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A Geopolitical Convergence Between The US And Russia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] he end of the Cold War era in 1989 brought during the first coming years a kind of international optimism that the idea of the „end of history“ really can be realized as it was a belief in no reason for the geopolitical struggles between the most powerful states. The New World Order, spoken out firstly by M. Gorbachev in his address to the UN on December 7th, 1988 was originally seen as the order of equal partnership in the world politics reflecting, radically different international circumstances after the Cold War“.

Unfortunately, the Cold War era finished without the „end of history“ as the US continue the same policy from the time of the Cold War against Moscow – now not against the USSR but against its successor Russia. Therefore, for the Pentagon, the Cold War era in fact never ended as the fundamental political task to eliminate Russia from the world politics still is not accomplished. Regardless the fact that in 1989 Communism collapsed in the East Europe, followed by the end of the USSR in 1991, that brought a real possibility for creation of a new international system and global security, the eastward enlargement of the NATO from March 1999 (the Fourth enlargement) onward is a clear proof of the continuation of the US Cold War time policy toward Moscow which actually creates uncertainty about the future of the global security. After the end of the USSR and the Cold War, there were many Western public workers and academicians who questioned firstly why the NATO has to exist at all and secondly why this officially defensive military alliance is enlarging its membership when the more comprehensive Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the CSCE, today the OSCE) could provide the necessary framework for security cooperation in Europe including and Russia. However, the NATO was not dissolved, but quite contrary, adopted the same policy of the further (eastward) enlargement likewise the EU. The Kosovo crisis in 1998−1999 became a formal excuse for the enlargement of both these US client organizations for the „better security of Europe“. The EU Commission President, Romano Prodi, in his speech before the EU Parliament on October 13th, 1999 was quite clear in this matter. However, if we know that the Kosovo crisis followed by the NATO military intervention (aggression) against Serbia and Montenegro was fully fueled exactly by the US administration, it is not far from the truth that the Kosovo crisis was provoked and maintained by Washington, among other purposes, for the sake to give a formal excuse for the further eastward enlargement of both the EU and the NATO.

A dismissal of the USSR by M. Gorbachev in 1989−1991 produced a huge power vacuum in the Central and East Europe that was in the coming years filled by the NATO and the EU. The eastward enlargement of both the NATO and the EU emerged in due time as a prime instrument by Washington to gradually acquire control over the ex-Communist territories around Russia. A standard Western academic clishé when writing on the eastward enlargement of the EU is that those ex-Communist East European states:

„… wanted to join a club of secure, prosperous, democratic, and relatively well-governed countries. They saw themselves as naturally belonging to Europe, but deprived of the opportunity to enjoy democracy and the free market by Soviet hegemony and Western European acquiescence to that state of affairs. With the fall of Communism this historical injustice had to be remedied, and accession to the EU was to make their return to Europe complete“.

However, it is not clear why seven West European states currently out of the EU are not able to see all mentioned advantages of the EU membership. Even one of the member states (the UK) decided in 2016 to leave the club (Brexit) and one of the chief reasons for this decision was exactly the eastward enlargement as the critical idea of all East European states to join the EU is to live on the West EU member states’ financial support. Nevertheless, from the geopolitical perspective, the new EU member states coming from the East Europe (from 2004 enlargement onward) are the US Trojan Horse in the club, who are openly supporting the American foreign policy of the imperial design, but with their prime duty as the members of both the EU and the NATO to take an active participation in the coming Western military crusade against Russia in the form of the WWIII. However, these East European nations are going to be the first to experience direct consequences of the war as being a critical part of the Western front line combat zone against Russia.

Surely, one of the most fundamental anti-Russian actions in Europe at the post-Soviet era was the US decision to expend the NATO eastward by offering full membership to three ex-Warsaw Pact members: Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Therefore, Reagan-Gorbachev agreement from Reykjavik in 1988 was unilaterally and brazenly violated by Washington under the formal excuse of a combination of events−V. Zhirinovsky’s showing in the 1993 elections in Russia, domestic pressure upon B. Clinton from his Republican opponents at the Congress, and what the US administration saw as the abject failure of the EU to provide an answer to a European problem of the Yugoslav civil war (1991−1999). Washington quickly accused the Europeans to be unable to deal with the Yugoslav crisis that was a major test which the EU failed to pass, but honestly speaking, all the EU peace-making efforts dealing with the Yugoslav crisis really failed for the very reason as they were directly sabotaged by the US diplomacy. Nevertheless, the first new action by the enlarged NATO, only two weeks after its Fourth enlargement, was a savaged bombing of Serbia for the sake to put her Kosovo province under the NATO occupation. This action finally forced V. Putin to compel the „Western clown“ B. Yeltsin to resign on December 31st, 1999.

It has to be recognized that the Cold War bipolarity after 1989 was, at least up to 2008, superseded by the US-led unipolarity – a hegemonic configuration of the US accumulated hyper power in global politics that presented quite new challenges to the international relations. However, after the event of 9/11, the US administration started to act on the accelerating achievement after the Cold War of supreme political and military power in the globe for the sake to complete a mission of a global hegemon. The US administration, however, purposely presented the 9/11 attack as the work of (only) a network of Al Qaeda, a Islamic terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden who was a Saudi millionaire’s son but as well as „who learned his terrorist trade, with U.S. assistance, fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s“ The US administration of the President George W. Bush responded very quickly and by the end of 2001 a Taliban regime in Afghanistan, that was a radical Islamic regime which was providing a base of operations for Al Qaeda, became demolished and the biggest part of the country occupied or controlled in a coalition with the US satellite states. That was the beginning of the announced „War on Terrorism“ that actually had to serve as a good excuse to further strengthen the US position as the global policeman followed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Therefore, a policy of a global unipolarity – a condition of a global politics in which a system of international relations is dictated by a single dominant power-hegemon that is quite capable of dominating all other states, became an order of the day for both the Pentagon and the White House.

With the US military invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 the US stood alone (with the military support by the UK as the fundamental American client state after 1989) at the summit of the hierarchy of the international relations and global politics up to 2008 when Russia finally decided to protect its own geopolitical and historical interests in some part of the world – in this particular case at the Caucasus. The US, in the other words, became in the years 1989−2008 the sole state in the world with the military and political capability to be a decisive factor in the global politics at any corner of the world. In these years, the US military expenditures exceeded all other states combined – a clear sign of a hegemonic global policy of Washington. It seemed to be that the US had an extraordinary historical ability to dictate the future of the world according to its wishes and design as America became a single world hyperpower as the universal empire stronger than Roman or British empires.

By definition, the empire is an universal state having a preponderant power and being in a real ability to act independently without any restraint. Therefore, the empire is working alone rather than in concert with other states, or at least with those whom we can call as the Great Powers – a fundamental mistake and sin which finally provokes an apocalyptic animosity and clash with the rest of the world. This animosity, from historical perspective, after certain time provokes a blowback by the others that exactly, in the case of the US empire, came from Russia in 2008. The Central Caucasus, the East Ukraine and the West Middle East today became the regions of direct clash of geopolitical interests on the global chessboard between declining US empire and the rising economic, political, financial and military power of Russia. The US even from 1990 (the First Gulf War) crossed the moral boundaries in abusing its hyper power through defiant and brutal unilateralism, becoming, as all other universal states (empires), hated and feared rogue civilization („rogue gangster state“ according to Stephen Lendman). The universal state is acting as an international outlaw by its own rules, values, norms and requirements like the US and its NATO satellites in the case of barbaric bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999.

According to Noam Chomsky, in fall 2002 the most powerful state ever existed in history declared the basic principle of its imperial grand strategy as a self-intention to keep its global hegemony by the threat to use or by use of its own super-powerfully equipped military arsenal that is the most critical US dimension of power in which Washington reigns supreme in the world. It was clearly confirmed by the White House on September 17th, 2002 as a part of the US national security strategy that was going to be no longer bound by the UN Charter’s rules governing the use of force:

„Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States“.

The hawks of the US hegemonic world order after 1989 openly emphasize the necessity of America’s self-serving pre-eminent role in the world politics, as Hillary Clinton, for instance, put it at her confirmation hearing as the US Secretary of State in 2009:

„So let me say it clearly: the United States can, must, and will lead in this new century… The world looks to us because America has the reach and resolve to mobilize the shared effort needed to solve problems on a global scale – in defense of our own interests, but also as a force for progress. In this we have no rival“.

However, those H. Clinton’s words were ungrounded as the US empire already was in the process of declination. The gradual decline and probably ultimate demise of the US empire, as any other empire in history, can not be understood without previous knowledge on the nature and driving forces of the imperial system. After 1991 the USA remained to function as a „military society“ as there were, for instance, the Roman Empire or the Ottoman Sultanate. That is to say more precisely, the driving force behind the US empire left to be an „external objective“ – the perceived needs to reconstruct the world according to its own values and norms. However, such very ambitious project requires a very systematic policy of overall mobilization of the whole society, economy and politics. As such mobilization all the time implies sacrificing a particular sector of domestic economy for the sake to realize the expansionist aims, the system’s functioning is basically reinforced by the need to replenish resources used up at the previous stage – the need which the US simply could not accomplish successfully.

The US, as a matter of fact, already found itself very costly to maintain its own military dominance in the world. The American soldiers are deployed in almost 80 countries from the Balkans to the Caucasus and from the Gulf of Arden to the Korean Peninsula and Haiti. The US administration is today constantly trapped by the Imperial Overstretch Effect – the gap between the resources and ambitions especially in the foreign (imperialistic) policy which is formally wrapped into the phrase of „domestic security“ needs or international „humanitarian mission“. Undoubtedly, the US costly imperial pursuits and particularly military spending weakened the American economy in relation to its main rivals – China and Russia.

There are a number of scholars (N. Chomsky, M. Chossudovsky, etc.) and public workers (like P. K. Roberts) who predict that after the Pax Americana a multipolar system of international relations will emerge. The fact is that multipolarity, as a global system with more than two dominant power centers, is clearly advocated by V. Putin’s administration in Kremlin instead of both a bipolarity or unipolarity. This concept of multipolarity in international relations has to include alongside the US and the BRICS countries, Japan and the EU. As a multipolar system includes several comparatively equal Great Powers, it is by the nature complex system and hopefully more prosperous for maintaining the global security. The world is in fact from 2008 at the process of power transition that is surely the dangerous period as a hyper power of the USA is directly challenged by the rise of its rivals – Russia and China. Subsequently, the current Ukrainian and Syrian crisis are the consequences (a global „collateral damage“) of such period of power transition which already marked the beginning of a new Cold War that can be soon transformed into the Hot Peace era. Nevertheless, the US administration is not anymore in position to run with the Bush Doctrine that is the unilateral grand strategy of the George W. Bush’s administration in order to preserve a unipolar world under the US hegemony by keeping America’s military capacity beyond any challenge by any other state in the world as, certainly, the US hegemony is already challenged by both Russia and China. Those two countries are currently in the process of making their own alliance bloc advocating multilateralism as cooperative approach to managing shared global problems and keeping a collective security by collective and coordinated actions (a groupthinking) by the Great Powers.

The fundamental task of the US foreign policy after 1989 is to protect its own concept and practice of the unipolar geopolitical order in the world, while Russia with the other BRICS countries is trying to create a multilateral global geopolitical order. The BRICS group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are clearly expressing the global phenomena of the „Rise of the Rest“ against the US unipolar hegemony. The rise of the BRICS marks a decisive shift in the global counter-balance of power toward the final end of America’s hegemony. A significance of these four fast-growing economies and their global geopolitical power is already visible and recognized with the predictions that up to 2021 the BRICS countries can exceed the combined strength of the G-7 countries. Therefore, here we are dealing with two diametrically opposite geopolitical concepts of the world order in the 21st century. The current Ukrainian and Syrian crises are just practical expression of it. From the very general point of view, the US administration is not opposing the Russian geopolitical projects because of the fear of the reconstruction of the USSR, but rather for the sake of realization of its own global geopolitical projects according to which Russia has to be a political and economic colony of the West like all the former Yugoslav republics are today but just formally existing as the „independent“ states. The most immediate US task in dealing with Russia after 2000 is to prevent Moscow to create an Eurasian geopolitical and economic block by (mis)using the EU and NATO policy of the eastward enlargement in the East Europe and the Balkans. Ukraine in this matter plays one of the fundamental roles as, according to notorious US Russophobe of the Polish origin Z. Brzezinski, Ukraine is a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard as a geopolitical pivot for the reason that its very existence as an independent country helps to halt Russia to become an Eurasian empire what means a center of world power. Therefore, the US policy in the East Europe has to be concentrated on turning all regional countries against Russia, but primarily Ukraine which has to play the crucial role of stabbing the knife to Russia’s backbone.

The Huntington’s thesis about the unavoidable clash of the antagonistic cultures at the post-Soviet time basically served as academic verification of the continuation of America’s hegemonic global policy after 1989. The author himself „was part leading academic and part policy adviser to several US administrations−and had occupied this influential space since the late 1950s“ what means that Huntington directly was participating in directing the US foreign policy during the Cold War. However, as the USSR together with its Communist satellites finally lost the war, but the US policy of the Pax Americana had to be continued and after the Cold War, Huntington actually by his article and later the book on the clash of antagonistic civilizations, as their value systems are profoundly different, paved the academic ground to the Pentagon to invent, a new and useful enemies that would give the US a new role and provide a new justification for America’s continued hegemony in a post-Soviet world. One of these enemies became a post-Yeltsin’s Russia as a country which decided to resist a global hegemony by anyone.

A new Russia’s foreign policy in the 21st century is especially oriented and directed toward refutation of predicting that the new century of the new millennium is going to be more „American“ than the previous one. It means that the US-Russian relations after 2000 are going from the US-led „New World Order“ to the multipolar „Resetting Relations“. The last military success of the Pax Americana’s geopolitical project was the Second Gulf War (the Iraq War) in 2003 launched by the US Neocon President George W. Bush not only to kick out the „Vietnam Syndrome“, but more important to answer to all those experts who previously had been predicting an erosion of the US influence in the global politics. The architects of a post-Yeltsin’s Russia’s geopolitics, followed by all critics of the Pax Americana, are emphasizing a dangerous effect of an American soft power in the shape of popular culture, styles of dress, fast food, music, etc., as the products of a primitive sub-culture and a quasi-civilization. Therefore, the global duty of the civilizations at the time of the clash of civilizations is to fight against a quasi-civilization which degenerates a human face around the world. That is one of the critical tasks of Russia in world policy after 2000 as one of the escalating Great Powers. A rising power of the post-Yeltsin’s Russia as one of the leading countries which are challenging the US unipolar hegemony can be seen from the facts that only up to 2008 Russia succeeded to double its GDP, to triple wages in real terms and to reduce the unemployment and poverty.

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The importance of the first Russia-Africa Summit

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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After several years of high-level consultations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally hinted that Russia would organize its first Russia-Africa Summit of African leaders and Ministers to roll out a comprehensive strategic road map outlining concrete economic sectors for investment, issues relating to trade and culture for Africa.

Addressing a group of invited African leaders at 2018 BRICS Summit on July 27 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Putin told the gathering “I would like to inform you that we are studying the idea of holding a Russia-Africa summit with the participation of Heads of African states. This could be preceded by meetings of prominent businessmen, policy experts and public figures. And I intend to discuss this with representatives of African countries.”

He did not provide specific dates or any further details about the proposed summit, but strongly acknowledged that Russia has always given priority to the development of relations with African countries, based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual assistance, and Africa has now emerged as the world’s most rapidly developing regions.

The leaders of African countries who attended his special meeting came from Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has earlier said in interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine that At present, Russia’s relations with African countries were progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

He noted Russia has maintained an intensive political dialogue with African countries on one hand and on other side, representatives from African countries are active participants in international forums hosted by Russia.

“Our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express their interest in holding a Russia-Africa summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues,” he explained.

“However, it is necessary to bear in mind that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government requires most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content,” Lavrov further argued.

As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition. Equally important is African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market, the Foreign Minister elaborated in his discussion.

Definitely, time was needed to solve all those issues, Lavrov said and suggested, both Russia and Africa could start with experts’ meetings, for example, within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum and other economic cum business related events where business leaders participate.

He assertively promised that Russia would do its best to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation. Currently, Russia’s trade with Sub-Saharan countries amounted to $3.6 billion in 2017, compared to $3.3 billion in 2016 and $2.2 billion in 2015.

Maxim Chereshnev, the Chairman of the Board of the Council for the Development of Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations also noted that Russia and African states have a long story of relations. But, what is very important today is the fact that new opportunities are arising for medium size enterprises for collaboration in Russia and Africa.

According to him, nowadays perspectives of business contacts between Russian and African business are actually underestimated, however, there are a huge number of opportunities. For instance, agricultural, high-tech, medicine, energy-saving technologies, logistics and infrastructure projects are really perspective for strengthening Russia-African economic cooperation.

The Russia-Africa summit, would therefore, highlight favorable conditions for active business interaction, participating Russians and Africans establish closer contacts and continue cooperating in key sectors of the economy of both regions. Hence the significance of the proposed summit.

As Professor David Shinn, an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an email to GNA, Russian government’s weakness for investing or boosting economic cooperation compared to many foreign countries has been primarily the question of project financing in Africa.

As authorities have always explained Russia has its own priorities, and Africa is a priority for Russia but it’s Russia’s own priority to determine the pace and how to raise economic presence in Africa, he argued, and finally added “it neatly makes the argument that the relationship continues to be a low priority. It is difficult to affirm or change policy when key people are not present to make decisions.”

As already publicly known, all previous summits held by many foreign countries with Africa, there were concrete financial packages earmarked towards infrastructure development and concrete ways to improve bilateral trade with African countries.

From Russia’s perspective, there are undeniably important geopolitical implications working with Africa. Nevertheless, Russia’s efforts in the region have been limited thus far which many experts and researchers have attributed to lack of a system of financing policy projects.

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Russia–Turkey Relations Need a Stronger Foundation

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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Relations between Russia and Turkey have always been and will always be a controversial subject. Even over the last couple of years, this relationship experienced dramatic ups and downs, sudden U-turns from cooperation to confrontation and back to cooperation.

First, relations between Moscow and Ankara will remain important for both sides. Russia and Turkey are neighbors with extensive and diverse bilateral ties — including trade and investments, energy and construction, as well as a vibrant social, humanitarian and cultural interaction.

Second, there will always be a mixture of common, parallel, overlapping and colliding interests driving Moscow and Ankara in dealing with each other.

Third, various external players — both global powers (the European Union, NATO, and the United States) and regional actors (Iran, Gulf States, and Israel) will continue to have a profound impact on Russia–Turkey relations.

Both sides should be interested in more stable, more predictable and less adversarial Russia–Turkey relations. Let’s face it: there will be no real trust between Russia and Turkey until we deal together with the most sensitive, the most divisive, and the most unpleasant issues dividing us.

As the recent history demonstrated, the “agree to disagree” approach is not good enough to move the relationship ahead. Thinking strategically, one can even imagine a more important role for Turkey as a country that might be best suited to facilitate a renewal of the currently nearly dormant NATO-Russian Council.

Russia is not an alternative to Turkey’s cooperation with the European Union; neither Turkey is a substitute for Russia working harder to resolve its problems with the United States and Europe. We need Russia–Turkey relationship to acquire a strategic depth of its own.

Relations between Russia and Turkey have always been and will always be a controversial subject. For both countries, this is a very special relationship; it contains a lot of emotions, mythology, prejudices, uneasy legacies of the past, and sometimes unrealistic hopes for the future. The glass remains half-full or half-empty, depending on how you look at it and on whether you are trying to fill it or to drain it.

Even over the last couple of years, this relationship experienced dramatic ups and downs, sudden U-turns from cooperation to confrontation and back to cooperation. The 2015 — 2016 crisis, albeit a short one, demonstrated both the fragility and the resilience of this unique set of connections linking the two countries. No doubt, in years to come we will see more of surprising developments in Russia–Turkey relations that we cannot possibly predict today. Still, there are a number of features of this relationship, which are likely to remain constant in the foreseeable future.

First, relations between Moscow and Ankara will remain important for both sides. Russia and Turkey are neighbors with extensive and diverse bilateral ties — including trade and investments, energy and construction, as well as a vibrant social, humanitarian and cultural interaction. Moreover, they share vast common neighborhood; for both countries, this neighborhood presents tempting opportunities and serious challenges at the same time. Both countries claim a special Eurasian status in world politics that puts them in a league of their own, distinguishing Russia and Turkey from other purely European or Asian states. Therefore, it is hard to imagine the two powers drifting too far away from each other and losing interest in the bilateral relationship.

Second, there will always be a mixture of common, parallel, overlapping, and colliding interests driving Moscow and Ankara in dealing with each other. Elements of cooperation and competition (hopefully, not direct confrontation) will be blended by politicians into a single sweet and sour cocktail and offered to the Russian and Turkish public. We will continue to live with numerous paradoxes. For instance, Turkey is a NATO member, but it plans to purchase the most advanced Russian air defense systems (S-400). The two countries actively cooperate on the ground in Syria, but they have very different attitudes to the current Syrian leadership in Damascus. Russians and Turks are equally interested in stability in the South Caucasus but quite often, unfortunately, they find themselves on the opposite sides of the barricades in the region.

Third, various external players — both global powers (the European Union, NATO, and the United States) and regional actors (Iran, Gulf States, and Israel) will continue to have a profound impact on Russia–Turkey relations. External players can push Moscow and Ankara closer to each other, but they can also push Russians and Turks apart by offering either of them alternative options for strategic, political and economic cooperation. The Russia–Turkey cooperation will also rely on such independent variables as the rise of international terrorism, fluctuations of energy prices, volatility of the global economic and financial system and, more generally, on the fundamentals of the emerging world order.

Both sides should be interested in more stable, more predictable and less adversarial Russia–Turkey relations. It is particularly important today, when the international system at large is becoming less stable and less predictable. Besides, both Russia and Turkey face enormous challenges of economic, social and political modernization in a less than perfect external environment; it would be stupid to add to existing lists of their foreign policy problems a new round of Russia–Turkey confrontation.

So, is it possible to prevent colliding interests from curbing joint work on common problems? What can we do to reduce the risks of potential future crises between Moscow and Ankara? How can we mitigate negative impacts of external factors on our bilateral cooperation?

The immediate answer to these questions is clear — above all, we need to enhance our lines of communication. This is not about preparing the next Erdogan-Putin meeting, nor about generating new technical proposals for the Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission. This is not about mil-to-mil contacts on the ground in Syria. The enhancement of communication should bring it far beyond serving operational needs of political leaders. Let’s face it: there will be no real trust between Russia and Turkey until we deal together with the most sensitive, the most divisive, and the most unpleasant issues dividing us. These issues include mutual historical grievances, existing suspicions about one side allegedly supporting subversive and even terrorist groups on the territory of the other side, concerns that the partner country might abruptly reconsider its commitments to cooperation, should it get a better deal from a third party, and so on. If they cannot discuss these issues at the official level today, one should start with a track two format providing for informal expert dialogues.

Even more important would be not to limit such dialogues to articulating existing disagreements and conflicting narratives, but to identify ways, in which disagreements can be bridged, and narratives reconciled. As the recent history demonstrated, the “agree to disagree” approach is not good enough to move the relationship ahead. If resolving difficult problems does not seem possible now, let us at least try to stabilize areas of potential conflict. For instance, Russia and Turkey will continue to disagree on the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, they can exercise their respective influence on both sides of the conflict in order to prevent another outbreak of military hostilities and further losses of human lives. Likewise, Moscow and Ankara are not likely to come to a common stance on Crimea. However, Turkey can play an important positive role in preventing any further cultural and civic alienation of the Crimean Tatar population in the peninsula.

Sometimes, what we routinely perceive as a part of the problem might become a part of the solution. For example, the Turkey’s membership in NATO is commonly regarded in Russia as an obstacle on the way to more productive security cooperation with Ankara. Counterintuitively, it is exactly the Turkish membership, which can help to reduce risks of dangerous incidents in the Black Sea. These risks started growing in 2014, when both Russia and NATO significantly increased their naval presence here and engaged themselves into ever more frequent naval exercises. Why doesn’t Ankara take an initiative in promoting more confidence-building measures between Russia and NATO in the Black Sea? Thinking strategically, one can even imagine a more important role for Turkey as a country that might be best suited to facilitate a renewal of the currently nearly dormant NATO-Russian Council.

It is also important to make sure that cooperation between Russia and Turkey is not regarded by either side as the “second best option” when the “first best option” is not available for this or that reason. Russia is not an alternative to Turkey’s cooperation with the European Union; neither Turkey is a substitute for Russia working harder to resolve its problems with the United States and Europe. Situational alliances based on shared frustrations and common complexes of inferiority usually do not last. We need Russia–Turkey relationship to acquire a strategic depth of its own. To quote Saint Augustine, “the higher our structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation”.

First published in our partner RIAC

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“Russian Propaganda”: On Social Networks, in Eastern Europe, and Soon Everywhere

Oleg Shakirov

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“Russia is engaged in an active, worldwide propaganda campaign,” reads the fairly straightforward beginning of RAND Corporation’s report on Russia’s influence on East European countries via social media. The document, compiled by eight authors with support from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, looks into the nature and effectiveness of this influence and aims to identify possible countermeasures to it. The report is the latest in a series of publications by the research centre, which has close ties to the Pentagon, on how to counteract Russia. In particular, it complements the widely cited 2006 report “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank,” which talked about the threat that Russia allegedly posed to the Baltic States and possible ways to deter it by conventional means. The new report extrapolates this logic to the digital space. Titled “Russian Social Media Influence,” it is a continuation of the collection of U.S. projects on Russia’s informational impact, which, in the light of the scandal concerning “Russian interference” in the 2016 presidential election, has turned into a new “major threat” for political circles in Washington.

The dispute involving key American think tanks, including RAND Corporation, extends to more general questions about the role of information in international relations. However, it poses a very practical question to Russia at the same time: what should Russia do about “Russian propaganda”?

What is Propaganda…

The main idea that runs throughout the second chapter of the new report is consonant with a quotation from a recent article in Vanity Fair on the “Russian threat” to the U.S. 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential election. “So what exactly is Russia planning for the upcoming election?” the author muses. “The correct question, a half dozen security experts and former and current government officials have told me, is what are they not planning?” To draw an analogy, the RAND report raises the question of what Russia does not influence.

The authors sound quite dramatic: “Moscow blends attributed, affiliated, and nonattributed elements and exploits new realities of online and social media to conduct information warfare at a perhaps unprecedented scale and level of complexity” (pp. 7–8). “The Russian government’s sphere of influence is global” (p. 9). “The Kremlin has built a complex production and dissemination apparatus that integrates actors at varying levels of attribution to enable large-scale and complex information operations” (p. 11).

These conclusions are based on a compilation of approaches and cases taken from English-language materials, most of them published after 2014. The authors do not question the results presented in the sources they cite; they give examples to illustrate their main thesis about the Russian information threat. The report achieves its primary goal of setting the context and leading the reader to the conclusion that “Russia is engaged in an aggressive propaganda campaign aimed at multiple different national audiences to include its near-abroad neighbors on its western border” (p. 25).

The main problem with this chapter and the report in general is that the authors do not even attempt to give a clear definition of what Russian propaganda is. On the contrary, the characteristics they mention – the complex, global and multilevel nature – render “Russian propaganda” potentially unlimited, and they can be arbitrarily attributed to any phenomenon whatsoever. The problem with such a comprehensive approach is that, if we bring it to its ultimate logical end, any information coming from Russia, or even any information about Russia with which the observer disagrees, may be viewed as propaganda. In this situation, the entire world is split into “us” and “them.” And this logic of confrontation is reflected in the report’s recommendations.

… How it can be detected…

The authors propose monitoring social networks as a method for counteracting “Russian propaganda.” In the third and fourth chapters of the report, they offer their own approach to analysing Twitter communities and the dissemination of pro-Russian information. The document uses Twitter data to identify pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian communities and the most influential actors within them. The authors also determined the language signature of pro-Russian users and attempt to assess the impact of “Russian propaganda” on Twitter users in Ukraine, Belarus and Latvia.

This approach is interesting in terms of its methodology, but it has a number of significant flaws; the authors acknowledge some of these but disregard others. For example, one of the reasons they give for their choice of Twitter for analysis is that tweets are easily accessible. However, Twitter is not the most popular social network in the region: only 14 per cent of internet users in Ukraine, and 2 per cent of internet users in Estonia have a Twitter account (p. 27). The report suggests that opinion leaders on Twitter can also lead opinions on other offline and online channels, but this assumption does not appear to be convincing enough, as it is not supported by additional evidence.

A more serious flaw, one which the authors omit, is the geographical filter. One of the criteria used for the selection of tweets is the account’s location. The authors obtain the location data along with the rest of the data available through subscription to GNIP (this company, which aggregates data from social networks, was acquired by Twitter in 2014). According to GNIP, an account’s location is determined based on the information entered by the user themselves in the relevant box. If no such information is specified, GNIP does not attempt to determine the account’s coordinates in any other way. If several different cities, or even a made-up city, are entered, the GNIP algorithm will try to establish the location, but its guess will not necessarily be accurate. And those researchers who only use the data available from Twitter have no way of running a mass verification to establish the actual whereabouts of each user, even if the user in question provided accurate information about themselves.

No less controversial are the authors’ attempts to link pro-Russian Twitter activists with the Russian government. In the third chapter, they arrive at the conclusion that “many pro-Russia activists espousing a pro-Kremlin viewpoint hail from Russia and actively spread Russian propaganda on Twitter.” (p. 43) The authors acknowledge that the jury is out on whether or not the Russian government provides support to such users; nevertheless, “one can envision [italics added by me] Russia supporting these accounts either by creating nonattributed Twitter accounts that can serve as part of its bot and troll campaign or by supporting like-minded activists situated throughout the region adjacent to Russia” (p. 43). Yet further in the report the authors repeat several times that it is difficult to immediately distinguish authentic discussions from troll and bot activity.

The authors cite the opinions of regional experts to support their proposal to use this approach for monitoring the growth and geographic expansion of the pro-Russian Twitter community, since “such changes might presage pro-Russia influence and operations in the region that are more malign” (p. 59). However, given the aforementioned shortcomings of RAND’s approach, and its other flaws, it cannot be viewed as a reliable monitoring tool.

… And how to fight it

The report leaves the impression that it is very difficult for the West to tackle “Russian propaganda” in Eastern Europe: the United States, NATO and the European Union are not coordinated, and their awkward attempts at anti-Russian information operations in the region may well have the opposite effect – local Russian-speaking citizens are sceptical towards media which are openly sponsored by the West. The popularity of Russian media in the Baltic States presents the biggest threat, since it is difficult to compete with them for viewers. Worse still, due to their common past with Russia and the continuing infringement of their civil rights, Russian speakers in the region are more susceptible to information from Russia. This trend is additionally exacerbated by the discriminatory policy adopted by the regional authorities towards the Russian language. The differences between the region’s countries make the task of producing a single media product that would suit all audiences very difficult: on the one hand, “No one in Estonia wants to watch Latvian television” (p. 69); on the other hand, Ukraine’s approach, which involves the stringent censorship of information originating from Russia, is not that easy to replicate in the other countries in the region.

The authors suggest that these difficulties could be overcome by way of detecting, condemning and blocking propaganda on social networks. They propose using the experience gained as part of the Redirect Method programme developed by one of Google subsidiary companies aimed at countering Islamic State propaganda. The reports recommends that greater efforts be spent on promoting the United States, NATO and the European Union among Russian-speaking residents of Eastern Europe, as well as facilitating the creation of local content in Russian. In the latter instance, the authors recommend providing support to Russian-language influencers who have a “pan-European identity.” Contacts with NATO or the European Union are capable of undermining the reputation of such influencers, so the advice is for them to be supported by the local governments. However, this should be done with caution and, if possible, through local NGOs. Whether consciously or not, the authors’ proposal with regard to influencers brings them close to nonattributed Twitter activists, precisely those the report suggests the West should fight.

One of the recommendations in the report is potentially universal. Speaking about the need to increase immunity to propaganda among at-risk groups of the population, the authors effectively mean an increase in media literacy: developing people’s ability to process information and apply critical thinking. In a more benign political climate, raising media literacy could become a joint project of Russia and the West aimed at overcoming mutual misunderstanding and debunking mutual misconceptions. But the current situation is different; in keeping with the logic of informational confrontation, the RAND report does not contain proposals that could be implemented jointly with Russia.

Russian influence is the new black

In a broader context, “Russian Social Media Influence” reflects the interest of the U.S. research community in information influence, and in Russian information influence in particular. This interest has increased dramatically over the past few years. The authors of the report cite extensively from Clint Watts’s Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News. Watts, a former FBI operative, described the recent changes to the Washington ecosystem in a recent podcast interview. According to him, prior to the 2016 presidential election, Washington’s main fad was cybersecurity, which had replaced counterterrorism, the fad of the 2000s. After the election, the U.S. capital focused on disinformation: “[W]e have these big booms in D.C. where everybody starts up a project around whatever the big threat is. And so, there is a lot of discussion, but the big difference today [from counterterrorism in the past] is the government isn’t leading it, it’s coming from like think tanks, and the academic community, and social media companies […].”

Watts’s words are corroborated by a review of the projects carried out by leading analytical centres in the United States over the past two years. Since 2016, nearly all of the centres engaged in foreign policy research on the University of Pennsylvania Top 15 ranking have either released reports on the influence of Russian information or mentioned the topic in their reports on Russia or U.S.–Russian relations (see the table). The only leading centres that have not launched projects on propaganda are the Cato Institute and Kennan Institute. In the latter case, however, it is only a matter of time: Nina Jankowicz, an expert on disinformation and a Global Fellow at the Kennan Institute, is working on a project entitled “How the West Can Learn from Eastern EU’s Experience Battling Russian Disinformation.”

Think tank Report or project addressing Russian information influence (2016–2018)
Brookings Institution The Future of Political Warfare: Russia, the West, and the Coming Age of Global Digital Competition
Center for Strategic and International Studies The Kremlin Playbook Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe

Recalibrating U.S. Strategy Toward Russia

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Russian Election Interference: Europe’s Counter to Fake News and Cyber Attacks

The Return of Global Russia Project

Heritage Foundation U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia <
RAND Russian Social Media Influence: Understanding Russian Propaganda in Eastern Europe

The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model Why It Might Work and Options to Counter It

Center for American Progress (CAP) Special website https://themoscowproject.org/

Russia’s 5th Column

War by Other Means: Russian Active Measures and the Weaponization of Information

Acts of an Adversary: Russia’s Ongoing Hostilities Toward the United States and Its Allies

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Countering Russian Information Operations in the Age of Social Media

Containing Russia: How to Respond to Moscow’s Intervention in U.S. Democracy and Growing Geopolitical Challenge

Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab Program

Special website https://disinfoportal.org/

Democratic Defense Against Disinformation

The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 2

Strategy of “Constrainment:” Countering Russia’s Challenge to the Democratic Order

American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) Populism in Europe and Its Russian Love Affair
Center for New American Security (CNAS) The Future of U.S.-Russia Relations

Together, these projects indicate that the significant portion of the U.S. political elite agree that there is an informational threat emanating from Russia, and there is demand for such studies on the part of their sponsors. The reports offer a variety of proposals, which can be notionally graded from “modest,” including improvements to information exchange between the United States and its allies and the regulation of social networks, to really massive-scale proposals, such as covert measures by U.S. special operations forces “to combat Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe with truthful information about U.S. and allied activities and intentions” (Recalibrating U.S. Strategy Toward Russia, p. 156) or setting up a “Counter-Disinformation Coalition” (Democratic Defense Against Disinformation, pp. 13–14).

These numerous recommendations make no mention of the possibility to engage Russia itself in order to remove the West’s concerns about the information threat. The closest anyone comes is the following passage from the Council on Foreign Relations report: “The United States should make clear that it will continue to support free and fair elections, freedom of speech, and the rule of law in Russia, as it does all around the world. But it will respect Russia’s sovereign right to hold those elections free of outside manipulation with illicit means – just as it expects Russia to respect the United States’ right to do the same” (p. 22). This idea could be evolved into a dialogue on how both sides perceive information and political threats, if not into a mutual obligation to not intervene in each other’s internal affairs.

 “Russian Propaganda” and Russia

“Russian propaganda” is being touted as one of the main problems for the West, but it understandably worries Russia itself. The comprehensive approach of the RAND report and other similar projects on information influence makes it possible to detect a Russian trace virtually everywhere, and to level accusations at Russia irrespective of whether or not the country is actually involved.

At the official level, Russia (just like the West) considers itself under an aggressive information attack. Just like the West is sceptical of Russia’s concerns about information threats, the Russian leadership does not believe, or is unwilling to believe, in the sincerity of the revived fears in the West about Russia’s information influence.

Ironically, the growing focus of the United States on information influence leads to a convergence of the U.S. and Russian approaches to international information security. For years, the fundamental difference between the two sides was that the United States viewed cybersecurity in the strict sense of network security, software security and information protection, whereas Russia was additionally concerned with how information being disseminated could influence public perception. However, the convergence of approaches is not enough to reach an agreement in this field: as demonstrated by the recommendations put forward by the leading U.S. analytical centres, the possibility of negotiating with Russia remains an unpopular option.

For an individual, information warfare may not appear particularly terrible or even entirely realistic: it can be “switched off” by merely pressing a button on your TV set or smartphone and returning to whatever you were doing. However, at the level of societies and states, in which information plays a key role, this strategy does not work and avoiding confrontation is not at all easy. In Russia’s relations with the West, both sides are attempting to question or discredit each other’s information, which exacerbates mutual distrust.

One possible way to revert this trend would be for both sides to agree to a “disarmament” of their rhetoric or information campaigns. This idea was voiced in 2017 by EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer and Russian member of parliament Irina Yarovaya. Public diplomacy researcher Nicholas J. Cull recalls that Soviet and U.S. diplomats were discussing mutual stereotypes in the late 1980s. In practice, an “information disarmament” could include more substantive discussions on issues related to “incidents” in the information space and mutual accusations; coordinated measures such as a joint fight against common information threats; and also unilateral concessions such as opting for less belligerent rhetoric. The main objective of such information disarmament should be the restoration of mutual understanding between countries, but building trust between state and society is of no less importance. One way or another, this way could prove more effective than the promotion of “pan-European identity” by brand ambassadors on the backs of special operations forces.

First published in our partner RIAC

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