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The Queen’s Last Ball?

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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With a little imagination, the annual Munich Security Conference can be presented as a big social event or royal ball in one of Alexander I’s or Louis XVIII’s European palaces. Just like at a grand ball, great importance is attached to details here, the invitees gossip and exchange rumours, and, on occasion, they even find solutions to extremely important problems. Why was the jumped-up gasbag Count N invited to the ball this year, while the genius and brilliant dancer Marquise NN was not? What were the well-known schemer Baron Z and the rising military General Z whispering about in the corner all that time? And, as a matter of fact, “dost thou know the lady in the crimson cap who with the Spanish envoy speaks?”

As in any ritual honed over the course of decades, everything in Munich is important — the order of the speakers, the time allotted for each session, the status of the moderator, the language preferences of the speakers and much, much more. A significant portion of the activities takes place outside the official program and is not recorded by “uninitiated” observers.

For example, even among the journalists who were present, hardly anyone paid attention to the intricate machinations that were taking place within the rather large delegation from the United States Congress. We are referring here to the search for a political successor to John McCain, that is, for someone who would replace the late Arizona senator as the informal leader of U.S. lawmakers in international affairs. It would seem that the circle of candidates has narrowed considerably, with Republican senator Lindsey Graham (one of the masterminds behind the latest package of sanctions against Russia) taking pole position. However, we will not find out the winner until the next Munich Security Conference.

Attendees at this year’s conference were wondering why such stars of previous editions as Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May were absent this time round. And why did Alexander Lukashenko and Benjamin Netanyahu get cold feet at the last minute? I was particularly disappointed by Netanyahu’s absence — his extremely moving speech, which included props (he showed part of the wreckage of an Iranian drone shot down by the Israeli Air Force), was one of the hits last year. One person who was there, however, was the Israeli Prime Minister’s eternal enemy — Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, who delivered a speech with his characteristic brilliance.

The most anticipated speakers did not bring any real surprises. Vice President of the United States Mike Pence delivered a speech in the style of an evangelical pastor from his native Indiana, urging obstinate allies to discard their heretical doubts and follow President Trump on every single issue without exception — from counteracting Nord Stream 2 to withdrawing from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. The European Union was criticized for its indecisiveness regarding Venezuela: not all of the United States’ European allies have stated their distrust of Nicolás Maduro and recognized Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president. And China was admonished for its unfair trade practices. Pence also hinted at the impermissible behaviour of Ankara in its decision to enter into military-technical cooperation with Moscow.

The American preacher was repeatedly applauded for his eloquence, at least by the first few rows, which were made up of representatives of the United States and NATO. However, judging from the reaction of everybody else in the conference hall, most of the heretics had no interest in being told off like little children and continued to dig their heels in and hold on to their pernicious delusions. The overall impression was that the Atlantic split continued to deepen, despite the desperate attempts of the political elites on both sides of the Atlantic to halt the process.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov was restrained and concise. With his whole appearance, Lavrov demonstrated that his main aim in Munich was not just to publicly state Russia’s positions once again, but to engage in closed bilateral consultations with Russia’s main partners. Rumour has it that his meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas and a group of leading German businesspeople was extremely productive. All the more so, as he was joined at the meeting by such pillars of Russian business as Herman Gref and Aleksey Mordashov.

Many were eagerly awaiting the outcome of the consultations between Sergey Lavrov and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan Tarō Kōno. According to leaks, the two had a lively, and even stormy, discussion, although no progress in the way of concluding a peace treaty was made. Although it is worth saying here that such a meeting would not have even taken place in principle if it were not for the efforts of Vladimir Putin and Shinzō Abe.

Lavrov’s laconicism at the podium in Munich was compensated to a certain degree by his deputy. At the session on nuclear arms control, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Ryabkov looked more convincing, in my opinion, than his counterpart, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Andrea Thompson.

Russia’s standout achievement in Munich was the holding of the Primakov Readings at the conference. I cannot recall a single occasion in the past where Russia was given its own platform at the Munich Security Conference. Credit must be given here to the President of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Dynkin for his energy and perseverance in getting the event to happen, as well as to Wolfgang Ischinger for his political integrity in giving the Russian side such an opportunity.

However, perhaps the most impressive speech was given by the host of the conference, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. Merkel was the true queen of the Munich ball; there was even chatter on the side-lines of the event to the effect that it was the best speech of her long political career. That, of course, is open to argument. I remember another rousing speech she gave at the 51st Munich Security Conference in February 2015.

At that time, Merkel had just returned from a trip to Kiev and Moscow, where she and President of France François Hollande had held exhausting negotiations with Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin on how to put an end to the hostilities in Donbass. Merkel had an urgent flight to catch to Washington, where she had talks with Barack Obama, and a few days later, she was at the historic meeting in Minsk to sign the Minsk II protocols. At the 2015 conference, the German Chancellor looked extremely troubled and visibly tired, yet absolutely convinced in both the desirability and the possibility of preventing bloodshed. She had metal in her voice, the audience hung on her every word, a dead silence reigned in the conference hall and not a single person, it seemed, had any doubts about who the real leader of Europe was.

At the 2019 Munich Security Conference, Merkel looked great. She spoke freely, rather than reading from a script, reacting in a lively manner to the audience and not shying away from difficult questions or resorting to diplomatic ambiguities. Most importantly, she touched upon what most of the people in the audience had long been waiting for. The German Chancellor unequivocally reaffirmed Germany’s candidacy for leader of Europe and, more importantly, outlined a course for Europe to achieve “strategic autonomy” from the United States.

All the “red lines” were clearly marked out. Continuing the energy partnership with Moscow. Preserving the multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran. Opposing the course taken by Washington towards trade wars. Condemning the erosion of U.S.–Russia control over nuclear weapons. Adhering to the letter and spirit of the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Focusing on multilateralism as a fundamental principle of Germany’s foreign policy.

While the U.S. Vice President was applauded almost exclusively by those VIPs sitting in the front rows of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof conference hall, the German Chancellor’s speech was met with a prolonged ovation from everyone in the hall. Merkel deftly touched what we might call the “main” nerve of the European political process, and she said exactly what most of the people in the hall — Germans and other Europeans — had been waiting to hear.

Of course, there were also sceptics among the participants. There always are! Some were saying on the side-lines of the event that, now Merkel had left her post as leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and was nearing the end of her political career, she could afford herself more liberties than she had done in the past. The suggestion was made that the Chancellor’s speech should be viewed in the context of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament in May, where the European Union’s traditional parties will face an unprecedented challenge from non-systemic nationalists and right-wing populists. Others even argued that the 2019 Munich Security Conference was the “queen’s last ball,” and her speech was not so much a program for the Chancellor’s further work as it was a political bequest to her successor.

We do not know, and perhaps Angela Merkel does not know either whether the 2019 Munich Security Conference was indeed the “queen’s last ball.” We do not know when the veteran of European politics will leave her residence in the government quarter in Spree Bend and start penning her memoirs. The question remains open as to how far Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer or another probable successor will preserve the Chancellor’s political legacy: after all, Merkel herself was once seen as a pale and unimpressive shadow cast by the majestic figure of Helmut Kohl.

What we can say for sure is that, right now, Russia does not have a more reliable, more predictable and more significant partner in Europe, or in the West as a whole. And this despite the fact that Angela Merkel is a difficult and uncompromising partner who is far more demanding of Moscow than, for example, her immediate predecessor Gerhard Schröder. But, as one Frenchman said many years ago, “one can rely only on that which provides resistance.”

It would be wrong to prematurely place Merkel in the category of “lame duck.” On the contrary, serious progress in Europe–Russia relations, the conditions for which may appear as early as this year, would be a worthy and well-deserved finale to the long and difficult political life of one of the most prominent European statespersons of the early 21st century, Angela Dorothea Merkel.

First published in our partner RIAC

Europe

Serbia bracing up for “difficult autumn“

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Serbia is preparing for a “difficult autumn” as it tries to resolve the Kosovo problem, President Aleksandar Vucic said following a visit to the United States. He described the discussions he had had in Washington as “extremely important,” all the more so amid the continuing disagreements over the situation in Kosovo.

“A difficult autumn awaits us, a difficult winter awaits us. First and foremost because of Kosovo,” Vucic said. Pledging continued fight for Serbia and the ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo, he still admitted that Serbia is too small to influence the policies of a “giant” like the United States. Aleksandar Vucic, Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and possibly a senior member of the Trump administration are expected to meet in Paris later this month to discuss the situation in Kosovo. The participants are expected to agree a list of measures to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina, including provisions for redrawing Kosovo borders and the transfer of the country’s Serb-populated northern regions to Serbian control. The Serbian opposition strongly rejects the idea of signing such an agreement with Pristina under the auspices of the European Union and the United States.

President Vucic may still be forced to go for it as “the lesser evil,” which may require a certain degree of pragmatism on Russia’s part. According to the new Russian ambassador in Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Harchenko, who formerly represented Russia in the mediating “troika” overseeing the Kosovo status talks, Moscow “supports and encourages everything regarding the initiative role of Belgrade. If some decisions are made, and if Serbia asks Russia to join a certain group of states, then we can (why not) go for it. But at the same time, our position and our commitment to Resolution 1244 must be taken into account. There is no other option for us and, I think, for Serbia either. We are now ready to contribute to the resumption of dialogue. ”

Serbia’s other option is refusal to continue negotiations with Kosovo and, therefore, to see its application for EU membership suspended. This is a possibility many in Europe and the US are fully aware of.

“The Serbian point of view is that Russia defended its position on Kosovo in the UN and opposed NATO bombings,” former US ambassador to Belgrade, William Montgomery, said, adding that, according to opinion polls, Russia still tops the list of countries Serbians like most.

He described the EU’s position on Serbia’s membership in the bloc as short-sighted and a strategic mistake, emphasizing that the European Union will bear responsibility for the consequences of its failure to do more to bring Serbia into the bloc.

Serbian officials are equally aware of the complexity of the situation. In an interview with the Belgrade-based newspaper Vecernje novosti, diplomat Zoran Milivojevic expects a clash of “big power” interests in the Balkan region: “Serbia clearly occupies an important place in this standoff and will continue doing so since the West has not yet abandoned its interests in this region. Because Serbia plays such a decisive role in the Balkans, it will be the primary target of Western pressure.”

If Serbia rejects a deal with Kosovo, thus complicating its relations with Brussels, it will inevitably have to generally revise its foreign policy priorities and start to actively build up across-the-board cooperation with Russia and other global “centers of power” outside the Euro-Atlantic camp. This also implies closer trade and other economic ties with Russia and its Eurasian allies.

One such cooperation format is the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which can offer Belgrade a serious trade and economic alternative to European integration, while simultaneously allowing Serbia to serve as a “bridge” in the economic (and, therefore, political) relations between Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, Belgrade is already taking concrete steps in this direction. On August 15, Serbia officially joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as its 73rd member with the country’s finance minister Sinisa Mali describing this as an important event, which offers Serbia access to easy loans to finance the implementation of priority projects.

In addition to members from the Asia-Pacific region, the Beijing-headquartered AIIB, which has been operating since 2016, also has among its members such leading European countries as Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

In October, Serbia may sign an even more economically and politically significant agreement on a free trade zone with EAEU member-countries. According Russia’s envoy in Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, such an agreement is expected to be inked on October 25.

“This is a significant event, which has naturally attracted a lot of media attention. The EAEU is an effective integration project that meets modern requirements. For Belgrade, the implementation of the document will mark a completely new stage of presence in Eurasia, with an access to a market of over 182 million consumers and a combined GDP exceeding $1.9 trillion,” Botsan-Kharchenko emphasized, adding that “Serbia may eventually become a bridge between the EU and the EAEU.”

Established on the basis of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space, the Eurasian Economic Union has been in business since January 1, 2015 and currently includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan, with Moldova having an observer status.

During the August 2019 meeting by the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council  Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev emphasized the need to speed up the preparation of agreements on the EAEU free trade zone with Serbia and Singapore. He also called for expediting the implementation of integration processes within the EAEU itself.

“Negotiations on free trade are successfully underway with Singapore, Israel, Egypt, and an interim agreement on a free trade zone with Iran, an agreement on trade and economic cooperation with China will soon be launched. This gives our goods certain advantages in these countries’ markets,” Medvedev said.  He emphasized that the EAEU also seeks to expand the number of its foreign partners, including through regional organizations such as ASEAN.

“We strongly support such activities. I think that it is necessary to expedite the procedures that are necessary to sign agreements on a free trade zone with Serbia and Singapore,” Medvedev added.

In addition to the EAEU, Serbia has spent the past few years trying to participate more actively in other integration projects outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Since 2013, it has had an observer status at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and, according to various reports, is now mulling the prospect of its gradual “connection” to the structures of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Increased US and EU pressure on Belgrade concerning the issue of Kosovo recognition will obviously give an additional boost to the abovementioned trend, which objectively meets the interests of the Russian Federation.

From our partner International Affairs

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President Macron’s plans and ambitions: Realism or rhetoric?

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In the run-up to the G7 Summit in Biarritz, French media reports focused on the global political and diplomatic plans of President Emmanuel Macron. Journalists say that for President Macron the G7 summit presented a unique opportunity “to return France its historical role of a “ mediator ”in global conflicts and to contribute to outlining a new geopolitical agenda”. How realistic are such ambitions?

France acquired the tradition of demonstrating its sovereign and special international status in the times of Charles de Gaulle. Paris also succeeded in  securing effective mediation in various conflicts under Francois Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy. Playing into Paris’ hands is the nuclear arsenal, the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council,  and one of the leading roles in the global arms market. France’s mediation efforts have won perhaps the greatest trust among the Western powers. In the past, France was able to speak on behalf of united Europe, while Macron has repeatedly signalled his determination to consolidate the EU foreign policy.

The EU itself has long been showing a “tendency to strengthen its role as a major player in global crisis management.” But in order to expand diplomatic and humanitarian mediation efforts under the patronage of the EU one should follow the current format of making foreign policy decisions within the community, which requires the consensus among all the participants. Thus, to guarantee the agenda and the role claimed by President Macron it is essential to reconsider foreign policy priorities and probably reform the institutions of united Europe. It is also necessary to consolidate and coordinate the increasingly “mosaic” and diverse interests of member states, which are regularly at odds with one another even on issues that are declared by the EU leadership as being of top priority for all member countries. A long-term geopolitical strategy continues to play a significant role too, as a result of which the development of a pan-European foreign policy turns into a frantic search for the “lowest common denominator”.

In the meantime, Macron’s “mediation” on a number of priority issues  has been mostly about defending the interests of France. The second half of last year was marked by relations between the two “locomotives” of the EU – France and Germany – hitting a new level. However, the beginning of February this year saw serious disagreements between the two parties. As it turned out, the interests of Paris and Berlin clash. Regarding the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, France managed to impose on Germany “the format that the German government wanted to avoid.”  On the issue of transatlantic trade, the French position blocked the start of negotiations with the US, which was fraught with the introduction of duties against German-made products, in the first place. The EU members managed to overcome this discord only by mid-April. Finally, this summer, after a fierce backstage fight, in which Macron took center-stage, a “compromise” was reached in favor of France. The posts of presidents of the European Commission and the European Central Bank went to candidates who are politically dependent on Paris. This so-called realpolitik inevitably raises the question of whether Macron with his geopolitical ambitions might push Europe to an even greater internal split? In this regard, there have been suspicions that the French president wants to turn the EU countries into an instrument of Paris’s foreign policy agenda.

Some experts believe that Macron’s ambitions are great beyond description, that “his horizon is the future balance of strength in the world.” They talk about his determination to “go beyond European and Atlantic solidarity and return to the concept of multipolarity and multilateralism”. The Champs Elysees seeks to maintain a regular dialogue even with powers whose interests run counter to Western ones; and even with countries that oppose the allies of France. At the same time, Macron is committed to NATO and “is seeking to rely on the concerted effort of the North Atlantic Alliance” in a hope to give the organization a “new impetus”. In addition, Macron’s foreign policy follows clear “ideological principles,” which make his supporters look to him with double hope, while opponents see him as the main obstacle to effective diplomacy. All this restricts his “independence” and the possibility of new agreements.

Finally, many analysts say that Macron’s foreign policy is characterized by controversy. A few days ago he said that he wanted to turn France into a “power of equilibrium.” But just a year ago, he demonstrated strong support for the German idea of transforming the entire European Union into a balancer, “balancing” the international situation. What is closer to Macron, the “individual leadership” of France or the “sovereignty of Europe”? Over the previous two years, being at the top of power, he has significantly changed his views on the transatlantic model of globalism and signaled the need to give a new role to Europe, to “strengthen” its position in the new alignment of forces. A year ago, Macron urged the EU to “guarantee its own security”, since such powers as China and the United States hardly see Europe as an equal force. And if the Europeans fail to quickly change this state of things, then “we are in for a bleak future” . On August 27 this year, as he spoke at a meeting of ambassadors, Macron stated: “we are witnessing the end of Western hegemony in the world,” … “new powers are coming to the fore”, primarily Russia and China.” In this regard, it is important to understand what is behind the frequent change in rhetoric of the current French leader, adaptability of a far-seeing strategist or a time-serving pragmatism of a politician whose major concern is the next elections.

Meanwhile, the mediatory efforts undertaken by Macron while getting ready and holding the G-7 summit were also filled with striking discrepancies. The participants failed to work out a “model” on the Iranian dossier, although the  media had reported a statement by the French president on reaching an agreement on “joint communication” on maintaining a nuclear deal with Tehran. However, it soon became clear that Paris is in no position to influence the United States.  In the Russian direction, Macron yet again tried to “entice” Moscow by the narrative about “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” However, Russia remembers that a little over a year ago Macron spoke as confidently about it as being “non-Europe”, thereby suggesting conflicting trends in international relations – the “Big Seven” is more and more like a relic of the past”,  and a return to this past in its “current format makes no sense”.

What inspires some optimism is the fact that Macron seems to understand that Russia is not the country that can be “excluded from all parties.” The broader its cooperation with Moscow, the fewer problems the West will face. Addressing the French ambassadors during a meeting mentioned above, the French president made it clear “that France needs to reconsider and build new relations with Russia.” But one of the many puzzles he has to solve along the way is the “paradoxical situation” that has developed to date, “when the same countries within NATO and the European Union support opposite political platforms regarding Russia.” As part of the NATO agenda, Europeans are pursuing a policy that combines  a “systematic (military-political) deterrence of Russia” with the need to maintain dialogue, despite the fact that all formal options for such a dialogue are frozen. As part of its own agenda, the European Union, whose 22 members are also members of NATO, terminated a “systematic political dialogue” with Moscow, based on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, in 2014. At the same time, there are statements about the expediency of selective cooperation – in issues that meet the interests of the EU. “How is it possible to develop selective cooperation without political dialogue?  How is this possible without coordination of mutual interests?” – an expert from the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences asks.

Meanwhile, the world is in acute need for “global legal standards”, and not only for the regulation of traditional “conflict-use of force” challenges. Issues such as climate change, threats to destabilize cyberspace, attacks on informational reality, cross-border social disasters, pandemics cannot be handled effectively at the level of individual states. More and more issues enter “the world level”. And if we are to address them, we need the appropriate “world order”, the harmonization of universal norms so that national governments could work together to “secure effective global governance”.

Russia welcomes and is actively participating in transforming international relations in the direction of “multilateral diplomacy”, “collective efforts at the level of the international community and the regions.” However, are the West as a whole, and France, in particular, ready for “restraint and compliance with the international law and order”, for “working in an open format”, and for abandoning the “ideology-dominated foreign policy”? Are they ready that the new model of diplomacy will be “complex and multifaceted,” sometimes fitting badly if at all into any previous formats in terms of the approaches that will be adopted by all participants.  For example, in the case of the “Big Seven,” Moscow suggests looking at the situation from a broader perspective and discuss the prospects for the Group’s modernization not only through the return of Russia, but also through expansion to include India and China. This transformation into the “Big Ten” may become “a powerful phenomenon in global politics that would change directions, approaches and formats”.

Emmanuel Macron is thus to provide the answers to a large number of difficult questions: to what extent can France be independent in determining its foreign policy? Also, is it possible to effectively play the role of an “intermediary power”, while remaining bound by the “strict obligations to other players”? And wouldn’t it be possible for France, in that case, to find itself squeezed between the “hammer” of the everyday realities of modern international politics and the “anvil” of the maxim, which they say belongs to the French, that genuine realists “demand the impossible”? 

From our partner International Affairs

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The Vatican and the Russian Federation

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Currently the Vatican is the largest and most effective mediator between the various ideological worlds and between the old, great political alliances.

 A system in which the Church operates by mediating both between them and between them and the West.

 This is the case of the Russian Federation, with which the Catholic Church has a special and long-standing  relationship, which started with the mission to the Tsar in 1452 and later continued with a very long story of deep ideological contrast with the Marxist-Leninist State atheism, but also of friendship and support – especially nowadays.

 Full diplomatic relations between the two countries were resumed in 2009, with 178 countries now recognizing the Holy See diplomatically, while in 1978 the Vatican had official diplomatic relations with 84 countries.

 Certainly, the present-day Russia, like the Tsarist and later the Marxist-Leninist one, has an Orthodox Church closely linked, by its very nature, to the political power. Not even Stalin could escape said rule altogether.

 Still today, however, remnants of the past Communist regime can be found not in the mass aesthetics of the current system centred on Vladimir Putin, but in the one focused on some inveterate and deep habits of the population.

 Recently, during a visit paid to the ancient monastery of Valaam, President Putin himself ideologically associated Communism with the Christian tradition.

Still today, many Russians regard Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square as a ” sacred place” while, according to reliable statistics, 51% of Russians still admire Stalin.

 Why the return of Stalin’s myth, and exactly now? Because the “Man of Steel” is seen as an enemy of bureaucracy and “elites” and, above all, as the architect of the Soviet great victory against Nazism. 

This shows to what extent the deep tendencies and trends  of contemporary society and the old ideas about the Second World War mix up in popular myths.

 Probably – as Curzio Malaparte already noted in his book, “The Technique of Revolution”, written in 1931 when he was an Italian diplomat to Warsaw – nowadays Stalin embodies the simple and virile assurance and stability of the Russian peasant, while Trotzky acted nervously and unconfidently, “like a modern European intellectual” -just to put it in Malaparte’s words.

 Moreover, the current Russian relationship with the Catholic Church and the other national autocephalous and autonomous Churches stems directly from Putin’s new strategy of expansion into the so-called “near abroad”.

 Ukraine is, in fact, at the heart of Putin’ strategic project. Without Ukraine no expansion is possible, however along with the Caucasus and Central Asia.

 But one of the centres of Ukrainian power and national identity is the Greek-Catholic Church, which still follows a Byzantine rite and is closely linked to Rome.

After the great repression of 1946, it has been the largest and fastest growing religious community in the world.

 The passion with which the Greek-Catholic Church proposes the Social Doctrine of the Church has long been a very credible substitute for Marxist eschatology or, in any case, for the Soviet social ideas.

Currently, however, the relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow are excellent.

Throughout his papacy, however, Pope Francis has always been proposing dialogue instead of confrontation.

Hence,  while the EU and the USA are increasingly opposed to Putin’s Russia, the Vatican listens carefully and deals effectively with Russia.

 The naive superiority – typical of the weak subjects – with which the EU and the USA deal with the Kremlin will be the sign of a harsh defeat, in Syria as in other parts of the world.

In the sixth visit paid by the Russian leader to the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke with him about various international issues.

 Never – not even during Stalin’s rule – did Russia think that the Vatican diplomacy was uninformed or powerless. Indeed, during the Second World War he used it for the matters concerning Hitler and his demise, as well as to deal with the USA, which had already adapted to the Cold War.

Reportedly the Pope and Putin discussed at length about Syria – where the stance of the Holy See is very far from the empty and ambiguous “democraticism” of the West-and about the whole Middle East and its new set-up, as well as about the status of Jerusalem and finally about the moral decadence of the West and, hence, about a sort of alliance between Putin’s Russia and the Vatican to defend ancient and eternal values.

So far, however, the Pope has paid no visit to Russia. Obviously the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Church would create some understandable problems.

Putin has already had two confidential conversations with Pope Francis, in 2013 and 2015.

 He will be in the Vatican next January, when, an exhibition of Russian art will be inaugurated at the Holy See.

 Foreign Minister Lavrov often has contacts with his counterparts of the Roman Catholic diplomacy, at all levels and constantly.

Here we can find, in essence, the great idea of Pope Francis, his careful and profound opening to the Russian Orthodox Church that counts 150 million believers and has considerable economic power, which has sometimes been used also to rescue public finances.

 In 2016, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba and a month later the Pope approved the appointment of Archbishop Celestino Migliore as Apostolic Nuncio to Moscow.

In 2017 he was also conferred the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to Uzbekistan.

 The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin,paid a visit to the Russian Federation from August 20 to 24, 2017, expressly invited by the Russian State and by the highest hierarchies of the Orthodox Church.

It was the first visit of a Vatican Secretary of State after 1989 and after the great, historic visit of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli in 1990, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet regime.

 Cardinal Parolin had some “important and constructive meetings” – as he himself defined them – with President Putin, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, with Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion, as well as with some other members of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Later Cardinal Parolin met with Putin in Sochi. Many of the topics discussed during their conversations are still very confidential, but one of them is already known: the issue of Christians in Syria and all the conflicts in the Middle East, considering that the Vatican recognizes the fait accompli, i.e. the Russian Federation as a great decisive power for the destiny of the whole Middle East.

 They also discussed  the status of Christians in the various areas with an Islamic majority – where the Russian Federation already counts very much – and their possible protection.

Russia is already available, while some Western countries not.

 The following day, when Cardinal Parolin met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, they discussed the fight against terrorism and jihadism, as well as the promotion of a stable dialogue between countries and religions, and finally the protection of ethnic, religious and political minorities in all the possible solutions – partial or not-to the conflicts in the Middle East.

Cardinal Parolin and Minister Lavrov also discussed how to put an end to the clashes in Syria, using both the Astana Accords and the Geneva talks. The Vatican accepts both of them.

 Furthermore, the Secretary of State reminded Lavrov and his aides of the urgent need to re-establish contacts and resume talks between the State of Israel and the Palestinian world, as well as to try and solve the strong tensions in Venezuela, where Russia still has a strong power projection.

Also the Catholic Church, however, has undisputed power.

 Cardinal Parolin never discusses in vain and with an abstract and academic tone.

Later the Secretary of State vigorously outlined to the Russian leadership Pope Francis’ pragmatic and rational position on all the issues under discussion.

We can imagine that, with specific reference to Syria, Pope Francis and his Secretary of State want a concrete commitment by Assad – they implicitly recognize – for the protection and support of the population, as well as the return of refugees to Syria.

With specific reference to Libya, Pope Francis wants the conflict to end immediately, through a credible and substantial dialogue between the parties, possibly supported by the Vatican diplomacy and by the Russian Federation itself, which currently backs General Khalifa Haftar, the strongman of Cyrenaica.

As to South Sudan, the Pope wants President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar to meet and, in fact, a few days later Kiir asked Machar to form a government of national unity.

 One of the many silly conflicts generated by oil and by the carelessness of the most important powers at economic level.

 In addition, Russia seriously supports the Vatican’s efforts in Venezuela to stabilize the local political system peacefully.

Reverting to the Ukrainian issue, with specific reference to the current political and military situation in Ukraine and to the annexation of Crimea, Cardinal Parolin stressed that “international rules shall be fully enforced”.

In fact, the Holy See wants the 2014 Minsk Protocol, which has so far remained dead letter, to be clearly implemented by all parties.

Minister Lavrov clearly appreciated the Vatican support for the Minsk Protocol.

 In short, as can be inferred from the messages of Cardinal  Parolin coming back from his Russian missions and visits, it is good for the West not to neglect and, above all, not to isolate the Russian Federation.

 It would be a fundamental strategic mistake.

Nevertheless, considering this geopolitics based on empty morality and political superficiality, there is not much to hope for in the West.

 Catholics in Russia – the first traditional duty of the Vatican mission there – are very few: 773,000 believers in four dioceses that were established by John Paul II, the Pope  who consecrated Russia to the Sacred Heart of Mary.

 As the Virgin had long wanted in her messages of Fatima.

 The Church of Rome does not proselytize in Russia, but the climate is not yet good for the Roman Catholic Russians.

 And, in this case, the discussions and meetings of Cardinal  Parolin with the leaders of the Orthodox Church were as important as those with Putin and Lavrov.

 Meanwhile, Kirill II suggested the possibility of joint humanitarian operations between the Church of Rome and the Patriarchate of Moscow, especially in the Middle East.

Moreover, the Orthodox Christians will have the relics of Saint Nicholas at their disposal, temporarily transferred from Bari to Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Hence a new phase has begun, characterized by stable and close relations between Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, a phase that will certainly not be cancelled in the near future.

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