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

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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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, China and the New World Order

Igor Ivanov

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The state visit of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to China and the talks he held with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, marked an important milestone in the establishment of a new type of relations between the two nations, both of which have acquired an obvious strategic importance.

As per tradition, the Russian and Chinese leaders summed up the results of the development of bilateral relations over the past year and discussed in detail both the achievements already made and the ambitious goals for the future that will further enhance cooperation across all areas.

While the bilateral dimension of Russia–China relations is important in and of itself, special attention ought to be paid to the discussion of more general matters concerning the current global situation and issues of the emerging new world order that took place during the visit.

The traditional centres of global politics are unable to play a leading role in establishing a new world order. The United States is deeply politically polarized, and no one can reliably predict when or how that chasm will be bridged. Accordingly, no long-term, balanced, or consistent foreign policy can be expected to come from Washington any time soon.

The European Union is struggling with a fundamental internal crisis of its own, or more precisely, a whole set of structural, financial, economic, political, and even value crises. Thus, Brussels will most likely continue to focus on resolving its multiple internal issues for a long time to come, rather than on building a new world order.

In these new conditions, the traditional centres of global politics are unable to play a leading role in establishing a new world order.

It can be said that the multilateral mechanisms established over the past two decades with the active participation of Russia and China, such as the SCO, BRICS, and EAEU, might become integral parts or elements of a future international structure. At the same time, the Russia–China conversation should also include such issues as the restoration of global governance, the reform of the United Nations and other international institutions, the renewal of international law, and a new understanding of globalization and interdependence.

The state visit of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to China and the talks he held with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, marked an important milestone in the establishment of a new type of relations between the two nations, both of which have acquired an obvious strategic importance. These relations are growing stronger against the background of the continuing degradation of the entire system of international relations, the intensification of geopolitical contradictions, and the narrowing of the space in which constructive cooperation can take place. A new item has been added to the list of security threats facing the world today, a list which traditionally includes confrontations in cyberspace, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal migration, etc., and that item is the trade wars unleashed by the U.S. administration in all directions. This has landed yet another very dangerous blow to the architecture of the world order, which was rather shaky to begin with.

In such an extremely complex and unpredictable situation, it would seem difficult to make decisions of strategic importance – and not only for Russia and China, but for the global community as a whole. Yet we can see how a new edifice of Russia–China cooperation that meets all the requirements of the 21st century is being built with each passing year thanks to the consistent policy implemented by both leaders.

As per tradition, the Russian and Chinese leaders summed up the results of the development of bilateral relations over the past year and discussed in detail both the achievements already made and the ambitious goals for the future that will further enhance cooperation across all areas.

While the bilateral dimension of Russia–China relations is important in and of itself, special attention ought to be paid to the discussion of more general matters concerning the current global situation and issues of the emerging new world order that took place during the visit. The heightened interest in those topics is understandable. Russia–China relations are not developing in a vacuum, and the dynamics and prospects of these relations moving forward are largely contingent on the global political and economic situation as a whole. This situation may generate both additional opportunities and new limitations for both nations and may reduce or increase external risks; its evolution will inevitably have a serious impact on what Moscow and Beijing focus on and how they set their priorities, including in bilateral relations.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the previous Yalta-based global political system has been all but destroyed in the two decades since the end of the Cold War. Yet nothing has been devised to replace it. The world is increasingly sliding towards chaos, which now threatens not just individual nations or regions, but the entire international community.

History has taught us that humanity’s transition from one world order to another has been always driven by the accumulation of new production technologies, with wars and revolutions usually acting as a catalyst. Today, a critical mass of new technology for yet another civilizational breakthrough has been accumulated, yet a new cycle of wars and revolutions may prove deadly not only for individual countries, but for humanity. That is why it is extremely important to break this established cycle of world history in order to transition to a new level of civilizational development without another global cataclysm.

In these new conditions, the traditional centres of global politics are unable to play a leading role in establishing a new world order. The United States is deeply politically polarized, and no one can reliably predict when or how that chasm will be bridged. Accordingly, no long-term, balanced, or consistent foreign policy can be expected to come from Washington any time soon.

The European Union is struggling with a fundamental internal crisis of its own, or more precisely, a whole set of structural, financial, economic, political, and even value crises. Thus, Brussels will most likely continue to focus on resolving its multiple internal issues for a long time to come, rather than on building a new world order. Other leading global political players have their own problems that are preventing them from taking charge of designing new rules of the game for the modern world.

In this sense, Russia and China enjoy a substantial advantage over the other global centres of power.

First of all, unlike the divided and politically polarized Western societies, the public in Russia and China are politically consolidated and united in their attitudes towards the most important global problems. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the latest presidential elections in Russia have reiterated this sustainable public consensus and the high level of stability.

Secondly, thanks to the specific features of their political development, Russia and China are capable of building policies that strategically plan for years or even decades ahead, something that Western democracies simply cannot do. At the same time, the current global situation requires long-term planning and comprehensive approaches, rather than ad-hoc tactical solutions.

Thirdly, Russia and China have accumulated wide-ranging and multi-faceted experience developing bilateral cooperation. This cooperation is unique in many of its dimensions and may be, in phases, building what may be labelled “A New Type of Great Power Relations.” There is no doubt that this experience will prove useful in a wider multilateral format too.

Over the past two decades, Russia and China have been promoting the idea of a “multi-polar world” as the most sustainable, dependable, and fair structure for international relations. However, much joint work still needs to be done to shape a holistic concept for building such a “multi-polar world.” This needs to be done fast, as time is running out for a structured rebuilding of international relations to take place.

It can be said that the multilateral mechanisms established over the past two decades with the active participation of Russia and China, such as the SCO, BRICS, and EAEU, might become integral parts or elements of a future international structure. At the same time, the Russia–China conversation should also include such issues as the restoration of global governance, the reform of the United Nations and other international institutions, the renewal of international law, and a new understanding of globalization and interdependence.

This conversation is not going to be short or easy, even between such close partners as Russia and China. Let us not forget that, while Russia and China obviously share close stances on key global policy issues, they still have different historical experiences and different positions in the system of international relations, and their current priorities are not entirely aligned. Yet such an open conversation is especially needed today, as the world is approaching a point of bifurcation: either the restoration of global governance at a new level, or an acceleration towards anarchy and chaos.

The joint statement signed following the talks between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping said that both countries would “promote international relations of a new type based on the principles of mutual respect, fairness, mutually beneficial cooperation, and the building of a community of a single fate for humanity, as well as facilitate the establishment of a more just and rational multipolar world order on the basis of equal participation of all nations in global governance, adherence to international law, equal and indivisible security, mutual respect, consideration of each other’s interests, and a refusal of confrontation and conflicts.”

Obviously, not everything in the world depends on Russia and China. If the situation develops according to the worst-case scenario and our Western partners are not willing or able to change their obsolete approaches to global politics, Moscow and Beijing will inevitably have to think about further strengthening bilateral cooperation up to a point where their relations become those of allies.

The negotiations with President Xi Jinping that took place during President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to China have demonstrated in a convincing manner that the Russia–China partnership is not only an example of modern international relations, but it also plays an increasingly substantial role in maintaining strategic balance and stability in the world.

First published in our partner RIAC

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The Russia–South Africa Strategic Partnership and the BRICS Summit

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russia and South Africa have recently stepped up efforts towards finalizing “the most significant issues” relating to the 10th edition of BRICS Summit scheduled to take place from 25-27 July in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to official documents, BRICS is an informal association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The group, founded in June 2006 at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), first known as BRIC prior to inclusion of South Africa in 2009. It has yearly rotating chairmanship among its five members.

After Jacob Zuma’s resignation in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has maintained very close working contact and cooperation with the new South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Kremlin speaks about a very high strategic level of partnership while praising the joint activities of the two countries in the area of foreign politics, in particular within the United Nations, BRICS (an association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

In mid-May, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov meeting with South African Deputy President David Mabuza expressed high optimism when he said: “Our presidents talked not so long ago, on March 23. They agreed to continue a course toward the comprehensive development of our relations in all areas. And, of course, we agreed to have a special meeting during the BRICS summit to take place in Johannesburg at the end of July.”

In his turn, Mabuza thanked Lavrov and handed him a special message from the South African president addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin which experts interpreted as part of the preparations towards the next BRICS summit. As protocol demands, Mabuza did not disclose its contents.

Instead, Mabuza laid emphasis on his country’s interest in enhancing foreign policy coordination with Russia and praised its consistent line of principle on supporting the efforts of the African community to find consensus-based solutions to the continent’s political and socio-economic issues.

On May 17, as a follow-up to series of consultations on the summit, Deputy Foreign Minister and Russia’s BRICS, Sherpa Sergey Ryabkov, also met with Ambassador of South Africa to the Russian Federation, Nomasonto Maria Sibanda-Thusi. During that meeting, Ryabkov reaffirmed Russia’s readiness to provide all the necessary support to its South African friends in holding a successful BRICS summit.

The officials had a mutually engaging discussion on a number of issues on the broad agenda of multifaceted cooperation within BRICS. Both sides expressed confidence that during South Africa’s BRICS presidency the group will make great strides in strengthening strategic partnership in all three key areas of the organisation’s focus: peace and security, economy and finance, and cultural and humanitarian ties.

BRICS-Africa Dialogue

Russia is very instrumental in deepening constructive dialogue between BRICS and African countries, including through the “BRICS Plus” mechanism. This year, the chairmanship plans to invite Africans to the 10th anniversary BRICS summit in Johannesburg.

Early March, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated in an interview with the pan-African monthly Hommes d’Afrique magazine in the run-up to his tour of African countries: “We support deepening the BRICS-Africa dialogue, which was launched in Durban in 2013 during the meeting between the association’s member-countries, the African Union leadership and the leaders of eight leading regional integration associations.”

“We believe that the ‘BRICS Plus’ concept approved last year lays the foundation for making the practice of inviting chairpersons of the African Union and, possibly, other African regional associations to the BRICS summits systemic,” he explained.

As South Africa has taken over BRICS chairmanship, Lavrov is particularly pleased to note that “our South African friends intend to make African issues part of the BRICS agenda, discuss the key problems and challenges facing the continent,” he said. “For our part, we welcome this approach.”

NDB Financed Projects

The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and Business Council are two significant features, among others, of BRICS group. The NDB finances projects while the main tasks of the Business Council is to identify problems and difficulties, which hinder growth of economic, trade, business and investment cooperation between BRICS countries.

The bank’s first non-sovereign project was a $200 million loan to Brazil’s Petrobras for an environmental protection scheme and the second a $200 million loan to South Africa’s Transnet to reconstruct a port in Durban. The NDB has also extended funds for projects in Karelia, Russia. The NDB is currently considering to extend another substantial loan for two projects in Russia – the Amur gas processing plant (GCP) and the petrochemical plant in Tobolsk – by the year-end, according to the Russian Finance Ministry.

As expected, African leaders and Experts believe that the NDB pays particular attention to the viable projects on African continent. “The New Development Bank is just starting its operation but it will soon work in full swing,” Lavrov explained. “Projects discussed at the initial stage pertain only to the territory of five BRICS countries. Potential projects outside BRICS is the next stage. However, special attention will be clearly paid to the African continent because an office of the BRICS New Development Bank will be situated in South Africa.”

The agreement on establishing the BRICS New Development Bank concluded on July 15, 2014 in Brazil’s Fortaleza. The bank’s starting capital was set at $100 bn. The Shanghai-headquartered bank has been set up to finance infrastructure projects and sustainable development projects in BRICS member countries and in other developing countries.

Future Steps

On June 4, the BRICS Council of Foreign Ministers held a meeting in Pretoria, South Africa. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs report that meeting was largely aimed at outlining significant tasks for future and that include a wide range of issues pertaining to the maintenance of international peace and stability, the global economy, interaction between the BRICS countries and the coordination of their positions in the complicated conditions of global political turbulence.

There were in-depth talks on the situation in the world’s trouble spots and common goals in the face of new challenges and threats, primarily efforts against international terrorism and for international information security.

One of Russia’s priorities is to promote strategic partnership among the BRICS countries. Over the past years, this group of five large rising economies has developed from an interest club into a comprehensive mechanism of multifaceted strategic partnership. The group has developed a network of industry-specific cooperation, contacts and cooperation between their business and research communities and civil societies.

The five BRICS countries are working towards indivisible security, stronger international stability in all dimensions, collective efforts to settle crises by political and diplomatic means, and multilateralism. They reject military interventions, unilateral economic enforcement measures, protectionism and unfair competition. The BRICS countries are working together to protect the system of multilateral trade based on the central role of the WTO as the only universal platform for formulating the rules of global trade.

The BRICS countries are working to find new sources of economic growth. The group played a major role in promoting the reform of the IMF. It has created the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement to help modernise the architecture of global governance and financial security.

The five BRICS countries support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The BRICS countries focused on consolidating and diversifying the mechanisms of multifaceted cooperation and finding new spheres of cooperation. BRICS is open to the world and consistently expanding its ties with concerned countries and integration associations.

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The BRICS member countries (namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area and are home to 2.88 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population.

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The Russian Federation in Africa

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In its relations with Africa, Russia – which operates on global markets especially in the field of oil and non-oil raw materials – does not use the same logic as the Western countries’. The latter have always looked only for materials to be processed and turned into finished products within their factories.

In fact – according to the most authoritative scholars and experts – in Africa, Russia seeks above all the human capital, i.e. the human capital to be developed, the ruling classes to be educated, as well as the masses to be trained and made productive, always in an integrated vision of development between the great continental Eurasia and Africa.

The Russian relations with Africa are only synergistic, as they are two large reserves of raw materials and this makes their geo-economic situation in this respect very similar. However, as often reiterated by Russian experts, these are always operations that take long time and have a strong geopolitical and strategic dimension.

Hence, again according to Russian analysts, the logic underlying the relations between Russia and Africa is the union of their best practices so as to create a synergy that, in the future, will have a global geopolitical and economic impact.

Westerners want to look for goods and resources which are essential for their technological and industrial survival, while Russia wants to support Africa to take it away from the US and EU influence and use it as the pivot of Russia’s future development as a global, economic and strategic power.

However, the economic and political relations following the USSR collapse were the first ones to be sacrificed on the altar of the very severe Russian economic crisis of the time.

The current Russian establishment interpreted that crisis as an ill-managed colonization of the great Russian reservoir of raw materials. Exactly the same paradigm that is currently applied to the wide African region.

Later we witnessed the complex turn – ordered by Vladimir Putin since his official rise to power on May 7, 2000 – from a Russian GDP of only 764 million US dollars in 2006 to 2,096.8 million US dollars in 2014 up to 1,248.55 US dollars in 2016.

Moreover, the International Monetary Fund foresees that the future increases of the Russian GDP will result almost exclusively from the expansion of the internal market.

This is the example given by the Sochi Olympic Winter Games and by Russia’s international initiatives.

Hence – as Keynes explained in his old, albeit always valid, General Theory -if economic growth and the capitalistic or non-capitalistic industrialization depend on the secondary processing of raw materials and on the market-driven innovation, generated by the market and its demand, obviously the West must expand itself – in a new way – where these raw materials are found, namely Africa, Asia and Latin America – and obviously the new geopolitics will repeat the one analysed by Georg Wilhelm Pahl in the 1930s: the war for primary raw materials.

Unlike technologies, said raw materials are not reproducible.

Hence, in terms of basic productive structure, the Russian Federation is homogeneous and similar to many of the countries rich in raw materials which, like Russia, make up the so-called BRICS group.

In fact, if we read the Russian Federation’s “Concept of Foreign Policy” adopted by President Medvedev in July 2008, we can see that the issue of collaboration between Russia and the African countries- as well as an enhanced  dialogue with the G-20 and the G-8 -are some of the fundamental issues of the Russian power projection throughout the world.

Moreover, in the 2017 “Concept”, it is made clear that “Russia intends to strengthen its position in global economic relations and prevent any discrimination against Russian assets, services and investments”.

It is worth keeping in mind that, altogether, Africa and the Russian Federation hold 60% of the world’s natural resources.

Hence the fundamental problem for Russia is to be so strong at international, legal and financial levels to avoid the fast and ferocious exploitation of its own natural resources – as well as of its friendly African countries – at low prices and without any political and military compensation in return.

Although many people think the opposite, imagining an impossible “tertiary society” -of “services” or, even more humorously, of “knowledge” -the “resource factor” is essential to analyse the current state of the world market.

Between 1960 and 2009 the world population grew from 2.5 to 6.6 billion people and currently, based on the 2017 data, we see the undoubtedly shocking forecasts of world population reaching as many as 7.6 billion people in 2018.

A 400% increase of the world’s population recorded  throughout the twentieth century. According to UN data, between 2018 and 2100 the world population will rise   approximately to 10 billion people.

Oil extraction – the axis of Russia’s current economy, which will also be diversified through these new relations between Russian and African raw materials-has risen  from 2.5 million barrels per day in 1960 to 4 million barrels in 2009 up to 6.9 million barrels per day this year, with a forecast of stable global growth in oil consumption of 1.2 million barrels per day.

Global natural gas production has risen from 190 million in 1960 to approximately 3,900 in 2018, with a consumption outlook predicting significant growth of global consumption, higher than the oil one.

The fact is that these growth trends in raw material consumption apply not only to energy products, but also to  all types of minerals and non-food raw materials.

Hence there is no monetary crisis – occurring by chance or  artfully created – which can manoeuvre this stable condition of the markets and the allocation of raw materials. Any manipulation with derivatives or other financial formulas will never be able of changing the material equilibria on the planet.

It is worth noting, however, that 16% of the world population lives in developed countries, even though  in these countries the social gap between rich and poor is increasingly widening.

The “Gini coefficient”, which is a commonly used measure of inequality of income or wealth, is currently optimal in the North European countries, while it is very low in Bolivia, Colombia and generally in  Latin America.

However, it is also very low in Gambia, Namibia and South Africa, ranging between 0.66 and 0.50, in a context in which the maximum income equality is 0.50, considering that 0 means complete income equality.

The United States, Russia and China range between 0.40 and 0.45, with China following closely.

Nevertheless 10% of the richest population owns 37% of wealth in Europe, 47% in North America, 46% in Russia and 41% in China, but with 55% of wealth in Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, India and even 61% throughout the Middle East – obviously excluding Israel.

This make us predict a future scenario that reminds us of Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory”, which proposed three political-economic worlds: the First world consisting of superpowers, the Second World of developing powers and the Third World of exploited nations.

The First World was composed of the USA and the Soviet Union, which engaged in imperialism and social imperialism and featured a “capitalist” country and a “revisionist” country (i.e. the USSR which, at the time, was consumed in the madness of the Cold War and in the economic and military confrontation between East and West). Japan and Canada, Europe and the countries of the global North-South divide composed the Second World, while the countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia (except Japan) composed the Third World, which would be  unified and led by Red China.

Hence 16% of the population lives in the First World,  which organizes the production and consumption of raw materials, while as much as 53% of the world population lives in developing countries.

With their 16% of population, however, the developed countries consume 52% of all the raw materials extracted.

This is the profound meaning of the “war for Africa” that everyone is currently waging with both conventional means and indirect or influence strategies.

Africa is the primary area for the extraction of manganese, chromium, bauxite, gold, platinum, cobalt – 94% of which is currently extracted indirectly by Chinese companies operating in the Black Continent – vanadium, diamonds, phosphorite and fluorite.

Africa is also the second region of extraction for copper, asbestos, uranium, antimony, beryllium and graphite, as well as the third  region in the world for oil, natural gas, mercury and iron ore reserves.

Africa, however, also possesses significant deposits of titanium, nickel, bismuth, lithium, tantalum, niobium, aluminium salts, tungsten and precious stones.

In short, the Black Continent is strategic for all the raw materials characterizing the technologies of the future  scientific and industrial revolution, which is currently  typical of the First World’s economies.

Finally, another factor of geoeconomic similarity between Russia and Africa is that they are two great global regions in which the fast and often unreasonable exploitation of natural resources has not occurred yet. Political and military difficulties of ancient and now outdated colonial hegemonies.

As, indeed, it has already happened in Brazil and in some Asian areas.

The depletion of natural resources in Latin America is older and more profound than the one already underway in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

We must not forget, however, that in mid-21st century the demand for raw materials will grow by 50% or 60% while, again according to Russian statistics – mostly confirmed also by the United States – the oil demand is expected to grow by 113 million barrels per day until 2030.

Another important fact, however, is that every year the United States is increasing its imports from Africa – and this has been going on since 2005, with a yearly 10% increase of North American imports from Africa.

Over the same 2001-2015 period, the European Union has instead reduced its imports from Africa by 2.5%.

Nevertheless, over 70% of imports to the USA is only for oil products, while minerals and other African non-food raw materials only account for 14-15% of the US total imports.

Hence the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – the Treaty that since 2000 has been regulating US and African trade -lays down that 6,400 products of 40 African countries will enter the USA duty free. This has indirectly created a million new jobs in Africa but, as always happens with mere free-trade treaties, they do not lead to investment, but only to the expansion of African imports which, although important, is not enough.

Currently, however, the US direct investment in Africa is on the wane: lately the US exports to sub-Saharan Africa have been worth 19 billion US dollars, while bilateral trade fell from 100 billion US dollars in 2008 to 39 billion US dollars in 2017 – a fall in North American imports mainly due to the increase in US energy independence and autonomy.

China has already funded 3,000 infrastructures in Africa in various ways and has granted 86 billion dollars of commercial credits to African governments. It has also invested 6 billion dollars a year throughout the Continent until 2025.

In 2015, during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Conference (FOCAC), President Xi Jinping granted a further multi-year commercial fund to the tune of 60 billion dollars, to which another 20 will be added at the end of the mandate in 2025.

Hence China is already Africa’s first creditor, with 14% of the entire sub-Saharan debt stock.

China’s Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, however, is still low, considering that it accounts for 5% of all the FDI in the Continent, while there are currently 10,000 China-owned companies – mainly private ones – operating in Africa.

Furthermore, in 2007 the EU launched the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, operating between EU-27 and 54 African countries.

The fifth Partnership Summit held in Abidjan in 2017 reaffirmed the main assumption underlying the agreement, namely mutual trade, in a situation in which trade between Africa (i.e. the 54 countries adhering to the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership) and the European Union is worth approximately  300 billion euro a year, while the European Union has guaranteed additional 54 billion euro for “sustainable development” – whatever this may mean in Africa.

Following the non-brilliant concept of “equalitarian” trade  typical of the USA, the EU has established a series of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with 40 other sub-Saharan African countries of the Strategic Partnership, with bilateral treaties envisaging preferential access to European companies in those areas, while imports will be liberalized over a period of 20 years.

Too late, too little.

Nigeria is opposed to the EPA since it maintains it is an obstacle stopping its industrialization, while Brexit has greatly weakened the EU ability to penetrate the African markets and ruling classes.

Finally, the USA has recently invested 6.5 billion US dollars in 14 African countries through the Millennium Challenge Corporation alone – funds  aimed at fostering inter-African economic integration (a sort of future African EU) and to create the best conditions for standard private North American investment.

Moreover, in February 2018, the US government established the BUILD Act, i.e. the rules on Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development, a new federal agency that will put together some functions of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and of  USAID, which will mainly deal with equity investment in Sub-Saharan countries.

However, let us revert to the Russian Federation.

Building on a strong bilateral relationship with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt, Russia currently plans to develop a series of relations – always and especially at bilateral level –  with many African countries, particularly those having a more difficult relationship with the EU and the USA.

At the inauguration of Vladimir Putin’s current Presidency there were people of great strategic importance for Africa: Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the South African Republic; obviously Abdel Fattah al-Sisi from Egypt; Emmerson Mnangawa from Zimbabwe; Joao Laurenco, President of Angola; Hage Geincob from Namibia and finally Omar al Bashir, military and political leader of South Sudan.

With regard to Egypt, Putin is working on a nuclear power plant and a special industrial zone, as well as on a package of aid and investment amounting to approximately 32 million US dollars.

An operation that is supposed to be completed in 2022.

For Zimbabwe – currently a political pariah for the whole West – the relationship with Russia and China is fundamental for the steady flow of economic aid from the two Asian countries. This aid will soon be turned into bilateral trade and into the creation of an autonomous Russian economic zone in the Southern part of the country, in addition to the modernization of agriculture and the creation of some industrial sectors mainly linked to agricultural by-products.

Russia, however, has also invested 3 billion US dollars in a large platinum mine.

Alrosa, Russia’s major State-owned company in the diamond sector, will operate in Angola where it will exploit one of the largest diamond deposits in the world, namely Luaxe. The Russian Federation is also planning to make additional infrastructure investment in South Sudan, very different from the investment planned by Europe and the United States there.

Russia, however, plans to develop – above all – the vast oil fields that Al Bashir’s regime of South Sudan has on the borders of the country. As to South Africa, we will see what results the South African Presidency of the BRICS groups on July 25-27, 2018 will achieve in terms of bilateral relations.

It is worth recalling that the BRICS countries account for 26% of the world surface and 42% of the world population.

In the Third World population is growing, while the population decline in Europe and North America makes us fear the worst for our rates of development and the unsustainable costs of welfare and pension systems while, for obvious reasons, the average factor productivity is decreasing throughout the West.

With a view to underlining again the importance of relations between the Russian Federation and the African countries, there is a clear link between Russia’s trading partners in Africa and the States participating in the bilateral joint manoeuvres put in place ever more often by Russia in Africa.

Moreover, the Russian peacekeepers in Africa often outnumber those coming from France, Great Britain and the United States. In Africa the Russian “green helmets” often outnumber those of the other Western powers altogether.

Furthermore – according to Standard & Poor’s, but also to data from other financial research companies-to some extents, sub-Saharan Africa is more attractive for business than other areas of the world, i.e. the Frontier Emerging Markets –  37 countries in total, including Slovakia, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Estonia and the United Arab Emirates.

Considering these areas, the US military imports over 50% of the minerals needed for the construction of long-range bombers from sub-Saharan Africa only, while the US military imports of cobalt from the countries of that region account for 75%.

Furthermore, Africa will be a land of conquest for the  Russian Federation, together with the People’s Republic of China, inasmuch as the investment of major countries will be infrastructural, lasting and based on the training of the local ruling classes and, above all, of their local labour forces.

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