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

Igor Ivanov

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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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Sixty Years and Still Growing Stronger As UN University

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, one of Russia’s largest internationally oriented, educational and research institutions, has marked 60th year of its establishment with series of activities including an evening of congratulatory speeches, culminating with a grand multinational cultural concert in the Kremlin.

The congratulatory messages came from the Kremlin, Russian government, Federation Council, State Duma, Ministries and Departments, Soviet and Russian Graduates’ Associations in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and international organizations such as UNESCO and the United Nations.

From the highest officialdom, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his greetings to the faculty and staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students and alumni of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) on the academic institution’s anniversary.

The message reads: “Exactly 60 years ago, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia opened its doors to young people arriving in Moscow from the newly independent countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, offering them a second home. I strongly believe that many graduates hold warm memories of the years they spent studying in our country, their teachers and friends.

Over these years, the university has trained tens of thousands of qualified professionals in economics, agriculture, medicine, law, history, philology and other disciplines, making a unique contribution to strengthening friendship and mutual understanding between people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

It is marvellous that the university treasures these traditions and maintains a high standard of education as one of Russia’s best higher education institutions. Its noble mission helps attract talented, proactive and dedicated young people from across the world who are receptive to progressive ideas and are ready to undertake advanced programmes and projects.”

In a congratulation message, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted that the university has long been known for fostering understanding between countries and cultures.

Respect for diversity is one of the strengths. This anniversary comes at a time of test for that vital work. Today’s global landscape is scared by protracted conflicts, a climate crisis and the spread of hatred and disquiet. In such times, the pursuit of knowledge remains more necessary than ever.

It is encouraging to know that the mission of “uniting people of different cultures by knowledge” echoes the aim of key United Nations initiatives, including UN Academic Impact, of which the university is a valued member.

“As we mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and embark on a Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we look forward to continued partnership in shaping a peaceful and prosperous future for all,” stressed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Professor Vladimir Filippov, Rector of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, traced the history of its establishment emphasizing the fact that the significant decision to establish the university was made 60 years ago. It has worked the way from a higher educational institution, mainly trained staff for developing countries to a comprehensive research university – from Peoples’ Friendship University to RUDN University, the scientific and educational centre well-known and recognized in Russian and world rankings.

Today the university brings together students from 158 countries, and the number of RUDN University alumni increases by 5-6 thousand year by year, graduates work in almost all countries.

In 2020, RUDN University alumni are to hold events devoted to the RUDN University anniversary in dozens of countries of the world. RUDN University and its alumni are planting Trees of Friendship in many countries to commemorate its anniversary. Join us!

Professor Filippov concluded: “We are still young, up-and-coming and individual – our university is really the only one. RUDN University is more than just a degree you obtain, more than research, more than collaborations, more than creative environment. RUDN University generation is beyond standards, we create our own history – history of a university of the new type – We are different, we are equal, we are leaders!”

Additional historical notes: The Soviet government founded the university on 5 February 1960. Its stated objective during the height of the Cold War was to help developing nations. Many students from developed countries also attended the university. On 22 February 1961, the university was named Patrice Lumumba University after the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, who had been killed in a coup that January.

The stated purpose for establishing the university was to give young people from Asia, Africa and Latin America, especially from poor families, an opportunity to be educated and to become qualified specialists. The organizations, as founders of the university, are the All-Union Central Soviet of Trade Unions, the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee, and the Soviet Associations Union of Friendship and Intercultural Relationship.

The university’s current Russian name is “Российский университет дружбы народов”, which could be translated as “Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia” or, more directly, as “Russian University of the Friendship of Nations“. The English-language version of the university’s website, however, uses the name “RUDN University” with the acronym RUDN derived from the Russian name transliterated into English (“Rossiiskii Universitet Druzhby Narodov”). Nonetheless, it remains most common in English to use the name “Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia” or the abbreviation “PFUR” used officially in official documents by RUDN.

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Putin’s Truth in the Era of Post-Truth

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Every day the newsfeed looks increasingly more like a rising tide of provocative articles on the events of World War II, Nazis, concentration camps, the USSR, Putin, Russia’s constitutional reform. You’ll certainly wonder what the latter two have to do with the rest. And the only way to answer that question is with the well-known mantra:

Information wars have become part of our daily life.

The West is currently fighting at least two of such wars—one against the Chinese dragon, and the other, against the Russian bear. Yet, while the information war against the Far East is mainly fought by the United States, the anti-Russian campaign is conducted mostly in the European media space. Besides pursuing tactical purposes, such as hampering another mutually beneficial Russian-German energy project (like Nord Stream 2, which is 93 percent complete), these battles have a more serious strategic agenda. This is what experts call “cognitive warfare”—war of major meanings and frightening images. In this war, history has become a battlefield.

So, Putin went into the battle to defend the history, the truth, the memory and the meanings—a very Russian, old-fashioned approach. Yet he got a new weapon in his arsenal, having declassified the Soviet archive documents. At a recent meeting with the leaders of post-Soviet states, in St. Petersburg, Putin gave an impressive lecture on how World War II began. In fact, he knew what he was talking about, as Russia’s archives feature plenty of Nazi papers seized by the Red Army. Putin presented official telegrams and diplomatic reports dating back to that period, which had been stored by the USSR. They serve as substantial and plentiful evidence showing that it was not the USSR who incited the global fire. Recently, Vladimir Putin also announced that a most extensive archive of historical materials on World War II would be set up and would be openly available to everyone both in Russia and abroad. “It is our duty to defend the truth about the Victory; otherwise, what shall we say to our children if the lies, like a disease, spread all over the world,” he said. “We must set facts against outrageous lies and attempts to distort history. This is our duty as a winning country and our responsibility to the future generations.”

In contrast, here is a recent tweet by the US Embassy in Denmark which says plainly that it were American soldiers who liberated prisoners of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland. Meanwhile, even weak school knowledge would suffice to understand why that couldn’t be true. Nothing but a little mistake, it appears. In fact, that was exactly what the US replied to criticism.

The long-lasting scandal around the famous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the subsequent equation of Communism with Nazism as “misanthropic ideologies” are part of the same set of examples. The main idea of this narrative is as follows: “Hitler and Stalin conspired against the free world, and Poland was their first victim.”

Indeed, here we should cite Der Freitag which has made a very good point that nowadays we have a fatal tendency to begin at the ending when we talk about events of the past. Yet speaking earnestly, it should be enough to remember the secret diplomacy of the summer 1939, the obscure dealings between various alliances and the enormous gap between the declarations and real intentions of the world’s political actors of that time. In short, things stood much the same way as they stand today. So, instead of habitually laying the blame on the Soviet Union, Polish politicians could for a change rebuke France and the United Kingdom for having failed, despite their obligations to Poland, to actively interfere in hostilities back in 1939. It would also be appropriate to mention the “non-aggression pact” (Hitler-Pilsudski Pact) between Nazi Germany and Poland, concluded as far back as January 1934. Some historians (for example, the famous Rolf-Dieter Müller) believe it to be aimed at involving Poland in a military alliance, possibly with the view to jointly waging war against the Soviet Union, of which both Moscow and the European capitals were well aware at that time.

Yet what’s done is done, and history cannot be rewritten. However, one can try to falsify its interpretation and make it fit today’s reality. What is more, one can use the distant past as a lens to view the events of today. The tendency to such humanitarian violence has unfortunately become a hallmark of our time.

This is what Austrian Der Standard says, drawing the same parallel—it seems that antagonism to the policy pursued by the Kremlin has become a powerful unifying factor. Andrzej Duda proposed to Volodymyr Zelensky that they commemorate Polish and Ukrainian soldiers killed in the 1920s during the fight “against the bolsheviks”, yet he overlooked that back then, 22 thousand Russian prisoners of war died in the Polish Tuchola camp alone. Zelensky, in his turn, urged humanity to join their efforts in countering “destructive ideologies” today as it did 100 years ago. At the same time, in Ukraine, visual rehabilitation of the Third Reich and SS symbols is underway and historical Nazism is glorified. Even the national motto—”Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”—quite evidently resembles in structure the well-known National Socialist salute.

Unfortunately, juggling ideas in the field of history is an inherent part of the European politics and media environment. In a number of countries, modern politicians build on “history” to shape an artificial collective unconscious, hoping to manipulate potential voters’ decision-making. The “Polish scheme“, as it might be called in that case, works as follows:

-First, in the article “Politicians from All Parties Say: Putin Is a Liar and Wants to Hurt Us!”, whose title speaks for itself, member of the European Parliament Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who is also a former Polish prime minister and head of the foreign ministry, says: “There are two issues—the first is whether the so-called historical policy makes sense and the second concerns the current situation related to Russia’s aggressive and deceitful rhetoric.

-Now, there is a matter of money: in an interview with the German newspaper Bild Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of Poland’s ruling party, claims that “Germany should send more troops, especially to the Baltic States. Lessons of the past warn us against stationing more German troops in Poland. Germany must take these concerns into account. One thing is clear, however: we need strong operational and combat readiness in Eastern Europe.” He also insists that Russialike Germanymust pay reparations to Poland, including for destroying the country’s economy, roads, factories, historic buildings and cultural values. Noteworthy is that after World War II, thanks to Stalin’s effort, Poland expanded its territory by one-third, acquiring economically viable Silesia and the Baltic coast from Germany.

-Then, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki writes that Poland was the first country that fought to defend “free Europe“. He forgets to mention, though, that Poland also participated, together with Hitler, in the partition of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

-Against this backdrop, the Internal Security Agency (ISA) of Poland prepares a report about an expected “interference” by the Kremlin in the presidential election in Poland to be held in spring, surely to “undermine the integrity and effectiveness of NATO and weaken the cohesion of the European Union”.

-And incidentally, Putin is on his way to becoming “an aggressive red monarch” and he must go, living up to an idealistic formula that “everything was the way we want it to be today”…

So… following that logic, Putin must go. He must do so precisely because he keeps dispelling European illusions about history, which must be the way we want to see it today.

It matters not that Russia’s political system has entered a new phase of democratic transformation. Neither does it matter that major historical processes are brought about by preconditions and circumstances, not by shouts or newspaper headlines. All this mosaic nonsense is shaping an information landscape that draws historical myth from the past to the present, generating false analogies.

There are those who still tend to analyze current developments through the magic crystal of perceptions built up by history, to expound on Russia’s recent foreign policy through the lens of Stalin’s mythical “aggression” and “the Soviet empire” or to transform assessments on Russia’s internal processes, such as the initiated constitutional reform, applying notions from Russian 19th century novels. “Russia’s civil service could be likened to a pile of iron filings. Just as shavings align themselves with a magnet, so Russia’s apparatchiks align themselves with the magnet called power, without the need for instructions. They guess what is expected of them. That creates an illusion of remarkable unity—at least, as long as there is only one magnet. That is neither Dostoevsky nor Gogol—that is Spiegel.

Normally, the human brain is reluctant to take on complex tasks, it rather feeds on content that can calm it down. Such information should be familiar to it and fit perfectly into its inbuilt concepts.

Once calmed down, one can continue to buy natural gas and coal from the wicked Putin at a good price and sell him Polish apples via Belarus, earnestly believing Russia to be a decrepit totalitarian empire, dormant deep beneath the snow, rather than a complex, dynamically evolving state of the 21st century with great scientific capacity, innovative industry and open society. It seems easier this way.

But this will by no means change the reality: Putin is no tsar, but a national leader who initiates work to update the system of power he himself has constructed, while “Stalin’s version of history” is nothing but gloomy fantasies of narrow-minded people still clinging to the obsolete clichés like “dispatched to the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s archipelago of slave labour camps” and the idea to convene a summit of the permanent members of the UN Security Council is the most intuitive and sensible proposal in the field of international security over the last two decades.

Now, would you like a bit of post-truth? Let’s imagine that, like many of us here hope, Putin simply resigned. Just try to hypothesize how it would affect Europe. Don’t be deluded though: the best scenario is by no means guaranteed. It is only in academic projections of American geostrategists that a weakened and disintegrated Russia is—for some reason—presented as a blessing. And what if local conflicts, like that in Ukraine, spilled over to Crimea, the Caucasus, the Urals; Islamists and terrorists from Central Asia (their natural habitats) moved to the North, prosperous Europe becoming their final destination? The downfall of the political system, inevitably followed by the coming to power of radical forces, would trigger the collapse of economic pillars, lead to energy supply disruption, losses from interrupted trading transactions for the exports (which already suffer the aftermath of sanction policies) of European goods and services to the Russian market, heighten the growth of shadow economy, create new customs barriers and escalate trade wars. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative would considerably slow down, which would bury all hopes for accelerating Europe’s economic growth using this channel. Migration from Russia, which is currently limited mainly to non-system politicians and businessmen with murky success stories (many of these persons being both at once very often), would become a mass phenomenon, greatly exceeding the number of Poles, Lithuanians and Ukrainians who have moved closer to the Atlantic. Europe will be swept by a new wave of crime, poverty and totally different values that are very far from the dream of a beautiful and unified Europe. How about this post-truth scenario?

Thus, the fight for history is a struggle for a dignified and dynamic future where no short-sighted ideological considerations can draw dividing lines, no matter how paradoxical this might seem.

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Putin’s Message to African Envoys

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has received, in accordance with the established tradition, letters of credence from 23 new ambassadors in the Alexander Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace. The ceremony, which officially marks the start of their diplomatic activities in the Russian Federation, attended by the heads of diplomatic missions of 23 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia.

That included three from North Africa: Mohamed Sherif Kourta (People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria),Lotfi Bouchaara (Kingdom of Morocco) and Tarak ben Salem (Republic of Tunisia).

In his speech at the ceremony, Putin concisely underlined the key global challenges as follows: threat of terrorism growing, arms control system collapsing and global economy increasingly becoming unstable.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Putin took the opportunity, through the diplomatic representatives, to invite foreign leaders and delegations to attend celebrations marking the great event in Moscow. He then proceeded to address specific issues connecting individual countries with Russia.

“Russia has strong and friendly ties with Algeria. The presidential election held there late last year was a big step towards political and social reform in your country. We support Algeria’s balanced policy in international and regional affairs. We see good possibilities for building up economic and military-technical cooperation and for coordinating efforts in the interests of stronger stability and security in North Africa and the Sahel-Saharan zone. I recently had a short conversation with your President in Berlin. I hope to see him in Russia soon,” he told Algerian Ambassador, Mohamed Sherif Kourta during the ceremony.

Putin further expressed high satisfaction with the present state of collaboration with Morocco, and added “both Russia and Morocco have achieved decent results in mutual trade, agriculture, and deep-sea fisheries, but there are still opportunities for advanced Russian technologies and R&D results to reach the Moroccan market.”

With Ambassador Tarak ben Salem (Republic of Tunisia), Putin stressed: “we are resolved to further strengthen bilateral cooperation with Tunis, which is among Russia’s traditional partners in the Middle East and North Africa. We are ready to work together on current regional matters, including a settlement in Libya.”

The newly arrived ambassadors have important and serious diplomatic tasks: to promote the development of comprehensive relations, responsible for expanding political dialogue, make conscious efforts in strengthening trade and economic ties as well as deepening cultural exchanges and promoting people-to-people contacts, facilitate stronger friendship and mutual understanding between their countries and the Russian Federation.

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