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The Nexus Religion/Nationalism in Today’s Russia: Are the Roots Buried in Dostoevsky’s Novels?

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“Only one nation is ‘god-bearing,’ that’s the Russian people, and… and…. and can you think me such a fool, Stavrogin, he yelled frantically all at once, that I can’t distinguish whether my words at this moment are the rotten old commonplaces that have been ground out in all the Slavophil mills in Moscow, or a perfectly new saying, the last word, the sole word of renewal and resurrection!”   -Shatov in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]’d like to begin this reflection on the nexus between religion and nationalism in a rather prosaic mode, so to speak, with the empirical facts, as announced by Pew researchers on the subject: roughly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet Union, religion has been resurrected in Russia, as well as 17 other countries formerly under its fist.

Overall, 86 percent of 25,000 respondents interviewed between June 2015 and July 2016 said they believe in God; 59 percent believe in a heaven and 54 percent believe in hell. Just 14 percent fall within the atheists or agnostics category.

In many countries formerly under Soviet rule, religion and national identity are inextricably tied. In Russia, the Orthodox Church is heavily favored, while Polish believers are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

Overall, 70 percent of poll respondents in those countries where Orthodoxy is predominant said their national identity was tied to their faith; for Roman Catholics, the percentage was 57.

However, identification with faith does not necessarily translate to strong church attendance. Few respondents to this poll regularly attend worship services; 25 percent of Roman Catholics said they attend weekly Mass, while only 10 percent of Orthodox adherents attend worship at least once a week.

Those statistics strongly imply that three-quarters of a century of official state atheism in the former Soviet Union and its Central and Eastern European satellite nations (from 1917 till 1989) has all but evaporated in a sudden resurgence of faith since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

From 1917, when Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks took power in Russia, until 1991, when the USSR crumbled, religious faith — though technically constitutionally protected — was treated with ambivalence and often persecuted as incompatible with Marxist ideology.

In various ways, the state oppressed religion, Christian and non-Christian alike. Believers often found themselves dismissed from their jobs, clergy imprisoned and sometimes executed or doomed to gulags for perceived disloyalty. This persecution encouraged the emergence of new officially atheistic generations which replaced the believers of old.

This may at first look like a positive development, at least for freedom of religion. But on further analysis one discovers that there is a problem in this rosy social scenario: the entanglement between nationalism as expressed by the State with the official state religion seems to have become all but inextricable. What the US founding fathers dubbed “the separation of Church and State” is also evaporating fast.

Perhaps ironically, Orthodox Christians today see Russia as playing a role in protecting — rather than persecuting — their faith. And most former East bloc, predominantly Orthodox nations agree that “a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.” So, it appears that religion (Russian Orthodoxy, in particular) has become a political tool in the hands of Putin’s strategy of “divide and conquer,” another tool, like cyber-war and disinformation, by which to oppose the West alleged to be greedy and corrupt, devoid of moral underpinnings.

In Russia, the same above mentioned poll shows, 85 percent support the idea of their nation being a buffer against the immorality of the West, with that opinion echoed to varying degrees elsewhere in former Iron Curtain countries — from 52 percent in Romania and Georgia to 80 percent and 83 percent in Armenia and Serbia, respectively. The sole exception, as might be expected given current strained relations with Russia, is Ukraine with just 22 percent support for the concept of Orthodoxy as a defense against a corrupt West.

But, staying within the parameters of religion/nationalism, another conundrum surfaces: the resurgence of Russian Orthodoxy, has also brought on the stage increasing resistance to faiths imported from the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin — under the official impetus of cracking down on terrorism — has approved tight restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism by other non-Orthodox faiths. In other words, he does not consider Christianity a universal religion practiced by different denominations and different cultures. In that respect he is violating (like Trump in America) the constitutional violation of equal treatment of all religions.

Hit particularly hard are Pentecostals and evangelical Christians, as well as Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, believers who consider themselves Christians and who often have been forced to conduct low-key meetings in homes. Mormon missionaries are now called “volunteers” in order to better downplay their proselytizing motives. Persecution is the air. It is a selective kind of Christianity that is propagandized by the State.

What is conveniently forgotten by this pseudo-religious posture, which amounts to a stealthy cover-up, is that the essential political struggle between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance in the West may have little to do with the struggle between atheism and religion, or between morality and corruption, or secularism against the sacred, but rather between democracy and tyranny.

I’ve already written extensively on this topic of the democratic deficit which may eventually doom both political blocks, with or without religion. What I’d like to do here is to explore the roots of the kernel of truth that exists in the concept that Russia is a substantially different from the corrupt West; that is not invented by Putin’s propaganda machine. Indeed, iIf those roots exist, one will not uncover them by merely listening and following Putin’s nationalistic rhetoric, but by reading the novels of Dostoyevsky, particularly two from which I will quote extensively in this article: The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamozov.

As an intriguing aside, one wonders how many people noticed that while the London Olympics opened up with an image of a train coming down the rail, spewing pollution into the atmosphere to glorify the industrial revolution and the British Empire of old nostalgically resurrected, while Shakespeare was not even mentioned, the Moscow Olympics did not neglect to prominently mention and display Dostoevsky’s picture, as well as that of Tolstoy, as glories of Russia.

Be that as it may, let us begin with an extensive quote from The Possessed. When I first read the novel in college in the 60s it was translated as The Devils. We shall see further down why that translation also makes eminent sense. The quote is the following:

Science and reason have, from the beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part in the life of nations; so it will be till the end of time.[underlining mine]. Nations are built up and moved by another force which sways and dominates them, the origin of which is unknown and inexplicable: that force is the force of an insatiable desire to go on to the end, though at the same time it denies that end. It is the force of the persistent assertion of one’s own existence, and a denial of death. It’s the spirit of life, as the Scriptures call it, “the river of living water,” the drying up of which is threatened in the Apocalypse. It’s the aesthetic principle, as the philosophers call it, the ethical principle with which they identify it, “the seeking of God,” as I call it more simply. The object of every national movement, in every people and at every period of its existence is only the seeking for its god, who must be its own god, and the faith in Him as the only true god. God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end….

You reduce God to a simple attribute of nationality…

I reduce God to the attribute of nationality? cried Shatov. On the contrary, I raise the people to God. And has it ever been otherwise? The people is the body of God. Every people is only a people so long as it has its own god and excludes all other gods on earth irreconcilably…. Such from the beginning of time has been the belief of all great nations, all, anyway, who have been specially remarkable, all who have been leaders of humanity…. The Jews lived only to await the coming of the true God and left the world the true God. The Greeks deified nature and bequeathed the idea of the State to the nations… If a great people does not believe that the truth is only to be found in itself alone (in itself alone and exclusively); if it does not believe that it alone is fit and destined to raise up and save all the rest by its truth, it would at once sink into being ethnographical material, and not a great people…. But there is only one truth, and therefore only a single out of the nations can have the true God, even though other nations may have great gods of their own. Only one nation is “god-bearing,” that’s the Russian people, and… and…. and can you think me such a fool, Stavrogin,’ he yelled frantically all at once, that I can’t distinguish whether my words at this moment are the rotten old commonplaces that have been ground out in all the Slavophil mills in Moscow, or a perfectly new saying, the last word, the sole word of renewal and resurrection!

Is Dostoevsky saying, via the conversation between Shatov and Stavrogin that for man to be saved and fulfill his final destiny he needs to believe in a Russian God? This line of thinking may appear preposterous to the “enlightened” secular intelligence of Western Europe, but notice please that, from the outset, science and reason are declared a secondary and subordinate part of the life of nations. In other words, the rational preoccupations of the age of Enlightenment are not the focus here; they are subordinate to a more encompassing idea; the idea of the search for the ultimate destiny of man.

As Rebecca West has aptly expressed, this is “the inquiry that looks over the shoulder of the man of science at every experiment; it is the preoccupation that sits like a judge in every artist’s brain. The discoveries of science and philosophy have opened such magic casements out of the world of appearances that they have attracted men of imagination, whose impulse it is to find out the beauty and significance of material, as strongly as they have repelled those who have staked their existence on the finality of the Christian revelation. And thus it is that the history of the research for redemption is written not in the liturgies but in literature.” Which is to say, the task may be less theological, of linking with a Greek Orthodox Church (from which derives the Russian Orthodox Church) and more philosophical and literary. And yet, Dostoevsky has that Church in mind, a church that had indeed preserved the kindness of the early church but can also be a calculating institution as many religious institutions indeed are. Just take a good look at the photograph below the title of this article.

As the title of the book The Possessed more than adequately suggests, the near-obsession with the theme of the meaning and final destiny of man’s life, was stimulated by some of the events going on at the time at the hands of the so called Nihilists. Who were the Nihilists in 19th century Russia? They were the likes of Stravogin and Shatov in the Possessed. They do not believe in the God who lives within the shining frames of the Greek icons, or the Orthodox liturgy intoned in a dialect spoken a thousand years ago in a remote corner of Macedonia. There is a strange faith, a difficult faith. At one point of the narration this exchange occurs: “I want to ask you,” asked Stavrogin coldly, “do you believe in God, yourself?” “I believe in Russia,” muttered Shatov frantically, “I believe in her orthodoxy…. I believe in the body of Christ…. I believe that the new advent will take place in Russia…. I believe…” “And in God?” pressed Stavrogin, “in God?” “I… I will believe in God….”

One is tempted to ask: has Dostoevsky too joined in spirit those disordered minds of the time called Nihilists or “disordered saints of the mind”? Those who reasserted with Schopenhauer, that there is a will-to-live which universally guides humanity with a blind sort of genius, and then with Nietzsche doctrine of egotism preached that not only men but entire collectives, entire nations could be strong, super-nations, so to speak, sinless like the angels. Those types called the possessed had become intimately involved in the eternal struggle between the proud and the humble, the original genius and the academic protocol that loves tradition, the militarist nations organized for war and obedience and the pacifist nations which leave themselves open to chaos for the sake of freedom.

Another tempting question: had Dostoevsky allied himself with the proud? The question is prompted by his book The Brothers Karamazov which relates how Christ came to Seville and is condemned to death by the Grand Inquisitor lest he should restore free will to humankind. That would explain his hatred of everything Catholic, a church which preached salvation by the subjection of the will to ecclesiastical authority, what he calls, not unlike Nietzsche, a communion of cowards rather than a communion of saints.

Again, to quote Rebecca West once again: “Dostoevsky hated the materialism of his age, which declared, in the phrase that jangles like a cracked bell through The Possessed, that “the rattle of the carts bringing bread to humanity is more important than the Sistine Madonna,” because it understated the magnificent greeds and appetites of the human animal. He loved Christianity because the willingness for sacrifice is brave, and in the words, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit,” rings such a call to adventure as no other religion has dared to take upon its lips. It behooved a man to be so proud of life that he would honor its young strength in little children; that he would welcome any deed that would make it sweeter, even if it were performed by the clumsy hands of an old man; that he would rejoice at every word that made its meaning clearer, even though it were hiccupped by a drunken convict. It behooved a man to remember that he was part of a nation crowned with the destiny of saving mankind, and to bear himself proudly and busily as one of its ambassadors. So he might be saved.”

And so we arrive at Dostoevsky’s nationalism, which some have misunderstood and confused with that of Putin and his ilk. It has nothing to do with the repression of intelligence and liberty, with the aggressive nationalism of a modern Italy or Germany, or aggressiveness and arrogance in international affairs, or the Machiavellian principles that “might makes right” or “the end justifies the means.”

Then what exactly is Dostoevsky’s brand of nationalism? It might be nothing more than the ancient Greek’s advice to create a society that aims at common good and creates an environment that is suited to the cultivation of the soul and the pursuit of perfection. If mother Russia wanted to be an example to the rest of the world it had to create those conditions.

Dostoevsky seems to imply in The Possessed that tradition is the enemy of science, or vice versa; but all he might be saying is that if one deprives an individual of his heritage and tradition the end result will be the deprivation of the total of human relationships wherein he may learn love, which strengthens the will to live. He will be in effect be robbed of that network which is necessary to remain human and above the restrictions of mere ethnicity or worse, tribal loyalty or exclusion of the other.

The problem is that in The Possessed and in The Brothers Karamazov this nationalism seems to come across as an angry kind of nationalism, one that suggests xenophobia and seems to support the nefarious attacks of the state bureaucracy against its own people. Perhaps Dostoevsky was too obsessed with his hunger for salvation and could not reflect more serenely on this crucial issue. As Rebecca West renders it “it’s like standing in the darkness outside a lighted house to which one has no key. If Dostoevsky sometimes lost himself in rage as he beat on the doors, it was because he had in his heart such a wonderful dream of the light.” Be that as it may, the path to the fulfillment of that dream will not be found in the advice of those who are pursuing another nefarious Machiavellian path and covering it up with the appearance of piety. Those people are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their core belief is “knowledge is power.” That slogan, come to think of it, was proffered by one of the fathers of the Western Enlightenment: Francis Bacon. Perhaps it needs a revisiting.

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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Russia and Japan: Inseparable Partners

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By all accounts, Japan with its strong economy and many high-quality manufactured brands is practically searching to expand into foreign markets. Japan, with an estimated population of 126 million, has a small territory. According to UN’s assessment report on global population in 2019, Japan was the world’s tenth-most populous country. That compared with Russia, its vast territory and approximately 145 million, Japan’s investment is fast growing in the Russian Federation.

Despite its large investment and admirable brands from automobiles through mega-shops to healthcare and beauty, and to social service sector, Japan is consistently looking to expand its business tentacles. Without doubt, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held under the theme: “Together Again – Economy of New Reality” early June, Russia-Japan business session attracted unprecedented large number of participants.

While noting the fact that the coronavirus pandemic did not and will not hinder economic cooperation between Russia and Japan, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Maxim Reshetnikov, noted in his speech at the session, further reviewed some significant aspects of the Russia-Japanese economic cooperation, and finally painted the broad outlook for the future.

“Despite a difficult year, we managed not only to continue existing projects but were even able to launch new ones. An express test for coronavirus was created, and a container train with Japanese goods was launched for the first time on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Construction began on a centre for preventive medicine in Khabarovsk. The Japanese company Fanuc opened an engineering centre in Skolkovo,” he told the gathering.

According to Maxim Reshetnikov, the plans for cooperation with Japan include the creation of liquefied natural gas trans-shipment complexes in Kamchatka and Murmansk region and the construction of an ion therapy centre for cancer treatment in Obninsk. Both countries are preparing to enter new and promising tracks in hydrogen energy, climate change, the creative economy, and e-commerce.

That however, Russia has encouraged potential foreign investors to venture into the regions. For example, Kaluga, which is provincial city and stands on the famous Oka river about 150 kilometers southwest of Moscow, has adopted few favourable measures, among others, and as a result has attracted five foreign automobile manufacturing companies including Japanese Nissan.

Governor of the Kaluga Region Vladislav Shapshа took part in the discussion. “Japan has been and remains our most reliable partner, a partner in a variety of areas. In terms of investments, this of course includes, the development of projects with Mitsubishi and Toyota Tsusho. Mitsubishi has placed its headquarters in Kaluga this year, and together with Peugeot Citroën has been working with us since 2009. Along with Volkswagen and Volvo, it makes up the core of the automotive cluster, which accounts for 12% of the automobiles produced in the country today,” Governor Shapshа said, giving a full business profile in his region.

The Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan also attracts foreign investors and business people. As part of the Volga federal district, its capital and largest city is Kazan, one of the most important cultural cities in the Russian Federation. “We operate a wonderful plant built in Tatarstan by Mitsubishi and Sojitz. I must say that Japanese equipment has proved its reliability. We are very pleased with this plant. Its capacity is 720 thousand tonnes of ammonia and methanol. We are grateful for this contribution,” Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation, Roman Trotsenko.

Japanese manufacturing stories are exceptionally useful and needed to be shared among business leaders. In his contribution, General Director of Sollers Group Vadim Shvetsov told the attentive gathering: “We launched a machine shop for Mazda engine parts. It was a very difficult at first, given that cooperation was interrupted, and we could not communicate directly. On the other hand, however, we have introduced a lot of interesting digital communication methods. Thanks to such mobile cooperation and even VR technologies, we still managed to launch production.”

The new environment has pushed the countries to seek new resolutions to overcome challenges. “The coronavirus pandemic has forced us into many challenges. At the same time, it has highlighted, illuminated in a new way some of the problems that we had seen and been aware of even before the epidemic. These are the problems of healthcare, energy, and digitalization. It seems to me that now is the moment for us to start new cooperation in these areas, especially in healthcare,” emphasized the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama.

“Our trade and economic work together probably suffered a little from that period of forced isolation. Nevertheless, I certainly believe that the crisis is pushing us to search for new ways to create benefits for our consumers,” remarked Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) and Chairman of the Board of the Group R-Pharm Alexey Repik.

The speakers have acknowledged that Russia and Japan face similar environmental challenges while developing economic cooperation. “Amid the growing trend of decarbonization, in October of last year, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a goal aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, the goal is to reduce 2013 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030. Achieving these targets will require that Japanese industry be heavily involved and adaptable,” according to President of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia, and Special Advisor of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Shigeru Murayama.

Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) and Chairman of the Board of the Group R-Pharm, Alexey Repik, reminded that it is of great significance that President Vladimir Putin in his address to the Federal Assembly set the task of significantly limiting the accumulated volume of carbon emissions in our country just as similar goals were set by the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, for the Japanese economy.

For the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama, natural gas, which can reduce carbon emissions, is a very important resource, and Russia is a leader. Thus the unification of these Russian resources and the Asian market could be highly promising area for cooperation.

Russian business needs to attract investment. “The demand for equipment and the demand for capital both remain in Russia. Russia’s capitalism, in the positive sense of the word, is young and there is little national capital in the country. Interest rates on loans remain very high, and the requirements of the national bank, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, to credit policy remain stringent,” observes Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation Roman Trotsenko.

“There are forecasts that the Russian economy will resume growth this year and ultimately grow by more than 3%. Japan also aims to recover as soon as possible from pandemic-related failure. For this, of course, the primary and first step to build a healthy and sustainable post-covid society across the globe, will be to work together with Russian partners on the basis of the eight-point plan,” Director of Mitsui and Co. Ltd., Masami Iijima, informed the gathering.

Avoiding sanction-related restrictions is a key for business. “The challenge is to move the financing relationship between Japan and Russia outside of these sanctions. For example, financing in euros or in yen. This would be very positive and would allow us to take advantage of the cheap rates on loans in Japan and in Russia,” Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation Roman Trotsenko.

Healthcare and energy partnership also remain significant for both and, need not be overlooked. “New areas are emerging. For us it is hydrogen and ammonia; it is the capture and storage of carbon, carbon dioxide, and its use as a resource. Here, it seems to me, we must increase our work together,” according the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama.

“The health sector is the first item in the eight-point economic cooperation plan. I think that our countries should increase cooperation in this area,” added the President of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia and Special Advisor of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Shigeru Murayama.

“We believe that Japan can help achieve the goal of increasing healthy life expectancy set by the government of the Russian Federation,” suggested Chairman of the Japan-Russian Committee for Economic Cooperation and the Federation of Economic Organisations Keidanren and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Marubeni Corporation Fumiya Kokubu.

Ahead of St Petersburg forum, Japanese Ambassador in the Russian Federation, Toyohisa Kozuki gave an interview to Interfax News Agency, listed a wide-range of concrete and significant projects as part of efforts toward strengthening Russian-Japanese economic cooperation. According to the ambassador, widening economic cooperation between Japan and Russia is primarily part of the current eight-point strategic cooperation plan.

Within this plan, the Okura Hotel project in Vladivostok is an example of progress in urban development in 2020. This will be the first Japanese hotel in Russia. The Okura Hotel’s refined services will make Vladivostok more comfortable and accessible not only to its residents but also businessmen and tourists visiting this international city. Vladivostok catches the attention of the Japanese as the nearest ‘European’ city, it can be reached from Tokyo by air in 2.5 hours. That is why the opening of the Hotel Okura Vladivostok will definitely make the city more attractive to Japanese tourists.

As part of cooperation, Japan is also making an effort to develop postal services in Russia, and some results in this sphere have already been reached, the efficiency of postal deliveries was increased thanks to the use of Japanese-made sorting machines at international postal exchange centers in Moscow. Cooperation between postal services of both countries is growing stronger also through the exploration of e-commerce opportunities on both sides. In the future, it is anticipated that a system will be in place, thanks to which Japanese consumers can order Russian goods online and the EMS postal service will deliver them to Japan.

In December 2020, Japanese entertainment center Round One, which brings together arcade games, bowling and other amusements, opened at the Yevropeisky shopping mall in Moscow. Round One is the most popular closed amusement parks chain in Japan. The new venue is a unique leisure venue for Moscow residents, in the sense, that they can get acquainted with Japanese culture without leaving their native city.

There is progress in promoting the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway as far as cooperation in the Far East, primarily in transport and infrastructure, is concerned. In particular, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan in cooperation with the Russian Railways is implementing a pilot project to promote the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The first container train carrying cargo from Japan to Europe was dispatched in 2020. And those were not individual containers as before but a whole container train. This was done in the expectation that it will make it possible to ship freight more cost effectively compared to container transportation, and many Japanese companies showed an interest and took part in the pilot project.

The companies that participated in the pilot project said that against the backdrop of destabilized logistics between Japan and Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic, the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway can be seen as a third option in addition to sea and air transport.

As an example of such expectations, Ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki informed that Japan’s logistics company Toyo Trans started regular container shipping services with consolidated freight to Europe, to the Polish city of Poznan, along the Trans-Siberian Railway in February. This service provides for regular shipments every Thursday from a Japanese port. The cargo reaches Poznan in 22 days. Transit time decreases by about half compared to sea routes. We hope that the transit along the Trans-Siberian Railway will give a boost to logistics between Japan, Russia and Europe and lead to the further development of economic cooperation.

Next, regarding agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the relevant agencies of Japan and Russia in January 2020 signed a memorandum of cooperation on a joint Japanese-Russian project to increase the efficiency of agriculture and fish production in Russia’s Far East. Current projects are now getting support, and the search is on for new projects in three areas that provide for the use of technologies and know-how of Japanese private companies.

These include, firstly, increasing the productivity and export potential of soya, corn and other crops; secondly, expanding production of vegetables through expanding vegetable greenhouses in Yakutsk and other cities; and thirdly, increasing production and deliveries of fish and seafood inside and outside Russia. Greenhouse vegetable growing in Yakutsk is a particularly large project in this sphere. Greenhouses allowing fresh vegetables to be grown all year long in severe climates and permafrost have been built in the framework of this project. Construction began in 2016, it continued in 2020, and should be completed this year, 2021.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the forum this year was held, a combination of off-line and online format, with all epidemiological precautions observed. The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), often dubbed the Russian Davos, is the country’s main showcase for investors, attracting political and business leaders from around the world. The SPIEF is held annually, and since 2006 it has been held under the patronage and with the participation of the President of the Russian Federation.

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Putin and Biden meeting – a chance for a better world

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The whole world is looking forward to the meeting of the new US President Joe Biden with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Although the Kremlin and the White House urge people not to expect too much from the June 16 summit, one still wants to believe that a personal meeting by the leaders of the two rival powers will lead to a thaw in bilateral relations and help defuse global tensions. At the same time, statements coming from the White House about negotiation plans sound rather vague. The bottom line is about “understanding Russia’s position and its aspirations.” The impression is that hundreds of Russologists working for the State Department, NSA, CIA and other agencies are unable to provide a definitive answer to this question, and the not very young 46th President of the United States has been forced to personally go for information. Moscow makes it clear that negotiations are a good thing, but the initiative comes from the United States, so the agenda will largely be agreed right on the spot.

At the same time, there are a number of key topics that the leaders of the two countries simply can’t ignore. Of course, there will be questions about human rights that Biden wants to ask Putin so badly, but the Russian leader too may want to ask about certain “inconvenient” things. First of all, about the United States participation in conflicts in the Middle East, where the “liberation movements,” indirectly supported by  Washington continue to attack Russian and Syrian government forces. In fact, the parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Americans and their allies have become areas where there is no effective conflict against terrorists. The militants from that area are killing people in Germany and France, and spreading the ideas of extremism and radical Islam throughout Europe.

The United States has every right to defend its interests in the oil-producing regions, but such methods are hardly acceptable. The Kremlin apparently has obtained enough evidence of the “dirty methods” of warfare practiced by the United States in the Middle East. The spare parts for the numerous drones shot down over the Khmeimim airbase alone prove beyond any doubt the American involvement in organizing aerial attacks on the Russian military. However, a dialogue between Russia and the United States could quickly extinguish the flames of war in Syria and, more importantly, help ensure Europe’s security against terrorist attacks. So, Putin has a very important trump card up his sleeve, which he can’t fail to play. The only question is how Biden will react to this win-win move by Moscow.

As to the question about human rights, it may prove rather unpleasant for Biden. During preparations for the summit, the Swiss government pointedly indicated (apparently at the suggestion of the White House) that the vaccine race continues. Geneva is ready to accredit, without PCR tests, journalists who have been vaccinated with Western vaccines, but not with Sputnik, which has already proven its effectiveness. Needless to say, the Russian negotiators also used their own country’s vaccine. However, such a move, designed to show once again who is the “boss” in the upcoming meeting, only reflects a complete disregard for the European`s right to vaccination, and this is only the beginning. And the demonstrative support and financing of the Russian opposition – hardly gives Biden any reason for accusing Russia of human rights violations.

Even the case of the Belarusian oppositionist Protasevich, who was taken from  the plane which grounded in Minsk due to a terrorist threat immediately brings to mind the “arrest“ of the plane of Bolivian leader Morales, or the US-approved extrajudicial detention of Russian sociologist Shugalei in Libya. In addition, the long history of the Guantanamo detention center hardly gives US officials any moral grounds to lecture anyone about human rights.

If, during the Geneva summit the United States and Russia can heal the festering wound of the Middle East conflict, this would be a giant step forward in the war on terror. The question is whether Biden will try to turn the dialogue with Putin into a series of accusations to increase his approval rating back home. A similar incident has already taken place and made the 46th President of the United States to look not so good. That being said, we can hope that in Geneva Joe Biden will lean back on his many years of experience and good knowledge of Russia, and emotions will not prevent him from achieving a breakthrough in relations with Moscow and mending bilateral ties, thus easing tensions in Europe and allaying peoples fear of a new global conflict.

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Russia, Europe Discuss Prospects for Cooperation at SPIEF’21

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Despite the deep-seated disagreements between Russia and the European Union, Kremlin is indiscriminately courting European business leaders. Ahead of the 24th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum [SPIEF’21] on June 2-5, President Vladimir Putin, in an official message, emphasized Moscow would forge a closer economic cooperation with its foreign partners and ready to share experience in various areas and further called for building constructive partnerships between members of the global community and expand business ties to effectively tackle the current critical global challenges and achieve sustainable development.

“We are ready to share our experience in areas such as healthcare and digitalization, and to work with partners to build better telecommunications, energy, and transport infrastructure. We also recognize the importance of addressing key issues facing the environment and climate,” according to the president’s message released on the official website.

Later at the plenary session held under the theme A Collective Reckoning of the New Global Economic Reality, Putin said, particularly about energy connectivity between Russia and Europe – “that Gazprom is ready to fill Nord Stream 2 with gas. This route will create direct links between the Russian and German systems and will ensure energy security and reliable gas supplies for the Europeans, like Nord Stream 1” and, in addition, emphasized readiness to implement similar high-tech projects with European and other partners in the future, despite all sorts of artificial barriers in the current political environment.

That, however, during the business discussion exclusively devoted to Russia-Europe, leaders of European business noted that strategies are needed for the improvement of relations between Russia and the European Union, and the necessity to develop a consolidated response to global challenges.

“In 2020, Russia faced four challenges. First, the pandemic, second, the collapse of oil prices, third, the devaluation of the Russian local currency the rouble, and the fourth, which is an ongoing challenge, the geopolitical context that does not make things easier. At the same time, Russia demonstrated good economic indicators. The global challenges are so disruptive that we need to come up with a joint approach and cooperate in fighting the pandemic,” according to objective views of Johan Vanderplaetse, Chairman of the Association of European Businesses (AEB) and President for Russia and the CIS, Schneider Electric.

Taking his turn during the discussions, Maksim Reshetnikov, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation explained that the ultimate goal is to combat greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, technological neutrality, mutual recognition, and implementation of projects aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are crucial. Building these mechanisms is a subject for strong international discussion, and there are high hopes for the climate conference in Glasgow this November.

Development of 5G networks can become a new touch point for Russia and Europe. But, no country, and no government can cope with all the tasks on their own. For example, 5G requires joint efforts, so European Union and Russia must work together to deploy this technology. Now both need to work together on 5G technologies in Russia and in Europe, suggested Arun Bansal, Executive Vice-president, Head of Market Area Europe and Latin America, Ericsson.

“Russia has amazing technological capabilities, and there are great companies. If we compare them with Western companies, if we join forces [connecting to 5G], we will all benefit from this,” added Johan Vanderplaetse, Chairman, Association of European Businesses.

During the discussions, the participants acknowledged that existing problems, especially the need to achieve international agreements. “We are now probably at the most difficult point in the development of our relations since the end of the Cold War. I think both sides value our relationship. Why are we at this negative point in our development? Of course, there are territorial and geopolitical issues, issues of human rights violations. I believe that all these problems contributed to the suspension of our political dialogue, which is now affected by uncertainty. In this atmosphere it is difficult to go back to the normalization of these relations,” according to Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Chizhov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union (EU) explained that most of the effective formats available for the members of the European Union and the Russian Federation for interaction are currently on hold. On the other hand, Russia has not closed a single door neither has it imposed restrictions for Europe. All suspensions were initiated by the European Union.

Some believe that there should be solutions, suggested expanding the list of green projects and finding a compromise between government and business. “We categorized nuclear energy as a green project, and this was a crucial decision. We believe that, based on the criterion of greenhouse gas emissions, based on the principles of technological neutrality, nuclear power should be seen as clean energy. And secondly, we have developed a number of transitional projects that may not meet some highest standards, but for many industries in our country this is a big step forward,” says Maksim Reshetnikov, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.

For Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation, it is necessary to use the opportunity to strengthen relationship in the context of green transformation and creation of green economy, as it will be a new field for cooperation that is of high interest for representatives of European business community. The more policy becomes oriented towards the development of a green economy, the more seriously moving towards stabilizing relations between Russia and Europe.

Regional experiments that allow to introduce a system of emission quotas in the regions. “We are working on a soft regulatory framework that will allow us to implement climate projects, take into account the carbon footprint of products that will make our entire system more transparent, while at the same time we are launching a system of more stringent regulation based on regional experiments. Many countries have followed this path. We are currently in the final stage of the Sakhalin experiment, which will enable individual regions, at their will and in agreement with the business, to declare the goal of carbon neutrality and introduce a system of emission quotas with the trading system, and so on,” stressed Maksim Reshetnikov, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.

“We need to focus on reducing carbon emissions and strengthening other areas. The Sakhalin project is also a great example of enhancing our cooperation, including in the future. These are efforts that we should focus on, excluding the political context. We must work on issues of compliance with the obligations of WTO member countries. The obligations of all WTO members must correspond,” concluded Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation.

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, popularly referred to as SPIEF, brings together international business leaders, government officials and representatives of expert and media communities to discuss various topics and jointly search for effective solutions to the most pressing challenges in Russian and global economies. The SPIEF is held annually, and since 2006 it has been held under the patronage and with the participation of the President of the Russian Federation.

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