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Hybrid Power and the Real Russian Realists

Dayan Jayatilleka

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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’.

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Ph.D., Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation

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Russia, Africa and the Debts

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Long seen as a strategic partner, Russia has opened a new chapter and started building better relations with Africa, and most significantly made its move by writing off Africa’s debts accumulated from Soviet era. After the Soviet collapse, Russia first attempted at collecting its debts. Indeed, these Soviet-leaning debt-trapped African countries were unable to pay them (these debts) back to Russia.

During the Soviet era, Moscow forged alliances with African countries, especially those that supported its communist idealogy, and supplied them with military equipment and offered technical assistance on bilateral basis. In particular, supplied arms  went to Angola, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Namibia, Mozambique, Morocco and South Africa. That Soviet-era form of diplomatic engagement left many African countries indebted to an amount of US$20 billion, according to official documents.

In an interview with TASS, Russian State News Agency, ahead of the first Russia-Africa Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained Soviet’s role in the liberation of the continent, support for the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid. In addition, the enormous help offered Africans to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, support for national economies, and created capable armed forces for Africa.

“Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else; and we strongly oppose any geo-political ‘games’ involving Africa,” he said during the interview before referring the debts write-off to Africa. “Let me point out that in the post-Soviet period, at the end of the 20th century, Russia cancelled US$20 billion of African countries’ debts to the Soviet Union. This was both an act of generosity and a pragmatic step, because many of the African states were unable to service those debts. We, therefore, decided that it would be best for everyone to start our cooperation from scratch,” said President Putin during that interview.

On October 23, 2019, President Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, African Union Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Russia-Africa Summit Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took part in the Russia-Africa Economic Forum. During the plenary session held under the theme “Russia and Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” and attended by top officials, politicians and business leaders, and almost 2,000 Russian and foreign companies, the debts write-off as as basis for economic growth and for developing long-tern relations featured prominently.

“Economic issues are an integral part and a priority of Russia’s relations with African countries. Developing close business ties serves our common interest, contributes to the sustainable growth, helps to improve quality of life and solve numerous social problems,” President Putin said, and then added, “Russia provides systematic assistance to developing the African continent. Our country is participating in an initiative to ease the African countries’ debt burden. To date, the total amount of write-offs stands at over US$20 billion. Joint programmes have been launched with a number of countries involving the use of debts to finance national economic growth projects.”

On September 5, 2017, President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting of BRICS leaders with delegation heads from invited states, including the Heads of State and Government of Egypt, Tajikistan, Mexico, Guinea and Thailand. The meeting discussed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and prospects for further developing their partner relations. Before the meeting, the BRICS leaders and delegation heads form invited states had a joint photo session, President Putin informed that “Russia has been working actively to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have written off over US$20 billion of African countries’ debts through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.”

On January 30, 2015, President Putin sent his greetings to the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government. The message stated in part: The Russian Federation’s relations with our African partners are developing positively. We have established a substantial political dialogue and work actively together in international affairs. Russia’s decision to write off much of African countries’ debt and the preferential conditions we offer the majority of Africa’s traditional export goods open up new possibilities for trade, economic and investment cooperation.

On March 27, 2013,in Durban, South Africa, in a speech at meeting with Heads of African states, President Putin explicitly noted “Over the course of many decades, Russia has provided direct assistance to the African continent. I would like to note that we have written off over 20 billion dollars in debt; we have written off far more than any other G8 nation. We plan to take additional measures to ease the debt burden.”

According to the Russian leader, the BRICS group’s companies are working actively in the African market; there is a growing influx of investments into various sectors in Africa’s economies, from traditional mineral extraction and farming to high technologies and banking. He added BRICS countries are championing the rights and interests of Africa and other nations with emerging economies, speaking out in favour of increasing their role and influence in the global governance system, particularly international financial and economic organizations.

On June 28, 2002, in Kananaskis, Canada, there was a media conference after the G8 Summit. There was one specific question regarding Africa. The G8 approached the plan submitted by African countries in a creative way. What can be Russia’s role and place in addressing the global problem of combating poverty?

President Vladimir Putin answered: “As regards Russia, it has traditionally had very good relations with the African continent. We are very perceptive of the problems on the African continent. I must say that Russia has been making a very tangible contribution to solving Africa’s problems. Suffice it to say Russia is making a big contribution to the initiative adopted here, a multi-lateral initiative, including the writing off part of African debts. Of all the African debts that are to be written-off, 20% are debts to the Russian Federation. That is US$26 billion.”

On May 21, 2007, The Kremlin made available Excerpts of the Transcript of the Cabinet Meeting. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin on the meeting of G8 finance ministers. The issue about supporting and helping African countries. Minister Kudrin told the cabinet meeting; “We discussed the implementation of a number of initiatives that should improve the management and transparency of public finances in those countries, including by better employing revenues from the extraction of mineral resources in Africa to fight against poverty.”

“We discussed responsible lending and relations with countries that have benefited from debt relief. We are writing off debt, reducing these countries’ debt burden, and meanwhile their opportunity to incur new debts is increasing simultaneously. And a number of countries are starting to make huge loans to these countries, taking advantage of the fact that they are no longer in debt and lending to them at such a rate that these countries will once again require help. These instances exist. In fact, this practice is liable to be perceived in a negative way. A number of leading countries in the world are engaged in this practice,” he said.

At Sochi summit, Putin’s announcement about “debt write-off” was, therefore, nothing new. The Africa’s debts write-off debt has been played for years. It featured in Foreign Minister Lavrov speeches, at least between 2007 and 2015, as indicated here from the official website of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN Summit for the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, New York, September 27, 2015 (1814-27-09-2015).

He said: “Russian development assistance is invariably aimed at solving the most pressing challenges faced by the countries in need. In these efforts, we are neither trying to lecture our partners on how they should build their lives, nor impose political models and values. Poverty eradication is the key objective of Russia’s state policy in the area of international development assistance at the global level.”

Debt relief is an effective tool in this regard. Under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), our country has written off over 20 bn US dollars of the principal debt owed by African countries alone.Russia also contributes to reducing the debt burden of the poorest countries beyond the HIPC through debt-for-aid swaps. We also take other steps towards the settlement of debt owed to Russia, both within multilateral and bilateral formats, he added.

Speech by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the reception on the occasion of Africa Day, Moscow, 22 May 2014 (1243-22-05-2014). As it is known, Russia has written off over 20 billion US dollar debt of African states. We are undertaking steps to further ease the debt burden of Africans, including through conclusion of agreements based on the scheme “debt in exchange for development” according to the Foreign Minister.

In April, 2014, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, approved the new State policy concept of the Russian Federation in the area of contribution to international development. Its practical implementation will contribute to the build-up of our participation in the area of assistance to the development of states of the African continent, Lavrov said in the report posted to the website.

Transcript of Remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at Reception on Occasion of Africa Day, Moscow, May 26, 2008 (751-26-05-2008). “Russia has done a great deal to alleviate the debt burden, particularly in the framework of the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, and in writing off multilateral debts to the IMF and the International Development Association. The overall amount of the African countries’ indebtedness cancelled by us, including on a bilateral basis, exceeds 20 billion dollars, of which about one-half in the last two years,” Lavrov told the gathering on Africa Day in 2008.

As far back as May 2007, the Foreign Ministry showed interest in Africa’s debts. “We are helping our African partners reduce the burden of foreign debt. We have written off African debt within the framework of the initiative to reduce the indebtedness of the poorest nations,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at May 25 gathering of a group of ambassadors, diplomats and ministry officials marking Africa Day.

The move signaled Russia’s intention to fulfill its commitments made at that time Group of Eight (G8) meetings as well as paving the way to increased trade with the African continent. It was then, signed into law March 10 ratifying the agreement between Russia and African countries it aided during the Soviet era. Russia continued discussions on a full debt write-off on bilateral basis, African countries owed nearly US$20 billion. The debt was primarily through weapon deliveries, according to the official transcript.

“The most important aspect of economic cooperation in our foreign policy is to encourage African countries to trade with us and to not only depend on development aid. Always looking for aid makes these countries less productive and funds for projects end up in foreign banks at the expense of the suffering population,” Lavrov said.

In March 2019, President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation with Foreign States and Kremlin’s website transcript pointed to the geographic reach of military-technical cooperation as constantly expanding, with the number of partners already in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Since then, President Putin has repeatedly called for renewed efforts, not only, in preserving, but also, in strengthening Russia’s leading position on the global arms market, primarily in the high-tech sector, amid tough competition. He further called for reliance on the rich experience in this sphere and building up consistently military technology cooperation with foreign states.

“We strictly observe international norms and principles in this area. We supply weapons and military equipment solely in the interests of security, defence and anti-terrorism efforts. In each case, we thoroughly assess the situation and try to predict the developments in the specific region. There are no bilateral contracts ever targeted against third countries, against their security interests,” he explained.

According to the Kremlin website, Russia targeted global export contracts worth 50 billion dollars in 2018. Russia’s export priority is to expand its scope and strengthen its position on the market.

Over the past years, strengthening military-technical cooperation has been a strong part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Russia has signed bilateral military-technical cooperation agreements with many African countries. On the other hand, Moscow’s post-Cold War relations with Africa, undoubtedly, lean toward military support and arms trade. Analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) indicates that between 2014 and 2018, Russia accounted for 49% of arms imports to North Africa and 28% to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa has started accumulating fresh debts. For example, Johan Burger’s article details crucial information in relation to Russia’s military interests in Africa. Russia has established or intends to establish military bases in Sudan along the Red Sea Coast, Somaliland, and Egypt. Another publication highlights Russia’s military bases in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Guinea. Lately, the Central African Republic intends to host a Russian military base.

Last October, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, African Union Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Russia-Africa Summit, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, noted in his speech at the plenary session of the Russia-Africa Economic Forum: “Africa welcomes the efforts to encourage an open door policy and cooperation with its partners with a view to making a breakthrough in developing its economy. Russia and other foreign countries as well as international financial organizations have to develop cooperation and invest in Africa.”

Further, the Egyptian leader urged international and regional financial organizations to take part in funding Africa’s economic growth and to give it financial guarantees on consolidating its economic potential. This would help promote trade and investment. Further urged foreign countries to grant African states generous terms for their projects and development programmes, which will help Africa reach its dream – to embark on the road of progress, modernization and sustainable development.

Before concluding his speech, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi emphasized that cooperation with Africa must be based on common interests, on the protection of African property, which would allow Africa to promote comprehensive sustainable development by carrying out three major goals.

First, it is necessary to accelerate economic reforms and create a businesslike atmosphere by establishing close partnership with the private sector. Second, it is essential to implement social justice principles with the broad participation of society. Third, it is necessary to consolidate peace and stability in accordance with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Significantly noting that African Union officials have repeatedly urged African leaders to prioritize Africa’s Agenda 2063 – a strategic framework for delivering on Africa’s goal for inclusive and sustainable development – and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 15-member UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming AU initiatives for infrastructure development and pledging support for “African solutions to African problems” in an attempt to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)..

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Sergey Lavrov: Violations of journalistic rights and discrimination against media are increasingly evident

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Restrictions imposed by legislative and executive authorities may negatively impact the work done by journalists in Russia. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, raised this concern during the OSCE conference on media freedom in Russia and in the OSCE area, held in Moscow earlier this month. He also drew attention to the problem of the security of journalists and the impunity of those, who commit crimes against them. 

Harlem Désir singled out as the most dangerous laws on insulting powers-that-be, fake news, the law on “sovereign Internet,” as well as the abuse of the law on countering extremism and the law on foreign agents, particularly in the case of Deutsche Welle. Mr. Désir added that since Russia had voluntarily committed to abide by OSCE standards, it is called upon to protect media freedom, just like any other OSCE member, which he always appeals to in cases of entry bans and obstruction of accreditation for Russian journalists.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the above trends, Harlem Désir still emphasized that the very fact that journalism remains an unsafe profession is an overarching problem that needs to be addressed. He recalled the killings of Anna Politkovskaya in Russia, of Pavel Sheremet in Ukraine and of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, all of which have gone unpunished, as well as incidents of rough treatment of journalists during the recent protests in Moscow. He welcomed the release of Ivan Golunov, Kirill Vyshinsky and Igor Rudkov, all of whom took part in the conference as speakers. He expressed concern about the fate of the recently detained Svetlana Prokopyeva, and singled out the case of Kirill Vyshinsky as highly important as it involved two OSCE countries, and also the release of Ukrainian citizens Roman Sushchenko and Oleg Sentsov. Kirill Vyshinsky thanked the OSCE representative for his active participation and handed him a list of journalists currently being prosecuted in Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is concerned about the non-inclusive and opaque nature of projects that are implemented in circumvention of multilateral platforms, such as the Conference on Media Freedom in London, which Russian journalists were not allowed to be present at. Russian media were likewise barred from attending last year’s OSCE conference in Kiev (while anyone could be freely accredited at Moscow’s conference, Lavrov noted). Sergey Lavrov also criticized the “Journalism Trust Initiative” media questionnaire proposed and organized by Reporters without Borders.

“This is not just an initiative by this particular non-governmental journalistic organization – it is endorsed by the French government,” Lavrov said.

“Each time someone wants to find information on a particular topic, modern technology will dish out for him exactly what Reporters Without Borders thinks is right,” he added. Lavrov said there was a link between the current trends to constraint freedom of speech and discriminate against the media to the West’s desire to reduce the “Russian-language area” in the world and its “fear of fair competition in the information space.”

Sergey Lavrov criticized attempts to deny accreditation for Deutsche Welle, as well as any other media outlet in a clear reference to calls earlier made to this effect by the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament to recognize the German news agency as a foreign agent. Lavrov added that DW journalists had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a meeting with the deputy director of the Ministry’s Department of Information and Press where they admitted as “incorrect” their coverage of the summer protests in Moscow. Maria Zakharova explained that Deutsche Welle published routes of unauthorized marches, which she said could be construed as political agitation.

Commenting on the laws adopted in Russia, which can hamper the work of the media, Sergey Lavrov noted that they are fully in line with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which allows certain restrictions of free speech in cases when it violates state laws concerning protection of morality and national security.

“We will protect our culture and values, including by legislative means,” Sergei Lavrov emphasized. He proposed to reassert the commitments to safeguarding freedom of speech and access to information made by the OSCE countries during the 1990s at the forthcoming meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Bratislava, and to hold a roundtable within the OSCE framework where journalists could agree how best to draw a line between quality journalism and propaganda.

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Global protests: Russia and China risk ending up on the wrong side of history

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Widespread perceptions see Russia together with China as the rising powers in the Middle East as a result of America’s flip flops in Syria and US president Donald J. Trump’s transactional approach towards foreign policy as well as Russian and Chinese support for regimes irrespective of how non-performing and/or repressive they may be.

Russia has sought to capitalize in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, on its newly found credibility in the Middle East as part of its projection of itself as a world power on par with the United States and China.

African leaders gathered in late October in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the first ever Russian African summit chaired by president Vladimir Putin. China has hosted similar regional summits.

Mr. Putin has proven adept at playing a weak hand well and for now, Russia alongside China, that has the financial and trading muscle that Moscow lacks, are basking in their glory.

Yet, Russia and China could find themselves in tricky situations with protests across the globe from Latin America to Hong Kong threatening to put the two powers on the wrong side of history.

Iran, Russia’s partner in supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and a strategic node in China’s Belt and Road initiative, is already struggling to come to grips with being in the bull’s eye of protesters.

Protesters in Iraq have denounced Iranian influence in the country while Iran’s Lebanese Shiite ally, Hezbollah, is part of the elite that protesters hold responsible for their country’s economic malaise.

Russia and China are well aware of the risk. Not only because of the resilience of protest in Hong Kong but also because of past popular revolts in former Soviet republics that constitute Russia’s soft underbelly and in some cases border on the strategically important but troubled Chinese north-western province of Xinjiang.

Recent protests in Kazakhstan were as much about domestic governance issues as they were about Chinese influence in the country and the crackdown on Turkic Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.

Central Asia, moreover, is potentially for China a black swan. It is together with Southeast Asian nations Laos and Cambodia, home to countries most indebted to China.

A recent study by scholars at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, the University of Munich and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy concluded that about half of Chinese overseas lending remained unrecorded leaving Central Asian and other nations with no precise oversight of their debt.

“These hidden overseas debts pose serious challenges for country risk analysis and bond pricing,” the study warned.

The risk of ending up on the wrong side of history looms even larger with Russia seeing prevention and/or countering of popular revolts as one of its goals in attempting to stabilize the Middle East, a region wracked by conflict and wars.

Russia, as part of its stabilization effort in the wake of its intervention in Syria, has proposed replacing the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security arrangement.

“Russia is seeking stability which includes preventing colour revolutions,” said Maxim Grigoryev, director of the Moscow-based Foundation for the Study of Democracy, using the term employed to describe popular revolts in countries that once were part of the Soviet Union.

Echoing Kremlin policy, Mr. Grigoryev said Syria was “a model of stabilizing a regime and countering terrorism.”

Russian military intervention in Syria has helped president Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand in a more than eight-year long brutal war in which the Syrian government has been accused of committing crimes against humanity.

Russia has denied allegations that its air force has repeatedly targeted hospitals and other civil institutions.

Russia’s definition of stability with Syria as its model is unlikely to go down well with youth-driven protests that have already affected twelve of the Arab League’s 22 members.

In some of the most dramatic incidents, this year’s popular revolts forced the leaders of Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon to resign. Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is next in line.

Latin America and Africa, like the Middle East and Central Asia, home to often poorly governed, resource-rich countries with youthful populations, are in many ways not that different.

Some Latin American leaders, including Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, have denounced what they see as interference in protests in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Haiti by two Russia and China-backed countries, Venezuela and Cuba.

Ecuador’s interior minister, María Paula Romo, said last month that authorities had arrested 17 people at an airport,  “most of them Venezuelans . . . carrying information about the protests.”

Policy analysts Moisés Naím and Brian Winter argued that irrespective of whether Venezuela and Cuba have sought to exploit continental discontent, “Latin America was already primed to combust.”

Messrs. Naim and Winter attribute popular anger to disappointing economic growth, stagnating wages, rising costs of living, mounting inequality, and corruption on the back of a commodity boom that significantly raised expectations.

Russian and Chinese support for embattled regimes at the risk of alienating protesters, who have proven in among others Chile, Iraq and Hong Kong undeterred by repressive efforts to squash their protests, will have paid off if it helps engineer the kind of stability Mr. Grigoryev is advocating.

Russian and Chinese leaders may be banking on a development akin to what Messrs. Moses and Winter describe as the emergence of repressive Latin American regimes in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of leaders’ failure to tackle slowing economic growth. The failure fuelled a decline of faith in democracy and the rise of populists.

“The same gears may churn toward mayhem and division, sown from within Latin American countries and without. Venezuela and Cuba may not be the main reason for the current protests. But if the region continues down its current path, it will be vulnerable to the next conspiracy, whether from Havana, Caracas, or somewhere else,” Messrs. Moses and Winter warned.

Events elsewhere in the world may well unfold differently. Yet, Russia and China could ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of history in an era of global breakdown of popular confidence in political systems and incumbent leadership and increasingly uncompromising, determined and resourceful protests.

Said Timothy Kaldas, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, commenting on the protests in the Middle East: “This isn’t a revolution against a prime minister or a president. It’s an uprising demanding the departure of the entire ruling class,” the very people Russia and China would like to see remain in place.

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