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Weimar 2.0 and Russia

Alexander Kramarenko

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Power is always a sophisticated and ambiguous exercise in its own disappearance.-Les Strategies Fatales, Jean Baudrillard

For a number of years already in the West, and in Europe in particular, they talk of Weimar or Weimar syndrome alluding to the rise of the protest “populism”, collapse of political centre and the outcomes of direct democracy (meaning not only the referendum in Britain on Brexit, but the Trump phenomenon as well, i.e. his doing away with all intermediaries, be it party machine, traditional media or donors, in communicating with his electorate). That refers us to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the Nazis coming to power in Germany. In our case it is already about the fruits, by which they judge the tree. This Weimar tree is neoliberal economics, represented by reaganomics/thatcherism and the Lisbon Agenda of the EU, which has been destroying Western societies for the past 30 years. So, one ought to have started talking of Weimar at least in 2008 when struck the Global Financial Crisis being doused since then with printing money (so-called “quantitative easying”). They realized that there was a problem only when the crisis made itself felt in politics which became averaged, alternative-free and, thus, lost any sense or relevance for the electorate. People lost their trust in traditional media, and social nets restored to the “silent majority” their say in public affairs and provided them with a means of self-organization beyond the elites’ control.

Liberal capitalism which reproduces and aggravates inequality brought about the Great Depression and led to WWII. But prior to that the contradictions within a society eradicating illiteracy fast, and the globalization, at the time imperialist, resulted in WWI. In our time all things tend to accelerate and, thus, we witness two parallel and intertwined processes, i.e. those of neoliberal economics and globalization both driven by the interests of the investment classes. While marching back to the future, should we be surprised by the outcomes? Now that war has run its course as a form of collective consumption, it has been replaced with the social state, which, however, has largely come under suspicion at the suggestion of the Anglo-Saxon nations. That turned the crisis into a protracted and irresolvable (French sans issu is closer to the Russian original) affair, all the more so that the elites espousing neoliberalism wouldn’t admit to its contemporary Weimar origins.

The US and Britain bet on further tightening neo-liberal screws, which includes cutting taxes and taxes on business among others. This is how Brexit makes sense as a mobilization project of the elites. After all, liberal capitalism is their creature, as well as, by the way, globalization which is being closed down for being obsolete and for its “mixed results”, particularly the rise of China and the rest. Given the size of their government budgets in relation to the GDP, the EU cannot afford those cuts: if it ever engages in competition on those terms, the social state would crumble and peace in Europe gone with it. Thus, the past bipolarity resurfaces in the Western community, with the poles exchanging the values they stood for if compared to the two world wars. The EU/Germany are now on the side of democracy and social justice, and the Anglo-Americans willing to throw themselves and all the rest into the dark Hobbesian world of the period between two wars with respective consequences not only for society but also for international relations.

Unlike in the past century, there is no need to invent a bicycle and pay with blood for the experience. We’ve got, simply, to find ways to preserve the social state under the new circumstances, while reaching the same goal of making market economy compatible with representative democracy of universal suffrage. The talk of fascist threat is not groundless though not all the “populists” come under the definition. Their further evolution is difficult to predict, but the lessons of history remain valid – neither culture nor civilization couldn’t prevent our continent’s descent into barbarism in the past. All the more so that after the Cold War end the universal meaning of George Orwell’s dystopias dawned upon us.

No doubt, the US and Britain, historically attached to hard socio-economic policies, will continue along that path. Brexit is inevitable due both to the democratic mandate of the referendum and the special nature of the British constitutional system with the executive power fully vested in the government, while traditions are also on the side of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But the departure of the British might serve a powerful mobilizing push for European elites, stuck in their obsession with the status quo. It would wake them up to the reality and the need to take measures to save the integration project, its future depending to a great extent on the Germans. The Germans will have to pay for preservation of the Euro-zone for its collapse and return of the Mark would bring about economic disaster of Germany making her defenseless in the face of the Anglo-Saxon onslaught. The fact that they succeeded in “stopping” M.Salvini, having avoided holding general elections in Italy, is a poor consolation and cannot be a sound substitute for further systemic strengthening of the European integration which plainly cannot remain stuck in the present limbo for long.

How should Russia position herself in this context? We need Europe in peace with itself. We are in a position to shape such a Europe, which we have been doing over the past three centuries, including at critical moments of its history. There were errors as well, for example, when the Comintern underestimated the danger of Nazism and drew lessons from that at its VII Congress, which was late for all. We cannot afford to make that error again, even if we will have to wait for the European political mainstream to understand that one has to change for things to stay as they are. Conventional wars are out of date in the West, being replaced by trade and currency wars. And here Russia must be on the side of the united Europe providing the EU with a strategic depth by way of intensified trade, economic and investment cooperation, as well as a Eurasian entry to East Asia and South-East Asia. It is in our national interest to have an alternative to the dollar in the global monetary and financial system: here, like in other matters, complexity/diversity amounts to freedom (according to Dmitry Bykov).

Together with us, it will be easier for Europe to stand her ground in the face of Washington’s demands that it supports American Military-Industrial Complex with her taxpayers’ money. Thus, the ghost of war would finally be driven out of European politics. The cause of peace is hugely helped by the fact that, judging by recent events, the American weapons developed in the absence of competitive environment in the area of hard force politics, say F-35s and Patriots, in reality turn out to be badly wanting, sort of Baudrillard’s signs of weapons, not real ones fit for real war.

Fortunately, we have been spared the fate of living under direct oligarchic rule (Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, etc), which makes it so easy to administer Ukraine from outside. Like early in the XXth Century, the Russian authorities preserve their freedom of Bonapartist maneuver, i.e. the ability to stay above the propertied interests. Russia did march towards fascism on the eve of the 1917 Revolution, which made of our country the chief tool of victory over those countries where fascism prevailed in the final count. Ways of History are unfathomable! The Russian proto-fascist figures who emigrated abroad took part in the Nazi project of the West. We have got to remember that and treat with caution the ideological legacy of our emigration (the People’s Labour Union, used by both the Germans and the Americans has not disappeared), as well as the efforts of those trying to pass fascism for a “Russian idea.” History has shown that fascism is not “our cup of tea.” All the progressive ideas of our time, be it existentialism, communicative action or postmodernism in its various shades, are rooted in Dostoevsky’s philosophy and fiction. What other ideas do we want?

After 1989 and 1991, we dived into the wrong type of capitalism, not socialism/capitalism with a human face (Swedish, German, etc) that we had dreamed of. Some liked it, but far from everybody. That is why we have many problems in common with Europe, those that generate states of inequality and despair, other forms of alienation. They are easier to solve together. We can draw lessons from each other’s mistakes. If we take the pensions reform in France, something could be prompted by the experience of the similar reform in Russia. It has led to a substantial rise in the over-all uncertainty in the country, which might continue well into the 2024 elections, unless a broad maneuver is undertaken at the level of socio-economic policies to improve standards of living and, accordingly, increase the stagnating consumer demand.

These are the reasons why the normalization of the political relationship with the EU is, unreservedly, an imperative for both sides, especially so against the background of the normalization underway between Washington and Minsk. The road lies through settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, which the Presidents of Russia and France are closely working for. Liberalism is no obstacle if it is an idea amongst others, not a dogma. Quite obviously, the words “liberal” and “order” are utterly at odds. No government in Europe is interested in a situation where it equals itself, contrary to Baudrillard’s warning. We had it between two wars in Europe, what other Weimar do we need to get us understand that?

From our partner RIAC

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Navalny, Nord Stream 2 and Moscow’s Response

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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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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Forgiving Old Debts: Russia’s Diplomatic Maneuver

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With economies experiencing contractions across the globe and with governments in the third world most vulnerable, discussions of debt relief have been revived. Yet, forgiving old debts is nothing new to the Kremlin. For the Russian government, it has been just one part of a wider diplomatic toolkit to rekindle ties that have faltered since the end of the Cold War.

Once the primary backer of numerous states over large swathes of the globe, Moscow largely retreated from the non-Soviet space during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin and it continued to not be a primary concern during Vladimir Putin’s first two terms as head of state. However, Russia’s resurgence on the international arena over the past few years has not only made the country more willing to re-engage with the region but also more capable.

International media has primarily viewed this through the lens of military strength. Whether it is sending trainers and advisors to the Central African Republic, allegedly supporting rebels in Libya, or deploying Wagner Group forces to fight an Islamic State-offshoot in Mozambique, the focus has primarily been conflict-oriented. However, less explored is the quieter and more economic measures that the Russian government has taken in order to win hearts and minds outside of the West.

As part of a debt-for-development programme, Russia has forgiven approximately $20 billion worth of debt to various African governments that was accrued during the Soviet period. Beneficiaries include the Commonwealth nation of Tanzania and Francophonie member Madagascar, along with others. In forgiving these loans, the Kremlin has acknowledged a reality that many countries continue to deny: such debts are unpayable. At the first ever Russia-Africa Summit, Putin stated explicitly that “It was not only an act of generosity, but also a manifestation of pragmatism, because many of the African states were not able to pay interest on these loans.”

These measures have yielded concrete benefits for the previously indebted countries. For example, the decision to forgive Mozambique’s $40 million debt was done in conjunction with the United Nations World Food Programme, with the money that was intended for debt repayment instead being used to provide free school meals for 150,000 children over the course of five years.

While Russia will potentially be losing some money in the short term, debt forgiveness is likely to open new doors moving forward. Many of the countries that have seen their debts written off have significant economic and geopolitical potential. With improved political relations as a consequence, it is hoped that Russian companies will get preferential treatment should contracts be offered to international firms. This could help explain the Kremlin’s decision to forgive 90% of North Korea’s $11 billion debt despite the latter’s weak position. Russia has been eager to develop a trans-Korean gas pipeline that would transport fuel to South Korea. While the likelihood of this being realised remains slim, in the context of Pyongyang’s inability to repay the debt in any case, it is a reasonable gamble to make on the part of the Russian government.

This is somewhat similar to China’s efforts over the past few years, albeit in an inverse form. With Beijing less cash-strapped than Moscow, it is able to invest directly whereas Russia is using debt forgiveness to redirect cash payments away from servicing old debts and instead towards domestic reinvestments. Free projects, such as the Chinese-funded and constructed headquarters of the African Union, have been followed by ever-growing economic and political relations.

Russia’s debt policy has been used to strengthen existing alliances and partnerships. While not all Soviet-era allies have retained close ties to Moscow, many have done so continuously since the Cold War. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Russian debt forgiveness has been Cuba. In July 2014, ahead of a visit to the island nation by Putin, the Russian government wrote off 90% of Cuban debt. Though Russia was not only the country that showed willingness to restructure Cuba’s debt obligations at the time, it was by far the most generous. China restructured approximately $6 billion while Japan and Mexico forgave $1.4 billion and $478 million, respectively; Russia forgave $32 billion.

The decision did reaffirm the close relations between Moscow and Havana. Cuba has repeatedly voted in support of the Russian Federation at the United Nations on sensitive topics, such as Crimea, and Russian firms have received multiple drilling and mining contracts from the Caribbean country.

However, this strategy has its limitations. The overwhelming majority of these debts date back to the Soviet era and are therefore limited in scope. Some countries, such as Angola and Ethiopia (which saw most of their debts forgiven in the 1990’s), were primarily recipients of military support during civil wars so their debts were not as vast as other heavily indebted countries with other creditors. Since then, despite respite from Moscow, such countries have continued to become increasingly burdened by growing debts. While Ethiopia is often heralded as an example of rapid economic growth, its debt, both in total but also has a percentage of GDP, has grown considerably during the post-Soviet era.

While debt relief is undeniably beneficial to the third world, the fact that Russian-owned debts constitute a mere fraction of all foreign-owned debts in most cases means that the act of writing debts off cannot achieve much in of themselves. Consequently, in several countries, the gesture is mostly a PR move. In the case of Afghanistan, where Russia was the largest creditor due to loans handed out during the 1980’s, Kabul had for decades refused to recognise the debt. The decision to forgive the debt was therefore more of a signal of a desire to improve relations than any hope to achieve instantaneously tangible rewards.

The largest stumbling block for the Kremlin’s efforts remain structural issues afflicting the indebted nations, the nature of which vary considerably from country to country. For example, while Russia has forgiven a majority of Iraq’s debt to the country, which in turn helped revive talks over potential oil contracts, the continued instability in the Middle Eastern nation makes it difficult to reap many benefits. Though it is true that Baghdad has continued to purchase Russian T-90 tanks and attack helicopters, this is more of a sign that Russia has partially managed to pivot Iraq away from the United States’ sphere of influence as opposed to gaining economically.

With the onset of coronavirus, however, Russia might not be the leading debt forgiver for very long. In places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where economies are expected to continue shrinking while deficits are set to grow, other creditors could potentially step in and likewise forgive debts. In April of this year, G20 leaders agreed to extend debt relief in the form of a moratorium on debt repayment yet this can only serve as a short term solution. With many governments already increasing their borrowing, creditor nations are well positioned to leverage their position in order to improve geopolitical relationships as well as set the stage for favourable contracts for their firms. If more countries follow Moscow’s path, then the significance of what the Kremlin has done will only recede and lose much of its relevance.

Debt forgiveness can win friends but can only go so far. For Russia’s diplomatic maneuvers to stick, they will need to continue complementing it with other efforts, such as improving trade and boosting security partnerships, in order to truly make the most of its financial generosity.

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The Case of Belarus: Russia’s Fear of Popular Revolutions

Emil Avdaliani

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For Russia, the crisis in Belarus caused by the August presidential election result is of a geopolitical nature. Moscow might not be openly stating its geopolitical calculus, but in its eyes, the Belarus problem resembles the uprisings in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan and represents a similar problem in the long run.

Whatever the arguments propounded by world analysts that protests in Belarus are not about geopolitics and more about popular grievances against President Alexander Lukashenko, the issue will ultimately transform into serious geopolitical game.

For Moscow, the Belarus problem has been about geopolitics from the very beginning, though it was only on August 27 of this year that Vladimir Putin announced the creation of a special “law enforcement reserve” for use in Belarus should the situation get “out of control.”

The Russians understand that an “Armenia-style” revolution in Belarus could theoretically take place, but it would open the country more to Europe and thereby create geopolitical dilemmas similar to those created in Ukraine before 2014. The Russians further grasp that in Ukraine, the situation was out of control even before the Maidan Revolution. Moscow’s influence was not sufficient to stop Ukraine’s gradual shift toward closer ties with the collective West.

For the Russian leadership, events in Belarus are a continuation of the “revolutionary” fervor that has been spreading across the former Soviet space since the early 2000s. What is troubling is whether or not the Russians see this process as an expression of the popular will that is largely independent of the West. Several indicators point to an ingrained belief within the Russian political elite that in fact the West has orchestrated the popular upheaval in Belarus.

Russian history might be of help here. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire fought the spread of European revolutionary thought along and inside its borders. It built alliances to confront it and fought wars to forestall its progress. But in the end, the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent policies of the Communist Party were largely based on European thought, though many western ideas were changed or entirely refashioned.

Similar developments took place during the late Soviet period. By the 1980s, popular disapproval of the Soviet system had grown exponentially. A revolutionary fervor for independence ran amok in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and elsewhere. True reforms would have served as a cure, but half-hearted economic and social measures only deepened the crisis. Military power was used in a number of capitals of Soviet republics, but again only half-heartedly. Thus was the entire Soviet edifice brought down.

Modern Russian leadership should see that there is essentially no cure for popular grievances and mass movements along its borders. Russian history gives multiple examples of how military intervention against revolutionary fervor can bring immediate results but leave long-term prospects bleak. The defeat of revolutionary passions can only take place by minimizing those economic, social, and state-system problems that usually generate popular upheaval. This is the dilemma now facing modern Russia. The revolutions that occurred over the past 20 years, and the situation today in Belarus, all fit into this pattern.

For the moment, Lukashenko has won this round of strife with the protesters, and his rule is highly likely to continue. But what is equally certain is that the protests gave birth to a massive popular movement in a country that was once famous for the quiescence of its population.

Russia fears that eventually, this revolutionary tide will close in on Russian society. Lukashenko has stressed this idea, saying in an interview that mass disturbances will one day reach Moscow. Many rightly believed this was a ploy by Lukashenko to scare the Russians into supporting him—after all, Belarus is far smaller than Russia and much less important than Ukraine. Still, Lukashenko was right insofar as he pinpointed possible long-term problems Russia could face as it moves closer to 2036.

Much depends on the West as well. It faces a dilemma in which it ought to pursue a policy of vocal condemnation and perhaps even impose heavy sanctions—but from a balance of power perspective, moves like those would distance Minsk and push it closer to the Russian orbit. This dilemma of morality versus geopolitical calculus will haunt the West in the years to come.

Belarus exports 10.5 million tons of oil products per year, including about six million tons through the ports of the Baltic states to world markets and another 3–3.5 million tons to Ukraine. Redirecting flows from the Baltic ports to Russian ones has been discussed, but this option is less attractive to Minsk because of the longer distances involved. This comes at a time when the Baltic states imposed sanctions on high-ranking Belarussian officials and the EU is pondering serious measures.

With each such move from the West, Russia gets another opportunity. Russia has professed interest in encouraging Belarus to redirect its oil exports to Russian ports and has agreed to refinance a $1 billion debt to Russia.

A broader picture might help put the events in Belarus in context. In the South Caucasus, the Russians appear to have reached the limit of their influence. They more or less firmly control the overall geopolitical picture, but have nevertheless failed to derail Western resolve to compete in this region. In Central Asia, Russia has more secure positions, but the region in general is less important to the Kremlin than the western borderlands.

It is thus the western front—Belarus and Ukraine—that is a major theater for Moscow. Since 2015, many have believed that Syria is Russia’s top geopolitical theater, but this assumption is based simply on the intensity of the immediate processes that are transpiring in the Middle East. With or without Syria, Moscow’s global standing will not be fundamentally damaged. Belarus is a different matter entirely. Changes there, and by extension a potentially anti-Russian state, would constitute a direct threat to Moscow.

For Russia, Belarus is the last safe buffer zone on its western border. Ukraine is lost, as is Moldova, and the Baltic states have long been under NATO protection. Only Belarus serves as a bridge for Russia to move militarily into the heart of Europe. To lose it would be tantamount to a complete “encirclement” of Russia by the West, as argued by Russian politicians.

This geopolitical reality also means that Belarus is the country that will remain most susceptible to Russian geopolitical influence. No wonder Russia is pushing to station its air base on Belarussian soil, reinvigorate the Union state, and intensify Minsk’s economic dependence on Moscow. As was the case with Ukraine, the upheaval in Belarus is about regional geopolitics.

Author’s note: first published in besacenter.org

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