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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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Russia, Turkey and the new geopolitical reality

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Putin erdogan sochi

The recent Russia – Turkey summit in Sochi, even though yielding no tangible outcomes (as became clear well before it, the summit would  not result in the signing of any agreements), has evoked a lot of speculation – ranging from assumptions of the “failure” of talks to fairly optimistic forecasts for the future of bilateral relations.

What can be seen as a clear result of the meeting is that the two sides acknowledged readiness for further dialogue. A dialogue is vital also in view of the fact that western countries have been curtailing their military and political presence in the region, which has thus led to the formation of a terrorist state in Afghanistan.

According to Sergei Lavrov, terrorist threat persists and has even been intensifying in Idlib: «Terrorist groups operating from beyond the Idlib de-escalation zone continue to attack the positions of the Syrian army, what’s more, they have been trying to act against the Russian contingent», – the Russian foreign minister told a news conference following talks with his Egyptian counterpart, after the summit in Sochi. A solution to the problem lies, he said, in “complete implementation of the agreements signed by Presidents Putin  and  Erdogan to the effect that terrorists, first of all, from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, should be isolated regardless of whatever new slogans they might come up with and for the purpose of quelling all these terrorist groups”.

As a final agreement on de-escalation in Idlib is expected to be reached, sources report a build-up of Syrian army forces along the Syrian side of the demarcation line, on the one hand, and a concentration of Turkish military groups, on the other (whereas after talks in Sochi the Turkish military started to retreat to the north – A.I.) Opposition representatives have been making aggressive statements again, even though in Sochi, Dmitry Peskov said,  the two sides reiterated their “commitment to earlier agreements, underscored the need to implement  these agreements by clearing Idlib of terrorist groups which  were still there and which could pose a threat and  launch a fierce attack against the Syrian army”.

Turkey keeps accusing Russia of breaching a ceasefire agreement for the northwest of Syria of March 5, 2020, while Russia maintains that Turkey is not acting on its commitments and that it is unable (or unwilling? – A.I.) to separate terrorists from armed opposition. For these mutual accusations the two presidents use politically correct statements, while their discontent over the situation is articulated by foreign ministers, press secretaries and MPs.

In brief, Moscow’s position is as follows: Bashar Assad is a legally elected head of the Syrian Arab Republic, the territorial integrity of which is beyond doubt.  A compromise with Damascus calls for similar steps from the opponents, whereas confrontation in Idlib and in other hot spots across Syria should be the responsibility of countries whose troops are deployed there without the approval of the UN or without invitation from official Damascus. These countries are known – the United States and Turkey.

While Moscow and Ankara are often at odds over the Sunni opposition, their attitudes to Kurdish nationalists are less of a clash. Moscow sees them as “mere” separatists who “have not been lost” for Damascus, while Ankara describes them as terrorists that should be eliminated or neutralized by a buffer zone which Turkey has been building and strengthening for several years.

Some experts and politicians believe that this will last forever. In 1920, the already not quite Ottoman but not yet Turkish Parliament adopted the so-called National Vow, which specified that New Turkey would include Syrian and Iraqi territories, which currently border Turkey. Even though the move failed, the National Vow is still, if only unofficially, seen as a founding ideological document of the Turkish Republic, the implementation of which cements the authority of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Moreover, areas occupied by the Turkish army (which make up more than 10% of the Syrian territory) are used for accommodating Syrian refugees, of which there are over three and a half million in Turkey proper. Turks’ growing discontent over the presence of such “guests” is adding to social instability. A new influx could trigger a public outcry in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023.

In all likelihood, Ankara believes that any serious concessions in Idlib will entail the collapse of the entire “buffer zone” project and will invalidate three military operations and the multimillion investments. In addition, it will bring back “the Kurdish issue”, destroy the image of Turkey as a trustworthy ally, and will inflict irreparable damage on the reputation of the incumbent authorities.

Nevertheless, Cumhuriyet observer Mehmet Ali Guller argues that Erdogan suggested readiness to make concessions when he said: «We agree that the time has come to secure a final and lasting solution to the Syrian issue. We announced that we are open for any realistic and fair steps in this direction».

From our point of view, there is nothing about “concessions” in what Erdogan says but what is clear is that he is, if only unwillingly, beginning to accept The Syrian reality. After years of demanding the removal of Bashar Assad, the Turkish leadership no longer issues statements to this effect, though it refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the incumbent regime (contacts at intelligence agency level do not count), promising to withdraw troops only after the establishment of “democratic rule” in Syria. But democracy as seen through the Middle East realities is something vague and unclear.

Furthermore, Erdogan is forced to “re-evaluate values” by a growing tension in relations with western allies. The Turkish president, after years of speaking strongly in favor of American presence in Syria, is now calling for the withdrawal of the  American contingent from the country.

A consolidated position of Ankara’s western partners on Russia-Turkey relations was formulated by Die Zeit: during talks with the Russian leader in Sochi Erdogan played the role of a “requestor”, since he “missed a decisive factor – the West”, which he needs as “a critically important partner, which makes it possible for Ankara not to bow to Russia”. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu did not agree to that: «We are a NATO member, on the one hand, but on the other hand, our relations with Russia are progressing…..Why should we make a choice [between them]?».

«It’s no secret that Ankara’s and Moscow’s interests in the region do not  coincide…..[but] The positive responses of the two countries’ leaders on the results of talks in Sochi suggest that Moscow and Ankara are prepared to remove all misunderstandings by dialogue», – Ilyas Kemaloglu, political analyst with Marmara University, says. Haberturk Media Holding observer Cetiner Cetin argues that American troops’ “flight” from Afghanistan and their gradual departure from other regions is creating a new geopolitical reality, which means that “Turkey might continue to distance itself from NATO in order to find itself among top players within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization”.

While economic ties between Russia and Turkey are mostly problem-free, the political relations are often an issue. However, every time they meet, Putin and Erdogan manage not only to “quell” conflict, but to make a way for cooperation. The reason is that the two countries, despite their tactical differences, share the strategic goals: diktat of the West is unacceptable, the leading role in the East should belong to regional powers. As long as we share these goals, a Russia-Turkey alliance will be beneficial for both parties.

From our partner International Affairs

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The 30th Anniversary of the Renewal of Diplomatic Relations Between Russia and Israel

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Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey V. Lavrov’s article for the Israeli Newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth” dedicated to the 30th Anniversary of the Renewal of Diplomatic Relations Between Russia and Israel, October 15, 2021.

On October 18, Russia and Israel celebrate the 30th anniversary of the renewal of full-fledged diplomatic relations – the beginning of a new era of common history.

Turning to the pages of the past, let me recall that the USSR was the first country to recognize de jure the State of Israel back in May 1948. Of course, there were ups and downs in the chronicle of our relationship. Today, it could be assessed with confidence that Russian-Israeli mutually beneficial cooperation has stood the test of time and continues to actively develop in all directions.

Its foundation is formed by an intensive political dialogue, foremost – at the highest level. Inter-parliamentary contacts are progressing, bolstered by Friendship Groups established in the legislative bodies of our countries. Inter-ministerial communications are carried out on a regular basis.

Over the past decades, a solid experience of diversified cooperation has been accumulated in such spheres as economics, science and technology, healthcare and education. More than twenty acting intergovernmental agreements reflect the richness of the bilateral agenda.

Our mutual practical cooperation has significant potential. A number of joint projects are being successfully implemented. Many initiatives have received the support of the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel. The interest of Israeli business circles in entering the Russian market continues to grow. Despite the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, by the end of 2020 trade between Russia and Israel decreased by only 3.9%, and in January-July this year it increased by 51.8% over the previous year’s period. The key coordinating mission in these common efforts is fulfilled by the Joint Russian-Israeli Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation, founded in 1994. We are interested in the early resumption of its work in full.

A special role in strengthening the unifying baselines of our relations as well as ensuring their stability and continuity belongs to humanitarian contacts. We appreciate the high level of mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and Israel, connected by a common historical memory and convergence of cultures. It is encouraging that this thread, which has no geographic boundaries, is only getting stronger in course of time.

There are millions of Russian-speaking compatriots living in Israel, including descendants both from the former Republics of the USSR and from the Russian Federation. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War, survivors of the siege, former prisoners of concentration camps are among them. The fate of these people is of major interest to us.

Most vigorous rejection of the attempts of historical revisionism, combatting the distortion of the genesis, course and generally recognized international legal outcomes of the World War II have always united Russia and Israel. We will continue to coordinate our efforts, and specifically at the UN, to counter this shameful phenomenon.

While in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe Nazi henchmen are being brought to the level of national heroes and neo-Nazi tendencies are being revived, the memory of the decisive contribution of the heroic soldiers of the Red Army to the Victory over Nazism, the saving of Jews and other peoples from extermination, the liberation of the world from the horrors of the Holocaust is sacred in Israel. We see how Israeli colleagues – at the state and public levels – encourage the activities of the veterans and compatriots movements, conduct active work to educate the younger generation.

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the law on Celebrating the Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9, approved by the Israeli parliament in 2017. It is particularly telling that on the 76th anniversary of the Great Victory, celebrated this year, festive events and commemorative parades along with the Immortal Regiment march were held in more than 45 Israeli cities. Thousands of Israelis of all ages as well as officials participated. This scale speaks for itself.

Cooperation in the field of education and science – whether through student and academic exchanges or joint scientific research continues to move forward. Every year, students from Israel get an opportunity to receive higher education in Russian universities. All of them are sincerely welcome there.

We hope that it will be possible to restore mutual tourist flows as soon as the sanitary and epidemiological situation improves. Russia is traditionally one of the top three countries in terms of the number of visitors to Israel.

The Russian-Israeli dialogue is vigorously advancing through the foreign ministries. It is obvious that without constructive interaction of diplomats it is impossible to solve a number of international and regional problems that are of paramount importance both for ensuring the prosperous future of the peoples of Russia and Israel just as for strengthening international and regional security and stability. From this perspective, diversified contacts between the Security Councils and the defense ministries of our countries have also proven themselves well. On a regular basis it allows us to compare approaches and take into account each other’s legitimate interests.

Russia is pursuing an independent multi-vector foreign policy, contemplating pragmatism, the search for compromises and the observance of balances of interests. Creation of the most favorable external conditions for our internal socio-economic development remains its backbone. We have no ideological likes and dislikes, or any taboos in relations with our foreign partners, therefore we can play an active role in the international arena and specifically through mediation in the settlement of conflicts.

We are interested in continuing consultations with our Israeli partners on security and stability issues in the Middle East. We always draw attention to the fact that comprehensive solutions to the problems of the region must necessarily take into account the security interests of Israel. This is a matter of principle.

At the same time, we are convinced that there is no alternative to the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a generally recognized international legal basis. We strongly support direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. A comprehensive solution to all issues of the final status is possible only through it. We are ready to work with Israeli colleagues, including multilateral formats, primarily in the context of the renewal of work of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators in close cooperation with representatives of the Arab League.

I am convinced: it is in the common interest to maintain the momentum. Ahead of us are new milestones and additional opportunities not only to continue, but also to enrich the positive experience of multifaceted cooperation for the benefit of our states and peoples, in the interests of peace and stability.

Source: Minister of Foreign Affairs

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The Emerging “Eastern Axis” and the Future of JCPOA

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Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh recently said that Tehran would further strengthen its ties with Moscow via a strategic partnership. Said Khatibzadeh  ‘The initial arrangements of this document, entitled the Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia, have been concluded’

    This agreement will be similar in nature to the agreement signed by Iran with China in March 2021, dubbed as the strategic cooperation pact, which sought to enhance economic and strategic relations (China would invest 400 Billion USD in infrastructure and oil and gas sector while also strengthening security ties). Commenting on the same, Khatibzadeh also said that an ‘Eastern axis’ is emerging between Russia, Iran and China.

    Closer ties with Russia are important from an economic, strategic point of view, and also to reduce Iran’s dependence upon China (many including Iran’s Foreign Minister had been critical of the 25 year agreement saying that it lacked transparency). Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the eve of his Russia visit from October 5-6th, 2021 also stated that Iran while strengthening ties would not want to be excessively dependent upon either country.

Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to Russia

    Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian  during his Russia visit  discussed a host of issues with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov including the current situation in Afghanistan, South Caucasus, Syria and the resumption of the Vienna negotiations.

Russia and Iran have been working closely on Afghanistan (on October 20, 2021 Russia is hosting talks involving China, India, Iran and Pakistan with the Taliban).

It is also important to bear in mind, that both Russia and Iran have flagged the non-inclusive nature of the Taliban Interim government. Russia has in fact categorically stated that recognition of Taliban was not on the table. Said the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly,   ‘the whole gamut of Afghan society — ethno-religious and political forces — so we are engaging in contacts, they are ongoing.’

China’s approach vis-à-vis Afghanistan

Here it would be pertinent to point out, that China’s stance vis-à-vis Afghanistan is not identical to that of Moscow and Tehran. Beijing while putting forward its concerns vis-à-vis the use of Afghan territory for terrorism and support to Uyghur separatist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), has repeatedly said that there should be no external interference, and that Afghanistan should be allowed to decide its future course. China has also spoken in favor of removal of sanctions against the Taliban, and also freeing the reserves of the Afghan Central Bank (estimated at well over 9 Billion USD), which had been frozen by the US after the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

If one were to look at the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA/Iran Nuclear deal, Russia has been urging Iran to get back to the Vienna negotiations on the one hand (these negotiations have been on hold since June), while also asking the US to return to its commitments, it had made under the JCPOA, and also put an end to restriction on Iran and its trading partners.

Conversation between US Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister

The important role of Russia is reiterated by the conversation between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with Russian Foreign Minister. Angela Merkel during her visit to Israel also made an important point that both China and Russia had an important role to play as far as getting Iran back on JCPOA is concerned. What is also interesting is that US has provided a waiver to the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia and Germany. The US has opposed the project, but the Department of State said waiving these sanctions was in US national interest. Both Germany and Russia welcomed this decision.

In conclusion, while there is no doubt that Russia may have moved closer to China in recent years, its stance on Afghanistan as well as it’s important role in the context of resumption of Vienna negotiations highlight the fact that Moscow is not keen to play second fiddle to Beijing. The Biden Administration in spite of its differences has been engaging closely with Moscow (a number of US analysts have been arguing for Washington to adopt a pragmatic approach vis-à-vis Russia and to avoid hyphenating Moscow with Beijing).  In the given geopolitical landscape, Washington would not be particularly averse to Tehran moving closer to Russia. While the Iranian spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh spoke about a Eastern axis emerging between Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, it would be pertinent to point out, that there are differences on a number of issues between Moscow and Beijing. The Russia-Iran relationship as well as US engagement with Russia on a number of important geopolitical issues underscores the pitfalls of viewing geopolitics from simplistic binaries.

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