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Russian Foreign Policy Moving into 2020: Today’s Achievements and Tomorrow’s Challenges

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It has become a trend in recent times for politicians, experts and journalists alike to sum up the outgoing year in international relations by noting the decrease in global governance and the growing instability of world politics. And 2019 is no exception. We have witnessed a number of surprises and unexpected events across the globe this year — from the landslide victory of Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian elections and the launch of impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump in the United States, to a series of political upheavals in Latin America and the never-ending political crisis in the United Kingdom, as well as numerous armed attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and wild oscillations in U.S.–China relations.

Russia’s foreign policy has been an utter success compared to the chronic instability and volatility that has become characteristic of the international situation. Even Moscow’s most ardent critics cannot deny that Russia has pursued a consistent foreign policy over the past calendar year. While many on the international stage may not see Russia as a convenient partner, it certainly cannot be accused of being unreliable or inconsistent in this capacity. This is an indisputable advantage that Russia enjoys over some of the other great powers and, as such, it is respected not only by the country’s friends and allies, but also by its enemies and opponents.

All things considered, we can expect the global system to become even more unstable in 2020. I would, of course, like to be wrong here, but the energy produced by the collapse of the old system of international relations has not yet entirely dissipated. The chain reaction of disintegration that it has caused is unlikely to be arrested any time soon. We are not talking about a year or two of diligent work here, but rather about a long-term historical undertaking — a challenge that needs to be met not by a single state or group of leading powers, but by the entire international community, which for various reasons is still poorly equipped to deal with the problem.

Under these conditions, the temptation may naturally arise for Russia to minimize its participation in international affairs, isolate itself from the unpredictable and dangerous outside world and focus on solving problems at home. The reluctance to “import this instability” and become involuntary hostages to those negative processes and trends in world politics that neither we nor anyone else can control is quite understandable. Also understandable is the public’s demand that the authorities focus on problems at home — and, sad as it may be, we have more than enough of these.

However, the strategy of self-isolation, even if only temporary and partial, is dangerous in at least two ways. First, consistent self-isolation is virtually impossible in the modern, interconnected world (North Korea is a very rare exception here). Russia is deeply integrated into global political, economic and social processes, and any attempts to isolate itself will inevitably mean abandoning many of the country’s most significant foreign political achievements over the past 30 years. Moreover, isolation would considerably slow down the process of solving those domestic problems that require the most attention.

Second, the strategy of self-isolation would effectively involve Russia withdrawing from active participation in the creation of a new system of international relations and the construction of the new world order. And a new world order will be created regardless. The only question is the price that humanity will have to pay for it. When the era of instability is over and a form of global governance has been restored, Russia will have to play by rules that have been developed by somebody else — rules that ignore Russia’s interests and serve those of other participants in global politics.

For this reason, Russia’s foreign policy in the coming year should not be directed exclusively at resolving immediate tasks in various regions of the world, although these tasks certainly are important. Equally important is the development of new principles, models and mechanisms of international cooperation for the future. Figuratively speaking, while it may still be too early right now to start the construction of the building that will house the new world order, it is both possible and necessary to start picking out individual “bricks” and even entire building blocks of this future building today. This is a difficult task, but Russian foreign policy has already made some inroads in this respect.

For example, Russia has gained unparalleled experience in multilateral diplomacy in Syria that has enabled the country to align the positions of the most bitter of adversaries and reduce the intensity of armed hostilities. In Syria, Russia has managed to achieve what many people until recently believed was simply unachievable. It is clearly worth trying to expand this practice to the Middle East as a whole in the coming year. The region sorely needs a collective security system, and a concept developed and fleshed out by the Russian side could be just the ticket.

In Asia, Russia and its partners have taken serious steps towards the construction of a fundamentally new, democratic and transparent system of international institutions. Recent achievements include the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the promotion of the BRICS+ concept, the advancement of the RIC (Russia, India and China) format, and the progress made in work to combine the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. It is particularly relevant here to fill new institutional formats with real content. Russia will have the chance to solidify its leading role in expanding the “project portfolios” of BRICS and the SCO when it hosts their annual summits in 2020.

Russia–China relations are steadily becoming a driving force in the system of international relations. The further coordination of their actions on the international stage, including the security domain, will continue to strengthen their authority and influence in world affairs.

As for Moscow’s policies on the European front, while 2019 was not a breakthrough year in terms of improving relations with the EU, certain positives can be gleaned. Russia was welcomed back to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Russia and the West managed to agree on a common strategy to regulate the political crisis in Moldova. The Normandy contact group on the resolution of the situation in Donbass resumed its work after a long break. And trilateral talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union on energy issues started to move forward.

Europe has started to re-examine its model of regional integration fundamentally, and not only because of the United Kingdom’s impending withdrawal from the European Union. The continent also has deep-seated problems related to socioeconomic development, regionalization, security, etc. In this context, serious political dialogue on the future of relations between Russia and Europe is an absolute necessity. And this dialogue needs to be started now, without delay.

The 2020 election campaign in the United States is in full swing, so now is not the best time to try to start fixing relations. However, those who insist that Moscow should take a break in these relations until after the election, hoping that the United States will somehow emerge from the deep political crisis that split the nation three years ago, are simply wrong. History has taught us that we can spend our entire lives waiting for the “right moment,” and there will always be plenty of excuses to extend this break. Contacts with the Executive Branch of the United States are indeed objectively difficult at the moment, which means that Russia needs to step up its activities along other lines, including in terms of its Track II diplomacy.

A breakthrough was made in relations with Africa in 2019. The Russia–Africa Summit in Sochi demonstrated that there is interest on both sides in developing cooperation and that this cooperation holds great potential. The main thing now is to ensure that this momentum is not lost, which means that practical steps must be taken in 2020.

These are just some of the problems that Russian foreign policy will come up against in 2020. Russia has already demonstrated effective crisis management skills and has proven that it can cope with the most serious challenges of regional and global security today. Now it has the opportunity to show that it is also an experienced design engineer who is ready, alongside its partners, to develop individual components and entire nodes of the mechanism of the new world order that is still under construction.

Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Looking back, it is essential to note that those who emerged victorious in 1945 were, despite their deep-seated dissent on the most fundamental issues of global development, nevertheless able to agree not only on the rules of the game on the world stage, but also on the creation of an entire system of international institutions to guarantee global and regional stability. And, despite its many shortcomings and imperfections, this system has served humanity for decades.

Today, the international community faces challenges that are comparable in scale to those it faced in the middle of the 20th century. I would like to hope that, like their great predecessors, the politicians of today will realize their historical responsibility and demonstrate political savvy to resolve the most pressing issues of our time.

From our partner RIAC

President of the Russian International Affairs Council. Professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs (RF MFA). Russian Academy of Sciences Corresponding Member. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation.

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The Russia-China-Iran Alliance

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NATO, the U.S. Government, and all other “neoconservatives” (adherents to Cecil Rhodes’s 1877 plan for a global U.S. empire that would be run, behind the scenes, by the UK’s aristocracy) have been treating Russia, China, and Iran, as being their enemies. In consequence of this: Russia, China, and Iran, have increasingly been coordinating their international policies, so as to assist each other in withstanding (defending themselves against) the neoconservative efforts that are designed to conquer them, and to add them to the existing U.S. empire.

The U.S. empire is the largest empire that the world has ever known, and has approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries, all over the planet. This is historically unprecedented. But it is — like all historical phenomena — only temporary. However, its many propagandists — not only in the news-media but also in academia and NGOs (and Rhodesists predominate in all of those categories) — allege the U.S. (or UK-U.S.) empire to be permanent, or else to be necessary to become permanent. Many suppose that “the rise and fall of the great powers” won’t necessarily relate to the United States (i.e., that America will never fall from being the world’s dominant power); and, so, they believe that the “American Century” (which has experienced so many disastrous wars, and so many unnecessary wars) will — and even should — last indefinitely, into the future. That viewpoint is the permanent-warfare-for-permanent-peace lie: it asserts that a world in which America’s billionaires, who control the U.S. Government (and the American public now have no influence over their Government whatsoever), should continue their ‘rules-based international order’, in which these billionaires determine what ‘rules’ will be enforced, and what ‘rules’ won’t be enforced; and in which ‘rules-based international order’ international laws (coming from the United Nations) will be enforced ONLY if and when America’s billionaires want them to be enforced. The ideal, to them, is an all-encompassing global dictatorship, by U.S. (& UK) billionaires.

In other words: Russia, China, Iran, and also any nation (such as Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela) whose current government relies upon any of those three for international support, don’t want to become part of the U.S. empire. They don’t want to be occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t want their national security to depend upon serving the interests of America’s billionaires. Basically, they want the U.N. to possess the powers that its inventor, FDR, had intended it to have, which were that it would serve as the one-and-only international democratic republic of nation-states; and, as such, would have the exclusive ultimate control over all nuclear and other strategic weapons and military forces, so that there will be no World War III. Whereas Rhodes wanted a global dictatorship by a unified U.S./UK aristocracy, their ‘enemies’ want a global democracy of nations (FDR named it “the United Nations”), ruling over all international relations, and being settled in U.N.-authorized courts, having jurisdiction over all international-relations issues.

In other words: they don’t want an invasion such as the U.S. and its allies (vassal nations) did against Iraq in 2003 — an invasion without an okay from the U.N Security Council and from the General Assembly — to be able to be perpetrated, ever again, against ANY nation. They want aggressive wars (which U.S.-and-allied aristocracies ‘justify’ as being necessary to impose ‘democracy’ and ‘humanitarian values’ on other nations) to be treated as being the international war-crimes that they actually are.

However, under the prevailing reality — that international law is whatever the U.S. regime says it is — a U.N.-controlled international order doesn’t exist, and maybe never will exist; and, so, the U.S. regime’s declared (or anointed, or appointed) ‘enemies’ (because none of them actually is their enemy — none wants to be in conflict against the U.S.) propose instead a “multilateral order” to replace “the American hegemony” or global dictatorship by the U.S. regime. They want, instead, an international democracy, like FDR had hoped for, but they are willing to settle merely for international pluralism — and this is (and always has been) called “an international balance of powers.” They recognize that this (balance of powers) had produced WW I, and WW II, but — ever since the moment when Harry S. Truman, on 25 July 1945, finally ditched FDR’s intentions for the U.N., and replaced that by the Cold War for the U.S. to conquer the whole world (and then formed NATO, which FDR would have opposed doing) — they want to go back (at least temporarily) to the pre-WW-I balance-of-powers system, instead of to capitulate to the international hegemon (America’s billionaires, the controller of the U.S. empire). 

So: the Russia-China-Iran alliance isn’t against the U.S. regime, but is merely doing whatever they can to avoid being conquered by it. They want to retain their national sovereignty, and ultimately to become nation-states within a replacement-U.N. which will be designed to fit FDR’s pattern, instead of Truman’s pattern (the current, powerless, talking-forum U.N.).

Take, as an example of what they fear, not only the case of the Rhodesists’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, but the case of America’s coup against Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011, and which by 2013 entailed his scheme to grab Russia’s top naval base, in Crimea (which had been part of Russia from 1783 to 1954 when the Soviet dictator transferred Crimea to Ukraine). Obama installed nazis to run his Ukrainian regime, and he hoped ultimately for Ukraine to be accepted into NATO so that U.S. missiles could be installed there on Russia’s border only a five-minute missile-flight away from Moscow. Alexander Mercouris at The Duran headlined on 4 July 2021, “Ukraine’s Black Sea NATO dilemma”, and he clearly explained the coordinated U.S.-and-allied aggression that was involved in the U.S.-and-allied maneuvering. U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media hid it. Also that day, Mercouris bannered “In Joint Statement Russia-China Agree Deeper Alliance, Balancing US And NATO”, and he reported a historic agreement between those two countries, to coordinate together to create the very EurAsian superpower that Rhodesists have always dreaded. It’s exactly the opposite of what the U.S.-and-allied regimes had been aiming for. But it was the response to the Rhodesists’ insatiable imperialism.

To drive both Russia and China into a corner was to drive them together. They went into the same corner, not different corners. They were coming together, not coming apart. And Iran made it a threesome

So: that’s how the U.S. regime’s appointed ‘enemies’ have come to join together into a virtual counterpart to America’s NATO alliance of pro-imperialist nations. It’s a defensive alliance, against an aggressive alliance — an anti-imperialist alliance, against a pro-imperialist alliance. America’s insatiably imperialistic foreign policies have, essentially, forced its ‘enemies’ to form their own alliance. It’s the only way for them to survive as independent nations, given Truman’s abortion of FDR’s plan for the U.N. — the replacement, by Truman of that, by the U.N. that became created, after FDR died on 12 April 1945.

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New Strategic Report: Development Prospects for Improving Russia’s Policy in Africa

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An expert group, has completed its studies of Russia’s policy implementation processes, impact and setbacks, and the development prospects in Africa, and has presented its final report with some recommendations intended to improve and scale up the existing Russia’s influence in Africa.

The report was prepared as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Situation Analytical Report, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

The 150-page report, released in November, offers new directions, some development prospects and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa. The report identifies two key factors necessary for determining the long-term importance of the continent: (i) human capital and (ii) natural resources.

These make for the increased interest for investment in extractive industries and infrastructure, booming consumer markets rising at rates much higher than the rest of the world. With its 1.3 billion, it is a potential market for all kinds of consumable goods and for services. In the coming decades, there will be an accelerated competition between or among the external players over access to the resources and for economic influence in Africa.

Nevertheless, despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended unto the fifth stage. Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991.

The first historic summit created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and so far remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.

Some of the situation analysis participants, who contributed to the latest policy report spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts are only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.

While the number of top-most and high-level meetings have increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda often remains small or scanty. There are little definitive results from such meetings. There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, and combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking were listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.

In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time. Right now, there are many agreements signed, before and during the first Russia-Africa summit, and Russia simply fails to deliver, as promised with African countries.

“The situation analysis participants agreed that the lack of project due diligence and proper verification of contracting partners is one of the key challenges for Russian business in Africa. Many projects announced at the top and high political levels have not been implemented. The reason is usually that the projects were not properly prepared before official approval. As a result, budget funding is often spent on raw and unprepared initiatives,” according to the report.

The adoption by Russia of an open doctrinal document on cooperation with Africa will emphasize the seriousness of its intentions and create an atmosphere of trust, in which individual steps will attain greater weight and higher-level justification. In African conditions, this will mean accelerated coordination of essential decisions. It is important to note that such public strategies for the entire continent are a necessary instrument of the other countries that are active in Africa.

Unlike most competitors, Russia can afford to promote a more honest, open, direct and understandable agenda for Africa: sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected. All situation analysis participants agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more African than those of its competitors.

It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan — a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.

One of the most important tasks critical for the effectiveness of Russian actions in Africa is the centralization and strengthening of the role and capacity of Russian state institutions on the African track, especially in the information sphere.

The report proposes dialogues should be enhanced between civil societies, including expert and academic organizations. In a situation where a rapid expansion of trade and economic relations is difficult (for example, due to economic stagnation or a crisis in the respective country), the humanitarian track can become one of the ways to deepen relations further.

On foreign players in Africa, the report points to China as number one active player. India’s influence continues to grow, as does the involvement of Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar, which are relatively new players in Africa. The influence and involvement of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil in the coming years, are likely to remain at the level of the past decade and will decline compared to China’s influence.

China, the EU, Germany, Turkey, Spain, and others have developed, announced and are implementing progressively their African strategies.

In general, of all the G7 countries, only Germany still has some potential to increase its influence and presence in Africa. Canada, Italy, and the UK, according to the authors, can at best maintain their influence at the same level, but it, too, will decrease compared that of the new centers of power.

At the same time, for its part, Africa will retain its importance for Europe in the long term and may even increase being an important source of a wide range of resources. Europe needs mineral resources (cobalt, gas, bauxite, rare earth metals) in order to carry out the energy transition, and human ones in order to make up for the natural decrease of population. The European banking system and financial institutions traditionally rely on Africa as a source of funding (while African capital often seeks refuge, and instability only accelerates its flight).

The influence of other non-European emerging powers, who often compete with each other, is also growing in Africa. UAE and Turkey may be mentioned among others. Their rivalry is visible in North Africa, West Africa and, especially, the Red Sea, and includes competition for control over both port infrastructure and points of possible military presence. A vivid example of this rivalry is Somalia, where Turkey is interacting and strengthening its position in Mogadishu, while the UAE, which recently lost control of the port in Djibouti, is taking a foothold in Berbera (in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland).

There are indications that Israel, whose activity in many African countries, particularly in East Africa, has remained traditionally high (especially in “sensitive” areas, such as internal security, the training of security and special forces, as well as in economic, especially agriculture projects), will continue to increase its involvement in the short and medium term.

Making efforts to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, Israel is developing contacts with the UAE and through it with a number of Gulf countries. Africa will be one of the platforms for Israel’s interaction with these countries. It will continue attempts to reduce the influence of Iran that has been carrying out its own diverse activity in Africa, seeking to expand it further.

On July 22, 2021, already after the situation analysis had taken place, it was declared that Israel had obtained an observer status to the African Union.

In the next ten years, rivalry, the balance of power and interests in the Indian Ocean will become a key factor of military and strategic importance, for this is where the interests of China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Arab countries, Iran, as well as the United States, France and other players are likely to collide. These countries will use significant resources to strengthen their positions along the entire coast of Eastern Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, which means both risks and new opportunities for the countries of the region. The military and strategic importance of the Indian Ocean islands (including four African island states) will continue to grow.

The report proposes discussions on possible mechanisms and formats of bilateral and multilateral alliances with interested parties, whose interests in Africa may coincide with the Russian ones. For example, the potential of bilateral cooperation in Africa with India (including outside of BRICS) has not been fully tapped yet. Joint initiatives in Africa in the areas of international development assistance, education, health care, and project financing may be of interest as well. It is also advisable to explore, including at the expert level, the possibility of engaging with countries such as South Korea (widely represented in Africa), Vietnam (showing growing interest), Cuba, Serbia, and several others as part of Russian initiatives in Africa.

Without Africa, Russia would not have so many friendly partners sharing its strategic goal of building a fair polycentric world order. By all purposes, Africa seems to be a favorable region in terms of positioning Russia as a global center of power and a country that defends peace, sovereignty, the right of states to choose development models independently, and as a protector of nature and the environment. Therefore, Russia’s increased presence and influence in Africa does not and should not cause resistance among African countries.

It is also important to move away from the “zero-sum” approach in relations with the West, even though at first glance the interests and aspirations of the EU and the U. S. in Africa seem to be opposite to those of Russia. Russia should build its policy and rhetoric in relation to Africa regardless of its rivalry with the West and should not create the impression that its policy in Africa is driven by the wish to weaken the positions of the United States and the EU on the continent.

The situation analysis participants agreed that Russia’s policy in Africa should be a derivative of Russia’s overall foreign policy goals and objectives, the three key areas being:

a) Ensuring national security. In the African context, this means primarily the danger of new viruses, extremism, anything that may impact Russia’s national security, including competition with other centers of power.

b) Ensuring social and economic development of Russia. Africa is a promising market
for Russian products and services, and a factor that facilitates the diversification and
modernization of the Russian economy. The situation analysis participants agreed that this is the main aspect today. In future, Africa can become one of the important factors in the development of some of Russian non-resource sectors, particularly railway and agricultural engineering, automotive and wheeled equipment, as well as services (primarily education and health care).

c) Strengthening the position of the Russian Federation as one of the influential centers in the modern world. Political partnership with African countries and the African Union as friendly players can make an important contribution to these efforts. As UN votes show, the positions of Russia and most African countries are conceptually identical or similar on many issues. None of the African countries imposed sanctions or restrictions against Russia. The ideological basis for cooperation at this level can be provided by the conceptual documents and ideas recognized and supported by all African countries: the approach of “African Solutions to African Problems” be strictly followed, working within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Development Goals 2030.

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How the Arms Control Approach Could Help Russia Tackle Climate Change

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The right approach would probably be to create a special interagency coordinator under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. It is vitally important that whoever heads the office is well respected by international partners: a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.

The energy crunch in Europe; the knee-jerk accusations of Russia having engineered it to win early approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; and the Kremlin’s riposte, pointing to the EU’s own policy failures, dominate the news. Yet one really important development remains underreported. Moscow’s official view of climate change and energy policy has just undergone a major reversal. Weeks before the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has come up with a national goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

This is not a covert attempt by the in-system liberals to begin aligning Russia’s climate policy with the policies of the world’s major powers. Rather, it is the consummation of a sea change that has been brewing for the past couple of years in the Kremlin’s thinking. President Vladimir Putin announced the carbon neutrality goal in remarks at the recent Russian Energy Week in Moscow. Climate change denial is over. Debate about what exactly has caused it is considered politically irrelevant. What matters are the existing realities and the current trends, which amount to all the world’s major economies moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, the new nexus of efforts to deal with climate change, the energy transition those efforts center on, and the geopolitical impact of that transition are moving right to the top of the Russian foreign policy agenda.

Of course, this is not all or even mostly foreign policy. Energy transition, which is the core issue, will affect not just the oil and gas sector, which in 2020 accounted for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP, but the country’s entire economy and finances, its political economy, and the relative political influence of various vested interests. Given the coincidence of energy transition and the inevitable transfer of political power, this combination is likely to become one of the most important processes shaping Russia’s future for years and decades to come.

Still, the foreign policy aspect of the change is non-negligible. The carbon neutrality pledges already announced by Russia’s main economic partners—the European Union and China; the United States, Japan and others—as well as the UN climate conference in Glasgow next month are all compelling Moscow to come up with a strategy of its own, and soon. Such a strategy will aim to preserve the country’s position as an energy power, but on a much more diverse foundation.

Integrating climate science, energy issues, and geopolitical objectives to produce and pursue an effective strategy could be compared to the task faced by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s–1980s. Back then, Moscow had to come up with a practical way to link nuclear science and weapons development, military force posture and strategy, the capabilities of the defense industry, and wider foreign policy goals. The result was transiting from the sterile rhetoric of universal disarmament to a diplomacy of strategic arms control that eventually produced strategic stability between the Soviet Union and the United States.

What is needed today is for various parts of the Russian government to pool their resources. The offices of the president’s special representative for climate issues and the special representative for liaison with international organizations on reaching sustainable development goals are evidently too small to take control. The ministries of foreign affairs, economic development, and finance; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Security Council all have an interest and possess valuable expertise on the issues, but none of them can actually be charged with taking the lead on their own.

The right approach would probably be to create a special unit under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. That unit would become an interagency coordinator among the many ministries that have interest and expertise on the relevant issues. Also, to borrow a page from the history books on Soviet arms control, a permanent mechanism could be organized of principals and deputies from various parts of the government to discuss and prepare decisions on these matters. This would be an analogue of the Big Five on strategic arms negotiations (the Party Central Committee, the Defense Ministry, the KGB, the Military Industrial Commission of the Council of Ministers, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry). It is vitally important that whoever heads the office has direct access to the president and is well respected by international partners. He or she needs to be a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.

The current hike in gas prices in Europe has motivated a number of people in Russia to sneer at green and alternative energy projects and reassert the continuing primacy of traditional sources of energy. Life is never linear, of course. However, even if future economic development does not completely close the books on fossil fuels (and it probably won’t, at least for a long time), the balance of energy consumption by some of the key buyers of Russian oil and gas will most likely change fast.

The speed of change means that temporizing now would undermine Russia’s chances of limiting the damage from the reduction of the world’s demand for its oil and gas. It would also prevent it from participating in developing new global norms and from taking advantage of its vast potential capabilities in such areas as hydrogen energy. Strategic decisions on that score have just been made, and this is a crucial positive step. The task now is to construct well-designed mechanisms to implement those decisions nationally and in foreign policy.

This article was published as part of the “Relaunching U.S.-Russia Dialogue on Global Challenges: The Role of the Next Generation” project, implemented in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Russia. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Embassy to Russia.

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