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Russian President Putin to visit France: Pragmatism in bilateral ties

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Paris next month to inaugurate a Russian cultural center and Russian cathedral. Outwardly there are no political or economic or even security (anti-terrorism) agenda, some experts have expressed serious skepticism that Putin would not make a trip just for a small things and world therefore promote his own political agenda, which includes the alleviation of the Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its policy in Ukraine. Russia is still reeling under the notorious sanctions from USA and Europe and the retaliatory sanctions from Moscow have not alleviated Moscow’s serious economic worries.

Amidst Moscow’s ongoing confrontation with the West over Ukraine, Russian President’s October visit to France has already been met with a great deal of debates in media and government circles in the west, beyond France.

The visit gives the media that plenty of reasons to accuse French President François Hollande of being “malleable” because, they argue, the visit as an “ignominy” because it offers “an authorized podium” to Putin. After the Ukraine crisis, Putin’s visits to EU member states are anything but routine. “Visits to the EU’s major countries are viewed with special interest by many, and with suspicion and open disapproval by some.” Since the break in relations with the West, Putin has traveled to France for international gatherings, such as the D-Day celebration or the UN climate summit. A bilateral visit, of course, carries much more substance.

In general, France has been friendlier to Russia than other EU nations, as indicated previous attempt to foster by Hollande’s shuttle diplomacy with the Kremlin. It means that France is looking for a positive dynamic in its relations with Moscow and making all necessary efforts to alleviate tensions, but there is a lack of goodwill in the Western environment. French companies want economic relations with Russia restored.

Sept-11 and western-Russia unity

The day after 9/11, NATO announced that it interprets the terrorist acts against the USA as an attack on all 19 members of the Alliance. But France questioned the rationale and the hidden agenda of Washington for attacking Iraq.

True, terrorist attacks in USA brought Russia closer to USA while terrorist attacks in France moved Paris closer to Moscow.

France’s pragmatic approach to all issues is significant. It avoids overdoing terror gimmick beyond certain limit and does not fully trust USA. Hollande seems to be driven by pragmatic calculations after a series of terrorist attacks in 2015-2016 in Paris and Nice. This is the reason why he changed his rhetoric and toned down his criticism toward Russia. All this makes him a sort of contrarian among the NATO members, which remain intransigent and reluctant to cooperate with the Kremlin regardless of common threats like Islamic terrorism.“The recent terrorist attacks against the French people underscore the importance of security cooperation with Russia…And Paris has not entirely forgotten its past habit of acting as a great power in its own right… For France, Russia isn’t an adversary, isn’t a threat,” Hollande said during the NATO Summit in Warsaw. “Russia is a partner that can sometimes, as we saw in Ukraine, use force. … It’s absolutely not NATO’s job to weigh in on the relationship that Europe has with Russia.”

Indeed, France is one of the EU countries, which has been trying to maintain dialogue with the Kremlin regardless of the risks of being strongly criticized by its Western counterparts. French parliamentarians and businessmen have paid numerous visits to Russia and Crimea since the sanctions came into force. In the wake of the Russia-West confrontation over Ukraine, a number of French parliamentarians visited the Crimean peninsula in late July 2015. Former French President and current leader of the Republicans party Nicolas Sarkozy paid a two-day visit to Moscow on October 28-29, 2015, not to mention Hollande’s meeting with Putin in Moscow in late November 2015 in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. French companies want economic relations with Russia restored. Likewise, French Senate President Gerard Larcher paid a visit to Moscow in early April 2016. He admitted that the sanctions on Russia had serious implications for France, which has lost access to Russian markets. Finally, France’s parliament – the National Assembly – voted against prolonging economic sanctions on Russia and adopted a resolution calling on Paris to reassess the nation’s sanctions policy towards Moscow on Apr. 28.

The war on terror launched by France after the deadly attacks Nov. 13 in Paris resembles the anti-terrorism campaign of the USA after the Sept. 11 in 2001. It remains to be seen if France is going to repeat the mistakes of former US President George Bush. Regular citizens realized that the US led war on terror has made Europeans more insecure than ever and even in the heart of Europe they cannot feel completely safe.

Recently, meeting the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian and France continued developing relations in all spheres against all the odds. “Despite all the difficulties, the relations between our countries are developing,” Putin said at a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. “We develop them practically in all directions, including the government level, business contacts and inter-parliamentary dimension,” the Russian president said. He noted that France was one of Russia’s key partners in Europe and the whole world. Putin offered the French foreign minister to discuss bilateral relations and key international issues at their meeting. French Foreign Minister said French President Francois Hollande expects to see the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, in October 2016.

Thus visiting is going to happen.

Some commentators speculate that the French President sought to use this visit to reinvigorate the debates on lifting sanctions against Moscow and normalizing the French-Russian bilateral relations and Russia-EU relations. However, after the mysterious Crimean incident the prospects of improving Russian-European relations and implementing the Minsk Agreements are not feasible in the near future.

According to the allegations of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), released in early August, Ukrainian saboteurs were preparing terrorist attacks in Crimea, while Kiev sees such accusations as “fantasies”. Although there are still chances for improvement, the Crimean incident came as a very unpleasant surprise, which provoked tensions.

The French government is adjusting its security priorities. France is now ready to take up arms and launch a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) All this is looking more and more like the aftermath of 9/11 in the USA. The War on Terror is a phrase coined by former US President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. 14 years later, “France is at war, ”uttered François Hollande, the President of France, after Paris was targeted by terrorists on Nov. 13, 2015.

Historical ties and antagonism

Russia’s longing to be a part of Europe Is not accidental and after the collapse of mighty USSR. France and Russia were crucial states in the European balance of power. France–Russia relations date back to early modern period, with sporadic contact even earlier, when both countries were ruled by absolute monarchies, the Kingdom of France (843–1792) and the Tsardom of Russia (1547–1721). Diplomatic ties go back at least to 1702 when France had an ambassador (Jean-Casimir Baluze) in Moscow.[2] Following Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War, the foundation of Saint Petersburg as the new capital in 1712, and declaration of an empire in 1721, Russia became a major force in European affairs for the first time.

After the French Revolution, Russia became a center of reactionary antagonism against the revolution. The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was major defeat for France and a turning point in the Napoleonic War. Russia was again hostile when the Revolutions of 1848 broke out across Europe. France’s challenges to Russia’s influence led France to participate in the Crimean War, which saw French troops invade the Crimean peninsula.

Imperial Russia’s foreign policy was hostile to republican France in the 19th century and very pro-German. Russia cautiously began a policy of rapprochement with France starting in 1891 while the French for their part were very interested in the Russian offers of an alliance. In August 1891, France and Russia signed a “consultative pact” where both nations agreed to consult each other if another power were to threaten the peace of Europe. In 1893-94, French and Russian diplomats negotiated a defensive alliance meant to counter the growing power of Germany. The alliance was intended to deter Germany from going to war by presenting the Reich with the threat of a two-front war; neither France nor Russia could hope to defeat Germany on their own, but their combined power might, which in turn was meant to deter Berlin from going to war with either Paris or St. Petersburg.

Tashkent in its turn would be the base from which the Russians would invade Afghanistan as the prelude to invading India. Despite their alliance, both Russia and France pursued their own interests. In 1908-09 during the Bosnia crisis, France declined to support Russia as a quarrel in the Balkans with Austria supported by Germany threatening war against Russia over Bosnia did not concern them. The lack of French interest in supporting Russia during the Bosnia crisis was the nadir of Franco-Russian relations with the Emperor Nicholas II making no effort to hide his disgust at the lack of support from what was supposed to be his number one ally.

In 1911 during the Second Moroccan Crisis, the Russians paid the French back for their lack of support in the Bosnia crisis by refusing to support France when Germany threatened war against the French over Morocco. Further linking France and Russia together was a common economic interests. Russia wished to industrialize, but lacked the capital to do so while the French were more than prepared to lend the necessary money to finance Russia’s industrialization. By 1913, French investors had put 12 billion francs into Russian assets, making the French easily the largest investors in the Russian empire. The industrialization of the Russian Empire was largely the result of a massive influx of French capital into Russia.

On March 16, 1902, a mutual pact was signed between France and Russia. Japan later fought Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. France remained neutral in this conflict. During World War I, France was allied with Great Britain and the Russian Empire. The alliance between the three countries formed the Triple Entente. However, after the Bolsheviks seized control of the Russian government in 1917, Russia left the war.

France’s bilateral relations with the Soviet Union have experienced dramatic ups and downs due to Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and France’s alliance in the NATO. Previous Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev made a visit to France in October 1985 in order to fix the strains in the Franco-Soviet relations. Nevertheless, France’s bilateral activities continued with NATO, which furthermore strained the bilateral relations between France and the Soviet Union.

After the breakup of the USSR, bilateral relations between France and Russia were initially warm. On February 7, 1992 France signed a bilateral treaty, recognizing Russia as a successor of the USSR. As described by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the bilateral relations between France and Russia remain longstanding, and remain strong to this day. During the 2008 Georgia-Russia War, Sarkozy did not insist on territorial integrity of Georgia. Moreover, there were no French protests when Russia failed to obey Sarkozy’s deal to withdraw from Georgia and recognizing governments in Georgia’s territories. One of the major news has been the sale of Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia. The deal which was signed at 2010, is the first major arms deal between Russia and the Western world since World War II The deal has been criticized for neglecting the security interests of Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Georgia

Before Syrian Civil War, Franco-Russian relations were generally improving. After years flailing behind Germany and Italy, France decided to copy them by emphasizing the bilateral relationship. Ever since the financial crisis took hold, European powers have been forced to court emerging markets more and Moscow meanwhile wanted to diversify its own economy. President Hollande summed up the attitude towards what some said Putin’s repressive array of new laws during his first official visit to Moscow in February 2013: “I do not have to judge, I do not have to evaluate”

The French press highlighted that ISIS is the first common enemy that France and Russia fight shoulder to shoulder since WWII. A Russian newspaper recalled that “WWII had forced the Western World and the Soviet Union to overcome their ideological differences”, wondering whether ISIS would be the “new Hitler”. François Hollande and Vladimir Putin agreed on ordering their respective armed forces to “cooperate” with one another in the fight against the ISIS. The French President has called upon the international community to bring “together of all those who can realistically fight against this terrorist army in a large and unique coalition. The French-Russian bombing cooperation is considered to be an “unprecedented” move, given that France is a member of NATO. Russia tried to be a part of NATO with French help but USA remains unimpressed by Moscow’s love for capitalism and imperialism.

Western sanctions, Russian response

The West, inspired by the super power USA, subjected Russia and companies to batches of sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, after Russia incorporated Crimea in mid-March 2014 after a coup in Ukraine in February that year. New, sectoral, penalties against Russia were announced in late July 2014 over Moscow’s position on Ukrainian events, in particular, what the West claimed was Russia’s alleged involvement in hostilities in Ukraine’s embattled south-east.

Russia responded with imposing on August 6, 2014 a ban on imports of beef, pork, poultry, fish, cheeses, fruit, vegetables and dairy products from Australia, Canada, the EU, the United States and Norway. The Russian authorities have repeatedly denied accusations of “annexing” Crimea because Crimea reunified with Russia voluntarily after a referendum, and Moscow has repeatedly dismissed Western allegations that it could in any way be involved in hostilities in the south-east of Ukraine.

France had said it was ready to facilitate the preparation of a decision on lifting anti-Russian sanctions which will be discussed at EU’s summit at the end of June or beginning of July. But it could do much on the issue.

Observation

Despite the high expectations for Putin’s visit to Paris, experts are very skeptical that it will bring any breakthroughs. Generally, France pursues a neutral foreign policy. France’s decision not to ask for NATO support after the terrorist attacks in Paris makes the point clear. France has the capacity to accommodate the counter arguments of the opponents.

Interestingly, French-Russian bilateral relations are not in the best shape, but they are not worse than the relations with other European countries. This is a good sign, especially given the 2017 presidential elections in France.

But President Hollande’s approach towards Russia could be a political tactic to gain votes before the 2017 presidential elections perhaps against Sarkozy. After all, he is expected to run for the next presidency and the French people have always been divided in their attitude toward Russia.

On its part, Russia hopes that the next French president could reinvigorate ties with Moscow and seek to establish closer relations at the bilateral level instead of improving relations with the EU in general. Putin visit could promote that goal. But the EU may be transformed, but the countries that comprise it, will remain and Russia will have to deal with them somehow.

Sarkozy seems not to be very enthusiastic about improving relations with Russia. His tough stance toward Russia is rather close to the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. So, it remains to be seen if Hollande’s departure from the presidential office will be good or bad for Russia.

Given the fact that the EU puts itself into opposition to Russia and is faced with a serious transformation in the aftermath of Brexit, Russia finds it more convenient to find common ground on a bilateral level with separate European countries that are relatively friendly to Moscow and have a history of successful partnership. Moscow believes that it would be reasonable now to build up the relations with important European stakeholders such as France, taking into account the diplomatic approach of Paris and its readiness to come up with a compromise. However, the perception that a new French president will be pro-Russia is wrong.

The same applies to Trump as well.

Many agree that the anti-terrorism cum could bring the Western nations together. It became a matter of political routine for Paris-Moscow bilateral relations. The two leaders will discuss it and, probably, look at the problem from a different angle. Yet it is also hardly likely to be the key topic during the Russian president’s visit to France.

Despite the numerous assumptions that Putin will try to persuade Hollande to lift the European sanctions during his visit, it might not be the key topic. Russia’s relations with the West and France, in particular, are not limited to lifting sanctions. The agenda of the Middle East and Syria is more relevant for bilateral relations and Putin could primarily discuss this with Hollande to end hostilities in Syria and make Mideast war free. .

Paris may not break ranks with EU or NATO solidarity, and won’t take steps that lead to the cancellation of the sanctions. Yet, Putin’s visit underlines the following trend: nations are no longer isolating Russia, but re-establishing links with it.

Even though the Russian President’s upcoming visit to France might improve French-Russian relations, there is no reason to wait for any breakthroughs. USA cannot tolerate any “concessions” to Russia.

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No one will deter Russia in the Baltic region

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Recently researchers and analysts of the RAND Corporation issued the report “Exploring Requirements for Effective Deterrence of Interstate Aggression.”

The stated aim of this report is “to provide a fresh look at the subject in this context, with two primary purposes: to review established concepts about deterrence, and to provide a framework for evaluating the strength of deterrent relationships.” Chapter Four of the report is called “Deterring Russia in the Baltic Region” and presents analysis of security challenges in the Baltic States.

This particular report is interesting by the fact that it acknowledges the minimal likelihood of Russia’s military aggression in the Baltics. It is more than strange when take into account the previous report that insisted on high level probability of Russian aggression. This time experts consider the situation to be less dangerous for the Baltic Region.

According to the RAND Corporation analysts, Russia does not consider the Baltic States to be a strategically important region for itself.

Therefore, despite the Kremlin’s desire to change the balance of forces in Europe in its favor, Russia does not consider “aggressive actions in the Baltic States as a tool of achieving these goals.”

The US specialists have not found evidence of preparing the invasion of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, and Russia’s buildup of military power on their borders.

They have made a conclusion that a more aggressive behavior of Russia towards the Baltic countries can occur in case of the anti-missile defense systems deployment on their territory.

Instead, experts recommend that the US authorities treat Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with understanding and condescension and even take into account that their eternal anti-Russian fears are associated with difficult common historical past. In other words, they advise to rather provide moral support.

The report of the RAND Corporation cannot be treated only as a private opinion of a non-governmental organization. The findings of this center of expertise usually anticipate and justify strategic decisions made by the United States.

Thus, two years ago RAND Corporation held a war game, which revealed that the Russian armed forces need only about 60 hours to occupy the Baltic States, and NATO allies would not physically have time to help Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The analysis of the results of the war game was one of the rationales for deploying four multinational battalion-size battle groups on their territory.

Today, the RAND Corporation concludes that Russia does not threaten the Baltic States, and military tensions over this region can arise only if the missile defense systems are deployed. It follows logically that the further militarization of the Baltic States is explosive and undesirable.

So, the US elites as well as NATO do not want to deal with the Baltic States. They do not want to be distracted by countries that are of no importance for Russia, their main antagonist.

The first recommendation made by the analysts of the RAND Corporation in the report is “to assess the motives of potential aggressors and ease security concerns. In Europe, this could include avoiding deployment of the most provocative U.S. systems in or near Eastern Europe, thinning Russian and Baltic forces, and working on a successor to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.”

In the case of military provocation in the Baltic Sea, similar to the one that occurred in the Kerch Strait, NATO, the US or the EU will not even provide the Baltic States with active diplomatic assistance, not to mention immediate military support. The RAND Corporation made this more than clear for the Baltic States.

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Russian Aluminium, Health Ministry Announce Ebola Vaccine

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russian Aluminium (RUSAL), one of the world’s largest aluminium producers, together with the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, announced the completion of the vaccination against the Ebola virus in the Republic of Guinea. Two thousand people have received the GamEvac-Combi vaccines during the testing programme conducted at the Scientific Diagnostic Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology (SDCEM) in Guinea.

The centre was an initiative of Russian business tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, and was built by RUSAL during the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2015. GamEvac-Combi vaccine was created in the Gamalei Federal Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. The vaccine is currently in the final round of testing.

“As part of the testing programme, the health of the vaccinated participants and the development of the immunity are monitored for one year. At the end of this period of monitoring, the vaccine will receive international certification making it available for use by the World Health Organisation and other organizations for the purpose of preventing the spread of the disease,” according to media release.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, instructed the development of the vaccine following a request from the President of the Republic of Guinea Alpha Condé at the end of 2014.

In 2016, the vaccine was revealed during the World Health Assembly where the former WHO Director-General, Margaret Chen, was in attendance. The vaccine was registered in Russia at the end of 2015.

Along with developing the vaccine, RUSAL, as part of the public-private partnership supported by Oleg Deripaska, opened a research centre, an isolation ward and a hospital in Guinea. RUSAL’s commitment to fighting the epidemic was acknowledged by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, who thanked RUSAL’s shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, for his contribution to the international effort against Ebola.

The strong relationship that RUSAL has established with the Republic of Guinea is something that Oleg Deripaska often speaks about. He recently highlighted RUSAL’s commitment to helping the population of the country hit by the virus; “When the outbreak of the fever came, we made every effort to help”, said Oleg Deripaska.

“Currently the vaccine is administered to the Russian medics and other specialists going to the regions where there is a high risk of Ebola contagion”, said Veronika Skvortsova, the Minister of Health of the Russian Federation. “During the Ebola outbreak, the centre has shown the best results in terms of the number of Guinean persons wholly recovered: 62.5% of the SDCEM patients with a confirmed Ebola fever diagnosis have been successfully treated”.

The advantages of GamEvac-Combi vaccine

The vaccine was developed using a biotechnology method without using the pathogenic Ebola virus. The base of the vaccine is the genetic material of an adenovirus and vesicular canker virus, safe for humans, modified with a gene containing the information about the structure of the GP protein of the Ebola virus.

Pre-clinical and clinical studies have proven the safety of the vaccine and have shown that it stimulates the immune system more efficiently than foreign vaccines. Another important advantage of the vaccine is its more favourable transportation and storage conditions: GamEvac-Combi can be transported and stored at the temperature above -16◦C – and similar foreign vaccines require the temperature of less than – 60 ◦C for storage, which is difficult to implement in the hot African climate.

The SDCEM centre, that will continue to do medical examinations for the Guinean population, is the most advanced and biologically safe facility in the Western Africa. The centre was created in line with all international humanitarian organizations’ recommendations and is equipped with modern medical and laboratory equipment. RUSAL invested more than US$10 million in the construction of the SDCEM.

Currently, SDCEM is the leading centre in the field of investigating and preventing infectious diseases in Guinea. It also serves as the training facility for the national epidemiologists.

RUSAL has been active in Guinea since 2001 being one of the largest foreign investors in the country. In Guinea, RUSAL owns Kindia Bauxite Company (KBC) as well as the bauxite-alumina facility Friguia. RUSAL continues implementing projects to launch the world’s largest bauxite mines Dian-Dian in Boké region.

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Putin, United Russia and the Message

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On Dec. 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary meeting of the 18th United Russia party congress, reiterated the key challenges, problems and accomplishments for the nation. The congress delegates identified the challenges and priorities in the party’s work for the coming year.

Putin acknowledged the party’s support during his presidential election campaign, saying it was “a momentous thing shaping the top institution of power” in Russia. This concerns the president, the government, the region – any level, down to the local or municipal one.

Putin further referred to an action plan that was presented in a condensed form in the Executive Order in May 2018 and that set out in national projects drafted by the Government (the majority in the Government are United Russia members) and was supported by legislators (United Russia holds the majority in the State Duma). He pointed to the fact that there would not be any success without United Russia’s backing at the regional and municipal level.

“The United Russia party plays a special role. For a number of years the party has been showing its competence, its ability to make responsible decisions, explain these decisions to the people,” Putin told the party delegates during his address, while acknowledging frankly that there have been pitfalls and problems in the political leadership.

Leadership means making responsible decisions the country needs. This leadership is an enormous resource to achieve dynamic and substantive change that can ensure a radical improvement in the quality of life and greater well-being of the population.

Putin reminded the party meeting that the entire world going through a dramatic situation. In his words: “the world is undergoing a transformation, a very powerful and dynamically evolving transformation, and if we do not get our bearings, if we do not understand what we need to do and how, we may fall behind for good.”

He suggested that United Russia with its tremendous legislative, organisational and human resource potential must fully utilise it and consolidate all of society, in solving development issues, in implementing the nationwide agenda.

Putin told the party delegates never allow any sort of rudeness, arrogance, insolence towards people at any level – at the top level and the lowest, municipal level. This is important because it does the country a disservice, it is unfair to the people and it denigrates the party to the lowest of the low. The public demands fairness, honesty and openness.

What is “society” after all? It is the people. Thus, one key factor here is that people’s opinions and attitudes must necessarily be taken into account. There must be commitment to implementing people’s initiatives, and their initiatives must be used in attaining common goals, especially at the municipal level, according to the Russian leader.

The most crucial thing for a political party is a steady standing of its representatives and that United Russia does not have to fear change but rather work strategically towards making a change for the better.

Putin further asked the delegates to work relentlessly for a free democratic country, development of nationwide tasks, realisation of new ideas and approaches. Discussions and competition, including within the party itself are very efficient tools for solving problems in the interests of the nation. United Russia has to do everything needed to instil both inside the party in particular and in society in general this political culture, an atmosphere of dialogue, trust and cooperation with all political forces of Russia.

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