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Why and How Russia is poised to strengthen its Afghan Role

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After the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the USSR’s subsequent disintegration, Russia seemed neither interested in nor capable of securing a pro-Moscow regime in Kabul as was seen during the Cold War. In a move aimed at safeguarding its strategic back yard (Central Asia) from the rising menaces of drug trafficking and Islamic fundamentalism (non-conventional threats) emerging from Afghanistan, Russia accepted the American presence (a conventional threat) in the region post-9/11. However, any academic pursuit at understanding the Russian role in Afghanistan in perspective must incorporate efforts at grasping Moscow’s threat perceptions to its strategic interests emanating from Kabul.

How Interests in Central Asia Shaped Moscow’s Afghan Concerns and Role

Russia has had both geopolitical and geo-economic interests in Central Asia. It considers Central Asia its strategic back yard and has a monopoly over pipeline diplomacy as it continued to supply the Central Asian natural resources through the pipelines existing since Soviet times. Russian role in Afghanistan has been shaped primarily by the threats to the region emanating from and facilitated by the latter. Post 9/11, the Russian policy has been evidently geared towards containing the American penetration into the region as well as preventing the Central Asian Republics from radical Islamic influences and drugs generating from Afghanistan. The American objective of laying down alternative pipeline routes for transfer of Central Asian resources to the world market through Afghanistan threatened Russia’s interests.

It is noteworthy that the American strategy gravitated towards the Eurasian region not only with an aim to develop continental strategies to contain the regional influence of Russia, Iran and China given their geographical contiguity to Afghanistan and the Central Asian region, the natural resource potential also attracted the American attention. These objectives became the prime movers of US policy towards the region apart from the immediacy of the threat of terrorism which rose to prominence as being a national security threat. It is worth recalling that In a move to reach out to the Central Asian region, the US Congress started passing bills that called for diversification of energy supplies from the Central Asian and Caspian region starting from late 1990s. The Bush Administration soon after it formed the government released an energy policy report indicating that the exploitation of Caspian energy resources could not only benefit the economies of the region, but also help mitigate possible world supply disruptions which was considered a major US security goal.

Russian lingering concerns remained that the flight of many Soviet Muslims during Stalin’s brutal collectivization campaign and nationalist purges created a permanent Soviet exile population in Afghanistan. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the resultant weakening of its control over the Islamic republics, Russia believed that a radical Islamic regime in Afghanistan would push these people towards the north. Secondly, the regime through its Islamic influences would use the exiled population to destabilize the newly independent Central Asian Republics. Rise of Islamic opposition groups in different Central Asian states strengthened such Russian belief. This apart, the collapse of the Soviet-era economies and the elimination of Soviet-policed borders led to a quick surge in the production and trafficking of drugs in the Central Asian region.

Russia perceived substantial threat when the Taliban rose to prominence in Afghanistan. For instance, Sergie Ivanov, the head of Russian Security Council, threatened to lunch missile and air strikes against Afghanistan after accusing the Taliban government of assisting the Chechen resistance. Moscow further accused the Taliban of giving sanctuary to Islamists from some of the Central Asian states and allowing them to train for guerrilla warfare to destabilise the states. During the Afghan civil war, Russia kept pouring weapons and money in support of Uzbek and Tajik warlords. When the civil war entered a decisive phase, Russia in order to push the Taliban out of Tajik and Uzbek areas threw its weight behind Ahmad Shah Massoud who had bases in Tajikistan.

However, many scholars viewed threat perceptions from all these sources were although relevant but deliberately exaggerated by the Russian authorities with an aim to exercise firm control over the former Soviet republics. The developments in Chechnya, Central Asia (civil war in Tajikistan) and Afghanistan were seen as part of a larger plot hatched by a secretive network of Islamic activists and terrorists whose main goal, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service has been to create a Great Islamic caliphate. However, scholars like Rasul Bakhsh Rais argue that the link between the Taliban and the Islamic movements in Central Asia was questionable. According to him all these movements have indigenous roots and Russia and the ruling elites in Central Asia exaggerate the transnational links among the Islamic movements to divert attention from their own political failures.

Russian Afghan Concerns post-9/11 and Aspirations for a Larger Role

After September 11, 2001, Russian leader Vladimir Putin not only described the terrorist attacks on the US by al-Qaeda as “barbaric” in a TV broadcast but also ensured Moscow’s cooperation, ranging from providing all the information at its disposal about terrorist bases to assuring Russian secret services’ cooperation with the West. Russia’s support for the US-led “war on terror” in response to 9/11 was evidently driven by its national interests apart from the despicable nature of the terrorist acts themselves.

The Russian perspective on and support for the US-led Afghan war efforts were influenced by Moscow’s desire to cultivate international support for its concerns stemming from the uprising of radical Islamic forces in Chechnya. Second, Moscow believed that by cooperating with the US-led war efforts, it could overcome challenges posed by such destabilizing forces as the rise of Islamic opposition movements and drug trafficking in its Central Asian back yard.

Third, in its support for the Afghan war, Russia saw an enhanced prospect for the Northern Alliance group coming to power in Afghanistan, and fourth, a relatively economically and militarily weaker Russia could not completely insulate itself from the US call for a “war on terror,” as it was trying to reset its relations with the West after the disintegration of the Soviet empire.

Moscow had supported the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in terms of arms and economic aid during the Afghan civil war, and to ensure the Northern Alliance group’s rise to power, it provided key support to the alliance during the “war on terror.” For instance, the Russian provision of 60 T-55 battle tanks, 12 T-62 K command tanks and 30 infantry fighting vehicles to Northern Alliance during the war bears testimony to this fact.

However, Russian support for the American-led Afghan war was far from being full-fledged and unconditional. As the US and its NATO allies were drawing close to the areas of Moscow’s strategic interests, suspicions over US geopolitical objectives became visible at the same time, immediately after the American declaration of the war, when then-defense minister Sergei Ivanov ruled out any presence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the region and the Chief of the General Staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, remarked that Russia had no plans to participate in a military operation against Afghanistan.

Russian suspicions remained as to the intensity of the US engagement with the Central Asian states in the guise of taking on terrorism within the framework of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” In order to secure a firm foothold in Central Asia, the US not only secured temporary forward basing in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, strategic engagement in the region was also fostered through access to airspace and restricted use of bases in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

There were frequent instances of US official visits to Central Asia, intelligence sharing and improved coordination within the US Central Command. Further, American interest to revive the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project in 2002 in an attempt to end Russian monopoly over supply routes to transfer Central Asian resources, which was undergoing uncertainties due to the turbulence perpetrated by the Taliban, corroborated Russian suspicions over US geopolitical interests.

As the American entrenchment in the Central Asian region deepened, the countries of the region were asked to fulfill their bilateral and other obligations to Russia. Dmitry Rogozin, during his stint as a Russian envoy to NATO between 2008 and 2011 took efforts to make it clear that Russia wanted to help the US and Afghanistan as part of the international community but on its own terms.

Around the same time, Russia although did not object to in principle but viewed skeptically several new transit corridors laid down by the US to deliver goods to its forces in Afghanistan (the routes are collectively termed the Northern Distribution Network), and emphasized that these must not be used to transfer lethal goods. On the other side, many US officials were envisaging the network being transformed into a Modern Silk Route.

In response to the US military bases in different parts of Central Asia, Russia established its own bases, but their direct contacts were surprisingly limited. In response to the greater role of the US in the region, Russia called for a larger role of regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in securing security and stability in Afghanistan.

Perhaps because of Russia’s overriding influence due to its monopoly over oil supplies, the Central Asian states agreed to strengthen CSTO as an alternative to NATO. In one of the top-level summit meetings, in 2011, the CSTO leaders unanimously agreed that countries outside the regional security bloc would only be able to establish military bases on the territory of a member state with the consent of all member states.

Responding to the evolving Afghan scenario, Russia not only made efforts at diplomatically engaging successive Afghan governments, it attempted to establish itself as a major stakeholder in the Afghan peace process too. Being excluded from the Quadrilateral Coordination Group to broker peace of which the US, China, Pakistan and Afghan government are members, Moscow opened up its channels to play its part in the Afghan peace process taking other regional countries and the Taliban on board. Realizing the geopolitical importance of the outcomes of regional war and peace efforts, Moscow has allegedly shifted its support from the fragmented Northern Alliance group to the Taliban in order to strengthen its Afghan role. Washington believes that Moscow is channelizing its support toward the Taliban to impede the peace process in Kabul and roll back progress made by US-led forces and drive a wedge between the US and its coalition partners, while Moscow keeps denying allegations of its support for the radical group.

US State Department officials, however, have expressed concerns over Moscow’s failure to work with Washington in Afghanistan, and some US military officials on the ground have not hesitated to accuse Russia of providing arms to and sharing sensitive intelligence with the Afghan Taliban.

As things stand now, Russia has admitted to opening up channels of communication with the Taliban with such objectives as protection of Russian citizens in Afghanistan, promotion of peace in Afghanistan and above all, containing the influence of ISIS – which is considered by Russia a more dangerous threat to the Central Asian region because of its transnational objectives and role.The Taliban’s quick agreement to join Russian-led peace talks scheduled to be hosted by Moscow on September 4 this year indicated Russia’s outreach to the group. Washington’s rejection of Russia’s invitation to participate in the peace efforts underlined geopolitical suspicions of each other’s intentions. The Russian leadership, however, postponed the talks to facilitate the participation of the Afghan government and other stakeholders in the peace process.

Russian intelligence has projected that ISIS has an enhanced presence in Afghanistan with around 10,000 fighters including many foreign fighters (those fleeing Syria after being recruited from the Central Asian region) spread across eight to nine provinces, including its sway in the northern province of Jowzjan, which shares a border with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, carrying a dangerous portent for the Central Asian states.

Moreover, Russian officials have argued that the radical group has been able to recruit many people from the Central Asian region, posing a serious threat to Russian security concerns. Moscow has also been seen praising the Taliban’s efforts at containing drug trafficking into Russia’s back yard.

Nonetheless, given its lingering suspicions of US geopolitical intentions, Russia may be using its support for the Taliban as a hedge against growing American influence in the region. Moscow has rejected Washington’s estimate that the numerical strength of ISIS varied from 1,500 to 2,000 and disputed the claim that the group’s influence was limited to such provinces as Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan and consisted of only local defectors from the Taliban and other militant groups. Moscow has allegedly charged the US with sharing common interests with ISIS in keeping Afghanistan embroiled in instabilities and disorder so that it could have a permanent military presence in the region.

The geopolitical rift between the two powers has been further exacerbated by continuing US sanctions on Russia, which will have impacts on the peace process in Afghanistan. Meanwhile in Syria, Russia has stepped up its support for the Damascus regime by supplying S-300 missiles, and Idlib continues to be a hotbed of geopolitical jostling for influence between Moscow and Washington.

Afghanistan, as another site for their scrambling for geopolitical supremacy, will continue to witness an enhanced role of Russia, preventing cooperation between the two powers unless Moscow’s regional geopolitical claims are counterbalanced by a global US geopolitical role.

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra, Lecturer in Political Science, S.V.M. Autonomous College, Odisha, India. Previously worked as the Programme Coordinator, School of International Studies, Ravenshaw University, Odisha, India

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Russia and Japan: Inseparable Partners

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By all accounts, Japan with its strong economy and many high-quality manufactured brands is practically searching to expand into foreign markets. Japan, with an estimated population of 126 million, has a small territory. According to UN’s assessment report on global population in 2019, Japan was the world’s tenth-most populous country. That compared with Russia, its vast territory and approximately 145 million, Japan’s investment is fast growing in the Russian Federation.

Despite its large investment and admirable brands from automobiles through mega-shops to healthcare and beauty, and to social service sector, Japan is consistently looking to expand its business tentacles. Without doubt, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held under the theme: “Together Again – Economy of New Reality” early June, Russia-Japan business session attracted unprecedented large number of participants.

While noting the fact that the coronavirus pandemic did not and will not hinder economic cooperation between Russia and Japan, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Maxim Reshetnikov, noted in his speech at the session, further reviewed some significant aspects of the Russia-Japanese economic cooperation, and finally painted the broad outlook for the future.

“Despite a difficult year, we managed not only to continue existing projects but were even able to launch new ones. An express test for coronavirus was created, and a container train with Japanese goods was launched for the first time on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Construction began on a centre for preventive medicine in Khabarovsk. The Japanese company Fanuc opened an engineering centre in Skolkovo,” he told the gathering.

According to Maxim Reshetnikov, the plans for cooperation with Japan include the creation of liquefied natural gas trans-shipment complexes in Kamchatka and Murmansk region and the construction of an ion therapy centre for cancer treatment in Obninsk. Both countries are preparing to enter new and promising tracks in hydrogen energy, climate change, the creative economy, and e-commerce.

That however, Russia has encouraged potential foreign investors to venture into the regions. For example, Kaluga, which is provincial city and stands on the famous Oka river about 150 kilometers southwest of Moscow, has adopted few favourable measures, among others, and as a result has attracted five foreign automobile manufacturing companies including Japanese Nissan.

Governor of the Kaluga Region Vladislav Shapshа took part in the discussion. “Japan has been and remains our most reliable partner, a partner in a variety of areas. In terms of investments, this of course includes, the development of projects with Mitsubishi and Toyota Tsusho. Mitsubishi has placed its headquarters in Kaluga this year, and together with Peugeot Citroën has been working with us since 2009. Along with Volkswagen and Volvo, it makes up the core of the automotive cluster, which accounts for 12% of the automobiles produced in the country today,” Governor Shapshа said, giving a full business profile in his region.

The Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan also attracts foreign investors and business people. As part of the Volga federal district, its capital and largest city is Kazan, one of the most important cultural cities in the Russian Federation. “We operate a wonderful plant built in Tatarstan by Mitsubishi and Sojitz. I must say that Japanese equipment has proved its reliability. We are very pleased with this plant. Its capacity is 720 thousand tonnes of ammonia and methanol. We are grateful for this contribution,” Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation, Roman Trotsenko.

Japanese manufacturing stories are exceptionally useful and needed to be shared among business leaders. In his contribution, General Director of Sollers Group Vadim Shvetsov told the attentive gathering: “We launched a machine shop for Mazda engine parts. It was a very difficult at first, given that cooperation was interrupted, and we could not communicate directly. On the other hand, however, we have introduced a lot of interesting digital communication methods. Thanks to such mobile cooperation and even VR technologies, we still managed to launch production.”

The new environment has pushed the countries to seek new resolutions to overcome challenges. “The coronavirus pandemic has forced us into many challenges. At the same time, it has highlighted, illuminated in a new way some of the problems that we had seen and been aware of even before the epidemic. These are the problems of healthcare, energy, and digitalization. It seems to me that now is the moment for us to start new cooperation in these areas, especially in healthcare,” emphasized the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama.

“Our trade and economic work together probably suffered a little from that period of forced isolation. Nevertheless, I certainly believe that the crisis is pushing us to search for new ways to create benefits for our consumers,” remarked Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) and Chairman of the Board of the Group R-Pharm Alexey Repik.

The speakers have acknowledged that Russia and Japan face similar environmental challenges while developing economic cooperation. “Amid the growing trend of decarbonization, in October of last year, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a goal aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, the goal is to reduce 2013 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030. Achieving these targets will require that Japanese industry be heavily involved and adaptable,” according to President of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia, and Special Advisor of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Shigeru Murayama.

Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) and Chairman of the Board of the Group R-Pharm, Alexey Repik, reminded that it is of great significance that President Vladimir Putin in his address to the Federal Assembly set the task of significantly limiting the accumulated volume of carbon emissions in our country just as similar goals were set by the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, for the Japanese economy.

For the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama, natural gas, which can reduce carbon emissions, is a very important resource, and Russia is a leader. Thus the unification of these Russian resources and the Asian market could be highly promising area for cooperation.

Russian business needs to attract investment. “The demand for equipment and the demand for capital both remain in Russia. Russia’s capitalism, in the positive sense of the word, is young and there is little national capital in the country. Interest rates on loans remain very high, and the requirements of the national bank, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, to credit policy remain stringent,” observes Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation Roman Trotsenko.

“There are forecasts that the Russian economy will resume growth this year and ultimately grow by more than 3%. Japan also aims to recover as soon as possible from pandemic-related failure. For this, of course, the primary and first step to build a healthy and sustainable post-covid society across the globe, will be to work together with Russian partners on the basis of the eight-point plan,” Director of Mitsui and Co. Ltd., Masami Iijima, informed the gathering.

Avoiding sanction-related restrictions is a key for business. “The challenge is to move the financing relationship between Japan and Russia outside of these sanctions. For example, financing in euros or in yen. This would be very positive and would allow us to take advantage of the cheap rates on loans in Japan and in Russia,” Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation Roman Trotsenko.

Healthcare and energy partnership also remain significant for both and, need not be overlooked. “New areas are emerging. For us it is hydrogen and ammonia; it is the capture and storage of carbon, carbon dioxide, and its use as a resource. Here, it seems to me, we must increase our work together,” according the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama.

“The health sector is the first item in the eight-point economic cooperation plan. I think that our countries should increase cooperation in this area,” added the President of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia and Special Advisor of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Shigeru Murayama.

“We believe that Japan can help achieve the goal of increasing healthy life expectancy set by the government of the Russian Federation,” suggested Chairman of the Japan-Russian Committee for Economic Cooperation and the Federation of Economic Organisations Keidanren and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Marubeni Corporation Fumiya Kokubu.

Ahead of St Petersburg forum, Japanese Ambassador in the Russian Federation, Toyohisa Kozuki gave an interview to Interfax News Agency, listed a wide-range of concrete and significant projects as part of efforts toward strengthening Russian-Japanese economic cooperation. According to the ambassador, widening economic cooperation between Japan and Russia is primarily part of the current eight-point strategic cooperation plan.

Within this plan, the Okura Hotel project in Vladivostok is an example of progress in urban development in 2020. This will be the first Japanese hotel in Russia. The Okura Hotel’s refined services will make Vladivostok more comfortable and accessible not only to its residents but also businessmen and tourists visiting this international city. Vladivostok catches the attention of the Japanese as the nearest ‘European’ city, it can be reached from Tokyo by air in 2.5 hours. That is why the opening of the Hotel Okura Vladivostok will definitely make the city more attractive to Japanese tourists.

As part of cooperation, Japan is also making an effort to develop postal services in Russia, and some results in this sphere have already been reached, the efficiency of postal deliveries was increased thanks to the use of Japanese-made sorting machines at international postal exchange centers in Moscow. Cooperation between postal services of both countries is growing stronger also through the exploration of e-commerce opportunities on both sides. In the future, it is anticipated that a system will be in place, thanks to which Japanese consumers can order Russian goods online and the EMS postal service will deliver them to Japan.

In December 2020, Japanese entertainment center Round One, which brings together arcade games, bowling and other amusements, opened at the Yevropeisky shopping mall in Moscow. Round One is the most popular closed amusement parks chain in Japan. The new venue is a unique leisure venue for Moscow residents, in the sense, that they can get acquainted with Japanese culture without leaving their native city.

There is progress in promoting the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway as far as cooperation in the Far East, primarily in transport and infrastructure, is concerned. In particular, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan in cooperation with the Russian Railways is implementing a pilot project to promote the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The first container train carrying cargo from Japan to Europe was dispatched in 2020. And those were not individual containers as before but a whole container train. This was done in the expectation that it will make it possible to ship freight more cost effectively compared to container transportation, and many Japanese companies showed an interest and took part in the pilot project.

The companies that participated in the pilot project said that against the backdrop of destabilized logistics between Japan and Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic, the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway can be seen as a third option in addition to sea and air transport.

As an example of such expectations, Ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki informed that Japan’s logistics company Toyo Trans started regular container shipping services with consolidated freight to Europe, to the Polish city of Poznan, along the Trans-Siberian Railway in February. This service provides for regular shipments every Thursday from a Japanese port. The cargo reaches Poznan in 22 days. Transit time decreases by about half compared to sea routes. We hope that the transit along the Trans-Siberian Railway will give a boost to logistics between Japan, Russia and Europe and lead to the further development of economic cooperation.

Next, regarding agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the relevant agencies of Japan and Russia in January 2020 signed a memorandum of cooperation on a joint Japanese-Russian project to increase the efficiency of agriculture and fish production in Russia’s Far East. Current projects are now getting support, and the search is on for new projects in three areas that provide for the use of technologies and know-how of Japanese private companies.

These include, firstly, increasing the productivity and export potential of soya, corn and other crops; secondly, expanding production of vegetables through expanding vegetable greenhouses in Yakutsk and other cities; and thirdly, increasing production and deliveries of fish and seafood inside and outside Russia. Greenhouse vegetable growing in Yakutsk is a particularly large project in this sphere. Greenhouses allowing fresh vegetables to be grown all year long in severe climates and permafrost have been built in the framework of this project. Construction began in 2016, it continued in 2020, and should be completed this year, 2021.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the forum this year was held, a combination of off-line and online format, with all epidemiological precautions observed. The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), often dubbed the Russian Davos, is the country’s main showcase for investors, attracting political and business leaders from around the world. The SPIEF is held annually, and since 2006 it has been held under the patronage and with the participation of the President of the Russian Federation.

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Putin and Biden meeting – a chance for a better world

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The whole world is looking forward to the meeting of the new US President Joe Biden with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Although the Kremlin and the White House urge people not to expect too much from the June 16 summit, one still wants to believe that a personal meeting by the leaders of the two rival powers will lead to a thaw in bilateral relations and help defuse global tensions. At the same time, statements coming from the White House about negotiation plans sound rather vague. The bottom line is about “understanding Russia’s position and its aspirations.” The impression is that hundreds of Russologists working for the State Department, NSA, CIA and other agencies are unable to provide a definitive answer to this question, and the not very young 46th President of the United States has been forced to personally go for information. Moscow makes it clear that negotiations are a good thing, but the initiative comes from the United States, so the agenda will largely be agreed right on the spot.

At the same time, there are a number of key topics that the leaders of the two countries simply can’t ignore. Of course, there will be questions about human rights that Biden wants to ask Putin so badly, but the Russian leader too may want to ask about certain “inconvenient” things. First of all, about the United States participation in conflicts in the Middle East, where the “liberation movements,” indirectly supported by  Washington continue to attack Russian and Syrian government forces. In fact, the parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Americans and their allies have become areas where there is no effective conflict against terrorists. The militants from that area are killing people in Germany and France, and spreading the ideas of extremism and radical Islam throughout Europe.

The United States has every right to defend its interests in the oil-producing regions, but such methods are hardly acceptable. The Kremlin apparently has obtained enough evidence of the “dirty methods” of warfare practiced by the United States in the Middle East. The spare parts for the numerous drones shot down over the Khmeimim airbase alone prove beyond any doubt the American involvement in organizing aerial attacks on the Russian military. However, a dialogue between Russia and the United States could quickly extinguish the flames of war in Syria and, more importantly, help ensure Europe’s security against terrorist attacks. So, Putin has a very important trump card up his sleeve, which he can’t fail to play. The only question is how Biden will react to this win-win move by Moscow.

As to the question about human rights, it may prove rather unpleasant for Biden. During preparations for the summit, the Swiss government pointedly indicated (apparently at the suggestion of the White House) that the vaccine race continues. Geneva is ready to accredit, without PCR tests, journalists who have been vaccinated with Western vaccines, but not with Sputnik, which has already proven its effectiveness. Needless to say, the Russian negotiators also used their own country’s vaccine. However, such a move, designed to show once again who is the “boss” in the upcoming meeting, only reflects a complete disregard for the European`s right to vaccination, and this is only the beginning. And the demonstrative support and financing of the Russian opposition – hardly gives Biden any reason for accusing Russia of human rights violations.

Even the case of the Belarusian oppositionist Protasevich, who was taken from  the plane which grounded in Minsk due to a terrorist threat immediately brings to mind the “arrest“ of the plane of Bolivian leader Morales, or the US-approved extrajudicial detention of Russian sociologist Shugalei in Libya. In addition, the long history of the Guantanamo detention center hardly gives US officials any moral grounds to lecture anyone about human rights.

If, during the Geneva summit the United States and Russia can heal the festering wound of the Middle East conflict, this would be a giant step forward in the war on terror. The question is whether Biden will try to turn the dialogue with Putin into a series of accusations to increase his approval rating back home. A similar incident has already taken place and made the 46th President of the United States to look not so good. That being said, we can hope that in Geneva Joe Biden will lean back on his many years of experience and good knowledge of Russia, and emotions will not prevent him from achieving a breakthrough in relations with Moscow and mending bilateral ties, thus easing tensions in Europe and allaying peoples fear of a new global conflict.

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Russia, Europe Discuss Prospects for Cooperation at SPIEF’21

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Despite the deep-seated disagreements between Russia and the European Union, Kremlin is indiscriminately courting European business leaders. Ahead of the 24th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum [SPIEF’21] on June 2-5, President Vladimir Putin, in an official message, emphasized Moscow would forge a closer economic cooperation with its foreign partners and ready to share experience in various areas and further called for building constructive partnerships between members of the global community and expand business ties to effectively tackle the current critical global challenges and achieve sustainable development.

“We are ready to share our experience in areas such as healthcare and digitalization, and to work with partners to build better telecommunications, energy, and transport infrastructure. We also recognize the importance of addressing key issues facing the environment and climate,” according to the president’s message released on the official website.

Later at the plenary session held under the theme A Collective Reckoning of the New Global Economic Reality, Putin said, particularly about energy connectivity between Russia and Europe – “that Gazprom is ready to fill Nord Stream 2 with gas. This route will create direct links between the Russian and German systems and will ensure energy security and reliable gas supplies for the Europeans, like Nord Stream 1” and, in addition, emphasized readiness to implement similar high-tech projects with European and other partners in the future, despite all sorts of artificial barriers in the current political environment.

That, however, during the business discussion exclusively devoted to Russia-Europe, leaders of European business noted that strategies are needed for the improvement of relations between Russia and the European Union, and the necessity to develop a consolidated response to global challenges.

“In 2020, Russia faced four challenges. First, the pandemic, second, the collapse of oil prices, third, the devaluation of the Russian local currency the rouble, and the fourth, which is an ongoing challenge, the geopolitical context that does not make things easier. At the same time, Russia demonstrated good economic indicators. The global challenges are so disruptive that we need to come up with a joint approach and cooperate in fighting the pandemic,” according to objective views of Johan Vanderplaetse, Chairman of the Association of European Businesses (AEB) and President for Russia and the CIS, Schneider Electric.

Taking his turn during the discussions, Maksim Reshetnikov, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation explained that the ultimate goal is to combat greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, technological neutrality, mutual recognition, and implementation of projects aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are crucial. Building these mechanisms is a subject for strong international discussion, and there are high hopes for the climate conference in Glasgow this November.

Development of 5G networks can become a new touch point for Russia and Europe. But, no country, and no government can cope with all the tasks on their own. For example, 5G requires joint efforts, so European Union and Russia must work together to deploy this technology. Now both need to work together on 5G technologies in Russia and in Europe, suggested Arun Bansal, Executive Vice-president, Head of Market Area Europe and Latin America, Ericsson.

“Russia has amazing technological capabilities, and there are great companies. If we compare them with Western companies, if we join forces [connecting to 5G], we will all benefit from this,” added Johan Vanderplaetse, Chairman, Association of European Businesses.

During the discussions, the participants acknowledged that existing problems, especially the need to achieve international agreements. “We are now probably at the most difficult point in the development of our relations since the end of the Cold War. I think both sides value our relationship. Why are we at this negative point in our development? Of course, there are territorial and geopolitical issues, issues of human rights violations. I believe that all these problems contributed to the suspension of our political dialogue, which is now affected by uncertainty. In this atmosphere it is difficult to go back to the normalization of these relations,” according to Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Chizhov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union (EU) explained that most of the effective formats available for the members of the European Union and the Russian Federation for interaction are currently on hold. On the other hand, Russia has not closed a single door neither has it imposed restrictions for Europe. All suspensions were initiated by the European Union.

Some believe that there should be solutions, suggested expanding the list of green projects and finding a compromise between government and business. “We categorized nuclear energy as a green project, and this was a crucial decision. We believe that, based on the criterion of greenhouse gas emissions, based on the principles of technological neutrality, nuclear power should be seen as clean energy. And secondly, we have developed a number of transitional projects that may not meet some highest standards, but for many industries in our country this is a big step forward,” says Maksim Reshetnikov, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.

For Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation, it is necessary to use the opportunity to strengthen relationship in the context of green transformation and creation of green economy, as it will be a new field for cooperation that is of high interest for representatives of European business community. The more policy becomes oriented towards the development of a green economy, the more seriously moving towards stabilizing relations between Russia and Europe.

Regional experiments that allow to introduce a system of emission quotas in the regions. “We are working on a soft regulatory framework that will allow us to implement climate projects, take into account the carbon footprint of products that will make our entire system more transparent, while at the same time we are launching a system of more stringent regulation based on regional experiments. Many countries have followed this path. We are currently in the final stage of the Sakhalin experiment, which will enable individual regions, at their will and in agreement with the business, to declare the goal of carbon neutrality and introduce a system of emission quotas with the trading system, and so on,” stressed Maksim Reshetnikov, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.

“We need to focus on reducing carbon emissions and strengthening other areas. The Sakhalin project is also a great example of enhancing our cooperation, including in the future. These are efforts that we should focus on, excluding the political context. We must work on issues of compliance with the obligations of WTO member countries. The obligations of all WTO members must correspond,” concluded Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation.

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, popularly referred to as SPIEF, brings together international business leaders, government officials and representatives of expert and media communities to discuss various topics and jointly search for effective solutions to the most pressing challenges in Russian and global economies. The SPIEF is held annually, and since 2006 it has been held under the patronage and with the participation of the President of the Russian Federation.

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