[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]f one surveys Putin’s official pronouncements of the last few years on Russia’s historical role in the 21st century, one may soon notice that the language of ideological fanaticism, so prevalent during the Soviet era, has slowly evolved in that of values, character, spiritual identity, tradition and historical heritage.
At first blush it appears that it’s no longer a game of raw power and economics, but one of “soft power,” if not exactly that of reasoned philosophical dialogue, morality, and spiritual vision.
The question arises: has the leopard changed its spots? Is this a new ideology based on a vision, on the “inner strength” to be discovered in centuries upon centuries of Russian history and spiritual ties, the way a Dostoyevsky understood it? In other words, while acknowledging that Russia is not the West with its particular notions of electoral democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights, Mr. Putin and company would like to promote the idea that Russia remains unique: it is not bourgeois, essentially greedly capitalistic; it is no longer tied to the Communist ideology, nor is it corrupt and decadent as the West.
A corollary question arises: is this a new, less ideological, definition of Russianness? A mishmash of patriotism coupled to religious fervor (Russian Orthodoxy), the cult of the mother, sports, and the resurgence of provincial intelligentsia? Putin, after all, seems to be a genius in finding out what people want and then cleverly manipulating them. There is an affinity here with Donald Trump’s kind of populism, which may go a long way in explaining their mutual, if perplexing, sympathy.
The problem persists however: there is a colossal lack of trust between Putin and his people despite what he’d like us to believe about his popularity. It is a trumped up popularity due to the fact that he totally controls and manipulates the media, and just about everything else in Russia. Restoring that trust may prove harder than articulating a new national idea.
Many Russians no longer accept the idea of being subjects of the State; they wish to be citizens contributing to its overall prosperity. Here Putin and his oligarchs, who have greatly enriched themselves after the demise of the Soviet Union, leave much to be desired. Until that trust is restored and people feel that their aspirations, input and contributions are respected, beginning with credible and legitimate elections, authoritarianism will continue to increase in Russia at the expense of a truly democratic society.
Be that as it may, let’s return to the struggle, be it cultural or be it geo-political, between Russia and the West. It’s hard to imagine a period, since the end of the Cold War, when relations between Russia and the US have been so disastrous. What happened to the new era, the so called reset, which the end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in? Some political science experts today talk of a New Cold War, others mention an enormous misunderstanding in the grasping of a new Russia and the new ideology as above delineated, which of course they alone are able to understand and explain. It gets pretty confusing. Let’s see if we can unravel some of this mess.
The undeniable fact is that Russia, since the end of the Soviet Empire, has returned to the world stage with a vengeance, wielding an agenda that wants to appear visionary, for Russians at any rate, but looks progressively more Machiavellian. It seems rather to be eager to redress the real or perceived slights perpetrated by the West, NATO and the Atlantic alliance, and restore a semblance of its former global role. Some have imputed this attitude to the slightly paranoid narcissistic mind of a former KBG operative named Vladimir Putin.
But the question persists. Where did it all go wrong with the relationship and who is to blame? Is it a question of US overreaching or one of Russia’s nostalgia for Soviet imperial greatness buttressed by a new powerful ideology? Since the economy of Russia is smaller than that of Italy and California, is it gambling it all on nuclear weapons and intimidation, not to dissimilar to the North Korean misguided strategy? To answer that question may require a book the length of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but let’s try a few brief pointers.
Perhaps the initial fault does lie with the West, after all. It began when the West miserably failed to treat Russia as a nation that had had the courage to shake off Soviet Communism. Instead of welcoming it into a new community of nations, NATO treated it almost as a successor state to the USSR, inheriting the distrust of the West toward it.
Russia was later admitted into the G7 club making it the G8, but not as a full respected member but as an observer. This mistake was compounded when the West enthusiastically approved NATO’s expansion into Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, countries with their own nationalistic traditions of struggle against Moscow’s rule. Then it added the Baltic States who also had been satellites of the Soviet Union. Should we really wonder why Russia is so adamant about stopping the absorbing of Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO’s orbit and that Putin may be already eyeing those Baltic countries while pursuing a strategy of divide and conquer. That strategy is quite apparent even in the Western part of the EU where ultra-nationalistic movements are being funded and interference in their elections is being practiced via misinformation and cyber-warfare.
Of course there is another side to this coin, that of the West which prefers to speak of Russian “revanchism” as personified by Vladimir Putin who once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Lately he has been showing an extremely assertive behavior in the Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria. And of course the experts debate which side is the correct side.
The fact remains however that presently there is no discernible politically super-charged ideological competition going on, one resembling the one that went on in the Cold War. And that is a good thing. There is however a competition for influence and here it must be admitted that economically Russia is still a power of a lesser order. The temptation remains for Russia to vaunt its nuclear weapons or its new found weapon: weaponized misinformation and cyber-warfare with which to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, and about which the US Congress is presently investigating.
While it may be true that Pax Americana is over with and a firmer NATO alliance based on cooperation and trust may be needed, a new reset button with Russia is nowhere on the horizon. In any case, for the sake of global stability, can a new warmer sort of relationship with Russia be envisioned? Hard to tell at the present moment.
The experts will continue to explain away to demonstrate their expertise, the spies will continue to misinform and conduct cyber warfare, but in the final analysis it will be history which will render the final verdict on this thorny conundrum.
Russian Aluminium, Health Ministry Announce Ebola Vaccine
Russian Aluminium (RUSAL), one of the world’s largest aluminium producers, together with the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, announced the completion of the vaccination against the Ebola virus in the Republic of Guinea. Two thousand people have received the GamEvac-Combi vaccines during the testing programme conducted at the Scientific Diagnostic Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology (SDCEM) in Guinea.
The centre was an initiative of Russian business tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, and was built by RUSAL during the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2015. GamEvac-Combi vaccine was created in the Gamalei Federal Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. The vaccine is currently in the final round of testing.
“As part of the testing programme, the health of the vaccinated participants and the development of the immunity are monitored for one year. At the end of this period of monitoring, the vaccine will receive international certification making it available for use by the World Health Organisation and other organizations for the purpose of preventing the spread of the disease,” according to media release.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, instructed the development of the vaccine following a request from the President of the Republic of Guinea Alpha Condé at the end of 2014.
In 2016, the vaccine was revealed during the World Health Assembly where the former WHO Director-General, Margaret Chen, was in attendance. The vaccine was registered in Russia at the end of 2015.
Along with developing the vaccine, RUSAL, as part of the public-private partnership supported by Oleg Deripaska, opened a research centre, an isolation ward and a hospital in Guinea. RUSAL’s commitment to fighting the epidemic was acknowledged by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, who thanked RUSAL’s shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, for his contribution to the international effort against Ebola.
The strong relationship that RUSAL has established with the Republic of Guinea is something that Oleg Deripaska often speaks about. He recently highlighted RUSAL’s commitment to helping the population of the country hit by the virus; “When the outbreak of the fever came, we made every effort to help”, said Oleg Deripaska.
“Currently the vaccine is administered to the Russian medics and other specialists going to the regions where there is a high risk of Ebola contagion”, said Veronika Skvortsova, the Minister of Health of the Russian Federation. “During the Ebola outbreak, the centre has shown the best results in terms of the number of Guinean persons wholly recovered: 62.5% of the SDCEM patients with a confirmed Ebola fever diagnosis have been successfully treated”.
The advantages of GamEvac-Combi vaccine
The vaccine was developed using a biotechnology method without using the pathogenic Ebola virus. The base of the vaccine is the genetic material of an adenovirus and vesicular canker virus, safe for humans, modified with a gene containing the information about the structure of the GP protein of the Ebola virus.
Pre-clinical and clinical studies have proven the safety of the vaccine and have shown that it stimulates the immune system more efficiently than foreign vaccines. Another important advantage of the vaccine is its more favourable transportation and storage conditions: GamEvac-Combi can be transported and stored at the temperature above -16◦C – and similar foreign vaccines require the temperature of less than – 60 ◦C for storage, which is difficult to implement in the hot African climate.
The SDCEM centre, that will continue to do medical examinations for the Guinean population, is the most advanced and biologically safe facility in the Western Africa. The centre was created in line with all international humanitarian organizations’ recommendations and is equipped with modern medical and laboratory equipment. RUSAL invested more than US$10 million in the construction of the SDCEM.
Currently, SDCEM is the leading centre in the field of investigating and preventing infectious diseases in Guinea. It also serves as the training facility for the national epidemiologists.
RUSAL has been active in Guinea since 2001 being one of the largest foreign investors in the country. In Guinea, RUSAL owns Kindia Bauxite Company (KBC) as well as the bauxite-alumina facility Friguia. RUSAL continues implementing projects to launch the world’s largest bauxite mines Dian-Dian in Boké region.
Putin, United Russia and the Message
On Dec. 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary meeting of the 18th United Russia party congress, reiterated the key challenges, problems and accomplishments for the nation. The congress delegates identified the challenges and priorities in the party’s work for the coming year.
Putin acknowledged the party’s support during his presidential election campaign, saying it was “a momentous thing shaping the top institution of power” in Russia. This concerns the president, the government, the region – any level, down to the local or municipal one.
Putin further referred to an action plan that was presented in a condensed form in the Executive Order in May 2018 and that set out in national projects drafted by the Government (the majority in the Government are United Russia members) and was supported by legislators (United Russia holds the majority in the State Duma). He pointed to the fact that there would not be any success without United Russia’s backing at the regional and municipal level.
“The United Russia party plays a special role. For a number of years the party has been showing its competence, its ability to make responsible decisions, explain these decisions to the people,” Putin told the party delegates during his address, while acknowledging frankly that there have been pitfalls and problems in the political leadership.
Leadership means making responsible decisions the country needs. This leadership is an enormous resource to achieve dynamic and substantive change that can ensure a radical improvement in the quality of life and greater well-being of the population.
Putin reminded the party meeting that the entire world going through a dramatic situation. In his words: “the world is undergoing a transformation, a very powerful and dynamically evolving transformation, and if we do not get our bearings, if we do not understand what we need to do and how, we may fall behind for good.”
He suggested that United Russia with its tremendous legislative, organisational and human resource potential must fully utilise it and consolidate all of society, in solving development issues, in implementing the nationwide agenda.
Putin told the party delegates never allow any sort of rudeness, arrogance, insolence towards people at any level – at the top level and the lowest, municipal level. This is important because it does the country a disservice, it is unfair to the people and it denigrates the party to the lowest of the low. The public demands fairness, honesty and openness.
What is “society” after all? It is the people. Thus, one key factor here is that people’s opinions and attitudes must necessarily be taken into account. There must be commitment to implementing people’s initiatives, and their initiatives must be used in attaining common goals, especially at the municipal level, according to the Russian leader.
The most crucial thing for a political party is a steady standing of its representatives and that United Russia does not have to fear change but rather work strategically towards making a change for the better.
Putin further asked the delegates to work relentlessly for a free democratic country, development of nationwide tasks, realisation of new ideas and approaches. Discussions and competition, including within the party itself are very efficient tools for solving problems in the interests of the nation. United Russia has to do everything needed to instil both inside the party in particular and in society in general this political culture, an atmosphere of dialogue, trust and cooperation with all political forces of Russia.
G20 Summit: Looking for Compromise
The G20 is an important international forum, a meeting place for representatives of the world’s largest economies. Now, we can say that the division into the so-called “developed” and “developing” economies is irrelevant within this forum. Additionally, the G20 generally does, indeed, represent the interests of the global population, since its countries account for over 80 percent of the gross world product and two thirds of the entire population of the planet. It is also important to remember that such venues are very convenient for privately owned businesses, which, through the support of governmental agencies, can get favourable opportunities to hold talks with their foreign partners. Additionally, a rather large number of meetings and talks at G20 summits remains outside the spotlight, but their results confirm the significance of the many unofficial meetings, informal negotiations and talks on the side-lines of the summits. These meetings, which take place in a variety of formats, are vital for understanding the issues that are most important for leading international participants and whether there is consensus among them on the approaches required to resolve these issues. Moreover, as we consider meetings and agreements concluded on the side-lines of G20 summits, we can, to a degree, draw conclusions on the current configuration or re-configuration of international relations.
From the outset, we will note that the importance of G20 summits is gradually growing, even though they started out as meetings of ministers of finance and their initial goal was to formulate a joint response to global financial issues. Today, the summit has transformed into an international venue for discussing issues of global financial and economic policies and other pressing matters of the day. However, economic and financial issues remain significant for G20 discussions.
The summit is also important for the expert and political communities of various countries that assess the prospects of inter-country interactions. Apparently, at the Argentina summit, the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin attracted the greatest interest, but it never happened, since the U.S. President cancelled it at the eleventh hour, which certainly demonstrates the growing tensions in U.S.–Russia relations.
At the same time, the summit is useful, since its function is not to settle bilateral relations, but to develop common approaches that satisfy different states with different economic indicators and representing different political regimes.
G20 summits are convened to discuss several pressing issues proposed by the presiding state.
The summit held in Argentina was devoted to building a consensus for fair and stable development. Face-to-face meetings between heads of state are particularly important for handling the task. The goal of the summit indicates that the global community is aware of the current tectonic shifts in the global economy and in world politics. For a full-scale scale discussion of the problem, four issues were put on the agenda: the future of work and new professions, infrastructure for development, sustainable food future and gender mainstreaming.
Clearly, the G20 is not just a venue for discussing issues that have been defined as key; it is also an opportunity to “compare notes” via different formats “inside” the summit. For instance, we can say that France, Germany, Austria and Italy did not represent themselves or their interests alone, but were also united by their common tasks as EU countries. In addition, as one of the world’s largest economies, the European Union is a member of G20 as a single body. At the present summit, the European Union was represented by the heads of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. Similarly, BRICS countries use G20 to discuss issues of their own.
G20 in Implementing Russia’s Strategic Tasks
Russia’s current strategic priority is to take part in the establishment of the concept of a multipolar world and in elaborating new principles of interaction within integration processes in Eurasia. Therefore, special emphasis will invariably be placed on the possibilities for implementing the idea of “integrating integrations” at G20 summits, and this summit was no exception. In particular, special attention was paid to mechanisms for connecting the development of the EAEU with the “One Road – One Belt” strategy. In addition, issues of stepping up cooperation within BRICS are also addressed, and there is an ongoing search for parties interested in bolstering global political and economic stability through the instruments of “integrating integrations,” which entails Russia paying attention to China, India and other Asian partners, as well as the gradual stable growth of Russia’s interests in Latin America.
As for meetings that have the greatest significance for Russia, the key talks for understanding the development of Russia’s foreign policy are the now traditional sessions held with BRICS countries. In addition, a meeting was also held between the heads of state of Russia, India and China (in the RIC format). Objectively, this format could be the most efficient, since interaction between Eurasia’s three largest states is of principal significance for both regional and global security. The dialogue on security issues and collaboration in all areas will be continued at the second Belt and Road Summit in April 2019 that Xi Jinping invited Vladimir Putin to attend.
The President of the Russian Federation was probably one of the most active figures at the present summit. Naturally, he had a meeting with representatives of Argentina. It is all the more important today since the EAEU and MERCOSUR are building up their cooperation potential, and a Memorandum on Cooperation is being prepared. What is more, Russia and Argentina concluded an agreement on nuclear power generation that will allow Russia to start construction of Russian-designed nuclear power plants in Argentina.
The main topic of discussion at the meeting between Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin was the Syrian agenda. Indeed, an exchange of opinions on this question now, when various formats of building up the peace process are being discussed, is of particular importance. In addition, the President of the Russian Federation discussed the current situation in Syria with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also confirmed the significance of the Turkish Stream for the stable and secure development of the economy of Turkey and other states.
The meeting between the President of the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman focused on energy issues, with the two parties agreeing to extend the agreement on cutting oil production.
Vladimir Putin also met with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, with the Japanese side raising the issue of concluding a peace agreement. For Russia, the issue is not particularly relevant anymore, and at the meeting, the two heads of state agreed to continue active cooperation to increase the level of mutual trust between the two sides.
Of course, a great number of people were interested in the informal conversation between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who only had time to exchange opinions on the “Kerch Strait incident.” Trump’s refusal to meet with the President of the Russian Federation means a further loss of confidence between the two countries.
On the whole, meetings between heads of state were of particular importance at the summit, since, for instance, the meeting at the level of ministers of foreign affairs was downsized due to the absence of Russian and French ministers of foreign affairs, the U.S. Secretary of State and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
G20: The International Agenda
The so-called Iran nuclear deal has become one of the most crucial problems in international relations. Russia and the European Union have adopted the same stance on this issue.
In addition to economic matters, G20 also tackled the climate change problem and proposed complete and utter compliance with the decisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, significant progress is unlikely after the withdrawal of the United States from the accord.
No less important were the discussions on the problem of terrorism. The G20 countries agreed that their Leaders’ Hamburg Statement on Countering Terrorism needed to be implemented. Incidentally, that statement declared the need to fight terrorism internationally in all its forms and manifestations. However, the current situation is extremely complicated, and discussions concerning Syria confirm this fact.
The influence of the European Union and the United Kingdom on the international security agenda and their claim that Russia is the main disrupting force are just as worrying. The European Union, in the person of Donald Tusk, sought to expand the summit’s agenda with a discussion of Russia’s so-called aggression against Ukraine, which he likened to the problem of trade wars. However, despite the suggestion put forward by both Tusk and the United Kingdom that the G20 discuss Russia’s allegedly impermissible conduct and use some instruments against it, the proposal failed to gain traction. It say a lot that the “Kerch Strait incident” did not overshadow any of the meetings held by the President of the Russian Federation at the G20 Summit.
The attention of international actors was also focused on the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, who failed to achieve a consensus on economic interaction, but agreed to a 90-day moratorium on introducing increased tariffs. Accordingly, special hopes are pinned on this interim measure. Clearly, China will not make the unilateral concessions that the United States is calling upon it to do, appealing instead to the idea of a compromise.
Results of the G20 Summit
While the summit’s final declaration does not contain specific figures and objectives for the most sensitive issues on the agenda, it does offer mechanisms for their resolution. In this respect, the summit did not turn out to be a breakthrough in resolving pressing issues. However, it demonstrated that no issue will ever be resolved if the parties abandon dialogue and compromise.
The results of Russia’s efforts at the summit include the signing of a large set of bilateral agreements between public and private bodies. The summit also demonstrated that Russia is actively and successfully stepping up cooperation with Latin American countries and enhancing its multi-format collaboration with the BRICS nations, particularly with China and India.
It is both curious and telling that the media was most interested in the meetings held by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump. However, we should mention the different approaches of these heads of state. For example, the President of the United States demonstrated that his country was not especially interested in following the established rules and was far more concerned about retaining the right to develop new rules of the game independently of other participants in international relations. Meanwhile, China’s and Russia’s leaders spoke about cooperation and compromise both in their joint meetings held in various formats and in their conversations with other heads of state. Additionally, the fact that the world is changing rapidly was recognized at the summit, meaning that the rules of the game can and should be changed and that new rules need to be formulated, but only through collaboration and compromise.
The heads of state also appealed to the IMF and the World Bank to work towards improving the economic situation in various countries and increasing the transparency of their work in interacting with states. This should help reduce sovereign debt and ensure that the recommendations offered by international financial institutions in individual states are implemented more effectively.
In addition, the leaders of the G20 countries concluded that responses need to be developed to current and future challenges in the development of the WTO and attempts should be made to avoid excessive contradictions, sanctions and tariff restrictions. The parties also agreed that the WTO needs to be reformed for it to work more efficiently. This aspect will be considered at the next summit in Japan.
Interestingly, virtually all countries supported multi-laterality, confirmed their commitment to the rules of international trade and agreed that efforts to overcome crisis trends in the global economy should be stepped up in order to avoid a repetition of the 2008 global crisis. The final declaration states that the global economic growth is increasingly less synchronized between countries, which entails risks to economic security, particularly given geopolitical tensions and financial unpredictability. To overcome this problem, it is important to step up interaction and increase trust among all parties in international relations.
The G20 states also announced that it was necessary to continue joint work on studying the impact that the digitalization of economy has on the global tax system, which needs to be adapted to current conditions by 2019 (final decisions on the matter will be elaborated and published in 2020).
Thus, the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires once again demonstrated the significance of the mechanisms of dialogue and achieving compromise based on constant information exchange between countries. The compromise-based approach was officially adopted as the foundation of all agreements, and was the leitmotif of the event. Given the circumstances, an increasing number of states recognize their significance as participants in international relations and, with each passing year, they strive to more forcefully state their stance on the most sensitive issues. Clearly, the Russian Federation wholeheartedly welcomes this trend.
Therefore, it should be noted that the recent summit in Argentina demonstrated that the G20 is just that – a group of countries – and not a political club. This fact increases its significance as an organization exhibiting a multilateral, multi-format and pluralistic nature of today’s international relations. Active discussions in such a format confirm the relevancy of multipolarity and the current processes of reconfiguring the world. In such circumstances, Russia can most fully implement its interests and convey its vision of international matters. An analysis of the volume of news reports in the European media is quite telling in that it proves that EU journalists were primarily interested not so much in meetings of heads of EU states, but in meetings with the participation of the leaders of Russia, China and the United States, meaning that EU representatives were running second in the newsfeeds of many news agencies. Thus, the results of the summit allow us to state that there has been a significant increase in the international community’s attention on Russia.
First published in our partner RIAC
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