“I think [NATO’s expansion] is the beginning of a new cold war. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. NATO expansion was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”–George Kennan
[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]s a follow-up to my previous piece on the demise of the EU I’d like to analyze briefly the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West provoked by Putin’s aggressive challenge to Western civilization and democracy. The challenge has come in every field imaginable: cyber space, military weapons, invasions and intimidations of US allies, Western-leaning countries, even of neutral states, nuclear posturing, arms control, not to mention religion as a tool of political propaganda, as already analyzed in another article.
Some observers of this troubling scenario have imputed it to political paranoia. There is undoubtedly a case to be made in that respect. Since the implosion of the Soviet Empire there has ensued a failure of democratic institution which were allegedly replacing the old order. Russia is not, by any stretch, the free and open society the West had hoped for at the end of the Cold War. This failure usually comes together with insecurity. Insecurity usually ensues when the people have no true and tried way for power to change hands without violence and unfairness. Indeed, ideally, within a democratic system, the people are in charge.
What obtains in Russia nowadays is the rule of oligarchs who hold power undemocratically over and against ordinary citizens. Those oligarchs are constantly fearful of a coup that may remove them from power. The old paranoia of Western encirclement seems to have resurfaced. The way they deal with the insecurity and paranoia it to bully and intimidate neighboring countries. One’s security is in inverse proportion to the insecurity and destabilization of one’s neighbors; hence the destabilization of the Ukraine; the outright annexation of the Crimean peninsula; the suring up of Syria; the funding of far right fascist ultranationalist “law and order” authoritarian organizations in the EU in countries such as France, Turkey, Hungary, just to mention a few, which aim at the destruction of the EU (such as the party of Marine Le Pen in France); the discrediting and lampooning of Western institutions, the exaggerated accusations of allegedly rampant corruption and immorality within Western societies, the dissemination of chaos and confusion in EU democratic elections, not to mention the hacking of the US election system. But these are not so much actions as they are reactions to moves made by the West first.
We’ll get to that later. For the moment, it must be understood that to fully control the above authoritarian apparatus one has to exercise control on the media, thus substantially diminishing accountability, the democratic process and transparency, while keeping one’s favorability numbers within public opinion artificially high. Free speech, rule by consensus, dissent, are all held in low esteem, while order, without justice, is at a premium. This is the sad scenario of today’s Russia. Little remains at present of a mutually beneficial working relation between Moscow and Washington.
How did we get to this precarious state of affairs and the impasse of a second Cold War? The leaders on both sides seem to be unwilling or unable to turn back or at least change direction. In part this is due to a failure on the part of the West to try to understand Russia’s paranoia, its strategic importance, nuclear arsenal, continental dimensions, natural resources and its potential to create trouble around the world. Also, it is largely due to a failure to recognize Russia’s concerns about the expansion of NATO. When Russia was weakest, in the mid-1990s, NATO chose to announce plans for eastward expansion, in violation of a gentleman’s agreement that Mikhail Gorbachev had struck with the first Bush administration. Boris Yeltsin objected angrily to NATO’s reneging, but to no avail. The first round of enlargement came in 1997 and included the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. Three subsequent rounds inducted other Eastern European countries, including the Baltics in 2004. Ukraine and Georgia, though denied invitations to initiate membership proceedings in 2008, were assured that they would eventually be allowed to join. The 1999 NATO intervention over Kosovo in Yugoslavia, with which Russia shares a religion and Slavic ancestry, provoked long-lasting anger. During the Soviet decades, NATO would not have launched an unprovoked 78-day bombing campaign on the border of Warsaw Pact countries.
There is also a failure to understand that Russian is neither Western nor Eastern, but is what it is sui generis. Russians have spent the last hundred years surviving various apocalypses, many of their own making—the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and civil war; famine, both man-made and natural; the Nazi invasion and the loss of at least 25 million souls; almost three decades of Stalinist despotism, with 20 million Soviets dispatched to the gulag, mass executions, the deportation of entire peoples, and ecological disasters. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union, sudden widespread impoverishment, two separatist wars, and an Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus that involves terrorist attacks in Russian cities to this day. It is no wonder that most Russians feel that the worst is already behind them and it may have inured them to any further suffering. Putin in some way represents that kind of defiant attitude toward attempt by the West to punish Russia for its misbehavior on the international stage. This may only further provoke the angry bear who may be roaming about ready to replicate in the Baltics what it has done in Crimea.
To return to the original question: will Russian democracy, such as it is, manage to survive? Some have already declared it dead. They see no vestige of it as practiced in the mid-nineties. What seems to have survived is the seething anger over everything lost with the fall of the Soviet Union: the social-welfare state, national pride, low crime rate, and last but not least, superpower status. Democracy, to most Russians, seems unable to restore these values. Putin seems able to do so, or so it seems to popular perception, as misguided as it may appear to Western eyes.
In conclusion, considering the above analysis, the following crucial question seems appropriate: why, in the interests of peace in our time, are Russia’s interested not better accommodated at the table of international relations? If the West did not totally exclude it from that table during the Cold War, is it wise to do so now and thus provoke a second Cold War, perhaps even a hot one?
G20 Summit: Looking for Compromise
The G20 is an important international forum, a meeting place for representatives of the world’s largest economies. Now, we can say that the division into the so-called “developed” and “developing” economies is irrelevant within this forum. Additionally, the G20 generally does, indeed, represent the interests of the global population, since its countries account for over 80 percent of the gross world product and two thirds of the entire population of the planet. It is also important to remember that such venues are very convenient for privately owned businesses, which, through the support of governmental agencies, can get favourable opportunities to hold talks with their foreign partners. Additionally, a rather large number of meetings and talks at G20 summits remains outside the spotlight, but their results confirm the significance of the many unofficial meetings, informal negotiations and talks on the side-lines of the summits. These meetings, which take place in a variety of formats, are vital for understanding the issues that are most important for leading international participants and whether there is consensus among them on the approaches required to resolve these issues. Moreover, as we consider meetings and agreements concluded on the side-lines of G20 summits, we can, to a degree, draw conclusions on the current configuration or re-configuration of international relations.
From the outset, we will note that the importance of G20 summits is gradually growing, even though they started out as meetings of ministers of finance and their initial goal was to formulate a joint response to global financial issues. Today, the summit has transformed into an international venue for discussing issues of global financial and economic policies and other pressing matters of the day. However, economic and financial issues remain significant for G20 discussions.
The summit is also important for the expert and political communities of various countries that assess the prospects of inter-country interactions. Apparently, at the Argentina summit, the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin attracted the greatest interest, but it never happened, since the U.S. President cancelled it at the eleventh hour, which certainly demonstrates the growing tensions in U.S.–Russia relations.
At the same time, the summit is useful, since its function is not to settle bilateral relations, but to develop common approaches that satisfy different states with different economic indicators and representing different political regimes.
G20 summits are convened to discuss several pressing issues proposed by the presiding state.
The summit held in Argentina was devoted to building a consensus for fair and stable development. Face-to-face meetings between heads of state are particularly important for handling the task. The goal of the summit indicates that the global community is aware of the current tectonic shifts in the global economy and in world politics. For a full-scale scale discussion of the problem, four issues were put on the agenda: the future of work and new professions, infrastructure for development, sustainable food future and gender mainstreaming.
Clearly, the G20 is not just a venue for discussing issues that have been defined as key; it is also an opportunity to “compare notes” via different formats “inside” the summit. For instance, we can say that France, Germany, Austria and Italy did not represent themselves or their interests alone, but were also united by their common tasks as EU countries. In addition, as one of the world’s largest economies, the European Union is a member of G20 as a single body. At the present summit, the European Union was represented by the heads of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. Similarly, BRICS countries use G20 to discuss issues of their own.
G20 in Implementing Russia’s Strategic Tasks
Russia’s current strategic priority is to take part in the establishment of the concept of a multipolar world and in elaborating new principles of interaction within integration processes in Eurasia. Therefore, special emphasis will invariably be placed on the possibilities for implementing the idea of “integrating integrations” at G20 summits, and this summit was no exception. In particular, special attention was paid to mechanisms for connecting the development of the EAEU with the “One Road – One Belt” strategy. In addition, issues of stepping up cooperation within BRICS are also addressed, and there is an ongoing search for parties interested in bolstering global political and economic stability through the instruments of “integrating integrations,” which entails Russia paying attention to China, India and other Asian partners, as well as the gradual stable growth of Russia’s interests in Latin America.
As for meetings that have the greatest significance for Russia, the key talks for understanding the development of Russia’s foreign policy are the now traditional sessions held with BRICS countries. In addition, a meeting was also held between the heads of state of Russia, India and China (in the RIC format). Objectively, this format could be the most efficient, since interaction between Eurasia’s three largest states is of principal significance for both regional and global security. The dialogue on security issues and collaboration in all areas will be continued at the second Belt and Road Summit in April 2019 that Xi Jinping invited Vladimir Putin to attend.
The President of the Russian Federation was probably one of the most active figures at the present summit. Naturally, he had a meeting with representatives of Argentina. It is all the more important today since the EAEU and MERCOSUR are building up their cooperation potential, and a Memorandum on Cooperation is being prepared. What is more, Russia and Argentina concluded an agreement on nuclear power generation that will allow Russia to start construction of Russian-designed nuclear power plants in Argentina.
The main topic of discussion at the meeting between Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin was the Syrian agenda. Indeed, an exchange of opinions on this question now, when various formats of building up the peace process are being discussed, is of particular importance. In addition, the President of the Russian Federation discussed the current situation in Syria with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also confirmed the significance of the Turkish Stream for the stable and secure development of the economy of Turkey and other states.
The meeting between the President of the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman focused on energy issues, with the two parties agreeing to extend the agreement on cutting oil production.
Vladimir Putin also met with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, with the Japanese side raising the issue of concluding a peace agreement. For Russia, the issue is not particularly relevant anymore, and at the meeting, the two heads of state agreed to continue active cooperation to increase the level of mutual trust between the two sides.
Of course, a great number of people were interested in the informal conversation between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who only had time to exchange opinions on the “Kerch Strait incident.” Trump’s refusal to meet with the President of the Russian Federation means a further loss of confidence between the two countries.
On the whole, meetings between heads of state were of particular importance at the summit, since, for instance, the meeting at the level of ministers of foreign affairs was downsized due to the absence of Russian and French ministers of foreign affairs, the U.S. Secretary of State and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
G20: The International Agenda
The so-called Iran nuclear deal has become one of the most crucial problems in international relations. Russia and the European Union have adopted the same stance on this issue.
In addition to economic matters, G20 also tackled the climate change problem and proposed complete and utter compliance with the decisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, significant progress is unlikely after the withdrawal of the United States from the accord.
No less important were the discussions on the problem of terrorism. The G20 countries agreed that their Leaders’ Hamburg Statement on Countering Terrorism needed to be implemented. Incidentally, that statement declared the need to fight terrorism internationally in all its forms and manifestations. However, the current situation is extremely complicated, and discussions concerning Syria confirm this fact.
The influence of the European Union and the United Kingdom on the international security agenda and their claim that Russia is the main disrupting force are just as worrying. The European Union, in the person of Donald Tusk, sought to expand the summit’s agenda with a discussion of Russia’s so-called aggression against Ukraine, which he likened to the problem of trade wars. However, despite the suggestion put forward by both Tusk and the United Kingdom that the G20 discuss Russia’s allegedly impermissible conduct and use some instruments against it, the proposal failed to gain traction. It say a lot that the “Kerch Strait incident” did not overshadow any of the meetings held by the President of the Russian Federation at the G20 Summit.
The attention of international actors was also focused on the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, who failed to achieve a consensus on economic interaction, but agreed to a 90-day moratorium on introducing increased tariffs. Accordingly, special hopes are pinned on this interim measure. Clearly, China will not make the unilateral concessions that the United States is calling upon it to do, appealing instead to the idea of a compromise.
Results of the G20 Summit
While the summit’s final declaration does not contain specific figures and objectives for the most sensitive issues on the agenda, it does offer mechanisms for their resolution. In this respect, the summit did not turn out to be a breakthrough in resolving pressing issues. However, it demonstrated that no issue will ever be resolved if the parties abandon dialogue and compromise.
The results of Russia’s efforts at the summit include the signing of a large set of bilateral agreements between public and private bodies. The summit also demonstrated that Russia is actively and successfully stepping up cooperation with Latin American countries and enhancing its multi-format collaboration with the BRICS nations, particularly with China and India.
It is both curious and telling that the media was most interested in the meetings held by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump. However, we should mention the different approaches of these heads of state. For example, the President of the United States demonstrated that his country was not especially interested in following the established rules and was far more concerned about retaining the right to develop new rules of the game independently of other participants in international relations. Meanwhile, China’s and Russia’s leaders spoke about cooperation and compromise both in their joint meetings held in various formats and in their conversations with other heads of state. Additionally, the fact that the world is changing rapidly was recognized at the summit, meaning that the rules of the game can and should be changed and that new rules need to be formulated, but only through collaboration and compromise.
The heads of state also appealed to the IMF and the World Bank to work towards improving the economic situation in various countries and increasing the transparency of their work in interacting with states. This should help reduce sovereign debt and ensure that the recommendations offered by international financial institutions in individual states are implemented more effectively.
In addition, the leaders of the G20 countries concluded that responses need to be developed to current and future challenges in the development of the WTO and attempts should be made to avoid excessive contradictions, sanctions and tariff restrictions. The parties also agreed that the WTO needs to be reformed for it to work more efficiently. This aspect will be considered at the next summit in Japan.
Interestingly, virtually all countries supported multi-laterality, confirmed their commitment to the rules of international trade and agreed that efforts to overcome crisis trends in the global economy should be stepped up in order to avoid a repetition of the 2008 global crisis. The final declaration states that the global economic growth is increasingly less synchronized between countries, which entails risks to economic security, particularly given geopolitical tensions and financial unpredictability. To overcome this problem, it is important to step up interaction and increase trust among all parties in international relations.
The G20 states also announced that it was necessary to continue joint work on studying the impact that the digitalization of economy has on the global tax system, which needs to be adapted to current conditions by 2019 (final decisions on the matter will be elaborated and published in 2020).
Thus, the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires once again demonstrated the significance of the mechanisms of dialogue and achieving compromise based on constant information exchange between countries. The compromise-based approach was officially adopted as the foundation of all agreements, and was the leitmotif of the event. Given the circumstances, an increasing number of states recognize their significance as participants in international relations and, with each passing year, they strive to more forcefully state their stance on the most sensitive issues. Clearly, the Russian Federation wholeheartedly welcomes this trend.
Therefore, it should be noted that the recent summit in Argentina demonstrated that the G20 is just that – a group of countries – and not a political club. This fact increases its significance as an organization exhibiting a multilateral, multi-format and pluralistic nature of today’s international relations. Active discussions in such a format confirm the relevancy of multipolarity and the current processes of reconfiguring the world. In such circumstances, Russia can most fully implement its interests and convey its vision of international matters. An analysis of the volume of news reports in the European media is quite telling in that it proves that EU journalists were primarily interested not so much in meetings of heads of EU states, but in meetings with the participation of the leaders of Russia, China and the United States, meaning that EU representatives were running second in the newsfeeds of many news agencies. Thus, the results of the summit allow us to state that there has been a significant increase in the international community’s attention on Russia.
First published in our partner RIAC
Russia Calling the Shots: Extrapolating from the Kerch Strait
The quasi-standoff this past week between Russia and Ukraine over the Kerch Strait has been painted in the West with a decidedly anti-Russian brush. After Russia fired near three Ukrainian naval ships attempting to enter the strait (which sits as a small maritime passageway between the eastern edge of Crimea and the western tip of the Krasnodar region of the Russian Federation, allowing ships to move between the Black and Azov Seas) and ultimately resulted in their seizure by Russian border guards, political actors all across the West have been quick to snap judgment against ‘Russian aggression:’ the EU has debated whether it needs to enact new sanctions against Moscow; Ukraine invited NATO to send a heavier naval presence into the Black Sea; even the Trump administration has at least temporarily canceled a future visit that was scheduled between the American president and Vladimir Putin, although it is not entirely certain that this is perfectly aligned with the Kerch Strait incident.
As has been the standard media and political play when it comes to Russian-American relations over the past several years, no one seems to be attempting to analyze what the Russian position is, other than derisively dismissing the Russian accusation of the entire incident being a Ukrainian ‘provocation.’ Regardless of the strong desire to put the black cowboy hat on to Putin (and to be fair, Putin sometimes seems to actually enjoy donning it, if at least to thumb his nose at the West), the Russian position, if taken more seriously, does give Western leaders important information about how Russia views not just its immediate region but also its political mentality on the global stage. America would do well to pay attention to this at least for the insights it can give into the Russian mindset.
First, Russia clearly still harbors irritation and resentment over what it considers to be continued interference from the West in Ukraine, ostensibly giving Ukraine a false sense of being able to ignore Russia as the true regional power and harbor false dreams of closer military ties to the European Union and NATO. This gives Russia the marked perception that the West is thereby purposely fomenting dissension between Russia and Ukraine. Second, Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, has a unique talent for enflaming this Russian perception to near hysterical heights, what with his penchant for making nearly continuous claims about Russia intending to ‘steal his entire country’ and installing ‘partial martial law’ over part of his own country when it comes to access to Crimea. Third, the consequences of the first two problems create Russian exasperation with what the Kremlin considers a ‘foreign policy double standard’ that favors the United States, causes its neighbors to act ‘irrationally’ (at least irrational according to Russian national security interests) and which will simply never be accepted by Russia.
The Crimean referendum, which led to Russia accepting Crimea back into the regional fold of the Russian Federation formally, was the first obvious (to Russia) example that false promises were being made to Ukraine. After all, it was the Russian military that came into Crimea after the referendum and literally dared NATO or the EU to come forward and try to expel it from the peninsula. It was calling out the NATO promise – made to the leaders of the Maidan revolution in Kiev – that it would not allow Russia to make ‘any incursions’ into Ukraine, and proving it to be nothing but a bluff. Russia marched. Kiev called. NATO didn’t pick up. Even now, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, recently expressed disappointment with NATO over the Kerch Strait incident, declaring how the ‘good relations’ between Ukraine and the Western defense organization have not materialized into ‘stronger military communication.’
This has been the foundation of Russia’s tough love approach to Ukraine and its misplaced Slavic shuffle: stop thinking you have a bigger or more powerful ally than the one that has always been on your Eastern border and has deep historical, religious, and cultural ties to you. The EU and NATO will never stand up to Russia in favor of Ukraine when the issue is relatively small on the global conflict scale. And despite what current Russophobes may think, Crimea and the Kerch Strait, since they have not escalated into something bigger or more violent, apparently do not pass the Western intervention sniff test. Thus, with the Kerch Strait today (which not coincidentally is the maritime pass over which Russia built a massive superhighway, literally connecting the Russian mainland directly to Crimea and which, understandably, the Kremlin is a bit sensitive about when it comes to any appearance of military maneuvers near it by another nation), Russia is challenging what seems to be a second NATO bluff. Instead of hoping for NATO to draw a red line, Ukraine might be better off paying attention to the Russian red line.
In the end, this is not Russia trying to escalate violence or war with Ukraine. It is not Russia attempting to bring Western powers deeper into what it considers its own sphere of neighborhood influence (based on very simple, classical realist power considerations). Rather, it is Russia attempting to ‘educate’ Ukraine about who its real allies should be and who its false friends are. Perhaps more than anything, it is Russia somewhat condescendingly telling the West that no matter how much nonsense it fills in the heads controlling Kiev (consider Putin just announcing that Kiev would get away with ‘eating babies’ as long as it would make things more difficult for Russia, all major decisions in this region of the globe are going to remain firmly in Russian hands. The West may not like it, but so far in the game of Ukrainian Bluff, it is Russia 2, the West 0.
BRICS leaders’ meeting in Buenos Aires
Due to efficient cooperation between the BRICS members and coordination within international organisations and forums, the strategic partnership has grown stronger and continues to actively develop in the most diverse areas, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with his colleagues at the G20 summit held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Putin supported much of what his colleagues have said about the difficult situation in global politics, economy, trade and finance, and noted that such risk factors as an increase in global debt, volatility of stock markets and escalating trade disputes.
“In general, we cannot help noticing that unfair competition often takes the place of fair and equitable intergovernmental dialogue. The nefarious practice of imposing unilateral sanctions and protectionist measures without regard to the UN Charter, WTO rules and other generally accepted legal norms is spreading,” he stressed.
All of these seriously undermines the atmosphere of cooperation on the global stage and leads to declining business ties and loss of trust between participants of economic relations, distorting the very fabric of the global economy, Putin explained further.
The BRICS countries plan to continue working together to create a fair and equitable system of international relations. For this, collective action based on mutual respect and consideration of interests is needed in order to overcome the critical challenges facing the international community.
He noted that the danger posed by international terrorism is not subsiding and enlist the support of BRICS members in counteracting this global problem.
He suggested BRICS play a more significant role in the global financial system, push for the continuation of the IMF reform and for greater influence in the IMF.
The BRIS members pledged to get committed to sustainable development of agriculture. Russia is a large producer and exporter of agricultural produce, contributing significantly to food security. Over the last 10 years, we supplied over 650,000 tonnes of food and humanitarian aid to more than 110 countries.
It is expected that the bond and national currencies fund of the BRICS countries to become available in 2019, which would allow strengthening financial and investment stability and expanding the interaction of national payment systems.
They pledged to pay special attention to coordinating the BRICS countries’ positions on issues related to energy and climate change. Russia, as a reliable exporter of energy to many countries and regions in the world, intends to continue to actively participate in harmonising global energy markets jointly with other suppliers and consumers of fuel and to provide global energy security.
A significant contribution to financial stability has been made by the new development bank, which is now supporting 26 projects in BRICS countries with US$6.5 billion in financing.
President Vladimir Putin arrived in Buenos Aires to attend the Group of Twenty summit. Before that, he held an informal meeting with his BRICS counterparts where he congratulated President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, for organising everything during his chairmanship in July 2018 and further promised similar support for President of Brazil, the new chair, for the next summit in 2019.
The leaders of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations have agreed to hold their next summit in Brazil in 2019, according to the statement passed after their informal meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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