The official visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Italy on July 4, 2019, the first in the past four years, became yet another confirmation of the “special relationship” between Rome and Moscow, but did not, however, signal a breakthrough. For Italy, the meeting came as another attempt to restore its role of a “protagonist” on the international scene, a role the country has been dreaming of playing for over two decades. It was not by chance that Guiseppe Conte, during his recent visit to Moscow, “rebuked” Vladimir Putin for not paying sufficient attention to the Italian people. In Italy, this lack of attention is seen as a sign that the country is not coping well with its role of a “protagonist” and a “bridge” between the West and the East. For Russia, a dialogue with Italy is more than just a conversation with a partner who is willing to listen and establish relations based on mutual trust — it is an opportunity to convey Russian opinions on key issues related to cooperation between Russia and countries of the Euro-Atlantic bloc.
The visit of Guiseppe Conte to Moscow in October 2018, and now Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome, the “friendly” meetings of Guiseppe Conte and Donald Trump in July 2018 during a period of acute tension in the Euro-Atlantic bloc, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s visit to Washington in June 2019, and the signing of a memorandum of cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative reached with Xi Jinping all testify to Rome’s ambitions for a more independent and autonomous foreign policy. Italy, under the leadership of the new “government of change,” is trying to play its own foreign policy game, guided by the principles of national sovereignty and national interests. However, at the moment, the hands of the yellow-green coalition are tied by the threat of sanctions from the European Commission for non-compliance with financial discipline. Naturally, this imposes significant restrictions on the potential of Italian foreign policy. In addition, the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 and the subsequent distribution of top posts in the EU testify to Italy losing a significant share of its say in relations between Russia and the EU. In this context, the visit served as a confirmation of the two parties’ intentions but did not produce any practical solutions to problems of mutual concern.
Bilateral political dialogue: dreams and reality
Improving relations with Russia is a separate clause of the “government contract” concluded between the two parties that form the governing coalition in Italy. This is the first time that such an agenda is set at such a high level. Generally speaking, this is evidence of the consistency of Italian foreign policy which was formed in the post-war years,the purpose of which is to fulfill the role of a “bridge” between the North and the South, the West and the East. Perhaps, the historical peak of this strategy occurred when Italy carried out active mediation to establish the Russia-NATO Council in 2002. Nevertheless, the Italian foreign policy is still following this strategy.
According to experts, the status of “privileged partnership”, which was repeatedly voiced at the level of heads of state and by official representatives of Russia and Italy, does not match the real level of relations. A more realistic description of relations between Russia and Italy is “the best among the worst” compared to other partners in the EU, or a pragmatic cooperation that is still a problem to implement at the European level. This time, the leaders of the two states, speaking of existing relations, used such epithets as “excellent”, “constructive” and “businesslike”, and several times addressed each other using the word “friends”.
Meanwhile, we can be confident that a political dialogue between Russia and Italy is gradually regaining strength after the crisis of 2014–2015, particularly following the arrival of the yellow-green coalition in Italy. In October 2018, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Moscow. On the eve of his visit, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the League Party, Matteo Salvini, arrived in Moscow too to meet with representatives of Italian businesses working in Russia. In 2019, Vladimir Putin and Giuseppe Conte met at the “One Belt – One Road” forum, and also at the G20 summit in Osaka. Bilateral contacts are gradually being restored between the defense and interior ministries, consultations are under way on international information security, and an inter-parliamentary dialogue is back on track too.
Even though Moscow highly values Russian-Italian relations, Russian leaders regularly emphasize that Italy could do more in the EU to improve relations with Russia. In a report on Russian-Italian relations, which was recently released by the Russian International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Italy is systematically criticized for following the general course of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, be it NATO’s bombings in Yugoslavia in 1999, the U.S. operation and coalition in Iraq in 2003, the bombing of Libya in 2011, or the adoption of anti-Russian resolutions on Crimea. In all these cases, the report says, Italy, even though it is not completely in agreement with the United States and other European leaders, did not come out actively against them. Similarly, in 2015, Italy did not protest against the lowering of the status of Russia-EU relations, which had previously been known as a “strategic partnership”. In addition, Italy, whose political leaders often publicly speak in favor of the lifting of sanctions, has never used its right of veto when voting in the EU to extend sanctions.
In particular, Russia points out that, having burned its fingers on the situation in Libya in 2011 and still paying for hasty decisions back then, Italy has been acting more carefully in Middle Eastern conflicts. It refused to participate in ground operations in Syria. Instead, it opted for providing humanitarian and logistical support. In Libya, Rome is actively trying to establish a dialogue between key warring parties, including with the help of Russia. In November 2018, Italy invited Russia to a conference on Libya in Naples, hoping to win the support of the Russian leadership, who at that time had better negotiating positions with Marshal Haftar than their Italian counterparts. On the issue of refugees, the Italian leadership took a number of independent measures and decisions to restrict migrants’ access to the territory of Italy (“porti chiusi”, or closed ports), and adopted a security law changing the rules for granting refugee status. This triggered criticism not only in Brussels, but also in the UN. Italy refused to recognize self-proclaimed Juan Guaido as the new president of Venezuela, thereby making it difficult for the EU to strike a common approach on this issue. On March 23, 2019, during Xi Jinping’s visit, Italy and the People’s Republic of China signed a memorandum of cooperation within the One Belt One Road Initiative, despite the numerous warnings against the move from Brussels. Such “independence” of the Italian leadership in foreign policy shows that Italy is at the epicenter of the conflict of national and supranational sovereignty in the EU, articulating this conflict as clearly and consistently as possible.
Italy-EU-Russia: not a love triangle
Such independence on the part of Italian leadership and their desire to assume some of the decision-making has triggered controversy domestically in Italy. On the one hand, these moves contribute to the status of Italy, both within the EU and on the international scene. On the other hand, some Italian experts say there is the risk of the country becoming isolated within the EU. Brussels, Paris and Berlin tend to view Rome’s moves in a negative way – as detrimental to European solidarity and hindering the development of further supranational integration.
The EU systematically criticizes Russia for prioritizing bilateral relations above dialogue with Brussels. As for Italy, the situation is aggravated by the fact that, from the point of view of Brussels, the “anti-system” forces have developed a special liking for the Russian leader, while Russia, in turn, uses them as agents of influence in the EU. In February 2019 the leader of the “League” Matteo Salvini was reported to have received 3 million euros from the Kremlin for running the election campaign in the European Parliament. Therefore, on the eve of his visit, Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Italian news agency Corriere della Sera that Russia is ready for dialogue with any political forces that come to power by legitimate means, “regardless of their political affiliations.” However, after Vladimir Putin’s interview with The Financial Times, one cannot but notice that the Russian president’s criticism of liberalism, being addressed, above all, to U.S. president Donald Trump, echoes the rhetoric of the Italian “government of change”. Both in matters of migration management and in terms of governments’ ability to respond to people’s needs, the views of the Russian and Italian leadership are fairly close. In this context, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy should certainly be considered not only as a bilateral dialogue, but also as an attempt to get across to leaders of the Western world the need to establish a dialogue with those political forces that express a different point of view on further socio-political and economic development in Europe and the United States.
The recent developments in the EU show, however, that the political mainstream is not prepared to heed alternative political groups. After the May 26, 2019 elections, Matteo Salvini, together with representatives of the “sovereignists” of Poland, France and a number of other countries, succeeded in building the largest coalition of “populists” in the entire history of the European Parliament – 73 deputies. This, however, did not provide them with enough say to affect the choice of candidates for key posts in the EU. The results of the EU summit on July 2, 2019, in which appointments to senior positions were made, testifies to Rome losing its influence in the EU. Unlike before, when representatives of Italy had occupied three key posts in the EU (Antonio Tajani – President of the European Parliament, Mario Draghi – Chairman of the ECB, Federica Mogherini – High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), now only one Italian – a representative of the opposition Democratic Party Divid Sassol – is part of the EU top management, having been given the position of President of the European Parliament. This yet again demonstrates that Paris, Berlin and Brussels are not ready for a serious dialogue with representatives of the yellow-green coalition of “sovereignists” and continue to rely on center-leftists.
In addition, the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister of Defense with extensive experience in foreign policy and defense, as President of the European Commission is likely to lead to attempts at greater EU integration in the sphere of foreign policy, which may narrow the window of opportunity for more independent foreign policy initiatives of EU countries, including Italy.
What also restricts Italy in its efforts is the looming threat of EU sanctions for breaching fiscal discipline and exceeding the budget deficit. After the EU summit on June 2, Giuseppe Conte said that he had reached an agreement that sanctions would not be applied if Italy cut down the previously planned budget expenditures. However, the threat of sanctions is still there, and this is likely to be one of the most effective instruments of influence from Brussels on the country’s position on many issues, including relations with Russia. Any harsh statements during the visit of Vladimir Putin or any so-called “big deals” would certainly cause even more irritation in Brussels, which means they could lead to a tougher policy towards Italy. Therefore, Vladimir Putin’s visit was, of course, an important confirmation of Italy’s proactive foreign policy but was not a breakthrough, since Italy is connected with the EU not only by the historical bonds of Euro-Atlantic solidarity, but also by tangible economic mechanisms that allow the EU to impose sanctions against the Italian economy.
The economy depends on politics
The economic dialogue between Russia and Italy does not correspond to the declared high level of bilateral relations. In 2017, after a three-year decline (from 2014 to 2016), bilateral trade regained momentum but is still far from the pre-crisis level ($ 27 billion in 2018 against 54 billion in 2013). Russia maintains a clear lead in Italian exports, being the fifth among top importers. The Italian presence is felt in almost all sectors of the Russian economy. About 500 Italian companies operate in Russia, which, however, holds no candle to Germany (4.7 thousand). Even though about 100 Russian-Italian joint ventures were set up during the period of sanctions as part of a program to move Italian production to Russia (“made with Italy”), this figure does not yet correspond to the existing potential. As for an economic dialogue, Italy is considerably behind Germany and France. While in Germany and France there have been functioning “Petersburg Dialogue” and “Trianon Dialogue” respectively, and the Sochi Dialogue has recently been launched with Austria, the Russian-Italian economic dialogue has yet to acquire an appropriate status. The Council for Economic, Industrial, Monetary and Financial Cooperation, which last gathered in Rome in December 2018, is still little known to both countries’ general public. The “Russian-Italian Forum-Dialogue on Civil Society”, which Vladimir Putin and Guiseppe Conte attended in course of the visit, has not received support from the Italian authorities since 2014. Only now is it approaching a new level of development. In addition, during the visit, the two parties agreed that the Russian Export Center and Vnesheconombank (VEB) would set up a bureau to support Russian exporters in Italy. Thus, the economic dialogue, which for a long time needed a new impetus, has finally received it following Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome. It is worth noting that the Italian leadership is acutely concerned about competition with Germany and France in two vast markets – Russia and China.
Russia, however, is waiting for more decisive steps from Italy to secure the lifting of the sanctions. However, according to Pasquale Terraciano, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to Russia, “Italy has never considered sanctions a smart decision, but Italy is part of the Western bloc and cannot stand against it alone.”. Italy’s agenda, he said, is to change the EU’s opinion through the use of consistent steps. At the same time, as a practical measure aimed at expanding economic cooperation, Italy proposes to unfreeze the funding of small and medium-sized enterprises at the level of the EBRD and the European Investment Bank. As he addressed a press conference after the meeting, Giuseppe Conte pointed out that Italy is ready to assume the role of a consistent promoter of the idea of lifting the sanctions but the conditions for this lifting had to be “ripe”.
Energy is a major area of cooperation between Italy and Russia. Russia is the fourth most important supplier of oil and the first of natural gas to Italy. Supplies from Moscow account for more than 40% of the total gas consumption. However, as Italian experts remark, Italy expects an increase in prices in connection with the construction of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, which will make Germany the number one transit country for Russian gas in Europe, bypassing Ukraine. Therefore, negotiations on the development of southern transportation routes are more than relevant for Italy. The meeting, however, yielded no breakthroughs on this issue either.
Regional cooperation: identifying problems, lack of solutions
Italy, just like Russia, sees a great potential for dialogue not only on issues related to bilateral cooperation, but also on those of the regional and global agenda. The priority for Italy is the Mediterranean, which produces the greatest number of challenges and threats to the country’s national security. Simultaneously, Italy is fully aware of the fact that the country will not be able to cope with these challenges alone, although it is taking independent measures, in particular, in matters of migration. Quite recently, Matteo Salvini held talks with the Libyan leadership in Tripoli to curtail illegal migration. However, Rome knows only too well that the solution to the problem lies not so much in reaching agreements with specific countries as in assisting the development of countries the migrants come from and in settling regional conflicts. Italy greatly appreciates the role of Russia as a non-regional player whose influence has increased significantly in recent years. During a press conference following the elections, Vladimir Putin, however, said that Russia is not ready to plunge head-on into resolving the Libyan crisis, and that forces that destroyed Libya’s statehood during the armed operation in 2011 should be involved;that is, NATO and the EU coalition. In solidarity with the Russian president, the Italian Prime Minister emphasized that Italy had warned from the very beginning that a military solution would not lead to peace. Under current conditions, the parties have indicated their readiness to participate in fostering a dialogue between all political forces in Libya.
As for Ukraine, Italy’s official position should be in line with the EU policy providing for no new opportunities to change the situation. In an interview before Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy, Giuseppe Conte directly linked the issue of lifting of the sanctions with the observance of the Minsk agreements, implicitly suggesting that Russia is a party to the conflict and urging both sides to demonstrate more understanding. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, and during a press conference following the meeting, President Putin reiterated that the new leadership of Ukraine should fulfill its election promises and enter a direct dialogue with representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic. Guiseppe Conte repeatedly pointed out that, although Italy is not part of the Normandy format (a negotiation apparatus designed to resolve the Ukrainian conflict), it is nevertheless ready to play a role in resolving the conflict if necessary, which once again confirms the country’s willingness to play a greater role on the international scene.
The Russian president and the Italian prime minister also hold similar views on the situation in Venezuela, expressing concerns over foreign interference, which in their opinions will only aggravate the situation inside the country.
On the whole, it is essential to emphasize that Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy did not bring any breakthroughs, either in bilateral relations or in formulating common positions on issues of regional and global concern. Although the parties demonstrated identical views on the causes and nature of some of the issues on the international agenda, they proved unprepared to suggest concrete practical solutions. For Italy, the meeting provided yet another opportunity to identify its own national interests in promoting relations with Russia and to demonstrate its readiness to act as a “bridge” in the development of a dialogue between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic bloc. At the same time, it has revealed limitations in Italian foreign policy, linked to the economic situation in the country and the weak positions of the current leadership in the renewed European institutions.
1. Speech by the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to the Russian Federation Pasquale Terracciano at the conference, at the Institute of Europe RAS, June 19, 2019
From our partner RIAC
Russian Authorities Going Forth and Back with Migration Policy
Deputy Mayor of Moscow for Economic Policy and Property and Land Relations Vladimir Efimov, in an interview published this mid-September in the newspaper Izvestia, a widely circulated and reputable Russian media, lamented that Moscow is still experiencing a shortage of labor migrants at various construction sites, now there is a shortage of about 200 thousand people.
“This problem remains today Moscow lacks about 200 thousand migrants. And we hope that in the near future the restrictions on their entry into the country will be softened,” Yefimov said, answering the question of the publication whether the issue of the shortage of migrant workers for construction sites in Moscow.
According to him, “the lack of labor resources leads to the fact that employers, primarily developers, outbid employees from each other, which increases the cost of their services. If we talk about the period before the pandemic, for several years, housing prices in Moscow have hardly grown. Against the background of the pandemic, the cost of housing has increased, actually catching up with inflation in previous years,” said the Vice Mayor of Moscow.
The announcement simply highlighted the inconsistency dealing with migrant policy and complete lack of foresight, especially what to do with migrants from the former Soviet republics. Thanks to these migrants, mostly employed in the construction fields and (cleaning, sewage disposal or removal services) in various neighborhood or districts, Moscow has won awards for being modern and clean smart-city in Europe. These migrants play an important role, most often underestimated, in building infrastructure and in general development of the society.
According to a survey of Promsvyazbank (PSB), Opora Rossii and Magram Market Research conducted in June 2021 found out that 45% of small and medium-sized businesses in Russia need new employees. Entrepreneurs still consider the unfavorable economic conditions caused by the pandemic to be the main obstacle to business expansion, and employing new staff requires extra cost for training in the social services sector.
Opora Rossii, an organization bringing together Russian small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), among other business organizations and institutions, have been very instrumental on the significant role by migrant force, its combined objective and beneficial impact on the economy of Russia.
Several experts, in addition, have explained that migrants from the former Soviet republics could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for the country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service indiscriminately deports them from Russia.
Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion-dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake mega projects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, the majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.
With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, an international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has acknowledged that Russia lacks a sufficient number of migrants to fulfil its ambitious development plans. He further underscored the fact that the number of migrants in Russia has declined significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.
“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.
In particular, it concerns projects in the agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage of migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.
The labor shortage is not only in Moscow but it applies to many regions including the Far East. During the 6th edition of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), the demography decline and labor shortage have been identified as factors affecting the development of the vast region. With plans to build residential blocks, establish industrial hubs and fix businesses, these depend largely on the working labor force.
The Russian government continues discussing a wide range of re-population program, hoping to attract in particular Russians there, even incentives such double income, mortgage system, early retirement and free plots of land, but little results have been achieved. Russia’s population is noticeably falling, and now stands at 146 million.
The Far East is almost the size of Canada with its current population (a mixture of natives plus legalized immigrants) more than 38 million. That compared, the Far East with estimated 6.3 million is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world.
Kremlin has made this its absolute long-term priority, and the challenging task is to create an environment for investment and attract people. President Vladimir Putin acknowledged, at a meeting on the socio-economic development of the Far East, that the speedy outflow of the population from the Far East suggests that the region has not yet received enough support measures. “A lot is being done, but it is still not enough if we observe an outflow of the population.”
President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia, based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.
In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
Russia’s Far East: Transforming the Space into Modern Habitable Region
Early September the 6th edition of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) under the theme “New Opportunities for the Far East in a Changed World” was held and considered as vital for strengthening especially economic ties among Asia-Pacific countries and the Far East region of Russia. What is known as the Far East covers approximately 40% of Russia’s territory.
The Far East is almost the size of Canada with its current population (a mixture of natives plus legalized immigrants) more than 38 million. That compared, the Far East with estimated 6.3 million is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. The Russian government continues discussing a wide range of re-population programmes, hoping to attract in particular Russians there, even incentives such double income, mortgage system, early retirement and free plots of land, but little results have been recorded.
The September forum, and all the previous ones, focused on raising sustainable development that primarily includes infrastructure, business investment and people. The question is on human habitation and sustenance, but this vast region of the country is sparsely inhabited. Kremlin has made this its absolute long-term priority, and the challenging task is to create an environment for investment and attract people.
President Vladimir Putin acknowledged, at a meeting on the socio-economic development of the Far East, that the speedy outflow of the population from the Far East suggests that the region has not yet received enough support measures. “A lot is being done, but it is still not enough if we observe an outflow of the population.”
“Our historical task is not only to keep people in the territories that were mastered by our ancestors for centuries, but to increase the population,” the Russian leader said. Putin stated that the rate of the outflow of people had decreased, but had not stopped. He called the growth of the population in the Russian Far East a “historical task.”
For this purpose, it is necessary to develop production capacities, create jobs, and ensure people’s incomes. At the same time, Putin also called on using the resources that have already been allocated to the region. “Considerable resources have been allocated and they need to be used effectively,” he suggested, addressing the opening of the Far East Economic Forum.
The September gathering brought together Russian and foreign entrepreneurs, politicians, experts, and representatives of the media as well as public organizations to exchange experiences and ideas, discuss the most pressing business and development issues and map out useful joint projects and initiatives for the region. Many of the speakers were very frank and objective in speeches, highlighted ways for developing the region.
The average Far Eastern city fares about 10% worse than the Russian average in terms of housing provision and quality of medical services. “We need intensive breakthrough development. Master plans involving the integrated development of the region could provide the key to this development. What is required is a resource center for urban development covering the Far Eastern Federal District. Secondly, the region is facing a severe shortage of highly skilled workers, especially in architecture and urban planning,” Architect and Partner at KB Strelka, Alexey Muratov told the session on Urban Planning.
The Far Eastern Federal District has significant economic potential and is of interest to both local and foreign business, but there is an imbalance between investment and economic potential in the region. For Artem Dovlatov, Deputy Chairman and Member of the Management Board of VEB of the Russian Federation, “the Far East is a very interesting region and of particular importance to the government. This is why the Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that the Far East will be a priority region for Russia in the 21st century. From the perspective of investors, the region is of serious interest. It benefits from vast resources, proximity to the Asia-Pacific region, and diverse scientific and technological potential.”
“There are certain barriers, of course, and investors still approach investing in the region with a degree of caution, since the barriers are objective. They are associated with the population (a lack of staff) and there are costs related to construction… The Far East is a highly urbanized region. This presents a huge challenge because we need to increase quality of life in the cities in order to prevent outward migration or attract new residents. Strategic planning in cities is needed here,” added Dovlatov.
Further at the different session, Alexey Muratov, Architect and Partner at KB Strelka, simply puts it, “there aren’t enough people in the Far East. The region accounts for 40% of the country’s land mass but only 5.5% of its inhabitants. How can we solve the central challenge, which is to say the imbalance of economic and investment potential? The first and most obvious solution relates to rotation work. Modern workers’ settlements are in no way inferior to cities in terms of comfort. The second option is to attract residents to cities in order to create new jobs. The issue of the urban environment and quality of life is relevant here. According to all polls, quality of life is the key factor behind outward migration.”
Nikolay Kharitonov, Chairman of the Committee for Regional Policy and Issues of the North and Far East, State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, has, however, expressed worries about to curb migration from the Far East. “Getting a Far Eastern hectare helps people to get settled here [in the Far East] instead of leaving for the south or elsewhere,” he said, adding that for transforming the region, it need transportation network, good infrastructure and social facilities, employment opportunities and conditions for habitation.
Admittedly, lack of social infrastructure constitutes a big hinderance to many projects. “Social infrastructure is of vital importance to the Far East. If people are fleeing the region, how can we motivate them to stay here? They need the right social infrastructure: health care, education, and everything in between,” according to the views of the Chief Executive Officer of VTB Infrastructure Holding Oleg Pankratov.
The Far East offers a platform for Russia’s entry into global markets and attracting international investment. Russia is seeking to take its place in the global system of division of labor, so it’s concentrating on projects with high added value. “Russia currently has the best conditions in the world to attract human resources and financial resources and take the next technological step. Why would you just come to the Russian market? Let’s manufacture things here for the whole world to compete with other centres of power, relatively speaking. The Russian government has to provide the best conditions for this,” pointed out Arnika Holding President Alexander Generalov.
Some foreign participants say it is necessary to expand support measures for business startups, consistently attempt to identify and remove development obstacles. “The Chinese experience is that high technologies and companies always play a very important role in the development of the local economy. We help them with resources, we allocate resources, and you do that too. The tech park should be connected to all resources and the international market. And human resources are very important. If you don’t have a good team to help startups, nothing will happen,” says International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation Vice Chairman Chen Herbert.
On one hand, entrepreneurs have little trust in the government due to its excessive control and supervision. There are still many problems including bureaucracy and red tape. On the other hand, based on the tasks defined by the country’s leadership, a set of measures is being implemented to enhance the business climate.
The regulatory framework is being improved in the most important and problematic areas of government regulation. Institutions and infrastructure are being created for the development of investment activity. The best practices to support entrepreneurship are being introduced, including mechanisms for direct financial assistance, concessional lending, tax incentives, and moratorium on government inspections.
Developing the transport and logistics infrastructure. The carrying capacity of the railways needs to be increased, to develop and upgrade the Trans-Siberian Railway. “Russia’s leadership also has concerns regarding the opportunities offered by the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is indeed a problem, because it is a major factor hindering economic growth in Russia, both in terms of foreign trade, and in terms of domestic transportation. We expect carrying capacity to be expanded in the near future,” believes Sergey Katyrin, President, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.
The potential exists for Russia and South Korea to cooperate across a broad range of areas, including industry, energy, and the environment. “We particularly want to highlight the cooperation that has taken shape in relation to smart city projects, industrial parks, and multimodal terminals for shipping in Primorye Territory. One of our assets is a joint venture with the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex. We have also acquired a grain terminal and are developing this business in Primorye Territory. Collaboration between our two nations is increasing in energy, fishing, and other areas,” Christopher Koo, Chairman, Korea International Trade Association (KITA).
“South Korea has traversed a fairly long path in relation to the creation of a waste management system in the early 1990s. Since that time, the system has come to closely reflect our own targets in terms of waste disposal. At the start of this journey, virtually 80% of waste in South Korea went to landfill sites. Today, more than 60% is recycled. In Russia, the President has set the objective of processing – i.e., sorting – 100% of waste, and utilizing 50% of it by 2030. Naturally, we would be delighted to employ technological solutions in this area which have been implemented in South Korea,” added Denis Butsayev, General Director, Russian Environmental Operator Public Law Company.
Besides South Korea, a number foreign countries strike deals at the forum, most of from the Asian Pacific region. Russia and Japan signed deals. China also signed several deals there as Russia has fast developing bilateral relations and both are members of BRICS. For instance, China has the following from the documents:
China Railway International Group and Primorye Territory signed a statement of mutual interest and intent to implement an investment project for the Construction of Vladivostok ring road in Primorye Territory. Stage 1: Russky Island – Yelena Island – Ulitsa Kazanskaya in Primorye Territory. Investment volume: RUB 75 billion.
VEB.RF and the ZED Development project company (part of Region Group) signed a cooperation agreement for the construction of an aerial lift across the Amur river at the section of the Russian-Chinese national border linking the cities of Blagoveshchensk (Russia) and Heihe (China). The construction project is being implemented jointly by the Russian investor and its Chinese partner, the China Railway Construction Corporation. VEB.RF will invest RUB 2 billion.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China signed a memorandum of understanding with the aim of establishing and strengthening cooperation on labour and social security issues of mutual interest.
Pharmeco and the Union of Chinese Entrepreneurs in Russia signed a partnership agreement with the aim of developing cooperation between Russian and Chinese organizations and Asia-Pacific countries in the field of pharmacology and the construction of healthcare facilities.
Zeleny Bulvar and KitayStroy signed a cooperation agreement on the construction of residential real estate in Vladivostok. Two 25-floor apartment buildings are set to be built in the Zeleny Ugol neighbourhood of Vladivostok by 2025.
Stroytransgaz and KitayStroy signed an agreement on the implementation of a project to build a museum and accompanying educational and cultural centre in Vladivostok.
The Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, VEB.RF, ECN Group and Marubeni Corporation signed an agreement to implement a project to produce ships using methanol fuel at the Zvezda shipyard.
GTLK and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines signed an agreement for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines to make an equity investment in GTLK Asia Maritime.
The Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan signed a bilateral agreement on the supply of LNG and gas condensate.
Novatek and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) signed an agreement on strategic cooperation on low-carbon projects.
The Europlast Primorsky Plant and Ryozai Kaihatsu signed a memorandum of cooperation on the expansion of exports to Japan between the parties.
The Europlast Primorsky Plant and Ryozai Kaihatsu signed a contract on the sale and purchase of PET preforms.
It is expected that the Far East will continue attracting investments, both Russian and foreign. “We will continue to try to constantly create new development opportunities, thus securing for the Far East this status of a testing ground for management technologies associated with the development of the region,” Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev said at the conference following the forum.
According to the official forum documents: “More than 380 agreements were signed at the forum. International and foreign companies, organizations, ministries and departments have signed 24 documents – 9 with China, 6 with Japan, 3 with Kazakhstan, by one agreement each with Austria, Vietnam, Canada, Serbia and Ethiopia.” And that agreements totaling 3.6 trillion rubles (US$49 billion) were signed at the Eastern Economic Forum (including agreements, the amount of which is not a commercial secret).
Until 2000, the Russian Far East lacked officially defined boundaries, according to historical archival documents. A single term “Siberia and the Far East” often referred to the regions east of the Urals without drawing a clear distinction between “Siberia” and “the Far East” on the territory of Russia. That however, the Far East is generally considered as the easternmost territory of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean.
The Fall of Kabul and the Balance of Power in Greater Eurasia
The uniqueness of historical events is determined by the conditions in which they occur. States always act in the same way — what changes is the conditions that force them to act in one way or another, but, most importantly, any change in context leads to fundamentally different consequences of similar events. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989 became possible precisely on the eve of truly global political changes — the end of the Cold War as a result of the de facto defeat of the USSR and its subsequent collapse.
Likewise, the disastrous end of 20 years’ of the US and allies’ presence in Afghanistan is of fundamental importance not in itself, but in the context of a changing global balance of power and a general reduction in the ability of Western countries to play a decisive role in international politics and the world economy. What matters is not the fact of another defeat of the United States — there have been and will be many victories and failures in the military history of this power, but in what circumstances this happens. Now the events in Afghanistan are unfolding amid the growth of the Chinese power and, at the same time, the ability of Moscow and Beijing to coordinate their actions on the most important issues for the state of affairs in Eurasia.
The effects of important events equally depend on the circumstances — short-term or strategic ones. The coming to power of a radical religious movement in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s prompted an attempt by the United States to consolidate its ability to determine the development of world politics. Then any actions of the Taliban on the sovereign territory of Afghanistan became a legitimate reason for international attention and, most often, condemnation. The military intervention of Western countries in Afghanistan received almost the same support as the international operation to liberate Kuwait in 1991.
In the longer term, the establishment in 1996 of a radical regime in Kabul created conditions for the expansion of the presence of the United States and states close to it in central Eurasia. The vulnerability of the Central Asian countries to influence from Washington has significantly increased. But also in Tashkent or Astana there were own efforts to balance Russian and growing Chinese influence in the region with reliance on the West. Until 2014, the United States maintained a direct military presence in the region in the form of bases and logistics centres where the American military was stationed.
But in 2021, the return of the Taliban to Kabul, following the sudden fall of the republican government of Ashraf Ghani, will have very different consequences. First of all, it leads to the further strengthening of China, to better conditions for Russia and a weakening of the West in its fierce competition with Moscow and Beijing. What the Taliban are doing or can do inside the country is not a reason for the general denial of their right to exist. The international context has changed, including in terms of the value dimension of politics and its role in making the most important decisions. Strategically, the return of the radicals to power could lead to the stabilisation of the region, a significant decrease in the United States’ ability to influence its countries and the relative isolation of India, as the country that most closely connects its future with the West.
We do not know if peace in Afghanistan becomes a reality. However, right now, for the first time in the past 40 years, internal political stabilisation in this country has the most solid foundation. First, it is a military victory for a relatively consolidated political movement with a unified leadership and control system. Second, the agreement of the leading regional powers like Russia and China that the Taliban movement should be given a chance to show prudent behaviour inside and outside. For China, this is cooperation in the implementation of major economic projects and refusal to support those religious groups that pose a threat to the security on the Chinese territory. For Russia, this means the absence of aggressive intentions towards the countries of Central Asia. To independently ensure its security, Moscow cannot have complete confidence, as well as a reduction in the flow of drugs coming from Afghanistan.
We have reason to expect that the stabilisation of the military situation in Afghanistan will lead to a revitalisation of Chinese efforts to rebuild the country economically. In the event that expectations become reality, and the United States and the European Union do not find opportunities to make Afghanistan back to the chaotic state of “war of all against all”, it can be expected that the “arc of instability” that girdles Eurasia will be broken. This will be an important geostrategic change in the region, which since the second half of the 19th century has been a field of rivalry between mainland Russia and the Anglo-Saxon powers — first Britain and later the United States.
But what is happening and will continue to happen in Afghanistan may have more varied consequences. With a high degree of probability, it will strengthen the position of Pakistan, which already closely cooperates with China and relies on its economic opportunities. India will feel more insecure — this country already estimates the fall of the republican government in Kabul as a serious blow to its strategic interests. It is likely that the US and its allies’ attempts to establish a dialogue with Iran will become more active — despite the fact that the current regime in this country is not friendly to the West, the internal situation there may be susceptible to external influence.
For Russia, it matters how the reduced US presence in Eurasia affects Turkey’s position. While this country is trying to behave confidently, it is still closely tied to the United States and Europe economically. In the event of strengthening Sino-Russian control over the space of their common neighbourhood, Ankara may have to restore relations with its NATO allies. Also, one cannot exclude Turkey’s chaotic attempts to restore relations with the countries of Central Asia that are close in language, which will also require some Russian attention.
In general, for Russia, the defeat of the United States in Afghanistan means not only a decrease in the capabilities of the main opponent in international affairs, but also a general change in the strategic situation. In particular, we cannot now exclude the possibility that under the new conditions Russia’s policy towards the countries of Central Asia may change.
Most of them are in one way or another connected with Russia by allied relations, but bilateral cooperation does not always develop smoothly. After the United States has lost an important part of the resources to interfere in the regional affairs, Moscow may even face increasing responsibility for its internal stability.
But the United States itself will be looking for ways to return to the central part of Eurasia in one form or another. The defeat in Afghanistan did not have a serious impact on the military and economic capabilities of this power. After the initial shock wears off, we must be prepared for a new round of regional clout. Now, in this struggle, the objective interests of China are on the side of Russia, and this greatly facilitates the situation in comparison with all previous episodes.
The fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, was an important historical event because it meant the actual end of the US attempts to exert a determining influence on international politics. Such efforts will continue, albeit under new ideological slogans, and the United States has long since abandoned attempts to create a truly holistic order under its leadership. In fact, we are dealing with yet another change in the dynamic balance of power that is now defining the nature of international relations. And, as in any case, this change brings new opportunities and new questions for Russia, which will need to answer in the very near future.
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