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St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018, one of the annual international platforms that brings together political, industry and business leaders to discuss the most pressing issues affecting global economics, development and finance, will take place on May 24 to 26 in St. Petersburg.

Ahead of the forum, the official website of the President of the Russian Federation has published his welcome greetings to participants, organisers and guests. In his greetings, Putin expressed his confidence that ideas and initiatives to be developed during the forum would facilitate the recovery and growth of the world economy.

“By harnessing the wealth of scientific and technological potential which is rapidly expanding in digital and other areas today, we can improve quality of life and boost stable and harmonious development in all nations and across the world as a whole,” he stressed in his message.

“And it is crucial that we strive towards increasing mutual trust, promoting wide-ranging integration processes, realising large-scale and promising projects. Russia is always open to this kind of partnership and cooperation,” Putin said.

According to RosCongress, the event organiser, about 15,000 guests from more than 140 countries expected to participate in the forum. France, China, India and Japan as guests of the forum will have their own exhibition pavilions on site, which will house a presentation area and a business space for delegations and representatives to interact with business partners from other countries.

Delegations from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Vietnam, USA, Canada, African countries and others will participate in various business events. BRICS member states (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) have been prominently represented there.

For foreign participants, including Africans, the forum is very useful for networking and discussing business strategies, and serves as an important study platform for deepening knowledge about the economy and possible ways of transacting business in Russia.

Series of official speeches and panel discussions will undoubtedly dominate the three-day event. The special sessions on business and investment opportunities will include the “Russia – Africa Business Dialogue” that has generated increasing interests among Russian and African businesses, international companies, African governments and institutions.

According to Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and Executive Secretary of the SPIEF Organising Committee, the upcoming forum will hold two special celebrations marking the occasions related to the continent: Africa Day and the 55th anniversary of the African Union.

“Economic cooperation between Russia and Africa has been developing rapidly during recent years. We have seen a positive dynamic in trade with Ethiopia, Cameroon, Angola, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries”, says Kobyakov. “I strongly believe that Russian-African cooperation at SPIEF, Russia’s largest forum will stimulate trade and economic ties, as well as investment activity.”

Kobyakov further disclosed that during the event, experts will share best practices and discuss new opportunities for implementing joint projects in the BRICS countries. Sergey Katyrin, the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, will moderate the session.

“The paramount task for BRICS is to continue strengthening efforts aimed at solving international issues in the spirit of unity, mutual understanding and trust. The prospects for cooperation and joint efforts of the BRICS member states will be discussed at the SPIEF 2018. I am confident that this will give momentum to further development of a fruitful dialogue on key world issues,” Kobyakov says.

Over the past few years, Russian authorities have made relentless efforts toward raising Russia’s political influence and economic cooperation in some African countries. Thus, discussions at the forthcoming forum will undoubtedly focus on reviewing the past and the present as well as proposing practical and the most effective ways to facilitate investment activities and that might include promising areas such as infrastructure, energy and many other sectors in Africa.

On her part, Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies and a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said in an interview with me that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in the interview.

The revival of Russia-African relations have be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russian-Africa relations have be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.

“What seems to irk the Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves. It is also still not clear how South Africa sees Russia’s willingness (and intention) to step up its role in Africa, especially with China becoming more visible and assertive on the continent,” said Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria, in South Africa.

Today, Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. Given its global status, Russia has to be more active in Africa, as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, but Russia is partially absent and playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired  diplomat who served previously as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements entered into with South Africa and various other states in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” he said.

“The Kremlin has revived its interest on the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Professor Olivier wrote in an email query from Pretoria, South Africa.

Last June 2017, the African representatives including heads of state, deputy president, ministers or their deputies, entrepreneurs and diplomats came to the St. Petersburg forum from Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Russia, Ukraine And The Disputed Crimean Peninsula

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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In this exclusive video for In Homeland Security, American Military University’s Dr. Matthew Crosston, Doctoral Programs, School of Security and Global Studies, discusses the tumultuous relationship between Russia and Ukraine since the 2014 ‘Maidan Revolution’ and how each nation, the United States, and NATO all view the disputed peninsula of Crimea. There is a transcript of the video below.

Transcript of Dr. Crosston’s Analysis:

If we’re looking at the Russian Ukrainian conflict, sort of en mass, going back to its beginning foundation, for Russia at least it starts with the Maidan Revolution – or even the precursors to what created the Maidan Revolution. And, that’s something that we get a little bit of a debate or a discussion in the West about. The Russians feel that the West sort of made some sneaky promises behind the scenes to Ukraine – the people who would ultimately lead this revolution and cause the sitting president to flee to Russia and have a new president come in and take his place who was much more EU-friendly much more-NATO friendly much less Russian friendly. The Russians always saw some subterfuge in that action. They never saw it as a natural organic revolution. They always saw it as an example of Western interference, and they – therefore – felt justified to say well if you can interfere, we’re going to interfere because if you’re just playing out your interests on the ground in Ukraine why can’t we play out our interests on the ground in Ukraine?

Besides, we also think Ukraine is a better partner to us and should be a bigger compatriot of our interest because we have religious, cultural, historical ties. No matter how you try to play it in the West, Ukraine and Russia should not be at odds against each other, Ukraine and Russia should not be enemies. They are the more natural allies. And in the end since you’re making false promises we’re going to find out how much you really mean it when you tell Ukraine secretly whisper-whisper behind our backs [saying] don’t listen to Russia don’t do anything about Russia. Come to us instead. Ukraine really believed in that the people who led the Maidan Revolution believe that would happen. So then what we call the annexation of Crimea (but yet in Russia they call the secession of Crimea into the Russian Federation because the people in Crimea held a referendum saying we want to be part of Russia) – we don’t want to be part of Ukraine anymore. We portray that as being Russia forced that on Crimea. The Russians say the Crimeans voiced their political will, and we back them up – which is what you guys in the West didn’t do for Ukraine when we did it.

The Kerch Strait

What’s above the Kerch Strait – which never gets played in Western media – is this massive eight-lane superhighway that actually the Russians built and had actually in place as a as an agreement and was already begun to be built before the Maidan Revolution and is now complete. What it does is it connects as a land bridge – it connects from Rostov in Russia and over into Crimea. So that you don’t have to go through Ukraine at all to get into Crimea. That’s where those naval vessels were;  that’s where the Russians they were getting near the bridge – without any knowledge or any announcement of anything preordained.

So, the Russians said ‘what are you doing here?’ Ukrainians don’t answer. And, the Russians start playing with it, and they said ‘well we’ll see how tough you really are … you really going to use these naval ships? Are you really going to do an action here? That’s why the Russians call it a provocation. And, in the West – we say the Russians are just making up the word ‘provocation’ because these vessels weren’t doing anything. But, we are ignoring how the perspective of the Russians – near this massive land bridge (that literally now connects Russia to Crimea), how would they interpret the presence of military vessels unannounced with no declared plan of action – just this sort of mysterious presence? They did what most countries probably would do, but what they did goes against our interests, so therefore we have a problem with Russia’s actions.

No World War 3 Imminent

Russia has seen – really, quite frankly – since the 90s (with Clinton) this sort of slow very gradual encroachment where more and more members of what they used to consider their sphere of influence or their regional neighborhood (the Russian regional neighborhood) more and more people become part of NATO. But the one part they’ve always laid out is like the parts that have always sort of been Russian, and you can’t underestimate what Ukraine means to Russians in their memory as far as their historical cultural and even religious memory – that area Ukraine and Russia has always been tied together. So that might be the red line (no pun intended) for the Russians drawn in the sand – Ukraine will not go to NATO – will stand up against that. And, I think maybe the possibility was that NATO thought ‘well let’s test that a little bit because maybe they’re saying it of course we understand why you say we need machismo on that, you need some bravado on that, but let’s see if you really mean it.’ And, as it turns out, the Russians said ‘yeah, we do really mean it. Now do you really mean it? Are you really going to come to bat for Ukraine if we step up?’ They stepped up, we stepped back. That sounds bad but it’s not World War 3, and won’t be World War 3 because it means the two big sides – the two big players (Russia and the United States) – are declaring: Ukraine is enough for us to get into [inconsequential] fights over, [but] it’s not enough for us to get into a real war with each other over. And, that’s the part that’s going unsaid in the West that we should emphasize more.

Author’s note: This video first appeared at Homeland Security

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The Death of the ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ Project?

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Russian relations with Europe are part of a complicated story rooted in military, economic and often ideological realms. Both entities have for centuries tried to find a modus vivendi, but have so far failed. One compromise suggested for Europe and Russia was an economic space stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok – the space characterized by a unified economy, political understanding and even deep military cooperation.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for years advocated the idea, making speeches about the case. To be clear, Putin was not the first to propound it, but was merely reflecting on similar ideological arguments of the past. A transcontinental union spanning the Atlantic to the Pacific is a geopolitical concept that pops back up from time to time and is linked to neo-Eurasianism, before which the geopolitical space was made up by the triangle of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan.

One space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which one might also call “Greater Eurasia”, would make Russia pivot to the West. This was an attractive idea for the European and Russians. Indeed, even German Chancellor Angela Merkel once said that she hopes “Russia would increasingly develop ties with the European economic area, finally resulting in a common economic area from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

How would such cooperation look? Perhaps it would imply at least a free trade agreement (FTA), whose core features might involve the cutting of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Business interests in the EU as well as Russia are likely to be supportive of such a proposition. Putin stated that “in future, we could even consider a free trade zone or even more advanced forms of economic integration. The result would be a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of Euros”.

Surely when we talk about Russia in this context, we need to understand this space as including neighboring post-Soviet states. Russia launched its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project back in 2015.

One would think that for the EU, an FTA with the EAEU would be an advantageous proposition from an economic standpoint, since it would give preferential access to an important market. But one would expect the pre-conditions posed by the EU for the opening of negotiations to be many and quite stringent.

For Moscow, this positioning might be more economically advantageous, as the EEU could be a bridge for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to connect with the European market. On the map, all appears logical and attractive, but in reality, China’s BRI, although not against being cooperative with other blocks, still aims at pulling major Eurasian resources towards itself. Russia’s EEU, weaker in dimension than the BRI, will inevitably be drawn to Beijing with growing grievances on the Russian side.

Back to the unified Russia-Europe economic space, there remains the fundamental question as to whether or not Russia would consider an FTA with the EU to be in its interests. Is the ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ idea serious? In Russia, many would fear that an FTA with the EU would be too imbalanced, or asymmetric in favor of the EU. Indeed, most Russian exports to the EU, such as oil and gas, are already being traded without tariffs. Also, the challenge for any petro-economy to sustain a substantial and competitive industrial sector would be a tough task to pull off.

So far, we have given a pretty rosy picture of the two stood regarding the project just several years ago, in the period before the Ukraine crisis.

When discussing Russian geopolitical moves, one needs to remember how important Ukraine is and how the latter has been a driving factor in Russia’s calculus. Ukraine has always been the main point of any of Russia’s grand projects of the past and present. The modern EEU, an ambitious project that goes well beyond the simple removal of borders between the five ex-Soviet countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia), is weak economically and geographically without Ukraine. Many believe that even before the Ukraine crisis, Russia-Europe relations were strained and a crisis was inevitable, but it should not be forgotten that it is still Ukraine which made the differences insurmountable. It could even be argued that the Ukraine crisis put an end to any grand strategic view between Russia and Europe. The “Lisbon-Vladivostok” vision, it could be argued, is now dead.

Beyond the Ukrainian issue are also other important issues which are likely to stop any furtherance of the Greater Eurasia project. Europe and Russia are not just two competing economic blocs, but two blocs with opposing values and political systems. A compromise between the two has not been seen in the history of the past several centuries, except for short periods of time when Russian military power was needed in settling inter-European problems.

Moreover, put in the longer-term perspective, we see that the abandoning of the grand Lisbon-Vladivostok vision follows what is taking place across the entire Eurasian continent, where pragmatism and a reliance on real state interests and capabilities are back in fashion following the hopeful post-Cold War years.

Over the past several years, Russia has also leant towards the East. And while it is often put to question just how deep the Russian pivot to the East is, certain geopolitical tendencies lead us to support the idea as fact. Moscow portrays this policy as its own choosing, but the reality is that from three grand avenues (Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia) of projection of Russian geopolitical influence, it is only in Central Asia that Moscow does not meet important pushback from any Western power, while Chinese influence is only seen in economics. This simple vector of projection of Russian power is quite telling at a time when Moscow is more drawn to the East rather than the West, spelling a death note to once grand plans of an economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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Russia invites African leaders to Sochi Summit

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russia has finally announced that it would host African leaders and corporate business tycoons in a high-level October summit in Sochi, south coastal city, to roll out a comprehensive agenda and strategy aimed at raising the existing overall Russia’s economic profile in Africa, St Petersburg based Roscongress, the official organizer of the October summit, said on its website.

It is currently collaborating with the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian Export Center and the African Export-Import Bank in organizing the forthcoming business summit.

Roscongress is a non-profit foundation that has grown into a high-profile organization and gained recognition as an effective organizer of the most important business conventions and exhibitions, both in Russia and beyond.

Anton Kobyakov, an Advisor to the Russian President, said that the Russia-African summit primarily seeks to deepen understanding of the business climate, accelerate investment and partnership possibilities in Africa.

“The upcoming summit will be unique in the history of relations between Russia and African countries, and will plot the vector for the further development of bilateral and multilateral contacts for decades to come,” he said.

In his contribution, Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), explicitly noted that Russia had the necessary capabilities and, most importantly, the experience and professionalism of its people who could support in these efforts in consolidating the relations.

Russia, by holding various events regularly, would provide an additional impetus for the development of trade and investment opportunities for both countries.

Quite recently, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, told an instant meeting held with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, that Russia would take adequate steps to deliver on pledges and promises with Africa countries. “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps,” he said.

Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has expressed optimism and full-fledged support.

“It is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russia and Africa know more about each other’s capacities and needs,” Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged in the current Russia’s relations with Africa.

He explained further that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government required most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content and equally important was African businesspeople who have been looking to work on the Russian market.

“The economic component of the summit has a special significance as it would be of practical interest for all the parties. As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition,” Minister Lavrov noted in an interview.

For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and find new strategies of cooperation in energy, oil and gas, trade and industry, agriculture and other economic areas. Undoubtedly, holding a Russia-African summit would help deepen economic cooperation on the full range of spheres in Africa.

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