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Russia-Turkey: The Interdependent Relationship Shaped by Energy or a Deeper Friendship?

Nargiz Hajiyeva

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Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the deepening relationship between Russia and Turkey showed itself in the first agreement designed to enhance their economic relations. The agreement was signed on March 15, 1977, between them, which mainly embraced the cooperation in the promotion of the industrial development and energy affairs. Meanwhile, the parties also inked an agreement concerning the scientific and technical cooperations.

Therefore, energy had been a significant issue amid the negotiations processes between Russia and Turkey since that time. Although the relations many times have been strained between them with regard to the different geopolitical issues. However, the two parties have always seen each other more than an economic partner. In February 1986, according to an  Intergovernmental Agreement traced back to September 18, 1984, a contract was signed with Turkey’s BOTAŞ company for delivering roughly 6 Bcm of gas per year for over 25 years between the period of 1987 and 2011.

The gas flows between Russia and Turkey via Blue Stream and Western Line during the period of between 2012 and 2016. Source: Okan Yardimci, April 2016, Energy specialist in Turkey.

By the signing of the agreement, the first shipment of natural gas to Turkey from the territory of the Soviet Union commenced in June 1987, via Romania and Bulgaria using the Trans-Balkan pipeline. The agreement, in fact, opened a new door in Russian-Turkish energy relations for the foreseeable future. Currently, in the light of bilaterally multi-dimensional relations, both parties currently, are eager to boost up their energy collaboration in a growing number of fields, including nuclear power. The increasing bilateral relations between them have always raised the specific questions regarding what are the key factors or elements of these relations. According to the policy analysts and interlocutors, Turkish-Russian relations are based on a pragmatic approach meaning an effective way of maximizing their mutual advantages. Another element of the relations stems from the political identity and the civil society (domestic and foreign policy links). The political identity within Turkey and Russia has recently changed the way that affected their foreign policy strategies and in particular, their bilateral relations. In Turkey, since the adoption of the National Security Strategy of 1997,  Russia has not been considered as a threat to the security of the country, instead, the separatist groups and Kurds have been seen as major threats to Turkey.

The political shift toward a more “Eurasianist” orientation in Turkey was not only related to the rapprochement with Russia, however, even within Russia itself, a similar approach has been taken into account as a pivotal conception. Generally, pro-Western attitudes and stances of Russia have continued till the early 1996, after that time, the appointment of Primakov as the Foreign Minister leaded to a significant alteration towards the Eurasianism conception. This orientation had been expressed again and strengthened amid the presidency of Vladimir Putin since the adoption of the 2000 Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation.  Currently, as one of the main priorities of the Russian Foreign Policy, Eurasianist orientation rather than Europeanistone has taken a dominant role in Russia considering that it needs to improve its relations ina Eurasian arena with its increasingly major partners like China, India, Iran, Turkey, and etc. In this cooperation, Russia sees Turkey as an important regional counterpart, due to their recent convergent interests in some political issues. Turkey is the second major importer of Russian gas. From the standpoints of some analysts, and policymakers, the relations in economic, especially in energy sphere will last long and it is impossible to break down their relations easily due to the mutual interdependencebetween these countries.

Having seen from the practice within the political arena, currently, the relations of two parties with the EU is a bit complicated, and also strained many times due to the different political tensions, and perplexing situations. At the same time, the Eurasianist attitudes of both Russia and Turkey once again show that they have convergent interests in any field rather than divergent ones that ignite even today, the geopolitical intrigue with its European partners. Therefore, it seems necessary to comprehend and then analyze their relations emerging from convergent interests. Take a simple example of the Syrian crisis, during the crisis, two parties have been opposed to each other concerning the Assad’s regime in the region. However, the changing political roles and attitudes give a much more place to scrutinize their relations.

As a result of these political changes in their positions towards Syrian crisis, leaded to the brokering the ceasefire agreement on 28 December 2016, and in fact, the West, mainly the Obama Administration were marginalized on this issue and were not given a free place for the Administration to take its chief position on this ceasefire agreement. It is very plausible that Russia, Turkey, and Iran brokered a ceasefire in the region, and undertook the major duties to fight against terrorism. However, in face of many death and casualties, Obama Administration did not do “any significant thing” to reach a deal on a ceasefire in Syria. In fact, Russia and Turkey did well what the Obama Administration didn’t do. Thus, although they demonstrated the different positions in Middle East problems, especially in the Syrian crisis, and even this crisis caused strained relations between them for some time.

However, both Russia and Turkey found a common ground in this issue also, and their collaboration remains supported by the significant economic and energy factors. The reliable relations between them once again revealed that it is possible to reach a deal in common ground and deal with the opposing standpoints and other problems, which showed itself in the example of the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, Turkey and Russia are not able to find out their convergent interests with the EU. The relations between the EU and two parties have soured due to the accession process of Turkeythe Western sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea and etc. (Take an example of coup d’état happened on 15 July, 2016, during military coup attempt, the EU does not give any hand to Turkey to cope with this crisis, instead, Russia was the first country who supported Turkey amid the bloody occasion, in this context it can be said that friend is known only on rainy days or in trouble.)

Despite the souring relations due to the downing of Russian S-24 warplane between Syrian-Turkish border on 24 November 2015, the two counterparts again found a common ground to deal with the problem. Having strained relations of Turkey with the EU, forced Turkey to take a constructive approach toward Russia.

Upon the airplane incident, in June 2016, Erdogan called Putin and expressed “deep regret” over last year’s shooting down of a Russian warplane which violated Turkey’s airspace. During the phone talking, Erdogan added that he was eager to return the pre-crisis level of bilateral relations. Turkish spokesman Ibrahim Kalin highlighted that Erdogan used the communication to call for Russia to take decisive steps and joint efforts to solve regional crises and fight against anti-terrorist cooperation. He also added that both parties had agreed to take significant steps to enhance relations at a multi-track level.

After the bloody coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan did his first visit to Russia. Amid the meeting near St. Petersburg on 9 August 2016, they reached an agreement on lifting the sanctions gradually imposed by Russia after it downed a Russian fighter jet in last November. The two also agreed to prompt-start huge energy projects, including a gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant. (It is needed to mention that the negotiations between Russia and Turkey on Turkish Stream also was suspended after the jet incident and St. Petersburg meeting paved a way to renegotiate on the energy project). During the joint press conference following the meeting, Vladimir Putin in his answer concerning the future relations mentioned: ”Do we want a full-spectrum restoration of relations? Yes, and we will achieve that… Life changes quickly” he also added. ”Moscow-Ankara axis will again be a line of trust and friendship,” Erdogan also said.

The Petersburg meeting opened a new door towardsRussian-Turkish relations both in economic and energy field. Major steps were taken concerning the reigniting tourism cooperation and two major energy projects which are important for the development of both countries. Key factors among the plans is a Turkish Stream pipeline connecting the two countries and a nuclear power plant that Russia has to build in Turkey that is priced at 18 billion euro altogether. The Peterburg meeting became the initial step toward the future Russian-Turkish relations not only in the economic but also in the energy sector. As a result of this significant meeting, they reached a deal on medium-term agreement from the period of 2016 to 2019. Furthermore, the enhancement of the capacity of bilateral relations from $30 million up to $1 billion was considered one of the key ambitions. At the same time, taking the requests of Turkish and Russian traders and businessmen, Turkey and Russia will do the exchange of Russian ruble and Turkish lira in their trade relations and will be able to use easily rubles and lira in the next phase of their economic cooperation. Within the course of the meeting, they also agreed on several significant issues by signing the agreement composed of 12 key articles. The energy issue is the most significant part of the rapprochement between them. The main goals of 12 Articles are classified below.

Figure 7. showing the key priorities of Petersburg rapprochement based on 12 Articles for coming years.

The revival of Senior Joint Cooperation Council 7. Acceleration of Akkuyu nuclear energy project.
2. Commencement of Charter Flights 8. Establishment of Russia-Turkey Joint Investment Fund (Council) estimated at $1 billion to strengthen economic collaboration
3. Removal of prohibitions that restrict bilateral trade, including agricultural products 9. Enhancement of cooperation in the defense industry
4. Thelifting of the ban on Turkish entrepreneurs 10. Installment of Turkey-Russia-Azerbaijan tripartite summit mechanism
5. Taking steps in common in order to achieve fully regeneration of visa-free regime 11. A line of friendship and trust between Ankara and Moscow
6. Giving Akkuyu strategic investment status. 12. Acceleration of Turkish Stream project

Upon the Petersburg rapprochement, the next significant meeting took place in Istanbul during the 23rd World Energy Congress between 9 and 14 October 2016. It was the Russian leaders’ first visit to Turkey since his attendance at the Group of 20 Summit in Antalya. On 10 October, two parties came together to sign an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on the construction of Turkish Stream Pipeline. The Russian and Turkish leaders have voiced support for the construction of Turkish Stream pipeline which was suspended in the course of the tensions between the two countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan underlined that they want to accelerate the implementation of the natural gas project as much as they can. Even on 10 March 2017, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow concerning the development of further bilateral relations in some issues in particular, in Turkish Stream project. The Moscow meeting was largely hailed as a big success both in the Russian and Turkish Governments. According to the Moscow meeting, Turkey will set up an infrastructure to allow Russian National Payment system to be available in Turkey. As a result, Turkish Stream pipeline project will be implemented through the Turkish Deniz Bank. Besides, they reached an agreement on several issues, including the removal of trade sanctions gradually, the construction of the $20 billion Akkuyu nuclear power plant, cross-culturalism, and tourism.

The Turkish Stream pipeline would carry Russian natural gas to Turkey under the Black Sea and then on to European Union countries. The two leaders also agreed on the affordable gas prices in the first initiative of the pipeline project and Russia promised to reduce natural gas prices at the next delivery of gas supplies via the Turkish Stream. This delivery will not be direct, but via Turkey as an energy transit country, natural gas will be shipped to Europe. During the World Energy Congress, Putin in his speech highlighted that Russia has been providing energy for the EU for the past 50 years and again would supply via new gas projects including Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream pipeline projects in a more secure and a convenient way.

He also added that his country was ready to decrease the oil production and support OPEC’s initiative to cut production as a way to increase oil prices. In general, what does really Turkish Stream promise both Russia and Turkey for the coming years? What will be the consequences and future perspectives of Turkish Stream for these two countries? In order to answer these questions, first and foremost, it is necessarily needed to analyze the energy relations after the Istanbul Agreement took place on 10 October 2016. First of all, according to the IGA between Russia and Turkey, the construction of two lines of Turkish Stream accounting for 15,75 Bcm each from Russia across the Black Sea has to be started by the end of 2017 and be completed up to 2019. The first line is expected to supply gas to Turkey, while the other would connect the transit routes between Turkey and the EU to provide the EU with natural gas. The cost of the project is estimated to be $6 billion. Both lines will have to be completed by December 2019. Pursuant to the agreement, Turkey will provide special tax exemptions for the marine section of pipeline including the import of vehicles, equipment, and other necessary materials are released from the payment duties in Russia and Turkey. The Turkish side also removed the tax revenues on gas transportation. According to the Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Gazprom will construct and possess the offshore section of the pipeline. Turkey will build and own the first line of the land section for the delivery of gas to its territory. The second line via which the direction will be towards Turkey-Greece border for carrying gas to Europe will be owned by joint actions by Gazprom and BOTAŞ. As Russia mentioned before, Turkey has come to an agreement on the second line of the pipeline in exchange for a discount for gas prices promised by Russia. At the first phase of Turkish Stream project, Russia will finance the two strings of the pipeline. Reportedly, the total cost of Turkish Stream including its four strings will make up for €11.4 billion which is the half cost of South Stream estimated at €23.5 billion. The first line of the project estimated approximately €5 to 6 billion.

If Gazprom goes forward with the construction of the third and fourth lines of the project, beyond the Turkey-Greece border, the company will face the same regulatory obstacles as well as financial obstacles. Gazprom has already fulfilled the environmental impact assessment for the offshore and landline sections of Turkish Stream pipeline. In terms of challenges and perspectives of Turkish Stream, it can be said that the project will encounter several challenges due to falling oil prices, the economic sanctions imposed by the West, which have an impact on Russian companies and banks, financial constraints, and also the cost of the project. Those obstacles make it difficult to find financing for the gas pipeline. It shows itself in the example of South Stream project, in which Russia faced both financial constraints and at the same time, misperceptions with the EU and Bulgarian government caused the suspension of the project.

Regardless all these challenges mentioned above, Russia somehow will finance and complete the Turkish Stream pipeline because it wants to diversify its transit route bypassing Ukraine. Therefore, unlike South Stream, Turkish Stream’s credentials are convincing for both Russia and Turkey. For the future perspective, it seems that Russia is not inclined to politicize the Turkish Stream pipeline in the face of its economic and energy counterpart, Turkey. Both of them would get benefits from the project if they opt for the “flexible energy diplomacy” inclining to the EU. The Ukraine crisis re-emphasized the role of Turkey as an energy interconnector not only for the EU but also for. Russia well understands that via Turkish territory, it will be able to carry gas supplies to Europe and sees Turkish Stream as a potentially successful project in this way.

For the EU, the diversification of energy sources is one of the key priorities and it seeks for newly secure supply countries and considers Turkey as a potential energy hub and a transit country in order to attain the natural gas resources via secure pipelines namely TANAP, TAP constituting for the backbone of Southern Gas Corridor (SGC). Regarding the Turkish Stream pipeline, there are also possibly positive approaches and perspectives which mainly depend on the future relations between the EU and Russia and the EU and Turkey. In fact, the relations between them have been soured for the current time. Turkey is going to do negotiations with the EU concerning the future perspectives of relations after the results of 16 April Referendum, Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan added in his speech. Basically, the Russian-Turkish relations are based on “win-win position” or “positive sum strategy”, while it cannot be said the same for the EU because of current tensions between them.

For the future perspective, the Turkish natural gas appetite will increase significantly, and it will need to provide its natural gas demands in an effective way. In terms of energy relations, Turkish Stream is a good deal between Moscow and Ankara. However, Turkey also has to take a new energy policy to use its effective and generous geothermal energy resources at a domestic level. Before everything else, Turkey has to regulate its natural gas markets and adopt the energy saving program based on energy efficiency rather than supplying its increasing gas demands in the near future.  In 2017, its growing gas needs are expected to increase up to 46.6 Bcm out of total 50 Bcm gas consumption.

The steadily growing natural gas consumption of Turkey between from 1987 to 2017 according to March 2017. Source: Okan Yardimci, Energy specialist in Turkey.

On the other hand, if Turkey decreases its natural gas consumption in future decades, what will be the benefits of Turkish Stream?- Turkish Stream will be the significant project between the EU, Russia, and Turkey. Turkey will be the third energy party to supply gas from Russian territory along with the Black Sea on to the European countries. In this context, however, the EU side wants Turkey to regulate its gas markets based on the EU prerequisites and eliminate the monopoly on gas prices while delivering to the EU. From Turkey’s perspective, it is not a difficult deal, whereas, it will take a bit time to regulate and adopt the energy frameworks and rules requested from Europe. Regarding the EU, it has to change its way of stances and perceptions toward Turkey and Russia and should have to more elaborate on engagement with both Russia and Turkey.

If the EU wants either Turkey or Russia to undertake responsibilities coming from the EU energy rules, in turn, the EU has to give a room (place) for both countries for the sake of effective energy partnership. In terms of Russia, in the future, Russia will not politicize the Turkish Stream that it has in Ukraine because Turkish is both Russian real counterpart as well as an economic partner in Eurasia and will not restrict the improving role of Turkey in Eurasia.

Since the 1970s, bilaterally energy relations between Russia and Turkey have been developing to date.(See Annex 25 below) Russia at least for its economic development and energy revenues will provide the EU with its gas in the future. For the present time, there is not a potential alternative for the EU to meet its increasing natural gas demands. It is the overt fact that the Southern and Central European countries have over dependency on Russian gas from 60% to nearly 98%. Some of the European countries (Norway and etc.) produce energy resources for the EU countries, but it is not enough for Europe to meet its energy demands in coming years. When it comes to the revaluation of the EU stances, it should have to change its way of “non-engagement” with Russia.

Annex 25. The main energy deals and export volumes between Turkey and Russia between the period of 1970 and 2014. Source: Okan Yardimci, Energy specialist in Turkey.

At least, the EU comprehends well that at the present time it has sell-purchase issues in the energy sphere. Hence, regarding the dynamics of energy relations between Turkey and Russia, it can be said that the successful deal will be continued in the coming decades. Both of them need each other in tourism, trade, economy, and energy fields. In order to pave the way for the future collaboration between Turkey and Russia, they also evaluate the role of the EU and involve it in their projects. The involvement of the EU in Turkish Stream will gain benefits for all parties, if they choose the policy of comprehensive energy diplomacy taking into consideration the interests of each party. Therefore, the energy relations between Turkey and Russia in the foreseeable future are convincing. What will happen in the near future depends mainly on the progress of the relations with its European partners…

When it is needed to take a general view on Russian-Turkish relations, it is clear that their relationship was established on behalf of reaching their specific interests and purposes. Certainly, the relations between them can be considered both convincing and stable, because of the fact that the relationship between states based on ensuring of any kind of interests is more influential than other simple relations without any purposes. In Russian-Turkish energy relations, it is important to mention a key factor called “appropriate balancing” emphasized by Gideon Rose.  The appropriate balancing as a key element of neo-classical realism can be applied better in Russian-Turkish energy relations. “Appropriate balancing” arises when a state correctly comprehends another state’s intentions, interests and balances properly. If the appropriate balancing would be applied in the Russian-Turkish energy relations, it can be said that both of them are aware of their purposes and interests toward each other.

This relationship is a kind of preserving the balance of power, ensuring their internal and external security in the region. So that, their relationship can be called purposeful or intentional relations (In Turkish language, it called çıkarlı ilişkiler or çıkarlar) which envisage the serving of both sides’specific purposes and interests. As Russian President Vladimir Putin stated: “States do not have constant friendship relations; states have constant interests and ambitions.” Over the historical period, their relations have had a competitive character more than cooperation in the region. However, on behalf of ensuring their interests,(Turkish growing demands for gas resources, ambition of being an energy hub and energy transit country between East and West, and Russian ambition of taking huge dominance over Eurasian and European regional energy bazaar) domestic incentives and other external factors, the current situation forces them to take a constructive approach in their relations compared to the previous relations of that they had.

At least, if the pragmatic side of relations between Russia and Turkey is taken into consideration, in this case, the development of their relations both in energy and other fields is unavoidable. One of the most important strengths of neo-classical realism is its attention to systemic and unit factors as well as historical clarification simultaneously. This kind of strength makes the theory more relevant and applicable to the chosen research than any other version of the realism theory. In neo-classical realist theory, there are interconnected relations with enticements, motives, perceptions, and the foreign policy of states which make states attempt for maximizing their domestic security issue. (Turkey is eager to maximize its energy security in the region within a domestic policy through collaborating with Russia in the energy field, in turn, Russian interest of maximizing its security issue in the example of diversification of its transit routes bypassing Ukraine) Thus, by taking into consideration specific interests, purposes and security issues (mainly, domestic security which related to the energy security),it is apparent that Russia and Turkey could be strategic, an economic and particularly, energy partner more than so-called “a friendly colleague” within an international system.

Ms. Nargiz Hajiyeva is an independent researcher from Azerbaijan. She is an honored graduate student of Vytautas Magnus University and Institute D'etudes de Politique de Grenoble, Sciences PO. She got a Bachelor degree with the distinction diploma at Baku State University from International Relations and Diplomacy programme. Her main research fields concern on international security and foreign policy issues, energy security, cultural and political history, global political economy and international public law. She worked as an independent researcher at Corvinus University of Budapest, Cold War History Research Center. She is a successful participator of International Student Essay Contest, Stimson Institute, titled “how to prevent the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons”, held by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School and an honored alumnus of European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw Poland. Between 2014 and 2015, she worked as a Chief Adviser and First Responsible Chairman in International and Legal Affairs at the Executive Power of Ganja. At that time, she was defined to the position of Chief Economist at the Heydar Aliyev Center. In 2017, Ms. Hajiyeva has worked as an independent diplomatic researcher at International Relations Institute of Prague under the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Czech Republic. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral studies in Political Sciences and International Relations programme in Istanbul, Turkey.

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On Russia’s Power: is Winter Coming?

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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On November 11–12, 2018, Abu Dhabi hosted the fifth annual expert meeting within the strategic dialog organized by Emirates Policy Center with the support of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Traditionally the event gathers a large number of specialists in international relations, regional security, and Middle Eastern issues. Andrey Kortunov, RIAC Director General, made a speech at the session devoted to the role of Russia in the modern world, including in the Middle East.

Talking about Russia’s power in the Middle East or in a broader global context, we should probably start with defining what power in the contemporary world politics really means. Is it about material resources that a nation can mobilize to shoulder its foreign policy aspirations — the total throw-weight of strategic missiles, the number of aircraft carriers and combined budgets of national assistance agencies? Is it about the size of your territory or about the natural resources that the territory contains? Is it rather about you GNP or about GNP per capita that defines your power in international relations? Probably not. If you happen to be an eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the jungle, this does not necessarily make you the strongest beast around. A lot depends on how functional these eight hundred pounds are. It may be pure muscle tissue, but it may also be accumulated belly fat.

There is another, more functional definition of power in world politics. Power is defined as ability of states or non-state actors to make other actors do certain things or abstain from doing some things in the interests of those exercising power. To put it in a broader context, you can define power as ability of actors to meet the goals they set for themselves in international relations.

From this vantage point, Russia has recently demonstrated that it is a powerful state, capable of using its power in an efficient way. No matter how we assess the Russian role in the contemporary international system — as a predominantly positive or a predominantly negative, — we should agree that Russia constantly punches above its weight, having more impact on the system that it theoretically should have according to its ‘objective’ economic, technological or demographic potential.

If I were to compare Russia to a large investment fund, I would venture to say that the price of its stocks today is significantly higher than the true value of its assets. Look, for instance, at the recent Russia’s posture in the Middle East region. In my view, we can label it as an exceptionally successful political start-up: with rather modest price paid in blood in treasure, Moscow has been able to turn itself from a marginal player in the region into the arguably most important external power broker.

This apparent gap between the operational power and its material foundation needs an explanation. To say that Vladimir Putin has been simply lucky, making full use of indecisiveness and inconsistencies of the West and exploiting many vacuums of power around the globe is to say nothing. There should be something here about the ability of the Kremlin to make fast and resolute decisions, about its capacity to promptly mobilize Russia’s political and military forces, about the quality of the Russian diplomacy and so on.

Russia’s highly centralized political system, impressive domestic and international state propaganda machinery, its consistency in supporting Moscow’s allies and partners — all these features of the ‘Putin’s style’ foreign policy puts Russia in a league of its own in world politics. It does not have many important features of a truly great power (above all, it lacks a solid and diverse economic foundation), but so far it has been able to capitalize exactly on what distinguishes it from a ‘standard’ Western democracy or a typical non-Western autocracy. In other words, Russia is powerful because Russia is different.

Nevertheless, the Russian way of maximizing its international power contains a number of risks that should not be underestimated. First, the set of instruments, which the Kremlin can use in international relations to advance its goals, is quite limited. Russia is a nuclear superpower, is has military power projection capabilities second only to the United States. It is a global leader in cyber warfare and in a number of futuristic weapons. It is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto power, which it never hesitates to use. It is a member of other international groupings — ranging from G20 and APEC to SCO and BRICS. It is a global supplier of hydrocarbons, many other commodities, as well as of food stock. It is the largest country in the world with eleven time zones.

However, is this set enough for Russia to maintain its status in global politics for all of the XXI century? Until 2050? Until 2030? Probably, not. If so, in the rapidly changing international environment the Kremlin has to consider seriously a significant diversification of its foreign policy instruments with a special emphasis on soft power components (culture, education, social practices, technological edge, science and so on). The sooner we start moving in this direction, the more secure the country’s role is likely to be in the long-term future.

Second, many of current Russia’s foreign policy investments are high-risk investments bordering political speculations. Should Russia continue betting of leftist political regimens in Venezuela or in Nicaragua? Should it bet on Euro-sceptics and right wing populists in the European Union? Should it invest into failing autocracies in Africa? This opportunistic globalism is distracting Moscow from what is truly important for Russia: from resolving multiple crises on the territory of the former Soviet Union, from building stable partnerships with its immediate neighbors, from gradually restoring the troubled relationship with the West.

As for targets of opportunity overseas, any political engagement should be preceded, not followed by a careful consideration of exit strategy options. History teaches us repeatedly: countries that can win wars, quite often lose peace. If you take the ongoing conflict in Syria, it will not last forever. When the name of the game is no longer military operations, but a post-conflict reconstruction, new players will come to the stage, no matter who is charge in Damascus. External powers with deeper pockets than those that Russia has will claim a central role in the post-war Syria. The Kremlin should try very hard to convert its current military successes into less explicit, but a more lasting and a more stable political presence in the country.

Finally, neither Russia, not any other nation should forget that the real foreign policy power comes from the inside. Foreign policy victories might look great and they definitely appeal to the public, but they never become an adequate substitute for victories at home. In the end of the day, the ability to balance economic growth and social equity, preserving national identity and integration into the global community, political representation and efficient governance constitute the only reliable foundation for power in international relations. All other foundations turn out to be quite shaky and fragile.

I have no doubts that Russia has all needed ingredients to stay as a great power, no a global spoiler. It has the potential that makes it capable of being not a part of the problem, but a part of the solution for the international system of the XXI century.

However, the future of Russia’s power and that of Russia’s role will depend on the overall evolution of the system. In a popular American fantasy television series “The Game of Thrones”, characters from time to time remind each other — “Winter is coming”. By “Winter” (with a capital “W”) they mean something really bad, big and unavoidable looming on the horizon. They cannot prevent the Winter, so they have to learn who to survive in this extremely hostile and dangerous environment.

Today, there are many indicators that “Winter” might be the future of the world politics in years to come, that what we observe today is not a bad weather, but a profound climate change. The implosion of the state system in parts of the Middle East, the rise of right populism and nationalism in Europe, Brexit in UK the election of Trump in US, the coming collapse of the US — Russian strategic arms control, a renewed arms race in Asia — there are multiple symptoms of hard times ahead of us.

If the name of the game in the global politics is likely to be security, not development, if the prime goal of nations is going to be survival rather than prosperity, why should Russia change its current understanding of power in international relations? In a way, the Kremlin is better prepared to face the global Winter than most of its competitors and opponents are. To create incentives for the Russian foreign policy to reinvent itself, one has to prove that the global Winter is not the only option. Otherwise the world might face a self-fulfilling prophesy. As they say, “fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention.”

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia and Comoro Islands Cooperate To Enhance Bilateral Relations

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On November 8-10, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Comoro Islands, El-Amine Souef, paid his first official working visit to Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with him on November 9.

After the talks, Lavrov told the media conference that they had confirmed to continue promoting bilateral cooperation in many spheres and work together towards using the existing potential in both countries.

There is considerable potential for cooperation in fishing, renewable energy, the provision of fresh water and agriculture.

“We have agreed to help our business communities establish direct ties and we also exchanged opinions on international issues, reaffirming the identity or similarity of our views,” Lavrov said.

They exchanged of views on international and regional issues of mutual interest with an emphasis on preventing and defusing crises in Africa and the Middle East, struggling against piracy in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean and countering terrorism and extremism.

Lavrov reminded that Moscow firmly supports the principle formulated by the African countries, that is “African solutions to African problems” and urged Africans to find ways of settling conflicts while the international community provides the necessary assistance through the African Union and sub-regional African organisations with the coordinating role of the UN.

Under a memorandum signed by the ministers, Russia will be training law enforcement personnel for the Comoro Islands.

Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, observes that foreign assistance is very essential to transform the economy and improve living standards of the population on the Comoro Islands.

Thus, Russia’s economic engagement is needed at this time, most importantly, to maintain stability and turn around the opportunities into an attractive place. With a relatively small investment, Russia could achieve important results for the Islands, so the first step should be genuine commitment, he told me in an emailed interview from Johannesburg.

One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, the Islands are hampered by inadequate transportation links. It has a rapidly increasing population and few natural resources.

The low educational level of the labour force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. France, the colonial power, still remains a key trading partner and bilateral donor.

Russia established diplomatic relations with the Comoro Islands after it gained independence from France on 6 July 1975. In mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community with 15 other regional member states.

The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic are also widely spoken. About 57% of the population is literate. The Islands, with a population of about 1.2 million, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, to the east is Mozambique and northwest is Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

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Russia’s Growing Clout in Asia Pacific Region

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In their strategic calculus, the Asia Pacific major powers as well as other countries do not consider Russia a major military power for the region. Although these Asia Pacific countries understand Russia’s military clout in Europe and Middle East, they somehow fail to see how overall Russian military might have an impact in the Asia Pacific region too.

Accordingly, the growing influence of Russia in the region finds less attention on the regional media outlets, the regional discussion platforms and the think tank papers produced across the region. This is a total contrast to Russian involvement in Europe and Middle East, something which receives huge coverage. Despite the low coverage of its engagement in the Asia Pacific, Russia’s geopolitical presence is increasing in the region.

Although its military and economic involvements in the Asia Pacific reduced significantly after the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia has over the last decade improved and enhanced its military might significantly, making its military a potent power in the region.

Russia has been selling weapons and other advanced military technology to the Asia-Pacific countries in order to bring these countries into its geopolitical orbit. Besides its close military relations with both China and India, Russia is increasingly building good relations with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.

Furthermore, Russia is on a spree of building certain infrastructures in several Asia Pacific countries which would make those countries dependent on Russia for the proper functionality of those infrastructures. Take Bangladesh’s nuclear plant for example. Russia is setting up a nuclear-powered power plant in Bangladesh, and this infrastructure would certainly make Bangladesh dependent on Russia for the technological aspects of the project. Bangladesh has also been purchasing heavy weapons and military vehicles from Russia.

Recently this year, many regional countries were alarmed by Russia’s large scale war games. The fact that the war games was conducted in the eastern part of Russia – which forms part of the Asia Pacific region, unlike Russia’s western part that forms part of Europe – makes it an alarming development for the Asia Pacific region.

According to an Australian news website, the war games, namely Vostok-2018 or East-2018, involved more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, 1000 aircraft, helicopters and drones and 80 warships and support vessels.

More alarming was the inclusion of the Chinese military into the war games alongside the Russians. Around 3500 Chinese troops were said to have taken part in the Russian war games. Troops from Mongolia too joined the drills.

Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister, boasted about the drills saying, “Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles – and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible.”

Condemning the drills, NATO said the war games “demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict”.

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