US President Donald Trump is set to meet with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin at next week’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany amid investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the country’s officials.
Both the Kremlin and the White House announced that the pair will meet on the sidelines of the July 7-8 summit of G20 nations in Hamburg. However, the US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that no agenda had yet been set for the meeting, which is fraught with difficulties for Trump.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters that Putin and Donald Trump will meet on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty summit in Hamburg next week, but no separate meeting is planned, “They will meet in any case there, on the sidelines of this summit, but no separate meeting is planned at the moment,” Peskov said. Peskov said that as far as a possible meeting was concerned, “the protocol side of it is secondary.” He let on little about Moscow’s awareness of Washington’s ambivalence toward the scale of the meeting but said that “in any case there will be a chance to meet.”
President Trump has frequently called for better ties with Russia but lawmakers in his own Republican Party are urging him to be wary of Moscow. “As the president has made clear, he’d like the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia but he has also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior,” McMaster said, obviously pointing to Ukraine and Syria.
The two governments had not yet ironed out further details about a meeting. When asked whether the president would bring up Russia’s interference in the election with Putin at their meeting, McMaster said there is “no specific agenda” yet, and that Trump will address what he chooses.
Due to ongoing allegations by the US intelligence community of Russian interference in the US election and a scandal about possible collusion within Trump’s team, not everyone in the White House thinks such a meeting is prudent. State Department and National Security Council officials have asked Trump to consider a more low-profile introduction to the Russian president and perhaps avoid an extended conversation altogether. Among the recommendations are a brief and informal “pull-aside” on the summit’s sidelines, and a meeting of US and Russian delegations for “strategic stability talks”—a format which may or may not involve heads of state.
The two governments had not yet ironed out further details about a meeting. When asked whether the president would bring up Russia’s interference in the election with Putin at their meeting, McMaster said there is “no specific agenda” yet, and that Trump will address what he chooses.
Some US officials argue the meeting should be a brief and informal “pull-aside” at the two-day summit, which starts next Friday in Hamburg, in view of the fact that Trump is under multi-pronged investigations into his campaign’s relationship with Moscow. The skeptics also argue there has been no let-up in Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which was the trigger for the bulk of the sanctions.
President Donald Trump is said to be excited to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin, though US government officials are trying to curb Trump’s enthusiasm about meeting Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Germany.
Trump has not met his “favorite” Russian strongman Putin since being elected last year, despite his claim that he could meet the Russian leader even before being inaugurated. Now he is apparently keen to hold a full bilateral meeting at the time of the summit on July 7-8, two White House officials, one current and one former, told AP. Such a meeting would involve agreeing on a designated space for it, allowing media access and other diplomatic protocols involved in meetings between two heads of state. However, there is no official confirmation on Moscow’s or Washington’s side that a meeting in any form has been agreed upon, but Putin and Trump will both attend the summit.
Trump has been positive about his policy for Russia. Like Obama, Trump has said he would stabilize and reinvigorate the bilateral ties with the Kremlin. When he took the job under Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backed moves to improve relations with Moscow and arranged for Lavrov to meet Trump in the Oval Office. But the former oil executive felt “burned” by that incident, of which the Russian government published photographs without the US government’s permission, and where Trump disclosed classified information about counter-terrorist operations. Tillerson has since become more adamant in his opposition to the relaxation of sanctions without substantial changes to Russian behavior.
US-Russia relations have been dotted with tensions since the days of the so-called Cold War- in fact even before that. Existence of NATO as a global terror police force to attack any weak nation has been resented by Moscow which ass Washington o do away with the Cold War symbols.
Russia and the USA are at odds over many issues, namely on Ukraine, NATO expansion and the civil war in Syria where Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad. The USA backs rebel groups trying to overthrow Assad, and Washington angered Russia by launching missile strikes against a Syrian government air base in April in response to what the USA says was a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians.
President Putin, who has served as both Russian president and prime minister, has outlasted the previous two US presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Officials from those governments say American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with the Russian leader. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow, they say. Those relations reached a post-Cold War low under Trump’s predecessor, Obama. In the last days of his presidency, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking US political groups in the 2016 election.
US officals and intelligence say Russia interfered with US presidency poll, engineering a vote in favor of Trump. Russia denies all US allegations and Trump says his team did not collude with Moscow. Several congressional committees as well as the FBI are investigating Russia’s role in the election and any alleged collusion by Trump’s campaign. Further, allegations that Russia interfered in the US presidential election last year and colluded with the Republican’s campaign have overshadowed the businessman’s unexpected victory and dogged his first five months in office. Russia has vociferously denied involved in the US election and a visibly irate Putin accused US journalists of “hysteria” on the subject earlier this month.
In November 2013, Trump said on MSNBC that he did have “a relationship” with Putin, whom he claimed sent him “a present” when he attended the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, that he “got to know Putin very well” when they both appeared — in separate segments — on an episode of “60 Minutes” and that they had communicated “directly and indirectly.” Trump later walked back the idea of a relationship with Putin in a 2016 interview with ABC News’: “I have no relationship to — with him,” said Trump, later continuing, “He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together. By the way, not together-together, meaning he was probably shot in Moscow… and I was shot in New York.” “I have never spoken to him on the phone,” added Trump. The president raised eyebrows for heaping praise on Putin during the campaign, but denied having a “relationship” with the Russian leader.
Since Trump’s inauguration, he and Putin have shared three phone calls. There have never been any real a rapport between the two.
Sanctions as economic terrorism
Russia continues to face sanctions from USA and its western allies. USA keeps extending the sanctions just hoping to weaken Russian economy. However, Russian economy is strong and is able to withstand all impacts of western sanctions.
A proposed new package of sanctions on Russia in the US Congress might complicate Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow. The US Senate reached an agreement to resolve a technical issue stalling the sanctions, although the measure’s fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Estonia, Georgia and Montenegro in July and August in an attempt to reassure US allies that are neighbors of Russia
Apparently, Trump made significant efforts to lift sanctions on Russia in his first weeks in office but was thwarted by resistance from allies as well as from former Obama officials and state department staffers.
When Theresa May visited the White House a week after Trump’s inauguration, one of her priorities was to dissuade the new president from relaxing sanctions imposed on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in eastern Ukraine. “The Brits did push for that, but it’s hard to say how much difference their intervention made,” said a former official, who was working at the state department at the time. Two outgoing state officials, Daniel Fried and Tom Malinowski, lobbied Congress to pass legislation to codify the sanctions and lock them in place.
On 14 June the US Senate passed a bill, with a 98-2 vote, that would strengthen sanctions on Russia. The bill has since been stalled in the House over technicalities amid reports that Trump’s allies are seeking to water it down. “If the bill is passed it would mean that in one important respect, Russian active measures will have failed,” Malinowski, Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, said. He also pointed to the Treasury’s move last week to broaden existing restrictions on Russia as an indication “the sanctions machinery is working normally and on schedule”
The US defense department for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said the closure of the Russian compounds and the expulsion of suspected spies were intended to be only the first step in the punitive measures against Moscow for its election meddling. If President Trump starts to undo any of those measures, including giving back the facilities in Maryland and New York then the Russian government will believe … they got away with what they did to US strategists.
One possible gesture under consideration is the restoration of access to two diplomatic compounds, in Maryland and New York, from which Russian officials were ejected by the Obama government in December as part of a package of punitive measures for Russian hacking of the 2016 elections. Obama said the compounds were “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes”. He also expelled 35 Russian officials he described as “intelligence operatives”.
The Trump government was contemplating handing back the compounds in early May, initially in exchange for the Russian government lifting a freeze on construction of a new US consulate in St Petersburg, according to the Washington Post. That link was reportedly dropped a few days later when the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Washington on 10 May.
So far, however, no agreements have been reached on the fate of the compounds, which Russian diplomats have made a priority in their discussions with the government. The NSC spokesman, Michael Anton, said the meeting between the two leaders “is not set in any format yet”, but he did not respond to a question about the request to NSC staff to propose potential bargaining chips for the meeting. “They have been asked for deliverables, but there is resistance to offering anything up without anything back in return,” said one former official familiar with the debate inside the White House.
Syria is now the battle field for the former Cold war foes to showcase their individual military capability.
It is no secret that USA and Russia have been fighting to control the world but the former has maintained upper hand. In doing so, Moscow pursues a confrontational collaborative approach with USA in regional crises. In recent times, Syria vividly showcases this essentially cooperative policy of Russia and both seem to advance their global and regional interests.
President Donald Trump’s openness to Putin has been the foreign policy thing that most separated him from the rest of Republicans. But Russia and the USA are on opposite sides of so many issues that the White House would certainly have to come to terms with it. The vocal dispute between Russia and the US over Syria complicates what has
It’s a relationship both Putin and Trump found valuable during the presidential campaign, when both wanted to see Clinton defeated.
It was seeing pictures of Syrian children devastated by what officials suspect is sarin gas that led Trump, as President, to do an unabashed about-face on Syria. He had opposed military action there when chemical weapons were used during the Obama administration and criticized former President Barack Obama for making that a “red line.” Just before the air strikes, Trump said the pictures he saw crossed much more than a red line for him. “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.”
Putin was quick to condemn Trump’s missile strike response, calling it “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.”
The USA and Russia are squaring off on the issue in the UN Security Council, where Russia, which has veto power, has stood in the way of international action against Syria.
Syria dispute is virtually guaranteed to break up the Trump-Putin bromance. The vocal dispute between Russia and the US over Syria complicates what has been a feature event; US political drama for months has been about Russian meddling in US elections and the blowback from Trump. The ties between Trump staffers to Russia, was aided by Trump’s willingness to start fresh with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he defended in the US media.
On April 17 Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s relationship with the US has badly deteriorated since Donald Trump became president. The Russian leader – who had a frosty relationship with Obama – said the relationship has “degraded” When asked about relations since Trump became president, Putin said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.” When asked about relations since Trump became president, Putin said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”
Putin claimed Damascus had given up its chemical weapons stocks and offered two main explanations for the horrific incident. One was that Syrian government air strikes had hit rebel chemical weapons stocks, releasing poisonous gas, or that the incident was a set-up designed to discredit the Syrian government.
Putin sensationally claimed the US is preparing airstrikes on the Syrian capital – and will pin the blame on Bashar-al Assad’s forces. The Russian leader made the astonishing claim – that the US is planning to FAKE chemicals weapons attacks – during a joint press conference with the Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Putin insisted Russia would tolerate Western criticism of its role in Syria but hoped that attitudes would eventually soften. His claims Russia has information strikes are being planned by the USA on the southern Damascus region – the aim of which is to blame the resulting devastation on the subsequently discredited Syrian government – will not go down well in the White House. When asked whether he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, Putin said: “We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared… in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”
Trump raised Russian hackles when the White House said it appeared the Syrian military was preparing to conduct a chemical weapons attack and warned that Assad and his forces would “pay a heavy price” if it did so. Meanwhile, the White House warned Syrian President Bashar al Assad that he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it conducted a chemical weapons attack and said the USA had reason to believe such preparations were underway. The Syrian government said a US warning to Damascus not to carry out a new chemical weapons strike were baseless and a ploy to justify a new attack on the country. State television quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Washington’s allegations about an intended attack were not only misleading but also “devoid of any truth and not based on any facts.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia said will respond with dignity and proportionately if the USA takes pre-emptive measures against Syrian government forces to stop what Washington says could be a planned chemical attack. Lavrov added that it would “probably not be right” if Putin and Trump did not talk at the G20 summit of world economic powers. Speaking at a news conference with his German counterpart, Lavrov said he hoped that the USA was not preparing to use its intelligence assessments about the Syrian government’s intentions as a pretext to mount a “provocation” in Syria.
The Russian foreign ministry said “retaliatory measures” were being prepared for closure of the compounds, but did not describe the measures. The Russian Kommersant newspaper has reported that the Kremlin could seize US diplomatic property in Russia or impose restrictions on an Anglo-American school there.
It is becoming clear now that the US President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at the G20 summit in Germany that brings two world leaders whose political fortunes have become intertwined face-to-face for the first time.
As the G20 summit in Germany is fast approaching, President Trump is reportedly pressing for a meeting with President Putin. But the President’s advisers are not big into the idea of a highly publicized meeting between the two leaders. Some are suggesting instead a pull-aside” meeting on the sidelines of the summit to avoid a high-profile meeting, involving press and other diplomatic formalities.
Donald Trump has told White House aides to come up with possible concessions to offer as bargaining chips in his planned meeting next week with Vladimir Putin, according to two former officials familiar with the preparations. National Security Council staff has been tasked with proposing “deliverables” for the first Trump-Putin encounter, including the return of two diplomatic compounds Russians were ordered to vacate by the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, the former officials said. It is not clear what Putin would be asked to give in return.
The Kremlin said that Russia was ready to attend a full-scale meeting — the first since Trump has taken office — in addition to any interactions the pair would have at the summit. The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between the USA and Russia over the situations in Ukraine and Syria, and with Trump casting new scrutiny on his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not doing enough to counter Russian election meddling.
The US intelligence, according to Moscow, wants to maintain a rift in the relationship between Trump and Putin. US intelligence agencies say Russia hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party political groups to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
With US Congress and most of his government set against concessions to Russia, Trump has been hemmed in so far in his overtures to Moscow. His encounter with Putin next week, however, will offer him the opportunity to remake policy on the spot. “The big wild card in all this is the person holding the position of president of the United States,” Malinowski said. “We don’t know what he will say when he meets the master-manipulator from the Kremlin.” Asked about a Trump-Putin meeting in Hamburg, Lavrov told journalists: “We assume that contact will take place, as the two presidents will at the same time be in one town, in one building, in one room.”
There is strong resistance in the state department to one-sided concessions aimed simply at improving the tone of US-Russian relations. There is also opposition within the government to Trump’s preference for a formal bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Germany.
All eyes are now on the two top world leaders in neat suits looking for any possible breakthroughs in bilateral ties between the two superpowers that would in turn help reduce global and regional tensions.
What Remains of the Relationship between Russia and the European Union
We May Have Stumbled, but We Have Not Fallen Down
On Friday November 9, 2018, Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz made a statement about the detention of a retired Austrian officer on suspicion of spying for Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria Karin Kneissl cancelled her December visit to Russia. That very same day, the Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to Russia, Johannes Aigner, was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Journalists expressed concern that the situation would have an impact on the development of relations between Russia and Austria and further effect the EU–Russia relationship. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov expressed his regret that the West was increasingly turning to “microphone and megaphone diplomacy” instead of turning to Russia directly for clarification, which has always been the case in international relations.
The fallout from this incident will only become clear later. It is unlikely that it will result in any serious consequences, for example, a new round of sanctions or a sharp deterioration in relations. At the very least, Friday’s events did not affect the development of interaction at the level of track one and a half diplomacy. On Monday November 12, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) hosted a seminar entitled “EU–Russian Relations in the Context of the Republic of Austria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.” The meeting was organized by RIAC in conjunction with the Embassy of the Republic of Austria in Russia and the European Union Delegation to the Russian Federation. It was attended by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Alexander Grushko, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to Russia Johannes Aigner and the Head of the European Union Delegation to the Russian Federation Markus Ederer. Participants included ambassadors of EU countries and Russian experts on EU–Russia relations. During the closed-door discussion, the ambassadors and experts talked about factors influencing the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Austria, and between Russia and the European Union, and outlined a number of development trends. It is important to note here that Friday’s incident was not brought up or discussed at the meeting.
Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Presidency of the Council of the European Union changes hands among EU member countries on a rotating basis every six months. During the six-month presidency, the country chairs meetings of the Council at all levels, ensuring consistency of the European Union’s work within the Council. To this end, the European Union employs a mechanism of a “trio presidency,” or simply Trio. Trios set long-term goals and draw up a common agenda on the main issues to be considered by the Council over the course of the next 18 months. Each country then prepares a more detailed programme on the basis of this agenda for their respective six-month terms. Presidency of the Council of the European Union entails, first and foremost, supervising the Council’s work on the development of EU legislation. The president country chairs meetings of the Council’s various structures, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council. However, it does work in close cooperation with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and supports its work.
Austria took over presidency of the Council of Europe for the second half of 2018, being part of the trio that includes Estonia and Bulgaria. Contacts between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the European External Action Service have been adequately maintained during the Republic of Austria’s presidency. Dmitry Medvedev has met with Jean-Claude Juncker, Sergey Lavrov has met with Federica Mogherini and regular working meetings and expert discussions have taken place. Indeed, Russia has a special relationship with Austria. Throughout the crisis, Austria has been a bridge between Russia and the European Union, maintaining an objective and loyal attitude towards the country and not succumbing to the general hysteria sweeping the continent. Austria has always believed that it is important to preserve communication channels with Moscow. For example, Austria did not follow the lead of other Western countries that expelled Russian diplomats in a display of solidarity with the United Kingdom following the Skripal case. In the context of the crisis in EU–Russia relations, it is in the interests of both sides to have a neutral mediator. We have to hope that Austria will continue to fulfil that role.
Islands of Cooperation between Russia and the EU
The discussion at the seminar once again demonstrated that Ukraine remains a sticking point in EU–Russia relations. Moscow and Brussels differ in their opinions on the reasons for the crisis in their relations, as well as on the reasons for the Ukrainian crisis and current events around it. As far as the European Union is concerned, the crisis has been primarily caused by Russia’s policy towards Ukraine. Russia, meanwhile, believes that the causes of the crisis had been simmering long before the events in Ukraine, owing to the accumulated problems between Russia and the West. Key among these problems, according to Russia, is the eastward expansion of NATO in total disregard of Russia’s security interests. Moscow regards the events in Ukraine in 2014 as a coup d’état that threatens the Russian-speaking population and ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, while the European Union sees them as a popular protest against the regime. Both Russia and the European Union call for the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and the implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, the approaches of the two sides are irreconcilable. Russia believes that Kiev’s policies are blocking the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The European Union sees otherwise, blaming Russia’s policies for impeding the proper fulfilment of the agreements. Russia does not even see itself as a party to the conflict. Moscow is in favour of improving relations with the European Union, as it believes that further deterioration is not in the interests of any of the parties. For the European Union, improving relations involves changing Russia’s policies.
Despite the deep crisis in EU–Russia relations, there do exist certain “islands of cooperation.” First and foremost, humanitarian cooperation remains one of the few areas of regular interaction between the two sides. This includes cooperation in science, culture, education and academic exchanges. Liberalizing the visa regime would contribute to greater mobility and success in this area, but it is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future given the current political climate.
When states experience difficulties in their official relations, non-governmental channels are often used to maintain a dialogue – non-profit organizations, analytical centres, contacts among academic institutions and scientists, expert dialogues, etc. The political situation could very well change at some point in the future, which is why it makes sense now to work out a strategy for cooperation if and when that does happen, at least at the expert level.
Russian experts and members of the political community support the idea of cooperation between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), seeing it as a niche area of interaction with the participation of Russia and the European Union. However, European experts and EU officials have expressed their concerns that the EAEU is not a purely economic integration association. In particular, many European experts see the creation of the EAEU as an attempt to restore Russian influence in the post-Soviet space. At the political level, the reaction is more restrained. The Global Strategy for the Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union states that the European Union supports regional integration and is prepared to cooperate with regional associations. However, the Eurasian Economic Union is not named as one of those associations. EU officials complain that the interests and positions of the EAEU member countries are not aligned, which makes it difficult to cooperate with it as an association. At the same time, attempts have been made to cooperate with the Eurasian Economic Union at the technical level. It is probably best in this situation to work out issues of interaction at the level of track one and a half diplomacy beforehand, involving representatives from interested EU and EAEU countries in the process.
Russia and the European Union have common interests with regard to China. In particular, many experts believe that both players could take a more proactive stance on China’s Belt and Road Initiative to strengthen connectivity in the Eurasian region. Cooperation could be built in the format of the European Union, Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union, China and Central Asian states.
Of course, this set of initiatives is not enough for a full-fledged cooperation agenda, but it is a niche for interaction during the crisis in the relations between Russia and the West. Limited interaction between Russia and the European Union is evident against the background of a rapidly changing world, the growing threat of terrorism and extremism, the conflict in the Middle East, the technological revolution in the military sphere, the growing threats in cyberspace and the significant changes in the foreign policy of the United States under the Donald Trump administration, which has seen the country increasingly becoming a factor of instability and unpredictability in global politics. It is in the interests of both Russia and the European Union to come together to resolve these issues, as well as many others, in a coordinated fashion.
First published in our partner RIAC
On Russia’s Power: is Winter Coming?
On November 11–12, 2018, Abu Dhabi hosted the fifth annual expert meeting within the strategic dialog organized by Emirates Policy Center with the support of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Traditionally the event gathers a large number of specialists in international relations, regional security, and Middle Eastern issues. Andrey Kortunov, RIAC Director General, made a speech at the session devoted to the role of Russia in the modern world, including in the Middle East.
Talking about Russia’s power in the Middle East or in a broader global context, we should probably start with defining what power in the contemporary world politics really means. Is it about material resources that a nation can mobilize to shoulder its foreign policy aspirations — the total throw-weight of strategic missiles, the number of aircraft carriers and combined budgets of national assistance agencies? Is it about the size of your territory or about the natural resources that the territory contains? Is it rather about you GNP or about GNP per capita that defines your power in international relations? Probably not. If you happen to be an eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the jungle, this does not necessarily make you the strongest beast around. A lot depends on how functional these eight hundred pounds are. It may be pure muscle tissue, but it may also be accumulated belly fat.
There is another, more functional definition of power in world politics. Power is defined as ability of states or non-state actors to make other actors do certain things or abstain from doing some things in the interests of those exercising power. To put it in a broader context, you can define power as ability of actors to meet the goals they set for themselves in international relations.
From this vantage point, Russia has recently demonstrated that it is a powerful state, capable of using its power in an efficient way. No matter how we assess the Russian role in the contemporary international system — as a predominantly positive or a predominantly negative, — we should agree that Russia constantly punches above its weight, having more impact on the system that it theoretically should have according to its ‘objective’ economic, technological or demographic potential.
If I were to compare Russia to a large investment fund, I would venture to say that the price of its stocks today is significantly higher than the true value of its assets. Look, for instance, at the recent Russia’s posture in the Middle East region. In my view, we can label it as an exceptionally successful political start-up: with rather modest price paid in blood in treasure, Moscow has been able to turn itself from a marginal player in the region into the arguably most important external power broker.
This apparent gap between the operational power and its material foundation needs an explanation. To say that Vladimir Putin has been simply lucky, making full use of indecisiveness and inconsistencies of the West and exploiting many vacuums of power around the globe is to say nothing. There should be something here about the ability of the Kremlin to make fast and resolute decisions, about its capacity to promptly mobilize Russia’s political and military forces, about the quality of the Russian diplomacy and so on.
Russia’s highly centralized political system, impressive domestic and international state propaganda machinery, its consistency in supporting Moscow’s allies and partners — all these features of the ‘Putin’s style’ foreign policy puts Russia in a league of its own in world politics. It does not have many important features of a truly great power (above all, it lacks a solid and diverse economic foundation), but so far it has been able to capitalize exactly on what distinguishes it from a ‘standard’ Western democracy or a typical non-Western autocracy. In other words, Russia is powerful because Russia is different.
Nevertheless, the Russian way of maximizing its international power contains a number of risks that should not be underestimated. First, the set of instruments, which the Kremlin can use in international relations to advance its goals, is quite limited. Russia is a nuclear superpower, is has military power projection capabilities second only to the United States. It is a global leader in cyber warfare and in a number of futuristic weapons. It is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto power, which it never hesitates to use. It is a member of other international groupings — ranging from G20 and APEC to SCO and BRICS. It is a global supplier of hydrocarbons, many other commodities, as well as of food stock. It is the largest country in the world with eleven time zones.
However, is this set enough for Russia to maintain its status in global politics for all of the XXI century? Until 2050? Until 2030? Probably, not. If so, in the rapidly changing international environment the Kremlin has to consider seriously a significant diversification of its foreign policy instruments with a special emphasis on soft power components (culture, education, social practices, technological edge, science and so on). The sooner we start moving in this direction, the more secure the country’s role is likely to be in the long-term future.
Second, many of current Russia’s foreign policy investments are high-risk investments bordering political speculations. Should Russia continue betting of leftist political regimens in Venezuela or in Nicaragua? Should it bet on Euro-sceptics and right wing populists in the European Union? Should it invest into failing autocracies in Africa? This opportunistic globalism is distracting Moscow from what is truly important for Russia: from resolving multiple crises on the territory of the former Soviet Union, from building stable partnerships with its immediate neighbors, from gradually restoring the troubled relationship with the West.
As for targets of opportunity overseas, any political engagement should be preceded, not followed by a careful consideration of exit strategy options. History teaches us repeatedly: countries that can win wars, quite often lose peace. If you take the ongoing conflict in Syria, it will not last forever. When the name of the game is no longer military operations, but a post-conflict reconstruction, new players will come to the stage, no matter who is charge in Damascus. External powers with deeper pockets than those that Russia has will claim a central role in the post-war Syria. The Kremlin should try very hard to convert its current military successes into less explicit, but a more lasting and a more stable political presence in the country.
Finally, neither Russia, not any other nation should forget that the real foreign policy power comes from the inside. Foreign policy victories might look great and they definitely appeal to the public, but they never become an adequate substitute for victories at home. In the end of the day, the ability to balance economic growth and social equity, preserving national identity and integration into the global community, political representation and efficient governance constitute the only reliable foundation for power in international relations. All other foundations turn out to be quite shaky and fragile.
I have no doubts that Russia has all needed ingredients to stay as a great power, no a global spoiler. It has the potential that makes it capable of being not a part of the problem, but a part of the solution for the international system of the XXI century.
However, the future of Russia’s power and that of Russia’s role will depend on the overall evolution of the system. In a popular American fantasy television series “The Game of Thrones”, characters from time to time remind each other — “Winter is coming”. By “Winter” (with a capital “W”) they mean something really bad, big and unavoidable looming on the horizon. They cannot prevent the Winter, so they have to learn who to survive in this extremely hostile and dangerous environment.
Today, there are many indicators that “Winter” might be the future of the world politics in years to come, that what we observe today is not a bad weather, but a profound climate change. The implosion of the state system in parts of the Middle East, the rise of right populism and nationalism in Europe, Brexit in UK the election of Trump in US, the coming collapse of the US — Russian strategic arms control, a renewed arms race in Asia — there are multiple symptoms of hard times ahead of us.
If the name of the game in the global politics is likely to be security, not development, if the prime goal of nations is going to be survival rather than prosperity, why should Russia change its current understanding of power in international relations? In a way, the Kremlin is better prepared to face the global Winter than most of its competitors and opponents are. To create incentives for the Russian foreign policy to reinvent itself, one has to prove that the global Winter is not the only option. Otherwise the world might face a self-fulfilling prophesy. As they say, “fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention.”
First published in our partner RIAC
Russia and Comoro Islands Cooperate To Enhance Bilateral Relations
On November 8-10, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Comoro Islands, El-Amine Souef, paid his first official working visit to Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with him on November 9.
After the talks, Lavrov told the media conference that they had confirmed to continue promoting bilateral cooperation in many spheres and work together towards using the existing potential in both countries.
There is considerable potential for cooperation in fishing, renewable energy, the provision of fresh water and agriculture.
“We have agreed to help our business communities establish direct ties and we also exchanged opinions on international issues, reaffirming the identity or similarity of our views,” Lavrov said.
They exchanged of views on international and regional issues of mutual interest with an emphasis on preventing and defusing crises in Africa and the Middle East, struggling against piracy in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean and countering terrorism and extremism.
Lavrov reminded that Moscow firmly supports the principle formulated by the African countries, that is “African solutions to African problems” and urged Africans to find ways of settling conflicts while the international community provides the necessary assistance through the African Union and sub-regional African organisations with the coordinating role of the UN.
Under a memorandum signed by the ministers, Russia will be training law enforcement personnel for the Comoro Islands.
Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, observes that foreign assistance is very essential to transform the economy and improve living standards of the population on the Comoro Islands.
Thus, Russia’s economic engagement is needed at this time, most importantly, to maintain stability and turn around the opportunities into an attractive place. With a relatively small investment, Russia could achieve important results for the Islands, so the first step should be genuine commitment, he told me in an emailed interview from Johannesburg.
One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, the Islands are hampered by inadequate transportation links. It has a rapidly increasing population and few natural resources.
The low educational level of the labour force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. France, the colonial power, still remains a key trading partner and bilateral donor.
Russia established diplomatic relations with the Comoro Islands after it gained independence from France on 6 July 1975. In mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community with 15 other regional member states.
The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic are also widely spoken. About 57% of the population is literate. The Islands, with a population of about 1.2 million, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, to the east is Mozambique and northwest is Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
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