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Authoritarianism in Russian Politics: State Reformation at stake?

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Russia’s political development has been mixed since the fall of Soviet Union in 1991. An optimistic burst of activity in the early 1990s pushed the country from Soviet rule toward a greater emphasis on individual rights, but the country is now widely considered to be under authoritarian rule, or at least to be moving decisively toward centralization. At best, Russia can be seen as a “hybrid regime” or “competitive authoritarianism” that blends in some elements of electoral democracy. Russia’s trajectory since 1991 is one in which a democratizing moment has been followed by a return to more centralized power and decision making by a closed set of economic and political elites (Dickovick and Eastwood, 2015: 533). However, the central argument of this study is that the current Russian order is not participatory, democratic, and liberal enough due to personalization and centralization of political and economic powers by the executive body. As a result, the Russian political culture is struggling to construct a democratic fabric for the citizens based on equality, justice, rule of law, freedom, separation of powers, and egalitarian distribution. Institutional reform or re-design in the executive body, especially in the chief executive, would be a great initiative in order to visualize as well as build a democratic and liberal Russian order.

Russian Political Culture and Authoritarianism: Personalism and Centralization in Russian Politics

Historical Legacy of Russian Authoritarianism: Peter the Great, Russia’s first modern ruler, attempted to forcibly modernize the country imposing reforms i.e. “Table of Ranks” on his society centrally in the late seventeenth century. After a long period of Russian authoritarianism, the exile of Tsar due to the Russian Revolution of 1917created a short-lived space for participatory decision-making model under the leadership of Lenin. But after the death of Lenin, the top leaders engaged in a struggle to establish their supremacy over the Bolshevik party as well as over the statecraft. By 1929, Stalin had consolidated his authority purging numerous alleged opponent, often using “show trials” and forced confessions. From cold war to the disintegration of Soviet Union marked several autocratic events damaging the democratic fabric of the Russian Federation. In order to evaluate the changing face of the Russian leadership, four classifications of government could be outlined from the October Revolution of 1917 to the present. William Zimmerman, a research professor emeritus at the University of Michigan and writer of the latest book Ruling Russia: Authoritarianism from the Revolution to Putin, explains these categories as something akin to a spectrum between democracy and totalitarianism, with varying degrees of authoritarianism between the two extremes. His major contribution to this concept is his focus on the size of the “electorate”, the group able to choose and remove leaders, as a defining characteristic that differentiates between various forms of authoritarianism. For example, the Soviet Union never deviated far from full authoritarianism, because even during the years of Gorbachev’s “glasnost,” leadership was effectively selected by a small group, and structures remained in place to ensure that the leadership would not be ejected. He continues his analysis through the fall of the Soviet Union and into the present, determining that much of Yeltsin’s regime fell under “competitive authoritarianism,” a state closer to democracy than totalitarianism. By the presidential election of 2008, however, the government under Putin had returned to full authoritarianism, because through media control, barriers to competition, and fraud, the power of choice was in the hands of very few (Gerber).

Putinian Model of Russian Authoritarianism: Putin’s United Russia party dominates Russian politics, occupying a majority of seats in the Duma, Russia’s parliament. Effectively able to pass any law, Putin has progressively undermined civil liberties and slowly consolidated power in the hands of the central government. Using a variety of aggressive tactics such as intimidation and slander to silence domestic opposition and solidify his office, Putin has managed to remain in power for over 18 years. His allies have even rewritten the constitution to allow Putin to run for a third (now fourth), extended term as president (Marsh, 2015).Under Putin, Russia has reasserted control over its traditional spheres of influence in the following ways: 1) solidify his own power base; 2) centralize authority; 3) strengthen the state; 4) curb the influence of the business leaders or “oligarchs” who might oppose him and his allies; and 5) resume a more assertive foreign policy (Dickovick and Eastwood, 2015: 530). Due to Putin’s authoritarian activities like revealing the government’s selective targeting of political opponents for prosecution, current Russia is often described as “hybrid” or “competitive authoritarianism” or “managed democracy”.

Personalization of Political Regimes and Dysfunctional Institutions: As a semi-presidential system, both president and prime minister have considerable powers. But in reality, the prime minister is playing a decisive role in the decision-making process of Russia initiating a regime of political personalization. As a result, informal and backstage exercise of power was fundamental here and Putin’s personal authority seems more important than formal powers.

Ideological Roots of Russian Competitive Authoritarianism: The roots of “competitive authoritarianism”, called by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, lie in the Cold War competition between the Leninist one-party state and free market liberal democracy. With the triumph of the Soviet Union and the United States in World War II, the two leading examples of these models competed for dominance. After years of economic distortion, political repression and stagnating standards of living, however, the Leninist one-party state began to lose the war of ideas. This ideological erosion drew from diverse sources- from images of sparkling American kitchens to underground human rights movements. The rot eventually spread to the Soviet Union, where the collapse of the Communist Party caused the Soviet Union to fracture into its constituent republics.

With the ideological collapse of the Leninist one-party state, liberal democracy was now widely perceived to be the best system for political and economic modernization.

Seeing the “writing on the Berlin wall,” political elites realized that they needed to appear “liberal” to hold on to power. But these elites refused to accept the concrete effects of liberal, pluralistic politics, including the real possibility of losing power. As a result, they developed intricate systems of “faking” liberal democratic politics in order to legitimize their rule with the appearance of liberal democracy while maintaining their monopoly on power. Levitsky and Way describe this new system as one where “formal democratic institutions are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources so skew the playing field that the regime cannot be labeled democratic” (Partlett, 2012).

Hybrid Political Culture: Russia’s longstanding conflict with liberalism and modernization provided a hybrid political system to the statehood. Personalization of political and economic authority also framed an autocratic decision-making system. Also, rampant corruption by the political and economic elites heavily destroyed the culture of economic liberalization, rule of law and democratization in Russia. As if to compensate for the high degree of political apathy in domestic policy, a majority of Russians show a certain loyalty to the authorities on foreign policy. This phenomenon can be explained by the following reasons: In Russia, the support systems never developed that would have allowed individuals to become relatively independent of the state; the authorities consider any kind of protest to be revolutionary; instead of the actual vulnerability of the individual to the arbitrary actions of the authorities, propaganda offers Russians the illusion of self-importance, which lends passion to geopolitics; an emphasis on consolidating society in the face of a military threat (Kirilova, 2018).

Command Political Economy: State was responsible for major decisions about investment, production targets, and the social organization of economic life. Due to the “shock therapy” strategy of Russian privatization and the political and economic corruption, the statecraft failed to provide sufficient incentive to entrepreneurial activity and encourages a culture of dependency. All these state guided political economic activities initiated the rise of high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction, a very low birth rate, ethnic tensions and fragile judicial system.

Privatization of the 1990s certainly improved economic efficiency but also created the vast inequality that damaged public perceptions about the program. In this sense, the question whether privatization was on the whole beneficial remains highly contentious. Economic and political power in Russia is still intimately intertwined. Although the oligarchs have been blamed for much of Russia’s troubles, they did not directly slow down the country’s economic growth. On the contrary, oligarch-owned companies are responsible for much of the dramatic increase in output in recent years. The situation in Russia today demonstrates that, in a sense, perception is stronger than reality. Although the economy is in order (GDP per capita increased from 22% of the US level in 2000 to 35% in 2012) and living standards are on the rise, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) remains very low. In fact, capital outflow now stands at about 7% of GDP. That is a stunning figure, given high oil prices, abundant investment opportunities, and the nearly moribund US and European economies, which are the main recipients of Russia’s fleeing capital (Aven, 2013).

Oligarchic Regime and Centralization of Power: The strongest lasting image of the current centralized system of Russia is probably the dysfunctional transfer of economic power and a corrupt network of “oligarchs” and oil and natural gas mafias in which the state developed only weak institutions and lacked a rule of law. The moves to sideline those oligarchs who were critical to Putin’s rule have been part and parcel of a broader centralization of power and control. Putin has reduced the role of parliament, and increased state control over the media.

Institutionalizing Political Culture and the Future Russian Order: Deepening the State Reformation

From the above analysis it clear that the current Russian political order is nothing but a shadow of the historical development of political management, longstanding authoritarianism and one leader dominated public and corporate system. The crises of democratization, political participation, freedom of conscience and press, liberalism, rule of law, institutionalization, just power transfer system, the strong judiciary is a resultant of the expanding executive influence in current Russia. History provides huge evidence that the executive of the Russian statehood sometimes tried to uphold the democratic norms but most of the times backed the authoritarian order. As institutional reform is inevitable for the Russian statecraft, reforming the executive would alter as well as change the Russian narrow political culture for the following reasons:

The culture of liberalism in Russia is not practiced effectively due to the entrenched centralization. Always the chief executive played a decisive role in every sphere of decisions. So re-distribution of power following an institutional re-arrangement would be a vital footstep towards democratic culture for future Russia.

The honeymoon between the political and economic elites also strengthen the executive body where informal institutions and personalities played a key role in nation’s every progress. This relationship provides an invisible support to the chief executive to expand his authoritative order. So, a clear division and distribution between these elite groups might be a milestone for Russia’s future democratization.

Lack of Intra-party democracy, freedom of speech and press, functional parliament, free and fair elections, strong political opposition and rule of law provided an unseen legitimacy to Putin in exercising unlimited power upon these institutions and citizens. So, curbing the unlimited power of the executive body would expand the space for a liberal Russia in near future.

Popular participation, popular control, and popular sovereignty would a curbing point for reforming the Russian statehood where chief executive might have to behave democratically to consolidate his political regime providing an expanding space for the Russian political culture.

Conclusion

The prevalence of personalism in Russian politics is a clear demonstration of how political development and political institutions interact initiating a culture of authoritarianism. All the institutional arrangements are strengthening the illiberal hands of the chief executive. Similarly, the legislature has been reshaped in a way that facilitates central control, while the structure of executive facilitates personalism. In a nutshell, the various features of Russian politics work together to create a top-down system where democratic culture is undermining by the executive.

Abu SufianShamrat, M.S.S. in Political Science from Dhaka University, is an independent researcher in Bangladesh. Shamrat is the highest gold medal awardee in the history of Dhaka University convocations. He writes on political, social, global, as well as strategic issues in the leading national and international dailies and journals i.e. South Asia Journal, Eurasia Review, South Asia Monitor, Hindustan Times Syndication, and so on. He can be reached at: shamrat08du[at]yahoo.com

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The Russia-China-Iran Alliance

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NATO, the U.S. Government, and all other “neoconservatives” (adherents to Cecil Rhodes’s 1877 plan for a global U.S. empire that would be run, behind the scenes, by the UK’s aristocracy) have been treating Russia, China, and Iran, as being their enemies. In consequence of this: Russia, China, and Iran, have increasingly been coordinating their international policies, so as to assist each other in withstanding (defending themselves against) the neoconservative efforts that are designed to conquer them, and to add them to the existing U.S. empire.

The U.S. empire is the largest empire that the world has ever known, and has approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries, all over the planet. This is historically unprecedented. But it is — like all historical phenomena — only temporary. However, its many propagandists — not only in the news-media but also in academia and NGOs (and Rhodesists predominate in all of those categories) — allege the U.S. (or UK-U.S.) empire to be permanent, or else to be necessary to become permanent. Many suppose that “the rise and fall of the great powers” won’t necessarily relate to the United States (i.e., that America will never fall from being the world’s dominant power); and, so, they believe that the “American Century” (which has experienced so many disastrous wars, and so many unnecessary wars) will — and even should — last indefinitely, into the future. That viewpoint is the permanent-warfare-for-permanent-peace lie: it asserts that a world in which America’s billionaires, who control the U.S. Government (and the American public now have no influence over their Government whatsoever), should continue their ‘rules-based international order’, in which these billionaires determine what ‘rules’ will be enforced, and what ‘rules’ won’t be enforced; and in which ‘rules-based international order’ international laws (coming from the United Nations) will be enforced ONLY if and when America’s billionaires want them to be enforced. The ideal, to them, is an all-encompassing global dictatorship, by U.S. (& UK) billionaires.

In other words: Russia, China, Iran, and also any nation (such as Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela) whose current government relies upon any of those three for international support, don’t want to become part of the U.S. empire. They don’t want to be occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t want their national security to depend upon serving the interests of America’s billionaires. Basically, they want the U.N. to possess the powers that its inventor, FDR, had intended it to have, which were that it would serve as the one-and-only international democratic republic of nation-states; and, as such, would have the exclusive ultimate control over all nuclear and other strategic weapons and military forces, so that there will be no World War III. Whereas Rhodes wanted a global dictatorship by a unified U.S./UK aristocracy, their ‘enemies’ want a global democracy of nations (FDR named it “the United Nations”), ruling over all international relations, and being settled in U.N.-authorized courts, having jurisdiction over all international-relations issues.

In other words: they don’t want an invasion such as the U.S. and its allies (vassal nations) did against Iraq in 2003 — an invasion without an okay from the U.N Security Council and from the General Assembly — to be able to be perpetrated, ever again, against ANY nation. They want aggressive wars (which U.S.-and-allied aristocracies ‘justify’ as being necessary to impose ‘democracy’ and ‘humanitarian values’ on other nations) to be treated as being the international war-crimes that they actually are.

However, under the prevailing reality — that international law is whatever the U.S. regime says it is — a U.N.-controlled international order doesn’t exist, and maybe never will exist; and, so, the U.S. regime’s declared (or anointed, or appointed) ‘enemies’ (because none of them actually is their enemy — none wants to be in conflict against the U.S.) propose instead a “multilateral order” to replace “the American hegemony” or global dictatorship by the U.S. regime. They want, instead, an international democracy, like FDR had hoped for, but they are willing to settle merely for international pluralism — and this is (and always has been) called “an international balance of powers.” They recognize that this (balance of powers) had produced WW I, and WW II, but — ever since the moment when Harry S. Truman, on 25 July 1945, finally ditched FDR’s intentions for the U.N., and replaced that by the Cold War for the U.S. to conquer the whole world (and then formed NATO, which FDR would have opposed doing) — they want to go back (at least temporarily) to the pre-WW-I balance-of-powers system, instead of to capitulate to the international hegemon (America’s billionaires, the controller of the U.S. empire). 

So: the Russia-China-Iran alliance isn’t against the U.S. regime, but is merely doing whatever they can to avoid being conquered by it. They want to retain their national sovereignty, and ultimately to become nation-states within a replacement-U.N. which will be designed to fit FDR’s pattern, instead of Truman’s pattern (the current, powerless, talking-forum U.N.).

Take, as an example of what they fear, not only the case of the Rhodesists’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, but the case of America’s coup against Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011, and which by 2013 entailed his scheme to grab Russia’s top naval base, in Crimea (which had been part of Russia from 1783 to 1954 when the Soviet dictator transferred Crimea to Ukraine). Obama installed nazis to run his Ukrainian regime, and he hoped ultimately for Ukraine to be accepted into NATO so that U.S. missiles could be installed there on Russia’s border only a five-minute missile-flight away from Moscow. Alexander Mercouris at The Duran headlined on 4 July 2021, “Ukraine’s Black Sea NATO dilemma”, and he clearly explained the coordinated U.S.-and-allied aggression that was involved in the U.S.-and-allied maneuvering. U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media hid it. Also that day, Mercouris bannered “In Joint Statement Russia-China Agree Deeper Alliance, Balancing US And NATO”, and he reported a historic agreement between those two countries, to coordinate together to create the very EurAsian superpower that Rhodesists have always dreaded. It’s exactly the opposite of what the U.S.-and-allied regimes had been aiming for. But it was the response to the Rhodesists’ insatiable imperialism.

To drive both Russia and China into a corner was to drive them together. They went into the same corner, not different corners. They were coming together, not coming apart. And Iran made it a threesome

So: that’s how the U.S. regime’s appointed ‘enemies’ have come to join together into a virtual counterpart to America’s NATO alliance of pro-imperialist nations. It’s a defensive alliance, against an aggressive alliance — an anti-imperialist alliance, against a pro-imperialist alliance. America’s insatiably imperialistic foreign policies have, essentially, forced its ‘enemies’ to form their own alliance. It’s the only way for them to survive as independent nations, given Truman’s abortion of FDR’s plan for the U.N. — the replacement, by Truman of that, by the U.N. that became created, after FDR died on 12 April 1945.

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New Strategic Report: Development Prospects for Improving Russia’s Policy in Africa

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An expert group, has completed its studies of Russia’s policy implementation processes, impact and setbacks, and the development prospects in Africa, and has presented its final report with some recommendations intended to improve and scale up the existing Russia’s influence in Africa.

The report was prepared as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Situation Analytical Report, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

The 150-page report, released in November, offers new directions, some development prospects and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa. The report identifies two key factors necessary for determining the long-term importance of the continent: (i) human capital and (ii) natural resources.

These make for the increased interest for investment in extractive industries and infrastructure, booming consumer markets rising at rates much higher than the rest of the world. With its 1.3 billion, it is a potential market for all kinds of consumable goods and for services. In the coming decades, there will be an accelerated competition between or among the external players over access to the resources and for economic influence in Africa.

Nevertheless, despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended unto the fifth stage. Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991.

The first historic summit created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and so far remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.

Some of the situation analysis participants, who contributed to the latest policy report spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts are only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.

While the number of top-most and high-level meetings have increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda often remains small or scanty. There are little definitive results from such meetings. There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, and combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking were listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.

In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time. Right now, there are many agreements signed, before and during the first Russia-Africa summit, and Russia simply fails to deliver, as promised with African countries.

“The situation analysis participants agreed that the lack of project due diligence and proper verification of contracting partners is one of the key challenges for Russian business in Africa. Many projects announced at the top and high political levels have not been implemented. The reason is usually that the projects were not properly prepared before official approval. As a result, budget funding is often spent on raw and unprepared initiatives,” according to the report.

The adoption by Russia of an open doctrinal document on cooperation with Africa will emphasize the seriousness of its intentions and create an atmosphere of trust, in which individual steps will attain greater weight and higher-level justification. In African conditions, this will mean accelerated coordination of essential decisions. It is important to note that such public strategies for the entire continent are a necessary instrument of the other countries that are active in Africa.

Unlike most competitors, Russia can afford to promote a more honest, open, direct and understandable agenda for Africa: sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected. All situation analysis participants agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more African than those of its competitors.

It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan — a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.

One of the most important tasks critical for the effectiveness of Russian actions in Africa is the centralization and strengthening of the role and capacity of Russian state institutions on the African track, especially in the information sphere.

The report proposes dialogues should be enhanced between civil societies, including expert and academic organizations. In a situation where a rapid expansion of trade and economic relations is difficult (for example, due to economic stagnation or a crisis in the respective country), the humanitarian track can become one of the ways to deepen relations further.

On foreign players in Africa, the report points to China as number one active player. India’s influence continues to grow, as does the involvement of Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar, which are relatively new players in Africa. The influence and involvement of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil in the coming years, are likely to remain at the level of the past decade and will decline compared to China’s influence.

China, the EU, Germany, Turkey, Spain, and others have developed, announced and are implementing progressively their African strategies.

In general, of all the G7 countries, only Germany still has some potential to increase its influence and presence in Africa. Canada, Italy, and the UK, according to the authors, can at best maintain their influence at the same level, but it, too, will decrease compared that of the new centers of power.

At the same time, for its part, Africa will retain its importance for Europe in the long term and may even increase being an important source of a wide range of resources. Europe needs mineral resources (cobalt, gas, bauxite, rare earth metals) in order to carry out the energy transition, and human ones in order to make up for the natural decrease of population. The European banking system and financial institutions traditionally rely on Africa as a source of funding (while African capital often seeks refuge, and instability only accelerates its flight).

The influence of other non-European emerging powers, who often compete with each other, is also growing in Africa. UAE and Turkey may be mentioned among others. Their rivalry is visible in North Africa, West Africa and, especially, the Red Sea, and includes competition for control over both port infrastructure and points of possible military presence. A vivid example of this rivalry is Somalia, where Turkey is interacting and strengthening its position in Mogadishu, while the UAE, which recently lost control of the port in Djibouti, is taking a foothold in Berbera (in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland).

There are indications that Israel, whose activity in many African countries, particularly in East Africa, has remained traditionally high (especially in “sensitive” areas, such as internal security, the training of security and special forces, as well as in economic, especially agriculture projects), will continue to increase its involvement in the short and medium term.

Making efforts to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, Israel is developing contacts with the UAE and through it with a number of Gulf countries. Africa will be one of the platforms for Israel’s interaction with these countries. It will continue attempts to reduce the influence of Iran that has been carrying out its own diverse activity in Africa, seeking to expand it further.

On July 22, 2021, already after the situation analysis had taken place, it was declared that Israel had obtained an observer status to the African Union.

In the next ten years, rivalry, the balance of power and interests in the Indian Ocean will become a key factor of military and strategic importance, for this is where the interests of China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Arab countries, Iran, as well as the United States, France and other players are likely to collide. These countries will use significant resources to strengthen their positions along the entire coast of Eastern Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, which means both risks and new opportunities for the countries of the region. The military and strategic importance of the Indian Ocean islands (including four African island states) will continue to grow.

The report proposes discussions on possible mechanisms and formats of bilateral and multilateral alliances with interested parties, whose interests in Africa may coincide with the Russian ones. For example, the potential of bilateral cooperation in Africa with India (including outside of BRICS) has not been fully tapped yet. Joint initiatives in Africa in the areas of international development assistance, education, health care, and project financing may be of interest as well. It is also advisable to explore, including at the expert level, the possibility of engaging with countries such as South Korea (widely represented in Africa), Vietnam (showing growing interest), Cuba, Serbia, and several others as part of Russian initiatives in Africa.

Without Africa, Russia would not have so many friendly partners sharing its strategic goal of building a fair polycentric world order. By all purposes, Africa seems to be a favorable region in terms of positioning Russia as a global center of power and a country that defends peace, sovereignty, the right of states to choose development models independently, and as a protector of nature and the environment. Therefore, Russia’s increased presence and influence in Africa does not and should not cause resistance among African countries.

It is also important to move away from the “zero-sum” approach in relations with the West, even though at first glance the interests and aspirations of the EU and the U. S. in Africa seem to be opposite to those of Russia. Russia should build its policy and rhetoric in relation to Africa regardless of its rivalry with the West and should not create the impression that its policy in Africa is driven by the wish to weaken the positions of the United States and the EU on the continent.

The situation analysis participants agreed that Russia’s policy in Africa should be a derivative of Russia’s overall foreign policy goals and objectives, the three key areas being:

a) Ensuring national security. In the African context, this means primarily the danger of new viruses, extremism, anything that may impact Russia’s national security, including competition with other centers of power.

b) Ensuring social and economic development of Russia. Africa is a promising market
for Russian products and services, and a factor that facilitates the diversification and
modernization of the Russian economy. The situation analysis participants agreed that this is the main aspect today. In future, Africa can become one of the important factors in the development of some of Russian non-resource sectors, particularly railway and agricultural engineering, automotive and wheeled equipment, as well as services (primarily education and health care).

c) Strengthening the position of the Russian Federation as one of the influential centers in the modern world. Political partnership with African countries and the African Union as friendly players can make an important contribution to these efforts. As UN votes show, the positions of Russia and most African countries are conceptually identical or similar on many issues. None of the African countries imposed sanctions or restrictions against Russia. The ideological basis for cooperation at this level can be provided by the conceptual documents and ideas recognized and supported by all African countries: the approach of “African Solutions to African Problems” be strictly followed, working within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Development Goals 2030.

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How the Arms Control Approach Could Help Russia Tackle Climate Change

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The right approach would probably be to create a special interagency coordinator under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. It is vitally important that whoever heads the office is well respected by international partners: a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.

The energy crunch in Europe; the knee-jerk accusations of Russia having engineered it to win early approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; and the Kremlin’s riposte, pointing to the EU’s own policy failures, dominate the news. Yet one really important development remains underreported. Moscow’s official view of climate change and energy policy has just undergone a major reversal. Weeks before the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has come up with a national goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

This is not a covert attempt by the in-system liberals to begin aligning Russia’s climate policy with the policies of the world’s major powers. Rather, it is the consummation of a sea change that has been brewing for the past couple of years in the Kremlin’s thinking. President Vladimir Putin announced the carbon neutrality goal in remarks at the recent Russian Energy Week in Moscow. Climate change denial is over. Debate about what exactly has caused it is considered politically irrelevant. What matters are the existing realities and the current trends, which amount to all the world’s major economies moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, the new nexus of efforts to deal with climate change, the energy transition those efforts center on, and the geopolitical impact of that transition are moving right to the top of the Russian foreign policy agenda.

Of course, this is not all or even mostly foreign policy. Energy transition, which is the core issue, will affect not just the oil and gas sector, which in 2020 accounted for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP, but the country’s entire economy and finances, its political economy, and the relative political influence of various vested interests. Given the coincidence of energy transition and the inevitable transfer of political power, this combination is likely to become one of the most important processes shaping Russia’s future for years and decades to come.

Still, the foreign policy aspect of the change is non-negligible. The carbon neutrality pledges already announced by Russia’s main economic partners—the European Union and China; the United States, Japan and others—as well as the UN climate conference in Glasgow next month are all compelling Moscow to come up with a strategy of its own, and soon. Such a strategy will aim to preserve the country’s position as an energy power, but on a much more diverse foundation.

Integrating climate science, energy issues, and geopolitical objectives to produce and pursue an effective strategy could be compared to the task faced by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s–1980s. Back then, Moscow had to come up with a practical way to link nuclear science and weapons development, military force posture and strategy, the capabilities of the defense industry, and wider foreign policy goals. The result was transiting from the sterile rhetoric of universal disarmament to a diplomacy of strategic arms control that eventually produced strategic stability between the Soviet Union and the United States.

What is needed today is for various parts of the Russian government to pool their resources. The offices of the president’s special representative for climate issues and the special representative for liaison with international organizations on reaching sustainable development goals are evidently too small to take control. The ministries of foreign affairs, economic development, and finance; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Security Council all have an interest and possess valuable expertise on the issues, but none of them can actually be charged with taking the lead on their own.

The right approach would probably be to create a special unit under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. That unit would become an interagency coordinator among the many ministries that have interest and expertise on the relevant issues. Also, to borrow a page from the history books on Soviet arms control, a permanent mechanism could be organized of principals and deputies from various parts of the government to discuss and prepare decisions on these matters. This would be an analogue of the Big Five on strategic arms negotiations (the Party Central Committee, the Defense Ministry, the KGB, the Military Industrial Commission of the Council of Ministers, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry). It is vitally important that whoever heads the office has direct access to the president and is well respected by international partners. He or she needs to be a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.

The current hike in gas prices in Europe has motivated a number of people in Russia to sneer at green and alternative energy projects and reassert the continuing primacy of traditional sources of energy. Life is never linear, of course. However, even if future economic development does not completely close the books on fossil fuels (and it probably won’t, at least for a long time), the balance of energy consumption by some of the key buyers of Russian oil and gas will most likely change fast.

The speed of change means that temporizing now would undermine Russia’s chances of limiting the damage from the reduction of the world’s demand for its oil and gas. It would also prevent it from participating in developing new global norms and from taking advantage of its vast potential capabilities in such areas as hydrogen energy. Strategic decisions on that score have just been made, and this is a crucial positive step. The task now is to construct well-designed mechanisms to implement those decisions nationally and in foreign policy.

This article was published as part of the “Relaunching U.S.-Russia Dialogue on Global Challenges: The Role of the Next Generation” project, implemented in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Russia. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Embassy to Russia.

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