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Russia and Global Forecasting: Getting Past Melodrama Diplomacy

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The President of the E. M. Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), Academician Alexander Dynkin, Editor-in-Chief of the collective monograph “World 2035. Global Outlook”[1]  noted that this forecast was focused on those dynamic trends that are visible today, which will have a long-term impact on the development of the world in twenty years ahead.

Working on long-term forecasts have been an important area of the Institute’s competitive advantage, being engaged in such forecasts since the mid-1970s. The first publication – “The World at the Turn of the Millennium” was published in 2001 and included a forecast until 2015. Comparing the estimates of that time with today’s statistics, one can see that the forecast was very close to the reality, especially in terms of the growth rates of world GDP in the period of 2011-2014 and the growth rate of the Russian economy at that period.In 2011, “Strategic Global Outlook: 2030” was published.

The new study – “World 2035. Global Outlook” is the third forecast covering key development trends in the fields of economy, ideology, politics, innovation, social sphere and international security. Publication of the book in early April 2017 shortly preceded the Meeting of G20 Leaders in Hamburg, on July 7-9, 2017. There is no surprise that, hopefully, well informed “sherpas”, while preparing for the Summit, made proper use of the widely available forecast materials.

The Leaders of the G20, as well as the representatives of eight Permanent Guest countries, and the heads of the most influential international organizations met to address major global economic and political challenges and to contribute to prosperity and well-being of the entire population of our planet. The final document of the Summit  declares that “mastering the challenges of our age and shaping an interconnected world is the common goal of the G20.”  The G20 revealed its strength during the global economic and financial crisis in 2008 – 09,  and played a crucial role in stabilizing economies and financial markets. Strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth – remains the highest priority of G20.

The IMEMO forecast methodology firmly relies on thorough consideration of comprehensive links between such developments of different nature as economic, financial, demographic and social trends, achievements in science and technological change, ideological activities, changes in demography, social psychology and cultural processes. This approach gave the authors an opportunity to focus attention on sustainable long-term trends of the world economy and global political order, as well as on entities, structures, institutions and key actors of the international system.[2] 

The statistical database of the Outlook 2035 is built on predictive estimates of Gross Domestic Product, labor productivity, Research, and Development investment and other indicators calculated systematically and meticulously. Using the original method developed in IMEMO enabled the authors to analyze and expose qualitative characteristics of strategically significant long-term trends. 72 researchers are listed as the members of the team of academic writers.[3]  Globalization and technological change have contributed significantly to driving economic growth and raising living standards across the globe. However, globalization has also created challenges and its benefits have not been shared widely enough. By bringing together developed and emerging market economies, the G20 has been determined to shape globalization to benefit all people.[4] 

“World 2035. Global Outlook” and the Declaration of G20 Leaders share the vision of middle and long-term future of the world. The Leaders of G20 underlined:  “We are resolved to tackle common challenges to the global community, including terrorism, displacement, poverty, hunger and health threats, job creation, climate change, energy security, and inequality including gender inequality, as a basis for sustainable development and stability. We will continue to work together with others, including developing countries, to address these challenges, building on the rules – based international order.[5]”

In the 21st century, the confrontation between capitalism and communism was replaced not by the “end of history”, as many expected, but by the growth of nationalism, the conflict of moral values with a very vivid religious and historical-psychological coloring. Academician Alexander Dynkin presumes that in social policy, many countries will be forced to look for recipes for responding to the growing deepening inequality. Large-scale reformatting of the structure of society is expected.[6] 

The Outlook is unique for the fact that the development of 189 countries is forecasted giving a really “big picture” of globalization and regionalization at the same time. Regionalization is seen as an important trend of global evolution. For Russia, the coming decades will be the search for one’s place in this rapidly changing world. The search will be based on a combination of a sense of identity and an understanding of the country’s global responsibility. Looking back, IMEMO researchers can be proud that their previous forecasts of the main trends of the world economic development have been confirmed. Moreover, some of the most important quantitative indicators were exactly up to their expectations. Thus, the real growth rate of world GDP in 2001-2015 was 3.7%  – exactly the same as in the forecast for this period.

 It seems that this is a unique academic result in forecasting with a 15-year horizon. IMEMO slightly overestimated the GDP growth rate for a group of developed countries (the forecast was 2.6%, the actual growth was 1.7%) and, accordingly, underestimated the speed of development of developing countries (forecast – 4.7%, real growth rate 5.5%). Quite accurate was the forecast for the Russian economy – the actual rate of annual GDP growth over the same period amounted to 4.2%. In IMEMO forecast it was expected at 5.0%. The forecast of global development offered to the attention of the reader up to 2035 covers a much wider range of processes and phenomena than all previous works of a similar nature. Almost for sure, the experience of strategic forecasting gained over the decades, including its methodological component, will guarantee a fairly high probability of the forecast of the main trends and rates of their development for the next 18 years.

The world has been undergoing a long period of international tension, economic and financial instability, uncertainty and redistribution of forces between traditional and new centers of gravity. Hence, one of the main research tasks has been to determine the risks, threats, and opportunities for Russia. According to the book, the next two decades will be a period of consolidation of the positions of Russia in the changing world, providing the country with a solid voice in solving problems of general importance. An alternative scenario would be to isolate Russia from global processes and create a closed development model that would minimize the impact of global economic, innovative, financial, and political trends. The implementation of such a scenario would undoubtedly throw Russia back for many decades and deprive it of the chances of modernizing and strengthening its global positions.

In June 2017  the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) published results of their joint project: “Theses on Russia’s Foreign Policy and Global Positioning (2017–2024).” The authors acknowledged the fact that the theses were based on the results of a parallel study conducted by a team of researchers at the E.M. Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).

According to these theses, Russia’s future global role hinges on resolving of a number of challenges. Creating favorable external conditions for resolving the backlog of problems and for overcoming the underdevelopment problem is the key goal of Russia’s global positioning. At the same time, Russia can influence the processes of the global order transformation. Russia bears a major part of the responsibility for the world’s future. Russia’s flexible and pragmatic policies should help complete the reorganization of international relations smoothly and prevent a new “era of extremes.”[7]

 The concluding observations of the Global Outlook are moderately optimistic. Eventually, as the current period of acute contradictions between Russia and the West will come to close, both parties will have to seek to restore trust and developing bilateral and multilateral mutually beneficial relationships. Russia will have to maximize her efforts to introduce “smart power” not only for optimizing image and reputation management but also for presenting her own agenda of successful global governance.

Prologue:

My esteemed colleague and friend, Dr. Asatiani, has given us an insight into the Russian strategic statecraft mindset that is wonderfully bereft of propaganda and not victim to the current negative atmosphere dominating American thinking towards the Russian Federation. If I would draw Western readers’ attention to but one aspect of this report that I think needs even more emphasizing and elaboration, it would be but this:

“Russia’s future global role hinges on resolving of a number of challenges. Creating favorable external conditions for resolving the backlog of problems and for overcoming the underdevelopment problem is the key goal of Russia’s global positioning. At the same time, Russia can influence the processes of the global order transformation. Russia bears a major part of the responsibility for the world’s future.”

I have just finished my new work with Brown Books Publishing called, “Putin-Mongering: Strategic Games in Russian-American Relations,” which should be out for the public by the end of 2017/beginning of 2018. “Putin-Mongering” discusses something that is very crucial to the above quote: that Russia’s global future role hinges very much on its ability to create those favorable external conditions….BUT….one of the most important of those external favorable conditions needs to be recreating to the better the current bad diplomatic/political environment with the United States.

The report should acknowledge that one of the problems Russia is going to have in the near future as far as ‘influencing a global order transformation’ is how that transformation is presently seen by the United States as being somewhat AGAINST American national interests. We need places like IMEMO, the scholars and specialists associated with it, working to bring to greater public media light how much the American reluctance and stubbornness to engage Russia in a non-suspicious light, to rid itself of what I call the ‘Cold War residue,’ is essential for the future of Russia’s diplomatic strength and significance on the global stage.

Keep in mind this is not to say Russian power is only relevant through American cooperation. Rather, this is about how American obstinacy and a failure on the part of the US to accept a proper place at the table for Russia will have a marked negative impact on its true potential and capability. For example, the presence of sanctions and the refusal of America to negotiate these or resolve them poisons the working environment without doubt. The report does not somberly and objectively bring this reality up and I think it should. The G20 needs to be pressed to understand that the system of sanctions under questionable decision-making needs to be addressed or the positive results they hope to bring about in the world community will be stunted. We need multiple, courageous, directed efforts from all sides to defeat the repressive intellectual orthodoxy currently plaguing Russian-American relations and, therefore, hindering Russia’s relations with many other states. This does not mean everyone will get along perfectly and all sides will always agree. But it does mean relations will finally take on a less shrill, less melodramatic timbre and that will only be good for all concerned.

~ Dr. Matthew Crosston


[1] Мир 2035. Глобальный прогноз, под ред. А.А. Дынкина; ИМЭМО им. Е.М. Примакова РАН. М.: Магистр, 2017, 352 с. [“World 2035. Global Outlook”, Dinkin A. Editor, E.M. Primakov National Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Magistr, 2017.]

[2] Мир 2035. Глобальный прогноз, под ред. А.А. Дынкина; ИМЭМО им. Е.М. Примакова РАН. М.: Магистр, 2017, сc. 16-26. [“World 2035. Global Outlook”, Dinkin A. Editor, E.M. Primakov National Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Magistr, 2017, pp. 16-26.]

[3]Ibid., p. 351.

[4] G20 Leaders ́ Declaration: Shaping an interconnected world, Hamburg, 8 July 2017 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-1960_en.htm    Retrieved 14.07.2017.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Мир 2035. Глобальный прогноз, под ред. А.А. Дынкина; ИМЭМО им. Е.М. Примакова РАН. М.: Магистр, 2017, сc. 11-15. [“World 2035. Global Outlook”, Dinkin A. Editor, E.M. Primakov National Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Magistr, 2017, pp. 11-15.]

[7] Timofeev I., Theses on Russia’s Foreign Policy and Global Positioning (2017–2024). The Center for Strategic Research, Moscow, 2017, p. 34.

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Putin’s post-Soviet world remains a work in progress, but Africa already looms

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Russian civilisationalism is proving handy as President Vladimir Putin seeks to expand the imaginary boundaries of his Russian World, whose frontiers are defined by Russian speakers and adherents to Russian culture rather than international law and/or ethnicity.

Mr. Putin’s disruptive and expansive nationalist ideology has underpinned his aggressive

 approach to Ukraine since 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the stoking of insurgencies in the east of the country. It also underwrites this month’s brief intervention in Kazakhstan, even if it was in contrast to Ukraine at the invitation of the Kazakh government.

Mr. Putin’s nationalist push in territories that were once part of the Soviet Union may be par for the course even if it threatens to rupture relations between Russia and the West and potentially spark a war. It helps Russia compensate for the strategic depth it lost with the demise of communism in Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, equally alarmingly, Mr. Putin appears to be putting building blocks in place that would justify expanding his Russian World in one form or another beyond the boundaries of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

In doing so, he demonstrates the utility of employing plausibly deniable mercenaries not only for military and geopolitical but also ideological purposes.

Standing first in line is the Central African Republic. A resource-rich but failed state that has seen its share of genocidal violence and is situated far from even the most expansive historical borders of the Russian empire, the republic could eventually qualify to be part of the Russian world, according to Mr. Putin’s linguistic and cultural criteria.

Small units of the Wagner Group, a private military company owned by one of Mr. Putin’s close associates, entered the Centra African Republic once departing French troops handed over to a United Nations peacekeeping force in 2016. Five years later, Wagner has rights to mine the country’s gold and diamond deposits.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Russian mercenary presence persuaded President Faustin-Archange Touadera that the African republic should embrace Russian culture.

As a result, university students have been obliged to follow Russian-language classes starting as undergraduates in their first year until their second year of post-graduate studies. The mandate followed the introduction of Russian in the republic’s secondary school curriculum in 2019.

Mr. Touadera is expected to ask Mr. Putin for Russian-language instructors during a forthcoming visit to Moscow to assist in the rollout.

Neighbouring Mali could be next in line to follow in Mr. Touadera’s footsteps.

Last month, units of the Wagner Group moved into the Sahel nation at the request of a government led by army generals who have engineered two coups in nine months. The generals face African and Western sanctions that could make incorporating what bits of the country they control into the Russian world an attractive proposition.

While it is unlikely that Mr. Putin would want to formally welcome sub-Saharan and Sahel states into his Russian world, it illustrates the pitfalls of a redefinition of internationally recognised borders as civilisational and fluid rather than national, fixed, and legally enshrined.

For now, African states do not fit Mr. Putin’s bill of one nation as applied to Ukraine or Belarus. However, using linguistics as a monkey wrench, he could, overtime or whenever convenient, claim them as part of the Russian world based on an acquired language and cultural affinity.

Mr. Putin’s definition of a Russian world further opens the door to a world in which the principle of might is right runs even more rampant with the removal of whatever flimsy guard rails existed.

To accommodate the notion of a Russian world, Russian leaders, going back more than a decade, have redefined Russian civilisation as multi-ethnic rather than ethically Russia.

The Central African Republic’s stress on Russian-language education constitutes the first indication in more than a decade that Mr. Putin and some of his foreign allies may expand the Russian world’s civilisational aspects beyond the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Some critics of Mr. Putin’s concept of a Russian world note that Western wars allegedly waged out of self-defense and concern for human rights were also about power and geopolitical advantage.

For example, pundit Peter Beinart notes that NATO-led wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya “also extended American power and smashed Russian allies at the point of a gun.”

The criticism doesn’t weaken the legitimacy of the US and Western rejection of Russian civilisationalism. However, it does undermine the United States’ ability to claim the moral high ground.

It further constrains Western efforts to prevent the emergence of a world in which violation rather than the inviolability of national borders become the accepted norm.

If Russian interventionism aims to change borders, US interventionism often sought to change regimes. That is one driver of vastly different perceptions of the US role in the world, including Russian distrust of the post-Soviet NATO drive into Eastern Europe and independent former Soviet states such as Ukraine.

“People with more experience of the dark side of American power—people whose families hail from Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, or Mexico, where US guns have sabotaged democracy rather than defended it—might find it easier to understand Russian suspicions. But those Americans tend not to shape US policy towards places like Ukraine,” Mr. Beinart said.

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Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia

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Through all the discussions that accompanied the preparation of the Valdai Club report “Space Without Borders: Russia and Its Neighbours”, the most clear question was whether Russia should or should not avoid repeating the historical experience of relations with its near abroad. This experience, in the most general terms, is that after Russia pacifies its western border with its foreign policy, the Russian state inevitably must turn to issues related to the existence of its immediate neighbourhood. With a high degree of probability, it will be forced to turn to its centuries-old method for solving problems that arise there: expansion for the sake of ensuring security.

Now Russia’s near abroad consists of a community of independent states that cannot ensure their own security and survival by relying only on their own forces; we cannot be completely sure of their stability. From Estonia in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east, the existence of these countries in a competitive international environment is ensured by their link with one of the nuclear superpowers. Moreover, such connections can only complement each other with great difficulty. As the recent developments in Kazakhstan have demonstrated, they are not limited to the threat of an external invasion; even internal circumstances can become deadly.

The dramatic events in that country were intensified by external interference from the geostrategic opponents of Russia, as well as international terrorists, but it would be disingenuous to argue that their most important causes are not exclusively internal and man-made. We cannot and should not judge whether the internal arrangements of our neighbours are good or bad, since we ourselves do not have ideal recipes or examples. However, when dealing with the consequences, it is rational to fear that their statehood will either be unable to survive, or that their existence will take place in forms that create dangers which Russia cannot ignore.

In turn, the events experienced now in relations between Russia and the West, if we resort to historical analogies, look like a redux of the Northern War. The Great Northern War arose at the beginning of the 18th century as the result of the restoration of Russia’s power capabilities; the West had made great progress in approaching the heart of its territory. Within the framework of this logic, victory, even tactical victory, in the most important (Western) direction will inevitably force Russia to turn to its borders. Moreover, the reasons for paying more attention to them are obvious. This will present Russia with the need to decide on how much it is willing to participate in the development of its neighbours.

The developments in Kazakhstan in early January 2022 showed the objective limits of the possibilities of building a European-style sovereign state amid new, historical, and completely different geopolitical circumstances. More or less all the countries of the space that surrounds Russia, from the Baltic to the Pamir, are unique experiments that arose amid the truly phenomenal orderliness of conditions after the end of the Cold War. In that historical era, the world really developed under conditions where a general confidence prevailed that the absolute dominance of one power and a group of its allies creates conditions for the survival of small and medium-sized states, even in the absence of objective reasons for this.

The idea of the “end of history” was so convincing that we could accept it as a structural factor, so powerful that it would allow us to overcome even the most severe objective circumstances.

The Cold War era created the experience of the emergence and development of new countries, which until quite recently had been European colonies. Despite the fact that there are a few “success stories” among the countries that emerged after 1945, few have been able to get out of the catch-up development paradigm. However, it was precisely 30 years ago that there really was a possibility that a unipolar world would be so stable that it would allow the experiment to come to fruition. The visible recipes of the new states being built were ideal from an abstract point of view, just as Victor Frankenstein was guided by a desire for the ideal.

Let us recall that the main idea of our report was that Russia needs to preserve the independence of the states surrounding it and direct all its efforts to ensure that they become effective powers, eager to survive. This desire for survival is seen as the main condition for rational behaviour, i.e. creating a foreign policy, which takes into account the geopolitical conditions and the power composition of Eurasia. In other words, we believe that Russia is interested in the experiment that emerged within the framework of the Liberal World Order taking place under new conditions, since its own development goals dictate that it avoid repeating its past experience of full control over its neighbours, with which it shares a single geopolitical space.

This idea, let’s not hide it, prompted quite convincing criticism, based on the belief that the modern world does not create conditions for the emergence of states where such an experience is absent in more or less convincing forms. For Russia, the challenge is that even if it is technically capable of ensuring the immediate security of its national territory, the spread of the “grey zone” around its borders will inevitably bring problems that the neighbours themselves are not able to solve.

The striking analogy proposed by one colleague was the “hallway of hell” that Russia may soon face on its southern borders, making us raise the question that the absence of topographic boundaries within this space makes it necessary to create artificial political or even civilisational lines, the protection of which in any case will be entrusted to the Russian soldier. This January we had the opportunity to look into this “hallway of hell”. There is no certainty that the instant collapse of a state close to Russia in the darkest periods of its political history should be viewed as a failure in development, rather than a systemic breakdown of the entire trajectory, inevitable because it took shape amid completely different conditions.

Therefore, now Russia should not try to understand what its further strategy might be; in any case, particular behaviour will be determined by circumstances. Our task is to explore the surrounding space in order to understand where Russia can stop if it does not want to resort to the historical paradigm of its behaviour. The developments in Kazakhstan, in their modern form, do not create any grounds for optimism or hopes for a return to an inertial path of development. Other states may follow Ukraine and Kazakhstan even if they now look quite confident. There are no guarantees — and it would be too great a luxury for Russia to accept such a fate.

This is primarily because the Russian state will inevitably face a choice between being ready for several decades of interaction with a huge “grey zone” along the perimeter of its borders and more energetic efforts to prevent its emergence. It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. This is not a hypothetical invasion of third forces — that does not pose any significant threat to Russia. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991. Even now, there seems to be a reason to believe that thirty years of independence have made it possible to create elements of statehood that can be preserved and developed with the help of Russia.

from our partner RIAC

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Do as You’re Told, Russia Tells the Neighborhood

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The Kremlin has always argued that it has special interests and ties to what once constituted the Soviet space. Yet it struggled to produce a smooth mechanism for dealing with the neighborhood, where revolutionary movements toppled Soviet and post-Soviet era political elites. Popular movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and most recently Kazakhstan have flowered and sometimes triumphed despite the Kremlin’s rage.

Russia’s responses have differed in each case, although it has tended to foster separatism in neighboring states to preclude their westward aspirations. As a policy, this was extreme and rarely generated support for its actions, even from allies and partners. The resultant tensions underlined the lack of legitimacy and generated acute fear even in friendlier states that Russia one day could turn against them.

But with the activation of the hitherto largely moribund six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kazakhstan seems to be an entirely different matter. Here, for the first time since its Warsaw Pact invasions, Russia employed an element of multilateralism. This was designed to show that the intervention was an allied effort, though it was Russia that pulled the strings and contributed most of the military force.

CSTO activation is also about something else. It blurred the boundaries between Russia’s security and the security of neighboring states. President Vladimir Putin recently stated the situation in Kazakhstan concerned “us all,” thereby ditching the much-cherished “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring states. The decision was also warmly welcomed by China, another Westphalia enthusiast.

In many ways, Russia always wanted to imitate the US, which in its unipolar moment used military power to topple regimes (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and to restore sovereignty (in Kuwait.) Liberal internationalism with an emphasis on human rights allowed America and its allies to operate with a certain level of legitimacy and to assert (a not always accepted) moral imperative. Russia had no broader ideas to cite. Until now. Upholding security and supporting conservative regimes has now become an official foreign policy tool. Protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan helped the Kremlin streamline this vision.

Since Russia considers its neighbors unstable (something it often helps to bring about), the need for intervention when security is threatened will now serve as a new dogma, though this does not necessarily mean that CSTO will now exclusively serve as the spearhead of Russian interventionist policy in crises along its borders. On the contrary, Russia will try to retain maneuverability and versatility. The CSTO option will be one weapon in the Kremlin’s neighborhood pacification armory.

Another critical element is the notion of “limited sovereignty,” whereby Russia allows its neighbors to exercise only limited freedom in foreign policy. This is a logical corollary, since maneuverability in their relations with other countries might lead to what the Kremlin considers incorrect choices, like joining Western military or economic groupings.

More importantly, the events in Kazakhstan also showed that Russia is now officially intent on upholding the conservative-authoritarian regimes. This fits into a broader phenomenon of authoritarians helping other authoritarians. Russia is essentially exporting its own model abroad. The export includes essential military and economic help to shore up faltering regimes.

The result is a virtuous circle, in the Kremlin’s eyes. Not only can it crush less than friendly governments in its borderlands but it also wins extensive influence, including strategic and economic benefits. Take for instance Belarus, where with Russian help, the dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka managed to maintain his position after 2020’s elections through brutality and vote-rigging. The end result is that the regime is ever-more beholden to Russia, abandoning remnants of its multi-vector foreign policy and being forced to make financial and economic concessions of defense and economics to its new master. Russia is pressing hard for a major new airbase.

A similar scenario is now opening up in Kazakhstan. The country which famously managed to strike a balance between Russia and China and even work with the US, while luring multiple foreign investors, will now have to accept a new relationship with Russia. It will be similar to Belarus, short of integration talks.

Russia fears crises, but it has also learned to exploit them. Its new approach is a very striking evolution from the manner in which it handled Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, through the Belarus and Armenia-Azerbaijan crises in 2020 to the Kazakh uprising of 2022.

Russia has a new vision for its neighborhood. It is in essence a concept of hierarchical order with Russia at the top of the pyramid. The neighbors have to abide by the rules. Failure to do so would produce a concerted military response.

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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