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Russia’s Diplomacy of Education, Contribution to Human Resource Development and the Third World

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Professor Vladimir Filippov, Rector of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) and Minister for Higher Education (1998-2004) has given an exclusive long-ranging interview in which he speaks about his university as it marks its 60th year of establishment and the plans for the future. During his meeting with this correspondent, Kester Kenn Klomegah, he further discusses the importance of reforms, challenges and achievements in his university in the Russian Federation.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) is an educational and research institution located in Moscow. It was established in 1960 primarily to provide higher education to Third World students. It became an integral part of the Soviet cultural offensive in nonaligned countries. Many students especially from developing countries still attend this university. It is Russia’s most multidisciplinary university, which boasts the largest number of foreign students. The university offers various academic programmes, has research infrastructure that comprises laboratories and interdisciplinary centers.

Q: First of all, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) has a long history since its establishment in 1960. What is unique about this educational institution compared to others in the Russian Federation?

VF: The full name is Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. The university is based on the ideas of diverse institutes and faculties, and international students and staff. From the very first days of its foundation, students and researchers were free to study and do research outside politics in conditions of equality. RUDN has given knowledge to professionals from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Near and Middle East. During the first historic graduation in 1965, diplomas were received by representatives from 47 countries. Now, we are teaching nationals from 157 countries.

Q: Of course, 60 years of existence, in itself, can be considered as the greatest achievement. But, could you tell us about its latest marked achievements during the past ten years, after the golden jubilee?

VF: Of course, the biggest success of recent years is a breakthrough in international rankings. Now RUDN is among the top 400 best universities in the QS World University Rankings – we have risen by 258 positions in 4 years. Only a few universities around the world have achieved this result.

RUDN began to purposefully develop along the path of a research university. Specialisties such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine and modern languages ​​have become priority scientific areas. We changed the structure of faculties and created separate scientific institutes. There are chemists who now have a separate laboratory complex for molecular design, creation of useful substances and the study of new reactions. Our mathematicians are involved in 5G technology, the internet of things and of skills. RUDN has a supercomputer with 205 teraflops.

We are a university with the biggest number of international students in the Russian Federation, so international cooperation is also our priority. RUDN has proposed a new export model for Russian education through an industrial-educational and research partnership. This project referred to as “Cluster Approach” – it covers 70 countries. The university has opened six Russian language centers in the Dominican Republic, Zambia, Jordan, China, Namibia and Ecuador, as well as more than 30 specialized classes in 22 countries for talented applicants who want to study in Russian universities.

The university received a new international name – RUDN – an abbreviation of the Russian name “Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia.” It was formerly and popularly referred to as Patrice Lumumba University of Peoples’ Friendship. In the process, “Russian” replaces “Patrice Lumumba” in the rewording of the name of the university after the Soviet era.

Q: Without doubt, RUDN has prepared lot of specialists for the local labour market, especially from the former Soviet republics. How do you value this role and its impact today?

VF: About 200,000 of our graduates work worldwide. These are professionals and leaders in medicine and politics, civil engineering and economics, agronomy and diplomacy … RUDN graduates unite in associations maintaining relations with the university. There are dozens of such associations, and our delegations regularly attend alumni meetings. Early February 2020, when the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia celebrates its 60th anniversary, thousands of guests – our graduates and friends will come to Moscow.

Q: Now, much emphasis has been placed on other regions: Latin American, Asian and African countries. What is the situation currently with the foreign students from these regions?

VF: There are 9.5 thousand foreign students at the university. We have 1,200 students from sub-Saharan Africa alone. If in the Soviet years the university did not have citizens from Western Europe, North America, now the number of students from Europe and from Latin America would be the same. The top 10 foreign countries by the number of students include China, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Namibia, South Africa, Syria, Mongolia, Nigeria and Ecuador. Indeed, the geography is expanding – during the past year, for the first time, citizens of Niger, the Netherlands, Suriname and Croatia came to RUDN.

Q: As a former Education Minister and now Rector, how do you view Russian education as an export product? And, as an export product, it must have high value especially in the current burgeoning competitive market?

VF: Mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine, engineering – scientific schools of Russia are already well-known all over the world. The high quality of Russian higher education is guaranteed by the state standard. Each program clearly defines the requirements that all universities have to fulfill: the names of disciplines, the number of hours, professional competences … research projects – term papers and dissertations must necessarily be guided by highly qualified scientific supervisors.

Education quality requirements are very high, while the state also provides an opportunity for free education. Each year, Russia allocates 15,000 quotas for the training of foreigners. In addition, a contract for tuition in Russian universities costs much less than the average prices for higher education in other top universities in the world.

Q: What are the challenges and hindrances to offering quality education these years? Do you have any suggestions here on how to overcome and improve the situation?

VF: Only a few Russian universities have started to move away from quantitative principles when recruiting foreign students. Before, it was important how many foreigners you have at the university, what percentage they make of the total number of students. Some universities recruited applicants from two to three Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), that is the former Soviet republics, – and that was enough for them. There was no particular need to look for talented applicants. Because of this, foreigners often chose Russia according to the “residual principle” – they came to us after failing to enter universities in England, the United States, France and so forth.

For RUDN, geography and the level of knowledge of applicants have always been a priority. Over the past 10 years, we have been teaching students from more than 150 countries. Interestingly, we are the first to conduct Olympiads abroad, to look for talented applicants, to offer them special scholarship programs. Now Russia has adopted the national project “Education”, thus the number of international students should increase twice (double) by 2024. At the same time, every fifth student who entered on the quota of the Russian Federation must be the winner of international Olympiads. Therefore, the university’s experience is now relevant – we share it with leading Russian universities.

Q: Aware of the importance of international recognition of the Russian education system, it still seems that Russian universities have to inculcate diversified cultural tolerance, take advantage of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, aspects of modern life, which are necessary pre-requisites for any success in the now globalized world. Do you have any objections to these, as a former Education Minister?

VF: Most ethnic-related problems are absolutely due to ignorance, misunderstanding, or disrespect for another culture. At RUDN, the principle of peoples’ friendship lies in the very name of the university. For us, the culture of interethnic communication is the norm, this is what we get used to from the very first day at the university when it was established. In our university, there is even among students a popular slogan – “We Are Different – We Are Equal!” In a globalized world, friendship with representatives of several states is an undoubted advantage, because an international university has to project itself as global community and that really makes the world a better place grow up, and our university is all about cultivating friendship.

Q: Finally, the future vision for the Peoples‘ Friendship University of Russia? How would you like it transformed, or diversify its activities for example into research, hubs of technology and other directions of human development, in the coming years?

VF: Among plans for the near future – to celebrate the 60th birthday of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in the Kremlin on February 8. This year, we are planning to start building two new skyscraper hostels. I would like the number of foreign countries in RUDN to increase to 160. This is also our target.

Long-term goals are more ambitious. We will continue the transformation towards a research university. There is a lot to do about international activities – we have identified six levels of internationalization of education and science at the university. It is necessary to continue work in the field of digitalization of the educational process and Life Long Learning – restoring the system of advanced training for foreign graduates of Russian universities. However difficult our plans and goals may be, our principles will not change – we will continue uniting people of different culture by knowledge, train future leaders and elites who will make the world a better place.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia

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Through all the discussions that accompanied the preparation of the Valdai Club report “Space Without Borders: Russia and Its Neighbours”, the most clear question was whether Russia should or should not avoid repeating the historical experience of relations with its near abroad. This experience, in the most general terms, is that after Russia pacifies its western border with its foreign policy, the Russian state inevitably must turn to issues related to the existence of its immediate neighbourhood. With a high degree of probability, it will be forced to turn to its centuries-old method for solving problems that arise there: expansion for the sake of ensuring security.

Now Russia’s near abroad consists of a community of independent states that cannot ensure their own security and survival by relying only on their own forces; we cannot be completely sure of their stability. From Estonia in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east, the existence of these countries in a competitive international environment is ensured by their link with one of the nuclear superpowers. Moreover, such connections can only complement each other with great difficulty. As the recent developments in Kazakhstan have demonstrated, they are not limited to the threat of an external invasion; even internal circumstances can become deadly.

The dramatic events in that country were intensified by external interference from the geostrategic opponents of Russia, as well as international terrorists, but it would be disingenuous to argue that their most important causes are not exclusively internal and man-made. We cannot and should not judge whether the internal arrangements of our neighbours are good or bad, since we ourselves do not have ideal recipes or examples. However, when dealing with the consequences, it is rational to fear that their statehood will either be unable to survive, or that their existence will take place in forms that create dangers which Russia cannot ignore.

In turn, the events experienced now in relations between Russia and the West, if we resort to historical analogies, look like a redux of the Northern War. The Great Northern War arose at the beginning of the 18th century as the result of the restoration of Russia’s power capabilities; the West had made great progress in approaching the heart of its territory. Within the framework of this logic, victory, even tactical victory, in the most important (Western) direction will inevitably force Russia to turn to its borders. Moreover, the reasons for paying more attention to them are obvious. This will present Russia with the need to decide on how much it is willing to participate in the development of its neighbours.

The developments in Kazakhstan in early January 2022 showed the objective limits of the possibilities of building a European-style sovereign state amid new, historical, and completely different geopolitical circumstances. More or less all the countries of the space that surrounds Russia, from the Baltic to the Pamir, are unique experiments that arose amid the truly phenomenal orderliness of conditions after the end of the Cold War. In that historical era, the world really developed under conditions where a general confidence prevailed that the absolute dominance of one power and a group of its allies creates conditions for the survival of small and medium-sized states, even in the absence of objective reasons for this.

The idea of the “end of history” was so convincing that we could accept it as a structural factor, so powerful that it would allow us to overcome even the most severe objective circumstances.

The Cold War era created the experience of the emergence and development of new countries, which until quite recently had been European colonies. Despite the fact that there are a few “success stories” among the countries that emerged after 1945, few have been able to get out of the catch-up development paradigm. However, it was precisely 30 years ago that there really was a possibility that a unipolar world would be so stable that it would allow the experiment to come to fruition. The visible recipes of the new states being built were ideal from an abstract point of view, just as Victor Frankenstein was guided by a desire for the ideal.

Let us recall that the main idea of our report was that Russia needs to preserve the independence of the states surrounding it and direct all its efforts to ensure that they become effective powers, eager to survive. This desire for survival is seen as the main condition for rational behaviour, i.e. creating a foreign policy, which takes into account the geopolitical conditions and the power composition of Eurasia. In other words, we believe that Russia is interested in the experiment that emerged within the framework of the Liberal World Order taking place under new conditions, since its own development goals dictate that it avoid repeating its past experience of full control over its neighbours, with which it shares a single geopolitical space.

This idea, let’s not hide it, prompted quite convincing criticism, based on the belief that the modern world does not create conditions for the emergence of states where such an experience is absent in more or less convincing forms. For Russia, the challenge is that even if it is technically capable of ensuring the immediate security of its national territory, the spread of the “grey zone” around its borders will inevitably bring problems that the neighbours themselves are not able to solve.

The striking analogy proposed by one colleague was the “hallway of hell” that Russia may soon face on its southern borders, making us raise the question that the absence of topographic boundaries within this space makes it necessary to create artificial political or even civilisational lines, the protection of which in any case will be entrusted to the Russian soldier. This January we had the opportunity to look into this “hallway of hell”. There is no certainty that the instant collapse of a state close to Russia in the darkest periods of its political history should be viewed as a failure in development, rather than a systemic breakdown of the entire trajectory, inevitable because it took shape amid completely different conditions.

Therefore, now Russia should not try to understand what its further strategy might be; in any case, particular behaviour will be determined by circumstances. Our task is to explore the surrounding space in order to understand where Russia can stop if it does not want to resort to the historical paradigm of its behaviour. The developments in Kazakhstan, in their modern form, do not create any grounds for optimism or hopes for a return to an inertial path of development. Other states may follow Ukraine and Kazakhstan even if they now look quite confident. There are no guarantees — and it would be too great a luxury for Russia to accept such a fate.

This is primarily because the Russian state will inevitably face a choice between being ready for several decades of interaction with a huge “grey zone” along the perimeter of its borders and more energetic efforts to prevent its emergence. It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. This is not a hypothetical invasion of third forces — that does not pose any significant threat to Russia. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991. Even now, there seems to be a reason to believe that thirty years of independence have made it possible to create elements of statehood that can be preserved and developed with the help of Russia.

from our partner RIAC

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Do as You’re Told, Russia Tells the Neighborhood

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The Kremlin has always argued that it has special interests and ties to what once constituted the Soviet space. Yet it struggled to produce a smooth mechanism for dealing with the neighborhood, where revolutionary movements toppled Soviet and post-Soviet era political elites. Popular movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and most recently Kazakhstan have flowered and sometimes triumphed despite the Kremlin’s rage.

Russia’s responses have differed in each case, although it has tended to foster separatism in neighboring states to preclude their westward aspirations. As a policy, this was extreme and rarely generated support for its actions, even from allies and partners. The resultant tensions underlined the lack of legitimacy and generated acute fear even in friendlier states that Russia one day could turn against them.

But with the activation of the hitherto largely moribund six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kazakhstan seems to be an entirely different matter. Here, for the first time since its Warsaw Pact invasions, Russia employed an element of multilateralism. This was designed to show that the intervention was an allied effort, though it was Russia that pulled the strings and contributed most of the military force.

CSTO activation is also about something else. It blurred the boundaries between Russia’s security and the security of neighboring states. President Vladimir Putin recently stated the situation in Kazakhstan concerned “us all,” thereby ditching the much-cherished “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring states. The decision was also warmly welcomed by China, another Westphalia enthusiast.

In many ways, Russia always wanted to imitate the US, which in its unipolar moment used military power to topple regimes (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and to restore sovereignty (in Kuwait.) Liberal internationalism with an emphasis on human rights allowed America and its allies to operate with a certain level of legitimacy and to assert (a not always accepted) moral imperative. Russia had no broader ideas to cite. Until now. Upholding security and supporting conservative regimes has now become an official foreign policy tool. Protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan helped the Kremlin streamline this vision.

Since Russia considers its neighbors unstable (something it often helps to bring about), the need for intervention when security is threatened will now serve as a new dogma, though this does not necessarily mean that CSTO will now exclusively serve as the spearhead of Russian interventionist policy in crises along its borders. On the contrary, Russia will try to retain maneuverability and versatility. The CSTO option will be one weapon in the Kremlin’s neighborhood pacification armory.

Another critical element is the notion of “limited sovereignty,” whereby Russia allows its neighbors to exercise only limited freedom in foreign policy. This is a logical corollary, since maneuverability in their relations with other countries might lead to what the Kremlin considers incorrect choices, like joining Western military or economic groupings.

More importantly, the events in Kazakhstan also showed that Russia is now officially intent on upholding the conservative-authoritarian regimes. This fits into a broader phenomenon of authoritarians helping other authoritarians. Russia is essentially exporting its own model abroad. The export includes essential military and economic help to shore up faltering regimes.

The result is a virtuous circle, in the Kremlin’s eyes. Not only can it crush less than friendly governments in its borderlands but it also wins extensive influence, including strategic and economic benefits. Take for instance Belarus, where with Russian help, the dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka managed to maintain his position after 2020’s elections through brutality and vote-rigging. The end result is that the regime is ever-more beholden to Russia, abandoning remnants of its multi-vector foreign policy and being forced to make financial and economic concessions of defense and economics to its new master. Russia is pressing hard for a major new airbase.

A similar scenario is now opening up in Kazakhstan. The country which famously managed to strike a balance between Russia and China and even work with the US, while luring multiple foreign investors, will now have to accept a new relationship with Russia. It will be similar to Belarus, short of integration talks.

Russia fears crises, but it has also learned to exploit them. Its new approach is a very striking evolution from the manner in which it handled Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, through the Belarus and Armenia-Azerbaijan crises in 2020 to the Kazakh uprising of 2022.

Russia has a new vision for its neighborhood. It is in essence a concept of hierarchical order with Russia at the top of the pyramid. The neighbors have to abide by the rules. Failure to do so would produce a concerted military response.

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Russia’s Potential Invasion of Ukraine: Bringing In Past Evidence

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Since mid-November 2021, the U.S. intelligence community and media have been warning of a Russian military buildup along the country’s western border. As the military activities are widely interpreted as a sign of Russia’s upcoming invasion of Ukraine, NATO needs to carefully analyze Russia’s motivations and previous behaviors, as well as hammer out policy options in case the existing fears prove to be correct.

Although Russia’s record of deception and recent statements about red lines make current tensions particularly worrisome, there is no hard evidence that an invasion is indeed being planned. The present situation is one of ambiguity (which is probably deliberate), and the West should treat it as such. Washington and its allies should be prepared for the worst without assuming that the negative scenario will inevitably come true. In particular, NATO should consider continuing its policy of tailored deterrence while refraining from steps that can lead to escalation themselves.

What Makes the Invasion Possible

Putin’s modern Ukraine policy originates from two basic assumptions about Russia’s relations with the West after the end of the Cold War. The first assumption is based on the broken promise narrative. According to Mary Sarotte, the Soviet Union did expect that NATO would not move eastward, whereas German Foreign Minister Genscher did promise that NATO “would not expand itself to the East.” The assurances have never been codified. However, NATO’s close military cooperation with Ukraine is viewed by Russia as violating the spirit of the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany of 1990. The historical fear of an attack from the West makes this perception even more vivid. The second assumption is that protests, revolutions, and major political shifts in the post-Soviet space can usually be attributed to Western malicious intentions. The 2014 pro-European revolution in Ukraine is therefore referred to by Moscow as a coup d’état. As unpleasant as they are, the two preconceived notions have a substantial impact on Russian foreign policy, leading the Kremlin to take radical military and diplomatic steps.

Further, Russia’s previous behaviors indicate that Moscow can actually use force against its neighbors, which means that military scenarios should be given serious consideration. It is known that Russia used military force to take control of Crimea in 2014, as President Putin admitted Russia’s involvement and disclosed secrets of the “takeover plot” quite a while ago. It is also known that Russia occupied large swaths of Georgia in 2008, even though Russia’s sovereignty was not directly threatened by skirmishes in South Ossetia. It is presumed, yet denied by Russia, that Moscow has been directly engaged in the Donbas War, which began in mid-2014.

More importantly, Russia has a record of denying its role in crises where Russia’s involvement was suspected by others from the outset. It is only in April 2014 that Putin admitted responsibility for the takeover of Crimea that had taken place between late February and early March. A more recent example of deception is Russia’s anti-satellite test in November 2021. Initially, the Vice-Chair of the Defense Committee in Russia’s Parliament said that “[t]here is no limit to the fantasies of the State Department. Russia is not engaged in the militarization of space.” Foreign Minister Lavrov speculated that “there is no evidence.” Later that day, Russia’s Defense Ministry admitted that the test had been conducted. There are even more cases of Moscow’s presumed malicious activities where Russia has never admitted its role. Those include the Donbas War, the downing of MH17 in July 2014, and the poisoning of Skripal and Navalny.

Given this record, Russia’s assurances that no invasion is being planned cannot be taken at face value. Moreover, Russian officials have made a number of worrisome statements recently. Since late November, President Putin has been calling for “security guarantees” from the West to prevent further NATO enlargement. On November 22, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service released a statement on the tensions over Ukraine, saying that “[w]e observed a similar situation in Georgia on the eve of the events of 2008.”

Rationality, Restraint, and History Lessons

Yet, it may seem that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would be contrary to Russia’s interests, which is in fact true. A fait accompli along the lines of the 2014 takeover of Crimea is no longer possible, as Ukraine’s Army has been forged in the combats of Donbas. The covert war scenario for an entire country does not seem feasible either. Not only would an invasion result in numerous casualties for both sides, but it would also constitute a drain on Russia’s budget for years to come. A brutal war against Ukraine would literally destroy Moscow’s “fraternal peoples” narrative underlying much of Russian foreign policy.

The irrationality of attacking Ukraine is not the only reason why risks for NATO in the current situation may be exaggerated. Although Russia has used military force in a few notable cases, there have been even more examples of Russia’s restraint. In 2018, Russia refrained from attempting to keep in power Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan in a revolution that was framed by many as inherently pro-Western. Russia did not take sides in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, even though Azerbaijan was explicitly supported by NATO member Turkey. Russia was sticking to a “wait and see” approach during much of the attempted revolution in Belarus in 2020. Finally, Russia has tolerated coups and revolutions in Central Asia, including most recently the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2020. In other words, understanding what Russia could have done but chose not to do is no less important than the awareness of what has indeed occurred. Russia is not inherently expansionist, and the domino logic does not apply.

However, this in no way means that an invasion of Ukraine is impossible. Irrational, previously unknown, and even “impossible” events tend to occur from time to time, as the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated 80 years ago. Even crazier twists and turns have probably been averted thanks to diplomacy and deterrence. This is why contingency planning is an integral part of any foreign and defense policy. NATO’s goal is to preempt, prevent, and be prepared for an invasion rather than predict whether it will happen or not.

Way Forward

While a full-scale invasion of Ukraine has not been launched, Western policy can rely on traditional deterrence instruments tailored to the crisis in question. In doing so, the United States and its allies should not act as though an invasion were inevitable, which it is not. NATO’s response to the current tensions should be very limited and focused, yet commensurate with the Western interest in countering Russian adventurism and short of upending the status quo for no apparent reason. First, the U.S. and its allies may continue providing military aid to Ukraine and even increase it, which is in line with previous policies. That said, troop deployments in Ukraine and enhanced military presence in the Black Sea would not be helpful, as such measures could alienate Russia without providing any benefits to the West. Second, NATO should dissuade Ukraine from attacking first, as Georgia did in 2008. Russia should be put in a position where any attack it might undertake would be unprovoked and very explicit. However, NATO should find it in its interest to refrain from providing any specific guarantees to Ukraine. The nature of Ukraine-Russia tensions makes provocations on both sides highly likely; assurances and alliances would only heighten risks, boosting Ukraine’s and Russia’s self-confidence.

A full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine is possible. Still, it is neither inevitable nor likely. When everyone takes war for granted, the question arises whether the United States still has a foreign policy capable of fostering a positive environment for the prosperity of the American people.

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