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A Roadmap for Russia–U.S. Relations

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Today, both Moscow and Washington at official and unofficial levels recognize that relations between the United States and Russia have hit perhaps their lowest point. This is possibly one of the very few issues the Russians and the Americans actually agree on. Indeed, even at the height of the Cold War, the political dialogue between the Kremlin and the White House was never interrupted for such an extended period as it has been recently.

Another point both parties agree on is that the current crisis in Russia–U.S. relations is fraught with serious risks. Not just for the two countries concerned, but also for international security as a whole. I happened to visit Washington recently, and these concerns were voiced in almost every single conversation I had with prominent U.S. politicians and public figures.

As is often the case in life, it turned out to be far easier to create the crisis in bilateral relations than to find a way out of it. There is no shortage of so-called “hardliners” on both sides (and this will always be the case), who call for a rejection of the very notion of compromise and insist on the unconditional surrender of the other side. Yet we have all seen that, despite all the sanctions, Washington has been unable to impose its will on Moscow. And it would be equally absurd for Moscow to try to do the same with regard to the United States.

And if it is so, then we have only one option: to agree on the basis for taking the legitimate interests of both sides into account. All the more so because there are no insoluble problems between the two countries, and the problems that do exist can be resolved through negotiations.

Diplomatic experience teaches us that we need to study both the current international situation and historical precedents if we are to develop the most fitting solution to the problem. Let us take an example from the recent past, coincidentally a series of events in which I was directly involved. In early 2001, the newly elected President of the Unites States George W. Bush released a long list of Russian diplomats considered personae non grata in that country. The Russian government responded with a list of its own. A serious crisis in bilateral relations thus began — at the very start of a new political cycle in the United States.

In order to prevent the situation from spinning out of control, the Russian leadership made a critical decision: it would not succumb to the temptation to get pulled into the spiral of confrontation, and instead organized a personal meeting between the presidents of the two countries without delay. The meeting took place in Ljubljana on June 16, 2001.

The meeting did not concern any pressing international issues, it was not followed by high-profile statements, and neither side viewed it as a means to immediately solve all the problems that had accumulated between Moscow and Washington in the preceding years. The main goal was simply for the two presidents to “look one another in the eye” and demonstrate that, despite all their differences, the countries were open to political dialogue and the search for solutions to the existing problems.

Ljubljana meeting thus reached the goal: the presidents started to meet on a regular basis. And, despite the profound differences between the two countries (suffice it to recall the withdrawal of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the war in Iraq), the sides managed to maintain an intensive political dialogue and successfully work together on the international stage, whenever doing so was in the interests of both Moscow and Washington.

Projecting this experience onto the current situation, we can draw the conclusion that the only thing capable of breaking the vicious cycle in Russia–U.S. relations and launching them towards a state that is acceptable for both sides is a personal meeting between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Donald Trump. Of course, the current state of Russia–U.S relations is more complicated than it was 17 years ago, and Donald Trump’s position in Washington is not as solid as that of George Bush in 2001. However, it is very unlikely that we will be able to reverse the negative trends in the bilateral relations if a summit meeting is not held.

In all honesty, such a meeting should have taken place a year ago, or even earlier — right after Trump came to power. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to prevent an “early summit” between Russia and the United States. However, it would be a serious mistake to postpone the meeting any further. Where exactly this meeting will take place is a technical matter, because the most important thing is for the presidents to have the opportunity to exchange opinions freely on a wide range of issues. Obviously, a full-fledged bilateral summit is required for this — yet another meeting “on the side-lines” of a multilateral event is simply not enough.

After such talks, the presidents could instruct the relevant ministries and government agencies to resume meaningful negotiations on the most pressing issues on the bilateral and international agenda and agree on a roadmap for developing relations at least until Trump’s term in office is up. The long history of bilateral relations between Russia and the United States would suggest that a direct mandate of this kind is absolutely essential to launching such a negotiating mechanism. At the same time, the presidents could agree upon a schedule for further meetings and exchange visits.

It is extremely important that this road map outlines several areas for future work, assuming the presidents of the two countries give the go-ahead. First, the sides need to work out and agree on the scope of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed — issues which, if left unattended, could lead to serious incidents between the two countries in the air, at sea and on land. We need to restore tried and tested channels of communication or develop new ones — primarily between military departments — in order to prevent possible incidents and unintentional escalation.

Second, serious negotiations are required in order to resolve the problems that have built up in the bilateral and multilateral aspects of security. We are talking here about the entire complex of issues related to strategic stability, strategic arms control and the regional conflicts in which the two countries are involved in one way or another. So-called “non-traditional” security threats such as cybercrime are acquiring greater significance. And we cannot expect to find an adequate response to them after a single round of negotiations. What we need is a systemic approach, long-term and persistent efforts on both sides.

Third, there is a range of issues that, for a number of reasons, would appear to be unresolvable at the present time. We are talking here primarily about issues of the internal development of the two countries, about the “values” and fundamental principles on which the new world order should be built. But dialogue is necessary on these points as well, so that we can better understand each other’s stance and avoid pointlessly rocking the boat.

Fourth, a meeting between the presidents would go some way to removing the barriers that have been erected in recent times to communication between the people of the two countries. Even today, amidst a vicious propaganda war, Russians and Americans are still extremely interested in one another. The fact that more U.S. tourists have come to Russia to attend the FIFA World Cup than from any other country is particularly telling.

The development of full-fledged cooperation between Russia and the United States through civil society and the professional community demands that we address, in the shortest possible time, the clearly absurd situation with regard to the issuing of visas and remove the obstacles that are preventing scientific, cultural and educational contacts between the two countries from achieving their full potential.

We need to be prepared to exert great efforts consistently and over a long period — efforts that will not bring immediate results. The inertia of confrontation will continue to influence public opinion in the United States and Russia for a long time. This inertia will inevitably colour the positions of the expert community in both countries — and not in a positive way — and will be reflected in the leading media, influencing politicians and public figures. But the scope and complexity of the tasks facing us are no excuse for not making any efforts to resolve the problem whatsoever.

Talking to journalists at a press conference in Qingdao, China, on June 10 about the possibility of holding a Russia–U.S. summit, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said, “As soon as we can set one up, I’m there. As soon as the American side is ready, we’ll set up a meeting.” Now the ball is in their court.

First published in our partner RIAC

President of the Russian International Affairs Council. Professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs (RF MFA). Russian Academy of Sciences Corresponding Member. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation.

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Russia

Relegating the “Russia Problem” to Turkey

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Image credit: Prezident.Az

Turkey’s foreign policy is at a crossroads. Its Eurasianist twist is gaining momentum and looking east is becoming a new norm. Expanding its reach into Central Asia, in the hope of forming an alliance of sorts with the Turkic-speaking countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan — is beginning to look more realistic. In the north, the north-east, in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, there is an identifiable geopolitical arc where Turkey is increasingly able to puncture Russia’s underbelly.

Take Azerbaijan’s victory in Second Karabakh War. It is rarely noticed that the military triumph has also transformed the country into a springboard for Turkey’s energy, cultural and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia. Just two months after the November ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey signed a new trade deal with Azerbaijan. Turkey also sees benefits from January’s Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan agreement which aims to jointly develop the Dostluk (Friendship) gas field under the Caspian Sea, and it recently hosted a trilateral meeting with the Azerbaijani and Turkmen foreign ministers. The progress around Dostlug removes a significant roadblock on the implementation of the much-touted Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) which would allow gas to flow through the South Caucasus to Europe. Neither Russia nor Iran welcome this — both oppose Turkey’s ambitions of becoming an energy hub and finding new sources of energy.

Official visits followed. On March 6-9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Defense cooperation, preferential trade deals, and a free trade agreement were discussed in Tashkent. Turkey also resurrected a regional trade agreement during a March 4 virtual meeting of the so-called Economic Cooperation Organization which was formed in 1985 to facilitate trade between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. Though it has been largely moribund, the timing of its re-emergence is important as it is designed to be a piece in the new Turkish jigsaw.

Turkey is slowly trying to build an economic and cultural basis for cooperation based on the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency founded in 1991 and the Turkic Council in 2009. Although Turkey’s economic presence in the region remains overshadowed by China and Russia, there is a potential to exploit. Regional dependence on Russia and China is not always welcome and Central Asian states looking for alternatives to re-balance see Turkey as a good candidate. Furthermore, states such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are also cash-strapped, which increases the potential for Turkish involvement.

There is also another dimension to the eastward push. Turkey increasingly views Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as parts of an emerging geopolitical area that can help it balance Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus. With this in mind, Turkey is stepping up its military cooperation not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Georgia and Ukraine. The recent visit of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Turkey highlighted the defense and economic spheres. This builds upon ongoing work of joint drone production, increasing arms trade, and naval cooperation between the two Black Sea states.

The trilateral Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey partnership works in support of Georgia’s push to join NATO. Joint military drills are also taking place involving scenarios of repelling enemy attacks targeting the regional infrastructure.

Even though Turkey and Russia have shown that they are able to cooperate in different theaters, notably in Syria, they nonetheless remain geopolitical competitors with diverging visions. There is an emerging two-pronged strategy Turkey is now pursuing to address what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees as a geopolitical imbalance. Cooperate with Vladimir Putin where possible, but cooperate with regional powers hostile to Russia where necessary.

There is one final theme for Turkey to exploit. The West knows its limits. The Caspian Sea is too far, while an over-close relationship with Ukraine and Georgia seems too risky. This creates a potential for cooperation between Turkey and the collective West. Delegating the “Russia problem” to Turkey could be beneficial, though it cannot change the balance of power overnight and there will be setbacks down the road.

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The Future of the Arctic

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The harsh ecological conditions of the Arctic in the past have sustained economic activity in the region. Climate change, new technologies and innovations open new perspectives for the development of these territories. The Arctic has turned into one of the hotspots of geopolitics: global and regional players are striving to expand their borders. Watching the Arctic is a complex problem, so the solution can only be secured by integrating the forces of all parties in the Arctic.

It is impossible to discuss the development of the Arctic from the standpoint “whether we are going to exploit it or not”, as the industrial development of the Arctic started about 100 years ago. Today 10 million people live around Arctic, only about 10% of them are indigenous peoples. The main question is how we can make this development responsible and sustainable to ensure all three aspects – economic, social and environmental – in the long term and who should be a stakeholder in this activity.

Scientists from Russia, Norway and Iceland, despite the difficulties and deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, are conducting an active dialogue on the future of the Arctic. They call for enhanced cooperation and joint development of the Arctic for the benefit of humanity, not for geopolitical confrontation, because “Together we are stronger.” Scientists have also called for attracting the capabilities of space satellites to conquer the Arctic and solve various tasks and problems. They hope to strengthen public and private investment in human capital, for better education, to attract more talented people, to create high-paying  jobs for young people, to create and develop smart cities. The Arctic is an excellent opportunity for a clean and green economy, for Industry 4.0 and for the creation of new industries.

As part of the High North Dialogue Arctic 2050: Mapping the future, a panel discussion was held on April 23, 2021. The umbrella theme of all Arctic 2050 presentations: Mapping The Future of the Arctic and exhibitors tried to give their views on development and change in the Arctic over the next few decades from the standpoint of economy, trade and maritime transport, energy, ecology and social trends. During the panel Russian scientists from the Skolkovo School of Management, one of the leading research centers in Russia and their Norwegian colleagues discussed possible scenarios for the development of the Arctic in the next 30 years

Although almost all exhibitors were wary of more accurate predictions given the many factors that potentially determine the course of events in this area, the general impression that could be gained from different presentations is that greater importance is expected in this area in world economic and traffic flows. Development opportunities in mining, energy and maritime transport are great, but there are also great unknowns and potential temptations regarding the mutual rivalry of countries in this area, regulating legal and policy frameworks for the implementation of development policies and finally regarding climate change and risk environment.

The ability to think long-term, and to maintain a balance between all three dimensions, is what is called a ‘sustainable mindset’ and this is exactly what the Arctic needs from leaders now and in the future. A new leadership agenda emerges in each and every sector, reflecting the paradigm shift: policymakers will have to work towards creating an enabling environment, incentivizing more responsible investment in the Arctic, instead of trying to find a balance between economic activity and environmental footprint business needs to turn away from the cost reduction imperative and concentrate on creating innovation in technology and business models that together will make it possible to do business in the Arctic sustainably, which means both at the new level of productivity as well as in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. NGOs must concentrate on facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogs aimed at finding a balance of interests, rather than lobbying for limiting policies and challenging business activity in the region.  What is more important, is that, just as with the triple bottom line, these paradigm shifts should be synchronized and synergetic. The sustainable future of the Arctic tarts with the sustainable thinking of the leaders of today.

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Disagreements between States Should Be Resolved in a Peaceful Manner Based on International Law

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has appreciated the role of Pakistan in the peace process of Afghanistan. He said that Russia expects that the meeting of the extended ‘Troika’ will give a necessary impetus to the Intra-Afghan negotiation and active role of Pakistan in the preparation of this event is appreciable.

Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov expressed these views during in an interview and its important points are shared below:

Q1.: Recently, another round of consultations took place in Moscow as part of the extended “Troika” on Afghanistan, which will likely to be followed by a session of talks in Doha. What are the prospects for an intra-Afghan dialogue given that the government of President Ashraf Ghani avoids such negotiations? How will peace and security in South Asia be affected by India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir, its active participation in the “Quad” (USA-India-Japan-Australia) and its dispute over the border areas with China?

Answer: We expect that the meeting of the extended “Troika” of March 18, 2021 will give a necessary impetus to the intra-Afghan negotiations. We note the active role of the Pakistani side in the preparation of this event. Moscow also hosted separate meetings between the Afghan delegation (headed by the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah) and representatives of the Taliban. We consider it important that both sides speak in favour of intensifying the intra-Afghan negotiation process.

As for New Delhi’s participation in the “Quad”, we proceed from the fact that India as a responsible world power determines its foreign policy priorities by itself. At the same time we are convinced that disagreements between states in any region of the world including, of course, South Asia, should be resolved in a peaceful, civilized manner based on international law. Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is ready to assist this in every possible way.

In principle we do not support the creation of divisive geopolitical structures in the spirit of the cold war. In modern conditions there is demand for such multilateral associations, initiatives and concepts which are based on the principles of inclusiveness, collegiality and equality. It is this philosophy that underlies the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Moscow, Islamabad and New Delhi are members, he said.

Russia is interested in building up cooperation with the Pakistani, Indian and other partners in Eurasia. We have common interests, above all, ensuring security and improving the quality of life of the peoples of our countries. A unifying agenda is being promoted by the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin to develop Greater Eurasian Partnership. Participation in it is open to all states of the continent, including the members of the EAEU, SCO, ASEAN, as well as, in case there is such interest, the European Union. Systematic implementation of the initiative will not only strengthen positive connectivity and improve the competitiveness of all participants but will also be a solid foundation in building a common continental space of peace and stability, he said.

Q2.: Your comments on the global multilateral response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines. What role could the UN and other multilateral organizations play in resolving conflicts and ensuring the rule of law in relations between states?

Answer: Despite efforts to curb the coronavirus infection, unfortunately, the international community has not fully coped with this dangerous challenge. The current crisis not only reminds of the enduring value of a human life but also shows again that sooner or later most of the problems of our time become common. To tackle them efficiently we need to unite. Therefore from the very beginning we urged our partners to take joint steps. Now it is especially important to suspend trade barriers, illegitimate sanctions and restrictions in the financial, technological and information spheres.

The epidemic has demythologized the idea of superiority of the ultra-liberal model of development. It is obvious that self-sufficient countries with clearly formulated national interests demonstrate greater stress resistance. Those who took the path of ceding their independence, part of national sovereignty to others lost. We regard WHO as the main international platform for coordinating global efforts in the fight against the pandemic. We presume that, on the whole, the Organization is coping with its functions. We will continue to provide multifaceted support to it.

Russia is one of the leaders in the field of global health care. We will continue to contribute to international efforts to combat COVID-19. We will continue to help the affected states both in bilateral formats and within multilateral structures. Our accumulated potential for countering infections allowed us to develop and launch the production of the Sputnik V vaccine in a short space of time. To date two more Russian vaccines against the new coronavirus infection have been registered.

Now the priority is vaccination of the population. Of course, the issue of an equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines is very sensitive, especially for the poorest countries. In this regard we are ready to deliver safe and efficient Russian vaccines on a transparent basis. A lot of work is being done on this track. We have agreements on the supply of our vaccines with more than 50 states. A number of countries have launched the production of Sputnik V.

As for the second part of the question, the subjunctive mood is not entirely appropriate here. Same as 75 years ago, the UN is the “cornerstone” of the international legal architecture and its Security Council bears the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

Despite the growing challenges, the UN on the whole successfully copes with its responsibilities to resolve conflicts. As an example, I can mention more than ten peacekeeping operations currently deployed in various parts of the world. Even amid the difficulties caused by the pandemic, the Blue Helmets continue to fulfill their duty with dignity.

Russia as a founding member of the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council advocates strengthening the central role of the Organization in the world affairs. Our constant priority is to contribute to the formation of a more just and democratic, multipolar world order. It should be based on the UN Charter and not on dubious concepts such as the “rules-based order” promoted by Washington and its allies.

Q3.: How close are the views of Russia and Pakistan on the various regional and international issues such as Afghanistan, peace and prosperity in South Asia and the Middle East? What are the plans for the development of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries especially in energy and other sectors as well as in defense?

Answer: Moscow and Islamabad enjoy friendly, constructive relations which are based on the concurrence or similarity of approaches to the majority of topical issues of the international and regional agenda. Among them are the issues of strategic stability and of course Afghanistan. Suffice it to say that during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly the Pakistani partners supported all draft resolutions submitted by Russia and co-sponsored most of them. And, of course, we appreciate the contribution of Islamabad to the advancement of national reconciliation in Afghanistan, including through the mechanism of the extended “Troika” as mentioned above. I would like to note that our states are consistent proponents of settling conflicts including in the Middle East and North Africa solely by political and diplomatic means in compliance with the principles of the UN Charter.

In the area of bilateral relations our priorities are well known. These are, above all, cooperation in combatting terrorism as well as trade and economic ties. We will continue to provide assistance in strengthening the anti-terrorist potential of the Pakistani law enforcement agencies through joint exercises including “Druzhba” (Friendship) and the “Arabian Monsoon”.

In the field of practical cooperation we also have a lot to be proud of. The past year saw a record volume of bilateral trade: it grew by 46% and reached $790 million. We are making necessary efforts to start the construction of the North-South gas pipeline – the flagship project in the energy sector. We hope that all remaining technical issues will be agreed upon in the very near future. Russian companies are ready to participate in the modernization of the energy sector and the railroad system of Pakistan.

From our partner RIAC

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