What is “hybrid power”? In the days of the Vietnam war, the Vietnamese leadership described its strategy as “politico-military-diplomatic”, by which they meant an organically integrated, fused, multifaceted, multidimensional, hybrid strategy. It is such a holistic or total strategy that enabled them to wage People’s War as Total War. This of course was the strategy that enabled the USSR to prevail in the Great Patriotic War. As such, I would define hybrid power as the capacity of generating such an organically integrated holistic politico-military-diplomatic strategy and implementing it globally.
It is a forgotten fact that Russia used to have two parallel apparatuses—the official state apparatus including the Foreign Ministry, originally the Comintern (the centenary of whose founding was forgotten), then the Cominform, and more durably the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as well as the party’s many auxiliary bodies—all of which had international counterparts and linkages, constituting a transcontinental matrix. While the Foreign Ministry operated in the system of states, maintaining state-to-state relations, the Communist party apparatus enabled not only party-to-party relations but a whole other dimension of movements. While state-to-state relations must operate within a global status quo, the party-to-party and movement dimensions operated at a societal level and one of political struggle. This phenomenon occurred within the status quo, influencing it in some situations, but generating, leveraging or adapting to the dynamics of change in other situations.
It was Antonio Gramsci who broadened our vision from an exclusive focus on the fortress of the State to that of the complex network of trenches of civil society, arguing that moral, intellectual, ethical and cultural hegemony—as distinct from domination—fought for and established precisely on the plane of civil society, was the only guarantee of prevailing over the enemy. Prof. Joseph Nye’s ‘soft power’ is an unacknowledged, much belated, and greatly oversimplified derivative of Gramscian ‘hegemony’.
A drastic demolition of an earlier network of trenches and apparatuses of para-state nature has given rise to a deficit of “hybrid power”. This has proved to be an obstacle for the Russian State in the face of its adversary, who is seeking to deprive them of the geopolitical and geostrategic space commensurate with Russia’s weight, role, self-respect and existential drives and needs. Meanwhile, the idealistic illusions of the “Doves of Détente” remain embedded in the complex network of trenches that Gramsci spoke of, and seem to be the dominant paradigm and discourse—sometimes manifest, sometimes latent- of the intelligentsia’s policy.
The dismantling of the 1990s meant the abolition of the political dimension of the “hybrid power” apparatus, which served Russia’s foreign policy interests, and also had a global reach right into the rear areas, as it were, of the adversaries’ societies. It was a unilateral disarmament in the field of political power and a distinct disadvantage in the arena of hybrid politico-military contestation. To give a dramatic illustration, 90 years ago, perhaps the finest text of hybrid warfare was co-authored in Moscow, and published under the collective pseudonym of A. Neuberg. It was co-authored by Tukhachevsky, Ho Chi Minh, Pianitsky and Wollenberg, with Togliatti as editor. Today, the Movement/radical change dimension is the sole preserve of the West, and is a powerful tool in its hybrid warfare strategy, over which it has a monopoly.
This absence of a parallel political-ideological track, especially one designed for catalyzing or accelerating change, means that a holistic doctrine or philosophy of world politics must pick up the slack. One strand of this would most certainly be the ideas of Yevgeny Primakov, which would however, have to be both contextualized and developed. The Primakovian contribution was the praxis of the double transition, from the Soviet to the post-Soviet and from unipolarity to multipolarity. However, this transition is now in a new stage characterized on the one hand by the end of Russia’s unilateral retreat and the drawing of Russian ‘red lines’ of resistance, and on the other, by the global strategic offensive posture of the US-led Western power, the advance of NATO to Russia’s borders, the open designation of Russia as an adversary and the attempt to encircle the Eurasian heartland states.
The tasks of this new stage require that the Primakovian perspective be developed, and this can be done only by intellectual fidelity and a return to the actual roots of the Primakovian idea: A Realist re-reading and creative application of the best of Leninist and Soviet thinking, while being liberated from its Procrustean frame. It was said of Marx that he used Hegel’s method but not his system, liberating the former from the latter. This was true of Primakov and the Leninist, Soviet and world Communist intellectual heritage: he extracted the method and set aside the obsolete system of thought. It would be inadequate to rely solely on the Primakovian perspective, and the larger matrix of Russian Realism must be rediscovered and revived as the paradigm of world politics today.
Russian realists tend to blame a dilettantish liberalism for the deviation from the great tradition of Western Realism, from Kennan to Kissinger, which they are familiar with. Russian thinking, while understandably rejecting the liberal idealism of Fukuyama et al, has tightly embraced an American or Western Realism, that of Kissinger and Huntington, when a far richer and authentic strand of Russian Realism exists, submerged in the history of the modern Russian State and its strategic politico-military thought. This latter realism is connected to an even larger matrix of Eurasian Realism, of which a good illustration is the difference between the responses of Dr. Kissinger and his counterpart, Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, in the Paris Peace Talks, when they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr Kissinger accepted, while Le Duc Tho, the Asian Leninist, politely declined, declaring that “so long as there is imperialism, there will be war”. Who then was the better realist, and which, the Western or the Eurasian, was the better realism?
It is a conventionally held belief that “ideology” leads to “idealism” while the further one gets from ideology the closer one approaches or embraces realism. However, the texture of actual history is rather different. There have been periods in which ideology went hand in hand with realism and other periods when it was twinned with idealism, and still other periods when it approximated neorealism. There are also periods in which there was a maximum deviation from or abandonment of one ideology only to embrace another, perhaps opposite ideology—and such periods exhibit the maximum characteristics of idealism rather than realism. Still more complicated are the periods of transition when within a period of ideology and idealism, there are influential individuals—Primakov inevitably comes to mind—who represent the strand of realism or neorealism.
In conventional reconstructions, the Leninist period is seen as one of ideology and therefore of idealism, even utopianism. The Stalinist period is seen, by contrast, as one of realism. The Khrushchevite period is once again seen as a time of idealism, while the post-Khrushchev period is labeled as one of welcome return to realism. The period of High Détente in the 1970s is seen as the acme of realism. I would question this periodization and propose a rather different periodization and classification.
It is often forgotten, but is hardly an accident that one of the founding fathers of modern realism in international relations, EH Carr, was also the historian of the Russian Revolution and a sympathizer of the Soviet experiment. There was neither anomaly nor contradiction between his realism and his abiding interest in the history of the Russian Revolution, and between the Soviet state and the history of the Comintern and Cominform. For EH Carr, the history and policy of the Russian Revolution in its internal and external dimensions was not the polar opposite, the antinomy, of the realism that he espoused. His abiding interest and treatment of the subject showed that for Carr, the policy of the Russian revolution and the Soviet state was either a version and variant of realism—a radical Realism—or a combination a synthesis of realism and idealism, of power structures and the normative factor, amounting to what would be later termed Neorealism, albeit a leftwing Neorealism.
EH Carr noted the realism of Lenin’s insistence on the signing of the Brest-Litovsk at the time he did, so as to prevent further collapse and further inroads by the Germans. Indeed, the resistance from the Left Bolsheviks and the hesitancy of Trotsky cost Russia considerable territory until the Treaty was signed. But EH Carr’s main emphasis was the turn to Realism proper by Lenin in the last years of his life, especially in 1920, following the defeat of the Red Army offensive into Poland. This defeat and Lenin’s shift to the NEP, marked the proper onset of Soviet Realism, which was solidified by Stalin. Carr’s work on the Comintern and the Spanish Civil War as well as the Cominform, traced the militant Realism of the Soviet leadership, fighting against right wing and leftwing idealisms but occasionally committing those very errors.
The development and deterioration of US-Russia and US-China relations should prompt a revaluation of categories and periods. I suggest that the post-Stalin period of modern Russian history be seen as a period which was dominated not by a turn to a consistent Realism, but by the dominance of idealism, which was misunderstood as realism. Indeed, I would argue that the tendency of Realism in the post-Stalin period was brief and often subject to political and ideological defeat. That realist tendency, which was more realist than its opponent, was misperceived as both ideological and idealist, as a left deviation, while its victorious opponent was seen as Realist, when in reality—and the pun is intended—it proved to be far more idealist than its defeated opponent. One may see a predominant period of idealism and a suppressed realism according to today’s perspective on the matter, which requires revaluation and rehabilitation, if one is to face the challenges of the current moment in world history.
The delusions of the 20th Congress dated back to the period immediately following the Great Patriotic War but were brought out into the open and combated in the denunciation of the idea of a prolonged postwar alliance with the US as over-optimistically foreseen by the leader of the US Communist party, Earl Browder. This line was criticized in the famous Duclos Letter (1945), penned by the head of the French Communist Party, Jacques Duclos. The international line of the newly created Cominform as articulated by Zhdanov, and the diplomatic interventions by Vishinsky were the landmarks of the post WWII realism of the Stalin leadership, which, following his death, were represented by Molotov and Kaganovich. This line was characterized by the constant awareness of the possibility of armed confrontation with the West, initiated by the West.
At no time did the Stalin leadership assume that the creation of atomic and nuclear weapons diminished this possibility. Nor was it even considered that the factor of nuclear weapons should mean that the possessors of those weapons, the USA and Russia, should establish a privileged relationship transcending the two camps; one in which the outreach to the US should be more important to Russia than the new relationship with the victorious revolution in the world’s most populous state, China. The post-Stalin ouster of Molotov and Kaganovich led to the dramatic change of the international and strategic thinking of the Russian leadership. The perceived need to address the issue of nuclear weapons led to the privileging of the equation with the West on the part of the post-Stalin leadership. It was this turn that was one of the major factors in the Sino-Soviet rift.
from the perspective of the strategic analyst though, is the first phase and leading personality of Realism in the post-Stalin period. I wish to suggest that the line of the most important Realist figure of this period was the most correct perspective available to the Soviet (and Russian) leadership in the post-Stalin period, and had it been adopted, the Soviet Union may well have remained intact and the present situation of encirclement of Eurasia may have been avoided. This unsung Russian Realist hero is Alexander Shelepin. Shelepin’s misgivings about the policy of détente vis-a vis the USA have been validated. The optimism of his opponents has been dispelled and disproved by the subsequent trajectory. Shelepin’s critics, the ones who prevailed in the inner-party struggle, may have been tactically, conjuncturally and episodically correct; but they have been proved strategically and historically wrong. Their chain of conceptual error and ideological illusion has to be dealt with.
It is time to recognize that contrary to conventional wisdom, the real Russian Realists were the so-called “hardliners” or “hawks”—I would call them lucid warriors—not the “doves” of Détente. These individuals include Shelepin, Andropov, Grechko, Gorshkov, Ustinov, Orgarkov, and Akhromyev. History has validated their clarity, skepticism and tough-minded Realism. It is their strategic perspectives and policies that when taken together, constitute the New Realist paradigm necessary to combat the global offensive and the long-term secular trend—whatever the US administration—of a tightening encirclement from Arctic to Indo-Pacific, of Eurasia’s heartland.
When the West treats the modern Russian state, be it Soviet or post-Soviet, as an adversary, a hostile entity, as evidenced by the movement of military forces, the exit from arms control agreements, and a reversion to the most ruthless Cold War doctrines such as ‘rollback’ and ‘first strike’/‘war-fighting, war-winning’, the Russian state has little reason to divest itself of its modern intellectual and political patrimony, turning its back on the political, philosophical, ideological, intellectual, doctrinal, conceptual armaments of the Soviet state and the Soviet period. In the contemporary context, the project of post-Soviet Russian Realism needs a selective, critical reintegration of elements of Soviet thought, updating and upgrading them as befits the 21st century. There is no other path to the (re)generation of ‘hybrid power’.
From our partner RIAC
Legitimate soft power or malign influence?
The last couple of years I have experienced Russian soft power firsthand through various NGO-programs. Here is what I learned – and how I was influenced.
There are two kinds of people: The ones who are curious about the unknown and the ones who are afraid. The first category includes the ones who are open towards strangers and the second includes the ones who would rather stick to their own.
For centuries it has been a core component of democracy that we can openly exchange worldviews and discuss how our society should be organized. This makes us able to understand each other – also if we disagree – and it makes us able to find solutions to current problems.
The point of engaging in discussions is often either to learn from others or to convince the counterpart that your own argument is better. In other words, the point with having discussions is to be influenced or influence another. But the last couple of years along with the fast emergence of online and social media a lot of discussions have been disrupted by so-called ‘disinformation’ and there for ‘foreign influence’ has become a matter of national security – especially in countries where the government is elected by the people whom might be easily influenced or manipulated.
In the West, and in many other places in the world, fear of the foreign is increasing. The appearance of disinformation and so called ‘influence-campaigns’ means that if we are not careful, we will be manipulated by outsiders into abandoning our true beliefs and into turning against our own. What a lot of people fail to see is that if we are too careful, we will all find ourselves in the second category of the two types of people mentioned above. If that happens, all foreign information will likely be perceived as disinformation and we might as well go offline and isolate ourselves in small homogenous societies. A core component of dialogue-based democracy is at stake–on a global level.
From state to people
I allow myself to represent “the West” in this article even though I know this is academically questionable because there are many countries, divergent opinions, and different approaches within the West. Some of the influence we “in the West” seem to be most afraid of is ‘Russian influence’. But what we often see as malign Russian influence-attempts, Russia often sees as legitimate use of soft power. And since the West also possess and uses soft power, Russia sees our fear and our accusations as a double moral standard.
Soft power involves the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction rather than coercion (Nye 1990).It includes promoting your countries culture, political values, and foreign policyto become an attractive and reliable partner. Soft power has some advantages to hard power because it is cheaper and more legitimate to convince people to voluntarily work with you than to force them to do so by for example military power or economic extortion or bribery. Why invade people’s territory with military means if you can ‘invade’ people’s minds by being or at least appearing favorable?
Russian soft power strategy was launched during Vladimir Putin’s second presidency in 2004-2008. Kremlin launched an active policy towards countries in the post-Soviet space to improve the image of Russia among its perceived compatriots. At first the strategy was directed towards regimes. For example, Moscow established the customs union that later became The Eurasian Economic Union and the Nord Stream gas pipeline to promote itself as an attractive economic partner and a reliable energy supplier. After the Ukraine crisis and Viktor Yanukovych’s departure other regimes started to play an anti-Russian card to consolidate their power (Sergunin & Karabeshkin 2015: 349). Thus, the soft power strategy had to change.
Today Russia’s soft power strategy is more people-oriented and stretches further than the post-Soviet space. Within this strategy public diplomacy plays a huge role meaning any government-sponsored effort to communicate directly with foreign publics to promote a government’s strategic objectives – or said in another way: a governments effort to influence foreign public opinion (Osipova 2014).
Make no mistake though: Russia is not the only country engaged with public diplomacy. More and more countries are competing to win over public audiences for a variety of reasons ranging from attracting tourists, students, or foreign investment to promoting national image and influencing international affairs.
Here is where it gets tricky because public diplomacy is considered legitimate but conducting influence-campaigns in foreign countries is not – but theoretically the two concepts look a bit like each other. When a foreign country wants to influence domestic public opinion up to an election it isseen as an effort to undermine democracy. It seems logical though– and even legitimate – that foreign governments want people in other countries to choose leaders that favor them. It is the methods used to do so that vary in legitimacy.
From digital to physical
In my time as a student of political science in Copenhagen I heard and read a lot about Russia. Russia’s image in Denmark is not very favorable. Russia is often perceived as an enemy trying to undermine democracy and as a regime that does not live up to human rights obligations. Russia is also quickly impersonated as Vladimir Putin: strong but unfair. Russia is a country far away, difficult to understand, but easy to fear. Said in another way: Russia does not have a lot of soft power leverage in Denmark and I imagine it is the same in many other countries in the West. Whenever and whatever good we hear about Russia; we don’t really believe it.
A couple of years ago I decided to travel to Russia to test and question my perceptions about the country that have mainly emerged from what we hear and read in Western media.One of Russia’s soft power methods is to promote Russian culture and foreign policy through NGO’s targeting for example students and young professionals to promote educational programs and exchange (Simons 2018). I chose to cease this opportunity to get to know Russia better and thus I have participated in various NGO-programs in Russia. And boy; have I engaged in a lot of discussions, I have learned, and I have influenced.
Russian NGO’s are often viewed as illegitimate in the West because they receive economic support from the Russian government. Thus, they are not “non-governmental” people say. What we need to remember is that NGO’s can merely survive in Russia without government support because if they receive money from abroad, they risk being labeled ‘foreign agents’ (Svetova 2018). Surely if they receive government support, they might have some obligations towards their government, but it does not mean that they are deliberately trying to spread disinformation to manipulate people. At least this should not be our starting point.
Official opinions are often also reflected in people’s opinion and by denying those opinions we distance ourselves not only from the Russian government but from the Russian people. Say I disagree; then only by understanding official opinions, I can put forward a counter argument in an understandable way to those who share that opinion. This is what ‘mutual understanding’ is about– which is exactly what is missing in the relationship between Russia and the West.
Blurred lines: false or biased, fact or opinion?
Dialogue fosters mutual understanding, which fosters predictability and credibility, which fosters trust and furthers possibilities to cooperate (Head 2016: 360). But in the digital age credibility is a scarce resource and fear of being manipulated keeps us from cooperating. A Russian acquaintance once said to me: Whatever you say about Russia, the opposite is also true. In other words: Truth can be inflected.
A prominent discussion in philosophy of science is whether and when something can be viewed as knowledge and be defined as true. Positivists argue that when weknow something is true, it is also real. “Influence campaigns in this new digital reality do not try to convince us and win an honest argument. Instead, they question reality itself,” said the Danish Foreign Minister, Jeppe Kofoed at a conference on how democracies can be protected against foreign influence. But it is questionable whether one reality exists.
In constructivist theory, reality is socially constructed within social contexts which means that different people in different contexts see reality differently. In other words, when people believe something is true, it is also real. Thus, it is difficult to define the line between disinformation and biased opinion. This is for example the case with the ‘annexation’ of Crimea as it is called in the west and the ‘reunification’ of Crimea as it is called in Russia. Those who agree with one or the other see true information, those who see an unfair framing see biased information and those who strongly disagree see false information. Information is interpreted within the framework of preexisting beliefs (Vuorelma2017: 120). Therefor it is questionable whether people are easily influenced by information that they strongly disagree upon, but it is quite possible that they would refer to the information as false.
Good image can be threatening
Things have happened recently that from a Russian perspective could give Russia more soft power leverage in the West. Russia sent medical aid to Italy and to other countries which could be a sign of goodwill. It has alsodeveloped a potential corona-vaccine, which could improve Russia’s image within biomedicine and broader academia – and could potentially put Russia in a position to help the whole planet. But in the West people are not exactly thrilled. In a Western perspective these are things that Russia can use for propaganda purposes meaning the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions and manipulate cognitions to achieve the goals of the propagandist (Jowet & O’Donell 2019: 6).
In the digital age aggressive behavior is not only expansionist behavior it is also a state’s intent to impose a good imageand thus, a signal of good intent can be interpreted as aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, I did not learn the solution to this dilemma. On the one hand, we should not be blind towards that states or even NGO’s might have an interest in lying about its intentions in order to change or control other people’s opinions. But on the other hand, we should primarily put it upon ourselves to explore the reasons behind divergent perceptions. Though, I suggest this should not take place through online media where misunderstanding rule and disinformation disrupt. What we need is good old-fashioned face-to-face meetings whether between students, teachers, NGO’s or government officials. Because the more we disagree the more dialogue is needed.
Framing foreign influence as pure malign manipulation will keep us both from learning and from arguing our own case abroad. So, let us prevent soft power from turning too ugly. After all the use of soft power is preferable to the use of hard power. And let us hope the covid-19-crisis is over soon so that we can visit each other and engage in dialogue where influence is not always a bad thing.
Head, Naomi (2016). ‘Transforming Conflict: Trust, Empathy, and Dialogue’, in Yohan Ariffin, Jean-Marc Coicaud & Vesselin Popovski (eds.), Emotions in International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jervis, Robert (2017). ‘Signaling and Perception. Projecting Images and Drawing Inferences’, in: How statesmen think: The psychology of international politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jowet, Garth S. & Victoria O’Donnell (2019). ‘Propaganda and Persuasion’ (ed. 7). California: SAGE Publications.
Osipova, Yelena (2014). ‘Russification‟ of „Soft Power‟: Transformation of a Concept’.The Journal of Public Diplomacy, Vol. 5, 56-77
Sergunin, Alexander &Karabeshkin, Leonid (2015. ‘Understanding Russia’s Soft Power Strategy’, Political Studies Association, POLITICS vol. 35(3-4), 347–363
Simons, Greg (2018).‘The Role of Russian NGOs in New Public Diplomacy’, Journal of Political Marketing, 17:2, 137-160
Svetova, Zoya (2018).‘NGOs in Russia: Do They Still Stand a Chance? The Kremlin is steadily ramping up its control over civil society’. Moscow Times. Located on: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2018/02/12/ngos-do-they-still-stand-a-chance-russia-svetova-a60471
Don’t Kid Yourself, Russia will Never Abandon Belarus
The world has been rivetted by the largest protests in Belarus’ history over the course of the past month. Dubbed “Europe’s Last Dictator” by former German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, its President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus ever since winning the country’s first and only democratic election in 1994. But is this the end for Lukashenko? Certainly, some have already dubbed this as another “Color Revolution” moment in reference to similar civil society “People’s Power” protests that were able to bring down post-Soviet governments from Kyrgyzstan to Serbia, and most recently the pro-Russian administration of Viktor Yanukovych in Belarus’ multiethnic southern neighbor Ukraine in 2014. But that will not happen in Belarus. This article does not mean to be callous but frank. The stark reality is that Belarus is an ethnically homogenous country that is vital to Russia’s national security interests. It will never surrender that to the opposition in Minsk or the West and NATO.
First, culturally Belarus is overwhelmingly Russian. Belarus’ population of 9.5 million people, 84% are ethnic Belarussians and 70% are native Russian speakers, Belarus’ only official language. Unlike Ukraine or the Baltic countries, Belarus lacks a strong ethnic base to sustain a pro-European political movement. Moscow will never abandon these Russians either, if needed it will intervene militarily under the guise of securing their rights, as it has done already in Eastern Ukraine. Such a maneuver would lead to a devastating conflict, with serious regional implications, and could begin a cascade of interventions to protect Russian speaking minorities on its borders.
Moreover, Belarus’ location situated right on Russia’s western frontier makes it is too strategically important for Moscow to allow it to join the fold of NATO. The Belarussian steppe is an invasion and counterattack route that quickly conveys invading European armies to the gates of Moscow, or Russian forces into Western Europe. Belarus was the first to fall during Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and it is in Belarus during Operation Bagration that the Red Army opened the road to Berlin. Today, Belarus’ existence within Russia’s political orbit is vital to provide it a buffer with NATO’s Eastern frontier. Without it, NATO could deploy forces just about 200 miles from Moscow. Thus, for Russia, any political change is a strategic threat. If Russia was willing to annex Crimea to, in part, protect its naval station at Sevastopol, after theUkrainians overthrew their pro-Russian leader Yanukovych, then it will do the same and more to Belarus in the event of Lukashenko’s ouster.
Additionally, a stable Belarus is vital to Russia’s core economic interests. It is through Belarus that major oil and gas pipelines transit from Russia to Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and the Baltic States. At least 10% of Europe’s oil needs come through the Druzhba pipeline in southern Belarus. And although Russia has also worked to diversify its avenues to export gas directly to the energy consuming countries of Europe, including with the construction of the Nordstream II and Turkstream pipelines, Belarus’ central location will always remain important as the most direct route to transport gas to Europe. In fact, Russia is already in a contentious dispute with Ukraine over gas pipelines, and it will not stand to also lose Belarus as a stable gas corridor.
And if that was not enough, one must remember Belarus is institutionally tied to Russia. It was at a hunting lodge in the Belarussian forest that in 1991, the leaders of the Soviet Union’s three Slavic republics: Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine came together to formally end the Soviet Union by declaring their independence together in the Belzahevy Accords. Five years later, Belarus then reversed its separation from Russia when it formed a Commonwealth in 1996, and finally the “Union State of Russia and Belarus,” or simply the “Union State” in 1999. This experiment in reestablishing the Soviet Union as a unitary political entity includes Schengen Area-style freedom of movement and a single executive that until a recent constitutional referendum, Russian President Vladimir Putin looked prepared to strengthen and assume the leadership of in order to stay in power. Now, Putin has raised the possibility of further integration as an antidote to the current protests. Belarus’ fate is thus closely tied to Russia’s own future as a nation state.
Notably, Belarus is also a party to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian led security alliance of regional states including Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. From the CSTO countries, Belarus can request an international (albeit Russian-led) “Collective Rapid Reaction Force,” to intervene and stabilize the country. As an elected leader, Lukashenko would be well within his rights to request the CSTO to intervene, and Russia already noted weeks ago that it forces remained ready in “reserve” at Belarus’ request. This would be an entirely legal use of military force to quell the domestic unrest and secure Lukashenko’s rule.
Lukashenko is the human embodiment of Russia’s interests in Belarus. He has made possible the expansion of Russia’s influence in the country since his election in 1994 and has had the unenviable task of placating Russia, balancing Europe and preserving his own independence, to some degree, from Moscow. He is the only ruler modern Belarusians have ever known, and the only one who can be trusted to steward the interests of Moscow and ethnolinguistic Russians. He is therefore the lynchpin of any strategy to preserve Russia’s interests in the country. Whether Moscow likes it or not, Lukashenko is irreplaceable. Frankly, sanctions will not convince him to retire, but only remind him that to fail, to lose power, will lead to his demise, and possibly his imprisonment or death for only Russia can affect the situation on the ground in Belarus.
Most of all, Lukashenko is the only one trusted by the military. As noted by Belarus’ Soviet-era leader Stanislav Shushkevich, the Belarussian army is manned and led by Lukashenko loyalists, it is one of the largest military force per-capita for its population, and its general staff leadership are well paid for their service to the state. Their fates are inexorably tied: a large, well-paid, ethnically homogenous military and their patron leader President Lukashenko. It is highly unlikely they will defect to the opposition, but even if so, that will only lead to a civil war and a Russian intervention. The presence of Lukashenko loyalists in the military ensures buttressed by the Russian speaking population ensures he will always have a strong power base in the country.
There may be a tendency in the West to think the Belarussian opposition will win. This belief is what guided overwhelming international support for Juan Guido in Venezuela to take power from the government of Nicholas Maduro. But Maduro held firm, knowing his allies in the military will decide his and the country’s future. They stayed in lockstep with the government, and despite massive opposition protests and the defection of much of Maduro’s political base, his government did not yield. They mortgaged the country’s future to survive –but survive they did.
The US especially must learn from Venezuela, or for that matter the rest of the interventions on its diplomatic resume. It is not a simple matter of course to remove governments even when the population is resoundingly opposed to their rule. Unless NATO, the US, and Europe plan on supporting a military opposition against Russia (which nobody is proposing), risking a direct confrontation with Moscow as well, there is little to no chance of changing the rulers in Minsk.
Of course, for the West, it still makes sense to support the opposition vocally, even if their defeat is inevitable. At the very least, it is a chance to draw attention to a crisis on Russia’s doorstep, at most, it will grant it an ally in a revolutionary Belarussian government –for all of five minutes that is, before Russian soldiers duly force it from office and restore Lukashenko to power. Belarus is in Russia’s backyard. The West should not forget that as it watches events unfold in Minsk.
Navalny, Nord Stream 2 and Moscow’s Response
As expected, Alexei Navalny’s case is seriously tearing apart relationship between European Union and Russian Federation. The alleged “poisoning” of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on August 20 in Tomsk (Siberia), has similarities to the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, and that of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, in the city of Salisbury, England. Russia’s political history is dotted with that well-colored inerasable image.
Navalny is a Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist. He came to international prominence by organizing demonstrations and running for political office, to advocate reforms against corruption in Russia. As a citizen, he has the fundamental right to freedom of expression and to associate with social and political groups. But his activities has angered the officialdom and becomes most hated politician. He has been detained several times by Russian authorities.
Now Navalny, who was “allegedly poisoned” in August, stands a determining factor shaping the relationship between Western world and European Union and Russia. Sanctions are the punitive measures against Russia. When he was first treated in a Russian hospital in Omsk, the doctors claimed that there were no traces of poison in his body, a claim that Russian authorities continue to endorse.
Specialist labs in France and Sweden have confirmed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German government Spokesman Steffen Seibert said mid-Sept, and confirmed that the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had also received samples and was taking steps to have those tested at its reference laboratories.
According to Seibert, the European Union’s summit, set to take place on September 24-25. The world would be looking for what measures be collectively adopted with regard to Navalny and against Russia.
On Sept 17, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told the local media that there were another series of anti-Russian sanctions being initiated by the West amid the situation involving Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, all these designed to deliver a blow to relations between Russia and the European Union.
“The main goal today, at least it appears to be this way, is to deliver a blow to the relations between our countries and the European Union, and countries that are part of the union. Everything is going in this framework,” Zakharova said in the 60 Minutes show on the Rossiya 1 (VGTRK) television channel.
On Sept 15, during its session the European Union planned to create a global regime sanctioning human rights violations around the world and the intention to name it after Alexey Navalny. The Russian Foreign Ministry believes that will erode the basic principles of international law and undermines the prerogatives of the UN Security Council through endless illegitimate unilateral sanctions imposed by Brussels and Washington.
As for whether it would be advisable to name this sanctions regime after Alexei Navalny, it viewed “this exclusively as an undisguised attempt to give a manifestly anti-Russia tonality to the new EU restrictions. At the same time, Berlin persists in brushing off proposals to work together in order to get to the bottom of what happened, using clearly far-fetched pretexts. We hope that common sense will prevail in the European Union and our partners will renounce the arbitrary practice of assigning blame and in the future will draw conclusions based on real and confirmed facts.”
That however Moscow readies to hit back on EU sanctions. Local daily newspaper Izvestia also wrote that Russia vows to retaliate against potential European Union sanctions. Even though the European Union is trying to elbow Russia out of the gas market, it is unlikely that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project will be abandoned over the incident with Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, quoting sources in the Russian Federation Council (Upper House of Parliament).
The resolution approved by the European Parliament (EP) stresses the need for an international investigation into the alleged poisoning of Navalny with a Novichok-type toxic agent. European MPs called for suspending Nord Stream 2 and slapping sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow is urging Berlin to cooperate in the investigation of what happened to Navalny. If the EU levies sanctions on Russia, Moscow can provide a tit-for-tat response, Russian MPs told the paper.
“I don’t think this option will come to life, because it is difficult to connect the situation with Navalny to the construction of Nord Stream 2. This is just an excuse to push Russia out of the gas market. We need to react calmly and not be dragged into those discussions,” Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov told Izvestia, commenting on the resolution.
Similarly, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Alexei Chepa explained to Izvestia that in the event of any real anti-Russian sanctions, Russia could provide a tit-for-tat response. For example, if the European Union approves personal restrictions and a sanctions list, Moscow will do the same.
“Of course, we will respond. However, this will impact both our economy and the economy of Germany and the European Union. No one wins here. However, there may be a tit-for-tat blacklist that would include, for example, the MPs that called for anti-Russian sanctions or for the suspension of Nord Stream 2,” the MP said, stressing that Moscow will only retaliate if the European Union introduces real sanctions against Russia.
Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote that European Union to loosen legal mechanism for new sanctions against Russia. It said that the European Commission is working on broadening its legal instruments that would enable the introduction of personal sanctions against human rights violators in different countries, counting Russia among them. President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced plans to adopt Europe’s version of the Magnitsky Act and suggested adjusting the mechanism for approving sanctions in such a way that does not require the support of all European Union member states.
According to Kommersant, this amendment, if adopted, will no longer allow Moscow to count on friendly European countries that have called on European Union allies not to impose tough sanctions on Russia. According to von der Leyen, the proposals for a European ‘Magnitsky Act’ will be ready soon. She explained the European Union should be able to respond clearly and quickly to what is happening anywhere, whether in Hong Kong, Moscow or Minsk.
The German Council on Foreign Relations, does not believe that the European Union will be able to agree on an extensive package of sanctions against Russia soon. Rather, an agreement on a blacklist similar to the ‘Magnitsky list’ could be expected. According to experts, regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Germany and the European Union would rather allow the project be implemented in full, and then introduce some measures to restrict or prohibit transportation of gas through the pipeline.
“With the crises around Navalny and Lukashenko unfolding, the freezing of Nord Stream 2 seems to be in the cards. Nevertheless, we are not talking about a complete breakdown of relations. Even during the Cold War, economic ties between the USSR and the West were not completely severed,” Head of the European Political Studies Department at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO),Nadezhda Arbatova, told Kommersant newspaper. “Today’s confrontation between Russia and the West is a struggle of ideology and real politics. Minimal interaction will be maintained, but this will not change the quality of relations between Russia and the EU,” she predicted.
European Union and Russia have strategic partnership agreement signed in 2011 but that was later challenged following the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. Russia has five member states: Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland share its border. The relations are determined by European Union member on bilateral basis, but all the members adopt common or collective policies toward the Russian Federation.
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