Russian President Vladimir Putin raised more than a few eyebrows when –in the context of the early January 2020 edition of his state of the nation address– he announced his intention to implement constitutional reforms that would reshuffle the Russian political system. This move was even more intriguing considering the resignation of the entire Cabinet, including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (a figure that, until not long ago, was seen by many as Putin’s potential successor). Consequently, even traditional ‘Kremlinologists’ are somewhat baffled and there has been a lot of speculation concerning the ultimate interests that motivate such agenda, but a careful analysis reveals that –in the grand scheme of things– Putin’s fateful announcement makes sense when seen from a strategic perspective of political realism.
Understanding the Importance of Putin’s Singular Profile
As an analytical methodology, geopolitics usually prioritises the behaviour of impersonal forces when it comes to grasping the realities of both international relations and domestic politics. In other words, it assumes that the margin of action for human agency is limited. However, skilful statesmen –a historical occurrence that is rather rare– can be able to turn the tables and challenge conventional paradigms in order to advance their respective countries’ national interests. Based on his record, it can be argued that Vladimir Putin is one of those figures whose leadership has managed to make a meaningful difference.
It is pertinent to underline that Putin’s worldview was undoubtedly shaped by his professional background as a KGB officer. Despite its legendary ruthlessness both at home and abroad, as the main intelligence agency of one of the two superpowers during the Cold War, the KGB –i.e. the Committee for State Security– was arguably one of the most knowledgeable and pragmatic branches of the Soviet government concerning worldly affairs and how to handle them. Regardless of the pervasive influence of communist propaganda in most sectors of Soviet society, the Committee developed a dispassionate and sharp mind-set, one that was not strongly contaminated by heavy ideological indoctrination. Thus, a clever KGB foreign intelligence officer could have a better sense of situational awareness and strategic clarity than the average Politburo apparatchiks.
Furthermore, Putin spent some time as a foreign intelligence officer in East Germany, an experience that allowed him to fathom the multidimensional complexity of the Cold War, Moscow’s top national security imperatives in Central Europe, the far-reaching might of the United States, the essential rationale of nuclear deterrence and the heterogeneous nature of the Western alliance, as well as the substantial degree of economic and technological development reached by several capitalist societies. Likewise, the fact that he hails from Saint Petersburg –Russia’s most westernised metropolis– is also telling.
Such circumstances strengthened Putin’s strategic thinking abilities, an asset whose practical value is more than useful in countless fields which require formidable analytical skills, including running a country. That is precisely what Putin was taking about when he famously stated that ‘there is no such thing as a former KGB man’. One must bear in mind that, above all else, the point of intelligence activities is to provide valuable input for the decision-making process. Interestingly, with the notable exceptions of characters like Henry Kissinger (once US National Security Advisor) and George H. W. Bush (once CIA Director), few Western leaders have shared a similar background.
When then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was about to become President of the Russian Federation 20 years ago, he half-jokingly told some colleagues that ‘a group of FSB operatives, dispatched undercover to work in the government of the Russian Federation, is successfully fulfilling its task’. In hindsight, it looks like perhaps that was a statement of fact rather than a joke.
Based on his idea that ‘the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20thcentury’, Putin’s opponents claim that he is some sort of neo-Soviet dictator. However, such criticism is flawed. Although Putin’s actions speak volumes about his rejection of Western-style liberal democracy as the model that Russia needs to follow, he does not intend to revive communism or to recreate the Soviet Union. As a pragmatic nationalist, what he laments is the steep degradation of Russian national power derived from the loss of its position as a super-power.
In the minds of average Russians, the 90s –the period were Russia tried to follow the political principles of liberal democracy and the axioms of free market economics– are not seen as times of prosperity, pride or hopefulness. Instead, those years are regarded as a tragic reflection of rampant corruption, increasing crime, acute economic stagnation, erratic political leadership, widespread poverty, social decay, unassertive foreign policies and constant national humiliation. As a result of this, Russia almost became a failed state. The rise of Vladimir Putin cannot be understood without the pressing need to solve such a crisis. After all, it is relevant to highlight that Caesarism flourishes precisely in times of trouble.
Hence, Putin intended to address such problems, identifying them as threats whose harmful impacts were jeopardising the very survival of Russia as a functional national state. The most important achievement of Putin and his clan is that they successfully managed to alter the internal balance of power in order to reassert the uncontested control of the Russian state over actors like local oligarchs, regional strongmen, organised crime networks, the Russian Orthodox Church and foreign companies. The new rule was that their often questionable activities would now be tolerated only as long as they did not undermine vital Russian national interests.
Accordingly, centrifugal forces would no longer be tolerated. The implementation of this authoritarian approach entailed the concentration of a great deal of power. In this process, the instrumental role played by Putin’s clan (the so called ‘Siloviki’) was vital. Not surprisingly, such group includes veterans from Soviet intelligence agencies, security services and armed forces, many of whom have literally occupied the most critical nerve-centres of the Russian state. That means that many of the top cadres of the Russian ruling elite are individuals more or less similar to Vladimir Putin.
To a certain degree and also thanks to the involvement of relatively young and highly educated technocrats, Putin’s administration managed to reactivate the most promising sectors of the Russian economy (aerospace, the manufacture of state-of-the-art weaponry and military hardware and the extraction of natural resources, mainly energy). The accumulation of gold as a geostrategic asset has also been pursued as a monetary policy priority. However, Russia is still over reliant on foreign investment and its economy is still not diversified enough to participate as a leading player in the innovative developments related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Also, the idea of turning Moscow into a world-class financial hub proved to be an illusion out of touch with reality. National power represents a multidimensional aggregate but, in order to achieve a sustainable position, a contemporary great power cannot rely on oil and gas exports as the cornerstone of its economic performance.
In contrast, Putin has demonstrated his acumen as a superb geopolitical player. His accomplishments in terms of foreign policy include the following:
-The development of comprehensive preparedness for enhancing Russia’s geopolitical presence in the Arctic, an interest that has implications for the control of raw materials, increased international business opportunities, the potential to revitalise Siberia and the chance to upgrade Russia’s military and maritime capabilities.
-The active participation of Moscow in multilateral frameworks like the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
-The projection of power through unconventional conduits like paramilitary private companies, psychological operations, memetic warfare, covert action, the manipulation of diplomatic intrigue, cyber espionage, amongst others.
-The profitable exploitation of foreign markets eager to purchase the items manufactured by the Russian military-industrial complex.
-The participation of Russian regular and irregular forces in complex battlefields like Eastern Ukraine, Syria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
-The restoration of Russia a great power whose interests cannot be overlooked and also as a powerbroker whose influence is felt in the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia and the Far East.
-The modernisation of Russian strategic weapons as a factor that reinforces the credibility of Russian foreign policy.
Nevertheless, the restoration of undisputed Russian hegemony in the former Soviet Union –the so called ‘near abroad’– still remains elusive. For instance, even the project to undertake Anschluss with Belarus is not advancing as expected. Furthermore, it is unclear if Moscow’s efforts to return Ukraine to Russia’s geopolitical orbit will be successful in the near future. Even though the Kremlin annexed the Crimean Peninsula a few years ago, direct or indirect control of Ukraine is crucial in terms of infrastructure, defence, demographic weight, agricultural productiveness and industrial output.
Another structural problem waiting to be solved is the country’s dramatic demographic decline. Despite a continuous modest improvement, the downward trend still needs to be reversed. Russia’s current fertility rate is still below replacement levels. This is a major challenge for a country whose population is mostly concentrated in a relatively small area (European Russia) of its huge territory. Without a substantial demographic volume, Russia’s critical mass will diminish in the long run in the economic, geopolitical, military and cultural realms. Thus, the eventual prospect of depopulation could compromise Russian national security.
In short, Putin started his first presidential term as a visionary reformer so, in order to carry out his ambitious plans, he accumulated a great deal of power. In this respect, his enlightened despotism is similar to that of other Russian rulers who wanted to transform and modernise the country, like Peter the Great. Hence, Putin’s levels of authoritarianism and hawkishness are relatively mild for Russian standards (the contrast is evident when comparisons with Ivan the Terrible or Stalin are made). Some progress has been made and the flame of national morale has been rekindled during the reign of President Putin and his clan, but there are problematic issues that will have to be dealt with if Russia truly wants to reassert itself as a relevant player on the global geopolitical chessboard.
What to Expect
Putin’s recent announcement was rather vague and, consistently with the Kremlin’s traditional hermeticism, not many details have emerged yet. It is remarkable that the New Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin is (former head of the Federal Tax Service) a skilful technocrat but he does not belong to the Siloviki clan. Given his profile and background, it is not clear is he is being groomed as Putin’s handpicked successor or he is simply acting as a temporary manager.
Kremlinologists are discussing if Putin intends to retire by 2024 (when his current term ends) or if he somehow intends to retain power or at the very least a great deal of de facto control. Perhaps it is a false dilemma. Someone like Putin does not have to be President for life in order to operate as the ultimate mastermind behind the throne. Regardless of official titles, Putin can pull the strings from other positions. After all, strategic thinking emphasises the importance of flexibility when it comes to securing a continuous advantage.
In this context, it is noteworthy that the role of both the State Council (a deliberative and executive decision-making body) and the Russian Parliament will be strengthened, particularly when it comes to matters related to defence, national security and foreign policies, fields Putin is more than familiar with. That means Putin is likely widening his political margin of action.
Furthermore, Putin is already 67 years old. If he remains indefinitely in power as President of the Russian Federation with no clear and legitimate succession process, then it is merely a matter of time before a succession crisis unleashes an ensuing power struggle that can undermine the continuity of his national project, undoing what has been achieved during the last two decades. In other words, Putinism–with or without Putin– needs to find an institutional way to survive if its vision is to prevail well into the 21st century. Otherwise, its prospects could be compromised in a foreseeable future. Therefore, the model –albeit still authoritarian– will have to de depersonalised.
Another consideration that deserves to be taken into account is that the implementation of a political reform buys more time to address complicated issues –which directly affect the lives of millions of ordinary Russian citizens– that might hypothetically galvanise popular discontent and maybe even unrest.
This measure will provide room to groom several potential successors but also to make the adjustments that will be necessary in order to guarantee the stability and functionality of the Russian regime as it navigates through unchartered waters. It is still too early to forecast what role Putin intends to play after 2024 but it would be unwise to dismiss the possibility that all options are on the table. The die has been cast and that is likely by design.
Like most political phenomena, Putinism is a product of its circumstances. Furthermore, its patterns are consistent with the Russian long-term geopolitical cycle. It arose in times of intense turmoil and it has managed to strengthen a national state whose vitality was declining as a result of multiple difficulties. Thus, the national power of the Russian state has been restored to a certain extent, but there are dire challenges waiting to be overcome and that fuels both uncertainty and anxiety. Hence, Putinism is preparing to face what is to come in the next few decades but, as usual, only time will tell if the project it advocates turns out to be successful.
The Russia-China-Iran Alliance
NATO, the U.S. Government, and all other “neoconservatives” (adherents to Cecil Rhodes’s 1877 plan for a global U.S. empire that would be run, behind the scenes, by the UK’s aristocracy) have been treating Russia, China, and Iran, as being their enemies. In consequence of this: Russia, China, and Iran, have increasingly been coordinating their international policies, so as to assist each other in withstanding (defending themselves against) the neoconservative efforts that are designed to conquer them, and to add them to the existing U.S. empire.
The U.S. empire is the largest empire that the world has ever known, and has approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries, all over the planet. This is historically unprecedented. But it is — like all historical phenomena — only temporary. However, its many propagandists — not only in the news-media but also in academia and NGOs (and Rhodesists predominate in all of those categories) — allege the U.S. (or UK-U.S.) empire to be permanent, or else to be necessary to become permanent. Many suppose that “the rise and fall of the great powers” won’t necessarily relate to the United States (i.e., that America will never fall from being the world’s dominant power); and, so, they believe that the “American Century” (which has experienced so many disastrous wars, and so many unnecessary wars) will — and even should — last indefinitely, into the future. That viewpoint is the permanent-warfare-for-permanent-peace lie: it asserts that a world in which America’s billionaires, who control the U.S. Government (and the American public now have no influence over their Government whatsoever), should continue their ‘rules-based international order’, in which these billionaires determine what ‘rules’ will be enforced, and what ‘rules’ won’t be enforced; and in which ‘rules-based international order’ international laws (coming from the United Nations) will be enforced ONLY if and when America’s billionaires want them to be enforced. The ideal, to them, is an all-encompassing global dictatorship, by U.S. (& UK) billionaires.
In other words: Russia, China, Iran, and also any nation (such as Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela) whose current government relies upon any of those three for international support, don’t want to become part of the U.S. empire. They don’t want to be occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t want their national security to depend upon serving the interests of America’s billionaires. Basically, they want the U.N. to possess the powers that its inventor, FDR, had intended it to have, which were that it would serve as the one-and-only international democratic republic of nation-states; and, as such, would have the exclusive ultimate control over all nuclear and other strategic weapons and military forces, so that there will be no World War III. Whereas Rhodes wanted a global dictatorship by a unified U.S./UK aristocracy, their ‘enemies’ want a global democracy of nations (FDR named it “the United Nations”), ruling over all international relations, and being settled in U.N.-authorized courts, having jurisdiction over all international-relations issues.
In other words: they don’t want an invasion such as the U.S. and its allies (vassal nations) did against Iraq in 2003 — an invasion without an okay from the U.N Security Council and from the General Assembly — to be able to be perpetrated, ever again, against ANY nation. They want aggressive wars (which U.S.-and-allied aristocracies ‘justify’ as being necessary to impose ‘democracy’ and ‘humanitarian values’ on other nations) to be treated as being the international war-crimes that they actually are.
However, under the prevailing reality — that international law is whatever the U.S. regime says it is — a U.N.-controlled international order doesn’t exist, and maybe never will exist; and, so, the U.S. regime’s declared (or anointed, or appointed) ‘enemies’ (because none of them actually is their enemy — none wants to be in conflict against the U.S.) propose instead a “multilateral order” to replace “the American hegemony” or global dictatorship by the U.S. regime. They want, instead, an international democracy, like FDR had hoped for, but they are willing to settle merely for international pluralism — and this is (and always has been) called “an international balance of powers.” They recognize that this (balance of powers) had produced WW I, and WW II, but — ever since the moment when Harry S. Truman, on 25 July 1945, finally ditched FDR’s intentions for the U.N., and replaced that by the Cold War for the U.S. to conquer the whole world (and then formed NATO, which FDR would have opposed doing) — they want to go back (at least temporarily) to the pre-WW-I balance-of-powers system, instead of to capitulate to the international hegemon (America’s billionaires, the controller of the U.S. empire).
So: the Russia-China-Iran alliance isn’t against the U.S. regime, but is merely doing whatever they can to avoid being conquered by it. They want to retain their national sovereignty, and ultimately to become nation-states within a replacement-U.N. which will be designed to fit FDR’s pattern, instead of Truman’s pattern (the current, powerless, talking-forum U.N.).
Take, as an example of what they fear, not only the case of the Rhodesists’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, but the case of America’s coup against Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011, and which by 2013 entailed his scheme to grab Russia’s top naval base, in Crimea (which had been part of Russia from 1783 to 1954 when the Soviet dictator transferred Crimea to Ukraine). Obama installed nazis to run his Ukrainian regime, and he hoped ultimately for Ukraine to be accepted into NATO so that U.S. missiles could be installed there on Russia’s border only a five-minute missile-flight away from Moscow. Alexander Mercouris at The Duran headlined on 4 July 2021, “Ukraine’s Black Sea NATO dilemma”, and he clearly explained the coordinated U.S.-and-allied aggression that was involved in the U.S.-and-allied maneuvering. U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media hid it. Also that day, Mercouris bannered “In Joint Statement Russia-China Agree Deeper Alliance, Balancing US And NATO”, and he reported a historic agreement between those two countries, to coordinate together to create the very EurAsian superpower that Rhodesists have always dreaded. It’s exactly the opposite of what the U.S.-and-allied regimes had been aiming for. But it was the response to the Rhodesists’ insatiable imperialism.
To drive both Russia and China into a corner was to drive them together. They went into the same corner, not different corners. They were coming together, not coming apart. And Iran made it a threesome.
So: that’s how the U.S. regime’s appointed ‘enemies’ have come to join together into a virtual counterpart to America’s NATO alliance of pro-imperialist nations. It’s a defensive alliance, against an aggressive alliance — an anti-imperialist alliance, against a pro-imperialist alliance. America’s insatiably imperialistic foreign policies have, essentially, forced its ‘enemies’ to form their own alliance. It’s the only way for them to survive as independent nations, given Truman’s abortion of FDR’s plan for the U.N. — the replacement, by Truman of that, by the U.N. that became created, after FDR died on 12 April 1945.
New Strategic Report: Development Prospects for Improving Russia’s Policy in Africa
An expert group, has completed its studies of Russia’s policy implementation processes, impact and setbacks, and the development prospects in Africa, and has presented its final report with some recommendations intended to improve and scale up the existing Russia’s influence in Africa.
The report was prepared as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Situation Analytical Report, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
The 150-page report, released in November, offers new directions, some development prospects and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa. The report identifies two key factors necessary for determining the long-term importance of the continent: (i) human capital and (ii) natural resources.
These make for the increased interest for investment in extractive industries and infrastructure, booming consumer markets rising at rates much higher than the rest of the world. With its 1.3 billion, it is a potential market for all kinds of consumable goods and for services. In the coming decades, there will be an accelerated competition between or among the external players over access to the resources and for economic influence in Africa.
Nevertheless, despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended unto the fifth stage. Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991.
The first historic summit created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and so far remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.
Some of the situation analysis participants, who contributed to the latest policy report spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts are only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.
While the number of top-most and high-level meetings have increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda often remains small or scanty. There are little definitive results from such meetings. There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.
In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, and combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking were listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.
In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time. Right now, there are many agreements signed, before and during the first Russia-Africa summit, and Russia simply fails to deliver, as promised with African countries.
“The situation analysis participants agreed that the lack of project due diligence and proper verification of contracting partners is one of the key challenges for Russian business in Africa. Many projects announced at the top and high political levels have not been implemented. The reason is usually that the projects were not properly prepared before official approval. As a result, budget funding is often spent on raw and unprepared initiatives,” according to the report.
The adoption by Russia of an open doctrinal document on cooperation with Africa will emphasize the seriousness of its intentions and create an atmosphere of trust, in which individual steps will attain greater weight and higher-level justification. In African conditions, this will mean accelerated coordination of essential decisions. It is important to note that such public strategies for the entire continent are a necessary instrument of the other countries that are active in Africa.
Unlike most competitors, Russia can afford to promote a more honest, open, direct and understandable agenda for Africa: sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected. All situation analysis participants agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more African than those of its competitors.
It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan — a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.
One of the most important tasks critical for the effectiveness of Russian actions in Africa is the centralization and strengthening of the role and capacity of Russian state institutions on the African track, especially in the information sphere.
The report proposes dialogues should be enhanced between civil societies, including expert and academic organizations. In a situation where a rapid expansion of trade and economic relations is difficult (for example, due to economic stagnation or a crisis in the respective country), the humanitarian track can become one of the ways to deepen relations further.
On foreign players in Africa, the report points to China as number one active player. India’s influence continues to grow, as does the involvement of Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar, which are relatively new players in Africa. The influence and involvement of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil in the coming years, are likely to remain at the level of the past decade and will decline compared to China’s influence.
China, the EU, Germany, Turkey, Spain, and others have developed, announced and are implementing progressively their African strategies.
In general, of all the G7 countries, only Germany still has some potential to increase its influence and presence in Africa. Canada, Italy, and the UK, according to the authors, can at best maintain their influence at the same level, but it, too, will decrease compared that of the new centers of power.
At the same time, for its part, Africa will retain its importance for Europe in the long term and may even increase being an important source of a wide range of resources. Europe needs mineral resources (cobalt, gas, bauxite, rare earth metals) in order to carry out the energy transition, and human ones in order to make up for the natural decrease of population. The European banking system and financial institutions traditionally rely on Africa as a source of funding (while African capital often seeks refuge, and instability only accelerates its flight).
The influence of other non-European emerging powers, who often compete with each other, is also growing in Africa. UAE and Turkey may be mentioned among others. Their rivalry is visible in North Africa, West Africa and, especially, the Red Sea, and includes competition for control over both port infrastructure and points of possible military presence. A vivid example of this rivalry is Somalia, where Turkey is interacting and strengthening its position in Mogadishu, while the UAE, which recently lost control of the port in Djibouti, is taking a foothold in Berbera (in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland).
There are indications that Israel, whose activity in many African countries, particularly in East Africa, has remained traditionally high (especially in “sensitive” areas, such as internal security, the training of security and special forces, as well as in economic, especially agriculture projects), will continue to increase its involvement in the short and medium term.
Making efforts to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, Israel is developing contacts with the UAE and through it with a number of Gulf countries. Africa will be one of the platforms for Israel’s interaction with these countries. It will continue attempts to reduce the influence of Iran that has been carrying out its own diverse activity in Africa, seeking to expand it further.
On July 22, 2021, already after the situation analysis had taken place, it was declared that Israel had obtained an observer status to the African Union.
In the next ten years, rivalry, the balance of power and interests in the Indian Ocean will become a key factor of military and strategic importance, for this is where the interests of China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Arab countries, Iran, as well as the United States, France and other players are likely to collide. These countries will use significant resources to strengthen their positions along the entire coast of Eastern Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, which means both risks and new opportunities for the countries of the region. The military and strategic importance of the Indian Ocean islands (including four African island states) will continue to grow.
The report proposes discussions on possible mechanisms and formats of bilateral and multilateral alliances with interested parties, whose interests in Africa may coincide with the Russian ones. For example, the potential of bilateral cooperation in Africa with India (including outside of BRICS) has not been fully tapped yet. Joint initiatives in Africa in the areas of international development assistance, education, health care, and project financing may be of interest as well. It is also advisable to explore, including at the expert level, the possibility of engaging with countries such as South Korea (widely represented in Africa), Vietnam (showing growing interest), Cuba, Serbia, and several others as part of Russian initiatives in Africa.
Without Africa, Russia would not have so many friendly partners sharing its strategic goal of building a fair polycentric world order. By all purposes, Africa seems to be a favorable region in terms of positioning Russia as a global center of power and a country that defends peace, sovereignty, the right of states to choose development models independently, and as a protector of nature and the environment. Therefore, Russia’s increased presence and influence in Africa does not and should not cause resistance among African countries.
It is also important to move away from the “zero-sum” approach in relations with the West, even though at first glance the interests and aspirations of the EU and the U. S. in Africa seem to be opposite to those of Russia. Russia should build its policy and rhetoric in relation to Africa regardless of its rivalry with the West and should not create the impression that its policy in Africa is driven by the wish to weaken the positions of the United States and the EU on the continent.
The situation analysis participants agreed that Russia’s policy in Africa should be a derivative of Russia’s overall foreign policy goals and objectives, the three key areas being:
a) Ensuring national security. In the African context, this means primarily the danger of new viruses, extremism, anything that may impact Russia’s national security, including competition with other centers of power.
b) Ensuring social and economic development of Russia. Africa is a promising market
for Russian products and services, and a factor that facilitates the diversification and
modernization of the Russian economy. The situation analysis participants agreed that this is the main aspect today. In future, Africa can become one of the important factors in the development of some of Russian non-resource sectors, particularly railway and agricultural engineering, automotive and wheeled equipment, as well as services (primarily education and health care).
c) Strengthening the position of the Russian Federation as one of the influential centers in the modern world. Political partnership with African countries and the African Union as friendly players can make an important contribution to these efforts. As UN votes show, the positions of Russia and most African countries are conceptually identical or similar on many issues. None of the African countries imposed sanctions or restrictions against Russia. The ideological basis for cooperation at this level can be provided by the conceptual documents and ideas recognized and supported by all African countries: the approach of “African Solutions to African Problems” be strictly followed, working within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Development Goals 2030.
How the Arms Control Approach Could Help Russia Tackle Climate Change
The right approach would probably be to create a special interagency coordinator under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. It is vitally important that whoever heads the office is well respected by international partners: a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.
The energy crunch in Europe; the knee-jerk accusations of Russia having engineered it to win early approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; and the Kremlin’s riposte, pointing to the EU’s own policy failures, dominate the news. Yet one really important development remains underreported. Moscow’s official view of climate change and energy policy has just undergone a major reversal. Weeks before the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has come up with a national goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
This is not a covert attempt by the in-system liberals to begin aligning Russia’s climate policy with the policies of the world’s major powers. Rather, it is the consummation of a sea change that has been brewing for the past couple of years in the Kremlin’s thinking. President Vladimir Putin announced the carbon neutrality goal in remarks at the recent Russian Energy Week in Moscow. Climate change denial is over. Debate about what exactly has caused it is considered politically irrelevant. What matters are the existing realities and the current trends, which amount to all the world’s major economies moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, the new nexus of efforts to deal with climate change, the energy transition those efforts center on, and the geopolitical impact of that transition are moving right to the top of the Russian foreign policy agenda.
Of course, this is not all or even mostly foreign policy. Energy transition, which is the core issue, will affect not just the oil and gas sector, which in 2020 accounted for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP, but the country’s entire economy and finances, its political economy, and the relative political influence of various vested interests. Given the coincidence of energy transition and the inevitable transfer of political power, this combination is likely to become one of the most important processes shaping Russia’s future for years and decades to come.
Still, the foreign policy aspect of the change is non-negligible. The carbon neutrality pledges already announced by Russia’s main economic partners—the European Union and China; the United States, Japan and others—as well as the UN climate conference in Glasgow next month are all compelling Moscow to come up with a strategy of its own, and soon. Such a strategy will aim to preserve the country’s position as an energy power, but on a much more diverse foundation.
Integrating climate science, energy issues, and geopolitical objectives to produce and pursue an effective strategy could be compared to the task faced by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s–1980s. Back then, Moscow had to come up with a practical way to link nuclear science and weapons development, military force posture and strategy, the capabilities of the defense industry, and wider foreign policy goals. The result was transiting from the sterile rhetoric of universal disarmament to a diplomacy of strategic arms control that eventually produced strategic stability between the Soviet Union and the United States.
What is needed today is for various parts of the Russian government to pool their resources. The offices of the president’s special representative for climate issues and the special representative for liaison with international organizations on reaching sustainable development goals are evidently too small to take control. The ministries of foreign affairs, economic development, and finance; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Security Council all have an interest and possess valuable expertise on the issues, but none of them can actually be charged with taking the lead on their own.
The right approach would probably be to create a special unit under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. That unit would become an interagency coordinator among the many ministries that have interest and expertise on the relevant issues. Also, to borrow a page from the history books on Soviet arms control, a permanent mechanism could be organized of principals and deputies from various parts of the government to discuss and prepare decisions on these matters. This would be an analogue of the Big Five on strategic arms negotiations (the Party Central Committee, the Defense Ministry, the KGB, the Military Industrial Commission of the Council of Ministers, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry). It is vitally important that whoever heads the office has direct access to the president and is well respected by international partners. He or she needs to be a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.
The current hike in gas prices in Europe has motivated a number of people in Russia to sneer at green and alternative energy projects and reassert the continuing primacy of traditional sources of energy. Life is never linear, of course. However, even if future economic development does not completely close the books on fossil fuels (and it probably won’t, at least for a long time), the balance of energy consumption by some of the key buyers of Russian oil and gas will most likely change fast.
The speed of change means that temporizing now would undermine Russia’s chances of limiting the damage from the reduction of the world’s demand for its oil and gas. It would also prevent it from participating in developing new global norms and from taking advantage of its vast potential capabilities in such areas as hydrogen energy. Strategic decisions on that score have just been made, and this is a crucial positive step. The task now is to construct well-designed mechanisms to implement those decisions nationally and in foreign policy.
This article was published as part of the “Relaunching U.S.-Russia Dialogue on Global Challenges: The Role of the Next Generation” project, implemented in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Russia. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Embassy to Russia.
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