“Turkey is our close partner, our ally,” said Presidential Spokesperson and Turkologist Dmitry Peskov on the eve of the meeting in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow. On August 27, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, where they held a working meeting on the bilateral agenda. Regardless of all their differences, the two countries still need each other greatly.
Although relations between Moscow and Ankara are developing in many areas, the focus was naturally on the further actions of the parties in the crisis-affected Syria. Will Turkey conduct another operation in Syria? And what is Moscow’s opinion?
Several events of importance for Russia–Turkey relations took place a week before the presidents met. On August 21, the first creditor was selected for the company building the Akkuyu NPP strategic facility. On August 27, deliveries started on the second S-400 battalion to Mürted Air Base in Ankara. As the United States removed Turkey from the F35 project following the purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems, analysts believe that Turkey might look at Russia’s Su-35 or Su-57. These are the aircraft the Turkish President saw at the MAKS Salon.
But the meeting took place against the backdrop of the escalation of the situation in the Syrian Idlib province and the announcement of the establishment of a Joint U.S.–Turkey Operation Centre.
And it was the desire to overcome contradictions over Syria and prevent a crisis in the bilateral relations that led the presidents to hold an unplanned meeting in Zhukovsky following an urgent telephone conversation on August 23.
At the press conference held after the meeting, Vladimir Putin noted two key elements in Russia’s approach to the Syrian settlement: the priority of working within the Astana format and the launch of the the Syrian Constitutional Committee “that, as we hope, will be able to start its activities in Geneva in the very near future.”
Ankara had previously expressed its discontent with the Syrian government forces taking control of towns in the north of Hama Governorate and in the south of Idlib Governorate, including the town of Khan Shaykhun. Approximately 200 Turkish soldiers are still surrounded in the town of Murak, which makes the situation extremely uncomfortable for Ankara. This Turkish contingent served as an observation post established under the Turkey–Russia Memorandum on Idlib signed in Sochi on September 17, 2018 as part of de-escalation in the Idlib zone.
The situation deteriorated following reports that the Syrian Air Force had carried out an aerial strike on a Turkish convoy. After a telephone conversation between Putin and Erdogan, reports started to surface that a Russian military police force had inserted itself between the Syrian military and the Turkish observation post. Turkey might find a way out of the situation by withdrawing its observation post from Murak and launching a new operation in the north of Syria against the U.S.-supported Kurds. Given the situation, it is desirable for Russia to find a way of advancing the dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds.
While Ankara supported the Syrian opposition, it undertook under the Sochi agreements to fight terrorism in Idlib and facilitate the opening of the М5 and М4 highways leading from Aleppo to Hama and Damascus via Idlib, and from Aleppo to Latakia via Idlib. Most likely, implementing this provision is the key objective for Moscow. Once М5 and М4 are secured, the logistics infrastructure might have been put into operation once again and pathways opened for restoring economic ties between Syria’s regions. This never happened.
With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian military continued intermittent hostilities in the Idlib Governorate for approximately six months. Following another round of talks in Nur-Sultan on August 1–2, Damascus announced an armistice. The ceasefire failed, however, due to attacks perpetrated by the militants in Idlib. Subsequently, the government forces and their Russian allies significantly intensified their activity. Offensives were mostly undertaken at night. By mid-August, the Tiger Forces equipped with Russian-made night-vision devices and Т90А tanks with thermal imagers succeeded in breaching the defence of the terrorists and groups that oppose Damascus in the north of the Hama Governorate.
The Idlib Governorate and its eponymous capital are largely controlled by the forces of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (outlawed in Russia), which has managed since January to expand its power by subsuming other groups, largely labelled pro-Turkish.
Back then, Turkey succeeded in stabilizing the situation, yet failed to radically change it in favour of Turkey-friendly forces such as al-Jabha al-Wataniya Li-Tahrir (the National Liberation Front), which is in opposition to the government. Russian and Turkish analysts already appeal to the Sochi agreements, yet each party accuses the other of undermining their implementation.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov openly stated that the actions of the Syrian government forces in Idlib are legitimate and do not violate the Turkey–Russia Memorandum. The terrorists in the area now controlled by the Syrian military had posited a threat to Syrian territory and the Russian military base in Khmeimim. Turkey faces a difficult predicament with regard to its domestic audience, and the processes in Syria could result in escalating tensions between Moscow and Ankara.
However, the ties developed over the recent years, as well as the strategically important joint projects and Erdogan’s commitment to increasing mutual trade turnover from USD 25–30 billion today to USD 100 billion (which he again confirmed at the MAKS opening ceremony) demonstrate both desire of both parties to avoid a crisis similar to the freeze put on the relations in 2016.
Erdogan informed Putin about the plans to launch an operation against the Kurds in the northeast of Syria. One might surmise that Turkey sees the solution in shifting the emphases in its “Syrian” policies and in concentrating on the Kurdish threat, since Turkey’s current policy in Syria is conducted in two areas: Idlib and the Trans-Euphrates region. Unwilling to be tied solely to the Astana format, Turkey is also building an appearance of collaboration with the United States. The operation in the Trans-Euphrates region today is the key point for Ankara. This operation will be the result of the pressure Turkey puts on the United States, an ally of the Kurds.
Ankara’s main goal is ostensibly to create a buffer zone in the north of Syria to prevent the Kurds from implementing a project there.
This will allow Ankara to cut ties between Kurds in Syria and Turkey and bring Syrian refugees, mostly Sunni Arabs, back to settle in the new “safe zone.” The United States has even convinced even the Kurds that the “safe zone” is necessary. The question, however, is how deep the Turkish military will go into the territory. They want to go more than 30 kilometres into the territory currently controlled by the allies of the United States from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Judging by the leaked reports, the United States has proposed only five kilometres. That certainly will not be enough for Turkey.
Answering a question about the Trans-Euphrates region at the press conference after the meeting of August 27, Vladimir Putin said, “We understand Turkey’s concern related to ensuring the safety and security of its southern border, and we believe these are legitimate interests of the Republic of Turkey… We proceed from the premise that establishing a safe zone for the Republic of Turkey at its southern borders will be a good condition for ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria itself.”
Turkey believes that the threat to its security comes from the Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) controlling the northeast of Syria. Ankara identifies them with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It should be noted here that Moscow occasionally reminds Turkey of the 1998 Adana Agreement concluded between Ankara and Damascus to resolve the “Kurdish question.” Back then, Ankara accused Damascus of supporting the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. This agreement regulates the provision of security in border areas.
In recent months, the President of Turkey has repeatedly stated that Turkey had made an earnest decision to launch a new offensive, the third operation in Syria following Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. Turkey has been transmitting these sentiments for some time now to both the U.S. and the Russian militaries. However, in order to conduct an operation in the north of Syria, Ankara needs to ensure that certain conditions are in place. Each element, particularly air support for the offensive and the involvement of the Syrian opposition forces, is linked to Ankara reaching a consensus, even if a silent consensus, with Washington and Moscow.
An agreement with Moscow is important for Ankara in order to at least temporarily suspend hostilities in Idlib, as it would allow at least some Syrian opposition forces to be moved to the area of Turkey’s new operation in the northeast of Syria.
As regards Idlib, Moscow and Ankara could agree on Damascus taking control of the М4 and М5 highways, while Turkey’s safe area in the northeast would be greenlit. The question hinges solely on consent to the launch of the operation. How the parties will conduct their operations and whether they would succeed will be up to them.
Currently, the question remains open as to how much the United States is willing to concede to Turkey. However, as Turkey launches its operation, Russia has an opening to interact with Kurds. If the United States allows Turkey to go too far, Kurds will realize the former cannot ensure their safety.
For the Kurds, this setup is fraught with the risk of possible loss of all their achievements (and territories). Moscow could work through the question of resuming serious talks between the Kurds and Damascus, thereby allowing the Kurds to avoid clashes with Turkey.
… A summit of the Astana process guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be held in mid-September. The launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is expected to be announced at the summit. Recent developments in the war bolster Damascus’ bargaining positions, yet at the same time they endanger the continuation of the political dialogue. The Russia–Turkey context is important as well, as the two countries strive to move beyond cooperation in Syria, understanding how complicated it is to achieve agreements.
Should Turkey launch an operation against Syrian Kurds, it will allow Ankara to “save face” concerning its Idlib losses. It will also allow Moscow to act as an intermediary and lead the Kurds and Damascus to an agreement. Much, however, will depend on the capacity in which the United States will continue its presence in Syria in and on whether the Kurds and Damascus will be able to move away from their maximalist counter-claims.
Moscow and Ankara understand that their partnership is difficult, but mutually necessary. Such partners can create quite a lot of trouble, but they are valuable because they steer an independent course and understand and recognize each other’s national interests, as well as the need for coordinating their stances.
From our partner RIAC
ICC’s Arrest Warrant Limits Putin’s External Visits
The first simple interpretation of the warrant issued by International Criminal Court is that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be arrested in 123 member states around the world. These members are now legally bound to arrest, detain and hand him over to the court.
According to a press release from the International Criminal Court, there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that “each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population” under Article 8 (war crimes) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
As there are currently 123 states parties to the Rome Statute, Putin and Lvova-Belova’s arrest warrants are binding in 124 states (123 states parties plus Ukraine, which granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory for crimes committed there since 2014).
On 17 March 2023, pre-trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, says the website of the ICC.
Generally, the court participates in a global fight to end impunity, and through international criminal justice, the court aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and to help prevent these crimes from happening again.
The court does not reach these goals alone. As a court of last resort, it seeks to complement, not replace, national courts. Governed by an international treaty called the Rome Statute, the ICC is the world’s first permanent international criminal court.
According to Russian BBC service, citing Kevin Jon Heller, professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen said” “This is an incredibly important event. It’s not every day a sitting head of state is accused by the international court. But of course, the likelihood of Putin being detained any time soon is quite low.
From a legal point of view, any ICC member state is obliged to execute this ruling. If Putin arrives on the territory of this country, it should arrest him and hand him over to the court. But in reality, states don’t always do that.
For instance, serious accusations were made against the President of Sudan, and he visited several ICC member states after that but was not arrested in any of them. So an arrest warrant is no guarantee that Putin will be handed over to the ICC. Yet from a legal point of view, countries are obliged to do that.”
Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International said: “This announcement is an important signal – both for Ukraine and the rest of the world – that those who are allegedly responsible for crimes under international law in Ukraine will face arrest and trial, no matter how powerful they are.”
She added: “President Putin is now officially a wanted man. Following the ICC’s indictment of President Putin and Children’s Commissioner Lvova-Belova for the war crime of forcible transfer of children, the international community must stop at nothing until they are arrested and brought to trial. Should President Putin or Ms Lvova-Belova leave Russia, states must deny them safe haven by arresting them immediately and surrendering them to the ICC.”
Secretary General Callamard explained further that “the arrest warrants are an impressive first step, but they are so far limited to the war crime of unlawful deportation of children. This doesn’t reflect the plethora of war crimes and crimes against humanity for which the Russian leadership is potentially responsible. We expect the ICC and other justice actors to issue further arrest warrants as their investigations into crimes under international law committed in Ukraine begin to show results.”
Russia’s State Duma, the lower House of Representatives, condemned the action taken by the ICC. “Yankee, stay away from Putin! All that nonsense from the Hague means that West is hysterical. The papers of the alien Hague court do not apply to Russia,” emphasized Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma.
According to him, Washington and Brussels have exhausted all possibilities of sanctions and hostile actions. “They have failed to break the citizens of the Russian Federation and destroy the economy of our country. Washington and Brussels understand that if there is Putin, there is Russia. That is why they try to attack him. Putin’s strength is in the people’s support, consolidation of society around him. We consider any attacks on the President of the Russian Federation as acts of aggression against our country,” added Volodin.
Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin has requested providing the legal assessment of German Justice Minister’s statements on arrest of Russian citizens on German territory, the press service of the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
“Chairman of the Russian Investigative has tasked its central office within the framework of the ongoing inspection with providing the required legal assessment of statements by German Justice Minister on fulfilling the International Criminal Court’s unlawful requirement to arrest Russian citizens on German territory,” the statement reads.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said earlier that the country would comply with the demands of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for issuing an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and arresting the Russian leader if he set foot on German soil.
The ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. The court’s statement said they could be responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
Commenting on this decision, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that Moscow did not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC. “We view the very approach to the matter as outrageous and unacceptable. Russia does not recognize this court’s jurisdiction. Hence, any such decisions are null for Russia from the legal standpoint,” he said. In turn, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the decisions of the ICC had no meaning for Russia, with possible arrest warrants legally void.
The ICC jurisdiction is valid in the countries that have ratified the Rome Statute. Ukraine is not party to the Rome Statute, but Ukraine has granted the ICC the right to investigate crimes committed on its territory.
The Rome Statute has been ratified by 123 countries, including South American countries and nearly half the countries of Africa, so they must consider warrants issued by the ICC. China, India, Belarus, Türkiye and Kazakhstan are among the countries that have not ratified the statute. Russia, like the United States, signed the statute but later revoked its signature.
The first head of state in history to be prosecuted by the ICC was Laurent Gbagbo, fourth President of Côte d’Ivoire, in 2011. He was accused of crimes against humanity committed during an armed conflict in the country in 2010-2011. Eight years later, in 2019, Gbagbo was acquitted.
Uhuru Kenyatta, who later became President of Kenya, was accused by the ICC of committing crimes against humanity during the political crisis in Kenya in 2007-2008. The accusations were revoked in 2014 due to the lack of evidence.
Omar al-Bashir, the seventh President of Sudan, is in custody in Sudan and is waiting to be handed over to The Hague. He is accused by the ICC of organising and carrying out a genocide.
The first head of state to be convicted was Charles Taylor, 22nd President of Liberia. He was prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court found him guilty of assisting in and inciting war crimes and of complicity in crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison on 30 May 2012.
Former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević died in the UN prison in The Hague before being sentenced. He was prosecuted by a predecessor of the ICC – the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal located in The Hague, Netherlands. It is the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The ICC began operations on 1 July 2002.
China-Russia’s Dichotomy: Cooperation or Confrontation on Global Questions
As geopolitical confrontation intensifies between the United States and Europe on one side and China and Russia on the other, it has increasingly become tight for offering much information publicly. And of course, that would be the case especially with Russia facing criticisms for its ‘special military operation’ in the neighbouring Ukraine. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kremlin administration have been extremely cautious the least on leaders visiting Moscow.
Local Russian media have reported that the Kremlin would not comment on the agenda of possible talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping until their meeting is officially announced. “I don’t know. Once we make an announcement, we will be able to say something,” Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS this March 14, when asked if Putin and Xi could discuss China’s plan to resolve the situation in Ukraine. “We haven’t made any announcements (about the Chinese president’s visit). Every contact between the two leaders is an additional impetus for stepping up cooperation on a variety of tracks,” Peskov pointed out, adding that the two sides usually announced such visits simultaneously.
Moscow and Beijing have established friendly relations based on partnership and intend to develop them further collaboratively against the collective West. “The Russian-Chinese dialogue continues. It is of a friendly, partnership-based, strategic nature. It will remain on course. The relationship is multidimensional, and it is important for both sides. And both sides devote significant attention to the theme of developing this relationship further,” Peskov said.
Nevertheless, the main news-stream are all awash with the forthcoming visit, various analysis and presumptive expections. The Chinese media have earlier followed up to splash the news over their media space and global foreign media, and that Xi Jinping intended to visit Moscow for a meeting with Putin as early as next week.
Our media monitoring, for instance, shows that the two leaders last met in person on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Uzbek city of Samarkand in September 2022. In late December, Putin held a video conference call with Xi Jinping, inviting him to make a state visit to Moscow in the spring of 2023.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that China’s Xi expected to make symbolic visit to Russia, and that comes off, soon after he was awarded a third term to lead China during the 14th National People’s Congress. Over the years, Xi Jinping has performed excellently, transforming the internal economy and prominently put his Asian country on the global stage. In addition, he consolidated the Chinese economic presence or footprints around the world. China is considered as an emerging global leader.
However, just like in any other country, authorities in China do not discuss everything openly and they sometimes allow leaks. These include a Reuters report saying that Xi will visit Russia next week. His visit will take place sooner than expected, and the news is important, for it is China who proposed a peace plan for Ukraine. Since Beijing has been providing diplomatic support to Moscow, the West was skeptical about the peace plan.
Scientific Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of China and Contemporary Asia Alexander Lukin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that visits are paid every year, but that they were postponed during the pandemic. “Now, it’s the Chinese leader’s turn to visit Russia. This is fine. Of course, the international situation has changed. I think, they will discuss this as well as the political and economic cooperation which has been growing by leaps and bounds in price terms. Often, new contracts get signed and new gas or oil pipeline projects are approved during such visits,” Lukin said.
“Over the past decade, China has seen a significant consolidation of power in the hands of Xi Jinping, and the Communist Party’s supremacy over the state and society has also become more apparent,” Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Alexander Lomanov told Kommersant. According to him, the next decade will be a difficult one for China, given that the old economic development model is exhausted, with cheap labor and free resources no longer available, while the external environment – relations with the US and its allies – is getting more and more toxic.
“In this situation, the old structure of power, which involved fighting factions and looked like collective leadership from the outside, has lost its usefulness as it does not allow decisions to be made quickly when responding to threats and challenges. In contrast, Xi Jinping’s current model of government is aimed at ensuring stability amid internal and external difficulties. Hopes for the liberalization of this model may emerge only when China is confident that the hardest times are behind it,” Lomanov concluded.
The likelihood that the United States and China will continue consistently engaging in a direct confrontation is quite high, political scientist Vladimir Kireyev told Izvestia. According to him, some predicted back in the early 2000s that as China’s economic and hence political influence in the world increased, the country would “inevitably start collapsing the US-centric system” by the simple fact of its existence.
“These forecasts were made in the US political, expert and military communities. In the mid-2010s, this understanding drove (44th US President Barack) Obama and then (45th US President Donald) Trump to adopt a policy to contain China, which reflects real US interests aimed at preserving its global dominance,” the political scientist pointed out, added that economic tensions were invariably pushing political elites in both countries towards a confrontation, in one form or another.
According to the analyst, Washington has started to realize that it “wasted too much time,” because the best moment to contain China was ten years ago. However, the Americans’ focus was on Russia back then, Kireyev stressed. “Now, the probability that the US and China will come to a direct conflict is quite high. It is the US that is provoking the situation as the window of opportunities to cause serious damage to China is closing. China is trying to postpone the conflict as much as possible and even avoid it altogether. The reason is that taking into consideration economic development, in 10 to 15 years, China will be much stronger than the US and the Chinese won’t need to engage in a conflict to protect their interests,” the expert concluded.
In spite of the arguments and debates on vaious important global issues involving China and Russia, however, the South China Morning Post said that Russia’s special military operation has harmed China’s national interests. What is of the most common interest and concern relates the emerging new configuration, multipolar system which should necessarily work integratively and suitable solution to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. China has called for cooperation while Russia adopts more confrontation approach.
Our monitor shows that majority of global leaders, researchers and analysts has already lifted their up for China’s expected muscular role, efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Under its headline “White House hails possibility of Xi Jinping speaking with Ukrainian president Zelensky” published March 14, South China Morning Post wrote that a senior White House official has praised a reported plan by Chinese President Xi Jinping to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and confirmed US President Joe Biden’s “willingness” to schedule a talk with the Chinese leader.
“We have been encouraging President Xi to reach out to President Zelensky because we believe that the PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Sullivan was referring to a Wall Street Journal report which, citing people familiar with the plan, said that Xi would make the call after visiting Moscow next week. Beijing’s recent engagements with Moscow, including a trip there by its top diplomat Wang Yi last month, have prompted US and other Western governments to accuse the Chinese government of siding with Russia in the war, which has dragged on for more than a year.
A 12-point peace proposal Beijing offered on the war’s one-year anniversary did little to change that assessment, partly because it did not call on the Kremlin to withdraw its forces. Reports that Xi would visit Moscow soon have thrown more doubt on Beijing’s claims to be impartial. Sullivan cast some doubt on the Xi-Zelensky call plan when he added that Kyiv officials were not able to confirm the report.
For the discussions here, it is necessary to consider carefully here, in the context the China’s Global Security Initiative (GSI) that could play important role in resolving he Russia-Ukraine crisis and many others around the world. In the first place, China prominently places “cooperation” as the key component in its foreign policy, as oppose to Russia that is confrontational and yet talk about multipolar – in fact ‘multipolar’ in its basic sense means inclusive and integrated approach to global developments including conflict resolutions.
According to the concept, the Global Security Initiative aims at eliminating the root causes of international conflicts, improve global security governance, encourage joint international efforts to bring more stability and certainty to a volatile and changing era, and promote durable peace and development in the world.
The concept is guided by six commitments or pillars, which are (i) pursuing common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security; (ii) respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; (iii) adhering to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; (iv) taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously; (v) peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation; and (vi) maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains.
Gleaning from these core principles, it’s safe to say that the GSI could and probably would become a catalyst for the world to chart a new path to building sustainable peace, stability and development. The Global Security Initiative (GSI) was first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference on April 21, 2022.
One year on, here’s how the Ukraine conflict is changing the world order
In his recent landmark address to Russia’s parliament, President Vladimir Putin cited the war in Ukraine and US/NATO involvement in the conflict as the main reason for his decision to “suspend” Moscow’s participation in the 2010 New START Treaty on strategic nuclear weapons. Putin also suggested that Russia should be ready to resume nuclear testing.
Effectively, this announcement, promptly turned into law by the Russian parliament, means a formal end to the long-ailing institutions of strategic arms control that began over 50 years ago. If New START is followed by the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and then the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), strategic deregulation will be complete. Putin’s logic is that the United States cannot be allowed to inspect Russian missile bases while at the same time pursuing a policy of “strategically defeating” Moscow in Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s decision was anything but a bolt from the blue. The proxy war in Ukraine came as the culmination of a decade-and-a-half-long process of steady deterioration of Russian-American and Russian-EU relations. Ever since it became clear – somewhere in the mid-2000s – that Russia would not fit into the US-dominated order, and that Washington, and its, allies would not let Russia sign up on terms that Moscow would find acceptable, the trajectory of the relationship has generally pointed toward confrontation.
True, there was a brief period, which coincided with the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev (2008-12), which witnessed, besides the signing of New START, an attempt to build a strategic partnership between Russia and NATO and modernization and technology partnerships between Russia and key Western countries, including the US and Germany. That attempt, however, turned out to be the last hurrah of the efforts to integrate Russia into, or at least with, the West following the end of the Cold War.
Essentially, while Moscow was looking for equal and indivisible security, as well as technology and business opportunities, Washington and Berlin were mostly interested in softening and diluting Russia’s domestic political regime. There was also no question of treating Russian security concerns about NATO’s enlargement seriously: Moscow had to accept the post-Cold War order in which it no longer had a decisive voice. That mismatch of key goals could not last long. Already by 2011-12, the outlook for Russia-West relations could be summarized as something like: it will get worse before it gets worse.
Right now, we are still on the same trajectory – things can become even more grim than they are now.
Hopefully, the credible threat of complete annihilation – the heart of nuclear deterrence – will still protect us from the very worst outcome, but the changes wrought by the Ukraine war on the global strategic landscape during its first year are indeed massive. Strategic deregulation between Moscow and Washington has already been highlighted. In practice, this will mean that each party will be free to build, structure, and deploy its strategic forces as it sees fit, and rely on its own so-called national technical means – such as spy satellites and other forms of intelligence – as the prime source of information about the other. It is natural to expect that under such circumstances both parties would have a powerful incentive to engage in worst-case-scenario planning.
It is true that of the five ‘established’ nuclear powers and the four other countries that possess nuclear arms, only two – America and Russia – have historically engaged in nuclear arms control. For years, Washington sought to find ways to link Beijing to the US-Russia strategic dialogue, thus leading to a tripartite arrangement. China, which was never interested in the US offer, is now believed to be in the process of substantially expanding and improving its strategic nuclear forces. Whether and when Beijing will be ready to engage Washington in strategic arms talks is anyone’s guess. After the the US formally designated China as its principal adversary, Sino-American relations have been growing increasingly tense. In any event, managing a strategic equation among the three leading nuclear powers, one of which regards the other two as its adversaries, will now become more difficult.
Strategic deregulation is not just the absence of binding treaties. It is also likely to mean the unraveling of the conceptual framework for arms control, which was originally developed by the Americans in the 1960s and then accepted by the Soviet Union. Any future arrangements among the world’s nuclear powers – whenever it comes – will require a wholly new concept that might be based on the agreed-upon and mutually fitting elements developed by the participating countries, with their vastly different strategic environments and cultures. It will certainly be a most daunting task.
Putin’s angry reaction to NATO’s call for Russia to observe New START and let US inspectors in has opened up another relatively minor issue: the nuclear weapons of Britain and France. The Soviet Union had long insisted on including those two countries’ nuclear arsenals in the US ceilings, and only relented during Gorbachev’s perestroika. With Paris and London taking an active role in the proxy war in Ukraine, Moscow is no longer pretending that UK and French nuclear forces are there solely to defend their own countries. They are seen as part of the combined arsenal of the adversarial, US-led West. This is no big deal for the moment, but any conceivable future arrangement would have to address the issue of the Anglo-French forces.
In geopolitical terms, the war in Ukraine energized Washington to build a global coalition to oppose Russia. This is often presented as a major achievement of the administration of President Joe Biden. Yet, to look at this from a different perspective, the Russia (and China) policies of the three successive US administrations – Obama’s, Trump’s, and particularly Biden’s – have led to a major split among the great powers that widened from competition to bitter rivalry (with China) and proxy war (with Russia in Ukraine).
US efforts to get China to distance itself from Russia appear ridiculous in a situation where Washington’s strategy appears to be to defeat/contain its two main adversaries one by one, and, moreover, to pit them against each other. The famous Kissingerian triangle is now pointed in a different direction: it is Washington that has the worst possible relations with the other two. As for Moscow and Beijing, they are getting even closer as a result.
Closer cooperation and coordination between China and Russia amid the war in Ukraine, which is gradually emerging on the platform of common strategic interests, represents a major shift in the world power balance. What is more – and what goes well beyond the usual Western concept of ‘great power competition’ – is the rise of over a hundred actors of different caliber in many parts of the world that have refused to support the US, and its allies, on the Russia sanctions and have maintained or even expanded their trade and other relations with Moscow. These countries insist on following their own national interests as they see them and seek to expand their foreign policy autonomy. At the end of the day, this phenomenon – call it the Rise of the Global Majority (no longer silent) – could be the single most important development so far en route to the new world order.
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