Russians who had made a Socialist revolution in 1917 for a new communist society for providing the people equality they sought by systemic change and who later in 1990 joined President Michael Gorbachev and Boris Yelstsin to dismantle communist system and erase its legacy and still later in 2000 they elected a former KGB personnel Vladimir Putin as their President, will again go to the polls on 19 March for the country’s seventh presidential election and in all likelihood incumbent President Vladimir Putin would get reelected to the Kremlin for a fourth term in office.
The election results would make President Putin the leader with the longest tenure in executive authority of any of the world’s major powers.
The Kremlin factions and clans do not approve of the choice of Putin’s successor and that would be will be incentivized to consider following the color revolution playbook as a way to offset their rivals begins to increase.
Weak, divided opposition
Like in India, Russian opposition is also split, making Putin’s win fairly easy. Indeed, it is fascinating that several of the candidates running in March’s election, especially Boris Titov, representing the old “Right Cause” (now the Party of Growth) and to a lesser extent the new face of the Russian Communists, Pavel Grudinin, replacing the old perennial stalwart Gennday Zyuganov, do not expect to win election but are using the campaign to push their respective pro-privatization and anti-globalization programs, in an effort to influence the direction the Russian government will take in the coming years.
With Alexei Navalny sidelined after energizing thousands of Russians in towns and cities across the country to protest in recent months, Sobchak could be an alternative opposition voice. In 2012, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov ran for president. He came nowhere close to victory — finishing third with nearly 8 percent of the vote — but many believed that had never been the point. Prokhorov, they argued, was a spoiler candidate: a tool for Putin to channel anger at the Kremlin into a non-threatening vote.
Since former reality TV star Ksenia Sobchak announced her candidacy for presidency, deciphering her motivations has become a national obsession. She is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically-elected mayor of St. Petersburg and a former mentor of President Vladimir Putin. Russian presidential candidate Sobchak is running on an “against all” platform from the Civic Initiative Party in Russia’s presidential elections in March.
Sobchak, 35, has a wide-reaching public persona. She is a socialite and former reality TV presenter, turned opposition activist, then opposition journalist and — now — presidential candidate. Her candidacy has come as a shock to many — often referred to as the Russian Paris Hilton, her more than 5 million followers on Instagram are served daily photos of fashion shows, expensive restaurants and far-flung beach holidays.
Ksenia Sobchak’s campaign is bringing issues into the public realm—and her ability to pose a question in her capacity as a reporter to Putin at December’s marathon press conference was seen as a signal that, even if she is not expected to win, her candidacy is part of the necessary process to consider what happens to Russian politics after Putin retires or departs from this mortal realm.
Many believe Sobchak has been handpicked by the Kremlin to inject vitality in Russia’s presidential elections and bolster turnout on March 18, 2018. Is she just the latest Kremlin stooge? Is she a spoiler candidate — someone co-opted by the Kremlin to split the opposition vote — or will she actually further the opposition’s cause?
As an independent candidate, she would have to gather 300,000 votes in a matter of weeks — a practically insurmountable challenge. Many see that as evidence that Sobchak has been given the Kremlin’s assurance she will be allowed to run — a claim she denies.
During a meeting with Vladimir Putin several weeks ago to discuss a documentary about her father, she said, she had told Putin personally about her decision to run. “He said that every person can make their own decisions and take responsibility for them too,” she said.
Many say, immediately after the presidential elections, Ksenia Sobchak will disappear from the political arena.
A problem that will not be solved by the March election is the question of Russia’s role in the Eurasian region and the world. In the West, there remains the assumption that US foreign-policy problems with Russia are personal: that they stem from Putin.
Russia won’t be able to turn a new leaf in US-Russia relations with a President Navalny, or Sobchak, or even a Titov, not to mention the long-established liberal reformer Grigory Yavlinsky, who has also thrown his hat into the ring.
It goes without saying, however, that a President Grudinin—or a President Maxim Suraikin, who is running under the banner of the neo-Stalinist “Communists of Russia” and released his “Ten Stalinist Strikes on Capitalism and American Imperialism” platform, or the perennial contender Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in for his seventh attempt to become Russia’s president—would not be interested in improving relations with Washington
Most of the candidates have similar views with Putin. A different candidate might terminate the Syria intervention, be more flexible on the Ukraine question, be less confrontational and more accommodative to US demands. But no one stands for Russia giving up its position if not as a super power at least as the regional leader or as one of the great powers who should be consulted on the important matters of the global agenda.
Putin Putin Putin
The current Russian political system was constructed for one person and can only be managed and controlled by one person—Vladimir Putin
Today, Puitn – and not Trump – is the most important leader of the world with some amount of dignity. Russians love and respect him and look forward to his forthright actions to weaken the unipolar, dictatorial and fascist mindset of USA.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born on 7 October 1952 in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in the Soviet Union., served as President of the Russian Federation since 7 May 2012, previously holding the position from 2000 until 2008. He was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation from 1999 until 2000, and again from 2008 until 2012. He studied law at the Saint Petersburg State University, graduating in 1975. Putin was a KGB foreign intelligence officer for 16 years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring in 1991 to enter politics in Saint Petersburg. He moved to Moscow in 1996 and joined President Boris Yeltsin’s administration, rising quickly through the ranks and becoming Acting President on 31 December 1999, when Yeltsin resigned. Putin won the subsequent 2000 presidential election by a 53% to 30% margin, thus avoiding a runoff with his Communist Party of the Russian Federation opponent, Gennady Zyuganov. He was re-elected President in 2004 with 72% of the vote.
In Putin’s first term (2000–2004), he was the emergency man called to take the helm of Russia and stop its slide into catastrophe following the breakup of mighty Soviet Union. The second term was marked by the theme of rebuilding and reconstructing what had been lost during the disasters of the 1990s.
During Vladimir Putin’s first presidency, the Russian economy grew for eight straight years, and GDP measured in purchasing power increased by 72%. The growth was a result of the 2000s commodities boom, high oil prices, and prudent economic and fiscal policies. Because of constitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008. The 2008 presidential election was won by Dmitry Medvedev, Putin became Prime Minister
In September 2011, after presidential terms were extended from four to six years Putin announced he would seek a third term as president. The election will be held in March 2018, with a term until 2024. Putin has enjoyed high domestic approval ratings during his career (mostly higher than 70%), and received extensive international attention as one of the world’s most powerful leaders.
Putin won the March 2012 presidential election with 64% of the vote. Falling oil prices coupled with international sanctions imposed at the beginning of 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine led to GDP shrinking by 3.7% in 2015, though the Russian economy rebounded in 2016 with 0.3% GDP growth and is officially out of the recession
During Putin’s first eight years in office, industry grew substantially, as did production, construction, real incomes, credit, and the middle class. Putin has also been praised for eliminating widespread barter and thus boosting the economy. Inflation and corruption remained a problem however. A fund for oil revenue allowed Russia to repay all of the Soviet Union’s debts by 200.
The goal of Putin’s activity was to create a ruling party, along the lines of the postwar liberal Democrats in Japan that could maintain decades of electoral supremacy, serve as a big-tent grouping allowing for differing factions to exist but remain united in a single political entity, and would develop sustainable mechanisms for leader development and renewal of cadres.
Human rights are of great concern in Russia.
Color revolutions in Europe and elsewhere have not solved any problems and slowly they brought back the old system.
Putin is known for his often tough and sharp language, often alluding to Russian jokes and folk sayings. An Orthodox Christian, Putin is said to attend church services on important dates and holidays on a regular basis and has had a long history of encouraging the construction and restoration of thousands of churches in the region. In 2014, he was reportedly nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1980, Putin met his future wife, Lyudmila, who was working as a flight attendant at the time. The couple married in 1983 and had two daughters: Maria, born in 1985, and Yekaterina, born in 1986. In early June 2013, after nearly 30 years of marriage, Russia’s first couple announced that they were getting a divorce, providing little explanation for the decision, but assuring that they came to it mutually and amicably.
Unconstrained by conventional global norms, his reach has magnified in recent years. In 2016 Russian hackers were accused of tapping into email accounts owned by members of the US Democratic Party in a bid to aid the campaign of Donald Trump, who has regularly praised Putin’s leadership style. The Kremlin denies the charges, and President-elect Trump has also dismissed the possibility of outsiders tampering in the election, despite a reported CIA memo suggesting otherwise. Either way, with a likely ally entering the White House, Putin’s power may go largely unchecked for years to come.
No matter the fact of Putin’s genuine base of support in Russia, the ways that the Kremlin has managed the election process and the inevitable gap that will emerge between actual voter turnout and number of votes cast for Putin with the published results—especially if the target of 70 percent turnout/70 percent in favor of Putin is reached amidst reports that some degree of fine-tuning was required to meet these goals—will be cited to deny that Putin has any popular mandate to continue to govern.
Against US unipolarity
In the last few years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been made into a convenient scapegoat for all the West’s problems. If anything goes wrong at home — then blame that bounder Putin.
Russia is known for its policy of anti-Americanism but being a strong economic power with a UN veto, it has levers to upset all moves of USA and NATO against Russia.
During the Cold War era, the US Russia conflict was acute, though both maintained diplomatic and economic channels to continue the “normal” bilateral relationship. .
Being a former top KGB officer, President Putin is not trusted by US leaders who want to use the Kremlin to promote and shield all its capitalist and imperialist crimes.
Many prominent Russians in New Russia particularly in 2005 talked about how Russia, as one of the great powers, could work with the USA in creating a new concert to address critical international problems. But no one—not even the most liberal, pro-Western candidates running—would now advocate for Russian subordination in a US unipolar system.
The use the Russian threat ably is being promoted by US leadership in order to be able to strengthen unipolarity. The so-called ‘Russian threat’, being used by US politicians and media as the ever existing threat to them, is not only good for the arms industry, and defense budgets, but for all western politicians who have no answers to the very real threats their public face in their daily lives. They also cover up their failure by naming the Russian threat just like Indian regime points to Pakistan to ward off all its failures, both systemic and administrative.
Western world faces several serious problems, including a knife crime epidemic, a significant rise in the murder rate, a steady rise (over 60%)in homelessness and increasing unemployment, a sharp rise in child and pensioner poverty and a hideously expensive and unreliable public transport system- to name only a few. But rather than focus on solving them, those in power would rather ‘obsess’ about non-existent threats from Russia. ‘Army Chief warns of Russian threat’ has been the routine headline on the media websites and newspapers. It is deliberate attempt to divert people’s attention.
As to the ‘Russian threat‘; the idea that Russia would want to invade or attack the USA, UK and other Atlantic nations is extremely ludicrous.
Russian politics today is still very far from this model, and Putin’s perpetual candidacy is a clear sign that the problem of political succession which bedeviled him in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election (when Putin was constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third consecutive term) still has not been solved. Putin, in many ways, cannot give up power maybe because he and those around him would not have the political and legal guarantees that they require.
Elections in USA, Russia and elsewhere are very routine matter for the government to hold by using all illegal means and would therefore not make any changes for the nation or world. Trump’s paid election is not going to change anything for the Americans. Russians—and the world—will wake up on March 19 to find that not much has changed. But the clock counting down towards domestic and international crises will be running.
Knife crime used to be a rare event in the UK, but in 2017 there were 80 fatal stabbings in London alone. The reality is that Britain is becoming an increasingly dangerous country in which to live. Crime figures released in October showed an underlying 8% increase in the murder rate, with a 13% rise in all police-recorded offenses from June 2016-June 2017. But the ruling elite prefer to scare people about Russia. An imaginary ‘Russian threat’ has been given precedence over dealing with the genuine threats citizens face at home.
However, President Putin is not at all responsible for all the crimes that take place in western capitals, elsewhere. The people responsible reside not in the Kremlin, but in Whitehall and Oval hall, elsewhere. With utmost cynicism, those who have put many innocent lives at risk, while spending a small fortune on neocon-inspired military ‘interventions‘ overseas, want people transfer their anger on to a foreign bogeyman- Putin is seen as the most convenient object. .. The strategy of seeking to divert attention from problems at home, by conjuring up the scepter of a menace from abroad, is of course not original: ruling classes throughout history have done this. . Establishments and their media continue to play it to confuse the masses.
On March 4, 2012, Vladimir Putin was re-elected to his third term as president. After widespread protests and allegations of electoral fraud, he was inaugurated on May 7, 2012, and shortly after taking office appointed Medvedev as prime minister. Once more at the helm, Putin has continued to make controversial changes to Russia’s domestic affairs and foreign policy.
During the period of the tandem with Medvedev, the erstwhile emphasis on modernization was replaced with an anti-crisis approach, to safeguard Russia from the vicissitudes of the global recession. Putin launched his third term by presenting a vision of securing Russia’s place in the world as the Eurasian pole of power, an effort that has faltered as the Eurasian Union has underperformed but even more so because of the Ukrainian crisis. There doesn’t seem to be an overarching, compelling, captivating vision for the fourth term, other than the slogan “A strong president for a strong Russia.”
In December 2012, Putin signed into a law which took effect on January 1, 2013 a ban on the US adoption of Russian children. According to Putin, the legislation is aimed to make it easier for Russians to adopt native orphans. However, the adoption ban spurred international controversy, reportedly leaving nearly 50 Russian children—who were in the final phases of adoption with US citizens at the time that Putin signed the law—in legal limbo.
Putin strained relations with the USA the following year when he granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the USA for leaking classified information from the National Security Agency. In response to Putin’s actions, US President Barack Obama canceled a planned meeting with Putin that August. Around this time, Putin also upset many people with his new anti-gay laws. He made it illegal for gay couples to adopt in Russia
In September 2013, tensions rose between the USA and Syria over Syria’s possession of chemical weapons, with the US threatening military action if the weapons were not relinquished. Putin spoke directly to the U.S.’s position in taking action against Syria, stating that such a unilateral move could result in the escalation of violence and unrest in the Middle East. Putin asserted that the U.S. claim that Bashar al-Assad used the chemical weapons on civilians might be misplaced, with the more likely explanation being the unauthorized use of the weapons by Syrian rebels.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympics, amidst widespread political unrest in the Ukraine, which resulted in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, Putin sent Russian troops into Crimea, a peninsula in the country’s northeast coast of the Black Sea. The peninsula had been part of Russia until Nikita Khrushchev, former Premier of the Soviet Union, gave it to Ukraine in 1954. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, claimed that approximately 16,000 troops invaded the territory, and Russia’s actions caught the attention of several European countries and the United States, who refused to accept the legitimacy of Russian occupation of east Ukraine.
Putin defended his actions, however, claiming that the troops sent into Ukraine were only meant to enhance Russia’s military defenses within the country—referring to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has its headquarters in Crimea.
In September 2015, Russia surprised the world by announcing it would begin strategic airstrikes in Syria, aimed at the rebel forces attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s historically repressive regime.
Months prior to the 2016 US presidential election, well over a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies unilaterally agreed that Russian intelligence was behind the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, who had, at the time, been chairman of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, designed to undermine Clinton’s campaign in favor of her Republican opponent Donald Trump. Soon after, the FBI and National Intelligence Agency publicly supported the CIA’s assessments. CIA claimed that Putin was personally involved in intervening in the US presidential election. Putin denied any such attempts to disrupt the US election.
Underscoring their attempts to thaw public relations, the Kremlin in late 2017 revealed that a terror attack had been thwarted in St. Petersburg, thanks to intelligence provided by the CIA.
A program was started to increase Russia’s share of the European energy market by building submerged gas pipelines bypassing Ukraine and other countries which were often seen as non-reliable transit partners by Russia, especially following Russia-Ukraine gas disputes of the late 2000s (decade). Russia also undermined the rival pipeline project Nabucco by buying the Turkmen gas and redirecting it into Russian pipelines.
Russia diversified its export markets by building the Trans-Siberian oil pipeline to the markets of China, Japan and Korea, as well as the Sakhalin–Khabarovsk–Vladivostok gas pipeline in the Russian Far East. Russia has also recently built several major oil and gas refineries, plants and ports. There was also construction of major hydropower plants, such as the Bureya Dam and the Boguchany Dam, as well as the restoration of the nuclear industry of Russia, with 1 trillion rubles ($42.7 billion) which were allocated from the federal budget to nuclear power and industry development before 2015. A large number of nuclear power stations and units are currently being constructed by the state corporation Rosatom in Russia and abroad.
The ongoing financial crisis began in the second half of 2014 when the Russian ruble collapsed due to a decline in the price of oil and international sanctions against Russia. These events in turn led to loss of investor confidence and capital flight.
It has also been argued that the US/EU sanctions had little to no effect on Russia’s economy.
Russia responded with its own sanctions against the West. Additionally, to compensate for the sanctions, Russia developed closer economic ties with Eastern countries. In October 2014, energy, trade and finance agreements with China worth $25 billion were signed. The following year, a $400 billion 30-year natural gas supply agreement was also signed with China.
With peacekeeping as the goal, Russia’s foreign policy will proceed slowly and reluctantly, in line with the country’s shrinking economy – just as the West hoped it would.
When the commission investigating the crash of the MH17 flight over Donbass announces its conclusion that a Russian missile downed the Boeing aircraft, Moscow will declare the findings nothing but lies and slander.
Moscow will continue to haggle over Ukraine, seeking an end to sanctions in return for this or that concession. Russia will also partially fulfill the Minsk agreements and withdraw a major part of its forces from Syria. The Kremlin will similarly deny that Russian hackers and trolls attacked the US elections and democratic processes in Britain and France.
In fact, Russian actions in the Middle East have actually aided the security of the West. The regime-change obsessed UK and USA were backing so-called ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria. The Russian military played a key role in the defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda linked groups there promoting security of USA and Europe. Many western countries provided covert backing for these so-called terror groups. The ‘threat’ turned out to be entirely bogus. The next time you hear an Establishment figure talking about the ’Russian threat to USA” one should know the regime is making some illegal moves against the people.
In fact, all western nations and their eastern allies jointly working against Islam and Muslims- for sure. . Russia and China, the veto members also support them.
Russia will adopt a new Constitution that will allow Putin to stay in power ; beyond 2024; Putin will marry a descendant of the Romanov family’; The authorities will re-introduce exit visas for Russians; Putin will develop multiple sclerosis and hand over power to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov; US hackers will influence Russia’s elections and the ruble exchange rate; Russian oligarchs will write a secret letter to Putin asking him to imprison Rosneft head Igor Sechin; The Russian national football team will take a $1 billion bribe from Saudi Arabia to lose their World Cup game; And maybe, everything will turn out differently. The right-leaning, conservative ideological bent will deepen until it starts to resemble monarchism.
Despite the commotion surrounding the World Cup, the authorities will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family with pomp and fanfare.
Possibly, Russia will undergo a major political crisis at the point only when Putin, like his predecessor, discoverer cum mentor Yelstsin will no longer be able to govern.
Maybe Putin’s ruling regime will begin to show signs of weakness, a Russian Orthodox fundamentalist or progressive liberal will come to power again.
Soon the country’s financial system and economy will collapse, or a new “thaw” will improve Russia’s relations with the West. One year from now, we’ll check back to see.
These are just rumours. Imaginations.
Russia’s strong president Putin, the world’s most powerful person for years, has asserted the Russian policies, exerted his country’s influence in nearly every corner of the globe; from the motherland to Syria to the US presidential elections, Putin continues to get what he wants.
Unlike Trump or Netanyahu or Modi, Putin is not deceiving his people with false promises and secret agendas.
Before a single ballot is cast, a majority of the US political establishment will already consider the results of this poll to be illegitimate. This readymade prescription is understandable as President Trump got elected with suspected mandate by the US voters.
However, unlike Trump, Putin enjoys real support and love of majority of Russians who continue to want to see their nation a “great”.
The reality is that any leader in the Kremlin pursuing Russian national interests is likely to have points of friction with their arch rival USA. There seems to have no mechanism that would work to dampen down or deconflict those irritants on permanent basis. .
The election may solve nothing: those in the Russian elite who believe that Americans and some Europeans must concede the “reality” of Putin and start doing business with the Kremlin will be disappointed. Also, those in the West who maintain that all anyone needs to do is wait for the inevitable color revolution to depose Putin, that in turn will solve all the outstanding issues that have led to the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West.
But the victory of Vladimir Putin is a foregone conclusion though the USA might try its luck to create problems for Putin in Moscow. Russian do not see or want any alternative to Putinism.
For Russians, Puitn stands for Russian character (Russkii kharact’er) of which they are very proud. They are supportive and fond of assertive stand of the Kremlin.
So, on March 19, 2018 when Russians voters queue up for voting, nothing will have changed and nothing is going to change even after that date. But the two looming problems that the election will not solve will still be there.
Why and How Russia is poised to strengthen its Afghan Role
After the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the USSR’s subsequent disintegration, Russia seemed neither interested in nor capable of securing a pro-Moscow regime in Kabul as was seen during the Cold War. In a move aimed at safeguarding its strategic back yard (Central Asia) from the rising menaces of drug trafficking and Islamic fundamentalism (non-conventional threats) emerging from Afghanistan, Russia accepted the American presence (a conventional threat) in the region post-9/11. However, any academic pursuit at understanding the Russian role in Afghanistan in perspective must incorporate efforts at grasping Moscow’s threat perceptions to its strategic interests emanating from Kabul.
How Interests in Central Asia Shaped Moscow’s Afghan Concerns and Role
Russia has had both geopolitical and geo-economic interests in Central Asia. It considers Central Asia its strategic back yard and has a monopoly over pipeline diplomacy as it continued to supply the Central Asian natural resources through the pipelines existing since Soviet times. Russian role in Afghanistan has been shaped primarily by the threats to the region emanating from and facilitated by the latter. Post 9/11, the Russian policy has been evidently geared towards containing the American penetration into the region as well as preventing the Central Asian Republics from radical Islamic influences and drugs generating from Afghanistan. The American objective of laying down alternative pipeline routes for transfer of Central Asian resources to the world market through Afghanistan threatened Russia’s interests.
It is noteworthy that the American strategy gravitated towards the Eurasian region not only with an aim to develop continental strategies to contain the regional influence of Russia, Iran and China given their geographical contiguity to Afghanistan and the Central Asian region, the natural resource potential also attracted the American attention. These objectives became the prime movers of US policy towards the region apart from the immediacy of the threat of terrorism which rose to prominence as being a national security threat. It is worth recalling that In a move to reach out to the Central Asian region, the US Congress started passing bills that called for diversification of energy supplies from the Central Asian and Caspian region starting from late 1990s. The Bush Administration soon after it formed the government released an energy policy report indicating that the exploitation of Caspian energy resources could not only benefit the economies of the region, but also help mitigate possible world supply disruptions which was considered a major US security goal.
Russian lingering concerns remained that the flight of many Soviet Muslims during Stalin’s brutal collectivization campaign and nationalist purges created a permanent Soviet exile population in Afghanistan. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the resultant weakening of its control over the Islamic republics, Russia believed that a radical Islamic regime in Afghanistan would push these people towards the north. Secondly, the regime through its Islamic influences would use the exiled population to destabilize the newly independent Central Asian Republics. Rise of Islamic opposition groups in different Central Asian states strengthened such Russian belief. This apart, the collapse of the Soviet-era economies and the elimination of Soviet-policed borders led to a quick surge in the production and trafficking of drugs in the Central Asian region.
Russia perceived substantial threat when the Taliban rose to prominence in Afghanistan. For instance, Sergie Ivanov, the head of Russian Security Council, threatened to lunch missile and air strikes against Afghanistan after accusing the Taliban government of assisting the Chechen resistance. Moscow further accused the Taliban of giving sanctuary to Islamists from some of the Central Asian states and allowing them to train for guerrilla warfare to destabilise the states. During the Afghan civil war, Russia kept pouring weapons and money in support of Uzbek and Tajik warlords. When the civil war entered a decisive phase, Russia in order to push the Taliban out of Tajik and Uzbek areas threw its weight behind Ahmad Shah Massoud who had bases in Tajikistan.
However, many scholars viewed threat perceptions from all these sources were although relevant but deliberately exaggerated by the Russian authorities with an aim to exercise firm control over the former Soviet republics. The developments in Chechnya, Central Asia (civil war in Tajikistan) and Afghanistan were seen as part of a larger plot hatched by a secretive network of Islamic activists and terrorists whose main goal, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service has been to create a Great Islamic caliphate. However, scholars like Rasul Bakhsh Rais argue that the link between the Taliban and the Islamic movements in Central Asia was questionable. According to him all these movements have indigenous roots and Russia and the ruling elites in Central Asia exaggerate the transnational links among the Islamic movements to divert attention from their own political failures.
Russian Afghan Concerns post-9/11 and Aspirations for a Larger Role
After September 11, 2001, Russian leader Vladimir Putin not only described the terrorist attacks on the US by al-Qaeda as “barbaric” in a TV broadcast but also ensured Moscow’s cooperation, ranging from providing all the information at its disposal about terrorist bases to assuring Russian secret services’ cooperation with the West. Russia’s support for the US-led “war on terror” in response to 9/11 was evidently driven by its national interests apart from the despicable nature of the terrorist acts themselves.
The Russian perspective on and support for the US-led Afghan war efforts were influenced by Moscow’s desire to cultivate international support for its concerns stemming from the uprising of radical Islamic forces in Chechnya. Second, Moscow believed that by cooperating with the US-led war efforts, it could overcome challenges posed by such destabilizing forces as the rise of Islamic opposition movements and drug trafficking in its Central Asian back yard.
Third, in its support for the Afghan war, Russia saw an enhanced prospect for the Northern Alliance group coming to power in Afghanistan, and fourth, a relatively economically and militarily weaker Russia could not completely insulate itself from the US call for a “war on terror,” as it was trying to reset its relations with the West after the disintegration of the Soviet empire.
Moscow had supported the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in terms of arms and economic aid during the Afghan civil war, and to ensure the Northern Alliance group’s rise to power, it provided key support to the alliance during the “war on terror.” For instance, the Russian provision of 60 T-55 battle tanks, 12 T-62 K command tanks and 30 infantry fighting vehicles to Northern Alliance during the war bears testimony to this fact.
However, Russian support for the American-led Afghan war was far from being full-fledged and unconditional. As the US and its NATO allies were drawing close to the areas of Moscow’s strategic interests, suspicions over US geopolitical objectives became visible at the same time, immediately after the American declaration of the war, when then-defense minister Sergei Ivanov ruled out any presence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the region and the Chief of the General Staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, remarked that Russia had no plans to participate in a military operation against Afghanistan.
Russian suspicions remained as to the intensity of the US engagement with the Central Asian states in the guise of taking on terrorism within the framework of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” In order to secure a firm foothold in Central Asia, the US not only secured temporary forward basing in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, strategic engagement in the region was also fostered through access to airspace and restricted use of bases in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
There were frequent instances of US official visits to Central Asia, intelligence sharing and improved coordination within the US Central Command. Further, American interest to revive the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project in 2002 in an attempt to end Russian monopoly over supply routes to transfer Central Asian resources, which was undergoing uncertainties due to the turbulence perpetrated by the Taliban, corroborated Russian suspicions over US geopolitical interests.
As the American entrenchment in the Central Asian region deepened, the countries of the region were asked to fulfill their bilateral and other obligations to Russia. Dmitry Rogozin, during his stint as a Russian envoy to NATO between 2008 and 2011 took efforts to make it clear that Russia wanted to help the US and Afghanistan as part of the international community but on its own terms.
Around the same time, Russia although did not object to in principle but viewed skeptically several new transit corridors laid down by the US to deliver goods to its forces in Afghanistan (the routes are collectively termed the Northern Distribution Network), and emphasized that these must not be used to transfer lethal goods. On the other side, many US officials were envisaging the network being transformed into a Modern Silk Route.
In response to the US military bases in different parts of Central Asia, Russia established its own bases, but their direct contacts were surprisingly limited. In response to the greater role of the US in the region, Russia called for a larger role of regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in securing security and stability in Afghanistan.
Perhaps because of Russia’s overriding influence due to its monopoly over oil supplies, the Central Asian states agreed to strengthen CSTO as an alternative to NATO. In one of the top-level summit meetings, in 2011, the CSTO leaders unanimously agreed that countries outside the regional security bloc would only be able to establish military bases on the territory of a member state with the consent of all member states.
Responding to the evolving Afghan scenario, Russia not only made efforts at diplomatically engaging successive Afghan governments, it attempted to establish itself as a major stakeholder in the Afghan peace process too. Being excluded from the Quadrilateral Coordination Group to broker peace of which the US, China, Pakistan and Afghan government are members, Moscow opened up its channels to play its part in the Afghan peace process taking other regional countries and the Taliban on board. Realizing the geopolitical importance of the outcomes of regional war and peace efforts, Moscow has allegedly shifted its support from the fragmented Northern Alliance group to the Taliban in order to strengthen its Afghan role. Washington believes that Moscow is channelizing its support toward the Taliban to impede the peace process in Kabul and roll back progress made by US-led forces and drive a wedge between the US and its coalition partners, while Moscow keeps denying allegations of its support for the radical group.
US State Department officials, however, have expressed concerns over Moscow’s failure to work with Washington in Afghanistan, and some US military officials on the ground have not hesitated to accuse Russia of providing arms to and sharing sensitive intelligence with the Afghan Taliban.
As things stand now, Russia has admitted to opening up channels of communication with the Taliban with such objectives as protection of Russian citizens in Afghanistan, promotion of peace in Afghanistan and above all, containing the influence of ISIS – which is considered by Russia a more dangerous threat to the Central Asian region because of its transnational objectives and role.The Taliban’s quick agreement to join Russian-led peace talks scheduled to be hosted by Moscow on September 4 this year indicated Russia’s outreach to the group. Washington’s rejection of Russia’s invitation to participate in the peace efforts underlined geopolitical suspicions of each other’s intentions. The Russian leadership, however, postponed the talks to facilitate the participation of the Afghan government and other stakeholders in the peace process.
Russian intelligence has projected that ISIS has an enhanced presence in Afghanistan with around 10,000 fighters including many foreign fighters (those fleeing Syria after being recruited from the Central Asian region) spread across eight to nine provinces, including its sway in the northern province of Jowzjan, which shares a border with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, carrying a dangerous portent for the Central Asian states.
Moreover, Russian officials have argued that the radical group has been able to recruit many people from the Central Asian region, posing a serious threat to Russian security concerns. Moscow has also been seen praising the Taliban’s efforts at containing drug trafficking into Russia’s back yard.
Nonetheless, given its lingering suspicions of US geopolitical intentions, Russia may be using its support for the Taliban as a hedge against growing American influence in the region. Moscow has rejected Washington’s estimate that the numerical strength of ISIS varied from 1,500 to 2,000 and disputed the claim that the group’s influence was limited to such provinces as Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan and consisted of only local defectors from the Taliban and other militant groups. Moscow has allegedly charged the US with sharing common interests with ISIS in keeping Afghanistan embroiled in instabilities and disorder so that it could have a permanent military presence in the region.
The geopolitical rift between the two powers has been further exacerbated by continuing US sanctions on Russia, which will have impacts on the peace process in Afghanistan. Meanwhile in Syria, Russia has stepped up its support for the Damascus regime by supplying S-300 missiles, and Idlib continues to be a hotbed of geopolitical jostling for influence between Moscow and Washington.
Afghanistan, as another site for their scrambling for geopolitical supremacy, will continue to witness an enhanced role of Russia, preventing cooperation between the two powers unless Moscow’s regional geopolitical claims are counterbalanced by a global US geopolitical role.
Russia and Multilateral Diplomacy in East Asia
When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in August 2018 it was revealed that President Vladimir Putin was planning to take part in the upcoming East Asia Summit (EAS) in Singapore this November. This will mark the first time that the Russian leader has attended the event since the country became full member of the EAS. Putin will also pay a state visit to Singapore and take part in the Fourth ASEAN–Russia Summit .
The President’s participation in the EAS has been a long time coming and his attendance will demonstrate that Russia is taking multilateral diplomacy in Asia seriously and that it cares about the EAS as the main ASEAN-centred security mechanism. Does Vladimir Putin’s upcoming trip to Singapore indicate that Russia is pushing a new agenda in its Asian policy?
A List at the End of a List
Just like there seems to be no country whose geographic position is not strategically advantageous, it would seem that there is no area of Russia’s foreign policy that is not a priority of some sort. In the official discourse, it is not customary to talk about Russia’s own pivot to the East, because formally there was no change in the priorities and East Asia has always been one. But speaking realistically, it can also be said the priories remain unchanged in the sense that Asia is still a secondary focus for Russia’s foreign policy efforts compared to other areas that are of priority concern mostly because they are prone with conflict.
At the same time, while Russia and the West seem unable to resolve their protracted conflict, Asia remains an important source of good news for Russia, an area where constructive forms of international relations still prevail over various forms of geopolitical competition. The Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok in early September, which was attended by the heads of state or government of China, Japan, South Korea and Mongolia, is a good example of such positivity.
Perhaps it is image of relative harmony that makes the topic of Asian multilateral institutions less interesting for observers and relegates it to the bottom of the list of the priority areas of Russian policy in Asia. When Russian official speak of the country’s Asia policy, they usually start with Russia’s bilateral relations with regional leaders – China, Japan, South Korea and India – before turning to the Korean nuclear problem. Only then do they list the various multilateral diplomacy institutions around the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): the ASEAN–Russia Dialogue Partnership; the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting with Dialogue Partners (ADMM-Plus); the East Asia Summit; the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), among others.
Meanwhile, multilateral diplomacy in Asia is an agenda item that checks several crucial boxes for Russian foreign policy ideology.
First, the region is home to rising powers which, according to the official Russian theory, will build the new ‘polycentric world’ and these players include both individual countries such as China, India or Indonesia and organizations like the SCO and ASEAN itself. Second, the principle of non-alignment, multilateralism and inclusivity in the form of ASEAN-centric organizations is still in vogue here, that is, there is ‘Asian NATO’, but instead a dense network of inclusive dialogue platforms (even North Korea takes part in ARF meetings). Third, ASEAN and larger formats around it continue to take the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of states very seriously and avoid discussing each other’s domestic workings, which is also in the set of values that Russia is promoting on the international arena.
At the same time, all of this ideological affinity is not easily converted into practical cooperation. Every year, dozens of events are held within the framework of the ADMM, ADMM-Plus, ARF and EAS platforms, which are attended by the ASEAN dialogue partners. Diplomats from the partner countries are well aware of how difficult it is to maintain meaningful participation in all of them. It was only last year the Russia – last of the dialog partners – opened a full representation to ASEAN and given the limited international competencies of most Russian ministries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the relevant subdivisions of the Ministry of Economic Development remain disproportionately burdened with maintaining Russia’s participation in these formats.
In practical terms, the most visible step taken by Russia in multilateral institutions in Asia was the 2010 initiative to launch a “dialogue on issues of forming a new security and cooperation architecture in the region” within the EAS format. The set of characteristics that make up this system changes from speech to speech, but is usually said to be based on principles of collectiveness, multilateralism, equality, inclusiveness, openness, non-alignment and indivisibility. In the real world, Russia’s initiative is embodied in a series of working-level workshops on the regional security architecture. Six such workshops have been held and are usually attended at the level of division chiefs. There are also plans for a format where EAS ambassadors in Jakarta are to discuss the topic.
An initiative of this kind clearly appeals to ASEAN as an organization in the very centre of multilateral diplomacy in Asia, all the more so because the selection of principles proposed by Russia is recognized, at least vocally, by almost every single member of the United Nations. But even this seemingly win-win ideological construct runs into harsh geopolitical realities. In private conversations, ASEAN diplomats have in recent years expressed scepticism about Russia’s ideological leadership in this initiative: they say that it is not Russia’s place to talk about the indivisibility of security and then conduct joint military exercises with China, which the smaller countries in Southeast Asia evidently fear.
However, the main difficulty for the Russian initiative is different – as with many other processes in ASEAN-centric formats, it is not entirely clear whether an initiative on the creation of a new security architecture will come to life beyond workshops and statements. There is reportedly a collective document that could, following discussions, form the basis for a set of rules of conduct in the Asia-Pacific Region that could then be converted into another document that may even turn out to be legally binding.
Russia’s participation in ASEAN-centred multilateral mechanisms is not limited to the initiative. For example, Russia along with Laos is co-chair of the ADMM-Plus Expert Working Group on Humanitarian Mine Action. In 2014–2017, it co-headed (with Thailand) a similar group on military medicine. In 2019–2020, Russia will, alongside Indonesia, co-chair the ARF Inter-Sessional Meeting on Counter Terrorism and Trans National Crime.
The (Not) New Sheriff In Town
Multilateral diplomacy in East Asia has traditionally enjoyed the support of all the key players in the region. However, this is mainly due to its openness and inclusivity. Unfortunately, this inclusivity proceeds from avoiding any kind of hard position or going against the consensus. Serious security issues are discussed on these multilateral Asian platforms that first seek to not offend anyone be uncontroversial and only then to be effective or even meaningful. What is more, the major powers support the ASEAN centrality because they know that ASEAN is in no condition to enforce any decision. This means that the United States and China can act pretty much as they please without feeling any kind of restrictions on the part of the regional community.
None of this means, however, that the numerous dialogue mechanisms that exist in the Asia-Pacific region are purely imitative and decorative in nature. They perform an important function – namely, socialization and the creation of an information flow among states. This mutual awareness of each other’s intentions, interests and positions should in theory build trust among all players or at least remind them that when crisis strikes there is a platform where they can talk before taking up arms. In other words, the multilateral security system in Asia works, although it does not meet the grand expectations of observers who want to see it as a safeguard of international security in Asia. On the other hand, recent experience of Europe demonstrates that we relying too much on collective security systems.
When faced with any serious security challenge, the countries in the Asia Pacific rarely rely on multilateral institutions for protection or mediation. And the fact that they turn to more traditional foreign policy instruments underscores the inability of multilateral mechanisms to fulfil their stated functions. The new concepts and strategies that have emerged in Asia and are designed to counterbalance China will be seen by many smaller countries in the region as an opportunity to gain real protection from Chinese assertiveness, at least to the extent possible.
In the coming years, these alternative formats will likely revolve around all sorts of ‘Indo-Pacific’ initiatives and platforms. The revived U.S.–Japan–Australia–India quadrilateral dialogue – no doubt aimed at new and better containment of China – will also extend its cooperation formats to a wider audience of partners in Asia. The key partners here will most likely be Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
Another example is America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision announced recently as the economic leg of the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ strategy. The long-awaited trilateral partnership for Indo-Pacific infrastructure investment has also arrived. While these initiatives do not seem to be as ambitious as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, they do already have an advantage over it – they are not Chinese. In today’s climate of growing fears of debt trapping and Chinese ‘sharp power’ this gives a measure of hope to U.S. and Japanese infrastructural investors aiming at Southeast Asian and Eurasian markets.
All this creates challenges for the relevance of multilateral institutions in Asia. When the Quad re-emerged November 2017, the news caused concern in Southeast Asian countries: what will this mean for ASEAN centrality? This concern was addressed by a diplomatic appeasement campaign, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong went on an extensive tour of Asia to calm the waters. An important result of this work was the joint statements made by the Quad foreign ministries following the second meeting on June 7, 2018, with all four texts essentially boiling down to a reaffirmation of ASEAN centrality.
Even without these new plurilateral formats, ASEAN-centred mechanisms were a target for criticism. For example, every time the situation on the South China Sea flares up, ASEAN is criticized for not being able to adopt a unified position. The ten member states of ASEAN are to varying degrees willing – or, rather, unwilling – to upset China. This is why they prefer to adopt a position with the lowest common denominator. ASEAN and China have been developing a Code of Conduct for the parties in the South China Sea for several years now. The document should be an important milestone in the settlement of the conflict, or at the very least reduce tensions in the region. A Single Draft was only agreed upon this year, and it is nothing more than a set of asks from all parties – even the most glaring contradictions have not been removed.
What Russia Brings to the Table
The problems of ASEAN-centred mechanisms are not unique to multilateral diplomacy and, of course, do not diminish the significance of the EAS for Russia. First of all, Vladimir Putin’s participation in the East Asia Summit is not as important for the EAS as such as it is for Russia–ASEAN relations. The East Asia Summit is important as a vanity project for ASEAN, a living embodiment of the principle of ASEAN centrality, when all the great powers in the Asia-Pacific Region come together under ASEAN convening power to discuss regional issues. The declaration following the Third ASEAN–Russia Summit in Sochi noted, in typical ASEAN-speak, that more attention on the part of Russia towards the EAS would serve as an important step on the way to upgrading the status of the dialogue partnership between Russia and the ASEAN to ‘strategic dialogue.’
In this sense, the President’s trip to Singapore in November can only be a success. Russia will remind everyone of its status as a major player in the region and share a vision of the regional security system that will be difficult not to support. President Putin will talk about the Greater Eurasian Partnership – Russia’s idea of a vast space with unified rules of the game in trade an investment, stretching all the way from the European Union to ASEAN. Commentators will point to Russia’s significant potential to play the role of a third force, whose appeal will only grow as the competition between China and the United States intensifies.
The ‘third force’ idea has long existed in the Russian discourse on Asian politics but requires critical assessment. There are two key weaknesses in the argument.
First, Russia does not enjoy a high level of influence in Southeast Asia, and its objective ability to bring attractive proposals to the region is also limited. While the countries in the Indo-Pacific currently account for a third of Russia’s foreign trade, for none of these countries does Russia itself exceed 3 per cent. Russia has unique products and services in several strategically important sectors – arms trade, information security, minerals and energy. However, this proposal has existed for several decades now, while the results (with the exception of Vietnam) have been spotty. The same goes for the Russian military presence in the Western Pacific; this presence is reasonably limited, which, on the one hand, reduces the risk of Russia being drawn into regional conflicts. On the other hand, it prevents Russia from playing in the same league as the United States and China.
autonomy in Asian affairs. Thanks to the coverage by international media and experts, Russia is increasingly seen as a country whose deteriorating relations with the United States are making it more and more dependent on China. The nuances of Russia’s balanced stance on the South China Sea, for example, are no longer seen as such behind the smokescreen of joint military exercises with China and the support of Beijing’s refusal to recognize the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.
In this context, Russia may find it difficult to portray itself as a third force in Asia. It may be more worthwhile to invest more in maintaining the existing mechanisms of multilateral diplomacy. For Russia, which does not have the resources of China or the US, a sensible long-term strategy would be to strengthen the institutional framework, especially if it works at the same time to increase trust in Russia as a country that adheres to the rules of international cooperation. Building practical cooperation and developing new initiatives in multilateral mechanisms in Asia to match its rhetoric could have a positive reputational effect for Russia and its influence in Southeast Asia at a relatively low cost, even if it is old-fashioned and naïve to talk earnestly about collective security these days.
Such a strategy would no doubt require more serious investments in the bureaucratic, intellectual and organizational support of Russia’s work in multilateral mechanisms in Asia. It is necessary to gain the understanding and support of all stakeholders throughout the executive branch in order for Russia to step up its participation in the dozens of issue-specific dialogues under the ASEAN banner.
 At the time of publication, there is no official confirmation that the ASEAN–Russia Summit will take place; however, recent statements made by Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Sergey Gorkov during his visit to Singapore imply that it will. See: http://economy.gov.ru/minec/about/structure/depasiapacific/201802091
First published in our partner RIAC
Putin Welcomes New Ambassadors in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly reminded newly arrived foreign ambassadors of their important mission of promoting relations between their individual countries and Russia, encouraging political dialogue and expanding economic and humanitarian ties.
He received letters of credence from 23 new foreign ambassadors, including four from Africa, in the Alexander Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow. The African ambassadors are: Chol Tong Mayay Jang (Republic of South Sudan), Retselisitsoe Calvin Masenyetse (Kingdom of Lesotho), Komi Bayedze Dagoh (Togolese Republic) and Simon Marco Mumwi (United Republic of Tanzania).
While further addressing them, Putin pointed out that “Russia is dedicated to a peaceful policy and progressively carries out a responsible course in its foreign policy. Russia stands against using politically motivated protectionism measures and sidestepping the norms of international law.”
He explained that Russia’s active participation in global affairs and openness to mutually beneficial partnerships with all countries and regions were motivated by national interest: to create the most favourable conditions possible for Russia to develop dynamically, to achieve ambitious social and economic goals, and improve quality of life for Russians.
In his speech, Putin told the Tanzanian ambassador, Simon Marco Mumwi, “Russia is open to improving mutually beneficial ties with Tanzania, particularly, in nuclear energy and the military-technical sector. And Kremlin welcomes efforts of the Tanzanian government aimed at maintaining peace and security on the African continent.”
Several years ago, Putin rated Tanzania as one of Russia’s key partners in Africa and expressed the desire to strengthen ties in a broad range of fields, noting that there was a big potential for cooperation in areas such as exploration and mining operations. That pledged of exploration and mining operations has been re-affirmed many times.
In other fields, Russia and Tanzania have signed an agreement on cooperation in the defense industry, which envisages arms supplies and cooperation in the military goods production. Russia trains Tanzanian citizens in many universities and institutes in the Russian Federation.
Putin told Chol Tong Mayay Jang, who is representing South Sudan in the Russian Federation, that Russia was ready to advocate a prompt resolution of the internal conflict in South Sudan. It would also support the efforts of mediating states, regional organisations and the international community.
In September 2012, Putin acknowledged that building relations with the newly created Republic of South Sudan was an important part of Russia’s efforts to contribute to development in Africa. He warmly expressed the hope that the establishment and development of South Sudan and its economy would create many opportunities for carrying out joint projects.
With Ambassador Komi Bayedze Dagoh from the Republic of Togo, the Russian leader indicated that his country is interested in expanding friendly diplomatic ties and has good cooperation prospects in geological exploration and the military-technical area while at the same time continues cooperating in training professionals for the small coastal West African country.
In the context of further development of friendly relations with the Kingdom of Lesotho, Russia would pay attention to implementing joint projects, such as extraction of raw materials using Russian technology and investment. Putin said that Russia was satisfied with the level of coordination on issues on the global and African agenda.
In a friendly traditional atmosphere and due to the fact that Russia attaches great importance to relations with each country, Putin concluded by giving the highest assurance in making [the ambassadors] diplomatic activities as productive as possible and that all their initiatives would be supported, at all times, by the Russian leadership, executive bodies, businesses and society.
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