Connect with us

Russia

The Russian Federation in Africa

Giancarlo Elia Valori

Published

on

In its relations with Africa, Russia – which operates on global markets especially in the field of oil and non-oil raw materials – does not use the same logic as the Western countries’. The latter have always looked only for materials to be processed and turned into finished products within their factories.

In fact – according to the most authoritative scholars and experts – in Africa, Russia seeks above all the human capital, i.e. the human capital to be developed, the ruling classes to be educated, as well as the masses to be trained and made productive, always in an integrated vision of development between the great continental Eurasia and Africa.

The Russian relations with Africa are only synergistic, as they are two large reserves of raw materials and this makes their geo-economic situation in this respect very similar. However, as often reiterated by Russian experts, these are always operations that take long time and have a strong geopolitical and strategic dimension.

Hence, again according to Russian analysts, the logic underlying the relations between Russia and Africa is the union of their best practices so as to create a synergy that, in the future, will have a global geopolitical and economic impact.

Westerners want to look for goods and resources which are essential for their technological and industrial survival, while Russia wants to support Africa to take it away from the US and EU influence and use it as the pivot of Russia’s future development as a global, economic and strategic power.

However, the economic and political relations following the USSR collapse were the first ones to be sacrificed on the altar of the very severe Russian economic crisis of the time.

The current Russian establishment interpreted that crisis as an ill-managed colonization of the great Russian reservoir of raw materials. Exactly the same paradigm that is currently applied to the wide African region.

Later we witnessed the complex turn – ordered by Vladimir Putin since his official rise to power on May 7, 2000 – from a Russian GDP of only 764 million US dollars in 2006 to 2,096.8 million US dollars in 2014 up to 1,248.55 US dollars in 2016.

Moreover, the International Monetary Fund foresees that the future increases of the Russian GDP will result almost exclusively from the expansion of the internal market.

This is the example given by the Sochi Olympic Winter Games and by Russia’s international initiatives.

Hence – as Keynes explained in his old, albeit always valid, General Theory -if economic growth and the capitalistic or non-capitalistic industrialization depend on the secondary processing of raw materials and on the market-driven innovation, generated by the market and its demand, obviously the West must expand itself – in a new way – where these raw materials are found, namely Africa, Asia and Latin America – and obviously the new geopolitics will repeat the one analysed by Georg Wilhelm Pahl in the 1930s: the war for primary raw materials.

Unlike technologies, said raw materials are not reproducible.

Hence, in terms of basic productive structure, the Russian Federation is homogeneous and similar to many of the countries rich in raw materials which, like Russia, make up the so-called BRICS group.

In fact, if we read the Russian Federation’s “Concept of Foreign Policy” adopted by President Medvedev in July 2008, we can see that the issue of collaboration between Russia and the African countries- as well as an enhanced  dialogue with the G-20 and the G-8 -are some of the fundamental issues of the Russian power projection throughout the world.

Moreover, in the 2017 “Concept”, it is made clear that “Russia intends to strengthen its position in global economic relations and prevent any discrimination against Russian assets, services and investments”.

It is worth keeping in mind that, altogether, Africa and the Russian Federation hold 60% of the world’s natural resources.

Hence the fundamental problem for Russia is to be so strong at international, legal and financial levels to avoid the fast and ferocious exploitation of its own natural resources – as well as of its friendly African countries – at low prices and without any political and military compensation in return.

Although many people think the opposite, imagining an impossible “tertiary society” -of “services” or, even more humorously, of “knowledge” -the “resource factor” is essential to analyse the current state of the world market.

Between 1960 and 2009 the world population grew from 2.5 to 6.6 billion people and currently, based on the 2017 data, we see the undoubtedly shocking forecasts of world population reaching as many as 7.6 billion people in 2018.

A 400% increase of the world’s population recorded  throughout the twentieth century. According to UN data, between 2018 and 2100 the world population will rise   approximately to 10 billion people.

Oil extraction – the axis of Russia’s current economy, which will also be diversified through these new relations between Russian and African raw materials-has risen  from 2.5 million barrels per day in 1960 to 4 million barrels in 2009 up to 6.9 million barrels per day this year, with a forecast of stable global growth in oil consumption of 1.2 million barrels per day.

Global natural gas production has risen from 190 million in 1960 to approximately 3,900 in 2018, with a consumption outlook predicting significant growth of global consumption, higher than the oil one.

The fact is that these growth trends in raw material consumption apply not only to energy products, but also to  all types of minerals and non-food raw materials.

Hence there is no monetary crisis – occurring by chance or  artfully created – which can manoeuvre this stable condition of the markets and the allocation of raw materials. Any manipulation with derivatives or other financial formulas will never be able of changing the material equilibria on the planet.

It is worth noting, however, that 16% of the world population lives in developed countries, even though  in these countries the social gap between rich and poor is increasingly widening.

The “Gini coefficient”, which is a commonly used measure of inequality of income or wealth, is currently optimal in the North European countries, while it is very low in Bolivia, Colombia and generally in  Latin America.

However, it is also very low in Gambia, Namibia and South Africa, ranging between 0.66 and 0.50, in a context in which the maximum income equality is 0.50, considering that 0 means complete income equality.

The United States, Russia and China range between 0.40 and 0.45, with China following closely.

Nevertheless 10% of the richest population owns 37% of wealth in Europe, 47% in North America, 46% in Russia and 41% in China, but with 55% of wealth in Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, India and even 61% throughout the Middle East – obviously excluding Israel.

This make us predict a future scenario that reminds us of Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory”, which proposed three political-economic worlds: the First world consisting of superpowers, the Second World of developing powers and the Third World of exploited nations.

The First World was composed of the USA and the Soviet Union, which engaged in imperialism and social imperialism and featured a “capitalist” country and a “revisionist” country (i.e. the USSR which, at the time, was consumed in the madness of the Cold War and in the economic and military confrontation between East and West). Japan and Canada, Europe and the countries of the global North-South divide composed the Second World, while the countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia (except Japan) composed the Third World, which would be  unified and led by Red China.

Hence 16% of the population lives in the First World,  which organizes the production and consumption of raw materials, while as much as 53% of the world population lives in developing countries.

With their 16% of population, however, the developed countries consume 52% of all the raw materials extracted.

This is the profound meaning of the “war for Africa” that everyone is currently waging with both conventional means and indirect or influence strategies.

Africa is the primary area for the extraction of manganese, chromium, bauxite, gold, platinum, cobalt – 94% of which is currently extracted indirectly by Chinese companies operating in the Black Continent – vanadium, diamonds, phosphorite and fluorite.

Africa is also the second region of extraction for copper, asbestos, uranium, antimony, beryllium and graphite, as well as the third  region in the world for oil, natural gas, mercury and iron ore reserves.

Africa, however, also possesses significant deposits of titanium, nickel, bismuth, lithium, tantalum, niobium, aluminium salts, tungsten and precious stones.

In short, the Black Continent is strategic for all the raw materials characterizing the technologies of the future  scientific and industrial revolution, which is currently  typical of the First World’s economies.

Finally, another factor of geoeconomic similarity between Russia and Africa is that they are two great global regions in which the fast and often unreasonable exploitation of natural resources has not occurred yet. Political and military difficulties of ancient and now outdated colonial hegemonies.

As, indeed, it has already happened in Brazil and in some Asian areas.

The depletion of natural resources in Latin America is older and more profound than the one already underway in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

We must not forget, however, that in mid-21st century the demand for raw materials will grow by 50% or 60% while, again according to Russian statistics – mostly confirmed also by the United States – the oil demand is expected to grow by 113 million barrels per day until 2030.

Another important fact, however, is that every year the United States is increasing its imports from Africa – and this has been going on since 2005, with a yearly 10% increase of North American imports from Africa.

Over the same 2001-2015 period, the European Union has instead reduced its imports from Africa by 2.5%.

Nevertheless, over 70% of imports to the USA is only for oil products, while minerals and other African non-food raw materials only account for 14-15% of the US total imports.

Hence the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – the Treaty that since 2000 has been regulating US and African trade -lays down that 6,400 products of 40 African countries will enter the USA duty free. This has indirectly created a million new jobs in Africa but, as always happens with mere free-trade treaties, they do not lead to investment, but only to the expansion of African imports which, although important, is not enough.

Currently, however, the US direct investment in Africa is on the wane: lately the US exports to sub-Saharan Africa have been worth 19 billion US dollars, while bilateral trade fell from 100 billion US dollars in 2008 to 39 billion US dollars in 2017 – a fall in North American imports mainly due to the increase in US energy independence and autonomy.

China has already funded 3,000 infrastructures in Africa in various ways and has granted 86 billion dollars of commercial credits to African governments. It has also invested 6 billion dollars a year throughout the Continent until 2025.

In 2015, during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Conference (FOCAC), President Xi Jinping granted a further multi-year commercial fund to the tune of 60 billion dollars, to which another 20 will be added at the end of the mandate in 2025.

Hence China is already Africa’s first creditor, with 14% of the entire sub-Saharan debt stock.

China’s Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, however, is still low, considering that it accounts for 5% of all the FDI in the Continent, while there are currently 10,000 China-owned companies – mainly private ones – operating in Africa.

Furthermore, in 2007 the EU launched the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, operating between EU-27 and 54 African countries.

The fifth Partnership Summit held in Abidjan in 2017 reaffirmed the main assumption underlying the agreement, namely mutual trade, in a situation in which trade between Africa (i.e. the 54 countries adhering to the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership) and the European Union is worth approximately  300 billion euro a year, while the European Union has guaranteed additional 54 billion euro for “sustainable development” – whatever this may mean in Africa.

Following the non-brilliant concept of “equalitarian” trade  typical of the USA, the EU has established a series of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with 40 other sub-Saharan African countries of the Strategic Partnership, with bilateral treaties envisaging preferential access to European companies in those areas, while imports will be liberalized over a period of 20 years.

Too late, too little.

Nigeria is opposed to the EPA since it maintains it is an obstacle stopping its industrialization, while Brexit has greatly weakened the EU ability to penetrate the African markets and ruling classes.

Finally, the USA has recently invested 6.5 billion US dollars in 14 African countries through the Millennium Challenge Corporation alone – funds  aimed at fostering inter-African economic integration (a sort of future African EU) and to create the best conditions for standard private North American investment.

Moreover, in February 2018, the US government established the BUILD Act, i.e. the rules on Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development, a new federal agency that will put together some functions of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and of  USAID, which will mainly deal with equity investment in Sub-Saharan countries.

However, let us revert to the Russian Federation.

Building on a strong bilateral relationship with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt, Russia currently plans to develop a series of relations – always and especially at bilateral level –  with many African countries, particularly those having a more difficult relationship with the EU and the USA.

At the inauguration of Vladimir Putin’s current Presidency there were people of great strategic importance for Africa: Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the South African Republic; obviously Abdel Fattah al-Sisi from Egypt; Emmerson Mnangawa from Zimbabwe; Joao Laurenco, President of Angola; Hage Geincob from Namibia and finally Omar al Bashir, military and political leader of South Sudan.

With regard to Egypt, Putin is working on a nuclear power plant and a special industrial zone, as well as on a package of aid and investment amounting to approximately 32 million US dollars.

An operation that is supposed to be completed in 2022.

For Zimbabwe – currently a political pariah for the whole West – the relationship with Russia and China is fundamental for the steady flow of economic aid from the two Asian countries. This aid will soon be turned into bilateral trade and into the creation of an autonomous Russian economic zone in the Southern part of the country, in addition to the modernization of agriculture and the creation of some industrial sectors mainly linked to agricultural by-products.

Russia, however, has also invested 3 billion US dollars in a large platinum mine.

Alrosa, Russia’s major State-owned company in the diamond sector, will operate in Angola where it will exploit one of the largest diamond deposits in the world, namely Luaxe. The Russian Federation is also planning to make additional infrastructure investment in South Sudan, very different from the investment planned by Europe and the United States there.

Russia, however, plans to develop – above all – the vast oil fields that Al Bashir’s regime of South Sudan has on the borders of the country. As to South Africa, we will see what results the South African Presidency of the BRICS groups on July 25-27, 2018 will achieve in terms of bilateral relations.

It is worth recalling that the BRICS countries account for 26% of the world surface and 42% of the world population.

In the Third World population is growing, while the population decline in Europe and North America makes us fear the worst for our rates of development and the unsustainable costs of welfare and pension systems while, for obvious reasons, the average factor productivity is decreasing throughout the West.

With a view to underlining again the importance of relations between the Russian Federation and the African countries, there is a clear link between Russia’s trading partners in Africa and the States participating in the bilateral joint manoeuvres put in place ever more often by Russia in Africa.

Moreover, the Russian peacekeepers in Africa often outnumber those coming from France, Great Britain and the United States. In Africa the Russian “green helmets” often outnumber those of the other Western powers altogether.

Furthermore – according to Standard & Poor’s, but also to data from other financial research companies-to some extents, sub-Saharan Africa is more attractive for business than other areas of the world, i.e. the Frontier Emerging Markets –  37 countries in total, including Slovakia, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Estonia and the United Arab Emirates.

Considering these areas, the US military imports over 50% of the minerals needed for the construction of long-range bombers from sub-Saharan Africa only, while the US military imports of cobalt from the countries of that region account for 75%.

Furthermore, Africa will be a land of conquest for the  Russian Federation, together with the People’s Republic of China, inasmuch as the investment of major countries will be infrastructural, lasting and based on the training of the local ruling classes and, above all, of their local labour forces.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

Russia

Russia’s strategy towards the United States over Syrian issues

Sajad Abedi

Published

on

The Meeting with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of the United States and Russia on the sidelines of the G20 summit ended not only with many concerns about the failure of the two sides to negotiate, even according to Secretary of State Rex Tilerson’s statement, he had very positive results in it also addresses the Middle East problems, including an agreement on Syrian issues.

The two sides agreed to create tensions in the south and east of Syria, to divide the level of infiltration and maintain the security borders of the region, along with a general principle on the reinstatement of Bashar al-Assad in power and the presidency of Syria. He also expressed his hope that Russia would use its influence to secure a ceasefire in Syria and its willingness to surrender Syria’s move to Russia from the outcome of the meeting, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has identified as the result of the transfer of the destiny of Bashar al-Assad to Russia.

Perhaps the G20 summit may be a turning point in the fate of Syria to escape domestic conflicts and disruptions, but given the two totally contradictory views of the United States and Russia, the insistence of Trump on the withdrawal of Bashar al-Assad on the one hand, and the continued support of Putin from Bashar In order to remain on the other hand, observers’ eyes will be more focused on Russia and Putin’s goals in the Middle East. Therefore, the question will be shaped in the minds. According to the two results of these negotiations, namely, the retention of Bashar al-Assad and the transfer of the fate of Syria to Russia, can Russia be successful in overcoming the United States in the Middle East and winning a big game? Which has started since the onset of the internal crisis in Syria, and in particular since 2015?

For many years, the Middle East has become a critical area at the center of world politics and security. Russia’s foreign policy has been planned, especially globally, in relation to the main centers of power and global security issues. Syria’s internal developments and the unrest that, it has emerged as evidence of Russia’s capabilities provide Moscow with the best opportunity to use its means of engagement in resolving Syrian issues not only at the regional level, but also at a higher and more global level.

Russia has always been a supporter of Syria since the onset of the internal crisis in Syria, with political assistance to the Assad regime in September 2015 with military aid. The military strategy was an option that was put on the agenda. (According to a military document planned for 2014, the Russian military doctrine was changed from defensive to aggressive). The presence of the Russian Air and Ground Force along with the logistics capacities of the sea was a demonstration of unique capabilities and the ability to build a powerful ally.

Subsequently, Putin’s ambitions for gaining more gains in the region came with the arrival of Donald Trump in America and the Middle East policy of the new government in Washington that could be a decisive factor in boosting or weakening Putin’s goals. So there were four possibilities:

First, Russia continues to play an effective role in the region and to keep its reactions in the region with the US government, as it was usual under Obama’s presidency. On this basis, although Russia was happy with Obama’s presidential term under Obama’s presidential term, Obama was happy with Obama’s idea of “giving fate to their nations,” but he was dissatisfied with Russia’s refusal to appear in the multipolar world.

Secondly, in a more difficult situation, Tramp will take on more tension with Putin and rebuild the Russian-US two-time Cold War era. This situation for Moscow was equal to the return to the post-Soviet era, and the prohibition of Russia’s expansion in the Middle East, which posed a serious challenge to the rise of Russia as a superpower.

Thirdly, in a more complex situation, both Russia and the United States have come up against their own national interests in a historically competitive struggle, and because of the sharp contradictions in the war in the Middle East, which, although seemingly fueled by Russia’s role as a counterpart, The United States existed, but the disadvantages and costs of this confrontation of Moscow were diverted from its strategic goals. It should be noted that Putin was unhappy with the fact that Obama called Russia a regional power “not universal”.

Fourth, in an optimistic mood, Moscow can engage and engage Washington in strategic objectives in the region and pursue its influence in the region in order to prove its superstructure and its inclusion as a pole. This would be the most desirable situation in Moscow’s view, which would have required the withdrawal of Tramp from sharp positions against Putin and the settlement of disputes between the two sides and serious consideration of the demands of the other side.

What happened at the summit of the twenty-fifth group would have been the fourth option, and now Putin is pleased to not decide on the future of Syria to Russia not only to win the G-20 summit, but also to succeed in implementing its Middle Eastern strategy and promise of the first-world power struggle has been.

Putin’s Middle East strategy is based on the modernization and promotion of Russia as a global power and, in recent years, has displayed its abilities in different stages in the light of developments in Syria. If the US-Russian talks on Syria’s disarmament in September 2013 and its implementation in February 2015 under the control of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the strengthening of the Russian-US cease-fire in Syria in February 2016 and the strengthening of multilateral peace-building Syria has all been the prospect of Russia’s effective role for multilateral regional cooperation.

Basically, Moscow is trying to introduce itself as a pragmatic, reliable, and experienced player to the Middle East, which is able to control the situation in the region with diplomatic and military means. The Russian military operation in Syria was a symbol of Russia’s regional power, which would have been a prerequisite for the imposition of its international ambitions. Moscow’s rational strategy, by preventing the fall of Bashar al-Assad, and then fighting his enemies and insisting on holding talks with the United States, sought to be seen as an unparalleled power capable of bringing the geopolitical weight of the Middle East not only through bilateral engagement And multilateralism with the countries of the region, but by defending them as necessary.

Under the current conditions, the engineering of the Syrian Peace Treaty with the United States could be a successful start for Russia, bringing the country closer to the key goals set in strategy priorities.

Continue Reading

Russia

Russia’s key to Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Published

on

On July 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly received two African leaders, Gabonese Ali Bongo Ondimba and Sudanese Omar al-Bashir, within the framework of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The two were on a three-day working visit part of which was to attend in the FIFA World Cup final match between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Together 12 presidents, prime ministers and many high-ranking representatives of foreign states attended the final match.

While meeting them separately in the Kremlin, Putin reaffirmed Russia’s role in and support for solving endless conflicts specifically in Central African Republic (CAR) and in Sudan, and other regional conflicts in parts of Africa. The meetings were also to consolidate the existing diplomatic relations.

Despite its significant mineral deposits and other resources, such as uranium reserves, crude oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, lumber and as well as significantly large arable land, the CAR is among the ten poorest countries in the world.

Nearly 90% is among the most impoverished of the estimated population of around 4.6 million as of 2016. CAR has been engulfed in political and ethnic conflict.

“There is naturally a lot of work to do for us, including the regional settlement in Central Africa. We know that Gabon takes the most active part in this, making a significant contribution to this joint work,” he stressed at the meeting with Ali Bongo.

In this context, Gabon is now chairing the Economic Community of Central African States and this community or regional organization is directly involved in settling the conflict in the Central African Republic.

Gabon bordered by Equitorial Guinea to the west, Cameroon to the north and Republic of Congo on the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. Since its independence from France in 1960, Gabon has had three presidents.

Abundant petroleum and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Gabon’s economy is dominated by oil. Oil revenues constitute roughly 46% of the government’s budget, 43% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and 81% of exports.

During the meeting, Ali Bongo argued that “Russia is a huge country, which has enormous capabilities and which can, of course, contribute a lot to the continent. Everyone talks about Africa today, from most various angles. The continent is rich in resources, and we observe how many major states fight each other to gain access to these resources.”

From above statement, Ali Bongo was encouraging the Kremlin authorities, flex muscles to face risks and high competition, in order to raise Russia’s economic profile on the continent to match with its global status. As already known, African countries have seriously adopted “economic diplomacy” and are looking to find pragmatic solutions to issues relating to infrastructure development, foreign trade and investment cooperation.

The transcript posted to Kremlin official website did not say anything about oil business, but understandably, Russia seeks to cooperate in this sphere.

The Kremlin press service said that trade between Russia and Gabon doubled in 2017 to $47.7 (from $29.1 in 2016). Last October, Russia’s oil giant Rosneft signed a profile protocol of understanding with Gabon’s Oil and Hydrocarbon Ministry.

In June 2017, Zarubezhneft and the Gabonese oil company signed a Memorandum of Understanding – a framework agreement on key aspects of cooperation, including joint exploration of deposits and construction of oil and gas facilities in Gabon.

In his discussion with Putin, Al-Bashir noted that Russia and Sudan relations really demonstrated positive dynamics.

“As for the economic sphere, we are developing a programme to share information and opinions on how we can develop these relations. Russian companies, including those producing mineral resources, actively work in Sudan. There will also be a meeting devoted to the agricultural sphere in September,” the Sudanese leader said.

Sudanese leader hopes to start tourist exchanges soon. He also encourages the participation of Russian oil and gas companies so that they would work in Sudan.

There are positive shifts in the military-technical sphere and in military cooperation. “We see big exchanges between specialists of Russia and Sudan. A big number of Russian specialists work in our country and this is why we highly praise the role that your country plays in preparing Sudanese military personnel,” Al-Bashir told Putin.

In fact, Putin and Al-Bashir last met and had a comprehensive business discussion November 2017 in Sochi. According to Kremlin website, the two sides have signed agreements and memos of understanding in the field of oil, gold mining, the peaceful use of nuclear power, higher education, external relations and agriculture.

In Sochi, Al-Bashir affirmed that Sudan is opening its doors for all countries and companies to invest in the country, indicating that Russian, Chinese and Arab companies are now operating in Sudan.

Interestingly, Al-Bashir has offered to help Russia in Africa. “Sudan has extensive ties in Africa and can help Russia develop relations with African countries. Sudan may become Russian’s key to Africa. We are a member of the African Union,” he promised Putin.

“We have great relations with all African nations and we are ready to help. We are also interested in developing relations with BRICS,” he concluded assertively. The BRICS group of emerging economies comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. South Africa will host a summit of BRICS countries on July 26-27.

Despite the fact that bilateral relations between Russia and with both Gabon and Sudan still below expectation, the three leaders Putin, Ali Bongo and Al-Bashir in their separate discussions expressed high optimism to take practical effective steps working towards its growth and sustainability.

It is worthy to note that Africa, indeed, has emerged as a playground for foreign powers especially Asian powers including China, India and Japan; each with its economic interests in the region and trying to expand its influence in strategic ways. In principle, all three leaders (Putin, Ali Bongo and Al-Bashir) have agreed that relations, in anyway, be developed in all directions between their individual states and Russia.

Continue Reading

Russia

The Art of Expectation Management

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

Published

on

It is evident that Vladimir Putin yearns for a meeting with Donald Trump. He has always desired this meeting — since the day Trump had won the presidential election in November of 2016. The Kremlin would have apparently preferred an early summit to take place in spring of last year. However, the first full-fledged bilateral negotiations between the US and the Russian leaders will take place only year and a half after Trump’s inauguration. It will take place and after Donald Trump has already met not only with nearly every single president or prime minister from allied Western nations, but also with President of China Xi Jinping and even with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Following a Russian proverb, “better late than never”. Vladimir Putin takes the forthcoming event in Helsinki very seriously. Unlike his US counterpart, he can afford not to care much about the domestic political opposition, moods in the legislature, and he has no Russian Robert Mueller following him closely. Still, it does not mean that sky is the limit for Putin’s aspirations and ambitions in Helsinki. There are certain limitations on what the Russian side can realistically hope for as the summit takeaways.

First, for Trump Russia remains a toxic asset back at home and this is no secret in the Kremlin.

Second, Putin should be very cautious in trying to drive a wedge between Donald Trump and his European allies.

Third, Putin has to keep in mind possible negative reactions to a new rapprochement with Trump coming from Russia’s traditional partners and allies all over the world.

In view of all these limitations, the Russian side is not in a position to offer too much to US in Helsinki or to expect a true revolution in the relationship.

The current positions of Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are asymmetrical. Anything but a clear and decisive US success will be considered a failure in Washington. Anything but a clear and decisive Russian failure will be considered a success in Moscow. This asymmetry is a complicating factor, but it should not necessarily prevent the meeting in Helsinki from tuning into a diplomatic victory for both sides.

It is evident that Vladimir Putin yearns for a meeting with Donald Trump. He has always desired this meeting — since the day Trump had won the presidential election in November of 2016. The Kremlin would have apparently preferred an early summit to take place in spring of last year. However, the first full-fledged bilateral negotiations between the US and the Russian leaders will take place only year and a half after Trump’s inauguration. It will take place and after Donald Trump has already met not only with nearly every single president or prime minister from allied Western nations, but also with President of China Xi Jinping and even with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Following a Russian proverb, “better late than never”. Vladimir Putin takes the forthcoming event in Helsinki very seriously. Unlike his US counterpart, he can afford not to care much about the domestic political opposition, moods in the legislature, and he has no Russian Robert Mueller following him closely. Still, it does not mean that sky is the limit for Putin’s aspirations and ambitions in Helsinki. There are certain limitations on what the Russian side can realistically hope for as the summit takeaways.

First, for Trump Russia remains a toxic asset back at home and this is no secret in the Kremlin. Any far-reaching Trump-Putin agreement short of a complete and unconditional surrender of Moscow to Washington would meet with a fierce and not always fair criticism within the US foreign policy establishment. The odds are that the Congress would overrule or water it down, and high-ranking bureaucrats within the Administration itself would find a way to sabotage it.

Second, Putin should be very cautious in trying to drive a wedge between Donald Trump and his European allies. It has always been tempting to go for a grand bargain with US above the heads of Europeans. There might be more personal chemistry between the US and the Russian leaders than between any of them and German Chancellor Angela Merkel or UK Prime Minister Theresa May. There might also be a shared Trump-Putin skepticism about the future of the European Union. Nevertheless, in many ways Europe remains indispensable for Moscow. Despite all the recent sanctions and counter-sanctions, EU remains the largest Russia’s trading partner, the prime source of FDIs and new technologies to the country. Moreover, on a number of important international matters – like the Iranian JCPOA — Russia and major European powers stand shoulder to shoulder against the revisionist US. From Putin’s vantage point, European leaders might look stubborn, boring and even antiquated, but most of them still appear to be more reliable compared to the flamboyant and unpredictable US President.

Third, Putin has to keep in mind possible negative reactions to a new rapprochement with Trump coming from Russia’s traditional partners and allies all over the world. How can President Hassan Rouhani interpret it from Tehran? What should Bashar Assad think in Damascus? Nicolas Maduro in Caracas? Above all, how are they likely react in Beijing? The latter should be of particular concern to Vladimir Putin because the meeting in Helsinki takes place against the background of rapidly deteriorating US — Chinese relations.

In view of all these limitations, the Russian side is not in a position to offer too much to US in Helsinki or to expect a true revolution in the relationship. If there is anyone, who might push hard for innovative, out of the box solutions in order to turn the Helsinki summit into an epic event, it should be Donald Trump rather than Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader is more likely to take a cautious approach, keeping in mind that any far-reaching deal between him and Trump would be a risky political investment for both, at least at this particular point.   The most important thing for Putin today is to change the overall dynamics of the US — Russian relationship, indicating the beginning of a new period of gradual normalization.

What does this approach mean for the US-Russian agenda? As for the strategic arms control, it is not evident that this issue is a top priority for the Kremlin these days. Judging by Putin’s March Address to the Federal Assembly, the Russian leader is confident that he can assure national security even in the absence of a US — Russian strategic arms control. However, politically strategic arms control is still important for the Kremlin; it gives Russia a very special status in the international system and puts Moscow on equal footing with Washington. This is one of not to many areas where Moscow can significantly contribute to global commons. The Russian military might lack enthusiasm about the New Start and, especially, about INF, but the political considerations can outweigh skepticism of the military provided that President Trump is also interested in salvaging INF and/or in extending the New Start.

It is impossible not to bring regional issues to the table in Helsinki, but here opportunities are limited as well. Looking from Moscow it is very hard to imagine any US — Russian ‘compromise’ on Ukraine, which would fly on the Hill and would be acceptable to the Kremlin at the same time. On the other hand, the predominant perception in Russia is that nothing significant can be accomplished in Donbas until the end of next year’s election cycle in Ukraine. Finally, the United States is not even a participant to the Normandy process and is not a signatory to the Minsk agreements. All the significance of the Volker-Surkov bilateral consultations notwithstanding, they can hardly be regarded as an efficient alternative to the German and French engagement.

Today, Russia has little to offer to US on the North Korean nuclear matter. It could have played a role of an honest broker on the Korean Peninsula when the relations between Pyongyang and Beijing were at historic lows. After Kim Jong-un’s trip to Beijing and the Chinese-North Korean reconciliation in spring, the window of opportunity shut fast for Russia. In the nearest future Moscow is more likely to follow the Chinese line on the North Korean problem rather than to advance its own innovative ideas.

A potentially more promising subject for conversation is Syria. At minimum, Trump and Putin can agree on future arrangements for the Syrian South-West and on a tactical deal regarding accommodating Syrian Kurds, at maximum — they can give a push to the Geneva process on political settlement. Does Trump intend to convince Putin to drop Russia’s current partnership with Iran and to shift to the ‘right side’ of the conflict? If so, the US President is likely to be disappointed: Iran is simply too important for Moscow in places like Afghanistan, Central Asia and South Caucasus to sacrifice this relationship in order to please Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Saudi King Salman. One should also keep in mind that the ability to keep good relations with all major sides to numerous Middle East conflicts has been a key, if not the key Russia’s comparative advantage in regional politics; with this advantage removed the Russian role in the region is likely to decline sharply.

The US sanctions against Russia might also be a part of the conversation though the official Russia’s position is that it does not conduct any negotiations about sanctions and leaves it up to states-initiators to decide on their sanctions’ future. The last round of US anti-Russian sanctions announced in April included RUSAL, Russia’s largest aluminum producer, and had a substantial negative impact not only on this company, but also on the global aluminum market at large. Vladimir Putin should know pretty well about the US legislative process that makes it impossible for Donald Trump to lift the existing sanctions against Moscow. What he can hope for is some kind of informal pledge from the US executive not to initiate any further increase of the sanction pressure on Russia. Another issue that Russians might wish to discuss in this regard is the modalities of the extraterritorial dimension of US sanctions — a politely sensitive matter that can become a nuisance for both sides.

Vladimir Putin is also well aware of the importance that Americans attach to the “Russia’s interference” into the US political system. Under no circumstances will he confess that such an interference authorized by Russian authorities did take place. The odds are that he will stick to his standard narrative about some unspecified independent actors (“patriotic hackers”) who had nothing to do with the Russian state. Nevertheless, one cannot exclude Putin offering Trump to sign a US-Russian “non-interference pact” — a mutual commitment not to mess with domestic affairs of each other. The problem for the US side is that the term “interference” is likely to be interpreted by the Kremlin in the broadest sense possible — it might include international activities of American NGO, foundations, media outlets, think tanks, Universities and so on. It is not clear how the two leaders can possibly reach a compromise on such a divisive issue.

The last but not the least, the Russian side would like to unlock doors to intergovernmental cooperation or, at least, to intergovernmental communication at various levels and in various fields including more contacts between diplomats, military, state bureaucrats, and intelligence agencies. The Russian Embassy in Washington should stop being a besieged fortress, the paralysis in the visa services on both sides should be dealt with. A symbolic progress in resolving the diplomatic property problem would also be appreciated by Moscow. One of the positive outcomes of Helsinki would be a decision of the two leaders to start planning a next summit meeting — either on the margins of a multilateral gathering like the G20 summit in Argentina or another bilateral event later this year.

In sum, the current positions of Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are asymmetrical. Anything but a clear and decisive US success will be considered a failure in Washington. Anything but a clear and decisive Russian failure will be considered a success in Moscow. This asymmetry is a complicating factor, but it should not necessarily prevent the meeting in Helsinki from tuning into a diplomatic victory for both sides.

First published in our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Latest

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Modern Diplomacy