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Russia’s return three vessels to Ukraine: A new gunboat diplomacy questioned?

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A new perspective turn in tough relations between two neighbors had a place on November 17, Russia declared returning of three “captured” gunboats to Ukraine and this news was soon confirmed by the Kiev authorities. There was another quite an uprising statement that was made by Putin himself that Russia is ready to resume the supply of natural gas to Ukraine. The news was immediately heard on the world’s political arena what truly made a belief that ‘that’ can surely be a beginning of the minimization of the conflict between Russian Federation and Ukraine as good neighbors as they seemed to be not that long ago. But shall we see that gesture as something well promising or we shall observe that in a quite skeptical way?

With the great beginning from obtaining sovereignty in 1990 Ukraine got extremely prominent blessings such as geopolitically pleasant territory, great natural and human resources , advanced industrial power and very strong educational background. Those factors had to play a key role in formation of a new great power and Ukraine could definitely possess that claim. However after more than a quarter of century outpoured we can observe those dreams in ruins. Governmental incompetence multiplied by corruption did a destructive job and Ukraine’s European-leaning made Russia see that as a tumor what brought to Crimea’s cut and Donbas’s bleeding burnt. When Kyiv wasn’t asked about such a ‘surgery’ Moscow was that doer who anticipated where Ukraine’s European incline could bring to and NATO as a terminal station of that incline was and is the biggest threat to the Kremlin. Ukraine had and apparently still has a great desire to be European directed country and that comes with no doubt, even geographical center of Europe is located in Ukraine but it hasn’t had a place in history for Ukraine to fully enjoy European life and   we can admit that open boarders to Europe for Ukrainians has made a blurry vision that the seat around EU’s round table is prepared and waiting for Ukraine to sit on. Logically speaking there are dozens of obstacles and barriers that not only stop but also pull Ukraine back and unfortunately EU’s high requirements are not the most severe problems, America’s help turns to remain a promise that more likely will never come to be present at the epicenter of the crisis as well as Europe’s observers may only confirm the horror of the flames that continue to sting Ukraine. And now when promised aid from the West can’t help we see how ‘Russian new gunboat diplomacy’ gets its place on.

“Gunboat diplomacy” is conventionally termed as a part of imperial diplomacy which aims to subjugate a weaker or a smaller country by the threat of using force. For example  ‘Operation  Vantage’ or  ‘Gaza  Flotilla  Raid’ where  we  can  observe  the implementation  of  “Gunboat  diplomacy”  ,  however  in  this  particular  situation Russia’s message contains dual meaning: a good-will gesture and a hidden warning to Ukraine. As the leader of Russia, which has been a great power of Europe for almost 350 years, Putin is sure to understand the implication of diplomacy supported by force. The concept of “New gunboat diplomacy” indicates that vessels get its way home with a further conversation that meets a “Big Stick” holder’s expectations presenting a choice to Ukraine to rethink “Western directions” or observe where “New gunboat diplomacy” has its “old scratches”.

Yet, many claim that this type of diplomatic tactic is nothing new but statement from court that made Russians return the boats, others contradict that with sanctions’ flying colors court couldn’t bring any pressure to aggravate already heavily inflamed situation. “Some not well trained cats don’t know what to do with the mice when they catch them”- How much is that applicable to the situation that happened when Russia returned warships back to Ukraine, was that a goodwill and will that bring any goods? Our history brings rotation all around and that truly reminds the helix. The US has faced an adversity that brought to a dramatic failure in Vietnam War when domestic situation brought a severe movement that made politicians radically change their minds and Washington had to step back. This rough comparison displays the situation that we do observe nowadays on Russian territories where people who were afflicted by sanctions get reductions of daily life quality what was caused by recent economical destabilization. There is an anticipation that this wave will turn into tsunami due to indignation that circulates among Russian citizens who find explanations of this unpleasant situation in the foreign policy of the Russian Federation.

Upcoming summit which is approaching to be on December 3-4 absolutely requires to have a positive face on and unpleasant domestic situation made Moscow act a good neighbor and it is always pleasure to kill a bunch of birds with just one stone. And as there are people who oppose Russia’s aggression there are also those who support and definitely agree with current foreign policy – boats were returned, but they were hollowed out by Russians as Kyiv says. Apparently that’s the sign to redesign them from gun boats into trade ones; what brings us to another inhibitor that characterizes changes of Russia’s behavior is loss of Ukraine’s trade leadership to China in 2019. Even still trade between Russia and Ukraine is remarkably high and even got a rise what definitely meets Kremlin’s interest what underlines that the conflict escalation should get its conclusion.

This actually brings a hope that the situation will be relieved but Kyiv will not have pink glasses on after such a dose of humiliations that fell on Ukraine from Russian side. Even the Kremlin possesses an idea of the minimization of the conflict that indisputably strikes the borders that will undoubtedly take quite a long time for both sides to get disputes docked and current stage is a beginning of a conversation that will apparently display to us new possibilities in crisis resolution. For now the dance of Cossack and Ballerina reminds that homo homini lupus est.

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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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The Navalny case: Violent maintenance of the Cold War

Slavisha Batko Milacic

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We are currently witnessing the rise of the Cold War, through the media, after the case “poisoning” of Alexei Navalny. The case was used to raise tensions between Moscow and the European Union to the maximum.

Apparently, Alexei Navalny became a victim of poisoning. Yet none of this we can know for sure. However, after the mentioned event, an avalanche of statements “about the orderers of poisoning” was initiated by prominent European and American representatives. Without any critical review, avalanches began to fall in the direction of Moscow and President Vladimir Putin as the main culprit.

One of the first countries from which the avalanche of accusations started was France. Francois Croquet, France’s ambassador for human rights, said: “We know who is to blame.” A very undiplomatic statement for a diplomat, which went beyond the official framework of communication. Francois Crockett joined the wave of accusations against Russia with his statements before any investigation.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that in his opinion, “she (Russia) should have conducted an investigation, and when the culprits are found, they should be tried, to learn a lesson, because this is not the first case of poisoning.” ». The statement, very fierce, but outside the position held by the person in question. The statements of prominent diplomats call into question the international authority of France’s voice in the world.

These statements are aggressively joined by many politicians in Eastern Europe, especially those who feel revanchism towards Russia because of the Eastern Bloc, and further project of Russophobia, which are in line with the great energy battle over the construction of Nord Stream 2, which involved the case of Alexei Navalny.

What do we know so far about Navalny and his treatment. Navalny was initially treated in Russian hospitals, by doctors who did not detect any presence of poison, and then he was transferred to Germany, where it was determined that he was intentionally poisoned. His transport was organized by the “Cinema in the Name of Peace” organization, which was responsible for “rescuing” the group “PussyRiot”, which considered the act of imitation of abortion in the church to be an expression of artistic performance.

In the light of the situation with Russian opposition member Alexey Navalny admitted to the “Charite” hospital in Berlin with the symptoms of poisoning European and particularly German politicians and journalists opened yet another page of blatant Russophobia. Many of them push forward the theory of poisoning creating a classic image of the bloody Russian state trying to get rid of another enemy as in their vision it happened with Sergey Skripal. Even though no proofs are available and the statements of German doctors are scarce of details, this case is claimed to deepen the crisis in German-Russian relations. Some Bundestag members even call to cancel Nord Stream-2 as a punishment for the Russian government.

Despite the media hysteria encouraged by many politicians from the West, there are those who did not succumb to the first wave of Russophobia, and looked more soberly at the event related to Alexei Navalny and asked for additional evidence. For example the Vice President of the Flemish Parliament Filip Dewinter:

“Until now there is no real proof that Navalny was poisoned. I have the impression that countries like Germany are building up the pressure against Russia. The Navalny-issue is once again a perfect excuse to compromise the Russian authorities with violence and oppression against the ‘opposition’ … An objective and neutral investigation will tell“ stated Mr. Filip Dewinter.

His statements are not alone

Chairman of the “Prussian Society Berlin-Brandenburg” Volker Tschapke stated:

“Facing constant anti-Russian propaganda on different levels, I am not surprised with such an attitude, yet I can’t accept it. One of the key principles of any democratic society is the benefit of the doubt: nobody can be declared guilty until the proper investigation is conducted. Too bad, looks like this principle doesn’t work in Europe anymore. I’d like to wish Mr. Navalny to recover very soon and to call German politicians to stick to democratic values and stop pointing fingers at the Russian government without any substantial evidence base.“ said Mr. Tschapke.

Doubts about the case are also expressed by Member of the Parliament of Italy Paolo Grimoldi:

“I don’t trust the “institutional attack” to Navalny in Russia. He has many enemies, especially outside politics, in his life. In my opinion, it doesn’t look like an attempt to eliminate a political opponent. If any Russian top institutional level ever wanted to strike Navalny they would act more efficiently so let’s be serious and stop attacking Russia for nothing, stated Mr. Grimoldi.  

Divided statements regarding Navalny’s case tell us that, unlike in 2014, American power is declining and that European politicians do not make synergistic statements against Russia, but many of them view things with common sense and seek additional evidence for accusations against Russia. More and more Europeans are asking the questions: How is Russia threatening us? What will happen terribly for Europe if Nord Stream 2 is built? Most understand that the conflict in which America is pushing Europe with Russia has nothing to do with European interests, but with American ones.

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Alexei Navalny’s Case Matters to the Kremlin

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The global call for an objective investigation that will inevitably establish facts into the alleged “poisoning” of opposition leader and a Russian citizen, Alexei Navalny, in August has started yielding results. President Vladimir Putin has decided, as the first step, to set up an independent committee to investigate the cruel and inhumane attempt on his life.

As globally known, Navalny is a Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist. He came to international prominence by organizing demonstrations and running for political office, advocating against corruption in Russia and contributing to public discussions on reforms that could help Putin’s government.

He fell ill on a domestic flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital, and later evacuated to Berlin. Germany has said that toxicology tests conducted by its armed forces found “unequivocal evidence” that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, the substance used in the 2018 attack Skripal family, on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

Navalny’s case undoubtedly bears similarities to other poisoning incidents in the political history of Russia. There are many ordinary Russians, who believe that the world must know the truth about this brazen attempt on the life of a Russian opposition leader. In addition, it would clear the air, or instead to have an increasingly tainted image.

In an interview with the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made by Di Claudio Cerasa from an Italian media, Il Foglio, on September 10, 2020, focused on Alexei Navalny.

“Navalny? The German position coincides with the Italian one. Recovery? We will start with the Commission’s recommendations. Oppositions? My invitation to dialogue is always valid. School? There are reasons to be optimistic.” Interview with the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, the headline reads and here translated into English.

The Head of the Government chooses to speak on an important issue that has nothing to do with economic dossiers or with the future of the government, but with a delicate issue of a diplomatic and geopolitical nature. The theme is this: but exactly, where does Italy stand on the Alexei Navalny case? Alexei Navalny, as you know, is one of the most prominent opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was taken to Germany to be treated after being poisoned in Russia.

The German government said it had acquired “no doubt” evidence that Navalny was poisoned. Angela Merkel herself said she “condemned this attack in the most severe way” and has asked the Russian government “to urgently clarify because there are questions that only the Russian government can and must answer. The world is waiting for explanations.”

It was revealed that investigators found a new, more lethal variant of Novichok on Navalny’s hands and water bottle: for this reason, investigators believe that the perpetrators of the attack are Russian services authorized by the Kremlin. Up to now, we point out to Conte, the government has chosen to handle the issue with great caution – even too much. But in this conversation with Il Foglio, the prime minister puts aside a little diplomacy and agrees to answer a specific question, according to the published article.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has told Italy’s prime minister that he would set up a committee to investigate the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Giuseppe Conte quoted on as saying on September 10.

“President Putin has assured me (in a recent conversation) that Russia intends to clear up what has happened, and told me that he would set up a committee of inquiry and was ready to collaborate with the German authorities,” Italy’s Conte told the newspaper Il Foglio in the interview. “Collaboration is the best way to prevent this dramatic event from negatively affecting relations between the EU and Russia,” Conte added.

The Italian prime minister also highlighted the importance of Russian-EU cooperation in investigating the incident with Navalny. According to him, this cooperation could prevent a negative fallout for relations between Russia and the European Union. Like all European partners, Italy believes that it is necessary to fully clarify the details of this incident and find those behind it.

This step taken by the Kremlin could scale down escalating tensions between European Union members, especially, Germany and Russia. It tension relating Navalny threatens to cause lasting damage to diplomatic relations and the economies of both countries, and as a whole the European Union.

Over the ongoing situation, among others, relating to Navalny, European Union has threatened more sanctions against Russia. What is really at stake here also is the Nord Stream-2. This pipeline is expected to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while providing Russia with more direct access to the European gas market.

The Nord Stream-2 is a pipeline project slated to transport natural gas from eastern Russia to northern Germany, where it would link up with infrastructure that carries fuel to Western Europe. It would run 1,200 kilometers, mostly under the Baltic Sea along the existing Nord Stream pipeline – hence the name Nord Stream 2.

Commenting on the health condition of Alexey Navalny, State Duma Chairman, Viacheslav Volodin, expressed his gratitude to “the pilots who had immediately reacted to the extraordinary situation when the passenger had felt worse and took a decision to land in Omsk.”

He also added: “It is very good that Angela Merkel decided to help and provided assistance to Alexey Navalny. I would like to believe that she would have done the same if any other citizen of the Russian Federation, and not just a radical dissident, had got in such situation. It is important to note the professional actions of doctors, not only at the regional, but also at the federal level, who immediately began resuscitation and held consultations. It is important that all patients should be treated equally.”

“We need to comprehensively study what exactly happened. The State Duma Committee on Security will be instructed to analyze the details of the situation to find out if it had been an attempt of foreign states to cause harm to health of a Russian citizen to escalate tensions in Russia, as well as to prepare new allegations against our country,” said the Chairman of the State Duma.

On September 9, in connection with the demarche undertaken by the Group of Seven on the Alexei Navalny case, the Foreign Ministry has issued the following statement. Russia insists that Germany provide data on Alexei Navalny’s medical examination, including the results of the biochemical tests, as per the official request for legal assistance submitted by the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation on August 27. Berlin has not been willing to respond to our repeated requests in a prompt and constructive manner.

“Without the above-mentioned information, the Russian law enforcement agencies are unable to engage all the necessary procedural mechanisms in order to establish the circumstances of the incident. Meanwhile, the frenzy that is being stirred up around this case is only growing,” according to the statement posted to its official website.

“We note that Russian doctors proposed establishing close dialogue with their German colleagues in order to discuss the available data on Alexei Navalny’s health that is held in Russia and in Germany. Unfortunately, the German side has been thwarting this process,” it further said.

The unconstructive approach by the German authorities is accompanied by groundless accusations against Russia. The massive misinformation campaign that has been unleashed clearly demonstrates that the primary objective pursued by its masterminds is to mobilize support for sanctions, rather than to care for Alexei Navalny’s health or establish the true reasons for his admission to hospital, it concluded.

Russia has different relations with individual member states of the European Union. But, all the members unite around policies either for or against Russia. Since 2014 annexation of Crimea, for example, the EU has collectively imposed sanctions initially involving visa bans and freeze of assets of 170 individuals and 44 entities involved in these operations. The EU sanctions have been extended and are in force until 2020.

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