Relations between India and Russia are rooted in history, mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is a strategic partnership that has withstood the test of time, and which enjoys the support of the people of both countries.
Diplomatic relations between India and Russia began even before India achieved independence, on 13 April 1947. In the period immediately following independence the goal for India was attaining economic self-sufficiency through investment in heavy industry. The Soviet Union invested in several new enterprises in the areas of heavy machine-building, mining, energy production and steel plants. During India’s second Five Year Plan, of the sixteen heavy industry projects set up, eight were initiated with the help of the Soviet Union. This included the establishment of the world famous IIT Bombay.
A watershed moment in relations between India and the Soviet Union was the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971. The Treaty was the manifestation of shared goals of the two nations as well as a blueprint for the strengthening of regional and global peace and security.
The nineties were a tumultuous period for both countries. In 1990, India extended loans to the USSR in the form of technical credit and in 1991, India extended food credit and gift of 20,000 tonnes of rice. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, India and Russia entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993 and a bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994.
In 2000, during the visit of President Putin to India, the partnership acquired a new qualitative character, that of a Strategic Partnership. The strategic partnership institutionalized annual meetings between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Russia and meetings have been held regularly since then. During the 2010 visit of President Dmitry Medvedev the relationship was elevated to the status of a Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership. So far, eighteen Annual India-Russia Summits have been held since 2000. These have led to personal contacts and close understanding at the highest level between our leaders.
Both the countries have institutionalized dialogue mechanisms that report to two leaderships. These are the Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), co-chaired by the External Affairs Minister of India and the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) co-chaired by the Defense Ministers of both countries. These meetings identify priorities and review cooperation on a regular basis and are key platforms to take our cooperation forward.
This year, in the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations, India participated as Guest Country in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum-2017. The Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi was the Guest of Honour. During this time the 18th Annual Bilateral Summit was also held, which saw the adoption of the historic St. Petersburg Declaration: Vision for the 21st Century, and signing of 12 Agreements in economic and political areas.
Both countries are celebrating the 70th anniversary by organizing events across the length and breadth of the countries reflecting the deep and multifaceted relationship.
In addition to the Annual Summit, 2017 has seen visits to Russia by the senior most leadership of India, such as External Affairs Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister and National Security Adviser. From the Russian side, two Deputy Prime Ministers have visited India, and more high level visits are planned till December 2017.
India has participated in all major economic forums in Russia including SPIEF, Eastern Economic Forum, Innoprom, Technoprom, IT Forum, Arctic Forum and others.
The defence facet of the relationship is one of the strongest pillars of the India-Russia relationship and has withstood the test of time. India, with Russia’s cooperation, has achieved capacity building in strategic areas through acquisitions and development of weapons. The relationship is evolving from the traditional buyer-seller one to that of joint production and development, with emphasis on technology sharing. Russia is committed to becoming a partner in the ‘Make in India’ programme
This year two rounds of the India-Russia Military-Industry Conference were held in March and August in which a large number of companies from Russia and India participated. India is the largest buyer of Russian military equipment and, at the same time, Russia is India’s principal defence partner. This year India participated in Army 2017, the Army Games and the spectacular Spasskaya Bashnya Band Festival. The first-ever TriServices Exercise, Indra 2017, that India has ever held with any country was held with Russia on 21-29 October 2017 in Vladivostok, in keeping with the close cooperation between our two countries in the defence sector. Several steps are being taken to increase training of officers in each other’s Institutions and more military exchanges.
Trade between the two countries is an area which has been identified for special focus by both countries. Bilateral trade in 2015 amounted to US$ 7.83 billion. In 2017 there has been an upward trend in the trade figures. In terms of volume, the present figures do not reflect the strength of the relationship or the potential of our economies, which is immense. Realising this, our leadership has set a target of total trade in goods and services of US$ 30 billion each way by 2025. In 2016, the top three items of import into India from Russia were precious metals, mineral products and chemicals. The largest exports from India to Russia were chemical products, engineering goods and agricultural products. India ranks fourth in the world in terms of production of generic pharmaceutical products. Both sides are working to expand the trade basket and identify new areas of trade.
Both sides are making progress towards achieving the target of mutual investment of US$ 15 billion each way by the year 2025. In 2016, Indian oil companies bought stakes in Russian companies and oilfields worth US$ 5.5 billion, and Rosneft has acquired an Indian company, ESSAR, in a deal worth US$ 13 billion. This is not only Russia’s largest investment in India, but also India’s single largest FDI. India and Russia have set up a US$ 1 billion Fund to promote mutual investment in infrastructure and technology projects.
India is also significantly increasing cooperation between the States of India and Regions of Russia. We have nine sister State and sister city agreements, and more are under consideration. A new stage in India’s interaction with Russian regions was reached during Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s meeting with Regional Governors in June 2017, and between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s meeting with Governors of the Far East. The Russian Far East is a new focus of our policy.
India, Russia and other neighbouring countries are engaged in efforts to operationalise the International North-South Transport Corridor which promises to propel connectivity and trade relations between the two countries. We are also working on a ‘Green Corridor’ to ease trade and customs formalities. The two countries have signed a Protocol on 24 December 2015 to simplify visa procedures for businessmen.
In an important new step to integrate our economies, India and the Eurasian Economic Union have agreed to begin negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement.
The two countries have agreed to cooperate in projects in third countries. Already, we are discussing cooperation in the Roopur Nuclear Power Project in Bangladesh. Indian and Russian companies have been cooperating in oil and gas exploration in Vietnam.
Russia is an indispensable partner in the sphere of nuclear energy and recognizes India as a responsible country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record. After the Paris Agreement on Climate Change India considers nuclear energy as an important source of energy to meet its energy and climate change obligations. This has brought both countries together into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Rosatom is building six units of nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu. Two units are already operational and the next four are in different stages of implementation. This is in line with the “Strategic Vision” document signed in 2014 between President Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India attaches very high importance to local manufacturing in India of equipment and components for upcoming and future Russian-designed nuclear power projects.
Science and Technology:
India and Russia have several ongoing cooperation activities in the areas of space, science and technology, education and research. A new High Level Science and Technology Commission was established in 2017. The Indian Department of Science and Technology and Russian Foundation forBasic Research have celebrated ten years of fruitful scientific joint projects. We have set up a Russia-India Network of Universities, and cooperation is underway in different aspects of space technology. The most recent area of cooperation which is emerging is the Arctic which has a lot of multi-disciplinary potential.
India and Russia have strong cultural ties, which are an important contribution to the strong and robust relations between the countries. Historical linkages have contributed to creating goodwill between the nations. As the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modiremarked, in India, every child knows that Russia is our country’s greatest friend and has always stood with us during the toughest moments.
The linkages that started with Afanasy Nikitin reaching India even before Vasco-da-Gama revealed India to the West, Gujarati traders settling in Astrakhan and the establishment of the Russian theatre in Kolkata have all brought peoples of our countries closer. Russian scholars like Gerasim Lebedev and Nicholas Roerich have travelled to India and studied Indian culture and philosophy. The grand epic of India, Mahabharata, has been translated into Russian. Similarly, Russian literature and thinkers like Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin and others have had a profound influence and contribution to Indian literature and thought. Several generations of Russians have grown up watching Indian films. Yoga in Russia has been growing and becoming increasingly popular since the 1980s, particularly in majors cities and urban centres.
India sponsors the Mahatma Gandhi Chair on Indian Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, Moscow. Russian Institutions, including leading universities and schools, regularly teach Hindi to Russian students. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions. Chairs on Ayurveda and Contemporary Indian studies have also been set up in different Russian Universities.
The number of Indian tourists to Russia and Russian tourists to India has shown significant increase in the last two years. The two countries are taking steps to facilitate easier access to each other’s citizens. The two countries have agreed to renew their Cultural Exchange Programme for the period 2017-2019. It has been decided to celebrate 2018 as ‘Year of Tourism’ between India and Russia.
Regional and International Cooperation:
In the international arena both countries have similar positions and coordinate their actions. We cooperate closely within the United Nations, BRICS and G-20 groupings, as well as in the various structures in the Asia Pacific region such as ASEAN and East Asia Summit Forum. Russia supported India’s membership to the SCO and India was admitted as a full member of SCO in 2017.
The unique political proximity between the nations is reflected in congruence in global priorities. Both the countries share similar views on fighting terrorism without double standards, a more representative multi-polar world order based on international law with UN playing a central role, and resolving threats to international peace and security. Russia supports India’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. On Syria and Afghanistan, both countries have called for resolute action to bring about a lasting and peaceful solution, and defeating the forces of terrorism. We cooperate on other global challenges such as cyber security, preventing weaponisation of outer space and prevention of weapons of mass destruction.
India and Russia have identified several new areas of cooperation. These range from deep sea exploration to building knowledge based economies based on science and technology, innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence, focussing on infrastructure, skill development, agriculture, shipbuilding, railways, aviation and greater connectivity, especially people-to-people contacts. Special focus will be given to cooperation between the younger generation and cultural sphere.
As stated in the St. Petersburg Declaration of June 2017 between India and Russia, “advancing the comprehensive development of the Indian-Russian relations is an absolute priority of the foreign policy of both States. We will continue to widen our scope of cooperation by launching large-scale initiatives in different spheres and enhance and enrich our bilateral agenda so as to make it more result-oriented.” India and Russia will continue to remain a role model for harmonious and mutually beneficial partnership and strong friendship between States. This will be to the benefit of our States and international community as a whole.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Standing for Everything Evil against Everything Good: Russia’s Hostile Measures in Europe
In late January, researchers from the renowned U.S. research centre RAND Corporation made their contribution to maintaining anti-Russian sentiments by publishing an analytical paper entitled “Russia’s Hostile Measures in Europe: Understanding the Threat.” The report was sponsored by the U.S. Army, and it is to the U.S. Army that its conclusion is formally addressed, offering recommendations on counteracting Russia’s hostile measures in European countries.
This is not the first time that the RAND Corporation has prepared research analytical reports for the U.S. Armed Forces on various topics in international interaction. For instance, John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt’s study “Networks and Netwars. The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy” published in 2001 and commissioned by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, is one of the first works on cyber warfare and it is already considered a classic. There are, however, reasons to believe that the rather opportunistic report on Russia’s hostile measures in Europe will have a somewhat different future.
Before making accusations against Russia, the authors of the report make a series of important qualifications in their introduction that significantly reduce its academic value:
- First, the researchers from the very outset acknowledge that proving or disproving Russia’s malicious influence in Europe is virtually impossible and they do not even try to do so.
- Second, unlike historical studies, their report is instead geared towards prognostication, that is, this paper is by default “debatable, based on individual observations and dependent on circumstances.”
- Third, the authors acknowledge that the current problems and disagreements in European countries are not the result of the malicious actions of Moscow.
Nevertheless, Russia has tried and will apparently continue to try in the future to use European disagreements to achieve its five principal foreign political objectives:
- pursuing security and survival of the regime;
- developing and maintaining great-power status;
- exerting influence within the near abroad in order to pull these countries into its sphere of influence;
- increasing cooperation and trade with Western Europe;
- undermining enlargement of the European Union and NATO into the post-Soviet space.
It is assumed that Moscow will use “measures short of war” as a tactic. This term was introduced by George Kennan in the late 1940s to denote the hostile actions of the USSR and spanning a broad range of political, economic, diplomatic, intelligence and military steps.
Russia is most likely to put pressure on individual European countries in order to create a crisis and a subsequent window of opportunities to boost its own influence.
At the same time, several groups of countries are within Moscow’s orbit: the Baltic states and the states of Southeast and Western Europe. In each region, Russia has its interests and leverage that it can use to achieve its above-state foreign political objectives.
Europe in Russia’s Cross-Hairs
RAND Corporation researchers believe Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are most vulnerable to Russia’s negative influence due to five basic reasons:
- They are the most vulnerable NATO and EU countries due to their geographical location (common land border with Russia).
- They pose a threat for the regime in Russia as successful democratic societies and full-fledged members of the western community.
- Using hostile measures in the Baltic countries could have a positive impact on the Kremlin’s ratings, since many Russian citizens view these countries as hostile.
- Moscow can exert significant influence on the foreign and domestic policies of those countries given their common Soviet past, the feeling of nostalgia that can also be used.
- Moscow’s support for Russian-speaking communities in those countries.
On the whole, the authors of the paper agree that the greatest danger for the Baltic countries stems from Russia’s support for the Russian-speaking diaspora that could become a sort of “fifth column” in the states and a conduit for Russia’s interests. They also note that the Russian-speaking population in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia still faces certain discrimination, particularly when it comes to finding employment, which Russia can use to its advantage. The possibility of military intervention using “little green men” should not be discounted either, but the probability of this happening is much lower, since the Baltic countries have long since joined NATO and have essentially delegated their security to those EU and western European countries that have significant military capacities.
The situation in the countries of Southeast Europe is somewhat different, where poverty is the main problem that opens a window of opportunity for Russian influence. Indeed, Bulgaria and Romania have the lowest per capita GDP among EU member states. As a result, Moscow may be able to influence the politics and policies of these countries through investments by Russia’s largest foreign economic actors, primarily from the energy sector. For instance, Bulgaria’s only oil refinery in the port city of Burgas is owned by Russia’s Lukoil, and the paper’s authors believe the refinery was significantly undervalued when the Russian corporation bought it. Therefore, in the countries of southeast Europe, the Kremlin will use primarily economic measures including bribery and blackmail to destabilize the situation.
However, the most desirable outcome for Moscow is to foster pro-Russian sentiments in the countries of Western Europe, as it is here that Europe’s wealthiest and most influential countries – the closest allies of the United States – are located. RAND Corporation researchers believe that the Kremlin will see even the slightest signal of a potential split in the transatlantic partnership as a major foreign political victory.
Western European countries are currently faced with a knot of complex problems that Russia can successfully use for its own purposes: dissatisfaction with the economic situation (unemployment and economic stagnation), the crisis of traditional political parties, illegal migration and the rise of Islamic terrorism.
It is these difficulties in Europe’s development that will give Russia a chance to sow discord between NATO member states and further its great-power status. Although none of the manifestations of the crisis mentioned above stem from Russia’s politics, they all afford strategic opportunities that Russia can use to drive a wedge between the EU countries and undermine transatlantic partnership.
Europe’s problems in the economy, immigration policy and the fight against terrorism have become a breeding ground for various radical parties that pursue nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-European and generally more stringent security policies, which, the report claims, plays into the Kremlin’s hand. At the same time, RAND Corporation researchers note that the assistance that Moscow has provided to these parties has not played a decisive role in increasing their influence, since they have always had their voting base. Another matter is that, in times of difficulty, the number of dissatisfied people increases, and their electoral base increases accordingly.
At the same time, even though the authors of the report are convinced that the unfavourable economic situation and security threats stemming from the countries of the Middle East will make Europe more vulnerable to Russia’s hostile measures in the coming years, Russia will fail to exert significant influence on the policies and politics of western European countries and deflect attention from the situation in the east of Ukraine and from the annexed Crimea.
Therefore, in regard to western European countries, Moscow will continue its tactics of assisting radical Eurosceptic parties, using energy as a means of putting pressure (so-called “energy weapons”), using close ties with and support for individual influential pro-Russian politicians, including former state figures (in particular, Gerhard Schroeder, Silvio Berlusconi and Miloš Zeman, who actively support Moscow), expanding its information and propaganda campaigns (for instance, through RT, although its audience in the EU countries is relatively small), and utilizing subversive measures through various non-profit organizations (for instance, the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation).
What the United States as a Whole, and its Military in Particular, Should Do to Counteract Russia
In response to these methods for putting pressure on European countries, the authors of the report propose countermeasures that are rather general and have been suggested several times:
- Building the rule of law in Europe and offering aid in fighting corruption.
- Provide assistance (both administrative and material) on the part of the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute to political parties.
- Ensuring the Robust engagement of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in order to counteract Russia’s propaganda machine led by RT.
Suggestions for the U.S. military are not strikingly new either, and some of them are simply not easily implementable:
- Deploying the military in closer proximity to Russia’s borders, for instance, in the Baltic countries, on condition, however, that an escalation of tensions with Russia is avoided (this is not very likely today).
- Developing opportunities for blocking Russia’s hostile measures, primarily through intelligence and counter-intelligence.
- The U.S. military taking more active steps to prevent crises in European countries that Russia could use to implement its foreign political objectives.
- The U.S. government taking timely and decisive steps in crisis situations in Europe. The United States should be ready to intervene in a broad range of conflicts in Europe to minimize side effects that Russia could use to advance its own interests.
On the whole, the report appears to be perfunctory in nature and gives the impression that the United States does not consider Russia to be a major rival in Europe, at least for the time being. More likely, Washington views Moscow as a sort of irritant, but not as a player in European affairs. What is also interesting is the authors’ conclusion that there is a reverse relation between Russia’s opportunities for interference and its abilities to achieve its objectives: where Moscow has influence over certain actors, it does not have the opportunity to exert major influence on policies and politics. Only time will tell whether they are right or whether this is wishful thinking.
Conclusions for Russia
Against the general background of the massive anti-Russian hysteria that has recently swept the United States, the RAND Corporation report has several reasonable and balanced ideas. First, Russia is not to blame for all the crises that have befallen European countries of late. Second, the authors of the study acknowledge the fact that Russia has its objective interests in Europe, which Russia will try to promote by influencing the policies of European countries. But why should this influence be solely hostile and malicious? Why is Russia seen as a sort of enfant terrible of the European subcontinent that is, by default, blamed for all of Europe’s problems?
European countries experience two principal emotions here: disappointment and anger. Disappointment stems from Moscow’s failure to join the western world, the full allure of which was shown to Russia in the 1990s and 2000s. The list of reasons for this development can be very long, but the essence of changes in Russia today is clear: the western model will not be accepted to the detriment of the Russian values. This causes anger on the part of Europe and the United States: How can a country that until recently was receiving humanitarian aid from us and living from one IMF loan to the next so recklessly reject such a successful model of economic and public modernization?
The current crisis in relations with European countries is a natural and expected response on the part of Moscow to the refusal of Europe’s ruling parties to accept Russia’s worldview and values and the reluctance to understand its motives and principal concerns. The global situation has changed radically, while this mentality has persisted. This explains the desire to punish Russia in economy, politics and sports, to depict it as a lying state incapable of reaching and maintaining agreements. Clearly, this is a dead-end road.
To develop successfully, Russia needs to have close ties with Europe that would be advantageous for both sides, while European countries cannot do without their eastern neighbour. It is a great shame that the second half of the 2010s may go down in history as a time when, instead of engaging in a much-needed and useful dialogue, the parties competed in demonizing each other.
During his latest State of the Union Address, Donald Trump stressed that his administration will “will never apologize for advancing America’s interests.” Russia should adhere to a similarly strong and open position in regard to its foreign political interests. Its actions should be consistent and well-founded, but do not necessarily need to be met with general approval. Sooner or later, this will result in the reformatting of relations both with the United States and with Europe, which will be based primarily on mutual interests, instead of mutual grievances.
First published in our partner RIAC
Russia, Ukraine And The Disputed Crimean Peninsula
In this exclusive video for In Homeland Security, American Military University’s Dr. Matthew Crosston, Doctoral Programs, School of Security and Global Studies, discusses the tumultuous relationship between Russia and Ukraine since the 2014 ‘Maidan Revolution’ and how each nation, the United States, and NATO all view the disputed peninsula of Crimea. There is a transcript of the video below.
Transcript of Dr. Crosston’s Analysis:
If we’re looking at the Russian Ukrainian conflict, sort of en mass, going back to its beginning foundation, for Russia at least it starts with the Maidan Revolution – or even the precursors to what created the Maidan Revolution. And, that’s something that we get a little bit of a debate or a discussion in the West about. The Russians feel that the West sort of made some sneaky promises behind the scenes to Ukraine – the people who would ultimately lead this revolution and cause the sitting president to flee to Russia and have a new president come in and take his place who was much more EU-friendly much more-NATO friendly much less Russian friendly. The Russians always saw some subterfuge in that action. They never saw it as a natural organic revolution. They always saw it as an example of Western interference, and they – therefore – felt justified to say well if you can interfere, we’re going to interfere because if you’re just playing out your interests on the ground in Ukraine why can’t we play out our interests on the ground in Ukraine?
Besides, we also think Ukraine is a better partner to us and should be a bigger compatriot of our interest because we have religious, cultural, historical ties. No matter how you try to play it in the West, Ukraine and Russia should not be at odds against each other, Ukraine and Russia should not be enemies. They are the more natural allies. And in the end since you’re making false promises we’re going to find out how much you really mean it when you tell Ukraine secretly whisper-whisper behind our backs [saying] don’t listen to Russia don’t do anything about Russia. Come to us instead. Ukraine really believed in that the people who led the Maidan Revolution believe that would happen. So then what we call the annexation of Crimea (but yet in Russia they call the secession of Crimea into the Russian Federation because the people in Crimea held a referendum saying we want to be part of Russia) – we don’t want to be part of Ukraine anymore. We portray that as being Russia forced that on Crimea. The Russians say the Crimeans voiced their political will, and we back them up – which is what you guys in the West didn’t do for Ukraine when we did it.
The Kerch Strait
What’s above the Kerch Strait – which never gets played in Western media – is this massive eight-lane superhighway that actually the Russians built and had actually in place as a as an agreement and was already begun to be built before the Maidan Revolution and is now complete. What it does is it connects as a land bridge – it connects from Rostov in Russia and over into Crimea. So that you don’t have to go through Ukraine at all to get into Crimea. That’s where those naval vessels were; that’s where the Russians they were getting near the bridge – without any knowledge or any announcement of anything preordained.
So, the Russians said ‘what are you doing here?’ Ukrainians don’t answer. And, the Russians start playing with it, and they said ‘well we’ll see how tough you really are … you really going to use these naval ships? Are you really going to do an action here? That’s why the Russians call it a provocation. And, in the West – we say the Russians are just making up the word ‘provocation’ because these vessels weren’t doing anything. But, we are ignoring how the perspective of the Russians – near this massive land bridge (that literally now connects Russia to Crimea), how would they interpret the presence of military vessels unannounced with no declared plan of action – just this sort of mysterious presence? They did what most countries probably would do, but what they did goes against our interests, so therefore we have a problem with Russia’s actions.
No World War 3 Imminent
Russia has seen – really, quite frankly – since the 90s (with Clinton) this sort of slow very gradual encroachment where more and more members of what they used to consider their sphere of influence or their regional neighborhood (the Russian regional neighborhood) more and more people become part of NATO. But the one part they’ve always laid out is like the parts that have always sort of been Russian, and you can’t underestimate what Ukraine means to Russians in their memory as far as their historical cultural and even religious memory – that area Ukraine and Russia has always been tied together. So that might be the red line (no pun intended) for the Russians drawn in the sand – Ukraine will not go to NATO – will stand up against that. And, I think maybe the possibility was that NATO thought ‘well let’s test that a little bit because maybe they’re saying it of course we understand why you say we need machismo on that, you need some bravado on that, but let’s see if you really mean it.’ And, as it turns out, the Russians said ‘yeah, we do really mean it. Now do you really mean it? Are you really going to come to bat for Ukraine if we step up?’ They stepped up, we stepped back. That sounds bad but it’s not World War 3, and won’t be World War 3 because it means the two big sides – the two big players (Russia and the United States) – are declaring: Ukraine is enough for us to get into [inconsequential] fights over, [but] it’s not enough for us to get into a real war with each other over. And, that’s the part that’s going unsaid in the West that we should emphasize more.
Author’s note: This video first appeared at Homeland Security
The Death of the ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ Project?
Russian relations with Europe are part of a complicated story rooted in military, economic and often ideological realms. Both entities have for centuries tried to find a modus vivendi, but have so far failed. One compromise suggested for Europe and Russia was an economic space stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok – the space characterized by a unified economy, political understanding and even deep military cooperation.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for years advocated the idea, making speeches about the case. To be clear, Putin was not the first to propound it, but was merely reflecting on similar ideological arguments of the past. A transcontinental union spanning the Atlantic to the Pacific is a geopolitical concept that pops back up from time to time and is linked to neo-Eurasianism, before which the geopolitical space was made up by the triangle of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan.
One space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which one might also call “Greater Eurasia”, would make Russia pivot to the West. This was an attractive idea for the European and Russians. Indeed, even German Chancellor Angela Merkel once said that she hopes “Russia would increasingly develop ties with the European economic area, finally resulting in a common economic area from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.
How would such cooperation look? Perhaps it would imply at least a free trade agreement (FTA), whose core features might involve the cutting of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Business interests in the EU as well as Russia are likely to be supportive of such a proposition. Putin stated that “in future, we could even consider a free trade zone or even more advanced forms of economic integration. The result would be a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of Euros”.
Surely when we talk about Russia in this context, we need to understand this space as including neighboring post-Soviet states. Russia launched its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project back in 2015.
One would think that for the EU, an FTA with the EAEU would be an advantageous proposition from an economic standpoint, since it would give preferential access to an important market. But one would expect the pre-conditions posed by the EU for the opening of negotiations to be many and quite stringent.
For Moscow, this positioning might be more economically advantageous, as the EEU could be a bridge for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to connect with the European market. On the map, all appears logical and attractive, but in reality, China’s BRI, although not against being cooperative with other blocks, still aims at pulling major Eurasian resources towards itself. Russia’s EEU, weaker in dimension than the BRI, will inevitably be drawn to Beijing with growing grievances on the Russian side.
Back to the unified Russia-Europe economic space, there remains the fundamental question as to whether or not Russia would consider an FTA with the EU to be in its interests. Is the ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ idea serious? In Russia, many would fear that an FTA with the EU would be too imbalanced, or asymmetric in favor of the EU. Indeed, most Russian exports to the EU, such as oil and gas, are already being traded without tariffs. Also, the challenge for any petro-economy to sustain a substantial and competitive industrial sector would be a tough task to pull off.
So far, we have given a pretty rosy picture of the two stood regarding the project just several years ago, in the period before the Ukraine crisis.
When discussing Russian geopolitical moves, one needs to remember how important Ukraine is and how the latter has been a driving factor in Russia’s calculus. Ukraine has always been the main point of any of Russia’s grand projects of the past and present. The modern EEU, an ambitious project that goes well beyond the simple removal of borders between the five ex-Soviet countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia), is weak economically and geographically without Ukraine. Many believe that even before the Ukraine crisis, Russia-Europe relations were strained and a crisis was inevitable, but it should not be forgotten that it is still Ukraine which made the differences insurmountable. It could even be argued that the Ukraine crisis put an end to any grand strategic view between Russia and Europe. The “Lisbon-Vladivostok” vision, it could be argued, is now dead.
Beyond the Ukrainian issue are also other important issues which are likely to stop any furtherance of the Greater Eurasia project. Europe and Russia are not just two competing economic blocs, but two blocs with opposing values and political systems. A compromise between the two has not been seen in the history of the past several centuries, except for short periods of time when Russian military power was needed in settling inter-European problems.
Moreover, put in the longer-term perspective, we see that the abandoning of the grand Lisbon-Vladivostok vision follows what is taking place across the entire Eurasian continent, where pragmatism and a reliance on real state interests and capabilities are back in fashion following the hopeful post-Cold War years.
Over the past several years, Russia has also leant towards the East. And while it is often put to question just how deep the Russian pivot to the East is, certain geopolitical tendencies lead us to support the idea as fact. Moscow portrays this policy as its own choosing, but the reality is that from three grand avenues (Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia) of projection of Russian geopolitical influence, it is only in Central Asia that Moscow does not meet important pushback from any Western power, while Chinese influence is only seen in economics. This simple vector of projection of Russian power is quite telling at a time when Moscow is more drawn to the East rather than the West, spelling a death note to once grand plans of an economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today
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We are living in a very interesting age. Call it a phase. A phase; where long cherished ideas of globalization...
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