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

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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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.

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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Meet Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s new Prime Minister

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Plucked from obscurity and little known in wide national political scene, the Head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail Mishustin, to become the new Prime Minister was a complete surprise, but not the first time in Russia’s politics. President Vladimir Putin was pulled upto the top political field, in a similar way, by Boris Yeltsin. In August 1999, Putin was appointed one of three First Deputy Prime Ministers, and later on, was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation by Yeltsin.

Yeltsin announced that he wanted to see Putin as his successor. Readily, Putin agreed to run for the presidency and later approved by State Duma with 233 votes in favor (vs. 84 against, 17 abstained), while a simple majority of 226 was required, making him Russia’s fifth PM in fewer than eighteen months.

On his appointment, few expected Putin, virtually unknown to the general public, to last any longer than his predecessors. He was initially regarded as a Yeltsin loyalist, like other prime ministers of Boris Yeltsin, Putin did not choose ministers himself, his cabinet was determined by the presidential administration.

Now, with a new chapter opening, Mikhail Mishustin eventually replaces Dmitry Medvedev who served as Prime Minister until mid-January 2020. Putin and Medvedev worked together and even switched positions between President and Prime Minister. This switch was termed by many in the media as “Rokirovka”, the Russian term for the chess move “casting” and later Medvedev said he himself would be ready to perform “practical work in the government” with under Putin.

On January 15, in his address to the Federal Assembly, Putin explicitly explained: “Our society is clearly calling for change. People want development, where they live and work, that is, in cities, districts, villages and all across the nation. The pace of change must be expedited every year and produce tangible results in attaining worthy living standards that would be clearly perceived by the people. And, I repeat, they must be actively involved in this process.”

Meeting with the Cabinet thereafter, Putin said: “For my part, I also want to thank you for everything that has been done so far in our joint work. I am satisfied with the results of your work. Of course, not everything was accomplished, but things never work out in full.” He thanked the government and added that Medvedev served as President and for almost eight years now he has been the Prime Minister, which is probably the longest stint in this post in Russia’s recent history.

Further, Putin held a separate working meeting with Head of the Federal Taxation Service Mikhail Mishustin and proposed him to take the post of Prime Minister. Having received his consent, the President submitted the candidacy of Mikhail Mishustin for consideration to the State Duma.

On January 16, the State Duma (lower house) endorsed Mishustin, as the new Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. As many as 383 lawmakers supported Putin’s choice, none were against, and 41 parliamentarians abstained. “Colleagues, the decision has been taken. We have given consent to the appointment of Mishustin Mikhail Vladimirovich as Prime Minister by the president of the Russian Federation,” Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said, summing up the results of the vote.

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree appointing Mikhail Mishustin as the country’s Prime Minister. “In accordance with Article 83(a) of the Russian Constitution, Mikhail Vladimirovich Mishustin is appointed as Russia’s Prime Minister,” says the decree published on the Kremlin’s website. The decree comes into force on the day of its signing.

Mikhail Mishustin was born on March 3, 1966 in Moscow to a father of Russian-Jewish origin and a mother of Russian origin. He completed postgraduate studies in 1992. He is married and has three sons. His interest is in sport, playing ice hockey. He is a member of the supervisory board of HC CSKA Moscow.

In 2003, he defended a thesis, headlined “Mechanism of state fiscal management in Russia” and received a PhD in economics. In 2010, he received a doctoral degree in economics at the Academy of National Economy under the Government of the Russian Federation (currently Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration).

Since graduation, he has worked in several enterprises. In February 2009, he joined the personnel reserve of the President of Russia. In 2010, Mikhail Mishustin was appointed as the Head of the Federal Tax Service (FTS). From 2011-2018, he was a member of the Presidential Council for Financial Market Development.

During this period, the tax service was criticized for its overly strict approach to business, and Mishustin rejected this accusation, citing a significant reduction in the number of inspections. So, with the arrival of Mishustin in 2010, the Federal tax service changed its approach to the organization of control events, focusing on analytical work.

As a result, the number of on-site tax audits has sharply decreased, while their efficiency has increased. If earlier every tenth taxpayer was checked, in 2018, the tax authorities checked only one small business company out of 4,000. The number of inspections of large and medium-sized businesses has also decreased significantly.

“This candidacy comes absolutely unexpectedly, but that does not mean he is a figure who brings about repulsion. Perhaps even the contrary. Not all fiscal heads are likeable and agreeable. In my view, Mishustin is largely seen by the public as agreeable,” Federation Council Deputy Speaker Ilyas Umakhanov told Interfax News Agency.

“This is yet more proof that our president relies on professionals at this difficult, critical moment when the country needs a qualitative leap, primarily in the economic sphere. This is down to new technology, digitalization; this is precisely where Mishustin made a mark as the Russian tax chief. He has huge experience under his belt, which has been embedded into the system,” added Umakhanov.

First Deputy Head of the Federation Council Committee for the Budget and Financial Markets Sergei Ryabukhin, for his part, described Mishustin as a very successful public administrator. “A top professional, a very big statesman and individual who has achieved great successes within the system of public administration in the tax and financial sphere. I think his is a good candidacy,” according to Ryabukhin.

According to experts, the surprise shake-up could have been triggered by launching a reset of the Russian political system and the upcoming power shift. Political Analyst Konstantin Kalachev believes that Putin’s decision to pick Mishustin as the new premier is related to his political neutrality, and he is also known in the business and corporate community. However, the new head of the government is unlikely to become Putin’s successor.

All officials interviewed by Vedomosti have described the choice as a surprise but a good one. Taxation is the only sector that has demonstrated a breakthrough in Russia’s state administration. The Russian Tax Service is one of the best in the world in terms of collecting taxes and developing technologies, an official linked to the financial system said. Mishustin is well-known in the government as a good administrator and his service was a lifesaver during the crisis, according to several media reports.

Mishustin is tasked with fulfilling Putin’s economic program, namely the National Projects to the tune of 26 trillion rubles ($424 billion) up to 2024. The program’s slow implementation and weak economic growth were among the reasons Medvedev’s government came under fire, the paper says. Mishustin’s major achievement is turning the tax-collecting agency into a service tool, said Partner at Taxology Alexei Artyukh.

He reformed the administration of major taxpayers and businesses can coordinate deals in advance in exchange for the Federal Tax Service’s access to companies’ accounting systems. If these approaches are extended to other services, this would result in huge progress, Alexei Artyukh said.

Kommersant, a local Russian newspaper, reported that Russia would remain as a strong presidential republic, and all the upcoming changes are linked to the the upcoming presidential election in 2024. Unreservedly, Mishustin stated during a plenary session of the State Duma that Russia has sufficient funds to achieve all goals set by President Vladimir Putin. Implementation of all the social obligations the president enumerated in his State of the Nation Address would require $64.8 billion.

Russia, with the largest territory in the world, has a wide natural resource base, including major deposits of timber, petroleum, natural gas, coal, ores and other mineral resources that can be used to support the expected economic development and raise the overall living standards of the population.

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INCORVUZ-XXI: Past, Present and Future

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In the Soviet days, many foreign countries especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America trained their professional and specialists in the Soviet Union. It contributed to human resource development for these countries. According to information made available, the higher educational institutions of Russia and the former USSR trained over 700,000 foreign specialists (excluding graduates of military educational institutions).

The creation of associations of foreign graduates began in the second half of the 1960s, when the first national associations were formed in Sri Lanka (1966) and Nepal (1967). In the 70s, this process accelerated, associations were established in Lebanon, Mongolia, Ghana, Morocco, Finland and other countries.

Currently, national associations of graduates exist in nearly 70 countries, including the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), for example in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and Kazakhstan), so also in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The need to coordinate the activities of graduate associations, therefore started in the late 1980s and was realized as a result of the creation in 1989 of the International Corporation of Graduates of Soviet Educational Institutions, simply referred to as Incorvuz. Decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR No. 483 of May 17, 1990. The regulation on the Corporation’s activities in the USSR was approved and its status as an international non-governmental organization was consolidated.

Incorvuz Corporation laid the foundations for interaction with national associations of graduates and developed the main forms of work. In February 2001, in accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation “On Non-Profit Organizations”, the non-profit partnership “International Coordinating Council of Graduates of Educational Institutions (INCORVUZ-XXI)” was established instead of Incorvuz Corporation.

Currently, the partnership includes national associations of graduates from 38 countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. Chairman – Academician Kostomarov V.G., Deputy Chairman – Ex-Deputy Minister of Education of the PRC Liu Limin. The leadership of the Council since 2015 includes the Alumni Associations of Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Jordan, China, Lebanon, Poland and Ethiopia.

INCORVUZ-XXI, in official consultative relations with UNESCO, has special consultative status of the UN Economic and Social Council, it cooperates and has contractual relations with international, foreign and Russian state and public bodies.

Over the years, the key focus has been the examination of documents on education, academic degrees and advanced training courses received by foreign citizens in universities of the Russian Federation and the issuance on their basis of relevant certificates of international recognition in accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO Conventions.

INCORVUZ-XXI regularly organizes and holds cross exhibitions of higher education in Hubei Province (China), in Moscow (2014) and exhibitions of Russian universities in Wuhan (China) in 2015. It participated in the unveiling of a monument to A.S. Pushkin, the famous Russian poet, in the city of Agadir (Morocco) in 2015, participated in organizing and conducting regional meetings of graduates in Ulan Bator and Amman (2016), the Forum of People’s Diplomacy in Belgorod (2016).

The global movement of foreign graduates of Russian universities is expanding due to new participants. In recent years, members of the organization have become national associations of graduates of Algeria, Israel, Uganda, Belgorod State University Alumni Club. The number of individual partners participating in the INCORVUZ-XXI Alumni World League Program is growing. Events dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Nepal Alumni Association (Mitra Kunj) were held in a festive atmosphere.

Despite its achievements, there are challenges that face the organization. As always, the planning and implementation of new projects are strictly limited by the financial capabilities of an organization that exists on the basis of self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, national associations of graduates in all regions of the world are experiencing an increasing shortage of personnel, because a new generation of graduates prefers virtual communication, which in turn leads to a loss of continuity in work and damages the activities of public organizations.

The strategic vision for organization’s further development, among others, is the Partnership Board hopes for success in the ambitious task of creating an African Regional Union of National Alumni Associations. The problem has remained very relevant for many years, because previous attempts to organize and hold such a forum, first in the Congo and then in Ethiopia, have remained unrealized. INCORVUZ-XXI would very much like to see as many representatives of the African region, as possible, among the participants in various on-going projects, so also Soviet and Russian graduates in regions of Asia and Latin America.

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Will Russia become the brother in arms with Iran?

Punsara Amarasinghe

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The killing of Iranian leader of famous Quds force Gen.Qasem Soleimani in Bagdad seems to have made an apocalyptic move in the beginning of this new decade as some critics have already viewed this incident similar to the the assassination of Austrian crown prince Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo which paved the path to the First World War in 1914. Perhaps, the assumption could be an exaggeration with the balance of power in the world in early 20th century and now, but certainly the aftermath consequences of death of Soleimani could escalate severe political turmoil that might lead to a grave crisis. The deteriorating relations between Iran and the US in past months have clearly suggested that the killing of Soleimani was not entirely an abrupt situation, but a culminating act of a serious of disturbing events between the two countries. The statement issued by Iranian supreme leader vowing to revenge indicates the wounded pride of a nation, yet the it is disputable whether Iran would retaliate without concerning the strength of the US war machinery that could bring catastrophic effects to the whole country. However, it is a fact beyond doubt, Iran is a regional power with a strong war machinery which has been trained for any military encounter for years and this military and technological sophistication have made Iran a unique example from any country that the US had gone to war since the end of Second World War. But, it seems to indicate that Iran is likely to choose asymmetrical escalation through using proxies or small group attack on American targets to deter Washington.

On the other hand, the main assumption that has fascinated many armchair critics is that Russia will unconditionally assist Iran in any military campaign against the USA. This argument can be bolstered by examining the political affinity between Teheran and Moscow in the recent past. In particular, when Iran was threatened by Trump in last May, it was Moscow who made an official statement in supporting Teheran and also Russia is clearly aware of the importance of keeping Iranian regime without allowing external forces to cripple it, because Iranian stability is a paramount factor of deterring the US and its involvement in the middle east. More importantly both Moscow and Tehran have strengthened their ties for common cause of protecting Assad’s regime in Syria. Furthermore, Russia’s recent involvement in global politics from its relative passivism during Yeltsin’s era have given a signal to its ultimate ambition becoming a global player. This agenda was brought by president Putin in 2007 in his Munich speech showing his antipathy over a “unipolar” world, in other words his denial of US domination in word politics. The audacious conduct of Iran and its military mechanism as a strong state is Russia’s major knight in the Middle East that Moscow does not want to lose. In fact, it was just several days before the killing of Soleimani Iranian, Russian and Chinese naval forces conducted a joint naval exercise in Gulf of Oman. Also deceased general Soleimani was regarded by Moscow as an astute strategist who played a cardinal role in making Russian military presence when Syrian army was in a decaying stage in 2015. Russia’s air strikes finally changed the game and Soleimani made one more visit to Moscow in 2017, this reportedly was to discuss Russia’s bilateral cooperation with Sunni monarchies in Persian Gulf. This background is a good evidence to suggest the dismay of Iranian general to a major blow to Moscow as a loss of a shrewd strategic thinker who could have been further used as a proxy for Russian involvement in the middle east.

However, still it is bit of a hyperbolic assumption to think that Moscow would directly lead her armies to support Iran or encouraging such a military confrontation between the US and Iran. Regardless Moscow has been vociferous in criticising the macho gesture of Trump administration for killing Soleimani, so far it has maintained its silence of what Russia will really do about it. Unconditional military pact with Tehran seems to be a fancy idea to revive old Soviet super power status as how it protected Cuba, yet the political reality piercing Moscow is something bitter. It convinces that any military confrontation Teheran world launch against the US will be devastating blow that would simply weaken the Iranian regime and this will lead to undermine Iran’s role in supporting Assad’s regime. Furthermore, the rapport built by Moscow in the Middle East with Iranian rivals such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and even Israel can become adversaries again leading to an unmitigated disaster of Putin’s grand strategy of keeping ties with American allies in the middle east. These circumstances will create twilight scenario to assess any possible moves by Moscow. Another notable factor emerged after the death of Soleimani is the rapid increase of the oil price as the price of a barrel jumped from 2 US dollars to 69 US dollars and being one of prime oil producers this situation has created a sudden financial benefit for Russia. All in all, Russia’s next move would not definitely be a blatant military assistance to Teheran as a brother in arms. But, Russia is likely to play a key role through its diplomatic means to impede any crisis that would be detrimental to its ally Iran.

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