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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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Future of Russia’s “Breakaway Empire”

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As the West-Russia tensions have grown over the past years, one theater of Russian foreign policy, namely management of breakaway regions, has largely fallen out of analysts’ works. Where, in the first years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had to manage breakaway conflicts in small and poor Georgia and Moldova, by early 2019, Moscow’s responsibilities have increased exponentially. In a way Nagorno-Karabakh was also under the Russian geopolitical influence, although the Russians were not directly involved.

Following the Ukraine crisis, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk were added to Russia’s “Breakaway Empire”. This means that at a time when economic problems are looming large within Russia, Moscow has to spend more on multiple actors across the former Soviet space. This means that Russia’s broader strategy of managing breakaway conflicts, though not very much visible, could be coming under increasing stress. Where Russia previously used the conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine to limit the ability of those countries to enter the EU/NATO, now Moscow is losing its ability to maneuver in so many diverse conflicts simultaneously. At times, various players are trying to play their own game independently from Moscow. In Transnistria, the geopolitical situation is troublesome for Moscow as Kiev and Chisinau at times consider constraining the breakaway territory, and Moscow can do little as it has no direct land or air route. In Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian forces watch as NATO exercises take place on Georgian soil, which suggests that, despite the Russian military footprint in the region, Western countries are continuing to expand their support for Georgia.

Without doubt, Russia will remain a dominant military power in the region and the breakaway territories will stay dependent on Moscow’s support. Yet, it will be increasingly difficult for Moscow to successfully pull the strings in several different theaters at once, particularly as the Russia is facing its own financial problems, increased Western efforts to confront its foreign policy, and “disobedience” from various separatist leaders.

Bad, but Still a Strategy

If Russia has any notion of a grand strategy in its recent foreign policy, it is certainly the purposeful creation of conflict zones and their management across the post-Soviet space. The fall of the Soviet Union was indeed a colossal geopolitical setback for Moscow as the country instantly lost portions of land on a scale rarely, if ever, seen in recorded history. But maintaining 11 buffer states (except for the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) around Russia has remained a cornerstone of the Kremlin’s foreign policy against Western military and economic encroachment. Russians knew that because of their own country’s low economic potential, the South Caucasus states would inevitably turn to Europe. The same would happen on Russia’s western frontier with Moldova and Ukraine, which have been more susceptible to Western economic and military potential because of geographic proximity and historical interconnections with Europe.

In a way, geopolitical trends also point towards the conclusion that Russia’s usage of breakaway territories to stop Western expansion in the former Soviet space is not working. True that Moscow needed, be it Abkhazia or Donetsk, to stop the countries in its “immediate neighborhood” from joining the EU/NATO. And to the Russians’ credit, it has worked: the West is hesitant to quickly make Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova the members of the EU/NATO groupings. But there are also signs that the Russian gambit that those very breakaway regions would undermine the integrity of Georgia and Ukraine has largely failed. Only Moldova might be regarded as a success for the Russians, as the country has still failed to unite around its geopolitical choice.

The point here is that although there are breakaway territories, Western expansion into Georgia and Ukraine continues through various means, importing a much “deadlier” weapon – economic influence – against that of traditional Russian military and religious influence.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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Russia: Open, hospitable, only in short-term for Africans

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The Russian Interior Ministry has reiterated that the legislation that allows special 2018 FIFA visa-free entry to Russia for the foreign visitors ended on Dec 31.

“In accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, foreign citizens who visited the 2018 FIFA World Cup matches as spectators and who have Fan IDs will not be able to enter the Russian Federation after December 31, 2018,” the source said.

The World Cup attracted only hundreds of football fans from many African countries while thousands arrived from the United States, Europe and Asia to Russia. According some statistics, about five million foreigners visited the country over this period from June 14 through July 15, the highest number among foreigners were fans from the United States, Brazil and Germany.

It set a new record of audience in the history of world football championships as over half of the world’s population watched the matches on televisions at home and on digital platforms.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in remarks while opening the Russia-Africa Social Forum on October 22 that he considered it (the sport event) necessary to maximise the potential of public and cultural diplomacy in the interests of strengthening and expanding the traditionally friendly and mutually beneficial ties between Russia and African countries.

“It is hard to overestimate the role of this in strengthening friendship, trust and mutual understanding between nations. For example, many Africans have in fact discovered Russia for themselves while visiting Russia as fans during the 2018 FIFA World Cup,” he said.

Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, during her weekly media briefing, also expressed great satisfaction and added that the MFA continued receiving messages about the enthusiasm regarding the organisation of the World Cup, the atmosphere surrounding the event, infrastructure and the country in general.

According to her, Russia in its role as the host of the World Cup had demonstrated yet again that it deserved the highest marks for the tournament. It has left an indelible impression on the memory of numerous foreign fans who arrived in the country from all over the world to support their football squads.

Commenting on Russia’s image abroad, specifically in Africa, Ambassador of Zimbabwe, Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango, told me in an interview that the Sochi International Olympics and the FIFA international football extravaganza surprised many Africans on the level of development of the Russian Federation.

“There is a dearth of information about the country. Russia-Africa issues are reported by third parties and often not in good light. As a result, Africa’s media should find space to operate in Russia. In spite of the limited resources, Russia should make it easier for African journalists to operate on her territory and consistently promote the positive changes and emerging opportunities to the African public,” Mike Sango suggested.

According to official reports released by the Presidential Press Service and the Presidential Executive Office, the initiative was crafted to promote public diplomacy and raise Russia’s image abroad.

Significant to recall here that at the opening of the World Cup, Putin said: “We prepared responsibly for this major event and did our best so that fans could immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a magnificent football festival and, of course, enjoy their stay in Russia – open, hospitable, friendly Russia – and find new friends, new like-minded people.”

FIFA World Cup ran from June 14 to July 15 in 10 different cities in Russia. The foreign fans who received Fan IDs and purchased tickets for the matches went to Russia without visas. After the end of the World Cup, the Russian president declared that the Fan ID holders would have the right to visit repeatedly visa-free until the end of 2018.

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China: Russia’s Source of Hope & Fears

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The current crisis between Russia and the West is the product of many fundamental geopolitical differences in both the former Soviet space and elsewhere. All trends in bilateral relations lead to a likely conclusion that fundamental differences between Russia and the West will remain stalled well into the future. The successful western expansion into what was always considered the “Russian backyard” halted Moscow’s projection of power and diminished its reach into the north of Eurasia – between fast-developing China, Japan, and other Asian countries, and the technologically modern European landmass.

What is interesting is that as a result of this geopolitical setback on the country’s western border, the Russian political elite started to think over Russia’s position in Eurasia. Politicians and analysts discuss the country’s belonging to either Western or Asian civilization or representing a symbiosis – the Eurasian world.

As many trends in Russian history are cyclic so is the process of defining Russia’s position and its attachment to Asia or Europe. This quest usually follows geopolitical shifts to Russia’s disadvantage.

In the 19th century, following a disastrous defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856) from Great Britain and France, the Russian intellectuals began thinking over how solely European Russia was. Almost the same thing happened following the dissolution of the Russian Empire in 1917 and break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Though in each case the Russians were reacting to European military or economic expansion with discussions, the reality was that a turn to the East was impossible as most developed territories were in the European parts of the Russian state. Back then, the Russians, when looking to the East, saw the empty lands in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

What is crucial nowadays is that Russia’s pull to the East is now happening due to the presence of powerful China bordering Siberia. This very difference is fundamental when discussing Russia’s modern quest for their position in Eurasia.

Today, Europe is a source of technological progress, as are Japan and China. Never in Russian history has there been such an opportunity to develop Siberia and transform it into a power base of the world’s economy.

Russia’s geographical position is unique and will remain so for another several decades, as the ice cap in the Arctic Ocean is set to diminish significantly. The Arctic Ocean will be transformed into an ocean of commercial highways, giving Russia a historic opportunity to become a sea power.

Chinese and Japanese human and technological resources in the Russian Far East, and European resources in the Russian west, can transform it into a land of opportunity.

Russia’s geographical position should be kept in mind when analyzing Moscow’s position vis-à-vis the China-US competition. However, apart from the purely economic and geographical pull that the developed Asia-Pacific has on Russia’s eastern provinces, the Russian political elite sees the nascent US-China confrontation as a chance to enhance its weakening geopolitical position throughout the former Soviet space. Russians are right to think that both Washington and Beijing will dearly need Russian support, and this logic is driving Moscow’s noncommittal approach towards Beijing and Washington. As a matter of cold-blooded international affairs, Russia wishes to position itself such that the US and China are strongly competing with one another to win its favor.

In allying itself with China, Russia would expect to increase its influence in Central Asia, where Chinese power has grown exponentially since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although Moscow has never voiced official concerns about this matter, that is not to deny the existence of such concerns within the Russian political elite.

However, if Moscow chooses the US side, the American concessions could be more significant than the Chinese. Ukraine and the South Caucasus would be the biggest prizes, while NATO expansion into the Russian “backyard” would be stalled. The Middle East might be another sticking point where Moscow gets fundamental concessions – for example in Syria, should that conflict continue.

Beyond grand strategic thinking, this decision will also be a civilizational choice for the Russians molded in the perennial debate about whether the country is European, Asiatic, or Eurasian (a mixture of the two). Geography inexorably pulls Russia towards the East, but culture pulls it towards the west. While decisions of this nature are usually expected to be based on geopolitical calculations, cultural affinity also plays a role.

Tied into the cultural aspect is the Russians’ fear that they (like the rest of the world) do not know how the world would look under Chinese leadership. The US might represent a threat to Russia, but it is still a “known” for the Russian political elite. A China-led Eurasia could be more challenging for the Russians considering the extent to which Russian frontiers and provinces are open to large Chinese segments of the population.

The Russian approach to the nascent US-China confrontation is likely to be opportunistic. Its choice between them will be based on which side offers more to help Moscow resolve its problems across the former Soviet space.

Author’s note: first published at Georgia Today

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