Russian President Vladimir Putin has reminded newly arrived foreign ambassadors about the growing challenges and threats confronting the global community and urged them to play pivotal role in ensuring global peace and stability.
Addressing newly appointed foreign ambassadors in the Kremlin, Putin noted that the priority for all countries should be strict compliance with the rule of law and respect for the powers of the UN Security Council as an agency that bears the bulk of responsibility for international peace and security. Russia is committed to enhancing the UN’s effectiveness.
“We support the expediency of reforming it to adjust it to modern requirements. At the same time, we believe that all changes in UN work must be substantiated and based on the agreement of the majority if not all members of the international community. The UN must focus on finding solid, sustainable and lasting solutions to regional conflicts. Russia will continue to contribute to these efforts, in particular in Syria,” he told the gathering.
Agreements on four de-escalation zones in Syria have been achieved in Astana with assistance from the guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey – and these have been supported by a great many countries. These agreements have created conditions for implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254 through a direct dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition and for rallying their efforts to eliminate the hotbed of terrorism as soon as possible and to restore peace and unity in Syria.
The Astana process, which is underway in the capital of Kazakhstan, is designed to create favourable conditions for progress towards a political settlement at the Geneva talks.
Another immediate task is to increase humanitarian deliveries and accelerate mine clearing operations in the liberated regions. Everyone who sincerely wishes peace to Syria and Syrians and who want to see refugees return to their homes should join these UN-led processes without any preconditions.
Putin further expressed concern about increasing confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear missile programme. Russia condemned Pyongyang’s activities that violate the UN Security Council resolution. But using increasingly militant rhetoric is not just a road to nowhere but also a highly destructive policy. All parties must show restraint and look for a peaceful solution. In a modern world, conflicts must be settled with due regard for many factors, some of them extremely delicate ones, and through compromise.
Speaking about the Ukrainian crisis, this approach is reflected in the Package of Measures, which was coordinated in Minsk in February 2015. This package includes all the key political and security elements of a settlement. To provide an additional impetus towards a settlement, Russia has recently advanced an initiative for a UN mission to protect OSCE observers in Donbass. Russia hopes to be able to hold a business-like and constructive discussion of this initiative at the UN Security Council.
As for bilateral relations with the United States, the current level is unsatisfactory. “We favour constructive, predictable and mutually beneficial cooperation. We are convinced that it should be based on the strict observance of the principles of equality, respect for national interests and non-interference in domestic affairs,” Putin said with optimism.
He however considers the European Union (EU) an important neighbour and a key economic partner, noting that trade has dropped by half in the past three years. Nevertheless, the EU countries amount to almost half of Russia’s foreign trade. In cooperation with their Russian partners, EU companies are carrying out large investment projects in energy, industry and high technology. Russia still confirms the importance of developing stable contacts between the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU, including the future formation of a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In conclusion, Putin congratulated the new foreign envoys with the official beginning of an important and honourable diplomatic mission, and with the hope that their activities in Russia will be productive and will promote the development of relations between the states they represent and Russia. The Russian authorities, business and public circles will render all possible assistance.
Russia’s Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward and Limited Impact
The South African Journal of International Affairs, a foreign policy think tank, has released a special researched report on Russia-Africa. According to the report, Russia has signed military-technical agreements with over 20 African countries and has secured lucrative mining and nuclear energy contracts on the continent.
Russia views Africa as an increasingly important vector of its post-Western foreign policy. It’s support for authoritarian regimes in Africa are readily noticeable, and its soft power has drastically eroded. As suspicions arise that Russia’s growing assertiveness in Africa is a driver of instability, its approach to governance encourages pernicious practices, such as kleptocracy and autocracy in Africa.
Over the years, Russia has terribly failed to deliver on its pledges and promises, various bilateral agreements undelivered. Heading into the 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg (unless the proposed date and venue change, again), Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American and Chinese influence.
What is, particularly, interesting relates to the well-researched report by Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy analyst at Development Reimagined, a consultancy headquartered in Beijing, China. His report was based on more than 80 media publications dealing with Russia’s military-technical cooperation in Africa. His study focused on the Republic of Mali and the Central African Republic as case studies.
The report titled – Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact – says that Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is driven by its quest for global power status. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to countries with which it has security partnerships.
While Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to successfully gain a strategic foothold in partner countries, the lack of transparency in interactions, the limited scope of impact and the high financial and diplomatic costs expose the limitations of the partnership in addressing the peace and development challenges of African host countries, the report says.
Much of the existing literature on Russia’s foreign policy pointed to the fact that Moscow’s desire to regain great power status has been pursued largely by exploiting opportunities in weak and fragile states in Africa.
Ovigwe Eguegu’s report focused on the use of private military companies to carry out ‘military diplomacy’ in those African states, and the main research questions were: What impact is Russia’s private military diplomacy in Africa having on host countries’ peace and development? Why Russia has chosen military diplomacy as the preferred means to gain a foothold on the continent?
It interrogates whether fragile African states advance their security, diplomatic and economic interests through a relationship with Russia. Overcoming the multidimensional problems facing Libya, Sudan, Somali, Mali and Central African Republic will require comprehensive peace and development strategies that include conflict resolution and peacebuilding, state-building, security sector reform, and profound political reforms to improve governance and rule of law – not to mention sound economic planning critical for attracting the foreign direct investment needed to spur economic growth.
In the report, Eguegu further looked at the geopolitical dynamics of Russia’s new interest in Africa. He asserted that during the Cold War, the interests of the Soviet Union and many African states aligned along pragmatic and ideological lines. Many African countries had, after independence, resumed agitation against colonialism, racism, and capitalism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The clash between communism and capitalism provided ample opportunity to the Soviets to provide support to African countries both in ideological solidarity and as practical opposition to Western European and US influence in Africa.
Since Soviet’s collapse in 1991, Russia itself has rekindled relationships with African countries for myriad reasons – but these can largely be attributed more to pragmatism than ideology. More specifically, Russia’s interactions with African states have been multi-dimensional ranging from economic and political to security oriented.
He offered the example of Moscow’s relationships with Eritrea and Sudan that ultimately provided Russia with some influence and leeway in the critical Red Sea region, and also to counter the influence of the US and China. But the main feature of Russia’s policy is mostly ‘elite-based’ and support for often illegitimate or unpopular leaders.
The report also highlighted the myriad socioeconomic and political challenges plaguing a number of African countries. Despite these developments, some have struggled to maintain socioeconomic and political stability. The spread of insecurity has now become more complex across the Sahel region. The crisis is multidimensional, involving the political, socioeconomic, regional and climatic dimensions.
Good governance challenges plays it own role. In additional to that, weak political and judicial institutions have contributed to deep-seated corruption.
Conflict resolution has to be tied to comprehensive improvement of political governance, economic development and social questions. Some of the fragile and conflict-ridden African countries are keen on economic diversification and broader economic development. However, progress is limited by inadequate access to finance and the fragile security situation.
According to the International Monetary Fund, these fragile states have to diversify their economy and establish connection between the various economic regions and activities. Poverty caused by years of lacklustre economic performance is one of the root causes of insecurity. As such, economic development and growth would form a key part of the solution to regional security problems.
Analysts suggest that Russia utilises mercenaries and technical cooperation mechanisms to gain and secure access to politically aligned actors and, by extension, economic benefits like natural resources and trade deals.
It is argued here that the adherence to a primarily military approach to insecurity challenges is inadequate and the right path of peace and development. Furthermore, fragmented, untransparent and unharmonized peace processes will impede considerably on sustainable solutions to the conflicts in Africa.
Worse is that Russia’s strengths expressed through military partnerships fall short of what is needed to address the complexities and scale of the problems facing those African countries. Moscow certainly has not shown enough commitment needed for the comprehensive peacebuilding programmes, security sector reforms, state-building, and improvement to governance and rule of law.
Surely, African countries have to begin to re-evaluate their relationship with Russia. African leaders should not expect anything tangible from meetings, conferences and summits. Since the first Russia-Africa summit held 2019, very little has taken place.
At this point, it is even more improbable that Moscow would commit financial resources to invest in economic sectors, given the fact that series of stringent sanctions imposed to isolate it following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact of sanctions and the toll of the war on the Russian economy are likely to see Moscow redirect its practical attention towards ensuring stability within its borders and in its periphery.
Notwithstanding its aim of working with Africa, Russia’s influence is still comparatively marginal and its policy tools are extremely limited relative to other international actors, including China and Western countries such as France, European Union members and the United States.
Rethinking the Soviet Experience : Politics and History since 1917- Book Review
The book was written in 1984 and is a collection of essays on Soviet politics and Sovietology, from the time of the Russian Revolution till then. Stephen Cohen, at the outset diagnoses the problem ailing the mainstream western branch of academia researching about the Soviet Union- a common bias of ideas tilted towards the United States of America, due to the various systematic temptations offered by them, through the founding of different think tanks and foundations which support scholarly work. There was a constant assumption of a totalitarian and evil USSR while working on the politics of the federation during the Cold War era, specially amongst the western scholars. While Cohen did acknowledge that most work done on the USSR as an international entity, has been done by the United States of America, he argued that the study of Sovietology had been undertaken, the scope had been very limited, thus this stream of study needed adequate revisionism. In the 1950’s, fresh out of the Second World War, the field of Sovietology was new and encouraged new ways of thinking. Once the 1960’s came around, the field now with a number of students employed in it, started getting set in rigid biases.
His revisionism argues for thinking beyond what has now been conventionally acknowledged and thus, distorted by the Western approach to Sovietology. He emphasized on the idea of historical review for better understanding of contemporary political happenings. He substantiates this argument by stating the parallelism between the conflict within the ranks of the soviet- the tussle between the conservatives and the reformists at the time he was writing the book (1980s) and the struggles within Russian politics which led to the downfall of the Tsar in 1918. All dissidence leads to a better, more efficient system of politics and governance, in what appears to be typical Marxist fashion but it is possible that at the time of publication was considered path-breaking.
The second chapter of his book, discusses the viability of the ways of Nikolai Bukharin, considers him as a fully indoctrinated Bolshevik. He discusses his doctrine and dismisses the view that Stalinism was an inevitable consequence of the Bolshevik path undertaken, unlike what most Marxist-Leninist supporters state. This is the complete opposite of E.H Carr’s opinion who was quick to dismiss the impact of Bukharin on Soviet politics and the room for future progress under him.
In the later part of the book, the author somewhat blends Brezhnev’s era with Nikita Khruschev’s and attempts to highlight the continuities in Soviet conservatist sentiments so deeply entrenched in Russian society, flowing directly into and influencing each other. While conservative views were always the dominant influence on the trajectory that the USSR would follow, the fact that there was significant progress in matters relating to welfare, rural organisation and consumerism, Cohen argued, was still positive progress towards reform. In this way, while many scholars support the perception that the Brezhnev administration was conservative as it did not disrupt status quo, Cohen while arguing in favour of conservatist sentiments existing, highlighted certain reformist tendencies, which signaled the advent of the era of economic stagnation.
He attempted to justify Stalin’s iron handed measures of strict control and repression, by highlighting the impact of the Truman doctrine and the repercussions of the advent of the Cold War. The favour towards Khrushchev, as opined by Cohen, only manifested due to strong anti-Stalinist sentiments, as Stalin’s harsh measures had helped deplane plenty of ‘modernising achievements’ in the soviet economy. While calls for conservatism always remained an active branch of politics, Cohen aimed at giving gradual reformist politics its due.
These are some of the main arguments reflected in Stephen Cohen’s five chapter long book. It does not focus on any new research in the field, but rather on historiography and political relations. What was most helpful to me while reading the book was that there were plenty of footnotes which made the process of understanding the details much easier, especially considering how a major chunk of the book addresses problems within Soviet scholasticism. In no means is this work perfect, as Cohen tends to push the same ideas over and over again, within the chapters (the core arguments are mentioned above). In proposing Bukharinism as a viable alternative to Stalinism, and as a possible natural successor of Bolshevism, he puts forth a very unique idea. This is in no way a textbook on Soviet history, but it does provide insights and interesting opinions about Sovietology as a discipline, as it pushes for a new revisionist approach to examine the Soviet past, in order to understand the present and future of the USSR. Although much time has passed since Rethinking the Soviet Experience was first published it remains seminal in the discourse regarding the history and politics of the USSR.
Digging Down Into ‘Putin’s Corruption’
For years, I have been checking-out allegations of such things as ‘Putin’s Palace’ and ‘Putin’s Chef’, and so many other allegations of Putin’s ‘corruption’ (many of which are against friends and members of his Administration instead of against himself, because the allegations against himself fail to provide any documentation that he actually owns what the allegations attribute to him — there is far too much that is mere supposition in the direct accusations against him).
Therefore, recently, I checked out allegations that are commonly made that Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, is corrupt.
This twitter string contains loads of allegations that his mistress since about the year 2000 has a daughter from her former marriage who is a multi-millionairess with no apparent cause to be such: “Polina Kovaleva. Polina is a 26-year-old glamorous Russian girl from London. She lives in a huge apartment in Kensington and loves to party, her instagram feed looks like a non-stop holiday.” Here’s that instagram feed, where Polina flaunts her glamour; so, she comes across as a European Kardashian-plus — but how many people use that flaunting to argue that America is corrupt? (There are lots better arguments to make such a case against the U.S. Government.)
The neoconservative “Vice” site headlined “Inside the Lavish London Lifestyle of Sergey Lavrov’s Stepdaughter: Polina Kovaleva bought a £4.4 million apartment with cash when she was just 21, according to campaigners. She happens to be the stepdaughter of Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.”
A more neutral site, the Moscow Times, bannered “Russian Foreign Minister’s Secret Mistress Wields Ministry Influence, Owns Elite Property – iStories”, and presented evidence that Polina’s wealth comes not so much from anything having to do with her stepfather Lavrov but from her mother, his mistress, Svetlana Polyakova, who was born in 1971 and who met Lavrove in around the year 2000.
Very little information is public about Polyakova. But, the neoconservative The Daily Beast site headlined “Top Russian Diplomat’s Secret Life With Millionaire Mistress Exposed: Sergey Lavrov, ‘the face of Russian diplomacy,’ has reportedly been living large while on ‘official trips’ to more than 20 countries with his ultra-rich mistress.” That report opened:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reportedly bankrolled his mistress’s travel abroad with him on official diplomatic trips to almost two dozen countries around the world, according to a new bombshell report from Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s team. The report, entitled “Yachts, bribes and a mistress. What Minister Lavrov is hiding,” details a plethora of luxury digs and yachts enjoyed by the couple, including a yacht owned by the notorious oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which has been graced by the likes of Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich, better known by her pseudonym Nastya Rybka.
Navalny is a far-right-wing rabidly anti-Muslim Russian politician who has never had higher than 3% approval-rating in Russian national polls but whom U.S.-and-allied propaganda describe as “Putin’s main political opponent”, and as Russia’s leading anti-corruption activist. His ‘anti-corruption’ organization got caught trying to get UK’s MI6 intelligence agency to fund it. (The video that was shown in that linked-to news-report was removed from youtube and from the “Wayback Machine” Web-archive, so that that ‘archive’ is no longer a reliable archiving service, but what the video showed — I saw it while it was online — was devastating against Navalny, and the U.S.-and-allied regimes don’t deny its authenticity, but only block their publics from seeing and hearing it.)
The opening item in the present article — “This twitter string contains loads of allegations that his mistress since about the year 2000 has a daughter from her former marriage who is a multi-millionairess with no apparent cause to be such:” — comes from Navalny’s organization.
Then, The Daily Beast headlined “Britain Calls Out Russia’s Top Diplomat for Secret Family”, and reported:
In its list of the 65 new individuals and organizations targeted for “aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the British Foreign Office appears to have made a point to call out Lavrov’s “secret family” in London, with its inclusion of Polina Kovalev, whom it describes as his stepdaughter.
Kovalev’s inclusion on the list appears to confirm exhaustive reporting by Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny’s team that Lavrov, 71, has been living a “double life” for nearly two decades. One that includes a “secret wife,” identified by Navalny’s allies as Svetlana Polyakova, an actress and a restaurateur with sway in Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Britain’s neoconservative Daily Mail headlined:
REVEALED: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took secret millionaire mistress abroad more than 60 times on ‘diplomatic missions’ and bankrolled her luxury lifestyle
Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov bankrolled mistress Svetlana Polyakova’s lifestyle
He has taken her abroad on ‘diplomatic’ missions more than 60 times since 2014
She also appeared publicly with Putin and was cleared to be in ‘elite’ entourage
Details unearthed in an investigation were published by Kremlin critic Navalny
The U.S.-and-allied billionaires’ OCCRP.org, or “Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project,” is also on this case. The OCCRP is funded by billionaires and Governments such as Soros (Open Society Fdtn.), Rockefeller, Ford Fdtn., Denmark, U.S. Government, Bay&PaulFdtns./CIA, etc. Their article “Russian Foreign Minister Has a Longtime Female Companion With Over $13 Million in Unexplained Assets” reported:
For years, a source close to a foreign ministry official told reporters, she has had a very close relationship with Lavrov. Reporters found that, in addition to accompanying him around the Church of St. Sergius, she has travelled with him to Sochi and St. Petersburg. She has even appeared in cell phone address books under his last name.
Polyakova also has substantial assets that a mere “employee of the Foreign Ministry” would almost certainly not be able to afford. Property records show that she and her family own real estate in Russia and Great Britain worth about 1 billion rubles ($13.6 million).
Polyakova and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. …
Until 2012, business records show, she was a co-owner of Consul, a restaurant located inside the foreign ministry’s diplomatic academy in central Moscow.
The restaurant received state contracts to provide meals for students, teachers, and visiting foreign diplomats. But according to financial records, the business was not especially profitable. Between 2015 and 2020, its total revenue was only 120 million rubles ($1.6 million).
Polyakova had several other companies listed as restaurant businesses, but they didn’t bring in high revenues either, according to their financial reports
A few sites mention that Svetlana Polyakova is a “restaurateur,” and so I looked to find details about “those other companies.” All that I could find was her position at McDonald’s, as follows:
Irish Times headlined on 19 November 2014 “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow reopens after being shut” and reported:
McDonald’s largest restaurant in Russia reopened after local officials shuttered the location for three months, an optimistic sign for a company trying to return to business as usual in the country.
The outlet, situated in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, resumed business today, said Svetlana Polyakova, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s Russia.
The “Ad Forum” site shows her as “Advertising Manager at McDonald’s”. The Roscongress Building Trust describes her as “Chief Executive Officer, Charitable Foundation ‘House of Ronald McDonald’; Public Relations Director, McDonald’s Russia”, and says:
Svetlana started as an entry-level employee at McDonald’s in 1989 alongside studying at the School of Education of the Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages. In 1991, she taught at the Training Department. In 1993, she became a manager of the Marketing Department, and in 1997 she proceeded as a manager of the Public Relations Department.
In 2001, Svetlana was appointed the head of the company’s public relations department. In 2002, she received the highest corporate award of McDonald’s Corporation. For several years in a row, Svetlana was among the 1000 best managers, according to a study by the Managers Association of Russia and the Kommersant Publishing House. From the first days with the company, Svetlana was deeply involved in philanthropy assisting charitable and children support organizations.
In 2002, Svetlana became the General Director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities. For nearly 25 years, the non-profit organization has been implementing programmes aimed at supporting families in need. Under the Svetlana’s leadership, the Ronald McDonald House managed to raise about 1 billion roubles, which helped more than 250,000 Russian children and families. The Foundation implements several important programmes, such as Family Rooms in hospitals, a health and fitness training seminars for specialists working with children with disabilities, two inclusive playgrounds in Sochi and Moscow.
In 2013, with Svetlana’s close involvement, the first and so far the only family hotel in Russia Ronald McDonald House Kazan was opened for parents whose children are undergoing long-term treatment at the Children’s Republican Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. Ronald MacDonald House has become a real home away from home for more than 9,000 parents and children.
For the implementation of this project, the Ronald McDonald House Organization became a three-time winner of the republic’s contest Philanthropist of the Year and received the diploma of the Best Social Project of Russia in 2018.
My Google seach for “Svetlana Polyakova” and “divorce” produced:
Svetlana Polyakova · 1. Woman must pay former husband €1.6m as part of divorce settlement, judge rules · 2. ‘This is not easy for me at all’: Gráinne Seoige makes …
and that article is the Irish Times article headlined on 19 November 2014 “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow reopens after being shut”, but nowhere indicates anything like “Svetlana Polyakova · 1. Woman must pay former husband €1.6m as part of divorce settlement, judge rules · 2. ‘This is not easy for me at all’: Gráinne Seoige makes …”; so, perhaps her divorce settlement has been removed from the Web.
Possibly, she inherited at least her first wealth from her mother. If Svetlana was paying to her former husband, then she was probably wealthier than her husband.
The date of the divorce is likewise not publicly known.
Perhaps Svetlana is so intelligent and sophisticated a person, that her feedback and recommendations to Lavrov make worthwhile her traveling with him on his diplomatic trips. Nobody doubts that Lavrov has been extremely successful as Russia’s Foreign Minister.
In any case: my attempts to find reason to believe the accusations against Lavrov have been as fruitless as my previous attempts to believe that there is corruption at the top level of Russia’s Government. Maybe there is, but the U.S.-and-allied propaganda-organizations haven’t yet provided any evidence for it. By contrast, the documentation that the top levels of the U.S.-and-allied Governments are drowning in corruption is extremely abundant and conclusive, as I have documented in many articles.
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