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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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It Is Crucial to Watch Changes among the Russian Elites

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Georgia’s and to a large extent any other post-Soviet state’s foreign policy depends on what happens in/to Russia.

Problems in the Russian economy might be causing reverberations in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, etc., but it still is not a long-term problem. What should matter more fundamentally to us are internal developments within the Russian ruling class, changes in the government, struggle among powerful groupings, and relations between the civil and military branches.

In other words, we need to pay closer attention to the Russian elites which govern the country and therefore control the country’s foreign policy. This is important since Russia’s internal situation often has a bearing on foreign policy, and that is where it matters to us.

To be sure, watching developments in a country’s ruling elites is crucial for almost every modern state which is geopolitically active. But with Russia, this is even more important as the political power in the country does not derive from the people as in the European democracies, but rather from powerful security and military agencies which enable the central government in Moscow to control efficiently large swathes of territories, usually of unfriendly geographic conditions.

The way modern Russian elites operate is very similar to the way how Soviet and imperial (Romanov) governments worked. Quite surprisingly, in all the cases Russian elites have been always perceptible of changing economic or geopolitical situation inside or outside the country.

It is often believed that a ruler, again whether during the imperial or Soviet times, wielded ultimate power over the fate of the population and the governing elites. The same notion works for Vladimir Putin. Westerners often portray him as a sole ruler to all the affairs Russian and non-Russian and a major voice in what should be done. True, the incumbent president is powerful, but he gained this authority more as a balancer among several powerful groups of interests such as military, economic, security, cultural and numerous smaller factions inside each of these large groups.

To many, it might seem strange and hardly possible that the Russian president balances rather than rules, but generally a Russian ruler, despite the historically autocratic models of government, always had to pay attention to changing winds among the country’s elites. In the beginning, if all goes badly, the elites might be silent for the fear of oppression, but slowly and steadily they would always try to influence the government. If this did not work, the Russian elites would not hesitate to abandon the ‘sinking ship’.

Indeed, Russian history shows how powerful the Russian elites are and how vital their support for a government is.

Take the example of the Romanov dynasty before World War I. There was a big disenchantment with the way the government operated and once the Tsarist rule failed in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 and the WWI, the result was immediate: the elites turned their back on the Romanovs and the Empire ceased to exist in 1917.

Perhaps an even better example is how the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Though there were military problems, corruption as well as economic woes, it was still in the minds and hearts of the ruling Russian and Ukrainian, Georgian and other governing circles that the idea of a common state failed.

Nowadays, Russia is experiencing serious problems, ranging from economic and educational to purely geopolitical. There are occasional signs that the Russian elites are getting more worried about the future prospects of the country. Where before the Ukrainian crisis there was still hope of final European-Russian rapprochement and the idea that Russians had to model themselves on Europe, now this idea is dead.

Thus, along with social and foreign policy troubles, the Russians are also experiencing a purely spiritual problem. All point to the fact that there are too many issues which have accumulated during Putin’s rule, which, surely, will not be easy to change overnight, but there is a growing understanding that this chosen way is not getting Russia to a spectacularly good place in the world arena.

This brings us to the pivotal question of what Russia will be like after Putin. Is a change to the existing status quo possible? Many developments show that it is a plausible scenario. Considering how many problems have accumulated and considering how troublesome historically it has been for the Russian elites to act openly against the government, it is possible that once Putin is out, internal infighting among elite groups will take place. As a result, reverberations to foreign policy will follow. It is not about wishful thinking on the part of the western community, but rather the result of an analysis of Russian history and the Russian mentality. Almost always, changes at the top of the government, whether peaceful or otherwise, have an impact on the foreign and internal situation.

This is what should be meticulously studied by the Georgians.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Experts Campaign to Enlist Russia’s Commitment to Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Roscongress Foundation and Integration Expertise LLC (Intex) have signed an agreement on cooperation between their organizations to work collaboratively on the “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” in preparation for the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit. The agreement directed towards collecting and collating expert views for the project “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” that could be incorporated into the final Summit Declaration.

A group of Russian experts plan to present a comprehensive document titled “Russia-Africa: Shared Vision 2030” at the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit scheduled on 23–24 October in Sochi, southern Russian city.

Sochi, located in southern Russia, has an excellent heritage. In both winter and summer, the city hosts world-class global international events, such as the Olympics, the World Festival of Youth and Students, and many others. Sochi has one of the largest congress complexes in the country.

The key issue emerging from many policy experts is a fresh call on Russian Government to seriously review and change some of its policy approach currently implemented in Africa. It’s necessary to actively use combined forms of activities, an opportunity to look at the problems and the perspectives of entire Russian-African partnership and cooperation in different fields from the viewpoints of both Russian and African politicians, business executives, academic researchers, diplomats and social activists.

The Russia-Africa Summit will be the first platform to bring African leaders and business executive directors to interact and discuss economic cooperation of mutual interest with Russian counterparts, nearly 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Even as the historical event draws nearer and nearer with preparations underway, Russian officials at the Kremlin and Ministries, particularly Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and Economic Development and Industry, are still lip-tight over what African leaders have to expect from the Summit.

On the other hand, competition is rife on the continent, with many foreign countries interested in Africa. Resultantly, African leaders have been making rational and comparative choices that enormously support their long-term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Roscongress Foundation along with the Integration Expertise information-analytical company said in a recent news brief that collaborative writing team of Russian and African experts have been working on a document that would outline the main areas for interaction between Russia and African countries.

An expert analysis, including macroeconomic reviews, and an analysis of political systems and inter-country development strategies would be used to reach conclusions about opportunities for cooperation, make recommendations, and define specific goals for the development of Russian-African relations in the period until 2030.

Anton Kobyakov, an Adviser to the Russian President, noted that “Russia has traditionally prioritized developing relations with African countries. Trade and economic relations as well as investment projects with the countries of the African continent offer enormous potential. Major Russian businesses view Africa as a promising place for investment.” 

Andrei Kemarsky, Director of the Department of Africa of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the work on the series of expert reports united by the common theme “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” would make a significant contribution to intensifying Russian-African cooperation and would further promote Russia’s interests on the African continent.

“This project seems to be particularly relevant given the fact that the Russia-Africa Summit is scheduled to be held in Russia with the participation of heads of all African countries,” Kemarsky said.

In December 2017, Russian Export Center became a shareholder of Afreximbank. Russian Export Center is a specialized state development institution, created to provide any assistance, both financial and non-financial, for Russian exporters looking for widening their business abroad.

 “We are seriously looking at multifaceted interaction with Africa. Russia has a long historical connection with the continent since the time African states started gaining their independence. However, that has lost its momentum in early 90s. It is our major goal now to rebuild the trust and the connections with the African countries to make the strong foundation for further business cooperation,” the General Director of the REC, Andrei Slepnev, told me in an emailed interview.

“We’re witnessing a clear growing interest from the both sides to establish the new level of relationships which means it is a perfect timing to boost the economic agenda we have, create a platform to vocalize these ideas and draw a strong roadmap for the future,” stressed Slepnev.

“Given the growing interest in Africa, Russian organizations, both private and public, need a high-quality guide that will help to avoid at least some of the mistakes that have already been made and provide pointers on some of the most promising mechanisms for collaboration,” Roscongress Foundation CEO, Alexander Stuglev, said.

Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, already many important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen, first of all, how these intentions and agreements would be implemented in practice with African countries, according to Arkhangelskaya.

During the signing of an agreement between the Integration Expertise and Roscongress Foundation, Yevgeny Korendyasov, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that intensifying Russian-African cooperation was now among the list of current priorities of the Russian government and the business community.

“Preparations for the Russia-Africa Summit as a new platform for the Russian-African partnership are in full swing. In this situation, ensuring that relations between countries reach a new level requires a rethinking of approaches, mechanisms, and instruments for cooperation based on their heightened significance in the new conditions of world politics and economics,” according to Yevgeny Korendyasov.

Andrei Maslov, an Expert at the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that Russia’s partnership with the African continent was also a major focus at the Valdai International Club’s  discussion platform, which hosted an expert session titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Interests, Challenges, and Prospects” held in March 2019.

On March 19, under the Chairmanship of Yury Ushakov, an Aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Organizing Committee on Russia-Africa held its first meeting in Moscow. The Russia–Africa summit is expected to be attended by roughly 3,000 African businessmen, according to the official meeting report.

As a way to realize the target goals, a preliminary Russia-Africa Business Dialogue as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) will take place on June 6–8, and will be followed by the annual shareholders meeting of African Export-Import Bank. Russian Export Center became a shareholder in December 2017.

The Roscongress Foundation, established in 2007, is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of international business conventions, together with Russian Export Center are the key institutions responsible for preparation and holding of the all events. President Vladimir Putin put forward the Russia—Africa initiative at the BRICS summit (Russia, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa) in Johannesburg in July 2018.

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Russia and North Korea: Key areas for cooperation

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The April 25 meeting in Vladivostok between President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un was their first since the North Korean leader came to power in 2011. Arriving on his armored train, Kim Jong-un said that he had always dreamed of visiting Russia and hoped that his first visit would not be the last.

“We talked about the history of our bilateral relations, about the current situation and the development of relations between our two countries,” Vladimir Putin said wrapping up the opening phase of the negotiations, which lasted for two hours – twice longer than originally planned.

Kim Jong-un said that the two leaders “had a very meaningful and constructive exchange of views tete-a-tete on all pressing issues of mutual interest.”

“I am grateful for the wonderful time I have spent here, and I hope that our negotiations will similarly continue in a useful and constructive way,” he added.    

The talks later continued in an expanded format and ran for three and a half hours.

“We had a detailed discussion of all issues on our agenda: bilateral relations, matters related to sanctions, the United Nations, our relations with the United States and, of course, the central issue of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, focusing on different aspects of all these problems,” Vladimir Putin said during the final press conference.

The main outcome of the talks, however, was the two leaders’ repeated emphasis on the need to restart the six-party talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as Russia’s readiness to act as a de-facto mediator between Pyongyang and Washington. Representatives of Russia, North and South Koreas, China, Japan and the United States regularly met between 2003 and 2008 (under Kim Jong-il), but those meetings were eventually suspended by Pyongyang following Washington’s refusal to ease the sanctions regime and its attempts to revise existing accords.

Ahead of the Vladivostok summit, the US Special Envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, made a brief visit to Moscow to discuss the terms of the new Korean settlement parley. The US State Department described the diplomat’s visit as a desire to “discuss respective bilateral engagements with North Korea and efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

However, Mr. Biegun’s visit only underscored the lingering differences in the negotiating sides’ views on resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula and regarding the mechanisms and mutual steps needed to make this happen. While North Korea, Russia and China are holding out for a phased lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang in exchange for North Korea gradually rolling back its nuclear missile program under international security guarantees, the United States insists on Pyongyang’s prior cessation of its entire nuclear missile development effort. According to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un then asked him to convey his position and expectations to Washington.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un personally asked us to inform the American side about his position and the questions he has about what’s unfolding on the Korean Peninsula,” Vladimir Putin told reporters after the summit.  He promised to do this at upcoming international forums – including in China, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The North Korean leader had thus decided to get back to Pyongyang’s previous practice of “balancing” between the leading world powers in an effort to achieve maximum possible concessions. This balancing act is important for Pyongyang primarily with Washington and Moscow – especially after the failure of the US-North Korean summit held in Hanoi in February.

According to Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, “Kim Jong-un’s trip to Vladivostok means that he is looking for outside support amid his stuttering talks with the United States.”.

“With the failure of the Hanoi summit, Kim Jong-un needs to confirm that he is generally committed to denuclearization, but within the framework of the Russian-Chinese phased plan. Donald Trump and his team reject this and demand a complete denuclearization of the DPRK as a condition for lifting the sanctions,” Go Myung-hyun of Seoul’s ASAN Institute of Policy Studies said.

“What Pyongyang now needs following the failure the Vietnam summit is at least a semblance of minimal diplomatic success,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said.

The list of countries Kim Jong-un can now turn to for diplomatic support is very short. These are essentially Russia and China. However, his visit to Beijing is not in the best interest of China, which is currently locked in tense trade negotiations with the United States.

Therefore, Kim Jong-un apparently hopes that his talks with Russia will send a signal to Washington that since political pressure on Pyongyang is not working, the Americans should proceed to a phased lifting of sanctions against North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang partially coming across on its nuclear missile program.

“North Korea’s strategy always has been walking a tight-rope between the conflicts of the world powers and getting concessions that way,” the BBC commented.

With the successful Russian-North Korean summit, which reaffirmed the two countries’ shared desire to breathe new vigor into the Korean settlement process, the ball is now in the US court, and President Trump’s well-known predilection for quick fixes and spectacular moves inspires hope for his next, third, meeting with Kim Jong-un.

During his recent visit to Washington, South Korean President Moon Jae-in underscored the need for a new such meeting between Trump and Kim. When meeting with Donald Trump, President Moon stressed that his “important task” is to “maintain the momentum of dialogue” toward North Korea’s denuclearization while expressing “the positive outlook, regarding the third US-North Korea summit, to the international community that this will be held in the near future.” Donald Trump responded in his peremptory manner: “I enjoy the summits, I enjoy being with the chairman,” he said, adding that his previous meetings with the North Korean leader had been “really productive.”

Although there has been no word yet about when exactly this meeting could happen, Kim Jong-un has already made it clear that he is ready “to be patient and wait for the American president by the end of the year.”

Seoul, another target of Pyongyang’s political signals, factors in very importantly in the diplomatic activity currently swirling around North Korea. 

“Kim launched the inter-Korean phase of the “new way” immediately after the meeting in Hanoi. It involves ratcheting up pressure on South Korea to demonstrate greater independence from the US,” The Hill commented.

“Of course, while it is awkward for South Korea to say so openly, there is no gainsaying the fact that the failure to make really meaningful progress in implementing the detailed agreements negotiated during the inter-Korean summits in Panmunjom and Pyongyang is due to the constraints imposed by South Korea’s support for the US’ North Korea policy.”

“South Koreans truly may be the most effective mediators precisely because they are caught between the parties: the Americans with whom they share long-term, common interests; and the North Koreans with whom they share an existential, common national identity,” the publication concluded.

In addition to general political issues and the problem of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, economic projects in energy and infrastructure, including the construction of a gas pipeline and a railway line linking the two countries are an equally important aspect of cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

All these things, however, depend very much on the overall situation on the Korean Peninsula and the prospects for the normalization of inter-Korean relations.

“I spoke about this. We have been talking about this matter for many years. This includes direct railway traffic between South Korea, North Korea and Russia, including our Trans-Siberian Mainline, opportunities for laying pipelines – we can talk about both oil and gas, as well as the possible construction of new power transmission lines. All of this is possible. Moreover, in my opinion, this also meets the interests of the Republic of Korea, I have always had this impression. But, apparently, there is a shortage of sovereignty during the adoption of final decisions, and the Republic of Korea has certain allied obligations to the United States. Therefore, everything stops at a certain moment. As I see it, if these and other similar projects were implemented, this would create essential conditions for increasing trust, which is vitally needed to resolve various problems,” President Vladimir Putin said about this particular aspect of the talks with his North Korean counterpart.

Any further progress in the Korean settlement process depends directly on the kind of relationship we are going to see happening within the framework of the “six” world powers. Anyway, the summit, which has just closed up shop in Vladivostok, gives reasons for optimism. 

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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