Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations, and a significant role was in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid.
Today, the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities, thus on October 23-24, Sochi hosted the first Russia-Africa Summit.
The idea to organise such an event emerged quite a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make this summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest.
Putin has outlined a comprehensive plan and taken note of key factors that includes:
* Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries, Russia is carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes.
* As for the potential level of investment in Africa in the next five years, the figure expected to be quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia’s participation. Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources. African partners, in turn, will have create the necessary stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms and ensure favourable investment climate.
* Africa’s infrastructure needs are increasing, and African population is rapidly growing, as are its demands. All of this, in turn, calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes beyond the bounds of decency.
* Russia has certainly take note of these factors and draw conclusions. Russia is not going to participate in a new “repartition” of the continent’s wealth; rather, ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided this competition is civilized and develops in compliance with the law. Russia has a lot to offer to its African friends.
Under the headline “Russia-Africa Summit: Future-Oriented Agenda” for the Valdai Discussion Club, Deputy Director and Chief Researcher at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Vladimir Shubin, noted that one should not be surprised that the first summit bringing together Russia and the leaders of African countries should take place after almost three decades, due to multiple factors during the period after Soviet collapse.
Further, he mentioned that one serious obstacle to the development of comprehensive ties is the lack of objective information about Russia in Africa, and about Africa in Russia. The potential of bilateral relations can be realised only if both sides shed the stereotypes imposed from outside and develop mutually beneficial cooperation, grounded in reality.
Shubin added, regrettably that “the state of bilateral economic relations leaves much to be desired.” But, Moscow seeks to create favourable conditions by writing off the debt of African countries (US$20 billion), as well as introducing a system of preferences for traditional African export goods.
However, trade turnover remains limited, at less than 3% of Russia’s total foreign trade. According to the African Development Bank, Russian investment in Africa peaked at US$20 billion, although its flow is hardly stable. Unfortunately, in these areas Western sanctions have become an obstacle in recent years.
Russia’s presence in Africa has remained marginal, but this could soon change. Several delegations from African states have visited Moscow during the past few years and the Russian government appears determined to strengthen ties with Africa.
But, Russia’s intensified move to invite delegations has often been interpreted among academics and policy experts as a result of escalating competition and increasing economic influence by many foreign players in Africa.
Professor Georgy Toloraya, Chair of the Regional Projects Department, Russkiy Mir Foundation, and Executive Director, BRICS National Research Committee in Russia, explained that in the wake of increasing conflict with the West and European Union, Russia has to turn its attention (especially in economy) elsewhere and Africa is the obvious choice. The time has come to make meaningful efforts to implement agreements on bilateral basis.
Some experts acknowledge that it is never too late for Russia to enter the business game but what it requires here is to move beyond old stereotypes, prioritise corporate projects and have a new policy strategy for the continent – a market of some 350 million middle-class Africans.
Russia has to risk by investing and recognise the importance of cooperation on key potential investment issues, work closely with African leaders on the challenges and opportunities on the continent, Andy Kwawukume, an independent policy expert told me in an emailed discussion from London, noting that Russians have been trying to restage a comeback over the past few years, which was a commendable step forward.
Kwawukume, a Norwagian trained graduate, pointed out that “there is enough room and gaps in Africa for Russians to fill too, in a meaningful way, that can benefit all parties involved. The poor and low level of infrastructural development in Africa constitutes a huge business for Russian construction companies to step in. Energy is another sector Russians can help in developing. Russian officials should consider using its Russian trained African graduates as bridges to stimulate business cooperation.”
But, John Mashaka, a Tanzanian financial analyst at Wells Fargo Capital Markets in the U.S., argues that Russia is going to remain relevant in Africa if its leaders can design a policy or mechanism that will enable its people and corporations to secure credits – loans – with favourable terms including payment.
It must counter China’s increasing economic influence with much better packages such as concessional and low-interest loans. There are chances to turn the business tide and if Russians can come with a different mix of economic incentives, without doubt, they will be taking off from the track where the former USSR left after the collapse of the Soviet era.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that it was to develop a trustworthy political dialogue and strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in accordance with the declaration on strategic partnership and to forge cooperation in mutually beneficial economic spheres.
Lavrov further stressed the situation in different African regions, including to the north of the Sahara, in the region of the Horn of Africa, including the situation in Somalia, in the Republics of Sudan and South Sudan, the Central African Republic, in the Great Lakes Region, which is the key focus of attention in the foreign policy.
“We would like to contribute to the normalisation of all multifaceted ties, as well as the settlement of other problem issues in the African continent,” said Foreign Minister Lavrov. As far back as May 2014, while addressing African diplomatic representatives, Lavrov said: “We will continue to assist states of the continent in other areas both in bilateral and multilateral formats. As it is known, Russia has written off over US$20 billion 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.”
In an article headlined: “Russia and Sub-Saharan Africa: Time-proven Relations” published in the magazine Russian View in May, Sergey Lavrov gave additional information on gains made in policy implementation in Africa.
“Our country takes significant practical steps to assist sustainable development of African states. Russia provides African countries with extensive preferences in trade and contributes to alleviating their debt burden – the total amount of debt relief exceeds US$20 billion. Debt-for-development agreements for a total amount of US$552 million were concluded with certain States,’ Lavrov wrote in the article.
Obviously, Russia continues providing the necessary politico-diplomatic follow-up for the African activities of leading Russian companies such as Alrosa, Gazprom, Lukoil, Rusal, Renova, Gammakhim, Technopromexport, VEB and VTB banks, which are engaged in large-scale investment projects on the continent. Positive dynamics are evident in the development of Russian-African cooperation in the minerals and raw materials, infrastructure, energy and many other spheres.
Some experts have offered both criticism and expert advice, often comparing Russia’s economic investment and influence to other foreign players. As Dane Erickson, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado and formerly a visiting scholar at the Africa Studies Center at Beijing University, argues that the reality is that China is among many international players that have increased their attention to Africa in recent years.
Largely due to Africa’s growing reputation as a region for commerce, over the past few years China, India, Japan, and the European Union all have hosted regional meetings similar to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Africa’s fractional share in global foreign direct investment (FDI) is on the rise, and trade between Africa and a multitude of nations is also increasing rapidly, according to Erickson.
China’s trade has increased rapidly. For example, China is the most conspicuous among these actors. China’s first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) occurred in 2000 and larger conferences have taken place every three years since. And while China’s official FDI is only 25 percent of that of countries like the U.S. and France, its trade dwarfs the figures of other nations. Up from just US$10 billion in 2000, Chinese-African trade came to over US$200 billion double that of the United States, the continent’s second largest trading partner.
Professor Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote that “what seems to irk the Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves.
Professor Olivier added that Russian presence in Africa could be directed at promoting economic development and political stability in Africa by introducing more healthy competition, partnership, and greater responsibility on the continent.
Important though is the fact that the Soviet Union never tried to colonize Africa. Soviet influence in Africa disappeared almost like a mirage with the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991. In the current assessment of Russia’s influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, has remained marginal. While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired diplomat.
Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present “paper diplomacy” dominates its approach, a plethora of agreements being entered into with various African countries, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes has remained hardly discernible. Be that as it may, the Kremlin has revived its interest in the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results, Professor Olivier wrote from Pretoria in South Africa.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that trade between Russia and Africa would grow further as more and more African partners continued to show interest in having Russians in the economic sectors in Africa.
“Our African partners are interested in Russian business working more actively there. This provides greater competition between the companies from Western countries, China, and Russia. With competition for developing mineral resources in Africa, it is easier and cheaper for our African colleagues to choose partners,” he told the staff and students at Moscow State Institute of International Affairs early September.
Soviet Union and Africa had very close and, in many respects, allied relations with most of the African countries during the decolonisation of Africa. For obvious reasons, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. As a result, Russia has to struggle through many internal and external difficulties. The past few years, it is still struggling to survive both the United States and European sanctions.
For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and new strategies for cooperation in economic areas in Africa. A number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have held gatherings of this kind in that format. Now, Kremlin has held the first Russia-Africa Summit with high hopes of enhancing multifaceted ties, reshape the existing relationships and significantly roll out ways to increase effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa.
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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The arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against Vladimir Putin can only be seen as a publicity stunt...
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The conventional wisdom on financial markets holds that as long as China declines to make the yuan fully convertible, it...
Air Balloon and U.S.-China Relations
The story of the Chinese Automatic Drifting Balloon (ADB) violating the U.S. airspace in late January–early February 2023 will be...
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