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Norway’s Okkupert: Russia, The Neo-Cold War, Crimea, the Baltics, and Finlandization

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]here has appeared lately a veritable plethora of books examining the present US-Russia relationship in the light of the recent investigations into the Russia-Trump connections, the so called New Cold War.

It is quite obvious that President Trump, for some reason or other, does not wish to dwell on his personal interests and dealings with Russia and has been using every imaginable distraction to deflect attention from it. Some are now speculating that the sending of tomahawk missiles into Syria is one such distraction. That in itself is an interesting conjecture.

Neither do Russia or its oligarchs, who have enriched themselves tremendously after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, are that eager to entertain the subject, nor are those who may be presumably be agents and spies for the Kremlin and minimize Russian assertiveness and aggression.

It is also quite obvious that those who defend Trump and his policies (or perhaps “non-policies might be a better term) do not wish to discuss the Russian aggression against Crimea, the Ukraine, its alliance with a war criminal who gasses his own people including women and children, the New Cold War which may portent a new Cold War in the making, despite the mutual admiration society that Trump and Putin have created in the last two years or so. One wonders why. Let’s see.

I’d like to analyze the above mentioned issues in the light of a 10 episode TV series which has come out recently out of Norway with the title “Occupert” (Occupied). It can be taken as an alternate tale of the above described rosy scenario downplaying the idea of a new Cold War and a manifest Russian aggression, albeit it is a fictional account.

Some may call it “fake news” or disinformation, something the Russians are quite expert at. Why bring in fiction when we have documented facts to rely on? Well, because sometimes myths and fictions can be more powerfully real than factual historical accounts, especially when they ruffle too many feathers and probe into the essential truth or falsehood of a subject at hand. One thinks of Orwell’s “1984,” not to speak of Plato’s ancient myth of the cave.

While the experts challenge scholars to imagine a third alternative to pro-Russia (overt or covert) vs. pro-Us, one devoid of partisanship, nationalism and patriotism, almost devoid of ideologies, this film has in fact ruffled many Russian diplomats’ feathers including Vladimir Putin and have exacerbated tensions existing between Russia and the EU over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Ukraine and the very meaning of democracy and human rights.

Russia’s ambassador in Oslo, Norway, Vyacheslav Pavlovsky, who being more sophis- ticated than Donald Trump, communicates via email, told the press via email that “It’s definitely very regrettable that in the… 70th anniversary of the victory of World War II, the authors of the series — as if they had forgotten about the heroic contribution of the Soviet army in the liberation of northern Norway from Nazi occupants — decided in the worst Cold War traditions to frighten the Norwegian audience with a non-existing threat from the east.”

One interesting response to that protest by the Russian ambassador was that of the director of the movie Erik Skjoldbjaerg who said this “They’re commenting on a series they haven’t even seen yet, they are opposed in principle”. In other words, the ambassador, even before viewing the film, is saying that it is a piece of propaganda or a lie. The actual deviousness may actually consist in reviewing a movie one has not seen yet via ideological lenses. But let’s continue.

Let’s remember that the story is fictitious and its author is Jo Nesbo, a hugely popular crime writer in Norway. It depicts basically a Norway which in the near future (near because some of the events described in the movie are unfolding as we speak) plunges the world into a tragic international crisis by suddenly halting its oil and gas production following an environmental catastrophe. But again, why all the fuss over a piece of entertaining crime fiction? Are Norwegians and others too dumb to take it as such, as unadulterated entertainment? Obviously this fictional account has hit some raw historical or ideological nerves. Which ones?

Let’s begin with a quick look at the complex plot of the narrative. Russia takes over production of the black gold or oil being drilled in the North Sea which Norway wants to halt. In this it has the blessing of the European Union which has pulled out of NATO and the Atlantic alliance. Russia does what is now called a “silk occupation” of the country. It begins not with a military invasion but with an economic control of the oil, in effect an economic occupation with the Russian ambassador in charge in Oslo and the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jesper Berg, forced to play second fiddle in other to retain a modicum of dignity and sovereignty.

This sounds eerily similar to the Finlandization of Finland after World War II during the Cold War. Something like that is being attempted by Putin in the Ukraine and even in Crimea before its outright annexation. That may explain the angry protest of the Russians. The film may be fictitious, the ideas expressed in it may have preceded the Ukraine crisis, but it appears all too real when it assignes to the Russians the role of aggressors. That may be one of the raw sensitive nerves that has been hit. It is the nerve of the accusation by the EU of military interference in the Ukrainian conflict which some see as the beginning of a new Cold War, or at the very least as the beginning of the frostiest relations between Russia and the West since the collapse of the USSR.

On the other hand the Norwegians insist that the story is about what happens in an occupied country where life appears quite normal but some are ready to sacrifice themselves in a fight for freedom. The Russians are not buying it and have in fact increased their activities off its Arctic coast, close to Norway. This concerns the Norwegians who do not belong to the EU, they never joined, but are in sinc with it when it comes to sanctions against Russia because of the Ukraine crisis in which Russia is heavily involved despite its denials.

But there may be another raw nerve and it is historical. Okkupert, while never even mentioning the word “quisling,” does evoke the Nazi occupation of Norway when Vidkun Quisling collaborated with the invaders and so in some way evokes the trauma of that era. Quisling’s for all intent and purposes was a puppet government which revoked the authority of the Norwegian King (who was exiled to England after he refused to abdicate), banned the entry of fleeing Jews, and committed Norwegian soldiers to the Eastern front under Nazi supervision. After the war the very name of “quisling” became an eponym for “traitor.”

So, the Russians see Okkupert as a modern version of Quisling’s shameful legacy, revisited on Russia for the near future. The question arises: is the revisiting, if indeed it is that, well deserved because of certain notoriously aggressive moves by present day Russia?

There is also the issue of environmental ethics. The Norwegian Prime Minister Jesper Berg is from the Green party which has succeeded in assuming power after a damaging global warming hurricane. He wants to introduce a new form of nuclear energy-powered chemical element called thorium, with Norway leading by example and shutting down gas and oil production. This action is found unacceptable by the EU and Russia which threaten Norway with a full scale invasion unless it commits to maintaining fuel extraction under Moscow’s supervision (the crew doing the extraction will all be Russian) while the US, somewhat similar to what may eventually happen soon, having withdrawn from NATO and achieved energy independence, sits this one out.

How relevant is all this to what has occurred in the Ukraine? Isn’t Russia occupation of parts of the Ukraine a so called friendly “velvet occupation”? In the film, when the Russians first come to Norway, they come as civilians, with no thanks or fighter jets. There are not even “little green men. Only those who care to notice see the subtle diminution of Norwegian sovereignty and the increasing assertion of Russian control. Thus Berg goes along with the temporary occupation hoping that nobody will take notice.

The book came out in 2012 but it became relevant and more relevant in the light of the forced annexation of Crimea, the subsequent Ukraine crisis in 2014 and the appearance of East-West tensions over Putin’s new-found assertiveness in Europe, an attempt to divide Europe from the US and finance its ultra-nationalist, fascist leaning parties inimical to the union of the EU, the violation of Baltic and Scandinavian airspace and seas which have become routine. Trump, up to now has played right into this scenario refusing to criticize Russia in any way, for dubious reasons. War games are being played in the Kremlin in which Russian troops seize the Estonian capital of Tellinn in 60 hours. It all lends authenticity and relevancy to the present situation in Europe and the US too.

Indeed, there is little about this show that feels unrealistic and implausible. The human drama that it reveals feels very real. One of its deepest insights is to show how a democratic society, because of its compromises with democratic principles aimed at “getting along and surviving,” slowly but inexorably gets transformed, willy nilly, into a morally corroded polity. This society wished to continue its normalcy and end up thinking of the “Free Norway” secret underground para-military movement as a terrorist movement, but in reality it is the only movement which retains its patriotic fervor in the face of humiliating compromises.

The show also portrays an admirable journalist, Thomas Eriksen, who repeatedly risks his life to expose the truth. Also Martin Jjupvik, a security detail agent who believes he is helping his country by working with the Russians in rooting out his fellow Norwegians. That of course raises the specter of Quisling. It also raises the specter of Finnish neutrality during the Cold War which allowed that country to remain independent but subservient to the Russians and thus avoid the fate of the Baltics which were forcefully incorporated to the Soviet Union. Finland made “Finlandization” a dirty word describing what happens to a small country when it lives next to a big and territorially expansionistic one. It ends up trading a reduction of its sovereignty in exchange for self-rule. That is another raw nerve in the Norwegian psyche. They wish to avoid a repetition on “Finlandization” in Norway, the equivalent of a “lion in a cage” according to the Estonian-Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen. And so do most of the democratic EU nations, I dare say. They do not wish to become satellite with the illusion of independence and sovereignty.

It was therefore quite predictable that the Russian government of Vladimir Putin would not be very pleased with Occupert. It intimates that Russia can be friendly with neighboring democratic governments but only when they are on a leash. In other words, it reveals too much of the game of “divide and conquer” which Putin is playing as we speak. He wants to keep in place the Russian propaganda with its sense of victimhood at the hands of the Bullying West, remind the world of Russia’s role in the Great Patriotic War, and continue its vehement denial that Russia poses any kind of threat to any of its neighbors.

The EU for one is not buying. It remains to be seen if Trump, who is capable of pivoting on a dime, since he has little if any ethical and democratic principles, also comes around. A Gallup poll among Norwegians a couple of years ago reveals that 89% of Norwegians disapprove of Russia’s leadership. As Lincoln said: “One can fool some of the people all the times, and all of the people some of the times, but one cannot fool all the people all of the times.” Putin and company will eventually discover that.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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All sanctions against Russia are based on lies

Eric Zuesse

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All of the sanctions (economic, diplomatic, and otherwise) against Russia are based on clearly demonstrable intentional falsehoods; and the sanctions which were announced on August 8th are just the latest example of this consistent tragic fact — a fact which will be proven here, with links to the evidence, so that anyone who reads here can easily see that all of these sanctions are founded on lies against Russia.

The latest of these sanctions were announced on Wednesday August 8th. Reuters headlined “U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia for nerve agent attack in UK” and reported that, “Washington said on Wednesday it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia by the end of August after it determined that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.” This was supposedly because “Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door. European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by President Donald Trump against Russia since he came to office.”

However, despite intense political pressure that the UK Government and ‘news’media had placed upon the UK’s Porton Down intelligence laboratory to assert that the poison had been made in Russia (labs in several countries including the UK have also manufactured it), the Porton Down lab refused to say this. Though the U.S. Government is acting as if Porton Down’s statement “determined that Moscow had used a nerve agent,” the actual fact is that Porton Down still refuses to say any such thing, at all — this allegation is merely a fabrication by the U.S. Government, including its allies, UK’s Government and other Governments and their respective propaganda-media. It’s a bald lie.

On March 18th, the great British investigative journalist and former British diplomat Craig Murray had headlined about UK’s Foreign Secretary, “Boris Johnson Issues Completely New Story on Russian Novichoks” and he pointed to the key paragraph in the Porton Down lab’s statement on this matter — a brief one-sentence paragraph:

Look at this paragraph:

“Russia is the official successor state to the USSR. As such, Russia legally took responsibility for ensuring the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] applies to all former Soviet Chemical Weapons stocks and facilities.”

It does not need me to point out, that if Porton Down had identified the nerve agent as made in Russia, the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office — UK’s foreign ministry] would not have added that paragraph. Plainly they cannot say it was made in Russia.

Murray’s elliptical report, which unfortunately was unclearly written — it was rushed, in order to be able to published on the same day, March 18th, when the UK’s official response to the Porton Down lab’s analysis was published — was subsequently fully explained on March 23rd at the excellent news-site Off-Guardian, which specializes in investigating and interpreting the news-media (in this case, Craig Murray’s article, and the evidence regarding it); they headlined “Skripal case: ‘closely related agent’ claim closely examined’,” and concluded their lengthy and detailed analysis:

In short, the ruling cited above, even if read in the most improbably forgiving way possible, shows the UK government does not have the information to warrant any of the claims it has so far made about Russian state involvement in the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. It shows the UK government is currently guilty of lying to Parliament, to the British people, and to the world.

Nothing has been published further about the Skripal/Novichoks matter since then, except speculation that’s based on the evidence which was discussed in detail in that March 23rd article at Off-Guardian.

On the basis of this — merely an open case which has never been examined in more detail than that March 23rd analysis did — the Skripal/Novichok case has been treated by the UK Government, and by the U.S. Government, and by governments which are allied with them, and by their news-media, as if it were instead a closed case, in which what was made public constitutes proof that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Russian Government. On that blatantly fraudulent basis, over a hundred diplomats ended up being expelled.

The Porton Down lab still refuses to say anything that the UK Government can quote as an authority confirming that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Russian Government.

All that’s left of the matter, then, is a cold case of official lies asserting that proof has been presented, when in fact only official lies have been presented to the public.

The UK Government prohibits the Skripals from speaking to the press, and refuses to allow them to communicate even with their family-members. It seems that they’re effectively prisoners of the UK Government — the same Government that claims to be protecting them against Russia.

This is the basis upon which the U.S. State Department, on August 8th, issued the following statement to ‘justify’ its new sanctions:

Imposition of Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act Sanctions on Russia

Press Statement

Heather Nauert 

Department Spokesperson

Washington, DC

August 8, 2018

Following the use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.

Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, these sanctions will take effect upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected on or around August 22, 2018.

U.S. law is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty” — the opposite of legal systems in which the contrary assumption applies: “guilty until proven innocent.” However, regarding such matters as invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 upon the basis of no authentic evidence; and invading and destroying Libya in 2011 on the basis of no authentic proof of anyone’s guilt; and on the basis of invading and for years trying to destroy Syria on the basis of America’s supporting Al Qaeda in Syria against Syria’s secular government; and on the basis of lying repeatedly against Russia in order to load sanction after sanction upon Russia and to ‘justify’ pouring its missiles and thousands of troops onto and near Russia’s border as if preparing to invade ‘the world’s most aggressive country’ — the U.S. federal Government routinely violates that fundamental supposition of its own legal system (“innocent until proven guilty”), whenever its rulers wish. And yet, it calls itself a ‘democracy’.

Donald Trump constantly says that he seeks improved relations with Russia, but when his own State Department lies like that in order to add yet further to the severe penalties that it had previously placed against Russia for its presumed guilt in the Skripal/Novichok matter, then Trump himself is publicly exposing himself as being a liar about his actual intentions regarding Russia. He, via his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s State Department, not only is punishing Russia severely for this unproven allegation, but now adds yet further penalties against Russia for it. Trump is being demanded by the U.S. Congress to do this, but it is his choice whether to go along with that demand or else expose that it’s based on lies. He likes to accuse his opponents of lying, but, quite obviously, the members of Congress who are demanding these hiked rounds of sanctions against Russia are demanding him to do what he actually wants to do — which is now clearly demonstrated to be the exact opposite of exposing those lies. If Trump is moving toward World War III on the basis of lies, then the only way he can stop doing it is by exposing those lies. He’s not even trying to do that.

Nothing is being said in the State Department’s cryptic announcement on August 8th that sets forth any reasonable demand which the U.S. Government is making to the Russian Government, such that, if the reasonable demand becomes fulfilled by Russia’s Government, then the United States Government and its allies will cease and desist their successive, and successively escalating, rounds of punishment against Russia.

Russia is being offered no path to peace, but only the reasonable expectation of escalating lie-based American ‘justifications’ to perpetrate yet more American-and-allied aggressions against Russia.

There have been three prior U.S. excuses for applying prior rounds of sanctions against Russia, and all of them have likewise been based upon lies, and varnished with many layers of overstatements.

First, in 2012, there was the Magnitsky Act, which was based upon frauds (subsequently exposed here and here and here) which assert that Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by the Russian Government. The evidence (as linked-to there) is conclusive that he was not; but the U.S. Government and its allies refuse even to consider it.

Then, in 2014, Crimea broke away from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation, and the U.S. and its allies allege that this was because Russia under Putin ‘seized’ Crimea from Ukraine, when in fact America under Obama had, just weeks prior to that Crimean breakaway, seized Ukraine and turned it against Russia and against Crimea and the other parts of Ukraine which had voted overwhelmingly for the democratically elected Ukrainian President whom the Obama regime had just overthrown in a bloody coup that had been in the planning ever since at least 2011 inside the Obama Administration. Several rounds of U.S.-and-allied economic sanctions were imposed against Russia for that — for the constant string of lies against Russia, and of constant cover-ups of “the most blatant coup in history,”  which had preceded and caused the breakaway.

These lies originated with Obama; and Trump accuses Obama of lying, but not on this, where Obama really did lie, psychopathically. Instead, Trump makes those lies bipartisan. On what counts the most against Obama, Trump seconds the Obama-lies, instead of exposing them. And yet Trump routinely has accused Obama as having lied, even on matters where it’s actually Trump who has been lying about Obama.

Then, there have been the anti-Russia sanctions that are based upon Russiagate and ‘Trump is Putin’s stooge and stole the election.’ That case against Russia has not been proven, and Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange says that what he had published were leaks from the DNC and Podesta’s computer, not hacks at all; and yet the sanctions were imposed almost as soon as the Democratic Party’s accusations started. Those sanctions, too, are utterly baseless except as being alleged responses to unproven (and likely false) allegations. Furthermore, even in the worst-case scenario: the U.S. Government itself routinely overthrows foreign governments, and continues tapping the phones and electronic communications of foreign governments, and manipulating elections abroad. Even in the worst-case scenario, Russia hasn’t done anything that historians haven’t already proven that the U.S. Government itself routinely does. That’s the case even if Russia is guilty as charged, on all of the U.S-and-allied accusations.

So: Who wants World War III? Apparently, both the Democratic and the Republican Parties do. Obama called Russia the world’s most aggressive nation. Trump joins with him in that bipartisan lie. Outside of America itself, most of the world consider the United States to be actually the “greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Therefore, why isn’t the NATO alliance against America? The NATO alliance is America and most of its vassal-nations: they’re all allied against Russia. Their war against Russia never stopped. That ‘Cold War’ continued, even after the USSR and its communism and its Warsaw Pact mirror-image to NATO, all ended in 1991; and now the intensifying ‘cold war’ threatens to become very hot. All based on lies. But that seems to be the only type of ‘justifications’ the U.S.-and-allied tyrants have got.

Either the lies will stop, or else we all will. Trump, as usual, is on the wrong side of the lies. And he seems to be too much of a coward to oppose them, in these cases, which are the most dangerous lies of all. This is how we could all end. Doing something heroic that would stop it, seems to be way beyond him — he doesn’t even try. That’s the type of cowardice which should be feared, and despised, the most of all. Trump has taken up Obama’s worst, and he runs with it. Trump had promised the opposite, during his Presidential campaign. But this is the reality of Trump — a profoundly filthy liar — at least insofar as he has, thus far, shown himself to be. What he will be in the future is all that remains in question. But this is what he has been, up till now.

Author’s note: this piece first posted at strategic-culture.org

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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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