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Growing Russia-Iran military relations: An illusion?

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Not at all! Not an illusion, at least for time being. Russo-Iran relations are steadily growing and deepening. Moscow and Teheran are changing from the pragmatic business model of “armament supplier-buyer” to military cooperation. The closer cooperation serves both to target opponents of Assad – some of them backed by the USA – while also sending a sharp message to the US as fighting over the divided city of Aleppo reaches a critical point after five years of inconclusive civil war.

Six Russian long-distance Tu-22M3 and four Su-34 frontal bombers went to the Khamadan Airport in Iran on August 16. Arrival of Russian bombers at Hamadan Airbase in Iran – historic development captured headlines around the world – has set the tone for new type military relations between Russia and Iran –both have maintained, since the breakup of US-Iran military relations, strong military tires for a long time now. Further, the long-range Russian bombers armed with full payloads took off from Hamadan Airbase to attack facilities controlled by Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Jabhat Al Nusra (which recently changed its name to Jabhat Fateh Al Sham) in Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zor and Idlib provinces. On August 16, Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) stated that Iran had agreed to share its military facilities and capacities with Russia.

Russian strategic bombers launched from Iran struck rebel positions in Syria last week, in a second day of attacks that multiply Russian firepower in the Middle East and underscore unprecedented military cooperation between the Islamic Republic and a foreign power.

Military experts say this move was motivated both by economic reasons and the necessity to change the course of the battle for Aleppo. During combat missions in the Deirez-Zor Province on August 17, the planes destroyed an IS command post, killing over 150 Syrians. The Kremlin says the Tu-22M3 bombers attacked targets of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other factions in Syria that oppose President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of both Moscow and Tehran.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, it was necessary to relocate its war planes to the combat zone and increase the effectiveness of the mission flights. The Khmeimim Airbase in Syria, currently being used by the front line aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces, is not suitable for the Tu-22M3. The runway is too short and there is a lack of necessary infrastructure. Consequently, Russia and Syria asked Iran to let Russia deploy its planes at an Iranian base. Russia has increased the effectiveness of the long-distance flights at least threefold. Now each Tu-22M3 bomber carries about 20 tons of warheads and receives four-five targets for each flight.

The aim of the Russian terror operation in Syria was not only to support the Bashar al-Assad government and to fight terrorism, but also to get out of the political-diplomatic isolation in which the country found itself after the Ukrainian crisis. Iran says it brought Russia into the Syrian civil war due to its need of an air power to coordinate the ground operations, which Iran planned. Iranian parliamentarians raised concerns about the possibility of a foreign country establishing a military base in the country, which would violate the Iranian Constitution. High-ranking officials responded that the use of Hamedan air base was strictly for refueling purposes, while other officials assured the media that Russian planes would remain in Iran temporarily. The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced Aug. 22 that the planes had left Iran “for the time being, after speculation that the departure of the Russian planes was due to outside pressure or internal disagreements.

Last week, a Russian transport helicopter Mi-8 was shot down in opposition rebel territory in northern Syria and all five crew and officers onboard were killed, the Kremlin said, in the deadliest single incident for the Russian military since its involvement in Syria’s civil war. The Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in Idlib province while returning to the Russian air base on Syria’s coast after delivering humanitarian goods to the city of Aleppo, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The helicopter had three crew members and two officers deployed with the Russian center at the Hemeimeem air base on the Syrian coast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Idlib province has a strong presence of fighters both for the al-Qaida branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front and other groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. The Nusra Front announced last week that it was changing its name and relinquishing ties with al-Qaida in an attempt to undermine a potential US and Russian air campaign against its fighters. The group is part of a coalition of insurgent groups called Jaish al-Fateh, or Army of Conquest, which has captured most of Idlib.

In July, two Russian airmen were killed in the central Homs province when their Mi-25 helicopter was shot down by what the Defense Ministry said were Islamic State fighters. A Mi-28N helicopter gunship crashed near Homs in April, killing both crew members, but the Russian military said there was no evidence it came under fire.

A Russian warplane was shot down by a Turkey along the Syrian border in November, and one of the two pilots was shot and killed from the ground after ejecting. Earlier a Syrian military official said that government forces repelled an attack by insurgents that was an attempt to break the siege imposed on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo. The development came a day after Syrian rebels launched the offensive to break up the government’s siege of eastern, rebel-held part of the city.

Basis

The Iran-Russia cooperation results from “the crisis of terrorism that has been created by some destructive countries in West Asia region and America, therefore Russia has found the right treatment for the region. Top Iranian officials often accuse the USA of creating and backing ISIS and other jihadists fighting Assad regime, claiming it is a bid to undermine their own Iran-led axis of resistance against US and Israeli influence in the region.

Indeed, the Iran-Russia cooperation looks temporary, defined by mutual recognition of the threat of ISIS, and “is not a coalition against a third-party state such as the USA, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey. It is true that taking the lead in battling and destroying Daesh ISIS in Syria and Iraq will have broader geopolitical consequences for rival states, but Moscow and Tehran have never wanted to exclude other actors from the Syrian scene. Their military cooperation is only aimed at accelerating the political solution and not winning the war in a zero sum manner. Therefore, Washington and its allies, if determined to defeat ISIS, should not feel concerned about possible long-term strategic consequences.

Russia-Iran relations have varied, often pragmatically but sometimes capriciously, according to broader agendas and with an eye to the US. Russia built Iran’s only nuclear power plant at Bushehr, but finished it years late and with frequent disputes over payments that at times seemed to emerge only when Russia was trying to cozy up to the USA.

In the 1990s, Iran refrained from backing Islamist Chechen rebels in their fight against Moscow in the 1990s, even as it supported similar militias elsewhere. Yet Russia repeatedly voted alongside the US to impose UN Security Council sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

And earlier this year – as sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program eased as part of a July 2015 accord with world powers – Russia agreed to sell Iran its S-300 anti-missile system, among many other arms sales. Iranian media reports that “substantial” parts of the S-300, which is to defend Iran’s nuclear sites, have already been delivered.

But while both sides have downplayed any greater regional ambitions, others see a larger strategy at play. “There could be more, and the possibility of spreading the Russian air campaign to Iraq,” says Felgenhauer. “The thing is not about Syria per se. Syria is important, but there is more: Russia wants to spread its influence over the entire region, have bases all over, push the Americans out and become the dominant power in the region.”

Meanwhile, Syria became an arena where, within a short span of time, Russia, with assistance from Iran and India was able to establish itself as a global power that could rapidly project its might thousands of kilometres away from its borders and at the same time, effectively strike terrorist groups who were also threatening the interests of the West.

UN estimates some 300,000 people are still trapped in the rebel section of Aleppo, with dwindling food and medical supplies. The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned on Friday that basic supplies in eastern Aleppo could run out in three weeks.

Monday’s helicopter downing was the deadliest for the Russians since Moscow began carrying out airstrikes in Syria in support of Assad’s forces last September.

Strategic military cooperation

President Vladimir Putin met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran – “the most important in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Iran’s leader, in an unprecedented characterization of any foreign leader, called Putin “a prominent figure in today’s world”. In January this year, Moscow and Tehran signed a military-cooperation deal that called for wider collaboration around the training of personnel and counter-terrorism activities.

Cooperation between Iran and Russia took a practical turn during the Syrian war. Both countries supported Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in direct opposition to the USA and western interests, as well as the interests of various regional actors. Relations between the two states continued to strengthen over time. In November 2015, in a high-profile meeting, Russian

Iranian and Russian interests coincide in two major areas. Apart from defying US hegemony, both countries seek to halt the expansion of US military bases in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea region, as well as in this part of the world have given rise to a perceived threat to the security of Iran and Russia. These geopolitical sensitivities have formed a natural basis for cooperation between Iran and Russia. In the case of Iran, this has been one of the pillars of its foreign policy since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979. The Russians, on the other hand, seek to ameliorate their wounded pride and increase their prestige as they attempt to address what they perceive as a lack of international respect and influence. In 2005, Putin said that the fall of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

The emergence of a pro-West government in Ukraine in 2014 added to Russian anxieties. The Russians were concerned about a possible NATO military presence in their backyard. That exacerbated the confrontation between Russia and the West, led by the US, and sparked a chain of tit-for-tat actions and reactions. The Russians are now under economic pressure due to the sanctions imposed by the West with the US taking a leading role. In this context, Iran was identified as the best candidate for a Russian alliance in order to create a power pole to combat the pressure placed on Moscow by the West/US.

Another common strategic imperative for Iran and Russia emerged as events unfolded in Syria. The rise of terrorists is a serious threat to the security of both countries. Russia has been in a state of war with radical elements from Chechnya and other North Caucasian republics since the 1990s. The country has been targeted by several terrorist attacks and in June 2015, the Chechen terror group pledged allegiance to Daesh.

The USA and its regional allies were against the active involvement of Russia in the Syrian war because the Russians aimed at stabilizing the vulnerable fronts in favour of the unwanted Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad. The regime had suffered severe setbacks on the battlefield prior to Russia’s intervention. However, on the other hand, Russia’s military involvement was in line with US/West strategic goals of uprooting extremist groups. Russia’s assumed role as a major player in Syria guarantees its influence in mapping Syria’s post-war politics. This will also allow Russians to tackle their conflict with the West over Ukraine from a position of strength. On the Iranian side, as chaos grew in Syria, the rise of Daesh and the expansion of their significant presence in Iraq, which is within close proximity to Iran, became a formidable threat to the country’s national security.

Syria is of vital importance to Iran for other reasons beside the urgent threat posed by Daesh. Iran’s hostility towards Israel is an entrenched part of its foreign policy since the Iranian Revolution. Iranians took advantage of hostile relations between Syria and Israel for almost 30 years. By strengthening their ties with Syria, they sought to make Syria a de facto shield against a possible military confrontation with Israel.

In addition, with the logistical and economic assistance of the Iranians, Hezbollah of Lebanon emerged in the 1980s as a paramilitary organisation. The move was aimed at countering Israel’s hegemony in the region. Meanwhile, in a context of deterrence, Hezbollah could act as an Iranian proxy force that could pose a constant, potential threat to Israel’s anti-Palestine strategy. Syria shared the same vision with respect to Hezbollah, and as such, Syria became a vital corridor through which Iran could transport weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On another front, the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia has added new dimensions to Syria’s geopolitical significance for the government of Iran.

Russian military bases?

For Russia’s part, its decision to use the Shahid Nojeh military airbase in western Iran underscores its calculation that bolstering its nearly year-long overt military intervention – which began dramatically with Russia airstrikes launched from a base in the Syrian coastal town of Latakia – can help tip the battlefield in Assad’s favor. It means that keeping Assad in power is very important for Iran, and for Iranian hardliners too, since they are allowing an infidel military on their sacred territory.

Since last November, Russia’s strategic bombers have had to fly from an old Soviet airbase at Mozdok in southern Russia. The 650-mile distance to Aleppo from Mozdok is not much shorter from the western Iranian base near Hamedan, as the crow flies. But Russian planes must skirt Turkey, and targets in eastern Syria – and also anywhere in Iraq, should Russia eventually choose to take on IS targets there – are significantly closer from Iran. Flying out of Iran, therefore, enables Russian jets to carry full payloads of 24 metric tons – more than the maximum for the longer run from Russia. That is of course significant, experts say, because since they are carpet bombing Syria, the more bombs you take, the more land you cover. “Right now at this pivotal point in the battle for Aleppo, it is very important that Russia has drastically increased bomb-carrying capability, to bring the bombs to the Syrian opposition.

A top Iranian official said the new arrangement was Syria-specific but also “strategic,” and a “warning to terrorist-supporting countries” – an oblique reference to the US and its allies, which want to see Mr. Assad removed from power. While Iran- and Russia-led cooperation had already made life very tough for Syrians , the new expansion “will continue until they are completely wiped out,” said Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Russian airstrikes have hit not only ISIS jihadists, US officials say, but many more since last year have struck anti-Assad forces backed openly or clandestinely by the USA and its allies. The US-led air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq has help reduce territory of the self-declared caliphate by 30 percent, according to the Pentagon.US officials would say only that they are in “close contact” with Russia as they push for a negotiated solution to a war that has ravaged Syria, claimed more than 400,000 lives, and produced nearly 5 million refugees.

Russia says it has no hidden agenda of securing a military bases in Iran.

Trust deficit

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a Russian withdrawal from Syria last March, and troops were filmed returning home. But that was just a gimmick as there has been little slowdown since, and Russia’s defense ministry said it “eliminated” five weapons depots in the first day of new strikes.

Top Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi noted that Russian planes were only refueling at the base, and that “generally, there is no stationing of Russian forces” in Iran. Washington called the move “unfortunate” and said it “pushes us farther away” from a nationwide cease-fire and the UN-sponsored political process in Geneva that includes Russia. Earlier this week, Russian defense chief Sergei Shoigu was quoted saying the USA and Russia were in “a very active phase” of talks about the surge of fighting in Aleppo, “to start fighting together to bring peace.”

The Russian military presence is sensitive in Iran, where revolutionary ideology since 1979 opposed both US and Soviet influence during the cold war, and categorically, in rhetoric at least, rejects foreign meddling. Ali Larijani, Iran’s speaker of parliament said that it was “forbidden” by the Constitution to create a foreign military base, and that Iran had not “given the base over to Russia in military terms.”

While these determinants have created a strong foundation for a strategic alliance between Russia and Iran, it could be argued that some factors may prevent the alliance from lasting through the long term. First, the Iranians distrust the Russians. They still remember the annexation of a large territory of Iran as a result of several battles with the Russians in the 19th century. The Russians also supported several United Nations sanctions against Iran during Tehran’s crisis over its nuclear program.

It can be claimed that Russia and Iran have different motives in Syria. While this assertion is true, the strategic interests of Russia and Iran converge to a high degree. Russia knows only too well that in the absence of a motivated ground force (i.e., Iran’s proxies), their military operations will have no chance of succeeding in the Syrian asymmetric war.

They also sold their friendship with Iran when the opportunity arose. In 2010, the Russians suspended the delivery of a number of S-300 missiles that Iran had already paid for. It may never be revealed what sort of deal was made between the US and Russia at the time, but the Foreign Policy article titled, ‘How the Obama Team convinced Russia not to sell arms to Iran’ said: The Russian decision was a dividend of the Obama government’s ‘reset’ policy with Russia.” That said, it is worth noting that alliances between countries are not based on trust. Rather, they are based on the countries’ interests. For example, even though the US and Israel are close allies, they do not trust each other. Americans spy on Israelis and vice versa.

Observation

Latest developments once again raise the question as to whether the Tehran-Moscow alliance is tactical or strategic and whether the development is sustainable and long term.

The Iranian and Russian strategic intent in Syria seems much closer than the Russian and American strategic intent in Syria, an earlier agreement by the USA and Russia to seek a negotiated solution having failed. The Russian military tends to be secretive, so that was a political decision to demonstrate to the world that Russia and Iran are militarily together.

The Iranian-Russian conflict with the USA over American hegemony, which has been amplified by the diverging interests of Iran and Russia on the one hand and the US and its regional allies on the other, is not going to be resolved in the near future. In addition, the conflict between Russia and the US-led West over Ukraine has become a Gordian Knot with no solution on the horizon.

Iran’s decision to openly allow foreign troops on its soil for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution – and the first Russians since World War II – is testament to its desire to achieve strategic gains and ensure that the high cost of its involvement in the Syrian war, including the loss of more than 400 Revolutionary Guard troops and a number of generals, not be in vain.

Against this backdrop, it is safe to assume that the Iranian-Russian alliance will remain strong for the foreseeable future. Perhaps just as significantly, the high-profile move allows both nations to ease their isolation, imposed by the USA and the West, while spreading their regional influence through the use of hard power.

There is a possibility of USA and Russia jointly fighting for the blood of Syrians and other Arabs in West Asia by not letting Assad to quit and encouraging him to continue posing an adamant “winner” posture.

Washington has no plan or intention of leaving energy rich West Asia and Central Asia and would continue to use its Asia pivot for some more time. Since Arab leaders, Iran, Syria as well as Moscow have shown their “soft” willingness to cooperate with Pentagon-CIA, Arabs would continue to die.

No other alternatives!

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Russian Authorities Going Forth and Back with Migration Policy

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Deputy Mayor of Moscow for Economic Policy and Property and Land Relations Vladimir Efimov, in an interview published this mid-September in the newspaper Izvestia, a widely circulated and reputable Russian media, lamented that Moscow is still experiencing a shortage of labor migrants at various construction sites, now there is a shortage of about 200 thousand people.

“This problem remains today Moscow lacks about 200 thousand migrants. And we hope that in the near future the restrictions on their entry into the country will be softened,” Yefimov said, answering the question of the publication whether the issue of the shortage of migrant workers for construction sites in Moscow.

According to him, “the lack of labor resources leads to the fact that employers, primarily developers, outbid employees from each other, which increases the cost of their services. If we talk about the period before the pandemic, for several years, housing prices in Moscow have hardly grown. Against the background of the pandemic, the cost of housing has increased, actually catching up with inflation in previous years,” said the Vice Mayor of Moscow.

The announcement simply highlighted the inconsistency dealing with migrant policy and complete lack of foresight, especially what to do with migrants from the former Soviet republics. Thanks to these migrants, mostly employed in the construction fields and (cleaning, sewage disposal or removal services) in various neighborhood or districts, Moscow has won awards for being modern and clean smart-city in Europe. These migrants play an important role, most often underestimated, in building infrastructure and in general development of the society.

According to a survey of Promsvyazbank (PSB), Opora Rossii and Magram Market Research conducted in June 2021 found out that 45% of small and medium-sized businesses in Russia need new employees. Entrepreneurs still consider the unfavorable economic conditions caused by the pandemic to be the main obstacle to business expansion, and employing new staff requires extra cost for training in the social services sector.

Opora Rossii, an organization bringing together Russian small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), among other business organizations and institutions, have been very instrumental on the significant role by migrant force, its combined objective and beneficial impact on the economy of Russia.

Several experts, in addition, have explained that migrants from the former Soviet republics could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for the country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service indiscriminately deports them from Russia.

Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion-dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake mega projects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, the majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.

With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, an international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has acknowledged that Russia lacks a sufficient number of migrants to fulfil its ambitious development plans. He further underscored the fact that the number of migrants in Russia has declined significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.

“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.

In particular, it concerns projects in the agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage of migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.

The labor shortage is not only in Moscow but it applies to many regions including the Far East. During the 6th edition of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), the demography decline and labor shortage have been identified as factors affecting the development of the vast region. With plans to build residential blocks, establish industrial hubs and fix businesses, these depend largely on the working labor force.

The Russian government continues discussing a wide range of re-population program, hoping to attract in particular Russians there, even incentives such double income, mortgage system, early retirement and free plots of land, but little results have been achieved. Russia’s population is noticeably falling, and now stands at 146 million.

The Far East is almost the size of Canada with its current population (a mixture of natives plus legalized immigrants) more than 38 million. That compared, the Far East with estimated 6.3 million is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world.

Kremlin has made this its absolute long-term priority, and the challenging task is to create an environment for investment and attract people. President Vladimir Putin acknowledged, at a meeting on the socio-economic development of the Far East, that the speedy outflow of the population from the Far East suggests that the region has not yet received enough support measures. “A lot is being done, but it is still not enough if we observe an outflow of the population.”

President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia, based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.

“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.

In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.

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Russia’s Far East: Transforming the Space into Modern Habitable Region

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Early September the 6th edition of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) under the theme “New Opportunities for the Far East in a Changed World” was held and considered as vital for strengthening especially economic ties among Asia-Pacific countries and the Far East region of Russia. What is known as the Far East covers approximately 40% of Russia’s territory.

 The Far East is almost the size of Canada with its current population (a mixture of natives plus legalized immigrants) more than 38 million. That compared, the Far East with estimated 6.3 million is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. The Russian government continues discussing a wide range of re-population programmes, hoping to attract in particular Russians there, even incentives such double income, mortgage system, early retirement and free plots of land, but little results have been recorded.

 The September forum, and all the previous ones, focused on raising sustainable development that primarily includes infrastructure, business investment and people. The question is on human habitation and sustenance, but this vast region of the country is sparsely inhabited. Kremlin has made this its absolute long-term priority, and the challenging task is to create an environment for investment and attract people.

 President Vladimir Putin acknowledged, at a meeting on the socio-economic development of the Far East, that the speedy outflow of the population from the Far East suggests that the region has not yet received enough support measures. “A lot is being done, but it is still not enough if we observe an outflow of the population.”

 “Our historical task is not only to keep people in the territories that were mastered by our ancestors for centuries, but to increase the population,” the Russian leader said. Putin stated that the rate of the outflow of people had decreased, but had not stopped. He called the growth of the population in the Russian Far East a “historical task.”

 For this purpose, it is necessary to develop production capacities, create jobs, and ensure people’s incomes. At the same time, Putin also called on using the resources that have already been allocated to the region. “Considerable resources have been allocated and they need to be used effectively,” he suggested, addressing the opening of the Far East Economic Forum.

 The September gathering brought together Russian and foreign entrepreneurs, politicians, experts, and representatives of the media as well as public organizations to exchange experiences and ideas, discuss the most pressing business and development issues and map out useful joint projects and initiatives for the region. Many of the speakers were very frank and objective in speeches, highlighted ways for developing the region.

 The average Far Eastern city fares about 10% worse than the Russian average in terms of housing provision and quality of medical services. “We need intensive breakthrough development. Master plans involving the integrated development of the region could provide the key to this development. What is required is a resource center for urban development covering the Far Eastern Federal District. Secondly, the region is facing a severe shortage of highly skilled workers, especially in architecture and urban planning,” Architect and Partner at KB Strelka, Alexey Muratov told the session on Urban Planning.

 The Far Eastern Federal District has significant economic potential and is of interest to both local and foreign business, but there is an imbalance between investment and economic potential in the region. For Artem Dovlatov, Deputy Chairman and Member of the Management Board of VEB of the Russian Federation, “the Far East is a very interesting region and of particular importance to the government. This is why the Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that the Far East will be a priority region for Russia in the 21st century. From the perspective of investors, the region is of serious interest. It benefits from vast resources, proximity to the Asia-Pacific region, and diverse scientific and technological potential.”

 “There are certain barriers, of course, and investors still approach investing in the region with a degree of caution, since the barriers are objective. They are associated with the population (a lack of staff) and there are costs related to construction… The Far East is a highly urbanized region. This presents a huge challenge because we need to increase quality of life in the cities in order to prevent outward migration or attract new residents. Strategic planning in cities is needed here,” added Dovlatov.

 Further at the different session, Alexey Muratov, Architect and Partner at KB Strelka, simply puts it, “there aren’t enough people in the Far East. The region accounts for 40% of the country’s land mass but only 5.5% of its inhabitants. How can we solve the central challenge, which is to say the imbalance of economic and investment potential? The first and most obvious solution relates to rotation work. Modern workers’ settlements are in no way inferior to cities in terms of comfort. The second option is to attract residents to cities in order to create new jobs. The issue of the urban environment and quality of life is relevant here. According to all polls, quality of life is the key factor behind outward migration.”

 Nikolay Kharitonov, Chairman of the Committee for Regional Policy and Issues of the North and Far East, State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, has, however, expressed worries about to curb migration from the Far East. “Getting a Far Eastern hectare helps people to get settled here [in the Far East] instead of leaving for the south or elsewhere,” he said, adding that for transforming the region, it need transportation network, good infrastructure and social facilities, employment opportunities and conditions for habitation.

 Admittedly, lack of social infrastructure constitutes a big hinderance to many projects. “Social infrastructure is of vital importance to the Far East. If people are fleeing the region, how can we motivate them to stay here? They need the right social infrastructure: health care, education, and everything in between,” according to the views of the Chief Executive Officer of VTB Infrastructure Holding Oleg Pankratov.

 The Far East offers a platform for Russia’s entry into global markets and attracting international investment. Russia is seeking to take its place in the global system of division of labor, so it’s concentrating on projects with high added value. “Russia currently has the best conditions in the world to attract human resources and financial resources and take the next technological step. Why would you just come to the Russian market? Let’s manufacture things here for the whole world to compete with other centres of power, relatively speaking. The Russian government has to provide the best conditions for this,” pointed out Arnika Holding President Alexander Generalov.

 Some foreign participants say it is necessary to expand support measures for business startups, consistently attempt to identify and remove development obstacles. “The Chinese experience is that high technologies and companies always play a very important role in the development of the local economy. We help them with resources, we allocate resources, and you do that too. The tech park should be connected to all resources and the international market. And human resources are very important. If you don’t have a good team to help startups, nothing will happen,” says International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation Vice Chairman Chen Herbert.

 On one hand, entrepreneurs have little trust in the government due to its excessive control and supervision. There are still many problems including bureaucracy and red tape. On the other hand, based on the tasks defined by the country’s leadership, a set of measures is being implemented to enhance the business climate.

 The regulatory framework is being improved in the most important and problematic areas of government regulation. Institutions and infrastructure are being created for the development of investment activity. The best practices to support entrepreneurship are being introduced, including mechanisms for direct financial assistance, concessional lending, tax incentives, and moratorium on government inspections.

 Developing the transport and logistics infrastructure. The carrying capacity of the railways needs to be increased, to develop and upgrade the Trans-Siberian Railway. “Russia’s leadership also has concerns regarding the opportunities offered by the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is indeed a problem, because it is a major factor hindering economic growth in Russia, both in terms of foreign trade, and in terms of domestic transportation. We expect carrying capacity to be expanded in the near future,” believes Sergey Katyrin, President, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.

 The potential exists for Russia and South Korea to cooperate across a broad range of areas, including industry, energy, and the environment. “We particularly want to highlight the cooperation that has taken shape in relation to smart city projects, industrial parks, and multimodal terminals for shipping in Primorye Territory. One of our assets is a joint venture with the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex. We have also acquired a grain terminal and are developing this business in Primorye Territory. Collaboration between our two nations is increasing in energy, fishing, and other areas,” Christopher Koo, Chairman, Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

 “South Korea has traversed a fairly long path in relation to the creation of a waste management system in the early 1990s. Since that time, the system has come to closely reflect our own targets in terms of waste disposal. At the start of this journey, virtually 80% of waste in South Korea went to landfill sites. Today, more than 60% is recycled. In Russia, the President has set the objective of processing – i.e., sorting – 100% of waste, and utilizing 50% of it by 2030. Naturally, we would be delighted to employ technological solutions in this area which have been implemented in South Korea,” added Denis Butsayev, General Director, Russian Environmental Operator Public Law Company.

 Besides South Korea, a number foreign countries strike deals at the forum, most of from the Asian Pacific region. Russia and Japan signed deals. China also signed several deals there as Russia has fast developing bilateral relations and both are members of BRICS. For instance, China has the following from the documents:

 China Railway International Group and Primorye Territory signed a statement of mutual interest and intent to implement an investment project for the Construction of Vladivostok ring road in Primorye Territory. Stage 1: Russky Island – Yelena Island – Ulitsa Kazanskaya in Primorye Territory. Investment volume: RUB 75 billion.

 VEB.RF and the ZED Development project company (part of Region Group) signed a cooperation agreement for the construction of an aerial lift across the Amur river at the section of the Russian-Chinese national border linking the cities of Blagoveshchensk (Russia) and Heihe (China). The construction project is being implemented jointly by the Russian investor and its Chinese partner, the China Railway Construction Corporation. VEB.RF will invest RUB 2 billion.

 The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China signed a memorandum of understanding with the aim of establishing and strengthening cooperation on labour and social security issues of mutual interest.

 Pharmeco and the Union of Chinese Entrepreneurs in Russia signed a partnership agreement with the aim of developing cooperation between Russian and Chinese organizations and Asia-Pacific countries in the field of pharmacology and the construction of healthcare facilities.

 Zeleny Bulvar and KitayStroy signed a cooperation agreement on the construction of residential real estate in Vladivostok. Two 25-floor apartment buildings are set to be built in the Zeleny Ugol neighbourhood of Vladivostok by 2025.

 Stroytransgaz and KitayStroy signed an agreement on the implementation of a project to build a museum and accompanying educational and cultural centre in Vladivostok.

Japan

 The Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, VEB.RF, ECN Group and Marubeni Corporation signed an agreement to implement a project to produce ships using methanol fuel at the Zvezda shipyard.

 GTLK and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines signed an agreement for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines to make an equity investment in GTLK Asia Maritime.

 The Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan signed a bilateral agreement on the supply of LNG and gas condensate.

 Novatek and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) signed an agreement on strategic cooperation on low-carbon projects.

 The Europlast Primorsky Plant and Ryozai Kaihatsu signed a memorandum of cooperation on the expansion of exports to Japan between the parties.

 The Europlast Primorsky Plant and Ryozai Kaihatsu signed a contract on the sale and purchase of PET preforms.

 It is expected that the Far East will continue attracting investments, both Russian and foreign. “We will continue to try to constantly create new development opportunities, thus securing for the Far East this status of a testing ground for management technologies associated with the development of the region,” Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev said at the conference following the forum.

According to the official forum documents: “More than 380 agreements were signed at the forum. International and foreign companies, organizations, ministries and departments have signed 24 documents – 9 with China, 6 with Japan, 3 with Kazakhstan, by one agreement each with Austria, Vietnam, Canada, Serbia and Ethiopia.” And that agreements totaling 3.6 trillion rubles (US$49 billion) were signed at the Eastern Economic Forum (including agreements, the amount of which is not a commercial secret).

Until 2000, the Russian Far East lacked officially defined boundaries, according to historical archival documents. A single term “Siberia and the Far East” often referred to the regions east of the Urals without drawing a clear distinction between “Siberia” and “the Far East” on the territory of Russia. That however, the Far East is generally considered as the easternmost territory of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean.

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The Fall of Kabul and the Balance of Power in Greater Eurasia

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The uniqueness of historical events is determined by the conditions in which they occur. States always act in the same way — what changes is the conditions that force them to act in one way or another, but, most importantly, any change in context leads to fundamentally different consequences of similar events. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989 became possible precisely on the eve of truly global political changes — the end of the Cold War as a result of the de facto defeat of the USSR and its subsequent collapse.

Likewise, the disastrous end of 20 years’ of the US and allies’ presence in Afghanistan is of fundamental importance not in itself, but in the context of a changing global balance of power and a general reduction in the ability of Western countries to play a decisive role in international politics and the world economy. What matters is not the fact of another defeat of the United States — there have been and will be many victories and failures in the military history of this power, but in what circumstances this happens. Now the events in Afghanistan are unfolding amid the growth of the Chinese power and, at the same time, the ability of Moscow and Beijing to coordinate their actions on the most important issues for the state of affairs in Eurasia.

The effects of important events equally depend on the circumstances — short-term or strategic ones. The coming to power of a radical religious movement in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s prompted an attempt by the United States to consolidate its ability to determine the development of world politics. Then any actions of the Taliban on the sovereign territory of Afghanistan became a legitimate reason for international attention and, most often, condemnation. The military intervention of Western countries in Afghanistan received almost the same support as the international operation to liberate Kuwait in 1991.

In the longer term, the establishment in 1996 of a radical regime in Kabul created conditions for the expansion of the presence of the United States and states close to it in central Eurasia. The vulnerability of the Central Asian countries to influence from Washington has significantly increased. But also in Tashkent or Astana there were own efforts to balance Russian and growing Chinese influence in the region with reliance on the West. Until 2014, the United States maintained a direct military presence in the region in the form of bases and logistics centres where the American military was stationed.

But in 2021, the return of the Taliban to Kabul, following the sudden fall of the republican government of Ashraf Ghani, will have very different consequences. First of all, it leads to the further strengthening of China, to better conditions for Russia and a weakening of the West in its fierce competition with Moscow and Beijing. What the Taliban are doing or can do inside the country is not a reason for the general denial of their right to exist. The international context has changed, including in terms of the value dimension of politics and its role in making the most important decisions. Strategically, the return of the radicals to power could lead to the stabilisation of the region, a significant decrease in the United States’ ability to influence its countries and the relative isolation of India, as the country that most closely connects its future with the West.

We do not know if peace in Afghanistan becomes a reality. However, right now, for the first time in the past 40 years, internal political stabilisation in this country has the most solid foundation. First, it is a military victory for a relatively consolidated political movement with a unified leadership and control system. Second, the agreement of the leading regional powers like Russia and China that the Taliban movement should be given a chance to show prudent behaviour inside and outside. For China, this is cooperation in the implementation of major economic projects and refusal to support those religious groups that pose a threat to the security on the Chinese territory. For Russia, this means the absence of aggressive intentions towards the countries of Central Asia. To independently ensure its security, Moscow cannot have complete confidence, as well as a reduction in the flow of drugs coming from Afghanistan.

We have reason to expect that the stabilisation of the military situation in Afghanistan will lead to a revitalisation of Chinese efforts to rebuild the country economically. In the event that expectations become reality, and the United States and the European Union do not find opportunities to make Afghanistan back to the chaotic state of “war of all against all”, it can be expected that the “arc of instability” that girdles Eurasia will be broken. This will be an important geostrategic change in the region, which since the second half of the 19th century has been a field of rivalry between mainland Russia and the Anglo-Saxon powers — first Britain and later the United States.

But what is happening and will continue to happen in Afghanistan may have more varied consequences. With a high degree of probability, it will strengthen the position of Pakistan, which already closely cooperates with China and relies on its economic opportunities. India will feel more insecure — this country already estimates the fall of the republican government in Kabul as a serious blow to its strategic interests. It is likely that the US and its allies’ attempts to establish a dialogue with Iran will become more active — despite the fact that the current regime in this country is not friendly to the West, the internal situation there may be susceptible to external influence.

For Russia, it matters how the reduced US presence in Eurasia affects Turkey’s position. While this country is trying to behave confidently, it is still closely tied to the United States and Europe economically. In the event of strengthening Sino-Russian control over the space of their common neighbourhood, Ankara may have to restore relations with its NATO allies. Also, one cannot exclude Turkey’s chaotic attempts to restore relations with the countries of Central Asia that are close in language, which will also require some Russian attention.

In general, for Russia, the defeat of the United States in Afghanistan means not only a decrease in the capabilities of the main opponent in international affairs, but also a general change in the strategic situation. In particular, we cannot now exclude the possibility that under the new conditions Russia’s policy towards the countries of Central Asia may change.

Most of them are in one way or another connected with Russia by allied relations, but bilateral cooperation does not always develop smoothly. After the United States has lost an important part of the resources to interfere in the regional affairs, Moscow may even face increasing responsibility for its internal stability.

But the United States itself will be looking for ways to return to the central part of Eurasia in one form or another. The defeat in Afghanistan did not have a serious impact on the military and economic capabilities of this power. After the initial shock wears off, we must be prepared for a new round of regional clout. Now, in this struggle, the objective interests of China are on the side of Russia, and this greatly facilitates the situation in comparison with all previous episodes.

The fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, was an important historical event because it meant the actual end of the US attempts to exert a determining influence on international politics. Such efforts will continue, albeit under new ideological slogans, and the United States has long since abandoned attempts to create a truly holistic order under its leadership. In fact, we are dealing with yet another change in the dynamic balance of power that is now defining the nature of international relations. And, as in any case, this change brings new opportunities and new questions for Russia, which will need to answer in the very near future.

From our partner RIAC

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