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Strategic Hatred: How Putin Maneuvers with Radical Islam

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This case study provides an analytical commentary on the article written by Prof. David Bukay in ‘Modern Diplomacy’ on the issue of why Islam hates the West. Prof. Bukay presents the issue that ‘the Western world is ignorant, unacquainted, and in fact stupid concerning Islam. For so many years and so many Islamic attacks, its leaders still reiterate the Pavlovian question: “why do they hate us?”” (Bukay, 2016, April 22). Prof. Bukay compares the West to a battered spouse that is the victim of domestic violence. Instead of seeing the situation clearly like a battered spouse, the West tries to rationalize Islamic violence against the West through examination of the actions the West did to invite the violence.

In essence, continually asking the question what has the West done wrong to invite this treatment from Islam. Instead Prof. Bukay argues that the West should view Islam as a culturally different threat based upon a political religion. Bukay’s presentation was supported with evidence taken directly from Islamic scripture which states: “the Qur’ān reiterates the commandment that it is forbidden to associate other gods with Allah, and Islam should be adhered to as the only legitimate religion on earth. It is followed by the swear-belief that Muhammad is his messenger” (Bukay, 2016, April 22). Contrary to the Western view, some critics feel Russia has chosen to view Islam as a political religion/security threat in an intensified way so as to off-set domestic flaws. Russia under Vladimir Putin has effectively maneuvered to utilize Islam as a political religion in order to retain power against potential oppositional forces within the home scene. The following explains this criticizing mentality.

The main critique goes thusly: Putin, faced with a failing economy, weakened military, and internal security issues, has managed to redirect attention for Russia’s troubles. Putin executed this plan of redirection through influence in the transnational weapons market throughout the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. Putin has solidified his power at home by embarking on a war with Islamic extremism. Putin has financed his ambitions in the war with Islamic extremists through selling military hardware, assisting nations that are in pursuit of nuclear ambitions, and making alliances with Iran and Syria. Putin masked his actions by using the Russian security issues posed by Islamic extremists. Putin has been on a clear mission to regain new world legitimacy both at home and abroad while combating the threat to Russia’s security posed by Islam.

Putin, in maintaining his power base at home, understands he needs to “blame either unpopular minorities within the country or foreign governments for all Russia’s problems. The politics of hatred has a long and, electorally speaking, pretty successful pedigree” (Collier, 2009, September 30). Putin understands that action must be taken to keep power and inaction can lead to destruction of the state. One key to execute this plan is to influence the transnational weapons market to ease economic pressure at home while ensuring Russia’s stability by fighting Islam.

As part of Putin’s plan to curb the threat from Islamic extremists, Russia opened Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan in October 2003. This base provided Russia a forward operating base to enforce interests and a security zone in Central Asia. As detailed:

Security remains the first driver shaping Russia’s involvement in Central Asia. The challenges are multiple, as any [destabilization] in the weakest (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan), or the most unpredictable (Uzbekistan), of the countries could have immediate repercussions in Russia. This could include an Islamist infiltration; an increase in the inflow of drugs reaching the Russian population, which is already widely targeted by drug traffickers; a loss of control over the export networks of hydrocarbons, uranium mines, strategic sites in the military industrial complex and electrical power stations; a drop in trade… (Peyrouse, Boonstra, and Laruelle, 2012, May, p. 8)

Putin’s actions in Kyrgyzstan fit into his plan to blame unpopular Islamic extremist movements to justify military expansion to protect transnational trade routes while ensuring security at home. For Putin the “Russian-Central Asian multilateral framework, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), makes provisions for the sale of military materiel to member countries at Russian domestic market prices, and has revived cooperation between the Russian and Central Asian military-industrial complexes” (Peyrouse, Boonstra, and Laruelle, 2012, May, p. 8). In addition to security agreements to quell any potential extremist threats and to support the transnational arms trade; Putin is willing to become involved in questionable military alliances in the Middle East under the guise of fighting Islamic extremists.

Iran gives Putin a unique religious partner in the Caucasus and gateway to influence Middle East policy and weapons markets. Under Putin’s direction, Russia has assisted Iran’s nuclear ambitions through technology coupled with military hardware and advisors. The relationship with Iran is even more dangerous to the international community when in “late July [2015] Quds Force command Major General Qasem Soleimani flew to Moscow aboard a commercial Iranian airliner for a weekend visit filled with meetings mixed with R&R—in clear violation of a U.N.-imposed travel ban” (Weiss, 2015, September 1). Shortly after the meeting Putin expanded Russia’s relationship with Iran to direct military action in Syria. Putin has used Russian animosity to Islamic extremism, which is quite intense at home, to justify military adventurism. Putin really entered Syria to reassert itself to the top of the world stage and protect his transnational weapons markets.

This examination of a very strident criticism of Russian foreign policy intended to expand upon Prof. Bukay’s theory to demonstrate that Islam is a political religion based on a warrior cult from the seventh century. Contrary to the Western view as a victim with Islam, Russia has chosen to view Islam as a political religion/security threat that can be manipulated for power interests. Russia under Vladimir Putin has effectively maneuvered to utilize the threat from Islam as tool to protect transnational weapons markets and to retain power, ostensibly intensifying domestic society’s innate fear of the ‘other’ in order to push certain power angles important to the Presidential administration. While some of this criticism is purposely given to hyperbole, to exacerbate tense relations between Russia and the West (this criticism is born and fostered from within anti-Russian Western think tanks), the atrocities and transgressions that occurred on both sides of the Chechen conflicts make Russian animus to radical Islam very real and well-founded. While Russia is not blameless or pure when it comes to its initiatives toward the Islamic world, it is not possible to argue that Western approaches have been vastly superior. At the very least, Putin’s honesty in staking a brazen position against Islam as a political force and radicalist movement is refreshingly fascinating for analysts around the world.

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For a Resilient Recovery and Long-term Prosperity, Russia Must Invest in All its People

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Alexei is a young man living in a suburb of Moscow, where he was born and raised. His estimated life expectancy is between 74-79 years. Mikhail, who is the same age as Alexei, lives in Chukotka region in the far east of Russia, where he was born. His expected life expectancy is much shorter, at between 59-63 years.

Stark differences exist across Russia not only in life expectancy but also in educational attainment. People living in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, for instance, are twice as likely to complete higher education as those living in Saransk or Volgograd. The earning potential of people in these regions differs dramatically.

Why is human capital so important?

Today, in OECD countries, human capital accounts for 70 percent of wealth, whereas for low-income countries, natural capital remains the biggest asset. In Russia, human capital accounts for 46 percent of the economy. Reaching the level of OECD countries could ensure long-term sustainability for Russia in the context of a global movement away from fossil fuels. Human capital has become a high priority for countries around the world, because its development lays a pathway to greater well-being and prosperity. Within countries, regardless of their income level, people with greater human capital are better off in life than those without.

How big are the gaps in Russia’s human capital development?

Let’s take a closer look. A child born in Russia this year will be 68 percent, on average, as productive as she could be, when she grows up, if she enjoyed complete education and full health. This compares well with the global average, whereby a child born today can expect to be just 56 percent as productive as she could be. From 2010 to 2020, Russia increased from 0.60 to 0.68 on the Human Capital Index, making it one of the fastest improving countries worldwide.

However, the 2020 Human Capital Index, which includes additional indicators for countries in Europe and Central Asia, shows that Russia is underperforming in some key areas compared to the regional average: in health and education sector spending by 1.8 points, and in human capital as a share of GDP by 0.9.

The probability of dying between ages 30 and 70 from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease is 25 percent in Russia, which is higher than the average for the Europe and Central Asia region (17%) and for higher-middle-income countries (20%). A major reason is the high prevalence of risk factors related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

One in five adults in Russia are obese, 30 percent are smokers, and 39 percent are heavy drinkers. About 32 percent of the population aged 18 and older suffer from hypertension.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these vulnerabilities and challenges.

According to Rosstat Data, there were 71,700 more deaths in Russia during January-August 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. A broad set of measures is necessary to combat COVID-19, including testing, tracking and treatment of patients. But equally important is continuing to ensure routine health services and care for chronic conditions such as non-communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. The elderly and people with NCDs are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Mental health services should also be strengthened.

Given the lengthy, but necessary, school closures this year, Russia may see sizeable declines in education outcomes. We previously estimated a loss of around 16 PISA points for all students, equivalent to just under half a year in missed learning. Students from poor and vulnerable families are disproportionally affected. With learning losses so deep, significant compensation measures will be necessary.

So, what can be done to close the gaps?

Strengthening primary health care to manage common NCDs and emerging infectious diseases is key for building a resilient healthcare system. Making essential outpatient drugs for the coronavirus and NCDs affordable could save people’s lives and prevent complications which are expensive for the health system.

Expanding resources for the treatment of COVID-19 patients is the most pressing need, but starting to reorient the health care system toward prevention and primary health care could help avoid unmanageable escalation of health spending in the medium-term.

New digital services, including telemedicine and remote access to care, could make health and social care more easily available to more people, help change the way services are provided through allowing the elderly and patients with chronic diseases to receive care at home, and decrease unnecessary risks in institutional facilities.

The adoption of virtual diagnostic and treatment protocols would not only help protect doctors from the disease, but also prevent new outbreaks. Strengthening integration and coordination between health and social services could substantially improve support to the elderly and vulnerable. Relaxing telemedicine restrictions and establishing a regulated environment for virtual technologies could help build an integrated patient-centered model of healthcare delivery.

Social assistance also plays a role in human capital development. Russia has introduced measures to better support families with children, non-able-bodied persons, and the unemployed. Our research shows that these measures should be broadly effective to counteract the increase in poverty brought about by the pandemic.

Now is the right time for Russia to implement a fundamental national social assistance program which could expand during adverse economic conditions and contract when economic growth picks up. Many countries have similar programs that are specifically designed to reduce poverty and promote self-reliance by the poor. Russia has the capacity to substantially mitigate the impact of the crisis and, at the same time, build the foundation for eradicating extreme poverty in the future.

The gaps in Russia’s human capital development are not so wide they cannot be closed. To move forward requires action and collaboration across different sectors – health, education, and social protection. Policies must work in tandem for the benefit of families and individuals who need access to adequate healthcare, for children who need an education suited to future labor market demands, and for those who need help and protection in times of hardship such as these.

By investing in all its people, across the entire country, Russia can hope to achieve more equitable human capital development, a more resilient recovery from the pandemic, and greater long-term prosperity. And both Alexei and Mikhail, and their families can all hope for long, healthy, prosperous lives.

Originally published in Russian language in Vtimes via World Bank

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Russia at Crossroads with Europe

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The European politics has been hazy over the course of the last decade. Whether it highlights the shocking exit of Britain from the European Union, the march towards counting the ultimate end to the legacy of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel or even the unprecedented crackdown launched by France against the radical Muslim groups in the climax of the decade long ethnic mockery within the peripheries of the French community, Europe took a new metaphorical shape in regard to its position in the world. Though the stabilising relations of Germany with Russian was an astounding turn in the usual progression of the regional politics, the completion of the phase one of the gas pipeline project Nord Stream 1 in 2011 promised a bridging to the gap serving decades long rift between the ex-soviet and Europe. However, the improving relations were impeded time and time again either due to Russia’s abrasive involvement in the Syrian war or the brewing instability in Belarus; right on the borders of Europe.

The recent hurdle in the already perilous relations is the arrest of Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader and the leading Anti-Putin activist, immediately after his return to Russian on January 17th. Entitled as the forefront critic of Kremlin, Navalny is celebrated as the contemporary leader of modern Russia. His popularity brimmed when he valiantly stood unfettered against the Putin government, continually working to amass support in his mission to expose the corruption in Putin’s Russia. His golden campaign in 2011-12 during demonstrations against widespread allegations of rigged elections placed him at the alter as the fearless rival to Vladimir Putin and his representation of a totalitarian Russia. Navalny gained immense support when he was apparently poisoned in August by the members of Russian Federal security Service (FSB) while he was domestically travelling from Serbia.

While Navalny revived in Berlin, the tensing relations with Europe were rippled through Russia putting Putin’s regime in a dilemma. Even the softening Germany picked up its stern stance when Navalny briefly slipped into a coma while recovering. Navalny was arrested when he returned to Russia, while making true on his promise to drive the revolution from the streets of Russia and ‘not from Berlin’. Navalny faces a 30-day detention till his hearing scheduled on February 2nd on the account of violating the probation allotted to him back in 2014 that was due to expire in December 2020, had he ensured prompt in-person check-ins with the authorities. However, Navalny was not deliberately evading the check-ins but was convalescing for the past five months in Germany from the fatal effects of the poison delivered to him at the decree of Putin; accusations that have been repeatedly denied both by the FSB and the Kremlin regime.

While the Russian government is aiming to implicate Navalny for purposefully evading the probation, this casts an unwitting accusation on Germany for colluding with a convict. As Navalny looks to an estimate sentence of 10-year imprisonment, Germany had already made its heated stance on the matter clear back when Navalny was revealed to have been poisoned by the Putin regime. The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, asserted: “I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2”. The clean implication is the warning casted by Germany to abandon the second phase of the pipeline, which is tentative to be completed in late 2021. While Germany has always made good on its promise to keep the Pipeline project and politics separate, the brewing shift was solidified through the following statement of Merkel’s spokesperson stating: “The German Chancellor (Angela Merkel) agrees with the Foreign Minister’s comments”. The finality of the statement projects the diverting alliance of Germany that was constantly on the verge of collapse throughout the decade long opposition of European Union and piling threats of US to slap sanctions if Nord Stream was operated in the region.

Germany never cancelled nor deferred the project until now and despite of the relentless opposition to the project, Germany kept an open mind to the possibilities that could flow even at the cost of reliance on one of the notoriously untrustworthy regimes in the world. However, now as the protests across Russia have exploded through over 70 cities in support of Navalny, the Putin regime should ideally forgo the notion of a successful project completion. Navalny’s team is expected to launch an investigation against Putin’s corruption scandals, titled ‘Putin’s Palace. History of World’s Largest Bribe’; the investigation intents to uncover state run funds and donation embezzlement at the whim of Putin throughout his tenure in the office. With mass protests flowing in from Far East to central Russia, engulfing the capital Moscow, the situation is worsening as Navalny’s trial approaches.

Now as Europe prepares to tighten the screws against Russia and Germany no longer intends to bridge the relations, Putin faces two options: either submit to the opposition and release Navalny to patch diplomatic damage or continue down the path that could lead to both internal revolution and external crisis. However, with 3400 arrests already reported on account of illegal protests including the recent arrest of Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, Putin’s choice could not be clearer, at least in the short run.

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Russia is a part of Europe, which never became a part of Russia

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The process of the new European integration coincided in time with the intensification of the process of globalization, which has stimulated and inspired the formation of the European Union. Presently, debates about the crisis of globalization are going almost simultaneously with discussions about the crisis of European integration. The European press is now wondering who is to blame for the fact that globalization, which, overall, has contributed positively to the process of global development, failed to become a universal and, most importantly, a harmonizing model of the world order.

According to the authoritative participants in the discourse, currently going on in the European press, “the inevitable trilemma of the world economy, namely, the contradiction between the realities of democracy, sovereignty and global economic integration” has been both a bone of contention and a stumbling block. Naturally enough, these global tendencies have reflected negatively on the integration process involving the better part of Europe.  As Alexei Gromyko noted in one of his recent speeches, the old principles of European integration are no longer being emulated.

The pro-EU-minded European elites admit that the whole idea initially emerged as a political project, with a “top down” structure. According to the authors of a collective study of identification problems in Europe, published by Cambridge University, political scientists of the European Union, often sponsored by the European Commission, focus mainly on the Union itself and the influence of its institutions, while virtually ignoring how the sense of community was being formed “from the down up” also outside the EU institutions or close to them. They added that the financial and economic crisis had clearly shown that external disciplinary principles of integration are ahead of, and in some cases run counter to internal integration, as well as its regional diversity.  

Europe is now fully aware of the need to maintain its global competitiveness and exercise a rapid transition to a new industrial revolution. As for the East European countries, however, they do not have sufficient financial and economic resources to build a fully competitive industry of their own, and, therefore, EU subsidies to the tune of 20 percent of these countries’ budgets helped to narrow to some extent the yawning gap in the socio-economic development between the “old” and “new” Europe.

According to the director of the Minsk-based Center for European Integration, Yuri Shevtsov, “what we see today is a clear transition of European integration to a new principle of dealing with less developed states. The previous level of hidden and open subsidies is no longer possible. Juncker’s stimulus plan for the EU’s high-tech sector … was mainly applied to the countries of “old” Europe that are better prepared for it … The inevitable cuts in subsidies to Eastern Europeans create a new reality for them for the long haul and essentially perpetuate the longstanding negative tendencies of the region’s economic development. What can Eastern Europe hope for during the 10-15 years? What are the consequences of the EU’s switch to a new development model? “

This leads to another important question of whether this new reality will set the stage for a new historical rapprochement between Russia and the countries of this part of Europe.

It is not only economic issues and stability of the European market for the consumption of our energy resources that we are concerned about, of course. There is no denying the fact that Russia is a part of Europe. The French cultural historian, Pierre Chaunu, argued that involvement in an intra-civilizational dialogue is the only criterion of someone’s belonging to European civilization. Russia fully meets this criterion, of course. And yet, where does the feeling of a certain watershed, a barrier separating Europe from Russia that once was so acutely felt by the Slavophiles and Westernizers, really come from? From the point of view of anatomy, Russia is a part of Europe, which never became a part of Russia. How about the powerful influence of Byzantine culture on European civilization? Don’t we see enough traces of this culture in Italian, German and other European cities? And still, Byzantium never became part of Europe, which tried so hard to destroy the civilization of which Russia became a successor…

It is highly symptomatic that the Dutch authorities recently listed Russia as one of the countries “around Europe,” including this status in the concept of the kingdom’s foreign cultural policy for 2017-2020. We know, however, that the Netherlands is not alone in this assessment. Paradoxically, it was Holland that was the main partner of and a source of inspiration for Peter the Great, who opened the “window on Europe.”

We say that Russia is a part of Europe as if we were standing on the opposite bank. Why so? It would be more natural for us say: “Europe is a part of Russia,” especially since Russia is not absorbed by Europe and has a significant part of it belonging to Asia, and not only geographically.

At the dawn of the past century, one Russian thinker wrote: “When reading the press and listening to public moods, I am saddened to see just how neglected our Russian thought really is and how timidly, as if apologizing, Russian people think in Russian when their thoughts differ from those of the West. ”

The Institute of Europe is more than just an academic institution; it is the center, the focus of Russian thought about Europe. Moreover, in your work you have managed to maintain an important balance that is often ignored, especially by our education system, which prioritizes one part of Europe over the other. This is our eternal problem. Just as was so sadly noted by the observer I mentioned before, “We know something from history, from German, French and English literature, but we don’t know a thing about the history and literature of the Slavs. If the Russian people were examined on the history of Slavism, I think the result would be pretty much instructive, as we would feel ashamed of our ignorance. We learned about Karl, Friedrich and Louis at school, but not about the Slavs.”

The Russian philosopher Vladimir Ern famously said that in relation to Russia, Europe was making a rather rapid transformation from “Kant to Krupp.” This is something we should always keep in mind.

What trends will prevail in Europe? Centripetal, deepening the next internal convergence, or centrifugal, which will make Europe a conglomerate of nation states again? After all, history does not repeat itself in details only.

I think there is no need for any of us to become Eurosceptics or Euro-optimists, even though sometimes it seems to me that there are more Euro-optimists among our political analysts (in percentage terms) than anywhere else in Europe. It is important for us to understand just how Europe’s political, cultural and economic development is going to affect us. What will these changes mean for Russia? What do we need to prepare for?

The work being done by your institute and its unique team, acquires a truly invaluable role in solving these problems, and I want to wish all of you every success in this all-important endeavor!

From our partner International Affairs

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