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The visit paid by Cardinal Parolin to Moscow

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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With reference to the Third Commandment, the original text reads as follows: “Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh (thy God) in vain (saw), because Yahweh does not let go unpunished those who use His Name in vain”.In ancient times the Name was not a simple sign. The Name indicated the Substance of the person named forever, thus identifying him/her among the Many others.

It also separated him/her from Evil or, in any case, from the Indistinct.

It is also worth noting that, apart from the Decalogue of the burning bush, Yahweh is named only in a passage of Exodus (23:1), reading as follows “Thou shalt not utter a false report” (sema saw).

False oath was evidence that you should not “swear by a false god” (see Psalm 24:4; Hosea 10). 

You should not call Him, He is always everywhere. If you call Him, it means you do not really believe in Him.

Again in the Leviticus, Yahweh stated “Thou shall not swear on my Name deceitfully”.

The Truth of the One is reflected naturally on the objective truth of the things about which men speak.

Furthermore saw is a word used by many prophets of Israel against the worship of idols.

Probably saw was originally the word used to identify the “evil magic”, which therefore had nothing to do with the evocation of God, the Lord of  Good, who drove the evil out of the Pardes, the place where, in the End Times, the “second Adam” would return to Truth and Grace.

Based on “The Golden Legend” (Legenda Aurea) by the blessed Jacobus da Varagine – a collection of the legendary lives of the greatest Saints of the medieval Church, which was to revolutionize the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola – Piero della Francesca painted the “Legend of the True Cross” in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo.

According to the tradition of Jacobus da Varagine, Adam asked his son Seth to go to the Garden, the Pardes, to get the oil of mercy to pass away serenely and attain Eternal Life.

Archangel Michael gave to Seth a twig of the Tree of Life, which Solomon found again while he had to build the First Temple.

The King of Israel did not manage to use the tree, which opposed and resisted his workers.

An initiatory theme, also considering to what extent the construction of the Temple and the search for the “password” count in the “primitive scene” of modern Freemasonry.

Furthermore the wooden beam on which Jesus Christ was crucified was buried by a Jew named Judah, who was later thrown into a pit by the Mother of Constantine to make him confess.

Finally workers decided to place the wood on a river, so as to make it a walkway – another obvious symbol.

After the Battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius – in which the Holy Cross appeared together with the well-known message in hoc signo vinces – Constantine sent his mother to Jerusalem to search for the True Cross.  St. Helena determined which cross was the true Cross of Christ by laying the wood on the coffin of a dead man, who was instantly brought back to life.

Here there is also the wisdom of Saint Paul, using and overthrowing the Pharisaic and later Cabbalist tradition: certainly, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”, but this is precisely the reason why – as Saint Paul said in his Letter to the Galatians (3:13), “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”.

This is what St. Paul said about “wood” and its infinite paradox.

Those who walk away will move close, those who come close will be pushed away.

A paradox of Faith that is inconceivable in Islam.

That is the paradox the Islamic theological world has not solved at all, namely the relationship between Evil and Faith.

In fact, if God is the One who orders, commands and decides everything, why does He commands evil and make it win over holiness?

Once again it is Job’s problem. Satan asked: “Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1:9), but Job’s rebellion – which, in fact, creates modern civilization, is targeted against an anthropomorphic God, an Entity that is the projection of our fears and universal desires.

As Psalm 126:3 reads: “The Lord has done great things for us…”, but this must not be shown and His rationale is never the same as men’s.

Therefore, in Islamic theology, there is no way out of the separation between Good and Evil – just think of the absolute uniqueness and, hence, total unknowability of Allah that creates and destroys worlds we do not even know were possible.

Hence Evil is ubiquitous and, above all, unintelligible for human beings, who always interpret it incorrectly or, anyway, in an earthly way.

We revert once again to Job, who encountered the Face of God just when he opposed Him and precisely when God was openly an enemy to him – “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5).

“Do you believe in Me because I am powerful and simply because I am?”

Here is the great theological, political and sapiential limes breaking the continuity between Islam and the other monotheistic religions.

Once again this is the deep theological sense of contemporary jihad.

I can convince God I am right – I only need to interpret His words literally.

Not even the Quran has this logic.

Furthermore, also in Islam, the primary theological problem is the link between Faith and works, as in the Reformation.

Here the link is between Iman and Islam, namely inner faith and exterior practice.

In this case, however, it is the Prophet himself who, in the struggle against the Kharijites – the usual purist sect arising after any religious reform – theorized, in the Dicta, that also a conversion for evident fear was fine.

Hence we revert to jihad, the acceptance of any form of formal adaptation to the rule of the Sacred, which is never the Sacred.

“Have you opened His chest to see whether all that He was saying was true?” asked the Prophet Muhammad ironically. In the case of contemporary jihad, based on Islamic law, it is precisely the “holy war” that creates many problems.

As in the tradition of the True Cross, jihad is a war that must brought us back to the initial peace.

In fact, according to the Quran, imbalance is the natural trait of the visible world – and this imbalance is precisely represented by war, initial and legal violence.

Hence, the true translation of God’s warning on the Sinai – probably near the current wonderful St. Catherine’s Monastery – is more or less the following: “Do not use the Name of God bending it to your will and whim.”

This does not mean never name it, as is the case with the medieval esoteric sects, or to consider it an objective presence in everyday life –  another anti-unitary heresy.

Job, however, could afford it, because he was looking for Him and loved Him, even in the fight against Him, but we certainly not.

In the transcendent original Tradition, Jehovah means “ever greater” – in fact, God is immeasurable because He always grows, while we cannot do other than stand still.

Just think about the revealing metaphor of yeast …

If we look at the traditions of monotheistic religions, born after the first rebellion of Abraham against his father’s idols, we realize that, in any case, Faiths and, above all, ethno-cultural identities must always be preserved.

Copts (10% of the Egyptian population) and, in Jordan and in the Palestinian Territories, the Syrian Christians spread across Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon, not to mention the Syrian Orthodox Churches and the  Syrian Catholic ones, as well as Maronites, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians.

Then Shiites – almost always believing in the Twelfth Imam, as in Iran – even though the Houthis in Yemen and in other Persian Gulf areas are supported by Iran, without theological preconceived ideas, in many regions of the Middle East.

There are also the Zaydis, again in Shiite areas, the Ishmaelites – linked to Agha Khan –  as well as the Druids, heirs of Pythagoras, and many others.

Without the map of the religions in the Persian Gulf, nothing can be understood about its policy.

And it is worth reiterating that the sword jihad is a substantial anomaly, which – in fact – rooted itself into the Iraqi-Syrian system when it was convenient for Saudi Arabia and its allies.

As we previously said, identity is a primary criterion.

While there are currently global authorities capable of interpreting, selecting and reforming this huge melting pot of creeds, beliefs and ideas, we certainly cannot avoid thinking of the Catholic Church and the Slavic and Greek Orthodox.

Obviously we can no longer change the past, even though those who do so  by profession are called “historians”, but today we can certainly create the  present which can build a new future.

There is no need to cry over spilled milk – as Baudelaire said, “One can only forget about time by making use of it”.

Hence currently the real challenge will be freedom of religion and freedom of belief and opinion, in a world in which finally the present is  free to build the future.

Obviously after the victory of Assad, as well as of Syrians and Russians in Syria.

Currently this is the real challenge and this holds true for Cardinal Parolin, who will pay a visit to Russia next August to speak with Patriarch Kirill and President Putin.

The correct strategic logic of Cardinal Parolin and Pope Francis is one only: to eliminate any pseudo-controversy with Islam and accept the support of Russia and its religious institutions to recreate the natural pluralistic equilibrium of Christian, Orthodox, Shiite and Sunni communities, as well as of many other faiths which, for the Church of Rome, must be rescued also – and above all – with the support of the Slavic and Greek Orthodox Church.

As early as 2013, Russia had already guaranteed its citizenship to 50,000 Christians in Qalamoun, and in August 2013 the Russian Church had donated 300,000 US dollars to the Patriarchate of Antioch.

The void left by France – ever more naively “secular” – has also left huge room for the Russian orthodoxy in the Greater Middle East.

In Syria 80% of Catholics and, however, Christians, were destroyed in their homes and in their cities.

This is the real acid test for evaluating ecumenism and, above all, the ability to defend Faith.

And today defending creeds also regards the passionate protection of the freedom of religion, the freedom from fear – which is always a bad advisor – and the freedom from the will of leaders.

No more subornation of the poor; enough with the offense to the “little ones”.

 Sinite Parvulos …

This, too, must be a point of contact between Cardinal Parolin and his Russian counterparts, including Putin.

Hence it is here – and not in the baroque issue of the Holy Sites – which we can place the new relationship – that we hope will be very effective – between the brilliant Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Patriarch Kirill but, above all, with Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin.

However, let us revert to the Holy Theology that Cardinal Parolin knows better than me and many others.

Who is holy? The answer is simple and can be found in Leviticus 17-26, “You shall be holy, because I, the Lord, am holy who make you holy”.

While interpreting the Covenant between God and men, Jesus simply highlights what the Jews believe without thinking about it: but it is Incarnation which makes the Law effective (also in the legal sense) – and once again there is a contrast with Islamic theology.

If only a cultivated and wise dialogue between the Catholic theology and the  Jewish theology could currently be achieved!

Much of the Middle East daily political problems would be solved in a moment.

The Son made flesh creates a filial relationship with the believers, namely  he keeps and pursues the “royal law” (James 2:8), which is also the “perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25) – hence  it is precisely Jesus who almost literarily fills the space of the future and hence the sense and meaning of the present.

Here, in a still new wisdom-based context for the two Churches, the East and the West, there will certainly be room for an initiatory and sapiential world, which has so far been able only to ensure pluralism – certainly a very noble aim which, however, from now on shall speak in re and not only about profane and pluralistic rules.

Therefore we must thank Cardinal Parolin, who will certainly be able to provide excellent theological, political and strategic substance to a relationship with the Patriarchate of Moscow that could become the true and only peace process in Syria and in the rest of the Middle East.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Navalny, Nord Stream 2 and Moscow’s Response

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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As expected, Alexei Navalny’s case is seriously tearing apart relationship between European Union and Russian Federation. The alleged “poisoning” of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on August 20 in Tomsk (Siberia), has similarities to the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, and that of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, in the city of Salisbury, England. Russia’s political history is dotted with that well-colored inerasable image.

Navalny is a Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist. He came to international prominence by organizing demonstrations and running for political office, to advocate reforms against corruption in Russia. As a citizen, he has the fundamental right to freedom of expression and to associate with social and political groups. But his activities has angered the officialdom and becomes most hated politician. He has been detained several times by Russian authorities.

Now Navalny, who was “allegedly poisoned” in August, stands a determining factor shaping the relationship between Western world and European Union and Russia. Sanctions are the punitive measures against Russia. When he was first treated in a Russian hospital in Omsk, the doctors claimed that there were no traces of poison in his body, a claim that Russian authorities continue to endorse.

Specialist labs in France and Sweden have confirmed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German government Spokesman Steffen Seibert said mid-Sept, and confirmed that the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had also received samples and was taking steps to have those tested at its reference laboratories.

According to Seibert, the European Union’s summit, set to take place on September 24-25. The world would be looking for what measures be collectively adopted with regard to Navalny and against Russia.

On Sept 17, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told the local media that there were another series of anti-Russian sanctions being initiated by the West amid the situation involving Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, all these designed to deliver a blow to relations between Russia and the European Union.

“The main goal today, at least it appears to be this way, is to deliver a blow to the relations between our countries and the European Union, and countries that are part of the union. Everything is going in this framework,” Zakharova said in the 60 Minutes show on the Rossiya 1 (VGTRK) television channel.

On Sept 15, during its session the European Union planned to create a global regime sanctioning human rights violations around the world and the intention to name it after Alexey Navalny. The Russian Foreign Ministry believes that will erode the basic principles of international law and undermines the prerogatives of the UN Security Council through endless illegitimate unilateral sanctions imposed by Brussels and Washington.

As for whether it would be advisable to name this sanctions regime after Alexei Navalny, it viewed  “this exclusively as an undisguised attempt to give a manifestly anti-Russia tonality to the new EU restrictions. At the same time, Berlin persists in brushing off proposals to work together in order to get to the bottom of what happened, using clearly far-fetched pretexts. We hope that common sense will prevail in the European Union and our partners will renounce the arbitrary practice of assigning blame and in the future will draw conclusions based on real and confirmed facts.”

That however Moscow readies to hit back on EU sanctions. Local daily newspaper Izvestia also wrote that Russia vows to retaliate against potential European Union sanctions. Even though the European Union is trying to elbow Russia out of the gas market, it is unlikely that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project will be abandoned over the incident with Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, quoting sources in the Russian Federation Council (Upper House of Parliament).

The resolution approved by the European Parliament (EP) stresses the need for an international investigation into the alleged poisoning of Navalny with a Novichok-type toxic agent. European MPs called for suspending Nord Stream 2 and slapping sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow is urging Berlin to cooperate in the investigation of what happened to Navalny. If the EU levies sanctions on Russia, Moscow can provide a tit-for-tat response, Russian MPs told the paper.

“I don’t think this option will come to life, because it is difficult to connect the situation with Navalny to the construction of Nord Stream 2. This is just an excuse to push Russia out of the gas market. We need to react calmly and not be dragged into those discussions,” Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov told Izvestia, commenting on the resolution.

Similarly, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Alexei Chepa explained to Izvestia that in the event of any real anti-Russian sanctions, Russia could provide a tit-for-tat response. For example, if the European Union approves personal restrictions and a sanctions list, Moscow will do the same.

“Of course, we will respond. However, this will impact both our economy and the economy of Germany and the European Union. No one wins here. However, there may be a tit-for-tat blacklist that would include, for example, the MPs that called for anti-Russian sanctions or for the suspension of Nord Stream 2,” the MP said, stressing that Moscow will only retaliate if the European Union introduces real sanctions against Russia.

Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote that European Union to loosen legal mechanism for new sanctions against Russia. It said that the European Commission is working on broadening its legal instruments that would enable the introduction of personal sanctions against human rights violators in different countries, counting Russia among them. President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced plans to adopt Europe’s version of the Magnitsky Act and suggested adjusting the mechanism for approving sanctions in such a way that does not require the support of all European Union member states.

According to Kommersant, this amendment, if adopted, will no longer allow Moscow to count on friendly European countries that have called on European Union allies not to impose tough sanctions on Russia. According to von der Leyen, the proposals for a European ‘Magnitsky Act’ will be ready soon. She explained the European Union should be able to respond clearly and quickly to what is happening anywhere, whether in Hong Kong, Moscow or Minsk.

The German Council on Foreign Relations, does not believe that the European Union will be able to agree on an extensive package of sanctions against Russia soon. Rather, an agreement on a blacklist similar to the ‘Magnitsky list’ could be expected. According to experts, regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Germany and the European Union would rather allow the project be implemented in full, and then introduce some measures to restrict or prohibit transportation of gas through the pipeline.

“With the crises around Navalny and Lukashenko unfolding, the freezing of Nord Stream 2 seems to be in the cards. Nevertheless, we are not talking about a complete breakdown of relations. Even during the Cold War, economic ties between the USSR and the West were not completely severed,” Head of the European Political Studies Department at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO),Nadezhda Arbatova, told Kommersant newspaper. “Today’s confrontation between Russia and the West is a struggle of ideology and real politics. Minimal interaction will be maintained, but this will not change the quality of relations between Russia and the EU,” she predicted.

European Union and Russia have strategic partnership agreement signed in 2011 but that was later challenged following the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. Russia has five member states: Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland share its border. The relations are determined by European Union member on bilateral basis, but all the members adopt common or collective policies toward the Russian Federation.

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Forgiving Old Debts: Russia’s Diplomatic Maneuver

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With economies experiencing contractions across the globe and with governments in the third world most vulnerable, discussions of debt relief have been revived. Yet, forgiving old debts is nothing new to the Kremlin. For the Russian government, it has been just one part of a wider diplomatic toolkit to rekindle ties that have faltered since the end of the Cold War.

Once the primary backer of numerous states over large swathes of the globe, Moscow largely retreated from the non-Soviet space during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin and it continued to not be a primary concern during Vladimir Putin’s first two terms as head of state. However, Russia’s resurgence on the international arena over the past few years has not only made the country more willing to re-engage with the region but also more capable.

International media has primarily viewed this through the lens of military strength. Whether it is sending trainers and advisors to the Central African Republic, allegedly supporting rebels in Libya, or deploying Wagner Group forces to fight an Islamic State-offshoot in Mozambique, the focus has primarily been conflict-oriented. However, less explored is the quieter and more economic measures that the Russian government has taken in order to win hearts and minds outside of the West.

As part of a debt-for-development programme, Russia has forgiven approximately $20 billion worth of debt to various African governments that was accrued during the Soviet period. Beneficiaries include the Commonwealth nation of Tanzania and Francophonie member Madagascar, along with others. In forgiving these loans, the Kremlin has acknowledged a reality that many countries continue to deny: such debts are unpayable. At the first ever Russia-Africa Summit, Putin stated explicitly that “It was not only an act of generosity, but also a manifestation of pragmatism, because many of the African states were not able to pay interest on these loans.”

These measures have yielded concrete benefits for the previously indebted countries. For example, the decision to forgive Mozambique’s $40 million debt was done in conjunction with the United Nations World Food Programme, with the money that was intended for debt repayment instead being used to provide free school meals for 150,000 children over the course of five years.

While Russia will potentially be losing some money in the short term, debt forgiveness is likely to open new doors moving forward. Many of the countries that have seen their debts written off have significant economic and geopolitical potential. With improved political relations as a consequence, it is hoped that Russian companies will get preferential treatment should contracts be offered to international firms. This could help explain the Kremlin’s decision to forgive 90% of North Korea’s $11 billion debt despite the latter’s weak position. Russia has been eager to develop a trans-Korean gas pipeline that would transport fuel to South Korea. While the likelihood of this being realised remains slim, in the context of Pyongyang’s inability to repay the debt in any case, it is a reasonable gamble to make on the part of the Russian government.

This is somewhat similar to China’s efforts over the past few years, albeit in an inverse form. With Beijing less cash-strapped than Moscow, it is able to invest directly whereas Russia is using debt forgiveness to redirect cash payments away from servicing old debts and instead towards domestic reinvestments. Free projects, such as the Chinese-funded and constructed headquarters of the African Union, have been followed by ever-growing economic and political relations.

Russia’s debt policy has been used to strengthen existing alliances and partnerships. While not all Soviet-era allies have retained close ties to Moscow, many have done so continuously since the Cold War. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Russian debt forgiveness has been Cuba. In July 2014, ahead of a visit to the island nation by Putin, the Russian government wrote off 90% of Cuban debt. Though Russia was not only the country that showed willingness to restructure Cuba’s debt obligations at the time, it was by far the most generous. China restructured approximately $6 billion while Japan and Mexico forgave $1.4 billion and $478 million, respectively; Russia forgave $32 billion.

The decision did reaffirm the close relations between Moscow and Havana. Cuba has repeatedly voted in support of the Russian Federation at the United Nations on sensitive topics, such as Crimea, and Russian firms have received multiple drilling and mining contracts from the Caribbean country.

However, this strategy has its limitations. The overwhelming majority of these debts date back to the Soviet era and are therefore limited in scope. Some countries, such as Angola and Ethiopia (which saw most of their debts forgiven in the 1990’s), were primarily recipients of military support during civil wars so their debts were not as vast as other heavily indebted countries with other creditors. Since then, despite respite from Moscow, such countries have continued to become increasingly burdened by growing debts. While Ethiopia is often heralded as an example of rapid economic growth, its debt, both in total but also has a percentage of GDP, has grown considerably during the post-Soviet era.

While debt relief is undeniably beneficial to the third world, the fact that Russian-owned debts constitute a mere fraction of all foreign-owned debts in most cases means that the act of writing debts off cannot achieve much in of themselves. Consequently, in several countries, the gesture is mostly a PR move. In the case of Afghanistan, where Russia was the largest creditor due to loans handed out during the 1980’s, Kabul had for decades refused to recognise the debt. The decision to forgive the debt was therefore more of a signal of a desire to improve relations than any hope to achieve instantaneously tangible rewards.

The largest stumbling block for the Kremlin’s efforts remain structural issues afflicting the indebted nations, the nature of which vary considerably from country to country. For example, while Russia has forgiven a majority of Iraq’s debt to the country, which in turn helped revive talks over potential oil contracts, the continued instability in the Middle Eastern nation makes it difficult to reap many benefits. Though it is true that Baghdad has continued to purchase Russian T-90 tanks and attack helicopters, this is more of a sign that Russia has partially managed to pivot Iraq away from the United States’ sphere of influence as opposed to gaining economically.

With the onset of coronavirus, however, Russia might not be the leading debt forgiver for very long. In places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where economies are expected to continue shrinking while deficits are set to grow, other creditors could potentially step in and likewise forgive debts. In April of this year, G20 leaders agreed to extend debt relief in the form of a moratorium on debt repayment yet this can only serve as a short term solution. With many governments already increasing their borrowing, creditor nations are well positioned to leverage their position in order to improve geopolitical relationships as well as set the stage for favourable contracts for their firms. If more countries follow Moscow’s path, then the significance of what the Kremlin has done will only recede and lose much of its relevance.

Debt forgiveness can win friends but can only go so far. For Russia’s diplomatic maneuvers to stick, they will need to continue complementing it with other efforts, such as improving trade and boosting security partnerships, in order to truly make the most of its financial generosity.

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The Case of Belarus: Russia’s Fear of Popular Revolutions

Emil Avdaliani

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For Russia, the crisis in Belarus caused by the August presidential election result is of a geopolitical nature. Moscow might not be openly stating its geopolitical calculus, but in its eyes, the Belarus problem resembles the uprisings in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan and represents a similar problem in the long run.

Whatever the arguments propounded by world analysts that protests in Belarus are not about geopolitics and more about popular grievances against President Alexander Lukashenko, the issue will ultimately transform into serious geopolitical game.

For Moscow, the Belarus problem has been about geopolitics from the very beginning, though it was only on August 27 of this year that Vladimir Putin announced the creation of a special “law enforcement reserve” for use in Belarus should the situation get “out of control.”

The Russians understand that an “Armenia-style” revolution in Belarus could theoretically take place, but it would open the country more to Europe and thereby create geopolitical dilemmas similar to those created in Ukraine before 2014. The Russians further grasp that in Ukraine, the situation was out of control even before the Maidan Revolution. Moscow’s influence was not sufficient to stop Ukraine’s gradual shift toward closer ties with the collective West.

For the Russian leadership, events in Belarus are a continuation of the “revolutionary” fervor that has been spreading across the former Soviet space since the early 2000s. What is troubling is whether or not the Russians see this process as an expression of the popular will that is largely independent of the West. Several indicators point to an ingrained belief within the Russian political elite that in fact the West has orchestrated the popular upheaval in Belarus.

Russian history might be of help here. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire fought the spread of European revolutionary thought along and inside its borders. It built alliances to confront it and fought wars to forestall its progress. But in the end, the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent policies of the Communist Party were largely based on European thought, though many western ideas were changed or entirely refashioned.

Similar developments took place during the late Soviet period. By the 1980s, popular disapproval of the Soviet system had grown exponentially. A revolutionary fervor for independence ran amok in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and elsewhere. True reforms would have served as a cure, but half-hearted economic and social measures only deepened the crisis. Military power was used in a number of capitals of Soviet republics, but again only half-heartedly. Thus was the entire Soviet edifice brought down.

Modern Russian leadership should see that there is essentially no cure for popular grievances and mass movements along its borders. Russian history gives multiple examples of how military intervention against revolutionary fervor can bring immediate results but leave long-term prospects bleak. The defeat of revolutionary passions can only take place by minimizing those economic, social, and state-system problems that usually generate popular upheaval. This is the dilemma now facing modern Russia. The revolutions that occurred over the past 20 years, and the situation today in Belarus, all fit into this pattern.

For the moment, Lukashenko has won this round of strife with the protesters, and his rule is highly likely to continue. But what is equally certain is that the protests gave birth to a massive popular movement in a country that was once famous for the quiescence of its population.

Russia fears that eventually, this revolutionary tide will close in on Russian society. Lukashenko has stressed this idea, saying in an interview that mass disturbances will one day reach Moscow. Many rightly believed this was a ploy by Lukashenko to scare the Russians into supporting him—after all, Belarus is far smaller than Russia and much less important than Ukraine. Still, Lukashenko was right insofar as he pinpointed possible long-term problems Russia could face as it moves closer to 2036.

Much depends on the West as well. It faces a dilemma in which it ought to pursue a policy of vocal condemnation and perhaps even impose heavy sanctions—but from a balance of power perspective, moves like those would distance Minsk and push it closer to the Russian orbit. This dilemma of morality versus geopolitical calculus will haunt the West in the years to come.

Belarus exports 10.5 million tons of oil products per year, including about six million tons through the ports of the Baltic states to world markets and another 3–3.5 million tons to Ukraine. Redirecting flows from the Baltic ports to Russian ones has been discussed, but this option is less attractive to Minsk because of the longer distances involved. This comes at a time when the Baltic states imposed sanctions on high-ranking Belarussian officials and the EU is pondering serious measures.

With each such move from the West, Russia gets another opportunity. Russia has professed interest in encouraging Belarus to redirect its oil exports to Russian ports and has agreed to refinance a $1 billion debt to Russia.

A broader picture might help put the events in Belarus in context. In the South Caucasus, the Russians appear to have reached the limit of their influence. They more or less firmly control the overall geopolitical picture, but have nevertheless failed to derail Western resolve to compete in this region. In Central Asia, Russia has more secure positions, but the region in general is less important to the Kremlin than the western borderlands.

It is thus the western front—Belarus and Ukraine—that is a major theater for Moscow. Since 2015, many have believed that Syria is Russia’s top geopolitical theater, but this assumption is based simply on the intensity of the immediate processes that are transpiring in the Middle East. With or without Syria, Moscow’s global standing will not be fundamentally damaged. Belarus is a different matter entirely. Changes there, and by extension a potentially anti-Russian state, would constitute a direct threat to Moscow.

For Russia, Belarus is the last safe buffer zone on its western border. Ukraine is lost, as is Moldova, and the Baltic states have long been under NATO protection. Only Belarus serves as a bridge for Russia to move militarily into the heart of Europe. To lose it would be tantamount to a complete “encirclement” of Russia by the West, as argued by Russian politicians.

This geopolitical reality also means that Belarus is the country that will remain most susceptible to Russian geopolitical influence. No wonder Russia is pushing to station its air base on Belarussian soil, reinvigorate the Union state, and intensify Minsk’s economic dependence on Moscow. As was the case with Ukraine, the upheaval in Belarus is about regional geopolitics.

Author’s note: first published in besacenter.org

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