of lost business.
The Slovakian and Italian Ministers for Agriculture, the Austrian Vice-Chancellor, as well as Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, have all spoken against maintaining sanctions against the Russian Federation.
Moreover, Russia has been very clear: if the EU lifts all sanctions, Russia will follow suit and remove all its counter-sanctions.
If the situation goes on like that, with subsidies to farmers and new technologies again subsidized by the government, it is to be feared that, in the near future, the Russian Federation may achieve large food self-sufficiency and autonomy, thus leading to a huge crisis in the EU agrifood sector.
Just to put it in clearly brutal terms, the sanctions are tantamount to an unlawful restriction of international trade, absolutely illegal in terms of agreements already signed and implemented by Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, leading to a pathological reduction of European trade, for no other reason and result than reducing the EU trade potential in view of the agreement and the current TTIP negotiations between the EU and the United States.
Russia is the third largest EU trading partner and Europe is the major commercial area for Russia.
As we have already seen, gas has been partially excluded from sanctions owing to many EU countries’ dependence on Russian natural gas, but not all Russian oil and gas products have been spared the sanction regime.
Banking operations are still banned, although there are some examples of “triangulation”.
Also meat exports are prohibited.
Thanks to the counter-sanctions devised and imposed by President Putin in March 2014, all EU trade with Russia fell down to 12.1% of Russia’s total trade, thus providing the opportunity – that a careful geopolitician such as the Kremlin leader has not missed – of a new economic correlation with China and the States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which, inter alia, are all growing significantly, unlike the European Union.
According to some Swiss analysts, the macroeconomic effects of sanctions against Russia are worth at least 43 billion euro in added value, and as many as 92, if sanctions were to continue in the coming years.
This is not a matter of crippling Russia, but rather of destroying Europe economically.
As a result of sanctions, over 1.1 million jobs have already been lost across Europe, while the EU GDP growth will decrease by 1.1% only due to the collapse of trade between the EU and Russia.
A huge folly, based on Russia’s full right to own the old naval bases of Sevastopol and the Russian Crimea, which has accepted the annexation as “autonomous region” by an overwhelming majority, confirmed by 57 observers from 41 countries, later disowned – and no one knows how and why – by the UN Secretary General.
The reduced interest payments are worth at least a loss of 10 billion euro, while Italy is losing at least 42% of its exports of materials for freight.
Not to mention the tourist sector (Russia ranks fourth in terms of international tourist flows to Italy) and the agribusiness sector (which fell by 16%) and, above all, the so-called Made in Italy, the primary asset of our country which has now fallen down to become one of the marginal budget items of bilateral trade.
And all this, once again, to justify a false, and often illegal version of the facts and situations which took place in the long “Donetz war” and the clash between the Ukrainian Maidan and the pro-Russian forces in the region.
Nevertheless only 147 billion euro worth of Russian debt are held abroad, with Italy as second largest creditor, with 27 billion euro, followed by Germany and Great Britain. The bungling supporters of sanctions had to know that there was no room for maneuver.
As a result of Russian counter-sanctions, the agrifood sector was hit to the tune of 43% of its potential across the EU, with Italy which had to monitor entire economic sectors (fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry).
Hence this is the geopolitical masterpiece of the moralist supporters of sanctions: the economy of a country such as the Russian Federation has been directed eastwards; a disaster hard to solve has been created in key economic sectors of the EU and Italian production systems. And everybody agrees on the fact that all this has been done without reaching any strategic result other than the smart, effective and strong presence of the Russian Federation in Syria.
What are the solutions which can be envisaged? First and foremost, even one single country, such as Italy – possibly with Austria and Hungary – should lift bilateral sanctions in the agribusiness and, at least, in the tourist sector.
Secondly, even one single group of EU countries should denounce the substantial groundless nature of the whole architecture between the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements, as well as create a sort of European-Russian bank for funding bilateral trade.
Thirdly, the UN and the other “inner sancta” of global power (and it is worth recalling that former Italian President Cossiga dismissed the UN as “a useless organization”) should be reminded of the fact that, from now on, the sanctions, counter-sanctions, their lifting and all the other multilateral and bilateral trade issues will be the prerogative of States and not of some strange and unreliable “experts”.
Steering Russia-US Relations Away from Diplomatic Expulsion Rocks
As the recent expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic demonstrate, this measure is becoming a standard international practice of the West. For the Biden administration, a new manifestation of the “Russia’s threat” is an additional tool to discipline its European allies and to cement the transatlantic partnership. For many European NATO members, expulsions of diplomats are a symbolic gesture demonstrating their firm support of the US and its anti-Russian policies.
Clear enough, such a practice will not be limited to Russia only. Today hundreds, if not thousands of diplomatic officers all around the world find themselves hostage to problems they have nothing to do with. Western decision-makers seem to consider hosting foreign diplomats not as something natural and uncontroversial but rather as a sort of privilege temporarily granted to a particular country — one that can be denied at any given moment.
It would be logical to assume that in times of crisis, when the cost of any error grows exponentially, it is particularly crucial to preserve and even to expand the existing diplomatic channels. Each diplomat, irrespective of his or her rank and post, is, inter alia, a communications channel, a source of information, and a party to a dialogue that can help understand your opponent’s logic, fears, intentions, and expectations. Niccolo Machiavelli’s adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” remains just as pertinent five centuries later. Unfortunately, these wise words are out of circulation in most Western capitals today.
A proponent of expulsions would argue that those expelled are not actually diplomats at all. They are alleged intelligence officers and their mission is to undermine the host country’s national security. Therefore, expulsions are justified and appropriate. However, this logic appears to be extremely dubious. Indeed, if you have hard evidence, or at the very least a reasonable suspicion that a diplomatic mission serves as a front office for intelligence officers, and if operations of these officers are causing serious harm to your country’s security, why should you wait for the latest political crisis to expel them? You should not tolerate their presence in principle and expel them once you expose them.
Even the experience of the Cold War itself demonstrates that expulsions of diplomats produce no short-term or long-term positive results whatsoever. In fact, there can be no possible positive results because diplomatic service is nothing more but just one of a number of technical instruments used in foreign politics. Diplomats may bring you bad messages from their capitals and they often do, but if you are smart enough, you never shoot the messenger.
Diplomatic traditions do not allow such unfriendly actions to go unnoticed. Moscow has to respond. Usually, states respond to expulsions of their diplomats by symmetrical actions – i.e. Russia has to expel the same number of US, Polish or Czech diplomats, as the number of Russian diplomats expelled from the US, Poland or the Czech Republic. Of course, each case is special. For instance, the Czech Embassy in Moscow is much smaller than the Russian Embassy in Prague, so the impact of the symmetrical actions on the Czech diplomatic mission in Russia will be quite strong.
The question now is whether the Kremlin would go beyond a symmetrical response and start a new cycle of escalation. For example, it could set new restrictions upon Western companies operating in the country, it could cancel accreditation of select Western media in Moscow, it could close branches of US and European foundations and NGOs in Russia. I hope that the final response will be measured and not excessive.
The door for US-Russian negotiations is still open. So far, both sides tried to avoid specific actions that would make these negotiations absolutely impossible. The recent US sanctions against Russia have been mostly symbolic, and the Russian leadership so far has demonstrated no appetite for a rapid further escalation. I think that a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin remains an option and an opportunity. Such a meeting would not lead to any “reset” in the bilateral relations, but it would bring more clarity to the relationship. To stabilize US-Russian relations even at a very low level would already be a major accomplishment.
From our partner RIAC
Russia becomes member of International Organization for Migration
After several negotiations, Russia finally becomes as a full-fledged member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It means that Russia has adopted, as a mandatory condition for obtaining membership, the constitution of the organization. It simply implies that by joining this international organization, it has given the country an additional status.
After the collapse of the Soviet, Russia has been interacting with the IOM since 1992 only as an observer. In the past years, Russia has shown interest in expanding this cooperation. The decision to admit Russia to the organization was approved at a Council’s meeting by the majority of votes: 116 states voted for it, and two countries voted against – these are Ukraine and Georgia. That however, the United States and Honduras abstained, according to information obtained from Moscow office of International Migration Organization.
“In line with the resolution of the 111th session of the IOM Council of November 24, 2020 that approved Russia’s application for the IOM membership, Russia becomes a full-fledged member of the organization from the day when this notification is handed over to its director general,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement in April.
Adoption of the IOM Constitution is a mandatory condition for obtaining its membership, which opens “extra possibilities for developing constructive cooperation with international community on migration-related matters,” the statement stressed in part.
It is significant to recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order to secure Russia’s membership in the organization in August 2020 and submitted its Constitution to the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) in February 2021.
Headquartered in Geneva, the International Organization for Migration, a leading inter-government organization active in the area of migration, was set up on December 5, 1951. It opened its office in Moscow in 1992.
IOM supports migrants across the world, developing effective responses to the shifting dynamics of migration and, as such, is a key source of advice on migration policy and practice. The organization works in emergency situations, developing the resilience of all people on the move, and particularly those in situations of vulnerability, as well as building capacity within governments to manage all forms and impacts of mobility.
IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. It works to help ensure proper management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people. It is part of the structured system of the United Nations, and includes over 170 countries.
Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (Senate) Committee on International Affairs, noted that the organization’s constitution has a provision saying that it is in a nation’s jurisdiction to decide how many migrants it can receive, therefore the IOM membership imposes no extra commitments on Russia and doesn’t restrict its right to conduct an independent migration policy.
On other hand, Russia’s full-fledged membership in IOM will help it increase its influence on international policy in the sphere of migration and use the country’s potential to promote its interests in this sphere, Senator Dzhabarov explained.
Russia has had an inflow of migrants mainly from the former Soviet republics. The migrants have played exceptional roles both in society and in the economy. The inflow of foreign workers to Russia has be resolved in accordance with real needs of the economy and based on the protection of Russian citizens’ interests in the labor market, according to various expert opinions.
The whole activity of labor migrants has to be conducted in strict compliance with legislation of the Russian Federation and generally recognized international norms.
State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and many state officials have repeatedly explained the necessity of holding of partnership dialogues on finding solutions to emerging problems within the framework of harmonization of legislation in various fields including regional security, migration policy and international cooperation. Besides that, Russia is ready for compliance with international treaties and agreements.
Relegating the “Russia Problem” to Turkey
Turkey’s foreign policy is at a crossroads. Its Eurasianist twist is gaining momentum and looking east is becoming a new norm. Expanding its reach into Central Asia, in the hope of forming an alliance of sorts with the Turkic-speaking countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan — is beginning to look more realistic. In the north, the north-east, in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, there is an identifiable geopolitical arc where Turkey is increasingly able to puncture Russia’s underbelly.
Take Azerbaijan’s victory in Second Karabakh War. It is rarely noticed that the military triumph has also transformed the country into a springboard for Turkey’s energy, cultural and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia. Just two months after the November ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey signed a new trade deal with Azerbaijan. Turkey also sees benefits from January’s Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan agreement which aims to jointly develop the Dostluk (Friendship) gas field under the Caspian Sea, and it recently hosted a trilateral meeting with the Azerbaijani and Turkmen foreign ministers. The progress around Dostlug removes a significant roadblock on the implementation of the much-touted Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) which would allow gas to flow through the South Caucasus to Europe. Neither Russia nor Iran welcome this — both oppose Turkey’s ambitions of becoming an energy hub and finding new sources of energy.
Official visits followed. On March 6-9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Defense cooperation, preferential trade deals, and a free trade agreement were discussed in Tashkent. Turkey also resurrected a regional trade agreement during a March 4 virtual meeting of the so-called Economic Cooperation Organization which was formed in 1985 to facilitate trade between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. Though it has been largely moribund, the timing of its re-emergence is important as it is designed to be a piece in the new Turkish jigsaw.
Turkey is slowly trying to build an economic and cultural basis for cooperation based on the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency founded in 1991 and the Turkic Council in 2009. Although Turkey’s economic presence in the region remains overshadowed by China and Russia, there is a potential to exploit. Regional dependence on Russia and China is not always welcome and Central Asian states looking for alternatives to re-balance see Turkey as a good candidate. Furthermore, states such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are also cash-strapped, which increases the potential for Turkish involvement.
There is also another dimension to the eastward push. Turkey increasingly views Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as parts of an emerging geopolitical area that can help it balance Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus. With this in mind, Turkey is stepping up its military cooperation not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Georgia and Ukraine. The recent visit of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Turkey highlighted the defense and economic spheres. This builds upon ongoing work of joint drone production, increasing arms trade, and naval cooperation between the two Black Sea states.
The trilateral Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey partnership works in support of Georgia’s push to join NATO. Joint military drills are also taking place involving scenarios of repelling enemy attacks targeting the regional infrastructure.
Even though Turkey and Russia have shown that they are able to cooperate in different theaters, notably in Syria, they nonetheless remain geopolitical competitors with diverging visions. There is an emerging two-pronged strategy Turkey is now pursuing to address what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees as a geopolitical imbalance. Cooperate with Vladimir Putin where possible, but cooperate with regional powers hostile to Russia where necessary.
There is one final theme for Turkey to exploit. The West knows its limits. The Caspian Sea is too far, while an over-close relationship with Ukraine and Georgia seems too risky. This creates a potential for cooperation between Turkey and the collective West. Delegating the “Russia problem” to Turkey could be beneficial, though it cannot change the balance of power overnight and there will be setbacks down the road.
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