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Israel and the Russian Federation today

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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There are many signs which make us think of a new strategic relationship between Russia and Israel in the Middle East. In general terms, we can now assume that the Jewish State is already considering and assessing the US disengagement from the Middle East system – hence Israel is trying to define a policy to “replace” them, thus establishing connections with the Russian Federation.

Obviously the bad personal relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu carried a remarkable weight in this respect, but we are witnessing a real redefinition of all the regional geopolitical equilibria.

Also the US and EU slapdash attitude on the JCPOA, namely the Treaty on the Iranian civilian-military nuclear power, rightly criticized by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the whole Israeli establishment, had a significant influence in this regard.

Both Russia, which has already “won” its war in Syria and Israel, which has drawn all the geopolitical consequences of the “Arab springs” and the ambiguous initial US support for the anti-Assad Syrians “rebels”, are redesigning – almost alone – the new Greater Middle East map.

Whatever happens in Syria from now on, the US destiny is a progressive marginalization both in the Sunni and Shiite regions, as well as a subjection of its operations to a series of alliances (with Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) in which the United States will no longer have the clout they had until a few years ago.

As already said, the signs of a “new start” for the Russian-Israeli relations are manifold.

Suffice to think of Russia’s returning of an M48 Patton Israeli tank, captured by the Syrians in the 1982 Lebanon War near Sultan Yaakov during an ambush in which the three tank drivers were killed.

The tank was sent by Hafez el Assad to Moscow for it to be studied by the Soviet technical and intelligence services and was later placed in the Tank Museum of Kubinka.

However there is no official news about the fate of the three IDF soldiers.

Obviously President Vladimir Putin preliminary informed Bashar al-Assad of its decision and nothing prevents the current Syrian Alawite leadership from deciding, in the future, to provide to the Israeli government information about the sad fate of the three tank drivers.

Furthermore, during all Russian operations in Syria, the Russian and Israeli soldiers met regularly to exchange information and avoid duplication of efforts.

The Russians tolerated some trespassing – indeed regularly reported – of Israeli aircraft over the Golan Heights and into central Syria, while the Jewish State tolerated (having been preliminary informed) some Russian aircraft overflying its territory.

Hence it is clear that the sideline negotiations between Russia and Israel are made up of three strands, which are obviously closely interwoven.

Israel wants the Russian Federation to act as a credible mediator and power broker between Israel and the Palestinian region, because Russia is reliable for both parties.

In addition, the Jewish State does not want any transfer of military technology, information and logistics from Russia to its allies in Syria: the Hezbollah, the Iranian brigades of the Pasdaran Al Quds Force and Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Nor can we rule out that – in the coming months or years – the axis between Russia and Israel may result in redesigning regional powers in the Middle East region.

Currently those powers have neither father nor mother, and the replacement of great powers by Iran and Saudi Arabia will not last long.

They are too small and unable to create far-reaching strategic correlations.

Hence time has come for the Middle East to be anchored to a global power, which will be the Russian-Chinese axis, with Israel acting as a regional counterweight.

It is worth recalling that China has already made military flights over the Syrian territory.

The Chinese “non-interventionist” line does not mean lack of real knowledge of facts or lack of pressure and interference power.

The Russian-Israeli negotiations also imply a Russian guarantee for Israel regarding possible Iranian military operations, the marginalization of the Lebanese Shiites’ “Party of God”, a new Assad’s government not aiming at destroying the ”Zionist entity”, or the division of current Syria into three parts, with the consequent reduction of all its internal factions.

This is the US line, and partially also the line of some Israeli decision-makers.

Russia, however, thinks that the whole Southern Syria shall go back under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while Israel, along with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, believes that a mini-State in Southern Syria is fundamental for Assad and his Iranian allies to invade the Golan Heights.

However, President Putin’s offer to the Jewish State seems to be the following: if Israel accepted the “Greater Syria”, the Russian forces would remain in the Western region of the country to protect Israel against any action by Iran or Assad’s government.

This is the reason why Russia wants to reopen the political relations between Assad’s regime and Israel, so as to make the Baathist government depart from Iran’s and the Lebanese Shiites’ geopolitical line.

This is not even in its interest.

Hence this is the strategic reason for the token gesture of the restitution of the Israeli tank.

Nevertheless, there is more in the new Russian project in the Middle East and in the Israeli response to the rise of the new Russian power in the Middle East.

During Netanyahu’s visit to Russia on April 21, 2016, for example, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Russian President pointed out Russia’s interest in developing and exploiting the new offshore natural gas field known as Leviathan, which will be the real “game changer” in the Middle East in the near future.

If GazProm cooperates in the exploitation and marketing of the offshore gas field area between Haifa and the Gaza Strip, it will be vital for the Russian Federation to ensure – along with Israel – security of communications, particularly in relation to the possible Hezbollah actions from the Lebanon or the Iranian pressures on the Golan.

This new energy system will finally change the relations between Israel and Turkey, which will be the hub of the natural gas extracted from the Leviathan field, and will make the Russian oil and gas companies enter the Middle East market, thus excluding the US companies operating in Turkey and in most Sunni world.

It is worth recalling that both Iran and Qatar now operate mainly on the natural gas market, and the large Israeli Leviathan gas field could compete with many of the fiercest Muslim, Shiite or Sunni opponents of the Jewish State.

Therefore the three visits paid to Russia by Prime Minister Netanyahu over a year are essential both for Israel’s foreign policy and for its economic future.

Moreover, Israel knows that the Obama administration believes that some territories conquered by the Jewish State were annexed illegally and also this fact could bring Russia and Israel closer in the future.

Russia must maintain its presence in Ukraine and support – at international level – Crimea’s annexation.

If Israel supports Russia’s demands, it is very likely for it to support Israel’s good right to keep the Palestinian territories.

Moreover, in strictly military terms, the Jewish State fears that the presence of Russia’s advanced weaponry – such as the Iskander missile or the batteries of S-4007 carriers, sold by Russia also to Iran – would make the Syrian territory very dangerous for Israel’s security.

Hence very specific operational guarantees and a clear idea of Russian defenses eastwards and along the route of the future Leviathan pipeline will be needed to reassure Israel of the Russian Federation’s good intentions.

It is said, however, that the deployment of the Triumph S-4007 and the other Russian advanced weapons is basically a Russian cosmetic operation for “image” purposes, and some British analysts do not even believe that these news and reports are really grounded.

Nevertheless, at least since 2007 Russia has already had a listening post in place in the Golan Heights, which controls Israel’s telephone traffic (via the Internet and electronically) and, above all, its decision-making centers.

On the other hand, the Jewish State has some listening posts in the Golan Heights and in other safe areas of the Middle East region.

In other words, both President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu are playing open-face by laying all their cards on the table, being well aware of the projects and the “tacit knowledge” they have about each other.

So, considering all these conditions, in the best possible scenario Israel could:

a) replace – in the long run – the United States with the Russian Federation as a global ally and as a presence of reference in the Middle East region.

In fact, the American ruling class is closely linked to the Saudi lobby, also from a financial and political subsidizing viewpoint.

The two wars of the US-led Coalition in Iraq have disrupted Saudi Arabia’s main enemy, namely Iran. They have placed a Western advanced military system between Saudi Arabia and its Iranian global enemy and they have finally created a center of gravity north of Saudi Arabia, which has stabilized the whole region in favor of the Saudi Sunnis.

Furthermore, b) Israel can rely on a more stable and credible mediator, namely the Russian power broker, both vis-à-vis the Palestinians and, in the long run, even in relation to the Shiite and Alawite world.

The United States have played all their cards in the Greater Middle East on the democratization and secularization of populations and regimes that have not the same culture, the same history and the same link between religion and politics as those traditionally existing in the West.

It is also worth noting that their psyops and propaganda operations were, and still are, limited and often incomprehensible for the huge Islamic masses of the Greater Middle East.

The modernization that has been successful in the current Islam, if any, is the jihad one, not the adaptation to the pro-Western and secularized cultural universe.

Not all Arabs would decide to be shahid, namely “martyrs” for Al Qaeda, but all the Arab masses celebrated – in the streets – the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attack.

This is the new imagery and narrative with which we have to come to terms.

It is the “imaginal” – a philosophical concept developed by the orientalist Nenry Corbin, who believed that the term “imaginary” had acquired a very restricted meaning in Western philosophy – stemming from the fact that the great powers’ balance in the Middle East has been replaced by the small regional powers, which have to radicalize their ideology to hide their strategic, military and geopolitical inadequacy or failure.

Hence, since the two Iraqi wars, the United States have viewed the Eastern region under Western eyes – just to quote the title of a great novel by Joseph Conrad, initially set – incidentally – in Saint Petersburg.

A comprehensive strategy of democratization and secularization, which today has clearly failed, and to which the US ruling class cannot but respond with Thomas Jefferson’s formula: no entanglements.

But can there be a global power, with a global currency, without entanglements?

It is a paradox of the US foreign policy which cannot be solved in the short term.

Finally 3) Israel, jointly with the Russian Federation, will be able to manage its new policy of global projection outside the Middle East.

In the future, for Israel, there will be a place in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, in Central Asia, in India, even in Latin America and in some African areas.

All areas which are now in the Russian and Chinese strategic reach, while the EU is retreating even from the Mediterranean (and increases its already substantial rate of anti-Semitism) and dreams, together with the United States, of an irrational revival of the Cold War, with the current NATO operations in Poland.

It is worth noting, however, that both Crimea and Ukraine are in Russian hands, at least de facto, and that a military operation against the NATO positions along the border with the Russian Federation can be led from those areas – an operation which would be hard for NATO to oppose.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Global protests: Russia and China risk ending up on the wrong side of history

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Widespread perceptions see Russia together with China as the rising powers in the Middle East as a result of America’s flip flops in Syria and US president Donald J. Trump’s transactional approach towards foreign policy as well as Russian and Chinese support for regimes irrespective of how non-performing and/or repressive they may be.

Russia has sought to capitalize in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, on its newly found credibility in the Middle East as part of its projection of itself as a world power on par with the United States and China.

African leaders gathered in late October in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the first ever Russian African summit chaired by president Vladimir Putin. China has hosted similar regional summits.

Mr. Putin has proven adept at playing a weak hand well and for now, Russia alongside China, that has the financial and trading muscle that Moscow lacks, are basking in their glory.

Yet, Russia and China could find themselves in tricky situations with protests across the globe from Latin America to Hong Kong threatening to put the two powers on the wrong side of history.

Iran, Russia’s partner in supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and a strategic node in China’s Belt and Road initiative, is already struggling to come to grips with being in the bull’s eye of protesters.

Protesters in Iraq have denounced Iranian influence in the country while Iran’s Lebanese Shiite ally, Hezbollah, is part of the elite that protesters hold responsible for their country’s economic malaise.

Russia and China are well aware of the risk. Not only because of the resilience of protest in Hong Kong but also because of past popular revolts in former Soviet republics that constitute Russia’s soft underbelly and in some cases border on the strategically important but troubled Chinese north-western province of Xinjiang.

Recent protests in Kazakhstan were as much about domestic governance issues as they were about Chinese influence in the country and the crackdown on Turkic Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.

Central Asia, moreover, is potentially for China a black swan. It is together with Southeast Asian nations Laos and Cambodia, home to countries most indebted to China.

A recent study by scholars at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, the University of Munich and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy concluded that about half of Chinese overseas lending remained unrecorded leaving Central Asian and other nations with no precise oversight of their debt.

“These hidden overseas debts pose serious challenges for country risk analysis and bond pricing,” the study warned.

The risk of ending up on the wrong side of history looms even larger with Russia seeing prevention and/or countering of popular revolts as one of its goals in attempting to stabilize the Middle East, a region wracked by conflict and wars.

Russia, as part of its stabilization effort in the wake of its intervention in Syria, has proposed replacing the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security arrangement.

“Russia is seeking stability which includes preventing colour revolutions,” said Maxim Grigoryev, director of the Moscow-based Foundation for the Study of Democracy, using the term employed to describe popular revolts in countries that once were part of the Soviet Union.

Echoing Kremlin policy, Mr. Grigoryev said Syria was “a model of stabilizing a regime and countering terrorism.”

Russian military intervention in Syria has helped president Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand in a more than eight-year long brutal war in which the Syrian government has been accused of committing crimes against humanity.

Russia has denied allegations that its air force has repeatedly targeted hospitals and other civil institutions.

Russia’s definition of stability with Syria as its model is unlikely to go down well with youth-driven protests that have already affected twelve of the Arab League’s 22 members.

In some of the most dramatic incidents, this year’s popular revolts forced the leaders of Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon to resign. Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is next in line.

Latin America and Africa, like the Middle East and Central Asia, home to often poorly governed, resource-rich countries with youthful populations, are in many ways not that different.

Some Latin American leaders, including Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, have denounced what they see as interference in protests in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Haiti by two Russia and China-backed countries, Venezuela and Cuba.

Ecuador’s interior minister, María Paula Romo, said last month that authorities had arrested 17 people at an airport,  “most of them Venezuelans . . . carrying information about the protests.”

Policy analysts Moisés Naím and Brian Winter argued that irrespective of whether Venezuela and Cuba have sought to exploit continental discontent, “Latin America was already primed to combust.”

Messrs. Naim and Winter attribute popular anger to disappointing economic growth, stagnating wages, rising costs of living, mounting inequality, and corruption on the back of a commodity boom that significantly raised expectations.

Russian and Chinese support for embattled regimes at the risk of alienating protesters, who have proven in among others Chile, Iraq and Hong Kong undeterred by repressive efforts to squash their protests, will have paid off if it helps engineer the kind of stability Mr. Grigoryev is advocating.

Russian and Chinese leaders may be banking on a development akin to what Messrs. Moses and Winter describe as the emergence of repressive Latin American regimes in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of leaders’ failure to tackle slowing economic growth. The failure fuelled a decline of faith in democracy and the rise of populists.

“The same gears may churn toward mayhem and division, sown from within Latin American countries and without. Venezuela and Cuba may not be the main reason for the current protests. But if the region continues down its current path, it will be vulnerable to the next conspiracy, whether from Havana, Caracas, or somewhere else,” Messrs. Moses and Winter warned.

Events elsewhere in the world may well unfold differently. Yet, Russia and China could ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of history in an era of global breakdown of popular confidence in political systems and incumbent leadership and increasingly uncompromising, determined and resourceful protests.

Said Timothy Kaldas, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, commenting on the protests in the Middle East: “This isn’t a revolution against a prime minister or a president. It’s an uprising demanding the departure of the entire ruling class,” the very people Russia and China would like to see remain in place.

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Russia-Africa Summit: walking hand in hand through history

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The first-ever Russia-Africa summit held from 23-24 October in Sochi, Russia, marking the culminating point of the return of Russia to Africa, with more than 50 African leaders and over 3,000 delegates invited. This convening is only another illustration of the recent increase in economic, security, and political engagements to foster Russia-Africa relations.

The summit is expected to deepen relations between the Russian Federation and countries of the African continent at both bilateral and multilateral levels; forge closer collaboration on regional and international issues of common interest, raise strategic dialogue between Russia and African countries to a qualitatively higher level, and contribute to peace, security and sustainable development on the African continent.  The Russia-Africa Summit will also contribute towards the overall objective of addressing the aspirations of African countries as encapsulated in Agenda 2063. As the continental development blueprint, Agenda 2063 calls for a people-centered developmental process that ensures, inter alia, economic diversification and growth in order to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality

On 16th of October, a seminar under the theme “Discussion in the Run-Up to the Russia-Africa Summit” was held in South Africa, unique strategic partner of Russia in BRICS organization, at the University of Pretoria. The main speaker at the event was the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to South Africa Ilya Rogachev, who delivered a comprehensive speech, which described in detail the essence of the upcoming historical event.

Following is his presentation:

This will be the first event of such scale and magnitude marking an important milestone in the history of relations between Russia and the African continent. All eyes are on us now. I would like to remind that Russia, in all of its incarnations, and the peoples of Africa have always walked hand in hand through history.

We share a common and eventful past, where as allies we strived together for a better world. The Soviet Union was the only global power that has never pursued colonial policies and had never had a detrimental presence in Africa. The very idea of colonialism has always been an alien concept to us, one that to our mind should be abolished from the face of the Earth in all its forms.

The Soviet Union was most heavily involved in the rise of the African continent to independency. Among the most important cornerstones of the Soviet foreign policy was bringing an end to the colonial era, supporting national liberation movements, providing all kinds of assistance to young African nations: economic, infrastructural, military, humanitarian and educational. These pages of history cannot and shall not be rewritten, this friendship will forever be embedded in the history of relations between Russia and Africa.

USSR’s involvement and interest in Africa were guided by the imperative to «protect the interests of the oppressed nations and their right for self-determination and creation of sovereign states». Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960. This historical document was drafted on the initiative of the USSR, who had been championing the cause of a free and independent Africa on the global arena for many years.

Needless to say that this enormous and, I would like to stress – selfless – support that the Soviet Union rendered the people of Africa throughout the XX century won over many hearts on this continent.

Sadly, the collapse of the Soviet Union put our partnership on halt. The 1990s were a time of hardship for my country and its people. Even after the resurgence of the 2000s it took us some time to gather and re-establish ourselves as a global leader on the international arena and a prominent economic and technological power. I would not necessarily call these years a time of neglect towards Africa, as some try to put it, but admittedly, to a certain extent we lost the pace and intensity in our cooperation. Speaking in plain terms, now we have some catching up to do.

This is what the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit is meant to achieve: to put our partnership back on track, giving it new dimensions, pertinent to the XXI century, and providing dynamics for further growth. It is designed to set ambitious goals and look for areas of fruitful and practical cooperation. Intergovernmental and business opportunities clearly attract attention from both sides, our mutual interest in deepening cooperation is evidently high. This is why if you look at the expanded programme outlines you would fine nearly every possible topic on the agenda: from the role of media on the African continent to the importance of peaceful conflict resolution.

We envisage both the Summit and the Forum as a prospective platform for regular contacts, governmental and business. It is supposed to be a mechanism, which will allow us to give the much needed impulse to our cooperation, keep track of the progress already made and explore new opportunities. We consider it a platform where equals meet and where every voice is heard.

It is no coincidence that the Summit is hosted jointly by the Russian Federation and the African Union. There is great significance to this fact: unlike some other powers, which are used to looking down at Africa from their high horse, we do not consider Africa and African nations as junior partners. In fact, Russia strives for an equal cooperation based on mutual respect for the interests of all the involved parties.

I would like to draw your attention to this particular aspect, as it is purposefully misrepresented in some of the clearly biased publications and articles that appeared recently in South African press and elsewhere. These experts keep describing Russia’s return to the continent as a premise for a struggle for influence and resources among the global powers.

I would like to discourage that line of thought and tell the analysts, that they are wide off the mark. Some might still be looking at Africa through the lens of a colonial eye. Frankly speaking, this is an outdated and historically void way to behave on the global arena and in international relations. This is not our way. We do not develop and conduct foreign policy and international cooperation from such assessments. Our Western partners keep returning to the concept of a zero-sum game, where one’s gain means another one’s loss – imprinting this crooked assumption on the minds of experts and journalists.

Our mindset is different, we say: let’s cooperate and grow together. Africa is the most dynamically developing continent with rapidly growing economies that shouldn’t be regarded as a mere resource base. It is time to build long-lasting partnerships rooted in the principles of trust and equality. This stance resonates with our African partners. No wonder that our positions on the global arena are largely aligned. We share similar values defined by respect for national sovereignty and international law, as well as similar approaches to tackling current global challenges and threats. The world and the African continent need to find sustainable solutions for pressing issues. It should be done not through a dictate of a group of ‘elite’ countries and the rules that they impose on everyone else, but through the balance of interests and respect for all viewpoints. International law, based on the UN Charter and the existing legal framework, not some new «rules-based order» concepts, should serve as the basis for building relations.

We have always been adamant supporters of the formula «African solutions to African problems», including in the United Nations. It is our firm believe that nations and peoples themselves should resolve their problems, with the expertise and advice of the international community if required. In the past decade we have seen all too well what blatant interference in other countries affairs leads to, the results of the attempts to push for regime change is evident as well – North Africa and the Middle East are still dealing with the fallout from the so-called Arab Spring.

Today Russia enjoys strong bilateral relations with many African countries, South Africa included. The cooperation encompasses many spheres including infrastructure projects, space industry, telecommunication, healthcare, education, tourism, mining and others. The total volume of Russia’s investment in Africa has exceeded 20 billion dollars. The overall trade volume of has increased by many times since the 1990s.

One of the key issues that the African continent faces and that Russia has the expertise to assist with is the energy crisis, a growing shortage of generating capacity that holds back economic development. In 2008, Russian diamond company “Alrosa” finished the construction of Chicapa hydroelectric power plant in Angola; in 2010, Tanzania and Russia signed a deal to build the Rumakali hydropower plant. There are ongoing negotiations on the cooperation in the energy sector with such countries as Sudan, Ethiopia and the DRC.

Russia is helping more than 20 countries in Africa to develop their nuclear industries for energy and medical purposes. In 2014, Russia and Egypt signed an agreement on the construction of El Dabaa nuclear power plant – Russia will provide a $25 bln loan to Egypt for the construction that will create 50’000 job opportunities and add 4,8 GW generation capacity to the grid. In 2017, an agreement on the development of atom energy projects was concluded with Nigeria. A nuclear research centre is to be built in Zambia.

One of the most promising projects in infrastructure development is the establishment of Russian industrial free trade zone in Egypt, which will focus on manufacturing agricultural machinery and hardware. We are also considering participating in the ambitious project of the Trans-African railway connecting Dakar and Djibouti, spanning across the continent.

Russia, and the Soviet Union previously, have always assisted African nations in skill development and education: millions have received highest quality degrees in the past decades, over 15’000 students from African nations are currently studying in Russia. A decision has already been made to substantially increase the number of scholarships in the next few years.

Russia continues to provide humanitarian assistance to those who request it in Africa. In 2017 alone, Russian aid exceeded 1 billion $. Russian Federation is the 5th biggest sponsor of the UNIDO Industrial Development Fund, a top-tier contributor to the UN World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation.

Another important area of cooperation is the assistance in fighting epidemics and diseases that scourge the African continent. For example, the recent outbreak of Ebola virus in the Western African countries prompted Russian doctors to develop not one but two groundbreaking vaccines. The Russian-made vaccines were the first to be tested and to have reach the patients. The vaccines are now being shipped to the Republic of Guinea, the DRC and other countries.

The issues of peace and security are also in the focus of attention. Fighting terrorism, drug- and human-trafficking and other criminal activities are among Russia’s priorities in the international security area. Making certain that conflict resolution in Africa is carried out without the use of violence and within the framework of political dialogue is another keystone of our approach. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly extended the country’s full-fledged support to the African Union’s initiative ‘Silencing the guns by 2020’. Last September the Russian Federation as the Chair of the UN Security Council convened a UNSC Meeting on ‘Peace and Security in Africa Partnership to Strengthen Regional Peace and Security’ to give Africa an additional platform.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg whereas Russia-Africa interaction is concerned. So to round it up, the summit has high hopes, but it can already be said with confidence that the event will go down in history as an important milestone in cooperation between Russia and the countries of the continent.

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Reminiscence of Soviet soft power and the way it influenced the “Global South”

Punsara Amarasinghe

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The exact meaning carved by Joseph Nye in coining his notable concept “Soft Power” referred to a strong influence over states whereas governments cannot totally get rid of its influence. Because, unlike the hard power which pushes states to the edge, the influence of soft power brings more sentimental effects to targeted states as their national consciousness is solidly smitten by its approach. In a changing world where many state actors arise from military and economic dimensions, the gravity arises from soft power plays a bigger role in shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. In fact, such a smart use of power inevitably brings more constructive results than triggering the fire arms. Today emerging super powers like India and China have been much driven by the idea of using soft power as an indispensable strategy in the realm of their regional and international geo political space. However, the soft power strategy used by Soviet Union during Cold War as a decisive factor in its ideological and political expansion towards the Global South has left an interesting legacy as it could successfully accomplish its mission in Third World countries. In particular, the countries gained their independence from Western powers began to woo the ideological whims propagated by Moscow in early 50’s and 60’s. The anti-colonial sentiments spread across newly independent states boosted their rapport with Soviet Union and this was much strengthen when Moscow provided ample funds to Third World countries in order to galvanize their national economies which was perceived by Soviet Union as an action of necessity. Stalin’s successor Nikitha Khrushchev showed a great zeal in influencing Third World states against the struggle against imperialism.

Nevertheless, the growth of Soviet soft power towards the Global South was mainly an offshoot from its grand cultural and intellectual heritage and the apt way it was used by Soviet Union to twist the arms of those Third World states. As an example the indomitable expansion of Russian literature among the young university students and intellectuals in post-colonial countries became prevalent as a counter narrative against much dominated Anglo American literature. For instance, the growth appeared to bloom in South Asia towards Russian literature was much notable as its attracted and aspired the young generation in Indian sub-continent in a time when the nation emerged after long colonial movement. The characters portrayed by prerevolutionary Russia authors like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Gogol invoked Asian sentiments to think about their own conditions under social inequality. It was such an incredible phenomenon how and why citizens from far distant countries like India and Sri Lanka in South Asia were fascinated with Russian literary ideals. From 60’s till the dissolution of USSR in 1991 Soviet Union spent a heavy amount of money on translating their great literary classics into local languages in South Asia, Africa and Latin America as a great cultural tool, which resulted in producing a class of citizens obsessed with Russian ethos in those regions.

The higher education assistance was another feature of Soviet soft power over third world countries. In African and Asian contexts, most of the ruling elites were products of either British or French higher educational institutes. Yet, most of the masses in rural areas with many economic deprivations had no access to privileged western universities, that went on to hinder their aspirations of pursuing higher studies beyond their states.  Since the dawn of Cold War the factor regarding higher education as a strategic tool was considered by both Soviets and Americans with greater importance. When the necessity of higher education was emphasized by African leaders at Addis Ababa Conference of African States on the Development of Education in Africa in 1961, Soviet leader Khrushchev declared the foundation of the People’s Friendship University in Moscow, especially for students from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Addressing 3,000 students at Jogjakarta University, Khrushchev affirmed that the Soviet government ‘wished to help the [developing] countries to train their national workforce, engineers, agronomists, doctors, teachers, economists’ and at the same time give a chance to ‘many talented young people coming from poor families’, who otherwise were ‘deprived of the possibility of realizing their wish to study in the Soviet Union.

As a matter of fact, the establishment of People’s Friendship University in Moscow was a greater achievement in Soviet soft power over the Third World States as it’s much promised ideals of the awakening of the East attracted many young students coming from decolonized states. Nourishing the socio cultural ties with non-Communist countries on the basis of idealizing the anti-imperial values intended to intensify the waves of communism in those countries with the eventual expectations of seizing the state power by workers. Another assumption held by Soviets of establishing a higher academic institute for the students from developing world was focused on two goals. Firstly, Soviet Union believed that the knowledge transfer to backward Asian African societies would accelerate their progress and secondly Moscow considered the graduates hailing from Soviet education would have a paternal gratitude towards their authority. The Soviet soft power alliance with the Third World reached its symbolic culmination, when People’s Friendship University was named after nationalist leader in Congo Patrice Lumumba, which was an indication of Moscow for their solidarity with non-Communist states in their struggle against imperialism.

The aftermath of the establishment of People’s Friendship University crated a much conspicuous platform for Soviet Union to execute their soft power and its outcomes became much effective as most of the students studied in People’s Friendship University excelled themselves fields like academia and diplomacy in their own countries. Nevertheless, it is true to admit that Soviet soft power strategy was not always successful, particularly the degrees awarded by People’s Friendship University were discriminated when pro-Western governments came into power in non –Communist states in Asian and African countries. For instance, the pro-Western government in Sri Lanka from 1965 to 1970 marginalized Soviet graduates from employment opportunities, labeling them as leftists. On the other hand, there were situations Moscow expelled Asian and African students, when they professed their dissenting opinions about Soviet system.

The soft power strategy adopted by Soviet Union to approach Third World countries was predominantly confined to higher education, yet the outcomes emerged from such investments brought long term results to Soviet Union. Especially, increase of alacrity to learn Russian among students in the Global South saw a great Slavic cultural infiltration into those Russian speaking countries and its influences continued to grow in many ways. The in 60’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, New Delhi established a center for Soviet and Central Asian studies which attracted many Indian scholars and with its growing political influence Russian language became quite a popular. However, the chaotic economic stagnation of Soviet Union in late 80 and its immediate effect resulted in the disintegration of Soviet Union brought the very end to Third World’s romanticism with Soviet culture. The idealistic slogans on world communist society and dictatorship of proletarians were faded into oblivion at the ebb of Soviet decline and the emergence of Russian federation had no time and space to persist their soft power in the Third World as a result of the wave of economic and social instabilities they faced in the 90’s.

Today, more than 25 years after the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia again stands as a strong nation and its recent geo political expeditions have given a palpable sign the Russia yearns to restore its lost glory in the global arena. In fact, Moscow is well aware of the great importance of using soft power in 21st century power politics. Yet, the pivotal question appearing from post-Soviet era is how would modern Russia locates her soft power before growing expansion of Indo-Sino soft power contest in Global South. The steeping increase of Confucius centers and Indian cultural hegemony through its most colorful culture would always mar the idea of restoring Russian soft power beyond Ruski Mir. But, we should not easily forget still there is a nostalgia been pervaded in the memories of the old generation bureaucrats, diplomats, statesmen and academics in the third world countries, which always would pave the path to restore its soft power in diplomacy at least to a certain extend.

*Prof. Sanjay Rajhans is the deputy chair at Department of Public Policy at Faculty of Social Sciences in Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia.

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