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Russia: President Putin likely to have a cake walk in the March presidential poll

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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.

Domestic scene

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.

Foreign Policy

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.

Some rumors

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.

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Eurasia’s Great Game: India, Japan and Europe play to Putin’s needs

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Eurasia’s Great Game is anything but simple and straightforward.

A burgeoning alliance between China and Russia that at least for now is relegating potential differences between the two powers to the sidelines has sparked a complex geopolitical dance of its own.

With India, Japan and Europe seeking to drive a wedge between the two Asian powers, Central Asian states, where anti-Chinese sentiment is rising, are quietly rooting that Asian rivalries will grant them greater manoeuvrability.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Russia this month during which he attended the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, established to attract Asian investment in the country’s Far East, announced a US$1 billion credit line to fund development of the region.

Mr. Modi and Russian president Vladimir Putin also agreed to establish a maritime link between the Far East’s capital, Vladivostok, and Chennai that would reduce transport time from 40 to 24 days.

The connection potentially could serve as an extension of the Indian Ocean Corridor that links India to Japan and the Pacific and competes with China’s pearl of strings, a series of ports across Asia in which China has invested heavily.

In contrast to Mr. Modi, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has attended the forum since its inception in 2015, did not announce any major deals in response to Mr. Putin’s insistence that “the development of the Russian Far East, strengthening its economic and innovation potential, and raising the living standards of its residents among others, is our key priority and fundamental national goal.”

With the trans-Atlantic alliance fraying at the edges, Markus Ederer, the European Union’s ambassador to Russia and one of the EU’s top diplomats, appeared to recognize Mr. Putin’s priorities when he urged the bloc, to engage on a massive scale with Russia on some of the most tricky political and security aspects in their relationship despite differences over Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia, human rights and alleged Russian interference in various European elections.

In a memorandum to senior bureaucrats, Mr. Ederer suggested that 5G mobile communications, personal data protection, the Artic, regional infrastructure and the development of joint policies on matters such as customs and standards by the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland, should be topics on the EU-Russian agenda.

Mr. Ederer said that these were areas “where leaving a clear field to our competitors by not engaging would be most detrimental to EU interests.”

He argued that a “pragmatic” move towards “enhanced co-ordination” with Russia was needed to combat “Eurasian competition” as China’s influence grows.

The EU “would have everything to lose by ignoring the tectonic strategic shifts in Eurasia. Engaging not only with China but (also) with Russia…is a necessary condition to be part of the game and play our cards where we have comparative advantage,” Mr. Ederer asserted.

Messrs. Modi, Abe and Ederer see opportunity in what Thomas Graham, a former U.S. diplomat and managing director of Kissinger Associates, describes as Russia’s need for “diversity of strategic partners in the (Far East) to maintain its strategic autonomy (from China) going forward.”

The EU, India and Japan hope to capitalize not only on Russia’s requirement for diversified investment but also Mr. Putin’s need to counter widespread anti-Chinese sentiment in the Far East that has turned against his government at a time that protest in Russia is accelerating and after Mr. Putin’s party this month lost a third of its seats in the Moscow district council.

Public sentiment east of the Urals is critical of perceived Chinese encroachment on the region’s natural resources including water, particularly in the Trans-Baikal region.

A petition initiated earlier this year by prominent Russian show business personalities opposing Chinese plans to build a water bottling plant on the shores of Lake Baikal attracted more than 800,000 signatures, signalling the depth of popular resentment and pitfalls of the Russian alliance with China.

Protests further erupted earlier this year in multiple Russian cities against Chinese logging in the Far East that residents and environmentalists charge has spoilt Russian watersheds and is destroying the habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.

The protesters, who also denounced construction of housing for Chinese workers, are demanding a ban on Russian timber exports to China.

Underlying the anti-Chinese protests is the lopsided nature of economic relations that Russia scholar Leo Aaron says fits Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin’s definition of colonial trade, in which one country becomes a raw material appendage of another.

“China is Russia’s second-largest trading partner (after the EU) and Russia’s largest individual partner in both exports and imports. For China, the Russian market is at best second-rate. Russia ranks tenth in Chinese exports and does not make it into the top ten in either imports or total trade,” Mr. Aaron said.

He noted that three-quarters of Russia’s exports to China were raw materials and resources as opposed to consumer goods, electronics and machinery that account for the bulk of Chinese sales to Russia.

European, Indian and Japanese efforts to capitalize on anti-Chinese sentiment taps into a deeply embedded vein.

Writing under the pen name P. Ukhtubuzhsky, Russian author Nikolai Dmitrievich Obleukhov warned already in 1911 that “Russians are being displaced by the yellow races who seize commerce, industry, wages, and so on… God guides people. Those nations who protect Good and Truth will be victorious. If Russia, carrying the light of Orthodoxy, faces in Asia the yellow races wallowing in the darkness of paganism, there cannot be any doubt as to the outcome of this struggle.”

Mr. Putin, presiding over a country in economic trouble, can’t create the margins of manoeuvrability that he needs on his own. He hopes that India, Japan and Europe will come to his aid.

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Why We Should Not Expect Russia to be Welcomed Back into the G7

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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The history of relations between Russia and the G7 can be compared to a multi-act play with a convoluted storyline, magnificent scenery, a number of vivid characters and unexpected plot twists.

Objectively, such a play more looks like an epic tragedy or, at worst, a sentimental melodrama. But, personally, I liken the misadventures of the “Group of Seven,” which has not become a full-fledged “Group of Eight,” to Moliere’s famous comedy Le Bourgeois gentilhomme.

This comedy tells the story of a French “bourgeois” of the 17th century, Monsieur Jourdain, who dreams passionately of being accepted into noble society. Everybody who can take advantage of this obsessive idea of the naïve Jourdain, including toadies from among the impoverished aristocrats, numerous tutors of how to act correctly in “high society” and even his closest relatives do just that. In the end, Monsieur Jourdain’s dream almost comes true: during a pompous and fanciful ceremony, he is awarded an imaginary Turkish high rank of Mamamouchi. The initiation ceremony, of course, turns out to be a complete deception and a swindle.

I will dare state that, like Monsieur Jourdain, who never turned into a real nobleman, Russia, even after formally joining the G7 in 1998, never became a full member of this group. Some of the issues – especially those related to economics and finance – were still discussed in the G7 format, and the annual G8 summits turned Russia into an object of criticism and mentoring edifications more often than any other member of this club. Mutual grievances, frustrations and claims had been accumulating for many years, and the sad reality of 2014 was either a historical inevitability or at least a completely predictable ending to a protracted play.

When President Yeltsin first submitted an application for Russia’s membership in the G7 back in 1992, there were simply no other alternative associations in the world where Moscow could try to squeeze in. Structures such as the G20, BRICS or SCO did not exist at the time, and Russia’s membership in NATO and the European Union seemed unrealistic even then. Therefore, joining the “Group of Seven” not only pursued situational tasks (access to financial and technical assistance from the West, restructuring Soviet debts, combating discrimination of Russian goods), but also had symbolic political significance (a kind of compensation for Moscow’s loss of its “superpower” status).

The Western “Group of Seven” also set quite specific situational goals: the accelerated military drawdown of Moscow in Central Europe and the Baltic states; the prevention of leaks of Soviet nuclear technologies; and the consolidation of the results of economic reforms of the early 1990s. However, political considerations played an important role both for Western heads of state and for the Russian leadership. Russia’s integration was to confirm the global aspirations of the G7 and the universalism of Western values. It is curious that the task of including China or even India as the “largest democracy in the world” had never been posed to the G7 members in practical terms – Russia was clearly seen as the preferred, if not the only, candidate for accession.

Despite all the difficulties, awkwardness and inconvenience associated with the integration of the not quite stable, not quite democratic and not quite “western” Russia of the 1990s into the “Group of Seven,” this process was stimulating for the group as a whole. The participation of a new non-standard partner contributed to the emergence of new ideas, strengthening the discipline of the old members, and enhancing the overall tone and ambitions of the group. Appointing a rude and awkward rough man as a new gym teacher to a female high school teaching team that had refined their working partnerships and become a close-knit group after many years of joint work has a similar stimulating effect.

But such idyll lasts only until the gym teacher begins to actively meddle in the work of the teachers’ council and cast doubt on the wisdom of the school principal. And this is exactly what happened in the G8 at the beginning of the century. Whereas for Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s membership in a privileged western club remained mainly a matter of the country’s symbolic status in the world, Vladimir Putin considered the G8 primarily as a tool for the practical realignment of the world order, in both the security and development spheres. Moscow has challenged Washington’s previously unquestioned hegemony in the G8 by raising the issue of American-led intervention in Iraq. Moscow insisted on including non-traditional challenges and security threats in the agenda of the G8 summits. Moscow called on partners to strengthen G8 institutions by increasing the number of regular meetings of ministers of natural resources, science, health, and agriculture.

The increased activity of the Russian neophyte faced growing resistance on the part of the G8 veterans. The new initiatives of the “high school gym teacher” no longer moved, but rather irritated the conservative teachers’ council, not to mention the authoritarian American principal. After the triumphant G8 Summit in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2006, an ever more obvious sabotage of the Russian agenda began: the G8 took the annoying gym teacher down a peg. It turned out that no G8 declarations on global energy security had been perceived by EU officials as a guide to action. The G8’s common positions on international terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation do nothing to dampen the desire of United States for the further expansion of NATO eastwards. And recognizing Russia as a member of the “Western Club” does not signify that the West refuses to try to weaken Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.

The catalyst for the decline of interest in the G8 format from the Russian leadership was, of course, the creation of the G20. A significant part of the issues of global governance that were of great interest for Moscow moved to this platform. Russia felt more comfortable in the G20 compared to the G8: in a more representative association, Russia had new partners and additional opportunities to form tactical coalitions and advance its interests. It is no coincidence that since the expulsion of Moscow from the G8 in the spring of 2014, the Russian leadership has been constantly emphasizing the obvious defects in this structure compared to the G20.

Is Moscow’s return to the “Group of Seven” realistic in the foreseeable future? This question has been raised more than once over the past five years by certain Western leaders, including Angela Merkel, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron. Common sense suggests that this return will never take place. The play was performed, the curtain fell, the audience whistled and applauded, and the critics are scribbling their comments and reviews.

There will be no return, if only for the reason that there is still no unity regarding the conditions for this return among the “Group of Seven.” While the current German position connects the reconstruction of the G8 with the progress in implementing the Minsk agreements on Donbass, Canada is ready to welcome Russia to the updated G8 only if it comes there without Crimea. Historically, the G7 never had any formal procedures and mechanisms for accepting new members, but most likely, a decision on such an important issue will be taken by consensus. And reaching a consensus at the moment seems impossible.

The G7 itself is in the process of deep transformation and a thus-far not very successful search for a new identity. Donald Trump confronts the rest of the club in a harsh manner, being quite provocative at times in that confrontation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has many fundamental disagreements with French President Emmanuel Macron, and with the leadership of the European Union as a whole. Italy in its current state is hardly capable of taking on any serious international obligations. As a result, the G7 looks like a suitcase without a handle – one can neither carry it nor leave it behind.

Does this mean that Russia should not deal with the G7 at all? Absolutely not. The history of the “Group of Seven” knows many countries, non-permanent members of the club, who participate in the work of the Group. The recent summit in Biarritz, France, was attended, among others, by the leaders of India, Egypt, Australia and even Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had come under personal sanctions from the United States literally the day before the meeting.

Returning to the “G7+1” formula may be a better solution for Russia than restoring the G8. Provided, of course, that the Russian side will not find itself in the position of a suspended gym teacher invited to the teachers’ council only to get another portion of reprimands from stiff colleagues.

It is clear that the leaders of the “Group of Seven” are most interested in discussing current issues of international security with Russia, including the situation surrounding Syria, Ukraine, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as arms control and strategic stability. But most of these issues are already being discussed at other time-tested platforms. However, joining the G7 discussion on the problems of digital economy, international tax reform, fighting trade protectionism and eliminating global inequality would certainly be nice.

The stakes in this game are not as high for Russia as they were a quarter of a century ago. The G7 is no longer a unique or even the main laboratory where the components of the new world order are being developed and piloted. And the repertoire of Russia’s foreign policy is not limited to the part of the self-confident, but at the same time diffident and arrogant Monsieur Jourdain from Moliere’s comedy.

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Troubled Partners: What Russia and Turkey are Dividing Up in Syria

Ruslan Mamedov

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“Turkey is our close partner, our ally,” said Presidential Spokesperson and Turkologist Dmitry Peskov on the eve of the meeting in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow. On August 27, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, where they held a working meeting on the bilateral agenda. Regardless of all their differences, the two countries still need each other greatly.

Although relations between Moscow and Ankara are developing in many areas, the focus was naturally on the further actions of the parties in the crisis-affected Syria. Will Turkey conduct another operation in Syria? And what is Moscow’s opinion?

Several events of importance for Russia–Turkey relations took place a week before the presidents met. On August 21, the first creditor was selected for the company building the Akkuyu NPP strategic facility. On August 27, deliveries started on the second S-400 battalion to Mürted Air Base in Ankara. As the United States removed Turkey from the F35 project following the purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems, analysts believe that Turkey might look at Russia’s Su-35 or Su-57. These are the aircraft the Turkish President saw at the MAKS Salon.

But the meeting took place against the backdrop of the escalation of the situation in the Syrian Idlib province and the announcement of the establishment of a Joint U.S.–Turkey Operation Centre.

And it was the desire to overcome contradictions over Syria and prevent a crisis in the bilateral relations that led the presidents to hold an unplanned meeting in Zhukovsky following an urgent telephone conversation on August 23.

At the press conference held after the meeting, Vladimir Putin noted two key elements in Russia’s approach to the Syrian settlement: the priority of working within the Astana format and the launch of the the Syrian Constitutional Committee “that, as we hope, will be able to start its activities in Geneva in the very near future.”

Ankara had previously expressed its discontent with the Syrian government forces taking control of towns in the north of Hama Governorate and in the south of Idlib Governorate, including the town of Khan Shaykhun. Approximately 200 Turkish soldiers are still surrounded in the town of Murak, which makes the situation extremely uncomfortable for Ankara. This Turkish contingent served as an observation post established under the Turkey–Russia Memorandum on Idlib signed in Sochi on September 17, 2018 as part of de-escalation in the Idlib zone.

The situation deteriorated following reports that the Syrian Air Force had carried out an aerial strike on a Turkish convoy. After a telephone conversation between Putin and Erdogan, reports started to surface that a Russian military police force had inserted itself between the Syrian military and the Turkish observation post. Turkey might find a way out of the situation by withdrawing its observation post from Murak and launching a new operation in the north of Syria against the U.S.-supported Kurds. Given the situation, it is desirable for Russia to find a way of advancing the dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds.

While Ankara supported the Syrian opposition, it undertook under the Sochi agreements to fight terrorism in Idlib and facilitate the opening of the М5 and М4 highways leading from Aleppo to Hama and Damascus via Idlib, and from Aleppo to Latakia via Idlib. Most likely, implementing this provision is the key objective for Moscow. Once М5 and М4 are secured, the logistics infrastructure might have been put into operation once again and pathways opened for restoring economic ties between Syria’s regions. This never happened.

With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian military continued intermittent hostilities in the Idlib Governorate for approximately six months. Following another round of talks in Nur-Sultan on August 1–2, Damascus announced an armistice. The ceasefire failed, however, due to attacks perpetrated by the militants in Idlib. Subsequently, the government forces and their Russian allies significantly intensified their activity. Offensives were mostly undertaken at night. By mid-August, the Tiger Forces equipped with Russian-made night-vision devices and Т90А tanks with thermal imagers succeeded in breaching the defence of the terrorists and groups that oppose Damascus in the north of the Hama Governorate.

The Idlib Governorate and its eponymous capital are largely controlled by the forces of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (outlawed in Russia), which has managed since January to expand its power by subsuming other groups, largely labelled pro-Turkish.

Back then, Turkey succeeded in stabilizing the situation, yet failed to radically change it in favour of Turkey-friendly forces such as al-Jabha al-Wataniya Li-Tahrir (the National Liberation Front), which is in opposition to the government. Russian and Turkish analysts already appeal to the Sochi agreements, yet each party accuses the other of undermining their implementation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov openly stated that the actions of the Syrian government forces in Idlib are legitimate and do not violate the Turkey–Russia Memorandum. The terrorists in the area now controlled by the Syrian military had posited a threat to Syrian territory and the Russian military base in Khmeimim. Turkey faces a difficult predicament with regard to its domestic audience, and the processes in Syria could result in escalating tensions between Moscow and Ankara.

However, the ties developed over the recent years, as well as the strategically important joint projects and Erdogan’s commitment to increasing mutual trade turnover from USD 25–30 billion today to USD 100 billion (which he again confirmed at the MAKS opening ceremony) demonstrate both desire of both parties to avoid a crisis similar to the freeze put on the relations in 2016.

Erdogan informed Putin about the plans to launch an operation against the Kurds in the northeast of Syria. One might surmise that Turkey sees the solution in shifting the emphases in its “Syrian” policies and in concentrating on the Kurdish threat, since Turkey’s current policy in Syria is conducted in two areas: Idlib and the Trans-Euphrates region. Unwilling to be tied solely to the Astana format, Turkey is also building an appearance of collaboration with the United States. The operation in the Trans-Euphrates region today is the key point for Ankara. This operation will be the result of the pressure Turkey puts on the United States, an ally of the Kurds.

Ankara’s main goal is ostensibly to create a buffer zone in the north of Syria to prevent the Kurds from implementing a project there.

This will allow Ankara to cut ties between Kurds in Syria and Turkey and bring Syrian refugees, mostly Sunni Arabs, back to settle in the new “safe zone.” The United States has even convinced even the Kurds that the “safe zone” is necessary. The question, however, is how deep the Turkish military will go into the territory. They want to go more than 30 kilometres into the territory currently controlled by the allies of the United States from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Judging by the leaked reports, the United States has proposed only five kilometres. That certainly will not be enough for Turkey.

Answering a question about the Trans-Euphrates region at the press conference after the meeting of August 27, Vladimir Putin said, “We understand Turkey’s concern related to ensuring the safety and security of its southern border, and we believe these are legitimate interests of the Republic of Turkey… We proceed from the premise that establishing a safe zone for the Republic of Turkey at its southern borders will be a good condition for ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria itself.”

Turkey believes that the threat to its security comes from the Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) controlling the northeast of Syria. Ankara identifies them with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It should be noted here that Moscow occasionally reminds Turkey of the 1998 Adana Agreement concluded between Ankara and Damascus to resolve the “Kurdish question.” Back then, Ankara accused Damascus of supporting the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. This agreement regulates the provision of security in border areas.

In recent months, the President of Turkey has repeatedly stated that Turkey had made an earnest decision to launch a new offensive, the third operation in Syria following Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. Turkey has been transmitting these sentiments for some time now to both the U.S. and the Russian militaries. However, in order to conduct an operation in the north of Syria, Ankara needs to ensure that certain conditions are in place. Each element, particularly air support for the offensive and the involvement of the Syrian opposition forces, is linked to Ankara reaching a consensus, even if a silent consensus, with Washington and Moscow.

An agreement with Moscow is important for Ankara in order to at least temporarily suspend hostilities in Idlib, as it would allow at least some Syrian opposition forces to be moved to the area of Turkey’s new operation in the northeast of Syria.

As regards Idlib, Moscow and Ankara could agree on Damascus taking control of the М4 and М5 highways, while Turkey’s safe area in the northeast would be greenlit. The question hinges solely on consent to the launch of the operation. How the parties will conduct their operations and whether they would succeed will be up to them.

Currently, the question remains open as to how much the United States is willing to concede to Turkey. However, as Turkey launches its operation, Russia has an opening to interact with Kurds. If the United States allows Turkey to go too far, Kurds will realize the former cannot ensure their safety.

For the Kurds, this setup is fraught with the risk of possible loss of all their achievements (and territories). Moscow could work through the question of resuming serious talks between the Kurds and Damascus, thereby allowing the Kurds to avoid clashes with Turkey.

… A summit of the Astana process guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be held in mid-September. The launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is expected to be announced at the summit. Recent developments in the war bolster Damascus’ bargaining positions, yet at the same time they endanger the continuation of the political dialogue. The Russia–Turkey context is important as well, as the two countries strive to move beyond cooperation in Syria, understanding how complicated it is to achieve agreements.

Should Turkey launch an operation against Syrian Kurds, it will allow Ankara to “save face” concerning its Idlib losses. It will also allow Moscow to act as an intermediary and lead the Kurds and Damascus to an agreement. Much, however, will depend on the capacity in which the United States will continue its presence in Syria in and on whether the Kurds and Damascus will be able to move away from their maximalist counter-claims.

Moscow and Ankara understand that their partnership is difficult, but mutually necessary. Such partners can create quite a lot of trouble, but they are valuable because they steer an independent course and understand and recognize each other’s national interests, as well as the need for coordinating their stances.

From our partner RIAC

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