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From KGB to Kremlin: Twenty years’ saga of Putin

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When the red flag was removed from the top of red square followed by Gorbochove’s statement that declared the official disintegration of USSR, the West was erupted in jubilation as the sole winner of the cold war. Political theorists like Fukuyama coined a new political phase “End of History” which affirmed that the world emerged after the collapse of Soviet Union will be based on the interests of West and it’s liberal order and this prophesy seemed to be true at outset as the Russia born out of Perestroika eagerly embraced Western democracy and open economic order things they loathly rejected under Communist rule. Ninety decade was a bad time for people in Russian federation as country was in tatters under Yeltsin’s rule and inflation and rise of crime impoverished people. The mayhem continued till a lesser known figure called Vladimir Putin became new Russian leader in the new year eve in 1999. Perhaps it would be a dramatic statement to say Russia made its tryst with destiny in the dawn of new millennium. Especially, the serious of bomb blasts in Moscow devastated Russian public life which finally paved the path to bring lesser known former KGB officer Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin to zenith of power.

In analysing his first decade in power, the manner he dealt with West, in particular with Washington was impeccable as his moves went beyond the predictions of political pundits in Western think tanks. After his first meeting with George W Bush, US leader had stated that in Slovakia Summit in 2001 “I looked the man in the eye and saw him to be very straightforward and trustworthy”. Indeed, Putin became too much straightforward to West in his actions later. In the first half of his regime, president Putin coped with its rebellious southern republic Chechnya and by 2003 Russian forces could occupy Chechenia after terribly crushing Chechenian rebels, yet fragments remained as seeds of conflict continued to exist in Russian geo political space. As an example, the hostage crisis in Beslan marred his image as the fight between militants and Russian forces in rescuing the hostages finally caused civilian lives including many children. However, he could triumphantly bring the very end to crisis in Chechnya through military means in 2009 and the its capital Grozny which was described by the UN as the most devastated city on earth in 2003 was rebuilt. As a matter of fact, his first decade or till Russia envisaged its military encounter with Georgia, Russian foreign policy with West was much amicable. In fact, president Putin was given a gala reception in the Western states when he made his state visits. In particular, Putin became the first Russian leader to visit Great Britain since 1874. Yet, the honeymooning period with West began to reach its ebb after Georgian crisis in 2008 and which saw its worst nightmare in 2014 when Russian annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

2014 military invasion of Crimea was followed by a serious of EU sanctions upon Russian federation and Russia was expelled from G8 group as well. But, the consistency of president Putin and his political acumen was not affected by any of those external influence as his actions proved his determination to carry out the national interest even if it makes Russian position vulnerable internationally. As an example, when antagonism with West became much severe, Moscow opened to other options like China. Russia ‘s involvement in China ‘s  belt and road initiative under Putin is one of notable factors since 2014 which indicates Russia is deviating itself from Europe in order to locate her position in the new rising epi center Beijing. Also, the formation of BRICS as a common platform for emerging world powers further strengthened Russia’s relationship with states outside Europe. It is by no means an easy task to relocate Russia outside Europe, yet the circumstances and the rise of new world economic order under China paved the path for Sino Russo alliance under president Putin.

His flair for cult personality seems to have made him more popular in media than any world political leader. Yet, his persona as a political leader has made him a tyrant before Western mainstream media. Except during 2008 to 2012 (serving as premier to Dmitrij Medvedev) Putin has been holding the helm as world largest states leader despite his political actions have been vehemently criticized by western states. Nevertheless, he could secure 76 % majority in the presidential election held in 2018 March which granted him the power to stay in power till 2024 albeit there has been a huge criticism regarding the transparency of the election results.

In assessing current strategy of president Putin in carving the future of Russia, his intention of restoring its lost glory appears to be the prime task. In his own words “Demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of 20th century”. He seems have believed that Soviet Union was crushed as a result of western intelligence service operation. But, his active role in the Middle East has ensured Russia’s entry back to the global geo political game as a key player. Perhaps the current situation in the Middle East would have been unthinkable in the days of Kissinger with his notion of global geo political chess as Russia’s entry into Middle East simply upset the apple cart and her role started to overcome the influence of the USA in the Middle East. Especially, Trump’s decision to pull US forces away from Syrian Turkey border and America’s inability to protect Kurds in have lost its credibility in the Middle East as a reliable partner whereas Russia has proved its worth in Syria by protecting Assad’s regime. On the other hand, Russia has accomplished its foreign military bases under president Putin. Russian naval base located in Tartus and the expansion of its air base in Latakia have increased Russia’s military presence in the Middle East.

The evident truth of Putin’s strategic mechanism is that his devotion to take Russia back to its former glories. Yet, the internal vulnerability of Russia as a demographically weakening state with a stagnant economy can curtail his grand strategy. On the other hand, the vacuum remains in its political space to find a potential successor to president Putin is a crucial factor for Russia as its history has always proven how country can undergo a wretched period after a sudden dismay of a strong authoritarian leader. All in all, his twentieth year in power can be a much significant era as it clearly affects the global political order. The challenges appearing in 2019 have become much complicated than what world witnessed when Putin stepped into Kremlin in 1999. The rise of right wing political ideology around the world and BREXIT crisis are just few global chaos in that modern world faces today. The question remains unsolved is that how would Putin survive the internal problems looming before him while continuing his enthusiasm over restoring Russian pride as a global super power.

Punsara Amarasinghe is a PhD candidate at Institute of Law and Politics at Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa Italy. He held a research fellowship at Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow and obtained his Masters from International Law at South Asian University, New Delhi. He served as a visiting lecturer at Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo Sri Lanka and author can be reached at punsaraprint10[at]gmail.com

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Steering Russia-US Relations Away from Diplomatic Expulsion Rocks

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As the recent expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic demonstrate, this measure is becoming a standard international practice of the West. For the Biden administration, a new manifestation of the “Russia’s threat” is an additional tool to discipline its European allies and to cement the transatlantic partnership. For many European NATO members, expulsions of diplomats are a symbolic gesture demonstrating their firm support of the US and its anti-Russian policies.

Clear enough, such a practice will not be limited to Russia only. Today hundreds, if not thousands of diplomatic officers all around the world find themselves hostage to problems they have nothing to do with. Western decision-makers seem to consider hosting foreign diplomats not as something natural and uncontroversial but rather as a sort of privilege temporarily granted to a particular country — one that can be denied at any given moment.

It would be logical to assume that in times of crisis, when the cost of any error grows exponentially, it is particularly crucial to preserve and even to expand the existing diplomatic channels. Each diplomat, irrespective of his or her rank and post, is, inter alia, a communications channel, a source of information, and a party to a dialogue that can help understand your opponent’s logic, fears, intentions, and expectations. Niccolo Machiavelli’s adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” remains just as pertinent five centuries later. Unfortunately, these wise words are out of circulation in most Western capitals today.

A proponent of expulsions would argue that those expelled are not actually diplomats at all. They are alleged intelligence officers and their mission is to undermine the host country’s national security. Therefore, expulsions are justified and appropriate. However, this logic appears to be extremely dubious. Indeed, if you have hard evidence, or at the very least a reasonable suspicion that a diplomatic mission serves as a front office for intelligence officers, and if operations of these officers are causing serious harm to your country’s security, why should you wait for the latest political crisis to expel them? You should not tolerate their presence in principle and expel them once you expose them.

Even the experience of the Cold War itself demonstrates that expulsions of diplomats produce no short-term or long-term positive results whatsoever. In fact, there can be no possible positive results because diplomatic service is nothing more but just one of a number of technical instruments used in foreign politics. Diplomats may bring you bad messages from their capitals and they often do, but if you are smart enough, you never shoot the messenger.

Diplomatic traditions do not allow such unfriendly actions to go unnoticed. Moscow has to respond. Usually, states respond to expulsions of their diplomats by symmetrical actions – i.e. Russia has to expel the same number of US, Polish or Czech diplomats, as the number of Russian diplomats expelled from the US, Poland or the Czech Republic. Of course, each case is special. For instance, the Czech Embassy in Moscow is much smaller than the Russian Embassy in Prague, so the impact of the symmetrical actions on the Czech diplomatic mission in Russia will be quite strong.

The question now is whether the Kremlin would go beyond a symmetrical response and start a new cycle of escalation. For example, it could set new restrictions upon Western companies operating in the country, it could cancel accreditation of select Western media in Moscow, it could close branches of US and European foundations and NGOs in Russia. I hope that the final response will be measured and not excessive.

The door for US-Russian negotiations is still open. So far, both sides tried to avoid specific actions that would make these negotiations absolutely impossible. The recent US sanctions against Russia have been mostly symbolic, and the Russian leadership so far has demonstrated no appetite for a rapid further escalation. I think that a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin remains an option and an opportunity. Such a meeting would not lead to any “reset” in the bilateral relations, but it would bring more clarity to the relationship. To stabilize US-Russian relations even at a very low level would already be a major accomplishment.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia becomes member of International Organization for Migration

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Photo credit: Anton Novoderezhlin/TASS

After several negotiations, Russia finally becomes as a full-fledged member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It means that Russia has adopted, as a mandatory condition for obtaining membership, the constitution of the organization. It simply implies that by joining this international organization, it has given the country an additional status.

After the collapse of the Soviet, Russia has been interacting with the IOM since 1992 only as an observer. In the past years, Russia has shown interest in expanding this cooperation. The decision to admit Russia to the organization was approved at a Council’s meeting by the majority of votes: 116 states voted for it, and two countries voted against – these are Ukraine and Georgia. That however, the United States and Honduras abstained, according to information obtained from Moscow office of International Migration Organization.

“In line with the resolution of the 111th session of the IOM Council of November 24, 2020 that approved Russia’s application for the IOM membership, Russia becomes a full-fledged member of the organization from the day when this notification is handed over to its director general,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement in April.

Adoption of the IOM Constitution is a mandatory condition for obtaining its membership, which opens “extra possibilities for developing constructive cooperation with international community on migration-related matters,” the statement stressed in part.

It is significant to recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order to secure Russia’s membership in the organization in August 2020 and submitted its Constitution to the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) in February 2021.

Headquartered in Geneva, the International Organization for Migration, a leading inter-government organization active in the area of migration, was set up on December 5, 1951. It opened its office in Moscow in 1992.

IOM supports migrants across the world, developing effective responses to the shifting dynamics of migration and, as such, is a key source of advice on migration policy and practice. The organization works in emergency situations, developing the resilience of all people on the move, and particularly those in situations of vulnerability, as well as building capacity within governments to manage all forms and impacts of mobility.

IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. It works to help ensure proper management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people. It is part of the structured system of the United Nations, and includes over 170 countries.

Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (Senate) Committee on International Affairs, noted that the organization’s constitution has a provision saying that it is in a nation’s jurisdiction to decide how many migrants it can receive, therefore the IOM membership imposes no extra commitments on Russia and doesn’t restrict its right to conduct an independent migration policy.

On other hand, Russia’s full-fledged membership in IOM will help it increase its influence on international policy in the sphere of migration and use the country’s potential to promote its interests in this sphere, Senator Dzhabarov explained.

Russia has had an inflow of migrants mainly from the former Soviet republics. The migrants have played exceptional roles both in society and in the economy. The inflow of foreign workers to Russia has be resolved in accordance with real needs of the economy and based on the protection of Russian citizens’ interests in the labor market, according to various expert opinions.

The whole activity of labor migrants has to be conducted in strict compliance with legislation of the Russian Federation and generally recognized international norms.

State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and many state officials have repeatedly explained the necessity of holding of partnership dialogues on finding solutions to emerging problems within the framework of harmonization of legislation in various fields including regional security, migration policy and international cooperation. Besides that, Russia is ready for compliance with international treaties and agreements.

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Relegating the “Russia Problem” to Turkey

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erdogan aliyev
Image credit: Prezident.Az

Turkey’s foreign policy is at a crossroads. Its Eurasianist twist is gaining momentum and looking east is becoming a new norm. Expanding its reach into Central Asia, in the hope of forming an alliance of sorts with the Turkic-speaking countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan — is beginning to look more realistic. In the north, the north-east, in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, there is an identifiable geopolitical arc where Turkey is increasingly able to puncture Russia’s underbelly.

Take Azerbaijan’s victory in Second Karabakh War. It is rarely noticed that the military triumph has also transformed the country into a springboard for Turkey’s energy, cultural and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia. Just two months after the November ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey signed a new trade deal with Azerbaijan. Turkey also sees benefits from January’s Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan agreement which aims to jointly develop the Dostluk (Friendship) gas field under the Caspian Sea, and it recently hosted a trilateral meeting with the Azerbaijani and Turkmen foreign ministers. The progress around Dostlug removes a significant roadblock on the implementation of the much-touted Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) which would allow gas to flow through the South Caucasus to Europe. Neither Russia nor Iran welcome this — both oppose Turkey’s ambitions of becoming an energy hub and finding new sources of energy.

Official visits followed. On March 6-9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Defense cooperation, preferential trade deals, and a free trade agreement were discussed in Tashkent. Turkey also resurrected a regional trade agreement during a March 4 virtual meeting of the so-called Economic Cooperation Organization which was formed in 1985 to facilitate trade between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. Though it has been largely moribund, the timing of its re-emergence is important as it is designed to be a piece in the new Turkish jigsaw.

Turkey is slowly trying to build an economic and cultural basis for cooperation based on the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency founded in 1991 and the Turkic Council in 2009. Although Turkey’s economic presence in the region remains overshadowed by China and Russia, there is a potential to exploit. Regional dependence on Russia and China is not always welcome and Central Asian states looking for alternatives to re-balance see Turkey as a good candidate. Furthermore, states such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are also cash-strapped, which increases the potential for Turkish involvement.

There is also another dimension to the eastward push. Turkey increasingly views Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as parts of an emerging geopolitical area that can help it balance Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus. With this in mind, Turkey is stepping up its military cooperation not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Georgia and Ukraine. The recent visit of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Turkey highlighted the defense and economic spheres. This builds upon ongoing work of joint drone production, increasing arms trade, and naval cooperation between the two Black Sea states.

The trilateral Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey partnership works in support of Georgia’s push to join NATO. Joint military drills are also taking place involving scenarios of repelling enemy attacks targeting the regional infrastructure.

Even though Turkey and Russia have shown that they are able to cooperate in different theaters, notably in Syria, they nonetheless remain geopolitical competitors with diverging visions. There is an emerging two-pronged strategy Turkey is now pursuing to address what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees as a geopolitical imbalance. Cooperate with Vladimir Putin where possible, but cooperate with regional powers hostile to Russia where necessary.

There is one final theme for Turkey to exploit. The West knows its limits. The Caspian Sea is too far, while an over-close relationship with Ukraine and Georgia seems too risky. This creates a potential for cooperation between Turkey and the collective West. Delegating the “Russia problem” to Turkey could be beneficial, though it cannot change the balance of power overnight and there will be setbacks down the road.

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