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Towards Russo-Saudi Arabia rapprochement: Saudi King’s historic visit to Moscow

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As a part of the fresh bilateral efforts to further strengthen the bilateral ties,  Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will make a historic visit to Russia on October 4-7. The very first visit of a Saudi King (Salman Al Saud) to Russia will be historic, since, as Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said, that would demonstrate the scale of the dialogue between the two states.

The Minister stressed that the Russian and Saudi leaders have focused over the last few years on deepening and strengthening relations in numerous areas.

The visit to Russia will symbolize the extent of the relationship and consultations that take place between the two countries. “Our two countries are much more closely allied than some of the analysts…..try to portray it. We are both oil producers, we have an interest in a stable oil market. We have enhanced Russian investments in Saudi Arabia, Saudi investments in Russia. We have cultural, educational, scientific relations that we are developing. We are also working very closely in the area of security to counter extremism, to counter terrorism,” the Minister Al-Jubeir said, adding that the two countries had the same stance on the situation in the region and moving towards having a identical views on Syria as well.

The Saudi monarch’s groundbreaking trip to Moscow comes after Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, flew into Saudi Arabia for talks on September 10. Lavrov met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi heir to the throne who oversees energy and defence policy. After the talks, Lavrov said the Saudis had expressed support for so-called “de-escalation zones” in Syria, which were announced in May after a meeting between Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Top Russian diplomat Lavrov and his Saudi counterpart Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir discussed bilateral relations in a phone call. “The foreign ministers of Russia and Saudi Arabia discussed topical issues of further development of mutually beneficial bilateral relations, including the schedule of respective contacts at various levels,” a statement said. Lavrov and al-Jubeir stressed that the promotion of bilateral relations would help ensure peace and stability at both regional and international arenas, according to the statement.

Russia has been requesting the king to make a trip to Moscow for cementing the relationships. At the end of September 2017, it was confirmed that King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will pay a visit to Russia in early October 2017. The visit is to become the first time a Saudi monarch has ever travelled to Moscow in an official capacity.

In April, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir confirmed that King Salman had accepted an invitation to come to Moscow, and the terms of his visit were being discussed. On June 21, Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said the sides had not agreed on the date of the visit as of yet. Earlier in September, an informed source said that the Saudi king would visit Moscow on October 4-7 to sign a number of documents. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on September 21 that the preparation for the visit was underway.

Eerier, the Russian government hoped that Saudi Arabia would determine the date of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Russia soon in the light of escalation of diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbor states, a source from the Russian Foreign Ministry said.  Earlier in the day, Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed situation regarding Qatar with the Saudi King in a telephone conversation as the crisis around Doha does not promote the consolidation of efforts on the Syrian reconciliation and the fight against terrorism.

In an interview with media, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir spoke about the forthcoming visit of Saudi King Salman Al Saud to Russia. An informed source said that the Saudi King would visit Moscow on October 4-7 for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The same day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the preparation for the visit was underway. “The ministers agreed to continue meaningful dialogue on the ways of resolving continuing Middle Eastern crises,” the Russian Foreign Ministry added.

Meanwhile, Russia is preparing for the maiden visit of Saudi King Salman Al Saud who will arrive in Moscow on October 4 to discuss the deepening cooperation between the two countries. The visit of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Russia is currently being prepared, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Diplomatic relations

The first country to establish full diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd (the name of the Saudi state until 1932) was the Soviet Union. However, relations cooled later on, with Saudi Arabia closing their legation in Moscow in 1938 and refusing to reestablish relations.

Diplomatic relations began in 1926 but did not take off as Riyadh was not inclined to be an ally of Communist Russia. Moreover, due to regular interference from Washington, relations cooled later on, with Saudi Arabia closing their legation in Moscow in 1938 and refusing to reestablish relations. Diplomatic relations were only reestablished after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the establishment of the Russian Federation. (Despite a lack of relations, about 20 Soviet Muslims were allowed to annually make the Hajj from 1946 until 1990 when liberalization allowed thousands of Soviet Muslims to attend)  Relations were strained in the 1980s by Saudi support for the Mujahideen as a part of US led coalition during the Soviet occupational war in Afghanistan and the close alliance with the USA did not  the relations to grow.

Despite a lack of relations, about 20 Soviet Muslims were allowed to annually make the Hajj from 1946 until 1990 when liberalization allowed thousands of Soviet Muslims to attend. Relations were strained in the 1980s by Saudi support for the Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the close alliance with the USA.

King Abdullah’s visit to Russia in 2003, as Crown Prince, was an opening in high level contacts between the countries which did not have diplomatic ties from 1938 until 1990. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin made sincere efforts to establish good relations with Riyadh and he met King Abdullah in Riyadh during a high level delegation visit on February 11–12, 2007. It was the first official visit for a Russian leader to the Kingdom. The visit was an opportunity for Moscow to improve its relations with Riyadh regarding various areas, including regional security issues, energy, trade, transportation, scientific cooperation and exchanges.

After the 2008 Georgia-Russia crisis, King Abdullah said that he had the full understanding of the Russian side on the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but Saudi Arabia did not recognize the two regions yet.

In recent times, relations between the two countries became strained during the Syrian Civil War launched by the USA and its allies in the Syrian opposition as part of Arab Spring, in which Russia, a military ally of Iran, also supports Syria′s president Bashar al-Assad while Saudi Arabia along with Qatar and Turkey supports the Syrian rebels.

USA remains a problem for Saudi and other Arab nations to forge economic ties with Russia. The Middle Eastern kingdom has enjoyed a longstanding and broadly cooperative relationship with the USA, dating back to the start of oil exploration within Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. The latest cast of key characters, headed by US President Donald Trump and Saudi’s King Salman, has established a warmer rapport than seen during the final years of former President Barack Obama’s presidency when tensions developed over Saudi Arabia’s stance on Iran and Yemen. Yet cooperative links are now flourishing between the kingdom and Russia – the USA’s longstanding foe.

Controlled by USA, relations between the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia were so frosty during the Cold War that the two countries did not even have diplomatic missions in each other’s country. Ties were also strained by Riyadh’s support for fighters who battled the Red Army occupation of Afghanistan.

Rapprochement

The Middle Eastern kingdom has enjoyed a longstanding and broadly cooperative relationship with the USA, dating back to the start of oil exploration within Saudi Arabia in the 1930s.

Relations between the two countries were strained during the Syrian Civil War in which Russia supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Saudi Arabia along with Qatar and Turkey supported the Syrian rebels. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that if Saudi Arabia along with Turkey went forth with their invasion plans and invaded Syria, the conflict could result in a Third World War.

The latest cast of key characters, headed by US President Donald Trump and Saudi’s King Salman, has established a warmer rapport than seen during the final years of former President Barack Obama’s presidency when tensions developed over Saudi Arabia’s stance on Iran and Yemen.

Cooperative links are now flourishing between the kingdom and Russia – the USA’s longstanding foe. A blossoming friendship between Saudi Arabia and Russia is being reflected in a recent spate of deals, and signals yet another sea change in the ever-evolving global order.

The rapprochement is in the mechanisms of solving the Syrian conflict, while Moscow and Riyadh are the leading players in this process. “Russians are different from others as they keep their promises, and Saudi Arabia believes that Russia’s presence is important for achieving balance of power in the region,” the lawmaker added. “I expect the rapprochement and big mutual understanding… I suppose that the Syrian issue will be the most important topic of the discussion of the two leaders,” Harisi said. Harisi said that he expects the two countries to sign agreements in many areas besides the defense sector. Earlier in September, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir called the upcoming visit of King Salman to Russia a historic one and demonstrating the scale of bilateral dialogue.

In May 2017 Saudi Arabia and Russia put their weight behind a new agreement to curb oil production; analysts say it should drive up crude prices but also underscores a growing alliance between the two countries. The oil ministers of Saudi Arabia and Russia said they would consult other nations on an agreement to extend the current production deal between OPEC and non-OPEC producers by nine months, about three months longer than the market expected.

The deal to keep 1.8 million barrels of crude from the market is likely to embolden US shale producers to ramp up their production, but it is also a deal that both Russia and Saudi Arabia would see as politically expedient and critical to their domestic finances. The deal could also include deeper cuts than the 1.8 million barrels a day already agreed to late last year.

King Abdullah’s visit to Russia in 2003, as Crown Prince, was an opening in high level contacts between the countries which did not have diplomatic ties from 1938 until 1990.  Russian President  Putin met King Abdullah in Riyadh during a high level delegation visit on February 11–12, 2007. It was the first official visit for a Russian leader to the Kingdom.

The visit was an opportunity for Moscow to improve its relations with Riyadh regarding various areas, including regional security issues, energy, trade, transportation, scientific cooperation and exchanges. After the 2008 Georgia-Russia crisis, King Abdullah said that he had the full understanding of the Russian side on the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however, Saudi Arabia did not recognize the two regions yet.

In February 2016, Saudi Arabia offered for the first time to send ground troops to Syria; a Saudi official confirmed that Riyadh had sent warplanes to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, a move considered as preparation for an incursion into Syria and seen as inimical to Russia′s as well as Iran′s interests.  Russia reacted to the reports with public sarcasm alluding to the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Yemen.

Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft, and Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco announced that they will look into joint investments in the kingdom with another Russian gas giant Lukoil also revealing that it will consider marketing oil alongside Saudi Aramco. That same morning, Saudi Arabia confirmed it would evaluate the possibility of joining Russia’s arctic liquid natural gas (LNG) project. These developments followed Trump’s decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris climate change agreement with many commentators questioning the broader and longer-term implications of the USA stepping back from its leadership role in this pivotal international agreement.

The decision does not just reflect a retreat from leadership but a more widespread inability and unwillingness of countries to compromise. This strengthens the rise in power of Eastern countries alongside a decline in the West’s strength and accelerates the shifting of economic engines towards East, towards Asia.

Russia in Arab world

Until Moscow proved itself a militarily-capable player in the region, the Saudis had a negative, disdainful attitude towards Russia. But now the Saudis are beginning to view Russia differently…

Russia may not have the ability to mount a direct challenge to the USA in the Middle East, but Putin’s hardheaded approach to the Syria crisis has restored some of its Soviet-era influence in the region.  Putin’s support for Al Assad in the face of international condemnation has proved he is willing to stick by his allies in the Middle East, a trait that will have been duly noted by leaders across the Middle East.

President Vladimir Putin sent Russia’s military into Syria in September 2015 to prop up Syria’s leader, Bashar Al Assad, while the Saudis have been aligned with anti-Assad rebels. But since Russia’s military intervention appears to have assured Al Assad’s survival by altering the balance of power in Syria, Saudi Arabia is pushing for talks with opposition groups. “This isn’t the first time that Russia and Saudi Arabia have tried to agree on things in recent years,” Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads the Council on Foreign and Defence, a Kremlin advisory group aid. “..Now the situation has changed because Saudi Arabia realizes that Russia is a much more serious player in the region than it was three or four years ago.

Although the Kremlin’s Syria strategy has proved to be a foreign policy success for Putin and boosted Moscow’s standing in the Middle East, ordinary Russians have little enthusiasm for the war. The ISIL announced it had captured two Russian soldiers in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province. If true, this would be the first time ISIL has taken Russian servicemen hostage. A Russian military spokesman denied the claim.

Moscow’s revived focus on the Middle East has also taken the Russian foreign minister to the Gulf region amid the continuing stand-off between Qatar and other Gulf states. In August, Lavrov met with the leaders of Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar. Russian state media claimed his trip proved Russia was now “the chief negotiator in the Middle East”.

Qatar recently boosted ties with Russia via a $3 billion deal to purchase a stake in Russia’s Rosneft oil company. However, Russia is keen not to be seen as favoring any of the parties to the dispute. Putin reportedly called off visits to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait this summer over fears that such a trip would be interpreted as taking sides.

Russia has also been staking out a position in Iraq, where it was the only major power not to oppose last week’s Kurdish referendum on independence. Russian state oil giant Rosneft recently announced a deal, thought to be worth more than $1 billion, to help Iraqi Kurdistan develop its natural gas industry. Rosneft is believed to have secured deals worth some $4 billion in total since it began doing business in Kurdistan in December.

Saudi support for the zones, which Putin says are vital to ending the war, was previously in doubt because the Riyadh-backed Syrian opposition rejected any role for Iran as guarantor in any peace deal. The reality of the military situation on the ground in Syria has also seen western countries taking a more pragmatic position on the conflict, muting their previous demands that Al Assad must go before any peace deal can be reached.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, presumably  on instruction from USA,  cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, expelled all Qataris and banned flights to and from the country, while other Arab states later joined their actions. The dispute centered on Qatar’s public support for the so-called “Islamist terror groups” such as Hamas – real victim of Zionist fascism.  Doha denied the accusations and said that no retaliatory measures would be taken.

The Kremlin is eager to unite Arab world and keep USA out of the region once for all. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, saying that Moscow calls for direct talks between Qatar and other Arab states to overcome the diplomatic crisis and confirmed its readiness to continue dialogue with Doha in all spheres.

Moscow wants a united front with Arab world against USA in Syria but Arab leaders support USA in ousting or killing Assad. Saudi Arabia, Russia and Egypt support the idea of conducting the second meeting between the Syrian opposition. Talks between the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Cairo and Moscow groups of Syrian opposition took place in Riyadh. The HNC said that the meeting was not successful due to the Moscow group’s refusal to adopt any document demanding the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Economics

The flagship symbol of Russo-Saudi cooperation is the oil output cut agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC members, originally brokered and recently extended thanks largely to the determined efforts of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

As a close economic and strategic ally of USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia do not have much in terms of trade, except in military deals. However, a blossoming friendship between Saudi Arabia and Russia is being reflected in a recent spate of deals, and signals yet another sea change in the ever-evolving global order. 

The relations between the two countries are currently strong in military and technical cooperation. Russian consultations with Saudi Arabia in the area of military and technical cooperation are ongoing, the US-Saudi deal is not an obstacle for that.

In May, the USA and Saudi Arabia agreed on a deal worth $110 billion concerning the supply of US military equipment and arms. Russia continues consultations with the Saudi Arabia’s authorities in area of military and technical cooperation. The deal between this country and the USA on acquiring US arms should not and would not serve as an obstacle for our further dialogue,” Vorobyeva said during Paris Air Show — 2017 at the Le Bourget airport.

In September Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation CEO Alexei Likhachev has held a meeting with representatives of Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the 61st General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. They discussed the possible construction of a big and powerful plant also capable of desalinating water, to projects concerning floating nuclear power plants.

The flagship symbol of cooperation is the oil output cut agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC members, originally brokered and recently extended thanks largely to the determined efforts of Saudi Arabian and Russian representatives.

OPEC President Mohammed Barkindo told CNBC from St. Petersburg that there was no doubt the “turning point” for the deal was when both countries decided to come together in China last year to sign a statement of cooperation that was “widely acclaimed”.  “For them to decide to come together to address the challenges of the market … I think it is a welcome development by all producing countries,” he asserted, adding that both sides had reiterated their joint determination to work together to ensure that the oil market’s volatility is tackled.

In other signs of tightening relations, Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft, and Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco announce that they will look into joint investments in the kingdom with another Russian gas giant Lukoil also revealing that it will consider marketing oil alongside Saudi Aramco. That same morning, Saudi Arabia confirmed it would evaluate the possibility of joining Russia’s arctic liquid natural gas (LNG) project.

These developments followed Trump decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris climate change agreement with many commentators questioning the broader and longer-term implications of the USA stepping back from its leadership role in this pivotal international agreement.

The decision does not just reflect a retreat from leadership but a more widespread inability and unwillingness of countries to compromise, according to Vladimir Yakunin, former Russian Railways president and current chairman of the DOC Research Institute, a German think tank. Speaking to CNBC from St. Petersburg, Yakunin said he expects a turmoil-ridden time ahead for world economies and also predicted that trends showing the rise in power of Eastern countries alongside a decline in the West’s strength would persist, as data continue to show the rapid relative economic growth in Asia.  “At the G-20 for example, reputable experts, they are talking about values, they are talking about the shifting of economic engines towards East, towards Asia.

The oil revenues are a big part of the government budget in Russia and Saudi Arabia. For Russia, higher oil prices have helped its economy.  Low prices could really create enormous stress for the Saudis. The extension of the production deal was also announced just days before President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia on his first overseas trip

Saudi Arabia had felt the pinch of lower prices for oil, though several weeks ago it reversed a move to withhold some pay and benefits to government workers, move analysts saw as a possible effort to ward off unrest. Saudi Arabia also needs a high oil price to help its plan to diversify its economy away from crude, under its Vision 2030 plan.

Saudi Arabia has borne the lion’s share of the production cuts, announced in December and effective in January

Agenda

Like Saudi economy, Russia’s economy is also massively dependent on oil revenues: Putin needs higher global oil prices to allow him to stem rising unhappiness that has been triggered in part by falling living standards.

Despite “deep distrust” between Russia and Saudi Arabia, co-operation by the world’s two largest oil exporters, along with other OPEC member states, has been successful in driving up the price of oil.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow is the first time a Saudi monarch has ever travelled to Moscow in an official capacity. The historic visit by Saudi Arabia’s king to Russia is timed to highlight the Kremlin’s growing political and military clout in the Middle East.

Apart from Syrian solution, both would discuss arms deal as well as nuclear energy deals. Russia is gradually overtaking USA in  supplying terror goods to Arab world at cheap rates. 

The main topic of talks in Moscow would be Syria, where Russia and the Saudis are backing different sides in the six-year-long conflict. The bilateral royal talks will touch Syria and further rapprochement between the two countries on this issue is possible.

The Kremlin’s hand has also been strengthened by uncertainty over US president Donald Trump’s Middle East policies. The Saudis see the writing on the wall. They are hedging their bets, unsure whether the USA is committed fully to the region’s security, according to a Russian foreign policy analyst. “But Russia is not replacing the United States in the region, the resources committed are incomparable, it is trying to be a second choice.”

Observation

Moscow considers that a regular exchange of opinions between the two countries is a factor of stability in the region and political settlement,  with ongoing uncompromising fight against terrorism in all of its manifestations..

The forthcoming visit of Saudi King Salman Al Saud to Russia for the first time in almost hundred years of Saudi-Russian relations and the upcoming talks of Salman and Putin is regarded to be historic. Both sides hope to strengthen bilateral relations and achieve progress on Syrian settlement – burning issue of modern international politics.

Moscow is confident that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud‘s visit to Russia will give a strong impetus to the development of bilateral relations.  “Coordination between the two countries’ foreign ministries is getting closer. Two weeks ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Jeddah.” Lavrov praises Saudi Arabian policy towards Syria. Major attention is being paid to business cooperation, we plan to further develop cooperation in the agricultural sector. The intergovernmental commission, which is scheduled to meet in late October or early November in Riyadh, is called to make its contribution to it” Saudi Ambassador to Russia Abdulrahman Al Rassi, in turn, noted that relations between his country and Russia are entering a qualitatively new level of development.

Moscow has been effectively filling the gap as the USA has been pulling back from Iraq.  Although Russia did not speak out against the Kurdish referendum, it has also been careful not to damage ties with Baghdad, calling this week for “a unified Iraqi state”, and urging the Kurds to achieve statehood through negotiations, rather than a unilateral declaration of independence. It’s a subtle juggling act, but one that sums up Russia’s increasing skill at promoting its interests in the Middle East.

Russia and Saudi Arabia have more reasons to extend deal than just oil.  Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have grown closer as they cooperate on oil prices. A deal to extend production cuts for nine months should support a higher level of oil prices as the market rebalances. It’s not surprising Russia and Saudi Arabia are moving closer together to solve their common problem of low oil prices. They have common interests in increasing their revenues.

It’s not an accident that the two countries [Russia and Saudi Arabia] were moving together at a time when maybe the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was problematic. Bin Salman is also behind the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy away from oil. Thousands of Russians protested last weekend about a plan by the city of Moscow to tear down Soviet-era housing. The timing of the OPEC production extension coincides with the Russian presidential election next March, another reason Russia may have been keen to strike a new deal.

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Beijing and Kremlin unite to tempt fate and agitate US

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For several weeks now, one of the most discussed international events in Latvia has been Russia’s amassing of troops near the borders of Ukraine. However, not a lot of attention has been paid to similar displays of military force carried out by China. Although East Asia is far away from us, this can still be considered a test of the US’ ability to react in two sides of Eurasia simultaneously. And if Moscow and Beijing have indeed coordinated their efforts, this will be a rigorous test of the US’ response capabilities.

In the last few weeks, China has several times rushed to hold naval exercises, officially announcing them only one or two days before they take place. On 28-29 March, drills took place in the South China Sea near the EEZ of Philippines – this happened after Philippines accused China of engaging in unsanctioned activities in its EEZ. On 4 April, the Chinese aircraft carrier LIAONING with a battle group approached the territory of Japan, i.e. the Okinawa Islands where US forces are also stationed. Additionally, there was an increasing number of cases when aircraft of the Chinese Air Force violated Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, reaching a record number of 25 cases on 12 April.

Along with its military activities, China has also ramped up its political rhetoric against the US and Taiwan. On 26 March, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US of using its intelligence services and the army to incite the Uighurs to break away from China (the US accuses China of carrying out ethnic cleansing against the Uighurs that live in China’s western region of Xinjiang). Since late March, China has also been regularly accusing the US of violating the “One China policy”. This is due to the US possibly planning to partially legalize official contacts with Taiwan, which goes against the Communist Party’s interpretation of the “One China policy”. On 13 April, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held a video conference with 20 heads of US companies, essentially urging them to ignore the US political leadership and further cooperation with Chinese businesses.

The US response came rather swiftly: on 4 April, the aircraft carrier USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT with a strike group arrived in the South China Sea and on 10 April was joined by a group of US landing ships. On 11 April, both ship groups engaged in joint military drills in the South China Sea near the Chinese-made artificial islands – some of which also house China’s military bases. All this took place a week before US ships responded the same way to Russia’s activities and sent its ships to the Aegean Sea. 

The military and political escalations in East Asia have reached or even surpassed the level of the nineties. Even though the situation in the region worsened after Joe Biden’s inauguration, which was seen as a “reaction test” of the new US administration (which in diplomacy is nothing unusual), the current escalations began immediately after the unsuccessful talks between Chinese Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office Yang Jiechi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi and the US secretary of state and national security advisor. After both Chinese officials returned to Beijing, they met with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. If China and Russia are coordinating their actions, it will be ae challenge to Biden’s administration, whose response will determine how Moscow and Beijing treat the US in the next four (or eight) years.

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Putin’s state-of-the-nation address to focus on changing relations with foreign countries

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On April 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin will address the Federal Assembly, a combined gathering of members of the Federation Council (Senators), the State Duma (Parliamentarians), Cabinet Ministers, Regional Governors, representatives of selected State Departments, Agencies and the Media.

Almost 450 journalists have been accredited to cover Putin’s his state-of-the-nation address, information relating to the media representatives uploaded on Kremlin website. The address will be broadcast live on Rossiya-1, Rossiya-24 and Channel-1 television channels.

Social distancing and wearing masks will be compulsory throughout the event, according to reports from the Kremlin.

It was also reported that, in line with requirements from the Russian sanitary watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, the accredited journalists will be allowed to attend the event only if they have three negative coronavirus tests – four to five days before the event (April 16-17), two days before the address (April 19), and the third test made on April 20.

During a special consultative meeting ahead of the state-of-nation address, Putin pointed out that the speech document would traditionally outline strategic guidelines for the country’s socioeconomic development, and priority tasks that may require a concerted effort on the part of federal government bodies and regional and local governance teams.

He underlined the fact that “it is the systemic approach and consistency of our goals that are important, along with continuous fine-tuning of the mechanisms and tools which are at our disposal and which we create together for the joint work.”

On social issues, he reminded them of social questions about such important and significant initiatives such as support for Russian families, including new benefits for children under the age of three and under seven, and increasing the affordability of housing through special mortgage programmes for families with children.

Furthermore, his address will focus on new decisions that were also made on the digitalization of healthcare, on the provision of subsidized medicines (this highly sensitive and painful topic makes its way onto agenda from year to year); an instruction was given to connect Russian schools to high-speed internet and to provide free access to domestic electronic services.

Putin promised to discuss measures that have been proposed to stimulate business and investment activities, reform of the control and supervision activities, and initiative to clear the Russian legislation from outdated norms and requirements in many sectors.

He further pointed out at the meeting that there was the need to assess qualitative changes in people’s lives, efforts taken on the development of regions, cities, and districts, and for the economy and the social sphere.

Putin stressed the importance of always analyzing the reasons behind mishaps and even failures to prevent them in the future both in planning and in resolving tasks.

“We must acknowledge honestly and bluntly what we have failed to achieve so far, where our efforts are still stalled and where we continue to face difficulties. Taking into account the objective picture, we must adjust the actions that are not effective enough or suggest a different, more effective solution to a problem. This is exactly what our people, citizens of Russia expect from us,” he told the meeting.

In summary, Putin’s address will primarily focus on current achievements, will outline future domestic social and economic development plans and strategies, will offer insight into key foreign policy objectives and will bring out the challenges and some possible steps in resolving both internal and external setbacks.

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Russia in the Middle East: 10 Years After the Arab Spring

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Large-scale changes in the domestic and international political configuration of the Middle East, dubbed the “Arab Spring” in popular culture, coincided with the return of Russia to world politics. In this regard, Moscow’s intervention in the conflict over Syria has played a much larger role in strengthening its global position than its reaction to the coup in Ukraine or to Georgia’s aggression in South Ossetia in 2008. In these two cases, Russia responded to the hostile actions of the Western countries and fought what were in fact defensive battles within the near abroad, adjacent to its sovereign territory. In the Middle East, in Syria and later Libya, Russia has demonstrated its ability to project its national interests and values far beyond the modest zone of influence it retained after the end of the Cold War.

The immediate reason for Russia’s intervention in Syria is well-known — in the event of the fall of the legitimate government, the territory of the country would have become a zone controlled by religious extremist organisations. Most of these groups are banned in Russia, and by the nature of their ideology, would have provoked instability throughout the countries of the Middle East and its neighbours for many years. The distance between the region and Russia’s borders is, in reality, insignificant. A victory for the radicals in Syria would become a reliable instrument in the hands of the United States to keep in suspense not only Washington’s allies in Europe, Israel and the Gulf countries, but also to destabilise Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The secular regimes of all countries in this region neighbouring Russia would be under threat. It’s well-known that a significant number of extremist recruits from Central Asia participated in radical groups in Syria and Iraq. Thus, Russia has once again fulfilled its mission as the main supplier of security for the states of the southern part of the former USSR and, indirectly, China. Despite the fact that for Moscow, such a mission was difficult and costly, it was also inevitable due to the geographical proximity of these countries to the industrial centres of Russia in Siberia. Moreover, helping the Central Asian countries counter external challenges is a tool Russia uses to avoid the temptation to return to direct control over them, in the interests of Russia’s security.

We must understand that for the United States, instability and military conflicts in the Middle East and its environs do not pose any threat to national security at all: the United States is separated from the most problematic region in the world by thousands of kilometres.

Unlike Russia, China or Europe, the Americans can look at regional processes from the point of view of a diplomatic game, rather than taking steps to ensure their own security. Therefore, for Russia, preventing such a development of events by the mid-2010s was an important task in the framework of the competition between the great powers and the prevention of a hostile influence on its periphery.

Moreover, by this time Russia had acquired the military and diplomatic resources to implement such a policy. The events around Ukraine in 2014 demonstrated the readiness of the armed forces to carry out complex operations; the technical equipping of the army with modern weapons was actively promoted. The operation in Syria helped Russia better understand the real tasks of the naval forces for such a continental power as Russia, given the latest advances in military technology.

Russia’s forceful intervention in the Middle East made it possible to significantly improve relations with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. These states are quite archaic in terms of mentality and their ideas about the balance of power and cooperation in international affairs.

As the diplomatic practice of recent years confirms, Russia’s ability to exert military influence far beyond its borders provided a convincing argument for the policy of the Gulf monarchies to be more prudent.

The situation in the Middle East itself has gradually returned to a state of new normality. Only one country in the region — Tunisia — is moving, albeit very uncertainly, towards more stable institutions of state power, based on the principle of democracy. Other states that found themselves at the centre of the “Arab Spring” returned to those forms of statehood that were historically characteristic of the Middle East. The game of big and medium external powers is gradually returning as the most important factor in the development of the region.

In this game, Russia’s partners are not only the West, but also regional forces such as Iran and Turkey. The national interests of these countries may not coincide with Russian ideas and even come into conflict with them. This, however, is not an obstacle to building a working relationship with them. The most important factor is that Iran is not, and Turkey is less a part of the collective institutions and community of the West, which has set the goal of undermining Russia’s existing political system. The more Turkey becomes involved in regional security issues and plays an independent role in them, the better it is for Russia’s interests.

Preventing a threat to Russia was not its only task in returning to the Middle East and, therefore, to big international politics. Moscow’s active participation in regional affairs is an indispensable attribute of a great power capable of defending its idea of justice on a global scale. At the centre of these ideas is the moral imperative of preserving state sovereignty as the only factor guaranteeing stability and cooperation in international politics. Despite its scale and military power, Russia has traditionally taken a conservative, value-based approach to international affairs. Therefore, the stake on sovereign states as participants in international cooperation is natural for Moscow. Syria, thanks to Russian politics, is the only modern example of the preservation of such a state, despite the pronounced intentions to destroy it, which have at one point emanated from a significant group of great and middle powers.

In fact, in the Middle East the strategies of Russia and the West clashed over the most important issue for the modern world — the right to violate the formal principle of the sovereign equality of states within the UN system. After the Cold War, the United States and its allies have arrogated the privilege of dictating the interpretation of this principle in their selfish interests. This privilege became, in fact, their main acquisition, much more important than territorial conquests in Eastern Europe, or presence in the territory of the former USSR.

In 2011, the United States and Europe were able to act at their own discretion for the last time: when they achieved the overthrow of the Libyan government by military means. Syria and the Russian intervention there on the side of the legitimate government put an end to the history of the unipolar world.

Russian involvement in the affairs of the Middle East has solved this problem of international politics inherited from the short era of Western domination. Now any sovereign state, when assessing the possibilities of its survival, can assume that there is not one, but several sources of power in the world on which to rely. China has not yet demonstrated a convincing ability to act similarly to Russia. However, its economic ties can potentially become an alternative source of development funds for countries that are not ready to rely on the mercy of the United States and Europe.

The results of the “Arab Spring” were positive for Russia and were able to compensate to a certain extent for the damage suffered from the diplomatic defeat in Ukraine in 2014. Following its success in Syria, Moscow has been more confident in its response to the crisis in Belarus in the summer and autumn of 2020, which could theoretically lead to a dramatic outcome for European security. Unlike Russian policy in Asia, where a presence must be backed by years of economic gains, in the Middle East, Russia shows its best side in terms of diplomatic skill and military resolve. The current situation in the region inspires optimism — these properties will remain in the foreseeable future; they are the most important for achieving results.

From our partner RIAC

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