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Russia–India Relations: Successes and Prospects

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On January 26, the people of India will celebrate the Republic Day. Seventy years ago, on January 26, 1950, the Constitution of India entered into force, proclaiming the country a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic. This year is a double anniversary for the country — 90 years ago, on January 26, 1930, the Indian National Congress that led the national liberation movement officially declared fighting for India’s complete independence of the British Empire as its goal.

India has much to celebrate on the 70th anniversary on the Republic. In 2000 and 2017 alone, the country’s economy grew 3.3 times, whilst its contribution to the gross world product in terms of purchasing power parity in 2017 (7.4 per cent) became the world’s third-largest after China and the United States’ respective indicators. Its armed forces are the world’s fourth-strongest behind the United States, Russia and China. India has nuclear missiles and a space programme comparable to those of Europe, China and Japan. The technological breakthrough made by the country has been particularly evident in the rapid development of information technologies. Since the early 2000s, India has been the world leader in IT exports and has dominated the global IT outsourcing market.

Russia and India are close friends and partners. It is not only a matter of common roots: the Russian words for “mother” (mat’), “brother” (brat), “fire” (ogon’), “light” (svet) and even “husband’s brother” (dever) and “husband’s father” (svyokor) are virtually the same in Sanskrit, from which all Northern Indian languages originate. The Russians did not go to India to conquer it. The images of the faraway magical land of India inspired Russian thinkers, poets, composers and artists. The cultural influence was mutual: Leo Tolstoy’s great influence on the views of Mahatma Gandhi is well known.

In the seven-plus decades of their diplomatic relations, Moscow and New Delhi have successfully built stable strategic, military, economic and diplomatic ties. Thousands of Russians took part in building industrial facilities in India. Military equipment manufactured in Russia accounts for a significant part of the arsenal of the Indian Armed Forces. Tens of thousands of Indian engineers, doctors and other professionals have been educated in Russian universities. Russian and Indian scientists have close ties, and their joint work spans a large number of fields, from applied medicine to space exploration. Indian tea, coffee, spices, medications and other consumer goods are extremely popular in Russia.

Regardless of their outward differences, Russia and India face many similar tasks both domestically and internationally. Domestically, both need to ensure inter-ethnic and social harmony within multimillion, poly-ethnic, and poly-denominational states. The examples of Kashmir and Chechnya helped the two countries gain an insight into the evils of aggressive nationalism, religious extremism, terrorism and separatism sooner and more clearly than others.

Opposition to the attempts to establish unipolar leadership in global affairs also deserves mention. Russia and India are democratic states that adhere to the principles of democracy in their domestic affairs, which in turn determines their general commitment to democratic conduct in international affairs. India was among the countries that were instrumental in the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement, which as early as the first years of the 1960s was pointing the international community in the direction of the polycentric word order that is so actively discussed today.

Russia and India are also united by the fact that Muslims form the second-largest denominational community in both states. And we are not talking recent migrants, as in Western Europe today, but rather people who have for centuries lived side-by-side with Orthodox Christians in Russia, and with followers of Hinduism and other Indian religions in India. Russia and India’s long-standing engagement with Islamic history, and their geographic proximity to the leading Islamic states, determine both the special place of the two countries when it comes to the most urgent issues that concern the Islamic world today and their special role in handling problems related to the Middle East, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

From the very beginning, the independent India set itself the goal of becoming a leading global power. However, for a long time, its international actions were bolstered solely by its moral authority and the support of friendly Asian and African non-aligned states. To join the “major league of international players,” it needed powerful economic, scientific, technological and military potential, something it has today.

India’s objective for the near future is to entrench itself as the key power of the region that spans the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. India hopes to overcome the negative geopolitical consequences of the 1947 division of the former British India into India and Pakistan along religious lines. Not only did this division result in the ongoing conflict with Islamabad over Kashmir, but it also cut India off from culturally related countries and its natural markets in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Iran and the Persian Gulf states.

The incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given New Delhi’s international activities in this area a measure of confidence and assertiveness. Since the early 1990s, governments in India have pursued the Look East policy, which involved expanding economic ties and political interaction with the states of Southeast Asia. Under Modi, Look East been transformed into the Act East Policy, which is intended to both stimulate India’s economic growth and align its strategic priorities with those of its leading partners in the Asia Pacific, namely Vietnam, the ASEAN as a whole, Japan and Australia. The Act East Policy is ultimately intended to expand and boost India’s regional and global role.

Look East is supplemented with Look West, which is geared toward the Persian Gulf states. This policy has several far-reaching goals. First, the Persian Gulf is a major economic partner, home to over 6 million Indians and the principal source of oil and gas. Second, the region has long-standing historical ties with India — not only is it close neighbour, it is also a connecting link with Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Third, “Look West,” as some analysts in India have noted, is also intended to give an impetus to changes in the relations with Islamabad in the future, when, instead of being a wall between India and the Persian Gulf region, Pakistan would become a kind of bridge between them. India, in turn, would become Pakistan’s “gateway” to Southeast Asia. India appears to be banking here on Pakistanis stepping over 70-year-old dogmas regarding Kashmir and eventually realizing that cooperation with India in the Persian Gulf could be far more profitable for them than confrontation. A reconciliation between India and Pakistan would have a significant economic effect both for regional economic integration and for broader interregional cooperation between the states of Central Asia, South Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Unlike the United States, Western European countries and China, Russia has never had a conflict of interests with India, nor is one likely to appear in the future. The increasing role of India—a country that is friendly towards Russia — in international affairs, be it globally or in the Middle, Near or Far East (given India’s significant economic presence in all those regions and a populous Indian community there) would objectively decrease the urgency of the foreign political challenges currently facing Russia.

Russia–India relations hold independent value for both countries. India is sympathetic to Russia’s international actions. During the Soviet era, New Delhi did not condemn the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Nor has it joined the chorus of those condemning Crimea’s incorporation into Russia today. New Delhi also supports Russia’s stance on Syria, declaring that it would never use sanctions against Moscow. Historically, India’s regional and global interests have largely coincided with those of Russia, rather than the other great powers. India’s most important and complicated foreign political issues are concentrated in its relations with China and Pakistan as it has been involved in armed conflicts with both countries. New Delhi understands that these issues cannot be resolved without Russia, just as the Look East and Look West policies cannot be fully implemented without Russia. It is no coincidence, for example, that Prime Minister Modi visited the 2019 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. He intends to expand India’s economic presence in the Russian Far East.

The situation is much the same with Look West, where India, among other things, is interested in Central Asia being free from extremism and terrorism. India is also interested in establishing the North–South Transport Corridor from the Arabian Sea to Western Europe. Russia has a defining role in both cases.

Neither the radical political and economic changes in Russia and India nor the general shifts in the global situation could stop new wrinkles and points of concern from being introduced into Russia–India relations. It is telling that Moscow and New Delhi refer to their relations as a privileged strategic partnership, rather than in terms of friendship and cooperation.

Proof of the strategic nature of this partnership can be found in the interaction between the two countries on key issues of international politics, as well as in the fact that, beyond politics, bilateral relations are driven by energy (including nuclear energy), military-technical cooperation and peaceful exploration of space, areas that are of strategic importance for any state.

India imports one third of the oil and gas it consumes and is investing heavily in the development of Russia’s energy resources. This fact is of special significance for Russia today, when the sanctions imposed on Russia mean that companies from the West are prohibited from participating in new Russian oil and gas projects, including those in the Arctic. India urgently needs to develop its nuclear sector, and Russia is the only foreign state that builds nuclear power plants there. Russia has made this decision in favour of a state that is not a party to the Non-proliferation Treaty because it trusts India and values the partnership it has with that country. Russia also supports India’s accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

India is the only country to have a long-term weapons cooperation programme with Russia in place. It is the only state that has received help from Russia in the development of a nuclear submarine project. India has also leased a nuclear submarine from Russia and purchased Russia-Israel-made AEW&C aircraft. The Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier was modernized for India, where it was renamed the Vikramaditya. The high-efficiency cruise missile BrahMos was developed jointly by the two countries, and a fifth-generation combat fighter aircraft is now being developed jointly as well. India is expected to be the only recipient of the high-precision GLONASS (Russia’s global navigation system) signal for the purposes of defence and security.

Seventy per cent of India’s military’s combat equipment was manufactured either in Russia or in India under Russian licenses. It is unlikely that India would allow itself to become so dependent on Russia in the military sphere if it did not have full confidence in the strategic partnership. But this is strategically important for Russia as well. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia’s defence complex found itself in dire financial straits. India alleviated the situation by placing large defence orders with Russia. In a sense, New Delhi forced the Russian defence industry to accelerate the modernization process by placing orders for equipment with highest technical requirements.

Russia–India communication is of great practical importance for Russia in terms of studying India’s experience and using it to solve a number of problems. I will dwell on only two examples. First, like Russia, India is a federative state. Its constitution clearly demarcates the powers of the central and local authorities. Russia would do well to study how India tackled such matters. The second issue pertains to financing the military. India’s military, the fourth-strongest in the world, is a contract force. Perhaps some Indian financing methods could be used in Russia.

In many ways, the long-standing Russia–India partnership has acquired a new quality over the past 25 years. Demonstrative declarations of friendship are a thing of the past. Without wasting time on ceremonial perorations, the two great powers collaborate on specific issues in order to meet both their individual and mutual interests.

The partnership between Russia and India is an integral component of global and regional developments. Today, the world is on the threshold of a new world order, with a polycentric political and multi-currency economic system. The new world order should ensure equality and mutual respect for the interests of large and small states in politics; mutual advantages and gains in economy; compatibility and mutual enrichment of civilizations in culture; mutual trust and cooperation in security; and a common responsibility in global issues. The specially privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India is called upon to make a significant contribution to building this world order.

From our partner RIAC

Russian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, RIAC Member, RIAC Vice-President

Russia

Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans

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Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.

Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.

Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.

With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.

“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.

In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.

Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.

On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.

At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”

President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.

“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.

In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.

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Nobody Wants a War in Donbass

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image source: euromaidanpress.com

Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.

On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.

On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.

There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.

As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.

I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.

Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.

To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.

The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.

The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.

I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.

From our partner RIAC

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Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom

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Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.

The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.

All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.

The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.

For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.

The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.

In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.

Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.

Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.

The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.

The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.

The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.

The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.

The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.

Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.

From our partner RIAC

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