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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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Russian Foreign Ministry sees elements of show in “Navalny poisoning”

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Russian Foreign Ministry’s press secretary Maria Zakharova has yet again dwelled with her usual sarcasm on last year’s reports about “Russia’s top opposition leader” and “the deadly Novichok”. Zakharova made the comments with her hallmark sense of humour over her Telegram channel following newly released reports on the results of an inquiry into the “poisoning of Navalny”, which appeared in the course of the 97th session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in July.

On August 20 last year, Russia’s public activist and campaigner Alexei Navalny had to be taken off his flight at Omsk and was delivered to hospital in a grave condition. Well before the final diagnosis he was flown to a Berlin hospital and there he was diagnosed with Novichok poisoning. Later on, he revealed the results of his own investigation which established the involvement in the poisoning of a group of FSB agents. The story has become the butt of a joke in Russia. Russians want to know why Novichok has not killed anyone so far and why Russian special services are unable to carry out a simple elimination operation.

Giving rise to more jokes was the publication of “an inquiry into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny” which the Russian side obtained from a report on the activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in implementation of its core document – the 2020-2021 Convention. Part 1.41 of the report, which was published after the session, says that “on August 20, 2020, at the request of Germany, the Secretariat dispatched a group of experts who were to render technical assistance in connection with reports about the poisoning of the Russian activist”. But August 20 was the very day of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, who suddenly felt ill on board of the plane and who told the passengers about the poisoning himself. At about 6 a.m. (4.00 CET) Moscow time the plane with Navalny on board made an emergency landing at Omsk. The news got into the media by midday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were in meeting at the time. At 18.30 CET they give a press conference signaling the need to conduct an inquiry. On the same day the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received a request from Germany and reacted. However, for an international organization that adheres to specific procedures a reaction that quick is impossible for technical reasons. Unless all this has been planned before, which is what Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova points out.

Russian representatives prepared for the 97th session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons far better than the Germans. That’s why when asked why the draft report contains the date August 20 the German side first said that it was a misprint and then “recalled” that on that day chancellor Merkel turned to the Organization with a request. In any case, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must secure a preliminary approval from its Secretariat before it can send any experts for conducting an inquiry. Interestingly, the Organization could not explain the confusion over the dates and procedures.  

This situation enabled the Russian Foreign Ministry to ‘’strike a new blow’’, accusing the United States, Britain and a number of European countries of regularly breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention. Simultaneously, many Russian media reminded their subscribers that Navalny was hospitalized after two days of noisy parties and visits to the sauna. The lifestyle of “Russia’s top opposition campaigner” causes a lot of criticism, as the anti-corruption activist lives a lavish life, which is unaffordable to most Russians and alienates potential supporters.

Zakharova’s harsh and sarcastic statements, made via her Telegram channel and picked up by the Russian media, de facto demonstrate that Moscow views the entire “poisoning” story as poorly fabricated and will not accept whatever results the West’s inquiry may present. We can see that the “Navalny case” does have a lot of flaws and that the Kremlin had clearly pointed them out. Even the ardent opponents to the Russian government refrain from mentioning “poisoning”, saying that “Alexei” went over the line and that the  story about “the Novichok-soaked underpants” sounds implausible.

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Russia and the West: Are Values the Problem?

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The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation approved by the President of Russia will go down in history as a document that sharpened the issue of the country’s traditional spiritual and moral values. Values were also featured in in its predecessor, Strategy 2015. However, Strategy 2021 has new accents. The source of the threat is the “Westernisation” of culture. Russian values, according to the document, are being attacked by the United States and its allies, transnational corporations, as well as foreign non-profit, non-governmental, religious, extremist and terrorist organisations. If earlier terrorism and extremism, in one way or another, were separated from the “Western” theme, now they are considered threats of the same order. The transition of confrontation with the West to the realm of values is a new stage in Russian strategic thinking. Earlier such a confrontation was perceived more in terms of material categories (defence, economics), but now it has clearly shifted to an ideological level. Why did this transition take place? What problems will Russia face in the new paradigm, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?

Let’s start with the premises. Russian foreign policy has been deviating from the value dimension for quite a long time. A certain surge occurred in the early 1990s with the idea that Russia’s values were converging with those of the West. But by the second half of the 1990s, there was a clear departure from liberal idealism towards pragmatic realism. In the early 2000s, realism finally took root in Russian doctrines. We viewed security and foreign policy in terms of specific material threats. On this basis, interaction with external forces, including the West, was built. The realism of Russian thinking was determined, on the one hand, by fatigue from the excessive ideologisation of Soviet foreign policy, and, on the other hand, by quick disappointment in political rapprochement with the West and the understanding that declarations of common values do not necessarily mean avoiding competition.

Western foreign policy, on the other hand, retained its ideological burden. Russia quickly returned to the ranks of the “significant others”. That is, it again became a reference point against which the Western identity was built. New residents of the “Western House” from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe played a role here. For them, the formation of a new identity was a particularly important task, and opposing the former “empire” was a convenient political technology. This process began long before the events in Crimea in 2014. Voices about Russian authoritarianism, expansionism, etc. began to be heard back in the early 2000s, paradoxically adjacent to statements about the inevitable extinction of the once-mighty power. Identity games have also become a political technology in the post-Soviet space. The notorious “colour revolutions” unfolded, among other things, on the basis of the opposition’s concept of “modern West vs. backward Russia”.

In Russia itself, positioning the West as a “significant other” was initially the lot of the opposition. In the 1990s, both the left and the right built their election campaigns on it. The former exploited nostalgia for Soviet times, the latter exploited the demand for “geopolitical” revenge. In the 2000s, such a narrative partly moved to the level of state policy, although it did not reach the level of open opposition between value models. The process accelerated after 2014, but even then, the value component of the Russian approach to the West was noticeably less significant in comparison with the narratives of individual Western countries and organisations. In 2021, the value load of Russian strategic thinking approached the Western one. What used to sound veiled and had remained between the lines is now called by its proper names. At the same time, the core values proposed by the new Strategy will face several conceptual problems.

The first problem is related to the fact that the values that are proclaimed in the Strategy: Russian spiritual and moral guidelines as opposed to “Westernisation”, are either of Western origin, or, at least, are not alien to the West. Among them, the document notes life, dignity, human rights and freedoms, patriotism, citizenship, service to the Fatherland, high moral ideals, a strong family, creative work, the priority of the spiritual over the material, humanism, mercy, collectivism, mutual assistance and mutual respect, historical memory and the continuity of generations.

Rights and freedoms are the values of the Enlightenment, the cradle of which is Western Europe. The same goes for patriotism and citizenship. The English Revolution, the French Revolution, and then a series of other revolutions in Europe opened the way for them. The revolutions in Russia itself also took place under the same slogans, although the Russian imperial government managed to organically integrate patriotism into its system of values. Life and dignity are rather universal values and are certainly shared by many in North America and Europe. In the West, it is difficult to find a society that would abandon the high moral ideals and values of the family, in spite of several waves of “sexual revolution” and emancipation. Creative labour is at the core of Western economic ethics. Here is the combination of the spiritual and the material. To regard the capitalist West as an adherent of the primacy of the material would be an exaggeration. Suffice it to recall the Protestant ethics and the “spirit of capitalism”, or the high religiosity in a number of societies. Inglehart’s large-scale studies have shown that the choice between conditionally spiritual and conditionally material priorities changes cyclically. That is, one generation can be driven by materialists, the next idealists, and the next materialists once again.

Humanism is a Western concept. By and large, it underlies liberal political theory with its assumption of the creative nature of man and human life as the highest value. Mercy, mutual assistance and mutual respect are universal values. The same goes for justice. Moreover, it is in Western political thought that the theory of justice has been the subject of reflection for centuries and even millennia — from Plato’s just state to John Rawls’s theory of justice. Finally, collectivism is also present in the Western value matrix. Here are both ideas of the common good and theories of the political community. Within the West itself, there are societies that are more “collectivist”, or conversely, more “individualistic”.

The second problem is related to the fact that the West itself is extremely heterogeneous. It consists of many ways and cultures. Yes, there is a common narrative promoted by security organisations (NATO), those promoting economic and political integration (the EU), and individual nation states. But under this surface there is a great degree of variety, which simply cannot be reduced to a common denominator. Conservative Poland, with its restrained attitude towards migrants, high religiosity and the prohibition of abortions, coexists with a multicultural Germany, which has much wider boundaries of tolerance. Within Italy, there are at least two subcultures: of the North and South. Moreover, they differ radically in the peculiarities of the organization of society, in labour ethics, and in electoral preferences. The United States is also distinguished by its significant level of diversity, even though it is often mistakenly regarded as a kind of homogeneous organism, transmitting values of the same order abroad. Internal differences are sometimes colossal. What are the informal rifts between the North and the South that have been preserved since the Civil War? In America, we will also find polar views on the theme of sexual minorities, which Russian critics love. Those of tolerant California will be very different, for example, from those of “the Cotton Belt”. The occasional murder of members of sexual minorities is a part of American life. They can happen anywhere. You can recall the historical experience. The well-known McCarthyism of the 1950s coexisted with the activities of John Peurifoy, the Deputy Undersecretary of State for Administration. He “exposed” the “homosexual underground” in his department, firing 91 employees. True, at that time, representatives of minorities were also considered to be clandestine communists.

In short, by declaring that the West is a force that promotes “broad views of life”, we can find, to put it mildly, misunderstandings among large segments of the population in Western countries who hold completely opposite views. Any generalisation here requires careful calculation and elaboration.

Finally, the third problematic aspect is the specificity of the Russian society itself. Since at least the 17th century, we have been under the powerful cultural and civilisational influence of the West. Moreover, the openness to such influence was a deliberate decision of the political elites. The Westernisation of Russia began at the top and was actively promoted by the Russian leaders with certain fluctuations for more than three centuries. We tried to borrow the core of the Western experience — the rationalisation of key political institutions, their transformation into a smoothly working efficient machine. Here we are primarily talking about the army, bureaucracy and instruments of disciplinary power. Without this borrowing, Russia, apparently, would have suffered the same fate as China in the 19th century, which was literally torn to pieces by more advanced opponents. Instead, the modernisation of the army and the political apparatus in accordance with Western models brought Russia the status of a great power.

Throughout the 19th century, battles between Westernisers and Slavophiles were fought in Russia. Both camps were not satisfied with the half-heartedness of modernisation and relations with the West. The Slavophiles, as you know, called for “returning to the roots”, believing that borrowing only distorted and disfigured the Russian historical path. The Westernisers, on the contrary, urged to complete the process, not to be limited by the army and the apparatus of coercion, and to modernise all social and political institutions.

The revolution of 1917 and the victory of Soviet power can hardly be considered a victory for the Westernisers or Slavophiles. But the form of Westernisation which is familiar to us has been preserved and even intensified. Socialist (communist) ideology itself was of Western origin. Yes, the Russian Marxists have made their notable and original contributions to it. But the basic principles remained those of Enlightenment and rationalism — that is, Western. Here is the belief in the creativity of man (anthropological optimism and humanism), and emancipation in all spheres, including, incidentally, family and sexual relations, and the primacy of human rights and freedoms. Of course, it all turned out a little differently. In fact, the usual imperial model of modernisation was reproduced: the development of the army, the apparatus of disciplinary power, as well as all the industrial and scientific potential necessary for a modernisation breakthrough. At the same time came the preservation and sharp strengthening of the space of non-freedom. The mixture of modernisation of the institutions of coercion with the mass character of modernisation according to the Western model, among other things, gave rise to specific forms of totalitarian being set up within society, which, however, became softer over time. The eternal half-heartedness of our Westernisation, its exaggeration in some areas, and sublimation in others, became one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet state.

Is the dispute between conventional Westernisers and Slavophiles relevant now? Unlikely so. In the nineteenth century, Russia really did have a cultural base of bearers of “traditional” values. We are talking about the village and large masses of people who were not involved in modern forms of organisation of the economy and society. The deepest rupture and at the same time the inextricable connection between them and the elite of the time is perfectly described in classical Russian literature. However, in the twentieth century, this base was largely destroyed. The Soviet modernisation project melted agrarian Russia into an industrial and urbanised country with a completely different way of life. Religious institutions were simply trampled underfoot. In terms of secularisation, we are far ahead of the West.

In terms of urbanisation and lifestyle, late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia were and are a Western society with all its attendant problems. Society has lost its traditional landmarks.

Our family institution is a typical Western model with a small number of children and a high divorce rate. Moreover, this trend was entrenched back in the 1960s. The collapse of the USSR and the collapse of the economy only exacerbated all the typical problems of an urban and modernised society. There is a high level of murders and suicides, alcoholism, and the atomisation of society.

In other words, it is difficult for us to offer the world and ourselves an alternative to “traditional culture”, since during the 20th century its social base was lost as a result of unprecedented modernisation. It made it possible to achieve large-scale results and turn the Soviet Union into a superpower. But it also had a price. In comparison with Russia, the countries of, for example, the Middle East region have had a much more significant potential for constructing a “traditional” identity, if only because of the decisive role of religion in political public life. Is all of Russia ready for such an experience? Obviously not, especially given the fact that our country itself is rather heterogeneous. The post-Soviet period has intensified this heterogeneity. The outstripping modernisation of large cities was accompanied by an equally tangible demodernisation in a number of regions and segments of Russian society. Moreover, the experience of modernisation and demodernisation is intricately intertwined.

Does it mean that tradition in such a society is generally impossible? Of course not. But this is a different type of tradition. A tradition based on patriotism, citizenship and the preservation of historical memory is not much different in structure from similar patterns in many Western countries. This means that the opposition to the West here will also be very notional.

Whether we like it or not, our ties with the West are not going anywhere. Political contradictions and a military threat will force us, at least, to take into account the Western experience of organising the army, industry and science.

Value impulses from various Western countries will come to us even if we strictly censor information and the public space. In Russian society, social groups persist with a demand for the modernisation of the economy, institutions and society, including those which reflect the Western model. The fact that such groups are a minority is unlikely to be directly correlated with their influence. The Russian elite itself is Westernised. There are also numerous cadres in economics, science and other critical areas that cannot exist in a closed society. Cleansing these spheres and even mass repressions will not solve the problem in principle, because these spheres themselves work or should work in the frame of reference of a modern, modernised society.

Finally, the most important thing. Values alone do not prevent political conflicts from arising. The peoples of Russia and Ukraine, for example, are close in terms of their respective value spheres. But politically Moscow and Kiev are opponents. There are a lot of similar examples. The modern West is literally built on bones. For several centuries, wars between members of the “united Christian community” have been an almost-daily routine in international relations. The long-lasting peace of the last 76 years is historically an anomalous exception. One should not be afraid of values as such, but of political conflicts that can exploit these values. Russia needs modernisation, which, in turn, is impossible without interaction with Western societies. Just like 300 years ago, borrowing foreign experience and combining it with one’s own vision and strategic objectives can become the key to the country’s survival.

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Russia’s “Ummah Pivot”: Opportunities & Narrative Engagement

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image source:syria.mil.ru

(This is the second and final part of the author’s article series on this topic. The first one can be read here, and it is recommended to review it before the present piece).

Russia’s “Ummah Pivot”, or its post-2014 comprehensive engagement with the many Muslim-majority countries along its southern periphery and beyond, comprises one of the most important pillars of its contemporary grand strategic balancing act between East and West. The Southern vector of its diplomacy prevents any zero-sum choice between East and West by presenting the Eurasian Great Power with a much-needed third option, which in turn can be leveraged to improve its negotiating potential with those aforementioned two regions of Eurasia. The first part of the article series elaborated on the geostrategic situation in North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf, the South Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and South Asia, while the present piece is more focused on Russia’s opportunities in these regions and narrative engagement with them. Although they can be read separately, it is recommended that they are reviewed together in order to obtain a better understanding of everything.

Russian Interests

North Africa: Becoming the Libyan Power Broker

In North Africa, Libya is the scene of intense competition between Turkey on the one hand and Russia, Egypt, the UAE, and France on the other. Russia must therefore seek a compromise solution that prevents either side from becoming dominant, with Russia playing the kingmaker role if possible (perhaps through a mix of creative diplomacy, energy partnerships and PMCs). The victory of either side over the other might unbalance the region, creating more opportunities for American or other meddling with unpredictable consequences. Libya is also the gateway to parts of West and Central Africa, so whoever fully controls it could expand more confidently into Africa with time, thus complicating Russian interests there too (which are beyond the scope of the present analysis despite some of the countries being Muslim-majority ones). If pressed to choose, Russia should side more with Egypt and the UAE, especially since the latter can open doors for Russia in other regions if their partnership reaches the strategic level through cooperation here and elsewhere.

Levant: Resolving the War in Syria

Russia must somehow resolve the Syrian dilemma, ideally by pairing an Iranian withdrawal with the nuclear deal, sanctions relief for Syria, and some form of decentralization that is acceptable to Damascus. Moscow must also ensure that Turkish influence is balanced by Emirati influence and that the Muslim Brotherhood is contained. In addition, comprehensively strengthening ties with Israel is a must, but Russia has to articulate the reasons behind this balanced policy to Arab civil society to avoid losing soft power by having its rivals (i.e. America) exploit the narrative void to portray Russia as “pro-Zionist”, etc. As for Iraqi Kurdistan, Russia has to maintain balanced influence there which does not infringe on its neighbors, all the while expanding its role over that region via its springboard of energy diplomacy. The Kurdish card can also help Russia balance those same countries, but it must be played very carefully to avoid possibly irreparable blowback to Russian interests.

The Gulf: Investing in Vision 2030 & Engaging with (South) Yemen

Unlike the other “Ummah Pivot” regions, Russia has no serious risks in the Gulf, but plenty of opportunities. It should continue its military and energy diplomacy with all partners to expand its influence over their elite. This can help open up real-sector economic opportunities related to Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 model of socio-economic development for example. Still, the UAE should be Russia’s priority partner because it is obviously more influential than Saudi Arabia is right now even if Riyadh commands more power over the global energy markets than Abu Dhabi does. Russia should seriously consider diplomatically involving itself more in resolving the long-running and highly disastrous war in Yemen by attempting to replicate its regrettably unsuccessful but nevertheless principled approach to the Syrian one by encouraging decentralization. This necessitates closer ties with the UAE and its South Yemeni partners, but must not be pursued too enthusiastically lest Saudi Arabia and Iran grow suspicious of Russia’s long-term strategic intentions.

South Caucasus: Managing the New Regional Reality

Russia’s interests here are three-fold and interlinked: it must manage Turkey’s growing influence over Azerbaijan, ensure Armenia’s compliance with last year’s ceasefire agreement mandating the unblocking of all regional economic and transport corridors, and effectively utilize the aforementioned to bring about tangible economic dividends related to improving trade with all concerned countries (most importantly Turkey and Iran). This requires a tricky diplomatic balancing act, but there are still certain reasons to be optimistic about its success. Azerbaijan seems increasingly conscious of Turkey’s creeping influence over it and might move closer to Russia in order to balance this. Armenia, while more nationalistic than ever, can’t realistically refuse to unblock the corridors in perpetuity, so eventually it’ll be compelled to comply. As for trade, Russian companies are already active in the South Caucasus and can expand their businesses into Turkey and Iran with time.

Iran: Bolstering the Islamic Republic’s Balancing Act

With or without resolving their strategic dilemma in Syria that was earlier explained, the future of the Russian-Iranian relations seems bright, but it mustn’t be overhyped due to the difficulties that Moscow might face in making significant economic inroads in the real-sector of Tehran’s economy given Beijing’s newfound role. Russia should work more closely with India by reviving the NSTC as soon as possible, though New Delhi might not be too interested unless Washington’s sanctions are eased or removed. This severely limits Russia’s economic diplomacy but does not outright exclude its possible effectiveness. Russia should seek to expand upon its existing strategic economic partnerships to reach new commercial and other ones, taking advantage of its closer location to Iran vis-a-vis China and realizing that it might take time for China to optimize its overland trade routes to the Islamic Republic via Central Asia and W-CPEC+.

Central Asia: Retaining Strategic Influence

Russia risks losing the most out of this portion of its “Ummah Pivot” given growing Chinese, Turkish, and perhaps soon even American influence through a variety of spheres as was previously explained. The most effective solution rests in more confidently engaging civil society to retain the appeal of Russian soft power, continue cultivating regional elite including through MGIMO’s new Tashkent branch campus, and relying upon military diplomacy related to countering Afghan-emanating threats to secure privileged economic partnerships in exchange. Cynically speaking, while Russia in no way supports growing Sinophobic sentiments in the region, this terrible trend helps keep Chinese influence in check to Russia’s benefit, though China’s said influence might then just as easily be replaced by Turkey’s, especially considering some locals’ recently revived interest in the brand of political Islam that Ankara unofficially exports. Russia might not be able to stop some loss of its influence, nor the gradual establishment of a larger Muslim bloc like was earlier discussed, but it can still manage this process if it better understands exactly what is happening and why.

South Asia: Containing Afghan Threats & Pioneering Trans-Regional Connectivity

The post-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan is the greatest uncertainty in this region, as is the strategic significance of N-CPEC+/CEC, the latter of which can either strengthen Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) vision and/or serve as an entry point for American balancing influence in Central Asia. Moscow must see to it that Afghanistan does not fester with ISIS threats that can subsequently spread throughout the broader region in parallel with maintaining a pragmatic balance between Islamabad and New Delhi. With the latter in mind, Russia should seek utilize its historic partnership with India to draw New Delhi further away from the Quad and therefore stabilize the strategic situation with all five related nuclear powers, though without compromising on its rapid rapprochement with Pakistan. Ideally, Russia will restore stability in this highly strategic space and tangibly profit from it through economic means, including new trade routes like N-CPEC+/CEC and the VCMC.

Narrative Engagement

North Africa: Keeping the Spotlight on Turkish Activity

Russia should emphasize the need for a pragmatic compromise to the Libyan Civil War, while also highlighting the trends of Arab unity and growing Turkish influence through political Islam. Egypt’s role should be afforded particular attention in order to improve Russia’s appeal in its society by showing its people that Moscow deeply respects their country’s regional power status. As for the Turkish dimension, it should be critical, but fair, though not propagandistic and overly anti-Turkish in order to avoid worsening very sensitive ties with Ankara. Another idea is to also talk about the UAE’s growing power as well, focusing on its extra-regional engagements in North Africa so as to provide positive informational support which enhances bilateral relations.

Levant: Articulating Russia’s Complex Balancing Act

Russia must urgently articulate the driving forces behind its multi-sided balancing act, especially with Israel, Turkey, and the Kurds, in order to dispel suspicions about its grand strategic intentions due to the visible narrative void that’s characterized the past few years as a result of lackluster efforts in this respect. When it comes to Syria, Russia must begin floating pragmatic compromise solutions to provoke wider discussion about them in order to discover whether they are acceptable for all stakeholders. As for Turkey, Russia did indeed unofficially legitimize its sphere of influence in Syria, but should begin talking more about how destabilizing it is become and how counterproductive Ankara’s unrealistically recalcitrant stance on compromising on President Assad’s political future is for the peace process. Concerning Iran, Russia should applaud its anti-terrorist contributions but consider highlighting its regionally destabilizing role vis-a-vis Israel, though in a sensitive and fair manner. Finally, the Kurdish card must be played very carefully because the risks might easily and far outweigh the rewards, but this outpost of Russian influence should not be forgotten either and should receive more attention when it comes to the Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Gulf: Encouraging the Region’s Socio-Economic Transformation

While appreciating the UAE’s aspiring regional hegemon status, Russia should be careful not to offend Saudi Arabia’s sensitivities. It should concentrate on multilateral security solutions, such as its existing Gulf one while pioneering a decentralized compromise solution to the war in Yemen. Furthermore, Russia should applaud MBS’ socio-economic reforms and begin engaging more closely with the country’s youthful society. Turkey’s military base in Qatar can largely be ignored for the time being since it does not do much, but if it becomes troublesome, Russia has to consider how to respond to it in the narrative sense, though once again without risking a worsening of very sensitive Russian-Turkish ties. Generally speaking, the Gulf should not present too many narrative challenges for Russia as the opportunities far outweigh the risks.

South Caucasus: Promoting Regional Reconciliation

Russia has to balance its sympathy for Armenia’s reactive nationalist outcry to losing last year’s war with its newfound partnership with victorious Azerbaijan. It also must gently encourage Armenia to abide by last year’s ceasefire agreement when it comes to unblocking all regional economic and transport corridors. The key challenge is how to respectfully respond to Turkish influence, especially if it becomes visibly pernicious. As a rule of thumb, being softer is better than being harder because of the sensitivities at play. More than that, Azerbaijan seems to naturally realize the risks of becoming too dependent on Turkey. Russian media possibly drawing attention to this too conspicuously might elicit a negative reaction though and make many suspect Moscow’s motives, though this might still be possible to strike a fair balance and/or employ other means to this end.

Iran: Recalibrating Russia’s Balancing Act

First and foremost, the strategic dilemma with Iran in Syria must be publicly clarified at the elite and civil society levels. Secondly, Russia has to re-engage Iran more enthusiastically than ever before, with or without the removal of U.S. sanctions. It also must bring India on board as well, taking advantage of recently troubled U.S.-Indian relations. Without India, Russia’s outreaches with Iran will remain limited, and Moscow will become a junior partner to Beijing. Speaking of which, the People’s Republic should not be criticized, but Russia can still gently and very generally speak about the risks of disproportionate dependence on any single partner. Iran must come to realize that Russia is an irreplaceable balancing partner for it, one which can fulfill a very strategic role, but it must also carry tangible economic and political benefits too.

Central Asia: Cultivating Regional Elite & Promote Secularism

More elite cultivation and media engagement is needed otherwise Russia will lose out to other powers in its own “backyard”. Russia should not ever support Sinophobia, but it could draw attention to some objective economic consequences of reportedly lopsided deals and their impact on the locals, though perhaps via indirect means to avoid angering China. Secularism must also be supported to counteract rising Islamist tendencies which could lay the seeds for non-state threats, especially via Western/U.S. and ISIS ideological infiltration of those societies. Those threats can be emphasized quite a lot to remind everyone of Russia’s stabilizing military role, which could in turn justify the privileged economic deals that it receives unlike some of those other countries’ partners in exchange for its indispensable security services.

South Asia: Pragmatically Engaging with the Taliban & Constructing a New Regional Paradigm

Engagement with Afghan society is extremely limited so Russia should concentrate on retaining cordial relations with Kabul while expanding pragmatic ties with the resurgent Taliban. It needs to formulate a narrative means through which the entrance of Russian mineral extraction companies won’t cause the same level of controversy as any of its competitors, especially Western and Chinese ones. It also needs to focus on the socio-economic benefits of N-CPEC+/CEC, especially with respect to how more Russian trade and investment can help the Afghan people. It could also, however, warn about the U.S. using N-CPEC+ as a Trojan Horse for slyly expanding influence there and beyond to reduce its appeal among the populace and preemptively thwart a prospective economic diplomacy plot. The historic partnership with India must be celebrated at every opportunity to continue courting it back to Russia’s side after recent years of allying with America. Russian experts can also take the lead in discussing pragmatic balancing solutions for the region’s nuclear powers, including Pakistan, while paying more attention to Pakistan’s legitimate interests so as to continue strengthening their ongoing rapprochement, perhaps by drawing more attention the strategic balancing motives behind their country’s CPEC+ vision.

From our partner RIAC

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