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Europe After the INF Treaty

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The cancellation of the INF Treaty will have a significant impact on defense and security policies in Europe. Last year’s demise of the treaty will lead to a massive loss of predictability and military transparency. It will almost certainly trigger ultimately a new arms race in Europe. Nevertheless, few European leaders have chosen to contest U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to renounce the treaty in response to Russia’s refusal to withdraw prohibited systems. However, there have also noticeably been no appeals from Western European politicians for the U.S. to go ahead and match the Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles, in order to maintain deterrence and show transatlantic solidarity. One possible explanation for the lack of enthusiasm or an outraged reaction on behalf of Western European leaders might be that they may not view today’s Russia as posing the same threat as the Soviet Union of the 1970s and 1980s. In the mind of most Western Europeans, the Cold War is history. Surely the Poles and Baltic states, but also Romania, Bulgaria, and even the Scandinavian countries may have a different perspective.

The gloomy truth is that West European apparent indifference to the end of the INF Treaty is neither based on confidence nor a professional assessment of security policy in Europe, but on a deep-seated reluctance to accept that military issues are back on the agenda across Europe. Granted, for Europe, the issue of missiles is no longer as central as it was thirty or forty years ago when NATO and the Warsaw Pact faced each other on a line dividing all of Europe. But the end of the INF Treaty is by no means without consequences for Europe. Most of all, Western European leaders seem to lack a complete understanding of what a post-INF Europe could look like. This stems in large part from the INF discussion in Europe being held on the wrong premise. The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, for example, warned last year of a new arms race, stating that he believed that European security will not be improved by deploying nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. Western Europe appears to be solely concerned that the nuclear element is coming back to the forefront of European security. The media, politicians and populations in countries like Germany, France or Italy, connect this nuclear element with something that goes back to the Cold War, something dangerous and fearful that had been eliminated from the European reality decades ago. The chance that this danger could come back is of course paired with emotion and met with opposition. Pictures of the European protests of the 1970s and 80s come to mind, when thousands protested against U.S. missiles being stationed in Europe.  However, by mistakenly classifying the INF debate as a nuclear debate, the Europeans are narrowing the discussion and missing the main point. We are no longer in the 1980s, but it seems as if the general understanding in Western Europe regarding missile capabilities and the strategic employment of missiles is stuck in that time. While the disposal of a treaty that also admittedly limited the development of nuclear weapons may be unnerving, it must be understood what post-INF Europe will really look like, in order to be prepared. The nuclear issue itself is no longer at the heart of the debate – conventional attack and defense capabilities are front and center (even if some of these missiles are dual-capable). This should in no way discount the potential dangers that could arise for Europe. Conventional long-range missiles were not relevant at the time of the implementation of the INF Treaty because, before precision guidance, it took a nuclear warhead to guarantee an effective hit on a target thousands of kilometers away. But now conventional long and medium-range missiles have become increasingly central to a new era of warfare. Reduced costs and substantial improvements in the accuracy of conventional missiles of all ranges have made them very attractive. Low-flying cruise missiles are very difficult for ground radars to detect, and despite their relatively slow speed of travel, the defense against them proves challenging. Ballistic missiles, by contrast, move at high velocity and can potentially hit targets with minimal warning. The new arms race that is expected in Europe will certainly not unfold according to the classic Cold War model. It will not, for the most part, involve Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons systems in Europe. In addition, the numbers of these missiles are unlikely to run into thousands or even hundreds. Nevertheless, this new round of proliferation will be no less dangerous or intense.

Without the INF Treaty, there are no limitations to new land-based missile systems. The U.S. Department of Defense has already tested a ground-launched version of the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile last year. This new cruise missile has a range of around 1,000 kilometers and could be deployed by early 2021. The U.S. has thus validated Russia’s claim that the United States did not necessarily adhere to the INF Treaty to the letter either. Russia denounced previous U.S. missile tests as violations and accused the U.S. of stationing launchers as part of the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense facilities in Europe, capable of firing intermediate-range missiles. Russia insisted on the dual-use capability of Mk 41 (Aegis Ashore) anti-missile launch facilities in Romania and Poland. The Obama administration on the other hand had always claimed that they were purely defensive and could only be utilized for launching SM-3 interceptors to defend against missile attacks. The logic of the Russians in this matter was that the Mk 41 launchers on the Aegis ships were used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles as well; therefore, they also have this capability as part of the land-based Aegis Ashore system. The U.S. always denied this and argued that this would require a massive modification of the software and wiring, and was also not possible because it would require a change in the bilateral stationing agreement with Poland and Romania. However, that this capability apparently does exist as demonstrated, with the latest test, has gone unnoticed in the mainstream European media.

The U.S. also tested new surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, one of which – the replacement for the Army Tactical Missile System, with a planned range of 700 km – could be deployed as early as 2023. Another one – a ballistic missile with a much longer range (3,000-4,000 km) – will not be ready for deployment until 2025. Other types of missiles are currently in the planning stage. With China and Russia investing heavily into Anti-Access/Area Denial anti-aircraft systems, ground-launched missiles have become an attractive option for the U.S. military, rather than the conventional use of air power.

There is no doubt that Russia has been violating the INF Treaty for some time and the Russian violation is part of a deliberate policy. In 2003, Moscow apparently began to develop a new family of land-based cruise missiles. This development may be interpreted as a result of a combination of several factors: while Moscow might have officially strongly condemned the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, in reality it never cared much for the treaty itself. The growing strength of China’s armed forces, including its vast arsenal of land-based medium and intermediate-range missiles (95% of which would be in violation of INF, had China been a signatory), has Moscow concerned they could be at a disadvantage. In its defense planning, Russia needs to consider how to potentially handle a Chinese military threat if it ever materializes. Additionally, its southern flank, with Iran as a major missile producer, is also a growing potential concern to Russia. This explains why Moscow, as early as 2007-2008 raised the possibility of a joint withdrawal from the INF with the United States. In addition, there may also be domestic reasons. Vladimir Putin is allowing its traditional defense industry to maintain significance in Russia. This is part of a calculated policy of preserving the Russian industrial complex, recapitalizing the Russian military, and being able to develop long-range dual-capacity strike capabilities. These include surface-to-surface missiles, in line with Russian traditional military preference, as well as for cost reasons. It is also, in a sense, a retribution on behalf of the Russian military establishment against the policies of Gorbachev, who withdrew Soviet SS-20 missiles from Europe and negotiated the INF. These policies are viewed as weakness toward the West. They resulted in the demise of the Soviet Union, the loss of Russian power, and the strengthening of the West at the cost of Russian security, in the eyes of many within Russia.

The dispute over Russian compliance with the INF Treaty had intensified since 2014, especially after the United States officially alleged a Russian violation. Informed by the Obama administration about the issue since 2013, a year before making public its formal assessment of the violation (U.S. Congress had been informed as early as 2011), Europeans were initially unconvinced. American allegations increased since 2017, when Russia began deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729, capable of traveling within the treaty’s prohibited 500-5,500 kilometer missile range. U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Russian military deployed four battalions of 9M729 missiles (including one test battalion). The missiles can be nuclear-capable, but according to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, they are most likely conventionally armed. Eventually in 2019, European doubts were dispelled and several European intelligence agencies independently validated the American judgment with a high degree of probability. Russia initially denied the existence of a new missile, but then finally admitted it, arguing that the new missile was in conformity with the INF Treaty. In January 2019, it presented its arguments in detail to the international press, claiming that the missile has a range of only 480 kilometers.

Moscow could have politically capitalized on the U.S. position of unilaterally cancelling the treaty, proclaiming it would prefer to remain bound by the INF Treaty. Vladimir Putin actually suggested this possibility in December 2018. But Russia eventually acted differently: while publicly blaming the United States, it followed the exact U.S. position by announcing it was suspending its obligations as well. This while stating at the same time that it will not deploy missiles of that range if the U.S. refrains from doing so. But further deployments of 9M729s are likely to follow, since Russia claims that these missiles actually do not violate the ranges laid out in the INF Treaty. In addition, Moscow could develop a new version of the SS-26 Iskander surface-to-surface missile (whose maximum range is currently estimated at 500km) and transform it into an intermediate-range category missile. Without the constraints of the INF Treaty, the development and deployment of multiple types of missiles (including hypersonic missiles) to address objectives and threats in the 500-5,500 kilometer range is now possible with less geographical constraints.

The issue of the INF Treaty must be viewed in a global perspective, with missile proliferation, quantitative growth, and increased sophistication of Asian and Middle Eastern arsenals largely explaining the current situation. The 1987 strategic solution at the implementation of the INF Treaty became a strategic problem from Moscow’s and Washington’s perspectives. That there is no longer an INF Treaty in practice is the product of a new reality and a new context. This development is just as much about Russia’s increasing military power as it is about the American perception of many Cold War arms control treaties being outdated and being viewed as “shackles” that are unfavorable for the United States. But above all, this development is due to the new strategic landscape in Asia.

Even before Donald Trump became president, the Pentagon regarded the restrictions due to INF responsible for the imbalances between Chinese and North Korean missiles and U.S. systems in the region. For quite some time, the INF Treaty was a constraint preventing the United States from acquiring appropriate defenses necessary for a changing context in Asia. Within America, many political ideologues have long advocated for the United States to free itself from INF restrictions, regardless of Russia’s compliance or acceptance. The announcement of the cancellation of the INF Treaty also revealed the fundamentally ideological nature of a decision consistent with the disdain of international treaties perceived as constricting the United States by a large part of the American conservative camp. Consequently, like the ABM Treaty in 2002, when the Bush Administration decided to field the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the INF Treaty appeared to be a constraint preventing America from acquiring the necessary means to adapt to the changing context and a new security environment.

Right now, Asia, not Europe, appears to be the primary geopolitical emphasis of post-INF missile development in the United States. In this regard, it is also not surprising that China was outspokenly supportive of the United States and Russia saving the INF Treaty, while at the same time categorically ruling out its own participation, in order to maintain its own strategic advantage. However, in Asia, aside from the U.S. territory of Guam and other small U.S. Pacific island territories thousands of miles from the Chinese coast, deployment of American ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles is extremely limited by geography. The United States instead relies on air- and sea-based platforms for long-range power projection in Asia. American basing options for post-INF missiles in Asian countries also appear very limited, geographically as well as politically. However, the day after the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he was in favor of deploying conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia sooner rather than later.

Europe, on the other hand, with its landmass adjacent to the Russia, seems predestined for the stationing of U.S. land-based missile systems in the long run. The question remains, however, where in Europe should these missiles be deployed. The Trump administration has not yet held talks with any European governments, at least not publicly, on hosting new missiles. Another consideration is the terms on which Washington may be willing to support and carry out a missile deployment to Europe. The United States certainly will want its own troops in Europe to be equipped with the new missile systems, but will there also be an option or a push to sell or lease systems to interested European governments? The Pentagon, in any case, is already attempting to calm the potential debate and any resulting anxieties by constantly emphasizing that none of the planned missiles are nuclear systems.

How open Europeans would be to U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments will vary significantly from country to country. Some NATO countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states, which are already within reach of Russia’s shorter-range missiles, like the SS-26 Iskander, are viewing the development of Russian intermediate-range missiles as an opportunity to attract a more robust and permanent U.S. military presence in their countries. Other countries, such as Germany and France, however, will be cautious of escalating the intermediate-range arms race and will have to internally deal with populations that will be opposed to missiles in their territories. During the 1980s, U.S. missile deployments caused major protests in Western Europe. This means for Russia in return, that if it wants to exploit Western European skepticism and opposition, it must strike a delicate balance between expanding its own intermediate-range missile deployments with maintaining its current outward propaganda advantage. In the Eastern European NATO countries, the situation and sentiment are entirely different, especially in Poland. Due to its history and proximity to Russia, Poland has been wary about Russia’s intentions and has advocated for a resolute, sometimes even provocative policy toward Russia. According to some Polish defense analysts, Russia has already gained a considerable military advantage, because it has medium-range missiles in Europe while NATO does not. But this Russian advantage could be easily curtailed with American missiles in Europe. In their view, the end of the INF treaty is an opportunity for Eastern Europe. It could lead to a stronger alliance between the United States and Eastern European countries. If Western Europe is opposed to the stationing of medium- to intermediate-range missiles from the U.S., Poland and other countries of NATO’s eastern flank may not refuse U.S. missiles on their soil. Some Polish defense planners are even going so far to recommend missiles in Ukraine or Georgia to clearly restrain Russia. They dream of Poland playing a pivotal role in the defense of Europe. For geopolitical reasons, and with American military presence, in their mind, it will become the hub for redistributing security to the whole region by strongly limiting Russia and its ambitions in Central and Eastern Europe. In a similar line of thought, a stronger alliance between the United States and the countries of Eastern Europe would potentially prove far more valuable than a broken, outdated U.S.-Russia treaty would ever be.

Therefore, as Western Europeans may be opposed to any U.S. missile deployments in Europe, the perception in Eastern Europe is quite different. Also, Western European dreams of a common defense and security policy across EU countries are very far from reality. Pro-European voices who claimed that the cancelation of the INF Treaty could be a chance to come up with the creation of a “Euro-deterrent” and European strategic autonomy in a 21st century Europe that will exercise strategic sovereignty will be quickly reminded of the realities in a post-INF Europe. There is no united European position on the defense of Europe. It is telling that the Eastern European countries in the past often turned directly to the U.S. for defense matters and not to the EU or even NATO. Poland and the United States, under President Obama, in 2010 agreed to rotate American Patriot units from Germany to Poland (resulting in Russian threats to move Iskander missiles to the Kaliningrad Oblast) as part of the so-called Patriot to Poland mission. This, for example, was a bilateral agreement between Poland and the United States. There was no NATO involvement. Poland and Romania are already hosting the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense systems. Although integrated into a NATO missile defense architecture, make no mistake, these are U.S. systems. The U.S. AN/TPY-2 (FBM) radar, which functions as the primary sensor for these NATO defense systems is located in Turkey and is operated by U.S. soldiers only. The actual radar and the immediate area where it is located is only accessible to U.S. personnel; no NATO member state has access to it, and this is no different for the sites in Romania or Poland. The operations for the radar in Turkey are coordinated and controlled by U.S. personnel at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany. All the data that the radar provides is collected by U.S. personnel and only then passed on to NATO. Contrary to what many Europeans may want to think, NATO has no direct command or control over any of the U.S. missile defense assets in Europe. The U.S. shares information with NATO and takes NATO into consideration. That is the extent of NATO involvement. All of the assets are American and potential strategic engagements to defend Europe from ballistic missile attacks are controlled and carried out by the U.S. military.

Realistically, the Europeans are only bystanders when it comes to their strategic missile defense. The Europeans were bystanders when the stability of Europe was determined by the Soviet Union and the United States in 1987 with the INF Treaty and the Europeans are bystanders now as well as Russia and the U.S. figure out how a post-INF Europe may look. Today, they remain essentially spectators, even though in 2018, the United States obtained pro forma NATO’s open support for its position. The INF crisis is not a central strategic issue for Europe, also because Europe really has very little strategic say. For Europeans, the consequence and direct impact is political: the INF Treaty symbolizes the end of the Cold War and the start of a new era. The American withdrawal may lead West European populations to view the White House – which, in terms of public relations in Europe, made a big mistake by unanimously cancelling the INF Treaty – and the Kremlin – which now has the higher ground from this point of view – on an equal footing. The consequences for the already strained transatlantic relations are therefore not positive, at least not in Western Europe. Moscow has largely managed to shift the blame for the treaty’s collapse mainly on Washington in the eyes of many Europeans. The abrupt U.S. withdrawal without making much effort to negotiate and discuss the allegations of breaches by both sides has fueled the perception that the U.S. is mainly responsible for the INF’s failure. Therefore, Russia will continue to portray itself as simply reacting to U.S. aggression if it further deploys its own intermediate-range missiles to maintain this perception. Thus, Russia is trying to minimize European irritations at its own missile deployments while at the same time driving a wedge between the United States and its West European allies. Nevertheless, the mysterious explosion at a Russian navy’s testing range last year that had been surrounded by secrecy and increased radiation levels may have drawn some attention to the fact that Russia is also very much engaged in testing and establishment of offensive capabilities and may not be so innocent after all.

One overlooked feature of the INF Treaty in the debate of post-INF Europe is that it was not entirely bilateral anymore after the fall of the USSR. After the USSR ceased to exist, it also covered former Soviet states in whose territories the production or testing of intermediate-range missiles once took place. Among these states is Ukraine, a country with a very strong domestic industrial base for the production of missile systems. Ukraine could now see the collapse of INF as an opportunity to gain some deterrent capability towards Russia with its own ballistic missiles. Kiev has already stated that it reserves the right to now develop its own missiles as necessary. With its economy in dire straits, it may also consider export of such missiles. Potential buyers in Europe would be Poland or the Baltic states, who are eager to bolster their own defenses against Russia.

Another country to consider is Turkey. Turkey too may influence future European missile proliferation. With the launch of its domestically produced Bora ballistic missile in combat against Kurdish assets in northern Iraq, Turkey has joined Syria, Iran, Israel and Russia in making use of ballistic missiles in combat in the region. Turkey is currently in the process of establishing a domestic independent defense industry. The combat use against the Kurds in northern Iraq was just as much a sales pitch, as it was an actual military operation. Turkey has announced its intention to export its missiles and it is working on more advanced ranges and precision. In the past, Turkey had planned to develop a missile with a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers. Further indicating Turkey’s intention to earn offensive missile capabilities was the construction of the first Turkish satellite launching center to bolster the country’s satellite programs. It could be suspected that Ankara may be intending to use its launching pad to fire the long-range missiles the government hopes to build in the long term. Turkey justifies its ballistic missile ambitions by pointing to its neighbors Iran and Syria and their missile programs. However, Turkey also views Armenia, which possesses Russian Iskander missiles, as a potential threat. With Greece being within range of Turkish ballistic missiles, the prospect of an Aegean arms race, if Greece feels compelled to acquire new weapons against its traditional rival Turkey, is not inconceivable either.

The disappearance of the INF Treaty marks the end of the post-Cold War strategic relationships. The nuclear issue itself will not be the actual topic of the debate, but rather the conventional attack and defense capabilities, something that is gravely misunderstood in Western Europe. The end of the INF Treaty reveals many things: the evolution of the international context with China’s rise to power, the disinterest of Russia and the United States in Cold War arms control treaties, the deterioration of relations between Russia and the United States, the division between Western and Eastern Europe, and the powerlessness of Europe in international military matters.

Michael Unbehauen, is the founder and president of Acamar Analysis and Consulting, an independent U.S.-based think tank and consulting firm. During his military career, he supported U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM ) in the fields of strategy, policy, and plans for global integrated missile defense, was the lead planner for Air and Missile Defense Theater Security Cooperation in Europe, as well as the commander of a strategic U.S. missile defense radar station in Israel. He further served as a crew member on a GMD crew and as the Planning Officer of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (GMD).

Defense

Foreign Troops withdrawal at a faster pace from Afghanistan

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The US is withdrawing troops at a faster pace than expected. It has been reported that almost half of the remaining forces have already been evacuated. It might be a part of the US strategy. Only time will explain it well. The US is handing over some crucial posts to Afghan Government Forces like the essential Bagram Air Base. Afghan Army was created by Americans, trained by Americans, equipped by Americans, and considered loyal with American. Their task was to obey American orders, protect American interests, and counter the Taliban.

The Taliban’s offensive against the Afghan forces has witnessed a sharp increase in diverse parts of more than twenty provinces of Afghanistan. The Taliban even attacked Mihtarlam – the 16th largest city in the Laghman province – which has been a comparatively quiet and calm city in the last few years. As a result of the Taliban’s current encounters, innocent Afghans have become refugees in different parts of the country. Their next destination may be Kabul and they are capable of taking over Kabul conveniently.

As a matter of fact, the Afghan Governments of President Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai were not legitimate Afghan-owned Governments; they were created by Americans and served Americans as puppet Governments. The natural pillars of the power were the Taliban. American took control from the Taliban in 2001, and they negotiated the troop’s withdrawal with the Taliban directly, without involving President Ashraf Ghani’s Government initially. American knows that Taliban are the real owners of Afghanistan and should rule their country in post withdrawl era. Americans acknowledged the potential and supremacy of the Taliban. President Ashraf Gahni or Hamid Karzai has no roots or public support in Afghanistan and will have no role in the future political setup in the post-withdrawal era.

Taliban are well-educated people, having good knowledge of Economics, Science & Technology, Industry, Agriculture, International relations and politics, and in-depth understanding of religions. They ruled the country in 1994-2001 successfully. Their era was one of the most peaceful eras in the recent history of Afghanistan.

Just like any defeating army, the US is trying to harm Afghanistan as much as possible, and destroying its weapons and war machinery at an estimated worth of US Dollars 80 Billion, and destroying ammunition depots, Infrastructures, and all-important places, before the surrender, creating a tough time for Taliban to reconstruct the war-torn country. Even the US is deliberately pushing Afghanistan towards chaos and civil war-like never-ending trobles.

Desperate, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani complained about American disloyalty in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 14, 2021.   Displaying a feeling of betrayal and helplessness, President ashraf Ghani is blaming Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s positive role in bringing the Taliban to negotiating table in Doha is widely admired by the US and International community.

Similarly, in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 22, 2021, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has also taken a tough stance on Pakistan and blamed Islamabad for its alleged link with and support to the Taliban. However, he also indirectly gave the message that the United States would not want peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, he has expressed high hopes “for the so-called Troika Plus, a diplomatic initiative launched by Russia which also includes China and the United States.” In response to the very first question about the Taliban, Karzai says that “I realized early into my tenure as president that this war is not our conflict and we Afghans are just being used against each other” by external forces.

However, it was the people of Afghanistan who suffered the four decades of prolonged war. It seems their sufferings are reaching an end. All the neighboring countries also suffered due to the Afghan war, and it is time for all neighboring countries to support Afghan reconstruction. China is already willing to assist in reconstructing Afghanistan under its mega initiative BRI. Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Russia may also outreach Afghanistan and play a positive role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan will be beneficial for all its neighbors and the whole region. Let’s hope for the best, with our best struggles.

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What position would Russia take in case of an armed conflict between China and US?

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China and Russia have seen increasing interactions and closer bonds as they face amid US pressure. The trilateral relations of China, Russia and the US are of great significance in the international order. Ahead of the upcoming Putin-Biden summit, Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) interviewed Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov (Denisov) on a range of issues including bilateral and trilateral relations, COVID-19, and many others.

GT: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden will meet in Geneva on June 16. What are your expectations for the meeting? How do you evaluate the possibility of improvement in Russia-US relations during Biden’s presidency?

Denisov: We are realists. We do not expect impossible outcomes. We welcome any measures that reduce tensions and competition, but we are very cautious about what we can expect from the Russian-American relations, especially in the context of the very tense relations between the two countries. The Geneva summit, the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office, is less likely to resolve important issues between the two countries. A better outcome, though, is that it sets the conditions for resolving problems in the future.

GT: Some analysts suggest the Biden administration may take measures to ease tensions with Russia in order to concentrate on dealing with China. Will this strategy alienate Russia from China and draw it closer to the US?

Denisov: This view is too short-sighted. It can’t happen. I think we’re smarter than what the Americans think.

GT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China after the China-US meeting in Anchorage, while China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi visited Moscow after a Russia-US foreign ministers’ meeting. Was the timing of these two visits deliberately arranged? What signal did this send?

Denisov: As for the timing, it was purely coincidental that the two visits followed the high-level talks between China and the US in Anchorage and between Russia and the US in Iceland. It takes time and technical preparation to arrange a visit at the level of foreign minister and above.

When Russia was preparing for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China, it was not aware that senior diplomats from China and the US would meet in Anchorage. The same goes for Director Yang Jiechi’s visit to Russia.

But it is a good thing that these two diplomatic interactions came on the heels of Russia and China’s conversations with the US. It will give senior diplomats from both countries an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on what has happened in previous meetings between China and the US and between Russia and the US.

GT: Do Russia and China coordinate and communicate with each other on their stance toward the US?

Denisov: A principle in international political exchanges is that the question of an absent third party should not be discussed in the exchanges. However, this principle is almost never observed. A case in point is US President Biden’s trip to the UK for the G7 summit. Although Chinese representatives will not be present at the meeting and will not be able to express their positions, the US has announced that it will discuss its policy toward China with its European Allies.

In this context, the US topic certainly occupies a place on the agenda of the meeting between senior Chinese and Russian diplomats. Although the last two visits were short and had limited agendas, the two sides discussed in great detail a range of topics, including some of the most pressing and acute issues in the current international situation. As a matter of fact, there is no content or topic that should be avoided in the political dialogue between Russia and China.

GT: Competition and confrontation between China and the US are escalating. If one day an armed conflict between China and the US happens, what position would Russia take?

Denisov: There will be no answer to this question because I am convinced that there will be no armed conflict between China and the US, just as there will be no armed conflict between Russia and the US, because such a conflict would exterminate all mankind, and then there would be no point in taking sides. However, if you are asking about the judgment of the international situation and major issues, then Russia’s position is clearly much closer to China’s.

In recent years, the US has imposed sanctions both on Russia and China. Although the areas and content of the US’ dissatisfaction towards Russia and China are different, the goal of the US is the same: to crush the competitor. We clearly cannot accept such an attitude from the US. We hope that the Russia-China-US “tripod” will keep balance.

GT: As far as you know, is President Putin scheduled to visit China this year?
Denisov: There is a possibility. Our high-level exchange plan includes President Putin’s visit to China, and both sides have the willingness. China hopes that President Putin will be the first foreign leader to visit China after the pandemic, while Russia also hopes that President Putin’s first state visit after the outbreak will be arranged in China. However, whether this arrangement can be implemented will depend on how the pandemic develops. While the two leaders have not exchanged visits in the past two years, they have spoken on the phone a number of times and the exchanges between Russia and China at the highest levels remain close.

GT: President Putin recently said that the US was wrong to think that it was “powerful enough” to get away with threatening other countries; a mistake, he said, that led to the downfall of the former Soviet Union. How do you comprehend President Putin’s words?

Denisov: Anyone who follows current US policy will not disagree with President Putin’s views. My interpretation of this statement is that President Putin is not “foreseeing” that the US will suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, nor is he saying that he would like to see that happen. He is simply warning that the risk is real, but many American political elites have not yet fully realized it.

We cannot imagine a world without the US today. The US plays a big role in terms of economy, culture, science and technology, and we cannot deny this fact. But on the other hand, the US needs to recognize that it is not the only country in the world, and it needs to take into account and respect the realities and goals of other countries. President Putin is reminding the US not to make the mistakes of the Soviet Union.

GT: Many reports in recent years have said the US and some other countries are trying to incite a “color revolution” in China and Russia to create a “zone of geopolitical instability” around the two countries. Under the current situation, what kind of cooperation can China and Russia carry out?

Denisov: That is why I said that Russia and China are highly consistent in their judgment of the international situation. Both Russia and China follow the principle of non-interference in another country’s internal affairs, but in the past few years, we have witnessed “color revolutions” in many countries, which have led to domestic chaos. These “color revolutions” certainly have some domestic or local reasons, but they are always accompanied by the presence of external forces.

In order to prevent a third country from interfering in the internal affairs of Russia and China, we should jointly work out some “rules of the game,” especially in the field of information security so as to prevent some countries with more advanced information technology from imposing their own political agenda on other countries through IT technology.

Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged in the world: hybrid warfare (Hybrid warfare refers to a new type of warfare in the 21st century, which involves a mixture of conventional and non-conventional means. It is considered to be more varied and covert than conventional warfare.) In this field, the international community does not yet have the corresponding rules to restrict or regulate it.

On the one hand, it is the common concern of Russia and China to prevent their country from being invaded by bad information from the outside world. On the other hand, although Russia and China have sufficient capabilities and strong information networks to resist a “color revolution,” some countries and regions around us are relatively vulnerable in this regard, and external interference at the information level could easily lead to large-scale domestic turbulence [in these countries and regions]. The recent events in Belarus and what happened in Hong Kong two years ago are two examples. Therefore, to formulate common rules against “color revolutions” is also for the stability of more countries and regions.

GT: The West has been hyping up Russia and China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” claiming that the two countries are pursuing geopolitical interests through vaccine exports and aid. What do you think of it?

Denisov: China has so far provided at least 350 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines overseas. Russia’s vaccines exports are not as large as China’s, but it has cooperated with 66 countries. San Marino has beaten the outbreak with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. At the same time, Russia has also taken the lead in proposing providing relevant technology and process support to help countries produce vaccines. So far, we have discussed relevant cooperation with 25 medical manufacturers from 14 countries.

We believe that the issue of mutual recognition of vaccines can best be addressed through multilateral platforms such as the WHO, as both Russian and Chinese vaccines may face difficulties in getting recognition. This is not because of the quality or protection rates of the Russian and Chinese vaccines, but because some competitors are very reluctant to allow Russian and Chinese vaccines into other countries. They will create artificial obstacles, including using political tools and unfair methods to achieve their goals.

The suggestion of “vaccine diplomacy” is one of the obstacles they create. Some countries with “vaccine nationalism” give priority to vaccinating their own population, which is fine in itself, but at the same time they are trying to discredit other countries’ vaccine aid and prevent Chinese and Russian vaccines from entering the market of third countries. This is not right. It is a typical “vaccine politicization.”

Besides, the West’s fabrication about the virus being a result of “a Chinese laboratory leak” is a classic case of politicizing the pandemic. These are very unfair political statements, which are not the right way to address this devastating human crisis.

GT: Some analysts said that there are considerable differences in terms of China and Russia’s strategic interests: Russia has little interest in maintaining the existing international order, while China, as the biggest beneficiary of the existing international order, only seeks to adjust the order. What do you think of this view?

Denisov: This is a rather black and white statement. It is also a radical view of the international situation, as if there are only two options before us: preserving the existing international order or destroying it. But that’s not the case.

Russia and China are both world powers and have their own interests at the global and regional levels. These interests cannot be identical in all cases. But on the whole, the international interests of Russia and China are the same, so our positions on most international issues are the same. The most obvious example is how we vote in the United Nations Security Council: Russia and China often cast the same vote at the Security Council.

The international order is not static. It not only evolves, but has recently accelerated its evolution. The international order needs reform to make it more responsive to today’s realities, but we cannot change it in a one-size-fits-all way.

I do not agree with the view that Russia and China have very different views on the reform of the international order. In fact, our positions on some of the most important issues are the same, and we just have different views on some specific details.

GT: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. How do you evaluate the CPC’s performance and achievements?
Denisov: Since I was assigned to work in Beijing in the 1970s, I have witnessed firsthand China’s development over the past half century. I have seen with my own eyes the tremendous progress China has made under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and I have seen that China’s success is the result of many important factors, such as the dedication and diligence of the Chinese people and the right decisions made by the leadership.

For the CPC, this year is very important. In the future, China will welcome another 100th anniversary: the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps I will be too old to see what China will look like when that day comes. But I can imagine it, because in the course of China’s development over the past 50 years, I have seen the support of the Chinese people for the CPC as the ruling party, and the crucial role it has played in China’s achievements. I know there is a song in China that many people sing: “Without the CPC, there would be no New China.” I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate all Chinese people.

GT: We learned that some Russian people have negative views of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Will they equate the CPC with the Soviet Communist Party? Will this affect the current China-Russia relations?

Denisov: Russia is a big country and its people hold diverse views. I think the number of Russians who feel this way is very small.

Indeed, the Soviet era had many flaws, but people of my generation who actually experienced this era could still think of many good and positive things when they look back. Our poll shows that the negative attitude toward the Soviet Union is largely held by young Russians who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and did not see it firsthand. They had a different attitude towards the Communist Party, but it was more about the Soviet Union’s own policies at that time, not the Communist Party in general.

I also want to share a personal view on the Soviet Union and the Communist Party: If a figure like Deng Xiaoping had appeared in the Soviet Communist Party at that time, perhaps the course of our country’s development would have changed forever.

Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about state and different social systems. We have also found that the responses of different countries to the COVID-19 pandemic reflect the strengths and weaknesses of different social development models. Today, the Chinese economy has emerged from the crisis caused by last year’s epidemic, demonstrating the great vitality of China’s development model. This reminds me of a Chinese saying: Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.

from our partner RIAC

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Defense

“African Lion 2021”: More than military Show between the US and Morocco

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Image source: atalayar.com

On June 7th, 2021, Morocco, the US, and NATO began joint African Lion maritime drills in the Atlantic Ocean south of  Morocco. This is a unique military cooperation between the three powers, which are all regarded by the United States as either competitors or antagonists. The military exercise is translated variously, yet, given that the Southern aquatic of Laayoune is an extremely sensitive waterway as it bonds to the Strait of Tarfaya, through which about a fifth of Africa’s trade corridors, the drill serves to sustain stability and security of the Moroccan Southern region along with a message that Spain is not isolated in foreign affairs. Last year, the Spanish meaninglessly pulled itself out of the “USAFRICOM” deal. Since then, waters around Spain have become the question of regional tension as the Kingdom of Morocco has cautioned the Spanish government against involving in Morocco’s Demarcation Maritimes borders.

However, as the strongest ally of Morocco, the US has sent two warships from its Atlantic Fleet – a frigate, a tanker, and a rescue tug boat – to take part in the drills, which were the first time being held in such a format. Now as America’s most important strategic partner, Morocco was also determined to join the training, as it sent a guided-missile warship to the naval drill. True, joint military exercise is a routine exchange with any other state since it is in line with related international laws and practices. But the naval drill of Morocco, the US, and NATO are sure to go beyond the normal military cooperation. Although Morocco claims that joint drill has no connection with regional situation, it affirms the will and capability of the three powers to jointly safeguard the peace and maritime security of the region and beyond.

As the two biggest alliance drills, The US and Morocco’s participation in the joint naval drills certainly signifies the emergence of a so-called “counter-coalition” to encounter the one that Algeria envisages creating. Some pessimistic reactions in Northern Africa have already tried to interpret this collaborative naval drill and their potential military cooperation as a threat to the peace and the balance of power in the region. The U.S. and its allies regularly hold joint military exercises all across the African continent at any given time of the year, which thus makes such occasions commonplace. Yet, France has mostly failed to promote peace and stability according to the resolution first approved by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Most other states, except Spain, have shown their interests or even worries that their participation in the U.S.-led Military drills in north Africa will only heighten tensions in this geo-strategic region.

In addition, the US and Morocco’s military ties with France and Israel are not secret anymore, with America opening up a Training drone institute in Morocco, Morocco making an arms deal with Washington following  The Agency of International Trade (ITA) reported that sales of military equipment to Morocco more than doubled in 2020, and both US and Morocco having participated in important arms exhibition in the UAE. Due to this fact, it is bizarre to describe triple drills as being aimed against any third party when they’re really just a drill of what could be described as a part of normal diplomacy, or put it simply, seeking diplomatic means through military ends.

Strategically, Washington and Rabat are keen to prove their pragmatic strategy to the North African region en bloc. For instance, the US and Morocco are not taking sides in the African  Sahel conflict. This pragmatic approach could even be moving to a higher level whenever Morocco and the US can urge all parties to resolve their disputes through political means instead of military ones. However, for Washington and Rabat, the probable risks are both geopolitical and economic because of the presumed division of labor between the two ally powers under which the US takes responsibility for security in the region while Morocco focuses on socio-economic development.

It is highlighted that the US and Morocco both intend to show their sophisticated strategic partnership to a larger scope. First of all, the triple maritime drills which are labeled “African Lion Marine Security ” are aimed at implementing regional order and stability. To this end, the entire exercises are being practiced: reducing terrorism perils, carrying out rescue operations, and defense against attacks from pirates. The purpose is to learn as much as possible, mainly when it comes to preserving the security of international trade in the strategic regions and share experience in maritime rescue operations. Consequently, the US, Morocco, and NATO have a responsibility to ensure the strategic regions together. Secondly, the joint naval drills secure regional stability and order persistent with the United Nations’ 1982 Convention. As per this convention and as signatories, the US and Morocco refused the unilateralist concept that France is the region’s dominant maritime power. Freedom of Navigation also mentions vessels flying the flag of these sovereign states shall not suffer meddling from the French navy at will. Therefore, under the 1982 Convention and Freedom of Navigation, NATO non-ally can hold naval drills with the US and Morocco for exercising cross-military coordination, willingness, and information gathering. As Moroccan News outlet argues that the drills likewise adhere to International Maritime Law by helping Morocco, the US, and NATO to enhance collective security. It’s completely fine with the three powers regarding the joint drills as core to their security, mainly if it uses maritime forces to prevent terrorism risks.

To sum up, Morocco and the US can have their formalities for the drills as well. France quests to repel Washington’s maximum pressure attitude. The maritime exercise helps to argue that the U.S. has failed to isolate France strategically and militarily among Maghreb region. The Kingdom of Morocco says regional security has to be provided by regional states. The joint drills are in line with the concept of North Africa’s collective security efforts. Additionally, Morocco depends on regional stability for its geostrategic approach. In truth, France has failed to apply a binary containment policy toward Morocco and US in the North Africa. It couldn’t hinder the presence and influence of their maritime forces towards the region. Then again, the joint naval exercises bring a counterbalance against the U.S. with a message that in the year of  “African Lion” 2021 and beyond, the three powers would be able to involve in similar joint military drills if need to be.

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